Archive for November 2012 | Monthly archive page

posted by | on , , , , , | Comments Off on My Munchable Musings: Discussing Fair Trade

Below is a guest post by Rachel Friedman. Rachel attended our last mini book club event and blogs at www.mymunchablemusings.com 

Last Thursday I had the opportunity to consume delicious chocolate in the company of a dozen or so eco-minded women. Once a month, the DC Eco-Women group holds a mini book club. Yes, you heard right; we in the Nation’s Capitol like our reading material in brief or memo format. Held at Scrap DC, the evening discussion tackled one of my favorite topics, chocolate. And not just any chocolate, but the environmentally and socially responsible.

Ah, the readings (and viewings). The Green America Blog reported on the recent announcement from Hershey Company that it plans to reach 100% certified cocoa by 2020. While it’s unclear what that really means, and it could be a step in the right direction, the blog implores Hershey to go further, strive for Fair Trade certification, and address the child labor and slavery issues in its supply chain. Fair Trade Your Supermarket addresses the consumer side of the ethical chocolate consumption. And finally, check out the BBC special on child trafficking the chocolate industry.

With this as our base and some serious Divine Chocolate on the table, we delved into the details on Fair Trade chocolate. Ok, so first of all, what does it actually mean to be Fair Trade? And what is the difference between that and some other certifications? According to the Divine representative, the major distinguishing characteristic with Fair Trade is the child labor and equitable wage standards. And while there are some criteria for environmental performance, certifications such as Rainforest Alliance and Organic make this the focal point. In choosing a bar with a label, it all comes down to what your priorities are.

 

That’s all well and good, but what about the big companies – Hershey, Kraft, Nestle, Mars, Cadbury? Do their pledges to source only “certified” cocoa hold many beans of truth? How guilty should I feel about Halloween? This was a more sobering conversation. Yes, commitments by such big players in the food and ag world are important strides. However, it is unclear whether by the distant date in the future, these commitments will actually be kept. Cadbury, for one, has moved forward with Fair Trade across the brand.

If not Hershey, then what? We subsequently moved onto how our favorite bars fare. Endangered Species Chocolate, with the cute cuddly animals all over the wrapping, has no certification and an ambiguous claim to donate money to conservation. Sadness. Chocolove has pretty wrapping, sappy love poems, and absolutely no claim of any kind of ethical inclination. Disappointing, but not unexpected. Green and Black’s, a UK brand, has good intentions and is moving toward Fair Trade. Theo Chocolate and Madecasse (you can guess whose favorite those are…) we already know and love. Divine, which was our confection of the evening, sources Fair Trade and from cooperatively-owned cocoa. Hopefully, we’ll have a deeper look at them in the near future!

So, the significance of the heavy lifters making commitments of certification, or of small manufacturers trying to do the right thing, also depends on our theory of change. Do we believe in small-scale purchasing power, or go for the clout of the big guys? What do you think?

———–

Rachel Friedman is non-profit worker, food blogger, yoga instructor, and DC eco-woman! She hails from the Pacific Northwestern United States, and has been living in the District for just over two years. Through her blog, My Munchable Musings, she tries to highlight the impact our modern food systems have on the planet and how changes in our natural systems have consequences for growing food. Not surprisingly, it is a reflection of her background in conservation biology, day-job that deals with sustainable agriculture and food security, and serious love of fresh, seasonal produce (and chocolate).

posted by | on , , | Comments Off on Words of Wisdom from Women at the Top

The following is a guest post by board member Katrina Phillips.  Katrina is Vice President of Membership for DC EcoWomen. She has a background in marine science, which she uses in her current position in communications for a science agency to translate scientific concepts into plain language.

DC EcoWomen recently partnered with The Nature Conservancy to host the event View from the Top: Advice on Surviving the Climb. In addition to bringing one of the highest turnouts we’ve had all year, this panel discussion was full of useful tidbits we can all learn from as we navigate our way along career paths that sometimes meander in unexpected directions.

Get to know yourself – what excites you? Miranda Ballentine, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

It may seem simple, but finding a fulfilling career starts with being honest with yourself. What are you looking for? Though entrepreneurship is often seen as the pinnacle of success, some find more fulfillment in intrapreneurship – using their ideas to bring about innovation within an existing framework. You don’t have to start your own company to make your mark in the world; you can channel your energy to create shifts in companies or corporations that already operate within a system. Which success means more to you?

Take advantage of opportunities – Jen Molnar, The Nature Conservancy

While setting goals is important, the jobs you take along the way may not always be what you had in mind. But each may have something valuable to offer. Many of us, perhaps women in particular, feel the need to be prepared for everything. There is no way to be prepared for everything. You can figure things out as you go. Maybe that job posting that caught your eye is a little out of your area of expertise. Maybe it feels below you. Stretch yourself – you’re sure to learn something.

Find a community of purpose Julie Rosenberg, EPA

Very few people find their dream job right out of school. So what do you do while you look for it? Use your skills where they’re appreciated. Find an organization or agency with a mission you support, so that at the end of the day you know you’ve contributed to something you believe in. You can make your way through the cracks in the rocks to new opportunities. It may not be the easiest or quickest path, but it can still be rewarding.

Get to know your networkSuzy Mink, The Nature Conservancy

Building and maintaining relationships are essential pieces of building and maintaining a successful career. This goes beyond your “professional references”. Mentors, advisors, classmates, and colleagues create a network unique to you. As you move on to new jobs or cities, be sure to keep up with old relationships in addition to building new ones. Send an email, meet for lunch, connect on social media (attend a DC EcoWomen event!). You never know when who you know will come in handy. 

posted by | on , , , | Comments Off on Sustainable Holiday Shopping at Eastern Market

Below is a post from guest blogger Denise.  Denise has written for Ecowomen previously, and is a recent graduate of Cornell University, where she studied environmental science and statistics. She now works in communications and is passionate about the environmental movement, writing short stories, and living sustainably.

It’s getting to be that time of year again. The winter wind is starting to bite, the leaves are turning and falling, and Christmas jingles are on repeat in shopping malls. The holidays are quickly approaching, and with the holidays, come the stresses of gift shopping, and the stress of finding the perfect gift – a gift with meaning amidst the mindless consumerism associated with the holidays.

This year, I urge you to look for gifts with sustainability in mind. A sustainable gift not only brings joy to the recipient, but also benefits the community and the ecosystem. A sustainable gift can be meaningful in so many ways.

There’s no better place than DC to find these gifts. The Eastern Market, a haven for localites, overflows with colors, produce, and life. Shopping at a local market is inherently sustainable, as the products don’t travel far from producer to consumer. Many of the vendors take sustainability even further, with recycled or used materials. If you’re looking for gift ideas along those lines, there are several vendors and types of goods in the Eastern Market that will fulfill your needs.

Hand-made Artwork
The artwork at Eastern Market is incredibly diverse and beautiful. Some of the bigger pieces might be a bit pricey, but most artists have small, affordable pieces as well that make great gifts.

 

Tiles and Magnets

Jeannette Landphair makes tiles and magnets from old newspaper clippings. The bathroom tiles have a retro look to them, and could easily be used as coasters. The magnets are signs from San Francisco newspapers, and would make a very entertaining addition to the door of your refrigerator full of produce you just bought from the market.
Mirrors

Antique mirrors that come from the East Coast can be found at the market in all shapes, sizes, and colors.  Some of them are quite old, and some are quite strange. But they are all astoundingly beautiful.
Old magazines, maps, postcards

If you know someone who wants history in their art, you can browse through the multitude of vintage Life magazine covers, posters, maps, and postcards. And as an extra plus, these are much less expensive than the newly made art.

Canimals

 One of the most interesting finds. The animals made from old soda cans – called “canimals” – are crafted by a man who calls himself Shumba. He says he got started because he was tired of taking out the trash. Now, friends and family give him their old soda cans- more than he has the capacity to use. These canimals are the very definition of up-cycling – taking used goods that could be recycled or thrown away, and using them in their raw form to create something new. “Can-tastic!”

 

Jewelry
At a stand called “Vintage Bling” you can find boxes upon boxes of old, vintage jewelry. For the treehuggers, there are plenty of butterflies, frogs, and other creatures as pendants and earrings. It doesn’t take a lot of digging here to find some beautiful pieces.

Scarves
“Raices Handcrafts” is a vendor selling hand-made Ecuadorian scarves and jewelry. The owners of this stand travel to Ecuador twice a year to purchase the most beautiful fabric, scarves, and jewelry from local artisans and craftmakers. Take it from a bona fide scarf-lover: these scarves not only warm, they are truly stunning. If you’re preparing for another ‘snowpocalypse’ winter, why not do so with sustainable style?

Household Goods
Handmade pottery, crafted mosaic lanterns, and gorgeous cutting boards from the woods of the Shenandoah. These are just some of the sustainably-made household gifts at the Market.

Homemade Soaps
Handmade just outside of the city, the creator of Peacock Botanicals, Olivia, has been making soaps for over 15 years. The visual beauty of the soap blocks is only surpassed by their aromas. The lavender and oats soap – with real oats in the soap – and the soap called “Remembrance,” with a beautiful color palette, were my favorites. But most intriguing was the “Soup du Jour.” I still don’t know exactly what was in it, but it smelled amazing.

I am always happy with a scarf or a coffee mug as a gift, either to give or to receive. But with so many options to choose from at the Eastern Market, there’s the opportunity to branch out and still shop sustainably.

I hope you find the perfect gift this holiday season: useful, beautiful, meaningful, and sustainable. This is what I’m looking to find this year – to give the gift of meaningful sustainability.

How do you plan to make your holidays sustainable this year?

posted by | on , , , , | Comments Off on EcoHour with Thu Pham – Can we have it all?

Below is a post by EcoWoman Dawn Bickett.  Dawn is a former science teacher passionate about combating environmental and social injustice through non-profit work. New to Washington, D.C., she is proud to learn from, and contribute to, the active DC Ecowomen community.

Before EcoHour began on Tuesday, November 13, speaker Thu Pham was already engaged in discussion with attendees about the struggle many working women face in cultivating a stable work-life balance. “We need to stop being so hard on ourselves,” she told the table over dinner. Nodding to Ann Marie Slaughter’s much-discussed essay in The Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” Pham noted that “‘Having it all’ means something different for every woman.”

This week, Thu Pham offered her thoughts on the challenges of creating a satisfying professional life and still finding time for personal fulfillment. As the executive director of Rachel’s Network—an organization that builds leadership and connections between conservation-minded, philanthropic women—and as the mother of three young children, Pham is well-versed in the hurdles that women professionals face.  Prior to her work with Rachel’s Network, Pham was a finance director and consultant on congressional campaigns, and an associate director of development for the League of Conservation Voters. At Rachel’s Network, she is dedicated to creating the collaborative and affirming work environment she envisioned throughout her career.

During her talk, Pham provided three key pieces of advice drawn from her own experience. First, don’t let others impose their expectations of your career path on you. Pham discovered this tenet early in her professional life when she felt pushed toward a career in a field that didn’t suit her. Over time, she learned to reject others’ expectations and find a direction that truly suited her interests.  Second, actively seek out a work environment that is positive and fulfilling. For Pham, this meant finding mentors that inspired her and believed in her abilities, and co-workers she enjoys working with. Third, create a personal network of peers to support you.

During the question and answer after her talk, Thu Pham circled back to one of her most resonant messages: Don’t be so hard on yourself. She suggested that we give ourselves permission to say ‘I’ve had enough today,’ and define our own work-life balance. Pham also encouraged her audience to support and lift up the women around them, because all of us benefit from a positive workplace environment.

Attendees of the November EcoHour left wondering not whether “having it all” was possible, but rather what “having it all” means in our own lives—and how we can help other women achieve a balance that works for them.

For more from Thu Pham, see her response to “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” at Forbes.

posted by | on , | Comments Off on Gearing up for Winter!

It seems that in the wake of Hurricane Sandy came winter.  Cold temperatures (except for the weekend’s “heat wave”) and days that get dark quickly (thank you daylight savings time) signal the beginnings of winter to me.  So this weekend, I spent some time preparing for a ‘green’ winter. Here are the winter-y things I’m forward to this season:

1. Winter Veggies.  Eating seasonal foods and veggies mean knowing what is available during the winter.  Veggies like broccoli and cauliflower last into winter, as do potatoes and yams.  I’m especially grateful that sweet potatoes last into winter – nothing says the holidays like candied sweet potatoes!

Check out this listing for more winter veggies!

2. Candles.  Candles are a great way to warm up your house without spending a fortune on heating bills.  Beeswax and vegetable oil candles are the best for the environment.  Plus, when the candle burns down, you can find a million uses for that jar.  Just stick the burnt out candle in the freezer for a day or so, pop out the wax, and wash.

Learn more about eco-friendly candles here.

3. Curling up with a good book.  There’s something about winter that makes me want to curl up under a lamp with a book and a blanket.  So I’m using this season to read up on some of my favorite mystery writers and to learn something new about environmentalism.  You can be sure I’ll be checking out our Book Club features through the winter!

4. Snow fun.  I’m certain that we are in for a snowy winter this year, so I’m preparing for all my favorite snowy activities.  There’s something wonderful about creating a snow angel in front of an apartment building!

Check out this article from the Huffington Post for some other snowy ideas for this winter!

What are some of your favorite winter activities? How do you make them ‘green’?

posted by | Comments Off on Communicating Climate Change: Make it relevant

By Denise Robbins.  Denise is a recent graduate of Cornell University, where she studied environmental science and statistics. She now works in communications and is passionate about the environmental movement, writing short stories, and living sustainably.

As an Ecowoman, you probably believe in climate change. Maybe the imminence of climate change and the importance of our global ecosystem has resonated so deeply with you that you are trying to what you can to live a sustainable lifestyle.  But for many, this message doesn’t ring true. Even though the majority of Americans, 67% according to the latest Pew study, believe that climate change is real, very few are inspired to act. And some believe this is due to miscommunication.

Climate change is an issue that is beginning to touch everyone. Some are calling it the biggest challenge of our era. So, how do we get people to rise up to the challenge?

On Thursday, October 18th, Net Impact hosted a panel titled “Climate Communications Challenges” to address this question, with three panelists from a wide variety of backgrounds. Tim Juliani comes from a scientific organization called the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES), formerly called the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. Mark Grundy, of the Carbon War Room, works to bring sustainable solutions to the private sector. And Alex Bozmoski, of Energy & Enterprise Initiative, speaks for the conservatives and libertarians.  They all believe in climate change. Here is the recap of the discussion.

Part 1: What are the greatest challenges to getting the message across about climate change?

An underlying theme of the responses was the disconnect between the solutions being offered and the people they were meant for. Those that understood the implications of climate change, and came up with solutions, were considered elitist.  No one likes to have their lifestyle criticized. Especially surrounding talks of cap and trade, which was confusing enough to alienate people, this rang true. If the public didn’t understand and couldn’t take part in the discussion, why would they accept the solution?

Even so, it seemed like cap and trade legislation was on its way in Congress until the financial crisis of 2008. When the economy collapsed, all hopes to pass climate change legislation were destroyed, and they have never truly recovered. The rhetoric changed radically, and question became whether one supports the economy OR the environment. Earlier this year, a certain Presidential candidate announced “Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans & heal the planet… My promise is to help you and your family.”  It was almost a joke that the two could be thought of as one in the same – and this rhetoric is used on both sides of the political spectrum. The damage from the financial crisis has not been fully repaired; the climate movement is still suffering.

Part 2: How do you inspire people to act, despite of the challenges?

Discuss extreme weather, but don’t add a caveat.

Courtesy of NASA (http://www.flickr.com/photos/gsfc/)

This past year has been one of extreme weather- 82% of Americans have experienced extreme weather in the past year. And this resonates with them, when they can feel the impacts of climate change so profoundly. But the important thing, according to Juliani, is to use this information without an addendum – namely, that it is impossible to link any particular weather event to global climate change. Adding that caveat fosters skepticism and doubt. There is a scientific consensus that climate change is real and man-made, and that is what’s important to communicate.

Make it relevant.

The other important facet to communicating climate change is making it relevant and engaging, according to the panel.  Sustainability is an all-encompassing topic that applies to everyone in different ways. Because of this, the panelists claimed the need for different messages for different groups. For some, speaking of climate change doesn’t resonate (especially for those that are still skeptical).  But lowering carbon energy usage makes economic sense for almost everyone. Grundy spoke of working with small islands – islands in danger of rising sea levels from climate change – to become carbon neutral. But they did this not to prevent climate change, simply because it made economic and social sense.

Part 3: How do you get people to trust what they’re being told?

Similar to the response to second question, the common answer was to segment the audience and outline different messages for different audiences. To take it even further, they suggested even using different messengers. There are many widely differing groups who are getting engaged: faith-based groups, foreign groups, democrats, republicans, farmers, small business owners, corporations, and more.

One audience member not satisfied by the final response. By segmenting the message, wouldn’t that make it weaker? Wouldn’t that confuse the overall message? She said as much when they opened up for questions, asking the panelists to provide a singular message that could resonate with everyone. So the final message to take away was: focus on the opportunity, rather than the doom and gloom, that is presented by climate change. There is enormous opportunity for innovation in the renewable energy sector. There is the chance to get ahead in the game and be a leader. By addressing climate change, someone can become an inspiration, and maybe even change the world.