The week started late here in the US, but it still started with a green blog carnival! Pop on over to LA Green Living for a particularily good collection of green blog posts to get your shortened work week off to a green and inspired start.
TriplePundit: Reporting on the Triple Bottom Line
”Those who can, build. Those who can’t, criticize,” was a famous line of the late Robert Moses. Although he never held elected office, Moses charted the course of urban planning and development of New York City for the best part of the twentieth century. For those too young to remember, or too far from the Big Apple to have lived its transformations during Moses´ long trajectory as the eminence grise of New York City government, I recommend Robert Caro´s monumental biography, a visit to New York Transit Museum’s exhibition The Triborough Bridge: Robert Moses and the Automobile Age, on view until April, 2008, or at least a quick scan of his 1981 New York Times obituary.
It was Moses’ “cherished ambition… to weave together the loose strands and frayed edges of New York’s arterial tapestry,” according to the transit authority press release for the exhibition, a sentiment that could be used to describe Sweden based multinational corporation Skanska AB´s relationship to the same city. Just as few people identified Moses as the man behind the changing landscape of New York from the 1930s to the 1960s, few people today would relate the name of Skanska with the renovation of the Lexington / 53rd St. subway station, The World Trade Center transportation hub project at Ground Zero or the transformation of the FDR Drive. In the most recent issue of its own company magazine, “Worldwide”, the company suggests that, “Skanska could well be New York’s best kept secret,” and lists no less than 27 Skanska projects in the greater New York area.
With the price of gas up and car-dependant sprawl the development norm for most people it’s interesting to see an analysis of exactly how much the average household shells out per year in gasoline costs. According to Sperling’s Most and Least Expensive Places for Driving list, Atlanta tops the list with a whoping annual gas expense of $5,772 per household. Not surprisingly, suburban areas in the south, especially Florida and Southern California also rank high. But interestingly, El Paso comes in as the cheapest – a city no less car dependant than any of the others.
It turns out that the survey does not take into consideration households without cars, or I’m fairly certain New York and San Francisco would have scored much lower. It’s also a metropolotain ranking, so even though people in Manhattan hardly ever drive, the rating that includes them would stretch halfway across New Jersey. The numbers don’t include car mainenence and other factors either.
Useful or not? The entire list can be seen here.
Net Impact has just released their first guide to MBA programs that focuses on environmental and social aspects of business education. The guide details 39 leading MBA programs, including student responses to surveys, curriculum information, inside perspectives on faculty and alumni networking, as well as broad data aggregated from all the schools in the study. It looks like it’s going to be a great resource.
Download the whole PDF right here.
In a remarkable bid to preserve what’s left of Chinese forests, the government has begun raising the price of chopsticks. It started with a 5% tax locally, and evidentally has resulted in 30% higher prices for disposable chopsticks in Japan. Though such abrupt changes may cause momentary disruption, Japan, who import almost 100% of their chopsticks from China, has responded by switching to re-usables. From the article:
“We were concerned that our customers would complain over the change, but we haven’t had any complaints that it is unhygienic. We’ve been able to reduce the amount of garbage,” Marche spokesman Tomohiro Ajioka said.
Seems like an ultimate win-win (depending on the orgins of the reusable chopsticks) for Japanese restauranteurs who, despite an initial expense, will end up with higher quality service, less trash to deal with, and savings.
Since I don’t own a car, my princiipal contribution to transport derived carbon emissions is flying. Until now, it’s been rather difficult to find a way to offset those emissions by buying credits. Terrapass has just announced a partnership with Expedia offering flyers the same sort of credits that they sell to drivers. There’s a nifty calculator which will tell you approximately how many tons of CO2 your upcoming trip will emit. It’s a simplistic system – for example, it doesn’t take into account the type of aircraft (higher occupancy planes burn less per person) – but it’s a great improvement on what’s available, and It looks like I can no longer pretend I don’t have any options.
Turns out my upcoming flight to Milwaukee in October will cost me an extra $10… that’s not too bad! (although with their tiered system I could have flown a lot further for the same price), and I don’t get a luggage tag.
Reading about World Water Week in Stockholm, I remembered one of my all-time favorite Treehugger articles: Ryan’s Well – It’s Not Who You Are, it’s What You Do. When 6 year-old, Canadian born, Ryan Hreljac found out that in other parts of the world people were dying for lack of clean water, he thought that he should personally do something about it. Thinking that a well in an under-developed country cost around 70 USD, Ryan badgered his parents to give him paying chores until he dutifully saved the amount needed to give a far away community a source of clean water.
Cheerfully presenting his hard-earned savings he discovered that seventy dollars was the cost of the pump – the pump and the well together would cost around 2,000. We´re talking about a six-year-old and a six-year old´s concept of personal goals and world realities. However, the bad news did not faze Ryan. His indignation that children died daily for lack of water was too strong. He continued to save money, tapped his friends and community and a well was dug in Northern Angola. To date, Ryan, now within the framework of Ryan´s Well Foundation, has raised more than a million dollars and built 277 wells in ten countries.
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Last week the International Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) celebrated World Water Week. With the big-picture, multi-disciplinary approach that the Swedes take to almost everything, the city became a showcase for the proposition that problems as diverse as poverty, hunger, illiteracy, environmental degradation and gender inequality can be addressed through water and sanitation projects.
More than 1500 participants from 140 countries met for a program that included workshops, panel discussions and partnership-building events.
This year’s conference theme was “Beyond the River – Sharing Benefits and Responsibilities” and focused on trans-border co-operation over shared sources of water, land and water management and how to cope with weather and climate-related disasters.
IPS News reports, via WBCSD, on ways that Norway manages to distributed its oil wealth that are now being passed on to other oil-rich states with legacies of corruption and injustice. But it’s not as simple as simply bestowing money on governmental agencies that supposedly invest it for the good of a country’s people – generations of corruption need to be overcome, and it will be interesting to see how well Norway’s aid works in that regard.
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)