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:

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Cooper-Hewitt Explores Urban Sustainability

The following video is from the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum and hosts David Own, author of Green Metropolis.  David Owen is joined in conversation during the video by Andrea Lipps, curatorial assistant of Cooper-Hewitt's exhibits, National Design Triennial: Why Design Now? and upcoming exhibition, Critical Mass.

New York City is widely considered an ecological nightmare, a wasteland of concrete and high-rises, diesel fumes and traffic jams, garbage and pollution. But in the groundbreaking work of contrarian environmental thinking that is Green Metropolis, David Owen declares New York City as the greenest community in America. In Green Metropolis, David Owen conceives a new environmentalism, turning what we think we know about the environment on its head and re-envisioning a sustainable future that looks less like Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond and more like the populous megacities of Hong Kong or New York.

The exhibition "Critical Mass," will examine the complex issues arising from the unprecedented rate of urban growth projected to take place over the next 20 years, primarily in the informal settlements of the global south.

The National Design Triennial: Why Design Now? exhibition explores themes of Energy, Mobility, Community, Materials, Prosperity, Health, Communication, and Simplicity

Friday, July 2, 2010

July 1 - 7, Dirty Energy FREE

Take the Pledge. Show your solidarity. Spread the word.

This week, as the US celebrates Independence Day - when the country stood against the most powerful empire of the time and declared freedom.

But the oil bleeding into the Gulf of Mexico reminds us that America is not yet truly free. The USA must still win our independence from the dirty, deadly fossil fuels that are polluting the country and costing Americans their livelihood.

The oil spill's destruction of the Gulf of Mexico is a devastating reminder that the price of our fossil fuel dependence is far too high. Don't let history repeat itself. Visit to pledge your independence away from dirty energy and commitment towards clean technologies.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Fundraising and Community Organizing through Social Media

On Tuesday I had the opportunity to attend a panel discussion on Fundraising and Community Organizing through Social Media.

The panelists included Laura Kozien of ACCION USA (@accion_usa), Danielle Silber of the International Rescue Committee (@theIRC), and Angela Jackson with the Global Language Project (@GlobalLang). The panel was moderated by Ben Jervey, "The New Ideal" columnist at GOOD Magazine (@GOOD).

Each of the panelists had taken part in an online fundraising contest. For example, Sam's Club Giving Made Simple grant challenge, American Express Members Project, and the Pepsi Refresh Project.

The panel discussed ways in which to evaluate whether an organization should enter a contest, ways to get your donors and networks on board to support the contest, and ideas on how to follow up with supporters once the contest has finished.

When it comes to engaging social media for support, one of the main questions that comes up is how much contact is too much contact. Determining how often you should reach out to your social media contacts is always difficult. Too often may seem nagging and needy. Not enough looks like you're not engaged. While this varies from organization to organization, there are number of tools available for social media which will allow you to program how often you contact your online connections. However, one of the main fears that I've come across is that too much automation removes the personal aspect of social media.

One of the participants recommended the book Share This!: How You Will Change the World with Social Networking by Deanna Zandt. The book discusses how Social Networks can be powerful tools for mobilizing communities to rally behind causes. 

 Share This!: How You Will Change the World with Social Networking

In addition to the panelists and moderator, the event was put together by a number of people and companies including TBWA/Chiat/Day, Edelman, and the Pepsi Refresh Project. 

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

New York CSR and Green Products

Last night at the June New York CSR Social, Jeff Dubin of Green Meridian discussed conventional wisdom around green products and consumers.

The presentation turned into an interactive discussion where individuals debated on whether conventional ideas surrounding consumers choices are correct. Jeff's data came from his syndicated January 2010 research study explores women's purchasing of green household cleaners and personal care products.

The study, "Sustainability in the Mainstream: Moving Green Household Cleaner & Personal Care Products to Center Stage" is available on Jeff's website.

One of the key points that came out of the discussion is that stereotypes about green purchasing don't always hold. For example, while it normally believed that wealthy liberals are more likely to buy green products, Jeff's research showed that is not actually the case. Household income doesn't necessarily have much to do with buying green, nor do political preferences.

The New York CSR Meetup comes together about once a month to discuss issues surrounding sustainability. They are also in the process of starting up a book club to further discuss issues surrounding corporate social responsibility.

Friday, June 25, 2010

SOCAP10 Coast to Coast

Last night I attended SOCAP10 Coast to Coast.  The event brought together a diverse group on individuals - including consultants, investors, students, teachers, and non-profit leaders - interested in the intersection between money and meaning. It was also part of the lead up to the SOCAP10 conference in San Francisco this coming October.  SOCAP10 bring together the world’s leading social investors, philanthropists, entrepreneurs and thought-leaders to discuss the future of social enterprise.

Last night's event was co-hosted by Acumen for NY. The Acumen Fund is a non-profit global venture fund that uses entrepreneurial approaches to solve the problems of global poverty. They to prove that small amounts of philanthropic capital, combined with large doses of business acumen, can build thriving enterprises that serve vast numbers of the poor with investments focused on delivering affordable, critical goods and services – like health, water, housing and energy – through innovative, market-oriented approaches.

Acumen Fund also hosts an online community where individuals can share what they are doing solve social, environmental, and economic problems.

One of the main points that came out of last night, was that even if you do not have an idea for a social enterprise to solve the world's problems, your expertise are still needed for those who do have good ideas.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

2010 Amsterdam GRI Conference

The 2010 GRI Conference took place in Amsterdam from May 26 - 28. The conference hosted a number of speakers discussing transparency and sustainability reporting. On the conference's website, you can download videos, photos, and presentations from the conference.

Presentations from the conference are also available on Slideshare at

he Global Reporting Initiative has pioneered the development of the world’s most widely used sustainability reporting framework and is committed to its continuous improvement and application worldwide. This framework sets out the principles and indicators that organizations can use to measure and report their economic, environmental, and social performance. To learn more about the Global Reporting Initiative visit their website at or visit their LinkedIn group.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The EyeWriter Initiative

A couple of weeks ago I attended Ignite NYC IX where I heard a short presentation from Zach Lieberman.  This particular Ignite event was part of Internet Week and featured a number of speakers talking on new technologies that have been developed.

Zach spoke primarily on the EyeWriter Initiative that he helped develop. The EyeWriter Initiative is a low-cost eye-tracking apparatus and custom software that allows graffiti writers and artists with paralysis resulting from Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis to draw using only their eyes.

Members of the Initiative teamed-up with a LA graffiti writer, publisher and activist, named Tony Quan, aka TEMPTONE. Tony was diagnosed with ALS in 2003, a disease which has left him almost completely physically paralyzed… except for his eyes. The international team is working together to create a low-cost, open source eye-tracking system that will allow ALS patients to draw using just their eyes. The long-term goal is to create a professional/social network of software developers, hardware hackers, urban projection artists and ALS patients from around the world who are using local materials and open source research to creatively connect and make eye art.

“Art is a tool of empowerment and social change, and I consider myself blessed to be able to create and use my work to promote health reform, bring awareness about ALS and help others.”

– Tony Quan, aka TemptOne

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Hands Across the Sand - June 26

Hands Across the Sand is a movement made of people of all walks of life and crosses political affiliations. This movement is not about politics; it is about protection of our coastal economies, oceans, marine wildlife, and fishing industry.

The movement started in Florida. On Saturday, February 13, 2010, a statewide gathering against offshore oil drilling occurred. Thousands of Floridians representing 60 towns and cities and over 90 beaches joined hands to protest the efforts by the Florida Legislature and the US Congress to lift the ban on oil drilling in the near and off shores of Florida. Florida’s Hands Across The Sand event was the largest gathering in the history of Florida united against oil drilling.

Hands Across the Sand is now international. Any person in any country may plan events on their website. This is a peaceful gathering of the people of the world.

Planning an event is as simple as this:

  • Go to your beach on June 26 at 11 AM in your time zone.
  • Form lines in the sand and at 12:00, join hands.

The image is powerful, the message is simple. NO to Offshore Oil Drilling, YES to Clean Energy.

Add this to your Google Calendar.

Friday, June 11, 2010

#ThePromise Conference at Internet Week New York

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to attend the #promise conference as part of Internet Week New York. The day long conference hosted a variety of speakers from large corporations such as Pepsico, MTV, and GE to internet start ups and non-profit organizations.

The goal of the conference was to explore the ways in which people are using the internet and social media to engage people in conversations to create change.

The first part of the day featured speakers from Pepsico, Timberland, and GE. Pepsico spoke primarily on their recycling campaign, while GE spoke on their healthymagination campaign. Both of these speakers seemed like a giant commercial and I was a little nervous, that the entire day was going to pan out into a big greenwashing conference, but fortunately the rest of the day was a bit more enlightening. One of the good things that did come out of the morning talks was that all the corporations recognized that the reason corporate social responsibility exists is that individuals are influencing corporations to create change and become more responsible for their actions.

One of the gifts that we got when we signed into the conference was a copy of Douglas Rushkoff's book, Life, Inc. One of the panel sessions sat down with Rushkoff to discuss his book and the concept of how the world became a corporation and how we can now take it back. Rushkoff stressed that the best business is business that does something good. The doing good is profitable, maybe not at the rate that investment bankers like, but in terms of overall sustainability.

Life Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take It Back

The overall theme of the day is how the internet is changing the way that corporations talk with both their employees and the public. It is no longer about consumers, but about people. This entire conversation reminded me of a talk on social media that I attended as part of West Coast Green last October. One of the books they recommended at West Coast Green was The Cluetrain Manifesto. The Cluetrain Manifesto first came out in 1999 - way before Facebook, Twitter, and all the social media tools we use today. Even back then they recognized the role of chat rooms and news board to force corporations to change.

The Cluetrain Manifesto: 10th Anniversary Edition

One of the questions that came up in yesterday's conversations was, "What if BP had embraced social networks when the well first exploded? Would it have turned the world into problem solvers?" I think that even without BP embracing social networks, the world has used them to voice their disgust and pose their own solutions to the problem.

Some of the charities that were present yesterday included charity: water and Crowdrise. charity: water used Twitter last year to organize twestivals around the world to raise money - one of the first efforts of it's kind. Crowdrise is the creation of actor Edward Norton. Yesterday, Edward Norton talked about the creation of Crowdrise as a tool to bring networks together for fundraising. One of the points he brought up was that he hoped that Crowdrise would allow people to share what they were doing in a way that defined them. 

The final speaker was Ville Tikka from Nokia. The role of mobile phones around the world has an amazing amount of potential. Places where computers are scarce, mobile phone prevail. Villa talked about the five issues which had the most potential for tackling social problems - health, learning, livelihoods, advocacy, and resilience. More information about the innovations that are taking place can be found at

Overall, the speakers who presented at #promise were varied and interesting, unfortunately I do not have the space to go into them all.  There was a live feed of the conference which may be made available later. The #promise conference provided an interesting venue for people to talk about corporate social responsibility and social media and engagement. 

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Save the Gulf: Olivia's Bird Illustrations

As the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico becomes worse and worse every day, there are some incredible stories of individual doing their part to help.

One of these stories if of a an 11 year old girl from New York. Olivia Bouler has helped to raise thousands of dollars for various conservation charities by offering to donate dozens of her drawings to anyone pledging money. She says her inspiration came after bursting into tears when watching a news report about the slick's advance towards the gulf coast shoreline where she holidays each year with her family.

She responded by writing the following letter to the Audobon Society:

Dear Audubon Society,
As you are all aware of, the oil spill in the Gulf is devastating. My mom has already donated a lot of money to help, but I have an idea that may also help. I am a decent drawer, and I was wondering if I could sell some bird paintings and the profits to your organization. My mom is in touch with an art gallery where I live. She is going to sell them here. I also am hoping to go to Cornell in the future. I want to become an ornithologist. I know a few species of birds. I also acknowledge that this is breeding time for plovers, terns etc. I will do all in my strength to earn money. All I need is your OK. Here is a picture of a northern cardinal as a sample.
Thank you for your time.
11 years and willing to help.

The Audubon Society immediately contacted her parents and asked if it could buy one of the drawings to hang in its Manhattan headquarters. Charity officials then discussed how best to use Olivia's bird paintings as a fund-raising tool and it was decided, with her permission, that her watercolours of birds would be used to raise money for several groups, including the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program, the Weeks Bay Foundation and the Sierra Club.

Anyone who makes a donation to these groups is being asked to email Olivia's mother ( and Olivia will then draw a bird with pencil, paint it, and post it to the donor.

To learn more about the project and view more of Olivia's pictures, visit the Facebook Page - Save the Gulf: Olivia's Bird Illustrations.

Source: Guardian UK

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Making the bus less of a drag

14 year old Jonny Cohen learned about aerodynamics and wind resistance in his physics class where the students built miniature racing cars. Later, while riding the bus to school, Jonny couldn’t stop thinking about how inefficient most vehicles in the real world actually are — especially school buses with their wide, flat windshields.

Jonny’s idea was simple: Add Plexiglas shields to school buses. That should make the buses more aerodynamic. More aerodynamic buses get better gas mileage, which means they burn less fuel, which means they emit fewer of the harmful greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

It’s a simple, small-scale idea, but GreenShields won enough attention to get $25,000 in an online competition sponsored by Pepsi. The money will help GreenShields develop a prototype and make enough shields to fit a handful of buses.

Even better, Jonny and his friends already have achieved one of their big goals: Making people more aware of the environmental impact of their daily lives.

Friday, May 21, 2010

It's All About Carbon

NPR has teamed up with Robert Krulwich to provide a chemistry lesson on Carbon. In a 5 part animated series, Robert explores the behavior of the carbon atom.

Above is the introductory segment of a five-part series that explains how carbon atoms form bonds, break apart and create the conditions that can lead to global warming. Since most of us are beginners when it comes to elemental chemistry, this is a lesson in five, easy-to-grasp steps. And grasping, by the way, is a big part of the story.

To read the article relating to this story, visit

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Project PLANT-A-TREE ( is a guerrilla art project by the artist Stelle Confuse. PLANT-A-TREE believes that development does not go hand-in-hand with uncontrolled building. By visiting the PLANT-A-TREE website, one can participate in the effort by 'planting a tree' in your city and having your name entered into the virtual tree

PLANT-A-TREE takes a stand against uncontrolled building to protect the historical, cultural and landscaped patrimony of earth and the health of its citizens while promoting the birth of new green spaces that serve to balance the destruction caused by urban development.

This campaign uses stickering and other guerrilla art tactics to spread the message. Stickers like the icon above are placed in cities around the world.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Great Power Race

The Great Power Race is a clean energy competition between students in China, India, and the United States. The aim is to kick-start hundreds of new climate solutions projects on campuses and in communities in all three countries and to demonstrate to governments and businesses our generation's leadership in transforming our world towards a green economy.

The Great Power Race is a joint project of, the Chinese Youth Climate Action Network, the Indian Youth Climate Netwok, and the Energy Action Coaltion.

The Great Power Race begins now. This spring, we will see which country can sign up the most campus teams to take part:

Students, click here to register a team on your campus today:

Not a student? Please encourage any students you know in China, India or the US to sign up.

Ultimately, this is a race for all of humanity -- a race to solve the greatest challenge of our time and to realize the greatest opportunity for a prosperous future.

Each of the creators works as a coordinator for youth climate movement campaigns in their respective countries, and are excited to be working on this international campaign together.

Our parents raced for the Moon. Our generation will race for the Earth. Ready, set, GO!

There are a lot of college students on Facebook and Twitter. You can start to rally your friends to sign up for the Great Power Race with just a few clicks:
For Facebook, click here: 
For Twitter, click here:

Even if you are you not in China, India, or the US you can still be a part of the Race: visit and please do forward this email to students you know in those three countries.

There will also be opportunities to link the Great Power Race with 10/10/10--the "Global Work Party." 10/10/10 will be a day to launch or showcase our climate solution projects for students and non-students all over the world.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Where does the oil money go?

People are spending money to fill up their gas tanks all the time, but where is that money going?

The video above, "Follow the Money" exposes the secret that oil, gas and mining companies don't want consumers to know: That while mining and oil drilling are multibillion-dollar industries in some of the world's least developed countries, the people of these countries are only losing more.

A bipartisan bill now in Congress would help empower people by making oil, gas and mining companies open their books. This simple act of public disclosure would be an incredibly powerful tool for communities to demand accountability from their leaders -- but some industry lobbyists are working to stop it.

I just wrote my members of Congress to urge them to open the books on mining and oil drilling -- but my letter alone isn't enough.

So I'm asking everybody: Will you join me in demanding justice for these people and communities?

Please, click here to write your representatives in Washington -- it should just take a moment, and it could make a real difference to people and communities around the world.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Fantastic Nature Photography

Times Online has released a selection of photographs that they have dubbed the greatest nature images of all time. The selection includes a shark caught in a net, giant tortoises emerging at sunrise, and seals playing in sea grass, among many others. View the full slideshow here

After viewing the greatest nature images of all time, head over to the Flickr blog to check out some dangerously cute photos. These are pictures of foxes, skunks, bears, and other 'dangerous' animals before they are all grown up.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Climate change adaptation in poor countries

As part of their human impact stories, has recently added Oxfam's report on climate change adaptation in poor countries.

Climate change is fast pushing communities, particularly the poorest and most marginalized, beyond their capacity to respond. Across the world, subsistence crops are approaching the limits of their viability as temperatures change, erratic rainfall patterns and changing seasons are upsetting agricultural cycles and many are left struggling to feed their families.

Oxfam's report draws on case studies from around the world and Oxfam’s experience working with rural communities to set out what is needed and a range of interventions that are available to enable people living in poverty to adapt to climate change. Nonetheless, there are limits to adaptation, and without rapid and significant global mitigation, these options will be quickly lost.

The report identifies the need for a combination of bottom-up and top-down processes in order to create the enabling conditions needed for people living in poverty to adapt to climate change.

Source: and Oxfam UK

Sunday, May 2, 2010

High-speed train innovation - making stops without stopping!

A recent Google Buzz by a friend of mine has alerted me to an amazing new Chinese high-speed train innovation - get on and off a bullet train without stopping!

Consider the amount of time that is wasted by a station stops. If there are 30 stations between Beijing and  Guangzhou , just stopping and accelerating again at each station will waste both energy and time.  A mere 5 min stop per station will result in a total loss of 5 min x 30 stations or 2.5 hours of train journey time.

The Chinese have come up with this brilliant innovation:

1. For those who are boarding the train : The passengers at a station embark onto to a connector cabin way before the train even arrives at the station. When the train arrives, it will not stop at all. It just slows down to pick up the connector cabin which will move with the train on the roof.

While the train is still moving away from the station, those passengers will board the train from the connector cabin mounted on the train's roof. After fully unloading all its passengers, the cabin connector cabin will be moved to the back of the train so that the next batch of outgoing passengers who want to alight at the next station will board the connector cabin at the rear of the train roof.

2. For those who are getting off: As stated after fully unloading all its passengers, the cabin connector cabin will be moved to the back of the train so that the next batch of outgoing passengers who want to alight at the next station will board the connector cabin at the rear of the train roof. When the train arrives at the next station, it will simply drop the whole connector cabin at the station itself and leave it behind at the station. The outgoing passengers can take their own time to disembark at the station. At the same time, the train will pick up the incoming embarking passengers on another connector cabin in the front part of the train's roof. So the train will always drop one connector cabin at the rear of its roof and pick up a new connector cabin in the front part of the train's roof at each station.

A brilliant innovation. Bring on the high-speed trains!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Where would you rather get sick?

Toronto's Aurea Foundation's Munk Debates just announced the topic of their upcoming series on June 7th: "Be it resolved, I would rather get sick in the United States than Canada.”

In the past, the Munk Debates  have confronted a broad range of issues including climate change, foreign aid, and humanitarian intervention. Although the debates take place in front of a live audience, live webcasts have also been set up so that even if you aren't in Toronto, you can still watch the debate.

The upcoming debate will focus on the merits and demerits of the Canadian and American healthcare systems. For example: do ballooning healthcare spending, evermore expensive prescription drugs and an increased use of private medicine foreshadow the wholesale reform of Canada’s universal, single­payer system? Or, are the divisive debates, social inequities, and sky­high expenditures associated with the U.S. experience with private medicine a validation of universal Medicare in Canada?

Given that this has been a lively topic recently, this should be a good debate to watch.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Another Oil Spill Tragedy

The current oil spill which is spreading across the Gulf of Mexico has already been an enormous environmental and social tragedy, with the most recent news declaring that the spill is now five times larger than originally believed.

The Guardian has a slideshow which gives a good visual representation of the damage that is currently underway.

As with most oil spills, environmentalists are mostly concerned about the surrounding wildlife that will be impacted by the damage. As this spill is very near the Breton National Wildlife Reserve, a number of wildlife are at risk. The New York Times have set up a map outlining the various birds and marine animals who are threatened by the spill.

This tragic oil spill definitely displays all the costs, including the social and environmental, that are associated with our current reliance on oil.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Inspired by Legos

At the Urban Green member's meeting last night I picked up a copy of Environmental Building News from December which had the article, Lego Blocks from Straw.

The article was a product review of Oryzatech's Stak Block - a straw-composite, structural building block made from 96% rice straw. Rice straw is a waste agricultural product which has become a disposal problem since burning straw in fields was banned in most places. California produces 1.35 million tons of rice straw annually and only 3-4% of that straw is used commercially.

Common structural materials like wood, steel and concrete require huge amounts of energy to manufacture and distribute, while all the common insulating materials are themselves oil based products. Stak Block's will by definition be manufactured where food is grown, utilizing the annually renewable supply of waste straw that is currently burned. As a locally-produced, 96% recycled content product that sequesters carbon, Stak Blocks will also earn several LEED credits for architectural projects.

The blocks are:

  • Highly insulated: More than three times the value of an insulated 2X6 stud wall
  • Seismically strong: better than wood framing and less brittle than concrete walls
  • Fast to assemble: Block dimensions are 12”x12”x24”, easily dovetailing with other common construction modules. Each block weighs only 30 lbs and interlock.
  • Carbon Offsetting Technology- University testing shows potentially 50 lbs of carbon offsetting for production in China

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Multiplying the Power of One

The following picture is from the Global Day of Action on October 24, 2009 in Iraq. Thousands of cities around the world rallied on that day for the leaders of the world to create change at the Copenhagen conference. In Vancouver, Cambie Street Bridge was closed down for Bridge to a Cool Planet.

This picture of Ola from Babylon, Iraq was shared by Will Bates of  She had worked for weeks to try and convince her friends to join her, but in Iraq, taking action on climate change is a risk that few are willing to take. Ola's was one the smallest actions that day, but one of the most powerful.

And she didn't stop there. Determined to make a difference, Ola overcame even more challenges to go to Copenhagen for the UN climate negotiations in December and call for action on behalf of millions of people in Iraq and around the world.

Unfortunately, politicians in Copenhagen didn't share Ola's bravery and failed to deliver a fair, ambitious and binding international climate treaty steering us towards safety below 350ppm.

However, the fight to create an international climate treaty is not over and next Global Day of Action is being planned for 10/10/10.  Meet-ups around the world are taking place now to start planning. Find a meet-up near you at

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day 2010!

Earth Day has been happening for the past 40 years and is now bigger than ever!

The Earth Day Network is the global coordinator or Earth Day events and activities. One can find out what events are taking place in their area by doing a search on their site.

I have recently relocated to New York City and was thrilled to see that the "Be the E" campaign is being promoted throughout the city. The E campaign creates the opportunity for individuals to speak out about what they are doing to take positive action for the Earth. E action can be manifested in many forms  -conserving energy, composting, planting a tree, consuming local/organic food, biking, recycling, installing solar panels, protesting environmental degradation, and/or saving rain forests. Be the E is a call to action that evokes Gandhi’s plea to “be the change you want to see in the world.” I am E is rooted in the notion that everything on Earth is dependent on everything else and that the Earth is one living organism.  Learn more at

For those of you who are still in Vancouver, my friends at Oxfam are putting together the second annual Earth Day Walk for Climate Justice.  Be sure to join them this Saturday at 10:30am in front of the Art Gallery to walk to Jericho Beach in celebration of Earth Day and women's rights world wide.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Fellowship Opportunity for Non-Profit Leaders

In partnership with Opportunity Collaboration and in honor of International Women's Day, World Pulse is inviting social entrepreneurs and non-profit leaders who work on empowering women and alleviating poverty to apply for the Cordes Foundation Fellowship. This fellowship provides a PulseWire member with the opportunity to participate as a Delegate in the Opportunity Collaboration.

Opportunity Collaboration is a four-day strategic and problem-solving retreat for nonprofit leaders, for-profit social entrepreneurs, funders and social investors. The aim is to break down the silos of unproductive competition and go beyond the boundaries of conventional poverty alleviation. The retreat takes place, October 15-20, 2010 in Ixtapa, Mexico

Fellows participate fully in all aspects of the Opportunity Collaboration. In addition, Fellows may earn a certificate of completion awarded by the University of the Pacific Global Center for Social Entrepreneurship. This on-site professional training symposium covers areas critical to the success of organizations and individuals creating social impact and combating poverty. The curriculum is designed in partnership with the Fellows and other Opportunity Collaboration Delegates.

To learn more about eligibility and the deadline for applying, please visit

Thursday, March 25, 2010

After the bees are gone

Marcelo Aizen and Lawrence Harder wrote an editorial today in the New York Times on the death and disappearance of bees.

Colony Collapse Disorder has spread across North America and Europe in the past five years. IF the bees are to disappear, this has serious implications for our plants.

Overall, about one-third of our worldwide agricultural production depends to some extent on bee pollination, but less than 10 percent of the 100 most productive crop species depend entirely on it. If pollinators were to vanish, it would reduce total food production by only about 6 percent.

The authors discuss how this wouldn’t mean the end of human existence, but if we want to continue eating foods like apples and avocados, we need to understand that bees and other pollinators can’t keep up with the current growth in production of these foods.

The reason is that fruit and seed crops that are most dependent on pollinators yield relatively little food per acre, and therefore take up an inordinate, and increasing, amount of land. The fraction of agriculture dependent on pollination has increased by 300% in half a century.

The paradox is that our demand for these foods endangers the wild bees that help make their cultivation possible. The expansion of farmland destroys wild bees’ nesting sites and also wipes out the wildflowers that the bees depend on when food crops aren’t in blossom.

Learn more about recent findings in the article, Too-Busy Bees.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Petropolis - Aerial Perspectives on the Alberta Tar Sands

Petropolis is a film by Canadian media artist and filmmaker Peter Mettler. Mattler aerially filmed the tar sands of Alberta, Canada from a helicopter to highlight the vast scope and impact that the industrial mining site has on the environment.

The mining area of the tar sands is as big as all of England and the tar sands oil production releases five times more greenhouse gases than conventional oil production.

In a follow up from yesterday's post, getting the oil out of the tar sands uses roughly as much water as a city of two million people. Afterwards, 90 per cent of this water is so contaminated with toxic chemicals that it must be stored in tailings ponds so huge that they can be seen from outer space.

Read more about Peter Mettler's experience making Petropolis on New Scientist.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The dirty oil in Alberta's tar sands

Yesterday was World Water Day, and to mark the day, the event, Water: Challenges and Opportunities took place in Vancouver.

The opening guest speaker was Canadian author Andrew Nikiforuk talking about the impact of the Tar Sands on water quality. Nikiforuk is author of the book Tar Sands: Dirty Oil And The Future Of A Continent.

In the book, Nikiforuk discusses the disastrous environmental, social, and political costs of the tar sands and argues forcefully for change.

Canada has one third of the world’s oil source; it comes from the bitumen in the oil sands of Alberta. Advancements in technology and frenzied development have created the world’s largest energy project in Fort McMurray where, rather than shooting up like a fountain in the deserts of Saudi Arabia, the sticky bitumen is extracted from the earth. Providing almost 20 percent of America’s fuel, much of this dirty oil is being processed in refineries in the Midwest. This megaproject is polluting the air, poisoning the water, and destroying boreal forest at a rate almost too rapid to be imagined.

A recent report by the Pembina Institute, looks into the major drawbacks of steam-driven projects which are used to extract crude from Canada's oil sands and are often held up as more environmentally friendly than mining.

The Alberta-based Pembina Institute compared nine projects that employ "in situ" extraction methods -- where steam is pumped into the earth to liquefy the extra-heavy crude so it can be pumped to the surface -- and found all need to make improvements to varying degrees.

"The impacts of in situ have sort of been framed as low-impact oil sands development, but when you look at the data that isn't actually borne out," said Simon Dyer, one of the authors of the report, called "Drilling Deeper: the In Situ Oil Sands Report Card".

"Some of them indicate actually higher impact on a per-barrel basis than mining, for instance greenhouse gas emissions and sulfur-dioxide emissions and some of the cumulative impacts on land."

Projects were judged on general environmental management, land use, air emissions, water use and impact on climate change, and then given an overall score.

Open-pit mining gets most of the attention in the oil sands of northern Alberta, the largest crude deposits outside the Middle East. But the lion's share of the crude is too deep to mine, and must be extracted using in situ techniques.

"The main message is there's clearly room for improvement," Dyer said. "There's a wide range of performance, we don't have half the regulations that would necessarily drive implementation of best practices that are there currently."

Source: More regulation needed for Canada oil sands, Reuters

Friday, March 19, 2010

Urban Density in Developing Countries

Most of the world's population lives in urban areas. In the developing world, these urban areas have been drastically increasing in population over the past 50 years. This has lead to higher density and resulted in urban slums as people look for affordable housing options.

A new vision of urban planning was presented in a study issued today.  The vision involves a flexible building design that would allow residents to expand their homes upwards by up to three floors - as and when their families grow - and create socially and economically successful communities that are as dense as, or even denser, than buildings that are up to six floors high.

The new design, which promises a brighter future for millions of the world's poorest urban citizens, is detailed in a study and multimedia collection funded by the International Institute for Environment and Development and UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. Its launch today coincides with the opening of the United Nations Fifth World Urban Forum in Rio de Janeiro, where thousands of delegates from governments, academia and nongovernmental organisations will discuss solutions to the
challenges of urbanization.

The following is a short film on the Karachi settlements and the study's conclusions:

For more information, please visit

Bridging the Gap 2010

Engineer's Without Borders Bridging the Gap 2010 conference is happening on March 27. The conference is a chance for passionate students and professionals to explore how local actions impact extreme poverty. This year's conference will be held at the Life Sciences Institute on the University of British Columbia Campus.

With the theme "Local Action to Global Impact: Vision, Action, Voice" professional and student delegates will examine the influence of our choices at home, on the development field, in parliament and in boardrooms. The attendees will have a full day of discussion, debate, collaboration and learning, with workshops and sessions led by an engaging line-up of speakers. The conference will close with a keynote address from Dr. Hans Rosling, professor of International Health in Stockholm, Sweden, co-founder of Médecins Sans Frontières in Sweden and Director of Gapminder Foundation.

To learn more about the conference, visit

If you haven't seen Hans Rosling's TED talk, it is definitely worth watching.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


The newly redesigned Woodward Building in Vancouver's downtown east side has recently hosted the exhibit Vancouver, Vancouverize, Vancouverism: Building and Idea.

"Vancouverizing" is a term that has been used by architects and city planners over the past decade to describe the redevelopment of under-populated, un-loved urban cores. Vancouver has become first a verb, and now, an ideology promoting an urbanism of density and public amenity.  Vancouverism at its best brings together a deep respect for the natural environment with high concentrations of residents.  Within condominium residential towers downtown and courtyard and boulevard-edging mid-rise buildings elsewhere in the city, Vancouverites are learning to live tightly together.

The Vancouverism exhibition hopes to be a catalyst for debate and reflection and includes photographs, drawings, videos, scale models, and full size building details of innovative design and city building in Vancouver.

If you would like to learn more about Vancouverism and it's origins, be sure to check out Trevor Boddy's article - Vancouverism vs. Lower Manhattanism: Shaping the High Density City.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Eco-certifications, Eco-labels and Eco-logos in the Food Sector

Yesterday, Metro Vancouver, hosted a sustainability community breakfast on Eco-certifications, Eco-labels and Eco-logos in the Food Sector.

The three speakers included Mike McDermid with Ocean Wise at the Vancouver Aquarium, Brad Reid from Certified Organic Associations of BC, and Lloyd Bernhardt with Ethical Bean Fair Trade Coffee.

All three speakers discussed how eco-labelling and certification have become an integral part of their industry and present a number of challenges and opportunities. While there is much confusion around eco-certification and the ensuring of a reliable standard with consistent monitoring, all of the presenters noted that in the end, it is the consumer who has the greatest power in creating change.

One of these examples came from Mike McDermid with Ocean Wise. Ocean Wise was created in 2005 in Vancouver when 16 restaurants signed on to sell sustainable seafood products. This has now spread across Canada with over 300 restaurants on board. When they first started the program, they approached suppliers directly to see if they would like to sign on to promise sustainable fishing. At that time, none of the suppliers were willing to participate; however, since 2005, the number of suppliers that provide sustainably fished seafood has increased from an average of 47.50% sustainable product to 75.26% sustainable. This has been credited to the pressure of chefs and consumers who have demanded more sustainable goods.

 The power of the consumer is the keystone to sustainable business. One of the reason that business has become so unsustainable is because consumers have demanded the cheapest products without considering the impact of these products on the environment, society, and resources. By creating standards and certification processes, consumers now have a way of determining where their products come from and if they are sustainable. It is this increased demand for environmentally and socially sustainable products which has led industry to become more responsible.

As part of the question and answer portion of the breakfast, one of the participants invited the audience to participate in a 90 day challenge to only consume sustainably certified products. By participating in this challenge, it is hoped that consumers, in considering where their products come from, will realize the value of sustainable goods.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Portia Munson's Artistic Plastic Kitsch

The artist, Portia Munson, has found a way to turn heaps of plastic kitsch and junk into beautiful mounds of stuff that both uplift and mock our contemporary consumer culture.

Her art installations are a contemplation of and comment on our manufactured perceptions of nature. Our culture is defined by the objects we mass-produce, consume, and throw away. Portia collects these objects and assembles them into congested installations, in essence using the refuse of consumer culture that usually ends up in landfills and yard sales as her resources.

 The Pink Project:

Green Piece; Sarcophagus

The Garden

Friday, February 26, 2010

Green Exhibits During Vancouver 2010 Olympics

The Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver are coming to a close. While these games were meant to be the greenest Olympic games in history, the lack of snow forcing officials to helicopter and truck snow up to the mountains for a number of events probably negates that claim. The Tyee released an article on the Greenwashing of these Olympic games stating how these games used 5,600 vehicles, burned 20 million litres of petrol, and carved up nature. See article, Brown Edges to the 'Green Games'.

However, despite all this, there have been some interesting 'green' exhibits around town during the Olympics.

One of these exhibits is located outside of Science World (or what is now Ruski Dom during the Olympics). This exhibit has taken a number of giant globes and decorated them with various sustainability themes including conservation, green building, water and electricity.


Mother Earth and nature
Imagine if we built responsibly Recycled roof
Imagine if we Built Responsible & Recycled Carpet and Roof
Water world Light world
Water World & Electricity World

Given the popularity of Rusky Dom during the games, it is certain that a number of people will be viewing these over the course of the Olympics.

Other interesting exhibits during the olympics include CODE Live. At CODE Live 1 at the Great Northern Way Campus, a large factory that was once used to build machinery has been transformed into an exhibition. ECO ART is part of this exhibition and attempts to deal with nature through new technologies. Questions of ecology and issues of the world’s natural depletion of resources have found public visibility through these new persuasive technologies used both as educational and as poetic tools.

'Seed' is one of these exhibits.  'Seed' is a large screen upon which a digital forest can be created through the intersection between wireless technology and the mobile phones of the audience. Visitors have the opportunity to choose the type of tree they want to plant, grow their seeds in public and change the texture and color of each. The interesting intersection between the real and virtual in this exhibit, is that for every tree on screen, a real tree will be planted.