Making Valentine’s Day Sweet Again

Valentine’s Day puts many of us in a pickle. And it’s not just what to get, but but how to celebrate in a way that isn’t  harmful to the environment.  Bleached paper cards, imported flowers, conflict diamonds, unethically farmed coco products.  All the trappings of the holiday can leave a not-so-sweet taste in your mouth.  But it doesn’t have to! We are bringing you creative, green spins on the traditional Valentine’s Day gestures sure to make you feel good inside and out.

Gentle Greeting Cards
Bubby and Bean is perfect solutions to greeting cards that not only waste paper but also contain bleaches and chemicals along with your well-wishes.  All of their handmade cards are sourced from recycled paper, this one is re-purposed medium weight card stock.  These original designs below are, like all their creations, printed with archival inks. You can buy a whole set of their Valentine’s Day gems for only $20.00.

Flowers by Amy Merrick
Roses can not only be predictable but they are full of pesticides and must travel thousands of miles to reach most of us in chilly February.  But beautiful floral creations do not have come with a heavy carbon footprint attached.  Brooklyn florist Amy Merrick draws her inspired from the movement and texture often found in natural landscapes.  She pays the utmost attention to seasonally appropriate, locally sourced materials at every chance.  Her arrangements are anything but predictable and often incorporate seasonal fruits for an interesting and beautiful twist.

But why wait for someone to buy you flowers?  Just in time for Valentines day Amy is hosting a floral arranging class in her studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn on Tuesday February 12th from 6:30pm-9pm.  Students will create their own valentine’s day arrangements using the finest of the winter season’s flowers- ranunculus, anemones, poppies, flowering branches, parrot tulips, fritillaria and a host of other beautiful greenhouse material.

PACT Apparel goes to great lengths to make sure their entire supply chain, from the growing and harvesting of their organic cotton to the final sewing are as clean and responsible as possible. Their signature socks are made at an eco-concept factory in Turkey powered by wind energy. Every facility PACT goes through is GOTS certified by the Control Union.  And, if you weren’t already sold, all PACT packaging is printed with vegetable based inks on paper made from FSC controlled wood in a factory powered by wind energy and the carbon impact is off-set by Climate Partner.

The brand also has a social mission. This Spring, PACT along with Whole Kids Foundation and Indiegogo are teaming up to help build urban sustainable gardens across the U.S. that provide increased access to healthy food and communities to really experience how their food is grown.  The company donates 10 percent of underwear sales to organizations that help protect the planet.

Guilt-free Cupcakes
Winter Vallie soaps are a mother-daughter, home-made, labor of love.  And the soaps smell as yummy as they look! All their products are crafted with skin-loving oils, butters and cruelty-free products.  The price tag doesn’t hurt either; like the $8.00 cupcake bathbombs, a thoughtful Valentines Day gesture that doesn’t come close to breaking the bank or your healthy 2013 resolution.

Organic Chocolate
Sadly, there’s a not-so-sweet side to one of the world’s most beloved foods: chocolate.  Chocolate production destroys rain forests, spreads toxic pesticides and has been known to exploit children workers.  But there are alternatives.  Restoring the chocolate eating experience to its sweetest potential both in flavor and integrity is Divine.  The organization bills itself as the world’s only Fairtrade chocolate company.  It is 45% farmer owned, providing farmers with a share of Divine’s profits and a stronger voice in the cocoa industry.  All Divine’s products are produced in Ghana, Africa. Now that’s a product that tickles your taste buds and calms your conscience, there’s no better deal than that!

Sustainable Living: How Chicago Streets Just Got Sweeter

Chicago is discovering that an apple a day doesn’t just keep the doctor away. It turns out that more fruit, of all kinds, keeps other societal ills at bay, like unemployment and obesity. This month the city is beginning to see the fruits of a partnership between Neighbor Capital (a grass-roots organization which aims to facilitate sustainable solutions to the challenges of health, jobs, and green spaces in marginalized communities) and StreetWise (a social program that offers “a hand up, not a handout” to the homeless and at risk population, traditionally though the sale of StreetWise Magazine). The organizations have teamed-up to create Neighbor Cards, mobile fruit stands that simultaneously fight unemployment and promote access to healthy, fresh produce.

The Neighbor Carts are stainless steel, very well designed and the leases are affordable. But it doesn’t stop there: StreetWise has also set up a training program for those looking to create job opportunities for themselves. Upon completing the fruit stand training, graduates receive tax ID numbers, their own licenses and even private bank accounts to manage their funds and revenue. Furthermore, with increased financial literacy education, the hope is that this will lay the groundwork for such individuals to find other business opportunities in the future. According to Treehugger, it is estimated that each fruit stand will create three jobs.

This fruit revolution was made possible by changes at the governmental level when summer legislation approved fruit stands (yes, they were formally illegal, if you can believe it). This came about as part of an effort to better serve the 450,000 city residents living in “food deserts”, where fresh fruit and vegetables are not available within walking distance. The ordnance mandates that no limit be placed on the number of licenses given to aspiring, entrepreneurial, fruit stand operators.

For the time being, those working with The Neighbor Carts are partnered with Chicago wholesalers as their produce source, but hopefully as the program expands venders can establish their own relationships with independent, local food sources like roof-top farms or community gardens.

At ExchangeMyPhone we couldn’t be happier to see the social-impact business model taking root in Chicago streets: the more the business grows, the greater the social good, and everybody benefits.

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

Say What? The Top Four Most Surprising Tree Huggers in History

Pythagoras: The Original Vegan

No need to flinch, this isn’t a pop quiz: its actually the guy behind the math that we are interested in. Though history remembers him for Pythagoras the Theorem (the sum of the areas of the to squares on the legs equals the ares of the square on the hypotenuse, in case you had forgotten), he was also highly progressive when it came to animal rights, and banned any use of animal products among his followers. He was a champion of vegetarianism because he believed that animals had souls. In fact, if you had abstained from eating fish and meat before the 19th century you would have been known not as a “vegetarian” but as a devotee of the “Pythagorean Diet.”

Rupert Murdoch: The Neutral Headliner

Though Fox News may vehemently deny the existence of global warming, their parent company, News Corps, went carbon neutral just three years after announcing its goal, the first enterprise of its size to do so. Murdoch told his staff in a memo: “We have saved millions of dollars by improving the energy efficiency of our day-to-day operations. Our efficiency projects pay for themselves in less than two years, on average, and span from simple solutions like lighting retrofits and automatic PC shut-down, to systematic changes like installing telepresence and videoconferencing technology to reduce the need for air travel.” Whether it is dollars and cents, or pure common sense, that’s sparking the move, Murdoch is certainly talking like an environmentalist.

Matell: Treehugger Barbie

Somewhere within her cold, plastic, disproportional body pulses some sort of humanity. It would be a stretch to call Barbie’s manufacture, Mattell environmentalists, per say, but let it be known that they are listening. Last year, after huge pressure and aggressive campaigns spearheaded by Green Peace, the company not only cut ties with Asia Pulp & Paper, but also vowed to increase the amount of Forest Stewardship Counsel-certified recycled wood and paper in their packaging. The deforestation that was occurring in Indonesia was particularly serious because it was taking with it the remaining habitat for the world’s last 400 Sumatran tigers. Lego took similar steps a few months earlier.

T. Boone Pickens: The U-Turn King

Though he built his $3 billion fortune as Chairman of BP Capital Management on Big Oil, in his 70′s, T. Boone Pickens had an equally big change of heart. By 1981 he owned one of the largest private corporations in the world and faced a lot of criticism for how he got there. Dubbed a “corporate raider” and, according to Fortune Magazine, “the most hated man in corporate America”, he was believed to revel in the hostile corporate takeovers for which he was known.  These days however, Pickens is about as far from the oil rigs as humanly possible.  Now he can be found at TED Talks, rubbing elbows with the environmental elite and advocating that America quit its dependency on foreign oil or face ruin. He even has his own solution: The Pickens Plan, a $10 million strategy that he believes “will produce 20% of our nation’s electricity while using our abundant domestic natural gas supply as a transportation fuel as well as for power generation” through the use of wind turbines.

What’s the color of your soul?

At ExchangeMyPhone we are all about re-use and we are fascinated by other companies doing cool re-purposing and recycling projects. So every week we will be posting a profile on an amazing person or business that we have come across.

To kick things off we spoke to Alastair Ong, founder of Green Soul Shoes. In essence, Green Soul Shoes employs local artisans to make up-cycled sandals that use recycled materials from the world around them. For every pair of shoes purchased, a pair is donated to a child in need. You can watch Alastair talk more about Green Soul Shoes at the TEDx conference here.

1. Could you tell me how you came up with the idea?

About five years ago I visited a place in Manila, Philippines. At one point, I went to ‘Smokey Mountain,’ a shantytown built on a garbage dump. One of the first things that struck me was the huge columns of rubber tires stacked up, one against another, in the different corners of the dumpsite.

I continued walking and there I saw dozens of shoeless kids kicking around an old soccer ball with bare feet.  One of the kids stepped on a rusty circuit board and cut his foot. A little horrified, I had my cousin drive me to a local department store, where I bought out the entire line of kids shoes and headed back to Smokey Mountain.

On the way back, I noticed a number of people wearing rubber tire shoes. It dawned on me that local shoemakers were reclaiming refuse tires to create footwear–the same ones I had seen stacked at the dumpsite.

The opportunity to clean up the world, shoe shoeless children, and connect two stakeholders in the same community was one I could not resist.

2. Who makes the shoes today?

Artisans and manufacturers in Thailand, Philippines, Cambodia and Vietnam. We are furthermore making inroads to Peru, Brazil and Nicaragua.

3. Your original shoes were made from discarded scrap tires and your newest shoes are made from rice husks and old conveyor belts. Are you looking at other materials that can be re-used?

Yes, absolutely. Currently we are looking at scrap fabrics such as neoprene from a scuba wear factory.

4. How many different styles do you have? Are you planning to expand?

Currently we have four styles and we are working on a top-secret 100% recycled shoe that we believe will be a game changer.

5. What you think about your competitors, like TOMs for instance?

We love what TOMs is doing. Unfortunately, there’s been some bad press where people are making claims that although TOMs has sold over 1 million pairs of shoes, he hasn’t donated 1 million pairs. We don’t believe that TOMs is environmentally or socially sustainable for two reasons. Firstly, he makes his cotton sandals out of canvas rather than recycled product. Secondly, in his donation shoes, he delivers product made in China and brings them to developing nations. When he donates shoes to third-world countries, the first thing to happen is that shoemakers go out of business. Then since his shoes are cotton and are not puncture resistant, get dirty and wet easily, they don’t tend to last very long. After six months, the community where he donates his sandals no longer has shoes, or shoemakers, which is more of a problem.

6. What are your thoughts about running a ‘triple bottom line’ company?

I love running a company with a greater mission than just making money – I love that we focus on the “Three “P’s,” of Planet, People and Profit. We help the Planet by removing tires out of landfills, which can be a huge problem because a tire in your community collects rainwater which breeds mosquitoes which transmit Malaria and Dengue Fever. We help People by stimulating their economies and of course by donating one, for each one that we sell, back to the community that made the shoes. We of course maintain respectable Profit to continue our social and ecological mission.

7. What other re-purposing efforts or products have you been struck by across the world?

Tires are a huge problem in the developing world. I read a statistic that in the U.S., tires are recycled at the rate of 72%. Compare that to aluminum cans that has a recycle rate of around 54%. A tire is much more likely to be recycled in the U.S. than an aluminum can! The reason this is, is because used tires are bought and used as fuel for cement and concrete factories in the U.S. In a developing nation, while they use tires, they don’t have nearly the recycling rate as we do here in the U.S.

8. How many children have you given shoes to since launch?

We did our first shoe drop in the Philippines in 2009 with roughly 1,500 pairs of sandals. We are currently planning our next shoe drop with many more sandals, and we are asking some of our fans and followers whether they would like to join us. If you would like to join us, drop us a line in our blog or by writing to us at: