May 2008 Archives Week 2
May 23, 2008 |
If watching the never-ending tussle over the democratic nomination makes you want to have a stiff drink, you'll love this. In August, when the Democratic National Convention kicks off in Denver, the GM flex-fuel cars they'll be driving will all be run on beer. The Coors brewery in Golden, Colorado will provide kegfulls of ethanol made from the company's waste beer (oxymoron, anyone?). The factory currently produces 3 million gallons from leftover suds each year.
The committee's plan to fuel their six-cylinders with six-packs is part of a larger effort to make the 2008 convention the "most environmentally sustainable political convention in modern American history." Although that doesn't really sound like a very high bar to hurdle, theDNC has overhauled its political processes from top to bottom to be greener.
The offices of the Democratic National Convention Committee are located in an Energy Star building equipped with a lo-energy lighting scheme, efficient computer systems andeco -materials galore. At the Pepsi Center, where the bulk of the mayhem will ensue, a new rooftop solar array and wind energy credits will help light up the proceedings. Other sustainable activities include Earth-kind materials, a thorough recycling program, and river group clean-up days.
The Committee is also encouraging delegates to purchase carbon offsets for their mile-high trip. So far, though, it looks like Dems in only 5 states are clearing their carbon conscience. And a feature on the website, called Green Screen, visitors can learn about environmental issues and the above-mentioned earthy improvements via the YouTube.
On the other side of the aisle, the GOP is eco-pimping their platform too, with paperless offices, sustainable furniture, and some integration of flex/hybrid vehicles. Maybe not quite the Green Old Party, but its an effort.
* Car pictured not actual beer car
It’s bad enough that air travel bears the responsibility for a tremendous level of air pollution, but according to a U.S. Congressional committee, the later the plane, the worse the problem. It’s like adding injury to the insult of a tardy flight. The title of the report is "Your flight has been delayed again."
In 2007 alone, delayed flights burned through about 740 million gallons of jet fuel beyond the actual amounts needed to get from point A to point B. Every minute a plane sits on the runway, circles or has to turn back is another minute of wasted fuel.
And when you look at the cost of that amount of fuel — $1.6 billion — you have to wonder if that isn’t enough cash to get the struggling airlines back on solid ground. Of course, that is only the cost of fuel — the Congressional report from the Joint Economic Committee lists the total cost as something closer to $41 billion in airline operating costs and passenger time. And the level of carbon emissions approaches immeasurable.
But the report also included potential solutions, chief of which is upgrading the national air traffic control system from radar to satellite. It may seem strange to suggest such a significant upgrade to the system that will only reduce carbon emissions, rather than eliminate them as some alternative fuels might, but it’s clear that action must be taken now — even if that action cannot completely solve the problem.
Photo — The Voyager's
Canadian Geographic is making publishing history this week. Its latest issue is hot off the presses, printed entirely on paper made from wheat straw. It’s the first time that such materials have been used to print a North American magazine.
Wheat straw is essentially agricultural waste — it’s the junk left behind after wheat grain has been harvested. At this point, it’s pretty much worthless. Traditional paper pulp, on the other hand, relies on a limited supplies of trees, which also are used for a wide variety of other purposes. The idea that, to some extent, agricultural waste could be used to satisfy a portion of the demand for wood pulp is phenomenal.
- Publishers could reduce their ever-rising paper costs.
- Farmers could make a little money off of something they’ve traditionally treated as trash.
- Environmentalists would be able to protect a larger portion of forests.
Canadian Geographic has been printed continuously since 1930 and has faced the changing publishing world with a surprising amount of success. The present incarnation of the magazine focuses on not just the geography of Canada but the historical and environmental factors that affect Canadian geography. That commitment to environmental issues includes reporting on controversial issues and publishing an annual environment issue. This year’s environmental issue just happens to be the current issue — the one printed using wheat straw paper.
The annual environmental issue is a collaborative project between the magazine’s staff and Markets Initiative, a Canadian environmental group. According to a report on the CBC, Nicole Rycroft, of Marketes Initiative, came up with the idea or printing on more environmentally friendly materials. "Canada's forests are disappearing at an alarming rate and if we just look at newsprint, for example, 100 million trees are logged every year in Canada just to make newsprint,” says Rycroft.
Canadian Geographic relied on wheat straw pulp imported from China for this printing. But approximately 23 million tons of wheat straw go to waste in Canada every year — enough to make it worth Canadian Geographic’s while to encourage the development of this cheap source of paper pulp. 23 million tons of wheat straw could make enough paper to produce 20 million magazines. Furthermore, this isn’t new technology: Chinese and other Asian papermakers have used agricultural waste from wheat and rice crops for hundreds of years.
Rycoroft’s plan is to convince the pulp and paper industry in Canada, as well as the United States to replace even a portion the wood they use for pulp production with agricultural waste.
We think of printers as paper eaters — devices that just aren’t green by nature. But Hewlett-Packard has started pushing a new set of products with some environmental value. The new products are being touted as more energy efficient and cleaner than past offerings. They also extend such HP projects as the ink cartridge recycling program. One of the new Deskjet printers that HP is now offering is actually made mostly from recycled plastics; 83 percent of the model is recycled.
In addition to new products, HP is rolling out a line of services focused on helping consumers go green. Companies, in particular, may benefit from the new “Eco Printing Assessment” which will help them monitor and manage their paper consumption as well as printer usage. HP estimates that careful management could reduce some customers’ carbon footprints by up to 30 percent.
I think these programs are a good move business-wise. HP has rolled out a calculator that can help consumers decide if a new, more efficient printer is going to cut their carbon footprint. That calculator is practically guaranteed to convince at least a few buyers to get rid of their old machines and purchase new, greener models — probably direct from HP.
Image courtesy Hewlett Packard
Is your city green? It can be hard to tell, says Tim Sorrell, head of the UK’s Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment. He says it is not only time to think green, but that it is time for a radical reimagining of what a city should be.
Sorrell proposes certain benchmarks that indicate how green a city is:
1. Does the city economically encourage green building and renovation? This is important as an indicator because it shows whether the municipality is making the clearest commitment- financial- to assisting citizens to change.
2. Are there realistic transit options besides cars? With proper planning, transit systems are one way to tremendously shrink a carbon footprint. Sorrell explains that even suburbs that plan transit systems can reduce or eliminate the need for cars.
3. Is the city increasing the number of plants and trees? Sorrell says that greenery is important not only to combat the heat trapping effects of the city, but also to provide a visual expression of the city’s efforts.
Finally Sorrell points to another critical factor important to any green city: its’ peoples’ understanding that their welfare is intimately tied to the cities' welfare. Without personal investment, the “civic leadership” necessary to institute change will not emerge.
Read more at the BBC.
Visible Strategies has launched a tool that is set to revitalize all types of communication. Not only can stakeholders see what is going on, but they can also communicate with the organization via comment windows that are attached to each action area. In this way, see-it increases both vertical and horizontal communication, reducing the tendency for top-down communication to stifle dialogue.
I think that see-it has far reaching potential. French noted a number of interesting benefits that have emerged as more organizations use the product. see-it can make pdf documents visual, increasing stakeholders' access. Some organizations use it in place of Powerpoint presentations, as plans can be projected onto a wall and updated live in meetings and workshops. It's a collaborative tool adept at helping break down organizational silos and enable divisions within an organization to keep an eye on activities across divisions and to communicate more effectively with each other.
see-it has gained support rapidly, including recent adoption by Al Gore's Live Earth. It is used by many counties, cities, and towns including Palm Bay, Florida, Albuquerque, New Mexico, Beaverton, Oregon, and Marin County, as well as nonprofits and corporations. It is commonly used to reflect and report progress on "green" goals and integrated, holistic strategic plans. "One phrase we hear a lot about is this idea of connecting the dots," French said, referring to the often disjointed nature of organizations and sustainability initiatives outlined at various conferences and lectures about sustainability. "see-it represents the first time we are actually connecting the dots between goals, strategies and actions to ensure we realize a collective vision."
Visit their website for more.
Photo by Visible Strategies
The recent focus on global warming has brought about some exceptional advances in a variety of green technologies. Wind turbines have grown substantially in size, efficiency and energy generating capacity. Hybrid electric technology, once a complicated interaction of two vastly dissimilar systems, are now a graceful complimentary fusion, powering more than a million vehicles. Exciting frontiers in hydrokinetic and biofuel energy continue to add to the variety of cleaner energy sources available.
But now, thanks to historically high gas prices, a simple and decades old practice is regaining traction: the humble car pool. Originally rolled out as a means of conserving vital fuel resources during the Second World War, carpooling saw a resurgence in the 1970s, as the first waves of oil crisis reach American shores. But in today’s increasingly interconnected world, the practice had advanced from small effort among neighbors and coworkers to a sophisticated, efficient system, matching drivers and passengers who’ve never met on an entirely ad hoc basis every workday.
It’s called Slugging, and on the over-stressed freeways surrounding the DC area, it’s been a way of life for some time. The framework behind it is fiendishly simple—commuters without cars line-up at pre-designated points and wait for single-occupancy drivers to arrive. As a car arrives, the first rider in line calls out the driver’s destination and available seating, the next commuters in line headed to that destination climb into the car, and off they all go. The payoff for the driver is fast, efficient commute along HOV lanes in exchange for offering the free ride.
While highway speeds and full vehicle capacity do increase fuel consumption somewhat, it’s nowhere near as bad as the heavy and smoggy emissions produced by stop-and-go driving. Add that to a reduced drive time, and fewer vehicles on the roadway, and you’ve got a brilliantly-tailored carbon-reduction solution. No wonder the trend has spread to cities around the country in recent years, reaching all the way out now to San Francisco.
The advent of the Internet has further increased the ease of the practice. Visitors and new arrivals can simply Google a list of slugging stops near their location, and online postings also convey the unofficial rules (no talking unless the driver initiates, no messing with the controls or radio, etc.). Sites have even appeared listing some common slugging problems, and offering feedback on individual drivers and sluggers.
There’s no question that a tremendous amount of the drive behind the modern push for a more sustainable lifestyle comes from new and exciting technologies. But as the success and continued proliferation of simple, everyday practices such as slugging shows, tremendous gains can still be achieved with the tools our society currently has at hand.
Recognizing the rising role of nuclear power in a reduced-carbon future, Gregory Jaczko, head of the Unites States Nuclear Regulatory Commission has proposed an important and fundamental change in the way American nuclear plants handle their spent fuel cells.
Rather than rely on large, water-filled containment pools, which require complex cooling systems and leave spend fuel vulnerable to fire and terrorist attack, the NRC commissioner has instead suggested a changeover to dry cask storage.
The lower-capacity casks would require separating spent fuel out, rather than piling it together, thus reducing the risk of continued reactions overwhelming a pool’s cooling system. Additionally, each cask would have to be individually compromised in the event of a terrorist attack, vastly reducing the amount of radioactive material that could be released in a single strike.
While there are many hurdles still to overcome if nuclear is to become a more prominent power option in the near future, improved spent fuel storage is a significant step toward a safer and cleaner nuclear future.
Memorial Day, traditionally the first big weekend of the summer, is almost upon us. And this year, the traveling season looks to be hot, high-volume and highly priced. Even for those of you driving Chryslers, the high gas prices this summer will take a chunk out of the vacation budget.
Fortunately, there are things every car owner can do to limit the impact of their season of fun and adventure, in terms of saving money, and in terms of preserving the environment. While longer-term solutions, such as buying an HEV may be more obvious, something as simple as keeping tires properly inflated, or changing a fifteen-dollar air filter can add miles your gallons.
Here’s a basic list of tips to save you money, carbon emissions, and gas stops. Feel free to add your own additional suggestions in the comments section below.
That can be the case in trying to sell people on riding mass transit instead of driving. I have been working out of our San Francisco office all week, happily getting around the city without a car. I've been walking or talking public transit everywhere because it is cheaper, easier, and more sustainable.
Yesterday, however, I needed to go to Santa Clara (about 45 miles south of the City) for a conference, and decided to stay green and take mass transit. It took me 3 hours at a cost of $9.75 using a combination of subway, train and light rail. Compare that to about 50 minutes and $5 or so for gas (even at California prices) to drive.
As much as I support mass transit, there are limits to human endurance. We shouldn't point a sancitmonious finger at cars on the highway because the driver isn't on a bus or train if there isn't a mass transit option that can get them there in a reasonable amount of time.
Mass transit needs to provide a competitive quality of service if it is to be widely adopted. Urban planners have to keep this in mind when designing and funding mass transit systems -- do it well or don't do it. For example, trains and buses shouldn't have to stop at every block or quarter mile during rush our. We need to optimizine the schedules so that the greatest number of people can get to the their destination quickly. For more people to ride, many routes need to include express trains/or buses.
In theory mass transit is a great sustainable alternative to driving (like over the Bay area bridges), and in many cases it is. But if getting from point A to B is a grossly time consuming and expensive hassle, it's hard to argue with people who prefer to get behind the wheel.
How much would you be willing to extend your commute in order to travel sustainably? 30 percent? 50 percent? 75 percent?
No sooner had this author skeptically reported CERES' high sustainability ranking for Ford and demanded that Ford change production to really be sustainable when, today, Ford has. Announcing drastic cuts to SUV production, Ford’s move indicates major changes for automakers and consumers.
Ford has been one of the leaders in Sport Utility Vehicle production, with SUVs comprising 70% of Ford’s sales in the early 2000s. SUVs have been symbols of consumption, with their large frame size, low fuel efficiency and subsequently high emissions.
Ford’s CEO Alan Mulally announced dramatic shifts in profit and production goals, including a major scaleback of SUV production. He did not deny that plants may be closed and jobs lost, explaining that Ford does not expect to make a profit this year. He declined to set a new profit target.
Though the news appears to be negative for Ford, many analysts consider Ford’s move wise and overdue. Ford appears to be responding to the reality of the oil and gas supply situation, contradicted by their reliance on SUVs and heavy trucks. Environmentalists are also pleased, and look forward to Ford's atmosphere-friendly innovations. "We're also really trying to understand what the real demand is going to be from this point forward," Mulally explained during the press conference.
Read more at Yahoo.
Greenpeace, after taking on such ogres as nuclear arms and whalers, is facing off with the video game industry. Their chief concern is the less-than-environmentally friendly materials that are used in gaming consoles: the environmental organization is looking for a commitment from console producers — Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft currently lead the pack — to green their products.
Greenpeace cracked open several game consoles in their labs and found the following:
- The Microsoft Xbox contains phthalates, beryllium and bromine.
- The Sony Playstation 3 contains phthalates, beryllium and bromine in the highest levels of all three machines.
- The Nintendo Wii contains bromine, but generally got off as the safest of the three consoles.
Now, Greenpeace didn’t release the exact amounts of each dangerous chemical that they found in the machines, and to keep things in perspective, I think it’s fair to point out that they were probably fairly small amounts. But these are pretty nasty chemicals: beryllium dust can cause chronic beryllium disease — a nice way of saying that it, even in relatively small amounts, can destroy a person’s lungs. Phthalates, as Greenpeace’s press release states “are toxic to the reproductive system, interfering with sexual development in some mammals, especially in males.”
The big issue here is the use of hazardous materials like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) in the manufacture of the Playstation 3, the Wii, the Xbox and other gaming systems. All three have made commitments to switch to safer materials — Microsoft has set a specific deadline of 2010, Nintendo is going with something along the lines of ‘eventually.’ Greenpeace is advocating for a commitment from smaller manufacturers as well.
Greenpeace also strongly objects to the disposable nature of game consoles:
“Game consoles also contribute towards the fastest growing type of waste – ewaste. Once they’ve reached the end of useful life, game consoles are often dumped and end up in unsafe and dirty recycling yards in developing countries, where toxic contents harm both the environment and the health of workers.”
Greenpeace has put together a wishlist for game console manufacturers — the commitments that the organization would like to see:
- Energy-efficient electronics
- Responsibility for the systems when they are discarded
- Removal of hazardous materials from console designs
- Upgradeable and recyclable, rather than disposable, products
They're inviting consumers to inform the big three console manufacturers of their opinions through their Clash of the Consoles website.
If I had to make a prediction, I would bet that most companies would be more interested in energy-efficient electronics over removing hazardous materials. I think, though, that upgradeable machines may be an avenue of research for your average console designer, though — it would be an easy route to reducing overall manufacturing costs for the companies involved. But until the next generation of gaming consoles come out, there’s no guessing what all might be included in upcoming design.
There’s a new tool for companies looking to decide just how changes to their transportation and product policies could reduce their CO2 emissions: the Carbon Tradeoff Modeler. IBM developed this tool to help weigh the consequences that companies face, depending on their actions — including the key tradeoffs that lowering carbon emissions can create.
One of the key issues many businesses have faced when trying go greener has been analyzing the effects of their decisions — whether changing a transport policy may slow down deliveries or if a new type of packaging might prove too expensive to produce. The problem is fairly large; the number of variables is mindboggling. The Carbon Tradeoff Modeler is meant to handle those factors, and bring problems to the attention of decision makers before they actually occur.
This tool is basically the first of its kind, and IBM’s global leader of supply chain management, Sanjeev Nagrath, seems confident it will meet companies’ needs: “To achieve a carbon efficient supply chain, companies need to assess the CO2 emissions impact of their end-to-end …By incorporating Research-based tools to model the cost and carbon impact of key steps in the supply chain, organizations now can take action to reduce CO2 emissions and influence suppliers' behavior toward reducing their own greenhouse gas emissions."
IBM has reportedly launched their own internal test program, but the results don’t seem to be available at this time.
The Environmental Defense Fund has published the report on green innovations I think every business owner, no matter the size of the business, should read. And it’s only 36 pages: I think most folks are going to be able to fit it into their day. It’s available as a PDF at the EDF website.
EDF compiled a lengthy list of green innovations that various companies have implemented successfully — and that’s the key to what has me all excited. A lot of cool innovations that could make a business greener are still under research. They aren’t necessarily practical yet: they aren’t cost efficient or they won’t pay off any time soon. Instead, this list has examples of techniques that various companies are actually using — that companies have been able to implement and still keep their costs down, or even reduce them.
The EDF report is broken down into the functions of the various innovations:
- Real Estate
- Operations and Manufacturing
- Fleet Management
- Information Technology
- Human Resources
Not all of their suggestions are exactly practical for small firms, but overall, these ideas are worth keeping in mind. For instance, in the Real Estate category is a discussion of Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs), a method of financing the high costs of installing solar panels. According to the EDF, companies like Wal-Mart, Whole Food and Target have made use of PPAs to cover the big flat roofs typical of a big box store in solar panels to reduce energy costs. Even these well-known companies would have struggled to pay for the installation of solar panels, but PPAs have made the practice reasonably practical.
The case studies that the EDF includes are careful to note where companies can save money through these techniques, by reducing energy purchasing needs, recycling material to cut down on new material costs or requiring less manufacturing overall. As Casey Sheahan, the president and CEO of Patagonia, Inc., told the EDF, “Through recognition such as this, we're able to show other businesses that placing the environment at the core of your mission is good business. As our founder Yvon Chouinard has said, ‘Every time we've made a decision for the environment, we've made money.’”
This report goes beyond the simple steps that most business has figured out. Consider it more of a guide of what to do after you’ve replaced all your light bulbs to compact fluorescents — Green Business 201, if you will.
Image — The Environmental Defense Fund
General Electric has taken the first steps in developing a hybrid drivetrain for a tugboat. Working with C-MAR, a Texas-based maritime engineering firm, GE hopes to send the new tugboat to sea within two years. CE is handling the engine production, along with the electric motor and batteries. C-MAR will design the actual tugboat, as well as integrate the components together.
The 4,000 tugboats currently serving American ports may just be the perfect candidates for hybrid power. If GE’s numbers are right, such a hybrid vehicle would burn 35 percent less fuel and produce 80 percent less pollution than current tugboats. And the type of work tugboats do is surprisingly similar to the sort of rush hour traffic that is the ideal environment of the hybrid automobile: tugs idle for long periods of time, waiting to crank up the power for the short amount of time it takes to get freighters and tankers to the places they need to be.
GE seems to see tugboats as just the start. After all, shipping puts twice as much CO2 into the air as aviation. There’s a pretty big market for greener shipping.
Though diesel’s reputation has been blackened by its sooty emissions, its rep could be about to change for the better. New diesel engine and fuel advances, followed by sleek fleets from European and Japanese car makers, may have Americans driving diesel before they know it.
Diesel engines have always gotten 25-40 percent better fuel economy than petroleum-based combustion engines, but have had prohibitive down sides- noise, visible smoky emissions and high toxicity- that have kept it out of US markets. Yet those concerns are assuaged by new low sulfur diesel and refined diesel engines. Diesel engines in the new fleets are virtually indistinguishable to the average consumer in terms of performance and noise. Consumers will notice the higher fuel economy, with some models averaging 50 mpg.
Diesel engines’ combustion process allows for higher returns that gas combustion engines do. The new influx of diesel engines come at a good time, as biodiesel is also becoming available to the mainstream. Biodiesel, which can be made from an array of fats and oils, is being scaled up and projected to boom over the next decade. Biodiesel runs 50-75% cleaner than regular diesel and is also cleaner than clean burning diesel.
Read more at the NY Times.
The cost of goods, from fuel to food, may not actually be as high as what we pay at the pump or the market. Those costs may be driven up by speculation on commodities markets, whose demand and supply patterns in turn affect consumer pricing.
The commodities market has grown by a factor of twenty over the course of a decade, stirring up suspicion from Congress, which is now considering regulation. Senator Lieberman told reporters that “This unbridled growth raises justifiable concerns that speculative demand -- divorced from market realities -- is driving food and energy price inflation and causing a lot of human suffering."
The problem comes when a buyer invests heavily in a commodity specifically to affect the market or price, and the buy is taken as a signal by other traders as a demand increase, causing them to buy, which triggers other buys, and so on until the price is significantly higher than the both the value and demand. The real life results of such a speculative run are an overabundance of the supply. The supply overabundance causes a market crash when no one will buy the product from sellers, who are forced to sell very cheaply, often at a loss. It is usually impossible for investors to distinguish genuine market signals from speculative ones.
There is debate over whether speculation, or external factors like weather, demand, and the exchange rate are driving up market prices. Congress is legislating to fix the ‘Enron loophole’ -- the market flexibility and lack of oversight that infamous energy firm Enron took advantage of to cause California’s 2001 speculation driven energy crisis. A bipartisan issue, even Republicans from oil rich states like Texas are joining forces with Democrats to put some reigns on commodities trading.
One of the most common misconceptions about America’s energy supply is that a vast majority of it comes from hydropower. It’s a nice fantasy, as it would mean a tremendous amount of reliable, clean energy, but traditional hydropower—in which an existing body of water is altered to generate energy—is not without its problems.
Dams are expensive, generally rely on dated turbine generators, and aside from interfering with local wildlife, can endanger nearby human populations. Even futuristic designs, like this Dutch energy island, require massive construction, entailing a heavy initial investment and incurred carbon debt.
But one of the fastest emerging fields of clean, renewable energy also involves the water, but with fewer of the concerns. Hydrokinetic energy works by harvesting energy from the natural, recurrent movement of water, without significantly altering the water flow or landscape.
As recognizable as wind-turbine lookalikes in the water, or as odd looking as jointed bouys on the water’s surface, hydrokinetic power generators come in many forms. But continued development will no doubt thin the heard to two or three highly efficient designs, and, as this map shows, could be a major new step both toward a cleaner energy system, and a more energy independent nation.
Investing of any kind can be a daunting task. But it’s also one of the best ways to support a cause you believe in. For all the risks, research, attention, and management a stock portfolio takes, nothing shows faith in a company or belief in a cause more solidly than a cash infusion.
Traditionally, that hasn’t been good news for the environmentally-conscious. The fate of the EV1 and long awaited Volt projects is a case study in the unsure world of developing green technologies. Fortunately, there are a variety of sources out there to turn to for reliable investment advice.
JP Morgan’s set out some good green investing guidelines, and they should hold true even though the sector is changing substantially. Foreign investments, too, should be considered, as they may have the most potential for return. One thing is certain—the market looks ready to expand, and expand in a big way.
Green building is good, but incremental. Developers can make bigger impacts by building green on a larger scale, like Dockside Green, a carefully planned multi-unit housing that takes advantage of sustainable building practices. British Columbia’s Dockside Green is a prime example of the potential of what green building can be.
Dockside Green, located on downtown waterfront in Victoria, offers its residents a complete sustainable living package. No detail overlooked, builders Windmill West have created a seamless green living reality that makes living sustainability, well, natural. The 2500 unit mixed use neighborhoods employ nearly every efficiency and greentech advance that can be named.
The complex makes transit easy, both in its central, downtown location, but also by offering residents a carshare program, a shuttle bus to popular destinations, and a cash incentive to put towards purchasing a low emissions vehicle. They discourage occupants from choosing condo options with parking spots, instead encouraging residents who move in to also transition to a new way of life.
The apartments are replete with environmental amenities. Every unit is equipped with a device that monitors the emissions output of the apartment, so that users can better control their energy use and adjust accordingly; remotely as well, as residents are able to turn appliances on and off via internet. The idea behind this autonomy is encourage better environmental stewardship through conscious choices.
Beyond this, the buildings are super efficient, extensively insulated, have a minimal carbon footprint and used all sustainable building materials. Low VOCs and circulating fresh air systems keep the indoor atmosphere healthy. The condos also keep the outdoor atmosphere healthy by using energy that comes from local biomass gasification, resulting in a net emissions recovery. The complex boasts extensive rooftop gardens and community composting. The apartments are smart, using sensors to turn on and off lights, appliances and even blinds that sense wind and retract when too strong. This is really a brief glimpse of what they have done.
Dockside Green is a triple-bottom-line project, meaning that their goals extend beyond profit, also concerned with sustainability and community. In this way, despite extensive sustainable measures, the apartments are on price par with nearby real estate. The Market Affordable Program sets aside a portion of the condos that can be purchased for 25% off the regular price to encourage low income people to enter the market and produce a more heterogeneous community.
The first LEED platinum housing development in North America, the residential apartments have been sold out before their opening. Dockside Green’s environmental benefits are as important as its symbolic ones, noted Trisha Lees, representing Dockside Green. “One thing that we have really noticed is that having something like Dockside has influenced other builders and developers to think green, causing a ripple effect.
Dockside Green has set a new standard and gotten other people thinking about what they ought to be doing.” Check out the website here.
Photo by Dockside Green
Honda announced this morning that they’ll be bringing a new hybrid to market in early 2009. The gas-electric vehicle will be available in the U.S., Japan, and Europe and is expected to be affordably priced.
Along with the 2009 model, Honda plans to release three more hybrid models by 2015 in an effort to challenge the Toyota Prius’ dominance of the hybrid market.
In addition to the announcement of the hybrid vehicles, Takeo Fukui, the president of Honda, spoke in Tokyo about the FCX Clarity. The Clarity is a hydrogen-powered fuel-cell vehicle that will be available for leasing in California, beginning in July. Approximately 200 Clarities will be made available to customers in the next three years.
Toyota has a clear lead in the hybrid market — and overall in green vehicle options. But, if Honda can carry through on their new vehicles (and not fall prey to the poor sales figures their earlier hybrids experienced), they may be able to make the hybrid market their own. One of the planned vehicles that I think looks exceptionally promising is a sport hybrid based on the Honda CR-Z. Many buyers seem to just be waiting for a hybrid that take a little rougher terrain.
Officials from the United States Department of Agriculture are concerned about the ties between food and fuel costs. There’s no denying that as gasoline prices have risen, the cost of transporting food has also risen, driving up the cost of food. Also tied in are the costs of fertilizer, which also rely on the cost of petroleum (and are up 67 percent this year alone).
The USDA focuses on maintaining stable food prices, as well as access to fuel. Because of this mission, Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer, is encouraging the further development of biofuels in an attempt to bring down overall prices. In a press conference on Monday, he admitted that using corn and soybeans have brought food prices up, but justified it: “It's true that higher demand for corn for ethanol and soybeans for biodiesel has led to higher prices for those crops over the past couple of years. But we do not have a one on one relationship between higher prices for those commodities and what consumers are paying for foods at the retail level.”
Schafer, along with the USDA’s chief economist, Dr. Joe Glauber, also ran through some numbers that indicate that only a fraction of the overall increase in food prices is directly attributable to the use of corn and other agriculture products for biofuel, and that the benefit of lowering the cost of fuel outweighs that small percentage of the food price at stake.
I don’t necessarily feel that the USDA’s numbers take all factors into account — for instance, both corn and soybeans are used for animal feed, and higher costs for both indirectly push up the cost of meat — but both Shafer and Glauber make a good case for increasing biofuel production.
Image — The USDA
There’s no question today that environmental awareness is in. Companies, many of them long detractors and opponents to environmentalists, are rushing to associate their products with the green movement. But perhaps no lifestyle choice has been so long associated with eco-friendliness as vegetarianism.
The two have far more in common than just their shared roots in the counter-cultural movements of the 1960s and 70s: vegetarians can avoid having a share in the environmental waste and insanitary conditions created by confined animal feeding operations and other forms of factory farming, while the law of trophic levels reveals the inescapable inefficiencies involved in raising food stock plants as feed for food stock animals.
The problem is, however, humanity has developed a real taste for meat. Since human ancestors began scavenging carcasses between 2 and 1.5 million years ago, the evolutionary repercussions have been staggering. Meat provided a ready source of tissue-building protein, energy packed fats, and trace elements such as zinc and selenium. Even outside the Western ideal of a “meat and potatoes” meal, ability to bring in protein has long had a significant impact on social status.
So is it possible to have your meat and eat it too, so to speak? Well, animal rights group PETA certainly hopes so, as earlier this year it offered a big fat payday to the first person to create artificial meat with a not-so-artificial taste, and sell it at a price point roughly equivalent with current real-meat offerings. Though several news magazines and bloggers feel that the technical requirements of the prize are either prohibitively expensive or unrealistic, the announcement has gotten lots of press, and gotten more than one eco-conscious meat eater wondering if it could really help them reduce their impact and their guilt at eating dead animals.
Much to PETA’s delight, no doubt, a recent explainer column in Slate asserts the the new meat will almost certainly lead to a lower-impact McNugget. By eliminating the problems of methane from animals, nitrogenous waste from manure and guano, disposal of inedible parts, clearing land to create pasture, and planting, fertilizing, growing, harvesting and delivering feed to animals, any artificial meat would represent a dramatic reduction all sorts of environmental impacts, not just greenhouse gases. Conversely, lab grown meats—at least the speculative implementations of laboratory technologies that would grow meat—require only water, glucose, a small amount of electricity.
So as out there as it may sound, and as frosty as he initial consumer reception may be (who else out there remembers the welcome Olestra got?), lab-grown meat as science currently understands it could turn out to be a tremendously useful and humane resource for satisfying our dual desire for filling meals and a healthier planet
Earthen floors are green building’s best kept secret. Though bamboo and sustainably grown hardwoods have gotten attention recently, green builders are now looking to earthen floors, which result in virtually no environmental harm, as the best green flooring option yet.
Earthen floors refer to a layer of substrate- dirt, sawdust, or flaxseeds - that is laid down on top of a layer of fine gravel, which is then covered with a layer of clay or sand. The final step is sealing the newly laid floor with a layer of linseed and hemp oil. The result is a porous, supple and durable floor at less than a dollar per a square foot (including labor).
To boot, all the ingredients are natural, and excess materials can be easily disposed of- in the backyard. Earthen floors are especially convenient for renovators, who would not even need to tear up their floors to install an earthen one; earthen floors can be laid down on essentially any hard surface, including old wood flooring, tile or linoleum. Earthen floors do absorb water and so require attentive cleaning. Though durable, earthen floors scratch more easily than tile, and may not stand up to a brood of kids running through the house. With that said, they are also easily repairable. Earthen floors offer up an exciting new- and super affordable- option in flooring for those seeking to go green.
Read more at ENN.
EnviroGLAS, based out of Lance Armstrong’s hometown of Plano, Texas is doing great things for waste diversion. Taking the “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra to heart, EnviroGLAS operates a company that makes hard surfaces out of what would otherwise be waste porcelain and glass.
Helping to reduce our landfills, EnviroGLAS produces flooring materials (EnviroTRAZ) tile (EnviroPLANK), countertops (EnviroSLAB) and landscaping materials (EnviroSCAPE) out of waste glass, stone and porcelain. Updating the mosaic for the sustainably-minded consumer, these building materials mix resin with crush substrates to produce a beautiful, durable, easily manipulated material to replace less sustainable options, like marble.
The amalgum of waste glass and resin yields a superdurable material with the benefits of plastic and the beauty of terrazzo, the Mediterranean cousin to mosaic. Further, the materials are a snap to clean. Because of their resin mix, they are neither porous nor easily scratchable.
EnviroGLAS offers particular advantage to consumers in that their product can be easily customized. The type, size and color of the glass or porcelain in the building material can be up to the cosumer, as well as the binder, or grout-like resin mixed with the substrate, allowing consumers to tailor their building materials to planned color schemes. In this way, EnviroGLAS economically serves up environmental benefit, style and practicality.
Read more at ENN.
A team of researchers from the University of Wyoming says they've created a carbon capture device capable of trapping 90% of CO2 at low cost.
Traditional attempts to suck CO2 out of emissions are expensive due to the cost of materials and the need to compress or refrigerate gases beforehand. Called the Carbon Filter Process, the technology is unique in that it can work at normal pressure and can be bought for around $40 per ton.
So what is this wonder material with the carbon munchies? I'm almost afraid to say it. It's coal. To be more specific, it can be any number of absorbent carbon materials including charcoal, activated carbon, and virgin coal.
The typical combustion power plant vents gas at 11-12% CO2 concentration and a fair amount of Nitrogen. Unlike other materials, these carbon-based sponges absorb almost pure carbon, with only 10% nitrogen coming along for the ride. As a bonus, the process has the potential to sequester other nasty pollutants like mercury.
Early results suggest that activated carbon may be the best bet, removing CO2 for around $20/ton, about 60% better than one of the best available methods (called amine absorption).
Once gathered up, the carbon can be stored in geological reservoirs. However, the authors say that oil and gas companies could use the stuff to increase recovery of yet more carbony fossil fuels. They call this use "green" because it doesn't require massive amounts of water to be pumped into deposits, but it seems a little like going to confession, then stealing from the offering plate.
Like the tri-generation solar I wrote about the other day, I'm not sure why this hasn't been done before. For the owners of a coal-fired plant, the solution is literally right under their noses. I must be in some kind of fever-induced dream state in which environmental problems solve themselves.
So there it is. Possibly the most environmentally destructive substance on Earth could save the planet from, well, itself. Somebody call Merriam-Webster, they need to add a definition to the word "Irony."
When I first moved to
I've ridden bicycles with better acceleration. If you rode for more than 30 minutes, the rocky suspension left you with bruises on your backside, and passing was an exercise in futility.
He took off the plates and left it on the street when the
Turns out he might have wanted to hold on to it. Now that gas $4/gallon gas is an accepted reality, the Metro is hotter than it’s ever been. Even the latest issue of Wired (you know, the infamous “hey, look at us! We’re counter-counter cultural” issue) called out a used Metro as the greenest automotive option for eco-savvy consumers.
Spanish utility Iberdrola is committing $8 billion to stake a big claim in American wind energy. The investment will take place from now until 2010, constituting a major push that the company hopes will garner it 15% of the total U.S. wind market, doubling its current capacity here.
Iberdrola already had 2,400 megawatts of installed capacity at the end of the first quarter of 2008 and expects to have 3,600 MW by year's end. Based in Bilbao, Spain, the utility is already the 2nd biggest U.S. wind operator, with $9 billion already sunk into the market and 700 employees throughout North America. In all, the company boasts 8,200 MW of wind capacity worldwide.
This latest move is part of a broader trend in foreign companies tapping the United States' thirst for renewables. America is a big country with a huge carbon problem. Somebody is going to get rich from our need to slash our GHG budget. It may as well be America. Studies seem to be supporting the theory that green collar jobs can recoup some of the losses from industrial layoffs and shutdowns.
But even when non-U.S. firms are the ones signing contracts, there's usually an American winner too. Iberdrola also announced recently that it will be buying 300 megawatts worth of turbines from GE. And with the likes of T. Boone Pickens splashing around in wind futures, America might wake up in time to control its own green energy destiny.
The UN will be providing the government of India with $42 million for cleantech as part of a technical cooperation program. The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) is providing the funds in an effort to support sustainable production and other cleantech efforts and will spread out the disbursement over the next five years.
Indian officials have said that the new agreement has made provisions for improving industrial conservation and energy efficiency efforts, standardizing sustainability and promoting investments in green companies. Specifically, they plan to use funds to aid small and medium businesses, concentrating on those that can provide a boost to employment. The funding will be divided among approximately 30 projects in a variety of industrial sectors.
UNIDO’s overall goal is to alleviate poverty by promoting industrial and commercial development, and has, of late, had some significant successes through funding environmental and energy initiatives. While the organization receives funding from the United Nations, they also work with a number of philanthropic organizations like the Gates Foundation.
Just what does “recyclable” and “recycled content” mean? The Federal Trade Commission is in the process of re-deciding that question. They’ve used a set of definitions since 1998 and are in the process of revising their ‘Green Guides’ — the guidelines the agency uses to decide whether marketing claims regarding green products, as well as other consumer issues relating to environmentalism.
As of the 1998 decision, the definition of ‘recyclable’ included the reuse, reconditioning or remanufacturing of products in whole or in part. The definition of ‘recycled content’ included products and packages that contained some materials that had been reused, reconditioned or remanufactured. Organizations such as the Glass Packaging Institute — the GPI represents members of the glass industry — are specifically requesting that the FTC clarify the definitions of these two terms during the Green Guide review process. The GPI is citing a higher expectation on the part of consumers for just what products qualify as ‘recyclable’ and the organization feels that the use of the term for a large number of products downplays the fact that glass is “endlessly reusable and recyclable,” unlike most products bearing the ‘recyclable’ label.
The FTC has barely begun the review process and is actively soliciting comments on the general principles that they have so far outlined for environmental marketing — just like the one that the GPI has submitted. They’ve actually started the review process a year early (earlier decisions set the review date in 2009) because of the prevalence of concerns about green marketing these days. Depending on how extensively the Green Guides change, marketing and advertising professionals may have to thoroughly revise their copy: it’s possible that many ads claiming that certain products claiming great environmental advantages for buyers may be considered false advertising under new guidelines.
But how far will the FTC change the guidelines? I don’t know if they’ll go as far as some commenters want — will they really limit the use of the word ‘recyclable’ to glass products as the GPI is asking? I don’t think so, but I’m not in on the decision making process. Do you think they should implement extreme changes in environmental marketing regulations? Are there really that many instances of consumers being effectively deceived by marketing claims about the green nature of a given product? It looks like the FTC will be letting us know soon.
The current Green Guides, or ‘Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims’ as they are officially known, are available online on the FTC website.
JetBlue has announced a new green initiative within the airline. The programs is being called ‘Jetting to Green’ and focuses on making it easier for JetBlue customers to offset the carbon dioxide emissions their travels will create. To drum up interest in the new program, JetBlue is holding a sweepstakes that includes such green prizes as a Toyota Prius.
The main mechanism of JetBlue’s carbon offset program is a link that allows customers to proceed directly from their completed travel itinerary to Carbonfund.org, the organization that is handling the actual details of providing carbon offsets to travelers. While the implementation doesn’t seem ideal to me, I do think that JetBlue’s partnership with Carbonfund makes for a very practical method of making carbon offsets available. After all, most airlines don’t have a whole lot of credibility as icons of sustainability. It’s just not their area of expertise. Carbonfund, though, has emerged as a recognizable name.
One of the secondary aspects of the Jetting to Green program is a partnership between JetBlue, Airbus, Honeywell Aerospance and International Aero Engines to develop sustainable biofuels for practical use in commercial aircraft. Others include minimizing the airline’s environmental footprint by changing operational procedures and encouraging JetBlue employees and customers to volunteer.
While executives involved in or closely related to the fossil fuel industry (GM CEO Bob Lutz comes immediately to mind) have come at eco-friendly technologies with skepticism and half-measures, a few brave souls have embraced the burgeoning green market with verve and vigor.
Pickens, currently ranked the 117th richest person in
It’s clear from the interview that Pickens, who turns 80 in two days, has lost little enthusiasm since his heyday, and sees a real future for renewable energy in
Ford Motor Co. is beginning to come around: It’s showing some signs of greening up. But is it really among the best (environmentally-speaking) in the world? Either Ford is working secret eco-magic or CERES (Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies) is dreaming.
CERES defended its decision to award Ford the ‘Best in Sustinability Reporting’ for the second year in a row. To its credit, Ford was the first automaker to voluntarily join the Climate Registry. However, as great as reporting is, if you’re still reporting lame numbers, you really shouldn't be considered the leader in sustainability. Transparency is a solid step in the right direction and Ford deserves recognition for that, but CERES goes too far if they are talking about sustainability in a broad sense. Even if Ford’s business practices are greening, the company's product still spews carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
By fixing ancillary sustainability issues, Ford tries to duck the SUV in the room. Ford’s primary hybrid is an SUV, leaving it less fuel efficient than most normal compact sedans. So while Ford does very well reporting on their sustainability, they have little to report on. What good are soy foam seats if they are in an SUV? The benefit are lost to the harm done by emissions. If Ford is so serious about sustainability, they’ll change where it counts: On the production line.
Read more here.
In a disappointing blow to hybrid owners everywhere, hybrids are testing worse on pollution and fuel efficiency than the claims made by their advertising. "Worse" meaning 60% worse than advertised.
We learned early on that hybrids’ real-life driving conditions may not indeed produce the mileage that car companies claim they get, but in the wake of the rise as environmental friendliness as a marketing tool, claims of efficiency and emissions reduction are being radically misrepresented.
Auto Express magazine tested the Ford Focus ECOnetic, the Toyota Prius , Lexus GS 450h, Mini Cooper, VW Polo BlueMotion, Seat Ibiza ECOmotive and Skoda’s Fabia Greenline. All revealed disappointing results. All results departed significantly from marketing claims, with some showing wide differences, producing twice the emissions as advertised. Some of these cars are the ‘best hybrids available’ on the market, often ranked at the top of hybrid lists. Consumers should be cautious not to be hoodwinked by fancy claims; in many situations, purchasing a smaller, lighter, more aerodynamic vehicle delivers equivalent fuel and emissions benefits as a mis-marketed hybrid.
Read more here.
"I'll believe it when I see it," runs the old adage. And while there's certainly no lack of stories on the effects of global warming, from melting glaciers to expanding deserts, all this news never really seems to hit home with most people.
But now, thanks to a collaborative effort between the
Running through the free Google Earth program, the map allows users to scan the globe, and focus in on individual areas to observe how climate change has affected and will continue to affect them well into the coming century.
Though there promises to be significant variation from the model posed by this map, it still provides an excellent tool for both a local and global view of climate change.
While most solar companies are struggling to squeeze low-20s efficiency from a solar cell, one company has found a way to more than double that number. BrightPhase Energy Inc. has combined the benefits of a few different sun-catching methods to create a low-cost and simple energy solution.
The trick is a system of three technologies - photovoltaic, thermal, and daylight - which provide electricity, heating, and reduced need for lighting. Branded Photensity, the module is basically a teched -out skylight. This idea makes so much sense, it's almost obvious, but it doesn't look like anyone else has been able to pull off such a hat trick yet.
Future versions of the device are planned to incorporate a heat-driven cooling system and wall mounting capability. The company says the "tri-generator" has an installed cost of less than $2 per watt and return on investment in 6-9 years without subsidies and much less with.
The company has just signed a tenative deal with renewable energy developer Appalachian Energy. The North Carolina firm will help BrightPhase test and demonstrate the system, with a 200-300 module install for one of its customers.
If it sounds like a nice add-on for your green remodel, you'll have to wait. BrightPhase has positioned this technology for large commercial buildings. But if all goes well, maybe they'll develop a McMansion size.
According to Phil Edwards and Ian Roberts, of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, obese people cause global warming.
In a letter to the medical journal The Lancet (registration required), the two scientists argue that obese people have a more significant responsibility for rising food prices and for greenhouse gas emissions because, on average, an obese person needs 18 percent more food, as well as more fuel to transport both themselves and their higher quantities of food.
This statement was included in a letter to the editor, rather than an article: The Lancet is a peer reviewed journal and does not publish articles that are not backed up with significant research and have gone through a rigorous review process. And I haven’t seen any research that supports this claim — or proves that people of a given weight use significantly more fuel and food than body builders who eat significant amounts of food as well; the difference is, of course, how individuals use the nutrients they consume, either by building muscle mass or generally gaining weight. To put it mildly, I just don’t buy it.
To be entirely fair, I don’t suggest contacting either Edwards or Roberts to express any sort of outrage. They were attempting to suggest that encouraging public policies that would promote walking and cycling in an effort to reduce fuel prices. I don’t believe their intent was to suggest anything further.
You know the feeling: half-past noon with nothing in your belly because you forgot to buy locally-produced organic milk for your cereal the night before, and your work for the morning ran late. Plus you've got a super-critical, high-powered, simply-can’t-be-late meeting that starts promptly at one o’clock.
You need food, and you need it now. There are plenty places that can get it to you in time, but you worry about the environmental fallout of such fast food. What to do? Well, if you’re in Washington DC, you can turn to On the Fly, an eco-friendly food retailer which operates out of several zero-emissions Smartkarts around the city.
Founded by a Zipcar alum, On The Fly takes a novel approach to food distribution, selling food from local partners, made as often as possible with local ingredients. The end result is a carbon-friendly as it is fresh.
And if you don’t live in DC, fear not—from San Francisco to NYC, sustainability and speed are no longer mortal enemies when it comes your served food offerings.
I'm a huge fan of Wired magazine. A subscriber for years, I always know I'm getting ahead of the curve information on technology. That's why I'm so disappointed in the June 2008 issue of Wired. The magazine argues that "only one thing matters: cutting carbon." The article highlights some important issues, but unfortunately, I think they went a little too far in choosing style over substance.
"Attention Environmentalists: Keep your SUV. Forget organics. Go nuclear. Screw the spotted owl." So goes the attention-grabbing cover, with its completely unnecessary day-glo orange background. Inside the article, the arguments are a little more subtle, but the cover title demonstrates an ignorance about the environmental movement and why a carbon-only approach will screw us and the spotted owl.
Some of the right notes are hit: China will be a big renewable energy player; consider buying a used car instead of a new hybrid; adaptation is important too. But even these smart points are drowned out by blocky inserts shouting "KEEP YOUR SUV." Other points were obvious (sprawl is bad). But there also were true misses.
One writer dismisses the serious cons of nuclear waste, weapons proliferation, astronomical cost, and long build times as if renewables - and Chernobyl - didn't exist. Organics are panned for lower-than-average yields and belchier cows, while ignoring everything that's right about organics. And guys, any green worth the label knows that hauling organic produce thousands of miles is a no-no. Some clever math about heating and cooling costs produces the obnoxious conclusion "CRANK THE A/C."
However, the biggest whiff is treating environmental ills as problem spots, rather than the result of humanity's habit of treating the Earth, variously, as a dump, commodity, and grab bag that we can take from without consequence. Alex Steffen of Worldchanging.com pens an adjoining article, "It's Not Just Carbon, Stupid", in which he gets it right. This paragraph lays out the spot-on counter:
"Climate change is not just a discrete issue; it's a symptom of larger problems. Fundamentally, our society as currently designed has no future. We're chewing up the planet so fast, in so many ways, that we could solve the climate problem tomorrow and still find that environmental collapse is imminent. Myopic responses will only hasten its arrival."
Even the layout for the story, a collection of separate topical snippets, reflects the disjointed perception. Wired has a propensity for selecting edgy-over-accurate headlines and working out the details later, but lines like "screw the spotted owl" are just belligerent. It's unfortunate that the tech mag of record turned a much-needed primer on the realities of carbon cutting into a tabloid title.