Someone Somewhere is Doing Something

Less than a year ago, everyone was all about the environment.  But with so many other topics taking center stage, many have started wondering what, if anything, is happening on the green front.

While there’s almost no news coming from Washington these days, environmental initiatives are taking shape across America.  Progress may not be as quick as some would like, but green projects are taking form like never before.  Here are some examples of what’s happening out there:

The Gap Inc. is powering its West Coast distribution center with a 1-megawatt solar power system, which it expects to offset 2.5 million pounds of green house gas annually.  Also using solar energy in various operations to cut back on fossil-fuel energy use: Applied Materials, United Natural Foods, Aveda, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Sam’s Club, Toyota, Constellation Wines and Rutgers University.  Want to go solar yourself?  There are products available in the Neutral Existence store to help, or check out solar panels at Ikea or Sam’s Club.

While the economic crisis may have curbed the American desire to build, build, build, it seems many of those who are constructing or renovating structures are doing it with a green mindset.  This year, 51 Stop & Shop grocery stores received LEED certification.  Coffee Beans International opened a LEED certified office and bean roasting facility in Portland, Oregon recently. Toyota unveiled its first LEED certified car dealership in Utah—it unveiled the first ever in Texas. Kettle Foods has a Gold LEED manufacturing facility and Kraft has an 800,000 sq. ft. LEED recognized distribution center near Chicago. Not much good news on banking these days, but all new Wells Fargo and Citi branches are following pre-certified LEED designs, like a variety of other consumer market builders, including Office Depot.

There’s no longer a need to pitch electronics to the landfill and whine about how nobody is offering recycling services.  Dell and Toshiba both offer programs, and Office Depot has an extensive one itself, particularly targeting items like printer cartridges and old cell phones.  Best Buy’s got one, too.  Hewlett-Packard has even partnered with the State of California to TRACK where its recyclable printer cartridges go.  So stop waiting for curbside e-waste pick up and stop those pitiful stories on third-world people who get paid pennies to unsafely dismantle American e-waste.

And Home Depot – all of them – now recycles your CFL bulbs.  If you didn’t know these great new bulbs need to be treated separately from your basic garbage, shame on you.  They contain mercury, which if regularly disposed of by everyone in their curbside trash could turn landfills into an ever bigger problem down the road.  Home Depot knows that with its retail weight, it can get great deals on bulk recycling of these “could be hazardous” little curlicues.  Say thank you when you drop yours off.

If you’re into pre-cycling, try the ultimate pre-cycle.  Buy H-P’s Pavillion laptop at a Sam’s Club or Wal-Mart in a reusable, 100 percent-recycled messenger bag.  Or look into Payless’s up and coming line of eco-shoes,mm made from recycled fabrics, rubbers, etc. Or if you partake in an occasional drink or two, make it Miller Time. Miller Brewing which currently recycles 99.9 percent of its packaging waste.

Corporate and business initiatives will hopefully continue to grow – this listing hasn’t even scratched the surface.  You can encourage projects and programs like these with your dollars.  If you want to know more, visit http://www.environmentalleader.com – it’s a Web site all about what the business world is doing on the green front. These examples all came from it. 

Now for the caveat.  Are these initiatives all perfect?  Probably not. Are some public relations-based more than responsibility-based? Most likely. Could corporate America do more?  Absolutely. 

It’s no secret that business is slow on this stuff.  That doesn’t mean that every project or initiative it does support to the global audience is greenwash. Many of these, as well as programs in hotels, sports arenas, apparel manufacturing and other industries, have produced real results, and more importantly, have the potential to convince those with the purse strings to keep investing in green.

What will transpire under the current market conditions remains to be seen.  Some of these projects and others like it might die for re-financing to right the system.  At the same time, there are those in the hallowed halls out there who realize that there’s a reason the word “efficiency” is so often linked to green.  Better operating procedures, better buildings, better management of raw materials and waste, just make for better business.

Solar, Wind and Hybirds Finally Get Subsidies, But… At What Cost?

In case you have not already heard, the 700 Billion dollar bail out passed both the house and the senate and president bush is set to sign it. Along with this 700 billion dollar bail out plan, was an additional 150 billion in tax breaks in a variety of different areas, some good, and some obviously taking care of some special interest.

With a vote of 263-171 the house passed the new version of the bill which failed days earlier. The senate knew what they were doing when they added 150 billion in popular tax breaks and essentially buy the verdict from both the Democrats and Republicans. The original bill, which in my opinion was not a good bill, essentially letting the government control much of the private sector giving them more power and leading the nation towards a socialist future, was squashed by both sides a week earlier. So, the senate went back and instead of passing the “Good” (better than nothing) energy bill that was on the table, to extend tax credits for alternative energies and hybrids, the senate killed that bill and added those subsidies into the “Bailout Bill”, which was a bold and smart move to get more Democratic Reps. on their side. Along with a laundry list of other special interest tax breaks like subsidies for race tracks and bow and arrow manufacturers, the senate effectively bought our representatives’ votes and passed their bailout bill.

We have been actively pushing for the tax credits which passed yesterday for over a year, calling senators and representatives, signing petitions and much more, but to finally get what we wanted, though a bribe, makes victory… not so sweet. While I am happy that solar and wind subsidies have been extended for 8 years and now pulg-in hybrids will get up to $7,500 in tax credits, I am still disappointed that our reps and senators wouldn’t pass these things for the right reasons, and had to be bribed. Now 700 billion dollars of our hard earned tax dollars is going to God knows where to fund God knows what, because with no oversight, we truly will not know.

Less Pollution = More Rain

A recent study by Martin Wild and his colleagues, from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich have shown that solar radiation and rainfall have increased with the decrease in air pollution.

Martin explains that as air pollution drops over recent decades, due to new and more stringent emission standards, the solar radiation increases because more sunlight is able to penetrate the atmosphere. This increase in solar radiation has caused an increase in evaporation, thus intensifying the natural water cycle and ultimately causing more rain. This excess rain could explain some of the extraordinary recent precipitation events, such as flooding, landslides and erosion.

Wild’s study has only focused on land masses, so it is not yet clear as to whether these precipitation increases are from evaporation over land masses or from the oceans. The effects of this phenomena are localized and some factors, such as increases in winds could cause less rain in particular areas, which would explain increase droughts in those areas.

Via: NewScientist

Electricity is not the Enemy

There’s nothing like an extended loss of power to illustrate just how much energy we consume.

Once Hurricane Ike finished with Texas, it wound its way up through the Midwest, and knocked my electricity out for close to three days. Living in the dark offered some interesting insight into the various reasons we use power – essential and frivolous – and a clearer view into just how difficult it will be to revamp our current energy system to be both reliable and efficient.

As you might imagine, when we first lost power it was the obvious things we missed.  Television, lights, etc. We grabbed up the flashlights and candles and solved the one problem we could.  Our other biggest immediate challenge was the loss of Internet service.  Laptops will work on batteries, but our DSL router and modem are pluggers – which means even wireless Internet doesn’t work.

We’d have had no access to news, weather and emergency info without our hand-crank radio. (Get yourself one of these – ours offers radio and tv audio, as well as access to weather stations.  It also has a cell phone charger.  www.llbean.com.)

There was the “to-open or not-to-open” refrigerator debate.  Normally, if you can keep the fridge and freezer closed, contents can survive for about 48 hours.  But we, and more importantly our two toddlers, needed to eat, so we opened – and subsequently closed as quickly as possible.  We spent the next two days trying to keep our kids from opening the fridge, and trying to survive on things we found outside its doors.  Eventually, for safety’s sake, we went to the giant white fishing cooler and ice purchased from a grocery store.

Like a surprisingly large number of Americans, (somewhere around 50 percent in my state of Pennsylvania), we get our water from a well.  Not the kind with a bucket and a rope.  Modern wells are operated with electric pumps.  So for those of us who live in the deep suburbs or more rurally, no power means no water.  No water means no showers/baths, no toilet flushing (unless you help it along with buckets of water – which you can only get if you’re a little more industrious than most, since your pump is off), no water to drink or wash hands unless you have some bottled on hand or wait for store bought ice to melt, no laundry, and no water for cleaning.  Living on a farm, we also had no water for animals and pets.

What surprised me most perhaps was how many “mission critical” items in a home rely on electricity.  We’ve no doubt come to take the blessings of refrigeration for granted.  Having to empty our fridge/freezer, and storage freezers of contents on day three drove that point home.  Few of us likely think too hard about food safety until faced with an emergency – its one of the things electricity has eased from our minds to some degree. 

For those of us using wells, electricity has allowed a level of sanitation once not available.  Together with refrigeration, it’s made suburban and rural life more practical – and likely added to overall life expectancy.  Had this been winter, we’d all have been freezing as well. Electricity has also made us more comfortable – and much safer – when getting warm in extreme temperatures.

The point being this – electricity is not the enemy, green friends.  Yet how we produce is problematic.  But for those advocating a sudden death to all coal-fired power anytime soon, it may be time for a reality check.  The benefits of electric power to human life have surpassed our current ability to produce enough clean energy to reliably service everyone at the current time. 

I’m not talking about the “comforts” of energy guzzlers like plasma televisions, video game systems, and various chargers for all of our wireless gizmos.  I’m talking about simple basics electrical needs – refrigeration, heat, light and water.  Even with everyone on board, transferring from fossil fuel electricity to clean technology will require a transition period, phase out and turn over – so in the meantime, coal is going to need to part of our plan if we’re all going to have RELIABLE power. The coal problem is a big one – and while I hate to say it, we may not be able to solve it without relying on those black rocks a little longer.

The role of us small people is more important than every while things get sorted out.  Get compact fluorescents in all the lights in your home.  Buy Energy Star and use appliances correctly.  Get media plugged into a power strip that can be turned off when not in use.  Unplug chargers when not charging.  Teach your children about energy conservation.  Pass on the new plasma – and demand manufacturers find ways to make these things more efficient.  Demand “kid powered” toys. Get a programmable thermostat.  Recycle. Run your laptop on the battery.  Run only full loads in your washer, dryer and dishwasher. Take colder showers. Wash in cold water. Do everything you can to keep your consumption down until better methods prevail. 

If we all did, King Coal’s retirement may come a bit earlier.

Raising environmentally responsible kids starts with a solid personal commitment

Let’s face it – many of the concepts surrounding environmental responsibility can be quite complicated, even for those of us who have some scientific know how. All of that heavy material, combined with legitimate and not so legitimate public debate on the validity of sustainability initiatives can confuse just about anyone – especially children.

Common sense tells us that to raise an environmentally conscious child, we need to start early on in their development.  But with such dense subject matter, where is a parent to begin?  The answer is easier than you may think.

As with any skill or ideology parents look to instill in their children, environmental responsibility starts with a good example.  Parents interested in raising green kids need to start with their own habits, and be sure that their children regularly catch them in the act of loving the earth. 

For instance, if you compost, make collecting table scraps and other compostable kitchen materials part of an after meals routine.  Get a kitchen composter, and be sure your children see you use it regularly.  As your children grow, invite them to help and involve them in emptying the collection bin into a larger, outdoor compost bin.  Be sure they understand how the raw materials break down into compost, and how it helps to improve soil and return necessary nutrients to the earth.  If your children are young and you are just starting a compost regimen, think about using a worm bin – kids everywhere love the idea of feeding newspaper and banana peels to hungry worms.

Recycling is an activity almost hand-made for toddlers who are big on sorting and filling bins, so be sure to get them in the habit of helping.  Set up a home recycling “center” with specified containers for aluminum, plastic, cardboard, paper and whatever else you may recycle.  Once rinsed and ready, allow your toddler to place items in the proper bins – not only does the child learn to recycle, he or she learns to differentiate between like and unlike materials.  Be sure to explain how recyclables are made into new products. Anytime you buy a product made of recycled material, be it cereal in a box made from recycled paperboard or rubber mulch for a under a swing set, share that information with your child, and be sure to reference how they are playing a role in “making” something new.

Energy and water conservation are also easy concepts for children to learn if they are part of how their parents and caregivers do things.  Always turn off the water when you brush your teeth, and teach children to do the same.  Even young children are able to help with the laundry – be sure they always see you wash full loads, and rarely, if ever, use the hot temperature setting. 

Be sure children see you turn off lights and electronics when you leave a room.  When they begin to show interest in turning the lights on and off (about 2, if not earlier), remind them to use electricity only when needed.  Let them catch you adjusting thermostats and turning off electronics before bed, or when leaving the house.  With older children who play video games or use computers for long periods of time, set limits and encourage them to engage in other activities.  Better yet, hold back on introducing energy hogging toys and games when children are younger to curb their interest.

Instead of using brown and individual plastic bags, teach children to cut back on waste by using an insulated lunch box with reusable containers for sandwiches, snacks and drinks.  Encourage them to use reusable drink bottles during activities and sports, instead of individually bottled beverages.  Buy bulk sizes of snacks, condiments and drinks to reduce household waste and be sure children even at the youngest ages see you put litter and trash in the proper place no matter where you are.

By exposing your children to good environmental habits early on, you can provide the foundation for a lifetime of eco-responsibility and play a part in building a better and cleaner world.

Some great tools for teaching children environmentally responsible concepts:

The Lorax, Dr. Suess

Dora Saves the Mermaids, Nick Jr.

It’s A Big, Big World, PBS Kids Series

Everything Kids’ Environment Book, Sheri Amsel

Child’s Introduction to the Environment, Michael Driscoll, Dennis Driscoll and Meredith Hamilton

Planet Earth Gets Well, Madeline Kaplan

The Amazing Adventures of Annie Adair, A. Hartzell

The Tree Farmer, Chuck Laevell and Nicholas Cravotta

Happy Feet, Warner Home Video

Ferngully – The Last Rainforest, 20th Century Fox

Planet Earth – The Complete BBC Series, BBC

Higher Education: Green 101

Recent research by the Princeton Review suggests that parents and college-age students are more likely to pick a school based on its environmental record and initiatives than ever before.  Media coverage of late shows that colleges and universities admit they are using the green phenomenon to attract students with sustainable buildings, academic programs and other offerings.

Yet just last year, researchers found themselves somewhat surprised to tell the world that the younger demographic – including the college-aged – were the least likely group to recycle anything.  So what gives?

Obviously, green is cool these days.  It’s also politically correct, if you will, which may have us all fibbing a little on our interest in really doing the right thing when it comes to Mother Earth.  Let’s face it – we’re all a little more interested in our pocket books these days, and overall, we’re always more interested in what makes our lives most convenient. 

But it’s possible to help yourself and the environment at the same time – even with a college student’s budget and lifestyle.  Here are a few ideas – some are even educational:

First things first – if you’re really not recycling, start there.  Plastic bottles and packaging; cans, beer or otherwise; cardboard boxes from care packages – what ever you have that can be recycled.  If you’re campus does not offer a comprehensive recycling program or for that matter any recycling program at all (don’t be shocked – everyone thinks college’s are the cradle of the environmental movement these days but there are administrators who still don’t get it), look outside the boundaries.  If you find the right recycling facility, you may even get some cash for your cans.  Even without the financial incentive, consider organizing campus drives where you collect recyclables from the student body and staff and transport them to the local center.

Second, use foot power.  Don’t be lazy on a pedestrian campus.  Chances are, in wooing you to enroll, your college or university has found ways to offer almost everything you may ever need within walking distance.  If not, local entrepreneurs are probably filling the gaps.  If you have a car on campus, don’t drive it two blocks to a drive through, or for that matter around campus to an academic building you don’t feel like walking to.  Get up and walk.  Or bike if you have one.  Find a job you can walk to, and consider transportation when looking for off campus housing.  The only exception to this rule comes when safety is of major concern.

Third, be progressive.  It may surprise many to know that old “activist” tactics are wearing thin on the world. Most have heard the green message – they just want to know how they can help sans the lectures. Many groups still use publicity stunts – think PETA putting naked women in cellophane wrappers like grocery store meat – but the truth is, many are realizing that hard-line demands and silly antics only create more distance between “greenies” and their goals.  If you want something green done on your campus, find out who to talk to and make an appointment to discuss it.  Again, no demands – make a case for what you want.  Show financial savings, show good public relations, show great interest on the part of the student body.  You just may get what you want.  If however, your administrators are more archaic than most, feel free to revert to the old school protest model.

Fourth, think.  Colleges and universities, with multitudes of students, staff and faculty living out most of their day on campus are ripe for waste and actions that are not exactly environmental.  So look for opportunities like these: 

Need a charity project for your sorority or fraternity?  Collect athletic shoes for Nike – if the shoe giant has a gear contract with your athletic teams, they may even help you promote it or cut you some breaks on shipping what you collect to them.  Collect used fleece in the spring and get it to Patagonia to use in the manufacture of new clothing. Look for ways to reuse and recycle the things you and your fellow students use most.
No brainer – buy used books and sell them back when you can.
Inventory your room.  Consider downsizing your mini-fridge, or purchase and Energy Star model.  Are there electronics you can share with roommates? Take shorter showers and watch what you’re sending down the drain – certain substances and chemicals can wreck havoc on sewer systems. Don’t run the water while you’re brushing your teeth or applying beauty products. Plasma televisions are one of the greatest energy hogs of the current era– limit your time in front of the tube.  Unplug the appliances and electronics you leave behind over breaks.
Invest in a refillable drink bottle or two, and ditch the single serve bottles of water and soda, and the individual coffee cups at your favorite barista.
Precycle – when mom and dad visit buy the things you need in bulk or in sizes that use less packaging.  Take reusable bags to the market and even to the bookstore when you need something.
Paper is the most landfilled item in the country.  Do as much work as you can online, and try to avoid printing hard copies when you can. If you need to print, do it double-sided.  Cut back on flyers to advertise your campus organization’s events, and find viral or alternative means to do so. Use a white board instead of sticky notes to leave messages for friends and roommates.
It should go unsaid, but don’t litter.  If you’re tailgating at a sporting event, bring a bag for trash and recyclables.  Don’t toss cigarette butts, gum or wrappers as your traversing the campus.  If there’s a need for more trash receptacles in high traffic areas around campus, talk to someone in the physical plant.  And don’t leave random trash in classrooms and public areas either.
If you’re campus doesn’t have a student group dedicated to the environment, start one.  Show students how small actions can make a big difference. Work with – not against—your campus administrators to implement sustainable living initiatives.  Invite environmental professionals to talk about their careers on campus, and find ways to activate environmentally minded citizens and businesses in the greater college community.

Have a great idea about how to live more sustainably on campus?  Are you attending a school that’s really progressive?  Let us know!

 

Bisephenol A Free Baby Bottles

Many of you have probably heard in the news about bisephenol a (BPA), which is a chemical that is released when certain plastic components react to liquids that are acidic, high in fat or heated.  This has left parents concerned about the safety of the bottles they use to feed their babies. 

Many studies conducted have shown is that BPA can potentially cause lifelong problems such as breast or prostate cancer, infertility, or early puberty. However, the FDA continues to say that the levels of Bisephenol A that are released in these plastic bottles are still well below dangerous levels and the bottles are safe to use.

The good news is that there are plenty of alternatives available! 

When we first heard about these problems, my husband conducted some research and found the brand Nurture Pure.  We bought a couple of sippy-cups and glass bottles for our son.  We love both, but I have to say, as much as I like the glass bottles, they are a problem due to their weight and due to the fact that our son is at the stage where he loves to drop things! 

Yes, the other day we were having lunch at a local restaurant and my son shocked the whole room when he dropped his glass bottle.  I didn’t expect it to happen, as he was gulping his juice, but the second I looked away he took it out of his mouth and threw it on the floor.  Oh yes, it was fun to hear and see all that glass shatter, yeah right.  Because of this experience, I obviously wanted to look for a plastic alternative! 

I went to Super Target today and found Born Free bottles: definitely pricier than other bottles, but of course, to me, protection has no price!  So far so good. Born Free claims to reduce the risk of middle ear infection and helps reduce colic.

New Solar Cell Material Has Theoretical Efficiency of Over 60%

Conventional solar cells based on silicon semiconductors, can only absorb visible photons with a particular amount of energy, which is then transfered to the trapped electrons. Unfortunately, these conventional systems cannot use visible photons that contain more or less than a certain amount of energy, making then quite inefficient.

However some advances were made in 1997 by another Spanish scientist, who found a way to increase that usable spectrum of visible photons. He found a way to collect the lower energy photons and store them until another lower energy photon was absorbed and then combine them to make the electron jump. Even though these advances were quite significant, the theoretical efficiency of silicon based solar cell have still remained under 40%.

That is, until now…

A couple of scientist in Madrid, Spain have invented a new type of solar cell which not only collects visible light, but captures the energy of non-visible infrared light. These scientist have devised a way to create an intermediate energy level for collecting visible and non-visible low level energy photons, by adding vanadium and titanium to the semi-conductors. Instead of collecting two low level photons and combining them to make them jump to the full energy level, the titanium and vanadium actually alters the electronics of the semi-conductors allowing them to absorb and jump on intermediate energy levels. This new advancement according to the team will give these new solar cells a theoretical efficiency of 63%.

via NewSientist

Online Learning Reduces Environmental Impact of Offline School Facilities

Online learning environments are definitely environmentally friendly, and for many good reasons. While traditional school facilities do enable face-to-face interaction between teachers and students, school facilities do impact the environment in a number of important ways.

First, consider the sheer amount of space that school campuses take up. School campuses require years and years to build, and they usually require the bulldozing of large areas of land previously inhabited by trees and nature. Granted, environmental impact surveys are required for virtually all new building nowadays, but the fact remains that when you build a school facility meant to service thousands of students, the environment will be negatively impacted in some way.

Surrounding areas see an increase in traffic and possibly pollution, for example. Light pollution is even something that must be considered with a large school campus. Additionally, there is the issue of the amount of energy school facilities use. Energy is used to heat and cool school facilities as well as to provide electricity for computers and lights.

In fact, one study conducted by Open University found that producing and providing distance learning courses consumes an average of 90% less energy and produces 85% fewer CO2 emissions per student than conventional face-to-face courses. Those are huge amounts!

All of this is not to even mention the amount of paper products that a traditional school facility uses each and every day. Paper is used for all sorts of photocopies (many of which are lost or thrown away), books, notebooks and a myriad of other uses. And it’s not just the use of paper which impacts the environment by reducing the number of trees we have in the world – it’s also important to consider the resources which are used to make paper, such as water, electricity, fuel, bleach and a host of other chemicals.

Speaking of water, brick and mortar school facilities use a ton of it, and even if they participate in water recycling and reclamation programs, the amount of water used is still much, much higher than it would be if the school operated solely online. Online learning is not perfect, but it is very “green” and environmentally friendly. Online learning is not perfect, but now you don’t have to be environmentally unfriendly.

Back to School, The Green Way

With summer days passing too quickly for their children, many parents are anticipating the start of a new school year. Back to school time is a great opportunity to teach environmental values and responsibility to the younger set, as capitalist tradition compels parents to dive into a sea of consumer goods with their children by their sides.

Many parents will face the back-to-school season with tighter budgets this year, so environmental concerns may not be top of mind for shoppers.  But there are still some great ways to lighten your footprint and teach valuable lessons.

First, the basics.  Apply other environmental tips you know.

Reduce.  Or “precycle.”  Sit down with your student and make a list of back-to-school needs before you hit the stores.  Talk about buying only what you need – that locker wallpaper may look cool, but will it eventually end up in the garbage? Shop for classic and multi-season clothing that will get more use and last longer. Invest in a reusable water/drink bottle for lunchtime an after school activities – preferably one without BPA (Nalgene lovers, take heart.  The company is phasing out use of BPA in its bottles.) Look for supplies that have recycled content – Staples and Home Depot both offer green office supply lines, and Pilot Pens now markets BeGreen roller balls and ball points, made of 70 percent recycled material.

Reuse.  If your student’s backpack, lunch tote, water bottle, or any other accessory from last year can make it through another semester or year, put it back to work.  Peruse the closet and bureaus.  Can backbones like jeans, jackets, fleece, etc. make it a few more miles? If so, keep them.  If your child objects, use the opportunity to talk about responsible consumerism and the need to simplify our consumption habits for the good of the environment. If you find you do need replacement items later, you may be able to save a few dollars on staple items like these when sales hit in a few months.

Recycle. While inventorying your student’s clothes, supplies and accessories from last year, you’re likely to run into some items that no longer fit, have fallen from trend grace, or have just seen their day.  Look for creative ways to recycle these items. Got old athletic shoes?  Nike collects used shoes – no matter the brand – to manufacture Nike Grind, a material it uses to build safe play surfaces in under privileged neighborhoods.  Visit http://www.letmeplay.com/reuseashoe/ for details on contributing.  Patagonia has a similar program for used fleece clothing called Common Threads.  Information is available at http://www.patagonia.com/web/us/patagonia.go?assetid=1956. Again, don’t forget about local charities that take clothing donations, and of course, the Freecycle network.

Other ideas:

Combine your trips if possible.  Don’t make separate trips for clothing, shoes, supplies and whatever else your children may need.  Look for shopping centers and malls where you can do most of your back-to-schooling in one place, and cut down on trips between stores.  Not only is this practice environmentally friendly, it will save you money on gas.

Take your own bags.  Many department and boutique stores, including Macy’s, are now encouraging customers to bring reusable bags to their stores for purchases. Keep your receipts handy, just in case you run into someone who hasn’t gotten the word on global warming.

Consider shopping online. If you’re looking for eco-friendly products, you’ll probably find a much greater selection on the Web.  And again, you’ll be saving gas (that DHL truck is on the road anyway).  If you do plan to make a lot of online purchases, think about buying through a Web site like igive.com, which will funnel a portion of your purchase amount to any charity (bonus if you pick an environmental group) at no extra cost based on agreements it has developed with retailers.

Finally, if you’re looking for environmentally friendly products, but haven’t yet developed high confidence in the recently-established glut of eco-companies, there are some great alternatives from names you know and trust. Check out these items:

Lands’ Ends’ new PVC-free lunch boxes at http://www.landsend.com/backpacks.

Clothing from Patagonia, made of recycled soda bottles, unusable second quality fabrics, and worn out garments, at http://www.patagonia.com

Earth Keepers foot ware for men from Timberland, incorporate organic, recycled and renewable materials and solvent-free adhesives. http://www.timberland.com.

Nike’s Trash Talk athletic shoes, built from manufacturing waste, are worn by Phoenix Sun’s All-Star Steve Nash. A little pricy, but worth a look. Check them out at http://www.osneaker.com/steve-nash-nike-trash-talk-zoom-bb-ii-low-red-white.html.

For your fashionista’s, look for natural cosmetics.  Burt’s Bees makes some of the best lip glosses and balms around.  Not only are the ingredients natural, the packaging is made from recycled materials.  http://www.burtsbees.com  For hair care, check out Aveda, http://www.aveda.com, one of the first companies to mix beauty and nature successfully.  Its new campaign on water pollution awareness looks directly at the next big environmental crisis in the pipeline (pun intended). The Body Shop, http://www.thebodyshop.com , and Origins, http://www.origins.com , also offer great alternatives to traditional cosmetics.