Less Is More and Much Greener!

January 4, 2009

As we talk about how to best Greenify in the business-place this year, here’s what is likely to be a popular idea: less is more.  Less is greener.  Less generally costs less.  And less may be one of the most commonly heard themes of the coming year.

Most businesses are suffering in the current economic slump.  And perhaps this year, we will learn to equate consuming less with good things. 

Most of us would never think to suggest to our customers that they consume less.  It goes against all our ways of thinking to suggest that we market ourselves to those who use our business by helping them find ways to use less, decrease their carbon footprint, and help Greenify the planet.  But this may be the year to do that.

With the economies around the world in a slump, customers and consumers will be looking for ways to lower their costs.  They’ll search out ways to cut and if you can help them find ways to fall in line with the concept of “sustainable consumption,” as a cost-effective means of taking care of Mother Earth, you may come out ahead.

"By choosing carefully, you can have a positive impact on the environment without significantly compromising your way of life," Joel Makower wrote in his new book, “Strategies for the Green Economy.”

Sustainable consumption is complex and more global than just environmental concerns.  It has to do with the growing appetite in China, India, and other developing countries for cars, appliances, fashions, fast food, and many of the other things accessible to the consumption class.  So how to best discuss with people just getting access to what others take for granted the fact that it may be time to cut back? 

It won't be easy. For better or worse, we live in a commercial world and consumer society. You can see it at work in the webs of commerce whose existence depends on consumers' endless appetite for more, and in the political leaders who promote unsustainable levels of economic growth, often at the expense of ecological and human needs. You can see it at work in our culture of debt and the sad need to “keep up with the Joneses.”

But this is the year to start to get over that need, in favor of marching forward with an economy of style more suited to our current economics and the need to Greenify our lives and our businesses accordingly.


The Greenification of the White House

January 2, 2009

What can we expect from the new Obama administration going into the White House?  What will the Obama Presidency mean for businesses trying to become more green?  If it’s any consolation to us, this should be a banner set of years for businesses hoping to Greenify as the Democratic President is expected to put forward numerous proposals that will forward environmental causes such as mitigating global warming, promotion of “green” industries and alternative energy, while cracking down on toxic chemicals in our environment. 

So far, President-elect Barack Obama has chosen Lisa Jackson as his nominee to head the EPA.  The nominee is said to be tough on enforcement of laws and regulation.  Jackson ran New Jersey's state environmental agency before becoming the chief of staff for the governor in the Garden State.  Before that, she was at the EPA for 16 years in Washington, D.C., and New York. Under Obama, she would be part of a three-person team that would oversee environmental policy.

The other two serving with her are Carol Browner, who directed the EPA under the Clinton administration and would oversee climate-change policy out of Obama's White House; and Nancy Sutley, a deputy Los Angeles mayor who would run the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Obama has chosen Steven Chu, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, to be his energy secretary, and Rep. Hilda L. Solis, a California Democrat, to become labor secretary, charged with enforcing workplace safety laws, among other duties.

Many Washington insiders are noticing that numerous of these positions are being filled by Californians, giving the state a hefty chunk of influence.  Starting in the 1970s, when it became the first state to establish its own auto emissions standards under the federal Clean Air Act, California has been considered a trendsetter.

After the state banned a class of chemicals, phthalates, from children's products last year, 12 states introduced similar bans.

The California ban on phthalates inspired Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to successfully push for a federal prohibition, which takes effect in February. It is a rarity -- the first time Congress has banned a chemical in decades -- and it faced stiff and well-financed opposition from Exxon Mobil, which makes one of the banned chemicals.

Roger Martella, a former EPA general counsel who is an attorney for many corporations affected by environmental regulation, says the strength of democrats in Congress, along with the new administration coming in could see  an era of significant new government action.

"Whether at the end of the day every policy that California has gets implemented on a national level is a matter for debate," Martella said. "At the same time, we'd be foolish to ignore those stars that are lining up."

Which may mean more inspiration, motivation and legislation to help businesses Greenify as the new administration puts its policies in place.


Recycling Christmas (Trees!)

January 1, 2009

Christmas 2008 is now past; the Happy New Year of 2009 Greenifying your business lies ahead.  That may mean that Job One at the top of this (usually quiet) week's list is disposing of the holiday tree.  And your options can be very green, indeed!  Recycling, or treecycling, is easy and convenient, whether you are taking down your business or home tree; work in an industrial park or strip mall; live in a house with curbside yard waste collection service or a multi-tenant building.

Last year, recyclers kept over 800 tons of Christmas trees out of landfills, and this year, with many convenient options, even more could be collected. 

Christmas trees are recycled by being ground up in huge tub grinders.  The resulting material becomes mulch and compost. Because recycled trees are generally put to use in making landscaping and garden products, flocked trees can not be recycled. Some of the ingredients used to flock the tree can harm the quality of compost. Also, before recycling your tree, remove tinsel, lights, ornaments, rod supports, and the stand.

And do be considerate of recyclers.  The grinders that turn trees into mulch are powerful, heavy machines, but even they have their limits.  Their huge jaws pulverize branches and even some stumps, but they can be choked by items like metal Christmas tree stands. Metal Christmas tree stands or rebar remaining in tree trunks can jam grinders, stall engines, break off grinder teeth, or fly out of grinders which poses a threat to workers.  Make sure you provide the cleanest, most natural tree possible for pick-up by recyclers.

You'll also need to check with your local community for information about recycling trees.  Some cities provide pick-up for businesses, but not all.  And various trash haulers have different requirements for the proper way to recycle trees to ensure smooth loading and increase available space in collection trucks. For example, some cities ask residents not to put Christmas trees in yard waste containers. Instead, they want residents to cut in half any trees longer than 6 feet, and place the trees next to refuse and recycling bins.

Most local governments and their trash disposal services want to help residential and commercial clients to recycle their trees.  It does help maximize space in the landfill, and provide valuable mulching materials that help Greenify homes and businesses far into the year 2009 and beyond.


Ready to Kick it Up a Notch on Greenifying?

December 28, 2008

Are you already a concerned Greenifying business owner who wants the company to be more environmentally friendly?  You’ve already put in the energy saving fluorescent bulbs and reset the thermostat to save money.  Now let’s go a little further in your commitment to the planet.

Check your carbon footprint.  There is many more ways to reduce your household carbon emissions. Find out more about your emissions and where you can best reduce them by using an online “carbon calculator.”  A list of those is found on the website of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Look into ride sharing or mass transit.  Over a quarter of the vehicle-miles travelled by households are for commuting to and from work – usually with one person in the vehicle. If business owners lead the way and encourage employees to follow, carpooling and mass transit could offer a huge reduction in carbon emissions. 

Plan and combine trips, too.  And talk to your employees about this.  Many times, an employee thinks “Oh, it’s just the boss’ vehicle.”  Remind them that in a recessionary economy, the money they save may provide their paycheck in the future.  And if they do combine and plan their trips better, they’ll help Greenify, as well.

Switch to green-power, too.  Contact your electricity provider to find out about the green power options available to you.  Many areas offer these services, and sometimes, all you have to do is check.

A more long term commitment to lowering the carbon footprint is a commitment to being in business a lot longer.


Trees: Greenifying the Old Fashioned Way

December 24, 2008

Have you planted a tree recently?  I ask with good reason.  Trees are one of our most important natural resources.  They provide shade, fruit and seed and oxygen regeneration services for all of us.  They are great places for birds to live and for people to sit under on a hot day.  And they are just plain beautiful.

“I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree.”  Those words were written over 100 years ago by Alfred Joyce Kilmer and they’ve never been forgotten.  Trees are truly lovely.

They are graceful in the summer as they sway in the breeze.  They are colorful as cooler temperature turns their leaves different shades of red and gold and everything in between. They are austere and dignified in winter as the snow falls on their stark empty branches.  And they are the first sign of spring, popping back to life with little bits of green with just the smallest bits of inspiration from a passing warm breeze.

In addition, trees can help lower your heating and cooling bills at home and the office.  By providing shade in the summer and a barrier against winds in the winter, they soften your carbon footprint. “If you plant a tree today on the west side of your home, in 5 years your energy bills should be 3% less,” says Dr. E. Greg McPherson, Center for Urban Forest Research. “In 15 years the savings will be nearly 12%."   They also add between $1000 and $10,000 in value to any property.

Trees are wonderful and needed everywhere.  Add a tree to the front of your business and it instantly signifies a more friendly atmosphere to customers.  It says “we are settled here” and in business to stay.  And it says that your business is concerned about the environment and making a contribution to a better planet. 

Trees are wonderful ways to Greenify the planet, your business, your home, the air and the view immediately before us.  They are contributing members of our earth and should be valued and taken care of as such.  Trees are one of the easiest and most wonderful ways to Greenify a business or home.


Make It Your Business to Greenify!

December 23, 2008

If we all resolve to work just a little harder in the coming year, we can see substantial movement towards a greener future.  Carrying that attitude from home to your place of business will compound the benefits.

But let’s look at the numbers on those annual resolutions:

  • 100 million: Number of people who make New Year's resolutions.
  • 80 million: Number of people who don't stick with their resolutions.

One in five people who make resolutions don’t keep them? Perhaps that’s because they have unrealistic ideas about what they are really going to be able to do.   So let’s look for small starts to a Greenified way to do business.

Start by checking your lights around the office.  Identify frequently used light fixtures that use incandescent bulbs; order fluorescent replacements bulbs.  You may think you need to do this over the course of time, but the longer you wait, the longer you pay higher utility bills.

Check the temperature on your water-heater.  Many businesses only offer cold water in their restrooms.  (In addition, they often provide lotion, because cold water and soap can have nasty effects on hands.)  At the very least, you’ll want to reduce the setting to 120°F (typically the “warm” setting; or halfway between the low and medium settings), if it is not already set to that temperature.

During the heating season, check the thermostat.  You may wish to set the thermostat lower, especially at night or when rooms are unoccupied. During the cooling season, set the temperatures higher. If you have a programmable thermostat you can automate the daily settings.

Switch off TVs, computers, lights, etc. that are not being used and unplug items on “standby” (that use electricity even when not being used) , including TVs, video and audio systems, computers, and chargers (for cell-phones and other electronic equipment).

These simple steps can save money and make your business a greener place to be in 2009.


Cyber Greenification

December 22, 2008

Have you thought lately about the computer that you’re using and how much it costs the environment?  Computers in the business sector waste $1 billion worth of electricity a year.

First, let’s consider the kind of computer that you have.  PC or laptop?  A standard personal computer uses a significant amount of more energy to operate during a daily work cycle than a laptop.  PC’s are the “6 cylinder engines” of the computer world.  What you want to be operating is more like a moped.  A laptop can pay for itself in the course of one year, in energy savings over a personal computer. 

Make it a policy to invest in energy-saving computers, monitors, and printers.  You’ll want to research, looking for energy-saver decals and then once you buy them, use the most energy-saving cycles possible. 

So now that you’ve got the computer, make a habit of turning it—and the power strip it's plugged into— off when you leave for the day. Otherwise, you're still burning energy even if you're not burning the midnight oil. (You definitely want to check with your IT department before doing this to make sure the computer doesn't need to be on to run backups or other maintenance.)

During the day, setting your computer to go to sleep automatically during short breaks can cut energy use by 70 percent. Remember, screen savers don't save energy.  Turning the computer off or putting it into hibernation both save energy.

When it’s time to get a new computer, look for a recycler with a pledge not to export hazardous e-waste and to follow other safety guidelines. Old computers that still work, and are less than five years old, can be donated to organizations that refurbish them, giving them another life in new homes.   (You may even get a tax deduction.)

Computers are part of our life, but they shouldn’t be allowed to take control of our environment.  And certainly not after they are done being of service.


Clean Hands – Clean Environment

December 19, 2008

Is it fair to say you can help Greenify our world by cleanifying your bathroom habits?  Wash your hands with good, old-fashioned soap and water to prevent disease, and let’s talk about what you’re using to lather up. This is an important decision that many of us don't think twice about, but it can help us keep a healthier environment on the most basic level.

The main ingredient in most liquid soaps lining store shelves is triclosan.  That’s a pesticide that kills bacteria.   If you put that in the restrooms at your business, you’re using a howitzer to kill a housefly.  It turns out you just need to banish germs from your hands, not kill them.  Studies have shown you only need to get rid of the germs, not kill them.  Scientists know that antibacterial soaps aren't any more effective at preventing illness or removing germs than good old-fashioned soap and water.

And those anti-bacterial pesticides may do more harm than good. 

Researchers are concerned that triclosan may be contribute to the rise of drug-resistant bacteria (like those that are currently slowing New England Patriot Quarterback Tom Brady’s recovery from knee surgery) and that’s not good for anyone.   Triclosan has been found in our bodies and in breast milk, as well as in streams. The Environmental Working Group says the pesticide has been linked to developmental defects, livery toxicity, and cancer in lab studies.  It may also affect thyroid and other hormones crucial to development in children. 

The best thing you can do for yourself, your employees, and your customers is avoid those liquid “antibacterial” soaps.  Look for the old-fashioned bar soaps, the powdered soaps from the 1970’s, and maybe even some of those sanitary sheet soaps for individual protection.  If you aren’t sure, just check the label for triclosan or triclocarban (a similar compound that's found more commonly in bar soaps) which are the active ingredients. If you see them, move onto another product that can help you go green. 


2009 New Year’s Resolutions: Greenify!

December 18, 2008

It’s time to start thinking about those New Years’ resolutions.  Most of us think about what we’d like to do differently in the coming year at some point.  The start of a new year is a great time to resolve to Greenify our planet, and whether the plans you make are big or small, we all can help.  Here’s a list of ideas to get you started:

1.  Recycle bottles and cans as well as paper and plastic and everything else possible.  20 years ago, recycling was difficult and only done by society’s oddballs.  Now if you don’t put out at least one recycling bin, you can count on being shamed by the neighbors.   If your city doesn’t do it, there’s almost certainly a recycling center nearby.

2. Drive the most gas-efficient car you can find. The average mileage of this country's car fleet is a piggish 18 mpg. It's easy to find a car (even an American-made one) that gets 30-40 mpg.  If we all did that, we would still get to all the places we have to go, while saving billions of dollars, cutting the influence of Middle Eastern oil on our economy, and seeing huge cuts in acid rain and greenhouse emissions.  Our cities might even meet Clean Air Act standards.

3. Tighten up your house.  Experts say, we’re leaking a Saudi Arabian oilfield out of our attics and windows.  The fix is simple: insulate, caulk, and weather strip.  Keep the furnace tuned up to run properly.  And put in double-glaze or heat mirror windows.

4. Start and maintain a compost pile.  If your kitchen and yard wastes get in with your trash, the paper becomes unrecyclable.  If they go to the landfill, they turn into methane, a greenhouse gas.  If they go to an incinerator, they become carbon dioxide, which is poisonous.  If you compost them, they put carbon and plant nutrients back into your soil.  And its simple: all that is necessary is to mix organic material with air and water and a little soil to provide bugs to do the work.  Some folks just make a pile at one corner of the garden and then shovel out the good black stuff from the bottom of that pile whenever it’s needed.

If we all just do these few things, we’ll save our pocketbooks and Greenify the planet at a time when we could use both: in 2009.

 


Keeping an Eye Out for Those Who Don’t Greenify

December 17, 2008

The U.S. government has started a new most wanted list---for those who not only don’t Greenify, but who are accused of assaulting the environment.

These are environmental fugitives who do everything from smuggling chemicals that eat away the Earth’s protective ozone layer, to dumping wastes into oceans and rivers and trafficking in polluting cars.

While most versions of the “Most Wanted List” include those who commit crimes, the Environmental Protection Agency is rolling out a roster of 23 environmental thugs, complete with mug shots and descriptions of the charges at the EPA’s website.

One EPA enforcement official said those represent the "brazen universe of people that are evading the law." Many face years in prison and some charges could result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, if they are caught.

"They are charged with environmental crimes and they should be brought before the criminal justice system and have their day in court," said Pete Rosenberg, one of the EPA’s directors in charge of criminal enforcement division.

One name on the list is John Karayannides, who allegedly helped orchestrate the dumping of 487 tons of diesel fuel-tainted wheat into the South China Sea in 1998. Karayannides is believed to have fled to Athens, Greece.

Also at large are the father and son team of Carlos and Allesandro Giordano, who were originally picked up in 2003 as owners of a company that was illegally importing and selling Alfa Romeos that did not meet U.S. emission or safety standards. The two men are believed to be hiding out in Italy.

The launch of the most-wanted list comes as EPA's criminal enforcement has ebbed. In the last 12 months, the agency has opened only 319 criminal enforcement cases, down from 425 in 2004. 

EPA officials defend the agency's record, saying the agency has focused on bigger cases with larger environmental benefits.  And now, they are giving people concerned about Greenifying a chance to keep an eye out for those who have committed crimes against the planet.


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