Thursday, November 25, 2010

Slow death by rubber duck

Earlier this year I heard a talk by Bruce Lowrie, co-author of Slow Death by Rubber Duck: How the Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Life Affects Our Health. It was really alarming to find out that all kinds of things in my home like hand soap, shower curtains, microwave popcorn bags, and even my son's squishy rubber duck are poisoning me and my family.

Here's an ad from 1946 about DDT, which was later banned in the US in 1972 because of it's harmful effects on the environment and human health. Most of us don't think twice about the products we use, but the reality is we don't know the effects from most of the chemicals they contain. Don't assume they are safe.. get educated.

When you go shopping for cosmetics or personal care products, read the labels and try to avoid these 7 ingredients:

Fragrance/Parfum - often contain phthalates, a group of man-made chemicals that disrupt hormones and can cause birth defects of male reproductive organs

Triclosan – an antimicrobial/antibacterial agent that can weaken the immune system, disrupt the hormonal system, bioaccumulate, and convert to chemicals known to cause cancer when being used

Sodium lauryl sulfate - a lathering agent in cleaners that is a known skin irritant and suspected liver toxin

DEA (Diethanolamine) - suspected of causing cancer and being toxic to the respiratory and nervous systems

Cyclomethicone and ingredients that include the word “siloxane” (e.g., cyclopentasiloxane) – these chemicals stick around in the environment for a long time, have the potential to accumulate in organisms up the food chain, and may cause cancer and reproductive toxicity

Ingredients that include the word “paraben” (e.g., methylparaben) – can cause skin irritation, may cause cancer and disrupt hormones

Ingredients that include the letter-combo “-eth-” (e.g., polyethylene glycol) – means that the product likely contains 1,4-dioxane, a chemical that may cause cancer and is a suspected kidney toxicant, neurotoxicant and respiratory toxicant

See the Guide to Less Toxic Products and Skin Deep for more information about toxicants in your products. The Environmental Working Group is a reliable source of information.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The future of transportation in urban life

I recently came across a booklet Our Cities Ourselves. Visionary urbanist Jan Gehl and Walter Hook, Executive Director of the Institute of Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), have together set out ten keys to creating more sustainable cities. It might just be the best sustainable transport report ever!

The Ten Principles of Sustainable Transport

1. Walk the walk: Create great pedestrian environments.
2. Powered by people: Create a great environment for bicycles and other non-motorized vehicles.
3. Get on the bus: Provide great, cost-effective public transport.
4. Cruise control: Provide access for clean passenger vehicles at safe speeds and in significantly reduced numbers.
5. Deliver the goods: Service the city in the cleanest and safest manner.
6. Mix it up: Mix people and activities, buildings and spaces.
7. Fill it in: Build dense, people and transit oriented urban districts that are desirable.
8. Get real: Preserve and enhance the local, natural, cultural, social and historical assets.
9. Connect the blocks: Make walking trips more direct, interesting and productive with small-size, permeable buildings and blocks.
10. Make it last: Build for the long term. Sustainable cities bridge generations. They are memorable, malleable, built from quality materials, and well maintained.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Greening the Ghetto

Majora Carter is the Macarthur-winning founder of Sustainable South Bronx, an organization dedicated to holistic community development, sponsoring projects that create jobs, protect the environment and bring beautiful green space to the inner city. In this charismatic presentation (which received a prolonged standing ovation), she explains her commitment to environmental justice and her vision for a renewed South Bronx. [Recorded February 2006 in Monterey, CA. Duration: 19:14]

She speaks with passion and conviction. Kudos to Sustainable South Bronx for what they've already accomplished. There’s so much destruction going on out there that it can be overwhelming. But truly great accomplishments are never easy. As Sonia Johnson said, “we must remember that one determined person can make a significant difference, and that a small group of determined people can change the course of history."

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Wish List for Transforming the Planet (in a good way)

I attended a Going Greener forum last Thursday by the Council of Ontario Universities. It was inspiring to hear from people like Sandra Odendahl, director of corporate sustainability at Royal Bank of Canada. Here are a few points from her wish list.
    • Price externalities (using the environment should not be free); still don’t have a real price on polluting, no price on carbon (still), no price on generating tons of packaging; it has a cost on the environment and someone should pay for it.
    • Knowledgeable consumers: people have to make the link between stuff and pollution; everything you buy is going to be in a landfill someday; do you really need more stuff?
    • Multidisciplinary education: Take your passion and embed it in your field that you work in; we need everybody to have a basic understand of how their lives impact the environment and it doesn’t matter what field you are in.
Minister of Environment John Wilkinson said that biggest thing that we can do as a government is to embed sustainability into the curriculum in all of our schools. It will be the young people who get us out of this mess we've created.

Here I am with my kids on the Oak Ridges Moraine Trail. Being out in nature engages all of our senses.