Peanut Butter, Donuts, and Forests
Jul 06, 2018 by Julia L F Goldstein
I like peanut butter. It’s delicious on toast and makes for a healthy snack. I often buy the varieties that contain only peanuts and salt to avoid added sugars. The labels say, “oil separation is natural.” Just because oil separation is natural, though, doesn’t mean that it’s not annoying. Those natural peanuts butters take a lot of stirring to mix in the oil. If you don’t stir all the way to the bottom when you first open the jar, then it will be nearly impossible to spoon out the last of the refrigerated peanut butter at the bottom.
One Bag, Two Bag, Green Bag, Blue Bag
May 06, 2018 by Julia L F Goldstein
I went grocery shopping at PCC Market (a Seattle-based co-op grocery chain) this morning and noticed blue plastic bags in the produce section. A closer look at the bags informed me that they are made from “100% Post Industrial Recycled Resin.” I supposed we are in the post-industrial age, so perhaps that is appropriate. Grammar issues aside, I understand that the bags are made from plastics that were used in some industrial process and have now been recycled into a form suitable for carrying fruits and vegetables.
Searching for Greener Materials
Apr 07, 2018 by Julia L F Goldstein
For a materials geek like me, the best part of the GoGreen conference in Seattle on April 4 was walking around the exhibit hall and talking to the people working the booths. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed hearing from local mayors about what their cities are doing. I’m encouraged by efforts of brands, from family-owned businesses to large corporations, that are taking a stand on politically-charged positions. When it comes to the role of materials in environmental sustainability, though, the exhibit hall was the place to be.
Aligning Investments with Values
Mar 03, 2018 by Julia L F Goldstein
“Value investing” has taken on a new meaning recently, one unrelated to the traditional distinction between value and growth stocks. The global investment firm BlackRock has made headlines this year with some dramatic statements. Its most recent announcement on March 2 spoke out against companies that make and distribute guns and firearms. It called out the three publicly traded companies in that industry and stated that none of its actively traded funds hold any stock in those companies. The BlackRock press release goes on to say, “we have reached out to our clients to help them understand their exposure to civilian firearms companies.” The implication is that if clients want to divest from firearms, BlackRock will be glad to help...
The Problem with Mining
Feb 17, 2018 by Julia L F Goldstein
I’m on the email list for Friends of the Earth, which means that I receive frequent messages imploring me to donate money to save national parks, protect bees, and fight the fossil fuel and mining industries. One recent email mentioned the proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska, appreciating Friends of the Earth members for their role in flooding the EPA with comments opposing the project. Public pressure convinced the EPA to back off on its efforts to reverse a plan that restricted mining in the region. The email expressed concern, however, that if the developers raised the funds they needed, mining could still proceed. It closed with the statement, “Stop the mining industry from wiping out the world’s largest...
Two Degrees and the SDGs
Jan 21, 2018 by Julia L F Goldstein
I recently finished reading GreenBiz’s 2018 State of Green Business Report, where GreenBiz Group Chairman and Executive Director Joel Makower declared “two degrees and the SDGs” as the new manta for sustainable business. In case you don’t know what that means, two degrees refers to keeping global temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius, the goal from the 2015 Paris climate agreement. The United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), also set in 2015, cover a wide range of topics, from poverty and hunger to sustainable cities and responsible consumption. Image courtesy of Trucost and the 2018 State of Green Business Report
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...
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...