Tag Archives: systems thinking

Green Is Good But Sustainability Is Systemic

8 Apr

I don’t talk about sustainability enough on this blog.  The rub of having your masters in sustainability and opening a green business in a city brimming with eco-stewards is that you get all talked out at a certain point.  When you finally do sit sit down to blog, you want to talk about anything else.  This space has become an outlet for all the stuff I love but don’t get to talk about all day:  running and food!

“I feel like I need to commit more time to talk about green living.”

I hate that I even typed that.  What I mean is: I need to commit more time to talk about going beyond green living, into real sustainability.  By no means am I looking down on people who are into green living or use that phrase.  Green is good…great even.  I wish everyone would embrace green lifestyle choices and for the most part, people are pretty happy to jump on the good karma band wagon.  BUT.  And I don’t want to sound pompous when I say this, BUT…to me, the phrase green living has very little meaning.  The phrase itself doesn’t demand self-awareness.  It seems so passive, almost implying that we simply go through our lives and buy products labeled “green” or “eco-friendly” and recycle when it’s convenient and then bask in the awesomeness of our green living.  Understanding sustainability requires us to look beyond packaging and promotions and marketing and our own behaviors/attitudes; it requires us to consider things like social equity and our waste streams and broader systemic implications than just our purchases.  It requires us to think and ask questions and demand answers and improve.  It requires us to walk the walk.  In that spirit, I plan on having more of those conversations in this space.  🙂


We are smack dab in the middle of what I like to call “crunch time” at the new house.  We’ve got an appraisal coming up so we need to make sure that the remodel is 100% completed by early next week.  It has really been a struggle to find some kind of balance, but with or without balance this train isn’t slowing down!  I have started to think beyond what is happening now, trying to plan how I will tackle my new enormous yard.  I have so many ideas, but it’s challenging for me to figure out which ones are realistic based on my level of experience and the fact that I have 2 oaf-ish dogs.I grew up in a small house nestled smack dab in the middle of an acre of land in the suburbs.  I am used to having air to breathe, trees, and room to wander.  For the last 5 years, I’ve had to leave my house to find any of those things, but that is about to change in a big way (see below)!  I mean, if the zoning requirements were different in this borough I could have an self-sufficient farmette with the yard we are moving into.  They don’t allow that in West Homestead however, and green my thumb is not.


our yard now..

photo 4(2)

our new yard…

Before May, my goal is to have a recycling center set up, an herb garden planted, a vegetable garden prepped, some kind of rain harvesting set up, and I will make a composter.  Ambitious, no?

The sky is really the limit as far as composting options go, but after a series of trails and errors I have a general idea of what I want.

I don’t think I’m ready for something quite this permanent yet, but ideally this is what I would like to work up to once I know how I want the yard set up:

To begin, I think I like the one below because it seems like it would be easy for someone with very little interest in using a shovel, rake, or biceps.

If I’m unable to get any cooperation from Christina, I may end up with something a little less fancy like this:

I’m shocked at how much less garbage we put out each week when our kitchen scraps get diverted to make compost!  It’s a gratifying feeling when you make something productive {fertilizer} from literal garbage without spending much money.  Composting is one of the simplest examples of a feedback loop.  We have an endless supply of food waste, which will eventually become an endless supply of fertilizer, which will eventually become an endless supply of vegetables, which then turn back into food waste.  That simple model is at the core of sustainability:  consider how a system works, analyze factors that effect it, and then find a way to close the loop/act on the process to get a beneficial outcome.


Do you compost?

What kind of system works for you?


5 Tips to Be a Smarter Shopper

13 Jun

On Tuesday, I shared a video with you guys called “The Story Of Stuff” by Annie Leonard.  If you got nothing from the video except thinking about what you buy, how much you buy, where it comes from, and where it ends up – I’ll take it!

I realize that it’s a big trap, the consumption cycle.  You think:  “Okay, well now I feel like complete crap about consumption, but how do I make changes without completely changing my lifestyle?”  Trust me, I’m not sitting here buying ethically sourced bamboo/hemp t-shirts online.  I know I probably should be, but….I don’t exactly have $30 (or more) to spend on a t-shirt.  My goal with sustainability is a practical one – how can I do the best I can with what I have?

So here are 5 tips for you to make purchases with your ethics and values (which are unique to you!):

1.  Local. Local. Local.  Buy local.  Just do it.  Even if you feel compelled to buy some made-in-China crap that is contains toxic materials and will eventually cause you cancer, buy it from a local small business.  Avoid big boxes when and where you can – buying from Target isn’t helping to support and grow your local economy.  By keeping your neighbors in business, it keeps the money you spend in your community.  And most of the time, in the hands of people who have all ready made an investment in that community by opening a business there.  Small business owners depend on YOU – the consumer – to keep them in business and you depend on businesses to keep your neighborhood prospering.  This symbiotic relationship is stronger than you realize.  That’s why corporations do any and everything they can to put small business owners out of business.

2.  Do some research.  Do a Google or Bing search to find out what items are manufactured in your area. You might be surprised.  We are becoming a DIY world and many people are finding ways to turn their DIY passion into a viable business venture.  There are artisans, hobbyists, experts, and producers out there making everything from reusable food containers to soda to brooms.  These people are making things ethically, in their own homes and businesses, using materials which suite their sustainable values.  And guess what – you get to have an actual conversation with them. You get to ask them what they’re about and what sustainable values penetrate their products.  These companies are all ready reaching out to you via the interwebs and social media – many times, you just have to a quick search.

3.  Find products that fall within the spectrum of your values.  My friend Amanda recently posted about an app she uses called Buycott. Buycott allows you to enter values which are important to you:    Then, you can scan products to determine which parent companies owns them and if you find them acceptable for purchase.  Some examples of my filters are “Made in the USA,” “Say NO to Monsanto,” and “Avoid eating toxic artificial trans fat.”  Its easy to let technology do much of the research for you!  However, the best alternative is to buy whole foods from local growers and farmers whom you trust.

4.  If you’re having trouble finding products which don’t contain toxic chemicals or are produced using unethical business practices, get involved.  Stop complaining about it and be about it!  Join a letter writing campaign, a Facebook group, start your own local group – by putting pressure on retailers to provide better options to the consumer, you can produce change yourself.  I recently just read about a group called Mind The Store that does just that.

5.  Reuse.  Find new uses for things, whether it be re-purposing or re-directing it from the waste stream.  Use old coffee filters in your potted plants, compost them, donate old clothing and home goods – more importantly, try to make purchases at thrift stores or yard sales.  Its more fun to find new uses for items and you’re able to put a personal flourish on it!

Living a sustainable life doesn’t have to be rocket science.  The most important thing is to open your eyes and recognize what consequences your actions have:  just because it goes in the garbage and is out of sight, doesn’t mean it should be out of mind.  Be creative.  Be aware.  Be responsible.

Annie Leonard is my hero.

11 Jun

I’ve spent the most of this morning in a complete fog. I won’t bore you with the details of me drooling on my keyboard or staring blindly at Good Morning America. Instead, I’m sharing one of my favorite videos of all time that deals with the American consumer machine.  Many of you have probably all ready seen it, but if not I hope that it strikes a chord in you like it did with me.  It’s a great into to system thinking (what I earned my Masters degree in).  It’s also a great way that you can think about sustainability and how you function in your real, every day life.

Annie Leonard’s “Story Of Stuff”:

If you want to purchase The Story of Stuff book or just learn more about the Story of Stuff project, click here.

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