Given our insatiable appetite for fresh water, we’re coming very close to conflict over this resource which is more precious than oil. The Financial Times reports today (via WBCSD)on a variety of ideas that are being used to reduce water consumption from industry. It’s a start – after all efficiency is the first step toward real environmental improvements. The best thing about this first step, of course, is that it also has financial bottom-line incentives to getting implemented: efficiency & innocation = more profit. Of course, efficiency won’t create more fresh water, but it’s heartening to see the FT reporting on this.
If you think Astroturf is just fake grass that you put on your deck, check out the extensive WikiPedia article on it’s being also a term that describes artificial grassroots campaigns. In a world increasingly interconnected by hard to verify websites, photos, and videos, the ease with which we can assume “that’s real” becomes harder and harder. That’s not to say misleading or overly rosy public relations campaigns are anything new, but this new breed of under-the-table campaigns poses a particular threat that must be addressed. Bruce Sterling draws our attention to it in his latest post on political astroturfing. Companies too, and their PR firms are increasingly finding ways to blur straightforward communication, sometimes for little more than brand awareness, but sometimes maliciously.
Many of these astroturf campaigns have been debunked, and bloggers in particular seem to have a knack for catching them in their tracks. The story of Al Gore’s Penguin Army and McDonald’s Lincoln Fry are two great examples of failed astroturf campaigns, the former insipid, the latter relatively harmless.
I’m still a bit of a utopian optimist when it comes to internet technology, but the rise of “astroturf” should keep us all on our toes.
JFS reports today that Honda has developed a plant-based “bio fabric” that can be used to cover car seats and other interior elements. The product is derived mostly from corn and is said to cost 10-15% less to produce in terms of energy with even more significant reductions in CO2 emissions as the plants it comes from would sequester a certain amount of CO2 during their growth. Finally, the material is supposed to be just as soft and durable as the petrol-based plastics we’ve gotten so used to.
The massive Hetch Hetchy reservoir, which provides almost 100% of San Francsico’s water and a fair amount of hydroelectric power would never be built today. For one thing, it’s actually inside Yosemite National Park. For another thing, its construction submerged one of the most beautiful and pristine valleys in the world. But in 1913, despite John Muir’s best efforts, building dams was a lot easier than it is today, and the O’Shaughnessy dam went up and Hetch Hetchy went under.
Now, a number of groups (hetchhetchy.org) are working hard to remove the dam and restore the valley to it’s pristine state. It’s a nobel task with a nobel purpose. Even so, my opinion is that the movement is tragically misguided and that leaving the dam in place for the forseeable future is a better solution. Here’s why:
The cost for removal of the dam and the construction of new replacement reserviors is estimated to be $3 billion to $10 billion – that’s an unacceptable cost for something that, in the context of a multitude of other priorities which that money could be spent on, is essentially asthetic. It also says nothing about the decline in the quality of water that will replace the purer water from Hetch Hetchy which I rather enjoy drinking. It also gives a bad name to environmentalists and makes us seem dangerously pushy in an era where much of the population still doesn’t quite “get it” when it comes to environmental and economic balance. Finally, what of a replacement for the clean hydroelectric power that the dam produces?
The loss of Hetch Hetchy was indeed a tragedy, but it’s a done deal and now is not the time to start talking about repairing it. Maybe in 50 years we can go there, but I think the issue should be laid to rest for the time being.
(See more in this eMagazine article)
Ed Note:I’m happy to announce Jenni Lukac from Barcelona as a 3P contributor. This is the first of 5 in depth pieces that should add a little more variety to the site, as well as a bit of European flair! Withour further ado…
If I mention the names Amancio Ortega and Inditex to anyone outside of Spain I usually receive the puzzled response, “Who?” If I mention these names in Spain, they are almost universally received with a mixture of sincere admiration and ill-dissimulated envy – and I know what the other is thinking: “Him, again. How on earth does he do it?” Son of a railway employee from León, 70-year-old Ortega is the founder of Inditex, the richest man in Spain, the seventh richest in Europe and recently ranked 23rd in Forbes´ list of wealthy individuals worldwide.
Zara, the largest of Amancio Ortega’s companies and the flagship of his Inditex empire, recently moved up from 77th to 73rd place in Businessweek´s list of the 100 World’s Best Brands, the first Spanish firm to rank in Businessweek´s top 100 and the highest ranked name in fashion. The company also scored an astounding fourth place in Google’s Europe and Africa rankings, following Nokia, Ikea and Skype and ahead of fifth place BMW. Since 2002, Inditex has formed a part of the Dow Jones Sustainability Index and the FTSE4Good Index. No other Spanish company can compare with the rate of expansion and the CSR and environmental protection credibility that Inditex has sustained over the years. Having eclipsed his domestic counterparts and outpaced the foreign competition, such as H&M, Ortega’s empire stands in a class of its own.
Warren Kalenzig from SustainLane has a nice little piece on his personal site about various “green city” planning techniques which is well worth reading. It’s mostly focused on heat and energy issues. His post got me thinking – part of the problem with cities today is that people are not aware of the zillions of ways their communities could be greener – and at the same time be more asthetically appealing, cooler, less costly, and just about every other positive adjective you could think of. Giving people interesting examples of cool, green ways to do things seems to almost always help. So here are a few to pass around this weekend…
The EastGate center in Harare Zimbabwe. This building is modeled after a termite mound and is entirely cooled by passive circulation of air. Folks in Phoenix could learn a thing or two from it.
Recycling Coal into Pavement. If we must burn coal, it’s nice to be able to do something with the fly ash. Here’s a sweet example of taking what was once sent to a landfill and using it to build an airport runway.
On second thought, make that pavement permeable and green. Hardscaping our cities with impermeable ashpalt causes no end of problems with storm water, polluted runoff and heat island effects. Letting water, and in some cases grass, soak through the surface keeps pollution in check, stops stormwater problems and replenishes groundwater. It also cuts air conditioning bills. Check out Grasspave2 and Gravelpave.
If you’ve never had a chance to hear Gil Friend talk about implementing metrics for understanding sustainability, you’ve got an opportunity this Monday online. Have a peek at the details and consider registering. Even though it’s not in person, I have guarantee that Gil can lend a lot of direction to your thinking when it comes to quantifiable ways to understand sustainability through indicators, metrics, and KPIs.
Monday, August 21, 2006
12:00pm to 1:00pm Pacific (3:00pm – 4:00pm Eastern)
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
10:00am to 11:00am Pacific (1:00pm – 2:00pm Eastern)
In response to the various propaganda videos such as the now infamous “CO2 is Life” advertisements put out by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, various environmental organizations are funding programs of their own. Most recently brought to my attention is a frightening short by Environmental Defense and the NRDC which outlines the crisis of global warming and points a finger at the “oil and gas lobby” for holding progress back. It’s very dramatic, and from an asthetic point of view it’s almost as nail bitingly awful as this wacky radio spot (listen here) put out by an industry funded group called SEECalifornia. The assembly bills the ads are referring to are specific to California, but the style is not. They propose various caps on emissions be put in place statewide.
Although I give NRDC and Environmental Defense the benefit of the doubt, I really wish the “other side” of the battle didn’t have to stoop to the same overdramatic, vague propaganda to get their point across. To me it simply underscores the communication gap that exists between industry and environmentalists that keeps flights brewing and prevents real dialogue. Then again, maybe I’m overestimating the depth to which the average TV viewer thinks.
Watch the film on the next page…. what do you think?
Without getting into the tragedy that toothpaste will no longer be allowed in carry on luggage on airplanes, I’ve just been sent a press release from Eco-Dent who proclaim that their Toothpowder product is, in fact, legal in hand luggage. Iv’e used their product before, and it’s actually pretty neat. Still, I’m not 100% sure why eco-dent is more ecologically friendly than regular toothpaste aside from the fact that you can fit more of it in a bottle, and because it’s lighter, it presumably uses marginally less fossil fuels to transport.
Either way, in issuing their release, the company is certainly finding a great way to capitalize on the current airline security situation. At first I was slightly taken-aback at the choice to jump in and profit from such a thing, but as I think about it I have to admit – eco dent is stepping in to provide a real need that people have right when they need it most. That’s a great entrepreneurial move. And if the product is indeed more ecologically minded, so much the better.
It’s easy to pick on McDonalds, so when tempted, I try to do so with a grain of salt. Still, for a company who is doing the right thing in so many places, it’s rather ironic to see them giving away toy Hummers in happy meals. It’s not quite as bad as giving away, say, cigarettes, but it definitely sends an odd message from a company that claims publicly to have environmental and social interests at their heart.
Although a toy Hummer might not *really* be such a big deal, finding one in your happy meal just adds weight to he Hummer’s inescapable symbolism in a way that’s almost cliche. Sending a message of gluttony to kids just ain’t right. I’m guessing GM shelled out a lot of cash for this, which puts some shame on them as well, but sheesh, I’m surprised McDonalds went ahead with this program knowing the glaring target it makes them. See Ronald McHummer for more.
You may have seen advertisements on this and other sites touting Ford’s “Bold Move”, a marketing foray aimed at dramatically illustrating Ford’s attempts to publicly admit their faults and ask for public guidance to move the company in a greener, more successful direction. The ad itself derides Ford as having the “worst fuel efficiency records of any car company” and links to a smartly designed page with videos showing Ford’s management in frank discussion about the company’s weaknesses and the challenges in faces, not only environmentally, but also in terms of management, labor and more.
BlogAds founder Henry Copeland refers to this ad as being the first “Cluetrain Ad” – the first, and hopefully not the last example of a company ditching canned corporate-speak and attempting to open themselves up to a “real conversation”. Jalopnik rightly points out that buying up the blogosphere is a strange way to go about this, but it certainly has garnered the campaign a lot of attention and started innumerable conversations here and elsewhere.
Although it’s obviously an expensive PR campaign, it’s a pretty interesting site that seems to have been created with new ideas in mind, even if they do go a little over the top dramatizing it. If the “conversation” that’s occuring on the Ford site itself is still a little bit forced, perhaps by creating it, the less-canned conversations on this site and elsewhere will indeed spawn ideas that Ford may monitor and take to heart.
The annual west coast celebration of counter cultural creative exuberance known as Burning Man will enjoy carbon offsets this year courtesy of a project known as, you guessed it, Cooling Man. The event features 30,000 (give or take) participants who gather in the Nevada desert in what is meant to be a “leave no trace” event. For the most part, the event is astonishingly smoothly run in terms of cleaning up after itself and embracing a positively environmental philosophy (despite the torching of many a large piece of art). Nonetheless, the folks at the Cooling Man project have created an online tool at www.coolingman.org that will help festival goers estimate the pollution footprint that their participation generates – and offers various options to help offset it.
Though not specifically related to environmental or social sustainability, the Fast Company Blog-a-Thon is underway and is well worth checking out. It’s a 2 day carnival of sorts at what is arguably one of the most important new business publications out there featuring posting by the likes of Joel Makower, Craig Newmark, Lloyd Alter and many more. There are already about 20 great posts up there worth reading and plenty more are coming in the next 24 hours.
It’s that time again – Monday – time to check out the weekly carnival of the green! This time the carnival remains in London and is dealt out at the hands of a Kiwi known as The Camden Kiwi (for the London neighborhood, Camden). As usual, the carnival is a great little wrap up of green posts and news from various blogs around the world. Be sure to check it out! (link here)
PS – I’ll be autoposting today and tommorow as I’m off in the Sierras having a smashing little vacation.