Breakthrough Communities: A lack of access

We’ve talked on and on the past eight weeks about what sustainability is and how to go about implementing sustainable practices but we haven’t touched very much on the idea of opportunity and access. Though I’m sure we all have come to understand and appreciate the importance of sustainability there will always be the question of whether or not many of the practices are available to everyone in every class in every place all around the world.

Breakthrough Communities is a book that deals with the concept that lower income families and people who live in rural areas lack access to sustainable practices and are often more at risk of pollution and things such as that due to their social status. The text offers several case studies where topics such as food security, safe and affordable housing, and transportation are examined and through them we are able to gain knowledge that will empower readers to be able to take a stand and fight for their human rights. 

One of the hardest obstacles to overcome when dealing with a lack of access to sustainable practices is being unaware that you are without that access. This book is a great tool to use if you are at all confused about the things that we have been discussing or even if you simply want to know more. Through the initiatives of this text many different situations have been examined in more depth about how it is and why it is that some people don't make sustainability very important in their lives. The first step to change is understanding and after reading this book you will gain a world of understanding about why people don't always have sustainability practices readily available to them. 

When trying to make a change it is important to understand all sides of the story and equip yourself with all of the information that you need in order to make the right decision. That said, I will leave you all with this quote; "There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them" - Denis Waitley 

Sustainability: What is it?

Rethink Sustain

Inspirational Stewards 
Lifecycle Awareness
Natural Steps
Whole System Design
Gross National Happiness
Zero Waste
Art Moves Minds
Modeling Sustainability
No Time - No Dime

To find out more visit Rethink Sustain and be inspired!

The Link Between Health and Ecology

Can leaving nature intact prevent against the emergence of disease? Many experts seem to think so. A project entitled PREDICT, funded by the United States Agency for International Development, has made it's ambition to determine the ecology of disease. If their project is successful it will assist in health officials around the world in predicting where the next disease outbreak may occur. It is a good reminder about the inter-relatedness of humans, animals, and the environment.

Project PREDICT stems from a global organization of scientists called EcoHealth Alliance whom are committed to the conservation of biodiversity. EcoHealth is known for their innovative research on the intricate relationships between wildlife, ecosystems and human health.

Below is a unique video snapshot explaining the importance of preserving the environment in order to also preserve the health of humanity. Though it may seem that populations around the globe are separated by oceans and independent from ecological degradation elsewhere, EcoAlliance explains the exact opposite. 

EcoHealth Alliance belief- “ We believe the key to success is long term, grassroots involvement. EcoHealth Alliance, a conservation science innovator, specializes in saving biodiversity in human dominated bio-scapes where ecological health is most at risk because of habitat loss, species imbalance, pollution and other environmental issues caused by human-induced change.”

Seems like pretty important work considering almost 60% of emerging infectious diseases in humans originate from the animal kingdom. Needless to say, the further destruction of animal habitats increases this animal-to-human transfer. The impressive work of this organization is a perfect example of the importance of adopting a systems mindset. Our world is made up of various systems. There is so much complexity and interconnectedness within our world that it is essential we continue our understanding and support of upholding the integrity of these systems.

Circle of Life


In your head I hope you're hearing the majestic musical sounds of Disney against the panoramic view of animated Africa. The circle of life is not something our modern day culture often considers. In fact, a significant number of American's think of “the environment” as a separate entity, like “the moon” or “”. The environment is something “out there” disconnected and unaffected by our every day choices. How appropriate then, to assume our natural lack of concern on behalf of environmental pleas and sustainability efforts may stem from our illusion of independence.
            The truth is, even if we are clogged with supermarkets and shopping malls, humans are still interconnected with nature. Another truth; it is not simply about the environment. The concept of sustainability is multidimensional and filled with surprising information and strategies. Consider these dimensions of sustainability;
        Personal Finance, becoming more sustainable can save you money just as the opposite can cost you more money.
        Human Health  including both personal and family health
        National Security, resource scarcity creates conflict and destabilizes political situations.
        Social Justice and Human Rights, environmental breakdowns have a huge affect on the poor populations of this earth.
        Obligations to future generations
            Our lives are full of obligations and responsibility, and re-examining our impact on the air we breath and the water we drink should not be an additional obligation. We ought to view our role as a priviledge. This shift in perspective can be seen as an opportunity to re-examine our lives, expand our creativity, and explore the possibilities. Developing a sustainable lifestyle is a process and it is reinforced everyday through the decisions we make. Here are some suggestions on how you can pursue a healthier lifestyle without becoming burdened with guilt or overwhelmed by the possibilities.
1.                  Share what you're learning with a friend- talk with some people, build  a support group. There is no shame in gathering up evidence and awareness before jumping into a lifestyle change.
2.                  Surround yourself with encouraging stories- It is true, the plight of our earth is loud and humanities lifestyle to this point has been damaging to us all- but there is work being done! All over the world people are rising to the occasion of sustainability. Educate yourself and be inspired!
3.                  Don't give in to ignorance- There is a lot of information out there and it's important to be wise about what is beneficial and what is not. There are causes that are best to jump into, and others that are outside your realm of influence. Be encouraged, learn from them, but remember each person has a role. You cannot get involved in everything.
4.                  Be aware of how information is framed- For example, the images presented in media regarding global warming are often melting ice caps and dying polar bears. Global warming is a global problem, not simply a Icelandic one. We are all effected by our earth's condition.
5.                  One step at a time-Consider your lifestyle and commitment level at this point. Perhaps create a list of questions to spur your intentional thinking and take it with you to the store or post it in your home.
Suggestions for questions could be-
Do I really need this?
Can I borrow this instead, or find it used?
How far away has it come from?
Could this be done/created with less waste?
 Is there a lower energy way of doing this?
Could this item and/or its packaging be recycled?
            The quest for sustainability is a worthy one, but there is no need to go it alone. The harmful affects of our actions on our environment, and in turn ourselves, was and is a process. As will the restorative action of sustainability be an accumulative action.
            If you are already dedicated to shedding some consumerist weight, check out this article pumped with tips for sustainable living. Also explore this paper by Christine Manning entitled, The Psychology of Sustainable Behavior- tips for empowering people to take environmentally positive action. 

Lifestyle Changes: At the Grocery Store!

Since one of my fellow bloggers wrote some very informative blogs on clean eating, I wanted to elaborate on that a little and talk about how to improve your sustainability at the grocery store. If you live in a house with any kind of property, you can make a garden or raised bed. Even just growing a few items will decrease your impact. But a lot of the world's population lives in apartments and depends on going to the store to pick up all the food items one needs over the course of a week or two. With that in mind, I wanted to explore how to grocery shop in a way that is mindful of growing methods and energy usage.

When at all possible, buy local. There are farmers markets and coops in almost every major city (and some smaller ones)-you just have to look for them. These markets sell the produce of local farmers and many pride themselves on being organic. The use of synthetic pesticides is harmful to every ecosystem and is not a sustainable practice in and of itself so it is important to avoid pesticides for your own health and welfare as well as that of the planet. Minimizing the energy spent transporting food items is the first step in greener grocery shopping.

If you don't have the luxury of shopping at a farmer's market or coop, there are still things you can do. Buy in season produce-here's a map that will tell you what is in season in your area:

In addition to buying in-season produce, purchase only produce that is certified organic. In many other countries, harmful chemicals such as DDT are still legal and can be all over imported non-organic food items.

Buy only as much as you can eat in a week. Wasted food is wasted energy and most produce has a shelf life of only a few days, up to a week. The ideal situation would be to have one of the European style miniature fridges that use a fraction of the energy of the full sized models and to travel by bike or foot to the local market, but since that is unrealistic for many (specifically Americans), minimizing waste is essential. A refrigerator is better put to use cooling just a few items that will stay fresh until you can eat them than full of food, most of which you will waste.

When you're at the store, use bring re-usable grocery bags. In addition, there are reusable produce bags that you can purchase to cut down on overall plastic usage:

If you have the ability, bring your own reusable container. For example, many standard grocers have a grinder in which the consumer can place nuts and use the machine to make their own peanut (or other nut) butter. Think of how much packaging we could save if everyone just used the same container over and over. You can typically buy cereals, grains, and other dry goods this way.

If you're buying coffee or tea, make sure it is fair trade. Labor inequality is not sustainable, any way you slice it. A list of fair trade producers can be found here:

What are your sustainable grocery shopping tips for a more sustainable world?

Sustainable Agricultural Practices

In 1798 Thomas Malthus, a British scholar, postulated that the world would reach an agricultural disaster (known as the Malthusian catastrophe). He derived this from the linear relationship between farming techniques of the day and the availability of land along with population growth. This would hold true until the summer of 1909 when Fritz Haber, a German chemist, pioneered a process that could convert nitrogen from the air into ammonia. This was of immense importance because plants require a large amount of nitrogen in their growth cycle and often it is the limiting factor in plant development. Carl Bosch was assigned the task, by the company that purchased Fritz Bosch’s process, of scaling up the procedure to suit industrial needs. This proved to be of such momentous importance that Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch were awarded the Nobel prize and the procedure became known as the Haber-Bosch process.

Haber-Bosch Process

The Haber-Bosch process helped farmers to scale from a linear agricultural output to an exponential one, where the ammonia-based fertilizer became widely used to grow larger, more abundant crops. It is estimated that 40 percent of the world’s food is grown from fertilizer produced by the Haber-Bosch process. However this is not without its cost. The amount of energy needed to superheat the ammonia from the atmosphere and bond it with the hydrogen from natural gas is approximately one percent of the world’s total energy consumption.

New technologies are currently being developed in order to combat this high energy cost. New catalysts made of ruthenium are being tested that would cut the energy required to make fertilizer by nearly an order of magnitude. Given that the current production uses 150 gigawatts of electricity per year that’s a substantial energy savings. Another alternative is the winter rotation of legumes, many of which have symbiotic relationships in their root systems with bacteria that have an enzymatic process to “fix” nitrogen into the soil making it available for plants.

Rather than wait for researchers to find a solution to this issue many farmers have turned to traditional farming techniques. They employ the above-mentioned crop-rotation along with using compost as fertilizer rather than synthetically made fertilizers from the Haber-Bosch process. As individuals we can all help reduce our dependence on fossil fuels by frequenting local farmer’s markets and educating ourselves on the way our food was grown. By supporting local farmers who use earth-friendly techniques we can help grow our community and cut our carbon footprint at the same time.

Sustainability at the Workplace

Encouraging your employer to adopt sustainable practices can be a tough sell. This is especially true if your employer thinks adopting new changes will cost the company money. There are plenty of benefits for your employer to consider and you might be the one who highlights those benefits for them.  Thinking back to the last office job I had I can come up with a few small changes that would have reduced the company’s ecological footprint.

  • ·      Turning off computer equipment at the end of the day
  • ·      Switch to energy-efficient lighting
  • ·      Switching to reusable coffee cups instead of polystyrene (Styrofoam) 
  • ·      Encourage carpooling and cycling or walking
  • ·      Set printers to print double sided to save on paper consumption
  • ·      Set timers on lights and air-conditioning systems
  • ·      Update old appliances to energy efficient models

This is just a short list of a few changes that would help that particular employer to reduce and be more sustainable. Encouraging your employer to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and environmental impacts leads to a more enjoyable work environment and CAN also result in significant cost savings.

One major and simple change is to avoid using polystyrene (Styrofoam) cups.  Polystyrene is bad for the environment but is also bad for your health. Certain plastics require petroleum to make and difficult to break down by the environment. It is estimated that polystyrene can take up to 500 years to decompose. Styrofoam is a major environmental problem and makes up about 25 to 30% of landfill space around the world. 

Polystyrene releases potentially toxic chemicals, particularly when heated, that can leach into food and drink. As an alternative stock the office kitchen with ceramic mugs and glassware. This simple change will save the company money, reduce waste, and prevents harmful leaching of chemicals into the environment.


Building sustainability into our systems

We have developed a way of doing things that doesn't work. We recognized that fact using our own senses and confirmed it with science. The question each of us is asking ourselves is: what should I do about it? Some people choose to teach others about sustainability. That is what we are doing here at EcoMerge. As we learn, we teach. 

The choice to act is influenced by governments, corporations, organizations and individuals. That can feel discouraging. But there is power in numbers, and that is why we organize. As a community, develop sustainable dreams and act on those dreams. But don't forget, sustainability as akin to nonviolence

The most important point to consider is that to live is to live with a belief system. We have all inherited a method for living out our lives that is flawed. We must change how we produce, how we consume, and how we design sustainability into all our systems, one by one.

Join a community. Bring your friends. Local change becomes GLOBAL CHANGE.

No more excuses! Grow your own food!

What is your excuse for not growing any of your own food? There are many to choose from. It could be anything from “I don’t get enough sun in my yard” to “there’s no space at my apartment to garden.” Whatever the reason, growing one’s own food is one of the most important personal contributions one can make toward sustaining earth's resources. The consequences of our individual and collective actions affect more than the planet; they effect us, people, homo-sapiens. In other words, our actions move our society, and therefor other societies, closer to or farther from oblivion, and it seems as if we still have a lot of work to do to change course.

Elsewhere in the EcoMerge blog, my peers have commented that much of what we eat is unhealthy, unclean, and unnatural. Unsustainable practices like eating convenient processed foods and supporting or participating in commercial farming have led to astonishingly bad consequences socially, economically, and environmentally

What can I do to help?

That is a good question, and I am glad you asked. Growing your own food has many advantages including lower food-cost, natural levels of nutrients, improved air quality, and a sense of accomplishment. To help those who might otherwise excuse themselves from such a noble pursuit comes the Mobile Edible Wall Unit (MEWU) created by Green Living Technologies.

The MEWU is ideal for small spaces because it utilizes vertical space in your home. Additionally, no garden is necessary to plant in. The MEWU is on wheels and can be rolled from indoors to outdoors as you see fit. It can also come equipped with an indoor growing light. Vertical gardens can accommodate any plant of reasonable size. They can grow cacti, flowers, herbs, and vegetables. They can be created in any size. You could even have a small one in your kitchen with just herbs and spices.

Don’t want to buy a premade vertical garden? Make your own! Check out these tutorials and tips to find out how:

These gardens can be created for the cost it would be to go out to one dinner, instead you can supply the ingredients for many. Vertical gardens can also be made at a lower cost by using recycled materials. 

We cannot ignore any longer

You know when you’re walking down the street, drinking your bottled soft drink or water; as you go to throw the bottle away in the trash, have you notice how many of the items in the trash are recyclable. Current reports show that about 80% of the trash that is thrown away is recyclable. According to Ivanhoe Broadcast News, each year the average American family throws out 2,460 pounds of paper, 540 pounds of metals, 480 pounds of glass and 480 pounds of food scraps. In conclusion the average American throws away more than 1,200 pounds of trash per year, far more than people in most other countries. I personally think that it is ridiculous how unaware and careless we are!


Plastics are durable, lightweight materials that were invented in 1909. They are normally made from oil and natural gas. Using plastics to replace packaging materials such as metal and glass has allowed manufacturers to make packages that are more efficient. For example to bottle eight gallons of a beverage would take only two pounds of plastic but would take three pounds of aluminum, eight pounds of steel and 27 pounds of glass. The lightweight of plastic packaging helps reduce transportation costs. It takes fewer trucks to transport plastic compared to metal or other materials. Fewer trucks mean less fuel usage and therefore less air pollution from truck exhaust.