Archive for November, 2007


For our latest installment of “Green Issues only Rich People Have”, we examine how to eco-up a Museum/Opera/Awards/Disease Gala for hundreds of the Well-Connected. These events typically involve elaborate catered meals of unpronounceable foods and literally tons of tailor-made decorations and fresh-cut flowers. Sure it looks pretty, but was Mother Nature invited this year?

After the party, most of the stuff gets thrown out. Things like tables and tableware are normally rented, and attendees and workers can generally snag the lighter decor and flower arrangements to take home for one last gasp, but that’s only a small part of the overall set up. The NYT describes the halting efforts of expensive event planners across the US to fancify their incredibly wasteful to-dos with more environmentally friendly decorations. Some have used recycled objects in their designs- one guy glued soda cans and bottles caps to the windows of the Barneys New York store for their Christmas display (hey, NYCityfolk, can you go visit the storefront and take some pictures for me?).  Another guy shredded 3 tons of paper, soaked it in organic flame retardant, and rolled it into balls to hang from the event space’s ceiling. Let’s just say that I never get to do anything like that at work. There’s no word on how the food is being done better yet, though (more organic? Who gets the leftovers?).

What can we learn from this for our own holidays? The Barneys guys offers a suggestion:

“You can do this stuff at home…You can go gold with decaffeinated Diet Coke, and there’s lots of blue and silver in drinks like Pepsi and Red Bull. You can make wreathes out of old silver pot scrubbers. We’ve done a green version of the 12 Days of Christmas, which I will happily sing to you and which ends with ‘a Prius in a pear tree.’”

A professor from the University of Florida makes an apt observation on this juxtaposition of Ultimate Consumption and Going Green:

“It’s all about symbols and sensation,” said Professor Twitchell, whose many books deal with how marketing shapes a society. “That’s what I find so fascinating about our Prius culture. We know things are wrong. We don’t know what we can do. We can’t know. And so we do what marketers encourage us to do to get those feelings we want to have. We buy the Prius, we recycle at the party, pretty much overlooking the fact that what we know about these objects and these actions comes from their marketing.”

Good call, Twitchell. Making actions sustainable requires reflection and research, especially for an event that is rooted in excess. The very nature of huge parties becomes the display of wealth- “We can afford to drop the GDP of a small nation on one night to impress you and make you give us money/thank you for all the money you gave us so we could throw this party! This is a normal impulse!” So maybe let’s rethink the whole concept of spending-money-to-awe for these things.  I feel like Rich People would be cool if maybe for one event, say, a cancer fundraiser, the organizers just donated 95% of the budget to actual cancer and had them all over to the MOMA for Brunswick Stew and beer. Everyone loves Brunswick Stew and beer. Do they have cancer fundraisers at the MOMA? I would know if I were rich. Anyway, they could decorate with some big collection boxes and give some markers to kids with cancer so they could make signs labeling the boxes, and boom, funds raised. That’s not exactly a “green” plan yet, but there’s a base you can easily work from: organicise the stew, get the beer from a local brewery (organic brewery?), compost or donate the leftovers to the needy, and recycle/auction off the kid’s posters, and there goes your impact.

Now that I have illustrated why I will never be a good expensive party planner, I wish to leave you with the description of the decorations for the alleged “greenest party of the year”:

The décor was supplied by Gelitin, four male Viennese conceptual artists who wore high heels and buckets on their heads but no pants, and who spent the evening building a plywood structure over the bewildered guests’ heads. Anthony Roth Costanzo, a countertenor, sang a 16th-century melody called “Flow My Tears.” And then the Gelitin members, along with three Icelandic artists, also men, from a collective called Moms, took the buckets off their heads and urinated — with dead-eye accuracy, said Dodie Kazanjian, a Vogue editor and one of the events’ hosts — into one another’s pails.

Gives me an idea for my holiday party…

Update: Countdown

It’s 4 weeks from Christmas Day, and this is an intimidating number for me, given that my Halloween decorations are still up. Fortunately, Rockefeller Center is better prepared for the season than I am. They’re going sustainable, too- their Christmas tree is getting 5 miles of super-efficient LED lights, available in smaller lengths at stores near you. Plus they cut it down with a handsaw, instead of the gas-powered chainsaws. A handsaw! Seriously, this tree is gigantic, and the sweat equity puts some oomph in the season. And they’re going to turn it into lumber for Habitat for Humanity once the season is over.

The article contains a few more tidbits about changes Rockefeller Center is making to be green year-round, with the largest solar roof in New York City and plans for the installation of a green roof. This gives Rockefeller Plaza-based NBC’s fluffy “Green Week” (I posted about it here) much more respectability. And the solar panels are from GE- Jack Donaghy would be proud.

My tree won’t be up until Sunday, when I pick it up from the organic tree farm. I promise photos. Meanwhile, if you’re casting about for gift ideas (after my BHA Gift Guide! Surely you’re all set…) check out these plans from the New American Dream website for thoughtful, inexpensive, and ecohappy gifts. They also have link to “Simplify the Holidays” with a lot of other advice in it for making the holiday season more sustainable and less-consumer driven.

Reading List

A couple weeks ago, an article from the NYT outlined a few new books on ecothings. Three were highlighted for their emphasis on pragmatic solutions and lack of partisan bickering (well, relative lack…Newt).

Two of the three books I’ve discussed here- Gingrich’s A Contract with the Earth and Nordhaus and Shellenberger’s Break Through.

Actually, speaking of Break Through, I finished that a month ago and never found time to review it for you. So:

Break Through spends about 280 pages outlining in detail why, based on sociology and history and economics and street life in Brazil, the authors are very very right about environmental policy and why environmentalists are very very wrong and also negative, angry people. They talk a lot about Brazil. There’s not a whole lot of explanation of their actual policy or anything- other than Thinking Positively and Treating the Crisis as an Opportunity. Also, we must Deal First With Related Issues (this has something to do with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) and they mentioned like one or two bills that they were working on or approved of that were related to this. I was really hoping for a book with 1/2 of the extra examples and four times the practical policy advice. They focus on what government should do, but not on people making them do it. This is a theoretical framework with references to Brazil, which is a start, I suppose.

All in all, the book was a good read and framed a lot of issues well. The examples are interesting and the analysis fresh and totally sensical. I’d recommend it if you are at all interested in environmental policy. If you want to borrow my copy, it’s available.

With respect to Newt, I haven’t read his book and I don’t intend to. If anybody does and it says anything interesting (ie, about anything other than tax cuts for everybody! and no emissions caps) then let me know, otherwise I’m going to assume I’ve got Gingrich pegged.

The third book is by Bjorn Lomborg, Skeptical Environmentalist. Now, “skeptical environmentalist” could mean a lot of annoying things, but he’s written a few books already and they’ve gotten some solid reviews. Apparently conservatives tend to like him, so I’ll let him substitute for all the Newt I’m not reading. I’ll let you know how he rolls once I find him and crack the cover.

Happy Thanksgiving!

I’m breaking from blogging over the holiday, but I’d like to start a little thanks giving here in the meanwhile. The prompt: what green technology are you thankful for this year?

I’m thankful for Dongtan, a new Chinese city planned to minimize energy use and be all sorts of environmentally friendly. I’m thankful for Dongtan because it shows that China is paying attention to the environment and sustainable living, and it shows that the world’s biggest emissions producer and one of the largest countries on earth can make exciting and inventive changes to the way it operates. I’m thankful for the example that sets to other governments. And I’m thankful for Dongtan because reading articles about it helped sparked my interest in green design and helped inspire me to enroll in architecture school earlier this year.

So, what clean technology are you thankful for?

NPR’s “Consumed”

I mentioned the series a couple of months ago in a post, but I managed to miss it last week when it started up. Fortunately, they have a great website up with links to the stories, a few blogs, and audio files of the radio broadcasts. Five American Public Media shows have taken part. Marketplace covers the economic angles, Weekend America does the human interest, and I have no idea what the other three focus on, but their story titles look pretty interesting. Topics range from architecture to greenwashing to morals. They also have a “game” up- Consumer Consequences. Last time I played, I got “4”, in terms of “number of earths it would take to support my lifestyle if everybody lived the way I did”, so I’m having guilt pie for dinner. Check it out, dig around- they’ve got a lot of neat stuff over there.

From the Front Lines of the Jean Wars

My jeans ripped a few days ago, precipitating an uncomfortable discovery: I only have one pair of useful pants, and it’s that one. An inexcusable situation, perhaps, but I submit that, as a female, finding one pair of pants was plenty hard enough. Males might not get why this is a problem, so I’ll explain.

Male pants have two measurements in known increments- inches around, and inches down. When you buy pants, you find your two numbers, and you’re done.

/rant/ For ladies’ pants, there is a number on your pants, but none of those numbers signify anything. Not only do sizes vary among brands- an 8 in one pair may be larger than a 10 in another brand- but also the allowance for different anatomical bits is different in each kind of jeans, both among brand and style of jean. One brand may be cut for thighless ladies, while another expects a little badonkadonk (take that, spell check). There is usually no identifier of length, beyond “regular” and “tall”, whatever that means. An armful of jeans covering the upper and lower limits of your hypothetical size- say, grab everything you see from size 8 to size 12- is only 30% likely to yield an acceptably fitting pair of pants. Beyond sizing, females also have to contend with the proliferation of “stretch” jeans, which are allegedly more “comfortable” but usually just tend to be “oh my that’s very tight”. Add the number of styles to chose from- flares, hiphuggers, low-rise, mid-rise, navel-chafing, “skinny”, straight leg, “boyfriend”, tapered, boot cut, etc. Finally, add a likelihood of ridiculous tearings, bleachings, coloring, sequins, or flaming butterfly patches. So even if you do find a pair of fitting jeans, they’ll look ridiculous anyway. /end rant/

To summarize: shopping for lady pants is nasty, brutish, and really, really, really long. Smart ladies find one style, brand, and size that works, and never have to do it again. I got my current excellent pants at a thrift store. I can’t buy them from the original label- not only are they probably made with sweatshop labor from unsustainably grown and dyed material, but they’re not even being made anymore. Honestly, given how much I like them and how hard that is to find, I’d probably buy them again anyway even given ethical considerations, but the second part is the clincher, and forces me to live my goals.

Point being: I need a pair of pants post haste, and seeing how I’m working on the sustainable thing, I should get a pair of earth-friendly ones.

There are a few brands making jeans from sustainable materials in an ethical way. The more mainstream Levi’s sells a line of organic cotton jeans, but no word on if they’re made in sweatshops or not. A quick search for organic cotton jeans turned up a bunch of specialty stores selling them, including REI and some “green” websites.

I’ve ordered a pair from rawganique, and I have high hopes for them. They’re made from organic cotton and for fair wages. Check out their website, these people are serious hippies. They operate on just solar and wind power! Now to tie in that unnecessary-seeming rant: order jeans online! I must be crazy! How many times will I have to return them before I find the right fit? I hope not more than 16! But get this: they post the measurements (towards the bottom of the page) their womens’ sizes are based on. Plus, in most sizes there is a choice of two leg lengths, in real inch-type units. Grab a tape measure and get peace of mind. I expect them any day now, which is good, since these patches won’t last much longer. I will report back on their quality, and wear them about- after all, they’ll be my only pair of useful pants.


VaseTo liven things up a bit, I’ve changed my header photo to a section of a beautiful vase, painted for me by my gentleman friend’s lovely mother, and inspired by the theme of this blog.

Also, I got a drying rack- it’s not exactly a month long “greening” thing I could post lots about, but it sure saves me quarters, and frees up all my doorknobs. Uses less energy, too- gotta fit in that ecobit. I know a bunch of people had these in college, so it might be a simple thing to dig yours out of your folks’ basement. They’re not so great for sheets and towels, which probably need a dryer in the winter at least so they don’t get moldy in the long time it’ll take them to dry- but go nuts on the socks and such.

I’d put up a picture of my drying rack, too, but it’s got my things on it.

Nazis?! I hate those guys…

My debate with the Conservative Amazon blogger continues. The arguments are up here, and I first posted about them in my article “A Quickie”. It’s getting pretty long now, but briefly, the existence of man-made global warming, our knowledge of it, and potential solutions to it are under question. It might not last much longer, actually, since I won by a corollary to Godwin’s Law the other day when she cited an article calling environmentalists Nazis.

Progress: Plastics

It’s been a while, but I haven’t forgotten about my plastic goal.  Just, it hasn’t gone very far, either.  My pile of “reusable” plastics keeps on growing, and I’ll get them into a test pillow one day.  I’ve got a few balls of plastic yarn ready for a slow afternoon.  I’ve got a great reusable grocery bag, and I’ve remembered to bring it to the store most of the time, or take my things without a bag.  Except at Target a few times- their bags fit my trash can exactly.  And the number of styrofoam containers from takeout and restaurant leftovers surprises me.  I don’t eat out that often, really, it’s just even two or three of the boxes look bad all stacked together.  They’re #6 plastic, generally, but with the food residue and Alexandria recycling rules, they’re not recyclable.  I’m going to start bringing my own Tupperware to restaurants and asking if they’ll pack it in that, instead.  I predict that this will make me a popular dinner companion, but I promise to let the innocent wait outside or take a powder break while I ask the waiter, if they can’t handle the envirolove.

So, I’m going to declare that done, and here’s the new goal for the month: since I’ve already started, let’s make it working on a sustainable holiday season.  Consider the gift guide the opening salvo, and I’ll be taking a trip to my helpful Biking Person’s grandparent’s organic tree farm.  Plus, there’s food to make for Thanksgiving, decorations to find, and wrapping to do.  Then, afterwards:  Thank you notes.  So this will probably stretch beyond the month, but if I get what I want for Christmas, I’ll start off the New Year composting!  Here’s hoping you’re as excited about my food scraps as I am. 

A Quickie

I spent a while today blogging, but not here- I was responding to another blog’s article on technology and the environment. The exchange is here, if you’d like to take a gander (just leave my alpaca alone) or jump on in.

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