I recently wrote about an investigation revealing that Energy Star was giving its well-respected certification to undeserving products. Now, it seems, it's making efforts to shine more light into the dark corners, including a requirement that all manufacturers use independent testing and provide the lab results. Well done! [Link]
I took a flight on Continental Airlines yesterday. Since I recently made a personal commitment to avoiding single-use plastic as much as possible, I bring my stainless-steel water bottle with me whenever I fly. After I clear security, I fill it up from a water fountain and bring it with me on the plane. (The importance of which, I realize, pales in comparison to the carbon emissions for which I'm responsible by flying. But on with the story.)
Yesterday I forgot the water-fountain bit, so when the beverage cart came around, I asked the flight attendant to pour some water directly into my bottle instead of
giving me a plastic cup. She refused, saying that the plastic water bottle might touch my steel bottle, which could spread germs.
Oh, come now, Continental! Your flight attendants are trained in numerous processes, many of which involve a fairly high level of dexterity. I have full confidence that they can pour water from one vessel into another without the twain touching. Attendants on other airlines I've flown have had no problem with it.
As I tried to lull the prickles of rage that crept up the back of my neck, I was reminded of the fact that Green America has just published a report on the sorry state of recycling in the airline industry. It states that nearly 500 million more tons of airline waste could be
recycled each year than currently is being recycled; 250 million tons of that is generated in flight.
And according to the report, no airline recycles all the main candidates (aluminum, glass, paper, plastic), and no airline reports on how it's progressing in its recycling goals. Continental ranks fifth in a list of 11 carriers, with a grade of D (the highest score was a B-, awarded to Delta).
Now, recycling is fine, but even better is reducing, so I'm pretty disappointed that Continental refuses to take this small, easy step.
Have you had similar green-stymieing experiences while flying? Leave a comment below.
I'm very excited to read it, not least because he discusses "the toxicologist’s dilemma": the fact that standard, accepted methods for determining "safe" levels of exposure to different chemicals don't take into account today's environmental
But the good news is that we don't have to accept those methods.
In this post (adapted from Goleman's book) on the Environmental Working Group's blog, Goleman writes that if each of us did three things, we could get companies to phase out their use of toxic chemicals: "(1) Know the true ecological impacts of what we buy. (2) Favor improvements. (3) Tell everyone we know."
In other words, the more demand we create for safe products, the more incentives corporations have to find or develop safer alternatives. Granted, it's not always easy to know the true ecological impacts of
our consumption, but there's more info out there now than ever before. Like, for example, Goleman's book.
Here's a shocking revelation: The economy trumps the environment on the majority of Americans' priority lists, according to recent polls by CNN/Opinion Research and Gallup.
Actually, the real surprise (for me, anyway) is that this is a new state of affairs. It's only the second time that economy has beat environment since 1984, when Gallup started asking the question. The first time was last year.
But as water blogger Eric Eckl points out in a recent post on his site, maybe the environment-vs.-economy question is a misleading one. He cites evidence that "everyday citizens actually reject the basic premise of that question."
Not only that, but more and more businesses are realizing that investing in sustainability can burnish not just their image but also their bottom line. As Gil Friend, CEO of sustainability consultancy Natural Logic, states on the cover of his book The Truth About Green Business, you don’t have to choose between making money and making sense.
Eckl's post is well worth a read. In the meantime, I'll leave you with this graph from a 2005 Yale University survey he cites.
Two stories recently landed at Wallet Mouth H.Q. that I wish I could say were jokes.
First, the Washington Postreports that a couple of high schoolers in New York discovered, through DNA tests, that 11 out of 66 food products they'd bought from an assortment of Manhattan markets had been fraudulently mislabeled, with "sheep's milk" cheese turning out to be from a cow and "sturgeon caviar" being revealed as Mississippi
Then, undercover Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigators succeed in getting Energy Star certification for 15 bogus products, such as an "air cleaner" consisting of a space heater with fly strips and a duster adhered to it. (Here's the link.)
The food-fraud story wasn't a complete surprise. After all, as I noted last year, a vendor at my local farmers' market clued me in to the fact that lots of supposedly 100% extra-virgin olive oil not only isn't extra-virgin but also is adulterated with other, cheaper oils. I also have friends who work for a company that provides "traceability services," helping food-industry clients ensure that their offerings are on the straight and narrow.
But until I read Sarah Lutz's story about the Energy Star kerfuffle, I didn't realize that products bearing the highly regarded blue-and-white logo are not tested before they go to market (merely "some" are scrutinized after they are on the market). The ersatz air cleaner even lacked a required disclaimer and safety-standard number... and still got certified. All GAO investigators had to do was tell the authorities in an email that the product met the standards.
This is a pretty big blow to what I had always considered a credible certification system. People can get tax credits with certain Energy Star purchases, fer cryin' out loud. I can only hope that "Energy Star-Gate" will help the system grow some teeth.
And if it doesn't, we can take heart in the fact that the growing field of smart appliances will shine light into the dark crevices of mislabeled appliances, eventually rendering energy-efficiency fraud a thing of the past.
As for the food scams, that's a tough one, seeing as how the FDA can barely keep up with contamination issues, and better funding for the agency seems unlikely in this economy. But is it really so unreasonable to hope that the FDA could integrate traceability systems like the kind offered by my friends' company into its workings?
At the very least, the feds should approve food-category-specific standards (mentioned in the Washington Post story), such as those petitioned for by honey and olive-oil groups (the latter has been waiting nearly 20 years!), so that companies would be able to sue competitors suspected of selling impure products.
Creative Commons-licensed tarot image by Flickr user Maitri.
December 2010 I haven't actually bought anything from Po-Zu yet, but I appreciate their awareness of the fact that many vegan shoes are made of petroleum products and aren't necessarily better for the environment than leather footwear. Po-Zu seems to set a high bar for itself when it comes to ingredients and supply chains.
March 2010 After running out of dish soap, I started using our good old bars of Sappo Hill out of necessity. But you know what? Our dishes are just as clean, and when I pick up the soap at our grocery store, the only packaging on the bars is the price tag. And did I mention the soap is awesome? We love the oatmeal bar.
February 2010 TMI alert: If you're a squeamish guy, read no further. I'm done with tampons! Instead, I'm using the DivaCup.
January 2010 Mr. Wallet Mouth and I both love Pact. Its underwear is made of organic cotton, and the company donates 10% of its sales to worthy environmental causes. Not only that, but the company is serious about eco-friendly packaging. Each pair of undies comes not in a plastic bag but in a little cloth pouch made from fabric remnants. I'm also impressed with how responsive Pact is over email; when I asked a packaging question, I got a nice reply from the CEO.
December 2009 After reading about Skoy Cloths, the biodegradable paper-towel alternative, on Fake Plastic Fish, I bought a bunch for stocking stuffers and my own kitchen, and I'm now a fan. They're lasting a long time, despite repeated washings in the laundry, and they arrive with minimal packaging.
October 2009 I was already of fan of Straus yogurt (see June 2007), but now I love it even more. According to Michael Straus, a son of the company's founder, Straus yogurt "is made, cooled, and set in stainless-steel vats, unlike most yogurts, which are poured while still hot into plastic cups to cool and set." As someone who's concerned about plastics and chemical safety, I'm happy to hear that!
July 2009 I'm using a lot more baking soda now that I'm making more of an effort to clean the house in a nontoxic way. But from now on I'll be buying Bob's Red Mill, since Arm & Hammer engages in animal testing.
July 2008 Started feeling extra-good about buying one of my fave meat substitutes, Tofurky, after learning that its maker, Turtle Island Foods, is an independent, family-owned company (Unlike Boca Foods, which is a subsidiary of Kraft, and Morningstar, which is owned by Kellogg).
April 2008 I'm going to start buying my canned beans from Eden Foods, for two reasons: it uses custom-made cans that don't contain bisphenol A, and it's an independent, family-operated company.
February 2008 From now on, whenever I order takeout or ask for a doggy bag, I’ll make sure to avoid #6 polystyrene containers (and, of course, Styrofoam).