Voting On a Better World with Your Wallet

March 10, 2011  
Filed under Money

By Stephanie Choate

With all the marketing ploys and gimmicks out there, it can be tough to figure out which companies are trying to make the world a better place and which ones are only interested in maximizing their profits.

Luckily, Goddard College professor Ellis Jones has done all the work for you.
Jones’ book, “The Better World Shopping Guide,” wraps more than 10 years of research into a tiny handbook that fits into your pocket.

“It’s really a guide to figure out who the good guys and who the bad guys are in the world companies,” Jones said.

Jones ranked more than 1,700 companies giving each one a letter grade. He took five key issues into account — human rights, the environment, animal protection, community involvement and social justice.

The book represents 20 years worth of data from more than 50 sources.

Along with rankings, Jones has a list of the 20 worst and best companies in the world. At the very top of the best companies list is Vermont’s Seventh Generation. King Arthur Flour of Vermont also made the list, coming in at number eight.

The worst companies, in order, are Exxon Mobil, Kraft and Wal-Mart.

“I see the book as kind of a first step, really,” he said. “The big picture for me is that we need a kind of global movement that will apply democratic principles to the economic realm.”

Jones calls it “voting with your wallet.”

The dollars you spend every day empower companies, like votes empower political candidates. So, the basic idea is to empower the good companies and encourage the bad ones to change.

So, where can you start?

Jones includes a list of the top 10 things to change first, the things that will give you “the biggest bang for your buck,” he said. At the top, somewhat surprisingly, is your bank.
People tend to open a bank account and then not really think about it, Jones said. Your balance — whether it’s $100 or $100,000 ­— doesn’t sit in the bank, though.

“It’s invested all over the world, working and creating and managing all kinds of projects,” Jones said.  “Twenty-four hours a day, that money is working to create something that you have no control over.”

Jones suggested taking control of the projects your money is helping. Local banks and credit unions often invest money back into the community and have more accountability to their members, he said.

“It’s a really great, long-term way to make a difference,” Jones said of switching banks. “It’s a little bit of a pain, but once you change over, you never have to do it again.”
After switching your bank, the biggest ways to make a difference are in the gas stations you visit—with Sunoco at the top with a B+ grade—and your supermarket—with co-ops and farmers markets getting A+ grades.

For more information and hundreds of rankings, visit www.betterworldshopper.com.

Great Ice in Grand Isle: Winter Festivities Come to a ‘Summer Community’

March 10, 2011  
Filed under Things to do

By Phyl Newbeck

In 2007, the residents of the Champlain Islands decided they were tired of being seen as only a summer destination. They vowed to change that and came up with a series of February events known as “Great Ice in Grand Isle.” Now in its fifth year, the events have taken on a life of their own.

Ruth Wallman, Executive Director of the Lake Champlain Islands Chamber of Commerce, said the goal of the festival is to promote off-season tourism. This year, Great Ice will take place in North Hero over the first two weekends in February. The third weekend is being held for any events which might be cancelled due to bad weather. The festival starts on Feb. 5 with skating on the North Hero oval. At 5p.m., those with cold feet can enjoy a bonfire and a chili cook-off catered by the Chamber and North Hero House, as well as the official launch of North Hero’s first Ice Out measuring device. At 7:30p.m., visitors can go to North Hero Community Center to see a screening of George Woodard’s new film, “The Summer of Walter Hacks.” The following day, Jamie Hess of Nordic Skater will offer demo equipment and Nordic skating lessons. A popular kid’s ice fishing derby will also take place on Sunday.

The second weekend in February starts Friday night with the first of three shows by the Logger, Rusty Dewees at the North Hero Community Center. Saturday will feature a Flapjack Breakfast at the North Hero House for $7 per person or $20 per family, followed by a trek to Knight Island (four miles round trip). The Ranger Station on Knight Island will be open and serving hot cocoa. Also on Saturday are afternoon pick-up hockey games and the F-f-rozen Chosen Regatta, a race for human powered ice vehicles for which there is a $20 entry fee. The frozen ones can warm up with a Valentine’s Dinner Dance at North Hero House. The weekend concludes with an Ice Golf tournament featuring nine holes and orange balls for a $10 registration fee, and night skating. The Lake Champlain Ice Fishing Derby, unaffiliated with Great Ice, will also take place February 12-13.

Wallman said the most popular event is the trek to Knight Island. In 2009, 120 people took part and in 2010 there were 180. Wallman said people make the trek by boot, skate, ski, or snowshoe with many pulling small children by sled and accompanied by dogs. The children’s fishing derby is also very popular. In 2010, 100 kids between the ages of 2 and 14 took par,t and 21 trophies were awarded. “It’s wonderful,” she said “to have outdoor activities for people who live in Grand Isle and beyond. The lake is a wonderful resource that we think about in summer, but it’s a great resource in winter, as well.”

The F-f-rozen Chosen Regatta, the first and possibly only such event in Vermont, generally takes place on a track one-third of a mile long and is divided into two-wheeled vehicles, multi-wheeled and/or bladed vehicles, and skaters.  Brian Costello of Local Motion reported that in 2010 a number of students from technical colleges entered the race, making it more competitive.  Last year’s winner received a $500 mountain bike from co-sponsor Earl’s Cyclery and Fitness.

Organizer Don Stewart is hoping this is the year Ice Golf takes place in good weather. The first year looked gorgeous but was frigid; the second year featured a snowstorm and the third took place with winds so strong that golf balls were routinely flying half a mile. Stewart is convinced that some kept rolling until they got to the Georgia shore. “I knew people would come out for this,” said Stewart, who got the idea from ice golf courses established in places like Greenland and Alaska. “People who play golf would play on the moon; they’d play under water.”

Bob Camp, owner of Hero’s Welcome on North Hero, said winter is still the establishment’s slowest season, but the addition of the Great Ice events has created a dramatic increase in business, with visitors coming from as far as Montreal, Pennsylvania and Boston. Camp had been plowing a skating oval in front of his store before the start of Great Ice, but the onset of these events led him to enlarge the track to over one quarter of a mile and to become more disciplined about maintaining it. In addition, he has added a regulation size hockey rink. Although the track and rink are obviously good for business, Camp insists he would continue to maintain them even if nobody stopped in the store. “The most unique thing about Vermont,” said Camp, “is the strength of each season. You just can’t take a pass on one season.”

Women’s Business Program Jumpstarts Entrepreneurship

March 10, 2011  
Filed under Business

By Marianne Apfelbaum

The legacy of the Women’s Small Business Program can be traced to Dublin, Ireland where Catherine McAuley founded the Sisters of Mercy religious order in 1831.

McAuley’s mission was to help women become more independent, and she began by building a “house of hospitality” that, according to Mercyconnections.org, served as a “safe haven” for women and a place for “personal growth and success in the greater community.”

Fast forward to the year 2000, and the closing of Trinity College in Burlington. The Sisters of Mercy had operated the college for 75 years, and wanted to continue their mission of helping women succeed. With assistance from the city’s Community and Economic Development Office and other partnerships, the Sisters created an educational nonprofit called Mercy Connections, which offers several programs designed to assist women.

The Women’s Small Business Program, which had been created while Trinity was still operating, was the only “holdover” from the college to be part of the new organization, said WSBP Program Coordinator Ali Marchildon.

The WSBP is “committed to empowering women at every stage with the information and resources they need to develop and polish their entrepreneurial aptitude and achieve economic independence,” according to its website.

More than 1,200 women have graduated from the program, and approximately 10 percent to 15 percent of the graduates are operating successful businesses at any given time, Marchildon said.

Ashley Robinson of Charlotte is one of those success stories. She graduated from the program five years ago, and started a landscape design business that has been growing ever since.

“The program was a great first step,” Robinson said. “(The instructors) never masked that this would be hard work with lots of ups and downs. The reality piece was really helpful.”
WSBP offers both an eight-hour Getting Serious workshop designed to help women explore business ownership, as well as the more comprehensive Start Up program, an intense 15-week series of classes for those “starting, stabilizing or expanding a small business.”

Marchildon called it “a crash master course in business” that walks women through every stage from initial ideas to bank-ready business plans. The course covers financial, marketing and business management concepts, with individual attention given to each student. Robinson praised the scope of the material covered and the connections she made with other women in the program. She has been asked to come back and speak several times to students about her experience.

“It is helpful for them to know that this is possible … to give them real stories,” she said.

What it takes to succeed

After five years as a business owner, Marchildon sold her half of the business to her partner “because it was a very, very stressful and demanding business …. I am the mother of two young boys and have a husband with a demanding job.”

Marchildon, herself a graduate of the WSBP, was the co-owner of the hugely successful Flashbags company. She praised the WSBP for recognizing “all the things that women are juggling.”

“At the end of the day, if your kids are falling apart, the business is falling apart,” she said.
Last year, Marchildon was given the opportunity to come on board as the coordinator of WSBP.

“Ali brings credibility and value to WSBP as we continue to grow and expand this critical program for prospective small business owners,” the program’s newsletter states.

Marchildon cites the many high profile women business owners in the community who graduated from the program, including Pamela Polston of Seven Days, Demeny Pollitt of Girlington Garage, Rachel Strules of Tribeca and Janet Carscadden of Evolution Physical Therapy and Yoga.

Another successful graduate, Tanya Lee, opened a specialty dog food and toy company after getting laid off from IBM in 2003. Her company, Sirius in Vermont, is based in St. George. Lee explained that her business partner, Pamela Patunoff, came up with the name based on Sirius, “the dog star constellation companion to Orion the Hunter.” The duo has managed to develop and maintain what Lee described as a “successful business without a storefront,” selling their products mainly via their website, www.siriusinvermont.com, and at dog show competitions.

The idea for the company morphed out of a desire to start a business involving dogs. When Lee heard about the WSBP from a friend, she took the course right away, forgoing a planned summer off.

“The course was great,” Lee said. “It helped me focus my thinking, and the people running the program are very supportive.”

For Lee and others, the program allows them to explore possibilities in a safe and nurturing environment, which Marchildon feels is, at least in part, because classes are exclusively for women.

“I really appreciated the fact that it was all women,” Marchildon said. “It was a very different classroom environment … with a very diverse student base that provided lots of support for each student.”

Life Elephant Helps Families Remember ‘Life’ Information

March 10, 2011  
Filed under Business

After countless meetings with families facing the challenges of unknown or outdated information concerning their ill or deceased loved ones, estate planning attorney Jennifer Luitjens wanted to create a tool to better manage personal affairs. There are numerous stories of families who must literally wade through mountains of paperwork to locate that one important document, be it a car title, a house deed, a medical directive, or a will. For a host of reasons, many families simply neglect to discuss legal or financial affairs while everyone is physically and mentally able to do so. And for the current generation of seniors, many simply are too private to feel it appropriate to discuss these affairs. But this lack of communication can present an extraordinary challenge for a family member who must locate legal or financial data. Even when they know where the “black box” of information is kept, it may be disorganized and outdated, particularly as we become a more paperless society.

An awareness of the need for a more organized and accessible method for information-sharing was one of the prime reasons for creating Life Elephant. Account holders can enter customized information and upload documents online for later retrieval by the account holder and anyone they authorize. The account becomes the online “black box” of information – storing data such as identification of bank accounts and other investments, passwords to various online accounts, location of life insurance policies and other paperwork, names of doctors, and copies of important documents. Each account holder determines the extent of the information posted on the account and the level of access granted to any family member, friend, or advisor. For more information, visit http://www.LifeElephant.com or call 1-800-528-5881.

SBA Announces Contracting Program for Women-Owned Small Businesses

March 10, 2011  
Filed under Business

Women-owned small businesses can begin taking steps to participate in a new federal contracting program the U.S. Small Business Administration recently announced. The new Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) Federal Contract Program will be fully implemented over the next several months, with the first contracts expected to be awarded by the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2011.

“Implementing the Women-Owned Small Business contracting rule has been a top priority for the Obama Administration and SBA,” said Administrator Karen Mills. “Women-owned businesses are one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy. As we continue to look to small businesses to grow, create jobs and lead America into the future, women-owned businesses will play a key role. That’s why providing them with all the tools necessary to compete for and win federal contracts is so important.”

SBA released instructions on how to participate in the program, as well as launch the secure, online data repository

To qualify as a WOSB, a firm must be at least 51 percent owned and controlled by one or more women, and primarily managed by one or more women. The women must be U.S. citizens and the firm must be considered small according to SBA size standards.

For more information on the Women-Owned Small Business Program or to access the instructions, visit www.sba.gov/wosb.

Scagnelli Receives Senior Advisor Certification

March 10, 2011  
Filed under Business

Nancy Scagnelli has received her Certified Senior Advisor (CSA)® designation from the Society of Certified Senior Advisors.

The co-founder of Elder Care Connections of VT, Scagnelli’s career has included more than 10 years of senior care and senior care management experience, as well as working as a financial analyst in Washington DC and Boston. Scagnelli holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics from the Whittemore School of Business and Economics at the University of New Hampshire and a Certification in Gerontology from the University of Vermont. Last year, Scagnelli helped launch Elder Care Connections of VT, which focuses on providing care management and assistance to Vermont seniors and their families.
The company’s mission is to become a “virtual family member” that lightens the load and provides peace of mind for those trying to assist and care for older members of their families.

Founded in 1997, the Society of Certified Senior Advisors is an international, accredited organization.

For more information on Elder Care Connections of VT, visit www.eldercarevt.com or call (802) 324-6562.

Home Instead Senior Care Hires Michelle Parent

March 10, 2011  
Filed under Business

Patrice Thabault, franchise owner of Home Instead Senior Care in South Burlington, announced that Michelle Parent has joined the company as Community Service Representative.

Parent has a background in education and has worked in advocacy and outreach in the childcare and health care fields. She will be providing information and education to caregivers, seniors, families and other providers in the senior community.

Put a Spring in Your Step with New Shoes

March 10, 2011  
Filed under Blogs

By Sharon Mosley, CNS

Before you pick up a pair of new spring shoes, you don’t have to wait to lose those winter pounds. Shed those boots that have smothered your feet for months, book an appointment for a pedicure and start shoe shopping.

Shoes are the fastest way to bring a little chic sunshine into your wardrobe. This season, you’ll have lots of fun footwear to spend your cash on, but just remember that no matter how beautiful the shoes look, if they aren’t comfortable, don’t buy them — unless you want to leave them on the shelf in your closet and just look at them. And yes, I do have one pair that has that honor!

Here are the best new shoe trends to step out in this spring and summer:

• Get your groove on. With the ‘70s making their way back onto the fashion runways, it’s no surprise that the shoes would follow. Look for retro styles with big-bottom wedges in straw, wood and cork to lift you higher and higher. Go for the clunky heel, such as in glittering gold at Stuart Weitzman (www.stuartweitzman.com). But if you’re not into the distinct possibility of twisting an ankle, there are lots of wedge sandals with lower heels that might do just fine, especially if you have to do anything like walk down the street. Check out the sleek metallic ones from Kate Spade (www.katespade.com).

• Color your shoe world. Eye-popping color is at your feet this spring. In bright multi-colors or all-over saturated hues, one pair of these playful shoes is all you need to turn heads and get noticed with the techno “wow” factor. At Dior, Gucci and Prada, some of the newest technicolor shoes are artful masterpieces. These are shoes you can hang on the walls of your closet!

• Be a lady. Slingbacks, anyone? Yes, they are just the opposite of the chunky shoe trends, but there comes a time when you may want to dress up a little and go for more of a refined, glamorous look. Kitten-heel heights with pointy toes are favorites of first lady Michelle Obama. When they sparkle with jewels, they’re even more festive (www.jimmychoo.com).

• Loaf a little. Who doesn’t want to just slide into a nice pair of practical shoes every once in a while, especially on the weekends? Finding a great pair of flat loafers is one of life’s best moments. Whether it’s a pair of traditional leather driving mocs or a trendier pair of hot pink, patent leather slip-ons, the loafer is a must-have for comfort anytime of the week. Check out the sunny orange tasseled ones at Banana Republic (www.bananarepublic.com).

• Get on your platform. Pumps are de rigueur in most professional wardrobes, but this spring, you will find many pumps with much more personality than those trusty little black ones you’ve bought every year for the past decade. Instead, how about switching to a pair of platform pumps in a whimsical animal print or in sophisticated and gorgeous turquoise suede from Jessica Simpson? (www.jessicasimpsoncollection.com)

• Think preppy. Another comfy shoe option — the espadrille — is making its way back into our footwear favorites for spring and summer. And these espadrilles are anything but basic and boring. Check out the glitzy ones at Express or the bright florals by Etienne Aigner at Macy’s. These new versions are perfect to wear with cropped jeans or casual dresses.

• Look for studs. The past year’s gladiator sandals are still fighting for survival on the fashion scene. But this spring, you’ll see them given even more sexy staying power when sprinkled with metallic studs and wrapped with rope ankle cuffs or leather lace ties.

A Memorable Ginger Broth

March 10, 2011  
Filed under Food

By Chris Ross, CNS

Many diners have become “obsessed” with Souplantation’s Asian Ginger Broth. Similar recipes found on the Internet don’t compare. The folks at Souplantation offer the lowdown.

SOUPLANTATION’S ASIAN GINGER BROTH

4 tablespoons finely minced ginger
3 tablespoons finely minced garlic
2 tablespoons canola oil
6 tablespoons cornstarch
2 cups cold water
14 cups water
6 tablespoons vegetarian base

Yields approximately 1 gallon

Combine ginger, garlic and oil in a large pot and saute for 5 minutes. Add cornstarch and 2 cups cold water to pot and whisk to dissolve.

Add rest of water and vegetarian base to pot and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Garnish with any combination of the following items: sliced green onions, shredded carrots, chopped spinach, sliced mushrooms, wonton strips, cubed tofu.

Top Ten Green Building Trends

March 10, 2011  
Filed under Home & Garden

Earth Advantage Institute (www.earthadvantage.org), a leading nonprofit green building resource and research organization that has certified more than 11,000 sustainable homes, has announced its annual selection of top ten green building trends to watch for over the next 12 months.

The trends, which range from “affordable green” to lifecycle analysis of materials, were identified by Earth Advantage Institute based on discussions with a range of audiences over the latter part of 2010. These sectors included policymakers, builders, developers, architects, real estate brokers, appraisers, lenders, and homeowners.

“Despite market conditions, we have seen the market share for high performance homes increase from 18.5 to 23 percent in the Portland Metro area alone,” said Sean Penrith, executive director, Earth Advantage Institute. “This is a sure sign that the rate of appeal for these homes is increasing.”

1. Affordable green. Many consumers typically associate green and energy-efficient homes and features with higher costs. However, the development of new business models, technologies, and the mainstreaming of high performance materials is bringing high-performance, healthy homes within reach of all homeowners. Leading the charge are affordable housing groups, including Habitat for Humanity and local land trusts, now building and selling LEED® for Homes- and ENERGY STAR®-certified homes across the country at price points as low as $100,000*. In the existing homes market, energy upgrades are now available through new programs that include low-cost audits and utility bill-based financing. Through such programs as Clean Energy Works Oregon, and Solar City’s solar lease-to-own business model, no up-front payment is required to take advantage of energy upgrades.

2. Sharing and comparing home energy use. As social and purchasing sites like Facebook and Groupon add millions more members, the sharing of home energy consumption data – for rewards – is not far behind. The website Earth Aid (www.earthaid.net) lets you track home energy usage and earn rewards for energy savings from local vendors. You can also elect to share the information with others on Earth Aid to see who can conserve the most energy. When coupled with other developments including home energy displays, a voluntary home energy scoring system announced by the Department of Energy, and programs including Oregon and Washington’s Energy Performance Score, a lot more people will be sharing — and comparing — their home energy consumption.

3. Outcome-based energy codes. Existing buildings are responsible for most energy use and associated carbon emissions, but the prescriptive energy codes used in commercial remodels don’t encourage effective retrofitting. Compliance with energy codes is determined at permit time, using prescriptive or predictive models, and actual post-construction may never even be reviewed. Heating and cooling equipment could be faulty or improperly controlled, with significant energy and financial implications. Under outcome-based energy codes, owners could pursue the retrofit strategy that they decide is most effective for their building and its tenants, but they would be required to achieve a pre-negotiated performance target through mandatory annual reporting. The City of Seattle and the New Building Institute have teamed up with the National Trusts’ Preservation Green Lab to pioneer a framework for just such a code, for both new and existing buildings.

4. Community purchasing power. Neighborhoods interested in renewable energy will increasingly band together to obtain better pricing on materials such as solar panels and on installation costs. The Solarize Portland program was initiated by local neighborhood leaders who wanted to increase the amount of renewable energy generated in Northeast Portland by working together as a community. The program is structured so that the price of solar panel installation decreases for everybody as more neighbors join the effort. Group purchasing creates a 15-25 percent savings below current prices. This group discount, in addition to current available tax credits and cash incentives, gives participants a significant cost savings. In Philadelphia, the Retrofit Philly program leverages contests between residential blocks to get neighborhoods involved in energy upgrades.

5. “Grid-aware” appliances fuel convergence of smart grid and smart homes. While many residential smart meters have been installed, the customer interface that will allow homeowners to track energy use more accurately are not yet in place. In the meantime, manufacturers are increasingly introducing appliances that are “grid-aware.” These appliances are endowed with more sophisticated energy management capabilities and timers, offering homeowners machines that monitor and report their own electricity usage and that increase or decrease that usage by remote command. Many machines have timers and can already be manually programmed to run during off-peak hours. These developments will begin forging the convergence of a smart grid infrastructure and the control applications needed to manage energy savings in our buildings and homes.

6. Accessory dwelling units. With fewer people moving or building due to financial concerns, many have chosen to stay put in their favorite area and build accessory dwelling units (ADUs). These small independent units, which can be used for offices, studios, or in-law space, are the ideal size for energy savings and sustainable construction. As detached or attached rental units, they help cities increase urban density and restrict sprawl, while allowing homeowners to add value to their property. The cities of Portland, Oregon, and Santa Cruz, California, have waived administrative fees to encourage more ADU construction.

7. Rethinking of residential heating and cooling. Advances in applied building science in the U.S. and abroad have resulted in homes that are so tightly sealed and insulated that furnace-less, ductless homes are now a reality. The increasingly popular “Passive House” standard, for example, calls for insulation in walls and ceiling that is so thick that the home is actually heated by everyday activity of the occupants, from cooking to computer use. Even in ENERGY STAR-certified homes, builders are now encouraged to bring all ductwork inside the insulated envelope of the house to eliminate excess heat or cooling loss, and to use only small but efficient furnaces and air conditioners to avoid wasting power. Geothermal heating and cooling, where piping loops are run through the ground to absorb warmth in the winter and cool air in the summer, are another option gaining broader acceptance.

8. Residential grey water use. With water shortages looming in many areas including the Southwest and Southern California, recycling of grey water – any household wastewater with the exception of toilet water – is gaining traction. Benefits include reduced water use, reduced strain on septic and stormwater systems, and groundwater replenishment. Although many cities have been slow to legislate on grey water use, some communities have increased the amount of allowable grey water use for irrigation. Systems can be as simple as a pipe system draining directly into a mulch field or they can incorporate collection tanks and pumps.

9. Small commercial certification. 95 percent of commercial building starts in the U.S. are under 50,000 square feet, but the bulk of current certified commercial buildings tend to be much larger. This is in part because of numerous “soft” costs including commissioning, energy modeling, project registration, and administrative time, all of which can be prohibitively expensive for small building owners and developers. To encourage more small commercial projects to go green, alternative certification programs have sprung up, including Earthcraft Light Commercial and Earth Advantage Commercial, which have found significant appeal through fully subscribed pilot programs.

10. Lifecycle Analysis (LCA). We know quite a bit about the performance of certain materials used in high performance home and commercial building construction, but the industry has just begun to study the effects of these materials over the course of their entire lives, from raw material extraction through disposal and decomposition. Lifecycle analysis examines the impact of materials over their lifetime through the lens of environmental indicators including embodied energy, solid waste, air and water pollution, and global warming potential. LCA for building materials will allow architects to determine what products are more sustainable and what combination of products can produce the most environmentally friendly results.

About Earth Advantage Institute
Earth Advantage Institute works with the building and design industry to help implement sustainable building practices. Its nonprofit mission is to create an immediate, practical and cost-effective path to sustainability and carbon reduction in the built environment. The organization achieves its objectives through a range of innovative certification, education and technical services programs.

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