Flex Your Strength as a Consumer

Let’s stop and think for a minute; what have you purchased today? Maybe a train or bus pass for your transportation. Maybe you met a friend for lunch at your favorite restaurant. Did you get groceries today or buy a family member a gift? Picture what you bought; what decisions went into deciding to purchase those items?

Americans consume a lot. Our purchasing habits make us the largest consumers in the world of resources and we’re less than 5% of the global population. The truth is most of the “stuff” we buy- we either throw out, stop using, or replace within 6 months of purchasing it. What kind of product life span is that? Think about what you bought today and ask yourself if you’ll use it or still have it 6 months from now.

Where did you decide to spend your money today? Was it the most convenient store? Do they have the best prices? Do they make the highest quality material? Something consumers may not realize is that we hold the most power when it comes to change in this country, and it is all based on the questions I just mentioned.

We decide who stays in business and who needs to change their ways. We decide what types of stores and businesses we want in our community. Simply by selecting where you spend your time and money, you are voting to keep them in business or encourage them to change their ways. After all you can’t market or put a product into production unless it is something consumers actually want.

Considering that we can choose which products to support, how should we choose what products to buy? I recently read a Canadian study about sustainable marketing. Their research found that before deciding whether or not to buy a product, consumers first decide their need for the product. If they’re not convinced they might read the label or ask a friend about the product; gain more information before buying and then make their choice. This might happen over a short or long period of time but we all go through these thoughts before buying something. Now when factoring in sustainable choices or choices that not only fill your need but also satisfy the need of the environment and the people who created and sell the product, what will give consumers reason to be unhappy buying unsustainable products.

If you don’t agree with how a store treats their employees or where they get their produce- explore a new place to shop. If you don’t like the fact that local businesses are having harder times surviving because they can’t stand up to corporations, then buy local and put your money back into your community. Spend your money in what you actually believe in and what you actually want to do well.

Just think of the power you have. Everything you bought today, you voted for that establishment over their competitors. Do your purchases reflect your values? Are the products that you bought made with quality materials that you want to support? This may seem like an intense way to think about shopping but you might find you’re happier with your purchases if your spending mirrors your values. Use your newfound power wisely, remember, your dollar, your vote.

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Understanding Climate Change

Let’s think warm thoughts. Let’s think childhood summers, when we ran around barefoot, caught fireflies, went swimming and maybe tried camping out—maybe some of us still do these things. Maybe we didn’t realize it as children but all these activities depend on a healthy environment. You don’t have to love hiking or rafting or learning about types of trees to love the environment. You could simply like to take a walk during your lunch break or enjoy birds on your walk home from the train.

Recently words like ‘sustainability,’ ‘climate change,’ ‘global warming’ and ‘greenhouse gas emissions’ are thrown around so often that I wonder, for instance, how many know that climate and weather are not interchangeable. The reason we refer to ‘climate change’ as climate change is because patterns in weather changed over a long period of time, about 50 years. For instance, the summer of 2012 in Wisconsin was ridiculously hot with very little rain—great summer to be biking to a gardening internship. This was an odd weather pattern. This past summer was unusually cold, again odd weather. When these patterns become more common they can be used to help explain the climate of a region.

These strange patterns are linked to ‘global warming’ due to an abundance of ‘greenhouse gas emissions.’ Global warming does not mean that everywhere in the world is going to heat up, in some places it might even get colder. Among other contributors, global warming is the result of people adding too much carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere. Yes, global warming is not a natural phenomenon, but caused by the habits and actions of people. This addition of carbon dioxide results in more heat trapped between the surface of the Earth and the atmosphere (I apologize for getting technical here, please post if something is unclear).

‘Greenhouse gas emissions’ are the result of the burning of such gases as carbon dioxide, (the most widely used and concentrated gas), methane and nitrogen. The emissions from our cars, power plants, buildings, livestock, etc create this ‘greenhouse’ effect. The trapping of these gases, like I mentioned before, heats up the earth like an unnatural greenhouse. When the gases are trapped, along the heat from the sun, it warms the earth, melts the ice, messes with climates and creates the issues that change the way we have to live.

In other words, individually we have to cut our own carbon emissions in order to live more ‘sustainably.’ This doesn’t mean you have to give up your car forever or only eat foods that come from within 25 miles of your home year round; this is unreasonable. If we’re ever going to make a difference we have to start smaller. Even if all meat eaters ate beef only once a week that would be a huge improvement. Likewise, if everyone with cars used them fives times a week that would reduce about 1,600 pounds of carbon emissions per week per person according to the EPA.

The point is that you don’t have to change your life completely in order to reduce how much you contribute to global warming. For instance, I always use reusable bags when I go to the grocery store and I never buy coffee or tea unless I have my reusable mug with me (by the way, both of those make great gifts). These are easy ways to cut down on pointless trash. The good news is that these are easy changes we can make in our everyday lives. Making simple changes will bring more fireflies and simple summer nights for future generations.

Water, Water… Everywhere?

For those of us from the Midwest, we take great pride in the Great Lakes. Not only do we use them for enjoyment and economical purposes, but it is where many people get their drinking water. Every county within the Great Lakes Basin is permitted to take water, water from these areas flows back into the lakes naturally. The Great Lakes Water Compact is a group made up of the eight states and two Canadian Providences that border the lakes. This group upholds the Compact and makes decisions as a singular unit. This Compact was signed into law in October 2008.

The City of Waukesha is located just outside the basin in Waukesha county Wisconsin. This is the first request for use of the Great Lakes’ water from a community outside the basin. Waukesha is facing a uranium problem in their wells and is under a public mandate to find a new safe source of water before 2018. With the Mississippi River too far way and their aquifer contaminated Waukesha turned to the Great Lakes as their only option.

Last summer, public meetings were held to gain general opinion and answer questions. Several environmental groups in Wisconsin have urged this request to be denied. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has to approve the plan first before it is sent to the other ten officials for their approval. This group of ten will decide as a whole; one vote against this request means it will not go through.

What does this mean for the rest of us? If the City of Waukesha is granted access to Lake Michigan’s water, what’s to stop other counties further from the basin to ask for Great Lakes’ water? Fresh water is becoming scarce and it is a problem that the rising generation will need to solve. Levels in the Great Lakes are already falling each year, allowing a larger population access to the water will make this problem worse.

My Midwestern pride is not what drives my vote against this request, but my foresight into the future and my passion to protect the environment. People are not the only creatures that rely on the Great Lakes; various numbers of fish, plants and mammals would not survive without this freshwater system. Economically, fishing, recreational and shipping boats would not exist without there physically being water.

Similar to today’s dependency on oil, the dependency of tomorrow will be for fresh water. We’re already seeing it as residence in West Virginia went a week without water in January after their water was contaminated keeping them from even bathing in it. What would you do without any running water in your county for a week? In the West, the Colorado River no longer reaches the Gulf of California. This year will be the first year that the amount of water entering Lake Mead will be reduced. Everyone, the wealthy and less fortunate, will need to cut down on water usage.

While the issue of water is taunting and there is a way to stay afloat. We can all take shorter showers and maybe shower less often (better for your skin anyway), turn off water when brushing your teeth, use rainwater to water plants inside and outside, to name a few. Fresh water is a luxury; in the United States we’re lucky that most of us take it for granted. The battle for water will continue in Waukesha but it’s a war that is just starting worldwide.

12 Reasons Why 2016 was My Best Year Yet!

12 Reasons Why 2016 was My Best Year Yet!

There’s been several posts from Buzzfeed and other media outlets about how 2016 was a terrible year. And while there are definitely events and outcomes I wish had ended differently, 2016 for me was the best year yet and here’s why.

1. Passport Stamped:

In January I took my first trip abroad to Hong Kong. I went for work but had a couple days to explore Victoria Peak, Victoria Harbor and a fish market. I had never been out of the country before so Hong Kong will always be a special place for me.

2. Brewery Bucket List:

bells-brewery
Our meal at Bells: artisan cheese and meat board, pretzel bites and deviled eggs. Yum!

I’ve always loved Bells beer from Kalamazoo, MI so when my friends and I took a weekend to visit multiple breweries in the area and eat at Bells I was pumped. It’s been on my list of breweries I wanted to visit and it was a wonderful weekend with good friends and lots of fun.

3. Reunited with Kim:

Kim is my oldest friend and in April, while I was in Boston for work, I got to spend the weekend with her. It was great to see her and meet some of her friends. Not to mention explore the incredibly historical city of Boston.

4. Following Muir’s Footsteps:

John Muir is a corner stone of modern environmentalism. He spoke about preserving nature not for human benefit but for the benefit of nature itself. One of the stories I learned about several times was Muir’s involvement with Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park. It’s been a dream of mine since learning about it that I hike and visit Hetch Hetchy. Big thank you to my cousin Kevin who made it all possible this April. I already want to go back – next hike, Half Dome.

5. Home Sweet Home: 

Ever feel like you’re moving constantly, saving boxes for the next move and not really hanging anything up because you know it’s just temporary? No, just me? That all changed in May when at 24 I bought my first home, a condo in Chicago. It’s not so much that it’s cheaper than renting or that I can paint and change what I want to, it’s more that every time I walk through the door I feel home and I don’t need to save packing boxes anymore.

6. Passport Stamped Again: 

Relaxing at the Oriental Pearl Tower in Shanghai, China.
Relaxing at the Oriental Pearl Tower in Shanghai, China.

Lots of traveling this year (hope to keep that going in 2017 too). In July I traveled, on my own, to Shanghai, China. The purpose of my trip was to work an international trade show for the company I was working for. I learned a lot from working where I couldn’t always communicate with everyone, but I also learned a lot about myself from traveling alone to another country. If you ever have the opportunity – highly recommend it.

7. Runners High: 

14203144_10201253344473072_2944093111842384346_nLet me start by saying I have no desire to run a marathon, it’s too far and the first person to do it died afterward – no thank you. I do, however, want to run more 10ks and maybe a half marathon after running my first 10k in August. Maybe it was that it was the Big Ten 10k or that we got brats and beer afterward or that I ran it with one of my best friends. Either way I plan to do many more.

8. Golden Year: 

As you get older most people tend to hate their birthdays, not me. This year was my Golden Birthday, 25 on the 25th. And if this year tells me anything about my future birthdays, the best are yet to come.

9. One Hundred and Eight Years Later:

The day of the Cubs rally - 5th largest gathering in human history!
The day of the Cubs rally – 5th largest gathering in human history!

Part of the reason my birthday was so special this year is because I got to share it with the whole city of Chicago as we cheered on the Cubs to win their first World Series in 108 years. I feel fortunate to be alive during the incredible series and celebration. It was truly an entire city celebration with hardly any violence or arrests, everyone just thrilled to celebrate with their team.

10. On the Right Track: 

If you have a passion, an interest, something you want to pursue – go for it! I am happy to say that I am now working for a company with a mission and purpose inline with my own. I market energy efficiency solutions, something I think everyone should take advantage of in their homes. I waited for the opportunity that I wanted and I went after it, something you have to do in every aspect of your life.

11. What Do I Want?: 

I think this comes earlier for some people than for others, but this year I learned how to put myself first. By nature I tend to put others’ needs before mine and make sure everyone is okay before I am. While I am and forever will be the middle child with this need to make sure everyone is happy – I am doing a much better job making sure that I am happy. What a concept! 🙂

12. I am a Volunteer Again:

15267591_10201472751438109_6960391221784890510_n
#GivingTuesday is all about giving back and supporting causes you believe in.

During college I volunteered for the student organization REthink Wisconsin and I loved it. Promoting solutions to environmental issues. Well now I’ve found Green City Market. GCM runs a farmers market year round in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago. The best part of the market is that people using the Linc program, or food stamps, can shop at the market using their Linc card. GCM provides an opportunity for anyone to get local produce year round. It’s a fun atmosphere and amazing group of people. I hope to join their Junior Board in 2017.

12 months. 12 reasons. 1 great year. Maybe 2016 wasn’t you’re here but that’s the best part, starting next week or really whenever you want, you can restart, reset and make it your year. Happy New Year everyone and thank you for reading!

ARCHIVE: Great Lakes Update: S.S. Badger to Clean Up Its Act

In 2008 the Environmental Protection Agency gave the S.S. Badger, a ferry that takes passengers and their cars between Manitowoc, Wisconsin and Ludington, Michigan, four years to stop polluting Lake Michigan. During the trips, the coal powered ferry would dump the coal-ash straight into Lake Michigan. This pollution is harmful to the wildlife living in the lake, people who sell and eat the fish from the lake and communities who drink the Great Lakes water. As we know from my article, “Water, Water…Everywhere?” this impacts a lot of people. S.S. Badger responded to this demand by unsuccessfully implementing solution.

During the 2013 season, S.S. Badger was under much scrutiny for continuing to pollute in Lake Michigan; the EPA fined them. With the 2014 season just a month away, we’re seeing a much more promising attempt by S.S. Badger. A plan was released stating that during the 2014 season the ferry will be outfitted so that the coal-ash is stored onboard during the trip. The entire process will take most of the 2014 year and 2015 will be the first year of the completed project.

You might be thinking, I don’t live anywhere near Lake Michigan, why does where they dispose of their coal-ash matter to me? S.S. Badger began running their service in 1953, as a coal powered machine. That means they’ve been dumping coal-ash into the lake for 60 years (let’s assume that this year the pollution decreases). If you live anywhere with water that connects to Lake Michigan, that water is contaminated as well.

S.S. Badger is not the only source of coal pollution. Coal powered power plants give off over 140 million tons of coal-ash each year. Coal-ash is toxic containing mercury, lead and other metals. Exposure to large amounts of coal-ash raises the chance of being diagnosed with cancer, birth defects and asthma. The good news is that the EPA came out with new emission standards, which will result in the majority of coal-powered plants closing in the next two years.

For areas where there is still a large amount of coal-ash, the EPA came out with research that shows coal-ash can be used in concrete. Exposure to this concrete is not harmful because it is encapsulated. The EPA suggests that this will be sustainable use of coal-ash because not only does it find a place to get rid of the coal-ash but it also strengthens the concrete. Their study shows that concrete is more durable with the addition of coal-ash.

As emission standards become stricter and climate change becomes a higher priority (fingers crossed), individuals and companies will find ways to become more sustainable. In the case of S.S. Badger, creating less pollution will probably bring more business. If sustainability is not what drives you, think about what does, is there a more sustainable way that also benefits you?

I believe this is how sustainability will become more integrated. Individuals and companies don’t have to make changes with the climate or future generations in mind (although you could) instead they should make the changes that make the most sense for them. For example in Kansas, typically a conservative state without sustainability in mind, companies have switched over to renewable energies because it saves them money. Yes, in the long run switching to more sustainable practice does save money, but don’t have me convince you try it for yourself. Make a switch that works for you and ask yourself, was the change for the better and do you think it is a change you can stick with? If so great! If not maybe try something else.

It’s hard to change, took the S.S. Badger six years to really dedicate itself to changing their ways. Sustainability is not a change that will happen over night or even a year for that matter. It is a habit that takes time to dedicate yourself to. If we all made changes for a more sustainable habits, we’d all be sailing a little easier.