A tour of Seattle Chocolate elicits a deep appreciation for cacao

October 23, 2019 by  
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In 1900 BCE, Mesoamericans used cacao beans to make a bitter, fermented drink. By 1400, Aztecs traded cacao as currency. Spaniards later thought to add sugar. Nowadays, we just go to the store when we want to buy chocolate, divorcing the exquisite substance from its historic origins. But a tour of the Seattle Chocolate factory helps visitors deepen their appreciation of one of the world’s favorite treats. This woman-owned, Rainforest Alliance-certified company has put decades of thought into how to make its treats both delicious and sustainable. A tasty tour Seattle Chocolate started in Seattle in 1991. But the Nisqually Earthquake of 2001 destroyed the original factory. One of Seattle Chocolate’s investors, entrepreneur Jean Thompson, took over as owner and CEO. The company found a new, 60,000-square-foot factory in Tukwila, a town just south of Seattle. Visitors go to this nondescript building for the tour. It is hard to believe that something so plain on the outside turns out more than 30,000 colorfully wrapped chocolate bars per day. Our tour starts in the chocolate classroom, where guide Chris Hardwick talks to us about the history of chocolate in general and Seattle Chocolate in particular. In class, we learn it takes three to five years to grow cacao. Nigeria, Ghana and the Ivory Coast produce 70 percent of cacao beans. Midges pollinate chocolate, answering that age-old question, what are midges good for? Related: Fueled by chocolate — Ghana’s newest biofuel Hardwick explained that Seattle Chocolate has two directions, the line with the original name, and Jcoco, more of a culinary experimental brand. “Seattle Chocolate is a fruit-forward, acidic chocolate,” he said in the assured language of a wine expert. Jcoco is more likely to include ingredients like edamame or cumin. Hardwick passes around jars of cacao beans and nibs, so we can smell the terroir of beans grown in different countries. Because every good factory tour requires a hairnet, we don blue netting before continuing on to the next part of the tour: the factory floor. As well as chocolate bars, Seattle Chocolate is known for its 20 truffle flavors in bright metallic wrapping. High on the catwalk, we look down at workers bent over enormous boxes of truffles, scooping armloads into smaller containers. It’s a chocolate-lover’s fantasy come to life. The tour ends with a chocolate tasting. We sit at placemats with six chunks of chocolate to compare. The regular tasting includes varieties of white, milk and dark chocolate. The vegan version offers several types of dark chocolate. Hardwick guides us through a more mindful tasting process, rather than a simple devouring. The experience changes how visitors interact with this sweet treat — it makes them more appreciative of it. Tours are offered year-round. But if you visit on certain days in October, you can experience an exciting bonus — a haunted factory . The company website explains, “A troublesome spirit has escaped and is creating havoc for the Seattle Chocolate Factory! Help repair the damage while gathering clues to speak with Ixcacao, the Goddess of Chocolate. With her help, you’ll brave the dark factory and cast the fell spirit out.” Hardwick assured me this family-friendly tour is fun, not gory. Sustainability measures Seattle Chocolate carefully addresses social responsibility throughout the entire chocolate life cycle. It uses Rainforest Alliance Certified cacao to ensure just labor practices and good environmental measures in the countries the cacao is grown. In the factory, workers compost 25,000 pounds of chocolate scraps annually. They use non-GMO ingredients in the bars and truffles. Wherever possible, Seattle Chocolate sources ingredients like fruits, spices, mint and honey from local partners. Packaging is especially problematic for environmentally conscious companies. Seattle Chocolate has recently developed cellulose truffle twist wraps made from sustainably harvested eucalyptus trees . This is significant, as it churns out 12.5 million truffles a year, wrapped in about 8,000 pounds of bright truffle twist wraps. By mid-2020, all truffle flavors will be wrapped in the new cellulose material. Customers can throw the truffle wraps into their home compost piles, where they should break down in six to eight weeks. Giving back While the ordinary chocolate fan might question the presence of edamame beans in a chocolate bar, the Jcoco line isn’t just for foodies. Thompson created the line in 2012 with an underlying goal of feeding hungry families. The company donates a fresh serving of food to those in need every time somebody buys a Jcoco bar. So far, Seattle Chocolate has donated nearly 4 million servings of food to food banks in Washington, California and New York. In addition to tours, Seattle Chocolate invites the public in for events like tastings of new seasonal chocolate flavors or classes on pairing beer with chocolate. It hosts the haunted chocolate factory in October, and a large holiday party in December. + Seattle Chocolate Images by Teresa Bergen / Inhabitat and Seattle Southside Regional Tourism Authority

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A tour of Seattle Chocolate elicits a deep appreciation for cacao

Golden State bans hotel mini-toiletries in effort to minimize waste

October 15, 2019 by  
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To reduce the impact of plastic waste pollution, California banned hotel and lodging use and distribution of travel-size plastic toiletries. No longer will miniature personal care products like shampoos, conditioners and liquid bath soaps be part of the amenities package. The proliferation of single-use plastics has devastated the environment and is overwhelming landfills . To minimize the single-use plastic footprint, the Golden State shall phase out toiletry bottles from all lodging accommodations by January 2023 for large hotels and by 2024 for lodgings with 50 rooms or less. The lodging establishments affected include resorts, hotels, motels, inns, bed and breakfasts even certain vacation rentals. Related: One plastic teabag can release billions of microplastics into your cup As a replacement, hotels can offer bulk products, such as wall-mounted public dispensers. Doing so minimizes the need for reliance on single-use items. Hotel chains like Marriott International and the InterContinental Group (IHG) have already begun replacing single-use toiletries with wall-mounted dispensers. Meanwhile, Hilton and Wyndham Hotel Group have opted to sanitize and repackage leftover soap for a second life with Clean the World Foundation ’s recycling initiative. Interestingly, the reason for the implementation date beginning in 2023 is to allow an adjustment period. During this adjustment to the new law, all hotels and lodging establishments are given time to exhaust their current stock of single-use plastic personal care products. Should a hotel or lodging establishment be noncompliant, they will be issued a citation. On the first violation, a written warning will be issued along with a $500 fine. For each succeeding day of noncompliance thereafter, an additional $500 per day of noncompliance will be issued. A $2,000 fine will be imposed after a second or reoccurring violation. The legislation is aligned with California’s restrictions on single-use straws at restaurants and single-use plastic grocery bags. Via EcoWatch Images via Marriott

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Golden State bans hotel mini-toiletries in effort to minimize waste

2019 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard reveals leading states in clean energy adoption

October 2, 2019 by  
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Just in time for the annual celebration of Energy Efficiency Day, the nonprofit American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) has released its 2019 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard. For this year’s report, the states leading on clean energy adoption are Massachusetts and California, while North Dakota and Wyoming still have more than a few strides to go before fully catching up. In step with Energy Efficiency Day’s message of “Save Money, Cut Carbon, Breathe Easier,” ACEEE’s goal is to share tips and tools that promote a clean energy future. No surprise then that ACEEE firmly advocates for effective energy usage to reduce consumer bills and limit pollution . The full report shows Maryland has improved immensely, more than any other state, since last year’s scorecard thanks to a focus on public transit, electric vehicles, utility efficiency programs and more. New York and New Jersey were also listed as “states to watch,” as they have made impressive goals for clean energy and reduced emissions. Related: Minnesota to implement low- and zero-emission clean vehicle standards Meanwhile, Kentucky dropped the furthest in rankings compared to last year, as state utilities have continued to have program funds cut. Ohio also dropped in ranking compared to its position last year, primarily due to a policy that promotes power plants and moves away from renewable energy goals. The Energy Efficiency Scorecard also found that states all over the map are creating policies for greener appliances, improved building energy codes, vehicle emissions standards and general energy reduction goals. ACEEE’s annual scorecard can be accessed here . The scorecard is a resource intended by ACEEE to assist in benchmarking an individual state’s energy policy and progress. On an as-needed basis, the scorecard can be akin to a road map for state-level policymakers to follow, if they choose, as they strive to improve and invest in clean energy goals and initiatives. Utilizing a 50-point scale across six policy categories, the ACEEE scorecard reveals where a particular state may benefit from energy efficiency improvements. The six criteria are appliance and equipment standards, buildings and their efficiency, combined heat and power, state government-led initiatives around energy efficiency, transportation policies and utilities and public benefit programs. ACEEE executive director Steve Nadel said, “If states embrace robust energy-saving measures nationwide, Americans can slash greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent and deliver more than $700 billion in energy savings by 2050,” said Steve Nadel, executive director of ACEEE. “We commend the top states for their clean energy leadership and urge states that are lagging to implement the strategies laid out in this report, so they can deliver energy and cost savings for their residents.” + ACEEE Image via Jpitha

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2019 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard reveals leading states in clean energy adoption

For 2019, the 10 worst cities for air quality are in California and Arizona

September 24, 2019 by  
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Since the enactment of the Clean Air Act in 1970, there has been growing awareness for the importance of good air quality in American cities. Air quality plays a significant role with health and sustainable living. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recognizes this, which is why for the 2019 American Fitness Index rankings, the ACSM added air quality as an environmental indicator of a city’s health. According to its findings, these are the 10 cities in the U.S. with the worst air quality. The annual Fitness Index assesses 100 of the United States’ largest metropolitan areas. The cities are evaluated, then ranked from the highest score to the lowest score. The index is a helpful tool to compare the air quality of these 100 cities. It does so by considering the healthy behaviors of a city’s residents, the population of residents with chronic diseases as well as the community’s infrastructure. In turn, the rankings provide insight on air quality safety that can helpfully instruct a city’s policy makers, infrastructure management and governmental direction. Related: Almost all U.S. national parks have polluted air According to the 2019 Fitness Index, these are the 10 worst metropolitan areas with bad air quality, or air pollution . They each have unhealthy levels of either ozone or particle pollution: Long Beach, California Los Angeles, California Gilbert, Arizona Phoenix, Arizona Scottsdale, Arizona Chandler, Arizona Mesa, Arizona Glendale, Arizona Riverside, California Bakersfield, California What determines air quality? Geography and weather are the natural agents influencing air quality. But man-made elements — including vehicular use plus industrial emissions — especially affect air quality. In fact, two of the most common pollutants are ozone and particles, like soot from wildfires. Exposure to pollutants and airborne toxins predisposes a given area or region’s population to ailments. These include cardiovascular harm (heart disease and stroke), shortness of breath, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, wheezing, coughing, susceptibility to infections, even allergies — all of which can be influenced and impacted by air pollution. Annual rankings indicate a consistent monitoring of air quality, which is a positive takeaway. This type of monitoring can inform agencies, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ( EPA ), so that key safeguards and their enforcement can be put in place. + American Fitness Index Image via Florian Lehmuth

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For 2019, the 10 worst cities for air quality are in California and Arizona

For 2019, the 10 worst cities for air quality are in California and Arizona

September 24, 2019 by  
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Since the enactment of the Clean Air Act in 1970, there has been growing awareness for the importance of good air quality in American cities. Air quality plays a significant role with health and sustainable living. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recognizes this, which is why for the 2019 American Fitness Index rankings, the ACSM added air quality as an environmental indicator of a city’s health. According to its findings, these are the 10 cities in the U.S. with the worst air quality. The annual Fitness Index assesses 100 of the United States’ largest metropolitan areas. The cities are evaluated, then ranked from the highest score to the lowest score. The index is a helpful tool to compare the air quality of these 100 cities. It does so by considering the healthy behaviors of a city’s residents, the population of residents with chronic diseases as well as the community’s infrastructure. In turn, the rankings provide insight on air quality safety that can helpfully instruct a city’s policy makers, infrastructure management and governmental direction. Related: Almost all U.S. national parks have polluted air According to the 2019 Fitness Index, these are the 10 worst metropolitan areas with bad air quality, or air pollution . They each have unhealthy levels of either ozone or particle pollution: Long Beach, California Los Angeles, California Gilbert, Arizona Phoenix, Arizona Scottsdale, Arizona Chandler, Arizona Mesa, Arizona Glendale, Arizona Riverside, California Bakersfield, California What determines air quality? Geography and weather are the natural agents influencing air quality. But man-made elements — including vehicular use plus industrial emissions — especially affect air quality. In fact, two of the most common pollutants are ozone and particles, like soot from wildfires. Exposure to pollutants and airborne toxins predisposes a given area or region’s population to ailments. These include cardiovascular harm (heart disease and stroke), shortness of breath, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, wheezing, coughing, susceptibility to infections, even allergies — all of which can be influenced and impacted by air pollution. Annual rankings indicate a consistent monitoring of air quality, which is a positive takeaway. This type of monitoring can inform agencies, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ( EPA ), so that key safeguards and their enforcement can be put in place. + American Fitness Index Image via Florian Lehmuth

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For 2019, the 10 worst cities for air quality are in California and Arizona

Climate change is a public health issue amounting to billions in medical costs

September 20, 2019 by  
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The environment shapes our society. Hence, as climate change worsens, so do healthcare costs. Both the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) jointly warn that because of these serious healthcare and medical costs, climate change is essentially a public health crisis . The NRDC-UCSF study is unprecedented. In previous surveys, healthcare costs had not been included in valuations of climate change damages. But with the NRDC-UCSF findings, links can now be established correlating health data with climate change. Prior governmental analyses only scrutinized costs related to property, agriculture and infrastructure losses. They neglected to consider costs related to mortality, hospitalization (emergency visits, outpatient medical care, prescribed medications) and lost wages. Related: Doctor’s orders — 2 hours in nature boosts mental health, study says Now, with NRDC’s new model, the research team quantified how climate change bears down on Americans’ health by examining the associated health costs. The study findings show that, over the course of 10 climate-sensitive events from the year 2012, Americans endured more than $10 billion in healthcare costs. As climate change exacerbates, costs will continue to rise. “Climate change represents a major public health emergency, but its destructive and expensive toll on Americans’ health has largely been absent from the climate policy debate,” stated Dr. Vijay Limaye, lead author and NRDC scientist. “Our research shows that health-related costs added at least another 26 percent to the national price tag for 2012 severe weather-related damages.” The research team exhorts that unchecked climate-related events will economically burden communities, especially unprepared ones. In particular, 10 harmful environmental issues — including allergenic pollen, extreme weather , harmful algal blooms, heat waves, hurricanes, infectious diseases from ticks and mosquitoes, ozone smog pollution, river flooding and wildfires —  merit public health attention. “This continuing untold human suffering and staggering cost is another reason we must take assertive action to curb climate change now,” Dr. Limaye warned. “Cutting greenhouse gas pollution and expanding clean energy , while also investing in preparedness and climate adaptation, is the prescription for a safer, healthier future.” NRDC recommends that investment in preparedness could save billions of dollars in future health costs and thus help to save lives. The research team likewise urges more comprehensive cost analyses to inform policy making, improved tracking of climate change-related outcomes as they relate to health issues, strategic community planning for climate adaptation (e.g. health advisories, early warning systems, better disease surveillance, even community redesign to better handle floods, hurricanes and wildfires) and nationwide efforts to reduce climate change triggers like pollution. NRDC also advises that taking steps now to counteract extreme climate change events would cost up to five times less than paying for event-related health consequences. Study co-author and NRDC senior scientist Kim Knowlton confirmed this. “Our research signals that all told, there could be tens to hundreds of billions of dollars in health costs already from recent climate-related exposures nationwide,” Knowlton said. “It’s clear that failing to address climate change, and soon, will cost us a fortune, including irreversible damage to our health.” + NRDC + GeoHealth Image via Robyn Wright

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Climate change is a public health issue amounting to billions in medical costs

Technology uses banana leaves as a biodegradable alternative to single-use plastic

September 20, 2019 by  
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Plastic pollution negatively impacts the health of our planet. Waste management has led to an irreversible environmental crisis that is felt by wildlife, especially in the oceans. One organization, called Banana Leaf Technology, is helping to address the stark reality by proposing banana leaves as a biodegradable alternative to single-use plastic . Using 100 percent organic banana leaves as raw material, the novel, eco-friendly preservation technology transforms the cellular structure by enhancing its properties so that the leaves remain green for an entire year without any chemicals. Plus, their shelf lifespan is extended to up to three years. Related: Bananatex launches a sustainable material revolution at Milan Design Week After the preservation process, the enhanced leaves have increased load-bearing capabilities, resistance to extreme temperatures, durability, elasticity and flexibility. Banana Leaf Technology’s website additionally states that the processed leaves are more pathogen-resistant with antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial properties. How does it do this? The technology fortifies the banana leaves’ cell walls and prevents pathogenic agents from degrading the processed biomaterial’s cells. Currently, Banana Leaf Technology offers 30 products that utilize its preservation methods. These products include plates, cups, cones, boxes, writing paper and envelopes. Because the patented Banana Leaf Technology is customizable, other products are expected to be developed in the future, such as natural packaging alternatives. Banana Leaf Technology products provide several advantages. Besides curtailing the destructive damages to wildlife and landfills, using preserved banana leaf products decreases the risks of plastic leaching byproducts and toxins into food and beverages, making them a far healthier cookware, dinnerware and food storage alternative to plastic. Moreover, after their primary use, they can, in turn, serve as animal fodder or garden fertilizer to make soil more arable. First formulated in 2010 by Tenith Adithyaa, a precocious 11-year-old who was working in his homemade laboratory, the now-patented Banana Leaf Technology has since received seven international awards. The company’s mission, according to its website, is “to solve the global climate crisis without compromising the economy.” Adithyaa’s vision is to make Banana Leaf Technology “available to all human beings, regardless of their geographical and economical boundaries.” Interestingly, the company’s current business model is to “sell the tech license worldwide to any company” that shares in Adithyaa’s vision. The website elaborates further, stipulating that “any commercial or non-commercial company can purchase the license to this technology by technology transfer. The license will be granted for lifetime to operate worldwide.” + Banana Leaf Technology Images via Banana Leaf Technology and Pkraemer

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Technology uses banana leaves as a biodegradable alternative to single-use plastic

EPA promises an end to animal testing

September 12, 2019 by  
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Animal rights activists are rejoicing this week. On Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a move to “aggressively reduce animal testing” and to stop funding mammal tests by 2035. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler promised to reduce new mammal tests by 30 percent by 2025 and pledged $4.25 million toward developing non-animal alternatives for testing chemical safety. “Part of why I’m doing this today is because it’s been 30 years and we haven’t made enough progress,” said Wheeler, who wrote an anti- animal testing op-ed for his college paper in 1987. Related: California becomes the first state to ban animal-tested cosmetics However, some people question the federal agency’s motives. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) suggested the decision had more to do with reducing costs for chemical companies required to do expensive animal tests rather than helping animals. “Phasing out foundational scientific testing methods can make it much harder to identify toxic chemicals — and protect human health ,” said Jennifer Sass, senior scientist for the NRDC’s Healthy People and Thriving Communities program. Some scientists worry that mathematical modeling and other non-animal testing approaches won’t effectively replicate the human physiological system. As People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) pointed out in a tweet, “PETA worked with the EPA for decades to prevent rabbits, mice, rats and dogs from having to ingest or inhale toxic chemicals .” The animal rights group is confident that modern alternative models will effectively protect humans, animals and the environment. “PETA will be helping regulatory agencies and companies switch to efficient and effective, non-animal testing approaches and working toward a day when all animal tests are only found in history books,” Amy Clippinger, director of PETA’s Regulatory Testing Department, said in an EPA press release. Many people are disturbed by the pain and cruelty of animal testing, leading to bipartisan efforts to decrease its use. During Obama’s presidency, the Toxic Substances Control Act was amended, calling for the EPA to reduce animal testing. Via EcoWatch Image via Tiburi

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EPA promises an end to animal testing

Psychedelic installation in NYC spotlights environmental issues with immersive art

September 12, 2019 by  
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The call for environmental awareness and action has been given a new voice in a visually stunning art installation that just opened its doors in New York City. Entitled Arcadia Earth , the temporary art exhibition immerses guests in a multi-sensory journey spotlighting pressing ecological issues — such as overfishing, plastic pollution, food waste, deforestation and climate change — with vivid artworks designed with upcycled and reusable materials. The 18-room exhibition is powered by augmented and virtual reality to create a large-scale interactive environment that encompasses a variety of landscapes, from underwater worlds to fantastical forests. Founded and designed by experiential artist Valentino Vettori, Arcadia Earth is billed as the “first immersive augmented reality journey through Planet Earth.” The art installation was created in collaboration with 12 leading environmental artists , including Samuelle Green, Tamara Kotianovsky, Etty Yaniv, Cindy Pease Roe, Poramit Thantapalit, Jesse Harrod, Justin Bolognino/META, Katie Donahue, Katharina Hoerath, Charlotte Becket and Emmy Mikelson. The project has been presented in association with its educational and charity partner, Oceanic Global , which will receive part of the proceeds from ticket sales. To highlight environmental issues, Arcadia Earth created a series of spectacular naturescapes afflicted by human-caused environmental problems that are accompanied with educational commentary. In the underwater ocean scene, for instance, guests can take in views of shrinking coral beds, plastic-coated jellyfish and life-size fishing nets representative of overfishing. One underwater cave is built from 44,000 recycled plastic bags to represent the number used in New York state per minute. Related: Giant totems in Poland warn against climate change catastrophe Fortunately, the hauntingly beautiful art exhibition doesn’t only project images of a doomed future. Arcadia Earth provides actionable suggestions that visitors can adopt to reduce their environmental impact . The visit also culminates in a “vow room,” where visitors can sign a petition and make personal vows to help the planet. Arcadia Earth is located at 718 Broadway and will be on display until January 2020. A tree will be planted for every ticket sold.  + Arcadia Earth Images by David Mitchell for Arcadia Earth

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Psychedelic installation in NYC spotlights environmental issues with immersive art

Market-based policies work to fight climate change, from India to Jamaica

September 11, 2019 by  
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Conservatives in more right-leaning countries are fighting climate change, too.

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Market-based policies work to fight climate change, from India to Jamaica

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