Great Lakes Environmental and Economic Data Visualization Tool

GLRPPR is pleased to announce the release of the Great Lakes Environmental and Economic Data Visualization Tool, which was developed as part of an initiative to help pollution prevention technical assistance providers target their efforts by using public data. You can find publications from the initiative here.

The tool uses data from U.S. EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) and Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions Inventory, as well as the Census Bureau’s County Business Patterns data set.

The web page for the tool includes links to downloadable data sets, additional tools for targeting technical assistance, and a user’s guide.

GLRPPR’s data initiative was funded by U.S. EPA’s Pollution Prevention Information Network grant program.

Sustainability 101: Ecotourism

The global travel sector is one of the fastest-growing, most profitable industries in the world. In fact, it’s so successful that it’s now 10.4% of global GDP ($12 trillion USD). There’s no denying that travel is both enlightening and fulfilling. Often, being a tourist leaves a lasting appreciation for the culture, diversity, and beauty of the place you visit. However, most of us don’t consider the environmental impact, which includes the trip itself as well as accommodations while we’re visiting.

What if there’s a more mindful way to travel? What if there’s a way to still have fun while also ensuring that your trip doesn’t leave a lasting impact on the environment? In recent years, an interesting sustainability-focused subsection of the tourism industry has developed that addresses those very questions. This week’s column is all about ecotourism.  

Photo Courtesy of World Atlas

What is Ecotourism?

The World Conservation Union defines ecotourism as, “environmentally responsible travel to natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and accompanying cultural features, both past and present) that promote conservation, have a low visitor impact, and provide for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local peoples.”

Simply put, ecotourism means creating a minimal environmental impact in order to leave a place just like you found it. A one-week trip seems harmless enough, but it’s amazing how the right combination of obliviousness and lack of consideration can lead to major destruction in just a short period of time.

The Nature Conservancy highlights a handful of key characteristics that comprise the ecotourism sector:  

  1. Conscientious, low-impact visitor behavior
  2. Sensitivity towards, and appreciation of, local cultures and biodiversity
  3. Support for local conservation efforts
  4. Sustainable benefits to local communities
  5. Local participation in decision-making
  6. Educational components for both the traveler and local communities

I think it’s important to take note here of the emphasis on community. When you choose a destination, it may be a vacation to you, but for the people who live in the places you’re visiting, that’s home. Ecotourism can be as simple as respecting and being sensitive towards an area’s natural environment and people. They don’t want the beauty and character of their home to be sacrificed for increased commercialization and development.


Despite ecotourism’s good intentions, it also has a fair number of detractors. At-risk ecosystems can become even more depleted by tourists due to the resources needed to get to one from one remote location to another. Construction of roads/lodging and increased car/air transportation can lead to loss of organic matter, reduction in soil macroporosity, decrease in air and water permeability, and reduced plant vigor, as well as increased waste problems. It also has an impact on wildlife. Human visitors can cause a shift in their feeding and mating habits, as well as increasing the likelihood of human-wildlife interactions that can lead to tragedy.  

Tourism can also negatively impact the lifestyle and cultures of people living in these communities. As a destination’s popularity increases, resources tend to suffer from overuse. Towns must grow to accommodate new visitors, often resulting in an influx of hotels, restaurants, and shops. The new developments, while sometimes providing a major economic boost, often cause original residents to lose pasture and cropland and can force out local businesses. Instead of remaining in the jobs that they’ve always known, they’re forced to take low-paying service jobs in the hospitality industry. In addition, an influx of tourists can also drive up prices for the locals. Tourism can degrade not only can the identity of the natural environment, but also the daily lives of the people who make the community a spot worth visiting in the first place. 

Photo Courtesy of Agriturismo 


If you’re choosing a travel destination, try to travel as sustainably as possible. Responsible Travel, an online ecotourism-based travelogue, promotes natural destinations and vacation spots while also giving tips on how to preserve and respect them. Responsible Travel’s mantra is, “if you’re going to make the decision to travel here, this is how you do it with as a little environmental impact as possible.” The website provides an extensive list of countries and destinations, vacation types, travel/restaurant guides, and reviews. They also have a section full of cool videos explaining the organization’s mission and history, ecotourism “How To’s,” and the origins and impact of overtourism.

Despite the downsides, it’s hard to deny the benefits of ecotourism. It allows communities to economically build without environmental harm. Instead of encouraging the construction of massive hotel and entertainment developments, they can promote locally-owned restaurants, mom-and-pop shops, and park/waterfront conservation. Tourism also provides much-needed revenue for the protection of national parks. This is a win-win for both locals and visitors, as wildlife will continue to be able to thrive and out-of-towners are able to experience the enchanting beauty of an untouched natural landscape. Beholding the pristine, unaltered natural beauty causes a sense of clarity and appreciation that true environmental consciousness and sustainability initiatives result in real change. Tourists may even decide to take sustainability home with them.  

The Bottom Line  

Everybody loves a good vacation. They’re a much-needed reprieve from a busy work schedule or hectic home life. I recently traveled to Florida before doing research for this week’s column and discovered just how easy it was to lose sight of the reason why I was really there. I became distracted by the lively restaurants, the plush hotels, and the drinks by the pool, so much so that I forgot to look outside my window. I finally realized on my last night there that the true draw of this location was the gorgeous, immaculate beach vistas, from the deep blue water to the lush expanse of sand. The natural environment was the reason for this place to genuinely be considered a destination, yet I had been distracted by the bells and whistles. Gaining an appreciation for nature can really ground you and make you realize how important it is to incorporate sustainability into your day-to-day life. The term may scare a lot of people at first, but once you start learning, you see how easy it is to understand and internalize. Just a small alteration can make a huge long-term impact. Sustainability touches everything from storytelling to breweries, to urban revitalization, to disaster risk reduction, to recycling, to fashion, to ecotourism, and everything else. It is the key to a healthier, better world.

Sustainability 101: Fashion

It’s payday. You get off work, head over to your favorite store at the mall or your favorite online retailer, and use your latest check to overindulge in some retail therapy. You spend hours poring over shelves and racks (or web pages), considering styles and looking for the perfect bargain in your size. It’s extremely easy to get caught up in the excitement of the hunt for that perfect outfit. When you find it, the rush you get (especially when it’s a financial steal) is part of the appeal. You’re thinking about when and where you’re going to wear it, rather than the environmental implications of its production, purchase, and disposal.

It’s easy to see that the how of clothing production is less well understood and publicized than the marketing of the clothes themselves. Fashion retailers want you to find that consumer high and spend your money, not think about how the clothes are made or what happens to them when they go out of style.

Some people would classify that as a blissful ignorance, but I think it has more to do with a general lack of mainstream media promotion of sustainable fashion as a real, attainable thing. How are people supposed to know about something they’ve never heard of? On the surface, sustainability and fashion are two completely unrelated things, so it’s not surprising that people don’t see how production and consumption influence one another. But the relationship between these two are very much intertwined. It’s important for the public to start taking note.  

Photo Courtesy of GreenEarth Cleaning 

Fast Fashion  

The issue with the fashion industry as a whole, specifically regarding environmental sustainability, is its determination to keep up with quickly changing trends. The average shopper buys much more clothing than did a few decades ago, but keep items half as long. They want trendy, stylish clothing in an accessible location at a reasonable price and they want it NOW. Fast fashion refers to the production of clothing at high speed and low cost to meet increasingly impatient consumer demand. Fast fashion companies are most concerned with lowering costs and getting the product from design to shop floor as quickly as possible. While fast fashion is economically attractive to retailers, the fast-paced production expectations have an enormous environmental impact.

According to the United Nations Economic Commission of Europe, the fashion industry is responsible for producing 20% of global wastewater and 10% of global carbon emissions. That’s more than the emissions of international flights and maritime shipping combined. Creating vibrant and colorful textiles is a critical part of the industry, yet the toxic chemicals associated with textile dyeing are the second largest polluter of clean water globally. Fast fashion has also led to oceans getting bombarded with over a half million tons of plastic microfibers per year due to the washing of plastic-based textiles (polyester, nylon, or acrylic). Textile waste may be an unintended consequence of fast fashion, but that doesn’t mean the industry shouldn’t be held accountable. The problem has now reached a global level. Wardrobes in developed nations are oversaturated. Retailers want to sell as many products as possible and to do that they must stay ahead of the curve, convincing shoppers that their brand is a “must-have” and the items already in their closet are no longer fashionable.  

Sustainability and Fashion  

While eco-friendly fashion is a trend on the rise, no environmental organization had decided on a concrete definition for what sustainable fashion truly means and stands for. The Ellen Macarthur Foundation recently published a report titled, A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion’s Future, which establishes sustainability goals for the fashion industry. This report includes four recommendations: 

Phase out substances of concern and microfibre release

A. Align industry efforts and coordinate innovation to create safe material cycles. 

B. Drastically reduce plastic microfibre release   

Transform the way clothes are designed, sold, and used to break free from their increasingly disposable nature

A. Scale-up short-term clothing rental  

B. Make durability more attractive

C. Increase clothing utilization further through brand commitments and policy 

Radically improve recycling by transforming clothing design, collection, and reprocessing 

A. Align clothing design and recycling processes

B. Pursue technological innovation to improve the economics and quality of recycling.

C. Stimulate demand for recycled materials. 

D. Implement clothing collection at scale. 

Make effective use of resources and move to renewable inputs

The report was written in consultation with many major fashion design companies. Its underlying message is that fashion that should be produced and sold in the most eco-friendly way possible during all stages of production, including design, raw material production, manufacturing, transport, storage, marketing, and final sale. Sustainable fashion can be achieved by ensuring efficient and careful use of natural resources, selecting renewable energy sources (wind, solar, etc.) at every stage, and maximizing repair, remake reuse, and recycling of the product and its components. It even uses sustainability storytelling by highlighting how environmentally conscious fashion can significantly lower costs to businesses and create positive long-term customer relationships.

Ideally, the rules of A New Textiles Economy would be incorporated into every fashion and lifestyle brand’s business model and production processes. Some companies have done so, but there is more work to be done. These standards help raise awareness of sustainability practices, as well as show manufacturers that considering the environment doesn’t have to be expensive or overly complicated.

 Photo Courtesy of Fashionista 

Sustainable Brands

So with A New Textile Economy’s standards in mind, here are some examples of companies that are incorporating sustainability into their brands.

  • Organic by John Patrick created the world’s first organic oxford cotton shirt and uses other eco-friendly materials such as vegetable-tanned leather, organic wool, and recycled cotton.
  • People Tree, partners with Fair Trade artisans and farmers to produce a wide collection of ethical and eco-wear for over 20 years.
  • Patagonia’s mission statement incorporates sustainability by making quality products that can be repaired, supporting grassroots activists by paying an Earth Tax, and supporting regenerative practices in ranching and agriculture.
  • Adidas partners with Parley Plastics to incorporate plastics recovered from the ocean in their shoes, clothing, and plastic hangers. On some of their product lines, they’ve also debuted ZeroDye, which features undyed polyester. Finally, they’re partnering with Fashion for Good to green the apparel supply chain. Read more about Adidas’ sustainability initiatives here.
  • Nike incorporates recycled polyester into 75% of their shoes and apparel. The dye process used for soles in the Nike Air line allows 99% of recoverable dye water to be recycled.  All Air sole innovations designed since 2008 are composed of at least 50% recycled manufacturing waste. Nike also transforms used product into Nike Grind, which is created from recycled athletic footwear and surplus manufacturing scraps to make performance products, ranging from new footwear and apparel to sports surfaces. Read more about Nike’s sustainability efforts here.
  • H&M’s new Paris flagship store includes an entire floor dedicated to clothing repair. It includes a fleet of sewing machines, bottles of natural detergents, and eco-friendly stain removing sprays, along with bins of patches and embroideries. The idea is to invite customers to bring in clothing, both H&M and other brands, to be repaired and made new again. Customers can restyle their old clothing to update and upcycle their looks. The floor also includes a recycling station where customers can recycled their old clothes (not just H&M) in exchange for a store discount.            

Photo Courtesy of Patagonia 

For more info on sustainable brands visit and

The Bottom Line  

Turning the fashion industry into something noticeably more sustainable won’t happen overnight. Some brands will continue to pursue short-term economic gains over longer-term environmental costs. That’s why it’s so important for consumers to understand the impact of their choices on the industry. Fast fashion is preventable. If we take a second to slow down and pay attention to how much our desire for the latest styles at the lowest prices encourages companies to cut environmental corners, real progress can happen. The more we become informed about these issues and use that information to change our daily routines, the more the fashion industry will be pressured to think more sustainably. Next time it’s payday and you go on your shopping binge, shop with a conscience. Or don’t shop at all.






The IDEA Store

A sustainability gem hides in Champaign, just east Neil Street and the Springfield Avenue viaduct. Tucked away on the second floor of a nondescript strip mall, The IDEA Store, an “eco-edu-art marketplace,” has set the standard for creative reuse retail in downstate Illinois. Any preconceived notions one may have about traditional secondhand shopping will be suspended the second they walk into this expertly-curated hub of reusable goods.  

PHOTOGRAPHY BY: Margaret Golden, ISTC Intern

Co-founded by Carol Jo Morgan in 2010, the IDEA Store accepts items that would normally be thrown in the trash and gives them a second life. This isn’t your average thrift shop. The IDEA Store exists more as a testament to the benefits of sustainability. Its specialty is showcasing how almost any household item has the potential for reuse, encouraging the community to refrain from contributing to landfill growth.

“My favorite thing about working here, of all the awesome things, is seeing people’s faces when they come in the door,” says the Idea Store’s Retail Manager Jessy Ruddell. “When you see one bottle cap, it doesn’t seem awesome, it seems like trash or recycling. But when you get a collection of bottle caps together, it can really inspire people creatively.”  

The shop is filled with typical household items as well as more unexpected discoveries. You can find school supplies next to glass slides donated by the University of Illinois’ Art History department. A bin of rubber stamps

is an aisle down from a collection of disconnected keyboard keys. There are greeting cards, yarn, fabric, candles, magazines, records, instruments, office supplies, metals, and even home improvement materials. The most interesting item the store has received? “We once had someone donate a desiccated tarantula,” Morgan said, in between bouts of laughter. “And it sold for $20!”    

Morgan, who received her master’s in Natural Resources & Environmental Sciences, has some advice for other retail outlets looking to incorporate sustainability into their business plans. “We know that there are cottage industries that have sprung up as a result of the IDEA being here. When you think about it, the raw materials we supply are so inexpensive, it helps their profit margin,” Morgan explained. “We’ve provided a sustainable place for people to shop. People with budgets, people without budgets, there’s something for everyone. We’ve filled a niche. That is the secret of success in any kind of nonprofit or business. You look where the need is and you fill that.”

The IDEA Store won’t be located at its current Springfield Avenue location for much longer. Morgan and team are in the process of transitioning the store to a new location at Lincoln Square Mall in Urbana. To accommodate an exponential growth in donations, the Lincoln Square storefront will be three times larger than the current location. This will allow excess items currently stored in the warehouses to be sold on the floor. The location also makes it much easier to donate materials. Instead of having to physically bring their donations in and hand them off to volunteers, customers will be able to drive around to the back of the mall and simply ring the doorbell to have their items collected. Keep an eye out for the new store, which has a targeted opening date of late October.

A crowdfunding effort will be launched August 20th to support the financial cost of the IDEA Store’s big move. Community support ensures that the shop’s growth will be successful and smooth.

To donate, visit:

Sustainability 101: Recycling

I never knew how much I truly didn’t understand about recycling until I began research for this week’s column. Of course, I know what recycling is. I know how to use the little blue bins and I’ve seen the celebrity public service announcements. However, I did not understand how much of an industry recycling is or how there are so many different facilities, organizations, and movements that exist within it, even in my relatively small community of Champaign-Urbana. This week’s deep dive will include the basics of recycling, a short profile of an interesting aspect of recycling I hadn’t previously heard of, and local organizations that can help people in Champaign-Urbana reach their most eco-friendly potential. Let’s get started.  

Image Courtesy of City of Mercedes

Recycling Basics

What can you recycle?  

According to the North London Waste Authority, up to 70% of your waste could be recycled or reused in some way. All plastic bottles minus the caps (that includes salad dressings ), metals (tins, aluminum, steel cans), and paper/cardboard can all be recycled. In Champaign-Urbana, recycle your yard waste at the City of Urbana Landscape Recycling Center. You can even recycle old electronics including TVs, monitors, ink cartridges, and cell phones. See the City of Champaign and City of Urbana guidelines for what you can put in your curbside recycling bin.

And as for what to avoid? Plastic bottle caps, Styrofoam, and take-out food containers (that greasy box of Saturday night Chinese food could potentially damage and/or contaminate other materials that are to be recycled) should all be on your don’t-recycle list. Although plastic bags aren’t always accepted in curbside recycling bins, Champaign-Urbana area retailers that have bag recycling bins include County Market, Lowe’s, Meijer, Schnucks, and Walmart. If you’re wondering where to recycle a specific type of item in Champaign-Urbana, check out the City of Champaign’s Where Do I Recycle It? Guide.

Sidenote: If you consider yourself a recycling expert and feel that this is just remedial information for you, there are a lot of informative webinars that explore some less-baseline recycling methods. One of those webinars is The Sustainable City Network’s Hot-in-Place-Asphalt Recycling, which takes on the little-known but extremely cost-efficient and eco-friendly technique of advanced pavement resurfacing. 

 What are the benefits?  

Who can tell you the benefits of recycling better than The United States Environmental Protection Agency itself?


  • Reduces the amount of waste sent to landfills and incinerators
  • Conserves natural resources such as timber, water, and minerals
  • Increases economic security by tapping a domestic source of materials
  • Prevents pollution by reducing the need to collect new raw materials
  • Saves energy
  • Supports American manufacturing and conserves valuable resources
  • Helps create jobs in the recycling and manufacturing industries in the United States

Recycling is a win-win-win situation. It’s a social win for the person doing it, it’s a sustainability win for the environment, and it’s an economic win for the job sector.

How can I take it further?

It’s all about creating a system that works. That means it has to be attainable and easy to achieve. Stay simple.

  • Place a recycling bin (with pictures of recyclable materials attached to it) next to your garbage can at home.
  • Buy products that have been made with recycled goods.
  • Compost green cutting and food scraps for gardening.
  • Get a reusable shopping bag for the grocery store made of cotton or polyester instead of plastic.
  • Bring a reusable water bottle or coffee mug to work with you.
  • Donate old furniture, tires, crayons, puzzle pieces, and other unexpected, reusable items you no longer need to a community thrift store or local charity.

See the Environmental News Bits C-U Donation Guide for a list of places to donate your used stuff in Champaign-Urbana. 

Image courtesy of Firstar Recycling

Post-Consumer Recycling

Beyond the basics that I mentioned above, I want to briefly touch on post-consumer recycling. I didn’t know that post-consumer recycling even existed until recently, and it’s been fun familiarizing myself with the concept. Pre-consumer recycled content is made from materials that have not reached the consumer (scraps, rejects, trimmings.) Post-consumer recycled content is composed of waste that a consumer has used, disposed of, and diverted from landfills (aluminum cans, newspapers).  Fences, playground equipment, carpet, and even roofing shingles can be made from post-consumer recycled content.

If you have to have a choice, post-consumer recycled content is more eco-friendly than pre-consumed. It keeps our landfills from filling up any further, because it’s “waste made from waste” rather than from material on the factory floor that’s never been used before. Buying products made from post-consumer recycled content creates markets for the plastics and paper that you’re putting into your curbside recycling bin, which diverts it from the landfill. As for day-to-day practices, items in the store are typically marked with a pre-consumer or post-consumer recycled label. So if you’re in the mood to go a little greener, post-consumer recycled product is a good choice.

The Bottom Line

I briefly mentioned in a previous post that sometimes environmental awareness is packaged and promoted in ways that can be overwhelming and foster a sense of hopeless. It’s intimidating to see those articles that tell you “101 Ways” in which you can be greener, because who has time to read 101 things? You have to take it one step at a time. Find what works for you. Make some time in your schedule to read up on recycling topics so you can take your environmental education to the next level. And most importantly, recycle because you genuinely want to make a difference and help the environment, not because you feel like you have to. The more you feel obligated and less truly passionate about doing something, the less likely it will be permanently ingrained into your routine. Be the person who makes an effort to do some good.

Sustainability 101: Disaster Risk Reduction

As a child, I had an irrational fear of tsunamis, which was caused by my viewing of the 1998 disaster movie Deep Impact at an age where I should’ve only been watching Blues Clues. I have vivid memories of family vacations at the beach, my seven-year-old self looking nervously at the water with Morgan Freeman’s end-of-times speech echoing in my head. It’s funny to look back on those memories now, especially because my understanding of major disasters and their causes has been greatly improved by time and education. All humor aside, I do genuinely believe that my childhood paranoia reveals an interesting truth about natural disasters and the way in which they’re presented to and perceived by the public.

Definition of Disaster Risk Reduction

Photo courtesy of PCDN

My research for this column led me to the concept of disaster risk reduction. The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction provides a few examples of DRR:

  • reducing exposure to hazards,
  • lessening vulnerability of people and property,
  • wise management of land and the environment, and
  • improving preparedness and early warning for adverse events.

Natural disasters have increased exponentially over the last several decades and affect both rich and poor countries. According to a report by the IRDR (Integrated Research and Disaster Risk) and ICSU (International Council for Science), several hundred million people are affected by disasters annually. Financial losses reached a record $135 billion in 2017. There is one line in the report that I found to be particularly relevant:

A geophysical hazard event may be natural but its impacts depend on the circumstances of people, households, and societies, which in turn arise from diverse micro-to macro-level political, social, economic, and environmental processes.

DRR and Sustainability

The biggest factor in successful disaster risk reduction is a solid sustainable development plan. For example, the Hyogo Framework Initiative, which emphasizes the environmental degradation associated with disasters. The report touches on floods, hurricanes, climate change, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, and tornadoes. These events don’t just have a financial impact, they also have the capability to destroy and deprive the world of valuable natural resources that are instrumental to our survival. The plan was constructed around four key elements, all of which rely on physical, social science, and environmental expertise:

  1. Creating a hazard profile
  2. The exposure of people and assets
  3. The vulnerability of people and assets to hazards (including community and institutional capacities and the related concept of resilience).
  4. The losses that occur, such as mortality, morbidity, livelihood, and asset loss, social and macroeconomic impact, etc.

Then there’s the Sustainable Development Report of the Second Committee, which stresses how disasters are an international issue which require collaboration and cooperation between all nations to prevent. If you look at disasters strictly as a domestic issue, you lose sight of how much they truly affect humanity as a whole.

Finally, consider the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which devotes an entire section to the necessity of building a resilient infrastructure and the importance of reducing exposure/vulnerability of the poor to natural disasters. This report focuses not only on what we can do now but also on how sustainability is a multidimensional, long-form process that sometimes takes years, even decades to properly implement. It’s better to start now than later, especially with the unpredictably associated with these disasters.  

Photo Courtesy of DRR Dynamics

The Bottom Line

The examples given above are just three of many sustainable development initiatives pertaining to disaster risk reduction. They all arrive at one essential conclusion: disaster risk reduction requires sustainable policies, planning, and programming at every level. It’s critical to acknowledge the connection between an “eco-friendly” lifestyle and disaster risk reduction. You can’t put the DRR puzzle together without the existence of one integral piece: environmental awareness. You have to understand how the decisions you make and the perceptions you have indelibly shape the environment. I don’t want to scare you in the way that disaster films once did to me. Instead, I encourage you to understand that natural disasters aren’t just something you see on TV. It’s cliche to say “they could happen to you,” but they very well could. It’s better to prepared and knowledgeable about how you can prevent them or rebuild more sustainably after they occur.

For more information on disaster risk reduction and sustainability, visit For information on building more sustainable communities, see the Resilient Cities LibGuide.