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

Posts Tagged ‘travel’

The Idle Reach – idling autos, a story of intervention

Friday, March 27th, 2009

asleep at the wheelby Tao Oliveto, Raleigh, NC

Spring has arrived – watch the idling begin. Idling cars are heavy on my mind again – yesterday I spent an agonizing 10+ minutes at a bank drive-through (I was on my bike) – surrounded by exhaust fumes, thinking there must be a better way! By popular demand, I’m re-posting the facts and figures regarding the environmental impact of idling cars. If you didn’t get to these links previously, make sure to take a read.

I have eco-peeves (like most people these days). My ongoing biggie? Idling cars. I often see cars idling in parking lots or street side while drivers talk on cell phones or eat lunch. I’ve even seen people napping in cars with the engine running – in a closed garage, you’d be dead, so do the math. Is this about some ill-perceived comfort, a bad habit, or just another way to isolate ourselves from each other? (Sorry, defrosting the windshield this way is just as bad – I grew up in MN and scraping is a way of life).

So, I made an eco-pledge a couple years back to stop the idling madness – at least that in my immediate vicinity. I decided to politely and pointedly ask/suggest/plead/beg drivers to stop idling. Although I always try to judge situations according to my inner conflict meter, most of my experiences have been surprisingly pleasant. In fact, yesterday, I waved at the driver of an idling SUV (yes, he was talking on his cell phone). He rolled down his window and after saying hello, I pointed out that if he turned off his car, he would pollute less. He thanked me and cut the engine. I even happened to run into him later and we had a friendly conversation about creating new green habits.

Turning off an idling car may seem like a small way to cut down on pollution, compared to, say, shutting down a coal plant. Even the latest IPCC Report states that the changes we need to make to keep CO2 out of the atmosphere must be “deep and quick” and that climate change has a huge “procrastination penalty”. Yet, small changes made by many people can make a big impact and spread awareness (change a light bulb lately, anyone? ). Maybe we need to form support groups to help us change our wasteful habits – “Hello, my name is Sally and I’m an idler…” Whatever it takes, we can help each other shift perceptions and make big change happen if we’re willing to speak out.

I certainly didn’t say it first, but – “If you’re not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.”

Got an eco-peeve? Take a chance, make a change, create a future.

Cyber-Shopping Decreases Energy Use

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

I’m finally coming into holiday spirit this year and thinking about the consumables and thrift finds for friends and family – it’s more fun than ever to holiday shop when the giving is local and light on the planet.

I don’t buy much new stuff, but when I do, I’ve always liked online shopping. It’s fast and easy. However, I’ve been nagged by the thought that my new stuff has to travel many miles to find me and I can’t say, “I don’t need a bag” when checking out, like I would at a local store. I need to know, by the bottom line, is online shopping more eco-responsible than shopping at retail stores?

Much to my relief and surprise, I’ve heard some good news through Ideal Bite and Cool-Companies. A report by the Center for Energy and Climate Solutions, a non-profit organization that helps companies and public institutions reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, show that internet shopping has significantly decreased energy demand since 1998 and could have an even larger impact on energy and resource savings into the future.

Despite their size, e-commerce warehouses use 1/16th of the energy used to operate retail stores. More e-commerce equals less need for retail space and the resources used to build and maintain it. This, of course, means saving open space and trees through both less construction and the decrease in paper use – a savings of as much as 2.7 million tons of paper per year. What about the environmental costs of shipping? More good news: ground shipping uses 1/10 the energy of driving yourself to the mall and even shipping 10 pounds of packages by air, uses 40% less fuel than the same purchase made by car.
Of course, all these energy savings means less power plants and less greenhouse gas pollution. And less driving and shopping means more free time for us. It’s becoming obvious that the balance of our future depends on our willingness to change our habits and perspective. It can be a win-win for our lives, our environment and the economy. Now that’s something to celebrate.

Where The Hell Is Matt – and Does He Offset?

Thursday, July 10th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

A friend sent me a link to a video made by a guy named Matt who is traveling around the world (via a corporate sponsor) and taping himself doing a cute but goofy dance in all kinds of unusual public places. His website/videos are called, I was puzzled at first watching, but It becomes fun and even moving when random groups of people join him. The music is also nice and I admit, something about it got to me – that “oneness” thing, I suppose. Go ahead and take a look.

This is the second time he is traveling to dance and a third ’round the world trip is coming up, courtesy of Stride Gum (don’t ask me to explain that part, I’m as baffled as you are).  His site posts and answers many interesting and Frequently Asked Questions, but did not include the one foremost in my mind – what about the enormous carbon footprint of all those flights? Do you offset? I tried emailing Matt with this question but I can’t get my message out, so I’m hoping he will find me here. Besides convincing Matt to offset his flights, I have a really great idea to share with him.

Matt says that Americans should travel abroad more, though he doesn’t say why, leaving me to assume that, logically, he wants us all to experience other cultures. If so, he’s got a good point and it gave me a good idea towards that end. Here’s my letter to Matt, the guy who gets paid to travel around the world and dance a jig:

Hi Matt,
For some reason I can’t explain, your video gave me happy, teary goose-bumps, so I guess that means dancing for the sake of dancing and inviting the world to dance with you means something special and true. Namaste.

However, there is a big, itchy question nagging at me – what about all those carbon emissions spewed about flying all over the world? Do you offset your flights?

I agree that more Americans need to know and experience other cultures, but many of us are trying to cut back on travel to help the planet and/or can’t afford to do that kind of travel. So, here’s my fabulous idea –

Maybe your sponsor money could send a different person to each country to do your dance, therefore helping more people to be exposed to other cultures and spread the awareness and experience around in a bigger way. You could even have a fun contest asking people why they want to dance with the world.

Your email program doesn’t seem to be working, so I hope you find me here and send us your answer about offsetting and other thoughts and/or post my idea for discussion on your website.

Dancingly Yours, Tao

Feeling Vermont-ish

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

Grid-Free and Off the Beaten Path

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

by Jeannie Newell, Crested Butte, CO

Sooooo sorry I missed posting on Sunday — I guess part of ‘off the grid adventuring’ is that you really have to plan for things, because internet access is not as easy to come by when you live in the woods. Here’s what happened yesterday in my new town:

Sunday was the 4th annual Bridges of the Butte tour.  It’s a 24 hour all ages non-stop bike ride that people take in teams & in shifts.  Some people do the whole 24 hours by themselves to win pretty sweet prizes like ski passes, but others just do it for the fun.  Also people wear their everyday garb or outrageous costumes!  This town is very into playing hard and wearing costumes whenever possible.  Michael and I took a couple of shifts for the fire department’s team, so I threw on a weird looking outfit, feather boa and went riding!  I realized 5 minutes into it, that it was just good for the soul.  The loop is an easy 2.5 miles and you take it as many times in your hour as you can, my legs were burning by the end of it!  And that was just one of the several races that have been going on here this week – Ride the Rockies, Fat Tire Bike Week and The Wildflower Rush are all going on….

This is a place all it’s own.  It’s a place where a person can be as normal as they want to be, or really nurture their inner weirdo.  All transitional moments aside, I think I might like it here.

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

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..

From Hotels to Hostels – travel more green

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.

THE TAO OF CHANGE [the way of a better world]

brought to you by The Change, a strategy and design agency with an agenda to change the world