Archive for the 'environment' Category

on What I Do at Work

I just posted a quarterly report for Mennonite Voluntary Service, which serves as a recap of the past 3 months and a bit of a window into what I do all day long.

on Van Jones and the Green Economy

Check out this interview with Van Jones from tonight’s Colbert Report:

Van’s organization Green for All is promoting the creation of “a green economy that is strong enough to lift people out of poverty.” Check out the website — we’ve been working hard on it at ONE/Northwest, I did much of the skin implementation, and it just launched this afternoon. (I spent much of the evening nervously watching to make sure the extra traffic following the Colbert interview didn’t overwhelm our servers.)

on the Care and Feeding of Household Appliances

I am learning not to panic too much when my housemates erupt in impassioned cries of “It’s not working!”

There was the furnace. It didn’t run for half a day, a few weeks back, which was annoying when I got home to be greeted by 58 degrees. But the fix was as simple as replacing the batteries in the thermostat.

And this evening, we discovered that the refrigerator had gone on the fritz. We had to throw out the milk and ice cream and some other assorted perishables, and cram the remainders into fridge #2 (which fortunately exists and is large). However, upon my inspection, I unplugged the fridge, re-plugged it, twiddled a few knobs inside, and lo and behold, it roared back to life. It’s very satisfying when a non-sentient being like a refrigerator responds so readily to the magic touch, if I do say so myself.

Incidentally, it seems just a bit incongruous that we have one device designed to keep things warm, and another designed to keep things cool, operating in the same domain. Why can’t we just store things outside in the winter?

on Teaching Care for the Environment

My alma mater, Goshen College, is apparently experiencing something of a crisis in recycling. For a number of years, since recycling in the dorms was cut from the physical plant’s budget, it has been handled by a team of student volunteers associated with Ecopax (which I helped organize while I was a student). However, after too many semesters of struggling to get enough volunteers to help, Ecopax has decided to stop picking up the recycling in an attempt to get the administration to pay more attention.

Apparently the administration has expressed its support for finding a long-term resolution to the problem, which is good. But Becky Horst identifies a key question:

Should recycling at GC become normative, teaching creation care by institutional example only? Or should it become a system charged with helping to educate and create a culture of creation care on our campus?

I talked to a friend from Ecopax, who explained that one concern she has heard from someone in the administration is that actually paying students to pick up the recycling would be bad, since the college wants to encourage caring for the environment because it is the right thing to do, rather than because there is a reward. This sounds like a bad excuse for saving a few dollars. In the real world, change happens due to incentives; students can learn as much from seeing that in action as they can from organizing themselves (though both should be encouraged). A recycling program run by paid employees instead of volunteers is likely to be much more reliable.

In addition, from my time in Ecopax I know that the students at Goshen College who care about campus sustainability are never at a loss of ideas for new projects. However, recycling was often top priority and took time and energy away from more ambitious, interesting, and educational projects. Therefore, I think that institutional support for recycling is likely to aid rather than hurt the establishment of a “culture of creation care” at GC.

It doesn’t have to be either-or, and I encourage Goshen’s Ecological Stewardship Committee to seek a resolution that promotes creation care via both institutional example AND empowering motivated students to pursue their ideas.

on My Sister vs. Recycling

Just before I left Goshen, I spent some time converting some old video from my childhood into digital form. I’ve been meaning to post a few clips since then, but due to technical difficulties and moving across the country I haven’t gotten to it until now.

So enjoy this clip of what happened when it was time to take paper off the cans for recycling.

As you can see, not even my sister’s embittered cries could stop me from be focused on recycling those cans. So much sibling love going on there. 🙂 Fortunately now we can watch this and share a good laugh.

on Carbon Neutrality

Goshen College just committed to becoming a ‘carbon neutral’ campus and announced the establishment of an Ecological Stewardship Committee to oversee this commitment. I’m so excited!

on Sustainability that Makes Good Business Sense

Have you ever wondered if sustainable practices can really be good for business? This evening I attended a lecture in which Paul Murray, environmental affairs manager for Herman Miller, Inc., made a powerful case that it can.

Herman Miller is a Michigan-based manufacturer of chairs and other furnishings with an impressive history of paying attention to their triple bottom line (considering the environmental and social costs of business decisions as well as the direct financial ones). For instance, they helped support the U.S. Green Building Council (creator of the LEED green building standards) in its infancy and have been a pioneer in applying cradle-to-cradle design philosophy to their products.

Their current “Perfect Vision” initiative is a particularly impressive benchmark for where the company hopes to be in 2020:

  • zero solid waste
  • zero hazardous waste
  • zero air and water emissions from manufacturing
  • 100% renewable energy
  • company buildings constructed to a minimum LEED Silver certification

According to Murray, the company is 61% of the way towards this goal now, and will reach 80% by 2010.

I was particularly impressed by the company’s efforts in organization to allow for innovation in the area of sustainability. There is a committee, overseen by Murray, which interacts with multiple subcommittees attending to various areas of concern. All told, 400 of the company’s 6000 employees are involved in these committees–management has realizaed that the workers on the floor are often the most aware of where improvements can be made.

A striking example of how this company works is the story of what happened when the 37 acres of wildflowers at one of their locations began to attract troublesome wasps. The groundskeeper was instructed to remove them using whatever means necessary–insecticide or mowing. Instead, he contacted a biologist at the university who raised the possibility of bringing in honeybees to compete with the wasps. A local beekeeper was invited to bring his bees, and it turns out that wildflower honey sells for more than other types–thus a deal was reached by which the beekeeper paid for access to the flowers with honey that was passed on to Herman Miller’s customers. Today the company owns its own bees and continues this tradition.


I asked Murray how to work for change in an organization that doesn’t have the management support for efforts in sustainability that Herman Miller does. His recommendation was to treat all suggestions as business proposals, pointing out how the change can save the organization money. (He noted that the combined rate of return for all of Herman Miller’s projects to date is around 50 percent!) He also highlighted that as consumers, we can have a significant influence on the companies we purchase from simply by asking questions about their environmental decisions.

I hope that in the years to come I will be fortunate enough to work for an organization with as good an environmental and social record as Herman Miller’s–or, failing that, that I will find the patience and creativity to seek out improved practices that are beneficial for people, for the environment, AND for the organization’s bottom line.