Category Archives: environment

What’s the magic in Dr. Bronner’s soap?

“We are ALL-ONE or NONE!  ALL-ONE!  ALL-ONE!” chants Dr. Bronner into a cassette recorder, over-top of a Strauss waltz, pounding his palm on a wooden desk to the syncopated beat of his saying… “ALL-ONE, ALL-ONE, ALL-ONE.”

Slightly crazy, blind and charismatic, Dr. Bronner, a 7-th generation soap-maker and German Jewish immigrant produced one amazing product and used that product to advertise his moral imperative to millions of people.  If you’ve every used Dr. Bronner’s soap, you’d recognize the overzealous 8-font type that lines each bottle.   His main slogan, “All-One,” is borrowed from the Shema Yisrael, a Torah passage that reads, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”   My interpretation is that we all live in the world together, and have the opportunity to love and respect all people and animals and microbes!

Tonight we watched a documentary film about his life, his soap, and his family, which is a complete whirl-wind adventure into the mind of an outsider artist in the highest degree.   A very entertaining film that will probably keep us buying this soap for years to come.  They have a 5:1 salary cap for all vested employees, donate 75% of net, post-production revenue to charities, and are  probably the first  company to produce 100% organic, fair-trade cosmetics.  I found it impressive that they buy fair-trade olive oil from  Palestinians, Jewish Israelis, and Christian Israelis all living in a 10 mi radius of each other– as an example of the commonality and aspirations all people share.

Sometimes the idea of corporate responsibility scares me, because it implies that if not said explicitly that corporations are free to act irresponsibly.  In Dr. Bronner’s case, his life-work and the common thread of their company is living responsibly with the world, which a worthy cause to support.


Truffle hunting dogs article by Laura McCandlish

Great article in The Oregonian newspaper by Laura McCandlish (of BaltimOregon blog) on truffle hunting dogs:

Until last year, Gusto, a 6-year-old search-and-rescue black Labrador retriever, didn’t know a sumptuous truffle from a poisonous puffball mushroom. While she had sniffed out crime scenes and searched for cadavers since she was a puppy, her Eugene-based owner, Jean Rand, found it difficult to go out on those 3 a.m. calls. Wasn’t there a more regular daytime pursuit for Gusto’s keen nose? (full story)

I wish my dog Oyster could do this!  How can I train him to do more than sniff out treats in my pocket?  Are there truffles to be had in Maryland? not sure, but maybe ginseng hunting hounds could be another alternative.

Lynnhaven River being removed from Clean Water Act list of impaired waters

[image courtesy of Sue Love, via Flickr]

This year, 2010, the Lynnhaven River will be removed from the 303(d) list of impaired waters, a feat that was hardly imaginable a decade ago.  EPA considers this a success story as does a Virginia Beach environmental non-profit, Lynnhaven River NOW, that helped make it possible.  Congratulations!

Create Consumer Demand for Local, Organic Foods

reposted from

” After visiting our Saturday Baltimore, MD farmer’s market teeming with local produce, I know that seasonal supply is not a problem.  America is still very much an agrarian country; I can measure my degrees of urbanity in “minutes-traveled-before-seeing-a-cow.”  How then can we create demand for fresh, local foods in the most pedestrian food venues like grocery stores, food carts, and chain restaurants?  On an individual level, this year I resolve to do something different…  and ASK where my food comes from.”  (continue reading at

Sculpted trees and shrubs

Today I biked around the Berkeley flats (map) snapping photos of sculpted trees and shrubs.  I started the day looking for Japanese style front yards complete with poodle trees, manicured lawns, and rocks, but quickly gave that up when I realized there were so many other types of sculpted trees and shrubs that ranged from quasi-tasteful to laughable. About 5-10% of houses had sculpted plants, and could be crudely divided into three categories:

i) sculpted trees/shrubs that interacted with a house;



ii) the iconic “poodle” tree;



and iii) manicured shrubs used as markers, barriers, and borders.



The shrub barriers were my favorite.   How amazing that one can transform a living thing into something so  calculated and practical; something both very human and inhumane.  Their flat tops and rigid right angles did not care what type of plant was crammed into the shape.  See below 2 plants cut into 1 hedge.   They were little suburban sentries standing guard against those who wished to stray from a sidewalk or cross a boundary between public and private spaces.


[see more images on my flickr]

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Towards a stable economy

After hearing an NPR interview with one of the founders of Ecological Economics, Herman Daly, I started reading more into the subject.Hump the rainbow album cover

I like the idea of the economy being within an environmental system. Businesses can easily run up big ecological (and social) debt by misusing resources and not accounting for externalities that damage or remove environmental services. Furthermore, an economic model of constant growth doesn’t make sense from an evolutionary standpoint, because it doesn’t seem tp follow the idea of a dynamic balance. Efficiency instead of growth should be our new economic mantra, and “the scarce use of resources” should replace “the use of scarce resources.”

Arne Naess, the philosophy credited with founding Deep Ecology says that ecosophy is “an evolving but consistent philosophy of being, thinking and acting in the world, that embodies ecological wisdom and harmony.” Daly furthers Naess’s ideas and says “Current economic growth has uncoupled itself from the world and has become irrelevant. Worse, it has become a blind guide.”

image from New Scientist: How Our Economy is Killing the Earth

Unfortunately, changing course could be difficult. Gus Speth, an attorney and co-founder of NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) says in an interview in the New Scientist, “…we’re trying to do environmental policy and activism within a system that is simply too powerful. It’s today’s capitalism, with its overwhelming commitment to growth at all costs, its devolution of tremendous power into the corporate sector, and its blind faith in a market riddled with externalities. And it is also our own pathetic capitulation to consumerism.”

Now that scores of investment bankers and other practitioners are out of work, they should put down their crossword puzzles and crapachinos and start taking a fresh look at the way they expect to do business in the future– in light of the intrinsic link between their business world and die grosse Welt.

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Food packaging… new spin on same old thing.

So today’s NYT article entitled “Solution or Mess? A Milk Jug for a Green Earth” starts to address some of the questions I and others have raised. The food industry is going for more efficient containers to ship, but they have not addressed the plastic jug, cardboard palette, cellophane wrapping, etc. all that gets recycled after a single use… and the reason for the efficient containers is to improve long distance transport of milk, which in-and-of itself is dubious.

Fair warning for these seemingly good ideas, but they are still working within the conventional system. No time is spent on real alternatives like local daries with their glass jugs and short supply chains, or changing neighborhood zoning laws to allow egg laying chickens and milk cows. My great grandparents used to have both types of animals in suburban Knoxville, TN just 80 yrs ago.

Check out The Urban Chicken for animal husbandry laws in your town.