EcoApprentice is looking for (close to) impossible EcoChallenges! Got one?

EcoApprentice is looking for compelling, ambitious, even close-to-impossible EcoChallenges for our re-launch later this spring!  We are most interested in challenges that, once solved, benefits the most people.

What’s an EcoChallenge? Any problem that seeks a more sustainable solution.

Since 1987, the standard and most generally used definition of sustainability is: “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (per wikipedia)

Please see our current list of EcoChallenges and EcoSolutions that were generated during our test drive.  For our next launch, we are adding exciting incentives in the form of significant cash bounties to come up with the best EcoSolutions.

If you have an EcoChallenge idea, please email:

The posting organization will gets lots of cool publicity and advertising.  This is an innovative and engaging way to promote your brand directly back to your customers.  Companies can also choose to sponsor an EcoChallenge bounty for a non-profit organization.  We would love to talk to you about it.

You can still sign up for free as a member of EcoApprentice, but we are not adding new EcoChallenges until we re-launch.  Signing up gets you in our data base, so we can keep you posted!

Thanks in advance for keeping your eyes out for an EcoChallenge (and solution) that could change an organization, community, or the world for the better good!


What is Garbology?

Did you know the average American produces 102 tons of garbage in a lifetime!  This mind-blowing stat is from author Edward Humes. Check out his new book, “Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash”   He was interviewed recently in a story entitled Talking Trash - Republished from Real Change News,  Seattle WA.

In your book “Garbology,” you mention how the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] has underestimated the amount of trash that Americans produce. Some 140 million tons go unaccounted for in their calculations. Why do you think this is, and where did you find more accurate statistics?

E. H.: The reason for the underestimation is the method the epa uses to generate a figure for our municipal waste in the United States. It’s not by actually measuring the amount of trash coming in. It’s a more indirect method called “indirect flow analysis.” They get data from manufacturers about how much material they’re making that goes out to consumers. Then, through various byzantine calculations, they come up with a figure of how much trash is theoretically being made.

They came up with this method decades ago, when there were many more dumps (legal and illegal) and no one was measuring how much was going into them. The current method was the best they could come up with, and they’ve stuck with it ever since. The problem is, we have far fewer dumps now, and these dumps are meticulous about measuring how much garbage they take in. Their business model requires that they charge by the ton. There are scales when the trucks enter and leave, and they compare the weight of the full and empty trucks so they know exactly how much has been dumped. Because of this we have very good data.

Columbia University recently partnered with a trade journal called “BioCycle,” and they started doing these biannual “State of Garbage in America” reports that actually uses the real data. They found the missing trash! We’re throwing away a lot more than the epa estimates. We’re also recycling much less. We’re sending about twice as much garbage to the dump as the epa suggests.

In centuries past, methods such as piggeries (in which trash was fed to pigs) and incineration were common methods of waste disposal. When and why did landfills become the way to dispose of trash?

E.H.: The first landfill and anti-litter campaign was in ancient Greece about 2,500 years ago. It’s not a new idea. Shortly before World War II, some refinements were added. Specifically, the idea of a “sanitary landfill,” where you cover the waste with dirt every day to suppress the odor and vermin. It’s been further refined since the 1980s and early 90s by placing plastic liners underneath to prevent the seepage of toxic waste into groundwater supplies.

Of course, this was a big improvement over throwing garbage just anywhere. Cities were a mess for centuries. People would just hurl trash out their windows into the street or alleys. New York City was notorious at the turn of the last century for being such a sty, and that’s why some of these advancements such as recycling and the municipal dump were pioneered.

We like landfills in the U.S. more than in other countries because we have so much space. There’s always another hole to throw your garbage into. Perversely, that encourages us to be more wasteful. It doesn’t make it a good model, but it’s become our model because we have the space to do it. Japan doesn’t have landfills because they’re on an island, and they don’t have the space.

Cities like Copenhagen, Denmark, use almost 100 percent of their trash as a renewable energy source (through incineration). Do you think that something like this could catch on in the States?

E.H.: There’s a lot of potential for using our trash for energy (when it can’t be recycled or repurposed in some way). Denmark succeeds on this score because they decided that their waste is a local issue. They built relatively small, low-cost facilities, and they produce the heat and energy in the communities that produce the trash. They’ve chosen a more community-based model. They don’t have these huge utility-scale power plants that leave such a big footprint and have such a high cost.

It’s been a big challenge for American communities to pursue the waste-to-energy model as a solution. One successful example, though, is in Massachusetts in the Cape Cod area.  A series of small communities have banded together to enact this model.


For a fun and easy way to gauge your own “Garbology” wisdom, check out this cool interactive site – My Garbology via NatureBridge.

EcoApprentice offers offers a great option to figure out what to do with garbage! Post your question as an EcoChallenge and get answers from our community. Becoming a member is fast and free!


EcoApprentice connects people and businesses who team up to solve compelling EcoChallenges, all towards creating more sustainable communities.  In that spirit, we would like to do a shout out on a great new resource for connecting children and adults to nature. Author Richard Louv is Co-Founder and Chairman Emeritus of the Children and Nature Network.  The following collection of resources is presented as a limited sampling of organizations and inspirational actions from his most recent book, The Nature Principle.  A much longer list of how to apply the Nature Principle where we live, work, learn and play is available here.

Pic credit Children & Nature Network!

Becoming a Citizen Naturalist

  • The Cornell Lab of Ornithology offers the Celebrate Urban Birds program in English and Spanish, focusing on species often found in urban neighborhoods.
  • In King County, Washington, the Native Plant Salvage Program sponsors “plant salvagers” who save native plants threatened by development.

Knowing Who You Are by Knowing
Where You Are

  • Exploring a Sense of Place provides the means by which people anywhere on Earth can reconnect to the natural worldwhere they live. ESP offers leadership training and local courses in several bioregions around the U.S. and abroad.
  • Planet Drum Foundation, sponsors publications, speakers, and workshops to help start new bioregional groups and encourages local organizations and individuals to find ways to live within the natural confines of bioregions.

Creating Restorative Homes & Gardens

Creating a “natural health care system”

  • The Prescription Trails program was launched in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in an effort to fight the high rate of diabetes there, and is partially funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • International Community for Ecopsychology serves as a link for those interested in this topic. The organization’s journal, Gatherings, is a good starting point.

Developing Restorative Neighborhoods and Cities

  •  Biophilic Cities Project, an international research initiative organized by Tim Beatley at the University of Virginia’s School of Architecture.
  • The Center for Whole Communities aims to create a more just, balanced and healthy world by exploring, honoring, and deepening the connections among land, people and community.
  • The Natural Learning Initiative works to naturalize early childhood neighborhood play and learning environments, as part of the Institute of Medicine Task Force policy strategy on preventing childhood obesity.

Becoming New Agrarians

  • The Quivira Coaltion brings together ranchers and environmentalists to foster ecological, economic and social health on Western landscapes through education and public and private land stewardship.
  • Your Backyard Farmer, an innovative approach to community-supported agriculture through urban backyard farming.

Creating Restorative Schools

  • C&NN’s Natural Teachers Network offers a connection point, as well as updated research and tools, to educators of all kinds who connect their students, parents and other teachers to the natural world.
  • Green Teacher magazine, available in English, Spanish, and French. Also, the Learning with Nature Idea Book, published by the Arbor Day Foundation.

Strengthening Families Through Nature

Applying the Nature Principle in Business

  • The Biomimicry Institute promotes learning from and then emulating natural forms, processes, and ecosystems to create more sustainable and healthier human technologies and designs.
  • Green for All works nationally to build a green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty.

These are samples from a more extensive Field Guide to the New Nature Movement which includes over 120 resources drawn largely from “The Nature Principle” and “Last Child in the Woods.” The resource guide will be updated from time to time. It’s a work in progress. Naturally.

The Children &Nature Network also provides hundreds of additional examples of how to get involved, with tools to help you do that.


One super easy action you can do today is post an EcoChallenge on EcoApprentice! This would be anything from home, school, or work you would like to reuse or recycle, but not sure how. We will send your challenge out to the world for an answer.  Membership is free.  Join here.

Small Town Sustainability ~ Making it Work off the Beaten Path

The Historic Balch Hotel is located 1 hour and 40 minutes east of Portland Oregon in the small farming community of Dufer. EcoApprentice member Samantha Irwin (and her husband Jeff) own this beautiful hotel. Read how they made sustainability work for their business in a town of 500.

Rural America. It’s beautiful, open, has a touch of the wild, and attracts those independent types. That might be one of the reasons we’ve landed here in Dufur Oregon, restoring and operating a piece of history – the Historic Balch Hotel. We did trade in things people in the city take for granted like curbside recycling, composting options, and a grocery that is open past 7 p.m. Now we borrow from our neighbors, keep a tab at the grocery (just receive the monthly bill!), and don’t have to lock our doors. Not such a bad swap. What we’ve lost in convenience we’ve gained in opportunity to be resourceful!

So how does our business integrate sustainability in a small town where curbside recycling is not in the community vernacular and instead burn barrels are commonplace?

In the beginning educating staff on recycling that paper, or putting kitchen waste into the compost bin was a struggle. Changing habit can be slow. However, now four years into the future, I’m not the only one picking the can or paper cup out of the garbage. I feel an odd sense of motherly pride when I see some staff fishing something out of the garbage can. Am I normal? Have I created fanatics? Let’s hope so!

When we opened our doors in 2007 it took a great deal of effort to teach our team how to recycle. For many reasons, mainly education and convenience, it’s not done a heck of a lot in rural spaces. We were making strides but I wanted a visual to show staff exactly the impact that they were making. So, in 2010 we loosely began to keep track of our recycling and composting efforts. I think staff might have thought me slightly off my rocker but now I’m convinced they see a method to my madness. We created a fancy Tally System (a paper and pen taped to the kitchen wall).

Of course we kept track of the regular recycle items like paper, tin, glass etc. but also include food and yard debris. We coordinate trips to The Dalles recycling to take in our contribution and one of our staff members who lives off the grid (future blog post!) takes all the yard and kitchen waste to make some killer compost for themselves.

In 2010 our Balch Hotel staff saved over 38 dumpsters from being added to the landfill! That equates to $1216 in money we didn’t have to spend on garbage fees. It adds up! In 2011 we upped our ante to 65 dumpsters, thereby saving $2080.

Rest assured our recordkeeping is improving year to year and as our business grows it’s become a challenge to see how much better we can do. We even expanded our horizons and posted one of our housekeeping recycling challenges on EcoApprentice! Our staff is thinking differently now. That is good!

There is still no curbside recycling. We still do not need to lock our doors. Dufur is a special community where there are many things I would like to keep the same. Sometimes though, changes are needed. These changes are for the betterment of the community, and future generations.

I’m very proud of our team. When I hear of them taking these practices into their homes I know it’s reaching the next generation – as it should.


In the country, city, or someplace in between – we would love to hear from you and share your EcoChallenges + success stories.  Become a member on EcoApprentice for free.


EcoInterview ~ Anne Michelsen, Owner GreenInk Copywriting

Anne Michelsen is a freelance copywriter and illustrator who specializes in helping green companies attract, educate and retain their customers.  Check out her cool company, GreenInk Copywriting,  and her very wise + green blog here. I had an opportunity to interview her on March 9, 2012.

What inspired you to create Green Ink Copywriting?

“Inspired” is a good word.  I actually didn’t go to college to be a writer. I was a visual art major (and in fact I still do freelance illustration and fine art as well as writing.) But about eight years ago I kept getting this little voice telling me “You need to write.”  “Shut up,” I told it. “I can’t be a writer; I can’t even come up with a plot.” But it kept at me and I started to keep a journal.

Not long after that my husband and I moved to Wausau, WI to start up a second branch of his business. I started to write sales letters for him, and realized I really enjoyed that aspect of being in business.  Then one day he signed me up for a copywriting course from American Artists and Writers, Inc. (AWAI) and I was hooked.  This was a way I could follow that little voice – and not worry about plot lines!

When I started taking on clients I realized I wouldn’t be happy writing for companies I didn’t believe in, or promoting products that would trash the planet. Since sustainability is a passion my husband and I both share, and since we had tons of personal experience with sustainable lifestyle choices, I decided to specialize in writing for green companies. It’s a way I can use my talents and experience to help change the world for the better while supporting my family.

Why is being green a good business decision?

There are lots of reasons for a business to go green. Here are a few:

  • Reduced overhead. A lot of people think of green choices as more expensive, and sometimes that’s the case. But much of the time when you run the numbers and factor all its effects into the equation, the green choice is frequently cheaper in the long run.
  • Healthier work environments.  Green products such as non-toxic cleaners, and green practices like incorporating daylighting into building design almost always result in a more pleasant, less toxic place to work. This can reduce sick days and raise employee mood and morale, resulting in increased productivity and higher profits.
  • Consumers are looking for green products. According to the Shelton Group’s 2011 EcoPulse report, 69% of mainstream American consumers polled indicated that they actively look for green products when they shop.  This number is growing, up from 63% in 2010 and 60% in 2009.
  • It’s good publicity. Reporters do pick up on stories of companies making sustainable choices – especially when they involve particularly innovative solutions or represent a first in the local area.
  • Green businesses attract – and retain – talent. A survey by job site indicated that 80% of young professionals were looking for jobs that have a positive influence on the environment. Many companies which have incorporated green sustainability initiatives also find that they retain their employees longer. An example is the Canadian company LoyaltyOne, which reduced its employee turnover rate by 12% after switching to greener practices. This can have a profound effect on a company’s bottom line.

How does a green-business separate itself from the “greenwashers”?

Two words: transparency and integrity. I could write a book about it but that pretty much sums it up in a nutshell.


Contribute your great ~green~ ideas on EcoApprentice or post an EcoChallenge. We will send it out to the world for an answer.  Join here for free!

Portland Airport seeks a good home for retired escalator rails

Ever think about what happens to used escalator rails?

I never had, particularly while riding an escalator at the Portland International Airport.  Yet beyond the fast-paced world of running planes on time, is a sustainable mind-set that’s on the radar at the PDX airport.

Stan Jones, the Port of Portland Waste Minimization Manager recently posted a unique EcoChallenge on EcoApprentice entitled “Escalator Rail Reuse“.

NEEDED:  Home for thousands of feet of used escalator rail – HEAVY DUTY!, Nearly indestructible.

In the past, used rails have been sporadically reused for boat bumpers at docks/moorages and for bumper rail in loading dock areas, but the Port is seeking a more permanent solution.

Stan shared via a conversation on 3/8/12 that sustainability practices are  good for business, good for the environment, and good for our community. Sustainability = efficiency! And regarding escalator rails specifically he said - There are likely thousands and thousands of feet of waste escalator rails coming out of airports, malls, office buildings, etc across the country.  A practical reuse/upcycling solution could have a nationwide (world wide?) impact.

Might you have a great idea on an answer to this escalator conundrum?  It’s free to join and post it on EcoApprentice, or maybe you have your own unique EcoChallenge?  We would like to send it out to our community for an answer.  Till then, may all your escalator adventures take you up or down, just keep your hands on the rails!

How to Get a Job in Green Business

The following blog post was sent in by Stacey Cusack Krauss,  Public Relations Manager at TerraCycle Inc. since 2010.  A Boston University alum, Stacey previously worked at an entertainment PR agency, but now enjoys telling the TerraCycle story to the world.  From planting acorns at recess to setting up recycling bins for her college dorm to starting a paper reuse policy in her office, the environment has always been her biggest passion.   We are thrilled to have TerraCycle as a member company (and Partner) on EcoApprentice.

With the unemployment rate depressingly high, it’s hard to find a job these days.  It can be even harder to find a job you’re really passionate about.  But if the environment is your passion, you’ll be happy to hear there are 2 million “green jobs” and that number is expected to double in the next 5 years. The current administration is putting millions of dollars into creating green jobs and support sustainable industries (the Solyndra debacle aside.)

Here are some tips for landing that green job you’ve been dreaming about from TerraCycle employees that have done it themselves.


When Albe Zakes interviewed for a Publicist position in 2006, TerraCycle founder/CEO Tom Szaky liked him, but didn’t think he had enough experience for the job as a recent college graduate.  Rejected but not defeated, Albe went home and wrote an impassioned letter to Tom, explaining why he was perfect for the job.  He offered to work as an unpaid intern for two months to prove his point. Tom admired his commitment and passion and agreed to hire him as an intern.  Five years later, Albe is now the Vice President of Global Media Relations and a vital asset to the company.  As an anecdote, Albe always says it was his Dad who inspired him by telling him, “If you really want to work somewhere, you have to be willing to start by sweeping the floors. You be surprised how many execs started in the mailroom.”

To get in the door at a company you’d really like to work for, you may have to take an unpaid internship or lower-paying position than you originally sought.   It might seem like a step backwards, but if it gets you in the door and into a position where you can prove your value to the company, you’ll be one step closer to the job you really want.


Green companies, non-profits and other socially responsible businesses need mid- to upper-level professionals with business, marketing, PR and other useful skills.  It might take you some time to reach a level where you’d be an asset to a green company or non-profit.  After graduating with a major in Public Relations, I went to work at an entertainment agency in Manhattan that represented various home entertainment, video game and consumer product clients.   I thrived in the fast-paced, high-stress environment, but knew that I needed my work to matter in a bigger way.  So, with several years of experience under my belt, I started looking to make a move.  As soon as I found out about TerraCycle, I knew this was the place for me.  I applied, interviewed and practically begged for the job.  When I was hired, all those years of torturous work pitching DVDs were suddenly worth the effort.


If you’re trying to get a job in the environmental sector and you’re not gaining any direct experience at your day job, you should think about cultivating your passion in other ways.  Whether it’s lending a hand to a local clean-up group or writing for a green living blog, find some way to get involved in your spare time.  Not only will this help keep you sane when your day job threatens to suck the life out of you, volunteering, writing and freelancing can boost your resume, showing a very genuine passion that will help you stand out.  This way, when the interviewer asks why you want to make the jump with no direct experience, you’ll have more to go on than just words about passion for the planet.  The combination of your skills and experience combined with your obvious passion for the cause will make you an attractive candidate. You can also take classes at night in environmental studies, sustainable business or simply a certificate in the job function you want to perform. Just because you want to work at a triple bottom line company, doesn’t mean you don’t still need the hard skills to go with your passion.

We also encourage becoming a member at EcoApprentice to gain practical experience teaming up with businesses or non-profits to solve an EcoChallenge. It will look great on your resume!


To become a member at EcoApprentice, just click on this link.  Free to join.

100 year old Condit dam is breached ~ The White Salmon River now runs free! (VIDEO)

Just a few miles from where I live in the Columbia River Gorge, something remarkable happened this week. The Condit Dam, which has been around for 100 years, is a dam no more! The White Salmon River is now running free!

It’s rare to see a better example of nature reclaiming then a dam coming out! Huge kudos to Columbia Riverkeeper who were instrumental in the dam removal. Riverkeepers share:

In the late 1990s, Columbia Riverkeeper (then Columbia River United) joined the Yakama Nation and conservation, fishing, and whitewater groups in opposing the relicensing of the dinosaur dam that produced only a tiny amount of power but blocked miles of critical salmon habitat.  In 1999, we signed an agreement with PacifiCorp and several state and federal agencies that required the demolition of the dam.  It’s been a long journey, but it all came together with one big boom.

Watch the explosion and the White Salmon River restored:

Watch the explosion plus some history leading up to the removal of Condit Dam:

The steelhead and salmon can now return to their native habitat, after a 100 year break!

Friends of the White Salmon River share more about the river:

From its origin in meadows on the southwest side of Washington state’s Mt. Adams, the 45 mile long White Salmon River travels through the Mt. Adams Wilderness to connect with Cascade Creek, a major tributary that begins on the White Salmon Glacier at about 11,000 feet altitude…Condit Dam lies about 3.3 miles (5.3 km) upstream of the confluence where the White Salmon River empties into the Columbia River. The area below the dam is part of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, while parts of the river upstream belong to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers system. The area is famous for its natural beauty and recreational activities such as whitewater rafting and fishing. Impoundment of the river in 1911 removed 33 miles (53 km) of steelhead habitat and 14 miles (23 km) of salmon.

For more on what some humans are doing to create a more sustainable ecosystem, check out EcoApprentice

5 Cool Things Our Members Are Doing!

Our members know that their businesses can be more eco-friendly and profitable by incorporating sustainable strategies into biz operations.  Here are just a few examples of intriguing challenges:

5) Jeffrey Hodgins is looking for a dry season cover crop that can be sown with two months old corn plants and live to survive the dry winter on the Central Mexican Volcanic Plateau. (The winner of this EcoChallenge will get two weeks free room & board at their home in Puebla.)

4) Truce Designs is looking for uses for their extra scrap fabric from their dry suit factory.

3) Allium Bistro is looking for an efficient, realistic and health-law compliant composting system for their restaurant.

2) Doppio Coffee Lounge is looking for a way to close the loop on compostable packaging for coffee cups, lids, boxes, etc.

1) EWEB (Eugene Water and Electric Board) is looking for high quality, useable, compostable, recyclable and/or made in the USA products for their prizes and promotions.

Become a member for free today and help find EcoSolutions for business EcoChallenges.  Change your Community.  Change the World.

Calling all EcoHeroes!

Love this idea from our friends at EventBrite. Calling all EcoHeroes! EcoApprentice members are special.  They care about being EcoFriendly in their businesses and their communities.

Nominate yourself or a friend to be an EcoHero.  We’ll share with the world (or at least our little corner of it) about your desires and actions to impact the world and your community by making it more sustainable and profitable.

What does it take to be an EcoHero? It’s simple, care about being EcoFriendly. What are YOU waiting for?  Become a member today and you’re on your way to being a hero!

We’ll be selecting a few EcoHeroes to include in our future newsletters and blog.

Just email us a couple paragraphs about you or a friend and your interest in being more sustainable (or EcoFriendly).  We’ll take care of the rest.

To get us started, we’re nominating our local friends at DirtHugger, check out their mission and you’ll know what makes them EcoHeroes!