Environmental concern – Not for everyone… yet.

I recently read an article in the Seattle Times about arctic sea ice melting at unprecedented rates and Russia’s comment about the resulting new shipping lanes. The good news: this apparently can cut the the journey for some shipping between Europe, Asia and America by 50%. The bad news: rapidly melting arctic ice already affects global climate and coastal communities.

Courtesy of National Snow and Ice Data Center, nsidc.org

I looked for other commentary in the Seattle Times, searching for an “environment” or “green” section of the paper. But there was none. Many of the media sources I use have dedicated sections for environmental/green news. These include The New York Times (usually under Science), The Washington Post (under Energy & Environment), The Los Angeles Times (under Science & Environment), The San Jose Mercury News (under Science & Environment) UK’s The Guardian (under Environment), France’s Le Monde (under Planete) and The Times of India (under Environment).

I follow news from other worldwide outlets that seem to have no section dedicated to the environment, and rarely to science. These include Russian news outlets Pravda, Moscow Times and St. Petersburg Times, Sweden’s The Local, Germany’s The Local, Brazil’s Rio Times, Argentina’s Buenos Aires Herald, China’s China Daily, Shanghai DailyPeople’s Daily and , Hong Kong’s The Standard, Singapore’s The Straits Times and The New Paper, AsiaOne, and of course Al Jazeera.

Does this evidence suggest only the richest audiences care about the environment? Not really. Plenty of outlets here in the US haven’t considered the “environment” worthy of its own section – for instance The Houston Chronicle and Chicago Tribune. And those regions certainly don’t lack wealth.

My conclusion regards the assumptions we often make. As we participate in the US efforts to catch up to Germany and other progressive nations in developing clean technology and preserving our environment, we should not assume that all people in all places share our concerns or ambitions. Such assumptions are tantamount to zealotry – comparable to people of faith who assume that their faith is the only valid one, and think less of those who don’t share it (or even worse, assume some horrible fate awaits non-believers, such as going to Hell).

Instead we should acknowledge that even as ice-cap melting sends chills of fear up our spines, it can be interpreted as good news by others. Even as environmental degradation and dependence on foreign oil keeps us up at night, our fellow Americans (and global citizens) have many other concerns that take precedence.

Bridging the gap remains our mission, not by talking ever more loudly to dominate the conversation, but by respectfully and repeatedly stating the case, and encouraging change where we can. To start, I suggest a call and a note to any news outlet you enjoy, saying that you would be more likely to return for news if the outlet offered pages or sections dedicated to the environment or clean technology.

By the way, if you currently have a favorite mainstream media outlet that covers environmental or clean-technology news, please let me know.

From Shoe Laces to Clean Energy. Small Adjustment Yield Big Results

I watched Terry Moore’s 3-minute Ted Talk about how to tie your shoe laces, and was impressed by how a small change in tying shoe laces made a big change in Mr. Moore’s life.

Ahhh, the frustration!

From now on, it will also make a big change in mine, which I can quantify: Let’s suppose it takes me 20 seconds to re-tie both shoe laces, once per day (I’m slow), and that I will live the average American white male life expectancy of 75.7 years (2006 stats). In that case, Terry Moore saved me a little more than 60 hours between now and the end of my life. I’m grateful for each of those hours.

Ted Talks, YouTube, and numerous media and social media platforms allow us to spread knowledge and progress at unprecedented speeds. 150 years ago, the shoe-lace secret may only have helped one family or one village for decades before spreading to neighboring towns or, more likely, fading from common memory after a blight or epidemic.

As Gary Vaynerchuk notes in his book, The Thank You Economy,  “According to Facebook, as of 2010, the average Facebook user has 130 friends, and the average Twitter account holder has 300 followers, which in total add up to a potential 7,740 people who suddenly have [access to the same information].” If that were my network and all of them were roughly my age, we could count on 19,350 days, or 53 additional years added to humanity’s opportunity to do something other than tie shoe laces. And that’s just based on one average person’s network.

What a gift from Terry Moore to all those who eschew Velcro for old-fashioned laces! More importantly, what a boon for those who wish to tackle even bigger problems, and among the biggest ones, global warming and the need for clean energy.
Take a recent New York Times article about Chicago’s preparations for warmer climate and greater precipitation. The article shows how relatively small changes, such as paving streets with  permeable materials and changing the kinds of trees the city plants, will have enormous impact, saving millions of dollars and potentially many lives. Through the Times’ website, blog posts, tweets, re-tweets and regular old print, the article will reach millions — including city planners in other regions who, a century ago, would probably not have heard about The Windy City’s deployment of new technologies and methods to deal with a commonly-faced challenge.

Plan B 3.0, which I recommend to everyone

In Lester Brown’s Plan B books, the author notes how many small changes can have a huge impact. Lester Brown runs the Earth Policy Institute, whose short paper on Cutting Carbon Emissions 80% by 2020 offers numerous examples of seemingly small changes which, when multiplied, have enormous impact. For instance, “The energy saved by replacing one conventional incandescent 100-watt bulb with a CFL over its lifetime is enough to drive a Toyota Prius hybrid from New York to San Francisco. If everyone around the world made the switch and turned to high-efficiency home, office, industrial, and street lighting, total world electricity use would fall by 12 percent, equivalent to the output of 705 coal-fired power plants.”

This is the power of scale. With social media, that power has shifted from a few global corporations with the ability to market to millions of people, to millions of people with the ability to reach and influence billions.

In a compressed time-frame, thousands of  individuals, including me, will save years by changing one small facet of how they tie their shoes. If we can change the way we tie our shoes, it’s not such a stretch to think we can change our light bulbs, our driving habits, our thermostat settings, and our buying habits to adopt clean-technology solutions at unprecedented rates.

To those who dwell in the past where change took centuries or decades, the 350 ppm (of carbon dioxide) goal  that Bill McKibben, Al Gore and so many others are urging the world to reach, might seem impossible. It’s easy to understand why it would, when you consider the monumental work it will take to get there. But when you consider the power of today’s social networks, such a goal becomes not only possible but realistic. Today, thanks to tying my shoes a little more effectively, I have a few more hours to work on it.

The Potential of Oceans

We are lucky to work with an increasing number of renewable energy and clean-technology companies. The most recent is Ocean Thermal Energy Corporation, a Pennsylvania-based pioneer building Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) systems, Seawater District Cooling (SDC), and fresh water production solutions.

Ocean Thermal Energy Corporation

OTE Corporation solves challenges created by the world’s dependence on oil. Tapping into nature, OTE Corporation is relying on the world’s oceans to produce clean energy, pure drinking water, and numerous other benefits including aquaculture (and hence economic development). In our work, we not only help to creatively solve problems for OTE Corporation, but indirectly help to bring clean drinking water and clean energy solutions to communities that desperately need it.

In his recent budget speech, President Obama committed to continue investing in job creation and clean energy technology despite aggressive cost-cutting plans. OTE Corporation’s leadership, culture and technology are among those rising to meet pressing global energy challenges, to succeed financially and to offer significant humanitarian benefits. We at HB get the privilege of leveraging the power of marketing to help OTE Corp. leverage the power of oceans.

Clean-Tech Post-It Note

As a fan of design and sustainability, I keep a post-it note on my daily planner of interesting product designs that help reduce impact on the environment. The list has recently begun to tear and is now in three pieces… so there’s no better time to share these interesting tid-bits before my post-it needs to be recycled:

  • Levi’s Green Jeans and Waterless Jeans: Not only is the fabric organic, but so are the other components. In fact, the entire garment-making process is organic.
  • Scott Toilet Paper: The company announces the first tubeless toilet paper role – when it’s gone, it’s gone. Read more.
  • Kindvines: An Arizona wine brand that uses a 100% reusable glass bottle. Read more.
  • Method Household Cleaners: A product that’s cool design form meets function. Read more.
  • Burt’s Bees: A company that speaks the truth – natural products that are actually natural. Read more.
  • Tau Speakers: If you think that waste paper cannot be recycled into electrical devices, then you are in for a surprise. Read more.

We are always posting cool new designs on Twitter. Check it out and share with us.

Traveling Green – Behavior Might Trump Destination

I sleep in a hotel at least two nights each week. To get to my regular hotel, I drive two hours plus, and roughly once each month I travel to more distant national and international destinations.

My room, two nights per week

Despite this carbon-intensive lifestyle, I make efforts to minimize my impact. Sadly, I’m bucking the trend, according to two Virginia Tech students whose study, “Guests’ green habits slip during hotel stays”, notes that “consumers who engage in environmentally friendly behavior at home behave differently when staying at a hotel.”

Aside from driving a five-year-old Toyota Prius, I have developed numerous hotel habits that help minimize my impact. A brief search on “green traveling” revealed no obvious online resource to point to — most green travel tips are focused not on the traveler, but on the destinations. Here are a few tips for greening up your travel, whether your destination is green or not. I make a practice of each of these, and none of them makes traveling any more difficult. [Read more…]

New Office + Green Choices

Within the past year, we’ve been pushing the limits of our current space, squeezing more and more team members into a small footprint. Naturally, we started the search for a new office.

We’re days away from moving into our new space at 134 Rumford Avenue in Newton. This is the first space where we’re designing a custom build-out – a huge step for the company. As we are a creative and public relations firm, we needed the space to be functional, yet unique and full of character. Much of this is achieved through the exposed ceiling and beams, our flooring selections, high-sheen concrete, funky carpeting in work areas, and rubber flooring in the conference room. We’re proud to be using rubber made from 100% recycled tires that normally would be thrown away.

Keep an eye out for photos revealing the new space scheduled to be completed next month.

Rethinking Public Spaces

I recently took a trip to New York City to visit family. The highlight was a visit to Lincoln Center and the redesign of its public space (which I can proudly say that my brother-in-law, who works for FXFOWLE, helped architect!).

The redesign creates a direct connection to the city by creatively incorporating green space around the many buildings that comprise Lincoln Center.

The Center’s main public space, Hearst Plaza, consists of a green roof atop a restaurant, a reflecting pool featuring a sculpture by Henry Moore, and a tree-filled grove. The rooftop begins at terrace level, where patrons can use it as recreation space and climb upward towards the city skyscrapers.

Perhaps the most striking part of the redesign was the number of details that had to be carefully planned. For instance,

Trees lifted over the buildings by cranes

  • The trees and sculpture were moved via a crane OVER Lincoln Center because of the city location. This meant measurements had to be perfect for their placement.
  • A honeycomb-like web stretches over the green roof to stabilize the soil until roots are established.
  • Over 3,000 species of grass were considered for  resiliency and ability to retain a lush green color during the winter, and the London Plane species of tree was chosen because of its ability to withstand harsh weather and disease.
  • The benches were designed to be minimally invasive to the waterproofing system. Due to the complexity, a specific concrete from Quebec was used.

One simple mistake can cause a series of events that negatively impact the bottom line, time-frame, and ultimately, the outcome and public perception.

Details are often taken for granted. But details tell the design’s story and help to achieve excellence.

You Are Dumb

We enjoyed this simple yet brilliant video as part of Smart Car‘s “Against Dumb” campaign. The sharp animation and smart script paint a picture of society’s need to consume.

At HB, we strive to work with our clean-tech clients in order to craft strategies and messages that move away from consumption, and towards a lifestyle of reduction and necessity.

FORE!-ward Thinking

As a golf enthusiast, I’ve always been intrigued with the unrealistic thought of designing my own course. Everyone’s second-favorite Justin (Timberlake) has done exactly that – and put Mirimichi on the map as the most eco-friendly course in the world.

Purchasing his hometown course in Memphis for less than $1 million, Timberlake and his family have put over $20 million back into the property. Using sustainable strategies, Timberlake has turned a struggling golf course into an incredible facility, becoming the first course in the country to attain Audubon Classic Sanctuary certification, amongst other prestigious achievements as a result of the course’s use of natural resources, recycled energy, and friendly chemicals.

Fulfilling your creativity through design without infringing upon Mother Nature? It’s simply par for the course at Mirimichi.

Kites: More than a Child's Toy

Did you ever imagine a kite, the toy you played with as a child, might be a source of energy? My memory of a kite as a child was trying to get the kite to remain in the air for at least 30 seconds before it came crashing to the ground.

Some experts estimate that the total wind energy available for harvest is significantly greater than the current amount of energy required by everyone in the world. The number becomes much greater if you include high altitude wind energy, which is far beyond the reach of wind turbines, which have a reach of about 300 feet. The higher reach, the more wind that is present, which means more power. Researchers are looking at ways to trap this wind energy.

How about kites as a way to capture this energy? Researchers are working on creating kite turbines that create surprising amounts of clean, renewable energy. Nothing definitive yet, but a fascinating — and hopeful — idea.

Learn more by checking out this video.