Are government officials doing enough to prepare their communities for natural disasters and extreme weather events – that are increasing in frequency and severity due to climate change? Not surprisingly, the answer is no, says a new report from nonprofit environmental organizations National Wildlife Federation and Earth Economics and insurance group Allied World Assurance Company Holdings.
Released Monday, “Natural Defenses from Hurricanes and Floods: Protecting America’s Communities and Ecosystems in an Era of Extreme Weather” details the growing threat of climate-related calamities and calls on elected officials and policy makers to make their communities more resilient to climate change’s impacts.
But government agencies shouldn’t necessarily rush to strengthen seawalls, install levees or build new “gray” infrastructure, as part of their emergency preparedness efforts, according to the report’s authors. Instead, communities can achieve resiliency by protecting and restoring natural infrastructure, including wetlands, riparian zones and barrier islands, as well as by designing infrastructure that mimics natural systems such as engineered oyster reefs or dunes.
Back in March, eco-friendly cleaning supply company Method broke ground on its first U.S. manufacturing plant, set to be built on Chicago’s South Side. Now the San Francisco-based company has revealed more details about the green roof planned for the factory: Through a partnership with urban farming company Gotham Greens, the facility will boast the largest rooftop farm in the world, producing up to 1 million pounds of produce each year.
Gotham Greens will design, build and operate the 75,000-square-foot greenhouse, the Brooklyn-based company announced in a joint press release with Method in early October. The pesticide-free produce harvested from the urban rooftop farm will be distributed through local Chicago retailers, restaurants, farmer’s markets and community groups – bringing fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables to the food desert that is the Windy City’s South Side. The greenhouse can also provide full-time green collar jobs for residents in the community, Gotham Greens’ Marketing and Partnerships Manager Nicole Baum told Method in an interview on its blog.
The Honest Company, a line of eco-friendly baby, personal care and cleaning products dreamed up by Jessica Alba, has become wildly popular among parents looking for an alternative to Pampers and Johnson & Johnson. But, in a marketplace overcrowded with questionable celebrity products – from Suzanne Somer’s ThighMaster to Jessica Simpson’s line of edible cosmetics – is it any wonder a conscious consumer would approach a company created by a Hollywood actress with a heavy dose of skepticism?
To find out if the Honest Company is serious about sustainability, a good place to start is its origin story. Alba said the idea to create her own baby product line came to her when she was pregnant with her first child: Alba’s mother recommended a laundry detergent specially formulated for babies that she had used during Alba’s own childhood, Alba said in an interview with the Thomas Reuters Foundation. But when the “Sin City” actress used the detergent, she broke out into a rash – which motivated her to investigate the health effects of chemicals in everyday consumer products.
Editor’s Note: This article is part of a short series on creating resilient cities, sponsored by Siemens. Please join us for a live Google Hangout with Siemens and Arup on October 1, where we’ll talk about this issue live! RSVP here.
When Superstorm Sandy swept through New York City on Oct. 29, 2012, the storm completely upended one of the busiest transportation networks in the country — flooding and cutting off power to streets, tunnels, subway stations and airports. Even after the flood waters receded, it took city workers up to two weeks after the storm hit to get almost all of the Big Apple’s transit network up and running again – although some services, including portions of the subway system, are still out of commission to this day.
According to the city’s estimates, Superstorm Sandy resulted in a whopping $8 million of physical damage to the region’s transportation infrastructure and affected nearly 8.5 million public transit riders, 4.2 million drivers and 1 million air travelers.
But nearly two years after Sandy, New York City has not only worked to repair and restore its transportation infrastructure from the storm’s damage, but is also taking steps to improve the resiliency of its transit network. The city outlined its plan to better prepare for future natural disasters – including the effects of climate change – in its report, A Stronger, More Resilient New York, released in June 2013.
Carbon offsets used to be maligned as a way for individuals to assuage their eco-guilt or for companies to falsely promote a green image without changing their behavior – a system no better than the Catholic Church’s sale of indulgences during the Middle Ages. But the market for carbon offsets has come a long way in recent years, and now, with more regulation and oversight, carbon offsets are a valid way to reduce your individual or company’s carbon footprint, as long as they’re accompanied, of course, with measures to green your personal lifestyle or business operations.
As TriplePundit launches its new series this week – a business buyer’s guide to carbon offsets – we thought we’d start with the basics, reviewing what exactly a carbon offset is, how the market works and how companies can go about purchasing offsets.
Wind energy has famously pitted environmentalists against each other – renewable energy and climate action advocates vs. wildlife conservationists concerned about wind turbines injuring or killing birds. But a new study, funded by the American Wind Wildlife Institute (AWWI), reveals that bird fatalities resulting from collisions with wind turbines are extremely low; in fact, cell towers and cats kill a far greater number of birds than wind turbines do, the peer-reviewed report found.
Wind turbines are responsible for an estimated 214,000 to 368,000 bird deaths each year, according to A Comprehensive Analysis of Small-passerine Fatalities from Collision with Wind Turbines at Wind Energy Facilities. This is a small fraction of bird fatalities compared with the 6.8 million annual deaths caused by collisions with cell and radio towers and the 1.4 to 3.7 billion fatalities from cats, say the report’s authors, environmental consulting firm West, Douglas Johnson from the U.S. Geological Survey and Joelle Gehring of the Federal Communications Commission.
The report, which focuses on passerines (small birds such as songbirds), is the most comprehensive study of the impacts of wind turbines on small bird populations, said Taber Allison, AWWI director of research and evaluation, in a statement.
How can a manufacturer reformulate a cleaning product to contain fewer harmful chemicals, and how can a retailer stock its shelves with more eco-friendly merchandise? UL (Underwriters Laboratories), a product safety testing and certification company, thinks it may have a solution: a set of data tools that helps businesses search and choose ingredients and products based on their environmental and social responsibility profiles.
Managed by UL’s recently launched Information & Insights division, the collection of tools build upon several databases with information on product ingredients and the consumer product index GoodGuide – all of which UL acquired – to allow manufacturers and retailers to essentially track products and materials across the supply chain.
UL’s search engine Prospector allows engineers and designers to look up materials they might want to use to create new products or reformulate existing ones – like developing a shampoo that rinses faster or a toothpaste that also whitens teeth. But, in addition to searching for ingredients that change the abilities or characteristics of a product, engineers can also identify materials that are more sustainable – ingredients that are free of certain chemicals, have received an environmental certification or comply with environmental regulations.
“Our grand vision [with Prospector] is to help people make healthier, safer products,” said Mathieu Guerville, director of strategy and business development at UL Information & Insights.
The Prospector database is especially suited for chemical-containing products at this time, he said, including personal care products, household and industrial cleaners, lubricants, and sealing and binding agents. But in the future, Guerville said that the company will be adding a platform for conflict materials and a search engine for materials used to make electronics and appliances.
Earlier this month, hundreds of community activists gathered near the Chevron oil refinery in Richmond, Calif., to mark the two-year anniversary of the facility’s explosion that sent more than 15,000 individuals from the surrounding community to the hospital. These campaigners – which included residents of this racially diverse, low-income city to the east of San Francisco – were passionate about the issue of climate change, announcing they had also come together to brainstorm local solutions to the climate crisis.
Despite this rally in Richmond and the long-standing environmental justice movement, the misconception that people of color don’t care about environmental issues remains. But a new poll commissioned by the nonprofit Green For All reveals what we should have known all along: Communities of color are not only concerned about the environment, but also view climate change as an imminent threat.
According to the survey, 68 percent of African American, Latino and Asian likely voters think climate change is an issue that Americans need to be worried about right now – not a problem we can put off in the future. And a whopping 75 percent reported that they are following new information on climate change more closely than in the past.
California’s historic drought is no laughing matter. But the state of California and the Natural Resources Defense Council are trying to inject some humor into their efforts to encourage Californians to conserve water, teaming up with Conan O’Brien and Andy Richter on a series of public service announcement (PSA) videos that feature water-saving tips.
Part of California’s “Save Our Water” drought awareness campaign, the new PSAs cover topics from car washing (you can save 60 gallons of water by taking your car to a carwash rather than washing it by hand – and you can bathe your kids there, too, Richter points out) to pool covers (swimming pools evaporate up to 40,000 gallons of water a year; even if you don’t have a pool, you can buy a pool cover to impress people and make them think you have one, the funnymen say).
The comedians even poke fun at the idea that saving water takes too much work; there are many “lazy” ways to conserve water, they say: running dishes through a dishwasher instead of washing them yourself, using a carwash rather than hand-washing your car and their more tongue-in-cheek suggestion of skipping showers.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) and Department of Energy’s (DOE) Energy Star program is one of the most recognizable and trusted environmental labels in the marketplace – but it wasn’t always that way.
Launched in 1992 to help consumers find the most energy-efficient products, the program initially allowed companies to sign up to use the Energy Star logo by self-reporting their products’ energy savings; the EPA and DOE would perform only occasional spot-checks on items carrying the eco-label. But a federal audit in 2010 revealed that some Energy Star products did not live up to their energy-savings claims. Worse, the program even accepted several fictitious products created by the Government Accountability Office to investigate Energy Star’s certification process like a gasoline-powered alarm clock the size of an electric generator.
Since the scandal, the EPA and DOE changed the way the energy-efficiency initiative approves new products, now requiring companies to have their products – and energy-savings claims – tested at independent laboratories.
The case of Energy Star illustrates the dilemma consumers face when they come across a product with a label boasting environmental responsibility: Can consumers trust that the claims these eco-labels make are true?
Fourteen percent of carpet was recycled into new products or used to produce energy last year – rather than buried in landfills – according to a new report from the Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE), a nonprofit initiated by both the carpet industry and government agencies to boost carpet recycling nationwide.
This figure may seem like a drop in the bucket against the 3.7 billion pounds of carpet discarded in 2013, but it actually represents a significant improvement over previous years: Diversion of carpet from the landfill rose 52 percent from 2012 to 2013.
CARE estimates that the environmental impact of keeping this material from the landfill is equivalent to taking 40,822 cars off the road or powering 17,692 homes for one year, the organization wrote in its annual report for 2013.
Of the more than 500 million pounds of carpet rescued from the landfill in 2013, 4 percent was used to power cement production facilities, while 10 percent was combusted to create thermal energy in waste-to-energy plants, the report found. Around 2 percent was able to be reused – refurbished and resold or donated back into the marketplace – and less than 1 percent was incinerated.
Thirty-five percent of the carpet diverted from the landfill was recycled into new products, according to the report: About half was manufactured into engineered plastic resins that can be used to make composite lumber, tile backer board, roofing shingles and automotive parts. The other 44 percent was turned back into new carpet in a closed-loop process – the “holy grail” of recycling.
“Energy Star,” “all-natural,” “biodegradable” and, of course, “organic” – these are just a few of the environmental claims and labels that consumers navigate as they do their everyday shopping.
“There are lots and lots of labels out there,” says Scot Case, director of markets and development for UL Environment, which provides validation for companies’ environmental claims. “One website has tracked just north of 400 different environmental labels used worldwide. That can be overwhelming and confusing for the typical consumer like my mom, as well as professional purchasers.”
TriplePundit has been delving into the issue of environmental labels – and the evidence backing up their assertions – in our “Setting the Standards” series. But we thought we’d back up and take a fresh look at the basics of green labels: What kinds of labels are currently in the marketplace, and how can consumers be sure their promises are accurate?
When you think of zero waste, you might picture towering compost heaps or overflowing recycling carts – but what about one bin for all of your household waste, from carrot peels and chicken bones to junk mail and soda bottles? That’s the idea behind Houston’s “One Bin for All” program, which aims to boost the city’s dismal recycling rate of 19 percent, which falls 15 percent below the average national recycling figure.
Public officials predict the initiative will help the city keep 75 percent of its trash from the landfill, but critics of the program, ranging from the Texas Campaign for the Environment to the NAACP, contend that it will actually prevent the city from achieving zero waste and smacks of environmental racism.
Billed as the “next evolution of recycling,” Houston’s “One Bin for All” campaign is not to be confused with the single-stream recycling programs popular in many American cities. Single-stream recycling allows customers to place all of their recyclables in one cart and garbage in a second cart (there is sometimes a third cart for green waste). The one-bin program, on the other hand, is exactly as its name suggests: All of a household’s or business’ trash, recyclables and compostables are tossed into one bin, with no sorting required.
More extreme droughts, floods and wildfires – these are just some of the impacts of climate change that won’t just occur in the distant future to our great-great grandchildren, but are happening now. To address the changing climate’s current effects on communities in the U.S., President Barack Obama announced a plan to strengthen national infrastructure and help cities, states and tribal communities better prepare for and recover from natural disasters.
“Climate change poses a direct threat to the infrastructure of America that we need to stay competitive in this 21st-century economy,” Obama said last week at a meeting of the Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience. “That means that we should see this as an opportunity to do what we should be doing anyway, and that’s modernizing our infrastructure, modernizing our roads, modernizing our bridges, power grids, our transit systems, and making sure that they’re more resilient. That’s going to be good for commerce, and it’s obviously going to be good for communities.”
Obama unveiled over $260 million in federal funds to help communities build their climate adaptation and resilience. The U.S. Geological Survey and other federal agencies are dedicating $13 million to develop an advanced 3-D mapping tool of the country that communities can use to identify which areas and infrastructure are at risk from changing climatic conditions, the White House said in a statement. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will also be spending $236 million to improve rural electric infrastructure in eight states – an investment that will not only allow the deployment of smart grid technologies, but can also attract businesses and residents to these communities, according to the White House.
Monika Wiela was walking to work on Michigan Avenue in Chicago when she passed a homeless man holding a sign that read, “I need shoes.” Wiela desperately wanted to help him. As the founder of online shoe store StyleUpGirl.com, she had a warehouse full of platform heels and stiletto boots – but no men’s shoes.
Wiela did, however, have a ton of cardboard shipping boxes, and after ruminating over the man’s dilemma all night, she came up with a solution: What if you could take your old shipping boxes from online retailers and – instead of tossing them into the recycling or garbage – pack them with clothes and household goods you no longer need, and send them to charities?
That’s the idea behind Give Back Box, a startup Wiela launched last year after running a year-long test with StyleUpGirl.com clientele. Before shipping a pair of new shoes to customers, the Polish-born entrepreneur placed a prepaid mailing label addressed to a secondhand charity in the cardboard box, along with donation instructions. The result? Thirteen percent of shoppers boxed up their unwanted goods and mailed them off to nonprofit organizations.