Photo credit: Basil Childers

Photo credit: Basil Childers

The Shanghai World Expo is set to open this Saturday — the largest world’s fair in history, with more than 70 million people expected to attend — and I think it’s mighty neat that an American design firm was chosen to design the Shanghai Corporate Pavilion.

ESI Design, based in New York City, was tasked with creating a building that would express Shanghai residents’ dreams for the city’s future, including a greater commitment to environmental responsibility. The resulting 40,000-square-foot masterpiece, dubbed the “Dream Cube,” achieves that and then some, with an exterior made of transparent recycled (and recyclable) polycarbonate tubes filled with LEDs; a solar thermal system that generates electricity and heats water for the pavilion; and rainwater collection for a misting system that will help keep visitors cool and add to the general dreamlike aura of the exterior.

More interactive adventure than structure, the Dream Cube invites visitors on a kaleidoscopic journey whose details I won’t even begin to describe here, for fear you’ll think I’ve ingested a dose of peyote along with my morning coffee. But the experience sounds and looks magical, to say the least. Take a glimpse for yourself:

While waiting in line to enter the Dream Cube, visitors can change the LED colors above them by clapping their hands. Photo credit: Basil Childers

While waiting in line to enter the Dream Cube, visitors can change the LED colors above them by clapping their hands. Photo credit: Basil Childers

On the escalator ascending into the structure, bluish lights and soft ambient music help visitors transition from the noise of the outside to the otherworldly Dream Cube experience. Photo credit: Basil Childers

On the escalator into the structure, bluish lights and soft ambient music help visitors transition from the noise of the outside to the otherworldly Dream Cube experience. Photo credit: Basil Childers

As visitors stroll through the Green Shanghai section, they experience the seasons changing on massive media displays. Here, spring bursts forth in all its glory. Photo credit: Basil Childers

As visitors stroll through the Green Shanghai section, they can experience the changing seasons on massive media displays. Here, spring, with a lush carpet of LED "grass." Photo credit: Basil Childers

Want to experience the Dream Cube for yourself? You have until Oct 31 to get yourself on a plane to Shanghai.

–Jennifer Grayson

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The film industry may be one of the worst polluters, but it looks like some Hollywood studios, at least, are making an effort to improve environmental practices at the local level. Check out these photos taken by loyal Red, White, and Green reader MT, who lunched at the commissary on the Disney lot in Burbank, CA, last week:

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Evidently, the Disney Green Workspace program has been in effect since April 2008, and includes a number of different initiatives in addition to the commissary waste reduction effort: Individual plastic water bottles have been eliminated from backstage operations and offices, employees are encouraged to recycle cell phones and other electronics in addition to the standard paper and plastic, and a minimum of 30 percent recycled-content paper is used for everyday printing and copying.

These steps may seem small in comparison to the massive amounts of greenhouse gas emissions and waste generated by The Walt Disney Company’s theme parks, resorts, and cruise ships — in addition to the aforementioned carbon cost of the movies it makes — but Disney has big-picture planet preservation plans: The company has said it will halve its emissions and theme parkÔÇôrelated garbage by 2013.

No word yet on how Mickey and Minnie are personally joining in the eco efforts.

–Jennifer Grayson

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[Watch The Kids Cook Monday video on YouTube]

We know that eating less meat is better for the environment — a recent study estimates that curbing beef and pork consumption alone could cut $20 trillion off the cost of fighting climate change — but health is a huge driving force, too: Going meatless even once a week can reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity.

Not surprising, then, that the Meatless Monday campaign is starting to gain ground in our nation’s schools, given that one-third of American children are now overweight or obese.

Baltimore City Public Schools, Covington County Schools in Kentucky, and the Ross School in East Hampton, NY, have all gone meat-free on Mondays in the effort to improve student health. New York City public schools may be the next to follow.

So why not get the students themselves involved? That’s the brilliant thinking behind the new Kids Cook Monday campaign from the folks over at Meatless Monday: They’re encouraging parents to take the time once a week to cook with their children, setting them up for a lifetime of healthy eating habits.

By cooking together, families will also be eating together, which sounds obvious but amazingly, is something that only 59 percent of American families do. (And a lot of those families aren’t eating healthy, home-cooked meals together; they’re eating fast food and convenience meals.)

Kids who eat dinner with their families:

  • Are less likely to be obese
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables
  • Get better grades in school
  • Have lower rates of depression
  • Are less likely to do drugs

So take a cue from the adorable Kids Cook video, above, and whip up a batch of black bean tostadas with your little one tonight — or give any of these family-friendly veg recipes a try.

–Jennifer Grayson

Do this now: Want to submit your own video to The Kids Cook Monday? Email Joey Lee: jlee [at] mondaycampaigns [dot] org.

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Photo via Flickr: Jurvetson

Photo via Flickr: Jurvetson

Earth Day may have reached an all-time publicity high this year, but the public’s outlook on the state of the planet is still pretty grim: According to a CBS News poll, roughly one in two Americans thinks the environment will be in worse shape for the next generation. (Interesting note: That’s roughly the same split between Americans who believe in global warming and those who don’t.)

I’m no Pollyanna. I do think the world is going to be a remarkably different place to live even a few decades from now, and not for the better. But before I go all Debbie Downer on you — especially since you already may be feeling a bit of the post-Earth Day blues — I thought it would be helpful to highlight some encouraging environmental progress that you may not be aware of:

Buh-bye, BPA. With five states restricting toxic chemical bisphenol A and a federal ban currently under consideration, companies are starting to feel the heat: General Mills has announced it will remove BPA from the can linings of its Muir Glen tomato products, while Coca-Cola is facing a shareholder challenge on the issue.

Light bulbs that last. You’ve probably heard about Australia’s incandescent light bulb ban, but did you know that traditional bulbs are being phased out in the United States as well? The lighting market has already shifted in anticipation; compact fluorescents seem to be taking up most of the shelf space in my local Walgreens these days.

Energy Star stepping up. Earlier this week, the Environmental Protection Agency announced its new, more stringent guidelines for homes that earn the Energy Star label (and the accompanying tax credits): The new requirements will make homes at least 20 percent more efficient.

–Jennifer Grayson

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[Watch video on MSNBC]

I’ve decided on my Earth Day resolution: I’m giving up my BlackBerry. It’s not to further reduce my energy consumption, though that is important — the International Energy Agency estimates that increased demand for energy from mobile devices could contribute to a doubling of CO2 emissions by 2030. Nope, it’s about renewing my appreciation for the beautiful world we live in, something I’ve been ignoring lately in my day-to-day life (I’m too busy checking my email).

Drastic? Perhaps. But the idea seemed to resonate with Dylan Ratigan over at MSNBC; I appeared on his show yesterday (see above) to talk about my Earth Day plans, which I had written about more thoroughly in this Huffington Post column.

I could go on with a longer Earth Day post — there’s a lot of exciting stuff happening out there today, like our National Parks being open for free all week — but I think I’m going to take my own advice and go enjoy the great outdoors (as much as I can, anyway; it is still a workday). Hope you can, too.

Happy Earth Day!

–Jennifer Grayson

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[Watch Oceans trailer on MovieSet]

How will I be spending Earth Day? Well, that all depends on how much work I can get done between now and tomorrow morning. You see, if I have my druthers, I’ll be at the 10 am showing of Disneynature’s Oceans, cherry Icee and Jujubes in hand. (Make that organic home-popped popcorn and a Klean Kanteen of ice water smuggled into my canvas tote bag.)

The film, which opens tomorrow, promises a breathtakingly beautiful look at all five of our planet’s oceans — including a first-time look at some of the otherworldly creatures that live there, thanks to the latest in high-tech underwater filming technologies and over seven years of painstaking work from directors Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud.

That the movie is being released on Earth Day only highlights how blue, is in fact, the new green: It’s our oceans that are already starting to realize the detrimental effects of climate change, what with acidification threatening to wipe out many shellfish and corals completely in the coming decades; it’s our oceans that will no longer be a source of food for coming generations if we continue our current rates of overfishing.

–Jennifer Grayson

Do this now: See Oceans during opening week, and Disneynature will make a donation from the sale of your ticket to help protect the threatened coral reefs of the Caribbean. Click here to read more.

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Photo via Flickr: Seattle Municipal Archives

Photo via Flickr: Seattle Municipal Archives

I was going to save up and write one big Earth Day post for this Thursday, but I’ve heard so many fabulous ideas for marking the occasion that I’ve decided to make the whole week about my favorite holiday. (Alright, so Halloween is a close second.) It is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, after all, and I’m thrilled that everybody from Walmart to The White House seems to be making a big to-do about April 22 this year.

To kick off the week, I’d like to feature a story that’s near and dear to my heart: Celebrating Earth Day with kids.

One of my most profound childhood memories is of receiving a copy of 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth (the original; a new version was released in 2009). I really think that book was the beginning of my eco-activism; I carried it around with me for years, and memorized nearly every tip it offered.

When I decided a few years back to transition from a career as a performer to one as an environmental journalist, the memory of how I loved that book — sentimental as this sounds — was partially what motivated me to take the leap.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, I guess I’m just a firm believer that the earlier we plant the seeds of sustainability, the earlier we encourage a love for nature, the better. (After all, the youngest citizens of our planet are also the most malleable.) That’s why I love the National Wildlife Federation‘s list of ways to celebrate Earth Day with children.

A few of my faves:

Cultivate your child’s green thumb. Plant a garden with your children and encourage them to take care of the fruits and vegetables. Add wildlife-attracting elements to your yard, like a water source and native plants, and watch your kids be wowed when wildlife actually shows up.

Introduce your children to bird-watching. You don’t even have to know the names of the birds; just buy a good bird guide (or check out the WildObs iPhone app) and have fun looking up your sightings together.

Make a worm compost bin. What kid doesn’t love worms? Red wigglers will devour banana peels, apple cores, lettuce, and leftovers-gone-bad, leaving behind rich black castings that you can then use to fertilize that garden you just planted.

The other reason this story is a personal one is because, as HuffPost readers may already know, I’m expecting my first child in August. But of course, you don’t have to have your own children to do these activities; we all have kids in our lives — students, nieces and nephews, children of friends — who could benefit from a good green mentor. Not to mention a little fresh air.

For more of NWF’s fun Earth Day activities for kids, click here.

–Jennifer Grayson

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Photo via Flickr: Mike Baird

Photo via Flickr: Mike Baird

We can talk about how going meatless (even one day a week) can reduce your risk of diseases like cancer and diabetes, how it can minimize your water footprint, even how it decreases our nation’s dependence on fossil fuels…but let’s be honest: There are two words I can utter that will have you scarfing down tofu scrambles faster than you can say Quarter Pounder With Cheese: Thinner. Thighs.

Atkins may come and go out of fashion, but studies have repeatedly shown that vegetarians are, on average, a good 10 to 20 pounds slimmer than meat eaters. And you don’t have to give up meat entirely to lose weight: Dawn Jackson Blatner, author of The Flexitarian Diet, says that by adopting a mostly meatless diet, you can expect to see a 20-pound average weight loss in six to 12 months.

Vegans, not surprisingly, are often the slimmest of all. (Although not always; I once knew a rather hefty vegan lady who subsisted largely on French fries and doughnuts.) Hence, the best-selling diet book Skinny Bitch, which advises a completely animal-free diet as the fastest path to sample size.

My goal here is not to advocate for a completely vegan diet (I, in fact, identify more with Blatner’s approach). Nor is it to say that I personally think the most compelling argument for Meatless Monday is a smaller waistline (for me, it’s the environment). But I will suggest that if you’re trying to drop a few pounds, you might want to stop thinking burgers and start thinking beans.

–Jennifer Grayson

Do this now: Need some meatless motivation? Check out Skinny Bitch co-author Kim Barnouin’s new Healthy Bitch Daily site, which is chock-full of nutrition and fitness tips to get you going. Courtesy of HBD, I’ll be giving away two signed copies of Skinny Bitch: Just leave a comment below (topic: meat consumption and weight) by Friday, noon PST, to enter.

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Maryland bans BPA, hooray!

April 15th, 2010

Photo via Flickr: Beth Nazario

Photo via Flickr: Beth Nazario

Well, it’s official: Maryland has become the fifth state to ban the use of toxic chemical bisphenol A (BPA) in children’s products, including baby bottles and sippy cups. Governor Martin O’Malley signed the bill into law on Tuesday, after the legislation passed unanimously in both chambers of the General Assembly earlier this year.

Aside from being a political victory for eco org Environmental Working Group, whose experts testified before both Maryland Senate and House of Delegates committees in support of this legislation, it’s also a personal one: EWG President Ken Cook is a Maryland resident, and has a 2-year-old son. (I’m sure Mr. Cook is very diligent about buying BPA-free products for his family, but I’ll bet it’s nice to know that his fellow parents will have some peace of mind.)

Other states with BPA bans include Connecticut, Minnesota, Washington state, and Wisconsin. The city of Chicago, as well as three counties in New York state, have also passed restrictions as well.

The Ban Poisonous Additives Act of 2009, which would restrict BPA in canned food and other packaging at the federal level, is currently in committee in both the House and Senate.

–Jennifer Grayson

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I’m going to be writing my own Earth Day post next week, but I thought this video of President Obama encouraging action at the individual level was pretty apropos, considering that there’s a lot of environmental inaction going on right now at the federal level.

True, there has been some promising change since Obama took office: His administration has increased fuel efficiency standards to 35.5 mpg, as well as allocated $2 billion for clean energy research through the American Reinvestment Recovery Act — heck, the First Lady is even encouraging local, organic farming by planting the first White House vegetable garden since the Roosevelt administration.

But there have been setbacks, too: the appointment of two big ag men to high-level agricultural posts; a section of the Tongass National Forest opened to logging; the stalling on the regulation of toxic coal ash; and, most recently, the reversal of the offshore drilling ban.

Still, I don’t think Obama is being insincere by telling Americans that their greatest hope for environmental change is through individual action; I think he’s being realistic. He’s seen time and time again — with his campaign, with the push for health care reform — that regular folks making small changes in their daily lives move the agenda a lot faster than a bunch of bickering bureaucrats.

As Thomas Jefferson said, A republican government is slow to move, yet once in motion, its momentum becomes irresistible. That momentum is us.

–Jennifer Grayson

Do this now: Want to know what you can do this Earth Day? Go to whitehouse.gov/earthday to find service projects in your area.

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