Monday, November 8, 2010

Green Festival

-Mary Rose LeBaron
Green Festival…and your official invitation to join a movement

Its all Happening!!! How many of us have had that exuberant feeling of glee and excitement? The feeling that everything around you is resonating on your own personal wave length, stopping you in your tracks for a few moments, filling your being with sheer gratitude?? My day at the Green Festival in San Francisco was this kind of day and I am still buzzing from the effects of the kindness and efforts of our fellow men and women to create a sustainable, just and peaceful world.

You may wonder what has me in such a tizzy? And why would one little green festival make such a big impression on this petite, blonde, former housewife, recently escaped from the urban blight of southern California?? I can answer that…It is simply this; Every life being on Earth is facing the same crisis and it matters to me. A crisis that is by our own hand. Our environment is damaged, but along with many other intelligent optimists I believe in the abilities and reasonableness of people to pull us back from the brink of extinction. I had the opportunity to hear some of our most prominent enviro-leaders speak about the work they are doing and paths they are forging for us.

Richard Register spoke on the importance of our built environment and the alarmingly sad fact that our car culture is keeping us trapped and beholden to Big Oil. I can’t do his research, knowledge and activism justice in one short blog here so please look him up. He is doing great work on building cities for people, not cars.

John Perkins, author of Hoodwinked spoke about how we are in the grips of corporate domination and that the next period must be OUR time. As individuals we may feel meek, but together our voices will shift the tide and break us free from corporate control.

If any of you are familiar with Annie Leonard’s body of work and her “Story of Stuff” documentary you will understand how planned obsolescence is part of the design to keep us in the endless loop of consumerism and ultimately aloneness. Consumerism is a common thread that binds us together and yet separates us. As a society we have shared in the pleasure of acquiring new gadgets, fascinated at new technologies and wanted the next shiny new one. Yet, this consumer culture separates us. Our society has been separating at the seams; a fabric getting thread bare.

If southern California taught me anything it was this; we buy and buy, seeking out a comfortable home to raise our children in, following our “American Dream”, going to work each day in our cars, driving for multiple hours a week to and from the office to provide for our children and selves in a way that we thought fit for such “deserving” and “upstanding” people as ourselves. Hmmmm, see the common word here? ….self. What I started to see and learn, thanks in part to a book called Deep Economy , by Bill McKibben, is that all this “self” thinking was coming at a cost, an astronomical cost to our society. The individualistic values that corporate America was dazzling us with had indeed effectively divided us into neat little bundles. Individual pods, our homes, separated by fences and huge garage doors, distracted by gadgets, video games, TV.

Here we were celebrating our individualism and greatness, yet forgetting what makes us feel great really was shared connections, building upon each others ideas to create things, to be a part of.

Friends, I want you to BE A PART OF with me. If you don’t know where to start, start with me. You can email me at and if you are not a spammer I will give you my phone number. We will get connected. It is that simple. We will not be divided. Our survival depends on us vitally renewing positive connections.

So there I was, program in hand and a copy of his latest book Eaarth, sitting in the front row with good company, (two nice ladies from Sunnyvale, also HUGE Bill McKibben fans) giddy with excitement to see the leader of the global groundswell environmental movement based on one number, 350. A movement such as this is enough to restore one’s faith in humanity. That’s what its really about for you and me. Let’s connect now, and make more connections. Can you feel that? Its togetherness. Our time here together may be limited so we are going to make the most of it, face this crisis together, share in the environmental solutions, take actions that are smart and beneficial to life on Earth, and resolve to not be separated any longer. I feel that wave rising, get on board, bring a friend! Its all Happening!!

Monday, October 11, 2010

350 day of Climate Action

Mary Rose LeBaron

My day with the Friends of Five Creeks working to restore a creek between 9th and 10th St. in Berkeley was a nugget of delight as far as community activism experiences go. Working together with others towards a shared goal; that of creating viable global climate solutions was rewarding and beneficial in more ways than one. First as an experience that was shared, meeting others from my local community and enjoying new happy fellowships and second, meeting on the basis that we are part of a larger global community with a common goal. If one visits the website one can see the pictures that are streaming in from across the globe from other work parties on 10/10/10. In short, our work party consisted a walk and tour of the existing stream bed and a talk from a few of the organizers including an ecological urban designer who along with Friends of Five Creeks has designated enough land to create and re-invigorate a healthy habitat for Steelhead Trout in Berkeley and Albany, This was followed by an hour and a half of creek side clean up. The local homeless population had been sleeping along the creek bed and had left considerable amounts of trash behind. My particular work party group had the job of bagging up and moving this trash about a hundred yards down the creek bed to an area where it would later be picked up and disposed of.

One of the aspects that I most liked about this project is that Friends of Five Creeks is making a fantastic urban green space, open to the public, filling it with native plants, and along part of the creek they have planted several fruit trees and made a small gathering place in the shade of these fruit trees and willow trees. Richard Register, our tour guide explained that he wants children to come walking along this path and be able to pick the fruit from these trees so that they can know where fruit comes from and experience the pleasure of picking it in their own community.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Van Jones and Prop 23

Mary Rose LeBaron

Oh what a night I had listening to the man himself….Van Jones!

Yes, I guess you could say I was a tiny bit star struck. You would be too once you realized what a dynamic and incredible idea man Van Jones is. Author of The Green Collar Economy and former “Green Czar” for the Obama administration, Van is back in the Bay Area doing inspiring work. The event I attended on October 3rd was a night of community collaboration and phone calling to inform voters about a deceptive piece of legislation on the California ballot this November. Prop 23 is funded by Texas Oil companies to the tune of 20 million dollars. They claim that Assembly Bill 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act, requiring California to develop regulations that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, is going to hurt California’s economy and destroy jobs. The truth is that while embracing the Global Warming Solutions Act may reduce jobs in the dirty energy business, it will definitely increase jobs in the California green energy sector…ie: Silicon Valley and beyond…to local solar and bio-fuel businesses etc.

I share Van’s spirit of belief in the hope movement. Some of what he touched on was the inspiration behind the change that we saw in 2008 with the election of Barack Obama. Van said we were “the movement that met the man” In other words, who inspired who? Did Obama inspire us or was it the other way around? Our power as concerned, socially aware, loving individuals is to act together with shared goals and values. Texas oil may have billions of dollars but WE have our collective power, the power that got AB 32 approved in the first place. So that is incredible; knowing that Texas oil had to spend 20 million just to backlash against OUR collective voices.

In 2008, when Obama and McCain were having their debates, one thing that there was never disagreement on was that clean energy was beneficial to America and that our economy could be strengthened on the backs of new green jobs. That’s right, the clean energy idea was shared by both sides in 2008. Now we see the latest headlines, that the Tea Party is taking sides with Texas oil in trying to pass prop 23. It is puzzling to be sure, the energy that seems to spur on the Tea Party.
“But consider the fact that lies uncontested don’t shrink in growth, they GROW.”

This quote from Van’s speech leaves me with the resolve that it is simply unacceptable to let the lies of the Tea Party and the incredibly profitable oil companies (62 Million per day for BP) go uncontested.

An important date coming up to note, is 10/10/10, global day of action for climate solutions. Check out for a local work party that you can be involved with.

Finally, another exciting bill that the California senate has put forth is SB 375, a bill to support sustainable communities. Here is the link to more info; Hooray California!! As Van said the other night,
Our glory is now, in our achievements!” and I say today is our day, seize the moment, make one small act based on love, and voila! We have created a movement!!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Housing Project in Victoria That Embraces Nature

Linda Baker, reporting for the New York Times, writes about Dockside Green, in Vancouver Island, B.C. We also featured Dockside in our book, Living Green.

Read the article here.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Toxins in Building Materials Again...

“WARNING: This area contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm.”
A familiar sight to Californians, these are the words that appear on signs in countless buildings complying with Proposition 65, requiring posting warnings of exposures to harmful chemicals listed in a state-run database. Architect Tyler Krehlik with Anshen+Allen Architects, was struck by the irony of green buildings still having to post this sign because of unknown effects of possible chemicals in building materials. So Anshen+Allen teamed up with McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC) to try and determine how they could factor human health into material selection criteria. Read the article here.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Are Green Buildings Healthy Buildings?

As sociologists interested in the ways green communities and green buildings benefit health, we tend to focus on the benefits most obvious to us as sociologists: Things like access to green space and nature, sharing resources, community-mindedness and localism. We've been less focused on the nuts and bolts of the buildings themselves, their materials and inner-workings. To be honest, we've probably been overly naive in our assumptions that green buildings themselves must be good for health: if they're good for the health of the environment, they must be good for human health, right?

Well, maybe not.

A new report from Environment and Human Health, Inc. criticizes LEED and other green building certification programs for failing to include health as an important part of what it means to be green. Thousands of different chemicals, many of them known to be hazards to human health, become components of building materials and LEED does little to ensure that they are kept out. What's worse, by virtue of their energy efficiency, LEED-certified buildings that include dangerous chemicals in their building materials may actually increase our exposure to toxins. One of the factors that makes green buildings green is the fact that they have tighter envelopes compared to other buildings and this may create intensified exposures to toxins if they are present in building materials. The report also criticizes LEED for failing to include strong assurances of safe, quality drinking water and for not restricting the use of pesticides in landscaping or ensuring that they don't seep into groundwater.

The reports strongest critique, however, is reserved for the US federal government which has failed to protect public health through strong testing and regulation of chemicals used in everyday life.
Hazardous chemicals have become components of LEED-certified indoor environments primarily due to the failures of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and EPA’s neglect of the problem. Congress has provided EPA with limited authority to require testing of likely hazardous chemicals in building products. Thus new products may incorporate tens of thousands of untested chemicals with no government oversight.

The report ends with recommendations for improving LEED by giving more weight to those aspects of buildings that effect health.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Environmental links to cancer

Throughout the history of cancer research, environmental causes have been like a dirty secret tucked into dark corners of the institutions of mainstream cancer research: We know they're there, but rarely do they see the light of day. The release of today’s 2009 Presidential Report on Cancer, titled “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risks,” makes clear that if the U.S. wants to reduce cancer rates (and health care expenditures), it is time shine light on the environmental links to cancer. The report calls for a comprehensive, cohesive policy agenda on environmental contaminants to human health that includes committing serious research dollars and regulatory power to understanding and minimizing preventable risks in the environment.

The report also describes concrete actions individuals can take to reduce exposure to possible cancer-causing agents such as filtering water, not microwaving plastic, choosing pesticide-free food and using headphones when talking on cellphones (among others). But mostly, these individual solutions serve to highlight the bigger problem: A regulatory system that uses a reactionary approach rather than a precautionary one. Instead of requiring proof of safety, the public bears the burden of proving that a given environmental exposure is harmful and because of the difficulty of amassing such proof (scientifically, politically, because of the dearth of research funds devoted to such questions...), proof often only emerges once tremendous harm has already been done. At this time, only a few hundred of the more than 80,000 chemicals in use in the United States have been tested for safety and the effects of multiple chemical exposures is hardly addressed. The report systematically reviews some of the most well-documented contaminants in our environment and highlights the alarming ubiquity of them, the multiple paths of exposure in our everyday lives.

As President Obama states:
“With the growing body of evidence linking environmental exposures to cancer, the public is becoming increasingly aware of the unacceptable burden of cancer resulting from environmental and occupational exposures that could have been prevented through appropriate national action.”

It’s about time. While efforts have been underway to expose these links by environmental activists, women’s health activists, cancer activists, and others, it's disconcerting how rarely it gets on the national agenda. We applaud this step toward putting it there and urge everyone to read the report and make a commitment to work toward eradicating cancer-causing agents.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Verde Partnership Garden

A couple of weeks ago we had the distinct pleasure of touring Verde Gardens, a more than decade-long experiment in community and sustainability at an elementary school in North Richmond. North Richmond, an unincorporated are of the San Francisco Bay Area has a long history of economic and environmental injustices and Verde Partnership Garden is one of many projects working to counter some of the negative trends in the area.

It was an uncharacteristically cold spring day when we went to the gardens, but that didn't stop the kids from flocking to it. We arrived just after an egg hunt and the kids had to return to class, but at each breaks, kids would return to the garden, choosing to spend their recess pulling weeds, harvesting vegetables, fruits and herbs, or just hanging out with the garden leaders.

David and Bienvenida gave us our tour. Their enthusiasm was infectious and their knowledge formidable. As they pointed out what was growing in the garden they told stories about past projects the kids had done with that particular plant or described uses for it and it's significance to the community. They related stories of their experiments with different forms of compost, types of soils and best conditions for growing.

It was only halfway through our tour that we realized Bienvenida and David were mother and son. David had been coming to the garden since he was in first grade and is now working at Verde Garden as well as spearheading other garden projects, as a full-time passion.

We look forward to meeting up with David and Bienvenida again and finding out more about their ongoing commitments to creating a greener and more socially just Richmond.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Environmental Sustainability Requires Social Sustainability

We have been following the WorldWatch Institute's Vision for a Sustainable world and were pleased to find a post on their blog from last Fall demanding that social sustainability be included in environmental sustainability. A set of questions they pose mirror ones we are asked at each and every talk we give no matter the audience: "Will people be forced into false tradeoffs—choosing economy over ecology, or vice versa? Will sustainability happen at the cost of growing disparities and hardship?

Social Green is determined to debunk the myth that green innovations can only happen with increased costs to a populous already economically suffering. Or that green tech is only for those at the top of the income latter. In Living Green we provide many examples of affordable green living as well as developers and communities devoted to affordability + environmental justice. Through our current research we are continuing to work with communities doing just this and we hope to share some of our findings with you soon.

WorldWatch echoes our message: "environmental sustainability requires social sustainability...Environmentalists need to be as aware of the social dimensions of sustainability—well-versed in issues like living wages or occupational health and safety..."

Read their post to find out more.

Environmental Sustainability Requires Social Sustainability

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Preserve in Stockton

"The Preserve in Stockton will be a socially vibrant, ecologically sensitive, and economically sound community. It is designed to create new and diverse housing choices and jobs, attract new businesses, and enhance the health and well-being of both people and the environment. All of these goals will be achieved while allowing us to comfortably live within our ecological fair share of the planet."

This is the vision statement of a new community currently being planned for Stockton, California. Stockton may not be the first place that comes to mind when thinking about sustainability, but lots of surprisingly exciting things are afoot in this town in the heart of California's San Joaquin valley. But more about that in our next post; today, we want to tell you about "the Preserve" a master-planned community that, if built according to its current vision, will turn on its head everything you think you know about master-planned communities.

Developer A.G. Spanos Companies has envisioned the Preserve in accordance with the Ahwahnee principles and Bioregional's principles for a One Planet Community (a community which uses only one planet's worth of resources instead of the five planet's worth used by a typical community in North America today. The Preserve is aiming to be a model for a new way to build community that is both radically sustainable and eminently livable.

Two significant environmental issues at stake in Stockton are the diminishing wetlands that this town, adjacent to the Sacramento Delta, was once replete with, and the culturally, socially, economically and environmentally significant history of agriculture in this region. The Preserve plans to restore wetlands and other natural habitats as well as promote sustainable agriculture.
A significant portion of the land is reserved for environmental restoration and agriculture, providing residents with locally-grown food, open space, and natural habitats that will attract a wide array of plants and animals.

Social and economic sustainability are also at the forefront of their efforts. Businesses and retail, recreation, bike and walking trails, education, health care and job creation: All of these things are woven into the blueprint for the Preserve. Their plan is to make it simple for residents to live a healthier, more environmentally responsible lives. Check out their website to learn more.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Grants for Farmers Markets

On the topic of increasing access to healthy foods, The US government is offering grants to create and expand farmers markets and other direct producer-to-consumer markets. The Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) allocated $5 million for Fiscal Years 2009 and 2010 and $10 million for Fiscal Years 2011 and 2012. It's open to applicants from agricultural cooperatives, producer networks, producer associations, local governments, nonprofit corporations, public benefit corporations, economic development corporations, regional farmers market authorities and Tribal governments. In 2009, the programs funded included two efforts to increase low-income consumers' access to farmers markets in California and in Arizona.

Thanks to the online magazine Shareable for drawing attention to these grants. And, if you think you might want to go after some of this money and start a farmers market in your area, Shareable has a great guide to get you started: How to Start a Farmers Market.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Social Sustainability in Backyard Gardens

One of the most eloquent examples of creating social sustainability can be found in a simple vegetable garden. In places where green space, healthy foods and economic resources are all in short supply, a backyard vegetable garden can help provide all three.

An article in today's New York Times describes a group called La Mesa Verde, which goes into people's homes in low income Latino neighborhoods to plant backyard organic gardens.

It's so simple: planting edible gardens contributes to economic sustainability by providing inexpensive, readily available food. One participant in the La Mesa Verde program described saving $90 a month on grocery bills because of the garden.

And the benefits extend beyond the pocketbook: Providing people with the means to accessing inexpensive, healthy foods is important to promoting health equity. An endemic problem in low income communities of color is lack of access to healthy foods (i.e., fresh produce) and a predominance of cheap, unhealthy foods. This, in turn, exacerbates health inequality. The article describes the efforts of La Mesa Verde, started by Raul Lozano, son of farmworkers and a passionate gardener, as part of a national movement "to make healthy food readily accessible to marginilized urban neighborhoods."

Participants also describe the social benefits of bringing their families together, of connecting with children and enhancing community connectedness. And, of course, planting a garden brings with it innumerable benefits to the planet.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Healing and Natural Disasters

There's an important link between sustainability and community healing after natural disasters. This is a link we are exploring in our new book, tentatively titled Healing Green. Beyond the way devastating destruction holds the promise of regeneration and the implicit opportunity to rebuild in a new and innovative way, we think that rebuilding sustainably after natural disasters serves an important healing function for the communities most effected.

We are thinking a lot about this promise of healing as we grieve for the thousands upon thousands of people who have lost their lives, their families, and their communities in Haiti. It's hard to find words to describe the magnitude of such loss and easy to feel helpless as we watch on our television screens, donating money to organizations we hope can help ease some of the suffering. And though against the backdrop of such urgent need, it's hard to imagine a future in which rebuilding will be the focus, such a future will come and we are heartened to see efforts already underway to incorporate green community practices into the rebuilding effort.

The Clinton Foundation has been working with Haiti to "build back better" in the aftermath of the hurricanes that battered the country in 2008 and plans to continue that effort when rebuilding begins this time. The USGBC is working with the Clinton Foundation in these efforts and they will look to, and learn from, the experiences of other communities that are rebuilding green after being crippled by natural disasters. Communities such as Greensburg Kansas which was virtually demolished by a tornado in 2007. The town decided to rebuild as a model green community. Check out the Greensburg Green Town website to learn more. A significant portion of the recovery effort in New Orleans has also looked toward green building principles and practices as they rebuild.

We think it is of crucial importance to build social sustainability into the recovery efforts in Haiti--as the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, much of the current devastation can be linked directly to poverty and injustice. Without building codes or adequate infrastructures, with a public health crisis in existence even before the earthquake, the damage is much greater than it might have been had this disaster struck somewhere else. And in order to answer the promise of building back better, economic and social injustices will have to be addressed along with environmental ones. As we write about the rebuilding of communities in our book, we will continue to look for lessons about how incorporating social sustainability into rebuilding can help heal the wounds wrought by natural disasters.