GreenStep Cities is a tool that you can use to help bring your personal sustainability commitment to your broader community – the city where you live. It is a voluntary program that offers 28 proven green ideas that will help make your city greener and healthier while saving money.
GreenStep's 28 green ideas or best practices focus on cost savings through energy use reduction and other earth-friendly innovations. Each of the 28 challenges can be implemented by completing one or more specific actions from a list of four to eight actions. One example action is cities can improve the energy efficiency of lighting in and on public buildings. Another is that cities can adopt “complete streets policies” with sidewalks and bike trails that better facilitate walking and biking . They also have actions that address green purchasing, cleaning up lakes and rivers and campaigns that encourage backyard gardening and locally sourced foods.
Each best practice action has a series of implementation resources to help cities and citizens get the information that they need to follow through on a project, which can also mean help with funding. Their website offers a cost benefit for each area of actions along with a list of the benefits, so that a city council doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel and do a bunch of research to get going.
One of the things that makes the program so innovative is that it is a grand collaboration between Great Plains Institute, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Izaak Walton League, Urban Land Institute, The League of Minnesota Cities and Clean Energy Resource Teams. This unusually large group has been able to get some good traction already.
The pilot cities were mainly metro area: Bloomington, Edina, St. Louis Park, Falcon Heights and Victoria. But many more have joined including Northfield, Breezy Point, Pine River and St. Cloud, and many others.
Once the program gathers steam, the plan is to recognized cities that get somewhere with their best practices, at the League of Minnesota Cities’ annual conference.
Steps to getting your city involved (from the GreenStep website):
This program holds promise for communities trying to figure out how to plug into the sustainability movement. It makes green accessible and almost easy by providing a step-by-step “how to” guide for citizens and city governments.
I was shocked to find out that there are 15 billion batteries produced every year worldwide. You can bet that number will grow exponentially as our addiction to gadgets grows. Americans annually use up an average of eight batteries per person. I think I go through eight AA batteries in just my wireless key board and mouse each year. Then there is the TV remote(s), the battery powered toothbrush, my Blackberry, camera, flip cam, flashlights, smoke detectors, bicycle lights – need I go on?
Batteries are not only ubiquitous, they are a dirty business. They are manufactured with heavy metals and toxic chemicals -- dangerous substances like lead, arsenic, zinc, cadmium, copper, mercury and acid. Once we are done with them, they are often thrown away in household trash. When discarded batteries from our trash wind up in landfills, they can pollute our water supply or if an incinerator is their fate, they can pollute our air.
We can’t give up our gadgets or go back to pre-battery gadgets, so follow these simple guidelines to help make your battery power greener and cleaner:
Buy rechargeable batteries. Instead of purchasing disposable alkaline batteries over and over again, consider purchasing a set of rechargeable NiMH (Nickel Metal Hydride) batteries to save money, resources and go through fewer batteries. Rechargeable batteries have come down in price in the past few years and come in all the common sizes – AA, AAA, C, D, and 9 volt.
Even though they still cost more up front, they’ll quickly pay for themselves the more you use them. To put a finer point on the money savings: a 50 cent AA alkaline battery will give you about 90 pictures in a digital camera but a $2.50 NiMH rechargeable battery will give you about 90,000 pictures. The difference is in the fact that you cannot recharge an alkaline battery but you can recharge a NiMH battery 500 times. Of course the charger will cost a few bucks but it is well worth it.
Get Greener Gadgets. Better yet, buy a camera that doesn’t require battery replacement. Many newer cameras have a rechargeable battery that can be recharged like a cell phone. There will be no batteries to get rid of and you can charge your camera on the go with a solar charger if you run out of juice in a remote location. There are other newer gadgets too that are designed to be rechargeable i.e. plug-in television remote controls or rechargeable flashlights with long life LEDs.
Every battery that is rechargeable, including those that come with the gadget, will have a certain amount of recharge cycles. But just because you have used your last recharge cycle, doesn’t mean that the entire gadget has to be tossed. You can often find a new battery for your gadget from the manufacturer or through a full service battery retailer like Batteries Plus. I was talking with Mike Criego owner of several Batteries Plus stores and he told me that you can also “re-load” exhausted rechargeable batteries for gadgets like cordless drills and weedwackers at a fraction of the cost to buy new. The other green benefit is that it keeps those worn out gadgets in service, rather than all of the plastic and metal of a weedwacker ending up in a landfill somewhere.
Recycle your old batteries. I’ve always been confused about what to do with batteries when they are used up. To throw, recycle or bring somewhere is the question. I collect old batteries in a jar in my garage. When I get enough of them, I bring them into a retail location like Best Buy, Radio Shack or Batteries Plus. These retailers have recycle battery kiosks now and will take and recycle any kind of battery.
One word of caution when recycling used up batteries: the batteries likely still contain enough of a charge to start a fire if the positive from one battery comes in contact with the negative of another. So tape off the area where the connection is made when you take the battery out of the gadget.
Throwing out old batteries in the trash is never a good idea because it can create toxic waste. Although dead batteries may be no longer of use to you, recycling companies can use their components to supply manufacturers with recycled materials instead of taking from the earth’s resources. To find out how and where to recycle your batteries and electronics www.rethinkrecycling.com or http://www.rethinkrecycling.com/businesses/waste-management-guide/materials-name/batteries .
Watch KSPT Twin Cities Live television segment with Kim on the subject of "greener batteries".
What would it be like if every town in America had their own version of a stop sign complete with their own symbol meaning stop along with their choice of color? Perhaps some would choose the word stop but some might choose a picture. Some would be red but others might be purple.
Well, this is exactly what has happened in the recycling industry. With no clear direction from the recycling industry or government officials, we have a mishmash of signs with no universal symbols or colors telling us where and what to recycle.
Until now, beginning this month, Recycle Across America and industry leaders will introduce and provide standardized signs for recycling bins for everyone. This is a major step in fixing the problem and clearing up confusion for businesses and consumers alike.
It took a woman with a green marketing perspective
For the past twenty years this has been a problem that no one saw. Until green dynamo, Michelle “Mitch” Hedlund, co-director of UPonGREEN Environmental Advancement Foundation and founder of eco-profiles.com, named the problem and provided a solution during her keynote presentation to the recycling industry executive committee at the 2009 RAM/SWANA Conference in Minneapolis.
As a result, Recycle Across America (RAA) was formed along with a national signage committee representing nearly every level of the recycling spectrum, including: leading national recycling collectors, recycling associations, Fortune 100 companies, national manufacturers, national retailers, recycling consultants and agencies, solid waste industry leaders, composting companies, public school associations, parents, students, national leaders of faith-based organizations, government environmental authorities, e-waste recycling companies and more.
Download the signs for FREE
Just by visiting www.recycleacrossamerica.org anyone can print the signs themselves at no cost. Or they can order long-wearing adhesive labels professionally printed on durable and cleanable material to attach to their bins. On the website there is a library of signs that people can choose from which work for most, if not all, collection and sorting routines in all communities. Additionally, logos can also be added, making the labels a positive branding tool for businesses and organizations; and households can add a photo to create a more personalized statement about their commitment toward recycling.
There is still more to do
Even though we feel like we are good recyclers, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), currently less than 10 percent of recyclable materials from businesses in the United States, is recycled each year. If that number could reach 75 percent, that would be the environmental equivalent of removing more than 33 million cars from the roads in the U.S..
The hope is that by having clear and universal labeling of recycling containers, we can get our recycling numbers up. The theory is that if everyone knew that a bin was for bottles or cans, there would be less cross contamination and more participation. Janitorial staff would also at a glance understand what is garbage and what is recycled material without having to spend time deciphering bins with different labels in each office.
Here’s to you Ms. Hedlund! Let's hope it works!
I have been going “up north” my entire life. My favorite get away is in Northwest Wisconsin about an hour south of Lake Superior. It’s an area of small spring fed lakes wrapped in a cloak of a young forest. I have been vacationing in that same area for the past 20 years – regularly enough to notice that there have been changes in the woods.
This is an area that has been pretty much the same for 20 years – at least, not much human development. Well, ok, there is a new casino 5 miles away – oh, goodie. The road that I walk on is a bit busier. But the lake itself has seen almost no new development and is as quiet and serene as the day I first laid eyes on it.
Even so, there are changes in the trees. Twenty years ago, the area was mostly populated with pine – Jack, White, Red – you get the picture. Add a sprinkling of poplar or popple (as the locals say) and birch make dense woods in between hundreds of small lakes.
Fast forward 20 years, Mother Nature is replacing diseased or blown down pine with maple and oak. Maple and oak??? Where are my fragrant pine trees??? Where are the popple and birch??? Where is the north woods going???
According to a study by University of Minnesota researchers, the trees are marching north. Yep, just like the Ents in Tolkien’s fantasy world of Middle-earth. Unfortunately, this isn’t a book or a movie where the trees eventually win. In a generation, my beloved north woods and lakes region will look like central Iowa or Missouri with grasslands and potholes scattered with trees and brush. Urgh!! Not that there is anything wrong with prairie (or Iowa). But it is not the “up north” lakes area that I know and love.
Lee Frelich, study author, calls it a “triple double whammy” of storms, fires and invasive insects (oh my!), caused by warming, that will effectively deforest our woods.
Apparently, it’s the bugs and invasive species that survive the latest trend, warmer winters, and flourish by living longer and breeding better. If that isn’t bad enough, a growing population of deer will gobble fledgling pine and birch seedlings and earthworms will strip the natural mulch from the landscape allowing less water to soak into the soil leaving tree roots parched. If the trees go can the lakes be far behind?
So what can we do to stop the march of the trees northward? Or at the very least, how can we adapt to this new reality?
• Educate yourself. Visit one of our many environmental learning centers like the Audubon Center of the North Woods in Sandstone Minnesota. In addition to begin an environmental learning center, it is a wildlife rehab facility and conference center.
• Plant trees. No matter if you live in the city, burbs or lake country, contact your local tree authority to find out what trees will survive warmer dryer conditions and plant them. Protect seedlings with barriers so that deer can’t munch on them.
• Don’t play with fire. If our forests are on the verge of becoming parched with more blown down and dead trees, that means the risk of wild fires will increase. So, be aware of the fire danger level in the area that you live or camp. Heed fire bans. When making a campfire, clear away anything burnable within 2 yards. If sparks are landing in trees or brush, put out the fire.
• Use less energy. We hear this time and time again, but it doesn’t make it any less valid. Using fewer fossil fuels can be part of the mix of solutions to help curb global warming. Turn down your heat/AC, turn off your lights, drive less and buy energy efficient appliances and electronics.
I know it’s the natural evolution of things and that nothing stays the same in our world, but I was hoping for some sameness at the up north retreat that I know so well. What gets me is that it is really happening before my eyes. This global warming thing is not something way off into the future. It is not bogus liberal “sky is falling” bunk. It is already happening. It is already affecting me, my friends, family and most of all the trees. Who speaks for the trees? We all do through our tiny thoughtful actions.
With environmental concerns on nearly everyone’s personal radar, more and more of us are purchasing items marked as eco-friendly, sustainable, nature-loving, organic and the like. When a company claims a product is green, often the public believes them. Greenwashing – falsely claiming or implying that a product or service is environmentally friendly – has become common practice even if not intentional by manufacturers, brands and retailers.
Greenwashing can be as blatant as using a picture of wild flowers on the label of a dangerous synthetic chemical – subconsciously making the consumer think that it is natural – it can also be innocuous. Even the consumer who knows what materials to look for can be misled. For example, someone who chooses a bamboo table knowing that bamboo is sustainable. It’s what happens before the table makes it to the store that is the concern – that bamboo may have been sourced illegally from a old growth rain forest that was cut down to farm the bamboo.
TerraChoice, a labeling outfit in Canada, says that as many as 98% of products labeled green by the manufacturer are mislabeled. That statistic doesn’t inspire confidence. And the haphazard labeling has created a truckload of skepticism and confusion for the consumer.
Unfortunately, in the world of green products where there are no universal standards, it is still the Wild West - most anything goes. So how do we know if a product is truly environmentally preferable? Determining where a product falls in the range of environmental positives or negatives is the trick to identifying a true green product from a greenwashed one.
Yes, you could do your own research or stay tuned to my blog and gradually find out what products to trust. But a short cut is to shop at stores that have a green mission and have done the research for you stocking the products that fit their definition of green:
Moss Envy – in Minneapolis near Lake Calhoun featuring green products for your home and life. My favorite green picks for fall are: recycled content green tote bags and purses, colorful Lifefactory glass water bottle with silcone sleeve, Solio hybrid solar charger, Ecovoltaic solar juice bag/briefcase, Rainshow’r Crystal Ball bathwater dechlorinator, and the IonatorHom chemical-free spray cleaner appliance. They also have natural latex and wool mattresses for adults and kids.
The Wedge Coop – in South Minneapolis has an enormous collection of the safest and most eco-friendly personal care products and a well-trained staff to help you find the best product at the best price. Some of their more affordable and accessible personal care items are: Alaffia shampoo and conditioner, Everyday Shea moisturizing lotion, Weleda face care, Weleda baby all-in-one body wash and shampoo, Tom’s of Maine clean and gentle toothpaste with fluoride.
Peapods Natural Toys and Baby Care – in St. Paul feature safe and green toys, baby gear and accessories. Peapods was green before green was cool. They are the go to experts for help and instruction with none plastic diaper alternatives. A few of my favorite green products: Laptop lunches Bento Box 2.0 for a waste free lunch for the kiddos, recycled plastic recycling truck by Green Toys, a lifesize child measuring stick from Wood from the Hood, and SoftBum drawstring re-useable and growable diaper.
Design Within Reach – in the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis for sustainable furniture and home goods. Some of their green goods: Loll Adirondack chair made locally in Duluth and Brazo task lamp the body is 97% recylcleable and the LED is very energy efficient.