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

Archive for the ‘Water Wise’ Category

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009


The SmartCommute Challenge is an annual six-week regional campaign (April 15 – May 30) coordinated by GoTriangle and SmartCommute@rtp. The goal of the campaign is to encourage Triangle commuters to try an alternative commute (not driving alone) to work or campus such as riding the bus, carpooling, vanpooling, teleworking, biking or walking.

The Challenge is about more than asking people to try a more environmentally friendly, cheaper, and less stressful commute for a day. During the 2008 SmartCommute Challenge over 77% of participants were willing to continue their smart commute at least once a week! Regional transit ridership records were broken during the campaign, 5 new vanpools were started, and over 1, 000 Triangle commuters registered to find a carpool partner.

From April 15 through May 30, any employee or college student who commutes to work or campus in Durham, Orange or Wake counties can participate. To enter the Challenge, make your online pledge that you will carpool, vanpool, bike or walk, ride the bus, or telework (work from home) at least once before May 30.

Remember last year’s Smart Commute Challenge? I participated by putting a copy of the bus schedule in my pocket so I could stop using the car to travel downtown when it was raining and I was too wimpy to cover the 2.5 miles on my bike. I learned to like the bus ride and was part of the 2008 savings of 865 metric tons of CO2.

This year, I had a new idea – and this one is good. You know that one 32-mile drive/week that I make into Raleigh for work? Well, I can’t avoid that car travel since there is no public transport there during my hours, but I realized, happily, that once I’m there, I can at least avoid the driving back and forth across town to the 3 different locations where I teach.

And, in fact, a supportive friend is going to allow me to store a bicycle (my used spare collapsible bike which I knew would come in handy one day!) in his garage so that I can park there and ride through the city instead of driving. I’ll have to allow a little more time and bring a change of clothes when it starts getting really hot, but I think it will actually make my day more enjoyable and will certainly be an additional fitness fix. There is a lot to love about this idea and I’m surprised I didn’t think of it sooner.

Sometimes it takes a Challenge to make a challenging decision.

How SMART are you about your daily commute? Tao

Average Rating: 4.4 out of 5 based on 155 user reviews.

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

My leg is getting strong again and I am back on my bike, commuting around town, enjoying the new Spring weather. But, in my exuberance and glee, I found myself tempted to forget that there are rules to the road – and cars are not the only ones who need to follow them.

Like other cyclists, I like to complain about drivers who don’t share the road respectfully or carefully. When I first started riding my bicycle to work in another busier city, I proudly (but also rebelliously) wore a black t-shirt which – in big white letters – said, “ONE LESS CAR”. I just wanted “a little respect” and maybe some admiration, but perhaps should not have been shocked when I instead received a couple drive-by epithets.

Still, it would be nice if there was more communion between cars and bicycles and I think it’s time for cyclists to bear some of the burden. If you ride like I used to, you don’t always stop at signs or lights. You only occasionally signal a turn or lane change. Maybe you hop on and off the sidewalk, or take a shortcut around a corner through a parking lot. All these things may make you feel like a real road warrior, but they also put you and others in danger. And they certainly don’t help the wobbly relationship that already exists between riders and drivers.

Granted, cars kill cyclists, not the other way around, but copping an attitude as a rider won’t move us towards a more bike-friendly world. If you want to brush up on bike safety and etiquette, this is the best source I’ve found. More here on urban cycling. Of course, always wear your helmet, lose the headphones and sacrifice speed for caution.

PS. If you like that t-shirt, it’s still available from the San Francisco Bicycle Coaltion at

Average Rating: 4.5 out of 5 based on 159 user reviews.

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Have you broken your bottled water habit yet? Recent numbers regarding bottled water sales indicate that many people are returning to the tap and/or the tap with filters. Tap water contaminant levels are usually more closely regulated, but I agree that filtering is the best bet for health and the environment. New reports show a “surprising array” of contaminants in many brands of bottled water, including those exceeding set standards by the companies themselves. If you are currently relying on bottled water for daily consumption, the monetary cost of any filter is quickly offset by making the switch and the cost to your health is, well, “priceless”.

I miss drinking fountains and still don’t understand why the movement to bring them back is not bigger. It seems that it will decrease litter, pollution, energy use, fuel costs and ensure that the safety of tap water is kept a priority. Most of the time, we want or need just a few gulps to quench our immediate thirst, something the drinking fountain does without waste – I often find discarded water bottles half full or more.

Since bottled water is such a big environmental and health issue, I don’t want to touch the soda industry. EEK – eco-disaster right there, turning a healthy necessity like water into a sugar/chemical-laden mess. It’s not news that it is the most acidic beverage you can drink, it leaches calcium from bones, dissolves the enamel on teeth, and, while diet sodas remove sugar and calories, adds a toxic level of chemicals like methanol. Even Fox News reported in 2007, “Soda May Seriously Harm Health”.

Go stainless steel portable for your water needs out and about. There need be no exceptions. Did you know that you can send an EMPTY water bottle of any kind through security with other carry-ons at the airport? You can then fill it at a fountain before getting airborne.

Break the bottled habit. This one’s a no-brainer. Your world and your health deserves it.

Average Rating: 4.5 out of 5 based on 260 user reviews.

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

There’s a lot of us out here making some basic changes in our living and driving habits and finding out that it not only doesn’t suck, but it’s a whole new world of suprises that feel good. My friend, Jeannie (watch her weekly posts on this blog) reaping the rewards of small town life in a camper with a dog and a bicycle. Another friend, Greg, living car-free and self-employed in Asheville who contra-dances his heart out regularly in his community. Of course, there’s the abundant declarations of No Impact Man and his family, who experimented during a year of off-grid, off-stuff life in NYC and never went back to much more than a laundry machine and lights.

It was an article I saw yesterday in the San Francisco Chronicle that drove this happiness message home for me. It describes a more conventional family of three, including a 12 year-old son, living small outside the city with lights but no television, a non-potable water supply for everything except drinking, a hand-crank clothes washer and only a fireplace for heating. Though one parent needs to commute to the city for work (he carpools with 2 others in a Prius), when the other was laid off, they decided that their cost-efficient lives could be supported on one income, stating, “Living simply makes it easier to weather what could otherwise be hard times.”

To sum it all up from the closing paragraph, written by journalist, Kevin Fagan:

The two say that if they suddenly became so rich that money was no object, and their impact on the environment mysteriously didn’t matter any more, they still wouldn’t change much in the way they live.

Good enough for me.

Average Rating: 4.5 out of 5 based on 157 user reviews.

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

We were back in VT this past weekend, making more plans regarding our eventual relocation to Brattleboro. We had to fly again, and yes, I have some eco-conflict over that, but will now stick to visiting one/time per year for an extended period, making the road trip in my Hybrid and not driving when I get there. That’s an Eco-promise.

The local food co-op, located downtown, was once again a source of nourishment during this trip, for both my body and soul. Here’s some highlights:

The first thing we came upon after arriving on Saturday, was The Plastic Monster – a mean-looking, definitely UNgreen man made of plastic bags, standing menacingly at the front door of the Co-op. It spoke a loud and clear message regarding our country’s Death By Plastic. I can imagine  that the patrons who forgot their reusable bags in the car were readily walking back to get them. I’m certain this creative plastic presence will plant more seeds in others. Nice.

A Co-op event on Saturday was Member Appreciation Day, where they served local beef and veggie burgers for a $1 suggested donation – the money collected going to stock local food shelves. Sweet.

On Sunday, we returned for lunch to find a group of enthusiastic and adrenalized women outside the storefront, who had ‘Baked for Obama’ – offering up the homemade treats to passersby, in trade for a donation towards his campaign support. They tirelessly engaged people in conversation, asking and answering questions from all. When Hillary’s name came up, one of the Obama Bakers showed me her Hillary button, now retired under a layer of clothing. Smile.

Strolling past again that afternoon, a creatively designed bicycle parked outside caught my eye. Making a trip for groceries with his small daughter, this industrious dad had left the car at home and pedaled down on this awesome kid-carrying bike/cart. He told me a friend from Oregon makes them. Cool!

In many parking lots throughout town, particularly at schools, there are “No Idling” signs which asked people to tun off their engines when stopped. Ahhhh

On Sunday afternoon, we found a swimming beach secluded along the River, just a short bike ride out of town. Although it was obvious that this is a popular Summer gathering spot, it was clean and free of trash. And the water was warmer than I expected! Double Ahhhhh.

On Sunday evening, we sat overlooking the River with our new VT friends, and enjoyed watching some young Brat Boys below. There, in long shorts and shirtless, they did what young men do…when Summer comes North…and the River runs. Sigh.

Some things just feel right. OM

Average Rating: 4.4 out of 5 based on 260 user reviews.

Friday, June 6th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

When it comes to vacation or business travel, we all have our own idea of nirvana. Yesterday’s post on Kimpton Hotels (see below) shows that we can love the luxury while supporting sustainably-minded practices – an important choice for frequent business travelers. As vacationers, we can also balance our getaway greediness with the more sustainable, by seeking out destinations which provide greener, saner and more authentic options of accommodations and experience.

For me, travel is most fun when a bit of challenge is thrown in. Those who love to camp have always known this. Tents, sleeping bags and mosquito nets are part of the deal – and part of the fun. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. Renting a bicycle, taking the bus, eating bag lunches help keep me grounded in the experience – something that a 5-star resort or ocean cruise goes to great lengths to keep me removed from.

Speaking of experience, hostels are alive and well in both the U.S. and abroad – a logical and fun alternative to hotels altogether. Hostels are more sustainable by default since they make efficient use of space and resources and come in a surprising variety of shapes and sizes, both urban and rural. You’ll find a listing of hostels here and an even greener list on the West Coast, here.

There are more creative ways to be a conscious traveler. Consider the simplicity of becoming a “tourist” in your own area. If traveling far and wide is more your style, take advantage of organized volunteer vacations where you can give as much as you get.

It’s Summertime and the living is easy – but don’t make it too easy. Go but go greener.

Average Rating: 4.6 out of 5 based on 268 user reviews.

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

It’s good to be back. It spent time with my family and explored what’s new in my big city – one of those making significant strides towards a sustainable future. I’ve heard that the Twin Cities have held a high green ranking for decades and the city lakes, free of motorized boats, are some of the cleanest in the country. A stroll around a few busy spots will show you some of the most litter-free places on the planet. I saw street sweepers in the neighborhoods, doing the seasonal clean-up of curbside debris to keep it from entering the sewer system and waterways, my former local co-op is now solar-powered and stocks a wide selection of local farm products and I saw a few urban vegetable gardens where lawns used to be. A newish downtown Farmer’s Market is thriving. The city lakes and parks, populated by an abundance of cyclists and pedestrians, have been made more friendly for wildlife with natual rain gardens and flowering trees and plants. Out in the ‘burbs, a new light rail system is in place.

Last week’s NY Times column, by Elizabeth Royte, (author of Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It) also informed me that Minneapolis recently committed to spending $500, 000 on drinking fountains that will be placed in areas of high foot and bicycle traffic. This is part of an effort (joined by San Francisco Mayor, Gavin Newsom), to reduce bottle use – and the huge carbon footprint that goes along with it.

Now there’s another (like electric cars and electric hand-dryers) retro-solution to both plastic and water waste issues! Remember when most places had drinking fountains? They used to be in markets and department stores and in all parks. No cups, bottles or trash cans required. And it stands to reason that they conserve water, too. I’ve long wondered what happened to what used to be available to all – a cool, clean drink without the cost, waste and inconvenience of carrying a bottle. Germ-phobics can’t claim this one – fountains are designed so that the treated water coming from a spigot is safe. I shudder to think the bottled water industry had anything to do with the demise of the fountain, but then, what gives? More importantly, how can we reclaim a sane way to keep all of us quenched? I’ll be looking into this one – stay tuned.

BTW, thanks for the comments and thoughts about my mom. She is enjoying the Spring weather just arriving in MN. On the day I was leaving, we found a bird’s nest with 3 small eggs, hidden in a potted plant outside her front door. It made all of us smile. Nature has a nice way of speaking.

Average Rating: 4.4 out of 5 based on 210 user reviews.

Sunday, March 23rd, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Now that I have this death and dying thing on my mind, it brings me back, of course, to the earth and the environment. There’s something frightening about embalming bodies with chemicals and placing them in elaborate caskets, made of non-biodegradable and even toxic materials, to be buried underground. Although there is an important place and purpose behind rituals and ceremony for honoring life and death, we’re polluting the earth and contaminating large amounts of land in this outdated process.

I had already told my entire family that I insist on being cremated when I go – no wasted casket, gravestone, plot or polluting hearse for me. If it fits into your personal and/or spiritual story, cremation seems to make eco-sense. Right?

That was then. This is what I know now. Although technology has improved, the cremation process turns our bodies into air pollutants. In fact, incinerating bodies emits at least 7 toxins and contributes .2% of global emissions of dioxins and furans. It is also a large source of airborne mercury.

So what if you are dying to be green?

“The Green Burial Council (GBC) is an independent, nonprofit organization founded to encourage ethical and environmentally sustainable deathcare practices, and to use the burial process as a means of facilitating the acquisition, restoration and stewardship of natural areas. In a natural burial, the body is prepared for burial without chemical preservatives and is buried in a simple shroud or biodegradable casket that might be made from locally harvested wood, wicker or even recycled paper, perhaps even decorated with good-bye messages from friends.”

Land sites used for natural burials are maintained naturally, without irrigation or pesticides. The grave markers are made from natural parts of the landscape, creating a natural and native landscape that invites wildlife and people alike.

The council is creating a certification system for deathcare providers, education opportunities for consumers and an endowment fund to help create approved “Conservation Burial Grounds”. For more on traditional funeral services, cremation and natural burial, visit here.


After my mom’s funeral a couple weeks ago, Jerry and I continued a standing discussion of how we were going to “go” in pure green style. As mentioned above, cremation saves land space as well as the resources and chemicals that go along with a burial. Just what to do about the air pollution involved in incineration? Jerry said, “I’d like to simply float out to sea.”

Well, it ends up he wasn’t so far off. Air pollution not withstanding, it turns out your ashes can be made into an artificial coral reef which can help restore coastal fishing habitat. Hmm, nice thought. And if you go to the website of Eternal Reefs, there’s a description of a sweet ceremony that goes along with it.

I’m still not satisfied – I’m determined to find a carbon-neutral death if it kills me.

Next Up, green guru, Umbra, from, gives me some hopeful news about a woman in Sweden is perfecting a process that uses liquid nitrogen to reduce the body to dust, avoiding incinerator pollution. Now we’re getting somewhere!

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Think about it. Then rest in peace.

Average Rating: 4.6 out of 5 based on 176 user reviews.

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