Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year!

I did not know that the tradition of the ball-dropping in New York was that old! They're celebrating that by doing things a little differently this year (and hopefully going forward).

NEW YORK -- The Times Square New Year's Eve ball is celebrating its centennial by going green.

The star of the world-famous holiday extravaganza was revamped this year with 9,576 energy-efficient bulbs that use about the same amount of electricity as 10 toasters.

Philips Lighting, which created the light-emitting diodes, or LED bulbs, specifically for the event, said they are smaller but more than twice as bright as last year's lights, which were a mix of more than 600 incandescent and halogen bulbs. And the new lights can create more than 16 million colours for a kaleidoscope of hues against the 672 Waterford Crystal triangles.

The ball was first dropped for the New Year's Eve celebration in 1907. Made of iron and wood, it weighed more than 300 kg and was lit with 100 25-watt bulbs.


This year, the motif is "Let There Be Light" and features a stylized, radiating sunburst on each of the crystal triangles.

The new design and technology "will make the ball glow like nothing else," said Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance, a business group in charge of the event.

Mrs THIT wonders how much energy the previous ball would eat up. I...have no idea, but I suspect it was significantly more than ten toasters.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Changing The Present

I've read a couple of articles lately about how charitable donations have become far more popular options for Christmas presents over the past year or two. Rather than navigate through malls looking for something to catch the eye, people are becoming more attracted to either donating to a cause on behalf of a loved one, or to "adopting" an animal from an organization such as the WWF.

Changing The Present seeks to make it easier by gathering all your options under one roof. And they offer other ideas as to when that mentality can come into play. It doesn't have to be just at Christmas time.

Race For Your Cause: All right, not everyone runs marathons regularly just for the sheer hell of it. Anytime I've been involved in anything even resembling this, it's been for a specific cause. But someone who does run a marathon "because it's there" can use Changing The Present to raise funds for a pet cause.

Facebook Gift Giving: Considering the sheer volume of people who have Facebook memberships, and who constantly send requests to add various applications to one's page, this one could do a lot of good! Basically...

Changing the world, one gift at a time
Now, you can give gifts to your friends that also make the world a better place.

ChangingThePresent offers nearly 1,000 meaningful $1 gifts from hundreds of leading nonprofits, so you're sure to find something that moves you. For instance, you can contribute towards providing a child with her first book; funding an hour of cancer research; protecting an acre of the rain forest; or restoring a blind person's sight with cataract surgery.

Your gifts will appear on your friends’ profile pages when they add the application.

And finally (though not necessarily leastly):

Create a Registry: If you have a forthcoming event for which people are expected to buy gifts, you could direct them to making a donation to a personal favourite charity/cause. Weddings naturally come to mind first when the term "registry" is used, but you can apply it to any significant event.

Whether you're the person donating or suggesting the donation, if you're unsure about the organization to which the donation would be applied, you can always check with Charity Navigator to get a better feel for whether they're a worthy recipient.

Happy giving!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

2007 Seventh-Warmest Year on Record

I know many people are sick and tired of hearing it, but...

BBC News - This year has been one of the warmest since 1850, despite the cooling influence of La Nina conditions, according to scientists.

The UK's Hadley Centre and University of East Anglia conclude that globally, this year ranks as the seventh warmest.

The 11 warmest years in this set have all occurred within the last 13 years. For the northern hemisphere alone, 2007 was the second warmest recorded.

I mention it because, when we received 35+ centimeters of snow in one day recently, the inevitable comments that global warming must be a hoax or mistake were heard again. So if I follow the reasoning, scientific research is to be immediately invalidated in favour of a snow storm in mid-December.

Is that to say that scientists are never wrong? Of course not. I've admitted a number of times that I'm not a full believer in global warming, or climate change, or whatever name you want to give it.

I also don't believe the excuse, used by those who don't want to change their habits, that adapting against climate change will ruin the economy. Ridiculous. Individuals can take it upon themselves to do their little part and make a significant difference. But I suppose that taking the stance that inaction is doing the world a favour is comforting to those who can't do away
with their little luxuries, like driving to their mailboxes.

You may have seen this gentleman's original video before. He broke down the logic of acting as though climate change is a fact very clearly. He apparently has updated it to cover a hole in his original video, so if watching this version feels as though you're watching a sequel, well, you are. And he's made more since, including a 4-part series since called "The Solution".

He dares you to punch a hole in his theory. So by all means, if you feel that a snow storm in December trumps his entire argument for a common sense approach, write to him and set him straight.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Get Drunk for the Environment! And for Country!

Ah, Friday night! My favourite time of the week because it's the most distant I can be from having to work next.

Usually, I like to celebrate that weekly event with a bottle of Taylor-Fladgate port (well...not the whole bottle...). But from time to time I'll wander from habit and look for other options. If it's a "green" option, all the better!

So you can imagine that the name "plantatree" on a bottle caught my eye!

You can click the image above for their website, but here's the claim:

For each bottle purchased, Lifford Wine Agency, in partnership with Tree Canada, will plant one tree. The trees, to be planted in Sudbury beginning in spring ’08, will each absorb approximately 650 pounds of carbon over the course of their life span.

“We are proud to be able to offer consumers a carbon-positive choice with plantatree™,” said Steven Campbell, Owner, Lifford Wine Agency. “We know that consumers want choice. We are providing them with an environmentally-responsible choice in the wine they drink. Consumers who purchase plantatree can enjoy a glass of wine and at the same time do something positive for the planet.”

Lifford has gone to great length to provide consumers with a high quality product that is good for the environment and supports local industry. The grapes for plantatree were farmed using sustainable agriculture practices in California. To lessen the carbon imprint, the wines are transported in bulk to Niagara and bottled by Niagara Vintners in PET plastic bottles made in Mississauga. The plastic PET bottles are unbreakable, significantly lighter than glass and recyclable. The cartons are made in Ontario of recycled cardboard that can be recycled again.

Mrs THIT is not wild about the plastic bottle, arguing that glass is no less recyclable. True enough, but I like it for a different reason. I take the bus home. When I have to take one of these with me, I'm always paranoid that I'm going to break it on the way. And it is indeed significantly lighter. So it works for me on that level.

When I'm a bit better informed about recycling codes, I intend to write a post about it here. For now, suffice to say that the bottle shows the following logo...

...And according to Wikipedia...

While all thermoplastics are technically recyclable, PET bottle recycling is more practical than many other plastic applications. The primary reason is that plastic carbonated soft drink bottles and water bottles are almost exclusively PET which makes them more easily identifiable in a recycle stream. PET has a resin identification code of 1. PET, as with many plastics, is also an excellent candidate for thermal recycling (incineration) as it is composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen with only trace amounts of catalyst elements (no sulphur) and has the energy content of soft coal.

I've had a couple of bottles of it (the Merlot) now and I like it. Is it high quality? Does it need to breathe? Would it go well with peice of soft cheese? Cripes, I don't know. Not only am I not a connaisseur (sp?) by any stretch of the imagination, I don't even pretend to be one. Here's my overall review: I think it tastes nice.

Now last night we stopped by the liquor store on our way home but I couldn't decide between the port or the Plantatree. Part of my decision was made for me when the port was unavailable, but I thought I should look around a bit for other options.

Glad I did! While browsing, I stumbled into this loveliness (in red, mind you):

Notice the Vancouver 2010 Olympic logo there? I'm a sucker for the Olympic games (though I gave up on them for a spell after the boxing fiasco in Seoul) and have done my little share to support those athletes from time to time. Well, here's another way:

Every time you purchase Jackson-Triggs Esprit™ wines, partial proceeds will proudly support The Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, and our Canadian Olympic Team. Jackson-Triggs Esprit™ wines are specially crafted in celebration of the Spirit of The Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games and are the result of our unique partnership with the Vancouver Organizing Committee for The Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC).

I'd posted about another wine which had partnered with the WWF, and have seen yet another that contributed tot he SPCA. There are enough options now that pretty well any time I buy a bottle, I'll attempt to see to it that someone benefits in a small way from my purchase. Why not? Those wines tend to be inexpensive and certainly adequate for my little weekly celebration.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Click Greener

This was a tip that I found on a WWF newsletter. I meant to hold off posting about it until closer to Christmas, but it slipped my mind. On the other hand, since many guys only do their Christmas shopping on December 23rd anyway, maybe I'm still way ahead of schedule.

Each year, online shopping malls earn millions of dollars in referral fees. ClickGreener harnesses this power and uses it to help the environment. Simply visit your favorite retailer through and make your purchase as usual. ClickGreener then donates 51% of the referral fee earned to WWF-Canada and other leading environmental organizations. There is no additional cost to you.

There are a number of recent articles about this including this one. So if you're the internet-shopper type, why not have a glance at whether the store you're shopping at is included on clickgreener's list? They're not lacking for selection and you can either search by store name or by product type.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

It's Really Just a Love Story...

Frequent and/or long-time readers of my little blog, if there is such an animal, will have noted by now that many of the posts that fall under the "tip" or suggestion category will include a benefit aside from the positive environmental impact.

The simple reason for that is that in my experience most people won't necessarily pay more, or go through additional effort, to be "green". I actually don't blame them, since many claims of greenhood are disputed. So I like to look for additional incentive when I find it, whether health-related, money-saving, whatever.

Here's a side-benefit that I have yet to "promote". Soft hands.

I bring to your attention, Nature Clean Dishwashing Liquid.

This product (and other members of its family) are fairly easy to find. They tend to be included in the organics section of grocery stores. We'd noticed them before, but they cost a little more and Mrs THIT had never heard anything particularly good about natural household cleaning products so until recently, they'd been ignored.

She tried this one because of it's tea tree oil content. Christine works with chemicals and her hands suffer because of it. They become extremely dry, cracked and painful. It's precision work, so she's unable to wear gloves while working. She'd heard that tea tree oils can be good for dry skin however and on that basis decided to give this product a try.

It seems she's quite pleased with it. She'd tried a number of moisterizing creams and what-not over the past couple of years to little success, but after less than two weeks of using this product she's already seeing a difference.

This particular benefit is hardly a surprise when one looks into the history of the company:

In the early 1960s, Mrs. Ross, the wife of our founder, suffered from skin rashes caused by dish detergents and shampoos. In an effort to alleviate her suffering, her husband began developing natural formulations. Since then the Ross family has continued the tradition of creating natural non-toxic alternatives for almost every product in your home. Over the years the love story surrounding our brand has extended far beyond this. Natureclean® is about caring for your family's health, it's about the passion we feel for protecting our natural world, and it's about loving ourselves enough to use safer products.

Group hug!!

Looking around their site, I found their Produce Wash interesting as well.

Most pesticides can’t be removed from produce with water alone because they are designed to be water resistant. This way, they won’t wash off in the rain.

Fruit & Veggie Wash Concentrate was designed for produce which requires soaking such as grapes, berries, broccoli, and spinach. This type of produce has more hidden crevices where contaminants can hide. Our formula has no taste, is odourless, residue-free and helps remove surface pesticides, chemicals, bacteria, wax and dirt. For firm produce like apples and tomatoes, we recommend our Fruit & Veggie Spray Wash.

Even organic produce should be washed. It can be exposed to everything from contaminated irrigation water to fertilizers, animal feces and human contact.

All told, I'm tremendously pleased that Christine has found a natural product that rids her of a nagging physical discomfort. So pleased in fact that I'll leave the dishwashing duties to her entirely! Sure, I probably washed dishes about once a year on the average, but I wouldn't want to take away something that benefits her, so I'll sacrifice that anniversary-like event for her sake. ;-)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Kindness Meters

Interesting idea coming out of the mayor's office here in Ottawa and getting front page coverage in the Ottawa Sun newspaper.

Mayor Larry O'Brien wants you to make change for the homeless.

Beginning next week, visitors to the Byward Market will notice a few "kindness meters," formerly used as parking meters they are intended to collect loonies and toonies for the city's homeless.

It's part of the Give Smart program the city officially kicked off yesterday.

"Nobody in the City of Ottawa needs to be hungry and I want residents to park their cash in these meters," said O'Brien.

The mayor has asked that six parking meters that are no longer being used for their original purpose be refurbished and stationed at strategic locations -- high traffic pedestrian areas in the Market.

So as not to confuse motorists, the meters will be positioned away from the road and painted a different colour than the traditional metallic grey.

O'Brien said the kindness meters will be easily recognizable and will carry a Give Smart logo.

The money collected wouldn't be placed directly in the hands of the homeless, but will be distributed to the organizations that serve the homeless, including the Ottawa Mission and Operation Go Home.

"The money will go to the groups that actually provide the help," said O'Brien.

Rideau-Vanier Coun. Georges Bedard, whose ward will be home to the meters, said they'll go a long way to providing the necessary help that homeless people need.

"I hope this will encourage people to give their money to various organizations," said Bedard.

The Give Smart drive is the second phase of a program that began last April emphasizing that putting money into the hands of the panhandlers doesn't help them.

"It mostly goes to feeding their addictions," said Bedard.

To help promote public philanthropy, Bedard said the Give Smart campaign will be advertised on OC Transpo buses and pamphlets have been printed to inform the public about the program's intention -- all paid for by the area business community.

And to ensure the operation and maintenance of the program doesn't become a financial burden, the city is looking for corporate sponsors.

Bedard said if the kindness meters prove to be a worthwhile means to collect money to help the homeless, he'd like to install more of them in the Byward Market.

Similar meters have already been installed in a few Canadian municipalities and across the United States.

Montreal installed 60 of them a few months ago and collects about $700 a week.

I'll be honest, at first read I thought this was a well-intended idea that I would have supported when the opportunity presented itself, but that would not amount to much. However, its success in Montreal (on a much larger scale mind you) is encouraging.

The article seems to cover all my concerns but one; why limit it to loonies and twonies (which I believe should be the proper spelling of that coin's name, in light of its value)? I'm constantly carrying too many coins. I'd unload all my nickles and dimes and not even feel it. No doubt the organizations in question would accept them.

I like the mention that giving homeless people the money directly does little to help. I believe that to be true. Reading this article, I was reminded of many anecdotes, personal or otherwise, of people trying to help and becoming frustrated. Christine once handed a guy some change only to be told "Well, that's not a hell of a lot!". I saw a panhandling kid once get pissed that someone included pennies in their handout to him, grab them from his cup and throw them in the street. A co-worker was asked for $75 to get a room for the night.

I once gave a lady a loonie, and she asked me for five bucks. Presumably, if I'd given her $5 she'd have asked for ten and proceeded with this escalation until I bought her a house by the river. She followed me for two blocks asking for more.

So this would appear to be a case where the indirect method is the better course of action.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Improve at Scrabble and Feed the Poor!

My mention of urban legends in the previous post reminded me that I hadn't visited The Urban Legends Reference Page, a long-time favourite, in some time. So I did. And browsing the "What's New?" section led me to this little game (as well as a confirmation that it is indeed legitimate and not a hoax).

The point is to trigger a donation of 20 grains of rice for every multiple answer vocabulary question you answer correctly on the site. The rice is paid for the advertisers at the bottom of the page. And how does it reach those in need? From the site's FAQ:

The rice is distributed by the United Nations World Food Program (WFP). The World Food Program is the world’s largest food aid agency, working with over 1,000 other organizations in over 75 countries. In addition to providing food, the World Food Program helps hungry people to become self-reliant so that they escape hunger for good.

Other similar sites, on which a donation is made with nothing but a click, include and Look across the top of either site for even more.

The Six Sins of Greenwashing

I hate getting suckered by a hoax, but it happens to most people. Probably everyone can recall falling for something they read on the 'net (most likely in some bulk e-mail) or believing in something that was later revealed to be an urban legend.

For that reason, I try to question some of the claims I come across when looking into environmental matters. Especially now that claiming to be green is such a great marketing tool. Often though, you have to apply a little blind faith and go with your gut.

This is why I was pleased to read about The Six Sins of Greenwashing, brought to my attention through a Greenbiz newsletter. Here's a portion of their article

In the spring of 2007, TerraChoice sent research teams into six category-leading "big box" retail stores with instructions to "record every product-based environmental claim they observed." In all, the teams examined 1,018 consumer products bearing 1,753 environmental claims. Products ranged from cleaning and personal care products to televisions and printers.

Of the products examined, "all but one made claims that are either demonstrably false or that risk misleading intended audiences," according to the report.

TerraChoice has isolated six methods by which the green claim is not always as accurate as a consumer would be led to believe, hence the six sins. Some could be "innocently" innacurate due to lack of detailed research, while others are deliberate falsehoods or omissions of information.

The report includes tips on how to avoid the misinformation, whether you're the business or the consumer, including the certifications that they feel you can count on. Check it out. Seems like a good reference.