Green your life at home, work & play

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.


10 ways to make your next event an eco-conscious occasion March 3, 2012

Business meetings, events and office parties can create a large amount of waste and drive up your utility bill in a small amount of time. Holding an eco-friendly event can be both a creative process as well as a learning experience for everybody attending. Set a green example for not only your own upcoming events but for other attendees that may become inspired by the eco-consciousness of your business.

  1. Choose e-invites: Choose electronic methods such as social media outlets (Facebook,Twitter, etc.) to spread the word about your event. E-vitePunchbowl, or Smilebox are all great sources for free electronic invitations. If it is important for your business to mail invitations, consider sending seed paper cards. Through services such as Botanical Paperworks and Green Field Paper, you can send cards that people can plant in their gardens to grow beautiful flowers instead of creating waste. It is important to really consider the amount of people attending your event for the sake of cutting back consumption. All successful eco-friendly events are carefully planned ahead of time, and asking people to reply to invitations is key to knowing how much food, tableware and other such items to supply.
  2. Hold a Zero Waste Event: A Zero Waste event only uses items that are biodegradable, reusable or recyclable. Services such as Eco-Cycle can provide your event with a Zero Waste party kit. This kit includes things like compostable tableware and compost containers (which you can also pull off on your own, right?) It’s good to let your guests know ahead of time by including in their invitations an outline of the goals of your Zero Waste Event, and suggestions about what to bring or not bring.
  3. Assign the event planning to a “green committee”: Having either a leader or committee organize your event will help sustain your green goals and hopefully give way to the creation of a “green force” in your company. Awareness is contagious!
  4. Choose biodegradable tableware and decorations: Thankfully, there are plenty of sources to choose from when it comes to selecting planet friendly products. Normal partyware is full of toxic dyes and plastic, and a goal of any eco-friendly event should be to decrease our dependency on petroleum. Online stores like Green Party Goods and Eco Party Time are places that you can find everything from beautiful bamboo plates to recyclable paper tablecloths.
  5. Set up clearly marked recycle and compost stations: Plenty of times people get lazy, or simply miss these containers and end up throwing away a lot of sustainable materials. Setting up these stations can save you the hassle of having to sort through garbage later. Here are other ways to cut down on your waste stream at work.
  6. Be creative when it comes to food: Besides choosing local and organic, think outside the box! A fun idea is setting out planters filled with basil leaves and dill that guests can pick themselves to garnish their dishes. To cut down tableware waste, consider serving more finger foods than entrees. Having local and seasonal foods supports the agricultural ecology of your community.
  7. Consider eco-gifts Here are 12 great alternatives to the usual office holiday gifts.
  8. Encourage smart transportation to and from the event: Organizing carpools and even shuttles can rid your guests of the hassle of parking and traffic, and of course, further cut down the carbon footprint of your event.
  9. Use porta-potties if it’s outdoors: Porta potties are already considered a more environmentally friendly option because they don’t use the large amount of water that a permanent septic tank requires. If there is a vendor in your area,  you can order eco-friendly porta-potties that don’t use that toxic blue deodorizing liquid but instead use biodegradable chemicals and recycled toilet paper. You can search through Mesa Waste Service or Johnny on the Spot to find eco-friendly portable toilets for your event.
  10. Be mindful of the energy and water consumption of your occasion: If your event requires sound and staging, consider other energy alternatives to power the required electronics. Bike powered generators and solar panels are great solutions. One example – one company, Sustainable Waves, specializes in providing sound and staging completely powered by solar energy. It takes a lot of energy to power any kind of large space, and making simple choices such as using LED or CFL light bulbs can be an easy way to cut down the energy consumption of your event.

If your event requires booking a conference center, choose an eco-friendly center. Remember, there is a bounty of eco-friendly alternatives and solutions for all the details of your event. It all just depends on your creativity and commitment to being environmentally conscious. Holding a green event is not only a fun way to educate and enlighten your business community but it’s also a wonderful way to attract others to your eco-friendly business practice!


Energy conservation or energy efficiency? Or both? January 20, 2012

Saatchi & Saatchi’s  Strategy for Sustainability winter 2012 newsletter featured a recent article featured from the Guardian  that highlighted the fact that we now use 15 times more energy than we did prior to the industrial revolution. That shouldn’t come as a surprise considering that fossil fuels are involved in most activities – from growth and transportation of the food we eat, to the hot water for our shower, the fuel for our transportation (unless you walk or bike), and the power for our computers, phones, printers, etc… The article points out that although the majority of conversations are focused on finding alternative forms of energy supply, reducing energy demand is largely overlooked and should be something that is incentivized and regulated.

Speaking as someone who spends a lot of her time educating and encouraging organizations and individuals to reduce, reuse, repurpose and really, rethink, their energy, water, waste and product use, I agree that conservation is important. Regardless of whether you believe in Peak Oil or not, the fact remains that the earth’s population is increasing at an exponential pace – in the 1950’s, there were about 2.5 billion people on the planet, and now, a mere 60 years later, there are 7 billion. We are utilizing a finite resource and our needs are growing exponentially. Conservation is certainly important, as are finding alternative energy solutions.

Although it would be great for energy to be considered as a public good, as the article states, this will likely not happen in the near future, so energy conservation is one of the ways to stem the growth of energy use, at least for the short term.  Energy efficiency, of course, is a great first step in that discussion. Energy efficiency can reduce direct energy consumption by as much as 20-30%. Steps for this are more or less widely known – for commercial buildings, they range from switching to more energy efficient lighting, installing occupancy sensors and installing an energy management system, to looking at more holistic smart building solutions.

Once these measures are in place, it is time to look at energy conservation. This involves getting people on board – and this can be a tougher proposition, one that requires not only education but ongoing cheerleading, for lack of a better term. I have had CEOs and COOs tell me that their staff will ‘do as they are told’. Even if this is the case (which in most cases, it is not), obedience to mandated rules will be short-lived and will cause ill-will. I recently went to a Sustainable DC Energy Workgroup, one of nine workgroups convened with the end goal of providing an innovative plan to ‘make DC the greenest, healthiest, and most livable city in the nation’. The question was raised there as well –  ‘how can we get people to change their behavior – why is it so hard to do?’

That is a great question, and one that I find many organizations struggle with – once they realize the importance of it. Behavior change can add another 10-15% , if not more, in energy conservation, so it is certainly something that should not be ignored.  There are no easy solutions to successful behavior change.  Answers range from educating and incentivizing to recognizing to challenging individuals to conserve energy. It all depends on the organization’s culture –whether it is hierarchical or flat, its size, and its vision. These, among others, are all ingredients to the recipe that will, ideally, result in reduced energy consumption.

Another way to conserve energy, indirectly, is to look at the embodied energy from all the products that are used in a regular office environment or at home. This is a tougher one to measure, but, as a starting point, it can be addressed by following a couple of basic rules: simplify and buy ‘green’ products.

Simplifying means less stuff in your life – whether that is at your office or your home. It means thinking twice about whether something is really needed before you hit the ‘Buy’ button or put in a purchase order.  It means reusing items and again, rethinking.

As for buying ‘green’, this means what I’m sure many of you have already guessed – purchasing items that are made of 100% recycled content, that are sustainably harvested and produced, and that can be reused or repurposed.  The energy required to recycle a product is less than the energy required to make a new one.

So, conserving starts with getting people on board and simplifying processes and your life. And, although it sounds simple, it is tougher to do than installing energy efficient mechanical equipment, but it is just as important – if not more.


12 Great Alternatives to the Usual Office Holiday Gifts December 16, 2011

In addition to the annual Christmas party, many organizations have a tradition of gift giving.  You may feel pressured to buy something for everyone in your department  – and that is one more thing that you may not want to add to your holiday ‘to do’ list.

One company decided to change that tradition, and figured out an alternative to buying for the 30 plus people in the organization. Some of the employees met and decided to start making gift baskets of consumables, cookies, breads etc., that would not clutter the office all year.  The baskets werea hit, and started a trend.

Still, people felt they had to give a basket to everyone. The next year, the Secret Santa concept was floated – this is where everyone picks a name out of a hat, and buys only that person a gift. The company voted, and everyone agreed to the Secret Santa idea. Even though there was now less stuff, people still tried to outdo each other with the gift they would give. Finally, the company put a $20 cap on the gift value. That is one alternative for your office – and below are 12 more:

  1. As an office, adopt a school, hospital or collect money for the homeless or needy families.  Resource for adopting a school:,
  2. Donate to a charity in the name of a colleague who cares about that issue. For example, Rescue Gifts:
  3. Give reusable items that can be used all year long, like water bottles, mugs , reusable shopping bags or solar rechargers:
  4. Give gifts of recycled, reused and natural materials like
  5. Give fair trade and organic items such as tea, coffee, or chocolate.
  6. Give homemade baked goods, potpourri, or a dried herb wreath: and
  7. Create a special memory by giving activities, a ball game, museum tickets, or another fun activity: or
  8. Send a card to a soldier overseas or an injured veteran spending the holidays in a military hospital:   or
  9. Make a special emergency kit gift basket with a blanket, flashlight, gas can, jumper cables, and flares – do it yourself or go to:
  10. Give away that great book you enjoyed to someone who shares your taste. Or give the gift of reading to a child in need:
  11. If you must shop, buy at a local small business:
  12. Look at your suppliers and see what can be changed:

Not to employers: Don’t forget to still give cash bonuses or other incentives for all the good work over the year!

Also, check out:
Happy Holidays!


Being Green Together (Small Businesses Unite) November 14, 2011

Being a green business, especially a small one, can be hard. You are not what the norm is in this country. This can be good–it gives you a

special appeal to potential customers–but also bad–you don’t have many businesses to serve as examples. Fortunately, there are green business organizations out there that provide an opportunity for collaboration, assistance, and support. The Reuse Alliance is a non-profit that connects different business and organizations focused on reusing materials. Reuse’s main objective is to promote and spread awareness about the benefits of reuse and it also works to help advertise organizations around the country that are dedicated to reusing and repurposing materials. These 50+ member organizations get the benefit of working with others and seeing how they are pulling off the similar feat of changing how people think about what they use, instead of struggling on their own. They also receive education and discount opportunities.

Green business alliances can also give credibility to an organization that is trying to be more environmentally-friendly. Nowadays with such a hype about “going green,” it’s difficult to distinguish the businesses that want the extra attention to the ones that truly care about the environment. Being a member of an alliance, such as Green America’s Green Business Network, can give a business an edge over others.

Photo Courtesy of Management and Business blog


Moving Towards Zero Waste November 7, 2011

Reduce, reuse, recycle. This mantra has been publicized tirelessly in recent years, emblazoned on hemp tote bags, organic cotton t-shirts, and reusable water bottles. While it has been moderately successful in raising public awareness about the waste stream, this slogan mainly targets consumers, and most of those consumers are just recycling. In reality, the man-made waste stream is a much larger issue. Consider the Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island. Bigger than the Great Wall of China, the Fresh Kills Landfill was the largest man-made object on Earth and could be seen from space with the naked eye until reclamation began in 2009. Humans are the only existing species that produce non-biodegradable waste. More importantly, this waste is not only created at the consumer, end-of-product-life level. Raw material extraction, product and packaging design, manufacturing practices, sales and distribution, and government policy are all contributing factors.

This is where the concept of zero waste comes in. Zero waste practices seek to tackle our “throw away” attitude by emphasizing resource conservation, reduction in pollution, increased economic opportunity, and quality over quantity. Mimicking nature, zero waste initiatives promote a cyclical manner of resource use over a linear approach. Zero waste perspectives perceive waste as a resource going in the wrong direction. Many discarded materials or resources often viewed as “waste” can be used to make new products, effectively cutting infrastructure costs, creating new jobs and revenue opportunities, and encouraging innovation. Rather than targeting only consumers, zero waste efforts employ system wide principles, optimizing resource use and keeping producers, consumers, and policy makers accountable. The overall goal? To eliminate waste as much as possible. Below is a step-by-step breakdown of zero waste fundamentals and their existing counterparts:

  • Raw Material Supply: emphasize recycled material use, sustainable harvesting and non-toxic materials over exhaustion of virgin resources and piecemeal toxic material management
  • Product and Packaging Design: encourage waste minimization, durability, repairability, recyclability, and longer product lifespans over manufactured obsolescence in the interest of maximized sales
  • Manufacturing: reform operations to abate emissions, minimize resource use and account for end-of-life product management instead of skirting compliance costs
  • Sales and Distribution: instill an active sense of environmental responsibility in wholesalers and retailers and support regional distribution and sales rather than large-scale, mass distribution
  • Government Policy: promote and incentivize conservation industries, maintain accountability at the producer stage, and institutionalize efficient strategies to control environmental, economic and social impacts in place of subsidizing uneconomical virgin extraction industries and managing waste at the expense of taxpayers
  • Consumption: select products on basis of quality, price, and environmental impact and increase participation reuse/recycling programs instead of overconsumptive behaviors

Clearly, zero waste initiatives require a significant shift in societal awareness and dedication. Informing and educating the public is crucial to this process of surmounting existing barriers. In 2007, director Louis Fox, filmmaker Annie Leonard and Free Range Studios released a 20 minute documentary trying to do just that. Titled The Story of Stuff, the animated film takes a critical stance on excessive consumerism and the materials economy, explaining the impacts on environmental, economic and social health. Since its release, the documentary been translated into 15 languages and viewed in 228 different countries and territories.

Pick Up America is a more interactive, hands-on approach to raising awareness about reducing waste. In 2010, co-founders and University of Maryland alumni Davey Rogner and Jeff Chen and the rest of the PUA crew embarked on nation’s first coast-to-coast roadside litter pick up. From its starting point in Assateague Island, Maryland, PUA will span thirteen states in its journey to the San Francisco Bay area, picking up trash, coordinating volunteers, and educating communities about zero waste practices along the way. So far, the PUA team has collected 109,796 pounds of litter over 1,000 miles.

And what about implementation? Since the birth of the zero waste concept, numerous district councils and city divisions have adopted waste reduction and recycling strategies to enable a transition to a waste-free future. In 1998, the Opotiki District Council in New Zealand became the first local authority to endorse zero waste practices. Canada has also been a leader in blazing the zero waste trail, developing more sustainable methods of waste management and diversion in multiple municipalities spanning the provinces of Ontario, Alberta and Nova Scotia.

To find out more about what “zero waste” really means, check out the following:


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


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