Drinking Responsibly – The Sustainability of Craft Beer

Barley, Yeast, Hops, Beards, Independent, Local, Handcrafted, … Sustainability?

Along with all the other great qualities of craft breweries, social responsibility and environmental stewardship seems to be ingrained in the culture too. Craft breweries are appearing on every corner and we can’t get enough. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better…BAM!… sustainability. And they might be around for the long hall.

A quick shout out to the 90’s – thanks for fostering the craft brewery revolution – we have that and much more to thank you for.

This chart from the brewers association shows the explosion:

Growth of Craft Breweries Over Time | prch

What was once a garage hobby has blossomed into a booming industry. Craft brew is dominated by young men who started brewing beer in their garage for their friends, which is why it comes as no surprise that the small time community culture they embody is an essential ingredient in the craft beer scene.  

We’re talking about a generation of kids that was deeply impacted by the environmental damage of previous generations. A generation that despises cubicles and strives to reform the old way of business.  

They understand that profit isn’t the only bottom line in business. That’s not to say it isn’t a factor, because craft beer is a big industry. It contributed $55.7 Billion to the US economy in 2014.

But craft breweries seem to see the big picture. Not only does being green improve the way they are perceived, but it makes business sense. The price of fossil fuels and water are only expected to increase, so investing in efficient operations and renewable resources is a pretty easy decision. 

Finally, you have to please your customers and the hip millennials are out to eat and drink local. As long as craft brew drinkers care, craft brewers will care.

A Few Sustainability Highlights from Progressive Craft Breweries

Alaskan Brewing

  • CO2 recovery system prevents over 1 million pounds of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere each year. That’s the equivalent of the emissions from 45,000 gallons of gas.
  • Mash filter press – saved over 1 million gallons of water and 60,000 gallons of fuel in its first year of operation
  • Spent grain steam broiler – turns used grain into energy preventing them from having to ship it out and cutting their fuel usage by up to 70%

Stone Brewing

  • Reclaims 75,000 gallons of water a day
  • Solar contributes to about 20% of their energy usage (1,561 solar modules)
  • They are the largest purchasers of local produce in San Diego County
  • Participate in meatless monday at their restaurant (saves 110,448 lbs of CO2 annually)

New Belgium

  • They measure and publish their water, waste, and emissions metrics annually (check it out here)
  • 99.9% of their waste is diverted from the landfill
  • 12.6% of their energy is produced on site with solar and biogas
  • In 1998 the staff voluntarily took a cut from their bonus checks to subscribe to he Fort Collins Utilities Wind Power Program after learning that the biggest contributor to their carbon footprint was the city’s coal-fired power plant.

Sierra Nevada

  • Their Chico brewery gets 20% of its energy from solar (10,751 panels)
  • They generate electricity from microturbines that run off natural gas and biogas produced by their own wastewater treatment plant
  • CO2 recovery systems capture CO2 produced in the fermentation process
  • 99.8% of their waste is diverted from the landfill
  • They capture rainwater at their Mills River location and utilize it for non-potable uses around the brewery

I know you didn’t need another excuse to drink beer, but this might be your best one yet.



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Ecolabelling – Know Your Environmental & Social Product Labels

Do You Look for These Eco Labels While Shopping?

Do you know what they mean…

About Eco Labels

Ecolabelling refers to the small seals usually found around the edges of products that denote product attributes such as certified organic, fair trade, or cruelty free.  These eco labels are a form of sustainability measurement that help consumers make decisions while shopping.

There are over 460 eco labels, but only a handful are widespread among the products we see in store. In order to display an eco label, products must be certified by a third party with strict qualification standards. However, there are some eco labels created by the company themselves so it’s important to know which ones are credible and which ones are likely biased.

All of the eco labels outlined below are third party certifications. This guide will help you recognize and understand the most common eco labels so you can choose more responsible products.

Common Eco Labels for Food Products

usda-organicThis USDA Organic eco label is the most recognizable. For a product to get this seal the ingredients must be 95% or more certified organic.

Certified organic ingredients are free of synthetic additives like chemical fertilizers, pesticides and dyes, and can’t be processed using industrial solvents, irradiation, or genetic engineering. USDA has made a few exceptions to the rule however, such as with additives in processed goods like enzymes in yogurt, pectin in fruit jams, and baking soda in baked goods.

Many have argued that the standards for the USDA certification are loose, but products with this eco label are much closer to being healthy and responsible than their counterparts. You should also keep an eye out for the following claims that can only be made if these requirements are met:

  • “made with organic” – This means at least 70% of the ingredients are organic but the rest do not need to meet organic standards.
  • “100% organic” – All ingredients meet the USDA organic requirements


Although the USDA Organic certification prohibits the use of genetically modified organisms, many food products also have the NonGMO Project verification as well. As the name suggests, this eco label verifies a product’s ingredients are not genetically modified. The Non GMO Project has a thorough testing process for all product ingredients which is conducted annually. This eco label offers the most thorough verification available for non GMO.

Watch out for “GMO free” or other non GMO claims that are not backed by a third party certification. If you want to be sure you’re supporting a business that actively avoids he use of genetically modified organisms, look for this eco label. Also, not all products that are verified sport the label, but you can double check with the NonGMO Project site to make sure.

Fair Trade Eco Labels

When you purchase fair trade certified products, you are supporting human rights for workers around the world that have historically been exploited. The mission of fair trade is to ensure that small farm owners and agricultural operations receive a fair price for their products. Fair trade also means all the workers are paid a fair price and are guaranteed good working conditions.

Fair trade eco labels are most commonly found on food items but aren’t limited to food. Some textiles are starting to sport the eco label to show they have used fair trade ingredients. Here are the most common fair trade labels to look for:


The Fair Trade Certified eco label is issued by Fair Trade USA, a third party non profit certification body that audits suppliers to ensure they meet minimum wage and working condition standards. Their programs help to protect farmers in third world countries from being exploited and they emphasize sustainable practices.

Best explained by them, “We provide farmers in developing nations the tools to thrive as international business people. Instead of creating dependency on aid, we use a market-based approach that gives farmers fair prices, workers safe conditions, and entire communities resources for fair, healthy and sustainable lives. We seek to inspire the rise of the Conscious Consumer and eliminate exploitation.”


FairTrade International facilitates trade partnerships to ensure producers get a fair price for their products. Traditionally, small scale farmers in poor countries have been exploited because they have little or no bargaining power with large established purchasers. They not only facilitate fair trade but also support standards for hired labor, democracy, and transparency among developing communities.



Similar to the previous eco labels, the Fair for Life certification aims to support human rights through their work. Fair for Life certified products ensure farmers receive a fair share of profits and workers have fair working conditions. They also foster programs to provide the means for social community projects and empowerment of the people.



The Rainforest Alliance eco label certifies products that originate on or have ingredients that come from a farm or forest operation. The certification criteria for the label is designed to conserve wildlife, safeguard soils and waterways, protect workers and their communities, and support long-term sustainability. This eco label can be found on coffee, chocolate, tea, fruit, flowers, paper products, furniture, and even on some tourism lodges.


Common Eco Labels for Electronic Products


Energy Star is one of the most recognized eco labels as it is one of the oldest. Like the USDA Organic label, Energy Star is government backed – the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is the issuer. This eco label signifies energy efficiency for products and even homes and commercial/industrial buildings. For products to receive the Energy Star certification they have to meet the energy efficiency requirements established by the EPA.

Each product category has its own set of requirements, which are revised regularly. Essentially, the Energy Star label is awarded to the most energy efficient products in their class. As technology advances the requirements change, so products need to continually improve to meet the standard year after year.

While the Energy Star eco label doesn’t provide discrete values or ratings, it does provide an indication for products leading in energy efficiency which helps when deciding what to buy. You can lookup all Energy Star certified products here.


EPEAT  (Elecronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool) is a rating system that uses criteria to register products that are manufactured with less toxic content, are easily recycled, and are more energy efficient. This is a label you may not see on a physical product in the store, but is sometimes displayed when shopping online. There are three levels in the EPEAT rating system – Bronze, Silver, Gold. And yes, in case you are wondering… Your Mac Book is certified Gold. You can search products and companies here: EPEAT Search.

Other Types of Eco Labels to Look For

b-corporationThe B Corp eco label is a certification for corporations with a goal of using business to solve social and environmental problems. A B Corp is to business as fair trade certification is to coffee.

Unlike traditional corporations, social and environmental responsibility are built into the framework and mission of the certified B Corps so money is not the only factor that dictates decision making. To maintain their status, B Corporations are held to comprehensive and transparent social and environmental performance standards.

Some notable corporations that have joined the movement include Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s, New Belgium Brewing, and Couchsurfing… So whether you feel like drinking a beer, eating some ice cream, or traveling, you can support responsible business while you do so!  Find out if your favorite brands are certified B Corps here: Find a B Corp

cradle-to-cradle-certificationCradle to Cradle is another eco label with multiple tiers: Basic, Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum. Each product assessed by Cradle to Cradle is measured against five criteria which are combined for an overall score:

  • Material Health
  • Material Utilization
  • Revewable Energy & Carbon Management
  • Water Stewardship
  • Social Fairness

Cradle to Cradle has certified a wide variety of products including furniture, health and beauty products, cleaning supplies, and some apparel. You can browse the certified products and their ratings on the Cradle to Cradle website.


Looking for eco labels is a great way to identify socially and environmentally responsible products. While these marks aren’t a complete sustainability rating for products by any means, they do help determine the social value of products which makes shopping responsibly much easier.

Be careful though! Not all labels on packaging are authentic. If you find an eco label and aren’t sure what it means, the best place to search is the Eco Label Index. If you don’t find it there then it’s probably not a valid label.

What are your go-to eco labels?


Conscious Consumer Index – Social Responsibility Survey Infographic

Overall, the growth in social enterprise continues, but slowly.

I’m a bit surprised to find out that the conscious consumer movement is not growing faster. I expected a more significant increase since younger generations are becoming more active and environmental and social issues have seen more coverage in the media. I was especially shocked to see that almost 1/3 of the respondents could not name a socially responsible company!

It’s clear that knowledge is the leading reason why consumers fail to shop responsibly – 46% of respondents stated that not knowing where to find socially responsible products and services prevented them from doing more good!

As with all movements, education is key.

About The CCSIndex Survey

The Conscious Consumer Spending Index (CCSIndex) is an ongoing study that tracks trends among charitable giving and conscious consumerism. The survey is conducted by Good.Must.Grow, a socially responsible marketing agency that provides strategic marketing support for socially responsible businesses, nonprofit causes, and organizations that are focused on health and wellness. The CCSIndex Survey tracks trends such as the importance consumers place on purchasing from socially responsible companies and intent to purchase products from responsible organizations.

This infographic displays the highlights of their third annual survey from 2015.


Learn more about CCSIndex and Good.Must.Grow

Guide to Buying Sustainable Fish – Seafood Watch App

Yes! There’s an app for that…

Shopping for fish is tough for a conscious consumer. There are a lot of conflicting points of view in the scientific community around the fishing industry – farmed fish, wild caught, stock estimates, size limits, bycatch, mercury… There is always a new report to demystify the last and make me more confused about my choices when it comes to the sea.

Fortunately there is a guide that’s relevant to your location, updated regularly, and comes from a pretty trustworthy source.

The Seafood Watch guide published by the Monterey Bay Aquarium isn’t going to make you a fish expert, but it will take you from newb to conscious pescatarian. And guess what? They have an app! So you don’t even really need to think. (They have a printable pocket guide too if you prefer.)

The guide makes it easy. When you search for a fish you get recommendations to help you make sustainable decisions. Your favorite fish may fall into one of three categories:

  • Best Choices – These are considered to be well managed fisheries, caught or farmed in ways that cause little harm to habitats or other wildlife.
  • Good Alternatives – There are concerns with how these fish are caught or farmed.
  • Avoid – Fish in this group are over fished or caught or farmed in ways that harm other marine life or the environment.

The Seafood Watch app has some other helpful features too:

  • You can search for sushi by Japanese name and common market name
  • There is a function to help you find restaurants and stores near you that serve ocean-friendly seafood. This feature provides a map of their “business and restaurant partners”. This part of the app could be a little more robust – my results in San Diego consisted of 4 Whole Food locations.
    • Business Partners – Restaurants and/or major retailers that have made a commitment to sell only environmentally responsible seafood.
    • Restaurant Partners – Restaurants that no longer serve items from the red “Avoid” list. They also train their staff and help raise awareness in their communities.
  • Their recommendations will update regularly
  • You can get information about aquaculture, fishing and farming methods, seafood sustainability, and wild seafood if you’re interested in learning more.
  • They provide information about relative eco labels when you search for a fish

I’ve previously been using the pocket guide and I’m pleasantly surprised with the functionality of the app. It’s easy to use and lets you dig deeper into information about seafood at your own pace.

All in all, the guide provides helpful information that makes decision making around seafood way easier. You don’t need to be a scientist to understand the info and try to decide what to eat, but if you want to act like one you can dig deeper and learn more!

A sneak preview of the Seafood Watch App:

Seafood Watch Sustainable Fish Guide - HomeSeafood Watch Sustainable Fish Guide - HomeSeafood Watch Sustainable Fish Guide - TunaSeafood Watch Sustainable Fish Guide - Bluefin

A view of the pocket guide (this one is for CA):

Seafood Watch Pocket Guide



We Each Do What We Can

How do we save the world?

One step at a time.

One trip to the recycling bin.

One bike ride.

One global treaty.

One tech innovation.

One less piece of plastic in the ocean.

One step at a time, we each do what we can to save the world.

As soon as we become conscious of our actions and understand that we do have the ability to make an impact, we take our first step in the right direction.

We each follow our own path and walk at our own pace. We do what we can and what we believe is right, and we continue to learn along the way.

Most don’t realize it, but everything we do has an impact. A cappuccino bought in San Francisco influences coffee trade in Central America, an extra minute in the shower each morning impacts the ecology of a wetland hundreds of miles away, a signature on a petition influences the actions of a billion dollar corporation.

While it’s difficult to see the influence we have on a day to day basis, we know it all adds up and it’s amazing what we can accomplish together.

  • In July 2015 San Diegans cut water usage by over 30% in response to the prolonged drought. That’s the lowest usage has been in SD since 1975
  • Toms has given over 50 million pairs of shoes away to children in need since it started 7 years ago. Each pair was paid for by Toms customers. 
  • Last month Mars Inc. agreed to remove artificial dyes from M&Ms after receiving an online petition signed by over 200,000 people. 


We are on our way to a better world.

The amazing thing is, we don’t need to make giant sacrifices in our lives to have a tremendous impact on others. We can actually improve our lifestyle and feel better about ourselves all while doing good for others and the environment. One step at a time, we do what we can.

If you’d like to take your first step or pick up the pace, you’re in the right place.

You’ll find actionable advice here regularly and if you want to receive one tip once a week you can join the team below.

Let us know how we can help.

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Shipping vs Shopping – The Impact of Buying Online or In Store

Should I shop online or go to the store?

I’ve always been curious about what has a bigger environmental impact – ordering something online and having it shipped to my house OR just going to the store to get it. Of course there are so many variables every case is different, but in general what’s the difference?

To find out, I read five different studies from various sources and they all had the same conclusion: on average ordering products online has a smaller carbon footprint than driving to a store. 

Up to the point where a product is shipped or purchased in a store, it’s journey is pretty much the same. Most products will go through a long journey through a supply chain before being ready for purchase online or in a store. Getting a product through that final step and into the hands of the consumer is called the “last mile”.

For determining what has a larger impact, the last mile is really where the rubber meets the road. As you can imagine there are countless scenarios here based on where you live, what you drive, what the delivery dude drives, how many houses are on his route, etc.  

  • Delivery Transportation – The efficiency of vehicles and routes varies widely, but the generally accepted standard for these studies boils down to the delivery truck traveling between .1 and 1 miles for each package delivered. For purpose of calculating carbon emissions, most of the studies I read assumed a vehicle the size of a standard UPS truck.
  • Customer Transportation – There are several variables around the carbon emissions that result from a consumer going to the store:
    • Trip length – Most studies are assuming somewhere around 12 miles round trip.
    • Fuel economy – Most studies assume an average sized vehicle roughly equivalent to a sedan like a Toyota Corolla.
    • Purposes per trip – A consumer may make a dedicated trip to the store from their home or could pick up their purchase on their way home from work. Some studies give figures for both.
  • Packaging – The difference between individual packaging for shipping to end destination or bulk packaging is considered in one of these studies.
  • Electricity Consumption – This addresses household energy consumption due to shopping online, the energy of distribution warehouses, logistics, and in some cases a store front. Overall these variables were minor factors in final calculations of emissions.

The variable that makes the biggest difference by far is the fuel burned in delivery vs pickup.

It turns out that for the most part, the logistics of shipping are pretty advanced and the carbon footprint of e-tailing is considerably lower than driving to the store yourself. A delivery truck can make 120 drops on a 50 mile route, while the average trip to the store is around 12 miles and you may only be  getting 1-2 items. Even though delivery trucks don’t get as good of gas mileage as the average car, their routes are much more efficient.

If you’re having trouble deciding which has a higher carbon footprint in your situation, consider the following variables:

  • Your vehicle – It may be more efficient to drive to the store if:
    • You have a highly efficient vehicle (especially if you’re charging from a renewable source like solar)
    • It’s on your way to or from another place you’re already going
    • You’re going to be buying a lot of stuff in one trip (over 24 non-food items to be exact)
    • Taking the bus and other public transit were not deeply vetted throughout the studies but depending on how many items you are buying in one trip, it is more efficient than online shopping most circumstances.
  • Proximity to store
    • If you’re only a few miles away and you can limit the number of times you go it will likely have a lower carbon footprint
  • What you’re ordering
    • Is this something you can swing by the store to get next time you’re in the area?
    • Do you need it… like… now?
    • Is it something you can order used online (like a book) instead of having to buy a new one?


The research suggests that, in terms of carbon emissions, shopping online has a much smaller impact. The studies range anywhere from 18-87%, but it’s important to note the wide variety of variables here and think about your particular situation. Most of the difference between driving to the store and ordering online is determined by your vehicle.

As you can imagine, if you have an electric car that is charged by solar the margins are going to change considerably. At the same time, advances in logistics and the use of renewable energy in shipping fleets are continuing to make delivery less impactful.

So, if you’re living in a suburban area and you’re buying a few items at a time, it’s safe to say online shopping will lower your carbon footprint. However, I wouldn’t forgo stopping by the store on the way home to pick up a few items just so you could order them online.



Quick overview of each study:

Life Cycle Comparison of Traditional Retail and E-commerce Logistics for Electronic Products: A Case Study of buy.com

Source: Green Design Institute – Carnegie Mellon University

Date Published: 2008

This study focused on the energy use and CO2 emissions associated with flash drives – either delivering them to a home via e-commerce or traditional retail. Using data from buy.com and UPS they compared the impact between delivery and in-store pickup to find that: “Overall, e-commerce had about 30% lower energy consuption and CO2 emmisions compared to traditional retail using calculated mean values.”


The global move toward Internet shopping and its influence on pollution: an empirical analysis

Source: Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg

Date Published: 2015

This study takes a bit of a different angle by researching the influence of “Internet retailing” on CO2 emissions in 77 countries with data from 2000-2013. It is a very large scale assessment of carbon dioxide emissions and Internet retailing that utilizes models to compare emissions variables such as GDP growth, electricity consumption, urbanization, and Internet retailing. The authors conclude that while all other factors increase pollution with growth, Internet retailing has the opposite trend – an increase in Internet retailing will reduce CO2 emissions.


Measuring transport related CO2 emissions induced by online and brick-and-mortar retailing

Source: Transportation Research Part D Transport and Environment

Date Published: 2015

This study was focused on the Dalecarlia region of Sweden where consumers ordering products online pick up their packages from local distribution centers. The study evaluated the difference in emissions between a consumer picking up their online purchase from a distribution center and going to a brick-and-mortar store to purchase their item. The data focused solely on electronics products. In short, the study found that e-tailing had an average decrease in CO2 footprint by 84%.


Effects of E-Commerce on Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Source: Journal of Industrial Ecology 6, No.2, pages 83-97

Date Published: 2003

This paper is based on a case study of e-grocery customers in Helsinki Finland. The researchers compared the estimated GHG emissions of customers with those of competing delivery methods. The data suggested that GHG emissions could be reduced by 18-87% depending on the home delivery methods used.


Comparative analysis of the carbon footprints of conventional and online retailing

Source: International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management

Date Published: 2010

Where the previous study focused on grocery items, this study concentrates on the non-food retail sector. One interesting part of this paper is that it factors in delivery failure rates which can contribute to decreased efficiency for deliveries. The results suggest that an average trip to the store to buy a non-food item results in 24 times as much carbon dioxide emissions than ordering that product online. So, in order for that person’s trip to produce less carbon dioxide, they would need to buy more than 24 non-food items in a single trip. This assumes one item per drop for home delivery. If more items were delivered at one time it could bring the emissions down considerably.

How To Start A Compost

What Compost Is

Compost is basically a collection of organic waste (food and plants) that decomposes over time. The result is an extremely nutrient rich soil called humus which is great for using in your garden.

How Composting Works

The material in your compost pile will be broken down by microbes, worms, snails, insects and fungi. The process is usually initiated by bacteria and as the organic material is broken down it creates heat which attracts more microorganisms to participate in the process.

The Essentials of Composting

  1. Water
  2. Browns – This is your source of Carbon. You need carbon because it provides energy for the microorganisms breaking down the organic matter. Leaves and other dry plant trimmings are a great source of browns.
  3. Greens – This is your source of Nitrogen which serves as proteins for the microorganisms breaking everything down. Scraps from your kitchen are a great source of greens.

How To Use Your Humus

It will take a few months for the organic ingredients you’ve added to your compost pile to decompose, for most this is a continuous cycle of adding, mixing, and harvesting. You’ll know your compost is ready when it is dark and has a soil-like texture. This broken down material is called humus. Humus from your compost should be used as a fertilizer for you home garden. Plants love this stuff!


Resources to Help You Get Started:

Step by Step Guide to Composting


Nitrogen-Rich Materials for Your Compost Pile (Greens)

from the Dummies Guide to Composting:

Kitchen scraps: Leftovers from the kitchen are excellent additions to the compost pile. You do the environment a big favor too by adding the following scraps to your compost:

  • Coffee grounds and used filters
  • Condiments and sauces
  • Corncobs
  • Cut flowers
  • Eggshells
  • Fruit pits
  • Fruit rinds and cores
  • Nut shells
  • Shells from shellfish
  • Stale or moldy bread and grain products
  • Tea and tea bags
  • Vegetables (raw or cooked)

Grass clippings: Grass clippings turn slimy and smelly if left in big piles or layered too thickly, so mix them up with brown materials or spread them out to dry for a few hours before mixing them into your heap.

Leafy plant trimmings, spent flowers, herbs, and vegetables: When your garden plants have finished producing for the season, pull them out, chop or tear them into smaller pieces, and toss them into the compost pile to recycle their nitrogen content. The same goes for leafy trimmings from landscape shrubs and trees.

Weeds — foliage only: A healthy crop of weeds, although annoying, is a fine source of nitrogen. Return those nutrients to your garden where they belong by composting your weeds.

Pet bedding: Small pets such as hamsters, rabbits, guinea pigs, and gerbils are bedded down with newspaper, hay, and/or shavings, and this used bedding is a very useful addition to the compost heap.

Carbon-Rich Materials for Your Compost Pile (Browns)

from the Dummies Guide to Composting:

Dry leaves: Dry leaves are probably the easiest brown ingredient to work with for a beginning composter because they’re already smallish pieces of organic matter that are easy to shred into even tinier pieces if you choose. They’re also in abundant supply in most regions and turn into fairly decent finished compost (called leaf mold) all by themselves.

Woody plant trimmings: Shrubs, trees, palm fronds, dead perennial stems, Brussels sprout stalks, and dried cornstalks all fit into this category. Break, chop, and shred this material as much as possible to speed decomposition.

Paper: Shredded paper is great for worm bin bedding. Other paper products that are easy to shred or tear include used paper towels, envelopes, paperboard (unwaxed cereal and food boxes), paper towel and toilet tissue rolls, and newspaper.

Cardboard is slow to compost, and the thicker corrugated stuff is hard to tear, although it works well for soaking up excess moisture in wet ingredients. Tear it and mix it with fresh manure or grass clippings, or lay it on the bottom of a pile if you’re composting in a damp region.

Pine needles: The resinous coating on needles can take a while to break down, so use them in limited quantity. If you have a lot of pine needles, you can easily stockpile them and gradually mix them in with other organic materials. (Pine needles also make attractive and effective mulch spread around garden beds.) Don’t worry about pine needles’ acidity unless you have a lot of them: Small amounts have minimal effect in your compost pile or soil.


Study Reports: BPA Found in 2/3 of Canned Goods

New Study Reveals BPA in 2/3 of Canned Goods

A research study testing 192 canned goods revealed that 67% of the cans tested contained BPA-based epoxy in the in the body and/or lid. The negative health effects of BPA have been a public concern for a long time, but there is very little transparency around the presence of BPA in packaging. There are no legal requirements in the US to disclose this information and most companies are tight lipped, which is why this research is set to blow the lid off BPA (and other “regrettable subsitutes”).

The Buyer Beware Study was a collaboration between Breast Cancer Fund, Campaign for Healthier Solutions, Clean Production Action, Ecology Center, and Mind the Store Campaign. Together they have conducted this research to follow up on the promises made by major national brands and retailers to phase out the use of BPA.

The Effects of BPA

The Buyer Beware Report Explains,

BPA is a hormonally active chemical. The scientific evidence linking BPA exposure to harm in humans is compelling and growing: More than 300 animal and human studies have linked exquisitely small amounts of BPA exposure, measured in parts per billion and even parts per trillion, to a staggering number of health problems, including breast and prostate cancer, asthma, obesity, behavioral changes (including attention deficit disorder), altered development of the brain and immune system, low birth weight and lowered sperm counts.

In short, small amounts of BPA have been shown to have significant health implications.

Study Highlights:

  • 100% of Campbell’s cans tested (15 out of 15) contained BPA
  • 71% of Del Monte cans tested (10 out of 14) contained BPA
  • 50% of General Mills cans (6 out of 12) contained BPA
  • Private label canned goods also tested positive for BPA
    • 62% of Kroger products (13 out of 21)
    • 50% of Albertsons/Randalls/Safeway products (8 out of 16)
    • 100% of Target cans (5 out of 5)
    • 88% of Walmart cans (7 out of 8)

Recap of the BPA Study

The BPA Movement

There has been considerable demand from consumers to remove BPA from packaging, but action from companies has been slow.

While several retailers have made claims to reduce the use of BPA in their canned foods, most have not yet lived up to it. Whole Foods was the only brand with test results to support the claims with 30% of cans testing positive for BPA (3 out of 10). Whole Foods has stated,

We are working to transition to BPA-free packaging, but since every other manufacturer is also looking at the switch, supplies of BPA-free packaging are limited. In our store brands, our buyers are not currently accepting any new canned items with BPA in the lining material and we have transitioned many of our private label products to BPA-free packages.

Trader Joe’s (Aldi Nord) was also ahead of the curve with 1/3 of cans testing positive for BPA (3 out of 9).

Best Bet to Avoid BPA

  • Buy fresh or frozen foods
  • Avoid canned foods whenever possible (jarred food is a possible alternative)

How to Support The Cause as a Conscious Consumer

  • Support companies that do not use BPA in their can linings. You can look for BPA-free labels, but there is no standard for labeling at this time. A few companies to look for:
    • Eden Organic
    • Native Forest
    • Several canned fish brands are mostly using BPA free cans but have not made a full transition yet. Canned fish doesn’t have the same acidic properties as tomatoes or other vegetables so the protective lining is not as big of an issue.
      • Oregon’s Choice
      • Wild Planet
      • Eco Fish
    • Here are a few resources to help. These are not as comprehensive as the Buyer Beware Report, but can be a great place to start:
  • Tweet, Email, Facebook brands to tell them you are no longer purchasing their products due to concerns of BPA and other harmful chemicals in the linings of their cans

Access the full study here: Buyer Beware: Toxic BPA & Regrettable Substitutes in the Linings of Canned Food

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Don’t Be Fooled by Greenwashing Techniques

You’ve probably fallen for one of these tricks…

Greenwashing – disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image.

There are a lot of sneaky marketing tactics out there these days. Brands know if they are just a little bit greener than their competition that might be the edge they need to win your business. Sometimes that means adding a random green leaf on their packaging, repping that oh-so-popular all natural stamp, and even posting down right false claims.

Make sure you’re not being tricked into supporting a company that doesn’t actually meet your values. Here are some tips to help you recognize greenwashing so you can support the companies that are truly making progress.

Common Greenwashing Techniques:

1. Fluffy language

all natural labels

You have to be careful with the way you interpret marketing language. The important thing to remember is that you can’t take labels and their messaging for face value. Check to see if their claims are backed up or are just plastered across the label.

“All Natural” is one of the biggest claims that has pretty much no significance. The definition is vague and the term has been used so much it’s watered down. Wording can also be tricky. Cage free is way different from free range. In order to be assured, you need to look for third party certifications (more on this below).

2. Misleading pictures

Watch out for green symbols that have no real meaning, green packaging, flowers, rainbows, and unicorns. Brands will put just about anything on their product labels if they think it will increase sales. They may make you feel good at first sight, but you have to ask yourself “Is this really significant?”.

3. Vague Claims

Many brands will claim their products contain a certain amount of recycled material or they reclaim a certain number of their bottle caps each year. It’s very common for a company to dig up a nice looking statistic and use it for marketing, but more often then not, they have way more ugly stats they aren’t sharing…

Claims will often be broad and vague. Here are a few to watch out for:

  • “free of”
  • “non-toxic”
  • “less of”
  • “made from”
  • more detail about green claims

Just being aware of this tactic makes you way less likely to fall for it. Keep your eye out for these!

4. The Big Picture

Many companies will say their product saves a lot of water or that they have reduced their carbon footprint. They may have reduced their water usage or green house gas emissions but if they went from horrendous levels down to extremely bad levels, that doesn’t mean much. They may also have other huge impacts they aren’t bragging about like unfair labor conditions for their workers or chemical pollution from their factories.

It’s easy to take claims for face value, but if you really want to make an impact with your purchasing you need to make sure you get a clear representation of a company. Are they really trying to make a difference or did they just drum up a few lines to make more sales?

Here are a few things you can look for that show a brand is taking steps in the right direction:

Real Eco-Labels


USDA Organic, Fair Trade, Non-GMO Project Verified, Leaping Bunny, Energy Star… these are some of the most well known, but there are over 450! Products and companies have to be certified by a third party to be able to sport their eco-label so you know they’ve been vetted if they have one. Get to know the eco-labels for product categories so you know what to look for.

Shop Local

Usually locally-produced products that are made on a small scale are a better option. Small local businesses can’t compete on price because they don’t have the resources big corporations do. Instead they compete on quality. Local businesses have embraced the shop local movement and are likely to let you know they are local on their packaging. The price may be a bit higher, but you’re paying for higher quality and the peace of mind that you’re considerably decreasing your impact.

Look Deeper

Make a more thorough investigation of the product. If you’re buying food, read the ingredients. Are the ingredients simple and recognizable or does it look like a bunch of compounds made in a lab?

If you’re buying a product, take a deeper look at it. See if you can find out where it was made and what the materials are. Asking yourself a few basic questions can help you get a clearer understanding of the product in question. You can also use an app like GoodGuide to get an idea for the product’s health, social, and environmental standing.

By simply being able to recognize these greenwashing tactics you’re taking a big step toward being more conscious. Feel free to share your tips for shopping responsibly in the comments section!


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4 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Buying A Product

Many times we look for indicators on a product that will tell us more about the actual value of a product. Beyond the price tag there are several layers of value. The economic value doesn’t reflect the true cost of a product (if it did they would be a lot more expensive).

Stuff is made cheap at the expense of natural resources or other people and it’s difficult to see these externalities in a label. But, there are a few things you can look for to give you a better idea of what kind of company you are supporting with your wallet.

Here are a few…

Where is it from?

This will give you a real quick but broad insight into the potential environmental and social impact of a product. The further away it was made from where you are buying it, the bigger its footprint is due to the shipping (but there are a lot of other factors involved). As a rule of thumb, shopping local when you have the choice is the way to go.

Local products are also much less likely to have been produced under unfair labor practices which are generally worse in developing countries. The International Trade Union Confederation released a report on the worst countries for workers.

ITUC country working conditions

Here are the top 10 worst (alphabetical):

  • Belarus
  • China
  • Colombia
  • Egypt
  • Guatemala
  • Pakistan
  • Qatar
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Swaziland
  • United Arab Emirates

Access the full ITUC study here and their Global Rights Index Map here.

On most products, whether it’s food, clothes, or tech gadgets, you should be able to find a “made in x”, “product of x”, or “manufactured in x” label somewhere. This labeling is required by law for almost all products. If you want to dive deeper into the Tariff Act of 1930 (amended 19 USC 1304) and the 2002 Farm Bill which set country of origin (COO) standards for products in the US, Wikipedia is a great starting point.

Who is selling it?

Some brands have better reputations than others… One of the safer ways to shop is to purchase from brands you know are responsible. Most companies claim they are saving the world in one way or another through their marketing so you can’t always take their product labels or website about pages for face value.

A good way to get an objective rating on a company is from a third party. CSRHub is one of the most extensive rating services available, providing corporate social responsibility data on the majority of big corporations. They look at factors such as the company’s environmental impact, how they treat their employees, and what they do for the community. Here you can get a pretty quick idea for how a company stands. Here are some that stand out in the textile industry:

High(er) Rating Low Rating
Levi Strauss & Co Polo Ralph Lauren
Adidas Guess
Laura Ashley Holdings Urban Outfitters
Gildan Activewear Skechers

CSRHub Ratings for Textiles & Apparel Industry

How long will this last?

Basically, you want to assess how long the lifespan of this product is. If it looks and feels like a quality made product that will last you a long time 👍. Unfortunately, most products are made to be disposable. They break easily and then you’re forced to buy another, as the garbage dump continues to fill up 👎.

Give yourself a few extra seconds to assess your product before you buy it. No rush! If you’re buying clothes look at the stitching, feel the material. If you’re buying a tech gadget really look at it. Is it made of cheap plastic? How does it feel? Trust your gut on this one and don’t feel rushed. If you’re buying online it’s worth it to read a few reviews to see what others have experienced.

Do I really need this?

The impulse buy – nothing invokes buyer’s remorse quicker.

Catch yourself when you’re in the zone. Watch out for fire sales! Red tags can be attractive, but who cares if you saved 50% on something you don’t need.

If you feel even the slightest indecision about whether you truly need a product, just take another lap around the store (or your house if you’re shopping online). This will help pull you out of the marketing vortex you may have been sucked into so you can look at the product in question through a clearer lens.  


Sometimes when we are in a rush or we get caught up in a fire sale our best intentions get thrown out the window. The biggest help is to know when you’re doing it and catch yourself. If you get into the habit of looking for a few key signs at the point of purchase they will lead you to being a much smarter shopper and a sustainable citizen.

Contribute your tips and advice in the comments sections!

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