Green your life at home, work & play

Moving Towards Zero Waste November 7, 2011

Reduce, reuse, recycle. This mantra has been publicized tirelessly in recent years, emblazoned on hemp tote bags, organic cotton t-shirts, and reusable water bottles. While it has been moderately successful in raising public awareness about the waste stream, this slogan mainly targets consumers, and most of those consumers are just recycling. In reality, the man-made waste stream is a much larger issue. Consider the Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island. Bigger than the Great Wall of China, the Fresh Kills Landfill was the largest man-made object on Earth and could be seen from space with the naked eye until reclamation began in 2009. Humans are the only existing species that produce non-biodegradable waste. More importantly, this waste is not only created at the consumer, end-of-product-life level. Raw material extraction, product and packaging design, manufacturing practices, sales and distribution, and government policy are all contributing factors.

This is where the concept of zero waste comes in. Zero waste practices seek to tackle our “throw away” attitude by emphasizing resource conservation, reduction in pollution, increased economic opportunity, and quality over quantity. Mimicking nature, zero waste initiatives promote a cyclical manner of resource use over a linear approach. Zero waste perspectives perceive waste as a resource going in the wrong direction. Many discarded materials or resources often viewed as “waste” can be used to make new products, effectively cutting infrastructure costs, creating new jobs and revenue opportunities, and encouraging innovation. Rather than targeting only consumers, zero waste efforts employ system wide principles, optimizing resource use and keeping producers, consumers, and policy makers accountable. The overall goal? To eliminate waste as much as possible. Below is a step-by-step breakdown of zero waste fundamentals and their existing counterparts:

  • Raw Material Supply: emphasize recycled material use, sustainable harvesting and non-toxic materials over exhaustion of virgin resources and piecemeal toxic material management
  • Product and Packaging Design: encourage waste minimization, durability, repairability, recyclability, and longer product lifespans over manufactured obsolescence in the interest of maximized sales
  • Manufacturing: reform operations to abate emissions, minimize resource use and account for end-of-life product management instead of skirting compliance costs
  • Sales and Distribution: instill an active sense of environmental responsibility in wholesalers and retailers and support regional distribution and sales rather than large-scale, mass distribution
  • Government Policy: promote and incentivize conservation industries, maintain accountability at the producer stage, and institutionalize efficient strategies to control environmental, economic and social impacts in place of subsidizing uneconomical virgin extraction industries and managing waste at the expense of taxpayers
  • Consumption: select products on basis of quality, price, and environmental impact and increase participation reuse/recycling programs instead of overconsumptive behaviors

Clearly, zero waste initiatives require a significant shift in societal awareness and dedication. Informing and educating the public is crucial to this process of surmounting existing barriers. In 2007, director Louis Fox, filmmaker Annie Leonard and Free Range Studios released a 20 minute documentary trying to do just that. Titled The Story of Stuff, the animated film takes a critical stance on excessive consumerism and the materials economy, explaining the impacts on environmental, economic and social health. Since its release, the documentary been translated into 15 languages and viewed in 228 different countries and territories.

Pick Up America is a more interactive, hands-on approach to raising awareness about reducing waste. In 2010, co-founders and University of Maryland alumni Davey Rogner and Jeff Chen and the rest of the PUA crew embarked on nation’s first coast-to-coast roadside litter pick up. From its starting point in Assateague Island, Maryland, PUA will span thirteen states in its journey to the San Francisco Bay area, picking up trash, coordinating volunteers, and educating communities about zero waste practices along the way. So far, the PUA team has collected 109,796 pounds of litter over 1,000 miles.

And what about implementation? Since the birth of the zero waste concept, numerous district councils and city divisions have adopted waste reduction and recycling strategies to enable a transition to a waste-free future. In 1998, the Opotiki District Council in New Zealand became the first local authority to endorse zero waste practices. Canada has also been a leader in blazing the zero waste trail, developing more sustainable methods of waste management and diversion in multiple municipalities spanning the provinces of Ontario, Alberta and Nova Scotia.

To find out more about what “zero waste” really means, check out the following:


Begin Reducing Your Company’s Electric Bill September 19, 2011

Building waste accounts for 72% of the United States’ electricity consumption. In particular, office spaces consume the most energy of any type of commercial building1, emitting a significant amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. At present, there is no price for carbon, but this is bound to change as carbon taxes gain more support. By reducing your energy usage now, you will decrease operating costs and relieve your company’s vulnerability to increases in prices or CO2 regulation later.

If you have not yet taken steps to improving your energy efficiency, begin by determining your carbon foot print (note – this is one of many calculators and is provided as an example only). Track it through different installations and changes made in your office space so that you can see the difference impact measures make on your greenhouse gas emissions. Start with simple improvements, such as upgrading lighting systems, beforemaking large scale improvements.

Improve Your Lighting: Upgrading the lighting system of an entire building can have dramatic effects on your yearly operating costs. Make changes to the lighting system in your building before you make changes to the HVAC system since inefficient lighting produces a lot of heat waste, adding to the cost of air conditioning during the summer. Replace incandescent lights with more efficient compact florescent (CFL) or light emitting diodes (LED) lights. Encourage employees to turn lights off when leaving a room, but utilize dimmers and sensors in the office building to regulate lighting usage since it is difficult to change habits overnight.

Improving Your HVAC System: Before overhauling the HVAC systems in your building, reduce your heating and cooling requirements. Take simple steps such as cleaning and maintaining preexisting equipment, installing window treatments to block direct sunlight during the summer, and caulking cracks that let heat escape during the winter. Only after taking steps to reduce the amount of conditioning your space requires, look into more efficient systems. Investigate renewable sources of heat generation such as geothermal and solar heating, and make sure upgrades to the air conditioning units are appropriate for the size of the space.

Buying Energy Star:  Companies today need many different types of electronic devices in order to keep business running smoothly. Office equipment like computers, printers, copy machines, and digital displays shoulder much of the burden for the company’s carbon foot print; many of these products can be found with an Energy Star certificate. In particular, because of the immense amount of time workers spend on computers, ENERGY STAR computers are required to meet high standards while running, as well as while they are on standby and sleep mode. Use the Power Management settings to put the computer in to a lower-power state after business hours. For help selecting the best products for your newly green business, visit, the EPA Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool.

Visit other posts to learn about saving energy in a particular field of business: Greening RestaurantsSustainable Companies Achieve 200% ROI Per Bloomberg,  Eco-Friendly Conference Centers And Where to Find ThemBenefits of TeleworkCar Rental Takes A Turn For The SustainableWhat Do You Know About Clean Energy


Greening Restaurants September 11, 2011

As the retail industry’s largest energy consumer and greatest source of waste production, the restaurant world takes a serious toll on the environment. According to the Pacific Gas & Electric’s Food Service Technology Center, restaurants use nearly five times more energy per square foot than most commercial buildings. Inefficiencies in food preparation, food storage and water usage are main contributors to the problem. Restaurants also generate tremendous amounts of waste. On average, a restaurant can produce up to 150,000 pounds of garbage each year.

The food itself also raises several environmental concerns. Besides on-site energy consumption, transporting ingredients from thousands of miles away is yet another source of carbon emissions (although it is a smaller source than one would expect – estimated by some, such as BioRegional, at 10%). Factory farms and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are a huge non-point source of runoff pollution, degrading surface and groundwater supplies. High levels of nitrates and phosphorous in agricultural runoff can cause algal blooms downstream, severely depleting oxygen levels and resulting in vast “dead zones”. Additionally, high nitrate levels in well water can cause blue baby syndrome in infants and pregnant women, jeopardizing circulatory and heart health of newborns. Also, as the name implies, CAFOs keep animals in confined, unhygienic spaces that compromise the health and general well-being of the livestock pre-slaughter.

Institutionalized greening initiatives are emerging to reform restaurant procedures through energy and water conservation, waste reduction, and sustainable purchasing. Here are a few examples:

  • Conserve Initiative The National Restaurant Association’s Conserve Initiative  is an online resource developed by the restaurant industry for the restaurant industry. It helps restaurants to reduce energy, waste and water – driving down costs and leaving a lighter footprint on our environment.  The program features an easy-to-use checklist, divided into six categories, with over 90 industry-tested best practices, and over 64 videos by industry experts providing demonstrations and explanations of best practices.
  • Green Seal Green Seal is an independent non-profit organization offering third-party certification for products and companies that meet certain sustainability standards. Established in 1989, Green Seal sets nationally-recognized standards for green restaurants, basing its criteria in life-cycle analysis and scientific research. Green Seal certification is accompanied by site audits and regular monitoring to ensure that sustainability standards are met and upheld.
  • Green Restaurant Association Founded in 1990, the Green Restaurant Association strives to create a sustainable restaurant industry by providing tools for restaurants, manufacturers, distributors, and consumers to make environmentally healthy choices. The GRA has certification standards to reward restaurants, restaurant renovations or new builds, and events through a point system that spans several environmental categories including waste reduction and recycling, sustainable food, and chemical and pollution reduction.

Image source: Poste Moderne Brasserie


Managing Water Risk in the Private Sector June 13, 2011

It is becoming increaDroughtsingly clear that lack of access to potable water will lead to one of the next major crises that we will face as a global community.  We are already witnessing the impacts of water scarcity in pockets around the world today, and this dilemma will only worsen with time.  While much of the focus surrounding water favors social and environmental issues, water is important to all sectors of modern society.  To remain competitive, businesses will need to assess the impact of water risk on investments.

Water risk is a lack of water that arises from water scarcity, water pollution, and water competition.  In the private sector, this risk can cause financial disruptions, increase costs, lead to revenue losses, and compromise growth.  Sectors most vulnerable to water risk include the food and beverage industry, the power industry, mining, and some manufacturing.  Water risk poses such a significant threat to business that last year the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) identified water as a potential material use that public companies should disclose to investors.

In line with the SEC’s sentiment, in 2010, the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES) released a report studying corporate disclosure of water risk (view the full report).  The study looked at the water risk reporting of 100 publicly traded companies across eight of the most water-vulnerable sectors.  The report’s intention is for investors and companies to learn from the reporting practices of these 100 case studies and promote a better understanding of how water risk impacts a company’s operations, supply chains, and products.  But CERES was surprised to find that even in sectors most threatened by water risk, reporting on risk and corporate water performance is weak.  As water quality and scarcity becomes an even more severe issue, companies will be forced to take water risk more seriously.

Recognizing water’s relationship to future prosperity, the World Resources Institute (WRI), in partnership with Goldman Sachs’ Center for Environmental Markets and General Electric, is developing a Water Index to chart water risk across regions and sectors.  The Water Index will help investors understand and forecast water’s impact on businesses and investments.

The Water Index will rely on publicly available data provide information on water quality and water scarcity indicators.  This data will be presented spatially on interactive map overlays that allow users to compare and combine risk scenarios.  Because water is a local issue, risks will vary by region and sector.  Although some groups have attempted to calculate companies’ water footprints, this is one of the first attempts at quantifying water’s impact on companies.

The pilot project will focus on the water risks of thermal power generation in China.  WRI and its partners hope to highlight potentials for reducing water risk in this sector by providing recommendations for making the sector less vulnerable.  This pilot is just the start of what may prove to be an instrumental tool for aiding corporate water risk reporting and for businesses to ensure future growth and success.


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


aLOHAS November 16, 2007

Filed under: General,Green business — Ali Hart @ 3:52 pm
Tags: , ,

In case you haven’t heard, green consumerism is a $230 billion industry. So what company wouldn’t want in? The green market (referred to as LOHAS – Lifestyles of Health & Sustainability) is comprised of consumers (Lohasians) who care about not only the quality of the products they purchase but also the quality of the companies behind them. That’s why as this market segment has grown significantly over the past few years, so has the number of businesses implementing sustainable practices.

Companies like Wal-Mart and GE have been successful at garnering tons of publicity for their green efforts. Microsoft, Ikea, Nike and now Target have all agreed to phase out PVC (a toxic plastic), inarguably to appeal to LOHAS. As a result of this movement, many new jobs have been created within companies like these to carry out sustainability efforts. Corporate Social Responsibility departments and Sustainability Directors are just a few examples.

However, these positions may not always be granted enough authority to enact the necessary policies towards sustainablity – perhaps because these titles look good to outsiders but don’t necessarily cause a complete overhaul of the existing business.  In addition, many consumers are skeptical that the corporation’s green claims are indeed legitimate. Fortunately for consumers, finding information about a company’s practices (both good and bad) is a simple google search away!


%d bloggers like this: