Green Business Alliance Blog

Green Business Alliance believes in utilizing the power of the Internet to educate on the importance of adopting environmentally sensitive business practices. Our blog is updated frequently with helpful tips for large and small companies and employees. We invite you to visit our blog regularly to gain valuable insights.

Green Versus Lean

October 22, 2009

Should Greenification supercede the economy? It's a vital question that a lot of people are pondering these days. Which is more important: economic survival or environmental sensitivities?

"When I came into office there was this kind of belief that you can only protect the environment or the economy, you have to choose between one or the other," California Governor, Arnold Schwarznegger said at an event staged to accept $26.5 million in federal clean air grants. He dismissed the argument bluntly: "We don't have to accept that."

The environment often has been a luxury item for California voters. Though "going green" was always a concern, it seemed to rank higher in interest when economic times were good.

But that view may be changing, as indicated by a July poll from the Public Policy Institute of California. Sixty-six percent of Californians, for example, supported the global warming bill signed by Schwarzenegger. That is still technically "landslide" territory, but it is down from 73% support in 2008. Institute president Mark Baldassare blames some of the slippage on the economic downturn, but he also says some is clearly the result of partisanship: Democrats are greener at 78% support ahead of Republicans at 43%.

That mirrors national polls. Last year, 73% of the more than 1,000 Americans surveyed said they favored an expansion of offshore drilling for oil and natural gas in protected U.S. waters, even though many environmental advocacy groups have deemed offshore drilling as hazardous to the environment.

But environmental activists argue that choice may not have to be made.

"It's a false dichotomy," said Carroll Muffett, deputy campaigns director at Greenpeace. "In truth, what is truly good for the environment is what is truly good for the economy, because a shift to better energy solutions would create jobs."

That's on a large scale. On a small business scale, we are idealists here at Green Business Alliance, but we also need to be realistic. For the average small business, survival in a difficult economy has to come first. There are some out there who are facing such choices and although we hope that's not you, if it is, we understand. We hope you'll continue to do the things you can and look for more ways to greenify through the recovery period that we all know is ahead.


The Business of Green Marketing

October 21, 2009

So now that your business is green and has been marketing itself that way for awhile, what's ahead? It seems like everybody these days is trying to market themselves as the environmentally conscious, greener, alternative solution with a lower carbon footprint. And that's a good thing. Aren't we glad that we're all doing these things and that society is coming to care (and care all the way deep down in its pockets) about protecting our planet, preventing environmental damage and cleaning up past damage as best we can? Yes, indeed, but what's next?

Here are a few predictions offered by Jacquelyn Ottman, president and founder of J. Ottman Consulting. These predictions were made in a recent article for Advertising Age. They may give you some insight into where things stand and where to look next in your approach to Greenifying.

1. Ottman predicts now that the "green hype" (and some of it is purely hype) has hit a high, there will be a slowdown and maybe even an end to the use of meaningless green marketing terms. This would be helpful. We are seeing that there is a lack of supervision and a need for better definitions of some terms. We need standards to be set in order for business and the consuming public to truly understand what these terms mean. She also predicted there would be a slowdown in the creation of eco-marketed house brands.

2. More electronics companies will create take-back programs, thereby reducing the use of toxic chemicals in order to market themselves as green. In some cases, this may backfire. A recent "60 Minutes" segment covered the illegal and unethical actions of one "take back" program claiming to handle the toxic chemicals but which illegally exported and dumped them in a foreign country. The company involved in that program is now being prosecuted.

3. More green products will be marketed in order to satisfy retailer demands for reduced packaging and better energy efficiency. Consumers will be thrilled to see an end to hard plastic clamshell packaging. Standard green marketing claims will take a back seat to pitches based on such things as higher performance levels, aesthetics and cost effectiveness.

4. Green products sales will soar behind the major brand acquisitions (Remember Clorox buying Burt’s Bees and Colgate snapping up Tom’s of Maine), which will help increase sales of green stand-alones like Method and Seventh Generation.

If these predictions are accurate, 2009 will continue to be the "Year of the Green Business" but in new and different ways that we hope will help your business profit.


Preparing for Winter: Go Green

October 15, 2009

Can I give you a little advice about greenifying, keeping heating costs low, staying warm and being fashionable this winter?   Put on a sweater. 

The government has been advising us for more than 20 years to put our thermostats at 68 degrees daytime (and another 10 degrees cooler at night) in the winter to try to conserve energy while staving off winter chills.  If you can do that, you’ll realize a savings of as much as 10% annually on your electricity bills.

Sweaters can be an answer.  Along with socks, an occasional thermal shirt, pajamas and maybe even a bath robe.  Put some rugs on that tiled bathroom floor.  The tiles will benefit, too.

Sweaters are going to big fashion news this fall.  They are in all the best stores and available in all kinds of price ranges.  This isn’t our normal stuff here at Green Business Alliance, but in the interest of helping you greenify, let’s discuss sweater materials.

Cotton: the fabric of our lives.  It’s comfortable, soft, and so very washable.  Not the best choice for harsh winters, but definitely what you’d choose next to your skin.

Linen: prized for its lightness and beauty, but not for warmth.  Linen is favored in the summer.

Wool: the crimped hair of domesticated sheep.  Because of the crimp, wool fabrics have a greater bulk than other textiles, and retain air, which causes the product to retain heat. Wool makes some people itch, yet makes others comfortable because of its elastic and water absorbent properties. Because some wool must be dry cleaned, it can be less environmentally friendly.   But carefully maintained, it wears for years.  And many wool sweaters don’t require dry cleaning, if you check the label.  Wool, like all animal hairs, is naturally flame-retardant.

Mohair: fabric made from the hairs of angora goats.  The younger the goat, the softer and finer the hair, which means that clothing is usually made from the younger goats’ coats.  Mohair is warm and has great insulating properties. It is durable, moisture-wicking, stretch and flame resistant, and crease resistant.  It doesn’t “itch” as much as regular wool because the scales on the hairs are not fully developed.  Also needs dry cleaning.
Cashmere: considered the King of Natural Fibers, it is a fiber obtained from the cashmere goat.  Cashmere wool is fine in texture, and it is also strong, light, and soft; when it is made into garments, they are extremely warm to wear.  Also needs dry cleaning.

Other choices for sweater materials including polyester, spandex, viscose and nylon are man-made materials.  While a little nylon may give your sweater some durability, and some spandex improves the fit and styling, adding man-made fibers can make a sweater less breathable and therefore less comfortable. Also, a polyester sweater will “pill” underneath your arms faster than Mom saying “school’s closed for a snow day” makes a sick kid feel better.

So do yourself a favor and pick up a few sweaters. Better yet: GET OUT YOUR OLD ONES.   Your wardrobe will thank you and so will your electric company.   Green is definitely the style for this season!


A Few New Green Gadgets

October 13, 2009

So have you thought about your greenifying your home appliances?  Everybody knows about the government’s Energy Star program.  It’s a seal of approval given by the government for appliances that help businesses and individuals protect the environment through superior energy efficiency.

It’s all very utilitarian in most cases, though.  What about those other newer electronics?  Have you thought about those?  

Your computer is the first place to look.  I speak from experience on this.  You know how they say “leave your computer on, all the time”?  Have you ever seen what that will do to an electrical usage bill? 

To put it in a rather simplistic way, most laptops run on 65-90W power supplies. Contemporary desktops are using ballpark 350-500W power supplies.  The average homeowner uses 80 percent less energy by turning off the personal computer and clicking on the laptop.  At current laptop prices, the cost could be recovered within six months. 

Another item worthy of checking the green-stats on would be televisions.  Those huge new flat-screen televisions can hit you with a double whammy.  They are costly at the store and costly to operate. 

But some of those wide-screens can have much smaller electric consumption rates.  The Samsung 8000 series features 46 to 55 inch screens that operate using 40% less electricity than competitors.  You’ll want to check how much electricity your TV (or TVs) are using.

There’s also a device to do just that.  The Energy Detective is a device on the small side of an alarm clock that measures electrical usage.  You hook up the device, cleverly acronymed as “TED,” and within seconds are shown information about usage and cost.  If you can see it, you can manage it.  (Find out more at www.theenergydetective.com)

It’s all part of being a better energy consumer.  Greenifying is not always easy, but it is always worth it to all of us.


Greenify on a Personal Level

October 4, 2009

Want to do something small, important, and unseen to Greenify?  Change the tissue in your bathroom at home to a brand made of recycled materials.  

American bathroom tissue, okay, yes, toilet paper is a key issue in environmental circles right now.  The reason?  Brand name manufacturers of paper products, in their never-ending attempts to get us to buy their specific product, took it to the next level: three-ply tissue.

And it sold.  24 million packages of Quilted Northern Ultra Plush in the last year alone.  That’s a lot of tissue.  That’s a lot of trees.

The super plush toilet paper we love so much in the United States is made by chopping down old growth trees, grinding them up, spewing them through processing plants and stamping the stuff out into little squares that are rolled up onto long tubes of cardboard then sliced into the inches-long roll of multi-ply tissue that we’re all familiar with.  

Let me point out that Europeans use recycled paper to wipe.  Are they so much tougher than we are? Can they take it, but we need to be so much more pampered at such a higher price?  More to the point, can we afford to be this wasteful?  Bathroom tissue (rolled toilet paper and facial tissues combined) constitute 5% of the U.S. forest products industry.  Paper and cardboard use 26% and newspapers another 3%.  But is this a 5% we need to blatantly waste?

It turns out that 75% of bathroom tissue in commercial restrooms is made of recycled materials.  But when it comes to home use, American consumers believe softer is better.   We use the recycled products during work hours, but go home believing that “fluffy and soft is better.”   But “better” is also a lot harder on the environment.   

Here’s the bright spot on the horizon.  Kimberly-Clark has agreed to Greenify its practices.  By 2011, 40% of materials used in making their products will be recycled or from sustainable forests.  It’s not perfect, but it’s a sizable step in the right direction.

So the next time you’re in a forest enjoying the view, listening to the birds sing, and pondering the age of that beautiful pine or cottonwood or any other tree next to you, consider whether: would you rather look at that tree or use it in the bathroom?

 Trees, by Joyce Kilmer

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.


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?


Winterize at Home and Work – Part 2

September 22, 2009

We’re continuing with a list of tips on winterizing at home and office.  It’s that time of year, when the season changes, the temperatures fall, and if we focus a little effort, we can save energy, shrink our carbon footprint and lower costs in the coming months. 

6) Check Foundations

• Clear all debris and edible vegetation from the foundation.
• Seal up entry points to keep small animals from crawling under the house.
• Seal foundation cracks. Mice can slip through space as small as a dime.  (If you’d like to try it on your own, I found a “how to” link...click here)
• Inspect sill plates for dry rot or pest infestation.

7) Install Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

• Change smoke detector batteries when daylight savings ends.
• Install a carbon monoxide detector near your furnace and / or water heater.
• Test both smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
• Buy a fire extinguisher or replace any extinguisher older than 10 years.

8) Prevent Plumbing Freezes

• Drain all garden hoses.  Put them out of reach of the elements. 
• Insulate exposed plumbing pipes.
• Locate your water main in the event you need to shut it off in an emergency.
• Drain air conditioner pipes and, if your AC has a water shut-off valve, turn it off.
• If you go on vacation, leave the heat on, set at least 55 degrees.

9) Prepare Landscaping & Outdoor Surfaces

• Trim trees if branches hang too close to the house or electrical wires.
• Seal driveways, brick patios and wood decks.
• Move sensitive potted plants indoors or to a sheltered area.

10) Prepare an Emergency Kit

• Find the phone numbers for your utility companies and tape them near your phone or inside the phone book.
• Buy indoor candles and matches / lighter for use during a power shortage.
• Keep your freezer as full as possible. If the power goes out, food will stay frozen much longer in a full freezer.  Add bottles of water, if necessary.  A full fridge and freezer also use less electricity to operate.
• Store extra bottled water and non-perishable food supplies (including pet food, if you have a pet), blankets and a first-aid kit in a dry and easy-to-access location.
• Prepare an evacuation plan in the event of an emergency.


Winterize and Greenify – Part 1

September 21, 2009

If the cooler temperatures haven’t hit where you live, they cannot be far off.  It’s time to winterize at home and work. I thought we could use a few reminders.  Here are the first five (of ten) winterizing tips:

1) Furnace Inspection

· Call a HVAC professional to inspect your furnace and clean ducts.  Let a professional do this for maximum energy efficiency.
· Stock up on furnace filters and change them monthly.
· Consider switching out your thermostat for a programmable thermostat.  This is easily done and can save impressive amounts of energy and money. 
· If your home is heated by a hot-water radiator, bleed the valves by opening them slightly and when water appears, close them.  If the heater was installed before 2004, you may want to install an insulating jacket on the heater for greater savings.
· Remove all flammable material from the area surrounding your furnace.

2) Prepare the Fireplace

· Cap or screen the top of the chimney to keep out rodents and birds.
· If the chimney hasn't been cleaned for a while, call a chimney sweep to remove soot and creosote.
· Inspect the fireplace damper for proper opening and closing.
· Buy firewood or chop wood. Store it in a dry place away from the exterior of your home.

3) Check the Exterior, Doors and Windows

· Inspect exterior for cracks and exposed entry points around pipes; seal them.
· Caulk windows and use weatherstripping around doors.
· Replace any cracked or broken windows, prime and paint exposed wood. 
· If your home has a basement, consider adding protective shields over window wells. 
· Switch out summer screens with glass replacements from storage. If you have storm windows, install them.

4) Inspect Roof, Gutters & Downspouts

· If your winters include temperatures below 32 degrees, adding extra insulation to the attic will prevent warm air from creeping to your roof and causing ice dams.
· Check flashing to ensure water cannot enter the home.
· Replace worn roof shingles or tiles.
· Clean out the gutters and use a hose to spray water down the downspouts to clear away debris.
· Install leaf guards on the gutters and extensions on the downspouts to direct water away from the house.

5) Service Weather-Specific Equipment

· Service or tune-up snow blowers.
· Sharpen ice choppers and buy bags of ice-melt / sand. 
· Replace worn rakes and snow shovels.
· Clean, dry and store summer gardening equipment.
· Drain gas from lawnmowers.

We’ll be back with more tips for winterizing soon.  Until then, enjoy the remnants of nature’s green efforts outside for as long as possible.  (to be continued)


How Much for That Grocery Sack?

September 15, 2009

How much is that plastic grocery sack worth to you?  How much is the convenience of an always available plastic grocery sack worth in your life? 

A few years back, I discovered that one particular grocery store in the area where I live charged for the plastic grocery sacks that have become de rigeur in the last 20 years.  I was a little shocked that they wanted three cents bag.  These days, I think they should charge closer to three dollars.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2001, somewhere between 500 billion and a trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide every year.  A tiny fraction of the number of plastic bags produced will be recycled.  Even more are packing our landfills.   But worst of all, somewhere between one to three percent of the bags aren’t recycled or in landfills, but instead are littering our world.  

You know what litter is, right?  A few years ago, living in California, I took notice of the state’s anti-litter advertising campaign which says “whatever you drop ends up in the ocean.”  It only takes one visit to the beach to make clear the truth of that statement.

These days, while no longer living in California, I still feeling a growing longing to protect the environment, I have become a collector of reusable shopping bags.  I have two bright green ones, a white one, a black one, and a gorgeous red and natural burlap sack with a charming picture on the side.  I’m not actually going for a rainbow (although I certainly don’t mind!) or any specific designer look, so I usually just accept what I’m offered.

Your customers are probably doing the same: just accepting what they are given.  It’s still such a new concept we’re living with that an offer of a new grocery sack is likely to be greeted with appreciation.  If you’re about to order more disposable plastic sacks for your business, let me encourage you to put in an order for reusable carriers as well.  Offer them to your customers at as low a price as possible. 

At some point soon, that recyclable bag will be worth far more than its weight in so-called “disposable” (plastic) grocery sacks in your world and theirs.


Green Bamboo? …Maybe

September 11, 2009

Have you noticed all the green marketing around lately?  It’s on everything from clothing to clothing to coffee filters to recycled paper.  I’m not about to debate whether recycled anything is green, but let’s take a look at the claims being made about bamboo.

Bamboo, as you may be aware, is the woody stalk of a plant that grows so fast and using so little resources (very few nutrients and a small amount of water) that it’s being labeled as green.  It’s made into cutting boards, clothing, sheets, coffee filters, and flooring.  But are those products truly green?

Let me just ask you a quick question.  Have you seen any bamboo being grown commercially around where you live?  And have you checked the products certification?  There is no global certification standard for using responsibly produced bamboo, and until it’s developed, you may want to the producers for guidance.

Bamboo is popular in clothing, sheets, towels and other textiles because it’s cool against the skin, absorbs water well, and feels soft.  But the process of turning the woody stalks into silky fabric uses a lot of water, energy, and chemicals, according to industry insiders.   Laura Wehrman, owner of Tela Verde, a New York-based company that tracks sustainable textiles for the fashion industry says that it “does not meet the definition of sustainability."  She also says, it’s probably less of a planet-taxing alternative than non-organic cotton or polyester, and has the potential to be greener if manufacturing processes improve.

The group, “Oeko-Tex” certifies textiles that have met safety and environmental standards.  Consumers can check for compliance with this standard.

Bamboo flooring is also growing in popularity because of its low cost and durability.  The Forest Stewardship Council certifies environmentally responsible flooring. Look for the council's symbol when seeking out bamboo construction materials.

One product that is known to be on top of the “ecologically sound” movement is Bambu, a line of tableware available at Target and other retailers.  It is certified organic by a Swiss body, IMO.

Bamboo can be a smart alternative to wood products, but don't assume it's synonymous with sustainability. Most of it is grown and the products produced in Asia, where there is already concern that demand for it is causing clear-cutting of old growth forests. The carbon footprint of shipping it around the world is not insignificant.  So check with companies before you buy, and don't buy new if you don't really have to. 


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