Green your life at home, work & play

New online tool helps businesses track impacts through their supply chain May 2, 2012

You want your company to improve its community and eco-image and along with that, you want to know what your suppliers are doing to spiff up theirs as well.  It can be a large investment of time to read through every company report – annual, sustainability, CSR – wading through the rhetoric, not to mention dozens of corporate rating and ranking lists of best and worst performers to find out.  But now there is a much faster way to get an understanding from multiple angles of just how responsible those companies are by using CSRHUB*.  This new service offers free and subscriber options for accessing social and environmental ratings based on a wide array of sources to achieve a more unbiased view of a company’s performance.

While still in development stages, CSRHUB has ratings for about 5000 companies worldwide so far.  The ratings are based on four scales – community, employees, environment, and governance.  Ranked search results by industry are based on your settings for the four adjustable scales depending on how you value each.  There are also special issues of concern (accessible with a paid subscription) to use in further filtering results, such as nuclear power connections, board diversity, and involvement with pesticides/pollutants.  Also with a subscription, users can save search results and export them in spreadsheet format.

The CSRHUB site is set up so that you can go directly to a particular company’s rating page or you can search for groups of companies by industry, region or data source.  They currently have over 130 sources that they access for data to consider when rating a company.  These range from the Calvert Social Index to EPA Climate Leaders list to Working Mother magazine’s list of mother-friendly companies.  The entry for each company (when accessing the database as a subscriber) lists basic contact information, their overall and individual scale ratings (based on your preference settings), sources of data that were used in determining their rating, ratings history (graphically by month), and optional reports to purchase.  There are also typically links to recent articles pertaining to CSR topics where the company was mentioned and even current job openings listed.

Access to the basic search and CSR ratings features are available without even registering for the service.  But by registering you get the added benefits of creating unlimited profiles and lists of companies.  These can be shared with other users as well.  Registering also allows you to post to their discussion forums.  For those who want more access to the large amount of data and ratings (segregated into 12 subcategories) on CRSHUB, subscriptions on a personal or professional level are available.  Personal level access can be purchased on a monthly or annual basis for as little as $8/month.  A chart of the features by subscription status is available.

And have no doubt that they embrace their mission fully—CSRHUB recently elected to become a B Corporation.  B Corp status is a relatively new legal designation for companies that do not want to be confined to the traditional corporate dictate of profit above all else.  Currently a handful of states have passed legislation to allow B Corp status with another handful considering such legislation.  From CSRHUB’s website:

B Corps use the power of business to solve social and environmental problems.  Unlike traditional corporations, B Corps agree to meet social and environmental performance standards, disclose their performance so that it is transparent, and include consideration of all stakeholder interests in their legal structure…. We are part of a community that intends to change the world and we need to show that we have whole-hearted dedication to our cause.

Since CSRHUB is still growing and expanding their database, they appreciate all feedback from users and potential users.  They want to hear from businesses and individuals about what CSR issues concern them most, which special issues are of greatest interest, how the data is being used, and how the site/service can be improved.  Here’s your chance to guide this data tool in a direction that helps save you time and gives you valuable information regarding your current and potential business partners.’

*We are not in any way affiliated with this tool


Passive Homes April 26, 2012

What is a passive home, and what does it have to do with environmental sustainability? A passive home or passivaus in German, is a house (any building can be passive with the correct planning) that is specifically made to be highly energy efficient, have a dramatically reduced carbon footprint, and a requirement of little to no extra energy for heating or cooling.

This idea began in the 90’s in Germany and quickly became more than just an idea. Two years after the two pioneers, Bo Adamson and Wolfgang Feist, had the first conversation about this idea, they had already built a set of four row houses in Darmstadt, Germany with the help of Bott, Ridder and Westermeyer architectural firm. This first set of row houses surpassed any expectation at the time, with energy costs being 80% less than standard houses built the same year. This is also when the Passive House Institute was created, which has helped spread the concept.

Instead of relying on the energy grid for power, a passive house uses the sources of energy surrounding it, such as sunlight, body heat, wind-power, ground heat (geo-thermal) and even the energy released in everyday activities such as cooking, cleaning and using appliances to heat in the winter and cool in the summer. The defining equipment in any passive home is the mechanical ventilation system. Since these homes have to be airtight, they need to be able to let in fresh air for occupants and release old air containing noxious gases and CO2.

The building envelope in these structures is truly remarkable; the walls are filled with extra thick insulation to minimize any chance of thermal bridging (heat loss). The windows are infra-red reflecting, vacuum sealed, triple glazed, triple pained and finally pumped full of the noble (colorless) gas, argon. This gas is heavier than air and acts as a better insulation against heat from solar radiation. The awnings on these homes are built to take advantage of the lower sunlight in the winter, and the higher sunlight in the summer. In some cases, the homes are so energy efficient that they sell extra energy from solar panels to the city or county energy grid; in fact, they get paid to do this. One builder in Germany, Rolf Disch, has built a set of homes that earn, on average, $5,075 per year. Typical homes in this area of Germany spend $4,500 and up on energy. Such a saving can really make an impact on a homeowner’s annual income and yearly spending. The positive aspect of saving money is enough for most people but for the more environmental conscious, the reduction in their carbon footprint is almost indomitable.

In 2010, there were over 25,000 certified passive homes in Europe , but only 13 of these homes in the US. The vast majority of passive houses have been built in German-speaking countries and Scandinavia. However, in the last two years, the amount of passive homes in the US has nearly quadrupled, due to higher energy costs and the stimulus packages that have been made available for “green building” through the Obama administration. The International Passive House Institute also provides additional information, as the US branch of Passive House. We hope this trend continues, as the homes are more energy efficiency that Energy Star and LEED certified homes – though these, too, are a great step in the right direction.


Crowdsourcing competitions that help the environment April 22, 2012

In the spirit of joining the collective effort for a healthier planet in celebration of Earth Day (April 22) ,we have rounded up three crowdsourced competitions that will get your creative juices flowing.  Crowdsourcing, if you are unfamiliar, is a way to achieve a goal or get work done by opening up the task to a wide group of people, such as all employees in a company or the entire online community.  By sharing our inspiration, we can help each other dream up even better ways to achieve a sustainable world.

The latest challenge was recently announced by EMC in partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund and InnoCentive and supported by Popular Science.  They are looking for new ways for electronic waste (e-waste) to be tracked from collection points to the final disposal or dispersal.  There are possible multiple awards available with the top winner taking home at least $5,000 and possibly $10,000.  The deadline is June 3, 2012.  More details are available at the InnoCentive website.  Check out InnoCentive’s offerings and services while you are there.  They have made crowdsourced competitions their business.

The Postcode Lottery Green Challenge is held by the United Postcode Lotteries each year.  It was started by the Dutch Postcode Lottery which was founded in 1989 to help create a fairer, greener world. This is an international competition that seeks entries for creative business plans for products or services that reduce greenhouse gas emissions or enhance a low carbon economy.  Entries for this year are due by July 31, 2012.  First place winners are typically awarded 500,000 euros and a runner-up is also chosen who receives a lesser award based on available funds.  Last year’s winner designed an innovative, water recycling shower head and the runner-up designed a simple, cheap mechanism to tilt solar panels perpendicular to sunlight for use in third world countries.  More information and videos of the past five winners are available on their website.

MIT’s Climate CoLab has run several competitions over a number of years based on key questions related to climate change.  For 2011 the question was “How should the 21st century economy evolve bearing in mind the risks of climate change?”  For 2012 the competition is happening in phases.  The first phase ended April 15th and asked “How should we eat given the risks of climate change?” and “How should the world’s transportation infrastructure evolve given the risks of climate change?”  The next phase will be announced soon.  As they are announced, details are available at their website.  Aside from being able to influence national and international policy with a winning proposal, there does not seem to be a monetary award directly attached to the competition.  But, hey, it’s MIT.  Just the kudos from them should be sufficient.

We wish everyone the best of luck in taking on these challenges!  We look forward to hearing about the winning concepts.


Opportunities to solve eco-challenges April 18, 2012

In the spirit of  Earth Month, EMC Corporation, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), and InnoCentive Inc, are looking for eco-innovators to help solve the challenge of electronic waste (e-waste). The challenge ends on June 3rd, 2012 and is open to the public for submission. Figuring out how to keep large amounts of obsolete electronics from being disposed of improperly is just one of the hundreds of issues our society is facing.

Organizations like InnoCentive help everyday people put their intellectual and creative expertise to work in order to solve real life challenges. InnoCentive allows you to create an account and browse through numerous challenging opportunities to help create solutions through innovation. All of the challenges provide monetary awards for winning ideas- not to mention that adding your experience in eco-innovation to a resume can open doors for other green opportunities.Challenges call for experts in business, chemistry, engineering, design and more. The demand for eco-innovation is on the rise, and it is encouraging entrepreneurs and thinkers to help out.


The Greening of the U.S. Car Industry April 10, 2012

The car industry in the United States isn’t known for its particular environmentalism, especially compared to European or Japanese cars. Fortunately, recent regulations have caused great changes in how cars must be made. The Corporate Average Fuel Economy or CAFE regulations mandate the number of miles per gallon (MPGs) cars must achieve. In 2009, President Obama announced an increase in MPGs of 30% by 2016, which was agreed upon by the auto industry and environmental activists. This raised MPG to an average 39 for cars and 30 for light trucks and was the first increase in MPG since 1985. More recently, there is speculation that the administration will try to increase MPG again to 56 or 62 by 2020.

Any increase in MPG standards is great for the environment because it significantly decreases carbon dioxide emissions from cars. Burning a gallon of gasoline releases 19.4 pounds of CO2 and a gallon of diesel releases 22.2 pounds. 27% of the U.S.’ emissions are from transportation, so a decrease in emissions in this industry would help significantly.

Some, such as the Center for Automotive Research (CAR), argue that enforcing an overall standard of 62 MPGs for vehicles would be too expensive for the car industry because it would require more fully electric cars (which are more expensive) to make up for the less efficient cars that would still be manufactured. However, the EPA’s study shows that the additional price of cars would increase by only $3,000 instead of the almost $10,000 suggested by CAR.

Whichever price increases that actually occur, the average MPG of cars is definitely increasing, which is good for the environment as well as buyers, who can save money at the pump. What still needs to be determined is by how much our cars’ MPG will increase, and whether it will be from a significant increase in manufacturing all-electric cars or more conventional hybrids.

Photo Courtesy of Planet Green


Greening Hospitals April 6, 2012

The health care industry has a great, untapped potential to be more environmentally friendly. Currently hospitals in the U.S. create 6,600 tons of waste per day. There are many problems that the health care industry faces that others do not, such as infectious and hazardous waste. The proper disposal of these items is important for both human health as well as the environment. Current methods of disposing of infectious or hazardous waste, although effective, are not the best for the environment. Incinerating waste is important to not spread infectious diseases or have chemicals leach into the ground in landfills, but this causes air pollution from mercury and dioxin.

Contrary to what many may believe, a large amount of waste created by the health care industry is actually regular trash and recyclables – plastic, cardboard, etc.  The need for sterile instruments has led to the “single-use” culture, which has been facilitated by prevalence of plastics. In certain instances this is necessary (needles, etc). However, in other instances, reusable products could be utilized. A re-assessment of how hospitals use materials is necessary to find this difference. For example, plastic is commonly used for packaging, but glass or other materials can be a substitute when there is less risk of breakage. Glass is a great material because it can be recycled infinitely without degrading, unlike most other materials.

Fortunately, some people realize the great impact that the health care industry can have on the world’s carbon footprint. In 2000, the Canadian Coalition for Green Health Care was created to promote eco-friendly practices, which include pollution prevention and resource conservation. There are also many hospitals in the U.S. that are going green as well.

Photo Courtesy of Planet Green


Does Purchasing Eco-Friendly Products Go Against the Basics of Environmentalism? March 30, 2012

The green movement has created many options to help the environment, including green consumerism, which entails buying products that are more environmentally friendly than their conventional counterparts. The theory behind this idea is, since we have to buy products, we might as well buy products that hurt the planet less. But is this concept fatally flawed? Doesn’t the whole culture of consumerism go against the green movement, which emphasizes using fewer materials, not more? A New York Times article points out how even though people may buy green products, our level of consumption is still dangerously high. “Buying as much as we want because we can” has been a staple of American culture for some time and green consumerism continues to fuel this. Is it truly helpful to the environment for us to encourage such behavior? More importantly than what we purchase is how much we purchase.

As the article points out, most complaints against green consumerism don’t come from major green organizations, like Greenpeace and the Sierra Club. This is probably because green consumerism does do something beneficial: brings the environment and global warming to people’s attention. Even if they aren’t dedicated to the environment as activists, at least they are aware of the problems it faces when they pick up an organic cotton t-shirt instead of one made out of conventionally grown cotton. Businesses also argue that green consumerism can be beneficial  because they are more effective at solving climate change than governments since they are more focused on the long-term and don’t face reelection every four years. They were not clear on the how, but they emphasized that the solution to our environmental problems is economic growth fueled by eco-minded consumers.

My conclusion from all this is that green consumerism is a good strategy, but it is not the solution in and of itself. If people need and want to buy products, they might as well buy those that are better for the earth than those that are not. Green consumerism isn’t the only answer to our current environmental situation, but it can help. Hopefully, by becoming aware of part of their purchasing habits (what they buy) people will also become aware of another part (how much they buy).

Photo Courtesy of Holos: Ecologia Integral blog


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