Transit and Trails: Connecting People to Nature on Public Transit

| Saturday October 31st, 2009 | 4 Comments

City bus gg80_to_sf_webNature pic sunset_matt_davis_fog2_web

Don’t own a car, but want to get out to one of the Bay Area’s hundreds of parks and trails? Or perhaps, you are trying to reduce your carbon footprint and wondering how to get to your favorite hike without using your car?

Transit and Trails is a new resource for outdoor enthusiasts who want to leave their cars behind and easily get information on how to take the bus (or ferry) to reach Bay Area hiking trails and campgrounds.

A project of the Bay Area Open Space Council (BAOSC), the new interactive website identifies hundreds of trailheads and 150 campgrounds to explore across the Bay Area’s 1.2 million acres of preserved lands. Just enter your starting location, and roughly how far you want to venture, and the site suggests possible hikes and featured trips. Once you decide where you want to go, it connects with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s 511 Transit Trip Planner to provide a detailed trip itinerary, complete with a map, transit times, fares and walking directions to and from the transit stop.

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Eco-rate Aids Eco-Minded Buyers

Bill DiBenedetto | Friday October 30th, 2009 | 0 Comments


eco_houseIt’s a Consumer Reports or CNET type of comparison shopping service for the eco-conscious crowd.

Eco-rate is the brainchild and a labor of environmental love and activism founded by a Seattle couple, Brycelaine Self and Colby Self.

“The Eco-rate idea is to allow people to compare common household products, based not only on their green attributes, but also on their affordability,” says Brycelaine Self, co-founder of Eco-rate and principal of a related green building, green marketing and energy consulting company, Eco-innovations.

Launched in mid-May, they spent more than two years designing and developing the Web-based product and technology rating and comparison resource for shoppers looking to make ecologically-intelligent choices on just about any product out there, from autos to dishwashers to TVs to paint to water heaters.

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EcoUnit Partners with Organic Valley to Supercharge Sustainable Consumer Behavior

| Friday October 30th, 2009 | 2 Comments


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


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


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


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 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


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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Copenhagen and the Art of the Possible

| Thursday October 29th, 2009 | 0 Comments

by Kate Eyler-Werve, Senior Outreach Strategist, Saatchi & Saatchi S

Word on the street is that the Copenhagen climate change talks will not result in a treaty this year. Most of the reactions I’ve seen tend to fall into two camps: “this delay is the triumph of Evil Corporate Interests™ over the common good” and “this is a victory of economic rationality over Tree Hugging Hippies™.”  Needless to say, these are not especially useful frames. So what are we to make of this delay?

The most important thing to remember is that the world has moved from a scientific debate about whether or not climate change is happening to a policy debate about what we’re going to do about it. It may not always feel that way when polls show that Americans are getting more doubtful about the existence of climate change,  but when the Pentagon, Desmond Tutu, and the World Bank are working on the same problem that’s a good sign that action is in the offing.

Politics, however, is the art of the possible.  According to the NYT, Yvo De Boer, the Dutch diplomat who oversees the negotiations, thinks hammering out a good agreement will take at least another year: “There isn’t sufficient time to get the whole thing done. The form I would like [the session] to take is the groundwork for a ratifiable agreement next year.”

Do we have another year to burn on this? I think we do. The interests and issues around managing climate change are complicated in the extreme, and we need to get this treaty right.  Let’s take a look at some of the key issues that need untangling:


“The reality that we face is that the cause of the fundamental emissions which result in global warming are to a large extent the responsibility … of developed countries,” Alf Wills, South Africa’s top climate negotiator, according to the NYT.


If there’s one thing all the major players agree on, it’s that climate-change triggered drought, disease, and displacement will disproportionately affect the residents of the countries that contributed the least to the problem in the first place.  The leaders of developing countries are keenly aware of this injustice, and are determined not to agree to a treaty that would require them to limit their economic growth to meet CO2 reduction targets.

In fact, India and China just signed a pact to unite against a climate treaty that requires developing countries to adhere to binding emission limits. Their united front will lend serious negotiating strength to the Group of 77 developing countries who are all striving to balance their responsibilities towards creating economic growth with the imperative to mitigate climate change. However, this anti-binding cuts stance is not sitting well with developed countries.


“We don’t want to close a steel mill in Canada and import steel from China. We don’t want to close a coal- powered generating station in Ontario and then import dirty coal- fired electricity from Michigan.” Canadian Environment Minister John Baird, according to Bloomberg

China has overtaken the United States as the world’s largest emitter of CO2, with India on track to become the third largest emitter by 2015. A treaty that places no binding emissions restrictions on developing countries would not only hand a strong economic advantage to two of the biggest contributors to the problem, it also opens the door to a scenario in which rising emissions from developing countries negate all the cuts developed countries make.  That is a risk that  developed countries are unprepared to take, especially in the midst of an already painful economic downturn. This is the reason President Bush refused to push for the ratification of the Kyoto treaty, and President Obama has signaled that he may not accept a treaty that doesn’t include binding limits.


“Maldivians have lived in these islands for over 2,000 years; and we don’t want to trade paradise for an environmental refugee camp,” President of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed.

A rise in world temperatures will have a net negative impact worldwide, but again some regions will be hit harder than others and most of those regions are in the developing world. So who should pay for developing nations to adapt to climate change: the governments themselves or the countries that emitted all the CO2 on their path to robust economic growth? A recent World Bank study estimates the costs for developing countries of adapting to climate change at about $100 billion per year for the next forty years, which is about twice as much as current levels of aid.  Developed countries want any aid money to be tied to binding emissions cuts in developing countries, a stance that the G77 strongly opposes.


“We’ve been taught, especially in America, that happiness will be at the end of some sort of material road, where we have lots and lots of things that we want,” Peter Whybrow, author of American Mania: When More Is Not Enough, according to Wired.

Successfully adapting to a carbon constrained world will ultimately require a shift in how we think about some of our deepest values and associations. How many of us equate a big juicy steak with celebration? How many of us see soft, air-dried toilet paper made from old growth forests as a non-negotiable comfort?  These things may seem trivial, but they are symptomatic of a strong strain in American culture of equating success with consumption. That’s a mighty hard mindset to change, and it’s a very easy one to export to other countries.  The negotiators hammering out that treaty are attuned to the willingness of the people they represent to make the changes that an effective treaty will require.

So What Can We Do?

This is quite a list of issues to untangle. In fact, I’d say that the negotiations around hammering out an effective climate change treaty are the most complicated that the international community has ever attempted. We have to get this right.  A one year delay is worth it if it results in a treaty that has the kind of buy-in to make it stick.

In the meantime, what can we do? Ultimately the responsibility for tackling climate change rests with all of us: the actions we take every day and the messages we send the leaders who are hammering out solutions at the legislative and corporate level. If you want to see a real climate treaty ratified, the most important thing you can do now is work to create powerful social movements to support action on climate change.

So tell me: what’s your PSP?

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What About the People?

| Thursday October 29th, 2009 | 0 Comments

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

thermostat fun
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,, where such a letter exists, and click “send.”
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