Green your life at home, work & play

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!


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). Business Carbon Calculator 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. 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.


Eco-Friendly Conference Centers and Where to Find Them April 22, 2011

Like hotels, conference centers are also seeing a trend in eco-friendly renovations and practices. Making an establishment green opens doors to clientele who care about their surroundings and want a green facility for their meeting — a growing segment of the business world. Going green produces lower operating expenses, providing savings that are particularly needed in the current economy.

So what can a conference center do to be more eco-friendly? There are many different techniques, but some of the most common include:

  • Adjust thermostats for more efficient heating and cooling; automate temperature systems to avoid energy loss
  • Retrofit or install energy efficient lighting (e.g. compact fluorescent bulbs)
  • Minimize the use of paper for meeting materials; recycle leftover paper
  • Switch to reusable materials (e.g. china, glass and silverware, and linen table covers and napkins)
  • Donate or compost excess and leftover food
  • Greener transportation alternatives
  • Efficient water use and waste management

Unlike hotels, there aren’t any commonly accepted green-certification programs for conference centers (yet), so facilities must advertise their practices through print and online media. The LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) website lists several conference centers that have achieved certification. Visit their directory and type “conference” into the Project Name field to browse this listing.

You can do some simple online research to find a green conference center in your area, or contact a local environmental leader or organization for more information. Below are a few good examples to get you started.

Airlie Conference Center ( – Warrenton, Virginia

Initiatives include reduced energy consumption, minimized waste through recycling and composting, utilization of eco-friendly projects in all aspects of its operations, producing and sourcing of local foods, stewardship of more than 1,000 acres of sensitive wildlife habitat, and workshops and programs dedicated to environmental education and policy.

David L. Lawrence Convention Center ( – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

This facility is the largest LEED Gold-certified convention center, built on an urban brownfield location. Over 95% of demolition waste from the old building was recycled, and 50% of the new materials were brought from the local area to reduce transportation costs and energy use. Initiatives include: the use of over 75% natural light (reducing energy use); an on-site water reclamation plant and other water initiatives that have shown a 66% reduction in purchased water; 100% biodegradable trash liners, 30% post consumer recycled copier paper, 57% post consumer recycled hand towels, and 50% post consumer recycled toilet tissue; a dedicated recycling program; and much more.

Essex Conference Center ( – Essex, Massachusetts

Initiatives include the use of high post consumer content in all paper products (brochures, business cards, copy paper, napkins, paper towels, cups, etc), energy-saving compact florescent bulbs, environmentally safe and non-toxic products for cleaning and maintenance, water-efficient shower heads, 100% recycling of materials (glass, newspaper and magazines, aluminum, cardboard, scrap metal), and organic fertilizers. Instead of throwing away old computer systems and equipment, they are donated to charity or shipped to Ghana for use in community centers.

More examples include:

For more information, check out:

Economically Sound – Conference Centers Go Green

Boston Green Tourism – Green Convention Centers


Benefits of telework (aka telecommuting) March 23, 2011

The modern workforce is continually evolving, and it has becoming increasingly common for companies to offer telecommuting options to their employees. Telecommuting typically involves an employee working from home (or other non-office location), and can be an occasional occurrence or happen or a regular basis. Telecommuting has the potential to save money, lower carbon emissions, and increase employee efficiency and effectiveness.

In 2009, the technology company Cisco released the results of their Teleworker Survey that polled 1,992 Cisco employees across five global regions. The survey was intended to evaluate several telecommuting topics, including environmental impacts, commuting patterns, technology barriers, and work quality and productivity. The study revealed that a majority of respondents reported a significant increase in productivity, work-life flexibility, and overall satisfaction as a result of their ability to work remotely.

According to Cisco’s Internet Business Services Group, the company has generated an estimated annual savings of $277 million in productivity by allowing telecommuting. Cisco employees also prevent approximately 47,320 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from being released into the environment, and fuel cost savings of $10.3 million per year due to telecommuting and avoided travel.

In 2010, IT executives from private and public companies in the Washington, D.C. metro area were surveyed on their telecommuting opinions and habits. Of those polled, a majority said that telecommuting would boost productivity (69% of respondents), decrease their carbon footprint (71%), improve overall quality of life (76%), save them time (84%), and make working for an organization more desirable (93%). About half of those polled were managers, who also feel that telecommuting has mostly positive benefits. 81% of managers said that their management ability is unaffected by telecommuting, and 93% of managers said that they were satisfied with the quality of work done remotely.

Another option for decreasing business costs and environmental impact is to pursue methods of teleconferencing. If you’re holding a meeting involving people located in different geographic areas, you can avoid travel costs and lost time by holding the meeting via a conference call or webcast. Teleconferencing is already a relatively common practice and includes several popular websites, such as GoToMeeting and Polycom.

Meetings that are conducted through teleconferencing can be scheduled with greater ease, eliminating the need for travel arrangements, and allowing for meetings to be arranged on much shorter notice. Many people can be involved in a teleconference, sometimes up to hundreds of people at a time, for greater involvement and collaboration. Polycom’s website includes a Carbon Calculator on their website, and although it is designed to sell their product, it is a useful tool to estimate the cost of each meeting in terms of dollars (or other currency), hours, and kilograms of carbon dioxide (CO2).


Sustainability and the Consumer Electronics Show January 10, 2011

The world’s largest consumer technology tradeshow, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), took place last week in Las Vegas, Nevada. The tradeshow is run by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), which also produced something else of note last week: their 2010 Sustainability Report.

“CEA member companies have realized significant benefits from integrating sustainability into their business, from increased use of life cycle assessment in eco-design to further reductions of energy in the use phase of electronics, to innovative eCycling programs resulting in the recovery of millions of pounds of valuable resources.”

The 48-page report covers a range of topics in environmental and social performance, focusing on sustainable product and packaging design, sustainable facilities, sustainable transport and delivery, and eCycling. The report includes numerous case studies from member companies such as Best Buy and Apple, and these case studies bring up key questions for your consideration.

(1) What should be the focus of my business’s sustainability plan? This varies greatly for individual cases. For example, Apple completed a comprehensive life cycle analysis for every product and discovered that 97 percent of the company’s footprint is directly associated with its products and only three percent with its facilities. Therefore Apple has focused on designing its products to use less material, ship with smaller packing, and be as energy efficient and recyclable as possible. (See case study on p. 11.)

(2) How can we optimize the use of resources in our facilities? Greener buildings tend to reduce capital and operational costs and promote innovation, technological advancement and environmental protection. For example, Sony Electronics Inc. recently built a new head office building in San Diego which was awarded LEED Gold certification. Design elements included bicycle racks, dedicated parking spaces for staff who carpool to work or drive fuel-efficient vehicles, and efforts to use wood taken only from sustainably managed forests. (See case study on p. 21.)

(3) How well do we report our sustainability efforts? Many companies now publish sustainability reports in addition their annual corporate financial reports, communicating with customers, shareholders, communities and employees. All 10 of the largest CE companies issue reports that document corporate environmental and social performance. These reports are guided by the Global Reporting Initiative, and are published on their companies’ websites for convenient access.

(4) How can my business take initiative in our community? AMD, a semiconductor design company, has begun installing electric vehicle (EV) charging stations at locations in Austin, Texas, and Sunnyvale, California. The company believes that this initiative will serve as an example for other businesses in these areas, encouraging the growth of infrastructure for the EV market. It also will tip the balance for those employees and community members considering the purchase of an EV but who are concerned about the availability of charging stations nearby. (See case study on p. 28.)

The 2010 Sustainability Report can be found online at and is a good source of inspiration for many different aspects of commercial sustainability. CEA also recommends two additional reports for information on the consumer electronics industry and its sustainability efforts.

+ CEA 2010 Sustainability Report
+ The Energy and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Impact of Telecommuting and e-Commerce
+ Energy Consumption by Consumer Electronics in U.S. Residences


What’s next after sustainability? December 6, 2010

The question has emerged at conferences, talks and sessions that I have participated in recently. Environmental sustainability is recognized to be important and necessary. Sustainability refers to surviving in the current state of the world, and neutralizing our impact on the planet. But, once we have managed to do this (and we have a long ways to go, so I am not suggesting this has already happened), the question is – how do we not only survive but thrive? This is where the concept of resilience comes into play. Resilience is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as ‘the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress’. Depending on whom you ask, resilience is a key component of sustainability or it is the next step after the sustainability. It refers to adaptability, ingenuity,flexibility – a certain ruggedness that will enable us to thrive in changing circumstances. I believe it is a necessary next step after sustainability, and that we should look to it even as we are aiming to achieve environmental sustainability.

The concept of resilience in the environmental arena is not new. It was discussed in the 1970s in the context of ecosystem dynamics.  It has recently re-emerged as a topic of discussion as some ecologists and economists have focused on it, looking at it from an economic, social and environmental perspective. It has been a theme at past conferences, such as the ICLEI conference in Korea in October, and will be the main theme of a conference in early 2011.

Resilience is evident in the natural world, where evolution has favored those who can adapt to new circumstances. It has also been adapted by the business world, where companies must respond to changing market demand, new competitors, and new technology. Systems that are not designed to adapt quickly will fail (some examples that come to mind are our banking system and energy infrastructure). The question is whether they will be able to learn from their failures and rebound. Resilience has also been adapted by communities, as can be seen in the example of Transition Towns, which have been in existence for many years overseas and in the United States.

There are increasingly more books written on the topic. To learn more, take a look at some of these:


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