Thursday, November 27, 2008

Skin Deep

I have written numerous posts about toxins that are in our bubble and around us in everyday household products. Yes, the classic BPA bottles, formaldehyde in our Orbit gum, and even how Teflon is associated with PCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyls).
But ever stop and wonder what you put on your skin?

Think about your manly Gillette shaving cream for sensitive skin or your Revoln Colorstay lipstick? You actually think these personal care products are safe? I did, until I reviewed their toxicity levels now available at Skin Deep, a free, online database provided by the Environmental Working Group which document toxins in our hair, skin, makeup, and personal care products.
Yes, they have men and women's products available for review (by brand, by type, etc.) These toxics, while deadly and crazy scary are fairly easy to determine through a red, yellow and green color coding system. The brand reports commonly explain how the basic ingredients used in your product of choice impact Neurotoxicity, Endocrine disruption, Persistence and bioaccumulation. Scary shit!

Skin Deep also helps fuel the nationwide Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a coalition of public health, educational, labor, womens, environmental and consumer groups working to protect the health of consumers and workers by requiring the health and beauty industry to phase out the use of dangerous chemicals and replace them with safer alternatives. Let's just say that Loreal, Revlon, Avon and few others weren't every happy about this campaign. Through the Campaign, as of May 2007 over 500 companies have joined the effort by signing the Compact for Safe Cosmetics. Environmental Working Group is a founding partner of the Campaign.

You can read more about these public cases in a book, "The Body Toxic" by Nena Baker.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Electric Rides

Ever heard of Vectrix? If not, tune in to the sexy, 100 percent electric, eco-smart scooter.

I know the word scooter doesn’t sound that sexy, macho or masculine; however, their breakthrough in performance and affordability is worth noting.

Unlikely the traditional putt-putt scooters, which max out at 30 mph,
Vectrix has a speedy advantage. The V1 model ($8750) goes from 0 to 50mph in 6.8 seconds and can travel up to 65 miles between charges. What’s even better is this little electric scooter is the only legal scooter allowed on the freeway in the U.S. and Europe.

While only 1,000 units of V1s have sold so far, this start-up company outside of Providence, R.I. is getting more attention. The V1’s acceleration is nearly as fast as an entry level Suzuki or Yamaha. Even celebrities such as
Leo DiCaprio, Jay Leno and Jeremy Piven have purchased their eco-smart rides.

The new angle that will soon emerge for the scooter industry will be tax credits and access to carpool lanes. Until then, perhaps only early adopters and super congested cities will explore these alternative rides.

Source: Time Magazine

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Ever had your pant cuffs ripped off when riding your bike? You’re not alone.

Now you can thank Trek Bicycle for starting a new movement that will bury the greasy fingers, pant eating, rusty spoke and chain syndrome. Their latest inventions are two models this holiday season, which are chainless bicycles.

Wisconsin-based Trek adopted the technology often used in motorcycles and snowmobiles. They are hoping to put some cash in the system as pedal-pushers are trading in their vehicles for more low-tech options to get around our busy streets and congested cities. Why is this unique? It’s not really, but Trek is the first to use the technology for mass-produced bicycles.

“Other than being a quiet ride, the lighter and longer-lasting carbon-fiber composite belts won't rust, can't be cut, won't stretch or slip and won't leave grease marks around your ankles. A guard over the belt-drive and the construction of the system makes getting your pants stuck an unlikely scenario," said Eric Bjorling, Trek's lifestyle brand manager.

One version of the chainless bike, called the District ($930), is a single-speed, complete with a silver body, orange accents and brown leather seat and handles. The other, called the Soho ($990), is an eight-speed bike that uses an internal hub to adjust the speed rather than gears. How will riders,
bike snobs, and carbon conscience footprinters alike take to the new bikes? Time will only tell since they are not out for sale yet.

But take my philosophy - Burn calories, not oil!

Dirty, Dirty Coal

While our nation was busy electing a new president in early November, a significant even occurred on September 15th that well connected environmentalists are still talking about today and trying to resolve. (Ok not every environmentalist, but hard working green folks, too.).

This event on September 15th was when a human barrier was formed outside of Dominion II in Wise County, Virginia. This particular coal plant has been receiving more public press in the past months as even in June its headquarters were the center of blockades and protests. If this plant goes online, it will emit 5.3 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere per year. Sure it will create jobs and make lobbyists happy; however it will also be the 111th “new” coal plant in development on top of the 600 existing ones in the U.S. And yes, we know that
coal is dirty, and it generates roughly 50 percent of the electricity in the U.S. (Source: Time Magazine).

Yet, a bigger question is being asked.

Q: “Where is the disobedience to prevent the construction of new coal fired power plants that do not have sequestration programs?”

A: “Duh!”

Hard core activists like Rainforest Action Network, Greenpeace, and Rising Tide have already made their phone calls to Bill Clinton and Al Gore. Reputations are on the line, the clock is ticking and meanwhile coal remains fairly cheap and abundant in the U.S. (so long as no charge is place on carbon emissions) So what we are really talking about is clean coal, right?

Clean coal technology has different meanings. It can be referred to as a technology that removes pollutants such as soot and sulfur dioxide from the waste process. It can also mean capturing carbon burned from coal. In the case of the Dominion II example noted earlier, there are no plans for carbon sequestration. It would simply be business as usual.

And that my fellow bloggers is how “clean coal is like healthy cigarettes.” (Quote-Al Gore)

Monday, November 10, 2008

More Energy Tax Credits - Yahoo!

A little extra dough in anyone's wallet surely won't be turned down, right? Well, if you are a home owner, keep in mind that energy tax credits have been extended into 2009. The original IRS tax credit for existing homes expired at the end of 2007 - kinda a bummer for those folks installing energy efficient appliances and on-demand water heaters.

But now with the newly enacted legislation, home owners can get more GREEN back in their pockets. The credit extends to energy efficient windows, doors, roofing and insulation as well as furances, air conditioners and heat pumps. Of course, the IRS will need records and proof including product information and a certification statements from the manufacturer indicating how the product qualifies for the tax credit.

As a back-up, home owners can use the Energy Star certifaction ( of the product, if available.
Source: Chronicle Telegram, Nov. 2008

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Plastic Cash

Funny how the economy continues to thin out jobs for hard, working individuals that pay taxes and actually spend money towards sustainable items. Which brings me to the idea of giving to others? Why is it that some people give and often give more while others continue to consume without any regard? How do we change this disgusting habit? Surprisingly this isn't a new concept. We have been trying to change our ways for sometime, yet often fail and resort back to our neanderthal ways.

Well, kudos to one Cleveland-based company named Earthworks System. They just aren't any old company buying and selling resins, exporting scrap and developing recycling programs. They are special because they too are part of the continuous "giving cycle."

With the holidays approaching, millions of the plastic cards are heading for the hands of joyous consumers. The sad part is those ignorant fools are sending those cards to the landfills once they get their kicks of buying more consumer based goods. This thought actually inspired a Cleveland-Solon man to develop a new recycling method used today at Earthworks System.

The principle is simple.

They collect polyvinyl chloride scrap left over from the card manufacturing process, discontinued stock, canceled jobs, and spent cards. Card manufacturers and distributors donate most of the PVC, with retailers and individuals supply the rest. Earthworks then ships the plastic to a manufacturer where it's shredded and pressed into plastic sheets, ready to be made into new cards. With only being founded in 2005, the company has recycled nearly 4 million pounds of plastic.
And funny how simple things can go viral, too.. An employee at an Ace Hardware in Sacramento, CA, learned about Earthworks online and mailed an envelope stuffed with a couple hundred spent gift cards. What's next on your list to recycle?

Source: Plain Dealer News

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Starbucks to Give Free Coffee to Voters

Starbucks is giving away free coffee on Election Day to anyone who says they voted. Not bad, eh? Even if you don’t drink coffee, I suggest going and seeing how the traffic turnout will be on this historical Election Day. Even more cool, was that the chain famously announced the promotion with a quickly assembled 60-second spot that aired during this past weekend's episode of "Saturday Night Live" featuring GOP presidential candidate Sen. John McCain.

While a formal estimate could not be provided by Starbucks as to the amount of free cup of joe that would leave their doors (not Joe the Plumber!), I’m sure your fav barista will still be smiling when he hands you your drink of choice.

Then at lunch time, stop by Ben & Jerry's. This franchise is also giving free scoops to voters. Who says we are living in a bad economy? We can certainly live off ice cream and coffee, right?

Source: Ad Age, November 2008

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Did you text me?

The power of we is greater than the power of me. This is the motto of Nokia, whose attitude in the eco-business and more sustainable living is getting attention. Nokia recently launched “we:offset” - the world's first CO2 emissions offsetting tool for mobile phones. Working with Climate Care, the carbon offsets will help fund projects around the world that focus on renewable energy and energy efficiency solutions.

It starts from very simple things such as adding a reminder in all Nokia phones to unplug the charger from the wall socket once the battery is full. In fact, if all Nokia phone users remember to do this, the electricity saved would power 100,000 average-size European homes. Or reviewing the environmental catalogue that tells users how much material is used in a phone to even energy consumption and recycling.

The other cool thing that Nokia has going for them is their biopolymer phone coverings. Biopolymers are biodegradable plastics that breakdown into mini-pieces in the landfill. They are typically cellulose-based, meaning derived from starch, sugar or other proteins.
For Nokia, they have an Evolve product, which is basically the cover on the phone is that either reusable or biodegradable – fantastic!

To learn more about how (we) the younger generation is keepin’ it real and discussing more important (either on their phone or in cyberspace), check it out at

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Dirty Mouth?

I love gum! It’s like crack. It’s like morning coffee. It’s like a sweet explosion in your dirty mouth. The kicker though is that “party in your mouth” flavor leads to a whole recipe of chemicals. I’m not talking about gum base, or glycerol, or the calorie-free aspartame.

I’m referring to the devil – formaldehyde.

A recent article detailed out the wonderful recipe for a simple stick of refreshing gum:

SORBITOL: A sugar mixed with a little hydrogen atoms creates a compound found in most peaches, plums and fruit. I won't substitute gum for the fruit food group.

ASPARTAME: About 200 times stronger than sugar, which breaks down into mini toxins like methanol and then formaldehyde. Should we be worried? I would.

ACESULFANE K: The “K” is for potassium, like in bananas, but totally artificial and doesn’t metabolize – meaning you can pee it out.

SODIUM BICARBONATE: Yummy, white polish which is the unique selling proposition. It’s short for good ole baking soda.

MALITOL: A mild sweetener, great for diabetics (ha!), yet large doses causes bloating and diarrhea. Don’t take that dare challenge of 15 sticks of gum!

Source: Wired Magazine

Monday, October 27, 2008

Where do pumpkins go?

A friend and I were discussing the benefits of eating locally grown food. You know the usual perks of less toxins, supporting the community, reducing your carbon footprint, not having to pay an arm and a leg for groceries at big retailers. And we started to share stories about food, especially in rural areas, including co-ops, and began to wonder where does all the extra food go? Even non-profits have policies that don't allow them to accept food from farmers due to liability... can you believe it?! I'm mean people are hungry nowadays, especially between the downtown streets of Cleveland to the rural farms of BFE. And as the Halloween season kicks off, what does Wal-Mart do with all their extra pumpkins? I mean, come's food damn it! Is it going to waste? I don't see people lining up to add extra waste to their compost bins. What do you think? Where does it all go? Up to the Arctic with polar bears?

Monday, October 20, 2008

PCBs with bacon and eggs, please.

For those of you that like a greasy, spoon meal once in a while, you need to know order no PCBs with your breakfast. What the hell am I talking about? The secret is not in the sauce, but in the Teflon. Teflon is associated with PCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyls), which are the top-dog nasty toxins known for messing with our endocrine system.

According to research, Teflon releases nasty toxins, especially PCBs, into our food through the good ole’ cooking process. A classic fried egg is all it takes along with a few scratches here and there on the actual surface of the frying pan. You might be thinking so what? My cast iron pan gives me a little extra protein (and a little lead) in my meal and I really don’t want to soak my pots and pans after cooking; hence the Teflon coating.

The problem is that Teflon is an endocrine disruptor. The chemical cocktail is transforming thyroid levels for young men and women by altering the thyroid gland which secretes important hormones that regulates your brain, metabolism, nerves, energy levels and much more. Too many cases are popping up of young teenagers needing “synthroid” the classic prescription of choice by doctors to help regulate one’s thyroid gland, and at such young ages it is an indication linked to the on-going phenomena of PCBs in our food, furniture, and other household products.

Trust me - you’ve seen these people who are have unregulated thyroids, but it is hard to detect unless you have your blood taken and screened for low or high levels of thyroid. Usually, their eyes are more “buggy” and popping out, which is a symptom of hyperthyroidism (high thyroid). The opposite is extremely sluggish, depressive feelings followed by weight gain, which is hypothyroidism (low thyroid). The other indication often seen with younger children are neurological disorders, low birth weight, and depressive responsiveness.

And so what if you have a little “PCB” in your body? Chances are we all do, but we can at least reduce our risk and the amount by knowing what we put in our body. Check out the links for more information and health implications.

PCB Exposure in Children and EPA Health Implications.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Yummy, More Chemicals

Do you ever wonder what's really in your bottled water? For starters, the plastic that you are drinking out of it isn't that great. It's non-biodegradable, probably has chloride, sprinkled with a little phenol and formaldehyde. Sure, you can argue that's better than tap water....but how do you know? You think the "proper" labeling will save your blood from having Bisphenol A.

It is the same question that scientists have been asking for two years and now the Environmental Working Group has published the results. The study's lab tests on 10 brands of bottled water detected 38 chemicals including bacteria, caffeine, the pain reliever acetaminophen, fertilizer, solvents, plastic-making chemicals and the radioactive element strontium. Some came from tap water that companies use today for their bottled water, other contaminants probably leached from plastic bottles. All of which is not good! Eight brands did not have contaminants high enough to warrant additional testing; however, two brands did. They revealed chlorine by-products above California's standard, and were identified as Sam's Choice sold by Wal-Mart and Acadia of Giant Food supermarkets. If we smart we would have taken the same approach as Gothenburg, Sweden. The city decided to stop buying bottled water all together due to "environmental concerns." What's next? Do you part to save what is left of this dirty world!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Back Seat Drivers

Seems like everyone nowadays is talking about carbon footprints and reducing emissions. It doesn't get any better than biking to work, in Bozeman Montana, with your dog, in 30 degree weather. How about that for reducing footprints?

Source: Patagonia, Pascal Beauvais

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Picnic at the End of the Universe and Still Green!

When is the last time you had a picnic? Think...

Going to McDonald's or Chiptole doesn't count and if you lived in France today, you would think twice about your picnic supplies. Why?

The environmental minister of France, Jean-Louis Borloo, announced a "picnic tax" on throw-away plates, cups and cutlery, as part of a drive to slash pollution and energy consumption. It pertains to items made of non-recyclable plastic or paper, and would represent about 90 eurocents per kilogram. Doesn't sound like a lot compared to a $700 billion ballout, eh?

But all of this adds up...and the minister has a strategic plan. The measure is the latest in a series of initiatives by France to lower its bill for imported energy and its emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG). The country is trying to encourage energy efficiency in the home (and outside of the home) through a bonus system especially for cars in which taxes are increased or lowered according to the vehicle's carbon pollution. The system is soon to be extended to televisions, light bulbs and other household gadgets.

Wouldn't you like for Uncle Sam to reward you for good, green behavior? They already do. Click here.
Image Source: Eric Hart Photography
Source: Wired Magazine and France 24 News, 2008

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Break the Bottled Water Habit

Two things in life really bother me.

The first is lazy people. The other is lazy people who continue to waste things.

And if you all want that American dream that most of you "lazy" people talk about, then start by going viral and spreading the news about the "Break the Bottled Water Habit". The grand prize is $5,000 along with other tiered rewards.
We have a chance here to make a real difference on keeping our drinking water clean and actually drinkable while reducing carbon emissions and stop wasting plastic bottles. What I mean is that, with our help, a campaign to Break the Bottled Water Habit, co-sponsored by the Center for a New American Dream and by Corporate Accountability International, could go viral on the internet and we could turn the blogosphere into the ACTIONosphere.

Here's what you and I can do:
1. Make this post go viral, if you're willing, by emailing, Digging and blogging
2. Sign the Break the Bottled Water Habit pledge
3. Write letters to your grocery stores and restaurants asking them not to stock bottled water (see sample letter
4. Get yourself a reusable bottle and fill it with tap (like
Sigg or Nalgene).

Get off your butts and go!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

If You Give Up - They Give Up

As an observer of true, unique and relevant messages...this was one of the top 5 ads from AdForum this week. What are your thoughts?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Soup de Jour - Toxins

As the saying goes, "It's not what you know, but who you know..." I would have to respectfully disagree as nowadays it is your individual ignorance that makes you part of the uninformed group. So, that is my job and responsibility to educate and inform you fellow bloggers as to what is really out there in the environment - today's lesson is toxic chemicals.

Let's start with an easy one - Melamine.

What is Melamine? It is a reaction product (a.k.a. trimer of cyanamide) that is often combined with formaldehyde to produce melamine resin. Yes, that's right - a plastic. We interact with it everyday from countertops, dry erase boards, foam in our mattress, glue and other housewares.

Why use it in food? Melamine is sometimes illegally added to food products in order to increase the protein content. When it is added to water - a reaction occurs, typically a cloudy, milky reaction allowing companies to get away with diluting their products with water. This industrial toxic has become infamous based on recent cases found in Chinese-made milk products that have sickened nearly 53,000 children in China, killing four. Hong Kong's Center for Food Safety is testing everthing now including milk powder, yogurt, butter, baby food, soy products and other frozen confections.

Let's test your knowledge now with Bisphenol A (BPA).

What is BPA? It is chemical building block often used to manufacture polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins. This toxin helps to make plastic lightweight, durable, optically clear, and has excellent electrical and heat resistance. Because of these attributes, polycarbonate is used in a wide variety of common products including digital media (e.g., CDs, DVDs), electronic equipment, automobiles, sports safety equipment, and reusable food and drink containers.

Why does it matter? BPA has been extensively researched and has gained infamous press coverage for "leaching out" of polycarbonate. Basically, those toxins are breaking down and presenting themselves into whatever is contained in the plastic. A classic example is Nalgene, manufacturer of drink containers. I give them credit for quickly eliminating water bottles from the shelves of Dicks Sporting Goods and REI stores and now marketing BPA-free products.

The research, backed by the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, the EPA, NIH and well documented in Nature and Science have explained that this nasty environmental contaminant is the devil on your endocrine system, especially for children going through puberty. Scientists are still divided as to what types of "diseases and cancer" it causes. Some just to name a few include breast and prostate cancer, ADHD, and type 2 diabetes. Others are worrying that BPA affects the maturing brain in unspecified ways...hey, why wait to find out? According to an article quoting the National Institute of Environmental Health Science’s Chris Portier as saying that “there’s sufficient evidence now to give people who want to be prudent—especially parents—a reason to avoid BPA.” Let's not argue about this and get it out of our everyday products where possible.

Last quiz question...

What is Atrazine? The world’s most popular herbicide-weed killer is an endocrine disrupter in frogs. Many articles have exploded into allegations of ethical misconduct by Syngenta and bad science.

Why does it matter? The story of this toxin is extremely important and starts with Tyrone Hayes in 1998. He holds a biology degree from Harvard University and a doctorate in amphibian development from Berkeley, where he was tenured at a young age of thirty and later became the university's youngest full professor. The science community refers to him as a Rock Star since he was part of an "expert panel" that did research funded by Syngenta. Make a long story short, his career with Syngenta went extremely bad when his team's research confirmed that atrazine was associated with hermaphroditism in frogs 100 percent of the time.

It is well known that when Hayes discusses these findings at public presentations, grown men shift uncomfortably in their chairs when he explains, "The gonads, instead of sperm, have eggs, and the frogs are chemically castrated because they do not make testosterone."

Atrazine, sold by Syngenta to many corn, sorghum and sugar cane farmers, brought in profits of $1.1 billion in 2007. Do you see the conundrum? Money coming in - yet toxins are running off into the water system with evidence found in basic creatures such as frogs. The debate is more about how much atrazine is released! Hayes research took 800 frogs, with half used in a control set, and exposed them to 0.1 ppb (parts per billion) of atrazine. The threshold from the EPA is set at 3 ppb. Field studies have already found that atrazine levels following agricultural usage patterns (heavy crop dusting and preparations) have spiked high in the 50 parts per billion range in 40 watersheds especially in the Corn Belt region.

Fast forward to the year 2000, studies supported by Syngenta convinced the EPA that the "mechanism" by which atrazine causes cancer in rats is not the same in humans. The EPA backed off and Hayes resigned from Syngenta. In 2002, the EPA was trying to decide whether to re-register atrazine for continued commerical use. The controversy still continues and Japanese researchers and toxicologists are testing frogs up to 100 ppb... the results are still disturbing. Click here.

Source: Baker, Nena, The Body Toxic, Copyright 2008, Chapter 2, pgs. 57-73.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Greenhousing Nirvana

Not everyone gets to experience living in a green neighborhood everyday. It is a unique and special experience, which comes with an expensive price tag. Unless your home has been devasted by a hurricane, or you are a millionaire that can afford a newly constructed, eco-friendly paradise…it makes it hard for the average American to live in a non-toxic, hypoallergic, low embodied energy, post-recycled hut.

But who says we can’t dream, right? Here are some acknowledgements to architects from Living Homes and Dwell that have been hard at work.

Most of these stylish homes average between $175/sf - 250/sf (includes all fees, site work, and finishes) Most of the “green” features will help homeowners save roughly $1,500 per year on utility bills, but that ROI calculation won’t make up the difference anytime soon. And that’s not the point! Many homeowners are motivated by other means such as tax credits from their state/county and better yet simply enjoy living in a home that creates less damage on the environment.

Again not all green, eco-friendly homes have to be a West coast dream house costing at least one million dollars…look to the Micro Compact Home for answers. Featured in
Wired – my favorite magazine (April, 2007), this cube price was only $96,000 including delivery from Europe. It includes the basic bedroom, bathroom, kitchen with a few amenities such as a fire alarm and drawers.

The downside: Working in a cubicle all day could make it hard to go home to one.

The upside: Makes you appreciate the environment even more!

Source: Dwell, Wired

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Tap Water or Money Water

A $425 billion dollar industry.

How did a handful of corporations steal water?

Check out the movie trailer (Be patient and let it buff/load)

Or go to YouTube here

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

One Market Goes Sour - Another One Soars

The first U.S. greenhouse cap-and-trade market opened on September 25th. Folks...this is a huge move where today's market of regulating greenhouse gases (GHG), carbon dioxide and methane are all on a voluntary basis. U.S. companies don't have to reduce carbon dioxide production or implement methane capture programs, but they are in some regions of the U.S.

Why? Profits, corporate social responsibility programs and more profits.

This is much different compared to the European Trading Scheme (ETS) which is mandatory for businesses to follow within Europe where strict standards, thresholds and rigorous reporting are necessary. That is an important distinction, because if you are large beer manufacturer, for example, and have to follow guidelines set in Europe that your competitors in the U.S. don't have to... that ultimatley creates a unique selling proposition, a financial constrant, and implications of how to work with vendors for distribution.

Now back to the U.S. cap-and-trade opportunity. Essentially, some environmentalists are smiling while other businesses are worried about how certain states will spend the funding. We can thank (maybe) ten states who formed the Regional Greenhouse Gas Intiative (RGGI) who are releasing 188 million permits annually for three years. 1 permit equals about 1 tons of carbon dioxide. So one company can implement a carbon reduction program and trade those "points" or "permits" with other companies who need to meet certain thresholds. It is not as simple as trading baseball cards and these permits are subjected to major evaluations by approved, accredited third parties.

The application of flexible, market-based mechanisms for reducing greenhouse gas emissions is achieving widespread intellectual and political support. This broad acceptance of emissions trading was originated and is reflected in the Kyoto Protocol, which established several emissions trading mechanisms. As this topic becomes more understood, more profitable and gains more can be prepared by reviewing the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX). It is North America's only and the world's first global marketplace for integrating voluntary legally binding emissions reductions with emissions trading and offsets for all six greenhouse gases.

Happy Trading!

Source: World Business for Sustainable Development, CCX, Reuters

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Money and Water: Yes, Please.

I'm getting quite annoyed by all the political campaigns and "talk" about the financial crisis. I get it already! Our economy has taken a turn, the Japanese are now buying our debt, and CEO's are rewarded by receiving golden parachutes. In the meantime, families down in Galvenston, TX, still do not have electricity or water. Here we are worried about our 401k's, mutual funds, stocks, etc. and in other places people do not even have food, clean water, or toilet paper to do you know what with!

So let's think about something for a minute. While everyone is getting up in the morning, brushing their teeth, showering, making their coffee, driving to work, blogging, consuming more energy...simple families don't even have access to potable water. Of course, it is not just the Texas area. I hear you...yes, it's been a tough week for Mayor Thomas. But it's been a tough year, perhaps decade, for other areas with "cyclical" droughts.

These so called droughts are what scientists refer to as "hot stains" -- the parts of the Earth now running out of potable water. They include northern China, large areas of Asia and Africa, the Middle East, Australia, the Midwestern United States, and sections of South America and Mexico. While two-fifths of the world now have massive outbreaks to waterborne diseases, the other wealthy nations are finally waking up. It took a while, but some clear indications have opened their eyes. For example:

1. In 2007, Lake Superior, the world's largest freshwater lake, dropped to its lowest level in 80 years.

2. Boomers are frustrated in Florida where many are trying to keep fast-spreading lawns and golf courses green.

3. California has a 20-year supply of freshwater left. New Mexico has only 10.

4. Arizona is already out of water. They are currently importing every drop in the state.

Wake up people! How did we let this happen? The answer is complicated, but what is great to see are new solutions arising to attack the problem. As a market researcher, an observer and one generally interested how many get away with greenwashing, there is one brand that deserves attention.

How do you create a brand out of something that is everywhere?
It is owned by no one own.
It costs nothing to produce.
Practically, nothing to package.
Yet, everyone wants it.

Here is the answer - see video:

Source: UNICEF, American Prospect, June 2008

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Who is Renzo Piano?

San Fran’s Golden Gate Park now has a monolithic, jaw-dropping, uber green building. It’s the new California Academy of Sciences (a.k.a. gigantic LEED platinum building) coming in at 410,000 square feet with a price tag of $488 million inspired by Renzo Piano. It’s beautiful. It’s sustainable. It's cool, geeky science blended with art.

Even better, it houses an aquarium, planetarium, and natural-history museum all under its distinct key feature – the living roof. With about 1.7 million plants and spreading about 2.5 acres…it’s a carbon vacuum. Its structure is designed with a layered approach that promotes biodiversity. The layers include rock, fungi, and coconut-husk fiber that allow for the vegetation to absorb the proper amounts of oxygen and water.
As for the guts of the building, the rainforest exhibit is heaven to a botanist. Its glass structure and specialized microclimate is ideal for the 1,600 animals and 30 orchid species. As for maintenance and cleaning, let’s just say there are many scuba drivers that are applying for applications. The massive aquarium does require regular algae cleaning amongst 38,000 undersea creatures. Experienced divers or rescue swimmers are welcome! Doors open on September 27th.

Photographs by Todd Eberle

Monday, September 15, 2008

Designs inspired by Nature

I was waiting for the right time to blog about this topic. It’s been around for a while and we see it everyday in form of products, computer processes, packaging…and more iterations are coming. Yet, only until recently has the average Joe actually “learned” what biomimicry is and how we have essentially begun to integrate its aspects of nature into the design process.

Who is the expert in biomimicry?
Jane Benyus is one top name.

Why it matters?
Mother Nature designs things for a reason, with logic and purpose, which benefits a particular species.

Japan’s bullet train leveraged the kingfisher’s beak. This bird can dive from air into water with a minimal amount of resistance due to its beak. The aerodynamic design of the train reduces the sonic boom that occurs when the train passes from a tunnel back into the open air, reducing noise pollution.

We have platelets in our veins that act as guardians. They usually rush to the scene when we get a paper cut to stop the bleeding and help to heal our wounds. The same technology and process used by platelets inspired Brinker Technology when it came to maintaining the oil pipelines. Special “platelets” were designed to seal leaks and prevent cracks in the pipe walls by using a radioisotope that marks the location for engineers to investigate.

Showing colors for QualComm was a nature-inspired mirasol display, which conveys color in the way a butterfly shows off its brightly colored wings or a peacock displays its plumage – using light! Rather than showing pigmented pixels, tiny structures that variably reflect light in such a way that specific wavelengths of light interfere with one another to create vivid colors. This has helped cell phones and other electronics reduce their power consumption.
Of course there are many other examples - good and terribly bad case studies. I'd like to hear what examples you have seen in today's economy. Check out these good ones first by Jane Benyus.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Moving your house - just bike it!

I stumbled upon other blogs recently that have been posting about crazy stuff. Nuclear green material. Sustainable clothes. Eco-friendly drugs. But I really wanted to write about something more unique.

Then it hit me. I asked myself "Is this for real? Why? How? Are you crazy?" But after giving it a bit more thought...damn what a unique idea!

Bike Snob opened my mind to a whole other niche of people who are dedicated to moving via bikes. That's right! You need to move from east side apartment to west side bachelor pad? Just get your buddies together, get the community pedaling and all your "stuff" gets transported. There have been regular occurances in NYC, and I thought that was just a function of the crazy city life. But actually, Boulder and Ottawa are hotspots, too.

Saves you money. Saves the earth. Reduces your carbon footprint, and its a damn good workout.

Stinky or Clean City?

San Antonio, Texas is capturing methane, about 140,000 tons per year, from sewage in an effort to reduce greenhouse gases and contribute to the carbon exchange program. If you haven't realized this by now..its not new.

For starters, it's an attractive opportunity given the financial incentives and new revenue streams. For example, particular agricultural practices (yeah that's farmers) are credited with carbon offsets as they institute “methane capture” programs from livestock farms, which reduce the impact of a highly potent greenhouse gas, reduce odor and pest issues and provide a new source of income for farmers who often struggle with razor-thin margins. In short, agri-businesses both large and small can financially benefit by participating in carbon sequestration – a process of removing carbon from the atmosphere to reduce climate change. The carbon offsets credited to farmers are then sold on the voluntary market whereby companies, governments and businesses then purchase the offsets to compensate for their own carbon emissions and uses. Some believe that buying carbon offsets from agriculture as a legal atonement for their own pollution.

Now thinking about carbon and methane, they are essentially commodities within the voluntary exchange market much like trading stocks. Only in most cases of methane, you usually get more bang for your buck. Relating this back to San Antonio, the contract was approved this week to sell 900,000 cubic feet of natural gas from the sewage each day to Ameresco, a Massachusetts energy services company.

You might be wondering what exactly does one do with this much natural gas? It can be used as fuel in turbines, steam boilers, or compressed natural gas can be used as vehicle fuel. Oh and NASA is smiling as they research its potential as rocket fuel.

Meanwhile, as San Antonio’s sewage generates oodles of gas each day, say about enough to fill seven commercial blimps or 1,250 tanker trucks, they will also be pleased to receive $250,000 a year for the methane, which I hope will go towards more renewable energy efforts in the area.

Source Image: – September 2008

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Trash Vortex

What's the saying...water, water, everywhere and not a drop to drink. That is currently becoming the evolving story behind many of the islands and marine life that are part of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

To put it in simple terms, plastic outweighs surface zooplankton six to one in the North Pacific gyre. There is more debris and junk out there than you can imagine and it is killing birds, fish and anything that swims near it. Somewhat like the blob, but worse and real!

How does all of this happen? When a plastic cup or container is thrown on the beach it gets caught in the California Current, (for example) which travels down the coast toward Central America, perhaps off the coast of Mexico to connect with the North Equatorial Current, which flows toward Asia. Off the coast of Japan, the Kuroshio Current could push it eastward again, until the North Pacific Current takes over and carries it past Hawaii to the garbage patch. These are the oceans currents that make up the North Pacific Gyre - the ultimate garbage vortex.

Now granted it takes years, decades actually, for such an amount of debris to accumulate. However, is it really that hard to imagine given we consume billions of plastic items each day? Think about it. Our coffee cups, containers, fittings, caps, pop bottles, grocery bags, plastic forks from picnics and cafeteria lunches, breakfast yogurts, workout bottles, etc. Plastic is everywhere! And not every manufacturer can afford to incoporate the use of biopolymers and biodegradeable products.

Sources: Wikipedia, National Geographic, Moore, Best Life Online

Eco Totes

Collect energy now in a bag. These unique totes and messenger bags by Noon Solar offer a design philosophy that incorporates eco-chic, iconic, technology and diversity. With different styles for men and women, they combine German leather with Japanese color dying techniques. As part of trying to live a sustainable life, harnessing the sun's energy is ideal to power our iPhones, iPods, Blackberry devices, cell phones, digital cameras and so much more. Why not just consume less, right?

Source: Trendwatching 2008

Friday, September 5, 2008

Green Life in a Tube

Those NASA scientists have been busy. Their late 2006 invention was a special gel (perhaps magic gel?) that allows seeds to grow within glasstubes. On the market it is known as the Plantarium Single Vial Garden Lab ($10). At seven inches tall, you can select from a variety of seeds: basil, melon, marigold, pepper, sunflower and tomato. Most of those sound like good toppings for a sustainable, low embodied energy pizza!

Image Source: Fresh Pilot

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Get Your Adrenaline Rush

It weighs only 140 pounds.
Can accelerate from 0-30 in under 2 seconds,
and runs off a revolutionary lithium-ion technology that is completely non-toxic.

It's the Zero X Electric Motorcycle ($7,450). It has a range of 40 miles per charge with a frame weight of 18 pounds. With a top speed of 60 mph, this off road electric warrior is sure to make heads turn. Now the concept has been around for quite some time, but making it come to life in a safe, mechnical and affordable way is now here! It is an ideal sustaino toy that is fast, clean and light for everyday adventures and maybe even a stroll to work.

See the video challenge of the Zero X vs. a Gas-powered motorcycle on 4 factors:

Image Source: Zero Motorcycles

Monday, September 1, 2008

The New Biofuel?

It's resilient like flooring, hearty like mom's soup, and lasts about 30 to 40 years (longer than your high school yearbook). What makes the South American jatropha plant so important? Let's ask the Israeli company, Galten, who made a $10 million investment in this future biofuel seed.

That's exactly it. A seed. A lonely seed with a big 40 percent potential of changing the biofuel industry. As with all these plant-like organisms (algal, sugarcane, switchgrass, etc.) the biggest challenge is harnessing its energy potential. Perhaps they should call Glen Kertz from Valcent Products for a solution.

Source: TreeHugger News
Image Credit: Woetan

Friday, August 29, 2008

Relive your art school days

Not everyone can say they have a telephone face and a wooly body. Yet kudos to artist, Jean-luc Cornec and his sheep that have grazed at the Museum of Communications in Frankfurt , Germany. While this highlight is about two years old now, I'm impressed to see that even artists can be sustainable consumers. These green, creative efforts are well worth keeping old phones out of today's landfills.

Image Source: TreeHugger and The Power of Word of Mouth

Monday, August 25, 2008

Roadtrip in Hydrogen Cars

31 cities in 18 states - from Portland, ME to Los Angeles, CA in a vehicle emitting only water vapor and heat. Can you imagine a more glorious roadtrip of a pack of hydrogen vehicles powered by zero-emission technology? Actually, yes, thanks to nine different automakers (e.g. Honda, GM, Toyota Motor Corp, Ford Motor Co, BMW AG, Daimler AG, Hyundai Motor Co, Nissan Motor Co, and Volkswagen AG.)

Where can you obtain a hydrogen vehicle? Unfortunately, not at your local car dealership. Honda Motor Co has begun leasing about 200 FXC Clarity fuel-cell autos in Southern California. It runs on electricity powered by hydrogen, and emits only water vapor and heat. General Motors Corp is also testing a 100 fuel-cell Chevy Equinox SUVs on the road.

Using those types of vehicles, one unique part of the roadtrip challenge were how some hotspots (or should we say dry zones) required the vehicles to be transported on flatbed trucks from Missouri to New Mexico. Why? Those were stretches without hydrogen fueling stations. It was an effort designed to raise awareness and illustrate the need to construct more hydrogen fueling stations. With higher standards, popularity and rising oil prices, expect to see development of fuel stations to appear in big cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Washington, D.C.

Sourced from the Reuters InterActive Carbon Markets Community

Image Source: Trendwatching

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Lead (Pb) Belly

We've seen it on the periodic table as that funky (Pb) symbol, and we have heard of its presence more so in Chinese manufactured toys. This seems to be one thing that past generations and even today's Millennials cannot rid themselves of is the exposure to lead. It seems as if lead is in everything ,right? Paint, dust, air, water, food, and even soil. However, over the past 15 years, according to the Americam Medical Association, a significant reduction has occurred in air-borne lead and lead in food. These reductions have occurred through the phasing out of leaded gasoline and the elimination of cans with lead-soldered seams.
Despite these efforts, lead poisoning continues to be a common problem among young children in the United States. It is currently estimated that 8.9 percent of children between the ages of one and five have a blood lead level equal to or greater than 10 µ/dL.(micrograms per deciliter of whole blood). Folks, the average blood lead levels was 1.9 μ/dL in 2002. That's a problem for a little ones who simply have too much lead in their belly and in their blood. What are we supposed to do? While I'm not endorsing a name or company, I did find it interesting how one particular non-profit organization known as OK International is determined to make a difference when it comes to environmental diseases linked to industrial pollution. They make small grants and provide technical assistance to non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which has attracted quite a lot of attention. Their objective is simple - devise a universal standard through a comprehensive set of voluntary certification criteria for lead battery manufacturing facilities. This is referred to as The Better Environmental Sustainability Targets (BEST) Standard. A big goal - not an easy task - but an effort that is respected.

Source: American Medical Association
Image Source: OK International

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Zero Carbon City - Abu Dhabi

Can you imagine a city without any cars? How about a city with a zero carbon effort? It's already underway and known as the Masdar Intiative (Fosters+Partners). It is a six million square meter community of zero waste, fields of wind farms, a photovoltaic power plant, a network of efficient public transportation, and most importantly shaded walking areas as it is blazing hot in the desert. Truly a self-sustaining city.

Source: Trendwatching, Fosters+Partners

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Biomass from Algae

Pros: It's mean, green and has a heck of a kick when it comes to producing energy. About 30 times more energy per acre than other biofuel sources.

Cons: Harvesting our green algae friends is quite expensive.

Valcent Products a progressive company has figured out the right recipe and is on the leading edge of algal production.

Source: Fortune Magazine

Monday, August 18, 2008

Look to the Frogs

Ira Flatow recently interviewed biologist, Paul Ehrlich, on NPR for Science Friday on yet another geeky, wonderful topic – extinction! The scientific community is scratching their heads when it comes to the changing ways of biodiversity. We are adding toxics to the atmosphere, our population is growing and the climate is changing. One key point to note is that biodiversity is good folks! It helps our health, prevents floods, and allows us to eat.

So what will it take to change our ways? It is fear? Is it a dent in consumer wallets? Perhaps a generation that throws up their hands and says no

One answer is to better understand the frogs. The frogs are a unique key in this complex problem simply due to how they live. These creatures live on land and in fresh water allowing them to be exposed to toxics, pesticides, industrial chemicals, as well as ultraviolet light due to ozone depletion. Why are we not looking at birds, crayfish, or other fresh water creatures? Simple. Death has been occurring in large numbers from chytridiomycosis, which is an amphibian disease caused by a virulent fungus. With more frogs dying and less mosquitoes lately around our campfires, there is something morphing amongst our climate change that is even stumping the experts.

Click here to learn more and hear the

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Green Airports

I recently returned from a family reunion that was held in Beantown (Boston, MA), and I was actually impressed with the Boston Logan airport. Really, an airport! Yes, those dirty places with crying kids, long lines, and high prices for bottled water and gum.

I've been through the airport many, many times, but never did I notice the "golden statue." It is a plaque that highlights Boston Logan for being LEED certified. In fact, I later found out it is first airport to be LEED certified. Why is that important you ask?

Not only is it cool to have features like a heat-reflecting roof and windows, low-flow faucets and waterless urinals and self-dimming lights, it is also a big saver when it comes down to the bottom line. According to the director of capital programs and environmental affairs at the Massachusetts Port Authority, "We want to be responsible to the environment and our neighbors and minimize the environmental impact. The technology will save the terminal almost $300,000 in electric bills and 1.7 million gallons of water a year."

If you need a taxi once you get there, then they have a great option allowing you choose hybrid vehicles for pick-ups and drop-offs. You can schedule reservations online and the best feature is it doesn't cost more for a green taxi cab compared to the traditional yellow cab. You might even learn a thing or two sitting in the back of a green cab with a new perspective.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Wanted: Green Jobs

Imagine getting the pink slip from your employer. Not the greatest feeling in the world, especially during today’s down economy. But we have to work. We must put food on the table. We must consume in order to keep this economy going, right? With consumer confidence in the trenches based on indications from the Conference Board, what job options do we have during a recession?

When it comes to renewable energy, some of us see hope, a possibility, a progressive future, and others see dollar signs and big profits for a field that is expected to explode with new jobs. The Apollo Institute estimates that three million new jobs will emerge in the next ten years due to environmental changes and technology advancements. Yet, the Energy and Resource team at University of California Berkley believes the estimate is closer to one million jobs.

Let’s not argue over the number. Better yet, let’s take a look at what these “green jobs” really are for today’s employees that are hunting and working closely with their recruiters.

1) You can’t outsource me: Construction
Whether you are installing solar panels, or helping to construct LEED certified buildings and homes, construction jobs cannot be outsourced. These are ideal in today’s economy and right up the green alley.

2) Welcome: Travel, Spas and Hotels
Eco-tourism is the buzzword that many travelers understand who are looking for ways to minimize their carbon footprint. When selecting flights, travelers can offset their carbon emissions by paying a bit more on their flight, in which contributions carry over to the corporation’s sustainable travel trade fund. Even better, travelers are renting hybrid vehicles and choosing
spas and hotels with green services (e.g. low flow showerheads, organic dining, cleaning services that use biodegradable products, etc.) Don’t worry your customer service and bartending skills are still in high demand at these locations.
3) What's in your green wallet? Investing and banking
There is definitely an increase in eco-banking, carbon traders, and green investors. These guys and gals are viewed as subject matter experts who are helping folks like you and me with green mortgages, tax rebates, green loyalty-points programs, and green profits. They are in tune with the market and learning how regulations are making an impact on your wallet.

Certainly, there are many other jobs and opportunities available in different green industries; however, if that is not enough to convince you, then consider the details of the Green Jobs Act of 2007.

Green Jobs Act of 2007 (H.R. 2847), introduced by Reps. Hilda Solis (D-CA) and John Tierney (D-MA), authorizes up to $125 million in funding to establish national and state job training programs, administered by the U.S. Department of Labor, to help address job shortages that are impairing growth in green industries, such as energy efficient buildings and construction, renewable electric power, energy efficient vehicles, and biofuels development.

It's never too late to enhance your sustaino skills or use your existing skills to help our green economy.