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:

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:

#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.

The Sustainable Side of Beer

The thing about beer is that even if you drink beer brewed in or near your town and you know their getting their hops from in state, the brewing process is not very sustainable. It takes about five barrels of water to produce one barrel of beer according to MillerCoors, who by the way are working on reducing their water use so that it only takes three barrels to produce one barrel of beer. In addition to the water use, the excess grain from brewing often goes to waste. This is all before the transportation involved to bring the hops and barley to the brewery and then the beer to bars and stores to be sold.

So what do we do, stop drinking beer and switch over to rice based alcohols? No, of course not, we figure out how to make beer sustainably. There are lots of breweries across the country doing some very cool things to make sure that they are using fewer resources to produce their beer and that their waste is being used in an efficient way.

New Belgium out of Fort Collins, Colorado where their brewery is 100% wind powered are also dedicated to reducing the amount of water used to brew their beer. Their goal for 2015 was to produce a little less than a barrel of beer (.85 barrels) with three barrels of water. That would be a huge improvement from the five it takes to produce beer now. They have also done lots of research to figure out the best way to package their beer. New Belgium’s results show that any container that can be recycled is best, glass bottles or cans – of course that means their drinkers have to recycle ☺.

During the brewing process, one of the first steps is called “Mashing” or “Mash”. This involves mashing or crushing the kernels of barley and hops so that all the nutrients and sugars are extracted and moved on to the next step. During this “Mashing” step, the leftover of the grains are called spent grain. Because all the nutrients have been taken out of the grain for the beer, spent grain is often seen as waste. In order to reduce their waste and find a purpose for the spent grain, breweries are working with farmers and bakeries.

Standing Stone Brewing Company in Ashland, Oregon has their own farm and found that they could use the spent grain to feed animals such as chickens. They are also thinking longer term by using the spent grain as a type of fertilizer in their “grain beds” that will be used to produce fruits and vegetables for the brewery in a few years.

On the other side of the country in Walland, Tennessee the Brewery at Blackberry Farm uses their spent grain to feed all the animals on the farm including chickens, pigs, llamas and sheep. This brewery is part of a larger resort and so the animals on the farm help produce fresh eggs, wool and meat for visitors of the resort. This system that Brewery at Blackberry Farm is using is a great sustainable system that not only recycles and uses all their spent grain but then it produces high quality local products.

Other breweries are donating their spent grain to farms in their areas to use for feed, some breweries found bakeries that can grind the spent grain further and use it as a flour in some of their baking. The exciting part is that finding purposes for spent grain is a recent development in brewing and it seems like it is catching on.

Maybe you’ve heard of or tried Alaskan Brewing Company (ABC) beer out of Juneau, Alaska – I highly recommend the Alaskan Amber if you like dark beers, it’s the smoothest beer you’ll ever try- they have developed the technology to power their brewery from spent grain. ABC learned early on that because of their remote location they could ship the spent grain to the Pacific Northwest for use at farms, which they have done for about 20 years, or find another use for it. In 2012 they introduced a boiler that runs on spent grain. With the introduction of this one of a kind boiler they estimate that they can reduce their oil use by over 65%. Since it takes more oil to distribute their beer, reducing the oil used in the brewing process helps their overall carbon footprint.

All these developments in improving beer brewing show that there really are unlimited possibilities in how to reduce carbon footprints and add sustainability into any business plan. Drinking beer is not something most of us probably plan on giving up, for sustainable reasons at least, but this shows that we don’t have to change our habits. We just need to think about it in a different way, a more creative way, so that we can continue doing what we love without damaging our planet or resources.

ARCHIVE: Great Lakes Update: Midsummer Status Report

This post is originally from July 2014. 

There’s nothing better than spending on summer day on the water. In the Midwest that means a kayak trip in Lake Superior, day sailing on Lake Michigan, fishing on Lake Huron, canoeing on Lake Erie and scuba diving in Lake Ontario. So what’s being done to care for the Great Lakes?

Earlier this summer President Obama proposed a five-year plan that improves protection of the Great Lakes. This plan will continue to research and solve problems such as, invasive species, loss of habitat, runoff that causes blue green algae and will consider how climate change plays a role in these issues. Accepting that climate change is playing a factor shows lots of growth, while we think about how to solve these complex problems. In addition to this plan, the Environmental Protection Agency continues to fund over 2,000 programs at non-profits and universities that address these same issues.

Just a few weeks ago the Illinois legislation voted on the issue of micro beads in cosmetics such as shampoos and body washes. Legislation, environmentalist and the manufacturers agree that the plastic beads need to be phased out. These plastic beads get washed down our drains and end up in our lakes and water systems and in the bellies of fish, birds and other wildlife. These beads are just the tip of the iceberg, after discovering the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and the amount of waste in the oceans; research teams took a closer look in the Great Lakes and found that the plastic found in Lake Erie was twice as much as the average amount of plastic found in the oceans, per square mile. Phasing out cosmetics that use plastic micro beads will help reduce this pollution.

Using a penny to scale, this is the size of the plastic micro beads found in the Great Lakes. 

Back in February, Beacon readers learned about the Great Lakes Water Compactand it’s dedication to conserving the water and resources of the Great Lakes. Counties and cities within the Great Lakes water basin, areas where the water naturally drains into, are permitted to use, drink and draw water from the Great Lakes. The city of Waukesha lies outside this basin and last summer requested permission to draw water from Lake Michigan for their residents. Their current supply is not only running low but also becoming contaminated.

Right now the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is going over the application. All eight states and both Canadian providences also need to approve of the application. One major reason why many governors and states are not in favor of this application because Waukesha does not only intend for this water to supply current residents, but also for residents as the city expands, about 45% more water than they use now.

For the last few decades, the biggest issue around the Great Lakes is water levels. The last decade or so has seen the lowest levels in years, but this year Midwesterners are seeing a rise in water levels. Lake Superior, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron are all up about a foot higher than they were last summer and Lakes Ontario and Erie are up a half a foot from last summer. Reasons for this include the large amount of snow and ice cover this last winter and heavy rains this summer. This rise in water levels not only gives lake lovers more to appreciate, but it’s also good for the cargo ships, fishermen, tourism among other industries.

Environmental problems are complex, there is not one simple answer and none of these issues are solved over night, but taking victories like the ones mentioned in this article show that solutions do exist. It’s great news that the government is working on plans to protect our natural resources and it’s even better news that organizations and nonprofits are working on it too. Many of these programs have volunteer opportunities allowing anyone to get involved. Plastic pollution in our lakes is an issue you can tackle the next time you go shopping. When you purchase shampoo, body wash or lotions read the label carefully to make sure they’re using salts or organic materials such as fruit seeds or pits. As the summer continues to get hotter, hopefully anyway, we’ll need to be mindful of our water usage to help conserve the water in the Great Lakes. We’re getting closer with each victory, stay positive folks!