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.


Pat Yourself on the Sack!

May 7, 2009

How often do we hand out an “atta boy” around here?  That’s an old-school phrase for a pat on the back or a “job well done!” type of compliment. I want to bring your attention to something changing at the most basic of levels: the common human experience of the grocery store.  Are you noticing (like I am) that every time you step into the grocery store, you see more and more people pulling out their reusable grocery sacks? 

Although I haven’t seen figures yet, it seems I am constantly surrounded by people who are bringing their own usable sacks.  And I’m liking what I see.

Manufacturers are also offering more options.  Instead of just a more durable plastic sack, there are now options that don’t involve plastic.  They are made of fabric and here are a few that I’ve seen with increasing frequency:

•  String bags.  This bag is extremely lightweight, yet able to carry an immense amount of groceries.  Its ability to stretch is almost unparalleled.  Just when you think you’re done, you find one more item that has to go in.   And it does.
•  Lightweight nylon bags.  The cool thing about this alternative is that it fits in with the current system for bagging groceries at the check-out counter. It is a more durable but still lightweight material compared to the plastic bag. But again it lacks structure when loading.
•  Heavyweight nylon bags.  These are made to last a lifetime. Tote bags are often made of this heavy nylon. It resembles a traditional paper grocery bag with some added handles; it stands nicely on its own for easy packing. However with that durability and quality of materials comes a not-so-compact package. It folds similarly to a paper grocery bag.
•  Environmental friendly people want to be associated and seen with natural fabric bags. Available in soft and natural hues, some bags ooze class and concern. Multicolored patchwork bags, printed bags, embroidered and embossed bags are everyone's favorite.

I’m guessing that soon we will find ourselves customizing our own bags and adding a little of “this or that” to distinguish them from other people’s bags.  Individualism is encouraged, but think of the possibilities for your business as you put walking advertisement of your friendship with the earth into the hands of customers who will then carry them everywhere. 

We’re already seeing more of these and it’s wonderful to behold.  It means that Greenification is going forward.  And maybe someday, those disposable, life-sucking plastic bags will be gone. 


Spring Forward to Greenify!

May 5, 2009

We're finally feeling the Spring temperatures in most areas of the United States, which means it’s time to get out and enjoy the warm air and sun on our faces.  How can you do that and gather the gang for some Greenification?  How about a little community project? 

You’ve seen those signs along the side of the freeway: "Adopted by Acme Business Supply."  Ever wonder what that "adoption" entails?  Usually, it means contacting your state or local municipality to formally sponsor taking care of the side of the highway, clearing it of litter and debris.  It could be your business’ name instead of “Acme Business Supply” on the roadside sign.

That’s right: you sponsor the section of the highway.  In most states, you aren’t expected to get out there to clean and maintain that section yourself.  They do it for you as part of the sponsorship fee.  But maybe you’d like that opportunity?

I was walking through my neighborhood this past weekend when I saw a discarded takeout container.  It surprised me, because I was in the “gated” section where such littering usually doesn’t happen.  I picked up the container because it was so out of place that I felt a little leaving it there.  I walked it over to another neighbor’s recycling bin where I tucked it safely inside.

You can do that anytime, anyplace, you know.  If you see a cup or plate out of place, you can just pick it up and carry it to a waste receptacle.  Nobody has to tell you that it’s not a pretty sight.  You can just properly dispose of it when you spot such littering. 

Of course, if you’d like to pay to sponsor the greenification of a section of roadway, that’s great, too.   But maybe grab a picnic lunch and the office gang some weekend and go find a street you can clean on your own.  Since it’s greenification not glorification that’s the goal, it’s all good in our thinking.  And maybe it’ll make the Spring flowers smell a little sweeter, too.

 

 


How Green Is Your Clean?

May 4, 2009

Let's talk about personal hygiene a little here.  Are you cleaning your house at the expense of the environment?  You know you can actually introduce more toxins in while you're trying to rid your house of dirt and germs, but there doesn't have to be a trade off.   You can have a clean house and greenify at the same time.

These days, there are a myriad of products advertising their green cleaning abilities.  Many of these products are non-toxic, biodegradable, and made from renewable resources (not petroleum). But if designer labels aren’t for you, home-mixed cleaners can get the job done and then some.  In fact, distilled white vinegar or baking soda (not necessarily used together) can clean almost anything.  The stringent, grease-cutting of the vinegar or the neutral (but abrasive) power of the baking soda work to fight most household messes.  Mix a little warm water with either (or use that vinegar by itself for the toughest greasiest problems) and you'll have a good all-purpose cleaning agent.

These types of cleaners are especially important in cleaning your fridge.  You want to clean the plastic insulation seals on your refrigerator doors on a fairly regular basis in order to prolong their life and to make sure that they function optimally.  Cleaning them with vinegar insures that any oily food residue is thoroughly removed.  And using plain white vinegar insures that you're not introducing any toxins into the refrigerator where your food is being kept.  Wiping down the rest of the refrigerator's interior with a baking soda solution helps remove any stuck on bits of food and at the same time has a deodorizing effect on the fridge. 

Other non-toxic ingredients you can use to clean your home include glycerin, hydrogen peroxide, vegetable-oil-based soap sometimes referred to as castile soap (Castile soap is found in most health food stores. Dr. Bronner's is a popular brand.) and small amounts of Borax.  

There are a myriad of recipes and ways to use these ingredients found online.  The key thing needed is a commitment that you want to clean your home in a way that is safe for you and the environment. 


Eat Your Vegetables - After You Grow Them!

May 1, 2009

Can we talk about vegetables today?  Many of us are putting in gardens this year.  We may or may not have grown our own vegetables and fruits in the past, but this year, by golly, is the year that Mrs. Obama said the President will be out with his basket and spade, and so we are determined to green up our back and side yards, add some herbs on a window ledge, or maybe even just do some jars of sprouts for salads. 
 
But what happens when you go out to check those little sprouts and see dark little crawly things hanging all over the tender leaves that you worked so hard to bring out of the ground?  You're going to eat these things, so you don't want to use something chemical-y, right?  But how green are those pesticides they sell for home garden use?
 
Most insecticides, both synthetic and natural, interfere with insects' nerve transmissions. DDT, lindane and Ortho cause insect neurons to fire randomly, causing spasms and death.  Sounds tasty, doesn't it?  Well, not really.

They're less harmful to mammals, but in the environment they break down into toxic chemicals that can last for decades, move into ground water, and poison all sorts of animals.

But having never grown chives that did not suffer the ravages of bugs that sucked the lifeblood out of them, leaving them yellow and dead, I personally am neither sympathetic to insects nor desirous of consuming nerve poisons, even in minute amounts.

Many of the newer green pesticides have a unique mode of action that targets insects to block a key neurotransmitter receptor site.

"The neurotransmitter in insects is called octopamine; it is basically the insects' version of adrenaline," explains Gary Stamer of Chemtec Pest Control, based in Saddle Brook, N.J. "The botanicals block the octopamine, resulting in a shutdown of the insect's nervous system. Since only insects have this receptor, there is no harm to mammals, birds or fish."

But how can consumers be certain how green their "natural" pesticide is? Check with the Integrated Pest Management Institute of North America, which awards its Green Shield Certification (GSC) to services that use non-chemical approaches to pest control, and use approved pesticides only when necessary.

You can grow a garden, Greenify just a little and enjoy your own vegetables safely this summer, without poisoning yourself or the environment around you. 


Bring Your Lunch to Greenify and Save Money

April 30, 2009

Want to Greenify, save money and improve your health at the same time?  I have three words for you: bring your lunch.
 
Bringing your lunch to work can save you the time and mental disconnect/reconnect of having to go out for it.  It saves on money because a lunch you prepare at home from healthy, well-chosen ingredients can cost substantially less and at the same time, it can improve your health as you learn to make better nutritional choices.
 
To get started, you'll want to choose some reusable, "green" supplies to let you safety and conveniently bring and store food from home.  This may seem counter-intuitive on cost savings because you'll want to invest in the best tools to get started, but choose wisely and you'll be ahead of the game.
 
There are numerous websites offering eco-friendly lunchboxes, bags, and utensils.  This one at Pristine Planet features some interesting choices.
 
Also Go Green Lunch Boxes has some designs that are powerfully perky.
 
Some of these containers are going to have plastic, which isn't preferred by me, but may be liked by you.  As long as you reuse it, it's still an improvement over throw-away styrofoam containers, in my humble, lunch-eater's opinion.
 
But for my money, nothing beats a tiffin tin.   
 
I think I bought mine in a container store about ten years ago.  I've been using it to store little bits of this-n-that in the kitchen where it works quite wonderfully.  But, the only downside of this type of container is that of course, you can't stuff if in the microwave to heat your lunch.  But for durability, reusability and general stylishness, it can't be beat.  Toss in some cool reusable utensils made of sustainable bamboo easily picked up at Target, Crate N Barrel or just about any other department store and you're home free.
 
Bringing your lunch to work can't be beat either.  I'm going to jump off on what goes inside, but try to keep it close to home and organic.  If leftover meatloaf is what you have, well, you are the lucky one!  I hope you're eating it on whole grain bread with some really good mustard.   I'm betting that this year, bringing lunch to work is the Greenifying, economizing, nutritionalizing retro-trend of the year. 


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