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.


Green Is Green, Except When It’s Pink!

June 1, 2009

Going green and the work involved to Greenify homes and offices is going to help a lot of people this year.  You knew that, right? 

The stimulus package put in place by President Barack Obama includes $5 billion in funds for low-income U.S. households for energy-efficiency upgrades.  That includes everything from new double-paned windows and doors to “the pink stuff” insulation going into attics.

While these dollars will help these lower-income Americans, the money will also help businesses.  Those dollars will purchase insulation. They’ll buy caulking and weather-stripping.  And provide furnace and air-conditioning tune-ups.  

In doing so, those dollars will also pay for salaries of manufacturing plant workers at window and door factories.  They will pay the guy to install the doors and windows and insulation.  And any other project that the government deems helpful in both providing improved energy efficiency and of course, stimulating dollars back into the American economy.

The government has accepted applications for federal weatherization funds through this month, with thousands of companies, community groups, governments and others vying for stimulus dollars.  And tens of thousands of applications have been filed for the dollars in almost every state in the nation.  The government’s dollars are only now beginning to filter out of Washington.  The full impact should be felt by September: just in time for home and businesses to fully utilize improved energy efficiency.  

But Greenification is coming: both improved energy efficient heating and insulation and greening up the economy.  And pinking up attics everywhere.


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!


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