What the frack is fracking?

Hydraulic fracturing – the technical term for fracking – is a method of getting gas and oil from shale rock, that is, a sedimentary rock made of mud and minerals. First, a hole, called a “wellbore”  is drilled into the rock. Next, a high-pressure liquid –– usually a mix of water, sand and chemicals –– is injected into the wellbore to help the natural gas escape.

Okay, cool –– natural gas. That’s good, right?

Not quite.

Remember when we said the pressured liquid was a mix of water, sand and chemicals? According to New York State Department of Environmental Conservation estimates, each fracking session can require anywhere from 2.4 to 7.8 million gallons of water. That’s 2,400,000 to 7,800,000 gallons.

Second, those chemicals required to frack? Yeah, not great for the environment (and, by extension, you). The chemicals used vary (fracking was protected under regulations imposed by Congress in the 2005 Safe Water Drinking Act). Those chemicals can easily flow into potable water –– i.e., the water that you consume –– and ultimately, into your body.

Since, again, the specific chemicals aren’t regulated, frackers are technically allowed to use chemicals like methanol (also found in: antifreeze, vehicle fuel), formaldehyde (a carcinogen, once widely used to preserve specimens in laboratories), lead (another carcinogen that can also cause neurological disorders) and naphthalene (yet another carcinogen, most commonly found in mothballs).

But…it’s safer than coal, right?

Again, not quite.

While burning coal isn’t great for the environment, burning natural gas –– that is, the product of fracking –– releases other gases like methane. So while it’s true, burning coal gives off twice as many carbon dioxide emissions as natural gas, methane traps heat more than 100 times better than an equal amount of carbon dioxide. So ultimately, these methane emissions negate any benefits you’d reap from producing and using natural gas.

Oh, and all that drilling required? Surprisingly, not great for the rocks. Fracking has been credited with creating earthquakes, including a 4.0 quake in Youngstown, Ohio on New Year’s Eve 2011.

In short, dear reader, hydraulic fracturing is a bad frackin’ idea.


  1. http://www.businessinsider.com/scary-chemicals-used-in-hydraulic-fracking-2012-3?op=1
  2. http://www.gaslandthemovie.com/home
  3. http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/04/11/us-ohio-fracking-earthquakes-idUSBREA3A1J620140411
  4. http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/eqinthenews/2011/usc0007f7s/

March on Climate Change: the Lesson

I traveled with a group of about 80 people from the Kansas- Missouri area on a bus (26 hours one way, blech) to New York about three weeks ago. Though the trip was long, and the time spent in New York City (less than 10 hours) was short, the New York City March on Climate Change showed a myriad of different types of people. 400,000 inspired people showed up, some from as far as the West Coast, all for the same cause: to bring awareness to a growing problem- arguably the growing problem- and inspire others to do the same.

For the most part, I feel that we, the protesters at the largest climate rally in the world to date, did quite a swell job bringing awareness to this issue. It is hard to ignore 400,000 people flooding the streets of downtown New York City, after all.

The awareness was certainly not where we fell short: it was the inspiration portion of the protest that ran into problems.

I think environmentalists are naturally abrasive, controversial and excitable people; otherwise we wouldn’t very well support the things that we support. Unfortunately, this type of personality can be off-putting to others who do not share the same sense of urgency or belief in the cause. This is often where the gap lies: the gap which needs to be bridged.

I encountered first hand the type of problem that I am describing while at the March.

One of the many groups of people who attended the March was a group that I will kindly refer to as The Vegans. They were not Some Vegans, or a Group of Vegans, but The Vegans.

There’s a joke that goes “how do you know if someone is a vegan? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.”

This is slightly maddening and only a little true, I had once thought. The only vegans I had ever met were very nice people! I had never personally met those vegans until the New York City March on Climate Change.

These vegans made signs claiming that environmentalist’s had a lack of commitment if they still ate any animal by-product, they yelled out incredible statistics about the amount of CO2 which is emitted by livestock and even argued with fellow protesters while we marched. They were almost comical in their attempt to accost a couple from the group I was marching with: they pranced around us, back and forth, waving their signs and yelling “livestock contributes x amount of tons of CO2 to the atmosphere in their poop alone. YOU don’t produce that much CO2, do you?”

Other than the obvious flaw in comparing an entire population of livestock to a single person, I realized something else very important that day about the environmentalist movement.

Being abrasive will not get someone on the fence to agree with you. Unless The Vegans idea was the exact opposite of what they said, I feel like they failed extraordinarily at converting a group of 400,000 people to veganism. And not just any group of 400,000 people, but a group of relatively radical and young environmentalists.

Reaching out to those who don’t share the same vigor for the cause seems to be where the environmentalist movement has fallen short. We need ambassadors to the people, representatives even, who are able to make the movement accessible and less ideologically intimidating than a bunch of vegans dancing around with signs telling you that you aren’t good enough.

Tip #3: Water saving shower heads

Yet another easy one! Also another water solution.

As stated in a previous tip, about 45% of water use occurs in the bathroom. An easy way to cut down on this use is to shorten your showers, like our mother was always telling us to do. Especially if you were me, living in Colorado in the middle of a decade long drought, as a teenage girl with a lot of hair to wash. (it’s not like washing mattered, I could have washed it with peanut butter and it would have looked better than the god-awful styles I was putting it in.)

But I digress.

Shortening showers is not always easy. Sometimes you just got back from working out, sometimes you need to shave, sometimes you it’s really cold and you’re really tired and the water is just so heavenly that it’s nearly impossible to get out, and sometimes you’re a teenage girl preparing to style her hair in yet another horrible way.

But most shower heads use about 2 gallons of water per minute of showering, and some older ones (once again, like the ancient houses we live in as college students) use up to 5 gallons of water a minute. An easy (and cheap in the long run) solution is the water saving shower head!

They can come as cheap as $5 or have a massaging spray, or even come with an apparatus to control the flow. They typically range between 10 and 15 dollars and can shave a few dollars off your water bill a month, eventually paying for itself.

They tend to be easy to install, only needing the removal of one screw.

So for tip #3, save some money and save some water with a water saving low-flow shower head!


Okay, so you’ve purchased your organic food, but now you have all these banana peels and other random food waste lying around. Ugh. Now what?

Remember when we talked about upcycling?

Did you know you can do that with food waste, too?

No, you can’t exactly make crafts out of food scraps –– or, at least, we don’t endorse it. But you can start a compost heap, which is still pretty cool (we’d venture to say it’s cooler. But who knows, maybe your eggshell jewelry collection is really taking off).

Now, what exactly is compost?

In essence, it’s a mixture of decomposed organic materials that can be used in organic agriculture as a fertilizer and soil conditioner. It can help control erosion and even as a natural pesticide for soil. 

Compost has four main components: carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and water. The carbon and nitrogen come from things like leaves, food scraps, branches and coffee grounds. When you add water to this mixture and expose it to oxygen (that’s more or less a fancy way of saying “leave it outside”), the water and oxygen break down the contents of your pile and create compost. This creates humus (no, not hummus. Different thing. We’re fans of both), which can help retain moisture in soil and improve the soil so it can be reused.

Sometimes, fun things like earthworms and urine and human waste are added to the mix. If that sounds gross, just picture a landfill overflowing with food waste that could’ve been used to make more organic food –– yeah. Not a great alternative.

Now, why should you care about fermented food scraps?

Picture that landfill again. Pretty nasty, huh? Well, every time we throw things in the garbage that we could’ve recycled (or upcycled) (or composted), we’re adding to that pile of trash and increasing our carbon and methane emissions.

Composting helps to reduce that pile by finding a higher purpose for your food and yard trash. Instead of sending those leaves you so painstakingly raked to go sit in a landfill, why not add them to your compost heap? Add in the inedible pieces of the sustainably and organically grown fruits and veggies you used to cook dinner. With a little water, oxygen, and patience (and maybe even some cool additions, like cockroaches or larvae), you’ll have your very own compost pile.

Look at you, shrinking your carbon footprint and reducing methane emissions from landfills! Now you have some cool compost you can use to grow more things. You go, Footprint Mag reader!

Certified Organic, Certifiably Confusing.

Picture this: a shopper, traversing the aisles of her local grocery store with every intention of purchasing organic food –- how hard can it be?  Everything’s labelled so nicely…

But after a few minutes, our plucky shopper’s head is swimming, inundated by “USDA Certified Organic”s, “100% All-Natural”s, “Safeway O Organic”s, and a plethora of other labels. What does it all mean? Which ones are real, what means what, why is buying organic so. hard.?!?

Never fear, Sustainability 101 is here. Go grab some popcorn, kids –– we’re gonna be here for a while.

First off,  just what is “organic food?”

According to the US Department of Agriculture, “organic crops” are processed without  “irradiation, sewage sludge, synthetic fertilizers, prohibited pesticides, [or] genetically modified organisms,” and “organic livestock” is livestock raised in a manner that “met animal health and welfare standards, did not use antibiotics or growth hormones, used 100% organic feed, and provided animals with access to the outdoors.”

Now, in the words of Morrissey, “What difference does it make?”

First, there’s the obvious: it’s grown without harmful chemicals and hasn’t been made into a teenage mutant ninja vegetable –– trust us, you don’t need that in your system. Stick to getting super powers from eating sustainably farmed nutritious foods.

Also, from an environmental standpoint, when we buy foods farmed organically, we’re supporting sustainable agricultural practices. The pesticides used in non-organic agriculture contaminate the soil and water supply, and they can even cause crops to become disease-resistant –– gross, huh?

(We think so, too).

“Okay, Sustainable Godmother, that’s great, but how do I know the foods I’m buy are really organic?”

Foods that meet these criteria feature a green “USDA Certified Organic” logo on their labels:


Now, what about brands with enticingly organic-sounding names like “Safeway O Organic” and Giant’s “Nature’s Promise?” Rule of thumb: guilty until proven innocent. Often, these brands aren’t really organic; brands often use words like “all-natural” to cash in on consumers’ increasing desire for organic food, even when their products aren’t organic in the slightest. Check for the green label to see whether or not they’re legit.

Now that you know the benefits of organic food –– and how to outsmart clever marketing ploys –– go forth and veg(gie) out.

Tip #2: Personal Water Bottles

Personal water bottles should be a no-brainer! Personal water bottles are not only durable and customizable, they are also eco-friendly (and cheaper!) , especially compared to their mean cousin, The Disposable Water Bottle.


Not pretty is it? Buying a bottle of water a day, or every other day, or even every two, still adds up to a serious amount of waste, literally and monetarily. You could be spending $120, $200, or even upwards of $300 a year on bottled water. Imagine all the things that could be done with that money instead: music festivals, plane tickets, clothing, football games; the possibilities are endless!

New water fountains around campus make filling up easier too.


Americans drink 50 billion bottles of water every year and it takes more than 25 million barrels of crude oil to create all that plastic.


Not only that, but disposable water bottle companies are simply repackaging municipal water (read: public city water) and selling it at 300 TIMES THE COST OF TAP WATER.

And companies like Fiji, which really do ship water from across the world, are simply exploiting a poor nation of it’s most important resource at almost three times the price of other bottled waters. Not only that, but shipping your water, across oceans, to get to you, is no sustainable way to live.

Buy a personal water bottle. It doesn’t make sense to do anything else!


Tip #1: Soft Flush Toilet

At some point in our lives, we have all heard the “if it’s yellow leave it mellow, if it’s brown, flush it down,” phrase and subsequently wrinkled our nose in disgust. We know we should but, bottom line, not flushing is gross to many of us.

Also bottom line: toilet flushing wastes a serious amount of water.

45% of water use in the average American home happens in the bathroom, and 27% just by toilets. New toilets can only use 1.6 gallons per flush, but older toilets (think: old houses that college students live in…) can flush 3, 5, even up to 7 gallons of water per flush.

Now, in your head, set out 3-5 gallons of water on a table. That is likely used each time you flush. Not only is that wasteful in terms of water, but also in terms of money.

But alas, we have a super simple tip for you: the home-remedy for hard flushing toilets, and you don’t even need to leave your house. You save a ton of money (and the Earth!) by simply putting heavy jars in your toilet tank.

Step one: obtain a few old jars or tupperware.

Step two: fill old jars with rocks or sand or paper weights or coins.

Step three: place jars in toilet tank.

And viola! Now you can save half a gallon per flush.This doesn’t seem like much, until you multiply it by the amount of people in your household and how often each of you use the toilet a day. If you have 2 roommates, and each of you use the home toilet 3 times a day, that’s 810 gallons a month that you can cut down to 675. The New York Times says that you can save 350 gallons of water a month for a household of 5.

The reason this works is this: every time you flush, your toilet tank is emptied into the bowl, then the tank is refilled until the stopper closes  and the water becomes stagnant. If you put something with volume in the tank, the water fills up to the same height in the tank, the stopper closes at the same time, but there is less volume to fill up, and thus less water to flush with.

So there’ s your very first sustainable tip from Footprint!

It’s so easy, and you save money, so why wouldn’t you want to?

Hitting for the (Up)Cycle

Okay, so we’re going to go out on a limb and assume that you have a basic understanding of what recycling is. But what about its cooler cousin, upcycling, and its ugly stepsister, downcycling?


Upcycling is a form of recycling in which the recycled materials are used to make something new. Instead of being broken down into less valuable materials, upcycled objects are repurposed as other, more practical things.

For instance: let’s say you have a two-liter bottle lying around. You could put it in the recycling bin, where it’ll go to a recycling plant and get broken down into its base materials and made into a lesser-quality product –– in other words, you could downcycle it. Or, you could upcycle it by converting your empty Coke bottle into a bird feeder, a planter, or even a toilet water saver contraption! 

Cool, huh?

We think so, too.

Now, about this “downcycling” stuff:

When things get downcycled, they’re broken down and made into new things –– for instance, plastics are made into other plastics. Sounds great, right? In the short run, it’s great: you’re keeping materials out of landfills. But in the long run, the resulting recycled materials are of lesser quality. Things can only be downcycled so many times before they can’t be downcycled any more, and they become useless and end up in –– you guessed it –– the dump.

Downcycling also requires more resources than upcycling –– think about all the energy it takes to break down those materials. Kind of defeats the purpose, huh?

Don’t get all down in the dumps (haha) yet, though. Here are some simple ways to become an upcycling pro:

Got an empty toilet paper or paper towel roll? Use it as a seed starter pot to grow your own garden! 

Empty bottles lying around? Make them into lanterns, vases, or even planters!

Not sure what to do with last weekend’s aftermath? Here are some ideas for upcylcing tin cans and plastic cups (wash ‘em out first, though…).

Ultimately, the goal of upcycling –– or any type of recycling, for that matter –– is to lessen our impact on the environment to preserve our limited natural resources. The more we reduce, reuse and (up)cycle, the better care we can take of the planet.

So give cast-off materials new life and help save the Earth in the process –– new, handmade things today for a more sustainable tomorrow.

2014_MRR_Wild&Scenic 8x14 flier

4th Annual Wild & Scenic Film Festival takes to the screen

2014_MRR_Wild&Scenic 8x14 flierJoin Missouri River Relief (MRR) and The Blue Note when they host the fourth annual Wild and Scenic Traveling Film Festival in Columbia on Sunday, February 9.  It’s an afternoon benefit of inspiring and eye-opening documentaries. Doors open at 1 p.m. and select films will be screened from 2 to 5 p.m., followed by a silent auction and raffle. Local musicians David Dearnley and Sam Shin will be playing before and after the films.

The W&S film fest will feature environmental and adventure films that illustrate the Earth’s beauty, the challenges facing our planet, and the work communities are doing to protect the environment.  This year’s selections focus on the connection between humans and the world we live in.

Trailer, Fighting For the Futaleufú from stephanie haig on Vimeo.

The Film Lineup includes Fighting For the Futaleufu, Dying Green, The Last Ice Merchant, Backyard, Of Souls + Water and a number of creative and inspiring shorts. “Backyard” is one of the most challenging films, focusing on the effects of fracking on the Missouri River watershed. A special treat will be a short film by Romanian MU grad student Roxi Pop about MRR called “Pelican Island Adventure”

“This keeps growing every year,” said Missouri River Relief program manager Steve Schnarr. “People love the opportunity to get together in the winter and spend a few hours being transported to beautiful places while learning about important and powerful environmental issues. This year’s focus on rivers and water is a perfect fit for our work on the Missouri River.”

A lot of the work and ideas for the festival come from the River Relief’s volunteer crew. “These folks love working together, for the community and for the river,” Schnarr said. “By the time February comes around they’re ready to get to work. Everyone has a lot of fun with this.”

The Wild & Scenic Film Festival on Tour allows organizations across the country to select award winning films that speak to their region, their audience and their issues. Hosting the Wild & Scenic Film Festival is a natural extension of Missouri River Relief’s work to inspire people to act on behalf of their environment, as their mission has been to connect people to the Missouri River through hands-on river clean-ups and education.

The organization emerged organically in 2001 from a small group of people in mid-Missouri with a love for the Missouri River who simultaneously recognized the need for engaged stewardship and the desire of citizens to take part in watershed solutions.  In just ten years, Missouri River Relief has made a visible & lasting difference in over 20 communities, bringing together more than 16,000 volunteers to haul more than 1 million pounds of trash (676 tons to be exact) from the banks and floodplain of the Missouri River.

OF SOULS + WATER: THE NOMAD from NRS Films on Vimeo.

“Films featured at Wild & Scenic give people a sense of place,” said Tour Manager, Susie Sutphin. “In our busy lives, it’s easy to get disconnected from our role in the global ecosystem.  When we realize that the change we need in this world begins with us we can start making a difference.  Come watch and see!”

The Columbia screening of the festival is supported locally by The Blue Note with a special grant from Patagonia. The festival’s alliance of National Partners helps make the traveling tour possible thanks to Patagonia, Clif Bar, Osprey Packs, Kanteen Klean, Grist.org, Tom’s of Maine and Sierra Nevada Brewing.

Tickets are $10 and all proceeds will benefit Missouri River Relief!  Students are $6 and kids 8 and under are free.  For more info. about the festival & films go to www.riverrelief.org or simply reserve your tickets by calling the Blue Note at 573-874-1944.

Together we can take action for the health and beauty of our river!


Date and Time:  Sunday, Feb. 9

Doors open at 1 p.m. Films run from 2 to 5 p.m. followed by silent auction. Local musicians David Dearnley and Sam Shin will be performing before and after the films.

Location: The Blue Note, 17 N. 9th Street, Columbia MO

Tickets: $10.  Students are $6 with an ID. Kids 8 and under free.

Tickets can be purchased through the Blue Note’s  box office (573) 874-1944

More information at:  www.riverrelief.org

One week in campus sustainability. Infographic by Tina Casagrand

Across the U.S: Sustainability on Campus

One week in campus sustainability. Infographic by Tina Casagrand
One week in campus sustainability. Infographic by Tina Casagrand
The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education is, in fact, a thing.

I have a confession: The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) is a thing, and until very recently, I had never even known it existed.

As something of a journalism student and a big fan of student sustainability, my complete lack of knowledge when it came to AASHE and their growing network of higher education-based sustainability initiatives was admittedly embarrassing, but it wasn’t without the silver lining of a newly informed quidnunc — that I can now relay AASHE’s existence and their most recent developments to the Footprint Magazine audience!

Conveniently enough, AASHE sent out its latest e-Newsletter just last week, which documents the newest sustainability initiatives on college campuses nationwide. Let’s take a gander at some of the highlights:

U Arizona Creates Bicycling and Pedestrian Committee

UANews, The University of Arizona’s primary news service, even has this spiffy logo for its sustainability section!

Yep, that’s right! The University of Arizona officially created its own Bicycling and Pedestrian Committee last week, hoping to represent everyone by consisting of faculty members, staff, students and members of the community. The overall goal of the committee is to further ensure cohesion between cyclists and pedestrians during their respective commutes.

Minnesota State U Debuts Student Recycling Program

Is this a sign that Recyclemania is catching on? Minnesota State University at Moorhead has an “Office of Campus Sustainability” (like ours!), and Joe Herbst, the university’s Sustainability Coordinator, is in the process of finding 20 dedicated students who are passionate about sustainability and recycling.

Each week, the students will be assigned to different buildings and will be responsible for collecting the recycling in that building. The students will receive a weekly stipend of $15 and have the opportunity to earn prizes, including an end-of-the-semester trip. Sounds like a pretty good gig to me — I bet there’s nothing like getting paid to do something that benefits your community and planet!

A wind farm in Ohio where OSU may or may not be purchasing their wind power from. Mysteries abound!

Ohio State U Signs 20 Year Agreement to Purchase Wind Power

Alright, this one is pretty remarkable. According to the article, Ohio State University signed a 20-year agreement in October to buy 50 megawatts of energy annually from Blue Creek Wind Farm, Ohio’s largest commercial wind farm.

But that’s not all, because OSU also expects to save $1 million per year with their wind power investment! Now, I’m not an expert in renewable energy or economics (shocking, I know), but $1 million per year in savings certainly says something about the economic benefits of renewable energy investment.

In any case, be sure to check out MU’s mighty one wind turbine, recently installed in 2012, and this is a relatively hopeful article regarding the most recent developments of wind power coming to Columbia.

U Iowa Turns Invasive Species-Infested Trees into Biofuel 

So, the University of Iowa is essentially killing two birds with one sustainability stone here (or should it be hawks?).

Bird one: UI’s surrounding area, Jefferson County, has 24 acres (!) of dead and dying invasive species-infested pine trees and little if any money to clear the environmental wasteland for productive use.

Bird two: UI’s Sustainability Office is well short of its goal to meet 40 percent of the institution’s energy needs through sustainable sources by 2020.

And the ever-dependable sustainability stone (which totally sounds like it should be an item in Pokémon): The UI is hiring a contractor to convert Johnson County’s invasive trees into biomass to be burned with coal in the university’s steam-generating boilers.

The final outcome: The university ups its sustainable energy quotient, while the conservation department replaces an environmental nightmare with prairie and oak savanna jewels. You go University of Iowa!

The Real Food, Real Jobs campaign doesn’t only fight for improved food and food service working conditions, but it also has a pretty simple, kickass logo.

American U Food Workers to Receive Sustainable Food Training

MU’s dining services do a lot for campus sustainability (see here and here), American University’s dining staff may have us one-upped on this one. In an groundbreaking move earlier this week, food service workers ratified a new contract with “sustainability language” that includes training and increased hours so they can cook from scratch with fresh, local ingredients—and a watchdog committee to hold their employer to it.

And as if that’s not enough, the four-year contract also gives workers the largest raise they have seen in the history of their union ($2 an hour over the four-year contract), protects them from subcontracting, and preserves their health care benefits and pensions.

The contract was part of a growing “Real Food, Real Jobs” campaign which, as the name suggests, aims to improve the quality of food service on college campuses nationwide, while also improving the the food workers’ labor conditions. Also according to the article, food service workers at the other six universities are either in bargaining or preparing for negotiations this spring.

The full e-Newsletter can be read here, subscribed to here, and archives (which you’ll probably want to visit, since this post may be a bit dated by now) can be viewed here.

By the way, a little secret: Try searching “Sustain Mizzou” on the AASHE website. You’ll be glad you did!

sustainable living on and off campus


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