Giving Thanks: Celebrate Thanksgiving by giving back to Mother Earth

The Pilgrims may have traveled quite a distance to celebrate the first Thanksgiving, but their food didn’t. They learned to source their sustenance locally, a tough task in a new world, and they celebrated with a feast that eventually turned into modern-day Thanksgiving.

Getting food today doesn’t require nearly as much work for most of us as it did for those Pilgrims in the 1600′s, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think about where it’s coming from.

Dinner’s Ready
Concerned about the way animals are treated? Try celebrating this year vegetarian-style. There are so many yummy meat-free foods at Thanksgiving, you may not even miss it. But if the big feast just won’t be the same without a bird on the table, look for pasture-raised, free-range turkey. This tells you that the animal lived outside, without harmful chemicals and hormones pumped into its body. Here are some other labels, classified by the World Society for the Protection of Animals, to look for when buying food:

A GOOD Start
“Cage free” (eggs)
“Free range” (eggs, chicken, goose, duck, turkey)
“Grass fed” (dairy, beef, lamb)

The “Good Start” labels indicate a meaningful animal welfare standard, but the standard covers only one aspect of animal care, and compliance with the standard is not verified by a third party.

Even BETTER
“Free range” (beef, bison, pork, lamb)
“Pasture raised” (dairy, eggs, chicken, goose, duck, turkey, beef, bison, lamb, pork)
“USDA Organic” (dairy, eggs, chicken, goose, duck, turkey, beef, bison, lamb, pork)

The “Even Better” labels generally indicate a higher level of animal welfare because the standards are more meaningful than those for the “Good Start” labels, but the standards are either not verified by a third party or cover only a limited aspect of animal care.

The BEST Options
“Certified Humane” (dairy, eggs, chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, pork)
“American Humane Certified” (dairy, eggs, chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, pork)
“Animal Welfare Approved” (dairy, eggs, chicken, turkey, duck, goose, beef, lamb, pork, rabbit)

The “Best Options” labels cover multiple aspects of animal care, and compliance with the standards is verified by an independent third party.

To get your local store to carry products with these labels, just ask. Have your friends do the same, and the store will likely listen. You can download a request card to put in a store’s comment box or mail to its headquarters.

The Ambiance
Decorate your table not with cheesy Thanksgiving-print napkins and paper plates but with pumpkins, gourds, apples, and all the other wonderful edible treats the fall season has to offer. If the thought of doing all those dishes makes you want to scrap the holiday altogether, try Preserve Tableware, an environmentally friendly alternative to the disposable stuff. The dishes and cutlery are made from 100 percent recycled plastic and are strong enough to be reused dozens of times (or just recycled when you’re done).

Top off the look with soy candles and a few sprigs of pine, and you’ll have authentic decor that would make even those who came over on the Mayflower proud.

When It’s Over
After the meal’s done and the leftovers picked through, compost the rest. Of the waste Americans send to landfills, 24 percent of it is organic waste (i.e., kitchen scraps). Keeping that waste out of landfills saves space and reduces greenhouse gas emissions, making it a win-win however you look at it. Making your own compost is easy!

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China is Drowning in Smog: One Man May Have the Solution


Air quality in China is bad, it’s really, really bad. The air quality is so poor that residents rarely see the sun and in some cities, the dense air pollution is mistaken for snow! What is causing all of the pollution? It’s coal-burning smog. And until China can ween itself from fossil fuels and implement more sustainable energy practices, other energy solutions are desperately needed. One designer named Daan Roosegaarde may have an ingenius solution.

Roosegaarde has an idea to create what he is calling an “electronic vacuum cleaner”. Copper Tesla coils buried underground would help to create an electrostatic field that would pull smog particles down from the polluted sky, creating a clear space above where sunlight could shine through.

His smog vacuum would attract pollution particles much like a strand of hair is pulled toward a statically charged balloon. Copper coils would create a field of static electric ions which would magnetize the smog, causing it to fall down to the ground below. Roosegaarde plans to capture all of the smog on the ground and compress it, hopefully making it easier to create awareness of how much smog residents are living with and to rally opposition to the causes of the polluted air.

This week Roosegaarde created a working prototype with the help of the University of Delft. They were able to take a 5×5 meter room full of smog and create a smog-free hole of one cubic meter with their device. Now the challenge is how to apply it on a grander scale. Roosegaarde would like to see it installed in parks and public spaces where everyone can enjoy a smog free sky.

Over the course of the next 12 to 18 months, Roosegaarde will be working to perfect his device and many will be watching, waiting, and hoping for his success. Roosegaarde acknowledges that the smog plaguing China is “a human problem not a technological problem” and he hopes that his smog-cleaning vacuum will help raise awareness off the issue while also taking a small step to make the air quality and quality of life a little better for the residents of China.

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Greenest Schools in America

What are a few things that come to mind when thinking of the “college experience?” Eating pizza six days a week? Writing papers the night they’re due? Those may be the more popularized experiences, but a college at its most basic is designed it to help its students learn and grow.  Some universities take this more literally than others.

Take Green Mountain College for example, #6 on Sierra Club’s 2013 list of Cool Schools. Its students were one of the first to help their college achieve climate neutrality, a truly impressive feat considering that climate neutrality means a carbon footprint of zero. This requires balancing any carbon output with an equivalent offset. It might seem simple at first, but what would this take? This would mean planting trees, reusing or recycling all trash, eating homemade produce, burning fossil fuels, and using wind or solar energy.  For Green Mountain College, they found 1.2 million kilowatt-hours in an unlikely source: cows.  Dickinson College, #2 on Sierra Club’s list, collects grease from local restaurants to turn it into biodiesel.  These colleges are taking advantage of the opportunity to craft and mold these creative young minds to tackle energy issues with their challenging and stringent sustainability courses.

However, not every sustainable solution is completely unique to each school, there are several practices that many universities share. For instance, many schools have campus-wide composting to reduce waste, enforce keeping paper and water waste low, and maintain cafeterias that serve student grown produce and utilize trayless dining. Also, many schools only build LEED Certified buildings, a certification that distinguishes a high performance green building. LEED takes many variables into account (sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, etc.) and provides a status level of Silver, Gold, or Platinum. Dickinson College only builds to LEED Gold standards.

Not only are these colleges making a positive impact on the environment, they are teaching responsible and accountable living as well as fostering a strong sense of community and teamwork. These are healthy, functional habits that a student can take and use for the rest of his or her life.  What are some of the ways you could practices what they preach? Take a look at our products to get a few ideas on how to take the first baby steps.

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Everything old is new again

Plastics recycling can have a big impact on our resources.
Shopping bags, liters of soda, cereal box lining, and lots and lots of water bottles — it’s easy to amass plastic in today’s world, given its omnipresence in the products we use. Most of that, though, goes straight into plastic trash bags and heads to a landfill. (The rate of recycling plastic bottles has held steady since the 1990s at about 24 percent.)

Why Recycle Plastic?
When contemplating whether recycling plastic is really worth it, consider the following:

– It costs more money to drink bottled water than to put gas in your car — up to five times more — due mainly to its packaging and transportation, says the Earth Policy Institute.

– Recycling 1 ton of plastic saves 7.4 cubic yards of landfill space.

– The energy we waste using bottled water would be enough to power 190,000 homes.

– More than $1 billion worth of plastic is wasted each year.

– Recycled plastic can turn into a whole host of new and useful products, including durable building and construction products, fiber for carpets, tote bags, beverage bottles, recycling bins, shipping envelopes, and tableware (cups, plates, and utensils). Dolphin Blue carries a complete line of post-consumer recycled plastic tableware, which you can find here.

How to Recycle Plastic
Fortunately, 80 percent of Americans have access to a plastics recycling program, and more than 1,600 businesses are involved in recycling post-consumer plastics. There are seven types of plastic, and not every community’s curbside program recycles all of them, so first, learn what’s what with the handy chart from the American Chemistry Council, found here. Most likely you have #1 (water bottles, peanut butter jars), #2 (plastic bags, shampoo bottles), and #6 (packing peanuts, yogurt containers).

Many stores will recycle plastic bags for you, so check with your favorite grocer, or visit PlasticBagRecycling.org for a list of locations in your state that offer drop-off bins for recycling plastic bags.

When it comes to water bottles and other containers with lids, take the tops off before throwing them in a recycling bin. Lids are usually made of a different type of plastic than bottles, and the recycling facilities aren’t going to take the time to take off billions of lids — and likely will reject the bottles for recycling.

For more information, watch a short video here about the process of recycling plastic.

The DIY Guide to Reusing Plastic
There are ways to make good use of plastic once you’re done with it other than sending it to a recycling facility. Keeping plastic bags on hand and reusing them as long as they’re functional is a great way to reduce your impact. To make it convenient, try storing bags in empty tissue or garbage-bag boxes. This keeps the clutter at bay, and it makes the bags accessible when you need them. Just pull a bag out of the parachute hole and go.

For those with an artistic side, look at plastic products in a new way and see what you can come up with. You might just end up with something as fun and elegant as these cascade chandeliers. And although crocheting is usually done with yarn, when plastic bags are the material, it’s environmentally friendly and pretty darn cool. Check out one woman’s creations here.

Last but not least, it’s simple and easy to stock your office kitchen or home pantry with Preserve Tableware, made of post-consumer recycled yogurt cups, available on Dolphin Blue’s site here.

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Infographic Friday: Think of the Hive

Although worker bees only live for approximately six weeks, they spend their entire lives performing tasks that benefit the survival of their colony. Marcus Aurelius surely understood the power and advantage of keeping a community united and working towards a common goal. He was the last of the Five Good Emperors, and is also considered one of the most important Stoic philosophers. “Alone of the emperors,” wrote the historian Herodian, “he gave proof of his learning not by mere words or knowledge of philosophical doctrines but by his blameless character and temperate way of life.”

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Germany Breaks World Record for Solar Power Generation

At Dolphin Blue we love clean, green energy! That’s why we love solar power. This past July, Germany set a world record by producing 5.1 terawatt-hours (TWh) of solar energy. To put that in perspective, a terawatt is equal to 1,000,000,000,000 (one trillion) watts or the average amount of energy that a lightning strike gives off. You get the picture; it’s a lot of energy to generate! The U.S. only produced about .764 TWh this past July, but according to market reports, U.S. solar power is on the rise.

Solar power capacity per capita in Germany was about 400 Megawatts (MW) per million people in 2012 compared to about 25 MW per million people in the U.S.  This is mainly influenced at the local, state, and national levels by countries like Germany incentivizing solar adoption through long-term policies, which have in turn helped to reduce the costs of installing solar photovoltaic (PV) power systems. In fact, the costs to install PV systems in Germany are nearly 40% lower than in the U.S.

Despite the drastic cost differences between solar power systems in the U.S. and Germany, the cost of solar modules in the U.S. is decreasing rapidly every year. In 2012, the U.S. installed a record 3,313 MW of solar power systems and the market size for the solar power industry grew from $8.6 billion the previous year to $11.5 billion.

As the U.S. continues the trend of increasing installed PV systems and solar power generation, the solar power industry will hopefully be able to reduce installation costs. As it becomes more affordable to install solar power systems, global solar energy adoption will allow us to generate clean, green electricity worldwide.

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Infographic Friday: Chief Seattle’s Inspiring Words

Former Vice President Al Gore’s book, Earth in Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit, quotes an inspirational speech from Chief Seattle of the Squamish tribe. In 1854, Chief Seattle delivered his now famous speech to Isaac Williams, then Governor of Washington, while negotiating the sale of land that would some day become the city of Seattle, later named in the chief’s honor. Chief Seattle’s speech is revered by many for its heartfelt message and focus on respect and preservation of the environment.

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Infographic Friday: Sweden Wants Your Trash

All but 4% of the trash produced in Sweden bypasses the landfill and is either recycled or used as fuel in their waste-to-energy programs.  Sweden is able to generate 20% of the energy they need to heat the country and also provide electricity for 250,000 homes.  They’re so successful in their recycling and waste-to-energy programs, they’re actually running out of trash.

Sweden has begun to import tons of trash from neighboring countries in order to gather burnable waste so they can incinerate it and create energy.  Countries like Norway are paying them to take their waste, since it’s more expensive for the Norwegians to burn the trash in their own country and they lack recycling programs.

Waste-to-energy initiatives have been introduced in Italy, Romania, Bulgaria, and Lithuania.  In the USA, 67% of our waste ends up in landfills.  Hopefully someday, we can follow in the eco-friendly footsteps of our European friends.

Sweden burns trash to create about 20 percent of its heat, but the Swedes are so diligent about recycling that the country simply isn’t generating enough waste to create the heat they need.

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Building it Green: “Holy” Wood

1-heaven's gate countertops

The Kemper Tiny House is continuing to build character, as some of the final touches to its interior are almost complete.

Brad Kittel, the owner of Tiny Texas Houses, found and salvaged some beautiful Long Leaf Pine from a Methodist Church in East Austin dating back to the 1890s. The wood was previously used as a church pew, and was originally 16 feet long without a single knot in the entire plank.

2-heaven's gate countertops close-up 3-sink side cabinets

The wood will be used to build the counter tops inside our home, and Brad has just finished cutting the wood down to size. Brad said he could hear the prayers and feel the passion of heaven’s gates while slicing through the wood. A hole will also need to be placed for our kitchen sick, which is only appropriate, since the wood is already holy.

To view more pictures of our Tiny House, please see our Facebook album

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Building it Green: Shelving & Rainwater Collection

The Kemper Tiny House almost done!

The hand-built shelfing system, where we’ll plug in our laptops, store our books, and house our music and audio, has just been completed.  Brad’s team has done an exceptional job with the detail finish work and trim, and we couldn’t be more pleased with the craftsmanship of our shelving system.

1center of bookshelf system 2kitchen cabinets3shelf system living room

In addition to the shelving, a recovered metal V-roof has just been put on our Tiny House.  It will be nice to hear the rain fall on the 80 to 100-year-old roof, and collecting the rainwater in our collection barrel.

One of the final touches on our home will be the front porch, which is almost finished as well.  Our Tiny House arrives this month, and we cannot wait to start the New Year in such as environmentally friendly, sacred structure.

To view more pictures of our Tiny House, please see our Facebook album.

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