Monthly Archives: April 2010

Stuff. Part 2: paper receipts version.

Something was recently brought to my attention that has to do with stuff… of the useless and wasteful variety.

Paper receipts.

In addition to being tricky to spell, these pesky non-recycleable pieces of paper consume barrels and barrels of oil and literally hundreds of thousands of trees every year (more specific stats here). Did I mention that they’re not even recyclable?

My friends at are working on advocating for all electronic receipts, saying,

We think paper receipts are a wasteful vestige of the last millennium. There is no reason – legal or otherwise – why consumers or retailers need paper receipts. Electronic receipts are completely valid and far more efficient. Not to mention, the production of paper receipts do some real damage to our environment.

But I really liked what one commenter had to say:

I bought a doughnut, and they gave me a receipt for the doughnut. I don’t need a receipt for the doughnut, man, I’ll just give you the money, and you give me the doughnut… end of transaction. We don’t need to bring ink and paper into this.

Anyway, I think this is a really interesting and applicable campaign that fits nicely with the blog I mentioned in my original “Stuff.” post about how we can vote with our purchases and that we should be vocal about our preferences (i.e. telling the manager to look into this receipt issue.) Online banking is efficient, and a few dozen little paper receipts clogging up my wallet, backpack and life are not.

Check out this post to learn more and take their poll.



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We use too much of it.

What a boring lead to a story. But it’s true.

And, hate to say it, but I never quite realized how much it’s true until I ran out of money recently (remember, I’m a senior in college) and noticed just how much stuff I’m accustomed to buying.

I feel like I’ve been deceiving you all by saying how careful I am with purchasing. Because I am. Well, er, was. Well, I thought I was.

For example:

I'm so sneaky.

I might bring my own cup to the coffee shop, but accept a Styrofoam container at lunch because that’s all there was.

I might use a cloth bag at the grocery store but stop and get ice cream in one of those little paper cups with those little plastic spoons and those little paper napkins. (Note: this picture <<< is the trash from one day ONE DAY at red mango fo-yo shop.)

“Because that’s all there was.” Hm, I don’t think I like that anymore. I hate to see all that stuff get used by anyone, but I really hate to see some of it get used by me.

I think this realization will make it easier for me to do a few things:

#1, and perhaps most notably, spend boatloads less money. Since I stopped carrying my wallet, I’ve brought tea to class, made breakfastlunchanddinner, not spent exorbitant amounts in coffee shops because I went in with my laptop and good intentions (i.e. coffee, black) but gave in (i.e. medium iced soy mocha), drank less alcohol, not bought little things (nail polish at Walmart, cool pen at book store, cute little notebook at cute little gift store, worthless piece of [colorful] plastic crap at the dollar spot at target), ETC.

#2, gotten angry about the fact that I did these things, and started to do something about it. Ever since I read this earth day post about our impact (consumer demand) on stores (supply), it’s really had me thinking. And now, speaking up.

Have a read:

…But if you, a customer, request a change?

Businesses will listen. Especially if there is more than one of you.

Vote with your dollar. You have more power than you think.

Ask why the business is still using incandescent bulbs when there are $1 compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs at Ace Hardware down the street. Ask why the faucet in the restroom pours water out faster than Niagra Falls when low-flow aerators cost about $5. Ask why coffee comes in styrofoam cups when paper cups are used at every Starbucks and Caribou. Ask why the air conditioning is set at 55 when the door is left hanging open. And ask if you can turn the temperature back to 70. Pay attention, and speak up. Write letters, write comments, write letters to the editor, ask to see the manager, and threaten to take your business elsewhere — somewhere that you like the way things are being run.

Tell the business you love what they do and want to continue to be a valued customer. And then proceed to be a pain in the ass. I don’t like to do it, either. But trust me. It works. Business decision makers remember you, and roll their eyes, and eventually change their minds. Because any business that doesn’t serve a customer or a need isn’t going to survive.

When you find a business that does it right, tell every other business you visit about it. Name names. Shame your favorite business into action.

Because we are Americans. We are ego-driven. And we don’t like to be told what to do by anyone without a dollar bill.

#3. Noticed Greenwashing. I’ve learned (and really, it sucks it took me so long to realize it), that there’s a difference between greenwashing, making a “green choice,” and “being green.”

Greenwashing, which according to, is, “when a company or organization spends more time and money claiming to be “green” through advertising and marketing than actually implementing business practices that minimize environmental impact. It’s whitewashing, but with a green brush.” And it’s EVERYWHERE. Read on:

…A classic example might be an energy company that runs an advertising campaign touting a “green” technology they’re working on — but that “green” technology represents only a sliver of the company’s otherwise not-so-green business, or may be marketed on the heels of an oil spill or plant explosion.

Or a hotel chain that calls itself “green” because it allows guests to choose to sleep on the same sheets and reuse towels, but actually does very little to save water and energy where it counts — on its grounds, with its appliances and lighting, in its kitchens and with its vehicle fleet.

Or a bank that’s suddenly “green” because you can conduct your finances online, or a grocery store that’s “green” because they’ll take back your plastic grocery bags, or …

You get the picture.

– “Making a green choice” might mean choosing the organic cotton or bananas or “now less packaging” lotion, when really you could have gone without these things in the first place (refrain from buying the shirt, choose a more seasonal fruit, made homemade lotion!). Don’t get me wrong, green choices are generally good ones, but I would challenge you (as I have just learned, but kind of by accident) to consider whether there’s a greener one…

– “Being green” might mean finding a recipe for my own household cleaner, cooking my own food, carrying a container and fork and cup so I don’t have to accept all those throw-aways (even if it is paper, not Styrofoam). In this context, being green kinda means being cheap. And we could all use some of that. (Especially me.)

So, here’s to less stuff and saving the money for something that won’t be thrown away in 5 minutes, or 5 uses.



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Why I’m optimistic about Earth Day – Part 2

Because Earth Day was two days ago and since then, people all over the world, including me, woke up feeling the same way they did about the environment on Thursday.

No one rushed to hide all the recycling bins or change their bulbs back to incandescent.

Motivation may come and go, but education is for life.

This is what my boss, Sam, sent me on Wednesday:

We fail, and we fail, and we fail again, but then we win, and that’s how we make progress — The important thing is to keep fighting and never give up (and do your best to have a little fun while your at it — after all, what’s the purpose in trying to save the planet if you don’t take some time to enjoy it?)

So, today, as on earth day, I am optimistic about the environment.


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Why I’m optimistic about Earth Day- Part 1

Well, right now I’m not. But I promise I will be. (That’s why this is Part 1)

This semester, I work at the state’s largest environmental advocacy group, Clean Wisconsin, and I have really enjoyed it. One of my main “projects” has been helping out with anything related to the Clean Energy Jobs Act, which is in game time mode this week at the capitol.

If you don’t know about it, just know that it’s a piece of legislation years and years in the making that calls for increased renewable energy standards in Wisconsin and forces the state to start making new energy technology, create jobs, and stop wasting money importing foreign oil and coal. It used to have a lot of other really neat stuff like Low-Carbon Fuel Standards and Energy Efficient Community Standards… but that all got cut. Hey, it’s still a step in the right direction.

I can’t speak for the Clean Wisconsin guys, but I may have let myself get a little overly excited about the potential for such progressive energy policy to finally be enacted… with me having a [small] hand in it. So, anyway, Clean Wisconsin has been working really hard to get it passed. But then it looked like what actually needed to be done was convincing legislators to even vote on it (it’s an election year, after all). And NOW, the session ends tomorrow and it still needs to pass TWO rounds of voting. Not good.

Ok there’s the background.

So I woke up this morning to this:

So that was, well, really disheartening.

But then, I went to the Earth Day at 40 conference and listened to some really incredible speakers and was inspired by all the accomplished and motivated individuals coming together to celebrate in the place earth day began. So that was cool. Then, I went to the office, and, being the optimistic (well if not optimistic, at least persistent) environmentalists they are, here was the mood there: (you can click on the image to go to the page if it’s too small)

Quite the headline, huh?

So that was uplifting, a little.

But now, some more strongly-worded news came out that is NOT uplifting:

Even though it’s looking pretty grim, the reason I’m sharing all this is because it has taught me a lot.

I have been really discouraged by the misinformation campaign lead by coal and oil lobbyists that were somehow MORE convincing than all these smart people I work with. (huh?)

I couldn’t (and still don’t) really understand why people are so quick to reject new policies and accept the status quo, but I can also recognize that I have been surrounded by nothing but supporters of this bill all semester. Having my first longer-term taste of the political process showed me just how dedicated, persistent, and knowledgeable you have to be to accomplish policy change, and how difficult it is to get people to think long-term in the name of environmental improvement. This was something I vastly underestimated before.

Aside from the political aspect, I have also learned how much work there is to be done, particularly in just convincing others that this “environment stuff” not only matters, but is in the best interest for them. I would like to focus on re-framing environmentalism into a universal goal for bettering the earth, in whatever sector is most important to YOU. (And also do a little work on combating all those negative stereotypes that currently exist out there). One other thing I learned was exactly how riled up I get about all this stuff! (One too many “I-have-to-go-to-bed-at-9-because-I’m-depressed-about-the-environment” days have occurred lately. Time to snap out of it.)

All that said, I am excited for earth day this year because it is a really fun part of being “green.” Getting outside on a spring day, volunteering, sharing information (read: free food), and having community events is not only fun, it represents the crux of this movement.

I am excited to see others who are also passionate about making the world a better place, and I’m even more excited to kick ass in the name of making up for what Wisconsin lost by not passing the Clean Energy Jobs Act.



P.S. Looking for some Earth Day reading? These are awesome:

“As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of Earth Day the most serious environmental problem that we face is not global warming or the pollution of our air, water, land and food. It is whether or not our country moves forward in developing public policy based on science or whether we make decisions based on politics and fear mongering.” –Let’s Set The Record Straight, Sen. Bernie Sanders (Grist)

And, I’m really motivated by this approach. Very good perspective (except the leaving the lights on thing):

“…Ask why the business is still using incandescent bulbs when there are $1 compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs at Ace Hardware down the street. Ask why the faucet in the restroom pours water out faster than Niagra Falls when low-flow aerators cost about $5. Ask why coffee comes in styrofoam cups when paper cups are used at every Starbucks and Caribou. Ask why the air conditioning is set at 55 when the door is left hanging open. And ask if you can turn the temperature back to 70. Pay attention, and speak up. Write letters, write comments, write letters to the editor, ask to see the manager, and threaten to take your business elsewhere — somewhere that you like the way things are being run.” –For Earth Day, A Plea for You to be a Pain in the Ass, Jenn Henry

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Feet on the ground.

I’ve really missed blogging.

Maybe the reason for my absence is that I don’t know what to say. My travels have underscored this whole semester and somehow college, new acquaintances, old friends, new cities, classes, my job, my brain, some books… they’ve all had a large role in putting such interesting and idealistic things into my head. Maybe I haven’t blogged because I’m scared that if I share them they’ll seem silly or unattainable. Or maybe it’s because I’ve really only been on one flight with wifi? What’s up with that?

Right now I think it’s because I’m just scatterbrained and can’t form complete thoughts.

College is coming to a close – it’s time to form complete thoughts. (Maybe even for a living?)

I’ll try to break it down.

First of all, I have traveled more this semester than any other time in my life. I’ve been lucky enough to come and go to DC (3 times), Boston, Minneapolis, L.A. (3 times), Michigan, Singapore (!) and Malaysia (!), and of course, Madison. Looking back, it seems like too much and not enough. (Here’s a sample.)

It’s too much because all the airports, waiting, taxis, waiting, expensive food, guilt about carbon emissions, missing my senior year in Madison, waiting, and always saying hello/goodbye is exhausting and expensive.

On the other hand, it has not been enough. I have a gift of such incredible freedom to go anywhere, and where have I gone? Why haven’t I been more places? When will I go? How could I possibly complain?

Despite this concern, I have dedicated myself to keeping my feet on the ground for a while, and I’m happy about that. Before I get into this, maybe I’ll get into what traveling has meant for me.

Travel has given me independence. It has taught me problem solving, patience, ability to make conversation, ability to ask for help. It has taken me some places to see something new, and others to see nothing new. I have had some of my best thoughts while sitting on an airplane or after I’d missed a connection and had four hours to kill and $2.50 to spend. It’s been both exciting and exhausting.

While I’ll probably make a few more trips before my flight benefits end later this year, here’s why I’m excited to stay put.

I’m excited to really get to know one place. I want to go on bike rides, figure out the bus system, find the best restaurants and farmers’ markets, and make a community. I want to be involved with something that matters there – not just watch and admire others who are.

I want to bike to work, and jog in the morning and pack a lunch (without it getting taken by TSA).

So, because of all those things, it’s goodbye to weekly traveling for now and hello to the rest of the semester, blogging, applying for jobs, saving money, and trying to live as close to no impact as I can to make up for it all.

This may seem less exciting to many than all the traveling, but I’m REALLY excited about this.

Here’s to 3 weeks in Madison!


p.s. It’s Earth Week. What are you guys doing for it??

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