Imagine if you had a detachable solar energy window plug in the middle of your living room window that you could use to charge up any electrical apparatus you needed. And imagine if that nifty outlet was just big enough to fit in your pocket and was transportable – to your car, your boat or that fishing cabin in the woods that has a great bay window but, alas, no power.
Think you’d be interested?
If you said yes, you’re not alone. In fact, the window plug that was designed by Korean designers Kyuho Song and Boa Oh has been burning up the digital airwaves on at least three continents. After it was casually mentioned on Yanko Design last month, it received more than 600 comments (and still counting), was tweeted more than 2,000 times, has top-ended 25,000 Facebook “likes” and has been picked up and promoted by international publications including Huffington Post and Grist.
The recent strikes by fast food and retail workers in the U.S. have helped supercharge an old, but familiar, topic: the value of the living wage.
Workers walked off the job last Friday in an effort to force major chains like McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Domino Pizza and Nike to significantly increase the hourly wage for part-time and full-time workers. The protest may be one of the bolder moves to hit the food and retail sector which, for the most part, has been strike- and union-free. It also highlights an uncomfortable topic for industries that have for years been able to skirt the question of how they contribute – or don’t contribute – to improving living conditions for some of the country’s poorest workers.
Scientists have been looking for ways to reduce air pollution in cities for decades. Smarter cars, better CO2 emission standards, innovative transportation methods and more intercity bike paths are all part of the strategies that have been used in large cities to reduce smog.
But what if researchers could find a way to “scrub” city air of its already existing pollutants? And what if the structural architecture of a building’s façade could be used to dramatically enhance those air-cleaning properties?
A design company based in Berlin, Germany believes it’s discovered a way to do just that.
Elegant Embellishments Ltd (EE) is the creator of proSolve 370e, a “decorative, three-dimensional architectural tile” that is designed to be installed on buildings to decrease air pollution in urban settings. According to the company’s co-director, Allison Dring, the active substance in the design is a liquid covering that was developed by the U.S. company Millennium Chemicals in 2005. EE’s smart design actually helps make it easier for the neutralizing substance to do its job. And, the design is eye-catching.
Startups had a chance to battle for top billing last week at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2013’s Startup Battlefield, which was held at the Manhattan Center, April 29-May 1. Thirty companies were selected of the hundreds that applied to enter the competition and by the third day, seven had been short listed for a run at the Disrupt Cup.
It’s fair to say that the competition was stiff and the selection process was even tougher. The seven ran the gamut in terms of focus and talent.
- HealthyOut, an innovative meal-planning program in which meals are tailored according to the restaurants in the subscriber’s area and delivered to the home or office
- Floored, which will map an internal space and then convert it to 3D
- SupplyShift, (which we wrote about last week) offers an inspiring way for producers to take an even bolder step toward complete sustainability
- Handle is a task management app that manages your inbox, can capture ideas and organize your day practically on its own
- Glide is a visual messaging app that refers to itself as a video walkie-talkie
- Zenefits, a benefits management program that boasts that it “can outsource your time-consuming administration headaches in 60 seconds”
And the winner, Enigma.
Green businesses are under increasing pressure these days to demonstrate that the supply chain they manage for the production and distribution of goods is just as sustainable and dependable as the products and services they sell.
Even companies that didn’t start out with an eye on sustainability are now taking steps to demonstrate that they support a reduced carbon footprint in all facets of their industry.
SupplyShift manages sustainability in supply chains
Created by Ecoshift Development, SupplyShift is a cloud-based platform that helps businesses track and manage supplier information. It is specifically designed for companies with multiple suppliers that want on-the-spot information about the sustainable track record of their providers.
The advocacy organization, Women Organizing for Change in Agriculture and Natural Resources Management (WOCAN) has come up with a new way to inspire sustainability by reaching out to the workers that often play the biggest role in agricultural production: a women’s carbon credit standard.
“More than half the world’s farmers are women,” says Jeannette Gurung, executive director of WOCAN, “but women are seldom included in aid, funding or decision-making.”
The Women’s Carbon Standard aims to change that, says Gurung, by making women key players in questions that help to promote carbon mitigation.
Environmentalists are the latest group to jump on the bandwagon for immigration reform. Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org and Philip Radford, executive director of Greenpeace both stepped forward last month to express their support for an overhaul of immigration legislation and a reasonable pathway to citizenship for the United States’ 11 million undocumented residents.
Their announcements were followed by a press release by the Sierra Club last week, stating that it also felt that undocumented residents “should be able to earn legalization and a timely pathway to citizenship, with all the rights to fully participate in our democracy, including influencing environmental and climate policies.”
The national database registry, FracFocus.org has come under scrutiny by a Harvard Law team, which says the voluntary registry that is used by oil and natural gas extraction companies has some “serious deficiencies” in the way it reports fracking disclosures.
The website, FracFocus.org was created in 2011 in response to public concerns about chemicals used an oil and natural gas extraction procedure called “fracking.” The procedure uses a water-based chemical process to fracture rock below the earth’s surface. To date, only 18 states require public disclosure of the chemicals used in the process. Eleven of those states direct or permit companies to utilize the privately run database for disclosure purposes.
But according to Harvard Law’s report, Legal Fractures in Chemical Disclosure Laws, the website falls far short in promoting transparency of the fracking chemicals and methods used by companies.
For example, the extent of the information disclosed by a given company may be determined by its own definition of trade secrets – information that the company feels would jeopardize proprietary information. There is no governmental oversight to validate whether the use of a specific chemical or combination of chemicals is actually a trade secret. The report notes that what one company may feel is public information may be determined by another company to be secret and outside of the bounds of what it is required to disclose.
Southern California seems like an ideal place to live if you’re into cycling. L.A.’s warm temps and seemingly incessant sunshine are the perfect ingredients for a love affair with the outdoors. Yet the League of American Bicyclists reported in its last survey (2010) that only 16,011 or 0.9 percent of Los Angeles’ sprawling population of almost 4 million actually commute by bike. By comparison, Seattle, Bellingham and Portland, known for their rainy weather and less-than inviting riding climes all had triple (or greater) the percentage of riders.
Why is this? Clearly, L.A.’s sheer size may be a deterrent to commuters, since a jaunt to work in So Cal’s biggest city can be as much as 20 to 30 miles, and often requires at least one brief trip on a freeway. But the city that essentially grew up around the interstate can still be a tough place to live if you prefer to commute by bicycle and happen to live in an area that doesn’t feature bike-friendly streets.
According to a recently released study by economic research firm Moebs Services, U.S. consumers paid $32 billion in overdraft fees in 2012, a 1.3 percent, or $400 million increase over the total paid in 2011.
That news has led the call on Capitol Hill for a new overdraft protection act, to protect consumers from having to pay excessive fees when their checking account is overdrawn.
City travel can be a hassle, especially when it involves the daily grind of commuting to work. Cities like Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and yes, even the Northwest’s up-and-coming Seattle are nightmares for cross-city travel.
Ingenious concepts like sharable cars, low-cost recyclable bicycles and a healthy public transit system have helped reduce traffic jams in urban centers. But for some commuters, there’s still nothing better than having your own personalized set of wheels – unless of course, they are wheels you can fold up and handily carry with you on trains, buses and other public transportation systems.
That’s where the Muv-e personal transportation system comes in.
The brainchild of Israeli automotive designer Amir Zaid, the Muv-e scooter takes up where most collapsible electric scooters leave off. Its three large wheels, sturdy body and sustainable power system makes the concept an attractive option for city commuting.
Few issues are as hot-button in Washington these days than immigration reform. Every topic, ranging from whether to raise the cap on high-tech worker visas to how to resolve the wage issues for agricultural workers, many of whom are undocumented, is on the table in the senate’s burgeoning immigration overhaul.
And for those who are attempting to gauge the impact that legalization of the country’s estimated 11 million undocumented workers would have on the country’s post-sequestration finances, there’s good news: A new study by the Center for American Progress (CAP) suggests that immigration reform would actually be good for the U.S. economy, and for the economic standing of all Americans, not just new immigrants.
Fair Trade is big business, especially when it comes to chocolate. The rich, bittersweet confection has shown record sales in the United States in recent years. Even though the International Chocolate Organization estimates chocolate stamped with the fair trade label only amounts to about .5 percent of the total chocolate revenues worldwide, statistics show that ethically endorsed chocolate is still close to the heart – and the wallet – of many Americans.
This is particularly true in Seattle, where Fair-for-Life certified Theo Chocolate is touted as a Northwest specialty that is respected for its entrepreneurial spirit and ethical investments. Its co-owners, Joe Whinney and Debra Music are reputed to have been the first to establish an organic fair trade chocolate factory in the United States, and have been a dynamic success when it comes to partnering with other ethical investors in Africa and other areas of the world. Theo’s gift shop and paid-factory tours both do a brisk business, lending support to the company’s revenues of $12 million for 2012.
But in recent years, that ethical commitment has been called into question by a select chorus of critics who charge that Theo’s labor policies in the United States don’t match its fair trade claims abroad. And, they argue, the perceived failings are really due to a flaw in the fair trade industry itself.
If you’re the President of the United States, a trip to Israel isn’t complete without a tour of the country’s coolest technology. A mysterious robot snake that can mechanically slither through cracks in a wall and the latest technology in assisted driving equipment are part of the Israeli gee-whiz package that President Obama surveyed during this week’s trip to the Middle East.
Of course, a mechanized snake that is indispensable in both military and search and rescue operations is certainly sexier in demonstration than an apparatus that can instantly assume control of your car and prevent an accident. But the Mobileye technology is more than just a driving companion that helps you stay safe on the road. It’s the latest step in the development of the driverless car, in which the car uses advanced sensing mechanisms to operate on city streets without human control.
Tall, colorful recycling bins are a common sight in Vancouver, BC Canada. The Greater Vancouver Regional District (also known as Metro Vancouver, or GVRD), which encompasses more than 20 cities up and down the southern coast of British Columbia, has had an aggressive recycling program in place for more than 15 years. Single family homes, apartment buildings, businesses, hospitals, malls, construction sites and Skytrain facilities throughout the Vancouver area have adopted Metro Vancouver’s recycling policies, which ensure that paper, cardboard, plastics and other materials are diverted away from landfills.
In 2011, the metro area took the program to a whole new level, by proposing its Zero Waste Challenge. The program does more than just divert materials away from the landfill. It sets ambitious goals for reducing the actual waste that is generated in the metro by 2020, and in the process, provides opportunities and incentives for new recycling and clean energy industries throughout the Vancouver mainland. It also encourages private residents, businesses and local governments to change their outlook toward what can be recycled or reused.
Metro Vancouver now reduces or reuses or recycles about 55 percent of all the solid waste,” says Glenn Bohn, who serves as Metro Vancouver’s communications specialist. The region’s recycling rate is approximately double the national average in Canada.
“Our goals are to increase that to 80 percent waste diversion by 2020, and 70 percent by 2015.”
Its first step in accomplishing these goals is to ban organic waste from local landfills by 2015. Studies that Metro Vancouver has conducted show that approximately 40 percent of the region’s landfill waste consists of organic materials from sources private residences, businesses and construction sites.
That means, says Bohn, that organic garbage ‘like the leftovers from the back of your fridge, that used pizza box commingled with all the garden lawn clippings and tree pruning (materials)” will be prohibited at landfills, and instead sent to an industrial-scale facility for processing as compost, biogas and other products.