Author Archive

Ed Avis

Ed Avis is a writer and editor in Chicago. His specialties include green technology, large-format imaging, and architecture. His work has appeared in Crain's Chicago Business, the Chicago Tribune, Your Money magazine, and many other publications.

The pleasure of food

thepleasureoffoodMealtime in most homes is a rushed affair – being green is probably the last thing on your mind when you’re shoveling the food down. The “slow food” movement aims to change that.

The principles of the slow food movement are that everyone has the right to good food, that food production should not damage the planet, and that food workers should be treated fairly.

The movement is represented in the United States by Slow Food USA, a nonprofit with 225 chapters nationwide

The organization and its chapters are involved in a number of activities, such as raising public awareness of food-related environmental issues, caring for the land, identifying wild foods and cooking traditions that are at risk of disappearance, and advocating for farmers and other food workers.

“Slow Food promotes what we call good, clean, and fair, food,” says Jenny Best, the organization’s spokesperson. “In other words, food that is good for you, good for the environment, and good for our farmers and workers. We aim to link the pleasure of food with the commitment to the environment and our communities.”

Slow Food USA Programs
Best explains that Slow Food has a variety of programs to further these goals:
Biodiversity: Slow Food’s Ark of Taste  program helps promote and protect the diversity of animal and plant species, supports small-scale producers in this work, and increase overall consumer knowledge of the impact of their choices on the environment.

Sustainable Seafood: The Slow Fish campaign increases the awareness of the environmental impact of consumers’ fish choices. Supporting traditional fishing methods over large commercial methods is one aspect of the Slow Fish campaign. For example, Slow Fish supports the Slow Fish Genoa program, which teaches participants about the environmental value of “artisanal” fishing methods.

Gardens: The slow food movement encourages gardening in many forms, and Slow Food USA promotes this by providing tips on how to start a school garden, grow things in limited spaces, and more. A more ambitious undertaking is A Thousand Gardens in Africa which aims to create sustainable gardens across Africa.

Slow Food USA’s local chapters bring the slow food concepts closer to home. The Chicago chapter, for example, sponsors meals to bring like-minded people together; runs a directory of Chicago restaurants and other food establishments that espouse the slow food ideals; and sponsors a garden in the North Lawndale neighborhood. To find a chapter in your area, click here:

Slow food is not only for people who choose to join the official Slow Food USA organization, of course. The concepts – such as eating locally produced food, paying attention to how food workers are treated, and buying sustainable seafood – can be practiced by anyone.

Is Your Hospital Green?

If you’re being rushed to the emergency room with a burst appendix, you probably aren’t going to ask the ambulance driver how environmentally savvy the hospital he’s taking you to is. But if you are fortunate enough to be able to select your hospital, why not choose one that’s green?

Environmentally savvy hospitals do a number of things differently from traditional hospitals. When possible they are built using green principles, such as with more natural lighting and less VOCs, which makes the hospitals more comfortable for patients and visitors. Green hospitals produce less hazardous waste, and they dispose of what they produce in environmentally sound ways. And they use less energy. While these efforts save money for the hospitals, patient care is always top of mind.

 There are several ways to identify green hospitals in your area.

Energy Star, the EPA program that strives to identify appliances that use less electricity, also certifies hospitals. To find an Energy Star certified hospital in your area, visit,, select “Hospital” on the drop-down menu, and type in your zip code.   

Eighty-five percent of community hospitals in the U.S., representing 2.3 billion square feet, have generated an Energy Star score. “EPA has seen applications from healthcare facilities increase in recent years, which tells us that hospitals are ramping up their energy management programs and seeing results,” says Clark Reed, director of the Healthcare Facilities Division in Energy Star. “Today, over 300 healthcare facilities are Energy Star certified across the nation, including both hospitals and medical offices.”

Another way to find a green hospital is to tap into the member directory of Project Greenhealth, a nonprofit organization that encourages healthcare facilities to be environmentally smart. Through training and tools — such as the Greenhealth Sustainability Dashboard, which allows a healthcare facility to measure and track it green efforts — the organization aims to help hospitals reduce waste, use less energy, increase recycling programs, and engage in other environmental initiatives.

You can see if your local hospital is a member by searching in the online member directory, Being a member of Project Greenhealth does not automatically mean a hospital is green, but one assumes members are at least concerned about the issue.

Of course, if neither of these options turns up anything near you, you could investigate your local healthcare organization. Ask the public relations department if they have a sustainability commitment, and how they implement it. You may not get very far, but at least you’ll be putting the hospital on notice that customers care about sustainability!

Five tips to enjoy a ‘green’ vacation, part2

3) Consider a rustic vacation. Pitching a tent in the woods is much greener than moving into a hotel room, and the connection with nature can’t be beat! Camping not your thing? Debra Duneier, a green living advocate and author of EcoChi: Designing the Human Experience (, believes that even hotels will get into the rustic vibe. “Hotels will charge for a true ‘get-away’ with no television, no internet, and no cell reception,” Duneier says. “Of course these will be in beautiful locations where we can reacquaint ourselves with nature. Disconnecting will become a true luxury and we will pay for it!”

4) When you’re on vacation, eat wisely. Look for restaurants that source their food locally (it will taste much better, too). Consider restaurants that are members of the Green Restaurant Association ( Try to eat near your hotel — walk there if you can. Don’t eat every meal in a restaurant — stock some foods that you can eat in your hotel room or on a picnic.

5) Finally, consider an eco-vacation. Being an eco-tourist means you travel places where you can interact with nature, but in a positive way. The organizations that run eco-tourist locations preserve their natural bounty and use the money generated from the visitors to further their cause. There are countless such vacations, ranging from low-cost kayak trips to big-dollar exotic island vacations. Check out the International Ecotourism Society ( for details.

Five tips to enjoy a ‘green’ vacation

Spring break time is just weeks away, and millions of Americans are dreaming of beaches, amusement parks, nice hotels and fancy meals. But many vacationers don’t just dream about the fun stuff when planning their vacation — they also consider the cost to the environment.

After all, there are many environmental factors involved in vacation. Here are five tips to help conserve resources on a vacation:

1) Consider alternative forms of transportation. Flying has a large carbon footprint. If Amtrak goes where you want to go, for example, you can save some serious carbon. If you must drive, your per-person carbon footprint drops with every additional rider. To compare different forms of transportation, type in your details in this handy CO2 emissions calculator:

2) Choose your hotel wisely. Many hotels have adopted green standards, such as installing low-flow bathroom fixtures, making recycling easier for guests, and reducing chemical cleaner use. The New Orleans Intercontinental started a recycling program and asked staff to separate recyclables from the waste stream; not only did this reduce the waste, but each month employees have been finding $1,000 worth of hotel property — spoons, towels, etc. — in the trash! The Green Hotels Association maintains a list of members here:

NOTE: We will post the last 3 tips tomorrow.

Today’s Specials: The green restaurant and green dining

You spent all day being green — sorting recyclables, painting with low-VOC paint, and preparing your rain barrel for the cold weather — and now you want to go out to dinner and relax. But don’t drive your Prius to just any restaurant — continue your green day by choosing an environmentally aware restaurant.

As you can imagine, restaurants produce tons of packaging waste, use enormous amounts of electricity and other utilities, and produce significant emissions. A green restaurant is one that pays attention to those things and attempts to limit them.

The Green Restaurant Association, a trade group that certifies green restaurants, lists seven issues that restaurants can address: water efficiency, waste reduction and recycling, sustainable furnishings and building materials, sustainable food, energy, disposables, and chemical and pollution reduction.

A restaurant seeking certification follows the GRA’s program and earns “points” for each step it takes. For example, in the water efficiency category, if a restaurant uses a prep sink with a flow of less than or equal to one gallon per minute, it earns 2.25 points. Using an Energy Star qualified steamer earns 4.25 points, and installing landscaping that requires little water over at least half of the site earns 3 points.

A restaurant can become a Two-Star Certified Green Restaurant by earning at least 100 points, having at least 10 points in each category, having a full-scale recycling program, not using polystyrene foam, and participating in yearly education. A Three-Star restaurant needs 175 points, and a Four-Star restaurant (the top rating) requires 300 points.

“Restaurants are America’s largest consumer of electricity in the retail sector,” says Michael Oshman, CEO and founder of the Green Restaurant Association.  “By choosing a Certified Green Restaurant®, you are enjoying your meal with a lower environmental impact. Because we eat three times per day, your choice of a Certified Green Restaurant® could be the largest environmental decision you make over the course of the week.”

You can find green restaurants by visiting the consumer section of the Green Restaurant Association’s website

Currently the highest scoring green certified restaurant is Uncommon Ground, a coffee shop and restaurant in Chicago with two locations. Among the restaurant’s green features are tables made from wood reclaimed from storm-damaged trees, a rooftop garden that provides much of the restaurant’s produce, and a commitment to local purchasing (to reduce emissions from shipping).

“We purchase everything as local as possible,” says Michael Cameron, owner of Uncommon Ground. “We have been ‘farm-to-table’ long before it was a popular buzzword in the business.”

So don’t let your green guard down when planning a night out — put your dining dollars to work in an environmentally aware restaurant.

Preserving teeth and conserving resources with green dentistry

When you recline in your dentist’s chair, whether the practice is environmentally sound is probably the furthest thing from your mind. But consider these facts: Every year, dental practices in the United States generate 3.7 tons of mercury waste, 1.7 billion sterilization pouches, and 28 million liters of toxic x-ray fixer. That’s some serious waste!

    The good news is that new products and technologies are emerging that allow dental practices to significantly reduce or eliminate much of that waste. For example, a typical single-dentist practice can keep 40,000 pieces of paper and 20,000 pieces of plastic from the landfill by switching from disposal patient bibs to washable bibs. Other single-use items, such as impression trays, can be replaced with stainless steel versions that can be sterilized and re-used for years. Three more ideas: X-ray developing fluids can be eliminated by switching to digital imaging equipment, steam sterilization can replace chemical sterilization, and frequently used items such as gloves and masks can be purchased in bulk to reduce packaging.

    “Technological innovation and the emergence of green dentistry are transforming the dental industry,” says Susan Beck, director of the Eco-Dentistry Association, an organization devoted to greening the dental industry. “Green dental professionals are reinforcing the industry’s move to high-tech solutions that reduce its environmental impact, such as oil-free compressors and waterless vacuum systems. They’re also demanding alternatives to the industry’s traditional ‘throw-away’ solutions, sparking the innovation of eco-friendly products such as re-usable sterilization pouches and compostable impression trays.”

    How can you tell if your dentist is green? Some signs are obvious, such as whether the hygienist pitches your bib in the trash when you’re done. Other green issues, such as the use of digital imaging equipment instead of old fashioned film x-rays, may not be obvious to you, but you can ask. The Eco-Dentistry Association offers a “green my dentist” letter that patients can customize and send to their dentists; it encourages the practice to use earth-friendly practices.

    If you’re seeking a new dentist and want to focus on green practices, you can find an Eco-Dentistry Association member by searching on the organization’s web site

    “Dentistry is a perfect example of how small choices add up,” Beck says. “That single plastic sheet that covers the dental chair during your visit may seem nominal. But consider that it is one of 680 million disposable patient barriers dumped by US dental offices each year. The simple act of choosing an EDA Member dental professional conserves and protects your local water, eliminates a significant source of waste and pollution in our local communities, and saves energy resources globally.”

Committed to sustainability

Long before most businesses recognized that committing to green saved greenbacks, two reprographics leaders, – Océ and Xerox were instrumental in creating and refining best practices for sustainability. These two companies have developed and honed strong environmental programs.

Océ has long been recognized as an environmental leader. They approach sustainability from both ends. Their products are manufactured in a sustainable way; and they enable their customers to operate in a sustainable fashion. Océ has been listed on Dow Jones’ Sustainability Index since 2004. Among the issues the company considers are its energy and water consumption; the reusability of the components of its printers; the amount of waste the firm produces; and employee health and safety. Océ produces an annual sustainability report.

Xerox also focuses on environmental issues.The company has a policy of “Waste-Free Products in Waste-Free Facilities.”Xerox manufacturing operations use an ISO14001 conforming environmental management system that ensures that environmental issues are considered in day-to-day activities. For more information on Xerox’s environmental policies, visit

Océ and Xerox are certainly not the only reprographics equipment manufacturers with a focus on the environment. In today’s green-oriented world, nearly every company is. But Océ and Xerox are the first and have the most comprehensive sustainability policies and best practices.

‘Krafting’ a solution to paper and pulp pollution

Is your paper supplier environmentally savvy? This goes beyond the issue of recycled paper. Other issues to consider include how far down the “chain” your supplier is; how efficient and environmentally safe the coating practice is for the paper you use; and whether or not the mill your paper comes from is buying pulp from “sustainable” forests.

Printing and graphics papers are made from the “kraft” pulping process. The word “kraft” means “strong” in German, and kraft paper fibers are exceptionally durable. Kraft pulping uses sulphur to get the fiber out of trees (which results in the “rotten egg” smell around many paper mills). Kraft pulping consumes less than half the wood of a tree – the rest ends up as sludge, which is landfilled or burned. Sadly, paper making consumes an enormous amount of natural resources and energy, and creates tons of waste. A few facts on that issue:

About 90 percent of paper is made of wood, and paper-making accounts for about 43 percent of harvested wood.

Paper making uses vast amounts of water. A report about kraft paper mills in British Columbia showed that 17 mills discharge about 141 billion gallons of liquid effluent (water used to make the paper) into rivers each year.

Paper making creates a lot of pollution. In addition to the sulphur mentioned above, much paper is bleached with chlorine to make it white. One byproduct of bleaching is the chemical dioxin, which is very toxic. Paper companies have greatly improved their processes to reduce pollution over the past two decades, but paper making is still one of the largest polluters in North America.

The Forest Stewardship Council is a non-profit organization that makes sure wood products bearing its logo come from properly managed forests and ecologically sensitive logging practices. The Council works with third-party auditors who track the wood products – including paper – from the forest to the consumer to make sure they are properly handled the whole way. Learn more about FSC’s paper certification process at

Finding an energy audit solution

An energy audit is a great way to discover places for you to save energy – and money. The first step in an energy audit is to talk to your power company. Many offer free audits that attempt to weed out energy wasting habits.

Second, consider energy management software.These programs track your usage and help you identify areas of waste. Take a demo of the Energy Lens program at

If neither of those steps satisfy you, you may want to call in a pro. Many consultants these days conduct energy audits that identify air leaks, wasteful equipment, places that need more insulation, and such. Look online under “energy consultants”to find one near you.

Green imaging options for the office

ENERGY STAR is a government program to encourage the use of energy-efficient equipment. The program is a joint initiative of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy.

The fact that those two organizations are involved highlights the duality of saving energy – it conserves valuable natural resources, and lowers your total cost of ownership.

The ENERGY STAR designation generally means an appliance does a job as well as a standard appliance, but uses at least 25 percent less energy.The EPA says that imaging products including small and large-format – with ENERGY STAR status will save more than $3 billion over the next five years and prevent emissions equivalent to the exhaust of 4 million cars. Imaging equipment isn’t the only equipment in an office, but due to its cost, electrical footprint, and maintenance, it requires more attention than other equipment.

Another issue to consider is the presence of toxic materials in imaging equipment. One way to check that is to see if your supplier is compliant with RoHS, a European Union directive that stands for “Restrictions on Certain Hazardous Substances.” Standardization with RoHS compliancy is moving to the United States; it is already mandated in California.

If you’re buying a large-format printer, two other items to consider are the warm-up time and how good the first print is. You can waste a lot of energy and paper if your printer does poorly in either of these areas. Another item you should look at when shopping for new imaging equipment is the recyclability of the parts. If your printer can be refurbished and resold after it leaves your shop, you will have one less downstream issue to worry about. Inquire first if the manufacturer of your equipment has a program to take back and refurbish used equipment. If this is an issue, see about leasing or purchasing certified refurbished equipment.


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