November 27th, 2015

goldlocks-powerpoint-300x298Enjoy this repost from 2013 –

“Enough!” when my kids heard that they knew Mom meant business.  That meant they had better stop what they were doing and pay attention! That meant that I had had too much of the teasing, bickering or that someone had gone past the point of regular kid-sized conflict resolution. I find myself saying this to other things in my life nowadays – Enough is enough – to war, pollution, violence, economic disparities, cable TV and sensationalized news, bullying at many levels, and negative self talk. I have had enough – actually more than I can tolerate.

Then I think about ‘more than enough’ – excess – too much of anything creates waste – or ‘waist’ if it is too much food  combined with too much sitting around. In my worm compost bin – a steady supply of enough food scraps produces more compost and enough worms to keep the process going sweetly.  Too little causes the little guys to die off and composting ends;  too much creates a stink – literally.  Growing up, my father would loudly and proudly announce that he was “full as a tick” after a meal.  It was meant as a compliment to the cook and to share his pride in feeding his family well.  However ‘full as a tick’ is too much – more than enough – for healthy living.

I am sad about a few things we do not have enough of – kindness, respect, honesty, empathy, hope, connection, and awareness to name- quite a few. I hear that Black Friday has now become a week long event and that the excess – more than enough- creates a scarcity (not enough) focus – “get it now before its gone!” mentality. What are we looking for?  Are we afraid of not having enough?  of what?

I am reading Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead by Brene Brown and she states that the opposite of scarcity (not enough) is not abundance, but is enough. Enough means the right amount to satisfy our needs- like the story of Goldilocks – not too much and not too little – JUST RIGHT.  I learned this week at the Iowa Organic Conference that globally we already produce enough food calories to feed 14 billion people – twice the world’s population. The problem of feeding the world is a myth. There is enough food.  Let’s focus on that.

Globally, there is enough energy.  Yes, our fossil fuels are finite resources, but we have more than enough sunlight and wind power to meet our needs.   We don’t need to go to war, kill our natural habitats and pollute our water supply trying to get more.  We have enough to meet our needs. Let’s focus on that.

Which parts of your life are enough (Just right)?


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Bottom Line

November 25th, 2015
Global Climate Change logoWhat is your bottom line? What do you do when ‘push comes to shove’ as my parents used to say.  I usually try to do what is best for my situation – how will it affect the people in my life? the environment? my resources? This is called the triple bottom line.  Triple bottom line is a framework with three parts: social, environmental (or ecological) and financial. It is also called the three Ps: people, planet and profit, or the “three pillars of sustainability” strategies for for-profit, nonprofit and government sectors. The key to wise decisions is to find a choice that honors the triple bottom line of sustainability.
Starting next week,  November 30 – December 11, 2015,  the United Nations 193 member states will gather in Paris to agree on policy to influence how we collectively affect Co2 emissions and other ‘green house’ gases that are increasing the temperature of our atmosphere. This temperature change is what is causing the wild weather patterns and ecological disruption that affect our lives directly in food systems, housing and transportation as well as community and economic sustainability. Think about the :
  • turkey and sweet potatoes you will eat this week – climate change affects growing seasons and regions.
  • utility bills and transportation expenses you will have this winter – climate change affects the temperature and weather where you live.
  • items you’ll buy in the next few weeks – climate change affects access to the stuff you want and need.
  • people in your community – climate change affects crime rates, mental and physical health, and relationships.

Global triple bottom line policies affect you and me. Follow the conversations through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Share your questions and opinions with your local, state and federal level legislators, your company CEO, your non-profit board and your family and friends.

I’m interested in the virtual participation options. Which ones will you sign on to?



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Recycling Matters

November 5th, 2015

Recycling-matters-response-to-NYT-1024x512Thoughts from our Guest Blogger, Jen Jordan, Recycling Coordinator, Iowa City:

Perhaps you recently saw the op-ed by John Tierney in the New York Times a few weeks ago.  If not, I encourage you to read it here:  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/04/opinion/sunday/the-reign-of-recycling.html?_r=1.  Mr. Tierney covers some interesting points; I agree with some and disagree with others.  After that, read one of the many rebuttals that have come out in the two weeks since.  This one, in blog form at http://ecocyclesolutionshub.org/recycling-matters/, describes the following points:

  • Recycling and Zero Waste are about natural resource conservation, creating green jobs, combating climate change, protecting public health and ending social injustices.
  • Recycling helps to significantly reduce the greenhouse gas pollution driving climate change.
  • Recycling creates jobs and communities are investing in recycling for that reason.
  • Low commodity prices are not a sign that recycling isn’t worth it as Tierney suggests.
  • Our supplies of fresh water, fossil fuels, metals and other resources ARE already scarce and limited in parts of the world.

What do you think matters?


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Renewable Energy at Home

November 3rd, 2015

jason gideon ECGLLPProgrammable thermostat. Check.

LED lighting. Check.

High quality windows. Check.

Adequate insulation in outside walls and roof. Check.

Well maintained 90% efficient heating and cooling system. Check.

Turn off the lights when you leave the room. Depends on who’s home. 😉 In the last 20-some years, we’ve continued to plug the energy leaks in our home and increase efficiency wherever possible.

Our next home energy improvement project is an insert for our wood burning fireplace to eliminate energy leaks and improve heat circulation. This is a small project that will cost about $5000 and save us about 20-30% of our heating costs annually. Wood is readily available out my backdoor. No need to increase my fossil fuel consumption with a gas fireplace.  Yes, there are still emissions but not nearly as much as the extraction, transportation and burning of natural gas. Great ambiance and s’mores indoors!

We are still evaluating solar panels for our electricity needs. We had an assessment done 2 years ago and learned about light units, movement of the sun, impact of shade, the technology of the converter, etc. We will be able to put panels on our west facing roofline and have minimal interference from tree leaves in summer.  At the time there was no possibility of net metering, but now in Iowa, Alliant Energy and MidAmerican Energy are allowing a ‘buy-back’ of energy generated by solar.  However, my power comes from a rural electric cooperative. If I install solar and I generate more than I use in a month, I get credit for electricity generated at the wholesale price of $.03/kWH in my bill the following month. For example, I cannot ‘bank’ my electricity generation in the summer time for use in the winter time. The REC still needs to pay for the lines etc. so there is a cost that I cannot completely offset as long as I am connected to the grid. I will still pay retail price for the electricity I need in the months that my panels don’t generate as much as I consume.

However, I’m excited about projected savings of 68% of my electric bills at current utility rates in the first year.  As electric utility rates rise, I will be able to replace nearly 80% of my current consumption with solar power. My payback is 11.3 years.

If I install solar panels now, I can get a federal tax credit of 30% of the gross cost at installation. I can also receive an Iowa tax credit of 60% of the federal tax credit up to $5,000. These credits are schedule to disappear in 2016. Bottom line – it’s only going to cost me about 55% of the project out of my pocket after tax credits.

The Iowa Environmental Council and Tom Harkin, retired U.S. Senator are proposing a 50% clean energy economy in Iowa by 2030 – in less than 15 years. I’m wondering when utility companies and local cooperatives will discover that they can save costs by letting their customers generate electricity for their service area and not have to buy it elsewhere. I’d love to generate enough for my neighborhood in exchange for no utility bills.

What does this information do to your thoughts about home energy options?


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Eco Friendly Halloween

October 22nd, 2015

suet cakePumpkins on the front step? check. Solar or LED lights for the jack-o-lantern and the sidewalk? check. Costume made from repurposed materials? check.

These are just a few of the ways you can minimize cost and waste this holiday season. Shopping for costumes and accessories at the resale store is a fun and creative way to celebrate the season. Or plan to attend a costume swap in your area. Choose natural baskets or cloth bags instead of plastic pumpkins to collect goodies in.

If you are a treat giver, consider paper bags of assorted bulk unwrapped candies, cookies or fresh fruit for the ghouls and goblins that visit your door.  This reduces the amount of packaging waste in your county landfill next week.  Or give out treats for the wildlife lovers in your neighborhood – oranges studded with whole cloves, bags of bird seed, suet cakes or ears of corn.

If you’re hosting a party, consider finger food served on cloth napkins or compostable paper napkins instead of all the disposable table wear. Or use real dishes and the dishwasher! Check out the Reclaim your Holidays website for more eco-friendly holiday gathering tips. Holiday activities could include making suet cakes for the birds, roasting pumpkin seeds, dipping caramel apples, or painting gourds. Choose seasonal local foods such as apple cider, popcorn and pumpkin anything for a special celebration!

Please share your eco-friendly ideas for celebrating the season!


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Darn Socks

October 20th, 2015

20151019_142811_resizedIt’s officially sock weather!  Have you bought a pair of socks lately? Wow, I am shocked at how expensive they are! I dug the 9 holey socks out of the trash and decided to mend them instead of buying new.  Guess what? We now have 6 wearable pair of socks.  I figure I saved about $85 for an hour’s worth of effort.

It actually took me longer to find all my sewing supplies than actually fixing the socks.  I have my grandmother’s darning ball. It’s a solid wood egg on a stick – kinda like a child’s maraca but with no rattle.  You slip it inside the sock to give you a firm surface to work the needle in and out of the area you are mending.  It keeps you from pricking your fingers and accidently sewing your sock shut.  If you don’t have a darning ball, you could use an incandescent light bulb, if you still have one, a tennis ball or a potato.  Or you could just take your chances on not sewing your sock to the leg of your jeans. Don’t ask how I know that’s possible. . . If you use the potato, it’ll be ready for the microwave when you’re done mending! 😉

I use the same color thread as the sock but you can do a contrasting color if you want to brag about your mending skills the next time you take your shoes off in company. Start with the CLEAN sock inside out over the ball. Carefully hand stitch a crisscross pattern from one side of the hole to the other. Slip the needle back through the row of stitching and through a couple of loops to secure the end. Snip your threads and you are ready to go!

I saved a couple hundred dollars in repairing the zipper placket on my husband’s hunting coat. Another $50 by mending a seam on a sweater. It took me several nights to repair Grandma Ina’s quilt and now it’s back on the guest bed keeping my loved ones warm with her memory!

When I finish the hem on a pair of dress pants it means I didn’t spend $60 on a new pair! I’m still trying to find a missing button for a sweater that has been in my mending drawer for at least 2 years. Hmm.  I’ll keep looking for the button, but I may need to replace all the buttons so they match.  I do have a button jar so that could be fun!

I love saving money by fixing things instead of replacing them.  What have you repaired instead of replaced lately?



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Mind Set

October 15th, 2015

cloth napkinsTry this: Clasp your hands together (palms together, fingers between fingers). Notice which thumb is on top. Now re-clasp them with your other thumb on top. Notice how it feels. Neuroscientists tell us that if we do things differently than we are used to, it stimulates our brain to create new connections and access new brain cells. My husband and I had to move out of our house after a water pipe broke, flooding our home. I have been doing EVERYTHING differently now for several months. My brain is on overload creating new neural pathways! I have a daily practice of gratitude that keeps me grounded in what’s important.  This process has also helped me realize how little I really need to live day to day.

Here’s an essay on change and sustainable lifestyles from our guest blogger, Darien Simon, PhD, International Energy Policy Institute, University College London Australia

Change: It’s all in the Mind(set)

“Change can be daunting. We ask: Is it necessary? How will I manage? What do I need to do? When trying to be more environmentally friendly, it can become complicated because everything we do has some environmental impact. Once you’ve made a choice, all too often the systems you live within don’t help. Family resists, alternatives aren’t easily available, or the information itself seems unreliable.

Start small, with things you can control. For example, instead of jumping in the car to drive to the store for one item, like a quart of milk, consider if there a store close enough that you can walk or cycle. Even if the milk is more expensive there, using the car to get the cheaper one has costs in fuel, insurance, investment in the car and regular maintenance. So the price of the quarts of milk may not be that different. Walking or cycling has additional benefits: a little exercise for you, less pollution for the environment, plus you save a little bit on gas. If you can’t walk due to distance, safety or other reasons, you can decrease the number of trips by keeping a list of other items you need.

Proactive thinking can increase your energy efficiency at home and work. We all get into habits. We don’t like waiting for things because the world moves so fast it seems there just isn’t time. It’s easier to leave computers turned on, electronics on standby and lights on all over the house just in case someone needs something in another room. But when we do, we pay for it in electricity bills.  Over time it adds up. Computers can be shut down. While you wait for the boot cycle at work, chat to colleagues or grab a coffee. At home talk to family, play with a pet, spend a few minutes admiring the view (if you have one). In other words, a solution to impatience is to multitask.

Stop yourself from just following your habits. Think before you do and gradually establish a new set of habits that will make your life more eco-friendly.”

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Alternative Transportation

October 13th, 2015

RelayRidesJacobsNissanShared economy activities connect people and resources.  I am intrigued by the transportation options that are popping up all over the world, and even here in the Midwest. I am very interested to see how rural communities address transportation needs and wonder when these alternatives will generate income for local economies.

Our transportation systems have a huge carbon footprint. Not only is the fossil fuel an issue, but in suburban environments about 50% of the developed land is for car storage. The acres and acres of this storage is often asphalt parking lots and concrete structures that obstruct view of of natural landscape and increases storm water management issues. Finding alternatives to vehicle ownership will reduce the number of cars producing pollution and decrease demand on fossil fuels and eliminate storage which takes up land that could be used for food forests and water quality systems.

Need a ride? Alternatives to taxis and public trans: One of my high school classmates drives for Lyft in Kansas City. It’s a “ride whenever you need one”, like having a “friend with a car” – a kind of an alternative to taxi cabs. Her customers include concert goers, bar crawlers, tweens who need rides to and from activities, and people going to and from medical appointments. Uber contracts with private drivers in urban areas all over the world to provide a similar service. Lyft and Uber riders set up an online account with a credit card so there is no cash transaction.  Riders connect with drivers through their cell phone app. Rumor has it that Uber is laying the ground work to hire drivers in Des Moines area. I would be thrilled for my 80 year old relatives to have this option to get them to their social and medical appointments!

I know of an informal drivers network in Jackson and Dubuque counties for folks to get rides to and from appointments.

Need a vehicle? Alternatives to vehicle ownership:

Relay Rides “puts your idle car to work for you”. You can rent out your vehicle for an hour, a day or more. What a great way to put local resources to work for the community, especially in rural areas. There are vehicles to rent in communities all over Iowa. What a great way to get a vehicle for a special occasion, a big DIY job or a road trip with the dance team!

Iowa City has Zipcar for students and others to get “wheels when they want them”, without the hassle of insurance, car payments or parking passes.

Does your area have shared transportation options?


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Food waste is a big deal.

October 8th, 2015

Eco Iowa City“Welcome to guest blogger Jen Jordan, Recycling Coordinator of Iowa City and ECO Iowa City co-founder! You’ll be hearing from Jen periodically throughout the next year on all things Reduce-Recycle-Repurpose-Reuse! Check out the Eco Iowa City website for more information and a list of inspiring community activities!”

Food waste is a big deal.

In 2011, the Iowa City Landfill did a “Waste Characterization Data Study” (read: GIANT waste sort—50 tons!) and found that 15% of what goes into the Iowa City Landfill is food waste. In 2012-2013, we worked with local haulers and did a lot of outreach to Johnson County grocery stores and restaurants; we got about a dozen to separate their food waste for composting.  We continue to work on adding more partners to the program but need your help: next time you go out for a meal, ask them how they handle their food waste (and take your own reusable container for leftovers!).

In summer 2014, Johnson County landfill staff worked with 50 households to weigh food waste and provide tips through Food: Too Good to Waste; we used that experience to start to talk with the community about reducing food waste and composting at home. Recently, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and EPA Deputy Administrator Stan Meiburg announced the United States’ first-ever national food waste reduction goal, calling for a 50% reduction by 2030.

I was at the three Iowa City Farmers’ Markets with information about food waste reduction and composting and got a great response—we can make an immediate, impactful difference by:

  • Reducing food waste.
  • Composting at home.
  • Shopping for just what you need.
  • Storing food items properly.
  • Shopping from your fridge/freezer/cupboards.
  • Find more food waste reduction tips.

If you’re thinking about starting a compost pile, there’s no time like the present. Here’s a link to the landfill’s brochure on composting  to get you started.

Jen Jordan, Recycling Coordinator, Iowa City

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Climate Changes Us

October 6th, 2015

UCAR-Homepage-slide-planet2By now you’ve heard much in the media about climate change.  National and global leaders are talking about the importance of our actions on the earth ecosystems and resources.  In case you are wondering about the science behind it and what this really means to us in the Midwest, I’ve pulled a few highlights from the 2014 The National Climate Assessment.

Key Message: Impacts to Agriculture

In the next few decades, longer growing seasons and rising carbon dioxide levels will increase yields of some crops, though those benefits will be progressively offset by extreme weather events. Though adaptation options can reduce some of the detrimental effects, in the long term, the combined stresses associated with climate change are expected to decrease agricultural productivity.

Key Message: Forest Composition

The composition of the region’s forests is expected to change as rising temperatures drive habitats for many tree species northward. The role of the region’s forests as a net absorber of carbon is at risk from disruptions to forest ecosystems, in part due to climate change.

Key Message: Public Health Risks

Increased heat wave intensity and frequency, increased humidity, degraded air quality, and reduced water quality will increase public health risks.

Key Message: Fossil-Fuel Dependent Electricity System

The Midwest has a highly energy-intensive economy with per capita emissions of greenhouse gases more than 20% higher than the national average. The region also has a large and increasingly utilized potential to reduce emissions that cause climate change.

Key Message: Increased Rainfall and Flooding

Extreme rainfall events and flooding have increased during the last century, and these trends are expected to continue, causing erosion, declining water quality, and negative impacts on transportation, agriculture, human health, and infrastructure.

Key Message: Increased Risks to the Great Lakes

Climate change will exacerbate a range of risks to the Great Lakes, including changes in the range and distribution of certain fish species, increased invasive species and harmful blooms of algae, and declining beach health. Ice cover declines will lengthen the commercial navigation season.


So what does this mean to you and me? I’m finding ways to reduce emissions by reducing my fossil fuel consumption, managing storm water at my home, and planting food bearing perennial plants and trees. Practice usually precedes policy. It’s time for public policy decisions to be made as well.

What are you doing?


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