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

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 | 3 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 | 167 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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How International Paper Cuts Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Alexis Petru
| Thursday June 19th, 2014 | 0 Comments
Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

The American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA) has set a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the forest products industry by 15 percent by 2020, but one of the association’s members, International Paper, is aiming for a more ambitious target: 20 percent by 2020. And the pulp and paper company is making progress towards its objective, cutting companywide emissions by 5.8 percent last year, according to International Paper’s recently released sustainability report.

The 5.8 percent figure is an aggregate of increases and drops in the company’s emissions in two different sectors:  Emissions from burning fossil fuels to power the company’s mills fell 7 percent in 2013, while emissions from electricity purchased from utilities climbed 4 percent from the company’s 2010 baseline and 8 percent year-over-year.

The bulk of International Paper’s emissions reductions were achieved at the company’s 41 paper mills, which are responsible for more than 95 percent of the company’s total energy use and 90 percent of the company’s fossil fuel consumption, according to the sustainability report. But about 72 percent of the mills’ energy actually comes from a recovered waste product, rather than a fossil fuel. When a tree goes through the mills’ pulping process, its wood fibers are separated from the natural glues and sugars that previously held the tree together. The fibers will eventually be made into paper products, while the leftover glues and sugars become a biofuel that is burned to produce energy for the mill.

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Stress and Anxiety: The Lesser-Known Effects of Climate Change

Alexis Petru
| Wednesday June 18th, 2014 | 11 Comments

Factory pollutionWe now know all too well the effects that climate change will have on the environment and society: from making weather events more severe to damaging infrastructure, displacing populations and threatening our food and water supply. But climate change will also have a significant impact on our psychology and well-being, according to a new report from the American Psychological Association, the country’s largest professional organization representing the field of psychology, and ecoAmerica, a nonprofit focused on climate solutions.

Rather than being simply another “doom-and-gloom” study intended to scare unconvinced Americans into acknowledging that climate change is real, the report’s authors hope their findings can help people better understand the phenomenon of climate change, as well as motivate them to take action.

Anxiety, depression, shock, grief and post-traumatic stress disorder – these are some of the mental health consequences for individuals experiencing climate change-related disasters like floods and hurricanes, according to Beyond Storms and Droughts: The Psychological Impacts of Climate Change. One study of flood survivors found that some individuals were having panic attacks, insomnia, low motivation and obsessive behavior long after the natural disaster hit their community.

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Farmers Insurance Drops Climate Change Lawsuits Against Chicago-Area Cities

Alexis Petru
| Tuesday June 10th, 2014 | 1 Comment

Illinois floodingWho should pay for the impacts of climate change? This conundrum was at the center of nine class action lawsuits filed by Farmers Insurance in April against dozens of cities in the Chicago area for failing to prepare for the floods that hit Illinois last spring. The insurance company argued that local governments should have known that rising global temperatures would result in heavier rains and did not do enough to secure sewers and storm drains. But, in a surprising turn of events, Farmers withdrew the suits last week, the Chicago Tribune reported.

In a statement, company spokesman Trent Frager said that Farmers initiated the lawsuits to recover money on behalf of its policyholders for losses that could have been avoided by municipalities, as well as to encourage cities and counties to take more preventative actions to reduce the risks of future natural disasters. But it seems the threat of legal action was enough to accomplish the insurance giant’s goals.

“We believe our lawsuit brought important issues to the attention of the respective cities and counties, and that our policyholders’ interests will be protected by the local governments going forward,” Frager said in the statement. “Therefore, we have withdrawn the suit and hope to continue the constructive conversations with the cities and counties in Chicagoland to build stronger, safer communities.”

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Will New Yorkers Jump on Board as the City’s Compost Program Expands?

Alexis Petru
| Monday June 9th, 2014 | 0 Comments

New York CityIn the fall of 2012, New York City launched a pilot program to test out the curbside collection of organic waste – food scraps, food-soiled paper and yard waste – in its dense urban neighborhoods. The project – which included 30,000 households in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Staten Island, as well as over 100 schools and city buildings throughout the city – was much more successful than officials anticipated, and now the city is rolling out the curbside organics collection program to the rest of the Big Apple in phases. This spring, an additional 70,000 households in Queens and Brooklyn received new brown carts where residents can toss in fruit and vegetable trimmings, meat and bones, napkins, and even pizza boxes.

New York City sends about 3.2 million tons of waste to landfills each year, the New York Times reported, and spends around $350 million annually to haul trash as far away as South Carolina, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. By expanding the composting collection program citywide, officials hope to make a dent in that staggering statistic, estimating that organics make up approximately 30 percent of the city’s waste stream.

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Funding the Future: Innovative Ways Cities Are Paying for Infrastructure

Alexis Petru
| Thursday June 5th, 2014 | 1 Comment

Ed note: This article is part of a short series on financing smart city infrastructure, sponsored by Siemens. Please join us for a live Google Hangout with SiemensPwC and Berwin Leighton Paisner on June 12 at 10 a.m. PT/1 p.m. ET, where we’ll talk about this issue live! 

New York City’s subway expansion to Hudson Yards was paid for by a tax incremental financing model which establishes a tax collected only within the Hudson Yards redevelopment zone.

New York City’s subway expansion to Hudson Yards was paid for by a tax incremental financing model which establishes a tax collected only within the Hudson Yards redevelopment zone.

“Tomorrow’s climate needs will require [cities] to build infrastructure that can withstand new conditions and support greater numbers of people,” said former World Bank President Robert Zoellick.

Indeed, cities across the globe need to construct new transit systems, roads and utilities – or modernize their aging infrastructure – to adapt to the changing climate, reduce carbon emissions and support growing populations. But an important question remains: How will cities pay for such projects?

A new report, “Investor Ready Cities,” compiled by engineering company Siemens, professional services network PwC and law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner, aims to help cities think about new ways to fund their infrastructure projects – by taking a fresh look at traditional funding models like taxes and user fees and by attracting private investors.

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Turning Garbage Into Jet Fuel: Sustainable Solution or Incineration in Disguise?

Alexis Petru
| Friday May 30th, 2014 | 7 Comments

British AirwaysCan garbage power your plane ride from New York to London? That’s the idea behind a new production plant that will transform waste from London’s homes and businesses into a jet fuel that costs about the same price as conventional petroleum-based fuel but burns cleaner and produces fewer carbon emissions.

Solena Fuels, a company that produces aviation and marine fuels made from solid waste, expects to break ground on its new GreenSky jet fuel facility next year on the site of a former oil refinery outside of London. British Airways has made a $550 million commitment to purchase all the fuel produced by the plant in the 11-year period after it opens in 2017–equating to about 50 tons of fuel per year.

The city of London generates approximately 18 million tons of trash per year, according to Fast Company, and once the jet fuel facility is open for business, will send about a half a million tons of garbage originally destined for the landfill to GreenSky. Solena will turn this trash into 120,000 tons of jet fuel, first using its patented high-temperature plasma gasification technology to convert the waste into a synthetic gas; then the company will utilize various third-party technologies to transform the gas into a liquid fuel. The resulting synthetic fuel works like those produced from coal and natural gas that airlines already use and, unlike biofuels such as ethanol, can be used thousands of feet up in the air, Fast Company reported. Solena’s product is considered a “drop-in” fuel, meaning airlines can use it without modifying their plane engines or fueling infrastructure.

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2012 Postcode Lottery Green Challenge Winner: Molly Morse Recycles Greenhouse Gas into Plastic

Alexis Petru
| Tuesday May 27th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Ed note: This is a sponsored post on behalf of the Postcode Lottery Green Challenge

Molly Morse Plastics are a thorn in the side of environmentalists: The ubiquitous material is made from nonrenewable resources like oil, may leach chemicals over its lifetime, isn’t always easily recyclable and takes thousands of years to degrade in the landfill. But Molly Morse thinks she has come up with an environmentally responsible alternative: a bio-based plastic that is made from waste methane gas and can be recycled over and over again.

The environmental engineer and CEO of Mango Materials won the 2012 Postcode Lottery’s Green Challenge, one of the world’s preeminent sustainable business plan competitions. This is the eighth year the challenge is inviting entrepreneurs and startups from the U.S. and other countries to enter for a chance to win €500,000 ($680,000) to help bring their green products and services to the mass market. An additional €200,000 ($272,000) will be awarded to one or two runners-up. The deadline to apply is June 3 via www.greenchallenge.info.

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