Yes Virginia, maybe there is such a thing as big, green and … corporate

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Corporate Social Responsibility, Shauna Lawyer Struby, Sustainability | Posted on 02-10-2009


By Shauna Lawyer Struby

It's time we stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down.

– "Something's Happening Here," Buffalo Springfield 

As our world meanders through the waning months of the first decade of the new millennium, a funny thing has happened along the way. Around the globe folks are waking up from a century and a half of unbridled expansion and resource consumption enabled by abundant supplies of cheap, easily produced fossil fuels. Along with a helluva an oil addiction hangover, loads of "ah ha" moments about everything from climate change and peak oil, to overpopulation and acute ecosystem distress are dancing in our heads.

Sustainable "ah ha" moments are evidenced in the ubiquity and astounding array of sustainable initiatives by individuals, non-profits, large NGOs and large corporations from around the world. And while to some using the “c” word and sustainability in the same sentence, may seem like an oxymoron, to borrow from Buffalo Springfield, maybe something really is happening here.

This week Newsweek published their first Green Rankings, billed as an exclusive environmental ranking of America's 500 largest corporations. In an introduction to the rankings and related stories Newsweek's national correspondent, Daniel McGinn addresses why Newsweek chose to produce the rankings:

" … the economic case for going green is becoming more compelling … with scientific consensus that carbon emissions threaten our climate, there's growing political will to curb them …"


" … among our Top 100 best-performing companies, 70 voluntarily disclosed the data … 'One of the purposes of this is to improve the transparency of corporations … and encourage them to provide an even higher level of disclosure.'"


"Rankings inevitably provoke controversy — and we welcome that. Our hope is to open a conversation on measuring environmental performance — an essential first step toward improving it."

Hats off to Newsweek for having loads of green chutzpa to publish a list such as this, and for starting whatNewsweekgreenrank2 will hopefully be a meaningful conversation about the ins and out of operating a business sustainably. No doubt there will be plenty of commentary on methodology and the list itself. Good. We should have this conversation! And, we can thank Newsweek for their courage in attempting such a thing and then have fun browsing the list and related coverage which you may find is full of surprises.

Green washing is certainly a valid concern as Newsweek notes in this related article. But in "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed," Jared Diamond observes that often what has separated a collapsing society from one that survives is simply a society's willingness to respond to the threats, to do what it takes to prevent collapse. So while the companies on Newsweek’s list may be big, corporate and wholly imperfect, if they're willing to take steps in a sustainable direction, I say let's applaud the steps and then keep on asking that they take another and another. That's how change happens … one foot in front of the other.

Now to raise the sustainable bar for Oklahoma companies and corporations, as far as I know no Oklahoma media outlet has yet compiled a green ranking for Oklahoma companies and corporations. If such has happened, please let me know. If not, this could be a grand way to not only profile of those in Oklahoma’s business community taking the lead on the sustainable path, but to encourage others to join the rest of the world in making the greening of Oklahoma businesses a reality.

Keep on reeling in the green world

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Change, Consumption, Current Affairs, Energy, Environment, Farming, Film, Food and Drink, Home and Garden, Sustainability, Sustainable OKC, Transition Town | Posted on 11-09-2009


Sustainable OKC, the Cimarron Chapter of Sierra Club, and Slow Food OKC are sponsoring a film series, “Sustainability on Film,” at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, Wed., Sept 15 – Sun., Sept 20, with a panel discussion following the Sunday film.

The films highlight a complex array of the challenges facing us. Film Curator Brian Hearn describes the series:

As our economic, social and environmental activities become increasingly integrated on a global scale, the human species faces unprecedented challenges. In the wake of the groundbreaking documentary “An Inconvenient Truth,” filmmakers have been examining the complex issues facing our species and planet: climate change, dwindling natural resources, population growth, economic crises and political conflict. Along the way humans are finding innovative, simple solutions from growing their own food, to green building, to developing new forms of renewable energy. These films explore how we meet our needs in the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.


Wed., Sept. 16 – “Fresh” & “Food for Thought”

Thurs., Sept. 17 – “The Great Squeeze: Surviving the Human Project” & “Greening in the Heartland”

Fri., Sept 18 – “The Greening of Southie” and “Food, Inc.”

Sat., Sept. 19 – “The Garden” and “No Impact Man

Sun., Sept. 20 – “Earth Days

Join us Sunday after the final screening for a panel discussion, “Sustainability in Oklahoma: Where Do We Go from Here?” with local experts on how Oklahomans are dealing with the global issue of sustainability. Panelists for the discussion following Sunday’s film:

Bruce Edwards, Director, Urban Harvest at the Oklahoma Regional Food Bank

Kenneth Fitzsimmons, architect, U.S. Green Building Council, Oklahoma Chapter

Stephanie Jordan, Sierra Club Conservation Committee / Buy Fresh Buy Local Central Oklahoma

Jim Roth, attorney and Chair of the Alternative “Green” Energy practice group, Phillips Murrah P.C.

Shauna Lawyer Struby, Sustainable OKC / Transition Town OKC

Jonathan Willner, Professor of Economics, Oklahoma City University

Complete listing of films, screening times and summaries of each film available here.

To think or not to think sustainably

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Education, Environment, John Cheek, Nature, Philosophy, Sustainability | Posted on 08-09-2009


by John Cheek

Starting a graduate degree in philosophy invites a number of blunt questions, some from close family and friends uncertain of the plan’s wisdom, others from relative strangers snatching a bit more familiarity than seems entirely appropriate to my reclusive disposition. While my reasons for taking this path are incomprehensible to some, philosophy does offer some unique approaches to thinking about sustainability (and a host of other topics, of course). Philosophers have spent the last two millennia and change trying to convince the rest of you that we’re useful for something. There’s the tale Aristotle relates of the early philosopher Thales who, goaded for his “head-in-the-clouds” philosophical outlook, managed to corner the market on olive presses in his region and make a killing come harvest.

It’s a witty tale philosophers enjoy telling amongst themselves, (possibly to nurture the faint hope that any of them will ever make any money) but dark humor aside, there is one skill philosophers in general possess to a greater degree than any other profession. We can ask some tough questions. Socrates, perhaps the most famous of philosophers, was known for Socratic method (see, philosophy must be important if they named a method after one) in which he stripped away unsatisfactory explanations for common ideas by relentless asking pointed questions. Now depending on your disposition towards our subject, you may or may not have a very high opinion of the answers philosophers give to their own questions, but I’ll pose a couple of questions here and even risk an answer or two that I’d be quite delighted for you to criticize in the comments.

1. Is nature’s value intrinsic or extrinsic? In sustainably minded communities, we take for granted that our environment has value, but where is that value rooted? Is it intrinsic to the natural world, or is the natural world simply valuable in its usefulness to us? I’m fairly sure I know what trees would say if we could hear them talking, but it’s a good question to ask both of yourself and of others. If you are trying to enlist someone into a sustainable cause who believes the latter, then you’ll have a good idea of what arguments to pose and which statements to avoid.

2. How can we balance the needs of people with care for the natural world? It’s not uncommon to hear pie-in-the-sky statements from environmentalists, (I know, pots and kettles and all that) and that’s a good thing. Our goals should be ambitious as the stakes are quite high, but at the same time, it’s important that we consider the consequences different actions will have on the welfare of people in the short term. I don’t really have a great answer to how we balance these two aims, but perhaps some of you could help me suss one out in the comments.

Those are just two of the important questions that we face as a movement, and admittedly the answers can’t be handled completely in 500 words. So what do you think the answers might be, or am I even asking the right questions? Let us know what you’re thinking, and let me know if you’d like to help pay my tuition by renting an olive press …

A bumper crop of green living books

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Books, Chelsey Simpson, Sustainability | Posted on 01-09-2009


by Chelsey Simpson

A free book is a good book.

One of the many perks of my job is that strangers often send me fun things in the mail. In the past I have received: pajamas, makeup, bobbleheads, a skunk skull, pomegranates and books. Lots of books. With the exception of the skunk skull — which I asked for … sort of — these items are sent unrequested by folks who hope I will review or publicize their product in the magazine I edit. I almost never do.

A number of the books, however, are right up my alley, and it occurred to me the other day readers of this blog might appreciate them as well. Some of the best sustainability books, including all but one of these, usually come from a publisher called Storey, so if you like what you see here, you might want to check out their full catalog. 

"Homegrown Whole Grains: Grow, Harvest and Cook Your Own Wheat, Barley, Oats, Rice, Corn and More," by Sara Pitzer. The title pretty much explains the appeal, but it doesn't convey how beautiful and user-friendly this book is thanks to the simple illustrations gracing almost every page and charts and sidebars breaking information down into bite-sized portions. Each section takes a different grain from field to table, and there are even profiles of farmers and bakers to personalize the narrative.

"Made from Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life," by Jenna Woginrich. Jenna is a 25-year-old homesteader by night and office worker by day who mixes personal reflection with helpful instruction in this beginner’s guide to sustainable living. While dog sledding as an alternative means of transportation might not be practical in Oklahoma, sections on raising chickens, beekeeping, gardening and dulcimer playing are useful.

"Down & Dirty: 43 Fun & Funky First-time Projects & Activities to Get You Gardening," by Ellen Zachos. With the exception of a couple projects, such as making elderflower champagne, this would be great book to work through with kids. The pictures are bold and bright, and the projects — from scarecrows to wild food and winterizing — are simple.

"How to Build Your Own Greenhouse," by Roger Marshall. Like the other Storey publications, the illustrations are what really make this book great. The information is detailed, but easy to digest.

"Martha Stewart’s Dinner at Home: 52 Quick Meals to Cook for Family and Friends," by Martha Stewart. As evidenced by multiple dog-ears, this book might be my favorite of the bunch. It has made Martha my go-to recipe guru. The book is divided into seasonal sections, and each section is divided into 13 complete menus. The ingredients are mostly fresh and the recipes are easy. Adding to Martha’s sustainable street cred are references to farmer’s markets and instructions for stock making. It’s like she (and her minions) wrote the book with my weekly menu routine in mind!

"The Donkey Companion," by Sue Weaver. My love for this book is slightly irrational considering I have no plans to raise donkeys. Not many people could put together an exhaustive, 300-page guide to livestock care that manages to be fun and readable. Donkey lore and history, full-color photo sections, and helpful sketches throughout make it a page-turner. I especially love the sketches depicting the birthing process and one of a baby donkey in a tiny harness.

Happy reading! Do you have any sustainably-minded how-to books to recommend?

News You Can Use

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Community, Local News, Politics, Sustainability | Posted on 11-08-2009


Here are a few events and happenings you may want to be aware of and participate in over the coming weeks.

MAPS3 Survey for Public Transportation

The Alliance for Public Transportation seeks responses to an important survey by Friday, August 21, 2009. This survey is brief and involves answering only ten questions through the link below.

These questions request information about your interest in transit, MAPS3 and your interest in the Alliance for Public Transportation (APT). Please select the answer that best fits you! Thank you!


Sierra Club Cimarron Group Movie Night
Friday, August 28
7 pm social 1/2 hour

Movie at 7:30 pm with discussion following at Backwoods, 12325 North May, Suite 103, OKC

Encounters at the End of the World directed by Werner Herzog

There is a hidden society at the end of the world. One thousand men and women live together under unbelievably close quarters in Antartica, risking their lives and sanity in search of cutting-edge science.

Now, for the first time, an outsider has been admitted. In his first documentary since GRIZZLY MAN, Herzog, accompanied only by his cameraman, traveled to Antarctica, with rare access to raw beauty and raw humanity of the ultimate down under.

Encounters at the End of the World, Herzzog's latest meditation on nature, explores this land of fire, ice and corrosive solitude.



Eaton to host Prawn Field Day Demonstration

Sept. 12 at 9:30 a.m.

Register by Sept. 4

Eaton will host a field day to demonstrate how he’s been raising freshwater shrimp, or prawns, for the past two years in the pond on his farm near Cashion, northwest of Oklahoma City.

During the two-hour field day, which starts at 9:30, Eaton will harvest his second crop of prawns in as many years. In the meantime, he’ll give visitors the lowdown on production methods, potential problems, and harvesting and marketing.

Eaton received a 2008 Oklahoma Producer Grant from the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture to demonstrate the feasibility of raising prawns in farm ponds as an additional income source for Oklahoma farmers.

Registration for the prawn field day is free, but required by September 4 to reserve a place. Space is limited. To register, email, or call 918.647.9123. 

Meandering thoughts from inside a heat wave

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Change, Consumption, Energy, Environment, Nature, Robbie White, Sustainability | Posted on 24-07-2009


By Robbie White

I live in an historic neighborhood so I often think about our connection with those who lived before us in our home, of how things were “back then.” Our house was built in 1903. Most of our neighborhood came along in the decades around statehood. During this most recent heat wave my thoughts have wandered to how things were before air conditioning. 

I think of trying to sleep in a house with no relief form the heat. Then, I look at the lovely windows in my home. If those windows were opened, a nice cross breeze would cool each room of this house. A walk around the outside with this in mind reveals yet another reason for nurturing that huge pecan tree that has shaded the house for so many decades. In fact, most of our bedrooms are shaded in one way or another by trees or else they are on the north side. I wonder if this house had a sleeping porch screened from bugs but open on all sides. These days we have so many places to cool off on hot days — the library, a movie theater, church, the mall, and so on — but we still have to sleep at night. And I sleep better when it is cool. 

I recently read the book, “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett. The book is set in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s. Electric air is a new thing for the residents of the southern town. In one scene, the main character is trying to sleep in her parents’ plantation home, built in the late 19th century. She eventually ends up on the back porch remembering how many nights she slept on a cot out there in summer. In this and other stories of days before air conditioning, the heat becomes a force that shapes the lives in the narrative and illustrates how close those people lived to the natural world. 

My kids and I hid from the heat most days during the recent heat wave. We stayed inside where it was relatively cool. We watched movies, read books and worked around the house. We could be oblivious to the heat if we chose.

But with a sustainable lifestyle, you’re trying not to be oblivious. It’s easy to let the car idle in a heat wave because it is so hot, or to drive a car instead of bicycling on an errand. And you begin to see the challenge of stepping away from all that technology and of moving one step closer to the way things ought to be. 

How do you make your life more sustainable? In what ways are you closer to the natural world? Do you grow your own vegetables or have a compost bin or pile? Maybe you attended the local food fair at Harn Homestead last week? Or perhaps you support local farmers? Looking forward to your ideas. 

Let’s celebrate our choices together on Fresh Greens!