Summertime Equals Bike Time

June 15, 2009

It is summer time. Time to Greenify the old fashioned way. Time to get out the bike, check the tires and take it… everywhere.  Ride it to the office. Use it on short runs to the grocery store.  Instead of driving to the gym for your workout, maybe just ride it to the gym and back for exercise.

A bicycle is one of the best forms of exercise for a healthy lifestyle.  It doesn’t jar your joints.  You can ride it as fast or as slow, getting a good workout or working off a few frustrations depending on what you want.

It’s also a great way to get around. Gas prices are soaring upwards again.  Isn’t it stunning how they seem to do that immediately after an election?  They are soaring upwards and show no sign of coming down.  There’s no shortage of gas.  There’s no reason for the hike. The prices are going up because oil companies, producers and refiners simply like making huge profits. 

With the recession that most of us are focused on weighing so heavily on our pocketbooks, it may be time to find a better solution than cars.  You like to shop for groceries on a daily basis?  Just change clothes after work and get on the bike.  You’ll have plenty of time on the ride to the store to figure out what’s for dinner.  And you’ll have a few cents more to throw in the kitty for the food budget.

We can Greenify, save money, save on stress, and shrink our carbon footprint, all while working with things that we have.  Go “old school” and you’ll find yourself doing as your grandparents did: smiling all the way to the bank on your bike.


Is Your Sunscreen Green?

June 8, 2009

As you are trotting out the door for a weekend of fun, ask yourself this: have you given any thought to sunscreen?   For decades now, we’ve been concerned about the ozone layer and global warming.  But what about your skin?  Is the sunscreen you’re wearing making the problem better or worse?  As you protect yourself from the sun, what are you doing to the planet?

Most of us know that everything we use, whether we’re speaking of laundry soap or lipstick, at some point winds up in the environment, where some of it has the potential to wreak havoc.  And that includes sunscreen.

Think about it: you put it on your face and run out the door.  Whether it is sweated off or simply floats away in the pool, it’s often “gone” by the time you come home at the end of the day.  And since we know “magic sunscreen elves” didn’t remove it, it had to go somewhere. 

What’s in that sunscreen you rub on your shoulders?  Most UV-protection creams sold in the United States contain some combination of as many as 17 FDA-approved active ingredients. Two of those, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, are minerals; the rest are carbon-based chemicals such as octinoxate, oxybenzone and octisalate, each of which might go by a number of different names.

With these classes of ingredients, there are concerns over the minerals, including the increased usage of new nano-formulations of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Though studies suggest that these tiny particles are better at blocking UV rays than are their larger counterparts, and though a number of studies have shown that they don't penetrate healthy skin, many skeptics say not enough research has been done to substantiate safety claims. Certain chemical ingredients, on the other hand, may penetrate the skin and act as endocrine disrupters, affecting users' hormones and reproductive functions.

Human health and planetary health aren't the same thing, but they are related: Any mineral or chemical that might be harmful to humans could damage wildlife and destabilize ecosystems. Though the studies aren't exhaustive, researchers have found chemical UV filters in lakes, oceans and rivers around the world, with the highest concentrations found near wastewater treatment plants.

The accumulation of both kinds of UV filters in the water is troubling to some toxicologists because of their potential to build up inside the cells of fish and other marine life. A series of studies conducted in Switzerland found two of these commonly used chemicals inside fish living in rivers and lakes, though the reports didn't indicate that the animals' overall health was suffering.

Fewer data are available on the major UV filters used in the United States. Researchers at the University of California at Riverside did test the effects of one common ingredient, oxybenzone, on two fish species. They found that it diminished reproductive abilities, but only at concentrations much higher than those observed in suspected areas of contamination in California and New York.

In the wake of this science -- and, it seems, out of a general sense that minerals are more "natural" than chemicals -- many green-minded folks are switching from chemical sunscreens to the zinc or titanium varieties. But those haven't been proved 100 percent safe for our ecosystems, either.

There's also the production of sunscreen to worry about. The mining and processing of minerals is resource-intensive and environmentally taxing. Creating titanium dioxide can result in large amounts of iron sulfate waste or smaller amounts of the more hazardous iron chloride waste. Manufacturing the nano-size versions may require plenty of extra energy plus more purifying solvent, which generates significant amounts of waste that may be hazardous, depending on the solvent used.

It's hard to tell exactly how the chemicals stack up in terms of production, because manufacturers aren’t required to release their exact formulations. (As an industry, though, metal mining releases more than twice the amount of toxic chemicals as the chemicals industry, according to the EPA.)

Of course, there are other ways to protect your skin at the beach, such as hats, umbrellas, and maximum coverage clothing.  All of which would help you go green and at the same time, stay pale.


Share a Bike: Go Green with a Group

May 28, 2009

Going green isn’t an American idea; it’s an international necessity.  We have to do it together in order to get any place on lessening the carbon footprint left by humans.  So we might as well start going green together on bikes.  And now, Montreal is showing some of us the way.

This past week, Montreal Canada began the most ambitious bike sharing program anywhere in North America.  The program is called “Bixi” and the city, which will operate the program through its parking authority, explains it this way on the ride-sharing program’s website:

“The user takes a bike from one of the stations, pays at an automated pay station, and drops the bike off at any pay station in the network. The bike becomes another mode of urban transport unto itself, a practical, economical, ecological and healthy alternative to energy-guzzling vehicles.”

Can you imagine how convenient this could be?  For example, if you took mass transit into the heart of the crowded city for work, but then needed a ride to lunch with a friend, you’d simply pay for a bike, ride it to lunch, and put it in the rack.  You would eat lunch before returning to the rack for the ride back to the office. 

Bixi is very ambitious, as I said.  3000 specially made bikes that will be positioned at 300 bike stations all over the city.  There are similar programs in Europe, but the bikes there are often clamped into their locking compartments by the front wheel, which often results in damage to the wheel.  The Bixi bikes lock into a tab slot in the front.  Result: no damage.

Montreal spent $13 million dollars to research and start the program.  They believe the program can be used in any city, anywhere.  But you don’t need to be a city to start bike sharing. 

Could your business use a bike to run errands?  Could you and some neighboring businesses share a bike together?  It’s a small thing to Greenify but a big thing to take the first step. Or pedal.


Painting your roof tops White?!

May 27, 2009

Yes, you read the title of this blog correct. White roof tops was a topic of conversation in London yesterday at a climate change symposium. In an effort to Greenify our nation, one of the outcomes of this symposium is that the Obama administration wants homeowners to paint their roofs an energy-reflecting white color.

US Energy Secretary Steven Chu represented the United States at this London event. He also indicated that light-colored (or "cool-coloured") pavement and cars could also mean energy savings for our country.

Click here to read more about how the US wants to paint the World White, and the positive environmental effects these actions may have, in Tuesday's blog post on Yahoo Green.


Save Time: Join Us on Twitter!

May 26, 2009

We don’t usually toot our own horn here at the Green Business Alliance, but we do frequently Twitter.  That’s right: the Green Business Alliance is now on Twitter.

We’re guessing that you’re web savvy enough know what Twitter is: a social network tool that allows us to directly communicate with our members and supporters like you. 

Twitter is free and can save you a lot of time.  Are you aware that the average American receives 142 unwanted “spam” emails per day?  By 2011, it’s predicted we’ll spend 40% of our time managing email.  That’s a huge amount of wasted effort when you consider how much junk email (aka SPAM) is in our email boxes these days.

By signing up for Twitter’s updates, you can have Green Business Alliance updates sent to your mobile device or log in and check them yourself.   We’ll be “tweeting” about new blogs and articles.  The “tweets” will include valuable information to help you greenify your business better and more efficiently.  We’re hoping to post about other environmental news to help you understand your world and Greenify at home, too.  We believe it will be a whole new era of better communication with our members and readers.

And with the competition for business now tougher than ever, smarter greenifying could be the little extra edge that leads to success.

All you have to do to start this service is to visit www.twitter.com, and set up an account.  Then return to our homepage here at the Green Business Alliance and scroll down until you see the Twitter logo on the right side of the screen.  Click on that to request following our “tweets” and you’ll be linked in.

Happy Twittering!


Get Ready for Summer

May 20, 2009

Are you Greenifying in advance of summer?  Time to get ready for the heat waves before they hit!  And it needn’t be expensive.  In fact, it should save you some cash over time.

First off, how old is that A/C unit?  Running your air conditioner this summer can be one of your business’ biggest expenses.  But there are ways to increase energy efficiency and lower your energy bills.  How old is your air-conditioning unit?  Is it energy efficient?  Federal minimum efficiency standards for room air conditioners were revised in October, 2000.  That means if it may need to be replaced. 

Also, do you have a programmable thermostat?  These are relatively inexpensive and easy to install devices that allow you to program both air conditioning and heat to comfort levels when you and customers are in the office, but turn them down for energy efficiency when business hours are over. 

Check for whether caulking needs updating.  You’d be surprised how much expensive cold air can leak out of small cracks and crevices.  You’ll be even more surprised how much energy a $4 tube of caulk can save.

Go old school.  If you have curtains or blinds, shut them when the sun is shining through your windows.   Blocking the sunshine out will keep out a measure of the heat and allow for savings.

When people say, "it's not the heat, it's the humidity," they are right. If you have a dehumidifier, turn it on when the temperature rises. Getting rid of the humidity will help make business feel more comfortable. 

Also, get a fan.  Sometimes, all you really need is some movement in the air.   An overhead fan is the most thorough way to circulate air, but you may want portable fans to allow you to focus the movement.  And where possible, open the front and back door.  Circulating the air all the way through can help alleviate humidity and feeling of closeness.

The heat is coming.  Take a few moments now to make sure you can stay as comfortable and green as possible.


Want to Go Green? Go LOCAL

May 18, 2009

Are you noticing the increasing emphasis on going local?   It seems to be everywhere with increasing emphasis as big business tries to compete for green dollars by claiming to be “local.”

During this time with our stressed out economy, marketers are looking for any edge possible with consumers.  As we’ve noted here at the Green Business Alliance in the past, surveys have shown that American consumers will pay more for “green,” recycled, or other products with a lower carbon footprint. The effects of that poll have now settled into the advertising industry in a big way.

But what does it mean when the big, national chain companies say they are offering “local?”  Well, it could mean… almost anything.  The sad fact is that the government doesn’t regulate use of the word “local” and there is no legal standard for it.  There is no definition, no set number of miles that dictates when manufacturer, producers, retailers or other businesses can or cannot use the word “local.”

The marketing tactic first hit in the food industry, where “locavores,” as they call themselves, claimed to prefer local food for its freshness and its smaller carbon footprint.
But now the movement is spreading.

“You know the locavore phenomenon is having an impact when the corporations begin co-opting it,” Ms. Prentice said. “Everyone should know where things are processed. The ‘where’ question is really important.”

I’m not saying that the national big box home improvement store that is selling “local lumber” or “area produced seedlings” isn’t doing just that.  They might be.  But isn’t it interesting that corporate America is now interested in changing the green market of those who prefer to buy and consume local products?

It’s great to offer local produce and products.  It’s wonderful to Greenify both in your own life as well as the products that your business is using and offering.  But can I make a suggestion?  Since the government hasn’t qualified what “local” means, perhaps you should.  It may be turn into your own business success story.


Green Means Less White (Paper)

May 15, 2009

Have you looked in your recycling bin lately?  Oh sure, you’re putting as much paper, cans, plastic and glass into the recycling system as possible, saving as much landfill space as you can.  That’s great news for the making your business more green, but could you go further?  Could you Greenify more by using less paper?

The government says Americans use 85 million pounds of paper and cardboard products annually at work and at home.  That much paper, without any consideration to source and style of manufacture can be hard on our environment.  We’re permanently deforesting lands, using energy and water in a production process that generates greenhouse gases and hazardous by-product AND packing the final result into landfills.

What are our greener options?  

First, instead of a letter, how about an email?  Can you do business electronically?  Sometimes, it’s just not possible.  But other times, you can and should do it.  And sometimes, clients appreciate a little less paper and more speed, too.

Second, use recycled paper when and where possible.  Yes, it does cost more, but if you can afford it even a few days per month, that’s still saving some resources, isn’t it?

Third, study those labels.  If the paper isn’t “fully recycled,” how about using products that contain some post-consumer waste?   The higher, the percentage, the better the paper is for the environment. A chasing-arrows symbol may simply mean a paper product is recyclable, while the word "recycled" may refer to only a small percentage of recovered fibers.

Fourth, demand certification.  Some groups certify that the virgin fiber used in any given paper comes from responsibly managed forests.  The most acknowledge certification comes from the Forest Stewardship Council. Check with your printer or paper supplier to see whether it carries FSC-certified lines.

And finally, look into tree-free options. Some manufacturers are starting to make paper from agricultural crops and residues.  Tree-free material is available for personal use (think cards and invites), but before buying, investigate its origins and the farming practices used.  You can find a list of suppliers here.

You want to make your business just a little greener?  A great start is to make it a lot less white. 


Greenifying Government, One Job at a Time

May 14, 2009

I've signed up for work as a government contractor and as such, been assigned a new email account which is connected to my government contractor listing on a website somewhere.  Already I am getting emails encouraging me, via the government contractor site, to "certify and go green!"   As if I needed any encouragement?

I do find this encouraging, if a bit stunning.  We have all heard President Barack Obama, now in the second hundred days of his administration, is making good on his promises to further environmental causes and alternative energy research.  It's amazing when you see it laid on your front door step. 
 
The most recent email is from a group offering to assist contractors and businesses with efforts to certify as a green product or service, or as having implemented a green manufacturing process.  The government wants to hire green contractors, so this group is offering an online self-certification process allowing small businesses to create a customized certification site with advertising tools as well as a "certification seal" from the group.  The company boasts being the "nation's leading certification for green business with over 45,000 certifications in the United States."
 
The government is intending to hire more green businesses and green contractors.  (Since my "business" is writing, I'm guessing all I'll need to do is use a lower-powered laptop rather than a full size PC!)  They are making it clear to contractors that the road ahead is green with opportunity. 
 
They are also offering homeowners opportunities to improve the energy efficiency of current structures and drivers to turn in gas guzzling "clunkers" for cash.  These are great opportunities to Greenify with the government's help.  Some of these Greenification efforts will save thousands of dollars over the life of the house or car. 


Swine Who?

May 11, 2009

By now, we've all heard about swine flu: an influenza that passes easily between the pig population and humans and was believed to be especially virulent and potentially deadly.  We saw as visitors arrived from international ports of call into our country wearing surgical masks as an effort to keep them from acquiring for themselves or passing the virus to others.  The government warned us about the symptoms and how to avoid this strain of influenza by avoiding crowds, learning to cough into our sleeves and wearing masks.
 
Where I live in Southern California, many people are concerned about pollution and particulate matter in the air during major fires.  During severe wildfires, many people protect their lungs by wearing such masks to keep out soot, ashes, and other minute bits of debris.   I guess that's appropriate because Los Angeles remains at or near the top of the lists of the most polluted cities in the United States.
 
But sad to report, these masks are also very useful outside of times when we are concerned about a global pandemic or being downwind of a large fire.   

Particulates are visible air pollutants consisting of particles appearing in smoke or mist. These particles come in "almost any shape or size, and can be solid particles or liquid droplets. We divide particles into two major groups," according to www.AirInfoNow.com. The big particles are between 2.5 and 10 micrometers (from about 25 to 100 times thinner than a human hair). The small particles are smaller than 2.5 micrometers (100 times thinner than a human hair). These particles can be dust, pollen, soot, smoke, liquid droplets, or  a wide variety of other compositions.  And they can harm our health, particularly the smallest ones that work their way deep into our lungs. 

The Environmental Protection Agency warns: "Numerous scientific studies have linked particle pollution exposure to a variety of problems, including: increased respiratory symptoms, decreased lung function, aggravated asthma, development of chronic bronchitis, premature death in people with heart or lung disease, and more.

It's hard to think that our air is so bad that we can't breathe it freely and healthfully, but when you see those surgical masks on people coming and going trying to avert swine flu, consider whether you may want to wear one until we can completely Greenify, or at least remove the grey from our air.


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