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


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


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.


Bringing Modular Construction to the Electric Car September 26, 2011

If your computer died, would you throw the old one away, or would you send it to a recycling firm?  Hopefully you would do the latter.  Most computers are constructed using highly modular designs with discrete components, each of which have distinct useful lives.  Recycling firms can repurpose useful components and strip precious metals from nonfunctional or outdated parts.

Charles Gassenheimer, Chairman of Ener1, a leading battery technology firm serving the electric car industry, envisions a similar future for vehicle components.  Ener1 is working today towards a future in which consumers purchase electric cars and separately lease their expensive battery packs, reducing up-front costs and diverting waste from landfills.

Electric cars are similar to computers in that their components can outlast the overall device.  In the case of Ener1’s lithium-ion car batteries, 80% of their charge capacity is retained after 8-10 years (the typical lifetime of a vehicle).  Ener1 battery packs can be removed at the termination of their lease and dissembled into discrete modules.  These modules can then be recombined to serve a host of secondary functions.  One major application is large-scale energy storage for utilities, in order to distribute solar power at night.  Another use is in Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) backup systems for offices, computer systems, schools and hospitals.


Making a green commute with Capital Bikeshare September 2, 2011

Those that live or work in Washington, DC or Arlington, VA would be hard-pressed to miss the bright red and yellow bikes quickly becoming ubiquitous in the downtown area.  The bikes and their docks are part of a system called Capital Bikeshare, based on the Public Bike System design already in use in Montreal, Toronto, London, and Minneapolis (in addition to similar systems pioneered in Copenhagen, Lyon, and Paris).  The Washington/Arlington system currently encompasses over 1,000 bikes and 114 docking stations.

The Public Bike System (also known as Bixi, a portmanteau of bike and taxi) was designed from the ground up for sustainability and flexibility.  Every aspect of the docking station is modular and designed for simple repair, replacement, recycling and expansion. The solar-powered stations are installed without any excavation or construction and do not require external power, so they can be installed and moved according to demand.  Electronic monitoring and communications systems built in to the docking stations provide real-time usage metrics, including the location and status of all docked bikes.

There are many benefits of using a bikeshare system instead of a privately owned bicycle.  Capital Bikeshare manages all aspects of repair, maintenance and storage.  Sharing bicycles allows more people to use fewer bikes, which reduces manufacturing and materials use.  Because their bikes are based on a common design, broken bikes can be harvested for working parts, further reducing waste.

Bikeshare systems have tremendous potential to augment existing public transit options.  Capitol Bikeshare can reduce the load on the Washington Metro, which has experienced record riderships in recent years, while decreasing fossil fuel use and traffic congestion.

Visit to become a subscriber for a yearly fee of $75.
The Washington Area Bicyclist Association is an excellent resource for those interested in commuting by bike.


America’s Climate Choices Final Report July 8, 2011

The National Research Council has just released its final report on America’s Climate Choices.  The report highlights the environmental, economic, and social risks of climate change and calls for action to reduce the amount of environmental change we will face while also preparing to adapt to future warming

The report finds that climate change is happening and human activities are very likely the primary cause.  The report acknowledges the uncertainty about risk but affirms that there is enough reason to begin acting now.

According to the National Research Council, local, state, and private sector efforts are valuable, but they will not be able to achieve the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions needed to avert a climate crisis.  The report calls for strong federal policies to set national goals and engage international efforts.  To effectively address climate change mitigation, the U.S. must reduce GHG emissions, prepare adaptation strategies, fund scientific research and technology development, and promote communication between experts and the stakeholders that make the country’s climate policy.

The National Research Council is the research body of the National Academies.  Sponsored by NOAA, the report was authored by renowned scientists and engineers, economists, business leaders, a former governor, an ex-congressman, and policy experts.

For more information about America’s Climate Choices, visit the America’s Climate Choices website.


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