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.


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!


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.

 


Greenifying Business 2010: Part B

January 14, 2010

We’re continuing our ideas for new businesses (or updates to existing businesses!) that Greenify.  How about…

6. Green Marketing Expert. You can help companies develop marketing plans that reduces costs and improve their reputations both with consumers and in their communities. From social media marketing to cooperative marketing and using green promotional products, green marketing methods are in demand!

7. Green Investment Adviser.  People that are concerned about the environment want to put their money where their mouth is.  They are looking for green ways to invest and want someone to do the due diligence to find green companies as opposed to green washed companies to invest in.  Could you be that person?

8. Green Business Consulting.  Help businesses that can't afford full time environmental management departments, take the steps toward sustainability.  We’ve got a lot of experts here at the Green Business Alliance that will help you help them.  (We’re ready to help anyone who wants to put a greener foot forward!)  If you can get in there and help them develop a plan, we’re all for that.

9. Boutique Organic Foods for Restaurants.   This truly is a new, small business idea and much of it depends on what kinds of things you can produce.  It can be done on a small scale on less than 5 acres of land and can provide local restaurants with seasonal produce at premium prices.  Might take a deft hand with a hoe and a good supply of the neighbor’s cow manure, but you could find yourself sitting in clover.  And  producing honey.

10. Green Plumbers.  You could help homeowners and businesses reduce their water costs and pollution by promoting, selling, installing green toilets, faucets, and water heating systems.  This one is obviously not meant for a “quick start,” but is more of a lifetime commitment and we wish you luck.

As we wish everyone luck who starts a green business or any new venture this year!  Good luck Greenifying in 2010.  The Green Business Alliance wants to encourage you in every way possible.


Greenifying Business 2010: Part A

January 12, 2010

I thought to start this year off, we’d go with some Greenification ideas that are maybe off the beaten path.  These are ideas for people who might be considering going into business or perhaps have a business that they might want to update in more environmentally sensitive fashion.   For instance, what about…

1. Green Salons.  These would be salons and spas that use organic hair products (coloring products and nail care in particular) and water and energy conservation efforts, plus green furniture (lots of bamboo!) and all natural tools such as wooden combs and bristle brushes.  Going into the business?  (Or making a few changes!)  You can design your salon to be eco friendly and market it as a green Salon, which will greatly appeal to younger consumers.

2. Eco Gym.  It’s time to get back to basics.  Get rid of the electronics and design all exercise areas to optimize green heating and cooling, reduce air conditioning costs using green cooling (Ice Bear) and create a more healthful environment with all natural, sustainably produced flooring and eco-friendly decor. Incorporate natural health supplements in your shop and bamboo and organic cotton sportswear.

3. Green Lobbyist.  If legislation and government peak your interest, then you should know the field of environmental lobbyist positions is growing with the potential to open your own green lobbyist firm.  This is a high growth field.

4. Green Gardener.  Help local homeowners reduce their water use (critical in California, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico) by becoming a specialist in drought tolerant greenery and replacing wasteful grass lawns with native plants, stone gardens or organic herb gardens.

5. Green Bed and Breakfast.  If you’ve been one who has always dreamed of owning a bed and breakfast, then consider this: solar or wind powered, organic cotton or bamboo sheets, green meals (locally produced meats and fish and organic produce and fruits), and beautiful natural settings will attract eco-vacationers no matter where you are situated.

If you are opening a new business or considering making changes, we’ve all seen in that green marketing does provide motivation for new customers and clients.  You’ve got more reasons now than ever before to Greenify.  And we’ll have more ideas later this week.


Global Conference on Climate Change: Can We Do Better?

December 9, 2009

Leaders from 200 nations around the world, environmental activists, scientists and leaders of industry are meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark for the better part of the next two weeks discussing how to lower global warming emissions and work together to stop pollution and global warming. 

The leaders who meet there will try to reach an agreement on issues of global warming that will replace the Kyoto Protocol, which was established by the United Nations in 1997 as a way to combat global warming.  It expires in 2012.

The conference is billed as the “last, best chance to clinch an agreement” before the Kyoto Protocols expire.  But what exactly does that mean?

Environmental groups think it’s fundamental to any chance that we have for keeping our planet clean and operating with the same climactic rules that it has for hundreds of thousands of years. 

"We need to have a legally binding agreement to reduce carbon emission in developed countries as quickly as possible," says Charlie Kronick, climate advisor at Greenpeace.

In order to do that, Greenpeace and other groups argue that developing countries need to contribute to the cost for poorer, under-developed nations who are still struggling to get their economies operating.

Others suggest that even the most poverty-stricken countries are going to have to participate, in order to make the transition work. 

"What we're looking for in Copenhagen is a global partnership between the North and the South, between the developed, industrialized nations and the rapidly developing ones with the other developing nations also a part of that cooperative partnership deal, which is the only way we're going to deal with this," according to Nick Nuttall, spokesman for the U.N. Environment Program.

We are all going to have to work together and work fast.  Our world is changing, temperatures and climate conditions evolving and species disappearing at an alarming rate.  You’ll want to stay tuned here and at other green news sites around the Internet for the latest on how the talks in Copenhagen are going through December 19.

We can Greenify, but it will take every nation doing its best to stop global emissions and warming.


Brownfields 2009: Greenifying in a Big Way!

November 23, 2009

A week ago, I was writing from New Orleans where I had been invited to work with ICMA-TV as their reporter, covering events at Brownfields 2009. This was a whole convention full of people engaged in greenifying from the top on down!

Brownfields, as the name implies, refers to the government programs to encourage developers to go in, take over problem areas, redevelop economically blighted and often environmentally troubled areas within a community. The convention is sponsorred by the United States Environmental Protection Agency along with ICMA which is the International City and County Managers Association. ICMA invites its members to come and meet with leaders in environmental remediation and cleanup, redevelopment and government funding. The result is often clean, sustainable community projects that get underway because all parties met under one roof.

(In fact, I came to view Brownfields 2009 as a sort of "jobs fair" for contractors, developers and city/county managers looking to put people to work and restore blighted areas to tax-paying profitability.)

One of the things that we did with IMCA's convention coverage was ask a question of convention-goers every day. The Question of the Day that I found most interesting was very simple and direct: "Can we afford to redevelop during the current economic downturn?" The answer that I heard was a resounding "YES!"

So many of the areas being offered for redevelopment are environmentally damaged. In fact, I noted several of them were past locations of dry cleaning establishment. (I made a mental note: find an organic dry cleaner or start wearing all cotton clothing. Always.) It turns out that a lot of dry cleaners use a lot of extremely harmful chemicals. This probably isn't a surprise to anyone reading this blog at this website, is it?

But they leave a lot of messes behind when they go out of business. The clean-up is expensive, but having the land lie unproductive, poisoned and often in disrepair can cost the cities and counties more. They want to have the situation remedied.

So the community leaders that I talked with all answered yes to the Question of the Day, knowing that a property that has toxic chemicals and is non-revenue producing for the tax base can be turned around, providing jobs and income for those who do the work, returned investment for developers who have a vision for the area and a complete shift in image and enjoyment for both the people living in the community as well as those who visit.

It was a pleasure attending Brownfields 2009. It is that very sort of thinking that make green businesses and social entrepreneurs exciting to be around and write about.

If you would like to know more, you can visit the IMCA-TV website to see what's going on:

http://www.icmatv.com/

And you can check out the Brownfields website where they buzz about their redevelopment projects 'round the clock:

http://www.brownfieldsconference.org/en/index.aspx


College Cafeteria Food: All You Can Carry

September 28, 2009

As the classes begin on campuses around the country, some students are Greenifying without even knowing it.  In campus dining halls, the latest trend is to eliminate cafeteria trays.

You remember lunchroom trays.  They’re usually made of hard plastic in some nondescript color that resembles latte, toothpaste, or a red apple.  You can pile on a plate or two, plus a couple of side dishes, salad, a bread plate, dessert, a beverage and a glass of water with room leftover for flatware.  They are the stuff that the “freshman 10 pounds” is built upon.  They are also wasteful of resources.

The trays allow meals selections to be stacked up, to be sure, but it also is made entirely of plastic, generally is not recycled, and uses up valuable resources in cleaning and storing the trays.  So why not get rid of them?  Why not have “our finest students” learn to carry their food back and forth to the table?

It seems that a good number of the nation’s higher education institutions are in agreement.  Aramark Higher Education estimates that 60% of the 600 campuses it serves are trayless; Sodexo Inc., which works at a similar number of schools says 40% of its clients are making the change.

There have been a few complaints.  Northern Michigan University students grumbled so steadily about the prospect of having to carry their food that the plan was scuttled. 

Lots of schools have “all you can eat” meal plans for students.  The tray-less schools generally continue those plans, but the students occasionally have to make a second trip.  That alone has apparently saved some cafeteria in terms of waste and cost.  The University of California at Santa Cruz last year saved $100,000 in lower board costs. 

Another excellent result: in a country with more than 60% of its population struggling with being overweight, lower consumption is to be encouraged.  

Then there’s the cost of cleaning and sanitizing them.  Surely the cost of a commercial dishwasher filled several dozen times daily with cafeteria trays, compiled over the weeks and months of a school semester could be money better spent on holding tuition costs down.

With both sides benefitting, plus an environmental dividend, can there be any doubt of why Greenifying one cafeteria tray-load at a time is the right thing to do?


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.


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