Windsource Savings

We have been enrolled in the Windsource program for years now, ever since it was first started. Windsource is a program that XcelEnergy provides that you can opt-in to buy renewable energy to offset your energy use. While the actual watts going to your house are not necessarily “wind watts”, XcelEnergy is then purchasing that much wind energy to offset your usage. It’s a good program, relatively cheap and allows me as a customer to express my wish for renewable energy without installing it myself, which isn’t really feasible.

I found this blog post on The Deets that highlighted a benefit I didn’t even realize though about Windsource. Since the energy I’m buying is renewable, I don’t have to pay the Fuel Cost Charge. I didn’t even realize there were credits you got if you opted into Windsource.

The first thing I noticed is that we sure use a lot more electricity than The Deets does. We paid $29.30 on our most recent bill for Windsource. So just $29.30 went to XcelEnergy to then go on the renewable energy market and buy 830 kWh of power. I would have paid $23.48 in Fuel Cost Charge, but wait, wind energy doesn’t have that. So I get a $23.48 credit for that. That nets out to $5.82 net increase in cost to use renewable energy. There were 32 days in the billing period, so it netted out to $0.18 per day.

Join me and The Deets and sign up now.

Eco-Friendly Painting, Safecoat

head_logo.jpgTammy has wanted to change some colors in our house for a while. If you’ve been to our place you know we are not afraid of color in any way. Our living room is orange, yellow and red.

There are a couple of rooms that she wanted to change and keeping with the green theme she searched hard to find a No VOC paint option that would work. What is VOC? Volatile Organic Compounds. I really don’t know much about this world, but as I understand from her the fumes from VOC’s in paint are really bad for you. And it’s not just the fumes from when you are painting, those chemicals continue to be present for a while and leech into the air in your house.

After much searching she found Safecoat. Safecoat is a No VOC paint, but it goes even further and contains nothing bad. You see, some No VOC paint is only that by label, in that it contains some chemicals that are not good for you but aren’t labeled as a VOC so they can still have the label. Safecoat is pristine in it’s health and eco credentials.

Over the last three days the kitchen has received new paint on the walls and ceiling. Using the Safecoat product was an eye-opener. We didn’t have any windows open while the painting was going on, and there was absolutely no smell in the house. If you didn’t see the paint, there is no way you would know painting was going on. It was really amazing.

If you’re going to do some painting do yourself and your family a favor and use Safecoat. In the Minneapolis area head over to Natural Built Home to get it.

Refill Products, Reduce Plastic Waste

Restore the Earth Logo.jpgTammy drives a lot of our green decisions in the house. For a long time she’s been using all natural cleaning products. She doesn’t want the chemicals in typical cleaning products in the house, and we all benefit from it. Nearly all of our cleaning products are from Restore Products. I wasn’t even aware of one of the most impressive things that Restore Products does until a recent trip to Lakewinds, our co-op.

Walking down the aisle with household products Restore Products has put a refill station there. We took the three containers that we had of various cleaners and put them into the refill station. It spins the container and when it finds the bar code it knows what product this is and what size. It then lowers a filling tube into the container and you’ve got new product and no plastic waste.

I love this. First, the system is fool proof using the bar code system. A side benefit of using the bar codes is that if you do insert your product and they don’t provide refills for it (happened with one of our bottles) they can collect that information and add it if there is enough demand. Mostly I just love that we can now get dozens, or hundreds, of uses out of the one plastic bottle. We’ve worked hard to minimize our plastic waste and this helps out greatly.

It’s great to see the co-op as more of a refilling station than a typical store. Bring your empty container for cleaning products, oatmeal, flower, sugar and just top them off from the various bins. Reduce waste and keep costs low.

Break the Bottled Water Habit

I’ve posted before about the immense problems with bottled water. Tammy and I have been on a massive push to push all non-necessary plastic out of our lives banning bottled water was one of the first ones we did.

I was browsing the web the other day and ran across a campaign where you can sign up to Break the Bottled Water Habit.

Break the Bottler Water Habit!

Tammy and I had our first real test of this commitment when we went on the road for 6 weeks this summer. It was really tempting to get bottled water and in fact I broke down twice and did get two bottles of water during the entire trip. Tammy was pristine and drank nothing other than tap water transported in her trusty Sigg bottle.

C’mon, drop the plastic and turn on the tap!

In Defense of Food – An Eater's Manifesto

In Defense Of Food CoverI just finished reading Michael Pollan‘s newest book, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. It is a well-written and well-researched book that dives into the Western diet and deconstructs it in three parts: The Age of Nutrionism, The Western Diet and the Diseases of Civilization, and Getting Over Nutritionism. I’ve heard this book referred to as the follow-on to his wildly popular The Omnivores Dilemma (which, in full disclosure I have not read, yet).

I found In Defense of Food particularly interesting in part because of my own view of food and how it has evolved. A decade ago I was completely clueless about food. If I was asked how many calories were in a cheeseburger I could have easily agreed with 100 or 4,000. I really had no idea. Then while focusing extensively on fitness and diet I started logging every bit of food that passed my lips. I was focused in a nearly obsessive manner (nearly? who am I kidding) on how many grams of various macronutrients I got and precisely how many calories I consumed. To put a point on it, I weighed my fruit on a gram scale before and after eating it to determine the precise intake. Yeah, that is obsessive.

This is not behavior that you can model forever and when I stopped doing it I learned that I hadn’t really learned how to eat, but instead had become a discipline of nutritionism. Nutritionism is not Pollan’s term, it was coined by Gyorgy Scrinis. The behavior and mindset that it describes though is the antithesis of the most basic suggestion on how to eat.

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

Those are the first seven words in Pollan’s book and admittedly you could stop reading there. The remaining 200 pages dive into the details of the Western diet and the issues with it. Pollan’s writing is interesting throughout and even the deeper dives into the roots of nutritionism are immensely interesting. He does a great job of highlighting for the reader just how much our food system has changed, and in most ways for the worse, in the last 70 years. This paragraph really hit me hard. I expected corn and high-fructose corn syrup to be the evil doer in this book, but the bases of nutritionism predates that trend.

Of all the changes to our food system that go under the heading “The Western Diet,” the shift from a food chain with green plants at it’s base to one based on seeds may be the most far reaching of all. Nutritional scientists focus on different nutrients — whether the problem with modern diets is too many refined carbohydrates, not enough good fats, too many bad fats, or a deficiency of any number of micronutrients or too many total calories. But at the root of all these biochemical changes is a single ecological change. For the shift from leaves to seeds affects much more than the levels of omega-3 and omega-6 in the body. It also helps account for the flood of refined carbohydrates in the modern diet and the drought of so many micronutrients and the surfeit of total calories. From leaves to seeds: It’s almost, if not quite, a Theory of Everything.

Throughout the book Pollan deals with the challenge of arguing nutritionism while not falling into the logic arguments it naturally suggests. I was happy to see him recognize this later in the book, and I thought it appropriate. After all, to have a book that suggests that you have to stop looking at food as grams of chemicals, and then just suggests that you start gardening would be incomplete and unhelpful.

The undertow of nutritionism is powerful, and more than once over the past few pages I’ve felt myself being dragged back under. You’ve no doubt noticed that much of the nutrition science I’ve presented here qualifies as reductionist science, focusing as it does on individual nutrients (such as certain fats or carbohydrates or antioxidants) rather than on whole foods or dietary patterns. Guilty. But using this sort of science to try to figure out what’s wrong with the Western diet is probably unavoidable. However imperfect, it’s the sharpest experiemental and explanatory tool we have. It also satisfies our hunger for a simple, one-nutrient explanation. Yet it’s one thing to entertain such explanations and quite another to mistake them for the whole truth or to let any one of them dictate the way you eat.

This is the heart of Pollan’s message. Stop thinking of food as a collection of micro- and macro-nutrients and instead think of it in the whole. This obsessive push to the one thing that will save us is destroying us.

Pollan doesn’t spare the establishment in his analysis. Early in the book he outlines legislation passed in 1938 under the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act that required the word “immitation” appear on any food that was fake. I love the definition of this “…there are certain traditional foods that everyone knows, such as bread, milk and cheese, and that when consumers buy these foods, they shoudl get the foods they are expecting…” The sad thing is that nearly everything in the modern grocery store would have to be labeled immitation. The requirement was repealed shortly after enacted after protests from the food industry. Nobody apparently wanted to buy immitation spaghetti.

When corn oil and chips and sugary breakfast cereals can all boast being good for your heart, health claims have become hopelessly corrupt. The American Heart Association currently bestows (for a fee) its heart-healthy seal of approval on Lucky Charms, Cocoa Puffs, and Trix cereals, Yoo-hoo lite chocolate drink, and Healthy Choice’s Premium Caramel Swirl Ice Cream Sandwich — this at a time when scientists are coming to recognize that dietary sugar probably plays a more important role in heart disease than dietary fat. Meanwhile, the genuinely heart-healthy whole foods in the produce section, lacking financial and political clout of the packaged goods a few aisles over, are mute. But don’t take the silence of the yams as a sign that they have nothing valuable to say about health.

Pollan doesn’t leave it at just the food either, but the way in which we consume it. I was surprised by one of the statistics cited in the book, that 60% of McDonald’s revenue is made at the drive-through. A healthy meal is not consumed in your car. It may seem unachievable, but having a real family meal is a critical part of a healthy diet.

That one should feel the need to mount a defense of “the meal” is sad, but then I never would have thought “food” needed defending, either. Most readers will recall the benefits of eating meals without much prompting from me. It is at the dinner table that we socialize and civilize our children, teaching them manners and the art of conversation. At the dinner table parents can determine portion sizes, model eating and drinking behavior, and enforce social norms about greed and gluttony and waste. Shared meals are about much more than fueling bodies; they are uniquely human institutions where our species developed language and this thing we call culture. Do I need to go on?

Indeed he does not. In Defense of Food is a great read. If you question your approach to what you put on the table (or don’t put on the table), this is a good perspective on that challenge.

Shaving Green

istock-000003841554xsmall.pngOur house keeps getting greener and greener. Tammy has done an awesome job of finding alternative products for us to use that are better for the planet and us. This process started in the kitchen and has slowly spread, now reaching the bathroom.

Green products and the bathroom are a struggle. We’ve all gotten so used to the various products that we have available that switching is challenging. Natural soaps are easy. Even natural toothpaste is a breeze. Tom’s of Maine toothpaste is great, and after using it for a while you will think regular toothpaste is overly sweet and nasty.

Shaving however was filled with canned gels in nasty packaging with nasty ingredients made in nasty processes, not to mention huge marketing budgets. Tammy pushed me to get off of those things and switch and I eagerly jumped in. There are only two options at the co-op for shaving and luckily the 2nd one is great.

AlbaShave.jpgAlba Botanical makes this shave cream that works like a charm. It is actually one of those great examples of a green product that you prefer over the previous product after you get used to it (like the toothpaste). It’s not all foamy so you don’t get to see big lines of white foam come off of your face as you shave (note photo for this post). You have to keep track on your own where you left off. It’s incredibly smooth and I find much more refreshing than the other gels and foams I’ve used over the years. It also defies our American approach of some being good, so a lot must be better. You apply this stuff sparsely and it’s great. If you slather it all over, it doesn’t work as well.

As a bonus, it’s just a lotion so you can easily put some in a small container and take it on a plane without the need for special packaging. I know some guys that actually just shave with handsoap now to avoid taking shaving cream containers on planes. You should really consider some of this lotion instead.

Go ahead and start greening up your bathroom with your morning shave.

One Laptop Per Child, and Me

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Technology has the promise of being the great equalizer, or a great divider. I don’t think enough is being done to make sure that the benefits that the “technological have’s” enjoy are available to all. I think this is going to be a big problem in the US particularly. In developing countries it’s even more basic. One Laptop Per Child has the mission of bringing technology to kids in an affordable package to help bridge this gap. They have been working on developing a $100 laptop for a while now that could be given to kids in developing countries (they didn’t quiet get to $100 on this one). I’d suggest they send a few million around the US too! They’ve just released their first computer, the XO-1. I think it’s pretty cool looking!

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The goal of this machine is to make something that is cheap, rugged and very usable for kids in developing countries. It has WiFi and a basic web browser to hop on the Internet. In fact, it forms it’s own mesh network whenever more than one is present, allowing kids to collaborate in ad hoc settings. It’s power use is very modest, and a solar panel can be attached to the back of it to allow for permanent off-grid use. I’m also ecstatic that they include a number of different development environments. Hit a few buttons and your writing your own programs for it. Great! David Pogue did a really good video review about the XO-1. It’s worth watching.

OLPC is running a limited time special where you get one, and give one. The only way to buy one is to buy two, and one goes to a kid. I’ve ordered mine up and am looking forward to playing with it. A friend also ordered one so it will be fun to play with the networking features. I even noticed a CTO acquaintance of mine has purchased one. My friend Chris suggested that this may be the new status symbol. Like owning a Prius. Go hang out at the coffee shop with your XO-1. Can’t wait. Offer ends soon, go order one!

After I get mine I’ll post some reaction to it.

Mixed Green Messages

I just took a trip to San Francisco. The hotel I stayed in had some odd mixed messages related to green issues. They encouraged me to forego daily washing of my linens and towels so that I could help them help the environment. This always makes sense to me. Who changes there sheets every night at home. Why would you need to at a hotel? And the amount of water and energy this saves is significant. Kudos.

But then, when I came into my room they insisted on having the TV turned on playing soothing music with videos of waterfalls and flowers cycling through. It’s pretty normal that nicer hotels will turn your clock radio on to a classical radio station, a practice that I dislike as it is, but this seemed just crazy. They were running a TV for hours and hours with nobody at all in the room. To make matters worse it wasn’t some high-efficiency LCD panel, it was an old CRT-based tube television just sucking down the watts.

What’s the point of having this TV on all hours of the day? I can only imagine if a visitor from Europe or Japan comes they must be stunned. Lights on, TV on with soothing waterfall videos — for nobody. Just wasting energy. But meanwhile, I’ll make sure to reuse my towels. What a mixed message.