Environmental Case: Libby Montana

February 23, 2009

There is a little environmental lawsuit that is setting the stage for some big repercussions starting this week.  It pits the people of a small Montana mining town against a major chemical company facing federal charges of poisoning their homes and schools with asbestos.

Opening statements are scheduled in the case of U.S. vs. W.R. Grace and Co. and five of its executives, who are charged with knowingly exposing the residents of the town of Libby to the fibrous mineral linked to cancer.

The case stems from the mining for vermiculite from Zonolite Mountain near Libby.  The mineral was then processed into products used for plumbing insulation, fireproofing and gardening.  Mining began in 1920 and continued for about 70 years.  The company’s “Zonolite” brand insulation is in some 35 million homes in the United States.

"This trial is one of the most complex and creative criminal prosecutions in the history of environmental regulation," said Andrew King-Ries, an assistant professor at the University of Montana School of Law.

The problem is that the vermiculite from the Libby mine was contaminated with naturally occurring asbestos mineral fibers, which can be inhaled and can cause mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer.

Libby residents believe the pollution has killed at least 225 people and sickened about 2,000 more in the area.

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy has placed a gag order on the parties involved, but court documents are revealing.

"The defendants in this case knew the dangers of asbestos they released into the Libby, Montana air, yet they concealed the dangers, putting local residents at risk while enriching themselves," prosecutors said in their trial brief.

Lawyers for Maryland-based W.R. Grace deny their clients conspired to release asbestos, arguing that most of the releases occurred years before an applicable law was passed in 1990.

"The government has illogically charged that the defendants conspired in 1976 to violate a statute that would not exist for another 14 years," Grace said in its trial brief.

Libby is a town of about 2,600 people located in a forested valley of the Cabinet Mountains, about 100 miles northwest of Missoula, Mont.


Earth Day 2009!

February 19, 2009

Earth Day 2009 is on the very green horizon.  What?  You haven’t even started to plan?  That’s okay because so many others have sprung into action and are ready to help out.

As I looked around the internet for various activities, I went to one of my modern, go-to-cyberplaces to find activites: Facebook.

The best thing about Facebook is that it’s free.  Now that I’ve said that, I want to point out that it can also be incredibly local.  You can start a page on Facebook in just a few minutes and find all kinds of activities for Earth Day. 

If you haven’t done this, you should.  I typed in “Earth Day 2009” and got 228 results. (Probably by the time you read this, there will be more!)  If I add “Los Angeles,” I narrow the field to the activities that might interest me most.  Or if you added New York, Washington, Chicago, Houston or any other location.

What?  You live in a small town and there’s nothing posted?  That’s great!  That means you can start a page for Earth Day in your town and use it to post activities for everyone to see. You can also post your own efforts to Greenify at home and at work.  Swap tips on how to conserve natural resources.  And maybe even start a carpool club. 

All kinds of opportunities to observe Earth Day are out there.  And Facebook isn’t going to be the only place to find them.  Earth Day is what you make it.  Consider that when you’re turning out the light as you leave the room and hanging a new clothes line across your backyard. That’s all it takes to Greenify going into Earth day 2009.


Greenify Your Construction Project: Future World

February 18, 2009

If you’ve never been to Hong Kong, let me paint a scene for you.  The city itself is like any major metropolis but set on a harbor.  The water there is an amazing shade of brilliant blue green, like the bright blue green of a peacock feather.  And buildings under construction are sheathed in scaffolding that is pale green. 

The reason?  Hong Kong builders use natural bamboo to build their scaffolding as high as they want.

It’s a fascinating phenomenon: earth-friendly bamboo being used to build lattices that construction workers stand on, as high as most metal construction crew frameworks built in this country.  Bamboo is really more than just breakfast, lunch, and dinner for pandas.

It’s also one of the most renewable of resources.  It’s being used in flooring, wall coverings and in kitchen-ware and cutting boards.  Bamboo is the largest of the woody grasses on our planet and the fastest growing.  A stick of bamboo is capable of growing 24 inches in a day, depending on soil, nutrients, and a steady supply of water. 

We may be seeing more of this wonderful plant as we grow together as a planet.  It’s a resource for the future and we hope you’ll consider it when the next opportunity to Greenify and grow your business comes up. 


Go Green: STAY HOME

February 17, 2009

Britain’s Prince Charles is about to embark on a 16-thousand mile “green tour” to South America next month that he hopes will draw attention to environmental sustainability and climate change issues.  But maybe the Prince could better Greenify by staying home.

The Prince is taking a 14-person entourage, including his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, valet and various attendants, and flying onboard a private jet with a VIP lounge, Master Suite, satellite phone, printer, fax and luxury leather seats.  The Prince’s aides say the tour would be “impossible without a private jet.”  He is, after all, a Prince, right?

Prince Charles has long been a champion of environmental issues.  He’s very well regarded as knowledgeable about plants and vegetation.  His spokesman says he was asked by the government to make this trip because of the “important issues” involved.   But is he apparently so focused on looking for the forest that he’s missing the trees?

British Labour MP Ian Davidson, a member of the United Kingdom Parliament's public accounts committee, called the cost absurd and said, “"At a time when the greed of bankers is causing much adverse comment, I would have thought that Prince Charles would have had more sense than to be so financially and ecologically wasteful."

His trip scheduled for March will leave a 322 metric ton carbon footprint.  The cost, according to London newspaper, “Mail on Sunday” is expected to be about $820,000.  A spokesman says he will “offset his carbon emissions.”  Does that mean he’ll drive a Prius while he’s on the ground?

Really, Your Majesty, do us a kindness and send a letter.  Better yet, Greenify and send an email.


New Ways to Greenify for Old Items: Upcycling

February 12, 2009

Upcycling is the newest way to Greenify our lives and businesses.  And here at the Green Business Alliance, we’re hoping it will catch on.  What is upcycling? 

You may have been to art galleries in the past where artists were taking found items (which can also be described as junkyard trash) and turning them into new and useful things.  It’s kind of like that, with less focus on looks and more on purpose.  Wikipedia defines “upcycling as turning waste items into new, usable items.”  And it generally involves a certain level of creative ingenuity.

Lots of folks these days are upcycling things and making small businesses out of it.  There are websites (http://www.etsy.com/) that focus on selling such repurposed materials, carefully and cleverly recycled into marketable products that then get further use by new owners.  Imagine seeing an old pair of jeans “upcycled” into an expensive designer handbag.  It’s been done.

Our grandparents did this to a certain extent.  They used old newspapers and magazines to light fireplaces and firepits.  These days, we know not to do that because those magazines can contain inks that become toxic when burned.  But there is still a lot to learn here.

As a child, every parent in my hometown made a springtime trip to the elementary school to round up some small milk cartons.  Those cartons were then “upcycled” to use for starting vegetable seedlings for the family garden.  Sometimes, you can spot those who grew up in a small town, huh?

But if we look for those small ways to reuse a resource, then perhaps we’ll utilize the materials more fully.  A little upcycling could also be known as “Greenification” at the most basic level: using something more completely before we put it out to be recycled again.


Earth Day Planner: Personal Observance

February 10, 2009

How do you plan to observe Earth Day, 2009?  It’s coming up in April and if you plan now, you can Greenify and observe it simultaneously at home and at work.

Here are some easy suggestions for how:

  • Close up shop for the day to give employees a chance to go to the Festivities in your town.  Save on resources and enjoy a day of honoring the Earth.
  • No festivities to observe?  Stay open and offer an Earth Day “commemorative token” to each customer who comes in that day.  Preferably, something with the business’ name and contact information on it.   We like apples and if you start now, you can get some nifty stickers with your company logo printed in food-friendly non-toxic ink.
  • Treat Earth Day as the start of the planet’s New Year and resolve to do more to Greenify.
  • Make a contribution to a favorite green organization.
  • Plant a tree or bush.  Better yet, offer seedlings to your customers to plant.  They are remarkably inexpensive when purchased through the Arbor Day Foundation.
  • Remind family members that it is Earth Day and discuss with youngsters why this is important.

Whatever you do on Earth day, know that the most important thing is free: to recognize the Earth’s importance and our individual stewardships in taking care of it.   We’ve wounded our Earth in some ways, so we’ve got plenty of Greenification opportunities to go around.


Red or Pink? Our Heart Beats for Green!

February 9, 2009

Have you thought about what you’re getting your sweetheart for Valentines’ Day, coming up at the end of this week?  Since it seems like every year, they come out with a new survey showing that the overwhelming majority of us wait until the actual Valentines’ Day to get a love token for our beloved, we assume that there is still time for you to consider a green Valentines’ Day gift. 

Chocolates and other candies are a very popular gift.  This year, there are environmentally friendly, sustainable chocolates, if that’s what you’re offering to impress your sweetheart. 

Here’s what you want to consider:

  • Choose “fair trade-certified.”  This means that the farmers who grew the cacao beans earned a fair wage, their workers were treated well, and some profits go back into the community. Check out http://www.transfairusa.org/ for details.
  • Look for boxes that are made with recycled paper.  To be honest, sometimes these boxes are handmade and very beautiful and unique.  Try to avoid plastic inserts or coating as well.  They aren’t “sweet” on the environment.
  • Choose chocolates made from local ingredients. Not perhaps the chocolate itself.  The cacao beans are generally grown in Central and South America.  But the ingredients in the fillings, like dairy products, fruits, and nuts can all be locally sourced.  That saves on fuel and supports local farmers.

And you can always look around for a local chocolatier.  There are many small boutique chocolate makers (think “Mom” in a flowery apron) springing up all over the country.  Buying local is always greener than buying big name or imported items.  And maybe your sweetheart, like some of us, is more impressed by a heart that beats for green than a heart that beats for overseas and often overpriced imported chocolates.


Greenify by Cashing Out a Clunker?

January 29, 2009

A measure introduced this past week by U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) would establish a national voucher program to encourage drivers to trade in older, less fuel efficient cars, trucks or SUVs for a more fuel efficient vehicle.

It’s billed as the “Cash for Clunkers” program.  It would give drivers a credit of between $2,500 and $4,500 to turn in fuel-inefficient vehicles to be scrapped, and purchase a more fuel efficient vehicle. The traded-in vehicles would have to be drivable, have a fuel economy of no more than 18 miles per gallon, and have been registered for at least the past 120 days. Vouchers could also be redeemed for transit fares for participating local public transportation agencies. The program would operate for four years, from 2009 – 2012, and is expected to encourage the early retirement of up to one million vehicles per year.

This is Congress’ attempt at encouraging drivers to trade in less fuel efficient vehicles in a tough economic client. 

“If enacted, this bill would be an important part of helping getting America’s struggling automobile industry back on its feet – and help consumers who are concerned about covering the cost of buying a more fuel efficient vehicle,” said Senator Feinstein.

The bill would also…

  • Save an estimated 40,000 to 80,000 barrels per day of motor fuel by the end of the fourth year.
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions between 6.6 million metric tons to 7.6 million metric tons, or the equivalent of removing 1.1 million to 2.2 million vehicles from the road in one year, (based on an estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 vouchers issued per year).
  • Reduce nitrogen oxides, which cause ground-level ozone (a leading cause of respiratory health problems, like asthma), by 3,043 short tons (2,761 metric tons) by 2013, (based on an estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 vouchers issued per year).

The senators hope this will compliment a new fuel economy law, which if passed, will raise average fuel economy standards for America’s fleet of vehicles by at least 10 miles per gallon over 10 years or from 25 to at least 35 mpg by the year 2020.


Green the Environment or the Economy?

January 28, 2009

What has you feeling most concerned: Greenifying the environment or the state of our economy?  A recent poll shows for most Americans, worries about jobs and the economy outweigh their concern about environmental issues.

According to the latest survey by the Pew Research Center, strengthening the nation’s economy and improving the jobs situation now rank as the two top priorities by a respective 85 and 82 percent of those surveyed. 

In the jobs category, this is up 21 points since the previous version of this same polling material, one year ago. 

As a category, “protecting the environment” fell 15 points on our national worry list in the past year. While it’s still a top priority with 41 percent of voters, that’s down from 56 percent in the past 12 months. 

There is still concern about the energy debate, with 60 percent of Americans calling it a “top priority.”  Energy prices and the need for independence from fossil fuels has risen steadily for the past six years beginning in 2002, when the poll found 42 percent cited energy concerns as a top issue.

While the poll shows that some voters are less concerned about the environment and more concerned about the economy, it should be noted that the mood among those surveyed seems to be a group concern.  That obviously not everyone polled is unemployed, therefore they are being concerned about their fellow man, which ought to be a prime concern of all of us.

The survey also showed that while a growing number of us are worried about the economy, there is attention being paid to the economic benefits that clean energy systems can provide, with a growing number of home and business-owners having first-hand knowledge of those good qualities because they’ve already begun to Greenify.

And PS: Going Green is often more economical than not!


President Barack Obama’s Greener Days Ahead

January 26, 2009

Our new President of the United States seems very bent on Greenifying all of us.  This week, he’ll direct federal regulators to move quickly on an application by California and 13 other states to set strict automobile emission and fuel efficiency standards, according to administration officials.

This latest action makes good on an Obama campaign pledge and at the same time, reverses Bush administration policy.   Granting California and the other states the right to regulate tailpipe emissions would be one of the most emphatic actions Mr. Obama could take to quickly put his stamp on environmental policy.   He’s also removing his predecessor’s efforts which markedly expanded our carbon footprint.

The Bush administration rejected California’s previous application.  EPA regulators are now expected to reverse that order after completing a formal review process.

Once they act, automobile manufacturers will quickly have to retool to begin producing and selling cars and trucks that get higher mileage than the national standard, and on a faster phase-in schedule. The auto companies have lobbied hard against the regulations and challenged them in court.  Not surprisingly, environmental groups are thrilled.

“This is a complete reversal of President Bush’s policy of censoring or ignoring global warming science,” said Daniel J. Weiss, director of climate strategy at the Center for American Progress in Washington. “With the fuel economy measures and clean energy investments in the recovery package, President Obama has done more in one week to reduce oil dependence and global warming than George Bush did in eight years.”

In this week’s action, Mr. Obama will order temporary regulations to be put in place by March so automakers have enough time to retool for vehicles sold in 2011. Final standards for later years will be determined by a separate process.

The next part for you and I will be stepping up and buying these new vehicles in support of their stricter standards.  The new standards don’t work until someone starts using them to Greenify.


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