Posts Tagged ‘corporations’

WordPress: The Gift that Keeps on Giving

For quite some time, I have been telling myself that I need to get out there and do volunteering in the (minimal) free time that I have. And this past Friday I found a way to do that in such a way that it coincided with my workday and allowed me to not only use my techinical skills to help those in need to…help others in need–but also it served as a professional development tool for myself. I’ve posted on my company’s Full Spectrum Blog but wanted to cross-post here as well:

If you know a thing or two about the Internet, chances are you’ve heard of WordPress. As of August 2011, it was estimated that 22 percent of all new websites in the world were powered by WordPress. It continues to win awards for being the best open source CMS (content management system) out there. I’m blogging on a WordPress-powered blog right now, hosted on a WordPress site. You could even call us WordPress super fans here at Spectrum. Put simply, I often feel that within this scary tangled web we weave, there is true solace to be found in WordPress…

Anyhow–last Friday I had the pleasure of working alongside Anthony Braddy to lead a group of small nonprofits through some of the in’s and out’s of building a WordPress website. The workshop was just one session within a larger Pro Bono Consulting Lounge held at Artisphere, hosted and made possible by DC Week.

In my opinion, this event is a highlight of DC Week, because it allows local organizations to get their hands dirty learning these practical skills, and provides them with free consulting, which they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford. Sitting through a panel or a keynote speech can be inspirational, but it can also be overwhelming and may not get into the step-by-step people need to make things happen. When building a website, the problem isn’t just that a professional site can cost anywhere from $500 to $10,ooo to build out–it’s that once it is built, it’s left in the hands of an organization that may not know how to update it. This consulting lounge was built to empower these groups on a personal level.

I was able to work one-on-one with the D.C. Jobs Council to begin transitioning them to a WordPress-based site within the next few months. They’re starting from square one, so we spent a good deal of time talking about what the purpose(s) of the site would be and what the priorities were in terms of content on the site, and then explored theme options that would best work within this and began working through how to customize them.

One of the best parts about teaching others about the kind of thing you work with on a daily basis is that you begin to learn exactly what you don’t know yourself. I’m admittedly not a web developer in the vaguest sense of the word. But given the task of thinking like one, I made connections about how things work that I hadn’t made before; reverse-engineering your thinking really helps you become a better teacher. I also realized I might need to pick up this bad boy, the WordPress Bible (I suggest this as a great resource for anyone interested, beginner or otherwise) for more complicated projects.

While it’s arguably the simplest CMS out there to work with, you can never really stop learning new ways to use WordPress. Which is good, because then you can always pay it forward to the next guy who needs help.

I’ll check back in soon with my version of a “handy guide” you might find helpful for getting on your feet with WordPress.

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Bill McDonough’s “Cradle to Cradle” redesigns how we think about sustainability

Rewriting our design assignment

“And to use something as elegant as a tree?
Imagine this design assignment:
Design something that
makes oxygen,
sequesters carbon,
fixes nitrogen,
distills water,
makes complex sugars and foods,
changes colors with the seasons,
and self-replicates.
…and then why don’t we knock that down
and write on it?”
~ William McDonough

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Here is what Bill McDonough proposes is our ultimate design assignment.

Circles & triangles

Last night was a bit of a “full circle moment” for me, not only as a student learning about environmental issues and sustainability, but as a citizen of the world. I got to meet a hugely influential person in my life, Bill McDonough, author of Cradle to Cradle (co-authored by Michael Braungart). I first read this book when I was 19 years old and staying on Nantucket with a family I nannied for. I went in a bookstore in town with the kids and they were giving away copies of it for free.

Hm. I thought. Well, that’s interesting. And I’m not one to turn down anything that is free. This book was also so smooth, pretty, different from other books (it’s made of polypropylene paper, is 100% recyclable, is more durable, has pages that don’t wrinkle/tear, and iswater-proof). I read it in three trips to the beach and ever since then, I’ve been interested in sustainability. I had never read anything like it before. It taught me the backstory of why we are where we are today (a rudimentary concept—the industrial revolution brought us here—but at the time, I knew next to nothing about this.) But it also made me think. It made me look around and see the way we do things and ask myself, “But wait, why don’t we do it this way, and then we don’t have to this problem or that problem AND we get this benefit and that benefit.”

Basic case in point: You can carry your groceries home in reusable bags, because they reduce unnecessary waste and buildup of plastic in our landfills and ecosystems. But you can also carry your groceries home in reusable bags, because carrying heavy objects over your shoulders makes your life easier and prevents loaded plastic bags from cutting off the circulation in your fingers as you carry them.

Just that story of how I came upon this book sort of mirrors exactly what Bill is all about: for me, a free book changed my life. Cradle-to-cradle design isn’t about making things more expensive or more difficult or less fun or less aesthetically pleasing or less loving. It’s not even about creating equitable and ecologically friendly ways of doing things in ways that fail to promote economic growth. He believes in the importance and power of the economy, equity, ecology as they can co-exist and work together. This is a relatively well-known concept in the field of development and the first thing we talked about in my Environment & Development class this year, but it’s not a balance often achieved in design.

Benefits of a cradle-to-cradle approach within food systems

ECONOMY

  • More local agricultural jobs, less power concentration in hands of CEO’s/more in hands of people => more jobs, more money in the hands of people
  • More vibrant local economies => less hunger, less sickness, less violence
  • More vibrant local economies => more vibrant cultural activity => thriving people

ECOLOGY

  • Less soil nutrient depletion and erosion
  • More places for species to live and thrive, instead of less
  • Less waste, less use of packaging, less transportation/fuel needed, less carbon dioxide emitted => more up-cycling => best use of natural resources => healtheir ecosystems => survival of all species

EQUITY

  • Better food security and food access due to independence from industrial food systems elsewhere & less disparity between the have’s of fresh, local food and the have-not’s with processed, unhealthy foods
  • Better tasting, healthier, less processed, more nutrient rich, less pesticide/harsh chemical-laden food
  • Healthier people => happier people


Drawbacks to a cradle-to-cradle approach within food systems

Yeah. Cost-benefit analyze that one. Which is sort of the whole idea. If there is a drawback, it’s not really cradle-to-cradle design.

“The God is in the details”

The really fabulous thing for me and other American University students, is that Bill is the architect that designed our new School of International Service building. And he did so in a way that combined these three benefits, saying that, “the God is in the details.” Meaning that all of the parts that make up the whole of this transparent, innovative, progressive building, “where people can dream,” are working together in their own way, in a good way, to make things “more good,” instead of “less bad”. From the 100% recyclable carpeting and other building materials to the waste management system, from the rain collectors and solar panels on the roof to the underground parking garage that gives priority parking first to cyclists (and has shower rooms available for them), then motorcyclists, then hybrid vehicles, and last, other vehicles.

I had a few questions I would have loved to ask Bill, but I chose something specific, “Are there any plans in place to evolve other buildings on campus?” The short answer from the dean was basically, “There sure will be. We need funding first.” Which gets back to that triangle corner of economy. If it’s not economically viable, it doesn’t fit the cradle-to-cradle design question:

But the economic viability aspect is also a huge asset to cradle-t0-cradle design, and to agribusiness in general, simply because this is what businesses and corporations are solely interested in. So in order to convince them, all the “cradle-to-cradle minded” designer needs to do is convince them that they will save money, or that they will be able to make more money, and then they are basically obligated to embrace it. It would go against the basic law of capitalism not to.

Cradle-to-cradle is the sort of design model that we need to use for our food production AND our food waste upcycling in our cities, because one cannot exist in a well-designed system without the other. Local food production via green roofs, composting in homes and buildings, using that compost on the green roofs of the homes and buildings–this isn’t rocket science, it’s just, as Bill would say, interesting.

In one of my next entries I will go over some of these “details” in more detail, and talk about how they can work together to encompass sustainably designed and developed food systems within cities and habitats for humans and all other life.

Evolving design

The most important thing to remember is that that doesn’t mean cradle-to-cradle design is ever perfect. In fact, McDonough recognizes it is not ever perfect. Really, design must be constantly evolving as different methods and technologies become more economically viable and approaches are made more equitable while still remaining ecologically beneficial. What works now will have to work better in the future.

Just like all organisms must evolve to survive, so must humans, and so must the systems that we create and rely on.

After all…

“Sustainability takes forever. And that’s the point.” – William McDonough

Making connections: sustainable development panel a success

OK so I have been meaning to post about the health care bill for, well, since it was passed. But a lot has been going on. Some not very fun things have been going on. Everything is a little overwhelming and this blog has been taking the back burner.

Photo Credit: Phillip Ochs

Photo Credit: Phillip Ochs

Photo Credit: Phillip Ochs

However, I have also been busy with things that are great. Over the past week or two, a couple classmates and I planned and executed a fantastic panel discussion with John Wanda, founder of the Arlington Academy of Hope, Nicole Hewitt of the Institute for Sustainable Communities, and Andrea Bachmann, who organized an alt break trip to Colombia. The best part about the event aside from our three amazing speakers, was the connection that one of the students in the audience made with John Wanda about solar ovens. Recently, there was a tragic landslide in Uganda that buried over 400 people. These sorts of landslides are often a result of flooding in areas that have been deforested. The areas have been deforested largely because there is no electricity, and electricity is used to power ovens. One student shared information about solar ovens, which use the power of the sun to heat up an oven to 200-350 degrees, making for a sustainable method for heating food without having to deforest. We are going to see if we can organize something on campus with a solar oven cook-off.

Photo Credit: Phillip Ochs

Very exciting developments. I love passionate people. And I love the power of conversation. It was a really beautiful thing to see those connections happening.

Stay tuned for my HCR post soon 😉

An ode to water and a call to action

Reporter: “Water is awesome. Do you know how I know? Because I’m 70 percent water, and I am awesome.”

(Recent quote on one of my favorite sites ever, Overheard in the Newsroom.)

Food and water, they go hand in hand. Basically all food is made up of a huge percentage of water. Water sustains us. You can survive for weeks without eating (theoretically—I mean, I can’t survive until noon without eating). But after just a couple days without water, your body will start to go into some serious shock. In fact, the other day at The Eagle office, the water wasn’t working in the building at all (no idea why), and not only was I super de-hydrated, I felt like my rights as an individual were being taken away!

Unfortunately, water has also been exploited over the past 50 or so years. I am talking about the bottled water industry and the privatization of water. As is customary with the human race, we have managed to take a basic, simple resource and life sustainer and found a way to make a profit at the expense of the environment and our health.

So today I am asking you to do a few things:

  1. If you haven’t already, pledge to give up bottled water. Just, do it. I’m not even going to go into details here because chances are you know all the reasons why bottled water is the devil. Check out Janine’s post on all the reasons you’re a freaking idiot if you are still purchasing bottled water. And check this out for tips on choosing a water filter. If you live in a city with not-so-great water, as I do, it’s helpful. I use a Brita but there’s plenty of other options.
  2. Once you do that, go on Facebook and make this your profile picture…and then go here and find out more about World Water Day on March 22nd. 
  3. Mosey over to Diana’s site and participate in Project Hydrate and pledge to drink more water—from the tap, of course. 😉
  4. Educate yourself on how private control of water hurts consumers and helps no one except giant corporations.
  5. Tell a friend, link back to this, or post something on your blog about the upcoming World Water Day.

Do you still drink bottled water? Be honest. If so, why? Let’s get to the bottom of this!

Happy drinking from the tap!

Industrial food lies at the heart of childhood obesity problem

The thing I really enjoy about writing my column in The Eagle this year is that I am finding so many areas I can tie into health. There is just so much to talk about when it comes to health beyond the obvious diet and fitness. There’s body image as I discussed last time, there’s positive psychology, there’s the financial side of keeping healthy, there the health of your skin and other preventative care—I’ve covered a lot of areas so far this semester. It has sort of made me consider that maybe editorial is in my future. But, who knows.

Image: aka*kirara

Anyhow, this most recent column deals with the politics behind our industrial food system on the level of school lunches. Many people aren’t aware, but the standards the USDA has set for the food that goes toward the National School Lunch Program are worse than those that even Burger King has in place in terms of quality and safety. I think it is appalling how we are so surprised about the obesity epidemic when it is clear that all we have been feeding children, specifically those from the lower class segments of this country, is garbage. We’ve been feeding our children garbage, and now they are quite literally dying, many from early-onset diabetes, a condition they will have to medicate for the rest of their shortened lives at the contentment of the pharmaceutical companies, and at the expense of our already crippled health care system. It is just a mess.

But I think there are some solutions, and I touch on a few of those at the end. This column is really what this blog is all about and I am excited to be able to share it in the paper. Hopefully it will help get a few more people interested in finding out more about the problem.

I don’t know about anyone else, but this spring break could not have come at a better time. Speaking of health, I have been neglecting mine recently—I haven’t been to yoga in a week and I’ve been sleeping an average of 3 hours a night 😦 . I’m not going anywhere special, or even home to Florida for this break. Just hanging here in D.C., doing the usual routine minus just my classes on Wednesday. Hopefully the weather will begin warming up and I can take a run outside a few times or something. And I also hope to do more reading for this independent study and really buckle down with it. Hope everyone has a lovely spring break, if it’s that time for you. 🙂

If there were only more farmers like Joel Salatin in this world…

I’m getting through the meat of The Omnivore’s Dilemma (both literally and figuratively), and I have found myself particularly interested and moved by the section where Pollan interviews and lives with Joel Salatin and his family for a week. Salatin is a man I have heard speak quite passionately in the past about the topic of sustainable food production and bringing consumers together with their farmers, so they know where their food is coming from.

Joel Salatin, self-described libertarian, environmentalist and Christian lunatic, argues there is “no salvation to be had through legislation.” He argues that it is government subsidies and USDA requirements that make real food produced by local, small-scale farmers so expensive. He’s right. Small, organic farms must follow the same regulations as corporate organic farms (you know, like the ones that supply to Whole Foods)–which often means buying hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment that smaller scale farms really don’t need. In fact, Salatin has had his meat inspected by a lab before to test the bacteria load, it’s far smaller than that of any supermarket meat. These regulations explain why food from small farms is more expensive–their output is tiny by comparison to factory farms, but they’re still expected to buy the “necessary equipment” and pay for a USDA meat inspector.

On top of all this, Salatin and small farmers like him are not receiving government subsidies like large farms do, because they aren’t producing commodity crops.

Salatin essentially answers the questions I posed in my recent post about the small scale movement for better, “more real” fast food, which were: Do we try to fix what is broken, or start from scratch? Do we try to convince traditional fast food chains to clean up their acts or just hope they go out of business when they are not able to keep up with the consumer demand for healthier, safer, more sustainable food?

Salatin’s answer is to empower individuals with the right philosophy and information to opt out–that is, to stop supporting big agriculture and start supporting local farmers–collectively:

“…Make no mistake: it’s happening. The mainstream is splitting into smaller and smaller groups of like-minded people. It’s a little like Luther nailing his 95 theses up at Wittenberg. Back then it was the printing press that allowed the Protestants to break off and form their own communities; now it’s the Internet, splintering us into tribes that want to go their own way.

“…An alternative food system is rising up on the margins. One day, Frank Perdue and Don Tyson are going to wake up and find that their world has changed. It won’t happen over night, but it will happen, just as it did for those Catholic priests who came to church one Sunday morning only to find that, my goodness, there aren’t as many people in the pews today. Where in the world has everybody gone?”

So, how do we go from here? Well, if you are reading this right now, then I guess we’re already on our way. It takes conversations like this. It takes acting on the knowledge that we have. It takes getting mad enough about how screwed up everything is, and then opting for what is real, what is better for us. Salatin doesn’t even talk much about lobbying efforts and trying to change the government, although it’s clear that he believes much of the problems lie in the hands of the government. However, he sees the power of the individual as stronger, he believes individual choice is strong enough–what you choose to buy and eat makes a huge statement. Speaking of which, you can find all the restaurants Polyface supplies here on his Web site. OK, maybe I am looking at some of the menus online currently. Maybe my mouth is watering.

I guess this as good a time as any to also mention that this whole concept gets at quite an inner struggle I have been having ever since I began learning more about our broken food system and that is this fundamental question: is government the cause of all of the problems or can it be the solution? At my internship, more often than not, F&WW sides with the idea that more government regulation, oversight, ownership, and management is what will keep our food and water out of the hands of corporations who have little in mind about our health or safety and everything in mind about their bottom line. But they also do understand that the USDA is far from perfect. And their anti-corporate stance certainly does not translate to anti-small-farmer trying to make a profit in order to stay alive, just as Joel Salatin’s libertarian anti-government-regulation of small farm organic stance doesn’t make him an anarchist. But still, I struggle with this debate. What do you think?

Next up on my reading agenda is Jonathan Safran Foer’s, Eating Animals, which explores the atrocities of factory farming. But, on a personal note, while I haven’t eaten meat in over eight years, I truly believe in the possibility for animals to live a full and happy life and then go on to serve as an energy source for humans, as they do on Polyface Farm. And as a testament to how much I truly believe in what Salatin is doing, I think I’d actually go out on a limb here, and while the thought of this may actually make me feel slightly physically ill…I’d eat a steak from the Polyface farm. I might even eat a pork chop.

S.O.S.: This is a global call.

You better make a stand
You better make it now
Take back your rights from the IMF, World Bank and Monsanto

When they wage war on you, you lay asleep
When they poison your food, you choose to drink
There’s poison in the well!
– Anti-flag

While I was down in Florida last week, for the first time I started to notice advertisements for the genetic engineering company Monsanto, who “pledges to be part of the solution.” Perhaps, if you define “the solution” as pumping bodies full of genetically engineered foods while the profits of food items (which are steadily increasing due to the price gouging of seeds sold by said company to farmers) are pumped into the hands of one corporation, and our already dwindling farmland is wiped out even more. We shop at grocery stores because it is a) convenient and b) cheap. I am terrified to see how “cheap” food will be in ten years, even 5 years, as farmland disappears more and more. We all know the basic principle of supply and demand. Monsanto won’t care, they will have what they need–control of the seeds (our food), control of the government which essentially taxes and regulates agriculture (our food) and control of the people who do the farming, because they can no longer afford to farm any other way.

When a friend of mine and I went to the Green Festival about a month ago, we met Joel Salatin, the author of Everything I Want to Do is Illegal, here. He wrote about his hardships being a small farmer, trying to deal with the restrictions and fees and taxes that the government places upon them. We told him about our Practical Environmentalism class and he was really excited that we were learning about these issues. He signed copies of his book for us and wrote, “Thank you for being part of the solution.”

Monsanto is not part of any solution worth being a part of.

Our farmers, and more generally, our global food system, is in crisis. There are videos about this topic all over the Internet and books everywhere. I suggest beginning with this one, or this one if you are in the mood for something “lighter”.

I mean, our government can be very corrupt, both sides of the aisle and in between. Government is corrupt all over the planet. This shouldn’t be condoned, ever, but when the corruption really strikes a nerve with me is when it comes to issues of our planet, and specifically, our food. Food shouldn’t be treated as a special interest. It’s a requirement for life. If our food system falls apart, which it inevitably could if these genetically engineered seeds replace biodiversity and natural growth, the human species would cease to exist.

That isn’t alarmism, it’s just fact.