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.


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.


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.

 


Greenifying in the New Administration

December 15, 2008

It is expected that President-elect Barack Obama will organize administration’s efforts toward the environment and energy in a different fashion than previous Presidents.

The President-elect is expected to announce his energy and environment team late Monday (December 15, 2008) in an afternoon at a news conference in Chicago.  This will be just the latest in the steady roll-out of his Cabinet, which is now nearly complete.

Obama is expected to name Carol Browner, former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, as the head of a new policy council to coordinate climate, environment and energy issues; a so-called “climate czar.”

Browner was formerly the administrator of the EPA from January 31, 2001–June 27, 2003, under former President Bill Clinton.  She was the longest-serving administrator in the history of the agency, staying through both terms of the Clinton presidency.  She successfully fought off Congressional Republicans who wanted to gut the “Clean Water Act.”  She was successful, however, in working in a bipartisan manner to amend clean water statutes and the Food Quality Protection Act.

As EPA Administrator, Browner started the Agency's successful Brownfields program, which, during her tenure, helped facilitate cleanups of contaminated facilities, especially in urban areas, and which leveraged more than $1 billion in public and private funds for cleanups.  Browner is currently the chair of the Audubon Society; her term expires in 2008.

It’s widely believed that the return of a democratic president will signal future moves forward to a more green future in the years ahead for both homes and businesses.  Carol Browner may be part of those efforts.  Which may mean a Greenified 2009.


Greenifying as Winter Does Its Worst

December 9, 2008

Keeping walkways safe for customers is a challenge that many businesses face during the winter months, with or without snow.  But can de-icing be Greenified?   Ice on sidewalks, driveways and parking lots creates physical hazardous conditions for people, and legal hazards for business owners.  So what's the best way to de-ice without doing in the environment?
 
Snow and ice removal is best done non-chemically with shovel and plow but, admittedly, the results on sidewalks at least, isn't always adequate to ensure safety. Chemical de-icer and/or a grit like sand is often part of a comprehensive strategy to make getting around to do business a safe prospect.
 
Chemical de-icers work by melting snow and ice and forming a liquid brine. This brine seeps downward to contact paved and over impervious surfaces, spreads outward breaking the bond between ice and cold surfaces, and makes it possible to physically loosen and remove whole sheets of compacted snow and ice. Used in advance of icing conditions this brine can also prevent ice from forming on surfaces.

Salt or chloride based products are staples of the de-icer industry. Rock salt (sodium chloride) is among the best known and widely used products. Salt may be a fairly benign chemical in most environments under limited use. However there is considerable evidence of water problems associated with excess runoff of salt based materials.  Other products on the shelf will have labels saying, "Contains Primary Potassium Chloride & Secondary Urea Sodium Chloride". These are primarily fertilizers repackaged as de-icers. 

Product packaging may claim to be "non salt based" or "environmentally friendly".  It’s best to evaluate that claim by checking the label.  In fact, what we're looking for is an acetate product. CMA is the most widely tested and used de-icer in the acetates category. It is a natural acid that is soluble in water and it has chemical properties similar to vinegar.  Only labels with calcium magnesium acetate, CMA or another acetate based product is really the organic choice.

Always follow label directions when using a de-icing product. However, any de-icer that is mixed with equal parts of sand can help reduce the use of the de-icer and provide grit for added traction. You may want to consider choosing deep tray-type doormats with stiff bristles to allow people entering the building to brush off their shoes and boots before entering the building.

There is another possibility: heating the sidewalk.  This involves adding concrete pads at busy entryways.  Embedded within these insulated pads are flexible pipes for carrying hot water. The water gives up its heat to the concrete and prevents snow and ice from accumulating. But the energy costs and installation outlays of heated sidewalk systems need to also be taken into account. 

Greenifying and de-icing may not seem at first to be the best fit together, but with proper care, you can protect the environment as well as customers, even when winter does its worst. 


Greenifying the World’s Largest Retail Supply Chain

November 18, 2008

If you’re watching what the “Big Boys” do and trying to pattern your success after theirs, here’s something to take note of: Wal-Mart, the biggest retailer in the world is attempting to Greenify with a makeover of its global supply chain.

Wal-Mart has a vision of going green, and is now demanding its suppliers, including many based in China, to live up to environmentally friendly manufacturing practices and product-safety guidelines to make that vision come true.

The Arkansas-based retailer got together with more than 1,000 suppliers in Beijing, China, telling them that change was coming.   And not just for the Chinese suppliers. The company is holding suppliers to higher manufacturing and operations standards to “build a more environmentally and socially responsible global supply chain,” announced company executives.

Here is what CEO Lee Scott had to say, “A company that cheats on overtime and on the age of its labor, that dumps its scraps and chemicals in our rivers, that does not pay its taxes or honor its contracts--will ultimately cheat on the quality of its products. And cheating on the quality of products is the same as cheating on customers," Scott said.  "We will not tolerate that at Wal-Mart," Scott stated.

The specifics of the new policies, requirements and deadlines for what Wal-Mart called its "Global Responsible Sourcing Initiative" were equally as bold, and most were targeted at suppliers based in China.  The requirements will force the factories to meet environmental standards in China by 2009 (elsewhere by 2011), make a 20% improvement in energy efficiency, and source 95% of their production from factories that receive high ratings on environmental and social practices.

If the world’s largest retailer can get its suppliers to Greenify, then maybe its time to consider how smaller companies can also go green in their own place and time as well.


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