Julia L F Goldstein

How Are You Changing the World?

Guess Which Company Wrote This Statement

Jan 07, 2018 by Julia L F Goldstein
“We’re committed to helping create solutions to these challenges [population growth, climate change, food insecurity] while helping to take care of our planet, our people, and the communities where we live and work.” Any guesses which company wrote these words? Would you believe Monsanto? It’s true – right on the first page of the company’s 2017 Sustainability Report, prepared in accordance with GRI Standards.GRI, or the Global Reporting Initiative, has been publishing guidelines for corporate social responsibility reporting since 1997. The latest revision to its reporting guidelines, called the GRI Standards, came out in October 2016. These guidelines are similar in scope to the guidelines they are replacing but are designed to be much easier to understand and use. This...

Printing Solar Cells and Wearable Sensors

Dec 18, 2017 by Julia L F Goldstein
Did you know that there is a machine in Seattle that can print solar cells, using a method that is much like printing newspaper? A long roll of plastic sheeting passes through the machine, which deposits silver-laden conductive ink to form electrodes, heats the ink to cure it, and then applies the active layer that converts energy from the sun into electricity. This technology, an exciting application for printed electronics, may very well pave the way toward affordable solar cells. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="350.0"] UW researchers using the Washington Clean Energy Testbeds’  roll-to-roll printer for solar cells, batteries, sensors, optical films, and other flexible, low-cost devices. Photo by Matt Hagen,...

You Must Read This Book

Dec 02, 2017 by Julia L F Goldstein
In my November 4 blog post, I mentioned my reluctance to read The Radium Girls, the story of the teenage dial painters who worked with glow-in-the-dark, radium-laced paint, licking their paintbrushes to achieve a perfect fine point. The blog post concluded with the assertion that I should indeed read the book. I was right. Yes, some of it is truly horrifying and sickening. But this story is still relevant and more important than ever.My previous blog post mentioned the Radium Dial Corporation, but that company was just one of many involved in producing radium-laced products, and one of two at the center of the Radium Girls story. The first was the United States Radium Corporation (USRC), based in Orange, New...

The Full Story Behind Recycling

Nov 18, 2017 by Julia L F Goldstein
Did you know that store receipts made from thermal paper aren’t recyclable? They are apparently coated with bisphenol A (BPA) or bisphenol S (BPS), the same toxic additives that caused health alerts for reusable plastic water bottles. I want to do the right thing by recycling all the paper that I’m done using, but I’ve been unknowingly contaminating my recycling bin. If I, someone who’s been studying recycling, didn’t know this, I bet a lot of people are equally ignorant.Now you know. Don’t recycle your receipts. Just throw them away, or, better yet, opt out of paper receipts in the first place. Some stores ask if you want a receipt or offer the option of electronic receipts. For purchases that...

Choosing the Right Book

Nov 04, 2017 by Julia L F Goldstein
Browsing in an indie bookstore this summer, I spotted the book The Radium Girls by Kate Moore on the new nonfiction table. I contemplated buying it. This is an important story – I should read it. But I ultimately decided it was too horrific and depressing.Instead I bought Mozart’s Starling by Lyanda Lynn Haupt, a local Seattle author. I thought it would make a perfect birthday present for my mom, whose passions include both birdwatching and classical music. The starling is an invasive species that is nonetheless charming, having inspired both Mozart and the book’s author. My mom has long believed in removing invasive species and replacing them with natives. I wondered if she would make an exception for the...

Plastic Bags: To Ban or Not To Ban

Oct 21, 2017 by Julia L F Goldstein
It started with an announcement on the social networking site NextDoor: “Please join us for a meeting with the Director of Zero Waste Management…to discuss how to go about banning plastic grocery bags in Redmond.” Most posts on NextDoor generate a handful of replies. Some popular ones generate twenty. This post unleashed a torrent of discussion: 136 replies from 49 neighbors in my city.The initial replies simply said, “No thanks” and “Please don’t,” but the discussion soon became much more intense. To my neighbors’ credit, nearly everyone was reasonably polite while expressing their views, some of which were based on facts and some of which were opinions that didn’t necessarily mesh with the facts.With the flood of information swirling around...

Perception Versus Reality and Unlikely Allies

Oct 07, 2017 by Julia L F Goldstein
A story from Scotts Miracle-Gro illustrates the importance of transparency in communicating with customers, the challenge of distinguishing between perception and reality, and the difficulty that accompanies merely defending the science behind the story. It involves toxic algal blooms, a problem for which Scotts was unfairly blamed.I learned about this story by watching an engaging GreenBiz webinar this week, “How Storytelling and Partnerships Can Bridge the Gap Between Stakeholders and Science.” Not all webinars are worth the time it takes to watch them, but this was one of the good ones.Toxic algal blooms are a serious threat to water quality in the Florida Everglades, Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, Puget Sound, and many waterways throughout the world. The source of these...

You Get What You Pay For

Sep 16, 2017 by Julia L F Goldstein
Many people are of a mindset that goods should be inexpensive and services should be free. The problem with that approach is that you often get what you pay for. Cheap products break easily. Free services may not deliver what you need.Unfortunately, paying a high price is no guarantee of quality. The high-end Lenovo laptop I bought seven months ago, for example, has experienced multiple problems requiring me to send it out for repair. At least it’s still under warranty. If it doesn’t work properly when I pick it up this time, I am going to demand a refund from Lenovo.I’m writing this blog post on my old computer, which is frustratingly slow and sometimes cannot connect to the internet....

Hacks to Avoid Food Waste

Sep 03, 2017 by Julia L F Goldstein
Last year my son took a high school course called Current World Issues, which aimed to tackle a huge array of problems facing society, each of which could warrant a course of its own. One problem, how to produce enough food for a growing worldwide population, got me thinking about the small ways everyone can do something about the huge quantities of food that are produced but thrown away every day.I kept a page from my local city newsletter that says, "Worldwide, it takes 2.5 billion acres of land just to grow the food we waste." Posting the page on my fridge helps remind me to do my part in avoiding food waste. I submitted two ideas that I've implemented in...

An Event Eclipses Everything Else

Aug 26, 2017 by Julia L F Goldstein
I have spent far too much time on social media and browsing the internet this week. Much of it has been in online conversation with friends I haven’t seen in years, discussing such important questions as:Where did you go to see the eclipse?Isn’t 98 or 99% almost the same as 100%? (Spoiler: no)How many hours did it take you to get home, and was that less than or greater than three times as long as the same drive would take on a typical day?The total eclipse on Monday was both a natural and a social phenomenon. Millions of people across the United States gathered in hundreds of locations in the path of totality to gaze at the sky in unison...

Taking Inspiration from Hummingbirds

Aug 12, 2017 by Julia L F Goldstein
On my trip to Vancouver, BC earlier this summer, I made a point to notice materials. Since one aspect of the visit involved conducting an interview for the book I’m writing on sustainable materials, this seemed appropriate. I also took time to be a tourist. While browsing the gift shop at the Capilano Suspension Bridge, a collection of earrings caught my eye. Although I own plenty of earrings – at least 25 pairs – I decided I had to buy these. They advertise being made from lead-free pewter and handcrafted in Canada, and the hummingbird is supposedly a symbol of good fortune. How could I not buy them?

I have previously...

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Goals for Progress

Jul 15, 2017 by Julia L F Goldstein
Last weekend I completed a triathlon, my fourth to date. When people hear the word "triathlon" many automatically think of the Ironman, a competition consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile (marathon) run. My event was much more modest: 0.75-mile swim, 22.5-mile bike ride, and 4-mile run. This is slightly shorter than an Olympic triathlon (1.5-km swim, 40-km bike, 10-km run) but longer than most sprint distance events. How is the triathlon related to the title of this blog post? Keep reading to find out. Reduce After seeing my times on the individual legs of the triathlon, I was a bit disappointed. I achieved my overall time goal, but I know there is room for improvement. The day after...

Sticking Our Heads in the Sand? We Shouldn't Have To

Jul 01, 2017 by Julia L F Goldstein
Peter Holgate conveys an air of confidence without seeming arrogant. His desire to achieve something “consequential” with his third startup drove him to found Ronin8, a company whose mission revolves around changing the world by changing e-waste processing. I met with Peter in his Vancouver, BC office recently to interview him for the book I’m writing on sustainable materials management.Since e-waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the world, the topic plays an appropriately important role in my book. In his book Making the Modern World, Vaclav Smil writes, “all wasteful uses of materials have both economic and environmental costs.” Nowhere is this perhaps clearer than with the proliferation of electronic devices and their subsequent disposal. Far too many...

Jargon and Acronyms: Beware

Jun 18, 2017 by Julia L F Goldstein
I read a blog post recently that started with an analogy to laying tiles, something most people can grasp, but then shifted to engineering jargon. Any reader who can understand the second half of the blog post has no need for the simplified explanation in the first half. Any reader who needs the simple version to understand the concept will likely get lost trying to read through to the end of the post. This post was from a company I respect, whose blog posts are usually excellent, but in this case, I think they missed the mark.This strikes me as a perfect example of the challenge of understanding your audience. Are you writing for engineers who are experts in your...

Is There Lead in Those Pipes?

Jun 03, 2017 by Julia L F Goldstein
One cold January day, I came home to water running down my driveway. It hadn’t rained in days, so I knew something was wrong. Forgetting to put the Styrofoam insulator over the front yard hose bib before the freezing weather hit was definitely a mistake.  I opened the garage door, and my teenage son greeted me with, “I came down to the garage to get a screwdriver and noticed water spraying out of the wall, so I turned off the water supply to the house.” I’m glad we trained him in emergency procedures and am impressed he was able to remember and use his knowledge in a real situation. Still, it was time to call a plumber.  Unfortunately, when the temperature doesn’t...

How Many Worms Would It Take?

May 20, 2017 by Julia L F Goldstein
If 100 wax worms can devour 92 milligrams of polyethylene in 12 hours, how many wax worms would it take to consume 100 plastic bags per day? Assume each bag weighs 8 grams (I weighed one), and the worms eat constantly at the same rate for 24 hours. Read to the end of this post for the answer.Wax worms – the larvae of wax moths – usually end their lives as fish bait. But perhaps their existence could serve a higher purpose. In the wild, wax worms eat beeswax, much to the chagrin of beekeepers and anyone who cares about the importance of bees to our ecosystem. As Spanish scientist and amateur beekeeper Federica Bertocchini found out accidentally, the worms...

It all started with a conversation

May 06, 2017 by Julia L F Goldstein
What began as a simple conversation about book publishing in February led to me being glued to my cell phone the past few days, listening to as much of the Nonfiction Writers Conference as possible live while rushing to and from meetings. Thank goodness, the sessions were recorded so I can catch up on those I missed.The conference had me fluctuating between feeling inspired and feeling overwhelmed.Yes, I can write an enthralling book that tens of thousands of people will want to buy! But how is anyone going to find out it exists?Yes, I can create a plan and complete my book this year! But how am I going to manage that while running my freelance writing business, training for...

Living in an Anthropocene World

Apr 21, 2017 by Julia L F Goldstein
I just added a new selection to the “books I recommend” section of my website, and this time I’m explaining why I chose it. The Unnatural World by David Biello caught my attention when I was in the public library looking for books with advice for nonfiction authors. It was part of a featured selections display, where the images of leaves on the cover and the title drew me in. I checked it out immediately and bought my own copy soon after I started reading.Biello’s message – that we are living in the Anthropocene Era, in which humans control the planet’s environment and which may date to as long ago as the beginnings of agriculture – asserts itself throughout the...

Trains, Planes, Automobiles, and More

Mar 18, 2017 by Julia L F Goldstein
What do electric buses, wood veneer, circadian lighting, and insects on airplanes have in common? All these topics, and many more, came up at the GoGreen Conference in Seattle on March 16. I attended the conference as a member of the press, and I did publish a piece in 425 Business magazine on March 1, based on an interview with a presenter. But I wasn’t there on any specific assignment. I came to learn and to meet people. Some of the people I met asked if I was going to publish a write-up of the conference. I will satisfy people’s curiosity and share some nuggets that I learned.Heavy-duty vehicles like buses are driving the trend toward electrification of vehicles. Diesel...

Why writing a book is like making a jigsaw puzzle

Mar 02, 2017 by Julia L F Goldstein
A friend of mine told me recently, “Writing a book is like making a jigsaw puzzle. It’s hard to get started, and it comes together slowly at first, but it gets faster toward the end.” He had it somewhat right, but not exactly. As a writer who also enjoys jigsaw puzzles, I had to take it further. The analogy works in a much deeper way than my friend had considered. My husband and I made this puzzle in a weekend. It's only 500 pieces.

Especially for nonfiction, you need to start with a thesis and an outline. The outline is like the border of...