May 2009


starbucks cupWe have always been skeptical of coffee giant Starbucks.  Not only did we have to spend our adolescent years watching them sweep into our small towns and knock out all of the independently owned mom and pop cafes we loved, but then we had to watch them claim to be Fair Trade when in reality a very small percentage of the coffee they brew is actually Fair Trade! It just was too disingenuous for us to swallow. Yes, they claim to be some big Fair Trade hero, but who’s a hero when a customer has to specifically ask for Fair Trade (shouldn’t it just be their normal brew??) and then when the customer does take the trouble to ask, they are given a hard time by the employees. Sorry, but that doesn’t seem very supportive of Fair Trade although their marketing would most certainly tell you otherwise.

Still, Starbucks’ contribution to Fair Trade is not insignificant and it did make us think a little more positively about the corporate behemoth and its ethics.  Maybe they can turn-around after all and focus on making a greater, more positive impact on the earth and its people?

That was until we heard from our good friends at MoveOn.org that Starbucks has been quite active recently with union busting activity!  In their own words….

starbucks unionYou’ve probably heard about the illegal, anti-union tactics of retail giants like Wal-mart. But did you know that Starbucks has been found guilty of those same tactics?

Howard Schultz, Starbucks’ billionaire owner, has made it a priority to keep unions out of Starbucks. But our friends at Brave New Films are fighting back.  They’ve put together a video documenting the harassment and intimidation that Starbucks workers have faced.

Check out the surprising video below and sign the memo telling Schultz that Starbucks must let workers exercise their rights and unionize.

Brave New Films is working to get 50,000 signatures before Congress votes on the Employee Free Choice Act. If they do, they’ll deliver the memo to Schultz to send the clear message that corporations should support this vital legislation.

So please check out the powerful video now and send the memo.

Tribeca Cinemas is holding a wonderful event this Friday May 29th in NYC. They will be screening the documentary, From Elegance to Earthworms: New York is Going Green as a benefit to Sustainable Flatbush, which promotes green living in their neighborhood in Brooklyn. The film focuses on how a growing eco-conscious market is arising in New York and features up and coming green technology and ideas and how this can shape New York.

The actual event screeningwill feature complimentary hor’derves, a cash bar, a DJ, and a chance to meet the filmmakers as well as the business owners and entrepreneurs featured in the movie.  Plus its only $20 to purchase tickets and its a donation to a great organization!  So if you are in New York this Friday, May 29th, come check out the screening of From Elegance to Earthworms and hopefully learn a few things about the Green Marketplace as well as donate to a Sustainable Flatbush! For a clip of the film, check out the video below!

WHEN: May 29th 2009
Doors open at 7:00pm PRICE: $20.00
SCREENING TIMES:
7:30pm-8:00pm Screening
8:15pm-8:45pm Screening
9:00pm-9:30pm Screening

Mix and mingle until 12:00 midnight

WHERE: Tribeca Cinemas
54 Varick Street
New York, NY 10013
(at Laight Street, one block below Canal Street)

If you follow the story to the letter, it’s not such a great idea to build your house out of straw…especially if you’re afraid of the Big Bad Wolf. However, today’s straw homes are anything but simple huts and offer an environmentally friendly building solution.  In fact, there are two very distinct types of straw construction available: load bearing (straw-board) and in-fill (straw-bale).

Your next house in the making?

Your next house in the making?

But why would one even think of building with straw? Some reasons:

  • A renewable resource: straw is plentiful, easy to grow and easy to harvest. What’s more, it is easily biodegradable, so when it comes time for your house to ‘hit the hay’, the environment won’t be stuck with an inert plastic.
  • Insulation value: with the sufficient thickness, straw houses can rival some traditional insulation materials such as fiberglass and cellulose.
  • Flame retardant: you’re kidding, right? Nope, the high density of the bale actually limits the rate of fire spreading than typical wall construction.
  • Hand-by hand construction: easily formed bales can be created with minimal instruction and training, and can conform to a larger array of shapes and sizes than simple wood construction.

So, why would you NOT build a straw house? Some advocates would have you think it is the perfect solution.  However,  at  Autonomie, we always try to remain a healthy skepticism with any ‘green fad’ . While straw homes might seem like the perfect solution, there are some serious drawbacks to take into consideration:

  • Size: in order to get an adequate insulation value, you’re going to need thick walls…sometimes more than 18” depending on your climate. If you are choosing to live an urban lifestyle, which has its own inherently sustainable benefits, losing such precious square footage could be too much to handle.
  • Climate change priorities: While the straw is ultimately more biodegradable, most environmentally concerned scientists claim that climate change is by far our biggest concern, so much so that waste stream issues pale in comparison to the threat. In lieu of this, a more immediate solution may be to go with a less biodegradable product that will guarantee lower fossil fuel usage over the duration of your home’s life.
  • Extreme humidity: Improper wall construction and high humid climates can result in a serious mold and mildew condition. While simple in construction, straw bales homes should not be attempted by those with no experience.
straw bale exterior

straw bale exterior

Looking for more information? Here are some informational sites:

http://www.buildinggreen.com/auth/article.cfm?fileName=040301a.xml

http://www.toolbase.org/Home-Building-Topics/Green-Building/straw-bale-construction

http://www.toolbase.org/Home-Building-Topics/Green-Building/strawboard-panels

Know more about straw bale construction? We’re happy to hear your comments, especially if any of ours are mistaken. We always take pains to verify our information, but the construction industry changes rapidly and YOU might have the latest!  We look forward to hearing from you.

new england gardenNew England is a great place to be in the Spring because we can see a milieu of flowers growing everywhere.  They adorn the landscape with beautiful vivid colors and designs –they remind this accessory-loving fashionista of earrings, necklace pendants and bracelets… but for your home—!

However, on a recent walk, I started to really wonder how I could take these gorgeous flowers home, without devastating the environment or fortifying oppressive work structures in the countries these flowers are purchased from.

hoja_verde_04.smallIn that vein, I have a few facts I would L-O-V-E to share about Fair Trade flowers!!! Did you know that the CUT FLOWER industry is a $6.2 billion dollar industry?? Approximately 59% of the cut flowers we have in the US come from Columbia and 19% come from Ecuador. The typical wage for an Ecuadorian rose farmer is $150/month which is roughly equal to about $.04 per rose sold in the US.

Let’s dig a little deeper and see how this industry affects workers and the environment:

*Close to 70% of cut flowers sold in the USA are grown overseas, where growing conditions are better, labor is cheaper and pesticide regulation is more lax.

*Flowers grown with traditional methods are doused with insecticides, fungicides, growth regulators and fumigated with toxic methyl bromide.

*Studies in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives have found symptoms of pesticide poisoning in workers in Colombia and Ecuador.

*In Ecuador, nearly 60% of flower workers surveyed showed poisoning symptoms, including headaches, dizziness, trembling hands and blurred vision.

On a brighter note, we DO have a happy alternative: Fair Trade Flowers!!! ft flowers logo

Check out this cool PBS special on fair trade flowers. It talks about all the wonderful accomplishments fair trade flowers offers farm workers in Ecuador such as childcare, capacity building classes in budgeting, micro-loans to build their homes, project management workshops and health protection for the workers!

Yay for Fair Trade flowers….just another way of appreciating all the gifts mother Earth has given us without defacing our beautiful world or hurting the people who live and labor in it!

ftc_flowers_02

In our first installation of  product battles, we are bringing you a fight fit for the summer weather and BBQ diet! Memorial day and grilling season is fast approaching and for us vegans out there, there are many options! In fact, for a full guide to vegan and green BBQs check out our earlier posts.   All these options can create one huge ball of confusion on what to serve for your guests.  This is where AP steps in and gives you are very first product battle!  In one corner, hailing from Massachusetts we have Lightlife Tofu Pups and in the other corner representing Oregon, we have Tofurkey Beer Brats! Now both these products make terrific substitutes for hot dogs or sausages but how do they compare? Let’s find out!

 

 

1) Price: Tofu Pups usually range from $2.99 to $4.00 depending on the store. However, they tend to go on sale in the major markets.  The Beer Brats are a bit more pricey. They usually run $4.99 or up. I can rarely find them for under$5!  1 Point for Tofu Pups!
 

2) Company: Lightlife was bought out by major food producer ConAgra foods and is no longer a small company. However, they give back to such groups as Habitat for Humanity, Food Bank of Western New England, and many more! While, Turtle Island Foods has a wonderful little creation story and is still family/friend owned and operated since 1980. 1 Point for Beer Brats!

3) Nutrition: Tofu Pups are the much healthier choice, containing only 60 Calories and 2.5g of Fat in each pup, while the Beer Brats are much higher in Calories and fat. In fact there are 280 Calories and 16g of Fat in each brat. Both contain plenty of sodium 300mg for the pups and 650mg for the brats. Both also contain some organic ingredients and no MSG. But due to the drastic difference in calories, we have to give this one to the Pups! 1 Point for the Tofu Pups!

4) Cook-ability: When put on the grill, the little pups cook really fast and tend to get chewy on the outside and remain soft on the inside. They also sometimes stick to the grill!  The beer brats tend to hold up on the grill and even get those beautiful lines when grilled to perfection.  And they have that sizzle just like a regular sausage without sticking or becoming chewy! 1 Point for Beer Brats!!

5) Taste: The Tofu Pups have a great traditional hot dog taste that will leave that all American ballpark  aftertaste. Despite the chewiness, they can hold up next to a regular packaged hot dog.  However, if you are looking for something with a bolder more satisfying flavor, turn to the brats! The sausage spices coupled with a hint of Full Sail Ale make for an explosion of flavor! They also go great with a summer beer! 1 Point for the Beer Brats!!

TOTALS:     2  Points  for Tofu Pups and 3 Points for Beer Brats

And the winner is…………………….Tofurkey Beer Brats!!! But really both products are great and the Tofu Pups are a perfect subsititute for the traditional hot dog, while the beer brats give off that unique and different taste. But if we had to choose we would go with the Tofurkey Beer Brat, as they grill perfectly! You can find either product at most grocery stores, Whole Foods Markets, local Co-ops, and natural food stores. So get your grill on and find out for yourself which is better!

changentsWe were so happy to recently be introduced to the good people at Changents, a new start-up NGO based in neighborly New Hampshire.  Changents connects Agents of Change with a fan base of Backers around the world, enabling them to create change together.  Who are Agents of Change you may ask?  Why, they are all around us!  In Changents.com’s own words:

Change Agents are the rock stars of social change. They’re the people who put it on the line everyday to get it done. And there are lots of “super fans” out there who want to get into the act by backing Change Agents and propelling their efforts forward.

That’s where Changents comes in. We enable Change Agents and members of our community around the world to broadcast their amazing stories of creating change and mobilize help from friends everywhere.

Robin_BartlingChangents recently featured a super inspiring MIT fellow who just launched his own Fair Trade, gluten-free company called VICO Brands, Inc. Here’s the full scoop, care of Changents.com:

Holy Mother of….Grain? Yup, that’s right – Robin Bartling is all about Fair Trading gluten-free products.  1 in 133 Americans is suffering from celiac disease but only 3% know about it. The only way out is the commitment to a strict gluten-free diet (no wheat, barley, rye). Gluten-free products are on the rise…but there are still no Fair Trade products available.

Surprisingly, however, typical Fair Trade products such as Quinoa are naturally gluten-free. Quinoa, a weird word to pronounce, but a very simple product. Quinoa is a wonder food (nutritious, delicious, and anti-allergic) and it’s so resistant to pests that it doesn’t need pesticides or artificial fertilizers.  Unfortunately, to date it has not made a very big appearance in the US and, apart from raw materials, there are no gluten-free Fair Trade products like Quinoa on the market today! Well, with our help, Robin is gonna change that real soon!

robin with seedsWith his wife Christiane, Robin launched VICO Brands, Inc in April 2009. This company has three main goals: healthy but tasty products, a concentration on Fair Trade principles, and eco-friendly packaging. Triple win!

Instead of bouncing around the US, Robin’s looking a bit more South. In fact, the very first VICO products are being developed in collaboration with a Fair Trade organization in Latin America.

You know what that means? Aside from bringing yummy, healthy, and Fair-tradable goodies into the US, he’ll also be supporting farmers in Latin America.  Darn good work for one Change Agent.

The team at Autonomie is really excited about Robin’s work and hopes that you’ll join us in keeping up to date with his travels, trials, and tribulations of running a start-up and all the other tales on Changents.com!

potomac bbq July 12 2008 Photo By chadmagieraIts late spring and as Memorial Day approaches many are firing up those grills. If there is one thing Americans love to do more than drinking, it would be grilling! Serving BBQ comes with pretty much every holiday from May to September. However, most people don’t realize BBQ-ing is actually quite polluting to air quality and toxic to one’s lungs. But grilling doesn’t mean you have to skip out on your eco-friendliness. And if you aren’t sure how to keep your BBQ as green as the Spring Trees, we have put together a quick guide on how to easily green your Memorial Day or any BBQ!

Using natural wood charcoal and hickory. Photo By cledry1) Natural Charcoal and Lighting Techniques: If you are using a charcoal grill be sure to use all natural and organic charcoal that does not contain the quick lighting chemicals. You can also use  wood briquettes which are all natural and will give your food that smokey taste. Either of these choices will leave your food without the burning of coal, petroleum products, sawdust, or limestone, which are all toxic. Also, since you won’t be using quick light charcoal, it may take extra time to light these. To combat this, try lightening your natural charcoal with a chimney starter.

 

 

Day 029 - 082408 Photo By remfan2) Opt for A Clean Burning Grill: Instead of using charcoal altogether, it is much more clean to use a natural gas, propane, or the best choice, an electric grill. All three of these style grills burn clean and do not add toxins to your foods. In fact, electric grills emit 99% less carbon monoxide and 91% less carbon dioxide than charcoal!! You can find these types of grills at any hardware or home store or of course online! However, if you miss that smokey BBQ taste of charcoal and wood, we suggest you look for the Hybrid Grill. You can cook with a combination of wood, charcoal, and gas. This will still provide your food with a smoke flavor but can switch over to natural gas! 

grilled veggies Photo By massdistraction3) Cut the Meat Out: Of course one of the easiest ways is to cut the meat out of your grill. There are plenty of great vegetarian and vegan options to grill. Including all sorts of veggie and soy meats like burgers, hot dogs, and ribs, but also marinated organic veggies and fruit! For a full guide to your vegan BBQ needs, including recipes and brand suggestions check out our Vegan BBQ Tips. And if you must have some meat, please purchase organic, free range light meats such as chicken or fish. Be sure and purchase all your veggies, fruit, and if you are using meat from local organic farms. 

1554 in a Fat Tire Pint Photo By mfajardo4) Organic and Local Beers: Great food is always made better with great beer! There are a number of great organic beers out there such as Peak Organic, North Coast Brewing Company, Samuel Smith’s, and Bison Brewing. My very favorite beer is the New Belgium Brewery which is a worker-owned wind powered and sustainable brewery in Colorado. The Brooklyn Brewery is also a wind powered brewery located in Brooklyn, NY. And as always its always a great idea to buy from your local micro breweries. To find microbreweries near you check out this great guide

Recycled napkin and biodegradable fork from Native Foods in Westwood, Los Angeles Photo By greenlagirl5) Use Reusable Settings: If you are hosting your BBQ at home or in a local park, remember to use re-usable plates and silverware. There really is not reason to use disposable plastic or paper settings, as its just as easy to wash the dishes. However, if you are hosting a large shindig and you are not the dish washing type, we suggest you use biodegradable or recyclable dishes, plates, and forks. Either of these items can be found at Whole Foods or your local Natural Co-op. 

And one last final tip: Be sure to compost all your left over veggies and fruits and recycle your bottles! 

 

 

 

 

People Use Bicycles Photo By earcosThe Month of May is upon us and with May brings National Bike Month. The month is meant to promote bicycle ridership throughout the country. Yesterday, May 15th marked Bike to Work Day, where thousands chucked their cars and avoided the packed trains for a bit of freedom. Yesterday was actually a record breaking National Bike to Work Day!! More people than any year ever glided their way to work. In fact the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition reported that more than 200,000 people in San Francisco alone, chose to ride their bikes as transportation yesterday!!! This figure is insanely impressive!

Bike to Work Day Photo By Commodore Gandalf CunninghamAnd even though yesterday marked the official Bike to Work Day, we are happy to spread the word that Bike Commuting is actually on the rise! Last summer’s gas crisis and growing Global Warming concerns may be fueling, no pun intended, the current rise in biking. Cities all over the country are starting to report an increase in bike ridership. San Francisco reported a 43% increase in ridership from 2006 and New York City reported an increase of 35% from 2007 to 2008. Even here in Boston, biking is all the rage, undeterred by the fact the city won “Worst City to Bike In” a few times and has landed on the Top 10 Bike Theft Cities (I can attest to this statistic, as my Bike was stolen this winter). Despite these labels, Boston has seen a bit of a biking Renaissance with Mayor Menino becoming a bicyclist himself, the hiring of a “Bike Czar” to revamp the cities bicycling laws, and an overall growing increase in commuting to work via Bicycle. It is clear bike commuting is on the rise in America, even in the “The Worst City to Bike In.”

On top of people choosing to commute on two wheels, companies are now starting to give incentives to their employees who ride in to work. Including companies such as Yahoo who provides employees bikes to loan, showers, lockers, and free tune ups. Or how about Clif Bars who offer employees $500 to repair an old bike or buy a new one if they pledge to use the bike a mere two times a month!  If that wasn’t enough, the first bailout passed last October included a monthly tax break of $20 per month per cycling employee for businesses. And recently The League of American Bicyclists has honored businesses who promote bicycle use through their Bicycle Friendly Business program. Check out the full list of bike loving businesses!

Bike Bike Bike Photo frankhSo why the sudden rise in bicycling? Well as we mentioned before, rising gas prices and environmental concerns seem to be the largest motivation. And these are valid worries as it has increasingly become clear that riding a bike for transportation services is probably the most eco friendly transportation around, well besides hoofing it! But when you take a hard look at exactly how bicycling benefits the environment, the facts are sobering to say the least. Bicycling is a healthy way to commute without the use of carbon emitting fuels such as gasoline and oil refining, cuts down water pollution emitted by cars, not to mention air and ozone pollution, and of course they emit no noise pollution! In fact you can calculate exactly how much money saved, CO2 reduction, and calories burned per mile on REI’s Bike Your Drive Calculator. With Americans and the world concerned about the state of Earth, as we should be: she is only home after all, bike commuting is an easy and simple way to go green! And why not, it also keeps you healthy, fit, and happy!!

Although, Bike to Work Day is over, National Bike Month continues for the rest of May. So check out the events in your area and jump on that two wheeled, zero emissions, exercise transport and get your Green on! And to all the avid bicyclists of the world, we thank you and keep up the encouragement. Times they will be a changing! 

BBQ season is fast approaching and its time to dust off those grills and pull out the side dish recipes! This week’s recipe is the Great American BBQ Classic known as Macaroni Salad. I am not sure of the history of this salad, but know it often played a part in my summer gathering Americana. And if you are unfamiliar with Macaroni Salad, it makes for a great side at any BBQ, party, or even just on the dinner table. So as the summer approaches, be sure to get your hands on this very tasty and very vegan Macaroni Salad!

Vegan Macaroni Salad

Prep Time: 15 Minutes     Cool Time: 3 Hours

1 24oz Bag of Elbow Macaroni
1 cup Vegenaise
2 Tbsps of Yellow Mustard
1 Tbsp Vinegar
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Pepper
2 Stalks of Celery
1 Yellow or White Onion
1 Green Bell Pepper
1 Carrot (optional)
1/2 Cup Sweet Relish (optional)

In a large pot boil water to cook the pasta. Once the water is at a rolling boil, add in the entire bag of pasta. Cook for about 10 minutes or until soft. While the noodles are cooking chop up the celery, onion, bell pepper, and carrots (if using) into small pieces. Drain the pasta and run cool water over it a few times, to cool the noodles down. In a large bowl, add in the chopped veggies and stir. Next add in the Vegenaise, vinegar, mustard, salt, pepper, and relish (if using). Mix all ingredients up until it is well combined. You may need to add more salt or pepper, depending on your taste buds. If you need to serve immediately, place the bowl in the freezer for 5 minutes and it should be cool enough. But if you have planned ahead place the salad in the refrigerator and let it cool for about 3 hours.

Do you ride the Boston/Cambridge T to work or school?  Do you enjoy a cup of Fair Trade Certified coffee with your morning commute?

green mountainWell, Breugger’s Bagels, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, TransFair USA, and the MBTA are here to thank you for your commitment to a sustainable commute with a gift card for FREE Fair Trade Certified Coffee!!  If you don’t already choose this brew, then now’s your chance to check it out, get your free coupon, and make the switch to Fair Trade.

On Wednesday, May 13th (that’s tomorrow folks) volunteers with TransFair USA, the Boston Faith and Justice Network, the Fair Trade Boston campaign, and your very own Autonomie Project will hand out over 20,000 coupons for Fair Trade Certified coffee from Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and Bruegger’s at these seven busy T stations:

t signSouth Station (Atlantic Ave. & Summer St.)

Kenmore (500 Commonwealth Ave @ Brookline Ave.)

Porter Square (Somerville @ Massachusetts Ave. in Cambridge)

Longwood (Chapel & Longwood St. in Brookline)

Downtown Crossing (Washington St. & Summer St.)

Government Center (Tremont, Court and Cambridge St.)

Back Bay (Dartmouth St. @ Copley Place)

Each packet will contain coupons worth a free cup of hot and a free cup of iced Fair Trade Certified coffee at Bruegger’s, plus a coupon worth $2.50 off a package of Green Mountain Coffee at local grocery stores.

The event is part of the MBTA’s celebration of National Transportation Week and volunteers will be participating in solidarity with national efforts to set the record for the World’s Largest Fair Trade Coffee Break as part of World Fair Trade Day 2009.

Bruegger’s is among more than 700 national restaurants and cafes that offer Fair Trade Certified products, meaning farmers in Africa, Asia and Latin America are paid fair prices for their products and that crops are raised with environmentally sustainable agriculture techniques.

fair trade handsWhat better way to continue the celebration of World Fair Trade Day and make the connection between Fair Trade and a sustainable lifestyle.  The choice is simple.  Fair Trade Certified coffee is helping farmers, farm workers and the environment.

We hope to see you tomorrow bright and early!  And if you need inspiration, check out San Francisco’s version with the BART system:

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