airbnb enables a new class of tourism: the anti-tourist!

airbnb

The following post is by Katie Peige, Herban Lifestyle’s Sustainability Associate.

With each New Year comes a list of goals and resolutions that we hope to cross off our annual bucket list. My list and vision board for 2013 definitely includes travel. If yours does too, Airbnb is a great option to try if you are looking for a cool place to stay with a limited amount of funds, thanks to the joys of the sharing economy and our interconnected online social world.

Never heard of Airbnb? Don’t feel too bad I hadn’t either before last year (when they were named Inc Magazine’s runner up for Company of the Year 2012). Having lived as a poor student traveling around Europe and various corners of the United States, I considered myself to be quite the green and savvy traveler with a shoe string budget reputation. The number one way I managed to get around without breaking the bank was relying on my vast network of friends who have offered me their spare beds, couches, futons, and floors, so I could avoid the expensive and not-as-much-fun experience of staying at a hotel.

While planning a trip to San Diego for a conference, my plan to stay with a friend fell through. Since my California network was non-existent, I needed to consider other options. After all, I needed to make my journey to the Sustainable Brands Conference in a financially sustainable way. So I looked into three options: the first was to find a roomshare with another conference attendee; the second was to finally use my membership with couchsurfing.com; and the final was a newly suggested option of Airbnb.

I had seen Airbnb mentioned in the Sustainable Brands program – Christopher Lukezic, their Director of Communications, was one of the speakers – and decided to check it out. Airbnb is short form for “Air Bed and Breakfast” and allows people with a spare room to put that room up for rent on a per diem basis. Some people rent out their entire flat, airstream, tree house, train, and so on. In Christopher’s presentation he mentioned how one couple rented out their now grown children’s tree house and were able to retire early and use Airbnb to pay their mortgage. So if you have some spare space, you might want to give hosting a try.

cool spaces

Airbnb’s website and app are both very cool and user friendly. You need to create a profile so that other users can rate you as a guest or host. This allows hosts and travelers to get a sense of whether they will be a good fit. You can connect your account to your Facebook account, which allows you to see if you know people who know a person you are considering hosting or visiting. My favorite part of the website is that it gives you a map of the different listings for each city. This feature is one of the big reasons why I choose Airbnb over other sites.

For my San Diego trip, I was able to use Airbnb to find an apartment that was just one mile from the conference. It was a perfect scenario. My host was actually traveling in Europe, and her friend Ale was on sabbatical and was traveling for a year before her return back to Italy. Unfortunately I did not have a lot of time to spend with Ale, since I was at the conference starting really early each  morning to rather late each night. But when I did see her, we had great conversations and I learned a little Italian. I had my own room, closet space, and was provided towels to shower. I got all of this for half of the price of sharing a room at the resort where the conference was held. Very sweet deal!

Airbnb’s app and website are really fun to poke around even if you are not planning to travel anytime soon. They have a “popular” section that lists the coolest listings and you feel like you have traveled around the world after spending a few minutes browsing. Check it out for yourself and have fun traveling or hosting and contributing to the sharing economy. It might make 2013 one of your most memorable years.

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It’s Park(ing) Day! Come sit down!

The following post is by Katie Peige, Herban Lifestyle’s Sustainability Associate.

“Hey, would you like to come sit in the Park?”

“Excuse me?!”, I responded, “What is this?”

I stared, completely baffled at the guy sitting on a park bench surrounded by green grass. It was not that the question itself that was odd, the cause of my bewilderment was in the “park.” I was in Mid-town Manhattan, right across from MoMA in a traffic-cone-demarcated parking space in the street. And while I was perplexed, the offer was greatly appreciated since I had been desperately looking for a place to sit that hot September day as I killed time after a job interview before meeting up with a friend.

“It’s Park(ing) Day! Come sit down!”

So I did. I pulled off my sandals and sat in the cool grass in a “park-ing” spot. I ended up sitting there for hours, watching and observing the many people walking down this busy New York street during lunch rush. Many stopped in their tracks to ask, “What’s going on?”, “What is this?”, and to say “Err..yeah…Happy Park(ing) Day to you too, ah…right”.

In those few hours I learned that Park(ing) Day started in 2005 in San Francisco when one metered parking space was converted into the first pocket park (much like the one I found in 2007), the space covered with grass, a lone park bench and a tree. The idea was to create awareness of ways the public could use the space cars and trucks take up in a city where green space is lacking. In 2005, the first pocket park was created by the design firm, Rebar, a photo was snapped, that photo went viral on the Internet, and a global movement was created. Quick side note: In 2009, Manhattan closed off Broadway around Times Square to traffic and opened it up for the public to walk the once busy streets or sit and have lunch on the cafe tables. It is my personal theory that Park(ing) Day may have influenced this decision.

With each year, more and more parks are converted into pocket parks inspiring people to not only take a little time to enjoy some public green space, but also be creative. Pocket parks have progressed into pocket smoothie bars (complete with a bicycle powered blender), pocket yoga studio, pocket coffee house, pocket art installation, pocket you-get-the-picture. In 2007, when I found my park in front of MoMA, there were 200 parks created in 50 cities in 9 countries on 4 continents. And Park(ing) Day’s popularity has climbed each year. In 2010, I volunteered to spend the whole day in a parking space in Baltimore to wish everyone a very happy Park(ing) Day and raise awareness to the importance of public green urban spaces. That year there were 800 parks worldwide in 183 cities, 30 countries on 6 continents. Last year those numbers grew to 975 parks in 35 countries!

Park(ing) Day 2012 will be held on Friday, September 21. I will again be volunteering in a parking space, this time in Phoenix, starting at 6 am and wrapping up at about 10 am, so that I do not fry like a crispy critter (one of my mother’s favorite sayings). I hope you’ll join the movement! Checkout parkingday.org to find out where you can par-take in the nearest celebration of Park(ing) Day. Better yet, grab some friends and make it a tour!

Park(ing) Day NYC 2008

Trashionista: On a mission to save the world, one trash can at a time!

The following post is by Katie Peige, Herban Lifestyle’s Sustainability Associate

Let’s be real, trash is probably the least sexy of all sustainability topics, especially when we are talking about hospital waste (biohazard anyone?!) I’m not going to lie; it’s been gross. And let me tell you I have weird, funny, shocking, disgusting, heartbreaking, inspiring, and just plain odd stories about having my first full-time sustainability job revolve around hospital waste, but those are stories for another blog post so, I digress.

Anyway, this Sustainababe had persevered through all the craziness of setting up three primary waste streams and teaching hundreds of nurses (and a variety of supporting staff) what is considered infectious, non-infectious, and recyclable. Sustainasnob Rant/Confession: I hate WASTE unless you can feed it back into the materials economy. As William McDonough, father of Cradle to Cradle design says, “Pollution is a symbol of design failure.” Waste causes pollution from all the hauling, burning (waste incinerators!), and rotting of the stuff (that is, if it ever breaks down in a landfill!) Additionally, dealing with hospital waste means that I either have to promote diversion from the incinerator or the landfill (not good environmental options either way you look at them) or recycling (which, at 30% recyclables for 3+ million pounds per hospital, comes out to 1 million pounds per year!) This problem drives me nuts! My school and life training taught me to believe that the best way to solve a problem is to prevent it from happening in the first place. My mantra is “Reduce, reuse, recycle.” And at work, it really bothers me that I cannot address the huge waste issue using the first two steps. I am an idealist and dreamer to the core, so this blog post is not going to be completely negative. On the contrary, it is about the blast I had tackling the second R – reuse. [Quick side note, check out Annie Lenord’s Story of Stuff, to fully understand the complete cycle of our products including disposal].

So now to the fun stuff! I have been working a lot in the Operating Rooms (ORs) lately (no smelling salts were ever needed, to my surprise!), stressing the proper waste guidelines and tackling the oh-so-annoying problem of blue wrap!

What the heck is blue wrap you ask? Basically, it is like wrapping paper for surgical instruments to keep everything sterile. It is the consistency of a paper towel, but made from plastic. A plastic that can be recycled. Yay! So I spent a few months getting the proper ducks in a row and now my ORs are recycling the stuff. The excitement from that project had me bouncing around the hospital for weeks knowing the blue wrap was not going to spend hundreds of years breaking down in a landfill, or worse, being burned!

The hospital where I spread the green love, received an award for their “Greening the OR” efforts and in celebration I was inspired by this video (the kids are so adorable in this video), to make my own dress from blue wrap!

I started with two different colors of blue wrap since this hospital is fazing in the darker color over the lighter color. I wanted to make a dress but had no idea how, so I got some help from Charlotte, the Sustainability Coordinator at the hospital. And later, my mom helped with the sewing, which wasn’t easy since we had no pattern. I started with tracing out panels from my favorite summer dress and things just kind of morphed from there. I had once seen a girl on Halloween sport a globe dress (her costume was Global Warming), and ever since I wanted my own Earth Mama dress (why yes, even my ideas are recycled!) So the dual colors of blue wrap presented the perfect opportunity to pull this off. To achieve realistic looking continents, I cut up an old National Geographic Map of the World poster and used the pieces as a template, traced those out onto the dark blue, cut those out, and glued the dark blue continents onto the light blue dress (while using the middle seam as the prime meridian, can you say Geography Geek?!)

I also added earrings made from fans that came from an old towel warming unit provided by my favorite Tinkerer (a mechanic who fixes broken medical equipment in the Biomed Department).

The Celebration Day came, and I put on my dress and safety pinned myself in and prayed that my dress would not fall apart. I walked into the ceremony and was swarmed by the attendees. “Oh my goodness, Katie!” “That’s made out of blue wrap!” “How did you do that?!” “Can we get your picture?!” “Look,it’s the Earth!”

I felt like Miss America! To my embarrassment, I was just getting over laryngitis so all I could do was squeak a few yeses and thank yous. Yet through it all, I had a blast playing with blue wrap and creating the coolest piece of Trashion, I own ☺. It’s all about perspective! Here’s to rocking the Creative Reuse! So glad this dress is made of plastic, it will last FOREVER and will be required attire for every Earth Day for the rest of my life!

Getting my Green Geek on at the Solar Decathlon

The following post is by Katie Peige, Herban Lifestyle’s Sustainability Associate

This year Washington, DC hosted the Solar Decathlon for the fifth time since its inaugural competition in 2002. Since then, the competition has been held every two years, allowing students two years to take their proposed ideas and turn them into reality. Twenty college teams compete at the Solar Decathlon where have the opportunity to win several different contests including Most Affordable, Best Architecture, Best Engineering, and Best Communications. Teams ultimately compete for the top honor of winning the solar decathlon, which is determined by the team with the most overall points determined by diverse criteria. There is also the coveted People’s Choice Awards, which adds an additional layer of fun and really makes the students shine when they are giving the public tours.

I originally planned to hit the whole competition in a day but gave myself the backup day of Sunday just in case I could not get to it all. I am so glad I did. Saturday was a mad house and the lines were quite long, so after about two hours I only saw about four houses and I was starving (the venue ran out of food) so I decided to return the next day.

I am so glad I came back. I was determined to see all of the nineteen homes, an endeavor that took me about six hours over the two days. After six hours and two days the houses start to blur in your mind and it is hard to remember which awesome detail or technology went with which house. After a bit of review thanks to the handy dandy information the teams handed out, my people’s choice award went to Maryland.

Image source Treehugger.com

Rather than basing my choice on the engineering, I to admit that I picked my favorites based on which ones I could see myself moving into the next day. Maryland won hands down for my People’s Choice Award vote, mainly because I am from Maryland and have a serious affection for anything that promotes the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Maryland’s house, dubbed Watershed, not only produces all of its energy but also has an impressive water management design complete with a green roof. Instead of all the water going down the drain and eventually to the sewers, the greywater (wastewater that does not contain biosolids such as feces or food) gets diverted to the greywater treatment wetlands where the plants break down the nutrients and remove pathogens allowing the now clean water to be used for plants elsewhere around the house. There are countless reasons why I love this house, there are so many cool features such as their interior design (complete with the taco bed/table) and amazing engineering features such as the Liquid Desiccant Waterfall system which absorbs humidity from the air. I highly suggest checking out 2011.solarteam.org to check out all the amazing features of Watershed.

photos of a taco bed

There are several design features I would like to highlight briefly for the other homes. I really enjoyed the small spaces and was inspired by how comfortable these small houses were. I was especially fascinated by the ways teams hid the beds (Murphy beds, taco bed/table/, giant drawer).  I loved Middlebury’s house and was very impressed since they do not have a school of architecture. All of their furniture was made from locally harvested Vermont wood or reused pieces such as a really cool old trunk that they were using as a coffee table. One of my favorite highlights from this house was the idea of having a greenhouse in your kitchen, so if you needed basil, for example, you could just turn around and pick some and throw it into your simmering pot. Appalachian State, the Solar Homestead, was stunning as well. It seemed to have the most space and felt very homey. My favorite part was the kitchen/living room area due to their clever way to cover up the kitchen. If you have guests over for movie night, just cover it up with a movie screen!

Greenhouse in the Middlebury kitchen

New Zealand’s house was drop dead gorgeous. The house is called First Light because New Zealand is the first country to greet the new day sun. One of my favorite features of this house is the use of recycled sheep’s wool (an abundant renewable resource for New Zealand) as insulation. Tidewater Virginia’s Unit 6, was super fun and well decorated. I loved the sliding bookcase that doubled as a bedroom door, and the students played it up pretending there was a special book you had to pull to reveal the secret chamber. Interestingly, Tennessee’s team used Solyndra’s solar tubes that collect light from every angel instead of the sun shinning directly onto a panel, pretty sweet technology, too bad Solyndra is now in the headlines for a scandal.

After spending two days at the Solar Decathlon, I was sad to leave – there was still so much left to learn! I was so jealous of these students, and it made me miss school terribly. By the way, I went to Arizona State University, and I was shocked that there was not one school represented from the sunny dessert areas such as Arizona or New Mexico. I am just going to cross my fingers that Arizona State will be at the next Solar Decathlon; I know I will be, I would not miss it for the world.

Some great reasons to ride the Megabus in 2011

photo copyright Megabus

This post was written by Katie Peige, Herban Lifestyle’s Sustainability Associate

As a devoted public transit junkie who had to find her way to and from NYC on a regular basis for school, I became an expert of every conceivable way to make the ~170 mile journey. Clearly driving was not an option – the tolls alone cost over $20, then factor in gas and parking, and you have an expensive, time consuming journey. And while Amtrak is a sexier choice than most when it comes to public transit, I found myself spending average of $100 each way for the regular train (the Acela, which is about 20 minutes faster, has nicer accommodations and Wi-Fi, but costs twice as much). But the train is not always smooth convenient sailing. Out of the six trips I’ve made, I’ve arrived late three times: once I experienced a power outage between Philadelphia and Baltimore, once I had to wait while they arrested someone on the train in Newark, NJ, and once I sat on the train for an hour as we rescued passengers from another train that had broken down.

As a poor college student and now a recent grad, the train is something of a luxurious splurge, so an economic alternative would be to take a bus. Having taken the greyhound (one way $40 or $36 with a student advantage card, and even less if you purchase your ticket online), I have had a few problem-free experiences, but too many unpleasant experiences to consider it, unless it is my only option. A cheaper option, and a bit more pleasant, is the Chinatown bus, which rolls up with a different unmarked bus each time. The cost is $20 cash on the bus or you can pay online. The experience is not horrible, but the pick-up and drop-off spots are often pretty sketchy.

Based on these experiences, none of these options can hold a candle to the Megabus, a life-saver for the eco-traveler on a budget. For the general public, this is exciting because it offers rapid intercity travel with tickets starting at $1 (yes that’s right, $1!), plus a $.50 reservation fee. Now this doesn’t mean that every ticket is $1, they start at that price and go up depending on when you buy your ticket and how many people have already purchased a ticket. It’s something of a game of luck, and it feels like winning the lottery when you can score your all-time low ticket price (before last week my all time best price was $8 round trip from Baltimore to NYC). So if you can book your trip a month beforehand, you have a decent shot at finding the $1 fare, especially on weekdays. If not, a day ticket from Baltimore to NYC is on average $17. Another awesome bonus is the buses themselves, which are all brand new (double deckers when going to and from NYC), clean, comfortable and equipped with free Wi-Fi and power outlets.

For this transit junkie, the best part of this deal is that the Megabus’ Baltimore stop isn’t in sketchy downtown Baltimore but right off of I-95 in White Marsh. Two other sustainable bonuses are that the bus is a certified green coach and you do not need to print your ticket since all you need to do is show them your confirmation number. I keep mine on my phone, so it’s paperless!

But wait, there’s more! If you haven’t taken the Megabus yet, be sure to make 2011 the year you try it. The Megabus used to only service the East Coast (it’s in the Mid-West too and started out in the U.K.) by going to and from NYC from various cities (including Baltimore and Washington D.C.) with NYC asvthe main hub. But starting in December 2010, Washington DC became a major hub offering stops in Richmond, Raleigh/Durham, Charlotte, Knoxville, Hampton, and Christiansburg. So, theoretically, one could take the Megabus from Knoxville to Toronto! Wow!

But yet it keeps getting better! Megabus is giving away 200,000 free tickets from January 12th until March 1st!  Check out the promotion here. The $.50 reservation fee still applies and you still need to use the same strategy of booking early to find the tickets offered for $0.00. I already booked my ticket for an interview in Connecticut that cost me $1.00 roundtrip from Baltimore to Connecticut and back – most exciting deal of my life!!!

So, if you haven’t hopped on a Megabus yet, jump on this deal and work on your Greener travel while on a budget resolution for 2011!

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Discovering the Beauty of Natural Products

This post was written by Katie Peige, Herban Lifestyle’s sustainability intern

I recently started an internship with Herban Lifestyle. I got the position in part because of the knowledge about natural beauty I had gained from my experience at ecocentricity!, an eco-friendly gift shop in Phoenix, AZ that sells, among other things, bath and beauty products from locally-owned businesses. Last month, I returned to Phoenix to pay a visit to my Alma Mater for an Alumni reception and to visit my friends and “Phoenix Family” that I had left behind six months ago. I had only started interning a few weeks prior and was not only learning about the natural, organic, and fair trade ingredients found in Herban Lifestyle products, but found myself obsessively checking out labels on any bath products I came in contact with.

On my second day back in Arizona, I woke at 6:30 am to help my organic, natural, locavore and thoroughly earthy-crunchy former roommate sell locally-made tamales at the farmer’s market (something she does every morning). I had a wonderful time walking around the market sampling salsas, peanut brittle, chocolate, cupcakes, desserts, and of course tamales. I was also excited to see the natural beauty products there, since I am now an expert! I read many labels and was tickled to spot ingredients that I had just entered into the Skin Deep Database for Herban Lifestyle. There was a smorgasbord of soaps, lotion, lip balms, deodorants, shampoos, massage oils, and facial scrubs. Some were really creative, with exfoliants such as natural and plastic loofah embedded into the soap. This reminded me of the exfoliating properties of our Fuzzy Soaps, which have a built-in wool “washcloth” on the outside. I discovered lotion in solid form, that came in a tube like deodorant. I later found you can get solid perfumes in a tube, too. There were even cosmetics made out of goat’s milk, which was a new concept for me.

I collected these vendors’ cards and headed over to ecocentricity to tell my former boss about all the fun, local, bath and beauty products products that she could potentially carry. At the store, I saw a lot of new natural soap that comes in loaves so customers can purchase as much as they want and pay by the ounce. I also saw my old favorite lip butter, which comes in an array of natural flavors, and my mascara made from tea and blackberries.

In the store, there was a display calling attention to the Skin Deep Database, explaining that some products that are ranked highly toxic even though they claim they are “natural.”  I smiled when I recalled the time I had spent entering products from Herban Lifestyle’s new Naked Line into the database, all of which scored a 0 or 1 (on a scale of 0 to 10) for toxicity.

Entering products into the Skin Deep Database made me more aware of the importance of knowing what ingredients are in my personal care products. I have not used a lot of cosmetics in my life. so I feel good knowing I haven’t been smothering my face in toxins. But now I am working on replacing my soaps and shampoos that I had no idea were bad for me and the planet (I am really digging the Herban Lifestyle Deeply Herbal Shampoo Bar). That’s one more earthy-crunchy step I’m taking to reduce my ecological footprint, and reduce my exposure to environmental toxins.