Hands holding a globe

Photo: © 2009 Jupiterimages Corporation

Unexpected Ways to Go Green
You may think your hybrid car or backyard compost pile is a pretty cutting-edge way to reduce your carbon footprint, but have you ever considered hiring goats to take the place of your lawn mower? Or starting a company that sells and markets eco-friendly sex toys?

See how innovative companies and everyday people are taking green initiatives to smart—and surprising—new heights.
Goats on the Google headquarters

Google Hires Goats to Mow the Lawn
During the spring of 2009, Google rented a herd of goats for one week to clear away the brush from fields near its Mountain View, California, headquarters. "The goats cost about the same as lawnmowers but are a more sustainable way of clearing weeds and grass," says Niki Fenwick of Google's Global Communications and Public Affairs.

The goats aren't the only way Google is being eco-friendly. Fenwick says Google has one of the largest corporate solar installations in the country and one of the largest fleets of plug-in electric vehicles too.
Alliyah Mirza

Greening the Sex Toy Industry
When 29-year-old Alliyah Mirza graduated from law school in 2007 with a degree in Environmental and Natural Resources Law, she wasn't considering a career in the adult novelty industry. Yet, just two years later, she's the owner of an eco-friendly sex toy company, Earth Erotics.

"My curiosity about the vast array of new and green consumer products eventually led me to start looking into my own sex toy collection. After doing some research on sex toys, I discovered that sex toys and sex toy materials are not properly regulated for consumer safety by the U.S. government," Mizra says. "They're considered 'novelties' or 'gag gifts' under the law. Little consideration is given to the fact that these toys are being used by millions of consumers in the most absorbent parts of the body. Many sex toys on the market contain high levels of phthalates, which are a controversial PVC softener that has been linked to cancers and other negative health effects."

Mirza's company doesn't sell toys made from PVC, containing phthalates or made from secret or undisclosed materials. Instead, her company's toys are made from 100 percent medical grade silicone. Her whips are made from recycled inner tubes, and her lubricants are made from hemp oil and other organic ingredients. "I think it is important for consumers to buy green sex toys for the assurance that what they are buying is natural, nontoxic and will make them feel good in more ways than one!"
Mark Runquist and his wife, Linda Barnes

Using Wind to Create Energy
In the spring of 2008, Mark Runquist, his wife, Linda Barnes, and their three school-age children had a 70-foot-tall wind turbine installed on their seven-acre organic farm near Melbourne, Iowa. "We had been thinking about installing a turbine for over five years before we took the plunge," Runquist says. "We had already managed to produce most of our food organically, but sustainable energy was a noticeable gap in our footprint."

After tax credits, the turbine cost about $10,000 and produces between one-fourth and one-half of the family's electric use depending on the month, Runquist says. "Everyone wants to know: How much money will I save? Or how long will it take to pay back the initial cost of the turbine?" Runquist says. "I usually answer them with another question: 'Can you tell me how much electric rates will be one, five and 10 years from now?' Or another question: 'With the uncertainty of the stock market and other investments, can you think of a better way to spend your money where, instead of paying the power company every month for electricity, you are instead paying toward a tangible asset that you own and are reducing your future expenses?'"

While not every family can install their own wind turbine on their property, Runquist says there are things you can do to generate your own energy. "Whether it be a geothermal heating/cooling system, a wind turbine, solar electric or solar/thermal system, I would highly recommend that some sort of sustainably generated energy source should be part of every household," he says. "Every time I drive home and see the turbine spinning over the farmstead, it puts a smile on my face!
Joe Sehee of the Green Burial Council near an open grave

Photo: Jonathon Tercero

Going Green in the Afterlife
It seem a bit morbid to think about the cost and ecological impact of a funeral, but between embalming, buying a casket and many other fees and charges, the National Funeral Directors Association says most funerals cost more than $7,000.

Joe Sehee of the Green Burial Council says typical funerals and burials are far from eco-friendly. "I recently calculated that we bury enough metal in caskets each year to rebuild the Golden Gate Bridge and so much reinforced concrete in burial vaults that we could build a two-lane highway from New York to Detroit," Sehee says. "We also bury, each year, more than 826,000 gallons of embalming fluid, which is comprised of a substance (formaldehyde) regarded as a known carcinogen by the World Health Organization and a probable one by our own EPA."

By choosing a green burial, Sehee says you're simply taking part in the way most of humanity has been caring for its dead for thousands of years. Sehee shares some of the typical elements of a green burial:
  • Typically, a person is cared for prior to burial via refrigeration or dry ice vs. embalming
  • The deceased usually rests in a simple wooden casket or a shroud
  • At the graveside, the body will be lowered to a depth that, with appropriate excavation techniques, will allow nutrients to eventually feed plants on the earth's surface.
  • Markers are often engraved rocks and trees
  • You can choose to be buried in a certified green cemetery, which is regulated by the Green Burial Council and run by people willing to embrace a new ethic in deathcare rooted in transparency, accountability and ecological responsibility
  • The typical green burial runs about half to two-thirds the cost of a conventional burial
"We don't expect this concept to appeal to everyone," Sehee says. "We certainly don't want green burial to be used to diminish any end-of-life ritual or form of disposition. We simply want to protect the legitimate environmental and social benefits that can emanate from the concept so that those who want to live and die with a lighter hand on the land have a way of actually doing so."

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