Sunday, August 30, 2009

Colleges Going Green - They Need to Do Better

Sunny clear day, with fall clearly in the air.

I had the very mixed emotions of bringing my daughter (my baby) to college on Saturday. Having been raised in a "college town", I love visiting campuses for that academic, young spirited, high energy rush. I also now enjoy visiting colleges with a green eye perspective to see how colleges are going green. At the end of the day, I left with some pleasant surprises and, unfortunately, some disappointments.

Colleges going green get a lot of media attention, especially since there seems to be some competition to be listed in the top what ever for being green. I think it's a good thing to go after such a status; certainly better than the party school category.

The college my daughter is attending is no where to be found on "the list"of green colleges, but their website still boasts a tab for "green living". The initiatives are impressive, with the ever present, well documented, school's "commitment" to going green. Looks great on paper (not literal, it's online) but visiting proved to be another story.

When we first drove up to the dorm entrance I was surprised and pleased that my daughter was handed her room keys along with a stainless steel water bottle. (thank God it wasn't a SIGG) It was a no-name brand but the message was more important than the product - use reusable water bottles. This was a great start.

Once in the room, there was a standard size paper posted on the back of the door with instructions for recycling, but no encouragement to Reduce and Reuse before you Recycle, like using the water bottle they were just given. It was the basic list of items to recycle but what was seriously lacking were containers to put all this. It would have been nice to have 2 waste containers, one clearly labeled for recycling, so student were constantly reminded of what was expected of them. Some schools hand out bags clearly marked so they can easily carry them to where they need to go. It is a waste of a perfectly good bag, but they probably have a much higher participation rate.

My other daughter happens to be doing a semester exchange out in Northern California which she likens to Burlington, Vermont on steroids. In her dorm room there are 2 baskets, one trash and one recycling for students. Each trash can on campus is buddied with a recycling bin. All dumpsters have a big sign on it: "WAIT - Can you recycle it?" Sounds like a pretty easy enough thing to do. Why can't all schools do this? And towns and cities for that matter.

Back to the dorm room. Also on the sheet of paper were reminders to turn off the lights when leaving the room and any other electrical "things" not needed (I suppose that is the "reduce part"). It mentioned using CFLs (compact fluorescent light bulbs) and said to dispose of them properly in a plastic bag and give them to a janitor. I'm not sure how many students will actually do this, I hope all. It very casually mentioned that they contained mercury but I would have liked to see them really push the proper disposal and to not put it in the regular trash. Maybe they didn't want to sound alarming or have some parent freak out about the mercury but I think they could have heightened the instructions a bit.

I did find something quite disturbing and totally unacceptable - the instructions, in the event that a CFL broke, actually said to look it up online as to how to take care of it. ?^$%?? By then it's too late and the likelihood of everyone looking up the directions online seem pretty remote. I would have like to have seen in big print, bigger than everything else, about opening windows and getting out of the room asap, in addition to the "be careful about picking up the glass" etc. This is a very serious over site on the college's part.

There were no other do's or don't like using a smart strip or at the very least turning of the surge protector to power down phantom load.

Once the furniture was rearranged and the bed made, off to the student union we went. They had coffee for the parents (yes I brought my thermos) and, EEK, handed out free water in disposable bottles. Why didn't they have big containers of water like the coffee so students could use those stainless steel bottles they were just given? Doesn't anyone use a water fountain anymore?

There was a table set up by an environmental group showing green cleaning products, reusable water bottles, a Brita filter that did not say BPA-Free and some paper items with recycled content. I asked them if they were encouraging students to hang dry their clothes and they mumbled something about trying to figure out where to hang a line outside. I suggested some racks inside might work too but they thought the lack of "air" might not let the clothes dry. I shared my thoughts about how once the heat comes on, the air is usually pretty dry and the clothes should have no problem drying. My daughter was mortified.

In the afternoon we went to the Welcoming Event by the President and Deans held in their big auditorium. Before it started, one of Deans handed out, EEK, bottled water. This really struck me. How is it that the students were given reusable water bottles but the staff was not setting an example? What's good for the goslings is good for the geese. As I sat and listened, I wondered what would this scene would have been like 30 years ago. They would not have handed out bottled water, people didn't drink water like they do today. If someone needed water,they would have brought their own glass or the school would have provided a pitcher of water and small glass for all. I think that anyone can manage to get through 1 hour without the need to drink water and this obsession with drinking water is, well, an obsession.

Overall the day was lovely, the school is wonderful and my daughter is sure to flourish. But I did leave very surprised at how un-progessive the school was with regard to environmental awareness and behaviors. After reviewing their website, which seems quite thorough, it doesn't seem the school is really walking the walk. There's talk about renewable energy, there are a few solar panels on one building, they do carbon-offsets and have a green building policy. These are all really big wonderful top-down initiatives to be applauded for sure but equally important are the small things, done by each person everyday for the bottom up approach.

Colleges, at least some, should perhaps review their green policies, update them, and put all the do's and don'ts that might be on their website into real action. I think it is wonderful that there is so much emphasis on colleges going green, that institutions have sustainability policies and being environmentally conscious is "in". Colleges have such a precious opportunity to teach young people about our role in the future of the environment, to create lasting habits and to have them appreciate all that surrounds them. I love that colleges are going green - but they need to do better.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Treehugger's Responsibility to Get It Right

Finally a cool morning; mist deep in the valleys.

Treehugger's Lloyd Alter is not only "for real" but also the latest "come back kid". After a licking from readers, myself included, Lloyd kicked out a descent article about alternative choices for safe water bottles. And it didn't include SIGG, Laken or any BPA lined aluminum knock-off. In case you missed the biggest BPA scandal drama over the weekend, it began with Treehugger responding to the news about SIGG admitting to the world that their old bottles did indeed have BPA in their "water based epoxy". (SIGG says their new bottles are BPA-Free but still won't say what exactly the ingredients are; it's that damn secret again)

Lloyd's first (of 4) article began with an over view of SIGG's confession but did end with a note of disgust at SIGG's lack of transparency about what the heck is in this liner anyway followed by many comments, including mine and SNEWS'. The next day followed with Lloyd noting the angry responses and an article headlined "Did We Get it Right?". Some comments, mine included, continued the outrage at the entire sham and Lloyd "hailing" SIGG and Laken and their educating the public about their BPA linings. I'm not sure "educating" is the right word because since then SIGG is sticking to their 0% leaching mantra and continuing business as usual without a hint of conciliation. Later that day, Lloyd followed with an article "Should I Dump My Old SIGG... " which concluded that SIGGs were safe, but the company was not transparent.

Well I guess I cracked and wrote a scathing comment, and then ended up blogging about it which apparently got Lloyd's attention. Lloyd kindly commented on this blog and we had a friendly back and forth "discussion". Lloyd Alter's fourth article reviewed safe drinking alternatives to SIGG as a culmination to the drama. Oh, I almost forgot the most important part - Lloyd mentioned moi in his opening paragraph (thanks Lloyd!). I guess that damn old squeaky wheel can still get some attention.

So besides this being the biggest eco scam scandal everrrrr, with the Twitterers and Bookers going round the clock, what happens now? Where do we go from here? I do have several thoughts and points to make as a follow up. (ya, okay, I never say die, but I gots passion)

First, I think what Treehugger has accomplished in 5 years is absolutely amazing. Treehugger is the first go-to source for all things green, with nearly 40 posts per day, over 50 writers and millions of monthly visitors from around the world. They have expanded by leaps and bounds to different medias, partners and...advertisers. I hope Treehugger can continue to bring us fresh, informative and honest information. Honest to the point that there will never be a conflict of interest so that their first obligation remains to the readers and not their advertisers. I'm not the only one concerned about this. Several comments on their posts felt that Treehugger wasn't being hard enough on SIGG's big business deception and referred to ties with advertisers. That is the problem with "getting" paid, either through advertising or accepting products or money for writing. The twitter comments are pretty darn angry but Lloyd really never slammed SIGG like so many of us were hoping. Could be Lloyd is just a mellow guy. Or could be Treehugger gets (did?) mucho advertising dollars from SIGG and other big "green" companies who produce the knock-offs (from China with BPA, either knowingly or didn't bother to ask). I hope Treehugger doesn't go "lite" on us and can be true to good green "tell it like it is" writing, and doesn't succumb to that subtle conflict of interest.

So why is this important? I think it is important because this isn't the end of the BPA scandal. I think it is actually just the beginning. It's important to watch how SIGG has handled all of this. It's important to read the article by the sleuthing Milwaukee duo BPA Industry Fights Back. One scary quote, "The industry has launched an unprecedented public relations blitz that uses many of the same tactics - and people - the tobacco industry used in its decades-long fight against regulation. This time, the industry's arsenal includes state-of-the-art technology. Their modern-day Trojan horses: blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia and YouTube.... the Society of the Plastics Industry - has launched a $10 million campaign to sell the benefits of plastic to people ages 18 to 28 who are the likeliest to be buying baby products in the next decade. The association has committed $400,000 to the effort and hopes to raise the rest in the next few years." Taking a look at SIGG's Facebook sites, you'll quickly see the same deceptive "speak" over and over. "A lie told often enough becomes the truth". (Thanks Lenin) SIGG's deception wreaks of really big business - big like the plastics and tobacco industry. "...chemical makers launched their own Web site, It features nine videos, all posted on YouTube and intended to debunk worries about BPA." SIGG's mantra continues... 0% leaching, 100% Safe.

My daughter reminded me last night that 2 1/2 years ago I wouldn't let her get a SIGG (it was cool and pretty) because I said their was something "sketchy" about it. Call it mother's intuition - If it looks and smells like a rat, it must be a rat.

And so this brings me back to Treehugger. If this is just the beginning of the BPA Industry's fight for plastic, we environmentalists need to watch out and be prepared. And that includes Treehugger taking a hard, first to the punch, a knock out punch, approach. The BPA/Plastic propaganda will be everywhere; it is every where and will cast doubt to many. This is why we all have to keep our passion and do what's right. As Lloyd said, BPA is in everything. Plastic surrounds us, with little hope of improvement, if we don't stand up to this big incoming wave of deception, tactics and really big money. We readers, bloggers, moms and ordinary people look to Treehugger for guidance, to show us the way, to give us the umph to fight the environmental fight. Sometimes when you're big you lose site of just how important you are, like the third grader who hangs on her teacher's every word.

Treehugger and its writers have created big shoes that must stay filled. They need to continue to "do their homework" and keep up the good work they've started. So when a company has spent millions creating a slick eco image, dumped big bucks into their website and seductive marketing tactics, used celebrities for pop appeal, paid for lab results hoping to show their stainless steel competitors would seriously leach metals (which they didn't) and then flaunt the weak results on their SIGG websites, all the while deceiving their devoted customers, then they, SIGG, deserve to be publicly slammed, run out of the eco -world and told to take their "0%", their certifications and their new eco-secret liner and shove it. (are you listening Mr. Laken?) Shame on SIGG for doing this. Shame on us if we let it happen again. This is why Treehugger has a responsibility to "get it right".

Saturday, August 22, 2009

SIGG and BPA - Treehugger Got Hoodwinked

Full rainbow and just spectacular.

SIGG's confession about BPA, bisphenol-A, being in their water bottle lining has shocked the eco world. Almost equally as shocking has been Treehugger's un-in depth reporting about SIGG's containing or leaching BPA issue, which began over a year ago, with their loose endorsement of SIGG's BPA-Free claim. (Could it have anything to do with SIGG and other big green companies who also sell SIGG and their own aluminum water bottles that contain BPA being big time advertisers on Treehugger?) Treehugger's last posting as of this writing ends with "Safe (SIGG)? Yes." Did Treehugger get hoodwinked and can't admit it?

Really? Lloyd Alter, after 4 postings and an ambush of comments still comes to the conclusion that SIGGs are safe? Is he for real? I'm not going to take the absolute position that they are unsafe but I do question those who claim "safe". That is a pretty tall (high on yourself?) order to make. Treehugger even quoted SNEWS, which was tougher on SIGG, and then wimped out in the end. So you're telling me that all pregnant moms and and little beings are perfectly safe sucking on SIGG bottles knowing that we don't know whether they leach below 2 PPB (because it has never been tested) , knowing that we do know (now) they contain BPA in the lining, that we do not know what the ingredients are in the new secret eco-care liner and knowing that Canada, States and Cities have taken the precautionary approach and have banned BPA products for under age 3 because for safety concerns? That's interesting that an entire Country bans BPA due to safety concerns while Lloyd Alter (who's out of Canada) concludes SIGG is safe. WOW.

To continue to make the claim of safety based on such little fact is irresponsible. We don't have the facts in about the safety of BPA since that is ongoing as we speak. We do know that BPA in very small amounts, PPT, is causing fetal and developmental damage. Scientists are working on this now. It is inconclusive for humans, (for some though very conclusive),but not looking good, which is why bans are continuing for precautionary reasons. This is why it is shocking that Lloyd Alter continues to say SIGG is safe.

But media attention is good, right? Even negative media attention is better than no attention at all. Unfortunately it rewards the liars, in this case SIGG. And that stinks.

And still no one is talking about the leaching of aluminum. The OKO Testing done in 2004 showed SIGG leaching aluminum. (you can find it on SIGG's competitor's site, Laken, but conveniently omitted from their own website.) But SIGG on their website says "ensure 0.0% leaching" of aluminum. Hmm, not adding up here either. Let's also be clear about these results. The level of testing was done at standards that are acceptable for drinking water purposes. These levels are high, otherwise most public water systems would fail. SIGG did leach aluminum but below these standards. OKO gave a very good rating for any water bottle that came in below these standards but very good does not mean no leaching. (this is deja vu, right?) This is the same BPA scenario all over again. SIGG then went out of their way to test stainless steel bottles so they could post it on their website to convince their customers of the dangers of stainless steel.

Let's face it, SIGG has cashed in on the water bottle craze using sleazy big corporate marketing tactics. It reminds me of Monsanto claiming on their website how happy their Indian farmers are using their GMO seeds back in 2002 and 2006 but omitting the recent update that these farmers are now committing suicide in the hundreds due to farming debt. Oops, sorry, minor detail omitted.

I've blogged in depth about SIGG and BPA before (see headlines on the right of this blog), and also about SIGG's "greenness". My first blog was over year ago when I didn't buy the BPA-free claim SIGG and Treehugger were making. I've said it before and I'll say it again...consumers have the right to know the ingredients of the products they purchase. Hiding behind "it's a proprietary secret" is deceptive, not transparent and definitely not real "green". Is this where I get to say "I told you so?"

SIGG led us to believe that SIGG was "BPA-Free". They refused to answer direct questions about the ingredients of their lining. They didn't directly lie but they sure danced around in order to satisfy the majority. This is the height of corporate deception. They have confessed that their old lining had BPA. They now claim their new eco-care liner is BPA-Free. Their certifications and testing are on their website and are pretty impressive. I am glad to see they meet Japan's standards since they are the highest in the world. SIGG's new lining sounds legitimately free of BPA and many other nasties. BUT Sigg's new lining is a proprietary secret. Doesn't this take us back to where we were before? That's like the shampoo bottles that list all the ingredients they don't have and then you look on the back only to find the word fragrance.

So my new questions for SIGG (are you may borrow for sure) are:

What are the ingredients in the new lining? (there might be a new gender bender that I would want to know about)

Will you be selling this wonderful new lining formula (and make millions to offset your development research) to the canned food industry so we may all benefit, including babies needing safe formula cans?

What long-term studies have been done on the new formula ingredient to insure safety?

May we have full access to these studies?

If a company can not answer these questions in an honest way, (it's okay to say I don't know) they don't deserve to be considered a "green" company. This is , in my opinion, the largest green washing, eco-deceptive, big business scam event ever. Shame on SIGG for giving false pretense to parents, pregnant mothers, children and the rest with regard to their lining and BPA.

Monday, August 17, 2009

How Green Is Camping? - Behind the Smoke Screen

Muggy, no view, dank air coming in the windows.

I just completed my annual camping vacation, which I try to include a green camping perspective. It was the first time in a long time that we did not have to fight the rain. It was a glorious time; good friends and good food. No electronics; just fresh air, babbling water and mountains. Oh, and a visiting bear.

We try to do the environmentally friendly camping bit. You know, "take only pictures, leave only footprints". We bring organic food (the wine isn't always organic), we recycle, and avoid disposable products. But I did get to thinking, just how green is camping?

There were 2 main areas that got my attention this year. Our at the core of camping camp fire and the biodegradable soap.

Biodegradable soap sounds pretty green, right? I mean, it biodegrades into nothingness, no harm done, right? Well, after some research, not exactly. First, there are no "laws" when it comes to labeling biodegradable soap, just guidelines by the FTC. Second, in order for soap to biodegrade, it needs the bacteria from the soil (not water) and can take more time than you think but hopefully by 6 months. (no, not 6 hours like I was hoping) Third, DDT eventually biodegrades too under ideal conditions but in the mean time, it's not cool.

So what's a sweaty, 3 day old, greasy-haired green camper suppose to do? Wilderness and environmental guidelines all say the same things... keep all biodegradable soap for dishes and hygiene at least 200 feet from a water source (about 70 paces). Yikes. I guess that means washing in the river is out of the question. Apparently, biodegradable soap does not biodegrade in the water. It just floats downstream in dirty soap form. And if you think about it, you wouldn't want to be downstream of someone washing and filling your water bottle. It needs the soil to filter the soap and provide the necessary bacteria to break down the soap to natural elements. So, grab a basin, fill it with water and walk 70 paces away from the water's edge and enjoy the green cleaning opportunity.

And now for the really touchy subject... the camp fire. Just how green is a camp fire? Well, not very, really. But there are some tricks to help it be greener. but first...

Why did I even want to think about this subject? The camp fire is the very essence of camping. But if the wind blows the wrong way, the smoke really stings the eyes and makes me cough because the tough to swallow reality is there's a lot of crap in that smoke.

Wood burning smoke is polluting; very polluting. Canada makes a big deal out of burning wood from wood stoves because it causes major winter smog. And that's from wood stoves which are usually cleaner than open air burning. The EPA has its own guidelines and statements about the small participles reaching deep into the lungs and causing respiratory problems. The Lung Association isn't too keen on it either. This definitely is not very green, is it? So what's a singing, smore making, camp fire lover suppose to do?

The guidelines for the least polluting green camp fire begin with no wood. That's right, use gas instead. If you don't want to go there (I won't either) and have to have the wood experience or must out of necessity, then avoiding the nasty smoke is the priority here. Start with very dry wood and good kindling that you have brought with you. (no gathering remember) Create a hot fire as quickly as you can. If you notice, a hot fire does not smoke and that's the key, keep it hot. Do not put trash or anything else in the fire.

It was a little unsettling to think that my camping wasn't really very green considering the washing up issues (I at least chose to stay greasy) and the smokey camp fire realization. It didn't exactly put a damper on things (sorry about that) but it did get me thinking and I've come away from all this having a greater respect for the outdoors. And yes, if we extend our camping days next year, it's basin and walk 70 paces time.

And the bear? A big black one at 4 A.M.

So, how green is your camping?