Green Hero: Kevin Costner

June 28, 2010

Kevin Costner: actor, director, Academy-award winner and now greenifying leader.  Tell the truth, you did a double-take and your head turned completely around to check if you had heard right, but it's true: Hollywood's Kevin Costner may be one of the good guys in the unfolding crisis in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.  Here's what happened:

15 years ago, Costner was watching old pictures of the Exxon Valdez disaster and the cleanup of that mess in Alaska.  As he said, it was “rubber boots, pitchforks, straw and oil coming up on the beaches like pudding.”  He came up with an idea for a centrifuge device that separates the oil from the water and other elements.

$20 million of Costner's own money invested later, the machine, called a “V20,” was ready for testing. 

It was tested out by BP earlier this year, but turned out the oil with the consistency of peanut butter, so some adjustments have been made.  BP is interested and now retesting the re-adjusted machines for use in the Gulf and this news couldn't come at a better time, as we find out that the oil company may have downplayed the amount of oil gushing out of the broken well and into the environment. 

The well has now been leaking for more than two months and internal documents just discovered show that from the start, BP was privately estimating the leak's flow at 100,000 barrels per day, while publicly suggesting the leak was much smaller.  The news has not been well received.

“BP has either been lying or grossly incompetent from Day One,” said Rep. Ed Markey, (D-MA).

Also angering Americans, the news that BP's CEO Tony Hayward spent part of the weekend in an exclusive yacht race on an English coast this weekend.  The CEO has made several public relations errors recently including referring to victims in the crisis as “small people.”

The country is waiting for news that the tide has turned in this story.  We're all hoping that somehow, we'll awake from this ongoing environmental nightmare, but so far that hasn't happened.  But it does seem great that one possible light at the end of the tunnel is Kevin Costner's green machine.  What a wonderful thought that the man who “dances with wolves” may be the one who can Greenify our ocean, too.  He's recycled himself in our minds from actor to ultimate green business owner. 


Fish Farms in Coal Mines?

June 15, 2010

It's an interesting thought, isn't it?  Putting fish farms into spent coal mines?  I hooked you right in with that one! 

It's what they are thinking in West Virginia, where coal mines are famous for providing the livelihood of miners and their families.

Farmed fish are now accounting for about half of the world's annual consumption (mostly due to farmed salmon) of 110 million metric tons of fish.  The experts say, demand will soon exceed supply.  We're going to need more fish farms.

With an estimated 1,000 closed mines in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, some are beginning to look at those empty pits as future “fishing holes.”  Except the fish will be farmed and caught for consumers in grocery stores.

The Freshwater Institute in Shepherdstown, WV, estimates that turning mines into fish farms could generate hundreds of jobs and millions of pounds of fish annually.   And here's the best part: the particulars of mine water are especially conducive to raising fish.  Mine water temperatures hold steady at a brisk 56 degrees, which is impossible for human swimming but perfect for what else? Artic char, salmon and trout. 

It's an idea whose time has come.  When it was put forward in 1994, West Virginia dreamed of having hundreds of mines, but 16 years later, has only two.  America's fish consumption was not so great then, but now, demand is up. 

And to be sure, this may be not a case of “making lemonade from lemons,” but making dinner from leftovers found in a coal mine. 

Greenification at its best.


UPDATE FROM THE GULF: 12,000-19,000 Barrels of Oil Gushing Daily

June 3, 2010

It's now being called the “Worst Environmental Disaster in U.S. History.   The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana is still pushing oil out of the broken pipe, leaking and wreaking destruction on the once-clean gulf waters. 

British Petroleum, BP, is the company that owned the lease and the platform that exploded, starting the spill that has been going on for six weeks now.  The hard and painful news for most of us involves pictures of a massive oil plume, stretching across the water; ugly pictures of oil-soaked seabirds and dead fish; and the knowledge that wildlife in that area will suffer for years to come. 

At first, BP tried to contain the oil with booms, placing the massive sponges and blocks in the way of the plume in a painfully useless attempt to block the spread of the oil to beaches and breeding grounds of animals in the area. 

Then there was the dome.  BP lowered a huge dome over the well in an attempt to cap the well and stop the flow.  That didn't work either. 

The effort that followed was the “top kill” in which engineers tried for three days to top off the gusher with heavy drilling mud and junk to stop the leak.  After initial hopeful reports, we now know that is not working either. 

BP announced today that they have another plan.  Their latest attempt will be to send down unmanned robots to saw off the leaky broken pipe and cap it with a funnel that will then direct the oil to the surface and waiting boats. 

The company tried to reclaim the leaking oil with a funnel in the past, but ice crystals formed in the pipe and blocked the flow.   Why will this attempt be different?  The company intends to warm sea water and pump it into the pipe as well, preventing the formation of the ice crystals.  The soonest that this could work is four to five days.  Does that disappoint you? 

Then this could make you despair: the company says that the gusher may not be capped until August.  That news on Sunday amid the destruction, disappointment and misery that the spill has already wrought.

What can you do?  Only what you have been doing.  Try to think of your efforts as an “off-set credits” for the spill.  Put your best efforts into greenifying at home and at work in order to off-set the huge disaster that seems to be unfolding day by day to our great disappointment.   We can only do what we can do, but perhaps as a group, we can do the tiniest bit more as we watch this bitterly unhappy scenario continue in our world.


Greenifying Gadgets: Thermal Imagery

May 28, 2010

I have to quit saying that I'm not a fan of gadgets.  Here it is, two weeks in a row where I'm blogging about an electronic device.  I'm a little surprised at myself, but the one that I spotted today shows every promise of helping you and everyone you know (because you'd share, right?) save on their energy bills. 

It's called a “Thermal Imaging Home Inspection” device.  Can you imagine?  Something that can magically look inside your home and tell you if and where you are wasting energy. 

This is an item so new that you may not have heard about it, but what it does is measure the temperature hot and cold spots of a house or other building.  It is not cheap; a good unit can run for $6000.  But if you find the right real estate agent, you'll pay $150-300 for the inspection.  And think about what it could save you: hundreds in power bills for the home you're in and thousands in negotiations with a home you're interested in buying.  Or take it to the office and have a look around there.  The savings potential there is almost limitless.

It works like a very intricate digital camera.  Just aim the device a house and see where the heat is leaking out or where cold temperatures or water are getting into the house.  This device is so sensitive that it can spot dangerous wiring, non-functioning heat vents and mold are located. 

What to do with this information?  Some of these problems can be fixed with simple improvements like extra insulation, new outlets and rewiring areas that can dramatically reduce energy bills. 

“The home owners are actually seeing savings of about 20 to 22 percent off energy costs, when they button up and sela up their house,” according to Real Estate Expert Sherri Vandervort.

Other possibilities?  Could this be the new business that you've been looking for?  Invest in a unit and become a “thermal energy use inspector” on weekends.   At $250 per inspection, you're just 24 inspections from paying off the investment and after that, it's all “Greenifying as a business” ahead for you. 


Recycling Gallon Jugs

May 25, 2010

Has there every been anything as easily recycled as a gallon jug?  Seriously, think of all the different ways you know to recycle a plastic gallon jug.

When I was a kid, we didn't get milk in gallons.  My parents were health conscious and they bought powdered milk in square cardboard boxes.  The plastic gallon containers were, therefore, somewhat rare and sought after at their farm in the western United States.

If a plastic gallon jug did somehow manage to arrive at my parents' house, it circled the farm two or three times before leaving the property for the landfill in the back of my Dad's old truck.  Here's a few of the things that we used them for then and now.

Outdoors:
Refilled with more water to carry in a vehicle
Cut-off tops put over newly planted seedlings to offer “mini-greenhouse”
Cut-off bottoms used to carry water to those new seedlings
Bottoms used to line hanging planters to keep water in

Indoors:
Jugs recycled to hold fruit punch for kids going on picnics
Jugs used to hold portion of laundry detergent for convenience
Jugs used to hold rice, beans or other dry foods that need protection from pantry pests
Cut off the top and use it to hold kitchen implements, sewing accessories, craft supplies, crayons, etc.
Cut a hole in the bottom and make into a bird house
Cut hole in the side and tuck in skein of yarn, pull the end of the skein through the pour spout

I'm sure you have more ideas on this at your house, so please fill us all in on the comment section below.  If we all combine our efforts to Greenify, we'll get many more uses from our household plastics before they go off to be recycled into new goods.


Greenifying Gadgetry: iPad?

May 20, 2010

I am not a fan of buying the latest gadgets.  I'm writing this on a laptop given to me by a former boyfriend and it was four years old when I got it.  I've had it for two years and earlier this year, I replaced the hard drive.  I think I can safely say that I'm a “use it up, wear it out, make do or do without” kind of girl. I try to recycle and repurpose everything that I can.

So when I saw that a television station in Albany, Georgia was buying Apple iPad computers for some of its news team, I was a little skeptical.  But I want to examine what's going on there.

The average television station can run through a case of printer paper in almost no time.  Their reporters do background research, run off copies of stories on the Internet, get the latest newswires printed out on the run and write their scripts before printing them out to discuss with the editors. 

Their producers write their entire shows on computer and then have to flip a switch and print it out in multiple (usually about seven?) color-coded copies to disperse to directors, anchors, audio technicians and occasionally, their legal department.  These are not people who have ever concerned themselves with saving a tree by sharing a page or two.

So when I saw that Barrington Broadcasting's WFXL in Albany bought iPads for their anchors and producers, I was intrigued.  The company says the motive is economy, both financially and environmentally.

"By using the iPad, we're saving hundreds of thousands of sheets of paper annually," says News Director Terry Graham, who also anchors the news at 6:30 and 10 p.m. at the Fox affiliate. "Our projected savings per month are $800, or about $9,600 per year."

WFXL bought six entry level iPads for $499 each.  Instead of printing out the scripts, they email the final script to each of the anchors who use their scripts, now digitized in front of them, primarily as a reference tool, anyway.  The savings are covering the costs.  And the thinking  is well “outside the box.” 

Most companies wouldn't have said that an iPad was an economic advantage that could be worked into their budget, but Barrington's Albany news team has found a way to lead in the environment, financially and also electronically.  They're making an effort to Greenify all the way to the bank.


What Can We Learn from the Gulf Spill?

May 19, 2010

For the past three weeks, oil has been gushing out of a broken oil well at the bottom of the sea floor in the Gulf of Mexico.  Thousands upon thousands of barrels of oil have poured out of that un-capped well after an explosion that killed as many as a dozen and ultimately sank the Transocean Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig owned by BP Oil Company. 

BP has promised to clean up the disaster, paying all costs and associated “legitimate” claims related to the loss, including over and above the $75 million liability limit imposed by U.S. law.  Members of Congress are already demanding confirmation of those promises, saying the American public has a right to know that the oil company will take care of this.

The oil company has now tried and failed at a couple of efforts to contain and manage the disaster.  They tried to lower a dome over the spill to stop the oil from spreading.  That failed when something like ice crystals formed as the boom was lowered towards the seabed.

They have tried to use booms to contain the spill and keep it from approaching the coastlines.  But tar balls are now showing up on beach areas off the coast of Alabama and other southeast United States locations.  Marine life is also being affected and we all know what that means: death and disease among vulnerable wildlife populations that have been coddled and cared for and lovingly protected from environmental abuse for decades are now at risk.

This past weekend, the oil company also attempted to attach another pipe to the free-flowing well at the bottom of the gulf.  They attempted on Saturday, but there was a shift in the platform beneath the water (at the exterior exit of the well) and they failed. 

There was word on Sunday that BP's efforts have succeeded: this will not cap the well, nor completely stop the leaking.  But it will siphon off a sizable percentage of the oil to a waiting vessel at the surface of the water, allowing the oil company to deal with that oil instead of spreading it on the water.  It's a small bit of good news, but it is all we have.

In the coming weeks, the oil company will probably be drilling a second well and while simultaneously attempting to cap the first one.  The cleanup has to get underway full swing.  The destruction of native habitats of sea life is going to continue and we're all going to want to go down to the Gulf, gather a few of these beautiful wild things and take them home.  We won't be able to, but we'll wish to take them home, clean their wings (and other parts) and nurture them back to health.

What we're learning in this scenario is that “worst case” can happen.  It can be horrifying and that writing a law that says “oh, yes, come drill in the healthy waters off our coast and if something bad happens, we'll only charge you XX dollars out of XXX,XXX,XXX dollars.”  That's what it's going to cost to clean up this mess.  That's the cost and threat of doing business with a high carbon footprint industry.  Because eventually, when they get this all cleaned up, we're still going to smell the oil in the air.  And it won't be pretty again, potentially for decades to come.


More Green Business Ideas

May 13, 2010

With the economy now in recovery, we hope your business is “greenifying” in more ways than one.  Spring is a good time to grow and this year in particular, it's nice to see the business environment a little more lively as well.

So if you are just out of college and looking for work this summer, you still may be having a tough time.  I thought we'd offer a few more green business ideas for the beginner or someone who'd like a new start.

First off, a solar oven bakery.  Can you build commercial size solar ovens or even hybrids that can run on solar heat on sunny days and switched to electric on cloudy days?  We're thinking that putting the idea out there could make it a big seller for someone.

Urban forests.  What about if you spent your summer helping to increase oxygen levels, reduce CO2 and reintroduce wild life to urban areas?   You might find city dwellers going a little more wild for their urban lifestyles, too.

Golf course design and irrigation.   I know that golfers love their greens, but is there a rule about only playing where the water is wasted?  Golf courses are among the worst water-wasters in California, Nevada and Arizona.  Golf courses need some reworking to make them eco-friendly.  And if you start now, you may be done in time to play a few holes yourself.

Eco-friendly tires.  Is there a solution for tire pollution problems?  Is there anyone who doesn't grit their teeth and try to go around a shredded tire on the interstate?  Even worse, have you ever seen such black, nasty smoke as happens when a pile of used tires takes flame?  There must be a better solution and whether it's finding a more ecologically sound material to make tires out of, or finding ways to recycle them, we need to get on this one now.

And last but not least today, solar roofing for parking lots.  With the hot weather on the way, you have to think twice about where you're parking. Perhaps the roof above could be used to power what's down below, providing energy to operate businesses and homes?  

These are just a few ideas to get you thinking because there's always room for more when it comes to taking steps to Greenify.


Recyling Electronics: Pro or Con?

May 11, 2010

Do you recycle your electronics?  I only ask because it's one of those “in things to do” that perhaps ought to be out. 

I'm not talking about when you repurpose your old cell phone and give it to your 12 year old daughter.  I think it's great to carefully remove all names and numbers and gift the phone to a new user.  (Whether  your 12 year old should have her own cell phone is another discussion and I would like to carefully step aside from leading that one.)  That type of recycling is great!

And I'm not thinking of printer cartridges, either. I happen to love those little green envelopes that allow me to send the cartridges back to the manufacturer where they are dutifully reworked for reuse.  I  think that's my favorite kind of delivery!

But what about those old computer monitors, CPU's and other hardware that were used for a few years and then updated out the backdoor.  Do you recycle those?  Are you recycling those?  If you are, the outcome might not be quite as good as you think it is.

First off, where are those goods going?  A recent “60 Minutes” segment exposed the ugly truth that some supposed “green recyclers” aren't so green.  They are merely accepting the materials for recycling, packing them up and shipping them off to another country where the hazardous materials inside our former computer monitors, CPUs and other peripheral materials are contaminating those countries' landfills and putting their people at risk. 

Lead, cadmium, mercury, chromium and polyvinyl chlorides.  Those are some of the toxic materials that we're shipping overseas.  We're taking our toxic carbon footprint and making it bigger by sending it abroad to someone else's “backyard.”

And when we don't ship them abroad, we offer the work of dissembling them to people that often aren't in a position to say no.  Prison recycling workers have been found to be exposed to that very same list of chemicals by dissembling computers in prison work areas.

The next time you get a new computer and start to think about what to do with the old one, ask your recycler a few questions about what's going to happen to those old parts. 

But do start with yourself: have you used this item fully?  Have you completely used it up or are you perhaps just wanting the latest model?  Right now, most of us can't afford the extra cash for the luxury of “the latest gadget,” but our planet can never afford the extra carbon without a fight. 


Greenify Your Dinner Plate

May 6, 2010

I love to eat sustainably.  I don't always achieve it, but I love to do it when I can.  I thought I might share a few of my thoughts about sustainable, green, locavore eating. 

First off, it's hard to do.  I'm not really interested in eating only cabbage, winter squash, increasingly mealy apples and root vegetables during winter, so I don't succeed in this area.  I love a big pile of fresh spring greens for dinner, topped off by something just interesting enough to keep my taste buds going.

But this year, I'm going to do the CSA thing.  We've talked about this before: Community Supported Agriculture.  It's where you buy a share of the produce from a farm, paying perhaps a little more than you might at a grocery store, but helping support local farmers, cut food transportation costs and of course, getting access to a ton of great local produce.  That said, I can't quite buy into the full season crop.  Here's why: I live by myself and I can't eat $800 worth of fresh produce that fast. 

I have figured out how I can do my part.  I found a local farm that produces organic produce and fruits for CSA share-buyers, but also allows people (such as myself) to come out and work on the farm, then take home part of the crop.  I actually like this idea a lot more than just “go pick up the vegetables from the CSA” (although that's pretty great!) because it allows me to enjoy the feeling of participating in actually growing the vegetables.  I could also just buy them when I want, but wouldn't that be boring?

For the last several summers, I have also grown a few herbs in some pots.  I like a big, round, terracotta pot.  I prefer it be “self-watering” just in case I have to run out of town at the last minute.  I like to grow pots of basil, chives (more like a mini-forest!), rosemary and mint. 

And this year, I'm also looking into a new crop in my urban mini-farm adventures.  I'm considering growing some mushrooms.  There are kits sold online for several different varieties.  I wanted to try growing some Shitakes and some Chantarelles.   Some of the spores take over a year to get thoroughly into the wood.  But the more I thought about it, the more fun it seemed.  Rather like a return to my third grade science class.

“Fungi, anyone?”

I'm even considering whether I could grow them for a few local restaurants, as a side business. Sort of the “greenification” of spores. 

Ahhh!  It's all too delicious.  Maybe you'll try growing your own edibles this summer, too.


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