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9 posts from August 2008

August 29, 2008

What would Bena do?

It's back to school time and staying/teaching green is on our mind. Not being a Mom, I can't address the modern world, but I can hearken back to the good ol' days of pre-plastic, pre-malls, pre-hot lunches, pre-SUV drop offs... to share what worked in the 60s.

Bena, was my Mother. In those/and these penny pinching times I often ask myself, "What would Bena do"? She was the queen of getting the most out of a dollar. When it came to back to school clothes, less was more - and more was being wasteful. So what would Bena do?

#1. ONE back to school shopping trip. I remember planning ahead for weeks as to what I needed and didn't need based on the color combos in my 3 foot wide closet. Today I still use the same concept for business travel - 3 pullovers, 3 button downs and 3 bottoms. Get those 3 groups to coordinate and you have 30 outfits to get you through any kind of weather (and fit into one carryon).

The trick is, they all have to wear like iron and have coordinating attitudes. That's hard to do in today's market of mystery fabrics. Back then it was easy. Fabric came in three choices: cotton, silk or wool. All wore well and worked with one another. Today, I still do the same thing only now making sure they are 100% organic cotton, silk or wool.

Bena let us pick out our our own metal lunch boxes and we had to pack our own lunch. I suppose that sounds cruel, but I took what I wanted to eat and that meant anything in the frig was fair fame. Usually I opted for peanut butter sandwiches wrapped in wax paper. That was back when kitchen lunches cost $.35 a ticket yet packing your own lunch was still cheaper and tasted a lot better. I can still pack a mean lunch.

As for school supply boxes, nothing quite beat a recycled cigar box with a hole cut into the side, allowing the ruler to fit. If you pounded on the ruler's end just right, the box lid would pop open. Functional and fun at the same time. No one would do that today, but there are plenty of other boxes or bags that could be recycled.

And the biggy... walk yourself to school. Simple enough, and good exercise each day. Probably not a safe thing in today's world, however, even if it does save gas.

What goes around, comes around... I didn't die because I didn't have a ton of clothes, or supplies or special lunches. In fact, most of my clothes were hand me downs. Saving money was certainly a driver, but the idea of not throwing out "perfectly good clothes" was also driven home.

Bena lived through "the depression" and learning how to live frugally, was part of her personality. I lived through "the Bena" which is why I'm very pragmatic about my lifestyle. I don't need much to be happy and I thank her often for that gift of being content with what I have.

Each generation slacks alittle. I'm hoping that turning green is just the excuse we all need to tighten up the value system and live more lightly by living simply. That's a lesson I wish more schools taught.

August 28, 2008

Time to start a class war...

... over which class in school can be greener! 

It's back to school time and the green moms are on the move to push for schools to teach and reach higher, greener standards.

The Eco Mom Alliance are sending more back to school besides their kids this year, in a recent newsletter members of the alliance received a full school fix-it kit of ideas:

ACTION PLAN. We suggest the following based on ease of implementation, cost, efficacy and impact:

  1. Organize an environmental committee or Green Team at your school or within your district.
  2. Create an action plan that enables you to clearly set goals, track progress and delegate action items.
  3. Implement Recycling in all classrooms and school offices - and to buying recycled papers for all campus activities.
  4. Waste Free Lunch Campaign
  5. Lead A Transportation Efficiency Campaign
  6. Toxin Free Campus Campaign - specifically cleansers and fertilizers
  7. Encourage EcoLiteracy in the Classrooms
  8. Transition to Energy Efficiency in Campus Infrastructure

Drop me a note if you'd like the expanded list.

Jennifer Caronna created green fundraising for schools. Her Fund Raising Green

biz takes you away from the world of chocolate and gift wrap paper and into local businesses who are doing their part to transform the economy. Call Jenny to learn more about her great program.

Lunch_1I'd like to push my own plan to save money and keep waste low - the lunchbox. I can remember every one of my boxes. My favorite was an oval tin with a red plaid side and a brown lid. Even curvy bananas fit inside and after lunch was gone, it also became my carryall for whatever I picked up on the way back home. A paper bag just didn't cut it. 

Check out Lunchboxes.com, it has a huge selection of kitch and mainline styles.

And if you have kids going to a Catholic school, there's even a lunch box for them. Going green was never more fun.Lunch_2

August 23, 2008

Plant a garden. Save some money. Grow a kid.

I lost Victoria, my mentee, to a foster home this week. Well... I didn't really lose her, but she has moved out of the teen shelter where we gardened together for the past couple of years. Today (for the first time) she woke up in a home with a real backyard. She's over the top happy - Aiden has other kids his age to hang with and Starbucks, her lifeline, is just around the corner.

Victoria arrived at the shelter a couple of years ago wearing the same Rolling Stones T-shirt of my gen-gen-generation and carrying the same attitude. I was smitten. I took this video of she and Aiden planting potatoes last April and kidded her that we needed to start a show called, YouTuber.

Victoria insisted we needed to plant potatoes. You can see how hard it is. Slice up a potato and stick a section with an "eye" in it in the ground. That's it. When it flowers, you can start digging up potatoes, or leave them in the ground and you'll get more and more. We had about 20 potatoes off of one plant. That's a great RORP (return on rotten potatoes that formally were trashed at the shelter).

To most of the girls at the teen home I was "that strange garden lady" who showed up once a week and pushed plants and cooking pasta with fresh basil, sage, oregano - the same thing my Mother and Grandmother did for me. Coming from the midwest to California, I assumed that everyone knew how to stick a seed in the ground. They didn't. In Orange County gardens are a mystery not a backyard sport.

Victoria was one of the few gals who actually digged dirt. After awhile she started putting in requests, "Can we grow Lemons? Onions? Strawberries? Yes, Yes, and YES! This year was the best crop of strawberries due to the irrigation system the boyscouts put in as part of an Eagle Scout program. It was amazing how things would grow with consistent water. Each day, Aiden would run to the strawberry box and clean off the new offerings then head for the tomatoes.

After years of trial and error trying to keep a group with a high turnover rate engaged, I found four things worked:

  1. Teach those most interested and they will then teach others vs. shoving a program on those who don't care or are freaked over the fact that worms live in the soil.
  2. Make laminated signs that tell them what the plant is, when to harvest and how much money they saved if they started with a plant vs. a seed (BTW, with tomatoes it's about $.0003 if you grow it from a seed given that each healthy plant produces one bushel.)
  3. Plant the entire section with ONE plant - it tends to self weed and also is more gratifying when it starts kicking out the edibles. It made an impact to see bags of free food.
  4. COOK, COOK, COOK the fresh food in front of them. Show them how easy, fun and great tasting fresh food is. Let them taste the dried herbs in a can and then the fresh ones.

Cooking closes the loop between planting a seed and enjoying your labor. I tried having a formal cooking class and that didn't work. What did work was bringing things in and then just start cooking. One by one, they would gather around and start asking questions. Even the staff, would join in as many of them didn't know how to cook fresh food either. Later I'd hear snips of conversation that told me that the lessons were being picked up and transferred.

One time we used a restaurant menu and fixed the exact same dish for free that they would have paid $18.50 for just to make a point. The simplest things that went over the best. Blanched green beans dipped in peanut sauce. They wouldn't touch them before and afterward the entire bowl of beans disappeared. Dicing up fresh herbs in cream cheese for a spread. Spaghetti sauce from way too many tomatoes. Coleslaw. TONS of salsa...

This year when tomatoes were taken off store shelves, we had bags of them to enjoy, all organically grown and safe to eat. One year the same plant produced tomatoes for 9 months, right up until the hired "gardeners" cut the plants back into a nice little hedge...


What did we grow? Artichokes, green/yellow beans, cilantro, basil, sage, oregano, marjoram, chives, parsley, tomatoes, tomatias, spinach, mixed greens lettuce (the kind you pay $5/pound for in the store), strawberries, oranges, beets, eggplant, zucchini, watermelons, broccoli, cauliflower, honeydews, cabbage, Swiss Chard, cantaloupe, spaghetti squash, pumpkins, corn, onions, carrots, peppers and zinnias. (That's an artichoke that I'm standing next to for those of you not living in California.)

The zinnias were an ode to my Mom. She always had a row of them in our garden. They are easy, happy flowers that keep producing as long as you keep picking them. Plus you need flowers to bring in the few bees we have here to pollinate the veggies. Besides drawing bees, they also drew the girls out of the shelter and into the garden for a fresh (and free) bouquet - hey whatever works.

What NOT to grow (or if you do, put it in a steel lined pot) SPEARMINT. It took over an entire box and is now sending up shoots 20 feet away!  DO GROW Chocolate Mint, it's less invasive and the girls love making tea out of it. It's like eating a thin mint girl scout cookie. Before Victoria left she clipped down the Spearmint patch and gave away garbage bags full of it. Considering that you pay $2/plastic box for mint in the store, she had about $500 of the stuff.

I am so proud of Victoria. It's been inspiring to watch her grow. She's worked overtime to skip a grade and get on track to have her Associates Degree by the time she turns 18. She cares for the earth and others and the bigger picture. She can discuss politics or climate change with depth as easily as what depth to plant a bean seed. I don't know if she'll want to stay in touch after she's emancipated from the system, but I know the lessons she learned in the garden will stay with her for a lifetime.


August 19, 2008

Eco Align helps you buy LESS from their clients

As women, we are the dominate influencers and purchaser for home products and services. Each day, billions of advertising dollars compete to influence our decisions and get us to buy more stuff.

Today, in a reversal of true fortunes, Eco Align released a survey that looked at how to motivate us to buy less from their clients. These are energy clients who are exploring not only alternative sources, but all the secondary products enhancing that effort. I can get behind that. I'd better, I'm going to heating my home on a fixed retirement income in another 15 years.

Let's look behind the curtain and see how the marketers see us. I would love to hear if you agree with their findings.The survey was taken to see how we relate to our own personal energy company.

Eco Align survey'd 1000 people that matched the U.S. population by age, gender, region and ethnicity. That of course means a 50/50 split for men and women. In past coEco_alignnsumer surveys, that's where it would have ended, but this report also looked at the decision making differences between men and women.

Their joint overall conclusions weren't mind blowing: A) we want to save money B) SHOW us where we saved money and C) make it easier to understand. (Women, wanted MORE of each.) What did surprise me was that we also want companies to show us their leadership.

That last one was telling. In this vacuum of leadership that we have now, we are turning to the leaders of corporations for inspiration, guidance, credibility and trust.   

Deeper insights can be pulled from the full report here.

  1. Discounts are the most popular incentive (85 percent), followed by two-for-one offerings (77 percent, extremely likely/very likely) and coupons (75 percent).
  2. The top two "most likely' incentives to be used by consumers to save money on energy costs are discounts (34 percent) and rebates (22 percent). [Women were 10% higher across the board on this one, which indicates we're either more comfortable with these tactics or we're just watching our pennies more. They noted that women in the Northeast were slightly higher yet.]
  3. The "Energy Star' label is extremely or very important to 68 percent of respondents. [This is interesting in that a label, not a product, has the highest consumer recognition, and once again women were 5% higher on this topic. BTW, it took years of education before that label name recognition happened. Only 6% of those surveyed didn't "know" Energy Star.]
  4. When asked what they would do if they had an extra $200, and could choose from a list of energy saving or renewable offerings, 52 percent of respondents would put an extra $200 in the bank. [Their conclusion was that people are more interested in saving money than investing. Not true, if I could buy an energy saving refrigerator for $200, I'd do it. Many people are moving from their homes. Foreclosure is rampant, I'm sure that's affecting many decisions.]
  5. Consumers are most interested in having their utility provide coupons to purchase energy efficient light bulbs (74 percent).
  6. Consumers were most interested in receiving information from the utility web site (58 percent).
  7. Consumers would like to receive a credit on the utility bill (50 percent) followed by a check in the mail (34 percent). [That's what I would do, a credit is one less thing to mess with.]
  8. Consumers would be much more satisfied with their utility if more energy efficiency and/or pricing programs to save energy and utility were offered. 90 percent of respondents overall would be more satisfied than today. [women again rated this higher than men]

Maybe I'm being swayed by the Eco Align name. I like the idea of a marketing company whose name implies a "partnership" between a buyer and a seller, vs. a manipulation. Or maybe it's because they are one of the first Green surveys that are taking women seriously as a buying group - seriously enough to highlight their opinions from a mixed survey.

I see that as real progress not only because they a women-friendly marketing group, but because they are joined at the hip with the Distributed Energy Investment Group which backs new technologies and solutions to the energy crisis.

There are many things to blog about. Today I'm choosing to promote those who are looking to work with women to co-create a better world. 

August 18, 2008

Woman-to-Women Media, will they have more influence than Oprah?

Comscore_2Are you one of those new mistresses of media that the NY Times talked about last week - a blogging mom? Categorically, moms spend more, talk to other women more and have more social contacts around town than any other consumer group. If you sell a retail product, they represent not only a customer, but a built in advertising network.

Blogging women have become a media all by themselves. Heather Armstrong, the author of Dooce which was profiled in the NY Times article has over 850,000 visitors last month - mostly women.

This puts a whole new spin on "direct" marketing. As women can be very direct, cynical, hilarious, candid... during their daily posts. The wild world of blogging moms raises the the bar more, social media isn't for the meek. Being "direct" is what gives many of these blogs high readership and yet that's also what scares the heck out of advertisers. They have no control over what "content" is seen next to their product. Nor do they have control over what is said about their product should the blogger and her readers choose to comment.

According to the NY TIMES:

Sites aimed primarily at women, from “mommy blogs” to makeup and fashion sites, grew 35 percent last year — faster than every other category on the Web except politics, according to comScore, an Internet traffic measurement company. Women’s sites had 84 million visitors in July, 27 percent more than the same month last year, comScore said.

Advertisers are following the crowd, serving up 4.4 billion display ads on women’s Web sites in May, comScore said. That is more than for sites aimed at children, teenagers or families. “Moms are the decision makers of the household as far as purchases are concerned,” said Chris Actis, vice president and digital director at the ad agency MediaVest.

I have to thank the NY Times to blessing what I wrote two years ago in In Women We Trust, women form groups easily and talk with one another, when they also hold the tipping point purse strings it's easy to see why the line is blurring between "I'm a blogger" and "I'm an advertising media."

NY Times put some numbers on it: 

Although men are heavy users of the Web, they tend not to visit sites explicitly aimed at them. AOL’s Living channel for women had 16.1 million unique visitors in June, while its Asylum site, a top men’s destination online, had only 3.3 million. ComScore does not even track men’s sites as a category.

Guys, don't shoot the messenger. Your numbers may not be low, but they are low enough and coupled with the fact that you aren't the dominate purchaser of retail goods; that's why ComScore doesn't bother to track your sites as a category. There is no financial interest.

If you want to be seen as a media, then build an audience and grab the ad dollars. The tech writers have been doing that for a long time. Men still pretty much own that world. Conversely, women own the retail world. It is what it is.

Last month BlogHer reported that NBC Universal put $5 million into their online blogger model of mostly blogging mothers. NBC wanted a way to integrate their other venues, Oxygen, iVillage, and Bravo into the social media stream.

I can't thank Yvonne enough for starting me down my blogger path. To all my women blogging buds - congratulations for changing your reader's world and the business world at the same time.

August 07, 2008

Is there such a thing as Green Packaging?

Joanne_hines_2 My guest blogger today is JoAnn Hines, the Chief Executive Officer at J.R. Hines International to help us make sense of green packaging. She is an expert in packaging trends and implementing innovative new packaging technologies covering consumer product packaging, sustainable and green packaging, branding, merchandising, retail packaging trends and packaging patent infringement. Her packaging articles and columns are syndicated around the globe including Webpackaging.com, the #1 consumer products packaging site, and a blog entitled Packaging News You Can Use.


JoAnn Hines: I just got a call from Brandweek to comment on green product packaging backlash. I've been writing about it for a while but this week reading about square milk bottles brought it all to a head. While the idea of a square milk bottle looks good on paper and its attractive financially to the retailer, a lot of consumers hate it.


Cargo_packaging_2Every week I get dozens of new green packaging press releases. Some of these are really a stretch. It seems with green the "in" thing to do, everyone is trying to jump on the band wagon. Many of these innovations really don't make sense or in many cases won't "connect" with the consumer. Just because its green, environmentally friendly, sustainable, compostable, recyclable or biodegradable doesn't mean that consumers will buy a product. Consumer acceptance is a very complicated issue. The growth of convenience and luxury categories flies in the face of the environmental movement too. They use lots of packaging and are Method_packaging_2expensive too.


Two companies working to get it right are Cargo Cosmetics and Method. Cargo starts with a bio-based plastic case for their lipsticks and then packages them in seed embedded boxes - just plant the box and you'll get flowers. Method uses 100% post consumer recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET). You might recognize the phthalate part as it's been getting a lot of bad press when used in beverage bottles. You don't drink the Method cleaning products; in this case it's a good use of recycling technology. Both are useful products that consumers want - being green is a plus.


We want it and we want it now. If it happens to tap into the "green movement" so much the better. The average consumer really does care about the environment they just aren't going to sacrifice their creature comforts to get there. In reality only about 10% of the American populace are willing sacrificers. We can all use a little less packaging in our lives, however, without the package you cannot have a product so give packaging a break.


Packaging has many roles to play in addition to protecting the product and getting it in your hands, and they are attributes which many will not willingly give up. Just think how you shy away from any damaged product packaging or regect the damaged or bruised product at the supermarket. The regection rate is already 20% and without packaging this would skyrocket. And who do you think pays the ultimate price for less packaging? It's not the retailers or the consumer products companies, it's YOU the consumer.


When was the last time you saw a sales person trained to tell you all about the item you are considering purchasing? The packaging tells you the story about what is inside and why you should buy it. You know the "silent salesperson." So before you jump on the "less" packaging bandwagon give some consideration to why the packaging is there in the first place. I wrote this little jingle for Twitter and that's says it all. "Toothpaste squeezes, eggs aren't cracked, pizza delivered, headache's better, beer anyone? Packaging a love affair you never knew you had."

Now don't get me wrong, I have seen some very interesting concepts in "green" product packaging some that make sense to the consumer, but I have seen a lot of junk too. Some companies that are just making some green packaging noise hoping to capitalize on some of the current media buzz.


What's your opinion? What kind of packaging are you willing to give up or have you switched to a different product because of a package seemed more environmentally friendly.

Do you have questions about what is green and what is greenwash? Ask them here or I can be reached at PackagingDiva@aol.com.

August 04, 2008

What WALL-E, Wa$ted and Wall Street have in Common

People keep telling me that women don't want to know the following and yet, every woman I talk to face-to-face wants to know more, not only for her family's sake, but for her retirement investments as well.

Wall_eHave you seen WALL-E ? (Highly entertaining) It's about an a little robot who was left to clean up the planet after a consumption-driven society. WALL-E's world is not that far off. Today on the Planet Green channel, there's a reality version of WALL-E's beginnings called "Wa$ted". The stars of the show, Annabelle Gurwitch and Holter Gramham challenge one family to clean up by demonstrating how much stuff and dollars they waste every year. It would be depressing except when you see how easy it is to bring down your carbon footprint and save money as well.Wasted

What's easy for a family, however, is terribly complex for Wall Street. A family wants to do it for their children's future and that's reason enough; Wall Street needs to have the financial incentives in place or else it isn't worth it to stockholders and then the question of HOW are they going to go about it is asked.

Apples Comparing Green Apples with Green Apples

It's easy to compare financial apples to apples and mitigate financial risk when making an investment, but currently there isn't a way to compare companies and products for their environmental impact. When Enron was caught messing with the books, it collapsed. In the same way, soon enough companies caught messing with their environment records will also be held accountable. 

Who has the rule book?

When it comes to environmental accountability for business it's like they're playing basketball, football, soccer on a baseball diamond - no one knows who's playing which game, they can't keep score and no one knows who to cheer for.

This is scary ground for Wall Street and the other countries, such as the UK, who are watching and waiting for a directional move. Banks are already shaky from the sub-prime housing and a slowing economy. The margin for error is very thin.

What they are trying to do on Wall Street is down to one game, say baseball. At that point business can play on a t-ball or major league level of excellence and everyone knows the rules and everyone know who to cheer for and why. What is also does is lets companies do what they do really well, which is complete.

LCAs are the equivalent of Wa$ted for business.

Product Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) measure and quantifies the pollution and carbon footprint of a product across an entire supply chain. It's the business equivalent of Wa$ted. Just like Annabell and Holter expose places families can reduce or buy greener, consultants work with companies to document their environmental impact.

Once an LCA is conducted, then it's findings can go into a scorecard matrix that provides the rules for improvement.

Smart_101_2There are many "rule books" or standards being used now, one of them is the SMaRT Sustainable Product Standard. In that standard, 1200 pollutants and their impact on air, soil, water and atmosphere are measured and scored. Many of these pollutants are on a "get better" list. Some like POPS Persistent Organic Pollutants are banned completely. A product cannot be certified if it isn't POPS free. (POPs are toxic substances composed of organic (carbon-based) chemical compounds and mixtures. They include industrial chemicals like PCBs and pesticides like DDT.)

While this sounds overwhelming, some day talking about the LCA of your purchase will be as common as talking about the MPG on your car. You don't know how they achieved the high MPG, you just want it and you won't know what a company did to be certified as sustainable on a Platinum level, you'll just want that as well.

It's the happy ending for Story of Stuff and the prevention of a WALL-E world.   

StuffTo put it all in perspective quickly, go watch Story of Stuff, everything that Annie Leonard outlines in that free 20 minute video goes into an LCA. It's the raw materials, the transportation, the manufacturing methods, the energy consumed, the worker and social impacts... measuring it all isn't easy, but it can and IS being done. Even if you don't believe that climate change is real, waste pollution is certainly tangible and this is where we start to reverse its impact.

Answering the little "yeah, but.." in our head.

At some point the "yeah, but..." alarm goes off. Prius is a high mileage car... "yeah, but what about that battery, what is that doing for the environment..."? an LCA answers those questions with documented facts that are audited by a third party and made available to the public.

As consumers and citizens of the planet, we need to know that when that "yeah, but..." alarm goes off that there is a plan going into place on the macro level that will work with all the multitude of changes we're making in our homes. Your efforts will not be wasted.

How to Produce an Effective Green Campaign

How do you motivate the masses when you don't have much money or even an Internet connection? Thanks to Kimberly Klintworth, who put together GoodTube, you can get ideas from all over the world. Below is an example of how one man mobilized his area of Mexico. Salvador managed to cut the burning of local forests in half and clean up the rivers as well through Campaign Pride.


GoodTube is a non profit, non religious enterprise, and it is 100 percent free. The site also provides tips for producing quality video of your non-profit's good work. Let me know when you add your video and I'll feature it here.

August 01, 2008

Get rid of the bottle and take back the filter

I'm inspired by Beth Terry's list of plastics that she has eliminated from her life. I don't know if I can do it, but I'm willing to give it a try. I'll start with the water issue and the two plastics that surround it, i.e. the bottle and the filter.

I don't think we need bottled water in places where we have tap water. I don't care if a bottle is made of petroleum based plastic or made of corn, it's still overkill for what we need in the average US town. Plus, only 10% of bottles, plastic or corn are recycled. Corn-made-plastic bottles may not be as harmful, but it 's still and that's what we need to cut back on first.

Let's say you do have questionable tap water. Brita makes a find product to give you gallons of great tasting water at a fraction of the cost of bottled water. In Europe, according to Beth, Brita has a program to take back the plastic filter. She's lobbying that they do the same thing in the U.S. If you think it's a great idea and are a buyer/user of the filters, then send your filter to takebackthefilter.org.