By Tamara Toles O’Laughlin
Pick a Fire, Any Fire
It is February in America. Just weeks into a new year, when the national gaze is turned to the contributions, legacy, and value of the black experience to the culture, spirit, and finances of the republic. As an environmentalist and a woman, there is no shortage of challenge, disruption, or calculated dumpster fire upon which to aim my interest in interventions of equity and access on the path to justice. As a member of this community, I know that I am not alone in my concerns for the protection of the people and the planet.
If you are paying the slightest attention to the popular discourse, the practical implications of climate indicators or the totally nonpartisan weather pattern then you aren’t sleeping easily. So, you’ve marched, and the natural question is, what should you do next? With so much at stake it is not uncommon to feel whelmed by triggering events. Action and reaction can stir the sensation that one is hitched to the bandwagon of big ideas, big struggle and identity within that struggle without a map, and with little more than an inkling.
Marching to the Intersection, Heart in Hand
So, yes, you’ve marched. In and of itself, that is not an end. In my mind, the better, next question is: how does a well-meaning EcoWoman decide by what method, when, and where to enter the intersection of ideas to affect change? Or plainly put, how do you show up, when do you show up and who are you when you get there?
There are so many threats to the people, the air, the water, the flora, and fauna. As such, it is important to figure out your personal calculus for entry, into the fight for or against incursion, to increase your chances at effectiveness and to avoid burnout. If your long-term aim is justice for all, then now is the time to get smart. It is important to figure out what the stakes are, determine a measure of success, and plan to avoid numbness by staying engaged at sustainable levels.
As an example, my formula for action is closely linked to my intersection and privilege. I am collocated in my desire to save the planet as an African-American, a woman, a gen-Xer, and an environmentalist from a diversely populated east coast city. Therefore, I see the challenges to the health of frontline communities as a singularity connected to the fight against invasive species and the fight against seeing other human beings as invasive.
I am bound to the history of African people who entered this country as cargo and remained in it as chattel; who made it America through innovation and persistence in it despite unfettered and unceasing legal and illegal attacks. Thus, as I move about the planet I cannot ignore the planning and decision-making that under resources generations of urban people and literally moves them superfund to incinerator zone, and back to brownfield by way of policy and program. I have no choice but to see the matching struggle of rural poverty delineated by the same forces whether or not it’s dressed in overalls. So, you see, my work is “cut out for me.” I’m focused on the spaces where my skills can affect positive change and my energy supports me.
Food for Thought
As I write, I can assure you that I possess no magic for making effective change but I have hope. And I would love to see you turn marching into sustained support for equity and plain old liberty and justice for all.
If you want to stay sensitive and engaged in the intersection, here is a list of books you can read to support your engagement on matters of race, gender, sexuality, and environment.
Challenging Reads for Challenging Times
- White by Law: The Legal Construction of Race by Ian Haney Lopez
- How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston
- Born Palestinian, Born Black by Suheir Hammad
- Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks
- Some of My Best Friends are Black: The Strange Story of Integration by Tanner Colby
- Borderlands/La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldua
- The Price of Inequality by Joseph Stiglitz
- The Gentrification of the Mind by Sarah Schulman
- Tranny by Laura Jane Grace
- The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
- Removing the Sacred by Winona La Duke
- Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
- Bird of Paradise: How I became Latina by Raquel Cepeda
- We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie
- The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
- Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
- Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
- This Changes Everything: Climate versus Capitalism by Naomi Klein
Tamara is an environmental advocate focused on equity, access and justice issues. She holds degrees from The City College, City University of New York and two advanced degrees from Vermont Law School. Her hobbies include reading boring books about politics and neuroscience, writing diatribes about what she reads, traveling, and yoga.
By Jackie Marks
We at DC EcoWomen love all things sustainable. On the heels of DC EcoWomen’s visit to local bean-to-bar chocolatier Harper Macaw, and just in time for Valentine’s Day, what better thing to discuss than sustainable chocolate? Chocolate is a popular treat on Valentine’s Day; in 2015, 58 million pounds of chocolate was purchased for Valentine’s Day alone. Read on for a Q&A with Jackie Marks, DC EcoWomen Executive Board Member and Communications & Marketing Manager at the World Cocoa Foundation, for some sustainable chocolate knowledge that you can share with your sweetheart.
EcoWomen: Chocolate is universally loved and can be found around the world – especially around Valentine’s Day. But few people are aware of where chocolate comes from or how it’s made. Can you tell us a bit about chocolate’s origin?
Jackie: Chocolate has a long, intricate history and has been consumed in various forms since the time of the Mayans in Mesoamerica. The primary ingredient in chocolate is cocoa (or cacao) – the ‘beans’ (which are actually seeds) extracted from the cocoa tree. Cocoa pods which hold these beans are the beautiful fruit of the cocoa tree and come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. While cocoa trees rely on tropical environments within 15 – 20 degrees north and south of the equator to thrive, you can visit a beautiful, live cocoa tree right here in Washington, D.C. at the Botanic Garden.
EcoWomen: Wow, cocoa right in our back yard! As consumers, how can we be sure we’re buying chocolate that is ‘green’? What does it mean for cocoa to be sustainable?
Jackie: Cocoa is sustainable when you put farmers first. Cocoa is primarily grown on small farms by men and women who rely on the sale of cocoa beans for income. Many cocoa and chocolate companies support training and infrastructure in cocoa communities to ensure long-term social, economic and environmental viability for cocoa farms and farmers. As a consumer, you can educate yourself about what your favorite chocolate company is doing to help cocoa farmers around the world.
EcoWomen: Good idea – knowledge is power. Can you tell us three fun facts about cocoa that we can share with our sweethearts?
- Like kombucha or kimchi, most cocoa is fermented! This brings out the true chocolatey flavor in cocoa beans.
- Ivory Coast – the french speaking, coastal, West African nation – is the number one producer of cocoa. Ghana is second, and Indonesia is third. Latin America is a big contributor, too.
- The latin name for cocoa – Theobroma cacao – literally translates to ‘food of the Gods’. How’s that for a heavenly treat this Valentine’s Day?
Jackie Marks has spent the last three and a half years working with cocoa and chocolate companies to share sustainable cocoa stories with the world as Communications & Marketing Manager at the World Cocoa Foundation. Her background is in non-profit communications focused on environment, conservation and sustainability issues. Jackie joined the DC EcoWomen Executive Board in 2016 and serves on the Communications Committee. When she’s not writing about cocoa, you can find her tending to her garden, inventing new ice cream flavors, sampling craft beer and planning her next adventure. Follow her on Twitter: @JackieMarks.
By Michelle Winglee
A packed George Washington University auditorium that included farmers, policymakers, businesses, media, and academics convened last Thursday at Food Tank’s D.C. Summit to spur action on changing the food system. Over 40,000 people from 150 countries also tuned in to view the live broadcast of the day-long panel discussions, which highlighted issues in immigration, national security, and food policy.
Organized by Food Tank, an online platform that supports sustainable food communities around the world, the D.C. food summit comes at a time when President Trump nominees threaten to roll back Obama-era policies supporting greater nutrition.
However, Food Tank founder Danielle Nierenberg remains optimistic about the polarized D.C. climate. “I remain hopeful that food is the thing that unites us all.” Danielle encouraged pursuit of “unusual collaborations” across fields that could help put the culture back in agriculture.
The thirty-six summit speakers featured Maine Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D), Fran Dresner from the hit series “The Nanny,” and NPR food correspondent Allison Aubrey, in addition to agricultural experts from research think tanks and farm associations. Panelist speakers cut across political and industry divides, from multinational food corporations to family farm chicken operations in Shenandoah, Virginia.
The following are highlights from the panelist discussions. Videos from the summit are available online here.
- Immigration and a shrinking farm labor supply: “Ninety-six percent of our employees come from outside of the U.S.” said Kip Tom, former CEO of Tom Farms and member of President Trump’s agricultural advisory committee. Tom Farms, which specializes in corn and soy production while being the largest agri-business farm operator in Indiana, struggles with the tightening supply of farm labor — a wide-ranging challenge among farmers in the United States. Even with tech solutions to provide more with less, panelist speaker Dr. Kathleen Merrigan, who leads the George Washington University Sustainability Collaborative, noted, “without immigration reform we can’t sustain a legal workforce.”
- The fight for Farm Bill funding: Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-ME), a member of the House subcommittee that oversees Farm Bill appropriations and proud owner of an organic farm in Maine, advocates to move Farm Bill money from commodity crops to the less than 1% that supports organic farming. The Congresswoman urged participants to stay informed and hold policy makers accountable for food legislation through Food Policy Action.
- Too fat to fight: During the food security panel, a discussion normally centered around domestic supply and the controversies of food aid, an audience member raised a 2012 Mission Readiness report finding that a quarter of young Americas are too fat to serve in the military. The project called on Congress to remove junk food and high-sugar beverages from schools that contribute to childhood obesity and diabetes.
- Hidden hunger: The deprivation of important micronutrients even with a full belly, “hidden hunger” affects two billion or one in three people according to a 2014 International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) report. Though concentrated in developing nations, Director General of IFPRI Shengen Fan, noted that hidden hunger also coincides with obesity in high-income urban areas too. Iodine and iron deficiency are wide-spread in the developed world according to the IFPRI report.
- “They want what we have”: Erica Hellen, who raises and processes their farm’s own pasture-raised chicken, pigs, and cattle with her partner on their 13-acre Free Union Grass Farm in Charlottesville, Virginia, sees a problem with false advertising and consumer education. “They want what we have,” said Erica about food conglomerates that advertise happy hens roaming around on grass despite realities of crowded cages and low, if any, access to sunlight. However, consumers still don’t get why higher prices for food are worth it. “We gladly spend an extra dollar for a latte, but we can’t pay $5 for eggs?” she asked incredulously. On average, the U.S. spends less on food than anywhere else in the world.
- “Stop! Stop! Stop!”: Cried Fran Dresner in her unique nasal twang that charmed “The Nanny” TV-watchers around the country. Fran, a cancer survivor and founder of the nonprofit Cancer Schmancer, called on audience members to pause before they bought into societal norms that promote pills, waste, and pollution. Fran pointed out how current culture in the U.S. is far removed from indigenous lifestyles that lived in harmony with nature. “We don’t know that food is medicine.”
While telling the audience to skip the drug store and focus on swapping out food choices, Fran noted how consumer decisions like buying single-use plastic utensils contribute to the petroleum industry and pollutants released into the environment. “Did you know that 90% of cancer is related to the environment?” Fran asked. Cancer Schmancer looks to help consumers identify and eliminate toxins in food, cosmetics, and around the home.
Though the conference highlighted challenges of the food system, attendees also saw rays of hope in the trend towards more sustainable food. For the past four years, the organic industry has seen double digit growth while 2016 marked a record high of 10.8% growth at $43.3 billion in organic sales according to an Organic Trade Association industry survey. Comparatively, the overall food market grew at 3.3%. The USDA reports a surge in farmers’ markets in the United States, growing from 1,755 markets in 1994 to over 8,144 in 2013. Meanwhile, Food Tank DC Summit sponsors like Organic Valley, a billion dollar enterprise that incorporates small dairy farmers into its business model, restaurants like Elevation Burger, committed to supplying grass-fed organic beef, or Shouk, which serves middle eastern-inspired vegan sandwiches, were also a testament to the opportunities for profitability and sustainability.
“’Organic’ is the new ‘plastics,’” said Dan Glickman of the Aspen Institute, referencing the 60’s movie The Graduate allusion to the next big industry.
On a more somber note, remarks by Ken Cook, President of the Environmental Working Group, warned attendees of the battle that lay ahead. Trump cabinet picks include Representative Tom Price (R-GA), slated for Secretary of Health, who has a history for voting against healthier school meals and increased food-safety inspections. Scott Pruitt, selected to run the EPA, received more than $40,000 in campaign donations from poultry companies accused of poultry runoff in the Illinois River Basin in addition to filing lawsuits against the EPA as Oklahoma’s Attorney General. Trump USDA pick, former Georgia Governor Sonny Purdue has called climate change “a running joke among the public.” Food Summit speaker Roger Johnson from the National Farmers Union, representing conventional and organic farms across the United States, commented on undeniable seasonal changes that have affected planting seasons around the country.
Despite the grim political outlook, Ken called on attendees to be “happy warriors.” He urged sustainable food advocates to vote with their dollar and join forces with other movements. “Advocacy is a team sport,” said Ken, “if you’re resisting on your own you may just be moping.”
Michelle Winglee is a freelance writer who covers topics on the environment, agriculture, and energy. She previously worked as a Research Assistant at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Fellow at Food Day before embarking on a year-long Mandarin fellowship in Taipei and Beijing. Her publications have appeared in outlets such as Foreign Policy, SupChina, The Diplomat Magazine, and ChinaDialogue. She is interested in the nexus between economic and environmentally sustainable development. You can follow her @MichelleWinglee.
By Tamara Toles-O’laughlin
There is no neat and tidy way to sum up my feelings about current events. Highs and lows abound for all of us who earnestly want to solve big problems or at least mitigate catastrophe, in the natural and built environment. As government regimes shift along party lines there is room enough for everyone to complain. As feminists, we are again bound to search our practice for true inclusion of marginalized peoples in the intersection of women and the environment. And we must look more deeply at our roles within those margins. As citizens, we will need to reengage our sectors, disciplines, and constituencies for answers and alignment. As EcoWomen, we must collectively move beyond the specter of a receding status quo and grope our dashed or diminished hopes for productive actions that will buck trends to ensure that the legacy of our generation is one of stewardship and justice. Viewed together, our work assails the banality of injustice through an unrelenting demand for increased access, inclusion, equity, and for plain old understanding, and that won’t stop now.
Connection begets Community
EcoWomen is a community of diverse thinkers, strategists, planners, anglers, wonks, workers, and women. Together we search for and find renewed purpose to meet challenges as they arise. Take a good hard look at us. We work for sustainable cities; promote agency for under-resourced peoples; plant gardens for food and righteousness; act as a safeguard for key species; write policy that influences behavior to combat climate change causes and effects; and bolster conservation in every environ. For those of us who desire an expansive form of social justice, circumstances require us to continue to push for the collective good, for the greatest number. We will fare better if we do it in community.
Engage Beyond the Echo Chamber
This is a time for strength. We have strength in numbers. In support of our mission, it is in our interest to continue to make room for divergent thought, support innovation in every direction and apply pressure to transform power structures so that they reach the greatest number. We won’t succeed in an echo chamber of agreement but by opening the ways and means by which we reach consensus.
Increasingly, environment and conservation actions explicitly bleed into issues of parity, representation, resource, burden, and benefit distribution. To make it meaningful, we will need to recommit as members of community to deeper engagement on the issues of our time, and in so doing leverage the power of the many to move the state for positive impact.
These are not the salad days. We are women at the intersection of climate, politic, and modernity. We are faced with compound challenges to our species’ survival. In this moment, I am hopeful that we have a chance to make gains out of conflict IF we can face the acrimony of behavior change, IF we deny the illusion of stand-alone issues AND connect the dots as EcoWomen with the efforts of other communities we are a part of.
As we close out the year, let’s turn our good intentions into action. I challenge you (now) to change your relationship to what troubles you, and to get nearer to every challenge. And I ask you to set your intention to develop solutions with those formerly deemed “other” as partners rather than allies. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with alliance, except that it can normalize the perceptible space between what threatens each of us with what threatens all of us.
Strength as a Practice
As we brace for new norms we would do well to recall that as EcoWomen, we are in this, whatever it is, together.
So, let’s pledge to start the new year as we would see it end, with justice at the fore of our approach to environment, and to see it through to the defense of our everyday liberty. If you plant trees, plant more trees. If you work on storm water reduction, then mitigate away. Advocate, agitate, intervene, and include all voices at the point of decision making, for yourself and for your community. We will need you now more than ever.
Tamara is an environmental advocate focused on civil society and justice issues. She holds degrees from The City College, City University of New York and two advanced degrees from Vermont Law School. Her hobbies include reading boring books about politics and neuroscience, writing diatribes about what she reads, traveling, and yoga.
This blog post highlights the benefits of a sustainable local brewery. DC EcoWomen does not endorse any particular organization but does serve as a resource to communicate sustainable efforts made by all.
By Megan Devlin
Across industries, the consumer trends are clear: people want local. In response to market demands, many companies are shifting business strategy in an effort to be more sustainable and to optimize community impact. While the beer industry isn’t necessarily known for its sustainable practices, a majority of craft breweries keep up with localization by focusing on their regional markets.
Some of the big players like New Belgium and Sierra Nevada have expanded beyond their flagships and opened brew sites in new markets across the country. Smaller outfits have rooted deeper in their communities — with the female-owned Denizens Brewing Co. in Silver Spring, Md., owning that through business as usual.
Denizens cofounders Emily Bruno and Julie Verratti deliver on this region’s demand for hyper-local, fresh beer by brewing three times per week only 75 feet below the taproom.
Since opening in 2014, Denizens has worked to foster a taproom culture where customers get to know the brewers, owners and staff in a great social atmosphere to drink fresh beer. Denizens draft lineup includes five flagship beers plus five rotating seasonals. While the beers are produced in house, they reflect a global palate, with styles ranging from a Czech-inspired Pilsner to an English extra special bitter (ESB) to a tequila barrel-aged “petit” sour ale influenced by head brewer Jeff Ramirez’s earlier days crafting in Colorado.
The diversity of flavors, aromas and ingredients on the 10-beer menu creates opportunities for pairings with seasonal food items. Traditional pub fare like the burger and fries often pair well with the Born Bohemian Pilsner, while this summer’s spicy mango salad could be accented with the Southside Rye IPA or played down with maltier styles like the Lowest Lord English-Style ESB.
While the kitchen menu is seasonal not all of the products are locally sourced, a common practice that businesses implement to go “green.” Breweries moving in sustainable directions typically focus on partnering with local farmers for beer ingredients or by bringing production in-house, which is a more costly endeavor. Rogue Ales and Stone Brewing Co. have kept costs low by purchasing and leasing farmland, which in turn helps guarantee local farmers business or create agricultural jobs.
Smaller breweries don’t always have the financial resources to locally source beer ingredients like hops, which often require an advanced contract of two to three years and are grown best in regions like the Pacific Northwest, Europe and New Zealand. Despite these challenges, establishments operating under the brewpub model, where beer and food are produced in house, have more flexibility with local sourcing.
Denizens works exclusively with regional vendors for its kitchen items to further drive sustainable business relationships. Because the brewery doesn’t have a freezer on site, its Baltimore-based meat provider and local produce providers help ensure menu freshness.
To minimize waste in beer production, Denizens repurposes some of the grain used in the brewing process for the kitchen’s tomato spent grain toast, topped with pesto, mozzarella and a balsamic reduction. The rest is donated to a Maryland farmer who feeds the grain to his pigs.
Keeping its focus on the community, Denizens partners with the University of Maryland’s Graduate School of Fermentation, which grows a variety of yeast used for the brews: two sour/wilds, two for saison and hefeweizens as well as 3 different bacterias. The relationship is a win-win in that the graduate students get to work with commercial products while Denizens keeps costs low.
Denizens community-oriented business approach also dovetails with their distribution strategy. Thanks to laws passed in both Maryland and DC, Denizens can self-distribute in Montgomery County and DC, whose border is just three blocks from the brewery. The further beer travels, the more expensive it is to distribute in terms of time, energy and labor.
Self-distributing breweries not only keep more revenue than breweries that go through a distributor, but the ripple effects of minimizing beer miles traveled include local economic growth, lower carbon footprinting and quality control.
“We know exactly where the beer has been at every step of the way,” Verratti said.
Denizens is conscious in identifying bars, restaurants and stores that carry local, independent alcoholic beverages. The neighborhood is also important. Republic in Takoma Park, located less than a mile from the taproom, serves as a perfect example of Denizens “trifecta,” which includes brand affiliation, efficiency, and the volume and speed of beer consumption.
“Our customers are their customers and their customers are our customers,” said Verratti.
Bruno said partnerships like the one with Republic helps Denizens carve its identity as a local brand.
“We want to expand our footprint in targeted ways,” Bruno said. “We’re not trying to be the Budweiser of craft beer.”
As the duo puts their heads together on how to sustainably scale their business, they also keep a pulse on what’s in front of them: beer and community. Over Halloween weekend, Denizens re-released Fear of a Black Beer, a coffee-infused blonde ale, in part to coincide with the brewery’s participation in this year’s annual Silver Spring Zombie Walk, which gathered nearly 700 zombie-clad humans on October 29 for a walk from Denizens to the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center for horror-film watching, ending the festivities at Quarry House Tavern.
“We try to do things to make ourselves really entrenched in the community.”
Megan Devlin is a Program Coordinator of Global Forums at Meridian International Center and was most recently the Editorial Assistant to The Atlantic’s Washington Editor at Large and Editor in Chief of AtlanticLIVE, the magazine’s events arm. Her journalism roots sprouted at Ithaca College where she was Editor in Chief for the award-winning campus newspaper The Ithacan. Megan also bartends at Glen’s Garden Market in Dupont Circle and contributes to DCBeer.com – and trains for marathons, in her spare time.
By Gabrielle Vicari
Many people believe that cemeteries are unsettling places, likely because they are grounds where the deceased have been buried. However, there was a time when cemeteries were intended for active visiting and exploration. Although cemeteries don’t usually play host to a lot of visitors today, they do offer a unique way to get out this fall (and beyond!) and explore the sites we’ve got right here in Washington, DC.
Cemeteries are typically visited for funerals, ghost tours, or a thrilling night out as a teenager. In the nineteenth century, however, rural or “garden” cemeteries were popular public spaces. Landscaped and showcasing sculpture and architecture, these meticulously planned properties emerged during the Victorian era and explored and inspired the contemporary cultural obsession with death.
The rural cemetery movement was initially a campaign to end burial in the overflowing, dangerous, and disease-ridden graveyards of crowded Victorian-era city centers. Often located on the edge of developed cities, rural cemeteries were specifically designed to be visited and enjoyed. Verdant landscaping and winding paths evoked a pastoral feel removed from the grime and chaos of downtown, and elaborate sculptures and mausoleums served the dual purpose of grave marker and artistic meditation on mortality.
Washington, DC’s rural cemeteries have largely remained in their original state while the city developed around them. This is also true for Laurel Hill Cemetery (Philadelphia, 1836) and Mount Auburn Cemetery (Boston, 1831). Georgetown’s Oak Hill Cemetery (1849) was the first DC-area tract to be planned as a rural cemetery. Glenwood Cemetery (1854) and neighboring Prospect Hill (1858) adopted this style as well, and many more area properties followed suit. Rock Creek Cemetery, originally established in the early 1790s, expanded in the rural cemetery style.
Modern “memorial parks” have a very different appearance from historical rural cemeteries. Instead of grand monuments with art spanning from the religious to the secular, today’s headstones are often small or level with the ground—hidden from view and reflecting a societal change of minimizing our contact with death. Historically, grave markers were adorned with symbols indicating the deceased’s religious beliefs, personal characteristics, or occupation. During the years when the garden cemetery movement was at its height, grand mausoleums and ornate sculptures focused on more philosophical ideas, offering meditations on the fleeting nature of life through the built environment.
Death has become a far less visible part of daily life for the average person in Western culture. Instead of funerals occurring in the family home, the ritual and procedure of death has increasingly become the purview of hospitals and funeral homes. As a result of this sanitization of death, American culture has gained a distaste for dwelling on our own mortality.
It may seem out of place, and even disrespectful, to visit a cemetery for the purpose of exploration and recreation. You should not, of course, go with irreverence. Whether you’re exploring just to get outside or for educational purposes, being mindful of where you are is important. However, you should also keep in mind the ideals that fueled the property’s design—the park-like setting is meant to relax, draw people outside, and inspire meditation on life and death. Garden cemeteries were intended as a place for people to visit. Even if you’re not looking for a heavy meditation on death, you can get out to explore a new part of DC and learn something in the process!
Gabrielle is a transplant from Philadelphia, which she maintains is the best city in the world. She received her MA in Historic Preservation from the University of Delaware and lives in Columbia Heights with her yarn stash, history books, and expansive collection of coffee mugs. When she’s not excitedly lecturing friends about architecture and history, you can find her watching costume dramas or racking up stamps in her National Parks Passport.
By Brittany Ryan
From launching petitions to marching in protests, I’ve come a long way since my environmental activist days. Though still an advocate, I’ve found a different way to channel passion into action. Through my experiences in both the academic and professional sustainability field, becoming a green leader in the workplace has proven to be a very effective strategy.
The first step in triggering a catalytic force behind any social movement is to be the change. The power of Gandhi’s principles resonates with all of us out there trying to cultivate our lifestyle with the hope of inducing a societal paradigm shift. If a more sustainable world is what we wish to see, we must start by polishing our personal habits.
But the next step to inflicting change is motivating others. Even if you’re still working out the kinks in the process of “greenifying” your life, take a leadership role and transform the status quo. Nothing is more frustrating than a person or motivated group that cries out a problem, relentlessly blaming another party, and yet fails to play an active role in the solution. I’m asking all of you eco-folks out there to take what you know and lead – specifically, at work.
Start with materials management
Somewhere along the path of development, we failed to acknowledge and incorporate life cycle assessments and holistic supply chain management into our operative norms. This led to poor materials management practices, increasing waste, economic inefficiencies, and environmental degradation. Although our nation’s recycling and recovery practices improved over time, as of 2013 we still send over 50% of our generated materials to a landfill. After accounting for recycling and recovery processes, the top three wasted materials are food, plastic, and paper, respectively. This week, take a look at your office trash and recycling receptacles and you’ll notice those three items comprise a majority of what we toss.
Your workplace provides great opportunity to inspire change, and I speak from experience. Since joining my company about a year ago, I’ve made it my mission to lead an internal sustainability initiative. Working diligently with my team, we identify opportunities for improvement, promote educational awareness, and implement real solutions. Our materials management efforts bumped our landfill diversion rate to an impressive 86%. The impact is rippling; the staff is eager to
become more educated on the subject, actively share these practices at home, and offer new ideas for building our internal sustainability operations. Our community relationships evolved as we share similar goals with the municipality and help to promote a local veteran-employed organization.
A leader in the workplace does not need to rely solely on passion and the “do-good” feeling to convince an organization to make changes. Waste, by the very nature of its name, is inefficient. Nationwide, major companies – think Google – are capitalizing on revamping their materials management because it not only builds their public relations, but it makes business sense. Better management of materials allows for cost savings through a reduction in use or repurposing and serves as a potential revenue stream.
Waste is more than just what we send to a landfill. Materials management encompasses the materials coming into the company, the way products are used, and the manner in which they are sorted for discarding. Digging into this process sheds light on a breadth of adjustments that reduce materials use and save the company money, ranging from office supplies to kitchenware to cleaning products and beyond.
Start by taking part of a sustainability committee, and if one doesn’t exist, investigate how to build one. Use a team to brainstorm positive initiatives that benefit both the company and its staff – make that business case! Understand the current operative practices and measure the company’s performance over time. Share ideas and results with the staff at large, and solicit their input as a continuous feedback loop. And definitely always champion successes through newsletters, social media, and other communication channels to give credit where it’s due and motivate others to do the same.
The benefits to leading change in the workplace are multifaceted. Not only does it accomplish altruistic goals of making the word a better place, but also enables you to distinguish yourself amongst a pool of very competitive thought-leaders further advancing professional development. Becoming an agent of change is empowering and as awareness builds and an increasing number of communities (whether a neighborhood, office, or city) manage resources more efficiently, the sooner sustainability transforms from a choice to the everyday norm.
To find out more information about commercial recycling, click here.
Born and raised on the Jersey coast, Brittany became a resident of the DC Metro Area in 2013. She earned her Master of Public Policy from the University of Maryland in 2015 and has since been working for an energy management and sustainability consulting firm in Falls Church, VA. Brittany also has a real knack for pickling cucumbers and making guacamole.
By Ellie Ramm
Governments, businesses and universities are focusing increasing resources and attention on what is now our nation’s largest generation, millennials.
Generally defined as those born between 1982 and 2000, millennials now represent the largest share of the American workforce. They’re more educated than prior generations. They’re more culturally diverse. And they’re more socially conscious.
How will this millennial generation shape our climate and energy future? Consider just two observations about how millennials want to live and get around — housing and transportation.
A study found more than 6 in 10 millennials prefer to live in mixed-use communities. They’re more interested in living where amenities and work are geographically close. More than a third of young people are choosing to live as close as 3 miles from city centers.
As for transportation, millennials drive less than other generations. They’re opting for walking, biking, car-sharing or public transit. From 2001 to 2009, vehicle-miles traveled dropped 23 percent for 16- to 34-year-olds.
These preferences point to a future that is low-carbon and more sustainable. Dense urban living and mixed modal transportation options can result in reduced greenhouse gas emissions. A 2014 report from the New Climate Economy notes that “more compact, more connected city forms allow significantly greater energy efficiency and lower emissions per unit of economic activity.”
Millennial demands are influencing other sustainability topics, too. A Rock the Vote poll earlier this year found 80 percent of millennials want the United States to transition to mostly clean or renewable energy by 2030. An earlier poll from the Clinton Global Initiative found millennials care more than their parents’ generation about the environment and would spend extra on products from companies that focus on sustainability.
These facts indicate that this generation of 75.4 million people (in just the United States) wants to live differently than previous generations. Energy policies and technology habits will need to change to keep pace.
Government is paying attention, with President Barack Obama calling on millennials to tackle the challenge of climate change. Businesses, like energy providers, are working to deliver service in a seamless and more socially connected way. And universities are offering more sustainability-focused programs than ever before. The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE)’s program list is growing, and university presidents are being asked by students to join the Climate Commitment to reduce emissions and improve resilience to climate impacts.
While millennials wield huge influence, the real power of change will come from all generations working together to develop innovative solutions and implement pragmatic policies to shape a low-carbon future and environmentally stable and economically prosperous planet for all who will inherit it.