Back to School….Green

So, it’s just about that time again – school back in session! I’m sure these words are music to many parents’ ears, but kids, on the other hand, are dreading waking up and sitting inside for eight hours once again.

What are some things we can do to instill green habits in the next generation of stewards of the Earth?

  • Not every piece of clothing needs to be new. Sure, you want to wear a brand new outfit on that first day of school, but there are many “fashion conscious” thrift stores popping up where kids can find something “new” to wear without breaking the  school_45bff72d1bbank and being better to Mother Earth too.
  • If possible, pack lunches in reusable containers and lunch bags
  • Buy products with minimal packaging
  • Walk, cycle or bus to school
  • Buy Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Certified paper products – the FSC is  an organization that certifies wood and paper products grown in forests that are responsibly managed.
  • Reuse school supplies that are in good condition — save money and resources by purchasing what’s really needed! If you can’t reuse the supplies, donate them to your local school, daycare or another place that may use them, such as a library.

Outside of the basics, keep kids in touch with nature. Take the kids out for a fun evening walk – catch fireflies, view the constellations.  Instead of sitting in front of the computer or TV for hours after school, get out and stretch your legs and imagination. Weather permitting, schedule some fun outdoor events on the weekend – go for a family bike ride or visit a local nature center.


Oak Park Aims to be Destination for Midwest’s Green Film Festival

Oak Park, Ill. has always been known as a fairly progressive, liberal and creative town. Located next door to Chicago, Oak Park boasts the childhood home of Ernest Hemingway and a plethora of other cultural attractions, Oak Park has added “green community” to their list of community positives.

In 2011 the Oak Park/River Forest (suburb next door to Oak Park) area developed PlanItGreen, “[t]he Environmental filmfest-logo-2014-large-303x360Sustainability Plan for Oak Park and River Forest…[it] is a project designed to develop and implement an environmental sustainability plan” which will be discussed in a future blog.

In addition to setting benchmarks and goals to reduce energy and water consumption and just have greener communities, Oak Park has gone one step further and established the well-known green film festival, One Earth Film Festival, which has grown in just three years.

According to the One Earth Film Festival Web site, “[it] is a Chicago area film festival that creates opportunities for understanding climate change, sustainability and the power of human involvement through sustainability-themed films and facilitated discussions…[to] stimulate, energize and activate communities…maximizing citizen reach and expanding the movement.”

“The festival offers a broad coverage of topics – from films about energy, waste and water, but has evolved to cover more metaphysical and philosophical topics as well and how this affects our environment,” states Ana Garcia Doyle, One Earth Film Festival Founder and Team Lead.

Some films the festival has presented in the past include Musicwood, which chronicles three of the world’s most famous guitar makers as they travel to the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska, where Spruce trees are being logged at an alarmingly high rate. Sitka Spruce trees are used to make acoustic guitar soundboards. Another film, Comfort Zone explores “an in-depth look at what happens when global climate climate issues come to our backyards.”

In addition to screening 30-40 films, Doyle emphasizes involvement through getting speakers to discuss the featured films and panel discussions after the film has been filmed which then turn the question back to the audience “what can you do?”.

The 4th Annual One Earth Film Festival is March 6-8, 2015. Check the festival’s Web site for further information.



Say Goodbye to Bug Bites…Naturally

So, here it is July – the middle of the summer, which means for many of us, including myself, bug bites! Bugs, especially mosquitoes, love, love the taste of my blood – I don’t get it – I break out in terrible painful welts, but I hate using harsh chemicals to protect myself from these nasty bites. Thankfully there are some natural alternatives to regular bug sprays, especially any containing N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide, or, more commonly known as DEET.

What is DEET?

A common ingredient in many over-the-counter insect repellents, DEET is a colorless yellow oil which works as a true repellent to mosquitoes. Even though DEET is a miracle ingredient for those of us who serve as a buffet to mosquitoes and other biting mosquitoinsects, it has been found that DEET has been found to inhibit the activity of a central nervous system ensyme acetylocholinesterase, which in essence, plays a role in the function of the neurons which control muscles. DEET has also been known to have effects on the environment including. It has been found have a slight toxicity for coldwater fish such as rainbow trout and tilapia and it also has been shown to be toxic for some species of freshwater zooplankton.

What Can I Do?

So, you’re wondering what can I use instead of a chemical-based insect repellent? I don’t want to use chemicals or expose others or the environment to DEET or other chemicals. There has to be an alternative. There are! You can find natural alternatives on the shelves of such stores as Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, or even just the common grocery store or big box store. Natural and chemical-free is becoming more the norm nowadays. Personally, I’ve had luck with Burt’s Bee’s All Natural Outdoor Herbal Insect Repellent, which contains such key ingredients as peppermint oil, cedar and lemon eucalyptus. If you want to try your hand and making your own easy, inexpensive bug sprays or creams you can find many recipes online, including this recipe:

The Natural Resources Defense Council also suggests if you want to use a chemical-based repellent containing Picaridin. the NRDC states  “[Picaridin is] structurally based on chemicals in peppers…appears to interfere with the mosquito’s ability to smell it’s prey. …may be less effective than DEET. A 20% Picaridin formulation has been shown to repel mosquitoes for 8-10 hours.”

The NRC continues, saying ” Picaridin is much less irritating to the skin than DEET. It has very low toxicity and does not appear to cause adverse neurological or reproductive effects. Nor does it cause cancer in animals.”

Other Things Of Note

Of course, ridding your area of any standing water helps prevent mosquitoes – standing water is just a breeding ground for these pests. Also, check the mosquito forecast – if it’s high then stay indoors or at least in a screened-in area. And, proper clothing is key – wearing clothing that covers your arms and legs minimizes your chances of being bitten by mosquitoes or other biting insects.




Summertime Conservation Tips

energy-efficiencyIt’s summertime – get outside and play! Take advantage of the extra hours of sunlight, warm summer breezes and just the pure happiness that summer brings. If you live just about anywhere in the three-quarters of the United States that experienced the “Polar Vortex” and the winter from
hell – 2014, you’re happy it’s winter and not going to complain even when it gets to 100 degrees and humidity!

But, with summer comes wastefulness of energy and water. Sometimes we think about just flicking a switch or using extra water to cool ourselves down.

The United States Department of Energy has compiled some energy saving tips for consumers to still enjoy their summer, save money and save energy. Some of these tips include:

  • If  you live in a climate where it cools off in the evening, turn off the air conditioning and open the windows while you are sleeping. In the morning shut the windows and close the blinds to capture the cool air.
  • Install window coverings to prevent heat gain.
  • Set the thermostat as high as comfortably possible — the smaller the difference between the indoor temperature and outdoor temperature, the lower your cooling bill.
  • Use fans and ventilation strategies to cool your home and don’t forget to turn off the fans when you leave the room.
  • Don’t heat your home with appliances and lighting — on hot days cook on the stove or grill outside….or just eat cold foods!
  • Wash only full loads of laundry.
  • Take showers instead of baths.

Not only do we waste energy, we waste water too. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates “Depending upon the region homeowners use 30-60% of their water outdoors. Fifty percent of that is wasted, in part, due to overwatering.”

Sure, we like our lawn and garden to look perfect, but there is a proper way to water our grass, flowers and produce.  One thing we can do is water in the early morning and at dusk — this prevents wasteful evaporation of water in the hot summer sun.

The EPA also suggests:

  • Step on the lawn – if the grass springs back, it doesn’t need water.
  • Leave it long – longer grass promotes a more drought-resistant lawn, reduced evaporation and fewer weeds
  • Take a sprinkler break – grass really isn’t meant to be bright green in the summer.
  • Look for the WaterSense label if you’re shopping for a new timer – this can reduce water usage by 15 percent, saving nearly 8,800 gallons of water per year.


These are just a few summertime conservation tips — when it comes to saving water and energy and water it boils down to common sense and your specific needs.


Climate Change…It’s Us: Part II

A panel discussion of various local environmental organizations followed the keynote speech. I was happily surprised to find out that Chicago Public Radio’s (WBEZ) Jerome McDonnell, host of Worldview, was the panel’s moderator.

The panel included representatives from the Northwest Cook County Chapter of the Sierra Club; Barrington, Ill.-based Citizens for Conservation, whose mission is “‘Saving Living Space Through Living Things’ through protection, restoration and stewardship of land, conservation of natural resources and education”; the Illinois Solar Energy Association; Citizens’ Climate Lobby; the Harper College (Palatine, Ill.) Green Committee; and Blacks in Green, which is based in the West Woodlawn neighborhood of Chicago whose vision is for “self-sustaining black communities everywhere, and world peace through home economies.”

The representatives were hopeful for future, but cited more needs to be done because there are still many climate change doubters out there – even though there is scientific evidence that global warming truly does exist.

But, it was nice to see this concern for the environment ran the gamut – from a grassroots organization focusing on the restoration of the land to a local chapter of a national organization.

Following the panel discussion were breakout groups, where we, as participants, were given the opportunity to network and exchange ideas according to specific topics. We gathered at various tables – I met otheb08f8ad9f57b133ee76c7b373efc3d29r like-minded individuals at the Climate Refuge table, where we discussed the ramifications the changing climate has on people and how global warming has created Climate Refuges due to these natural disasters — we all agreed there must be plans in place to prepare for these increasing incidences. Then, I met other individuals at the Arts and the Environment table where we discussed how we can incorporate the arts into raising an awareness about global warming by flash mobs/artwork and other ideas — many times art isn’t seen as “in your face” and people are more willing to discuss the issue if told through art.

All in all, this was a very thought-provoking and worthwhile conference where I was happy to be among others who were concerned about the Earth’s future, but were also hopeful. I plan on attending this conference next year. But, in the meantime, I hope to continue learning about this issue and utilizing my communications skills to raise awareness. If interested I would like to connect with you and possibly use my written communications skills in a green way. Please visit my Web site at or send me an email at

Climate Change…It’s Us: Part I

I recently attended Climate Change: Connections for Action at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Palatine, Ill. and was pleasantly surprised by how many people showed up — it was great seeing other like-minded individuals. It’s nice to know I’m not the only liberal, tree-hugging liberal in the conservative Northwest Suburbs of Chicago!

Dan Hunthsha, Climate Reality Leader at The Climate Reality Project kicked off the conference with an eye-opening, but a bit worrisome presentation about climate change beginning the conference stating, “Climate change is real — it’s definately us, but there is hope.”

The one statistic that really stood out for me is that five percent of all carbon comes from lawn mowers! I was stunned by that statistic.

Hunthsha shared scientific data clearly proving that we are the culprits of Global Warming – it’s no longer something that we can shy away from – especially after the worst winter the United States has faced in over 30 years. Those of us who live in the hardest hit areas of the country affected by this winter have experienced Climate Change

According to Climate Reality, “Our planet is heating up, and carbon pollution is to blame. Ninety million tons of carbon pollution enters our atmosphere every day. Nine of the ten hottest years on record were in the past twelve years.”

Evidence of Climate Change can be seen over the entire world – from Superstorm Sandy to extreme pollution in China to extreme rain and flooding this winter throughout Europe and, in 2013 the hottest summer on record in Australia. In fact it was so hot in Australia that meterologists had to add a new color to the weather map defining the extreme temperatures.

After the introductory presentation, the conference got local with representatives from various regional and state green organizations including the chapter of a national location. I will discuss this panel discussion and more of the day’s activities in part two of this blog.

But, I leave you with this question…What is your impact on the Earth? And…what can you do to lessen this impact?


Some Good Green News For Illinois

Illinois is not usually known for “being green” – Chicago’s towering skyscrapers and congested traffic emitting pollution is usually the first image that comes to mind when people think of Illinois. But, Chicago has made many efforts toward helping out Mother Earth, starting with former Mayor Richard J. Daley and continuing with present Mayor Rahm Emanuel. But, for those of use who are native Illinoisans, there is much more to the state than just Chicago – beautiful Lake County to the north of the city and to Southern Illinois with its rolling hills and grand green pastures.

DePaul University's Theatre Building.

DePaul University’s Theatre Building.

Illinois garnered the number one slot with 171 projects at 24.5 million square feet in 2013. Some of the LEED buildings of note include Powell Elementary School, the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the DePaul Theatre School, which was recently awarded LEED Gold certification.

According to a recent USGBC article, “The list of the Top 10 States for LEED is a continuing indicator of the widespread recognition of our national imperative to create healthier, high-performing buildings that are better for the environment as well as the people who use them every day,” said Rick Fedrizzi, president, CEO and founding chair, USGBC.

Also noted in the USGBC article, Governor Quinn stated, “Both the public and private sectors in Illinois recognize that long-term investments in the 21st century infrastructure should be done in ways that reduce energy consumption and protect the environment…Illinois is proud to be the nation’s green buildings leader.”



Happy Holidays!

I know it’s been a while since I’ve added a new post, so I thought I would at least write something short before the end of the year. First, thank you to all who have followed this blog and shared it with others – I am passionate about the environment and nature and enjoying sharing the latest news regarding these subjects. Please feel free to comment and pass along the information. Also, if you have anything you’d like to have addressed, please let me know – comment or send me an email at Please check out my writing and editing freelance Web site (I’m always looking for new clients) at or like my Facebook page at or follow me on Twitter – LaraRJ. I’m hoping to continue expanding my client list and this blog in 2014!

And, don’t forget to have a green holiday season!!! Recycle your Christmas tree and wrapping paper if you can! Don’t use paper plates or plastic silverware if you can avoid it – I understand some of you have huge gatherings and don’t want to wash all of those dishes! Recycle those holiday cards – a collage of the prettiest cards always makes a great memento! If you’re a craft person, find some fun crafts to make out of your leftover holiday material…and, remember leftover food tastes best the next day!


Happy Holidays!


Chicago Businesses Go Green – Part I

An increasing amount of businesses are going green, especially here in the Chicago area. Why should businesses go green? It just makes sense – if big businesses can make the effort then us as citizens can make the effort. It shows us that businesses have a heart too and care about their carbon footprint. Recently, two buildings who house green businesses received LEED Platinum Certification.

In May 2013 the country’s largest sustainable business community, Chicago’s Green Exchange, was awarded LEED platinum status. The Green Exchange houses a variety of businesses all which have included sustainability in their mission – from GreenChoice Bank to the Institute for Workforce Education, a division of Augustana University; Climate Cycle, which educates children about the environment and climate change to Ale Syndicate, a local brewery unique to Chicago.

Located at 2545 W. Diversey in Chicago,”The building features a large open foyer, an 8,000 square foot organic sky garden with an on-site restaurant in the works, and beautiful open event space with an abundance of natural sunlight, all of which are available to tenants and the public alike for special events. Other features include a state-of-the-art green roof, an organic garden, a chicken coop, a 41,329 gallon rain cistern to allow water to be captured and reused, energy efficient windows, an energy efficient escalator, and much more, ” which was noted in a May 24, 2013 Chicago Tribune article.

Set in the city’s Logan Square neighborhood, the Green Exchange was developed by Baum Developers, who, according to the Web site, are “…passionate about development projects in sprouting neighborhoods and is continually acclaimed for the preservation of historic and architecturally significant landmarks.”

The Green Building Exchange was the home of the Vassar Swiss Underwear Company and is also the recipient of the 2013 Outstanding For-Profit Neighborhood Real Estate Project for turning this historic building into a successful business center.

Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Air Conditioning

lA couple of weeks ago here in the Chicago area we experienced a week’s worth of the typical “dog days of summer” — 90 degree temperatures coupled with about 99% humidity. Sure, we got a break from it for a while, but summer’s not over yet and we could certainly get some more hot temps before Labor Day.

For many air conditioning is a must – especially those with medical conditions or difficulty breathing. But, air conditioning just sucks energy and it can shrink your wallet. So, what are some easy things you can do to keep cool if you do need to stay cool?

  1. Close the shades – keep your shades drawn. Not allowing any sunlight will naturally keep it cooler. Also, look for quality blackout shades, which will considerably cut down the amount of sunlight which seeps into your home.
  2. Don’t use the oven – if you can get away with using a toaster oven or the microwave and cook simpler meals for a while do so. Or, better yet, just prepare salads and fresh fruits and vegetables, not using any kitchen appliances at all.
  3. Consider your landscaping – plant some shade trees close to the house
  4. Purchase ceiling fans, or even a large floor fan may just do the trick
  5. Focus on cooling yourself off rather than cooling the house down – take a cool shower or go for a swim, have a tall glass of a cool lemonade, water or iced tea – all will help you cool down


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