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20 COMPANIES THAT WILL CHANGE THE WORLD

I T ’ S E A S Y BE I N G G R E E N

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FEBRUARY/MARCH 2007

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THE URBAN JUNGLE


PLENTY IT’S EASY BEING GREEN

40

ON THE COVER 26 34 36 40 49 56

High-rise farming Hidden city species Eco travel gear Bhutan 20 companies Metro birders

2 | Feb/Mar/07 plentymag.com

FEATURES 40

HAPPY TOGETHER Tradition meets modernity in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. BY KATE SIBER

49

THE PLENTY 20 From small start-ups to Fortune 500 companies, these businesses are pushing the eco envelope and changing the world. BY DANIELLE WOOD

56

BEYOND PIGEONS Bird watching catches on in the urban jungle. BY SUSAN M. BRACKNEY

PHOTOGRAPH BY KATE SIBER

CONTENTS FEBRUARY/MARCH 2007


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FORWARD 17

FAST A club powered by dancing; how the U.S. consumes energy; a crash course in home geothermal systems; how to ditch junk mail.

24

PEOPLE Wal-Mart’s Tyler Elm explains the retail giant’s environmental initiatives. BY RICHARD BRADLEY

26

TECHNOLOGY Growing food in skyscrapers? Some say it’s possible.

28

BUSINESS The Chicago Climate Exchange is taking off. Will it soar? BY KIERA BUTLER

30

MOTION Willie Nelson brings biofuel to the eighteen-wheeler crowd. BY PHILIP ARMOUR

32

THINKING Kim Stanley Robinson’s Sixty Days and Counting; Boston’s Urban Pantheist; new and noteworthy books.

36

63

GREEN GEAR From suitcases to sunglasses, these eco travel products will make you want to hit the road again.

CHOICES 63

HOME A Nova Scotia house is tucked among glacial boulders. BY DAVID SOKOL

66

CULTURE Online communities for

49

30

the eco set. BY JOSHUA M. BERNSTEIN

68

Cover illustration by

RETREADS A crafter turns used

C.J. BURTON

zippers into textured still lifes. BY DEBORAH SNOONIAN

70

STYLE An apparel company takes sustainability to the next level; eco-friendly jeans.

74

HEALTH Is your neighborhood mak-

76

FOOD How to eat local foods during

ing you sick? BY CHRISTINE DELL’AMORE

79

the winter; artisanal peanut butters.

IN EVERY ISSUE

CHEAT SHEET What to do with

6 8 12 14

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80

THE LAST WORD The Inspector. BY RAGAN SUTTERFIELD

4 | Feb/Mar/07 plentymag.com

Plenty Online From the Editor Contributors Letters

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(CLOCKWISE FROM TOP) PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY R. MANUEL SCHNELL; PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY JIM HERRINGTON; ILLUSTRATION BY MATT BANDSUCH

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PLENTY

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CAN’T WAIT... FOR THE NEXT ISSUE OF PLENTY TO ARRIVE? FEAR NOT: PLENTYMAG.COM CAN QUENCH YOUR DAILY THIRST FOR ENVIRONMENTAL NEWS, COMMENTARY, AND MORE.

Plenty TV

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The future of eco TV has arrived. Learn about the history of oil propaganda; find out what’s so green about a New York–based pickle producer; and meet environmental superstars like Martin Eberhard of Tesla Motors and retro superhero Captain Planet. All this and more—from the comfort of your laptop.

Breaking news, book and movie reviews, and features on topics from politics and technology to green cuisine and sustainable design. In January, look for our political series on the new Congress, where we’ll bring you profiles of key politicians and the laws that are defining the future of the environment.

Every week, Plenty brings eco comedy straight to your MP3 player. Sing along to “The Hemp Song”; listen to Karl Rove explain environmentalism and religion; and hear the animal kingdom weigh in on global warming.

› The Current Staff editors make your daily dose of environmental news taste good.

› Green Gear Daily reviews of the coolest eco-friendly gear on the market.

› Action Plenty guides you to green events in your neighborhood and beyond.

› A Farmer’s Notebook Sustainable farmer Ragan Sutterfield sends dispatches from Adama Farm in the mountains of central Arkansas.

6 | Feb/Mar/07 plentymag.com


F R O M T HE E D I TOR

An End to Corruption now that the democratic party controls both houses of Congress, the environmental landscape has changed significantly. Environmentalists don’t have to worry so much about blocking bad legislation— instead, they can start thinking about what they actually want to do. So what should enviros be wishing for in the new year? There are a number of issues that call for attention—global warming, declining fish populations, and endangered species, to name just a few. But a good place to start might be more fundamental: reforming Congress. Voters last fall named the Iraq war and corruption as the primary reasons they voted Republicans out. As for the former, Congress will likely let President Bush try to figure his own way out of the disaster he’s created in Iraq. For the latter, though, they shouldn’t be nearly so laissez-faire. Enviromentalists in particular have been rightly outraged by the actions of Bush and Congress. Environmental laws have been weakened or overlooked, and Bush has consistently given top jobs at the EPA and the Department of Energy to industry cronies who are more concerned about padding their profits than safeguarding the health of our citizens or protecting our natural resources. These special interests, and the lobbyists who do their dirty work, have grown much too powerful in recent years. It’s time for a change. In January 2006 Democratic leaders unveiled the not-so-subtly named Honest Leadership and Open Government Act. It would tighten rules on lobbying by former legislators, limit gifts and travel from lobbyists, and make many Congressional proceedings more transparent. Ideas to reform Congress are as old as the institution itself, and many of the more recent ones, including this act, revolve around congressional earmarks—specific line items in a spending bill that have become the primary vehicle for congressional pork or special interest funding. The Honest Leadership and Open Government Act won’t completely put a stop to unfair influence or pork barrel spending—but it’s a start. It’s likely that the next two years will be characterized more by gridlock than ground-breaking legislation, as was the case during Clinton’s last two years in office. Back then, there was no way the Republicans were going to allow Clinton to claim any major victories; the Democrats will likely give Bush the same treatment. By the same token, it’s unlikely that Bush will pander much to the Democrats, and he’ll use his veto power to make it difficult to pass any comprehensive environmental legislation.

8 | Feb/Mar/07 plentymag.com

But why not reform House and Senate rules so that crucial environmental legislation isn’t stymied by special interest groups? Though none of the proposed changes will completely insulate Congress, we can certainly improve on the current situation. Efforts to limit the impact of lobbyists and attempts to make the legislative process more transparent should be pursued. Representative Nancy Pelosi, the new speaker of the house, has committed to passing some version of the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act in the new term. Let’s hope she can pull it off. Lobbyists who represent companies from Industrial Revolutions past will always have the most money to spend to woo legislators—but as last fall’s election proved, voters have the power to bounce the lawmakers who listen to them too closely. One of the worst forms of corruption is the despoliation of our natural resources, as it usually involves taking things in the public domain and using them for private gain. If we are ever going to put our non-renewable resources to their best use, we are going to have to change the way Congress works; it alone has the power to draft the legislation that can protect these valuable and irreplaceable goods.

MARK SPELLUN Editor-in-Chief


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PLENTY EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

Mark Spellun

EDITORIAL

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C0 N T R I B U TOR S

MATT BANDSUCH Illustrator Matt Bandsuch (“The Plenty 20,” page 49) has done work for many national publications, including The New York Times, Premiere magazine, and The Atlantic Monthly. His illustrations have also been featured in several American Illustration annuals and in gallery exhibitions nationwide. Matt lives in Chicago with his wife, Mary, and says his son, Hugh, is the best thing he has ever made.

JESSA CRISPIN Writer Jessa Crispin (“Page Turner with a Point,” page 32) lives the dream of every English major across the country— as the editor and founder of Bookslut.com, a literary webzine, she reads books for a living. Her home is in Chicago, and on occasion she is actually there. During the winter, however, she is more likely to be found visiting her sister in Texas or reading on the beach of a Spanish-speaking nation.

RAGAN SUTTERFIELD After studying philosophy in college, Ragan Sutterfield (“The Inspector,” page 80) decided to become a student of the wisdom of pigs, sheep, cows, and chickens by opening a farm in the mountains of central Arkansas. He has learned a great deal from animals, including his pigs, who taught him that lying in a mud wallow is the best way to achieve happiness. Ragan is also a food activist and farm advocate, serving as a board member of the Arkansas Farm Community Alliance and appearing frequently as a guest at events about sustainable agriculture and local foods. His writing has appeared in a variety of publications, including Books & Culture, Farming, and Chow, and he keeps a blog, “A Farmer’s Notebook,” on Plenty’s website.

SUSAN M. BRACKNEY Bloomington, Indiana–based Susan M. Brackney (“Beyond Pigeons,” page 56) confesses that she never paid much attention to birds until she found herself living with one. “He was a rescued cockatoo named Puckitt, and I was smitten and fascinated,” she says. “Now I notice birds everywhere and really appreciate all of them.” Her last feature for Plenty was “Adventures in Beekeeping” (February/March 2006, page 72). Susan has covered nature, gardening, and sustainability issues for Wildlife Conservation and Boys’ Life and is a frequent contributor to Country Living Gardener, Hobby Farms, and other publications. She’s also the author of three non-fiction books, including The Lost Soul Companion.

12 | Feb/Mar/07 plentymag.com


LE T T ER S

“I AM CONFIDENT THAT VERY SOON, EVEN BY 2008, BOTH MAJOR POLITICAL PARTIES WILL CONSIDER ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT NATIONAL IDEALS AND GOALS.”

THE PARTY OF CONSERVATION Thank you for the interview with Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (“A Green’s Goodbye,” October/November 2006), and for pointing out that the Republican Party is the original party of conservation. It has only been during the past two and half decades that conservation has been crowded off our platform to make room for a singular form of capitalism. Fortunately, Republicans who care about the environment are beginning to remake history in Washington, D.C., and in state capitals. Our organization, Republicans for Environmental Protection, has a growing membership that is brimming with community, local, and state leaders who are climbing the party’s ladder and who will displace our inattentive or ineffectual leaders.

14 | Feb/Mar/07 plentymag.com

I am confident that very soon, even by 2008, both major political parties will consider environmental protection one of the most important national ideals and goals. ROBERT C. SISSON MAYOR, CITY OF STURGIS STURGIS, MI

CERTIFYING COFFEE Plenty’s recent story on sustainable coffee (“Cool Beans,” December/January 2007) is a sign of the times. Rainforest Alliance, fair trade, organic, and other sustainable labels have become much more pervasive recently. In the U.S., Rainforest Alliance–certified coffee is now sold at large chain retailers like Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club, and through major supermarket brands like Kraft, at prices competitive with non-certi-

fied brands. Sustainable coffee has become big business, harnessing global market forces to the greening of the coffee sector as it captures new market share. At first consideration, Juan Valdez or WalMart or Kraft may seem like questionable purveyors of sustainability, and may lead concerned consumers to ask the question on Plenty’s last cover: “Is This Activism?” The answer can be found on coffee farms here in Colombia and elsewhere, where the mainstreaming of sustainable certification has resulted in environmental protection and a better life for millions of workers and their families. Scalability is the whole point of certification, which aims to achieve market-driven global impact by transforming the practices of entire industries. Beans from Rainforest Alliance–certified farms are sold to large and small companies, from small traders and specialty roasters to giants like Kraft, Lavazza, and Procter and Gamble. Large companies make up a major portion of the industry, so the urgency of the mission to spread best practices globally absolutely requires their participation. ELSA MATILDE ESCOBAR EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, FUNDACIÓN NATURA BOGOTÁ, COLOMBIA

MAKING ECO DONATIONS COUNT Thanks for Liz Galst’s piece on today’s environmental philanthropy (“The Imperfect Gift,” December/January 2007). She’s right: The big environmental organizations are doing good things, but are really not a donor’s best investment. To realize the most change per buck, both individuals and big donors must look to the true grassroots organizations—those whose annual budgets are slimmer than even the smallest mentioned in the article ($2 million). Most directors of grassroots groups would faint at the suggestion of such a budget! Of the 1,000 organizations in the Orion Grassroots Network, only a fraction have budgets bigger than that, yet they make a dollar go much further than the big environmental groups. And the member groups’ issue-areas are so varied that a donor can aid very specific causes, from water quality and urban gardening to social justice and sustainability. There’s strength in numbers, in the great multitude of small and savvy groups committed to doing such good work in their home places. And with more than 100,000 such grassroots


groups estimated to be at work in the U.S. on these topics, donors have the potential to make a big impact. ERIK HOFFNER ORION GRASSROOTS NETWORK GREAT BARRINGTON, MA

WHICH FATS ARE HEALTHY? I’m not an expert, but I have certain ideas about foods that I would like to see reflected in your magazine in the future. First of all, I applaud Plenty’s coverage of an omnivorous diet. I try to eat according to Paleolithic and traditional diets,

including pasture-fed dairy, eggs, and meat. I don’t feel modern technology has improved the health of our foods, and in fact, feel that it has taken away from them to a large extent. This is why I disagree with the inclusion of canola oil, soy oil, and other vegetable oils on the list of healthy fats (“The Lowdown on Lipids,” December/January 2007). From the perspective of those who eat like me, vegetable oils are not traditional sources of fats, and in fact, required modern technology for their invention. The traditional fats include butter and lard; I believe olive oil and

sesame oil are healthful as well, as they are monounsaturated fats (not polyunsaturated, like veggie oil). Tropical oils, which are high in saturated fats, are also healthy in my book. I won’t even mention the fact that canola oil is particularly controversial because of its association with Monsanto and its overtaking the canola industry with its genetically modified crops (which invade organic crops as well). I would also like to address the issue of frying. Ms. Wharton claims that “[vegetable oils] can be used to fry at high temperatures or sauté without adding a strong flavor.” I strongly oppose

the recommendation of sautéing or frying at high temperatures. Cooking at high temperatures releases acrylamides, a known carcinogen, particularly in starchy foods like potatoes. French fries, for example, contain 300 times the levels allowed by the EPA for drinking water. LAUREEN PARK AVENEL, NJ

Editor’s note: While acrylamides are a known carcinogen, they have only been proven to cause cancer in lab animals. For a lengthier treatment of the subject, see “Food Fight” in our August/September 2006 issue.

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Dance Dance Revolution what if we could harness all the energy generated on the dance floor each week? A Dutch architecture firm intends to do just that. “Sustainable Dance Club,” a project created by the Rotterdam firm Doll, along with enviro non-profit Enviu, aims to transform clubs by incorporating ecofeatures such as paperless marketing, rainwaterflushing toilets, and green rooftop lounges. But the pièce-de-résistance will be a dance floor that uses energy from the dancers’ movements to

make electricity. At the moment, the floor is little more than a glorious vision. But Enviu hopes to present a working prototype later this year, and the group says it’s started development with two clubs in Rotterdam. To kick things off, Enviu and Doll invited 1,400 scenesters to Rotterdam’s Off Corso club this fall to drink organic beer, check out a sustainable art installation, and dance in the glow of power-saving LED lights (below). —Jacquelyn Lane

FAST FACTS | FIGURES

plentymag.com Feb/Mar/07 | 17


FAST

BY THE NUMBERS

POWER TRIP 3 hours Length of time a television set could run on the energy saved by recycling one soda can

4 hours Length of time a 100-watt lightbulb could remain lit with the energy saved by recycling one beer bottle

17 trees + 7,000 gallons of water Amount of resources that could be saved by recycling one ton of paper

750 hours Average life span of an incandescent lightbulb

Sources: Energy Information Administration; Environmental Protection Agency; “Energy Facts” Earth911.org; U.S. Dept. of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy; Department of Energy; Energy Star; Census.gov

Claim Check Can ozone-infused water remove pesticides from fruits and veggies?

18 | Feb/Mar/07 plentymag.com

ads for ozone rinsing systems, which infuse water with the naturally occurring gas, have been popping up on television, in magazines, and on YouTube. At around $200, the appliances are on the pricey side—but some manufacturers claim that their ozone rinses will make conventional fruits and vegetables as pesticidefree as those grown organically. As one company says, “With the Lotus system, expensive ‘organic’ isn’t the only way to enjoy food with less pesticides!” Are they telling the truth?

The claims: Ozone-infused water is a

chemical-free way to remove pesticides and kill microbes on food and household items. The facts: It’s true that ozone can degrade pesticides. It attacks bacteria, plant pathogens, and animal parasites without harming healthy cells or leaving chemical residue. For decades, many municipal drinking-water systems have used ozone instead of chlorine to kill bacteria, and in 2001, the Food and Drug Administration approved it as an antimicrobial agent on food. But while the idea


Burning Question 10,000 hours

$684

Average lifespan of a compact fluorescent lightbulb (CFL)

Average annual household bill for powering lights and home appliances

$30

$266

Amount a single Energy Star 13-watt CFL saves in energy costs each year

Average annual household bill for heating hot water

$16.8 billion

Percentage of U.S. energy generated by:

Amount the U.S. would save on energy costs if every household replaced five incandescent bulbs with CFLs

$798 Average annual household bill for heating and air conditioning systems

SHOULD ENVIRONMENTALISTS SUPPORT NUCLEAR ENERGY? BRUNO COMBY Founder and president of Environmentalists for Nuclear (EFN)

Environmentalists who pretend our world would be better without nuclear energy are shortsighted. In a world where energy is running short, conservation is obviously a top priority, and the development of renewable energies should be encouraged. Nuclear is the only option that is safe, clean, emits no carbon dioxide, and is abundant enough to ensure the continuation of modern civilization while reversing the trend of climate change. ALEX STEFFEN

50% Nuclear: 19% Natural Gas: 19% Hydro: 6% Petroleum: 3% Wind: 0.34% Solar: 0.014%

behind these products is sound, very little independent testing has been done to see if they really work. Two systems were tested by the University of Maine and shown to effectively remove microbes from blueberries, but neither worked as well as distilled water. In a separate test by Microbiotest (a private lab used by the

Coal:

Editor of Worldchanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century

Nuclear energy is a failure of the imagination. The idea that the best we can do to fight global warming is to embrace a 50-year-old technology seems to me to be admitting creative bankruptcy. PATRICK MOORE Chair and chief scientist of Greenspirit Strategies and former head of Greenpeace

The solution to meeting future energy needs is an aggressive move towards renewables, plus nuclear energy. It is the only non-greenhouse-gas-emitting power source that can effectively replace fossil fuels and satisfy growing demand. Renewables do have an important role to play, but they alone cannot provide our baseload electricity, because they are unreliable and intermittent.

FDA and EPA), another brand, the Lotus, seemed to work better, removing 99 percent of microbes from produce. When it comes to pesticide removal, though, there’s less evidence that these machines work well. Only the Lotus has been independently tested for its performance, and it did reduce (but didn’t eliminate) pesticide residue. On the other

hand, research shows that plain water can also significantly decrease pesticide residue. Unfortunately, it seems no one has yet compared ozone systems and tap water head-to-head. The conclusion: Although the science behind

these products is credible, we can’t vouch for any specific system. No matter how well a product removes pesticides and microbes from produce, we suggest buying organic. That way there’s no doubt you and the environment are spared from pesticide exposure. —Alisa Opar

plentymag.com Feb/Mar/07 | 19


FAST 2. Liquid enters compressor and heat exchanger

1. Underground pipes

3. Warm or cool air blows into the home

Enviro 101 GEOTHERMAL HEATING AND COOLING geothermal heating and cooling technology has been around for decades, but not many people use it—compared to a conventional heat pump, it’s expensive to install. But if you’re building a new house, installing a geothermal system will only cost a few thousand dollars more than a conventional system and can pay off big through reduced energy and upkeep costs. HERE’S HOW IT WORKS:

A liquid, usually treated water or an antifreeze mixture, is pumped through a series of pipes (1) installed (either in a verti-

20 | Feb/Mar/07 plentymag.com

cal or horizontal position) in the ground. When the liquid reaches a compressor (2), it will either be warmer or cooler than the air outside, depending on the time of year. It is pumped into a heat exchanger that transfers the temperature of the liquid to the air, which is then blown through vents (3) in the home. How does this reduce energy costs? Unlike air, soil doesn’t experience dramatic swings in temperature—it averages about 55 degrees year-round in seasonal regions in the U.S. (warmer in southern climates and cooler in northern climates). So when the temperature outside is 30 degrees, it’s much

more efficient for your compressor to extract heat from the ground than from the air. And because the process heats your home during the winter and cools it during the summer, a geothermal system can replace both heating systems and air conditioners (it can be outfitted to heat water as well). The technology works best in areas with pronounced seasonal high and low temperatures and good soil for heat transfer. And because the compressor is located indoors, it won’t be as susceptible to exposure damage as conventional central air units, which need to be replaced every 10 to 15 years.

ILLUSTRATION BY ALEX BEC


FAST UPCOMING EVENTS FEBRUARY For a sneak peek at green car design, check out the Chicago Auto Show (February 9 to 18), the oldest one in North America. Visitors will get to feast their eyes on over 1,000 snazzy vehicles and concept cars. Last year, Ford, GM, Toyota, and BMW all unveiled models with eco-friendly features. (chicagoautoshow.com) Bike lovers take notice! Up to 100 vendors will participate in the 2007 Seattle Bike Swap (February 18). With new and used bikes, and all related gear on sale at bargain prices, it will be the Black Friday of bike shopping. (pazzovelo.com)

The Chicago Auto Show is the oldest in North America.

MARCH

Fresh

Walking Recycling Robot Low-Carbon Clooney’s Tesla

Fading

Segway Vacuuming Robot Low-Carb Arnold’s Hummers

Fertilizer

Razor RoboCop Low-Fat Ken Kesey’s Further

What percentage of renewable energy consumed in the U.S. is geothermal?

a.15% b.10% c. 6% d. 2%

Plenty Tip Junk the Junk Mail Flyers, credit card applications, and coupon books aren’t only annoying, they use trees and add to the waste stream. But stopping them is next to impossible. You’d need to contact the Direct Marketing Association, credit bureaus, and catalog distributors individually. Who has that kind of time? There’s a better way vanquish junk mail. Two new organizations, 41Pounds.org and Greendimes.com, will contact direct marketers and other companies

22 | Feb/Mar/07 plentymag.com

on your behalf and have them remove your name from mailing lists. Both companies also take extra steps to preserve the environment: Greendimes plants one tree a month for each of its members, while 41Pounds donates over half its profits to environmental groups, local schools, and youth groups. Membership fees are modest—41Pounds charges $41 for five years of coverage, and Greendimes costs $36 a year or $360 for a lifetime membership.

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY WYNDELL LONG (TOP)

For a more intimate gathering, hit the Hazel Wolf Environmental Film Festival in Seattle (March 30 to April 1). This year’s themes include climate change, peak oil, and Hurricane Katrina. (hazelfilm.org)

POP QUIZ

Answer: C, 6%. That’s not a lot, but it ranks way ahead of wind and solar, which together generate less than 3% of our renewable energy. The vast majority is generated by biomass and hydroelectric.

Stop by the Environmental Film Festival (March 15 to 25) in Washington, D.C., a ten-day film smorgasbord with more than 20,000 people in attendance. Choose among 100-plus documentaries and features, including Cracking the Ocean Code, a researcher’s quest to unlock the genetic secrets of the world’s oceans, and an in-progress documentary about E.O. Wilson. (dcenvironmentalfilmfest.org)


Light the way.

Pledge to make your next light an ENERGY STAR速 at energystar.gov/changealight and join a growing number of people doing their part to preserve energy resources and help reduce the risks of global climate change. With your help, others will surely follow. Change a Light. Change the World. ENERGY STAR is administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Energy.


F O R WAR D P E O P L E

Big Changes at the Big Box with its massive stores and incessant promotion of throwaway consumer goods, Wal-Mart has long been anathema to the environmental community. But recently the retailer has taken a high-profile plunge into greenery, designing less-wasteful stores and pledging to increase the fuel efficiency of its vehicles by 25 percent. It has also become the world’s largest seller of organic milk and buyer of organic cotton. Should environmentalists take a fresh look at Wal-Mart? To find out, Plenty talked with Tyler Elm, a conservation biologist who became a key orchestrator of Wal-Mart’s green makeover. How did an environmentalist start working for Wal-Mart?

I have an undergraduate degree in earth and biological sciences and a Master’s in resource and environmental management. I worked as a conservation biologist for five years in the forest of British Columbia. Then I got my MBA and started trying to bring the business side and the environmental side together. What is your job?

As senior director of corporate strategy and sustainability, I have three tasks. One is to develop a business strategy of sustainability. The second is to develop mechanisms to integrate sustainability into the business. The last is to get the business to start seeing sustainability as a way to help drive profit.

ters, self-distribution. We grew tremendously. But that emphasis often resulted in a disconnect in how we were perceived. So where does sustainability fit in?

We see a lot of opportunity here—it’s profitability and the opportunity to do good. What changes will Wal-Mart customers see?

They might see buildings constructed in a different way. Years ago, we had a vinyl-based floor that was waxed. We now have highgloss, polished concrete floors. The business benefit of the newer floors is that they’re lowmaintenance. The environmental benefit is that you don’t have the vinyl or the chemicals for maintenance.

BY RICHARD BRADLEY

Wal-Mart is making a huge push into organics.

There’s a lot happening there. We’re expanding a locally-grown, locally-sold program. Is it good to have an organic tomato in Arkansas that’s grown in California and flown across the country? What’s the greenhouse gas imprint of that tomato versus something that’s sold and grown in Arkansas? Here’s another example: peaches. Historically, they were grown in California and shipped all over the country, and the average distance from California to the East Coast was 2,800 miles. When you think that trucks were getting six miles to the gallon…. We now have nine growing regions, and the average distance from farm to store is 300 miles. We’re saving over 7,000 barrels of diesel fuel a year on peaches alone. Are you responding to demand for organics or creating it?

Customers demand a fresh, quality product. And when it’s grown locally, people want to support that—especially if it doesn’t cost them more.

That’s pretty subtle. What else?

In our company’s early years, the business model that worked was for Wal-Mart to serve the underserved in small communities. In the ’90s, the goal was to exploit the business model—everyday low prices, being an agent for the customer, the concept of super-cen-

‘‘

Most of our stores have daylight harvesting. If you look up, you’ll see skylights. That means that the lights in the store actually dim in accordance with the daylight outside, which both reduces greenhouse gas emissions and is good for the business.

YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE TO LIVE IN NEW YORK OR SAN FRANCISCO TO BUY PRODUCTS THAT ARE HEALTHFUL AND GOOD FOR THE PLANET.” —TYLER ELM

24 | Feb/Mar/07 plentymag.com

For a discounter like Wal-Mart, the high price of organics must be challenging.

Sustainability has traditionally been a white, elitist issue. We’re trying to integrate it with the low-cost business model. You shouldn’t have to live in New York or San Francisco to buy products that are healthful and good for the planet. Some environmentalists say that Wal-Mart is really just trying to clean up its image.

I’m keeping track of how many stakeholders from the environmental community, instead of standing outside throwing rocks, are now inside helping us resolve issues.

PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY WAL-MART STORES, INC.

Can you translate that?


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Photovoltaic panels provide energy for Wal-Mart’s experimental store in Aurora, Colorado.

8IBUTUIFBOTXFS Wal-Mart has 1.8 million employees worldwide. Are you turning them all into environmentalists?

Starting next year, we’re incorporating [awareness of sustainability issues] into employee evaluations. We’re also doing something called the Personal Sustainability Plan—encouraging people to ride their bikes to work, use compact uorescent lightbulbs, carry a Nalgene bottle for drinking water.

Is it working?

For some employees and customers, this type of thinking is new. Take lightbulbs. On average, people spend less than seven seconds making the decision to buy a lightbulb, so getting them to change their habits isn’t as simple as you might think. But when you have 136 million people going through your stores every week, the potential impact is phenomenal. â–

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+PJOVTUPEBZ   5PKPJOBOEmOEPVU NPSFBCPVUXIBU QSPEVD UTUPBWPJE  HPUPX X XSBJOGPSFTUSFMJFGPSH


High-tech high-rises could house the farms of the future.

26 | Feb/Mar/07 plentymag.com

ILLUSTRATION BY ROLF MOHR (MACHINEFILMS.COM); COURTESY OF CHRIS JACOBS (UNITEDFUTURE.COM)

F O R WAR D TE C H


The Farmer in the High-Rise Growing food in skyscrapers? Some scientists say it’s possible. in the next 50 years, the U.N. estimates the world’s population will reach roughly nine billion people, and the vast majority will live in cities. Feeding those hungry mouths, experts say, will require clearing an additional ten billion hectares for farming—that’s an area roughly the size of Brazil. But Dickson Despommier, a microbiologist at Columbia University, doesn’t believe that chopping down the world’s forests to make new farmland is the answer to easing potential food shortages. Instead, he wants to bring farming to the places where most consumers and supermarkets are—namely, cities. Forget community gardens and the occasional greenhouse; Despommier and a team of his students propose farming in skyscrapers, or “vertical farms.” They envision 30-story buildings that each take up a city block and grow enough food for 50,000 people per year. “It’s not just a way of generating food,” says Despommier. “It’s a way of dealing with municipal waste, recycling water, and using methane digestion to help a city be sustainable.” According to his scheme, both animal and plant life could thrive indoors. Fish such as tilapia, trout, and striped bass would live in the pond on the ground floor, while fruits and vegetables would be grown hydroponically, without the use of soil, on upper floors. Wastewater from the fish tanks would be transported to the basement where, along with drain water from showers and sinks, it would be treated and then used to fill the fishponds and hydroponic tanks. Water containing human wastes and other organic material would pass through a methane reactor to create energy to power the building. With no need for pesticides or food transportation, and the ability to produce multiple crops in a season (six corn harvests, for example, instead of one), the vertical farm sounds like an eco-cornucopia. Although this smacks of science fiction, industries operating on a similar principle are

BY ALISA OPAR

already up and running. In 2001, the Dutch Meanwhile, Despommier and his students agriculture minister supported building a are refining their design by incorporating vertical farm in Rotterdam called Deltapark, new technology. For example, aeroponic in response to flooding farmland, livestock technology—plants grown in an enclosed, diseases such as swine fever, and growing agsterile chamber that retains mist and ricultural pollution. Though the park hasn’t heat—grows plants faster than either hydrobeen built, the idea of linking several indusponic technology or plain old soil. And using tries together to reduce the environmental windows coated with titanium oxide, which burden of agriculture has become increasbreaks down dirt and causes water to form ingly popular, says Jan Broeze, the Wageninsheets (instead of droplets) would clean the gen University scientist who dreamed up panes as they flowed down the surface. Deltapark. “If you cluster various activities, Despite the environmental benefits, Angela like greenhouses, fish farming, and manure Caudle, executive director of the Internationprocessing, then you create a sufficient scale al Federation of Organic Agriculture Movefor more sustainable food production,” says ment, is not convinced that vertical farming Broeze, who is working with a group of is the way to achieve sustainability. “The farmers in Holland to link a chicken farm, a technological solution distracts from our manure processing system, and greenhouses. human connection to agriculture and food “The idea is to use wastes from one industry production,” she says. “I can appreciate an to sustain another.” attempt to find sustainable ways to deal with In the U.S., however, the idea has generproducing more food for more people, but ated interest but not capital. “The probfor me this is kind of like laboratory food.” lem is that nobody wants to be first,” says Others, however, would be keen on buying Despommier. “I think this will arise when the food. “We’re trying to buy as local as possomeone realizes that they can make a lot sible, and you can’t get much more local than of money.” He compares the vertical farm that,” says Allen Zimmerman, produce buyer to the hybrid car, which “now everybody for the Brooklyn-based Park Slope Food is producing. They aren’t Co-op, which has more than doing it for the sake of the 12,000 members. A vertical farm could feed 50,000 people per year. Here’s environment; they’re doing For now, the vertical farm is a look at some of the crops that it to make money.” “a think piece,” says Despomcould be produced (in tons). Vertical farms will likely mier. There are still enormous Wheat 456 become more economically obstacles to overcome, includCucumber 911 viable in the coming years, ing cost and what he terms Lettuce 1,003 according to John Ikerd, an “political lull.” The answer, he Peppers 1,368 Eggplant 1,495 agricultural economist at the suggests, is to get the G-8 naStrawberries 1,514 University of Missouri-Cotions to pool their resources, Carrots 2,336 lumbia. “There will be even or a foundation to provide the Soybeans 3,285 greater economic opportuinitial funding for a vertical Spinach 3,285 Potatoes 3,833 nities in the future, as the farm in a country where it’s prices of industrial foods rise, desperately needed. After that, markets for local and sustainably produced Despommier believes the idea will take off. foods grow, and production systems for “The pieces all exist out there, they just need vertical farms become more efficient through to be put together,” he says. “Then, the waste research and practical experience,” he says. streams could turn into profit streams.” ■

plentymag.com Feb/Mar/07 | 27


F O R WAR D BU S I N E S S

Cash for Carbon The Chicago Climate Exchange is taking off. But will it soar? BY KIERA BUTLER

traditionally, the giant chemical manufacturer DuPont has not exactly been an insider in environmental circles. But it is one of a growing number of companies that realize green measures save money; since 1990, DuPont’s energy reduction program has saved the company $3 billion. And in the past few years, the company’s reductions have not only made for savings—they’ve also generated income. In January of 2003, DuPont became a founding member of the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX), the nation’s only voluntary greenhouse gas emissions trading marketplace. Although DuPont will not discuss the specifics, it is public knowledge that every year the company has surpassed its reduction targets. What’s more, DuPont has sold its extra allowances and made a profit. “We wanted to see whether trading works, whether it can be done efficiently, in a way that makes sense,” says Ed

28 | Feb/Mar/07 plentymag.com

Mongan, the company’s energy and environment programs director. Economist Richard Sandor founded CCX on the belief that it could—and that the most effective way to fight global warming is a carbon dioxide cap-and-trade system. The “cap” refers to an overall limit on the amount of carbon a particular company, city, state, or country can produce. If a member stays under the limit, it can “trade,” or sell, its extra allowances to other companies—similar to the New York Stock Exchange, except that instead of shares in companies, CCX members trade emissions. Those who don’t meet their reduction requirements must either buy allowances from others or purchase

“offsets”—credits from approved sources, such as organizations that plant trees. CCX regulates members by setting reduction goals and requiring yearly third-party audits. It’s not a new idea. In the ’70s, the federal Acid Rain Program led to a significant reduction in sulfur emissions in the U.S. Cap-andtrade, economists say, works because it provides financial incentive for businesses to curb pollution. What’s more, says Tom Tietenberg, an economist at Colby College, companies are more likely to warm to the idea of a cap-andtrade system than to a tax, which he points out, “is a four-letter word in the U.S.” In 2003, with two grants from the Joyce Foundation, a Great Lakes–based philan-

ILLUSTRATION BY CHRISTOPHER SILAS NEAL


TO DATE, MEMBERS OF THE CHICAGO CLIMATE EXCHANGE HAVE TRADED ALMOST 14 MILLION TONS OF CARBON.

thropic organization, Sandor started the exchange. Later that year, CCX had its initial public offering, and to date, members have traded almost 14 million tons of carbon, representing about $60 million. Already, CCX has more than 200 members, including Rolls-Royce and New Belgium Brewing Company, six cities (Aspen, Berkeley, Boulder, Chicago, Oakland, and Portland), and the state of New Mexico. Since CCX is voluntary, some wonder whether companies with high carbon outputs would even consider joining CCX. Though right now about 75 percent of members have extra emissions credits to sell, the fact that it’s a seller’s market isn’t necessarily a bad thing, experts say, since emissions credits retain their value indefinitely. And at this stage in the game, not everyone is in it for the cash. “Baxter Healthcare thinks they can’t be in the pharmaceutical business without demonstrating to their shareholders that they are at the forefront of the environmental movement, which has healthcare implications,” says Sandor. “The city of Chicago joined because they want to be the greenest city in America. Universities join because they’re committed to the environment.” Peter Goldmark, director of Environmental Defense’s climate and air program, believes that CCX’s greatest strength is that it introduces companies to carbon reduction. “A lot of these CEOs think ‘carbon caps, oh no!’ ” says Goldmark. “But now some companies have learned that this is a manageable problem.” But when cities and states join the exchange, says Goldmark, things get more complicated. In August 2006, several environmental organizations, including Environmental Defense and the Natural Resources Defense Council, drafted a letter urging

cities and states to enact their own more stringent programs instead of joining CCX. They argued that the exchange’s standards weren’t tough enough, pointing to loopholes that allow members to pollute with impunity. For example, a company that constructs new facilities after joining CCX can exempt one of those new buildings from the carbon reduction rules it has agreed to. (So far, Sandor says, no company has ever used used this exemption.) If cities do create their own programs, some believe CCX credits might not be transferable, given the exchange’s lax standards. Sandor typically does not comment on environmentalists’ complaints, but one gets the sense that he finds them frustrating. “We stand by the proposition that in the development of capital markets, the ultimate product never looks like the product at the outset,” he says. “The Wright Brothers flew for 11 seconds at 60 feet, and that was the birth of flight. You don’t start with building a 747. We don’t want the perfect to be the enemy of the good.” CCX has already taken off; the question going forward will be whether Sandor is as willing as he says to adjust to a world with mandatory carbon reduction programs. In August 2006, California legislators passed the Global Warming Solutions Act, which committed the state to reduce its emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Seven northeastern states have already joined the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which, beginning in 2009, will require power plants to reduce their emissions to ten percent below the 2000 to 2004 levels by 2019. Tietenberg believes that in the coming years, mandatory programs will only become more common. If Sandor can adapt, he just might be able to keep CCX up for the long haul. ■

REDUCTION ROUNDUP Worldwide, emissions reduction programs are still in their infancy, but in the past decade, a few models have taken off. Here’s how they work. ✚ California Climate Action Registry: A state-backed, voluntary registry that allows organizations to record their greenhouse gas emissions. While the registry doesn’t require any emissions reductions, its organizers hope that tracking data will lead to cutbacks, since the California Global Warming Solutions Act has committed the state to reducing its carbon emissions significantly by 2020. ✚ Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative: A proposed cap-and-trade program for power plants that aims for a ten percent CO2 reduction by 2019. The program is set to begin in 2009, with seven states already signed on (Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont). ✚ Kyoto Protocol: An international agreement setting mandatory greenhouse gas reductions for more than 160 participating nations. Member countries can meet their reduction requirements through a number of programs, including emissions trading. One interesting program is the Clean Development Mechanism, which allows wealthy nations to offset their emissions by funding reduction programs or sustainable development projects. ✚ European Union Emissions Trading Scheme: Each EU country develops a National Allocation Plan to establish how many tons of greenhouse gases its companies may emit. Companies within the EU may buy or sell emissions allowances to one another, creating a smaller market within the greater Kyoto market. Legislators hope that this system will help the EU meet its Kyoto commitments more efficiently—and cheaply. —Sarah Parsons

plentymag.com Feb/Mar/07 | 29


F O R WAR D M O TI ON

Truckin’ Awesome Willie Nelson brings biofuel to the red states “why do people use biodiesel? Because they love it, that’s why,” Carl Cornelius barks at me over the phone. “Heck, even Wal-Mart fuels here.” Cornelius is the owner of Carl’s Corner Truck Stop in central Texas, and when we spoke he was in the process of tearing down and rebuilding his entire truck stop, ordering workers around between sentences. “We just finished building a biofuel plant out back that converts Texas-grown cottonseed into biodiesel,” Cornelius continued, before launching into a laundry list of biodiesel’s advantages over petroleum diesel. “It cools and lubricates the engine, reduces vibrations, cleans the motor. You gettin’ all this?” Demographically, Cornelius may seem like an unlikely member of the green movement, but running trucks on fuel made from plants is a concept that’s close to the heartland. In fact, due to its abundance of soy farms, the Midwest has

30 | Feb/Mar/07 plentymag.com

Truckers just can’t wait to get on the road again with BioWillie.

BY PHILIP ARMOUR

more filling stations that sell biofuel than anywhere else in the country. Minnesota has even legislated that all diesel sold in the state must be blended with biodiesel. In Texas, musician Willie Nelson has thrown his celebrity—and money—behind a new brand of biodiesel called BioWillie, which is what Cornelius sells. Expanding on his work with Farm Aid, the concert series and nonprofit organization he co-founded in 1985, Nelson had the good sense to focus his biodiesel sales on truckers. Diesel passenger cars only make up a tiny percent of the market, but there are millions of truckers on America’s highways, and they each drive several thousand miles per week at six miles to the gallon. That means U.S. truckers buy up to a billion gallons of diesel fuel or more per week. Right now, less than one percent of U.S. diesel sales are biodiesel. But Nelson is convinced that if enough truckers buy Ameri-

can-made biofuel, the U.S. could generate much-needed income for farmers while reducing dependence on foreign oil. “There is really no need to go around starting wars over oil. We have it here at home. We have the necessary product, the farmers can grow it,” Nelson said in a release. BioWillie is just one of hundreds of brands of biofuel that companies sell at about 890 retail outlets nationwide, according to the National Biodiesel Board. Earth Biofuels (which owns the BioWillie brand) has its main production facility in Durant, Oklahoma, and primarily makes its biodiesel from American-grown soybeans. It currently sells BioWillie at a total of 22 truck stops in Texas, Oklahoma, California, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and Mississippi. BioWille sells B-20 biodiesel, not the cleaner-burning B-100 (100% biofuel), but it’s still considerably better than the industry norm, which is


closer to B-5. The blend gets pretty close to the same mileage per gallon as standard diesel; some fans say it does even better. Of course, trading biodiesel for petroleum is not a perfect solution to the troubles caused by oil consumption. With current technology, if every car in the U.S. switched to ethanol or biodiesel, we’d have to increase our dependence on fossil fuels to come close to producing enough soy and corn. But the potential exists for these fuels to be produced in a more eco-efficient manner. If farmers took eco-friendly steps to preserve topsoil while ramping up production, methods like crop rotation, companion planting, and using organic pesticides and fertilizers could offset some negative effects of overplanting. At some point, this “green” biofuel could be put to use on farms, and the system would be self-propagating. Regardless, biofuels are currently a much cleaner burning option. Switching to B-20 biodiesel reduces hydrocarbon and sulfur emissions by 20 percent, and carbon monoxide and particulate emissions by 12 percent. When I spoke with a trucker who exclusively uses biodiesel, Ray “Critter” Iddings, 63, surprised me with his fervor. “If every truck in the U.S. switched to biodiesel, we could reduce consumption of foreign oil by 30 percent!” he told me from his ’97

NELSON IS CONVINCED THAT IF ENOUGH TRUCKERS BUY AMERICAN-MADE BIOFUEL, THE U.S. COULD REDUCE DEPENDENCE ON FOREIGN OIL. Freightliner truck as he drove across Missouri. When Iddings started driving trucks in 1965, diesel cost 19 cents per gallon, but he’s not one to pine for the past. He heard about biodiesel for the first time on satellite radio, where Willie Nelson frequently sings its praises, and made the switch immediately. “Forget the environmental and political reasons—which are convincing. Just look it from the pocketbook. I used to get six miles to the gallon. With biofuel, I get seven. So I’m taking home more money at the end of the week.” In November, BioWillie biodiesel cost about $2.50 a gallon, only a few cents more than regular diesel. Strangely, most truckers don’t buy it. The companies with huge fleets of trucks have deals with the larger truck-stop chains and don’t allow their drivers to fuel anywhere else. “We’re working on that,” say Rob Reed, director of communications for Earth Biofuels. “By the way, did I tell you that Julia Roberts is working with us?” Reed can be

excused for shilling, because he’s struggling to educate consumers about the common-sense advantages of his product. To tug at people’s consciences, Reed enlisted the actress to endorse a campaign aimed at convincing school boards to run the nation’s school buses on biodiesel. You’ve got to shuck and jive to muscle your way into any market, especially one as entrenched as petroleum. But momentum is building for biodiesel. This year, the EPA will be mandating the use of ultra-low sulfur diesel, which can be made by mixing biodiesel into petroleum diesel. Sulfur is a critical lubricant, but it causes the putrid, black smoke everyone associates with diesel cars. Cutting petroleum diesel with biofuel provides the necessary lubrication without the particulate emissions, the smoke, or the smell. Back on the road, Iddings was hopeful about his future with biofuel. “Look, Old Blue has 1,410,000 miles on her engine,” he says, referring to his truck. “And with biofuel, she could get another 500,000.” ■

GLOSSARY Biofuel: Any fuel—solid, liquid, or gas—that’s derived from biomass (living organisms). Unlike petroleum or coal, biofuels are renewable resources because the carbon they contain, which is necessary for burning, was recently extracted from the environment by plants. Biodiesel: A biofuel made from processed vegetable oil, cooking grease, or animal fat. It acts much like petroleum diesel and is used in high-compression diesel engines. Ethanol: A form of alcohol often produced from corn or sugarcane. It can be used as an additive to—or substitute for—gasoline.

Flashpoint: The lowest temperature at which a substance will form an ignitable mixture with air. The lower the flashpoint, the more flammable the substance. With a flashpoint of 306 degrees, biodiesel is so safe that it’s not even recognized as a flammable substance, plus it tends to burn better when mixed with petroleum diesel. (Gasoline, for instance, is much more volatile.) In cold temperatures, though, biodiesel can require heating, since gelling can be a problem when temperatures drop below 20 degrees. B-rating and E-rating: Designations used to indicate the percentage of the fuel is biodiesel or ethanol, respectively. (e.g., B-20 contains 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petroleum diesel; E-20 contains 20 percent ethanol and 80 percent gasoline.)

plentymag.com Feb/Mar/07 | 31


F O R WAR D TH I N K I N G

Page-turner with a Point In Kim Stanley Robinson’s newest novel, the race to save humanity is on REVIEWED BY JESSA CRISPIN

SIXTY DAYS AND COUNTING BY KIM STANLEY ROBINSON (BANTAM, $25)

at the beginning of Sixty Days and Counting, the third volume of Kim Stanley Robinson’s eco-thriller trilogy, it is the near future, and President Phil Chase, a Democrat, is taking office after a rogue intelligence group’s failed attempt to steal the election. Even though the oceans have been resalinated and the jet stream restarted in the earlier books, the new administration must somehow find a way to deal with rising sea levels, switch out America’s entire energy system with either new technology or older nuclear systems, and help poorer countries alter their infrastruc-

ture—all while working within the confines of a bureaucratic system. Robinson, the author of the celebrated Mars trilogy, has researched every nook and cranny of these novels, and it’s a bleak, terrifying picture he paints. The “sixty days” of the title refer to the first two months of Chase’s presidency, when his science advisory team and members of the National Science Foundation attempt to stave off a mass extinction of large mammals—including a large percentage of the human population. At every juncture, their efforts are met with resistance. The World Bank does not see how supporting their work in the Third World will be profitable. There are constant power struggles between governmental departments over who is responsible for what. It’s amazing anything is allowed to happen in Washington at all. When Robinson is focusing on the details of the weather’s impact on individuals, the book is genuinely chilling: Craving eggplant, statistician Anna heads to the grocery store, only to find shelves depleted by food-hoarding customers. The power goes out periodically, and each time, Anna and her husband Charlie have to prepare for the possibility that it will not be coming back on. Robinson is also good at explaining the science behind the government’s

attempts to stabilize the climate. It’s when he tries to fill in the gaps between pre-apocalyptic imagery and hard science that the trilogy suffers under the weight of its subject matter. There are just too many subplots to follow. The stories that we care about—what happened to Caroline after she put her life in danger by warning that the Oregon election was about to be stolen?—are shoved aside for stories we don’t. Science advisor Frank’s head injury may have caused him to…be indecisive. Not exactly a gripping narrative. All of this could have been slimmed down for one novel, but Robinson crams so much philosophy, bureaucracy, hard science, and exposition into each book, at times it feels like you’re watching Senate hearings on C-SPAN 2 instead of reading fiction. There are huge problems with Sixty Days and Counting as a whole, yet it’s perhaps the best novel about global warming to date. Robinson makes the reader understand the vastness of the issue, and how challenging it will be to find a solution. But the situation is not without hope. Robinson infuses his book with the thoughts of Thoreau and Emerson, and a group of displaced Buddhists lends a sense of tranquility to the story. A quotation from Oliver Cromwell best sums up one of the novel’s most unsettling points: “A man never rises so high as when he knows not whither he is going.” ■

New and Noteworthy Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis by Kim Todd (Harcourt, $27)

In the late seventeenth century, women didn’t study insects, and they certainly didn’t sail alone from Europe to the New World to do it. But German publishing heiress Maria Sibylla Merian did both—and her findings changed the future of biology.

32 | Feb/Mar/07 plentymag.com

The Last Forest: The Amazon in the Age of Globalization by Mark London and Brian Kelly (Houghton Mifflin, $35)

The Amazon is one of the world’s largest forests—and it’s also one of the most endangered. Authors London and Kelly explore whether sustainable farming and ranching could help save this natural treasure from destruction.

From the Farm to the Table: What All Americans Need to Know About Agriculture by Gary Holthaus (The University Press of Kentucky, $50.00)

Corporate contracts, overseas competition, and concerns about genetic modification have made farming in America more complicated today than ever before. Holthaus takes a close look at modern agriculture, and real farmers discuss how their work has changed with the times.

The Foundation: A Great American Secret By Joel L. Fleishman (Public Affairs, $27.95)

Each year, private foundations supply America’s nonprofit sector with billions of dollars in grants, but the public knows surprisingly little about these philanthropic organizations. Public policy expert Joel L. Fleishman explains the history behind this American tradition of giving—and offers a rare glimpse inside foundations past and present.


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The Wild Things are Everywhere A nature-loving blogger in Boston sets out to discover one new species in the city every day BY KIERA BUTLER nature isn’t the first thing on most citydwellers’ minds. When there are buildings, cars, and people to look at, the weeds beside a parking lot can seem awfully insignificant. But Jef Taylor has spent the past decade looking beyond the urban fracas to find out where beings hide—and he’s learned some interesting things along the way. By day, 37-year-old Taylor works as a wildlife care assistant at a nature center. But evenings

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and weekends, he scours the streets, parks, and riverbanks of Boston, and writes about his findings in his blog, Urban Pantheist (urbpan. livejournal.com). Taylor has discovered that he’s not the only one who finds sidewalk slugs and house sparrows interesting: He estimates that about 500 people read the blog daily, and even more check in regularly. The project was born in the mid-’90s. Fresh out of art school, Taylor rediscovered an old cu-

riosity about the natural world, and he decided to publish a ’zine about what he was learning. The first issue, a few photocopied pages stapled together, had articles about pigeons, house centipedes, and the mice who lived in the subway tracks at Boston’s Park Street station. Over the next several years, Taylor published six issues, and developed a small but loyal readership. Then, in 2002, Taylor took Urban Pantheist online. Blogging made it easy for Taylor to record his daily experiences in the natural world, but the real advantage was his blog’s capacity for showing photos. Describing a slime mold was good—but showing readers a picture of that particular slime mold, in all its oozing glory, was even better. Last year, Taylor’s New Year’s resolution was to blog about a different living thing in the city each day. He called his plan the 365 Urban Species. As the year wore on, more and more entries accumulated. Tufted titmouse. Mute swan. American dog tick. More readers began visiting Urban Pantheist to let Taylor know about plants and animals they’d spotted. At press time, Taylor was on pace to meet his goal. He’s categorized and cross-referenced his entries, and the result is an ever-growing database of city wildlife— something of an urban field guide. In his search, Taylor has found it helpful to remember that living things are messy, and that they take root without regard for the intended purpose of the space they occupy. Species #309 is Lycopersicon esculentum, a common tomato plant, which Taylor found growing in a parking lot behind a business on a busy street. “This plant’s location suggests to me that it grew from discarded food,” writes Taylor. “A slice of tomato picked out of a sandwich and tossed into the bushes seems to have grown into a plant.” Life in the city, Taylor has learned, is all around. You’ll find it bursting up through sidewalk cracks, clinging to drain pipes, and skulking at the edges of abandoned lots—if you just take the time to look for it. ■

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY ALEXIS BYWATER

F O R WAR D TH I N K I N G


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GREEN G E A R

Carefree Travel Whether you’re headed for a relaxing vacation in Costa Rica or a business meeting in Tokyo, you can jet set in style and comfort with our picks for the best eco-friendly luggage, beach reading, solar chargers, and more. PHOTOGRAPHY BY HULYA KOLABAS

PACK IT ALL Don’t be fooled by the name—the super-roomy Vy & Elle Weekender will get a modest packer through a week or more. Made from reclaimed billboards, each bag is unique. It unzips on three sides to open flat and collapses for easy storage. $187, thegreenloop.com

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SAIL AWAY Reiter8 rescues old Dacron sails from landfills and patches them together to make yacht-club-appropriate designs. The Blue8 Tote, lined in red canvas, is stylish yet tough enough for a sandy day at the beach or a wet one on the boat. $65, elsewares.com

CAPTURE THE SUN Photographers now have an additional power source while shooting on the fly. A flexible solar panel built into the top of the Nova Camera Bag will hook up to a 12-volt car adapter to charge your camera’s batteries, or power small devices like a mobile phone. $150, eclipsesolargear.com

BUG ZAPPER This porta-

MINI KISSES For organic

ble water-purification device uses ultraviolet light to sterilize up to 32 ounces in as little as 90 seconds, destroying 99.99 percent of viruses and bacteria. It’s a great way to save cash on bottled water if you’re traveling to areas with questionable water supplies. $100, hammacher.com

on-the-go, the Kisses On Trial set comes with a dozen of the most popular Kiss My Face products in perfect travel sizes. Why would you use hotel shampoo made out of who knows what, when you can use an organic product in a biodegradable bottle? Exactly—you wouldn’t. $8,

kissmyface.com

STYLIN’ SHADES These fabulous iWood sunglasses are carved by hand from exotic, FSC-certified wood. With a wide range of frame shapes, from Jackie O’s and aviators to librarian-chic, you’ll find a pair that suits your style. $350, thegreenloop.com

PLASTIC PAGES The Beach Book, which includes ten short stories by award-winning writers like Jeffrey Eugenides and Roald Dahl, was literally made for lounging by the sea—it’s one of six waterproof “Durabooks” made of recyclable plastic. $13, amazon.com

SWISS BLISS From the country that brought us the luge A TINY WIND Vancouver-based Redflag Design sources local materials to make sea-worthy totes, duffles, and wallets. We flipped for the charming Wrist Clutch, which is perfect when you don’t want to drag a lot of stuff around. It’s made of recycled sailcloth, and each one has a unique design. $30,

and untraceable bank accounts comes this ultra-slick reusable aluminum water bottle by Sigg. The interior coating is hygienic and water-based, so it won’t contaminate your drink with icky, plasticky flavors. They also come in dozens of colorful designs, like the Sunray (pictured). $20, sigg.ch

redflagdesign.ca

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G R E EN G E A R

EXPIRED TIRES Fashioned from discarded truck and tractor tires, each Bentley Bag has already traveled about 60,000 miles before it’s pieced together by designer Heather English. With room enough for a small laptop and all your important papers, you can take it to work and meetings—and you’ll be the smartest-looking suit in the room. $134, btcelements.com

A GREAT TRIP Ecolution’s lightweight Exploration Duffel is made from 100% hemp. Its modest dimensions (10” x 10” x 23.5”) make it a shoe-in for the overhead bin. Durable and water-resistant, this is a bag you can feel comfortable taking anywhere. $98,

earthfriendlygoods.com

SLEEP TIGHT Paranoid about germ-y hotel sheets? Slip into Cocoon’s Travel Sheet, a lightweight sleep sack that ensconces you in your own protective barrier. The Sea Cell sheet is made from silk, Egyptian cotton, and a seaweed-derived material with anti-microbial and fungicidal properties. It’s so soft that you’ll think you’re in the presidential suite. $75, cocoonusa.com

A SWEET REST You’ll sleep easier on long flights with the Organic Buckwheat Travel Pillow. Filled with lavender and buckwheat hulls, it gives off a light floral scent that will make you forget you’re breathing recirculated air. The cover is removable for easy washing. $18,

abundantearth.com

A LITTLE POWER Charge your iPod, cell phone, or PDA with the sleek Soldius1 Solar Charger. It’s light enough to take anywhere, and it will charge your device in two to three hours of direct sunlight. Choose from one of six scrumptious colors. $110,

earthtechproducts.com

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ECO FILE This sturdy folder is made of jute, a sustainable fiber that’s 100% biodegradable. It comes in five different colors and can be customized with your company’s logo. $28 for a set of five, heyjute.com

WASH-N-GO Store your toothbrush, razor, and soap in this POD FOR POD Protect your iPod with the Jimi Nano Case, made from 100% recycled (and recyclable) polycarbonate. It gives you access to all of the device’s ports and controls, and has a built-in belt clip for portability. Jimi donates one percent of the case’s revenue to environmental causes. $19, branchhome.com

handy 4 Piece Travel Pack made of recyclable plastic. The case (not shown) is designed not to leak—so you don’t have to worry about shampoo spilling in your luggage. $8, radiustoothbrush.com

CARBON OFFSETS: JUST A CLICK AWAY No responsible greenie can set foot on a plane without considering the environmental impact of travel—even a short flight produces approximately the same amount of carbon dioxide emissions as three

months of driving a gas-powered car. Eek! Fortunately, the bargain travel giants Expedia.com and Travelocity. com now offer customers the option of buying carbon offsets when booking tickets. Expedia works with Ter-

raPass (terrapass.com), a certified provider, which uses the money to fund wind-power projects and energy-efficiency programs. Travelocity makes donations to The Conservation Fund’s (conservationfund.org)

tree planting program, which has already maintained thousands of acres of wilderness and planted millions of trees across the U.S. on behalf of Travelocity’s customers. —Jacquelyn Lane

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HA PP Y TOGE THER Tradition meets modernity in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY KATE SIBER

A traditional dzong, the center of monastic and administrative life (left); monks perform a traditional tsechu dance in Jakar (right).

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on a sunny october morning, I sat in the cold stone courtyard of a monolithic, white-walled, redand-gold-trimmed dzong, a monastic and administrative center, in the small burg of Jakar in central Bhutan. Monks twirled and leapt through the courtyard with three-foot-tall peacock-feather hats and hand-stitched harlequin costumes with draping sleeves that nearly grazed my cheeks. The breeze off their long skirts washed past my face and the beat of their drums reverberated through my core. On the periphery of the courtyard, among hundreds of local Bhutanese villagers dressed in their finest silk ghos and kiras, the national attire required by law, a dozen Western tourists performed their own scripted ritual—they flashed cameras, ran fingers through guidebooks, whispered and exchanged nods with guides. They came for this four-day series of dances, a tsechu, which the Bhutanese believe wards off evil spirits for all who attend. The two spectacles were equally compelling: It was as though I was watching a small event in a little part of a tiny country slowly contribute to a major transformation, like noticing a wrinkle or a silver hair as a sign of aging—barely perceptible, but unstoppable. The concept of Bhutan as a lost Shangri-La is exactly why people go there—and why it has become a trendy destination for au courant travelers: The number of arrivals rose from 5,137 in 1996 to 13,626 in 2005. But Bhutan is also in the midst of the giant internal process of modernization. In 2008, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck will hold a referendum to approve the country’s first constitution, institute a more democratic mon-

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HA P P Y TOG E T H E R archy, and abdicate the throne to his son, the crown prince Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck. In light of the country’s rising tourist numbers and increasingly steady clop into the 21st century, I went to find out if Bhutan really was a wonderland of the happiest people and most pristine landscapes on Earth—and if so, whether that could possibly last. Never colonized and largely isolated from the world until the mid20th century, Bhutan, a Himalayan Buddhist kingdom half the size of Indiana and located south of Tibet, is still, in some ways, a stronghold of centuries-old traditions, customs, and beliefs that seem deliciously romantic to busy, overindulged Westerners like myself. With a population of fewer than 800,000, the country is home to more than 2,000 monasteries and tens of thousands of monks who practice Mahayana Buddhism. Many villages are still only reachable by tiny, snaking footpaths through the mountains, and more than three quarters of the population still relies on the land for subsistence. This quotidian life passes in front of a backdrop of wild and beautiful landscapes, including 20 peaks over 23,000 feet. More than 70 percent of the country is covered in forest and more than a third of the land is federally protected. The government places a premium on cultural and environmental preservation through the governing concept of Gross National Happiness. Instead of considering the impact of legislation on the economy, the king considers the impact on the culture and Prayer flags environment. The results of this seemsend written ingly impossible fairyland approach to messages to the government are real world policies, like the heavens minimization of timber extraction to save (top); a detail from the forests for future generations. a colorful mural (right).

y own journey started with the notoriously precarious flight into the country that only a handful of pilots are qualified to make. After my pilot casually mentioned that we could see Everest and Kangchenjunga, the third-tallest mountain in the world, from the left side of the plane, he banked hard, stomach-testing turns, navigated tight valleys as our wings barely missed the steep mountainsides, and descended with gusto before skidding to the very end of the minute airstrip, delicately positioned on what seems like the only patch of flat land in the country. We were in the province of Paro, in western Bhutan. Because there are so few roads and services in Bhutan, my itinerary, out of necessity, was pretty much the same as most tourists’. I traveled from Paro to Thimpu, the capital city, to the beautiful lowland valley of Punakha, which is garnished with a spectacular dzong, and through the

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monasteries and highlands of central Bhutan before backtracking. My small ad-hoc group included another solo traveler, Enrique, a Spanish trekking guide who was preparing for a group trip he plans to offer in April, and two Bhutanese guides, Chencho and Dorje Phuntsho, from Bae-Yul Excursions, the requisite tour service I hired. No matter how wide and far a person may have traveled, it’s nearly impossible for anyone to resist Bhutan’s trance, brought on mostly by the intense spirituality infused in every aspect of life. I was no exception. Before setting off for Thimpu, I visited Taktshang Goemba—“Tiger’s Nest”—a monastery hanging off a cliff that requires a long, breathstealing uphill hike. Bhutanese believe that Guru Rinpoche, the eighth-century religious figure who brought Buddhism to Bhutan, flew to the perch on a tiger and meditated there for three months. To me, the idea of building a monastery on this precarious spot seemed downright harebrained at first, but after I received holy water from quiet monks in front of golden Buddhas, then ogled the view from the small balcony, it seemed unmistakably obvious. Amid only the breezes, sunshine, and views of unmarred forests and mountains, this was a singularly perfect place for spiritual practices of any ilk. A few days later, I began the 35-mile trek to Thimpu on the Druk Path, which Phuntsho said his grandparents had traveled on horseback before the road between Paro and Thimpu was built. Most visitors travel this leg by car, so I only saw two other hikers over the course of four days. Soon, though, the Department of Tourism plans to transform the Druk Path into a community-based trek. Such treks will be aimed at dispersing visitors around the country and throughout the year (nearly half of all international visitors currently arrive in March and April), and will benefit remote villages by allowing the local people to offer camping, cooking, entertainment, and handicrafts. In November 2006, the first communitybased trek, Nabji Korphu, in the central Bumthang region, officially opened to visitors. Best hiked in winter, when temperatures are mild, it leads through the low, tropical broadleaf forests of Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park, inhabited by endangered golden langurs and rufous-necked hornbills, and scattered with tiny mountain hamlets. Money from the visitors who trek the seven-day route goes to projects like building irrigation ditches, renovating monasteries, and organizing community events and festivals.


It’s nearly impossible to resist Bhutan’s trance— an intense spirituality is infused into every aspect of life.

The Tiger’s Nest monastery In Paro seems to defy physics. A caption to go here when one is written.

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HA P P Y TOG E T H E R seven-day route goes to projects like building The Paro dzong is irrigation ditches, renovating monasteries, and architecturally organizing community events and festivals. renowned. My group traveled through the high mountains and operated in the typical Bhutanese fashion: leisurely and luxurious. A cook, two horsemen, and a trekking guide accompanied the four of us, and mules carried our provisions, tents, and a slew of fold-up tables and chairs. Most days we walked for fewer than five hours at a gentle pace, focused more on the scenery than on our progress. The first day, the scenery included apple orchards, moss forests, and a small village, where every yard hosted a mess of horses and chickens. That first evening, I climbed up to a tiny monastery. The wind whipped the prayer flags that were strung along a ridge to send written prayers to heaven on the breezes. A boy monk hidden in the wind-rattled stone tower sang a stark, melodic phrase, but other than those hushed murmurs, there was silence. This was another corner of the world that held much spiritual power, obvious even to an atheist like myself. I emptied my brain of thoughts and watched the shifting sea of prayer flags in front of a crisp skyline of peaks, dark against the setting sun. For the next three days, we traveled along rolling, exposed ridges and through forests of pines and rhododendrons, alternately climbing and descending. Our efforts were rewarded with views of 23,997-foot Chomolhari, Bhutan’s highest peak, and other royally magnificent peaks; cloudless nights; and evenings spent feasting on curries and Bhutanese specialties, like chilies in cheese sauce, next to a campfire. Temperatures plummeted after dark, but we were well-fed, well-warmed, and tuckered out from the alpine wind, sun, and walking. We slept soundly. By day we chatted with yak herders and passed lakes that the Bhutanese believe are haunted by fickle, powerful spirits. One morning we found evidence of one of the world’s most elusive creatures, a snow leopard, who had unsuccessfully stalked our mules after dark. By night, we chatted about Arnold Schwarzenegger films and movie stars who have visited Bhutan—“I saw Demi Moore one time!” chimed in quiet,

We traveled along exposed ridges through forests of pines and rhododendrons; in the evenings we feasted on curries next to a campfire.

WHEN TO GO October and March are the most popular months to visit because of mild temperatures and sunny skies. April and September, however, are less crowded and also boast fine weather. December is a good time to see smaller cultural festivals, trek in the southern regions, and see migrating endangered black-necked cranes.

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FIND A GUIDE The government forbids independent travel, so guide services arrange visas, itineraries, and airline tickets through Druk Air, the national carrier. The $200per-day tariff includes basic accommodations, meals, transportation, and guides. The author recommends Bae-Yul Excursions (baeyul.com.bt); a list of other tour operators is available at tourism.gov.bt.

shy Phutsho one evening as we huddled around the fire. In many ways, my guides, particularly Chencho, personified the country’s transformation. In my room later in Punakha, Chencho told me about the nature of his Buddhist practice and how he performs rituals in his hometown’s temple in order to appease his protective deities while he flicked through channels looking for English soccer, a country-wide obsession. He adores basketball just as much as archery, Bhutan’s national sport, and listens to Kenny Rogers and 50 Cent as well as Bhutanese traditional and pop songs. He was constantly punching text messages into his phone but also prostrated solemnly in front of shrines in temples without hesitation. Chencho, who is 28, is a prime representative of the first genera-

GET THERE Fly from the U.S. to one of four airports serviced by Druk Air: Kathmandu, Calcutta, Bangkok, or Delhi. Since weather can delay flights to and from Bhutan, include an extra day in one of these cities on the way back so you won’t miss your flight home.

DON’T MISS Bhutan is known for its tsechus, elaborate traditional dance festivals. But skip the crowded ones in Paro and Thimpu and opt for a smaller one in a town like Jakar, Mongar or Trashigang. The Department of Tourism lists festival dates (tourism. gov.bt). Also consider a short, community-based trek to experience remote village life and support the local economy.


Tent camping on a mountain trek is surprisingly cozy despite the snow (top); a Bhutanese family stops to say hello along a Druk Path (left).

for its trappings. Modernization has come late but quickly to Bhutan. Until the ‘50s, when the third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck initiated the process, the country was essentially a feudalist state, operating much as it had been for centuries. With the help of subsidies from India and other countries, it slowly developed an infrastructure of roads, national health care, and education. In 1971, Bhutan joined the United Nations and established ties with other countries. It was only recently, in 1999, that television and the Internet were introduced; cell phones only came two years ago. fter four days in the hills, Thimpu, the capital city with a population of 50,000, seemed like a buzzing metropolis. Its main thoroughfare of handicraft stores and general shops seem to successfully sell the exact same things: bottles of Fanta, bags of Lay’s, plastic trinkets, and leather shoes. The heart of the town is the spectacular dzong, where the nation’s assembly meets. The city is one of the few places in the country where one can watch a movie in a grand theater or go out to a half-dozen discos. Overall, though, Thimpu is extraordinarily mellow. It is often noted that it’s the only capital in the world with no stoplights. Instead, the centers of rotaries are filled with colorful, long-stemmed blooms, or a traffic cop whose directions seem to be a mix of air-traffic control signals and an imaginative, ballet-like dance. Thimpu, however small, is still the center of Bhutan’s fragile fledgling economy, which is the pivotal factor in the country’s path toward sustainable development. The tourism industry, which employs a large percentage of the population, seems to promise a favorable source of income for the country. In 2005, visitors brought more than $18 million into Bhutan, which has a miniscule GDP of $840 million. But many worry that tourism, paired with unchecked modernization,

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could threaten Bhutan’s unique culture—and with it, the experience of a remote, untouched cranny that tourists seek there. The government’s solution of low-volume, high-yield tourism, enforced by a daily $200 tariff and required guides, has helped limit visitors while maintaining economic benefits. In order to disperse the impacts, the Department of Tourism has started to promote other seasons and develop new attractions. In addition to new communitybased treks, outfitters are offering mountain biking and rafting trips. After a night carousing in the Thimpu bars, we made the twisting eight-hour drive to central Bhutan. Long, looping drives are integral to any trip to Bhutan, as the roads are seldom wider than one-and-a-half lanes and, according to a believable rumor, have an average of 17 curves per kilometer. Speeds upward of 30 miles per hour are virtually unheard of. On our way, we navigated around cows and yaks in the middle of the road, and glimpsed daily life in the tiny villages, terraced rice paddies, and orchards that punctuate the steep forests. Inside the car, Chencho and Phuntsho reminisced about their old flames as we listened to their collections of Eminem, Shakira, and Guns N’ Roses. We visited a farmhouse that once belonged to a queen’s servant. One room was entirely occupied by an elaborate shrine, and the woman of the house said her family of four happily survived on a two-burner gas range, a carpet for eating, one mattress and a mess of blankets. And while Westerners worry about the potential loss of cultural values and natural resources, for the Bhutanese people, the march toward the future provides some very tangible benefits. In the late ’50s, Bhutan’s entire school system consisted of 11 schools and fewer than 500 children. Today, access to education and health care is widespread. In 1960, the life expectancy of the average Bhutanese was about 38 years; today, it is about 66. efore leaving central Bhutan and making our way back to Paro, we spent a morning at the Jakar dzong watching the tsechu. The dance was central to my experience of the traditional side of Bhutan, but like many travelers, I discovered some of the most beautiful parts of the country in accidental details. I loved how the big trucks that throttle and choke down the skinny, winding, one-and-a-half lane highways are decorated in tinsel, decals, colorful pictures of animals, sequins, and painted exclamations of “Good luck!” I loved sitting down in a restaurant in Paro next to monks reading the paper, smoking cigarettes, and idly chatting like the happy, old men one sees in town squares in virtually every country in the world. I loved lying in my tent in the mountains during my trek, listening to the voices of my guides, cook, and horsemen rise into eerie Himalayan melodies before they drifted off to sleep. I loved rambling through the Punakha dzong’s temple and hearing the dull, sobering, reverberating thumps of my socked feet as I treaded the ancient floorboards. On my last night in the country, Chencho and I drove the twisting, dust-choked road back to Paro. While he fixed a flat tire, I visited the Paro dzong one last time. As I crossed the bridge, festooned with prayer flags, and climbed the stone pathway up and up, I passed curious schoolgirls and boys and admired the immense medieval structure, imposing against the cloudless twilight.

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HA P P Y TOG E T H E R

My guide, Chencho, was constantly typing text messages, but also prostrated solemnly in front of shrines. Thimpu, known as the only world capital with no stoplights (right); technology has arrived in Bhutan’s monastaries (below); while Western culture trickles into the country at large (opposite).

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right. Two older monks entered and he went skittering away, giggling. As I was about to leave, I heard, “Psst! Miss! Miss!” from one corner. A young monk beckoned. Through minimal English and sign language, he intimated that I was to make a donation. He tied a red string blessed by the Paro lama around my neck as his two companions chortled into their long-robed arms. He then motioned for me to enter the temple via a passageway. Inside, three dozen teenage monks sat chanting over Sanskrit scriptures, until they saw me. First one, then three, then a dozen, then most all of them stopped to look at me, to watch me pass as I ambled the ancient creaking floorboards. Some smiled shyly, others beamed up at me with grins, and some brave ones waved me over to them, laughing and staring. “Where are you from?” asked one. “Where do you live?” asked another. They became braver as I answered. “You’ve beauty!” said one. “You’ve beautiful!” said another as the three dozen of them giggled, eyes twinkling, in my direction. After I waved goodbye, I walked out, pulled my shoes on, and dawdled in the breezy courtyard, as a lemonwedge moon rose over the wall. I knew the monks’ comments were no come-ons, but simple, lovely expressions of curiosity. They may have never seen a Westerner my age, 26, alone.

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n my flight out of Paro the next day, while I watched immaculate forests spread beneath us, I wondered how Bhutan might look in five years, whether its strong Buddhist traditions could survive the encroaching Western consumerism, and whether this concept of Gross National Happiness could sustainably see the country into the 21st century. I thought of one afternoon Chencho and I spent hiking to two tiny temples tucked high in the hills outside of Paro. On the way back down, I asked him what he would change about his life. “Nothing,” he said. “Nothing?” I asked, incredulously. “You’re perfectly happy?” Everyone wants to change something. “Yes, perfectly happy.” “That’s hard to believe.” “I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m perfectly happy,” he said simply. I wasn’t convinced. Along the narrow path, we watched schoolboys on their way home, while bent old women carrying loads of rice stalks nodded as we passed. As I watched the afternoon light wane over the lime-green rice paddies, crawling the hills until overtaken by a salad bowl of pines, rhododendrons, and ferns, I began to understand at least one indomitable thread of the spirit of Bhutan’s people. And at that particular moment, I began to believe him. ■

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY DEPARTMENT OF TOURISM, BHUTAN (TOP LEFT)

The dzong guard almost didn’t let me in without a guide, but then he flashed a smile and looked the other way. I was all alone in the empty stone courtyard, but I could hear the murmuring of monks, the fluttering of robes and pigeons’ wings, and the quiet footsteps in the hallways. Down a couple dozen steep steps, another courtyard looked out over the few lights of Paro, the bends in the river, and terraced rice paddies. A teenage monk followed me. I looked right, he went left; I looked left, he went


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Tune in to your environment:

EcoTalk Radio Across the nation… New York – WWRL, 1600-AM San Francisco – KQKE, 960-AM Chicago – WCPT, 850-AM Boston – 1200-AM & 1430-AM Seattle – KPTK, 1090-AM Minneapolis – KTNF, 950-AM Denver – KKZN, 760-AM and more XM Satellite Radio Ch 167

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From old-school Fortune 500 companies to start-ups barely out of first-round financing, businesses are committing big bucks to the green revolution. And while it seems like everyone’s doing it these days, we think these 20 companies are the ones pushing the ecological envelope. Whether it’s because of their reach, their potential, their influence, or the sheer genius of their innovations, we predict that each one will have a hand in changing the world in one way or another—sooner rather than later. Introducing the inaugural edition of...

o 2

The Plenty BY DANIELLE WOOD


2o

The Plenty

1

NANOSOLAR

PALO ALTO, CALIFORNIA

Solar power has been around since the ’70s, but until recently, people were about as likely to use it as they were to live in geodesic domes and grow all their own food. The reason? No company has been able to make solar power as affordable as electricity produced by coal and natural gas. That’s where Nanosolar comes in: Its thin film technology involves “printing” a microscopic layer of solar cells onto metal sheets as thin as aluminum foil. The resulting panels are lighter, cheaper, and as efficient as traditional solar panels, but they require no silicon, short supplies of which have caused many solar companies to stumble. Others are pursuing thin film, too, but Nanosolar is poised to produce enough to generate 430 megawatts of electricity a year—four times the amount produced by all solar plants in the U.S. combined. Perhaps more importantly, Nanosolar is the first company to figure out how to produce these cells cheaply. How cheaply? Less than $1 per watt, or one-tenth of the cost of traditional cells. In other words, solar power will finally be able to compete with gas and fossil fuels. This year, the company will begin building the world’s largest solar-cell factory, which will triple U.S. capacity and make us second only to Japan in output. Investments from Silicon Valley heavyweights like Larry Page and Sergey

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Brin, the founders of Google, are bolstering the company, and a new deal with Conergy, the nation’s largest solar electric systems integrator, gives Nanosolar a huge jump on its competitors.

2

ECD OVONICS

ROCHESTER HILLS, MICHIGAN

When inventor Stanford Ovshinsky first opened ECD Ovonics in 1960, he had a lofty goal—to use science to change the world completely. Over the past four decades, he’s done just that, inventing everything from the flexible solar cell to the nickel-metal hydride batteries that power every hybrid car on the market. The spry octogenarian’s latest obsession is that clean-fuel sticky wicket: hydrogen. Though often touted as a replacement for gasoline in cars, hydrogen is extremely flammable in its gaseous state. But Ovshinsky has solved that problem by pioneering a method for storing hydrogen in solid form, rather than as a highpressure gas. The process involves

GE expects to earn at least $20 billion in revenue from green technologies by 2010.

a proprietary formula made up of non-polluting metals that are ground into a fine powder. When added to a tank of hydrogen, the powder acts as a sort of sponge to encapsulate the gas. When the hydrogen is needed for fuel, a small amount of heat is added to the tank, which releases the element. Those who say a hydrogen car is impossible need only look at Ovshinsky’s modified Prius, which has an internal combustion engine powered entirely by solid-state hydrogen. George W. Bush has even shown interest. An unlikely ally? Maybe, but stranger things have happened. A few years ago, Chevron came calling, hoping to sniff out the threat. Instead, they invested $67.3 million for a 20 percent stake in the company.

can also use the algae-based fuel themselves or sell it on the open market. If it sounds like a pipe dream, it’s not. The company has already launched small projects in Arizona, Massachusetts, and New York. A large U.S. utility company and a major U.S. power generator are poised to begin partnerships with GreenFuel to build 1,000-megawatt plants, which will each generate over 100 million gallons of biofuel a year; the owners of a 2,200-megawatt coal plant are also ready to try out the technology. With $20 million in venture capital investment in the bag, GreenFuel is one to watch.

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ENVIROFIT INTERNATIONAL

FORT COLLINS, COLORADO

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GREENFUEL TECHNOLOGIES

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS

Former International Space Station researcher Isaac Berzin, along with his team of scientists from Harvard, Columbia, and MIT, have found a truly bizarre secret weapon in the fight against carbon dioxide emissions: algae. Yes, algae. Not only does it “eat” CO2, it can also be used as a clean, renewable biofuel. The researchers at GreenFuel Technologies have developed an emissions scrubbing system that takes advantage of this happy coincidence. Power plants that use Berzin’s system not only reduce their carbon footprints and gain valuable emissions credits, but they

In the U.S., two-stroke engines are mostly used for chain saws and go-karts, but in the developing world, they are the motor of choice. There are more than 100 million two-stroke vehicles in Asia alone, from Thailand’s tuktuks to India’s auto rickshaws. They ply the streets leaving swirls of brown smog in their wake; the toxic clouds of ash, soot, and other particles spewed from the exhaust cause hundreds of thousands of people to die each year from respiratory disease. Those days may be drawing to a close, thanks to a retrofit kit originally developed for snowmobiles. Envirofit has retooled the technology to convert twostroke engines into cleaner-burn-


ing, more efficient engines, testing them first in the Philippine cities of Vigan and Puerto Princesa. By this fall, Vigan’s government is requiring all 3,000 of its city taxis to switch to the new technology, and if all goes well, Puerto Princesa and other Asian cities will adopt it, too. Though the retrofit is relatively cheap— just $300 a pop—it’s still a lot of money for most taxi drivers. Luckily, government grants can help offset the cost, and the increase in fuel efficiency means that the payback period is less than a year. Envirofit expects to sell retrofits for 100,000 engines by the end of 2007, and two million by 2011. Best of all, every retrofit the company sells eliminates more than a ton of pollution a year.

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GENERAL ELECTRIC

FAIRFIELD, CONNECTICUT

Two years ago, GE hopped onto the sustainability bandwagon with its Ecomagination initiative, promising to attack some of the world’s biggest problems with an army of some of the world’s biggest brains. Oil and gas reserves being depleted? Greenhouse gases out of control? Over one billion people lacking clean water? GE’s on it—and with 25,000 technologists and 2,500 scientists on staff in its research facilities alone, it certainly has enough brainpower to make it happen. The company’s green awakening isn’t about altruism—it’s big business. GE expects to generate at least $20 billion in revenue from green technologies by 2010.

So far, there are more than 40 products in development, from water-stingy washing machines and fuel-efficient airplane engines to hybrid locomotives and mammoth desalination plants. In the first full year of the program, revenues from Ecomagination products topped $10 billion. With numbers like that, GE has been leading by example, showing corporate America that doing good and doing well don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

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ORGANIC VALLEY

LA FARGE, WISCONSIN

In the U.S., today’s food production is dominated by just a handful of mammoth industrial farms—the sheer sizes of which cause massive erosion and pol-

lute our air, water, and soil with hazardous gases, toxic chemicals, and harmful pathogens. Big farms have given consumers cheap prices—but they come with a price, too. For years, large farms have squeezed out smaller competitors, who can’t charge the same low prices. Recognizing that there’s power in numbers, in 1988, Organic Valley, a member-owned co-op, recruited seven organic dairy farms to unite against Big Agriculture. Today, the label is made up of 900 independent farms whose combined size makes them able to compete against the giants. Organic Valley cheese sits right next to Kraft on grocery shelves, and the co-op boasts 90,000 acres under its umbrella. Its farms produce juice, milk,

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eggs, meats—more than 200 products in total. And they offer a lifeline to struggling family farms, paying them up to 40 percent more than what they’d get for conventionally-grown fare.

7

TESLA MOTORS

SAN CARLOS, CALIFORNIA

The old knock on electric cars was that they performed more like golf carts than sports cars (or even sedans). Tesla Motors wants to change that. The company’s electric Roadster, which sells for a cool $100,000, has the look and pick-up of a worldclass sports car—and it’s just as reliable as many of the high-end gas-guzzlers on the market. Plans are also in the works for more affordable models, according to CEO Martin Eberhard: Tesla is aiming to produce a $50,000 electric sedan by 2009. To date, Tesla has already sold more than 200 Roadsters, mostly sight unseen. This year the company will launch customer centers, where consumers can kick the tires on the Roadster, then squeal off down the street for a test drive—no gas required.

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er introduced the Skystream—the first small wind turbine designed to easily hook into a home utility system. With a price tag of $10,000 to $13,000 (including installation), the Skystream costs half of what its predecessors did. And the resulting power is not only clean, it’s cheap: only 10 cents per kilowatt hour, as opposed to the 15 to 35 cents that local utilities typically charge. Granted, you’ll need at least a half-acre property and a breeze of ten miles an hour or more to make it work. And depending on local zoning rules, you may need to get a permit for the 35- to 100-foot Skystream rising from your backyard. But assuming that conditions are right, Skystream can enable homeowners to make their houses greener and cleaner.

ties without your knowledge. At Domini, analysts don’t just look at the financial performance of the companies they invest in, they take social and environmental factors into account as well. Armed with $1.8 billion in assets, Domini has filed more than 140 shareholder resolutions with more than 60 corporations, actively engaging high-level management on issues ranging from product safety and sweatshop labor to climate change. The company has talked to CocaCola about human rights; coached the computer giant Dell on energy conservation; and convinced J.P. Morgan Chase, a $1.1 trillion bank, to adopt a comprehensive environmental policy.

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TORRANCE, CALIFORNIA

DOMINI

NEW YORK CITY

Do you support deforestation? Child labor? Companies that pollute? Maybe not consciously, but your investments in mutual funds may sustain these very activi-

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TOYOTA

When greenies hear “Toyota,” they think of the company’s popular Prius hybrid. But Toyota has more to boast about than this: Both its other hybrids (the Highlander, the Camry, and the Lexus RX400h) and its wider eco initiatives.

Domini convinced J.P. Morgan Chase to adopt a comprehensive environmental policy. The auto-maker made environmental stewardship a key component of its business when it established its first Earth Charter, a statement of environmental responsibility, back in 1992. In 2006, Toyota put nearly nine million fuel-efficient vehicles on American roads and recycled 500,000 pounds of materials, including plastic wrap, solvents, and even engine blocks. From steel and urethane foam to plastic bumpers, 85 percent of a Toyota vehicle needs never hit the landfill—any dealer trade-in that’s not resold is recycled by the company. The new parts are also delivered to dealerships in returnable packaging, eliminating the need for the wood pallets and cardboard boxes they usually arrive in. And despite the company’s growth over the past several years, its overall disposal of waste has declined by 86 percent. Rumor also has it that Toyota may have a pluggable electric Prius on dealer floors by 2008.

SOUTHWEST WINDPOWER

FLAGSTAFF, ARIZONA

These days, you don’t have to be an engineer to convert your home to run on alternative energy. After years of research and development (and cash infusion from investors), last summer Southwest Windpow-

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WHOLE FOODS

AUSTIN, TEXAS

Whole Foods opened its first store in 1980, when “natural foods” were barely a blip on the culinary radar. It’s now the


largest natural and organic food superpower in the world, with 189 stores and revenue of $5.6 billion in its last fiscal year. Not content to ride on this reputation, in 2006 the company made the largest renewable-energy credit purchase in U.S. history, becoming the only Fortune 500 business to offset all of its electricity usage. For every light flicked on in the produce department and every oven fired up to bake organic-grain breads, Whole Foods will invest in wind technology. That’s 458,000 megawatt-hours of clean power every year—the equivalent of planting 90,000 acres of trees, or yanking 60,000 cars off the road. Some Whole Foods stores are making even more direct commitments to renewable energy. The Northwest locations are already run entirely by wind power, while the Berkeley, California, store powers its lights primarily with solar energy. In 2006, the EPA recognized the company as a “Green Power Partner” for all its investments in clean energy.

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GREEN MOUNTAIN ENERGY

AUSTIN, TEXAS

Since 1997, Green Mountain Energy has allowed consumers to purchase cleaner electricity and help reduce the amount of carbon dioxide released into the air each

year. In the past decade, its customers have created a demand for 13 new wind and solar facilities across the country, and it has sold six billion kilowatt-hours worth of renewable energy generated by a variety of sources, including wind, solar, hydropower, geothermal, and biomass. That’s the CO2 equivalent of not driving 4.6 billion miles. And Green Mountain’s eMission Solutions program is a relatively painless way for businesses to offset their carbon footprints. With electricity generation still the leading cause of industrial air pollution in the U.S., every step counts.

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KONARKA

LOWELL, MASSACHUSETTS

In the heat of battle, soldiers in the field need reliable energy sources. That’s why the U.S. Army recently awarded $1.6 million to this small company. Konarka’s solar-powered plastic, a nano-material that’s deposited like ink onto a surface or material, can be embedded into clothing, implanted into consumer electronics, or woven into textiles. It can help power objects as small as a cell phone or as large as a Hummer. For the military, Konarka has begun developing tents capable of

Green Mountain Coffee ships 25 million pounds of Fair Trade coffee beans each year.

generating their own power and foldout solar panels that would reduce the number of batteries soldiers must carry, as well as wearable communication systems powered by sunlight. These technologies aren’t expected to hit the consumer market for a few more years, but with more than 200 global patents or patent applications and two Nobel Laureates on its payroll, the company has the mental muscle to reinvent solar power as we know it.

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GOLDMAN SACHS

NEW YORK CITY

This blueblood investment bank rocked Wall Street when it called on the U.S. government to address climate change. Rather than pressure Washington to shield big business from environmental obligations, the financial powerhouse rolled out an eight-page environmental policy, stating that “voluntary action alone cannot solve the climate change problem.” Next, the company pledged to use its influence to move markets and investors. In the past year it’s done just that, pumping close to $1 billion into renewable energy. Goldman Sachs has also committed to helping to develop a U.S. market for emissions trading and has spoken out in favor of government incentives for technologies that lead to a less carbon-dependent society. The bank’s new public policy arm will churn out independent research

with assistance from the academic and non-profit communities.

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ORMAT TECHNOLOGIES

RENO, NEVADA

In a sense, the people behind Ormat Technologies are miners, but they’re not after gold or diamonds—they’re looking for heat. Deep in the earth’s crust is a supply of mostly untapped energy: hot water just itching to get to the surface in the form of steam. The hardest part is getting to it. Here in the U.S., that’s only feasible along the “ring of fire”— California, Hawaii, and other western locations known for their tectonic activity. But with just six U.S. power plants and four more overseas, Ormat produces enough geothermal energy to power about 360,000 homes. Last July, the company put in a bid to help develop what will be the world’s biggest geothermal project ever—a $600 million mega-plant in northern Sumatra set to generate another 340 megawatts. Ormat’s still investigating other opportunities, too. It has put significant research toward creating a market to capture waste heat from manufacturing processes, and last fall, the company announced a $63.5 million investment into biodiesel.

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ICE ENERGY

WINDSOR, COLORADO

Year after year, air conditioning is the top contributor to peak

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electricity problems: Last summer alone, heat waves caused blackouts across the nation, and high electricity demand forced the dirtiest of generators to kick in. But this company says that a better solution lies in something laughably low-tech: ice. Ice Energy’s Ice Bear cooling unit plugs into an off-the-shelf air conditioner. At night, when electricity is cheapest and most abundant, it makes ice. But during the day, when demand for air conditioning soars, the Ice Bear uses the ice—instead of electricity—to cool down the coolant in the air conditioner, reducing electricity consumption for air conditioning by up to 30 percent. Right now, the company sells the Ice Bear only for commercial buildings, but a residential version is currently being tested. And many utilities are already offering huge incentives for companies to buy the systems. Now that’s cool.

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GREEN SANDWICH TECHNOLOGIES NORTH HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA

Most people don’t think much about the wood or metal framing that holds up their houses—but what if that framing could save them 60 percent on energy bills? Green Sandwich Technologies has developed insulated concrete panels that can be used to build homes and commercial structures. The panels provide nearly four times the insulation of wood- or metal-framed struc-

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tures, and they’re made from at least 40 percent recycled content, including an eco-friendly foam made by chemical giant BASF. They can be fabricated from locally harvested biomass (like rice straw, mowings, or even roadside weeds) and then coated with Earthskin, a concrete replacement made almost entirely of dirt. Naturally fire-resistant, the panels are also strong enough to rebuff hurricanes and withstand earthquakes, and they can be used in roofs, floors, walls, and even countertops and pools. But more importantly to builders, Green Sandwich structures can be built in half the time of conventional construction—an enticement that might just make green buildings more popular.

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GREEN MOUNTAIN COFFEE

WATERBURY, VERMONT

Yuppies have been sipping organic, Fair Trade coffee for years now, but the masses have yet to follow suit. Enter Green Mountain Coffee, which ships 25 million pounds of beans a year and is the sole coffee supplier for the popular Newman’s Own Organics line. Last year, through a partnership with McDonald’s, Green Mountain brought its product to the mainstream, allowing customers to order a cup of its Fair Trade joe with their hotcakes at more than 650 franchises throughout New England. And this past summer, in collaboration with

International Paper, Green Mountain unveiled the first all-natural, renewably resourced, compostable hot beverage cup. Unlike conventional cups, which are lined with petroleum-based plastic to prevent leaks, these biodegradable sippers are lined with a bioplastic made from corn. With more than 2.5 million cups of Green Mountain coffee consumed daily, all that avoided trash adds up.

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FIBERSTARS

SOLON, OHIO

Can fiber optics replace lightbulbs? This company thinks so—its technology already lights the Declaration of Independence and the Magna Carta. (The U.S. government funded the research to develop the technology with about $16 million worth of grants.) Fiberstars uses a special fixture called a metal halide lamp


to send light through a series of large plastic fibers that look something like plexiglass cables. The lights don’t create heat or ultraviolet rays, both of which degrade fragile papers, so they’re suited for use in museums and other archival areas. A single 70-watt metal halide lamp connected to the company’s fiber optic system can replace the output of eight normal 50-watt bulbs; better yet, the lights

consume one-third the amount of energy of even the most miserly fluorescent bulbs. To date, most of Fiberstars’s customers have been hotels, casinos, and retailers—but if all goes well, consumers could be next.

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NATURALAWN

FREDERICK, MARYLAND

At least 78 million American households blanket their yards

with pesticides in search of the suburban emerald dream lawn—and we’ve got the polluted groundwater to prove it. Pesticides have been linked to birth defects, neurotoxicity, and liver and kidney damage, and exposure to pesticides increases the likelihood of childhood leukemia by sevenfold. After nine years in the field as a manager for Chemlawn, where he was surrounded by coworkers who were frequently sick,

Philip Catron decided he’d had enough and launched a lawn-care franchise that eschewed the use of pesticides altogether. Today, the company is the country’s largest organic-based lawn care business, with more than 50,000 clients in 24 states. NaturaLawn’s customers have collectively prevented millions of pounds of pesticide usage—and their lawns look so lush that you’d never know the difference.

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BEYOND PIGEONS Bird watching catches on in the urban jungle by Susan M. Brackney photography by Brian Smith

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kay, so he was dead. But he was also the most stunning wild bird I’d ever seen—probably ever would see. I’d been walking the city alleys of Bloomington, Indiana, when I nearly stepped on a lovely-but-lifeless Indigo Bunting. I recall lightly pinching his paper-thin body between my thumb and index finger. With the smallest movement of my wrist I could make his electric blue head flop from one side to the other. His snapped neck made sense. After all, the neotropical migrant navigates with the stars. Flying at night, he probably never noticed that eight-story brick building smack in the middle of the city’s buzzing downtown—until he smacked into it himself, of course. True, mine was not exactly the sort of encounter most birders relish, but it served as my first glimpse of a relatively new pastime—urban birding. Sound like an oxymoron? Plenty of modern-day birders are happy to report it’s not. While traditional birders go the distance to see their quarry in preferred habitats, their urban counterparts are happy to stay home, instead scanning their own concrete-covered environs for avian treasure. Greg Links, an avid birder and trustee at large for the Toledo Naturalists’ Association, does a little of both. Sometimes he steals out on his lunch hour to look for migrants passing through downtown in the spring and fall. “It’s a quirky little game,” he says. What kind of goody can we turn up in the middle of all of this?” During one fall field trip Links and a group of urban birders found 58 species in an afternoon. “Those birds were all in downtown To-

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ledo. Now, there were a couple of spots that were pretty wooded, so that was kind of cheating a little bit,” he says. One of Links’s favorite finds to date? A Connecticut Warbler walking along the library square. “That’s a surprise. That’s a bird of the Northern spruce bogs, and there it is walking on the sidewalk. With [urban birding] it’s not so much the rarity of the bird as it is the uniqueness of the context,” he explains. It’s not easy to pin down just who these newfangled birders are. According to the 2000 Census, more than 46 million Americans say they birdwatch in some form. “The demographics of birding in general have shifted fairly recently. It used to be two groups: the stereotypical little old ladies with their sneakers and binoculars, and then the other group of real hotshot, hard-core types who go out alone and list as many birds as they can,” Links notes. And now? There are still those intense loners who live to look for birds and list those they find all by themselves, thank you very much. (Links counts himself among them: “We’re out to go birding, not kibbitzing!”) But that’s changing. “Today I would say birding is probably pretty evenly split between men and women, and they are going out in groups,” says Links. Turns out, there really

isn’t an “average” urban birder. At least not yet, anyway. And there isn’t any one reason why people scour their cities for birds. For Sharon “Bird Chick” Stiteler, the hobby is part habit—and part obsession. An urban-birding blogger and author of the forthcoming book, City Birds, Country Birds (Adventure Publications), Stiteler has always been a city-based birder. “I grew up in Indianapolis, and my parents didn’t necessarily have time to take me out to the middle of nowhere to go look at birds, so I would just watch them wherever I was,” she says. Now in Minneapolis, the 32-year-old is so devoted that she carries a miniature telescope in her purse. “I honestly cannot help it. If I’m at a cookout or an outdoor wedding or something—and especially if it’s spring and migration’s going on—I’ll have that with me,” she says. It often comes in handy. During one outdoor gathering, a nighthawk migration flying overhead captivated Stiteler and, ultimately, the rest of the party as well: “You start pointing and looking up, and everyone at the table around you starts looking up, too. Before you know it, you’re doing an impromptu lesson on nighthawk migration.” When she’s not urban birding, the freelance writer covers,

City dwellers like Boston’s Fredericka Veikley (front) need not leave town to spy plenty of feathered friends.

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yes, birds, and consults for manufacturers of bird feeders and bird-attraction products. Stiteler also maintains bird feeders for friends on the side. “One of them was having a horrible time with something attacking their feeders at night, so I installed a night camera. We found out we had had a bear coming. It was eating the bird food and destroying the feeder!” she recalls. Of course, city birders don’t need night-vision cameras or mini telescopes to be successful. “Hundreds of people will go by in a day, and the birds are oblivious to them. Typically, I don’t need binoculars because the birds are just eight feet away, in a little planting of flowers or something,” says Karl Overman, a field-trip leader for the Detroit Audubon Society and assistant attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice in Michigan. Like Links, Overman squeezes birding in during his lunch break. He’s been hooked since junior high, but he began to look for birds in urban settings about four years ago and has noticed more and more of them passing through the city. In part it’s those plantings—whether in city parks, on courthouse lawns, or even school playgrounds—which have helped make the pursuit so fruitful. That’s because well-planned green spaces in urban areas translate to more stopover points for migrating birds that become hungry or exhausted during each leg of the journey. “Birds are flying over in huge numbers, and they fly over at night. What happens is the sun comes up, and they’ve got to plop down somewhere,” Links says. If they’ve been flying over a large urban area, that “somewhere” can be tricky to find. Peter Dorosh, president of New York’s Brooklyn Bird Club, imagines green spaces must stand out from a bird’s eye view: “They see city parks and preserves as dark spots within the ‘neon empire.’ They know if it’s dark it must be good landing.” If it sounds like Dorosh has learned how to think and see like a bird, it’s because he has. Other urban birders rely on their ability to detect specific calls to uncover the unexpected Blackpoll Warbler or other surprise songbirds, but for the 45-year-old Dorosh, who has been hearing-impaired since birth, urban birding remains a purely visual and intuitive experience. “I’m well acclimated and experienced in spotting birds with my very good vision and knowledge. I often rely on my instincts,” he says. Dorosh’s understanding of different habitat preferences, coupled with his exceptional vision, make it possible for him to spot even the most minute movements of songbirds who have landed under brush or among dense foliage. As it happens, New York City has plenty of good landing spots for the hundreds of millions of migrating songbirds traveling the Atlantic Flyway overhead, and when even a small percentage of those migrants decides to drop in to rest, Big Apple birders get to see high concentrations of many diverse species. Dorosh knows a birder who lives in Staten Island, where the landscape is fairly suburban, who heads over to Prospect Park—in comparatively urban Brooklyn—each day during the migration seasons for that very reason. “He comes because he can see more birds—especially warblers—in shorter time and with less ground to cover in the very diverse habitats in Prospect Park. On very good

“YOU START POINTING AND LOOKING UP AND EVERYONE AROUND YOU STARTS LOOKING UP TOO. BEFORE YOU KNOW IT YOU’RE DOING AN IMPROMPTU LESSON ON NIGHT HAWK MIGRATION!” days, more than 20 species of warblers can be found,” Dorosh says. Now, thanks in part to the “heat island” effect of some large cities, Dorosh and other urban birders may have a little longer to look for their favorite fall migrants. “There are several species of birds that stay longer downtown than they do elsewhere. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Ovenbird, Lincoln Sparrow. Those are birds that, if you go out on November first, let’s say, the chances of you finding them in most parts of Michigan are, like, nil. But the chances of finding them in downtown Detroit are very good. The theory goes that it’s because there’s just enough heat to make these birds survive for a month more,” says Overman. And after that? Rested and refueled, they’ll head out for the next leg of the journey to their respective winter homes.

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hile city configurations may make for pretty good birding, let’s face it, urbanization hasn’t exactly been good for our feathered friends. The populations of many species have decreased during the past 40 years, while urban development continues to increase. “Urbanization reduces the size and quality of usable native bird habitat, thus limiting the amount of space and resources available to birds,” says Steven Saffier, a science associate with the National Audubon Society. Breeding pairs are especially hard hit because appropriate breeding areas can only accommodate so many birds. Once those areas are occupied, any remaining “homeless” birds have a tough time finding nesting sites and food. Urbanization also changes the dynamics of natural areas, not just their size. “So, for example, interior forest birds such as Cerulean Warblers, Ovenbirds, Wood Thrush, and many other neotropical migrants require particular-sized tracts of unbroken forest. If a forest is split by urbanization, the habitat is rendered unviable,” Saffier says. Still, for highly adaptive species—think European Starlings, House Sparrows, grackles, and Canada Geese—urbanization’s been a boon. The result? “It’s almost like a McList. You go to McDonalds anywhere, and it’s the same menu,” says Caren Cooper, a research associate at Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “You can get to an urban center and it’s going to be the same species, whether you are in New York or in Atlanta. When you get to the extremes of urbanization, sometimes the bird diversity is the same no matter where you are.” But plenty of folks are fighting that trend. Fredericka Veikley, a financial analyst at a hospital in Boston, is a “casual birder” who longed

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Boston’s Ramler Park, once an abandoned parking lot, now attracts a diverse range of birds—and birders.

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to see more on her local urban ornithology menu. So, with an eye toward giving embattled natives like American Robins and Cedar Waxwings a leg up—and giving transient species a nice place to rest—she worked with Boston city officials, Northeastern University biologist Gwilym Jones, and other volunteers to transform a neighborhood eyesore into a viable avian habitat. What was once an abandoned, half-acre parking lot just blocks from Boston’s Fenway Park is now a “parking lot” for nearly 200 species of wild birds. Known as Ramler Park, the spot officially opened in the summer of 2004, and has had plenty of time to become well established. Thoughtful planning means the birds can find essential natural food sources year-round: great stands of trees like white pines and sweetgums; shrubs such as cranberry viburnum; and perennial flowers including bee balm, oriental poppy, goldenrod, and veronica beckon to all manner of visitors. Scarlet Tanagers, Rufous-sided Towhees, Carolina Wrens, Green Warblers, and many other distinguished guests have all been spotted here. Aside from its myriad native plant species, Ramler Park’s proximity to Muddy River and the Back Bay Fens also has something to do with its ability to attract birds. “What we wanted was a little piece of that action right in our neighborhood,” admits Veikley, who’s president of Friends of Ramler Park, the neighborhood group that helped shape the project. Some of its members are hard-core birders, but, she says, “Most of them are neophytes just awakening to all that is around us.” Besides good forage and cover for wildlife, there are touches for the park’s human visitors, too. A tile-lined fountain burbles at the its center, brick paths wind beneath a striking pergola, and an ornate metal fence featuring soaring swallows nicely contains the area. “It was meant to be sort of a spiritual place. I don’t want to start using those ‘Kumbaya’ words, but we made sure that there was no ‘active’ activity place there. There’s no playground equipment. There’s no place to play ball. It’s really just meant to be the most beautiful place that it could be,” Veikley says. In the case of Ramler Park, so far, so good. But Cooper warns that

not all green spaces are created equal. It may sound counterintuitive, but some may be doing more harm than good: “There is some concern that green spaces can be ecological traps—habitat that looks good and draws birds in, but actually their population would do poorly there, because maybe there were a lot of cats around or something else was affecting their nesting success.” Ecological traps can wreak havoc on migratory birds as well. “Maybe there are lots of window crashes or the food sources are really of such low quality that they didn’t charge [the birds] up enough so that they could make it to their next stopover,” she explains. “People are trying to understand if those things happen, and if so, how can we stop that from happening?” Ultimately, urban birders just might have a hand in finding out. To determine how and why birds in urban environments thrive—or don’t—Cooper and others are enlisting the help of citizen scientists willing to “bird” in cities year-round. (All right, so counting Black-capped Chickadees during the winter doldrums isn’t nearly as glamorous as discovering a Boreal Owl passing through Central Park, but it’s still important.) “We have been trying to recruit more people in urban environments into birding, and also encouraging people to bird in residential landscapes, because we are interested in understanding how urbanization is affecting all kinds of birds,” she says. To that end, researchers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology launched “Urban Bird Studies” projects such as “Birds in the City,” funded by the National Science Foundation (see sidebar). “Through the programs, everyday people who are interested in birds collect data that they submit and our scientists use that data to answer research questions about birds. It’s everyday people participating in genuine scientific research,” Cooper says. That’s good news for the birds doing their best to nest or migrate despite our growing cities. And in the long run, it’s good for urban birders like me. Who knows? Maybe the next Indigo Bunting I see will be alive and well, safely clearing my city’s rooftops as he warbles his way north this spring. ■

LOOK! UP IN THE SKY! Sure, it’s just good sense to look up when you’re on the lookout for birds on the wing, but Steven Saffier, a science associate for the National Audubon Society, reminds would-be birders to look really high in the sky. That’s where you’ll find aerial feeders like raptors, gulls, swallows, and swifts. “The last time I was in New York City, my colleague stopped in his tracks. Through the traffic sounds and the river of pedestrians, he managed to hear the

call of Chimney Swifts. We looked up through a canyon of high-rises and saw a flock flying above the buildings,” he says. Not sure you’d know a Chimney Swift if you heard one? Brush up on 250 North American birds—and hear their songs via Bird Songs by Les Beletsky (Chronicle Books, $45). The full-color release features a built-in digital audio player, so you can listen to individual bird calls as you read up on their habits and habitats. Another good urban birding bet? Any green space situated near well-established bird migration routes. Blogger

Sharon Stiteler (birdchick.com) admits she’s partial to cemeteries: “They’re some of the best places to go birding, because you don’t get a lot of rowdy traffic going through them. Of course, you want to be discreet when you’re watching birds in there. If you’re passing a funeral, you obviously don’t want to walk through with your binoculars.” And green spaces that are wellstocked with native plants like Purple Coneflower and Black-eyed Susan get urban birding bonus points since they provide high-grade fuel and cover. Karl Overman, of the Detroit Audubon Soci-

ety, has noticed that plantings mulched with leaf litter are especially good. “That seems to attract migrants and hold them for long periods,” he says. Once you’ve gotten good at spotting birds in your city or even the suburbs, you can learn to “conduct a transect” (that’s science speak for “take a walk”) in your area, record the number and types of birds you find, and submit your results to the Birds in the City project (urbanbirds.org). Another option: The Great Backyard Bird Count (birdsource. org/gbbc), taking place nationally from February 16 to 19. —S.B.

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ALL PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY R. MANUEL SCHNELL

CHO ICES HO M E

On the Rocks A modern Nova Scotia home is inspired by local conditions and historic precedent BY DAVID SOKOL

new mexico’s adobe houses, Seattle’s flare-roofed bungalows, and Southern plantations aren’t just charming, they’re smart. Adobe absorbs the intense sunlight of daytime and releases its heat at night, providing natural temperature control for occupants. During Pacific Northwest showers, wide roofs direct damaging moisture away from house foundations. And Tara’s porches were as shady as they were gracious.

plentymag.com Feb/Mar/07 | 63


CH O I CES H OM E

“A culture learns over hundreds of years and thousands of people, so there’s this kind of collective intelligence in the vernacular,” says Brian MacKay-Lyons. The Halifax-based architect has made a career of designing structures so suited to their sites that they could have been built by long-ago natives—an impression belied only by their crisp, modern lines. A postage stamp–sized summer house for the Fischer family, completed in 2005 on Nova Scotia’s South Coast, encapsulates his way of working. The South Coast region is a 200-mile stretch of craggy Atlantic shoreline that’s host to Canada’s mildest climate east of the Rockies. But this is still Canada, so the weather does get dicey. “Here it snows and the snow turns to rain, and then you have a wet,

eaves, creating ice dams and leaks. For the Fischers, the architect was also aiming for cultural specificity, which he describes as “a modest aesthetic, which is a kind of ethic here in the Maritimes—not to put on airs, not to be pretentious.” That point of view dovetailed perfectly with the client’s need to stay affordably small. With few other limitations, conceptualization flew as MacKay-Lyons and client Ralph Fischer, fueled by coffee at a local dive, sketched out the 1,000-square-foot home. In the spirit of modesty, the house is a 12-foot-wide, wood-framed box clad in an aluminum-and-steel alloy. The main structure is devoted to dwelling space; three differently sized concrete volumes on its west and east elevations contain the hearth, bathroom, and kitchen. The offshoot gestures may seem capricious, but, in fact, they thoughtfully respond to place. Located on a small promontory that emerges from a spruce forest overlooking a sliver of beach, the area is littered with giant rocks left by a receding glacier. “Imagine these granite

A RUGGED COTTAGE GOES GREEN BY EMULATING ITS PREDECESSORS. heavy snow on the roof,” MacKay-Lyons explains. The condition precludes building houses with eaves: With temperatures hovering around freezing, snow would melt on the roof and stay frozen atop the

64 | Feb/Mar/07 plentymag.com

boulders rolling around in the glacier like semiprecious stones in a tumbler,” MacKayLyons says. “They’re like big marbles sitting on the ground. Walking among them, you feel like Alice in Wonderland.” Rather than tackle the energy-hogging task of removing the boulders, MacKay-Lyons placed the house among them. And its concrete volumes serve as a kind of abstract reference to these primeval neighbors. The aesthetic effect is heightened in the bedroom, where a long, horizontal window above the bed reveals a massive boulder sitting just a foot from the house’s northern side. The closeup view of granite acts like a headboard, reminding the Fischers that they inhabit a special little enclave among the rocks. These concrete elements are also devoted multitaskers—quite literally the strong shoulders that make the house work. For one, they keep it standing, by offering resistance to the ocean winds that would otherwise transport a narrow wood-frame structure from Wonderland to Oz. The concrete also provides important thermal mass that drives down fuel bills: Much like adobe, these thick walls absorb sunlight


Clockwise from opposite page: Sunlight warms the living room; the kitchen cabinets are made of local cherry; double sinks in the bathroom combine efficiency and luxe; a narrow bedroom window overlooks a huge boulder; a mat of cedar planks in the shower covers a bathtub.

during the day and radiate warmth at night, even during the winter. (The concrete floor also collects the sun coming through southfacing windows, with a boost from a radiant heating system.) In the summer, air passing over these masses creates a kind of convection current that helps generate cross-breezes. “The house really doesn’t get hot at all,” says Fischer. “You open the windows and the air just flows through.”

MacKay-Lyons’s space-saving details are reminiscent of those found in old Nova Scotia farmhouses. Instead of a ladder, a delicately counterweighted stair drops down to access a loft that does double duty as a study and as sleeping quarters for the Fischers’ son, Nicholas. Built-in storage, made of locally sourced and milled cherry, also abounds. Meanwhile, the house feels more extensive than it is because each of the rooms faces a different direction, with the great room overlooking the sea, the bedroom conversing with the boulder, and the loft with east and west exposures. The owners are spending summers and holidays in their new gem. “When we’re there we spend most of our time outside,” says Fischer. Like many Nova Scotians, the Fischers are considering turning the getaway into their full-time residence. Indeed, following the pack is what their house does best. Without resorting to much high technology, this rugged version of a beachfront cottage went green by emulating its predecessors. ■

plentymag.com Feb/Mar/07 | 65


CH O I CES CU LTU R E

e-greenies A social networking site for the eco-savvy takes off you won’t find Ted Casselman on Facebook. Or MySpace. Even though he has more than 200 social-networking sites to choose from, Casselman, 44, a resident of Cornwall, Ontario, hangs his personal profile on a corner of the Internet more concerned with acid rain than with indie-rockers. Casselman is a yoga-loving hiker and occasional winemaker who worries about animal rights and rain forest destruction. So it makes sense that he joined Care2 (care2.com), a 6.7-million-member site linking eco-activists around the globe. “I come from a small town where there’s no support system for people like me,” Casselman says. “Care2 makes me feel like I belong.” But what does “belonging” mean? Are bonds forged on Care2 and other eco-networking sites really effecting change? Or are they only encouraging armchair slacktivism, the lazy man’s way to “make a difference” without breaking a sweat? Sign this petition to save the forests, dude. Don’t buy anything today and capitalism will tumble, making all the world’s ills, like, vanish. In Internet years, Care2 is a wizened grandpa. Randy Paynter, a boyish, 40-year-old dad of two who spits out words as fast as an auctioneer, founded the site during the late-’90s dot-com boom as an environmental portal for green commerce. When it became clear that selling Seventh Generation–brand dish soap was a doomed business plan, Care2 evolved into a “one-stop shop for people who want to make a difference and influence society,” Paynter says. Care2 concentrates on connecting users to nonprofits and providing them with what he considers environmentalists’ greatest

66 | Feb/Mar/07 plentymag.com

BY JOSHUA BERNSTEIN

weapons: knowledge and opportunities to take action. “If it wasn’t for Care2, many people—including myself— wouldn’t know about the issues that concern our animal-welfare and environmental movements,” says Care2 member Cindy Minde, 49, an endangered-wolf supporter in Apache Junction, Arizona. Care2’s mostly female members—homemaking moms, office workers, and young single gals alike—peruse reader-submitted and ranked stories about endangered falcons, grab tips on veggie vittles, donate to nonprofits, discuss endangered Canadian forests and sign petitions to prevent Arctic oil drilling. Oh, do they ever sign petitions. With a click, members John Hancock petitions ranging from the serious (making Starbucks honor commitments to coffee farmers) to the silly (begging the Country Music Awards to rectify its oversight and give Rascal Flatts the Album of the Year award, which has zilch to do with the environment). These petitions may seem toothless, but Paynter points to direct results: Last September, the Bureau of Land Management nixed plans to drill near Alaska’s Teshekpuk Lake, perhaps swayed by Care2 members’ 20,000 petition signatures. I, too, want to make a difference, so I enroll in Care2. I sign a petition or two, then head to the forums. In one called Race for the Rainforest, I learn about Indonesia’s rain forest fires. Every year, rampant fires create one billion pounds of carbon emissions—more than five times the amount that the Kyoto Protocol hopes to eliminate annually. When I’ve learned my fill, I enter Care2’s Daily Action area. Today’s computer-enabled difference-maker is down-

ILLUSTRATION BY NEIL SWAAB


ARE ECO-NETWORKING SITES ONLY ENCOURAGING “ARMCHAIR SLACKTIVISM”?

loading a picture of a smiling frog standing superimposed on an American flag and the words, “I Voted!” Change has never seemed so painless. That’s Care2’s intention. “We call it the ladder of engagement: Making it easy for people to make a difference is empowering,” Paynter says. Translating Care2’s social responsibility to the real world, Paynter admits, is a tad trickier. Though he recounts stories of members marrying (six couples, at last count) and volunteering for nonprofits, Care2 has not yet sponsored marches, protests, or other largescale activist actions. But Paynter says members have made changes in their own lives, ditching toxic household cleansers, increasing recycling, and using less energy. “Change happens at the level of individuals,” Paynter says, “and their ability to influence and connect with others.” I came to Care2 with a healthy dose of skepticism. Call me quaint, but when I want to be heard, I click off my computer

and hit the streets. In a shifting activist world, I still prefer agitating for change the old-fashioned way. But several weeks of membership allowed me to see that Care2 embodies some of the Internet’s best qualities. Fixing the world’s problems can be a cold, lonely, Sisyphean struggle, and while the site may not offer every eco-answer, I uncovered a wealth of news on underreported stories. And I found mostly welcoming forums full of folks eager to listen (save for those ubiquitous crotchety rabble-rousers). The sense of community was palpable, with members reaching out to provide real online kinship. “This is a movement that is important to people who sit at their computers and are unable to travel the world by other means,” Minde told me. “It lets us get involved and be heard.” They say that everybody has to start somewhere, and for many people these days, an ever-growing virtual community of likeminded friends is somewhere that makes sense. ■

INTERNET FOR THE ECO SET Wondering which online green community is right for you? Here are a few good ones to start with. ✚ FreeMesa.org Specializing in the used-stuff trade, this online community is an eco-friendly, dollar-free version of Craigslist. In addition to making profiles, users can create postings offering or requesting just about anything. And here’s the kicker—all the goods are free (charging for offerings is strictly prohibited). Freecycle.org is a similar site.

✚ Commoncircle.net Common Circle serves as a meeting place for activists, business wonks, and greenies to chat, blog, and create event listings. Aiming to bring together people who believe in the green movement, this community is hosted on a server that is powered by 100% renewable energy.

✚ Green-passions.com Looking for a steamy romance with a vegetarian? Green-Passions is a great place to start. An online dating and personals community, it offers environmentally conscious singles a specialized forum to search for that special someone.

✚ Zaadz.com Although it’s not exclusively for enviros, Zaadz does aspire to change the world—by setting off a feel-good chain reaction. It’s a hangout spot for the intellectual, philosophical, and spiritual set. The site’s New Age vibe will make the incense-and-crystals crowd feel right at home. —Rabia Mughal

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CH O I CES R E TR E A D S

The Zip-up Artist Look closely—you might find part of your last thrift-store donation in this crafter’s work BY DEBORAH SNOONIAN

68 | Feb/Mar/07 plentymag.com

WE CALL ‘‘ THESE WORKS

Art by Edna Tunison and Mary Corman (Pitman Publishing Corporation, 1974). “I thought, this is interesting and I think I could do these projects,” she says. She made her first work in 1988, creating a landscape scene by gluing zippers onto an old cabinet door her husband had brought home from a tag sale. She displayed the piece in a hobby show at the hospital where she worked, and the reaction was enthusiastic. “No one had seen anything like this before,” says Petrell. “They were really interested in it. So I said,

‘If you have any old zippers, you know who wants them.’ And boy did I get zippers!” Since then, she’s become something of a zipper-wielding Grandma Moses, spending an average of two months on each piece. Now living in Hudson, Wisconsin, Petrell still receives zippers through donations and by tearing them out of old clothing and other items (although she notes that the former can be a challenge because “clothes are made differently now—it’s not as easy to take out the zippers.”) She trims them

‘EYE CANDY FOR THE FINGERS.’ ”

PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY JANET PETRELL

many people take up hobbies when they retire: card games, golf, knitting afghans for the grandkids. Donna Petrell, a retired nurse, took up zippers. Long zippers, short zippers, metal zippers, plastic zippers, zippers from discarded pairs of jeans or tattered sleeping bags, zippers so ubiquitous we nearly forget they exist. For nearly 20 years Petrell has coaxed old zippers to life, arranging them in spirals, curves, and waves to make still lifes and portraits that transform everyday images into colorfully textured works of art. Petrell, 79, who was born in Grand Forks, South Dakota, has been an avid crafter throughout her life. “She was raised during the Depression, so she was always taught to save and reuse things,” says her daughter Janet. In 1986, while living in Rochester, Minnesota, Petrell picked up a used book (now out of print) called Zipper


BE A ZIPPER ARTIST Materials

â&#x153;&#x201A; Metal and plastic zippers of any color and length

â&#x153;&#x201A; Tacky glue â&#x153;&#x201A; Backing and a frame. The backing should

made of a material that can hold or absorb glue, such as pressed wood, a canvas board, or sturdy cardboard. â&#x153;&#x201A; Heavy-duty scissors â&#x153;&#x201A; Compass, ruler, or other tools for drawing and measuring â&#x153;&#x201A; Tweezers or needle-nose pliers â&#x153;&#x201A; Picture-hanging hardware

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to size and removes excess fabric, then glues the teeth to a backing of used plywood, cardboard, or another ďŹ&#x201A;at surface. The frames Petrell picks up for pennies at consignment stores or yard sales. â&#x20AC;&#x153;The only new thing I buy is glue,â&#x20AC;? she says with pride. Like any crafter worth her Fiskars shears, Petrellâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s work is inspired by her surroundings: bouquets of ďŹ&#x201A;owers, hill-and-valley vistas, a friendâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s cat. She doesnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t sketch or photograph the scenery, though: â&#x20AC;&#x153;Mostly I base the designs on what types of zippers I have,â&#x20AC;? she explains. Translation: Given lots of blue zippers, sheâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll make a landscape featuring water. (â&#x20AC;&#x153;Waterâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s toughâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;you need a lot of zippers,â&#x20AC;? she says, because they need to be glued very close together.) An image of a loon requires black zippers, which are as abundant in her collection as the bird is in Petrellâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s native Midwest. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Everybody likes the loons in Minnesota and Wisconsin,â&#x20AC;? she says. Much of her zipper art hangs in the homes of her family and friends. Petrellâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s three daughters also sell the pieces at fairs and small galleries, and through her website (zipperworks.home.att.net). â&#x20AC;&#x153;People canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t believe theyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re made of zippersâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;they want to touch them,â&#x20AC;? says Janet. â&#x20AC;&#x153;We call them â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;eye candy for the ďŹ ngers.â&#x20AC;&#x2122; â&#x20AC;? Recently, Petrell told me, a neighbor brought her a big stash of zippers in an old popcorn tin. â&#x20AC;&#x153;It was a marvelous surprise,â&#x20AC;? she says, sounding delighted. We canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t wait to see what sheâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll make of them. â&#x2013;

â?ś

Sketch your design on the backing, using the compass, ruler, or other shapes for tracing and drawing as needed. Use anything to inspire your design: family photos, a wallpaper pattern, the view from your bedroom window.

â?ˇ

Using the scissors, trim away any excess material between the teeth of the zipper strands, and cut your zippers to fit your design.

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CH O I CES S TY L E

The Future is Nau

A computer rendering of Nau’s planned “Webfront” stores, slated to open in 2007.

A progressive apparel company takes sustainability to the next level BY CARISSA WODEHOUSE

in late 2004, Eric Reynolds, a co-founder of California-based outdoor gear company Marmot, started recruiting talent for a new sustainable clothing company he was planning to build from the ground up, and he invited industry veterans who shared his vision to join him. Excitement spread quickly, and soon a group of designers and financial execs—many in lead positions at outdoor clothing giants like Patagonia and Nike—were weighing the opportunity to be pioneers in the green clothing industry against the risks of taking major pay cuts and uprooting their families. The first to take the plunge was Chris Van Dyke, who had recently retired from Patagonia. “At

70 | Feb/Mar/07 plentymag.com

companies like Nike, retrofitting for sustainability is like changing the wheel on a moving train,” he says. “This new company was an opportunity to build the train, then run it.” Van Dyke and the other mavericks that joined him envisioned a company that would create high-performance, beautiful clothes while also setting new environmental standards for design, manufacturing, and distribution. Two years later, their dream has come to fruition in the form of Nau (pronounced “now”), named for the Maori word “welcome.” An apt title, because hearing about the company’s innovative methods feels like getting a glimpse

into the future of apparel—both how it’s made and how it’s sold. To start, Nau designers didn’t just settle for the standard green fabrics like hemp and organic cotton. They worked with clothing manufacturers Malden Mills and Deer Creek to create earth-friendly textiles, dyes, and finishes. One of the more innovative textiles Nau uses is a durable, fleecelike material made out of the polylactic acid (PLA) derived from corn. (Although many companies have experimented with using PLA in consumer products, Nau is among a handful of companies using it to manufacture clothing.) Once the fabrics were ready, Mark Galbraith, vice presi-


dent of design, created a style that harked back to “couture design and the timeless aesthetic that carries through.” The resulting clothing breaks the usual boundaries of high-performance apparel, fulfilling outdoor demands with a decidedly indoor fashion sense. In the women’s spring line, several knee-length skirts and dresses, made from recycled polyester, feature asymmetrical hems and accent stitching normally reserved for more delicate duds. Envisioned for summer, the men’s Bermuda shorts and women’s capris are made from 96 percent organic cotton with a touch of spandex for stretch. To complement the designs, the palette is what Galbraith calls “investment colors”: greens, blues, and grays that are familiar to a clientele comfortable in both the urban jungle and the natural world. Nau will launch its first line in January; it will be available only through the website (nau.com) or through unique retail stores called Webfronts. These boutiques, slated to open in Portland, Oregon, Boulder, Chicago, and Seattle in early 2007, aim to reduce resources used in distribution by keeping inventory low and offering customers a 10 percent discount and free shipping as incentives if they have clothes mailed to them from a warehouse. (Customers also have the option to take clothes home on the spot.) Shoppers will discover another innovative practice at checkout: They’re given a choice of 12 non-profit companies to which Nau will donate five percent of the sale. Jil Zilligen, vice president of sustainable business practices, explains that Nau gives customers the choice with the hope that “they will be prompted to think what they as customers ask of companies and what they might ultimately demand of them.” ■

BEAUTY PRODUCTS THAT ARE GOOD ENOUGH TO EAT

Nau uses a range of materials in its clothes, like organic cotton, recycled polyester, and cornderived PLA fiber.

think you know what’s in your organic shampoo? Think again. While the USDA has defined the meaning of “organic” for food-labeling purposes, there are no restrictions on the term in the cosmetics industry—so a lipstick loaded with petrochemicals can be called organic as long as it uses a single organic ingredient. To remedy the problem, cosmetics companies have debated setting their own standards. “But if we’re going to create another law for cosmetics, it’s really going to confuse consumers,” says Aveda founder Horst Rechelbacher. Which is why his newest venture, Intelligent Nutrients (intelligentnutrients.com), aims to use foodgrade organic ingredients in its toothpastes, lotions, and other personal care products—and to submit to USDA labeling standards. This means that the products must contain 95 percent organic ingredients if they are to be labeled organic; anything less and a shampoo is just a shampoo. And they’re not the only ones: Last year, the Organic Consumers Association won a battle with the government’s National Organic Program, giving other personal-care companies the right to use the USDA Organic seal on their products. Rechelbacher hopes that the steady push for certified organic personal-care products will inspire mainstream cosmetics companies to follow suit. In the meantime, all of Intelligent Nutrients’ profits will be donated to environmental and social justice charities. “I’m not doing this for money,” says Rechelbacher. “I’m going to go back to work and redesign consumer products so that they provide solutions.” If only all shampoos were this hardworking. —Erika Villani

INTELLIGENT NUTRIENTS AIMS TO USE FOOD-GRADE ORGANIC INGREDIENTS.

plentymag.com Feb/Mar/07 | 71


CHO ICES ST YLE

Once Upon a Pair Your favorite low-risers may look smashing, but their backstory could be less than attractive, especially if sweatshops, pesticides, and harsh chemical treatments are major plot points. Our favorite denim for spring starts on a much happier (and more eco) note—these pairs will make you look good and feel great. —Jacquelyn Lane

AMERICAN STAPLE> $245, levis.com For high-end tastes, the 501 jean, part of the new Levi’s Capital E Eco line, takes every detail into account: The denim is made of organic cotton, the buttons are salvaged from unsold garments, the dyes are 100% natural, and all the detailing is done by hand. The company also offers its classic Red Tab jeans in 100% organic cotton for a very reasonable $68.

MODERN SOPHISTICATE> $210, cocosshoppe.com Every figure will look fab in Undesigned’s bodyconscious Bamboo Denim trouser. The signature silk ribbing adds structure to the body, while the fabric, made out of bamboo and organic cotton with a touch of Lycra, hugs your curves in all the right places.

<FASHION REDUX $350, delforte.com Organic-denim purveyor Del Forte has a popular Rejeaneration program: Customers send their used Del Fortes back to the company and receive a 10% discount on their next pair. The Rejeaneration Skirt, made from the scraps of those returns, is embellished with vintage kimono fabric and tinted using coffee grounds.

HONOR HISTORY> $276, rag-bone.com The rag-and-bone men of yesteryear roamed city streets with carts, collecting scrap metal, wood, bones (to make glue), and anything else that could be reused or sold. In keeping with its namesake, all of Rag & Bone’s jeans, including the 5-Pocket Slim2, minimize the use of toxic chemicals and excess water—they’re not pre-faded or distressed, and washing is kept to a minimum.

plentymag.com Feb/Mar/07 | 73


CH O I CES H E A LTH

Neighborhood Watch Your surroundings can have a big impact on your health to get around stapleton, colorado, all you really need are your feet. Residents of the 4,700-acre Denver suburb stroll or cycle to downtown offices and schools within minutes, weaving through forested greenways and bike trails. Along the way, they can stop for a coffee or gaze at public art. On weekends, they can chat with neighbors while buying arugula at the local farmers’ market, take a bus to downtown Denver, or just settle into the grass of the 80-acre “Central Park,” an emerald gem of open space at the town’s core. The community’s mix of single-family homes, townhouses, and apartments—with units reserved for lower-income citizens—all meet state environmental building standards. It’s no surprise the town touts itself as a model of smart growth and environmentally sensitive development. But recent research suggests that communities like Stapleton are not just more eco-friendly, they’re also healthier places to live. “We hadn’t really looked into the way neighborhoods can impact health until recently, but it’s starting to look like one of the missing pieces to the public-health puzzle,” says Laura Brennan Ramirez, an assistant professor

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BY CHRISTINE DELL’AMORE

at Saint Louis University who recently authored a study on the issue. To understand what makes a healthy neighborhood, it helps to know what makes an unhealthy one. In the past few years, public-health experts have been researching the effects of urban sprawl and car-dependent suburbs. What they’re finding is that people living in these areas—where homes and businesses are spaced far apart along roadways that require cars to get from place to place—face more health problems than those living in more compact neighborhoods that allow easy walking and biking. The bulk of that research has focused on the relationship between neighborhoods and the levels of physical activity and obesity of their residents. People living in low-density neighborhoods, it turns out, are more sedentary and heavier than those who live in more compact suburbs or cities. In 2003, researchers at the University of Maryland published a study of nearly 200,000 people in 448 counties and metropolitan areas, and found that as the level of sprawl increased, so did the study participants’ high blood pressure, weight gain, and

the likelihood of being obese. In a 2004 study led by Lawrence Frank, an urban planning professor at the University of British Columbia, researchers surveyed nearly 11,000 people in Atlanta, the most sprawled region in the U.S. They found that each additional hour spent in a car daily was associated with a six-percent increase in the risk of obesity. But weight gain and cardiovascular disease aren’t the only problems. All that driving, of course, means high levels of vehicle emissions and pollution. People who live near busy streets can be exposed to two or three times more particulate matter, a harmful byproduct of car emissions, than those who don’t. Pollution can create respiratory ailments and other health problems, especially in sensitive populations such as children. An unhealthy neighborhood can also take a toll on mental health. Sprawl can isolate people in their homes, which is a risk factor for depression. Seniors are especially susceptible; their inability to drive often severs social ties. Commuting, especially in congested traffic, can also spark “road rage,” as well as raise a driver’s blood pressure and level of anxiety. More time spent


KEEP IN MIND… ✚ Go for the green.

WE NEED TO ADDRESS THIS ‘‘LOOMING, MONSTROUS ISSUE.” in cars also denies people a less tangible need: a psychological sense of community. As writer-activist Jane Jacobs so fiercely believed, the casual, everyday conversations with people on the street or in the park reinforce a “feeling for the public identity of people.” Yet social capital— memberships in clubs, churches, or volunteer organizations, or on-the-fly card games with the next-door neighbor—has plummeted since the ’50s, when people first flocked to the suburbs, and one study showed commuters participated less than non-commuters in civic organizations. It’s not a pretty picture—especially when you consider that for the moment, sprawl remains the model of choice for many developers because it tends to be cheaper and fits easily with local zoning ordinances. But the good news is experts are awakening to the need for change. “[We need] direct policies that are going to address this looming, monstrous issue,” says Frank. As more data emerge on the ill effects of sprawl, momentum for healthier alternatives is growing. In Portland, Oregon, the darling of the anti-sprawl movement, city officials have made aggressive moves to control development. Although the influx of new residents has some neighborhoods bursting at the seams, it has maintained its status as a healthy city where people can walk through neighborhoods with inviting porches and gardens. Extensive bike paths and a network of buses distribute people easily throughout the city, without cars. Meanwhile, in King County, Washington, local planners have built a “wall against sprawl,” which protects rural areas from development while promoting mixed-use areas around streetcars, buses, or rail stations. And in New Jersey, state agencies control 17 “transit villages,” revitalized areas of shops and apartments centered around public transit. In more suburban settings, New Urbanism, an urban planning movement that supports a reversion to pre–World War II building practices, also continues to gain popularity. Its

strategies include a diverse range of housing, and involve retrofitting existing areas and planning for open space. Many of the original communities, such as Seaside and Celebration, both in Florida, are thriving, and today more than 210 New Urbanist developments like Stapleton are either completed or under construction in the United States. Federal efforts are starting to take shape, too. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recently jumped on board with several programs that address the health effects of neighborhoods, or what urban planners call “the built environment.” “We want to get health at the table when a lot of the built environment decisions are made,” says Andrew Dannenberg, MD, a CDC medical officer. The agency is pilot-testing a program that would collect “health impact assessments,” reports similar to environmental-impact statements, as well as funding the U.S. Green Building Council’s new LEED standard for neighborhoods, which will launch in 2008. The voluntary standard encourages developers to build neighborhoods that preserve parkland, protect wetlands and waterways, and promote health with compact development and walkable streets. “It’s a major step in the direction of getting builders and developers looking at: ‘How do we do the right thing?’” says Dannenberg. All this is great news for the legions of potential homeowners who are already drawn to such areas, whether or not they’re aware of the health benefits. The real-estate market shows that the highest-demand neighborhoods are those that foster frequent walking, active living, and broad social networking. Urban downtowns are trendy again and New Urbanist communities that are still in the works are often selling out. Maybe, says Ramirez, more neighborhoods like these will be a simple way to help people live healthier. “We’ve tried so many ways to reach out to people—awareness campaigns, fitness programs—that haven’t been effective. The neighborhood angle may be the key.” ■

Look for open space within a 10-minute walk of your potential home. Enjoyable scenery is linked to physical activity.

✚ Take the path most traveled. Access to sidewalks and footpaths leads to more walking. Car-dependent neighborhoods often have sidewalks that either lead to nowhere or are in disrepair. ✚ Get more bang for your buck. Are

there destinations nearby where you can get food, find entertainment, and run errands within a few blocks’ walk? Mixed-use environments promote walking. ✚ The more transit, the merrier.

Check for public transportation within a five-minute walk. Most transit users get more exercise by walking to the bus stop or metro station.

✚ Breathe easy. Avoid

areas with high traffic, especially trucks, in order to reduce your exposure to air pollution.

✚ Ditch the wheels. More

than 25 percent of all trips taken in urbanized areas are a mile or less, yet most are made by automobile. If you can, walk or bike to get around.

✚ Think outside the gym. Calories

burned while gardening, climbing stairs, walking to work, or cleaning can help you meet the government’s recommended 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days of the week. ✚ If you must, go it alone. If

you start walking in your neighborhood, others will follow; research shows people who see others exercising are inspired to get active, too.

✚ Seek out a stranger. Social networking

with neighbors is not only beneficial for mental health: Research has shown people with a circle of friends and family live longer. —C.D.

plentymag.com Feb/Mar/07 | 75


CH O I CES FOOD

The Cheat-Local Diet How to subsist on regional produce all winter—without flavor fatigue eating seasonal foods from small nearby farms reduces the miles that your grub travels to get to your plate, and supports local, often family-run farms that use eco-friendly growing practices. But let’s get real—most of us live in places where the pickins’ are slim in the dead of winter. It can seem impossible to support the local-food cause without ending up with root-vegetable overload or a case of scurvy. So we rounded up a few of the most common non-local foods and looked at alternatives. Some have easy substitutions, while others force even the most local-minded chefs to bend the rules—but we’ll show you how to do it in an eco-friendly way. BANANAS Most bananas hail

from large single-crop plantations in Central and South America,

76 | Feb/Mar/07 plentymag.com

where they’re doused with pesticides and then shipped thousands of miles to U.S. supermarkets. As

BY CHRISTY HARRISON

a substitute, consider the pawpaw instead—a cousin of the banana that grows wild in 26 states and is sold in farmers’ markets in late summer and autumn. Pawpaw season is short, but some purveyors sell the frozen puree yearround, and it can be used in equal parts for banana in most recipes. Best of all, the pawpaw tree requires few or no pesticides, and the fruit packs a nutritious punch, with the same amount of potassium as bananas, twice as much

vitamin C, and more protein. Buy pawpaw puree from Lagier Ranches in California (www.lagierranches.com) or Integration Acres in Ohio (integrationacres.com). And if you’re still craving a fresh banana, a brand-new, eco-rific banana company called Oké (okeusa. com) is coming to a natural food store or co-op near you—check the website for locations. SALAD GREENS Production of

salad greens is highly concen-


A diner at The Kitchen, in Boulder, Colorado, warms up on the local fare.

SOME LOCAL FOODS HAVE EASY SUBSTITUTES; OTHERS FORCE CHEFS TO BEND THE RULES. trated in California and Arizona, which grow about 98 percent of the U.S. supply. Lettuce is the second-most consumed vegetable in the U.S. (behind potatoes), which means most of us are purchasing it from faraway sources. Many local-food advocates recommend limiting lettuce consumption to warmer months. “In winter we use hardier greens, like pumpkin kale, winter bore kale, and radicchio,” says Melissa Kelly, the chef at Primo Restaurant in Rockland, Maine; even in chilly Maine, she explains, these crops are only dormant for three to four weeks during the winter. If you live in a region where local greens disappear in wintertime, fill up instead on locally grown cabbage, turnips, carrots, and parsnips, which provide most of the same vitamins and minerals as dark leafy greens. To make up for two key nutrients you might miss without your green veggies—fiber and folate—eat more beans, which can be found locally in much of the country. TOMATOES In most regions, tomato season is the summer, as the plants need lots of heat and sunlight. California and Florida have these conditions all year; in other areas, farmers extend the season by using greenhouses and hydroponic growing systems. Most chefs, however, say there’s no comparison. “Farms that grow tomatoes year-round are never quite the same,” says Kelly. Her solution is to modify her tomato-

based dishes. “In winter, you can do a dried-tomato pesto instead of fresh tomatoes,” she says. Hugo Matheson, chef and coowner of The Kitchen, in Boulder, Colorado, suggests buying tomatoes in season, and either canning them or making sauce and freezing it for later. “You’re preserving a product at its peak rather than settling for an inferior product when it’s not in season,” he says. Still, it’s hard to get around the demand for fresh tomatoes. “I fold under pressure,” says Matheson. “People can’t understand why they can’t have a slice of tomato on their sandwich.” CITRUS FRUITS Winter is citrus season in California, Florida, Texas, and Arizona, where most citrus fruit is grown in the U.S. The rest of the country has it much tougher. “If I did everything by the book, I wouldn’t have any citrus,” says Kelly. “But it would be very hard for me to cook without lemons, or fresh limes and oranges.” Indeed, citrus fruit is practically a staple: Oranges are the mostconsumed fruit in the U.S., and countless recipes call for lemon juice. While this is one area where many local-foodies cheat, there are some options for getting around the problem. Substitute white wine vinegar in equal parts for lemon juice; and instead of eating oranges, try kumquats, which are in season through March and can survive at much lower temperatures than other citruses. Check your farmers’ market, or visit localharvest.org to find nearby sources for them. ■

Butter Bean and Spinach

soup Serves 6 to 8

“I love the versatility of dried beans,” says Matheson, chef and coowner of The Kitchen in Boulder, Colorado, who uses them often in his recipes. Butter beans don’t grow well in Colorado, so he orders them dried from Iacopi Farms in Half Moon Bay, California. “Dried produce does have a shelf life,” he cautions. “You should look for beans that are no more that a year old.” The best place to find them is at local farmers’ markets; beans are usually harvested in October or November, then dried during the winter months. For this soup, you can use any type of bean you like. Spinach should be available at many local farms in March, but if not, you can substitute other local greens.

Ingredients 6 oz. dried beans, soaked in water overnight and drained One large onion, chopped 2 pints chicken or vegetable stock 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil 1/2 lb. spinach 5 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed 1 cup fresh chopped parsley or celery leaves Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste Procedure 1. Place the soaked, drained beans in a large pot and pour in the stock to cover. Simmer the beans and stock over medium heat until beans are tender, about 40 minutes. 2. Meanwhile, in a sauté pan over medium-high heat, heat up half of the olive oil. Add the onions and thyme and sauté until soft, about 6 minutes. Add this mixture to the beans as they simmer. 3. Once the beans are tender, stir in the spinach and simmer until cooked through, about 2 to 3 minutes. If needed, add water or stock to thin the soup. Season to taste with salt and pepper. 4. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with olive oil and parsley or celery leaves. Serve with lots of crusty bread.

plentymag.com Feb/Mar/07 | 77


CH O I CES FOOD

All Buttered Up With the explosion of haute comfort foods in the last decade, coupled with new research on the benefits of unsaturated fats, nut butters have gone high-concept and healthy. Artisanal peanut-butter purveyors have popped up everywhere, crafting sophisticated new flavor combos without a drop of hydrogenated oil or corn syrup. And “alternative” nut butters like almond, cashew, and walnut—often mixed with natural ingredients like chocolate and honey—are no longer the province of hippies and peanut-allergic kids. We tasted nearly three dozen flavors from the major natural and organic brands, and these were by far our favorites. —C.H.

PEANUT BUTTER & CO.

All-Natural Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Peanut Butter ($6, ilovepeanutbutter.com)

MARANATHA NUT BUTTERS

JUSTIN’S NUT BUTTERS

FUTTERS NUT BUTTERS

SANTA CRUZ ORGANIC

Natural Honey-Almond Butter

Heavenly Honey Organic Peanut Butter

Raw Organic ChocolateWalnut Butter

Dark-Roasted Crunchy Peanut Butter

($7.99, maranathanutbutters.com)

($6, justinsnutbutter.com)

($12.80, futtersnutbutters.com)

($5.10, scojuice.com)

Sweeter and more honeyflavored than the other honey combos we tried, with a good amount of salt to match (though still just three percent of your daily allowance per serving), this almond butter is another snackable treat. Its pronounced almond flavor makes it a great choice for pairing with fresh fruit or celery.

Just sweet enough to coax your kids away from Skippy, with a robust peanut flavor and rich texture that make it a hit with grownups, too. There’s only a hint of salt in this one, so it works well for folks who prefer a lower-sodium nut butter (and pairs nicely with a salty cracker for those who don’t).

With its high chunk ratio, this Futters flavor is more like a tapenade than a traditional nut butter. Its complex taste— decidedly cocoa-forward, with a wholesome walnut finish— will please dark-chocolate lovers. Great on apple slices or warm, salty bread.

We love that the company offers light and dark roasts, giving nut-butter aficionados a variety of choices similar to those enjoyed by coffee connoisseurs. But we’re partial to the strong flavor of the dark-roasted crunchy PB, which proclaims its peanuttiness much more clearly than other brands. It even stands up to bacon and bananas in “The Elvis,” our favorite guilty-pleasure sandwich.

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PHOTOGRAPH BY HULYA KOLABAS

This peanut butter, which combines a creamy base with tender raisin chunks and toothsome flecks of cinnamon, is flavorful and addictive enough to eat straight out of the jar. If good manners are called for, it also works well on bread or fruit. And be sure to try the company’s other delicious flavor combinations: Dark Chocolate Dreams, White Chocolate Wonderful, and The Heat Is On.


CHEAT SHEET

PlentyLabs: Sweat Equity Since I discovered the joys of smelling like Teen Spirit, I’ve been a slave to traditional antiperspirants. But when I heard they might cause serious health problems, I did some research. Some reports claim parabens (preservatives in some deodorants) have been found in breast tumors, but a link to cancer has never been proven. The rumor that aluminum

(another common ingredient) causes Alzheimer’s disease is also unsubstantiated. Still, I decided to give natural deodorants a whirl. These chemical-free formulas won’t keep you dry all day, but they do have their perks—they’re known to be gentler on the skin, and scents from plants beat the heck out of abrasive chemical smells. —Kiera Butler

Nature’s Gate Organics

Kiss My Face

Jason

Earth Science

Tom’s of Maine

Lemongrass & Clary Sage Deodorant

Active Enzyme Scented Deodorant

Apricot Deodorant Stick

Liken Natural Deodorant

$3.49, 2.48 oz. nationalsupplementcenter.com

$5.95, 2.5 oz. shopearthessentials.com

Calendula Natural Deodorant Stick

$4.40, 1.7 oz. shopnatural.com

$5.41, 2.5 oz. jason-natural.com

Accent on the lemongrass. This deodorant’s strong, citrus-y smell is refreshing, and it’s 70 percent certified organic to boot. It can be a little sticky, especially if you apply it fresh out of the shower, so it’s best to dry off first.

This deodorant boasts a vegetable enzyme that neutralizes odors, and it contains baking soda and clay to absorb perspiration. One caveat: If flowery isn’t your thing, this one might not be for you, since its scent is almost like perfume.

Apricot might seem like a strange scent for a deodorant, but it’s actually quite pleasant. It does tend to leave some residue on shirts, but its endurance is excellent—the fruity fragrance typically lasts all day.

Calendula, sage, goldenseal, ginger, coriander, and lichen plant give this deodorant its clean, subtle scent. It feels smooth and moisturizing going on, and despite its opaque white color, it doesn’t streak.

$3.29, 2.25 oz. vitacost.com

An old standby, Tom’s deodorant is also most widely available of the bunch—it’s sold at most mainstream drugstores. Although its scent doesn’t have the staying power of some of the other deodorants, a touchup works wonders.

Dilemma: Got a Six-Pack and Nothing to Do? Q: I’ve always heard that we should cut up our plastic six-pack rings into tiny bits so that they don’t strangle ocean wildlife if they get washed out to sea. Is this still true? Wouldn’t the six-pack holders wind up in a landfill instead of the ocean?

A: It’s true that many six-pack rings do end up in landfills, but that doesn’t mean they won’t make it to the ocean eventually. In fact, 80 percent of marine debris comes from land-

based sources like sewer overflows and landfills. Plastics pose problems for sea life because they aren’t biodegradable, often remaining in oceans for years at a time, and six-pack rings are especially troublesome because of their stringy shape. Millions of birds, turtles, and fish ingest or become entangled in debris each year, and animals ensnared in six-pack holders and other garbage often drown or lose limbs. Many plastics also contain toxic chemicals that cause reproductive failure, starvation, infection, or

even death if they’re eaten. Plus, they also harm habitats like coral reefs and seagrass beds. Obviously, cutting up the rings is just one small step toward protecting sea life. But it’s still worth doing. (The EPA recommends it, too.) And if snipping up the detritus from your six-pack of Blatz strikes you as too insignificant an effort, consider additional steps like reducing waste by reusing and recycling, choosing products with minimal amounts of packaging, or participating in beach cleanup projects.

plentymag.com Feb/Mar/07 | 79


THE L AST WORD

The Inspector Backyard secrets brought to light when i was ten I called the EPA on my neighbor. I had just moved to a suburban neighborhood after years spent in the piney woods of north Texas. Moving to “civilization” was a harsh transition out of a world that had been full of creatures. My only refuge was a small, undeveloped tract of woods behind my house. The woods were mostly hardwoods with a mixture of loblolly pines. Two creeks, fed by the neighborhood’s storm drains, ran downhill through the area. This was habitat enough for a ten-year-old, and I quickly set out to discover all of the animals that lived there. It was on one of my usual hikes in the woods that I became involved with law enforcement and the investigation of a crime. I had hiked down to the creek to see if I could catch any frogs, but when I got to the pool of water around the culvert I saw carnage. Nearly ten birds—blue jays, cardinals, sparrows, and chickadees—lay dead around the water. The bloated bodies of frogs bobbed in the pool, and the water was covered with an oil slick, as if a mini Exxon Valdez had crashed in the creek. I stormed back to my house. My mom was at the kitchen table, reading. “Mom!” I said. “Someone has been dumping oil in the drains and it killed a bunch of birds and frogs!” My mother, used to a son who had seen one too many National Geographic documentaries, half-jokingly told me to call the EPA. I grabbed the phone book and phone and went into the living room. A few moments

BY RAGAN SUTTERFIELD

later I came back in the kitchen. “Mom, the EPA wants to talk with you.” Surprised, my mother took the phone. She explained what I had told her and hung up. “What’d they say?” I asked. She told me they would send an inspector out on Wednesday. This gave me time to get started with some detective work. My main suspect was a guy down the street named Mike, a bodybuilder who was always working on several souped-up trucks in his backyard. I crept behind Mike’s tall, wooden fence with spikes along the top. Although his front lawn was well-manicured and immaculate, behind his house was a real mess. There was lots of trash, including empty bottles of motor oil, transmission fluid, and coolant. I picked up a few bottles as evidence. On Wednesday, the inspector arrived in a little white station wagon marked EPA on the door. A middle-aged man in a drooping blue jacket listened carefully to my story. “Can you show me where you found the birds?” he asked. I took him down to the woods and showed him the stream where the birds still lay. He pulled out a little vial and took a water sample. I told him about Mike and showed him the containers I had found. After writing in a notebook, he walked back to his car and turned to me and said, “Unless I can catch him in the act, I can’t fine him. But I will give him a warning.” I watched as he drove down the street to Mike’s house. After that

there was no more oil in the creek. Last summer, sixteen years after my tattletale phone call, my father told me Mike had appeared in the local paper. He had helped his girlfriend kill her mother. The news was chilling but didn’t surprise me. Not long after I’d called the EPA on him, the SWAT team had descended on our quiet neighborhood because Mike had a violent argument with his girlfriend. No one ever had a clue as to what kind of person he was before then—unless they looked, as I did, behind his house. There were fancy cars and landscaping in the front, but in his trash-strewn backyard, Mike’s disregard for life was already apparent. Several years ago, I went to hear the late philosopher Paul Ricoeur speak; in his talk he recommended that we place dumps and prisons in the middle of our cities. “We must make our problems visible,” he said. I think of this when I remember Mike. We have so many backyards in the world. The Ivory Coast is the backyard of Europe; the American countryside is the backyard of its cities—all of them strewn with exported trash. But to those who live there, these places are the front yards, the places their children play and neighbors visit. It’s important to remember that there are no backyards, really—just front yards seen from a different perspective. ■ Ragan Sutterfield is a sustainable farmer in central Arkansas. He raises sheep, cattle, chickens, and a rare breed of pig called the Gloucestershire Old Spot Pig.

Got an eco story to tell? E-mail us at lastword@plentymag.com. 80 | Feb/Mar/07 plentymag.com

ILLUSTRATION BY FELIX SOCKWELL


© 2006 KF Holdings.

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Plenty Magazine Issue 14 Feb/Mar 2007  

The PLENTY 20, urban environment ✚ SEARCHING FOR HAPPINESS IN BHUTAN ✚ ECO TRAVEL GEAR IT’S EASY BEING GREEN

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