Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Our Influence is Our Strength and Our Strengths Our Influence - The Formative Five - September’s Sustainable Mothers of the Month

The mission of this blog is to document my quest for sustainability. As I've said before, sustainable living isn't just about the environment, but about finding a balance between individual well being, good parenting, professional achievement, and giving back to the community. Ultimately, I believe that living a sustainable lifestyle supports that balance, and that looking at life through the lens of sustainability helps eliminate the nonessentials, that can lead to imbalance. By honoring a mother (or group of mothers) each month, I hope to elucidate how sustainable choices support this balance. This is why this month I decided to honor those mothers who inspired and shaped me growing up...so in no particular order...I would like to recognize my formative five.

My Mother (aka Moma) - Mothering and Mothering and Mothering

My mother had a child in 1974, 1984 and 1996 and had I not had the Freen, she might have continued the trend. When I tell people this they often ask “why?” After a glass or two of chardonnay, I'll tell them she wanted to make sure she always had a babysitter on hand, but I know the truth is that family is, and always will be; the most important thing to my mother and it is through mothering and being a mother that she feels pride, happiness and success. It wasn’t until I had my own child that I could appreciate this. Before my son was born, I’m not sure I ever understood my mother or the choices she made but once I became a mother it all made sense and my respect and understanding of my mother and all mothers came into being.

My Grandmother Rose - Cleaning and an Appreciation of the Finer Things

My Grandmother is a neat freak. One might ask what cleaning has to do with sustainability but that person probably doesn't know me. Growing up, my parents didn't send me to camp. They sent me to my Grandparents’ house. It was there that that my appreciation of structure, order and cleanliness was instilled. I’m not knocking my parents’ house...well okay I am; it was not structured, ordered or clean. That said, my Grandmother's house was the other extreme - often she would vacuum before we got up from the table. Today, when I find myself with a bottle of Mrs. Myers and rag in hand before my guests have finished eating I fondly remember those moments. So, while cleaning is not inherent to sustainability or balance to me it reflects my own balance. I would wager to say that the cleanliness of my home on any given day reflects the level of balance my life is in. If my house is spotless it is likely that I am avoiding something, if it is a mess then I am definitely avoiding something, if it is generally clean with a small pile of laundry things are likely pretty all right.

My Aunt Debbie - Gardening and Writing

My Aunt Debbie is a librarian. I know my Aunt Debbie will be a little disappointed when she reads this because for every year as long as I can remember she has given me a book or two or three for Christmas and now continues the tradition with the Freen. Without question through these books her appreciation of literature has been passed on to everyone who knows her including myself, but in reflecting now on the impact of the time I've spent with her throughout the years, it is her garden and her appreciation of nature that inspired me most. Growing up in New York, I had little chance to plant bulbs or eat snap peas straight off the vine. I remember summers in her garden and walking through the woods behind her house as formative moments that gave me an appreciation for the outdoors. It is now, when I am pruning my forsythia or planting my bulbs wondering how the hell I ever learned how or even became interested in gardening, that I remember her garden and how much time we spent there.

My Aunt Susan - Working and Giving

My Aunt Susan has her PhD in Nursing. Growing up I remember that when we would visit her house she would often go up to bed at 7pm, get up at 4am for work, return at 6pm, and do it all over again the next day - sometimes even on Christmas. Once my cousin Amanda was older, she added to these hours by going back to school for her PhD. Her career has always been important, but somehow it never took precedence. She always had time for my cousin and for all of us. I suppose in some way nursing and giving are just one in the same. With all the time she would spend working and schooling, Susan was still finished Christmas shopping long before anyone in my family even began. She was never late with a card or a gift. I remember her dining room being filled with gifts for me and my siblings and all her other nieces and nephews. It was this generosity and the time she would spend finding the right gift for each one of us that showed how important her family was and still is to Susan.

My Aunt Catherine - Cooking and Hosting

My Aunt Catherine is a wonderful cook and hostess. Without the summer weekends and holidays at my Aunt Catherine's house, I'm not sure I would have ever learned how to cook. I'm not knocking my Dad's turkey surprise or my Grandmother's pilaf, but it is Aunt Catherine who taught me the value and joy of cooking for others. When I read Michael Pollan's books, it was Catherine I thought of because she cooks real meals for her family every night and whether it was a meal for two or twenty the result was always a culinary experience to be remembered. Every meal served is cooked with love and patience and an appreciation for where the food came from and for who would be eating it. The many meals we had together with our extended family sitting on the back porch of their house were some of the best times our families spent together and a time that is often lost on meals in front of the television or served of out of cartons. So this summer when I had the chance to walk the Cape Ann Farmer's Market with her picking local herbs and vegetables while talking with her about her involvement with Sustainable Cape Ann and this blog to return to cook dinner with her for our family it all came full circle.

While there were many other women and men that shaped me growing up and continue to do so in looking back at the women who I spent the most time with as a child I was struck by how uniquely different each one of these women is and how much of each of them shaped me. I am sure this in itself it not unique which is what makes it so remarkable. As women and mothers our sphere of influence is so much more than our immediate families and it is not a power we should take lightly. Our influence is our strength and our strengths our influence.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Coffee Should Kick Start Your Morning Not Global Warming

With Presidential debates, Caribou Barbie and a Wall Street bail out at top of mind, the issue of disposable coffee cups seems slightly immaterial. However, as the summer retreats like an Alaskan glacier, I find myself craving a grande skim latté to combat the fall chill in the morning air. So last week, recovering from a cold and out of my favorite home brew there I was Sustainable Mom at the drive-thru ordering my first latté in months. As I waited for my hot frothy beverage to arrive, mentally justifying my purchase as support for the local economy, I decided I should look into the subject myself to see how bad that disposable paper coffee cup I was about to receive actually is for the environment.

The Damage

According to Sustainability is Sexy, a Seattle-based non-profit, paper cup use in 2006 accounted for 4 billion gallons of water wasted, 6.5 million trees and 4,884 billion BTU’s of energy used amounting in 252 million pounds of garbage in landfills.
According to Ideal Bite, if you purchase one cup of coffee (or tea) in a disposable container every day, you create about 22.75lb of waste each year.

According to The Recycler’s Handbook, Americans throw away 25 billion Styrofoam cups every ear and Styrofoam cups are the worst culprits, as Styrofoam never degrades. Although in theory Styrofoam is recyclable there are few facilities that do it and very small portion of it is ever recycled.

According to Rob Martin, the Vice President of Merchandising and Production for Tully’s Coffee, Americans’ consume more than 16 billion paper cups every year. In September of 2007, Tully’s became the first coffee company to introduce a fully renewable and compostable coffee cup for their hot beverages. The cup, also called the the ecotainer™ is made by International Paper and is lined with a corn based bio-plastic and is certified by the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI)..

In contrast, Starbucks uses cups that contain 10% recycled paper. While this may seem like an irresponsible choice, Starbucks' director of environmental impact defends it well in a recent interview with Sustainability is Sexy. He sites both the unlikelihood of a typical Starbucks coffee consumer composting their coffee cup, as well as the questionable ethics of using corn to produce the 2.3 billion coffee cups, in light soaring demand for corn for use as biofuel.

The Solution

The easiest way to reduce coffee cup waste is to make and drink coffee at home in your own cup. Although I’ve tried several organic and fair trade coffees my favorite remains Stew’s Choice from Stew Leonards. It beats a latté any day.

When drinking coffee on the go bring your own cup. Keep one in the car, at home and at the office. While the manufacturing of reusable cups has a greater impact according to Sustainability Engineer Pablo Päster a stainless steel mug breaks even with paper cups after 24 uses. It is also valuable to note that in 2006, Starbucks found that coffee drinkers used reusable cups an estimated 17 million times, which kept 674,000 pounds of garbage out of landfills.

I have to admit that I have not found a reusable cup that I prefer to the paper Starbucks latté cup. My coffee never seems to stay hot enough and then the stainless steel cup I have can’t be put in the microwave, so I find myself pouring it into a ceramic cup to warm it up one last time before I leave to heat it up. It is kind of a pain so instead of using my reusable cup on more than one occasion I have washed my latté cup and poured my home brew in it.

Write letters to your local paper educating members of your community on the waste associated with coffee cups.

Encourage merchants to use ceramic cups for in house customers and recycled paper or compostable cups when and where practical. At the blog Wise Bread – living large on a small budget they suggest walking out of a store that does not offer a reusable alternative for staying customers.
Encourage merchants to offer a discount if you bring your own cup. Come armed with the facts – let them know that a 2000 study found that Starbucks could save more than $1 million per year in packaging costs by implementing reusable cups.

Join the Facebook group to stop Dunkin Donuts from using polystyrene cups.

Will using a disposable coffee cup be the worst environmental offense you make today? No
Will using a reusable cup put an end to the credit crisis? Probably not, but I don't know for sure.
Will it slow the retreat of Alaskan glaciers? It just might and it is definitely worth a shot.