Category Archives: Environment

ReThink: Old Stuff

Do you have stuff that you don’t need anymore? Of course you do. How do you get rid of it? You could throw it out and, in so doing, spit in the face of Mother Nature and in the faces of those who actually need what you’re dumping, or you could list it on Freecycle and let someone else have it. And, when you need something, you can check to see if someone else is getting rid of that very thing you want, absolutely free. No complications, no scams, and most importantly, no waste. That’s just good sense.


ReThink: Composting

For people who live in the sticks, composting is a no-brainer: food scraps and other organic material can go right on the compost pile outside. For those of us who don’t live in the countryside, however, composting can be more tricky, messy, and work-intensive than it’s worth, especially in cities that do not allow it. Thankfully, a Grand Rapids-based company has found a way around all these issues. By offering regular curbside collection like any other waste company, Organicycle allows anyone to divert more of their waste from landfills and incinerators to a sustainable, energy-reclaiming practice that benefits not only waste producers, but the users of the end products as well. Individuals, businesses, schools, and even whole municipalities can take advantage of the opportunities offered by composting, both in reducing the impact of their waste and reaping the benefits of reclaiming the potential of organic waste. One potato peel at a time, Organicycle is rethinking our relationship with the environment.

ReThink: Energy Generation

The old energy paradigm is changing. We used to burn fossil fuels to create steam to turn turbines and then throw out the exhaust. Now, through such technology as cogeneration (which is actually quite old, but coming back into vogue), the potential of traditional energy sources is magnified. Waste heat is captured and put to use until it is completely useless, significantly increasing the efficiency of the energy conversion process and reducing emissions along the way. Cogeneration and its kindred technologies are on their way to becoming a vital component of our future comprehensive energy solution.

ReThink: Parks

Parks traditionally are ground-level green spaces within developed areas or large tracts of land preserved from further disturbance and opened up for the public to enjoy. The High Line in Manhattan is all of these things, except for one aspect: it’s thirty feet in the air. Built on the remains of an antiquated elevated railroad that cuts through the bustle of New York City, the High Line is a linear park that has repurposed what used to be an eyesore into a sensible blend of design, nature, and nostalgia. Now, anyone can enjoy 1.45 miles of relative tranquility in a park that looks, feels, and is like no other.

ReThink: Shoes (Yet Again)

Although UnConventional has rethought shoes twice before, shoes are always worth rethinking, so here’s the latest iteration of pedestrian innovation. And despite what seems to be a backward step (no pun intended) from our original shoe-related UnConvention, this one is worth mentioning for a specific reason, made all the more important by the promised magnitude of its production run: waste.

Until recently, the trend with running shoe construction was increasing cushion, stability, and resulting structure. We are witnessing a reversal, however, in the recent pursuit of lighter, freer, minimal-construction shoes, and Nike, not to be outdone, has released the Flyknit, the shoe that fits like a sock. Inventing brand-new manufacturing techniques, Nike has created a shoe with a seamless woven upper that reduces the shoe’s weight and, equally importantly, its waste. No cutting, no stitching, no scraps, no waste; the Flyknit is a step closer to a sustainable, high-performance shoe that leaves the competition begging for…less.

ReThink: Recycling

Back in the day, recycling was something associated with tree huggers, hippies, and your crazy Aunt Nellie. Today, thanks to increasing awareness of the environmental impact of our lifestyle, recycling is in vogue. However, despite the headway made against the throw-away culture we’ve grown accustomed to, we have a long way to go before recycling is as natural as tossing our refuse in the dumpster. The people at Recyclebank recognize that fact, and they want to make it easier to think green. By offering rewards for recycling and taking other green initiatives, Recyclebank encourages individuals to rethink their consumption habits and take steps toward a more sustainable lifestyle. Now, the reward of recycling is not only a lighter conscience, but a heavier wallet as well.

ReThink: Ranching

Most of us do not care to think about where their food came from or how it impacts the world around them. We conveniently ignore (and are encouraged to ignore) the reality of our food supply, that the modern methods of producing food involve more chemicals, hormones, industrial processes, and toxic by-products than you can shake a stick at. Thankfully, there are still people who are willing to rethink such practices; one such organization is Niman Ranch. A collection of over 600 family-owned and -operated farms, Niman Ranch seeks to return to the natural, sustainable, honest way of producing food that has largely been ignored until now. Not only is the meat produced by Niman Ranch farmers intentionally raised as Mother Nature intended, but the farmers themselves are local, independent families who have not sold out to Big Ag. All around, Niman Ranch benefits a wide spectrum of individuals, from farmers to animals to the people who eat the meat. We have a long way to go before such practices gain widespread appeal, but Niman Ranch is doing its part to help rethink our food.

ReThink: Carbon Offsets

With ever-increasing awareness of the negative impact of climate change, a plethora of carbon offset programs have emerged to help ease our consciences as we go about our carbon-belching everyday lives. However, many of these programs have, at best, a neutral impact on the environment; trees are planted for their economic value with little consideration of the biological and social needs of the region. COTAP, short for Carbon Offsets to Alleviate Poverty, is taking carbon offsetting to the next level. Instead of simply planting trees, COTAP offers a holistic approach to reforestation. Project areas are targeted for their biological and social needs, employing unemployed and impoverished people in planting trees that will help return forests to their former vitality and restore the environment to its natural state. Funding is received via microfinance-style donations, meaning that any individual can donate to offset carbon by employing the unemployed to restore forests around the world. It’s carbon offsets, Kiva-style. Any way you slice it, it’s a win-win-win.

ReThink: The Weather

Everyone has to deal with the weather on a daily basis. But when was the last time you truly interacted with the weather and allowed it to influence your decisions? The people at WeatherCollage aim to change the way we engage the weather, transforming it from a mundane report of estimations to a meaningful context of everyday life. Through their soon-to-be-released mobile app, WeatherCollage will invite users to personalize the way they access weather reports and to contribute their interpretations of what the day’s weather means to them. The possibilities are as vast as the creativity of the users’ engagement with the weather. “Partly cloudy” will no longer only be synonymous with “mostly sunny,” but with “iced tea and strawberries,” “sandals and a v-neck tee,” and “ride my bike to work.” It’s the weather the way you see it, the way they see it, the way we all see it.

ReThink: Old Clothes

In a consumer society, when something becomes “old,” it is replaced with something new. Patagonia is challenging this notion through its Common Threads Initiative. While not a new idea, the Initiative is inspiring new commitment to the old mantra of “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.” The company is doing its part to be sustainable and is providing forward-thinking ways for you to do the same.

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