Cultivating Paths

 

Cultivating Paths

If you could have a bird’s eye view of Manhattan, you’d probably notice streams of yellow taxis flowing up and down the avenues, crowds of people walking along the streets, countless old and new buildings sandwiched together and of course the bright lights of Times Square.  In addition, if you look closely past the intoxicating energy of the Big Apple’s hustle and bustle, you’ll find something else entering your scope of vision — a one acre farm.

 

 

 

Ask and Receive

Eight local students from Millennium High School’s Environmental Club inspired the creation of the Battery Urban Farm when they visited the Battery Conservatory, located in downtown NYC, in November of 2010 and asked if they could grow a vegetable garden in the park.  Now, the farm produces approximately 100 types of organic fruits, vegetables, grains and flowers; serves and educates almost 2000 students from 30 schools and organizations; and, has recruited over 600 community volunteers.

The farm organizers’ goals are to “Empower NYC children and the community to make healthier eating choices through garden education; inspire and encourage the creation of edible gardens in communities throughout NYC and globally; and, cultivate a broader awareness of sustainability through responsible waste management and gardening practices” www.thebattery.org/projects/battery-urban-farm.

For example, many of the garden’s produce go to two downtown school cafeterias.  Organizers believe “In a world where obesity and other diet-related illnesses run rampant and many children cannot identify common vegetables in their whole, natural state, there is a growing and pressing need for garden education.”

 

 

 

Sowing the Seeds

From the east coast to the west coast, urban gardens are sprouting in local communities.

Ron Finley, Founder of The Ron Finley Project, wants kids “to grow up with the option of healthy food, instead of fried, fattening staples.”  During his Keynote presentation titled “Food in the City: Designing a Healthy Food Future” at this year’s South by Southwest Eco Conference www.SXSWECO.com he declared “People have other opportunities than the ones that were designed for them by someone else!”

Describing how he was compelled to start a movement of urban gardening and education in his South Central L.A. food desert community, he advised “We’ve gotten too far away from the food system….we need to take our food system back into our hands; there are over 25 million Americans living in ‘Food Deserts’, which means they lack access to healthy foods (i.e., fresh fruits and vegetables) in their communities…it’s time for Americans to learn to transform food deserts into food forests.”   To view the changes he’s inspired around his community, click here www.youtube.com/watch?v=EzZzZ_qpZ4w.

In addition to his accomplishments thus far and according to his website, Ron is planning to build an urban garden called “HQ” in South Central L.A. “that will serve as an example of a well-balanced, fruit-and-veggie oasis.  Inspired by the idea of turning unused space such as parkways and vacant lots into fruitful endeavors, this garden and gathering place will be a community hub, where people learn about nutrition and join together to plant, work and unwind.  HQ will create a myriad of jobs for local residents, and this plot of land will be a self-sufficient ecosystem of gardening, education, cooking, business learning and management.  The community will get their hands dirty together, shovel together, work together and be healthy together” www.ronfinley.com.

Questioning society’s current priority of investment in technology instead of nutrition, he stated “All technology is useless, unless there are healthy kids eating nutritious food and developing minds/brains that can function well enough to use the technology.”  Accordingly, Ron travels around the country to educate students, “Kids need to know the difference between ‘food’ and ‘un-food products’…children are being poisoned with products presented as edible, while containing many chemicals that are unhealthy.”   He educates students on the importance of gardening, telling them “Gardening is the gateway….we need to get back to the soil because power is in the soil; we are all nature…we are soil…we are all connected.”

Concluding his presentation, he advised “We have to heal the planet, heal ourselves…we can design our own lives; we are all artists…we are all gardeners.”

 

Food goes to Waste

When society is faced with the challenge of millions of Americans living in food desert communities, one may wonder how high percentages of food could be treated as disposable.

“Over 40% of food produced in the US goes directly to waste facilities” explained Hana Dansky, during her Keynote presentation titled “The Food We Waste” at the Lifestyles of Heath and Sustainability (LOHAS) 2013 Forum www.lohas.com.  To assist in solving this imbalance, her group, Boulder Food Rescue, created a movement to transfer local excess food, which would have been sent to landfills, to people in the community.  To view her presentation, click here www.youtube.com/watch?v=gS1Pf5YHjXE.

As a non-profit organization, which started in Boulder, Colorado and has quickly branched out across the U.S., Boulder Food Rescue’s mission is to support in the re-routing of excess food so it can be delivered to organizations that serve the homeless and the hungry.  Many volunteers around the country are joining the effort and there are local chapters mushrooming in many cities from New York to California.  As outlined on their website, the group is “focused on direct rescue and redistribution of fresh and healthy food that would be discarded otherwise. The flexibility of our model, and the direct ‘just in time’ delivery mechanism, allows us to focus on small gaps left behind by larger food rescue organizations and food banks.  We work hard to accomplish our task with minimal environmental impact and right now more than 80% of our food transportation is accomplished via human-powered means (bicycles and trailers)” www.BoulderFoodRescue.org.

Hana advised “What we need to realize, as a society, is that access to nutritious food is a fundamental human right.”  Successfully designing new paths for excess food, to date, her organization has delivered almost 500,000 pounds of food to people in need.

 

Written by Professor Shireen Musa,

Fashion Institute of Technology, State University of New York

 

 

 

Thinking Sustainably

 

Thinking Sustainably

At this year’s Sustainable Brands and South by Southwest Eco Conferences, speakers shared their words of wisdom on how society can begin to think sustainably.

 

Imitable Leadership  

“Start with what’s sacred,” is the advice from Raphael Bemporad, Principal and Chief Strategy Officer of BBMG (www.bbmg.com).  During his keynote presentation at the 2012 Sustainable Brands Conference (www.sustainablebrands.com), he defined the sacred as “the hopes, needs and aspirations of our shared humanity” and believes that leaders can use it to inspire people to “work together to function better as a team.”  Raphael suggests that society is “yearning for a new way to do business and people are looking for new opportunities for engaging life to connect with one another and heal together.”  He believes that “decisions should be led by integrity and humanity; we change behaviors by following the sacredness and by sharing our stories.”

 

Stories about Stuff

Attendees at this past South by Southwest (SXSW) Eco Conference (www.sxsweco.com) heard many stories from Annie Leonard, Co-Director of The Story of Stuff Project.   Annie started her keynote presentation by sharing her personal story, describing how she investigated global environmental health and justice issues for almost two decades.  She traveled to dozens of countries, visiting countless factories and trash dumps, learning what was happening at the beginning and end of various product lifecycles.  “As Annie witnessed first-hand the horrendous impacts of both over- and under- consumption around the world, she became fiercely dedicated to reclaiming and transforming our industrial and economic systems, so they serve, rather than destroy, ecological sustainability and social equity” (www.storyofstuff.com).  These experiences motivated her to create and share a series of stories, starting with “The Story of Stuff” and then producing other videos including, “The Story of Cosmetics,” “The Story of Bottled Water” and “The Story of Electronics” (www.storyofstuff.org/movies-all).

Annie clearly conveyed her underlining message that happiness does not come from how much stuff one has but from how one participates in society, stating “Engaging our social connections and working together with a sense of purpose and meaning in life feeds our souls.”

 

Altruistic Designs

“We have altruism in our souls,” advised Tim Mohin, Director of Corporate Responsibility at AMD, during the SXSW Eco Conference.  While speaking about the importance of being mindful of how we treat the workers that manufacture our products, he described entering a factory, which his company utilized, and noticing that most of the employees were between 17 to 22 years old.  “Those young people put their education on hold in order to work,” he stated.  As a result, his company setup classrooms in the factory so the workers could continue their education.  When Tim returned to visit the factory, he was greeted by 30 to 40 employees who had completed some classes; they ran to him, hugged him and said “Thank you!”  Tim professed, “That was the most rewarding experience in my life!”

 

You’ve got Power

“Society is facing a deep moral challenge,” declared Bill McKibben, Co-Founder of 350.Org (www.350.org) at the SXSW Eco Conference.  Discussing energy consumption and climate change, he cautioned, “The decisions we make now will determine what life is like for 10 billion people, the next 30 and 40 billion to follow and all of creation.”  Bill went on to state that we should think of alternative currencies, such as “the currency of compassion, the currency of science and the currency of reason.”  Similarly, attendees at the 2012 NYC Green Festival (www.greenfestivals.org) heard how they could make a change through their purchasing power.  “The marketplace is a democracy,” stated John Perkins, author, activist and economist (www.johnperkins.org), “Every time you purchase or not purchase something, you vote, you cast a ballot; I don’t know what your passions are but you have talents to create a sustainable, just and peaceful world…you have the power.”


Written by Professor Shireen Musa

Fashion Institute of Technology, State University of New York

 

Trail Guides

 

Trail Guides

While visiting Nevada to attend this year’s MAGIC Marketplace tradeshow and conference, I had the privilege of touring the Valley of Fire State Park.  Navigating through the Mojave Desert’s majestic labyrinth of red, yellow, purple and orange colored mountains, hills and rock formations, we spotted petroglyphs, ancient Native American rock art.

 

 

Deciphering the Desert

As we focused our attention on the petroglyphs, everyone began asking questions about the mystical images and guessing their meanings.  Our tour conductor, Cliff, shared his belief that the symbols depict a map — to find water.

During our drive to the valley, Cliff discussed the linkage between the scarcity of water in this desert and the evolution of local roads, stating “As ancient Native American tribes crossed the deserts in search of water, they mapped out the trails that led to springs.”  Passing down this information from generation to generation, for hundreds of years, allowed their members to follow the same routes and guide others to water.  As the trails became more and more visible, less instruction was needed and people could see the paths for themselves.  The local villages and cities that emerged were connected by those routes.  Thus, many modern roads developed from ancient trails because people helped each other to find water.

 

Peaceful Paths  

We left the desert and entered a conference room to meet a modern day trail guide, Sean Carasso.   Sean, Founder of Falling Whistles, inspired the audience with his passionate campaign to help end the war in the Congo, during Magic’s Seminar Impact your Fashion World: Action = Creativity.  He described how he visited the Congo a few years ago, wrote a journal of what he witnessed, spread the information to thousands of people and leveraged support to start, as he stated, “Turning tools of war into tools of peace.”  Sean’s organization brings attention to this conflict through the creative marketing/sales of whistles and uses the funds to support groups working for peace in the Congo (http://www.fallingwhistles.com/).  He selected whistles, as a symbol of protest, because kids in the Congo are forced to become child soldiers; too young to carry arms, they enter battles with only whistles.  Sean said “Their sole duty is to make enough noise to scare the enemy and then receive – with their bodies – the first round of bullets.  Lines of boys fell as nothing more than a temporary barricade.”

The audience was very encouraged by his leadership and discussed the need for more people to get involved and help end conflicts in other areas of the world.  One young woman expressed her concern about the possible negative reaction that a company may receive if it’s associated with specific causes/organizations, which may not be popular with the general public.  Sean responded to her by advising that one has to weigh the risks of one’s fears with not doing anything at all.  He concluded his presentation, stating “Be a whistleblower for peace; now, in the present, the Individual has more power than any other time in history!”

 

Paving the Way

Corporations also have great power.  Walter Robb, Co-CEO of Whole Foods Market shared his belief that companies and individuals “can change the force of business in the world,” as he discussed the four elements of Conscious Capitalism: Stakeholder Orientation, Conscious Leadership, Higher Purpose and Conscious Culture, during this year’s National Retail Federation Conference’s Conscious Capitalism panel.  He advised that great companies not only make a profit but also “deliver happiness; they have a greater purpose/deeper aspirations.”  While providing examples of the Whole Planet Foundation’s global projects, Walter stressed the importance of a company’s mission and values, adding “Core values represent stakes on the ground, a deeper purpose; it gives customers and employees a way forward as one navigates a turbulent world.”  Employees and customers support the Whole Planet Foundation’s work in over 50 countries; the ventures helped over one million people by empowering global entrepreneurs through microcredit projects (http://www.wholeplanetfoundation.org/).

“Helping each other is only limited by our imaginations!” declared Kip Tindell, CEO of The Container Store, as he spoke with Walter on the Conscious Capitalism panel.  Kip talked about the importance of building sustainable relationships through the mutual respect and trust of employees, vendors and customers, adding “People value relationships and people do business with people they trust.”   He also stressed the importance of developing a mindful corporate culture, advising “Happy employees are productive employees; the true essence of the human spirit is to go to work with great people and accomplish wonderful things and one can feel it in the culture.”  Kip provided many examples of how The Container Store achieved and maintains its corporate culture (http://standfor.containerstore.com/).   He concluded with the following insight “A thoughtful approach to stakeholders in the business gives you a competitive advantage…the Universe conspires to assist you when a company functions this way.”

 

Global Streams

During the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Talking Trade @ FIT Guest Lecture Creating Sustainable Futures: Women’s Empowerment through the International Fashion Industry, students and guests heard stories from more leaders that are using their power and influence to make a difference in the lives of people around the world.  Panelists included Richa Agarwal, Design Management Consultant and Project Manager with BRAC USA; Ben Stone, President and CEO, Indego Africa; Craig Leavitt, CEO, Kate Spade New York and Deborah Lloyd, President and Chief Creative Officer, Kate Spade New York.  All of these speakers are serving as trail guides by improving the lives of women from Africa to Bangladesh, from Europe to Afghanistan.

For example, Craig Leavitt talked about Kate Spade’s partnership with Women for Women International, stating “It fits with our firm’s DNA and resonates with our customers and staff.” His company’s Hand-in-Hand program offers a sustainable form of employment for hundreds of victims of global wars and conflicts in countries such as Bosnia, Rwanda and Afghanistan, utilizing the women’s indigenous skills and local materials to produce exclusive products.  The program also provides health and educational benefits to the women and their children (http://www.womenforwomen.org/help-women/kate-spade-hand-in-hand.php).  Craig advised that his business is guiding these women by “creating self-sufficiency through economic power.”

Likewise, Indego Africa empowers women through fashion.  Ben Stone explained how his organization assisted in the significant improvements of the lives of hundreds of Rwandan women artisans and their families by connecting them to export markets and education.  Indego Africa maps out a path for artisans to produce and market fair trade products through co-design collaboration with major fashion brands, such as Nicole Miller and Anthropology.  Ben’s ultimate goal is to create empowered independent businesswomen who can work directly with fashion brands (http://www.indegoafrica.org/).  He described his operations as having extreme transparency, stating “All financial documents are online and the public can visit our website to learn about the artisans and verify social impact.”

In addition, Richa Agarwal explained how her organization, BRAC, contributes to poverty alleviation by creating job opportunities for rural women in Bangladesh.  BRAC supports over 65,000 rural artisans, most are women working in the apparel industry, in over two thousand villages across the country; the services offered include microfinancing, legal support, educational opportunities, community empowerment and water/sanitation assistance (http://www.brac.net/).   During her presentation, she shared photos and many success stories of these women.  Richa concluded by addressing the students with the following plea “Think about the people that make our clothing…keep these women in mind when you get jobs because each one of you can make a difference; you will be in decision making roles that could affect the lives workers all over the world.”

 

Spring for Hydration

While returning to NYC from Nevada, I had an amazing view of our Southwest topography.  Flying over 30,000 feet, I observed the curves of current flowing rivers and dried-up riverbeds and recalled a story that Cliff told us about the common occurrence of people getting lost in the desert, never finding water or the way out and dehydrating.  Viewing life from different levels, it’s clear to see that world society lives in both physical and nonphysical deserts, is in need of and deserves water and has infinite potential to imagine, inspire and create countless trail guides.

 

 

 

Written by Professor Shireen Musa,

Fashion Institute of Technology, State University of New York

 

 

Forward Osmosis

 

Forward Osmosis

A vital lesson that resurfaced during the past two sustainability conferences, which I recently attended (Opportunity Green 2011 in Los Angeles and the 2011 LOHAS Forum in Boulder, Colorado) is the importance of nurturing one’s ability to sense, interpret and absorb essential knowledge from multiple layers of interaction.

 

Mything Links

During the LOHAS opening Keynote presentation “Changing Yourself, Changing the World: The Path of Purpose and Destiny”, Dr. Jean Houston, Founder, Human Potential Movement (www.jeanhouston.org) declared “We are present at the birth of opportunity that exceeds your expectations!”  She inspired the audience with words of wisdom, demonstrating how we can increase our potential for higher development, to make positive changes, using some examples of psychological, spiritual and mythic-symbolic evolutionary accelerators.  For instance, Jean advised “The world mind is taking a walk with itself” and we need to “use all of common humanity to re-scale for planetary propositions; a planetary society.”  Humanity should realize that “economics should be the satellite of the soul of culture instead of the soul of culture being the satellite of economics.”   If we are going to thrive, society needs to develop a “culture of kindness” and alter its “serial monotony”, which she defines as “the progressive diming of people’s passion for life.”   Encouraging the audience to think deeply, Jean added “We are coded with potentials; few of which we ever use.”   She concluded, “We are at the great either/or in history…facing issues that evoke our higher humanity; during this time of our great heroic journey, we are all mything links.”

 

Seeking Existence

Chris Kilham, Founder, Medicine Hunter (www.medicinehunter.com) travels around the world exploring how indigenous cultures live and heal themselves.  During his session titled “Tales from the Medicine Trail”, he stated “All business is personal all the time….if you hear someone say ‘It’s not personal, it’s just business’, go work with someone else!”

He dazzled the LOHAS audience with photos and stories from his global journeys to discovery plants and roots that treat various ailments in a natural sustainable manner.  For example, Chris discussed how he escaped pirates, navigated through South Pacific fire walks and participated in shamanic ceremonies, while uncovering many plants and roots, such as Kava from the South Pacific, which treats anxiety; Maca from Peru that’s used for increased energy; and, Cat’s Claw from the Amazon, which works as an anti-inflammatory.  He shared his experiences testing some of these plants, explained how indigenous tribes benefit from cultivating and distributing them and talked about the natural health benefits of consuming these products, advising that we should care (if society is to survive) because many people suffer from side effects and sometimes death from the pharmaceutical medications on the market.

Infusing the audience with his enthusiasm, he stated that we should exert “boldness as we throw ourselves into this time of humanity.”  Along the years, Chris developed strong relationships with various indigenous peoples.  The tribes he’s worked with have what he calls a “deep sense of community”; they are not segmented as westerners, who as Chris said “go spend time in their boxes.”  He showed a photo of one tribe, who excitedly grouped together to take their first ever photo.  They were thrilled to be photographed for the entire world to see, stating “We want people to know that we exist.”

 

Sincere Communication

Casey Sheahan, CEO of Patagonia displayed much leadership as he gave the closing LOHAS presentation titled “Conscious Leadership is an Inside Job”.  He discussed how Patagonia functions in a socially responsible manner, creating positive change in apparel manufacturing.  For example, the company boasts a transparent supply chain.  When determining which style to buy, their customers can see every step in a product’s development: from raw materials procurement, through manufacturing, to packaging and distribution (www.patagonia.com/us/footprint/index.jsp).   In addition, Patagonia is mindful when selecting factories (www.youtube.com/watch?v=RQOcchD6x0Q&feature=relmfu).   Furthermore, the company donates 1% of all sales to groups that are working to preserve the environment.  Casey concluded his presentation with the following insight “Global transformation starts with personal transformation.  We are all born with special gifts to share.  Deliberate with your intentions; operate with your true self.”

 

Intentional Design

During the L.A. Opportunity Green Conference (www.opportunitygreen.com), Gaylon White, Director of Design Programs at Eastman gave a Keynote presentation titled “Social Innovation Case Study: HydroPack & Bringing Water Back to Life”.

He explained how his company produces cellulose triacetate, a key part of a semi-permeable membrane that is used in the production of the HydroPack, water purifying pouch, (see below photo) and discussed the joint demonstration project in Western Kenya conducted earlier this year by Hydration Technology Innovations (HTI) and the Kenya Water for Health Organization (KWAHO).

 

The HydroPack pouch can be placed in contaminated water and over the course of approximately 10 hours it absorbs the contaminated water and converts it into drinkable water.  This is accomplished through Forward Osmosis, which is a method by which trees/plants extract and absorb water and nutrients from the earth.  Similar to a plant’s biology, the HydroPack’s semi-permeable membrane allows certain molecules and ions to pass through it by diffusion.

In the following video Keith Lampi, Executive VP & Chief Operating Officer at HTI and Nathan Jones, VP of Government & Institutional Sales at HTI, among others, further discuss how the process works.  Nathan talks about the benefits and intended use of the HydroPack, stating that it should be “pre-positioned as a global tool for early intervention in disaster relief… waterborne disease is an acute danger in any disaster.  The HydroPack works in any water; it’s guaranteed purity; has high acceptance rates and is easier and less expensive to transport than water.”  Keith provides additional insight into the process, stating “Forward Osmosis starts with a semi-permeable membrane that’s twofold: 1) it’s Hydrophilic — it absorbs water and 2) it has great rejection properties — allowing water to pass through but all contaminants in the water such as viruses and bacteria get blocked; they can’t pass the membrane.”  See attached video: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_j5aijg5vns&feature=fvsr)

 

Written by Professor Shireen Musa,

Fashion Institute of Technology, State University of New York

 


Rhythmic Diffusion

 

Rhythmic Diffusion

Recently, Green America and Global Exchange hosted the Chicago 2011 Green Festival and thousands of attendees turned out to meet hundreds of innovative exhibitors and dozens of inspiring speakers.  It was the fourth Green Festival (www.greenfestivals.org) that I attended and what set it apart from the others was the increasing sense of urgency in the speakers’ tones as they asked the audience to engage and act.

 

Tucum Tree

 

Rooted in Opportunity

“Take a risk and the world would support it!” exclaimed Colin Beavan (aka No Impact Man http://noimpactproject.org) during his session titled “How to Live: Help the World by Becoming Yourself”.  As he introduced himself, he said “The most important thing about me is that I’m a dad.”

Colin sees connections between society’s actions towards the environment and society’s increasing unhappiness; he believes there is a “tremendous opportunity” to fix both.  In response to the question “There are so many major world problems; what can one person do to make a difference?” Collin replied “The wise man never complains about the bad; he only adds to the good.”  He urged each member of the audience to figure out what their part of the solution is and “do something to fix it.”  He continued, “It feels better to do something than not do something” and if we all do something, no matter how “small” we perceive it to be, collectively, we leverage a “Network Solution.”

Colin added, “We are all connected by roots, when we change something about ourselves, the universe changes.”   An audience member told Colin that his comments were similar to a theme from The Alchemist, a novel by Paulo Coelho: when you want something, the universe conspires to bring it to you.  Colin agreed and concluded “Find your gift, your passion, to give to the world….become yourself to save the world.”

 

Passion into Power

The speakers from the “Urban Green Living” panel are doing just that.  Alexandra Gnoske started by stating “Power is with people…all choices and actions whether good, bad or neutral have an impact on the planet.”  Alexandra discussed how she combined her passion for wildlife, the outdoors and justice by becoming a scientist, studying environmental law and then creating the organic clothing company “Recycle Me”.  One of her passions is to educate society on the dangers of pesticides to people and the environment.  For example, Alexandra talked about the chemicals that go into producing non-organic cotton tee-shirts and the heavy metals in dyes and inks that runoff into the air, water, soil, cattle feed, etc.  “Of all the cotton grown in the world, only 2% is organic…thousands of cotton workers die each year from working with the fabric,” she added.  Alexandra is also empowering and educating the future by maintaining a blog for kids linked to the children’s book she authored “Loui Saves the Earth” (http://www.louisavestheearth.com/blog).  Her advice is “Start with your passions…as a consumer and an individual, you have the power.”

 

Preservation

Drew Wanke is passionately helping our generation safeguard the future through his work at the Green Living Project.  During his “Global Sustainability: Central America to Maine” session, he explained how since 2009, this organization helped implement projects including eco-tourism, environmental pollution prevention, sustainability educational programs, forest preservation, etc. and showed two short videos.

One video documented the Equilibrio Azul project in Ecuador; its mission is to protect the marine resources and part of that focus is on combating overfishing through education (http://www.greenlivingproject.com/projects/ecuador/equilibrio-azul).  Although they have a limited number of volunteers, the project’s Director stated they “believe that they can make a difference with a small project.”   For example, the volunteers have created eco-clubs to reach fishermen’s kids aged 10-12 and educate them about the environmental consequences of overfishing. “These kids are set to grow up in the footsteps of their parents and overfish…if you don’t educate these kids, anything you do will not make a difference,” said another volunteer.  The volunteers are trying to get the community involved; the project Director motivates the locals to engage and take responsibility for their environment by advising that “It’s everyone’s problem right now…it’s not like somebody far away on a beach is going to save it for you.”

Another video featured the Cristalino Jungle Lodge in Brazil. The Lodge’s owners’ goal is to maintain the integrity of the natural environment through eco-tourism.  For example, many scientists and tourists visit the Amazon to observe nature and of the 1,800 species of birds, a third of them can be seen from this eco-lodge (http://www.greenlivingproject.com/projects/brazil/cristalino-jungle-lodge).  More locals understand that they can make income and live in harmony with nature by preserving their natural environments.  For instance, one guide who used to be a miner stated that he feels as though he “lost a few years of life” because he was working “to destroy nature.”

The eco-lodge also educates city children.  Volunteers invite kids from Rio de Janeiro to visit and get connected to the Amazon and engaged with their environments.   One tour guide said when he sees children experiencing the forest for the first time, he feels like he is also experiencing the forest for the first time.  While in the jungle, children also visit the Tucum tree (photo included above); indigenous tribes use its long bristles to create rhythms, as a method of communication.

 

Written by Professor Shireen Musa,

Fashion Institute of Technology, State University of New York

Illuminated Fluidity

 

Illuminated Fluidity

On April 12, 2011, the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) opened the flood gates of sustainability during its 5th Annual Sustainable Business and Design Conference.  Motivated by last year’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, this year’s theme was “The Liquid Planet” (www.fitnyc.edu/sustainability) and focused on water as one of our most precious resources.  Guest speakers including academics, biomimicry experts, scientists, CEOs, photographers, and explorers ushered in tides of inspiration, enthusiasm and knowledge.

IF1

Rise and Shine

Attendees awakened to the “Local Water Issues” morning panel as Kevin McAllister, Peconic Baykeeper, led the discussion and introduced guests to “nutrient pollution.”  Although the term at first sounds like an oxymoron, he went on to describe that it’s in fact “a plague to our waters” (http://peconicbaykeeper.org).  This type of pollution occurs when too many plant nutrients, such as phosphates from manufactured products, i.e. fertilizers, detergents, etc., enter the waters and cause an over production of algae, leading to the loss of seagrass beds and other forms of life.  Kevin provided the audience with further insight and a plea, akin to his comments from a recent press release: “Nutrient pollution from the tens of thousands of cesspools in our region is a monumental threat to our waters, yet it has been largely ignored.  Suffolk County regulations limiting the amount of nitrogen from onsite wastewater treatment systems (OWTS) that enters our groundwater to protect drinking water are clearly inadequate in protecting surface waters.  Maintaining superior water quality should be a priority.  We must act now to save our bays.”

Sharing the story of one New York family who cannot drink or shower using their tap water, Andriene Espositio, Executive Director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment discussed Hydrofracking and the consequences of gases and carcinogens entering the environment and drinking water (http://www.citizenscampaign.org).  She explained how the family uses bottled water to drink/bathe because the chemicals in their tap water caused their children to become ill and burned their skin; once a week they go to their relative’s home to take a “safe shower”.

The conversations inevitably flowed from local water issues to regional and global concerns.  Andriene talked about the importance of our Great Lakes, which contain 1/5 of the planet’s fresh water, yet society continues to dump toxic waste and other pollutants into them (http://healthylakes.org).  She also described the Vortex of plastic bags in the oceans, which are annihilating sea life.  For example, animals mistake them for food, i.e., jelly fish, and the bags either choke the animals or disrupt their digestive systems, which could lead to starvation or dehydration.  Andriene displayed photos of an animal’s carcass that washed up on shore; most of the flesh disintegrated and what was leftover was the animal’s bones and the plastic bag.  Although devoid of a heartbeat, our artificial plastic bag lives on to destroy nature again.  She urged the audience to rise up to a new way of thinking and to make wise decisions.

 

Mother Nature’s Intelligence

Look to Mother Nature as “mentor and model” was the message given by Mark Dorfman, green chemist and water expert from the Biomimicry Guild, during his “Nature’s Myriad Water-based Technologies” session.  He detailed some of nature’s creative solutions for survival, such as modifying the physical characteristics of various animals, insects and plants (www.asknature.org).  For example, beetles living in the Namibian Desert have hydrophilic bumps on their backs. The beetle sticks its back into the air and the bumps allow it to capture moisture, which then runs along its body and into its mouth.  Mark also described how the water bear organism can remain un-hydrated for decades, trees pump water upwards to survive and lotus leaves are designed so water runs off and keeps the leaf clean in order for its cells to absorb the sunlight.

 

Waves of Light

The momentum of enthusiasm and curiosity flowed like waves through the audience, generating whirlpools of conversation and interactions among attendees as they navigated around FIT’s John Reeves Great Hall, absorbing luminant exhibits that were created by our bright students, and as they attended the conference breakout sessions.   On display were garments made from organic materials, accessories made from recycled products, green architectural designs and sustainable business projects from FIT’s Schools of Art and Design and Business and Technology.  Highlights of the breakout sessions included “Our Common Water” by David Hopkins, an Environmental Coordinator from Patagonia, and a tour of FIT’s green roofs, where vegetation is thriving several stories above NYC.

 

Deep Heights

Light radiates not only from above but also from below.  During the lunch break, guests enjoyed a video of underwater sculptures, photos of which are included in this article, by Jason deCaires Taylor (http://www.underwatersculpture.com/pages/gallery/film/film.htm).  As described on his website, his “underwater sculptures create a unique, absorbing and expansive visual seascape.  Highlighting natural ecological processes Taylor’s interventions explore the intricate relationships that exist between art and environment. His works become artificial reefs, attracting marine life, while offering the viewer privileged temporal encounters, as the shifting sand of the ocean floor, and the works change from moment to moment”.

Viewing the images, one senses the artist’s strength in projecting creativity.  He dove deep, tapped into his current, and through brave and direct expression, was able to shower the audience with inspiration.  One raindrop from a cloud of courage penetrates the cells of a petal more than all the mist from an ocean of fear.

 

Pure Intention

Joshua Onysko, founder and CEO of Pangea Organics talked about how the decisions society makes continue to compromise our water’s cleanliness in his “Purity Starts with Purpose” presentation.  He covered various data on America’s excessive water usage, the hundreds of thousands of unregulated chemicals used in consumer products, genetically modified organisms, and played 2 short videos.

The first video he presented documented Pangea Organic’s process for sourcing seaweed, an ingredient in its product line.  The company obtains its seaweed from Naturespirit Herbs, a family-owned business located in southwestern Oregon.  As the video played, it was evident that Naturespirit Herbs harvests the seaweed in a mindful manner, with great respect for the ocean’s resources.  “We harvest an average of one out of every four plants…that preserves the integrity of the ecosystem,” stated James Jungwrith (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gP8DB8f2t7s).   Additionally, Joshua advised the audience that prior to harvesting the seaweed, the people at Naturespirit Herbs say a prayer and give thanks to the earth for its generosity and resources.  This reminded me of passages from a book that I just read “Deep Cinema” where the author, Mary Trainor-Brigham, references many Native American, Caribbean and Polynesian Indigenous ceremonies, among others, and the immense reverence the natives have for the environment.

Joshua presented another video of an impromptu interview with a man he met on the beach, during his seaweed sourcing trip.  The man said that his favorite thing about the beach is that “it’s where the sea meets the land….where balance happens” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bPRPlai9QM0).  When Joshua asked him what is the most important thing he learned in life, the man replied realizing that we are all part of the same family and “connecting to the universe.”

 

Other Worldly Experience

Photographer, explorer and writer Anne Doubilet, of the Explorers Club, described the feelings she has, her awareness, when photographing as “other worldly experience”, during her “Pole to Pole: From the Ends of the Earth” presentation.  She dazzled the audience with scenes from The Artic, Papa New Guinea and The Antarctic and identified her amazing water images, some of which were taken during sunrise/sunset, as “molten lakes”, “fire to ice”, “wind brushed waves” and “glowing sea.”  Several times during her presentation, she expressed her special love for the Red Sea and identified it as her “favorite area.”  In one of her videos (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zs_b7z_v1zo), Anne shares the feelings that submerged her as she walked through vast energetic crowds in NYC and sensed the similarity to swimming among teeming schools of fish near Australia; she realized “these people don’t know it but they are connected to the fish”.

 

Finite Liquid

The message that trickled down from all sessions and rippled through the audience is that in order to lead a sustainable lifestyle, society should break through the dams of complacency, become mindful of our environment and view water as a “finite rather than infinite” resource.  Surging ahead, Mary Trainor-Brigham advises society to “perceive this Earth-Water-Heavenly Planet as more than mere resource: as ensouled, and we sharing in that Life”.  Similar sentiments surfaced during the Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability (LOHAS) 2010 Forum (www.lohas.com), which I attended last summer; Dr. Elliot Dacher, MD Internal Medicine and Shaman and Healer Brant Secunda explained how a truly sustainable lifestyle must first start with a person’s internal spiritual realizations and connectivity to nature before it can be extended externally to society and the environment.  And we could use all the advice available whether it comes from an activist, artist, shaman, farmer, academic, CEO, photographer, scientist, student, writer, doctor, or from meeting a newly discovered family member on the beach.

It’s uncertain how long the planet can continue providing us with enough water needed to survive.  One thing that is certain is that our connection to water is also physically “internal.”  Water makes up over 50% of our bodies and over 70% of our brains, with waves of energy flowing through our bodies and thoughts; dive deep, embrace the light, claim your current and illuminate.

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Written by Professor Shireen Musa,

Fashion Institute of Technology, State University of New York

Lessons in Life: Reflections from the Lifestyles of Health & Sustainability (LOHAS) Conference

 

Lessons in Life: Reflections from the Lifestyles of Health & Sustainability (LOHAS) Conference

As faculty, staff and students from the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) prepare for the college’s 5th Annual Sustainability Conference, which will take place on April 12, 2011, I cannot help but think about all the great sustainability-themed conferences that I’ve recently attended, from the American Marketing Association (AMA) Educators’ Conference in Boston to the Green Festivals in San Francisco. However, the one that particularly stood out was the LOHAS Conference in Colorado.

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Welcome to LOHAS and Boulder, Colorado

I travelled to Colorado to attend the LOHAS conference because FIT, as many other colleges and universities across the country and around the world, is infusing sustainability throughout its curriculum. The event attracted more than 500 attendees, including over 50 guest speakers, from 230 companies and organizations representing various industries, across public and private sectors. The 2010 roundup included The Coca Cola Company, General Mills, Neutrogena, eBay, Johnson & Johnson, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Green America, movie directors/producers, academics, physicians, journalists, marketers, investors, artists and so many others, with the common goal of sharing and gaining knowledge that will inspire all to strive toward a sustainable future.

After a forty-five minute drive from Denver International Airport to Boulder, I was staring at the majestic Flatiron Mountains, which appeared to be guarding this picturesque town, and instinctively knew I was somewhere special. For example, it is home to the University of Colorado, has a large environmentally conscious orientated population and businesses, is surrounded by 36,000 acres of recreational space, has a bustling social scene, and was even rated #1 on Forbes.com for America’s Top 25 Towns to Live Well.

Indigenous Insights

Typically, a New Yorker attending the usual business conference would not expect to be greeted by a Shaman banging a drum, with a rattle, while instructing the audience to close their eyes, relax their bodies and meditate over a spiritual image projected on the front screen. But this was no average business conference…this was LOHAS’ opening “Fit Body/Fit Soul” session.

Shaman and Healer Brant Secunda and Mark Allen, 6-time Ironman World Champion took us through their fascinating personal journeys and explained how a sustainable lifestyle must first start with a person’s spiritual realizations and connectivity to nature before it can be extended outward to society and the environment. Shaman Brant Secunda outlined the 4 Powers, which the Huichol Indian indigenous people of Mexico, who he lived with for many years, believe to be human capacities that all individuals should strive to achieve: love, is the first power, as a natural force ingrained in all of life; second is physical power, he stated “your body is an extension of Mother Earth”; the third power is intuition, constant development of spiritual awareness; and, intelligence is the fourth, the importance of not abusing one’s power or taking advantage of others. This brought me back to a program I recently viewed on LinkTV titled “Earth Wisdom for a World in Crisis”, which described how many, including the United Nations, are discovering that indigenous peoples could hold some vital keys to the survival of our environment: http://www.linktv.org/globalspirit/Wisdom.

Mark Allen and Shaman Brant Secunda concluded their workshop by providing techniques that transform negative emotions into positive energies to help individuals face challenges. And do we have challenges…the difficulties we are facing today, i.e., global warming, ongoing human rights abuses, corporate/political scandals, world poverty, etc. due to habits, past decisions, fear, apathy, and so on are haunting our society and will linger for future generations unless we work together to resolve them.

Work for the happiness of others and you will be happy

The stage was set for attendees to network and collaborate, during conference workshops and meals. LOHAS not only provided delicious organic breakfasts, lunches and snacks, but also served up much food for thought in the remaining 34 sessions of this 3-day event.

To give you a taste, during the “Developing a Healthy Planet: Our Health and Environmental Health are the Same” meeting, Dr. Alan Greene, Author and Physician, discussed how our act of eating is intimately linked to the environment, through the stages of food production, packaging, delivery and especially consumption, stating “Food plays our body like a piano.” Representatives from the Natural Marketing Institute reviewed global and domestic consumer trends, in the “New Paradigms in Health and Sustainability” session, advising that the US LOHAS market size represents almost $300 billion in consumer sales across the market sectors of Green Building, Personal Health, Eco-Tourism, Alternative Transportation, Natural Lifestyles and Alternative Energy. Panelists on the “Leading Edutainment” workshop reviewed the unique way of educating and successfully engaging audiences through creative storytelling documentaries, i.e., Dirt!-The Movie and the Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove. There were also “Igniting Inspiration 101: An Advanced Empathy Workshop for Conscious Capitalists”, “Rewriting Rules of Consumer Engagement”, “Understanding the Carbon Economy”, “Kids vs. Global Warming”, “Understanding the Value of Social Currency” sessions and many more workshops all videotaped by LOHAS www.lohas.com.

Dr. Elliot Dacher’s echoed the advice of Shaman Secunda, when he discussed the joining of the inner (self) and outer (environment/society) as the foundation for a sustainable lifestyle, during his “The Path to Human Flourishing” session. This MD Internal Medicine summed up the overall theme of the conference, linking all sessions through a common denominator, he stated “Work for your own happiness, others suffer; work for the happiness of others and you will be happy.”

Millions of Gallons of BP Oil Pollute the Gulf of Mexico

Philippe Cousteau, CEO of EarthEcho International participated in the panel “The Situation in the Gulf” along with Stephanie Owens, director of the Office of Public Engagement for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Charles Hambleton, producer for The Cove. The audience cringed as Philippe provided a first-hand account of what he experienced as he dove 20/30 feet into polluted parts of the Gulf, looked up, and saw dead fish mixed with oil in what appeared to be a reddish hue toxic soup that almost blocked out the sun.

We all have different vantage points on this disaster and other global challenges. However, society must realize that whether one resides along the Gulf of Mexico, in NYC, Boulder or any other town/city in the U.S., or across the globe, we all share responsibility in working to solve these challenges. And we could use all the advice available to become mindful about our thoughts, decisions, actions and reactions, whether it comes from a Shaman, physician, entrepreneur, academic, marketer, activist or artist.

FIT’s Liquid Planet – An Opportunity to Get Involved

Learn more about sustainability and get involved by attending FIT’s 5th Annual Sustainability Conference http://www.fitnyc.edu/8609.asp, which is free and open to students, faculty, staff and the public, on April 12, 2011 in the Great Hall. Inspired by the crisis in the Gulf of Mexico, this year’s theme is “The Liquid Planet,” focusing on water as one of our most precious resources.

 

Written by Professor Shireen Musa,

Fashion Institute of Technology, State University of New York

FIT Students journey to San Francisco to attend 2010 Fall Green Festival

 

 

FIT Students journey to San Francisco to attend 2010 Fall Green Festival

On November 4, 2010, eight students from the Fashion Institute of Technology’s International Trade and Marketing major (ITM) departed from the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple and headed to the City by the Bay to attend the 2010 Fall Green Festival.

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Names on photo from left to right: Stacie Shepp (FIT Alumna), TatianaHoudgebe, Prof. Shireen Musa, Yasmin Piracha, Kayla Palmer, Arielle Childs, Brittany Vernola, Udochi Nwaigwe, Larissa Zemke, Sahar Omar

 

Equipped with curiosity and excitement, they navigated through the vibrant labyrinth of over 300 exhibitor booths and dozens of speaker sessions, uncovering knowledge and gaining motivation. One student who attended the Bio-Inspired Design: Innovations in Green Products and Business session commented: “It was amazing! I was inspired during a biomimicry session when I learned how designers, engineers and biologists were working together to find innovated design solutions from nature.”

Throughout the 2-day Green Festival, students’ taste for sustainability was tantalized as they were presented with generous samples of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap, various organic skincare, and consumed organic treats, such as Alter Eco Bolivian dark chocolate, Palestinian fair trade olive oil, an assortment of cookies and crackers and Nature’s Path granola bars, just to name a few.  “They fed us well!” stated another student with a big smile.

Fueled by these sustainable calories, students enthusiastically participated in speaker Q&A sessions, such as Fair Trade Coffee Sustainability from Farm to Cup and Where are we in the Fair Trade Movement?  Here, they applied the skills they are learning in FIT’s ITM major to pose tough questions about Fair Trade verses Free Trade and sustainable supply chains.

FIT’s ITM major is a Bachelor of Science program that prepares students to become global business leaders.  Courses include Import/Export Regulations, Global Marketing, Global Sourcing, and International Corporate Responsibility, among others.  Also, in support of the “FIT Goes Green:  Infusing Sustainability into our Culture” initiative, the college will host its 5th Annual Sustainability Conference, which is free and open to the public, on April 12, 2011.  The theme of this year’s conference is “The Liquid Planet,” focusing on water as one of our most precious resources.

We spent the last day of the trip enjoying some of San Francisco’s precious resources.  Students explored the bay area.  I visited Muir Woods and was amazed by what nature creates with a single seed.  The height, presence, health and longevity of these redwoods, among the tallest trees on the planet, which have been nurtured by the earth for hundreds of years, is truly majestic.

The Green Festival was sowing the seeds of sustainability into the hearts and minds of our students and they are growing into mindful, global citizens and leaders, who will be as magnificent as the west coast redwoods.

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Written by Professor Shireen Musa,

Fashion Institute of Technology, State University of New York