Read About One SGA Staff’s Approach to Zero Waste

Remember the last time you said you were going to start a new diet, go to the gym, or eat healthier? (To be honest, we make those pledges at least once a week too!) While the intentions are great, for many of us, taking those first steps is hard to do. But once we force ourselves to get over the initial hurdles, it is a little easier to adapt to the diet every day until eventually, they become routine. Well, the same can be said for adopting pro-environmental behaviors. The more you do it, the more it becomes ingrained.

To help people understand the process of becoming more environmentally friendly, one SGA staff member has documented her first steps in reducing her carbon footprint and embracing a zero-waste lifestyle.  As a vegetarian, Carolina Gonzalez (Project Manager) has always felt a kinship with nature and environmental issues. Adopting a zero-waste mentality was a natural progression. Zero-waste is about reducing what we need/consume and reusing as much as possible in an effort to reduce what we send to landfills.

“Having moved nine times in the last eight years, I’ve definitely seen the freedom that comes with owning fewer things. Now, I’m beginning the challenge of creating less waste in the world as well,” Carolina says.

One of the tenets of going zero-waste is to reduce the amount of waste entering the home in the first place. So how is Carolina accomplishing this? With a little planning, she has reduced the amount of waste she brings in every time she shops or goes out to eat. Instead of simply telling you how she has been doing this, we are going to go shopping with Carolina so she can show you how to practice zero-waste tactics in your own life.


PRE-SHOPPING: Choose a Grocery Store That Has a Bulk Item Section
Some chain grocery stores have them, but these will more often than not be small, private or local companies.

PRE-SHOPPING: Don’t Leave Home Without Reusable Bags and Storage Containers
Just before Carolina heads out to the grocery store, she does a quick check for: her shopping list, small reusable cloth bags and glass containers for food items, and larger grocery/ tote bags to transport everything.
“I prefer cloth bags, but you can use any reusable bag. Glass containers are good because store employees can tare the glass container easily before items are placed inside.”

Why use cloth bags? Because plastic and paper bags use a lot of energy to produce. Unfortunately, many paper bags are made from trees, not recycled paper, while plastic bags are made from byproducts of oil or natural gas. Not to mention, many cities these days have ordinances that make you pay for paper or plastic bags. Some people choose to reuse their paper or plastic bags, but these can only last for so long before they have to be thrown out, so your best option is to try to avoid them in the first place!

What about the glass containers? According to Carolina, glass containers are best used for items in the deli section like sandwich meat, olives or cheese as well as for bulk section items like peanut butter, honey, sugar or flour.

DURING SHOPPING: Shop for Loose Items That You Can Weigh and Measure on Your Own
Once at the store, Carolina buys almost everything in the bulk and fresh produce sections. She puts it all in the cloth bags she brings or leaves her fruits and vegetables loose.
“I used to be intimidated by the bulk section, but now it’s where I do most of my shopping. It’s amazing the variety you can find there (who knew there were so many types of sugar and salt?).”

DURING SHOPPING: Avoid Small Items of Trash That Can Accumulate While Shopping
Carolina avoids using ANY extra paper or plastic when shopping if she doesn’t have to. She keeps her shopping list on her phone and refuses a receipt whenever possible. She never uses zip ties provided by stores to tie up her bags of food and she avoids using price identification stickers.
“Just keep the bags in order so you know what’s what, and take pictures of the items code to tell the cashier (so you don’t have to use tags!).”

DURING SHOPPING: Prioritize Recyclable Containers
If Carolina can’t find something she needs in the bulk or fresh produce section, she tries to buy items in more environmentally friendly containers such glass (rather than plastic or cans) or cardboard (rather than Styrofoam). Glass is a better choice because you can re-purpose it for many other uses (i.e. holding other food items, hip drinking glasses, trendy home-made terrariums) AND it has the smallest carbon footprint compared to plastic and aluminum. That’s a big win!

POST SHOPPING: Make Sure That You Never Forget Your Reusable Bags or Glass Containers Again!
Admit it. We’ve all done it. Carolina’s done it. Gone into the grocery store only to realize that you’ve left your reusable bags at home. Hitting yourself in the head as you try to stuff as many items as you can into your pockets and hands before giving in and having to use the store bags. Or you bravely insist you can carry it all and walk out of the store with 10 items balanced in your arms.

How to avoid this? The solution is easy! 1) Include a reminder in your grocery list, 2) Keep these items by your door or in your car, 3) Embarrass yourself into remembering – if you forget once, don’t allow yourself to use the store bags, force yourself to carry all your groceries out by hand (multiple trips if necessary) and you will never forget again!
“Trial and error is a huge part of the process.”

POST SHOPPING: Be Prepared When You Go Out to Eat As Well
Grocery shopping makes Carolina hungry. Sometimes she can’t wait to get home to make something! If you also like to grab a bite to eat after you’ve hit the shops (or ever, really), make sure to be prepared. Take your own re-usable items and refuse unnecessary waste such as plastic straws and napkins.
“I carry bamboo utensils and a cloth napkin in my purse in case I’m going to a place that uses disposable utensils. I’ll also bring my own to-go container for food when I know there will be leftovers – like Chinese food.”

A few more helpful tips from Carolina:
“Reusing and conserving is not the social norm so I’ve found myself having to put myself out of my comfort zone to stick to my zero-waste goals.”
“Facebook groups can connect you with people and resources that are local to you. I’ve been able to connect with people with similar interests and it’s been amazing to see what others are doing, too.”
“What helps is to remember that even the small things I’m doing, if I do them for the next forty years, it’ll make a huge difference.”

Bringing Sexy Back to Data

Nate Silver has certainly given the mundane topic of data a spanking new makeover with his book, The Signal and The Noise. Silver, who correctly predicted the winner in 49 out of 50 states during the 2008 presidential elections, said he was able to make a dent in political forecasts only because other political pundits were so bad at it.  Then he pointed to other industries such as finance and weather forecasting where predictions fail. It’s not all hopeless, however.

Silver has made data fun and buzz-worthy. He has recently infused data into such topics as finding the best burrito in America. The process to determine the 64 burrito-selling establishments nationwide that would be in the bracket involved something called a VORB, or Value Over Replacement Burrito, score, according to his blog. The judging system was based on 20 possible points in five categories: tortilla, main protein, other ingredients, presentation and overall flavor profile. The results led to a flurry of reactions (not all positive) on social media.
Continue reading “Bringing Sexy Back to Data”

Mo’ Data, Mo’ Problems

Is more data always better? Do we have a natural tendency to make up patterns and trends where there aren’t any? Are computers never wrong?

These are some of the questions posed by data nerd Nate Silver, author of our latest book club entry, The Signal and The Noise.

In his book, Silver uses examples in failed predictions ranging from the 2008 financial crisis to the Fukushima earthquake in Japan to illustrate the following three points: his humble roots as an accountant, poker player and then baseball stats number cruncher, Silver hit the big time in 2008 by correctly predicting the winner in 49 out of 50 states during the presidential elections. His blog featuring stories using data and statistics,, was first bought by the New York Times and more recently, ESPN. Let’s just say he brought sexy back to data. Continue reading “Mo’ Data, Mo’ Problems”

4 Reasons We Lie, Cheat and Steal


Let’s cut to the chase. We all lie. It’s one of those dirty little secrets every human being carries around. Sure, there are different degrees of it. Bernie Madoff’s deception isn’t really in the same league as telling your girlfriend that you like her DIY dye job. But they’re both lies.

Why we lie is the ongoing fascination of Dan Ariely, a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University. His most recent book, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty reveals some interesting stuff about what prompts us to lie, cheat and steal—and how we can curb that inclination.

First, let’s clear something up. Once upon a time, a very smart Nobel Prize-winning economist named Gary Becker came up with this theory that given the opportunity to knock off a convenience store, we’d make a quick cost-benefit analysis to decide if it’s a good idea. In other words, we’d weigh how much we have to gain from the register against the likelihood of being caught and the punishment we’d receive if we did.

But it turns out humans aren’t that rational. Through a series of experiments, Ariely found that neither money nor the likelihood of being caught had any real influence on whether we cheat. So why do we?

1. The lie doesn’t tarnish our positive self-image. Over and over, Ariely found that most people cheat just a little. We seek benefit, so we’ll shave a couple of swings off our golf game or pocket an extra dollar or two. But we also want to see ourselves as a good person, so we’ll take only a smidge so we can still look ourselves in the mirror.

2. We see a difference between money and goods. In one experiment, test takers were paid for all self-reported correct answers in either cash or tokens that could be redeemed for cash. People lied for tokens twice as much as people who lied for cash. I guess we know why there’s never a pen in the bulk-food section of the grocery store.

3. Cheating is infectious. But whether you catch it depends on who is cheating. When we witness someone in our own social group (a friend, sibling or colleague) cheat, we think cheating is more socially acceptable and we’re more likely to join in. On the flip side, if we notice an outsider cheating, we actually become more honest in order to distance ourselves from the lying, no-good thief.

4. Blame knock-off handbags. Ariely found that when people knowingly wear counterfeit products, they loosen their moral code, making it easier to be more dishonest. Yikes! That fake Louis Vuitton cost a bit more than you thought.

Thinking Fast and Slow

Here’s a premise and a question: Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations.

Which is more probable?

  1. Linda is a bank teller
  2. Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement Continue reading “Thinking Fast and Slow”

Starting a Book Club in the Office

Good food. A good book. And an engaging conversation. What more can you ask for (OK, well, maybe a little wine)?
The 2013 edition of the SGA Book Club is now rolling, with a great line up of new books on slate. We just completed How Will You Measure Your Life by Clayton Christianson, James Allworth, and Karen Dillon. Now we are onto The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.

SGA is now into our fifth year of doing our book club and I wanted to take the time to encourage more work places to try it and perhaps Continue reading “Starting a Book Club in the Office”

The Levity Effect: Why it Pays to Lighten Up

When you’re listening to a speech at an industry conference, what do you remember most? The boring power point presentation that packs 200 words onto one slide or the story that made you LOL?

Ok. That may not be rocket science but our latest Book Club entry, The Levity Effect by Adrian Gostick and Scott Christopher, takes the importance of fun to another level. It demonstrates through studies and anecdotal evidence that injecting levity into your workplace helps to increase productivity and ultimately boosts your bottom line. A happy workforce also doesn’t leave – even if you want them to. But seriously, leaders of the most successful companies are fun-loving and understand the importance of not taking themselves too seriously. Fun-loving candidates nab the job. And so the virtuous cycle of fun allegedly continues.

The book also provides a laundry list of things you could institute to invoke fun into your workplace. I was proud and happy to find that SGA already does many of these things. After all, fun is one of our core values. Continue reading “The Levity Effect: Why it Pays to Lighten Up”