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saving your planet (41 posts)
Münter, 36, grew up lecturing her friends on recycling and dreaming of becoming a marine biologist. But she was also"an adrenaline junkie," she admits—so at 23, she started taking driving lessons at a California racing school. A local team owner soon spotted her and encouraged her to go pro. She has now racked up nine top-five finishes in NASCAR and Indy Pro races, among other series.
But despite driving fossil fuel–burning vehicles for a living, Münter remained passionate about the environment. In 2006, when she blogged about the film An Inconvenient Truth, "I got people on a NASCAR board to argue about global warming!" she says. These days she adopts an acre of rainforest for each race she enters, to offset her car's emissions. She's also discussed the need for NASCAR to switch to biofuels. And while some racing fans write her off as "that tree-hugging vegetarian hippie girl," they're also curious, especially when she approaches issues in an unexpected way—like helping the veterans group Operation Free publicize national security reasons to support clean energy.
In February, Münter dedicated a race at Daytona to The Cove, the Oscar-winning documentary about the annual dolphin slaughter in Taiji, Japan. When her tire blew out, she was "heartbroken." But her accident gave the TV commentator a chance to discuss her mission to save the dolphins. Afterward she could only bring herself to watch the race once. But when she did, she says, "I had to smile."
Why we need more female leaders
That's probably why my lazy little heart skipped a beat when I discovered Plywerk, an eco-alternative to traditional framing that's also easier (bonus!). Upload your digital photo at Plywerk.com and pick out your preferred size (from 30-plus options). The company prints the image, mounts it on sustainably harvested maple or bamboo, and adds a durable finish that makes glass moot. When it's delivered to your doorstep a week or two later, your artwork is ready to hang -- no purgatory required. (from $15.50, plywerk.com)
From the brittle orchid on my desk to the wilted blooms in my last backyard, I've never met a plant I couldn't kill. (True story: I once watered a little potted shrub for nearly two weeks before realizing it was fake.) But on a recent grocery trip, I looked into my cart to admire my bounty of summer herbs and saw...a lot of plastic. It seemed each sprig of mint and leaf of basil was wrapped in its own little slip of bad-for-the-planet packaging.
That grocery store moment was a gentle reminder that growing your own herbs can save both money and the eco-impact of shipping and shelving all that basil, mint, and chives. The hydroponic herb planters from Potting Shed Creations seem particularly forgiving. Made from recycled wine bottles, the planters come pre-filled and are slim enough to soak up sun on a windowsill. When the organic herbs are ready for harvesting (usually in four to six weeks), you can simply rinse the bottle and replant. Three weeks in, my tiny garden is still going strong -- and smelling delicious. ($35, pottingshedcreations.com)
First, the bad news: A warm winter followed by a wet spring usually means a buggy summer, as insects like mosquitoes and ticks thrive in the type of weather we've had this year. Now, the worse news: For most of us, keeping those bugs at bay means loading up on gross-smelling, cough-inducing insect repellent. Most of these contain DEET (a compound that's been linked to skin irritation and headaches, and which the EPA classifies as slightly toxic) and parabens (a preservative that can harm aquatic life if you go for a dip outdoors).
That's why we love Cold Spring Apothecary's all-natural bug spray, which uses natural oils like lavender and lemongrass to repel insects. Even better than its eco-credentials: The sweet, floral spray actually works. ($8.50, coldspringapothecary.com)
Ach, the unanswerable questions of a preschooler deep in the whys. Here's something I've discovered: If asked enough questions enough times, you really do start to think of yourself as a Personage With All Answers. So the last time we had this conversation I said, authoritatively, "Well, there's not really that Wonder Woman. But there are other wonder women who help solve problems and make people act nice." She seemed to accept this, although she did want to know whether or not they all wear American-flag-themed leotards.
And as if in answer to my own why-why-why's, here they are: the real-life wonder women. Fast Company has assembled this auspicious, inspiring, and thrilling group of influential women who answering the question: Can a devoted group of concerned women change the world? The League of Extraordinary Women includes powerful CEOs, leaders, and politicians who are working to improve the lot of women and girls throughout the world. As one example, Maria Eitel, the CEO of Nike, was inspired by a visit to Africa (and in particular, the smart girl she met there who was about to married off in exchange for some cows) to start The Girl Effect, the purpose of which is "to inspire girls to believe in themselves; to deliver resources girls need to grow; and to remove the barriers that hold them back." From giving women micro-loans to help them start their own business, to providing access to clean water, the organizations these extraordinary women have started are changing the world, one step at a time.
You have to pore over the whole list to understand the scope of this league of real-life wonder women. Just prepare yourself for a buzz of happiness and relief that these people are using their powers for the purposes of so much good.
Why We Need More Female Leaders
Powerful Women in Training
In 2010 Julia Silverman and Jessica Matthews traveled halfway around the world, hoping to light up some of the more impoverished villages of South Africa and Nigeria by testing some soccer balls there. But not just any soccer balls: Their Socckets, as they call them, house gyroscopic mechanisms that harness energy from the ball's motion. After being kicked around for 30 minutes, the balls can power a small LED lamp for three hours--long enough for a child whose home lacks electricity to do homework or read a book. Since most communities in Africa are crazy about soccer, the ball was a hit. "The kids thought it was magic," Silverman says, "but I could also see the wheels turning in their heads. One boy came back with a drawing of a ball with windmills sticking out of it. They wanted to be inventors, too."
The idea for the Soccket dates to an undergraduate engineering class at Harvard. There, Silverman and Matthews, working with two other students, drew on their experiences abroad--Matthews's family is from Nigeria, and Silverman had worked in sub-Saharan Africa--to devise a technically simple idea that could make a huge difference to the 1.4 billion people in the world living without electricity. The group knew that kerosene lamps emit dangerous fumes. While brainstorming alternatives, they thought of so-called shake flashlights, which are powered by motion, not batteries. Soon they'd put one inside a hamster ball to demonstrate how the global mania for soccer might help bring light to the places that don't have it. After the term ended, Matthews and Silverman worked with a design firm to create a more realistic prototype, a dead ringer for an actual soccer ball, except for the small plug on the outside.
In 2011 the duo quit their jobs at the World Bank (Silverman) and a social media start-up (Matthews) to focus on the Soccket. With sponsorship from corporations like Western Union, they've now produced more than 6,000 balls and accompanying LED lamps for distribution throughout countries including Mexico, El Salvador, and the Gambia. "We're also thinking of how everything from basketballs to volleyballs can be useful," Matthews says. "We want people to realize that making a difference doesn't have to be serious and boring. It can be as simple and fun as playing soccer."
Now, there's a way to pack your grub but leave your guilt behind. The Cooler Box by Cascades is a foam-free, recyclable cooler made from 70 percent post-consumer cardboard. Fill it with ice, and the cooler's waterproof interior lining keeps burgers or beach fixins frosty for up to 36 hours—just as long as traditional options. Talk about cool! ($15, boutique.cascades.com)
To be honest, I still find it unsettling to learn that landmarks and places that seem as permanent as California have the ability to up and leave us. And, like that wise fifth-grader I once knew, I like to take into account impending disappearances when planning my travel. Like so many aspiring adventurers, I've had trips to the Alps, the Galapagos Islands, and the Great Barrier Reef planned since I first cracked open a National Geographic Magazine. I just always figured, you know, later. When I'm old. Really old.
Then I saw this somewhat chilling infographic from Earth Xplorer: 10 Places to go Before They're Gone. Some of the most exciting travel destinations in the world are disappearing, some of them shockingly quickly. We might only have 25 years to visit the Congo Basin, 5 years for that bucket-list-worthy trip to the Taj Mahal. So check out this infographic, and map out some life travels accordingly. Here's a hint: visiting the cousins in California can wait.
Pick the Perfect Vacation Destination
10 Marvels of the World
So you've got to love this concept a group of Portuguese architects, Ana Luisa Soares, Filipe Magalhães, and André Vergueiro came up with for the awesomely-named Rooftops, Why Not? contest: putting public schools on top of New York City skyscrapers. As they put it, "What if suddenly the education would become the highest (and most visible) value of a society?" The resulting imagery is dreamy and futuristic, and evokes the question: How else can our urban spaces be reimagined? And: what do our structures say about what we value in life? And: how cute and raucous would the "School Elevator" be?
Be sure to visit the Cargo Collective site for more gorgeous images of architectural inspiration.
The Invention That Makes Everyone Smile
Saving the Hair of Cancer Patients
Oprah's Search for New Ideas
A few years ago, I bought myself a sleek little desk lamp with a solar panel built into its base. I thrilled at the thought of harnessing the sun to power late nights at my desk—both lowering my electricity bill and lessening my drain on the planet. But my eco-honeymoon was short-lived: My desk isn’t positioned near the slim window in my home office, meaning to fully charge that little lamp I had to move it back and forth between the desk and windowsill each morning and night. It’s no surprise that my green dream had been abandoned within the week, that lamp left to gather dust (and induce guilt) on the desk.
So when I first heard about the Solar Monkey Adventure, I had my doubts: After thirty-plus years of plugging in, could I train myself to sometimes rely on the sun? And could solar ever feel more convenient than electricity?
It took one long weekend at the beach to convince me that the answer is yes. The Solar Monkey Adventure is two slim solar panels that charge mobile devices like cell phones and iPads. The brilliance of the new gadget isn’t that setting it on your windowsill lets you charge your phone at home—though you can do that—it’s that tucking the lightweight device into your suitcase guarantees you can get a charge on the go, whether you’re hiking mountains (a Velcro strap securely attaches it to backpacks) or, like me, lounging near the water’s edge, fully charged cell phone happily in hand.