Greenifying from Coast to Coast

July 6, 2009

I have been shopping for home goods lately, and am greatly impressed by the moves that have been made in the “green housewares” market.  I am in the process of setting up a new home, far from where I used to live.  At times, I wonder what would shrink my carbon footprint most: to move my housewares (currently in storage on one coast) to the other coast where I have moved myself; or to simply donate them to the local mission and start anew at my latest residence.

So here I am: going from store to store, looking at things that I have previously purchased and now see new and much more sustainably manufactured.

Cutting boards are made of bamboo; so are bookcases.  I love the look of bamboo, but even more do I love the sustainability. Bamboo is a wood that grows straight up and increases in size at an astronomical rate. It has a clean look about it that I am reassured by research on the internet is absolutely accurate: it is cleanly grown and produced, sustainable, and an ecologically sound choice.

I’ve also seen lamps that are now being sold with the new CFL light bulbs already in them.  Compact fluorescent light bulbs produce so much light using so little energy that it’s a delight to see them in stores.

I’m also going to need a new printer on this side of the country.  I want to purchase a small one, since I truly hope to move my old (still very serviceable) printer/scanner/fax/copier to this side of the country and continue using it.  I hope to be able to use that machine for a full 10 years before I even consider replacing it.  It’s halfway there now and I appreciate it more every day I am without it, so I will consider buying a smaller printer, utilizing a print shop for other services, and giving the smaller printer to a relative when the larger, older one arrives.

I’m fascinated by all the aspects of a green household that I’m finding in stores.  It seems my choices are greater than ever.  I hope you’re spotting (and plotting!) the ways to Greenify your own household. If you’ve got a tip, please email it to us (info@greenbusinessalliance.com) so that we can all share the knowledge and grow greener together.


Fireworks Greenify the Sky

July 2, 2009

Have you given any thought to how to Greenify your July 4th Celebration?  There are several things to consider.  First off, the best July 4th celebration (because who wouldn't want to celebrate living in the USA with more people than ever before focused on reducing carbon emissions and greening their business and home lives!) is going to be a group celebration.  Fireworks are dangerous explosive devices, best left to the professionals and firefighters who protect our homes and businesses already.  They're also expensive and if you're keeping an eye on your wallet, the public displays are even better.
 
But fireworks are also messy.  Many of their components explode with bits and pieces of burning incendiary devices that smolder all the way to the ground.  The air pollution that they produce is visible.  We ought to be wiser and stop putting up these environmentally unfriendly displays of messy, dangerous, polluting explosives, but we just can't seem to help ourselves.  They are part of our annual national display in the United States and many other areas around the world.  So since we can't beat 'em, let's join them.  Let's go to the public displays put on by the city or municipalities.
 
It would also be best to take your own food.  You can prepare and bring your own picnic dinner to enjoy on a blanket or in the car at the display and avoid all those nasty paper wrappers, styrofoam anything, plastic water bottles, and other environmentally negative aspects of buying prepared meals from fast food restaurants set up for single occasions.  And you'll eat healthier and tastier if you buy fresh, organic vegetables or even grow your own. 
 
And what would you like to sit on?  My father had a personalized stadium seat cushion made just for him in his favorite college team's colors with his monogram on it.  I would know; I made it for him for Christmas one year.  You certainly don't have to go that far, but I still remember wrapping up in favorite blankets brought from home to watch fireworks in the next town over, when I was very young.  The blankets made me feel safer when the really loud fireworks went off and they made it easier for my parents to bundle me into the car for the trip back to the house.  I think that's why I enjoy watching fireworks so much more in a blanket and pillow from home these days.
 
When the fireworks are over, consider the cleanup.  Look around you.  Part of being an American is pitching in to help others.  Help yourself and your community by cleaning up the things you brought and encouraging others to do the same.  You'll make this year's July 4th celebration more personal, a little more old-fashioned, and a lot more green. 
 
By the way, there is hope that someday, the fireworks we love so much will themselves be much greener.

Fireworks, flares and other so-called "pyrotechnics" traditionally have included potassium perchlorate as the oxidizer, a material that provides the oxygen that fireworks need to burn. Perchlorate, however, is an environmental pollutant with potential adverse effects on people and wildlife. Pyrotechnics contain other ingredients, such color-producing heavy metals, with a similar potential.

Studies have shown that perchlorate from community fireworks displays conducted over lakes, for instance, can lead to perchlorate contamination of the water. But now researchers are developing new pyrotechnic formulas that replace perchlorate with nitrogen-rich materials or nitrocellulose that burn cleaner and produce less smoke, according to an article in ACS's weekly newsmagazine, Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN).  So far, these green fireworks are in limited use because of their cost, but we hope that will change in time for July 4, 2010 to be a truly Greenified celebration. 


Going Green? Prove It!

June 23, 2009

Is your business green and proud of it? Are you marketing and advertising your greenification efforts in a meaningful way to consumers? We hope you can prove it.

The Federal Trade Commission is the government agency that is supposed to be supervising the use of the claim "environmentally friendly" and other "green" statements under laws passed in1992. Environmentalists, quoted in USATODAY, say there has been too little enforcement.

"There has been little to no enforcement of the 1992 guides," says green consultant Kevin Tuerff, whose company started a website aimed at exposing ads with questionable environmental claims. "They need to pick up the pace."

In fact, since May 2000, the FTC has only prosecuted three companies for violating guidelines that govern companies advertising eco-friendly products or biodegradable packaging. All three of those complaints were announced earlier this month, after Congress scheduled a hearing to look into the matter.

As we have noted in the past here at Green Business Alliance, there has been a huge upswing in the amount of green-marketing going on in the last several years. The interest in environmentally sound products and energy saving offerings has skyrocketed during the increase in gas prices of the last several years and again since the election and inauguration of President Barack Obama. But are all of these companies making legitimate claims?

A recent survey by environmental marketer TerraChoice of 12 large U.S. stores found more than 1,700 products boasting green credentials. We all see eco-friendly claims made by sellers of everything from bottled water ("our bottle design uses less plastic") to sport-utility vehicles ("it's a hybrid!") to laundry soap ("concentrated, so you use less") and those claims aren't always checked out.

Green Business Alliance wants to help interested companies integrate environmental stewardship into their daily business practices, and market themselves to consumers who are concerned about the environment.

James Kohm, who is with the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection admits the agency hasn't been as aggressive about enforcement as it might have been, in recent years, which he blames on lack of resources. But he points to the agency's crackdown on energy-related claims as a triumph. The FTC was able to remove products that promised to improve a car's gas mileage but failed to do so from the American marketplace.

More new cases like those announced earlier in the month are to be expected, according to Kohm. We hope so. We all want more businesses to join the greenification effort, but we want it done legitimately with benefits that pay off for both the companies involved as well as their customers and consumers.


Need New Light Bulbs? Get CFLs!

June 18, 2009

When you arrived at work this morning and flipped on the light, which kind of bulb as it?  A lovely, energy-saving compact fluorescent light bulb or “CFL?”  Or was it one of those round, older, energy-sucking incandescent light bulbs?

I hope it was one of the newer ones for your sake as well as for the rest of us. I was reading online this weekend when I saw the most amazing and horrifying statistic: only 20 percent of light bulbs being purchased are the new style that save as much as 75% less energy and last ten times longer than the old style bulbs.

Wow, I thought, who is buying those energy-thieving bulbs?  Who is cheating themselves and writing a carbon-creating check that our earth can not continue to pay?  I don’t know.  I just can’t imagine.

Energy saving compact fluorescent light bulbs will pay for themselves within one year of their purchase, according to most experts.  They do cost a little more, but the savings realized both for the buyer and in terms of lessening the carbon footprint caused by all of us is so great that we can no longer afford not to buy them.

For the last 6 to 12 months as this recession has unfolded, I have thought perhaps the bulbs weren’t being used as often as possible because of hard economic times.  I mean, if you’re having a hard time making this month’s payroll, you can’t expect to “reap the financial reward” of a light bulb paying for itself in a year if your company goes under in that time.  So I understand not replacing old, still operating bulbs for many companies. 

And its hard for me to suggest getting rid of something before its time.  Before it’s fully used up or broken.  I hate the wastefulness of doing that.  But it’s time to get rid of those old light bulbs.  Maybe for some struggling businesses, that switch should wait. 

Homeowners, though, are another story.  I was at the home of some financially strapped friends last week.  They have lost their home and are suffering through bankruptcy at the moment.  But every one of their light bulbs is a CFL bulb.  They are cutting their costs as quickly as possible. They are working on it.

So if you can possibly afford to replace those old incandescent bulbs, get on it.  Go get those bulbs.  They will pay for themselves.  Because 20% is just not enough.  We need to start flipping that number around, so that 80% of light bulbs sold are CFL and 20% are incandescent bulbs.  And then 15%.  And then 10%.  And then… we’ll find that CFL bulbs have shown the way to Greenification.


Our Amazing Planet

June 17, 2009

Do you mind if I take this one blog to just be amazed at the planet that we live on?  The fact that after being on this sphere for how many thousands (or millions, depending on who you believe) of years that we are still discovering new creatures, new geology, and new events here on our Earth is simply stunning to me.

This past week, there were a couple of interesting stories put on the internet.  These were more than just the “giant squid washes ashore on Thailand Beach.”  They were new discoveries about things going on in the world.

The first one that I saw was about clouds.  Apparently, a woman was in an upper floor in an office building in Iowa when she saw some unusual clouds passing by overhead. 

"It looked like Armageddon," said Jane Wiggins, a paralegal and amateur photographer in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. "The shadows of the clouds, the lights and the darks, and the greenish-yellow backdrop. They seemed to change." 

She snapped a few pictures and cloud experts, both professional and amateur, have been arguing about what classification, if any, these clouds fall under.  Clouds are normally classified as cirrus, which are high altitude wispy clouds. They are the highest clouds.

Cumulus are the mid-height ones, which are puffy and vertical and look at bit like popcorn; status, which the lowest clouds, Stratus often appear as an overcast deck. 

But Ms. Wiggins spotted what may be a new type of cloud.  And scientists are still scratching their heads about her photograph.

Also this week, an article spotlighting a glacier in Argentina is continuing to grow.  You read me right.  In spite of global warming and climatic changes around the world and in spite of ice shelves falling everywhere, the Perito Moreno glacier in Argentina is one of only a few ice fields worldwide maintaining a nearly perfect equilibrium since measurements began more than a century ago.

"The glacier has a lot of life," said Luli Gavina, who leads mini-treks across the glacier's snow fields.

The Perito Moreno glacier is currently 19 miles long and getting longer by the year. 

These are just two small items.  There are literally millions of amazing things about our planet.  I bring them to your attention because sometimes, it’s just nice to take a break from all the doom and gloom to catch a moment of wonder and awe.  It’s a great planet.  And we’ve got to take great care of it. 


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.


Greenifying Your Palate

June 10, 2009

I want to tell you what I did this weekend: I want to the Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting and Food Expo in Anaheim, California.  And it was an experience in greenification from the inside out!
 
The Institute of Food Technologists meets every year, bringing together thousands of food technologists, researchers, nutritionists, food industry representatives, and journalists to discuss what the current food trends and scientific discoveries about food, nutrition, additives and flavorings for the coming weeks and months will be.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that this year’s convention shows the food industry is getting greener by the year. 

The food technology industry has apparently realized the value of the green market.  Their offerings were focused on sustainable foods, organics, pro-biotics, pre-biotics, and functional foods.  They are adding nutrients and healthy aspects to foods that most of us never considered healthy before.

There were companies talking about greenifying their food producing and processing.  There were additives made from whole grains and other natural components.  There were entire sections devoted to sustainability in foods.

Much of the focus was on natural non-caloric sweeteners.  Instead of making highly processed, sophisticated chemicals to sweeten our food, it would appear that we are due for an onslaught of natural, but non-nutritive (zero calorie) sweeteners. 

Food colorings are going “all natural,” as well.  Colorings are being produced from natural dyes found in other foods like cabbage and berries, instead of chemicals and additives.  These colors are beautiful and safe for both consumers and the environment.

We’re entering a period where we have more technology, science, processes, and chemicals available than ever before, but in looking around the food technologists’ convention, I could see that the industries are responding to public demand for natural, sustainable, greenly produced foods.

The food industry is going green, in answer to what the public wants.  By the way, among the most popular “take-away” items from the IFT’s Food Expo were fabric shoulder bags.  In the past, the bags were mostly plastic and thrown away after the convention.  The bags I brought home will be recycled as grocery bags.


Cutting Noise Pollution thru Greenification

June 9, 2009

Have you heard what’s out there lately?  I mean literally.  Have you listened to the level of noise right outside your home or business?

Noise pollution is one of the most painful forms of pollution on a personal level.  It’s insidious, building slowly and as a result, there’s more of it out there than ever before.

The biggest creators of noise are often some of the most high-carbon-pollution creating industries, too.  In particular, such pollution comes from transportation systems, motor vehicle noise, and aircraft and rail noise.  Poor urban planning also blasts heavy sound abuse in our ears, since side-by-side industrial and residential buildings can introduce noise pollution into our home lives.

Other heavy-offenders are sources like car alarms, office equipment, factory machinery, construction work, groundskeeping equipment, barking dogs, appliances, power tools, overhead lighting hum, audio entertainment systems, loudspeakers and well, just plain noisy people.

In the past, it’s been hard to separate the noise from the people, so we suffered and wished for silence.  But these days, modern construction practices can restore the quiet indoors at least.

But how do we build barriers against the outdoor sound to cut as much as possible?  In our parents’ day, the answer was truly green: trees cut sound and they Greenify the plant.

These days, that’s still a viable solution, if you have the room and the support of your neighbors.  Trees beautify the planet, create oxygen, and provide natural homes for birds and other wildlife.   You can also purchase manmade materials for a sound wall, most often build of a renewable wood resource, or sometimes recycled plastic (certified “green!”) to absorb the sounds that pollute our planet. 

Either way, take time to consider noise pollution.  And find a green solution for yourself and those around you.


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.


White House Update: Keeping Promises Greenly

June 3, 2009

Did you see the news this weekend?  The President of the United States took his wife on a date including dinner and a play in New York City.  On Saturday, after watching their daughter Malia play soccer earlier in the day, Barack and Michelle Obama flew to New York taking their Secret Service officers, the media and a few staffers with them.

"I am taking my wife to New York City because I promised her during the campaign that I would take her to a Broadway show after it was all finished," the president said in a statement read to members of the media by an aide.

There was quite a lot of hubbub about the cost and money wasted by flying the First Couple and their security and media entourage to New York.  But that’s a story for a different blog. 

What I found interesting was the choice of restaurant: Blue Hill, a West Village restaurant that is described by New York magazine as a "seminal Greenmarket haven," featuring food grown by chef-owner Dan Barber at a farm he owns upstate.

Restaurants were one of the first types of businesses to pursue greener operations.  One of the leaders was Alice Waters, who began the “slow food” effort to provide high quality organic seasonal cuisine at her restaurant Chez Panisse in the San Francisco Bay area years ago. Ms. Waters believes that the international shipment of mass-produced food is both harmful to the environment and produces an inferior product for the consumer, therefore, she decided to Greenify her tables by offering her customers locally produced, seasonal organic cuisine.  And she’s won dozens of awards in doing so.

Since then, other restaurants have gotten on the bandwagon.  They’ve seen that diners are attracted to healthy, fresh-tasting, organic cuisine.  They are willing to pay more for interesting and well-done seasonal cuisine.  And that success can follow through waving the greenification flag high overhead.

The restaurant listed above is part of New York City’s effort to Greenify its produce.  The Council on the Environment of New York City has this website to help its consumers learn about local farmers and what they are offering:
http://www.cenyc.org/greenmarket

The site spotlights what began as “12 farmers in a vacant lot in 1976,” but has become one of the largest farmers market networks in the country.   The restaurant the Obamas dined at is listed on the website as shopping for some of its fresh produce there. 

It’s nice to see the President making good on campaign promises to all his supporters and doing it in a way that can, at some level, be thought of as green.


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