Poor Air Quality May Be Slowing Your Employees Down

RP Siegel | Wednesday July 30th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Blond Girl at ComputerLast month, we discussed the implications of indoor air quality (IAQ). We asked why you should care, and came up with a number of answers focused on health. If that weren’t reason enough, there is another reason that IAQ should be of particular interest to business owners: employee productivity.

A number of credible studies have shown that indoor air quality can have a significant effect on employee productivity. And we’re not just talking about air that’s so bad that you can’t see or breathe. Generally speaking, OSHA takes cares of those (though I could tell you a story about an agricultural processing job I once worked in Arkansas). What we’re talking about here is much more subtle than that.

For example, a series of laboratory studies at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory (LBL) examined typing speed and accuracy, as well as addition and proofreading error rate, with and without a section of 20-year-old carpet present in the room. The carpet, which was known to emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), was hidden from the subjects. (VOC s are used and produced in the manufacture of paints, adhesives, petroleum products, pharmaceuticals, dry cleaning agents and refrigerants.) Results found a 4 percent improvement in speed and accuracy when the carpet was absent. The amount of ventilation used also had a significant impact. Results above were achieved with 20 cubic feet per minute (CFM) per person being blown into the room. Dropping that down to 6 CFM per person led to an additional 4 percent decrease in performance. Increasing the ventilation to 60 CFM per person achieved the same result as removing the carpet.

Another study found the presence of CRT monitors led to a 16 percent increase in typing error rate. A similar study found a 10 percent improvement in call center talk times when additional fresh air ventilation was provided. In many of these studies, the inhabitants made no complaints and were unaware of any issue with respect to the air quality.

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The Fight Over Chemical Flame Retardants

Jan Lee
Jan Lee | Wednesday July 30th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Kaiser_sacramento_chemical_fire_retardantsLurking inside your bed, your couch, your carpet and the upholstery of your car is a secret arsenal. You can’t see it, you can’t usually smell it, and most of the time, you’re likely unaware that it’s even there.

The U.S. chemical industry will tell you that it’s there to save lives. And the truth is, in many cases it has. Since 1976 when the federal Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was passed, says the North American FlameRetardant Alliance (NAFRA), deaths from furniture and furnishing fires have dropped dramatically. According to studies conducted during 1981-1985 and 2000-2007, “The number of fire deaths fell by 64 percent for furniture and furnishings [f&f] fires.” The American Chemistry Council (ACC) attributes that reduction to flame-retardant chemicals that slow the spread of a devastating house fire.

Chemical flame retardants: Are they helping?

But critics ask, at what cost? Improved technology now places the cause of some cancers, developmental problems and other diseases squarely on the types of chemicals we use in our homes. Substances that have long been used with the blessings of TSCA, such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers and phosphate esters, are now showing up in our water, our food and have been detected in the air we breathe. Research has also linked childhood developmental problems to the chemicals found in our furniture and other upholstery

Organizations like Center for Environmental Health (CEH), Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families and Health Care Without Harm and Practice Green Health have long argued that spraying the interior of our beds and upholstery doesn’t just change the flammability of the furniture, it just subjects their users to an onslaught of toxic chemicals on a daily basis, and that there are better, safer ways to address f&f fire risk in our homes. 

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Report: States Fighting EPA Carbon Rules Will Actually Benefit From Them

RP Siegel | Wednesday July 30th, 2014 | 0 Comments

wv coal plantPeople rarely use the expression “ignorance is bliss” when referring to themselves. To do so would be to suggest that they at least know that there is something that they don’t know, even if they don’t know what that is.

When it comes to climate change, there is a lot of ignorance being bandied about — both about the weight of scientific understanding and evidence that exists underscoring the role of human activity, and the economic and social impact of dealing with the crisis in a meaningful way.

Despite the efforts of a regiment of doubtmongers, assigned to keep the debate going, most Americans have heard enough of the science and understand that the crisis is real. And even among those who are skeptical, many understand that making this country more efficient in every major aspect of the economy would be a good thing, even if were undertaken on the basis of a miscalculation.

Given the inability of Congress to act effectively, the president has given executive orders to the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce power plant carbon emissions, which will be achieved through the Clean Power Plan (CPP).

But there are still a number of holdouts, in a position to make a difference, who continue to gum up the works. Among them are Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma and Gov. Rick Perry of Texas. Both of these men insist not only that the science establishing human’s role in climate change must be wrong, but also that doing anything about it would represent economic disaster. I won’t take the time here to recount the volumes of data refuting their first point. Instead I’d prefer to focus on a new report issued by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Rhodium Group, which looks at “The Economic and Energy Impacts of Power Plant Emissions Standards.” This report sheds some light on the distinguished gentlemen’s second point: The study finds that both of the states these avid deniers and obstructers represent and vow to protect, Oklahoma and Texas, would, in fact, benefit by following the EPA rules rather than resisting them.

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Swaddle Baby’s Bottom with Jellyfish!

Eric Justian
| Wednesday July 30th, 2014 | 0 Comments

jellyfishI type here today to testify about the avalanche of diapers going into our landfills and the bizarre or ingenious solution to that plague. Based on research from Tel Aviv University on the super-absorbancy of jellyfish flesh, the Israeli nanotechnology company Cine’al Ltd. is developing a diaper that’s more absorbent and decomposes in just 30 days. And by the way, this new green product is made of jellyfish.

Back in my college days I worked my way through school as a janitor at a large child care center, scrubbing tiny toilets, sanitizing doorknobs several times a day, sweeping wet rice off the lunchroom floor, and yes, I was that guy who brought in the sawdust when some poor kid got sick after eating rainbow-colored cereal. But most of all, I remember the diapers. Mounds of them. Thousands. Every three hours I’d sweep through the baby and toddler rooms, play peek-a-boo for a couple of minutes, then take out the diaper-stuffed bags and replace them with new bags: Four 55-gallon Hefties every three hours, each filled with scores of compact little white plastic-lined balls of … you know … let’s just say diapers.

As a parent, I saw the same thing. Garbage overflowing with diapers.

Disposable diapers, as it turns out, are the third-largest category of landfill trash by volume accounting for 4 percent of the solid waste in U.S. landfills. And in households with a baby or toddler, disposable diapers make up about 50 percent of the family’s trash. At the child care center, I’d wager about 75 percent of our trash was Huggies/Luvs/generic Target brand based — all of which take hundreds of years to decompose.

We are overrun with diapers.

Enter the jellyfish.

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Biomimicry Lessons for Business

Raz Godelnik
| Wednesday July 30th, 2014 | 2 Comments

biomimicryNYCHow do we create a better future? How do we redesign our economic system to be more sustainable?

Exploring these and similar questions, a growing number of people look for inspiration from the greatest lab of all: Nature. This type of exploration already has a name (biomimicry), definition (“an innovation method that seeks sustainable solutions by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies”) and even an inspiring visionary leading the way (Janine Benyus).

It also has a growing number of followers, as I could see last week at an event titled “Biomimicry + the Regenerative Economy.” Organized by BiomimicryNYC, a network dedicated to fostering a community of nature-inspired practice in the New York City metro region, it took place at Impact Hub NYC with more than 100 attendees who came to learn more about aligning business with nature from two experts in this field: Amy Larkin and Katherine Collins.

I was curious to hear what Larkin and Collins had in mind when it comes to applying biomimicry to business and economy, because currently we have too many questions and perhaps too few propositions.  My hope is that nature can help balance this out, but I’m still not sure how.  Hence I was hoping to gain some insights at this event.

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Dr. Bronner’s Takes the Lead in Sourcing Sustainable Palm Oil

Leon Kaye | Wednesday July 30th, 2014 | 0 Comments
Dr. Bronners, palm oil, sustainable palm oil, fair trade, organic, Leon Kaye, Ghana, Serendipalm

Harvesting palm fruit in Eastern Ghana

Palm oil production has surged across the world in recent years, and often with devastating results. More companies have pledged to source palm oil more responsibly, but the consequences to the environment, wildlife and people have been severe as more tropical rainforest has been razed to cope with global demand.

When it comes ensuring fairness for people who harvest palm oil, one company making a difference is Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, the iconic manufacturer of castile soap and other natural personal care products. With palm oil in countless items eaten or applied — from cosmetics and toothpaste to packaged crackers and cookies — Dr. Bronner’s leadership on the development of more responsible sources of palm oil is a template for other companies pledging to do less harm.

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More Utilities Are Shifting to Renewable Energy

Bill DiBenedetto | Wednesday July 30th, 2014 | 0 Comments

ceres picThe “new reality” facing electricity consumers and their utility companies is that renewable energy is meeting an increasingly larger share of U.S. energy needs, according to a report released this month from Ceres and Clean Edge.

That translates into more and better choices and a clean energy future.

“Renewables — including wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, waste heat and small-scale hydroelectric — accounted for a whopping 49 percent of new U.S. electric generating capacity in 2012, with new wind development outpacing even natural gas,” writes Jon Wellinghoff, partner at Stoel Rives LLP and former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in the report.

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Firms Raise $56 Million to Boost Smart Energy Storage

| Wednesday July 30th, 2014 | 0 Comments

GreenCharge_GreenStationsMaking smart, efficient use of distributed clean energy resources is a key enabler in order for a more sustainable U.S. energy mix to fully mature.

Santa Clara, California’s Green Charge Networks (GCN) has been carving out a niche for itself in the nascent, growing U.S. smart grid-energy efficiency market space. It sets itself apart by leveraging the latest in battery storage technologies, its own proprietary energy management algorithms and software, and zero-down, results-based customer Power Efficiency Agreements (PEAs).

On July 29, GCN and new firm K Road DG announced the closing of $56 million in funding that will help the company take the next step. GCN will use the funds to spur uptake of its GreenStation energy management and storage solution (pictured above) and associated PEAs. Through PEA agreements, investment returns are linked to customers’ actual demand charge and utility bill savings.

To date, GCN has closed over 2 megawatts (MW) of these zero-down agreements with a variety of customers, including 7-Eleven, Walgreens and UPS, as well as school campuses and municipalities in California and New York.

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Obama’s ‘Economic Patriotism’ Won’t Win Until Firms Do

Jan Lee
Jan Lee | Tuesday July 29th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Obama_economic_patriotism_Nick_KnupfferThis week, President Barack Obama lashed out at corporations that have taken up the legal but questionably ethical practice of tax inversion.

For those who aren’t familiar with the expression, tax inversion occurs when companies purchase property in another country in order to change their tax base to another, more financially advantageous location. Northern Ireland is the latest geographic sector to benefit from burgeoning U.S. firms like Google and Facebook, which are said to be thriving under more generous tax provisions. Biopharmaceutical giant Pfizer, which earlier this month attempted to purchase U.K. pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca, is also suspected of trying to change its physical address.

“My attitude is: I don’t care if it’s legal,” Obama said in a speech in Los Angeles this week. “It’s wrong.”

What I often appreciate about Obama is his ability to come right to the core of the issue, which often doesn’t have to do with pragmatism, or partisanship (although, he’s been known to trump that card as well), but ethics. Few presidents have had the moxie to aim for the moral bull’s-eye as many times as Obama and hit it squarely on the mark.

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Why Would the USDA Waste $34 Million on Soybeans in Afghanistan?

Leon Kaye | Tuesday July 29th, 2014 | 0 Comments
Afghanistan, soybeans, USDA, SARAI, Leon Kaye, Quintin Gray, SALT International, American Soybean Association

Employees at the northern Afghanistan soy flour factory.

Many of us have already concluded the 13-year war and military involvement in Afghanistan has been a horrific waste of blood and treasure with no ideal resolution in sight. But among the many throttled programs the U.S. has tried to implement in this proud, landlocked country is one especially laughable if not absurd.

In 2010 the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in a partnership with the American Soybean Association and SALT International, launched SARAI, or the Soybeans in Agricultural Renewal of Afghanistan Initiative. The goal was to haul American soybean processing equipment, and of course soybeans, into northern Afghanistan to start a soy-farming industry under the guise of nutrition and economic development. Optimism was rampant even two years ago:

“It’s great to see the Afghan and U.S. partners get this soybean processing facility up and operating. It will help Afghanistan agriculture continue to develop.” -U.S. Foreign Agricultural Service Agriculture Minister Counselor Quintin Gray, in September 2012.

Then the stubborn reality hit.

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NASA: Groundwater Depletion Threatens Southwest Water Supplies

| Tuesday July 29th, 2014 | 0 Comments

LakeMeadDrought An analysis of data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) Mission indicates the U.S. Southwest is more vulnerable to drought and water shortages than previously believed.

Studying 14 years of GRACE satellite data since late 2004 covering the parched Colorado River Basin, NASA and University of California, Irvine scientists found that groundwater loss accounts for more than 75 percent of total freshwater resource loss across the basin region.

Freshwater flowing through the Colorado River Basin is the lifeblood of cities and communities throughout the seven-state region and beyond into Mexico, supplying freshwater to 40 million people and irrigation for some 40 million acres of farmland in the southwestern U.S. However, the basin “has been suffering from prolonged, severe drought since 2000 and has experienced the driest 14-year period in the last 100 years,” NASA highlights in a news release.

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Video: Michelle Obama on Work-Life Balance

| Tuesday July 29th, 2014 | 1 Comment

michelle obamaApparently Michelle Obama brought a four-month-old Sasha with her to an interview for the Vice President of Community and External Affairs at University of Chicago Hospitals, and she was only willing to take the job if it came with tons of workplace flexibility.

I’m working from home today with my own four-month-old (who is thankfully going on 90 minutes in what is usually a 60-minute nap), so this video struck home for me.

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ExxonMobil to Comply with LGBT Executive Order

Bill DiBenedetto | Tuesday July 29th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Exxon Gas Station_ T N JonesExxonMobil said last week that it will comply with the protections for gay, lesbian and transgender employees required of federal contractors. But it’s unclear whether the oil major will formalize that by changing the language of its equal opportunity corporate policy.

A recent Associated Press story noted that President Barack Obama’s signing of an executive order on July 21 expanded protections for federal workers and contractors from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The Labor Department has 90 days to issue regulations for how employers must comply.

“Exxon, which according to government records won more than $480 million in federal contracts in 2013 and more than $8 billion since 2006, has long resisted pressure from civil rights groups and shareholders to enumerate such protections in its formal policy,” according to the AP account.

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The North Face Sustainability Report: Environment and Efficiency

Leon Kaye | Tuesday July 29th, 2014 | 0 Comments
The North Face, corporate social responsibility, sustainability report, recycling, textile recycling, Leon Kaye, clean energy, supply chain

The North Face promises all-recycled polyester by 2016.

To enjoy much of the outdoors, one needs the proper clothing and equipment, but those very products have their own environmental impact — from petroleum-based polyester to the shipping required to move products from factories to stores. To that end, The North Face says it is making headway on its sustainability goals, according to its most recent corporate responsibility report.

The North Face is keeping up with outdoor gear companies such as its fellow VF Corp. brand, Timberland, and Patagonia in ensuring the messages it sends to its customers are reflected in how company operations perform.

So, following on its previous report, in which the company committed to more sustainable fabric and renewable energy, what exactly has The North Face accomplished and what are its future goals?

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New Jersey Turns to Distributed Resources to Enhance Energy Resilience

| Tuesday July 29th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Hurricane-Sandy Superstorm Sandy caused tremendous damage, as well as hardship and loss of life, in communities across New Jersey – with a total of over $37 billion in physical damages alone, according to a Rutgers School of Public Affairs and Administration study released in October 2013.

Given current and rising levels of atmospheric CO2 and other greenhouse gases, New Jersey and states up and down the Eastern Seaboard, as well as across the U.S., can likely expect more in the way of extreme weather events and greater variability in weather patterns.

Aiming to strengthen New Jersey’s resilience to power outages and energy shortages, the Christie administration on July 23 announced it has taken a big step forward in establishing the New Jersey Energy Resilience Bank (ERB). It will be the first state-sponsored fund of its kind dedicated specifically to enhancing the resilience of energy infrastructure and supplies to extreme and variable weather patterns and conditions.

With an initial $200 million from the mid-Atlantic state’s Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR), the ERB is to “support the development of distributed energy resources at critical facilities throughout the state,” according to a New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (NJ BPU) press release.

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