Microcharity Shows Donors the Money

| Friday July 31st, 2009 | 2 Comments

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In some ways, donating to a charity can be like cleaning a really dirty house: when a cleaning sesh provides really visible results, it provides a heightened sense of satisfaction, thereby encouraging future clean up endeavors. A remarkable new startup, the Jolkona Foundation, is banking on this parallel. The organization encourages young donors to give (even contributions as small as 5 dollars) by obviating the results of each donation.

The Washington State-based organization seeks to fulfill a simple mission: to “build awareness and mobilize our youth to support successful community development projects around the world.” SpringWise.com reports that Jolkona targets donors between the ages of 15 and 35, using technology and social networking to add a sense of “pop appeal” (and immediacy) to charitable giving. It also allows donors to see the small-but-collectively-potent impact of each donation – hence the organization’s name, which means “drop of water” in Bengali.

The process is relatively straightforward. Donors create an online account in the Jolkona system. They may then choose from a variety of projects, basing their choices on criteria such as location, price, and focus area (public health, education, environment, empowerment, or cultural identity). Donors contribute online (securely) via Google Checkout, and their monies are tracked henceforth; Jolkona informs donors of their donation’s impact through online photos, stories, and other means.

Jolkona is involved in a number of projects, ranging from the (fair) trade of products hand-crafted by Bangladeshi women to the sale of pottery hand-hewn by Nicaraguan potters. Recently, Jolkona even rewarded donors – and benefitted several Indian, Ethiopian, and Haitian communities – by planting trees in those areas (one tree for every supporter on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn, for a total of 750 trees).

How is Jolkona able to sustain its operations? By its self-described “no-nonsense” approach. The Foundation minimizes costs by partnering with existing projects. It also depends on technology for marketing, fundraising, and follow-up – operations Jolkona pays for through the Kona Fund, which is supported by private corporate donations. Jolkona maintains donor satisfaction through transparent reporting and the giving of 100 percent of donors’ gifts to their chosen project.

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The “Green Trade War” – Business Groups up in Arms over Carbon Tariffs

| Friday July 31st, 2009 | 0 Comments

 

“Business Groups: U.S. Faces ‘Green Trade War’ over Carbon Tariffs.” When I read this Environmental Leader headline, the idealist in me sighed. Wouldn’t it be nice if passing environmentally helpful legislation was, well, easy? In reality, though, businesses are expressing strong concerns – and warnings – as legislators attempt to shape a more eco-friendly economy.

According to a Reuters report, four powerful U.S. business groups (including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Foreign Trade Council) wrote a letter to Congress warning against levying tariffs against carbon-intensive products. Doing so, the letter said, could start a “green trade war,” disrupting global trade systems, violating U.S. trade obligations, and negatively impacting the nation’s relations with key trading partners. The letter reportedly advised “international cooperation” instead of “unilateral ultimatums.”

Not exactly music to legislators’ ears, given the already-intense debate in the Senate over passing Obama’s climate change legislation, which passed in the House last month. (The bill is due to pass the Senate in September.) Senators have debated everything from the bill’s provisions to its language. The bill, which is designed to reduce U.S. CO2 emissions by 83 percent by 2050, includes a “border adjustment” program that would, if passed in its current form, allow additional tariffs on carbon-intensive goods (i.e. steel, cement, and paper) from countries not doing enough to trim their emissions (per the U.S.’s estimation).

U.S. businesses are not alone in their objections to the bill. China, India, and other developing countries have also objected strongly to it, asserting that the U.S. (and other emissions-heavy developed nations) should take responsibility for curbing emissions.

Climate change will, expectedly, be high on the White House’s agenda next week, when it will host talks with Chinese Vice President Premier Wang Qishan and other Chinese officials. (The U.S. is second only to China in per-capita greenhouse gas emissions, and the two countries combined account for approximately 40 percent of emissions annually.)

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Australian Prime Minister Fights Unemployment, Seeks to Create Green Jobs

| Friday July 31st, 2009 | 0 Comments

kevin-rudd-aussie-pmIt’s a great day, apparently, for Australian green job enthusiasts. Australia’s Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, promised today to create 50,000 such jobs (and apprenticeships) and tackle climate change, the Boston Globe reports. His promise is part of a greater pledge to prioritize environmental legislation while tackling the country’s burgeoning unemployment problem.

The PM’s 94 million Australian dollar ($77 million) green jobs package will support a number of programs designed to equip Australians for employment in the emerging eco-friendly economy. These programs include 30,000 apprentice programs (offering training in sustainable building practices); creation of 10,000 Green Jobs Corps positions (offering training and public works jobs for unemployed youth); and creation of 10,000 additional jobs that encourage sustainability and green building practices.

President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions reportedly described the green job plan a “great step forward.” The plan is also, judging from unemployment statistics, direly necessary: analysts predict Australia’s unemployment rate will rise almost 30 percent next year (from its current 5.8 percent to a whopping 8.5 percent).

In an effort to curb Australia’s CO2 emissions, Rudd, a member of the Labor Party, is also seeking to pass some tough climate legislation, which most opposition parties oppose. (Climate change is a hot topic among Australia’s legislators, many of whom are embroiled over the issue.) The legislation goes before the Senate for a second round of voting next month. If it doesn’t pass, the government may have to call a snap election.

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Cambridge Outlines “Critical” Options to Reduce Transportation GHGs

Bill DiBenedetto | Friday July 31st, 2009 | 0 Comments

moving cooler imageAs long as gasoline-powered vehicles ply the nation’s highways reducing transportation pollution is perhaps the most critical element in the effort to slash greenhouse gas emissions, according to a report from group of federal agencies and advocacy groups, including the Environmental Defense Fund.

Once that realization sinks fully in and actions are implemented it will still take a long time, like 40 years, before significantly measurable reductions actually occur.

Will it be too-little-too-late? Possibly but that’s not the theme of Moving Cooler: Transportation Strategies to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions, a study released Tuesday by Cambridge Systematics, a transportation consulting firm.

The 97-page report outlines six “strategy bundles,” including various pricing strategies such as congestion pricing, pay-as-you drive insurance and vehicle miles traveled, that if implemented in their entirety would result in annual GHG reductions of up to 47 percent annually by 2050. Pricing strategies are always controversial and political hot spots; without those in place, the GHG reductions drop dramatically to 24 percent a year by 2050.

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Senate Passes Energy and Water Bill – Will Close Nuclear Waste Storage Facility

| Friday July 31st, 2009 | 0 Comments

nuclear-storage-cartoonBig news in the environmental legislation world: the Senate passed a $34.3 billion energy spending bill yesterday that will cover hundreds of Army Corps of Engineers water projects and allow for the closing of the Yucca Mountain (Nevada) nuclear waste facility. (Obama promised, during his campaign, to close the facility.)

According to an NPR report, the federal government has scrapped plans to open the Yucca Mountain facility, although it is 25 years (and $13.5 billion) in the making. Closing the Yucca Mountain facility will leave the nation without a long-term nuclear waste storage solution. (Radioactive waste is now stored, instead, on nuclear plant grounds [and storage containers] around the country.) A 1987 law requiring that nuclear waste be stored at Yucca Mountain is still on the books, so the facility could, in theory, be re-opened (in which case, the bill affirms, the facility would still receive $196.8 million for work on the site).

The funds will also cover a variety of water, energy, and transportation projects: clean energy research, improvement of mass transit (including the Washington Metro and Amtrak systems), cleaner-fueled buses, airport improvements, high-speed rail systems, and (hotly debated) subsidies for rural air travel. The bill also includes an amendment that will allow for water transfers (from the eastern portion of California’s Central Valley to the western portion of the San Joaquin Valley) to mitigate the effects of drought in the region.

The bill essentially freezes spending for the programs it covers (this distinguishes it most other bills for the 2010 budget year beginning on October 1, which contain spending increases in excess of inflation).

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Spanish Study Claims Each Green Job Costs More than Two Traditional Ones

| Friday July 31st, 2009 | 0 Comments

windturbinefireThere are too many economists. That, it seems, is the surest deduction one could make about a new Spanish study, which claims that for every renewable energy job financed by the government, approximately 2.2 traditional jobs are lost.

The key phrase is “financed by the government.” The study (PDF), written by Professor Gabriel Calzada Álvarez of Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, is essentially another salvo in an ideological war over opportunity costs, state subsidies and climate change. The argument, in a nutshell, is that when the government mandates that money be spent on a certain industry, such as wind turbines or solar panels, as is the case in Spain, it sucks away money from private enterprise, which, as the old saw goes, knows how to allocate resources the best.

Like on Wall Street. Or those free-and-efficient energy markets created by Enron.

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The Latest Open Source Innovators: Nike and Best Buy?

| Friday July 31st, 2009 | 3 Comments

Nike and Creative Commons are not two organizations you’d typically hear in the same sentence. And especially not working together. Try, “…a project of Nike, Creative Commons, and Best Buy.” That’s what GreenXchange is. Here’s a video laying the groundwork:

GreenXchange is a part of CC’s Science Commons project. As in other Creative Commons efforts, this is about sharing knowledge so that others can create new works based on this knowledge, building upon it in ways that weren’t anticipated by the originator. The GreenXChange website goes into some depth as to the how and why the acceleration of sustainable innovation is important and possible, but these three sentences from their pdf on the project sum it up quite well, in a way that the most tight fisted businesses can understand:

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The Walmart Sustainability Index: The Private Label Innovation Push

| Thursday July 30th, 2009 | 0 Comments

Since the unveiling of Walmart’s Sustainability Index on July 16th, the industry has been abuzz trying to assess the potential implications. While much of the press headlines have focused on the Index as a green product rating scheme, which may be 5 years away, a key point seems to be getting lost in the shuffle. Walmart has been working for over a year on applying the basic framework of the Index to its own private label brands, such as Great Value.

Andrea Thomas, SVP, Private Brands at Walmart shared at the meeting how they are building sustainability into the supply chain to drive quality improvements and cost efficiencies today. They have 12 innovation projects currently in development. Encouraging to see Walmart  applying Sustainability Index framework today with their own brands and raising the bar for their suppliers at the same time.

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Bottled Water Offered on AirTran Flights Touted as Green

| Thursday July 30th, 2009 | 7 Comments

Icelandic GlacialAirTran is a budget airline that you’re most likely familiar with for popping up on all the flight promo aggregators online. Today, they made an interesting announcement. They will feature the world’s first Carbon Neutral water.

Carbon Neutral water you say? Yes, starting today, passengers on AirTran flights will get treated to bottles of Icelandic Glacial, water made with fully recyclable PET plastic from a Carbon Neutral certified bottler in Iceland.

Citing an AirTran press release, “Icelandic Glacial is a pioneer in water with environmentally responsible consumer products including industry leading Carbon Neutral certified bottled water, great taste, exceptional Icelandic purity, fully recyclable PET bottle sizes, and award winning bottle design.”

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Are Carbon Tariffs a Good Idea?

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
| Thursday July 30th, 2009 | 0 Comments

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Imposing a tax on imported goods that are carbon-intensive is an idea being tossed around as much these days as driftwood on a shore. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said, “If other countries don’t impose a cost on carbon, then we will be at a disadvantage…[and] we would look at considering perhaps duties that would offset that cost.”

Earlier this month, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke mentioned carbon tariffs while speaking to the American Chamber of Commerce in Shangai. “It’s important that those who consume the products being made all around the world to the benefit of America — and it’s our own consumption activity that’s causing the emission of greenhouse gases, then quite frankly Americans need to pay for that,” he said. Locke later told reporters that Chinese officials expressed concerned about carbon tariffs. “They feel in essence it’s a tax on their carbon activity,” Locke said.

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All-Electric Commercial Vehicles: Now Available in the U.S.

| Thursday July 30th, 2009 | 4 Comments

Photo Credit: Vi Photography

I have heard the future.  And it sounds… quiet.  As a new transplant to DC, I started accepting road noise and grimy air as inevitabilities of city life.  On Tuesday, Bryan Hansel, CEO of Smith Electric Vehicles, showed me an alternative.  (Thank you, Bryan.)

On Tuesday, at the footsteps of the US Capitol, six companies accepted keys to their brand-new Smith Newton vehicles, the world’s largest all-electric truck.

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Building an Organizational Culture of Sustainability: Compliance to Commitment

| Thursday July 30th, 2009 | 0 Comments

tai-chi“Have To” vs “Want To”

We all know individuals who are committed to living sustainably, conscious of the impact their daily lives have on the environment. They may take public transport, bike, or walk wherever they can, rather than drive. Perhaps they recycled their bottles long before it became popular, or used their kitchen and garden waste to make compost. Like some people, there are companies that were ahead of the curve, openly calling out sustainability as an integral part of their mission – companies like Seventh Generation, The Body Shop, and Whole Foods.

Today, it’s no longer just these true believers who embrace sustainability. There is an ever-growing number of individuals and companies who take sustainability very seriously, even though they never started out with that conscious intention. How does that (rather dramatic) change come about?

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Sensors Will Not Remedy Agribusiness Ills

Tori Okner | Thursday July 30th, 2009 | 1 Comment

hog farm imageWith swine flue spreading around the world, the Israeli company Cartasense captured much of the media spotlight at the spring Agritech conference in Tel Aviv. Cartasense is developing, “solutions for real time monitoring of agriculture goods…based on low cost tags.” Their sensors record conditions wirelessly; their pitch suggests increased access to health data can improve oversight and prevent the spread of disease.

With the rapid transmission of swine flu and the emerging link to the food industry, there’s a growing hunger for good news about agribusiness. According to Agritech co-Chair and Director of foreign relations for Israel’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Arie Regev, the exhibition targets a foreign audience.

Yet, there’s a disconnect between their marketing and the industry they’re trying to woo…

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Greenpeace Goes Guerilla in its War with HP

| Thursday July 30th, 2009 | 1 Comment

hp-greenpeace-roofGreenpeace has started a war of sorts. Ironic? Not really, considering its adversary, Hewlett Packard (HP), and the two organizations’ history of contempt. The eco activist network has taken on HP, which Greenpeace claims is producing hazardous chemicals and not making sufficient efforts to change its ways.

It all began in 2007, when HP promised to phase out dangerous substances, including BFR flame retardants and PVC plastics, from its products. (BFRs and PVC are highly toxic, and, when burned, release a chemical known to cause cancer.) HP lagged on fulfilling its promise, and in March 2009, Greenpeace rated HP low on Greenpeace’s Green Meter (HP’s e-waste rating was among the lowest of all PC makers rated). When this tactic did not prompt a change in HP’s behavior, Greenpeace, apparently, snapped. Today, it sent activists to the HP headquarters in Palo Alto, California. Its tactics, this time, were a bit rogue: activists painted an 11,500-square-foot “Hazardous Products” message on HP buildings (in non-toxic finger-paint). Actor William Shatner also pitched in by leaving automated messages for HP employees, requesting that they address the problem.

HP’s position on the issue is, according to an email reported by Cnet News, quite different: it claims to have a commitment to “reducing the use of BFR/PVC in [its] products until these materials are eliminated entirely. [It] has introduced several new… products this year that use less BFR/PVC than previous generations.” It also claims to be a “worldwide leader in e-waste recycling.”

It looks like the war games may continue unresolved….

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Small-time Wind Energy – Too Good to be True?

| Thursday July 30th, 2009 | 2 Comments

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When I heard the government had created incentives to encourage individuals to install small wind turbines at their homes and businesses, I was stoked. Perhaps the incentive would bring alternative energy into people’s living rooms, so to speak – out of the abstract and into real life. But a recent EcoGeek.org review of one wind power product – the Honeywell Home Wind Turbine by EarthTronics – has me wondering: will consumer disillusionment by potential flaws in small-time wind energy sources impede the renewable energy movement?

The EcoGeek reviewer watched Honeywell’s promotional video, which describes the six-foot-wide turbine as being able to generate more than 1,500 kilowatts per year, meet 30 percent of consumers’ energy needs (when run in conjunction with a fluorescent light bulb, which comes with the turbine), and pay for itself in one to three years (in many states). The turbine costs $4,500.

The EcoGeek reviewer’s beef with Honeywell’s claims was, primarily, that the promo video did not qualify its figures. It should have mentioned, for example, that it its definition of the “average household’s energy consumption” as being 10- to 11,000 kilowatts per year – lower, the EcoGeek reviewer believes, than the energy consumption of households most likely to purchase the turbine. Moreover, with an initial investment of $4,500, and an anticipated electricity cost of 12 cents per kilowatt in 2010, how can the turbine pay for itself in just three years? (At 12 cents per kilowatt and, say, 1,580 kilowatts per year, the turbine would only produce $189.60 in electricity per year – a rate at which it would take consumers 23 years to pay off the $4,500.)

The reviewer goes on to imply that emerging “everyday Joe” renewable energy sources may just be fads, comparable to those of the computer industry in the early 90’s (consumers plopped down money for the latest, greatest technology, which turned out to be obsolete). This conclusion is understandable, given his take on the Honeywell turbine. Let’s just hope that the wind energy industry will be similar to the computer industry in other ways: able to make progress as technology improves, to become a household name, and, ultimately, to secure a lasting place in the renewable energy industry worldwide.

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