Category Archives: Making the World Better

Back and Greener Than Ever

After a hiatus that was much longer than I intended, I’m back! Once you stop doing something it gets harder and harder to start it up again, and I began seeing this blog as an obligation instead of a passion project. It was a burden to try to create content when I wasn’t really sure of the direction I wanted it to go in, but now I have a better perspective and I’m ready for an overhaul and relaunch of Urban Conserve.

I first started this blog as a school project, and I knew I wanted to write about the environment, but that’s such a broad topic and it was hard to narrow it into a precise direction. I tried writing about sustainability in my hometown of Cincinnati, calling the blog Urban Conserve, but then I sort of expanded to conservation and sustainability throughout the world, then tried to shrink it back to just Cincinnati while throwing in some DIY projects. It was a headache, and I felt like I was missing out narrowing my blog into such a tiny space. There was no room to grow.

Now, I know I want to write all-encompassing posts about urban conservation topics and news that affect cities and the environment. So now at Urban Conserve, you will find broader green posts, but with the same urban angle. You will still find DIY tips and tricks in addition to environmental news and features because you are still a large part of creating a sustainable Earth.

So past and new readers, welcome to the new Urban Conserve!


Farewell For Now

By no means is this a goodbye post. I want to stick around with this blog, but it was started as a class project. Now that the class is over I just want to thank all my wonderful classmates who read and commented on this blog. You made my job a whole lot easier. Mainly I want to say I hope you learned from this blog as I have learned while I was writing posts. I started out passionate about the subject but not very knowledgeable.

This was how I started out. One of my readers and classmates Katie wrote after my intro post:

Honestly, I can’t wait to read more. I’m highly interested in this kind of stuff, but I never knew where to start.

I didn’t know where to start either. I always valued the environment and wanted to help save it, but it’s hard to know what you can do when you don’t know the exact problem. Katie, I hope my posts have given you an idea of where to start. I think honestly this blog was my starting point. It gave me a place to share new information I learned and build from there.

When I wrote my Valentine’s Day post I kind of had an “aha” moment. I could buy things that would help my cause? That was a great feeling. When I reached out and asked if anyone else had ever bought local or fair trade products, Austin said:

I haven’t. but i might by green gifts, they always seem so much more expensive though. I see the benefits of buying fair and free trade gifts as well.

I’m so happy that one of my readers learned something from this blog, and maybe had an “aha” moment of their own. It was also great to see that I could dispense information and others could utilize it for a great cause.

And I continued to learn and grow from writing this blog. When I came across an article on reusing items I thought it would a wonderful addition to the blog. The reuse of eggshells seemed really popular. My reader and classmate Natalya wrote:

Wow this is very interesting. I never knew that! Ha, I remember when I was little I would break the pieces off and make a mess everywhere lol. I’ve actually never tried reusing them, but it’s worth a shot now! Stuff I usually reuse like shoe boxes for storage and things like that.

Once again, it was great to see that my readers could take valuable information away from here. I learned so much from just starting this little blog and now I feel like I have a great place to keep adding and dispensing information that I learned. It was also wonderful that my readers helped me out by reading and commenting. Thank you guys so much! I hope I really was able to be entertaining and informative at the same time. Good luck to you all and thanks again!

Greener Than We Seem

If you caught the Enquirer this Sunday you have may have seen their article in the Local section “Greener Than We Seem”. I’ve said it many times before here on the blog, but I’ll repeat it. Cincinnati may not be the first city that comes to mind when you think about going green, but as the article argues we really deserve some recognition. We’re 10 years ahead of our fellow Midwestern cities. Since I’ve started this blog my eyes have been opened to the great green initiatives we have here, but my readers have also showed some knowledge on the subject and have weighed in on their favorite  green Cincinnati attractions:

I wrote a post awhile back about the Cincinnati Zoo’s green initiatives. One great one I failed to mention was the zoo’s African Savanna exhibit. One of my readers, Marisa, wrote:

Did they tell you about the Sahara they’re making that’s going to have lions? It’s the fenced off area by the giraffes and flamingos. It’s apparently going to be *super* green-friendly.

The Savanna exhibit is projected to receive LEED Platinum certification when completed. This is huge accomplishment for an animal exhibit.

Cincinnati is also home to many businesses that sell fair trade goods. My reader, Holly wrote:

I also want to give a shout out to Trader Joe’s, a grocery store you left off your list. Trader Joe’s is the most fair priced store of the whole “natural” lot. Plus, the majority of its food and products are sourced locally. I love it.

I always manage to forget about Trader Joe’s out near Kenwood Mall, but I had no idea they sold fair trade items plus local food. It’s great to see that not just specialty shops in Cincinnati are committed to sustainability, fair trade and buying and selling local.

Finally we have places devoted to urban, community garden. Holly also wrote:

I love urban and community gardening! I suggest checking out the Civic Garden Center. They do great community gardening work for the communities around Cincinnati! Very inspiring.

The Civic Garden Center on Reading Road has a long history of philanthropy and advocacy for community. It’s the second oldest non-profit civic garden center in Ohio. In 1981 it became a center for community outreach, having volunteers from the neighborhood join and maintain the gardens. Its success encouraged other programs like it around the country.

So while we don’t have the flash that other cities may have when it comes to being green, Cincinnati is very much worthy of being called a “green city”. With our subtlety and ingenuity, we are leaders for a greener generation.

A Victory for Urban Farming

Cincinnati might not be the first city that comes to mind when someone thinks of urban sustainability, but there are many in this city who fight for conservation issues. Permaganic Co., a nonprofit based in Over-the-Rhine that has operated the city’s Eco Garden since 2010, is an organization committed to not only urban sustainability, but also community involvement and the city’s youth.

The Eco Garden sits at 1718 Main St. in Over-the-Rhine. While the urban garden is used by Permaganic, they don’t own the garden’s property. The city of Cincinnati does. In a clash between continued development in the inner city of Cincinnati, and preservation of the community, the Eco Garden’s land was targeted for CitiRama, a program launched last year to encourage urban development.

The city contacted Angela Stanbery-Ebner, who, along with her husband, Luke, runs Permaganic, in February telling her not to plant at the Main Street garden this year.

After being in operation since 1998, the garden has provided produce for Findlay Market as well as giving the urban neighborhood’s youth a chance to learn how to grow their own fruit and vegetables. In a neighborhood that is often mentioned for the amount of crime, the Eco Garden fosters a sense of community. The land is a miniature farm, an ecosystem in its own right.

The city proposed to move the garden to a different plot of land, but it’s not so simple to transport that many plants who have been rooted on Main Street for so long.

After reaching out for help through petitions and contacting city council, Permaganic received support from city council member, Laure Quinlivan who has long been a supporter of both urban development and making Cincinnati greener. Quinlivan filed a motion and argued that the longest-running urban agriculture program in Cincinnati added to the quality of life in Over the Rhine, gave the community access to local produce and gave teenagers the opportunity to get involved.

After a Livable Communities committee meeting on March 12, the Eco Garden was saved from demolition. CitiRama was forced to find another site to build on and Stanbery-Ebner received the go-ahead from the city to start planting again.

And they all lived happily ever after….for the most part. In a Facebook update Permaganic said, “We are still hoping for long-term permanency…Laure Quinlivan tweeted “We saved this”…I don’t want to read too much into her comment, but we are REALLY hoping City Council will back us again if another development, or anything involving our lease, come up in future…”

Moral of the story? Urban development is not a bad thing; it’s actually a really, really good thing. But when it threatens such a great agricultural project that provides fresh, local produce to an under-served community and offers a place where the community can grow (pun intended), it becomes a hindrance rather than a help. We need to remember that organizations like Permaganic are progressing Cincinnati in the right direction in terms of not only sustainability, but also in community solidarity.

Fair Trade 101

So my readers gave me a great idea after my last post.

While I was rambling on my soapbox about how sustainable fair trade chocolate is, they wanted to know more about fair trade itself. To be honest, I didn’t know many details when it came to fair trade. Buying fair trade was just something nice I thought I was doing, but I didn’t give it much thought beyond that. Now that I know the impact of it, I decided to write a little beginner’s crash course. Let’s begin, shall we?

What is Fair Trade?

The official definition from the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO):

Fair Trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade.  It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalizes producers and workers-especially in the South.  Fair Trade Organizations (backed by consumers) are engaged actively in supporting producers, awareness raising and in campaigning for changes in the rules and practice of international trade.

Fair trade is exactly what it sounds like; it’s the fair exchange of money for goods like coffee, tea, chocolate, jewelry, furniture and art. It’s a global economic model that empowers farmers and producers, especially those working in developing countries, by cutting out needless middlemen and paying providers a fair wage for their goods. The diagram below shows the efficiency and practicality of fair trade versus that of the traditional model:

The Price of Fair Trade

Let’s just admit it, conventional trade is a lot easier on our wallets; using coffee as an example, by comparing a bag of fair trade coffee on Amazon to a canister of coffee at the grocery store you can see a pretty big difference in price, and it’s coffee- a product many people consume on a daily basis. Twelve ounces of coffee doesn’t last long. My reader hayden44e wrote:

I hate that Fair Trade everything seems to be so expensive, although I can totally understand why. I was always a huge fan of fair trade coffee.

12 ounce bag of Fair Trade coffee: ~ $10 dollars12 ounce canister of conventional trade coffee: ~ $3
12 ounce bag of Fair Trade coffee: ~ $10
12 ounce canister of conventional trade coffee: ~ $3

The price of fair trade goods are often higher than non-certified products because when a consumer purchases fair trade, they are covering the costs of production plus a living wage (enough for food, shelter, education and medical care) for the producer. The good news is that by the laws of supply and demand, the more people who buy fair trade, the lower the price will go.  Tea, chocolate and coffee are relatively lower in cost differences because when fair trade became available, many people were willing to support it and buy these items at fair trade prices.

So if money’s tight but you really want to support fair trade, you can do what I do and buy fair trade goods when it’s convenient financially. It’s better to support fair trade every once in a while than not at all. Plus, fair trade is as much a human rights movement as it is economics, so you can always advocate for it, even when money is tight.

One of my readers, Holly, knows a lot about fair trade also. Her advice on how not to spend too much:

Findlay Market also offers a lot of green options for fair prices if places like Park + Vine are out of your price range. Even Kroger locations have been offering more and more local/green options. It’s so awesome to see the trend taking root in everyday American culture.

What Else?

By supporting and buying fair trade, you’re not only ensuring fair wages for farmers, but you’re improving communities in developing countries. Fair trade cooperatives (the farms where products are grown) often reinvest their revenue into their business and into their local communities. Not only that, but with the purchase of the cooperative’s goods, they receive funding called a social premium. This social premium in turn is used to build the local community. What the social premium is put towards often depends on the needs of the community, but the most common investments are in schools and education, healthcare, environmental projects, gender equity and business development.

Fair trade is also sustainable. In conventional trade, farmers are often forced into practices that destroy the environment. Fair trade however encourages sustainable farming methods like reforestation, water conservation and growing organic. The standards are pretty high too. You can read more about the requirements here. Fun fact: 85 percent of fair trade coffee is grown organically.

So now I know, but where do I go?



So now that you know more about the impact, are you more likely to buy fair trade goods? Is there anything you wanted to know that I didn’t cover? Class dismissed.

For more information:

World Fair Trade Organization

Green America

Fair Trade USA

Fair Trade International

3 Great Green Initiatives from the Cincinnati Zoo

I took a trip to the Cincinnati Zoo this past Friday. Not just because it’s Penguin Days (although penguins are pretty awesome), but I wanted to see some of the conservation efforts the zoo has been implementing.

Back in 2010, the former governor of Ohio, Ted Strickland, called the Cincinnati Zoo “the greenest zoo in America” after it had received Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, certifications on four of their buildings. I read about all their initiatives online, but I wanted to see firsthand what is making the zoo leaders in sustainability, and while there are many, many green projects that  the zoo is responsible for, the three below are, in my opinion, the most innovative and unique.

3. Water Conservation

Rain garden sign in the Go Green Gardens
Rain garden sign in the Go Green Gardens

Storm water runoff is a huge problem in Cincinnati. Our sewer system is one of the oldest in the country, and with the growing urban population, it’s no longer built to handle the city’s needs. So when it rains, things get messy. To handle the overflow issues, the Cincinnati Zoo decided to try a few methods, one is the pervious pavement that soaks up water when it rains instead of letting it flow into the sewers. The others are literally green: rain gardens and vegetative roofs.

Rain garden outside the Schott Education Center
Rain garden outside the Schott Education Center

Rain gardens are planted in low areas with local, water-thirsty plants. They collect rainwater as it falls and runs off the pavement, reducing flooding in the zoo’s neighborhood. It’s an ideal garden for urban living as it also functions as a habitat for wildlife and it doesn’t need much space. The benefits from a rain garden also include reducing pollution and erosion and the fact that the plants’ roots will purify rain water as it runs deeper into the soil. The zoo hopes that their rain gardens in the Go Green Garden and just outside the Education Center will serve as an example to other large, urban facilities on how they can begin conserving water.

Green roof on the giraffe barn
Green roof on the giraffe barn

Vegetative roofs serve the same function as a rain garden, holding up to 75 percent of rainfall. They also are useful for reducing the urban island heat effect which increases the temperature of cities and suburbs by up to 7 degrees more than rural areas, not to mention it cuts back on pollution by filtering the air. Just like the rain gardens, the two green roofs at the zoo, one on top of the giraffe barn and the other at the Primate Center are designed as a test to see what works and what can be improved.

2. Composting and Recycling

Solar trash compactor
Solar trash compactor

I’ve always seen the green recycling bins scattered around the zoo whenever I visited, but I saw something new this time, and being the nerd that I am, I was really excited to see it: a solar trash compactor. I’m not sure how popular or widespread these are, but it’s the first time I’ve ever seen one. From BigBelly Solar, it’s a literally a smart trashcan. It goes beyond recycling to reducing the amount of waste. It uses miniature solar panels to power the compactor on and crush whatever is in it. The best things about this is that it is an on-site compactor, so it can hold up to five times a normal trashcan’s capacity, reducing the number of times it needs to be collected and taken to Rumpke. Less exhaust, less pollution.

Composting is another project the zoo is working on. With that many animals, there’s going to be a lot of waste. Not just the kind of waste I know you’re all thinking, but food scraps and bedding need to be replaced as well as leaves and grass trimmings from maintenance, and that old material needs to go somewhere. So instead of wasting it, the zoo composts it. About 7 tons of organic material are composted each week. The zoo actually is in a partnership with Marvin’s Organic Gardens, a landscaping company who only uses organic material. More than 2,700 pounds of animal waste is composted daily at Marvin’s Organic Gardens totaling up to more than 1 million pounds every year.

And finally…

1. Solar Panels

Solar canopy over the parking lot
Solar canopy over the parking lot

Solar panels aren’t exactly new technology, but the way the zoo is using them is unlike anything else. A solar canopy sits in the parking lot, sheltering cars and generating energy to power zoo. It’s made up of 6,400 panels and is the largest publicly accessible, urban solar array in the United States.  The winter sunlight is really weak, but even when my friend Rachael and I visited, the zoo was operating on 75 percent of power harvested by the solar canopy. Now imagine in the summer on a really sunny day how much solar energy the zoo collects. On those really sunny days they can operate off the grid. Not only that, but any extra energy collected on those days can be stored and saved for another time.

Control panel
The interactive green monitor allows visitors to see how much solar energy the zoo is running on at that time.

(One other good thing about the solar canopy: it protects your car. That becomes really helpful to visitors in the summer when there’s no other way to avoid getting in a stifling car with seat belt clips just waiting to burn your hands. Also, almost all of it was locally made!)

Solar panels and wind turbine in the Go Green Garden

The reason I admire the Cincinnati Zoo so much is because they’re so focused on conservation efforts with wildlife and ecosystems, they are very green energy savvy, they encourage sustainability and because they prove that even a large, urban facility can operate in an earth-friendly, eco-conscious way with little strain on the environment. There are so many more green initiatives there, and I encourage everyone to go check them out.

And of course go see the penguins:

For more information on the Cincinnati Zoo’s green initiatives go to: