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EnvironDesign Notebook: Wonderfully, Positively (Not Very Funny) Green

While the majority of environmental improvements are seldom humorous, success stories are becoming more frequent—possibly indicating a more serious global dedication to sustainable initiatives.

By Keri Luly

While the majority of environmental improvements are seldom humorous, success stories are becoming more frequent—possibly indicating a more serious global dedication to sustainable initiatives.

There are chemicals in food and mothers' milk. Forest clearcutting causes landslides. Children in developing countries sort toxic e-waste. Endangered species are disappearing. Glaciers are retreating. How does an environmentalist face the day with so many dire situations across the globe?

I began writing this article with the intention of proving that there is a lighter side to the subject of the environment. After a day of searching online for green jokes, my only laugh (more like a chuckle) was from Boulder's Coyote Bob kids' page. (Why do seagulls live near the sea? If they lived by the bay, they'd be bagels!) Most green jokes—where talk show hosts took jabs at politicians for their actions—were more depressing than funny. (Okay, I have to share this Dan Quayle (remember him?) environmental quote: "It isn't pollution that's harming the environment; it's the impurities in our air and water that are doing it.") I searched Grinning Planet, Daily Green Jokes (a site that stopped trying in 2008), and 20 other sites promising green jokes before I gave up. George Carlin had one that wasn't totally discouraging (kilometers are shorter than miles; save gas, take your next trip in kilometers), but I hope it was funnier when he delivered it.

Looking back, the world is a better place today than a couple of decades ago—still with considerable room for improvement, of course. I hope that, after reading a few successes, you'll all feel uplifted and won't mind the green humor shortage.


  • The Congo Basin Forest Partnership—made up of heads of state, conservation organizations, local citizens, and donor organizations— recently celebrated 10 years of hard work against difficult obstacles, such as war and illegal poaching. The Basin's 3.7 million square kilometers contains 400 mammal species and more than 10,000 plant species (one-third of which are found nowhere else). Additionally, the forest stores an estimated 46 billion metric tons of carbon. The Partnership's accomplishments include1:
    • 34 protected areas; 61 community-based natural resource management areas; and 34 extractive resource areas zoned for conservation management, covering 126 million acres (more than one-third of the Basin forests).
    • More than 11.5 million acres of forest certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).
    • More than 5,000 local people trained in conservation, land use planning and related conservation capacities.
    • An overall rate of deforestation estimated to be a relatively low 0.17 percent (one-third of Brazil's rate and one-tenth of Indonesia's).
    • Improving survival rates of some endangered species, in spite of illegal poaching. E.g., the population of mountain gorillas is up 17 percent over a census taken 20 years ago.


  1. World Wildlife Fund, 2009. Congo Basin Heads of State and Conservation Groups Celebrate 10 Years of Success in Saving the World's Second Largest Rainforest.
    (NOTE: this URL does begine with "wwf," NOT "www")
  4. National Marine Fisheries Service testimony to U.S. House of Representatives, October 27, 2009
  8. New York Times, August 31, 2010
In addition, as of September 2010, there are 134.34 million hectares of FSC-certified forests in the world, and in May 2010, Canada's Boreal Forest pledged to certify 72 million hectares (75 percent of Canada's forestland)2.

When fully implemented, the two principles of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act are successful in restoring the fish stocks that Americans depend on for food and economic well-being. The principles seem basic—don't overfish and rebuild populations that are depleted—but there are constant efforts to weaken them. Successes include several popular, but vanishing fish3.

  • Recovered: the Atlantic Scallop, the Mid-Atlantic Bluefish, and the Pacific Lingcod.
  • Recovering: the Mid-Atlantic Summer Flounder (expected to recover fully before 2013) and the Gulf Red Snapper.

Work underway could triple the economic value of many U.S. fisheries by adding 500,000 jobs and generating $31 billion in sales4.

In April of this year, the Goldman Environmental Prize, the world's largest prize for grassroots environmentalists, honored six new recipients. The $150,000 prize recognizes individuals for sustained and significant efforts to protect and enhance the natural environment—often at great personal risk. In many places, such activism can result in imprisonment and even death. The prize was launched 20 years ago on philanthropist Richard Goldman's 70th birthday, and each year, six new recipients are announced (representing the six inhabited continental regions of the world).

The recognition has led to other successes for the recipients. E.g., one later became the first environmentalist to win a Nobel Peace Prize and another, a former rubber tapper, became his country's Minister of the Environment. Reading their stories, and those of their predecessors, will give you renewed hope in humankind5.

Estuaries are areas where freshwater from rivers mixes with saltwater from oceans, and they are among the most biologically productive places on Earth. They provide fish and wildlife habitat and sustain billions of dollars' worth of commercial fisheries, recreational fisheries, and tourism. Estuaries are threatened largely because they are considered desirable places to live.

The National Estuaries Partnership6 has created 28 long-term partnerships of government, businesses, local citizens, and academia, using consensus building and educational outreach to build solutions. These groups have protected and restored more than 1 million acres of habitat (approximately the size of the state of Rhode Island) since 2000.

The most plentiful, positive green news must surely be in our built environment. A brownfield site in a poor Boston neighborhood is being redeveloped as a LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) pilot project; while on the opposite coast, a car-oriented San Francisco commercial site is using LEED-ND to transform into a mixed-use, pedestrian focused infill.




Keri Luly has elected to donate her monetary compensation for the articles she writes to an environmentally proactive organization of her choosing. This issue, she has selected World Wildlife Fund, whose mission is to stop the degradation of our planet's natural environment, and build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature. To achieve this, they work with many partners to save biodiversity and reduce humanity's impact on natural habitats. The decisions, actions and inactions of one species—ours—over the next decade will determine the fate of all life on Earth. Visit to learn more.

Looking indoors, consider the abundance of lower VOC products in the market. It is now, finally, possible to go to home improvement stores in small towns and find low VOC paints, adhesives, and other materials. And consider lighting. LED light bulbs (if Energy Star qualified) use 75 percent less energy and last 35-50 times longer than incandescent bulbs. Pretty amazing, but the side effect could be the elimination of a small source of green humor: How many life-cycle assessors does it take to change a light bulb? Two—one to change it and one to change it back after more data comes in7.

Speaking of consumer goods, even small town grocery stores are featuring organic food. Excessive, non-recyclable packaging is still a big problem with our food supply, but I'm happy to report that some French champagne makers have redesigned their bottles to make them lighter, reducing the CO2 from transporting them by 200,000 metric tons per year8. (Fun, if not funny.)

I'm not sure these are (as claimed) humanity's greatest environmental successes, but Discover magazine ( found some real gems and they're a quick read online9.

I hope these examples provide some encouragement to those who strive to make the world a better place. I still think that there must be some humor in the environment somewhere. So, here's my challenge question to readers: Why did the free range, organic, locally grown, antibiotic-free turkey cross the road?

Keri Luly, LEED AP, is Allsteel's stewardship coordinator and regular contributor to EnvironDesign Notebook. She can be reached at