Green is not just the color of money, it is the color of social-responsibility

Sunday, April 17, 2011

It's Easy Eating Green

We heard we should try to live a greener lifestyle by reducing , reusing and recycling. But what our diets? Making environmentally conscious choices can be better for our waistlines, our wallets and our planet.

Buy local. When you purchase locally produced fruits, vegetables, meats, eggs and dairy products, you're supporting area farmers and cutting back on the fuel it takes to truck food across the country.

Go organic. Treating produce with pesticides can pollute soil, groundwater and possibly you. If you're budget-conscious, at least aim for organic when buying produce with thin, edible skins such as berries, grapes and bell peppers.

Eat lower on the food chain. Producing a pound of meat takes much more water and energy than producing a pound of grain or vegetables.

Ditch the drive-through. Idling in line at a fast-food restaurant wastes gas. Park the car and order inside. Better yet, whip up a quick meal at home. You'll save packaging waste and money, too.

Banish bottles water. Even if you recycle those plastic bottles, it still takes energy to produce, transport and recycle them.

Take baby steps. You don't have to go cold turkey on cheeseburgers. Even small changes, such as eating one meatless meal a week, can make a big difference over time.

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Sunday, April 3, 2011

Puma Promises World’s First Environmental Profit & Loss Statement

Puma says it will produce the first-ever Environmental Profit and Loss (EP&L) statement.

The fitness apparel company has implemented a new method of accounting, with help from Trucost and PricewaterhouseCoopers, that it says will allow it to produce a new type of integrated reporting.

The EP&L statement is designed to capture the brand’s economic impact on naturally occurring ecological systems including the Earth’s water cycle and air filtration. Environmental advocates have been calling for such accounting systems for years, Sustainable Life Media reports.

The athletic brand did not say when it would release its first EP&L. But it said it will encourage other companies in its sector to work towards producing their own integrated statements.

The EP&L project is part of a larger environmental initiative by Puma’s parent company PPR Group, whose other brands include Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent and Stella McCartney.

PPR said it has offset the 2010 scope 1 and scope 2 emissions from Puma, the PPR luxury group and PPR headquarters, a total of 98,729 tons. The group bought carbon credits from the Wildlife Works Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) offsetting project in Kenya.

The group is also launching a “creative sustainability lab” in consultation with Cradle-to-Cradle, which PPR says will foster a new approach to product and business development.These two initiatives will cost 10 million euro a year, PPR said.

Last year the company unveiled its “clever little bag” packaging, which it says will help reduce cardboard use by 65 percent.   Source

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Columbia University to Host City's Green Tech Hub

Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Thursday an initiative he says will unite all the forces needed to get the city's buildings on a greener path quickly.

The NYC Urban Technology Innovation Center (UTIC) at Columbia University will connect colleges that develop green technologies with the companies that use those technologies in their products and services. These companies will, in turn, connect with real estate developers and building owners.

“It will help you to forecast where the industry is going, [and] where the technologies are going so that you can be sure you are getting out ahead of the curve, rather than having to react, which is what really up to now most building owners have had to do because information is just very difficult to gather and predictions are very hard to make,” said Seth Pinsky, president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation(EDC).

Though the center is located on the Columbia University campus, it is a broad academic collaboration. Other institutions, such as the City University of New York (CUNY), and New York University (NYU) will also contribute resources and data.

The announcement of this initiative comes a day after the mayor's State of the City address, in which he promised to promote environmental sustainability throughout the city to create green jobs and save money on energy. However much money this initiative will save in the long run, it will take an initial investment. Read Full Story

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Off the Grid and into the Dream

 Though a green lifestyle for Minot residents Norm and Louann Gauthier was certainly fundamental, the decision to live off the grid, or without dependence on conventional power sources, was based just as much on Norm’s past achievements and strong instincts about how things work.
How it works

Solar panels capture the sun’s energy;

Energy is channeled through underground cables, through a circuit breaker and into a regulator;

Regulator decides where power is going — either to an inverter (if batteries are fully charged), which will change the 24 volts of power to 120 volts of standard household current for immediate use, or into the battery bank for storage;

If sun is unavailable, the inverter will start drawing from the batteries until the next time it can draw directly from the solar panels.

Building his first house at the age of 19 with no previous experience, Norm, 45, who is director of maintenance and transportation for Clover Health Care in Auburn, had begun experimenting with solar power even earlier at the age of 13 or 14. Using it to power light bulbs, radios, fans and just about anything else he could find at the time, the original solar panel is still in his possession, according to wife, Louann, 42.

“I can’t figure him out,” Louann said of her husband’s abilities. “He looks at something, he can build it, and he can build it better than the original. He just works it out,” she affirmed, identifying a tiny solar panel outside their home that Norm developed to operate the invisible fence for dogs Kia and Zeus.

Married in 1998 and residing in another part of Minot, the couple initially spent vacation time at a tiny log cabin Norm had built in the woods near Skowhegan. “I set that up solar, and we’d go up on weekends,” he said, “but it was very small-scale solar.”

In 2004-2005, when the time came to purchase the 19 acres of land on which they currently live off Marston Hill Road, Norm said they learned it would have cost $17,000 to run cable and bring electricity from Central Maine Power down their 1,000-foot drive, precipitating the decision to invest in green energy instead. “We gave ourselves two years to try it,” Louann said, “and I wouldn’t go back.”

A monitor runs through it

Surveying the interior of the Gauthiers' 1,400-square-foot log home, one is hard-pressed to find what may be considered intrusive elements of an alternative power lifestyle. (Visions of “Living with Ed” on HGTV, with giant arrays of bars, barrels, tubes and gauges come to mind, but they are not evident here).

With a traditional dishwasher, microwave, refrigerator, freezer, washing machine, multiple TVs (connected to satellite), VCR, DVD player and computer, the only obvious suggestion of alternative "power" is a wood stove the Gauthiers prefer for heat. Besides that, on the main living level a small, nondescript box with digital display (almost resembling a burglar alarm system) on a wall opposite the kitchen table indicates how fully the home’s batteries, which are powered by solar panels, are charged.

“If you look at the monitor now, it says 24.5, which means I’m full – I’m overcharged,” Norm said, noting he had .5 volts more than he needed. If a spate of bad weather blocks sunlight, and the solar panels outside his home cannot collect it, with the system dipping below 22 volts, it will shut itself off in order not to hurt itself, he explained. That said, he added that anyone who employs solar power has a backup generator (his is actually fueled by its own solar panel), and he can program his system to automatically start the generator, though he chooses not to.

“I like to be able to hear it because things can always go wrong, and I don’t want it running if I’m not home,” Norm said, noting that by design the computer wants to keep the batteries full at all times. Without human intervention, it will work to achieve that.

“But if the news says it’s going to be sunny again all day tomorrow, I can wait a day to charge the batteries, but the computer doesn’t know that,” Norm explained, reinforcing why he eschews an automatic connection to the generator. If batteries are low and the choice is made to wait, doing laundry or running the dishwasher are usually put off until the batteries are full again.

Sky-scraping sun catcher

Building their log home together, the Gauthiers sited it to repel the summer sun’s heat with a steeply angled roof and a porch, with a southern exposure, that acts as a first line of defense and deflects heat from the home. Walls are 6-inch-thick pine, and insulation throughout the structure has a high R-value (a measure of energy efficiency), which helps keep it warmer in winter and cooler in summer.

“One of the drawbacks for solar power here is the fact that we live at the bottom of a deep hole here in what is called Death Valley,” Norm said. Poised initially to build along the top tier of their land, the couple elected instead to live alongside Lapham Brook, which traverses the property, and enjoy its beautiful vistas.

In summer the sun is high and plentiful, but in winter months it barely skims the tops of the trees that crest the property, and many days are devoid of sunlight altogether, making it a challenge to collect necessary solar power. So instead of conventionally placing solar panels on his roof, which wasn’t quite high enough, Norm built a 27-foot pole upon which he secured eight 175-watt, 24-volt solar panels.

Using his tractor to dig so he could run wires underground from the solar panels, the wires enter a circuit breaker through a basement wall. At that point, captured energy goes into a regulator, which decides whether to channel it directly to an inverter (which Norm calls “the brains of the system” and which converts the 24 volts up to a standard house current of 120 volts for immediate household use) or send it into a massive bank of 12 batteries at 350 amps/six volts apiece for storage. If the batteries are fully charged and the inverter is in play, the house runs directly off the sun.

The couple purchased a used solar-power system when the house was first being built, but its inverter failed within the first year. Through trial and error, the Gauthiers learned it was too small to support a home of their size. Nevertheless, the old system worked to power the tools the couple used to build their house, with the exception of a compressor, and the new system now powers all of the tools in Norm's garage workshop including welders, table saw, skill saw, chop saw and the compressor.

Charged by the sun, not CMP

Following an initial undisclosed equipment investment (Norm would only say it was less than the $17,000 CMP would have required, but largely because he did it all himself), the couple has no utility bills except for propane, which powers their stove, the occasional use of a gas clothes dryer and on-demand water heater. Inclement weather does not signal a possible power failure, which only happens if a component malfunctions.

“It’s happened once in five years,” Norm said, “when the first inverter died.” With maintenance virtually nonexistent except for keeping the water level up in the batteries every few months, and the expense of replacing the batteries every decade or so, the Gauthiers advocate their way of life — with the admonition that it’s not for everyone.

“If you live with solar power, you have to pay attention,” Norm said. “You have to know what the weather’s going to be the next day, glance at your power levels and maybe put off laundry or the dishwasher.”

Louann also mentioned the power strips, which the couple turns off as often as possible, though the TV is affected.

“Every time we want to watch TV, we have to turn on the outlet strip switch and wait three or four minutes for it to boot up,” Norm said. “Most people don’t want to do that, but if you get into a routine and remember to do it when you come home from work so it’s ready for you at night, it’s easy, and at least you haven’t been running it — wasting power (known as a ghost loads) — for 24 hours.”

Ghost loads are the constant leeching of power from appliances left plugged in when not in use, especially smaller items such as microwaves (their clocks draw power), computers, radios, electric toothbrushes, rechargeable flashlights and cell phone chargers. “If you decide to live off-grid, you try to eliminate ghost power,” Norm explained, adding that he’d like to help others in the area understand the process and benefits and convert them to solar power.

Acknowledging they have a “bare minimum” system, Norm said if they upgraded again and doubled their number of solar panels and size of their battery bank, they’d not have to police their power usage to the extent they do — though they really don't mind. Also using solar power to operate Louann’s small beauty salon in the basement, alongside a bedroom suite for her daughter — aspiring pastry chef Ashton McIntosh, 21 — the Gauthiers say large system or small they will never return to conventional power.

"People can do this – they really can,” Louann said. “We’re careful. We live like everybody else should.”
source: Sun Journal

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Sunday, January 2, 2011

Israel, Eco Oasis

Israel, a small desert nation nestled in the heart of the Middle East, is providing a shining example of how environmental awareness, ecological innovation and sustainable development can blossom, even in an environment that can be harsh and unforgiving.

Despite being a tiny country with limited water and resources, Israelis are showing again and again their commitment to working with nature and developing technologies and setting standards that use resources sustainably and ecologically.

From the private sector to nonprofits to the government, there are inspiring projects underway in Israel in many arenas including sustainable building, recycling programs, water purification systems and ecological electricity production.

Developments such as the currently under-construction Eco Tower, which will be the first “green” office tower in Tel Aviv are setting the standard for sustainable building worldwide .

The eco office tower is being built under principles of using as much recycled and recyclable materials from sustainable sources as possible, utilizing solar power and water saving and recycling.

The tower will have a clearly marked separate plumbing system for recycled water that will be used to flush toilets as well as for watering the two gardens that will be an integral part of the green building design. This system alone is estimated to reduce water usage by 13,000 liters every day.

Infrared taps, humidity control and water-saving toilets are also being installed in the building to help reduce water consumption. With such a strong focus on water-saving, it is estimated that the tower will save over four million liters of water each year, when compared to equivalent office buildings in Israel.

An extensive array of photovoltaic panels will be installed on the roof of the office tower to supply the building’s electricity needs, with additional power potentially to be generated by wind turbines. To reduce the building’s electricity requirements, the tower has been designed with power-saving in mind.

Air conditioning use will be reduced due to windows being made from locally-produced insulated, recycled glass that allows almost two-thirds of natural light to pass through while reflecting more than a quarter of the sun’s heat – a vital consideration in the hot, dry climate of Israel. Read Full Story

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