A New Language - Our Role In Reducing Atmospheric Carbon

Earth Week offered Lehigh Valley residents the opportunity to hear two environmental experts speak, Dr. George Woodwell from the Woods Hole Research Center and Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org. I was fortunate to hear both.

Their work, research and message emphasize the same thing: we all need to do something to lessen the amount of carbon in our atmosphere. For so many, that seems like a daunting task. Most of us are everyday people with jobs, families and a multitude of other responsibilities. Isn’t a problem like this better left to the scientists? What can we do? I believe we all have a role to play in reversing the carbon numbers. Here are a few things you can do.

TREES, we’ve all heard this before. Planting trees will help remove carbon from the atmosphere. Do some research before you buy and plant. Is it a native tree? Will it grow too big for the space you have available? When that happens, most people want to have their trees topped. Don’t do it. Why not? You’ve removed the structural branches with the leaves that help clean the air and the tree will struggle to stay alive. It will send out many weak branches quickly to try and compensate for the loss. The tree is weaker and less healthy.

Let’s suppose you’ve chosen the right tree for your space. Will the tree shade the south or west side of your home to help cool it in the summer, and when it’s leaves fall, warm that area of your home in the winter? If so, you now have the benefits of passive cooling and solar heat gain. (You probably thought all solar was too expensive.) Planting evergreen trees near your home can help block the cold northwest winds in winter. Your home will now be warmer and the evergreen will provide coolness in the summer. By planting a tree, you’ve reduced carbon in the air and reduced the amount of fossil fuel you need to heat and cool your home. That’s a win-win.

To be sure, we will all need to do more and this is just one simple example. What else can you come up with? There are 365 days in one year. If we all did one earth friendly action each day, imagine the difference we can all make!

*** Editor’s note:
Marie North of South Whitehall Township, is a CERTIFIED SUSTAINABLE BUILDING ADVISOR.

Article was published on Parkland Press GUEST VIEW (http://parkland.thelehighvalleypress.com) on April 27, 2017

A New Language - Repurposed, Recolored, ReStore Earth Day Project

Potting Cabinet

Habitat ReStore recently hosted a contest in honor of Earth Day. All submissions needed to be an item purchased at the store and then repurposed. I submitted a Potting Cabinet as my entry. I was thrilled to find out my entry received the most votes!

This cabinet was probably made to hold recyclables in a small household and could still be used for that purpose. The three doors tilt forward and each one holds a plastic bin. I decided to "Repurpose" it as a Potting Cabinet. Either way, it would work nicely in a small apartment, kitchen, or laundry room.

Repurposed Recolored ReStore Potting Cabinet

Each door on the Potting Cabinet is labeled to identify what is in it; pots, potting soil, and a place to recycle and then compost used soil and old plants. One drawer can hold a shovel, hand pruners, and garden gloves. The other can house seed packets, plant food, labeling sticks, and a pencil. The potting tray on the top was a box that held fruit I purchased at the grocery store many months ago. I kept it thinking I might find a use for it. The bottom of the tray is a piece of cardboard from the back of a tablet which I covered with decorative plastic wrap. The potting tray makes it easier to hold the soil in one place when potting a plant. The wheels under the cabinet were recessed and it was shorter than it is now. I attached two pieces of scrap wood to the bottom of the cabinet and then reattached the wheels. This raised the cabinet 2 inches. It can still be used by children but is also very comfortable for average height adults. The trim on the cabinet was scratched so I lightly sanded it down, used a latex primer, and then “Recolored” it with the "ReStore" Paint Color Spring.

Repurposing can be a lot of fun and you can be as creative as you want. Some things to know before you repurpose a piece of furniture is to look at how it’s constructed. This piece is well made but I was fooled by the wood finish on the doors, sides, and back panels. The panels are a composite material covered with contact paper that looks like wood. I really wanted to paint the panels but it’s a good thing I noticed the contact paper. I don’t believe it would’ve held the paint and it might have peeled off. Be aware of any piece that has old paint on it. The paint may contain lead. (Do not sand very old paint without a proper mask or respirator.) A tile on the top of the cabinet is cracked. I decided to leave it as is since it didn’t affect how I would use the piece.

Every time you find a new use for an item, it’s one more piece given a useful life, you’ve saved some money, and kept it out of the landfill. A BIG THANK YOU to ReStore for this fun idea to celebrate Earth Day, repurpose useful items, and bring out our creativity!

Sustainability in the Fashion Industry

A New Language - Learning to Love the LED Bulb 

LED bulbs have been on the market for a while. So why did most of the light fixtures in my home still have incandescent bulbs? The cost per bulb can cause sticker shock, but the cost has come down and the energy savings more than offset the cost. What were we waiting for? While visiting a Batteries + Bulbs store to have a battery diagnosed, I took a look around. I noticed a display board with an energy cost comparison of incandescent, compact fluorescent, and LED bulbs. I also noticed that my local utility was offering an instant rebate on the purchase of the featured LED bulbs. I spoke to one of the staff, asked some questions, and said I'd be back to take advantage of the savings.

LED DisplayAfter doing an inventory of the light fixtures we used the most at my house, I returned to Batteries + Bulbs and found out, for the month of March, a rebate had been added by the bulb manufacturer. What had been the instant rebate price of $4.99, for a 60 watt equivalent LED bulb, was now reduced to $1.99 per bulb, after the mail-in rebate. The decrease in the energy used to light my home would equal a lower utility bill, plus the incredible savings on the purchase of LED bulbs, lowered the initial purchase price. I felt I couldn't go wrong.

But, whoa, wait a minute. What about that space alien, blue-white glow that I was experiencing with the one LED bulb I had at my house. For the most part, that glow has been eliminated unless you have a need for an intense white light. Batteries + Bulbs has a display box with three, lit, LED bulbs where you can see and compare the different types of light appearance and brightness. I was able to see how the light might look in the recessed fixtures at my house. However, I wanted to do a comparison in my home, too, so I chose a 10w Soft White and a 10w Cool White (both are the equivalent of a 65w flood type incandescent bulb) and took them home to compare. The Cool White provided good light but was too harsh for the colors in my kitchen. The Soft White looked good and provided the best light. I will return the Cool White bulb and get another Soft White before the end of March. I also purchased some 8.5w Soft White bulbs (equivalent to a regular 60w incandescent bulb) for some pendant fixtures over my kitchen island. The light is as good as or better than the incandescent bulbs we replaced. We installed a slide type dimmer switch for use with LED bulbs. The new switch allows us to experience the full range of light from the dimmest to the brightest setting. With our regular dimmer switch, the LED bulbs came on when the switch was at the half way position.

LED DimmerThe only positive of waiting to purchase LED bulbs for my home was being able to take advantage of the PPL Electric Utility instant rebate and the manufacturer mail-in rebate. If you haven't done so already, go out and take a look at LED bulbs. Ask questions. Look for a display to compare brightness and color. Are the bulbs dimmable? Are they UL listed? Check the Estimated Energy Cost and potential savings.

Batteries + Bulbs has a helpful staff who will guide you through the process and they have a large inventory of LED bulbs. But no matter where you go, be sure to ask questions and look for any rebates offered by your utility and/or the manufacturer. Your household world can be bright and comfortable, and you will enjoy big energy savings.


A Translating 'Sustainable' Tip - After cutting out the UPC symbol on the bulb box, to send in with your manufacturer's rebate form, be sure to recycle the cardboard packaging.


A New Language - Sustainable Holiday Gifts

Made by People with a mindful Purpose, who consider the Planet and create a Profit.

Let's step outside of the mall or the domain of the major on line retailers. Prepare a warm drink, settle into a comfortable space and check out my list of earth friendly and sustainable gift ideas. Each one is unique, sure to please, and something you will feel good about giving to those you love. The bonus is knowing the minimal impact of these products on the earth, the reuse of a material destined for a landfill; and the people, creatures, and communities that will benefit from your purchase and support.
~ Thank you!


Wishing all a joyful and peaceful holiday season.


Evergreens in snow

Austin Lloyd www.austinlloyd.com
Austin Lloyd is a U.S. based business with Lehigh Valley roots. The founder of this "get a box" of age appropriate toys for young children grew up in the "Valley". The toys are hand selected for each box, and are made of organic and/or non-toxic materials by companies who value sustainability. Austin Lloyd has a unique way of recycling the toys purchased from them that children have outgrown. Visit their website. Please note: any toys ordered now will be delivered in mid-January; a nice, after the busy holiday, surprise.

Emma's Friends emmasfriends.com
Emma's Friends
is a local company based in Tamaqua, PA. The business began as a gift idea for the therapists and teachers that worked with Emma, a child born with disabilities. Emma's mom made the soaps and lotions and before long the staff, who received them as gifts, were asking if they could buy the items to give to their family and friends. A business was born. Emma's Friends are people with disabilities who work at the company helping to package and label the products. Visit their website or store in Tamaqua. To learn about how their products are made and about the people who make them, click on this link. pcntv.com/?s=Emma%27s+Friends&x=0&y=0

Sword and Plough www.swordandplough.com/pages/about-us Sword and Plough was begun by the daughters of a military dad. Emily served in the U.S. Army and, with her sister, Betsy, began Sword and Plough. The sisters recycle and repurpose military materials into bags and other useful items. The items are made by veteran owned and operated manufacturers. 10% of their profits are given back to help veterans. A win-win.

Zady zady.com Zady is challenging us all to stop buying and throwing away poorly constructed clothing by offering ethically fashioned clothing made in the U.S. I discovered Zady while reading an article in The Wall Street Journal about the owner's quest to have a sweater made entirely from wool produced, carded, dyed, spun, and knitted in the U.S. Read their story here. www.wsj.com/articles/made-in-america-from-sheep-to-shelf-zadys-feel-good-sweater-1416847912. I was struck by a comment made by Maxine Bedat, one of Zady's owners, who said, "I live in a world (N.Y.C.) where people can wear a sweater and not know wool comes from a sheep." Locally, the dyeing of the wool was done by a small, family owned business in Philadelphia, and was spun into yarn by Kraemer Textiles in Nazareth, PA. Zady is part of the slow fashion movement.

Maple tree sponsor signMonroe County Conservation District www.mcconservation.org If you love maple syrup, have others on your list who do, and want to buy local and support
an organization committed to conservation, then "Sponsor a Maple Tree". Each year
the Kettle Creek Environmental Education Center, which is part of the MCCD, taps the
maple trees in the Meesing Sugarbush located in Monroe County, PA. Go to their
website, click on the 2015 Maple Tree Sponsorship link, which takes you to the
information and sponsorship form. Your gift recipient will be invited to their Maple
Sugaring Day and receive a pint of maple syrup plus one of the maple trees will have a tag with their name on as a sponsor. I received a sponsorship as a gift, and thoroughly enjoyed my day at the Sugarbush and the maple syrup.

Books for Children:

Olivia's Birds - Saving the Gulf by Olivia Bouler; Available through the Ned Smith Center for Nature and Art  www.nedsmithcenter.org/product-category/books/ During a visit to the Ned Smith Center, I found out about 11 year old Olivia Bouler's quest to save the Gulf birds, after the 2010 oil rig explosion and spill heavily impacted the birds and aquatic life in the Gulf of Mexico. With her artistic talents, unique understanding of birds, her love of them and the Gulf along with a good dose of determination; she has raised over $200,000 for her Save The Gulf campaign. Olivia's story is compelling. She invites and encourages kids and adults to make a difference. The book features her bird drawings, too. If you order her book through the Ned Smith Center, you will help them in their quest to educate about nature, art, and conservation. (2015 is the five year anniversary of the Gulf oil spill.)

The Carpenter's Gift - A Christmas Tale about the Rockefeller Center Tree by David Rubel www.habitat.org/lc/stories_multimedia/thecarpentersgift/order.aspx The Carpenter's Gift written by David Rubel, in collaboration with Habitat for Humanity, is a children's book that tells a story about the famous tree we all seem to know about. But what you may not know is since 2007, after the tree is taken down it is milled into lumber that Habitat for Humanity uses to build a simple home with a family in need. Trees from well managed forests offer a sustainable product that is often used and reused in many ways. They shelter humans, birds, and animals. In the case of this famous tree, it will provide shelter for a family and others to come.

A New Language - Choosing a Solar Installer 

My husband and I knew we would eventually install a solar photo voltaic (pv) system on our home. Superstorm Sandy, the October ice storm, and the resulting electric power loss moved the project to the top of our list. We realized two things: we wanted a battery back up system capable of providing enough power to help get us through extensive power outages, and we could probably achieve that with a smaller pv system. What's a smaller pv system? Enough pv panels and batteries to power what we determined to be essential; refrigerators, microwave, well and septic system pumps, computers, TV, some lights, etc. The system we installed will generate power to charge our battery bank and, once the batteries are charged, generate power we can use to meet some of our everyday electric needs.

Even though we planned to install solar pvs on our home and incorporated the proper roof slope into our house design, when it became time to choose a solar installer we had a list of questions. Do any of the installers in the Lehigh Valley area install battery back-up, solar pv systems? Are they registered with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) which would enable us to take advantage of the state rebate program? Is there a certification program for solar installers? Does the installer have the certifcation? Do they do quality work and know about the latest solar technologies? Do they warrant their work? How much will the system we believe we need cost?

I am a member of the Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Association (MAREA) and my husband attended the solar energy camp offered at the 2012 EnergyPath Conference. Bill Hennessy is on the MAREA board and an instructor at the solar energy camp. We had heard him speak at other events. Bill works with a local electrician, Bruce Hankins. Bruce is a licensed electrician. Both Bill and Bruce are certified through the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) Together they wrote the script for *Saving Sunshine - Keeping the Lights on with Batteries and Solar Power. Bill knows his 'solar' stuff. Had we found our installer? We decided to give him a call. (*Saving Sunshine is a DVD offered through MAREA and Amazon. See below.)

Solar Pathfinder: Used for solar site evaluation

Bill is an unassuming man and the principal owner of Berks Solar. He has years of experience installing pv systems, including systems with battery backup. He and Bruce evaluated our site and roof, helped us decide what's truly essential during a power loss, and explained how many panels and batteries we would need to generate and store enough power for 3 days of usage during an outage. Even though we understood the basics of photo voltaic (pv) technology and the batteries that provide power when needed, we learned a lot more about evaluating a site, pvs, batteries, inverters, etc. during our installation. I'll share more about that in an upcoming blog.

Solar Pathfinder - Tool used to evaluate a site for solar potential.


www.amazon.com - Saving Sunshine Video


Latest Blog....

"It has been a delight working with you.  You are always upbeat and quickly solve issues. God has gifted you with administrative ability and a quick mind to size up what needs to be done. You are not only gifted in management but also in vision.  You see and instinctively know what to do."
~ Joan Gill, Realtor,
Prudential Rittenhouse Realty Group, Harleysville, PA

"I have had the pleasure of working with Marie North on a residential project where sustainability was the basis of most design decisions. Her knowledge, both academic and practical, makes her a valuable resource to anyone involved in the task of living more respectfully with the natural environment. But what I appreciate the most about Marie is her openness and enthusiasm to discuss the big questions about what "sustainability" means and her earnest desire to explore appropriate means to achieve those ends. She is a joy to work with."
~ Kerry Kowalchuk, AIA, LEED AP