It goes without saying that death is probably not the best topic to start the New Year with. However, it’s never too late early to start thinking about how you might leave this world. As some of you know, I’ve recently delved deeper into the ‘alternative burial’ industry and months ago produced a short video and piece on a Green Cemetery that opened here in Ithaca. It was at the dedication of this cemetery that I met a gentleman named Mark Harris; a former environmental columnist with the LA Times. He was doing research for an upcoming book that took a look at the myriad of ways you and I can leave this planet. I mentioned to him that I looked forward to reviewing the book and he said it would be a pleasure to send one my way. This Christmas, such a gift arrived at my door.
Titled Grave Matters, Mark’s book gives us a front row seat in surveying the burial industry. From the modern burial to the green burial (and everything in between), we’re treated to the intimate details; some that will shock, some that will enlighten, and others that will simply make you reconsider everything you thought you knew about death. Ever since the character Nate Fisher was laid to rest in a woodland grave with only a sheet in the final season of HBO’s “Six Feet Under”, Americans have started reconsidering their options with burial. Harris’s book provides the details and lays the groundwork for making those decisions; and once and for all deciding how we’ll leave our mark on the planet.
Wow, here’s another West Coast only first! In Santa Rosa, CA (just north of San Francisco) there is a company that makes pots for your plants, flowers, herbs, and such out of sustainable crops, mainly grain husks. They’re called EcoForms.
Now from what I understand, such a product already exists in Canada, the UK, and Australia. EcoForms is the first here in the US (but correct me if I’m wrong). They are a husband wife team who run an organic nursery called Sweetwater Nursery. Like most things borne out of necessity; they wanted an alternative to the plastic pots. They had already converted their greenhouses to solar power and their trucks to biofuels, but the plastic containers for their organic plants just seems contradictory, hence an idea was borne!
They are designed to last 5 years in all climates. and come in a variety of earthy colors and different sizes. If you decide to discard it into a landfill, it will breakdown into a nutrient-rich organic matter with a PH value of 7.0. You can find them at Whole Foods or contact them directly for wholesale orders, or custom designs.
Tell all your green thumb friends,
In the past, the term ‘sustainable fashion’ carried an almost instant stereotype of hemp and unappealing design. To even consider an alternative to fashion that went against the status quo was a gamble of reputation and money on consumer acceptance. As we’ve seen over the last couple years, however, the shades of green befalling industries has led to new markets and opportunities for companies willing to trail blaze. It’s not surprising then that the fashion industry — known for daring and bold ideas — would be one of the first to turn everything upside down. We’ve seen organic and animal free styles by Stella McCartney, activism from models like Summer Rayne Oakes, and corporate shifts to free trade and sustainable materials from companies like Timberland .
Amidst these changes in practice have also come new companies offering radical takes on classical products. Not just necessarily from a design point of view, but also on what makes up the product. One such company making waves throughout the industry is Ecoist . From their website,
U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Alexander Karsner today announced that with DOE funding, a concentrator solar cell produced by Boeing-Spectrolab has recently achieved a world-record conversion efficiency of 40.7 percent, establishing a new milestone in sunlight-to-electricity performance. This breakthrough may lead to systems with an installation cost of only $3 per watt, producing electricity at a cost of 8-10 cents per kilowatt/hour, making solar electricity a more cost-competitive and integral part of our nation’s energy mix.
(Emphasis definitely freakin’ mine.)
Not to out do Kevin’s exuberance, this is definitely a huge deal. $3 per watt to install? A 62% reduction in installation cost for PV panels?
One area that sorely lacks an environmental focus in my household is our cleaning products. For some reason we just had never given it much thought. I was recently given the opportunity to bring some products into the house for a product review and what follows are my thoughts on the products after about 6 weeks of use. The products we obtained are from the Shaklee group of cleaning products. They can be found at www.Shaklee.com .
Our first opportunity to review the dish soap product that was supplied to me was on Halloween. I thought I had a great opportunity to test it’s grease fighting and cleaning ability because we would have plates and dishes sitting around as we hurried out the door to do some trick or treating, and also because I had cooked a whole chicken for dinner so there was quite a bit of grease available.
I was right. It was quite the test. By the time we returned from our candy fueled adventures the dishes were quite a sight. Following the direction on the bottle I added a couple of drops of dish soap to my dish pan along with some hot water (we keep our water heater at 120 so our water isn’t really that hot) and I started to wash the dishes. And the dish soap worked beautifully. In fact, it worked just as well as I could have expected from a non-environmental cleaner. I never did add any additional soap to the dishpan and the soap worked fantastic.
In conversations about social justice, energy, and our environment clothing doesn’t get a lot of attention. This is in part because individually, clothing items don’t carry that big an embodied energy cost. Another reason is that shirts aren’t as spectacular as cars, or houses or even dinner. It is also kind of a girl thing – although male clothing is just as expensive, men, on average, shop less often and buy less when they do. Women tend to buy the household’s clothing as well as their own, and to engage in recreational clothing shopping. Clothing the household has been women’s work from time immemorial. And because the clothes we wear are tied intimately into how we feel about ourselves, and how others view us, clothing as a subject is somewhat fraught.
And yet, I think there are a number of really good reasons to find and learn ways to make clothing, to prioritize homemade, or locally made clothing (including learning to find it beautiful), and perhaps to create a “Slow Clothing” movement rather like the ”Slow Food” movement currently picking up speed. Maybe it’s as simple as creating a campaign in which each of us would have at least one daily wearable outfit that we’ve made ourselves.