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Obama’s Green Team

Wednesday, December 17, 2008 by Kyle Scribner

'Energy Czar' Carol Browner
After years of suffering through an administration that at its best saw the stewardship of our natural world as a burden and at its worst actually appeared to seek to destroy it, (also see here, and there are plenty of other instances to be found if you care to poke around) a new green team in D.C. can be nothing but an improvement. Nowhere to go but up, as they say.

So just what heights can we expect Obama’s environmental watchdogs to reach? Looking at the appointees, there would seem to be reason for optimism:

Steven Chu, energy secretary
The 60-year-old director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab is a longtime advocate for alternative energy. He won the physics Nobel in 1997 while a professor at Stanford University. His experience reveals him to be a scientist through and through, compelled not by partisanship but by a search for truth.
Compare that to outgoing Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, who hadn’t been active in science for 30-plus years when he was surprisingly appointed in 2005. He’s more a big biz guy, said by some to be there simply as a White House (read: Cheney) puppet.

Lisa Jackson, EPA administrator

The former head of New Jersey's environmental department was behind the state’s stricter chemical-safety regulations, and is said to have been a driving force in the state’s aggressive energy plan. She has taken some flak for being seen as not strict enough on hazardous cleanups.

Carol Browner, Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change
In the unprecedented role everyone’s calling "energy czar," Browner may end up serving as sort of a political yin to Chu’s scientific yang. She knows how to be a bureaucrat, having spent more time as EPA chief than anyone else, and is tight with Al Gore. She shapes up to be the Yoda of the group – someone the others will look to for guidance. Among her accomplishments: She kick-started the Everglades cleanup, helped enact pesticide regulations and fought soot and smog.

Perhaps the surest sign we’re headed in the right direction? Check out the reaction of Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe (he of the No. 1 status on the League of Conservation Voters’ “Dirty Dozen” list).

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Green Gift Guide Continued

Wednesday, December 10, 2008 by Kyle Scribner

Bramble Berry
Soap doesn’t leap to mind as an environmental threat, but the chemicals used in soap production can be dangerous, both to our health and to our waterways. So why not skip the chemicals and make your showers that much more rewarding by making your own soap?

Bramble Berry’s Eco-Chic Soap Kit ($15.45) is a great way to do just that. You get an organic base, cranberry seeds, natural oils and more, plus Web-based instructions (no paper waste!) on how to incorporate your own ingredients – oatmeal, coffee grounds, etc. – to bring it all together.
Plus, it helps you recycle because you use your own containers (they recommend yogurt or tofu) as molds, and the end product is a 100% organic cleanser.

Loyale Clothes
Founder Jenny Hwa says Loyale offers “chic, sophisticated eco-apparel for fashionable women.” Well, she’s got the “chic” covered, as the likes of Jessica Alba and Courtney Cox have been known to don her duds. But what about the “eco”?

Put a checkmark there, too, as Loyale uses low-impact dyed organic cotton, color grown organic cotton, organic wool, naturally dyed eco-silk and factory reclaimed overstock fabrics.

And it’s local – all produced right in NYC – which reduces the company’s carbon footprint. To top it off, Loyale donates 1% of annual sales to Green Corps, “a graduate school for environmental organizers.”

If you’ve got the bucks for high-fashion/low-impact threads, LoyaleClothing.com is a must-visit site.

World Vision Gift Catalog
If you’re thinking green clothes, soap and the like are fine but still not quite close enough to environmentalism’s spiritual ideal, I invite you to explore The World Vision Gift Catalog, which offers items that benefit children and families living in poverty in the U.S. and around the world.

The World Vision catalog allows you to really make a difference, “offering more than 100 gifts from $20 to $39,000 that can be purchased in the name of a friend, colleague or loved one. The gift recipient in turn receives a special card describing the gift that was purchased and the impact it will have in the life of a person in need.”

Sample offerings include 10 fruit trees for $60; reforestation education and training for $50; and alpacas – which offer wool and combat deforestation because of their gentle, “mowing” style of grazing – for $360 apiece.

In addition to making you feel good, there’s a “cool factor” here – you’ll be giving something guaranteed to not be a duplicate (unless your gift-givee has a crazy aunt who doles out Christmas alpacas).

Asgard Press Calendars
You know that guy who’s still as insanely passionate about following his old college team today as he was when he graduated, like 20 years ago? Sure you do, we all know that guy.

And we’ve got the perfect gift for you to get him (assuming he hasn’t already alienated you with his grating, nonstop gibbering about the ol’ alma mater): An Asgard Press calendar.

I know what you’re thinking – “how original, a calendar” – but believe me, these are unlike any calendars you’ve seen before. They’re better categorized as works of art … that just happen to have the days of the week on them. As Asgard puts it, they “showcase captivating images and produce them to the same exacting standards as museum or gallery prints.”

The “prints” are actually reproductions of vintage game-day programs. A Wolverines wacko, Longhorns loony, Crimson Tide crazy, or any other fan of the 50-plus teams in the Asgard collection is guaranteed to enjoy the calendar for its retro, artistic, and authentic look. They also offer classic comics (above) and MAD Magazine.

And, oh yeah – Asgard uses only 100% recycled paper and soy-based inks.

Mission Playground
One more clothing company to highlight. Mission Playground currently uses 100% organic cotton in its line of tees, jackets, and pants. But it’s promising some really unique offerings early next year: clothes made from the likes of 100% recycled “PET bird’s eye knit with technical attributes,” 100% merino wool jersey, 100% organic cotton poplin, and an exclusive MIPAN regen recycled nylon, which is said to be made from fishing net and nylon rope.

Mission Playground also has its S.E.E.D. program, “committed to raising awareness for issues that concern our playgrounds,” which pledges 1% of sales to non-profit organizations that share the same passions for playgrounds.

Greenwash Ball
UPDATE: I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I might have been too quick to give even a qualified recommendation to the Greenwash Ball. So I revisited it more “scientifically” (by the way, I did get in contact with the IEEE to try to confirm Greenwash Ball’s claims, but they didn’t get back to me; probably should’ve taken that as a sign) by conducting a little test: I took a big chunk of my laundry, divvied it into two loads, running one with the Greenwash Ball and one with just water. You can guess the outcome – that “pure, chemical-free clean” I gushed over in the original post (below for your amusement) had nothing to do with the Greenwash Ball, as I also found that to be the case with the clothes “washed” in nothing but water. So, as it turns out, “Greenwash” Ball is the perfect name for the product after all. You’re probably best to avoid it.

I’m about as skeptical as you get. Don’t try to tell me you’ve seen a UFO, spoken with a deceased loved one, or have ESP. It’s all hooey. So I heard about the unfortunately named Greenwash Ball (somebody ought to tell these folks ‘greenwash’ ain’t something you want to be associated with), and its “powerful remote infrared rays,” “ceramics” and “negative ions,” and thought I’d get a kick out of debunking it. Guess what? It works!

Well, kind of. It depends on your definition of clean laundry. You need to get rid of stains? This ain’t gonna get ‘er done (the ketchup that flung from my homemade fish nugget onto my t-shirt during a struggle to prevent my shimmying two-year-old from toppling off her Cooshie remained). You need to have freshly laundered clothes that feel soft and smell clean – not synthetically “spring fresh” but pure, chemical-free clean? Then Greenwash Ball is the way to go.

You don’t use detergent, you just drop this bad boy in with the water and clothes and presto, the freshest laundry around.

Just don’t forget to leave it in the sun for one hour per week (hey, I didn’t say it wasn’t a little creepy).

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Green Gift Guide

Friday, December 5, 2008 by Kyle Scribner

Gift-giving is difficult. You want to give something fun, practical, and meaningful all at once.

Lucky you found us. Read on.

Tees For Change

Tees For Change
The greatest thing about organic clothes? Well, the guilt-free conscience, of course. But a close second is just how damn comfortable they are.

Exhibit A is Tees For Change, started just last year by a mom-to-be as a personal expression of positive thinking about her upcoming delivery.

Reminiscent of a simpler time when Wham!-inspired “Choose Life” t-shirts ruled the fashion world, Tees For Change come in simple, bright colors with simple, bright sayings: “Today Matters,” “Seek Balance,” and others, including the pre-birth message that started it all – “Be Courageous.”

All the tees are fair trade and made under sweatshop-free conditions from 100% organic cotton in the U.S. or 70% bamboo/30% organic cotton in Turkey. Tees For Change also has partnered with Trees for the Future to plant a tree for every tee or onesie purchased.

Items sell for between $24 and $46 on the Tees For Change website.

Niagara Conservation's Water EcoKit

Niagara Conservation's Water EcoKit
Perhaps best know for its flapperless toilets, which have been recognized with Home Depot's Merchandising Innovation Award, Niagara Conservation this year has assembled a neat little package that can get any homeowner on the fast track to conservation.

For about $40, the Water EcoKit gives you an efficient showerhead; three extra-lowflow sink aerators; a water saver and a fill cycle diverter for toilets; a flow meter bag; and a leak detection kit. Don’t be nervous that ‘low-flow’ means poor pressure – they still let through plenty of agua to do the job, plus Niagara says you save almost $300 a year (about 25,000 gallons of water) if you implement the whole shebang.

Bonus for parents of toddlers: Cut out the windows and the door on the kit’s packaging and you got yourself a playhouse for the little one’s stuffed animals or action figures (as my 2-year-old can attest).

Revenge Is ... Tee

Revenge Is … Green Products
Whether you’re buying for a hardcore tree-hugger or a bandwagon environmentalist going green because it’s the latest thing to do, Revenge Is … offers an array of clothes and gear that will let your lucky somebody flaunt their persuasion with panache.

Revenge Is … bags, and even the tees, are made with recycled plastic bottles and emblazoned with catchphrases like “This Used To Be A Plastic Bottle,” so wearers can let everyone know they’re concerned about the environment – or at least concerned about looking like they’re concerned about the environment.

Either way, you’re helping spread a righteous message.

T-shirts run $38, metallic hot/cold mugs (with fine mesh filter for loose tea!) are $18.95 and bags are $10.95.

And for more bags-made-from-bottles goodness, check out Wavyo, whose sacks are so stylish – made in limited edition runs of 100 bags per design – you just might ditch your purse. Wavyo also strictly adheres to fair labor laws, and all bags are handmade in the U.S.

Verterra Dinnerware

Verterra Single-Use Dinnerware
Being green is about being altruistic. It’s about being concerned for something greater than the individual. It’s about caring about our world and our kids’ world.

It IS all those things. But sometimes, it’s also about being cool.

And nothing will get the guests at your next soiree murmuring “wow, cool,” like Verterra’s dinnerware made from leaves.

That’s right, leaves. More specifically, fallen palm leaves gathered in South Asia and pressed together using only water, no chemicals. Founder Michael Dwork says the process uses 90% less energy than recycling.

You can use Verterra plates/bowls/platters in the microwave, the oven, whatever (better skip the dishwasher, though) and toss them in your compost heap the next morning – they naturally biodegrade in 2 months.

The best thing about Verterra? It allows you to inject ultra-hip uniqueness into your party and be a steward for the Earth at the same time.

Packs of 10-12 run between $8.99 and 12.99.

Sodastream Machine

Sodastream Machine
Those Europeans have it all over us on some things – fashion, automotive design, dry wit, vacation time, penguin-shaped carbonated-water makers.

We here at Green Among Gray can’t make your work week shorter, but we can help you out with that carbonated water one: introducing The Penguin, a simple, sleek, fun little contraption that you just might come to rely on nearly as much as your Keurig. These “sparkling water makers” are huge in Germany and Switzerland and Soda-Club USA is hoping the same will be said for the U.S.

The Penguin comes assembled and ready to use. You just put it on your counter, place one of the included glass carafes into it, give it a couple pumps, and voila, sparkling goodness! Add in some of the all-natural flavoring (or the not-so-all-natural packets if you want Coke/Pepsi/rootbeer/Dr. Pepper-type drinks) and you’ve got yourself a rewarding, refreshingly bubbly concoction.

All well and good, but how’s this a green gift, you ask? One word: Plastics.

Actually the elimination thereof. Soda-Club says the average American consumes over 600 cans or bottles of soda and sparkling water each year. Relying on the trusty Penguin eliminates those bottles and cans (so just clap your hands).

It’s cheaper in the long-run, too, since your only cost is the initial payment of about $200, plus refills for the CO2 canisters the Penguin uses to do its thing. (And for those of you who worry about all things CO2, rest your guilty consciences – the CO2 used in Soda-Club water is the same amount used in other beverages, so it’s a “carbon neutral” switch, so to speak).

You can get the Penguin at Williams-Sonoma stores or at Soda-Club USA’s site.

Organically Grown Baby Apparel

Organically Grown
The tree hugger in your family or circle of friends expecting? Help the ‘rents-to-be set their little seedling down the green path with Organically Grown's newborn clothes.

Organically Grown’s super-soft, brushed jersey and terry velour gowns, onesies, blankets and the rest are all made from organic cotton. What that means is their manufacturers follow the Global Organic Textile Standard – 100% cotton with no toxic heavy metals, no formaldehyde, no genetically modified seeds, and a guarantee that fair labor practices are followed.

The 3-piece sets come nicely presented on a padded hanger and sell for $20-$38 at Macys, Gottschalks, Dillards or Buy Buy Baby.

More green gift recommendations coming soon ...

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Hollywood Goes Green

Wednesday, December 3, 2008 by Kyle Scribner

The gravitas-lending Laura Dern
Yes, it’s easy to mock self-congratulatory B-list stars gathering at some faux-fundraiser-cum-photo-op to “raise awareness of important issues” when everyone knows the only awareness they’re concerned about is that of their IMDB profile.

But there are Hollywood events that may actually lead to something important. The Hollywood Goes Green shindig, now in its second year, might be one of those.

Reps from Disney, FOX, Sony, GM and HP will be at the December 8-9 forum at the Hilton LA/Universal City for “an in-depth exchange of ideas and to make deals with influencers who share a passion for protecting the environment.”

Hmm. Alright, so it sounds a little phony. But something about this is giving me a legit vibe. Could be the presence of Laura Dern (above), always known to lend gravitas to any function, who’ll be the headliner at a dinner/talk focusing on organic food production, sustainable agriculture and children's health.

Yes, that’s better. Serious issues, being discussed at a noble-intentioned forum of heavyweights who can influence policy for the betterment of our world.

Or just an excuse to line up a late-2009 FOX release of a Disney co-production sponsored by Sony starring the voice of Laura Dern as a lovable bear cub.

I guess we’ll see.

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Kyle Scribner is a born-again nature freak who also happens to be an editor at Captivate Network.

You know that exhilarated feeling you got as a kid when you would go down to the pond to catch frogs? It never really goes away; it’s just dormant. So I'm here to slap a mix of facts and borderline balanced opinion on you, to poke a stick at the nature freak slumbering in us all and maybe get him to once again come out and play.

And we might even learn a few things about the environment as we go.


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How do you commune with nature or become part of the solution to the environmental crisis when you're trapped in a cement-and-glass, gas-guzzling, power-sucking, emissions-spewing metropolis 8 hours (or more) a day? How do you go 'green' in a world of gray?

Actually, there are plenty of ways, and Green Among Gray aims to show high-rise inhabitants how they can help ease the load on the environment and on their minds by exploring natural oases, conservation tips, and other ways to stay green while working in the concrete-built world of the big city.

Look for short updates on the latest environmental news along with periodic longer features on specific places and events that allow big-city workers to get close to nature.