91 articles by Nicole Rogers


Food System

Six Ways To Help Small Family Farmers

Oct 12th, 2018 | By Nicole Rogers

The image of the family farmer holds a special place in the hearts Americans. Fifty years ago a small family farm would probably have been passed down from one generation to the next, or sold to another small family farmer. These days it’s much more likely that the land will pass into the hands of a large-scale farm.
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Eco Living

4 New Restaurants Rethink Food Waste

Jul 16th, 2014 | By Nicole Rogers

Restaurants are a significant source of food waste, but we found four innovative eateries are proving that they can work without waste. Plus, find out how you can minimize food waste every time you dine out.
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Food System

The Drought In California

Apr 4th, 2014 | By Nicole Rogers

California is the biggest U.S. producer of agricultural products. It's also in its third year of drought, with 95% of the state in moderate to exceptional drought conditions. Food prices have already risen as a result, but there are likely even higher prices to come. Oh, and the rivers are so dry salmon are being driven to the sea in tanker trucks.
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Transportation

New Efficiency Standards Ordered for Heavy-Duty Trucks

Feb 21st, 2014 | By Nicole Rogers

As part of an ongoing efficiency and conservation effort, President Obama announced this week that his administration will set higher fuel-efficiency standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks by March 2016, a move that could reduce dependence on foreign oil, cut fuel costs, and lower consumer prices.
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Innovation

What Is Precision Agriculture?

Jan 10th, 2014 | By Nicole Rogers

With the global demand for calories expected to grow by almost 50% over the next 40 years, the question on many minds is how to produce enough food to feed the world population. Though crop yields in the United States have grown in the last decade, they must continue to grow — and some farms are starting to use precision agriculture to do just that.
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Food System

3 New Urban Farm Projects To Watch

Nov 27th, 2013 | By Nicole Rogers

The urban farming movement is going strong, with organizers worldwide working to bring food production into urban areas. Urban food production improves city dwellers' access to fresh food, promotes food justice, and reduces transportation costs. Check out three up-and-coming urban farming projects tailor-made to suit the needs of their communities.
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Eco Living

Campuses Fight Food Waste

Nov 14th, 2013 | By Nicole Rogers

From trayless cafeterias to thriving food recovery programs and composting, college campuses and students are tackling food waste and food insecurity nationwide. We highlight some effective programs.
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Transportation

8 States to Push Zero-Emission Cars

Nov 6th, 2013 | By Nicole Rogers

In October, governors from eight states, representing almost a quarter of the U.S. car market, announced an agreement to put 3.3 million zero-emission vehicles on the roads of their states by 2025. Here's a state-by-state snapshot of how these states support clean cars.
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Eco Living

Glad Takes on Food Waste

Oct 30th, 2013 | By Nicole Rogers

The fight against food waste is getting a boost from a major consumer brand. Glad, makers of plastic wraps, containers and food bags, launched a $10 million campaign this month to educate consumers about food waste and how their products can help reduce it.
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Food System

"Ugly" Produce Can Be A Beautiful Thing

Oct 18th, 2013 | By Nicole Rogers

In recent years, an international movement to embrace "ugly" produce has taken root. The idea is simple – by using the edible, but slightly less beautiful fruits and vegetables that are typically discarded, we can decrease food waste and feed more people. Some of the U.K.'s biggest supermarkets have embraced this concept. Here in the states, while some charities and food banks have been doing this kind of work for years, many American businesses are just starting to consider the problem and potential of ugly produce.
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Food System

Fresh, Local Produce, Even in Winter

Oct 7th, 2013 | By Nicole Rogers

As great as it is to eat local, in most of the U.S. there are certain months of the year when it is difficult, if not impossible, to eat local food fresh from the field. Thankfully, a new crop of food hub entrepreneurs are thinking beyond the growing season by freezing fresh summer produce to sell locally in the winter.
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Food System

Lemon Trees for All in San Francisco

Oct 2nd, 2013 | By Nicole Rogers

A project called Just One Tree has a singular but ambitious goal: to make sure San Francisco can grow all the lemons it consumes. To do this, the community will need to produce 461 tons of lemons annually—that's a lot of lemons! But Dr. Isabel Wade, founder and executive director of Just One Tree, thinks it's possible. She's put together a program to encourage residents to plant new lemon trees and register existing ones to meet the goal.
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Eco Living

What Is Hugelkultur?

Sep 25th, 2013 | By Nicole Rogers

Practiced for centuries in Eastern Europe and Germany, *hugelkultur* is the process of making raised garden beds filled with rotten wood. The result is a low-maintenance garden that doesn't require irrigation or fertilization. Hugelkulture beds have naturally good drainage and produce incredibly rich, fertile soil that retains moisture. It's also a great way to upcycle woody debris. Hugelkultur is often utilized in permaculture systems and even works in the desert!
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Eco Living

Auto Racing Shifts to Green

Sep 16th, 2013 | By Nicole Rogers

As the world of professional sports strives to become more sustainable, auto racing has become a somewhat surprising leader in the field. NASCAR and Formula E can be credited with making some of the first and biggest steps forward for sustainability in the sport.
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Food System

What is a Food Hub?

Aug 26th, 2013 | By Nicole Rogers

Food hubs are a crucial, but often invisible, part of the local food system. They help small farms grow by offering a combination of production, distribution, and marketing services. There are now 236 food hubs in the U.S., with more popping up all the time.
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Eco Living

Four Ways to Help Bees

Aug 16th, 2013 | By Nicole Rogers

One-third of U.S. honeybee colonies died last winter, threatening our entire food system. Insects pollinate a third of everything humans eat – that's one in three bites you take – including fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and the forage that feeds livestock. Put in simplest terms, as the bee population declines, so does our food supply. We provide a few ways you can help the bees right now.
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Innovation

Frankenburger or Food of The Future?

Aug 9th, 2013 | By Nicole Rogers

This week, scientists revealed the result of a two-year project that cost Google founder Sergey Brin $325,000 – a single hamburger. But this isn't just any burger, this is the world's first in-vitro burger. Grown in a lab, using stem cells from a cow shoulder muscle, this burger is being hailed as the future of food by many.
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Innovation

EV Charging Goes Wireless

Aug 7th, 2013 | By Nicole Rogers

Imagine walking into your garage every morning to a car with a full tank of "gas." Now imagine the ability to refuel while you drive. This is the promise of wireless electric vehicle charging and it could eliminate the problem of range anxiety once and for all by providing EV drivers with better options for charging than conventional drivers have for refueling.
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Transportation

Indianapolis to Launch Largest All-Electric Car Share Service in U.S.

Jul 31st, 2013 | By Nicole Rogers

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard is at it again. At last month's Electric Drive Transportation Association (EDTA) Conference, Ballard announced that he will bring the French company Bolloré’s electric car-sharing service, already a great success in Paris, to Indianapolis.
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Transportation

Americans Want More Renewable Fuel

Jul 24th, 2013 | By Nicole Rogers

Americans have had their fill of volatile gasoline prices, due at least in part to the impact those prices have on normal family activities. A poll of 1,000 adults commissioned by renewable-fuel advocate Fuels America found that when gas prices rise, American households make sacrifices to social, family-related activities.
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Eco Living

5 Ways to Curb Food Waste at Home

Jul 19th, 2013 | By Nicole Rogers

From student design projects to crowd-funded food savers to apps that help manage expiration dates, there are all sorts of high tech options on the horizon that hold promise for food waste crusaders. Read on for a round-up of food waste innovations, plus some common sense tips to help you reduce food waste today!
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Eco Living

5 Anti-Idling Heroes

Jul 10th, 2013 | By Nicole Rogers

Individuals, cities, businesses and organizations across the country have been taking initiative to eliminate unnecessary idling in their communities. Allow us to introduce you to five anti-idling heroes that make us proud to say "I Turn It Off".
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Transportation

The U.S. Food Waste Challenge

Jun 21st, 2013 | By Nicole Rogers

Earlier this month, the USDA and the EPA teamed-up to launch the U.S. Food Waste Challenge. The challenge asks individuals and groups from every facet of the food system – including farmers, producer groups, processors, manufacturers, retailers, communities, government agencies, and consumers – to reduce the amount of food waste sent to landfills.
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Eco Living

The US and UK Take on Food Waste

Jun 5th, 2013 | By Nicole Rogers

In light of the new U.S. Food Waste Challenge announced this week by the USDA, we're taking a look at proactive stance the United Kingdom has taken against the same problem across the pond.
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Innovation

Sustainable Parking Technology

May 31st, 2013 | By Nicole Rogers

Have you received a parking ticket lately? Or maybe you've watched your gas dial drop as you hunt for a parking spot? Luckily, it looks like the days of cruising for a parking spot may be coming to an end in the near future, which means less frustration and less gas wasted.
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Innovation

A Future Without Red Lights?

May 8th, 2013 | By Nicole Rogers

As any ecodriver will tell you, stop-and-go traffic is terrible for fuel efficiency. Some progressive cities and universities are addressing this issue by reinventing the way traffic lights work. The less time spent idling at stop lights the more smoothly traffic flows, resulting in better fuel efficiency and less gas wasted. Step into the future of the American traffic light, or lack thereof.
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Transportation

Algae Is Moving Fast

May 2nd, 2013 | By Nicole Rogers

It's no surprise that algae-based biofuels continue to make great progress. Algae is fast-growing and doesn't compete with existing food sources like corn ethanol does. With an increase in funding, the support of the military and exciting new research happening all the time, we're excited to follow the development of this burgeoning industry. This week, we offer the most recent algae news.
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Innovation

Fighting Mold to Reduce Food Waste

Apr 24th, 2013 | By Nicole Rogers

Have you ever noticed that sourdough bread takes longer to get moldy than other types of bread? Canadian scientists have discovered the reason for this phenomenon, and it could help prevent the waste of all kinds of foods by prolonging shelf life.
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Transportation

3 Cities, 3 Great Food and Fuel Projects

Apr 22nd, 2013 | By Nicole Rogers

Now that the five winners of the Mayors Challenge have been announced, we would like to check in on some of the runners-up. Hillsboro, Oregon; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Knoxville, Tennessee all proposed programs addressing fuel and food issues in their communities.
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Eco Living

Doing Away With the Tray

Apr 17th, 2013 | By Nicole Rogers

The trend of trayless dining took root several years ago based on the belief that the absence of trays leads diners to make more careful choices and waste less food. Now there is solid data to prove that trayless dining not only reduces food waste, but also saves money and conserves water and energy.
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Transportation

The Massachusetts Food Waste Ban

Apr 12th, 2013 | By Nicole Rogers

Some states and municipalities in the U.S. are implementing food waste bans that prohibit sending food waste to landfills. Massachusetts has one of the most ambitious plans to ban large businesses and institutions from discarding food waste beginning in 2014.
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Innovation

Super Trucks

Apr 1st, 2013 | By Nicole Rogers

Cummins Inc. and Peterbuilt Motors recently announced the impressive results of the test of their "SuperTruck," a tractor-trailer designed to cut fuel usage by half through aerodynamics and a higher-efficiency engine. Under real-world driving conditions, the SuperTruck's fuel economy was found to be 54 percent higher than a regular long-haul truck, averaging nearly 10 miles per gallon (mpg).
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Transportation

Obama Proposes Clean Energy Trust

Mar 20th, 2013 | By Nicole Rogers

On Friday, President Obama proposed the establishment of an Energy Security Trust, which would use $2 billion in royalties from offshore gas and oil leasing to fund clean energy technologies.
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Food System

Aquaponics

Mar 15th, 2013 | By Nicole Rogers

In the continued effort to find more efficient ways to feed a growing global population that is increasingly concentrated in urban areas, many individuals and businesses are turning to aquaponics as a super-efficient urban farming solution. And who doesn't want to make our food system more efficient?
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Innovation

Vehicle-To-Grid Technology

Mar 11th, 2013 | By Nicole Rogers

The Department of Defense announced a pilot program that will test a vehicle fleet of 500 plug-in electric vehicles and related infrastructure using vehicle-to-grid technology at six installations nation-wide. Vehicle-to-grid, or V2G, is a system by which energy can be passed back and forth between a parked vehicle and the power grid.
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Eco Living

DIY Kitchen Biodiesel

Mar 1st, 2013 | By Nicole Rogers

Convert your kitchen oil waste into something useful! New or used cooking oil can be converted into biodiesel that can be used in any diesel engine.
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Food System

The U.S. Is Running Low on Corn and Soy

Feb 25th, 2013 | By Nicole Rogers

U.S. ending stocks numbers for corn and soybeans have become available for year end 2012, and the results are stunning. According to the data, we will have only 19 days of corn in storage this year and only 16 days of soybeans. For soybeans, this is the lowest stocks-to-use ratio on record; for corn it's the second lowest.
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Innovation

Another Win For Electric Vehicles

Feb 20th, 2013 | By Nicole Rogers

With electric car sales expected to rise, Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs) are getting some friends in high places. Ford, Daimler and Nissan recently announced a three-way agreement to jointly develop a common fuel cell electric vehicle system. The ultimate goal is to "launch the world’s first affordable, mass-market FCEVs as early as 2017."
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Eco Living

Feeding 7 Billion People And Counting

Jan 28th, 2013 | By Nicole Rogers

Inspired by a recent Wall Street Journal article written by Anna Lappe and Danielle Nierenberg, Sustainable America has created the following infographic to explain how food is wasted and lost around the world, and what can be done about it.
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Eco Living

Sustainable America's Resolutions

Dec 31st, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

The Sustainable America staff offers our food and fuel resolutions for 2013!
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Food System

Our Most Popular Food Stories of 2012

Dec 24th, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

A list of Sustainable America's top 5 posts on food issues in 2012. From composting & food waste to The Farm Bill and a food forest, we hope we've given you some food for thought this year!
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Innovation

Building a Better 'Car'

Dec 21st, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

Part car, part motorcycle, all electric, Lit Motors' C-1 might be the future of commuting. Most Americans commute alone in cars built for four. The C-1 is built for one, can go 200 miles on a single charge and can get a driver to and from work for less than 50 cents a day!
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Eco Living

25 Facts for a Sustainable Holiday Season

Dec 19th, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

In our holiday infographic, we share interesting statistics, facts, and good practices to think about as you eat, travel and celebrate this holiday season. Happy Holidays from Sustainable America!
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Eco Living

Curbside Composting Gains Steam in Portland, Maine

Dec 5th, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

Residents in Portland, Maine, have one less reason to waste food. In August, Sable Sanborn and Tyler Frank started Garbage to Garden, a curbside composting program that already boasts more than 400 subscribers.
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Transportation

Middle East Hack Attack

Nov 27th, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

A recent attack on the computer system of Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil company, Saudi Aramco, by Iranian computer hackers was alarming and should have Americans taking note. Aramco is the producer of 11 million barrels per day, or approximately 13% of the world’s oil output. This resonates with Sustainable America's mission to reduce U.S. oil dependency. Gray Peckham, an analyst at Sustainable America, explains.
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Transportation

Our Fuel Gauge Is Broken

Nov 26th, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

Hurricane Sandy has important lessons to teach us about our fuel supply, if we choose to listen. For one, shale oil notwithstanding, the U.S. is more reliant on imported oil now than it was at the time of the Iranian Revolution in 1979. 13D Research provides analysis.
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Eco Living

How to Have a 100-Mile Thanksgiving

Nov 15th, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

Our helpful infographic challenges you to try a 100-mile Thanksgiving, using some key ingredients sourced from within 100 miles of your dinner table. Think of it as an opportunity to celebrate local food, rather than an obligation to source every last ingredient from within 100 miles. From the drive, to the food, to the trash, there are plenty of opportunities to make your feast more sustainable!
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Eco Living

Talking Turkey

Nov 13th, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

The turkey is one part of the Thanksgiving feast where going local is likely to require a bit more forethought, but it’s well worth it. There are many delicious alternatives to the supermarket turkey that has often traveled far from its factory farm to your table. We outline some of the options available for your holiday bird!
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Innovation

Making Gasoline Appear From Thin Air

Nov 2nd, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

British scientists have successfully produced just over a gallon of gasoline using carbon dioxide from the air and hydrogen from water. Air Fuel Synthesis, the company behind the process, hopes that within two years it will build a larger, commercial-scale plant capable of producing a ton of petrol a day. The global energy implications of literally extracting carbon dioxide from the air to make gasoline are considerable.
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Innovation

Real Time Farms

Oct 26th, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

Real Time Farms makes it easy to eat local and make informed decisions about where your food comes from. It is a crowdsourced national food guide that helps users find certain foods grown or made in their area, and to add sources if they are lacking.
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Eco Living

Introducing Jeremy Kranowitz

Oct 18th, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

Sustainable America is happy to announce the appointment of Jeremy Kranowitz as its Executive Director. Mr. Kranowitz brings 20 years of management and not-for-profit experience to the position, the last 10 of which he spent at [The Keystone Center](http://www.keystone.org/) in a number of senior roles. “We are delighted to welcome Jeremy to Sustainable America,” said Chairman Nicholas Tiller. “His passion for our work and his extensive experience with issues related to energy, the environment and education will help Sustainable America accomplish its mission of finding solutions to the potential food-fuel crisis.” Mr. Kranowitz was kind enough to answer a few questions for the Sustainable America Blog about his background and his goals for Sustainable America.
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Food System

How To Make The Food System More Energy Efficient

Oct 12th, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

This article was originally published in Scientific American, and is republished on the Sustainable America blog with the permission of the author, Dr. Michael E. Webber. "Examining our food supply through the lens of energy use reveals opportunities for smart policies, innovative technologies and new dietary choices that can potentially solve food and energy problems together. The same steps would also make our bodies, and our ecosystems, healthier."
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Transportation

The U.S. Navy is Seeking Independence From Foreign Oil

Oct 3rd, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus is on a mission to decrease the U.S. Navy's dependence on foreign oil. In his words, “We simply buy too much petroleum either from potentially or actually volatile places on earth.” In 2009, he announced a plan to fuel half the Navy’s energy consumption through alternative fuels by 2020. “We’re doing this for one reason,” Mabus stated, “We’re doing it to be better warfighters.” The Navy has started to demonstrate some of the progress they have made with "drop-in replacement" advanced biofuels this year.
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Transportation

Five Amazing Things You Won't Believe Run on Biofuels

Oct 2nd, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

Some people associate biofuels with long hair and environmentalism, and that's fine! In fact, you'll see Mr. Willie Nelson is featured prominently on our list. But with innovations in renewable fuels made everyday, biofuel is popping up in some unexpected, exciting, and high-performance places! Here is our list of a few of the most remarkable.
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Food System

A New NRDC Report Shows That America Wastes 40% of Its Food

Oct 1st, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

40% of food available to Americans is discarded, and most of that uneaten food ends up rotting in landfills. A new [report](http://www.nrdc.org/food/wasted-food.asp) by the NRDC has compiled many existing statistics to demonstrate the magnitude of [food waste](http://www.sustainableamerica.org/blog/what-is-food-waste-and-why-does-it-matterwhat-is-food-waste-and-what-can-we-do-about-it/) in the U.S.
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Food System

Farm Aid's Annual Benefit Concert

Sep 19th, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

The sold-out Farm Aid Music and Food Festival returns to Hersheypark Stadium in Hersey, Pennsylvania on September 22, 2012. Farm Aid is the longest running benefit concert series in America, raising more than $39 million to help family farmers all over the country. Even though the show is sold out, a webcast will also be available on Farm Aid's website for those who can't attend. See this year's line up.
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Eco Living

How To Compost In Your Apartment

Sep 17th, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

As part of our series on composting, we offer this handy illustrated guide to composting in your apartment. If you have been thinking you might be interested in taking the plunge into composting, read on and have fun! Our guide gives you all of the tools you need to get started. Composting can be a rewarding experience in efficiency and self-reliance. Waste not, want not!
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Food System

Oysters For Chickens

Sep 14th, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

Guest-blogger Justine Wenger of [The Market Restaurant](http://www.themarketrestaurant.com/), a seasonal restaurant on Lobster Cove in Massachusetts, enlightens us as to what a seaside restaurant can do with all of those discarded oyster shells – feed them to local chickens to improve eggshell and soil quality for area farmers.
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Transportation

Global Oil Balance to Remain Tight in 2013

Aug 31st, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

A highly respected research provider, Cornerstone Analytics has allowed us to republish a preview of their 2013 Global Oil Capacity Forecast, originally published August 23, 2012. The outlook is not good for global oil balance, which likely means even higher oil prices, and bouts of global economic malaise. Some of the numbers here are pretty shocking.
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Food System

From The Battlefield to The Farm

Aug 29th, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

Colin Archipley, a decorated Marine Sargent and Iraq War vet, and his wife Karen, own a successful organic hydroponic greenhouse operation in California. Troubled by the plight of veterans and returning servicemen and servicewomen, they formed the Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training (VSAT) program. The program provides vets and their spouses with an entrepreneurial training program in sustainable agriculture.
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Transportation

Natural Gas, Electric Vehicles & Twilight for the Combustion Engine

Aug 27th, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

What might the future look like if we reframed the problem of oil with a roadmap for natural gas fueling next-generation electric vehicles? Guest blogger and professional futurist Garry Golden makes a case for natural gas as fuel for the electric cars of tomorrow, and twilight for the combustion engine.
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Food System

Farming in Skyscrapers

Aug 20th, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

Just what is 'vertical farming', and will it work? Dickson Despommier rhapsodizes about farming in skyscrapers. Is it a realistic vision of the future of urban farming?
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Transportation

Natural Gas Cars and Vehicle Fleets

Aug 17th, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

Most people don't think of natural gas fueling cars, but it does! There are natural gas powered cars on U.S. roads right now. The Honda Civic Natural Gas runs entirely on natural gas, using no gasoline. The Honda CNG has a suggested retail price of $26,305, with possible tax incentives available.
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Food System

How CSAs help small farmers during times of drought

Aug 13th, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

Sustainable America spoke on the phone with farmer Tim Huth, of LotFotL (pronounced like "hot bottle") Farm in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, about the drought of 2012, and how the farm's CSA has helped them weather the heat.
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Transportation

The Bike Superhighways of Denmark

Aug 3rd, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

Today, cycling is part of Copenhagen's culture. Bikes are everywhere! But there was a time when vehicle traffic clogged Denmark's capital city's roads. In the 1970s Denmark faced an energy crisis, a recession, and increasing car traffic congestion. The public demanded better transportation infrastructure and options.
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Transportation

Renewable Energy Around The World

Aug 1st, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

In light of the G20 Summit in Mexico this summer, Sustainable America took a look at what has changed since 2002, when this group of finance ministers and central bank governors from 20 major economies pledged to “substantially increase” the use of renewable energy.
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Transportation

The Real Game-Changing Event In Energy

Jul 25th, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

At Sustainable America we find this article from 13D Research interesting and on point. We believe it helps highlight the vulnerabilities of our economy to global oil supply, and the need for reducing our reliance on oil for transportation uses.
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Food System

The Drought of 2012

Jul 24th, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration created the animation below to show the affects of the historic 2012 drought on vegetation month by month. It's eerie to watch the dying vegetation spread across the country. You can also see how the first half of July has seen an acceleration of burned-out vegetation brought on by high temperatures and by the length of the drought.
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Transportation

Dropping Oil Prices & Alternative Energy

Jul 23rd, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

High oil prices this decade have been hard on Americans, but if there has been any silver lining, it's been the [growth of alternative energy](http://www.worldwatch.org/node/5855) investment and innovation spurred by the rising cost of oil.
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Eco Living

Electric Car Rentals for the "Urban Eco-Curious"

Jul 10th, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

Rental car companies are in a unique position to be able to introduce these new more efficient vehicles to the public slowly. If you're interested in an electric or hybrid car, but you are afraid of how far it will go on a charge, renting an electric car for an afternoon of errands might be a nice, safe introduction.
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Transportation

USDA Announces Funding to Help Rural American Businesses Go Green

Jul 2nd, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack meeting Tom Vanwingerden, Abe Vanwingerden and Art Vanwingerden of Metrolina Greenhouses. Photo by Holly Hess, via USDA flickr stream, under CC BY 2.0.

On June 25, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced USDA funding for 450 projects that help agricultural producers and rural small businesses use renewable energy technologies, reduce energy consumption, and/or conduct feasibility studies for renewable energy projects. In all, the USDA announced nearly $7.4 million in energy grants.

Secretary Vilsack made the announcement while touring family-owned Metrolina Greenhouses in Huntersville, North Carolina. Metrolina has received a REAP guaranteed loan and three grants totaling over $1 million since 2007. In 2009, Metrolina received a REAP guaranteed loan and a grant to construct a wood boiler heating system to supplement and replace the natural gas and fuel used at their 120-acre facility. In addition to heating Metrolina’s greenhouses, using wood chips in the boiler provides an additional market for local lumber mills and logging operations.

Rick Alexander, a Tennessee small business owner, is using a Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) grant and investing another $325,000 to create the first solar powered business in his county. Electricity is the largest expense for his climate-controlled storage facility. The 260 panel, 60 kW solar photovoltaic system is expected to generate more than 71,000 kWh – enough electricity to meet over half of the energy needs of his business for the next two decades. By also participating in the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Generation Partners program, Alexander earns a premium on each clean kW produced, which is more than enough to cover the average monthly cost of electricity for his businesses.

In Mount Hope, Wisconsin, Maurice Nichols was selected to receive a grant to purchase a fuel efficient grain dryer for his farm, saving his business over 42% in annual energy usage. Not only is the dryer fuel efficient, but the fact that it is on site saves in trucking costs as well.

This funding is made available through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), which is authorized by the 2008 Farm Bill. (See our post on the 2012 Farm Bill.) REAP offers funds for farmers, ranchers and rural small businesses to purchase and install renewable energy systems and make energy-efficiency improvements. These federal funds leverage other funding sources for rural businesses, which hopefully leads to their sustained growth in the future, and an improved quality of life in rural America.

Just one more example of how the tide is turning toward alternative energy nationwide!

USDA Press Release


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Transportation

2012 Farm Bill Update

Jun 29th, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

Flanked / by flickr user Nicholas_T / CC BY 2.0

Have you been following the 2012 Farm Bill? The bill is renewed every five years and dictates congressional spending on everything from farm subsidies, to food stamps (the SNAP program), to conservation programs. The Senate approved their version of the bill June 21, and the House Agriculture Committee will mark up their own bill beginning July 11.

This year, Senators introduced more than 300 amendments to the farm bill, with 73 amendments approved for debate. Of the 73 considered by the Senate and either approved or rejected, important amendments include the following (taken directly from the PR Watch website):

>“Consumers Right to Know About Genetically Engineered Food Act”: Senator Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) amendment number 2310, the “Consumers Right to Know About Genetically Engineered Food Act,” which would have allowed states to adopt labeling requirements for genetically engineered foods, was rejected. Sen. Sanders said of his amendment, “All over this country, people are becoming more conscious about the foods they are eating and the foods they are serving to their kids, and this is certainly true for genetically engineered foods. I believe that when a mother goes to the store and purchases food for her child, she has the right to know what she is feeding her child.”

>Crop Insurance for Organic Farmers: Senator Jeff Merkley’s (D-OR) amendment number 2382, which addresses barriers to make crop insurance more accessible to organic farmers, was agreed to. Crop insurance protects farmers financially when crops are lost due to natural disasters (crop-yield insurance), or when the prices of commodity crops decline (crop-revenue insurance). The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) currently charges a five percent surcharge on crop insurance for organic farmers who participate in federal crop insurance programs. Organic crops are currently insured at the same amounts as conventional crops, despite often being worth up to twice as much as a conventional crop in the marketplace. This means that organic farmers currently are not adequately compensated if they suffer a crop loss, relative to conventional farmers’ compensation.

>Crop Insurance for Conservationists: Senator Saxby Chambliss’ (R-GA) amendment number 2438, which would link the receipt of federally subsidized crop insurance to basic conservation requirements, was agreed to.

>Crop Insurance for Millionaires: Senator Tom Coburn’s (R-OK) [Ed: and Dick Durbin’s (D-IL)] amendment number 2439, which would limit the amount of insurance subsidies going to the wealthiest farmers – persons or corporations grossing more than $750,000 a year – was agreed to, although this limitation wouldn’t take effect until the completion of a study on the effects of the limitation.

>Food for Struggling Families and School Children: Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-NY) amendment number 2156, which would have struck $4.5 billion in cuts to SNAP and invested $500 million over ten years in the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP) providing fresh produce snacks to schoolchildren, was rejected. However, Senator Jeff Sessions’ (R-AL) amendments, 2174 and 2172, which would have further cut SNAP funding as well as limiting eligibility, were also rejected.

>Rural Development and Beginning Farmer Programs: Senator Sherrod Brown’s (D-OH) amendment number 2445, which would fund rural development and beginning farmer programs, was agreed to.

>Organic Certification Cost Sharing: Senator Pat Toomey’s (R-PA) amendment number 2217, which would have eliminated the organic certification cost share program, was rejected. This program reimburses eligible farmers who want to certify their operations organic for a portion of the costs of that certification.

>For more on the hundreds of amendments proposed to the Senate version of the farm bill, see Marjorie Roswell’s collaborative and interactive charts at the Farm Bill Primer.

There are signs that progress on the bill may stall in the house. So what’s the hold-up? According to the Chicago Tribune:

>Agriculture Committee leaders in the House and Senate disagree on fundamental points for the new farm law, ranging from how much to cut spending to how extensive reforms should be. The House wants much deeper cuts in food stamps and $10 billion more in cuts overall than the Senate and would offer higher price supports to farmers when the Senate would end them.

The New York Times offers excellent coverage of the Senate’s passage of the bill, and the possible issues the bill may have in the House. Environmental Working Group provides a detailed roll call where you can see how your senator voted on a few of these amendments.

It’s worth taking a little time and doing your homework on the Farm Bill. It doesn’t just affect farmers, it affects us all for years to come.


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Transportation

Oil and the Weight of the World

Jun 23rd, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

Some poor countries may have booming population growth, but oil rich countries could be exhausting the world’s resources just as fast with our waistlines. New research in the journal BMC Public Health argues that tackling population weight is crucial for food security and ecological sustainability.

Researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine say that people’s weight – not just population size – should be taken into account when planning how to deal with increasing pressure on the planet’s dwindling resources. Presumably, this is because weight is a good indication of consumption, particularly of richer foods like meat and dairy that require more resources (like petroleum) to obtain.

Using data from the United Nations and World Health Organization, the researchers estimated the weight of the world’s entire adult population to be about 316 million tons. Of that total weight, they then estimated that 17 million tons of it is a result of people being overweight, and an additional 3.9 million tons is due to obesity.

While North Americans only account for 6% of the world’s population, we’re responsible for 34% of the world’s biomass due to obesity. By contrast, Asia has 61% of the world’s population but only 13% of the world’s biomass due to obesity. So what role does regional obesity play in environmental sustainability? One of the authors of the paper, Professor Ian Roberts, explained the thinking behind the calculation.

>”When people think about environmental sustainability, they immediately focus on population. Actually, when it comes down to it - it’s not how many mouths there are to feed, it’s how much flesh there is on the planet.”

>”If every country in the world had the same level of fatness that we see in the USA, in weight terms that would be like an extra billion people of world average body mass.”

Professor Roberts is careful to point out that focusing on obesity in individuals or in groups is divisive and unhelpful. “One of the problems with definitions of obesity is that it fosters a ‘them and us’ ideal. Actually, we’re all getting fatter,” he told BBC News.

While poor countries can obviously have leaner populations for all the wrong reasons, the researchers point to Japan as a good example of a prosperous country with a low obesity rate that could serve as a model for other countries.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the study is its coverage of how many oil rich nations have the heaviest populations. When you look at the list of countries with the largest proportion of overweight and obese citizens, it is clear that petroleum may play a role in obesity.

Heaviest 10 (for nations with more than 100,000 people):

  1. United States
  2. Kuwait
  3. Croatia
  4. Qatar
  5. Egypt
  6. United Arab Emirates
  7. Trinidad and Tobago
  8. Argentina
  9. Greece
  10. Bahrain

Data and list obtained from the research here.

Prof Roberts says that the high number of Middle Eastern countries on the list is due to the impact of the automobile.

>”One of the most important determinants of average body mass index is motor vehicle gas consumption per capita. So, it is no surprise to see many of the Arab countries in the list - people eat but they move very little because they drive everywhere.”

Aside from all of the other profound drawbacks to oil dependence, obesity seems to have an exponential impact – both on our health and our use of dwindling resources. Obesity is a complex issue, caused by a number of factors, but what’s the connection to petroleum? Someone who consumes 4000 calories a day certainly has a larger carbon footprint than someone who consumes 2000 calories a day, particularly if the foods they are eating are shipped long distances, out of season, with an abundance of packaging. Having easy and affordable access to plentiful oil, as the citizens of most of the countries above do, makes it easier to have a larger carbon footprint. With oil, you can ship foods long distances, not do much “work” in the acquisition of food, and the infrastructure is there to drive everywhere you want. Have you ever driven cross-country in the US? It’s almost impossible not to end up going through a drive-though and eating in your car at some point in the voyage. At least here in the US, we have an infrastructure built around cars that lends itself to a continued dependence on oil.

But all is not lost. There’s never been a better time to get healthy and less oil dependent. Get out on your bike, start looking for a fuel efficient vehicle, and eat local! Your waistline, wallet, and the world will thank you.

The weight of nations: an estimation of adult human biomass [BMC Public Health]

Global Weight Gain More Damaging Than Rising Numbers [BBC]

Humans Are 17 Million Tons Overweight [Live Science]


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Transportation

US Demand for Oil and Gasoline Continues to Fall

Jun 20th, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

Oil demand in the US will drop 0.4% to a 15-year low of 18.76 million barrels a day this year, according to a forecast released June 11 by the EIA (The US Department of Energy). Additionally, demand for gasoline, the most widely used petroleum product in the US, is expected to slip 0.6% from a year earlier, the lowest level since 2001.  As the world’s biggest consumer of  oil, this is a significant shift for the US, and a trend Sustainable America hopes to help continue.

“A part of it may be from slow economic growth, which is too bad, but much of it is from the US becoming less oil-intensive in its GDP creation and from a more fuel efficient fleet of vehicles.” Nick Tiller, founder of Sustainable America, wrote in an email.

As you can see in the graph from the EIA above, the consumption of oil products fluctuates, but in general oil consumption has been trending downward recently, and will continue to according to projections by the EIA.

By making small changes everyday to minimize our personal consumption of oil we can all hope to sustain and encourage this trend in the future. See more posts in Sustainable America’s Good Practices / Individual Action category to learn how you can take action today!


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Food System

Growing a New Crop of Farmers

Jun 19th, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

Just 25 miles north of New York City lies an idyllic farm with a world class restaurant. The farm is The Stone Barns Center For Food and Agriculture, the restaurant, Blue Hill at Stone Barns. On this unique farm you might see farmers cooking and chefs farming. Bringing appreciation to the food we eat and how it is grown is central to The Stone Barn Center’s philosophy.


Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, NY. Photo: Annabel Braithwaite for Belathée Photography

The center’s mission is to create a healthy and sustainable food system that benefits us all. With this goal in mind, the center has recognized the need for a new generation of farmers in the US, where the average age of farmers is 57.

One of the ways Stone Barns Center is working to help young farmers, and in turn stop the loss of farmers, farmland and rural economies, is through their Growing Farmers Initiative.

“Traditionally, farming knowledge was passed down from generation to generation. Today, many young people entering the field did not grow up on farms and are eager to learn directly from seasoned farmers. Stone Barns makes this possible for young farmers during every season of the year, offering paid, full-time apprenticeships to young people who are committed to working the land. Farm apprentices are given real responsibilities and gain practical knowledge on everything it takes to run a farm. Apprentices also benefit from networking opportunities with other farmers, apprentices and interns through weekly visits to other farms in the Hudson Valley.”

An exciting addition to the center’s Growing Farmers Initiative is their Young Farmers Conference. Young farmers (and by young they also mean new farmers of all ages) convene at the Stone Barns Center each December to attend workshops, exchange ideas, eat, and dance.

“Workshops are taught by seasoned farmers, and topics have included securing farmland, financing a farm, and launching a grass-based dairy farm. Recognizing that farming is by nature a solitary profession, our conferences and workshops provide invaluable opportunities for young farmers to share ideas and learn from each other.”

Stone Barns Center is planting the seeds for the future of farming. This year, more than 250 young farmers are expected to attend, and over 50 workshops that address soil science, technical skills, agricultural policy, farm business management, marketing, and more are planned.

The Young Farmers Conference runs from December 12 - 14, 2012.

The Stone Barns Center runs workshops year-round. See what workshops are coming up here.

Learn more about The Stone Barns Center For Food and Agriculture in this lovely video.

http://vimeo.com/15222791

[The Stone Barns Center For Food & Agriculture]


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Food System

Labeling & GMOs in Food

Jun 16th, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

Photo by flickr user Scorpions and Centaurs / (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

## What are GMOs?

Plant and animal genetics have always been altered by humans through selective breeding of related organisms. But what we commonly call Genetically Modified Organisms, often referred to as transgenic, are organisms that contain genetic material into which DNA from an unrelated organism has been artificially introduced to create new traits, like resistance to drought, herbicides or pests. According to the New York Times, “For the most part, the spread of transgenic seeds into the American food supply has been purposeful, carried out by farmers and scientists who see enormous advantages in hardier plants.” [^1]

## Are they in the food I eat?

Chances are, yes. A February, 2012 New York Times article cited the Department of Agriculture as stating that last year “about 90 percent of all soybeans, corn, canola and sugar beets raised in the United States were grown from transgenic seed. Most processed foods (staples like breakfast cereal, granola bars, chicken nuggets and salad dressing) contain one or more transgenic ingredients, according to estimates from the Grocery Manufacturers Association, though the labels don’t reveal that. (Some, like tortilla chips, can contain dozens.)”

## What’s the controversy over labeling?

GMOs have passionate supporters and equally passionate detractors. While GMOs can make for hardier plants, better harvests, and arguably reduced pesticide use, consumers in the US tend to be resistant to the idea of eating foods made from GMOs, or at least eating them unknowingly.

> “In a 2010 nationwide telephone poll, 93 percent of those surveyed said that if a food has been genetically engineered or contains genetically engineered ingredients, it should say so on its label – a number that has been consistent since genetically modified crops were introduced. F.D.A. guidelines don’t require special labeling for GMOs in food, and products containing GMOs can still be labeled ‘all natural.’”[^3]

The labeling of GMOs is an ongoing debate in the US, but in Europe all genetically modified foods are required to be labeled. GMOs have encountered so much resistance in Europe that the German chemical group BASF said in January that it will transfer its main research into GM crops from Germany to the United States because of continued resistance to the crops in Europe.

## Why is this such a polarizing issue?

In a nutshell, opponents of GMOs in food argue that there has not been enough research done to assess risk, and that at a minimum GMOs in food should be labelled so the consumer can decide. Proponents of GMOs maintain that there is little difference between traditional plant breeding and transgenic breeding, that no toxicity has ever been proven, and no known health risks are associated with genetically modified foods. The Food and Drug Administration classifies transgenic foods as safe, though many scientists say it is too soon to assess the effects. [^2]

While there are legitimate concerns about GMOs such as pollen drift, fears that they will lead to a lack of genetic biodiversity, and theories that they could affect human health in unanticipated ways, in the most pragmatic sense GMOs with higher yields offer another tool to feed a booming world population at a time when the potential for land, oil and water crises is high.

An article in The Economist asserts that with India and China’s recent economic growth, “the world is likely to need much more food, at a time when arable land, water and energy become scarcer and more expensive. If they fulfill their promise, GMOs offer a way out of this bind, providing higher yields even as they require less water, energy and fertilizer.”

“In January, Bill Gates devoted most of his annual letter on agriculture from the Gates Foundation to the need for advanced technology. He later said that most people who object to transgenic agriculture live in rich nations, responsible for climate change that he believes has caused malnutrition for the poor,” writes Julia Moskin in the NYTimes piece.

It is difficult to wade through the information that both sides of this polarizing issue present, but the fact is you are probably already eating GMOs, and they are not currently specially labelled. The FDA has classified them as safe. Many of the answers both sides seek will best be answered in the future: What kinds of benefits can the next generation of transgenic organisms offer the world? Will they help eradicate hunger? What could the consequences be? In a world with more mouths to feed everyday, we may need GMOs more than we want them.

[^1]: New York Times: Modified Crops Tap a Wellspring of Protest
[^2]: Ibid.
[^3]: Ibid.


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Food System

The Locavore Index

Jun 14th, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

There is collective sense of excitement at a an early morning farmers market. Nothing tastes better than the freshest possible ingredients, raised with care. But it’s not only about taste. The benefits of eating local are many - healthy fresh food, supporting the local economy, and reducing the nation’s dependence on oil for transport, to name a few. And if you ask the founders of Strolling of the Heifers, local food systems and the sense of community they create can be a whole lot of fun.

Strolling of the Heifers, an organization that works to promote sustainable local agriculture, is best known for their annual parade. Scores of pretty heifer calves wreathed in flowers, along with farmers, future farmers, floats, and various farm animals amble through Brattleboro, VT each year on the first weekend in June (National Dairy Month). It is an extremely popular event and captures the spirit of what the organization is all about. Strolling of the Heifers cherishes local farming, seeking to ensure that families hold onto their farms and produce more generations of local farmers to feed Vermont.

The state’s commitment to the locavore movement may be paying off statistically. Strolling of the Heifers created the Locavore Index (represented by our graphic above) this year, which indicates per-capita presence of local food sources by state in the form of CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture programs) and farmers markets. Vermont tops the list.

You might think that a state like California would have a huge number of farmers markets and CSAs, and you would be right, but California also has a huge population. As you can see in the map above, they are number one in sheer quantity of farmers markets and CSAs, but they rank 41st on the Locavore Index (indicated by the bar graph) because of access per capita. The states that top the Locavore Index have the best ratio of farmers markets and CSAs to population. Higher rank equals better access to local foods for the residents of that state.

Prime farmers market season is upon us! Don’t miss out on the freshest produce, dairy and meat your community has to offer. Use one of these databases to locate your nearest Farmers Markets and CSAs:

Local Harvest

USDA Farmers Market Search

The Eat Well Guide


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Eco Living

My name is Terry and I'm an oil addict...

Jun 13th, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

In a clever series of public service announcements by The Human Impacts Institute, NYC Climate Coalition and NYC Oil Addicts Anonymous, oil addiction is satirized in the context of a twelve step program like Alcoholics Anonymous. This video addresses food and oil addiction.

http://youtu.be/JSa4D1EEiMQ

Much of the food that we eat everyday travels thousands of miles before it gets to our table. See our posts on food miles here, and here.

By buying local foods, organic foods, and growing our own food, we can reduce the amount of oil it takes to produce what we eat. We can take action to reduce the carbon footprint of our food, while eating healthier and supporting local economies.

Take action today. Use one of these databases to locate your nearest Farmers Markets and CSAs:

Local Harvest

USDA Farmers Market Search

The Eat Well Guide


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Food System

What is Food Insecurity,

Jun 5th, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

What is Food Insecurity?

The World Food Summit of 1996 defined food security as existing “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life”. Food insecurity certainly isn’t a new thing, since the dawn of humanity there have been those who don’t know where their next meal is coming from. That insecurity can range in severity from occasional meal uncertainty to full blown famine. One factor in the IPC Acute Food Insecurity Reference Table that determines the breaking point between Phase 1 mild food security and Phase 2 stressed food insecurity is the likelihood that someone suffering from food insecurity might break the law in order to eat or provide food for one’s family.

According to the World Health Organization, food security is built on three pillars:

  • Food availability: sufficient quantities of food available on a consistent basis.
  • Food access: having sufficient resources to obtain appropriate foods for a nutritious diet.
  • Food use: appropriate use based on knowledge of basic nutrition and care, as well as adequate water and sanitation.

With plenty of food on grocery store shelves in the United States, it’s not surprising that food access and poverty are the issues deeply affecting food insecurity in America. A USDA study indicated that in 2010, 17.2 million households in America had difficulty providing enough food due to a lack of resources. Among the Americans suffering from food insecurity are hardworking people who simply don’t always make enough to feed their family, children and seniors. With rising food prices, food insecurity in the US isn’t going away.

Map courtesy FeedingAmerica.org.

Why does it matter?

The fact remains that 16 million children in the United States lived in food insecure households in 2010, according to the USDA. Hunger isn’t just a matter of discomfort. Good nutrition, particularly in the first three years of life, is important in establishing and maintaining a good foundation that has implications on a child’s future physical and mental health, academic achievement, and economic productivity.

There are public assistance programs and food banks available to help Americans who are currently food insecure, but in a country where nearly 15% of the U.S. population relied on food stamps last year, one might question the sustainability of such a practice. Addressing food waste may be one solution. A 1997 study by the Department of Agriculture figured that about 10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste. Check out our post on the topic to learn some ways to cut back on your own food waste.

It is important to address food insecurity in our country now to make sure that the next generation of Americans have the resources they need to be the best they can be.


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Eco Living

The Volt and the Supertanker

Jun 5th, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

2012 Chevy Volt photo courtesy GM under Creative Commons 3.0 License

GM says drivers of the Chevy Volt have saved 2.1 million gallons, or a supertanker, of gas by driving their vehicles in electric mode. Volt drivers drive electrically about 60 percent of the time, with the car’s extended mileage kicking in the rest of the time. Volt owners typically drive an average of 900 miles between fill ups at the gas station. The company hopes to court an even larger pool of energy-conscious drivers with some pretty dazzling statistics.

According to Chevrolet, the 40 Million Total Electric Miles (EV) already driven are equivalent to:

16,373 trips across the United States (2,443 miles from New York to Los Angeles)
1,606 trips around the Earth (24,901 miles each)
167 trips to the Moon (238,657 miles each)
2,130,000 Gallons of Gas Saved, which is equivalent to:

50,714 barrels of gas saved (42 gallons of gas per barrel)
$8 million saved at the gas pump (based on $3.80/gallon of gas)
387 U.S. semi-truck tankers of gas saved (5,500 gallons of gas each)
One supertanker of gas saved (2 million gallons of gas)

With more electric and hybrid cars on the market every year, there is reason to be hopeful for even better statistics in the future.

[AutoblogGreen]


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Food System

How to Make Chocolate Local

Jun 4th, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

<div class="caption" id="attachment_3574" align="alignnone" width="640"]Mast Brothers, by flickr user EssG (Sean Ganann)</span></div>

What do you get when you mix two bearded Brooklyn chocolatiers (who happen to be brothers), a sailboat captain (and the ship he built in his Cape Cod backyard over 25 years), and a shipment of 20 tons of cocoa sailing from the Dominican Republic to the shipyards of Brooklyn? No, not a Wes Anderson film. You get mountains of red tape, confused Dominican port officials, and a cocoa bean importer flown in to explain why these guys are sailing their cocoa beans on a drug route when it would be much easier to put them on a big ship with hundreds of metal containers.

You also get the beginning of a sea change (sorry, I had to) in the way we think about shipping and local food. Someone had to do it first, and Rick and Michael Mast have paved the way by sailing their annual shipment of cocoa from the Dominican Republic.[^wsj]

http://vimeo.com/23086877

Known for small batches and incredible attention to detail, Mast Brothers Chocolate is the first and only bean-to-bar chocolate operation in New York City, and a proud symbol of the Brooklyn local food movement. The beans are roasted on site, chocolate bars are hand-wrapped in paper printed in-house, and the ingredients include only cocoa, sugar and a few bonus ingredients like sea salt from Maine created using solar salt houses - nothing to mask the complex flavor of the carefully sourced cocoa beans.

The brothers with the apropos surname decided a few years ago to set the goal of shipping their beans on wind power. After all, their business is based on a sort of old-is-new model of simplicity, so why not just sail the beans?

http://youtu.be/w0L2eUFu3q4

As Rick Mast says in the video above, trying to do something that seems simple in such a complex world can be difficult. But as visible members of the local food movement with a product that is decidedly not locally sourced, the Mast brothers have moved heaven and earth to reduce their carbon footprint.

Shipping by sail saved the pollution equivalent of 84 days of travel for a typical passenger automobile. The trailblazing 2011 shipment was the first time a sailing ship had unloaded commercial cargo in New York since 1939. Even with the added expense and headaches of sailing, the brothers plan to, slowly over time, have all of their beans arrive via the power of wind. With experience, each year should make for an easier and more affordable sustainable voyage that is still chocked full of adventure.

Learn more about Mast Brothers Chocolate below.

http://vimeo.com/13664547

[^wsj]: Wall Street Journal: Cocoa Arrives, By Sail


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Transportation

Helping New Farmers and Small Farms Avoid Credit Card Debt

Jun 2nd, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced May 25 that the USDA is seeking comments on a new microloan program to help small and family farm operations progress through their start-up years with the goal of eventually graduating to commercial credit.

“Over the past three years, we have expanded farm and operating loans to Americans from all backgrounds to help raise a new crop of producers across the country,” said Vilsack. “As we expand options in agriculture, we’re seeing a new vibrancy across the countryside as younger people - many of whom are now involved in local and regional production - pursue livelihoods in farming, raising food for local consumption. By leveraging USDA’s lending programs for beginning farmers and ranchers and smaller producers, we’re helping to rebuild and revitalize our rural communities.”

The new program would allow the USDA’s Farm Service Agency to make smaller loans, with a principal balance of up to $35,000, and would streamline the application process to require less paperwork for farmers.

Although the microloan program is not exclusively targeted at young or beginning farmers, the program will be helpful in allowing these groups to access federal credit and obtain loans to help them start their farming operations, according to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

“Capital is the number one need of young and beginning farmers in the United States,” said Lindsey Lusher Shute of the National Young Farmers’ Coalition. “USDA microloans will fuel new farm businesses and a new generation of family farmers.”

Small farmers often rely on credit cards or personal loans, which carry high interest rates and have less flexible payment schedules, to finance their operations. The new streamlined application process would mean more efficient processing time for smaller loans, adding flexibility to some of the eligibility requirements, and reducing the application requirements.

As with any loan, the government will be taking a financial risk with microloans to new farmers and young farmers, but with a dwindling farm population and 40% of farmers over age 55, what better time to invest in the future of farming?

The proposed rule may be viewed here.

[USDA]


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Food System

Why Are Food Prices Rising?

Jun 1st, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

 

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics released the April 2012 Consumer Price Index (CPI) on May 15, and the numbers on food prices have continued their upward trend as expected. The food at home index (grocery store prices) increased 3.3% since April of 2011, while general food prices were similar - up 3.1% overall.

The price of food has been increasing for years. Total food expenditures in the US increased 3.4% from 2009 to 2010, and the food at home CPI surged 4.8% in 2011.

This isn’t normal inflation, so what is causing the steady uptick in food prices?

Food prices are really a global issue. Countries less dependent on food imports like the US are less affected by global volatility in food prices, but we are not left unscathed. Factors that affect food prices include oil prices, weather, small yields, higher demand, and crops diverted to biofuels.

Much of our food is shipped long distances using a system completely dependent on oil. When the price of oil goes up, typically the price of food goes up too. Food producers and retailers try to absorb as much of that cost as possible until they have to pass it along to consumers.

Unusual weather patterns attributed to climate change have affected harvests worldwide, often producing smaller yields, and sometimes decimating an entire crop. Have you tried to buy a pine nut recently? The price has skyrocketed in the past few years due to a poor crop and increased demand in China, which led them to cut their exports. This story on pine nuts from the Chicago Tribune is a good example of how a few of these factors can dramatically change the price of a given food.

For another good example closer to home, notice the price of vegetables and tomatoes specifically in the graph above. It’s good the price of something is dropping, right? Not so fast. The price drop does reflect a strong supply of fresh market vegetables this year, but it also reflects poor harvests in 2011 due to severe spring freezes that raised the price of tomatoes almost 50% last year. Usually Mexico’s fresh vegetable crop makes up for US freeze damage, but in 2011 the freezing weather went far enough south to affect Mexican crops as well. In addition, there was a temporary, and controversial, overproduction of tomatoes in 2012 that drove prices even lower.

The growth of the economies of countries like China and India have meant a greater demand for certain foods like meat and high quality grains. This increase in demand drives prices for these items, among others, higher.

While biofuels are an important alternative fuel source that could help us decrease our dependence on oil, in recent years large portions of the domestic corn crop has been diverted to biofuel production. The same is true in places like China and India. This means less corn to feed cows, less corn to make into food products, and of course higher demand for corn, which leads to higher prices.

It’s clear that food prices are affected by a complex web of factors from weather to politics to human taste. As the world we live in changes, we will have to be flexible and innovative to keep up with the rising price of food.


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Innovation

The Clean Car Calculator

May 25th, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

Until now shopping for a high fuel efficiency car, like an electric or hybrid vehicle, could be confusing with overwhelming amounts of data to digest and compare, but students at The Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at The University of California, Santa Barbara have just made it seductively simple.

Enter the Clean Car Calculator: an elegant online calculator that allows the consumer to compare any two high fuel efficiency vehicles on the market, providing a financial and environmental analysis of the cars and even recommending other vehicles to consider given the user’s criteria. The calculator allows the user to adjust for as many or as few variables as desired, like the car’s primary use, percentage of highway miles driven, government tax incentives, etc. One of the most valuable aspects of the calculator is that it determines how long one must own a high fuel efficiency vehicle for it to make economic sense in fuel savings.

The idea for the calculator was inspired by a homework assignment. Project manager Kate Ziemba explains:

The Calculator resulted from an assignment in the Energy and Resource Productivity class taught by Dr. Sangwon Suh at the Bren School that challenged students to understand the return on investment for businesses and consumers to implement energy saving technologies. Students compared lifetime costs and emissions of conventional gas versus high efficiency vehicles. The graduate student developers were surprised to find that hybrids not only paid themselves back in fuel savings, but also that newly released vehicles, such as the Volt and the Leaf, were smart purchases even without a government subsidy.

There you have it! There is more data everyday to show that electric cars and hybrids make sense for the environment and the consumer. But don’t take our word for it - check out the calculator and have fun comparing a few of your favorite green dream cars.


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Eco Living

Exercise as Energy

May 20th, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

Imagine going to your morning spinning class, getting a great workout, and producing clean energy, all before breakfast. This isn’t some dream of the future – it’s something you could do tomorrow at certain gyms across the country.

That’s right, all of that energy you expend in your workout can be converted into usable electricity. Several companies are already making it possible. Based in Seattle, PlugOut specializes in making cardio equipment that returns electricity to the gym’s electrical system by plugging the standard three prong power cord that is included with the unit directly into a standard outlet. If the building isn’t using any electricity it will be returned to the power grid, essentially spinning the building’s meter backwards.

For gyms with fleets of cardio equipment who may not want to invest in all new equipment there are companies like ReRev that retrofit existing equipment to do the same thing. According to ReRev’s website, a typical 30-minute workout produces 50 watt hours of clean, carbon-free electricity. That’s enough electricity to power a laptop for one hour. Though that may not sound like a huge amount, think of how much cumulative power is generated by the legions of people who go to the gym on any given day.

Using PlugOut equipment, Portland’s Green Microgym is focused on maximizing energy creation. According to their website, through energy creation and saving culture, in 2010 they generated 36% of their own electricity, and saved 37,000 Kilowatt hours or 85% (compared to traditional gyms per square foot). Those 37,000 Kilowatt hours saved are equal to 74,000 pounds of carbon emissions, 81,400 miles not driven, or 15 acres of trees planted.

PlugOut equipment can be found at fitness centers nationwide, and ReRev has an impressive roster of universities, private gyms and organizations (including the US Air Force) who use their equipment. With any luck, and maybe a nudge from customers in the right direction, your local gym will recognize the potential to save energy and money. With this new technology on your side you could be on the path to becoming a lean, green, alternative energy machine.


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Transportation

We Want You

May 16th, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

This week the US Navy introduced a new version of its MMOWGLI online gaming project. MMOWGLI stands for Massive Multiplayer Online Wargame Leveraging the Internet. The project uses the fictional future scenario shown in the promotional video below to encourage players around the world to join the game, and use their individual expertise to devise solutions to help our military meet its demands while decreasing its dependence on fossil fuels – and anyone can play.

http://youtu.be/wKXrIWsuxnE

The game will be “an examination of what our energy future looks like if we fail to act now,” said Cmdr. James Goudreau, director of the Navy Energy Coordination Office. “Every day that petroleum prices increase, it erodes our ability to train for and execute operations that our nation demands of us. Little by little, that results in decreased combat capability, and that is something we simply cannot accept.”

In essence, the game allows multiple users to interact and collaborate on ideas online, moving through the game by responding to a series of “Call to Action” videos. Talking Points Memo provides a clear explanation of the game here.

In a move that could derail the project, the House Armed Services Committee voted last week to ban the Department of Defense from purchasing alternative fuels that cost more than “traditional” fossil fuels. That would eliminate the purchase of biofuels, at least for the near future. The small biofuel industry cannot compete price-wise with the huge petroleum industry at this point. It was thought that the military’s use of biofuels would help bolster the biofuel industry and drive biofuel prices down.

With programs like the Green Fleet, the Green Strike Force, and their grand goal to get half the energy for Naval shore installations from alternative energy sources, the US Navy is beginning to sound like a group of real-life superheros. Let’s hope they aren’t thwarted at the last moment!


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Eco Living

Celebrating Bike Month

May 15th, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

May is National Bike Month! If you haven’t dusted off your bike yet this year (or this decade), here’s some inspiration.

- A new report</a> from the League of American Bicyclists, Sierra Club, and National Council of La Raza (NCLR) shows that cyclists in the U.S. save $4.6 billion every year on gas and transportation costs.
- The same report states that if American drivers replaced just one four-mile car trip with a bike every week for a year, it would save more than 2 billion gallons of gas.
- 82% of bicycle commuters believe their health has improved since they started bicycle commuting.

Enough facts and figures. The best part of cycling is how it feels. Let this compilation of the films in the 2012 Bicycle Film Festival remind you. The festival runs in 21 cities throughout the year. The next one is in New York from June 26 to July 1.

http://youtu.be/w3lc-lEYOLk


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Food System

Sustainable Seafood

May 10th, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

Global consumption of fish has doubled since the 1970s. In the US we’ve witnessed a boom in the popularity of sushi restaurants, the Mediterranean Diet is all the rage, and the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are hailed on every talk show. It’s no wonder more Americans are seeking fish is an important part of a healthy, well-rounded, not to mention delicious diet.

As healthy as fish can be for our bodies, fishing can be a real problem for our oceans. Overfishing and other unsustainable fishing practices are the greatest current threat to our oceans, according to Ocean Wise. Aside from direct damage to the ocean, the carbon footprint of fishing can be huge. “Over 95% of the seafood consumed by the community of Santa Barbara, including UCSB, is imported. Additionally, at least 95% of the seafood caught locally is exported,” reports the Associated Students Coastal Fund. And Santa Barbara is a coastal area with fisheries nearby! Imagine the energy expenditure, not to mention the cost, of such a process.

Enter the Santa Barbara Sustainable Seafood Program. Run by the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, their mission is to help the public make more informed decisions about the seafood we eat. Local restaurants and markets gain free membership to the program by taking a pledge to take steps to avoid unsustainable seafood. In return, the program helps members make the switch to sustainable seafood, and promotes member businesses by letting the community know that they provide consumers with an alternative to unsustainable seafood. Each restaurant and market gets a certificate and a sticker for their window to signify their participation in the program. In addition the Sustainable Seafood Program promotes participating businesses through exhibits, banquets and festivals held at the Ty Warner Sea Center.

An exciting development this spring: A Community Supported Fishery Program. Like a farm CSA, the CSF will provide local seafood shares directly to the consumer. The program, funded by the Associated Students Coastal Fund, starts this spring at the University of California Santa Barbara, and will go community-wide next year.

A local fisherman’s perspective on the CSF:

“California fisheries have some of the most stringent regulations and well managed fisheries in the world, and we (fishermen) embrace those regulations if it protects our marine ecosystem while providing food for the community. A CSF provides an opportunity for us to fish less and make more money to support our families.” - Stephanie Mutz, a commercial fisherman and Research Coordinator of Commercial Fishermen of Santa Barbara

The future looks bright for a program that helps local fishermen, the community and the ocean.

 


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Eco Living

Current Electric Car Ranges

May 9th, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

- - - 10% of trips are less than 2 miles
- - - Average commute distance:18.8 miles
- - - 95% of trips are less than 60 miles
- - - EPA electric range of Mitsubishi-MiEV (62 miles)
- - - 99% of trips are less than 140 miles
- - - EPA electric range of Tesla Roadster (245 miles)



You want to buy an electric car but you’ve got visions of being stranded in the middle of nowhere. There is data to suggest that even though there aren’t charging stations on every corner today, it is likely the distance you travel to perform your daily commute and errands is well within the range of today’s electric cars.

In the past few years automakers have made a serious commitment to electric cars, but a phenomenon called “range anxiety” still persists among the public. It is the fear that you will run out of power far from a charging station. Anyone who has ever run out of gas on a lonely road can relate to why the threat of this might cause anxiety.

Right now the national infrastructure to charge electric cars lags behind the enthusiasm for and production of them. This is thought to hinder the consumer who might be interested in an electric car from actually purchasing one.

But there is hope. Not only is the infrastructure to charge electric cars improving rapidly, but some new models about to come on the market have incredible ranges. Tesla’s Model S for example, boasts a range of up to 300 miles. There are also Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles, or PHEVs, that run on electricity and gas, so you can always stop at a gas station in case of emergency. Most fully electric cars, or EVs, currently for sale in the US travel from 60 - 100 miles on a charge, with the Teslas potentially going up to 300. (source) While the Tesla Model S is still very expensive at $49,900 after $7,500 federal tax credit for electric cars, its vastly improved range bodes well for the future of all electric cars.

Electric cars are likely to be charged at least once a day - overnight at home. So with most EVs that gives you 60 - 100 miles to drive per day. This is where range anxiety comes in.

A cool head and hard facts are the antidotes to most anxiety, and the same is true here. If you want a fully electric car, you should ask yourself a couple of questions:

‘Does my family have more than one car?’ and ‘How far is my daily commute?’

Many two car families interested in an electric car could use the EV for commuting and light errands, and use their second car for road-trips. Single car families may lean toward a reasonably priced PHEV like a Prius with a base price of $24,000 - $29,805.

It’s important that you don’t just estimate how far your daily commute is; you must measure it. On your next workday, record how far you actually drive on your odometer. For most people, this should fall well within the range of today’s electric cars.

Approximately 95% of car commuters in the U.S. travel less than 40 miles to work, with the average commute being being 13.6 miles, according to data from the National Household Travel Survey of 2009, analyzed in a study by Garrett Fitzgerald and Rob van Haaren, doctoral students at the school of Engineering and Applied Science at Columbia University. Those figures represent one-way commutes, but that still means that an average round trip commute is well within the range of the electric cars on the market.

Knowing the facts about electric cars means you can let go of that range anxiety and relax . They can get you nearly anywhere you want to go, and the growing infrastructure is making it easier to go farther everyday. Besides, freedom from oil is invigorating!

 


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Eco Living

What Is Ecodriving?

May 1st, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

Ecodriving is a modern and efficient way of driving that emphasizes fuel efficiency, speed, and safety. It is widely practiced in Canada and Western Europe, but still catching on in the US. Some ecodriving tips work better with a manual transmission, but anyone can ecodrive. Whether you are in a commercial truck or hybrid vehicle, ecodriving techniques improve gas mileage. In challenging economic times, improving gas mileage saves money and decreases our collective dependence on oil.

For more detailed driving tips from passionate ecodrivers, check out our post on Hypermiling. Ecodriving and Hypermiling are often mentioned in the same breath. They overlap in many ways and both aim to boost fuel efficiency, but some hypermilers take matters to extremes.

Our post included beginner hypermiling techniques, but there are much more advanced hypermiling techniques that aren’t recommended for use off the racetrack or the test track. If you are curious, you can check out some examples of extreme and futuristic hypermilers here.

The Golden Rules of Ecodriving, according to Ecodrive.org:

Anticipate Traffic Flow

Get used to reading the traffic far ahead of you and anticipate the movement of traffic ahead of you as much as possible. Give yourself three seconds to the car in front of you to minimize the need to suddenly brake. Use momentum and coast as much as possible, as covered in our Hypermiling post. Different techniques can be used to accomplish this. Ecodrive.org lists some here.

Maintain a Steady Speed at a Low RPM

Think flow. You want to glide through traffic smoothly and safely with minimal braking and acceleration. Drive at a low RPM and the highest possible gear. Avoid rapid acceleration and braking, as they lead to increased fuel burn. Use cruise control when applicable.

Up-Shift Early

If you have a manual transmission, shift earlier and accelerate at a lower rpm.

Check Tire Pressure Frequently - at least once a month

Check your car’s manual for correct tire pressure. Tire pressure alone can work wonders for improving your gas mileage in the long haul.

Limit Any Extras - Extra Energy Costs Fuel, and Therefore Money

Air conditioning always burns more fuel, so use it only when necessary. The same goes for any other electrical extras you use in your car.

Avoid dead weight like heavy equipment you forgot in your trunk, and aerodynamic drag like an open sunroof on the highway.

Of course, you need to be comfortable, so there is no need to drive around with all of the windows up and no air-conditioning on a hot day. Generally speaking, on the highway at speeds of 50 mph and above, air-conditioning is a more fuel efficient option. When cruising around town at relatively low speeds, turning the a/c off and rolling the windows down is the better option.

Hungry for more?

Of course, a few tips like this are helpful, but these are just the tip of the iceberg. Ecodriving Solutions specializes in training fleet drivers (like bus and truck drivers) to ecodrive, potentially saving participating corporations and government departments 6-24% on fuel costs. They provide a free demo for the average driver on their site, and have an excellent and prolific blog covering ecodriving.

 


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Eco Living

What is Hypermiling

Apr 10th, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers


What is Hypermiling?

Strictly speaking it is the act of improving fuel mileage by the use of certain driving techniques.

People who hypermile are called hypermilers. Beginner hypermilers can hope to improve their fuel efficiency by a few mpgs.

How Do I Do It? (Beginner Tips)

Technically, the best way to hypermile is not to drive. Ride your bike, walk, or take public transportation. After that, manual transmissions usually give better gas mileage than automatics.

For those of us who must drive, I like to relate hypermiling tips to riding a bike efficiently in traffic. Driving your car like you would ride a bike = good hypermiling. Driving your car like a New York City cab driver (accelerate, slam on brakes, repeat until car sick) = bad hypermiling.

- If you were just starting to pedal your bike after a stop light, you wouldn’t (and couldn’t) peel out. Do the same in your car. Accelerate slowly, do not drag race.

- Observe the speed limit. According to the US Department of Energy, “You can assume every 5 mph over 60mph is like paying an additional $0.31 per gallon for gas.” Pick a speed and stay at that speed as much as safely possible.

- Use cruise control when you are on the highway. It helps maintain a consistent speed and in most cases saves gas. You might burn a little more going up hill, but you will increase your efficiency on the way down.

- Decrease the amount of times you brake, just as you would on a bike. The more you keep your momentum up, the less you will have to work on the way up the next hill. Obviously you have to brake sometimes, but be aware of the traffic far ahead of you and practice easing up on the accelerator and coasting well ahead of time so you don’t end up slamming on the brakes. The less you brake the better in terms of hypermiling. It’s common sense on one hand, but most people can get better at this and improve fuel economy.

- Don’t drive around with heavy objects in your car. Again, common sense, but every little bit helps.

- Turn off your air conditioning. It can increase your mpg up to 30%.

- Keep your tires properly inflated. For every three pounds below their recommended pressure, your fuel economy drops 1 percent. Tires can lose 1 pound of pressure per month, so check the pressure regularly and definitely before long trips.  American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

Will my hypermiling annoy other drivers?

These mild hypermiling techniques, should be largely inconspicuous. Be courteous and aware of your surroundings, and it’s doubtful anyone will know you are hypermiling. Of course, some drivers are easily annoyed. Just be confident in the knowledge that you are saving money and decreasing your consumption of oil. It can be fun, and even meditative, to bring this heightened level of consciousness into your driving. Good luck!

 


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