YES! But How? :: Eco-friendly Party

How to throw a sustainable party, finding grass-fed beef and the real, environmental cost of transportation.


I was cleaning up after a recent party and realized that there was a lot of unnecessary waste left over. How can I throw a more environmentally conscious party?

Throwing a sustainable party is easy as long as you plan ahead. Start by sending out invitations via e-mail to save on paper.

For a more formal event requiring paper invitations, print on recycled paper.

Organize carpools or rideshares for your guests or encourage them to use public transportation or bicycles—make it easy by mapping out bike and transit routes to your party. Instead of using balloons, streamers or other plastic party decorations, use natural objects like seashells, stones, or greenery.

Minimize energy use with energy-efficient light bulbs or for a more intimate, candlelit atmosphere scatter nontoxic beeswax tealights around the room. If giving gifts,choose ones without packaging like movie tickets or gift certificates. Use reusable dishes, flatware, and other utensils as well as cloth napkins.

If you plan to serve beer, get a keg, which will be reused and will cut down on waste from bottled or canned beer. Kegs are usually available in a couple of sizes, and you can ask your guests to pitch in for the cost of a keg rather than bringing their own beer. Each guest should bring their own cup for easy recognition so they won't use a new one each time they fill up. Buy just enough food for the number of guests you will have. Try to buyonly locally grown, organic foods and consider serving food that doesn't need plates.

If you have leftovers, store them in reusable containers or donate them to a soup kitchen. Set up labeled recycling containers in a visible and accessible place. Most importantly, let your guests know about your plans so that they help. Chances are your guests will have other creative ideas for how to keep the event sustainable.

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—Daina Saib


My friend served “grass-fed beef” at a dinner party the other night, and it was delicious! Can you tell me more about it, and where I can find it?

For those of us who crave the occasional steak, grass-fed beef is a less destructive alternative to conventionally raised meat, which is an environmental threat second only to cars. While most cattle are raised in huge feedlots and fed a diet of grain, antibiotics ,and growth hormones, grass-fedcattle are raised on pasture. Grass-fed beef is leaner, has up to four timesmore “good” fat (omega-3s) and VitaminE, and is also higher in CLA, a nutrient associated with lower cancer risk. The risk of mad cow disease and E-coli is also significantly reduced.

More than 70 percent of the U.S.grain harvest (mostly corn and soy) is fed to cattle, producing only a pound of beef for every 16 pounds of grain and diverting food resources from the one in six people worldwide who go hungry every day. Grain-based beef production requires huge amounts of water (2,500 gallons per pound ofbeef) and petroleum-based fertilizers,a nd is a leading cause of topsoil loss. Livestock waste from feedlots is a major source of air and water pollution.Raising cattle on pasture limits these environmental depredations and spares cattle the health complications that are a product of a grain-heavy diet.

Local Harvest is a great online resource for finding locally produced food, including beef. Many small scale farmers go above and beyond organic standards, yet are not officially certified due to the high cost. A number of online retailers, suchas American Grass Fed Beef, offer a wide variety of products and ship directly. On the West Coast, In N' Out Burger and Burgerville use locally raised, grass-fed beef. A note about labels: “organic” and “grass-fed” are not the same. The USDA organic label requires animals to be antibiotic- and hormone-free and fed an organic diet, but does not guarantee the animals were raised on pasture. Likewise, “grass-fed” doesn't guarantee the beef was produced according to organic standards. Look for labels that say both organic and grass-fed. Due to the lower fat content, grass-fed beef cooks approximately 30 percent faster.

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—Elle McPherson


Carbon from our frequent flights represents the fastest-growing part of overall emissions. Yet driving your personal vehicle by yourself is not a good alternative as it is the most energy-intensive mode of transport. You're much better off on the train, spending half the energy, or carpooling with three others, which gets you there on a quarter of the energy you use driving alone.

The round-trip commute between New York and Boston in the average car takes 20 gallons of gas and causes about 400 pounds of carbon emissions. The same trip by air would use 13 gallons of fuel and emit around 250 pounds of CO2. An important reduction, but climate experts say carbon emissions at high altitudes accumulate in the stratosphere due to low air density and because there is no vegetationto absorb the carbon. The climate effect is much more drastic, so conservative calculations double airplane emissions for a meaningful comparison with other means of transport. This makes the plane theworst possible option. The best options are trains, which produce 180 pounds per passenger (the Europeans have that down to 95 pounds)or buses, which produce only 76 pounds.

Picture this: offsetting the carbon emissions from taking this trip in your own car once a month requires the work of 74 full grown sugarmaple trees. Taking the train instead would free 40 trees to clean up other carbon emissions.

You can calculate your carbon emissions in pounds of CO2 per passenger mile for other trips: for air travel multiply miles by 0.64, then double that number to account for the actual climate effect; for car travel multiply by 0.79–0.97, depending on model; for trains by 0.42; and for overland bus travel by 0.18. Or use a web-based carboncalculator (see below), but remember they don't account for high-altitude effects.

There is also a time and stress factor. Driving the stretch on your own takes about 3.5 hours, and leaves you with no time for reading or working. But taking a plane may not be better. With a journey lengthened by the trip to the airport, security,check-in, and boarding, the realtime for the commute is the same—although you'll get about 30 minutes to read or work. Here the train is the most attractive. It takes the same amount of time but gives you the fulltrip to do your work or simply unwind on the way home.

One last tip: if you often have meetings outside the town center and no public transport is available from the train station, consider carsharing. This means driving only a fraction of the journey and still being flexible at your destination.

Carbon counters on the web include and . Car sharing information by city is at .

--Lilja Otto

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