Biodegradable Caskets: Composting your relatives?

| Friday December 28th, 2007 | 9 Comments

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Green goes under ground, six feet under and currently being spear-headed in Oregon by and environmentally-friendly funeral products dealer by the name of Cynthia Beal. She is the founder of The Natural Burial Co. in Portland, Oregon, the healthy way to recycle yourself and your casket upon taking the inevitable dirt nap. Cynthia herself wishes to become an Oregon cherry tree when she dies, and she has found a way to make that happen — her body, a burial, and her own biodegradable coffin.
These biodegradable coffins are the focal point of an eerie and surprising green business; perhaps Beal described it properly when she said “it is composting at its best.” Her shop officially opens in January, and kissing the storefront window is a United Kingdom sourced Ecopod, a biodegradable coffin constructed out of recycled newspapers. These kayak-shaped coffins are the focal point of the up and coming “natural burials,” which are formaldehyde-free, and buck the usual cement vaults, laminated caskets or chemical lawn treatments. The result, burials that are not harmful to the environment.

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Alex Steffen: Inspired Ideas for a Sustainable Future

| Friday December 28th, 2007 | 0 Comments

Alex Steffen is the co-founder and executive editor of WorldChanging.com. I found this video on Hugg.ca (another blog to which I have the privilege of contributing ) with Alex speaking at the TED conference in Monterey (click here for a list of other great speakers on a host of topics).
I think you’ll find Alex’s talk worthwhile.

Alex Steffen: Inspired ideas for a sustainable future on Video.ca

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Builder reduces its carbon footprint: Pays Off

| Wednesday December 26th, 2007 | 2 Comments

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So how would a builder profit in the current rough and tumble real estate market? Build a high quality home using green practices without cutting any corners that’s how. David Hall of Deltec Homes has successfully led his company along this path and the profits continue to grow even in these hard times for builders and developers alike. The difference with Deltec is that it is improving upon its green ideas and building practices from within.
Deltec is implementing its green ideas in its own plant, promising to be operating on 100% renewable energy resources by the first of the upcoming New Year. Not only is this a milestone for the company, it is for the state of North Carolina as well. Deltec will officially become the largest private generator of solar power in the entire state with this move.

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Bright Green Consumers and the Scourge of Greenwashing

| Wednesday December 26th, 2007 | 4 Comments

Green gadget hounds on the riseA couple of news items I’ve come across lately regarding green consumers and the marketers that market to them:

First is a recent Forrestor Research study entitled “In Search of Green Technology Consumers” that find an increase in consumers the profess an active concern for the environment and a willingness to spend extra for green products from an environmentally conscious company. According to the research, 12% of Americans (25 million people) fall into this “bright green” category. That leaves 90 million (41%) that are concerned about the environmental, but not enough – at least yet – to spend extra for green products.

The remaining 47% don’t care or “believe in” environmental issues. Wal-Mart, shipped from China encased in lead – doesn’t matter. Cheaper is always better. It must be hard to breath with your head stuck in the sand all the time…

But I digress.

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Holiday Reading: Gaia’s Revenge and Lovelock on Nuclear Power

| Wednesday December 26th, 2007 | 4 Comments

ppp21gaiasrevengecover.jpg I come a little late to the party, so to speak, but I recently picked up and am now a little more than halfway through James Lovelock’s The Revenge of Gaia, the fourth in his series of books developing the Gaia Hypothesis, now Theory, he and a small group of collaborators first put forth widely back in 1972.
Lovelock and colleagues’ work to develop the Gaia Theory and earth systems science has proven to be seminal in several ways, and hence I figure these books must have a place on any required reading list to do with climate change, energy and natural resources development and management, as well as providing well worthwhile insight and inside commentary on the state of scientific research and the how scientific community works today.
The idea of Gaia – consisting of the biosphere, lithosphere and atmosphere– as being a “living” entity in terms of its natural ability to organize and regulate our world’s chemical, physical and biological activities, inputs and outputs so as to make the planet amenable to life has proven to be an iconic and elementally attractive way of viewing the planet for large numbers of lay persons as well as scientists–one that harkens back to our ancestral concepts of Nature as a mother goddess.

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Bye bye fertilizer, let your waste work for you.

| Tuesday December 25th, 2007 | 8 Comments

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Surprisingly, the two largest components in a landfill are food and paper, both biodegradable substances. In fact, statistics clearly show that nearly 50% of all municipal solid waste is consistent of only food and paper products. The EPA clearly states that food waste is the #1 least recycled material.
The problem with landfills pertaining to food and paper waste is the lack of oxygen, which so happens to be a principle partner in promoting degradation. Thanks in part to a population explosion and the lack of landfill space costs are skyrocketing for waste removal. This can only mean higher taxes and higher fees for everyone. A bright inventor and waste removal expert has developed upon an old idea and created a more simple solution for the home and office environment to eliminate food scraps the smart way.

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AskPablo is taking a break

| Monday December 24th, 2007 | 0 Comments

Che.jpgAskPablo is on vacation this week. I would like to wish you and your family happy holidays and all the best for the new year. May you be safe, happy, and sustainable.
Pablo Päster
Sustainability Engineer
www.AskPablo.org

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Ecopod: The Smart Compactor

| Friday December 21st, 2007 | 0 Comments

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Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or a recent convert to eco-friendly products, you’ll love the 21st centuries’ answer to the “old-school” trash compactor. Meet the Ecopod, recently made available this past fall, this innovative appliance provides an efficient way to crush, store and redeem recyclable beverage containers, particularly plastic bottles and aluminum cans. The design is simple and functional, not to mention sleek and attractive. It crushes with ease and comes with the engineering strength and smarts of the minds behind BMW.
Designed by BMW Designworks, USA, it provides a convenient foot pedal to initiate the compact of your bottle or can. Once compacted, the container falls into an internal bin, which can then be later removed for redemption or curbside disposal. Each storage pod will fit about 50 crushed containers. The upper compartment houses extra room for other recyclable materials (i.e. newspapers or glass bottles). This is the perfect energy efficient and well-built system for the home.
The nicest feature to the unit is the simple fact that it allows the users to see just how much recyclable waste they create; be it either a shocking revelation, or hopefully further inspiring efforts to reduce one’s footprint. Green and smart companies would be wise to also use this cheap and shining tool in the office. I see it as a simple way to get green by making room for one of these sleek units in the break room. Start the eco-trend in your office or business by promoting recycle solutions for your employees or co-workers. Awareness is the critical component to reducing waste in the internal work environment which, I might add, can potentially lead to increasing the profits of your bottom line by fostering eco-creativity and simple office solutions.

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Does Increased Tech Efficiency Lead to Greater Resource Use?

Shannon Arvizu | Friday December 21st, 2007 | 2 Comments

When companies decide to cut their carbon emissions, one of the easiest and most effective steps they can take is to implement eco-efficient technology. But does this increased efficiency lead to greater energy/resource use? Put another way, does cheaper/cleaner energy lead to more energy consumption?
This conundrum is known as the Jevons Paradox, named after William Stanley Jevons (The Coal Question, 1865). Jevons discovered that improved efficiency in coal use made it more cost effective an energy source, thus leading to further coal consumption.

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The Sustainable Circus

| Thursday December 20th, 2007 | 0 Comments

Cirque du soliel seeks to be an If you haven’t been fortunate enough see one of the many productions of Cirque du Soleil, either in Las Vegas or one of their touring shows criss-crossing the globe, you’ve missed out on a real treat. In terms of production value, Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil upholds the highest possible standards.

The stated mission of the organization is to bring those same high standards to their sense of “global citizenship”. Recently, environmental advisor Sebastian Gautier announced that the Cirque intends on being “an agent of change” in efforts to lighten the environmental footprint of their global operations.

Efforts include a water recovery system at their Montreal headquarters, recycling of used circus tents for donation to children’s theaters (one assumes whole tents aren’t given to one single theater), and slicing scrap costume pieces into colorful bits and made into holiday ornaments that are sold in their gift shops (how cool is that? Souvenir sales from scrap!), though the question remains what happens to these material downstream. Efforts are also underway to use biodiesel for transporting shows. Simple things like having recycling bins on site at show venues become somewhat more complicated when you’re a world-traveling circus and need to coordinate with dozens of local entities, but they do currently have bins setup for two of their productions.

In terms of sustainability, there’s no business like show business.

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Plantic: Plastic you can eat

| Thursday December 20th, 2007 | 5 Comments

plantic_logo.gifA few years back, as a student at the sustainability focused MBA program at Presidio, we were doing a project to create a mock proposal/presentation to Ghirardelli Chocolates on how we saw them introducing an organic, fair trade line. My component was the packaging. At the time I recommended Plantic, an organically based, biodegradable plastic that was currently being used in Cadbury candies for the tray.
It was an amazing material, capable of dissolving when in contact with water, effectively eradicating the issues that arise when someone chooses to throw out, rather then recycle, plastics. Not merely turning into smaller, still toxic molecules, as petro based plastics are known to do, this begins, and ends, as benign, organic, even edible material.
So it was a pleasure last week, when I was interviewing Jason Wachob of Crummy Brothers Cookies for Ecopreneurist, that after I recommended they look into Plantic for their packaging needs, I checked into what they’re up to, and found that things have expanded quite a lot for them, to a broad range of executions and uses.

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EPA vs. California: A Follow-Up on Carbon Emission Regulation

| Thursday December 20th, 2007 | 1 Comment

EPA reject waiver for California lawI reported last week on the latest court ruling establishing California’s right to regulate tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions. Sixteen other states have similar laws on their books and in four occasions, including the ruling last week, courts have consistently found in favor of states’ rights on this issue. Additionally, the Supreme Court has ruled that regulation of greenhouse gases falls under the agency’s purview.

Thus, it seemed all that was now needed was for the EPA to grant the required waiver allowing California (and the 16 other states) to implement their legal rights and move forward with steps to curb CO2 emissions.

Not so fast. Yesterday, after a delay of two years, the EPA denied the waiver and the roadblock in Washington remains.

This is very disappointing to me and emblematic of the sort of leadership George Bush has offered on climate change throughout his tenure as president.

If you’re interested in the scope of that disappointment, read my full post on the decision at GlobalWarmingisReal.com (be forewarned, I let my politics hang out at GWIR!)

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Education and the Rush to Catch Up With Pressing Environmental, Economic & Social Needs

| Thursday December 20th, 2007 | 0 Comments

You have to be quick to adapt these days when it comes to business and commerce. That’s been increasingly the case in education as well. Educational institutions – certainly in the US, now in Western Europe and increasingly in developed and developing countries around the world- are usually pretty damn quick to adapt and develop programs in-line with current topical trends.
And that’s been the case as rapidly growing interest in and concerns about climate change, environmental degradation and how to support a world population approaching 7 billion has quickly given rise to a bevy of new degrees and programs, some with some rather odd, even seemingly oxymoronic, combinations of words in their names.
When I first read about NTNU, the Norwegian University of Science & Technology’s MSc. in Industrial Ecology the joining of “industrial” and “ecology” struck me as an unlikely and incompatible combination. The more I looked into it, however, the more it struck me how appropriate, and meaningful, their juxtaposition is.

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Chevron, Pension Funds, and Shareholder Activism (Part 2)

| Wednesday December 19th, 2007 | 1 Comment

Chevron receives another shareholder resolution“The central question, then, is not whether we want Big Business, but what we want of it; and what organization of Big Business and of the society it serves is best equipped to [help us] realize our wishes and demands…”
-Peter Drucker

On Monday Shannon reported here on 3P how shareholder activism has forced companies like Target, Apple, and Bed, Bath, and Beyond to stop using harmful chemicals in the products they manufacture.

And then there’s the case of Chevron, who was issued a shareholder resolution last Friday by NYC Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr on behalf of New York City Pension Funds. The pension fund owns 6,676,009 shares of Chevron stock, one of its largest shareholders, worth more the $612,000,000.  Of particular concern in the resolution are ongoing operations in the Niger Delta, violations in Kazakhstan, oil spills in Angola, despoiling the Amazon in the ‘70’s, and responsibility for the final clearing of primary forest in Asia.

“Corporations that conduct business in an irresponsible manner by polluting the environment pose significant risks to investors”, Thompson said, “It does not make financial sense for Chevron to continue to pay large fines and legal settlements when many of these pitfalls can be avoided by company-wide adherence to the highest environmental standards.” 

The Resolution demands a review of the process Chevron uses to assess the laws and regulations of host countries in terms of their own environmental policies and procedures and to account for the gap that exists between those policies and regulations, and what actually happens on the ground.

By its very nature, a large, multi-national, resource-extracting corporate behemoth can transcend the effective jurisdiction of any one nation’s environmental regulations, even while technically bound by them. The enormous economic resources and global reach of Chevron, with operations in 130 countries, makes paying fines for ongoing or past violations of environmental policy – or even hiring what amounts to a mercenary army – merely a “cost of doing business”, with little regard for the long-term consequences.  Therefore, simply at a pragmatic level, it becomes the task of shareholders to see that corporations take into account all aspects of its policy and operation, including those with potentially adverse impacts on the long-term profitability of their investment. Particularly if it breaks the law. As the kids say: Like, Duh.

I admit I really didn’t know much about “shareholder activism” beyond my investments in PAX World Funds and the social responsibility index fund in my 401K portfolio at work.

Then I saw Shannon’s post and the press release about this shareholder resolution, and I got curious. Over the past couple of days, I set out on a journey to find out more about what makes up shareholder activism , how it evolved, and its role in corporate governance.

What follows is my journey…

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Waste Footprint II: By the numbers

| Wednesday December 19th, 2007 | 5 Comments

Waste: By the numbers
In 1990 the average American was sending 3.1 pounds of trash to landfills each day. On the brighter side, today that figure has been reduced to 2.5 pounds but only because the recycling rates have doubled in the past 17 years. However, it is fair to say that our amount of trash has not been reduced at all, only re-distributed and recycled which still costs us in time and energy. Roughly 1.5 pounds of garbage is now either recycled or composted while the remaining .6 pounds is incinerated.
Packaging is far and away the largest source of household waste. Between the plastic, glass, paper and metal that accompanies your products from the manufacturer to your doorstep, one third of these packaging materials end up in your garbage can. An additional quarter of your receptacle is filled with nondurable products, such as shoes, newspaper, etc. The remaining space is filled with an array of major items such as appliances, yard waste and food scraps.

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