Friday, November 5, 2010

Updated website - has moved!

You can now find all the blog posts at

Be sure to follow to keep up-to-date on sustainability, international development, and design.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Frankly, my dear, I don’t want a dam!

I recently wrote an article on the proposed Champlain-Hudson power line for the Atlantic Chapter of the Sierra Club:

A controversial new power line has been proposed in an unlikely spot – buried under almost the entire length of the Hudson River. The proposed transmission line, known as the Champlain-Hudson Express, would be funded as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. If built, the line would begin north of the Canadian border, and run 370 miles along the bottom of Lake Champlain, down the bed of the Hudson all the way to New York City and continuing under Long Island Sound to Connecticut.

Not only would this produce an extreme ecological impact on the unique environment of the Hudson River, but the project has many other controversial aspects. These include its status as a renewable energy project, the lack of inclusion of the First Nations people in the decision process, its questionable economic benefits, and the necessity of the project to obtain a “Presidential Permit”. Read more...

Friday, September 24, 2010

Stand Up!, MDGs, UN, and Evo Morales

This has been an exciting week in New York! It started out on Sunday with the Stand Up Against Poverty event at Lincoln Center. I volunteered at the event with the Oxfam Action Corps - New York City. In 2000, world leaders committed to meeting by 2015 Eight millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which set targets for eliminating extreme poverty, ensuring universal primary education, combating HIV/AIDS, improving maternal health, and other important global tasks. Ten years later, we are nowhere close to meeting these goals. The Stand Up event hosted a number of different organizations working towards the MDGs.

This week, world leaders met in New York to discuss the MDGs. I had the opportunity on Tuesday night of listening to Bolivian President Evo Morales give a talk entitled, “Nature is not for sale: The rights of Mother Earth.” The President discussed Bolivia’s struggles with climate change and that in order to save humans, we must first save the earth. We need to rethink our current economic model and find a way to pay our ecological debt. It was inspiring to hear a world leader talk on that level.

Last night I attended Bring Your Own Cause. BYOC is a networking event for individuals interested in international development. The evening hosted a number of interesting organizations. Both Community Lab and the Oxfam Action Corps NYC hosted the event.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Youth at the United Nations

Last week I had the fortune of taking part in the annual Youth Assembly at the United Nations as a volunteer with Oxfam America. The Youth Assembly at the UN was created in 2002 as members of a Youth Outreach Sub-Committee at hte UN thought it was imperative to engage youth in the challenge and opportunities to realize the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

This year's assembly took place over 3 days and hosted speakers from around the world and networking session to engage youth with non-profits who are working towards spreading the MDGs.

I was able to attend the MDG Campaign Night and Dinner on Wednesday night. At the dinner, youth learned of a number of non-profits who are working for the MDGs. Non profits that were present included, Engineers Without Borders, Oxfam, Habitat for Humanity, and Amnesty International among others.

I was preset with Oxfam America. Oxfam America is currently collecting signatures to tell President Obama to deliver a US strategy to end global poverty and recommit to meeting the MDGs by 2015. Right now, President Obama's leadership is needed to bring US foreign assistance into the 21st Century so that we can more effectively use taxpayer dollars to drive greater results for people in need.

The dinner was sold out and a number of youth from countries all over the world were present to learn about the organizations working towards the MDGs.

The following 2 days of the conference hosted a number of speakers from the private sector, non-profits, the UN, and government organizations. One of the most impressive organizations I heard from was from Jing Zhou, founder of Girls In Tech/China and Girls 2.0. GITchina's sole mission is to spread this message by providing a platform on which women in technology can connect, empower and learn from one another. With the increasing importance of technology and its convergence with other professions, the necessity to educate, celebrate and support women in this field has become impossible to ignore.

I was also very excited to hear from Ishmael Beah, former child soldier from Sierra Leone and author of  A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier.  Ishmael stressed the importance of education to create change. After the war in Sierra Leone made him an orphan and led him to a life as a child soldier, he had the opportunity to address the UN in the 1990's and share his terrible experiences as a child growing up in those conditions. He was then adopted by an American women and was enrolled in school. Because he did not have any of his former transcripts from his war torn country, the school did not want to enroll him. However, after writing an essay on why he did not have transcripts, the school let him in. He credits his access to education for changing his life and believes the education is the core to all the MDGs.

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier

After Ishmael Beah spoke, we heard from another incredible youth. Katie Spotz is from the midwest but has done incredible feats for a girl of her age including being the first person to first person to swim the entire length of 325 mile Allegheny River, cycling across America, running across the Mojave Desert, and completing the Oxfam Trail Run in Australia.  It was during her time in Australia that she became motivated for her most ambitious feat: to row across the Atlantic solo. When she was in Australia she saw many signs telling people to limit their water use. This made her curious to learn more about water around the world and how scarce and precious a resource it is for a majority of the world. With this new information she decided to fund raise by rowing across the Atlantic Ocean - being the first women to do so. You can learn more about her feat at

Overall, the Youth Assembly was a fantastic and inspiring. opportunity to learn what youth are doing around the world to create change. 

Friday, July 16, 2010

Activate 2010 - Changing the world though the internet

On July 1st of this year, the Guardian hosted Activate 2010. Activate 2010 was a one day conference on how technology is changing the world. The event hosted a wide variety of speakers from different backgrounds. 

A copy of the talks can be downloaded on iTunes and are also becoming available on

The Guardian, in association with Thomson Reuters, has also developed Information Power. Information Power is a collection of articles and stories on on the role of technology in overseas development. The articles cover stories pertaining to disaster relief, democracy, social responsibility, and healthcare. 

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Spark to Market - Cleantech in NYC

Yesterday, the Pratt Center for Community Development hosted "Spark to Market". The event was part of the Pratt Center's Energy Matter's campaign and was designed to connect New York area enertech and cleantech entrepreneurs with resources to help them bring their products and ideas to market.

The morning started out with speakers from the Ashoka discussing social innovation. Ashoka is a global association of social entrepreneurs — men and women with system changing solutions for the world’s most urgent social problems. Their global community develops models for collaboration and design infrastructure needed to advance the field of social entrepreneurship and the citizen sector.

Stuart Yasgur introduced Ashoka's fellowship programs and some examples of social entrepreneurship that Ashoka has sponsored in the past including sustainable forest exploration in Indonesia and Cows to Kilowatts in Nigeria.

The keynote of the morning was Rich Lechner, VP of Energy and Environment at IBM. Rich discusses IBM's focus on optimizing all aspects of an organization and discussing sustainability in terms of economic sustainability, operational sustainability, and environmental sustainability. He gave examples of smart grid, smart water, and smart traffic systems that IBM has helped instigate. An interesting statistic that he put forth was that 85% of CEOs believe sustainability will optimize business and lower costs; however, only 35% of companies actively measure sustainability. Although Rich's understanding of sustainability was questionable at times - I felt he was replacing optimization with sustainability - he did provide some interesting examples of optimization around the globe.  Rich's powerpoint is available on the Pratt Center's website -

The morning finished with the "Making Sparks" panel. Micah Kotch, Director of Operations at NYC ACRE moderated the panel made up of

The panel was asked what they thought was needed for cleantech and enertech to pick up in New York. The key themes they came up with were more talent, more finance, greater demand, more resources, and community mentorship.

Arrun Kapoor recommended the book Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling Technology Products to Mainstream Customers for any new start up.

He also recommended Shawn Lesser's article, "Top 10 Cleantech Cluster Organizations in 2010".  Cleantech cluster organization are economic development organization aimed at growing jobs in a specific geographic region. Among a cleantech cluster’s main goals are to promote innovation and investment. For a cluster to exist,  the right circumstances must be present: A thriving technology base, abundant entrepreneurial and management talent, access to capital, and a proactive environmental public policy.

Overall, Spark to Market was an interesting introduction to the cleantech market in NYC. 

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Blood Chocolate

Do you know where your chocolate comes from?

Since 2001, the U.N., the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) and other human rights groups have worked to address the rampant exploitation and slavery of workers, typically children of the Ivory Coast and Ghana, which produce about 60 percent of the world's chocolate. But despite nobel efforts, the groups' agreements have done little to improve conditions. About 3.6 million West African children work on cocoa farms, many of whom make very little to no pay while under horrific conditions. This dire situation has led some to refer to cocoa produced in these regions as "blood chocolate."

So why has nothing changed? Blame chocolate and agricultural companies like Mars and Cargill, who process 400,000 tons of cocoa each year and demand that prices stay low. Chocolate companies "have been able to control initiatives meant to eliminate forced, child and trafficked labor in West Africa’s cocoa industry." Companies purchase cocoa through small farmers at a very low cost, refusing to pay prices that comply with Fair Trade practices.

However, European Union members and several other countries of the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) (not including the United States) signed a new agreement last week at a United Nations conference. The agreement reestablishes countries' commitments to making the $10 billion abuse-ridden cocoa industry more sustainable and fair to workers, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). But this move will only help improve conditions so much. Things can't really get significantly better until the world's largest consumer of cocoa, the U.S., finally decides to take the cocoa high road.

The U.S. ambassador to Ghana recently announced that since January, the U.S. has been importing much more cocoa than ever thanks to two new processing facilities built by ADM and Cargill, one of the top five global processors of cocoa beans. U.S. cocoa imports are expected to increase, too, as American businesses are busting down the door asking for new contracts in the impoverished country. In the past year, there's been 100-to-200 percent more requests from Americans seeking to do business in Ghana, the second-largest producer of cocoa after the Ivory Coast.

This means small farmers in Ghana and the Ivory Coast will be pushed to produce more cocoa. Unless they are protected under Fair Trade contracts, rampant exploitation and slavery of workers will most likely continue. has a petition that you can sign to Tell Big Chocolate CEOS You Want Fair Trade Cocoa!

Democracy Now! also has a video up on YouTube from their "Chocolate’s Bittersweet Economy": Cocoa Industry Accused of Greed, Neglect for Labor Practices in Ivory Coast story describing the chocolate industry in Western Africa: