Nano-Threat: Risk and Reality

| Wednesday March 12th, 2008 | 2 Comments

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Broadly considered, there’s probably no field of applied scientific research and development with implications as profound and far-reaching as nanotechnology. Governments and industry are pumping billions into developing nano-engineered materials that may one day in the not to distant future completely overturn the manufacturing of an incredibly wide range of products, from semiconductors and solar cells through weapons and drug delivery systems to everyday food, health and cosmetics products.
While fears of self-replicating, communicative nano-materials a billionth of a meter in size running amok and threatening our environment, health and safety have proven rich ground for science fiction, the broad public appears to be relatively uninformed and unconcerned about the potential threats. That’s not the case among scientists and public interest groups, however.
Based on a national telephone survey of American households and 363 leading nanotechnology scientists and engineers, a November 2007 report by the University of Wisconsin’s professor of life sciences communication and journalism Dietram A. Scheufele and Arizona State University’s Elizabeth Corley of Arizona State University’s Center for Nanotechnology indicates that research into the potential threats nanotech poses to the environment, health and safety is so sparse that research community itself doesn’t know, much less can be certain of, the risks involved.
“It’s starting to emerge on the policy agenda, but with the public, it’s not on their radar,” Scheufele said of the findings. “That’s where we have the largest communication gap…Scientists aren’t saying there are problems. “They’re saying, ‘We don’t know. The research hasn’t been done.’”
In the meantime, hundreds of nano-engineered materials, such as nano-titanium dioxide, are literally entering our food chain. Friends of the Earth Australia just released a new report entitled, Out of the laboratory and on to our plates: Nanotechnology in food and agriculture” that reveals “that at least 104 food, food packaging and agricultural products containing nano-ingredients are now on sale internationally,” including “diet replacement milkshakes, cooking oil, tea and fortified fruit juice; food additives sold for use in processed meats, soft drinks, bakery and dairy products; long-life and antibacterial food packaging; and antibacterial kitchenware. FoE is calling for a halt to the introduction and sale of nanomaterials given the unknown toxic risks they pose to environmental and human health until they can be shown to be safe.

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A New American Dream – From Sub-Prime Crisis to Livable Communities: McMansions Revisited

| Tuesday March 11th, 2008 | 1 Comment

A shift toward walkable urbanismBack in November I commented on an Atlantic Monthly article about the hardest hit areas of the sub-prime mortgage meltdown: the large-lot “McMansion” subdivisions built far from urban centers, gobbling up once arable land and forcing residents of these communities (if they could really be called “communities” at all) into their cars for hours a day to get to where they need to go to maintain their McMansion-style lives. 

I suggested that if the American Dream is buying unsustainable housing with unsustainable financing then perhaps the dream has turned into something of a nightmare for some and that out of the the sub-prime mess might come the motivation to do better – to re-imagine the American Dream.

Christopher Leinberger writes this month in the Atlantic Monthly an article simply entitled The Next Slum that talks of such a shift toward sustainable communities and development.

Leinberger’s proposes that what is reflected in the mass foreclosures, abandoned track houses, and surging crime rates in many suburban developments is from much more than our current financial situation. While bad loans certainly help fuel the fire, it is not its ultimate source.

A fundamental shift is afoot in America, according to Leinberger, and that shift is toward a more integrated, walkable, urban-centered lifestyle.  

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AskPablo: Shoulf I have a second child?

| Monday March 10th, 2008 | 0 Comments

I am trying to decide whether to have a second child. I am wondering about the environmental impact that an American/U.S. person will have over the course of his/her life. Our home is very green: veggie oil car, organic foods, mostly used items are purchased — but I am wondering if you can possibly give me an answer. Sometimes I think that it would be wonderful for my son to have a sibling when the oceans are rising, and they can be in it together, but then I wonder if, by having a second, I am contributing to the oceans’ rising?

So, are you somehow complicit in the coming climate apocalypse if you bring one more child into the world? In fact, your question is more philosophical in nature and does not lend itself to a black-and-white analysis. The answer is both yes and no.
On the one hand, the little one would be entering a model household in environmental consciousness. The fact that you are asking me this question is evidence enough for me. The upbringing of your child would, no doubt, be less environmentally harmful than that of his or her American peers. Large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions would be spared by your veggie-fueled cars, agricultural lands would be enriched, not degraded, by your consumption of organic produce, and the biodegradable diapers would harmlessly decompose in the landfill or compost pile. Maybe your progressive-thinking household would raise the next Nobel Prize-winning climate change crusader, or the scientist responsible for a breakthrough in cold fusion technology.
Continue reading at: http://www.salon.com/mwt/feature/2008/03/10/ask_pablo_kids/index.html

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Fuel Cells: Japanese harness the power of hydrogen for electricity and hot water

| Monday March 10th, 2008 | 5 Comments

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2200 Japanese home owners draw their power and heat their hot water from hydrogen fuel cells. The technology, which extracts energy from the chemical reaction when hydrogen combines with oxygen to form water, is more commonly found as an application for automobiles rather than homes.
Developers claim that fuel cells cause one-third less of the pollution that causes global warming than conventional electricity generation does. The flat grey fuel cell is about the size of a suitcase and is generally positioned next to the hot water heater tank, also on the outside of these homes. In the process of producing electricity, the fuel cell gives off enough warmth to heat water for the home.
The oxygen that the fuel cell uses comes from the air and the hydrogen is extracted from natural gas by a device called a reformer, it is found in the same box as the fuel cell. A byproduct of that process is poisonous carbon monoxide which is handled via another process. Another machine in the gray box adds oxygen to the carbon monoxide to create carbon dioxide, which, although it possibly contributes to global warming, it is not poisonous.

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Corporate Calls for Global Competence: Rhetoric vs. Action

| Sunday March 9th, 2008 | 2 Comments

planet444.jpegI have an educational exercise for you. Embark on a tour through your closets and dresser drawers. It will be an inexpensive trip. Everyone, especially fellow citizens of the famously inward-looking USA, should give this inventory project a try. The targets I have in mind are tags saying “Made in Mexico” or “Made in Jordan.” At this point, “Made in China” may be a given. Once you have completed the tour, even the most worldly readers of triplepundit.com may be surprised at the extent of their unavoidable, everyday connections to the rest of the world. You will have experienced a common tool for educating students of all ages about the phenomenon of globalization. Wrapped up in that simple exercise, and in those items from various shores, are complicated issues that mirror the “greyness” of our world. Human rights, the global environment, cultural traditions, political concerns – so much complexity, so little black and white. The process of making, packaging, shipping, selling, purchasing, and eventually disposing of any given product exudes the greyness that is globalization.
This is not rocket science, but I worry that the next generation of leaders in business, government, and other sectors may not fully understand these concepts or have the global awareness and experience to act on them appropriately. Just as attention to environmental and social concerns has become a measure of visionary corporate performance, excellence in education is not achieved without a significant infusion of global perspectives, at all levels and across disciplines. If we can agree on that, maybe we can agree that the corporate world should seek more ways to partner with the world of education toward global competence outcomes wanted by all.

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TimesUK: Plastic Bags are Not a Problem?

| Saturday March 8th, 2008 | 7 Comments

plastico33993.jpegHere’s something to debunk for the weekend. Alexi Mostrous from the Times suggests that there is no scientific evidence that plastic bags cause any of the myriad problems they are blamed for. As a result, he suggest that banning plastic bags is irrational and therefore a bad idea. Specifically, he says:

The widely stated accusation that the bags kill 100,000 animals and a million seabirds every year are false, experts have told The Times. They pose only a minimal threat to most marine species, including seals, whales, dolphins and seabirds.

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Top Ten Legal Mistakes Made by Entrepreneurs

| Friday March 7th, 2008 | 0 Comments

regret.GIFHarvard Business School’s Working Knowledge website published an article this week called Top Ten Legal Mistakes Made by Entrepreneurs. If you are starting up a business or thinking about doing so, reading the article may help you avoid some costly errors. For instance, did you know that you may not be able to get patents for your inventions in foreign countries after the invention has been publicized? Do you understand the importance of the Section 83(b) election? Are you aware that venture capitalists often rate the judgment of entrepreneurs by their choice of legal counsel?
While you’re there – bookmark the HBS Working Knowledge site or add it to your iGoogle page!

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World Powers Down for Earth Hour

Sarah Lozanova | Friday March 7th, 2008 | 1 Comment

globe%20sun.jpg Imagine iconic structures like the Sears Tower and the Golden Gate Bridge in darkness. During Earth Hour on Saturday, March 29 at 8 pm, cities across the globe will be powering down for one hour. Lights and unnecessary electrical items will be turned off from San Francisco to Bangkok. 24 cities, thousands of businesses and millions of people are expected to participate. Will the world take notice?
“If we see the same participation levels around the globe that we did in Sydney, then we can anticipate more than 30 million people involved,” said Andy Ridley, Earth Hour’s executive director.

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Lots of Renewable Energy Pledges at WIREC 2008

| Friday March 7th, 2008 | 1 Comment

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The Washington International Renewable Energy Conference, WIREC 2008, drew to a close yesterday. More than 100 pledges from more than 40 countries were made to promote and foster renewable energy development during the international three-day gathering, which included top-level government energy officials as well as representatives from regional and local public institutions and from industry and finance.

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British Retailer Continues Green Plan Despite Hard Times

Shannon Arvizu | Thursday March 6th, 2008 | 1 Comment

a512.jpgLet’s say you’re a progressive company dedicated to sustainability principles. Suddenly, your company hits a rough spot financially. Of course, you feel the pressure to not disappoint shareholders. Conventional wisdom says, “Lean your business by any measure to get profits back up.” What do you do? Ditch the green to make more green?
Marks & Spencer, a British Retailer of clothes and home furnishings, is facing such a predicament. In this week’s HBRGreen, Sir Stuart Rose (CEO of M&S), discusses why they have decided to stay the course in their endeavors to become carbon neutral and send no waste to to landfills by 2012. What are their reasons to doing so?

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Greenwash, Green Certification and Consumer Responsibility

| Wednesday March 5th, 2008 | 3 Comments

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Commenting on a recent “Countering Greenwash” post, one insightful reader pointed out how “green” product certifications, such as the EPA-backed, Green Electronic Council’s EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool) and the United Nations led StEP (Solving the E-Waste Program) – can be an excellent means of getting past the greenwash. I can only agree, depending of course, on the quality of the criteria and the rigor of any green product’s assessment.
With support from the EPA, the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) in March, 2006 released IEEE 1680 “Standard for Environmental Assessment of Personal Computer Products”, the first in the U.S. set of standardized criteria to assist purchasing departments and other organizations reduce the environmental impact of the computers they buy, use and discard.
On January 24, 2007 President Bush issued an executive order mandating that all federal agencies buy EPEAT registered green electronic products for at least 95% of their needs. This January, the federal government incorporated the EPEAT requirement into its Federal Acquisition Regulations, which stipulates the purchasing requirements of all federal organizations.
On Feb. 25, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom issued Executive Directive 08-01 which aims to “limit the environmental impact of the lifecycle of equipment, from production through use to disposal. Actions called for in this Directive aim to reduce municipal government’s ICT-related greenhouse gas emissions by 24% by 2012,” according to a media release. One aspect of the directive is that, come April, city departments will only purchase computers and monitors that at minimum qualify for EPEAT’s Silver standard, but preferably can meet the criteria required for Gold standard status.
Some 509 electronic products – including desktop PCs, notebooks, integrated systems and monitors – have been awarded EPEAT bronze, silver or gold certifications to date. The fact is, though, that a large majority of consumers in the U.S. continue to simply throw used PCs, laptops, cell phones and the myriad other electronic devices in the trash. They’re then taken to landfills where they are mixed in, broken up and left to decay in the overall waste stream, leaving municipalities -and the taxpaying consumer to pick up the costs – monetary, environmental and ultimately those related to health care.

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“Plastic Soup” Debris in Pacific Ocean

Shannon Arvizu | Tuesday March 4th, 2008 | 29 Comments

annasampleJPG.jpg Here’s another reason for retailers to charge for plastic bags. The swirling debris of plastic trash in the Pacific Ocean has now grown to a size that is twice as large as the continental U.S.

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To All Major Retailers: Start Charging for Plastic Bags, NOW!

| Tuesday March 4th, 2008 | 7 Comments

bagthebag.gifOver the past year, many leading companies have taken proactive steps to minimize their use of resources that clutter up our landfill. European retailers IKEA and Marks & Spencer have started charging customers up to 10 cents per plastic bag.
Not only are these companies realizing the environmental benefits of charging for plastic bags, but also seeing the financial benefits, along with the positive branding, and philanthropic benefits (Marks & Spencer donates profits to improve parks and play areas across the country) as well.
Am I missing something here, or is this a huge WIN/WIN for everyone involved? Charging for plastic bags supports people, planet, AND profits. Click below to read my solutions!

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How to recycle your cell phone, painlessly

| Tuesday March 4th, 2008 | 5 Comments

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Last week I participated in a ritual that’s becoming increasingly common these days: replacing a (mostly) functional cell phone. Bluetooth and my beat up phone were not playing nice, and I need to have a headset to filter out noise as I talk to clients, colleagues, and co-conspirators.
So now I find myself with a semi recent vintage RAZR huddling in my miscellaneous drawer, gathering dust. Fortunately for it, I happen to be someone who knows a bit about what to do with such a device, as I wrote about here so it will be going off to Second Rotation. Or someone else who cares to pay me a better price for my old gear. Paid? For your old cell phone? Yes.
But what if you aren’t aware of such options, and the only ones that come to mind are ones that involve going to a store and paying for the privilege of recycling your phone? Or perhaps there’s having to search the depths of your closet for that envelope that came with your old phone to send it back? Right.
It’s probably not going to happen. And so your phone joins the estimated 125 million cell phones thrown away annually in the US. Add to that all the other places in the world with even higher percentage of cell phone users, and you’ve got a sizable amount of waste on your hands. Waste that could be easily, painlessly diverted.
Sherwood Folee has a better idea:

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Railroads and the Creation of National Parks

| Tuesday March 4th, 2008 | 3 Comments

amtrak3-glacier.jpgBe sure to say happy birthday to your favorite national park, for 136 years ago, on March 1, 1872, the very first national park in the world was born. Yellowstone National Park was created on this day in green history when President Ulysses S. Grant signed the bill that created the park.
The U.S. is well known for producing the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, two documents that so famously incorporate the ideals of democracy. These documents have been used as models for many other nations. Perhaps less famously, the U.S. incorporated the ideals of “landscape democracy” when lawmakers created the first national park. In its fullest extent, “landscape democracy” is the concept that the most scenic parts of the landscape belong to all citizens, and that all citizens have the duty to protect these landscapes. Like the idea of democracy, the idea of the national park has also been copied by many nations. Wallace Stegner, the Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist, wrote that “national parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”
But how did the concept of the national park come into being? Well, that is a more complicated question than you may think, and one that involves some surprising players.

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