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Browsing articles in "Caring for the Environment."
Apr
30

Choosing an Eco-Charity

We just wrapped up an Earth Day sweepstakes on Facebook, Win a Feel Good Moment, where we offered a chance to win $1000 for the non-profit of the winner’s choice. Choosing an eco-charity to support is a difficult one – there are so many great ones out there! We know this firsthand. To fulfill our 10% GiveBack Promise, we scour stacks of applications and dig deep into each organization. Here are shortcuts we’ve learned along the way to help you narrow down your choices and match up with the perfect conservation org:

1. PINPOINT YOUR CAUSE. Whether you’re interested in wildlife preservation, land conservation or climate change, there are resources to help you find an environmental org that supports your interests. Spend some time with a search engine to get a sense of the organizations out there that share your environmental concerns.

2. CHECK THEIR PERFORMANCE. Once you have a handful of organizations that speak to your eco concerns, Charity Navigator (for larger charities) and Better Business Bureau Giving Alliance (for local giving) are great places to dig deeper. These sites offer free tools to evaluate the financials, accountability and transparency of non-profits. With a few simple clicks, you’ll know which charities are trustworthy.

3. GET TO KNOW THEM, THEN JOIN THEM. Now that you’ve honed in on groups that mesh with your ideals, visit their websites. Sign up for their newsletters. Follow them on social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc). You’ll quickly gain an understanding of the scope of their work and involvement with their members. A good match will make you feel good, excited and involved in making an impact.

What advice would you give to someone who’s looking for a charity to support? Comment below and share your experiences.

 

Oct
3

Swap This Halloween

Halloween is right around the corner.  Time to start thinking about costumes!  Instead of buying, consider a more eek-o-minded approach.  Saturday, October 8th is National Costume Swap Day™ – a planet friendly way to get kids recycling in the funniest way possible – trading (reusing) princess gowns, witch’s hats and superhero capes!

Costume swaps or making your own costumes from materials you have on hand means less resources, less packaging and less waste.  Wrap your mind around this fact: swapping (aka reusing) just half the costumes kids wear at Halloween would reduce annual landfill waste by 6,250 tons!  It also means you can be original and decide exactly what you want to be for Halloween.  Imagine trying to find a tornado costume at a big box store!

DIY Tornado Costume

  • black t-shirt and pants
  • masking tape
  • assorted small tornado victims (leaves, toy tractor, barnyard animal figures)

Wrap masking tape up one pant leg (crinkle tape a bit for authentic tornado texture!). Repeat with t-shirt, wrapping tape in a spiral up to neck.  Tie assorted toys and figures to short bits of fishing line.  Tie fishing lined tornado victims to random spots on t-shirt and pants. Muss up child’s hair and brush a bit of dusty brown eyeshadow across face to complete the transformation!

Swaps can be as simple as getting together with a few neighbors or as large as a citywide event; check Costume Swap’s site to find local swaps you can attend.  No matter the size of your event, a costume swap is the perfect way to save the resources it takes to create new costumes.  Plus, trading costumes saves you money!  Check out this incredibly cute video; twin brothers, Tristin and Tyler, show you how it’s done.

Find more ways to green up your holiday at Green Halloween®.

Sep
12

Plant That Opened My Eyes

Did you ever notice that when it comes to spreading awareness about endangered species, animals get the lion’s share of the attention?  Most anyone can easily rattle off five threatened animal species…but can you name a plant species in need of protection?

My 5-year old can.  Armed with knowledgement about his current obsession, carnivorous plants, he informed me that his favorite plant (the oh-so-amazing Venus flytrap) was a threatened species and needed our protection.  He’s right.  As I learned more, my eyes were opened to a whole new world of species in need.

According to the Encyclopedia of Earth, over 8,000 plant species worldwide are officially threatened or endangered – and that number grows daily.  Between one-fourth and one-half of all plants are at some risk.  In the United States alone, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists 795 plant species as threatened or endangered.  A disturbing matter because plants provide essential, life sustaining ecosystems with oxygen, food, medicines, building materials, textiles and habitats.  Not to mention their beauty.

Just as it would be deplorable and tragic if, say, chimpanzees became extinct during our lifetime (a loss that is a real possibility, researchers warn), our world wouldn’t be the same without species like the black bat flower, monkey puzzle tree…or the Venus Flytrap.

My carnivorous plant-loving son with his purple pitcher plant, another threatened species.

Want to become famiiar with endangered plants in your area?  Visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Threatened and Endangered List and select your state.

Jun
27

Beach Etiquette

Photo image by Hitchster via Flickr Creative Commons

With summer here, my mind has turned to planning our annual family beach trip.  Images of building sandcastles, splashing in the surf and long walks on the beach fill my daydreams as I count down the days till vacation.  As a mom of a nature-embracing little boy, I aim to pass along ways to play and explore the beach that make sure this fragile ecosystem is protected from his well-meaning, oh-so-curious hands.

LOOK AND RELEASE

It’s fun (and educational) to scoop crabs and other sea creatures into a bucket to observe.  Just keep in mind that these guys need water to breathe.  Even with water in your bucket, a crab will only last 20 minutes before it begins to suffocate.  Look – then let them go.

DON’T ROCK IT!

Wondrous discoveries can be made by looking under rocks in tide pools.  Just be sure to lift rocks straight up (so you don’t accidentally crush critters hiding underneath) and replace the rocks gently, leaving them as you found them.  Many beach creatures find cool, moist homes under rocks, logs and seaweed.  If you move or take their home. they might not survive.  Check out this video for a rock lifting demonstration.

CLINGING FOR A REASON

Starfish, mussels and other clingy creatures survive waves and predators by hanging tightly to rocks and wharf pilings.  If picked off a rock or perch, they rarely survive.

DUNES ARE SENSITIVE

Use dune walk-overs and designated beach access points to cross dunes.  This fights erosion by protecting the plants that hold the dunes in place.  Dunes are also a popular spot for sea turtle nests and should not be disturbed.

What am I missing?  Share other ways we can protect and preserve beaches by leaving a comment below.

Jun
20

Be a Bird Nerd

Photo image by gareth1953 via Flickr Creative Commons

Bring your backyard to life

As I write, I am listening to the clear, fluted sound of a couple of Black-Capped Chickadees coupled with the metallic chirp of a Northern Cardinal.  It’s relaxing, entertaining and satisfying to the nature-lover in me to devote the backyard to the birds.  Habitat restoration is vital for wild birds and other wildlife due to commerical and residential infringement on natural areas.  Your backyard (or if space is limited – your balcony!) is one place where you can easily make a difference.  All you need to do is provide 4 basic elements:

FOOD

You can help secure a food supply for birds by planting shrubs and trees that produce seeds, fruits, nuts and nectar.  This is a sure fire way to make your yard attractive to birds for years to come.  Here’s a list to give you planting ideas.  Bird feeders (seed, nectar, suet) make it super easy to provide a helping hand to the birds throughout the year.  Plus, you can position a feeder in a prime spot for bird watching.  Just be sure to place it near a tree or shrub – birds like cover from predators while feeding and a place to perch while waiting for a turn at the feeder.

WATER

Water is an important part of your backyard habitat.  A pedestal bird bath or shallow water dish placed at ground level will provide the necessary water for drinking and bathing.  Replace the water every few days to keep it fresh and clean.  Although this is a bit of extra work, it is well worth it.  A water source can dramatically increase the number and type of wild birds that visit your yard.  Plus it is totally entertaining to watch birds splash around in the water.  Be sure to place the bird bath where you can view it from indoors.  For more tips on supplying water, click here.

SHELTER

Shelter will turn your yard from a place where birds visit to a place where birds live.  Birds need places to hide from predators and the weather.  Plant evergreen trees and shrubs that provide year round cover.  Large rocks, stumps, ground cover and brush piles offer a welcome haven for ground feeding birds.

PLACE TO RAISE THEIR YOUNG

With more and more destruction of natural habitats, birds are having trouble finding nesting and roosting sites.  Bluebirds, purple martins and woodpeckers are struggling to find places to raise their young.  Go here to find specifications for birdhouses that will suit the birds you wish to attract.  You can put birdhouses up any time of the year; when not in use for nesting, many birds will use them for a place to sleep in cold weather.

Now that you’re a bird nerd…

Once you have your backyard habitat established, treat yourself to a field guide or mobile app (I use iBird) to help you learn about and identify your new feathered friends.  You can also participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count to help scientists create a real-time snapshot of where birds are across the continent.  On Twitter?  Search #birdnerd to see what other bird watchers are tweeting.

Special thanks to my friend, Stephanie, a fellow bird nerd, for the post idea.

Which birds frequent YOUR backyard?  Let’s compare birding notes (include your State in the comment to make it more interesting)!

May
26

Passing Along the Prize

By Guest Blogger  //  Caring for the Environment.  //  3 Comments

Meet Natalie Patton, winner of Endangered Species Chocolate/Whole Foods Market’s ‘Indulge in a Cause’ photo contest.  Natalia offered to guest blog and share her experience of seeking out and selecting the receipient of the contest’s grand prize $5,000 donation.  Her passion is contagious!

I’ve wondered it, I can promise you have too and wouldn’t we all just like to know?  I mean, just exactly how many chocolate bars qualify as a years worth of chocolate?  Like you, I was not entirely sure, but it peaked my interest enough to submit a photograph to the Endangered Species Chocolate and Whole Foods photo contest.  Because let’s face it, chocolate is quite the compelling force.  And $5,000 to go toward my favorite environmentally focused non-profit?  Say no more!  Submission here I come.

A patch of green in a concrete jungle

I find myself in a squished, but comfortable apartment with my childhood best friend.  We live in the midst of a concrete jungle of white cement and bricks smeared with dirt and soot reusing to leave any space un-smogged.  If you came for a short visit, the tour would be incredilby short lived, since you can see it all by standing in the entrance.  So instead, I would direct your attention outside.  I would tempt you to wander up to the roof of our apartment building and tell you to keep wandering around to the back corner.  Because in that back corner there is a little color, curve and life in the midst of great gray and squareness.

And it is precisely that back corner that intrigued my lens one afternoon.  The submitted photo is of my friend doing a little weeding of our roof-top garden.  It’s not much, but we are becoming quite attached to our tomato, pepper and strawberry plants.

Indulge in a cause (getting involved and asking questions)

Thanks to my roommate’s web-surfing, some persuasive encouragement, Endangered Species Chocolate and Whole Foods, and some serious voting from the world of Facebook, I found myself, only a few short days after submitting my roof-top garden photo, sitting with an email in my inbox telling me the news:  my photo had won the contest.  As I sat staring at the email, I realized I had an incredible opportunity at my finger tips.  Yes, of course the years supply of chocolate, but the donation?

As a recent college grad, this amount of money seemed extraordinarily astronomical, but that’s probably because the only people seeing any of my income with significant digits (or any multiple zeros with commas) is the US government – thanks student loans.  Needless to say, this sum of money seemed to possess great potential for good.

So where to begin?  How can one begin to narrow down all the wonderfully worthy environmentally focused non-profits out there?  And how does one go about giving away money?  Which non-profit would use it best?  How can one be sure the money will be spent wisely and efficiently?

Now, I should tell you, I know what it’s like to be one of the many voices advocating for the important work done day in and day out at a non-profit.  I know the feelings that possess the gut when seeking to form the proper words for writing that one grant; when every ounce of energy dripping with the deepest depths of sincerity, believing beyond passionately that this organization should receive that money.  Those feelings are familiar.

I had never been the one with the money.  At least, not until last week.

Embracing a Passion: Urban Gardening Efforts

So…where to begin?  Food is important to both my friend and I.  The growing of food, to the fair treatment and pay to the farmers who grew the food, to the proper respect given to the land from where the food was grown – all of these things I care deeply about.  So immediately, we knew that if our photo won the contest, we would choose to have the money go toward sustainable urban gardening efforts.

Now I am a born and bred Mid-west, Minnesota native.  Raised just outside the city center hub of Minneapolis, St. Paul.  I knew immediately that I wanted the money to go to a local grassroots organization located within the city.

After some digging and emails to various non-profit directors, Youth Farm and Market Program caught and held me and my friend’s attention.  Their main goal is to empower kids through the process of growing food in several urban gardens.

Youth Farm and Market Program (YFMP) is about connecting locally produced food to the neighborhood communities from wich it was grown.  They are about educating youth, living in urban neighborhoods, in gardening, nutrition and entrepreneurship skills.   By seeing this young and growing generation and what ideas and dreams they have to offer their communities.  YFMP is empowering young voices to be advocates and leaders within their own communities. 

Since YFMP is such a community based organization, the Executive Director, Gunnar Linden, confidently assured that every dollar of the donation would go directly toward achieving said goal of growing food as a medium to develop youth in the community.  Whether that be supporting the costs of adding two new neighborhood gardens this summer or supporting Powderhorn Project LEAD where youth are taking part in paid internships, or finally being able to buy that truck they’ve been needing.  All options are signs of exciting growth of a great organization.

There is a video of YFMP in action on their website.  I encourage you to watch this video, particularly the last interview with a wee girl, because she says it best.  When asked why she came back for another year of youth Farm Camp, her gentle, whispered response is, “Because, it was like te funnest summer I ever had.”

But don’t take my word for it.  Learn more about the great and inspiring work they are doing on their website.  Visit www.youthfarm.net

To Endangered Species Chocolate and Whole Foods – thank you for this incredible opportunity.  To Youth Farm and Market Program – keep working, learning, growing and empowering.  Your work is important.  To the rest of you – if you are still curious about what a year’s worth of chocolate might look like…check out the evidence.

‘Involved’ asks: What criteria do you consider when choosing to donate to a non-profit?  Are there any tools you find helpful to narrow down selections for your donations?  How does giving make you feel?  Share thoughts and ideas by commenting below.

May
6

Eco Chores

As I find more and more ways to green up my life, I find that there are some eco-minded acts I relish more than others.  I may not LOVE all the eco chores on my To Do list – but I incorporate them into my family’s life because the actions reflect how we want to support the planet.

→  Rinsing out peanut butter and jelly jars before tossing them in the recycle bin?  *grumble, grumble, complain*

→  Hitting myself over the head when I forget to BYOBag on shopping trips?  Ugh, now I have to lug those horrid plastic bags home, hanging my head in shame.

→  And taking kitchen scraps out to the compost bin?  According to my husband, I put this chore off till the last minute each and every week.

But enough about the small handful of eco-tasks that I don’t totally dig!  There is a long list of green-minded habits that I find inspiring, enjoyable and – dare I say – indulgent.  Finding ways to help the planet that mesh with your personal interests is a great way to nurture a lasting commitment to being green.

→  As a girl that likes to get her hands dirty, I find it a fun, educational challenge to raise my flowers and vegetables organically.  And all those drought-resistant native plants I planted over the years?  They give me a beautiful backyard that requires little to no watering or maintenance.

→  Biking is an excellent way to reduce my carbon footprint – but really, pedaling home from work is a rather selfish act that allows me to arrive home refreshed and stress free.

→  Shopping at our local farmer’s market tests my budding culinary skills as I create a meal from the organic produce available that day.  It also is a great way to spead a Saturday morning outdoors with my family.

Next on my list of Earth-friendly chores to employ are putting up a backyard clothes line and joining an environmental advocacy group in my area.  Being environmentally aware isn’t all about the mundane daily tasks (note to self – remember to buy energy-efficient bulb for front porch light!), it’s about finding creative, fun ways to incorporate green acts into your lifestyle.  Want to see how other’s do it?  Check out the photo entries in Whole Foods and Endangered Species Chocolate’s “Indulge in a Cause” photo contest.  Vote for your favorite by May 13th; the grand prize winner receives $5,000 to donate to the eco-charity of their choice and a year of chocolate from ESC.

What eco-tasks do you find not all that thrilling?  Which ones do you truely embrace and enjoy?  Share with us by commenting below.

Apr
11

An Eco Easter Basket


With Earth Day (April 22) so close to Easter, join me in nixing the traditional basket filler and hunt for goodies that encourage an appreciation of nature.  I’m pretty confident my outdoorsy, totally-curious-about-the-world 4-year old son will love it.

Reducing by Reusing

It really surprises me to learn that lots of folks trash their baskets after Easter.  Think of all of those sad, pastel baskets sitting in landfills for eons – discarded and forgotten.  And don’t get me started on those (soulless) cellophane wrapped pre-filled baskets you see in big box stores!  The Easter Bunny is way more creative and nature-conscious than that.

Growing up, my brother and I always reused the same baskets year after year.  Lots of memories tied to those baskets!    It was like seeing an old friend when my parents would pull my basket out of the attic each spring.  Believe it or not, my mom also saved and reused our Easter basket grass from year to year.  Her reasoning was rooted in saving money and getting the most use out of everything.  My mom’s example fits right in to my environmental outlook on life (not to mention my budget).  I bought a sturdy natural woven basket and a couple of bundles of green recycled paper grass for my son’s first Easter – and – four years later, we are still making holiday memories with them.

Gifts that last

As I set out shopping to help the Easter Bunny find gifts to fill my child’s basket, I noticed that some stores set out a dizzying array of disposable trinkets as filler for baskets.  The Easter-specific toys I spied seemed like they’d last a week before breaking.  Needless to say, I was uninspired.

With Earth Day in mind, I aimed to seek out items that would be fun, useful and encourage our kid to get outside and commune with nature.  Here are some of the ideas I thought up; share yours  too – I still have some room in the basket to fill.

Books about bugs, butterflies, birds can open up a young one’s eyes to the importance of conservation.

Springtime is a good time to replenish art supplies – a quality sketchpad and colored pencils could help a young artist to bloom.

A colorful water bottle can keep your kid hydrated and keep plastic out of landfills.

Encourage your young one to dig nature by tucking a few flower, herb or vegetable seed packets into their basket.

Look for organic, all-natural sweets made with ingredients sourced with care.  I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Endangered Species Chocolate’s organic, dark and milk chocolate Bug Bites.  *smile*  It’s chocolate that not only tastes indulgent and contains ingredients I can feel good about giving my child – it funds species conservation, promotes fair trade and encourages sustainable cacao farming.

Comment below and tell us how you green up Easter!  Or add other eco-minded Easter basket ideas to our list.

Mar
7

Bitter About Litter

Who are these people?  What kind of person has such apathy – such a basic lack of fundamental respect?  Who do they think is going to pick that up?

These questions ricocheted around my brain last week as I turned into the road leading to my house.  A trail of trash littered the entire right hand side for a good 50 feet.  Having this eyesore so close to home made me mad, sad and embarrassed.  Not only was it a bad reflection on my neighborhood, it was also an ugly reminder that there are people that just don’t think or care about the health of our planet.

Instead of spending the day seething, I decided to get involved.  Donning a pair of gloves that I usually reserve for more pleasant pastimes (gardening), I set out to set things right.  Sticky plastic cups, random paper scraps, discarded fast food wrappers and other bits too miserable to mention were taken out of nature and put in their place.  I filled an entire trash bag during my 15-minute walk.

Looking back down the now clean stretch of road, I felt protective.  Woe to the person that tosses trash on MY street!  (OK, who am I kidding – I’m not a confrontational person…I’ll just quietly be back out there, picking up others’ laziness)   Although, according to Keeping America Beautiful, I may not have to.  One of the strongest contributors to littering is the prevalence of existing litter.  Picking up litter is one sure fire way to make a positive impact.  I am now totally tuned in to litter.  I see it everywhere (a mixed blessing of sorts) and you can bet I’m out there picking it up and putting it in its place!

Share your thoughts on litter; leave me a comment – let’s commiserate and cheer each other on!

Mar
1

Windy Chocolate

Walk into our production facility and you’ll see a shiny, metallic maze of tanks, tubes and tracks that continuously melt, move and wrap chocolate bars that support conservation.  How do we power all of those chocolate-filled machines?  With wind!  100% of the electrical energy used to power our office, warehouse and production facility comes from clean, green wind power.  This renewable energy source is harvested from wind farms here in Indian, purchased through Indianapolis Power & Light Green Power Option.

In order to make a commitment to renewable energy, we needed to find room in our budget.  Interestingly enough, our investment  in wind power was made possible by greening up our energy usage.  A 2009 power audit prompted us to make smart improvements to our HVAC system – which reduced Endangered Species Chocolate’s energy consumption by 40%.  A small portion of this savings was all that was needed to invest in purchasing 100% renewable energy for our building.  Endangered Species Chocolate has been an EPA Green Power Partner ever since!

Our annual green power purchase eliminates 501 metric tons of CO2 emissions associated with our purchased electricity – that’s the equivalent of taking 110 cars off the road every year.  Buying green power is truly one of the easiest and most effective ways we’ve improved our facility’s environmental performance.

Comment and share how you’ve reduced energy consumption in your home or office.

THE TWEET FEED