guest bloggers

by Julie Clendenin

DC Water lifted its two-day Boil Water Advisory March 7, which was a relief for many DC residents. Their short “water crisis” ended without much drama. It did, however, remind me of our good fortune when it comes to drinking water. It’s good that the remarkable days are those when our water supply is NOT absolutely safe.

And it made me wonder about the flip side of that luck that escapes my consciousness most of the time. I started really thinking about what it would be like to live without a reliable, convenient source of drinking water.

I wanted some perspective from the flip side, so I went looking for some data. Here’s what I found:

  • 768 million people in the world do not have access to safe, clean drinking water (UNICEF, 2014).
  • “Access to drinking water,” in international development language, means that the water source is less than 1 kilometer from its place of use.  That means that someone has to travel, collect water, and carry it home for use. EVERY DAY. The World Health Organization estimates that, globally, 200 million hours are spent EACH DAY collecting water for domestic use.
  • An American taking a five-minute shower uses more water than the average person in a developing country slum uses for an entire day (UN Development Program, 2006).

Our city’s briefly threatened water supply was an inconvenience for many of our neighbors – in fact, it was a very real health hazard that needed to be taken seriously. I am grateful that this kind of thing is a rare occurrence for us, and that we can remain confident about the safety of our drinking water.

RWFFLogo_FullColor_EST2012The thing is, in the developing world, the lack of clean drinking water is daunting crisis. In some African nations, less than half the population has access to clean drinking water. Every day, 1,400 children die from diseases directly linked to unsafe water or lack of basic sanitation.

The Reel Water Film Festival, Saturday, June 14 at the Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club, is a great place to start exploring the global water crisis. It’s also an opportunity to explore our own, local water supply challenges. Roughly 6 million people live in the DC area – and most of us get our drinking water from the Potomac River, which is threatened by stormwater runoff from our paved surfaces, sewage overflows caused by massive rainstorms (and snowmelt!), chemical & nutrient pollution from our lawns as well as larger industrial and agricultural sources.

There are things we can each do to help, on both fronts. Let’s not take clean water for granted. It’s not really just a matter of good fortune. We need to get real about protecting it.

Julie Clendenin grew up in Bethesda, met her husband during high school at Walter Johnson, currently lives with her family in Kensington, and works for a consulting firm in Bethesda.

Incubator Spotlight is a continuing series of features about companies in the Bethesda Green Business Incubator.

Gator ron logoGator Ron’s Zesty Sauces & Mixes offers six unique, delicious products; two versions each of Divine Bloody Mary Mix, Angel Wing Sauce & Heavenly BBQ Sauce.  All products are made with all natural ingredients, and are gluten, dairy, and fat free, contain no GMOs or HVPs, are Kosher, vegan, low in calories and carbs and high in flavor & versatility; there are numerous recipes on our website for easy, healthy appetizers, entrées, side dishes and beverages using our products.

The unique recipes for these sauces and mixes were created by “Gator” Ron Griffith, who died of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) in November 2011; we are manufacturing and selling his products to raise money for ALS research. Constance Griffith, Ron’s wife, is Founder & President of Gator Ron’s Zesty Sauces & Mixes; Debra Kaufmann is Co-Founder & Vice President, Public Relations & Communications.  A percentage of all proceeds are donated to the Robert Packard Center at Johns Hopkins.

In the 18 months since we first received our manufactured products, we are delighted to say that Gator Ron’s Zesty Sauces & Mixes are now in more than 100 locations in the Baltimore/Washington metro area, including several stores and restaurants on the Eastern Shore.  We are also with a distributor in Ontario, Canada for placement in gourmet and gift shops, and our Bloody Mary Mix is in numerous liquor stores in Delaware and Pennsylvania, as well as all Montgomery County and Worcester County Liquor Stores.  We have online sales through our website, Abe’s Market, Open Sky and Amazon.

Gator Ron’s is currently in local programs with Whole Foods and MOM’s Organic Market, and will be placing some of our products in local Giant Food Stores in the fall, and we are in discussions with potential distributors, which would help us really grow the business.  We are also hoping to find investors to help fund this upcoming growth – and even plan to apply to Shark Tank!  We are very excited and believe that 2014 has the possibility of becoming a huge year for Gator Ron’s!

Please help us “take a bite out of ALS” by purchasing Gator Ron’s Zesty Sauces & Mixes – we hope to become the Paul Newman’s for ALS.

by Alex Stavitsky-Zeineddin

Recent anti-pesticide laws enacted by local jurisdictions have moved members of the Montgomery County Council to examine the county’s current pesticide practices, both public and private facility management and lawn care/landscaping services, but not in farming or agricultural land uses.

DC’s Pesticide Education and Control Amendment Act was passed unanimously in August 2012. It restricts non-essential “cosmetic” pesticides from all government-owned property and restricts the use of pesticides on private property around schools and child-occupied facilities and properties next to waterways.

In July 2013, Takoma Park, MD City Council passed unanimously “Safe Grow Act of 2013,” which restricts the use of certain pesticides on all city-owned and private property within the City.

Residents in DC and Takoma Park – Julie Taddeo and Catherine Cummings – brought their concerns to their respective council members about the health risks and exposure to pesticides, especially to young children, as there is a growing amount of research linking early exposure to synthetic pesticides and childhood leukemias and cancers. (See Policy Statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics.)

In the Kentlands neighborhood in Gaithersburg, the community is considering alternatives to synthetic pesticides currently used in the common landscaped areas after concerned residents brought up health risks to exposure of these synthetic pesticides that are applied every fall and spring.  In 2011, the Kentlands Citizens Assembly voted to stop spraying pesticides in tot-lots due to residents’ concerns of pesticide exposure to children. The other concern is that the pesticides also run off into the local Muddy Branch stream and that local drinking water health suffers.

A pesticide is defined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as “any substance or mixture of substances intended for: preventing, destroying, repelling, or mitigating any pest. Though often misunderstood to refer only to insecticides, the term pesticide also applies to herbicides, fungicides, and various other substances used to control pests. Under United States law, a pesticide is also any substance or mixture of substances intended for use as a plant regulator, defoliant, or desiccant.”

Montgomery County Council member George Leventhal, who chairs the Council’s Health and Human Services Committee, requested a discussion and presentation on September 9 at the Council’s Transportation, Energy and Environment Committee to inform the Council members about the county’s current practices, to hear testimony from Takoma Park and DC legislators, and to hear from people that are for and against local legislation.

So, what comes next?

Keith Levchenko, Senior Legislative Analyst for Montgomery County Council says that, “Currently, no legislation has been introduced at the County Council.  Council member Roger Berliner, Chairman of the T&E Committee, announced at the T&E discussion that he is considering introducing pesticide legislation.  If legislation is introduced, then a public hearing and committee discussion specific to the bill will be scheduled.”

Alex Stavitsky-Zeineddin is the founder of Green Gaithersburg, a member of the newly formed Chesapeake Greens Collaborative, a coalition of environmentally friendly organizations that promotes sustainability and sound environmental practices in our communities.

by Richard M. Goodman

A recent article published by the Printing Industries of America: The Magazine on combating the effects of greenwashing on the printing industry offered general advertising guidelines drawn from other sources that are worth sharing here.

The Federal Trade Commission has had a set of  “green guides” since 1992 used to decide if an environmental claim made in the media may be deceptive.  It continually updates these guides to meet current knowledge.  The most recent updates in October 2012 incorporate the following:

A proponent cannot make a general environmental claim like “environmentally friendly” unless it includes a specific benefit which can be substantiated.  Claims of “reduced carbon footprint” likewise must refer to a specific and scientifically based and properly measured and documented study. If a company promotes a particular “seal of approval” it must describe what the criteria for obtaining such a seal are.  Terms such as non-toxic, ozone safe must also be specific  as to the nature of the benefit, whether to the environment or humans.  Recycled content refers only to materials recovered or diverted from the waste stream during manufacture or after consumer use, as post consumer waste.  Actual content must be spelled out as, for example, made from 50% post consumer waste recycled materials.  Made from renewable materials is also a claim that needs clarification.  For further details see this link.

The qualifications described above are meant to ensure that a particular advertiser does not commit one of these seven sins of greenwashing, as identified by UL Environment, a part of Underwriters Laboratories:

  1. The sin of the hidden tradeoff — highlighting one aspect but ignoring others.  For example, noting that a particular paper stock  is made from recycled fibers, but omitting that the process to make the paper  emits greater greenhouse emissions.
  2. The sin of claims without proof — for example a toilet tissue manufacturer claims greater use of post consumer wastes but has no proof.
  3. The sin of  vagueness — using the term “natural,” for example, when toxins like arsenic, lead or formaldehyde are natural substances.
  4. The sin of worshipping false labels — implying endorsement by reliable third parties when no such endorsement has ever been made.
  5. The sin of irrelevance — saying a product is “CFC free” when in fact the use of CFCs are forbidden by law.
  6. The sin of the lesser of two evils — hailing a vehicle as a fuel efficient SUV when it gets significant poorer mileage than the average vehicle.
  7. The sin of outright fibbing — claiming certifications, like “energy star,” when not true.

We should all be extra vigilant when we see any promotion of sustainability in any setting, whether in the media, on the internet, on a storefront or even in casual conversation with someone who has an axe to grind.

This topic is excerpted from Printing Industries of America: The Magazine.

Richard M. Goodman, PhD, is a chemical scientist and consultant focusing on how surface science concepts can solve real world problems.  The periodic column considers aspects of sustainability from a scientific perspective. See Goodman’s profile with Association of Consulting Chemists and Chemical Engineers (ACC&CE) at

by Terri Lukas

It’s a hot day.  A walk to the Bethesda library should take 20 minutes, but in the heat, it will be at least 30.  It will feel good to reach my air-conditioned destination.  But as it turns out,  I don’t have to wait to feel the cool blast of air conditioning.  I feel it right out in the open, on the street, as I pass one establishment after another: a small tea shop, a sports clothing store, an Asian restaurant … the list goes on. 

So I ask myself: what is going on?  This is Bethesda: highly educated, connected, progressive.  If nowhere else, surely here people understand the basics about what it takes to find fossil fuels needed to meet our increasing demand for energy: deep sea drilling, fracking, troops to secure foreign sources.  Then there is the issue of a warming planet. . .

How can people spend thousands on high efficiency air conditioners, windows and doors, yet appear not to notice the weather-blind, open-door practices of stores and restaurants?

I have no answers; do you?

Terri Lukas works in public health and is an active conservationist. She lives with her husband in Chevy Chase West.

GreenCondos_logo.webby Alan Cohen

There’s good news for condo associations in Maryland that are looking to save money while improving their environmental performance. Through a state-mandated surcharge, all utility customers are already paying to fund “EmPOWER Maryland,” a voter-approved initiative to cut statewide energy consumption by 15%. Why is that good news? Because three “EmPOWER Maryland” energy efficiency programs can help mass-metered condo associations cut costs while modernizing their homes and communities. Each program is either partially or even entirely funded by this state initiative, and one even pays you to save energy! Let’s now take a brief look at each opportunity:

  1. Quick Home Energy Check-ups (QHECs) – A Quick Home Energy Check-up (QHEC) is a fast, easy way for residents to reduce energy consumption and costs, and is already fully funded, so you receive the service at no additional cost. During a QHEC, a trained energy technician will assess your home’s current energy use, recommend energy-saving improvements, and install up to $150 worth of basic energy-saving devices, which may include efficient light bulbs, showerheads, and “smart” power strips. To take part, your board will need to approve community-wide participation, plus provide some basic information on your community and access to residents’ homes. For details, please go to QHEC-Pepco.
  2. Pepco’s Walk-Through Energy Assessment (WTEA) Program for Small Business – Through the same suite of programs, some Pepco  multifamily communities – including condo associations – are also entitled to rebates of up to 80% on the installed cost of common-area lighting, HVAC, and building exterior upgrades. You begin the process by selecting a Pepco trade ally specifically approved to deliver the small business program, booking a time for your audit and providing your energy auditor with copies of recent common-area lighting bills. Next, trained energy engineers perform a brief audit of your common areas, which can include high-consuming areas such as pools, fitness centers, stairwells and parking garages.  This audit is usually at no cost, and includes a number of free “direct install” measures that will begin saving you energy immediately. Next, with your approval, your energy auditor will install cutting-edge LED lighting upgrades and other improvements, which can normally be financed to be cash-flow positive from the first month. For more information, please visit Small Business Program – Multi-Family_Pepco.
  3. Energy Wise Rewards – Under this innovative program, Pepco will give you bill credits in exchange for installing a programmable thermostat or outdoor switch at your property and “cycling” it during peak-use times to cut overall energy demand – reducing the need for new power plants. Each condo association and unit owner who decides to participate gets bill credits, plus a per-unit cash bonus if the association itself installs the equipment. The program begins with a free analysis to determine whether your condos’ HVAC systems are compatible with the Energy Wise equipment, and to calculate the size of your cash rebate. For details, please go to Energy Wise Rewards-Business_Pepco.

Alan Cohen is a writer specializing in environmental technology and clean energy. He works with Zerodraft Maryland, a full-service energy management company.

cardboard_box_clip_art_22876by Richard M. Goodman

When purchasing necessities or special gifts, deciding what items to buy based on its sustainable packaging can have a significant impact.

According to the Sustainability Packaging Coalition, the two most relevant sustainable packaging principles to the average consumer include:

  • Sustainable packaging optimizes the use of renewable or recycled source materials.
  • Sustainable packaging is physically designed to optimize materials and energy.

Let’s look at how to implement these two principles.  The recycling industry incurs big expense in their sorting operations to remove undesirable or toxic materials from the recycle stream.  If the packaging industry can create packaging that is easily sorted and not likely to introduce potential contaminants, then it makes the recycling industry’s job easier and ultimately reduces their costs. Proper on-package messaging from the packaging industry can help consumers help recyclers, which in the end helps the packaging industry.  Consumers should insist on greened packaging.

Paper-based packaging such as boxes, containers, cartons, sacks and bags are part of our everyday lives. Unlike other packaging options, paper-based packaging is made from trees – a renewable source that is sustainably grown, managed and harvested specifically for the paper industry – or from recovered fiber, allowing reuse of its products. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, paper-based packaging is recovered more than any other packaging material. Paper and paperboard represent more than 70 percent of all packaging recovered for recycling in the U.S. and, in 2011, 91 percent of old corrugated containers were recovered for recycling.

Another consideration involves the use of compostable materials for packaging. This can best be satisfied if the earth’s biosphere effectively recovers the nutritive value of the basic biological materials and no toxic or dangerous substances are released through any stage of the package’s lifecycle. It should be noted that the conditions for effective biological degradation do not exist in landfills and the release of problematic substances is a further concern. Managed composting and anaerobic digestion with energy recovery are examples of sustainable systems.

In summary, we should observe the following considerations when looking into the packaging of consumer goods:

  • Avoid overly packaged goods.
  • Look for packaging materials that are fully recyclable, including plastics with the recycle labels, aluminum, cardboard and paper.
  • Look for compostable materials and either use them in your own or neighborhood composts or put them into the recycling system.
  • Read the labels to be sure you are removing any potentially toxic materials from the recycling streams.

If we as consumers follow these guidelines we can help promote the use of sustainable packaging and help create a positive reinforcement to manufacturers to increase the use of these materials

Richard M. Goodman, PhD, is a chemical scientist and consultant focusing on how surface science concepts can solve real world problems.  The periodic column considers aspects of sustainability from a scientific perspective. See Goodman’s profile with Association of Consulting Chemists and Chemical Engineers (ACC&CE) at

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