Sugar Cane-Based Polyethylene – a Green Plastic Option?

| Wednesday July 29th, 2009 | 3 Comments

sugarcane-stalksPolyethylene is not typically a fave among sustainability proponents; after all, it’s plastic, its production process is environmentally draining, and it is not all that recyclable. But if Brazilian petrochemical company Braskem S.A. has its way, environmentalists may soon have a viable polyethylene option. Braskem has created a polyethylene made from sugarcane, which it is marketing as being eco-friendly. But are its claims valid?

Braskem is creating the product using “bioethanol derived from sugarcane – non-grain feedstock,” a Braskem press release says. As far as ethanol sources go, sugar cane is more environmentally friendly than corn, The Renewable Corporation reports: sugarcane produces a high yield, is relatively easy to grow and process, and is not grown in rainforest areas (of particular importance in Brazil). Brasken’s press release claims sugar cane-based polyethylene will have several environmental benefits: it will “contribute significantly to CO2 emission reductions,” not require construction of new production facilities, and be useful for a number of products (including plastic containers and automotive parts).

However, concerns about the environmental harm of ethanol abound; some are expressed in a report by the National Center for Policy Analysis. Aptly titled The Environmental Costs of Ethanol, the report suggests that ethanol reduces fuel economy, corrodes pipelines and other transmission equipment, diverts land from other uses, does endanger the rainforests, and pollutes the air. Heads up, sugarcane polyethylene enthusiasts.

Braskem contracted with Toyota Tsusho Corporation to market the product in Asian regions including Japan; the companies began marketing the product in 2008. Braskem aims to produce the sugarcane polyethylene on an industrial scale by 2011. Other organizations, including the Dow Chemical Company and Crystalsev (among Brazil’s biggest ethanol players) – have already jumped on the sugarcane- polyethylene-producing bandwagon, AllBusiness reports.

Until all the research is tallied and policy catches up, it behooves the consumer to beware.

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Amtrak Ups its Carbon Footprint-Reducing Efforts

| Wednesday July 29th, 2009 | 0 Comments

Amtrak-trainAttention, eco-travelers: traveling by Amtrak, America’s most extensive rail system, may soon be a more viable option for green travel enthusiasts. Amtrak has recently joined the Climate Registry, a non-profit dedicated to helping businesses calculate and report their greenhouse gas emissions transparently. As part of Amtrak’s attempts to become greener, it has pledged to reduce emissions (from diesel locomotives) by six percent from 2003 through 2010.

According to an Amtrak press release, it will reduce emissions through a number of measures: it will adopt comprehensive reporting standards for greenhouse gas emissions from locomotives (diesel and electric), passenger rail cars, maintenance equipment, and facilities. It will also reduce the idling time for diesel locomotives and use regenerative braking systems for electric locomotives (thus returning energy to the grid).

Amtrak has taken a number of additional sustainability-related actions. It is already a charter member of the Chicago Climate Exchange, North America’s only “cap and trade” system for all six greenhouse gasses. Recently, Amtrak joined Climate Counts, which rates companies’ carbon footprint reduction, their publicizing of that reduction, and their support of climate change legislation. Amtrak is also seeking to utilize lighter, more aerodynamic carrier cars and bio-lubricants for hydraulic systems. Amtrak customers may purchase carbon offsets (from a non-profit organization, Cargonfund.org); the funds benefit alternative energy or sustainable reforestation projects. And finally, Amtrak added solar arrays to a facility in New Jersey last fall.

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Cement – A Sticky Matter for Green Building Proponents

| Wednesday July 29th, 2009 | 0 Comments

cementFor sustainability proponents in the UK, cement has become something of a sticky issue. The country recycles nearly a quarter of Europe’s cement waste – a respectable figure that puts the UK at lead of Europe’s cement-recycling efforts. But UK sustainability experts asserted last week that these efforts are not enough. The UK Green Building Council (GBC) endorsed a “zero landfill” target for concrete waste while encouraging continued attention to the bigger picture of sustainable construction measures.

According to a BusinessGreen.com report, the GBC initiated the concrete recycling target in response to a report by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development Cement Sustainability Initiative (CSI). This report underscored several noteworthy figures: each year, Europe, the U.S., and Japan alone create a whopping 900 million tons of construction and demolition waste, 20 to 80 percent of which is concrete. While the UK recycles 22 percent of that concrete, the Netherlands 21 percent, Belgium 16 percent, and Switzerland 9 percent, a lot of concrete waste still ends up in landfills. More must be done, the CSI believes.

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The Nation’s First Platinum LEED-Certified Supermarket Opens in Maine

| Wednesday July 29th, 2009 | 3 Comments

hannaford-logo

July 23 was a big day for Hannaford Supermarkets, a 167-store chain serving Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont. The Augusta, Maine Hannaford store obtained Platinum LEED Certification last week, making it the first supermarket in the nation to attain such a status.

The LEED system is a program run by the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED certifies green buildings by measuring buildings’ performance in five areas: energy usage, water efficiency, CO2 emissions, indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources (and sensitivity to buildings’ environmental impact). Platinum LEED Certification is the highest level of LEED Certification.

To become Platinum LEED Certified, Hannaford constructed the Augusta store to include a number of sustainable features. For example, it is equipped with a “GreenChill” refrigeration system, which uses half the refrigerant gas of traditional cooling systems. Doors on almost all freezer and refrigerated cases conserve energy, and two geothermal wells regulate the building’s temperature. These and other measures are expected to trim the store’s energy usage by fifty percent, compared to similarly-sized traditional supermarkets.

A press release publicizing Hannaford’s Platinum LEED Certification emphasizes that the certification is but one of Hannaford’s numerous demonstrations of environmental and social responsibility. For example, the company also provides more than 3,500 natural and organic products plus hundreds of local products. Hannaford reportedly has a long history of environmental stewardship.

The LEED-Certified store is scheduled to open on July 25.

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Feel Strongly about Ethanol? Tweet Your Thoughts!

| Wednesday July 29th, 2009 | 0 Comments

twitter-logo

It seems that Twitter has almost everyone all a-flutter. Even the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA). Yes, the RFA joined Twitter and will, on July 29, begin a bi-weekly one-hour TweetChat on the social media outlet. The chats are intended, an RFA report says, to fuel conversation on all things biofuel-related (pun intended).

The kick-off chat on July 29, #FuelChat, will focus on the topic of Ethanol use in America – a topic involving issues such as E15, E85, small engines, blender pumps, and others. In subsequent chats, the RFA will seek to involve expert opinion holders, policymakers, and other influential figures, as well as everyday Americans. ZimmComm will moderate the chat.

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Greenpeace Joins the Effort to Reduce China’s Carbon Footprint

| Wednesday July 29th, 2009 | 0 Comments

smokestack

Greenpeace is known for taking on ambitious projects (to make an understatement). Accordingly, Greenpeace recently publicized its findings on China’s carbon footprint in a report entitled, “Polluting Power: Ranking China’s Power Companies.” The activist network is now calling for action, Reuters reports.

Greenpeace found alarming statistics in China’s coal usage: the country obtains more than two-thirds of its energy from coal, a cheap and abundant fuel source in China. Last year alone, China’s 10 biggest power generators together burned through 600 million tons of coal (about 20 percent of the country’s output), creating the equivalent of 1.44 billion tons of CO2. The three largest power firms created more than half of those emissions: 769 million tons – more than the emissions of all power firms in the UK combined (which produced a mere 623.8 million tons of CO2 in 2008).

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Office Furniture and Sustainability: Steelcase Releases CSR Report

| Wednesday July 29th, 2009 | 0 Comments

steelcase-truck

Steelcase, a global office furniture corporation, has released its latest Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) report. The report details the company’s efforts meet its goals of reducing its carbon footprint by 25 percent by 2012 (a coincidence that it’s Steelcase’s 100th anniversary?). If the report is accurate, consumers of Steelcase-produced furniture who are concerned about their purchases’ sustainability may be able to sit back and relax a little more easily.

So far this year, the company has implemented several initiatives designed to trim its greenhouse gas emissions and improves its sustainability. For example, Steelcase has changed the packaging of several of its products, ditching old anti-sustainability mantras like “one chair, one carton.” Instead, the company will utilize “Eco-Smart packaging”, which will involve minimal packaging (30 percent less for some items) or, in some cases, no packaging at all (the company will ship half the seating products manufactured at its Kentwood, Michigan plant without packing them). Using less packaging will have the added benefit of saving space on transportation vehicles, which will help Steelcase reduce its fuel usage and other transport-related harms.

Steelcase is also striving to improve the yield of trees it sources. Interesting factoid: trees harvested prior to maturity release more carbon dioxide into the environment. To address this problem, Steelcase is collaborating with Purdue University to reduce the trees’ growth cycle by ten years, which would allow the trees to mature and still be harvested within Steelcase’s requisite production time frame.

The company is also continuing its work with the Green Suppliers Network, an organization that, in cooperation with the EPA, “greens” suppliers. Currently, Steelcase is the leader of all Green Suppliers Network participants in regards to the number of organizations it has referred to the Network.

According to a May, 2009 ClimateBiz interview with Steelcase’s director of Global Environmental Sustainability, Angela Nahikian, the company has been, for most of its 100-year life, an innovator in sustainability practices in the industry. Nahikian described the key to Steelcase’s sustainability as its approach: Steelcase seeks to understand the chemistry and construction of its products from beginning to end, including products’ design, construction, and disposal or recycle. Nahikian described Steelcase’s eco-friendly vision as one of “radical evolution.”

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High Speed Rail? Not So Fast.

| Wednesday July 29th, 2009 | 3 Comments

High Speed RailHigh speed rail is like soccer – Americans want to like it, but it’s still much more popular in Europe.

President Obama included an ambitious high speed rail (HSR) plan as part of his Stimulus Package, and plans are moving forward. But now a recent report (PDF), out of Europe no less, questions one of the basic assumptions of HSR: that it is any cleaner than flying.

A recent study by Booz Allen Hamilton, commissioned by the UK Department for Transport, suggests that the net CO2 emissions of a proposed HSR line from London to Manchester would be greater, over 60 years, than if it was never built at all – even if every air passenger switched to rail. Currently, rail holds a 54% share of the air/rail market between the cities.

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How Logistics Are Making Cleantech Blow in the Wind

| Tuesday July 28th, 2009 | 0 Comments

The challenges facing the wind industry and the opportunities they create.

Wind FarmEver since T. Boone Pickens announced his plan to sell off 667 turbines, effectively decimating plans for the largest wind farm in the world, the wind industry has come under increased scrutiny and criticism.

Kate Galbraith, a blogger for NY Times’ Green Inc., has recently run an interesting series on the challenges facing this cleantech sector. As she chronicles, the biggest challenges facing the wind sector are not harvesting wind, but the expensive and potentially dangerous logistics associated with it, from transportation and erection of turbines—ironically, the wind itself is one of the largest inhibitors—to transmission of the power generated.

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Salmonella, In-Your-Guts Flame Resistance, and More – The Latest from the Meat Industry

| Tuesday July 28th, 2009 | 1 Comment

SalmonellaInteresting how something as small and basic as a bacterium can consistently make the front page headlines. Boulder County news sources reported that last Thursday, three people in Boulder, Colorado tested positive for the strain of salmonella found in ground beef recalled in June. Authorities had recalled the beef, which was sold at King Soopers stores, after 23 area residents fell ill from consuming it. The chain subsequently recalled 466,236 pounds of ground beef products.

Salmonella is an antibiotic-resistant strain of bacteria that lives in the intestinal tracts of animals and humans. In humans, salmonella infection causes diarrheal illness, fever, or abdominal cramps, and potential long-term health problems. Salmonella infection is spread through fecal matter, either by direct contact or by, say, consumption of feces-contaminated meat. Yikes. If the infection spreads beyond the intestines, antibiotic treatment may be necessary.

The King Soopers meat recall highlights several disturbing problems with the meat industry, including the often unsanitary conditions of feedlots and meat packaging facilities. Moreover, USDA meat inspection protocol did not prevent distribution of the meat to consumers. Perhaps most alarming, though, is the antibiotics factor. Many cows are fed antibiotics to make them resistant to their filthy living conditions and to aid their digestion (since most cows are fed corn, which their ruminants do not process properly). Researchers have even reportedly found antibiotic-resistant bacteria in grain distilling plants (including ethanol distillers), which sell their by-products as livestock feed. Overexposure to antibiotics fuels salmonella’s resistance to it, which is bad news for those of us down the line who shop at King Soopers.

Incidental but disturbing-and-intriguing nonetheless is the risk meat eaters (versus vegetarians) face of having flame retardants in their innards. Yes, flame retardants. Science Daily reports that flame retardants may enter the meat supply through contamination of animal feed or processing or packaging processes.

Going vegan is sounding mighty tempting…..

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NYC U.S. Postal Facility Enjoys Green Roofing First

| Tuesday July 28th, 2009 | 2 Comments
Green Roofing

Green Roofing

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is going green, literally. Last week it unveiled its first green roof, which tops the USPS Morgan mail processing facility in New York City. The roof, which is the largest green roof in NYC, will, expectedly, help the facility reduce its energy usage (by 30 percent by 2015) and pollution runoff (by up to 35 to 75 percent, depending on the season).

Environmental Leader reports that the green roof’s approximate 50-year lifespan is twice that of the roof it replaced (which was built in 1933). The green roof will, like its non-green predecessor, span 2.2 million square feet (nearly 2.5 acres). It will also support 200 pounds-per-square-foot of soil, vegetation, and other green roofing components. The roof nourishes a number of native plants and is furnished with certified-sustainable wood benches.

Estimates suggest that, while the initial investment for green roofing is twice that for a regular blacktop roof, green roofs last almost three times longer than blacktops and eventually pay for themselves in reduced energy bills.

The green roof construction is part of the USPS’s “greener facilities strategy”, which also includes use of renewable building materials, efficient energy and water fixtures, and other protocol. The USPS’s larger sustainability strategy has, fairly recently, also included the use of alternative fueled vehicles. According to Environmental Leader, the USPS is expected to open a LEED-certified facility soon in Long Island.

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Environmental Refugees, and the International Community, Face Formidable Challenges

| Tuesday July 28th, 2009 | 0 Comments

refugees- floodThanks to climate change, there is a new-ish group of refugees: those driven from their homes because of environmental changes. These “climate refugees,” or “environmental refugees” are, according to a BBC report, a growing source of concern for human rights groups as well as economic and political stability.

The BBC report chronicles the fleeing of one Bangladeshi family from its home in rural Bogra to the slums of Dhakata – just two examples of many communities worldwide affected by climate change. The family fled floods that, while normal in Bogra, have struck with increasing severity in recent years. Analysts believe global warming, which caused the floods to increase in the first place, will cause the problem to worsen as time goes on. An estimated 30 million Bangladeshis could, in turn, become climate refugees.

Climate change-related migration could, the BBC report highlights, cause a number of political, military, and economic problems for communities to which refugees flee, surrounding areas, and the international community. Countries from which refugees flee are, some believe, likely to demand compensation from wealthy countries they believe created the problem. Meanwhile, foreign aid to struggling countries could be negatively impacted by climate change. The UK, for example – Bangladesh’s biggest donor – will be unable to meet the growing challenge with its current annual aid package of £125m. Security, too, may become a greater challenge as refugees spill over countries’ borders in search of shelter.

Columbia University’s study “In Search of Shelter” further elucidates the influence of climate change on migration and displacement. According to the study, coastal communities worldwide (including the densely populated Ganges, Mekong, and Nile River deltas) will suffer as glacier melt causes sea levels to rise. The damages will include corrosion of farmland and beach communities, housing destruction, and other dangers. Populations with ecosystem-dependent livelihoods (i.e. agriculture-related occupations) will likely experience long-term migration in the next two or three decades. Natural disasters – already the cause of most environment-related migration – will worsen.

The BBC report details the debate over possible solutions: mitigating and/or adapting to the problem by increasing funding for aid and/or countering climate change.

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Making E-Cycling Sexy – Waste Management Recycle America

| Tuesday July 28th, 2009 | 0 Comments

WM-logo

If the words “waste management” don’t make you want to read on, reconsider. An organization simply called Waste Management (WM) is adding enough oomph to its operations to gain the attention of environmental enthusiasts and trash industry experts alike. A provider of comprehensive waste services in North America, WM seeks to minimize environmental harm in the dealing-with-trash process.

One of WM’s operations – a unique e-cycling program called WM Recycle America – has gained attention recently through the formation of a number of business partnerships. The nation’s only coast-to-coast electronics recycling program (according to its website), WM Recycle America allows customers to mail their used electronic products to WM. WM then processes the products to recover reusable components. (It accepts end-of-life equipment, products in need of refurbishment, and certified data that needs to be destroyed.) The WM Recycle America program is expected to help reduce landfill waste and improve consumer awareness of e-cycling opportunities. WM has partnered with a number of companies, including Sony, LG Electronics, and, most recently, iGo (a leading provider of portable device adapters and chargers), to spread the WM Recycle America program nationwide.

The process is relatively straightforward. It might even be downright easy: the customer contact WM. WM then sends customers an “eScrapTracker” (a giant box capable of transporting up to 600 pounds of electronics). The customer packs the box and then calls WM to schedule return shipping. After WM recycles the product, it sends customers a Certificate of Recycling via e-mail. WM also tracks eScrapTrackers throughout shipping and documents customers’ regulatory compliance.

Considering ditching that old energy-guzzling clunker of a computer for a greener model? WM Recycle America can help.

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Renewable Energy is More than Gee-Whiz Glitz

3p Contributor | Tuesday July 28th, 2009 | 0 Comments

1332_nrel_House_USE.jpg By: Matthew Marichiba
Hunting for work recently, I happened upon an opening for Director of Renewable Energy Engineering, which sounded perfect for the ambitions of a friend of mine. (It sounded perfect for my ambitions too, but I’m several years shy of the necessary qualifications.) In hard economic times, people help each other out, so I forwarded the listing to my friend. A couple weeks later he wrote back to say, “They called me back! I’ve got a phone interview next Tuesday.” And because his background is not in renewable energy, he added “Um…I’m not exactly sure what to do next.”
Renewable energy is not my specialty either, but I do have a career in electrical engineering and a head full of systems-thinking principles from my MBA at Presidio. That’s enough for me to hold strong opinions on the subject, and I like to think that mine are the kinds of opinions that every director of renewable energy engineering needs. So I sat down to help my friend out by outlining my thoughts on the subject. What came out, I discovered, were not technology-specific details, but rather principles that apply to any technology. They seemed like the kinds of big-picture principles that everyone should know, not just aspiring renewable energy professionals, and so I reproduce my list of “Renewable Energy Principles for 2009″ here.

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A Mad Scientist on the Future of Food: Moto Restaurant’s Homaro Cantu

| Monday July 27th, 2009 | 0 Comments

Crab PipettesSeven years ago, long before NPR and Fast Company and the New York Times chronicled Homaro Cantu’s shocking reworkings of the dining experience at Moto Restaurant, in Chicago, he and his team began developing a project with what he calls game-changing technology in food delivery.

“First we have action, then we have reaction,” Cantu remarked in a recent conversation, the innovative chef appropriating centuries of metaphysical thought.

“Finally, we have a revolution followed by a new era in our society of capitalism,” he added, referring to his vision of the future of food, which, according to him, will follow triple bottom line thinking. “Welcome.”

Cantu, however, has been very tight-lipped about exactly what that project is. But as the chef that’s known for constructing elaborate sushi rolls purely on edible paper using organic, food-based inks or experimenting with liquid nitrogen and superconducters to make food levitate, it’s easy to let one’s mind wander in imagining what it could be.

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