AskPablo: City Living

| Monday July 9th, 2007 | 4 Comments

city.jpgSome time ago someone asked me if it is better for the environment to live in a city, or out in the country. I didn’t have an answer at the time, but I do now…

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Big Waste Comes in Small Packages

Sheila Samuelson | Saturday July 7th, 2007 | 0 Comments

The New York Times reported on a consumer trend today that may be on the right nutritional track, but the wrong track environmentally. The rise of the 100-calorie snack pack – in everything from beef jerkey to cottage cheese to licorice – indicates a reversal of the “super-size me” trend of the early 2000s. The 100-calorie packs are profitable for companies, which can charge 20% more for the packaged convenience, adding up to a $20 million dollar per year industry.
While the packages are small, the aggregate ecological downside of this trend is large. Multiple small packages, plus a larger box or bag to contain them all creates more waste, and is a step backwards in materials efficiency. Consumers are essentially paying more for less product (which they want) and more waste (which has no value). As the article points out, the irony is that buying one large bag and measuring out single servings would provide more product for the dollar – and it would also reduce packaging waste.

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Firms With CSR Policy Thrive

Sheila Samuelson | Thursday July 5th, 2007 | 3 Comments

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The results of three trailblazing studies released today from the United Nations Global Compact, McKinsey, and Goldman Sachs, show two clear trends within sustainability in business. First, an increasing number of business leaders consider CSR to be an important business strategy for creating value, competing successfully and building trust with stakeholders. Second, the studies show that sustainability front-runners tend to create sustained competitive advantage, having outperformed the general stock market by 25 per cent since August 2005. Of those, 72 per cent have outperformed their peers over the same period.
The Executive Director of the UN Global Compact, Georg Kell says, “Taken together, these three reports show that for an increasing number of business leaders, corporate responsibility is no longer an option, it is a necessity in order to compete successfully”, said Mr Kell.
From the press release by the UN:

More than 90 per cent of CEOs are doing more than they did 5 years ago to incorporate environmental, social and governance issues into strategy and operations. 72 per cent of CEOs said that corporate responsibility should be embedded fully into strategy and operations, but only 50 per cent think their firms actually do so. 59 per cent of CEOs said corporate responsibility should be embedded into global supply chains, but only 27 per cent think they are doing so.

Via: One Shade Greener

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AskPablo: Corn-Based Ethanol

| Monday July 2nd, 2007 | 18 Comments

corn.jpgJason keeps bugging me about my take on the issue of corn-based ethanol. This week I am finally going to take this one on. My gut feel is that it is the devil. Producing an energy-intensive crop that could feed starving people around the world (or at least feed the livestock that will become my next burger) to make a liquid fuel does not make sense to me. Corn farming is notorious for biocide use, genetic engineering, and endless square miles of sterile monoculture. The ammonium nitrate fertilizer, without which corn could not thrive, is a relic of World War II explosives production. This manifestation of the “military-agricultural-industrial complex” is also carbon intensive since it is made from natural gas.

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What Social Entrepreneurs Can Learn from the Birds and the Bees

| Sunday July 1st, 2007 | 2 Comments

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The Economist magazine website has a nice little feature called “What’s in the Journals?” The page profiles a small number of recent articles from top-notch business journals with links to view the articles online (registration sometimes required). For those of us who are reluctant to shell out for pricey subscriptions to journals we don’t actually have time to read, this is a great service!
One of the articles reviewed in the latest column is called “The New Principles of a Swarm Business,” published in the Spring ’07 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review. The “collaborative innovation” principles described in the article may be particularly interesting for social entrepreneurs:

…members of a swarm typically reject the traditional business notion of building shareholder value as the basis for their decisions and actions. In its place, the swarm works toward the collective interest of stakeholders, which is broadly defined as any party that can affect or is affected by the innovation….shareholders but also employees, customers, suppliers, partners, and even competitors…

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A Mighty Wind

Sheila Samuelson | Saturday June 30th, 2007 | 0 Comments

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Hold on to your hats! If you live on at least 1/2 acre and the wind blows at speeds of at least 10 mph in your backyard (find out here), then harnessing the wind for power may now be an affordable renewable energy option. The Skystream 3.7, available for $5,400 (US), can produce 240 KWh per month at 10 mph and 380 KWh at 12 mph according to the EERE‘s Wind Turbine Buyer’s Guide (here).
The Skystream has been called “the iPod(r) of wind power” due to its simplistic, modern design, ease of use, and capacity to monitor and download energy performance data on your home computer (including optional remote control). Thanks to a low RPM and advanced blade and vibration technology, the Skystream – unlike your iPod(r) – “is as quiet as trees blowing in the wind”.
The 1.8 kW system – developed in a partnership with the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab – is said to provide from 40-100% of power for a home or small business.
For wind-specific grants, rebates, tax incentives and interest-free loans available in your state, visit the American Wind Energy Association here.
Article via One Shade Greener.

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California Cleantech Open Submissions Due Tommorow

| Friday June 29th, 2007 | 0 Comments

ctopen.jpgIf you’re thinking about entering the California Clean Tech Open business plan competition, now is the time to get your three page executive summary submitted – tomorrow’s the deadline. Click here to learn how.
Whether or not you’re interested in the contest, there are some great resources on the CCO website worth checking out.

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AskPablo: CO2 from Beer

| Monday June 25th, 2007 | 11 Comments

duff.jpgHave you ever wondered about the carbon emissions generated from making your favorite brewsky, bottle of vino, or 15 year-old Talisker Scotch? Never mind the impact from producing the bottles, shipping the product, or the farm impact–I’ve written about those before (See: AskPablo: Exotic Bottled Water, AskPablo: Glass vs. PET Bottles, and AskPablo: Foodmiles) But what about the fermentation process? That is what we will explore this week on AskPablo.

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Summer Knowledge: What’s in That Sunscreen?

| Monday June 25th, 2007 | 1 Comment

sunscreen.jpgEver wondered what the difference was between the myriad varieties of sunblock on the market? There’s more to it than simple SPF factors. More chemicals than you can shake a stick at, some unregulated, abound in the many brands and varieties. To make sense of it all you need a massive database and a lot of research. Fortunately, the folks over at Cosmetics Safety Database have not only done that work, but they’ve ranked them in terms of safety and effectiveness. The bottom line is that, according to their work, some sunblock may be worse for you than doing nothing at all, and a handful of brands truly live up to their claims while being non-toxic at the same time. Check it out.

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Is Microfinance Really Effective in Alleviating Poverty?

| Friday June 22nd, 2007 | 4 Comments

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A provocative article from the summer issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review, titled “Microfinance Misses Its Mark,” is available for free on the SSRI website. The author, an associate professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, states that, “…my analysis of the macroeconomic data suggests that although microcredit yields some noneconomic benefits, it does not significantly alleviate poverty.” The article’s subheading summarizes his conclusion:

Despite the hoopla over microfinance, it doesn’t cure poverty. But stable jobs do. If societies are serious about helping the poorest of the poor, they should stop investing in microfinance and start supporting large, labor-intensive industries. At the same time, governments must hold up their end of the deal, for market-based solutions will never be enough…

Comments have been posted there by readers raising some good questions and objections to the viewpoint expressed in the article. Worth checking out for those interested in microfinance and global development. And while you’re there, consider subscribing! The Stanford Social Innovation Review “is a quarterly journal that brings the best in research and practice-based knowledge to individuals and organizations working for social change around the world.” You may also be interested in their Social Innovations podcasts offered for free online at http://www.siconversations.org/.

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Hotel Room Eco Audit (One Shade Greener)

Sheila Samuelson | Friday June 22nd, 2007 | 1 Comment

hotel-room.jpg(by Sheila Samuelson – originally on One Shade Greener)
As soon as I stepped in, I smelled the “new building” scent. That’s the smell of VOCs (indoor air pollution) from the vinyl plastic shower curtain, paint and carpeting. The fan was running on “auto cool mode” and the mini-fridge was quietly humming away, cooling – on the “coldest” setting – nothing but the 2 cubic feet of air inside.
We’ve all been here, in the generic, timeless, placeless, kind of hotel room you can wake up in and not know where in the country, or the world, you might be – and you might as well be anywhere, really. I happen to be in Wichita, and I can’t help but wonder how a budget priced hotel can afford such wastefulness as an empty mini-fridge that runs 24/7, three lamps with incandescent 60 Watt light bulbs, a shower that uses probably 6 gallons per minute or more – half of that going straight from the tub faucet into the drain, not out the shower nozzle, and a room fan that was cooling the room with no one in it from the time it was cleaned, until I arrived to open the window at 7pm.
Each of these things represents waste. Changing the light bulbs to CFLs, fixing the shower and installing a low-flow shower head, unplugging the mini-fridge until it’s needed (there’s always free ice if something needs immediate chilling) and leaving the fan off would all save money and increase the bottom line of this, and all hotels.

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The New “Brand” for Socially Responsible Business?

| Wednesday June 20th, 2007 | 6 Comments

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As more businesses claim to be “green,” “sustainable,” and “socially responsible,” will true social entrepreneurs find it difficult to stand out in the marketplace? An organization called B Lab has recently launched a new ratings system to help skeptical consumers and investors to distinguish between truly responsible companies and those who simply run good PR campaigns. Companies who are certified as “B Corporations” must meet comprehensive social and environmental standards as well as agree to build stakeholder interests into their corporate governing documents. Companies must supply documentation to support their applications and are subject to random third-party audits. The organization plans to spend millions of dollars each year to promote the B Corporation brand as a trustworthy “seal of approval” for responsible businesses.
In recent years, a number of certifications and ratings systems have been developed by associations, independent consumer groups, and socially responsible investing firms. Could B Corporation be the one that breaks through to wide acceptance and recognition? A few things seem to make it uniquely positioned for success…

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Book Review: Cities in the Wilderness by Bruce Babbit

| Wednesday June 20th, 2007 | 1 Comment

city-wild.jpg(Review by George Wuerthner) I just read an excellent book–Cities in the Wilderness by former Sec. of Interior Bruce Babbitt. It’s an insider’s view of some of the issues and politics that took place while he was govenror of Arizona as well as Sec. of Interior. Babbitt is surprisingly well versed in a lot of conservation history, conservation biology principles, basic ecology, and of course politics. I was impressed with his breath of knowledge. He discussed in his book everything from protection of the Everglades to restoration of tall grass prairie in Iowa to water development in Arizona, wolf restoration in Yellowstone, and dam removal across the country. I was surprised to see he had read the Monkey Wrench Gang and seemed to agree with the general premise that some dams should come down.
He minces no words about livestock grazing and says it’s one of the biggest impacts on the environment in the West. He correctly asserts that it has minimal economic importance to the nation and argues that it should be ended–at a minimum on all public lands where there is less than 10 inches of precipitation and he also endorsed the idea of permit buy out from willing sellers as a creative solution.

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Biofuel Driving up the Price of Gas? So What?

| Monday June 18th, 2007 | 12 Comments

pricesgass.jpgThere’s been talk lately about the price of gas remaining high for the foreseeable future as oil companies choose not to expand refining operations in the face of a bio-fuels boom. It’s hard to appreciate the tone of articles like this one for example when they shout out headlines like “Going Green’s No Good for Gas Prices “.
So what? The current price of gasoline has finally started to change consumer awareness of vehicle choice and is driving a bonanza of greener alternatives (some better than others). The current price of gasoline has also not caused any noticeable economic hardship. If the boom in alternative fuels and better vehicles continues, then anyone with a brain knows we’ll all be better off. This is exactly the kind of price rises the country needs to stimulate progress – if prices were lower, then we’d be in for a much ruder awakening sometime down the line.
It’s downright lousy journalism to point fingers at bio-fuels and paint oil refiners as some kind of victims. I’m hoping though, that readers of these types of articles are smart enough to say, “well, it’s a good thing in the long run”

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AskPablo: Lighten the Load

| Monday June 18th, 2007 | 7 Comments

I recently listened to one of my favorite podcasts, On Point with Tom Ashbrook, and heard an interview with Bob Lutz, General Motors’ Vice Chairman. In this interview he expressed dismay that Toyota is thought to be the fuel efficiency leader in the industry. This week I will run some numbers to shed light on the subject.

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