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.


The Gulf of Mexico Mess

May 4, 2010

I'm a little bit down right now about this whole Gulf of Mexico oil well thing.  I know you probably are, too.

I've always wondered what being on one of those off-shore drilling rigs was really like, and I saw too clearly in the picture on April 20th as one of the British Petroleum rigs in the water 45 miles off the Louisiana coast had a still-unexplained explosion, caught fire, burned and sank, taking eleven lives as it went.

The rig itself was massive.  I watched the firefighting efforts on the Internet and saw sizable firefighting ships that pumped ocean water onto the fire.  Those ships were stationed all around the rig, streaming water onto the flames, trying to get the fire under control. 

The pictures made clear the size of that offshore rig was best described as massive.  Sadly, the only thing that big in the area is the oil spill that is still coming out of the well.  The oil is still gushing (not sure that's technically the right term, but what else to use?) at a rate of about 800,000 liters per day, into the no-longer pristine waters.  Expect a hike in the price of wild shrimp this coming season.

The well below the surface is 5000 feet down.  BP claims it is doing everything and anything it can to shut off the well, but I heard it compared to doing some sort of surgical procedure using robotic arms with chopsticks at the end, underwater, in the dark and at a depth that most of mankind will never get close to.  It sounds pretty difficult.

The U.S. Coast Guard says rough seas are hampering efforts to clean up the slick, which reached Louisiana's shore on Saturday.  The President of BP-America was on ABC News' “This Week” on Sunday saying that his company along with other oil producers are doing everything they can to try to get it shut down. 

On that same program, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior said that he thinks it could be 90 days before a “relief well” is drilled, enabling them to cap the one that is leaking.  BP-America's Lamar McKay said their company had some technology in development that might be able to stop the flow in 6 to 8 days.  But let me point out that BP-America, in procuring the lease, had promised that a “worst case scenario” leak in this area would never get this big nor reach Louisiana's coast. 

Perhaps I wonder at a time like this, is this the worst case scenario yet?  Or did this happen just in time to stop us from drilling more, polluting more, wasting more and using more of our natural resources?  Considering this accident in that light is the only sense I can make of all this waste: the hope that somehow we might learn just a little more of the lesson we seem to need restated over and over again.


Earth Day 2010

April 28, 2010

Earth Day is past.  It's now over and done for another year.  We all drank in the sunshine, good feelings and honors to the planet.  And while our normal message for any day of the year is “Less is More,” on Earth Day this year, it seemed more was more.

More cities and towns celebrating Earth Day all over the world.  More people turning out for the celebrations marking 40 years of greenification and cleaning up the planet and trying to turn our consumption patterns around. 

Other things I noticed more of this year: more corporate representation as Earth Day mentions skyrocketed on the Internet.  It seemed like every advertisement I saw for a national product on the web this past month has mentioned “earth-friendly” and “sustainability.”  I saw food products being advertised in recyclable containers; household goods bragging about fewer chemicals and less harm to the environment; and lots of ideas for lowering energy consumption. 

The reason for this is clearly because corporate entities are starting to realize that given a choice of “earth-friendly” and “generic brand X which might be cheaper,” many customers are willing to pay more to show their concern for the planet.

Maybe it's just the arrival of springtime temperatures and attitudes, but it seemed like a whole crop of new colors of reusable shopping bags bloomed onto the scene just in time for Earth Day.  I only know because every time I saw one that I really liked, I'd ask the person using it where they got it.

“A store at the Mall.”

“Target.”

“A museum gift shop online.”  These are all good answers, but the “online” brings a special smile to my face.  Online shopping also a little greener than ever before. 

There were also more schools than ever participating in this year's Earth Day, which means we're bringing up a strong generation of people who are going to be more concerned than ever about the world that we all share. 

The big celebration honoring our planet is over for another year.  But if you think about it, every day is Earth Day here on the third rock from the sun.  We need to remember that in order to make the most of the world around us. 


Change A Font, Save A (Carbon) Footprint!

April 21, 2010

So what is the number one expense related to a business' use of its printer?  I'll give you a hint: it's not the paper. 

Most offices have at least one printer and if yours is like mine, it gets a lot of use.  Once you buy the thing and get it up to speed, your accountant depreciates it and your employees abuse it.  But what is the number one expense related to it?

I'll give you a hint: it's not the paper.  At $5 a ream or less, depending on your willingness to buy in bulk, paper (a wonderful thing to recycle, by the way!) is inexpensive.  No, it's not the paper.  It's the ink.

Many printer ink cartridges, while recyclable in handy mailer envelopes that come with the purchase of  a new cartridge, are sorta pricey.  They cost upwards of $35 each and when you consider that your staff, in spite of being told not to use printers for personal matters, are probably printing everything from church picnic fliers to their senior research paper, you need to think carefully.  Is it possible you can cut costs and Greenify?

Maybe.  Maybe it's as simple as changing your font. 

A Dutch company, Printer.com, tested and discovered that different fonts require different amounts of ink and over the course of time, the amount of ink used, cartridges consumed, cash used and carbon footprint burned through to keep an office printer going could vary quite substantially.

The best fonts to use to ensure maximum print output for your cartridges are:

1) Century Gothic
2) Times New Roman
3) Calibri
4) Veradan
5) Arial
6) MSS Sans Serif
7) Trebuchet MS
8) Tahoma
9) Franklin Gothic Medium

The findings showed that a someone using a home printer would use one less one cartridge per year, with the pocketed savings of about $20.  But you'll also save on your carbon footprint. 

Using fewer cartridges means you're printing less and printing more carefully.  You're taking a step towards being more conscious of the earth and its resources.  And who knows?  Maybe your business correspondence will look better, too.  Some of those recommended fonts are not only greener, they're very stylish!


Earth Day Alive and Ahead!

April 20, 2010

You may be counting down the days to Earth Day, but I assure you, here at the Green Business Alliance, we are counting down the minutes.  We're also checking off our list:

Local area parade, picnic or other activity to attend?  CHECK!  
(Here's a googling tip: type in Earth Day, 2010 and your zipcode.  See what comes up!) Are you attending the festival or marching in it?  Don't let this parade pass you by.  Get on board and stay at the front of the line for greenifying, recycling, renewing our Earth!

Lunch out at loca-vore restaurant with clients or employees or both?  CHECK!
The food will be fresher, better tasting and have a smaller carbon footprint.  You can probably find a locally sourced restaurant by logging onto your local newspaper's website and searching for “restaurant reviews” and then specifying “locavore” or “locally produced.”  Or call a few of your favorite lunchtime haunts and ask. 

Extra large recyclables receptacle on order?  Do you really need this one?  (I had hoped you already had all the recycling containers you needed, but if you haven't got them, this is a good reminder.  It's long past time to be greener at the curb.

Field trip to visit Mother Nature?  CHECK THIS OUT!  It is National Park Week, April 17 to 25.  What that means is entrance to all 392 United States National Parks is free.  Fees are waived.  Go enjoy the Earth at its most basic, wild and beautiful.  You can learn more at this website: http://www.nps.gov/npweek/.   If you clean up after yourself, that's great, but if you pick up after other hikers, you are a hero to all!

Earth Day 2010 is the 40th celebration of the planet.  We need to Greenify.  If you haven't already, it's time to get on board.   Please join in the celebration this year and every year to come.


Paper, Plastic or... Reusable?

April 16, 2010

“Paper or plastic?” asked the grocery clerk.

Remember when that used to be the question? The simple choice of paper or plastic would be made at the checkout counter of grocery stores. The answer would be a statement of whether you were interested in greenifying. Or so we thought. It turned out that using plastic meant we were saving trees, but it also meant littering our planet with bags that never seemed to really break down and clogged everything from sewers to tree branches and more. They were ugly, hanging from underneath passing cars and strangling fish in our waterways.

I reflected on that this weekend when someone commented on my reusable fabric bag that I used to take a small appliance somewhere. It's a rich sapphire color with strong handles and a firm plastic bottom. I got it at a food industry convention and filled it on the convention floor with samples and information that it took me days to sort through and enjoy. But the bag keeps on giving.

I have other bags. Some are from particular grocery stores and advertise those businesses that I frequent. Some are padded with insulation to keep perishable items from, well, perishing. Some are made of low-carbon burlap and sorta “chic” in a granny-from-a-farm way. Others are very durable and I expect they can carry my purchases for years to come. But here's the thing: I like them all.

I like the endless variety and colors that I'm carrying my things around in. I like the bright colors, as well as the brown burlap. I like the durability and the semi-fragility of the bags. I like that I know exactly what to expect of each. They stack better than paper or plastic, soI like seeing a small stack of them in the back of my car.

The locality where I live started adding a charge for “paper or plastic” a few months back, and since then, I've seen bags like mine on the street. I'm so much happier to see bright colors and store names being carted around than plastic bags blowing in the wind. I'm sure you feel the same way.

So far, we've only cut usage of those bags by a fraction. Some people are willing to pay the surcharge for using plastic bags or they forgot their reusables or they somehow were unable to get a reusable bag for that trip to the store. But we'll forgive and look the other way, “just this once.”

It's nice to Greenify. Maybe give a reusable bag to a neighbor in observance of Earth Day? The planet you save may be your own.


Earth Day: April 22

April 14, 2010

We don't normally dig into Youtube.com here at the Green Business Alliance blog, but a friend showed me this over the weekend and I wanted to share it:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wupToqz1e2g

The link above is to a video (by the way, you don't have to actually watch it. You can just listen. It's mighty!) of Carl Sagan talking about the “ pale blue dot” of our world. In it, Mr. Sagan talks about how important, amazing and humblingly beautiful our earth is. It's a simple message that seems utterly appropriate to watch this video as Earth Day 2010 approaches.

As we celebrate and honor our Earth, it is wonderful to have such an eloquent message of how important it is in our lives.

We're heading for the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, with millions of our neighbors here on our planetary home celebrating with us. There will be parades, ceremonies, speeches, dinners, picnics, commemorations, honors and pledges to do better. It would be great if you could attend and lend some support.

But as the video implies, the most important part comes the day after when someone who used to litter drops their refuse in a garbage can. Or recycles their soda can. Or purchases recycled products that they didn't before. Or comes to your business because it's “green” as opposed to one that isn't.

We've got to work together to take care of our most important resource: the Pale Blue Dot.


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