Christmas Greenification: It Starts with a Tree

November 26, 2008

Christmas is when our culture seems to forget about honoring the earth and neglects to Greenify.  We hit our annual high for consumption.  We decorate bigger and brighter every year, we send cards that kill forest after forest, and we consume prodigious quantities of food and drink.  This holiday season, Americans will put millions of miles and thousands of kilowatts into lighting holiday trees, homes and businesses.  But there are ways to Greenify your Christmas at home and at work. 

One of the biggest symbols of the holiday is the tree.  Brightly decorated with lights, tinsel, and ornaments, can this symbol be made more green?  Yes.  First off, choose a real tree.  An artificial tree is primarily a petroleum product.  A real fir or spruce is exactly that: a real tree. It brings scent and cheer to what might otherwise be a dreary corner of the room. And at the end of the holidays, it can be taken to the county recycling effort and turned into mulch. 

What about the decorations?  How about buying LED lights?  They look the same as convention incandescent bulbs, but last longer and use 80 to 90 percent less energy.  They’re also safer since they barely warm up.  Also invest in timers to continue the savings by dimming the lights, inside and out, when everyone goes to bed. You’ll find plenty of uses for those, turning off lamps, after the season is over.

As for decorations, many people use the same decorations year after year, and that’s an excellent way to conserve.  If you’d like to have new decorations, edible decorations can be freshly made and shared with customers who come by the business (or friends at home) during the holiday season.  Or you might consider a “theme tree” and make doggie treat decorations using any of the dozens of recipes for doggie treats available on the internet.

Christmas can be a great time to Greenify and keep the spirit of the holidays alive.


Greenify the Holidays with the Spirit of Giving

November 25, 2008

Let’s Greenify your holidays a few steps more.  What can you do to conserve without putting a damper on the joy of the holidays?
 
‘Tis the season to hit the malls.  When you go shopping, take your own shopping bags.  Yes, you may well be stopped going into the stores, as you carry a shopping bag, but you’ll help save on the millions of shopping bags that many stores have printed for Christmas shoppers.  And if you’re afraid of being stopped for shoplifting, take along paper or binder clips to fasten the receipts to the outside of your bag.

Once you get the gifts home, what’s next?  How about wrapping presents in posters, decorated grocery store bags, or pages from glossy fashion magazines?  Put a small present in a beautiful scarf and make the wrapping part of the gift given.  If you truly love brightly colored holiday wraps, purchase recycled wrapping papers online from websites like fishlipspaperdesigns.com and paporganics.com, which also may sell biodegradable ribbons.  Did you know that Americans use more than 38,000 miles of ribbon during the final months of the year?

"You don't have to sacrifice the celebration for sustainability," says Zem Joaquin, founder of ecofabulous.com and eco-editor of House & Garden. Her advice: be "eco-wise."

Another tip: consider going paper-free on holiday cards.  Direct friends to your family blog or create a free multiphoto card or an online slideshow on photobucket.com. You can add holiday music, snowflakes and bits of text, and then e-mail friends and family a link.  They may get a bigger kick out of your fun slideshow of the past year than they ever got out of pre-printed cards and posed single photos that almost always hit the curb the week after Christmas.

You don’t have to clamp down on holiday spirit to Greenify the season.  In fact, it may put you “in the holiday mood” earlier when you help conserve the environment.


The Card Question: to Greet or to Greenify?

November 24, 2008

Every year at this time, American businesses communicate their hopes for a joyous holiday and best wishes for the year ahead to their customers and friends.  But should they?  Does it need to be done?

American businesses and individuals send billions of holiday cards.  But perhaps this is the year to reconsider.  Most of those cards will end up going out in the trash, but not before they have consumed millions of dollars in valuable resources.

So instead of a glossy corporate Christmas card stamped with signatures that are undeniably false, consider what else could be done? Perhaps taking a video clip of each of the employees at your office and sending a slide show on the internet that allows viewers to get to know who is on the other end of the phone?  You could post it on youtube.com, and enjoy hope that it becomes the viral marketing tool that boosts the bottom line.  Or for the most important customers, an organic fruit basket or selection of jams is always welcome.  Organic chocolates are also likely to be popular choices.

The point is that cards which carry the holiday wishes aren’t really good for anything and they use up valued resources.  Other “holiday gifts” could be more useful, fun to look at, edible, and less consumptive of natural resources, all while conveying appreciation for business relationships and friendship and other relationships along with respect for the environment.

If you must send a card this holiday season, then try cards on recycled paper.  And next year, consider recycling this year’s cards as a statement to your customers of good cheer for the Greenification of our planet.


Video Games and Their High Energy Consumption

November 20, 2008

Before you head out to start your holiday shopping you may want to think twice about bringing home that coveted video game system for your children. Do you have any idea how much energy is consumed by these video game consoles each year? These consoles require about the same amount of energy as it requires to power a major US city. Any guess on which major US city that may be?

Suffice it to say, I think you will be shocked. Take a look at a recent blog post on green.yahoo.com. Click here to read Lori Bongiorno's article on how non-green the video consoles are and if you guessed the right city. She even provides a graph of the annual energy usage of three major brands of consoles - Wii, Xbox and Playstation 3. If your goal is to Greenify your holiday gifts, a video game console is probably not going to be at the top of the list.


Incandescent Bans: Why Wait to Greenify?

November 19, 2008

The end is near.  But that means that that Europe may begin to go green a little sooner.   

EU energy ministers have recently agreed to ban incandescent filament light bulbs across all 27 member states beginning in 2010.   That’s in addition to Australia, Cuba and the Philippines where bans have previously been announced to begin in the same year. 

Here in the U.S.A, we are coming a little late to the party because our ban doesn’t start until 2014.

The Energy Independence and Security Act, passed by the U.S in June 2007, requires 25 percent greater efficiency for light bulbs starting in 2012.  This will effectively ban incandescents. The EU's decision comes days before it lifts duties on energy-efficient bulbs imported from China.

According to the conservationists if the EU switches off incandescent bulbs, it will cut energy consumption for lighting by 60% and CO2 emissions by 30 million tons (out of the 4 billion tons emitted by the EU every year.   That’s not a lot, but it is still progress.

And no one says you have to wait to start conserving energy now.   Replacing old-style “filament” light bulbs with energy saving compact fluorescent bulbs can save you energy and money starting the moment that you install them.      

And who knows? By 2014, maybe the lighting industry will have come up with something even better.


Greenifying the World’s Largest Retail Supply Chain

November 18, 2008

If you’re watching what the “Big Boys” do and trying to pattern your success after theirs, here’s something to take note of: Wal-Mart, the biggest retailer in the world is attempting to Greenify with a makeover of its global supply chain.

Wal-Mart has a vision of going green, and is now demanding its suppliers, including many based in China, to live up to environmentally friendly manufacturing practices and product-safety guidelines to make that vision come true.

The Arkansas-based retailer got together with more than 1,000 suppliers in Beijing, China, telling them that change was coming.   And not just for the Chinese suppliers. The company is holding suppliers to higher manufacturing and operations standards to “build a more environmentally and socially responsible global supply chain,” announced company executives.

Here is what CEO Lee Scott had to say, “A company that cheats on overtime and on the age of its labor, that dumps its scraps and chemicals in our rivers, that does not pay its taxes or honor its contracts--will ultimately cheat on the quality of its products. And cheating on the quality of products is the same as cheating on customers," Scott said.  "We will not tolerate that at Wal-Mart," Scott stated.

The specifics of the new policies, requirements and deadlines for what Wal-Mart called its "Global Responsible Sourcing Initiative" were equally as bold, and most were targeted at suppliers based in China.  The requirements will force the factories to meet environmental standards in China by 2009 (elsewhere by 2011), make a 20% improvement in energy efficiency, and source 95% of their production from factories that receive high ratings on environmental and social practices.

If the world’s largest retailer can get its suppliers to Greenify, then maybe its time to consider how smaller companies can also go green in their own place and time as well.


Recycling Can Greenify Your Overhead

November 14, 2008

Many businesses can realize a substantial amount of money saved by going green and reducing waste.   Since many businesses are charged by the amount of waste they put out for their local waste removal company to haul away, this is one of the first and most common sense ways to save money and Greenify at the same time.

Some of the steps in doing that: purchase recycled, post-consumer products to start.  These products are now starting to become available at prices that are comparable, if not better than “new” products.  And just seeing them in your business lets your employees and your customers know that you care about the environment.  It encourages them to recycle, as well.

Post recycling containers.  Lots of them.  Everywhere.  The big, blue “recycled paper” containers are eye-catching and with luck, they’ll catch more use, too.

Look for products with minimal packaging.  Who is impressed by big, fancy thick packaging when smaller, more eco-friendly designs work just as well? 

Optimize your use of paper products.   If the memo is internal to the office, use both sides of the paper.  Send it around in envelopes with multiple lines for addresses, so that the folder can be reused again and again. 

Consider whether new office equipment is needed, or whether sturdy used machines and furniture can be purchased (at a savings!) from a clearance center.  There may be more choices right now than in recent years, because of the condition of the economy and businesses being forced to go under.

And look for ways to streamline your operation.  Cutting the steps may help you cut costs, increase productivity, impress customers, and improve your public image as you reduce waste and Greenify.


Have You Greenified for the Season?

November 12, 2008

Winter has now descended on the North American hemisphere, reminding us one last time to Greenify at work and at home. Heating and cooling account for about 56% of the energy use in a typical U.S. home, making it the largest energy expense for most of us.   Cutting your energy use will help Greenify and at the same time, could save you some money, which is always a welcome idea.  Here are some easy ideas on where to look to improve Greenification and save money:

While the temperatures outside are low, remember to open the draperies and shakes on south-facing windows during the first half of the day to allow the sun’s light to enter and warm structures.  Close the blinds and drapes at night to keep the heat in.

Reset your thermostat.   By lowering the thermostat even just a few degrees can save money.  If you drop it from 72 to 65 degrees for eight hours a day, you can cut the heating bill by 10%.   Get a sweater, and you might just find yourself enjoying greater savings on your power consumption than ever before.

Next check caulking and weatherstrip around doors and windows that might leak air.  Remember those old-fashioned “draft dodgers” that grandma used to make by sewing a tube of fabric and then filling it with beans and placing it along the bottom of the door?  It might be time to get those sewing skills polished up again. 

And don’t forget to check and replace the furnace filters regularly.  By checking filters, insulation and caulking, you can stop the loss of energy from your home, lower your power bills, and help Greenify in a way that will pay off with immediate and long-term benefits.


Bottled or Tap Water: Is There a (Greener) Difference?

November 10, 2008

Can we choose healthy products and Greenify the planet at the same time?  According to the latest lab reports on bottled water, the greener and more pure answer is coming out of our own taps.  That’s because those big name brands of H2O have the same variety contaminants found in tap water, according to a study by an environmental advocacy group.

The two year study was done by the Washington DC-based Environmental Working Group, which is an organization founded by scientists to advocate tighter regulation.  The results showed contaminants in bottled water purchased in nine states and the District of Columbia.  

Researchers tested ten brands. Two of the brands warranted further testing.  (Eight of the brands weren’t high enough to pursue further testing.) Additional testing revealed chlorine byproducts above California’s standard, according to the report. 

This flies in the face of all the advertising and hype.  Not to mention the modern “chi-chi” of having the purest water possible.  The researchers say much of the commercially bottled water is no more “contaminant free” than tap water.  And tap water, as we all know, is a lot greener than bottled water.

Forty-thousand plastic bottles per day are dumped into our landfills.  If Americans returned to drinking filtered tap water at home and work, and refilling containers to take along on their various daily activities, it could free up a huge amount of space in our landfills, lower landfill fees and taxes, and cut our out of pocket costs (during a difficult economic time) on water and be every bit as healthy for us as bottled water, if not more. 

And as it turns out, what’s better for our landfills and environment may be at least as good for us all as we Greenify together.


The Greenification of The New York Marathon

November 9, 2008

The New York Marathon is growing by leaps and bounds, and sprints and paces, too.   And now it’s going more green. 

You have to figure as the tens of thousands of runners participating in the ING New York City Marathon pound their way through the city one step at a time, they have an impact on the course.   Organizers are now in the process of trying to make that footprint more gently felt.

In the past, the race has taken steps to cut down trash and pollution, but here are some new improvements: the Staten Island ferry is moving to ultra low sulfur diesel fuel all the time, not just when carrying runners to the starting line. 

The organizers will also donate unused food from the starting line to City Harvest, which is a group that rescues food.  They’ll offer discarded running gear to various charitable groups, as well.

And recycling efforts will continue at pace, too.  Last year, 11 tons of cardboard and plastic were recycled along the 26.2 mile route.  The cars used in the marathon (yes, there were a few) were Toyotas, with most of the official vehicles hybrids. 

But there are greener cars than just those hybrids.  This year, pedicabs will offer free rides for spectators and biodiesel generators will be at the finish line providing power for the clocks, loudspeakers, medical tent and stage.  Those generators are running on 99% biodiesel made from American-grown soy.

Perhaps as other event organizers see the success of New York’s marathon, they’ll find ways to Greenify their own events.


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