Pet’s Paws for Earth Day Too!

As we celebrate Earth Day this April 22 we honor Mother Earth and look for ways to ensure that she remains healthy for generations to come. We have all been told one of the best ways to do this is to reduce our personal carbon footprint, but did you know that your pet also has a carbon footprint? According to the’s random facts about pets “a medium-sized dog has the same eco-impact as a Toyota Land Cruiser driven 6,000 miles a year, while a cat is equivalent to a Volkswagen Golf, based on the amount of land needed to grow food for each.” Rather surprising is it not? Here are five ways to green-up our world with our pets.

 Get out and walk with your pet.

As we all know, getting out and enjoying the great outdoors is one of the hallmarks of Earth Day. Taking our pets out for a walk is a great way to do this. While you’re out on your walk, consider recycling those plastic grocery store bags to not only pick up your pets waste, but the environmental litter you encounter as well. It only takes a brief moment of time to pick up the waste products other humans leave behind. You’ll not only have a cleaner view on your next walk, but you’ll feel better knowing you helped keep litter from entering the waterways and possibly causing harm to wildlife as well. Don’t have a pet of your own to walk? Consider volunteering at your county’s shelter, or Bob’s House for Dogs, and take a walk with one of the shelter pets that’s longing to share the great outdoors too.

Choose pet- and eco-friendly products.

As you go through your house on the spring cleaning spree, consider using pet and eco-friendly cleaning products such as vinegar, baking soda, and lemon. As you purchase your cleaning products, read the labels closely and choose products that are all natural and avoid those with long chemical names that no one can really pronounce. These products are becoming easier to find and more affordable than ever before as consumer’s demand increases. Using these products to clean your home along with rags made from t-shirts greatly decreases the waste produced by using paper towel products.  And, as you clean your closets and sort through the items you no longer need, consider donating your gently used towels, rugs, sheets, blankets, leashes, and even collars to the local shelters as they are often in need of these products. Looking to replace a donated item with something new? Consider purchasing replacement products made from renewable sources such as bamboo, hemp, or other renewable sources such as vegetable based chew bones rather than plastic ones.

Recycle, reuse, reduce.

There are many ways our pets can help us recycle, reuse, and reduce waste.  As I mentioned earlier, using the plastic grocery store bag as a pooper scooper on our walks is an easy choice, but what if we use cloth bags when we purchase our groceries? Consider using biodegradable pet bags, such as BioBags, to pick up the waste on the walk, or ask your non-pet-owning neighbors to save their plastic grocery bags for you to use. What about my cat, you say? Consider the Kitty Scratch Pole made here in the United States from 100 percent recycled cardboard materials for your kitty’s scratching post. It even comes with refillable disks to provide hours of scratching fun. Scooping the cat litter pan daily as recommended? Place the empty cat litter container next to your cat litter pan with a liner in it to make the scooping convenient and reduce the amount of plastic you typically use. Not a fan of the scoopable litter? Consider litter made from renewable sources such as wheat, pine, or recycled paper. My personal favorite is Yesterday’s News litter, which is made from recycled paper.

Try to eliminate purchasing anything in a plastic bottle, but if you have one, it can make a great dog toy. I know my puppy absolutely loves chewing them up after I’ve removed the top and the label, and the recycling center certainly doesn’t care about the teeth marks he leaves behind in them. And, always remember, if the plastic bottles come held together with the plastic rings, take a brief moment to cut each ring (including the handle) with a scissors to prevent harming wildlife should they come into contact with them. Changing the water in your pet’s water bowl? Consider using the “dirty” water to water your plants and/or your compost pile. Finally, one of the easiest, yet most often over-looked ways to reduce waste is to feed your dog and cat a good quality food such as Taste of the Wild. It may be a bit more cost initially, but the savings in both quantity of food consumed and waste produced will pad your wallet in the long run.


Composting is a great way to reduce the overall waste we each produce. There are many ways you can incorporate your pet’s waste products into a composting program and produce amazing fertilizer. You can check out websites such as for local composting sites that accept pet waste. If making compost on your own, be sure to maintain the proper temperature to produce a final product that is safe to use.

Spay, neuter, adopt.

Helping reduce the over-population of pets by spaying, neutering, and adopting your next pet from the shelter can perhaps have the greatest impact for Mother Earth on this Earth Day. It’s a sobering fact to realize that approximately 8 million, yes I said million, pets are euthanized each year as a result of the pet overpopulation in this country alone. Each step we take to reduce this tragic number helps us all breathe a bit easier, and helps Mother Nature smile as we all work together to take care of her children that are already here.

Celebrate Earth Day by Investing in Your Community and Your Health: Join the Forest St. Community Garden!

By Kerri Kiernan, Master Herbalist

This Earth Day, consider giving back to the planet, to your community, and to yourself by joining a local community garden. The Forest Street Community Garden is celebrating its eighth season and is now open to new and returning gardeners; it is located in downtown Eau Claire, just a couple blocks north of Phoenix Park.

The Chippewa Valley is blessed with several existing community gardens offering rental plots for the public. What differentiates the Forest St. Garden from other gardens is that it also offers a Shared Garden that is run jointly by members who share in the work and harvest. The Shared Garden also serves as a learning community for members to gain experience in basic gardening skills, leadership, teaching, coordinating, and community outreach.

Members of the Shared Garden participate in weekly sessions to maintain the nearly half-acre plot as a collaborative effort. Seeds and transplants are started in early spring, and members work together to plan and prepare the garden as the last frost ceases. During the garden season, the work and the produce is shared amongst the contributing members. Extra produce is harvested and donated to the Community Table, which supplements meal services benefiting Eau Claire residents who may not have access to healthy meals due to lack of finances, education, or due to other life situations.

Besides benefiting the community, Shared Gardeners experience a deep sense of connection to their community, to each other, and to the Earth. Social events such as potlucks and gatherings are often held at the Forest St. Garden Pavilion, where members and plot renters spend time together connecting over beautiful meals made from the very veggies they grew together in the garden.

Besides decreasing carbon emissions, gardening helps to increase physical activity and vegetable consumption and also helps to foster a sense of wonder and gratitude for the bounty of nature. The shared struggle of growing one’s own food serves as a relatable conversation topic between people who may otherwise never cross paths nor have much in common. Any gardener can share their own story of patience, diligence, failure, and success, but it’s the commonality of spending so much time in the dirt, paying very close attention to the rhythms of the weather, and savoring the fruits of one’s labor that bring people together through gardening.

Join the Forest St. Community Garden and learn how to grow food together. Prices increase after June 15. Please visit the Forest St. Community Garden website for more information.


To Join the Co-op/Shared garden or to rent a plot at the Forest St. Community Garden, please visit: or email:

Kerri Kiernan is a local Master Herbalist who works with plants from her garden as well as wild weeds from the Chippewa Valley to help people thrive with handmade remedies and personalized herbal consults. Kerri is the owner and operator of a small herbal business, River Prairie Apothecary, located in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and is also the founder CommuniTEA, the Herbalism Outreach & Internship Project located downtown Eau Claire at the Forest St. Garden.

Contact Kerri: River Prairie Apothecary on FB:

Great Ways to Use Less in 2011

If you think about all that you do in a day, from getting ready in the morning, to getting to work, to making dinner, it all adds up to waste and consumption. But we can do less, and it’s easier than you’d think. In 2011 have a smaller carbon footprint and make the year count.

Use Less Coal. Simply turn your furnace down 1 or 3 degrees. More than 90 percent of U.S. coal, a non-renewable resource, is used to heat our homes, so grab a blanket and snuggle with a loved one for extra warmth.

Use Less Energy is a common goal we all have, and while you might think “just this once it won’t hurt…”, it still does. So be conscious of everything that you use or do that requires energy. For example, by just washing your clothes on cold you save almost 90% of the washing machine’s energy, That’s A LOT!

Use Less Water because it won’t be around for ever. Experts say that the water crisis we are in the middle of is only going to get worse. So do you part and shorten those showers. A one-minute-shorter shower equals 150 gallons of water per month!

Use Less Paper and the trees will cheer. Use mail as scrap paper; reuse envelopes; and be sure to print on both sides. According to the EPA, reusing 2,000 pounds of paper can save 7,000 gallons of water and 380 gallons of oil.

Use Less Packaging and the world will be better for it. Buy in bulk so there is no packaging. When mailing something that needs to be cushioned, use real popcorn. It’s biodegradable, tastes good, and gets the job done just the same.

Use Fewer Hazardous Materials and we’ll all benefit. Many times there are cleaner, less toxic alternatives to hazardous materials, so try using natural pesticides and try making your own cleaning products.

Use Less Gas and slow down. We in the US use 1 million gallons of oil every 2 minutes. Slowing down can help us save it. Also remember that gas is denser when it’s colder, so fueling up in the morning gives you more for your money.

Create Less Trash. An average American throws away 90,000 pounds of trash in his or her lifetime. So try to compost some, use canvas bags when shopping, buy cloth napkins, and buy in bulk.

Green Hospitals

by Heather Rothbauer-Wanish

As much of the country strives for a more environmentally-friendly home and workplace, hospitals have also joined in the movement. The place that you go when you are ill has been making strides towards ensuring that it is a place that not only promotes your health, but promotes the health of the environment. Whether it is cleaning solutions, cafeteria plates, or ordering processes, local hospitals are encouraging their staff and employees to think twice about being a friend to the environment.

One local facility, Sacred Heart Hospital (SHH), has been working diligently to ensure it promotes green practices. Rick Beckler, Director of Hospitality Services, has seen many changes during his 15 years in the position. “Our practices really do differ than they did several years ago,” Beckler said. One way that SHH does this is by benchmarking practices with other healthcare organizations. Part of Beckler’s job is keeping up with environmental trends through publications, conferences, and relationships with other healthcare groups.

“We feel we are on the cutting-edge of these practices,” Beckler explained. Organizational purchasing is one area where Beckler feels the hospital can make a real difference. He and his staff strongly encourage the purchase of goods that can be utilized more than once. “We look at everything and invest in items that can be used more than once,” he said. “It really has become second nature for us,” he continued. This method of purchasing includes everything from reusable needle containers to recyclable containers for carry-out cafeteria food.

If you do purchase food at the Sacred Heart Hospital cafeteria, chances are you will be purchasing locally-grown food. “We really try to purchase as much local food as possible,” Beckler explained. This not only supports local farmers and growers, but it keeps the money circulating in the local economy. When it comes to the cafeteria and the kitchen area, the green movement does not stop there. The Sacred Heart staff has worked with the Department of Natural Resources to ensure that leftover food does not go to waste. For example, watermelon rhines, strawberry tops and other food scraps are saved until a local farmer picks them up; the scraps are used to supplement feeding the farm animals.

With the amount of food that is prepared during a day, there are bound to be leftovers. The prepared food that is left is sent to the local St. Francis Food Pantry, whom the hospital has worked with for many years. Local volunteers come to the hospital and box the food each day before it is sent to the food pantry. Because the food is already done and prepared, the staff felt that it was a great idea to provide it to local families.

Hospital patients are now given reusable mugs in lieu of Styrofoam cups. Other changes include no use of plastic silverware or so-called throwaway containers. Fountain drinks are also now served throughout the hospital, instead of plastic bottles. There is no longer any bottled water offered; rather, there are pitchers of water and cups available throughout the facility. “The staff, employees, and patients are on-board with the changes,” Beckler said. He admits that its focus on green and sustainability can sometimes add costs, but he feels the environmental impact is worth the additional costs.

Another local facility, Luther Midelfort, has also implemented practices to improve its environmental impact. This is especially important to the hospital as it is in the midst of a large expansion. Gordon Howie, Director of Maintenance–Facilities Services for Luther Midelfort, explained that the hospital looks at this in two ways: new construction and existing buildings. “With new construction, LEED principles are followed and efficiency is built in from design development. Luther Midelfort works with engineers, architects, and contractors who are experienced with environmentally efficient designs and methods,” Howie said. In fact, more than 90 percent of the waste materials from the construction have been recycled.

The existing buildings are also reviewed to seek any changes that may benefit the environment. “With the existing buildings, we are continually evaluating processes and building functions to reduce energy and water consumption. We have established a team that meets monthly to review ideas, track progress, and report results. We continually challenge ourselves to do better,” Howie explained.

When asked if they feel marketplace pressure to go green, both Sacred Heart Hospital and Luther Midelfort indicated that they are challenged only by themselves. Part of the mission of SHH is to give reverance to the earth and Beckler feels they are doing that with their environmental initiatives. “We do feel a pressure, a good pressure, from the healthcare industry to go green,” Beckler explained. “The healthcare industry as a whole has done a great job of looking at our environmental impact,” he continued. Howie echoed that sentiment, saying the following, “We keep an eye on what other healthcare systems are doing, but we are our strongest critics.”

At Luther Midelfort, employees also take an active role in seeking green practices. “We have employees who truly believe in bettering the environment,” Howie said. “If our employees see something that needs attention, we hear about it and it’s fantastic,” he continued. Luther Midelfort patients are also encouraged to provide feedback on the hospital’s green initiatives. “We would not consider an environmental project a success if our patients are not happy,” Howie commented. One way Luther Midelfort is able to make an impact on the surrounding community is through its own food donations to St. Francis Food Pantry; Luther Midelfort gives its unsold but usable food items to the pantry. This is similar to the working relationship Sacred Heart Hospital also has with the pantry.

Both local hospitals recycle everything from glass to aluminum, including some more unique items. Sacred Heart Hospital has contracted with an individual who takes wooden pallets from the facility. These wooden pallets are then turned into landscape wood chips. This is just another way that certain products and assets are seeing a second life.

Many hospitals are also using more energy-friendly lightbulbs, as well as implementing energy-savings tactics. “We work closely with Focus on Energy and Xcel Energy to ensure best efficiencies for the cost,” Howie explained. SHH has implemented automatic turn-off lights and high-efficiency airdrives in an effort to cut energy cost and consumption.

For many hospitals, investing in energy efficiencies, recycling capabilities, and reusable materials means a higher initial investment. However, this investment can save and reduce operating expenses in the future. If you, or someone you know is a hospital patient, take a look around and note the changes that have been made in the building and its processes. As these businesses look to a more environmentally-friendly operation, know that they are still trying to do what is best for the community, the patients, and the environment.

Intro to Eau Claire EcoTeams

Saving the Planet, One Household at a Time:  A Brief Introduction to Eau Claire EcoTeams
by Meg Marshall

We invite you to embark on an adventure that will lead you to more sustainable lifestyle practices. “Sustainability” means meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs (Brundtland Commission, 1987). Another way to say it is, “Enough, for all, forever.” Today, that’s not how we live in America, where 5% of the world’s population uses almost 30% of its resources, wasting close to 75% through inefficiency and lack of awareness.

As Yogi Berra once said, “The future ain’t what it used to be.” Climate change is altering our world. Through our daily activities, each of us contributes to the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing this change. You can determine your impact by calculating your carbon footprint at If you are like most Americans, you will find that if everyone lived like you do, it would take between four and five planets to support us.

When a community decides to become more sustainable, government, business, and citizens must all be on board. The City of Eau Claire has come a long way in working towards sustainability, and Eau Claire County is beginning to do the same. Some towns are addressing sustainability, as well.

In the business community, the Eau Claire Chamber of Commerce has introduced a Green Business Certification program, a commendable move on their part. Community members are the next to bring on board, and that’s where EcoTeams comes in. Our local EcoTeam project is coordinated by Erin LaFaive, Horticulture Educator for Eau Claire County Extension, and is funded by grants from the Wisconsin Environmental Education Board, JONAH, UW Extension-Western Division and Xcel Energy.

A team can be made up of your friends, neighbors, coworkers, people in your faith community or civic organization, students—anyone really! The typical size is 5-8 households, or 5-15 people. Over a period of a little over two months and in a series of seven meetings, the Green Living Handbook helps you take action to develop sustainable lifestyle practices in six areas (chapters): garbage, water, energy, transportation, eco-wise consuming, and empowering others. Different team members run the meetings.

The Sustainable Lifestyle Assessment in the workbook allows you to keep track of your accomplishments. Before each chapter, you will complete the “before” column for that topic area. Then you will choose which activities in that chapter you will do. After completion, you complete your “after” column. For example, if you recycled 20% before and 40% after, you have an improvement of 20%.

The typical meeting will begin with a discussion of the previous topic, and then move on to the next.

To get a feel for how the program works, let’s look at an existing EcoTeam. The Unitarian Universalist team, in its sixth meeting, began by reporting their experiences with the chapter on eco-wise consuming, which they had intentionally chosen to do before Christmas. Not only did they reduce the number of gifts given, they made efforts to wrap presents in unwanted fabric tied with yarn scraps and give gifts of charity instead of something that may not be wanted or needed. The conversation drifted to memories of the Christmases of our childhood and how things have changed. Everyone mentioned a heightened awareness of what they bought for the holidays and how much each item was needed.

The meeting then turned to the final topic, transportation. Across the board, more attention was paid to eco-driving: driving more slowly, avoiding jackrabbit starts, inflating tires properly, and planning errands carefully to minimize miles driven. We acknowledged that public transportation is somewhat lacking in our area, but the greatest barrier to its use might be that many people don’t know how to ride the bus and don’t know what route to take. Wilma Clark suggested that anyone who takes the bus somewhere before the next meeting should get extra credit! I expect that in the final chapter, Empowering Others, there will be suggestions for educating the public on Eau Claire Transit.

Lasting about an hour and a half, the meeting was lively and full of good suggestions and laughter. Some philosophical musings made their way into the meeting, such as, when we travel, what do we contribute to the places we visit (economically, culturally) compared to the emissions caused by the air travel to get there? Overall, team members have realized that doing little things allows us to make changes without causing discomfort and inconvenience.

The East Side Hill EcoTeam has planned to go out to dinner after their final meeting, and the person who makes the most improvement will get a free dinner, compliments of the rest of the team. Matt Smith hopes he is the winner. He felt pretty green going into the process, but he says he has learned new things to help him save money and become more environmentally friendly at the same time. Like many of us, he is more inclined to take his reusable grocery bags into the store when he shops! Every chapter generates ideas for other activities and projects.

Matt likes the group setting and the motivation and support he receives from other members. That seems to be one of the most important things about EcoTeams. EcoTeams are a great way to meet your neighbors, to examine your own lifestyle, and to find ways you might be able to live more frugally as you lower your carbon footprint.

Studies show that Americans had the highest level of happiness in 1956, a much less complicated time. Since then, material consumption in our country has tripled. Clearly, stuff doesn’t buy happiness. Happiness comes from human connections, helping someone in need, volunteering, and doing what we can to make the world a better place for ourselves, our children and grandchildren, and for people around the world.

Join an EcoTeam today. Call Erin LaFaive (715-839-4712) or Meg Marshall (715-835-1733) or email us at Check out our website, for more information.