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.


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. Business Carbon Calculator 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. 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.


US EPA Green Power Partnership December 29, 2011

As awareness about volatile energy prices, our energy supply’s impact on national security, and energy consumption’s impact on climate change grows, renewable energy is presenting itself as a strong alternative to nonrenewable fossil fuels.  Many members of the US business community have recognized the economic benefits of turning to renewables, as evidenced by the growth of the US EPA’s Green Power Partnership program.

The Green Power Partnership program works with organizations ranging from Fortune 500 companies to government entities and universities.  Partner organizations represent national leaders in green power purchasing and purchase green power through (1) Renewable Energy Certificates, (2) on-site generation, and (3) utility green power products.
wind power
The US EPA has released its list of top 50 green power purchasers through the Green Power Partnership program.    Visit the EPA website to see the full list of organizations.

The Green Power Partnership proves that it is possible for US companies to derive their energy from clean and renewable resources.  Washington, DC is the leading community in the US for green power purchasing.  In DC, government, institutions, businesses, and individuals purchase 8% of the community’s power from green sources.

Businesses that are interested in purchasing greener power that do not have local access to green power sources can purchase Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs).  RECs are credits that represent a certain amount of energy that has been produced from renewable sources.  Businesses that purchase RECs receive credit for the green power purchase.  The US Department of Energy website explains how RECs work and how they can be acquired.

If you think RECs are too expensive for your organization, think again. In deregulated states, you can lock in a price and add RECs on top, and still save money compared to what you would have been paying otherwise.


Recent Extreme Weather Caused by Climate Change December 22, 2011

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of San Angelo Standard Times


A Green Company to Watch: Puma December 7, 2011

Puma, one of the world’s leading sports gear companies, is truly a company to watch because of their success but also because of their dedication to sustainability initiated by their CEO and Chairman Jochen Zeitz. After joining Puma in 1990, Zeitz completely changed the look and style of the company. Although many thought this was crazy, it eventually caught on and helped Puma reach $2.3 billion in annual sales in 2006. What is even more impressive for us green-minded people is Puma’s sustainability initiatives spearheaded by Zeitz. He has helped Puma reduce its use of hazardous chemicals, redesigned its shoeboxes to reduce packaging waste and supported solar power development. Now, after decades of research and changes to increase transparency, Puma is releasing a report that monetizes their impact on the environment through their use of environmental services, such as clean water, crops, soil formation, wildlife habitat and storm protection. Although this was no easy task, it greatly helps Puma to determine which areas are the worst-offenders and thus how to improve its overall environmental impact. From this new Environmental Profit and Loss Statement, Puma has learned that it would have to pay $133 million a year for the impact caused by its water use and greenhouse gas emissions. The report also found that the most expensive areas in terms of environmental impact are: cotton farming, natural rubber production and cattle ranching.

The next goals of the statement are to report social impacts as well as more environmental ones and to eventually also reflect the positive outcomes of Puma’s business, such as raising the level of education and health in an area. Zeitz has now moved on to become the Chief Sustainability Officer for Puma’s parent company, PPR SA, as well as head of the sport & lifestyle group. I, personally, am looking forward to seeing how Puma will use this new knowledge to decrease their environmental impact in the coming years.

To help your own business evaluate the ecosystem services it uses, check out the Guide to Corporate Ecosystem Valuation by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.

Photo courtesy of Greener Package


Google leads Apple in the Race to Sustainability June 29, 2011

Google and Apple are two of the biggest names in the computing world today, and they compete in everything from phones to tablet computers. In the past year, Android, Google’s phone operating system, has taken a large share of the market away from the ubiquitous iPhone. But these two giants have also started to compete in another part of their business: sustainability performance and reporting.


Earlier this year I wrote a blog post on the Consumer Electronics Show and the release of their 2010 CEA Sustainability Report. Apple was featured in the report as a case study for sustainable product design. CEA commended them for being the first in the industry to complete a comprehensive life cycle analysis for every product that Apple ships to determine where its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions came from. This analysis helped Apple to see that 97% of its GHG emissions are directly associated with its products (e.g. manufacturing, customer use) and only 3% are due to facilities. Knowing where a business’s emissions are coming from is a crucial first step to any improvement plan. Apple’s Environment page includes a helpful graphic that breaks down each life cycle stage of a product an the relative impact on the environment.

Since most of Apple’s emissions are from their products, their focus has been on designing their products to use less material. According to their website, their iPod classic achieved a 50% reduction in carbon emissions between 2001 and 2010. They also have used smaller packaging techniques to increase transportation efficiency. And in regard to their product use category, which accounts for 46% of their total carbon emissions, Apple has designed every single product to meet the government’s Energy Star guidelines.

Although facilities only account for 3% of Apple’s total carbon emissions, they have still been making some improvements. Most impressive is the fact that three locations (Austin Texas; Sacramento, California; Cork, Ireland) are 100% powered by renewable energy. They’ve also begun offering a biodiesel commuter coach to some employees, currently only used by up to 800 Apple employees per day.

In January, Apple was awarded a patent for a solar-powered portable device. Although this is just a “step in the green direction” and many other patents and existing products are already out there for solar-powered charging techniques, it’s still a smart step and a strong example for others to follow. As a leader in the electronics market, whatever Apple does will cause others to take notice.

Another possible move is the development of some of Apple’s commercial real estate in Cupertino. Apple has reportedly hired Forster + Partners for the design, a well-known design firm that pays particular attention to green issues such as using renewable energy resources and incorporating the best energy-efficiency techniques into materials and equipment.


Google has been making great efforts to improve their data centers. Their data center page gives a helpful overview and explains efficient computing, how their measure their data center efficiency (a Power Usage Effectiveness metric), their Server Retirement Program to maximize machine reuse, data center best practices, and notes from the Efficient Data Center Summit held in 2009. (They also mention their plans to attend a European Data Centre Summit this week in Switzerland).

Just like Apple, Google also uses biodiesel shuttles to help their employees commute to work in a more eco-friendly way. Google claims to drive “thousands of employees” in their shuttles every day — certainly higher than Apple’s 800. Google also supports employees that choose a carbon-free commute (e.g. cycling, walking) by donating to their favorite charities based on how often they self-power their commute. Google’s green operations page details several other initiatives, including the use of goats for grass grazing (instead of lawnmowers), details of their carbon offsets, the Climate Savers Computing initiative, participation in the Green Power Market Development Group, their LEED-certified office in San Francisco, and the use of Energy Star-rated office equipment.

Google’s green innovation page highlights some of their more creative projects. The Google PowerMeter is a free energy monitoring tool that allows you to view your home’s energy consumption online. Tracking your energy is a great tool to help you reduce energy use, but right now the PowerMeter is only available in a few areas in the U.S. and Europe. Google has invested over $38 million into two North Dakota wind farms, and they’ve agreed to invest in the Atlantic Wind Connection project. Since renewable energy projects (e.g. wind, solar) require expensive capital, it’s important to have investments like this to get them started.

Other long-term projects from Google include Enhanced Geothermal Systems and related investments to geothermal energy research (Potter Drilling, AltaRock Energy, Southern Methodist University Geothermal Lab, and Stanford University). And the RE<C project is aimed at taking calculated financial risk to accelerate clean energy down the cost curve. The goal is to help make renewable energy (RE) cheaper than coal (C), hence the name RE<C.

Overall, it’s great to see these two companies making concentrated efforts to reduce their carbon footprints and both have made some significant progress. Both Apple and Google continue to redesign their products (in Google’s case, data centers) and facilities using a variety of methods and practices. But it’s Google’s commitment to long-term projects such as renewable energy investments and home energy use monitoring that really gives them the edge in the race to sustainability.

Image sources: and


Sustainable Companies Achieve 200% ROI per Bloomberg May 19, 2011

Earlier this month, media company Bloomberg announced that they have achieved a 200% return on investments. The financial software, media and data company has an estimated revenue of $6.9 billion and makes up one third of the global financial data market (Source: NYT). The company was founded in 1981 by Michael Bloomberg, the current mayor of New York City.

Bloomberg first launched their public ESG (environmental, social and governance) data service in 2009. The program evolved from what was primarily an employee engagement platform to a unique source of innovation and opportunity. The company’s first publicly released sustainability report states that for every $1 spent on sustainability, it saves $2 in operating costs. Overall this has resulted in a net savings of $25 million since 2008.

In their report, Bloomberg found that most of the targets it hit resulted from management decisions. For example, all new data equipment that they shipped to clients complied with Energy Star efficiency standards. That being said, individual employees still play a crucial role in any company’s sustainability strategy and can add to the savings resulting from mechanical, equipment and purchasing changes.

Some highlights from the report:

  • Nearly half of Bloomberg’s 13,000+ employees will be in a LEED-certified office space by 2012
  • Emissions have been reduced by 20% over the 2007 baseline (measured as core emissions normalized by revenue)
  • Bloomberg diverted 59% of its waste from landfills through recycling and composting programs
  • All new PCs and flat panels shipped to customers are Energy Star certified
  • Bloomberg has initiated over 300 sustainability projects in 24 countries over the past three years
  • Over 5,000 users in 29 countries have accessed 50 million sustainability data sets through the Bloomberg Professional service
  • carried 1,976 stories on clean energy and environmental issues in 2010

“It is not only important for companies to develop sustainability strategies, but also to report on their results,” said Peter Grauer, Chairman of Bloomberg. “Disclosure, transparency and access to information are critical drivers of shared knowledge surrounding sustainability. As members of the global business community, it is our responsibility to ensure this information is made available – and to elevate the conversation.”

Bloomberg’s full report is available online. For more information, visit the following articles:

Image source: Bloomberg


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