Recycling, Freecyling and Upcycling Shipping Containers?

February 23, 2010

I have to share this idea with you. I caught wind of it (oh, that's a good pun in recycling circles, isn't it?) online and am totally caught up imagining it. Picture old railcars, stacked in two's, side by side and two deep. That's right, the hottest trend in eco-building is recycling old shipping containers.

I don't want you to think I am making another joke. The cars themselves are actually air-conditioned, with stylish bamboo cabinets, two bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms, ENERGY STAR appliances and low-flow showerheads, too. Definitely green all over!

Consider the consumer-driven economy we've had in this country for the past decades. We've bought everything that we wanted, used it for a bit and tossed it aside without any regard for landfill or consumption levels.

These days, we're reforming. Our new creedo is “eat it up, use it up, wear it out; anything but throw it out. We're finally slowing down the all consuming greed for stuff. One thing we may have left overs on is shipping containers.

Think about it: durable, mobile and definitely economical. Can you imagine anything built to last longer? They are plentiful and comparatively inexpensive. The only thing you can't do is move right in, of course, because until the developer goes over them, they're quite basic.

“We thought they would be a great platform for us to start from since they are extremely durable and are designed to be shipped with heavy loads and to withstand the rigors of ocean travel,” Ashton Wolfswinkel of Upcycle Living adds. “And because the shipping containers are so plentiful, we are able to get them at a reasonable price, thus allowing us to shift costs, to improve quality and make our homes more sustainable.”

Upcycle Living in Phoenix, Arizona, develops the houses that I glimpsed, but other companies have been making use of the containers for housing for some time. Upcycle's new angle is developing them clean, green and ready to shine out for the economy minded house hunter.

Maybe that's our future: green, recycled and altogether indicative of a Greenified, smaller carbonprint.


10 Days of Shut Down: What We Can Learn from Snowmaggedon

February 18, 2010

I have mentioned that I live in Washington, DC. Unless you've been living under a rock, you are probably aware that Washington has recently endured a record setting series of snowstorms, dumping 40 inches of the white stuff on Dulles Airport in the last week and a half. An additional one to four inches are expected this week and no one here is looking forward to it.

But there are lessons here to be learned.

For the last ten days, my car has been parked on a side street adjacent to Pennsylvania Avenue. I drop by to look at the snow surrounding it every few days. I keep hoping that the snow will melt off and I'll be able to get in and drive it away with only a minor effort. But in the meantime, you know, I'm not really suffering.

Let me admit up front that I stocked my pantry well before the storm hit. But other than that, I haven't given it a second thought. I don't need to drive around that much, and beyond a trip to various stores that aren't quite as convenient with my car, I'm doing just fine. If I gave it some consideration, I could park my car and quite happily drive only every other week or so.

If all of Washington gave similar efforts, our Beltway wouldn't be so legendary for its traffic problems.

A lot of people have been telecommuting, too. Road crews took days to clear out the first round of snow before the second round hammered down. To be honest, I'm being quite generous when I say “clear out.” (There are still dangerous amounts of ice and piles of snow on the street, blocking views and obstructing traffic.) I've actually envied a lot of those telecommuters; they seem to have the best situation of all.

Area children have one more day off. Schools are closed for the holiday, but opening on Tuesday. One last thing that is greener about this community (in this case, I mean green as in tax dollars) response in school districts: officials in two area jurisdictions have issued appeals, asking residents to help their school systems in their efforts to reopen.

In Fairfax County, officials called for volunteers to clear paths so classes can resume Tuesday after being closed Monday for Presidents' Day. "Your community needs you," Braddock District Supervisor John C. Cook was quoted as saying in the Washington Post as he issued a call for shovels and those with the backbone to properly use them. Arlington County also issued a similar call and reminded property owners to clear their sidewalks.

I think most residents would have done almost anything to clear the walkways, but it is always better to use human strength, rather than strong chemicals.

Washingtonians learned a lot about themselves and dealing with Mother Nature these last few weeks. Undoubtedly, nature always has something to teach us, including about Greenifying.


Greenifying In A White-Out World

February 15, 2010

I am considering what I can do to Greenify this week from a very confined corner of the world: Washington, DC.  In case you didn't see the news this past week, the nation's capital was directly in the path of a huge winter storm.  It struck with the force that hasn't been seen in more than 50 years. 
 
It started at mid-morning on Friday with tiny and widely scattered flakes.  By mid-afternoon, there were several inches on the ground.  And before it was done snowing around 6pm on Saturday, there were more than 20 inches of snow on the ground.  Washington, DC is getting a dose of "how to conserve resources" this week.

The city is shut down.  The federal government is mostly closed, except for "essential personnel."  I had to go in (I'm not very important, yet somehow, I was considered "essential") to work and because I knew things might get difficult, I went to work on Friday night with an overnight case and pillow. 
 
In spite of regular treatment with plows, sand and chemicals, the streets were soon blocked by snow and impassable.  Only the main thoroughfares of town got plowed immediately (and even they had to be plowed repeatedly).   The buses shut down.  Metro, the famed federal rail service also closed wherever the rails were exposed aboveground.  Trash pickup and recycling services also are out of commission.  So what's to do?

For many people, it was still a day of work by telecommuting.  Thousands of federal and other workers went to work in their pajama pants and sweaters.  They "ordered out" from their own refrigerator.  They got their work done without wasting the time, gas or other resources of commuting. (Commuting in Washington, by the way, can add an extra ninety minutes on each end of the day.)  Studies have shown that many people are happier, more relaxed and more productive when they telecommute.  And employers like it better, too, because they don't have to provide office space. 
 
Tomorrow, a lot of Washingtonians will be doing the same.  Maybe you should consider it, too.  Talk to your employees about telecommuting.  Talk to your boss about telecommuting.  Consider whether the work that is being done in your office could legitimately and more reasonably be done at home for one or more days per week.  You may be quite happy with the results.
 
As for me, my car is just off Pennsylvania Avenue, under about 2.5 feet of snow.  I'm not going to dig it out.  I'm going to let nature take its course.  Which means tomorrow, I may have to "telecommute" to the gym.  That's my new name for my pilates workout DVD. 


Van Jones: Green Entrepreneur

February 9, 2010

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I recently attended  "The New Green Economy" conference organized by the National Council for Science and the Environment.  The conference was held at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington and welcomed 1,000 attendees at this year's gathering.  I worked with the team providing the event coverage and was fortunate to meet and interview Van Jones.
 
You may remember Van Jones.  He was nominated by President Barack Obama to be his Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.  Although ultimately, Jones withdrew under a cloud of controversy, he is widely regarded to be at the forefront of innovation on environmental jobs and entrepreneurship.  He was a little reluctant to be interviewed, but he did want to get his message out as widely as possible.  I asked him what that message would be.  His response:

"The main message is the tremendous opportunity that we have to make a difference.  The desire that is still there in the country to make a real difference with green solutions.  People in the country are concerned about the economics and jobs and America's strength for the long term.  We need to help them understand that there are green economic solutions for all of that; that you can save money and make money and not just spend money with green solutions."
 
That is the sound of positive thinking at work.  It's also what we believe first and foremost here at the Green Business Alliance.  Right now, a lot of people are thinking the worst about the economy, but those people are wrong.  We've always turned things around in this country and we're likely to do the same again.  And even though things can seem a bit bleak right now (it is difficult to be positive, with the unemployment rate at 9.7% this month, but consider that's up from 10 percent in the final month of 2009), the reality is that the American economy has started to grow again.  The gross domestic product grew at 6 percent in the final quarter of last year. 
 
There really is a lot of good news out there for us.  Sometimes, it can be hard to focus on the good things that are going on.  At such moments, it can be even harder to make good things happen for ourselves and the planet.  But Van Jones seems to think it's the best of all times to do exactly that.  Click here to see more of his interview. 
 
(You can click on his photo to check out his interview or watch all of "The New Green Economy" conference coverage.)


Greenifying: One Soda at a Time

February 4, 2010

Have a Coke and smile. You are Greenifying. As we have often discussed here at the Green Business Alliance, going green is a good thing for the environment and for business. And one of America's biggest names in business apparently realizes that. That's right, the world's biggest maker of beverages, Coca Cola, has begun using new bottles made partially of plant-based materials, making them biodegradable. The new bottles are only 30% made of plant-based materials, but Coca Cola sees it as a step in the evolution of packaging.

As we all know, plant materials like corn and sugar cane are renewable resources. The U.S. currently uses over 200,000 barrels of oil per day in production of plastic. The old Coke bottles that we've all grown accustomed to required 17 million barrels of petroleum per year to produce. The new bottles will decrease that amount and with it, Coke's carbon footprint in packaging falls an estimated 12 to 18 percent.

The move is part of a new nation-wide movement away from petroleum-based products. The motivations behind it are three-fold: concern about the price of oil and our dangerous dependence on it, safety concerns about chemicals in plastics production and of course, our growing worries about the amount of plastics we are putting into the environment. Instead, the newer plastics are dependent on corn, wheat, sugar beets, sweet potatos and rice to make an alternative to plastics called polyactic acid, or PLA.

Other companies that have already starting using such bottles include Newman's Own (which has been one of the companies at the forefront of the green movement), Wild Oats, WalMart and yes, Coca Cola's nemesis in the beverage market, Pepsico. And if you're drinking soda, you might as well have a few chips. Sunchips are also in a new bag which is made of 33 percent polyactic acid, with plans to increase that amount to 90 percent.

Keep in mind, consumers still need to recycle the packaging itself. PLA is wonderful stuff, but tossed along the side of the road, those bottles and wrappers will likely still be there in a few years. And it's not perfect: products shelf-life isn't quite as long using the PLA packaging. But the manufacterers are working on that as well.

But isn't it amazing to see how important and vital to their industry (and marketing!) greenifying is? They consider it a key part of their strategy. It's the direction they want to go and they want others to see them heading that direction as well.

The new bottles were unveiled at the recent Copenhagen Climate Summit. Drink up! And if the soda you're drinking tastes greener, maybe that's because it is.


Space Heaters: Energy Efficient?

February 2, 2010

Are space heaters energy efficient? Or are they sucking the life out of your energy efficiency plan, one outlet at a time?

When I was growing up, my family lived for a year in a small two bedroom house. It wasn't a shanty in the Appalachians, but a farm house on a family ranch in the West. There was no central heat or air and not even a window unit in the summer. But winter was the time that things got really tricky. The house was heated by a black coal-fired pot-bellied stove in the front room.

Most people like sleeping in a chilly house and this one certainly accomplished that handily. My father arose early every morning to restart the fire and get it blazing for when he woke the rest of the household. And when it was time to get cleaned up, the bathroom was in the farthest corner of the house. It was cold in that bathroom! So we had a space heater.

Dad guarded the use of that space heater with his life! He would turn it on low while we were in the tub, and allow the highest setting only as we got out to shiver while drying off. We only lived in that house for about 10 months until a new home could be built for us. And these days, of course, heaven bless my college professor father for teaching his children to be frugal about both energy and money. But I also wondered if that old space heater was really the expensive consumer of power that he said it was.

Modern space heaters can actually be extremely energy efficient little machines. If you live in a large house and don't use parts of the house during various times, or if you have an employee who is always colder than the rest of the staff, then you know how helpful these little gadgets can be, if you purchase the right one.

With central heat, you lose a large amount of the heat into the system of ducts and vents weaving in and through the house. With a space heater, you can individualize the heat. You can turn the temperature down in the rest of the house or office, while applying heat directly where desired. Think of all the times you've been blown through a business' front door and wondered how the person at the front desk ever tolerated the wild shifts in temperature that came with the arrival of every customer. It was likely that they had a space heater just below the front counter, trained on their knees.

Space heaters often use between 900 and 1500 kilowatts. This can be quite a lot of heat, but if you only need to supplement one smallish area, they can be a lot more energy efficient than using central air to heat the entire house or building to a desired temperature when only one (or perhaps two?) rooms are needed.

Should you try to heat the entire house with a space heater? No, that would be overuse and in fact, could overload the electrical circuitry. (You'll need to make sure your outlets, fuses and circuitry can handle the full 1500 watts) But dropping the temperature to slightly below the comfort zone in most of a house or business and using space heaters in one or two rooms could see an 8 percent savings on the fuel bill.

And that would be good Greenifying on for both the environment and the home or business expense.


The New Green Economy

January 28, 2010

This past week in Washington, DC, I interviewed the Environmental Protection Agency Adminstrator, Lisa Jackson, at the "The New Green Economy" conference organized by the National Council for Science and the Environment.  The conference was held at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington and welcomed 1,000 attendees at this year's gathering.  I caught Adminstrator Jackson as she entered the back of the hall and waited to be announced for her speech.

The keynote session topic was what many of us wonder these days: "The New Green Economy: (How) Can We Get There From Here?"  Since she was waiting to address the group, I asked her what her message for the 1,000 conference-goers would be?  She said she wanted to offer them the encouragement of President Barack Obama's administration and said that all of us must find our places in the new green economy.  She talked about how the future is full of opportunities to Greenify and that businesses, if they want to survive, will need to fit into the new green economy to succeed in business.

We all want that, don't we?  To fit into the new green economy and to succeed in business?  A lot of people are wondering that right now, so that was my other question (you don't get many questions in while waiting to be announced before a speech) to Administrator Jackson.  "Is there a choice to be made between the environment and the economy?  Can American businesses do both?"

Her answer was extremely encouraging.  She said businesses are going to have to do both. We all are worried about the economy, staying productive and growing as a business, but we need to join the new green economy, too.  In fact, she says that now is the best time to Greenify because being greener is often less costly to businesses. 

That's right, both Administrator Jackson and every expert I spoke with this past week said that a greener business is a more productive and cost effective business.   For instance, if you put on a sweater to lower your thermostat and install energy efficient lightbulbs, you will save money.  If you use recyclable paper, you will save the environment and be able to advertise that to customers.  If you drive an energy efficient car, you will pay less for gas.  If you drive a hybrid, you can save even more.  Re-use, use it up, wear it out and recycle your way into the new greener economy. 

It's an exciting time to be in business.  It's a great time to Greenify.  And doing both is the only way to move forward into the future with the New Green Economy.

By the way, I interviewed someone else that I was very excited to meet.  I'll tell you about that in a week or two.  I'm waiting for the video link to go up so you can all see that interview in action.  I think you'll be excited, too!


Grocery Store Greenifying

January 26, 2010

How was your last trip to the grocery store? Did you remember to take your own reusable grocery bags? I keep mine in the trunk of my car and I must admit that last year, I didn't always remember to bring them into the stores with me. But I definitely remember now, because with the start of 2010, the city where I live is charging a fee to use those plastic "disposable" grocery sacks. Nothing like a five cents per bag fee to jog the memory about bringing your own bags.

Bringing my own grocery bags along is something I like to do. I have probably about 7 or 8 of them in varied colors, sizes and styles. Some are made of a flimsy (but remarkably strong) polyester that seems to be the same stuff that is used to make disposable hospital gowns. A few are sturdier black or dark green nylon and rather stiff. (I'm betting these will be around for years.) One is made of burlap and trimmed in red and so stylish that I sometimes wonder if I should drag it along to work.

I've discovered that if I use them and then put them next to my keys, I can remember to return them to the trunk the next time I go out. Even if I forget to take them into the store, that doesn't really matter, does it? I can take the groceries to my car and load them from the cart into the bags in the trunk. Anything to keep that five cents in my pocket a little longer.

I say this because I think that's how a lot of us feel right now. The economy seems to be recovering, but jobs are not and businesses, while surviving, seem to be running a little sluggishly. It's a good time to look at what you can do, easily and inexpensively to remind customers that you're still in business. Have you put your name on some inexpensive reusable tote bags at your business?

Even if you are not in the grocery business, it's still a good idea. The bags are inexpensively made, mass-produced and growing numbers of people are using them, which means that plastering your business name and logo across them and selling them at cost is a great way to greenly advertise. Think of all the uses: groceries, books, school notebooks, kids projects and anything else that could be dragged along, while advertising your name.

But also think of the good you are doing the environment. Those so-called "disposable" grocery bags are a major source of pollution. Over 500 billion of them are produced and used world-wide every year. Most of the bags are not biodegradable, end up overstuffing landfills or worse, flying around in the wind or floating in the water and choking fish, waterfowl and sometimes even the algae.

The strange thing about them is, they started out as an answer to paper bags. Manufacturing the plastic bags compares favorably with producing paper bags. They consume 40 percent less energy, generate 80 percent less solid waste, produce 70 percent fewer atmospheric emissions, and release up to 94 percent fewer waterborne wastes, according to the Society of the Plastics Industry.

But now we know the better answer is to make stronger reusable bags that will stand up to months of use and reuse. Advertising on the bags gets one more use out of them for yourself. It makes them just a little bit greener, don't you think? If you want to Greenify your grocery experience with the help of Green Business Alliance, click here to view our reusable bags for purchase.


Green Business Ideas

January 22, 2010

Want to get into a new and greener business this year?  There’s no time like the present to start greenifying.  And in case you wanted for a few ideas, I’ve got some right here.  These are things you can do to make the world a little greener while greening your bank account, too.  They can be part or full-time.  It’s up to you and what you make of each proposal.

Recycling Business.  You know what this is, right?  It includes anything from thrift shops to art galleries.  Also scrap metal dealers help reuse and recycle.  (These guys are the “junkyard dogs” of this business.) Can it be recycled or reused? If so, look closely for a business opportunity limited only by your imagination.

Green Schools and Education.  This includes hundreds of opportunities from energy efficiency to curriculum writing, to green job training vocational schools, being a school district vendor of organic foods for the cafeteria.  You can bring greener ideas into your children’s educations.

Green Lawyer.   A green litigator could help resolve anything from a neighborhood dispute about shade tree positioning to solar panels being integrated into design to representing corporate America on environmental clean up operations.  Also, you could specialize in helping green businesses get started or resolve their issues, too.   Just think of the possibilities.

Cool Roofs.  From actually doing the roofing jobs to supplying the products that help reduce heat gain in buildings both residential and commercial. Reflective roofing material and other technology.  For the most “low tech” of the solutions, how about a coat of white, heat-reflecting paint on rooftops. 

Green Light for Green Lighting.  Have you thought of the opportunities?  You could make good money in designing lighting fixtures that use CFLs and LED lighting to reducing energy consumption through natural lighting (solar tubes) and specializing in interior design lighting to businesses effeciently light retail spaces and offices.

These are just a few ideas for businesses that Greenify.  There are hundreds more out there.  We’ll be offering more ideas here as the year goes on. 


Greenifying Haiti

January 21, 2010

Most of us, at some point in the past week, have turned our eyes, minds and hearts towards the Caribbean nation of Haiti. As we all know, this country, the poorest in the world, was hit by a terrifying earthquake one week ago. The quake measured 7.0 on the richter scale, making it the most severe earthquake in 200 years and one of the largest natural disasters of our times.

The resulting agony of Haiti will be months in unfolding, but most immediately, at least 50,000 are dead and the number could rise as high as 200,000. In a nation of nine million, this loss is very painful. The capital city of Port-au-Prince was flattened and all of Haiti's plans for economic development have been put aside in favor of rescue and recovery.

The United States has promised $100 million in assistance and already sent at least 12,000 U.S. military personnel to the region to assist the United Nations and other agencies in recovery and peacekeeping operations. Other countries around the world including China, Brazil, Britain, Japan and Italy have or will send assistance, also in the millions of dollars.

Also being sent are individual donations. If you are considering such a donation, you are to be commended. It's a difficult time in Haiti and if there is a chance that a few dollars could make a difference in someone's life, then surely we all want to help out.

Whether you send that money through your church, a private organization or by offering the money to a public group such as the Red Cross or the fund that President Obama asked former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton to set up, we want to offer you some reassurance about a greener future ahead for Haiti. This is part of a statement by President Bill Clinton (made on Fox News on Sunday) about what he sees in Haiti's future:

"Before this earthquake hit, Haiti's per capita income was about $780 a year. Seventy-five percent of the people were living on less than $2 a day. One of the big problems was the deforestation. One of the reasons that the hurricanes hurt more there is its trees have been taken down. People will cut for fuel. They cut up the trees for charcoal, (to) cook dinner.

By the same token, Port-au-Prince and the other cities, like most cities in poor countries, hardly pick up the garbage and they have these unsightly landfills that are public health menaces.

There is a neighborhood in Port-au-Prince which brought the crime rate down and the employment rate up by collecting the garbage, taking the organic material and turning it into fertilizer for farmers, recycling the plastic and the metal, and taking the paper and mixing it with charcoal -- I mean, with sawdust and wetting it then drying it and cutting it into these little briquettes.

And three of them will burn as much for as long to cook dinner for a Haitian family as charcoal, and at about a quarter of the price.

So it's -- you employ 10 times as many people in the process. You save money for the families. And you reduce the incentives to tear down the trees. And if you do that and at the same time build income-earning trees, like mango trees, and reconstitute the mahogany forest and other of these fast-growing trees you can cut down without deforestation. That is, the roots stay and they grow up again."

There is hope for Haiti and we can help them Greenify as they recover from the disaster that has befallen them.

 


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