Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Modest Greenies

I recently went on vacation and stayed at a beach resort...since it was a family vacation, I didn't have much choice in the accommodations.

Prior to the trip I'd visited the resort's website and trip advisor, and found nothing that mentioned sustainability. Imagine my surprise when I arrived and found a tremendous amount of sustainable initiatives...all completed without being heralded.
Here are a few of the things the resort did to reduce it's environmental footprint (and operating costs):
  • Waterless urinals in public restrooms
  • Automatic paper towel dispensers in public restrooms
  • Towel/linen reuse program (both room and beach towels)
  • Open air restaurants (ceiling fans only, lights only at night)
  • Recycling bins distributed throughout the resort
  • Request that guests opened rooms and turned off lights and AC when not in the room
  • Foot wash basins filled once daily rather than outdoor showers
  • Free non-motorized watersports
  • Education on protecting local flora and fauna

I think of the resort as being like George Clooney - doing its part for the environment quietly, while realizing that there are some activities that are environmentally unfriendly (for George, it's the private planes/carbon footprint...for the resort, it's things like motorized watersports, plastic cups, and the carbon footprint of the visitors).

This experience reminded me that there are plenty of groups out there doing the right thing in the ways that make sense for their businesses. Let's all support those that do!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Who Controls over 500,000 Buildings?

Did you know that the U.S. government has one of the world's largest real estate portfolios? I learned this from the USGBC's July 25 update.

The U.S. government's 505,000 buildings range from embassies to standard office buildings, hospitals to cemeteries. And the government is making moves to reduce the environmental impact of this portfolio.

The person that helps federal agencies meet ever more stringent requirements (such as the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA)) is the Federal Environmental Executive (FEE).

Read the USGBC's article on the government's role in green buildings and the transcript of their interview with Mark Ginsberg, board member of the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

Monday, July 28, 2008

How many carbs does your building have?

That's carb short for carbon footprint. In case you hadn't heard already, in the UK, there is a new energy rating system called the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC). An EPC conveys summary information about the potential energy performance of a building, it's fabric and services. The Energy Performance Certificate gives an A to G rating - called the Asset Rating - of energy performance based on CO2 emissions and includes recommendations for improvement. EPCs will be accompanied by a Recommendation Report highlighting measures which, if adopted, have the potential to save energy and money. Energy Performance Certificates will remain valid for ten years unless the building is modified. To see an example of an EPC please click here.
The directive itself was inspired by the Kyoto Protocol which commits the EU to reduce CO2 by 8% by 2010, to 5.2% below 1990 levels. The rating system has been in effect since the August 1, 2007 in England and Wales for domestic properties, but as of October, 1, 2008, all non-domestic buildings on construction, sale and rent will require a Non-Domestic Energy Performance Certificate (NDEPC) and a Recommendation Report (RR).
By October 2008, all larger public buildings will require an annual Display Energy Certificate (DEC) highlighting their energy performance. This is to be displayed prominently in a place visible to the public. These buildings will also require an Advisory Report (AR) providing recommendations for energy improvements each seven years.
Because this is such a visible mark (like the Food and Drug Administration’s labeling requirements for nutritional contents in food), there are significant incentives for building owners to make improvements to their buildings to make them market competitive.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Your Water Footprint

A friend asked me today about the environmental reason for "preserving water." For those if us in big East Coast cities, water appears plentiful. We use this potable water, it moves through municipal systems, is treated, and available again as potable water after a certain amount of time. Why all this focus on capturing rainwater and minimizing potable water use? Can't we just continually clean and reuse it?

Though we both knew there was a flawed logic in this, we had trouble explaining it. After a little research, I think I get why saving water is important for our planet. Here's the logic. Much of this info pulled from

1. We don't have much fresh water to start with. First off, of all the water in the world, only 3% is fresh. Less than one third of 1% of this fresh water is available for human use. The rest is frozen in glaciers or polar ice caps, or is deep within the earth, beyond our reach.

2. More people over time will be using a limited amount of fresh water. Global water consumption has risen almost tenfold since 1900, and many parts of the world are now reaching the limits of their supply. World population is expected to increase by 45% in the next thirty years, while freshwater runoff is expected to increase by 10%. UNESCO has predicted that by 2020 water shortage will be a serious worldwide problem. One third of the world's population is already facing problems due to both water shortage and poor drinking water quality. Effects include massive outbreaks of disease, malnourishment and crop failure. In addition, excessive use of water has seen the degradation of the environment costing the world billions of dollars.

3. "Embodied" water requirements are increasing. Embodied water is not the water you drink, wash your clothes/dishes with or flows through your toilet, but the amount of water used during the growing, processing and transportation of the goods we use or consume, or the services we use. As an example, it takes 37 gallons of fresh water to produce 1 cup of coffee or 4,227 gallons of water to produce 2.2 pounds of beef.

4. The need for increased water consumption can have significant negative environmental impacts. For example:
  • Building more dams. This has severe environmental effects such as destruction of wilderness, creation of greenhouse gases from rotting vegetation, altered stream flows and degraded ecological health. It’s also very costly.

  • Maintaining other infrastructure for water supply and use. This includes costly upgrades and maintenance of pipes, sewers and treatment facilities. Three feet of storm water drain costs about $2,000 to install.

  • Erosion, salinity and desertification. Water consumption for agriculture alters the natural water cycle. This degrades production areas and intensifies other environmental problems such as land clearing and desertification. Salinity is said to directly cost Australia over 1.5 billion dollars a year, but true figures are probably a lot higher than this.

  • Degradation of water bodies. Many of our rivers, wetlands and bays are degraded. This is partly due to the high levels of water extracted, as well as polluted surface runoff and storm water flushed into them.

I know there has been a lot of buzz about carbon footprint lately, but honestly, I think we may suffer a clean water crisis before anything else. You may already measured your carbon footprint, if so, kudos. Now it's time to take your water footprint. Go here:

I just used the quick version of the calculator and it says that my water footprint is 4,347 in cubic meters per year as an average meat eater in the U.S. The global average is 1,243. What can I do to drastically reduce my consumption? One way is to become a vegetarian! Here's the breakdown of water consumption by food type.

The other significant way to reduce my individual water footprint is to move to Tanzania. See the Institute for Water Education's Water Footprints of Nations to see your country's per capita footprint (and other data).

But if you're an American and a meat eater who doesn't plan on giving up being either, start with taking some steps at home. Try this site for tips on saving water in the kitchen, the laundry, bathroom, in your pool and elsewhere. And share what you learn with others (and this blog).

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

No More Plastic Bags in LA!

The Los Angeles City Council just unanimously passed recommendations to adopt a Citywide policy banning the use of plastic carry-out bags at all supermarkets and retail establishments beginning January 1, 2012, if a fee has not been established by that time; and imposing a point of sale fee on all other single-use bags, such as paper or compostable bags, if a fee or tax for their use has not been adopted by that date.

Also, the Council voted to ban styrofoam at city-owned facilities, including LAX, by 2010.

Not only will this have a big impact on the Bay and the LA river, but it will send a strong message to Sacramento on AB 2058 - the bag fee bill.

Monday, July 21, 2008

When Loving Transit Goes Too Far

It's hard to believe that anyone could love tranist too much, but last week one young Florida man took his dedication to extremes: 'Transit freak' stole Dade buses for kicks

While stealing (or borrowing) busses or other modes of transportation is not recommended, this article made me laugh. It's good to see other young folks with a passion for the environment. If we can only find this guy and get him on the right side of the law....

Friday, July 18, 2008

Al Gore is Kinda Cute

I’ve always been a fan of older men. Today I fell for another one, Mr. Al Gore. Al (I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if I called him by his first name) came to DC to give a presentation for the We Campaign. Greenette sent me an invitation, so I clicked through, got my free ticket and headed off to DAR Constitution Hall yesterday along with my 3,699 best friends.

Al’s presentation was truly inspirational (click here for the transcript). With his slight southern accent and relaxed presence, I felt like he was talking directly to me about all the things I CAN do (even though I was waaay in the back). It’s always nice to hear what we CAN do versus things that cannot be done. It was also nice that there was a limited amount of politicking in the presentation (though there were some slightly crazy protesters outside).

Al’s concept was that the US move to use of entirely carbon-free fuel and electricity (bye bye petrochemicals and coal!) within TEN years. His inspiration: JFK’s similarly ambitious dedication to putting a man on the moon in ten years (we did it in just over 8). His arguments for why this is possible were quite compelling: the US has vast renewable resources including sunlight, wind, and geothermal. All of which can be tapped at a relatively low cost, particularly when compared to skyrocketing economic and environmental costs for oil and coal. His arguments for why we HAVE to do it were equally compelling: environment, economy (hello job creation!), national security (no more borrowing money from China to pay Saudi Arabia).

The one thing missing was behavioral change: all this is good, but we need to think about our own personal choices. How do we reduce demand for fuel/electricity? How do we drive less? How do we plan better?

Overall, great presentation Al. I’ll be sure to let my hubby know he has some competition.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

I was clicking through Planetizen's newsletter from last week and ran across an article I found worth sharing. The article, "Getting Stuffed" was featured in Macleans Magazine.

The focus of the article is on American's obsession with stuff...and our need to store it, particularly as it relates to the self-storage units. The author also relates the self-storage boom to the increase in housing foreclosures.

The article made me think about office practices (as well as personal junk storage, of course). In the effort to reduce real estate costs and make offices closer to paperless, many companies have turned to off-site archiving solutions. These are great solutions as some files absolutely need to be kept for legal or other reasons; however, there is not a need for regular access of these documents. Off-site storage allows these files to be stored in preferable environmental conditions, as well as in lower-cost real estate.

My question is, how much of the stuff we store in archives do we actually need to keep? The answer is, probably not as much as we thought when we were cleaning out our desks. Perhaps companies need to think about doing an annual "archive purge" in addition to the regular office clean up. This could benefit not just the company (lower storage costs), but also the environment (more paper into the recycling stream, fewer needs for new storage facilites, to name a few).

Companies also need to be more stringent in what employees are allowed to send to storage. At my office, as long as I fill out the forms, I can put pretty much whatever I want in my boxes. Yes, we do have archiving protocols, but not everyone knows them and those who do don't necessarily follow them. Since we don't archive THAT much stuff, there's also not significant cross-checking of what we're archiving. I'd guess lots of companies operate similarly.

How much have you thought about your archived files? What needs to be there? What should have been recycled? What did you need to keep for only a few years?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Lightbulbs to Leadership

I love the latest Sierra Club campaign... Lightbulbs to Leadership. They are launching a fun but earnest movement to encourage a "night of action" for green job development. From their press release:

"On July 17th, the campaign will culminate with more than 110 Lightbulbs to Leadership House Parties across the U.S., where people will listen in on a national conference call featuring Green For All President Van Jones, Washington State Gov. Christine Gregoire, and Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope. Attendees will then write letters to their governors encouraging green job development. House parties planned in your area can be found by clicking on the “Find a House Party” button and entering your local zip code from the Lightbulbs to Leadership site."

Check out their video below:

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Want to Learn about Energy?

Go to Green Energy TV... They have a collection of fantastic videos that talk about various types of alternative energy and how they can be applied. Each of the videos are short and will really capture your attention. It's like HGTV for energy... very addictive!

One of my favorites was the first video about wind by T Boone Pickens. He shows where solar and wind energy is available in the US and breaks down stats about America's dependance on oil and how we can kick our habit.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Are Carbon Offsets for Real?

Whenever I buy an airplane ticket or reevaluate my electric bill, I think about purchasing carbon offsets...but my dad's skepticism has worn off on me a bit. I wonder if the companies selling these are serious legitimate businesses, or just some guys with a snazzy website. Luckily for me (and you), there are now companies that certify carbon offsets.

One such agency is Carbon Concierge. The Carbon Concierge has established some provider evaluation criteria, including:

  • Business and Project Transparency
  • Offset Quality
  • Project Location and Offset Traceability
  • Industry Leadership
  • Business Model and Program Services Ratio
  • 3rd Party Evaluation
  • Education
  • Social Benefit

These criteria have helped the Carbon Concierge develop a list of preferred offset providers. At this time, they recommend the following:

While this does not replace doing your own due dilligence, it's nice to know that there are groups out there verifying the legitimacy of offset providers.

Image source: Business Day

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

T-shirt for your thoughts. . .

A reader recently approached The Green Workplace for some recruiting ideas.  We thought it would be a great opportunity to open a discussion that would benefit all of our readers.  The benefits don't stop there, however, we will give away 100% organic t-shirts for the best ideas you post to the discussion!

Question:  Our company has really strong environmental policies and is actively recruiting for a number of positions.  We really want to reach candidates who think Green.  Our company gives free bicycles to employees, recycles, uses organic materials in production, and the roof of our factory is covered in solar panels.  So far, these programs haven't really become the selling point for applicants that we anticipated.  Do you have any advice?

Answer:  Your current employee base is always going to be your most potent recruiting tool. Think of things they may choose to discuss about your company while at happy hour, at Thanksgiving dinner or while they are chatting with another parent while watching a Little League game. Are your green policies going to be among the headlines?  
Here are some other ideas that are likely to prompt personal testimony:

Readers:  Please let us know what you think!  Submit your ideas by posting your responses and send me an email with your mailing address, t-shirt selection and size if you wish to claim your 100% organic t-shirt.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Japan's Zero Emission House

Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) has unveiled its “Zero-Emission House” in parallel with the Hokkaido Toyako G8 Summit that is currently taking place.

This prefabricated house exhibits robots that serve tea to guests, a washer that requires no water, an air conditioner that sends cool air towards people in a room rather than general empty space, and a wind-turbine generator and a photovoltaic system which produces about 15 kilowatts of energy a day.
The structure has great insulation, natural aeration to maintain dry conditions and is designed with the seismic technology, SHEQAS, to mitigate damage due to earthquakes.

The waterless washer is a three-in-one machine that uses high-powered air to wash clothes without water. The process known as "ozonation" uses about twice as much electricity as a regular wash, but only one-fifth the total energy of a comparable full wash and dry because it operates without a drying system.

Additionally, there is a solar-powered TV, a roof-top vegetation system comprised of a thin film of moss grown on tile plates attached to the roof of the house which can also be fitted and grown alongside solar panels.
Very cool.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Commuting at $4 a Gallon... a real burden for many! While increasing gas prices and environmental considerations are encouraging many to get off the road, some companies are finding ways to help their employees with this goal.

Last week, the Seattle Times had an article, "Employers Going Beyond Requirements for Commute Alternatives," that discussed how some employers are giving additional incentives to employees to get off the road:

  • Transit subsidy (T-Mobile)
  • Shuttle service (Microsoft)
  • Transportation counselors (Children's Hospital & Regional Medical Center)
  • Telework (Entellium)
  • Bonus for biking (Mithun architecture firm)
  • Zipcar (Safeco)
What is your employer doing for you?

Image source: 808oasis

Friday, July 4, 2008

Pay as you Drive Insurance

Progressive Insurance is now offering "pay as you drive" or PAYD insurance. Progressive will put a little tag on your car and it knows how often you drive - which, in combination with your safe driving record - determines your premium. Here are some potential benefits from our friends at Wikipedia:

  • Commercial benefits to the insurance company from better alignment of insurance with actual risk. Improved customer segmentation.

  • Potential cost-savings for responsible customers.

  • Social and environmental benefits from more responsible and less unnecessary driving.

  • Due to the 24/7 aspects of vehicle location, it enhances security - both personal security and vehicle security. The GPS technology could be used to trace the vehicle whereabouts following an accident, breakdown or theft. [1]

  • More choice for consumers on the type of car insurance available to buy.

  • The same GPS technology can often be used to provide other (non insurance) benefits to consumers,e.g. satellite navigation [1]

  • Social benefits from accessibility to affordable insurance for young drivers - rather than paying for irresponsible peers, with this type of insurance young drivers pay for how they drive.
What interests me about this is the potential companies have to encourage green behavior. Think about it. If you drive less, you not only save gas, but also your premium. For some, this may be enough incentive to get them to bike or walk to work one day a week. It may also encourage parents (paying those big premiums) to encourage their children to drive less. If this product is successful, Progressive will win kudos for setting a new standard for risk mitigation in their industry and for changing their customer's behavior. Wow, that's pretty powerful.

So what other behavior changing ideas are out there?
Image from BBC News

Thursday, July 3, 2008

State of Utah Moving to 4-Day Work Week

I had the great pleasure of meeting Governor Jon Hunstman (R) from Utah today. An inspiring man on many fronts (he speaks fluent Mandarin and adopted two abandoned babies from China and India for a start), but I was particulaly inspired by his credible commitment to the environment. One of his most recent initiatives is to transition all state employees to a 4-day work week (4 ten-hour days with Fridays off). This will start full time in July and his team will be measuring the economic and environmental results at the 1-year mark. There are many logistics to work out (daycare for employees, etc.), but the benefits he sees are numerous:

1. With this one chnage, state government buildings in Utah will reduce energy consumption by 20%.
2. The state will be more likely to recruit smart, young people looking for work-life balance jobs.
3. They are more likely to retain staff - it's a perceived "bonus" by most to have three day weekends all year.
4. They will be able to provide better service to their constituants (they are open earlier and later Mon-Thurs, so better able to support working moms and dads).

If roughly 17,000 employees across an entire state can take on alternative work hours, how hard can it really be?

For more info:

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Wikis in the workplace

This week I read a very interesting article in Newsweek that I wanted to draw your attention to.
Here is a summary of the full article for you:
The United Nations, notorious for endless deliberations, is trying a technological quick fix. Its Global Compact Office, which promotes corporate responsibility, has embraced the wiki in hopes that it will help staff in 80 countries share information and reach consensus with less deliberation and more speed.

It is debatable whether encouraging public input is a good way to increase efficiency, but the move is the latest example of a quickly growing trend. Wiki software—easy-to-use programs that let anyone with Internet access create, remove and edit content on a Web page—first gained popularity thanks to Wikipedia, the user-generated encyclopedia that has come to be hailed as one of the Web's greatest resources. Now the technology is increasingly spreading outside the world of tech geeks and into the mainstream, being adopted by workplaces, corporations and even governments. In what's been dubbed the "wiki workplace," a growing number of organizations have begun shifting from traditional hierarchical structures to self-organized and collaborative networks, using wiki software—a basket of technologies that include wikis, blogs and other tools—to foster innovation across organizational and geographic boundaries.
Executives say the new tools make it easier for teams to collaborate and share information, and to get projects up and running on the fly. "Collaborative software has become a very important part of how businesses will invent and innovate," says Ken Bisconti, IBM's vice president of messaging and collaboration software. IBM has used internal wikis since 2005, with an eye to selling the concept to its clients. IBM has incorporated the wiki and other collaborative software into its corporate products like Lotus Notes, a desktop software for accessing e-mail and other applications. Its most advanced tool, the Quickr 8, combines blogs, wikis and plug-ins called "connectors" to link a range of business documents and libraries. Meanwhile, governments and
NGOs are, like the United Nations, experimenting with using the wiki concept to collaborate within—even involve constituents in policymaking. Sixteen U.S. intelligence agencies have begun using a common wiki called Intellipedia, a government-run—and top-secret—information-sharing source that allows them to merge research and intelligence gathering. And the nonpartisan WikiCongress—a user-generated Capitol Hill founded by former U.S. congressional staffers—lets the public vote on bills, create petitions and propose new policy, and then forwards the results to legislators.
"Wikinomics" coauthor Don Tapscott says wikis have the potential to spawn new models for international problem solving and dialogue, increase transparency in government and open communication between citizens and policymakers. Consider Habitat Jam, an open conversation that was hosted recently by the nonprofit Globe Foundation in preparation for the third session of the World Urban Forum, a gathering of leaders to discuss the impact of global urbanization.
See the full article for more details.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Green Furniture for the Home

I recently was asked for sources for green furniture for the home. I'm mostly familiar with commercial products from our friends at Herman Miller, Teknion, Allsteel, Steelcase, Knoll, and the like. Though many of these companies have products that are available to individuals, they do have a distinct modern look - not necessarily everyone's taste. Here are a few goodies I found that range from the sublime to the ridiculous. My favorites are the beds from Environment-Furniture and the Target tables (last link from Inhabitat).

Environment Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory