The Importance of Empathy in Environmental Work

In my STEM for Solar class near the beginning of the year, we read an article about empathy and design thinking.  One segment of the article mentioned the rotation of nurse shifts in Kaiser Permanente and how they could improve those shifts in order to maximize the care for the patients.  A study conducted beforehand demonstrated that the nurse would debrief the incoming staff on the status of the patients for 45 minutes, and that despite this debriefing, they would miss some of the most important aspects of the patients conditions.  Wanting to rectify this problem, they developed a piece of computer software that enable the previous nurses to jot down notes about the patients throughout the shift, rather than debriefing the incoming nurses at the end of the shift.  As a result, not only did their productivity increase, but the interconnectivity between nurses and patients increased.

I mention this article because understanding where the problem originates is the key to developing a solution.  It’s easy to state that there is a problem that needs to be fixed.  The true challenge is finding out what exactly causes the problem in the first place, and taking the steps to fix it.

This is why what we do in this class is crucial.  With guest speakers and peer teaching, our understanding of the matters at hand increases, and we use this knowledge to develop potential solutions.  Through the year-round projects, not only can we put our empathy to work, but we are able to gain a better understanding of the process of a large-scale project, which we can take into our lives in environmental work.


Organic Labeling: USDA Stickers

I used to work at Sprout’s Farmers Market. Unfortunately, although expanding, these stores have not reached Virginia. However, it was in their 5 year plan as of July 2015. Sprout’s Farmers Market as a company prided itself in being “organic” and “sustainable”. Yet, in reality the staff coined the phrase “Welcome to Sprout’s – Where your food may or may not be organic!”. In this job, staff had to learn about Organic Labeling to be able to help customers who didn’t understand it. What I’ve found is that not many people truly do understand it at all – wether self-proclaimed health nuts or sustainable shoppers . That’s why today I am going to go over it. One of the lowest forms of Organic labeling is “Made with Organic Products”. You can usually find this in the ingredient labels as it is not usually something that companies boast about. This means that in all of the ingredients used, only the items labeled as such are actually organic. Usually about 70-94% of this product is actually organic. These products often do not bear the USDA symbol.  The next level up in organic labeling is the term “organic”. Usually this is listed in the name like “organic crackers” or “organic watermelons”. These products are allowed to use the USDA label. However, not even this product is entirely organic. Usually “organic” products have 95-99% organic ingredients. The only way to know you are eating 100% organic food is if it says it on the front. This is the highest level or organic labeling. However, this type of food may use the USDA symbol just like “organic watermelons” may use the symbol only being 95% organic. Or on the contrary, just because the food is organic does not mean that the company must label it as such. Further, the USDA sticker has enough corruption in distributing the labels that even the symbol is under scrutiny. At the end of the day, what is important is that you should know what is going into you body. Labels can’t always do that for you. I think in this day and age, it is truly important to do you homework and know what the labels actually mean.

Energy in the World

Energy is something that makes things move and essentially live. When it comes to the food we eat, there is a lot more than what people think goes into the overall production, transportation, and eating of the food that is consumed. It goes from the field to the stomach and the process that goes into it is one that is extensive and can be complicated from all the transporting that it goes through. An example that was brought up from Chad Heeter’s article is eating oatmeal for breakfast. He talks about how he taking a moment to consider everything that goes into play when it comes to just his simple bowl of oatmeal.

But before I put spoon to cereal, what if I consider this bowl of oatmeal porridge (to which I’ve just added a little butter, milk and a shake of salt) from a different perspective. Say, a Saudi Arabian one.Then what you’d be likely to see — what’s really there, just hidden from our view (not to say our taste buds) — is about 4 ounces of crude oil. Throw in those luscious red raspberries and that cup of java (an additional 3 ounces of crude), and don’t forget those modest additions of butter, milk and salt (1 more ounce), and you’ve got a tiny bit of the Middle East right here in my kitchen.

With him writing this and people reading it, all I can think of is someone eating their morning breakfast and drinking their coffee reading this and actually taking that moment to reflect on where their food would be coming from. Its honestly hard to tell what people think when they are just waking up they probably just think it comes form China like everything else we have in America. But then go back to their daily routine of driving to work or taking public transportation to get there depending on where they live. The energy used to fuel these is probably not used by biofuels but who knows where different larger cities have gone as far as these types of advancements.

That leads into a different type of energy that everyone seems to know the most about. This type of energy is dealing with different types of fuels that are used in order for vehicles and other machines function and move. Most places utilize fuels like oil and gas because of the availability and price in which it comes at in gallons compared to other forms of fuel. The other form of fuel that David Tilman and Jason Hill wrote about in the Washington Post is regarding biofuels. A century ago our first transportation biofuels — the hay and oats fed to our horses — were replaced by gasoline. Today, ethanol from corn and biodiesel from soybeans have begun edging out gasoline and diesel. They brought this up because of all of the environmental benefits that follow them and the energy that is saved that comes from plants that ship the oil from Middle Eastern countries to different parts of the US. Compared to biofuels that can be created in the same area that it is going to be used later on. Whether converted into electricity, ethanol or synthetic gasoline, the high-diversity hay from infertile land produced as much or more new usable energy per acre as corn for ethanol on fertile land. And it could be harvested year after year.

Overall the amount of energy that goes into everything to make things move in tremendous. It is almost scary to think about what this world would be like if we did not have these forms of energy that is utilized then where would we be. So maybe take a moment the next time you take a bite out of your food and reflect on where that food is coming from and how it got there.


Read pp. 142-155 of Deep Economy chapter 4, “The Wealth of Communities”

Improving Renweable Energy

This past Saturday Anthony and I took a trip to the DC National Cherry Blossom Festival. While in DC we visitited the Botanic Gardens. Outside the botanic Gardens was a wind spiral.

Wind spirals produce electricity like a wind turbine, but are much smaller and quieter. They are small enough to compact many into smaller areas and not affect bird and bat migration routes as wind turbines do. This could greatly improve the gathering of wind energy.

Currently wind turbines create great problems for birds and bats. They are so large that they create areas of great pressure that turn the internal oragans of animals that fly through them to a jelleton substance. They are also an eyesore. The smaller wind spiral would improve both of thee issue caused by the turbines.

Sources and Destinations

       I was recently assigned a paper in which I thoroughly analysed the “lifecycle” of a product I use regularly. It included information about the raw materials that are sourced to construct the product, what happens when the product is disposed of, and every stage in between. The purpose of this assignment was to determine how much a particular product influences a person’s overall ecological footprint. I chose to write about my Birkenstock sandals and it was eye-opening to see the impact they have on the environment.

       Despite being a company that prides itself on its supposed sustainability, its ecological footprint was still fairly large. The production process includes: the release of greenhouse gasses while shipping raw materials thousands of miles to factories in Germany; the reliance on nonrenewable energy to mix, bake and assemble parts on a continuous loop; the use of toxic synthetic fibers and compounds; and ultimately, the product’s slow biodegradation rate once sent to a landfill by the consumer. These are just a few of the parts of the product’s “lifecycle” that have an adverse effect on the environment. While Birkenstock does take measures to increase its sustainability, and succeeds in comparison to many other mainstream shoe companies, it is apparent that there is significant room for improvement.

       This assignment has heightened my awareness of the impacts of all the products and goods I encounter everyday. It is so easy to get caught up in the “magic” of our society of consumerism, in which products seem to appear on store shelves infinitely and abundantly, and not think about how much goes into getting them there. We buy; we use; we throw away; and then we buy again without thinking twice. As my study of Birkenstocks demonstrated, even products that seem to be sustainable on the surface have greater environmental impacts than one might assume.
       I encourage you to take thirty minutes to research a product that you use regularly. Look into its raw materials: from where they’re sourced; who produces them; how far they travel. Find out what the production process entails and who is working in the factory. It is so important to realize the environmental and social impacts that are inevitable at every stage of a product’s “lifecycle”. By becoming more knowledgeable about what we consume, we can start to make more conscious choices and lower our own ecological footprints.

Edible Cutlery!!! Let’s eat everything!!!

Have you heard about edible cutlery? Yes! I am not kidding!! One delicious way to reduce the plastic waste is eating the spoon or fork after meals! So, no more cleaning processes, no more decomposing, now more wastes. Our stomach will replace the recycling. The founder of this brilliant product is by Narayana Peesapaty from India.

The cutlery is made of sorghum, rice and wheat flour, it’s vegan, has no preservatives and no trans-far and dairy at all. It can be stored in a dry and cool place up to three years. Sorghum has similar nutrients to raw oats. And they are drought- and heat- tolerant, so it is easy to grow. Is it soaked or melting for drinking hot soup? The utensils can stand for about 15-20 mints with disintegrating, which is enough for regular uses. Nowadays, they provide a few flavors of the spoon, such as sugar and ginger-cinnamon, ginger-garlic, celery, black pepper, cumin, mint-ginger and carrot-beetroot. Meanwhile, if people are not consuming it, it will decompose within 5-6 days. Why not corns? Based on the study, the sorghum uses the least engerm water, solid and produces least CO2 by comparing to the Plastic and Corn. It is about 1 percent of what is used for plastic. It’s a really efficiently environmental innovation.

Important, it is not super expensive. And as what the founder says, the price won’t be a problem once they start to make a huge amount of volume. It will get cheaper and cheaper. Why shouldn’t we go for a try? “it’s tasty, fun, nutritious, and environmental friendly.”

Here is the link: for more information.

If you want to buy any, here is the link: Enjoy the edible spoon!! J

Sustainability in the Media

This last Friday, I went to go see The Jungle Book. Before you ask, yes, it was a good movie and, yes, you should probably see it. I also had the pleasure of watching all the previews before the actual movie. As most of the floor knows, I really love pangolins, an endangered animal which looks like a cross between an armadillo and an anteater. Pangolins are going extinct, mostly from disproportionate human consumption in India and China. However, in an upcoming movie which I saw the advertisement for in The Jungle Book preview, (I believe it to be called Wild Thing) a pangolin stars as one of the main characters. Further, even in The Jungle Book, there is about a five minute scene which features a pangolin. Why are Pangolins in the media a big deal? It marks the beginning of media deciding that this-endangered species, sustainability, the world we live in today-is an important topic. Important enough that they are now forcing a low-key interest on the subject by having it appear in minor roles in the media. A five minute scene is a notable step down from Avatar which seemed to be a 4 hour reminder of how callous we are to the environment. However,  Avatar was created with the adult audience in mind. The new Jungle Book, due to its high suspense and graphic nature, has an audience base of preteens and teenagers. Yet, Wild Thing, that’s aiming straight at the youngsters. Just like in other major films such as Walle, this is a big deal because we are now forcing children into the conversation of how we are going to treat the environment for years to come. Question is: Is it too late for our kids to fix our mistakes?

Nature with a price

Earlier this month, in my Social Structure and Globalization class, we watched the documentary called “Banking Nature”. This documentary explained how we have transformed nature into a victim of capitalism as well. Since we have increased our value for money, we have also put a price on nature, degrading its priceless value. We have priced nature by selling resources until it becomes limited or extinct. For example, logging companies are constantly seeking better quality wood, which is found in rainforests. Logging in rainforests is expensive, but the profits are high. Therefore, investing in rainforests has become a competition for logging companies. There have been increasing movements to reduce the effects of immense logging, so companies have negotiated with green policymakers by planting more trees. People are more satisfied by this effort to plant more trees for the many that are used. However, the companies plant trees that are non-native and inefficient for supporting the ecosystem, which is a cheaper option than replacing the high quality trees at a higher price. This creates an illusion of the green stamp many companies have. Another examples of an illusion is the land buying system. If a company opens a factory in a certain area, and after a few years, a particular animals or plant species is harmed and vulnerable because of the factory opening. The company can take the price of the current land, match it, and buy another piece of land with the same amount of money. This piece of land will remain empty, and consider itself as preserving the natural species in that area. While eradicating a particular community of animal or plant in one area, the company can earn a green stamp by just buying more land that is not used. These schemes of corporations considering themselves supportive of the environment keep people in the dark about the realities of investing in these corporations. The most shocking part are the immense loopholes that companies can take to avoid looking their profits, and earning an environmental sticker that can increase their profits. This documentary made me think that you cannot trust the product as a green product based on the stamp. You must research the company’s history and production methods before trusting an investment. Nature is a precious gem that has been corrupted by our greed for money and materials. Individual actions, leading to community reactions can help get rid of the price tag on nature.


so this is my first year at Mason and while I love the courses I am taking, my housing life here hasn’t been so great. So most to every weekend I have travelled back to my home town in Maryland to either work or see friends and family. And every since I got a new job down there I have been traveling back and almost everyday. I have felt really guilty about doing this because I know that driving back and forth is not the best for the environment. I have tried the metro and Mason bus shuttle service but I am freak when it comes to arriving on time and traveling alone via public transportation. So the metro doesn’t really work for me all to well. And I am writing this last blog post (forever most likely) not to find a solution to my problem but to try to identify with other commuters, since I will be commenting next year. For instance, if any knows some one who commutes, is it really wiser to take the metro to school (environment over academics) or should I continue on with a guilty mind. Is there a way to balance the two? I mean Mason is such a huge commuter school and yet I don’t often hear talk about commuting in an efficient green way. I thank the shuttles but who can rely on the metro to operate and get me where I am going on time. Has anyone else had to rely on public transportation to get to school and just how beneficial is it. Over all, I just wanted to express my concern about commuting next year because I feel like I have to make a choice and I can’t commit to any side. So if anyone has any information then please share it!.

Oh I also wanted to say thanks to everyone this semester, I have  learn so much from everyone in the classroom. I have never met a group of people so passionate about the environment ( and also so knowledgable). The class really opened my eyes and taught me to be more aware of staying green in my daily life!

sorry if this post makes absolutely no sense, I haven’t slept since January. Peace out.