Saturday, July 25, 2009


I recently saw a documentary trailer about young farmers who are making a go of it, growing organic produce for people, planet and profit. Besides being a delightful way to start my weekend, it also brought to mind how, in a very real sense, we're all Greenhorns when it comes to sustainable business development. From clean tech to community supported agriculture, we're all looking for new and innovative ways to make money and make a difference.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Summertime, and the grillin' is easy

I love my neighbors, but I'm not crazy about their barbeque. The smoke from the grill inevitably wafts into our upstairs window, making our mouths and eyes water. I can’t complain though; my teenager plays the drums, so what’s a little smoke among friends? Apparently, more than meets the eye…

Charcoal is a carbon-based fuel made up of charred wood or sawdust and other additives. Those ubiquitous briquettes that have become synonymous with summertime release air pollutants such as particulate matter, carbon monoxide, and soot as well as greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide.

According to an article in the July/August 2005 edition of Sierra magazine: "Nationwide, the estimated 60 million barbecues held on the Fourth of July alone consume enough energy—in the form of charcoal, lighter fluid, gas, and electricity—to power 20,000 households for a year. That one day of fun, food, and celebration, says Tristram West, a research scientist with the U.S. Department of Energy, burns the equivalent of 2,300 acres of forest and releases 225,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide."

Although there are all-natural briquettes, the most popular alternative, propane gas, emits a fraction of the CO2 that charcoal does. Still, it has its own problems. For starters, it is also a fossil fuel. In addition, purists claim gas-grilled hamburgers do not taste as good as their charbroiled counterparts; you might as well cook ‘em indoors.

One entrepreneur, who saw the demand for a more environmentally-friendly grill fuel, came up with the ultimate eco-grilling alternative—the uGO FlameDisk. The FlameDisk consists of solidified ethanol packaged in a 9 inch pie-shaped disk made of recyclable aluminum and paperboard.

When I met Chad Sorenson, co-founder, president, and company cook of SoloGear LLC, at the New York Go Green Expo, he assured me the FlameDisk produced the same delicious burgers and brats that charcoal produces with minimal effort and maximum portability. Although I'm cooking impaired, this seems to be something even I can use; just peel, light, and grill almost anywhere you want (except indoors) for up to 40 minutes.

In addition, because it is a biofuel rather than a fossil fuel, the ethanol in the FlameDisk purportedly only creates water and a negligible amount of carbon dioxide as byproducts. In a comparison between charcoal versus FlameDisk, Sorenson’s website claims particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, and total hydrocarbon emissions were reduced by over 90 percent. And that, as they say, is nothing to sneeze at.

So I’ve gone ahead and put in my order. I’ll let you know how it goes.

In the meantime, stay cool…be green.

Friday, July 3, 2009


On a Midwestern farm, spring and summer are times of heightened activity and companionship. People come out of their winter “hibernation” and work and play together while the weather permits. This is when animals give birth and crops are planted. Fall is a time of gathering together the fruits of our labor and, literally, harvesting our crops. Winter is a time of renewal. When the weather is such that nothing else can be done, we finally have a chance to reflect; to repair our worn-out farm equipment and mend our worn-out clothes.

In California, we work all the time, irrespective of the seasons, which is fine as long as we remember that reflection and re-creation are a necessary part of life. If we don’t take the time to recreate, we will cease to function at our maximum potential and may even break down for lack of repair.

Southern Californians border on being workaholics. Maybe it’s because our cost of living is so high. Maybe it’s because there is so much competition here that we have to be at the top of our game all of the time. Regardless, especially in this economy, it’s easy for small business owners to believe that we can’t afford to recreate; but the truth is we can’t afford not to.

Summer time has become the main vacation time since that’s when kids are out of school (used to be so they could help their parents work the fields). But this year, a lot of people are opting for a series of long-weekends rather than the traditional two week vacations. Still others are opting for “staycations,” where they stay at home during their time off to save money or just to relax without the hassle of traveling.

Due to time and conflicting work schedules, my family recently decided to forgo our annual trek to the farm and to take a series of local, mini breaks over the next few weeks. Here are some of the ingredients I’ve found to re-creating at home:

1. Discover new places . My husband and I recently decided to eat at a nearby Taqueria, which we would normally have been too busy to try. The place was run by a husband and wife who spoke virtually no English and served one of the best burritos I’ve ever tasted…for about $4.00. The restaurant has been there for over a year, but we’ve never taken the time to discover it before. It was wonderful!

2. Unplug electronics. This was a hard one for me because, in my business, communication is key. But I started thinking about it and realized that a real vacation means taking a break from what I normally do (whether at home or in the office) and doing something else, such as taking a bike ride to the mountains or kayaking along the beach. I find this impossible to do if I’m plugged in to my cell phone or to my computer. It’s just too tempting to make one more call or check one last email.

3. Be sociable. In the Midwest, it’s not uncommon for friends to just drop by for a visit. Here in California, things are a bit different. Everyone makes plans in California, often months in advance. But on staycation, I make an effort to unplan and call some of our friends at the last minute to see if they want to get together. The last time I did this, I ended up in my friend’s kitchen, enjoying homemade grits with cheese and salsa (I brought the coffee). It was a great way to start the day!

4. Enjoy family time. As the kids get older, I find we all tend to go our own separate ways. But staycations are a great time to make a conscious decision to do things together…even if you’re just playing a board game. Some of the most memorable times of my childhood revolve around simple trips that we took as a family; the things I remember most about those trips are the actual time we spent together, playing games, swimming, listening to the adults talk, and even being bored. This summer, we’re making a conscious effort to get together more as a family, to play games, swim, talk, maybe even be bored…and, ultimately, to recreate.

Like sleep, re-creation mysteriously opens us up to larger-than-life creative forces that enable us to function in the moment and to become more creative and innovative ourselves. In many ways, re-creation is the foundation upon which our work rests. It is part of the sustainable process that we call life.

So, how will you be re-creating this year?