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Measurement of Success

Colin ( posted about Footprint Forward Week at NYU on his blog today, and he has gotten some fascinating responses, the majority of which are positive. Most of the comments have been about how great it is that people are willing to take the ‘baby-steps’ necessary to make an impact.

This has got me thinking. I have been working on planning this week for a while, and now that the week is upon us, I have been struggling with measuring success. Since I have never done a program like this, and to my knowledge programs that challenge and inspire students to go no-impact are not particularly popular college events at other places, it has been hard for me to step back and see how well the week is going.

So I have thought about this for a few days now. I have mulled it over while sipping from my travel mug or my re-used glass water bottle. I have considered it while at lectures and workshops, while dumpster diving and while climbing the steps to my ninth floor classroom. And, I think success is measured by how much I have thought about it.

I consider Footprint Forward a success because I have been carefully considering each one my actions in a new way. It is a success because a new community of students all considering their actions has been formed. It is a success because people are talking about it, discussing it, debating it, worrying about it, excited about it.

My conclusion (though the week is not over) is that this is NOT a week of no impact. This, I think, may be what it feels like to have a personal impact.

Impactfully and intentionally yours,
Rebecca Oshins


November 10, 2007 at 12:55 am 1 comment

Talking is better

The zero-impact party tonight was great (electrifying? stimulating? what other ridiculous puns can we come up with?)–what an inspiration to actually talk to people face-to-face and hear about everyone’s experiences!

Can’t wait ’til next time,


November 9, 2007 at 5:19 am Leave a comment


Check out this post, if you haven’t already–it counteracts a lot of the negativity I just spent so many words describing. Way to go No Impact Man!


November 8, 2007 at 5:01 am Leave a comment

So far…well, not so good

Hey guys,

We haven’t been introduced. I’m Olga. I signed up to be no-impact this week. And I’m failing miserably.

Let me back up a little bit. The beginning of the week, for me, was Colin Beavan’s talk last Sunday afternoon. I don’t really know what I was expecting, and I don’t really know what I was thinking signing up for such a commitment and then thinking it would just happen all on its own.

The disappointing–kind of shocking–part was that it didn’t. Hasn’t. Colin’s talk, which I guess I just expected to be inspiring and empowering by default, wasn’t, to me. We covered so many issues–the soon-to-be-depleted oceans, the landfills that don’t allow biodegradable waste to biodegrade, the deplorable statistics of food waste, the disastrous effects of methane, the unavoidable damage to the environment even when purchasing wind power…you can see it was a little overwhelming. When faced with such a barrage of crises, all happening simultaneously, globally, and apparently inevitably, what can one person’s actions possibly do?

Of course, this is a topic that Colin addressed as well: changing individual habits was one of the three steps that he talked about, along with changing political and economic actions (right? I might be mixing stuff up here). Nonetheless, I left the meeting depressed, stressed out, and feeling completely helpless in the face of the world’s impending ecological breakdown.

Before I move on to greener pastures (yes, pun intended, and I’m sorry), there’s another thing I want to mention, and it’s maybe a catalyst, maybe a hindrance to “going green”: guilt. As Colin mentioned, it is an indication that we already know we’re doing something we shouldn’t be when we feel guilty about the disposable coffee cups, the unrecycled soda bottle, the television and computer and air conditioner all on at once. Over the past few days, this guilt has made it difficult for me to focus on what’s important–lowering my impact–by barging in on every thought even remotely related to the environment and my part in it. Instead of addressing the issue straight-on, it’s easier to shove it to the edge of my conscience until I’m better equipped to deal with it.

But–and here’s the immediate, important, difficult issue–when will that be? Will I (we) ever be fully ready to take responsibility for our environmental impact? And not just mental responsibility–acknowledging the extent of the problem–but actual, active responsibility? I don’t think that can happen through thinking. The bottom line (and this is for my own benefit as much as anyone’s) is that action is necessary. Talking about it is the icing.

So this week so far, for me, has been baby steps (like, infant). I brought my own coffee cup with me this morning. I took the stairs. I turned off our air conditioner (in winter, I know–because the building keeps the temperature so high that it’s stifling in our room) and opened a window. It’s nothing monumental (see: Adam’s trash logging, for example). I still feel guilty. I’m still making an impact. I don’t even really know how hard I’m trying–whether my guilt-induced impact reduction has been intentional or simply incidental. But I can tell you now that I want to be better at this, and it’s obviously not happening on its own.

Anyway, that’s it for now. I’m sure I’ll be back–you guys are inspiring.

Olga ( or

November 8, 2007 at 4:22 am Leave a comment

Local Foods, CFLS, Stupid Starbucks, and COLD ROOMS

I’ve been doing a LOT of exploring in the city, and I thought I would share that many health food, organic, and Amish stores in all the boroughs sell locally grown produce and meats (meats have been tough for me because it’s kind of tough to find truly “local” organic meats, but I’ve had a lot of luck finding NY state organic meats). So far the best neighborhood for local foods has been TriBeCa, where I got Jersey corn for very cheap, a heck of a lot of apples from local farms, and organic chicken from NY at the Amish Market and other organic stores (my total? $3.89 – it’s true!).

The heat has been off for two weeks now, so it’s blanket heaven in my room, and awfully cozy.

I do have a question for anyone out there who may be better schooled in CFLs than I am – I was using CFLs in my room (fairly high quality ones), but the light is so blue and dim compared to a halogen I normally use that it was making me feel depressed. Anyone else having this problem? Is there a solution?

One more little problem I’ve noticed regarding personal mugs: At Starbucks, if you give them your mug with the lid, they put the lid in an unused cup so it doesn’t sit on the counter, and then they just chuck the cup! So make sure you hand them the mug without the lid on or else specify NOT to do that.

November 8, 2007 at 4:08 am 2 comments

Savoring the Shower, or, Miserable Failure.

At last night’s discussion on eco-footprinting, we fiddled with the numbers on this fabulous website, and I learned that taking shorter showers would reduce my ecological footprint respectably, if not hugely. In that light, I decided that one of my eco-footprint goals would be to take one ten-minute shower every two days, or to spend an average of five minutes a day in the shower: hygienic, and environmentally friendly!

Something you should know about me is that I really like taking showers, especially if the water is hot. Lukewarm showers do not interest me very much, and cold showers strike fear and disgust into my heart. I spent last year in Ecuador, and there was no hot water where I lived, so every time I wanted to shower I boiled a pot of water on the stove and used only that mixed with a bit of cold water: environmentally friendly, but thoroughly unpleasant.

So you see I have really been savoring my showers ever since my return to the US. Nevertheless, I thought a more ecologically friendly shower was worth a try. There is a drought in California, people! I looked at my watch — six ten. I got in the shower; a flurry of shampoo and conditioner, efficient cleanliness, oh how lovely the hot water is; I got out. I looked again at my watch — it was six thirty! How? I really did try to go as fast as I could. It seems I am incapable of taking quick showers, so my new plan is one fifteen minute shower every three days. Hygienic? Less so, but definitely permissible. Environmentally friendly? That’s the idea, I guess.

Hygienically yours,

Shane Crary-Ross

November 7, 2007 at 5:57 am 5 comments

7 items you didn’t know you could recycle – but should!!

Hi fellow footprint-ers! I think this all good to know (especially #1), so I thought I’d share. Share your comments/reactions/suggestions.

‘Grist’ experts tell you what to do with old sneakers, iPods, and more
By Chip Giller and Katharine Wroth
Grist Magazine
updated 4:07 p.m. CT, Mon., Nov. 5, 2007
Sure, you know how to recycle newspapers and soda bottles. But what about that old stuff that’s cluttering up your closets and your basement — is there an eco-friendly way to get rid of some of that? Yes, say Chip Giller and Katharine Wroth from environmental magazine Grist. They’ve got tips and resources for green ways to get rid of everyday items you no longer need.

1. Athletic shoes

Got a pair (or a pile) of old sneakers that are too worn-out to give to charity? Nike will recycle any brand of athletic shoe through its Reuse-a-Shoe program. You can drop shoes off at any Niketown store or Nike Factory store; the company also has other drop-off spots, and if there’s not one near you, you can mail shoes in. (Get details on the Nike website.) The company processes and recycles the footwear to make sports surfaces for basketball courts, tennis courts, running tracks and playgrounds. Right now they’re collecting shoes to make athletic surfaces for New Orleans, to help bring youth sports back to the city as it rebuilds. To date, about 20 million pairs of athletic shoes worldwide have been recycled through the Reuse-A-Shoe program.

2. “Techno-trash”

As you upgrade your technology, you find yourself saddled with outdated items: VHS tapes, game cartridges, digital cameras, mp3 players, cords, cables, cassettes — not to mention bigger items like VCRs and computer monitors. Fortunately, there’s a company that will take it all from you and reprocess it in an eco-friendly way: GreenDisk. Mail your “techno-trash” to the company and they’ll take care of the disposal. The cost starts at $6.95 for 20 pounds of equipment — a small price to pay to relieve your conscience (and your closet!).

3. Computers

Computers contain a number of harmful chemicals, so it’s important to make sure they’re properly recycled. Most major computer manufacturers now offer some type of recycling program. Dell will recycle any Dell product for free, and if you buy a new Dell, they’ll recycle any other brand of computer for free. Hewlett-Packard, Gateway, Apple and Toshiba also have recycling programs — check their websites for details.

You can also find independent recyclers who meet high standards for eco-friendliness and safe labor conditions through the Computer TakeBack Campaign. The campaign also has a detailed analysis of manufacturers’ recycling programs, explaining how all they all work and what the costs are.

4. Mattresses

In most areas of the country, you can’t recycle your mattresses, and they’re even hard to give away — charities like Goodwill often refuse to take them. But remember that “recycle” has another R-word counterpart: “reuse.” If your mattress is in usable condition, you can probably find it a good home through the Freecycle Network. It’s an Internet community with chapters all over the country, in which people offer up items they no longer want and other people happily take them. The online bulletin board Craigslist also has a section where you can offer things for free to people in your area. In fact, you can get rid of just about any usable item (and some items you didn’t even think were usable) via Freecycle and Craigslist, and you can find some great free stuff for yourself, too.

5. Handheld devices

If you feel the need to get a new gizmo (and remember, an upgrade isn’t always necessary), don’t just chuck the old one. Small electronics are full of big toxics. Instead, drop off your old cell phones, pagers and PDAs at Staples stores around the country. The company has partnered with nonprofit CollectiveGood, which collects and recycles the phones. When possible, CollectiveGood refurbishes them and puts them to use in developing countries. Otherwise, the phones and other items are broken down in an eco-friendly process and the metals are separated out for reuse or proper disposal. If there’s not a Staples store near you, you can mail your phone to the CollectiveGood — and even get a tax credit for the donation.

6. Dry-cleaning hangers and plastic

Wondering how to get rid of all those wire hangers from the dry cleaners? Some dry cleaners will take them back and reuse them, and some tailors and alteration shops will take them as well — so just ask. And what about all that plastic that comes back from the dry cleaners? In some cities, you can recycle it right along with other plastic bags. And some dry cleaners will take the plastic back and make sure it’s recycled. So yes, there are solutions, but here’s a note of caution to all you dry-cleaning fans: The process uses a harmful chemical known as “perc” that is a suspected carcinogen and has been outlawed in some areas. What to do? Look for cleaners who offer “wet cleaning,” consider hand-washing some garments, or better yet, avoid buying clothes labeled “dry clean only.”

7. Soiled glass and plastic

It seems like a silly question, but it’s one people wonder about: Can you recycle a beer bottle even if a lime wedge is stuck in the bottom? What about those last bits of peanut butter in the jar? The answer to both is a qualified yes: Put the items in with your regular recycling, and the recycling plant should be able to remove most contaminants. Paper recycling, however, is a more delicate process (which is why pizza boxes are a no-no). And in general, the cleaner your recyclables are, the less energy it’ll take to process them. We’ll drink to that.

Chip Giller is president of and Katharine Wroth is the magazine’s story editor.

© 2007, Grist Magazine, Inc. All rights reserved.

Source: The Today Show, 6 November 2007.

November 6, 2007 at 1:47 pm Leave a comment

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