Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Bottled Water

Here's a simple, practical, and efficient way to live a more sustainable life- stop consuming bottled water. Many environmental groups discourage the purchase of single-use water bottles. The San Francisco Dept of the Environment concludes that "Plastic water bottles are bad for human health, degrade the environment, add to global warming, and result in huge amounts of waste and litter. All this for a product that is often inferior to San Francisco's tap water."

People buy bottled water for convenience and health reasons. For convenience, all it takes is a change of habit. I love my re-fillable bottles which I fill with tap water whenever I leave home. I always have water and don't have the inconvenience of buying water.

Is bottled water a healthier product than tap water? No. Contaminants found in a third of bottled water samples include bacteria, industrial solvents, chemicals from plastic, hormone disrupters, and carcinogens. To improve the taste of your tap water, use a home filter.

The environmental costs of water bottles are huge. The Earth Policy Institute estimates that making bottles to meet the US demand for bottled water requires more than 1.5 million barrels of oil annually, enough to fuel 100,000 cars for a year. Billions of water bottles are discarded each year which can take up to a thousand years to degrade. Recycling can help reduce waste, but that process uses a great deal of resources.

Remember, this one is easy- Carry water in reusable containers, serve water in pitchers at gatherings, and filter your own tap water if desired.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Bagging It

Tired of the question "Paper or Plastic?" Why not bring your own bags and put a little less stress on the planet? Pick up some reusable bags and keep them in your car, on your bike, or in your backpack. To help me remember, I needed to purchase a few additional ones so I would always find some handy.

There are some great companies offering better options than the typical cloth bags. Green Bag is a company that offers bags made from 100% recycled materials, water resistant, and with the capacity of 3-4 plastic bags. Paper Nor Plastic offers a bag similar in design to a paper bag, but built as rugged as a backpack. Earthwise sells many different types of reusable bags, such as wine totes.

Of course, you can find reusable bags at most stores these days. It is really a simple habit to change. Now when I go shopping, I grab my keys, my wallet, and my bags.

If you need more convincing, here's some great facts from Reusable Bags:
Plastic Bags: 594 BTUs
Paper Bags: 2511 BTUs

Plastic Bags: 17 BTUs
Paper Bags: 1444 BTUs

In 1999, 14 million trees were cut to produce the 10 billion paper grocery bags used by Americans that year alone. World consumption rate is now estimated at well over 500,000,000,000 (that's 500 billion) plastic bags annually, or almost 1 million per minute.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Word of the Year

The New Oxford American Dictionary’s Word of the Year for 2006 is Carbon Neutral.

Carbon neutral is when our actions don't increase the net carbon in the atmosphere. It involves calculating your total climate-damaging carbon emissions, reducing them where possible, and then balancing your remaining emissions by purchasing green tags: paying to plant new trees or investing in “green” technologies such as solar, wind, or biomass power.

The popularity of carbon neutral shows the growing importance of the green movement in the US. A New York Times Poll in 2006, showed 66% of respondents agreed that global warming is a problem causing a serious impact now. A movement is rapidly growing around the carbon neutral position.

Eric Bean, editor in chief of the New Oxford American Dictionary, said “The increasing use of the word carbon neutral reflects not just the greening of our culture, but the greening of our language. When you see first graders trying to make their classrooms carbon neutral, you know the word has become mainstream.”

“All the Oxford lexicographers look forward to choosing the Word of the Year. We know that people love fun, flashy words like truthiness or the latest Bushism, but we are always looking for a word that is both reflective of the events and concerns of the past year and also forward-looking: a word that we think will only become more used and more useful as time goes on.”

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Dilbert Goes Sustainable

Dilbert's Ultimate House is certainly the most humorous example of sustainable building. The home follows energy efficient and green building concepts mixed with fun. It is a web-based, virtual house designed by Dilbert's eco-friendly fans. Energy efficiency concepts were incorporated with help by experts from PG&E, a large utility provider.

While mostly created for fun, serious considerations were energy usage approaching zero, use of green building materials when practical, healthy indoor air quality, and water savings.

It's great to see Dilbert contributing to the sustainability movement. Make sure you check out the funniest ideas and impractical suggestions on the website.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Offsetting Carbon Emissions

Wouldn't it be great if you could neutralize the carbon you contribute to the atmosphere? Well, I have good news! Now there are simple steps to zeroing out the carbon dioxide you generate.

Climate change is being driven by the increasing amounts of carbon in the atmosphere. Your input of CO2 to the atmosphere, about 20 tons per person in the US, is mainly produced by gasoline burned in vehicles, electricity use, and natural gas consumption.

Carbon offsetting is an increasingly popular method of reducing one's burden on the planet. Projects are created and supported to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Offsetting projects include planting forests, investing in renewable energy, and increasing energy efficiency.

Many new organizations provide easy payment methods to offset some or all of your carbon emissions. For example, a Toyota Camry, would typically emit about 8,000 lbs. of carbon dioxide per year (based on 12,000 miles/yr.) You can zero this out by purchasing carbon offsets for about $5o per year. Take a look at the following carbon offsetting organizations and see how easy it is reduce your burden on the planet.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Certified Wood and Paper

Half of the world's forests have been destroyed, most in the last few decades. We lose 33 football fields per minute of forest land. This is not sustainable!

There is a simple way to help protect the world's forests. When purchasing wood or paper products, check for certification from an organization seeking to guarantee sustainable management.

To be certified, a product is produced from a forest which grows and harvests trees with the long-term protection of wildlife, plants, soil and water quality. Around the world, logging can displace native peoples and lead to violence against people and wildlife. Global warming will place a great burden on the world's forests. We can something by making practical decisions to only purchase certified products which contribute to the health of the planet.

Certifying organizations include:
Look for certification before your next purchase. Encourage others to do so.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Waste Not, Want Not

When I launched a Sacramento county-wide recycling drive in the 1970's, our group was asked to stop by national paper companies. They said there wasn't a need for more paper and we would hurt church groups and boy scout troops who made money recycling newspapers. Our goal was to educate the public and encourage the local government to recycle.

I am happy to say that today recycling is not only accepted, but expected. Recently, I helped launch a desk side recycling program for Sonoma County employees. After receiving blue recycling cans at each desk, employees were happy to recycle and felt better about their workplace.

Today California, participating in a worldwide effort, has a goal of zero waste. It revolves around changing attitudes about waste and considering resource management. Proper management of our resources should change our attitudes about waste. Creating waste is not efficient and thus costly in many ways.

The basics of approaching zero waste are:
  1. Reduce- purchase products with less packaging, buy in bulk, get off junk mail lists, bottle your own water
  2. Reuse- take bags to the store, donate items to charity, buy recycled products
  3. Recycle- always use recycle containters and demand them where you work and shop; use a mulching lawnmower; take electronics, paint, batteries, and other items to special recycling points.
The Earth 911 website can help you locate local information on wise use of resources. Another great resource is the Zero Waste International Alliance.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Passive Solar

Passive solar design is actually an old concept. Ancient dwellings were constructed to take advantage of passive solar. The Anasazi Indians built homes facing south to allow the winter sun in while using overhangs to block direct sunlight in summer. The homes had thick walls and floors to help maintain even temperatures. The Greeks and other cultures also used design to best utilize the sun. Most of these concepts were forgotten when energy was cheap.

The basic concepts of solar design include:
  • Orient the structure on an east-west axis.
  • Place most windows on the south wall.
  • Use overhangs or shading options to reduce summer sun on glass.
  • Insulate well.
  • Add mass, such as cement or stone.
  • Provide proper ventilation.
  • Place rooms where heat is most desired near the south wall.
Many forward thinking communities are incoroporating passive solar concepts into community planning. Simple design ideas can greatly reduce, or even eliminate, energy use. Some modern technologies, such as low-e glass, make passive solar even even more practical. A good book on the subject is 'The Solar House', by Daniel D. Chiras.

Many useful tools, such as a sun angle calculator and a sun chart program, can be found on the web for those wishing to explore solar design in detail. However, it doesn't have to be complicated to use simple and practical ideas to increase efficiency.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Green Building

The green building movement is exploding with growth. Local governments everywhere are incorporating green concepts into regulations and guidelines. San Francisco is soon to host West Coast Green, the largest green building conference with 250 exhibitors and dozens of speakers.

Green building is based on sustainability concepts and focusing on energy efficiency, construction that minimally impacts nature, and a healthy interior environment. A popular certification is the LEED program administered by the US Green Building Council.

There are many factors to consider when constructing a building or remodeling an existing one. Some these include: maximize insulation and use recycled materials; orient to benefit from passive solar concepts; install EnergyStar appliances; landscape with local plants and minimize water use; install low flow toilets; use daylighting and CFLs; and literally hundreds of other considerations.

New products and concepts are being introduced continually. Before building, remodeling, or purchasing a structure, evaluate green building concepts. These save money, add to your health, contribute to the health of the community and the environment. No wonder this movement is growing so fast.

The Big Payback

It's easy to calculate the benefits of increasing energy efficiency. To calculate simple payback, take the total cost and divide by the annual savings. For example, if an appliance costs $500 and will reduce energy costs $100 per year, then the simple payback is 500/100 or 5 years. Simple payback is the easiest and most commonly performed method. If the simple payback is quick, make the purchase. If the simply payback leaves you wondering, then there is more to consider.

Other considerations include the rising utility costs (2-5%/yr), inflation, interest you could earn if money was left in the bank, loan costs, and increased or decreased maintenance costs. A new project may reduce or increase regular maintenance costs.

Net present value (NPV) is a popular method for considering financial factors beyond the simple payback. It calculates a positive cash flow. This occurs when your annual benefits exceed the annual costs. NPV considers the life expectancy of the item, the cost of money, inflation and other possible factors. SImple payback may take many years, but if you a positive cash flow the purchase makes sense.

The most holistic approach is lifecycle analysis. Here we try to evaluate all costs and savings over the lifetime of the item. Everything from salvage value to disposal costs. This method gives the most accurate analysis. Many are trying to add environmental costs into this approach. Obviously this method requires research and some subjective decisions. Some factors are intangible. Included are things like greenhouse gas reduction, the security of having a brand new item, added comfort, increased home value, etc. A good example is double pane windows. They not only save energy, but also reduce outside noise which may be important, but hard to put a price on.

Confused??? Look at Select Cost Analysis Method , or for great calculators visit Energy Cost Calculators.