Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Story of Stuff


I just chanced upon a fantastic short movie called The Story of Stuff with Annie Leonard. You need about 20 minutes to view it, but it is really, really well done. Put on your earplugs and watch. It's one of the best explanations I've seen about the cycle of production and our role in it.

Produced by Free Range Studios.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Redesigning the White House


One of my favorite things to do in DC is to take a walk by the White House. It reminds me what a privilege it is to live in the capital city. It also reminds me of the incredible power we have in this country, to do real good if we choose to. And now we have the opportunity to re-design this symbol of power - and make the white house green. It's called White House Redux.

"On occasion of the election of the 44th President of the United States of America, Storefront for Art and Architecture, in association with Control Group, challenge you to design a new residence for the world's most powerful individual. The best ideas, designs, descriptions, images, and videos will be selected by some of the world's most distinguished designers and critics and featured in a month-long exhibition at Storefront for Art and Architecture in July 2008."

Submissions are due April 20, 2008, so get your design team together now! And just because this is an architectural magazine, I hope lots of other disciplines participate in this competition... we need some diverse thinking on Pennsylvania Avenue!

Europe: Distance to recycling facility is key to whether more environmentally friendly than landfill disposal

Researchers from Spain and Germany have analysed the environmental impact of the disposing of waste electrical appliances and concluded that, under current regulatory practices, the distance travelled to the recycling facility plays a key role in determining whether recycling is more environmentally-friendly than landfill disposal.
There is a growing recognition of the need for a more sustainable approach to consumption of goods, especially in the electronics industry where short product life-cycles and rapidly advancing technology lead to huge volumes of relatively new goods being discarded.
Although some equipment is sent for recycling, the annual volume of waste generated is increasing between 3 and 5% in Europe alone. The current annual estimate is 6.5 million tonnes, and this is expected to rise to 12 million tonnes by 2015, equivalent to 14 kg per person per year. The majority of these goods find their way to landfill sites, but the waste of potentially recyclable materials and the increasing scarcity of landfill sites have led to a shift in placing greater emphasis on recycling.
The study makes recommendations on the maximum travel distances to collect and dispose of electrical waste to avoid negative environmental impacts. The authors also advise authorities and manufacturers to look for alternatives to recycling, such as charitable donations or resale. In addition, the findings may help inform manufacturers, who are now required to take back all equipment after use for subsequent treatment, when designing recycling networks.
The researchers looked at the composition of four types of product: washing machines, refrigerators, televisions and personal computers, and focused on the disposal phase of their life-cycle. They compared disposal using landfill sites with typical separating and recycling practices.
The difference in environmental impact between the two possible end-of-life scenarios was measured using categories such as the production of winter smog, the production of acid rain and the use of fossil fuels. The range of distances travelled to collect and dispose of waste, and type of vehicle used were also considered. Having combined the impact of these factors, the researchers calculated break even points for distances travelled to collect and dispose of appliances.
The break-even point for washing machines is 113 km; for refrigerators 262 km; for television sets 363.5 km, and for personal computers 345.5 km. For distances above these, the negative impacts outweigh the environmental benefits. In all cases, transport was less polluting using a lorry than a van.

Source: Y. Barba-Gutiérrez, B. Adenso-Díaz and M. Hopp (2008) "An analysis of some environmental consequences of European electrical and electronic waste regulation Resources, Conservation and Recycling (Elsevier), 52(3). Contact: http://www.blogger.com/adenso@epsig.uniovi.es

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Free Patents


And when I say free patents, I do not mean patent-leather shoes or accessories (though wouldn’t that be nice?). I recently learned from the fostering sustainable behavior listserv that IBM, Sony, Nokia & Pitney Bowes have partnered with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development to introduce Eco-Patent Commons.

This service will offer the rights to eco-friendly technologies for free, using a service similar to Creative Commons. These services play to the idea that innovation occurs more quickly when more people have access to troubleshooting and improving. Some other places you can see this principle at work are Wikipedia or the open source computer operating system Linux.

Patents include those that address eco-friendly business practices, such as procurement, and those that address sustainable manufacturing processes. Already the aforementioned companies have donated 31 patents to the public domain. Some of those patents include:
  • A shock-absorbing cardboard tray that would replace the need for Styrofoam peanuts
  • A way to recycle cell phones into new devices
  • Use of a natural coagulant to purify wastewater

Check out some articles on this great idea:

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Could I Get You Something To Drink?


While reading my favorite bike rag there was an advertisement for a cycling event that perplexes me, the Redlands Cycling Classic, http://www.redlandsclassic.com/. It is a road / mountain / kids / track /time trial cycling race / event. One cool thing is that often there are not enough commercial hotels to go around, so the teams stay at host family houses to lessen the demand on local hotels. Hmmm [Could be another blog, yes?]

Anyway getting back to the point, the last page of the add was for a small brewing company that I like, Sierra Nevada. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that they take their impact on the food cycle very seriously. They create their electrical power from a fuel cell, they recycle their industrial waste, recover heat from their kettles and CO2 from their fermentation process, not to mention that their waste is used as feed for live stock. Check them out at http://www.sierranevada.com/environment.html.

If nothing else, their Pale Ale is delicious and they are a relatively small business. So enjoy one the next time you are out.

Organic Dry Cleaning?

I was originally going to espouse organic dry cleaning as a response to the 'buttoned-down shirt' blog, but a little bit of research has left me high and dry. It seems there is a greener alternative to traditional dry cleaning but at a high price - AND you have to know enough to ask what methods your dry cleaner is using. I used to go to an Organic Dry Cleaner in Adams Morgan (Washington DC) and can attest to the higher prices. I thought I was doing the environmentally responsible thing but now I wonder what I was buying.

The storefronts of many drycleaners boast of a "new" "organic" cleaning technique that is non-toxic and environmentally benign. Clearly they are trying to capitalize on the consumers' pursuit of all things wholesome. The new cleaning fluid that many are using, called DF-2000, is indeed very organic, as organic as gasoline and every major dry-cleaning fluid since the creation of the industry 150 years ago. After all, to a chemist, a chemical is organic if it contains a chain of carbon.

Semantics aside, the toxic DF-2000 is safe only in comparison to what it hopes to replace. The fluid used by more than 85 percent of U.S. drycleaners is truly nasty stuff called erchloroethylene, or PERC, classified as a probable human cancer-causing chemical by the Environmental Protection Agency. PERC, long used as a solvent in dry cleaning, can cause dizziness, headaches, nausea, and irritations of the skin, eyes, nose and throat in some people. It has also been linked, in high doses, to ground water contamination as well as liver and kidney damage and cancer in humans. PERC is organic, too.

PERC isn't so good for the environment, though. According to Greenpeace, 70 percent of the fluid winds up in the air or in ground water. We all ingest the stuff one way or another, although the long-term health implications are not known.

Dry cleaning isn't dry; it merely uses a solvent instead of water to clean. In the mid-1800s, a Frenchman named Jean Baptiste Jolly noticed that kerosene accidentally spilled on a tablecloth made it cleaner. And an industry of dangerous, smelly cleaning fluids was born.

Nearly all garments labeled "dry clean only" can be cleaned with water through a process called wet-cleaning. This takes time and skill on the part of the professional, hence the higher price.
This method involves a liquid form of CO2 under high pressure. Carbon dioxide is normally a gas at room temperature. But put under high pressure, it converts into a liquid and can act as a carrier of biodegradable soaps in much the same way that water does in a washing machine. And when the dry cleaning cycle stops, it turns back into a gas, much of which is reused.

Clothes cleaned in this "organic" CO2 process dry instantly, are cool to the touch and have no odor. It's better for the consumer as well as those who work in the local store and the organic cleaning plant. An added plus: there's no shortage of carbon dioxide in the world, and these machines operate at lower temperatures, saving energy.

Sources:
Dry Cleaning's Dirty Trick (http://www.livescience.com/health/070130_bad_drycleaning.html)
The Daily Green (http://www.thedailygreen.com/going-green/latest/812)

The cell phone graveyard at the back of your desk drawer

An article in Time Magazine last week highlighted the environmental issues associated with e-waste. one of the most interesting things I learned by reading this article is how much your discarded cell phones are actually worth. While US consumers typically receive cell phones at very low or no charge with new and renewed contracts for service, many consumers in other countries work with pre-paid minutes and therefore the cost of a new cell phone is often prohibitive. You may not use your old phone anymore because it isn't fully functional, or perhaps something newer and more exciting came onto the market after a year or so. But there are numerous multimillion/billion dollar businesses out there recycling everything from the precious metals inside to the keypads to the entire phone.

A co-worker asked me earlier today what he could do to eliminate the cell phone graveyard in his desk drawer at home. A quick search online yielded impressive results.

The Wireless Foundation states that there are currently over 30 million unused cell phones in the United States (other organizations put that number as high as 150 million). And the site provides a mailing address for you to send your phone, battery, and charger to help fight against domestic violence.

The Charitable Recycling Program also provides some jaw-dropping statistics: by the year 2005, there will be 500 million stockpiled used cell phones weighing over 250,000 tons. For environmental reasons, you should never throw away a cell phone -- they contain a lot of toxic materials.

Most recycling programs send cell phones to developing countries, but check out CollectiveGood.com for an extensive list of charities that accept cell phone donations. Just pick your worthy cause, download the appropriate form, and mail the form and your phone to the address provided.

Your donation is also tax deductible, so don't forget to ask for a receipt. And collection programs make great community projects for work or school.

TreeHugger has seen lots of ways to recycled your old cell phones, including ways to get some cash for your old phone and an option from TerraPass. With the average lifespan of a cell phone in this country at about 18 months (which adds up to 130 million entering the waste stream every year), there is certainly no shortage of supply for the old talkies; the guys at VoIP-News have done some digging and found 50 ways to recycle them all.

Here are some additional sites I found online:
1. Donate used phones or start a donation program. This site has a zip code search function to find the nearest donation site and will even let you specify a charitable donation program in your search. http://www.recellular.com/recycling/
2. Sell your cell phone here: http://www.cellforcash.com/. A postage-paid box will be send to you.
3. Find out how to donate your phone to charity, sell back for cash or just recycle for environmental reasons: http://www.recyclewirelessphones.com/. This site also includes useful tips for clearing your cell phone memory to protect your private information. Go to Participating Members page to see which cell phone manufacturing and service companies participate.
4. Charitable Recycling: http://www.charitablerecycling.com/CR/home.asp
5. Find your cell phone company, order a pre-paid envelope, send your phone back and get a check: http://www.simplysellular.com/.
6. Pick a charity, recycle your phone, get tax information here: http://www.collectivegood.com/. 7. Cell Phones for Soldiers: http://www.cellphonesforsoldiers.com/.
8. Recycle My Cell Phone: http://recyclemycellphone.org/
9. Recycle your cell phone, digital camera, PDA, or even iPod for charity: http://www.recyclingforcharities.com/.
10. Donate your phone to support battered women: http://www.snbw.org/donate/cellphone.htm.
11. If you have 5 or more phones to recycle, try http://www.eco-cell.org/.
12. Recycle your cell phone and trade it for ‘cool stuff’ on: http://www.ripmobile.com/.
13. Recycle your phone to support shelters: http://www.shelteralliance.net/.
14. Donate, recycle, raise funds for charity: http://www.grcrecycling.com/.
15. Donate your phone to benefit veterans: https://www.veteransadvantage.com/randr/main.html.

Guide to Greener Electronics

Macworld last week reminded me of the case of Steve Jobs vs. Greenpeace, who began ranking electronics companies according to their shade of green last year. The ranking’s first publication in August of 2007 had Apple at the lower third of the 14 companies with an unimpressive score of 2.7 out of 10 and caused a little bit of drama. Here’s the short version: Greenpeace asks Steve Jobs to go green. Steve Jobs responds by asking Greenpeace not to attend Apple conferences. Apple shareholders ask Steve Jobs to go green. Steve Jobs responds by writing a letter highlighting what Apple is doing to go green.

As a result, Apple scored a 6.0 out of 10 in the latest ranking in December 07. The biggest strides were made in reducing the use of toxic chemicals in the new aluminum iMacs and iPods. In addition, the company has set a goal to recycle 30% of the weight of all products sold in the past seven years, up from 9.5% in 2006.

The ranking by Greenpeace is based on several criteria such as a timeline for phasing out all use of vinyl plastic (PVC), a timeline for phasing out all use of brominated flame retardants (BFRs) and take-back and reuse/recycle programs. According to Greenpeace.org: “The ranking criteria reflect the demands of the Toxic Tech campaign to the electronics companies. Our two demands are that companies should: clean up their products by eliminating hazardous substances; and takeback and recycle their products responsibly once they become obsolete.”


We should also give a shout-out to the companies that consistently perform well in the rankings: Nokia, Dell, and Sony-Ericsson. A special pat in the back should be given to Lenovo, the Chinese computer maker, who scored a 7.3 in the December rankings, up from 1.4 in the August 2006 ranking.


You can check out the latest electronics green o’meter here.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Greenest City on Earth... in Abu Dhabi?

My firm does a tremendous amount of work for oil companies in the middle east and in the UAE in particular. Much of it consists of very tall air-conditioned skyscrapers. We do what we can to push green ideas, but these concepts are not always embraced. So you could say it was a great surprise to me that WWF and Abu Dhabi’s Masdar Initiative (Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company) unveiled a plan for world’s first carbon-neutral, waste-free, car-free city. It sounds spectacular...


"Masdar City’s electricity will be generated by photovoltaic panels, while cooling will be provided via concentrated solar power. Water will be provided through a solar-powered desalination plant. Landscaping within the city and crops grown outside the city will be irrigated with grey water and treated waste water produced by the city’s water treatment plant.

The city is part of the Masdar Initiative, Abu Dhabi’s multi-faceted investment in the exploration, development and commercialisation of future energy sources and clean technology solutions. The six-square kilometre city, growing eventually to 1,500 businesses and 50,000 residents, will be home to international business and top minds in the field of sustainable and alternative energy."

For more news, go here.

Signatures Use Paper, Too

Greenette’s post about GreenPrint got me thinking about other ways to reduce the amount of paper wasted in printing. One thing that’s become very popular in our office is adding a little tagline at the bottom of the email signature:

  • Please consider the environment before printing this email
  • This email is printed on 99.9% recycled electrons
  • Please don’t print this email unless you really have to

These are great in that they increase awareness about reducing wasted paper and protecting the environment in general.

The bad news is that these types of messages they add another line to the signature. My company has a standard signature that is TWELVE lines long…thirteen if you include my environmental responsibility message.

When someone really does need to print an email I’ve sent, not only are they printing the message that they need…but also 13 lines of information that is most likely unnecessary. This signature may cause the document being printed to run onto an additional piece of paper.

Just something small that could have a big impact IF lots of people reduce their signatures…or are simply careful about not printing parts of messages that they don’t need.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Environmental Messages in Elevator Music?


Remember when you were in middle school and all your friends told you that if you played your tapes (records, 8-tracks, CDs, MP3s for those of you in different generations) in reverse, you’d hear satanic or sexually explicit messages? Well, I never was able to figure out how to get my tapes to play backwards, but the thought struck me that perhaps music could be a way to spread environmental messages as well as more risqué ones.


The idea struck me when I was listening to the radio – 94.7 the Globe – this is a “green-focused” radio station by CBS-Radio. The principles behind the station are to promote green living both on- and off-air. For example, the station purchases wind power offsets. It also encourages listeners to live an eco-friendly lifestyle by providing tips on the air and promoting socially-responsible events.


Lots of offices use Musak or other services to provide lobby or elevator music. Why not look into stations or services that incorporate environmental messages? For example, Sirius radio offers a station called “Lime” that is marketed toward people searching for a “healthier, greener, more balanced life.”Or back to the “satanic” tapes of yesteryear: what about subliminal messaging? Who wouldn’t like to subliminally learn to recycle bottles and cans while listening to some Matchbox Twenty (the Beatles, Justin Timberlake, Miguel Bose, [insert your favorite artist here]).


Friday, January 18, 2008

The Button-Down Shirt


I’m a big fan of button down shirts – I wear them to work pretty much every day. So does my hubby. What does this add up to? TONS of ironing. I’m not a huge fan of ironing, although it does give me a good opportunity to catch up on trashy TV (thank you MTV, VH1 and E!).
Recently I’ve been thinking about the carbon footprint of the button down shirt. I personally prefer 100% cotton shirts…which must be washed, dried, and ironed. They require serious hard-core ironing if they are air-dried rather than taken immediately out of the dryer.

What are the other options?

I could take them to the dry cleaner, which would seriously reduce time spent…but that doesn’t seem like a good idea for many reasons: chemicals involved in the process; the exhaust from my car while driving there (no dry cleaners within walking distance of home – there is a grocery store, though); the cost of each shirt (up to $4 for a women’s shirt!), to name a few.
I could buy no-iron shirts. Shirts made from cotton-polyester blends typically require little or no ironing..but, polyester is made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the same material used to make plastic drink bottles. That’s a little scary…but also very cool in that my old Coke bottle could potentially be remade into a shirt. There are definitely environmental impacts in the recycling process and in the manufacturing process. Plus polyester doesn’t quite feel the same as cotton and is pretty flammable!

What about no-iron cotton? Well, many of these fabrics are treated with formaldehyde – YUCK!

I’m not quite sure where I what direction I will take…perhaps the answer is phasing button down shirts out and moving to a more sweater oriented wardrobe – these typically need to be cleaned far less often and also rarely need to be ironed. Or, maybe I’ll just be a little rumpled? Or only wash my shirts when they REALLY need it?
What about your button-downs?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Facts and Figures from the Green Workplace Survey

If you get Google Alerts on the green workplace you will have probably already seen this story, but in case you haven't:

Today the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) released the findings of their Green Workplace Survey. The survey found that 50 percent of surveyed (US) organizations have a formal or informal environmental responsibility policy, but 43 percent have no such policy and no plans to implement one within the next 12 months.

Key findings of the survey were:

  • Companies that implement environmental responsibility programs cite improved employee morale (44 percent), increased employee loyalty (16 percent) and a stronger public image for the company (42 percent) as top benefits. They also report increased consumer/customer confidence/choice (20 percent) and a positive financial bottom line (19 percent) as a result of the organization's environmental responsible program.

  • The most common barrier to creating an environmental program is implementation cost (85 percent) followed by maintenance cost (74 percent). Other barriers include lack of management support (43 percent), lack of employee support (25 percent), and concern for workplace inefficiency (20 percent).

  • Nearly three out of four employees from companies without environmental programs say they want their employers to "go green." Seventy-three (73) percent of surveyed employees in companies without an environmental responsibility policy thought it was very or somewhat important that their organization develop an environmental responsibility policy.

  • The majority of "green" programs are created by a senior management team (32 percent) and roughly the same number (31 percent) are also responsible for implementation.

  • The HR professionals surveyed rank the top five environmentally-responsible practices to be: 1) encouraging employees to work more environmentally friendly (83 percent); 2) offering a recycling program for office products (83 percent); 3) donating and discounting used office furniture and supplies to employees or local charity (73 percent); 4) using energy efficient lighting systems and equipment such as ENERGY STAR(R) equipment and occupancy sensors (66 percent); and 5) installing automatic shutoff for equipment (63 percent).

  • Employees offer a slightly different view and rank the five most important environmentally-responsible practices as follows: 1) donating and discounting used office furniture and supplies to employees or local charity (53 percent); 2) promoting walking, biking, taking public transit (49 percent); 3) using energy efficient lighting systems and equipment (43 percent); 4) offering a recycling programs for office products (39 percent); and 5) encouraging employees to work more environmentally friendly (36 percent).

  • Both human resource professionals and employees state that their primary, or number one, motivation for participating in environmentally responsible programs is to make a contribution to society.

Note to the statisticians among us: the Green Workplace Survey's 429 HR professional respondents represent publicly- and privately-owned companies, nonprofits, and the government sector. The 504 employee sample was randomly selected from U.S. telephone population.

You can purchase a full copy of this survey at http://www.shrm.org/surveys/.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Carbon offsetting through your paypacket

It was reported today that the UK Royal Mail (our postal service) is leading the way over here in enabling its staff to offset their carbon emissions.

Royal Mail employees can now offset their emissions by donating money (tax-free) directly from their pay packet to a charity called The Woodland Trust. This money enables the Trust to plant trees in their 1,000 UK woods.

Royal Mail have set up new carbon calculator called 'Ollie' for employees who contribute to the scheme, using the calculation they find out how many trees they would have to plant to offset their annual carbon footprint and to get tips about how to reduce their emissions.

This calculator asks employees about their home energy usage, as well as car and air travel before calculating how many trees will need to be planted to help offset their carbon footprints.

Only 12% of the UK wooded, compared to 46% on average in Europe. Planting trees more trees will create vital habitats for more species, it also traps pollution, generates oxygen, stabilises soil and forms a stunning part of the landscape.

The disappointing element of this story is however that the Royal Mail employ some 185,000 staff and only 130 of them are currently taking part in the scheme. However, about 50,000 of their staff are currently signed up to payroll giving schemes connected to other charities. There is therefore much scope for giving within the company once the awareness of carbon offsetting is raised.

The principle behind such schemes strikes me as a fantastic opportunity to raise awareness of carbon emissions through the workplace, which should then filter down to the home and the wider community. Carbon offsetting through payroll has the potential to be viewed as an incentive for recruitment and an endorsement of a company's environmental ethics.

The challenge is now for other businesses to offer this carbon offsetting opportunity to their staff.

Any thoughts on this posting? Are you seeing similar initiatives in the US?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Swim For the River


This is a PBS special, http://www.swimfortheriver.com/. I saw it the other night and it hit pretty close to home. I grew up in Albany, NY, went to college in New York City, and nearly all of my family still lives in Albany. I grew up riding my bike and boating in and along the Hudson. [At that time you would never get in the water, or eat anything from the water.] We, my family, used to go to the Adirondack’s and swim, hike, bike, camp, and anything else you could imagine. Many of the lakes in the Adirondack’s feed the Hudson and at that time there were a number of dead lakes, lakes where acid rain had literally killed everything in the lake.

This documentary and my family’s current experiences prove that conservation and habitat restoration work. A number of the lakes have come back, with help of course, and the Hudson is starting to become an ecosystem again. If you watch the documentary, you will see one of the most disturbing scenes in American society as well, but it does not overshadow the amazing change that has occurred.

Corporate Incentive Programs

You all remember when your dad (grandpa) retired and got that lovely clock/watch from the company where he spent 30 years slaving away for the man. Well, companies still offer incentive programs – many of which are related to “time served.” It’s a great way to improve employee morale, but also a contributor to each company’s carbon footprint.

One positive trend I’ve noticed is that these incentive programs are based on-line. Employees are directed to a website where they browse a catalog of selections and then input their choice into an online database. Despite this great improvement over paper catalogs and mailing in forms, there is still lots of room for improvement.

There is a lot that companies can do for the environment through careful consideration of gift items and methods of delivery.

Here are a few ideas:

  • A bonus that is directly deposited into the employee’s bank account – this could be completely paper-free.
  • A gift made to a sustainable charity in the employee’s name.
  • Instead of just a regular battery-operated watch, how about the Citizen Eco Drive ?
  • Items that are locally extracted and manufactured. Forget that bag made in China, shipped across the globe, and then airmailed from a warehouse in the middle of the country.
  • Purchase gifts from vendors with a commitment to the environment
For some more ideas, refer back to Green A’s post on Gifts that Give Back .

Monday, January 14, 2008

Going Digital: The New Wave in Energy Cost and Consumption Savings

I was welcomed into the new year, recently, by a gas bill at home that tripled in cost from November to December (higher usage months). There were some legitimate explanations for an increase, but this seemed a little ridiculous.

Unfortunate as it is, this seems to be a sign of the times. With utility prices - particularly gas prices - on the rise and an energy grid that seems to have a hard time keeping up with demand, it is becoming more and more of a concern for individuals' in their homes as well as business' in covering overhead costs. The New York Times reported last week that heating gas averages $3.50 per gallon statewide, making it extremely difficult for many people - particularly lower-income households - to afford to heat their homes.

Now, if only we could monitor electricity up-to-the-minute and adjust usage to lower cost and conserve energy with the touch of a button...

The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory of the Energy Department recently released the results of a year-long study that suggested households be equipped with digital utility monitoring equipment that could result in up to 15 percent decreases in cost and save up to $70 billion over the next 20 years in spending on power plants and the construction of up to 30 large coal-fired plants.

The study measured consumer behavior as much as it did new technologies that monitor energy use. Over 110 homes were equipped with digital thermostats and had electronic controllers attached to hot water heaters and clothes dryers. The residents were then given the ability to closely monitor and adjust their usage simply by going online. Based on energy prices, weather, and other factors, users had the ability to determine how much fluctuation they were willing to tolerate. As supply and demand in the electronic grid changed every 5 minutes, households and utility companies were able to trade small quantities of electricity (using software designed by I.B.M.) which resulted in small savings of money and energy. But, every little bit will add up!

While it may be a while until this type of monitoring and control becomes wide-spread, it is one unique step in the right direction of saving money (an average of 10% per household was reported during the course of the study) and creating a more energy-efficient grid as well as smarter consumers.

To read the article as posted by The New York Times, click here: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/10/technology/10energy.html

Photo: The New York Times

Keep That Resolution, the Five Keys to Commute By Bike


There are so many reasons riding your bike to work will help your resolutions, from exercising more, to losing weight, increasing energy, decreasing your carbon footprint, setting a good example for your kids…I could go on. The fact is, commuting by bike saves me a lot of time. I don’t sit in the car doing nothing. Rather I am getting my workout in as I am commuting. I even pick my daughter up from school on the bike. Granted she is three, but she loves it and her friends think it is the coolest thing.

I have commuted in Boston, New York, and Washington DC, year round, anywhere from four to twenty four miles a day. It is feasible, and this is a great time of year to start thinking about it. Why? Because it will get easier as the weather gets better, if you can do it now it will stick.
OK – Here are the five keys to succeed.

1. The Bike –
a. Go to a good bike shop in your neighborhood to buy your bike. It is worth the extra money for a few reasons. First they will find a bike that fits you and your needs. You do not need a Trek Madone unless you are Lance Armstrong and plan on crushing Le Alps this summer. A good bike shop will listen to what your needs are and give you a few bikes to try out. If this is your first bike in a few years do not spend more than $800.
b. The most important thing about a bike and the reason you go to the shop is fit. I good shop will fit you to a bike. I met my wife on a cross country bike ride. She complained constantly about her lower back pain. I adjusted her seat and handlebars about a quarter inch each and her pain was gone. Fit makes all of the difference.
c. Last year’s bikes are on sale now. Just like car dealers, bike shops need to get rid of old inventory. Now is a great time to head to a shop and see what they have. Just like cars, bikes change very little from year to year and to the newbie last year’s bike is still new.

2. The Helmet –
a. Don’t buy a bike if you are not going to wear a helmet every time, I mean every time, really every time, you get on the bike. I would not be writing this right now if I did not practice this advice. Smacking your melon on the ground after you hit a good pot hole will end a lot of your life dreams. I have done this and walked away, thanks to my helmet.
b. Besides set a good example for kids. Nothing frustrates me more than parents riding without helmets while forcing their kids to wear one. It’s a bit to hypocritical for me.
c. Yes my daughter has a helmet too. It is light blue with monkeys on it and she loves it. She puts it on as she rides her bike around our apartment, but that is another story.

3. Bike Clothes –
a. This is the toughest thing to write about. Personally, I follow my own advice from #1 above. I buy last year’s clothes on-line. I know my size and I know what I want. For the newbie, get a few things at the shop before doing this.
b. Get shorts that are comfortable for you. You do not need to get spandex shorts if it is not your gig. There are a number of shorts out there that have spandex liners that look just like typical cargo shorts.
c. In cold weather layer your clothes. This sounds familiar for a reason. If you are too hot just take something off. Do not wear anything that is cotton, wool and synthetics are your friend. They wick moisture away from your skin and do not become saturated.
d. Get a water resistant shell to make the rain bearable. Stuff it in your bag or in a water bottle. Always keep it with you, keeping the wind and water directly off you can make a miserable day pretty fun.

4. Work Clothes –
a. In terms of bags there are two options here, backpacks or panniers. For the beginner go with the pack, you can always change. Most of us have a reasonable pack in our closets that should be dusted off.Packs can get heavy, especially if you are carrying your food for the day as well. They can also throw off your center of gravity a bit. I have a pack that has a rain cover. It works well.The big reason to choose the pack of the panniers is distribution of weight. Some believe it is easier to ride without the extra weight on your body. Others believe the more weight that is on your body the more efficiently you ride. Unfortunately you need to decide for yourself.
b. I get my shirts folded from the cleaners. I fold my pants and a tie up on top of the shirt. Then I throw my underwear, t-shirt, socks in the bag as well. I keep a brown and a black pair of shoes at work, along with a couple sweaters and a jacket. The less you try to carry every day the more enjoyable the ride will be. Alternatively, bring clothes in with you on Monday and ride in on Tuesday. Even if you ride in two days a week, you are decreasing your commuting footprint by 40%.
c. Whether or not you need to shower at work or prior is up to you. I keep a shaving kit at work as well, that way I always have the option. My gym is close by so I can stretch and shower there most of the time. If I am really presses, I shower before I leave for work and take it easy on the way in.

5. Miscellaneous Bike Stuff –
If you have gotten this far and are still into it, there are a few more things to know:
a. Know how to change a flat tire. You will get one at some point, be prepared. I can change a flat and be back on the road in less than ten minutes, but I have a lot of experience. Plan a little extra time so you don’t miss a meeting or anything.
b. If you are riding in the dark, which you will, get a few lights. There are two reasons for this:
i. First you need to be seen, have a couple red flashers on the back and one white flasher on the front. Mix this in with a reflector here and there and you will be set. Yes this is goofy, but it is about being seen not looking cool. It is hard to look cool as you are flying across the hood of a car that cut you off because they didn’t see you.
ii. Second you need to see. If you are on city streets with good lights this is not that big of a problem. If you have some stretches of road with little or no light, consider investing in a rechargeable 9 to 15 watt light that is either bar or helmet mounted. They are pretty inexpensive now and add a lot of convenience and safety.
c. The best way to avoid a flat is to properly inflate your tires frequently. On my commuter bike I check the pressure twice a week. Get a good floor pump with a gauge on it to make this easy.
d. Lube the chain and moving parts once a month. This is not to hard either, you will figure it out quickly.
e. When in doubt just bring it to the shop. This is the another reason you buy from a local shop. In general they will help you out for free if you got the bike from them. Typically they will offer a tune up after a few months or 500 miles.

This might appear to be a lot, but think about how complicated it is to get a second car to commute. We all know how to get insurance, and oil changes, and sit in traffic … there are a number of examples out there. To change that paradigm might start off as a challenge, but I will guarantee you that you will never look back.

Think of me the first time you forget your socks. If it is the worst thing that happens to you that day you are pretty lucky. I don’t remember where I heard it, but a good piece of advice I got once is to act your shoe size every day for at least thirty minutes. Commuting on my bike is how I do it.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Integrated Design Hits Home

I thought this was very cool. Honda has developed a hydrogen fuel cell automobile. Traditionally the complaint about this technology is how does one safely, effectively, and economically distribute hydrogen? Well, why not make it at home and help it enhance your homes carbon footprint as well?

The car is a Honda, BMW has a prototype as well, you will either like or leave the aesthetics but I like it. There are American car makers that have been investing heavily in this technology, but to the best of my knowledge do not currently have a prototype for sale. These same manufacturers were given hundreds of millions of dollars from the US government to develop this technology. They did it, but decided it would be easier to fight the push to low emitting vehicles in court rather than work towards producing them. Let’s just say it, we have all heard about the EV1, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Motors_EV1.

So why is this so special? Honda has developed a Home Energy Station that converts natural gas to hydrogen for fueling the car, brilliant. It can also create electricity for the house, so there is a minimal need for electrical infrastructure. Imagine a hose that can fuel your car, heat and cool your house, and all from a natural gas line. It’s a start.
To learn more about the Honda go here, http://automobiles.honda.com/fcx-clarity/.

A Laptop Made from Biodegradable Corn

Fijitsu recently launched FMV-BIBLO NX95X/D, a 15.4-inch laptop with a chassis made from biodegradable corn oil, known as bioplastic, rather than petroleum. It was launched at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week.

"Although the laptop is biodegradable, the company warns that its mechanics still contain toxics, and for that reason its disposal requires special handling. The laptop has been sold for a few years in Japan, where Fujitsu is based, and will likely be available in the U.S. next year." (Dwell)

I don't read Japanese well, but from their website it looks like they run about 344,800 Japanese Yen or $3,200. Not bad - let's see if they can keep this price in an American market. We certainly have enough corn!

What other green products were featured at the Consumer Electronics Show? (AP article) They include better battery technologies, reduction of parts that need recycling, laptops that comply with Energy Star's new 4.0 power consumption requirements, more power efficient monitor screen technology and a universal power adapter that "talks" to gadgets to determine their energy need. Read more here:

Friday, January 11, 2008

What do 150 million disposed cell phones look like?

In "It's the Mobile Things that Count," it was mentioned that 150 million cell phones are disposed annually. Picturing that much waste is nearly impossible, it's such a staggering number few of us can truly comprehend what that might look like.

Chris Jordan, a photographic artist in Seattle, attempts to bridge that disconnect in his latest series Running the Numbers. With his images, he creates a visual connection to the staggering statistics of American life. What do 170,000 disposable batteries look like (the amount Energizer manufactures in 15 minutes)? What do 2 million plastic bottles look like (the amount used in the US every 5 minutes)? Or 60,000 plastic bags (the number thrown away every 5 seconds)?

So how can we use less and waste less?

Instead of having seperate cell phones for work and personal use, just use one. A handful of phones even have dual line capability so you keep your work and personal lines seperate on the same phone. That also cuts down on packaging, instructions, chargers, and maybe more importantly is one fewer device to carry around everyday.

Use rechargable batteries, which often have longer life per charge than disposable alkalines, and cost less over time (4 reusable batteries AA batteries and a charger cost less than $20, and should last a few hundred charge cycles). So you eliminate waste, save money, and get better performance per charge.

Oh, and while he doesn't show us what 150 million cell phones look like at once, he does manage to squeeze 426,000 of them into an image (the number we dispose of each day in the US). You'll just have to picture 365 of those images next to each other.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

One in six British workers unfulfilled at work

Global Vision International (GVI), the ethical volunteering organisation, has found that in the UK unmarried and single women aged between 34 and 44 are most likely to feel unfulfilled in the workplace. GVI also found that one in six British workers feel unfulfilled at work, with 43 per cent hankering to help those less fortunate than themselves; whilst 17 per cent go one step further and cite saving the planet as the only way to attain fulfillment.

Despite the 34 to 44 age group being most likely to feel unfulfilled at work GVI found that this age group has seen the biggest rise in volunteers year on year.

It is really encouraging that people are developing a green conscience and wanting to volunteer to make a difference. Hopefully this research will go another step towards British workplaces making it easier for employees to volunteer, which should have the knock-on effect of increasing employee retention.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Charge it Green

For some time now there have been several credit cards out there that make donations to nonprofit organizations and charities everytime you make a purchase using their card. In most cases the amount donated is based on a percentage of the purchase, usually half a percentage point and many of these cards target a specific orgnaisation such as The Humane Society, the global fight against AIDS, Defenders of Wildlife, etc.

Working Assets Visa Card gives donations to a platform of 50 organisations; Civil Rights, Peace & International Freedom, Economic & Social Justice and the Envioronment. The cardholders vote every year for the organisations that will recieve donations and they donate 10 cents with every purchase!

here is a link to the Ideal Bite article on these cards
http://www.idealbite.com/tiplibrary/archives/whats_in_your_wallet/

Just Recently there has been several financial institutions that are offering cards that are specifically going GREEN!

Bank of America has teamed up with Brighter Planet to offer a credit card that will buy carbon
offsets; they will offset a ton of carbon for every thousand dollars that is spent using the card.

MetaBank issued a Green Mastercard, consumers earn a new account activation bonus equivalent to 10,000 pounds of CO2 offsets and then for every net dollar spent, five pounds of CO2 will be retired and for every net dollar spent on gasoline and household utilities, 10 pounds of CO2 will be offset.

GE's Money Earth Rewards Platinum Mastercard contributes one percent of their card purchases to buy greenhouse gas emissions.

Wells Fargo will buy 6000 kilowatt hours of green power for every 5000 points earned using it's credit card.

Read the November article in Environmental Leader
http://www.environmentalleader.com/2007/11/30/bofa-teams-with-brighter-planet-on-green-credit-card/

But if you really want to dig to the truth behind the "Mega-Banks" that issue these credit cards (and we all should), what kind of activities and political organisations their money support then read the RealMoney article.
http://www.coopamerica.org/pubs/realmoney/articles/creditcards.cfm

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Greenwashing

There's a new site out there promoted by EnviroMedia called the Greenwashing Index. According to this site, greenwashing is "whitewashing, but with a green brush." I've only recently heard this term, and primarily when organizations make claims that they are greener than they really are. There are only a few ads on the site now, so add yours today! Let's keep these organizations honest.

Some of the more reputable greenwashing sources include:

It's the mobile things that count

Did you know that approximately 150 million wireless phones are replaced each year? Although our phones are some of the smallest consumer electronics that we possess, they are probably the most pervasive. How many people do you know who still do not carry a cell phone? Disposal of ever-increasing quantities of our used devices is likely becoming a significant and growing environmental threat.

I am usually the person who is gunning for the newest phone (a habit I probably don't need to continue) and don't typically struggle to find a new owner for my former gadgets, but many of us don't hesitate to toss our inactive phones in the trash bin, especially since so many of them are free with our wireless service contract or provided by our employer. I'm sure there are also countless used devices stashed in our junk drawers and offices everywhere.

The phones we use and cast aside after one or two years are composed of metals, plastics, glass, chemicals, and rechargeable batteries. Many of us even purchase customized leather, plastic or metal protective carrying cases for them. A significant number of our phones still work when we set them aside and upgrade to the newer and flashier model.

Today, the EPA launched an exciting new education campaign, "Recycle Your Cell Phone. It's An Easy Call." Hopefully, we will soon be seeing a wealth of information circulating to increase public awareness of cell phone recycling and donation opportunities, and we will see an ultimate reduction in the quantity of cell phones hitting landfills.

Some ideas to increase cell phone recycling in the workplace:

  1. Encourage teams to establish a consumer electronics recycling day, and offer to facilitate collection and green disposal of used cell phones and other electronics like VCRs and printers. To assist with this, the EPA has established partnerships with consumer electronics manufacturers (like Best Buy and Apple) that make it easy to donate or recycle our used electronics. Check out the Plug-In To eCycling website.
  2. Ask your wireless carrier whether they offer a corporate buyback program - some offer a billing credit of $50 or more for certain devices. Apply the proceeds to a green charity. ;)
  3. Organize a competitive cell phone collection event at the office and donate the proceeds to charity. Here are some organizations that help:
  • GRC Wireless Recycling pays between $0.50 and $30 per cell phone, depending on make & model.
  • Wireless…The New RecyclableTM is a national program the wireless industry supports to promote environmentally sound production and take-back of wireless devices.
  • ECO-CELL ensures that approximately 80% of the phones they collect will be refurbished and reused by first-time users abroad or by selected local organizations, such as hospital patients for emergency 911 calls
  • Sprint Project Connect is a free service for anyone with used phones, connection cards, batteries, or accessories that they no longer plan to use. All net proceeds support 4NetSafety, a program that promotes online safety for kids. To participate, simply pick up a postage-paid envelope at any Sprint store or print one here.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Lessons Learned from The Office

With the TV writers on strike, I’ve found myself with some extra time on my hands… Did I use this for something productive? Of course not. Instead, I took it upon myself to catch up on the “special features” on the DVDs of my favorite show ever, the American version of The Office. Surprisingly enough, I was actually able to turn this exercise into something somewhat productive. As I blogged before, The Office has lots of design features for us to critique. Here are a few of the things I noticed:


The Good:

  • There are lots of windows and lots of the open workstations are right by the windows.
  • There are windows from the manager office, break room, and conference room into the main office area, allowing daylight to pass through (when the blinds aren’t drawn).
  • There’s lots of open office space with few partitions
  • Each individual desk has task lighting
  • There are tons of plants around the office - good except for when they died when Dwight quit.

The Bad:

  • Windows are always closed – or at least the venetian blinds are halfway turned, thereby reducing the amount of natural daylight into and the views from the workspace
  • Enclosed spaces are outboard – by moving open workstations closer to the windows and enclosed spaces inboard, more people benefit from natural daylight and views
  • Paper, paper, everywhere – all the paper (and other clutter) generates and collects dust…not so great for indoor air quality
  • Vending machines – there are a lot of vending machines in that break room – and since there are only about 15 employees, typically an office of this size would not receive a single vending machine (there might be some shared for the entire building). By having so many options for so few people, it means that the food in there is probably pretty old and funky, and also, a lot of energy is wasted keeping the machines running.
  • Privacy (audio and visual) – employees in the open workspace sit face to face – there’s not a lot of opportunity for audio or visual privacy. The Office could definitely use some phone booths/quiet rooms.
  • Desks – not looking too ergonomically correct. Some improved modular systems furniture might improve employee satisfaction and reduce time out of the office for health reasons.

Any other ideas out there?

Green is the new black (cab!)

It is a sad reality that many London business people are far to quick to jump in a convenient gas-guzzling (and emitting!) passing black cab than take public transport, cycle or walk to their engagements.

But as London businesses come under increasing pressure from the Government, shareholders and employees to pursue a green agenda an innovative new taxi firm, founded by a couple of young ex-city laywers, has found a niche in the taxi market.

greentomatocars is an environmentally friendly taxi hire company. Driving only the Toyota Prius, planting trees to make up for unavailable emissions and not charging a 'green premium' for the privilege, the company is fast becoming the taxi firm of choice for a la mode London businesses who are keen to clear their environmental conscience.

The greentomatocars website is worth a look too, it features a neat little 'emission calculator' which compares the emissions from the Toyota Prius to that of a normal London black cab for the distance you want to travel.

Of course it would be great if everyone walked, or cycled, or at least used public transport, but the truth is people are always going to want to climb in a cab...

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Biking to Work - Safely!


Have you ever thought about biking to work? If you're like me, you really want to, but fear the road! I'd love to slip in an extra workout (goodness knows I need it after the holidays) and my gym is right next to the office. Even still, I'm concerned about sharing the road with those crazy D.C. diplomats (immunity causes strange behavior), tired cab drivers and people like... well, like me, who are always in a rush.

My brother recommended Bikely yesterday, a site for bike commuters to share "safe, green routes" with each other. I love it! I found a slightly longer but significantly safer commute to work on two wheels. The Bikely site also gives you elevation changes - extremely helpful for planning for varying energy levels along the way.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Carbon Trust

The Carbon Trust is a private company set up by the UK Government to accelerate the move to a low carbon economy by developing commercial low carbon technologies and working with business and the public sector to reduce carbon emissions.

This month the Carbon Trust announced that UK businesses could save £1.4 billion ($2.7 billion) and more than 11 millions tonnes of CO2 in 2008 through implementing simple low or no cost energy efficiency measures such as:

  1. Measure your company’s carbon footprint to benchmark progress;
  2. Replace inefficient lights - changing tungsten light bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps will save 75% of energy used for lighting;
  3. Switch off PCs – Switching off just one PC out of hours, instead of leaving it on 24 hours a day, will save £35 ($69) a year;
  4. Switch off all non essential equipment - A typical office for one night will save enough energy to run a small car for 100 miles;
  5. Reduce heating – lowering the temperature by just one degree would reduce the heating bill for a typical office by up to 8% a year and save enough energy to print over 40million sheets of A4 paper;
  6. Fit timers – Seven-day timers fitted to water coolers, vending machines and gaming machines can reduce energy consumption by up to 70%;
To read more click here.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

How far do you have to walk?

Check out Walk Score. It's a site that helps determine how "walkable" your neighborhood is, i.e. how close it is to stores, restaurants, schools, parks, etc. A great quick and dirty way to pick your home or office location (with your real estate advisor). My office in Georgetown rates a 98% - we have several options for restaurant options or places to run errands during lunch.

What would happen if my office was located in a place with a low walk score? We're a 120-person office. I predict that our carbon footprint would increase by at least 5 tons of CO2 per year. What is worse than all that CO2? Having an office far from amenities really puts a damper on productivity! Assuming all of us run 1 errand per week in our cars that we could have walked to at another location. That's 120 employees x 1 hour x 52 weeks x $75 per hour... close to $500,000 a year driving to TGI Fridays, Walgreens or the bank. Now those are some expensive errands.

The Positive Side of Surface Parking

With all the buzz about geothermal recently, I thought it might be interesting to share a cool product that uses geothermal techniques paired with the low albedo of asphalt. This product came to my attention via the Washington Post Express - it’s called “Road Energy Systems” and it works similarly to an under floor heating system found in homes.

The system includes a series of pipes (or other water-bearing media) in or immediately under asphalt that pipe water through the road/parking lot/runway/whatever and transfer the heat to an underground aquifer. The heat of the water can then be used to heat buildings in the winter. Conversely, the system can be used to store cool water during the winter to be used for building cooling in the summer (separate storage required, of course).

This type of system can dramatically reduce energy usage. Invisible Heating Systems indicates that 33 SM (355 SF) can power 100 SM (1075 SF) of a home. This means that 1 airport runway could heat approximately 2,500 homes.

Ooms Nederland Holding’s system is expected to cut heating and cooling costs by 50% over conventional methods, with the added benefit that surfaces with this system will need less de-icing than standard.

According to some quick research, this is not a “new” system – the first installation was completed in 2000 in the Netherlands. Other applications have been completed in the UK. I haven’t run across any US applications, but if someone knows of any, please comment.

Having some experience with burning my feet in the summer and running over reptiles using the pavement for sun, I think the ideas behind this technology are fabulous. Just think of the opportunities beneath the acres and acres of surface parking lots supporting offices around the US!

For other posts on this subject, visit TreeHugger or Talk of the Town.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

A Paperless Office is a Healthy Office

Much has been written about the benefits of reducing paper in the office. It saves trees as well as the resources required to create it (paper mill energy use, transportation, etc.) Less paper in the office also reduces the amount of real estate required to store it. For those of you with offices in New York, London or Singapore, dedicating space for large file rooms is not a practical business choice - the rent is just too expensive for storage.

The other major benefit to reducing paper? Less dust! Paper lying around the office is a perfect home for dust and dust mites. Those little crevacies can collect many years-worth of particulates. This problem is exacerbated with recycled (versus fresh) air in the office. Dust, and dust created by paper, is a major source of respiratory issues and sickness in the white collar workplace.

So how do you remove dust from your office environment (or your home for that matter)?
  • Lose the paper. Immediately recyle when you can and archive what you need access to occassionally. Be heavy handed - the clean desk policy is a win for everyone! Most IT departments are rigorous about backing up files today. Learn to save files better electronically and loose the paper baggage.
  • Filter the air. Mechanical filters that use standard disposal fiberglass filters should be changed monthly. Permanent filters with baffles should be cleaned periodically. The most effective mechanical filter is a high-efficiency particulate (HEPA) filter.
  • Minimize carpet use. When possible, remove carpeting where dust mites, mold spores, animal dander and other particulates accumulate. Carpeting laid over concrete floors tends to have more dust mites because of increased humidity. Replace carpeted floors with hardwood or linoleum. Wash scatter rugs and furniture covers regularly.
  • Clean regularly and well. Vacuuming can stir dust into the air. Use high-quality vacuum bags and change them frequently. Wet mop or wet-wipe hard surfaces such as floors, walls and ceilings.

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