Thursday, June 26, 2008

The future for coal power stations: renewable energy production?

Battersea Power Station in London was decommissioned a quarter of a century ago. It was the first in a series of large coal-fired electrical generating facilities set up in England. For those of you who are not familiar with London, Battersea is very centrally located, just across the River Thames from Kensington & Chelsea. The first part of the structure was built in 1939, but since the early 1980s the site has remained largely unused, with numerous failed redevelopment plans from successive site owners.
The building is the largest brick building in Europe and is notable for its original and lavish Sir Giles Gilbert Scott Art Deco fittings and decor. In fact, the building is Grade II* listed but the condition has been described as "very bad" by English Heritage. The site has been owned by Real Estate Opportunities (REO) since November 2006, after they purchased it for £400 million.
REO have made waves in the UK press this week by announcing their plans for the future of the Power Station as... a Power Station! But the difference is, this it will generate electricity from renewable sources rather than coal. It will once again be used to produce power with a new combined cooling, heat and power plant, but this time using biofuels, waste and other renewable energy sources. Two of the existing Power Station’s chimneys will be reused as flues for this new Energy Centre.
The site will also be developed to incorporate 8 million square feet of hotel, office, residential and retail accommodation. REO propose that alongside the existing Power Station there will be a new building, designed by Rafael Viñoly, which will be the cleanest and greenest building in London. A 300 metre high Chimney and Eco-Dome will dramatically reduce carbon emissions of the 38 acre £4 billion development. Additionally, the largest solar driven natural ventilation system ever conceived will eliminate the need for air conditioning for the commercial and ground floor retail accommodation.
The Chimney will also house apartments with panoramic views over London. The Battersea Power Station development will be home to around 7,000 people and up to 20,000 new jobs will be created. More than 3,200 homes will be built on the site and 2,500 jobs will be created during the construction phase.
The Chimney will draw air up through a campus of individual office buildings which will be covered by a transparent Eco-Dome, made of material similar to that used at the Eden Project in Cornwall. Up to 3,000 cubic metres per second of air will be drawn through the system on a sunny day, reducing energy demand in the buildings by 67%.
REO is planning to spend £150 million on saving and repairing Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s Power Station, with the key historic spaces retained and open to the public. It will be the single largest development site in central London. It is planned that construction work will start in 2012 and the development will be completed by 2020 – depending on the speed of the planning process.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

My Company's Carbon Footprint

The firm I work for has just completed measuring it's carbon footprint for 2007. The results? Most of our impact is our travel. Our employees are using alternative travel when we can, we're greening the buildings we occupy, but the real impact of our carbon footprint is the air miles our 2,500 people spend traveling across the country and the world. Alternatives to this? We're starting to use Polyvision Thunder rooms and Cisco's Telepresence systems where we can. We're also taking the train rather than flying. Even still, there are major cultural shifts that will need to happen before we change our "need" to meet face to face with our clients. We're not saying no when we're asked to fly across the country for fear of losing the job. We're a global company and we pride ourselves in our ability to be anywhere we are needed. But is that the right answer? Here are some 'win-win' negotiation tactics for minimizing all those trips with your client:
  1. $4.50 / gallon is driving our travel expenses sky high. Perhaps we consider saving our face to face meetings for key meetings only. Would you be willing to try new technologies in this project and work virtually for some meetings?
  2. What if I take the time I spend on the road and use it towards working on your project?
  3. The environment is very important to our company and we've committed to reducing our carbon footprint. Would you be willing to partner with us in this effort and reduce the number of trips we all take in this project?

LOHAS and Greenwashing

I learned a new term today: LOHAS. Lifestyles Of Health And Sustainability. It speaks to the rapidly growing consumer market for sustainable products and services.

Unfortunately, the article that gave me LOHAS also gave me bad news on the greenwashing front. Natural Marketing Institute (NMI) did a study on LOHAS market trends and found four main themes:

  1. From Purchaser to Participant
  2. Sustainable Style
  3. Shades of Green for Everyone
  4. Greenwashing Washout.
The fourth topic is what struck me the most: essentially, many companies are doing the right thing and trying to provide environmentally-responsible products and services. Sadly, many other companies are more opportunistic and are providing products that are fooling consumers. Consumers are, however, becoming more discerning, which is encouraging!

Here are some sources to check out if you have some time:
Image source:

Friday, June 20, 2008

Garbage Gasification

Ok, I'll admit it, I am secretly a 12-year old boy. I was drawn to this article because of the word "gasification." Immature, yes, but also useful - due to my slightly warped sense of humor, I learned about a cool new technology: "The Prophet of Garbage" (found in Popular Science magazine) disusses an invention about the size of a two-car garage that basically vaporizes trash of all sorts to create energy.

According to the magazine, here's how it works:
Startech´s trash converter uses superheated plasma-an electrically conductive mass of charged particles (ions and electrons) generated from ordinary air-to reduce garbage to its molecular components. First the trash is fed into an auger that shreds it into small pieces. Then the mulch is delivered into the plasma chamber, where the superheated plasma converts it into two by-products. One is a syngas composed mostly of hydrogen and carbon monoxide, which is fed into the adjacent Starcell system to be converted into fuel. The other is molten glass that can be sold for use in household tiles or road asphalt.

Pretty cool technology!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Livestock in the City?

Someone sent me this adorable picture of a boxer dog and a goat kid a while back. Since I'm a boxer mom, I've been trying to talk my hubby into getting our boxer his own goat. Needless to say, it is not going so well.
That is, until I read this article: "Herhold: Sheep, goats get down to grass tacks." It turns out that some people are looking to livestock as the landscapers of the sustainable future. GREAT idea. Not only do they cut grass, but they fertilize it too!
I remember my grandmother letting the sheep loose on her farm to take care of the yard...but apparently this is less unusual than I'd expected. Here are a couple of other sources:
Unfortunately for me, grass mowing is MY job, not the boxer's dad's he sees no benefit to goats in my house. Maybe I can talk my boss or some of my clients into one for the office?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Time for a Hybrid?

With the price of gas crossing $4 a gallon (I paid $4.14 last time I filled up), lots of businesses and individuals are seriously considering trading in their fleets/cars for hybrid vehicles. Is it the right thing to do? This article in the Wall Street Journal argues that the answer is….maybe.

There are a number of reasons it’s a “maybe” – not the least of which is that a new car is a new car, and it’s wasteful to get something new manufactured when something old will do. Some of the other arguments include:
  • It depends on how many miles per year you drive (the average American is 15,000 per car per year)
  • Priuses cost $22K (that’s for the low-end model)
  • You’re not going to get much money back for your trade-in, especially if it’s a guzzler
  • Other small cars get pretty good mileage too…especially compared to your SUV!

All this said, I have a Prius and I love it. Not just for the gas, although that’s a big plus since when I calculated out the cost of getting a Prius vs. a similar-sized car, I was calculating gas at $2.50 a gallon. At $4+, I'm doing much better than I expected. The car is roomy, easy to drive, kinda cute, and my dog likes that it has a big back seat all for him. Of course, it does have a big old blind spot, but I’ve figured out how to work that out. For me, it was the right choice...but is it the right choice for everyone?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The 100 Thing Challenge

I’m travelling on business for a couple of weeks and was trying to be efficient in packing up my suitcase. While on the plane, I read an article in Time Magazine, “How to Live With Just 100 Things.” I guarantee I packed more than 100 things for my trip - even just socks and underwear for two weeks bring me close to 30!

This article discusses America’s obsession with consumerism. How many things do we actually need? Far fewer than we have, for certain. Anyone who has moved to a larger office (or home) knows that it fills up immediately with “stuff.” Some of it is necessary or desirable, but a lot of it is just because we have room to store it. When you have a tiny workstation (or apartment), it does make you think twice about what you actually need.

My workstation in the office is 36 SF – pretty tiny by any standards, but it suits me well. I have a pedestal with two drawers, two filing cabinet drawers, and two shelves. It is more than enough, and forces me to regularly recycle or archive my old files.

In the article, Dave Bruno has challenged himself to have only 100 things (personal items) to live successfully. When applying this to business, I wonder if I could do it….despite its small size, my desk still has a good number of things (grouped below by category rather than thing) – I don’t think I make it even close to only 100 things!
1. laptop computer, docking station, monitor, power cord, mouse
2. external hard drive, jump drive
3. files
4. pens, pencils, markers, highlighters
5. notepads, post-its
6. binder clips, paper clips, rubber bands
7. reusable water cup
8. desk phone & headset
9. cell phone & charger
10. books
11. drawer full of personal items (lotion, shout wipes, splenda packets, contact solution, etc.)
12. snacks (mostly diet cokes & granola bars)
13. tissues
14. vendor freebies
15. recycle pile, trash can
16. work bag, lunch bag, gym bag

How does your desk add up?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Corporate Social Responsibility and the Workplace

When it comes to incorporating social responsibility or sustainability in the workplace, it’s not just about creating a green building or complying with green building code; it’s about creating healthy and productive workplaces for people while increasing social and shareholder value for the organization.

The 100 Best Corporate Citizens list (from Corporate Responsibility Officer Magazine) ranks firms based on how well they perform in eight categories: shareholders, community, governance, diversity, employees, environment, human rights, and product. Their scores draw on both financial information and measures of corporate social performance. Here's my take on how the workplace can support these social performance categories:

Use minimal infrastructure resources to maximize shareholder value (minimize total amount of real estate needed which in turn impacts energy use, water use, cleaning, etc.)

Accommodate safe business practices that don’t negatively impact their surroundings.

Create a desirable environment which supports local recruiting.

Adopt operational policies and protocols in support of a healthy and productive work environment.

Accommodate a variety of work styles and work functions through flexible work settings, furniture, technology and training.

Design an environment is healthy and productive (access to natural light, visual stimulation, access to nature, etc.)

Support work-life balance through alternative work policies (work at home, desk sharing, etc.)

Implement transportation demand management strategies in place to minimize carbon footprint (public transportation incentives or rebates, bicycle or other personal transportation accommodations).

Design a workplace that is highly flexible and adaptable, accommodating organizational change and minimizing construction impact.

Human Rights
Create work policies and practices that ensure a safe and healthy environment

Building materials, furniture and all products used in the workplace are safe, non-toxic and reusable if not easily recyclable.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Beautiful but Disturbing: Waste Art

Image above depicts 11,000 jet trails, equal to the number of commercial flights in the US every eight hours.

A colleague sent me to Chris Jordan's website, "Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait." This site uses photography to show a specific number of something (such as number of plastic bottles used in the US every five minutes). The photography is beautiful, but the statistics it portrays are incredibly disturbing. Take a look and be astounded!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Sustainable Style

I have just come across this fantastic website for very stylish sustainable interiors and apparel and I thought I should share it with you. This is particularly relevant for the interior designers out there... Here's the link:

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Green Workplace of the Future

What does the workplace of the future look like? Better question... what is the nature of work in the future? Right now, most people associate work with an "office" or a single physical space where they do work. But with technology, we no longer need to be tethered to one place. In fact, for many knowledge workers, they are almost never in the office anyway (they just don't like to admit it). So, if we're completely untethered, how would we like to work? I'm willing to bet it wouldn't be in a place like this:

Microsoft says it should look like this. But I think that's a software company's dream. I mean, it looks like an environment made for computers, not people. Very sterile.
My idea of the perfect workplace? How about something like this...
It's one of the quietest places I've ever been and a short commute from my house… the Library of Congress Reading Room. Now that's a workplace that is inspiring and very condusive to working on heads-down tasks. Or how about any other library for that matter.

How about when I need to collaborate? How about a place like this?
You’re probably thinking… So you’re talking metaphorically, right? Actually, I’m not. Using libraries and cafes or other public or private spaces available to us could really be an individual or team choice. Do we even need an office? Or if we have one, perhaps it's much smaller, as we only need it to collaborate, use special equipment or regularly connect with our colleagues from time to time. Given the wide variety of choices we have to work in truly people-centric, productive places, why would we ever choose to sit in a Dilbert cube again?

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Shoppers - the new eco-energy supply?

I have been reading in The Sunday Times (UK) this morning that "the footfall of trudging shoppers is to become the latest source of emission-free energy".

Using under-floor generators, the technology could use the footsteps of pedestrians to power thousands of light bulbs at shopping centres. It uses the pressure of feet on the floor to compress pads underneath, driving fluid through mini-turbines that then generate electricity, which is stored in a battery.

The Sunday Times reports that engineers have carried out a trial of this technology at Victoria Underground station in central London, and have calculated that 34,000 travellers passing through every hour could power 6,500 light bulbs.

The article goes on to explain that the same principle can be applied to harnessing energy from trains moving over railway lines. But the most relevant application of this technology for this blog is the possible application in new office buildings.

Here is a link to the
original article.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Green Bling and Eco-Iconic Products

There is a fine line between "green bling," flashy green technology that gives lip service to sustainability, and "eco-iconic," the new term for eco-friendly goods and services that are bold, iconic markers and design, helping their eco-conscious owners show off their eco-credentials to their peers.

Both ideas support consumerism in the marketplace and not wholistic change, but the net benefit to society is increased awareness and knowledge about reuse and recycling, renewable energy and ways to leverage technology. I must say I've been coveting an Ecoist re-cycled candy wrapper bag for a while now. Maybe it's our first step in the evolution to getting green - we make green highly desirable in marketplace and then change the marketplace.

So what are these juicy eco-iconic products we are all lusting after? has done much of this for us. Here are a few of my favorites:

Myers Motors all-electric NmG (No More Gas)
ZegnaSport Solar Jacket
HYmini hand-held universal power charger
Skystream residential wind turbine

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Energy Modeling... by an Energy Company

I'm not a huge fan of oil companies, but I am a big fan of scenario planning, a methodology for writing stories about business futures, first started by Royal Dutch Shell in the 1970s. Peter Schwartz' The Long View is a fantastic read for those interested in more reading about this. I was reading Shell's latest thinking on oil production today and noticed they continue to use this scenario planning methodology. And when you think about it, who has more interest in thinking through the future of energy than a company that lives and dies by it? Here are two "futures" they describe on their website.

To help think about the future of energy, we have developed two scenarios that describe alternative ways it may develop. In the first scenario – called Scramble – policymakers pay little attention to more efficient energy use until supplies are tight. Likewise, greenhouse gas emissions are not seriously addressed until there are major climate shocks. In the second scenario – Blueprints – growing local actions begin to address the challenges of economic development, energy security and environmental pollution. A price is applied to a critical mass of emissions giving a huge stimulus to the development of clean energy technologies, such as carbon dioxide capture and
storage, and energy efficiency measures. The result is far lower carbon dioxide emissions.

Read more about Shell's Scramble and Blueprints scenarios here. I haven't gone through a fact-checked every statement, it is presented very well. Extremely thought provoking.

I'm Addicted to the Planet Green Game

I was putzing around on Starbuck's Corporate Social Responsibility website and found their Planet Green Game. It's fastastic! You pick an avatar and choose your own adventure, collecting green trivia points along the way. You can also go to a movie theater and view 7 movie shorts. Very interactive and very, very clever (maybe slightly addictive).

Test your skills. What was your score?

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Save the Rainforest While Killing Time

Those of you familiar with Facebook know of the many plug-ins available. Vampire battles, Super Poke, gift giving, etc. One of my favorite time-waster plug-ins is (Lil) Green Patch.

Basically, (Lil) Green Patch allows users to send and receive plants, care for each other's green patches, and buy decorations for the green patches. This is all fun and cute, but the great thing about (Lil) Green Patch is that for every 10 plants you send to your friends, the sponsors contribute enough funds to save 1 square foot of rainforest.

Every month, (Lil) Green Patch donates revenue (after expenses of course) to funding a portfolio of reforestation projects. The most recent donation was made May 1, 2008 to the Adopt An Acre program of the Nature Conservancy.

With 454,680 daily active users, (Lil) Green Patch has saved over 20 million SF of rainforest thus far. If you have Facebook and some time to kill, it would be a great way to help the planet while doing some business (or social) networking.

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