Monday, June 2, 2014

Ecotourism in North Carolina

As summer approaches and the sun warms us up, people will start planning their summer vacations. Tourism can have a big impact on a region not only financially, but also environmentally, so it is important to be mindful when planning your next vacation. Ecotourism within our state is booming and there are all sorts of options of ways to relax, learn, explore, and have fun, while stimulating the local economy and minimizing negative environmental impacts. The International Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.”

The principles of ecotourism are:

·         Minimize impact

·         Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect

·         Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts

·         Provide direct financial benefits for conservation

·         Provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people

·         Raise sensitivity to host countries’ political, environmental, and social climate

North Carolina is unique in that one day you can be hiking in the mountains and the next swimming along the coast. With all of its vacation options, this state provides many ways to take a break while following ecotourism’s principles.

Some great ecotourism locations are:

·         The Outer Banks: The Outer Banks are a beautiful natural wonder, but they also have a very delicate ecosystem that is vulnerable to harmful tourist practices. Sand erosion is particularly an issue in this area and pedestrian activities can exacerbate the problem, so it is important that visitors stay on marked paths and practice “leave no trace”. The local economy is very reliant on the tourist industry – in 2003 tourist spent $600 million in the Outer Banks.

·         Red Wolf Coalition: A more specific option, the Red Wolf Coalition is located in Tyrell County and allows the public to be involved with the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Red Wolf Recovery program. In addition to advocating for the long-term survival of red  wolf populations, tourists can hike, bike, paddle, bird watch, join a wolf howling, camp, and fish in this beautiful setting.

·         Appalachian Mountains: A mountain escape is always a great vacation option, and there are a multitude of outdoor activities that support the natural environment while simultaneously allowing you to enjoy it. The National Park Service has a collection of all the National Parks in North Carolina, and supporting National Parks helps make sure we can preserve these national treasures into the future.

NC Green Travel is a great resource to find businesses within the tourism industry that follow sustainable practices. East Carolina University’s Center for Sustainable Tourism also provides lots of information about why sustainable tourism is so important and how you can easily adopt it into your travel plans. Even when we are on vacation, our actions have a big impact – let’s make it a positive one!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

BYOB - Bring your own bag!

We’re all guilty of using plastic and paper bags when checking out at our local grocery store. You forget to put your cloth bags back in your car after your last grocery visit and now have two options: carry everything in your arms or resort to using the plastic or paper bags, it’s only this ONE time right?

The paper or plastic question is an age old debate and our conscience isn’t the only one with a stake in the debate. Grocery stores purchase plastic bags at a cheaper cost with constant pressure from environmental groups to stop offering them.  Worldwide, a trillion single-use plastic bags are used each year with the average American family of four using an overwhelming 1,500 plastic bags a year.

San Francisco made the game changing move in 2007 by being the first city in the U.S. to ban single use plastic bags city wide and requiring stores to charge 10 cents for recyclable or plastic bags with over 50 cities following their steps.

But when given the ultimate choice between paper or plastic --- which is worse?
Plastic is produced from the waste products of oil refining whereas paper is produced from trees. To make all the bags we use annually, it takes 14 million trees for paper and 12 million barrels of oil for plastic. Paper bags create 70% more air pollution than plastic, but plastic create four times the waste. With paper consuming four times the energy and three times the amount of water, it consumes a good amount of fuel. On the other hand, plastic bags are littered nationwide and dangerous to wildlife which sometime mistakes it for food. Plastic is difficult to recycle and can take up to 1000 years to degrade!

In the end, the statistics don’t favor either. Use a reusable canvas bag instead and don’t forget to BYOB – bring your own bag.

Share our blog on social media and tag us in your post to be entered into a drawing for one of our own! Everyone who shares between now and June 2 will be entered to win an NC GreenPower canvas bag!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Make Everyday Earth Day

Earth Day celebrations took place worldwide just last week. And while it’s nice to celebrate the environment one day out of 365, we should try to incorporate these practices into our everyday lives. Whether we’re responding to an urgent email or sending a tweet to our followers, we’re constantly on our phones so why not use mobile apps to help us go green?

The Good Guide: Perfect for helping green shoppers, this app gives ratings to more than 200,000 products just by scanning the barcode. The rating combines health, environment and societal factors on a scale of 1-10. Health covers ingredients, health impacts and certifications. Environment includes resources use, environmental impact and transparency. Society measures the company’s social policy and how they resonate with consumers, workers and the overall community.

PaperKarma: Annoyed with junk mail? This app helps reduce junk mail. It’s simple: snap a picture of any unwanted mail through the app and PaperKarma notifies the publisher to take the user’s name and address off of their list. Easy, right?

JouleBug: A social app, launched by the City of Raleigh, rewards users for reducing energy waste. It helps make your everyday habits more sustainable at home, work and play. By giving you simple tips to increase your sustainability, you earn points and badges while saving money. You can compete with your friends through the LeaderBoard, track your impact and earn trophies. So save money and energy and have a little fun by giving this app a try!

You can get even your kids involved with these environmental educations apps and programs teaching them about sustainable design and renewable energy:

1.     Ansel and Clair: Little Green Island
This app does a good job of introducing ideas – students learn about environmental issues, specifically pollution, and have to find solutions to the problems.

2.     Enercities
An educational computer-game, Enercities emphasizes the importance of sustainable planning. Students have to strike a balance among economy, ecology, population growth and quality of life while learning about resource scarcity and green city planning.

Those bright little screens that tend to keep us indoors and distract us from nature can now be put to good use!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A History of Earth Day

As we celebrate the Earth and all of its beauty today, let’s take a moment to look back at a timeline of how this day came to be and the progress that has resulted:

1962: Rachel Carson publishes Silent Spring, the best seller that brought to light the potential dangers of widespread pesticide use bringing environmental issues to the public’s attention

1963: Senator Gaylord Nelson (served as the Wisconsin State governor before being elected to serve in the U.S. Senate in 1962) convinced and accompanied President Kennedy on a 5 day, 11 state conservation tour in order to raise awareness about environmental issues

1969: Chemical waste released into Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River causes it to catch on fire bringing to the forefront the damaging effects of industrial pollution

1969: Senator Nelson, inspired by the teach-ins held by Vietnam War protesters on U.S. college campuses, announces the idea for a large scale Earth Day – a grassroots demonstration

April 22, 1970: First Earth Day, 20 million Americans took to the streets, parks and auditoriums to protest and fight for environmental rights

1970: Environmental advocacy group Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) founded

December 1970: Congress authorized the creation of a new federal agency to tackle environmental issues, the United States Environmental Protection Agency

1971: Environmental activist group Greenpeace founded

1972-73: Congress passes the Clean Water Act (‘92) and the Endangered Species Act (‘93)

1990: Earth Day goes international with 141 countries participating

1995: President Bill Clinton awards Gaylord Nelson the Presidential Medal of Freedom (highest award given to a civilian) in honor of his environmental work

2000: The 30th anniversary of Earth Day was themed “clean energy” with hundreds of millions of participants in 184 countries

2010: In honor of the 40th anniversary of this historic day, a Climate Rally and Concert was held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Earth Day has grown into a worldwide event with over 180 countries participating. The combined effort of Senator Gaylord, his staff and the participants across the United States helped spring this day into action. We hope everyone takes a few minutes out of their day to commit to a pledge, no matter how small or large, and join the movement of a billion acts of green to continue environmental and sustainable practices throughout the year.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Organic Food 101

Organic food has become a lucrative business with every grocery store trying to get a piece of the pie. Industry experts estimate that organic food sales were $28 billion in 2012 with expectations for continued growth. So what’s the benefit of buying organic? Is it more nutritious? Is it worth the extra cost?

First, let’s define what classifies a food as organic. According to the EPA, organically grown food is food grown and processed using no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. Organic livestock must have access to the outdoors, be given organic feed and may not be given antibiotics, growth hormones or any animal-by-products.

Is it more nutritious? What are the benefits? A recent Stanford study shows little evidence to back the claim that organic foods are packed with more vitamins making them more nutritious. Although studies do show that organic foods contain higher antioxidants which have been linked to certain types of cancer prevention. There is also a decrease in negative health effects and issues associated with toxic residues that result from pesticide use. Consistent pesticide exposure has been shown to contribute to deficiencies in neurodevelopment, a factor in autism, ADHD and other neurological impairments in developing children. Eating organic produce and meat could potentially decrease this exposure.

Weighing the costs and benefits in choosing organic foods is up to each individual person. While those unbothered by pesticide use opt for the cheaper conventional items, others take a stand against industry farms fighting for removal of all pesticides. For more information please visit the USDA’s website here.

If you choose to buy organic, it is important to understand the labeling. The USDA issues three categories of labels:

-          100% organic: foods that do not contain any non-organic ingredients
-          Organic: Food containing 95% organic ingredients with the remaining 5% not containing growth hormones
-          Made with organic ingredients: Foods that have at least 70% organically produced ingredients (can contain up to 30% of nonorganic ingredients!)

So keep an eye out for buzz words and companies misleading use of the word ‘organic’, making sure it has a UDSA seal of approval. Keep in mind that organic is not synonymous with healthy; organic food can still be packed in bad fats, calories and sugar!

Be sure to check out upcoming blogs that will give in depth looks at which foods to buy organic, which to skip and recipes for in season produce!

While choosing organic may be important, it is also just as important to shop local in season produce. With asparagus being one of April’s peak in season produce, here’s a simple recipe from the local Durham Farmers' Market incorporating asparagus into an appetizer or side dish.

Fresh Asparagus Salad – (Chef Christy Quirk from Bull Street Gourmet & Market)


-          1 Bunch ASPARAGUS, Thinly Sliced
-          1 LEMON, Zested and Juiced
-          1 SHALLOT, Shaved (you may want less)
-          1/8t LAVENDER BUDS, Rubbed
-          Pinch SEA SALT
-          Pinch BLACK PEPPER, Freshly Ground
-          Pinch NUTMEG or MACE
-          Drizzle OLIVE OIL


Prepare a medium bowl. Combine all the flavoring/seasoning ingredients, mix well, then add the asparagus. May serve immediately or chill until use. 

This salad may also serve as a relish for sandwiches, grilled proteins, etc. 

As a side, welcome additions to the salad might include nuts, goat cheese, fresh tomatoes, or mushrooms.

For more local produce recipe ideas visit
Durham Farmers' Market

Picture source: K Sarah Designs Blog

Friday, March 28, 2014

Environmental Household Cleaning

Spring is in the air! And with it comes spring cleaning, so here is our next blog post with Eco-friendly spring cleaning tips. This time we will look into ways to clean our homes while staying green.

Many household cleaning supplies contribute to indoor air pollution and can actually be quite hazardous when they come in contact with skin, are inhaled, or are ingested. Chemicals from cleaning products can be released into the air and linger because of the limited airflow indoors, exposing you and your family for longer periods of time. Standard cleaning products are often petroleum-based and have negative effects that extend even beyond indoor pollution and personal health problems. They keep their potency long after they’ve gone down the drain, and can potentially pollute waterways and negatively affect vegetation and wildlife. Luckily, we have some alternatives that are natural and will help you to avoid negative toxic side effects. Natural based cleaning products are widely available and usually work just as well as the old standbys.  

It’s Easy Being Green: A Handbook for Earth-Friendly Living by Crissy Trask is a great resource for tips on how to clean green, from conserving water to using alternative cleaning products. Some of her helpful suggestions are:

·         Use old towels and t-shirts  as rags instead of paper towels

·         Fill a bucket with water and mix it with an all-purpose cleaner for general scrubbing, rather than  leave water running

·         Buy products in concentrate when available to use less packaging

·         Use oxygen or hydrogen-based bleaches instead of chlorine bleach and buy phosphate-free laundry detergent – companies that make products that do not use harmful chemicals include Country Save, Mountain Green, Method, Mrs.Meyers, and Seventh Generation.

·         Make your own household cleaners – distilled white vinegar, baking soda, salt, club soda, lemons, and other household products can make effective cleaning products. The Mother Nature Network has recipes for homemade cleaning products here.

·         Wash clothes in cold water, only using warm or hot water for oily dirt and stains (These days, detergents are formulated to work just as well in cold water.)

Small changes of habits and an awareness of the products we use can make a big impact on both our household health and overall environment. Lots of little things can add up to a big impact! For a more thorough review of the effects of toxins cleaning products and environmentally friendly alternatives, visit the OrganicConsumers Association website.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Spring Cleaning: Cleaning Out Your Closet

With spring fast approaching, be on the lookout for a series of blog posts with Eco-friendly spring cleaning tips. To start out, let’s look at how to clean out your closet without adding to landfills.

Fast fashion is defined as a contemporary term describing a clothing chain’s ability to move designs from catwalk to stores quickly at a low price to customers. It brings an end to the two-season shopping; companies like Zara, H&M and Forever 21 can design, manufacture and get new styles into store shelves within a month. Although fast and cheap, our closets can’t keep up, forcing us to throw away the excess of it – approximately 70 pounds per person annually according to the Council for Textile Recycling. This translates into approximately 191 T-shirts per person, totaling 3.8 billion pounds of waste making our landfills pay the price.

Here’s the good news! More than 90% of this discarded fabric, worn or torn, is recyclable:

Resell them – If the tag is still on them or they’re in top condition, the clothes can be resold to consignment or vintage shops such as Plato’s Closet, a nationwide used clothing chain.

Donate – H&M has a recycling policy allowing for shoppers to exchange one shopping bag of clothing, no H&M label required, for a 15% discount on any item of their choice. The Salvation Army and Goodwill have over 2,300 centers and drop-off locations for your gently used goods. Dress for Success accepts women’s professional attire and Donate My Dress accepts formal and special occasion dress donations to others who need them.

Hand them down to younger kids in your family or to your friends.

SwapFind a local public clothes swap and exchange clothes with someone else, trading an unwanted item for a “new” item in your closet.

Recycle – Send your clothes directly to a textile recycler if your clothes are past their prime. In Wake County, your local Convenience Center will accept clothing and shoes.

No matter which option you pick, recycle the stuffed garbage bag full of unwanted clothing next time you clean out that overfilled closet.