Monday, April 28, 2008

Virtual textbooks: Free & Clean

A new company coming on the college textbook scene, Flat World Knowledge, has the potential to simultaneously lower costs for students and lessen the environmental impact of printing the books on paper.Images are screenshots from Flat World Knowledge videos.

While the company's aim is to produce what may seem crazy, at first (free textbooks!), there's a pleasant side effect for the planet: Fewer books printed on paper means fewer trees that are harvested for said paper.

More than 20 million trees die every year to become the medium for books in the U.S., according to a Green Press Initiative climate impact report, a climate-concerned group that works with the publishing industry to find a solution that makes everyone happy.

GPI also says that the pulp and paper industry is the fourth largest manufacturing industry in the U.S. for greenhouse gas emissions. So, paper books don't just kill trees, they are changing the world's climate. Going a step further, when there are fewer trees in the world there is less oxygen being emitted and less carbon being stored as wood. The carbon goes into the air, which has less and less of the oxygen that trees produce.

Flat World isn't offering the books for free just out of the goodness of their hearts. According to a Chronicle of Higher Education article, the company plans to sell supplements, like study guides, to make money.

They also plan to offer print-on-demand versions for all those last-century scholars who can't quite seem to get a grip on the growing world of information offered via digital technology.

This idea isn't the only one in the neighborhood, but I think it's better than even textbook rental outfits, like Renting means the books get reused over and over, lowering demand. It's a great idea that's been around for a while, but it doesn't eliminate the need for trees.

Don't get me wrong - Chegg is great - according to its site, the company actually plants trees to help offset those cut down for textbook production. I just think digital textbooks are closer to what's needed - financially and ecologically.


Monday, April 21, 2008

Where should you go to find out more about saving Mother Earth? Check it out below!

There are gobs and gobs of Web sites on the Internet about the environment and climate change. So many, in fact, that some of them get lost in the shuffle – especially those dedicated to education as a purpose. One of these is the North American Association for Environmental Education.

This site sees its mission as teaching people “how to think about the environment, not what to think.” The association tracks information in the political spectrum, as well as in the educational spectrum. One thing it is working on is a set of amendments to the No Child Left Behind act called "No Child Left Inside," which would include ways to integrate environmental education into American schools.

The association's site has oodles of information for everyone about the environment. One interesting read is the 2007 annual report(downloads a pdf), which details what the association has been doing over the past year. It's a great first step to getting to know these education-minded folks.

A fantastic resource for all is the EE-Link, which is a compendium of links to hundreds of sites that have something to do with educating the populace, from children to educators to college students and more.

By following the K-12 link under the heading "Audience-Specific Content," for example, you can find Teens for Planet Earth, an organization dedicated to getting teenagers involved in saving the planet and in educating others.

One section of this site is "News," which is an aggregate of environmental news - not just news for teens, but for everyone. In the Resource Library, kids can learn how to prepare for a career in an environmental field. The list includes taking science and math classes, looking for colleges with great environmental and science programs and getting involved in volunteer work and internships at local organizations dedicated to environmental issues.

Another great aspect of the site is the Take Action section, which has activities to help kids determine what they'd like to do to help earth and then how to achieve their goals.

Another site from the association is one that is for both high school and college student: Sierra Students Coalition, the national student chapter of the Sierra Club, which is another great eco-resource site.

This site has numerous great resources for students, including its blogs, under the heading of "It's Getting Hot in Here!"

These blogs are written by teens and young adults for teens and young adults.

Additionally, the site offers a great set of resources for students to get things started on their campuses. Coupled with that, the organization offers fellowships, which include $1,500 scholarships, for student leaders wanting to take their involvement a bit further.

NAAEE is serious about environmental education. Along with these engaging Web sites, it shows how it is trying to make environmental education something more important to American society. It has information on programs and initiatives it is involved in, including one project that would set up an environmental educator certification program. The program would create a professional credential for educators who teach about the environment, ensuring a high level of competency for the people who would teach our kids and young adults about how to care for the Earth.

The association recognizes that after gaining all of this wonderful education, there must be a place to take it an use it. The jobs page includes jobs such as the director of a charter school in Prescott, Ariz., instructors for a zoo camp in San Francisco, an environmental education intern and much more.

With loads of information - more than my humble blog could cover - NAAEE is a fantastic starting point in your journey of environmental discovery. Find your path. Just learn a little. Maybe nose around to see what your own Web site is missing.

Environmental education is the next step in this newfound trend in being green. We got the bug to be better to our planet, now let's make sure everyone learns as much as possible, so we can turn that trendiness into a habit.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Environmental journalists speak

Environmental journalism is a growing field. While environmental journalism has been around for decades, it seems to be more popular just recently, as the populace of the United States realizes that global warming may indeed be a problem worth some of their time.

When journalists from the Pacific Coast and the Southwest U.S. gathered this weekend for the Society of Professional Journalists 2008 Region 11 Spring Conference in Tucson, Ariz., they got together for panels to learn from each other about different aspects of journalism. One of these aspects was about – you guessed it! – environmental journalism.

Why is this important to you? It’s important because you value the information you get in stories about the environment. It’s how you find out what’s going on. Without these people and others like them, little information would get to you and other concerned members of the public.

Below are excerpts from each of the three panelists, speaking about environmental journalism.

These three pieces are a little long, but to those who read about the environment, this is kind of a behind-the-scenes view of how these stories get done and the challenges the journalists who write them often face.

To those who write – or want to write – about the environment, this is a unique opportunity to listen to some of the experts in the field of reporting on what is happening to our planet.

Photos by Jennifer Tramm, but please forgive the low quality. These were taken on my cell phone, as I neglected to bring a better camera with me that day.

First up: Tony Davis, environmental reporter. Here and here are two of his stories, published in the Arizona Daily Star.

Next up: Dick Kamp, Wick Communications environmental liaison, and also former director of the Border Ecology Project.

Here is one of his stories, published in the Vail Sun, Vail, Ariz. Here is another, published in the Daily Dispatch, Douglas, Ariz.

Lastly, Alan Weisman, author of the popular book, “The World Without Us,” which was Time magazine’s no. 1 nonfiction book of 2007, and associate journalism professor at the University of Arizona.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Making recycled paper: Keep being green fun for best results!

This weekend was learning time for my 14-year-old daughter – and, surprisingly, me, too!

I got some books from the library a couple of week ago to see what was available to kids on the subject of environmentalism. Among the books was one called, “Earth-Friendly Crafts for Kids: 50 Awesome Things to Make with Recycled Stuff,” by Heather Smith, with Joe Rhatigan.

One of the crafts showed kids how to make handmade paper out of old paper scraps. Looking at the list of necessary items, I notice that we didn’t have some of the stuff.

What we didn’t have:

A deckle and mold, which is a metal screen on a frame and another frame on top of that
A plastic pan, about the size of a kitty litter box
Pieces of felt, for drawing water out of the fresh paper

What we did have:

Junk mail, old notes, scraps of construction paper, et cetera
Something heavy, like phone books
A surprise tool (see below!)

Now, being a poor student (poor, not as in pathetic, but as in short of cash on a regular basis), I had to get creative about what we didn’t have.

For a deckle and mold, we used a cheap ($3) wooden frame and a $1.29 piece of metal mesh from the hardware store across the street. I cut the metal mesh down to the size of the glass from the frame and simply slipped it in, setting the glass aside, then folding down the metal tabs to keep it seated.
For the cat pan, we used a plastic underbed box instead, cleared of the toys that usually inhabit it.

For the felt, we used old cloth diapers that had been wrapped around my baby’s butt before she learned to go potty (cloth diapers are absolutely fabulous for the environment – plastic diapers just fill up the dump – and are great to use for a variety of projects later on).

After reading the instructions, my daughter, Melinda, and I looked at each other and sighed. Tearing all that paper into little bits sounded like paper cuts waiting to happen. Suddenly, Melinda’s eyes lit up. She pointed to our shredder (surprise tool!) and said, “We already have cut-up paper!”

Smart girl.

So, we proceeded to the blender, filling it two-thirds of the way with paper and almost to the top with water, and blending it until it was a pulp the consistency of a milk shake (though not one you’d think of drinking).

Melinda did up three pitchers of pulp and poured them into the underbed box, then added more water to make a sort of paper soup (again, not the eating kind!).

She then dipped the homemade mold into the soup and moved it around a bit as she brought it to the surface and finally pulled it up, level, out of the box. She let it drain for a while, pressing with a sponge (which had to be wrung out a few times into the box), until most of the water was gone.

All photos by Jennifer Tramm, excepting videos, below.

She then brought it over to a flat surface and gently flipped the paper in the mold over onto a waiting cloth diaper. Before trying to remove the paper, she pressed the back of the mold with another diaper. With more water out of the paper, she then gently pressed with her fingers to encourage the paper to release from the mold.

Once free of the mesh, we decided to press it down with the glass from the picture frame (makes one side of the paper smooth, for writing or drawing). I put the glass over the paper and gently flipped it, the paper and the diaper until the glass was down. I then pressed a bit more with the diaper to get out more moisture and to straighten wrinkles and left it to dry.

We did it again later, but had a bit of a hitch: Melinda hadn’t checked the shreds for bits of plastic from old credit cards. It wasn’t until after we made the second sheet of paper and after it had been pressed onto the glass that I noticed two bits of plastic in our now-pretty sheet of paper.

Oh, well. It gives it extra texture, right?

I looked online for some other resources on papermaking and came up with a great site, a photo set on, that had more than 40 photos of the paper making process that put mine to shame.

I found another site from the Wisconsin Paper Council that makes it really simple and pumps up the learning when making paper.

I also found this video that shows a mom and daughter making paper. The mom talks a lot and the kid looks like she was coached, but it’s a pretty good example of how it’s done.

Here’s another one, in which a fourth grade class is shown how to make paper, with embellishments, by their teacher. Kind of a neat twist on the project!

This project was a bit messy, but it was fun and both my daughter and me learned how easy it really is to make paper out of all of that mailbox junk and old used-once notepaper.

Possible pluses from a mom’s perspective (other than the obvious saving of the planet!): Grandparents love, love, love stuff their grandkids make and a personalized something, like a handmade card, makes a great present that’s inexpensive and keeps the kids happy at the same time! I could see this evolving into other projects, such as molding the paper pulp into shapes and then painting them. Or even applying the pulp, with embellishments, to plain vases.

In the end, it’s all fun and a great learning opportunity that’ll help keep kids in an environmentally responsible mindset as they grow older.

Monday, March 31, 2008

An opportunity to learn may be under your feet

A recent phenomenon, called "chalking" by some, though that term can have other, less-innocent connotations, has taken hold on university campuses and may even be found in parks and on sidewalks along a street you use. Someone comes along and writes a message in chalk on a walkway or bike path where people are sure to be in the multitudes.

Some of these messages are random.

Others have positive or negative messages.

Some of them are oriented toward environmentalism.

Photos above are from and while they are free to use from that site, they are not for commercial use. Photos below are by Jennifer Tramm, excepting the video.

I occasionally find chalk messages around the University of Arizona campus. Many of them are announcements for events, like today's, which advertises a free showing Friday of "An Inconvenient Truth," in the Alumni Plaza on campus.

This method of getting the message out is cheap and easy to do and will yield results. People look at them. Some stop to read them. Others, like me, stop to take pictures and then blog about them. has dozens of pages of chalk messages.

One word of caution, however: If you get caught, police will likely tell you it's graffiti and if it doesn't come off, you'll be responsible for fixing it. In a recent Police Beat in the Arizona Daily Wildcat, the UA's campus newspaper, a group of chalkers were made to wash the messages off by the officers who caught them. Fortunately for them, it came off without damaging anything. Unfortunately for their message, nobody got to see it.

So, it's an interesting medium for your message, but beware the consequences.

In my opinion, chalk messages are very environmental: Chalk is a substance found in nature, kills no trees (as would paper fliers) and washes off in the next rain. The only drawback might be the dyes used to give the chalk its color. Other than that, it's got some pluses.

P.S. For anyone who may be on the UA campus Friday night at 7 p.m. here's some information about the movie "An Inconvenient Truth," and/or check out the movie's trailer below.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Another Tucson school goes green!

Last month, public school Davidson Elementary achieved a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, rating and received the Congressional Award for Solar Excellence, presented by U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Both are firsts for the Tucson Unified School District.

The LEED rating means the school conforms to nationally accepted standards maintained by the U.S. Green Building Council. According to a TUSD press release, the school uses shredded blue jeans for insulation, a hot new trend in green building.

Davidson Elementary School, 3950 E. Paradise Falls Dr., Tucson, Ariz. Photo by Jennifer Tramm.

Using old blue jeans and remnants from the clothing manufacturing process is very environmentally responsible. It reuses a biodegradable material (cotton), so it won't be around longer than we will be.

This video talks about a few insulation options. For the nitty gritty on blue jean insulation, move the slider bar to the 1:00 mark and let it play. Video courtesy Building Green TV.

The school buildings are pretty new. The old buildings, constructed in 1914, were torn down after a mold infestation proved to be their undoing. TUSD decided to build the new, environmentally-friendly school just north of its old location on the corner of North Alvernon Way and East Fort Lowell Road.

Along with using blue jeans to keep it warm or cool, Davidson Elementary also uses solar power and has a recycling club. Additionally, the school has a botanical garden, made possible by a $300,000 donation from then-Vice Mayor Carol West, according to Principal Arthur DeFilippo's page.

Way to go Davidson Elementary!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Look around: You might see planet love everywhere you turn

ELOY, Ariz. – It’s Spring Break and, like many of my fellow students, I am on vacation. In looking for things environmental, I found them in a most unlikely place: the budget motel in which I am staying. This Americas Best Value Inn belongs to a chain of hotels owned individually as franchises. So, each hotel has its own quirks. This one has a pleasant quirk: a tendency toward environmental responsibility.

Don’t get me wrong: This place is far from the greenest of the green, but with compact fluorescent light bulbs in every fixture and recycled toilet paper in the bathroom, it is more environmentally friendly than many hotels.

Rain Breeze Eco toilet paper contains at least 30 percent recycled fiber.

Compact fluorescent light bulbs use about 25 percent of the energy of a comparable incandescent bulb and last many times longer.

This unexpected planet love got me thinking as I toured the some Native American ruins in Coolidge, Ariz. Where else can I find environmental responsibility around me as I travel?

I found it at the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. Right outside the entrance was a little bin nailed to a post with a sign that reads, “Recycle Brochures Here.”

"Casa Grande" means "Big House" in Spanish and was first called that by Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, an early Spanish explorer, in 1694.

I’m sure it is a cost saving effort, but it also saves paper, which saves trees, which helps save the planet.

There was plenty that was not environmentally responsible: dozens of cars and RVs in the parking lot, all waiting to spew engine exhaust into the air; and electricity in use without benefit of solar collectors.

The site helped me, however, reflect on how much society has changed in the 600-odd years since the Hohokam people left it.

Back then, people were practicing methods that shaped the land for their uses, but they didn’t have engines to fill the air with pollution. They lived in smaller communities than we do today. For the most part, light came from the sun, rather than coal-burned electricity generation and a light bulb. Food was grown to feed the community, rather than to make extreme profits. Even their dwellings were from the earth and so, many hundreds of years later, do they return to it.

In some ways, people of this area are starting to wake up to the dangers global climate change has in store for us. In the Casa Grande Dispatch, there was a story Sunday morning about how the city of Casa Grande, Ariz., is planning new biking and walking paths to offer the 34,000 + citizens an alternative to driving their cars. This is a great step in the right direction, especially since the city does not have in-town public transportation.

Erosion in the form of wind and rain has carved the face of the Big House since its abandonment in the late 14th century.

I hope that we can return to some of the methods the Hohokam used – not out of necessity, but because it’s better than what we’ve got going now.

All photos by Jennifer Tramm