Mindful, Perhaps Green, Shopping

Thanksgiving now over, it’s time to start thinking about Christmas! My parents, brother, sister-in-law, aunt and possibly cousin are visiting us this year, to see our new home and bunnies. I am so excited to celebrate with the whole family this year, and I’m already making a list of things that need to be done – enough Christmas stockings for everyone, where and/or what do we eat, what fun post-Christmas things can we do…?

This year we all managed to agree to *not* buy each other Christmas presents. It’s something we discuss every year, but this year, we are committed. None of us needs anything, and besides, it’s more about being together. Since they are all flying here, we are gifting them an overnight stay in the Shenandoah Valley, which will be more fun in the long run. If nothing else, we’ll roll our eyes for years over the fact that any restaurant we go to there won’t be prepared for four vegetarians! (There is one small caveat – we are each getting each other one $5 stocking stuffer, something edible, handmade or eco-friendly.)

On the heels of this agreement came a report that talks about the high environmental cost of delivery. In “The Environmental Cost of Free 2-Day Delivery,” published on Vox on November 17, the authors of a study done at the University of California Davis tell us that the emissions from delivery trucks are worse than the emissions of individual cars driving around to malls and stores to buy things. The big challenge is 2-day shipping – that rush to have things immediately is killing our environment. Erk. One of the ways I manage to be car-free is to have as much delivered as possible. Josué Velázquez, director of the MIT Sustainable Logistics Department, says in a related article on Huffington Post that getting companies to add buttons sharing the impact of free 2-day shipping might inspire consumers to opt for slower delivery options. Knowing that choosing 4-5 day delivery will only kill 10 trees, compared to killing 3,000 for 2-day delivery would work for me! In fact, it already has.

I would hate to lose these trees, so I will think differently the next time I place an order.

Part of my plans for the holidays involve sewing projects that require fabrics and patterns I can’t buy locally, on my bike or otherwise. So now I really need to think about it – how much can I order from one place? I should order it all now, so that I can pick the slowest delivery option available, and not need it in a rush. And while I’m thinking about that, I need to be mindful of everything else we need this month, and moving forward. How to we continue to reduce our impact? Do we wean ourselves off Amazon? <gasp!> I think this means more trips to NYC to stock up for my sewing projects!

Started my McCalls 7667 coat, using corduroy as the “muslin” to test the fit. I still need to order lining and interlining.

If the thought of giving up free 2-day delivery right before the holidays stresses you out a bit, here are a few positive, encouraging stories about how the fashion world is trying to help the environment.

Swedish Plant Burns H&M Rags Instead of Coal, on The Business of Fashion website

How C&A Created the World’s First Cradle to Cradle T-Shirt, on Greenbiz.com

Sustainability in Shenandoah

The Mechanic and I are celebrating our second wedding anniversary, and since the date falls midweek (June 14, in fact!), we celebrated over the weekend by hiking in Shenandoah National Park.

Looking West from Stony Man Summit

Looking Northwest from Stony Man Summit


The Mechanic, who prefers roughing it, agreed to stay at the Skylands Resort overnight, mostly so I could convince him to eat at the restaurant – I really wanted to celebrate with the famous blackberry ice cream pie! We stayed in a cabin, which was slightly deceptive, because we didn’t get our own cabin, but rather, a fourth of one of the original cabins.  It was charming, small, and rustic, but the charm mostly wore off as we watched a mouse exploring our belongings after we got into bed. Erk. The resort was fully booked, so we spent the night with all of our belongings in the rental car, while I sweltered with the sheet over my head, so the mouse wouldn’t run across the pillow. Romantic anniversary…

The weather was perfect, sunny, warm but not hot, and very windy. We saw three black bears, a few deer, lots of chipmunks, birds, inchworms, butterflies, and of course, the mouse. But what got me really excited was the hourglass in the shower. Shower ChallengeThis 5-Minute Shower Challenge is *brilliant*! I’d love to talk to whomever came up with this, because for all the things that hotels do to reduce their footprint, it’s hard to talk to people about how much water they use when they shower. This is the perfect way to do it – give everyone a game that not only brings awareness to an important conservation issue, but challenges them to see how they can help, while cheering them on to doing better. The “towel talk” is one thing, and dependent on how well trained the hotel staff are – even if you carefully hang up your towel to reuse, sometimes they still get replaced. Water usage is a conservation issue that doesn’t currently get enough attention, so it’s nice to see this challenge.

Other sustainability issues that struck us while we were there include, of course, biking and dining. The roads are so narrow and twisty and windy, that cyclists who brave the roads (and we saw many) were cranking up hills with queues of cars behind them, then whipping down hills, still with cars behind them. It’s not my comfort level, and it’s a shame that there isn’t a way to add in proper bike lanes. We did see a walking lane in Skylands, although it came to an abrupt end in the middle of the road. Walking LaneThe biggest transportation drawback to me was that even once we arrived at our hotel, we still had to drive to get just about anywhere. We explored hiking trails that were near Skyland, but I’m sure there are better ones out there. We just didn’t feel like driving to them. And you still have to drive to the various visitors’ centers. It’s a shame they can’t run shuttles between at least the visitors’ centers, resorts, campsites, and major trail heads. Reducing the vehicle travel within the park would contribute greatly to the air quality, which is the topic of a few of the displays in the Big Meadows interpretive center. Of course, The Mechanic loved our rental Mercedes Benz, a surprise and free upgrade from Enterprise, so he wasn’t as upset about driving, but after a deer jumping across the road immediately in front of us, he was even more cautious while driving. See – fewer cars would equal more wildlife survival!Our Wheels

Another thing that was slightly disappointing was the menu at the Pollack Dining Room at Skyland. Not a lot of vegetarian options. I mean, at least there were some, but I feel that national parks should put more effort into discussing food and sustainability if they are going to offer meals, especially when conservation is pretty much what national parks are all about. Even locally raised meat uses way more water than do vegetarian options, including grains and pulses. Plus, it’s cheaper. I don’t expect an entirely vegetarian menu in national parks. I mean, you’d lose a ton of visitors! But at least offer some better/other options than portabella burgers or pasta. Our meals were tasty, nevertheless, and the blackberry ice cream pie was worth breaking my no-dessert rule!Blackberry Ice Cream PieOverall, our second anniversary weekend was a definite win, and mouse aside, couldn’t have been better. The sustainability puzzle keeps me thinking, about ways to make it easier and more fun, but there are no easy answers, and I am not assuming to offer any. But I really love that shower challenge! Do you know how long a 5-minute shower is? Butterfly Whisperer


Shopping, Sewing and Sustainability

The Mechanic and I try to live a sustainable life – we are vegetarian (except during international travel, when we want to try local specialties), do our best to avoid foods made with palm oil, we walk, bike or use public transportation on a daily basis, and rent cars when we are going out of town. We use as little water as possible, turning off the water during showers and while brushing teeth, and The Mechanic mostly washes dishes by hand to reduce water usage. We have CFLs or LED lights, reuse our plastic zip top baggies, use environmentally-friendly cleaning products as much as possible, take reusable bags when we go shopping, and turn off the lights in rooms we aren’t using. There is always room for improvement – I’ve recently been exploring environmentally-friendly toiletries and beauty supplies, and buying bulk food items like nuts. But for me, shopping is The Weakest Link.Plastic Baggies

Eileen Fisher, fashion designer and industry activist, said last year that fashion is the second most polluting industry after the oil industry. She knows better than I do, but there is no arguing with the fact that the fashion industry is not an ideal industry. From ethical treatment of workers to textile manufacture to shipping garments and shoes thousands of miles to billions of garments being thrown away, there are problems all the way through. Fast fashion, clothing that is turned out quickly after it appears on runways, has become the norm, as people of all ages flock to inexpensive trends as soon as they come out. Fashion Revolution Week, April 18-24 this year, brings attention to the nameless workers who crank out those fast fashion pieces, a movement inspired by and in honor of the over 1,100 workers who died in the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh.  In response, some clothing companies pledged greater transparency with their supply chain, resulting in the Fashion Transparency Index, ranking clothing companies by results. But even beyond the idea of who makes the clothes the world consumes are issues involving the fabrics themselves – polyester is made from petroleum; creating cotton fabric uses an unbelievable amount of water; there’s the fertilizer used in growing those crops; and apparently the average American citizen THROWS AWAY 70lbs of clothing a year. The statistics are depressing.

Who made my clothes? I did!

Who made my clothes? I did!

So with an industry dirty from beginning to end, how do you incorporate sustainability into what you put on every day?


I love these pieces but maybe for the same price I should have just ordered three yards of Liberty of London fabric…

I could smugly answer, “Well, I make my own clothes,” but that is not only an incorrect answer, it doesn’t solve the problem. I don’t make ALL my own clothes. I don’t know where the fabrics I purchase are made, or by whom. I’ve never even looked to see where my patterns are printed! Because I have limited local fabric shopping options, I tend to order most of fabrics, which means transportation emissions from the warehouse where the fabrics are kept; don’t even think about how the fabrics were transported to that warehouse. And I still buy fast fashion – I love my Liberty of London for Uniqlo purchases! So what is a sewist and fashion addict to do?!

For starters, I try really hard to not buy clothing any more “just because.” I actually find that I would rather make most things anyway, and that I’d rather *wear* the things I make. It’s more fun to make cute reflective garments than basic tee shirts, but I may need to start doing that as well. I love Spoonflower because of their eco-friendly system: digital printing of fabric leads to less waste of fabric, ink and electricity; they don’t need to store potentially unpurchased fabrics that could end up thrown away; many of their fabrics are made in the USA or organic or both; they support small designers by giving them a platform; and the Sprout Patterns printed on fabric reduces even more waste! If I could buy all my fabrics from Spoonflower, I would.

One giant piece of fabric with the pattern pieces printed right on it!

One giant piece of fabric with the pattern pieces printed right on it!

I have started researching companies that do engage in eco-friendly, ethical creations. H&M and Uniqlo aren’t doing too badly on the Fashion Transparency Index, and I do like H&M’s Conscious Exclusive collection, even though most of it is fancier than I’d ever need. I don’t know that I have the patience to simply not buy – I’m a bit like a magpie: Oh look, something shiny! But if I can focus on a list of places whose practices I agree with, at least my purchases are supporting what I believe in. I haven’t fully identified those companies yet; the ones I have found have very expensive clothing. On the other hand, the pieces I own that I’ve spent the most money on tend to be the pieces I love wearing. Hm… maybe that should be my new shopping strategy: only buy expensive things! Hahahaha….

In terms of sewing and sustainability, I will be testing out my first few download-and-tape-together pattern from indie pattern companies, and looking around for other places to order fabric. I need to find some patterns that can act as basics, so I don’t need to buy those but can quickly whip them up. I would love to be able to sew everything, but I simply don’t have time, and then I get impatient for something new, and then I go out an buy. Hm…. So really, what this all boils down to is being happy with what I have and not wanting anything new! But that seems boring to me – I need to make it work in more eco-friendly ways! And either way, I need to think about the carbon footprint of the USPS/UPS/FedEx way my orders get to me. Buy all the fabric all at once?

What are your favorite sustainable ways to shop and sew?


BECC, TDM and Me

I spent the beginning of this week attending the Behavior, Energy and Climate Change (BECC) conference, and even presented about Arlington Transportation Partners’ Champions program, a program we developed after I was first inspired by Community-Based Social Marketing (CBSM) at BECC in 2012. It is a great conference because behavior change is fascinating and very pertinent to the work ATP does – shifting travel modes is definitely behavior change. BECC 1

I’ve always been fascinated by why people do things (myself included) and what influences us all. Knowing why people do things helps us figure out how to help them do things better. The conference is focused on climate change, yes, and the majority of the attendees are from the energy industry, but there are also water resources, transportation, schools/children, food waste, employees/work engagement/factories, lots of marketing, some design research companies, and so on. The real focus is how to we inspire people to care for the planet, and empower them to make changes in their lives that will help us all be healthier and have a healthy planet for generations to come.

Illume Tweeted this photo of my colleague Maggie and I as #womeninenergy

Illume Tweeted this photo of my colleague Maggie and I as #womeninenergy

This is the third year in a row that I have attended (and the second time I presented), and this time, as with other times, there has been much to learn and experience. It always takes me a while to sort through my notes, photos and thoughts, but here are some initial takeaways:

  • This being DC, there were some heavy hitters for key note and plenary speakers. Tuesday we listened to the US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, and Wednesday our closing plenary included Congressman Paul Tonko and the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Dennis V. McGinn. Congressman Tonko and Secretary McGinn (what’s the appropriate title here?) were both dynamic speakers, and Mr. McGinn got in some great on-liners: “Isn’t it wonderful that Noah understood something about climate change? And isn’t it wonderful that he did something about it?” Ha!
  • Design Research – Andrew Burroughs of IDEO and Lisa Jackson of frog design presented on visual designs and how it influences our behavior. As a visual person, I strongly believe that how things are visually presented to us have such power over us, whether or not we do something or not do something based on how it looks, how we interact with things, and so on. I was extremely inspired by them, and wonder how I can translate my design background, my history research background, and current TDM work into this type of work.
  • Illume, one of the sponsoring companies, had an illustrator drawing our Tweets on Tuesday, which was really fun to see! Alas, I hadn’t Tweeted much and forgot to include #picturechange, so mine didn’t get drawn – but check out the stuff she did draw!
  • The “Breaking Bad” film evening was fun. I hadn’t been before, but I enjoyed the curated commercials, the “billboard” activity we did in small groups and presented to the entire room, and of course the wine was a nice touch.
  • They always feed us well, and there are not only vegetarian meal options, but vegan and gluten-free as well. One lunch is always all vegetarian. I especially like the fact that they give us cards to place in front of us on the table, so the servers can easily identify who gets which meal. This is so much easier for all parties involved, since the servers usually can’t see a colored dot on our name tags, and we don’t have to hassle over them to get us the right food. Other conferences, TAKE NOTE!
  • The sessions I attended seemed to be a bit heavier on the academic research paper presentations. I know part of BECC is academic-focused, but for me, seeing how other organizations have successfully run campaigns and programs and have behavior-changing results is what I am there for. I need to have something concrete to take back to my office and work on. I got plenty of ideas, but there were too many text- and formula-heavy PowerPoint slides for my taste. I wonder if they could do tracks, so you could go to the academic track, the ideas/design track, the real world track, etc. That would be useful.

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The most basic function of TDM is to education and inform people about their transportation options, helping them making choices about how they travel, yet behavior research shows that information alone is not enough to get people to do something. As one presenter said, “Simply asking people to do their best is not enough.” This is where all the behavior change techniques can come in handy, like public durable commitments and social norming, or even gamification. It’s rather exciting, really, to see how these two disciplines intersect. I wish there was more TDM at BECC, but maybe that’s what I need to do, figure out how to get these two together more. Hm… Challenge on!

Well, not really - or maybe I should say, not yet!

Well, not really – or maybe I should say, not yet!