EcoUnit Partners with Organic Valley to Supercharge Sustainable Consumer Behavior

| Friday October 30th, 2009 | 2 Comments

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ecounit logoHow do you effectively shift consumer behavior with minimal cost to you as a business and minimum effort required of consumers? EcoUnit is one company attempting to answer that question.

When we last wrote about them in June, they were testing out ways to reward customers for bringing in their own bags. This earns them EcoUnits, redeemable for anything from store discounts to donations to local eco non profits of choice. As mentioned, the pilot store program was a huge success, a 77 percent increase in reusable bag use in the first two months after launch.

Where are they now?

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We Need More Lobbyists! And Other Insights From Solar Power International

| Friday October 30th, 2009 | 3 Comments

David and GoliathSPITo gain an overall picture of the solar power industry today imagine David and Goliath, with valiant David representing solar, and Goliath the big, bad fossil fuels.

Then imagine David’s sling shot is subsidized by the federal government.

At Solar Power International, the solar trade show that ran wrapped up yesterday in Anaheim, CA, the tone set by Solar Energy Industry Association CEO Rhone Resch, and echoed by keynote speaker Robert Kennedy Jr., was one of defiant confrontation with fossil fuels and their lobbyist axis of evil in DC.

Their plan: fight fire with fire. The solar industry needs to band together and hire an army of lobbyists to demand more money and favors from federal and state governments — or just a level playing field with fossil fuels, depending on how you look at it.

It’s Just Un-American!

But out in the trenches, where solar companies large and small are trying to make a go of it, the tone was much more conciliatory, even plaintive.

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What Really Matters in Clean Technology, or “The Spark Plug Guy”

| Friday October 30th, 2009 | 5 Comments

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I attended a panel discussion Wednesday night at UC Irvine on the future of the automobile, part of OCTANe‘s clean tech program. There was a series of presentations on hybrids, plug in hybrids, all-electric vehicles, and fuel cell vehicles, from some of the most respected names in advanced automotive design, representing some of the world’s biggest car companies. Each one of those technologies represents a sea change in the way cars drive, and by extension, in the way we live. It was exciting, heady stuff.

And then there was the spark plug guy.

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Finisterre Finds Best Path to Staying Warm and Dry Is to Act Like an Otter

Mary Catherine O'Connor | Friday October 30th, 2009 | 1 Comment

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FinisterreOn any given day, you’re likely to find a small team of product designers, material developers and scrappy marketers holed up in a converted mine building in the town of St. Agnes on the North Cornwall coast—unless, of course, the surf is good. At those times, you’re more likely to see these folks, who operate the Finisterre outdoor apparel company, bobbing in the chilly waters of the Atlantic, just a quick walk away from the office of Finisterre.

Finisterre makes jackets and base layers for people who love being outside, whether they’re surfing, hiking, skiing, climbing…whatever.

Most of the baselayers it sells are made of the soft, high-performance wool of sustainably-raised merino sheep. But the company is not only using materials from animals in its products, it’s also designing products that mimic the way that animals stay warm and dry. In developing this season’s Humboldt and Storm Tracker Finisterre jackets, the designers employed biomimicry.

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Cash Cows: Vermont Dairy Farm Converts Cattle Manure into Electricity

Jace Shoemaker-Galloway | Friday October 30th, 2009 | 11 Comments

cow-faceA Vermont dairy farm is producing something other than milk.  Earlier this month, state officials were on hand to visit Vermont’s newest methane facility.  Westminster Farms Inc.,  along with Green Mountain Power (GMP), have been working together in an on-site plant that converts methane gas released from cow manure into electricity.

Cow manure is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gasses and the runoff from manure pollutes water.  Taking a liability and converting it into an asset, just made environmental and economic sense to the farm’s Shawn Goodell.  An anaerobic digester is used to mix, heat and break down the manure.  The raw manure and ag substrates produce methane biogas, which  is captured and then generates electricity.  And with an estimated 1,200 cows on the Westminster-based dairy farm, finding a supply of manure is not a problem!  Sure gives new meaning to the term “natural gas” doesn’t it?

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“Harmless” Packaging – Something We Can All Buzz About

| Friday October 30th, 2009 | 1 Comment

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HarmlessBy John Comberiate

Harmless Enough?

An up and coming low impact packaging idea comes from the British company “Harmless“.  Everyone’s received a magazine covered in a plastic bag in the mail at some point in their lives.  Everyone has shipped a delicately packed box with a fragile treasure inside meant for a close friend or relative.  So we’re all familiar with packing materials as well as the waste that goes along with disposing of them once they’ve completed their useful life.  Harmless is making that waste a little more eco-friendly.

Harmless-Dissolve

Harmless has several options that have the ability to accommodate packing needs but the most impressive is the Harmless-Dissolve.  Similar to any magazine wrapping you’ve received in the past, the Harmless-Dissolve protects the magazine from knicks, scratches and tears from point of origin to your door.  Different though, is how you get rid of it; you just put it in water.  The Creative Review, for examples, is shipping its magazine out this month in Harmless-Dissolve and even has demonstrational pictures of it in action.

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Why Having More Won’t Make Us Happy

Gregory Wendt, CFP | Friday October 30th, 2009 | 5 Comments

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money-happyAs a financial adviser, I regularly meet the “haves and have-mores.” One thing I have learned for sure: Having more does not necessarily mean having more happiness.

Barbara Walters interviewed billionaire media mogul David Geffen in a conversation published in More Than Money magazine: “She said, ‘O.K., David, now that you’re a billionaire, are you happy?’ He shot back without hesitation: ‘Barbara, anybody who believes money makes you happy doesn’t have money.'”

Of course I think to a point, money actually does buy you happiness, or at least in our society money provides the mechanism to get basic human needs met. Take someone who is truly in poverty and a bit of money will actually, truly, make that person and his/her family more happy – they’ll get food, shelter, some labor saving devices, they’ll get education, they’ll get leisure time.

What’s right is to say that after basic needs are met the marginal return of happiness per dollar declines rapidly, at some point every additional dollar means virtually nothing.

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What About the People?

| Thursday October 29th, 2009 | 0 Comments

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people jumpingBy Brahm Ahmadi
Ecological economics is a transdisciplinary field of study that addresses the complex interconnectedness of human systems and natural ecosystems. Unlike neoclassical economics, which is preoccupied with the value-free idea of efficiency, ecological economics focuses on the economy as a subsystem of the ecosystem, and emphasizes the natural limits of our planet in relation to human social and economic systems.

It’s ironic that many of the environmental problems of today have been driven by social norms and cultural values and, yet, these factors are not central tenets of ecological economics.

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Democratization of Electricity: Are You a Public Utility?

| Thursday October 29th, 2009 | 2 Comments

rfkSPIIn typical Kennedy-esque fashion Robert Jr. delivered a liberal-environmentalist stem winder from the main stage at Solar Power International this morning, pillorying the coal and oil industries (“carbon cronies”), and calling for the “democratization” of electric power.

He was largely referring to the perceived lobbyist-led stranglehold fossil fuels have on power production. But later in the day, members of a panel on electricity regulation (“Who Will Be the Next Regulator?”) cited Kennedy’s speech to refer to what is happening as more and more individuals, businesses, and organizations install solar panels on their property, generate their own electricity, and sell the excess back to the local utility.

The question that arises is this: if these companies are generating electricity, are they utilities?

If you have rooftop solar panels, are you an utility?

The answer for individuals is almost certainly not. For companies who sell and maintain solar panels, or rent space on rooftops to install their own, the answer is maybe, sort of, hopefully not, but possibly eventually.

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EDF Climate Corps Makes the Business Case for Energy Efficiency Investments

Kathryn Siranosian | Thursday October 29th, 2009 | 0 Comments

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Energy efficiency. It’s the cheapest, fastest, and cleanest energy resource available to your business today.

Sure, rooftop solar panels and on-site wind turbines may seem like the epitome of ultra-green chic right now. But, whatever energy efficiency lacks in “glitz,” it more than makes up for in bottom-line benefits. It’s simple: reducing your company’s energy consumption is a sure-fire way to cut costs and lower your GHG emissions, as well.

Need proof? Take a look at the outcomes recently reported by the Environmental Defense Fund’s 2009 Climate Corps.

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Organic Farming and the Future of Food

3p Contributor | Thursday October 29th, 2009 | 7 Comments


By Laura Klein

Sustainable agriculture is the fastest-growing sector of the food industry. On the other hand, less than 1% of American cropland is farmed organically.

In light of this conundrum, what keeps the organic farmer going?

I spoke with Richard Wiswall, author of The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook: A Complete Guide Managing Finances, Crops, and Staff – and Making a Profit, to find out more about what it’s like to be an organic farmer in these tough economic times.

“The future of organic is very, very solid in spite of level sales,” says Wiswall.  A farmer first and author second, Wiswall is seeing a groundswell of new organic farmers entering the marketplace, which he and others attribute to the writings of Michael Pollan, films like Food Inc., and the increased concern surrounding food safety issues in general.

However, there are big speed bumps in the way of an organic farmer’s success.

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Hunter Lovins Speaks On Climate Change Action and Revamping the Economy

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
| Thursday October 29th, 2009 | 3 Comments

lovins“Whatever you do, please take action…if we are going to solve this one [climate change], it’s going to require all of us,” Hunter Lovins said while speaking on October 21 at Bard Center for Environmental Policy’s National Climate Seminar. The founder and president of Natural Capitalism Solutions, and a founding professor of business at the Presidio School of Management, reminded listeners everyone can take action concerning climate change.

Lovins mentioned that since Pacific, Gas & Electric (PG&E) quit the U.S. Chamber of Commerce last month because of its stance on climate change legislation, other companies are “starting to flee.” She suggested two actions people can take:

  1. Write to companies who are still members of the Chamber of Commerce, telling them you are not sure you want to do business with them.
  2. Send a letter to the Chamber of Commerce telling them to stop obstructing efforts to mitigate climate change by going to the website, NewVoiceofBusiness.org, where such a letter exists, and click “send.”
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Fisker Automotive Buying Closed GM Plant To Produce Plug-in Hybrids

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
| Thursday October 29th, 2009 | 3 Comments

Fisker Karma006General Motors (GM) closed its Wilmington, Delaware plant in July, leaving 550 active employees out of work, and another 500 laid-off hourly workers without the hope of being called back to work. Vehicle manufacturing used to be Delaware’s second largest private employer. Perhaps it will be again. Fisker Automotive announced on October 27 it signed a letter of intent to buy the plant for $18 million after a routine four-month evaluation period.

Built by GM in 1947, the Wilmington plant produced 8.5 million cars, and has a production capacity of 300,000 cars a year. The Wilmington plant will support the Irvine, California-based company’s Project NINA, developing and producing a $39,000 plug-in, hybrid sedan. Production is scheduled to begin in 2012, and by 2014 the company plans produce 75,000 to 100,000 cars a year. Over half of the cars produced will be exported. The plant will create or support 2,000 factory jobs and over 3,000 vendor and supplier jobs by 2014.

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Solar Conference Opening Coincides with Obama Stroll Through the PV Panels

| Wednesday October 28th, 2009 | 2 Comments

obamasolarpanelsSPIIn an example of either great timing, or a degree of scheduling cooperation that would be the envy of any trade conference, Solar Power International, the largest solar energy conference in the county, kicked off the same day as the Obama administration and its allies began a concerted push for a climate legislation package in the Senate, and with the American public.

Indeed, just as Rhone Resch, CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), unveiled a “Solar Bill of Rights” on stage in Anaheim, President Obama was standing in front of a field of photovoltaic solar panels at the ribbon-cutting for a new 25-megawatt solar power plant in Arcadia, Florida, the country’s largest solar PV plant to date. Obama was also there to announce $3.4 billion in grants to help build a nationwide “smart energy grid,” designed to improve energy efficiency, and help integrate solar and other renewables into the national grid.

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Facing Reality in Copenhagen

| Wednesday October 28th, 2009 | 2 Comments

Measuring success in Copenhagen - The Road to COP15The days grow short and with it the time left to lay a foundation that leads to an international climate treaty to which all nations – rich and poor, north and south – can agree.

As Copenhagen braces for an influx of delegates, press, policy experts, and leaders from all corners of the globe this December, many begin to brace for a new definition of what will constitute success at the COP15 climate talks. A definition based less on the “do-or-die” high expectations of a signed treaty by the end of the year and more on the reality of the work left to accomplish a deal and the time available to accomplish it.

It may be  too much to hope that delegates negotiate a final resolution to the issues that carve a persistently wide gulf between developed and developing nations. Momentum for real progress has been slow going (though it’s building as a sense of urgency mounts).

Rich nations still squabble amongst themselves and developing nations aren’t too keen on  forsaking their expanding fossil-fueled wealth, just when it really gets going–especially when nations already fat and happy on coal and oil seem unwilling to pull their own weight.

The situation isn’t likely to change much, at least not by December. Is COP15 therefore destined to fail? Not necessarily – even with the intractable issues before it.

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