Spellbinding ideas for a mindful Halloween


Photo of melting pumpkin witch by Flickr user istolethetv (Creative Commons)

When I was a kid, Halloween was my favorite holiday. Going to my aunt’s house for her annual Halloween party—witch included a makeshift haunted house in the damp basement—was always the highlight of my year. There was nothing more exciting, or scary, than dipping my hands into a bowl of cold spaghetti brains or grabbing peeled grapes I imagined were eyeballs.

As an adult, Halloween is still my favorite. I love how imaginative, silly, and creative people get. I also love that increasingly, people are thinking about how to make Halloween less wasteful and more mindful.

There are a lot of ideas and resources out there; here are a few to spook some inspiration:

Conscious costumes

  • Costume yourself for a cause. Make a statement by dressing up to reflect an issue you’re passionate about and spark conversation over the punch bowl.
  • Reuse your costume from last year, or refashion one from materials lying around in your house. Tree Hugger has some creative suggestions for DIY duds.
  • Plan a charitable contest. This could mean hosting a competition for the greenest costume, and/or donating proceeds to a charity of the winner’s choice.

Green your party

  • Go batty with eco-friendly decor. Browse Etsy for handmade creations, or try making your own from found materials.
  • Support healthy, local food. Green Halloween has lots of ideas to make your party a delicious, gh’oul time.

Thoughtful trick-or-treating

  • Use reusable or recycled bags. And then save them for next year.
  • Walk or bike instead of driving. Besides saving your car from messy pranks, you’ll be helping reduce pollution.
  • Collect coins for UNICEF. Bring the little orange box along, and be part of a tradition that has been ongoing for 60+ years.
  • If you’re staying home, hand out fair trade and organic candy. The Daily Green has suggestions for candy alternatives.

Carve out time to volunteer

  • Consider joining your local crime watch. While it’s not as exciting as ghostbusting, you’ll be doing the neighborhood a favor by helping keep kids safe.
  • Squash litter bugs. Carry an extra bag, and pick up garbage in between collecting goodies.
  • Treat others kindly. Check Idealist.org for local volunteer opportunities and events.

Have more ideas? Leave a comment below!

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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Random(ish) picks for Blog Action Day: Water, water everywhere…


From Flickr user Vinoth Chandar (Creative Commons)

…But not a drop to drink. How many times have you heard that little ditty without pausing to think about what it really means? Did you know that unclean drinking water is the cause of 42,000 deaths a week?* Or that the average five minute shower uses 10 gallons of water, the amount of water an average person in the developing world uses per day.*

In honor of Blog Action Day, we’re bringing you a special round-up of opportunities listed on our site, all about water. Whether you’re the get-your-hands-dirty-type, or the work-from-home-type, there are organizations that can use your help.

Organization: Clean Water Action
Location: Multiple, United States
In their own words:  “Clean Water Action is a national citizens’ organization working for clean, safe and affordable water, prevention of health-threatening pollution, creation of environmentally-safe jobs and businesses, and empowerment of people to make democracy work.”

Organization: Water.org
Location: Kansas City, Missouri, United States
In their own words: “Creating accessible, safe water supplies in developing countries liberates people to live healthier, fuller, more productive lives.”

Organization: PlayPumps Europe
Location: London, England, United Kingdom
In their own words: PlayPumps Europe is working to provide access to clean drinking water to approximately 10 million people in sub-Saharan Africa by donating 4000 PlayPump® water systems to communities in ten sub-Saharan African countries.

Organization: Water, Research and Training Centre (WRTC)
Location: Kamayut Township, Yangon, Myanmar
In their own words: The Water, Research and Training Centre (WRTC) is an Action-oriented Knowledge Centre. It is a non-governmental, non-profit, explicitly apolitical in nature, educational foundation working for the Burmese peoples by promoting and improving their access to research and training opportunities and education in the water and the rural sector in Burma-Myanmar and abroad.

Organization: Water for People–Uganda
Location: Kampala, Uganda
In their own words: We assist people in developing countries to improve quality of life by supporting the development of locally sustainable drinking water resources, sanitation facilities and hygiene education programs.

Job: Manager, Water & Sanitation Program, Iraq
Organization: Save the Children – US Headquarters
In their own words: “Save the Children US, the leading independent organization creating real and lasting change for children in need in the U.S. and around the world seeks a Water & Sanitation Program Manager to be responsible for the implementation of a US$2.4 Mil school and community based water and sanitation program across Iraq (Basra, Thiqar, Missan, Baghdad, Salah Al Din, Kirkuk, Sulaymaniyah and Diyala)”

Volunteer Opportunity: Fund Raiser
Organization: amazon fund international
In their own words: “Amazon Fund International works to conserve nature in culture in the Amazon region by empowering indigenous people, providing them with potable water, sanitation, and opportunities to gain a living from the forest without destroying it.”

Internship: FALL OPPORTUNITY: Social Media Intern
Organization: Food & Water Watch
In their own words: “Food & Water Watch’s long-term mission is to challenge the economic and political forces that are promoting industrialized food production and the commodification of the oceans and fresh water sources.”

Event: 2010 Earth Day Symposium
Organization: St. Louis Earth Day
In their own words: “Planning for Clean Water & Healthy Communities: Historically, symposia have taken place in the spring to include this audience in Earth Day festivities and to provide resources for ongoing improvements in environmental stewardship through governmental leadership. Earth Day symposia typically focus on current challenges and opportunities water quality and storm water management.”

For more listings relating to water, click here.

*Scarily true facts from the folks behind Blog Action Day 2010.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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Planning a wedding? Ten tips for a socially conscious celebration


Thrifted dresses and handmade sashes (Photo: Julia Smith)

I’m getting married this weekend! I’m overjoyed because (a) I get to say “I do” to my favorite person in the world, and (b) my year of planning is coming to an end. When I start thinking about how many hours I spent browsing websites and talking to people in an effort to make our wedding not only reflective of our personalities, but also reflective of our values…well, it starts to make me uneasy.

So in an effort to help other engaged Idealists sift through the clutter, I’d like to pass some of that knowledge along. Here are some ideas for a socially conscious celebration:

Before the wedding

  • Paper-free invites: Services such as Paperless Post can help you design lovely invitations, or simply have people RSVP via a wedding website. Keep in mind, however, that this might be more challenging for guests who don’t use or have access to a computer.
  • Eco-friendly decor: There are myriad ways to make your wedding eco-chic, from plateware to stationery to even your venue choice. Check out Hitched blog and the I Do Foundation for some green inspiration.
  • Local vendors: Find caterers or restaurants who use locally grown, seasonal ingredients.
  • Handmade accessories: Support the movement by buying from smaller artists on Etsy. With their new wedding section, they’ve already done half the work for you.
  • Do-it-yourself projects. Explore your creativity and save some money and resources while you’re at it by getting crafty. DIY Bride is a great site to peruse for innovative ideas.

During the wedding

  • Charitable favors: Instead of knick-knacks that will most likely collect dust, donate to a nonprofit on behalf of your guests. Or help repopulate the Earth’s flora by giving nicely designed plantable seed paper as favors.
  • Minimal gift table clutter: While having a fancy Lenox picture frame might seem enticing, what about having your friends and family gift you experiences instead? Try a site like Wisegifter to help you afford the honeymoon you’ve always dreamed of.

After the wedding

  • Generous leftovers: A lot of food banks will accept surplus food; check Idealist for services in your area. Make sure you call ahead beforehand, as there can be strict guidelines for accepting food.
  • Reusable wedding dress: While it may sound tempting to wrap your dress in plastic and save it for future generations, there’s someone who could probably use that dress right now. Brides Against Breast Cancer, for example, refashions donated dresses, and uses the proceeds to support the Making Memories Breast Cancer Foundation. (I know that for some folks, this is a tough one. If you’re not quite ready to give it away, try redesigning your dress yourself into something you can wear again.)
  • “Honeyteer”: Go somewhere beautiful and relaxing – and use some of that down time to volunteer. In addition to searching Idealist for opportunities, browse sites like GoAbroad to find an ideal placement. Also take a look at Idealist’s International Volunteerism Resource Center for tips and advice on how to get started.

If you’ve tied the knot lately or are about to, what other ideas come to mind?

This list was compiled with the help of our friend Leigh Ann Smith, the editor of From Hello to Hitched.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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Does this Backpack Come in Green?: A New Semester Brings New Ways to Save (the Planet)

Amy Potthast served as Idealist’s Director of Service and Graduate Education Programs until 2011. Read more of her work at amypotthast.com.


From Pink Sherbet Photography (Creative Commons)

Back-to-school time can bring on a flurry of spending, from kindergartners’ crayons to college textbooks. Several campaigns are underway to help you be a green consumer as you shop for supplies and begin your new routine.

Be a “Back-to-Cool” Consumer with ClimateCounts.org

If you’ve ever wanted to compare companies easily so you can vote for climate-friendly products with your dollars, you’re in luck. Climate Counts is a nonprofit that scores companies on their environmental practices and impact. So far they’ve scored 140 companies (from airlines and hotels to media and pharmaceuticals). By searching the site’s scorecards you can see the scores for several companies in each category, and whether they are “striding,” “starting,” or “stuck.” You can also quickly send companies a message to let them know that climate change is important to you as a consumer.

Climate Counts’ Back-to-Cool Campaign is examining back-to-school advertising across a number of categories (apparel, food products, internet/software, electronics), and educating consumers about how they can express their values to companies making these products.

Chegg Textbook Rental and Re-sale

Chegg—that name is a combination of “chicken” and “egg”—is a company that rents college textbooks, and plants a tree each for each student who rents. Chegg also allows you to resell your textbooks, putting cash in your pocket while diverting your books from the landfill and saving trees.

In my day we borrowed textbooks from the library, but in case that’s not possible where you are, Chegg might be a brilliant alternative.

Teens Turning Green and Project Green Dorm

Teens Turning Green is a network of young people who actively seek a greener way of life. They’re running Project Green Dorm, a campaign that offers on-campus students a no-frills guide to establishing and sustaining a green lifestyle at school: Buy antique and/or vintage furniture instead of newly manufactured stuff; steer towards organic and natural-fiber linens for your bed; and don’t forget to create a recycle bin! The Project’s tips range from using energy-efficient lightbulbs in your study area to carrying the “e-gadgets” with the best carbon footprint.

What are your tips for greening your school year?

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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A Little Bit More: Making Do with What You've Got

You’ve probably heard the old adage, “make do and mend,” a phrase made popular during wartime to encourage people to fix anything that was broken instead of tossing it in the garbage. But sometimes, unless you’re awesome with a hammer, it can be difficult to know what to do with broken parts. Enter makedo, a DIY kit that contains eco-friendly fasteners, hingers, tools and more to help connect the stuff around you. It’s great for creating toys—from giant robots to princess castles—as well as more useful objects, such as a small boat. (I’m not joking.)

A makedo gorilla, via Flickr user OliverBishopYoung

I love how makedo encourages you to look at the world through a more eco-friendly lens, and re-examine the value of the stuff around you, by pairing imagination with sustainability. People who live in the United States throw out up to 56 tons of trash each year, according to the Clear Air Council. That’s a lot. By transforming your unwanted items into fun or practical objects, you can help reduce waste — and reduce your budget.

You can buy the makedo kit from Australia for $25 (U.S. currency). But in the spirit of wasting less, why not make one yourself? See what’s lying around in your house or shed, and check out the site for some inspiration. (Another cool website that features recycled goods is ReUse Connection.) You can also spread the philosophy of making do in your own community by reading up on makedo’s educational resources and workshops.

We’d love to hear more about environmentally conscious creativity. Anyone take on a project refashioning found parts recently?

Our series A Little Bit More highlights the “little somethings” that people and organizations can do to respond to the needs around them — things that, if done by many people all around the world, add up to make a big impact.
[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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Going Green on Earth Day and Beyond

Earth Day is coming up! Mark your calendars for April 22 and scope out the festivities in your area, as well as some environmental volunteer opportunities.

It’s also a great time to get informed about all the amazing and challenging environmental work already going on around the country and the world. After all, most people working on environmental initiatives don’t wait for Earth Day to take action.

For many Peace Corps Volunteers, for example, every day on the job is dedicated to environmental action—14 percent of its 8,079 Volunteers are working specifically on environment-related projects in 38 different countries. In Armenia, Peace Corps Volunteer Rud Hubbard helped to create a program to train local agricultural advisors in sustainable and organic farming practices. In Jamaica, Volunteer Brooke Anderson is working to develop a World Oceans Day event to raise awareness about the effects of climate change on the ocean.

Back in the U.S., the recent anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination was also a perfect time to focus on the environment: 1,000 people gathered in Memphis, Tennessee, for the Dream Reborn conference, hosted by Green For All and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. As Van Jones, the founder of Green For All, said in his opening remarks, “Dr. King linked the solutions of civil rights, peace, and economic opportunity. We must link the solutions of social justice, peace, and ecological sanity. Our new dream must uplift the people and the planet, too. This is the calling of our time.” Read an early report from the conference on RaceWire.

Will you do something special for Earth Day this year? Leave a comment to spread the word.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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Share Resources at Black. Brown. Green.

Since our blog entry a few months ago about the Green-Collar Jobs Campaign, we were excited to learn about another project that addresses environmental issues through an innovative lens. Black. Brown. Green. is “a web portal of resources and information that integrate people of color and our needs and issues with the movement for environmental sustainability.”

Black. Brown. Green., which is open to anyone, aims to get beyond the all-too-common separation of social, racial, and environmental issues. Participants will address important issues that are not usually paired together: examining, for example, the trend of international and local adoption of children, and its impact on the global population crisis as well as the children’s lives and identities.

As a brand new website, Black. Brown. Green. is asking for your contributions to help it reach its full potential! Anyone can post articles, resources, and videos about how to live an environmentally friendly life, the history of people of color in environmental activism, and what issues and movements are happening now.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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