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Sustainability Part 2: Paper

The causes of world hunger are complex and inter-related. The single biggest cause of hunger is poverty. People keep themselves out of poverty by earning money. How do you earn money? You get a job. BUT…What if the job you get is dangerous? What if the only job available to you doesn’t pay enough to cover all of your expenses? What if it does, but the company you work for is polluting the environment or consuming natural resources at an alarming rate? Will you quit over it, knowing that if you do, you won’t have an income?

Individuals who are lucky enough to have choices of employment offers and/or some disposable income have a responsibility to consider how their choices affect the world and others who live here. But not all individuals are so privileged, and if faced with the choice of working for a polluting factory or eating, I’m going to eat now and worry about the pollution later, even if that pollution is a danger to me and my future employment. Businesses play an important role in building sustainable livelihoods. Arguably the best businesses find a way to earn a profit while also treating their employees well and not ruining the environment.

Perhaps one example of this type of business is Grays Harbor Paper, a small town paper mill located in Hoquiam, WA.  Formed to bring jobs back into the local community, Grays Harbor Paper is dedicated to increasing its sustainability as it focuses on people, paper and the planet.

Last week I had the opportunity to sit down with Jamie, Grays Harbor Paper’s Sustainability Coordinator. Her job includes over-seeing the biannual sustainability report (following reporting guidelines of the Global Reporting Initiative) and making sure that the company follows through on their sustainability promises. Jamie helped me understand a little bit about how an 82 year old mill site is giving back to the local community and the environment; thanks to a belief in sustainability’s economic, social and environmental benefits.

Grays Harbor Paper provides more than 230 full-time jobs

Caring for people and communities:

The original mill site was built in 1928 as the Grays Harbor Pulp Company and has changed hands over the decades. In 1992 the functioning pulp and paper mills on-site were closed and about 600 local jobs were lost. A year later, in 1993, Grays Harbor Paper was opened by local investors and as of 2008 reporting, 231 full-time jobs with benefits are in full swing (in a town of roughly 9,000 inhabitants.) The mill also houses a water treatment plant. Grays Harbor Paper’s 125 acre riverside location means that special care must be taken not to pollute the local waterways as nearby beach towns are historically supported by the fishing and crabbing industries. In addition, docks located close to the mill are a favorite spot for local recreational fishermen. All of the mill’s storm water, as well as water used in the paper manufacturing process, are sent into the water treatment system before being released into the natural environment. They also treat waste water from a neighboring fish protein plant.

Caring for the earth – an economic competitive advantage:

In 1997 the mill installed its first of three turbines which generate thermal and electrical energy from biomass. This carbon-neutral process was initially installed as a cost saving measure. Biomass comes from the wood waste of logging and clear cut sites in the forests found within a 20 mile radius of the mill. Normally, the wood waste would be burned on the logging site, releasing CO2 back into the environment, and preparing the land to be replanted. Today, Grays Harbor Paper collects this wood waste and brings it to the mill where it is burned to create the energy necessary to produce paper. It is considered carbon-neutral because the carbon released through burning is equal to that which the trees sequestered during their lifetime. While there is some debate over whether this waste should be left on the land to rot and return to the earth, using it as biomass keeps the methane which may be produced from it rotting out of the air, uses its energy to create a product and clears the land for replanting. Additionally, the scrubbers and filters present in the machinery at the mill allow the biomass to be burned slightly cleaner than it would in a forest environment. In addition to its carbon neutral energy, 30% of the mill’s paper is made from post-consumer recycled pulp. Harbor 100, their 100% recycled paper product, is “Green e” and “Forest Stewardship Council” certified. According to Grays Harbor Paper’s 2008 Sustainability Report “every ton of Harbor 100 produced saves an estimated 11, 847 gallons of water, 8 million BTUs of energy, 719 pounds of solid waste, and 2,460 pounds of greenhouse gases.” Harbor 40 is the other recycled option – it contains 40% post-consumer recycled pulp. Grays Harbor Paper purchases its pulp on the open market. The majority of its recycled pulp is trucked from a mill in Oregon, just 80 miles away. Other pulp is delivered by rail from the Midwest.

The on-site water treatment plant helps Grays Harbor Paper to be a good steward of their riverside location

It is also encouraging that other organizations are catching on to this recycled paper trend. Nike, the World Bank, the State of Washington and the International Monetary Fund all use Harbor 100. There are a number of paper mills who produce 100% recycled paper in the United States. Grays Harbor Paper is one example of an exciting and growing trend, but is going above and beyond with their use of biomass for power production.


It is important to remember employment’s relationship to hunger as well as a business’ relationship to the environment. As we purchase products in our everyday life, we must consider who we are supporting. Are the businesses behind the products that we buy concerned with ethical, environmental and social standards? When we support, lead or work for businesses which care for creation – God’s earth and people – we also support positive employment opportunities, helping more individuals to support themselves and their families. Also, the more sustainable a business, the more generations it can benefit.

Current book: Strategies for the Green Economy by Joel Makower…good stuff so far!

Today’s favorite link:

Happy Earth Day ~ Lana

*ELCA World Hunger receives no incentives from any of the companies mentioned in this blog series. The writer has chosen each company based on their proximity, availability and their work toward green and/or sustainable practices.

Sustainability Part 1: Design

I was at a coffee shop with my brother, Krister, a few weeks ago sitting next to the window and drinking out of some more-or-less sustainable “for here” cups when we got talking about energy usage and good lighting. A designer by profession, he began to talk about lighting and how giving up the ambiance of warmer, more energy expensive lights isn’t the only answer to conserving energy through lighting. Apparently when it comes to lighting design, there are many ways to think about energy usage, and this got me thinking about sustainability practices in basic design in general.

As design is a huge industry, and we are seeing LEED certifications become the trend, it seemed to me that there was also something intrinsic to good design that was more sustainable than, well, not-so-good design. I started by asking the question – how does sustainability play a role in Plank Island Studio’s business practice? Well, it turns out that being a designer in a small town means necessary supplies aren’t always easy to find. So first off, when Krister buys something for his work, he only wants to buy it once. Though it may be more expensive, a quality tool or product lasts longer, works better and reduces both shipping and manufacturing costs and emissions in the long run. He also likes to reuse and repurpose. His desk is a good example. The glass top is actually the door of an old downtown candy shop which has been recently renovated into a vintage ice cream parlor. His studio has been created in the forgotten location of an old labor union office, slowly renovated over the past few years to bring back the history of the building. He adds that a friend once made the point to him that beautiful buildings are the greenest buildings because they never get torn down, thus a new building won’t be needed to replace it. (Though efficiency updates may be in order.)

So how can we tie elements of design sustainability into hunger? Let’s focus on lighting. Energy consumption affects natural resources and pollution levels. According to an ELCA Shareholder resolution filed in 2009, “U.S. power plants are responsible for nearly 40% of the country’s carbon dioxide emissions, and 10% of global carbon dioxide emissions.” Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. Greenhouse gases contribute to climate change which plays a role in shifting water levels and rain patterns globally. According to ELCA Advocacy, “as the earth’s climate gets warmer, droughts will grow more frequent and more severe in many parts of the globe, particularly in areas that are already water-stressed.” Droughts negatively affect crop production and access to clean, drinkable water. Yet in good design, lighting is everything. So what are we to do? Here are a couple of interesting examples of how good lighting design can help a normal home become more energy efficient, thus working toward sustainable emissions levels to keep our climate change impact low.

The subject of our coffee conversation that day was how to use lighting better. Track lights, dimmer switches and task lighting, Krister believes, make all the difference. You can dim incandescent bulbs always, and you can buy dimmable compact fluorescents (CFL). So whether you prefer the warmth of an incandescent or are just as happy with an energy saving CFL, dimmers help to keep energy consumption low no matter the type of bulb. Additionally, accent lights and track lights are commonly halogen, a form of more efficient incandescent light. You can also use CFLs for many types of accent lighting. Check out Krister’s offering of 5 Tips for Better Living through Better Lighting on The Table. (Note: incandescent bulbs require the use of the metal tungsten – while the majority of the tungsten used in the US comes from abroad, one-third of our supply comes from our own recycling of the metal1. Additionally, CFL bulbs contain small amounts of mercury which can be released if broken, however, they cause considerably less mercury to be released into the atmosphere through power production than incandescent bulbs.)

Next, as lighting technology continues to transform, LED is hitting the scene. LED lights are cool to the touch and require incredibly low levels of energy to function. They also outlast any competition. Plank Island Studio recently teamed up with a local furniture maker to design a commissioned bedroom side table that doubled as a night light. It utilized a low impact LED light to shine through Japanese shoji paper without heat concerns. It serves as an example of energy efficient task lighting. Plus, LED lights contain no mercury2 and because of their efficiency, expend little in power production as well.

To be truly sustainable we would probably all need to buy 100% renewable energy or install a windmill on our roof to produce the electricity which lights our homes. Kudos to those of you who do so, and to the rest, please consider good lighting design as a step in the right direction. Proper lighting for proper places means sustainable energy usage and sustainable, happy ambiance.

Lesson 1: When possible, buy tools and supplies that last.

Lesson 2: Design (and restore when possible) beautiful buildings that stand the test of time.

Lesson 3: Utilize good lighting design and you’ll be on your way to a more sustainable energy consumption level. This will be good for the environment and your pocket book.

Next book in cue: Strategies for the Green Economy, by Joel Makower

Today’s favorite link:




Appalachian Musings

Sorry not to have posted last week. I was still catching up from my time in West Virginia with my colleagues from Church in Society. We observed there firsthand some of the issues that folks are facing in the rural areas of Appalachia. I had hoped to post from the region but the days were packed full. I am still processing what I saw and heard so I apologize if the following is not yet fully formulated. Five thoughts:

1) Driving along the Interstate I saw several billboards by the heavy equipment manufacturer Cat. The sign proudly proclaims “Coal, Yes. Clean, Carbon Neutral Coal.” One problem: we do not yet have any way of burning coal cleanly. Another problem, and this may be the bigger one, even if we could figure out how to burn it cleanly, the way in which we extract it is environmentally and socially destructive (and don’t forget about the Tennessee disaster a couple of months ago).

2) Water issues are not only a Global South problem. They are not only a future problem. Today, in the U.S., there are people who do not have access to safe drinking water. Nancy Michaelis already gave an articulate post on this. Read it here.

3) One of the scary things about coal, or any fossil fuel for that matter, is that we all consume it. Lots of it. We consume coal in direct ways when we flip on the lights in our houses (this cool Web site shows how you may be connected to West Virginia coal). We consume coal in indirect ways when we buy just about anything. We are a very energy dependent people, and most of our energy needs are met by using environmentally and socially destructive fuels.

4) The trip made me think about how we conceptualize land ownership. There was an audible gasp in the room when we learned that energy companies lay claim to 75% of the land in West Virginia. Ralph Dunkin, the bishop of the West Virginia-Western Maryland Synod described how when he purchased his house he had to sign away the land rights. Should some great natural resource be found under his home, energy companies have rights to it. The land and the house would be purchased from him and he would be forced to move. Others we spoke with expressed fear of that happening, especially in this economy when fair market is substantially less than it was a year ago. This system and our collective response gave rise to lots of thinking that will be the subject of a future post (quick preview: we need to rethink the idea of land ownership).

5) Coal is a complex issue, and solutions to the problems it presents are a long way off. We are a very energy consumptive society. And we are only growing in our energy “needs” as we become increasingly dependent on portable devices such as cell phones, Blackberrys, iPods, and the like. Coal is abundant, and one of the few fossil fuels to which we have direct access. In short, in spite of all the problems that coal introduces (carbon emissions, environmental degradation, water concerns, land rights, and so on), we will still continue to mine and burn coal. This will be particularly true in the immediate future–a recent article in the Congressional Quarterly describes how Democrats from coal producing states are dictating a new coal agenda to the chagrin of Republicans from oil producing states.

What seems to me to be the way forward is consuming less energy both directly and indirectly. This of course introduces new problems. For one, in a depressed economy, do we really want to encourage everyone to consume less? For another, in states like West Virginia, coal is the only game in town. Stop using coal, and the tax revenue that is used for public services such as schools and hospitals dips, leading to more social problems.

When I find myself in a catch-22 like this (and the longer I’m in this job, the more I find myself thinking about rocks and hard places), I wonder how to best accompany those who are poor. What choices should I make that will truly serve their needs and interests? Ideas?

David Creech

The Trouble with Coal Mining

As a nation, we love coal. Over 50% of our electricity comes from coal, and it’s a natural resource that we have lots of. It’s an abundant energy source right here in our own country. Each time we flip the light switch, turn on the TV, or warm up dinner in our microwaves, we should be grateful for coal.

But it’s not all happiness and lights. The trouble starts from the very beginning, when you have to get the coal out of the ground. Traditionally, we have engaged in underground coal mining and strip mining. But more recently, we’ve moved to mountaintop removal mining. The name is just as it implies. The top of the mountain – up to about 400 feet of it – is blown off, exposing the seams of coal, which are then extracted and hauled away. The benefit of this method is that it’s cheap. And theoretically, cheaper extraction means cheaper power for us consumers. Compared to digging deeply into the mountain, structurally supporting the tunnels, sending people in to dig out the coal, and then hauling it out of the mountain, it’s pretty easy to blow off the top of the mountain. It also takes many fewer people to accomplish, which is not only cheaper, but puts fewer lives at risk.

But what a toll it takes! The video clip below shows the scope of it – sort of. I filmed it from an intact mountain (hence the trees in the foreground) overlooking an area that has been mined and is no longer active. Note how far there are no trees, and how much lower the ground is in the mined areas. And this mine actually goes quite a bit farther to the right than the video shows. It was sobering to see.

Here are a few of the problems with mountaintop removal as a means of extracting coal: the explosions to remove the mountain are enormous, rattling everything and causing structural damage to homes and buildings. It also takes a while to blow up that much mountain, and over time the ongoing explosions rattle nerves as well as structures. They fill the air with dust, creating air pollution that people and animals breathe, and that coats everything. Then there’s all the earth that is displaced that isn’t coal. Where to put it? Much of it gets dumped into nearby valleys. The environmental impact of it all is enormous. Flora and fauna have been blown up, animals flee, and earth is exposed which causes erosion. Ecosystems are disrupted both in the direct path of the mining and also under the discarded rubble. Waterways are polluted. Toxic minerals and metals are exposed. And it takes decades for the landscape to recover. And these are just some of the problems with the extraction process. It doesn’t begin to take into account things like the CO2 emissions from burning coal, or the health care costs of people who live in the region.

On the flip side, the nation’s demand for electricity continues to grow. As long as we keep asking for power, companies will seek ways to supply it. And we aren’t exactly docile if our lights don’t turn on when we want them to. What’s more, coal is one of two major industries in West Virginia. Mining provides much needed jobs (though not as many as it used to), and a tax base that supports education, hospitals, and infrastructure. We met State Senator John Unger, who explained that without coal mining, there would be a serious shortage of tax funding for necessary services. As a result, the legislature and government give mining companies the benefit of the doubt. Indeed, we heard the ambivalence of citizens, who live with the trade-offs between employment and environment every day. Senator Unger commented that it often feels as though it’s a choice between economic justice and environmental justice. What impossible choices to make.

-Nancy Michaelis

Thirsty, anyone?

I was thirsty last night, so I grabbed a cup, went to the sink, and filled it with water. Then I paused. Should I drink it? Was it safe? I wasn’t sure what to do. I was afraid of the water.

I’ve spent the week in West Virginia, where I and my colleagues have been learning about the coal mining industry. It’s a major industry in West Virginia, providing jobs and a tax base, and much of the electricity we all enjoy – and demand. But coal mining has some pretty dark sides. One of the things I learned is that the water near the mines and downstream of them is polluted with heavy metals and chemicals. The processes of displacing earth and cleaning coal produce byproducts that flush into the mountain waterways. Many of the people who drink well water in affected hollows have rotten teeth and tremendous dental bills because the contents of the water eat the enamel on their teeth, leaving them unprotected from the bacterias that cause decay. We met a woman who has $10,000 worth of crowns, and heard about a young man who had full dentures at age 16 because his real teeth had all rotted from the water. Brushing your teeth is perhaps more dangerous than not.

And teeth are just the body’s first point of contact with this polluted water. The metals, minerals, and chemicals cause further havoc once ingested. Apparently, the majority of people in some areas have had their gall bladders removed, and cancers are widespread. We met a woman named Maria who said she had once been asked if she knew anyone who died of cancer. She got some paper and filled 12 pages with names. Maria is also one of the people who has had her gall bladder removed, and she has returned to drinking soft drinks because they are healthier than the water.

As my colleague Aaron Cooper pointed out, we know the statistic that one is six people in the world lack access to safe drinking water. It’s startling to realize how many of them live right here in the USA.

-Nancy Michaelis

Costa Rica is giving me hope

I highly recommend reading Thomas Friedman’s April 11th Op-Ed column in the New York Times. The ELCA World Hunger staff has been talking a lot about climate change recently, and the disproportionate impact it has on those living in poverty. It’s not particularly encouraging.

So what fun to read Friedman’s article! I have to admit, I don’t know much about Costa Rica’s governmental structures or energy usage, which is a shame. Because as Friedman describes it, they are both innovative and hopeful. Apparently “it did something no country has ever done: It put energy, environment, mines and water all under one minister.” As a result, environmental, energy, and economic considerations have more balanced influence in policy decisions. And the result of that is that Costa Rica now gets some 95% of their energy from renewable sources and has reversed its deforestation. From what I can tell from a very quick check, they’ve also managed to do it while maintaining a reasonably stable economy.

Certainly Costa Rica’s opportunities and challenges are different than, say, the United States. But how hopeful to be given such an example!

-Nancy Michaelis