Beyond the Carbon Footprint: Embedded Energy and the Resource Shed

An introduction to embedded energy, supply chains, and product origins

By now, the term ‘carbon footprint’ is a part of our shared vocabulary. But how many of us have actually been moved to radically change our consumption habits because of it? Unfortunately, the data behind our individual carbon footprints is often difficult to follow and hard to understand, making our daily choices as a conscious consumer more challenging. I propose that in addition to being aware of our own carbon footprint, we each pay close attention to what might be called our personal “resource-shed.”

Much like the health of each ecosystem depends on its local watershed, we each are dependent on a multitude of resources, each with very particular geographic origins and complex supply chains.

While most of the goods we consume are locally available or can be shipped directly to our doorsteps, the materials that go into these goods have wide-ranging geographic origins, each with diverse and complex supply chains and production methods. Often the convenience of having such a wide range of goods at our literal fingertips undermines our ability to follow the supply chain to the raw material sources, muddling our understanding of how vast our individual ecological footprint can be.

We can begin to think of all the resources we use, all the products we consume, as contributing to our own personal “resource-shed.” Our “resource-shed” is the physical geographic area and accompanying raw materials that are required to manufacture everything we consume.

For example, the cotton t-shirt you’re currently wearing could be made of cotton grown in India. After being harvested, it was transported to a facility where it was milled and processed into fabric, then transported to Bangladesh where it was sewn into a garment. The t-shirt was then packaged in plastic and shipped across the ocean to a distribution warehouse before it was stocked in your local store. While you might say the resource-shed that supports your lifestyle via the cotton t-shirt is multiple regions in India and the factory in Bangladesh, there are several more factors. The cotton was transported between the processing facility in India and the factory in Bangladesh in an Isuzu truck, a Japanese vehicle. The plastic packaging was manufactured in China, and the oil for the vehicles originates in Malaysia. All of a sudden, your $5 t-shirt, which says made in Bangladesh, couldn’t have gotten to you without contributions from India, China, Japan and Malaysia.

This example isn’t intended to burden or intimidate you  only to show the idea of Embedded Energy its full glory. The t-shirt’s footprint includes not only the cotton it was made from, but also the energy and raw materials necessary to create it from crop to finished product.

In our global world, think about how vast our individual resource-sheds are when we combine together every item we have ever owned! It takes nearly our whole planet to supply and support our lifestyles. Every action we take or item we purchase has numerous direct and indirect ecological and social effects embedded into the action or item itself.

Even though thinking of our consumption in terms of a personal resource-shed might feel somewhat challenging, it is a valuable thought experiment insofar as we can begin to trace the rippling, nuanced effects of each of our choices. Awareness and curiosity is the first step.

If you’re up for it, select a nearby object and hypothesize in the comments below:

  1. What is the geographic resource-shed that this product originates from?
  2. What aspects of its production contribute Embedded Energy into the final product?

Towards a Climate-Beneficial Wardrobe

Imagine you wore clothing that had a beneficial impact on the climate.

I know — it sounds too good to be true. Those of us who care to investigate know that behind the attractively trendy brand tags and attractively low price tags of the global clothing industry lies a tangled web of exploitation and environmental destruction — not to mention 10% of global carbon emissions. The 2013 Rana Plaza disaster that killed over a thousand garment factory workers in Bangladesh awakened many of us to the high (human and ecological) cost of “fast fashion.”

The good news is that the movement to create a more ethical apparel industry is gaining momentum, and there are lots of ways to be a part of it. Scroll down to the bottom of this post for some great resources.

But there’s more. What if we could have clothing be not only more ethical, not only “less bad” for the environment, but in fact beneficial in terms of climate?

It is happening. Fibershed, the California non-profit developing regional and regenerative fiber systems, is now certifying fiber farmers who grow Climate-Beneficial™ Wool and—for the first time this year—rolling out regionally grown and produced textile made of such wool.

What makes these textiles climate-beneficial? The wool fiber is sourced from California wool farmers who use regenerative farming practices such as managed grazing, conservation tillage, and compost application on pastures. These boost the soil’s ability to draw down and store carbon from the atmosphere. The resulting “climate-beneficial” clothing will, Fibershed hopes,

“become the new standard in a world looking to rapidly mitigate the effects of climate change. We see a nourishing tradition emerging that connects the wearer to the local field where the clothes were grown, building a system that can last for countless generations into the future.”

In other words, while “ethical” clothing is a good start, there’s so much further that we could potentially go. A regenerative, regional textile system could revitalize local economies and rural livelihoods, reconnect farmers, weavers, designers, and wearers in a mutually supportive web of relationships, take toxins out of our waterways and off our skins, and provide us with beautiful, durable garments far more meaningful than the $5 t-shirt that gets tossed after a few months.

Not to mention it would help to build fertile, carbon-sequestering soil and help address one of the biggest challenges we collectively face.

Image: Paige Green/Fibershed
Image: Paige Green/Fibershed

Their Community-Supported Cloth program is an amazing model, analogous to the CSA or “Community-Supported Agriculture” in which customers make an investment ahead of time to reserve weekly boxes of fresh, organic veggies. In this case, they pre-pay to reserve yardage of this uniquely produced cloth, an investment that helps to cover the manufacturing costs. 3% to the cost of the cloth also goes directly to fund Carbon Farm implementation.

True to the Fibershed spirit of regional fiber systems, the supply network is as local as possible. Fibershed has partnered with Leslie Terzian of Tangle Blue and Huston Textile Company, also in California, to weave the finished cloth.


To showcase this revolutionary project—our clothing transformed into a means of building soil and reversing climate change—Fibershed is organizing a Climate-Beneficial Fashion Gala at the Big Mesa Farmstead in Bolinas, California, on September 23. If you’re in the area, mark your calendar! This is a runway you don’t want to miss!

Learn more about Climate-Beneficial Clothing:
  • Fibershed’s Community-Supported Cloth program
  • Fibershed article on Bare Ranch, a Climate-Beneficial™-certified ranch where the fine Rambouillet wool for the Community-Supported Cloth is sourced
  • Kiss the Ground’s video about Huston Textiles and the Climate-Beneficial Cloth
  • Rebecca Burgess, founder of Fibershed on climate-beneficial fiber systems
Learn more about ethical clothing & get involved:

Farmer story: Studio Hill Farm

At first sight, Studio Hill Farm may seem like any idyllic Vermont farm: chickens, turkey, pigs and sheep grazing on the pastures, and farmers Jesse and Cally McDougall busy at work chasing the animals and their two children.

But look more closely, and it turns out that so much more is going on on this fourth-generation farm: the McDougalls are pioneering regenerative farmers, activists, and educators. They are growing food while restoring the farm’s soil to health in the process. The latter part is not optional, or an afterthought—it is why they do what they do: “We are carbon farmers. Our goal in farming is to pass on land to the next generation that is outrageously fertile.”

Some of you will be asking: “What’s a carbon farmer?” Thankfully, the McDougalls have at hand one of the best-articulated definitions we at Project Grounded have seen:

“Regenerative agriculture, or—as it is sometimes called—carbon farming, is the agricultural production of food, fuel, or fiber using methods that put more carbon into the soil or above-ground biomass than they release into the atmosphere. By focusing on pulling atmospheric carbon down into the earth, carbon farmers all over the world are able to improve the fertility of their land, produce more nutrient-dense forage and food, improve water retention and filtration, restore the land’s natural cycles, improve profits, and free their lands from the dependence on chemicals.”

That sounds like magic, doesn’t it? But how do farmers actually do this—how do they pull carbon down into the earth?

In the case of Studio Hill Farm, the answer has been: animals. Or to be more precise: the intentional integration of animals in the landscape following a carefully planned system of managed grazing.

Jesse and Cally didn’t start out intending to raise livestock; they chose to do it because of the animals’ amazing natural ability to restore the soil on which they graze. In the past, the farm was a conventional farm growing corn and hay in rotation. Decades of heavy tilling, synthetic fertilizers, and GMO crops gradually depleted the fertility of the land as well as the health of those who lived on it.

When Jesse and Cally took over a few years ago, they began to ask, “How can we do this differently?” They immediately stopped spraying chemicals, and started learning as much as they could about regenerative agriculture. When they came across Holistic Management and the work of Allan Savory, something clicked. Savory’s work has demonstrated that animal activity plays a key role in revitalizing the soil.

The McDougalls first introduced chickens onto the pastures in a mobile coop.

Later, turkeys and sheep were added into the rotation. The result has been a visible explosion of ecological health: the once-lifeless fields have sprung back into life with thick, lush green grass and incredible biodiversity. If you’ve been following regeneration in the news for a while, you may have seen the contrasting photo below before:

Corn in near-bare ground in 2012. Grass so deep that it hides sheep in 2016.

How does this work? The animals’ hooves, their manure, and their grazing activity all combined stimulate the microbial activity in the soil, as well as the growth of the grass. And if you remember anything from your biology schoolbooks, growing plants draw CO2 out of the air. The carbon gets stored in the soil, where it again helps to stimulate more microbial activity and help to produce more food.

This ecological revitalization has brought with it a corresponding economic benefit. The McDougalls now run a regenerative meat CSA that delivers to the surrounding areas and as far as Boston. Jesse notes that the demand for regeneratively grown, grass-fed meat is growing by the year.

If by chance you want to witness a true regenerative farm in action, Studio Hill Farm presents a beautiful opportunity to do so: the idyllic, newly-renovated old schoolhouse is now available for rentals via Airbnb.

The McDougalls are not only farmers, but regenerative farming activists and educators. Jesse is on the Advisory Board of Soil4Climate, and originated the pioneering Vermont Regenerative Soils Bill that was submitted to the Vermont Senate in January 2017. Studio Hill’s blog is also an exceptionally inspiring and informative resource for anyone who wants to learn more about regenerative agriculture—that is, if you don’t get distracted by all the beautiful images of healthy animals and children on lush pasture, and want to join Jesse and Cally in chasing them.

Photo credits: Studio Hill Farm

Going Shopping at the Carbon Farmers’ Market

“Where Can I Find Carbon-Farmed Food and Other Goods?”

If you’ve ever typed the above question into a Google search bar – well, I know two things right away: You are an early adopter, well ahead of the mainstream market. And your search didn’t really yield any results.

Carbon farming, also known as regenerative agriculture, is starting to gain visibility even in mainstream media. Agricultural solutions to global warming are now taking center stage at international climate conferences. Regenerative farming and its various methods feature prominently in the best-selling book Drawdown, launched just this April, which models and analyzes 100 most substantive solutions to start reversing climate change.

Image credit: Project Drawdown

And what makes regenerative farming so exciting is that it’s a climate solution you can take a bite out of – and it tastes delicious.

So you’re excited, and want to be a part of this solution, and you head to your friendly neighborhood natural grocery store to look for their “regeneratively farmed” or “carbon-farmed” products aisle.

Except that there isn’t one. And the store manager likely won’t know what you’re talking about. Organic foods, you mean? Non-GMO? They’ve got you covered. But “organic” or “non-GMO” don’t necessarily indicate that soil-building and soil carbon storage is happening where these products originate. There aren’t yet labels or certifications to help you choose regeneratively grown food or regeneratively sourced products.

At any farmers’ market across the country, you’ll most likely have the same experience.

The idea that our food and other consumer goods could actually be produced in a way that’s better than “sustainable,” better than organic, is news to most of us. Farming does not need to be destructive, it can be restorative and regenerative. Instead of a major contributor to climate change, it can help to slow down or even reverse climate change. Does that sound too revolutionary, too good to be true?

But it’s possible, it’s happening, and we at Project Grounded invite you to join us in making this climate solution a part of our lives. Everyone’s, not just the farmers’ – or climate scientists, engineers, or politicians.

In order for that “regeneratively produced” aisle to appear at your grocery store, consumers must first drive the demand for those goods. We have to say to producers that we want the goods that come into our homes and lives to be produced in a way that stabilize climate. “Sustainable” is not good enough. “Less bad” is not good enough. We have to raise the bar high.

In the meantime, where do you – the intrepid wannabe-regenerative consumer – go? Where do you start to find these products, to show your support for the pioneering farmers and companies who are already on board the regenerative train? Here are some steps to take:

  • Download Project Grounded’s free Regenerative Consumer Toolkit, which lists 10 action steps to start shifting your daily habits and choices from sustainable to regenerative.
  • Find links to “Cool Companies” who are already pursuing regenerative supply on our Learn page.
  • Check out our Carbon Farm Map and identify the carbon farm closest to you. Is there one in your area? Congratulations? Even if not, some of these farms also send their products online or do drop-offs further away.

Carbon offsets vs. carbon farming

We’ve all heard of carbon trading. Complex international emissions trading schemes – mostly with large companies in mind — have been set up to put a price on CO² pollution. Essentially the idea is that the biggest polluters have to make up for their “sins” by buying carbon credits, which in theory means funding projects such as reforestation in some faraway part of the world. Carbon trade is big business, with a market value (estimated by the World Bank in 2009) of $126 billion.

The whole idea is that if you pay enough, you can pollute more.

Unsurprisingly, then, the carbon market has been ineffective at tackling rising emissions. Yes, we could name problems such as corruption, ineffective monitoring, and negative effects on local communities. But the bigger issue is that the whole system has been designed with corporate interests in mind and has turned pollution into a commodity market. It has proved a major distraction from developing policies that would actually reduce emissions.

Project Grounded joins other organizations in putting forth a different solution. This one involves you, not just big corporations. This one can happen on your local farm or forest, not just in faraway places managed by some large entity. And most importantly, this one is climate mitigation that you can taste and wear.

We’re talking about carbon farming. Growing food and other goods that we enjoy and need — while drawing down carbon from the atmosphere into the soil in the process.

Farming is something we as a species are going to do anyway, to sustain ourselves. Why not do it in a way that restores ecosystems and sequesters carbon? Rather than make emissions mitigation into a separate and costly process that involves paperwork and ultimately allows the biggest polluters to buy their way out of responsibility, why not weave it into the ancient form of land stewardship known as farming?

In the coming months, we will feature in a monthly series of posts such carbon farms, stewarded by ecologically responsible farmers, doing this very work — and showing how it makes economical sense, too.  Climate activism that tastes amazing, too. Stay tuned!

ReGen Villages: Regenerative living at a neighborhood scale

What would regenerative living on a community scale look like?

The ReGen Villages model emerging in Europe offers one answer. It may seem almost too good to be true, but it’s happening — the first one in the Netherlands being scheduled for completion in 2018 — and the model surely has a lot going for it.


ReGen Villages are small, self-sustaining residential communities. The villages are “regenerative” because they are designed to function as a closed loop: the outputs of one system become the inputs of another.

For example, household waste is sorted and then put to new uses, such as compost, which fertilizes the community gardens and the soldier fly larvae that feed the fish that in turn fertilize the aquaponics system. Other household waste is used to generate biogas for fuel. Rainwater harvesting systems store rainwater for irrigation, graywater systems return household water to the landscape. Needless to say, the villages produce their own energy with solar panels. The landscaping is edible, and the villages also raise livestock to feed the residents.

Each village can have about 50 homes on about 100 acres. Each residential unit is cased in a glass envelope to regulate temperature and provide further year-round gardening space.

This “Tesla of ecovillages” is an ambitious vision. The aesthetic and some of the high-tech systems it relies on may not be everyone’s cup of tea. But the concept is compelling. The ReGen Villages are an intriguing example of what the “regenerative” principle might look like in our everyday lives: It is possible to design our urban neighborhoods differently. It is possible to look at the inputs and outputs of our lives and start applying this waste-to-resource kind of thinking.

Here’s the video for some more snazzy visuals:

Now here’s a question: not all of us are going to move into a ReGen Village in Amsterdam. But how might you apply some of the same principles into your own life, your own household, your own neighborhood?

How can we harvest available energy and resources and put it back into the system for good use? How can we rethink what a residential unit, or residential area, is for and what it’s capable of?

Wishing you a ReGenerative day!

10 Climate-beneficial products you can find today

Is it inevitable that simply by feeding and clothing ourselves, we are contributing to environmental degradation and climate change? The thought-leaders behind the companies and brands featured below don’t think so. They are boldly bringing to the market products that are regenerative, meaning that the very process of their production helps to regenerate soils and therefore stabilize global climate.

Whether it’s through

  • managed grazing on pastures and grasslands that stimulates root growth…
  • or integrating crop and animal systems on the farms where they source their raw materials…
  • or fair supply networks that regenerate local economies as well as growing practices that regenerate ecosystems…
  • or sourcing specifically from perennial (as opposed to annual) plants, which don’t require frequent tilling and can send down massive, carbon-storing root systems into the soil…

…these companies are doing it differently, and showing that you can, too.

Here you go: 10 climate-beneficial products for the intrepid Regenerative Consumer!


1. Maple Hill Creamery dairy products

Maple Hill Creamery in upstate New York sources its milk from over seventy small family farms that are all committed to organic, 100% grass-fed practices. They have a mission beyond producing yogurt, kefir, raw milk cheeses and fresh mozzarella: to develop a truly regenerative dairy farming system. Find it here


2. Nova Chocolate

Nova Chocolate is one of those pioneering chocolate companies that not only works directly with cacao farmers, ensuring a transparent supply network, but is also committed to regenerative growing practices. Cacao is a great “carbon-sequestering superstar” plant because it grows well in shade, and can be grown under a tree canopy of other plants in a dense agroforestry system. The Yellow Seed site allows you to track chocolate products back to their origin: for example, Nova’s “Single-origin Ecuador bar” comes from Associación Artesanal Eco-Cacao. Find it here


3. Community Supported Cloth

More and more consumers are starting to look for ethically produced clothing. But the California-based non-profit Fibershed is setting the bar even higher: their Community-Supported Cloth program produces fabric that is not only traceable, but sequesters carbon in the soil through the very process of its production. The beautiful cloth is woven in California by Huston Textile Company out of fine Rambouillet wool grown at “Climate-beneficial” certified Bare Ranch (see Lani’s Lana Wool below). The entire process is funded by people from the community who reserve a quantity of the fabric ahead of time. This year’s entire run of production has already been fully reserved, but you can get on the waitlist–and learn more about the program–here.
And if you want to see an example of what could be made out of this fabric… check out this beautiful finished Climate-Beneficial tunic.


4. Patagonia Provisions

Patagonia, the clothing company that’s long been a leader in ethical and environmental responsibility, is now setting the same high standard for the food industry. Patagonia Provisions offers a selection of foods that address environmental issues: soup mixes, dry goods and bison jerky — ideal for that hiking trip into the wild — but also gift boxes, including a vegetarian one (if bison jerky is not your thing). Everything is organic, GMO-free, and supports regenerative agriculture and restorative fishing. Find it here


5. Tanka Bar

Tanka Bars are the original meat-based energy bars, produced by Native American Natural Foods based out of Pine Ridge reservation, South Dakota. The Tanka Bars are a mix of buffalo meat and dried fruit, the combination that often made the Native American staple dish, pemmican, particularly flavorful. The Tanka Bar company’s Tanka Fund supports efforts to increase the number of buffalo in the US. While freely grazing and roaming, the grass-fed buffalo are helping to restore the Great Plains grasslands by cycling nutrients and breaking up the soil with their hooves. This regenerates the soils, helping them to sequester more carbon. Find it here


6. Stone House Grain

Stone House Farm in Hudson Valley, NY, is modeling a viable model of regenerative agriculture, producing grain for animal feed but also for milling. Following the principles of Holistic Management, Stone House uses long-term crop rotations and integrate their grazing animals into the system to rebuild the soil. Find red wheat, rye, buckwheat and corn you can grind into freshly milled flour here.


7. Lani’s Lana wool

Attention knitters and spinners! Lana Estill’s Bare Ranch was the first fiber farm in California to be certified as “Climate-Beneficial” by Fibershed. That means the pastures where the sheep are grazing are managed in such a way that more carbon is stored in the soil. Lani’s Lana offers exquisitely soft yarns and spinning fiber of fine Rambouillet sheep wool. I’m knitting with her Natural White yarn at the moment, so I can attest how wonderful it is! Find it here


8. Long Root Ale by Patagonia Provisions

It’s the world’s first beer made with Kernza®, a perennial grain that can be grown using regenerative agriculture practices. Because Kernza® is a perennial grain, it develops a massive root system and can be grown without tilling the soil, which means that more carbon gets stored in the soil. Read more here


9. Shepherd’s Grain

Shepherd’s Grain provides flour for consumers and the food industry, sourcing all their wheat from 45 growers in southern Alberta and the Pacific Northwest who use no-till, direct-seed growing methods that regenerate the land. Find it here –and if you live in the Pacific Northwest, you can find bakeries, bagel shops, pizzerias and restaurants that use Shepherd’s Grain flour.


10. The Mesquitery’s Wild-foraged Mesquite Flour
Join the tasty project of renewing America’s food place-based food traditions and get to know mesquite flour, which was a staple in ancient diets in the arid regions throughout North America. The Mesquitery offers a selection of mesquite flours made from mesquite pods hand-harvested and milled in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. Mesquite trees are  a great climate-resilient crop, as they thrive in arid regions without irrigation. The flour milled from mesquite pods is gluten-free, has a sweet, earthy, gingerbready flavor, and is packed with nutrition: high in protein, fiber, and a great source of calcium and magnesium. It has been boarded onto Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste


What’s “grounded”?

grounded |ˈɡroundid|


  1. balanced, sensible, down-to-earth
  2. rooted, established
  3. aware, knowledgeable, present in one’s life
  4. [of carbon] stored safely in the ground

We live in unsettling times. There are enough things to worry about to fill one regular-sized human head so that nothing else can fit in. There are plenty of distractions to go around. It’s easier than ever before, it seems, to get swept away in the currents of information, ever-faster communications, and the whole madly spinning global economy.

Project Grounded was named to celebrate the opposite impulse: finding the firm ground beneath our feet, slowing down a little, putting down roots. Pausing to recognize the solidity that comes from connecting deeply with that which sustains our lives — the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the objects we use daily, the relationships we cultivate, the place where we live. We want to feel literally down-to-earth: be aware, be sensible, be informed. We also want to feel rooted, to get to know and celebrate and love the place where we live.

But there’s also another layer of meaning to “grounded”: to ground something is to put have it established in the ground, in the soil. Project Grounded seeks to facilitate lifestyles that are grounded, in the sense that the things you eat and wear and use come from the ground, preferably from somewhere near you, and were produced in a way that does not deplete that ground but replenishes it. We also research, and make available to you our findings about these “grounded” products that also ground carbon — i.e. pull it from the atmosphere and sequester it in the soil — thus contributing to climate change solutions.

These meanings are interwoven with each other:

Grounded material aspects of our lives + grounded carbon = grounded people

Some of these global causes of worry, such as climate change, can provoke vast, chaotic imaginings of a looming catastrophe, which sparks in us a response of fear and helplessness. What we need to change is that response mechanism. We need to grow into people who are grounded enough that they can look at what’s happening right now, and assess pragmatically: what are the pathways and solutions available to us? “Grounded” here means courageous: the ability to resist the trigger that would send an ungrounded person spinning off to another state of fear, hopelessness, and denial.

The work that’s needed, then, is not only engineering or farming differently, not only activism, not only changing policies. There’s also an inner work that’s required of each of us. We need to take responsibility to grow into grounded individuals, grounded citizens, and then work from that place to develop solutions.