Local Businesses Building Sustainable Futures

In today’s world, environmental degradation is a huge concern that we have to take control of. Big contributors to these environmental damages are the businesses that we rely upon to produce the products that we need to function with our daily activities. Sustainable practices are starting to become a hot commodity not only locally in Bloomington-Normal, but nationally and worldwide. Since I go to school at Illinois State University, I’ll focus on the local part of sustainable practices instead of getting into the big picture of the worldwide stuff.

By having the Office of Sustainability on campus, Illinois State is starting to get the word out to the student population. The staff and interns are passionate about what they do, and it shows with the increasing awareness of sustainability throughout the campus and the city.  A huge breakthrough for business majors in particular at Illinois State is with the new minor, Business Environment and Sustainability that just started this semester. Now business students get the education of how a sustainable approach can not only help prevent the destruction of the environment that we live in, but also help save money for these particular businesses.

To go along with the Office of Sustainability, a huge contributor in helping the local communities in Bloomington-Normal is the Illinois Green Business Association. According to their website, there are currently fifteen business that have been “green certified” with the most recent being the Bloomington-Normal Marriott Hotel and Conference Center and many more in process. To further the proof of how much of an impact the ILGBA has had, an article in Greenbiz ranked them second behind the California Green Business Program for the Green Seal Degree of Trust.  With the help of the Illinois Green Business Association, our community and the surrounding communities are taking necessary steps to becoming energy efficient and environmentally friendly.

Although there are many so-called “green businesses” out there, consumers have to be careful when searching for sustainable products that they want to purchase. Since becoming a “green business” is such a hot topic right now, greenwashing has become a relatively large problem. If you don’t know what greenwashing is, it is the act of businesses promoting themselves as being environmentally friendly when they really aren’t. This is an attempt to trick consumers into believing they are environmentally friendly which can sway them into buying the products or services that they provide. With a little research into how a company performs their daily activities, you will be able to see if they do or don’t have an environmentally friendly approach.

With the widespread topic of sustainability occurring, companies all over have either accepted sustainable practices or preached they have. Locally, many of our businesses have taken the step to becoming sustainable. While some have completed the step, others are in the process, which is an encouraging sign for the future of our area. If the businesses around us become sustainable entities, hopefully the people in the community will follow. According to Mahatma Gandhi, “the future depends on what we do today,” so hopefully we are doing the right thing.

–Aaron Schmelzle


Unite Redbirds Against Vampire Power!

Electricity is ubiquitous in the developed world. We rely on it for our lighting, appliances and entertainment systems, and often heating and cooling. Living in the United States, it is hard to imagine going even a single day without electricity. At the same time, it is equally as easy to forget how many people in the world do not have access to it: an estimated 1.5 billion, roughly a fourth of the world’s population. Concentrated disproportionately in Africa and southern Asia, they constitute 79 percent of the population of the 50 poorest nations on Earth.[1]

There are a number of forward-thinking, fast-growing organizations in the United States devoted to giving “power to the people.” In early February, the ISU Renewable Energy Society hosted a speaker from We Care Solar, an organization that delivers portable solar suitcases to parts of the world without electricity. These devices power critical lighting, mobile communication, and medical equipment. The speaker, Shannon Fulton, is a graduate of the Renewable Energy major at Illinois State. Fulton demonstrated how the suitcases work. One electrical device in the suitcase allows a pregnant mother to hear her baby’s heartbeat when pressed against her stomach. Maternal mortality remains a significant cause of death in the developing world. According to Fulton, this instrument is a big draw for getting pregnant women to come to the medical clinics. Once there, medical staff can run additional tests to evaluate the health of the mother and unborn child.

“By equipping off-grid medical clinics with solar power for medical and surgical lighting, walkie-talkies and essential medical devices, WE CARE Solar facilitates timely and appropriate emergency care, reducing maternal and infant morbidity and mortality and improving the quality of care in Africa, Haiti and other regions.[2]” –We Care Solar

Fulton’s story got me thinking about how often I take electricity for granted. Truthfully, until about my third year of college, I lived in what was essentially a state of blatant unconsciousness about my electricity usage. But when I began thinking seriously about it, I realized my consumption had myriad political, economic, and environmental consequences. The consequences vary depending on how the electricity is generated (whether by nuclear, wind, coal, etc.), who owns and operates the generation and distribution system (whether public or private), and the distance between where the electricity is produced and consumed. As a consumer, the absolute best thing you can do for the environment and your budget is to reduce your electric consumption as much as possible (this rule actually applies to all forms of energy).

A frightening phenomenon in the developed world is “vampire power.” No, it is not an underground movement of wannabe vampires or True Blood fans. It is the electricity consumed by household appliances, entertainment systems, and computers when not in use. Also known as phantom load, standby power, or plug load, it accounts for approximately 10 percent of the total power used in your house! When turned off, many microwave ovens, DVD players, coffee makers, laptops, televisions, printers, and satellite boxes remain on standby. Others power internal clocks, and are never technically “off” until they are unplugged. Regardless, they continue sucking electricity from your socket, not unlike how a vampire sucks blood from your veins, even when you are not using them. So, there you go. I just told you how to save 10 percent on your electric bill! DESTROY THE VAMPIRE! Unplug them. Unplug them all! Mua ha ha ha!

But this is serious, you guys. Wasted energy costs the United States an estimated $10 billion per year. How much do you think you’re spending on it? Were vampire power eliminated, the country could shut down 30 coal power plants, avoiding 50 million tons of planet-warming carbon dioxide. Save your money and protect the environment by unplugging your electronics and appliances when not in use. An easy way to do this is by using a power strip. Simply plug all your appliances and electronics into the strip, and switch it off when they are not in use. This has a public service message from the Office of Sustainability at Illinois State University. Redbirds unite!

–Matthew Tomlin

Planning for an Eco-Friendly Spring Break

Whether you are going to the sunshine state or visiting friends out of town this spring break, there are several ways one can make traveling a bit greener. Planning for an eco-friendly trip may sound a bit intimidating, but with a little planning, it really can be hassle free.  Every effort counts too. Following just one of the tips has a positive impact on the environment.

1.  Transportation: ROAD TRIP!!! Hit the road this spring break by either carpooling or taking public transportation.  Compared to driving separately or flying, this significantly reduces our carbon footprint. If your flight is already booked, make smart decisions at the airport. Take advantage of recycling receptacles, bring a water bottle to refill at the water fountain, use one napkin or paper towel, and only accept food/drinks on the airplane that you are going to eat or drink.

2. Accommodations: Stay at a green hotel/hostel/motel! Supporting an environmentally friendly establishment sends a message to competitors that consumers care about the decisions they are making in regards to the environment. While staying at a green establishment, practice green actions. Reuse your bath towel, take efficient showers, fill up water bottles, refrain from getting the sheets changed, use electricity at a minimum and remember to turn off lights and unplug devices when out of the room.

3. Food: Pack food for the trip using tupperware. When going out to eat, support green restaurants. At the restaurant, be conscious of how many napkins and utensils you use. Ask to use the same glass for your drink. Order smart and get only what you know you will eat. When in the bathroom, wash hands efficiently and use one paper towel.

Making eco-friendly decisions is a conscious effort but when practiced regularly, it truly becomes habit.  It only takes a small action to make a huge impact. Little decisions, like refilling water bottles and opting for no sheet exchange, make a difference. Even if you just follow one of the tips, it is an accomplishment to be proud of. Happy Green Break Redbirds!

–Ali McCracken