This long-standing natural soap company started by accident

February 9, 2021 by  
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Throughout each day, we are exposed to a variety of potential toxins in our home, office and outdoor environments. Making the choice to commit to natural materials and product ingredients within the home is a powerful tool in ensuring minimal chemical exposure. Starting with your morning shower, you have the option to choose fragrant, all-natural and plastic-free soaps while supporting a small business at the same time. April Showers Soaps is a soap line that started by accident. In 1999, owner April Spehar became interested in soap-making as a hobby and gift-giving opportunity. Then the creativity took over, motivating her to experiment with a variety of scent combinations. When it became clear her family of four couldn’t possibly use all of the soap she was producing, she decided to try her hand at selling it. Related: Pela offers biodegradable phone cases and other zero-waste products It’s difficult to simply fast forward 22 years, but in the time between then and now, the business has fed Spehar’s passion and helped support her family as she and her husband, Chaum, raised two children. The 35 or so different soaps are now sold in several retail locations in and around the surrounding community of small university town Corvallis, Oregon, where they live and run their business. Natural ingredients The consistent growth of April Showers Soaps is a result of Spehar’s connection with her customer base early on. While natural ingredients and a concern for the environment are hot topics now, neither were highly en vogue a few decades ago. Regardless, it was important to Spehar to develop products that are good for the health of humans and the planet. With this goal in mind, all April Showers Soaps are scented with pure essential oils instead of fragrance oils. A variety of natural and plant materials such as clays, charcoal, grains, seeds, spices, pumice, coffee , cocoa and herbs add texture, color and skin benefits to the soap. To round out the ingredient list, “The only animal products we use are beeswax and honey. We use sustainably harvested, fair trade , organic palm fruit shortening,” Spehar told Inhabitat. The company also incorporates olive oil, coconut oil and apricot kernel oil. Because experimentation is central to the business, finding the right scent, feel and texture means exploring many options. “Patchouli soap has added hemp oil, our Shaving soap and Shampu bar have added castor oil, and our Vanilla soap has added cocoa butter,” the company’s Etsy site states.  Preparing the soaps for sale Even after 22 years, April Showers Soaps are handmade the old-fashioned way using a cold-process recipe . The soap mixture is stirred and poured into a mold, where it sits for several days. The resulting block is then hand-cut into individual bars and is allowed to cure for three to six weeks before being packaged for sale. The company partners with local suppliers within the state of Oregon , although ingredients come from around the globe. This streamlines material transport and aligns with the company’s goal to minimize driving for supply pickups and product shipments. Special consideration is also given to sustainable packaging. Labels are made from recyclable and compostable paper. Online and in-person sales are packaged using paper bags or tissue paper before going into a cardboard box or bubble mailer. April Showers Soaps reuses clean packing materials whenever possible. The full natural skincare lineup In addition to bar soap, April Showers Soaps offers a salve , soap balls, body butter, bath salts and a custom-made metal soap dish. It’s always fun to anticipate what will come next from the company. Spehar told Inhabitat, “We have a new soap, Bandit Blend, which is inspired by the medieval tale of the four thieves with clove, lemon, cinnamon, eucalyptus, and rosemary essential oils, comfrey root, and French pink & yellow clay.” Overcoming challenges With a lifelong desire to own her own business, Spehar has enjoyed building up her customer base and interacting with customers at community craft fairs throughout the state and in nearby states. The COVID-19 pandemic has added challenges for the business, with nearly every show canceled for vendors. While Spehar reports that sales on her Etsy store have increased, it hasn’t been enough growth to counterbalance the loss from selling directly to the customer. Spehar said, “I miss chatting with customers in person and getting immediate feedback on new soaps.” Even without immediate feedback, it’s clear that customers love these soaps. The store has over 500 reviews and a 5-star average on Etsy. In a rarely-seen American small business success story, the Spehar household is actually supported by two small businesses. While Chaum helps with photography and other aspects of April Showers Soaps, he spends most of his time making jewelry for a second business the duo runs together, Northwest Goods . As a second generation metal worker, Chaum curates ornaments, jewelry, key chains, the custom soap dish and more — all equally focused on quality materials and craftsmanship. Review of April Showers Soaps I discovered April Showers Soaps around 10 years ago, and it instantly became my go-to brand. Like many Inhabitat readers, I enjoy supporting local and small businesses, especially when the products bring me joy. Over the years, I’ve sampled different combinations and spent many hours sniffing the options at April Showers Soaps. I typically go back to one of several mint options, simply because I’m drawn to it. These products are made using Willamette Valley Peppermint essential oil, another local (to me) company. Recently, I’ve really enjoyed some of the oatmeal and spice combinations for both the feel and the scent. Maybe it’s psychological that the oatmeal is soothing to the skin, but I’ve enjoyed using it as a hand and body soap during harsh, dry winter weather. I also really like the bright citrus options such as lemon-lime and geranium-grapefruit. Lemongrass is another traditional option with a pleasant finish. Then, there are some options that will transport you to the forest, the café or the garden, like licorice, spiced mocha, cinnamon-clove (another favorite of mine) and eucalyptus tea tree. I’m a scent-sensitive person, so standing in front of a display smelling soap after soap can be overwhelming for me. But individually, each soap offers a unique interaction with the ingredients. I’m forced to avoid the ever-popular lavender and rosemary combinations due to sensitivity, but I have no doubt they are as lovely as every other meticulously contoured soap that April and Chaum produce. + April Shower Soaps Images via April Shower Soaps and Dawn Hammon / Inhabitat Editor’s Note: This product review is not sponsored by April Showers Soaps. All opinions on the products and company are the author’s own.

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This long-standing natural soap company started by accident

Sustainable holiday gift ideas for siblings

December 11, 2020 by  
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You grew up with them and have probably known them your whole life. So why are some siblings so hard to shop for? We’ve scoured the internet for fun, thoughtful and sustainable  gifts  which even the most discerning sib will be thrilled to receive. Zero-waste cocktail kit This  zero-waste cocktail kit  lets your siblings stir up a gimlet or  French  75 anywhere. The mason jar cocktail shaker, two stainless steel mini straws and sphere ice tray travel well in their own special tote. Related: Gift loved ones with classes that teach and build nature skills Organic soaps Okay, people often use soap as a sort of fallback gift when they don’t know what else to give somebody. But  Birch Ridge ‘s handmade soaps are something special. These soaps are vegan,  organic , synthetic-free and, best of all, come in delicious fragrances with cool names. Blood Moon is a combo of citrus notes — blood orange, tangerine, lime, sweet orange, tangerine and lemongrass. Collins pairs lemongrass with sage, patchouli, lime and bergamot. Hemp socks Want  hemp socks  without the hippie look? These unisex machine washable crew socks use a cotton, nylon and  hemp  blend. They come in three patterns: mustard with a mountain pattern, tan with bison and rust with a geometric pattern. The socks are also responsibly made in China (a self-reported label meaning a company aims to treat workers fairly and reduce environmental impacts). Sustainable wireless charger For the electronically-inclined sibling, try these  chargers  made from hemp and recycled plastic. Go Nimble offers several options, including a wireless travel kit and a dual pad for simultaneously charging two devices. A safe bet for your bro who is always wearing down his phone battery at  family  dinners. EcoVibe gift set EcoVibe  has done the work of putting together cutesy gift sets for you. The company has lots of choices depending on your sib’s favorite activity. An Icelandic bath kit includes a special  Icelandic  kelp soap, stone soap dish and matching tiny Icelandic kelp candle. The bike buff gift set includes shampoo, conditioner, shaving cream and lip salve to clean up post-ride, plus a cyclist kit and a pocket bicycle multi-tool. The air plant wall mounting kit will help up your sib’s botanical game with a natural cork backdrop for their air plant collection. Includes step-by-step instructions. Vegan jams by Trade Street Jam, like soap, is a classic gift because the recipient can enjoy a special flavor without leaving behind an artifact to clutter their house forever. We want to try all of  Trade Street Jam’s  interesting  vegan  blends, like strawberry chipotle and fig or plum and rose. Or maybe sour cherry ginger. Or smoke peach. Whichever you choose, be sure to order some of Trade Street’s darling mini wooden jam spoons to go with your gift. Wellness app membership Is wellness a gift you can give? Sure. Help your anxious sib learn to slow down with a gift of  Calm , the leading meditation app.  Headspace  is another meditation app that promises to change lives with an investment of only a few minutes a day. Or you could give a gift of Zoom classes with your sibling’s favorite  yoga  teacher. Vegan, biodegradable juice masks Is your sibling into clean living? This  masking and juicing set  brings the raw juice trend into skincare with biodegradable sheet masks. We especially like the set’s included sprout headband to secure your hair while the raw juice cleanse mask is on your face. This set is, of course, vegan, organic, eco-friendly and cruelty-free. I+I Botanicals For the CBD-inclined sibling,  I+I Botanicals  offers expertly crafted feel-good formulations to solve skincare issues. I+I Infused Bath Teas blend CBD and essential oils into bath salts. I+I Dry Oil Body Mist will leave your sib glowing, not greasy, and smelling of citrus and sandalwood. This women-owned company uses only American -grown, lab-tested CBD in its products. Artsy reusable water bottle People may not leave the house as often during the pandemic, but when your sibling goes out, they’ll want to be toting an eye-catching  water bottle . This cute retro  water  bottle comes in mint, coral, dark gray and indigo, each with a contrasting top. It’s vacuum-sealed and has a double-walled construction that keeps cold drinks cold for up to 24 hours and hot drinks hot for up to twelve. Plant-based milk maker If your sibling is part of the global trend against dairy, they’ll benefit from this  plant-based milk maker . Instead of buying premade and processed faux milk from the store, this gadget turns  nuts , grains and seeds into fresh dairy-free milk at home. Your sibling can even devise their own custom blends. Compostable phone case Alas, every good thing comes to an end. Even a trusty and beloved phone case.  Compostable cases  for your iPhone and Airpods can help pare down the global waste stream. These cases made from a bamboo-based proprietary blend can decompose and return to the earth. When your sibling’s phone case must meet its maker, we prefer to think dust to dust than permanent burial in a landfill . To make these cases even sweeter, you can customize them with your sib’s name or initials. Cases come in colors like mint and French raspberry. These work great with wireless charging or a lightning cable. Images via Package Free Shop, Birch Ridge, United by Blue, Go Nimble, EcoVibe, Trade Street Jam, Calm, ESW Beauty, I+I Botanicals, The Grommet, Pexels, and Casetify

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Sustainable holiday gift ideas for siblings

Human-produced mass now outweighs the Earth’s biomass

December 11, 2020 by  
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Research published in Nature revealed that human-made matter now outweighs the earth’s biomass. The research further shows that, on average, every person on Earth is responsible for creating matter equal to their own weight each week. The study, carried out by a team of researchers from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, determined the overall impact of human activities on the planet. Researchers accounted for human activities such as the production of concrete , plastic, metals and bricks. The study also determined that the production of such materials has been on the rise due to increasing urbanization. According to the researchers, the mass of human-made products at the start of the 20th century was about 3% of the Earth’s biomass . However, due to increased urbanization and product consumption, human-produced weight now outweighs the overall global biomass. Researchers say that Earth is already at a tipping point, with the human-produced mass at 1.1 tetra-tons. This increase in human-produced mass means negative consequences for Earth. In fact, the study shows that an increase in human-produced mass correlates with a decrease in biomass. “Since the first agricultural revolution, humanity has roughly halved the mass of plants,” the authors wrote. “While modern agriculture utilizes an increasing land area for growing crops, the total mass of domesticated crops is vastly outweighed by the loss of plant mass resulting from deforestation, forest management, and other land-use changes. These trends in global biomass have affected the carbon cycle and human health.” The paper now suggests that this epoch should be named Anthropocene , implying that the earth is shaped by human activities. They say that the 21st century has been squarely shaped by human activities. Production of human-made objects has transformed Earth in a few centuries. Human activities continue shaping the Earth, with an increase in human-generated mass each year. “The face of Earth in the 21st century is affected in an unprecedented manner by the activities of humanity and the production and accumulation of human-made objects,” the researchers said. Today, human mass is produced at a rate of about 30 gigatons per year. If this rate continues, the weight of human-created mass will exceed 3 tetra tones by 2040. + Nature Via The Guardian Image via Pixabay

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Human-produced mass now outweighs the Earth’s biomass

How do you avoid getting distracted and stay focused on the mission?

December 7, 2020 by  
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How do you avoid getting distracted and stay focused on the mission? Trisa Thompson Mon, 12/07/2020 – 00:10 Much has been said, and will be said, about 2020. The word “unprecedented” has been used an unprecedented number of times. We are constantly bombarded by the media, whether it be about politics, COVID-19 or the state of the economy. The media barely lets an hour pass without reporting another late-breaking story. And most of us barely let an hour pass without checking for the next dramatic update. Given the general sense of chaos surrounding all of us, Sustainability Veterans members discussed how we stay centered and focused on the mission while not ignoring the news. We wanted to share our points of view to help you stay focused on accomplishing your own mission. As always, our views are both different from and complementary to one another. We range from the hopeful to the practical. We hope you find some pearls of wisdom here. Practice radical curiosity: I try to stay focused on the big picture. These turbulent and perilous times demand that we practice radical curiosity, seeking to understand both the positions and the underlying interests of those who oppose climate action and regeneration. Some, perhaps many, may join with us if we can empathetically address their losses and fears. With their engagement, we together can learn how to rebuild our economy and democracy with greater equality, justice and health. — Bart Alexander is former chief corporate responsibility officer at Molson Coors. He consults on leading sustainable change through Alexander & Associates and climate change action through Plan C Advisors. Look 10 years ahead: My attention, like many, has been focused on the political and human health events of the day. I am typically an optimist and am using this time to backcast to see the world from 10 years in the future. I see a world focused on massive decarbonization, building not just sustainable, but regenerative businesses and dealing with tough issues like equity. How we all get there excites me and gives me clarity of purpose. — Mark Buckley is the former vice president of sustainability at Staples and founder of One Boat Collaborative. Keep your future grandchildren in mind: Like many sustainability professionals, I am an optimistic systems thinker with a long-term view. I keep my (hopefully) future grandchildren in mind. Since humanity’s well-being and a flourishing economy are both contingent on a healthy environment, I focus my energies on the environmental mission with the longest-lasting impacts, notably climate change and ocean plastification. Protecting the environment brings the most long-term benefit to the greatest number of people, regardless of country, race and/or political affiliation. — Jacqueline Drumheller led Alaska Airlines’ formal sustainability program as sustainability manager and is now consulting. Keep your head down and stay single-minded: When there is a lot of commotion, either externally or in the company, I exercise the simple mantra “heads down.” Rather than try to exist above the fray or even co-exist within it, I tend to be most effective in that place where I can single-mindedly focus on our sustainability goals. I have found that when the dust settles, I am often able to demonstrate some progress while others are just catching their breath. — Cecily Joseph is the former vice president of corporate responsibility at Symantec and serves as chair of the Net Impact board of directors and expert in residence at the Presidio Graduate School. Connect current events to issues: I found the best thing to do was to spend a little time studying what is going on in current events because often I could find connections back to our key issues. The interesting and challenging thing about sustainability is that it is so holistic that the ability to make the connections allowed me to continue to message that our sustainability work could not be pigeonholed into a small, side-bucket-like environment. — Dawn Rittenhouse was director of sustainable development for the DuPont Company from 1998 to 2019. Use events to strengthen the climate narrative: The issue for me is the climate crisis. Current events serve to highlight the fact that this is a crisis tied to everything — Black Lives Matter, COVID, public health, gender inequity, immigration, food security. Far from a distraction, these events help to build a stronger narrative, supported by robust data and models — that investments in a clean, equitable and regenerative economy and unity, not division, are the most powerful tools we have at our disposal. — Sarah Severn spent over two decades in senior sustainability roles at Nike, leading strategy, stakeholder engagement and championing systems thinking and collaborative change, and is principal of Severn Consulting. Speak for those who cannot speak for themselves: Focus comes from a sense of empathy and urgency developed over the course of my career. A senior leader once asked why monitoring factory working conditions was so important. My response was that we ultimately speak for those unable to speak for themselves. Whether it’s factory workers, underrepresented communities or future generations of our families, change will only take place if we lead from the front with focus and intent. — Mark Spears retired from The Walt Disney Company after nearly 30 years, spanning a series of finance, strategic planning and sustainability roles. He serves as founder and chief strategist at common+value, a sustainability consultancy. Focus on the opportunities to make change: If we do this right, and I believe leaders will emerge who will, we have the rare opportunity to unite divided peoples, countries and continents to solve the world’s two biggest crises — COVID-19 and climate change. Together, we can do this, and I remain laser-focused on helping in any way that I can. We have no choice but lots of opportunity. — Trisa Thompson, a lawyer, is former chief responsibility officer at Dell Technologies. Stay focused on how you can contribute: We have no choice. Ignoring the myriad distractions is hard (and I often fail!), but we have the opportunity to solve multiple massive problems and improve people’s lives enormously in the process. Focusing on how I can contribute helps me avoid the distractions and gives me hope. — Bill Weihl was Google’s green energy czar, leading climate and clean energy work, then spent six years at Facebook as director of sustainability. In 2020, he founded ClimateVoice. Minimize social media time: In order for me to be my best self, I minimize my social media time and maximize my fresh-air time. I hunker down and focus on supporting myself, my family and my work. — Ellen Weinreb is a sustainability and ESG recruiter, founder of Weinreb Group and co-founder of Sustainability Veterans. Schedule it in: If something is captivating my attention, I first shamelessly ponder whether it can actually help feed the mission by providing evidence or anecdotes, exposing synergies or offering metaphors that aid in communication. Otherwise, I literally schedule a time slot to check it out, only after accomplishing my most important and mission-aligned goals for the day. If I’m distracted, so are others, and having some exposure helps me figure out how to dilute its allure. — Kathrin Winkler is former chief sustainability officer for EMC, co-founder of Sustainability Veterans and editor at large for GreenBiz. Understand and react: Rather than be distracted by current events, sustainability practitioners must understand and react to them (e.g., the emergence of the racial equality movement). Practitioners must also anticipate the next big issue. In a former role, we used an emerging issues process to evaluate the probability and magnitude of the impacts. While no one can predict the future, this process kept us one step ahead. Tim Mohin is the former CEO of GRI and former chief sustainability officer of AMD. About Sustainability Veterans: We are a group of professionals who have had leadership roles in the world of corporate sustainability. We are exploring new ways to further engage and make a difference by bringing together our collective intellectual, experiential, emotional and social capital — independent from any individual company — to help the next generation of sustainability leaders achieve success. Topics Leadership Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off GreenBiz photocollage, via Shutterstock

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How do you avoid getting distracted and stay focused on the mission?

The best eco-friendly gifts for your grandparents

November 30, 2020 by  
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There’s no denying the holiday season is upon us. Whether that makes you ripple with excitement or reluctance, we have help for at least one of your holiday woes — what to buy the grandparents. Grandparents are notoriously difficult to buy for, but keep in mind that many of our loved ones enjoy useful household goods and homemade goodies. As a bonus, these ideas are even good for the Earth! Homemade bread There are endless variations of homemade bread, from cinnamon rolls to a pumpkin loaf. Make it with wheat flour or cater to gluten-free needs. Add seeds or nuts. Mix in some flax, chia or hemp — and don’t forget to add love! Make your homemade gift pretty with a beeswax or cloth food wrap, either of which can be reused again and again. Alternately, place it into a reusable produce bag that they can take to the grocery store later. Related: 9 sustainable living tips to take from our grandparents Aprons At the grill or over the stove, aprons take a beating. Supply grandma or grandpa with a new linen apron from Son de Flor . Linen is made from flax, a plant that is gentle to the environment. In addition to enriching the soil , flax requires less energy and water to manufacture into material than cotton. Even better, linen is completely biodegradable. Earth Polo For a classic polo that honors the planet, lean into the Ralph Lauren Earth Polo . Give grandpa one of 13 color options, all manufactured using an innovative fabric made entirely from plastic bottles. In addition, the rich colors are achieved using a waterless process . Organic handmade pasta Even if you haven’t mastered the art of making handmade pasta yourself, you can give the gift of organic food. Semolina Pasta uses semolina milled from organic durum wheat and makes its pastas in Los Angeles. Organic semolina is non-GMO and is grown sans pesticides or fertilizers. The mill sells by-products to the dairy industry, and there is nearly zero waste in the Semolina Pasta kitchen. For $25, you can put together a gift box filled with three pasta shapes of your choosing. Upcycled cribbage board For the grandparent who enjoys classic game time, give the gift of cribbage with the added benefit of reusing materials off the street. The Upcycled Cribbage Board from Art of Play is made from maple and other hardwoods. The unique inlay in the top is created using upcycled skateboards . Eliminating plastic in the design, the pegs are made of metal and can be neatly stored in a compartment on the bottom of the game board. Eco-friendly cookbooks Chelsea Green publishing not only provides a variety of unique cookbooks, but it is a leading publisher of books on all topics related to sustainable living. All books and catalogs are printed on chlorine-free recycled paper , using soy-based inks whenever possible. They are also printed in partnership with North American printing shops. Plus, Chelsea Green is 100% employee-owned. Here are a few of the popular book options that the grandparents in your life might appreciate. The Fruit Forager’s Companion provides insight for making use of fruit often left hanging on the branch. The art of fermentation has perhaps never been more in the spotlight, for the simple fact that fermented foods are good for your gut. Check out Koji Alchemy for recipes and processes related to koji. Also take a look at Wildcrafted Fermentation , a guide to lacto-fermentation using wild edibles. For grandparents committed to a restrictive diet for health or other reasons, consider The Grain-Free, Sugar-Free, Dairy-Free Family Cookbook , which is loaded with recipes that might even get the grandkids excited to roll up their sleeves and start cooking. Buckwheat pillow If your grandparents have the common issue of neck pain and trouble sleeping, a buckwheat pillow may be the solution. The heavy, firm Slumbr Ara Buckwheat Pillow offers personalized support with a design that is shaped by pushing around the buckwheat hulls. Once situated, the pillow retains its shape for consistent support through the night. Laundry kit Laundry is a fact of life, so a gift that makes the process more efficient is thoughtful for your recipient and the planet. LooHoo Wool Dryer Balls Gift Set includes three all-natural dryer balls that help dry clothes faster, and more economically, by saving energy. Wool is locally sourced near the business location in Maine. The gift set also includes a package of SoulShine Soap Company’s all-natural laundry soap, which comes without any wasteful plastic jugs. In addition, there is an equally Earth-friendly stain stick. The entire bundle comes in a box made from recycled cardboard and is plastic-free. Mason Bee Barrel Animal and nature enthusiasts will love this adorable Mason bee barrel via The Grommet . Not only is it visually appealing, but it provides a home for mason bees, which are crucial to planetary health. In return for a safe home, the bees will pollinate nearby flowers and gardens. Frog/toad house for garden If your grandparents enjoy their pond, this Ceramic Frog & Toad House is the perfect complementary item. The ceramic is made from natural materials and is 100% recyclable, giving a home to frogs and toads without damaging the ecosystem in which they thrive. Knitting needle system Keep those hand-knitted sweaters coming with this Adjustable Straight Knitting Needle System . The repetitive action of knitting can be hard on hands, especially when the yarn continuously slips down the needle. This rosewood knitting needle system uses a stopper and spring-loaded slider to keep the stitches at the top of the needle for easier, more enjoyable knitting. Images via Pixabay, Unsplash, Son de Flor, Ralph Lauren, Semolina Pasta, Art of Play, Slumbr, LooHoo and The Grommet

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Hard truths about tough times

November 18, 2020 by  
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Hard truths about tough times Kathrin Winkler Wed, 11/18/2020 – 02:00 I’m struggling. Back in the day, I had a reputation as someone who always offered to my team a positive interpretation or hopeful outcome to supposed bad news. A Pollyanna, perhaps. It wasn’t deliberate. In fact, I didn’t realize I was doing it until a senior engineer on my team told me, “You’re always so [expletive deleted] positive, it makes me want to puke.”  I wasn’t trying to spin the truth, either. When there is change — that is, nearly always — people often imagine the worst possible outcomes and the most deplorable motives by those in power. People help bring one another down as they wallow in the fear and anger, and sap their own and each other’s energy. I was just trying to get people to consider alternative possibilities, to help them find their motivation, stay focused and know that their work was valued. Play devil’s advocate to their negativity. And maybe convince myself, a bit, too.  My husband thought the accusation was funny, though. Because when I was at home and I wasn’t feeling the weight of responsibility for the team, I gave my own negativism free rein. The angel on one shoulder went to work; the devil on the other came home. The thing is, I’m home all the time now.  I’m impatient with those ‘fighting the good fight.’ They (you!) are undeniably heroes. But it’s not enough. And we’re not often telling the whole truth. I’m not sure how to characterize exactly how I feel. Impatience is a big part of it. We’re obviously not doing enough fast enough to address climate change and systemic societal issues. I can see evidence with my own eyes every time I walk out the door (masked, of course) and encounter the homeless struggling on the street. But I’m also impatient with those “fighting the good fight.” They (you!) are undeniably heroes. But it’s not enough. And we’re not often telling the whole truth. That’s creating a cognitive dissonance in me that is literally keeping me up at night. I know we have to show optimism, but I also see us avoiding the bare facts. People talk about “stopping” (or worse, “stopping and reversing”) climate change. The more circumspect just say “addressing” climate change. But in addition to the climate damage that already has occurred, more is locked in even if we were to stop emitting today. Will the next generation feel betrayed if we “win” the fight and things keep getting worse anyway? People do need hope and to feel that they have agency — that what they do matters. Every degree of global temperature rise that we prevent reduces the long-term risk. No matter what, I know we cannot stop acting and encouraging others to join us. I don’t know how to square this circle.  As for agency — I’m feeling pretty helpless. Not that I tell people that. I absolutely mean it when I passionately express how important it is that they vote, make thoughtful decisions about what to buy and from whom, think about the sources of their food, raise their voices against injustice. But it just doesn’t feel like enough. Once I get going on a task, I’m all in. But when I settle down to work, I find it hard to get started. That’s just me, of course. There are people out there doing critically important things — innovating in technology and business, running for office, motivating others and changing minds. Thank goodness for them. But we’re not all extraordinary, and I imagine I’m not alone.  I am also experiencing huge frustration from the Manichaean nature of public discourse on, well, everything. Truth is gray, but we only discuss black and white. Both sides tick me off. Op-ed pieces in the Wall Street Journal interpret reduced emissions during the most stringent lockdown as proof that major personal sacrifice is required if we (“the greenies”) act on climate. The sustainability community argues that we can make the changes we need without sacrificing. As usual, the truth is somewhere in between (depending, I suppose, on how you define “sacrifice” — and “happy,” for that matter). For me, the pandemic has highlighted what’s really valuable: human connection; love; health; safety. But yeah, there are things people will have to give up. They are mostly things that won’t truly make them happy in the long run, but that can feel pretty good about in the moment (flying off to the tropics, buying a new car, chomping down on a juicy burger, going to the movies), and relinquishing some of those will feel like a sacrifice for many.  Yet, I’m disgusted with selfishness. There’s a woman in our building who complains that, when the sun is at a certain angle, she can’t get the temperature in her unit below 71 degrees Fahrenheit. Climate change is making air conditioning a matter of life and death in some parts of the world, but 71 degrees in Seattle? Sheesh. Talk about privilege. Maybe I’m just afraid to be optimistic; afraid of a huge disappointment. Scared. Not that I’m not hopeful — I fervently hope things will move, and move quickly, in the right direction. I’m just reluctant to expect it. The political situation isn’t helping. I don’t know the answers. I hate not knowing the answers. It makes me grumpy.  I do find real moments of joy. They come from my friends, my colleagues, my family and nature. From humor and beauty. From gratitude for all that I have been given in life. So, I am coping. I hope you are, too.  Pull Quote I’m impatient with those ‘fighting the good fight.’ They (you!) are undeniably heroes. But it’s not enough. And we’re not often telling the whole truth. Topics Leadership Health & Well-being Featured Column Getting Real Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Shutterstock

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Low-impact geodesic dome hotel immerses guests in Patagonian nature

October 29, 2020 by  
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A “zero garbage” approach, recycled wood construction and low-impact energy systems combine at the Huemules Reserva de Montaña , a three-star geodesic dome hotel nestled inside a Patagonian nature reserve in Esquel, Argentina. Created with sustainability in mind, the eco-resort was built on a remote, 6,000-hectare site owned by the Estancia Huemules group. After converting the land into a mountain reserve, the family-owned company oversaw the development of low-impact geodesic dome suites constructed by local craftspeople with natural materials. Previously used as cattle pasture for over 100 years, the 6,000-hectare mountain reserve that is now home to Huemules Reserva de Montaña is celebrated for its magnificent canyons, valleys and prairies. In redeveloping the land for hospitality, the Estancia Huemules group chose geodesic domes for lodging due to the structures’ durability and resistance to the climatic extremes in Patagonia. The geodesic domes were also selected for their low impact — both visually and physically — on the environment and were strategically placed on natural clearings close to existing trails. Related: Explore the world’s driest desert at these eco-friendly geodomes As part of the eco-resort’s commitment to sustainability, the hotel uses an advanced sewage treatment system to clean waste before it is discharged into the environment as well as an energy system that follows the region’s eternal hydrological cycle. Locally sourced recycled wood was used for constructing decks, kitchen and furniture, while dead wood is used in energy-efficient, low-consumption stoves. Organic waste is composted onsite for use in the vegetable garden. Plastics are used as little as possible; preference is given to biodegradable products and recyclable containers. “We believe in Nature’s rhythms: That’s why your experience will be unique, in silence,” the eco-resort owners said in a statement. “But at the same time, it will be plentiful: plenty of activities and flavors, plenty of tones like the sound of the wind, the creeks and the birds, and plenty of movement and quietness.” + Huemules Reserva de Montaña Photography by Addison Jones via Huemules Reserva de Montaña

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Low-impact geodesic dome hotel immerses guests in Patagonian nature

BIG unveils sustainable, 3D-printed lunar igloos for Moon exploration

October 29, 2020 by  
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As part of its Plan for Sustained Lunar Exploration and Development , NASA has teamed up with architecture firm Bjarke Ingels Group , advanced construction developer ICON and SEArch+ (Space Exploration Architecture) to design Project Olympus, a system of space-based construction to support future exploration of the Moon. Developed with technology that ICON submitted to NASA’s 2018 3D Printed Habitat Challenge, the proposed lunar habitats would be 3D-printed using robotic, zero-waste construction for a reduced carbon footprint.  Bjarke Ingels Group is no stranger to extraterrestrial architecture — Project Olympus is the firm’s second project in outer space after its Mars Science City proposal, which is currently being turned into a prototype in Dubai. Much like the Mars building project, BIG’s Project Olympus proposal also addresses eight of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. According to the Artemis program, NASA plans to land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024 for lunar exploration and research, which will inform future missions to Mars. Related: NASA Mars Habitat Challenge winner is a 3D-printed pod made of biodegradable materials The ambitious Project Olympus will cover a wide array of architecture, from landing pads to habitats, that would be built with robust construction rather than metal or inflatable structures. The team will work in collaboration with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama to test lunar soil simulant with ICON’s groundbreaking robotic technologies and develop prototype elements. The goal will be the creation of the first permanent structure on the Moon that’s not only capable of withstanding the hostile lunar environment but would also become a learning opportunity for creating more sustainable construction on Earth as well. “To explain the power of architecture, ‘formgiving’ is the Danish word for design, which literally means to give form to that which has not yet been given form,” Bjarke Ingels said. “This becomes fundamentally clear when we venture beyond Earth and begin to imagine how we are going to build and live on entirely new worlds. With ICON we are pioneering new frontiers — both materially, technologically and environmentally. The answers to our challenges on Earth very well might be found on the Moon.”  + Bjarke Ingels Group Images via Bjarke Ingels Group

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BIG unveils sustainable, 3D-printed lunar igloos for Moon exploration

Startup Phood tackles food waste at the top of the food chain

October 29, 2020 by  
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Startup Phood tackles food waste at the top of the food chain Jesse Klein Thu, 10/29/2020 – 01:00 Picture your local salad bar either at your school, grocery store or office. There are many options between the greens, toppings and dressings. At the end of each day, it’s the job of a kitchen worker to perform a “shrink analysis” on each ingredient — manually identifying, weighing and recording the leftover volume of each item. By comparing that number to initial inventory amounts, the kitchen tracks its food waste.  The process is a big hassle for the prepared food sector, but food waste is an even bigger problem for the planet, accounting for 8 percent of greenhouse gas emissions according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. Phood CEO Luc Dang hopes to solve both.  Phood’s main product, PhoodX, is a combination scale and camera that uses artificial intelligence and enhanced analytics to cut down on the time it takes to record data about the leftovers. The system uses that information to recommend changes within foodservice operations aimed at reducing food waste.  The technology is most appropriate in places where items are sold by weight, such as dining halls or the prepared food sections of grocery stores. The Phood system is integrated directly with the inventory system so it can use the data to calculate waste compared to the sold volume. Phood’s devices have been used in dining halls at Yale and Rhode Island School of Design, and in K-12 cafeterias. The company also has devices installed at 10 Whole Foods locations in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island.  Even before Dang was infiltrating the foodservice industry of the North Atlantic region, he had a deep understanding of the agricultural supply chain from growing up on a small Connecticut farm. After working a few years in the financial sector, he read a statistic estimating that 40 percent of food is wasted. Dang couldn’t believe that headline: During his childhood on farms and near restaurants, he hadn’t noticed anything like that kind of waste. But when Dang called friends and restaurants that used to buy from his family farm, they told him they composted everything but didn’t and couldn’t actually track waste empirically.  Is it an operational management issue? Is it overproduction? Is it a weekend or weekday issue? Or expiration issues? Or a spoilage issue? We can identify each of those key areas and really drill down and cut back. According to Dang, the time-consuming, arduous and convoluted traditional method of tracking food waste is standard in about 85 percent of foodservice operations. The headline was right: According to data from Phood, most foodservice organizations throw away between 35 and 65 percent of their ingredient purchases.  According to Dang, Phood can reduce that food waste by 50 percent with a bonus of saving the kitchen staff time. The company said the algorithm, trained using millions of food items recognized by Amazon Rekognition and Google Cloud Vision, can identify food items with 98 percent accuracy in two to three seconds.  Aside from the relationships mentioned earlier, Phood recently started a partnership with two large food giants, Cargill and Gordon Food Service, which will see the system used in more kitchens, giving it access to more data to improve its artificial intelligence. The real value of Phood’s device isn’t the time-saving AI, it’s the data harvested from the device, which helps uncover habits that contribute to a business’s food waste issue, Dang said. “Is it an operational management issue? Is it overproduction? Is it a weekend or weekday issue? Or expiration issues? Or a spoilage issue?” he said. “We can identify each of those key areas and really drill down and cut back.” Many foodservice businesses tout their composting policies and donation rates for leftover food, but that doesn’t really address the bigger issue — wasting food in the first place. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency , composting isn’t much better than sending food to the landfill. Phood is helping companies attack the problem at the top of the food chain — source reduction — by helping operations become better informed about consumption habits. According to Dang, many parts of an industrial kitchen are siloed. The person ordering ingredients is different from the chef doing the cooking, which is not the same person recording the leftovers at the end of the day. And rarely are these individuals informed about the details of each other’s step in the process, so the purchasing and production habits never get adjusted.  Phood becomes a centralized system that connects each step. Dang suggests a three-week period of baseline analysis when customers first start using the system, but often they start making changes to their ordering earlier, he said.  “They start leveraging those insights and changing their ordering by week two,” Dang said. “We’ve seen waste reductions occur from the first week.” The food and restaurant business has extremely thin margins, and few companies have had access to this degree of detail before. Aside from cutting back on waste, Phood can help operations save money, which is often the impetus for an investment. Because source reduction has such strong economic benefits, the sustainability aspect gets to tag along. According to Dang, Phood can save up to 10 percent on annual food costs.  Pull Quote Is it an operational management issue? Is it overproduction? Is it a weekend or weekday issue? Or expiration issues? Or a spoilage issue? We can identify each of those key areas and really drill down and cut back. Topics Food Systems Food & Agriculture Information Technology Food Waste Food & Beverage Artificial Intelligence Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Phood’s all-in-one scale and AI can identify food waste and make recommendations to kitchens to save money and reduce waste.  

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Startup Phood tackles food waste at the top of the food chain

Brown, female and on the bus: A personal journey into transportation policy

October 27, 2020 by  
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Brown, female and on the bus: A personal journey into transportation policy Sahar Shirazi Tue, 10/27/2020 – 01:30 I got my first passport at 6 months old. Not to take a luxurious holiday with my jet-setting family, but to move back to a country on the brink of war, right after a democratic revolution that almost immediately turned into a dictatorship. At age 5, after various failed attempts to flee Iran, I boarded a flight from Istanbul to Los Angeles by myself. Before I started school, transportation already had served to move me both into and out of opportunity in very real ways. Like many immigrants, my identity is complicated. First, I am not technically an immigrant. I was born in Berkeley, California. I was 6 months old when my family moved back to Iran, and for the first 5 years of my life, I was physically stuck there. Even after we finally made it back to the U.S., I was raised in such strictly traditional surroundings, we may as well have been in my grandparents’ village in Iran, just without the bombs and threats from the government (at least, not at that point). My family struggled to gain legal status in the U.S., and I was shaped by my personal experiences as well as theirs. When we first moved to the U.S., we were very poor. We lived in apartments around Sacramento, moving every six months or so as my parents chased elusive opportunities and odd jobs. Both of my parents worked at various burger joints, and my sister and I took the public bus to school, keys tied around our necks, sometimes upwards of 40 minutes each way. In 1989, Mazda came out with the Miata, originally only available in red, white and blue in the U.S. It was the first time I’d ever cared about a car. Walking by those shiny, tiny cars as I went to sit in the greasy air of the burger shop gave 9-year-old me my first taste of material want, the first-time consumerism infiltrated my psyche as a child. In school, I fantasized that I could learn skills to woo my classmates; to become clever or artistic or sporty enough that they would no longer question my hair, skin, language or lack of wealth. But here, here was a way for me to buy my way into their world. I was enchanted by the car not as a mode for gaining access or opportunity, but as a means to gain status. And that understanding never left me. I was enchanted by the car not as a mode for gaining access or opportunity, but as a means to gain status. And that understanding never left me. By the time I was old enough to drive, my family had moved out of Sacramento and into northern Sonoma County. My parents had moved up the ladder and now owned their own little burger shop, were able to buy their first house, and we’d been living in a middle-class community for some time. My political psyche also had formed more. I was involved in groups and actions, I already had joined boards and commissions for youth, and I’d organized various petitions and rallies in school. I’d been given a used bike in my early teens and rode it around the developing landscape of wine country as my only physical escape from my home. I took the school bus to school, and the county bus to the local community college, in the neighboring town, for classes I couldn’t take at our underfunded high school. Active and shared transportation was my lifeline, and I could not imagine sheltering myself in a private car — even a little Miata, removed from the experience of transportation, despite all the problems such a luxury would have alleviated. In Iran, taxis and mini-buses charged for space rather than users; and the wealthy paid extra for empty bus seats or “closed door” taxis that did not pick up other strangers. Riding the bus in the U.S. and not smooshing into a stranger still felt luxurious despite the inconveniences and delays, until the harassment began. In addition to being Middle Eastern in a region made up of mostly white and Latino populations, I was a young female who’d developed early. Before I understood the comments that men hurled at me, I knew the discomfort they caused. On the school bus, young boys grabbed me with no remorse and no consequences (other than the time I punched one of them, finally trying to assert some form of power). At the city bus stop, on a rural road with no one around, men slowed down and screamed out the window for me to get in as they drove by. This behavior continued through my 20s, in Oakland and San Francisco and much more “urban” and “progressive” places than the small town I spent my adolescence in. I still remember wondering what part of my 22-year-old self, dressed in paint-splattered clothes from nine hours of working with preschoolers, screamed out for that kind of attention. A stop request sign on a light-rail train in Sacramento. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock/ZikG Media Source Shutterstock Media Authorship ZikG Close Authorship These were normalized experiences of being female, brown and a non-driver. And yet, I never sought the safe isolation of being in a car. I could not have explained why, until age 29, I refused to get a license. I had neither the understanding of transportation’s importance or its role in our social fabric to put words to my own stubbornness, until I sank deep into the academic study, personal stories and history of our systems. When I entered grad school at Mills College in 2009, I finally decided to get a license. I realized I could no longer afford to wait for buses that never came, and I had the luxury of being able to drive, have a vehicle and affording my private transportation system. Being in an enclosed vehicle alone was a new experience at 29, and the safety and comfort I felt was matched only by my own sense of disconnection from the world. I’ve heard the term “windshield mentality” used for the psychology of driving, and it resonates deeply. On a train, a bus, a bike or on foot, we are forced to interact with the world in some way. But alone, in a car, separated physically from all others, we can easily sink into an “us vs. everyone” mentality. Suddenly, the biker or pedestrian is a nuisance, not a person trying to get somewhere just like me. The stop signs and speed limits are just in my way, rather than being protections for the lives of others. No level of learning changes this basic psychology. I still must remind myself every time I drive, I am not in traffic, I am traffic. To truly have a system that serves the needs of diverse communities, that acknowledges and repairs the harm we have done with past planning and projects, we must have greater representation from the people affected by them. With this shift in mentality taking shape, I entered a public policy program, aiming to learn about community-based economic development and social equity work. I was going back to school to make a difference, and I had no idea that that path would lead me to transportation. One of my early projects was a study for the local business improvement district; a parking study. As I walked around the community counting parking spaces by the hour, I dashed across roads with no stoplights, crosswalks and wide lanes incentivizing high speeds, wondering why certain corners were so dark once the sun went down, and taking note of the infrastructure for other modes of transportation such as buses and bikes. I spoke to shop owners and residents, passersby and city officials, and every conversation and observation pushed me to learn more about urban planning. I think of those conversations often these days, of the person who told me they won’t take the bus in the evenings, because the bus stop is next to an ATM, and there have been too many muggings there. Of the person who explained to me that the land use and transit components are decided separately, so putting a bus stop in front of a café instead, for example, had not been considered. And of our final presentation to the local Business Improvement District, where we suggested pedestrian, bike and transit improvements to slow down traffic would benefit them, rather than more parking, and the incredulous response we received. I think of my own transportation stories; of the frustration of taking three buses and riding over an hour to commute to my job that was only eight miles away. Of the kids who were on the last leg of that commute, using the county bus as their school bus every morning, and how happy their interactions made me. Of missing a bus between jobs and the anxiety I felt as I waited 30 minutes for the next option. In many ways, transportation and land use is the physical manifestation of patriarchy and racism. From our history of bulldozing minority neighborhoods to build freeways and refusing loans to Black families to our current decision-making structures that exclude those who cannot access language, time, education, transportation, childcare, technology — all but the most resourced participants, we have reinforced systems that benefit white men at the expense of all others for decades. How do we move forward when we are burdened with so much weight, pulling at us from our past? How do we confront our own history and learn from it, to make programs, policies, investments and structures that serve the needs of communities, especially in a world of constrained time and resources? Recently, I gave a presentation that showed historic redlining maps lined up with current maps of disadvantaged communities, and I was surprised at the response it garnered. “Wow, they are the same,” someone said incredulously. Our past actions have long-lasting consequences, and we are never starting from scratch. It still boggles my mind how that is a revelation. Of course they are the same. To truly have a system that serves the needs of diverse communities, that acknowledges and repairs the harm we have done with past planning and projects, we must have greater representation from the people affected by them. Our current systems, which make decisions for people without their involvement, will continue to create inequitable outcomes, however well-intentioned those decisions may be. Sharing more information, education and stories about transportation and mobility, and enabling collaboration through new models of engagement can help us move past limited community meetings and outreach into engagement and co-creation of goals. By acknowledging the importance of transportation in economic, environmental, educational and health outcomes, those of us in the field can help connect the dots for the next generation of transportation planners, policymakers and engineers, and increase diversity in representation in our field. Just as my lived experiences influenced my decision to enter transportation, and continue to color my views through every project, the experiences of those different from me, those affected most by the mistakes of our past and present, must be included and valued as we move forward and try to do better. Meaningful representation, moving past tokenism, is critical to shifting the transportation paradigm and addressing our past harms. Mobility creates economic, social, and environmental opportunity, and that opportunity has been distributed asymmetrically thus far. Transportation is more than technical engineering, it is more than a bus or a train or a bike; it is the potential for movement through the physical world, and the experiences and stories of accessing that movement.  So when someone asks me now why I do this work, I simply tell them: It turns out I’ve been working in transportation my whole life, I just finally made it official. This article was first published on the author’s Medium channel. Pull Quote I was enchanted by the car not as a mode for gaining access or opportunity, but as a means to gain status. And that understanding never left me. On a train, a bus, a bike or on foot, we are forced to interact with the world in some way. But alone, in a car, separated physically from all others, we can easily sink into an ‘us vs. everyone’ mentality. To truly have a system that serves the needs of diverse communities, that acknowledges and repairs the harm we have done with past planning and projects, we must have greater representation from the people affected by them. Topics Transportation & Mobility Racial Issues Social Justice Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) On Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Inside a bus in Chicago, circa March 2016. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock/Sorbis Shutterstock Sorbis Close Authorship

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