Category Archives: sustainability

Learning the Attitude of Happiness Through Community

To change the world start with one step…If you give, you, you begin to live…you get the world. Dave Matthews Band-You Might Die Trying

The more you give yourself to helping others, the more life and the world in which we live begins to make sense. It illuminates the purpose for our lives. Recently, I was part of a group that had the opportunity to travel to the Dominican Republic with an organization called Makarios to help complete renovations to a school focused on providing education to Haitian immigrants who otherwise would not have the ability to attend school in the country.

Makarios is a faith-based nonprofit organization dedicated to educational development in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and other impoverished areas of the world that is committed to a child’s spiritual, physical, emotional, and intellectual growth, to provide hope for a better future.

Our journey to the Dominican Republic began several months ago. For all it was a walk by faith and trust for an experience we could not fully be prepared. The team met and made plans. However, similar to all things in life, our plan could only take us so far before relinquishing control and allowing the true plan to unfold and guide us down our intended path. 

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. – James 1:27

To care for the orphans and widows was the impetus of our mission trip. James 1:27 can be seen as the foundation for Makarios and the Makarios school in the Dominican Republic. What greater purpose than to provide hope through education, food, encouragement and love? It was the motivation for our journey. And so, on August 13 we went.

We saw, we experienced and had emotions that produced a heart change in everyone. We interacted with the local children through various activities such as a Vacation Bible School, sports, games and simply conversing. However, as we lived life with the Makarios staff for a week it became clear that our greatest calling for the trip was in providing support with preparing the school, developing relationships with the Makarios staff and living in true community.

As we spent time in the village where we stayed as well as visited Haitian bateyes, the team was humbled to see that true community can be practiced daily. We were overwhelmed by the joy displayed from those who were in the greatest depths of poverty many of us have ever witnessed and viewed what it meant to live life correctly despite and without allowing circumstances to dictate one’s view and approach to life. Everything in the villages was built around the premise of survival through living in community. We were amazed to find that we were surrounded by smiles, surrounded by joy. Happiness is not found in possessions, but is an attitude toward all experiences one encounters in life. People describe this idea almost daily, but we were given a vision to its reality by the joy found in a place and a people that had nothing but the desire to live.

As our group reenters and acclimates to our lives before our journey began, there is a strong desire to not allow this previous existence to become to comfortable and a need to continue the community that was formed many miles away. The strength of our bond provides a greater understanding to the journey that is faith and encouragement to share it with others. The group remains committed to each other and focused on taking on new projects that support Makarios in the coming year. Austinites can support the mission of Makarios daily through the local coffee shop Dominican Joe’s. Its primary coffee is purchased from Makarios, which works directly with farmers in the region and pays fair trade prices for the coffee. The purchase of the coffee also helps provide scholarships to students in need.

The blessings of our journey to the Dominican Republic continue as we walk together down the path with faith, trust and community. September 20 marked the first day of school at Makarios in the Dominican Republic. Here is a great post displaying the schools transformation during the summer in preparation for this school year.


Food, Inc. – A Guide to Rediscovering my Saint

Passion can be but a spark that kindles a small trail. This initial flicker can lead to blaze a new path for an individual, however, fire cannot be controlled and can quickly change direction or simply flame out to a smoldering complacent end. Sustainability and organic were not words I had familiarity with until January 2007, but by February my entire outlook on food, health, business and life were realigned to this new found and obvious truth.

 Truth is the only worthy pursuit in life and can only be uncovered through a process engaging and building upon ideas, words and action. This final paragraph of my “This I believe” essay states:

I believe in truth. It is the single most important thing in life. All ideas, words and action are rooted in the pursuit of truth. There are many possible paths to truth, but only one truth. I believe there is one correct answer for every question, regardless of the differing ways to arrive at it. All people have their own unique truth. For some, like my father it is found through math. The mathematical proof is his truth. It is indisputable, final and true. I, however, pursue a different truth. It is one that is filled with questions that can not be proved in any man’s lifetime. This truth can only be reached by bridging the chasm between known truth and the unexplained by blind belief. My truth exists on the other side of faith.

There are perhaps only a couple truths accepted throughout all of humanity. The first is the Golden Rule. From a secular standpoint, all can accept this principle as true. For me, sustainability is another unassailable truth as defined as any process that can be replicated continuously without any loss in quality and provides greater efficiency long term than any competing solutions. If one were to target a single facet of life as the most crucial and foundational tenant of sustainability, it would be organic food production. The argument for organic food is that of complete and simple logic. Dupont was wrong, better living through chemistry is not in fact better. Perhaps it can best be broken down to this simple yet complete phrase:

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”  – Michael Pollan

The blazed path of my sustainable credo recently had begun to waver. Mirroring it to Faith, doubt was not the issue so much as complacency and allowing myself to assimilate into the man designed ways of this world that often try to best an already perfect system. Fast food is fast. Sugar and salt taste good and the actions of today often do not reap their inevitable consequences until years later. I was lucky. America was lucky, and hopefully the world. The beginning of my crusade back in 2007 was shepherded by the books Fast Food Nation and the Omnivore’s Dilemma. Both amazing books that rightly sit alongside The Jungle as ground breaking examples that epitomize investigative journalism in the food industry.

 The books have been widely read, but it is arguable that the message had not quite broken through. Our society has become a video culture. Why read the book, when there is a movie on the subject instead. Discussing the failures of this viewpoint are for another time. With this understanding, some took on the cause by creating the movies Super Size Me and Fast Food Nation. Both were excellent in their own right, but again neither completely broke through. In 2009, Food, Inc. was released. It is a summation of the most important facts and issues  from both Fast Food Nation and the Omnivore’s Dilemma distilled into a 90 minute feature presentation. Food, Inc. shook me from my distracted state. It is the guide to rediscovering my Saint.

Dito MontielCrossing Rivers

Business 101 – Do Not Poison Your Customers

One of my greatest passions has become food. Not because I love to eat or enjoy testing out new recipes. It became a passion once I learned what corporate America was actually passing off as food to the public. I am appalled with our industrial agriculture system and the chemistry experiment we devour every day to the benefit of quarterly earnings. Unfortunately, we cannot trust companies or the FDA to ensure what we are sold actually makes sense for a human to consume.

With that in mind, I recently came across an article in Fast Company that takes a look at Procter & Gamble’s stated devotion to sustainable, green products. It became clear in only a few paragraphs that P&G wanted to bathe itself in sustainable messaging, but words and a few nods to energy efficiency does not equal sustainable truth. As the reporter moved beyond the prepackaged interview with the company’s VP of global sustainability, he learned “that the amounts of hazardous chemicals consumers are exposed to through P&G products are at levels a thousand times lower than those that cause health problems in animals.” What? Why would a company ever use manufactured chemicals labeled as a “probable human carcinogen” at any level. The VP stated, “I know for a fact that everything in our products is safe.” Perhaps he should check his research with the European Union and the states of Virginia and Maryland who have banned P&G products deemed toxic.

Don’t be evil. This is the stated motto of Google and should be the rallying cry for all. But as with most corporate PR messages, it is just words founded in nothing to help shape a crafted image of the company. Communication transparency is not just an option with the growing social advances provided from Web 2.0, but a reality that I do not think companies have yet grasped. The era of developing messaging and providing prepared statements is over. For decades reporters have tried to cut through the empty statements given by corporate talking heads, but now companies can and are required to communicate directly to its customers. No longer can no comment or a convoluted response that actually says nothing be the last word. A company is guilty until proven innocent because history has shown there is reason to expect the former and consumers dismiss corporate speak sight on seen. Not answering a question directly results in the assumption that the truth is as bad or worse than that which a company is accused. Respond truthfully early and often is the only option…that and do not sell sugar coated poison. It really is not any harder than that.

Somebody is lying or perhaps horribly mistaken

The past week was big for cleaner alternative energy and fuels, helping to provide an even dirtier view of how globally we advance to a more sustainable future. At the highest level, the G8 member countries agreed to reduce by 50 percent GHG emissions by 2050. This is seen as significant not only because it was the first time the US agreed to long term reduction targets, but it also provides a foundation and direction for the UN as it looks to develop criteria for the Copenhagen Protocol that will replace the Kyoto Protocol in 2012. Sounds great, but it provides no short term targets such as where we hope to be in 2020. And as I have said before, I just do not see blanket policies weathering the political storm unchanged for forty years.

Normally the G8 decision would dominate energy/environmental news, but the UK media outlet the Guardian dropped this bombshell. Depending on which reputable source you choose to believe, biofuels are responsible for either 3, 30 or 75 percent of the increase in food prices. Awesome. Surely they do have an impact, but more so than that of China and other developing countries new demand for resources as is highlighted in this amazing article. Like most “it” technologies, biofuels are not the godsend they were made out to be in 2007, but I seriously doubt they are primarily responsible for the increase in global food prices.

Not to be outdone, T. Boone Pickens announced the Pickens Plan. It is a massive advertising campaign that aims to dominate this year’s presidential election by focusing on how the U.S. can alleviate its dependence on foreign oil by utilizing natural gas for a third of our transportation fuel needs. To do this we would need to replace the 20 percent natural gas makes up in the energy grid with wind power. As a follow up to the proposal, earth2tech wrote this post on the top 10 things you should know about natural gas vehicles. I am intrigued and think Boone may now be the official national conservative voice for sustainable energy. The difference between Boone and other prominent sustainable figures is he has a plan based on economics versus end of the world rhetoric and has a financial stake in making it a reality.

One Plug to Rule Them All

This morning I was alerted to a new universal power adapter from Green Plug. Fascinating and perhaps game changing for consumer electronic energy consumption. Many electronics such as laptops, iPods, etc. require DC power via batteries. Recharging these DC power sources requires converting the AC power we get from power outlets. Unsurprisingly, this is very inefficient and most devices require individual custom AC to DC power transformers or chargers.  greenplug_powerhub

Green Plug’s efficiency and positive environmental impact can be seen in several ways. First, it will eliminate the need for companies to develop and ship custom battery chargers because consumers can charge all the DC powered electronics from a single universal charger hub. Westinghouse recently announced that it has adopted the technology. Not only will it eliminate unneeded production of chargers, but also the disposal of them once a product is replaced.

Another significant advantage is that Green Plug converts the AC to DC power more efficiently and shuts down power to devices that are fully charged. Preventing energy consumption from charged devices can dramatically cut down on phantom or “vampire energy” waste. Here is what Green Plug states about its environmental impact.

I hope this technology takes off. Its smarter, more efficient and benefits companies, consumers and the environment. Perhaps its time to send a motivational email to Apple, Dell, HP, Samsung and Nokia to get on board.

Much Ado About Nothing…getting done

11thhour-posterYesterday the U.S. Senate began the debate regarding the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act. This bill could have tremendous impact on directing America’s energy future…more specifically its sustainable renewable energy future. The bill would reduce our greenhouse gas emisions by about 2/3 by 2050, but unfortunately it is mired in so many concerns that few believe it has any chance of passing. Here is a great overview on many of the issues tied to the bill on NPR

While there is significant debate on the merits of carbon offsets and distribution of credits in a cap-and-trade system as well as a the inclusion of benefits for nonrenewable, dirty energy sources, I believe the greatest hurdle will have nothing to do with the environmental failings or energy constituents. The true downfall will come through the current state of our economy. Everyone agrees that this bill will raise consumer energy costs at a time when we are approaching $4 a gallon. While McCain, Obama and Clinton all express concern for the environment and our energy crisis, it was little surprise that none attended the opening day of the debate. Despite our altruistic hopes, the buck stops with the buck for the American public.

If that was not enough, the White House has unequivocally stated that it plans to veto the bill if it makes it that far. Personally, I do not think we will ever have a perfect bill and taking the first step toward change is always the hardest. We should take that step regardless of any shortcomings. On a side note, I find it amusing that we are discussing emission rates in 2050 because I would be shocked if all the policies in this current bill are left unchanged by the year 2020 (I think there is a greater chance a new bill takes its place…this could be good or bad).

Cutting down trees = good for the environment?

green_questionmarkIm all about sustainability and green technology, so solar panels is definitely seen as a positive in my book. California is often seen as the leader of positive reform and change in the U.S., but it seems they have an obscure 1978 law called the Solar Shade Control Act that is creating a bit of a stir.

A Sunnyvale couple is in the courts right now because their redwood trees in their backyard cast a shadow over their neighbor’s solar panels (trees were there first). Apparently, this law “bans trees or shrubs from shading more than 10 percent of a neighbor’s solar panels between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. It does not apply to trees or shrubs that were there before the solar panels were installed. But – and here’s the key distinction – it does apply to existing trees and shrubs that later grew big enough to shade the solar panels.”

Moreover…science suggests that the solar panels are better for the environment because “a tree only sequesters 14 pounds of carbon dioxide a year and a solar electric system offsets that every two or three days.” This seems a bit ridiculous to me and I feel we might be loosing touch with reality and what green is all about.