Sandy and Sustainability: Defining Resilience

Summertime at the boardwalk: melting Popsicles, sea salt in the air, freckled shoulders, and long, sun-drenched days stretching into nights illuminated by arcade lights and the crack of a firework across the sky.

There a few scenes as quintessentially American, as East Coast, as New York.

The shore is a beloved piece of our identity and one of the reasons that the devastation caused by super storm Sandy was so painful.  The now iconic image of the Seaside Heights’ Star Jet roller coaster in washed out into the grey waters of the Atlantic perhaps best encapsulates the loss of joy and innocence Sandy inflicted: that which was sacred, larger-than-life, reduced to driftwood and debris.

The recovery process has been an arduous one for private citizens and communities alike.  For those on the shore the summer’s opening weekend, Memorial Day, was the goal everyone was striving towards, the light on the horizon. With summer now upon us, all their herculean rebuilding efforts finally on display! 

One of these most interesting acts of resilience has been the redesign of the system of lifeguard stands that dotted the New York coastline and were nearly all destroyed. City architects took this challenge as an opportunity to reimaging the stands and go above and beyond when it comes to sustainability as well as functionality.

A regular overhaul of this scope would take up to two years but this was an eight -month challenge from design to unveiling. The units were built in modules and each includes an office, public washroom and ample office space. Sustainability and flood resistance were at the center of the design. Therefore, the structures rely on solar heat, photovoltaics, and skylight ventilators, boast a net zero energy system and are elevated above FEMA’s most recent storm surge number. Nineteen new stations are now up and running.

Perhaps the most moving detail is the city architects’ use of boardwalk planks that were salvaged from Sandy’s destruction. In a seamless integration of reuse and remembrance, the summers on the shore will always carry with them a piece of their essence and a token resilience.

Sustainable Living: One Nation’s Trash…

During these turbulent economic times, while many national economies are burning through bailouts and austerity funds, Norway has taking a different approach. They have opted to burn through something more sustainable: garbage.  Oslo, the country’s capital city, has long recognized the value of recycling on a municipal level and half the education institutions are heated by electricity generated by incinerated waste (no easy task in this chilly Northern city).
But, through this hyper-efficient model, Oslo has also encountered a unique problem: lack of trash.  It seems that the urban population simply cannot produce enough waste to meet the demand of a trash-based heating system.  The solution? Imports.
While most of the world’s countries pay to have their garbage exported (the U.S. for instance ships millions of pounds of e-waste to Africa each year), Norway (and other Scandinavian countries like Sweden) are doing the opposite.  So much so, that Stockholm competes with Oslo to get the trash of Norwegian border cities to convert into energy.
“There’s a European waste market — it is a commodity.” Hege Rooth Olbergsveen, the senior adviser to Oslo’s waste recovery program, told the New York Times, “It’s a growing market.”

However, these waste-to-energy programs have left some environmentalist questioning the true efficiency of transporting garbage from further afield as Norway establishes relationships with Leeds, England and perhaps later on, with garbage-rich Southern Italy and Spain. The carbon footprint of the journeys are sizable, not to mention the safety risk of incinerating waste from countries with less than stringent disposal regulations.

But, despite criticisms, one fact remains indisputable: there is real, viable, economic value in what we throw away. And, as the world of reuse expands, this reality only gains momentum.

How do you think the commodification of trash will change the landscape of the global economy? Share your thoughts with us here!

Sustainable Living: British Counter Culture and Reinventing The Café

Victorian hygiene is more likely to turn your stomach than stir your appetite, but just leave it to the wonderful minds in reuse to turn convention on its head.  Newly opened café, the Attendant, sits just under a bustling central-London street on the site of a Victorian-era public toilet.  The system of municipal WC’s was originally built in 1890s but has long lain dormant just below the city’s sidewalks.  For over fifty years the only reminders of the network were the decorative iron gates which flanked the toilets’ entrances above ground.

Sustainable living: The attendant

The reinvention of this unused space was two years in the making and special detail was paid to incorporating old fixtures in practical ways – the original Doulton porcelain urinals for instance, have become seating to match the original floor tiles.

sustainable living: Inside the attendant

The now bustling brunch and cake shop takes its name from the fact that it was, once upon a time, the post of the local restroom attendant who had an adjoining office.  His office has remained a workspace but of a reinvented variety; it is now home to the small cafe kitchen which, remarkably, keeps up with the breakfast time rush and demand for Gloucester Old Spot bacon sarnies.

Coffee in The Attendant

But 27 Foley Street isn’t the only address where reuse lives in London’s cafe-culture. In fact, all around London people are rethinking, reusing and reinventing the capabilities of the conventional coffee shop. Just look at Repair Cafés for example. These are free, popular meet-ups centered around neighbors sharing knowledge so they can repair and reuse almost anything: clothes, furniture, electrical appliances, bicycles, crockery, appliances and toys.

Sustainable living: repair cafe

The central aims of the events are twofold: to educate about Co2 reduction-potential in fixing rather than purchasing new items, and to bring together communities to support each other in a sustainable way.

At ExchangeMyPhone we love nothing more than great stories of people coming together over reuse.  Be it over a cup of coffee or a a broken blender, the experience is always better when it is a shared one and we are so lucky to get to be part of that experience with our users!

Do you have a creative way of brilliant way of bringing people together to spread the green? We’d love to hear about it!

Sustainable Living: The Dirt on Footwear

sustainable living - OAT

When we talk about our carbon footprint maybe its time to get a little more literal, or, as OAT Shoes would argue, a lot more literal.  OAT Shoes is the force that is taking earth-friendly footwear to a whole new level: the soil.  Their shoes are made from 100% biodegradable materials which means that when you are done with your pair you compost them or even bury them in your garden!  But they don’t just hit the mark when it comes to sustainable living and materials, these shoes are hot.

OAT shoes

sustainable living

The simple, elegant and yet playful design is a departure from many style-sacrificing eco brands. Not here. Their fashion shows have even featured scantily clad models maneuvering wheelbarrows down the catwalk.  The centerpiece? A plant sprouting out of blooming shoe, pretty impressive. OAT is so fashionable in fact that the company walked away with the second prize at the Green Fashion Awards at Amsterdam International Fashion Week and have now branched out into bags and totes.

Blooming shoe - sustainable living

If, like most of us, you are just discovering the world of biodegradable shoes chances are you might have some footwear kicking around that just simply isn’t plantable but that doesn’t mean that you can’t recycle it.  For your fancy lady shoes you might consider transforming the prom experience of a girl in need by donating a pair to the Cinderella Project.  This non-profit aims to let girls in undeserved communities know “that they are not bound by personal or financial circumstances, and that the possibilities are endless for them.”

Cinderella project - sustainable living

For more practical, everyday shoes you might consider Soles 4 Souls.  The Nashville-based charity that has delivered over 19 million pairs of new and gently worn shoes to people in over 125 countries including Kenya, Thailand, Nepal and the United States. The non-profit also has a very strong disaster-relief force and coordinated efforts for the Asian Tsunami and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

At ExchangeMyPhone we love the idea of eco-equality for all which is why we admire organizations like the Cinderella Project and Soles 4 Souls and also why we make it our personal mission to provide free cell phone recycling for everyone!  At ExchangeMyPhone recycling is a right, plain and simple, and we are always humbled to find ourselves in such great company in the world of reuse.

The Giants of Iowa: Reuse, Re-rigged

The world of reuse is sometimes relegated to all things tiny: tiny homes, tiny devices, tiny art.  But in Iowa reuse is going not just big, its going gigantic, 8 stories to be exact!  That’s because in the middle of Iowa’s rolling farmlands there is, surprisingly, a mountain climber’s paradise where a number of unused grain silos have been converted into ice climbing walls.

In the fall of 2001 Don Briggs, a professor and climbing enthusiast, was helping a friend till his farmland in the municipality of Ceder Falls when he made a bet that he could scale one of the silos looming in the distance.  In the end, he won the bet and discovered that the most workable way to reach the peak was to ice climb it.

Briggs has now developed an intricate icing process by rigging hoses at the top of the structure which slow-drip downwards creating a semi-malleable wall of ice that changes depending on wind and weather conditions.

Since the silo opened for business it has attracted both beginners and experts alike and exposed a community famous for their flat farmlands to a taste of mountain life, close to home.  To learn more check out Silo Ice Climbing.

Sustainable Living: Reuse Finds A Home In Furniture Design

With the concept of up-cycling having taken the world of interiors by storm, an interesting trend is emerging. Increasingly, sustainable living is a byproduct of a larger design intention: storytelling.  Furniture that is merely environmentally sound is taking a backseat to pieces which, endowed by their history-rich materials, provoke questions and challenge our beliefs about design.  Today ExchangeMyPhone features those leading the way in the burgeoning field.

The Historian
Los Angeles based furniture designer Stephen Kenn drew his inspiration for The Inheritance Collection from his grandfather, and the sense of duty and sacrifice of The Golden Generation.  His sofas, stools and loveseats made from one hundred percent reclaimed lumber, are suspended using recreated WW2 army belts and upholstered in fabric sourced from old US military uniforms.  The rusted buttons, embroidered names and the wear of the fabric create a tactical homage to those who have served in the armed forces.

The Inheritance Collection

Beside paying this respect Kenn’s second aim in creating the line is to build a truly local product.  He says that the relationships with the venders, carpenters, welders and seamstresses has evoked in him an even deeper connection to his community – a value literally sewn into his products. If you are interested in learning more about his process you can get a true insiders look here.

Stephen Kenn

The Agitators
Much like Kenn, Canadian lighting designers and founders of Castor Kei Ng and Brian Richer are not simply on a quest for sustainable living. Perhaps most central to their vision is creating household objects with a “sense of irreverence” (if you couldn’t tell from their head shots).  Their fire-extinguisher hanging laps, a staple of their line, are quintessential Castor: the duo are fascinated by the idea of turning the familiar and the mundane into a visual centerpiece.

Kei Ng and Brian Richer

Castor lighting

They accomplish this without changing the fundamental esthetic of the object but by simply re-framing it; “Keeping things simple and elegant is actually quite hard to do,” Richer admits.  Their burnt-out, industrial florescent fixture shades are a thought-provoking twist on original purpose of the object and ask the sort of philosophical questions Castor is known for provoking in their work. The invisible chandler, one of their best-selling items, is a further iteration of the same theme.


Castor hanging lights

The Diva of Demolition
In getting to know the stories behind up-cycled interiors it become clear that for most designers, art and their furniture are one in the same – making the leap from studio art to furniture production is a linear journey.  This is certainly true for Brooklyn sculptor-turned-craftsman Ariele Alasko who turns salvaged wood into geometric art.  Her most popular pieces include original headboards, coffee tables, and wall panels.  For Alasko, re-purposing her materials isn’t an eco-imperative, it is simply what makes sense for the warm, true-to-Brooklyn ascetic that defines her work. To see more check out her site!

Ariele Alasko

“I’m a builder, a fixer, and a do-it-myselfer. My favorite things in life are big tools, old wood, good pasta, and finding great materials in a dumpster. I grew up in California, and blindly moved to New York seven years ago when I was accepted into art school for sculpture. I instantly fell in love with the grungy part of Brooklyn, and within a month, we had moved into Bed-Stuy. I have lived in the same apartment for five years now, which has given me plenty of time to slowly “fix” a few things around the house: de-carpet stairways, tile in kitchen… you name it!”

salvaged wood into geometric art


From Mainstream to Macabre: 5 things you never knew you could recycle

1. Crayons
Though it might have been a while since the Crayon was your preferred writing instrument it is still big business in the United States.  In fact, 60 tons of petrol-based wax is generated daily in crayon construction! CRAZY CRAYONS was founded by LuAnne Foty and started as a deposit box in the entryway of a supermarket nearly two decades ago.  It is now a nationwide service that has collected over 88,000 pounds of unwanted crayons.  These crayons are melted down, sterilized and hand poured into non-toxic CRAZY CRAYONS.

unwanted crayons

Crazy crayons

If you’d like to recycle unloved or broken crayons and send them here.  If you’d like to order some 100% recycled, non-toxic you can do that here. The clam shell box they are packaged in are a super green bonus, made using 100% renewable agricultural resources.  They also have a signature swirl crayon guaranteed inspire the little artists in your life.

2. Credit Cards
Finally, that gift card with a balance of $3.50 you got from aunt Janice has a place to live other than your wallet.  Much like prescription drugs, even when credit cards or gift cards are expired we hesitate to dispose of them perhaps because we don’t know exactly how to go about it.  The good news is that plastic cards are recyclable and can be sent to processing services like EarthWorks! Earthworks has developed a system in which scrap polymeric plastics are recovered, reground and recycled into plastic sheet material which is used for manufacturing new plastic cards.

EarthWorks! credit card recycling

If you are feeling crafty, there are also several DIY projects in which you can put old cards to new use.  We love the idea of rocking out with reused guitar picks!

3. Coffin Couch
A little more esoteric than the previous items, coffins are nonetheless posing a waste problem.  This is because (and caution this is not for the faint of heart), funeral parlors must, from time to time, move bodies from one coffin to another.  The original coffin then becomes a bio hazard, both unusable and unsellable, and finds a final resting place in a landfill.  That is, unless, the funeral directors donate the coffin to California’s own Coffin Couches. They take the caskets, clean, remove and replace the interior and then add legs. A macabre man’s perfect sofa.

Recycled coffin couch

4. Trophies
Everyone knows that it isn’t wise to rest on one’s laurels and what better way to do this than clearing out some of our childhood trophies.  After all, parting with your MVP second grade tether ball medal won’t make you any less of a champion.  The Maryland-based LAMB Awards and Engraving company has recently spearheaded a trophy recycling program and are now accepting old and dusty metallic accolades.  They pair any matching trophies that are donated to charities and those remaining are broken down and their parts are reused. What a great way to keep on winning!

trophy recycling program

5. Dentures
There’s those dumpster diving to uncover treasure in the trash and then there’s the Tokyo trailblazers who go denture diving, finding wealth where others only can’t imagine.  The Japan Denture Recycle Association was founded in 2006 and has recycled 30,000 dentures.  Half the profits go to UNICEF and the organization has already benefited hugely thanks to denture recycling, to the tune of $176,500!

We have a feeling the Tooth Fairy might be the angel investor behind this project!

Japan Denture Recycle Association

Phone recycling: New York’s ExchangeMy(Pay)Phone

Posted on November 26, 2012 | Amazing tech, eco-economy, iPad, mobile, New York, phone, Re-use, Recycling, tablet

At ExchangeMyPhone sometimes we feel like we are the only ones who love to “geek out” about phone recycling but as it turns out we have company…a lot! In fact, the City of New York shares our niche passion but only when it comes to a very specific type of phone: the pay phone. Remember those? Yes they still exist, actually there are 1,500 pay phones in Manhattan alone. But in a town where even some toddlers are iPhone clad, most of the pay phones sit idle collecting soot and taking up space.

pay phone recycling

So what’s the solution?  The city government has teamed up with developer City24x7 to launch a pilot program to turn 250 pay phone booths into free information kiosks in all five boroughs.  But wait, there’s more. These kiosks are interactive, touch screen devices that connect users to all kinds of vital information: from where the nearest Pinkberry is located, to live transit updates and evacuation routes in the event of a natural disaster.  The development of this new communal software leverages the neighborhood watch philosophy by putting “vital messaging onto our streets and into our hands; providing everyone with access to urban communication when and where they may be.”


The cornerstone of  City24x7′s Smart Screens is the the democratization and proliferation of mobile media, or as they put it, “built with access for all.”  The devices provide geo-specific content on a high contrast screen for the visually impaired, they have a Wayfinder key-fob access point for the blind, headphone jacks/induction loops for the hearing-impaired and are wheelchair accessible as well as multilingual.

The 32-inch touch-screens are made from ATM strength glass so defacement is not a top concern.  Really the only possible buzz kill could be the potential germ swapping, which, if you live in New York you are already well aware of.  But according to City24x7 they’ll be more sanitary than an ATM. “They’re built to be cleaned with a jet hose,” said CEO Tom Touchet, the former executive producer of the “Today” show. “They’re waterproof and dust-proof.”

re-imagined pay phones for New Yorkers

So not only are these re-imagined pay phones good for New Yorkers, they are good for the city budget.  The installation and operation runs at no costs NYC but, after the pilot program, 36% of revenue will go to fund other city programs.  Furthermore, with the information kiosks as a platform, local government will be able to remind citizens about bike-shares, free events and even how to get their tax refund.  Now what payphone can do that?

Sustainable Living: The Highline’s hidden track

Posted on October 22, 2012 | Community building, eco-economy, Re-use, Recycling

There’s still some apples growing in the Big Apple, and no, not on an urban garden rooftop. Somewhere less expected. They’re on the third, still-unfinished section of the gem of the West side, the New York City Highline. You might know and love the Highline, but what you may not know is that there still remains a third half-mile stretch that is yet to be “parkifyed.” This third section of track lies, just as the original parts did in the ’80′s and 90′s, virtually untouched. The new refurbishments will extend the Highline park to 34th street.

Just over a decade ago the Highline was an city relic, known only to urban explorers, daring photographers, curious neighbors and stubborn wild grass. Residents thought it was an eye-sore and mayor Giuliani and other administrations promised its demolition (the structure was protected through awareness raised by railroad enthusiast Peter Obletz and photographers like Joel Sternfeld).

But thankfully the railroad endured. The world-class Highline park now stands (or better said, suspends) as a reminder of the power of reuse and reinvention, one most innovative public spaces in New York City and the country.

But, if there’s an urban explorer in you wishing you could have seen it pre-makeover, you’re in luck. Earlier this month the unfinished section was opened to 1,600 very savvy folks who registered months in advance to visit the area as part of Uniqlo‘s Rail Yards Weekends. If you were not among them, not to worry. You can still get a peak at the self-seeded landscape that originally inspired “Friends of the Highline” to turn the area into a park: wildflowers, apple trees and all.

The Highline extension will be opened to the public officially in 2014.

Sustainable Living: Companies that get their priorities right

What are the most important characteristics you look for in a significant other? Chances are you look for similar traits in your favorite companies: honesty, humor, attractiveness and dependability. But there’s one trait that consistently tops the list in cross-cultural studies: kindness. Be it our favorite juice brand or our main squeeze, we are drawn to individuals and industries that, rather than acting in self-interest, exhibit awareness and a sympathetic attitude towards others.

Businesses big and small spend millions of dollars and man-hours each year trying to crack the code of consumer loyalty. They search for the missing data, the perfect algorithm or the focus group that will unlock the key to this ‘promise land’ of consumerism. But, the truth is, there just aren’t any shortcuts. Customer loyalty and a brilliant brand reputation are the fruits of walking the walk, of actually being a good company. What we have come to think of as a “good” company is a company whose priorities are not just monetary gain, but those that consider their effect on humanity and the environment. This sort of corporate responsibility model is know as “the triple bottom line”, a business model in which people, profits and the planet are all equal priorities. Here are some of ExchangeMyPhone’s faves when it comes the 3BL:

Honest Tea
honest tea
For one, the product speaks for itself: delicious. Just likes its name promises, there are no added chemicals and only a hint of organic sugarcane sweetens their ice tea blends. Billed as the country’s fastest growing ethical beverage since 1999, Honest Tea has consistently delivered on their three commitments. In 2007, the company also launched Honest Kids, a collaboration with TerraCycle to recycle, and attempt to eliminate, non-degradable drink pouches. Last year, all of their green, black, white and oolong teas became Fair Trade Certified which, according to the company’s site, “ensures that workers on tea gardens receive a fair share of profits, and that the tea gardens comply with specific workplace criteria for equality and fairness.” Now that’s sweet and refreshing.

You could write a book on the environmental activism of the Patagonia brand. In fact, someone already has. Since Patagonia’s foundations were built in the late 70′s they have strived to, “build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” And they have quite the repertoire of programs to brag about. For example, their “1% for the Planet” initiative encourages the business world to be more eco-conscious by “building and supporting an alliance of businesses financially committed to creating a healthy planet.” They also have the World Trout Initiative to protect endangered fish species and the Common Threads Recycling Program.
But their crowning jewel is their Environmental Internships program in which any Patagonia employee may take a two-month leave of absence (yes, full pay included) to work with an environmental non-profit anywhere in the world! The company doesn’t sweat losing their employees two months because, according to their previous Director of Human Resources, Lu Setnicka, Patagonia “still consider[s] that they are working for Patagonia, but they are having the opportunity to bring a particular skill set to an organization that could really benefit…it also gives the employees the opportunity to dive deeper into an issue.” Now, where can we apply?

Clif Bar
So, your love affair with Clif bars probably of started as a Whole Food impulse-buy at the check-out counter, but chances are its now a full-fledged committed relationship. They are too good, there’s just no getting around it. But what makes the delicious flakes go down even smoother, is the knowledge that your money is going to a company that cares about the health of their customer and community as well as the planet.
Clif bar
In the past ten years Clif has:
-Offset the carbon footprint of their office, business travel, bakeries and delivery to their distribution center by investing in wind energy.
-Switched to 100% recycled paperboard, generating an environmental savings of 14,000 trees and 6 million gallons of water in one year.
-Created the country’s first employee biodiesel and hybrid incentive program and rewarded their employees for walking, biking, carpooling and taking public transportation. They also provided each employee with $500 to purchase a bike.
-And finally, this year, Clif Bar’s 115,000 square foot headquarters became the first building in Emeryville, CA to achieve LEED Platinum certification.
In terms of social activism, Clif has launched the 2080 Project. The name corresponds with how many hours one full-time employee works in a year and the minimum amount of time that Clif, collectively, volunteers to their favorite causes every year. Check out some of their great volunteer work here.

New Belgium
new belgium brewing

Another yummy drink and, though it may not be as healthy as Honest Tea, definitely as necessary at the end of the day. The New Belgium Brewery was founded by a husband-and-wife in 1991 in Fort Collins. Inspired by their scenic setting along the Cache la Poudre River, the founders focused on environmental responsibility and employee ownership when creating their businesses model. We are happy to report that everything has been a booming success. In 2008 the little-brewing-company-that-could was named one of the best places to work in America, a result of the company’s responsibility for the “wellness” of their employees as humans. Employees are gifted a spankin’ new set of wheels on their 1-year anniversary, a bike that is modeled after the one in New Belgium’s logo. When it comes to the planet, they pledge the same responsibility: 90% of their operation is wind-powered and the other 10% is a recycled methane byproduct of their water treatment plant. Yay reuse! Now that’s something we can say “cheers” to.

new belgium brewing sustainable living