Thursday, February 22, 2007

Offsetting Your Guilty Conscience

The question. What are carbon neutral or offset (also known as green tags) programs?

You can become carbon neutral by investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency projects that reduce carbon emissions. So on the one hand, you produce, and on the other, you reduce.

As I get ready to drive to the airport, hop a plane to NYC and use a cab to get to my final destination, I can’t help but think about what carbon issues I am causing with all this. My awareness for my carbon footprint came to me early on in my awakened green consciousness. As I result, I’ve bought my carbon neutral driving pass from An alternative is

As well, Cemil purchased a wind power card for our project, which looks like phone card. It is meant to offset the power we are consuming in the renovation process they are available in more “green” establishments like Whole Foods. Or go to the website,

Still, my guilty conscience is not totally assuaged by these actions (my boyfriend has termed my green tag investments as 21st century indulgences). I still feel as if I need to offset more of my lifestyle. The upcoming plane ride comes to mind. Just as I prepare for the trip but putting my toiletries in baggies and printing down my boarding card, I will buy my carbon offset for the jet fuel that is about to be consumed…. and the cab ride….. and the energy consumption from my hotel stay. When they say, nothing in life is free, believe it. That includes the energy we used and what it take to produce that energy. The environment deserves its fair share.

Think about it as you do your diet. You know that there is more than the food cost to the chocolate that you are about to consume. You’ve long gotten used to rationalizing to yourself that the eating it will mean 20 minutes more on the Stairmaster. Well the same holds true for energy consumption. Carbon neutral contributions are like your extra time on the treadmill.

Of course, there’s always controversy and a naysayer or two. Just recently, there was some press in the UK about the speculators who have set up scams and schemes under the guise of doing good Sadly, they have tarred the reputation of the good programs. My reason for this post is to set the record straight and provide links and information that will restore your interest or faith in continuing with the contributions.

More Information:

Several months ago, www.ecofabulous, ran a piece about carbon offsets by David Shearer (a respected eco-advisor,

His 6 questions are worth posting here as you vet the organizations you are thinking of contributing to:

1. Can you provide detailed information on specific projects that result from your offsets?

2. Which objective standards do you use to demonstrate the high quality of your offsets?

3. Have your offsets been verified against an objective standard by a credible third party source?

4. Do you sell offsets that reduce GHG emissions in the future? If so, how far in the future?

5. How permanent are your offsets - 10 years? 20 years? 50 years? Evidence of permanence?

6. If trees are used for offsets, how do you measure the carbon reductions? How do you ensure that they are not burned or cut down?

Other resources/research to explore: (to offset travel)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Space: It’s all about how you use it

I like to tell people that my renovation is about creating a jewel of a house. For a whole host of reasons, I’ve come to prefer small, refined and beautifully crafted spaces to big statements of success. I really abhor the hummer and McMansion society that has defined America in the last two decades…. starting in the dreaded 80’s.

I hope the great awakening in this century is about less consumption, more conservation and less of a desire for bigger cars, homes, possessions, footprint etc. If society would realize that: “bigger isn’t always better;” “more is less;” and my new favorite…… “the wise man carries his possessions within him”.

Let me be honest though, I’ve had my own share of consumption vices in the past. I’m still in recovery from a lifetime of amassing a collection of shoes, dishes, even cats. But as I tell my friends, going green is about making small steps to change some of the more egregious practices that degrade the health of the planet. Eventually those small steps multiply and you are able to do more, comfortably about a new way of living. This is a marathon we are in, not a sprint.

On small space usage.

Cemil, my trusty green guide, has taught me how wasted space in a home is just unacceptable. As a good student, I’ve now become very adept at coming up with solutions for every little nook and cranny in this house project as a result of relocating rooms and walls. And I now have some of the coolest features in my small home and I can’t wait to live with the conveniences that they afford.

My beloved baker’s/butler’s pantry.

I love to bake and in the past I would have to do so while my boyfriend was in the middle of creating some elaborate Mediterranean feast. His garlic mincing would often meander over to my pastry rolling area, exposing it to unsavory additions. Anyone who uses a rolling pin also knows that there is an optimum height and it’s not the same counter height that you use for chopping vegetables. But now I have my own baker’s pantry that has been crafted to my specifications. With: lowered counters; a touchless faucet for floury hands; an extra dishwasher to keep my food processor from being confused with the one making a soffrito. And of course, just the right number of cabinets to accommodate rolling pins, cooking sheets, and measuring cups.

Side note: this space used to be a washer/dryer room that was misplaced in the center most part of the house. The washer and dryer have been stacked and put in the garage and this new center of the house will now produce freshly made cakes and pies!

A corner kitchen desk.

In creating the necessary returns to complete a room design, it often means that there are little niches that are generally unused. One such space revealed itself between the baking pantry and the kitchen. It was just the right space for a little desktop surface and a bookshelf for cookbooks. The counter area is just the size for a laptop, but it means that quick lookups on will become easier.

The cat excretorium.

With four cats, one is bound to have issues with cat pans and waste disposal. So Cemil came up with a clever solution that has been coined “an excretorium” by my boyfriend. It’s been carved out of a back hallway that abuts the garage. So on the inside, the cats can enter their own tiled bathroom through a little kitty door. On the outside, I will be able to access the cat pan area from the garage in order to remove the waste, wash down the area with an internal faucet, and whisk the offending refuse away to the outdoors. Cemil will install a motion-sensor fan to come on 10 seconds after a cat leaves the excretorium.

A guitar cubbyhole.

The boyfriend is a musician and he plays guitar. As a result, he has several. In the past, we always leaned them in their cases in the closet or corner of the room. But they always interfered with the space and were constantly being moved to get them out of the way. Cemil pointed out that we had a narrow, but deep space that came about as a result of carving out a coat closet and bookshelves from a wall in the office. As I looked at it, it seemed perfect for tall slender guitar cases. So now the guitars will have their own closet, behind a closet.

Wall safe, James Bond style.

Since the bedroom has been carved up to accommodate a walk-in closet and more spacious bathroom, we felt that we needed to balance it by putting in built-ins. This does two things: 1) the room won’t feel so small as there won’t be lots of furniture to clutter it up; 2) the room is more symmetrical and truly becomes a cozy place that feels “dedicated” to its defined use, as a bedroom. In making these changes, we created a “dead” space that was too small for another built-in. But it wasn’t too small to insert a safe that will be neatly disguised by a movable wall piece and a painting...... hence, the James Bond reference.

Bookcases instead of cabinets.

I have noticed, sadly of late, that homes no longer seem to have a prominent display of books. I will give the benefit of the doubt, and assume that many people just hide their books way. I prefer to think that versus the alternative: which is that people just don’t have books anymore. Anyway, I decided that a significant amount of wall space would be devoted to bookshelves. I’ve added them in as many places as I could and truly believe that they make a good bed backboard, end of hallway statement, and should be a key element of a room claiming to be an office or a “library.” So now all my books can come out of boxes and from storage and beckon to me to reread some of my favorites.

After all, if we carry our possessions with us, let our imagination and knowledge be the result of what we’ve read in literature!

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Not all wood is created equal

Little did I think my life would come full circle. 1981 was the year I got my first job and it just happened to be in lumber…… well, in publishing about wood harvesting and production. I was then, a recent college graduate who wanted to work in journalism. So I became a sales representative for a publishing company that targeted advertisers who sold products and services to loggers and wood producers. (

And now, 25 years later, I find that I am fascinated by the production of lumber….. again. But I’ve learned a lot in the intervening years. For one thing, the term “FSC” was not one that we bandied about in the 80’s. As with lots of things, we were generally unaware that lumber was a commodity that might one day run out. Yes, there was controversy over the protection of the spotted owl and a general appreciation for “responsible” conservation of forests. In fact, any logger would have agreed that clear-cutting was a myopic way of producing lumber for a consuming nation of wood products.

Sadly, large logging, paper, and lumber producers don't seem to have a “stewardship” philosophy about the forests they are cutting down. And neither does our current government. After a series of EPA chiefs that have been more aligned with lobbyists than the natural resources they were entrusted to protect, we have a scarcity situation on our hands. As with water (see earlier post) and oil, wood is likely not to be readily available to our future generations if we don't change our practices now-- in this generation.

That’s why wood is now a focus for green renovation. How can we consume responsibly? What wood is readily available? What are alternatives?

FSC lumber: It’s the guarantee that lumber has been produced “responsibly” and by using these “approved products,” it effectively assures that there will be more wood for the next generation.

Reclaimed lumber: Lots of industrious people have decided to trade in what others cast off or dispose of. As a result, there are wonderful recycled wood floors, beams and architectural elements that are waiting for a new home. A former Ziff Davis colleague has a thriving business that caters to the high end and the end result is beautiful wood full of sheen and character.

Dakota burl and Biofiber sheets: These products are made in Minnesota of waste crop materials-- but the bottom line is that they use less virgin materials, less embodied energy, and less chemicals.

Kirei board: (pronounced ki ray') is an engineered panel product constructed from the stalks of the Sorghum plant. The stalks left over after harvest are heat-pressed with a non-toxic adhesive to form a lightweight, strong, unique product. Kirei Board is used for all interior architectural millwork applications. It is not rated as a structural panel for exterior applications.

Bamboo plywood: is made from 100 percent rapidly renewable bamboo, using adhesives that are both strong and emissions free. It can be cut and sanded using conventional woodworking equipment. It can also be glued or mechanically fastened using the same materials and fasteners commonly used with wood. Bamboo is a low resin, open grained material that takes stains and finishes exceptionally well.