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.






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.

Sustainability 101: Urban Revitalization

Neighborhoods in urban areas are constantly changing. If you combine the right architecture, adaptable infrastructure, cheap real estate, and a handful of brave souls willing to suffer through a few burglaries for the potential property value increase, anything is possible. With the right ingredients (and timing, of course), dilapidated buildings and empty streets can quickly turn into major centers of activity and commerce. This has become particularly true in recent years as a fast-paced urban lifestyle has become the go-to move for millennials. Urban developers are creating new projects with a blueprint built on millennial desires, from wine bars to cycling studios to transit-oriented apartment buildings. And while cities often get a bad rap for their noise and congestion, a surprising, powerful connection exists between urban revitalization/development and sustainability. I’ll examine that connection here by profiling three cities that have gone the extra mile to “go green” and raise the quality of life in their evolving neighborhoods.

The Beltline,  Atlanta, Ga.

Atlanta is a city known for its suburban sprawl. In the 1960s and 70s, it became the norm to tear down historic buildings in favor of parking lots and new construction. However, generating economic development is difficult when over half of your city’s population is fleeing to the suburbs. Planners and investors became persuaded by the profitability of “silver bullet” projects (multimillion dollar developments intended to “save” an entire neighborhood from disrepair, i.e. football stadiums or casinos). These types of projects were chosen instead of creating viable, long-term plans to economically, residentially, and environmentally sustain neighborhoods in a period of severe population loss. The result? A city center full of tourist attractions, office buildings, and not much else.

Atlanta became one of the most automobile-centric cities in the United States and has stayed that way. However, the city has been working to rectify their image with the recent development of the Atlanta Beltline. What started as a Georgia Tech student’s master’s thesis turned into one of the largest and most successful reuse projects in the country. The developers of the Beltline took former railroad corridors that encircled Atlanta and reconstructed them into a 22-mile loop of multi-use trails and parks. Denser housing has popped up along the trails, lowering carbon emissions by encouraging walkability and commuting to work by bike instead of car. The Beltline has led to the construction of seven parks, plans for a modern streetcar system, free fitness classes, an arboretum, an urban farm, and the largest temporary public art exhibitions in the South. Not only that, but the trails have also encouraged over $3 billion in private economic redevelopment, turning formerly blighted neighborhoods into some of the most sought-after places to live. Atlanta is a city on the rise, and most of that is due to the economic regeneration, beautification, and sustainable green infrastructure that the Beltline has provided. 

Courtesy of Georgia State Signal

Copenhagen Harbor,  Copenhagen, Denmark 

In Copenhagen, what was once a polluted cesspool has turned into the watering hole and relaxation spot for city-dwellers and their families. Welcome to Copenhagen Harbor. In 1995, Copenhagen Harbor and its adjacent coastlines were fed wastewater from 93 overflow channels.  Sewage, algae, oil spills, and industrial waste clogged the water, making it not only extremely polluted but a genuine public health risk. This area seemed like it was destined to be an avoid-at-all costs eyesore forever, yet the Copenhagen municipality saw potential for action.

Fast forward to 2018. The city has built numerous rainwater reservoirs and conduits, both of which can store wastewater until space opens up in the sewage system. The municipality also invested in the expansion of wastewater treatment plants and the modernization of its sewer systems, resulting in the removal of nutrient salts and the minimization of heavy metal discharge. 55 overflow channels have been closed. It is only during heavy rainfall that harmful wastewater containing pollutants is discharged in the harbor. In the few times during the summer season that this occurs, a warning system calculates the water quality in the harbor, and the facility closes down if the levels are too high. With these initiatives in place, the harbor went from no-man’s-land to the outdoor swimming hotspot and hang-out in Copenhagen.

Greenest City Initiative 2020, Vancouver, British Columbia

I’ve talked a little bit about how some facilities use sustainability initiatives to enhance their public image. This applies to cities as well. Vancouver introduced the Greenest City Initiative (a plan that’s been in the works since 2009) which outlines several specific goals in hopes of elevating the city to the greenest in the world. These goals include doubling the number of green jobs and businesses, enacting requirements for all new buildings constructed after 2020 to be carbon neutral, reducing landfill waste by 50%, discouraging water overconsumption, increasing green transportation, air quality, and access to nature, and promoting the use of locally-grown food in restaurants.

Vancouver’s initiative stands out specifically in its introduction of neighborhood energy centers. These centers are intended to supply centralized/heating cooling and hot water for some of Vancouver’s most populated city neighborhoods. They make use of a mix of low-carbon energy technologies, from urban wood waste, waste heat recovered from building cooling or industrial process, geothermal heat, and sewer heat recovery. Because the centers are considerably different from the typical forms of urban sustainability projects, Vancouver has written guidelines that were created with public interest and the enabling of low carbon development in mind. These guidelines include climate protection, sustainability of fuel sources, air quality, and climate protection. The Greenest City Initiative is undoubtedly ambitious, but it demonstrates just how much sustainability practices benefit not only public health, but also the reputation of the city itself.  

The Bottom Line

I think that the planning of these three cities exemplify how truly versatile sustainability is. Up until now, I thought sustainability initiatives were limited strictly to the workplace and to the household. That is clearly not the case. Sustainability has the power to essentially “save”  seemingly hopeless urban neighborhoods and provide a higher quality of life for their inhabitants. However, it’s not just about the economic regeneration or creation of trendy hotspots for millennials. It’s about the green infrastructure itself. Urban sustainability initiatives simultaneously help the environment while also raising awareness about the importance of an eco-friendly lifestyle. Hopefully, these examples will encourage other cities to incorporate sustainability into their development initiatives and inspire them to recognize that the creation of thriving, viable neighborhoods hinges on a healthy, green environment. For more information about green infrastructure, see the Resilient Cities LibGuide.

Sustainability 101: Breweries

Your next beer is about to go down guilt-free. Breweries around the world are making concentrated efforts to incorporate innovative, cutting-edge sustainability practices into their facilities. Yes, you heard correctly, those emporiums of creatively-titled beers and delicious pretzels are now some of the most environmentally-conscious businesses in the country.

I’ll now take you on a Food Network-style cross-country tour of four sustainable breweries in the United States, making note of their environmental contributions along the way.  

Stop One: Sierra Nevada Brewing Company

Our first stop along the tour is Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in Chico, Calif. The brewery earned the US Zero Waste Business Council’s first-ever platinum certification. Why? It developed a waste diversion program (or, in layman’s terms, making sure our already- massive landfills don’t get any bigger) that results in over 99.8% of its waste going somewhere other than a landfill. The company sends spent brewing ingredients to local cattle and dairy farms to feed livestock. In addition, they compost organic waste from their brewery and restaurant. They also recover CO2 produced during fermentation and recycle it back into the brewery instead of transporting purchased CO2 from miles away. As a result, their Chico brewery captures and reuses so much CO2 that they only need to source around a dozen tanks a year instead of 3-4 truckloads each week. Their results were impressive. In 2013, the company saved  $5,398,470 in avoided disposal costs and $903,308 in added revenue, as well as diverting 51,414 tons of solid waste from landfill and incineration and avoiding emission of 11,812 tons of CO2e in greenhouse gases. Its headquarters is also home to one of the country’s largest privately-owned solar arrays. Their energy efficiency efforts include using heat recovery units on boilers, microturbines, and brew kettles, as well as devices on large motors and pumps which automatically adjust to demand. They’ve also installed light sensors that adjust to the amount of natural light coming through large windows and skylights throughout the brewery. Motion sensors and timers also ensure lights are off when not in use.

Stop Two: Yards Brewing Company

It’s time to swap coasts, and swing by Yards Brewing Co. in Philadelphia. There’s a laundry list of ways in which Yards stays sustainable. Water re-use? Check. Yards collects and reuses 2 million gallons of water each year. Community engagement? You got it. Yards sends its spent grain to farmers for them to feed their livestock. Impressive titles with fancy names? Yards’ package is certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiatives and it’s the first brewery in Pennsylvania to be powered 100% by wind. I mean, the bar tops in their tap room are made from REPURPOSED BOWLING ALLEY LANES

Stop Three: Schlafly- The Saint Louis Brewery

We’ll now head into the Midwest, where Schlafly- The Saint Louis Brewery is busy crafting with a conscience. Schlafly uses sustainability storytelling to present the merits of L.O.V.E.:

  • Leave it better than we find it;
  • Original in thought, disciplined in action;
  • Value long-term viability over short-term trends; and
  • Encourage education to increase exploration.

L.O.V.E guides the creation of Schlafly’s major sustainability initiatives, which start with the brewery’s implementation of ultra-high efficiency HVAC and ventilation systems. When it comes to solar energy, Schlafly’s 105 photovoltaic rooftop solar panels produce 32,000+ kilowatt hours per year. In addition, the company also focuses on urban revitalization by repurposing two previously abandoned buildings in an attempt to spur economic development in a blighted local community. Schlafly Bottleworks grows thousands of pounds of produce for its restaurants at their 1/7 of an acre garden. They purchase locally sourced packaging, which includes bottles manufactured in Missouri and boxes made in the city of St. Louis. Finally, they limit their beer distribution channels to reduce their overall carbon footprint.

Stop Four: Brewery Vivant

Finally, we’ll move north to Grand Rapids, Mich., which is home to Brewery Vivant, the world’s first LEED-certified microbrewery. Owner Kris Spaulding broke down how sustainability is seamlessly woven into the fabric of their company during her webinar for Michigan DEQ. “To us, being a sustainable company means that we consider the impact of our decisions on the natural environment, the people that may be affected, and the financial health of our business. We hold ourselves accountable with yearly sustainability reports tracking our progress as we go. These reports make sure we’re working towards our goals and balancing all of these areas to operate our business with a long-term approach.” In 2014, they became the fourth certified B Corporation (B Corp) in West Michigan. B Corps are for-profit companies certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. Learn more about Brewery Vivant’s sustainability efforts at  

The Bottom Line

You can’t talk about sustainable breweries without touching on the triple-bottom-line (TBL) business framework, which involves successful implementation of social, environmental, and financial values. The TBL is important because it encourages these hip, influential breweries to make being at top of their eco-friendly games a business priority. The Brewer’s Association for small and independent craft brewers helps them apply the TBL framework by providing sustainability benchmarking tools and manuals, which guide breweries on how to better protect the environment, increase productivity, and become an integral part of the communities in which they operate.

Cheers to that.  

Sustainability 101: Storytelling

As a relative newbie to the concept of sustainability, I knew that were would be a whole set of beliefs and expectations I had never encountered before. However, I didn’t anticipate just how many layers and facets there are. My findings this week establish how sustainability exists not only as a measured attempt to avoid the unnecessary consumption of natural resources, but also a verifiable business method.

In The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s webinar Rebuilding Customer Trust with Stronger Sustainability Communication, Mike Hower of Edelman’s Business + Social Purpose Practice describes how organizations can use sustainability as a communications strategy to improve their overall brand reputation. The discussion hinges on “sustainability storytelling,” or the way in which positive sustainability practices can be packaged and promoted to engage customers and local communities on sustainability and improve the company’s bottom line.

Sustainability storytelling covers a lot of ground, from energy to waste management to climate change to water supply to pollution. In his presentation, Hower breaks it down into specific takeaways. These principles are distinct threads that can be looped together to create a marketable, mainstream image of sustainability. This “story” allows an organization to not only meaningfully contribute to a healthier environment, but also significantly boost its public image. However, successfully telling this story in an engaging, thoughtful, and convincing manner can be a difficult task.   

In his presentation, Hower discusses the importance of avoiding puffery. It’s easy to create a dramatic, Shakespearean campaign that appeals to the general public’s fear of a big-budget disaster movie finally becoming reality. However, images of tsunamis and volcanic eruptions will only cause momentary distress, not inspire legitimate action. Encouraging the implementation of sustainability involves effective, open communication that aims to inform, not to depress. Marketing can’t feel like a cash-grab. It can’t be portrayed as an intangible, abstract concept that capitalizes on sustainability ’s trendiness, because you’ll lose your audience’s trust. Instead, you need to be as accessible and transparent as possible. You’ll have failures and times when it feels like more trouble than it’s worth, but the results in the long-run will enrich your company and your customers.

The Bottom Line

My biggest takeaway from this webinar is the surprising connection between sustainability and social awareness. Both for-profit businesses and not-for-profit organizations, as well as individuals who promote the importance of sustainability, help create workplaces that educate, bring awareness, and inspire action. As it happens, the financial incentives and boost to your company’s image aren’t so bad either.

Sustainability 101: A Novice Perspective

Let me create a scenario for you. You’re standing in a group at a casual dinner party, drink in hand, the rhythmic drone of music and conversation in the background. You hit all the traditional conversational topics– how’s your semester going, what are your plans, how’s your significant other, your family, etc.– and then the topic drops. The one topic that’s timely, important, a consistent fixture in the current news cycle. The one that brings out that nervous sweat on the back of your neck, that makes you smile politely as your eyes glaze over and think, “Maybe if I just throw in a slight, robotic nod every few minutes, they’ll just stop talking.” The one topic that you just can’t seem to connect with, no matter how many step-by-step YouTube tutorials you view or National Geographic miniseries you watch.

For many people, that topic is sustainability. It’s easy to let the extent of your sustainability savvy be restricted to the “reduce, reuse, recycle” jingle you learned in elementary school. But why is that? Why are so many people still uninterested in learning more about the environment and sustainability?  

Maybe it has to do with stereotypes. Some people still think being environmentally conscious means tying yourself to a tree to prevent its destruction, eating an extreme amount of granola, and busting your entire paycheck at Whole Foods. Or maybe it has to do with the way in which “going green” is typically presented. “101 Ways To...” social media articles and eco-documentaries that insist we’ve doomed the Earth can both be overwhelming and foster a sense of hopelessness. 

I think it has to do with a subtle sense of fear of change, a hesitancy to see just how much everyday behavior contributes to the deeply destructive depletion of natural resources. Ignorance is bliss and that’s the route that many people choose to follow. Sustainability is a completely new world for me, but that’s what makes it intriguing. Sometimes, all it takes to understand sustainability is the shared experiences of someone who is just as new and fearful of change as you are.

The Bottom Line

In the coming weeks, I’ll be doing my own deep dive into the realm of sustainability by highlighting specific topics and people that strike a chord with me along the way. I’m going to cover communications strategies, green marketing, consumer behavior/consumption, disaster risk reduction, post-consumer recycling, environmental tourism, and urban development. Hopefully, I can provide an accessible, alternative perspective that helps makes things a little clearer, so that at your next dinner party, if sustainability becomes the topic, you’ll be good to go.


Author Bio: Trent Esker is a journalism major currently attending the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He joined the ISTC team in June as a communications intern for the Great Lakes Regional Pollution Prevention Roundtable. Trent is new to sustainability, but is looking forward to furthering his knowledge of the topic through blogging, social media, and closed captioning transcription for GLRPPR. He begins his senior year in the fall.