In the past 5-7 years, the idea of green living and taking personal responsibility for the health of the environment at large, has gotten a lot of play. If you were to judge by the amount of media coverage and appearances in television, film, etc, it would seem a huge number of people are shifting their behavior in an increasingly sustainable direction. The statistics do not bear this out.
What’s going on?
Whether by cost, habit or any number of factors, people’s actions aren’t as yet squaring with their expressed awareness/desire for action. One simple solution to take a small bite out of the problem is being realized right now in the UK, where all you’d be required to do to make a meaningful impact on air quality is walk down the street.
It’s a home that does much more than house people. It will enable more people to own their own homes, while increasing their self reliance, and reducing the impact they and their home have on the planet.
The E Cube does many things that individually have been achieved elsewhere, but rarely have they come together like this:
Water. In most modern societies, residents don’t have to worry about where their supply comes from or if it may run out. But as recent extended droughts in Texas and other places have shown, we cannot afford to continue passing the buck to others when it comes to responsible water use.
But how, in a country where people are used to having what they want, when they want, as much as they want, do you make something that is as “invisible” as water become a priority in people’s minds.
In recent years, the concept of buying and sourcing locally has caught on with the broader public, especially in the food sector, where concepts like the 100 mile diet have garnered traction and interest.
But what about clothing?
The T-shirt on your back is likely close to earning a free trip judging by the distance it’s travelled to get to you. Most often, even if it’s grown in the US, the cotton then goes overseas to be processed in China and other cheap labor markets, then it’s shipped back here to be sold. This is extremely inefficient in every way but cost.
Bicycling is an inherently sustainable form of transportation: No emissions, minimal materials required to make the vehicle, increased rider fitness, decreased auto traffic. And yet there’s a weak link in this chain: The helmet.
Modern day helmets are single use, and unrecyclable when done. In other words, one crash and it’s in the trash. And they don’t even do what they’re intended to: According to Anirudha Rao, your head is only protected in 16% of crashes! The focus has largely been on improving aesthetics and aerodynamics, while neglecting arguably their most important use: Protecting the safety of riders.
London design student Rao has come up with a very holistic solution: the Kranium helmet. Its starts with changing its core protection grid to something unexpected: cardboard.
A new kind of work environment is emerging in Indianapolis. Rather then fitting a business into an existing office building, or using energy and resources to remodel a building, or even a coworking space, a hybrid of the best aspects of all of those is being created by DeveloperTown. And it’s on wheels.
What began as an in-house solution to DeveloperTown’s office needs is now being expanded into a 35,000 square foot warehouse space. Their solution? 8×10 foot modular “houses” on wheels. The idea allows both flexibility in layout that can expand with business, and can be reconfigured as needs change, all while forgoing the need to move elsewhere or take up time remodeling a space, other then rolling a new module into place.
But there’s more:
We are right in the middle of prime growing season for farms in the northern hemisphere. For an increasing number of people, that means signing up to get produce directly from farmers via CSAs.
On paper, it sounds like a good thing: Consumers get fresh, local produce, often exactly what they specify. It’s typically organic. The food miles compared to typical store bought produce are drastically reduced.
But there’s a problem: It’s quite cumbersome for farmers to manage a CSA program. The logistics of handling hundreds, perhaps thousands of individual customers, answering their questions, meeting their requests, and retaining their membership year to year turn into a giant logistical addition to the already busy life of a farmer. CSA farms may have many advantages over large corporate farms, but depth of resources is not one of them.
Somebody ends up doing most of the work keeping the CSA going, keeping them away from doing what they enjoy most: working the land. Farmigo looks like a brilliant solution to help make farms more profitable while making the customer experience more smooth, professional, and self service. Basically, it automates what would otherwise necessity emails and phone calls to the farm from customers, while simplifying the running of the actual farm.
I have the good fortune of living in Portland, Oregon, where I bike commute daily. In a recent article it was reported that a former car dealership is soon opening as a 10,000 square foot bike shop and that other bike shops in town are expanding. A sign of the times or something Portland specific?
In either case, despite the massive and increasing miles of bicycling infrastructure and resources, well under 10% of Portland’s population commutes regularly by bicycle. And that’s a national record high figure!
Why is this the case?
Plastics from single serving water bottles, or grocery bags accumulating in the world’s oceans have long been in the spotlight as eco villians.
Initially, biodegradable and compostable plant material based bottles seemed to be the cure for this convenience quandary. But beyond the simple math of eliminating petroleum as source material, there’s a problem: Most bioplastic doesn’t compost, unless in a professional environment (some don’t, even then). Bioplastics are not recyclable, since they are a different in formulation from conventional PET plastic. When they are accidentally included in recycling processing, it gums up the machinery.
To make matters worse, bioplastic, when tossed in the trash by people believing it would biodegrade, actually releases methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2.
In the past few years, companies such as Coca Cola and Pepsi have been working on bridging the gap, making plant based bottles that are also recyclable. A step forward, but in Coke’s case it’s 30% plant based, sourced from purpose grown sugar cane ethanol. While a Coca Cola representative told me “Estimates show that sugarcane production in Brazil could increase thirty times without endangering sensitive ecosystems or taking land destined for food crops,” the question arises, why even grow food crops for bottles when Pepsi is currently creating bottles sourced primarily from food production scraps?
While Coke continues to work on making the bottle 100% plant based and we wait to see if Pepsi will license it’s bottle technology to other companies, an interesting third option has been quietly innovating: Casey Container.
Farmville has managed the seemingly impossible: Gotten millions of people around the world obsessed with and deeply involved in farming, albeit in a virtual world. Now it’s time to do the impossible again: Translate that enthusiasm into real world results, letting 10,000 people manage a farm in the UK.
MyFarm is a project of the National Trust which is taking an interesting gamble: No farming experience is required! However, given the number of people who have gotten a taste of the farming life and its complexities via Farmville, it may not be as big a stretch as it may appear initially.
With the fast rise in gas and food prices, more people are likely beginning to investigate other, cheaper, closer to home options to get their food needs met. Some of them hopefully not involving fast food!
For some, that may mean trying out the increasing number of farmer’s markets. Others it may mean gardening, whether on their own or as part of a community garden. And still still others, it may entail bottle caps.
What happens when you put Clif Bar’s sensibilities into wine? You get The Climber from Clif Family Winery, which they refer to as “All Terrain Wine Transport.” More than an attention getting bit of trivia to share at parties, The Climber is being touted as the more ecological option to bringing glass bottle wine while hiking, climbing, camping, or just hanging out with friends in your backyard.
On the surface, this is a clever repackaging of the wine in a box phenomenon of decades past, to the active set that Clif Bar draws. But there is an interesting addition: Upon opening, the wine is resealable and will stay fresh for one month after opening. Would this be true in extreme heat while camping I wonder?
I had an intriguing collision with reality this week. Ecologic, a company whose early test products I covered in early 2010, sent me a bottle of Seventh Generation laundry detergent, so I could see first hand what new style, resource efficient, recyclable, compostable, biodegradable packaging looks like in person.
I have to say, I was disappointed.
I’m a deeply green inclined person, but there was something about the design that missed the mark, on a psychological level. The lack of handle made it feel strange to hold. It was only then that I realized how crucial a handle is to my laundry detergent paradigm. The package utilizes pressed recycled paper, which makes the inclusion of a handle quite a challenge.
And there was more:
Gas prices are again spiking, which is why it may be the perfect time to look in your trash can. Come again?
Yes, what was a joke in Back To The Future is now coming true: Enerkem has perfected taking Municipal Solid Waste (aka landfill trash), along with agricultural and forest product residues, and turning them into Syngas, which can be converted into various biofuels, used for power, or formed into plastic. The unused remnants of this process can be used as an aggregate in construction materials.
Coupled with the recycling, composting, and upcycling currently underway, this could mean that next to nothing need go to the landfills, and that which is already there could be put to use as a resource.
How does it work?
When I say Dell, what comes to mind? If you’re like most people, not much. Perhaps a vague recollection that it’s a custom computer building company. Maybe that it has some sustainability measures. I’m betting you’re painfully short on specifics, and it’s been a while since Dell’s been actively on your radar.
You’re not alone. For a global company with a deep presence in both the consumer and enterprise market in 100+ countries, Dell has been surprisingly low key. Last week was the latest in a series of events they hope will remedy such invisibility: So called CAP Days, a chance for Dell to meet in person everyone from their biggest brand fans to the most staunch CSR watchdogs.
In this case, I and 13 other hand-selected people were flown by Dell to its Austin headquarters, where they had people from across the company (and the world) there to share what Dell has been up to in terms of sustainability.