Recently, international news and social media have profiled a singular issue in the Amazonian forests of Brazil that affects us all; they’re burning. Although this year’s fires are not the first, what is different this season is that posts on the Internet have gone viral.

Debates erupted between conservation and development. There’s strong international pressure to protect rainforests, while a constituency of Brazilians believe it’s a resource to use as they see fit.

It turns out that there is a crisis. As Michael Barbaro wrote in The New York Times, “It’s just not exactly the crisis many have been reading about on Twitter and Facebook. It’s a crisis of a decades-long battle over the Amazon as a source of oxygen versus a source of income, and of a new president in Brazil who ran his campaign on it being the latter.”

It’s easy to feel hopeless watching fires ravage such a crucial rainforest critical to absorbing the planet’s carbon dioxide, read that the number of fires is higher this year, learn that if enough rainforest is lost and can’t be restored that the area will become savanna, which doesn’t store as much carbon, reducing the planet’s “lung capacity” (according to a report by The New York Times and Brazil’s National Institute of Space Research agency).

And I wonder: What can we do in our own corner of the world to help?

Regularly, I witness heated debates about our role in climate change and ability and responsibility to reverse these effects. I feel an internal struggle between what is reasonable for personal consumption and how far I am willing to go to make environmentally friendlier choices. Should I drive or walk even when it takes three times as long? Should we plan a trip closer to home to avoid air-polluting plane travel? Is it worth lugging my reusable metal mug around to keep a few plastic cups from the waste bin?

At least at this point in our journey to awareness about human influence on climate, it often feels inconvenient to make the more eco-friendly choice. But this doesn’t always have to be the case. I have been inspired lately by local businesses taking steps big and small to reduce waste and other harmful impacts on our environment. They’re making it easier on the rest of us.

Stria, a local company that recently made the 2019 Inc. 5000 list of fast-growing businesses, helps organizations go paperless. Stria was founded in 2005 by Jim Damian, former child welfare social worker, whose inability to quickly locate case files prevented him from doing his job to the best of his ability. So he founded a business to digitize those documents.

“Trees. Water. Carbon emissions. The environmental impact of paper in local business is significant and avoidable,” explains Damian. “Stria’s digital transformation services help companies reduce their reliance on paper and their impact on the environment.”

Stria’s products and services enable companies to replace cumbersome paper-based processes with digital processes that are eco-friendly and efficient. Electronic signatures, workflow automation, scanning and digital document management are having a major impact on companies and on the environment. For example, a company that processes 1,000 documents per week will save six trees, 5,560 gallons of water and 4,670 pounds of greenhouse gas per year if it turns documents paperless.

Stria has helped customers transform hundreds of millions of documents into efficient electronic records. Major local industries that are taking part in the digital transformation are education, human resources, energy, government and health care. Stria is helping them get there.

Cloud 9 Coffee is doing its part by serving only in reusable glass jars. Located in the lobby of the Stockdale Tower, with fluffy, cloud-like poufs dotting the space, Cloud 9 strives to be a zero-waste cafe. It doesn’t use any paper or plastic cups. Instead, it has a jar rental program where customers rent a glass for 50 cents; the shop returns that money upon the jar’s safe return. Cloud 9 encourages customers to bring their own cups when they return jars, in which case they receive a double discount. The paper and plastic used in-store is all recyclable, if not compostable and/or biodegradable.

Owner Morgan Bonn notes that none of these practices have gone without struggle. “Some don’t like the jar program," he said. "All of our eco-friendly practices are more expensive than their landfill-loving alternatives. It’s definitely hard! But I believe that this is the future, and all businesses will head in this direction.”

Another local shop, Soapterra, is committed to its earth-friendly roots.

“Our name itself includes planet Earth (“terra”), and we emphasize the importance of being good to our planet,” states owner Gaby Schmidt.

The company's soaps are free of palm oil, which often is not environmentally sustainable. They are also 100 percent vegetarian. They use honey or beeswax ingredients, making them biodegradable. Soapterra soaps are minimally packaged in recyclable, post-consumer craft paper and are also available “naked”. Bath bombs are shrink-wrapped in a biodegradable film. Glass is used for the majority of packaging, with the exception of products that have to be around bathtubs. The business encourages customers to reuse or recycle.

Most recently, Soapterra implemented a refill station for some products, and customers are encouraged to bring their own containers and buy bulk.

Anna Smith writes a weekly column about Bakersfield. She can be reached at anna@sagebakersfield.com The views expressed here are her own.

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