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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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.

 

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.

 

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.


 

Which is better for the environment-using paper or a computer? January 6, 2012

With the rise in popularity of mobile devices, such as smart phones, tablets, and e-readers, the question of whether it is better to read something on an electronic device or in print has become even more complicated. The answer is just as confounded. To truly know the environmental impact of a product, you need to assess it from production to disposal (which hopefully involves recycling!). Although a full environmental assessment of all options is not possible here, I will attempt to give an overview of the environmental impact of electronic devices and paper.

Paper

A piece of paper releases 0.03 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalents (the amount of greenhouse gases in terms of carbon dioxide impact). If the paper has 100% recycled post-consumer content, it produces a lot less-0.017 pounds of CO2 equivalents. In terms of newspapers, 1 ton of newsprint kills 12 trees. The average recycled content for newspapers in the U.S. is only 35%. Creating wood pulp out of the trees is very energy-intensive and produces large amounts of pollution. In fact, the pulp industry is the third highest polluter in the U.S.

Farming trees specifically grown to produce paper also reduces biodiversity. Some tree species provide better quality paper, so we plant more of those and cut down old-growth trees to make space. This emits carbon dioxide into the air that had been stored for hundreds or thousands of years, and which these new trees can’t hope to recapture during their short lifespan. Pesticide and herbicide use is also a problem, since these are required to maintain the monoculture of tree farms.

The moral here is, if you are going to print something, please use recycled content paper, or better yet-reuse paper by printing on the blank side (though this strategy doesn’t really work for books).

Electronic devices

Alright, so everyone probably knew that making paper kills trees. But do you know what impact computers, e-readers and other mobile devices have on the environment?

Electronic devices are usually made out of plastic, which biodegrades extremely slowly, and also often contain rare metals like coltan that require mining. They also require a lot of energy to manufacture, ship and discard, and sometimes include toxic chemicals inside. Using a computer or other mobile device also requires a lot of electricity, which in the U.S. mostly comes from coal. The energy goes towards powering the device itself, but a significant amount also goes towards powering internet servers, even more so now that the use of “cloud computing” has increased in recent years. In terms of CO2 emissions, Apple has announced that using an iPad only releases 0.004 pounds of CO2 equivalents per hour and that over its lifetime (including manufacturing, transport and recycling), an iPad will produce 231 pounds of CO2 equivalent, which is the same as 7,700 sheets of regular paper or 13,600 sheets of recycled paper. In this comparison, the iPad comes out on top if you think of the number of pages you can read on an iPad during its lifetime without killing one tree.

However, International Paper,  a world-wide printing company, argues that the large energy consumption of devices such as the iPad makes paper a better choice. Powering a computer for five months requires the same amount of energy used to produce a year’s worth of paper for the average person. It also points out that paper has a much higher recycling rate in the U.S. (60%) compared to electronic devices (18%), which are instead often shipped to third-world countries where they contaminate landfills.

To sum up, the answer is complicated. If you read thousands of pages a year on your electronic device, then it might be better than printing thousands of pages. But then in four or five years (or probably sooner), you’ll have to buy the newest iPad, so what happens to the plastics and chemicals used in your original tablet? If you don’t read quite as many pages, then paper might be a good choice, but you would still be killing trees, encouraging biodiversity loss and increasing pollution from the pulp industry. Ultimately, whether to read print or electronic versions of your favorite newspaper or book is really a personal decision. If you already use your computer or tablet often, then also use it for reading. If you prefer the feel of a newspaper or book in your hand, then make sure to plant some trees.

Photos courtesy of Minnesota Council of Nonprofits and Building Green 

 

Corporate Social Responsibility in brief October 31, 2011

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is the idea that companies should be concerned with and responsible for the social impacts of their actions and products, that they should care about their stakeholders, not just their shareholders. It has become more important in recent years as corporations have grown larger and multi-national, making it harder for governments to regulate them. Transparency is a key part of CSR because if companies have to divulge all of their “dirty little secrets,” they are less likely to have so many. Some companies try to be more aware of their impact on workers, human rights, or the environment. How corporations deal with the environment “responsibly” can range from Google’s recent

announcement to encourage transparency by revealing their carbon footprint to companies incorporating climate change into their business strategy. Google’s carbon footprint turns out to be 1.5 million tons per year. This may seem like an awful lot, but it is significantly less than that of the internet as a whole, which produces 300 million tons a year. The 10th annual Carbon Disclosure Project found that 45% of the 396 businesses surveyed (which were some of the largest in the world) had reduced their greenhouse gases, compared to only 19% who reported doing so last year. Businesses also try to be socially responsible by donating their time or money to causes they believe in.

The controversy over corporate social responsibility is whether or not businesses do it for the environment and the good of the people they affect, or just for the positive image. Regardless of why they do it, CSR doesn’t replace businesses’ desire to make profits, so changes that they make are limited by their budget. For businesses that truly do want to make a difference, CSR provides various ways for them to do so and makes them more appealing to potential customers and clients. And for those that want to move past it, there are ways of incorporating CSR into corporate strategy and culture which can make the company not only a better steward of the earth and the communities it impacts, but also increase its financial bottom line. The goal, long-term, is for CSR to be included in everyday business and no longer called out as a separate project or initiative.

Photo Courtesy of InventorSpot

 

 
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