Archive for August, 2011

Carbon Footprints by City

When we buy dinner, find transportation to work, and even flip a light switch we are either directly or indirectly responsible for the burning emission of fossil fuels and emissions of heat trapping gases like CO2. Your carbon footprint is a measure of just how much carbon dioxide is emitted through your own actions and things like driving and growing food contribute different amounts.  A 2011 study by Christopher M. Jones and Daniel M. Kammen in the American Chemical Society’s Environmental Science and Technology revealed that of all the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the United States, those associated with household consumption are responsible for up to 80%.

The study goes on to say that the information given to individuals to reduce their carbon footprints is general in nature, even as the science behind the research becomes more sophisticated. Using this science to pinpoint which cities and regions are producing more carbon dioxides than others may help individuals and cities to lessen their impact on the planet.

The study found that while some cities have very low footprints in one area, such as housing, they tend to have larger footprints in other areas, like transportation. Their research also showed that areas with dense populations tended to have a lower carbon footprint than those whose citizens were more spread out.

A 2008 Brookings study entitled “Shrinking the Carbon Footprint of Metropolitan America” found that

“the Mississippi River roughly divides the  country into high emitters and low emitters.    In 2005, all but one of the 10 largest per capita emitters—Oklahoma City being the exception—was located east of the Mississippi.  On the other hand, all but one of the 10 lowest per capita emitters—New York being the exception—was located west of the Mississippi.  California alone was home to six of the twenty lowest per capita emitters.”

Research can help communities come together to change their energy usage habits, but you can start now with some simple tips to cut back on your own carbon dioxide production.

-GN

Ethical Chocolate Choices

Chocolate can serve as a feel good treat, but be sure to know where your cocoa comes from before throwing a bar down on your grocery store conveyor belt. According to the Integrated Regional Information Networks, three-quarters of the world’s cocoa comes from Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. These countries employ an estimated 284,000 child laborers, even after international governments working in conjunction with big businesses have introduced self-policing legislation to try and eliminate these practices.

International measures have been taken to try to cut down on this numbers, but experts are convinced that the true problem stems from  unfixed cocoa prices, where farmers end up being paid a fraction of price of the finished chocolate product. The Harkin-Engel Protocol, commonly referred to as the Cocoa Protocol, is an international agreement  by the Chocolate Manufacturers Association, and signed by United States lawmakers, the Ambassador of the Ivory Coast, and eight major chocolate companies. The agreement originally set a deadline of 2001 to achieve its goals of assessing the extent of the child labor problem, forming multi-sectoral advisory groups, and building towards more credible industry standards. This deadline was unmet. The revised 2008 deadline brought few results, leading labor rights groups to speculate that the agreement was a way for gigantic chocolate companies to save face while governments collected data under the guise of ending exploitation.

However, the lack of results from big businesses doesn’t mean that consumers need to give up their favorite treats. Small batches of farmers in countries like the Dominican Republic have banded together to sell certified fair trade products. The National Confederation of Dominican Cocoa Producers represents “9,500 small-scale growers” and their products can be purchased online. Other fair trade certified chocolates (as well as other items) can be found on this site and an explanation of what makes fair trade fair here.

So, if who makes your chocolate ( or coffee!)  is important to you, look out for these symbols next time you choose.

Happy eating!

– GN

Responsible Fast Food?

When packing lunches or storing leftovers at home, reusable plastic containers can keep food fresh and reduce waste. Now, fast food corporations like KFC are using the same idea to offer a more reasonable and environmentally friendly alternative to disposable polystyrene.

Now, KFC will offer side dishes in microwaveable, dishwasher-safe plastic containers. After the meal is done, these containers don’t have to be tossed. The idea won them a Greener Package Award
. The awards are designed to recognize corporations taking steps to increase the “cleanliness” of their manufacturing. Other winners include Coca Cola for its 30% plant based bottle. This year, applicants were held to stricter standards that required submissions to “include verifiable data for at least one aspect of environmental impact: greenhouse gas reduction, sourcing metrics/impacts, end-of-life recovery metrics/impacts, life-cycle metrics/impacts, and/or social impacts.” While critics may still suggest that most companies are not doing nearly enough to reduce environmental impact of their packaging, these steps are certainly in the right direction.

Awareness of the negative effects of discarded fast food containers might help solve a bigger problem as well. Polystyrene, the material much fast food packaging is made of, is technically recyclable. However, it is time consuming and expensive to do so, and many waste management systems will not accept it. As a result, these light plastics have a tendency to litter roadsides and ultimately end up in landfills.  In some places, strides are being made to reduce these undesirable consequences. A 2010 Seattle ordinance now requires that almost every piece of food packaging be compostable or recyclable.

Fast food may not be your first choice for an eco-friendly meal, but it’s unlikely to lose its place in the American diet any time soon. Smart moves by businesses like KFC suggest that big business may be starting to think more carefully about how their products affect the environment.

– GN

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