Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Ugggh....Styrofoam is back in D.C.

With short-sited domestic leadership like this, we don't need any international terrorists to bring us donw. Sadly... Styrofoam is Back in D.C.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Shop Locally and Buy Organic

We love working in San Francisco, but we're blessed to live on a small farm in rural West Marin county, surrounded by open space, organic greens, and highly creative people who have pioneered sustainable living and agriculture. Chez Panisse, the original "California Cuisine" restaurant in Berkeley, gets many of its seasonal organic vegetables within a tomatoes throw of our house.

This wonderful natural setting has nothing to do with promotional marketing, but it has everything to do with the way we approach our business and advise our clients.

We designed a logo and label for our neighbor's 10-acre organic family farm operation, Gospel Flat Farms. The design was inspired by an image we've seen repeatedly over the years — patriarch farmer Don Murch driving his tractor through bucolic fields of green. Gospel Flat Farms used to sell most of its organic vegetables and flowers to urban restaurants and farmer's markets. But last year they built a wonderful old-timey farm stand so neighbors can buy direct. It's a great resource for our community and much of the food they produce now stays very local.

Click HERE to see video of celebrity chef, Tyler Florence, on a tour of Gospel Flat Farms led by Don's amazingly talented son, Mickey.

Organic food tastes better and is nicer to the earth. We have our own organic garden, and raise chickens for eggs. Not everyone is lucky enough to have a farmstand across the street, but we can all choose to purchase food items grown or produced within 100 miles us. It's not only fresher and better tasting, but it helps reduce the amount of energy and materials needed for transport and packaging.

You can support small-scale agriculture like that of Gospel Flat Farms by shopping at your friendly neighborhood farmers’ market. Or, escape urban life, take a trip out to the country and buy direct from the farm stand.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Plastic on the Beach... and Still Flooding the Promo Industry

It's been raining solid here in San Francisco for a few weeks. After Friday's storm I hiked down to one of my favorite secluded beaches in west Marin County. From the mesa high above the ocean I could see huge logs and other debris washed ashore. I scurried down a muddy trail to have a closer look.

What I found, tangled among the driftwood and seaweed, was a lot of plastic.

Unnatural forms washed in from the Pacific -- in every size, shape and color... bottles, bags, toys, containers, packaging, lighters, filters, pens, parts of shoes, building materials, on and on. Within five minutes I found enough plastic trash to fill a large duffle bag. Unfortunately, it's something we see all too often along the otherwise pristine beaches of the Bay Area and beyond.

Plastic is everywhere in our lives. For many of us, it's not a problem. Most of it ends up in landfills, and well... out of site, out of mind. As a branding guy earlier in my career I helped package and market numerous plastic products in plastic packages. As a consumer, I've bought a lot of plastic crap. I don't feel good about that now, because I know there are other alternatives.

I've learned about those big blobs of plastic floating around our oceans. I've been to the landfills to see where the plastic goes and how long it stays. I've learned how inefficient it is to produce many plastic products, and how it can contaminate our ground water with toxic liquids and residue.

Plastic is a particularly big problem with consumer products, packaging, and promotional marketing. The best way to eliminate the negative impacts associated with producing, using and disposing of plastic, is to reduce its use in consumer products and packaging. Thankfully, a growing number of my marketing and design colleagues are forging change in those areas.

The U.S. promotional product industry, however, has a long ways to go. It's aware of this issue and there is a lot of talk about "going green". But from what we've seen much of the talk is superficial. For example, many product suppliers openly complain about California's Prop 65. And despite last year's well documented and shameful scandal of toxic toys from some Chinese suppliers, the head of the major promotional product trade association recently referred to "alleged problems" with toxic plastic from China in his blog, as if it's all just overblown or a misunderstanding.

The good news is that there are certainly less damaging promotional alternatives today and we have vetted hundreds of promotional goods that meet higher standards of sustainability. The bad news is that plastic still dominates the business. Most clients still want things fast and cheap and too few people in this sales-driven industry seem to want to lose a commission over this issue.

I don't pretend to be perfect and we all make compromises from time to time. But the promotions industry needs to do a much better job recognizing its negative impacts and working to reduce the use of plastic from the top down. I hope my colleagues will come to the same conclusion that I did -- sooner rather than later. All they need to do is stroll on any beach. They may be surprised at the branded plastic stuff the tides bring in.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Problem with Disposable Coffee Cups

Did you know that if you buy just one cup of coffee or tea in a disposable cup every day, you'll create about 23 pounds of waste in one year?

Because so many disposable containers are used throughout the world — and because the resources required to make those cups are considerable — the environmental consequences can be quite staggering.

According to Ideal Bite , eighteen percent of garbage we produce is composed of disposable containers. Beverage cups made of virgin paper or — worse yet — styrofoam, make up a large chunk of that waste.

Americans trash about 25 billion styrofoam cups each year. This nasty material does not biodegrade. So 500 years from now, the polystyrene cup you toss out today will still exist either in a landfill or somewhere in our environment.

Most paper cups for hot beverages are laminated with a plastic resin. This process keeps your beverages warm and inhibits leaking — but it also prevents the cups from being recycled. Starbucks now makes its disposable cups with 10% recycled content. They won't use a higher percentage because the recycled cups they've tried in the past leaked or failed and customers complained. There is a new type of biodegradable and compostable paper coffee cup available, but they are a bit more expensive, relatively resource intensive to produce and have not yet been widely adopted across the country.

The fact is, no matter what they’re made of, most disposable beverage cups end up in landfills. But there is something you can do about it. Join the growing movement towards reducing coffee cup waste.

We’ve been working with a great new non-profit, Green Cafe Network , which is greening all aspects of the coffeehouse industry and harnessing café culture for environmental education. More cafes are working to cut energy consumption and expand recycling and composting programs. Many now offer discounts if you bring your own cup.

Our partner company, eco imprints, offers a wide range of stylish, insulated, leak-resistant reusable coffee tumblers you can personalize and tote around. We've done a lot of research on the subject, and vetted out the best suppliers. Our favorites are made of stainless steel, but we carry tumblers made of corn plastic, biodegradable plastic, recycled plastic, and other durable materials.

It's true that manufacturing reusable cups creates a bigger initial environmental impact than paper cups. However, that impact lessens over time as the reusable cup is, uh, reused. Each reusable cup has a “magic number” of uses at which point it becomes more environmentally friendly than a paper cup.

Sustainability Engineer Pablo Påster published a study last year in Treehugger, which found that after 24 uses, a stainless steel tumbler breaks even with a paper cup in terms of environmental impacts.

Considering that most reusable mugs are designed to be used at least 3,000 times, the positive eco impact of a reusable tumbler can be enormous.

To assure you always have a reusable mug when we need your caffeine fix, you can always keep a few extras on hand: one at home, one at the office, one on your bike, in your car or in your bag.

The daily impact of reusable beverage holders may seem small, but it adds up quickly. We're encouraging corporate clients, non-profits, and individuals to switch over to reusable tumblers.

If we can all get more friends, family and responsible organizations involved ...the reusable revolution will grow, and Mother Earth will get a much-needed coffee cup break.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Secret Code of Plastic Recycling

Did you ever notice that most plastic items are marked somewhere with the number 1-7 inside a recycling arrow symbol?

This mark is part of a system that identifies various types of plastics. It indicates how and where you can recycle different plastic items from your home and office. Unfortunately, the presence of one of these symbols doesn't mean that these materials may be recycled everywhere. You must check with your local municipal waste service. The first two types — PET and HDPE — are the most common forms of plastic, so they are the easiest to recycle. Others, like PVC, contain more nasty chemicals but should be recycled to keep toxins out of the environment.

Here’s a guide to the plastic recycling code, plus some common products you’ll find of each plastic type:

#1 PET (Polyethylene terephthalate): soda bottles, oven-ready meal trays and water bottles. PET plastic is the most common for single-use bottled beverages, because it is inexpensive, lightweight and easy to recycle. It poses low risk of leaching breakdown products. Recycling rates remain relatively low (around 20%), though the material is in high demand by remanufacturers.

#2 HDPE (High-density polyethylene): milk bottles, cereal box liners and grocery/trash/retail bags. HDPE is a versatile plastic with many uses, especially for packaging. It carries low risk of leaching and is readily recyclable into many goods.

#3 PVC (Polyvinyl chloride): plastic food wrap, loose-leaf binders and plastic pipes.PVC is tough and weathers well, so it is commonly used for piping, siding and similar applications. PVC contains chlorine, so its manufacture can release highly dangerous dioxins. If you must cook with PVC, don't let the plastic touch food. Also never burn PVC, because it releases toxins.

#4 LDPE (Low-density polyethylene): dry cleaning bags, produce bags and squeezable bottles. LDPE is a flexible plastic with many applications. Historically it has not been accepted through most American curbside recycling programs, but more and more communities are starting to accept it.

#5 PP (Polypropylene): medicine bottles, aerosol caps and drinking straws. Polypropylene has a high melting point, and so is often chosen for containers that must accept hot liquid. It is gradually becoming more accepted by recyclers.

#6 PS (Polystyrene): NASTY material used for compact disc jackets, plastic tableware, and worst of all... those horrible packaging styrofoam peanuts! Polystyrene can be made into rigid or foam products — in the latter case it is popularly known as the trademark Styrofoam. Evidence suggests polystyrene can leach potential toxins into foods. The material was long on environmentalists' hit lists for dispersing widely across the landscape, and for being notoriously difficult to recycle. Most places still don't accept it, though it is gradually gaining traction.

#7: A wide variety of plastic resins that don't fit into the previous categories are lumped into number 7. Other: three- and five-gallon reusable water bottles, certain kinds of food containers and Tupperware. A few are even made from plants (polyactide) and are compostable. Polycarbonate is number 7, and is the hard plastic that has parents worried these days, after studies have shown it can leach potential hormone disruptors.

If you must use plastic products for your marketing and promotional campaigns, please consider using the recycled and recyclable kind. From wearables, to journal covers, to pens and bags, there are many cool, practical promotional products made of recycled plastic. We can help you find them.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Organic Cotton Vs. Conventional Cotton

People often ask us why we recommend organic cotton apparel at our promotional product firm, eco imprints. After all, a conventional cotton shirt looks pretty much the same as an organic cotton shirt. And they're typically cheaper than organic.

Looks can be deceiving.

The processes used to grow conventional cotton are quite destructive to the environment. Conventionally grown cotton consumes 25% of the insecticides and more than 10% of the pesticides used in the WORLD today! Conventional farming devours roughly 150 grams of pesticides and fertilizers to produce enough cotton for a SINGLE T-shirt.

Here's a look at cultivation practices that clearly differentiate conventional and organic cotton farming:

Conventional cotton seeds are typically treated with fungicides or insecticides. Organic cotton uses untreated seeds.

Conventional cotton farmers apply herbicides to inhibit weeds. Organic cotton farmers physically remove weeds with hand-hoeing and cultivation, rather than through chemical destruction.

Conventional cotton uses insecticides and pesticides heavily. The 9 most common pesticides are highly toxic; five are probable carcinogens. And aerial spraying is frequently used, with potential drift onto workers, communities and wildlife. Organic Cotton farming maintains a balance between pests and other natural predators through healthy soil. It also uses "good" bugs, biological and cultural practices to control pests.

Using certified organic cotton for your corporate apparel programs shows a commitment to social and environmental responsibility. Organic garments come from chemical and pesticide-free environments that protect our planet and the health of all creatures that live on it. That comfy organic cotton T-shirt is helping preserve our air, water and land.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Beautiful Balanced Ecosystem For Your Desk

As I write this post, about a dozen brine shrimp dart about in a softball-sized globe on my desk. They nibble on green algae coating the rocks inside. I have never fed them, nor cleaned the bowl, nor aerated their water. Their clear glass home is sealed airtight. Nothing goes in or out.

These shrimp are my carefree pets, living in a completely self-sustaining world. The algae produce food and oxygen from room light, the shrimp make carbon dioxide for the plants. Together the organisms support each other with no input from me, other than appreciation. Their globes are little sustainable planets of sorts, a balanced ecosystem that could in theory continue for years. We've had ours for only a few weeks, and we've grown quite fond of it.

These mico-worlds, called Ecospheres, have been around for some time and they come in several shapes and sizes. They are the easiest aquarium you'll ever find — and a lovely reminder of our self-sustaining eco system.

You can find these at stores like Brookstones for about $65, or you can purchase them from eco imprints for even less, including costs to customize with a subtle logo or message. Find out more here.

Keep in mind a system this small is sensitive to room conditions, and it can be easy to kill off the inhabitants before you find the optimal place in a room — which is warm but not brightly lit. The question many Ecosphere owners want to know is, how long will they live and can the shrimp reproduce? While an individual shrimp can live for up to 5 years, unlike most marine invertebrates, the endemic Hawaiian red brine shrimp reproduce very sparingly. There are reports of Ecospheres hatching shrimp fry, but they are rare enough to offer little hope yours will. However, even if the shrimp die, the algae will continue to live for decades or longer — an additional ecological lesson.

These little orbs of self-sustaining life are great instructional aids. If you like living things nearby but don't like the slavery of upkeep, they're perfect pet/gardens, ideal office mates, and they make wonderful sustainability-themed gifts.