a boots-on-the-ground view of the change that's a-foot

Archive for June, 2008

Shower Curtain Safety – NO PVC Needed

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

I have shower envy. I used to have a shower with a door – no curtain required. My first choice is a solar outdoor shower (at work on that one…) but right now I have a stall with a shower curtain. It was easy to find a naturally antibacterial hemp version but after the first year, I noticed mold growing on the bottom. I did more research, discovering that while hemp is mold resistant, it only works well in an airy bathroom and dry climate. Since I have neither, I have mold. I’ve been squeaking by for awhile, making the most of tea tree oil in the wash, but have been waiting and watching for a solution – determined to not go back to the evils of Plastic and PVCs.

Recent research and a Report has recently been done at The Center for Health, Environment and Justice, testing shower curtains from Kmart, Walmart, Sears and Bed, Bath & Beyond. The smell belies the concentration of chemicals when you open the package, though as it turns out it’s worse than that. There are nearly 108 compounds present in the typical shower curtain, seven of which have been identified by the EPA as hazardous air pollutants. Vinyl chloride is a known human carcinogen that causes liver cancer and has also shown to emit toxins linked to damaging the central nervous system, respiratory and reproductive systems.

The Center has sent letters to 19 major retailers, informing them of the report and encouraging them to stop selling products containing PVC. The report will hopefully bring attention to the lack of regulations and guidelines governing indoor air pollutants.

Fortunately, I was led to yesterday (through a site I visit frequently - which let me know that I wasn’t the only one trying to go plastic-free, but looking for a solution to curtain mold. offers all kinds of pvc-free curtains, INCLUDING one which was mold-proof even in humid climate. In fact, it is made from 100% RECYCLED polyester – details here. I’m darn excited to have found the solution I needed. It was worth the wait. I’ll let you know more when it gets here.

In the meantime, click on the link to listen and read about the Report on shower curtains and PVCs everywhere.

Coffee Table Activism, Minneapolis Style

Monday, June 16th, 2008

While visiting Minneapolis and enjoying another local lunch at the neighborhood food co-op, I saw this poster (to the left). It sounded like a great idea – an invitation to view the important and timely Green documentaries with your neighbors, for free! I’d heard of, but had not yet seen these films – End of Suburbia, The Power of Community and Oil on Ice. The name of the contact site, “Coffee Table Productions”, further intrigued me, so I took a look online and then contacted Deb and Doug Pierce, the minds behind this master plan – and around a coffee table.

Deb and Doug, both full-time professionals, have been growing progressive and sustainable ideas into working groups and community events – usually while sitting around a coffee table – for years. Doug is a licensed architect and sustainable design planner with Perkins & Will of Minneapolis, while Deb is an award-winning, published illustrator and graphic designer. Deb found time between their jobs and community efforts to speak with me about Coffee Table Productions. Read on.

Tao: What inspired you to take on environmental and social issues on a grassroots level?

DP: We each grew up in small towns where we could see firsthand the impact an individual or small group could have on a community. It gave us an understanding of the connection we all have with each other and the earth. We each became activists in college and over the years found that advocating for sustainability is a natural tendency, like caring for one’s family.

Tao: In your experience, what most motivates people to “be the change”?

DP: The personal connection with the issue, and believing they can do something that matters. Being able to engage in an authentic message delivered with love, respect and compassion.

Tao: You are currently spearheading an eco-film series in your community.  Why are these films important? Do these films reach the right audience or simply “preach to the choir”?

DP: The films are an excellent source of information and invite dialog. Even informed persons can benefit—we can’t know it all. “Preaching to the choir” isn’t  necessarily a bad thing. Even if those who attend our events are active and/or informed on current issues, my experience has been that they are grateful to see others like themselves. Not only can they teach each other, if they know they are not alone, they can feel more empowered in their work towards creating solutions for all.

Tao: If someone is interested in organizing their own community to take action for environmental and/or social issues, what advice would you give them?

DP: There are many things to consider, but the 3 things I think of immediately are: 1) Begin by focusing on a specific issue or event so you have a common goal and a good place to put your energy. As you grow, you can branch-out into other areas. 2) Know that one cannot separate environmental, social and economic issues, they are intertwined/connected. 3) ALWAYS make time to thank each other and those who have helped you in your efforts. HAVE FUN, the spirit must be nurtured to stay healthy and strong!

There you have it – local activism can begin with “waking up” over a cup of coffee with friends and end with a lot more than a caffeine buzz.

Grid-Free and Off The Beaten Path

Saturday, June 14th, 2008

by Jeannie Newell, Crested Butte, CO

Some communities in far away parts of the world live without water. This amazes me. On this off-grid journey, water was immediately noticeable as the most important and necessary resource. We need it to drink, we need it to flush out the toilet. Yes, we have a toilet in our camper, and a very small shower. We are opting to use a solar shower instead which, of course, requires water – but we don’t need to power the water heater – the sun does that.)

We use the following for our basic needs/comforts:

-propane heat.
– solar for lights (cfl & led) – we have a 15 watt panel that hangs out all day long in the sun. And we have two outlets, that we use to charge phones.
– propane stove/oven which also helps keep the camper warm.
– we use two small milk bottles full of frozen water to cool our fridge. It works really well, though it helps that is pretty cold here in the mountains.

Still, water is the big thing. Water that we are constantly using to wash dishes, to make food, to give to the dogs, to make tea and bathe with. It’s not that having water to use is challenging to us where we are, it’s simply an observation of my own that compared to the other resources we need, water is the one I turn to most frequently. That doesn’t even include laundry that we do in the hostel in town or, more frequently, at Thomas’ place (Michael’s brother.

On another note, we were dismayed to find that we couldn’t compost because composting in bear country is pretty much a bad idea. Then we found a community composting spot! It turns out I work with a really nice woman who owns Round Mountain Organics, the only local organic farm.  Her farm is open to the public for compost drop off – she uses it for chicken feed.

We were also dismayed to learn that the town of Crested Butte doesn’t have much of a recycling program.  We are saving our recyclables to drive down to nearby Gunnison when we have errands to run there – we have to grocery shop there once a week. I was really excited to find that Gunni recycles everything, including white paper! Big deal to me, I can’t help it – and we can drop our compost off en route because Round Mountain Organics is on the way, so less miles, less emissions, which simply put, just makes me happier.

All for now.  Before signing off, I’ll make a quick list of wildlife we’ve seen while out in these parts:

mule deer – at least 1000
bear – we saw a bear!  also, one raided our truck (more on that later)
jack rabbit

Creative Collective Consciousness

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

We are always searching for creative outlets – through our meals, our clothes, our hobbies and artistic endeavors. It’s human nature to nourish the innate creative force.  Little do we know, our convenient lifestyles have taken much of our every day creative opportunities away from us.  We’ve turned from tribal communities to masses without meaning.

In the midst of my eco-anxiety, I try to remind myself that the environmental and social problems we are facing  are also opportunities for creative change. It’s a familiar theme in nature, philosophy and even science – destruction before creation, death and rebirth, dwell in possibility, you know what they say – the opposite of war is not peace, it’s creativity…

We can open the many doors that are becoming available to us or we can sit on our butts and look out the windows. I’ve always been a door kind of person – and there is an abundance showing up now. Open them. Take a long, creative look and step through.

Little House in the City – the balance of living small

Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

When I decided to head for NC, I lived in a small and borrowed motor home in the woods. I had recently left graduate school, embarking on one of those “to hell with it” journeys. Each day of those few months, I learned more about how freeing it was to want only what I needed and need only what I had. Even the confined space felt comforting. Ever since then, I have acknowledged and craved the kind of satisfaction of living simply and its welcome limits.

If small and simple living feels so good, where does our mega-sizing mentality come from? When considering the downscaling commitment of people like Jay Shafer of Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, who lives in a 100sq.foot dwelling, I am forced to acknowledge my return to excess (I live in 1050sq.feet). I even store “stuff” in additional attic space and own 3 bicycles! Huh? Perhaps it’s a virus that has spread through our culture unchecked and unchallenged…is it then passed down through generations as a misguided process of evolution? Or, is it simply a disconnect between our needs, wants and/or desires within a culture lacking in perspective? When it comes to living space, how much is enough?

Undeniably, our consciousness as a culture is rising. And, like most trends that run their course, our BIG habits are being challenged and re-evaluated. Alternative housing is attracting the interest of many, with mixed use developments like Greenbridge becoming popular and Co-housing, a community-based, eco-efficient form of housing, making smaller living both practical and fashionable.

Could small living actually be the big life? Is the “super-size” mentality becoming old and ugly news? Carpenter author and educator, Shay Salomon, seems to think so. She co-founded The Small House Society, whose mission is “to support the research, development, and use of smaller living spaces that foster sustainable living for individuals, families, and communities worldwide.” In her book, Little House on a Small Planet, she shows how saner, cozier homes provide an antidote to stress, build community and reduce our impact on the planet. Committed to both efficient design and use of natural resources, these people are selling much more than small homes. They are offering the luxury and value of a more simple life.

Unfortunately, there is no lack of the continued development of large homes for the affluent, but shift happens. Ask Gregory Paul Johnson, Founder and Director of Resources for Life (and another co-founder of The Small House Society). I love this guy – he may live small, but his life, career and interests are huge – check out his web site. He is a testimonial to just what can happen when you de-clutter, de-stress and detoxify your mind to make “space” for what matters.

Convenience or Luxury? more on eco-travel

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

As it usually happens, if you spend time thinking about something and you’ll soon hear more about it. This hotel business has me thinking a lot about the difference between convenience and luxury. And, if there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that luxury is not only wasteful, but greatly overrated.

I’m grateful for a way of life which allows me considerable convenience, but too much of a good thing simply makes many of us lazy, bored, neurotic and unhealthy. Electrical appliances and oil-dependent machines take over what was once, all in a day’s work. The consumer products “as seen on tv”, individually wrapped anything – and even things like yoga mat bags – baffle me. I don’t even have to mention the mess “convenient” paper cups and plastic bags has gotten us into.

But, back to hotels. Convenience which crosses a certain boundary becomes a luxury – something we can enjoy, but need to be wary of. Often, as a consumer, I feel ridiculously pampered. Luxury hotels (as well as restaurants and stores) pander to our desires to elevate our fragile egos to royal proportions and we buy into it – literally and figuratively. This is all part of what has made the process of hotel-greening a slow and resistant one, according to an article I found yesterday in Mother Jones magazine.

Despite my excitement over the Kimpton chain’s commitment to social and environmental practices, it turns out that it’s still only a fraction of this industry which actively engage in the process of becoming more sustainable – and, as reported by Kimberly Lisagor, Kimpton is the only chain using non-toxic cleaning supplies. Even more shocking, it turns out that the energy cost of an average single hotel room is $2,196 per year – equal to the energy use of an average American household for the same period.

Bottom line? It’s up to us (as consumers) to ask for what we want and then be willing to get out of the lap of luxury. The Green Hotel Association recommends that travelers can and should demand green services, helping dispell the myth that standards set by an excess of amenities. Call ahead to request nontoxic cleaning products, BYO toiletries (shampoo/body bars are airline friendly), turn off the AC, heat, lights and other appliances, avoid maid service, use less water and linens.

The biggest difference you can make is to travel less when possible and opt for the “staycation” otherwise. And when you really gotta/wanna hit the road, check the links below for B&Bs, hostels and earth-friendly hotels and enjoy the “luxury” of greener travel.

For lists and reviews of greener accommodations, visit, and


Monday, June 9th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

It’s HOT. We’re having an early heat wave in NC – the kind that usually happens mid or late Summer has hit us this early June, temps 10 – 15 degrees above average. I’ve been on my bicycle all weekend, getting around town to meet friends, visit the book store and buy groceries at the co-op. Today, at the Noon temp of 99 and sunny, I was loading my computer into my pannier to meet Jerry downtown.

I paused momentarily, admittedly searching my mind for a reason to jump into the Prius and turn on the a/c instead – I realized quickly that I couldn’t come up with anything good, so I took a deep breath and hopped on my two-wheels.

It took only about one mile, a hot breeze keeping the sweat from running into my eyes, that I realized that I made the right choice. And what seemed so difficult moments ago, was, well, all in a day’s work. And it felt good. I felt fit. I felt hopeful. I felt connected to this thing we call life.

The difference I will make today on my bicycle will not save the planet, but it will mean one less car on the road today, and it will be a part of pushing the iceberg of change within myself and in the world. And, it was a lot more fun than sitting in traffic in a car – a/c or not.

epilogue: I stopped at the bank on the ride back home. As I was locking my bike out front, someone stopped to hold the door for me, exclaiming, “I don’t know how you are on that bike in this heat!?!? I felt a new kind of warmth reach my face and tried to think of some clever or fun answer, but all I could come up with was a shrug of the shoulders and, “it’s not so bad…” He shook his head and said, “Well, good for you!”.

As I continued home, what I wished I could have told him is that I don’t deserve to appear heroic – it REALLY wasn’t that hard to be on that bike today – in fact, it made my day better (something driving never seems to do) and was worth every drop of sweat – not just to the planet, but to me.

Grid-Free and Off The Beaten Path – a journey

Sunday, June 8th, 2008

Off-grid living is part of our future evolution. There are as many reasons to do it as their are ways to do it. Most involve a desire to live more simply, more authentically and more sustainably. My friends, Jeannie and Michael, have recently embarked upon their own off-grid journey in a camper. Jeannie is going to share some of her experience here, on Tao of Change – posted each Sunday for the Summer. Tune in and share the adventure each week. Jeannie’s introductory entry below:

From Jeannie:

Michael and I decided to camp for the summer outside of Crested Butte, CO (~9000 ft elevation) in a 14.5 foot ’57 camper that we purchased, that’s right, on Craigslist. Michael knows a lot about remodeling, so he was able to perform all kinds of electrical and interior maintenance on our little summer home. We painted & fixed her up and now it’s time to live the dream.  We decided on this course of action for several reasons including, but not limited to:

we are tree huggers and we love to run around in the woods
mountains impress us
we are experimenting with reducing our impact
we are attempting to be mindful about what we use / waste
we are re-defining materialism & consumption for ourselves
we want to save $$ for skiing this winter

Our disclaimer is that we are not self-proclaimed environmentalists and we apologize for faux-pas we may commit.  Suggestions are welcome!

Entry 1:
Michael and I finally found a camping spot – Cement Creek, just south of Crested Butte (right out of CB South) and have been out in the camper the last couple of days.  It is super cozy, but it snowed all day today so we came in to town because we had a little bit of cabin fever (camper fever.)  Really, we wanted to hit up Thomas’ hot tub!  It’s warm and comfortable living in the camper, though, and we really like it.  We’ve been hiking and biking around a lot, and making food in the original 1957 camper oven / stove.  Michael is killing me with some of the hikes we’ve done!  Everything around is beautiful though, hiking or not.  When more of the snow around town melts, we will camp closer in, and we’ll be a 20-minute bike ride from town, which means we can keep our dirty little wheels off the road and those gas dollars in our pockets.

Crested Butte is a really cool town where people are ALWAYS outside – biking, hiking, paddling, etc.  It has a very young, but rustic and old-timey feel.  Many of the people here are very friendly and will talk to strangers, which is always cool.

And so the adventure begins..

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