Category Archives: sustainability

Investing in the Future

stock-arctic-sea-ice-2Stocks, houses, cars: these are the normal things that come to mind when we talk about “investing”. Money and the future are always intertwined. However, no amount of money in the world will do anything is we do not invest in the future of the health of our planet.

Ice levels in the artic continue to decline. In a paper from Nature Climate Change it has been reported that CO2 and human activities are responsible for near 2/3rds of this Artic sea ice loss.

If we don’t curb emissions we’ll lose this sea ice as well as many species that rely on it like Polar Bears. The rising tide that will happen when we lose this ice will impact all coastal cities that are at or below sea level.

Investing in our planet’s future is important if we not only care about nature but the safety of our own coastal cities.

A Bad Year for the Amazon Rainforest


The Amazon Rainforest has long been a symbol of ecology and preservation. It is often been at the center of the hot topics of deforestation, pollution, abuse of indigenous people and their rights, and extinction of both plant and animal species. However, I find more often than not and despite the serious issues surrounding this epicenter of the earth we see the Amazon Rainforest as only but a symbol—and not a real place. Our removal in part because we are not there, we do not see it on a daily basis, and to us it only exists maybe as some exotic place rather than a concrete location with real daily problems.

However this must end, as the Amazon Rainforest has had a bad year.

Between August 2015 and June 2016 more than 3,085 miles of the Amazon Rainforest were destroyed—a marked increase of 29 percent from the last year. This place is real. The impact on the world is real. The deforestation effects more than half of the total tree biodiversity of the forest and impacts near 180 indigenous groups that live in the Amazon.

While overall the annual loss of the forest has decreased, this is the first time since 2004 that the destruction increased. Why the sudden turn? What has changed? Illegal logging, taking care of stock animals, clearing the forest for living space. As population grows and we need more space and animals surely the forests suffer. Action needs to be taken and we need to stop seeing the Amazon as a distant magical place and instead as a real location that needs help. Solutions must be put in place if we have any hope of letting the forest remain its current size—or better yet grow once again.

Nature Can Heal Itself


Often it seems we see huge headlines that scream out to us about the plight of our environment. These headlines are often grim, and before going forward it is important to note that we should always heed these warnings. Our planet is in danger, our oceans and forests are under attack by multiple forces from climate change to pollution and everything in between. However, we also need to take the time to observe and learn from every small success we have in regaining a healthy world. Recently news has broken that the Atlantic Ocean might well be healing itself.

Tuna officially contains less mercury. It is believed that reduced coal emissions have started to make this fish a bit safer to eat (though it is good to note that women of child-bearing age should always avoid Bluefin Tuna in case of a pregnancy, as well as children themselves—as any level of mercury is so harmful for their development). A new study finds that mercury levels have declined by about 19 percent between 2004 and 2012 in Tuna.

Coal has been on the decline for a while, which not only means less emissions from the fuel source but also less and less plants being created in the first place. This is small, but evidence that our actions make a difference. Imagine what could happen if we could find ways to offset carbon emissions even more. Our fish could be free of many of these toxic chemicals that not only hurt them, but ourselves as we consume them. We must see this good news and continue to work to free the world from the forces that hurt it.

The Plight of being Ugly and Endangered

The phrase “endangered animals” brings various images to mind. Tigers, pandas and the other endearing poster children for dwindling species likely spring up. We admire these animals for their attractive qualities and those traits are often used in campaigns for their benefit. Sleek cats and cute bears adorn fliers and other media that speak to the cause. What happens, however, when the endangered animal isn’t cute? Frankly, what happens when the endangered animal is just plain ugly? They’re certainly no less worthy of saving and no less important to our world, but they just don’t have the appeal of their majestic counterparts. How do we include them in our efforts to save animals on the brink of extinction?

In light of this issue, increasingly more campaigns and societies are coming forward to stop those not-so-cute creatures from disappearing. The World Wildlife Fund, a powerhouse in terms of raising funds for conservation, put this issue in perspective for Bluefin Tuna in their 2011 campaign. Fish might not be the first animal you think of when you consider endangered animals. Nevertheless, their numbers are quickly dropping as a result of overfishing. The campaign uses the face of popular endangered animals as masks on the Bluefins, asking the question, “Would you care more if I was a … ?”

wwf-tunapandaVia WWF

Is it true? Would we care more if these fish were cuter, or if they just weren’t fish? Who will stand up for the “ugly” creatures? There is someone:  Simon Watt and his Ugly Animal Preservation Society. The society was set up to shine a light on those less than attractive animals who need our help. You can find this community–and a book published under the same name–at By hosting gigs with comedians and otherwise spreading the word, they’re reaching out to speak for animals that just don’t strike the cute chord, like the Purple Pig Nosed Frog or the Blobfish. In their words, “we can’t all be pandas”.

We need to remember these less than cute creatures and their importance in the world. They deserve our attention, too.



The Largest Single Marine Reserve Created


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With its bright blue waters, some might consider the Pitcairn Islands to be one of the most pristine settings on Earth. It’s for good reason, then, that it’s on it’s way to becoming the largest single marine reserve on the planet. The islands are located squarely between South America’s west side and Australia in the South Pacific Ocean. The new reserve will be larger than the state of California and is being funded by the UK government’s 2015 budget. The protected area will help over 80 species of aquatic life, and it will be illegal to fish or mine in the reserve around the Islands unless you belong to the local population. The latter will be permitted to fish the waters in accordance with their traditional practices.

 The reserve will be dependent on partnerships with non-governmental satellite monitoring.

 Our oceans have been subjected to harsh treatment the past few hundred years, from overfishing to pollution. They’ve been both neglected and overlooked. The Guardian’s Adam Vaughan summed up the importance of this new marine reserve and ocean conservation: “What has happened in our oceans is a biodiversity tragedy, but it is a humanitarian issue too. Nearly a billion people depend on fish as their primary source of protein, and nearly a quarter of a billion depend on fish for their livelihoods.”


The Como Zoo Welcomes a New Member


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On February 22nd, a Western Lowland Gorilla named Dara gave birth to her first child, a beautiful baby girl, Arlene. She was named after the late Arlene Schenemann, a longtime zoo volunteer. The healthy baby was born weighing 5 pounds, and while nursing was a bit of a concern for this first time mother, Dara is now taken up the role of mother wonderfully. The Como Zoo continues to monitor the gorillas to ensure that the baby is fed regularly.

The Western Lowland Gorilla is the smallest of the two subspecies of Western Gorilla. But don’t let that fact fool you; males standing erect can be up to 6 feet tall and weigh up to 600 pounds! However, little Arlene will probably only get to around 5 feet tall and weigh half as much as her male counterparts. For now, she’ll be carried around by her mother and Dara will continue to carry her until she’s about is 2 or 3. Childhood will last until she is 6 or 7 years old and she’ll reach sexual maturity around 8 years old. In the wild, these Gorillas live to be around 35 years old. Females usually remain with their family group for the duration of their lives and cultivate strong familial relationships within their group.

Her birth is a great step for the species, who have been in decline for decades due to human development encroaching on their range, illegal poaching for bushmeat and ebola. At this point, the Western Lowland Gorilla is listed by the WWF** as critically endangered.

Arlene and Dara will make their first public appearance in late March, so make sure you get out and say hi!



Bengal Tiger Population Rebounds


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Amazing news to uplift the new year:  the population of wild Bengal tigers has increased 30% from 2001 to 2014; a census found 2,226 tigers in India last year compared with 1,706 in 2010. India is home to 70% of the world tiger population, so their numbers there spell out the future of the species. While this is being praised as a huge success, it’s important to remember that the future of all endangered species hinges on awareness.

In 1957 there were near 40,000 tigers in India, a far cry from the current population of 2,226. While conflicts with local villages and prey loss has not helped the species, their main threat for the past sixty years has been the illegal wildlife trade. From capturing and selling live tigers as status symbols, to the sale of skins and bones for furnishing or medicinal purposes, Bengal Tiger numbers have been dropping due to mankind’s interest in using them for one reason or another. Furthermore, as their numbers drop their body parts become more expensive and, unfortunately, poachers stand to profit more from the scarcity. This cycle must be stopped if we want Bengal Tigers to have a chance to bounce back to healthy numbers.

If you are interested in learning more or contributing to tiger conservation, look into World Wildlife Fund* and TRAFFIC** (wildlife trade monitoring network), where you can find places to donate or lend a helping hand.



About Sumatran Orangutans

tang(image via The Guardian)

I am deeply committed to the protection of and education about Sumatran Orangutans, and I wanted to take this time to tell you all a bit about them. “Orangutan” means “person of the forest”, derived from the Malay language. Sumatran orangutans, Pongo abelii, are a critically endangered species with approximately 7,300 individuals worldwide and they are native to the tropical and subtropical forests of Indonesia. While they once inhabited the entire island of Sumatra and parts of Java, Sumatran orangutan populations have been decimated by a number of threats including poaching and the illegal pet trade. They are now confined to the northern portion of Sumatra wherein they continue to play a vital role in the broadleaf forest ecosystem.

Zoos and wildlife refuges around the world are working to protect this amazing species, and Sumatran orangutans’ close relative the Bornean orangutans. You, too, can help protect orangutans! The World Wildlife Foundation has a “sponsor an orangutan” program and there are many companies that partner with conservation organizations (link to Orangutan Coffee post here). The easiest way to protect orangutans is through education: tell your friends and family about their endangered status, look for orangutan-safe products, and use social media to spread the conservation message.

Sustainability – There’s an App for That

Support for sustainability is growing across the world. More and more companies are bringing sustainable practices into their business, implementing sustainable policies for their employees, and offering sustainable options for customers. While businesses may make a variety sustainable changes, it is still up to us as consumers to make informed choices and levy our purchasing power knowledgeably. So how do we do that in this age of technology, especially when knowing your farmer or producer is not always an option? Is there a way to make sure that our choices will lead to a healthier earth?

Well, there’s an app for that.

Actually, there are many apps that can be used to make ethical choices when it comes to picking where we shop. Environmental Working Group created a food ratings database and app, which, while focused on nutrition, also rates products on issues like organic certification, animal welfare standards, and environmental contamination. There is also HowGood, an app that rates food products on 60 indicators of sustainability, and Good Guide, a tool that rates food and other products on safety, health, and ethics.

There are even regional apps, designed just for individuals in certain cities like GreenStar NYC app, which can be used by both New York city consumers and businesses. Using the app, New Yorkers can find geotagged GreenStar Certified businesses, locally made green products, women- and minority-owned businesses, and a citywide green events calendar. The list hardly ends here; there is also Rippl, Joulebug, IRecycle, PaperKarma, and so on. In fact, sustainability apps are being created increasingly more often for reasons ranging from making smart purchases to encouraging good recycling habits.

The impact of these apps is yet to be seen; will they just be a tech fad, or a truly useful tool for consumers? Only use of the apps will answer that.


Jaya’s a big brother!

Earlier this month, Saint Paul’s Como Zoo announced the birth of a healthy female orangutan.  That makes Jaya an elder sibling!  If you don’t recall, Jaya was born at the Zoo in 2007 to a pair of Sumatran Orangutans named Markisa and Jambu.  He’s been counting birthdays ever since (I was lucky enough to help celebrate his sixth).  Now we’ll have the opportunity to watch him mature into the role of big brother.

orangsCredit:  Como Zoo

Looking back, Jaya’s birth was special because, among other reasons, it was only one of a few successful primate C-sections.  –There’s still just a dozen in recorded history.  However, when Markisa was selected to breed a second time, doctors knew that the infant would have to be similarly delivered.  At the time of this writing, mother and her baby have been reunited at Como and are bonding as expected.  Jaya was handed over to his mother’s care in record time, so there’s no doubt that Markisa can be an excellent caretaker.  Also, we can’t forget to recognize the world-class treatment these primates receive from their human counterparts at Como.

Markisa and the newborn will be reintroduced to Jaya, Jambu and friend Amanda after the two have had enough time to adjust.  While this may take some time, the growing family of orangutans is sure to light up smiles for years to come.