Green your life at home, work & play

12 Great Alternatives to the Usual Office Holiday Gifts December 16, 2011

In addition to the annual Christmas party, many organizations have a tradition of gift giving.  You may feel pressured to buy something for everyone in your department  – and that is one more thing that you may not want to add to your holiday ‘to do’ list.

One company decided to change that tradition, and figured out an alternative to buying for the 30 plus people in the organization. Some of the employees met and decided to start making gift baskets of consumables, cookies, breads etc., that would not clutter the office all year.  The baskets werea hit, and started a trend.

Still, people felt they had to give a basket to everyone. The next year, the Secret Santa concept was floated – this is where everyone picks a name out of a hat, and buys only that person a gift. The company voted, and everyone agreed to the Secret Santa idea. Even though there was now less stuff, people still tried to outdo each other with the gift they would give. Finally, the company put a $20 cap on the gift value. That is one alternative for your office – and below are 12 more:

  1. As an office, adopt a school, hospital or collect money for the homeless or needy families.  Resource for adopting a school:,
  2. Donate to a charity in the name of a colleague who cares about that issue. For example, Rescue Gifts:
  3. Give reusable items that can be used all year long, like water bottles, mugs , reusable shopping bags or solar rechargers:
  4. Give gifts of recycled, reused and natural materials like
  5. Give fair trade and organic items such as tea, coffee, or chocolate.
  6. Give homemade baked goods, potpourri, or a dried herb wreath: and
  7. Create a special memory by giving activities, a ball game, museum tickets, or another fun activity: or
  8. Send a card to a soldier overseas or an injured veteran spending the holidays in a military hospital:   or
  9. Make a special emergency kit gift basket with a blanket, flashlight, gas can, jumper cables, and flares – do it yourself or go to:
  10. Give away that great book you enjoyed to someone who shares your taste. Or give the gift of reading to a child in need:
  11. If you must shop, buy at a local small business:
  12. Look at your suppliers and see what can be changed:

Not to employers: Don’t forget to still give cash bonuses or other incentives for all the good work over the year!

Also, check out:
Happy Holidays!


Eco-Friendly Hotels and Where to Find Them April 8, 2011

At a recent Hampton Inn stay, I noticed that the coffee cups were marked with the Sustainable Forestry Initiative logo. According to their website , this label is applied to wood and paper products that are from a certified source according to third-party certification audits. The goal is to promote sustainable forest management, supported by professional foresters, conservationists, and scientists, and the program addresses key environmental, social and economic forest values (e.g. water quality, biodiversity, regeneration). That being said, Forest Stewardship Council is another organization with the same goals and is arguably a better known and more accepted program.

It turns out that a lot of hotels are taking the initiative to make their establishments more “eco-friendly”, addressing a wide range of issues from overall energy-saving measures to water conservation to reducing the use of paper products such as telephone books (and going above and beyond the ‘leave your towel on the hook if you don’t want it washed, which most hotels are doing). But how do you know if the hotel you’ve selected is actually committed to sustainability and conservation?

There are several different resources that you can use as a resource for planning your next personal or business trip. The Travelocity Green Hotel Directory is a great place to start. Travelocity works with second- and third-party green hotel certification programs whose standards align with the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria (GSTC). Some of the certification partners include Green Seal, EPA’s Energy Star, the U.S. Green Building Council, and the Rainforest Alliance. To find a hotel that fits this criteria, search through their directory and look for the “Eco-Friendly Hotel” symbol next to a listing. Some examples of eco-friendly hotels in the Washington, D.C. area include the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, Sofitel Lafayette Square, and Embassy Suites. The Kimpton hotels are also known for their efforts in sustainability, as is Marriott.

Hotels achieve a high level of credibility if they are certified by an independent organization. There are several different types of certification, but some of the most common are listed below.

  • Green Seal hotels and lodging properties: Green Seal focuses on hotel operations rather than building structure. They have set standards for lodging facilities, but they allow a range of solutions for many of those standards. Properties are listed by state.
  • Energy Star for hospitality: Part of the U.S. EPA, Energy Star facilities must be certified by a Professional Engineer (PE) and certification can be renewed on an annual basis. Properties can be searched by location or label year. Their website also has some excellent resources for property owners including strategies, online training sessions, success stories, and energy information services.
  • LEED certification: Part of the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED promotes a whole-building approach to sustainability by recognizing performance in five key areas of human and environmental health: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality. View their certification process or browse the directory for more information. The directory includes all properties, not just hotels and lodging, but can be searched by project name, location, and level of certification.

There are many more resources that don’t involve certification. The iStayGreen website includes a wide range of properties, including some that claim themselves as “green” without independent certification. Their search results indicate whether a property has completed the iStayGreen Environmental Self-Audit and gives a “green eco-leaf rating” on a scale of 1 to 5. Properties include lodging and hotels both in the United States and in other countries around the world. That being said, a self-certification does not bear nearly as much weight as one that is verified by a recognized third-party non-profit. Other programs include the Green Hotels Association and EarthCheck.

Here are a few eco-friendly hotels in the United States that you can keep in mind for your next trip to San Jose, Seattle, or New York. To find more lists like this, check out Out Traveler’s Top 5, Travel and Leisure’s Top 20, and Via Magazine (AAA)’s Top 10.

Fairmont — San Jose, California
Features: Replaced 5,900 incandescent bulbs with CFLs, recycled 8,600 pounds of old telephone books, offers free overnight parking to guests with hybrid vehicles

Hilton — Vancouver, Washington
Features: Water-efficient landscaping, a heat-reflecting roofs, CO2 sensors that adjust temperature and light when rooms are vacant

Hotel Monaco — Seattle, Washington
Features: Includes an eco-friendly kitchen with recycling, composting food, using local organic foods and sustainable seafood, and switched to recyclable to-go containers

Marriott — Bethesda, Maryland
Features: First hotel and conference center in the United States to win LEED certification for its environmental design

70 Park Avenue — New York, New York
Features: Part of the Kimpton Hotels’ EarthCare eco-program; Repurposes kitchen oil in biodiesel, provides discounts for hybrid drivers, offers an eco-concierge


The Fun Green Museum – Trash! July 8, 2010

Although all green museums are fun, the Trash Museum in Hartford CT, and the Garbage Museum in Stratford CT managed by the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority are particularly geared towards making information about landfill-destined waste interesting and engaging.

Proud owners of the Trash-O-Saurus and the Temple of Trash (made from more than a ton of salvaged trash), these museums run environmental and recycling educational programs including suggestions on how to implement recycling at home. Besides tours of recycling facilities lead by trained educators, the museums run school and community programs, their overall attendance reaching nearly 60,000.

These museums run on a fraction of the budget of large-scale centers such as the California Academy of Sciences, and yet have a widespread tangible, positive impact on their communities. More museums need to take on the responsibility of teaching their patrons about practical skills for improving their everyday lives.

Note: Photo by


Not just for old dead things anymore… June 15, 2010

The new trend in cutting-edge museums: the Green Museum.

Museums operate on certain key principles: stewardship, preservation and education.  Naysayers might argue that ‘green’ might not fit with a museum’s mission- art preservation, child education, historic portrayal- and yet on further exploration, it becomes glaringly apparent that sustainability slots in seamlessly with every facet of museum administration.

Stewardship encompasses more than just preservation of our collections, but preservation of our environment in general.  We have an obligation to preserve the past and the present for future generations: how are we to do that if we have no future and are destroying the present?  If museums- forums for education, bastions of higher knowledge and role models for society- allow our natural world to go to waste, for whom are they preserving their precious collections?

Museums are by nature institutions for the public, and as such they are realizing that they need to respond to the increasing interest in global sustainability, because if they are not furthering the interests of their public, why do they continue to exist?  As immense archives of research and discovery, museums should and do feel obligated to share their vast oceans of information with a willing public, a public that appears on their doorsteps day after day hungry to be taught by the institutions in which they place their trust.

Moreover, many museums and historic buildings operate as non-profits, on tight budgets supplemented by grants and foundations. It is in their interests to be as efficient as possible- they have far better causes on which to spend their money than wasteful energy, water and gas bills. In order to maintain positive relations with the patrons, foundations and benefactors that support them, museums must prove firstly, they have their interests at heart, and secondly, they are using their money as efficiently and effectively as possible- not losing it through poor insulation and wasteful practices.

Preservation of our natural planet. Stewardship of the environment for future generations. Education about needs to be, and can be done by individual members of the public. Nothing could be simpler.

The Ultimate Green Museum

You may have heard about the recent renovation of the California Academy of Sciences. The high tech, multi-million dollar museum, originally founded in 1853, was reopened with its new building in 2008, and was immediately lauded as an innovation in green design integrating form and function.

This Platinum certified LEED building boasts, among other things: 60,000 PV cells, 2.5 acres of green roof, the use of recycled rainwater for irrigation and over 90% of natural light usage in all occupied spaces.  The building has cut down 50% of its water usage, and its construction included 20,000 pounds of recycled concrete and 11 million pounds of recycled steel.

The museum runs popular education programs and uses its building’s features (like their recycled denim insulated walls) as a learning tool for school groups and visitors.  It’s a strong example of an institution whose science focus and access to a large capital campaign has allowed it to embrace sustainability easily and thoroughly.

Don’t assume, though, that green is restricted to multi-million dollar science centres- museums of all sizes and disciplines have been embracing sustainability as part of their mission and obligation to their communities. Stay tuned for examples of unexpected institutions which are sustainably-minded and have managed to weave their green focus thoughtfully into their internal and external operations.

For more information, consult  “The Green Museum”  by Elizabeth Wylie, and Sarah Brophy


travel green this summer June 1, 2010

Memorial day has come and gone.  For many, this means the opening of local pools and the unofficial start of summer(summer officially starts on June 21) and perhaps a vacation. When you’re planning your summer getaways, there are many ways to keep the environment in mind or make it the focus of your experience, with ecotourism.

According to Merriam Webster’s dictionary the official definition of ecotourism is “the practice of touring natural habitats in a manner meant to minimize ecological impact.” You have multiple options when it comes to being an eco-tourist.

Many travelers today use the internet and discount travel sites to make their plans.  One way to be more eco-friendly is to make your travel’s carbon neutral.  The concept is simple: calculate the amount of CO2 your travel will generate and buy that amount in carbon offsets, for a net impact of zero.  Some of the major discount travel sites like Expedia and Travelocity give you the option of buying carbon offsets when you book your travel with them.  If the site you’re booking through doesn’t offer an offset option or if you’re arranging your journey through other means, you can buy offsets independently.  However, the value of purchasing carbon offsets is debatable.  The fact that you paid someone to plant a certain number of trees for you doesn’t change the fact that your travels emitted CO2.  Also, the effectiveness of carbon offsetting is unverified.  Others argue that buying offsets is better than doing nothing.  The price of the carbon offset depends on your travel distance and ranges with each offset provider.  TerraPass, a popular provider, has options not just for travel but for your daily life as well.  The value of carbon offsetting is a personal decision.  Also you can take a Sierra Club’s quiz to see how “green” your destination is.

While offsets allow you to use your wallet to help the environment, eco-tourism fosters a focus on sustainability while you travel.  A great resource for planning vacations are some major conservation related organizations: Sierra Club, National Geographic, World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International, and the International Ecotourism Society.  Most of these organizations lead various types of trips overseas and have a range of prices that vary by institution and location. Although these trips may be a little more expensive, you can be assured that you’re being as eco-friendly as possible while enjoying yourself.  These groups also provide resources for planning individual journeys as well as tips on being eco-friendly when traveling or choosing an “ecodestination.”

The International Ecotourism Society in particular offers free and paid memberships (1 year=$15, lifetime=$100) that give you access to a wealth of information.  The free membership is definitely worth a try and if you’re happy with your experience, the paid memberships give you access to job boards and travel discounts.

An additional type of eco-tourism involves volunteering while you’re on vacation.  The institutions mentioned above offer resources for 1 week to 1 year long opportunities.  You also have the option of going overseas or staying within the US.  Projects range from working with sea turtles to staying in the US and helping a wild life sanctuary in Florida. The costs of projects have a vast range.  You may find undertakings that cost you about $300/week overseas.  Some experiences are fully funded and only require you to pay for your transportation to and from the location, while you may even find some that offer a small stipend in addition to providing food and lodging.  People who have been ec0-volunteers say they come back re-energized and with a sense of accomplishment.

Finally, check out our past posts with info on local green travel or travel by air, train and auto.

Whether you choose to buy carbon offsets, go on a organized trip through various conservation associations, or take a volunteer vacation, safe travels this summer!


Some Green Tips this Easter April 1, 2010

With Easter just around the corner, here’s some tips to celebrate and be green at the same time!

1.  Most hard-boiled Easter eggs go uneaten, so donate them to a local food bank.

2. If you do plan on boiling eggs and perhaps eating your eggs, make sure you don’t keep them out of the refrigerator for more than 2 hours and consume them within one week. Eating a plain old boiled egg may not sound so appetizing to some of you, here’s a few ways to spice it up!

3.  Dye your eggs with your own home-made dye.*

•1 teaspoon saffron
•3 tablespoons ground turmeric

•1 bunch sliced beets
•Bottled beet juice
•Frozen cherries

•1 bunch chopped spinach
•Petals from 8 marigold flowers

•Grape juice
•2 bags frozen blueberries

•1 head chopped red cabbage

Mix ingredients into a pan of cold water (enough to just cover the eggs). Add a tablespoon of vinegar, cover the pan and bring it to a boil. Simmer for 15-20 minutes and allow the water to cool before removing the eggs.

*Dye mix and recipe courtesy of Baltimore Sun.

4. Replace synthetic Easter grass with shredded paper.

5. Alternatives to buying new baskets:

  • Make your own
  • Go to the thrift store. Many seasonal items often end up in thift stores after just one use.
  • Get creative and use a tote bag, backpack, or purse.  You can give the gift of a bag and it serves as a “basket.”
  • Reuse baskets from last year.

5. Trying to cut down on the sugar this Easter? Replace candy with fresh fruits, nuts, dried fruits, or check out some natural candy alternatives.

6. Just have to have chocolate?  Check out our chocolate resources from the Valentine’s Day post which also carry Easter chocolate options.


Keeping Valentine’s Green February 11, 2010

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, and for those of you that wait until the last minute to do your holiday shopping, here are some helpful ideas to keep the day green for you and your special someone:


The quintessential Valentine’s gift. Who doesn’t love chocolate?

From a sustainability standpoint, you’re best off either making your own gift basket of fairtrade and organics from a local purveyor, or contacting a local artisan chocolate shop to find out how they source their Valentine’s chocolate. Otherwise, there are a variety of online vendors that will ship you sustainable chocolate and candy.

Vosges – has a wide assortment of Valentine’s gifts as well as their (in)famous Bacon-Chocolate bars. While not fully organic, they are a certified organic producer and their production as well as their retail stores are powered by renewable energy. You can read more about their commitment to the environment here.

Sweet Earth – has a huge collection of organic and fairtrade Valentine’s Chocolates. It’s one of the better places to start looking for chocolate. You can read about their sustainable philosophy here.

Green & Blacks – is a larger commercial brand available at many grocery stores throughout the US/Canada. They are fully organic and are moving all their product lines in the US towards fairtrade.

Dagoba – is another organic brand committed to sustainability, and has a strong relationship with the growers and communities that produce the chocolate used in their products.

Organic Style – also has a really nice selection of sweets available for the holiday, beyond just chocolate.

Theo – is one of the few domestic ‘bean-to-bar’ manufacturers with oversight over the entire production process, and they were the first organic and fairtrade chocolate producer in the US. You can read about their extensive commitment to sustainability here.

Green Promise – has an excellent collection of links to the online stores of organic chocolate producers and is a great resource to find the perfect gift.

Cadbury – is going Fairtrade so we can feel less guilty about enjoying a little milk chocolate every now and then. Obviously dark is where the money is at, but if it’s fairtrade we still get hipster points.

Even has an extensive array of organic and vegan options. Although amazon’s packaging is notoriously ungreen so choose wisely.

Buying chocolate sight-unseen–without tasting it–can be a bit of a shot in the dark. So the most environmentally-conscious (and delicious) option is definitely to find something green you like from a local shop and sample the goods beforehand. Otherwise you may order something that will never get eaten and will wind up in the trash or compost.


Flowers are tricky from a green standpoint. They have such a short shelf life and many are flown from very remote climates with little or no restrictions on fertilizers or pesticides. It’s usually much greener to gift a plant, instead of fresh-cut flowers. But if you must, when shopping for fresh-cut flowers either online or in store look for Veriflora certification for sustainable products.

The greenest option would be to call up your local florist and see if they have any organic flowers and bring by your own vase. If you’re pressed for time and can’t find a local florist that can help you out, try one of these online sellers:

Organic Bouquet – uses all organically grown flowers and ships them carbon neutral to your door.

California Organic Flowers – nice selection, but fewer options that Organic Bouquet and no carbon neutral shipping.

Diamond Organics – has a very limited selection of organic US-Grown flowers, but they also have a variety of other green foods you could order at the same time.

Romantic Dinner

If you happen to be in the DC area, we have some excellent sustainable options inside the beltway. A shortlist is available here, personal favorites being Hook and Farmers and Fishers/Founding Farmers.

You can learn more about the overall sustainability of many traditional Valentine’s Gifts from our previous entry on Valentine’s Day. Good luck, and remember to keep sustainability in mind.


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