3p Contributor: Alexis Petru

Alexis Petru Passionate about both writing and sustainability, Alexis Petru is freelance journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area whose work has appeared on Earth911, Huffington Post and Patch.com. Prior to working as a writer, she coordinated environmental programs for various Bay Area cities and counties for seven years. She has a degree in cultural anthropology from UC Berkeley. Connect with Alexis on Twitter at @alexispetru

Recent Articles

Study: Cats, Cell Towers are More Deadly to Birds Than Wind Turbines

Alexis Petru
| Monday September 22nd, 2014 | 2 Comments

wind turbinesWind 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.

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New Technology Helps Companies Choose Products, Ingredients Based on Sustainability

Alexis Petru
| Thursday September 4th, 2014 | 0 Comments
 PurView is UL’s new cloud-based software that helps manufacturers and retailers choose products based on their environmental and social responsibility profiles.

PurView is UL’s new cloud-based software that helps manufacturers and retailers choose products based on their environmental and social responsibility profiles.

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.

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Poll Clears Up Misconceptions: People of Color Concerned About Climate Change

Alexis Petru
| Wednesday August 20th, 2014 | 0 Comments
A protest against a proposed incinerator in Baltimore.

A protest against a proposed incinerator in Baltimore.

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.

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Can Conan O’Brien Convince Californians to Save Water?

Alexis Petru
| Thursday August 14th, 2014 | 1 Comment
California's State Capitol lets its law go brown to raise awareness about water conservation during the state's drought.

California’s state capitol lets its law go brown to raise awareness about water conservation during the state’s drought.

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.

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Navigating the ‘Wild West’ of Eco-Labels: Science-Backed Tips for Consumers

Alexis Petru
| Wednesday August 13th, 2014 | 1 Comment

Doctors in laboratoryThe 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?

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Carpet Recycling Jumps 52 Percent in 2013

Alexis Petru
| Wednesday August 13th, 2014 | 0 Comments

CarpetFourteen 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.

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Green Labels 101: What Labels Are Out There, and Which Ones Can We Trust?

Alexis Petru
| Wednesday August 6th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Natural stamp“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?

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Houston’s One-Bin Recycling Program: Path to Zero Waste or Environmental Racism?

Alexis Petru
| Wednesday July 23rd, 2014 | 5 Comments

HoustonWhen 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.

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Obama: Climate Change Is a Threat to U.S. Infrastructure

Alexis Petru
| Monday July 21st, 2014 | 4 Comments
President Barack Obama met with the Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience last week.

President Barack Obama met with the Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience last week.

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.

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‘Give Back Box’ Turns Old Shipping Boxes Into Charitable Donations

Alexis Petru
| Wednesday July 16th, 2014 | 1 Comment

Cardboard boxesMonika 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.

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New Trend: Climate Optimists Say Climate Change Won’t Be So Bad

Alexis Petru
| Wednesday July 16th, 2014 | 168 Comments
Don’t worry, big guy; climate optimists say you’ll be fine on a warming planet .

Don’t worry, big guy; climate optimists say you’ll be fine on a warming planet.

We all have that crazy uncle who shows up at family reunions, trying to convince us that climate change isn’t real and Barack Obama was born in Kenya. But maybe you also have a relative who tells you he welcomes climate change because he’s looking forward to the warmer weather in his chilly hometown.

Accepting that climate change is happening but putting a positive spin on the consequences is a growing view in the climate skeptic camp, Slate reports. And this new “climate optimism” was on full display at the last week’s ninth International Conference on Climate Change, billed as an “International Gathering of Scientists Skeptical of Man-Caused Global Warming.” Held ironically enough in drought-stricken Las Vegas, the event was organized by the Heartland Institute, which proudly proclaims that the Economist has called it “the world’s most prominent think tank supporting skepticism of man-made climate change.”

“I don’t think anybody in this room denies climate change,” James M. Taylor, senior fellow at the Heartland Institute, said in a speech at the conference, Slate reported. “We recognize it, but we’re looking more at the causes, and more importantly, the consequences.”

That’s right – the climate change debate is moving beyond denial and even a “discussion” of its sources to focus on its effects – and frankly, these climate skeptics say, it won’t be so bad.

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Apple’s Environmental Report Reveals Major Accomplishments, More Work To Be Done

Alexis Petru
| Monday July 14th, 2014 | 1 Comment

iPhone5cApple’s carbon footprint shrank 3 percent from 2012 to 2013. It’s a modest decline, but this is the first time the tech giant has seen a year-over-year decrease in greenhouse gas emissions since it started tracking them in 2009.

Despite this and other accomplishments detailed in Apple’s 2014 Environmental Responsibility Report released this week, the company acknowledged it has a long way to go to reduce its environmental impact, including tackling emissions from its manufacturing partners and addressing its recent increase in water consumption.

The greenhouse gas emissions from Apple’s energy consumption fell by almost a third over the last three years, the report found, even though the tech giant’s overall energy use jumped 42 percent during the same time. These avoided emissions are equivalent to taking 75,100 cars off the road or powering 49,100 homes for one year, according to the report.

The Cupertino, Calif.-based company said its investments in clean energy were responsible for the impressive drop in its energy-related carbon footprint: All of Apple’s data centers – which run services like Siri, the iTunes and App stores, and Maps – run on 100-percent renewable energy sources, including solar, wind and geothermal power.

“So every time a song is downloaded from iTunes, an app is installed from the Mac App Store or a book is downloaded from iBooks, the energy Apple uses is provided by nature,” the reports authors wrote.

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Can Companies Restore Consumer Confidence After a Data Breach?

Alexis Petru
| Tuesday July 8th, 2014 | 0 Comments

TargetDuring the holiday shopping season last year, about 40 million consumers who made purchases at Target stores had their credit and debit card numbers stolen by hackers that invaded the company’s payment card readers; another 70 million Target customers also had their personal contact information – names, addresses and telephones numbers – compromised.

The fallout from the retail giant’s data breach was dramatic: As of February, Target had spent $61 million to pay for legal fees, software updates, customer reimbursement and credit monitoring, and other costs due to the failure in cyber security, the Washington Post reported. The company has also been hit with more than 140 lawsuits, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and its CEO Gregg Steinhafel resigned – over both the security failure and the company’s less-than-successful expansion into Canada.

But even more importantly, last year’s data breach eroded customer trust, which was demonstrated in Target’s sales numbers after the breach: The company’s profit dropped almost 50 percent in last year’s fourth fiscal quarter and fell by more than a third for all of 2013, the Washington Post reported.

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Former BP CEO Makes the Business Case for LGBT Equality

Alexis Petru
| Wednesday July 2nd, 2014 | 13 Comments

LGBT Rainbow FlagA few years before Tony Hayward resigned as head of BP after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the previous BP CEO, John Browne, was forced to bow out from the company over a much different scandal: He was outed as gay by a British tabloid. Now the former executive has written a book about his experience, “The Glass Closet: Why Coming Out Is Good Business,” and is advocating for the rights of gays and lesbians in the workplace.

Released in May, “The Glass Closet” details Browne’s double life as a CEO and a closeted gay man and tells the stories of other gay and lesbian professionals coming out at work. The book concludes with an open letter to CEOs about why promoting an inclusive environment for LGBT employees isn’t solely a civil rights issue or moral imperative for companies – it’s a smart business decision.

“Inclusion creates a level playing field, which allows the best talent to rise to the top,” Browne writes, in a book excerpt published in Fast Company.

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LinkedIn, VolunteerMatch Team Up to Connect Nonprofits with Volunteers

Alexis Petru
| Tuesday July 1st, 2014 | 0 Comments

VolunteerMatch logoJust like private companies, nonprofit organizations are in need of talent: There are approximately 2 million nonprofit board member seats that need to be filled each year, and over 90 percent of nonprofit organizations say they would like to use skilled volunteers to help them carry out their mission, according to LinkedIn. And individuals are hungry to offer their services – from students hoping to build their resumes, professionals who want to give back to retirees and stay-at-home parents looking to keep their skills fresh.

But how can these nonprofits seeking skilled volunteers and individuals with just the right expertise find each other? LinkedIn and volunteer engagement network VolunteerMatch aim to solve this challenge, announcing last month that the two organizations will partner to make it easier for nonprofits to successfully recruit experienced volunteers and board members.

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