JHU’s Ambitious Sustainability Plan Needs Help from Everyone

leana-houser-guest-bloggerJohns Hopkins University reached a major sustainability milestone March 11 when President Ron Daniels announced a commitment to reduce the University’s carbon footprint by more than half by 2025 – which will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 141,000 metric tons a year. That is equivalent to the annual emissions from 26,960 cars or the burning of 736 railroad cars worth of coal! This announcement adds Johns Hopkins to a growing list of colleges and universities, which are taking responsibility to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and leading academia’s charge to reduce the threat of global warming through research, education and action.

This is an incredibly aggressive target and, thankfully, the Johns Hopkins Sustainability Office, along with members of the President’s Task Force on Climate Change – formed in 2007 by former university President William Brody – and countless other folks worked tirelessly to develop the plan to get us there. Read More >

10 in 10: Create Consumer Demand for Local, Organic Foods

10in10A new decade brings new opportunities and challenges. The interaction between diet and health received significant attention during “The Aughts.” What will we do during this next decade to respond to the call for action for a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle? This is the second in a continuing series highlighting 10 ways you can help this year.

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. As a borderline introvert, I often have trouble asking. I am irrationally worried about the shrugs, stares, or bland responses.

I’ll gather my courage and ask my grocer, fishmonger, baker, street vendor, or restaurateur about where their food comes from. If the answer doesn’t sit well, I’ll ask if the well-traveled food can be replaced or exchanged with local, seasonal ingredients. I’ll be as specific as possible—if I have a hankering for local, seasonal arugula, I’ll let the world know!

I’ll ask the waiter or cook about the region and country of origin of seafood. There is a big difference in terms of sustainability if your salmon is farmed or wild-caught, domestic or imported, and you can’t tell by tasting it. The more one learns about sustainable foods, the more informed ones questions can be. Read More >

Wal-mart: Leading the way on global sustainability?

While big box stores may be an easy target for critics who bash their significant environmental impacts, one national bohemoth is taking steps to inform its customers just how environmentally-friendly each product is.  Yesterday, Wal-mart unveiled a plan for a “sustainability index” label to academic, industry and government representatives  at its Arkansas headquarters.
The giant retailer ($406 billion in revenues in 2008) is developing an ambitious, comprehensive, and fiendishly complex plan to measure the sustainability of every product it sells. Wal-Mart has been working quietly on what it calls a “sustainability index” for more than a year, and it will take another year or two for labels to appear on products. But the company’s grand plan-“audacious beyond words” is how one insider describes it-has the potential to transform retailing by requiring manufacturers of consumer products to dig deep into their supply chains, measure their environmental impact, and compete on those terms for favorable treatment from the world’s most powerful retailer.
But why would Wal-mart take on such a Hurculean task?  Besides the obvious cynical answer (they are a corporation out to make money), Wal-mart execs say they see this as a way to  inform consumers of the different between “green-washing” and truly sustainable production and increase efficiency of global production, perhaps even lowering costs to consumers in the process.
The company also said for the record they do not want ownership of this index– rather, they set out to spur a collaborative effort to develop a wealth of information about the international supply chain.  In remarks published on Wal-mart’s web site, the Mike Duke, Wal-mart’s President and CEO stated that in order for this venture to succeed, it needed to be a global effort with the ultimate goal of providing for a better future for the world’s citizens.

“If we get this right…the Index will drive higher quality and lower costs,” Duke said. “It will mean more innovative products that lower carbon output, that promote clean air and water, and that create a more transparent and responsible supply chain. And it will make us even stronger businesses, bringing us ever closer to our customers and what they need to live better …20…50…100 years from now.”

And who can fault that?  While the implementation of this plan is still several years away, it’s heartening to see that a company like Wal-mart, with such vast global influence, is not only taking an interest in sustainability, but taking a concrete action to measure how its suppliers are doing, and engaging environmental experts from acadamia, industry and the government to help develop guidelines that could potentially revitalize how the world produces consumer goods.
For more on Wal-mart’s sustainability index plan, check out yesterday’s New York Times article.

Question & Answer With Jill Richardson

Jill Richardson is the creator of La Vida Locavore and is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. She also is a contributing blogger for Sustainable Food, which is a part of Change.org.

Find out in this 5 minute Q & A how a 20-something with a day job in software has gained influence in politics, been read by Congressional staffers and made a mark in the sustainable agriculture movement.

Center for a Livable Future: How did you get into the sustainable agriculture movement?

Jill Richardson: It happened gradually, and then suddenly. For a long time I had been interested in environmental causes, and following the 2004 election I became a lot more passionate. Obviously a lot of environmental news centered around food. But then in January 2006, my job sent me to work in a cardiac ICU in Hawaii for a week and that really drove the message home to me. Oh. My. God. Look what we are doing to ourselves with our diets!!! That was it for me – when I came home, I was a full-fledged foodie.

CLF: You are publishing your first book, Recipe for America: Why Our Food System is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It, which shows how sustainable agriculture offers a solution to the food crisis in the U.S.  Can you expand on some of your suggestions?

JR: I think the broader picture is that we need to make sure that all Americans can have a living wage and access to affordable health care, in addition to a number of other large scale changes (re-regulate the financial industry?) that will allow people to have enough money, time, and health to obtain and prepare sustainable food. Without that, no amount of farmers markets or CSAs could solve our problems. But in the meantime, we can do quite a bit for our food system, and that’s what the book lays out. I didn’t attempt to re-create the wheel, just, perhaps, consolidate and explain the wheel. We have so many disparate groups and movements working on their own unique (or shared) initiatives and it’s hard for anyone who’s just getting into food policy to understand what the issues are and how to take action. I broke my recommendations into the categories of: Labeling, Protecting Children, the Farm Bill, Food Safety, and Human and Animal Rights. My hope is that people interested in food issues can read the book and understand how the food system operates as a system -and how we need to fix it as a system, not in the little silos we often treat it as with animal rights over here on one side and food safety over there, even though they are inextricably linked.

CLF: This is a broad question, but in your opinion, what should the average person be thinking about in terms of food?

JR: I think Michael Pollan stole my answer 🙂 Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. Well, I’m stealing it from him, not the other way around. But that certainly DOES sum up my thoughts even if I would have never found such a clever way to say it myself. And don’t be afraid of your food! I was raised in a household where food was the enemy. We ate all kinds of processed garbage – but only the low fat, low calorie varieties of processed garbage (like Snackwell’s cookies), in small servings and with lots of guilt. That’s no way to live, or to eat! Food should be enjoyed.

CLF: What is the major takeaway(s) you hope readers gain?

JR: I hope they come to see the government as accessible and easy to get involved in. Because it is. Surprisingly so. From the comfort of your home, you can watch Congressional hearings, call offices, speak to staffers, and actually get your opinion heard. Last summer I accompanied a friend lobbying a state government and we just walked around the Capitol, knocked on office doors, and chatted up various staff people. One of the representatives invited us into is office and we sat down and talked for maybe 20 minutes, and he was extremely interested in our issues – even though we were liberals and he was a very conservative Republican. Yet a lot of times I hear people who are represented by Republicans say they don’t even bother writing to them because they don’t expect to be heard.

CLF: Any shout-outs to bloggers or local farmers?

JR: Right now I’m especially loving my friend Phil at Sage Mountain Farm for the delicious pasture-raised eggs he gave me, and Barry from La Milpa Organica for the heirloom spinach I’m putting in my omelets 🙂