Thursday, December 27, 2012

T.A.P. 2012 Year in Review

If I haven't said it before, thanks for reading my lowly little blog.  I write it because it gives me an outlet to promote my thoughts regarding recycling, green living, and environmental friendliness.  The blog is not an overwhelming commercial success in any sense of the word, but thanks for those of you who put up and occasionally click on ads through my blog.  I sincerely thank you for tolerating them even though I generally am not in love with the thought of acquiring more items.

I have made many personal strides in my own life this year.  Eating locally, purchasing items second hand, preferring hand made goods to those commercially made abroad are some of the strategies I have focused on.  I will continue to put these to good use, and may even opt in to a local CSA for the summer months. 

Here are three of the most popular posts on Think, Act, Prosper this year, and I hope you will re-read them or discover them for the first time, since many of these articles are worth reading more than once!

1) Replace Paper Towels with Rags
2) Use Natural Light and Air Conditioning
3) Go Green: Beer Growlers
4) Green Investing
5) Buy Food in Bulk

Check out my series 20 Ways to Go Green that Make a Difference for a number of small ways to make impactful change

Finally my favorite post of all time, Single Stream Recycling, a topic I plan to revisit!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Environmentally Friendly Christmas

Holiday Seasons are upon us and as an Anglo-Saxon American, I celebrate Christmas with my family.  The holidays are a time of excess and consumption here in the United States.  It's extremely unfortunate, because the bedrock of Christmas is the Christian holiday, but all of that has changed.  People eat tons of unhealthy food, max out their credit cards to buy gifts, and drive all over the place to get to sales, malls, and various parties.

All of this is a shame and it hurts our precious environment.  Here in New England, where I live, we are having an extremely mild winter so far, which one of my favorite bloggers, An Affordable Wardrobe, touched on this week.  This thrift shopper extraordinaire laments the lack of snow and bone chilling cold of the days of yore, and although it can't be definitively proved that global warming and our pollution is at fault, it can't help.

We do not necessarily need to go as far as Leo of Zen Habit's who is advocating his Buy Nothing Until 2013 Challenge.  There are however some things you can do to limit the impact you have on the environment this holiday season.
  • Consider second hand gifts, such as from a thrift store or eBay
  • Green gifts
  • Make things yourself, people love a personal touch
  • Bring your own bags when you go shopping
  • Support a local business and buy a real Christmas tree and adorn it with homemade ornaments
  • Buy local food in bulk for meals
  • Have a fire with your family, and turn off the lights
  • If Grandma gives everyone ugly Christmas sweaters (or not), turn down the heat!
  • Drive less often, and when you need to go to malls or parties, drive slower!
  • Be careful with waste, always recycle
Obviously, we all can't do all of these, but we should do our best to enjoy the holidays responsibly!

Merry Christmas/Happy Hanukkuh!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Green Winter Clothing

Clothing is one of the items that the US has such a ridiculous surplus of, yet we still continue to produce in the cheapest, most wasteful, least green methods.  That's what the market desires, low prices and coinciding low quality.  Winter is when we need clothing the most, especially here in chilly New England.  I am a huge proponent of thrift stores, although if I convert too many of you to shopping at these great second hand clothing outlets, all the great finds will dry up extremely quickly!  I am on the look out for some great blankets for winter and a heavy jacket at the moment.  A pair of boots would be nice as well.

There are however several brands that I can recommend in good conscience.  First of all, if you don't need a new item, don't buy one.  You can always repair your old things.  However, if you have identified a need, I follow a process like the following.

1) imagine the perfect item to fit my needs
2) reach out to people in my network for ideas and suggestions
3) search for more information about potential choices, Google is your friend
4) consider second hand outlets like eBay
5) buy the item and use it for many years

Some of my favorite brands, particularly for winter are Ibex, Smartwool, Icebreaker, and Patagonia.  I prefer wool for all weather clothing.  It is incredibly warm, soft and durable, a far superior fiber to cotton.  Don't even get me started on Polyester.  Not only is it a better performance fiber, it is much
more green.  Watch Ibex's video below.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Hurricane Sandy: Gas Rationing NYC

Disasters often cause us to reconsider the old way of doing things, for example last year Hurricane Irene was a major disaster in my area.  Mayor Bloomberg's gas rationing program in response to the damage and ensuing shortage of gasoline following Hurricane Sandy was issued for the city of New York to limit gas consumption.  This terrible storm badly damaged the city, particularly the subway, which many New Yorkers rely on for daily transportation.  In response, denizens of the city loaded up on gas to power generators and alternative transportation vehicles.

The ban restricts the ability to purchase gas based on the last digit of the owner's license plate.  If it ends in an odd number, that individual can buy gas on odd days, and vice versa for even days/last digits.  The only other gas rationing I have experienced was in crowded Beijing, China.  They take it even further, wherein drivers can only drive on odd/even days.

Although no one likes their liberties being restricted, there is definitely the potential for good to be accomplished through a rationing strategy.  My idea is to promote gas rationing, but make the incentives positives rather than negative.  Offering benefits for those of us who choose to only purchase a small amount of gasoline per week/month, or offering cheaper public transportation.  In addition, I think gas prices should be increased, and the additional tax used to offset damage caused by pollution.

These suggestions take time to implement, but this is the exact type of external benefit or cost that supply and demand economics fails to accurately capture.  The maximum marginal value to society is not reached at the supply and demand equilibrium price and quantity.  By limiting gas consumption through raised prices or artificially lower quantities, it will encourage more efficient use of the precious fuel.  This non-recoverable, polluting resource consumption must be curtailed, and it won't happen organically.

Monday, June 25, 2012

20 Ways to Go Green That Make a Difference - COMPLETE!

On September 12, 2011, I penned a list of 20 Ways to Go Green that Make a Difference.  It took me more than half a year, but I am glad to say that I have finished.   I tried to write up tips that would not be huge investments of time or money, and would actually have a positive impact.  I think that I was successful.  Here is the full list, I have bolded the posts that I think are my best.

1) Drive less 
2) Drive at or below speed limit, saves gas and is safer
3) Eat local food, less resources used for transport and supports local farmers
4) Grow your own vegetables, even if its just herbs in your window
5) Bring your own bags to the grocery store, fully reuse paper/plastic bags if you forget
6) Drink from a reusable water bottle
7) Green garbage?
8) Turn off lights when you are not using them
9) Run full loads in the dishwasher/laundry
10) Conserve water in everyday situations
11) Make things yourself
12) Use rechargeable batteries
15) Give green gifts
17) Volunteer
19) Limit food packaging, buy food in bulk
20) Use rags or old clothing over paper towels

My next series will be on affordable ways to go green, I have still not developed the list, but I expect there will be more than 10.  Not everyone can afford to buy a Prius, but we can all find ways to go green!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Replace Paper Towels with Rags

This is part of my series20 Ways to Go Green that Make a DifferenceThis series discusses practical ways we can go green in our lives, that will have a measurable effect on the environment.  This is an alternative to the many lists that offer 100+ suggestions, many of which are not easily applied to our lives or the impact is minimal. 

Paper towels are extremely expensive.  Several cents per sheet, in fact.  Don't believe me?  Peruse your local Wal-Mart and see the packs of rolls on sale for $20.  They are also extremely not green.  Many people use them for a small stain and toss them right in the garbage.

A much better alternative is to use rags.  The key with them is reusability.  Unlike a paper towel, after you soil a rag, just toss it in the laundry.  If you have a large set of rags, you can run a load just for rags, or even toss them in with your regular laundry.  While this does increase the cost from the ~75 cents you pay for the rag, it will pay off in green dividends and cash dividends if you wash the rag enough times.

Rags do not necessarily have to be purchased, and this is where the real savings both green and otherwise comes in.  You already have a bunch of rags sitting in your closets somewhere, the fiber is just in the form of your old clothing.  Old t-shirts (see above) make great rags, and repurposing your old clothes means you don't need to outlay any money for rags.  Just grab your scissors and an old shirt or set of sheets and cut into rectangles.  Soon you will have a big bucket of rags.  Reach for them in any situation that you would need a paper towel.

Finally, if you must use paper towels, make sure to get maximum utility from them.  Do not use a huge piece of towel for a miniature stain.  Make sure to grab a small piece of towel and use it completely.  If you are mopping something up, make sure to wring out the excess liquids and try to re-use.  If you end up getting a paper towel not that dirty, you can recycle it.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Buy Food in Bulk

This is part of my series20 Ways to Go Green that Make a DifferenceThis series discusses practical ways we can go green in our lives, that will have a measurable effect on the environment.  This is an alternative to the many lists that offer 100+ suggestions, many of which are not easily applied to our lives or the impact is minimal. 

The modern food industry is a topic that fascinates me and is often the subject of posts here.  There are many ways we can make this industry greener and it is very important to consider changes, as this is one of the industries that affects every single person in the world.  We all need to eat, and if we can make green improvements in this industry, the scale will make a big impact.

One of the biggest problems is packaging.  It is very wasteful and in most cases unnecesary.  Preservation of food is one thing, but the excess packaging favored by marketing types to "differentiate" processed foods is completely excess and unnecesary. 

We do not need food wrapped tightly in plastic, then stuffed into a cardboard box. Many of us simply see this as more garbage, and promptly deposit it into the trash barrel.  This could be recycled, which would be better, but what would be best is simply avoiding it at all.  I have mentioned my "deposit theory" and I believe if there were a deposit on cardboard boxes and plastic bags, it would incentivize people to reduce consumption or increase recycling, any excess money would go to recycling programs to sort the actual garbage to find deposits which were not redeemed. This would create more jobs and would improve the environment, a win/win if there ever was one.

One way individuals can go green is by buying their food in bulk.  Not just granola is available, although feel free to buy that in bulk as well.  Beans, rice, nuts, candy, flour, sugar, spices, vegetables, coffee, meat, syrup, honey and many other commodity goods can be purchased with simple bags (that you will re-use) and priced by the pound.  You may want to consider bringing reuseable containers right to the store, to avoid wasting bags.  Another way to buy in bulk is by purchasing a large side of beef direct from a farmer or a fish from a fisherman and wrapping it minimally before putting it directly into your fridge or freezer.  Bring back old egg cartons and fruit boxes to the farmers market and re-fill them.  There are many ways to go green in the food packaging world, so be creative.

A related topic is the packaging of commercial foods.  Although 100 calorie snack packs allow you to keep your portions of crappy processed food in check, they are mainly vehicles that allow food companies and their marketing teams to make a few more percentage points of profit from you.  Avoid pre-sliced food that is then packaged and sold in smaller containers (for a higher price).  When buying deli meats, have them weight your meat and cheese separately, then put into one deli bag.

These changes may seem small, and on an individual scale, they might not make a difference.  However over the course of a year they certainly will.  Every human on the planet needs food and if they bought in bulk, it would cause a huge shift in the food industry and cut down on waste and pollution.  I also bet everyone would have a few more bucks left in their pockets!  Green and cheap, a solid combination.  Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma is a great read if you want to re-think the food industry.

Friday, May 18, 2012

It's Summer, Get Out There and Enjoy It!

The summer is here in my eyes.  Although it is only May 18th, things have been getting warm here in the Northeast.  I realize I am a bit hypocritical, since I am sitting in a cool air-conditioned office, but I can not wait for the weekend to get outside and enjoy the weather.  Go green and enjoy the weather.  Instead of playing video games, using artificial lighting and air conditioning, and other creature comforts, do things outside.

There are tons of great options to consider.  My personal favorite is hiking.  Find a local mountain and just get out there.  Other options to consider are fishing, local and delicious food awaits. Swimming, bicycling or other sports are a great way to have fun and enjoy the weather, make sure to bring that re-useable water bottle. For those of you with a green thumb, get your tressle and go gardening.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Patagonia x eBay: Common Threads

As regular readers of this blog know, I believe one of the easiest ways to make a difference by going green is through used clothing.  I have advocated shopping at thrift stores and second hand shops before and eBay is a virtual extension of this, except that it allows you to get the exact items you want!

Patagonia, which is a great outdoors company, striving to do good in the world, through use of sustainable farming of organic cotton in its products has teamed up with eBay to create a new program called Common Threads.  The idea is to encourage people to buy used clothes and recycle their old ones, rather than wasting by buying new when used will do.

Here is the link to the webshop on eBay.  If you are in need of Patagonia clothing, make this your first destination.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Book Review: The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan

I purchased the Omnivore's Dilemma at a thrift store for $2.00 a few months ago, and it had been sitting on my shelf for awhile.  I delved into it one lazy weekend, and although it took me the better part of a month to read, it was very eye-opening and enjoyable.  I first heard about the book, through the film Food Inc, which I highly recommend as well.  Both works cover the modern food industry, which is very different from the rest of human history's food, and the resulting effects on our planet and our bodies.

I obviously care about food a great deal, as I believe what you eat is literally what you are.  If you constantly eat crappy fast food and sweets, then thats what you become.  Food expenditures in the US these days are at the lowest percentage of family income of all time, and the plethora of options available at the supermarkets has never been bigger.  The Omnivore's Dilemma helps us to navigate this new situation, and helps us to understand how the food gets to our table, and the answers are surprising.

I do not want to give the book away, but Pollan discusses the world's most plentiful crop corn, which is in nearly everything we eat.  He discusses how this organism has evolved to be perfect for human needs and allowed it to take over vast amounts of land.  He also discusses the organic food system, and how at its ideal, this is an excellent way of thinking about food, but in practice mirrors many of the less tasteful things about the rest of the industry.  Next he lives with Joel Salatin (pictured above), owner/farmer of Polyface Farm, which is my favorite section of the book.  Finally he examines hunting and foraging, which is how human ancestors ate for centuries, before agriculture.

The book is great, and is a good read, as Pollan is able to make the topic very readable.  It is also enlightening, especially about something that we spend a good portion of every day doing, but maybe do not think about enough...

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Use Natural Lighting and "Air Conditioning"

This is part of my series20 Ways to Go Green that Make a DifferenceThis series discusses practical ways we can go green in our lives, that will have a measurable effect on the environment.  This is an alternative to the many lists that offer 100+ suggestions, many of which are not easily applied to our lives or the impact is minimal. 

The summer is coming, and that means long days and hot weather.  For many people this means high bills from central air conditioning.  This is one of the most wasteful and unnecessary creature comforts that human society has.  While it is comfortable and pleasant, there are plenty of ways that we can mitigate the environmental waste and damage caused by these creature comforts.

Since summer is coming, the days are going to be much longer.  This means that we will not need to waste as much electricity on lighting, since days are going to last longer.  It is important to harness as much natural light in both office and residential settings.  Large, well placed windows will allow us to bath in the radiance of the sun, and avoid wasting electricity for artificial lighting.  This is fairly straight-forward, but the design of many buildings does not effectively take advantage of the free solar lighting offered.  To make this change, demand windows and natural lighting.  Also, if you have it available to you, make sure to take advantage of it, and consciously turn off lights if they can be avoided.  Furthermore, get out and enjoy the sun, especially for those of us who live in the northern part of the country, take advantage of long summer days and get outside in the evenings rather than watching TV indoors.  Have a bar-be-que, play sports, or just lounge outside with a book.  Free lighting everywhere!  I also try to take advantage of this in the winter, by going to bed earlier, so I do not need to waste electricity at night.  Candles are great, especially before bed!

As far as natural "air conditioning" this is a bit more difficult.  Obviously, everyone loves the cool comfort provided by central air and fans, but do we really need it?  No, humans are well adapted to warmth, and we sweat out all of our excess heat.  Instead of using a fan or the air conditioner, open up the windows!   This goes for both the car and the house.  No need to waste gasoline by using your air conditioner, just slow down and roll down those windows and drink in the breeze.  Although there is a chance that pests may get in your house, its not much of a bother, just get a screen!  If it gets unbearably hot, try to use low levels of air conditioning, rather than cranking it up to the highest setting.  Most of the time, you just need a little bit of conditioning rather than the frigid cold in the middle of July!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Green Investing

This is part of my series20 Ways to Go Green that Make a DifferenceThis series discusses practical ways we can go green in our lives, that will have a measurable effect on the environment.  This is an alternative to the many lists that offer 100+ suggestions, many of which are not easily applied to our lives or the impact is minimal.

Today's topic is something many of you have probably not considered in the course of your green education.  That topic is green investing.  You may have a 401k for an employer, an IRA from your parents, or an account at a brokerage.  Your investments make a difference.  Just like every dollar you spend, every dollar you invest is a vote of support for that company.

There are many ways to invest greenly.  You could invest directly into an alternative energy company, but that opens you up to the risks of not being diversified.  To counter that you could consider a green mutual fund like Gabelli's SRI Green Fund.  This fund invests in socially conscious firms and you benefit from having professionals in the investment world managing the day to day of your money for a marginal fee.

iThere are a number of organic and natural foods companies you may want to consider directly investing in.  These include Whole Foods Market, the organic grocer, or Lifeway foods, makers of Kefir and other healthy foods.  It is also as important what you do NOT invest in as what you do actually make an investment in.  Things to avoid are industrial farmers, makers of GMO altered foods or seeds.  I am not going to list their info here, as I do not want it to be misconstrued as support, but do your research and make sure not to invest in companies or in funds with holdings in these types of corporations.

A final option you may want to consider is a micro-loan.  This is a direct loan to an individual, often in a poor country, for them to make a business.  Kiva is the largest marketplace for this type of a loan.  Although many do pay back their loans, I would not consider this a viable investment strategy and should be considered more as entertainment or charity.  I have heard success stories and it is an option you may want to consider.


As always, it is important to think about what you are doing and to act intentionally.  Although all investors are in search of the "green," not all of them care about being green on the way to profits.  You can make a difference by both NOT supporting the offenders and by supporting the green energy firms who are creating new products and services to make our planet better!

Disclaimer: Although I do work in the investments field, I am not a registered investment advisor.  These are solely my opinions and should not be taken as investment recommendations.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


 This is part of my series20 Ways to Go Green that Make a DifferenceThis series discusses practical ways we can go green in our lives, that will have a measurable effect on the environment.  This is an alternative to the many lists that offer 100+ suggestions, many of which are not easily applied to our lives or the impact is minimal. 

One of the most green things that you can do is to volunteer.  Many of the things you can volunteer to do, such as clean up the local parks or just the city where you live will make a meaningful impact.  Or you can choose to help others.  During the time that you are volunteering, you will not be using electricity to watch video games or driving to the mall to buy goods made halfway around the world.  Even if the activity you are doing is green neutral, you will still be making a huge difference in someone's life.

There are so many different ways to volunteer.  Every year on Thanksgiving my family volunteers at a local homeless shelter.  We get together to serve the homeless a traditional Thanksgiving meal.  Instead of sitting at home, with the heat on, television on the football games and all of the accompanying environmental damage, we are out in our community, interacting with the downtrodden.  It feels absolutely great to give up a couple of hours of your time for a good cause.

There are many other activities that you could volunteer in if you would rather be outside, volunteer with the local parks department.  I am sure they would be willing to have a helping hand clean up one of the local parks.  This helps to keep our green places fully natural and avoids disturbing the local ecosystem as much as possible.  In addition, you get a chance to be outside, enjoying making a beautiful place more beautiful.

Even if you are simply volunteering your money, by donating, make sure to donate to a good cause.  There are many causes that help the sick, hungry, and downtrodden.  Also money can be donated to keeping the outdoors clean.  Volunteering your riches can help to facilitate others to take up the cause, even if you do not have the time to do it yourself.

The most important point is that this does good in a world filled with cruel people.  This series is all about making a difference, and there is no better way to make a difference than to volunteer to help others or the planet.  Even if the volunteering you are doing has no environmental effect, it is likely that you are at least not doing anything negative, environmentally speaking!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Go Green: Beer Growlers

As anyone who reads my other blog, A Terrific Life, knows that I love beer.  Specifically, good, local craft beer.  The beer brewing process uses an unfortunately large amount of resources, specifically water, grains, and electricity.  The beer must then be stored while it ferments, and then packaged and shipped to the consumer.  Then the cans or bottles are often discarded or thrown in the trash, rather than recycled.

Growlers present a great alternative that will hopefully limit the environmental impact of the packaging and distributing activities involved in beer.  Growlers are large jugs, often 32 or 64 ounces, that can be filled directly from the tanks or kegs and sold directly to customers.  This cuts out the distributor, since consumers can buy the beer directly from the brewery.  Also, there will not be electricity wasted on packaging, storing, and shipping the cans or bottles that are traditionally used in the beer market.  In addition, the nature of a growler means that you will be getting fresher beer, often from a local brewery.  This is important, because beer tastes better the fresher it is, and there is not as much energy wasted in storage between the time produced and ultimately consumed.  Finally, supporting local businesses is something we always encourage.

Another point that I like about growlers is the higher bottle deposit. This is something that I have advocated in the past and stand by firmly.  Many people who do not recycle, would, if it was in their own selfish best interest to do so.  This can be accomplished by raising recycling deposit limits.  People will have to shell out extra money for the container when purchasing, and then be refunded upon return.  Growlers are large containers, and I am sure expensive to buy, so they charge $1.50-$5 bottle deposits.  Of course, once you pay it once, you can re-use the growler or bring it back and exchange it at the brewery for a new one. 

Selling growlers makes good business and environmental sense, as the middle-man distributors are cut out, and there is less waste as a result of packaging beer into 6-36 packs of bottles and cans, and the recquisite packaging for individual retail and wholesale cases.  Of course growlers can not serve every single consumers needs, but using them more, as well as increasing bottle deposits on smaller vessels will help to lower the environmental impact of one of my favorite beverages.

Drink Craft Beer!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Green NCAA March Madness

The play-in games, or Round 1, as the NCAA is trying to push, are upon us.  The NCAA March Madness tournament is one of the biggest sporting events of the year, after the Super Bowl.  It may seem like an odd time to think about the environment or going green, but I consider it a reminder and a prompt for us to reconsider and evaluate how we think about our impact on the world.  Also, it s a time where many often host parties or gatherings, which can result in a large amount of unintended and ultimately unnecessary waste.

Let me preface by saying that I am a huge fan of the game of basketball, and although I prefer the NBA, and my beloved Boston Celtics, I still am a fan of the college game as well.  The desperation that is brought out by a single elimination tournament cannot be matched in professional sports other than in championship situations.  Let's take a look at some of the points I thought were important regarding the green aspect of March Madness.

First of all, there is the electricity consumed while people make up their brackets, watch games on the television or computer, and even stream them through their mobile devices.  Granted, this would probably occur normally anyways, but I think it is always important to be conscious of when we are using energy.  There are often parties or gatherings to get together to watch games.  This is one of the positive aspects of a group event like this, a single television can be shared by many, not to mention the great times had by sharing the experience of an underdog taking out a heavy favorite.

Where there are parties gathered to watch sports, there is likely to be food and alcohol, whether at a house or restaurant.  The host of the party may ask guests to bring specific items, such as appetizers, drinks, or an entree.  This will help to limit the amount of excess waste that is produced.  My recommendation to improve on this is to have the host provide all the food for the event, and charge a small fee.  This will allow the green-conscious party to provide just enough food for the amount of people expected, and in addition, there will not be the waste by-products from all the packaging material that guests would inevitably bring if left to their own devices.  As always, a focus on local foods is a positive idea.

If you are going to drink beers, consider drinking locally brewed craft beer, in a can or growler if you can find it!

There is going to be a ton of garbage and mess after the party, make sure to take care and dispose of it all properly.  Recycle as needed.  You can have the guests all do their part before they leave, especially as they are all aware that your party is a green one.  Before, during or after the games consider getting outside and actually playing basketball.  It is a great, fun way to excercise with no effect on the environment!

Enjoy the tournament and go Michigan State Spartans!!!