Visiting a sustainable business

Yesterday we traveled all the way to the other side of San Francisco to check out a store called Indosole. This company makes soles for shoes out of used tires, and since the beginning of the business, they have deterred about 30,000 tires from landfill! This company first caught our attention by their B-Corp certification and sustainable promise. I was in contact with the founder of Indosole, but we were running out of time so we had to visit the company and forget about trying to schedule a meeting with the owner. Luckily the owner’s brother was there and was telling us about their work with the community of workers from their factory in Peru. Indosole has plans to help the community grow by providing schooling for the children near their factory. He also told us how much they value a sustainable business and how hard they continuously work to keep up their sustainable promise to customers.


Yesterday I also learned the value of stepping out of my comfort zone and just talking to people. I would not have learned so much about Indosole’s future mission if I did not begin talking to the workers. Also, one of the workers grew up ten minutes from my house and was supposed to attend George School to continue her family’s legacy… It’s a small world.

Here are pictures of me and Molly’s new shoes!


We like Cassie!

After months in contact we finally met…. Cassie Hughes!! She graduated WT class of 1996 (when Paul was a freshie). She greeted us with her adorable (and very soft) puppy, Romeo. After introductions, we were on our way to Nature Bridge. We drove over the Golden Gate, but there was too much fog and rain to see the ocean. We could still look up, the edge of our vision catching to top of the Golden arches (not McDonald’s). Immediately outside of the bridge, Marin Headlands begins. It’s a national park, which was reserved in 70’s. It’s amazing that just 10 minutes outside the city, we felt like we were entering Jurassic Park.




It really did look that way too; past the bridge, we went through a dark tunnel at the base of one of many small mountains. The road appeared to travel through a canyon in the middle of all these green ridges, each topped with mysterious fog. Once we arrived at Nature Bridge, Cassie walked us (and Romeo) to the beach and explained her organization. Nature Bridge works cohesively with the Parks Service as a non-profit, educational, “camp” of sorts. They strive to bring an awareness of the beauty and power of nature into city schools. A group of interns at Nature Bridge are a part of TEEM- teens educational environmental mentorship… Many of the teens we met with said that prior to Nature Bridge, they had not been to been to Marin Headlands and were surprised by the beauty of a town so close to them. Together we brainstormed “what we know” about the Pacific Garbage Patch, Trawling, oil spills, and what we can do to fix it. This also led us to discuss what we wonder about each of the topics. I was impressed by all of the information and ideas being bounced around by each students and the passion they talked with. We then watched videos about the Pacific Plastic Garbage, and a Ted Talk on a proposal on how to efficiently clean up all of the plastic. The TEEM split up into groups to play games with the younger kids who were camping there. Later we went to the touch tank room and fed sea stars (which are not called star fish because they were proved to not be fish), sea urchins, eels, crabs, sea anemones, and more, where we met with Cassie again.






Before we left, we had a chance to talk freely with Marissa and Katie from TEEN. They told us about all the opportunities they’ve received through Nature Bridge. Although they mentioned the great teachers, mentors, hiking trips, and study topics, they were most grateful for the program as a community. Also, Marissa and I both love Chance. Our talk with them confirmed what Lily and I had been thinking; that Nature Bridge is a near perfect organization. When taking to Cassie, she told us about how NB does outreach and scholarship programs, so the demographics of the Bay Area match the demographics NB serves. They found a way to make sure EVERYONE has access to the natural environment, as well as involved teachers, interesting curriculum, opportunities for research, paid internships, and a strong community. This kind of educational program elevates environmental issues in a way that involves more than just elite white conservationists. This kind of environmental and social good is exactly what we need to build a more conscientious and aware community.




Fracking, Wetlands, and Salt Ponds

What’s up WT! It’s Molly this time, I’ve been journaling but haven’t written too much in the blog yet….. but here it goes!

I had a quick start to the day, had to get myself together by 10am to get across the bridge and into Richmond for the San Fran Estuary Institute (SFEI). This was the first time Lily and I split up, so I’m pretty proud to say I didn’t get lost or die. At SFEI, I met Micha Salomon, who works on their Resilient Landscapes Project. Before I could ask too many questions, we were rushed into a conference room to hear a guest speaker from PSE Healthy Energy talk about fracking in California. The talk was about the public heath risks of oil extraction. In California, hydraulic fracking only makes up 20% of the oil extraction, the other 80% is mostly a method called Enhanced Oil Recovery Water Flooding. Water flooding doesn’t drill as deep as fracking drills, but the CO2 intensity ratings are much higher nonetheless. Water flooding is used for heavier oil and tar. It starts by drilling until oil is reached (but not as far down as a source rock), and then steam is injected to heat the tar and make it more viscous so that it can be extracted. This process is more CO2 intensive because of the large amounts of steam being created. It was interesting to learn about types of oil extraction that are considered more dangerous than fracking. There have also been ZERO studies so far (besides the one we were learning about) in California on the public health outcomes of oil extraction facilities. This study was relatively inconclusive because of the lack of information given by oil companies about the chemicals being released (not surprising:/). Since the scientists were unable to gather information about them chemicals being released, they focused on creating an index of the communities within two miles of the facilities. In LA especially, there are large populations within even 100meteres of these plants, including five daycare facilities, which are supposed to have special zoning regulations about proximity to dangerous substances. Besides looking at potential effects of these chemicals on the surrounding communities, Seth from PSE also looked at outcomes of water recycling. Again, without identification of these chemicals, it would be impossible to draw any conclusions on how the water is affected. However, Seth pointed out that the water irrigating those Cutie Clementines could very well be contaminated thanks to weak water recycling regulations in California.

After the conference, I got a tour of the facilities and an overview of their current projects at SFEI. Micha showed me how they use infrared data on GIS maps to identify wetlands and assess their health. The Resilient Landscape project uses the data they collect alongside historical maps and sounding data to draw conclusions about the evolution of streams and wetlands in the San Francisco area. These conclusions help inform conservation and re-vitalization projects on the natural patterns of the area, which are becoming harder and harder to predict as climate change disturbs natural environmental patterns. He also talked me through their efforts to restore salt ponds to natural landscapes. The salt ponds (below) have been left from the massive salt industry influx in the early 1900’s. They would dam areas, wait for them to evaporate, and then harvest leftover salt from the bottom for processing. These abandoned salt ponds have such high salinity levels that restoring them to natural marshland has been difficult. The dams have to be broken in a way that slowly introduces more water with balanced levels of sediment so that the salinity doesn’t increase to levels unsustainable for the surrounding ecosystems. After my time at SFEI was up, I walked back to the train and returned home to Lily!


LEED Certified Buildings in SF

Yesterday I met with Phillip Rapport and Doug Peterson at the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco. I was interested in visiting the building because, just as our science center is, the Transamerica Pyramid is LEED certified (Platinum level).


(Transamerica Pyramid)


I was particularly struck by all of the involved aspects to a LEED certified building. San Francisco has been in a drought for the past four years, (though it has been raining for most of the time we have been here) which has sparked buildings to use drought resistant materials. For example, porous pavements, to help regulate storm water and levels, which deters pollutants from flowing into the bay. In the building, instead of just having a trash can, they separate it into three different parts: compost, recycling and trash. Although this seems like a miniscule effort, these practices have helped to deter 92% of the building’s waste from landfills.

Sustainability in a holistic view includes the health of not only the environment, but the built environment and the people living in it. The Orrick building monitors air quality and is mindful of “off-gas”, which refers to any chemicals that new products put into the air. This improves air quality for employees of all levels, and reduces exposure to harmful chemicals. Companies in the buildings are not allowed to supply plastic water bottles, but have refillable water stations to encourage workers to bring water bottles. They encourage workers to not drive to work by having a bike room and showers for those who choose to bike to work, as well as transportation maps to encourage other workers to use public transits.

The buildings have also implemented Variable Frequency Drive, which ensures that the minimal amount of energy is used to cool the building. We saw the meter that shows how much energy it uses, and since it was a cooler day, it was only using 40% energy. It’s like a dimmer. Instead of having the lights on at 100%, one can dim the lights to what they need, and therefore save energy. This was found in both the LEED certified buildings we visited, the Transamerica Pyramid and the Orrick Building.


(The Variable Frequency Drive)


From being a tourist here, to scheduling meetings about sustainability, I have found that the San Francisco city set up and lifestyle is centered around sustainability. Stores no longer bag items in plastic bags, and encourage customers to bring their own bags, or they are charged 10 cents for a paper bag. For every trash can, there is always a recycling and composting option. Uber and Lift are also very popular and user friendly. I think there is no better way to learn about sustainability, than actually live and experience the lifestyle firsthand in San Francisco!


(Orrick Building)


Day 2 in San Francisco

With no morning obligations, Lily and I set out for a run along the cloudy bay. Although this sounds relaxing, the run up Lombard Street was absolutely terrible (both because it was hard and because tourists were watching us sweat). Back at the apartment, we decided to set of for the California Academy of Science Museum. We walked through exhibits on rainforests, Snakes, Earthquakes, and “The Colors of Life”, which showcased the purposes behind camouflages and reflections. Fun fact of the trip: you can tell how big a salmon population was each year by looking at the amount of nitrogen in each tree ring. Beyond animal science, we experienced the building science behind CAS Museum. We took an elevator up to their living roof, which showcased six of San Francisco’s most resilient flower and grass species. The living roof also served as a natural thermal balancing system. The thick dirt layers help to keep the building hot in the winter, and the plants block the roof from attracting heat in the summer.

IMG_6420.jpgIMG_6421.jpgAfter CAS, we made our way to a casual coffee shop interview with Pete Kauhanen, who works with the SF Estuary Institute, where we’ll be visiting later in the week. He talked about his initiative, Green Plan-It, which maps areas by bio retention level. What interested me most, however, was not his work San Francisco, but in Australia. Pete lived with a semi-nomadic tribe that uses a method called “fire-stick farming” to clear land of harmful underbrush for hunting. It’s the older women of the tribe who have the responsibilities of fire starting and hunting, mostly for lizards. These small, controlled fires help prevent raging wildfires that would be prevalent if not for this strategy. In the past these tribes were pushed away, but recent initiatives by the Australian government have included the co-management of national land with indigenous tribes. This symbiotic relationship is not only much more respectful to the tribes, but also prevents wildfires and helps to maintain park safety and health. The controlled fires also encourage biodiversity by creating sub-environments within a giant area, which are differentiated by the levels of foliage growth after a burn. This example shows us how we can benefit socially, environmentally, and even economically (less recourses went to massive fire forces), when we work cohesively and respectfully with indigenous people. Pete, Lily, and I discussed possibilities for relationships like these with the National Park Service in the U.S, but failed to draw any conclusions on the potential. Pete said that the tribe he lived in is being featured on the first episode of Cook, a new show on Netflix that Lily and I are about to watch. Goodnight Blog!



Sustainability in the best city ever! (San Francisco) -Lily M. and Molly C.

IMG_1377As students of Westtown, the word sustainability is constantly ingrained into our brains and lifestyles. Whether we take environmental justice, environmental science, or just walk into Westtown’s LEED certified science center, where facts of our sustainability promises are plastered everywhere, Westtown students are up to date and aware of sustainability. For Senior Projects, we wanted to challenge our own knowledge and experience to travel to San Francisco to have a closer, and more in depth understanding of a sustainable lifestyle. San Francisco is noted the second most sustainable city in the nation. They are known for the plastic bag ban, creating a carbon offset fund, the solar power program, and the local food movement. On this trip, we plan to delve into a deeper understanding of how sustainability can be implemented into our daily lives, and what steps we can take as seniors at Westtown to achieve that end.

In light of a hands on experience and education of sustainability, we will meet with a University of San Francisco professor to discuss his job teaching environmental studies at USF. I hope to learn why he believes teaching about the environment is paramount, and if living in San Francisco has anything to do with why he teaches what he teaches. We also hope he will be able to discuss how we can implement sustainability in a broader sense.

We have also contacted an alumna from Westtown. She excitedly offered for us to shadow Nature Bridge, which educates both students and adults alike in “fostering environmental literacy.” We are excited to spend the day with Westtown’s alumna and Nature Bridge interns to learn more about their mission, and hopefully we will bring back not only information about sustainability, but also bring back a new way of thinking in regards to sustainability at Westtown School.