Eco-Coach

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

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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.

 

Lego Going Green March 23, 2012

Denmark based Lego Group is investing over $500 million in green energy over the next four years. The worlds’ third largest toy manufacturer owned by family investment firm Kirkbi A/S is famous for their iconic multi-colored, plastic building blocks. Lego Group was started in 1932 by Ole Kirk Christiansen, who was a carpenter in western Denmark. Upon losing his job, Christiansen started making wooden toys instead of furniture. After a fire broke out in his factory, he was forced to rebuild and decided to start out making miniature versions of houses and furniture he has worked on as a carpenter. He switched to plastic in 1947 and by 1949 had built over 200 plastic toys. Christiansen came up with “Lego” for a company name; lego is derived from the Danish words “leg godt” meaning “play well”.

The company will be purchasing a 32% stake in DONG Energy’s newest wind farm, Borkum Riffgrund 1. This wind farm is located 55 km off the north-west coast of Germany in the North Sea and will have a capacity of close to 300 MW. This is enough power to supply nearly 330,000 households annual power consumption, and best of all, it is carbon dioxide free energy.  Construction on the project will begin in 2013 and will be ready to start producing by 2015. Lego and its parent company plan to have their investment in Borkum Riffgrund producing more energy than they will use up to and including 2020. Chief Executive of Kirkbi A/S, Soren Thorup Sorenson, stated that this is the first time that the firm has invested directly in alternative energy and it will undoubtedly provide a long term investment with reasonable return. This power will not be provided directly to the Lego manufacturing plants but instead be directed to the German power grid. Lego has manufacturing plants in Denmark, Mexico, The Czech Republic and Hungary.

Lego Company CEO Jorgen stated in a release on Lego’s website in mid-February, “One of our fundamental values is to enable future generations of children to grow up in a better world. We do that first and foremost through our play materials — but also by improving the safety of our employees, improving the energy efficiency of our production, and reducing the volume of waste. In the field of renewable energy our objective is an ambitious one — and I am very pleased at this time to be able to announce this investment. We’re on a journey, a never-ending journey — but the investment in renewable energy is a huge step in the right direction.”

Lego is just one of many companies that have a huge impact on our children and it is extremely exciting to see that they are putting forth a great effort to make this world a better place for our posterity.

 

Review of Four Carbon Calculators for Business (and a few other cool tools) March 17, 2012

If your company is just starting down the road of sustainability, and you’d like to get a sense of just how much your carbon emissions contribute to the CO2 on the planet, then taking advantage of one of the free internet carbon calculators for businesses is your ticket.  While these calculators can be scaled for almost any size business, the underlying assumptions are more suited to SMEs.  This is a quick (typically under an hour of time depending on the size of your company or organization) and relatively painless method of getting a snapshot view of your company’s annual emissions.

In all cases, it is beneficial to have several recent months of utility bills (or total amounts) handy, as well as an idea of annual totals.  You will also need good estimates of miles travelled in all forms – company cars and delivery trucks; business travel by rail/plane; and average commuting miles per employee.  Paper usage by type and amount (weight) should also be estimated since it is a significant impact of many office environments.  Once you’ve tracked down these numbers – or made educated estimates – the actual entering of data should only take a few minutes.

The four calculators detailed here are in no particular ranking and do not reflect a specific endorsement.

TerraPass Business Carbon Footprint Calculator

TerraPass offers carbon offset management services for individuals/families and businesses.  This business calculator evaluates emissions in 5 areas: building/site; server/data center; vehicle fleet; additional business travel and commuting—thus making it almost comprehensive.  It does, however,  leave out calculations for the impact of paper usage and printing.  See the additional tools listed below for an answer to that gap.  It is flexible enough to be used by a variety of organizations and non-office based businesses since it has preset assumptions to select for a school, restaurant, hotel, warehouse, retail, health care facility, or church.  Another helpful feature is that larger companies are able to include data for multiple office locations at once.

Results are shown in bar graph form and can be downloaded into PDF for future reference.  Their Carbon Balanced Business Advisors are available by email or phone to offer guidance.  Companies that sign up for their badge program can earn three levels of badges depending on metric tons of carbon emissions reduced by year.  There is also a separate event/conference carbon emissions calculator available.

In developing their calculators TerraPass used data from the EPA, Department of Energy (DOE), World Resources Institute (WRI) and industry surveys to establish emissions factors and protocols.  Additional background information is available on their website for those who want to understand more of the methodology and assumptions behind their calculators.   TerraPass was voted best carbon offset provider by TreeHugger in 2010 & 2011.

CoolClimate Network Small Business Carbon Footprint Calculator

This calculator was developed by researchers at the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) at the University of California, Berkeley.  Although it is labeled for small business, it is applicable for most sized businesses.  Data is entered under three main categories: facilities, transportation and procurement.  The inputs for transportation are less detailed than for other calculators, but the procurement category—which helps companies begin to track impacts through their supply chain—is very detailed.  It includes over 20 subcategories (each with default values available) including printing, computer equipment, paperboard, chemicals, fabricated metals, tires, etc.  Other extra features are that you can select gasoline, diesel or compressed natural gas (CNG) powered vehicles; energy usage of your office building can be compared to like commercial buildings by following the link to Energy IQ in the calculator.  While it doesn’t address commuting impacts separately, the data can be consolidated and entered under one of the ten possible vehicle entries.

The summary of results compares your company to averages for your industry.  Your company’s results can be saved to an online profile.  In the final “Take Action” section, 15-25 steps are suggested as ways to pledge to reduce your company’s carbon impact.  Each pledge action option also has more details available about the assumptions (which can be adjusted), specific actions to be taken and sometimes suggestions for further information.

Calculations and assumptions for this calculator are detailed on the website.  The data came from a variety of sources including the U.S. Census Bureau, the Department of Transportation, the USDA, and the Carnegie-Mellon Input-Output Life Cycle Assessment model.  This calculator requires a bit more effort in tracking down a variety of input data and doing some pre-calculations.  In the near future improvements to this calculator will include considerations for amount of recycled material and water usage as they factor into carbon emissions.  This calculator was reviewed in the May, 2011 issue of Environmental Science & Technology journal.

Carbon Footprint Business Calculator

Carbon Footprint is a UK-based carbon management services company.  This business calculator is best suited for small businesses, and it offers both metric and American measurement options for flexibility.  It is also available in an array of languages—thirteen to be exact.  This calculator assesses emissions on energy use of the office building and transportation—which is divided into three sections: fleet mileage, flight travel and public transit.  There is an option to select estimated emissions for your office building based on the number of employees or to enter actual energy usage by category.  Up to ten flights and ten different vehicles can be entered.  Alternatively, total fuel amounts consumed can be used in the calculation instead of mileage per individual vehicles.  Similar to the CoolClimate Business Network Calculator, commuting mileage/impacts would have to be consolidated under the vehicle fleet entries.

Consultants are available by email or phone (remember they are based in the UK though) for additional guidance.  A PDF emissions report by source, ideas for carbon reduction and management planning guidance is available for purchase ($20-30).

This calculator’s assumptions and methodologies are based largely on Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (DEFRA) Voluntary Reporting Guidelines, but information from the EPA, WRI and others was also included.  Further information is available on Carbon Footprint’s website.

Carbonfund.org Business Carbon Calculator

Carbonfund.org is a nonprofit that provides carbon offset solutions for individuals and businesses.  This business calculator is comprehensive and evaluates emissions in seven areas: office site; vehicle fleet; additional business travel; commuting; special events (they also offer a separate wedding calculator); paper usage and shipping.  There is an option to base office/site emissions calculations on number of employees, actual utility bills or square feet of office space.  As with the TerraPass calculator, this one also considers the number of servers onsite.  Shipping impacts are broken out by air, train, truck, ship—and even zeppelin (nice to see there can be a bit of humor in this task!).   Business travel impacts even include hotel data.  Given the breadth of considerations, the amount of data required will demand a greater time commitment in collecting or estimating numbers.

There is no option for exporting a final summary report or viewing a graphical representation of your company’s performance.  They do offer you options to select from (renewable energy, energy efficiency or forestation) to immediately offset your carbon contributions.  Companies that purchase sufficient carbon offsets through them are offered a Business Partners CarbonFree logo to display.

For this calculator, protocols and assumptions come from a variety of sources, but EPA and DOE data are primary.  Details are available to review on their website.  Carbonfund.org was the Reader’s Choice for best carbon offset provider by TreeHugger in 2010 & 2011.

Additional Tools

For the carbon calculators that don’t include calculations for office paper usage, there is a supplemental calculator provided by the Environmental Paper Network–the Paper Calculator.  It calculates carbon impacts for many different types of paper and paperboard based on weight (tons) and percent recycled content.  This can then be added to the results from one of the business footprint calculators.

For those who are more ambitious, there is the option of Office Carbon Footprint Tool Excel-based spreadsheets which follow the framework that is documented by the World Resources Institute/World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s (WRI/WBCSD) GHG Protocol Corporate Standard to calculate office-based greenhouse gas emissions.  This spreadsheet calculator is recommended by the EPA (as a guide) and Clean Air-Cool Planet (which provides a popular calculator for college campuses).  The latest 2009 version is available via the EPA site.

Once you have used one of the calculators to estimate your company’s carbon output, you may want to know how to communicate that to your employees effectively and with impact.  The Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies calculator from the EPA will help you do just that in thirteen different ways—including comparisons with number of barrels of oil, electricity use of homes, rail cars full of coal and even acres of forest that would sequester an equal amount of CO2.  CO2 or carbon can be entered as tons, metric tons, kilograms or pounds.  It will also consider other GHG gases—methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbon gases, perfluorocarbon gases and sulfur hexafluoride.

 

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!

 

Food Waste: Waste Not Want Not February 24, 2012

It’s well known that our society produces too much waste, but food waste is particularly important because there is an easy alternate solution: composting. However, composting is not usually utilized. In 2010, America discarded 34 million tons of food; that’s 14% of all municipal solid waste! Much of this food is still in decent condition when it is discarded, and could instead be used to feed some of the millions of Americans who lack food and supply needy food kitchens.

Food waste is a huge problem at home. In 2006, the average American household threw away 14% of the food they had purchased-that’s $600 in the trash. But, it is especially significant in the restaurant and grocery industries since their business is food! Unfortunately, grocery stores don’t always like to give food away because they are afraid of being liable if someone gets sick. They cannot guarantee food will be handled properly after it is donated and worry they will be held responsible for any negative outcomes. However, the contrary is actually true. The “Good Samaritan” Law protects grocery stores from liability if they donate what they think is perfectly good food. Fortunately, many grocery chains, such as Safeway, do participate in food donation programs,  and also receive tax benefits. This helps them with ‘going green’ as well as with their bottom line – once again, showing that green saves money.

The EPA outlines five key steps in reducing food waste: reducing its sources, using it to feed people, using it to feed animals, using it for industry, and composting it. All of those steps allow food to be used in ways that don’t include burying it in landfills, taking up valuable and ever-disappearing landfill space. Recently, a new social initiative called “Going Halfsies” developed to allow restaurant goers to choose to eat half a normal portion size and donate the rest of the meal price to charity.

Luckily, there are many food rescue groups fulfilling the second step established by the EPA by getting directly involved. Food Finders in California and Waste Not Want Not in Florida work with restaurants and grocery stores to deliver much needed food to food kitchens. The USDA also supports and encourages the creation of various food recovery programs. Many AmeriCorps programs have been focused around reducing food waste, either by recovering crops left on the fields or collecting food from grocery stores.

Of course, you should also encourage restaurants to compost if they are not donating the food – be sure to ask your local restaurant if they do, and check out the blog Wasted Food and the movie Dive! for more information.

Photo courtesy of Sustainable development and much more

 

Four Notable Online Carbon Calculators for Business (and a supplemental paper calculator) February 17, 2012

If your company is just starting down the road of sustainability, and you’d like to get a sense of just how much your carbon emissions contribute to the CO2 on the planet, then taking advantage of one of the free internet carbon calculators for businesses is your ticket.  This is quick (typically under an hour of time) and relatively painless method of getting a snapshot view of your company’s annual emissions.

In all cases, it is very beneficial to have several recent months of utility bills (or total amounts) handy, as well as an idea of annual totals.  You will also need good estimates of miles travelled in all forms –  company cars and delivery trucks; business travel by rail/plane; and average commuting miles per employee.  Paper usage by type and amount (weight) should also be estimated since it is a significant impact of many office environments.  Once you’ve tracked down these numbers – or made educated estimates – the actual entering of data should only take a few minutes.

The four calculators detailed here are in no particular ranking.  More detailed information comparing the calculators will be available shortly on the Eco-Coach website.

TerraPass Business Carbon Footprint Calculator

TerraPass offers carbon offset management services for individuals/families and businesses.  This business calculator evaluates emissions in 5 areas: building/site; server/data center; vehicle fleet; additional business travel and commuting.  Results are shown in bar graph form and can be downloaded in PDF form for future reference.  Their Carbon Balanced Business Advisors are available by email or phone to offer guidance.  TerraPass was voted best carbon offset provider by TreeHugger  in 2010 & 2011.

CoolClimate Network Small Business Carbon Footprint Calculator

This calculator was developed by researchers at the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) at the University of California, Berkeley.  Although it is labeled for small business, it is applicable for most sized businesses.  Data is entered under three main categories: facilities, transportation and procurement (which  includes 20+ subcategories – each with default values available— to help companies track their impact through the supply chain).  This calculator requires a bit more effort in tracking down a variety of input data and doing some pre-calculations.

The summary of results compares your company to averages for your industry.  Your company’s results can be saved to an online profile.  Finally, “Take Action” steps are suggested as ways to pledge to reduce your company’s carbon impact.  This calculator was reviewed in the May, 2011 issue of Environmental Science & Technology journal.

Carbon Footprint Business Calculator

Carbon Footprint is a UK-based carbon management services company.  This business calculator is more suited for small businesses and is available in 13 languages with metric and American measurement options.  It assesses emissions on energy use of the office building and transportation (divided into 3 sections – fleet mileage, flight travel and public transit).  Consultants are available by email or phone (remember the time difference – they are based in the UK) for additional guidance.  A PDF emissions report by source, ideas for carbon reduction and management planning guidance is available for purchase ($20-30).

Carbonfund.org Business Carbon Calculator

Carbonfund.org is a nonprofit that provides carbon offset solutions for individuals and businesses.  This business calculator is comprehensive and evaluates emissions in 7 areas: office site; vehicle fleet; additional business travel; commuting; special events; paper usage and shipping.  The amount of data considered will require more time commitment in collecting or estimating numbers.  There is no option for exporting a final summary report or viewing a graphical representation of your company’s performance.  They do offer you options to select from (renewable energy, energy efficiency or forestation) to immediately offset your carbon contributions.  Carbonfund.org was the Reader’s Choice for best carbon offset provider by TreeHugger in 2010 & 2011.

For the carbon calculators that don’t include calculations for office paper usage, there is a supplemental calculator provided by the Environmental Paper Network .  It calculates carbon impacts for many different types of paper and paperboard based on weight (tons) and percent recycled content.  This can then be added to the results from one of the business footprint calculators.


 

 
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