Two electrical engineering students at Nairobi University, 24 year old Jeremiah Murimi and 22 year old Pascal Katana, have developed an innovation to literally bring power to more people in Kenya. Using salvaged parts from old televisions and radios, the duo retrofitted the dynamo attached to all bikes sold in Kenya so that cyclists can charge their cell phones as they ride.
Of Kenya’s 38.5 million people, it is estimated that roughly 17.5 million own a cell phone. However, many Kenyans lack access to the necessary electrical infrastructure to charge their phones, forcing them to travel great distances and pay steep prices to juice up their phones at charging stations (around $2 a charge). This new device, which is small enough to fit in a pocket along with a mobile device, will sell for about $4.50, meaning that consumers will recover the purchase price by the third charge.
As a species, humans are living in an increasingly industrialized habitat—one crammed full of complex machines designed to perform often mundane tasks that we once accomplished with the twist of a wrist (electric can openers?) or ancient technology (plug in air fresheners?). In such an environment, it is easy to forget that our bodies can do more than consume.
I believe I was born to help protect the environment. My first vivid memory of the awe-inspiring power of nature came when, as a young teenager, I traveled with my family to the remote wilderness of Colorado for a pack trip deep into the Rocky Mountains. I remember feeling humbled by the Earth’s bounty and overwhelmed by the pure wildness of the landscape that surrounded me. I promised myself then that I would imprint that feeling in my soul forever.
Now, 15 years years later, I can picture that moment in time as if it were yesterday. Today, however, that memory is even more precious as I reflect on the lessons I have learned and the satisfaction I feel as I lead GreenLink Alliance, a non-profit start up, towards success. The beautiful irony is that my life, at least to this point, has brought me full circle, back to the mountaintop where it all began.
As part of a new initiative, every month Kaiser Permanente (KP) will feature an online video of an employee or physician who is doing something worthwhile in regards to healthcare and sustainability. The program is called 60 Sustainable Seconds with Kathy Gerwig, KP’s environmental stewardship officer and vice president of workplace safety. Watch the first video below:
Protecting ecosystems saves money, according to a new study, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB). The UN Environment Program (UNEP) hosted the study. The study emphasizes putting a price tag on saving the world’s ecosystems from destruction. The study itself puts a price tag on the ongoing cost of forest loss: $2 to 5 trillion. Clearing mangrove forests costs local communities over $12,000 a hectare, plus $9,000 to rehabilitate a site.
Protecting ecosystems creates jobs. One in 40 European jobs is linked with environmental and ecosystem services. Investing in the protection of Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve generates $50 million a year, created 7,000 jobs, and increased local family incomes.
ForestEthics versus SFI. The green industry is overwhelmed by trustmarks and certification organizatons. As a result, consumers don’t know whom to believe anymore. As it turns out SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative) is funded and managed primarily by large logging companies, whereas ForestEthics is an environmental nonprofit dedicated to protecting endangered forests. (And then there’s the Forest Stewardship Council – FSC – just to make things even more complicated, as highlighted in this NY Times article.)
Both ForestEthics and the Sierra club have filed complaints against SFI at both the Federal Trade Commission and the Internal Revenue Service. The organizations accused the certification program of lax standards and deceptive marketing intended to obscure responsible foresting standards. But this ongoing war came to a head at last week’s Greenbuild conference.
About 2,600 MBA students and business professionals from around the world got together a week ago at the 2009 Net Impact Conference at Cornell University to learn and discuss how to use business as a force for social and environmental good. The event was a success on many levels, and I’d like to highlight some of the creative ways that Net Impact made the conference a great Green Event–as well as suggesting tips for improvement for future conferences.
Cause for Applause
Compostable cups, silverware, plates. Great job at making those products available throughout the conference.
Farmer’s market closing reception. Way to integrate Cornell’s/Ithaca’s local food growers and community in the event! All that produce (and cheese!) from Upstate New York was quite a treat.
Partnership with Terrapass to offset the conference’s carbon consumption and staff travel.
Have you ever wanted to know how many companies give their employees the chance to recycle or compost? Ever wonder how your company stacks up to others in terms of sustainability initiatives? Ever ask, “why is my boss such a jerk?”– only because your boss said no to your suggestion for installing a programmable thermostat?
Brighter Planet, a Vermont-based company whose credit cards offer users the chance to give to community renewable energy projects with each purchase, has just launched a survey to give all of us the chance to talk about our company’s true environmental commitment. Each completed survey contestant will be entered into a raffle for a $200 prize.
Singapore-based Double Helix Tracking Technologies (DHTT) uses DNA tests to verify the origins of timber. Essentially, it’s the same technology that’s used in forensics and paternity testing –only DHTT has adapted it specifically for wood.
“What we’ve done is to develop a very creative solution that builds upon existing scientific techniques and applies them to an old-fashioned industry,” explains Darren Thomas, managing director at DHTT.
But, why does wood have to be scrutinized so carefully?
For years, Ford has been experimenting with materials to cut its petroleum use, and the 2010 Ford Flex will showcase the latest fruits of its labor. The Flex’s third-row storage bin will have a 20 percent wheat straw-based plastic content.
While the change may seem small, it will cut manufacturing petroleum by 10 tons and CO2 emissions by 15 tons, and cut the storage bin’s weight by 10 percent — thereby saving the end consumer a small amount of fuel, as well. Similarly, in late September, Ford announced that it is now using soy-based foam in seat cushions and backs and interior roof covers, a change that saved 750 tons of petroleum in the manufacturing process. The soy foam is also 25 percent lighter than petroleum foam.
Most paper waste is recyclable. The margin may not be terrific on recycled paper products, except for clean white office paper, but it is usually sufficient to create secondary markets for most paper waste.
The problem arises, however, when that paper is contaminated with food or for some other reason is not recyclable (pizza boxes anyone?). Not only does this potentially contaminate other paper that may be recyclable, but it creates a waste management challenge to municipalities.
So besides using it for campfire kindle, what can we do with it?
Wall Street’s spectacular implosion in 2008—illustrated by the failure and subsequent sale of Bear Stearns to JP Morgan and, soon thereafter, the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers and the government’s spectacular bailout soured many on Wall Street’s Masters of the Universe.
But investment banks don’t just trade credit-default swaps and collateralized debt obligations. They also help companies raise capital—often taking shares in companies themselves—while providing sector-specific expertise. Their backing makes it possible for industries like technology to flourish.
They will also play a role in the expansion of the sustainable economy.
As goes the financial markets, so go the renewable energy markets. If there’s an opportunity to make a buck, or in this case, a euro, by ripping people off, rest assured, someone will do it.
In the latest case, two Italian businessmen are accused of involvement in a scheme to collect public subsidies for wind power by building sham wind farms. A two year investigation, dubbed “Gone With the Wind” by Italian anti-fraud police, culminated Tuesday with the arrest of Oreste Vigorito, head of the IVPC energy company and president of Italy’s National Association of Wind Energy, and Vito Nicastri, a Sicilian business associate on allegations of defrauding the government of millions in subsidies, according to the Financial Times.
Anti-mafia investigators in Sicily, where some of the wind farms are located, have launched a parallel investigation.
The housing market collapse presented land conservation trusts with the opportunity to purchase land slated for development. As a study by the Land Trust Alliance puts it, “land trusts are attractive buyers (to banks) because they don’t require further infrastructure investments.”
Land trusts all over the country are taking advantage of those opportunities. In Northern California, several land trusts acquired parcels this year. The Trust for Public Land bought chaparral-covered land for $4 million that was going to be bulldozed. The Peninsula Open Space trust paid $16 million in June for the 966-acre Rancho San Vicente, a former cattle ranch. The Ranch was slated to have 300 units and 16 large estates built.
I have attended a lot of college climate change talks lately by 50+ year old white guy experts. They all feature a curious line directed at the students: “Our generation screwed up; we are sorry to leave you this mess, but it’s going to be your job to fix it”.
There’s a problem with that logic. In fact, it’s our 50+ generation that currently has all the power, and we don’t look to be letting it go for the next couple of decades. The only way to transform the planet will be a generational partnership, with folks our age laying a solid foundation for the revolution in technology and consciousness that will indeed be the life work of today’s college and graduate students.
A tragic generational failure – and lots of success too—is illustrated in a beautiful new film by Robert Stone, called Earth Days. The movie follows the lives of a handful of 70+ environmental warriors, primarily Stewart Udall, Stewart Brand, and Denis Hayes. Stone documents the creation of the environmental movement in the 1960s’, sparked by Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and Paul Ehrlich’s Population Bomb; the movement’s symphonic arrival on Earth Day 1970, orchestrated by an intense and charismatic Hayes; and the phenomenal legislative success early in the decade, in which the we see the sunny (but still creepy) side of Nixon—with Tricky Dick signing the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts, NEPA, and creating the EPA, all in the space of a dizzying two years. .
I recently returned from the United States Green Building Council’s (USGBC) 2009 Greenbuild Expo in Phoenix, Arizona. The conference boasted more than 28,000 attendees and more than 1800 exhibitors. Former Vice President Al Gore gave the keynote speech as leaders of the green building world converged to discuss the future of building and the impact this community of architects, designers, builders, project managers and corporate sustainability managers can have on mother earth’s future. Attendees snacked on organic appetizers and drank from compostable plastic cups. Student volunteers filled the convention center excited, to be able to participate in the event, and in exchange spent their time sorting attendees’ garbage into the appropriate recycling, composting or trash bins.
As one of those 1800 exhibitors (we had a full Windspire wind turbine up in our booth) I spent the majority of the show on the expo hall floor. The energy on the floor was described as electric, engaging and awesome by those tweeting with the hashtag #Greenbuild and by some of the more than 100 media in attendance. If you believe that smarter buildings that use less energy and water are a real solution to global warming, this was the place to see and be seen. The USGBC must be applauded for educating so many on real solutions to the global climate crisis.
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