Friday, September 16, 2016

The Informed Consumer

These days I've had the opportunity to take a really interesting course at school: Sustainable Business Practices.  Now, this may seem like a very normal course for someone to take - but for me it's something special because as a hospitality student we don't have much opportunity to study things beyond specifically hotels.  After working on a very interesting project of analysing the corporate responsibility efforts of different brands from Disney to Patagonia all the way to South West Airlines, it made me think of how many businesses are actually participating in CSR movements.

This entire blog is based off of corporate social responsibility - used in a personal manner, yet I have never thought that the solutions to the problems we are facing is using this personal power in conjunction with companies CSR programs.  Let me explain my train of thought, basically I believe if people and businesses could both work together to improve corporate social responsibilty many of the problems of polluting and social injustices in the world would start to alleviate - not neccesarily go away but at least improve.  However, my mistake was in understanding the role of the business and the role of the person.  Personally we can all make efforts to lower our carbon footprint and treat others the way we would like to be treated.  However, this makes a very small impact (but it is still important - so continue doing what you're doing to better the world).  What businesses are doing though, is making CSR changes to their business based on the markets demands.  They are not making 100% of the difference they could if they solely reduced their carbon footprint out of sheer good will; and that makes sense because corporations act in accordance to the market and what makes business sense.

This is where I had been going wrong.  I thought that my efforts were mine alone and that the small actions would add up sooner or later.  While this might be true, a bigger affect I might have had was being lost through all of my irrisponsible purchases.  Of course when I went to the store I was choosing the cheapest item - who wouldn't?  The project made me realize something though, not all businesses were made the same.  If you were to compare Patagonia with any other type of cheap clothing manufacturer there is a huge difference between social policies protecting workers to environmental policies trying to use sustainable resources.  Its hard to imagine that just one purchase at a responsible store versus a cheap vendor would make a large difference, just as using less shower water might not make an extremely large difference in water consumption.  However, this is not true.

When you support a responsible business, these businesses are being supported by your money to continue doing the right thing.  This can affect many many people all the way to secondary suppliers of these businesses.  Of course, one purchase is small but it has two effects built into one.  First, it is giving money to those businesses that are acting responsibly, but secondly, it takes away money that would have gone to potentially irrisponsible businesses.  This positively impacts the market two fold because it allows responsibilty to flourish all the while encouraging those who are irrisponsible to change to be responsible making it a market demand.

So, I am trying to find ways to find which businesses are responsible and which are not.  I would like to (as much as possible) find a way to be an informed consumer.  At the moment the best way I have found is to see which companies are being transparent.  A good method of rating this is by looking at a businesses G4 report lead by the Global Reporting Initiative.  It will detail everything from their human rights support all the way to their environmental policies hiding nothing in between such as supply chain forced labor and child labor practicies and numbers.  Although these are quite bulky reports, they are quite useful when trying to make a decision on who to use as a supplier, who to invest in, and now who to spend your money on.

I know its a long shot to evaluate every single purchase made, so thats why I'm proposing a sort of comprimise.  Anytime we are going to make a rather large purchase, look first, be informed, and choose the more responsible company to support with your money.  The impact can make a bigger difference than our other efforts, and its rather simple in comparison.  No one is perfect and can monitor each and every transaction, but that one could make the difference between a company deciding to implement a more comprehensive CSR stragey - which can affect thousands upon thousands of people down the line.

Let me know what you think about being an informed consumer? Do you think it has such a large effect, and if so which are your favorite responsible businesses?

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Cheating - The Moral Dilemma

As I have been getting back into the swing of school, I've noticed a huge upturn in the amount students are cheating.  Not only do I find that students are cheating, but that teachers don't consider it such a moral dilemma but instead brush it off as irrelevant.  Has it become the norm these days to quickly bring your phone out during a test?  Have the ideas of cheating stopped spanning to asking for past students what the test questions are?  Have teachers just stopped caring that cheating is typically considered wrong? It seems so.

Of course, I am not just talking about my own school, you can find cheating anywhere in the world.  If you look online you can find the vast amount of ways students have tried to cheat on the Gao Kao, or any other standardised testing.  They go through measures that are sometimes absolutely crazy such as painting their nails with the answers, using 3D glasses, printing on the back of soda labels and much more.  I'm sure that it's not just me that has been noticing it, and I am not here to argue if it is right or wrong. I would like to assume that most people find that it is morally wrong.  What I would like to investigate here on the Responsibility Catalyst is what someone in my position should do as this could be considered more of the "grey area" of this topic.

In my case, I have been on both sides of the coin - someone who reports and also someone who stays quiet.  If I notice someone cheating in class during a test via telephone, it's very inconvenient for me to stop the entire test tell a proctor and take my attention away from my own test just to get someone in trouble.  Although schools oblige students to report any misconduct I find that it puts me in a very bad place.  If I were to report something like that in public - so that the cheating could be proven, I would become the outcast of the class.   This could cause many other repercussions than just being ousted socially but it could also make those who report to not want to speak up in the future.

On the other hand, if I were to report outside the class it would be nearly impossible to prove and thus be irrelevant as well.  Should we even call upon students to be the "rats" of their class?  Even in modern day society whistle-blowers are not those who are deemed successful and many times face serious consequences.  Hasn't your mother ever told you not to be a tattle-tale?  The same principle, in theory, applies here.  So what are you to do?

Finally, to explain my situation. There was one time that I found some people had an advanced version of the test and were using it to cheat on the test the next day.  Unfortunately, this copy happened to end up in my possession - unbeknownst to me until I read what it was.  This, I finally reported to the teacher because it clearly was involving myself and I didn't want to be accused of doing anything of the sort.  So, in response, I reported the cheating - leaving out the names of the students as I did not want my classmates to face consequences.  The teacher promptly replied back to me and said he knew people were cheating, and that he couldn't do anything about it so he would let it carry on.  He sent me a message explaining that in life sometimes the cheaters win - and this is what really opened my eyes to the thought that maybe times have changed and it is not the right thing to do, reporting cheating.

So, based off of these experiences and thoughts I have yet to come up with an acceptable answer to these dilemmas.  What do you think is the right thing to do?  What is the best way to be responsible - let things slide or say something?  If you have an opinion please let me know in the comments below.  Stay responsible! :D

P.S. Thank you all for your patience in waiting for my blog post.  I know it has been a month and a half that I haven't written, but I have just been getting back into school.  Now that I'm settled in for my final semester I will be posting more frequently again.  Thank you!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Lawns, the ultimate waste...

Driving down the street you will see lot after lot sporting a gorgeous green lawn - in the middle of summer.  Maybe you'll even get to see the majestic sprinkler system rise from the ground and start over watering a lawn at mid-day in 100 degree heat.  This is not unusual in the United States and plenty of other countries, but how has this become the norm?  The land that is now used as residential suburbs used to be forests and farms and played a practical role in the environment.  However, these green patches of lawn are just a facade to belonging to nature.  They provide nothing truly beneficial to the homeowner besides curb appeal.  Sometimes not even that, if you look at Arizona - their creative rock and cactus designs are much more appealing than a strip of fake green grass.

I am not just here to complain about the problems that we face, but instead to provide creative solutions.  How about instead of having a front and a back lawn, you limit yourself to just one?  If its necessary in your neighborhood to have a useless green patch in the front; why not design something amazing in the back?  From flowers to vegetables to trees, anything would be a welcome addition.

 Flowers are beneficial because it gives birds and bees and other insects food to eat.  If you live in an area with butterflies or honeybees this could even be helping grow their population and thus saving the world from losing their main pollinators.  

Vegetables are much more practical than flowers as you can do much more than just look at them.  You can create garden fresh meals for many seasons on end if you take the time to cultivate a small garden.  The beauty is that you can plant whatever you'd like, and if you really want to stay small - go for a herb garden that you can keep in a small planter outside before you decide to rip out your lawn entirely.

Lastly, trees are a final solution as it gives a natural habitat to other animals and it can shade your house from the sun instead of just letting the air conditioner do all the work.  Depending on your area you could have bird-nests, places for deer and foxes to hide, rabbit holes, and masses of squirrels and raccoons all living in a habitat your trees provide.  If you're worried about critters getting into your trash either secure it, or focus on one or two of the previous ideas I have suggested.

There are of course other ways to benefit the environment rather than just creating a garden, but its a small step that will actually add value to your back yard.  Practicality doesn't mean it can't be beautiful, and I'm convinced it would be a welcome addition over boring grass.

What do you think about the trend of putting in lawns at every house down the block?

Friday, June 3, 2016

Meat or Veggies - That is the Question!

This article was kindly written by a guest blogger Michelle Lindqvist.  I'd like to say thank you for such an eye opening article - especially for someone like me who eats both meat and veggies.


First of all, I am not going to tell you to go vegetarian or vegan right now. It’s actually quite a big commitment and change in the beginning. With this little blogpost I’ve had the honor to write I would like to create awareness. One does not need to eat meat, fish, poultry etc. every single day.
I have been trying and wanting to write this post for so long, because honestly, this is a subject that I have grown to be extremely passionate about. And I’m guessing all of you know what happens when you become really passionate about something? You wanna shout it from the roof tops, and you wanna get all your opinions, thoughts and information out there in one go. The problem is, this post will have no references, nor will it have anything I can back up. This is just me, and my thoughts on why you should try to eat and use less animal products.

In March 2014 I became a vegetarian, and honestly; I have never looked back. I had previously been told by my doctor that I had to cut out red meat as I had just had kidney failure on both my kidneys and it would help me recover quicker. So instead of cutting out just the red meat I decided to become a vegetarian. For me, having lived in the US, by myself, for almost 3 months at this point and eating mostly vegetarian, the transition wasn’t as hard as I previously imagined. These days I don’t like to label myself, as labeling means restricting yourself. I try to stick to a mostly vegan diet, but I do enjoy cheese and things that contain eggs. Many people are scared that by cutting out animal products they will not get all the nutrients you need, but this is wrong. I get enough protein, and calcium and anything else you can think of!

There is also the ethical side of things; many people will cut out animal products from an ethical stand point. The way animals are produced and grown only to be killed off to be eaten or worn is wrong. There is nothing you can say about that. The argument that we are born meat eaters I believe to be incorrect. We are shaped to believe we should eat meat and drink cow milk. Back in the day we had to go out and hunt our on food, because there was no Safeway or Walmart. Now we should be smarter! There are many people out there who are lactose intolerant, and that is because we are not supposed to drink the milk of cows.  Red meat is hard to digest for our bodies, which is why I “joined the dark side” (aka. The world of vegetarians and vegans). Then of course there is a whole other aspect I haven’t even written about yet. Clothes. Fur. Leather. We do not need to wear the skin of animals! That fur coat, will not necessarily keep you warm, the fur should be on the inside! Today the quality of fake leather and fur can actually be quite good. Therefore, if you really want to wear something that looks like a poor animal had to die for it, go ahead: but please buy faux products (fakes).

They say it takes 21 days to form a habit, but come on, we all know that can feel like an eternity! Therefore, I would like to challenge you:

One week. 7 days. Try it.

For one week I want you to try and eat as vegetarian as possible. Not vegan, but vegetarian. That means no meat, no fish, no pork, no poultry and no seafood. Don’t worry though; there are still plenty of things out there you can eat!

If this is too much, please try to have at least one meat free day. That, most of you should be able to do. But the longer you go without meat, the better you will (usually!) feel. My energy levels went through the roof when I first became a vegetarian.

We all have different reasons for cutting out animal products, but in the end your reasons for doing so don't matter to me - it's all up to you. We are all helping to not only pro long our own lives, and of course the animals’ life but we are also helping the planet.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Eating from my home garden

Spring has finally arrived here in Switzerland!  Although the snow persisted into May I can say that today it seems as if the cold isn't gonna come back (at least not in snow form) for a very long time!  In celebration of the spring I wanted to share will all of you my garden update.  You all saw my garden as it was starting off - with simple seeds.  I am proud to say that I have raised it to grow amazing herbs!  The cilantro is finally fully ready to start harvesting.

Today was the first day that I was able to eat the cilantro.  It is amazing to be able to grow the very things you eat.  It really makes you realize how much water goes into everything we eat.  Even this simple cilantro plant had to be watered constantly before it could become green enough and tall enough to be edible.

I made some nice lime and cilantro rice as a fitting first meal with my newly snipped cilantro pieces - and it was amazing!

I suggest growing simple plants in your own apartment not only for the benefit of providing food but it is actually quite nice to have something green and alive in your own home.  On top of that it makes you realize all the energy that goes into producing the food that we eat.  It really made me understand the quantity needed to produce to supply the whole world with food when a simple potted plant would only be able to supply me with cilantro - a mere garnish to my larger dish of rice.

Of course if would be great for the environment if everyone would be able to pitch into this growing demand of food supply by growing their own little plants.  However, I know that this is far from the solution.  Possibly this can be the start of a bigger community practice.  I did "donate" a tomato plant or two to a few friends as they became interested in the idea.  If a community could put together something small like this - it could at least put a dent in the production demand.

Overall, it is a great welcome to spring - I am glad to see that the plants are able to start growing and it was a tasty treat for all of the gardening time spent with my little cilantro plant.  Happy spring everyone!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Too young? Think again...

This phrase gets passed around over and over and over - with little to no meaning: you're just too young.  What exactly does a person's age have to do with what they are able or not able to do?  Being young does not necessarily mean that you are immature.  There are actually quite a few young people that I would say are more mature than their older counterparts.

The issue with this phrase is not that I want younger people to do stuff that is meant for more mature people, but it is denying a large group of people the opportunity to prove their worthiness.  This comes in the way of denying young people key responsibility roles, all the way to rejecting them for jobs simply because they are "too young".  If they were given this chance and failed - then yes, it's fair to say they were not suitable for the position, but this has nothing to do with their age.

This doesn't just affect the youth of today but it affects the generation below them as well.  Young kids are coddled more than ever before, less trusted, and overall shut off from opportunities that they might have been able to take in earlier days.  This is working against them, not for them - the more protected they are when they are young means the more unprepared they will be when they have to enter the real world.  Mistakes are what help you learn, if they are never able to have these opportunities; they would be severely lacking in life experience by the time they reach adulthood.

What is my suggestion?  I suggest that we should start taking more chances on young people.  What's the worst that happens? They make a mistake or they fail?  Failure is an important part of learning - and if it is really that bad you can fire them/ take away the opportunity.  However, no one ever thinks about WHAT IF they SUCCEED!  Think about how much you could be adding to their life by giving them this simple chance.

This idea wasn't sparked by just one situation of someone saying "you're too young" to me or someone else I know - it is about a continuous trend I've observed these past few years.  Some of these "adults" are going so far as to suggest that young people (above 18 but under 25) should not have rights as an adult, but instead as a child.  Let's stand against this lack of trust in our youth and give them a chance instead.

Let me know what you think about this situation below!

Friday, March 4, 2016

The Maya Boutique Hotel - Going Green in Style

Positioned in the snow covered mountains of Switzerland, overlooking a gorgeous valley, and next to a world class skii resort - how much better could it get?  The Maya Boutique Hotel in Nax, Switzerland out did themselves!  Not only are they located in one of the most beautiful spots in the world but they are protecting the environment by doing what they refer to as "what simply makes sense".  Made out of straw bales and using as little energy as possible, they created a hotel that is unique in all aspects and cannot be found anywhere else.

Their sheer humbleness is what astonished me the most.  They have won many awards in sustainability as well as innovation in major conferences from London to Paris.  Not just that, they are only 3 years old!  The family ran hotel is nothing short of spectacular due to the owners passion for hospitality and "doing the right thing".

It is amazing to find out that the hotel is made completely of straw bales compacted together to make nearly unbreakable and insulating walls.  They are about 3 feet thick and are used everywhere within the hotel from the dining room to the guest bedrooms.  The outer part is covered in plaster, and some places wood.  The wood is mainly there to keep with the traditional swiss chalet theme.  Then the inside is covered with natural clay.  This was a very intelligent choice by the owner as the clay allows the rooms to go without ventilation as the clay absorbs excess moisture and heat.  This is the first hotel ever to be built completely out of straw bales!

In the technical aspects, they have quite a bit of environmentally-friendly energy saving equipment.  To heat hot water they use solar tubes which are extremely efficient, especially in Valais due to the sheer amount of sunshine.  Not just that, they have a clay oven that not only cooks dinner but also heats the whole lodging because it captures excess cooking heat through copper tubing that winds through the entire closed circuit system.  By relying on these two sources of heat along with the straw bale insulation, this hotel barely needs to spend to heat the hotel during the cold swiss winter.  The straw bales work wonders to keep the heat trapped in the hotel during the winter and keep the heat out during the summer.  On top of the interesting heating systems they use, they even have their own personal energy management system.  It is a top of the line personally designed management system that can change the heating elements due to their uses or preferences with the touch of a finger.  It is truly something you need to see in person to understand.

In regards to the design, they decided to keep it eco-swiss.  They try to use as many sustainable materials as possible all the while keeping with the traditional swiss theme to preserve the local culture.  Their worst nightmare would to become a modern looking eyesore on the top of a mountain clashing with the traditional swiss architecture.  To be even more culturally correct, the dividers used to separate each room are made out of clippings from the grape vines that grow all around the valley.  It looks just as amazing as it is sustainable.  Each room has its own look and feel which makes all 8 of their rooms truly unique.

 Finally, in my personal opinion the coolest part of their hotel is their mini sauna chalet.  It is a cute little circular cabin that they made into a sauna - with a view.  On the other side of the sauna they have a window that looks directly over the valley all the way to the other sets of mountains.

Overall this was a great trip!  I really appreciate the Maya Boutique Hotel letting us take this field trip!  I can't wait until I get to stay here as a guest!