Chick-fil-A's Eco Contribution

Chick-fil-A is America’s favorite fast-food chain.

In the United States, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, Chick-fil-A is the most popular fast-food establishment. As the apex predator for the third consecutive year, Chick-fil-A rose to the top of the food chain by delivering quality service, good sandwiches, and living their Judeo-Christian values.

Whether some may disagree with the values they preach or are just upset that Chick-fil-A is closed on Sundays, Chick-fil-A has a rapport for garnering national attention to promote target messages that relate to their core principles. This led Waverly — an enthusiast for all things Chick-fil-A —to speculate more about another more subdued message.

“Is Chick-fil-A suggesting that eating chicken, as opposed to cows, is better for the environment?” —Waverly

Not only does the iconic Chick-fil-A mascot (read: cow) suggest that consumers “Eat more chikin”, but there is a lesser well-known environmental truth attached to those words. In 2014, the National Academy of Sciences answered this particular question by stating “beef” was worse than “chicken” when considering the carbon emissions of greenhouse gases for the environment.

Further, the study focused on the environmental impact of chickens and cows on land, air, and sea. Specifically, the survey focused on greenhouse conditions — the same conditions oft-cited when discussing our planet — and the nitrogen burdens required in the United States. The study concluded that beef is 10x more damaging to the environment than any other types of meat, including chicken. However, the verdict is more difficult to uniformly apply since the mitigating factors are harder to calculate. Especially, when considering the agricultural industries carrying capacity to switch from beef to chicken or vice versa.

In addition to former Truett Cathy’s claims that he applied God’s principals to Chick-fil-A operations, Chick-fil-A still is working on improving their current environmental standards to diminish its environmental impact. So what’s the issue?

Questionable Chicken Ethics and Dicey Involvements with Factory Farmed Chickens Plague Chick-fil-A

In 2014, Chick-fil-A announced they would no longer use chickens that were raised with antibiotics. Their ambitious plan had a five year time frame. Historically, to place this plan into perspective, the firm created an annual 282 million sandwiches — equating to 141 million birds — in 2010. So the 2014 transition, truly, is a paradigm shift.

When considering the role of factory farming, however, these birds are kept in poor conditions even if antibiotic use was excluded. Dirty, cramped, and with little space are commonplace for these birds. As many of our readers may know, antibiotics are added to livestock to simultaneously prevent disease and increase growth. In the National Public Radio’s most recent broadcast, “Finite”, their was discussion that this practice of liberally injecting antibiotics into livestock is detrimental to bio-security for humans as pathogens become more resistant with each use. Lastly, in 2016, they announced their mission to source 100% of cage-free eggs in the next 10 years — another ambitious plan we will be sure to verify in 2026.

So How Successful Was Chick-fil-A?

After the five year mark for Chick-fil-A’s “No Antibiotics Ever” commitment, the firm proudly reported that upwards of 80% of their chicken supply is raised without antibiotics. A remarkable step in the right direction. By December of this year, Chick-fil-A will attempt to convert that figure to 100%.

While Truett Cathy has made bold claims in the past, maybe his words were not too far fetched? The firm has made changes to become more environmentally sustainable while still maintaining its ability to compete and succeed with near-peer competitors. When considering all the factors, it is impressive. After all, Chick-fil-A is a fast-food chain reliant on chicken.

Mor Than Chikin’

Chick-fil-A has a few other goals on the topic of environmental sustainability. Specifically, they primarily focus on the four areas listed below.

  1. Sustainable new restaurant development

  2. Reducing energy and water consumption in existing restaurants

  3. Sustainable supply chain

  4. Cup recycling

Right now, the firm is working towards the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) gold standard. This is an internationally recognized green building certification system and, notably, gold is the highest attainable certification. Presumably, the gold standard indicates that a building is actively consuming a fourth less energy and generates 34% less of greenhouse gas emissions than previously.

For Chick-fil-A, they are planning to launch their firm’s first test kitchen in Fort Worth, Texas! For other existing restaurants, the goal is to reduce energy usage and water consumption by reinstalling more efficient utilities — including lighting, refrigeration, and water faucet restrictors. Further, when considering the supply chain, the firm is working with suppliers to establish more green-friendly changes. Lastly, Chick-fil-A claims that its use of foam cups are recyclable, whereas some plastics are not. While one maybe the lesser of two evils, neither can be wholly acknowledged as “great”. Notably, foam has many documented challenges with recycling.

Chick-fil-A is not a perfect model for environmental sustainability. However, the changes that it and other fast food chains or companies are committing to making (and actually following through) are and will make a significant substantial impact. Kudos to the firm for working towards a better future.

Soy Crops and Subsidies

Soy is a core crop in our modern world.

Globally, soy is heavily subsidized by the government and consumed in vast amounts. When consumed in moderation, soy has a two-fold effect. It helps to spare animal lives and it also offers potential health benefits. (McCue & Shetty, 2004). In particular, vegans are huge fans because no animals are harmed or killed in the process of soy production. However, underlying these surface advantages, soy-lovers must face the hard truth of its severe environmental impact.

Deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest

Soy is the leading cause of deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest. (Brown et al., 2005). The high demand for soy has led to an uptick in production. In other words, this drastic increase in consumer demand for soy is at the cost of the Amazon. Sadly, the Amazon is undergoing massive deforestation — at an astonishingly high rate — to make more land available for soy. Additionally, soy production has a negative impact on the biodiversity of the rainforest. (Fearnside, 2001).

Unfortunately for the Amazon, deforestation and depletion are embedded into its rich history. Interestingly, deforestation rates resulting from soy production are similar to deforestation rates resulting from cattle farming. One of the reasons for this is that soy is used to feed “pork, poultry, and dairy cows,” and is also used in the production of bio-diesel and vegetable oil. This finding is alarming for those who consider themselves plant-based foodies and, especially, if those plant-based foodies are seeking to make significant environmental change.

Adding onto the list of negatives, indigenous people are being displaced as a consequence of the Amazonian deforestation. Again, the consumer demand for the soy crop is in such a high demand, therefore, this causes deforestation to occur at a, simultaneously, high rate. To emphasize, this again leads to indigenous people being kicked off their lands at a high rate.

While it is intuitive that the food we buy (read: agricultural industries we support) have environmental implications, we do not often realize the humane implications as a result of our purchases — they are, truly, nothing short of eye-opening.

Plant-Based Diets?

When people choose to transition to a more plant-based diet, it is common for them to purchase meat alternatives to facilitate the diet change. Luckily, there are a large number of companies that produce meat alternatives to support vegans, vegetarians, or the occasional Meatless Monday practitioner. However, we must be wary of these alternatives as many of them are made with soy. One of the many reasons that people may choose to change their diet may be to reduce their impact on the environment. However, if individuals with this goal are doing so by consuming meat alternatives laden with environmentally-taxing soy protein, they are not achieving their goal!

As mentioned in an earlier post, eliminating animal products from our diets is a huge step towards sustainability. But, we must also be wary of the amount of soy that we use as replacements for the animal products that previously existed in our diets. So, instead of going to the store and purchasing the latest meat or cheese substitute--which is most likely made with soy--consider buying some sort of non-soy legume such as black beans, lentils, or chickpeas which will still provide protein without sacrificing the health of our planet.

Non-Digital Sources:

  1. Brown, J.C., Koeppe, M., Coles, B., Price, K.P. (2005). Soybean Production and Conversion of Tropical Forest in the Brazilian Amazon: The Case of Vilhena, Rondônia. AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment. 34 (6).

  2. Fearnside, P. (2001). Soybean cultivation as a threat to the environment in Brazil. Environmental Conservation,28 (1), 23-38.

  3. McCue, P., Shetty, K. (2004) Health Benefits of Soy Isoflavonoids and Strategies for Enhancement: A Review. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 44:5, 361-367

Life as an EcoFellow: Morgan and Natasha

The Center for EcoTechnology (CET) is way ahead of its time. 

In the last three short years — from 2016 to 2019 — of its 40 year establishment, the Center for EcoTechnology has made a massive impact on consumer practices. CET is projected to help approximately 95,000 people and businesses in three ways. Firstly, CET is on track to reduce carbon emissions by 391,000 metric tons. This is the equivalent of taking 85,000 cars off the road for one year! Secondly, CET has helped to keep 80,000 tons of waste out of landfills. Thirdly, CET has saved the equivalent energy of powering 35,000 homes for a year. But, best yet, they have saved $70 million (that’s right million!) in lifetime savings for both individuals and businesses by “going green”.

Change-Agents Combating Climate Change.

This non-profit organization helps both individuals and businesses to “go green” by reducing energy and waste consumption. Their website has a fantastic step-by-step guidance system that discusses renewable energy incentives that are available at the local, state, and federal levels. Often these local, state, and federal initiatives work with Solar Access and are funded by both the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and the Department of Energy Resources.

These three organizations offer credibility to the Center for EcoTechnology’s mission. Between qualification, certification, and other forms of quality controls, CET clients are assured that “going green” can be profitable for both firms and individuals. Included in profitability metrics is also the inherent good generated by thoughtful, conscientious consumerism. In terms of the financial breakdown, the Federal government provides a 30% solar tax credit and Massachusetts also provides a 10% solar tax credit. These type of sensible policies are just one of many reasons why the solar industry is growing so rapidly!

Green Practices Galore!

Not only does CET focus heavily on waste reduction, but they also provide assistance on reduction guidance and how to optimize food donations, trash collections, which construction and demolition materials to use, and other topics on waste. Just like a for-profit organization that provides business to business (B2B) services, the non-profit matches people and businesses with recycling and redemption facilities. The Center for EcoTechnology truly maximizes ways to make recycling, reusing, and waste reducing easy. In Massachusetts, they rely on a partnership with RecyclingWorks to get the job done.

We at Counter Current love to write about the environment. Even more fun than writing about the environment is the ability to feature good people who are passionate about an environmentally-focused cause. Therefore, it was an absolute no-brainer getting the chance to interview a couple of recent college graduates, Morgan Laner and Natasha Nurjadin, who have delved deep in CET’s mission through their 11 month EcoFellowship Program

Morgan Laner

Morgan loves trash! While studying at Rollins College in Environmental Studies, she made the leap to study abroad her sophomore year in Australia. This decision is what sparked her passion about waste. While she was in Australia, Morgan attended a lecture. When she walked in and sat down, she initially thought it was just going to be like anything else — just a lecture. However, this one was different. The lecturer was enthusiastic about the material and discussed why the concepts of “zero waste” and “voluntary simplicity” matter in our society. Morgan recalled that it was at this moment when it all clicked. When Morgan returned to Rollins College, she increased her focus and became heavily involved in sustainability programs on campus. In particular, she focused her energies on reducing waste, increasing recycling practices, and she created the “plastic bag ban” at school.

Not only is Morgan an EcoFellow who focuses on Program Operations, but she also enjoys the challenge. Working at a nonprofit, the challenge she encountered was how to sell a free service. When she would cold call individuals, firms, and partake in other forms of outreach, she noticed most people aren’t used to hearing about free products. Her second love is crafting. In the EcoBuilding Bargains store, Morgan has demonstrated how waste can be diverted from landfills in creative and eco-friendly ways.

Another experience Morgan particularly enjoyed during her EcoFellowship was the opportunity to grow professionally. Such opportunities included shadowing other members of the CET team, talking with experts in fields she was interested in learning more about, and participating in a Career Day organized specifically for her and the other EcoFellows. For Morgan, she knows she wants to stay in the environmental sector and share her passion for waste reduction with others, so this opportunity was key toward reaching her future goals.

Natasha Nurjadin

Over the last 6 months, Natasha’s concern for the environment has really flourished! She credits the Center for EcoTechnology’s EcoFellowship Program as a key influence in developing her concern. Before her EcoFellowship, Natasha studied Earth & Environmental Science and History at Wesleyan University and was involved in the University Sustainability Office, accidentally. Her intent was to work in the Administration Office, but Natasha quickly shifted gears towards sustainability when a spot opened up.

Upon becoming an EcoFellow, Natasha found herself on the “Lifestyle Talk Shows” on Mass Appeal TV every Thursday morning. On the local station, Natasha had a platform to share her ideas with 1,000s of viewers. This platform exposed Natasha to become more comfortable with advocacy and public speaking. However, Natasha is still committed to finding a quantitative way through data management to provide an eco-friendly perspective to individual consumers and firms!

Natasha’s involvement on Building Science and Solar Access has led her to combining several atypical skills. In particular, she has learned how to incorporate urban planning with energy efficiency — not a practice most recent college graduates are familiar with! In the future, Natasha plans to continue her education in graduate school through an environmental program ranging from sustainability to urban planning. Her interests are expansive, but mesh together nicely!

In just half a year, these amazing women have done so much for the environment!

If you liked reading about Morgan and Natasha and want to meet more people like them, check out CET’s website! Further, if you want to be like Morgan or Natasha, then mark your calendars! The EcoFellowship Program Application is open and available until February 17. Follow them also on Twitter, @CETOnline!

To Coffee Lovers

Do you love coffee?

Well, guess what? You are not alone! There’s over a 50% chance that you, as an American, wake up and gulp down at least one cup of coffee each day. Actually, it’s closer to 1.6 cups of coffee, but that’s not the important part. You and 150 million of your coffee drinking companions should expect a great deal of change to your daily ritual. Recently, a study published in Science Advances Magazine determined that over 60% of coffee species are at risk of extinction! Additionally, just over 10% of the 124 species examined were classified as “data deficient”. The term “data deficient” means that the species are not used enough in the coffee production supply chain to determine whether the strands are healthy. Or, in other words, less than 30% of all known coffee species are not at risk to extinction, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s various standards.

Did you know that — worldwide — coffee plants are 3 times more at risk of extinction than any other type of plants? Want to know why? Well, even if we ignore the effects of climate change in the study about Coffea Arabica (the most commonly traded coffee species) we would have to discuss deforestation. Also, as a fun fact, Coffea Arabica amounts to 60% of the worlds coffee trade!

These coffee species moved from the category of Least Concern (LC) to Endangered (EN) almost overnight!

This suggests that if we were able to acquire similar levels of data for all other coffee species similar harrowing inquires may be found. However, climate change is not the only human-induced threat to coffee!

Deforestation plays a significant role in threatening our coffee.

Deforestation is another example of a perverse incentive. When we consider the quality of wood from coffee trees, generally, people in the area desire to use it for timber. This practice coupled with other types of habit-loss inducing practices — raising livestock or other agricultural activities — lead to the continual decline of safe and protected forested areas for coffee to grow.

While it may be hard to give up coffee, it is possible to ensure the health and prosperity of coffee species around the world. In order to make an impact on an individual level, there are two things we must do. Firstly, we have to enhance research capabilities and continue studies by Science Advances Magazine and other organizations just like them. These researches allow us to focus on derivatives in species state of health and give us a higher fidelity look into the problem at hand. Secondly, we must work to ensure more protection of the forested ecosystem that coffee inhabits occurs. This is meant to slow down the continual rate of decline. More time to tackle the external consequences of drinking coffee, also will allow us to help solve the world’s greatest problem. Climate change.

Save our coffee species so we can stay awake in the mornings! If you like what we write, follow us on Twitter @CountCurrent or Instagram @thecountercurrent! Or find us on Facebook!

JD Slajchert

Engineer of Words. Division 1 Student-Athlete. Author.

Grab a pencil and a sheet of paper. Ready? Write down JD Slajchert. You’ll want to remember his name. Although JD is just 23 years old, he already is a published author. MoonFlower, his debut novel, has done extremely well — especially, as a first time author. To elaborate, on Amazon the book has only earned “5 Star Reviews” from 16 different Amazon members and has two fantastic editorial reviews. Further, what’s very unique about JD’s writing process is how few people knew about the book before it was published.

“I wanted to keep the writing of my first book a secret because I was afraid of what people might think. To be a full time student and a college basketball player while writing a novel is a pretty strange combination, to say the least. So, rather than trying to sound high and mighty about my routine, I kept it all to myself.” — JD

For those who have not read the book, our writing staff would highly encourage it. MoonFlower is a great story because it captures two of the most powerful emotions humans can experience — love and loss. Inspired by true events, JD expertly navigates the trenches of heartbreak warfare by allowing the reader the chance to witness whimsical love. As the story unfolds, the reader is introduced to difficult, real-world concepts like how to be a co-parent to a chronically ill sister and more. While many of the reviews on Amazon for the book left the reader in tears, the love JD shares in the story is unquestionably real.

Q: In your own words, who are you and what motivates you in life? — Ryan

A: I am someone that focuses on the little details. In my opinion helping someone or doing the right thing doesn't have to be some grand gesture, so I strive to live by that. It's the small things that excite me which is why I wanted to become a writer. The loss of my best friend at the age of ten years old motivates me everyday. I know that he had dreams and goals, so it is up to me to not only pursue my dreams for myself, but also for Luc Bodden. — JD

When JD was only ten years old, his best friend died. Luc Bodden passed away from sickle cell disease. The book is just one of the ways that JD honors the life of his former best friend. Currently, he serves as the Director of Relationship Development on the Luc Strong Foundation. The Luc Strong Foundation was established by Luc Bodden’s parents to help alleviate the financial hardships of families. In particular, the foundation focuses on reducing costs for children with sickle cell disease who are undergoing a bone marrow transplant process.

Tangentially, in life, we have all crossed paths with individuals who say something and do something else. With JD, he was never like that. For him, writing is a method to capture emotions, thoughts, and even moments in a snapshot of time. Our guess is, if you ever were to praise JD for the work he has done to honor Luc Bodden’s memory, he would either sheepishly say thanks and redirect the conversation or politely dismiss the gratitude by mentioning that there is much more work that needs to be done.

Environmental Stewardship & Disaster Relief

When considering how to balance the concepts of environmental stewardship and disaster relief for the Woolsey fire, JD had several great thoughts. According to him, “[success] in my opinion for our disaster relief is coincidentally the same as success with our campaign for the book. If we helped one person then it was worth it.“

“If one person read my book and it helped them through a tough time or showed them to follow their dreams then it was all worth it. If our disaster relief helps one person bounce back who lost their home in the fire then I'm more than happy with our effort.” — JD

Further on the topic of environmental stewardship is the idea of waste. Personally, as a writer, JD has not experienced too much waste in the industry. Generally, all forms of communications are done electronically and this reduces the need for paper. His book is even available on the Kindle which is encouraging. Despite the importance of environmental stewardship, JD is primarily focusing on rehabilitation as it relates to disaster relief.

“The protection and conservation of our environment is the most important political topic for our country. No other topic matters if we don't have a planet to execute these orders on and if we continue to waste and pollute our environment then we will have irreversible consequences. We have to do a better job.” — JD

Philanthropy: The Woolsey Fire & Teresa Alaniz

Until March 3rd, 100% of the book sales from Moonflower will be donated to the victims of the Woolsey Fire. So if you want to buy a copy of the book, JD encourages reader to buy prior to the deadline. Here is the Amazon link, if you are interested!

Concurrently, JD is attempting to raise $20,000 for a little girl named Teresa Alaniz. In the last week, JD has already managed to raise $4,860 to help Teresa. For those who are unfamiliar, Teresa suffers from a multitude of issues. Several include: “a lack of proper facial development, internal structural issues involving the location where her brain sits in her skull, the inability to breathe properly through her nose and mouth due to internal developmental problems, the inability to talk because of missing facial muscles, and trouble with spatial recognition cause by the unusual location of her brain.” If you want to donate or learn more, here is the Go Fund Me link!

Parting Thoughts

When we asked about plans for a second book, JD mentioned that “[only] a select few people are aware of the contents for my second novel and I plan on keeping it that way to protect the creative aspect of creating a compelling story.” Understandably, we’ll just have to read it when it debuts later in 2019!

Generally, when Counter Current features individuals or products on our site, we are doing so for informational purposes only. However, personally, I plan to buy a copy of JD’s book and definitely will donate to Teresa’s GoFundMe. If you like what we write, follow Counter Current on Twitter @CountCurrent, on Instagram at @thecountercurrent, and like our Facebook page! If you like the message JD is promoting, check out his website, follow him on Twitter @JD_Slajchert, and on Instagram @jd_slajchert! Happy Monday!

Katie Nation: Vegan Nation

Be Vegan AND a Foodie!

Why can’t vegan food satisfy those midnight-snack, craving, taste buds?

Meet Katie Nation, a 26 year old professional, who knows how to cook up a storm in the kitchen! Not only does she love good food, but she seeks to share her vegan recipes with her hungry followers. Her hungry followers include those who just begun or haven’t even started their journey with veganism to those who are fully immersed vegans with years of experience. Her content is great which is why she has amassed a strong follower.

“The future is vegan.”

When Counter Current interviewed Katie, she was adamant that veganism is not a cultural shift that will happen over night, but rather a slow transition. However, that transition has started. While most know that processed meats like bacon are not healthy, other types of meat may shock you. Like plain chicken breast? Katie can still recall how shocked she was when she learned more about the meat and dairy industry. Not only were these products not environmentally sustainable, but they were not as healthy as most people had assumed. Despite her past blindness, Katie is convinced that people are starting to catch on as veganism becomes less of a fringe issue and more mainstream. Unfortunately, the gradualness of this ‘enlightenment’ is too slow for her. She wants to help others realize how preconceived notions may not always be correct, especially when it comes to the meat and dairy industries.

“Since the meat and dairy industry does such a good job of masking the true ugliness of it, people don’t see it’s a very cruel industry. Profit rules all — profit to these companies is more important than your health, your safety, the environment, and the lives of innocent animals.”

After Katie made this claim, we did some research and we found that there is truth to her statement. Meat and dairy are linked to various chronic diseases such as inflammation, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and type-two diabetes. In particular, milk has been linked with the onset of dementia, conducted by one study. Further, animal agriculture is the leading cause for climate change, and this needs to be slowed down!

If the apparent negatives outweigh the positives, why do we continue to consume meat and dairy in such large volumes?

Habit patterns. We, as a society, have established cultural norms and whenever norms are established it is harder to shift away from them — even if they are wrong. For example, a majority of people in the 1700s may express slavery is wrong despite partaking in the system. Similarly, whenever a person makes a choice the person must consider the outcomes. Katie is helping us realize the consequences of our actions through sharing vegan recipes. Despite juggling her work in marketing and going back to school to become a nutritionist, she still finds time to live her values. This is a practice we encourage. To her, a successful life and life for her company is one dedicated to those values.

“There is no trophy at the end of the finish line, so you have to focus on what feeds your soul and keeps you going.”

This year she plans to set up a blog website to further share these ideas across the world. So, go support Vegan Nation to help you make eco-conscious choices and eat yummy food! Thanks so much and it was fantastic to have you!

“With just a little knowledge we can make a world of difference…”

Disclaimer: This is not an endorsement of veganism, rather an informational interview meant to expose the reader to a different perspective.

Empathy and Laki the Sugar Glider

We are the wildlife generation. Or at least we were.

From National Geographic heroes, like Steven Irwin, to amazing programs on the television, like Blue Planet 2, we grew up surrounded by the beauty of the wild. Whether it was an octopus darting through coral, a hippopotamus submerging underneath water, or a Nile crocodile snapping down on unsuspecting prey — there was absolutely nothing more fascinating on the television.

However, at some point along the way, we stopped watching the shows we once loved. We stopped being as fanatical in our love for nature. We focused instead on our formal education, sports, college acceptance letters, and jobs. As our generation grew up, discussions shifted away from who wanted to be a reporter for National Geographic to who wanted to work as a software engineer at Facebook.

The fact that people have different interests is a good thing. This is how our a market-based economy must function. We must acknowledge that, in our society, people are lucky enough to have the liberty to express self-determination. However, the necessity to be connected to nature and the environment is not conditional. That is, our ecosystem must shift away from being a fringe issue. All life and all things on this planet are merely derivatives of the natural world. Therefore, we must protect universal common goods by realigning our consumption in a consumer-based economy with the natural limitations of our ecosystem. Clearly, everyone is a shareholder in the success and liable for the failures when we think in the context of environmental stewardship.

The Erosion of Empathy

In a consumer-based society, it is easy to become fascinated by material goods and advancements in technology. This type of thinking is not prohibitively bad for the environment, but actually sustainable if business is conducted in an environmentally conscientious manner. Incentives must align with ecological measures of protection. Too often, this does not happen. Unchecked greed has a tendency to circumvent legislative controls and capital incentives to allow for the destruction of our habitable planet. For example, the common talking point by environmentalists is any failure of fracking.

For the very same reasons that make this world so amazing, these are the very same reasons that make this world so terrible. Perhaps the failures we witness are sparked from those of who do not practice empathy. There is a fantastic TED talk titled the “Erosion of Empathy” and the topic was presented by Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen who serves as a Professor of Developmental Psychopathology at the University of Cambridge. As a cognitive neuroscientist, he breaks down empathy into two categories: cognitive and affective. Cognitive is the recognition of another person’s emotions and the ability to place oneself in another person’s shoes. Affective empathy, Baron-Cohen argues, is the ability to be affected by the recognized emotional experience another human being is experiencing. Or, in other words, it is the necessary factor in explaining human cruelty towards anything.

“Empathy is our most valuable natural resource for conflict resolution.” —Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen

In the video, Baron-Cohen acknowledges that there are three social factors that primarily affect empathy. The factors are the influence of authority, political or religious ideology, and tribalism. Tribalism, in particular, relates to both in-group and out-group relations that perpetuate propaganda for the explicit purpose of dehumanizing the opposition. Later in his talk, Baron-Cohen notes that those who are autistic and those who are psychopathic are mirror opposites. Essentially, those with autism tend to have affective, but not cognitive empathy and the converse is true for psychopaths. This understanding has a caveat, that is, people have varying shades of either or both types of empathy. To support his claims, Baron-Cohen referenced James Blair’s experiment at the Broadmoor hospital, discussed the MOA-A gene, and the impact of fetal testosterone.

How Do We Get It Back?

Naturally, if we assume Baron-Cohen is correct, the best way we can become more skilled practitioners at affective empathy is through targeting the three social factors he mentioned. As people, we have no control over the varying degree of the MOA-A gene we were predisposed to or the fetal testosterone we experienced during embryonic development. Despite the multiple ways to successfully break down social barriers, our team at Counter Current would like to feature a friend who owns a sugar glider. This example of atypical pet ownership is meant to be informative and not persuasive — this is not an analysis on the ethics behind the global wildlife trade rather insight on the marsupial.

Angela Karamanos is the proud mama of a semi-famous, female, sugar glider named Skatoulaki or, Laki, for short. For those who are not versed in Greek, we suggest you ‘Google it’. Angela, better known as Ang, is a 2018 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and played Division 1 Women’s soccer. Following graduation, she became a combat systems officer in the military and considers herself “wild, adventurous, and energetic.”

Q: “What do most people think when you tell/show them Laki?” —Ryan

A: “They say “only you would have a flying squirrel” and then proceed to ask me if she flies. After a minute or 2 they think she’s so cool because she’ll just hang out and jump between people like a little ninja. Then she’ll curl up and they all think she’s so cute.” —Angela

laki.jpeg

While living in Florida, she decided to purchase a sugar glider because they seemed like a lot of fun. According to her, “[they’re] tiny so you can take them anywhere without people knowing and they’re easy to take care of.” For her, compared to a dog or a cat, Laki is a way better fit. During the bonding process, she noticed how skittish sugar gliders can be, so it was awesome when she would “walk up to her cage and [Laki] would realize it’s me” as she “crawls right up my arm into my pocket.” From the description, it’s hard to imagine anything so cute.

However, sugar gliders are nocturnal creatures. In particular, it can be challenging to hear Laki barking at 4:30 AM because she wants to play, but it’s totally worth it because Laki is super loyal. Despite the patience required at the beginning, once Laki became familiar with Angela the nibbling or "crabbing” stopped. She recalled in the interview that there was this “one time I fell asleep with [Laki] in my pocket and when I woke up she wasn’t in my pocket anymore. I had no idea where she went and then I found her in my closet going crazy climbing up and through all my clothes!” Marsupials will climb on anything — or at the very least, try. Angela also mentioned another time she was lying down and Laki pounced right into her face with absolutely no regret. Without a doubt “it was pretty funny.”

An average day with Laki is built around routines. Angela loves to hang out with Laki and tries to as much as possible. In the morning, Laki is let out of her cage and fits snugly into Angela’s pocket. Later in the day, when Angela revisits the cage, she places Laki in to get some uninterrupted sleep. Around 8 or 9 PM, Angela will cut Laki some fresh fruits and veggies, so Laki can eat when she wakes up around 10 PM. From 10 to 11 or 12 PM, there is a strictly enforced playtime before Angela goes to bed. However, every day is different because Laki can be carried anywhere with Angela! Oh, and let’s not forget, that owning a pet has been show, scientifically, to make a person more empathetic.

Parting Thoughts

A huge thanks to Angela Karamanos for the interview! She was such a help and we wish her and Laki all the best. Stay tuned for an article about Laki, Zoboomafoo, and other marsupials that have made a splash in the lives of so many.

Disclaimer: This article is not a critique or an endorsement of the global wildlife trade for exotic animals. To our readers, expect a follow up article to discuss the potential benefits and negative implications of the global wildlife trade.

Kier Mellour: Eco Bikini Girl

Be Glam and Give a Damn.

Kier Mellour is the hottest environmental fashion, beauty, and travel blogger to hit the L.A. scene. Her wildly successful “classy, sassy, over-the-top style” fashionista blog is emblematic of the true Kier Couture image. However, at first glance, many wouldn’t know that Kier Mellour lives a not-so-secret, double life. Just like Christian Bale was the best Batman of our generation, Kier Mellour is unequivocally the best “Eco Bikini Girl” of our generation. She demonstrates on a daily basis that it is possible to both take care of our planet and remain ever-so fashionable. Or, in her words, you can “be glam and give a damn'.

Boy Scouts, Water Taste Test, and An Instagram Friend

Kier’s life — like all great stories — starts in the outskirts of a small town. Growing up as a regular kid in the Pacific Northwest, she learned to foster a great love and respect for nature, animals, and the earth. She credits her father and his former experience as a Boy Scout for nurturing her love for the wild. Whether she was camping in the summer, growing their own food, or reading books inside when it rained, Kier learned what it meant to incorporate sustainable practices into daily life. For example, she would mend clothes and fix toys instead of tossing them or buying new. This lifestyle made her that friend who would talk about how to live an eco-friendly life in a consumer-based society. That’s a good thing. You want to be that friend because environmental causes are not fringe issues, they are universal common goods that impact the lives of everyone.

Q: “After your first photo and beach clean-up, what happened?” —Ryan

A: “I began to talk more about plastic and easy swaps people could make in my stories and I realize that my audience was really interested in hearing more… They started to ask questions and I started to get messages about how much I had inspired them to make changes in their life which just encouraged me further.” —Kier

In 2017, Kier wanted to create more videos for her Youtube channel. The idea was to conduct a blind taste test of water bottles in California. Oddly enough, California was also experiencing a severe drought, even though Kier was buying most of her water bottles from the state. How was the private sector able to sell water that originated from a state that, supposedly, was lacking water sources? After extensive research, she discovered how terrible bottle water was for the environment. She thought about what she learned until one fateful day at the beach. Kier could absolutely not just relax in the sun or lie in the sand, as plastics had washed ashore and were scattered around the formerly, pristine beach. Therefore, she took action. She spent the day cleaning up the beach and at the end, she had her picture taken. Nearly immediately, the photo spread like wildfire and her flame for the environment was ignited even more.

Eco Bikini Girl represents that “women can be intelligent, conscious, and compassionate as well as stylish, sexy, and beautiful.”

Following the first beach clean-up, Kier started to participate in clean-ups once or twice a month. She also began following an Instagram account @CleanOurSeas and quickly became friends with the account manager, Natalie. After several Direct Messages (DM) and with the goal to spread as much awareness as possible, Kier began to write “#CleanOurSeas” on Instagram posts to encourage others to cleanup the environment. Naturally, Natalie loved Kier’s work and featured the post on the @CleanOurSeas account. Unfortunately, a male — unnamed for this article — derisively degraded the purpose of Kier’s actions. He insinuated that she had only participated in these clean-ups for Instagram “likes” and not because she cared for the environment. At that moment, the “Eco Bikini Girl” was born and she hasn’t looked back.

Thoughts on Consumer Behavior and Environmental Stewardship

With respect to consumer behavior, there are two great options that Kier recommends. The first is re-homing products and the second is to buy secondhand. As a consumer-based society, the value of our dollar is important. In fact, we have the ability to vote for the society we want based upon the products we sell. Therefore, it is necessary to practice a certain level of mindfulness when browsing Amazon or shopping in L.A.

“Literally, I’ve posted “free clothes hangers” and had a friend come and pick them up within an hour. There is so much stuff already out there, but you could use this tactic in reverse, as well…”Does anybody have a blow up mattress I could borrow for a week” will not only save you money, but it might reconnect you with a friend you haven’t seen in a while. [Facebook] prohibits you from buying something that you might not need forever.” —Kier on Consumerism

Further, Facebook and other social media platforms are great tools when connecting with others. It’s more than possible and should be encouraged to reach out to friends and family when it comes to products you may need for only a short amount of time. Whether it is borrowing a blow-up mattress or giving away hangers, there is not a need to constantly “buy”. However, thoughtful exchange could revolutionize the way we interact with others by furthering friendships and protecting our planet at the same time.

Thoughts on Defining Success and Environmental Stewardship

Success occurs on an individual level for Kier. Whenever there is a shift in thinking from someone who did not recycle and now they recycle, refuse, reuse, and practice conscious green consumerism — that is a win. She definitely feels successful in proactively reaching out to others, but her greater goal is to curb cigarette waste. Cigarette brands ought to switch to compost-able, natural filters. As many readers may know, cigarette butts are the number one most littered item, so if there was a shift from cigarette firms (either through legislation or profitability metrics) that would be a huge success. The implementation is the difficult part.

Thoughts on Politics and Environmental Stewardship

As a libertarian, Kier often finds herself arguing with both sides and, generally, thinks government should stay out of a person’s life. However, as an environmentalist and as a libertarian that possesses a strong belief in limited government, she is very torn on the best method to decrease nonessential plastics. Taxes on nonessential plastics or incentives in the form of tax credits or subsidies often come to mind — however, she is conflicted.

In Oregon, the cash redemption value machines have had astonishing success — it would be excellent if programs like these could be implemented nationwide. Witnessing the “success of common sense laws” that allow for cashback or discounts help any person on a budget. Further, it keeps plastic, glass, and metal containers in a circular economy for longer without needing to be placed in a landfill or dumped into an ocean. Anecdotally, California could be massively improved by implementing machines that are more visible, in higher frequency, and socially encouraged. However, often times these machines are swarmed with homeless people which typically makes it less than appealing to most people — this is another social problem that ought to be addressed.

“We can’t trust the government to protect us — we need to be the change we see.”

On the flip side, our government is incredibly wasteful — “I don’t think they know anything about how to be sustainable!” If sustainability was a greater focus, recycling and redemption facilities would be more frequent and self-education on the topic would be less necessary. Similar to the idea of including the true environmental cost when taxing a company for using plastic, it is not that rough of a thought to consider plastic as hazardous waste. This term would require companies who produce it to be responsible for disposal and cleanup. This is a realignment of our consumer-based economy, again, to reflect the true environmental costs.

Clearly, any policy change would need bipartisan support. The easiest way to make a change now is to convince others to “vote with their dollar” and not buy plastic. Companies want to be profitable. Companies will realign their strategic vision and operations to what the consumer wants and that’s why the “consumer truly holds the most power”. Changing our actions on a personal level are a lot easier than changing laws that have undercurrent agendas.

Counter Current Parting Thoughts

This article is dedicated to Vivian. Vivian is Kier’s chihuahua who was laid to rest on January 30th. For the last 13 years, Vivian is the one who showed the world that “you can be small and make a huge difference.” Nothing will replace you Vivian and you are forever treasured in the hearts of so many. We love you.

If you liked what you read, be sure to subscribe to Kier’s YouTube channel, follow her Instagram, and pray for Vivian. All links are in the article.

Maddie Charland: Arbonne Consultant

Meet Maddie. She’s an Arbonne Consultant.

Every New Year’s Eve, we tend to make promises we can’t keep. We call them resolutions. Last year, the top three resolutions were related to eating healthier, getting more exercise, and saving more money. Only 64 percent continue with their resolutions past the first month and after six months only 46% are still continuing with their resolutions.

Q: “Why did you want to work for Arbonne? What was the motivation?” —Ryan

A: “Arbonne changed my life. And I know that seems dramatic and all, but this product changed my outlook on living a healthy life, so why in the world would I not want to work with a company that has given me so much? The idea that I have the ability now to change people’s lives for the better through Arbonne motivates me every day. All I could ask for is to have one person experience the happiness and success that I have gotten from Arbonne.” —Maddie

Let’s face it. To say it is hard to go to the gym, diet well, perform at work, be a good friend, and a good family member is an understatement. However, Maddie decided to realign her priorities by incorporating the three goals many of us have into one. When she first heard of Arbonne, it was through a friend in college and she was skeptical. We all have friends who are brand ambassadors and sometimes it turns out to be a scam.

However, she realized that she had put on a couple of unhealthy pounds from traveling around Europe for over 20 days. When she came back to the United States, she realized her usual work-outs weren’t cutting it for her. Her diet was off and she got in touch with that same friend who worked with Arbonne, but she waited four months before taking a leap of faith. Although, they sell nutrition, skin-care, and makeup products, Maddie only has used the nutrition line. Despite the good things she has heard about the skin-care and makeup products, she will not unequivocally vouch for any products she has not tried.

“My philosophy is I can only vouch and stand behind things that I have personally tried and had success with. I can 100% say I have had [success] with Arbonne’s nutrition products. I have seen also hundreds of other women and men who have experienced the same things.”

—Maddie

When our team reached out to Maddie, about covering her for a story, we asked her about the company’s sustainability image and the role of competitors. Essentially, we wanted to know if other weight-loss alternative or fitness products had the same eco-conscientious image they were trying to project. Maddie readily mentioned that she was not necessarily familiar of other products and that it would not be fair to speak on another company’s behalf for a product she has not tried. However, she was happy to speak about Arbonne.

For the last 38 years, Arbonne has been on a mission to honor their core philosophy of “pure, safe, beneficial” products that leave a lighter environmental footprint. The company is, currently, carbon-neutral and working towards a zero-waste goal. The California Office has also achieved their zero waste goal. Further, more than 97% of global facilities are at least 75% of the way towards achieving the zero waste goal. Lastly, Arbonne International is a participant in the UN Global Compact — the most prominent, international governmental organization that focuses on promoting human rights, fair labor practices, anti-corruption measures and environmental sustainability.

However, on a day to day basis, consumers are not always actively thinking about what products have which environmental impacts. Ultimately, for Maddie, she realized that her mission is to help make others feel and look good. She “cannot emphasize enough that I did not join this company for the money, rather I joined because I truly believe in their products and what they stand for as a company.”

Disclaimer: We are not endorsing this product or any others. We just would like to convey information.

If you would like to contact Maddie and ask her questions, she would be more than happy to answer them. She has no interest in pressuring someone into doing something they do not want. Her website is madisoncharland.arbonne.com, her Instagram account is @maddslyfe_, and email is maddsarbonne@gmail.com!

Guilt-Free Ice Cream!

Hate Mondays?

Imagine getting ice cream after a long, dreadful Monday. Imagine it being vegan Haagen Dazs ice cream. You know the kind that tastes even better than the rich, melt-in-your mouth, yummy tasting normal ice cream we all crave and love? Better yet, imagine the Haagen Dazs ice cream in a reusable stainless-steel container delivered straight to your house! With that kind of service, who would ever dare to leave the house?

Well, folks, this dream can become a reality in New York City or Paris. By this spring, Loop has teamed up with major consumer product companies such as Tide, Crest, Nestle (producers of Haagen Dazs), The Body Shop, and others to begin one of the largest zero-waste initiatives ever. While recycling is great, it is impossible to keep up with how many times people throw away single-use items.

Loop’s zero-waste solution is to deliver a large range of products that are less harmful to the environment. From toothpaste to cleaning supplies to laundry detergent to ice cream, the Loop will have it covered. Just like Amazon, the items you purchased will be delivered to your doorstep by UPS. However, instead of cardboard boxes, engineers are designing reusable tote bags that are designed for durability. Once you have used up the products, just send it back and Loop will automatically replenish whatever you used. Loop also uses stainless steel containers in the process that are cleaned, sterilized, and then reused for the next customer.

This innovative packaging will have a 50-75% better impact than other conventional alternatives.

"We need foundational changes. Our version of the foundational change is: How do we solve for disposability at the root cause…”

Tom Szaky, CEO and co-founder of TerraCycle

This analysis is conducted by TerraCycle, a major recycling company that works with Loop’s supply chain to find sustainable and cost effective ways of reducing costs and pollution. This first step will create monumental change away from a disposable consumer society to a more eco-conscientious one. Simply put, by Tom Szaky, Loop and other corporate partners are changing the world from “disposable to durable”.

By 2050, plastic will outweigh the fish in our oceans.

Between TerraCycle and Loop’s zero-waste initiative, the top 10 largest plastic polluters are working to transition towards a zero-waste environment by 2025. This is reminiscent of the 1900s when milk bottles were deliver to the doorsteps. Why not go back to a similarly effective model? With Loop, they have designed it in an effective way for the modern world. Profitability and environmental stewardship are not mutually exclusive.

Not only are the 21st century environmental stewardship practices for corporations more targeted and have the ability to be better than ever, but your delicious Haagen Dazs ice cream will stay colder for longer. Be sure to thank that stainless steel double layered container and enjoy! 

Go ahead and reserve a spot to be apart of this growing, guilt-free trend! Get your spoons ready because I know I am! Mmm.

Tatted Pigs

Ten pieces of 8x6 pig skin costs $10.49 on Amazon. Who would want pig skin you might ask? Tattoo artists. 

Today, about 38% of Americans aged 18 to 29 have at least one tattoo. This uptick in popularity can be attributed to millennials and Gen. Z’s as the rest of the tatted adult population in the U.S. is comprised of only 15% for men and 13% for women.

But, what does it have to do with the environment? 

Behind the artistic beauty lying indelibly in your skin, a tattoo is derived from various animal products in addition to being practiced on pig skin. From incorporating glycerin from animal fat for pigment and charred animal bone for black ink, tattoos are not that animal friendly. But, is it eco-friendly? A single tattoo session requires single-use plastic stencil paper, sterilizing equipment, and disposable razors for some areas. In short, no it is not, but there are alternative green studios as well as artists who are seeking to save the lives of pigs! 

Vegan Tattoo Studios champions a community of vegan tattoo artists by matching clients to their green studios. They even provide artist information, sample designs, as well as details on the process and informative articles on the practice. The goal of these green studios are not only to be animal friendly but to also minimize waste through renewable energy, reusing and recycling formerly disposable items (in a sanitary way), and going paperless. 

Additionally, other artists have decided to tattoo live pigs in an effort to vocalize animal rights. The first artist, Andy Feehan, tattooed a set of wings on a domesticated Chester White piglet back in 1977 for this very purpose. 

“I wanted to extract them permanently from the pig factory.”

Feehan article in Artlies magazine, 2000. 

Wim Devoye continued this tattoo mission when creating an Art Farm in Beijing in 2004.  

“When visitors turn around the pigs, observe it, I am happy. I feel like I’ve given them back their dignity.”

Devoye interview, 2007.

Not only is Devoye expressing the beauty of a pig typically associated with dirty, greedy, and glutenous traits, but he is also opening up a new market. These pigs are bought by tattoo artists to practice on, and as they grow, new skin also grows as well! Although some animal rights activists might find this controversial to tattoo a live pig, thus causing some discomfort and pain to the pig, this market is also keeping the pigs alive as their inked skin is not fit for pork consumption. Pigs outsmart dogs and have the same IQ level as our closest relatives, chimpanzees, so why not save them one at a time with tattoos! Ink Oink!

RecyProcity: Get Paid to Recycle

RecyProcity, a New York based firm, will pay you to recycle.

Yes, you read that right. RecyProcity is one-of-a-kind and absolutely revolutionary. Founded by Chris and Gennine Hauser in Walden, New York, this husband and wife duo are passionate about recycling. As avid bottle and can redeemers, they witnessed how difficult it was to recycle. Whether it was the long lines, broken machines or some other trite issue, it was an overall frustrating experience. However, they were still amazed at the money they had saved by recycling.

To them, recycling was common sense. However, they couldn’t understand why only a small percentage of people recycle. Well, in addition to the issues above, they uncovered that an inaccurate social stigma existed around redeeming recyclable materials like bottles and cans. Essentially, they found many believed it “isn’t worth the time and effort”. However, with the extra money in their wallets, they knew this wasn’t true and felt an obligation to get every individual imaginable to participate in the redemption process.

Over the next two years, they did loads of research. Ultimately, they concluded that motivation to separate recyclables stemmed from a reward. The Hauser family decided to take matters into their own hands by aligning the financial incentives with the work. This effort was mean to streamline and improve an inefficient process. This inspired them to create RecyProcity.

“Every school in bottle redemption states can raise THOUSANDS of dollars a year by using RecyProcity. Money for books, field trips, supplies and so much more can be raised, all while teaching our children the importance of caring for the environment.”

While the RecyProcity app will be completed later this spring, functionally, the app does two main things. Firstly, it has a “Drop & Go” function that allows users to drop pre-tallied and labeled bags of recyclable materials at redemption facilities. After the redemption facilities verify and itemize each drop-off, the customers are then paid via direct deposit to a linked account. No machines. No lines. No Waiting. Secondly, an “Exchange” is set-up to allow users to bid on recyclable material or waste with an asking price or a request for a donation. Think about it as the eBay of recyclables. Others on the “Exchange” can then view and negotiate times to pickup the materials and collect the cash from the “Drop & Go” system. Simply put, before anything is thrown away, there is a better chance that recyclables or waste will be re-purposed for a greater social benefit. This saves users of the app both time and money.

In terms of funding, the Hauser family has invested over $250,000 into RecyProcity. They truly believe in the functionality of the app and, honestly, it is hard to not be totally in love with the idea. The duo hired a team of 8 programmers from AppyPie LLC to build the app. With a long list of over 200 redemption and recycling facilities, to include various private sector companies, the will be ready to be front-runners in this emerging market. Within 2 years, RecyProcity will be a household name for those in the multi-billion dollar redemption business. However, their greatest obstacle, they believe, will be the democratization of the industry from the redemption facilities to the hands of the private citizens. They have the “drive and desire to make this happen,” but it is not an easy process — but, it is a worthwhile one.

“We hope to change that and get the households that have never even thought of participating in this… and monetary gain is likely going to do it.”

In conclusion, the demographic that the Hauser family is trying to target are not the “hardcore recyclers” and the “environmental activists” because they will always be proactive when considering environmental implications. Rather, they want to target the average household and show them that their time and efforts are valued.

To learn more, please visit their website by clicking here. Their Twitter account is @apprecyprocity, and their Facebook page is here, and their Instagram is here. We hope you check them out because they will revolutionize this space!

The Eco Shed

The Eco Shed, a store based in England, sells environmentally-friendly household products.

After three months of successful sales in the Trinity Market, a young entrepreneur decided to take his business online. Based out of the fishing city Hull in East Yorkshire, England, Kallum wanted to share his love of the oceans with others. As the son of a fisherman, Kallum’s dad taught him about the importance of oceans from an early age. Coupled with the hit British TV Series, Blue Planet 2, his natural affinity for the environment was nurtured even further. The love imparted to him by his father and cinematographic productions was the basis for his inspiration to start The Eco Shed.

“I was brought up being told to look after the planet, especially the oceans.”

—Kallum

When we were in correspondence, our team asked Kallum how he defines success. To him, he quickly replied that “success to us is spreading the message about looking after the environment to our city and even further”. Clearly, Kallum wants and will make a global impact, but understands that actions start on a local level first. Further, he also believes that this success is achievable, but understands the constraints of only using social media. He has advocated for environmentally-friendly practices at schools, colleges, local groups, and talked on the radio. He is keen on getting the word out and explaining why the oceans matter to him.

Before starting The Eco Shed, Kallum researched what consumers wanted and reflected on his experience as a consumer. To him, he had the greatest issue with plastics — especially single-use plastics. Even more so, so many firms offer alternative products that an individual consumer can purchase that are better aligned with protecting the health of the planet.

Lastly, our team asked him how consumers should be modifying their behavior. How might an individual better respect the oceans? Kallum suggested that firms could provide “warnings on packaging very similar to cigarette warnings. I’ve heard on the grapevine that this may happen, but you never know!” Further, Kallum essentially advocated for having the environmental consequences of using single-use plastics be added into the price of a product. He mentioned firms could “always just cut out single use plastics in their stores and offer the alternatives without the option of single use plastics” for an additional 10 or 20 pence.

Finally, the Counter Current team would like to extend a massive thank you to The Eco Shed for allowing us to conduct our first interview!! We have two other fantastic interviews lined up, so be sure to check back later today and tomorrow!

If you wish to learn more about The Eco Shed, click here! If you wish to follow them on Twitter, they are @ecoshed. If you wish to follow them on Instagram, they are @theecoshed.

Implications of Animal Consumption

The consumption of animal products is globally pervasive.

Whether a cultural cornerstone, a religious requirement, or simply because people like the taste of them, animal products are consumed in disturbingly high amounts worldwide. While the consumption of animal products is a widespread practice, it is important to internalize the stresses being placed on the environment by the animal agriculture industry.

Simply put, animal product consumption is taxing on the environment. Negative implications include large water footprints, significant greenhouse gas emissions, and various other agricultural requirements. To elaborate, in a study of meat-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans, researchers found the greenhouse gas emissions of individuals adhering to a plant-based diet to be approximately three times less than those of individuals with a ‘high-meat diet’. In this study, the researchers defined a ‘high-meat diet’ as consumption of a minimum of 100 grams of meat per day. In other words, a ‘high-meat diet’ individual that eats a three ounce portion of meat is 85 grams of the way there. Or, another way of thinking about it, a three ounce portion of meat is roughly the same size as a deck of cards. So, as a threshold, this is fairly easy to surpass. Additionally, animal products account for roughly ⅓ of the water footprint of all agriculture worldwide. This is further magnified by the finding that the water footprint per calorie of beef is about 20 times larger than that for cereal and other starchy root vegetables. This analysis using ratios should be more than just thought-provoking for our readers — it’s an excessive and, generally, wasteful practice.

In the European Union, researchers modeled the environmental implications of a transition towards a more plant-based diet. They found that doing so would reduce nitrogen gas emissions by about 40% and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of between 25 and 40%. While this study simply used theoretical models, their is unequivocal certainty that the reduction in our society’s consumption of animal products would have profoundly positive effects on the environment.

Every action, every choice we make, is attached to an environmental consequence — including eating! Therefore, we should all strive to be aware of the foods we are putting into our body and know that they will not only have an effect on our health, but an effect on the health of our planet. By choosing which foods to consume, we are also choosing to either endorse foods that support the sustainability of the environment or foods that harm the environment. When we purchase more foods that harm the environment, we are sending the signal that we want those foods to be produced in higher quantities and that we support the industries that support those foods. To paraphrase a common saying, we are putting our money where our mouths are when we eat.

Which industries do you want to support? Those that strive for environmental sustainability or those that drain our limited resources and harm our planet?

How Alcohol Impacts Our Environment

In 2017, Americans spent $234,380 M on alcohol alone, and this is steadily rising.

Alcohol is a staple to the lives of many Americans, serving as one of the largest industry in the U.S. Therefore, it matters which alcohol we choose to drink and the resulting environmental impact.

Beer accounts for 80.5% of alcohol consumption by volume, but only emits 62% of alcohol emissions. Wine volume, on the other hand, accounts for 16% of the alcohol consumption, but has an emission contribution of over 27%. Spirits (including whiskey, vodka, tequila, rum, etc.) has a total volume consumption of 3.5% but an emission of 6.7%.

Tara Garnett, Co-author for the Food Climate Research Network.

However, different alcohol is consumed at different volumes (as describe in the Water Footprint article). The below charts show the interpretation of Tara Garnett’s research by accounting for serving sizes.

Screen Shot 2019-01-18 at 5.05.18 PM.png

As we can see from the chart above, based on serving size, alcohol emissions across the three types — beer, wine, and spirits — are about the same amount. However, major alcohol companies in the industries of beer, wine, whiskey, and vodka are beginning to make changes to reduce these emissions as well as correcting detrimental environmental effects from their companies.

Beer such as Budweiser, Corona, and Stella Artois created by Anheuser-Busch, CEO Carlos Brito, accounts for about 50% of the beer market in the U.S.

Because of its high influence in the beer market and significant usage of electricity, Anheuser-Busch has announced that their current $400 M expenditure on electricity will come from 100% renewable electricity by 2025. This initiative to expand recyclable content, improve water efficiently, and working directly with local farmers will reduce carbon emissions by a whopping 25%. What is especially important is that this market of affordable beers mostly effects working-class, white men in the mid-America, many of whom renounce human caused global warming. By impacting this specific market, Anheuser-Busch is drastically shaping middle America’s eco-consciousness.

E. & J. Gallo Winery, producer of Barefoot wine, the most popular wine brand in America, is also making great strides towards eco-friendliness.

Responsibility for energy and water consumption at E. & J. Gallo Winery became a priority since 2014. They won the Corporate Social Responsibility Award in recognition for their leading contributions towards water and energy sustainability. They reduced their energy consumption by 10%. Today, they are the leading force in the wine industry while maintaining their eco-cautiousness. In 2018 alone, E. & J. Gallo Winery sold $667 M worth of Barefoot wine in the U.S. and saved more than 11 M kilowatt hours of electricity since 2015.

Irish Distillers, producers of Jameson, the #1 whiskey brand in the U.S, are investing 20% of their funds to expand projects focused on using energy and water more efficiently.

They are requiring that the barley and malt used in their distillery meets the Irish Grain Assurance Scheme to promote environmental protection to safely grow and transport grain for their whiskey distilleries. In redesigning their Jameson bottles, they reduced the glass by 30% to save 435 tons of glass and reduce energy to produce them. Additionally, 98% of their bottles in Dublin are recycled at Dublin’s bottling plant. Through this amazing progress to reduce material waste and encourage recycling that waste, they won the Best Packaging Prevention Initiative in 2009.

However, some alcohol industries, like Tito’s Handmade Vodka, are not as progressive as Carlos Brito, E. & J. Gallo Winery, and Irish Distillers.

In fact, Tito’s, the first Mad in USA Certified alcohol brand, faced many convictions and settlements for their illegal disposal of industrial waste. In 2003, the company was convicted of a misdemeanor and paid a $50,000 fine for disposing of oil down a drain at their shop. In 2012, the company illegally drained production waste into a creek in Austin. Their settlement resulted in a $50,000 fine from the state, $11,728 restitution for damaged properties of landowners nearby, and $1,120 for state sampling analysis of the creek. After facing $300,000 fine for their daughter company, Heartland Automotive Inc, they decided to make a change. They company spent $235,000 to improve and handle their industrial waste and storm water disposal appropriately.

As of today, Tito’s Handmade Vodka is working towards supporting relief programs for California Wild Fires and Hurricane Michael, matching donations of up to $25,000, and has developed the Vodka for Dog Program to help protect dogs and provide them with better living conditions. They are beginning towards the right track of that of their peers!

What we decide to consume on a daily basis has greater ramifications than we perceive. When it comes to alcohol, it is worth the time to take a few minutes and conduct some research! As always, live your values by drinking responsibly and taking care of the environment at the same time! Cheers!

MLK Day

Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Was Right About More Than Race.

On April 16th, 1963, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr penned the famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail [King, Jr.]”. In that letter, the Reverend discussed how an “appalling silence of the good people,” constricted African-American rights. Not only did Rev. King believe that this inaction allowed for evil to triumph for so long, but he was firmly convinced that it was now “time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.”

“More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”

Letter from a Birmingham Jail

He was right, too. Racial injustice was, truly, an unstable bedrock for social norms. From dining establishment to schools to government institutions, African-Americans faced broad-based discrimination. Despite the growing political and moral necessity to democratize civil rights, the transition was not peaceful. There were, sadly, so many violent clashes.

Black Power movements favoring pan-Africanism struggled for freedom against white supremacy groups like the Ku Klux Klan. Despite the surge of support in the African-American communities to engage in reciprocal violence against whites, history ultimately remembers Martin Luther King Jr.’s movement of non-violent protest that succeeded in bringing equality and freedoms to African-Americans in the United States. The cost was his life, however. Shot on the balcony of the Lorraine hotel in Memphis, Tennessee, Reverend King subsequently died of his wounds. His death cemented his legacy as a civil rights activist and he was only 39 years old at the time. He had lived in a profound way in such a short time.

Despite his humanly faults, Reverend King modeled how activists of large movements ought to behave. In particular, the lessons he taught have application when considering environmental activism. There is an “appalling silence” of so many good people when it comes to waste. While most are aware of the damaging effects of climate change, generally consumer are not eco-conscientious on a daily basis. Say no to the plastic straws!

Plastic, water, and waste consumption all account for a life that is out of balance with nature and capitalism. The true costs of our actions are not reflected in market forces, thereby disallowing markets to act with true efficiency. These revenue-neutral carbon taxes or cap-and-trade policies fail on a larger scale because bearing the consequences is never popular with re-election. Other times, when an environmental policy is implemented it is egregiously flawed like the plastic straw ban in California. There is a middle, moderate ground were lawmakers ought to function by reducing plastic consumption (i.e. straws), but not by threatening to imprison Santa Barbara bartenders.

We can make a difference each day by doing simple things right. Say no to unnecessary plastic, recycle when you can, and be a good steward of the environment.

Fortnite And Forests

Billionaire Video Game Tycoon Cares.

That’s not a headline you read everyday in the news. Contrary to what many believe or read, members of the ultra-wealthy enjoy giving away their money in causes that they believe in. Just look at the Bill and Melinda Gates’ Giving Pledge, were more than 150 billionaires have decided to donate over half of their assets once they die.

“The idea is to put my money to work for conservation,”

Tim Sweeney in WNC Magazine, May 2014

Tim Sweeney is no different. As an entrepreneur and video game enthusiast, he has created blockbuster hits like Gears of War and, recently, Fortnite. With over 200 million registered players, the multi-billion dollar game gave him the financial ability to help our planet. In particular, with that money, Mr. Sweeney has invested back into his home state of North Carolina. Since 2008, Mr. Sweeney has purchased over 40,000 acres of land. He regularly either donates the land for conservation easement like the 7,000 acres he donated to the Box Creek Wilderness or holds onto the land until he can find the right person.

Mr. Sweeney’s love of nature started when he was young. He grew up taking family vacation to his grandmother’s small farm in the mountains of Southwest Virginia. When asked about his short term plans for a recent 1,500 acre acquisition, he stated “I just plan to hike it and do some tree thinning and burning for ecosystem restoration until I find a permanent conservancy or state home for it.”

Keep doing what you do, Mr. Sweeney. If you’re interested in learning more about our forest, learn more from the National Forest Foundation.

Green Bridges

After I-75 was built in northern Michigan, deer roadkill increased by 500%!

An important part to an ecosystem’s bio-diversity is its size and how it connects to the land around it. Highways can be one of the largest inhibitors an ecosystem’s bio-diversity. Often, a highway may run through an ecosystem, essentially splitting it into two pieces. This can cause severe injury to both people and animals, when the species stranded on one side needs to migrate to the other. Civil engineers realize how damaging this can be to an ecosystem, as well as, the safety of humans traveling along these highways. NASA even recognizes the importance of protecting wildlife even in the trajectory of their launches, demonstrated by their John F. Kennedy Roadkill Prevention Program.

Recently, civil engineers have made distinct efforts to lessen the strain these highways cause on the environment. For example, bridges can be covered in grasses, bushes, trees and other natural foliage to match the surrounding highways, which offers protection to many smaller animals.

These efforts have led us to some amazing innovations like the “Green Bridge”! Not only are these types of bridges, also, made from eco-friendly materials, but they enhance the migration of all living organisms. For example, birds, insects, and larger animals are able to cross highways safely. Projects like the “Green Bridge”, with adequate warning signs, do not enhance the risk of causing accidents. There are currently over 50 of these bridges today, and each one of them has successfully protected wildlife and reduced accidents. Currently, the majority of these bridges are in Europe and North America because of their woodsy landscapes.

Electric Vehicles

Buy an Electric Car, If You Can.

Seriously. Electric Vehicles (EV) are way better than their Gasoline Vehicle (GV) peers. While most of us could intuitively guess that an EV is better for the environment — we wanted to explain why and clear up any confusion. In fact, we looked into the manufacturing costs, a ten year time span, and the death of the vehicle.

Manufacturing

Electric Vehicles are more costly to the environment, but only during this stage. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the larger and longer-range EVs may emit up to 68% more in greenhouse gases. This sounds like a lot and it is, but the vehicle more than makes up for it when a consumer drives off the lot.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, “EVs are powered by electricity, which is generally a cleaner energy source than gasoline. Battery electric cars make up for their higher manufacturing emissions within eighteen months of driving — shorter range models can offset the extra emissions within 6 months — and continue to outperform gasoline cars until the end of their lives.”

EVs charging in Vermont are estimated to produce the fewest emissions – oil and gas make up only 1.2% of the electricity sources in the state while cleaner sources such as nuclear, hydro, biomass, wind, and solar make up the rest.

Vehicles Technologies Office of the Department of Energy

Daily Life

In 2016, the Department of Energy published research on the typical “well-to-wheel” emissions of an EV. For those who have not heard the term before, well-to-wheel emissions are the upstream carbon emission costs to produce electricity that is compatible with powering EVs.

Further, energy sources like nuclear, hydro, biomass, wind or solar, generally, tend to also emit less air pollution compared to oil or gas. In nearly every scenario, the environmentally conscious consumer is helping both the environment and their wallets.

In the United States, the Federal government subsidizes the purchase by giving $2,500 to $7,500 in tax credits when a consumer buys an EV. This is supposed to stop once every car manufacturer has sold 200,000 units of ‘qualified EVs’, but this has not happened yet. For example, in Washington D.C., a Nissan Leaf consumer would be given a $5,000 tax credit on the sale of the vehicle.

Environmentally, the greenhouse gas emissions vary depending on how each state decides to produce electricity. In a state like Vermont, the “Annual Emissions per Vehicle (Pounds of CO2 Equivalent)” for using an EV was less than 1 pound. However, Vermont is an anomaly and the EV National Average is way higher.

Assuming a 10 year useful life, an average conventional car will spew out 66,000 pounds more carbon pollution than an average electric vehicle. That’s 33 tons, folks. 

Steve Hanley at Clean Technica, February 2018

The EV National Average of Emissions per Vehicle is 4,815 pounds of Carbon Dioxide — more than half of a gasoline vehicle (11,435 pounds). Even if we consider a state like West Virginia which relies heavily on coal for it’s electricity production — (95.7% of the production comes from coal) — the annual cost is 9,451 versus 11,435 pounds. Although the data is not available, it would be interesting to see if those who buy electric cars tend to be more eco-conscientous consumers and live in states more like Vermont than West Virginia.

After the Life Cycle Ends

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, disposing either type of car emits less than 1 ton of greenhouse gases. However, batteries of electric cars can be recycled or reused whereas a fuel-injected engine cannot in the same capacity.

Buy an electric car and look into tax credits!

Cow Leather

Cows account for 70% of the world’s leather production.

Once dairy cows are no longer profitable, they are then sold to be slaughtered and skinned. This practice includes slaughtering unborn calves, their mothers, and even cows that are not used in the supply chain for meat consumption or dairy production. Globally, the demand for leather products is projected to be a $128.61 billion industry by 2022, way higher than the 2018 figure of $95.4 billion. Further, the United States, by 2022, is projected to also capture just more than 10% of the industry or about $13.1 billion. As consumers, we have a significant stake in the health of the leather industry.

From footwear to automobile seats, leather products are intertwined with everyday life. As one may suspect, countries like China, Brazil, Italy, Russia and India are the leading exporters of leather products. In fact, the Ministry of Food Processing Industries and the Council for Leather Exports have found that leather exports in India are ten times greater than its meat exports. The implication is, essentially, cows, in India, are being killed purely for their skin. This is despite the large Hindu population and positive symbolism often association with cows. Clearly, the religious connotations are not superseding market forces.

When firms manufacture leather from cowhides, many deadly toxins are released. In the United States, most leather is produced by chrome-tanning. Chrome-tanning uses chemicals such as tar, formaldehyde, and dyes that produces a lethal byproduct — chromium. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the waste creates “dead zones”. Dead zones are run-off chemicals that result in the “overgrowth of plant life in water systems”. This overgrowth of plant life depletes oxygen levels and alters the ecosystem irreparably.

However, the damage doesn’t stop there. Often, workers in nearby tanneries are at risk for higher rates of cancer due to exposure of these chemicals. For example, in Kentucky, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that residents were five times more likely to develop leukemia than the average person in the United States, simply because they lived in the same vicinity. Similarly, in a medical report, several doctors stated that childhood leukemia could be a preventable disease if public health awareness about the dangers of certain chemicals was more well known.

Even if you consider alternatives — such as, vegan leather —it is still terrible. Although no cows are being slaughtered, it is produced synthetically with use of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyurethane. These plastics leach overtime, which are harmful to consumers and the environment. However, the advantage of vegan leather is the ability to source products in a less harmful manner.

To elaborate, better sources do exist to buy leather, whether it be from animal products or faux. In Fez, Morocco, tanning is produced less harmfully. The skin is soaked in a cow urine mixture and then pigeon poop mixture before being colored by natural vegetable dyes and dried in the sun. For vegans, Stella McCartney has pursued Eco Faux Leather targeted to make faux leather from biodegradable, non-toxic materials.

Simply put, we encourage consumers to understand and research products before they buy them. I know I will not be buying leather products anytime soon.