Today’s Solutions: May 30, 2023

Ode’s annual pick of products that are good for the body, the mind and the planet.

Marco Visscher, Dan Schank, EmilyAviles and Gene Ruda | April/May 2010 issue
{ 1 } ECOlunchbox: Reusable lunch kits
Many of us fill our lunches—or our children’s lunches—with individually packaged foods and other plastic containers that go straight into the garbage after use. Why not smarten up our lunches? thought Sandra Ann Harris, founder of ECOlunchbox, based in the San Francisco Bay Area. So she created reusable cotton lunch bags that can be sported as backpacks, slings and shoulder or hip bags. Harris’ bags are colorfully dyed in India, and are handmade, ­sweatshop-free and machine-washable. Each bag contains three cotton napkins, a stainless steel two-tier food container and a bamboo “spork.” By taking the plastic waste out of a packed lunch, we’re left with only good, compostable waste like apple cores and banana peels. – ECOlunchbox kit, $45
{ 2 } KIND: Snack bars
In 1994, New York-based attorney-turned-consultant Daniel Lubetzky started PeaceWorks, a natural foods company he called a “not-only-for-profit.” After 10 years of experimenting, Lubetzky and his team of nutritional and social engineers were ready to tackle the challenge of creating a healthy snack that tastes great and brings about peace. So he founded a company, KIND, with a flagship product—the KIND bar. KIND bars are full of fruit and nuts (check out the almond, walnut & macadamia high-protein bar in particular), but it doesn’t stop there. Five percent of profits go to the PeaceWorks foundation, which creates specialty food products in areas of high conflict. PeaceWorks works with Israelis, Palestinians, Egyptians, South Africans, Turks, Indonesians and Sri Lankans, who make everything from energy bars, noodles and sauces to pesto and tapenades. In 2008, KIND launched an online platform that maps, tracks and inspires “not-so-random” acts of kindness—a.k.a. “KINDINGS”—using coded “KIND” cards. – KIND bar, $1.75-$2
{ 3 } Worn Again: Bon Voyage series
When the hot air balloon known as the ­G-TVBF “Tango” finished its final flight for Virgin Group, it wasn’t destined for demise at the local dump. Instead, Richard Branson’s famous corporation partnered with Worn Again, a U.K.-based “upcycling” company that transforms corporate waste into sporty wearables and accessories. Worn Again’s savvy designers transformed the balloon into the Virgin Bon Voyage collection, a series of shoulder bags, women’s parkas and unisex hoodies for the green consumer who may love the Earth even more than high fashion.
Christopher Raeburn, one of the U.K.’s youngest, hippest and most ethical designers, envisioned the collection. In 2008, Raeburn won the Ethical Fashion Forum’s Innovation competition by transforming decommissioned military textile stock into chic, sustainable jackets for women. His raincoats made inspired use of parachute fabric, so Worn Again encouraged him to take the logical next step with the material. For the Bon Voyage collection, he preserved the bright, bold red of the Virgin logo and added funky flourishes of his own, including screen-printed technical drawings, wide hoods and a sporty, urban aesthetic.
Some of the money you spend on the Bon Voyage series goes to the U.K. charity Anti-Apathy, which promotes and supports creative, sustainable lifestyles through design projects and online initiatives. Since the summer of 2009, Worn Again has begun working exclusively with materials sourced within the U.K., and has shifted production from places like Portugal and China to local, family-run workshops in East London. And where else can you find a handbag that spent its youth in the skies of England, Scotland and Wales? – Unisex hoodie, $127; shoulder bag, $25.25
{ 4 } English Tea Store: Lapsang Souchong China Black Tea
Okay, this is not a tea everybody likes. In fact, you will probably either love it or reach for the bucket. We love it. This certified organic tea, which comes in loose leaves, has a rich flavor with, as the producers describe it, “the heady aroma of a campfire.” That’s not without reason. Lapsang leaves are smoke-dried over pine wood fires. That smoking process is said to have been discovered by accident, during China’s Qing dynasty, from the mid-17th to the early 20th century. The annual drying of the tea leaves in the hills of Wuyi, on the country’s southeast coast, was delayed when an army unit camped in a tea factory where fresh leaves awaited processing. When the soldiers finally left, the manufacturers needed to speed up the drying process to get to market in time. That’s when they lit fires made from local pines, and discovered the result was quite extraordinary. – 4 oz., $3.50; 16 oz., $10.24
{ 5 } Livity OuterNational: Fireball Fedoras
Surf, skate and ski enthusiast Isaac Nichelson founded Livity OuterNational in 2001. He soon established the company as a pioneer in the eco-fashion industry, making a splash with his colorful and creative hats, especially fedoras, which are worn by some of Hollywood’s glitterati. The Fireball Fedora, hand-woven with a natural raffia from Madagascar, is a Livity classic. The hats are available in natural, black, purple and brown, and the twill headbands and inner linings are made from a blend of hemp and organic cotton. “Livity” is Jamaican patois for a free, healthy and ­righteous ­lifestyle of sustainability and unity. We’ll tip our Fireball Fedoras to that. – Fedora, $42
{ 6 } Kombucha Botanica: Healthy Living Tonics
Adam Goodman, founder of Kombucha Botanica, likes to recount a story about scientists who set out to find the world’s highest concentration of centenarians. They discovered a mountaintop village in Russia where a fermented tea called “kombucha” seemed to be responsible for the inhabitants’ remarkable longevity. Everybody had a jar of it brewing in the house. Inspired by the tale, Goodman set up shop as a “kombuchero” in Santa Cruz, California, and started making his own brews. Kombucha Botanica drinks come in several distinctive and refreshing flavors as well as in a range of sizes. – 16 ozs, $3.59
{ 7 } CleanFish: Arctic char
Founders of the San Francisco seafood company CleanFish believe that “by sourcing delicious seafood from people who care, we can spark a return back to healthy oceans and regenerative ecosystems.” To achieve that goal, its Wild Nunavut Arctic char are caught using artisanal methods. The intensely cold, pristine Arctic waters in which the char live increase their fat and oil content, giving the fish a firm texture, complex flavor and high omega-3 content. As a result, Arctic char have really caught on. Last year, Inuit-owned and -operated Kitikmeot Foods nearly doubled the amount of char it exports. Despite demand, the firm doesn’t plan to increase its catch further. “We don’t overharvest,” says plant co-manager Monique Giroux. “We harvest what we need.” – $14-$20/lb. fresh/retail
{ 8 } Straus Family Creamery: Cream-Top Whole Milk
The Straus family has had a dairy farm on the shores of Tomales Bay in northern California for almost 70 years. In the early 1960s, after reading Rachel Carson’s classic Silent Spring, which documented the damaging effects of pesticides on the environment, Ellen Straus became the driving force behind the family’s commitment to sustainability. In 1994, the farm was the first certified organic dairy west of the Mississippi River. Now, it has installed a digester that captures the methane from the cow manure and converts this harmful greenhouse gas into electricity. The cows behind Straus Family Creamery’s milk, yogurt, butter and ice cream are on a vegetarian diet of fresh grass, grains, hay, legumes and silage. None of it is treated with herbicides, pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Straus’ milk is pasteurized differently than other milk: It’s heated at 170 degrees Fahrenheit, 77 degrees Celsius (not 280 degrees Fahrenheit, 130 degrees Celsius) to preserve the distinct taste. And distinct it is. According to the Straus family, you can taste the sweet grasses that sip the foggy, salty air of the Pacific coast. – 1 gallon, $4.19
{ 9 } Skoy cloth
In every kitchen there are bound to be spills, splatters, and other accidents that require cleaning. Stay-at-home moms Michelle Lundqvist and Karen Petersen of Encinitas, California, used to turn to paper towels—until they decided to work together to bring an eco-friendly cloth product to the U.S. Thus the Skoy cloth was born. This European cloth is made of cotton and wood-based cellulose pulp. It’s durable, biodegradable and compostable; a recent composting test showed it breaks down in five weeks and can absorb 15 times its weight in moisture; the lifetime use of the cloth replaces 15 rolls of paper towels. Its name comes from the Swedish word “skoj,” meaning “just for fun.” Yet this product is ecologically aware, too. – 4 pack, $5.99
{ 10 } Flavrz Drink Mix: fruit concentrates
Karen Barth, a Harvard MBA who spent 10 years as a business consultant to the beverage industry, thought she knew drinks. That is, until she started buying them for her young family. Walking down the drink aisle in the supermarket, she just couldn’t find a drink she liked—so she decided to make one with organic fruit concentrates. When the neighborhood kids gave her the thumbs up, she knew she was on to something. She called it Flavrz Drink Mix, which creates and distributes healthy drinks with certified organic ingredients. Flavrz contains real fruit juice, fruit extracts and fruit flavorings. The beverages are low in sugar, contain no preservatives and are sweetened naturally using organic agave nectar and evaporated organic cane sugar. – 3 16-oz. bottles, $17.97
{ 11 } Alter Eco: Thai White Jasmine Rice
Rice is a staple, but it is rarely an exciting one. San Francisco’s Alter Eco is changing that with its delicious Thai White Jasmine Rice. In Thailand, the rice is known as “Hom Malee” and many treasure its natural, fragrant aroma. Its certified organic grains contain vitamins B1, B2 and niacin, as well as minerals like calcium, iron and phosphorus. The rice comes from the Isan plateau in northeastern Thailand, where it’s planted in mid-May and harvested in November or December by the Surin collective. Alter Eco works with the collective according to fair-trade guidelines, with certification from TransFair USA. The collective owns and operates a facility devoted to de-husking, sorting and packaging the product. Green compost, in the form of plant and animal waste, provides all the fertilizer the collective needs. And Alter Eco is committed to erasing its carbon footprint with a major reforestation project at the cocoa farms of the Peruvian Amazon. – 1 lb., $4.99
{ 12 } Better for Babies: Little Beetle Hemp Original
All kids produce waste. Some of it is avoidable, and some is inevitable. But a cloth diaper like the Little Beetle Hemp Original from Better for Babies can contain your child’s most inevitable waste without adding anything to the landfill. The clever, sturdy diaper includes three comfy layers of hemp/organic blend woven into an absorbent terry. A foldable, semi-attached booster keeps even heavy wetters tidy, happy and healthy. Cloth diapers require some upkeep, so try to hand wash them when possible. If you’re ­skittish about switching to cloth, the website offers plenty of practical advice about sanitation and storage. Better for Babies was founded by Leah Carter, a mother of two who wanted something comfortable and sustainable for her own children in ­Atlanta, Georgia. Carter is also the chair of the Real Diaper Industry Association, which works to improve business conditions in the cloth diaper industry through outreach and ­instructional ­initiatives. Better for Babies also offers hemp wipes, and wool undies and training pants for older children. – Cloth diaper, $18.95
{ 13 } Organic Essence: Lip balm and shea cream
Each year, 250 million plastic lip balm tubes are thrown away, leaching hormone disrupters and carcinogens into the environment. Enter Organic Essence’s packaging. The jars and tubes are biodegradable, potential additions to your home compost. The containers are made from post-consumer waste and recycled paper, which break down with help from an organic biodegradable glaze. The label is printed with soy ink and affixed with an organic adhesive. Organic Essence lip balms and shea creams are just as delightful as their packaging. Fairly traded organic shea and cocoa butters leave your skin feeling nourished, not greasy. Creams and balms come in an array of flavors. – Lip balm, $4.99; 4 oz. shea cream, $24.99
{ 14 } Hope’s Harvest: Coconut oil
Utah is about as far away from Kenya as you can get—geographically, geologically and culturally. Despite that, the folks at Redmond Trading Company, which mines salt in Utah, have forged a lucrative partnership with rural Kenyans. At a conference in 2007, a Redmond Trading representative spoke of the health benefits of combining natural salt and coconut oil. In attendance was Louis Pope, founder of Kenya’s Yehu microloans project, who asked if Redmond would consider marketing coconut oil made by Yehu-funded businesses. That’s how Hope’s Harvest Extra Virgin Coconut Oil was born.
The alliance between Hope’s Harvest, Yehu and its microfinanced businesses provides desperately needed jobs to the people of rural Kenya. The makers of the oil, many of them women, now have the income and inspiration to fund their children’s educations and launch businesses of their own. As a symbol of this renewed growth, the company plants a coconut tree each time a new employee begins work. With that kind of dedication to social change, Hope’s Harvest has certainly earned its name. – Coconut oil, 16 ozs., $13.99
{ 15 } Veja footwear: Tauá trainer
At first glance, Veja’s Tauá trainers appear classic, simple and casual. But their bold colors, low soles and minimal stitching give them a chic, contemporary look as well. The French company’s sneakers seem stylish and effortless at once, suitable for a quick stroll to the corner store or a long night on the town.
While Veja’s aesthetic may seem effortless, its approach to production is surprisingly careful and remarkably transparent. The trainers are made with organic cotton from the Brazilian town of Tauá, which gives the shoes their name. The soles come from rubber harvested in the Amazon rainforest, one of the only regions where it grows in the wild.
Veja uses a technology called FDL (folha desfumada liquida, or “liquid smoke sheet” in English) to allow rubber tappers to transform latex into rubber sheets without an intermediary industrial process. All of the packaging is made from recycled and reusable cardboard, and the company’s factory in southern Brazil is certified by Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO). In addition, Veja employs what it calls a “zero zero” strategy: zero advertising is permitted, which allows higher wages to go to workers, and zero stock is produced beyond what has been ordered six months in advance.
In its French warehouse, Veja works in partnership with Ateliers Sans Frontières (ASF), a non-profit that helps people facing social exclusion find meaningful work. At the firm’s “e-shop,” ASF workers are often in charge of printing, preparing and packing orders. Veja also recently produced a limited edition Tauá trainer exclusively available at the Merci charity boutique in Paris, with all the proceeds going to a children’s charity in Madagascar. The principals are even honest about the firm’s shortcomings. Check out the “limitations” section of the website to read about the problems they face. – Tauá Trainer, $143
{ 16 } Peak Organic Brewing Company: Maple Oat Ale
During the 1990s, Jon Cadoux’ fondness for home brewing grew into an obsession. As his culinary skills developed, so did his interest in sustainability. He began working with organic farmers throughout New England, and with their help his brews grew tastier. Eventually, what began as a hobby turned into a career—and Peak Organic Brewery became a noteworthy addition to the growing community of small craft beer vendors in the U.S.
Peak Organic’s Maple Oat Ale is smooth, balanced, earthy and unique. There is a robustness to its flavor, and its maple sweetness gives it a rewarding aftertaste. Better still, all its organic ingredients come from farms surrounding Peak’s headquarters in Portland, Maine. The ale’s oats are handmade in the foothills of the state’s White Mountains, and the maple syrup comes from Butternut Mountain Farms in Morrisville, Vermont. Peak Organic’s Maple Oat Ale is produced in partnership with the non-profit Chefs Collaborative, a Boston-based network of chefs working toward a sustainable food system through workshops and community initiatives.
Peak Organic Brewery was created “to celebrate life’s peak moments.” In keeping with the company’s grassroots spirit, the website allows beer lovers to share their own “peak experiences” through photos, images and stories. Visit the site and you’ll see skateboarders, swimmers, ­backpackers—even skydivers. These individual moments exemplify what’s exciting about a company like Peak Organic Brewery: its strong sense of community and its dedication to sustainable, delectable experiences. – Six pack of Maple Oat Ale, $31.25
{ 17 } EcoSisters: Recycled wool dryer ball
From the landfill to your dryer, EcoSisters’ handmade wool dryer balls offer an environmentally friendly way to curb energy use. Minnesota sisters Julie Snow and Tara Troge transform discarded wool garments into dryer balls that cut static, reduce wrinkles, decrease lint and soften fabrics. They also lift and separate clothes rotating in the dryer to enhance airflow, thus making the dryer more efficient; drying time can be reduced up to 40 percent. The sisters found that even more good can come if manufacturers replace their plastic dryer balls with ones made from recycled wool. Most of them are made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Making PVC releases hydrochloric acid and potentially carcinogenic dioxins into the air and water. Not so with wool, a natural, sustainable fiber. – 2 dryer balls, $20
{ 18 } Khaya Cookies: Orange Rooibos Shortbread
This buttery shortbread with natural ingredients, no preservatives and lots of antioxidants is delicious, especially with a glass of dessert wine. It’s even more delicious if you know the company’s story. That story begins with Alicia Polak. Polak always dreamed of joining an international aid organization. She got an internship at the UN in South Africa, but eventually ended up using her Masters of Business Administration as an investment banker for a financial advising firm on Wall Street, a career path with a bitter twist. Something didn’t feel right, so she gave up her job, traveled back to South Africa, and in 2004 set up the Khaya Cookie Company in Cape Town’s Khayelitsha township, home to 2 million people living well below the poverty line. Polak set out to do with chocolate chip cookies what Ben & Jerry’s has been doing with ice cream: creating and redistributing wealth. Her company hired previously unemployed people, mostly women, and turned them into artisan bakers who receive training in business and life skills. Now, the Khaya Cookie Company employs more than 500 South Africans and supplies high-end establishments, including top hotels and restaurants. After Polak sold the company to local South Africans, she founded the U.S. distribution center to introduce these gourmet cookies to the American market. – 4.6 oz. box, $5
{ 19 } Crofter’s Organic: SuperFruit Spreads
Twenty years ago, Gerhard and Gabi Latka emigrated from urban Germany to rural Canada with an old kettle, some back-to-basics values and an entrepreneurial vision. Gerhard’s family had been supplying flavorings to food manufacturers in Europe for generations. Back then, there was no formal definition of “organic” and no government certification. Together with their so-called “mad scientist,” biochemist and jam meister John Warner, the Latkas developed innovative manufacturing techniques and built loyal grower relationships. The jams they make are market leaders in North America and the “Crofter’s Standard” far surpasses country-specific organic certification requirements.
Last year Crofter’s launched a fabulous line of jams using high antioxidant fruit and the moniker “SuperFruit Spreads.” Each of the four flavors celebrates sustainably grown, certified-organic superfruit from a different region of the world. And each is sweetened with fair trade cane sugar. Our favorite is the Asia flavor, blended with goji berries and yumberries from China. – 11 ozs., $4.99
{ 20 } Organic Spirits Company: Papagayo Organic Rum
Having produced Juniper Green Organic Gin, a favorite of the British royal family, Organic Spirits Company Managing Director Christopher Parker was already a pioneer of certified organic spirits. He keeps innovating, though, producing a certified blended Scotch whisky and the world’s first certified organic and fair trade single estate rum, Papagayo. Parker’s search for an appropriate supply brought him to Paraguay; there, in the 1990s, industrialist Eduardo Felippo had begun an organic farm to assist the poorly paid sugarcane farmers in a village north of the capital city, Asunción. Now, 800 families grow organic sugarcane, for which they receive a fair price. And the sugarcane syrup produced by Otisa Sugar Mill is the raw material from which Papagayo Organic Rum is distilled. – 750 ml, $28

Print this article
More of Today's Solutions

Houseplants proven to eliminate surprising quantity of carcinogenic toxins

We all want to breathe in clean, crisp air no matter where we are, but this is especially true when we are within our ...

Read More

An easy method for making your own baking yeast at home

If your local grocery store is out of yeast, don’t panic! You can make your own baking yeast at home in your own kitchen ...

Read More

The simple solution protecting one of Africa’s rarest monkeys

The Zanzibar red colobus is an endangered monkey species native only to the Zanzibar archipelago with precious few numbers to lose. About half of ...

Read More

Could crocodiles help defeat hearing loss?

Around 1.5 billion people worldwide live with impaired hearing, this can create significant problems for these individuals and often reduce the perceived quality of ...

Read More