How Much for That Grocery Sack?

September 15, 2009

How much is that plastic grocery sack worth to you?  How much is the convenience of an always available plastic grocery sack worth in your life? 

A few years back, I discovered that one particular grocery store in the area where I live charged for the plastic grocery sacks that have become de rigeur in the last 20 years.  I was a little shocked that they wanted three cents bag.  These days, I think they should charge closer to three dollars.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2001, somewhere between 500 billion and a trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide every year.  A tiny fraction of the number of plastic bags produced will be recycled.  Even more are packing our landfills.   But worst of all, somewhere between one to three percent of the bags aren’t recycled or in landfills, but instead are littering our world.  

You know what litter is, right?  A few years ago, living in California, I took notice of the state’s anti-litter advertising campaign which says “whatever you drop ends up in the ocean.”  It only takes one visit to the beach to make clear the truth of that statement.

These days, while no longer living in California, I still feeling a growing longing to protect the environment, I have become a collector of reusable shopping bags.  I have two bright green ones, a white one, a black one, and a gorgeous red and natural burlap sack with a charming picture on the side.  I’m not actually going for a rainbow (although I certainly don’t mind!) or any specific designer look, so I usually just accept what I’m offered.

Your customers are probably doing the same: just accepting what they are given.  It’s still such a new concept we’re living with that an offer of a new grocery sack is likely to be greeted with appreciation.  If you’re about to order more disposable plastic sacks for your business, let me encourage you to put in an order for reusable carriers as well.  Offer them to your customers at as low a price as possible. 

At some point soon, that recyclable bag will be worth far more than its weight in so-called “disposable” (plastic) grocery sacks in your world and theirs.


Green Bamboo? …Maybe

September 11, 2009

Have you noticed all the green marketing around lately?  It’s on everything from clothing to clothing to coffee filters to recycled paper.  I’m not about to debate whether recycled anything is green, but let’s take a look at the claims being made about bamboo.

Bamboo, as you may be aware, is the woody stalk of a plant that grows so fast and using so little resources (very few nutrients and a small amount of water) that it’s being labeled as green.  It’s made into cutting boards, clothing, sheets, coffee filters, and flooring.  But are those products truly green?

Let me just ask you a quick question.  Have you seen any bamboo being grown commercially around where you live?  And have you checked the products certification?  There is no global certification standard for using responsibly produced bamboo, and until it’s developed, you may want to the producers for guidance.

Bamboo is popular in clothing, sheets, towels and other textiles because it’s cool against the skin, absorbs water well, and feels soft.  But the process of turning the woody stalks into silky fabric uses a lot of water, energy, and chemicals, according to industry insiders.   Laura Wehrman, owner of Tela Verde, a New York-based company that tracks sustainable textiles for the fashion industry says that it “does not meet the definition of sustainability."  She also says, it’s probably less of a planet-taxing alternative than non-organic cotton or polyester, and has the potential to be greener if manufacturing processes improve.

The group, “Oeko-Tex” certifies textiles that have met safety and environmental standards.  Consumers can check for compliance with this standard.

Bamboo flooring is also growing in popularity because of its low cost and durability.  The Forest Stewardship Council certifies environmentally responsible flooring. Look for the council's symbol when seeking out bamboo construction materials.

One product that is known to be on top of the “ecologically sound” movement is Bambu, a line of tableware available at Target and other retailers.  It is certified organic by a Swiss body, IMO.

Bamboo can be a smart alternative to wood products, but don't assume it's synonymous with sustainability. Most of it is grown and the products produced in Asia, where there is already concern that demand for it is causing clear-cutting of old growth forests. The carbon footprint of shipping it around the world is not insignificant.  So check with companies before you buy, and don't buy new if you don't really have to. 


Back to School? You’ll Need New Friends!

September 9, 2009

Millions of American school children head back to the classroom this week.  Their parents have bought them new clothes and supplies, helped sharpen the pencils and load the backpacks, and given them advice on making new friends.  But have we thought about making new friends of our own lately?  Have we thought about making green friends?

It’s always great to have new friends.  And sometimes, it’s best to go out of your way to find friends with similar interests and intents, such as Greenification.  It’s easy to go green with a group.  But how do you make great green friends?

In Washington, D.C., there are numerous green social groups such as “Green Drinks,”  “Tree Hugger Happy Hour,” and “DC EcoWomen.”  All are for environmentally-minded after-hours get-togethers.  

There are clubs for getting together outdoors, such as “The Wanderbirds,” “Capital Hiking Club,” and “Potomac Pedalers.”

And my personal favorite, volunteer groups like the “Chesapeake Climate Action Network,” “Fairfax ReLeaf,” and the “Potomac Conservancy.” 

Additionally, there are meeting groups posted online at websites such as www.meetup.com, which hosts dozens of get-togethers with information about where and when posted for all members to see.

That’s just one area.  But it could be your area, if you started a group.  It doesn’t take much.  Print 5-10 flyers (sorry to go “old school” on you!) and post them in the most conspicuous places in your community.  You won’t need many because you’re just going for starting within your community. 

Also, check out any web bulleting boards, such as craigslist or your local community center for places to post about your interest.  You’ll find others who share your interest and may have some tips and information for making your Greenification experience better. 

So get out there and get started.  You may start something much bigger than you expect.  Because these days, doesn’t it seem that all things green are growing?


Top 10 Green Universities

September 2, 2009

It's back to school time around the country - not only for secondary schools but also for colleges and universities. If you have been wondering about which schools are doing their part to reduce their environmental impact on our planet, you should read Lori Bongiorno's - Top 10 greenest universities.

To view the entire story please visit green.yahoo.com.


The High Carbon Cost of Kids

August 31, 2009

Want to cut your carbon footprint? Don't have any kids. No, of course we're not serious. If nobody had any children, life would come to a stop and who knows when the next Albert Einstein, Ralph Waldo Emerson or Anne Frank will be born? But I thought we'd take a look at a few of the effects of having a child around the world. A new study from Oregon State University outlines the high carbon cost of having children.
 
The average American woman who has a baby generates a carbon footprint seven times that of a similar age and sized Chinese woman who has a child. Why? Well, the obvious idea is that the average American woman gives birth in a hospital, surrounded by half a dozen doctors, nurses, aides and other support staff, while the average Chinese woman has her child in humbler circumstances, perhaps with a midwife or a family member by her side.

But the reality is that the estimate is based on how many children the American woman is likely to have: at least two. And each of those children are also likely to have offspring. And so on. And so on.

Even if our American parent does his/her best to Greenify by driving a smaller car, carpooling, recycles, and replaces all her appliances with energy efficient models, when she has two children, the researchers found, her carbon legacy eventually rises to nearly 40 times what she had saved by those actions.

"In discussions about climate change, we tend to focus on the carbon emissions of an individual over his or her lifetime," said Paul Murtaugh, a professor of statistics at O.S.U., in a statement accompanying the study’s release. "Those are important issues and it’s essential that they should be considered. But an added challenge facing us is continuing population growth and increasing global consumption of resources."

When you consider how many stuffed bears and tigers each child needs and the usage of disposable diapers and infant formula as opposed to breast feeding (which is unquestionably the better option for both environment, mother and child but far more frequently done in foreign countries than in the United States) the numbers climb even more.

There are some things we can change. We can put in energy efficient lightbulbs. We can drink tap water and carpool and buy papertowels made from recycled paper. We can learn to plan our meals and budget our trips in the car and go back to renting movies that we'll only watch a couple of times anyway. And we should, right?

But we're going to keep having children, aren't we? Because otherwise, who are we Greenifying for?


Back to School - Greenly

August 27, 2009

It's "back to school" time for millions of school children again.  You know what that means: shopping for new clothes, shoes, supplies, and maybe even getting the bikes out of the garage and tuned up for another year's worth of early morning rides to the schoolyard. 

Let's think about this from a business' point of view.  Since we know that American consumers will pay more for environmentally friendly products, how can we maximize this?  Well, I hope this effort would have started months ago, but let's go over the last minute things that can be done.

If you're in the school and office supplies business, it's time to pull out the brightly colored pens and pencils.  It's time to position the bright-colored backpacks (and in some cases, wheeled carts) in the front window. 

It might also be helpful to offer sales on recycled office products as school supplies.  Since most kids these days have to turn in their homework done on computers, how about offering a "schoolyear's worth of recycled paper" at a discount?  If you sell the paper in bulk, the buyers will also be making fewer trips in to the store, wasting less fuel and at the same time, you'll have gotten all their business.  A definite "win-win" situation for both parties. 

Also, it's a good time to position the reusable lunchboxes towards the front of the store.  Remember how much fun it was to use a "Happy Days" lunchbox or one emblazoned with "Wonder Woman" on the sides?  It can be that much fun again, but this time instead of using one, you might be packing it for the school day ahead.  Choose wisely, and your kids will munch happily on their midday meals all the way through the year. 

Speaking of reusable, have you seen those new metal water bottles?  They come in stainless steel or colors and sizes that could keep a kid hydrated through years of recess and dodgeball games.  Put those along a school supplies aisle and see if they run out the door as well.

Back to school days are fun and exciting for kids.  If you can share their excitement and build on it within the business, you may see Greenification take pulling in some Greenification of a different sort.


Cash for Clunkers Success = Greenification

August 24, 2009

The U.S. government's "Cash for Clunkers" program officially ends at 8pm on Monday, but not before handing out $3 billion to consumers who trade in their old gas guzzlers for new cars that sip at fuel. The program has been dubbed a success by the Obama administration, and indeed, customers were dashing in all weekend to try to take advantage of the genuine once-in-a-lifetime deal before it disappeared.

The preliminary numbers are impressive. At a time when American consumers weren't confident parting with cash, the program brought in 457,000 transactions as of last Thursday, at an average cost of $4000 per trade-in. It generated enough business to make car salesmen smile once again, and force carmakers to call back laid-off workers and crank up production to meet demand.

It wasn't perfect. The jubilant response means Americans are still in love with their vehicles. Nobody turned in a clunker and then left on bicycle. Officials weren't prepared for the massive paperwork requirements. And the government has yet to reimburse many cash-strapped dealerships for the trades made.

But it's a start. It's a move towards putting mileage in a more prominent position when negotiating car deals. It's a little forward motion, too, for our economy.

So what's next? And what if you wanted to get rid of a clunker that might need retirement but didn't meet the (rather narrow) definition of what the Obama administration was willing to take in trade? How can you get rid of a gas-guzzler while still getting a benefit?

Might we recommend that you turn it in to a charitable group and reap the benefit? All over the country, various nonprofit groups will accept cars as gifts. Sometimes the gift can be quite valuable at tax time. (You'd need to discuss that with your accountant. Please don't take our word for it. Ask your professional.)

You can pick a favorite charity and call them up. Some are more interested than others. Some will accept them on delivery, or even come and tow them away if needed. So if you're interested in getting rid of a clunker but can't get in line for the round of cash ending on August 24th at 8pm, don't be discouraged. You can still Greenify your ride and your pocket. You just need to pick a different avenue.


Bottled Water Fizzles

August 18, 2009

Is your bottled water habit a bit, well, flat? You aren't alone. Budget-conscious consumers are weaning themselves off the bottle because of the recession. It's hard to think of another bit of recession fall-out so beneficial to our planet because we know what this means to our environment: Greenification.

Nestle, the country's largest seller of bottled water, has reported that profits for the first half of 2009 dropped 2.7 percent. This is the first decline in the company's numbers in six years and analysts have pinpointed the source as water.

Market researchers say it's an obvious place to cut. For thousands of years, people have drank water and they've done it without bottles involved. They've put their heads down to streams, locked lips on backyard hoses, and enjoyed pouring glasses straight from the kitchen tap. The bottling of water is an extremely recent phenomenon that has been dangerous for both people and the environment.

The danger for people is that bottled water doesn't contain fluoride, inserted for growing children's teeth. The danger for the environment came on the other end as 86% of plastic water bottles went in the trash, instead of into recycling efforts. They stuffed landfills to overflowing with lightning speed.

"I thought we'd never be able to impact sales of bottled water, and all of a sudden it's really gained momentum," said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of advocacy group Food & Water Watch. "I think we're making real progress."

You remember the glory days of bottled H20, right? Sales of bottled water gushed 59 percent to $5.1 billion between 2003 to 2008, making it one of the fastest growing beverages. About 70 percent of consumers currently say they drink bottled water.

But the recession stemmed the tide. Nestle sells a variety of brands, such as Poland Spring, Deer Park, S. Pellegrino and Perrier. It was the only sector in Nestle's food and beverage group to post a decline in global sales during the first half of the year, down 2.9 percent because of weakness in the United States and Western Europe. Coca Cola is also seeing a softening, again in the bottled water sector of its business.

According to Jeff Cioletti, editor in chief of trade publication Beverage World, per capita consumption dropped from 29 gallons to 28.5. Cioletti said he doesn't believe the well will spring forth again anytime soon.

"There were sort of a lot of headwinds," he said.

That's right. Not just the economic downturn, but a campaign by environmentalists to get consumers to turn on the tap.

Government offices are now campaigning to cut off the bottled water and return to the tap. And some grocers are determined to at least stop selling imported bottled water after considering the carbon footprint that goes into producing, transporting and selling it.

According to Food & Water Watch, more than 17 million barrels of oil -- enough to fuel 1 million cars for a year-- are needed to produce the plastic water bottles sold in the United States annually.

So here's an idea whose time has come: since everyone's cutting back at home, this is the perfect time to kick your business' bottled water habit. Buy a distiller. Water: on tap to help you Greenify.


The Big Apple: Red or Green?

August 13, 2009

Have you thought about whether it’s time to Greenify your logo?   Apparently, someone is giving it someone in New York’s City Hall is giving it some thought.   The city’s leaders are asking should the Big Apple’s Official Apple be green?  I think the answer is stunningly simple.

New York City has been referred to as “The Big Apple” since the 1920’s when a sportswriter at the New York Morning Telegraph first popularized the nickname. It was in reference to the city’s horse tracks, referred to as ‘The Big Apple’ at the time. Since then, hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of t-shirts, refrigerator magnets, baseball caps and other logo items have been sold, depicting a red “Big Apple.”

But with studies showing that consumers are willing to pay more for things sold with an environmental pitch, the time is ripe for one of the most recognizable logos in the world to go green.   The city had a recent campaign promoting its environmental efforts that used a green apple logo, but hasn’t made the full change itself.  Maybe it’s time to do that now.

It truly does seem obvious, doesn’t it?  In the last year, we’ve seen the emphasis on all things green growing like a, well, like a weed.   We’ve seen the numbers of reusable grocery bags growing.  Reusable water bottles in metal and glass are coming to the market as consumers try to stop the glut of plastics in our environment.  And the government is buying back clunkers to get them off our streets in an effort to diminish our carbon footprint.

On a personal note, I’ve noticed myself becoming more focused on Greenifying my life.  In the past year, I’ve bought green sneakers, green eyeglasses, a green purse, a green t-shirt (twice!) and green dinner plates.  Looking around my house, you’d think something is up.  But I think it’s a new level of consciousness creeping out into my spending habits.  And by the way, I bought a good number of those things at second-hand stores.   It was fun!

The backers of this particular effort to get The Big Apple to go green are growers of a particular type of apple, known as the Newtown Pippin, which is a mottled green and often lopsided.  In other words, it’s said to be great eating, excellent in homemade pies and usually organically grown. 

We are going green in this culture.  And maybe it’s time the city of New York, which leads in so many ways, picked up the ball and pitches.  Or offers us all a Big, Beautiful Green Apple.


Growing Your Business Online

August 11, 2009

Now that your business is Greenified, let’s talk about growing its reputation online.  That’s part of your plan, right?   You hoped to market the business online, saving a few trees, the chemicals involved in printing up materials, and the energy involved in getting those items to your customers all along.

So let’s talk about how to do that.  First, get a website.  If you can’t afford to have it done professionally, you can start a blog for free.  Put up the blog and post links to it with comments on other similar blogs around the internet.  Hook it up with an RSS feed.  Do you know what that is?  RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, which allows people to see what you are talking about on a text or email feed.  You can also start a Twitter account and use that to communicate with your customers.  Think about it: being able to instantly notify your customers or followers that you are having a sale or special on a particular item, letting them know what you’re offering.

Those are the technical basics, but let’s also look at what’s being said about your business and you. Do a vanity search of your business name and see what comes up. Are you easy to find? What is the first impression?

Is your business reviewed in online forums or blogs?  Set up some electronic alerts.  You can pay a service to do this, or do it simply by setting up a Google account and asking it to send you alerts every time something is said about you or y our business online.

“Know who the influencers are,” said Pete Blackshaw, executive vice president of Nielsen Online Digital Strategic Service and an expert on consumer-generated media. “There are going to be some megaphones that matter more than others.”

Online reviews are a gold mine of business intelligence. There are metrics to analyze to get a better sense of your customer demographics.  You’ll find those on any website you buy or included in the blog set up that you use. 

With a little bit of your time and some sweat equity, you can easily put yourself out there.  And don’t forget to remind your customers online that you are a green business.  It’s the hottest selling ticket there is to customer’s hearts and wallets.


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