Monday, December 27, 2010

Looking Ahead to 2011

Well it's been a while, hasn't it?

I admit, it hasn't been on purpose; life just has a way of finding other things for you to do sometimes. Back in April, I launched a new endeavor -- The New Pursuit -- and it just took off. My voice felt a bit freer there. But the Call of Community has never been far away. Of late, it's been scratching at the door again.

The more I look around, the more the signs are clear: The return to the power and solace of community is a necessary step for reclaiming our collective sense of self; for rediscovering that our similarities far outweigh our differences; for achieving that critical balance between our existence and the long-term prosperity of this little planet we call Home.

It is through that Unity of Experience we can transform ourselves, our communities and in no short order, our world.

I continue to believe that here in our neck of the woods, we are poised to blaze a trail in this direction. As I drive around and look at things, as I talk to folks, it is clear that people want a return to simpler things; to things that are deeply rooted in the people and places that are familiar.

That familiarity is the base from which our community can grow and prosper -- socially, economically and ecologically.

Socially speaking, 2010 saw a boon in events that brought us together. From farmers markets to cow flops to fund raising concerts; from theater performances to art exhibits to youth sports; from garden tours to open houses to cultural bazaars. The energy and vibe that such gatherings creates is undeniable. We're creating ways to escape the four walls of our homes and interact; to meet and exchange with neighbors and friends. This is way better than any TV show or movie.

In terms of economy, there's not much to say here as few have escaped the shadow of the ongoing 'Great Recession'. Many of our neighbors have seen better times. Local businesses -- that backbone of our local and regional economies -- have also had to bear their part of the struggle. Our support of these businesses is more critical than ever.

Looking at our local environment and ecological resiliency, we continue to be at a critical juncture. The often-opposing pressures of development, investment and conservation are at an all-time high. There have been successes though: The preservation of Ferolbink Farms and the advancement of the East Bay Energy Consortium hit the highlight reel for sure. But we need more as the challenges will only be getting stronger: Redesigning local transportation in the face of rising fuel prices; continued investment in our local food and economic infrastructure; community and school education... This list is long. But not impossible to achieve with the proper investment of time, willpower and resources.


Alas, it will be only through the coming together of all of us -- hanging our labels, ideologies and agendas at the door -- that we will be able to take up these challenges and work together for the betterment of all. This is OUR community and OUR earth; OUR lives and OUR future.

With that, I want to leave you with a few resources that I have found absolutely amazing over the past few months. All bring together a fantastic intersection of community, environment and renewed resourcefulness.
As always, any thoughts, ideas or comments about how we continue to make the Sakonnet Community more sustainable and resilient are welcome! What would you like to see worked on in 2011?

Be well,

Thursday, June 10, 2010

June Soundbites


Hi, everyone!

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here at Sustainable Sakonnet. Things have been busy as the summer shifts into gear. While work in the gardens is complete (for the moment) and the Little League season winds down, I have been focused on my new blog, The New Pursuit, some public speaking, and writing for (more on that below).

With that, I think I am going to move to a monthly post here at Sustainable Sakonnet. There are so many great things happening in the area that to leave Sustainable Sakonnet by the wayside completely doesn’t feel right. I hope you agree.


Our very own Sakonnet Growers Market kicks the Summer 2010 season off on Saturday morning, June 19, at Pardon Gray Preserve (Main Road). Be sure to stop by, get some amazing local fare and support our local farmers and producers in the process. For a complete listing of farmers markets around the Sakonnet area, check out this list from Farm Fresh Rhode Island.


While most of the town was in the throes (folly?) of the Financial Town Meeting(s) last month, an amazing event took place at Tiverton High School.

Spearheaded by Social Studies Department Chair, Eric Marx, and the THS Green Team, the entire school—from faculty to students to support staff—participated in the first ever ‘Environment Day’.

The goal was to find creative ways of getting the students to think about aspects of the environment as it relates to their everyday lives. How do we view/interact with the environment from a math perspective? From a science perspective? From a literature perspective?

Each student began the day base-lining their own environmental impact by calculating their carbon footprint. Have you ever done this? It’s a great exercise. A number of tools can help you try it for yourself.

The highlight of the event—for me anyway—was the Speakers Forum. Five speakers, four of them THS alumni (including myself), who are involved in some way in the green arena gave presentations on the topic of their choice. It was amazing (and inspiring) see how many local people are involved in making the world a better place – each in their own unique way. Here’s the run down:
  • Sarah Forrest // A 2001 grad and engineer at Vanderweil Engineers, Sarah gave an overview of how buildings play an important role in using resources wisely. She showcased her work on the LEED-certified Newton North (MA) High School.
  • Caitlin Luderer // Talked about her work developing and promoting the field of sustainable tourism. She currently volunteers with the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council. Caitlin is a 2000 grad.
  • Nicole Lebreux // A 2001 grad and owner of Fidget Finds, Nichole gave the students an understanding of the impact that the mainstream clothing industry has on the environment and human rights while promoting the eco-friendly benefits of buying vintage threads.
  • Joe McLaughlin // The only non-THS grad, Joe is Director of Properties at the Norman Bird Sanctuary. He gave a great overview of the history and mission of the Sanctuary while sharing his own journey of finding his life’s passion.
  • And finally, there was me // I gave a presentation entitled “Being (Is) the Solution”, based largely on my writing at The New Pursuit. The message was simple and straightforward: While doing all sorts of things to limit your impact on the environment is important, it’s really only a band-aid. Rather, a deeper, longer-lasting impact can be realized by changing our perspective—our state of being—on how we fit in with the natural world around us and challenging what it means to be a consumer. The response was fantastic – and quite humbling. I used the presentation as the basis for my last opinion piece at
All in all, the entire day was deemed a success. Engaging the next generation in finding creative solutions to our problems is like sowing a proverbial seed in a garden. If we can nurture these young minds from their earliest beginnings we can hopefully set ourselves up for a more prosperous future.


Alas, I have been quite humbled by the response to my new blog, The New Pursuit. Even after just two months, it’s been amazing connecting with so many new people and sharing insights, ideas and stories on what it means to live deeply each day through the reconnection with life, nature and being. As content is being shared through features on other blogs and use of social media tools like Twitter and Facebook, more and more people are subscribing each day to receive free updates.

If you haven’t visited yet, I hope you would take a moment to swing through. You may want to start with some of the posts proving most popular with readers:
The most gratifying thing for me personally is that I’m taking small and tangible steps towards realizing my goal of becoming a full-time writer and speaker. It's challenging me to write the best content of my life. And it’s starting to pay off. It’s more of a journey than an overnight wonder pill, but I hope others can take away the fact that pursuing what you really believe in doesn’t have to be just a New Years Resolution.

With that, I am actively pursuing new opportunities to write and speak on the topic of reconnecting with life, nature and being (what I like to call ‘eco-being’). If you are looking for a speaker for an upcoming event and think this message might resonate with your audience, please email me (at gerlachbill-at-yahoo-dot-com) to explore it further. I am happy to tailor content to create the best fit.

Until next month, be well.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Event Notice: Be Green Kids Consignment Sale

Passing along some info I received on this event. Be well.

Be Green Kids Consignments is pleased to announce that their first ever seasonal kids consignment sale will be held this week/end in Middletown, RI. 

A seasonal consignment sale is a place where families can purchase brand-name new and gently-used children items for 50-90% off retail prices.  Items include spring/summer clothes (infant to pre-teen), shoes, toys, books, dvds, baby equipment & gear (strollers, high chairs, exersaucers, activity mats, etc), furniture (cribs, pack-n-plays, changing tables), bedding, bikes/trikes and much, much more.

There are 80 consignors registered to sell their items, and over 6,000 items in the inventory system!  At the conclusion of the event all unsold items will be donated to Child & Family Services of Newport County (at consignor discretion).

WHAT:    Be Green Kids Consignment Sale
WHERE:  Fraternal Order of Police Hall, 464 Mitchells Ln, Middletown, RI (off East Main Road- next to Newport National Golf Club)
WHEN:  Saturday, May 15th  9:00am-6:00pm and Sunday, May 16th 10:00am-1:00pm (*Discount day.  Most items marked 50% off)


Saturday, May 1, 2010

My New Blog Has Launched!

By Bill Gerlach | Follow me on Twitter

It's been a long time coming, but it's finally here. I'm pleased to introduce my new blog: THE NEW PURSUIT.

So what is The New Pursuit you ask?

For me, the title has multiple meanings. Personally, it's a new online journey that I'm taking, looking to connect with a wider range of ideas, people and perspectives. This new blog will allow me a new platform to pursue my dream of becoming a professional writer and speaker.

At its heart though, The New Pursuit speaks to a broader more deeper journey. The popularity of the green movement has or is close to reaching its zenith. This is good as it has opened the door and allowed many people to take their first steps towards stepping lightly. This process must continue.

But for many -- myself included -- who have been diligently doing all those sustainable things for so long I believe there is a yearning for something more. Something that goes beyond just DOING green things. Something that encompasses other elements of living in this world and ties it all together. We must shift from doing to being using Nature as a catalyst and a point of reconnection. 

Writing Sustainable Sakonnet over the past three years has allowed me to explore and share so many things with all of you. I am grateful for all the comments and well wishes you have sent my way. At this point, I'm not sure what will happen with S.S. Perhaps you have a thought about this?

With that, I invite you to check out The New Pursuit. If you like what you read, please consider signing up to receive free updates via RSS or Email. You may even consider sharing it with some friends.

Thank you and be well,

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

We Need YOU at the Financial Town Meeting

Thanks to Brian Medeiros over at C.U.R.B. (Citizens United for Responsible Budget), I feel as though I have a great handle on what's happening regarding the town budgeting process in Tiverton.

This recent post is OUTSTANDING, presenting ALL the facts that are necessary to make well-informed decisions come May 8 at the Financial Town Meeting. (Why do certain parties continue to omit that little detail about the town not receiving $1.4 million dollars in state car-tax funds?)

If you have never attended a Financial Town Meeting. This is the year to do it. We need EVERYONE there. Read up on things at C.U.R.B. Know the impacts of NOT voting for the 9% tax increase:
  • The closing of one elementary school. (Yes, one of the brand new ones...)
  • The lost of important social services like Visiting Nurses
  • The lost of extra-curricular activities and sports at the school
  • Decreases in town services like snow plowing
  • And the list goes on..
From where I sit, I feel as those we have lost our sense of community. Perhaps its the economic environment or the general tug of society away from 'we' to 'me' -- I'm not sure. But whatever the reason, we are no longer coming together to fight for the common benefit of ALL our citizens.

Please do your part. Get the facts and then join your neighbors at the Financial Town Meeting starting at 9:00AM on May 8 at the Tiverton High School. See you there.

    Monday, April 19, 2010

    Answering the Call to Live Deeply

    By Bill Gerlach | Follow me on Twitter

    The more I look around the more I see a movement underway.

    People are feeling a subtle yet constant tug – like an eager toddler at your legs – that something is awry in their life and the life of the world. Many have put their hopes in material happiness. Yet now, those same people are seeking to establish a new balance in their lives, abandoning the pursuit of ‘more’ that consumerism has pushed upon us and the resulting disconnect with the natural world it has fostered. 

    People are plugged in more and outside less. They are buying more things and turning a blind eye to the impact that such pillage of the natural world brings with it. We have reached a point of needing to 'save' the only home we—and all those future generations—will ever have.

    When you live deeply you:

    •    Shed the unnecessary and embrace what remains
    •    Are one with Nature, not apart or above it
    •    Allow mindfulness to bring the present moment into focus
    •    Live by example and share this insight with others, especially children

    This journey takes time and patience but it is worth the taking.

    For me, this journey is taking a new and exciting turn. My new blog project—launching very soon—will allow me to pursue this call to live more deeply and connect with all those around the world who are feeling that same tug. I can’t wait to share it with you and invite you to join the journey too.

    To be among the first to know when the new site launches, please consider subscribing to Sustainable Sakonnet today via RSS feed or Email. Or follow me on Twitter.

    Until next time, I leave you with an excerpt from the poem “The Children” by Gary Snyder:

    stay together
    learn the flowers
    go light

    Be well,

    [Image: Ben Heine via Flickr]

    Saturday, April 10, 2010

    Help Tiverton's Library Recover from the Flood

    The historic floods of the other week left most of us impacted in one way or another. While we all work to get our own homes and properties back to normal we shouldn't lose sight of what it means to come together as a community in tough times. Case in point is Essex Library.

    The library was hit particularly hard. The basement level, which houses the children and teen sections, lost over 4,000 books and numerous computers due to the flooding. Knowing how much we rely on the library, this news hit us hard.

    But Friends of Tiverton Libraries (FOTL), in partnership with Tiverton Library Services, have come together to offer the community a few ways to help with the flood relief:
    • You can make a tax-deductible donation by writing a check to "FOTL for Library Flood Relief" and mailing it to 238 Highland Road, Tiverton, RI 02878. FOTL is a registered 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to expanding and promoting library services in cooperation with Tiverton Library Services.

    • If you live the area you can also check out the Applebee's Dine-to-Donate Benefit night on Thursday, April 22, from 5:00pm - 9:00pm at the Plymouth Avenue location in Fall River (map). Applebee's will donate 15% of the evening's income from Benefit participants to FOTL. To make your dinner count, you must present a special flyer at the start of your meal. Flyers will be available at both Essex and Union Libraries, as well as at the Tiverton Library website. (Note: I did not see anything available for download yet; check back soon.)
    If you can, please consider helping the library -- and the community that relies on it -- get back on its feet. Thanks.

    Monday, April 5, 2010

    2010 CSA Round-Up

    By Bill Gerlach | Follow me on Twitter

    With the rain behind us (fingers crossed!) we can start looking forward to all those farm fresh fruits and veggies that are on their way. We put in our first plantings of spinach, lettuces, and peas this past weekend. I don't know who was more exited -- me or the kids!

    Growing some of your own food is a great way to reconnect with Nature, get your hands dirty and be a bit more self-sufficient. But when you can’t do that, signing up for a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program is fantastic alternative. Sure, you can support local farmers and producers at any of the farmers’ markets nearby, but when you take part in a CSA, you drive your connection with our local food system a bit deeper.

    With a CSA you pay an upfront amount for a “share” of the farmer’s production for a specific period of time. This helps the farmer secure much-needed funds early in the season to kick-start things and helps them gauge how much should be planted for the season. Then each week you reap the benefits of the harvest as your fresh produce makes its way to your home.

    But just like any venture, you are also sharing a bit of risk with your farmer. Rains can hit hard or not at all. An ailment can hit the crops. Your produce is not always guaranteed. But your farmer bends over backwards to give you the best that s/he has to offer.

    With that, here are a few local CSA programs you might want to check out this year:

    A complete listing of CSA options in and around the 02878 zip code can be found at Farm Fresh RI.

    Good luck and stay tuned for a round up of all the great area farmers markets in the coming weeks!

    Be well,

    Tuesday, March 30, 2010

    Tips for Recycling Hard-to-Recycle Stuff

    By Bill Gerlach | Follow me on Twitter

    In the quest to throw away less, our family has always been challenged by a few things, namely what to do with all that hard-to-recycle stuff. Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), batteries and items made of #5 plastic (e.g., yogurt containers) top our list.

    So we did a little digging and compiled this little list of resources to help you keep more stuff out of your landfill:

    Remember that CFLs contain a small amount of mercury, so sending them to the landfill is not a good idea. A few options for recycling include:
    Did you know that nearly 3 billion batteries are sold in the U.S. annually? With all the different types out there, knowing what to do with each kind can get confusing. While non-rechargeable kinds tend to be throw-away, re-chargeable varieties should be recycled. Here are some resources:
    • The Environment, Health and Safety Online (EHSO) site is a great one-stop resource for all you could ever want to know about batteries and their disposal. You can search for local recycling centers by zip code too.
    • Earth 911 -- Just put in your zip code and go for batteries too. Search now.
    • Rhode Island residents can bring spent automotive and re-chargeable batteries to any Eco-Depot event.
    This stuff abounds. From yogurt containers to take-out containers to you name it, #5 plastic is everywhere. Given its low re-sale value, many municipal/state recycling programs don't take it. There are some great options out there though:
    • Preserve -- The maker of cool recycled plastic toothbrushes and razors has teamed up with Whole Foods and Stonyfield Yogurt to create the "Gimme5" campaign. Details here. 
    • Earth 911 -- Just put in your zip code and go for this stuff too. Search now.
    ELECTRONIC WASTE (e-waste)

    According to a 2008 Consumer Electronics Association study, the average American household owns 24 electronic devices. In an era where it's easier to throw old, broken electronics in the trash instead of repairing them, there is too much potential for some of the hazardous materials in them to wreak havoc. Here are some alternatives:
    • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in partnership with many consumer electronics companies, has launched the "Plug-In e-Cycling" program. Details and retailer drop off locations are here.
    • Earth 911 -- You know the drill. Search now. 
    • Rhode Island resident? Select e-waste items can be brought to most Eco-Depot events
    Good luck and be well!

      Sunday, March 28, 2010

      Portsmouth's Newest Turbine: Delivering 110%

      John McDaid over at hard deadlines has an excellent post examining what Portsmouth's newest turbine has delivered in the year since becoming operational.

      The consensus: It is delivering more than anyone could have expected.

      Chew on this quote by Rich Talipsky, chair of the Portsmouth Economic Development Committee:
      "The project team members often look up at the wind turbine and say, 'How did we do it?' And, when we thought about it, we came to the realization that we had developed the right chemistry between the citizens, the Town leadership and the project contractor that enabled an honest dialogue. It was the heart of a working relationship that brought potential problems and issues to the forefront early so that they could be resolved."
      As Tiverton inches ever-forward on our own renewable energy path, such results should reinforce the potential this technology has.

      A small cadre of citizen volunteers are working hard as part of the East Bay Energy Consortium to make renewable wind energy a reality for our area. When it comes time to lend support to such projects, please remember Portsmouth and do your part to make renewable energy happen in Tiverton.

      Tuesday, March 23, 2010

      Don't "CURB" Your Enthusiasm

      Just the opposite: Roll up your sleeves, get educated, and get involved.

      Kudos to former Tiverton Town Council member Brian Mederios on his newest endeavor: Citizens United for Responsible Budget (CURB-Tiverton). In just a short time, Brian has been hitting the media with critical op-ed pieces and a new blog challenging the status-quo when it comes to the fiscal vitality of Tiverton.

      Coming off the debacle of the 2009 Financial Town Meeting, Brian is dead-set on making sure it doesn't happen again. According to the blog, the CURB agenda is simple:
      The CURB-Tiverton Principle:
      To attend the May 8 Financial Town Meeting and vote to support a common-sense budget that neither exceeds the state tax-cap nor results in significant cuts in community/school services.
      CURB is a grassroots effort to preserve Tiverton's quality of life by uniting individuals and community groups in supporting a responsible municipal/school budget that balances maintaining services with containing costs.
      If you're interested, you can sign up to receive free updates through the blog or email.

      As a tax payer, parent of three small children, and user of town services I am keenly aware of what is at stake at this year's Financial Town Meeting. I implore my peers: We need MORE parents at this meeting. We need YOU to help ensure that our town's budgeting process and spend of services is meeting the needs of all of us.

      Being part of a vibrant community is about helping out each other. In some cases, you take one for the team to ensure the greater good. This is just one such instance. Please do your part. Thanks.

      Wednesday, March 17, 2010

      Help Me Celebrate a Birthday

      By Bill Gerlach | Follow me on Twitter

      A few weeks back Sustainable Sakonnet turned three.

      Some of you may remember that first ambitious post. Not a lot has changed since then. The inspiration for the blog is still there and I have been humbled by everyone who has taken time to share their stories and insights. For me, S.S. has been and will always be about building community and dialogue.

      But on this birthday, my wish is very simple: Help Sustainable Sakonnet grow.

      If you have ever found value in some story or piece of content on this blog, could you help me grow our readership by forwarding this on to at least five friends? Ask them to sign up to receive free updates via RSS feed or Email. The new "Share" feature at the bottom of this post can help with that.

      I have some exciting new things in the works that I plan to share more on in the coming weeks. In the interim, I have made some changes to the layout and organization of the site (notice the new "page" links at the top?) to help make your visits better and content more accessible. But it's only the start. There is so much more on this journey to share and experience together!

      As always, thank you for your continued support of my work and that of Sustainable Sakonnet. You make all the difference and keep me going!

      Be well,

      [Image: HoneyBee KT via flickr]

      Saturday, March 13, 2010

      25 Simple Things to Do With Your Extra Hour of Sunlight

      By Bill Gerlach | Follow me on Twitter

      Tonight we turn back the clocks. Now before you start lamenting over “losing” that hour, take another perspective: Putting the clocks ahead means another hour of daylight at the end of your day!

      Not sure what to do with that? Here is a short list of simple (and mostly free!) things you can do to make the most of your new-found “time”:
      1. Have a dinner picnic down at Fogland or South Shore beach with your family or special someone
      2. Cook a fantastic meal outside
      3. Take an after-dinner hike at Weetamoo, Fort Barton, Wilbur Woods, or Simmons Pond.
      4. Walk or run some laps at Town Farm or the track at Tiverton High School
      5. Head out on a bike ride around town
      6. Take a stroll through Sakonnet Vineyards
      7. Grab a pick up game of basketball at the Bulgarmarsh Recreation Center or Wilbur & McMahon School
      8. Serve up some tennis at Town Farm or Tiverton High School
      9. Let your kids run off that extra energy at the playgrounds at Wilbur & McMahon or Town Farm
      10. Finally start that garden you’ve always wanted
      11. Plant a tree (or three!)
      12. Build yourself a compost bin
      13. De-clutter your life a little and clean out your garage or shed (don’t forget to freecycle!)
      14. Check out an event or class through the Sakonnet Arts Network
      15. See what is happening at our local libraries (Tiverton, Little Compton)
      16. Hang a clothesline and discover how awesome your clothes will smell after line drying
      17. Get settled watch that sun set (or moon rise)
      18. Enjoy an after-dinner concert by listening to the amazing bird songs at dusk
      19. When it gets warmer, watch the aerial acrobatics of the bats coming out as the sun goes down
      20. Play an after-dinner board game with the kids outside
      21. Cozy up to the fence and catch up with your neighbors
      22. Treat your dog to an extra-long run
      23. Treat yourself to an ice cream at Moose Cafe, Gray’s, or in the Commons
      24. Pencil in the Tiverton Financial Town Meeting into your calendar (Saturday, May 8) and commit to being there
      25. Last but not least, keep your lights, TV and any other electronic gadget off for another hour!
      [Photo: D Sharon Pruitt via Flckr]

      Thursday, March 11, 2010

      DIY Dishwasher Detergent

      By Bill Gerlach | Follow me on Twitter

      On the heels of the DIY Laundry Detergent, here is a new recipe for homemade powder dishwasher detergent.

      What makes this DIY project great is that it uses two of the primary ingredients from the laundry detergent: Washing Soda and Borax.
      • 1 cup of Washing Soda
      • 1 cup of Borax
      • 1 packet of Lemonade Kool-Aid drink mix (for the citric acid, optional)
      • 1/4 cup of salt (optional)

      There are several optional ingredients you could use -- citric acid and salt being at the top of that list. Based on my research most are used depending on the quality of water you have (hard vs. soft). I have used two versions -- one with the citric acid and one without -- with the same results. I have not tried a version using salt. You may want to start with the basic recipe of Washing Soda and Borax and expand from there depending on your results.

      In an empty jar or container (mason jars or large yogurt containers work great), mix the Washing Soda, Borax, and Kool-Aid drink mix. Cover and shake well to incorporate. That's it.

      This recipe yields sixteen 2-Tablespoon "servings" (your per-load amount).

      A note about the Kool-Aid mix: You want to use the lemonade flavor because it is light in color. Other flavors contain coloring that could stain your dishes. (Bad!)

      Unlike the laundry detergent, this DIY project isn't saving you a lot over the conventional dishwasher detergent. That said, if you have the ingredients on hand and can spare five minutes of work, you gain the satisfaction of making something instead of buying it.

      Now the numbers:
      • Store Bought Detergent -- Using the 100-oz box of Cascade as our baseline, the per-ounce cost (according to Stop & Shop's Peapod site) is $0.07. Since two tablespoons weighs about an ounce, this works out to be your per-load cost as well.

      • DIY Detergent -- One cup of either the Washing Soda (55-oz box at $2.99) or Borax (76-oz box at $3.99) weighs about eight ounces. Doing the math, 16 loads works out to $0.85 or $0.05 per load. 
      Now, a two-cent savings per-load doesn't sound like much. But if you run your dishwasher three times a week that adds up to $3.12 in a year. Just enough to buy that next box of Borax!

      Like I said, it's not the savings on this DIY project that counts, but the satisfaction of being resourceful and making something on your own. We have been using it for several weeks now with good results. You can't tell the difference. And, if you want to go all the way and get rid of the Jet Dry, consider using white vinegar instead.

      Good luck! Let me know how you make out!

      Thursday, March 4, 2010

      Minimalism and the March Poll

      Could you define your level of consumption by quantifying how much stuff you possess?

      I have been thinking about this a bit over the past few weeks and wanted to put that challenge out there in the form of our March Poll. In the ever-unfolding quest for simpler, more sustainable living, I have been enamored of late with a few great blogs on the minimalist lifestyle:
      These writers/motivators are helping to lead a revolution in down-sizing our lifestyles (but not our lives!) to focus on the most important things. While the green angle is not always the key driver, it goes without saying that the environmental benefit of a minimalist lifestyle is dramatic. Want less, buy less. Buy less, produce less. Produce less, plunder the earth's resources less. You get the picture.

      As I think about the many woes facing humanity these days, consumption in one way, shape or form is at the root of darn near all of them. Our priorities are skewed. We have lost sight of what true happiness is and can bring. And along the way, lost our true sense of self.

      Let's be clear, I have a LONG way to go to being a Superstar Minimalist, but it is about the journey for me. Letting go and eliminating what is no longer necessary to "be". Eliminating the clutter -- physical, digital, emotional or otherwise. Making way for simpler living at home and at work. Hopefully, using the process to help teach our kids about knowing what is most important in life.

      But I would be remiss if I didn't answer the poll question for myself. For stuff that I alone use, I would put the count at between 100 and 250. This includes everything from books to tools and garden stuff to clothes. Perhaps I'll chronicle the liberation process from time to time. Clearly I have room to improve.

      Where do you net out at? What is motivating you to do more with less?

      [Image: jasontheaker via flickr]

      Tuesday, March 2, 2010

      Event Notice: Practical Composting Clinic

      You can never compost enough in my book. This clinic, offered through the URI Master Composter & Recycler program, should be great. (Click on the image to enlarge.)

      Monday, March 1, 2010

      Tips for Forming a "Green Team" at Work

      Over the past year I have had the privilege of co-leading the development of a new "green" team at work. Our group is focused on not only educating employees on environmental issues, but more importantly, initiating business activities that benefit the planet AND the bottom line.

      With that, I thought I would pass along some tips for helping you form your own green team:

      Make the Case for Greening Your Business
      Saving the planet is great. Saving the planet AND driving value for your business is even better. Try building your business case and program around the "triple bottom line" of the Corporate Social Responsibility Model: people, planet, profit. Business doesn't have to operate in "value silos". Score bonus points if you can tie "green" or sustainable efforts to your business model, strategy, or value proposition in some way.

      Create a Solid Plan
      If you cannot demonstrate a clear action plan for achieving that triple bottom line your efforts will fall flat. Our annual plan is primarily comprised of two parts: Business Initiatives and Community Initiatives. The former allows us to identify and execute opportunities that drive business value (e.g., reduce electricity or paper usage); the latter enables us to connect with local non-profits with an environmental focus and help their efforts through volunteering.

      Find a Champion
      Otherwise known as getting buy-in from the top. Find someone senior in your organization who shares similar values to "sponsor" your efforts. This person can help forward your mission through public (and visible) support and the removal of organizational obstacles that might get in your way.

      Measure, Analyze, Improve
      Having solid numbers to drive the creation and ongoing execution of your action plan is invaluable. Take baseline measurements such as electricity usage, waste volume, and recycling rates to know where you are starting from. Then as you take steps to improve your performance, you can measure your impact. Regular measurement of your efforts can also help you identify ways to enhance your action plan along the way.

      Benchmark and Network
      More and more companies are embracing ways to make their business more sustainable. Learn from them what works and what doesn't. B Corporation, Climate Counts, and GreenBiz are excellent sites to start this process. If you find a few companies close to you, consider creating an ongoing discussion series to improve networking.

      Be Inclusive
      The more people in your company you can connect with who share the same values and enthusiasm for sustainable business, the better your chance of success. Consider creating a grassroots network of "green ambassadors" throughout your company to help spread the message, execute your action plan, and generate new ideas. Need leader buy-in on activities? Consider the formation of a "green council" to help steer efforts.

      Be Patient
      Rome wasn't built in a day and neither will your new and improved sustainable business. Don't take on too much too soon. Remember, you want to demonstrate the viability and value of your action plan. Early on, focus on the "low hanging fruit" -- those opportunities such as reducing waste and energy usage -- to score some early "wins". From there, you can focus on bigger, more complex things like greening your supply chain or manufacturing processes. Good luck!

      Saturday, February 20, 2010

      Suggestions for Our Book of the Month?

      Almost the end of February (already!). That means March will soon arrive and with that a new Book of the Month.

      I could throw something out there, but I would rather our readers have a voice. It's a bit old school to try and get book discussions going -- especially virtually -- but I'm a firm believer in the power of books to open new doors.

      So, any good "green" book ideas?

      For a little inspiration, you may want to consider the Top 10 Books on the Environment for 2010 from Book List Online. (Thanks, Kathy!)

      And remember, when you're ready to read tap into our Ocean State Inter-library Loan system through Essex/Union. Why buy when you can borrow?

      [Image Credit: bluemaria via flikr]

      Tuesday, February 16, 2010


      Coming off the Avatar post I’ve been doing quite a bit of catching up on deep ecology. Through our inter-library loan program, I picked up a wonderful book, “Thinking Like a Mountain: Towards a Council of All Beings.” It’s a collection of small essays by thought leaders in the deep ecology movement.

      While I could write a post on any and all the points discussed in the book, there is one presented by John Seed that has struck a chord with me that I would like to share.

      It is about perspective.

      Up to now, the modus operandi for most of the green movement has been about protecting the environment in a way that sets humans apart from it. Like we sit outside the eco-sphere some how and in our classic anthropocentric way, need to save it for future use by us. At the end of the day, nature, the environment, and everything within the biosphere exists for the sole purpose of meeting our needs.

      Now, what if you were to turn all that inside out? What if the human perspective shifted from one of being apart and above the environment to being an integral part of it? The human species as just another organism in the intricate tapestry of life here on Earth – no more special than any other that breathes the air, drinks the water, lives, dies, and passes its energy on to the next living thing.

      So instead of working so hard to protect the environment as some stand-alone entity, we, as being one with the environment, would be working to save ourselves from our own self-destruction.

      That’s a game changer, isn’t it?

      The analogy of using a 24-hour day to track the 4.5 billion year lifespan of the planet is one that resonates well with people. It is used in “Thinking Like a Mountain”, but in context of the other writings within it is more powerful than ever. Not to spoil it, but modern-day humans only come on the scene at 11:59:59 PM.

      Yet, in that one proverbial second, we have systematically eradicated much of the natural resources that came to be in the last several billon years: Mined, drilled, cut, dug, burned, flooded, and pumped the carbon lifeblood on or below the surface; cultivated, bred, factory farmed, genetically altered, and/or drove to extinction that life which grew, swam, slithered, walked, or flew above the crust. We have designed ways to all but eliminate our species from existence with the touch of a button.

      When you take a step back and try to look holistically at the trajectory we’re on, it’s questionable what the end of this ride will bring.

      But could a shift in perspective on the grandest of scales change that trajectory? How possible is such a notion? Look around at everything happening in front of you: The people, the places, the “problems”. How could such a shift in perspective – in consciousness – even take root, let alone thrive and bear fruit when there are so many day-to-day distractions?

      The obvious answer: One person at a time. I just don’t know if there is enough time left to reach all 6.8 billion of us that call this little corner of the solar system home.

      So what would you do – how far would you go – to save yourself?

      [Image: jasontheaker via flikr]

      Sunday, February 14, 2010

      Eco-Industrial Park Presents Its Case

      This past Wednesday evening about twenty-five people attended the Tiverton Economic Development Committee’s regularly-scheduled meeting to hear first-hand where the proposed 650-acre “green” development was in its evolution. While the crowd gathered inside the Judson Street Community Center was small, it was far from silent.

      Attending on behalf of The Rhode Island Renewable Energy Cooperative (RIREC), the energy systems development wing of the eCo Industrial Park, was CEO Gerald V. Felise, VP of Energy James P. Sweeney, and lead consultant Andrew C. Dzykewicz.

      The formal presentation was part vision, part education, but mainly a sales pitch to the town. While prior media coverage of the project has touted the master plan for this development – complete with commercial, residential, and energy production components – the RIREC team focused solely on the latter on Wednesday night. As they put it, if the first phase of the project (energy systems development) can’t move forward, there is no value in the rest.

      The driving force behind the RIREC is the allure of what could be a lucrative renewable energy facility boom in the East Bay area thanks to the recently formed East Bay Energy Consortium. Currently comprised of Bristol, Warren, Barrington, East Providence, Portsmouth, Little Compton, Tiverton, Middletown and Newport, the Consortium aims to basically develop renewable energy facilities in bulk, and then reap the resulting energy production benefits by leveraging current net metering laws. Such laws allow municipalities to be paid (by National Grid) the full delivered price for energy produced at town-owned facilities up to a certain limit.

      The resulting RIREC business model is relatively simple: Aggregate all Consortium-related development into one location to take advantage of economies of scale and keep development costs at a minimum. Finance, build and maintain the facility for participating EBEC member municipalities at no upfront cost to the towns. National Grid then purchases the energy from the Consortium members at a fixed rate. In turn, Consortium members contract with RIREC and pay a set of monthly fees for lease of the energy equipment, ongoing operations and management of the facility, and an overall management. Some of these fees are fixed, others variable.

      What is on the table for this Tiverton location is a multi-faceted energy systems development comprised of approximately twelve 2-megawatt turbines, 24 megawatt’s worth of photovoltaic solar panels, and 96-megawatts of energy storage capability. Spread out over the entire 650-acre footprint, these elements will only occupy about 10 percent of the total land area. According to data gathered by RIREC, these combined energy systems will generate 83,522 megawatts of electricity when fully operational.

      The turbines would be built first, aided by on-site manufacturing of the towers in to-be constructed facilities. Of particular note was the claim from RIREC that these towers would be constructed out of a new, lightweight carbon fiber instead of the traditional steel. Details about this were scant, only that RIREC was currently in discussions with a company for licensing this technology.

      What does Tiverton get with this deal? According to the high-level financials provided, as host to the project the town stands to gain significant amounts of revenue through annual corporate contributions from RIREC, property taxes, operating income from the energy production units, and indirect income gained through activities related to the construction phase such as jobs and in-town business spending. All total, revenue over the life of the project is slated to be around $23 million. If it also participates as part of the Consortium, Tiverton stands to gain an additional $669,000 in revenue annually for at least twenty years through net metering.

      If such dollar signs didn’t make the deal sweet enough, RIREC delivered the equivalent of icing on the green economy cake with the promise of sourcing jobs to Tiverton residents and businesses first. What could not be filled in Tiverton would then be sourced out to participating Consortium members.

      The price tag for all of this: About $120 million according to RIREC. The entire amount will be privately funded and is in place. All that is required to move forward with construction is the review and approval of the Rhode Island Energy Facility Siting Board (and the subsequent signing of all those contracts and related paperwork). According to RIREC, this decision is slated for April 16, 2010. And while the project does not need the permission of the Town of Tiverton to move forward, having the Town issue a statement of partnership would greatly add to the collaborative model RIREC is hoping to forge with Consortium members. The project has already been endorsed by Governor Carcieri.

      All that said, those in attendance peppered the three RIREC executives with plenty of questions. From clarifying wind data to pressing the validity of the stated financials to calling bluff on RIREC’s claim that the entire project could be online and operational by the end of 2010. Not shying away from the robust Q & A, the executives did their best to quell the curiosity. Only the facilitation of Tiverton Economic Development Committee members kept the discussion from lingering on.

      At the conclusion of the presentation, members of the Tiverton Economic Development Committee stated that they would deliberate on the discussion and consult with the Town Council on how best to move forward.

      My personal thoughts: On paper, it is quite a sell. As a strong proponent of renewable energy development I have a natural bias. But this is big – really big – with the potential for more ups and downs than this small town is used to. But that’s no reason to not continue the exploration and dialogue.

      Unanswered questions in my mind include: How will claims by RIREC to keep much of the 650 acres in conservancy play out over the course of the entire multi-phase development? What is the potential impact to the Stafford Pond area on the eastern edge of the acreage? How will the town weigh the potential risk of lower energy prices (which would chip away at the revenue it stands to gain) in its deliberations?

      Enough of what I think? What do you have to say?

      If you’re interested in PDF copies of the RIREC presentation of business case, email me and I’ll send them to you.

      (Photo Credit: Evan McKern via Flikr,

      Wednesday, February 10, 2010

      Proposed Eco-Development to get Public Hearing This Thursday

      Remember the proposal for a massive 650-acre "eco-development" off of Fish Road that hit the papers in late 2008?

      Well, the developer is attending this week's Economic Development Committee meeting and presenting his updated plan. The public is invited to listen and ask questions. Details:

      Tiverton Economic Development Committee Meeting
      Thursday, February 11, 6:00 PM
      Location: Tiverton Community Center, Judson Street

      (Thanks to Garry for the heads-up on this.)

      Saturday, February 6, 2010

      January Poll Results; February Poll Launches

      In classic fashion, I'm once again late with the poll update. That said, January's poll results were fantastic -- thank you to everyone who took the time to lend their voice.

      We asked: What should the top sustainable community agenda items be in 2010?

      Education & Engagement topped this list, followed closely by Renewable Energy Investment and Agriculture & Food. In the middle of the pack was Local Economic Development. Rounding out the list with only a few votes were Land Preservation, Transportation Alternatives and Zoning & Related Planning.

      While I try to plan some sort of face-to-face gathering in the Tiverton/Little Compton area, you may be interested in checking out one a these local "education & engagement" resources:
      • UMASS Dartmouth's Sustainability Office has an amazing spring line up of events. From films to speakers to workshops, there is a lot of great work going on over there. (Thanks to Nate over at for the heads-up.)

      • The Green Drinks series continues in Newport and Providence. These monthly gatherings bring good food, good drink, and great conversation together in a nice neat package.
      Now, on to February's poll.

      This month, we're asking about steps you are taking to save energy (and money) at home. With the thick of winter upon us, furnaces firing, and the electric meter spinning, there is never a better time to take some simple steps to make your home more energy efficient.

      Monday, February 1, 2010

      The "Pay As You Throw" Prep List

      Well, it’s coming: Pay As You Throw (PAYT).

      With the Tiverton Town Council voting to implement PAYT as a tactic for extending the life of our landfill, boosting municipal recycling rates, and putting away funds for the eventual capping, folks from across town are undoubtedly going to get themselves in a tizzy over it.

      According to the Sakonnet Times article last week, we won't see the program start for months while all the details are worked out. That should give everyone plenty of time to get ready. To help, I have taken the liberty to throw together an unofficial list of things you can do to prepare. Good luck!

      Number One: Get Educated

      Municipalities across the country (including several in RI) have been implementing PAYT programs with success. The U.S. EPA has a great website with all the ins and outs. Or read this great article covering all the pros and cons along with lots of impressive stats.

      Number Two: Buy Less

      The less you have, the less you have to figure out how to throw away. Take PAYT as that opportunity to start doing more with less, differentiating between ‘need’ and ‘want’, and reducing all that clutter in your life. Need some motivation? Watch the Story of Stuff.

      Number Three: Get on the Freecycle Bandwagon

      For all that stuff that is still in good shape and could use a second life with someone else, there is freecycling. We are signed up with the Yahoo! Group Freecycle Newport. With thousands of area people using it, you’re bound to find someone who wants your stuff.

      Number Four: Pre-Cycle
      When you shop, look for packaging that can be recycled. Glass, aluminum, Number 1 and 2 plastics, and paper-based materials can land in your blue and green bins instead of your trash barrel. And remember that buying in bulk can also cut down on the amount of packaging you consume.

      Number Five: Start a Compost Pile
      Around twenty-five percent of household waste is organic material (e.g., vegetable and non-meat food scraps, lawn and garden clippings, etc.) and can be composted. The whole brown-and-green-layering thing couldn’t be easier and the end result (compost) is the absolute best thing you could ever put in your garden. Check out this great composting resource from URI to learn more.

      Number Six: Seize the Teachable Moment with Your Kids

      If you haven’t already given your kids the Recycling 101 class, now is the time. Our experience is that the sooner you show kids how to separate recyclables from trash, and tell them why we do it, the sooner they will be helping you without your asking. Make a game out it. Fun stuff rocks.

      Number Seven: Get to Know Your Neighbors
      Not so long ago, we actually talked with our neighbors. That led to all sorts of great things: From borrowing a cup of sugar to lending a hand with the kids to keeping an eye on each other’s house when you weren’t around. Neighbors use to let each other borrow things big and small. History could repeat itself here. Remember the magic equation: Borrow More = Buy Less = Throw Less Out.

      Saturday, January 30, 2010

      Eco-Depot Publishes 2010 Schedule

      Have some old paint or cleaners laying around the house? What about spent batteries or CFL bulbs? Or maybe even that old radiator fluid you flushed out last summer?

      Eco-Depot, the household waste disposal service from the R.I. Resource Recovery Corporation, has published their 2010 schedule. Monthly drop-offs happen at their facility in Johnston (at the Central Landfill) with mobile units hitting various cities and towns throughout the year. Roadshows closest to us:
      • April 17 // Second Beach in Middletown (e-waste included at this event)
      • June 5 // Portsmouth High School
      • July 17 // Department of Public Works in Tiverton
      To drop off items, you have to make an appointment in advance. See the RIRRC website for details.

      Image Source: RIRRC website

      Sunday, January 24, 2010

      Sakonnet Voices: Kristin Silveira

      Local Sogkonnite Living blogger, Kristin Silveira, recently attended the "Agriculture on Aquidneck Island" event over at the Pennfield School. Given all the cool stuff that her and her family are diving into, her perspective on the event is great. Thanks again, Kristin!

      I had the pleasure of attending the lecture, Agriculture on Aquidneck Island, last week at Penfield School. It was moderated by Ted Clement of the Aquidneck Land Trust and had four local farmers on the panel. Peter Borden of the Swiss Village Farm and SVF Foundation, John Nunes from Newport Vineyards, Louis Escobar from Escobar’s Farm and Rhody Fresh Milk and Barbara vanBeuren from Aquidneck Farms. Luckily for us (we have four cherubs) they had some of the school’s upperclassmen in another room to watch the children. The event was very well attended, even though it was lightly snowing that evening. In fact, they even had to put out more chairs for all the attendees.

      Each gave a short presentation enhanced by video and slides on their ventures. Peter Borden spoke about the work they are doing to save rare and endangered breeds of livestock via germplasm (embryos, semen and genetic material). The Swiss Village sits on 35 acres in Newport, RI, formerly the Edgehill Rehab Center.  John Nunes discussed the history of his family’s land and the development into a large successful vineyard. His beautiful video showed the various parcels around the island they farm and a tease of how they operate -- he encouraged everyone to attend the vineyard for the full tour. Louis Escobar gave a passionate history of inheriting the farm along with the million dollar tax bill. This is when he became connected with (as are Newport Vineyards and Aquidneck Farm) the Aquidneck Land Trust to save the farm. He also talked about how he had to diversify when the price of milk dropped about a decade ago, beginning his corn maze. Barbara van Beuren discussed her grass fed beef, a herd size of about 120 head. They have also begun to raise pastured poultry, in chicken tractors. This is very familiar to me from Joel Salatin’s methods, although she did not specifically state this. In the summer the herd is rotationally grazed and the winter the herd is fed their own dried hay or grass silage. 

      Around the room were tables set up with various vendors. Present were the panel’s farms in addition to Sweet Berry Farms, RI Livestock Association, and the Aquidneck Growers Market. All had representatives from their organizations, and various literatures to take home. I was pleased to meet Kim from the livestock association with whom I have many email and phone conversations. My kids were most impressed with the Rhody Fresh milk table as he gave them each a chocolate milk and a key chain. I am sorry to say they we don’t carry this milk at their school, he explained that some companies were reluctant to serve their milk as it was more expensive.

      Here are some other upcoming events we learned about. This Thursday, Jan 21st, at URI is “An Economic Development Framework for Sustainable Agriculture" lecture from 10-12. It is sponsored by the van Beuren Foundation, Rhode Island Foundation, and University of Rhode Island. The speaker is Michael Hamm, CS Mott Professor of Sustainable Agriculture, Michigan State University.

      Aquidneck Land Trust is hosting their 20th annual meeting Thursday, February 4th at 6pm at the Atlantic Beach Club. Public welcome, complementary buffet and cash bar.

      The SVF Foundation’s Annual Visitors Day Saturday June 12th from 9:30-3:00. There is free parking at Fort Adams State Park with a trolley shuttle and free admission to SVF. I really hope to be able to attend this event as the farm is usually closed to visitors for bio-security reasons.

      Tuesday, January 19, 2010

      Avatar and Deep Ecology

      Sara and I finally succumbed to the ranting and raving and checked out “Avatar” over the weekend. I have a natural pre-disposition to sci-fi-esque movies, so I went in there biased. But what I left there thinking was more than skin deep.

      While the story is somewhat predictable, any let down in plot was offset by the amazing quality of the production. Accolades abound and it will surely set the bar even higher for Hollywood. Clearly, that is part of the draw – and its reaping of over one billion dollars world-wide so far.

      I agree with the critics that there is significant commentary on many fronts – political, social, environmental. But I see nothing wrong with that. Allowing creative expression – regardless of the muse – to be a vehicle for social commentary is nothing new. It’s healthy and needed.

      So what does Avatar have to do with this humble little blog?

      The film caused me to remember some research I had done years ago on the topic of ‘deep ecology’. A Google search will turn up more pages than you can shake a stick at. In a nutshell though, the deep ecology philosophy is one that places human kind on equal footing with the rest of the ecosphere. We are not above the environment or anything that calls it home (an anthropocentric view) but just another thread in the fabric of life. As such, the exploitation of nature for the gain of humankind is a fatal error that will lead to eventual demise.

      Deep ecology sets forth eight basic principles around which the philosophy/movement is grounded*:
      1. The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman life on Earth have value in themselves (synonyms: intrinsic value, inherent value). These values are independent of the usefulness of the nonhuman world for human purposes.
      2. Richness and diversity of life forms contribute to the realization of these values and are also values in themselves.
      3. Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital human needs.
      4. The flourishing of human life and cultures is compatible with a substantial decrease of the human population. The flourishing of nonhuman life requires such a decrease.
      5. Present human interference with the nonhuman world is excessive, and the situation is rapidly worsening.
      6. Policies must therefore be changed. These policies affect basic economic, technological, and ideological structures. The resulting state of affairs will be deeply different from the present.
      7. The ideological change is mainly that of appreciating life quality (dwelling in situations of inherent value) rather than adhering to an increasingly higher standard of living. There will be a profound awareness of the difference between big and great.
      8. Those who subscribe to the foregoing points have an obligation directly or indirectly to try to implement the necessary changes.
      Such a platform challenges most modern (in particular, Western) thought, living, religious belief, and supposed strategies and tactics for economic “progress”. 

      This equality, balance, and interdependence within the ecosphere is nothing new, however. Native peoples have ascribed to it for millenia (clearly, the inspiration for James Cameron's Na'vi people). The Buddhist concept of ‘interbeing’, often espoused by famed monk, author, and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh, also points us towards such a view. But alas, Western culture marches to the beat of a different, more ego-centric drum.

      Of course, deep ecology has its critics and detractors. But at the end of the day, the details of who’s really ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ doesn’t matter. What’s important is the dialogue that surrounds it. Because no matter how you look at it, there is no way humans can keep on multiplying and consuming at the pace we’re at and not tap this proverbial well dry. My opinion is that we’ll start to see the beginning of this unraveling in my lifetime; our kids and grandkids – that’s a whole different story.

      Man, the scope of all of this hurts my head. Where do we go from here? Maybe Hollywood can help. ;-)

      Some additional resources for deep ecology:
      Foundation for Deep Ecology

      “Introduction to Deep Ecology”, Context Institute

      * Source: 

      Saturday, January 16, 2010

      DIY Laundry Detergent

      Want to save $50 in 15 minutes? Read on.

      One of my New Year’s resolutions is to become more resourceful on the home front when it comes to the DIY (do it yourself) category. I’m not usually all that handy – as my friends and family can attest to – but 2010 is the year to change all that!

      Why? For me, it’s part environmental, part financial, and part this crazy notion of wanting to be a suburban homesteader. At the end of the day though, if a person can learn a new skill, lessen their impact on the planet, live a bit more simply, AND save a few dollars in the process, then it’s worth the while.

      So the first “how-to” I wanted to share is DIY laundry detergent.

      We were reaching the end of our economy size bottle of store-bought detergent and I figured, what the heck, let’s see what we can do. There are a ton of resources out there for making the stuff and clearly I’m not breaking new ground here, but nonetheless, let me give you the tutorial. (I made a liquid-based detergent because of our high-efficiency washer, but you can find a powder recipe here.)

      Most, if not all, of the recipes out there are based on three, easily-accessible ingredients:

      •    Basic bar soap (preferably a low-suds, low-fragrance variety)
      •    Washing soda (a.k.a, soda ash or sodium carbonate; I used an Arm & Hammer brand).
      •    Borax (a.k.a., sodium borate; I used the 20-Mule-Team brand) to brighten and de-odorize

      Add to that the following materials:

      •    5-gallon bucket (preferably with lid)
      •    Liquid measuring cup
      •    Dry measuring cup
      •    Large sauce pot
      •    Box grater
      •    Large stirring spoon
      •    An empty and clean one-gallon jug

      Just about everything you need to get started

      Now, for the tutorial:

      1.    Measure 4 cups of water, place it in the sauce pot, and bring to a boil

      2.    Grate one bar of basic soap into small shavings. I used Ivory because it is low-suds, doesn’t smell all that much, and is cheap. Remember, the cleaning action is not from the volume of suds. In fact, if you have a high efficiency (HE) washer, the less suds the better.

      3.    Slowly add the soap shavings to the boiling water, stirring until everything is dissolved and combined. Lower heat and keep it on simmer.

      4.    From there, add 3 gallons of warm-to-hot tap water to the 5-gallon bucket

      5.    Add 1 cup of the Washing Soda

      6.    Add ½ cup of Borax

      7.    Add the dissolved water/bar soap mixture; stir all the contents well with the spoon

      Everything combined and ready to be capped

      8.    Put the lid on the bucket and allow the mixture to stand for 24-hours.

      9.    After 24 hours, check out your mixture. Depending on the temperature of where you stored the bucket you should have anything from a liquid with small gelatinous chunks to a full gelatinous mixture akin to a semi-hard Jello. We had the latter because everything is in the basement. Just take your spoon and give it a good mixing. The mixture will break apart and become more liquid-y in the process.

      It's tough to see, but our mixture had quite a gelatinous consistency when we first pulled off the lid. It broke up easily when stirred.

      10.    When you’re ready to do a load, measure 1 cup of the mixture and add it to your wash as normal

      Ready to roll. The little chunks easily dissolved in the wash.

      We’ve run a few loads so far and we can tell no difference. If we had something with a stain, I’d probably still try to pre-treat it. But the clothes come out feeling, smelling, and looking fresh. I’m sure you could add some natural oil essence to the mix if you wanted to enhance the olfactory experience a bit.

      Now for the dollars and cents (or should that be sense?):

      For the DIY laundry detergent:
      • Total cost for all the ingredients (including tax) was $10.04 ($2.99 for the Washing Soda + $3.99 for the Borax + $2.58 for the 6 bars soap). Using the above measurements, we will get 6 complete batches with some Borax to spare.

      • Each batch provides 52 liquid cups of detergent. Multiply by 6 batches and that gives you enough detergent for 312 1-cup loads.

      • Cost Per Load = $10.04 / 312 = $0.03

      For the traditional laundry detergent:

      Let’s use Tide 2X Ultra Concentrated Liquid Laundry Detergent Original Scent (150oz bottle; 96 loads per bottle) -- something we've bought in the past. At Stop & Shop’s Peapod site, this retails for $19.99. You would need 3.18 bottles of this to give you 312 loads of detergent – the amount we get with our DIY version. For the sake of simple math, let’s round down to 3 bottles.
      • Total Cost = $19.99 x 3 = $59.97 (not including tax)

      • Cost Per Load = $59.97 / 312 = $0.19
      Now, I bet you could get the ingredients cheaper (I bought them at Stop & Shop) thus lowering your per-load cost. But even with these numbers, we’re saving $0.16 per load across the six batches (312 total loads) for a total savings of $49.92. Not too shabby for 15 minutes worth of work.

      Financial benefits aside, we’re using ingredients that are free of petroleum byproducts, further lessening our oil dependence and eliminating toxins from our home. When you stop and take stock of all the things in your home that uses a petroleum by-product (e.g., plastics for starters), even this very small step feels good.

      Good luck making your own! Be sure to drop a line and share your results!

      Thursday, January 14, 2010

      Green News From Across the State at ecoRI

      There's a new voice for green news in Rhode Island.

      ecoRI, the brainchild of veteran reporter Frank Carini, is publishing twice a week (Tuesday and Friday) with original stories you won't find anywhere else. I've spoken with Frank and his ambitions are noble. More importantly though, the stories at ecoRI are original, well researched, and superbly written.

      Be sure to sign up for headlines delivered to your In Box too.

      Best wishes to Frank and the ecoRI team!

      Follow Me On twitter

      So, after a long delay I'm finally up on twitter. Come follow me at See you around!

      Monday, January 11, 2010

      Book Review: $20 Per Gallon

      How would your life change if gas cost $4.00 per gallon? $8.00? $12.00? $20.00?

      That’s the premise of the new book by Christopher Steiner. While many books on the prospect of higher fuel costs driven by lessening supply and increasing demand are typically of the doom-and-gloom variety, the premise of $20 Per Gallon is that our lives will actually change for the better.

      Each chapter looks at the impact of our American lifestyle at ever-increasing per-gallon price points ($4.00, $6.00, $8.00… all the way to $20.00). It’s an interesting and thought-provoking ride through a number of well-research scenarios of what will be lost and gained as we spend more on fuel. Historical perspectives that helped shape our current situations add context, while first-person interviews with field experts help ground the proclamations. Consider the following key game changers from the book:
      • At $6.00 per gallon the SUV dies and we drive fewer miles by the billions. Fewer lives are lost to traffic fatalities and as a society we begin the great Slim Down.

      • At $8.00 per gallon, air travel as we know it goes the way of the dodo and the airline industry is stripped of all but the most savvy players. This drives families and friends to re-localize to a smaller geographic area.

      • At $12.00 per gallon suburbia begins to wither on the vine as more and more people relocate to cities to live more energy efficient lifestyles and take advantage of all that higher density living has to offer.

      • At $16.00 per gallon food shipped from half way across the globe is a thing of the past. Localized food systems based soundly on organic growing principles (no fossil fuel derivative fertilizers here!) take center stage. Processed foods begin their fall from grace as people continue to evolve their healthier lifestyles.
      I won’t spoil the "cliff-hanger" $20.00 scenario for you. Now, of course WHEN we see this dramatic rise in gasoline cost is the Million Dollar Question. Mr. Steiner does not get into that. He doesn't have to. It’s not a matter of if, but when. Why? Consider peak oil.

      Prior to reading the book, I was already a committed believer of peak oil and the inevitable changes (good and bad) that will ensue as the world’s demand for carbon-based fuels far outweighs the supply. When you consider all of this through the lens of our suburban Sakonnet community, I began to feel a growing sense of urgency. An urgency to engage our community – from elected officials to businesses to citizens just like you and me – to start the discussion of just how we should be proactively planning for that inevitable time. We all need to be a part of this process.

      You may remember the post on Saving Suburbia through the creation of a Transition Town movement. I picked up the “handbook” through the inter-library loan system and am giving it a read-through. It’s all about just that – putting aside the typical short-term thinking of municipal affairs to start engaging the broader public in a collective think-tank for creating solutions for evolving and sustaining our communities in the face of peak oil and climate change.

      But when I step back from the eco-pulpit, I look out and see very few people out there with that same sense of urgency. As a society, we have forsaken the long-view for the more instantaneously gratifying shorter variety. Proactive planning is a long-lost art. Yes, some of the new recently-passed business zoning laws start chipping away at this, but that is no silver bullet.

      The inherent design flaws of our own municipal government structure are a case in point: We are so wrapped up in the (sometimes important, sometimes not) minutiae of day-to-day operations we can never take the time or effort to look out five years, let alone 15 or 20. Few of our elected officials are willing to risk even small-scale political careers on such big and often complex ideas. Further, our simpleton financial process, with its 12-month birth-death cycle, will never allow for long-term planning and investment in serious and substantial community change initiatives. The broader community lacks the necessary context for an informed vote in that knee-jerk, group think arena known as the Financial Town Meeting.

      I ask for your honest opinion: Do you sense the same urgency for engagement and planning? Why or why not? Is the vast majority of the population just bogged down by the day-to-day to even care? If you've read this book, how has it changed your perspective on things?

      Friday, January 8, 2010

      Want to see if you have enough wind on your property for a turbine?

      “There’s an app for that…”

      Thanks to Amy over at Mariah Power, manufacturer of the Windspire turbine, for the heads up on Windspire Me, their new (free) iPhone app. I haven't downloaded it (sorry, no iPhone in my pocket), but the feedback at the iTunes Store shows that a few folks have been interested in getting their wind on.

      This is a great example of leveraging new(er) consumer engagement technology and trends to connect with potential customers and bolster your business. The Windspire Me app exudes a pretty decent "cool" factor too.

      What to do after you thrust your iPhone in the air and find you’re in a sweet spot for wind? You can check out Mariah’s dealer listing for starters. I put “02878” into the zip code finder and the closest dealer was Rhode Island Power in Middletown.

      With that in mind, it’s good to remember that federal and state tax credits and rebates are out there for residential renewable energy projects. The federal government provides a tax credit of 30%. Overviews of state-level financial incentives for residential projects are here for Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

      Are you thinking about renewable energy project for your home? Installed a solar array, solar hot water unit or turbine lately? Leave a comment and tell us about the process and outcomes!

      Saturday, January 2, 2010

      Farmers' Market Withdrawal

      Because of the weather today, we decided to hang back and not head up to Pawtucket for the Wintertime Farmers' Market. With the market closed last week due to the holiday, we were bummed knowing it would be another week before being able to get some local fare.

      That got me thinking: Why not a more locally situated wintertime farmers' market? According to Farm Fresh RI, there are three wintertime markets running in the state each weekend: the one in Pawtucket has the north part of the state covered; the Coastal Growers Market in North Kingstown and its counterpart in South Kingstown/Peacedale handle the southern end of things. Something in the Sakonnet/Aquidneck area would do wonders for the eastern part of the state.

      A good number of the growers/producers in Pawtucket each week are from Sakonnet/Aquidneck area (list here). Enough to surely cover the gamut of wintertime offerings. Honestly, it's probably more a factor of two things: demand and logistics.

      Could enough traffic be drummed up to drive sales at a level that makes it worth while for the growers? And where is there an indoor facility suitable for housing the market? Pawtucket has both of these covered nicely.

      While I have nothing to substantiate it aside from observations at the Aquidneck Growers, Sakonnet Growers, and Colt State Park markets, I think there is enough interest and demand for local food to warrant a wintertime market in these parts. As for location, why not tap one of our local schools? The "cafetorium" at the Tiverton Middle School comes to mind as a great open space.

      I know there are a few readers of Sustainable Sakonnet close to the Sakonnet Growers Market. Any thoughts on this? I would be willing to lend a hand in thinking it through if you're interested.

      How about other readers? Would you like to see a wintertime farmers' market closer to home?