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.

Conserving textiles eases burden on landfills

USAgain, a Chicago-based textile collection company, announced its annual collection figures.  In 2011 alone USAgain collected 60 million pounds of textiles for reuse and recycling around the globe.

Textile waste is a huge environmental issue.  According to the EPA, Americans discard approximately 13.1 million tons of textiles annually.  Only 15% of which is collected for reuse and recycling – leaving 11.2 million tons of textiles to be dumped in our nation’s landfills.

In 2011 USAgain kept 54.5 million items out of landfills, saving 342,857 cubic yards of landfill space and preventing 420,000,000 pounds of C02 from being released into the atmosphere.

“Everyday people throw away perfectly reusable and recyclable textiles, clothes and shoes because they don’t have a convenient option for recycling them,” said USAgain CEO Mattias Wallander. “It is our goal to prevent these items from being trashed and put them back in the use stream.”

USAgain, a green for-profit company, with over 10,000 drop-boxes located across 15 States, offers residents a convenient option for disposing unwanted clothing, shoes and other textiles.  The collected textiles are sold second-hand in the United States and around the globe.  Items that are not re-wearable are recycled into industrial wiping rags, furniture padding, insulation and more. 

To find a drop box near you visit:
USAgain, a leader in the textile recycling industry, with corporate headquarters in Chicago, is a for-profit company that recycles and resells unwanted clothing and other textiles. In 2011 alone, the company collected 60 million pounds of discarded clothing. USAgain operates over 10,000 collection bins in fifteen states. Their mission is to provide consumers with a convenient and eco-friendly option to rid themselves of excess clothing, which are then diverted from landfills.


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.”

Approaching Conservation

Green living has become a buzzword with industries and small business and you can spend a lot of the green in your own wallet in pursuit of eco-living. You don’t have to break the bank in order to save on energy, electricity, water or oil, though. Small changes in your daily routine and some clever gadgets make a big difference in how you impact the planet. 

Every day you make small decisions that can impact the health of the planet.

If you follow yourself on your daily routine, opportunities to reduce your carbon footprint turn up practically at every step you make. You might be surprised at how much waste occurs without your even thinking twice about it.

Your alarm clock sounds and you pull yourself out of bed. Groggy, you turn on the taps and let the water run until the water heats up. Water down the drain is water wasted. You can install and on-demand water heater that only delivers hot water when and where you need it. Not only do you get hot water quickly, you don’t waste fuel keeping a tank of hot water ready when you are not even home. Changing out an old-fashioned toilet for a low-flush type also helps save you water as well.

Breakfast can be greener if you compost the leftovers. Keep a secure, sealed container on your counter to collect the food without attracting bugs or rodents. After you unwrap a pastry or bread stored in aluminum foil, brush off the crumbs from the silvery material, smooth out the wrinkles, fold it up into a neat square and tuck it away for reuse.

Heading out to your car for the commute? Walk or bike to public transport instead, or better yet, explore your options for telecommuting with your workplace. Increasingly, enlightened businesses are recognizing the benefits of a flexible workplace. They save on electricity and infrastructure, and get a more relaxed productive employee.

When its time to recharge your cell phone, relax by a bubbling fountain or light up a dark corner of your garden, you can harness the power of the sun to achieve your goals. Solar panels and photovoltaic cells are getting more compact and cheaper, allowing you to unplug from the grid and power small items with energy from the sun. After the sun goes down and you switch on the lights to read, make sure that you are using energy-efficient compact fluorescents (CFLs) or LED bulbs which emit less heat and use less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs.

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.

Green paint providing form and function

Time to repaint the office? Don’t use normal paint and expect your employees to breathe those fumes for weeks later! The EPA claims indoor air is three times more polluted than outside air; reduce some of that by using paint with low quantities of volatile organic compounds (VOC).

Like many green ideas, using low-VOC paint has more than one advantage. Of course the air will be cleaner, but you’ll also be able to easily dispose of unused paint, since it’s not a hazardous waste.

There are actually three categories of environmentally smart paint: natural, zero-VOC, and low-VOC.

Natural paints are made from natural raw ingredients, such as plant oils, clay, and beeswax. These have virtually no emissions and are completely safe for your employees and the environment.

Paint with less than five grams of VOC per liter can be called “zero- VOC,” according to the EPA.

The amount of VOCs in low-VOC paints varies – the amount is written on the label – but they’re all below 300grams per liter, and many are under 50 grams per liter.

All low-VOC paints use water as the solvent rather than petroleum-based solvents. That in itself is a major advantage. Low-VOC paints also contain no, or very low levels of, heavy metals and formaldehyde.


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