3p Contributor: Paul Smith

Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations about, and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media marketing. || ==> For more, see GreenSmithConsulting.com

Recent Articles

Stop Washing Valuable Energy Down the Drain

| Wednesday August 27th, 2014 | 1 Comment

ecodrain horizontal heat exchangerEver wondered which renewable energy source has the quickest payback? Hint: It may be coming from your shower. Or toilet.

But first, a question: Did you take a shower today?

If so, you engaged in an activity that tosses 80 to 90 percent of the energy used to heat the water down the drain. Water heating is among the most energy intensive activities in most homes, and near the top most expensive as well.

For most people, it doesn’t even occur to them that there might be something to do about wasted energy from their morning shower, aside from reducing the amount of water used via a low-flow shower head. Other options available have typically meant fairly complex installations in limited locations — too many barriers for all but the most motivated people.

Montreal, Canada-based Ecodrain has created a simple solution to the problem: Reuse the heat of the drain water, transferring it back to the water heater, with no mingling of clean and gray water.  Up to 45 percent of the heat is recovered. Water flow is optimized for maximum heat distribution, yet the system has no moving parts, so maintenance is greatly simplified. More than 4,700 iterations in the making, the system — also called Ecodrain — is designed to maximize utility while minimizing installation effort and eliminating clogs.

This quick, cheeky explainer video makes the case for heat exchangers entertainingly.

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Brazil Explores the Next Frontier of Fast Food Packaging: Edible!

| Friday December 21st, 2012 | 3 Comments

Edible-burger-wrapper-bobs-restaurant-brazil-photoRecent years have seen several advances in food packaging, from incorporating FSC certified paper to making it compostable. While commendable, many of these innovative packages still end up in the landfill – where they may sit for hundreds of years. Compostables only break down if consumers or restaurants take the extra steps to separately sort them from the waste stream into the compost bin, and that’s if local composting facilities even exist.

While this week your mind may be on holiday gift wrapping, which has some innovative sustainable options itself, consider what an improbably named Brazilian food restaurant called Bob’s is doing: Its burgers were recently wrapped in packaging you could eat, right along with your food. Zero waste, done in taste, as it were. According to Springwise, this campaign was conceived with advertising agency NBS. The wrappers were made with edible rice paper.

Wisely, the focus of the campaign wasn’t on the environmental benefits. The campaign cheekily focused on the fact that the burgers were so irresistible, you couldn’t even wait to take off the wrapper. That it had positive ecological benefits was a happy by-product. Messaging like this effectively sidesteps green fatigue and opens the door to those who wouldn’t normally think of themselves as environmentally conscious.

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Ghana Explores a Truly Renewable Fuel Resource: Human Waste

| Friday November 30th, 2012 | 6 Comments

As gas prices continue to elevate across the globe, both political instability and biological limits provide an ever present threat to the reliable ongoing availability of gas, many alternatives are being explored. Each seems to have its limitations, whether it’s cost, ability to scale, or willingness to be included in the existing fuel infrastructure. Often, the environmental impact is just shifted to another location or depletion of an alternate resource.

And then there’s what’s happening in Ghana. As Co.Exist reports, Ghana must generate 10 percent of its electricity from alternative sources by 2020, and has cast an eye on quite an unorthodox, yet plentifully available resource: human excrement. It’s not as far fetched as it may appear to the casual observer, as methane, the gas emitted by decomposing sewage, has long been a viable power source. 

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FlightCar: Car-Sharing Comes to Airport Parking Lots

| Friday October 19th, 2012 | 2 Comments

While the major aspects of travel, transport, accommodations, have gotten increasingly affordable, the small details have become a major cash drain: baggage, eating anything more than cocktail peanuts, and parking are among the regular costs for travelers.

What if you could flip one of those expenses on its head, and actually make money while you travel?

That’s the idea behind FlightCar. Combining the growing trend of peer-to peer-car sharing with centralized airport locations to facilitate it, FlightCar seems poised to be quite disruptive to both the car rental and airport parking industries.

It’s simple: You list your vehicle on the site, setting the price and mileage limits. When a driving-record vetted renter is confirmed, you drop your vehicle off at a FlightCar managed lot at the airport on your way out of town. Providing complete peace of mind on both ends, the vehicle is insured up to a million dollars and cleaned both before and after its use. When you return from your trip, it’s only a matter of catching a shuttle back to the lot and getting both your car and a check for your portion of the profit made by its rental.

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CrowdHut: A Bridge From Crowdfunded Idea to In-Hand Reality?

| Thursday October 4th, 2012 | 1 Comment

Has this ever happened to you? You read about an amazing product that did insanely well with its funding efforts on Kickstarter, and you’re interested in getting it. You search and find…nothing. No trace of its availability, anywhere. Did they take the money and run?

Possibly, but a more likely scenario is this person with a great idea may have no idea how to manufacture their product at scale, let alone run a business – they are floundering about and backers getting impatient. Or perhaps, like failed would-be Facebook alternative Diaspora, they, “…had become so consumed with things like answering e-mails and making T-shirts for their contributors that they had little time to build the software.” The democratization of business investment that Kickstarter and others has provided has created a lot of opportunities. And a lot of headaches.

Sites such as TinyLightBulbs serve to partially address this by offering a centralized e-commerce platform for crowdfunded products and using a portion of the profits it makes to itself invest in currently active Kickstarter campaigns. But that’s only a small portion of what it takes to have a successful product launch, crowdfunded or otherwise.

CrowdHut, publicly launched this week, seeks to bridge the gap between crowdfunded idea and in-your-hand reality. And its got a collection of resources that just may achieve that aim. Merchant support activities like keyword marketing on your behalf and serving as a polished storefront are certainly helpful, but it’s CrowdHut’s team of experts where it stands to excel.

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Kinn, the iPhone of Bikes, Debuts Next Week

| Friday September 7th, 2012 | 11 Comments

Next Wednesday, Apple is widely expected to debut the iPhone 5. As always, it will surely cause a reaction and send other companies scurrying to catch up (or figure out how to generate a similar level of fever pitch for their products).

A few days later, an unassuming bike will quietly debut at Fiets of Parenthood in Portland, Oregon that bears striking resemblance to Apple’s product design thinking.  As in when the first iPhone debuted, it will simply meet a previously unarticulated desire in people, raising expectations of what’s possible.

How can a bike be like an iPhone? 

When it combines features in a way not previously seen, meeting needs in a simple, well designed, intuitive, uniquely satisfying way. Though other devices on a rudimentary level combined being a phone, computer and music player previous to the iPhone, none did it with such elegance as Apple. Apple has a knack for delivering on all three vectors of product design simultaneously: useful, usable, and desirable. Nearly everybody leans towards one or two of these, but is lacking in the others.

The Cascade Flyer by Kinn Bikes aims for, and in my opinion succeeds on this front. How? Simply put, it’s a cargo bike that can exist peaceably in the rest of your life, deftly serving multiple purposes. Or as they put it, “The new Kinn has a double mission: be big enough for family and small enough for you.”

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Method Turns Ocean Trash Into Packaging

| Friday August 3rd, 2012 | 15 Comments

By now, much of the world has heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. For the uninitiated, it’s a huge island of trash in the central Pacific, a majority of it said to be composed of fast food packaging. There’s been a lot of work done to measure it and analyze it. But there’s not been much movement around what to actually do with what’s already there.

Until now.

Cleaning product company Method has come up with a novel way to take action, while engaging the communities affected by it. Hawaii’s beaches are frequently the final destination for debris from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, as the winds and currents carrying the garbage there. Method hosted numerous beach cleanups during National Oceans Month, linking up employees, customers and volunteers from non-profits Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii and Kokua Hawai’i Foundation. They collected more than 3000 pounds of usable plastic material.

But whereas most ocean cleanups just move the trash from the coast to the dump, Method went further, and is incorporating it into its already 100% post consumer packaging for its new Sea Minerals line.

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Kickstarter Phenomenon ReadySet: A Powerful Example of Trickle Up Innovation

| Tuesday July 31st, 2012 | 0 Comments

Where does the highest concentration of innovation exist? Some would say Silicon Valley. In one case, you’d be half right: ReadySet is a product of Fenix, a company headed by two Silicon Valley Apple alumni, but it was born, beaten, refined and deeply proven for three years in Africa. It is readying to debut back here in America. What is it? As Co-Founder Mike Lin puts it, it’s a really smart battery.

Their Kickstarter project, started with a $20,000 goal that was met in a single day, but the stored-energy firm is now well on its way to a new goal of $100,000, with more than a week to go.

What’s all the excitement about?

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Clif Bar Gives Every Employee a 20th Anniversary Bike

| Thursday July 12th, 2012 | 6 Comments

Motivating and acknowledging employees can take many forms, typically encompassing food, time off, casual dress or some such thing. Clif Bar recently did something substantially different: In honor of its 20th anniversary, it had Public Bikes make custom bikes for all of their employees. Each was given a Public V3 with a custom Clif Bar head badge, Clif Bar red frame and rims, and an inscription with their name and start date.

This is a totally fitting acknowledgement of this momentous anniversary, as the idea for Clif Bar came about when founder Gary Erickson, a long distance biker, was dissatisfied with the energy bar options available to him, and set about creating one himself. Each bike bears the words “Born on a Bike – Kitchen Crafted – Family & Employee Owned” In typical Clif Bar fashion, they enlisted a secret warehouse near their office, to surprise reveal the bikes. The reaction (below) is priceless.

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Nissan to Push LEAF to Mass Market

| Monday July 9th, 2012 | 24 Comments

In the recent surge in electric car launches, one maker stood out, and not in a good way: Nissan. Depending on your perspective, its polar bear ad was either cliche, cringeworthy, touching, or in conflict with your worldview. It took the most overused symbol of climate change and used it to to convey that your use of their LEAF electric car would play a part in addressing global climate change.

Even more off the mark was a billboard add featuring a globe with rainbows and dolphins on it. Even those who are predisposed to like such imagery found the association at best confusing, at worst offensive to their sensibilities. It was offputting to anybody else. Nissan seemed to not have a firm grasp on the wheel of its marketing, and the sales have reflected as much.

Fortunately, rather then continuing to drive the LEAF further into the niche realm with limited sales and a confusing brand image, Nissan is taking a different approach: According to the UK edition of Marketing Week, Nissan is readying to do an extended campaign towards a mass market audience. 

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Joolz Turns the Humble Cardboard Box Into an Object of Delight

| Friday June 29th, 2012 | 1 Comment

ban-startup-friday

In company’s efforts to make more sustainable products, a lot of attention has been paid to packaging, often going into a fair amount of technological acrobatics, as in Sunchips‘ initially ill-fated compostable bags or Dell’s bamboo and mushroom based product cushioning.

All well and good, but for other companies not able to invest in such far reaching initiatives, Dutch baby stroller company Joolz has created a simpler, and ultimately more memorable and delightful option: Its cardboard boxes can be turned into useful objects.

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Removable Fabric Ink Creates Truly Sustainable Fashion, Branding Opportunities

| Friday June 22nd, 2012 | 0 Comments

ban-startup-friday

Sustainability and fashion have developed a much closer relationship in recent years, with organic cotton becoming increasingly common, plastic bottles being recycled into fabric, and old clothes upcycling in to new ones . But there’s one gaping problem: Fashion is by it’s very nature transitory. No matter how green your clothes are, if an article becomes dated and no longer worn, you end up buying more clothes, which uses more resources in their materials, manufacture and transport.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Refinity, a Dutch fashion consultancy, has developed  a unique fabric ink that allows wearers to remove designs and re-apply them any time. The ink is machine washable and will only be removed when using a specific detergent developed by Refinity.

Refinity offers an opportunity for people to both buy within their values and express their style, without the two conflicting. Their system also creates the ability for vendors to customize solid fabrics as-needed via digital printing, instead of having to pre-print reams textiles before knowing for sure how popular they’ll be. This in turn could mean a great deal more versatility in ecologically friendly fashions.

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OAT: Biodegradable, Flower Sprouting Shoes for the Rest of Us

| Friday June 8th, 2012 | 2 Comments

ban-startup-friday   Recent news of Nike joining the Plant PET Technology Collaborative to help accelerate the development and inclusion of plant based plastic in products is encouraging, but the question remains, what happens to the resulting shoes and garments after they’ve reached end of life? Nike certainly has an admirable, decades old shoe recycling program to manage that stream. It’s emerging Materials Sustainability Index, open to all designers, will likely prove influential in how the next generation of products are designed.

But what if you could just bury your shoes in the back yard and forget about them? This is what OAT Shoes allows you to do. According to OAT, its shoes are made of hemp, bio-cotton, cork, and certified biodegradable plastics. And flower seeds. Yes, your shoes will leave behind both new soil and flowers when they are gone.

What if you don’t have a back yard? OAT is currently working with waste processors so that the shoes could simply be tossed in the green bin. The people of OAT are clearly realists when they say,

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The Access Economy Comes to Your Washing Machine

| Friday May 25th, 2012 | 0 Comments

ban-startup-friday

When you think of examples of the sharing or access economy, the likely examples that come up will revolve around cars: Zipcar, RelayRides, etc. But the sharing of resources continues to expand into a number of categories even education. But what about the humble washing machine?

In many places, especially dense urban areas, it’s not uncommon for people to not have a washing machine. In France, a new endeavor called La Machine du Voisin (“The Neighbor’s Machine”) has launched in an effort to connect those who have machines with those who need one. Now one might say, why wouldn’t people just go to laundromats rather than going to a person’s home, and why would someone want give access to their machine to people from the public?

Simple: the potential for much greater proximity for the washer and profit for the machine owner.

The impact of such exchanges, if a level of scale is achieved, could be substantial:

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Smart Booth Transforms Lowly Phone Booth Into Solar Powered Community Hub

| Wednesday May 16th, 2012 | 0 Comments

In the last five years, the capabilities and applications of mobile phones has enormously expanded in a seemingly endless array of categories. The phone booth has stayed largely put, evaporating from the landscape, becoming a vandalism prone object of a bygone era.

The Smart Booth aims to change that trend.

Currently being tested in Turin, Italy as part of a broader EU Smart Cities initiative, these booths are as much a demonstration of what’s possible as they are aiming to usefully add to the surrounding community.  Along with being a touch screen-based information portal for area students, tourists, shoppers, social networkers and more, this solar powered booth will be offering wifi, conduct pollution monitoring, and has video surveillance that could be linked to the Municipal Police operations room.

Its video displays could serve as both revenue and awareness generators, showing advertisements and public service announcements, and information relevant to their location.  Six electric scooters or bicycles at a time will be able to recharge here as well.

Created by Telecom Italia, the Smart Booth is wide open as to how it will evolve.

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