So far this week:
- Sunday: Consumption
- Monday: Trash
- Tuesday: Transportation
- Wednesday: Food
- Thursday: Energy
- Friday: Water
- Sunday: Eco-Sabbath
The YES! Magazine Team
Seattle Area, Washington
The past few weeks have been unusually lively at the YES! office. Twenty staff and interns have joined the YES! Magazine Dream Team for No Impact Week—there’s excitement but also apprehension about just how hard this week might be.
Some of us have long commutes to the office. Others have kids. We all have a lot to do every day at work. But each of my 20 team members have contributed stories, ideas, and a sense of adventure as we prepare to step up to Colin Beavan’s challenge.
I’ve already been surprised by the ways in which I’ve gotten to know my coworkers in new ways, and the week’s just beginning. We’re already a low-impact group, by national standards—we pick veggies from the garden outside our office every day for lunch, we maintain a lively worm bin for our food scraps, and we sometimes work with the lights off to save energy. Many of us bike, bus, ferry, and walk to work already. We patronize local businesses and bank at local banks.
But we’re also used to living comfortable lives. In preparation for No Impact Week, each one of us expressed different concerns: What if I don’t own a bike? Is it hygienic not to flush the toilet every time we use it? How will my kids react to carrying trash around? What about all of the takeout containers we use when we’re too busy to bring a lunch from home? How will I dry my laundry in soggy western Washington?
This week is an opportunity for us each to explore the ways in which our lifestyles affect the planet, and pledge to take the next step to reduce our impact. The challenges and joys will be different for each of us. But it’s certainly more fun when you’re supported and pushed a little further by those around you.
Which brings me to…
For me, day one of No Impact Week marked the final day of moving in to my new house with YES! web editor Brooke Jarvis and two other friends. We were coming from a house we’d fully furnished from garage sales, Craigslist, and Freecycle. Our friends were coming from a tiny, off-the-grid cabin they’d built themselves.
No shopping this Sunday. I spent the whole day finding space for our duplicate coolers and canning pots, stacking cases of homemade blackberry wine above the bathroom cabinets, and asking myself how I could possibly own so many shoes. The whole day was a revelation that these four people who are pretty into the minimally consumerist, do-it-yourself lifestyle still own a lot of stuff.
By six that night, we still had a lot of unpacking to do, but that could wait. This day is about consumption, isn’t it? We’d brewed a keg of scotch ale last month, and a big crock of sauerkraut was ready—made from cabbage my new housemate grew on her farm just 10 miles away.
Our friends were happy to help out with this kind of consumption, and came bringing cheese, meat, and homemade bread for some of the tastiest reuben sandwiches around.
-Jessica Lind-Diamond, Development Manager
Instructions for creating a reusable napkin:
You can find quilt fats at any fabric store and they are usually very inexpensive. You can also use any leftover fabric scraps you have.
You just cut two squares the same size. I like to choose different patterns, but ones that compliment each other. It's like having two different napkins.
Sew the two sides together, face-to-face, leaving a couple of inches open to turn it inside out.
Clip the corners, turn it inside out, and iron it flat.
Then just using any utility stitch sew all around the edges of the napkin to keep it flat after washing
-Paula Murphy, Fulfillment Manager, and Sara Kirk, Media and Outreach Intern
by Derek Hoshiko, Online Audience Manager, and Gretchen Wolf, Office Manager
As employees at YES! Magazine, we often find it challenging to reconcile our personal lives and actions with our organization's image and reputation, and the actions that we advocate.
For example, with 25 people in our office, recycling and composting is challenging both in terms of educating our staff and interns about how to do it, and holding everyone accountable to actually do it.
In the past month, Gretchen has been working closely with a local zero waste group to bring solid waste diversion to our community, and hold workshops and demonstrations on use.
An Ongoing Conversion
Derek had a life-changing moment at the Hollyhock Summer Gathering last month when two keynote speakers presented the latest information on the plastics issue, including artist/filmmaker Chris Jordan, who gave a very compelling and emotionally wrenching presentation—about albatrosses dying by the tens of thousands on Midway Island, in a remote part of the Pacific Ocean, after having their body cavities filled with plastic.
Plastic bits are found on beaches in San Diego, and as far as Antarctica. In some places, the oceans consist of half plastic bits, and half plankton. The plastic will get smaller, but it will never break down.
The flow of plastic into the oceans is increasing, and we need to take a stand—we need to refuse single-use plastic, and to start conversations with business owners, managers, friends, etc. about how we can reduce waste in a respectful and doable way.
The word that comes to mind as I (Gretchen) move through this No Impact Week is "awareness." Trash Day has brought several things to my attention: First, we at YES! struggle with trash disposal just as much as the next guy; and second, the wrappers from my favorite morning Lara bars are taking up way too much space in the landfill.
Truthfully, the conversation for this theme has been happening all month here at the YES! office. The zero waste committee has been helping us improve our systems with better signage—detailing what goes where—and meeting with our staff to answer those tough recycling questions: What do we do with our tea packets, with their sneaky foil lining? And what about our used nose tissue?
We quickly realized that in order to simplify and manage our composting needs, we needed to invest in a commercial composter. But with this decision came the difficult question—what to do with our hardworking worms?
A BYO Takeout Container Flash Mob
Photo Essay: Follow YES! staff as they descend on local eateries with reusable plates in hand.
One item that was overwhelming our smaller compost bin was our takeout containers—a wake-up call to YES! staff that we needed to rethink how we are getting our lunch items to work. This inspired a BYO container flash mob, armed with plates and homemade cloth napkins, to visit to our local restaurants. It not only brought awareness to our town's establishments, but also inspired a conversation with others in our community—and was a fun bonding opportunity for staff!
We visited three locally owned restaurants and asked them if we could either borrow a plate for takeaway that we would wash and return, or to plate our meal on a dish that we brought ourselves.
I (Derek) have been doing this for years in Seattle, and decided to share the idea with my colleagues. Compostable or recyclable takeaway containers are better than throw-away ones, but not using any is the best.
So the worms are going home with our staff worm wrangler, our local recycler says "no" to used nose tissue, and we will be attempting to convert to bulk tea to avoid those deceptive tea packets.
And that Lara bar wrapper solution? Gretchen googled the Lara Bar recipe and will attempt to duplicate her favorite peanut butter chocolate chip bar from her kitchen over the weekend.
The lessons in this week are still happening here at YES! At the office, as Gretchen gathers the sprinkled flower petals from our recycle bin (with a frustrated sigh) and moves them to our new compost bucket, she's hopeful.
In preparation for this day, I realized a large portion of the food I eat needs to take a plane or truck cross-country just to get to my belly. The banana for my smoothie had to hop on a plane from Ecuador, and those garbanzo beans had a long journey from India to get to my salad.
The "but I'm an unpaid intern" line is hardly an excuse for not eating local at YES! because we have a vegetable garden full of kale, squash, and other tasty eats (even hops!)—only steps from our office.
So this week I can at least speak for the YES! intern house on Bainbridge Island, where all five of us interns live, in that we have been making good on our no-impact pact, eating up everything in our cupboards supplemented with greens from the garden.
In an effort to get the YES! staff and interns to eat a local lunch on Wednesday, we had a potluck at work. Not everything was 100 percent local like my blueberry cheesecake bars, which only included local blueberries and eggs, but everything was still 100 percent delicious. And according to Vicki Robin's article for YES!, 7 Ways to Cook Up a Sustainable Diet, "If it is in your fridge or on your shelves, count it as local."
I'd have to say our fulfillment manager, Paula Murphy, wins the award for most local ingredients used in her tasty potato leek soup. Not only the hearty vegetables were local but also the butter and cream! For the recipe, check out YES! Picks: Recipes for Fall.
When I know my food comes from a short distance away it automatically tastes better—and to be fair, it probably is better. This has been the hardest task for me personally but the one I feeI I will most likely incorporate into my routine, even if only little by little.
Thankfully I have the support of my mother, who despite her love of Wendy’s chicken sandwiches, has agreed to take a no-impact journey with me on the East Coast. Sharing our successes and meals we’ve made with local ingredients have added some excitement to our long-distance relationship, and make me feel that much closer to her.
-Jennifer Kaye, Editorial Intern
Right from the beginning, I knew that no energy day was going to be a one of the biggest challenges during all of No Impact Week, probably impossible to do completely. Obviously, I'm on my laptop as I type this entry. But I think it just makes me realize more and more how dependent we are on electricity—even with mundane, everyday things, like illuminating a room with light, or using my phone to call or text someone.
We were able to make a lot of progress, though. The other day, former editorial intern Robby Mellinger came to the YES! office to build a rocket stove, which was featured in YES! Picks in the Summer 2011 issue. Many staff members contributed something to make it possible: Robby brought a massive popcorn tin, and managing editor Doug Pibel and publisher Fran Korten donated items to the cause.
It took Robby about an hour and a half to make, and it was his first time making one. It's a very efficient tool because it's insulated by ash, and small sticks in tubing produce enough heat to cook food without producing much smoke. Most importantly, no electricity needed!
I helped Jenni Kaye, another editorial intern at YES!, make candles from soy flakes and lavender oil. We filled the wax in old pasta sauce and peanut butter jars that were already in the house. They were surprisingly simple to make, and they smell great! Awesome Christmas gift idea, anyone?
With this combination of great tools, the YES! interns hosted a "no-impact" house party on Thursday night. We utilized the rocket stove by making pasta, and later, smores. Also, we made enough candles to illuminate each room in the house, as well as the back deck where the group ended up settling for most of the evening.
But there was more than just a lack of electricity at that party. I think that because there were few distractions, we were able to have great conversation as friends and co-workers. There wasn't any mingling; we all sat together in one big circle, taking turns talking, and listening when others spoke.
I think with distractions like phones and computers, it's difficult to keep a conversation flowing the way it did last night—especially with 15 people in the group.
It makes me hopeful that others will realize that there are great benefits, beyond saving fossil fuels and money, to not using electricity.
-Kate Malongowski, Editorial Intern
Soak up the benefits of using less water.
I make a very poor land creature. If possible, I would rather be in the water. If swimming to work was an option, I would much prefer that than riding my bike.
When I stopped being in the pool all the time, around the time I started this internship and stopped giving swimming lessons, I started taking a lot more showers—two a day—and I still never felt clean (minus the chlorine oozing from my pores). I also wash my dishes thoroughly before putting them in the dishwasher. I would say my water use habits would have put me pretty high in the ranking of water use offenders.
According to National Geographic’s Water Footprint calculator, though, I come out below average in every category. Apparently disliking red-meat, being lactose intolerant, and generally being too poor to spend money on many non-food products makes me much more water-friendly to the environment than most Americans.
What the calculator doesn’t have is a category for use of public swimming pools. I was curious how much that could potentially add to my water footprint. I was surprised that, according to the Association of Pool and Spa Professionals, pools use substantially less water than a lawn of the same surface area.
So. If my water consumption is, for the most part, so far below average, what could I do that would make a significant difference in my water footprint? Confine myself to one shower a day, yes. Shorter showers, yes. Let go of spotless dish obsession…working on it. Oh, and I could kick the bottled water habit.
Despite what The Story of Stuff claims in The Story of Bottled Water, I think bottled water tastes infinitely better than tap. City water tends to taste like chlorine. The water out of the tap at the intern house on Bainbridge Island tastes like dirt. The filter on the office tap makes for the only good water I’ve had recently that doesn’t come from a bottle. I don’t know what the waste stats on Brita filters are, but hopefully are the better of two evils in this situation. I can’t go cold turkey and switch to straight tap water, but I can invest in a filter and reusable water bottle.
I do wonder, though, how much of a water impact I make every time I ride the ferry…
-Ayla Harbin, Online Intern
Late September brought warm, dry weather to the Puget Sound area—helpful for those No Impact Week team members who made long bike commutes to the YES! office on Bainbridge Island. Adding No Impact changes to our regular work routines made this a busy week. Staff and interns streamlined our office waste systems, made sustainable community connections, sourced, cooked, and shared local food, made candles, arranged parties, and even constructed energy-efficient technology—in this case, a bright red rocket stove.
After work, and the ferry trip back to Seattle (arguably the world’s most beautiful commute), I attended several talks and meetings this week. They’re abundant in autumn, the season of mellow fruitfulness and book tours. The pace was a little hectic, but just by showing up I got valuable insight from expert authors and engaged audiences: On Israel/Palestine Monday night, on divisions in labor unions Friday. On Saturday, activists at the GI coffeehouse at Joint Base Lewis-McChord launched a campaign for recognition and treatment of soldiers suffering war trauma.
By Sunday I was ready for a day of rest and the No Impact “Eco-Sabbath,” but there was one more significant event on the calendar: President Obama’s visit to Seattle. Local groups called for a street greeting to remind the president of the people’s “to-do” list: create green jobs, protect Medicare, end the wars, and save the planet.
A storm blew in after a week of warm still evenings. On Sunday morning I walked through wet, windy streets to the Paramount Theatre where Obama was scheduled to appear. The wide intersections at 9th and Pine were cordoned off from traffic, transformed into something almost like a pedestrian plaza. I found activist friends standing behind a cluster of Tar Sands Action Solidarity signs. We huddled under an umbrella chanting “Pipeline: No!” and “There is No Planet B!” for an hour, then took a break at a nearby coffee shop, where the conversation turned to the question of effectiveness. One discouraged friend, a longtime peace activist, wondered if there was much point in a street corner protest far from the seat of power.
But I was energized. I’d gotten an unexpected, and positive, reaction when I passed out Tar Sands Action leaflets to the well-dressed people waiting in line for the Obama fundraiser. “Have you heard about the Keystone XL pipeline?” I asked. “It would be an environmental disaster, and President Obama has the power to stop it.”
Several people said this was the first time they’d heard about the pipeline. One woman, reading that 1,252 people had been arrested in front of the White House to prevent the State Department’s approval of Keystone XL, said she thought it would be a good idea to get that reported more widely in the media. Several people immediately “got it” when I mentioned the threat to the Ogallala Aquifer, and said they’d go to the Tar Sands Action website for more information. According to my brief straw poll, people need to hear more about this cause.
Dried off and caffeinated, we walked out into the street just as the presidential motorcade rounded the corner. Flashing blue lights, motorcycles streaming past, and then two identical stretch limos with darkened windows. Peering at the first limo, I was sure that familiar silhouette in the backseat was POTUS, but someone said, “No, he’s in that other one.” I still don’t know what I saw. Which was the doppelganger, which the president I voted for?
To find out more, go to www.tarsandsaction.org
-Valerie Schloredt, Associate Editor