Archive for March 2012 | Monthly archive page

posted by | Comments Off on Seaside Saturdays: The Power of Economics

Welcome back to our Seaside Saturdays series, where this week we’ll touch on a topic important across all fields of environmental resource management: how people make conservation matter through the power of economics.

Pacific Islands anemone; NOAA

In the conservation arena, many environmental advocates try to appeal to our sentimental fuzzy feelings to convince us that protecting sea otters, waterfalls, or forests is important for future generations.  However, in doing this, they alienate many members of the public and miss out on the most powerful argument of all: economics.  Because we all do enjoy the great outdoors, things like clean water, safe beaches, and healthy animal populations are valuable.  It seems strange to attach monetary values to something as intangible as enjoying a seaside sunset, but the fact remains that the general public is willing to pay for these aspects of the environment.  Not only do these types of valuation exercises exist, but they underlie many (if not all) resource management decisions that are made worldwide.  Economists often specialize in this type of non-use or existence valuation and conduct studies that lead to reports such as this recent NOAA publication, stating that Hawaii’s coral reefs are worth almost $34 billion annually.  Such a large sum holds a lot of sway in political circles and speaks to the power of numbers.

Sala y Gomez Reserve, Chile

Similarly, several months ago, Enric Sala (National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and one of my personal heroes) spoke at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars along with Dr. Jane Lubchenco about using economics to debunk popular ocean conservation myths.  He has visited pristine areas around the world and works in Washington DC to raise awareness about the benefits of marine protected areas.  Using examples from Spain, Kenya, and Mombassa, he shows that MPAs have doubled fisheries income and raised tourist revenue twenty times over.  The largest marine conservation myth that he combats is that MPAs are costly.  Spotlighting Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, he shows how tourism revenue is up almost 40%, with management costing a mere 10% of that income (a smart investment to be sure!).

Sunset; Surfrider Foundation

Sala’s dream is to get a large portion of the ocean protected.  What is enough, you ask?  Of course this is difficult to determine, but the scientific community recommends between 20-50% of the worlds oceans be protected and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity has mandated 10%. Twelve large MPAs account for almost 80% of the world’s total protected areas, with almost 4500 smaller reserves dotting coastlines around the globe.  No doubt these smaller reserves are more costly per unit area, but again Sala appeals to the numbers.  To protect 10% of the world’s oceans, he estimates the cost at $12 billion per year.  For only an additional $4 billion, 20% could be protected and 1 million jobs would be created.  Interestingly, this $16 billion dollars is the same amount that is spent in bad fishing subsidies per year.  Sala hopes for a combination of government involvement and stakeholder demand to change congressional attitudes toward MPAs around the world.  This economic perspective is increasingly important as we move forward in marine conservation and management.

Check out the IUCN’s global work in MPAs for more information on this topic!

posted by | Comments Off on Clothing Swap: Free Eco-friendly Shopping Spree

By Mary Ellen M. Kustin

“Use it up, wear it out,
make it do, or do without.”

Saturday’s rain couldn’t keep nearly 30 EcoWomen away from a good spring clothing swap! Ladies filtered into the party between 11am and 1:30pm with fresh waves of shirts, skirts, sweaters, and shoes. Goodies from PJ’s to professional garb with jewelry and accessories to boot filled the tables, couch, and floors of hostess Stephanie’s house in Wheaton, Maryland.

2012 March Clothing Swap

A sense of spring cleaning and purging was in the air as most of the women who came brought a LOT of treasures with them, but showed restraint when choosing their new threads. Perhaps our February guest speaker on eco-friendly home organizing hit home with folks. Even though everyone seemed to leave with at least a handful or bag full of new clothes, the entire backseat and trunk of my car were filled to the brim with leftovers to be dropped off at donation centers on my way home. Nice job, ladies! :o)

2012 March Clothing Swap\

At first, the dining and living rooms started out with labeled stacks of neatly folded clothes.  Eventually, a good spirited chaos settled over the rooms as we dug through to find the perfect top or skirt and more ladies came in with more clothes to contribute.  We’d retreat from time to time into the kitchen for a mimosa and some snacks to chat and refuel before diving back in for another round.
2012 March Clothing Swap

I was happy to see some new faces and to catch up with those of you who have made it out to one or many of our events previously. Thank you to all who trekked over and created a successful swap!

To see more photo evidence of the finds, food, and fun, check out:

posted by | Comments Off on March EcoHour Recap: Environmental Justice!

By Vesper Hubbard

What is Environmental Justice (EJ)? According to the EPA, Environmental Justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. It will be achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.

This sounds pretty reasonable right? However, achieving this goal is made complex by many factors including geography, cultural identity, and socio-economic status.  Elizabeth Yeampierre, Executive Director at UPROSE, spoke about the issues with EJ and the power of community activism. She is also serves as the first Latina to chair the US EPA National Environmental Justice Advisory Council.  She explained Environmental Justice is about developing indigenous potential for action on the ground.  It is about people having the ability to speak up for themselves.

To start off the discussion, she spoke about growing up in the 70’s in a multi-ethnic community of Brooklyn NY, herself being (and proudly so) of African and Indigenous Puerto Rican heritage.  She noted that there wasn’t much investment in communities of color at that time.  She herself was and remains deeply connected to her Brooklyn community.  In spite of many criticisms against her career aspirations growing up, she went on to earn her BA in Political Science from Fordham University and a law degree from Northeastern University School of Law.  She attributes her success to her mother’s dedication to constantly introducing culture and literature to her family throughout childhood.  After law school Elizabeth entered the field of civil rights law.  She had not taken any environmental science course work but felt a desire to help people empower themselves by building community power and found her place in the field of EJ.  Additionally, she knew that she wanted to create a place for women with a different dynamic than the male dominated environment she grew up in.  Soon, she found herself at UPROSE, now the oldest Latino community based organization in Brooklyn, when it was about to go under.  With the help of many youth volunteers, she was able turn the organization around and create an inter-generational association where members “don’t age out.”

In the beginning phases of UPROSE she mentored youth leaders and fostered a community coalition to defeat a 520 mega-watt power plant from being built in her local community.  Youth are a big part of the organization’s work.  Elizabeth expressed the importance of the involvement of the youth and their leadership.  She explained that “leadership should be practiced with accountability and training, but does not need to be postponed because of age.”

In Brooklyn, one issue with engaging community involvement in environmental justice projects lies in perception.  For example, some communities may believe that building more greenways can lead to increased property value and make their neighborhoods more expensive to live in.  Elizabeth explained that residents and stakeholders in a community need good information and ownership in order to have a successful community driven campaign.  For NGO’s, government agencies and activists looking to start EJ projects in local communities, in Brooklyn and elsewhere, the challenge lies in proving authenticity, clear communication, and valuing the voice of those local people.  Also, she stressed the importance of keeping the science and math behind EJ accessible to non-scientist.  Accessible science, in her opinion, can really foster diversity in the EJ movement.  As she tells it, residents in Sunset Park –Brooklyn have learned how to use their phones to check for real-time data and map air quality in their neighborhoods. But these kinds of things do not happen unless engineers make their science accessible.

On an ending note, Elizabeth asserted that climate adaptation is happening now.  Communities like Sunset Park are large “walk to work” communities and they are seeing the potential in EJ for creating community resilience by building greenways, planting green roofs and learning about environmental science and climate change.

posted by | on , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Environmental Community Activism Grows with Earth Day Approaching

By Kate Seitz

With Earth Day just around the corner, activists and volunteers are finalizing plans and gathering support for events intended to inspire awareness and appreciation for the natural environment. This time of year is flush with trash cleanup efforts, gardening seminars, tree plantings, and composting demonstrations taking place across the globe. Whether or not you are a recycling novice or have already incorporated numerous “green living” strategies into your daily life, there are a plethora of opportunities to engage in environmental community activism.

This Earth Day, I will be busy fundraising for Climate Ride, a 300 mile 5 day bicycling journey that aims to raise awareness about climate change, sustainability, and bike advocacy. Climate Ride participants have the option to participate in the NYC to DC trek, which takes place in the spring, or the Eureka to San Francisco, California ride in the fall.   I have chosen to participate in the California ride, but have made ties with riders participating on the local ride this spring. A few colleagues that participated in the NYC to DC ride a year ago spoke volumes about how wonderfully rewarding the entire experience is: raising money for charities dedicated to climate change and sustainability solutions, biking en masse through NYC as onlookers stare curiously, peddling on through the countryside in three neighboring states, and finally, reaching the finish line at the steps of the Capitol building amidst a throng of supporters and climate change activists. Climate Ride is a challenging yet rewarding adventure that benefits a multitude of eco-minded charities.

Whether you plan to participate in an eco-seminar, teach others about the benefits of buying local produce, or trade in an old, inefficient refrigerator for an ENERGY STAR model®, the options to celebrate the environment and its protection are limitless. In what ways do you participate in environmental community activism?

posted by | Comments Off on Science, Botany, and Friendship: One Woman’s Journey into the West

In keeping with the theme of our latest read and since Letters to Yellowstone was certainly worthy of writing home about, here is a recap of our discussion and tribute to author Diane Smith.

Dear Mom,

This last Sunday, DC EcoWomen gathered in a cozy Capitol Hill living room to discuss our latest book and enjoy good company and food.  We all found the book enjoyable and inspiring, as it was the story of a young woman at the turn of the 20th century who travels across the country to put her botany skills to the test as she joins a science expedition into the West.  Our young protagonist, Alex, goes on countless adventures throughout the summer and expands her horizons as readers are confronted with interested and controversial issues that are still pertinent today.

As she embarks on this journey, the bookish young woman embraces the challenges of extreme weather and rustic living conditions, but the biggest hurdle she faces is one that no one anticipates: she is a woman in a man’s world.  Mom, throughout my life, you presented me with strong female leadership and exposed me to progressive ideas, and as a result, I have always felt immune to the persistent gender inequality in today’s society.  I am always amazed by historical accounts of this disparity.  Leave the exploring and outdoor adventures to the men – I don’t think so! 

This is certainly the attitude Alex takes as she stubbornly insists on staying with the field team after early misconceptions that she was in fact a man!  Through her dedication to experiencing the wonders of Yellowstone, Alex impresses the group with her compassionate scientific rigor as she carefully catalogues and falls in love with the landscape.  She really is a woman after our own hearts, and her love of nature made me think of all the times we’ve been refreshed and rejuvenated hiking the trails and swimming in the beaches along the West coast.

One interesting recurring theme is how one goes about turning that experience of nature into science.  The author shows us that a young student, a professor, a mountain man, a cowboy, a Native American family, and a writer can all have very different, yet true experiences of nature.  The characters argue that science is the process of creating meaning and common experiences from chaos – a way of describing and naming what was previously undiscovered or unexplained.  Alex insists on the precision of Latin scientific naming conventions, but eventually begins to appreciate the roles of traditional knowledge and sentimentality in the practice of science.  In essence, she learns that caring for a place or a specimen and experiencing it in context is as important to understanding it as studying its properties from a textbook.   This experiential learning is a technique that is becoming more and more popular today, where school children are encouraged to get their hands dirty to gain a better appreciation for all that they will learn later.

 All in all, it was a lovely afternoon.  We laughed over old 20th century images of women in petticoats, hunted buffalo, and naturalist illustrations.  We enjoyed home-baked cookies, cupcakes, s’mores, hot cocoa, and lettuce wraps in honor of the expedition’s ethnic culinary experiences.  This would certainly be a book you could enjoy!

Yours truly,


posted by | Comments Off on What is this energy efficiency and green building thing about?

By Alison Alford

Energy efficient and high performance green buildings are quickly becoming the standard for new and renovated buildings.   Traditionally-built homes and office buildings account for 40% of the world’s total energy consumption and approximately 40% of our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  However, by incorporating energy efficient and green technology into buildings you can reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions per building up to 70%.  Buildings that are considered “green” are defined by McGraw-Hill Construction as, “one built to LEED standards, an equivalent green building certification program, or one that incorporates numerous green building elements across five category areas: energy efficiency, water efficiency, resource efficiency, responsible site management and improved indoor air quality.”

According to a study by McGraw-Hill Construction, in 2011, green buildings in residential areas made up 17% of new construction, totaling $17 billion in economic growth.  This survey also concluded that the value of the green building market is expected to grow up to 38% of the market by 2016, with new construction projects making $87–114 billion of economic growth in the construction industry.  Not only are green homes swiftly becoming the leading project in new construction, but 46% of homebuilders say that green design services makes it easier to receive new contracts, and 71% of contractors that exclusively build green homes claim that offering green services gives them a lead in the construction market.

Working towards the goal of reducing our buildings environmental footprint is becoming easier each year. McGraw Hill reports that the cost to build or retrofit a green home is now 7% less than what it was in 2008 and 11% less than in 2006.  The study also showed that by 2016, 90% of homes will have green technology incorporated into the construction process.  Indeed, the shift towards green homes is already in progress.  In 2011, green retrofits of buildings surpassed new construction projects, and over 1/3 of the construction and building industry (661,000 people) say that they have a “green” job.

By promoting sustainable architecture and retrofitting current homes to make them high performance green buildings, we reduce our overall carbon footprint and improve our quality of life in an economical and environmentally friendly way.

posted by | Comments Off on 2012 February EcoHour Recap: Green Building Panel

By Terrie Clifford

US Capitol

Did you know that the Empire State Building is actually a green building and that a local woman played a key role in getting the well-known NYC landmark LEED – certified? Katrina Managan, a program manager with the Institute for Building Efficiency at Johnson Controls shared her career experiences in green building along with those of two other amazing female building sustainability experts at February’s Eco Hour.

Co-panelists, Seema Wadwha, a LEED AP  and the director of sustainability at Urban Ltd., and Kristin Anderson Arnoldi, a project manager at DC’s Greenshape LLC,  discussed the victories  and challenges of their work with to a packed house on Tuesday, February 21.

Managan, who spent five years doing climate change legislation for the National Wildlife Fund transitioned to a green building role because she ‘wanted to get closer to the ground’ on sustainability issues.  The Empire State Building project has a three-year payback, Managan said, adding that her recent survey of 4,000 facility managers indicated that lack of capital and financing are the chief obstacles to U.S. companies investing in making U.S. buildings more energy efficient.

Seema Wadwha found herself in a cutting edge role when she agreed to lead INOVA Health Systems sustainability projects.  “We had to define what sustainability looks like in the health care industry,” she said. “Green buildings are a strong physical representation of what your organization believes in.  For Inova it became clear that building healthier buildings that use fewer carcinogens and are more efficient to operate is close to their mission of being health care leaders.”   She was delighted to see a surprise manifestation of INOVA’s stated goals of driving employee engagement and community engagement through a healthier, greener building.   During the project some of the hospital’s engineers made a secret garden on the roof using recyclable materials. “It was proof that they were realizing the value of green buildings”.

Kristin Anderson Arnoldi’s work involved overhauling an ancient DC landmark to LEED-Gold standards. “The Department of the Treasury was built between 1839 and 1869, so you can imagine how inefficient it was,” she said.  She takes pride in the fact that the project is estimated to save U.S. taxpayers $3.5 million dollars annually. That project also had an interesting surprise.  “We discovered that the White House was actually stealing their water for irrigation from the Treasury building and no one knew about it,” Arnoldi recalled.

The Green Buildings Panel had some career advice for Eco Women pursuing careers in green building:
Katrina Managan advised – “Reading as much as you can to be the technical expert you want to be as well as networking. There is a lot of free info on websites out there.”
Kristin Anderson Arnoldi concurred. ‘Go to events at the U.S. Green Building Council and network.”
Seema Wadhwa’s advice was almost spiritual. “I don’t think the education is important as the drive to do the work. This work is a calling. “