The High Carbon Cost of Kids

August 31, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Bottled Water Fizzles

August 18, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Big Apple: Red or Green?

August 13, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wind Farm Project to Halt

July 14, 2009

The world’s largest wind farm this week became the wind farm that wasn’t.  Billionaire Oilman, T. Boone Pickens, who has generally championed the cause of energy independence for the United States and specifically promised to build the largest wind farm in the world this past week said he was putting his plans on hold because of the global recession with its tight credit markets and lower natural gas prices. 

You would think he’d want to build now with so many out of work and ready to pitch in.  With gas prices dropping once again, it might be the best time to buy materials which would have to be shipped in to the Texas Panhandle, where he planned to position the energy producing turbines.

But that credit crunch apparently is hitting even the wealthy.  Pickens could not find financing to pay for the transmission lines that would hook up his wind farm to the Texas grid to carry away the electricity produced in Pampa, Texas.

Meantime, offshore developers face a similar problem. They need to find customers to buy their power and must do so before they can get financing to build. The government just gave out leases for offshore production.  But those would-be “farmers” must also navigate the federal permit process, which hasn’t been tested so far.  Construction on even the most promising projects in Rhode Island, along with those in Delaware and New Jersey, won't begin for at least four years.

It all sounds pretty dismal, doesn’t it?  And on the surface, it’s a bit disappointing, but think of it in terms of where we were on this subject one year ago.  I think you’ll agree we’ve “come a long way baby” and we’re starting to get a handle on things.  

T. Boone Pickens and his blustery, bluffing pals put wind farms back on the horizon.  They moved up the public discussion about the projects.  The Obama administration favors such production and we now know that we have to start moving towards greater energy efficiency, domestic production and cleaner, most environmentally friendly production.  We’re heading that direction with a strong tailwind behind us. 

"We've got more wind than anybody else in the world, just like they have more oil," Pickens said at the time. "I think that's the future of this country."

We know we’ve got to get on it.  We still hope for the best, but the economic wind needs to pick up.


A Greener (Capitol) Hill

June 29, 2009

The U.S. House of Representatives has now proven they are interested in clean energy and reducing carbon emissions released by Americans and American business.  They have passed the Waxman-Markey bill, designed to curb carbon emissions by setting  a cap-and-trade program to cut global warming pollution.   What does that mean? 

With a "cap," each large-scale carbon emitter, or company, will have a limit on the amount of greenhouse gas that it can put out. This particular proposal would require companies to have a "permit" for every ton of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. As time goes on, the limits on these permits, their size and ability to obtain them would become stricter until ultimately, our country reduces its carbon emissions, the limits become stricter, allowing less and less pollution, until the ultimate reduction goal is met.

The trade: It will be relatively cheaper or easier for some companies to reduce their emissions below their required limit than others. These more efficient companies, who emit less than their allowance, can sell their extra permits to companies that are not able to make reductions as easily. 
 
The bill aims to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions blamed for climate change: 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, with other measures promising additional reductions. At its core is a greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program that gives away about 85 percent of the carbon permits to utilities, heavy industry, refiners, among others, and includes provisions to shield consumers from rising energy prices.  Environmentalists are very excited about the bill's passing. 

"This vote was a major hurdle, and we've cleared it," said Kevin Knobloch, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists.  "President Obama can walk into the G8 summit of world leaders in Italy next week with his head held high. Now we have momentum to move and improve legislation in the Senate and put it on President Obama's desk so he can go to December's international summit in Copenhagen with the full backing of the Congress and the American people."

Before the vote, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told her colleagues "we cannot hold back the future." She offered four words that she said represent the meaning of the legislation.

"Jobs, jobs, jobs and jobs," she said.
 
Companies will be required to purchase the emissions permits from the federal government, which in turn results in a sizeable revenue stream to the federal government. Much of the back room politicking that has occurred over the last few weeks regarding the Waxman-Markey bill has involved how this revenue stream will be allocated to government programs.  
 
But before any of this can go forward, the Senate has to vote to approve the measure as well.  And many industry groups oppose the measure.
 
James C. May, the president of the Air Transport Association of America, said, "We have strong concerns about the Waxman-Markey bill and its punitive one-size-fits-all approach. This cap-and-trade bill creates an onerous fuel tax on the airline industry."
 
In order to Greenify our planet, we are all going to have to work together.  Some businesses will struggle to bring themselves into alignment with these new environmentally friendly restrictions, but others will be born because of them.  The larger benefit will be to all of us and as such, we hope you'll support the Waxman-Markey bill and others like it by calling your representatives in Washington to encourage their vote for such issues.


The Tale of a Greener Fish

June 26, 2009

Remember a few years back when we were all told we had to stop eating Orange Roughy or we might just run out. Permanently. You remember that, right? We all pitched in and started eating farmed salmon and catfish and a few other things to take the pressure off of fishermen and fishmongers to meet our demand.

Now a website is going to offer advice on which fish has a lower "carbon footprint," or perhaps more accurately, less swishy tail.

If someone asked you which fish of two fish, for instance a yellowfin tuna or a barramundi has a smaller carbon footprint could you tell them? Probably not. And neither could most professional chefs or restaurateurs. It's a hard question to answer, but now a Washington, DC based seafood distributor will unveil a rating system to helps chef compare the environmental impacts of various types of edible fish.

The "Carbon Fishprint" rating system is based on how much energy use and any other carbon-footprint factors were involved in producing the fish and getting it on the table.

Think about the possibilities: you are getting ready to go out for a nice, healthy fish dinner, and when you get there, your chef has chosen two or three fresh "catch of the day" fish selections specially selected for their sustainability and prepared to the highest standards possible. Wouldn't you feel better about eating that?

This is of course, just one more example of green marketing and what the color green can draw in. The studies have shown that environmental friendliness is a selling point that consumers are attracted to and that they are willing to pay a higher, premium price for goods that are organic, use less energy, are sustainably produced and otherwise more environmentally friendly.

By the way, the barramundi has the lower "Carbon Fishprint," rated at just 15, while the yellowfish has a "Carbon Fishprint," more than double at 40. You may want to order the yellowfin at your favor sushi bar a little more sparingly. You can visit ProFish's "Carbon Fishprint" on their website.


Going Green? Prove It!

June 23, 2009

Is your business green and proud of it? Are you marketing and advertising your greenification efforts in a meaningful way to consumers? We hope you can prove it.

The Federal Trade Commission is the government agency that is supposed to be supervising the use of the claim "environmentally friendly" and other "green" statements under laws passed in1992. Environmentalists, quoted in USATODAY, say there has been too little enforcement.

"There has been little to no enforcement of the 1992 guides," says green consultant Kevin Tuerff, whose company started a website aimed at exposing ads with questionable environmental claims. "They need to pick up the pace."

In fact, since May 2000, the FTC has only prosecuted three companies for violating guidelines that govern companies advertising eco-friendly products or biodegradable packaging. All three of those complaints were announced earlier this month, after Congress scheduled a hearing to look into the matter.

As we have noted in the past here at Green Business Alliance, there has been a huge upswing in the amount of green-marketing going on in the last several years. The interest in environmentally sound products and energy saving offerings has skyrocketed during the increase in gas prices of the last several years and again since the election and inauguration of President Barack Obama. But are all of these companies making legitimate claims?

A recent survey by environmental marketer TerraChoice of 12 large U.S. stores found more than 1,700 products boasting green credentials. We all see eco-friendly claims made by sellers of everything from bottled water ("our bottle design uses less plastic") to sport-utility vehicles ("it's a hybrid!") to laundry soap ("concentrated, so you use less") and those claims aren't always checked out.

Green Business Alliance wants to help interested companies integrate environmental stewardship into their daily business practices, and market themselves to consumers who are concerned about the environment.

James Kohm, who is with the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection admits the agency hasn't been as aggressive about enforcement as it might have been, in recent years, which he blames on lack of resources. But he points to the agency's crackdown on energy-related claims as a triumph. The FTC was able to remove products that promised to improve a car's gas mileage but failed to do so from the American marketplace.

More new cases like those announced earlier in the month are to be expected, according to Kohm. We hope so. We all want more businesses to join the greenification effort, but we want it done legitimately with benefits that pay off for both the companies involved as well as their customers and consumers.


A Greener Inner Life

June 22, 2009

Have you given thought to your life today? Of course you have, but have you given yourself the time to think about yourself, your life and your place in the Universe and greater scheme of things today? We may not agree on exactly what the answer to those questions would be, but we can agree that thoughtfully pursuing our lives and taking time out to calmly consider will improve our lives and the lives of those around us.

I'm talking about meditation. Meditation is a mental discipline by which you attempt to get beyond the "here and now" to a deeper state of awareness and relaxation. It is one of the oldest and simplest forms of stress relief and can help us "Greenify" our inner life. In addition to being about improving our environment and reducing our carbon footprint, we also want to improve our own sense of joy and happiness in this life. Meditation can help with that.

There are many forms of meditation. Some people simply start their day by waking up slowly, lying in bed and thinking about what's ahead for their day. Other people take meditation classes that often involve special words or positioning of their bodies that they believe enhance their ability to focus. Whatever it is, it's helpful and healthful in providing direction for the day ahead.

Personally, I like to meditate on how I can improve areas of my life and the way I function in society to be a more positive influence. I like to think about all the wonderful things that I'm grateful to have in my life and look forward to my day ahead. (I am one of those "lying in bed with eyes closed" type meditators.)

I bring this up because in my life, "Greenify" means a cleaner, greener planet and I've come to equate it with many other positive aspects of life, too. So maybe you should give meditation a try. You might find it "Greenifies" your mind, too.


Our Amazing Planet

June 17, 2009

Do you mind if I take this one blog to just be amazed at the planet that we live on?  The fact that after being on this sphere for how many thousands (or millions, depending on who you believe) of years that we are still discovering new creatures, new geology, and new events here on our Earth is simply stunning to me.

This past week, there were a couple of interesting stories put on the internet.  These were more than just the “giant squid washes ashore on Thailand Beach.”  They were new discoveries about things going on in the world.

The first one that I saw was about clouds.  Apparently, a woman was in an upper floor in an office building in Iowa when she saw some unusual clouds passing by overhead. 

"It looked like Armageddon," said Jane Wiggins, a paralegal and amateur photographer in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. "The shadows of the clouds, the lights and the darks, and the greenish-yellow backdrop. They seemed to change." 

She snapped a few pictures and cloud experts, both professional and amateur, have been arguing about what classification, if any, these clouds fall under.  Clouds are normally classified as cirrus, which are high altitude wispy clouds. They are the highest clouds.

Cumulus are the mid-height ones, which are puffy and vertical and look at bit like popcorn; status, which the lowest clouds, Stratus often appear as an overcast deck. 

But Ms. Wiggins spotted what may be a new type of cloud.  And scientists are still scratching their heads about her photograph.

Also this week, an article spotlighting a glacier in Argentina is continuing to grow.  You read me right.  In spite of global warming and climatic changes around the world and in spite of ice shelves falling everywhere, the Perito Moreno glacier in Argentina is one of only a few ice fields worldwide maintaining a nearly perfect equilibrium since measurements began more than a century ago.

"The glacier has a lot of life," said Luli Gavina, who leads mini-treks across the glacier's snow fields.

The Perito Moreno glacier is currently 19 miles long and getting longer by the year. 

These are just two small items.  There are literally millions of amazing things about our planet.  I bring them to your attention because sometimes, it’s just nice to take a break from all the doom and gloom to catch a moment of wonder and awe.  It’s a great planet.  And we’ve got to take great care of it. 


Is Your Sunscreen Green?

June 8, 2009

As you are trotting out the door for a weekend of fun, ask yourself this: have you given any thought to sunscreen?   For decades now, we’ve been concerned about the ozone layer and global warming.  But what about your skin?  Is the sunscreen you’re wearing making the problem better or worse?  As you protect yourself from the sun, what are you doing to the planet?

Most of us know that everything we use, whether we’re speaking of laundry soap or lipstick, at some point winds up in the environment, where some of it has the potential to wreak havoc.  And that includes sunscreen.

Think about it: you put it on your face and run out the door.  Whether it is sweated off or simply floats away in the pool, it’s often “gone” by the time you come home at the end of the day.  And since we know “magic sunscreen elves” didn’t remove it, it had to go somewhere. 

What’s in that sunscreen you rub on your shoulders?  Most UV-protection creams sold in the United States contain some combination of as many as 17 FDA-approved active ingredients. Two of those, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, are minerals; the rest are carbon-based chemicals such as octinoxate, oxybenzone and octisalate, each of which might go by a number of different names.

With these classes of ingredients, there are concerns over the minerals, including the increased usage of new nano-formulations of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Though studies suggest that these tiny particles are better at blocking UV rays than are their larger counterparts, and though a number of studies have shown that they don't penetrate healthy skin, many skeptics say not enough research has been done to substantiate safety claims. Certain chemical ingredients, on the other hand, may penetrate the skin and act as endocrine disrupters, affecting users' hormones and reproductive functions.

Human health and planetary health aren't the same thing, but they are related: Any mineral or chemical that might be harmful to humans could damage wildlife and destabilize ecosystems. Though the studies aren't exhaustive, researchers have found chemical UV filters in lakes, oceans and rivers around the world, with the highest concentrations found near wastewater treatment plants.

The accumulation of both kinds of UV filters in the water is troubling to some toxicologists because of their potential to build up inside the cells of fish and other marine life. A series of studies conducted in Switzerland found two of these commonly used chemicals inside fish living in rivers and lakes, though the reports didn't indicate that the animals' overall health was suffering.

Fewer data are available on the major UV filters used in the United States. Researchers at the University of California at Riverside did test the effects of one common ingredient, oxybenzone, on two fish species. They found that it diminished reproductive abilities, but only at concentrations much higher than those observed in suspected areas of contamination in California and New York.

In the wake of this science -- and, it seems, out of a general sense that minerals are more "natural" than chemicals -- many green-minded folks are switching from chemical sunscreens to the zinc or titanium varieties. But those haven't been proved 100 percent safe for our ecosystems, either.

There's also the production of sunscreen to worry about. The mining and processing of minerals is resource-intensive and environmentally taxing. Creating titanium dioxide can result in large amounts of iron sulfate waste or smaller amounts of the more hazardous iron chloride waste. Manufacturing the nano-size versions may require plenty of extra energy plus more purifying solvent, which generates significant amounts of waste that may be hazardous, depending on the solvent used.

It's hard to tell exactly how the chemicals stack up in terms of production, because manufacturers aren’t required to release their exact formulations. (As an industry, though, metal mining releases more than twice the amount of toxic chemicals as the chemicals industry, according to the EPA.)

Of course, there are other ways to protect your skin at the beach, such as hats, umbrellas, and maximum coverage clothing.  All of which would help you go green and at the same time, stay pale.


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