Green your life at home, work & play

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.


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.


Majority of U.S. Adults Support Solar and Wind Energy October 10, 2011

Solar PanelsBetween fossil fuel pollution and volatile energy prices, a common question arises: what is the future of clean, renewable energy?  For renewable energy to have a chance in the U.S., it needs strong support from the general public.  Two recent studies show that the required support may already be here.

A survey conducted by Harris Interactive and commissioned by solar energy company Sungevity found that 71% of U.S. adults are fearful of rising energy costs.  Concurrently, 74% of those surveyed feel that solar power should be the energy source of the future for the residential sector.  Please visit Sungevity’s website for more information about the company.

A survey from Pike Research has reached similar conclusions.  According to the Pike study, 79% of U.S. adults are “very favorable” or “favorable” towards solar energy.  75% of respondents supported wind energy as well.  See the full study for further details.

Support for wind and solar is growing, but it will be interesting to see what impact citizen interest and support will have on the development of clean, renewable energy in the U.S.


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.

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