Eco-Coach

Green your life at home, work & play

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

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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

 

Too Dry or Too Wet? January 13, 2012

Depending on the difference between the humidity of the outside and inside air, your house can either be too dry or too wet. In the winter time, outside cold air is drier than that in your house, which causes the air in your house to dry out. If your home is too dry, a humidifier can help, though you may need to weatherize your home to better seal it from outside air. However, most often a too wet home causes the most problems, such as mold and mildew growth, infestation by dust mites, cockroaches and bacteria, and structural damage. There are many causes of excess moisture, including leaky plumbing, a wet attic or basement, humidifiers, gutters, downspouts and drains, and of course flooding and sewer backups. Anything made out of wood, paper or cardboard in damp areas can also create mold growth, which can cause asthma attacks and other respiratory problems.  Maintaining appropriate moisture levels in your home is important to keep it healthy and green:

  • Find and fix all plumbing leaks (even small leaks can lead to mold growth)
  • Install and use exhaust fans in kitchen and bathrooms (especially when cooking or after showering)
  • Change the water in your humidifier once a day and clean weekly
  • Open windows or use fans to increase air circulation
  • Direct water away from your home’s foundation with landscaping and correctly situated downspouts
  • Repair all cracks and holes in walls
  • Keep gutters clear to prevent water buildup
  • Ensure that dryers have external exhaust fans

Just a quick walk around your home can save you thousands of dollars in repairs if you catch the problems early. For more tips on how to identify and fix moisture problems in your home, check out this article from Oregon State University.

 

Recent Extreme Weather Caused by Climate Change December 22, 2011

Climate change “believers” have been saying for years what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirmed today: that recent incidents of extreme weather has climate change partly to blame. The IPCC tells us to expect more extreme weather in the future-heat waves, heavy rainfall, and of course higher temperatures. But the IPCC isn’t the only organization who is linking climate change with the weather. Findings by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (a collaboration between 13 federal government agencies) support those of the IPCC.

The occurrence of extreme weather in the U.S. has been increasing over the past 50 years, but recent increases have caused significant damage, dollar-wise. Drought has caused $9 billion in property losses in Texas and $45 billion in damages have been caused by the last 10 weather disasters. It is also estimated that the destruction caused by October’s snowstorm in the northeast could cost up to $3 billion.

So how will this affect you and your business? Well, depending on where you are, you will be affected in different ways. Some areas will experience increased rain, others like the southwest U.S. will experience extreme drought. The important thing to take away from these findings is that we can no longer wait to see what will happen because of climate change. We need to mitigate, by reducing our carbon dioxide emissions, and also find better ways to adapt to our new weather, right now. If short-lived climate forcers are reduced, such as hydrofluorocarbons, black carbon and ground-level ozone, the rate of global warming could be reduced by half. Fortunately, there are already laws and technology that can assist in this reduction, allowing it to happen quickly if we take the initiative. But of course, it is up to each of us to do so.

Photo courtesy of San Angelo Standard Times

 

Green Office Pioneers in the DC Metro Area: Part 2 November 28, 2011

The second installment in our series on green offices in the DC metro area is the new East Coast headquarters of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) in Fort Belvoir, VA. The building received a LEED Gold rating, the second highest LEED rating and the largest federal government building to receive such a high rating (2.2 million square-feet). The office focused on three areas: water, energy and transportation. By collecting 

rainwater and using low-flow fixtures, NGA saves about 3 million gallons of water a month. It also reduces energy use by 30% with efficient lighting w

ith motion sensors and transparent ETFE roofing to provide more natural daylight. Carbon dioxide emissions from cars are reduced by NGA encouraging their employees to use public transportation.

NGA also included healthier materials in their building, including ones with low or no volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which contain chemicals that can cause headaches, nausea, and eye, nose and throat irritation, among other things. Chilled beams are also incorporated into the building to further reduce energy use associated with heating and air conditioning, since these reduce the power used by the fans.

Photo Courtesy of the U.S. Department of Defense

 

Teleworking: The Benefits for Employer, Employee, and the Environment October 17, 2011

What is Telework?

Telework is an arrangement in which employees work from remote locations during a certain percentage of the week to. Such a program involves utilizing current communication technologies so that the employee remains interactive with coworkers and supervisors. Although formally used as a luxury for select employees, an active and successful teleworking program has potential to positively affect a company’s financial accounts, employee satisfaction, and overall CO2 output.

Benefits and Costs.

The benefits of teleworking extend beyond financial gain. As more employees opt to work from home rather than a centralized location, businesses will see a positive effect on employee satisfaction and retention rate. Two-thirds of employees would choose to work from home if given the option and 36% would opt for teleworking privileges over a pay raise. It has been found that teleworkers are able to stay more relaxed and less distracted in an environment of their choosing.

Due to high employee retention rate and a decrease in demand for office space, the positive financial impact telework programs can have for a company expands to areas such as real estate, overhead costs, transportation, and new employee training. As of August, the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office has saved $19.8 million in real-estate costs alone since instituting the telework program.

The community as a whole can benefit from the implementation of teleworking programs. Highway conditions would improve and the amount of greenhouse gas emissions would decrease as fewer people depend on motor vehicles to get to the office.

Although the financial and social benefits outweigh the costs, it is important to take into consideration obstacles since teleworking is not for everybody. Technical issues that arise pertain to data security, providing IT support, state taxation policies, employer liability and zoning laws. Additionally, socially charged problems may result in collaboration issues and the fear of being ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ For a full list of cost and benefits, visit the Telework Research Network.

Get Started!

So now you are interested, but how do you start to implement a telework program in your company? Begin by assessing how much your company will benefit with the Telework Savings Calculator. With any business venture, the benefits must outweigh the costs. If they do, begin to investigate other programs. Research the types of software technologies and employee training you will need to invest in to make your program a success. To get you started, here are some sources for implementing a teleworking program:

Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 for government agencies

Implementing Telework: Lessons Learned from Four Federal Agencies by Scott P. Overmyer

Telework and ADA Compliance & Implementation Plan from the Telework Research Network

 

Majority of U.S. Adults Support Solar and Wind Energy October 10, 2011

Solar PanelsBetween fossil fuel pollution and volatile energy prices, a common question arises: what is the future of clean, renewable energy?  For renewable energy to have a chance in the U.S., it needs strong support from the general public.  Two recent studies show that the required support may already be here.

A survey conducted by Harris Interactive and commissioned by solar energy company Sungevity found that 71% of U.S. adults are fearful of rising energy costs.  Concurrently, 74% of those surveyed feel that solar power should be the energy source of the future for the residential sector.  Please visit Sungevity’s website for more information about the company.

A survey from Pike Research has reached similar conclusions.  According to the Pike study, 79% of U.S. adults are “very favorable” or “favorable” towards solar energy.  75% of respondents supported wind energy as well.  See the full study for further details.

Support for wind and solar is growing, but it will be interesting to see what impact citizen interest and support will have on the development of clean, renewable energy in the U.S.

 

 
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