Because of the constant changes and space limitations at Logan Airport, Lourenço Dantas, Massport’s Senior Transportation Planner, likens the shuffling to a “Rubik’s Cube”. Upgrades and development in this multimodal transportation agency often means rearranging areas to make room for another project. Despite its small confined footprint, Logan Airport is the largest commercial airport in New England and the 19th largest in the U.S. for annual passenger travel (43rd in the world).
Solar Panels atop of Terminal B Garage at Logan International Airport
Transportation Planning Challenge
As a self-financing organization, Massport must balance facilities, operations, regulatory compliance, customer service, financial and environmental considerations simultaneously.
Tom Ennis, Senior Planner/Project Manager, expressed the tension that exists with the parking situation as Massport strives to reach a delicate balance between car usage and alternative transportation options. Factoring into the equation is the fact that parking fees generate more than $100 million, a quarter of their annual revenue.
Understanding that the parking revenue from driving cars is not a sustainable activity poses the challenging quandary: how do you replace an existing revenue stream while striving to be an environmentally friendly port.
Aside from parking, Massport also collects revenue from user fees and lease agreements. Currently, the ground transportation at Logan is 70% automobile modes, 15% is public transit modes, and the other 15% is shared-ride modes. A parking freeze cap, imposed by the State (MassDEP) regulations (310 CMR 7.30), leaves Logan Airport with a limited capacity of 20,692 spaces (employees and commercial) on any given day.
Part of the problem with car dependency can be traced back to the missed opportunity when Big Dig officials chose not include an alternative transportation tunnel even though it was proposed in the early design phases.
The sharp decline in air travel demand has created a business uncertainty. Decreased economic activity, tightened corporate travel and less disposable income has resulted a dramatic shift in airport activity that could signal a new era in travel. According to the 2009 Environmental Data Report, passenger activity at Logan Airport is down 3.8%, operations activity is down 48%, and cargo activity is down 23%, yet the Low Cost Carriers (LCC) have managed to increase their activity by 12.3%*. Since then, air passenger activity has been increasing. In 2010, air passenger activity grew 7.5% over 2009. Operations bumped up 2.1% and there has been a 5.6% increase in cargo/freight volume. (Airport Statistics - December, 2010)
Legacy airlines, such as Delta and American Airlines, attempting to reinvent operations for the new business environment have significantly reduced aircraft operations especially to regional airports.
The Young Transportation Professionals (YTP) of Boston hosted its first technical tour of Massport’s ground transportation facilities at Logan Airport allowing attendees to visit the Airport Station, Southwest Service Area, 9/11 Memorial, and the North Service Area via a reserved shuttle as Massport officials provided narration throughout the tour.
Massport has demonstrated proactive sustainability leadership in conserving energy resources while becoming less dependent on fossil fuels, but it has an arduous journey ahead. Escalating GHG targets will require even more creative and innovative thinking, analytical research, diligent implementation, and shifts in behavior patterns to meet its ambitious commitment towards energy efficiency, social responsibility and sustainability.
Thanks to the Emerging Professionals of the USGBC Eco Tour, Tedd Saunders, President of Ecological Solutions Inc., Chief Sustainabiliy Officer for the Saunders Hotel Group and Co Owner of the Lenox Hotel and The Comfort Inn and Suites Boston/Airport, provided a comprehensive roof to basement inside tour of the many energy efficiencies and sustainability initiatives implemented at the Lenox Hotel.
Pictured above: USGBC attendees at the Eco Tour. Front row (left to right): Laurel Kruke (far left), Sidharth Ramsinghaney, John Bergdoll (center), Tedd Saunders (holding paper) and Phoebe Beierle (next to Tedd)
As a proactive innovator, Tedd Saunders has established the Lenox Hotel as a proving ground for showcasing how environmental leadership is good for business, our environment, its hotel guests and the community.
Saunders explained how the Lenox has been able to strike the right balance of new sustainability measures by introducing and incorporating its environmental agenda in a gentle positive way rather than in a dogmatic fashion. To avoid overwhelming visitors and employees with an onslaught of green change, steady incremental changes and programs of sustainability initiatives have been implemented at a measured pace. Departmental incentives also serve as motivational drivers for management since performance impacts their internal scorecards.
Historic Building Challenge
Creating energy efficiencies in an historic building, such as the Lenox Hotel, presents unique challenges of updating and converting outdated infrastructure. Saunders’ mantra to think green in every aspect of building operations has paid dividends as he explains, “New technology and new thinking dramatically improves cost and impact.”
The boiler was converted to a modular energy system thereby reducing the space requirements, lowering operating costs, and reducing its environmental footprint. It allows each boiler to operate at or close to full-rated load most of the time with reduced standby losses resulting in significant savings in water and energy. The 212-room Lenox Hotel property saves 1.7 million gallons of water each year.
Champion of green message and culture
The hotel’s environmental management of thoughtful and ethical use of our natural resources is smart economics and has led to increased corporate business partly because it is able to meet the rise in stringent environmentally-friendly and sustainable RFP’s (request for proposal) requirements. Corporations are recognizing that improving their sustainability efforts has a positive effect on their bottom line. “The long-term perspective has really been key,” commented Saunders. “It is incumbent on us to always show that a business can be responsible while preserving the past and protecting the future.”
Beyond Compliance Approach
Saunders pointed out, “The low hanging fruit and obvious sustainability choices have been addressed. We are now moving in a more specialized and refined way continually looking to innovate and search for deeper sustainability measures.” But Saunders doesn’t rest with meeting existing standards, his ‘beyond compliance’ approach pushes the sustainability envelope in every direction. “When we first started in 1987, there were few environmentally-friendly products. Now there is a deluge of products. It’s now more about getting to know which vendors to choose.”
As mentioned in Tedd Saunders’ book, “The Bottom Line of Green is Black“, environmental implementation is comprised of works-in-progress. No environmental stone is left unturned.
Tedd Saunders (left) during the Eco Tour of the Lenox Hotel
Innovative Solutions are Shaping Emerging Business Practices
During the hotel’s 100-year anniversary, the exterior renovation was able to recycle 65 tons of material. Filtered water stations have been installed on each guest floor to eliminate bottled water (because of its transportation impacts). The hotel already offsets all of the carbon produced from its energy consumption, but they are also looking at an offsite solar system that will create enough renewable energy to power the entire hotel.
The comprehensive environmental program categories at the Lenox Hotel implemented by Ecological Solutions Inc. and The Lenox teams include:
- Energy Efficiencies
- Water Conservation
- Waste Minimization
- Sustainable Purchasing
- Indoor Air Quality
- Communication to create guest, visitor and vendor awareness and understanding
The rooftop sign is LED uses a fraction of the energy than the previous sign
For Saunders, Ecological Solutions Inc., and The Lenox teams, going green is a journey not a destination. As Saunders points out, “Whether it’s an historic hotel or new construction, every business has the opportunity to create positive change with improved energy efficiencies while lessening its environmental impact … it’s really about having the will to make it happen. Despite having a history environmental firsts and earning numerous prestigious awards, Saunders confides that there is still more that can be done.
The Lenox Hotel view from Boylston Street
Stakeholders expanding their expectations for current information are driving the need for quarterly sustainability online reports rather than waiting for the end of the year reports. As the demand for quarterly reporting trend emerges, it simultaneously is creating opportunities for communication experts and automated software to deliver more timely reports.
Transparency and accessibility
Web reporting has evolved into comprehensive triple bottom line reports where transparency and accessibility continue to play critical roles. Communication managers and sustainability experts are in greater demand because interactive links, videos, webcasts, blogs, websites and PDFs need to be frequently updated.
Strategies and commitments based on the current business environment shows leadership perspective, signals opportunities for stakeholder engagement inviting a feedback loop, and establishes an opportunity to provide a reasonable explanation of expectations.
Examined in more depth
Online reporting and accessibility enables core topics and surrounding issues of strategy and performance to be examined in more depth. It allows performance to be measured against targets and reports progress against objectives. Reporting on the current issues in context with surrounding events keeps things relevant. Scorecards and progressive reporting of benchmarks can even be interactive for comparison.
Opportunities also exist for software that can do frequent automated sustainability reporting with the ability to be responsive to political, environmental, economic, social and stakeholder needs. Manual reporting is slow, costly and perhaps less efficient.
Responsiveness Case Study
The Gulf of Mexico oil spill illustrates how significant events within a one-year period that have impacted BP Oil’s sustainability reporting and its interim financial reports. BP Oil needed to convince it’s stakeholders that it is aware of key issues and their concerns have been heard, understood those concerns and that it is taking action. Annual sustainability reporting is no longer sufficient.
John Bergdoll at the Rhode Island Energy & Environmental Leadership Day event in Washington, DC
At the invitation of Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Jim Thomas, West Warwick Town Manager, myself, and other Rhode Island constituents were fortunate to participate in the Rhode Island Energy & Environment Leadership Day conference held in Washington, D.C. to learn about federal programs, share and connect with environmental leaders. Senator Whitehouse opened the session by saying, “We are now at a time of crisis and opportunity.”
Throughout the day there were repeating themes of environmental crisis, opportunity and urgency. Without a doubt, the confluence of environmental and economic events is arguing for action. Broad scientific agreement indicate that carbon emissions play a significant role in climate change urging us to end our fossil fuel dependence.
“The impacts of climate change are always being reinforced,” said Senator John Kerry. “The arguments are so powerful and yet we still have resistance,” With fire in the belly, Kerry explained, “We are in trouble folks. It’s a hell of a battle. Get in gear.”
“Rhode Island is preparing itself for the impact of climate change. We must prepare for the inevitable.” explained Nancy Sutley, Chair, White House Council on Environmental Quality. Sutley further explained that there is tremendous stress on our oceans and, “We must find ways to balance the competing demands from our oceans. We are looking to create new and successful partnerships. A healthy environment and a healthy economy go hand in hand.”
“The Clean Energy and Environment Bill now being drafted is a major piece of legislation.” Sen. Whitehouse said. “Putting a price on carbon will be an important component.” It needs 60 votes to pass.
Lisa Jackson, EPA Administrator and Massachusett Senator John Kerry
Massachusetts Senator John Kerry said, ‘We must become energy independent. The arguments are so powerful and yet we still have resistance. The energy market is a 6 trillion dollar market. It’s the mother of all economies, but we still have fear mongering, ideological battles, damaged gridlock, demagoguery.”
“Deforestation is one of the greatest causes of carbon emissions. We need incentives. It is a major impact on climate change. We need a grassroots revolution.”
“It’s rare in public life when you get a ‘two-fer’, said Kerry. “This is a ‘five-fer’ citing national security, jobs, U.S. could be leading the world, competitiveness, and the moral imperative of environmental stewardship.”
Lisa Jackson, EPA administrator, stated, “We need to move past the lobbying and into action. We need some growth sectors.” The devastation of the BP oil spill only adds to the urgency. Clean energy has to be profitable.”
Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed closed the session by saying, ”There are no shortages of issues.”
Regarding global climate change, Senator Reed summed it up by saying:
- China has surpassed U.S. dramatically. They are dealing with the problem and are setting up the technology the rest of the world will demand.”
- It’s an opportunity to be competitive in a global marketplace where our success in the world could depend upon it.
- Our health and the planet’s reform
“Solutions will come from everywhere.”
“The era of cheap oil is drawing to a close. Drilling for oil now has to go deeper and further out which highlighting environmental risks and continuing concern about our dependence on the Middle East for energy. The price of carbon-based fuels will need to be higher for the nation to undergo a fundamental shift to clean energy.”2185
John Bergdoll (standing left of center) and the Boston Red Sox Green Team Volunteers from CEN/REBN (Clean Economy Network/Renewable Energy Business Network). We patrolled Fenway Park collecting recyclable bottles, plastic cups and containers during a spring Red Sox night game. It was a fun way to help out with community service, encourage environmental responsibility, reduce our environmental impact, raise awareness, and catch an exciting baseball game. Each green shirt was made from five recycled water bottles.
Volunteering for the Boston Red Sox Green Team was a good opportunity for me to experience first-hand how eager people are willing to recycle when given the option. Some people even rushed their drinks so they could give me their plastics cups.
It was interesting to note how grateful and supportive all the fans were toward me for my recycling efforts of walking up and down the isles asking for plastic recyclables.
The Boston Red Sox Green Team was successful in collecting recyclables because it was a ready option and it was convenient. I did not, however, observe anybody holding on to their recyclables to dispose of them in the recycling bins underneath the stands.
People are very willing and interested in recycling when it’s convenient but less apt to recycle when it’s inconvenient.
Placing permanent recycling bins in the isles in place of a couple seats in each section would be a visible and a convenient option. Additionally, the high visibility recycling bins represent another marketing opportunity for advertising dollars to make up for the loss of the seat footprint. Public service announcements should also be made to encourage responsible disposal of all recyclables at the ballpark.
Recycling bins underneath the stands are inconvenient, and in my view, underused. Ignoring the convenience factor of fan behavior fosters a wasteful linear approach to our natural resources which is unsustainable in our planet of finite resources.
What are your thoughts?
I caught up with Karen Weber, founder of Earth Our Only Home, Inc. and Boston GreenFest just hours before she embarked on her trip to the World Green Roofs Conference and Shanghai Summit on Solutions to the Water Crisis.
This groundbreaking summit, organized by Earth Our Only Home, Inc. explores green roof design and related technologies to address the growing drinking water shortages in China, India and neighboring countries. Hoping to find solutions as a facilitator and activist, Weber has assembled delegates from China, India, Taiwan, Korea, US, Canada, UK and Germany to share perspectives and expertise, identify challenges, connect technologies, discuss policy and finance, and to develop realistic timelines for action.
China and India are in need of short-term and long-term solutions that work with nature not against it. Now is the time plan for the future infrastructure. India plans to build the equivalent of 70 “New York Cities” over the next 20 years. It is unknown how many cities China is planning to build.
The concern is that buildings are being built without green roofs (with vegetation) resulting in hot cities that will not function in an organic way. Weber explains, “Utilizing green roofs will help regain the natural balance, creating a beautiful and cooler space that will foster the proper cycle of water. It will make a garden from the dessert, maintain cloud cover and help continue the normal water cycle. It helps the oxygen and carbon dioxide equation.”
India has mandated rainwater capture systems for buildings and homes, but there are concerns. Depending on the receptacle used, open roof collection systems will cause the water to become stagnant and open to mosquitoes, and if it’s not properly installed in the basement, it could be foster illness.
Roofs can serve as a primary filter for the collection of drinking water and help continue the water cycle. It provides moisture back into the hydrologic cycle restoring the natural balance of how water moves in and out of the atmosphere. Surprisingly, green roof design has never been linked to drinking water before.Professor Brad Bass of University of Toronto also shares this vision.
Weber explains, “The goal is to envision how the building growth can be done to make it healthy and sustainable. Now is the time to put green roof design into the planning and policy. It puts China in a leadership role. It also makes the return on investment very economical.”
What are your thoughts?
Kathleen Harrington, Coordinator of Boston Red Sox Planning and Development, and John Bergdoll
Scattered showers did not delay the Green Tour of Fenway Park hosted by CEN/REBN Clean Economy Network/Renewable Energy Network. Gathered at the Absolut Bar underneath the ballpark were about 100 clean and renewable energy fans to hear Kathleen Harrington, Coordinator of Boston Red Sox Planning and Development, make her presentation on the recent earth-friendly improvements at Fenway Park.
When I was in high school, I was a walking vendor at Fenway Park. I knew the park pretty well so it was refreshing to see and hear about the new sustainability initiatives and programs.
Here’s what we learned:
- Fenway Park installed 28 solar panels on the upper deck behind home plate saving energy and avoiding 18 tons of CO2 emissions each year.
- There are 11 Big Belly Solar Trash Compactors that hold up to 6 times more trash than regular trash containers.
- There are 28 no-flush urinals and 23 dual flush toilets (18 in the women’s room and 5 in the men’s room) reducing water waste by 30%.
- Most Red Sox publications including game day programs, calendars, and yearbooks are printed on recyclable paper.
- The ground crew uses biodiesel fuel (a non-petroleum based and clean burning) to power mowers that cut the grass and leaf blowers that clean the trash left behind in the stands after games.
- Organic fertilizer is used on the grass and the grass clippings are left to naturally decompose.
- The Poland Spring Green Team collects water bottles during the game with the help of volunteers who wear green shirts made of recycled water bottles that feel like cotton. Water bottles that don’t make it to the recycling bins are sorted.
Here’s sustainability improvements that I think should be made:
The carbon arc light towers at Fenway Park were installed in 1947 and have remained unchanged since then. Carbon arc lights were made between 1933 and 1944 and originally intended to search for enemy planes at night before radar was invented. The searchlight beams could reach more than five miles and could be seen more than 30 miles away.1 They represent a huge energy-efficient opportunity to reduce the carbon footprint, reduce light pollution, and save money. One of the most eco-friendly options is LED light bulbs. “LED lights contain absolutely no mercury or toxic chemicals. They don’t generate RF wavelengths that cause radio interference, or emit ultraviolet (UV) light — so LEDs will not readily attract bugs and other insects.”2
Rainwater storage is a smart way of conserving energy. It would be a valuable way to conserve water that could be used as potable water, irrigate the grass and infield, and in the flushing of toilets. Rainwater is energy. It brings life. To ignore it is wasteful and costly. In 2004, the EPA issued results of a survey indicating that, “36 states will have water shortages in the next ten years - - - even under non-drought conditions.”
There is a missed opportunity for a green roof on the second level behind home plate. Right now there is a flat rooftop that absorbs the sun’s energy, heats up, and reradiates that heat to the ambient air resulting in a summertime heat island effect. Urban heat islands affect energy use, air quality, human health and water quality. Instead, I propose a green roof top system that provides environmental benefits that would support hearty native ground cover and requires little maintenance. It would also beautify the space and view from the EMC Club and Pavilions. The space above center field parking garage also presents a green roof top opportunity.
Since all baseball teams incur a huge environmental impact with their airplane travel, I asked if there was any consideration to carbon offsetting the airplane travel. Travel can be made carbon neutral helping our environment in our fight against climate change. Harrington said there were no plans to do so. A member of the crowd then mentioned that occasionally the Red Sox take the Amtrak train when they are visiting the New York Yankees. Trains are more environmentally friendly and the players like it because it takes them right into the city.
With vision and leadership, a zero-waste and carbon reduction effort is possible by converting the food and beverage containers to recyclable or compostable materials. Cost savings will result from reduced trash disposal costs over the course of the season. Zero waste is no longer an idealistic vision but a practical cornerstone of sustainability. Newsweek listed Zero Waste at the top of its list of “10 Fixes for the Planet”.
Encouraging people to ride bikes and take public transportation to the stadium would go a long way toward reducing the product life cycle and carbon footprint of every stadium event. The transportation of auto-dependent fans incurs a hidden carbon footprint and is a missed opportunity. Bicycles take up little space, burn no gasoline, produce no waste, reduce congestion, and there’s no pollution. 28 Reasons to Bike
I propose the idea of developing a ‘Baseball Stadium Sustainability Index (or Report Card)’. Sustainability rankings would be based on stadium energy performance, sustainability, environmental impact, reduce-reuse-recycle efforts, water conservation, renewable energy and social responsibility. There is no overall energy rating in place for Fenway Park nor with other Major League Baseball stadiums to my knowledge. The goal is to get off the grid, return power to the grid and embrace best practices in sustainability and social responsibility.
Major League Baseball rewards the best team performance on the field with a World Series Championship. It’s time to acknowledge and reward Stadium Sustainability Performance as well. I commend the Red Sox for making sustainability inroads, but there is an opportunity and a social responsibility to set the global standard as community leaders and Sustainability Champions. Ranking high on a Stadium Sustainability Index is attainable and something Red Sox Nation and the rest of the world could cheer about.
1. Darin McGilvra, eHow Contributing Writer, “History of Carbon ARC Lighting”,
2. Organic Consumers Association, “Mercury Contamination Alert: Why LED Light Bulbs Are Safer Than Compact Fluorescents”,
John Bergdoll and Biker Boy (Zach Cone) at Mayor Menino’s Bicycling Safety Summit. Biker Boy volunteers his time by going to schools to teach kids the importance of wearing helmets and bike safety.
The Summit gathered area bicyclists and high-ranking city officials including Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, Boston Police Commissioner, Ed Davis, Boston Transportation, Commissioner, Thomas Tinlin, State Transportation Secretary, Jeffrey Mullan, and Boston Bikes Director, Nicole Freedman to discuss ways of improving safety for everyone who uses Boston’s roadways.
“The car is no longer king in Boston,” declared Mayor Menino. “In the last year, we have added 15 miles of bike lanes, 500 bike racks, and now parking in bike lanes fetch a steep $100 fine.” The audience of area bikers broke into an appreciative applause when the Mayor announced that he just filed legislation to limit the speed limit to 25 MPH in Boston.” Lower speed limits is a key measure to fewer biking accidents.
Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino
Commissioner of Boston Police, Ed Davis, announced, “We all have a responsibility. We’re going to provide a balanced enforcement.” Tom Tinlin, Boston Transportation Commissioner, Boston Transportation Commissioner, mentioned that three years ago, Boston was ranked last in bicycle safety. Now, Boston ranks 26th.
There was an extraordinary outpouring of passionate bike riders sharing smart ideas from painful lessons learned on the streets after years of first person testimonials. It was fascinating to hear their stories. One biker said that someone ‘takes a chance on him’ everyday as he rides his bike through Boston. Another biker told of her biking accident with a taxi and asked for signage on the inside taxi doors to ‘Look first before opening the door.’
Comments from the bicycling community (open microphone):
- “Wear helmets and wear them all the time.”
- “Bus drivers are venomous to bikers.”
- “Police officer don’t get reports from bikers who are sent to the hospital after an accident and are no longer at the scene.”
- “We need a cultural change in behavior.”
- “I notice there is a great improvement (respect from autos) when I wear a neon jacket.”
- “Ghost bikes (memorial bikes) should stay up like they do in New York and the rest of the country.”
- “1000 new bikes will be on the streets this summer. Will they be wearing helmets?”
- “I’d like to see Boston Police Officers on Bikes observing the rules of the road.”
- “For every car driver who makes one egregious mistake, there are 40 or 50 bikers who do the same.”
- “I would like to see Public Service Announcements teaching kids about helmets and bicycle safety.”
- “Each fall there is an influx of students to Boston presenting a HUGE opportunity for a coordinated bike safety awareness campaign. I think it is incredibly important – from a Boston-based “voice”.
- “Is there a possibility of a congestion tax?”
- “There are no campaigns for bikers.”
- “We need regulation on cell phone usage.”
Connect with me: Twitter @JohnBergdoll
Dr. James Hansen (left), noted climate change scientist best known for his accurate predictions about climate change since the 1980s, as well as his advising Al Gore on “An Inconvenient Truth” and director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, discusses the Internet and social media with John Bergdoll. Boston’s Green Living Festival
“As long as fossil fuel remains the cheapest energy option, it will be used,” commented Dr. James Hansen. “Globally, coal usage is increasing. The only solution is to have a rising price of fossil fuel.”
James Hansen and his team at NASA have said that any concentration of carbon in the atmosphere greater than 350 parts per million is not compatible with the planet “on which civilization developed and to which life is adapted.” We are at currently at a concentration of carbon in the atmosphere of 390 parts per million. This means we have to move very, very fast before we overwhelm the planet’s systems.
He went on to say, “Eighty percent of the solution is to phase out coal. It doesn’t make sense to get every drop of fossil fuel since the supply is going to run dry and we’re going to have to get rid of it anyway.”
If we continue creating CO2 emissions with business as usual, we are going to lose the Artic in the next two decades. Sea levels are rising, mountain glaciers are receding, and the ocean is gaining heat … it all means that our planet is out of energy balance.
Compounding the problem is fact that some congressmen who retire use their influence to become coal lobbyists for huge sums of money.
Dr. Hansen commented that there is not enough global understanding to create the public pressure and made reference to how long it took to make significant strides with the racial justice problem in this country. In my personal discussion with Dr Hansen, I mentioned that the Internet and social media is the ‘wild card’ we have to galvanize an awareness to a global audience. A recent example of this is when President Obama used the Internet and social media to mobilize the masses during his campaign. Huge attention was also brought to the Haiti crisis and the Katrina victims.
We are at the crossroads of intergenerational injustice with an obligation and responsibility to future generations by taking the necessary steps to forestall further damage to the environment.
An adjunct professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University and at Columbia’s Earth Institute, and director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Dr. Hansen is frequently called to testify before Congress on climate issues. Dr. Hansen’s background in both space and earth sciences allows a broad perspective on the status and prospects of our home planet.
Connect with me: Twitter @JohnBergdoll2e6d
(L to R) Danielle Pillion, Executive Director of Friends of Fort Point Channel, John Bergdoll, sustainability strategist and guest panel speaker on “How to Use Social Media to Find a Job”, Megan Curtis-Murphy and Julia Hughes of Environmental Business Council during the Environmental Business Council’s 6th Annual Environmental, Energy & Engineering Career Expo at the Lenox Hotel, Boston, MA
“Our food system is broken. The controlling strong arm of big business is forcing American farmers to comply with the mantra, ’Get big or get out,’” commented Patty Lovera of Food & Water Watch, Washington D.C. “It has really become the US Department of Agribusiness, not Agriculture.”
At the center of the issue is the economics, ethics, and social responsibility of big business pressuring farmers to use growth hormones on cows to pump more milk and their complete control of genetically modified seeds in the marketplace. As Lovera points out, “We don’t need it and there are many negative effects to these practices.” It’s an issue that’s been ignored for too long.
“Despite opposition from scientists, farmers and consumers, the US currently allows dairy cows to be injected with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), also known as recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST). Developed and manufactured by the Monsanto Corporation, this genetically engineered hormone forces cows to artificially increase milk production by 10 to 15 percent. Today, controversy still surrounds whether or not rBGH is safe for cows and humans.
According to opponents of the drug, effects of rBGH were never properly studied. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) relied solely on one study administered by Monsanto in which rBGH was tested for 90 days on 30 rats. The study was never published, and the FDA stated the results showed no significant problems.
The FDA continues to assure consumers that rBGH is safe for cows and humans, despite evidence to the contrary. In 1994, the FDA prohibited dairies from claiming there was any difference between milk from rBGH-injected cows and milk produced without the artificial hormone.”1 Lovera insists, “Consumers have the right to know and farmers have the right and obligation to tell you.”
“Cows forced to produce unnaturally high quantities of milk can become malnourished because they lose more nutrients through their milk than they ingest in their feed, and are therefore more susceptible to disease. In addition to artificial hormones, factory farms also use such methods as selective breeding; feeding dairy cows large amounts of grain (instead of grass), and exposing cows to longer periods of artificial light to make them produce more milk.”2 Consequently, cows put under large amounts of stress do not live as long as cows that are not stressed.
Farm Bill 2012
“We need these markets to be fair for those buying and producing the food. Farmers are not asking for handouts, they only seek competition in agriculture” explains Lovera. There are four giant companies that control everything in our industrialized food industry. Government is very involved in agriculture but big business wields its powerful influence.
“The reason we have crappy food is because we (consumers) don’t get a chance to decide,” says Patty. As Rhonda Perry of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center points out, “The U.S. government could do something now if they would start enforcing the Antitrust Laws already on the books. It’s time for our Food Bills to tackle this issue.”
Farmer profits are squeezed as farmers are forced to abide by corporation rules of greater production, more equipment and supplies. If farmers can’t keep up with the corporate demands they are cut loose from the supply chain. The gap in consumers’ prices and farmer shares continue to widen while corporations are profiting.
Who controls the seeds of the earth?
There was a time when farmers would determine the best seeds to save for future plantings, but that has changed. Now, corporations call the shots and farmers can no longer save the seeds. In fact, “If you save your seeds, you will be prosecuted,” explains Andrew Kimbrell, Center for Food Safety. “Seeds are now a commodity and sold back to the farmers. Corporations have complete control of seeds of the earth.”
In 1985, President Reagan exacerbated the problem when he wrote into law that plants could be patented. It opened the doors to an enormity of hybrid crops. Chemical companies now own all the seeds. Monsanto owns about 49% of all seeds. They also control the herbicides.
Corporation lobbyists with deep pockets use their resources to outspend and outlast opposition. One example is how they drag out the labeling issue by arguing about the font size of milk labels with rBGH hoping to wear down resistance and financial resources.
“American farmers have been stuck on a technology treadmill for 80 years since WWII; the situation is catastrophic. Only 4.3% of our population, 175,000 farmers, is shouldering the responsibility of growing our food,” explains Kimbrell. There is an increase in food supply and prices are lower, yet farmers are not making fair wages. Industrialized farming and genetically engineered crops has created a demand for more herbicides, fertilizer, and uses ammonia-based soil instead of topsoil. Big business is making greater profits, farmers are going out of business, and our food supply has deteriorated. On a more optimistic note, there is a new burgeoning trend in organic farming.
Giving to Those in Need
My naiveté in global affairs revealed itself as I became distressed and despondent to learn that there are ‘strings attached’ when countries, including the U.S., ‘give grain’ to countries in need. ‘Giving grain’ is a noble gesture, but the grimy truth is that there are stipulations. At a time of critical need when countries are vulnerable, big businesses step in and make short-term deals that have long-term consequences, often creating a dependency. Coffee beans, for example, might be given when wheat is what’s needed. Assigned ‘grain gifts’ often serve self-interests, disrupt the local growth patterns, and don’t always help to feed the intended people.
The fallout of businesses stepping in is that it creates a dependency of chemicals, herbicides, fertilizers, and limited growth seeds. It becomes a vicious cycle of dependency leading to poverty and starvation. Adding to the disarray is the uncomfortable burden it places on farmers because farmers have taken on the moral obligation that they must ‘feed the world.’
Battle in Africa
Africa is savvy to the risks of food industrialization … at least for now. In fact, it is a felony to grow crops for fuel and not food. Africa is a huge market that has thus far not been commoditized. Big business has not been able to penetrate it so the big companies try to make inroads by selling chemicals.
Importing Our Food
Why are we importing food that we could be growing here? Are supermarkets being socially responsible when they sell produce from all over the world while ignoring local farmers and incurring a global carbon footprint of transportation? Are we able to learn to eat seasonally and get back in touch with nature’s abundance? Imported food comes at an environmental cost not readily apparent. What are your thoughts?
1. Sustainable Table, rbgh, A program of Grace, http://www.sustainabletable.org/issues/rbgh, Feb 26, 2010.
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Among the distinguished panel of sustainability experts at Boston College Leadership for Change event on Sustainability was the colorful and inimitable Joe Starinchak, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Outreach Coordinator.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Joe Starinchak and John Bergdoll compare notes
In all the talk about sustainability and climate change, what’s missing is the biodiversity talk, he explained. Biodiversity consequences are huge. This is the stuff of life. This is what keeps us alive. It’s also the mission of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife to enumerate and solve these problems.
Starinchak’s direct approach had full command of the room when he announced that there are increasing signs of global ecological system failures! Everything we do, he explained, creates an ecological impact. Instead of the term, ‘Sustainability’, he said he actually prefers the term ‘Survivability’ or ‘Thrivability.’
One of his programs is to stop aquatic hitchhikers and prevent the transport of invasive species. The best ways to prevent the transport of invasive species is to clean off recreational equipment after each usage. We are grappling with the severity of our situation.
Another serious growing issue is smart disposal of medications and the prevention of using toilets as medical dumpsters. Starinchak said, “We have fresh water muscles on Prozak.” Of course, the crowd laughed, but the seriousness of his comment lingered as people started to understand it’s impact.
Starinchak, an impassioned environmentalist, encouraged, “We’ve got to think differently. Behavior change of the individual will need to change. Right now, we view ourselves as a consumer society, not global citizens. Surprisingly, nature only uses five elements from the periodic table, whereas people use all 118 elements.”
Using inspired common sense of visionary leadership, he said, “We don’t have the luxury of blaming anybody. It requires a new way of thinking. This is about us. It requires a personal commitment. Lastly, hold your politicians accountable.”
Joe Starinchak received rousing cheers and a spirited ovation.
I recently came across an apt proverb that seems to fit here, ‘As people lead, leaders will follow.’
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U.S. Congressman Ed Markey and John Bergdoll meet during the FCC Broadband Field Hearing on Energy and the Environment at MIT. Topics included the role of broadband and advanced communications in the Smart Grid, and the role of innovation in the energy information economy.
In his opening comments, U.S. Congressman Ed Markey stated, “Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison would still recognize the grid that they created which goes to show how little things have changed.”
“Smart Grid and Broadband are first cousins: smart homes, cities, and cars.” He continued, “The Smart Grid is nothing more than an electricity Internet. We’re managing the energy. We need a capacity to manage all this energy so it can be captured. Our grid has been working too hard. We need a smart grid that is used in a way that works smarter, not harder.”
“This is an incredible revolution and Massachusetts is at the heart of it,” he said. “We no longer see us as ‘The Bay State.’ We see ourselves as ‘The Brain State.’”
Markey indicated that we have the availability of technology to solve this problem of CO2 emissions. “Visionary leadership,” he said, “has been a wonderful national treasure.”
Technology, however, is not a simple clear-cut solution as Philip Giudice, Commissioner Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, explained. The major concerns of the smart grid are cyber security and privacy. He said, “We need to limit our vulnerability as we develop a comprehensive national broadband Smart Grid. It’s an economy challenge as much as an energy challenge.”
As tempting as it is to throw technology at the problem to fix the grid, Giudice wisely points out, “Computers and technology indicate that we are still in an era of rapid change. Specifying specific technology may not be the way to go.”
The key lesson of cyber security is that you have to protect information at the source.
Additionally, Giudice acknowledged, “We are in an all new world in vulnerability with regards to the internet and security.”
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“Agriculture is the first victim of oil,” states John Carroll, Professor of Natural Resources at the University of New Hampshire. “Food is 98% oil and natural gas (the energy required for delivery), therefore, whatever happens to oil – happens to food. We are vulnerable in our current dependence on foreign oil.”
Bill McGowan, Produce and Floral Coordinator for Whole Foods Market, and John Bergdoll discuss customer preferences for unsustainable fruits like blueberries from Chile, bananas from Guatemala, and pineapples from Hawaii.
Leigh Belanger, Program Director of Chef’s Collaborative, and John Bergdoll
On average, most meals travel 1,500 to 1,700 miles from farm to dinner plate. In our New England region, there are 130 countries contributing food to our food source –– and that makes us vulnerable.
Carroll explained, that of the four U.S. quadrants, New England is the least able to sustain itself. It’s the least secure with regards to oil. New Hampshire is 3 or 4% food secure; Massachusetts is about 10%, Vermont is 8 to 20%, and Maine is 18 to 20%. Maine has an aggressive goal of being 80% food sufficient by 2020.
“Eating is an agricultural act. We all eat, therefore we all have a stake in it” explained Carroll. There is a live and vibrant local markets movement, but the benefits of buying local is being increasingly offset by food from China.”
Adding to the mix is the deterioration of our rail system that leaves us fully dependent on the truckers. The “Food Miles” issue, of course, creates long distance shipping and adds to our carbon emissions problem. Our food warehouses are on wheels as we’ve adopted a “just in time” delivery system. Food in this system is not secure. Carroll encouraged us to have more local food resources that expend less energy and make us more food secure.
The key to a New England security future security, as Carroll explains, is going to be in grazing. Take care of the grass and soil and the cows will take care of the grazing, meat and dairy.
There is a strong movement towards “Relationship agriculture” which refers to keeping up relationships with farmers and knowing foods’ origin. It also means the protection of open space for farming. There has to be an element of trust. The more that food recalls happen, the more people come over the local markets because it develops mistrust with the industrialized food system. Local markets thrive when there is mistrust in the industrial food chain.
People are losing their connection to our environment when our food mass-market products produce a hamburger that can contain meat from up to seven cows. It gets to be difficult to track the origin. When I hear about our inability to track the origin of food it reminds me of the origin problem that existed with Mad Cow disease. As a reminder of times when society was more connected to its food source, John Carroll explained that during World War II in 1943, 40% of the food originated from homegrown victory gardens in the U.S. and 80% of the food originated from victory gardens in the U.K.
The weird conundrum that Whole Foods faces is that not everybody likes loose food (as opposed to packaged). According to Bill McGowan, Whole Foods Produce and Floral Coordinator, customers say they want loose food, but the reality is that many reach for the convenience of packaged foods. Concerns about food safety in handling become more pressing when viruses are prevalent such as the H1N1 (Swine Flu).
In the organic farming movement, there is a lot of pressure on the regulations of being organic to be more relaxed. If regulations are opened up, it could have a huge impact on the meaning of being organic. As a marketing advantage, mass marketers want the regulations opened up so they can use the word “organic.”
Blueberries, bananas and pineapples are a few of the produce that people buy every day, but they are not environmentally friendly because they travel long distances to reach New England. Blueberries, for example, are grown almost entirely in Chile. Interestingly, Chile exports 99% of its blueberries and they don’t even stock them in their supermarkets, but Americans can’t get enough of those dark blue antioxidants.
Most people never think of the origin of produce or flowers. I now know that the bulk of flower supplies come from Columbia.
McGowan stressed the importance of having a trusted food source. Practicing good agricultural practices (GAP) is a driving concern since consumer confidence is a huge. He also mentioned the beauty of the U.K. packaging model that includes a travel code, traceability, and farmer identification. He glowingly described it as, “Retail Love.”
Of big concern is the fact that farmers are competing with the “Cheap Food System.” To have quality food, consumers should be willing to pay a little bit more. The rising cost of land is factored into today’s farming prices. The average American spends 9.5% of their income on food. By contrast, Europeans spend 18 to 23% of their income on food.
Leigh Belanger, a Boston Globe food writer and director of Chef’s Collaborative, focuses on raising awareness and helping chefs because they have an influence on what we eat. One of the programs’ goals is connecting farmers and chefs. In another program, help is offered when chefs wrestle with issues like serving salmon that is farmed in Atlantic farms because customers want it, but it has a terrible ecological impact.
Eating local is a gratifying way to be fed and to feel connected. Belanger encourages us to seek places that subscribe to our values. Eat better, be conscientious and understand it is a valued decision. Ask, “Where is this cow from? Where did this chicken come from?” Build up that element of trust and be politically active by calling your congressman to affect change for better food systems.
We are blessed to have a wide variety of local food, but we get exposed to little of the diversity of food that’s out there. In the case of apples, for example, we are only exposed to 12 varieties when there are 40 available varieties in the New England area, yet there are apples from New Zealand during our prime apple-picking season.
Jennifer Hashley, Director of Tufts New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, explained, “Eating is a political act. Your fork is your vote three times a day. Globally, we are losing 125 acres of farmland per minute. We need to protect open space.”
There is embodied energy in our food.
- Agriculture uses 70% of the world’s water.
- Agriculture uses billions of pounds of pesticides annually.
- The food system is responsible for 1/3 of global greenhouse emissions
With every meal you eat, you have the power to reduce climate change. www.eatlowcarbon.org
Buy local, be your own best chef, plant a garden, and get involved – ask for food labeling … we don’t have laws about cloned animals.
Things got interactive with live audience polling when David Sittenfeld, host of the event, used www.polleverywhere.com to do an on-the-spot survey that was shown on the screen.14ef