Office Furniture and Sustainability: Steelcase Releases CSR Report

| Wednesday July 29th, 2009 | 0 Comments


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

Interesting 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


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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Experiential Marketing: Greening A High Impact Industry

| Monday July 27th, 2009 | 2 Comments

ignition Reduces the Footprint of Live Events

cokeAs traditional forms of advertising decline, companies are continually looking for new ways to connect with consumers. Many are turning to live events, known also as experiential marketing, as a way to bring their brands to life. Today’s experiential events have evolved from the days of flashy PR stunts to become designed emotive experiences intended to create a lasting emotional connection between a brand and its target market. All the research suggests these designed experiences are working. Good news for the brand; bad news for the planet. These events can also be huge energy hogs and environmental disasters as far as footprint (think NASCAR).

Thankfully, many brands that are concerned about their footprint are also demanding strict green guidelines for their live events, but it’s the job of experiential marketing firms like ignition to make sure these guidelines get implemented. The Atlanta-based ignition has worked with some big sponsors and events like: Live Earth, Coke, Delta Airlines, Nokia, Earthlink, the FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour, and the Olympic Torch Relay to name a few. The company incorporates varied conservation and offsetting practices across all of their campaigns, and they’re currently developing the first environmental standards for their industry.

I connected with ignition at the Sustainable Brands 09 conference, and later followed up with Mike Hersom, President, to learn more about the company and their efforts to develop green standards for the experiential marketing sector.

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Selling More than Post-Its: How Give Something Back Leads the Office Supply Pack

3p Contributor | Monday July 27th, 2009 | 4 Comments

postits-Zach_ManchesterUKHow many Staples do you have in your neighborhood? I count three of the ubiquitous office supply stores within a 2.5-mile radius of my place. I’m about to introduce you to a man who doesn’t just provide an alternative experience to the titanic chain, but runs an incredibly successful business.

But first, let’s understand how big Staples really is. As the largest office supplier in the world and pioneer of the office superstore concept, Staples netted $23 billion in sales in 2008, or twice as much as Office Depot.

So how does one man earn a chunk of Staples’ market share by doing good and earning a profit?

I interviewed Mike Hannigan who founded Give Something Back with Sean Marx in 1991.  Give Something Back is now the West Coast’s largest independent office supplier with corporate offices in three cities and 12,000 clients and 40 distribution centers nationwide. You’re reading about Give Something Back now, not because of the company’s overnight delivery or tremendous selection of recycled products, but because it donates all after-tax profits to nonprofits through a balloting system that involves its customers and employees. Based on Newman’s Own business model, Give Something Back has donated more than $4 million (80% of its accumulated profits) to nonprofit organizations in the last 18 years. In 2007, Mike and his team did $26 million in sales.

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Tomatoes On A Hot Tin Roof

| Monday July 27th, 2009 | 0 Comments

uncommonfarm.jpgMuch of the food that we eat travels across long distances before it gets to our plate. The distancing of consumer from producer has environmental, social and economic consequences and will continue to be an issue since earth’s population is now more urban than rural. Not only does food travel from coast to coast, but it also travels across borders. According to data from the USDA, in 2007 the United States imported 3.2 million metric tons of vegetables and 1.8 million metric tons of fruits from Mexico. In 2008, the United States imported about $10 billion more in food, feed and beverages than it exported and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspectors were only able to physically examine 1.3 percent of these imports.

The food miles associated with imports presents an environmental concern and the differences in pesticide usage and health regulations abroad, not to mention the threat of agro-terrorism, presents an alarming safety concern. Safety considerations and the recognition of environmental degradation through the relocation of resources to serve urban populations have recently inspired innovative farming schemes. Rooftop farming in urban centers is part of the growing urban agricultural movement and provides a host of social and environmental benefits including beautifying the city, producing food for inhabitants, reducing building energy costs, cooling the urban island and filtering storm water.

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Is Universal Health Care Good for the Environment But Bad for Business? Part I

Andy Greene | Monday July 27th, 2009 | 0 Comments

Universal health care has been the hot topic in the past couple of weeks. Since the climate change bill passed through the House of Representatives, focus has shifted to the health care front. Is it possible that President Obama’s proposal for universal health care could be good for the environment, but bad for your business? Let’s take a closer look at the effect on the environment.

Pros for the Environment

1. Less Paperwork – President Obama has touted universal health care’s ability to eliminate inefficiencies in the current system. This would lead to less duplicate paperwork, including insurance forms and claim approvals. Less paperwork is always a good thing for the environment. Anyone who has had to fill out HIPAA paperwork every time they go to the doctor’s office knows how much paper is wasted in a medical setting.

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Dwell on Design: ecofabulous and eBay Collaborate on Reclaimed Space Prefab

3p Contributor | Monday July 27th, 2009 | 0 Comments

green team

Reclaimed Space Prefab

One of the most exciting parts of the Dwell on Design event in June was the collaboration between eBay, ecofabulous, and Reclaimed Space. The 400 square foot prefab cabin, which was designed using high quality vintage, repurposed, and restyled items found on eBay was sold on the online auction site for $75,000, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting Habitat for Humanity.

Ecofabulous’ collaboration with eBay’s Green Team spotlighted the growing trend of using reclaimed, repurposed, and sustainable products to create décor that is planet friendly, beautiful, and affordable.

eBay Green Team’s Annie Lescroart answered a few questions that came from some of the visitors of the showhouse about the innovative project and the emerging business and consumer trends surrounding vintage and reclaimed materials.

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ecofabulous Founder on the 3 R’s: “Reuse, Repurpose, and Restyle”

3p Contributor | Monday July 27th, 2009 | 0 Comments

ecofabulous reclaimed space interior At this year’s Dwell on Design, held last month in Los Angeles, Zem Joaquin shared her unique vision on the concept of garbage. Ever since Jack Johnson turned “reduce, reuse, recycle” into something you hum on your drive into work or school, people have been rethinking the notion of trash…and some more than others.

The go-to eco-expert and founder of ecofabulous, Joaquin and her team applied their very compelling approach in the Reclaimed Space Showhouse. Custom designed and built by Austin-based prefab builder, Reclaimed Space, the 400 square foot home’s interior was designed using high quality vintage, repurposed, and restyled items found on eBay and local antique stores.

Joaquin sat down at the event to field some questions on her innovative and stylish design.

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