Green your life at home, work & play

Does Purchasing Eco-Friendly Products Go Against the Basics of Environmentalism? March 30, 2012

The green movement has created many options to help the environment, including green consumerism, which entails buying products that are more environmentally friendly than their conventional counterparts. The theory behind this idea is, since we have to buy products, we might as well buy products that hurt the planet less. But is this concept fatally flawed? Doesn’t the whole culture of consumerism go against the green movement, which emphasizes using fewer materials, not more? A New York Times article points out how even though people may buy green products, our level of consumption is still dangerously high. “Buying as much as we want because we can” has been a staple of American culture for some time and green consumerism continues to fuel this. Is it truly helpful to the environment for us to encourage such behavior? More importantly than what we purchase is how much we purchase.

As the article points out, most complaints against green consumerism don’t come from major green organizations, like Greenpeace and the Sierra Club. This is probably because green consumerism does do something beneficial: brings the environment and global warming to people’s attention. Even if they aren’t dedicated to the environment as activists, at least they are aware of the problems it faces when they pick up an organic cotton t-shirt instead of one made out of conventionally grown cotton. Businesses also argue that green consumerism can be beneficial  because they are more effective at solving climate change than governments since they are more focused on the long-term and don’t face reelection every four years. They were not clear on the how, but they emphasized that the solution to our environmental problems is economic growth fueled by eco-minded consumers.

My conclusion from all this is that green consumerism is a good strategy, but it is not the solution in and of itself. If people need and want to buy products, they might as well buy those that are better for the earth than those that are not. Green consumerism isn’t the only answer to our current environmental situation, but it can help. Hopefully, by becoming aware of part of their purchasing habits (what they buy) people will also become aware of another part (how much they buy).

Photo Courtesy of Holos: Ecologia Integral blog


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.


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.


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 


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


Green Office Pioneers in the DC Metro Area: Part 2 November 28, 2011

The second installment in our series on green offices in the DC metro area is the new East Coast headquarters of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) in Fort Belvoir, VA. The building received a LEED Gold rating, the second highest LEED rating and the largest federal government building to receive such a high rating (2.2 million square-feet). The office focused on three areas: water, energy and transportation. By collecting 

rainwater and using low-flow fixtures, NGA saves about 3 million gallons of water a month. It also reduces energy use by 30% with efficient lighting w

ith motion sensors and transparent ETFE roofing to provide more natural daylight. Carbon dioxide emissions from cars are reduced by NGA encouraging their employees to use public transportation.

NGA also included healthier materials in their building, including ones with low or no volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which contain chemicals that can cause headaches, nausea, and eye, nose and throat irritation, among other things. Chilled beams are also incorporated into the building to further reduce energy use associated with heating and air conditioning, since these reduce the power used by the fans.

Photo Courtesy of the U.S. Department of Defense


Green Office Pioneers in the DC Metro Area: Part 1 November 21, 2011

When you are younger and trying to find your way in the world, it sometimes helps to have a role model. I think the same is true if you are trying to green your office and don’t know where to start or what options are available. To help you in this endeavor, we are going to have a multiple part series on green offices in the Washington DC metro area.

What better place to start than the headquarters of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the inventors of the leading green building certification: Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). Their office has the highest rating LEED offers: Platinum, in the Commercial Interiors category.
Energy and water efficiency are key in the corporate yet fashionable USGBC office. Water use is 40% less than in conventional offices and energy use is 50% less. In order to increase heating and cooling efficiency, the “eco-corridor” nearest the outside windows is slightly warmer in the summer and cooler in the winter than the inner cubicles.  Individualized temperature controls are available inside the cubicles, allowing for a more comfortable environment where workers are during most of the day, without having to make the less-used corridors just as comfortable. There are also plenty of indoor plants to increase indoor air quality.

Natural daylight is another important aspect in the USBGC’s headquarters. It significantly decreases the need to use electricity to power lights, but also helps improve employees’ moods with views of nature. The floor to ceiling windows provide plenty of light, while the automatic window shades decrease glare. An automated system also helps coordinate the need for lighting by sensing how much natural light is available and adjusting the artificial lights accordingly.

The USGBC also makes use of a lot of reclaimed materials. Much of the wood that adorns the walls were reclaimed from 500-year old gumwood trees that had fallen off of logging boats and were preserved in the Tennessee River. Trees that were cut down hundreds of years ago emit no additional carbon to the atmosphere and provide a great story for guests! There are many other great aspects to the USGBC headquarters that can be found in their press release or website that makes it a chic yet environmental office.

Photo Courtesy of McGraw Hill Construction Continuing Education Center


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

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

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

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

Photo Courtesy of Management and Business blog


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