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 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
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:

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!


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’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

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!

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! 





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