Buy Green? Or Buy Less?

| Wednesday April 29th, 2009 | 0 Comments

Over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed a significant increase in the number of hybrid vehicles I see driving the streets here in Boulder, Colorado. Maybe it’s just a heightened awareness due to those special “alternative fuel vehicle” parking spaces now in place at the new 29th Street Mall shopping area; but at times, it seems to me that I encounter at least one Toyota Prius at every stoplight.
This observation got me thinking: how environmentally-friendly is it to replace a perfectly functional vehicle with a brand-new car (albeit a hybrid?)
This issue was previously discussed on this site via a July 2007 post, which looked at the Hummer H2, the Toyota Highlander (both regular and hybrid), and the Toyota Prius, comparing the energy consumed by each vehicle during the manufacturing process as well as throughout the estimated life of each. The conclusion? “Continuing to drive an older car with poor fuel economy is less environmentally friendly than getting a new car that gets drastically better fuel economy.”
Based on the vehicles used for these particular calculations, I absolutely agree with this conclusion. However, what about a comparison between a new Toyota Prius and a smaller, older vehicle, say, a 1992 Honda Accord (my ride for the past 15 years.) Would we still reach the same verdict? According to many of the follow-up calculations and evidence provided in response to the original post, it seems that the answer may be “no.”

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Building Efficiency – Only the Buzz Is New: What a Difference a Recession Makes

| Wednesday April 29th, 2009 | 3 Comments

Sustainability and efficiency are getting a lot of buzz of late, but for international architectural and design firm HOK, the only thing new is the buzz, not the concepts driving it.

“We’re early adopters,” says HOK’s director of sustainability, Mary Ann Lazarus, referring to the company’s adoption back in 1993 of sustainability and efficiency as core components of HOK’s mission. Back then, the idea of less is more may not have carried quite the same cachet it does today (the long journey ahead notwithstanding), but HOK has been content to pursue their commitment to efficient and sustainable design for the past 15+ years, understanding that, sooner or later, the rest of the world would catch up.

They are in the company of many others who have understood all along that the key to getting more is by using less. Organizations like the Rocky Mountain Institute, who we’ll look at shortly, or AgileWaves, a lean-and-green startup who we’ve written about here and here.

To say that a recessionary economy can be challenging for all players in society is to risk the sin of understatement; to say that with challenges come opportunities is to risk the offense of cliché. Despite that risk, and as readers of TriplePundit are well aware, the point remains that the recent economic upheaval brings with it opportunities commensurate with the trial Рopportunities to build a better world on the rubble of a broken and dysfunctional economy, one more in tune with the natural resources and systems about which all human endeavor is ultimately based.

And so it is that Lazarus sees before us a “perfect storm” for sustainability fueling her cautiously confident optimism she defines simply as a “glass half full” approach to dealing with hard economic times.

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Microsoft Proves It’s Not Easy Being Green

| Wednesday April 29th, 2009 | 1 Comment

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Last week I read a post on Environmental Leader about Microsoft slashing their CSR PR budget in favor of product promotion for Windows 7, Office and Xbox. While the cuts are currently in Europe, the post went on to say that Asia was next and that the U.S. would be “imminent.”
A budget cut in and of itself isn’t all that interesting — or newsworthy. Corporate budgets get cut all the time, and marketing and PR are typically the first to go, often regarded as extraneous spending by shareholders in mahogany boardrooms atop lofty ivory towers. But what’s interesting about this re-allocation of dollars is that they’re essentially shifting PR to… PR. Take a moment to let that sink in.
They’re taking money from PR efforts that help advance environmental awareness and social responsibility in a market in which they have mass reach to more heavily promote themselves and their own products. So, it begs the question if Microsoft is truly committed to sustainable business practices and furthering programs that serve the greater good, or if it is merely a PR tactic designed create the perception of social responsibility while their consumer capitalist agenda reigns supreme.

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Ecological Elevators: New Green Tech from Spain

| Wednesday April 29th, 2009 | 0 Comments

MP%20elevator.jpg Just when you thought the stairs were your only option for arriving sustainably to your office chair, it’s time to think again. A Spanish company, MP Ascensores, has released its preliminary plans for the MP-E3 elevator that will operate using an integrated approach to green technology. These ecological elevators will bring a new element to green building practice and have the ability to substantially reduce high-rise building energy consumption.
The MP-E3 project has received financing from the Andalucia Technological Corporation so that the first ecological elevators can be up and running in 2011. The technology plans to incorporate a frequency inverter for motors that reduces energy consumption. It also proposes to use the motor itself as a kind of generator, taking advantage of the movement of the elevator to produce electricity that could be injected into the wider energy grid.

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Imperial Death March: Assigning value to ecosystems

| Wednesday April 29th, 2009 | 5 Comments

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We’ve asked and attempted to answer this question may times: What’s the cost of a tree? This question inherently implies that there is a price tag on that tree, and that price is a reflection of what one party is willing to pay for the benefits of the tree, and what another party is willing to receive in exchange for giving up those benefits.

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Smart USA Drivers Getting Rock Star Parking Treatment in NYC

Mary Catherine O'Connor | Wednesday April 29th, 2009 | 0 Comments

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Here’s the problem I have with the new breed of tiny cars, such as the Smart USA fortwo or even the vintage Mini Coopers that I see in my neighborhood every once in a while: sometimes their drivers park them in spots that are large enough to accommodate a normal old four-door sedan. This chaps my hide. Shouldn’t these drivers be required to park in the tiny spots, past which the rest of us parking-spot-hunters must wistfully drive?
Well, it’s a conundrum that NYC fortwo drivers may now choose to avoid. Penske Automotive Group, which owns the Smart USA brand, recently inked a deal with Central Parking System, Inc., a private parking company in New York, through which Smart fortwo owners receive a 50% discount on parking rates.

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What Is More Valuable: Material or People’s Time?

Tom Szaky | Wednesday April 29th, 2009 | 2 Comments

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So many coffee lovers have switched to single portion delivery devices produced by a variety of brands, including Tassimo, Flavia and Green Mountain. The coffee taste is always fresh, perfectly brewed and one doesn’t waste extra coffee left from brewing a full pot.
The single dose cartridge is a composite of aluminum, plastic and coffee. Its used cartridge is currently not recyclable and is what Bill McDonough would call a “monstrous hybrid” since all three parts on their own are either compostable or recyclable, but together they make a unit that isn’t readily recyclable and thus is headed to the landfill. (The same is true for a wide range of common products too long to list here).
The solution to waste streams like this is to collect them and “dissemble.” The separation of the three basic materials is hard to automate and likely must be done by hand, at which point, the coffee can be easily be composted and the plastic and aluminum recycled.

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Sex Work with Benefits: An “Experitainment”

| Tuesday April 28th, 2009 | 2 Comments

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In the karaoke zone in Chiang Mai, the northern capital of Thailand, the Can Do bar, sex-worker owned and operated, is open for business.
Launched in September 2006, the bar was the brainchild of partner Empower, the NGO founded in 1985 comprised of sex workers.
Carrying out sustainable business practices, the Can Do bar follows the guidelines of Thai labour and social security laws, offering their employees benefits: a combination of social security, disability and life insurance, a unique proposition in the entertainment industry. Working conditions in most Thai bars that feature women as the attraction subject their female employees to long hours with only one day off per month and stringent “drink quotas” they must reach – meaning the minimum number of drinks they have to sell to customers before they can call it a night.
However, life at the Can Do bar is different. The workers have an eight-hour day with a one-hour break for rest, as well as one day off a week. Overtime is strictly optional, and they are compensated for it. Occupational health and safety issues are upheld to standard government regulations, and there is never any question of their using the bathroom as many times in the day as they need. The employees are encouraged to form a worker’s association or union if they deem it is in their best interests. Empower has also started a community fund for Can Do, where any sex worker can contribute to the fund and become part of the collective ownership.

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Thin Ice: Sustainability Leaders Needed!

Richard Levangie | Tuesday April 28th, 2009 | 0 Comments

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Recent dramatic events in the Arctic and Antarctica are supporting scientists who suggest that the pace of climate change is accelerating. The Arctic ice cap is thinner than ever, with ice older than two years comprising less than 10 percent of the ice cover in measurements from the end of February. The amount of thick sea ice hit a record wintertime low of 378,000 square miles, which is down by 43 percent over the last year. As old ice is the thickest, and slowest-to-melt, it plays a vital role in regulating temperature on Earth.
“That thick ice really traps ocean heat; it keeps the planet in its current state of balance,” says Waleed Abdalati, director of the Center for the Study of Earth from Space at the University of Colorado and NASA’s former chief ice scientist. “When we start to diminish that, the state of balance is likely to change, tip one way or another.”
While 2008 was a comparatively cool year worldwide, and 2009 and 2010 predicted to be much warmer, the concern is that arctic sea ice will retreat dramatically — exceeding record losses that occurred over the last two years. Sea ice is important because it reflects sunlight back into space, and helps turn down the Earth’s thermostat. As the ice melts, the dark ocean waters will absorb unprecedented amounts of energy, which will accelerate the thawing of the permafrost, potentially releasing billions of tons of methane ‚Äï a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than CO2 — into the atmosphere. Warming begets warming.

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Building Better Buildings: A Transformation Roadmap

Richard Levangie | Tuesday April 28th, 2009 | 1 Comment

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The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) has published a study which calls for a 60% reduction in the energy use of buildings by 2050 to help meet global climate change targets.
Transforming the Market: Energy Efficiency in Buildings suggests that the ambitious carbon footprint reduction goals established by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change won’t let any industry off the hook, and the building sector must renew itself to cut carbon and embrace energy efficiency through a combination of public policies, technological innovation, informed customer choices, and smart business decisions.

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Swine Flu: Caused by Factory Farming?

| Monday April 27th, 2009 | 2 Comments

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I flew home from a three-week trip to Mexico on Saturday, returning with a sarong I bought on the beach, some earrings I bought for my roommate and a nice tan. Apparently, some other travelers were not so lucky – carrying with them the swine influenza A (H1N1) virus.
This strain of flu, that has previously kept itself mostly to mammals of the pig variety, has now infected 1,000 people in Mexico and the U.S.. 68 of the reported cases have been fatal. Yesterday, the Secretary of the Department Homeland Security declared a public health emergency in the U.S. Where did this virus come from? Why are humans suddenly being infected with this a previously unseen mutated virus? Why are the pigs trying to kill us?

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Business Women Come Together to Promote Sustainability

| Monday April 27th, 2009 | 0 Comments

Women’s Network for a Sustainable Future (WNSF) Holds First West Coast Summit on May 21
WNSF%20logo.gifDo women have a unique perspective on sustainability? The Women’s Network for a Sustainable Future (WNSF) believes they do. The non-profit organization fosters businesswomen’s advocacy in social responsibility and sustainable development, and will hold its first West Coast Summit on Thursday, May 21, 2009 at Intel Headquarters in Santa Clara, CA.
Mary Nichols, Chairman of the California Air Resources Board, will be the keynote speaker at the forum, which is designed to increase understanding of clean technology and the potential contributions that the technology industry can make to advancing sustainability.

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Cool Energy Related Eco-Stats from David Suzuki’s Green Guide

Scott Cooney | Monday April 27th, 2009 | 1 Comment

As a writer, I am constantly on the lookout for the best eco-stats. Say, for example, I’m looking to write a blog post for Triple Pundit about the impact of a town’s Master Plan. It is incredibly helpful to have a handful of relevant statistics at the ready about the ecological footprints of large lots versus small lots (8% less) versus townhouses (22% less) versus apartments in a high rise (40% less).
These stats are also powerful motivators for people to start green businesses. Clean Air Lawn Care was founded after Kelly Giard, the founder, read a statistic on how polluting the average lawn mower is. Giard, a competent ecopreneur, realized a competitive niche, a better way of doing business, and an opportunity to improve the world.
A friend suggested David Suzuki’s Green Guide as a great reference for some terrific stats. So, for those of you who don’t have the time to read the book (though I think it’s worth the time!), here is a summary of some of the best stats in the book. This post is limited just to the energy and water related stats, though the book covers travel, food, stuff, ecopsychology, and a variety of other information. If there is enough interest (comments posted), I will follow this post with stats on the other subjects.

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Volvo Dealer Offers Loaner Bicycles

| Monday April 27th, 2009 | 2 Comments

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It seems like it’s impossible to avoid news about the auto industry these days. Who is closing how many plants? Which company will buy out the other? GM this morning just announced its “survival plan” to avoid bankruptcy. Hybrid car sales dropped for the first time ever last year. Yet, amidst the looming dark clouds of an industry that held one of the largest footholds in our nation’s – and world’s – economy, Volvo with one simple gesture offered a shining light that all is not lost in the world of four-wheeled machines.
Clive Brook Volvo in Yorkshire, England announced last week that it would offer customers the option of taking a traditional loaner car or a loaner bicycle when they drop off their Volvo for servicing.
The dealership is touting it as an anti-crisis initiative. “It’s cheaper from a supply and insurance point of view but it’s also cheaper for customers as there is no need to fill a bicycle up with petrol and there is also the convenience factor,” Clive Brook, the managing director of the dealership, said in an interview. But according to PSFK, “The dealership [also] hopes that offering bicycles will motivate customers to think about green transportation and getting some fresh air and exercise.”

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Cultivating Change: Slow Money in Practice

| Monday April 27th, 2009 | 0 Comments

Slow%20Money%20Institute.jpgThe Slow Money movement calls for the creation of new capital markets–markets that channel the flow of investment to small enterprises to bring about sustainable growth in local economies. This grand vision strives to support “tens of thousands of independent, local-first enterprises at the base of the restorative economy.” And now, towards the middle of 2009, the practical fruition of this vision is beginning to unfold across the US.
Woody Tasch, chairman and president of Slow Money, argues that money moves too fast around the globe and that free markets don’t always know best. He dares us to step away from the overpowering “economic and fiduciary nonsense” that controls our financial system and reconsider how we invest for the rebuilding of communities and wealth, protection of the environment, and sustainable food production. Since our previous review of the pioneering book Inquiries Into the Nature of Slow Money, we can now see the snow-balling practical success of this initiative taking place throughout the nation.

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