This Week in Sustainability Podcast
14: Chemical Alt-Rock

14: Chemical Alt-Rock

February 28, 2021

In which we discuss the opportunities for substituting safer chemical alternatives for consumer products in current use with our guest, Joel Tickner of the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. We don’t need to wait for green chemistry to come up with great alternatives, many have already been designed. We need to collaborate with businesses to turn towards better alternatives, rather than imposing regulations away from the bad stuff, risking drop-in substitutions that are just as bad. Host–Felicia Etzkorn of Virginia Tech, co-host–Jamie Ferguson of Emory & Henry College, with music by Wendy Godley of The Kind.


  1. Joel A. Tickner, Rachel V. Simon, Molly Jacobs, Lindsey D. Pollard & Saskia K. van Bergen (2021) The nexus between alternatives assessment and green chemistry: supporting the development and adoption of safer chemicals, Green Chemistry Letters and Reviews, 14:1, 21-42, DOI: 10.1080/17518253.2020.1856427

  2. Tickner J, Jacobs MM, Mack NB (2019) Alternatives assessment and informed substitution: A global landscape assessment of drivers, methods, policies and needs. Sustainable Chemistry and Pharmacy 13:100161.
  3. O'Brien M. 2000. Making Better Environmental Decisions: An Alternative to Risk Assessment, MIT Press Cambridge, MA.
13: Next Seven Generations

13: Next Seven Generations

February 13, 2021

In which we discuss sustainable, plant-based cleaning products, oxygen-bleached paper products, recyclable and recycled packaging, transparent labeling, and consumer education with Martin Wolf, Director of Sustainability & Authenticity at Seventh Generation. Host–Felicia Etzkorn of Virginia Tech, co-host–Jamie Ferguson of Emory & Henry College, with music by Wendy Godley of The Kind.

Great resource for sustainability and environmental justice issues:

12: With the Weight of Lead

12: With the Weight of Lead

January 24, 2021

In which we discuss the uses of lead in gasoline (and the temporally and geographically associated violence), avgas, pipes, and car paint primer, and the greener replacements for these products—ethanol as replacement for tetraethyl lead as an anti-knock additive in gasoline, potential plastic replacements for lead pipes, and yttrium as a replacement for lead car primer.Host–Felicia Etzkorn of Virginia Tech, co-host–Jamie Ferguson of Emory & Henry College, with music by Wendy Godley of The Kind.

Abelsohn AR, Sanborn M (2010) Lead and Children, Canadian Family Physician 56:531.

EPA Final Revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule:

Angus Chen, Zapping Lead Pipes with Electricity Could Make Them Safer for Drinking Water, Scientific American, April 4, 2019.

PPG Industries, Yttrium as a Lead Substitute in Cationic Electrodeposition Coatings, EPA  Green Chemistry Challenge Award 2001.

Grateful Dead, New Speedway Boogie excerpt, from What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been, 1977.

11 Farming is Elemental

11 Farming is Elemental

January 12, 2021

In which we interview Anthony Flaccavento, organic farmer, author, activist, and local politician, about his sustainable practices to incorporate carbon, nitrogen, and other essential elements back into the depleted soil of his former tobacco farm in southwest Virginia. No-till agriculture not only sequesters carbon and nitrogen in the soil, it balances soil water content in both drought and flood times. Host–Felicia Etzkorn of Virginia Tech, co-host–Jamie Ferguson of Emory & Henry College, with music by Wendy Godley of The Kind.


Anthony Flaccavento Building a Healthy Economy from the Bottom Up: Harnessing Real World Experience for Transformative Change (University Press of Kentucky, 2016)

SCALE — Sequestering Carbon, Accelerating Local Economies

Savory Institute

National Ecological Observatory Network

How to Bury Carbon? Let Plants Do the Dirty Work in Nautilus

Crop innovations can protect yields and improve food quality in a changing climate

Climate Change Take 5 with Tony (S.2, Ep. 4)

Sustainable farming and social justice:

Chris Newman of Sylvanaqua

Nina Ichikawa of the Berkeley Food Institute

Joel Salatin’s Unsustainable Myth: His go-it-alone message made him a star of the food movement. Then a young Black farmer dug into what he was really saying.


10: Fertilizer Out of Thin Air

10: Fertilizer Out of Thin Air

December 19, 2020

In which we discuss the effect of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer on feeding the world, and the synthesis of ammonia from nitrogen in the air and hydrogen generated from methane, first by the Haber-Bosch process and then by electrochemical processes with our guest, Dr. Michael Stoukides from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece. Electrodes, catalysts, yields, rates, and the potential for energy storage are discussed for the electrochemical synthesis of ammonia. Host Felicia Etzkorn of Virginia Tech, co-host Jamie Ferguson of Emory & Henry College, with music by Wendy Godley of The Kind.

Kyriakou V, Garagounis I, Vasileiou E, Vourros A, Stoukides M (2016) Progress in the Electrochemical Synthesis of Ammonia. Catalysis Today 286.

Kyriakou V, Garagounis I, Vourros A, Vasileiou E, Stoukides M (2019) An Electrochemical Haber-Bosch Process. Joule 4.

9: Bury, Recycle, or Compost?

9: Bury, Recycle, or Compost?

December 15, 2020

In which we discuss the relative merits of burying, recycling, or composting plastic waste, in particular, packaging. We distinguish biodegradable from compostable. Jamie describes Eastman Chemical Co.’s new process to take any plastic and break them down into their small molecule components and resynthesize new plastics, a true recycling process. We decide burying plastics is not so bad because it keeps carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Finally, we discuss the idea of geoengineering the atmosphere with sulfur dioxide to reflect sunlight back into space, which is terrible because sulfur dioxide becomes acid rain. Produced, edited and posted by Felicia Etzkorn, with co-host Jamie Ferguson. Music created and performed by Wendy Godley.

Waste by Katie O'Neill:

Eastman Unveils Recycling Solution to Combat Global Plastic Waste:

8: Firing Flame Retardants

8: Firing Flame Retardants

November 29, 2020

In which, with our guest, Dr. Arlene Blum ( of the Green Science Policy Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, we discuss the toxicity of flame retardants in children’s products, furniture, and her success in changing the standards for these products so that flame retardants are unnecessary to prevent the most common smoldering fires. Flame retardants are still found in TVs. Then host Felicia Etzkorn and co-host Jamie Ferguson discuss a paper about the flammability of cotton and synthetic fabrics, including the limiting oxygen index (LOI), the heat release capacity (HRC), and the peak heat release rate (PHRR), as well as a potential less toxic flame retardant, sodium hypophosphite with succinic acid.

Green Science Policy Institute:

Six Classes Videos:

Stapleton HM, Klosterhaus S, Keller A, Ferguson PL, van Bergen S, Cooper E, Webster TF, Blum A (2011) Identification of Flame Retardants in Polyurethane Foam Collected from Baby Products. Env. Sci. Tech.45:5323-5331.

Blum A, Gold MD, Ames BN, Jones FR, Hett EA, Dougherty RC, Horning EC, Dzidic I, Carroll DI, Stillwell RN, Thenot JP (1978) Children absorb tris-BP flame retardant from sleepwear: urine contains the mutagenic metabolite, 2,3-dibromopropanol. Science 201:1020.

Yang CQ, He Q, Lyon RE, Hu Y, Investigation of the flammability of different textile fabrics using micro-scale combustion calorimetry, Polym. Degrad. Stab. 95 (2010) 108e115.

Post-note: N-methylol containing flame retardants like MDPA are associated with formaldehyde release.

7: Charging Ahead with Batteries

7: Charging Ahead with Batteries

November 13, 2020

In which we discuss safer, more efficient, and better rechargeability batteries with two experts, Professors Feng Lin and Lou Madsen of Virginia Tech. We discuss the basics of how electricity and batteries work, the components of a battery, the problems of conventional nickel-cadmium and lead-acid batteries, and the advantages of lithium ion batteries. Feng Lin describes his recent work on oriented microparticles for lithium ion batteries that lead to faster recharging and longer lifetime. Lou Madsen explains his invention of a solid-state electrolyte for lithium ion batteries that is more durable and non-flammable. Hosted by Felicia Etzkorn (Virginia Tech) and Jamie Ferguson  (Emory & Henry College), with music by Wendy Godley of The Kind.

Feng Lin’s paper:

Lou Madsen’s paper:

6: Chill with Refrigerants

6: Chill with Refrigerants

November 4, 2020

In which we discuss refrigeration, how it works (more or less), and the history of refrigerants, with their various advantages and disadvantages for the environment. Ammonia is toxic. Propane is flammable. Freons and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) destroy the ozone layer and contribute to global warming. Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are also greenhouse gases, except for (HFO)-1234yf, which has a global warming potential (GWP) lower than carbon dioxide, but it is flammable and produces highly toxic and corrosive hydrofluoric acid (HF) or toxic trifluoroacetic acid. Finally, the greenest alternative is carbon dioxide itself, non-toxic, non-flammable, non-ozone depleting, and a relatively low GWP. The supercritical form of carbon dioxide is discussed, as well as its engineering advantages and disadvantages as a refrigerant. Hosted by Felicia Etzkorn (Virginia Tech) and Jamie Ferguson  (Emory & Henry College), with music by Wendy Godley of The Kind.

5: Sunny Vitamin D3

5: Sunny Vitamin D3

October 30, 2020

In which we discuss vitamins to sustain ourselves, fat-soluble and water-soluble, and the foods rich in certain vitamins. Then we take a deep-dive into Vitamin D3––the 7-dehydrocholesterol precursor, the UVB light required to synthesize it in our skin, dosage recommendations from the Institute of Medicine vs. the US Endocrine Society, health effects of not enough and too much. Finally, we talk a little about the biochemistry and testing methods. Stay for the haiku reading at the end! Felicia Etzkorn and Jamie Ferguson, with music written and performed by Wendy Godley.

Most of this information can be found on Wikipedia and the references therein.

US Endocrine Society Vitamin D Recommendations:

Testing methods:

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