Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Who has the Best Commute?

Image of Hong Kong from Destination 360

First, let me apologize for my recent obsession with transportation!

Think your commute is terrible? If so, consider moving to one of the ten best cities for commuting (as ranked by Forbes). The cities listed below have inexpensive, efficient, and reliable transit. Rankings were developed using the following criteria: the cost to the consumer and the government, overall investment in improvements, and the speed and safety with which workers are delivered to offices.

And here are the winners:
  1. Hong Kong, China
  2. Tokyo, Japan
  3. Chennai, India
  4. Dakar, Senegal
  5. Osaka, Japan
  6. London, England (good choice, Green London!)
  7. Beijing, China
  8. Mumbai, India
  9. Krakow, Poland
  10. Berlin, Germany
Read the article: The world’s 10 best commutes, which includes my new favorite traffic quote:
It's like being in love. If you think you are love, you are in love.
If you think you are in traffic, you are in traffic.
-Nathan Rees, premier of New South Wales, Australia

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Commuting by Autocarrier

So I'm a little behind in my reading, but as I was perusing the December 2008 Planning magazine I ran across a cool idea that helps reduce single occupant vehicle trips, but allows people the freedom of having their own cars.

The article, Travel Smart A Proposal: Commute by Freeway and Save Energy (second item) suggests a system in which small cars are loaded onto an auto carrier (like the ones that haul new cars to the dealership) in the suburbs and hauled down the freeway to the central business area.
This would help reduce the number of cars on the road and the need for large commuter parking lots in the suburbs (thereby reducing runoff and urban heat island effect issues).
Of course, there are some flaws: the concept would work best for small cars, people would need to have the cars turned off during transport to achieve maximum environmental benefit, there would still be need for urban parking, etc, etc. Regardless, it's an interesting concept.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Trikes for Grownups

With the Christmas holiday just past, many families may have found tricycles under their trees (thanks Santa!), but probably not too many cargo trikes. I ran across an article about the resurgence of tricycles as a means of transporting materials in The Christian Science Monitor.

Essentially, MetroPed (previously New Amsterdam Project) in Cambridge, MA (Boston-area) is taking the bicycle messenger method of delivery a step further. The company's goal is to provide a healthier, cheaper method of delivering materials. Pretty cool!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Cuba: Not Just Cigars

Urban agriculture has long been a key component of the "eat local" movement, but did you know that one of the countries with the most thorough urban agriculture system is our neighbor to the south, Cuba?

Taking up about 35,000 hectares (86,000 acres) of land, the urban agriculture movement began as a military concept, allowing Cuba to be self-sufficient in times of war. The collapse of the USSR and resultant food shortages increased the concept's popularity. Throw in a very active hurricane season that devastated traditional farms, and the urban agriculture movement is a vital part of Cuba's food supply.

Check out the article: In "eat local" movement, Cuba is years ahead

Image source: City Farmer

Monday, December 22, 2008

Recycling Sucks!

This is so cool - a system that essentially sucks your trash and recycling down under the streets and off to a central collection point. No more smelly trash rooms, noisy garbage trucks, or waiting for neighbors to pick up their bins for days and days!

Developed by Envac, the stationary system essentially connects a bunch of input bins which are interconnected by underground pipes to a central collection point. Waste is stored at the point of collection until a regularly scheduled emptying time. At this point, vacuums and fans are turned on and the waste is sucked on to the collection point.

The mobile system works similarly, however, instead of waste going to a central collection point, it is sucked into a truck at a nearby loading area.

I first learned about the system from an article that describes the system's use in a mixed-use development: Quintain starts recycling revolution at Wembley City.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Is Your Car Making You Fat?

Researchers at the University of Tennessee and Rutgers University recently found a strong link between "active transportation" and obesity rates, meaning that in countries where more people opt for walking, bicycling, and taking mass transit have lower rates of obesity. Essentially, this means that by avoiding cars, people can burn more calories (pretty straightforward).

Some stats:
  • Europeans walk an average of 237 miles each year and bike another 116, while Americans walk 87 miles and bike 24.
  • The Swiss take an average of 9,700 steps each day, compared to 7,200 for the Japanese and 5,900 for Americans.
  • 12 percent of Americans use active transportation: 9 percent walk, 1 percent ride a bike and 2 percent take a bus or train; over 25% of Americans are obese.
With all the goodies around the office these days, I know I'm a bit concerned about putting on some extra holiday weight. I think I'm going to make an effort to engage in active transit more frequently...especially on nice days when the 40 minutes of walking to & from the Metro will be pleasant!

Visit the original study.
Article from AP
Article from Wired

Image source: Car Whisperer

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Hoteling is Hard

I've blogged before about how my group has moved to a desk-sharing situation: there are six of us and we have only five desks. In theory, it's excellent. We save money by paying less rent (our rent is fully loaded, so there is no direct utility cost), we save the environment by not commuting to work every day, and we improve our own work/life balance by working from home (or elsewhere).

The reality of the situation: it's hard! Not the "working from home" part, but the desk sharing part. We have not been able to truly give up our seats (the newest teammate pretty much sits where someone else is not sitting and the rest of us sit at our normal desks). Not everyone is working from home on a regular basis, meaning there are more than a few times that there are six people at the office, but only five desks available - not so much fun.

We're still working on it. . . perhaps one could call our New Year's resolution a new committment to alternative work. But it's not as easy to transition as we thought it might be....good old human resistance to change is alive and well, even for those of us who "drank the Kool Aid"!

U.S. Drivers Are Getting Off the Road... (and hopefully out of their Hummers?)

People in the United States drove 3.5% fewer miles in October 2008 than they did in October 2007, making October the twelfth consecutive month of year-to-year declines in U.S. vehicle miles traveled, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). From November 2007 to October 2008, U.S. residents drove 100 billion fewer miles than the year before, marking the largest ever continuous decline in U.S. driving. October alone saw a year-to-year drop of 8.9 billion vehicle miles, which is the largest October decline since 1971. And while the DOT report doesn't try to explain the drop in driving, an October report from HNTB Companies says the decrease is partly due to a shift toward public transportation.

A nationwide poll showed that more than 24 million U.S. residents—11% of the adult population—are using public transportation more than they did last year, and 16% say they expect to increase their ridership in the coming year. Although many were motivated by high gasoline prices, they also discovered the convenience, traffic avoidance, and environmental benefits of public transit. Heck, even Obama plans to use transit to get to his own inauguration!

Maybe we'll see a better funding mechanism from the Federal government that doesn't support highways as much as 80-90% while expecting public transportation programs to be self sufficient economically. Public transportation projects are often entirely locally funded or receive in the neighborhood of 10% Federal funding. A huge dichotomy. I've said it before and I will say it again: public dollars should go to public transportation. Highways are enormously subsidized by our tax dollars and yet don't benefit the public in a very even way. Only people who can afford cars benefit from highways while anyone should be able to get on a safe and reliable transit system ('should' being the operable word here).

Economics of Recycling

The economy isn't just affecting your businesses and retail operations: it's also impacting recycling. The market for recycled materials has dried up, meaning that recycled items are piling up in warehouses across the country. A great time for us to think about REDUCING in addition to recycling!

Image Source:

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Environmentalists vs. Preservationists

As I told you before, I've been doing a lot of "green reading" - here's another interesting find: A Cautionary Tale - Amid our green-building boom, why neglecting the old in favor of the new just might cost us dearly.

In this article, the author discusses the popularity of "green" building and the influence of the USGBC in the design of new buildings. He is concerned that the "green wave" is beginning to put preservationists and environmentalists at odds: preservationists want to retain existing building stock, and environmentalists wanting to build new.

The author argues that older buildings are not necessarily as inefficient as once thought, particularly those built in the 1920s and earlier. Many of these buildings were inherently "green." The embodied energy of these buildings makes them vaulable in their current form.

He also introduces the term "stealth green" to denote buildings (and practices) that are green without being overt or flashy.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The World is One Big Field

Fallowing is the farming practice of allowing fields to regenerate after a period of production - not planting particular fields for a season.

I recently ran across an interesting article that suggests we need to allow the world to fallow: Fear of fallowing: The specter of a no-growth world.

This article uses the example of Newfoundland fisheries to demonstrate the concept of fallowing: Newfoundland's fish catch is now restricted by what the fish population can support, rather than the tools of the fishermen: it has reached stasis.

The author believes that fallowing/allowing stasis should be done with all natural resources. This theory is economically unpopular, as fallowing reduces growth as it has been historically known. The author argues that we should "view progress as the creation of efficiency rather than wealth."

Interesting concepts. What do you think?

Image source: ESRI

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Green Word of the Day: Backcasting

Whereas forecasting is the process of predicting the future based on current trend analysis, backcasting approaches the challenge of discussing the future from the opposite direction.

Backcasting then is a method in which the future desired conditions are envisioned and steps are then defined to attain those conditions, rather than taking steps that are merely a continuation of present methods extrapolated into the future.

This kind of thinking is particularly important for meeting environmental targets, because making incremental improvements in the way we live and work today will not enough to make the difference needed to sustain life on earth in the long term. Some examples of backcasting are:

· The Architecture 2030 Challenge, a global initiative stating that all new buildings and major renovations reduce their fossil-fuel GHG-emitting consumption by 50% by 2010, incrementally increasing the reduction for new buildings to carbon neutral by 2030.
· The Kyoto Protocol requires industrialized nations to reduce their greenhouse gases by 5.2 percent compared to 1990.
· Sony, Nike, Nokia and nine other multinational companies have signed a declaration in support of a 50% reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, echoing similar calls being made by UN scientists and EU leaders during international climate negotiations.

So what backcasting targets can you set for your office? And then, more importantly, what do you need to change in the way you work to meet them?
Image from Epson

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I <3 Google Docs

Looking for a green way to collaborate besides webconferencing?
Recently my team has found that google docs works extremely well for sharing documents across offices and even across companies. I've used Google docs personally for a while - primarily for storing documents online so that I myself could access them at any time and from any computer.

With google docs, you can create (or upload) text documents (like Word); spreadsheets (like Excel); presentations (like PowerPoint); or, forms (which I've never tried).

One of the coolest things about google docs is that multiple contributors can each work in the document at the same time. At my job, we find this very useful for our weekly operations call, during which about 10 people are simultaneously modifying our labor forecast. It's much better than taking turns waiting for someone to close out of the document on our server!

We're also trying it out on a project in which we are collaborating with the University of Maryland. Rather than storing documents on an FTP site or emailing files back and forth, we all access the google doc. So far, so good!

Oh, and there's a mobile version of google docs that allows you to access your documents from your mobile device. Pretty cool!

Image Source: Robin Good

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Green Nuns

Image source:

The Guardian last week reported that a group of nuns from the rural English county of Worcestershire are on the move. They are moving from the Victorian Stanbrook Abbey to an environmentally sensitive monastery being built in the North York Moors national park.

In a brief to the architects (2008 Stirling prizewinners Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios), the nuns stated their vision for their new premises. In addition to being sensitive to environmental concerns, a monastery for women should "contain some natural curved surfaces and shapes".

The new building will allow them to live simply. There will be broadband-ready bedrooms for up to 30 nuns, a church, library and ancillary buildings. It also incorporates a retreat for up to 15 guests as hospitality is common to Benedictine traditions. The nuns will be in harmony with the heritage of their surroundings, studded with the ruins of Whitby, Rievaulx and Byland abbeys and Mount Grace Priory. "We are supposed to love creation and respect the environment. We're living in and taking care of it," said Dame Andrea Savage, the abbess at Stanbrook.

Next year the nuns will bid farewell to the Victorian splendour of Stanbrook Abbey in rural Worcestershire to live in a monastery with rainwater harvesting, reedbed sewage systems, sedum roofs, recycled material, a woodchip boiler and responsibly-sourced timber.

Click here for the full article.

Click here for photos - including illustrations of the new monastery.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Verde Office Parties

The Holidays may well be a few weeks off yet, but the party season is already upon us with offices up and down the country putting the finishing touches to their annual festive knees up. But just because everyone is poised to lose their inhibitions there is no reason for companies to lose track of their environmental policies. In fact, there are more reasons than ever to make sure your office party adheres to your green office principles. Here are a few helpful tips..hope you enjoy!!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Recession-Proof Industry

With all the news about the recession/tanking economy/need for government bailouts, there's not a lot to look forward to in the news; however, I must say I'm liking what I'm hearing about the green building industry:

Image Source: Weburbanist

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Toronto Gets Ahead

Our neighbors to the north have recently taken a big step towards reducing their environmental footprint. The City of Toronto has voted (30:13) to ban sales and distribution of disposable plastic water bottles at city-owned facilities, and has approved a 5 cent fee on disposable plastic bags.

Read some articles:

Friday, December 5, 2008

The future looks bright - Renewable Energy Under the New Administration

Okay, I will really geek out on you right about now. I have always been fascinated by renewable energy and the opportunties to integrate power generation with building architecture. Ergo, I am also really fascinated by energy policy and how renewable energy will be advanced in the marketplace. So yesterday I went to the ACORE conference on the Hill, in the Canon building caucus room, where members of the House often meet (it is a gorgeous room). The conference theme was Renewable Energy under the New Administration. If you’re insanely jealous that you weren’t there you can download the speakers slides and watch the whole thing at your leisure. Yup, they webcast it. I heart technology. Tom Friedman of Hot, Flat and Crowded fame (and The World is Flat, if you’re behind on your reading) was the keynote. You can watch him too. It was an AMAZING day.

The thing that impressed me the most, besides the dazling array of really amazing and SMART speakers, was a) the overwhelming sense of optimism and b) that the presenters had not coordinated beforehand but all had very similar things to say about where we are going and how we are going to get to a transformed future. The best story was probably told by Dan Arvizu who recounted a story where he was contacted by the Make A WIsh Foundation on behalf of an 11 year old boy with Leukemia. The boy’s wish? Not to visit Disneyland, but to visit NREL. The future looks bright.

The key issues were divided up into transportation, electric power and finance. My take:

Transportation: we need every car make and model to be BOTH a flex fuel vehicle AND a plug-in hybrid electric. Everyone should be able to choose from anything and everything that is available.

Electric Power: we need better infrastructure, i.e. an improved grid - a smart grid - and STORAGE for intermittant power supplies from wind and solar. We also need a NATIONAL renewable energy portfolio standard (only about 30 states have one right now).

inance: we love the (expansion of) Production and Investment Tax Credits but they aren’t very useful if no one is making money and therefore not paying taxes. Ergo PTCs and ITCs need to be REFUNDABLE tax credits.

The future is a CHOICE, not FATE. To despair is to sin. We have EXACTLY ENOUGH TIME… STARTING RIGHT NOW.


There were some really AMAZING speakers that were both funny and serious, inspiring and sobering, extremely knowledgeable on a technical level, visionary and insightful. Some of my favorite thoughts and paraphrased quotes follow brief speaker bios:

· Dan Arvizu, former Chief Technology Officer of CH2M Hill Companies Ltd., current Director National Renewable Energy Labs (NREL) (also on Obama transition team) – the new Administration loves green technology and though it won’t be easy or quick, does envision significant sustainable transformation of the nation happening within 4 years. The next generation is ahead of us, they see what’s coming and they are smarter than we are.

· John Cavalier, former Vice Chairman of Credit Suisse’s Investment Banking Div., current Managing Partner of Hudson Capital – the key drivers of renewable energy are 1) demand: per capita energy use if up in developing countries, 2) the environment: see climate change, 3) security: we need to source our energy locally. The U.S. borrows $700 billion a year to bring oil to the U.S., 4) cost: the cost of renewables has been dropping rapidly. We are now at grid parity. 40% of electric generation capacity additions to the U.S grid in 2007 were from WIND. What the new Administration needs to do: 1) eliminate the legislative expiry if renewable energy tax credits, 2) make renewable energy tax credits refundable, 3) extend the Production tax Credit (PTC) carryback period to 10 years, 4) allow PTCs to apply to lease financing, and 5) provide incentives for domestic manufacture of renewable energy equipment.

· Aimee Christensen, former World bank (Legal Dept.) and Department of Energy (Latin American Energy Policy, current Founder and CEO Christensen Global Strategies (Clean Tech for Obama, Clinton Global Initiative, Global Green, Swiss Re, United Nations) – How do we value nature’s services beyond carbon? how do we include nature’s services in our GDP? Studies show that weatherization and retrofits to existing buildings can save 30% of utility bills – NO cap and trade program we’re discussing will cost anything near 30% of our utility bills

· Governor Chet Culver of Iowa , former high school teacher and coach, former Iowa Secretary of State – we need five things: 1) a better grid and better transmission capacity, 2) a five year extension on wind production tax credits, 3) a NATIONAL Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS), 4) we need to work with automakers to make flex fuel AND hybrid electric vehicles – combine technologies, and 5) a NATIONAL plan for energy independence that starts with R&D.

· Senator Tom Daschle – if we managed our land like the Europeans we could double our production of fuel from biomass while beautifying the landscape; we need plug-in flex fuel hybrids; we need to focus on crops that provide all of these things at once: FOOD, FEED, FUEL, and FIBER.

· Thomas Friedman, NY Times Columnist and author of The World Is Flat and Hot, Flat and Crowded – It isn’t a revolution until someone gets hurt – people don’t have to die, but businesses may have to fundamentally change the way they do business. We’re not having a green revolution right now, we’re having a green party. We’ll know the Green Revolution has been successful when we don’t call it that anymore, when there ceases to be ‘green buildings’ or ‘green energy’ and high performance and sustainability are built into our normal business as usual; I don’t want to charge my lifestyle on my daughters’ Visa card. We don’t need or want a ‘bailout’, but a build up to the next generation. America needs to get its groove back. We need an ET revolution the way we had an IT revolution (ET = Energy Technology). We say ‘no taxation without representation’. In other countries making a lot of money off of oil sales, they don’t need to tax. And without taxation, you don’t have to have representation. No representation without taxation. Welcome to Petro-Dictatorships. The world will never be flat until it’s GREEN. We’re entering a new age of Noah, where we’re trying to save the last two of every species. We can’t regulate our way out of our problems, we need to INNOVATE. The government needs to send a PRICE SIGNAL to accelerate the green revolution at the speed, scale and scope that we need. Young people who want to make a difference need to LEARN THE RULES and then rewrite them – but if it isn’t boring, it probably isn’t green. Everyone would like to be an ECOSTAR but you can’t. Get off of Facebook and into somebody’s face. Go where the rules are written and write them your own way – if it doesn’t happen you have only yourselves to blame. When it comes to the big three of Detroit, we should be talking about BAIL not a BAILOUT.

· Brad Gammons, former Captain in the U.S Air Force, current Vice President of IBM Global Energy and Utilities Industry – We need a SMART GRID that can address re-urbanization and modernization of the U.S. – a smart grid can monitor/manage not just electricity but water, waste, gas, communication, etc. We will then have a smarter planet.

· Andrew Lunquist, former Director of the National Energy Policy Group (Bush), current President of Blue Water Strategies – As Sherlock Holmes said, we need to eliminate the impossible and what remains must be the solution.

· Kevin Walsh, Managing Director of Renewable Energy at GE Financial Services – tax credits won’t help if people pay no taxes (because they aren’t making any money in this economy). Tax credits must be refundable, we need to broaden the investment pool and increase our investment in transmission.

· Michael Ware, Managing Director of Good Energies – we need both short and long term action. Short term: We need to unlock credit markets, accelerate DOE loans. Long term: 1) prepare the U.S. for a RE economy, 2) renew the EMPHASIS ON ENERGY EFFICIENCY, 3) policies should be designed to level the playing field (between RE and fossil fuels), 4) leverage public private partnerships so that the U.S. can regain LEADERSHIP position. Utilities can offer incentives for energy efficiency at the end user (i.e. reductions in demand).

· Tom Werner, CEO of SunPower Corporation – We will reduce the cost of solar generation installed by 50% between 2006 and 2012. Tax credits must be fungible; refundable. Distributed technology, i.e. rooftop generation, should be included in Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards. Renewable (including distributed/rooftop) generation should garner carbon credits that will have value in a carbon cap and trade system.

· Tracy Wolstencroft, current Managing Director of Goldman Sachs – A healthy environment is the foundation for sustainability in economic growth. We need a national renewable energy portfolio standard. The aging infrastructure is an opportunity to upgrade to a smarter grid.

· Pat Wood, former Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, current Principal of Wood3 Resources LLC – the problem is not with physics or the engineers, not with money – the problem (roadblock) is regulatory because there is no organized national grid. Renewable Energy needs to be planned and operated on a regional level to be effective. We will have to use Imminent Domain, which no one loves, but the state and federal regulators can handle it. STORAGE is critical. We may need to take a stick-painted-orange approach (as opposed to the carrot and the stick).We have to make the tax credit expansion work – even in this market.

· Jim Woolsey, former Director of Central Intelligence, current Venture Partner of Vantage Point Ventures – the Clean Air Act waivers that oil companies get serve as a $250 billion subsidy for oil. We need to balance that with subsidies for clean sources of energy. The government’s job is not to pick winners, but to break the oil monopoly and level the playing field. We need to destroy the strategic significance of fossil fuels the way we did so with SALT. Up until the last century or so, wars were still being fought over it. With the advent of coal, natural gas and oil and therefore refrigeration, we no longer need salt. We should be moving fossil fuels in this direction by focusing on resources that we already have in abundance and employing them in a way that does not exhaust them.

Forty Shades of Green

Have you ever heard that in any view of Ireland you see 40 shades of green? After spending some time in Southern Ireland this past summer, I started thinking about what global warming is doing to the wonderful Irish landscape, we all know and love. I have compiled below a few high-level facts that I have came across.

"All is changed, changed utterly." In a time of relative peace in Ireland, a new foe has arisen that threatens to change the face of Ireland." William Butler Yates

Scientists predict that by 2050 winter rainfall will increase by 12 percent and summer rainfall will decline by the same. Thus turning the lush green landscapes into patchy brown and green fields.

  • The sea is swallowing up on average about 750 acres of Ireland’s land each year. Its the changing global temperatures that are slowly altering the landscape, flora and fauna. (red indicates land mass flooded by increase in sea-level)

  • The current primary crop in Ireland (the potato) is already showing evidence of decline, because of it's dependency on an adequate water source. Climate change could yield too much water in some places at some times and too little of it in other places at the same time, therefor hindering an adequate water supply.

  • Due to expansive economic growth in the last 20 years, Ireland's demand for energy has grown by more than 70 percent in the last 15 years, thus resulting in an increase for fossil fuels and petroleum based products.

  • The landscape will have a visual change to vegetation and land use, due to greater weather extremes. Lands in certain regions of the country will continue to grow fields of wheat, barley and corn as the climate changes, but with warmer and dryer summers, brown fields will be much more common. Thus reducing tourism (one of Ireland's top resources).

  • The change in rainfall will put one of the Irish landscapes unique features, peat bogs, at risk of more frequent “bog bursts “when masses of peat loosen from their bedrock and slide down slopes. (comparable to a mudslide)

The Incredible, Edible... Fork?

I ran across this great new product that is still in prototype, but brilliant. It's an edible fork / spoon utensil designed by Italian student Davide Tarantino. It's made of dough that can be flavored and is industrially produced, poured into a mold and cooked.

What I love most about it (besides the fact that it's the ultimate example of cradle to cradle or zero waste thinking) is that is probably would really enhance a meal. It might be flavored sweet or savory, depending on what you are cooking. Or perhaps you might add daily vitamins - why not?

It's shape is unique, which is sure to be a conversation starter. Plus, anything that mixes design and food has to be good.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Green Word of the Day: LOHAS

Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability (LOHAS) describes a marketplace for goods and services focused on health, the environment, social justice, personal development and sustainable living.
Worldwatch Institute reported that the LOHAS market segment in year 2006 was estimated at $300 billion, approximately 30% of the USA consumer market, and a study by the Natural Marketing Institute showed that in 2007, 40 million Americans were included within the LOHAS demographic.

To find LOHAS businesses near you, try:

B for Authenticity

If you’re still having difficulty sifting through all the GreenWash, there’s finally a business here to help - B Corporations makes it easier for users to sort through the current flood of green marketing. Their site is pretty cool – it's a certification process that "uses the power of business to create public benefit.”

Any corporation can complete the online survey to prove that they meet specific, comprehensive and transparent social and environmental performance standards. Those that achieve the minimum score obtain their B corp status at no cost. This benchmark makes it much easier for me to identify the authentic from the greenwashers.

Humor and Green Gifts

A lot of green talk is very serious in nature...which is great! But, sometimes we need a bit of lighthearted fun. This week's Time Magazine has an outstanding article about microloans (a great green gift, for those of you shopping): Cupcake Kings Go Global, With a Little Help From Joel.
You may remember from previous posts, that I am a big Joel Stein fan. Enjoy the article...and don't get too hungry looking at the cupcake picture!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Less Driving = Cheap Gas

As I made the 100 mile trek north last weekend to visit family for the Thanksgiving holiday, I couldn't help but notice how inexpensive gas has become. Checking back in my gas log, the last time I bought gas for under $2 a gallon was in 2002!

While I was happy to pay less, I was hoping that people wouldn't get gas-happy again. Then I ran across an article in the Wall Street Journal that confirmed my suspicions: Americans Drive Less, Creating a Problem.

The author explains that thanks in part to high gas prices (exceeding $4 a gallon at times), the number of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by Americans dropped for 11 straight months! People were not only driving fewer miles, but also driving them in more fuel-efficient automobiles.

The combination of reduced demand and a lovely little recession have brought gas prices back down. And gas tax income has come down too. The author suggests raising the gas tax to keep prices high, demand low, and income high. Not a bad idea, but probably not too popular.

It will be interesting to see where the next few months and years take us. As the author says, "A lot depends on whether Americans keep doing what they're doing, regardless of what the numbers are on the gas station signs."

Image source: Christianity and the Confusion

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

America's Greenest Hotel

While traveling on business in North Carolina prior to the Thanksgiving holiday, a friend recommended that I check out Greensboro's newest attraction: the Proximity Hotel and Print Works Bistro. The hotel and it's restaurant earned LEED Platinum status in October, making it the first LEED Platinum hotel in the U.S. and one of the nation's greenest buildings in general.

Greensboro, a mid-sized town of less than 300,000 in the middle of North Carolina, off of I-40, is unassuming as home to a hotel with such distinction (for instance, I found an article on the hotel in the travel section of the LA Times, alongside a significant list of accolades from other sources). When this friend recommended trying the Print Works Bistro for dinner, as it was a "fun, new, green restaurant", I thought that perhaps it was a restaurant that simply served free-range chicken on its menu. I in no way consider myself a "foodie," but I do enjoy good food. Would this be up to par, or on the bland end?

I grossly underestimated.

What I discovered was an open restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows that overlooked a surprisingly gracious scene including a restored stream and large patio (it was 25 degrees outside, so we stayed inside in the bright and warm atmosphere of the restaurant). The old world charm and openness mixed with a cozy and fresh atmosphere won me over as a new favorite in North Carolina (I am from North Carolina originally and so feel as though I can have favorites). The food was spectacular, fresh, and did not compromise on presentation or taste in any way.

We then went to take a look at the hotel and walk through. I was stunned at what I saw. Fortune Magazine had something right when they pronouned the Proximity as one of its top 50 new business hotels. With locally designed and built furniture, all original artwork produced in a temporary studio nearby (to reduce transportation), massive windows providing plenty of natural light, and very refined design, you really would never know from walking in that it's the greenest hotel in America.

What makes this destination so green? A sampling includes:
  • 41% less energy consumed than a conventional hotel.
  • 100 solar panels on the roof that heats water for the hotel.
  • Highly efficient plumbing fixtures that reduce water consumption.
  • Green roof on top of the Print Works Bistro.
  • Low-emitting VOC paints, carpeting, and other building materials.Building materials with recycled content, refurbished wood, and other restored materials.
  • Elevators that, when operating, send energy back into the building's grid.

The next time you are traveling in, through, or around North Carolina, check out the Proximity Hotel and Print Works Bistro. Not only is the Proximity helping to set the standard across North America for hotels and restaurants that are a destination in and of themselves, but it also is a showcase of luxury accomodations and eateries that use the newest technologies and best green practices without losing any of the luxury. The Proximity certainly has a handle on its own triple bottom line.

Images courtesy of The Proximity Hotel and Print Works Bistro.

Future of Green Design

I was surfing through some listserv recommendations and ran across a cool website that showcases some slightly unconventional, but very intriguing green designs. Check it out!

A Disposable Wedding Gown

I realize this is a site devoted to the workplace, but I couldn't resist sharing this new find - a disposable wedding gown. It totally makes sense - I spent a fortune on mine (even though I swore I wouldn't) and it's just sitting in my basement. What a waste!

The paper wedding gown is designed to be used only once by the bride. The paper gown is zipped on with a sticker. Now that designer Tuija Asta Järvenpää has shown her talent - perhaps she can start on fashionable hospital gowns next?

Monday, December 1, 2008

For those of you that celebrate Christmas, particularly American-style Christmas, today is Cyber Monday....the online shopping equivalent of Black Friday. All this consumerism got me thinking about what things we can do to green our gift giving, both in the office and at home. Here are some ideas:

  • Alternative gifts such as donations to charity or plans to do something together, like visit a museum (also check out last year's post)
  • Alternative wrapping such as decorative kitchen towels. I personally am a huge fan of the gift bag - so pretty, easy, and reusable!
  • "Shopping" at home such as trading books and games, or giving away heirlooms such as china, silver, or jewelry
  • Consumable gifts such as a bottle of wine or fruit of the month club
  • Gift cards rather than trinkets
And for those of you into singing, a lovely new "carol" sung to the tune of "Deck the Halls" - courtesy of the Fostering Sustainable Behavior listserv.

Deck the Walls with stuff from China
Fa-La-La-La-La, La-La La-La
Cough up dough and cut the whinin'
Fa-La-La-La-La, La-La La-La
Don we now name-brand apparel
Fa-La-La, La-La-La, La La La
What to buy for old Aunt Carol?
Fa-La-La-La-La, La-La La-La

See the blazing mall before us
Fa-La-La-La-La, La-La La-La
Stand in line and join the chorus
Fa-La-La-La-La, La-La La-La
Fight the traffic and the weather
Fa-La-La, La-La-La, La La La
Maxing cards out altogether
Fa-La-La-La-La, La-La La-La

Fast away the paycheck passes
Fa-La-La-La-La, La-La La-La
iPods for the lads and lasses
Fa-La-La-La-La, La-La La-La
All stressed out for Christmas season
Fa-La-La, La-La-La, La La La
Can't remember quite the reason
Fa-La-La-La-La, La-La La-La.

Image source: blucat

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