Monday, March 31, 2008

Setting Trends in Kansas?

“There’s No Place like Home, There’s No Place like Home”….Sound familiar, well Dorothy isn’t headed to the Emerald City anymore; there’s another kind of Green in her future.

Do you remember hearing this news on May 4th, 2007? “The town of Greensburg Kansas was destroyed in a matter of 15 minutes by an EF-5 tornado, the strongest of 25 tornados’ that night that broke out over Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas and South Dakota.” (http://abcnews.go.com) I don’t know about you, but hearing this sent shivers up and down my spine. Coming from a small town in Kansas myself, this news hit too close to home for me. With all of the devastation, many homes and businesses were entirely demolished. The community decided to approach rebuilding with a very different outcome in mind.

Well…. now almost a year later there is much HOPE, this amazing town is trying to make their dream of helping to protect the environment from future destruction come true. After this tornado destroyed 95% of their town and depleted all of their resources they have the chance to create an entirely sustainable town. The people of Greensburg have decided as a community to promote a highly sustainable enriched society. Their mission is to provide the residents with the resources, information, and support they need to rebuild as “The Greenest Town in America, named Green Town” (http://www.greensource.construction.com/) The Greensburg City Council has approved a motion that all city building projects will be built to LEED Platinum level standards as updated throughout the years to keep its LEED Certification. There is also a development called the Model Home Project. Tourists would receive a guide books for touring the different Sustainable sites and building to learn about the process of building green. There is also an opportunity to stay in eco-friendly, energy efficient homes while visiting this amazing new town. “Money made from renting the demonstration homes, will go toward maintenance and possibly other green initiatives within the town’s location.” (http://www.greensburggreentown.org/) "If we are going to build a community from the ground up, it is our responsibility to think about the future," said city administrator Steve Hewitt
What this tiny community is doing will hopefully change the views of all towns and cities across the county and help others see the significance of making changes that will impact our future generations……

“I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Toto.”

Baseball Goes Silver…but There’s Still Work to Be Done

Last night was Major League Baseball’s opening day and the first game of the season just so happened to be in my home town at the brand new Nationals Stadium. I managed to score tickets to both opening night and the exhibition game the night before. I am happy to report that the Nats won both the exhibition game (versus the Orioles) and also beat the Braves on opening night!

HOK designed the stadium, and I must say, the designers did a fabulous job. The stadium is fantastic! A tremendous leap from RFK, and as an ex-Marylander it pains me to say it, but this place far surpasses Camden Yards.

One of the greatest things about the new stadium is that it’s achieved LEED Silver – it is the first LEED certified ballpark. This is an amazing accomplishment!

After spending a couple of evenings at the stadium, there were a few things I noticed that the owners/managers might want to work on to make the facility even more green:

  • As a LEED facility, there is no smoking permitted inside the stadium; however, there is a dedicated smoking zone immediately outside the park. This is located right where you have to walk by to get to the gate to get in – lovely to walk past a haze of smoke. The location of the smoking enclosure is also an exit – lovely to walk through a haze of smoke and across a field of cigarette butts on the way out.
  • There are recycling bins all over the stadium; however, there is not one next to every trash can, and as far as I am aware, there is no additional signage, announcements, or other reminders to fans to recycle their beer bottles.
  • The beer vendors sell their wares in what at first glance appear to be plastic cups, but if you look closer, they are actually compostable cups made from corn. Very cool, except that they are either being thrown in the plastic recycling bin or in the trash, neither of which gets the cup composted.
  • The ladies rooms have dual flush toilets, but the only signage is a teeny tiny little up and down arrow on the toilet flushing lever. Unless you already are familiar with flushing up for #1, it’s extremely likely that you will flush down. Additional signage or announcements might help this.

Again, many props to the designers, construction professionals, and visionaries that helped bring this great stadium to DC. I sincerely hope that as operations continue, the facility will continue to meet and surpass expectations as a green facility.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Joel Stein Makes Me Laugh

I was reading Time Magazine the other night, and ran across a column on the sustainable movement by one of my favorite columnists, Joel Stein (or check his wiki page). The column “The Kitchen Stinks” was about composting and how stinky it is. Clearly Joel’s wife needs to get him a vermiculture composting bin!

Joel (I’m allowed to call him Joel because I have watched him on VH1’s I love the 80s) occasionally focuses his column on the ridiculousness of some aspects of the sustainable movement. For another funny perspective, check out his column on the local foods movement: “Extreme Eating”.

Hope you enjoy Joel’s columns as much as I do.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

LEED is Just Not Enough

The U.S. Green Building Council and their LEED certification process is truly making a difference in the building industry. See Jetson Green's ovation for their recent success: Green Buildings Financially Crush and Outperform Non-Green Buildings!!

That's all well and good, but look at some of the real hurdles we're setting for ourselves. Take California for example. Executive Order S-3-05 targets a reduction in greenhouse gases to:

  • 2000 levels by 2010
  • 1990 levels by 2020
  • 80% below 1990 levels by 2050

This means that by 2050 we must reduce our emissions to roughly 17% of what they are today. Yikes. So how do we attack this? Well, transportation is roughtly 41% of emissions, electricity production impacts 22% (with 75% of that used for buildings) and residential and commercial bulidings emit roughly 9%. The built environment affects 2/3 of CA's GHG emissions.

So even if every single building in the state achieves LEED certification , we won't even come close to meeting this target. The solution? To realistically meet this target, we need to stop building buildings. And reduce single occupancy driving as much as humanly possible. We need to find new ways to create energy and transport goods / people through our cities. We have to overhaul the system. LEED certification just isn't enough by itself.

Admittedly CA, as usual, has set some of the more aggressive of U.S. policies, but all the government targets I'm seeing (and listed on the USGBC website) require significantly more attention than we're giving them today. Find the public policies that affect your neck of the woods. Turning off lights and driving hybrids is not going to do it. We need to engage in some extremely creative thinking about how we work, recreate and live.

Companies that are starting to think this way today are already avoiding costs and receiving kudos by environmentalists at the same time. It takes time to work through these issues, but isn't it worth it?

Friday, March 28, 2008

Earth Hour: U.S. cities to dim lamps, illuminate climate-change

Today the Christian Science Monitor had an article on WWF's upcoming campaign called "Earth Hour." Twenty-five cities around the world will participate and go dark between 8-9pm on March 29th, 2008 (http://www13.earthhourus.org/).

For example, the city of Chicago will experience a "lights-out" from everything as high as the Sears Tower to the multiple McDonald's located on its streets. But it doesn't stop there - the initiative includes cities such as Bangkok, Thailand; Dublin, Ireland; and Tel Aviv.

Naysayers point out that impacts from such events are too minimal to make a difference; promoters refute that the idea is to get people talking.

I agree with the promotors. Recently, I've seen more and more articles similar to this idea popping up - how do we get people to think and talk seriously about their personal energy use?

Behavioral economist at the University of Chicago and the authors of "Nudge" (featured in the NY Times - http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/25/science/25tier.html) are analyzing how people think about climate change - their idea is to help people understand how their energy use compares to the social norm and provide more guidance to the average user on their daily impact. For example, bring in more home devices such as energy counts on thermostats that allows homeowners to compare themselves to everyone else on the block. Is your home the highest or lowest energy user?

Campaigns and finding such as these will help us find a way to make climate change something that EVERYONE readily thinks about and understands.

The quote I loved most about "earth hour" from the Christian Science Monitor: "It's like the Boston Tea Party... dumping tea in Boston wasn't going to bring down the British Empire, but it created a spark that started the Revolution."

An new energy and space effecient alternative to dedicated server rooms


A UK-based company called Kell Systems have launched a new energy-efficient server that can be located directly in the office workspace. This product is called BladeVault and it is suitable for small and medium sized businesses.
The advantages of BladeVault over traditional server rooms are:
  • Supports hardware thermal loads of up to 4.3kW and requiring only 84 Watts of power to do so, compared to the 3 to 4 kW needed to power the air conditioning in an equivalent computer room, therefore saving energy;
  • Saves valuable workspace by eliminating the requirement for a separate room;
  • 98.5% noise reduction compared to previous Enterprise models, therefore reducing the need for a dedicated server room on noise-grounds;
  • Office-grade appearance blends with the office workspace.
Kell is based in the UK but has showrooms in the US. Kell clients include Adobe, Boeing, BT, Disney, EDS, Google, Microsoft, NASA, NATO, Shell, Siemens and Verizon.
For more information see this article.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Cardboard Furniture: Not Just for your Cat

There are tons of common uses for cardboard: kitty scratching post, college student desks and bookshelves, children's forts, sliding practice for aspiring baseball and softball stars... While you may be familiar with some of these, did you know that furniture designers are branching out into greater use of cardboard?

Here's a brief (and incomplete) history:

  • 1969 and 1973: Frank Gehry's "Easy Edges" series of designs layered corrugated cardboard to create chairs and tables capped by a wooden layer for extra strength.
  • 1990: Patent issued.
  • 2000: Cardboard furniture used at Sydney Summer Olympics.

Where can you get cardboard furniture? Well, lots of places:

Check out my inspiration: GreenSage's e-zine

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Greenwashing Hits Home..and My Wallet


The term “greenwashing” has been thrown around for many years, usually referring to companies claiming that their products are green/sustainable/organic, when in actuality they are not. Refer back to Greenette’s post on greenwashing for more info.

Greenwashing has really hit home in the last couple of months: my husband works for a large defense/aerospace contractor (over 70,000 employees and over $20 billion in annual sales), that according to its Corporate Stewardship report, is very committed to reducing its impact on the environment. He is contracted to a government agency that is very interested in climate change, an agency that the public puts immense pressure upon (think protestors outside with inflatable whales, etc).

My husband takes public transportation to work, both because it is the right thing to do for the environment and also because commuting by automobile to his workplace can be terrible. Until very recently, he was reimbursed monthly (to a standard upset amount) for his public transportation expenditures.

A couple of months ago, the program director approached him and told him that the company would no longer be reimbursing his expenses – that the reimbursement was for PARKING ONLY. If my husband wanted a parking pass, he was welome to have one, at the company’s expense, but public transit was not an acceptable use of this money.

My husband was outraged (rightfully so). He has been in contact with the Corporate Stewardship representatives, the project lead, and the environmental health and safety contact for his group. While his boss supports him (in principle, if not in action), the environmental people have merely pointed him back to the stewardship report.

I promised him that I wouldn’t name his company, but it’s now been a few months and with no progress – it seems like it is time to start talking about this type of poor environmental behavior. Companies this large cannot afford to be hypocritical in their approach to environmental stewardship.
Has anyone else had similar experiences?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Slugging Replaces Bus?


For those of you not from the DC area, let me explain what I mean by “slug” – it’s not the slimy little garden creature that I always manage to step on when I go outside barefoot to pick up the newspaper on Sunday mornings.

Slugging is a form of commuting unique to the DC area. It’s basically instant carpooling. People line up at designated slug areas and people with cars needing a couple of extra bodies to make it into the HOV lanes pick them up. It’s completely free – the driver benefits by being permitted in HOV and the passengers benefit from the free ride.

In Qualicum Beach, BC (Canada), busses have been shut down due to low ridership. The community is considering setting up a similar system of mass carpooling as without transit, as many people are left without any means of transportation.

It’s certainly an appealing idea!

The Virtual Workplace


The rise of the virtual workplace will reshape the way businesses and workers communicate and collaborate worldwide and could quite possibly be the way forward to cut down on the carbon emissions we produce through intensive travelling.

IBM have today predicted five future trends that will increase demand for virtual communication in the workplace:


  1. The Virtual Workplace will become the rule. No need to leave the office. Just bring it along. Desk phones and desktop computers will gradually disappear, replaced by mobile devices, including laptops, that take on traditional office capabilities. Social networking tools and virtual world meeting experiences will simulate the feeling on being there in-person. Work models will be changed by expanded globalization and green business initiatives that reduce travel and encourage work at home.
  2. Instant Messaging and other real-time collaboration tools will become the norm, bypassing e-mail. Just as e-mail became a business necessity, a new generation of workers has a new expectation for instant messaging (IM) as the preferred method of business interaction. This will fuel more rapid adoption of unified communications as traditional IM becomes the core extension point for multi-modal communications.
  3. Beyond Phone Calls to Collaborative Business Processes. Companies will go beyond the initial capabilities of IM, like click-to-call and online presence, to deep integration with business processes and line-of-business applications, where they can realize the greatest benefit.
  4. Interoperability and Open Standards will tear down proprietary walls across business and public domains. Corporate demand for interoperability and maturing of industry standards will force unified communications providers to embrace interoperability. Converged, aggregated, and rich presence will allow businesses and individuals to better find and reach the appropriate resources, removing inefficiencies from business processes and daily lives.
  5. New meeting models will emerge. Hang up on routine, calendared conference calls. The definition of "meetings" will radically transform and become increasingly adhoc and instantaneous based on context and need. 3-D virtual world and gaming technologies will significantly influence online corporate meeting experiences to deliver more life-like experiences demanded by the next generation workers who will operate more efficiently in this familiar environment.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Green Drinks


If you didn't raise a pint of green beer for St Patrick's Day, or you're already impatiently counting down the days till next year, you might be surprised to learn your next green drink could be sooner than you think.

Every month, in cities around the world, thousands are meeting up for Green Drinks. Admittedly the drinks aren't usually green, but the conversations are. Green Drinks is a social happy hour taking place in an ever increasing number of cities around the world (currently 355 according to their website) bringing together people who care about being green.

I must admit that I haven't been to a Green Drinks recently due to another socially responsible architectural pursuit, however I was always pleased by the dynamic turnout at the happy hours I have attended. While that city's Green Drinks was sponsored by the local AIA chapter (a good way to save some green too), I was pleased to meet a diverse crowd of students, professionals and regular citizens. Some people were simply curious, and others found it enjoyable to finally meet other people who "get it". I met a homeowner looking for ways to improve her home, and an engineer who was looking for ways to convince his boss that going green was smart business. Sometimes it was just people who wondered why so many of us were crowded into the balcony and having such a good time in an otherwise empty bar.

Thankfully my previous scheduling conflict has changed, so when Green Drinks is in my city next month I should be able to attend. I hope I see you there.

Green-Collar Jobs

I get lots of emails from lots of listservs…sometimes to the point that it is so overwhelming that I simply file them away. Today I had a bit of time, so I opened USGBC-NCR’s newsletter and actually read through it. I was glad I did because I found a link the following article and subsequent report: Green-Collar Jobs in America's Cities: Building Pathways Out of Poverty and Careers in the Clean Energy Economy

The movement for sustainability throughout the US is wonderful in that it is helping save the world, but it is also a great economic driver – particularly in terms of job creation and innovation opportunities.

Green jobs are available throughout the economy, but this document focuses on jobs in energy industries offers guidance on how cities can link residents to green-collar jobs.

Dirty Bus U

The Washington (DC) Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, a.k.a. Metro, is donating the last four of its "dirty air" buses to the nonprofit Biodiesel University. These buses generate some of Metro's dirtiest emissions.

The buses will be turned into mobile teaching labs that will run on biodiesel fuel. Biodiesel U, affiliated with the University of Maryland, will take the teaching labs to schools, colleges and events across the region.

Now I think this is a great idea for a couple of reasons - we have a lot of dirty vehicles (not just in DC, all over the world) and we can just chuck them into landfills when we're ready to upgrade to a cleaner bus (or car). It makes sense to convert them and keep on using them. This got me thinking that Metro probably spent a lot of money on newer, cleaner emitting buses and wouldn't it makes sense to convert the buses to biodiesel...and keep on running them for Metro? I don't know a lot about conversion services out there, but I would love to hear about them. I think this could apply well to fleet vehicles too.

And the other reason I like this idea: it really got me thinking. There a lot of website that tell you how to shrink your carbon footprint as an individual, and they often advise activities like buying Energy Star appliances or hybrid cars. Well, we can't all go out and buy new cars or appliances as this would a) create a lot of waste and b) create a huge demand on resources. BUT! What if we could come up with the technology to convert these to more efficient models without having to trade them in altogether? Is anyone working on this???

It is like LEED-EB for cars and appliances! Use what you have and make it more efficient.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

British employees dissatisfied with employer's environmental policies

Just one-fifth of British employees surveyed by the Carbon Trust said they thought their organisation was doing enough to cut its emissions. Shockingly, two-thirds said their employer had made no attempt to encourage them to consider ways of reducing their emissions by taking alternative transport to work.
Over two-thirds (70 per cent) of employees polled said they want to cut their carbon emissions but need more guidance and empowerment from their bosses.
We know that changes in workplace practices hold huge potential to help the environment. The following statistics demonstrate the impact of inefficiencies in the office:
  1. Office lights left on overnight use enough energy in a year to heat a home for almost five months
  2. A single computer left on overnight for a year creates enough carbon dioxide to fill a double-decker bus;
  3. A 2°c increase in office temperature creates enough CO2 in a year to fill a hot air balloon;
  4. A photocopier left on standby overnight wastes enough energy to make 30 cups of tea.

Hugh Jones, solutions director at the Carbon Trust says:

"the measures that will have the biggest impact and achieve the greatest energy savings require buy-in across a workforce...In the current economic climate it's never been more important for all businesses, of all sizes, to act on climate change. With savings of up to 20 per cent to be made on energy bills through no cost or cost effective measures it makes perfect business sense to empower employees to do their bit both at work and at home."

We can very simply make the changes to produce easy 'quick wins' that will reduce our workplace carbon emissions, cost us nothing to implement, and in fact save us money on bills! Naming just a few, easy steps we could make are:

  • Thinking twice before printing documents;
  • Printing documents double-sided;
  • Turning off PCs at night and turning off monitors when we're away from our desks;
  • Turning off lights at the end of the day or when know one is present in a room;
  • Enthusiastic participation in recycling schemes;
  • Consider the carbon footprints of our commute to work;
  • Carefully consider the provenance of the products we order for the office.

The Carbon Trust's research has presented me with two overriding thoughts:

  1. As professional consultants (or in-house facilities teams) it is imperative that we include protocols and policies aimed at reducing carbon emissions when developing workplace protocols for clients (such as when developing flexible working guidelines);
  2. HOK offices worldwide must lead by example by instituting carbon emission-reducing protocols within our own workspaces. There should be a policy document for each office, which include policies not only on the office environment but also recommendations / incentives for 'greener' travel to work and travel to clients. These should be part of every new employee's induction.

Please comment on this post to share your views.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Governor Calls on Industry to Produce Zero Net Energy Buildings

Speaking before the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association’s (NESEA) “Building Energy 08” conference at Seaport World trade Center in Boston, Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts announced that he has asked Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Ian Bowles to form a task force of industry professionals that would advise the state on raising “green building” standards in a way that would lead public and private construction toward a goal of Zero Net Energy buildings – commercial and residential structures that meet most of their energy needs by efficiency and on-site renewable energy – by 2030.

It's great to hear about a governor (and many others) pushing the architectural profession to do more. Frankly, it's nice to be part of a profession that can be seen to make a difference. I'm happy to rise to the occasion! Is this going beyond LEED? You bet. It's where we need to be. Thanks Governor Patrick for raising the bar.

On the Road: Gulf Coast Green

There are many great green building conferences out there but I want to call out one that I will make a point to attend this year: Gulf Coast Green (April 3-6, Houston). First of all, I love that this is a regional approach with targeted strategies for a specific climate. We don't all live on the same latitude and we aren't all dealing with the same challenges. One size does not fit all.

I used to live in Houston and I can tell you - there are real challenges for green building when you're cooling year-round and natural venitlation is never an option for commercial office buildings due to mold and other moisture issues. While many so-called green buildings occur in a vacuum without ever addressing site issues holistically, stormwater management is key in the Gulf Coast region. And despite an abundance of precipitation during hurricane season, recent challenges in Atlanta prove that water conservation is still also high on the list of priorities.

The reasons I will attend this conference? First of all, I am looking forward to keynotes Jared Diamond, Ken Yeang and Ira Magaziner. The rest of the line-up is stellar too.

In my past experience (2006) the speakers were all first-rate and I learned a lot for my money - unlike GreenBuild 2007, which was oversold and overpriced considering I wasn't able to attend any of my first-pick sessions.

Second of all, they walk the talk. The consumer expo is the first ever in the U.S. to require only green certified products (certified by 3rd parties such as Green guard, Green Seal, Energy Star etc. and services (e.g. minimum no. of LEED-APs for design service firms). Visit the “Green Guidelines” page for more information.
And exhibitors are not allowed to give out throw-aways. Offers such as rebates are encouraged, but no goody bags, not notepads, pens, pencils, no junk. All of the food is organic and lcoal wherever possible, all conference waste will be recycled, offsets are being purchased for 100% of the conference, banners are printed on organic cotton, etc.

And finally, if the 2006 conference is any predictor, my fellow attendees will be a great mix of sustainably focused professionals from development, design, construction, public sector, and a broad spectrum of clients. I expect once again to find the level of dialogue with my colleagues is as useful and enlightening as the conference itself. www.gulfcoastgreen.org/

Regenerating empty homes, better than new eco-homes?


The Empty Homes Agency in the UK claims that in order to reduce our carbon footprint "we ought to be focusing on making full use of refurbishing existing properties, rather than demolishing them to make way for new developments ".

In England there are 288,000 homes that have been empty for more than six months. The Empty Homes Agency thinks that if these homes were made use of, rather than knocked down to build new homes, that CO2 emissions could be reduced.

Conversely, it can be argued that since new homes are well insulated they can eventually make up for the large amount of emissions released during their initial construction because of their overall lower energy costs. But it can take several decades - in most cases, more than 50 years - for the figures to eventually balance out. The Empty Homes Agency claim that although new-builds can last for more than 50 years, their quality can 'sometimes be poor' and that it is likely that a new-build house will need refurbishing once it gets to that age.

From this I take that the emphasis in home-building in the UK should be two-fold:
  1. The regeneration of empty homes and the integration of facilities to enable energy-efficient living in them;
  2. Where new homes are built, these should be energy-efficient (ideally carbon-neutral!) and with a very long life expectancy.
From my social-scientist point of view the regeneration of empty homes should be recommended for the secondary benefit of the wider community. Empty homes are usually located in the centre of built up areas, often inner cities. The regeneration of these areas (N.B. this is very broadly-speaking and generalised) would not only increase the good-quality housing stock, but it would also bring new services and job opportunities to the area and increase the community's sense of pride and respect for where they live.

Perhaps there are some lessons learned here for corporate construction... maybe more emphasis should be put on regenerating / refurbishing office buildings and equipping them with energy-efficient technology rather than building from new? As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Commuting to Work Uses More Energy than Being There

Did you know that the energy required to fuel your car and commute to work is actually greater than the energy required to heat and cool the building you are working in?

A presentation last week by the California Climate Commission, Carbon Currency: The ROI of Going Green, showed that operating energy uses for the average office building in California was 72 KBTU per square feet per year. The energy required to commute to the average office building in California was 127 KBTU per square feet per year, a difference of 57 percent.

So next time you consider the benefits of working from home, consider the benefits of saving resources at the office and on the road!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Not into junk mail?





So I got this really good tip from my friends Jenny and Adam in LA. Jenny emailed me a link to a Palo Alto, California company called GreenDimes http://www.greendimes.com/ . For $20, they reduce your junk mail by up to 90% and plant 10 trees on your behalf. They also have a petition on their site that you can sign to help stop junk mail for good. It’s targeted at the consumer who doesn’t want to deal with junk mail and who cares about the environment. It would make a fantastic gift for clients and customers.

What you Pay For:


· For $20, the GreenDimes team does all the work to get the entire household off dozens of direct marketers’ mailing lists


· GreenDimes eliminates only unwanted catalogs – members identify only catalogs they wish to stop through the Catalog Screener


· Free Me! includes monthly monitoring of direct marketing lists


· 10 trees are planted on behalf of each member


· 24-hour customer support response time


· A quarterly progress report and “The GreenDimes Monthly” is sent to members detailing GreenDimes’ successes, upcoming partnerships, ventures, and each member’s personal contribution to the environment

GreenDimes Tree Planting Partners:
- American Forests
- Sustainable Harvest International
- Trees for the Future

Trees are planted in: North America, Central America, South America, India, Senegal, Haiti

Also, check out the impact counter that gives all kind of interesting real-time stats like "Trees Saved" and "Catalogs Stopped".

Thursday, March 13, 2008

No, it's not a concert, but Wal-Mart is finding Green Groupies

Wal-Mart is an interesting study in making business green. Since 2005, and, really, prior to that, Wal-Mart has stepped up its efforts to have a more positive impact on the world – environmentally, socially, through product lines and capital (go to Fortune.com for more information on how Wal-Mart got started on its green initiatives) .


While Wal-Mart’s leadership has jumped on board and is helping to lead the effort, the megachain has recognized that its efforts will be in vain if it does not move from the ground up and empower its employees to think about sustainability on an individual basis.

Thus, in 2007, Wal-Mart introduced a new initiative it calls the Personal Sustainability Practices (PSPs). The purpose of the voluntary program is to assist its associates with incorporating sustainable principles into their daily lives to improve their overall wellness, as well as the health of the environment. Associates develop their own lifestyle changes – everything ranging from eating organic food to exercising to organizing recycling efforts – that specifically works in their routine and will keep them motivated.

The only guides for developing a PSP are that it must: sustain the planet, make one happy, affect the community, become regular and continuous in daily life, and include visible action that can be shared with and seen by others.
Within months after roll-out, 50% of Wal-Mart associates has signed up for the project, much more than expected, with the hopes that all employees would become involved within two years. According to Act Now, the organization who helped construct the campaign, Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club employees have:

- Lost more than 60 tons of weight;
- Walked/biked/swam more than 380,000 miles
- Created over 16,000 “Idea Groups” to support one another around Personal Sustainability
- Quit or reduced smoking, with more than 10,000 Associates to date making a healthier change!
- Recycled more than 5 million pounds of aluminum, plastic, and paper

Some employees want to carve out more time from their busy schedules for family and friends, while others are advocating for healthier meal options in their stores (i.e. - Subway v. McDonald's).

Said one associate to the NY Times, “This is not about becoming a tree-hugger... It’s about making one little change."

Perhaps Wal-Mart's PSP is one drop in a large bucket of corporations encouraging lifestyle changes, but Wal-Mart has the capability to be one heckuva large drop.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The UK's new 'green' spending budget

This lunchtime marked the announcement of UK government's spending budget, which was widely anticipated to be the "green" budget. And as promised, our Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, focused the budget on cutting carbon emissions from homes, businesses and transport.
Describing tackling global warming as "our greatest obligation to future generations, the Chancellor announced new targets to make all new non-domestic building zero-carbon by 2019. The pledge comes on top of the existing goal for all UK homes to have no net carbon emission by 2016, saying it could save 75 million tonnes of carbon dioxide over the next 30 years.

Other targets set included:

  • All new public sector buildings to be zero-carbon by 2018. Smart meters will also be rolled out to medium and large companies over the next five years in a bid to encourage them to save energy.

  • On the domestic front, there will be £26 million for the Green Homes Service next year to help people cut carbon and fuel bills.

  • Carbon Emissions Reduction Targets introduced next month will require energy companies to improve efficiency in their customers' properties, with cavity wall insulation for nearly three million homes along with loft insulation, energy efficient appliances and light bulbs.
  • On transport, new bands of vehicle excise duty from 2009 will reward the drivers of the cleanest cars and the new per-plane tax, to come into effect in November 2009, will increase by 10% in the second year of operation.

Despite these targets sounding great, within minutes of delivering his Budget the Chancellor came under fire from environmentalists who claimed he was tinkering in the margins and had "dropped the ball" on climate change.

The budget was criticised on blogs such as The Guardian's comment is free that "when the construction industry turns its attention to the target of zero carbon in non-domestic buildings by 2019, probably some time in 2018, it will be far too late to make any difference in avoiding global warming tipping points, in heading off the third great global energy crisis, or the needless deaths of tens of thousands of grans and grandads."

I have no idea of the comparable laws being passed in the rest of the world... please comment on this post and let me know and exchange your views.

I love my Prius…and so do my favorite Celebs!


I bought a Prius about a year and a half ago – Toyota was having an event in which if you traded in your Toyota (I traded in a beat up but fast and fun Celica, “Alice”), you got a HUGE amount of money back. The offer was too good to pass up – Alice needed some serious body work, and they offered well over her blue book value. It’s turned out to be a great investment – Ralph, the Prius, is an excellent addition to the family. Great car – big, sporty, mechanically sound, great gas mileage. At least five other people in my office drive a Prius and love it too!

Lots of companies are offering incentives for driving hybrids - for example, Google offers employees a cash incentive for purchasing hybrid or alternative fuel cars. Also, the USGBC's LEED system awards points for offering preferred parking for hybrids/alternative fuel cars.

I was watching TV while ironing the other weekend and saw that the Prius trend is catching on with celebrities even more than I’d known: Holly Madison (Hef’s #1 girlfriend) bought a Prius on The Girls Next Door. It made me wonder who else is driving a Prius. I did a quick google search and found out that quite a few do (I knew about Holly, Cameron and Leo, but check out the list!):

• Alexandra Paul
• Alicia Silverstone
• Arianna Huffington
• Bill Maher
• Billy Crystal
• Billy Joel
• Brad Pitt
• Cameron Diaz
• Carole King
• Charlize Theron
• David Duchovny
• David Hyde Pierce
• Donna Mills
• Donny Osmond
• Dr. Andrew Weil
• Dr. Oliver Sacks
• Ed Begley, Jr
• Ellen DeGeneres
• Ewan McGregor
• George Clooney
• Gwyneth Paltrow
• Harrison Ford
• Jack Black
• Jack Nicholson
• Jackson Browne
• Jennifer Lopez
• Julia Roberts
• Kevin Bacon
• Kirk Douglas
• Kurt Russell
• Larry David
• Leonardo DiCaprio
• Patricia Arquette
• Prince Charles
• Rob Reiner
• Robin Williams
• Salma Hayek
• Steven Page (Barenaked Ladies)
• Sting
• Susan Sarandon
• Ted Danson
• Tim Robbins
• Tom Hanks
• Will Ferrell
• Woody Harrelson
*Note: some of these are electric car or other-hybrid drivers...and I’m sure I’m missing tons! Go Prius-nation!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Brace for Energy, not Pain!


As I’ve gotten a bit older, ankle braces have become a part of my life. Note to self: stop challenging large men for the soccer ball. This week’s Time Magazine showed me that there are better uses for braces than merely holding together my old, creaky body: braces can be used in energy capture.
“Finding Energy All Around Us” examines some of the easy ways to capture energy that would be otherwise lost or would escape as heat. While the concept of energy harvesting is not new, it’s interesting to see some of the cool ideas people are exploring:
  • Knee brace – generates up to 5 watts!
  • Vibrations from bridge (or dance floor)
  • Rain falling on a rooftop

These are just a few of the great ideas out there. I can’t wait until my ankle brace can have an add-on to generate power while I burn some calories!

Monday, March 10, 2008

'Green'-generation facilities management software

Massachusetts-based People Cube make scheduling software, used by thousands of big companies including General Motors and Procter & Gamble, to reserve physical resources such as conference rooms, hoteling space and teleconferencing facilities.
About five years ago, according to CEO John Anderson, the company began selling its system as a way to allocate “hoteling” / "hot desking" space inside companies where mobile workers might need a desk just for one day. Then PeopleCube engineers realized that they could link the hot-desk scheduler into office buildings’ environmental management systems, so that lighting, heating, or cooling could be adjusted to comfortable levels on floors where the hoteling space was filling up and turned down to save energy on floors with lots of empty cubicles.
Now PeopleCube has taken this one step further and partnered with a U.K. consultancy called Building Sustainability Ltd. to add a 'carbon dashboard' to the scheduler, so that facilities managers can see exactly how much carbon dioxide is not being emitted into the atmosphere thanks to their scheduling efforts.
This is an example of how resource management technologies that companies pursue primarily to save money can also contribute to efforts to arrest the development of global climate change.
By adopting a 'hoteling' / 'hot-desking' work style is also a boost for the corporate PR agenda of companies, as they acquire a "green sheen" by reducing the amount of real estate they have to heat or cool, which reduces their carbon footprint.
For more information on this, and further discussion on the difficulties of benchmarking your baseline emissions, which is key to this software, click here.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Time to loosen your tie?


Lord Adair Turner, dubbed the UK's new 'climate czar' and chair of the Climate Change Committee believes that forcing men to wear suits and women to wear smart skirts raises demand for air-conditioning. He said “We have to stop over-air-conditioning offices. In summer we should only air-condition offices to the kind of temperature where it is comfortable if you are wearing light sleeveless summer clothes”.

Lord Turner thinks that 'office dress' also discourages people from using sustainable forms of transport such as walking and cycling. He believes a closed collar unduly raises people’s temperature. “I do think in the summer we should stop wearing ties. I like them in winter because they keep you warm but if you see me in summer from now on I will be tieless”.

Civil servants are likely to be among the first office workers to be liberated from their formal clothing, with Turner hinting “There is a case for the civil service setting an example on this. I don’t think I would go as far as shorts myself yet but it is an interesting challenge and we are going to be thinking about it”.

Turner’s proposal for office workers is one element of a strategy aimed at making big cuts in the 670m tons of CO2 generated by Britain each year. About a third come from power generation, a third from surface transport and the rest from heating.

He wants to see emissions cut by at least 60% and possibly as much as 90% by 2050. Under such a vision, renewable and nuclear energy would provide all Britain’s needs for electricity but would also be used to generate fuels such as hydrogen that could be used for cars. As well as changing the office dress code other radical suggestions for achieving the aims for reduction in emissions include locating wind turbines on the central reservations of motorways.

For more information click here.

Are Photovoltaics Part of the Answer or Part of the Problem?


I have always been a huge proponent of PVs. What's not to love really? You have an inert panel, you put it in the sun, and just like magic you get electricity. Well, there is an article in the Washington Post this morning showing some of the down sides of photovoltaic manufacturing, Solar Energy Firms Leave Waste Behind in China.

This article raise a lot of questions in my mind. I am working on a project where we were going to install PVs even though it doesn't provide the minimum 2.5% of our buildings energy to get the coveted LEED On Site Renewable Energy credit. Is it worth putting the PVs on the roof if the manufacturing of them is going to wipe out or poison a Chinese village?

I realize that there are two things we [the people on this planet] are trying to achieve with PVs. The first is to fill the growing energy gap, both because of the dwindling supplies of fossil fuels and the increased demand for energy. But more importantly, in my opinion, isn't it to reduce carbon output and environmental impacts? Why do manufacturers loose this perspective? Why is this there huge disconnect between the profit motive and our ecosystem? Why do manufactures continuously trick us into thinking we are doing something good, while we are poisoning a village on the other side of the world?

I am sure this is not true of all PV manufacturers so if anyone has additional information on who recycles their silicon tetrachloride please let us know. It is clear to me that PVs and other forms of solar energy are a major component to our growing energy needs. This is just one more reason why we as consumers need to be diligent about the cradle to cradle cycle of our consumerism.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

If it’s Brown, Flush it Down!


Our office just got dual-flush handles for the toilets in the ladies room – hooray! If you flush down, it uses 1.6 gallons of water; an up-flush uses only 1.1 gallons – a savings of half a gallon per flush.
This is great – in our office of 150 people, there are approximately 75 women…that’s a lot of toilet flushing! If you figure each of the 75 women use the toilet three times per day, with three 1.6 gallon flushes, this equates to 360 gallons of water per day. If we all modify our behavior to two up-flushes and one down, this is a total of 285 gallons per day – a savings of 75 gallons per day. Over a year, this is nearly 20,000 gallons of water saved in our office alone!

Growing up in a household with a well and septic system, I am very familiar with the concept of “if it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down!” I can definitely remember to flush down for #2, BUT remembering to flush up for #1 is MUCH harder than I expected. I think I’m remembering only about 50% of the time (even with the little sign there). This is going to take some time to retrain my muscle memory!!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Burt's Bees backs offsets: Company is subsidizing renewable energy certificates that its workers buy

Mar 2, 2008
The News & Observer
By John Murawski

Some companies blow hot air about saving the environment. Burt's Bees is paying its employees to embrace wind energy.


The Morrisville producer of eco-friendly creams and cleansers is encouraging its workers to support a green lifestyle by becoming "carbon neutral." Toward that end, Burt's Bees is among the first companies in the nation to subsidize its employees' purchases of renewable energy certificates, also known as carbon offsets.

The employee subsidy is akin to a company offering matching contributions to a charity that an employee chooses. In this case, the money supports for-profit wind energy producers in the U.S.

Once an exotic commodity designed to help industry meet emissions goals, renewable energy certificates are entering the mainstream.

A San Francisco seller of carbon offsets, 3Degrees, for more than a year has been promoting corporate programs to let businesses defray their employees' carbon offset costs. The Philadelphia Eagles of the NFL announced in spring 2007 that it would reimburse workers who support wind energy.

Burt's Bees plans to pay half of each employee's cost of achieving carbon neutrality in the worker's household. The company will contribute as much as $100 to offset one year of household carbon emissions. About 30 Burt's Bees workers are participating and receiving a company match to support wind energy projects nationwide, said John Replogle, Burt's Bees' CEO.

Julie Col-n, a brand design manager at Burt's Bees who lives in Raleigh, spent $60 in December to offset her household carbon footprint for one year. She received $30 from Burt's Bees. It's her first purchase of a renewable energy certificate.

"When the company's going to reimburse you for half the cost, it's an incentive," she said. "I'll do anything that I can to help the environment."

Burt's Bees, whose facilities rely on electricity from Progress Energy and Duke Energy (NYSE:DUK PRA) (NYSE:DUK) , has said it hopes to eventually use only renewable energy, or "get off the grid." Until technology improves and more renewable energy sources are available, the company, for now, has committed about $25,000 a year to subsidize wind energy production and offset its annual energy usage.

"It's a cultural thing here," Replogle said. "Our business model is quite simply to impact the triple bottom line: people, planet, profits."

The beginning of the end for free carrier bags?


I know charging for carrier bags has been happening for a long time in other countries (i think it's pretty standard in Australia for instance) but it is only now that Marks & Spencer, probably the biggest name on the UK high street and high-end food retailing, announced that it is going to roll-out a 5 pence charge for food carrier bags in all of its UK stores.

All profits generated from the charge will go to environmental charity Groundwork and be used to create or improve ‘greener living spaces’ such as parks, play areas and gardens in neighbourhoods around the UK. It is expected that around 40 neighbourhoods will benefit in the next twelve months.

Let's hope that good old M&S are leading the way for other high street retailers and supermarkets alike!

One positive step is that London Councils are currently pushing a Bill through Parliament that if legislated will ban outright the use of all throw-away bags in the capital. This follows a city-wide consultation with Londoners, in which 90 per cent of respondents called for action to be taken on plastic and other throw-away bags. It's often the way in the UK that a trend first occurs in London and then radiates out to the rest of the country; so I'll be keeping my fingers crossed that London sets a trend this time!

I'd love to hear how charging for carrier bags is progressing in the US and other parts of the world... let me know!

Click here for M&S's press release.

Monday, March 3, 2008

TerraCycle

Finally, a company that really gets what recycling is all about. TerraCycle is trying to eliminate the idea of waste completely. You provide them packaging... they turn around and put their products in your water bottles, drink pouches, yogurt containers, energy bar wrappers, etc. So what do they sell exactly? Mostly gardening products, bird food, fertilizer and the like. But don't worry, its all natural stuff.

The company's flagship product, TerraCycle Plant Food™, is an all-natural, all-organic, 'goof-proof' liquid plant food made from waste (worm poop) and packaged in waste (reused soda bottles)!
And they've really got their product located in lots of local stores so you can easily pick up worm poop on your way home from work. How convenient!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Ecocity World Summit 2008

For those of you who haven't heard of the Ecocity World Summit - it's happening in just a few short weeks:


Throughout Earth Day Week, April 22-26, 2008 in San Francisco, California, the Ecocity World Summit (7th International Ecocity Conference) will be convening an international community of inspired change-makers; courageous individuals who are addressing problems of the world's environment with thoughtful long-range solutions that are truly sustainable, ecologically healthy and socially just.

Why go? Because cities are what it's all about - if designed well, cities are localized, self-sustaining organisms. There produce our power, grow our food, clean our water, deal with our waste... they are the right level for thinking through the "whole problem" of sustainability. The challenge with cities is that they take people with many different specialties to keep them running. The benefit of going to a conference like this? People of different urban-related disciples are in the same room talking with laser-like focus about the problem of our time. Creative sparks are sure to fly!

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