1 Billion Pounds of E-Waste

Does your basement look like a high-tech salvage shop? The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that as much as three-quarters of the computers sold in the US are piled in garages and closets.

So, how do you dispose of your old computer properly? And, where does your computer go when you recycle it? Watch out! Your computer might show up on a Best Buy billboard.

Best Buy has begun a creative marketing campaign to announce its new recycling initiative. The company’s goal is to collect one billion pounds of e-waste over the next five years. The program will allow individuals to bring electronics, regardless of where they were purchased, to Best Buy stores. Consumers that trade-in their electronics can receive gift cards for future purchases. As a way to announce its easy recycling program, Best Buy has plastered a giant billboard in Times Square with old electronics.

According to the US EPA, about 1.9 million tons of hazardous e-waste ended up in US landfills in 2005, but most e-waste sadly ends up in Africa and Asia. Only 345,000 to 379,000 tons were recycled. Best Buy hopes that consumers will see it as a responsible retailer and therefore will prefer to shop in its stores. Frankly, it’s not just the retailers and manufacturers that need to be more responsible – it is all about consumers.

Lifestyle changes – how long do they stick?

Recently our outsourced CFO from Verge Advisors, Jonathan Iannacone (we highly recommend him and his company), asked me if any trace of the passion I experienced after reading Michael Pollan‘s The Omnivore’s Dilemma remains nearly a year later. If you’re interested in such things, here’s a somewhat long post for you. If you’re not… then this is a good place to stop reading!

Jonathan’s query:

Nicolas,

After hearing your glowing reviews of the book I decided to read The Omnivore’s Dilemma.  I must admit that it is an utterly fascinating and intellectually stimulating look at the food we eat (I am about 3/4 of the way through).  It is forcing me to look at how my family consumes food and how we can do things better. [Read more…]

Will cleantech clusters help? New England charges ahead

David Hochschild, VP of external relations at Solaria, in his acceptance speech for the Sierra Club‘s first Sierra Club San Francisco Chapter Trail-Blazer award, mentioned that in 2009 “Germany, a country with 1/3 the population of the United States, 40% less annual sunlight, installed six times more solar power than the United States.” He continues to note how we should be leading, not following, in this area.

Interestingly, Shawn Lesser, the president and founder of Atlanta-based Sustainable World Capital, writes in an article published on the CleanTech Group’s Web site that cleantech clusters are turning out to be a powerful means to promoting regional innovation and investment in clean technology. He rates the Top 10 such cleantech clusters, and includes the New England Clean Energy Council (NECEC) as #2, sandwiched between leader Austria Eco World Styria and #3 Finnish Cleantech Cluster. Knowing how much more committed European nations are to clean energy, we should be proud of NECEC being near the top of this list.

Interestingly a February 8 Ernst & Young press release places New England as the third leading region for cleantech venture capital investment in the US, at $283.7 million for 2009 and behind only Southern California and the San Francisco Bay area.

If we divided the US by region, would certain regions end up in worldwide leadership positions when it comes to investing in, developing and deploying clean(er) energy solutions? As a member of NECEC and other organizations working towards similar goals, we will do our part to make it happen!

Climate Change Update – Synthesis Report

For those of us who might like to get news as tweets, soundbites and 3-minute newspaper articles, this might be a long read at 36 pages. It’s the Synthesis Report from the international congress on climate change, called “Climate Change: Global Risks, Challenges and Decisions,” held in Copenhagen, 10-12 March 2009.

But when you consider that the report has 12 authors, 24 reviewers and over 100 references, it’s a short read: densely packed with relevant information to personal, business and political thinking for the years ahead. The report derives its information from 16 plenary talks given at the Congress as well as input from over 80 chairs and co-chairs of all 58 of the Congress’ parallel sessions.

The report will also serve as a useful primer for anyone interested in The United National Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to be held in Copenhagen in December 2009. If you’re interested in climate change and want some insight into its many facets and consequences (both current and predicted), don’t miss this read.

The Color Wheel Becomes Clean-tech

Color plays a major part in our lives – it influences our mood, style, and personality and brings value to our daily life. As a designer, I flip through color books hoping that someone might discover a new color. It won’t happen, but it’s fun to imagine.

Are white and black colors? This is highly debatable and depends on who you ask. A scientist might say, “Black is not a color as all colors are absorbed while white is a color as all colors are reflected.”

But is it possible that color could help global warming?

Energy Secretary Steven Chu said that global warming could be slowed by a low-tech idea that has nothing to do with coal plants or solar panels: white roofs. Chu said that a white roof “changes the reflectivity . . . of the Earth, so the sunlight comes in, it’s reflected back into space.”

Dark roofs absorb and hold more than 80% of solar energy, while white ones can reflect 75% of it away. The reflected light then escapes through the polluted atmosphere. Therefore, a building will remain cooler and save on energy costs (of course, in a cold climate, having a darker roof can lower heating costs). Take a look at the beautiful island of Mykonos in Greece, where every building is white.

Research from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California found that painting approximately 63% of the roofs white in 100 large, temperate climate cities would provide similar climate benefits to removing all the world’s cars from the road for 10 years.

There is much more to consider than the color of your roof when it comes to the issue of global warming. But, inspiration can come from anywhere. Maybe next year white will be the new green.

The Green Chemistry Narrative

Dr. John Warner begins his presentation with a description and photo of his 11-member family, the 35-cousins who lived within two miles of his childhood home, and his high-school band.

Dr. John Warner

Dr. John Warner

He then takes you through his nearly happenstance run-in with chemistry, and then his meteoric rise into academia and industry — breaking records for the numbers of papers he publishes in high-school, undergraduate and graduate school, and authoring over 100 patents.

Then he shows two photos of a little boy, his son, who passed away at the age of two. He asks you to imagine how he felt the night after his son’s funeral, as he wondered which of the thousands of substances he had handled might have caused the liver condition that killed his child. In all his years of training, of work and of unbridled academic and scientific success, from Princeton University to the the Polaroid Corporation, John Warner had never been required to take a course on toxicity.

Green Chemistry Book CoverI had the privilege to hear John Warner tell his story at a recent Renewable Energy Business Network event at Warner’s company, the Warner Babcock Institute. During the first part of the evening, [Read more…]

Sugar Cane Saves Trees

sugar1Over the past few years, our clients have joined us in producing printed materials on environmentally friendly paper, both because it’s the right thing to do and because our clients’ constituencies take note of what they are doing as individuals and businesses.

Obama’s inaugural invitation was printed on a FSC-certified paper called Nennah’s Classic Crest. Do you remember hearing in the past about the kind of paper the President chose for his invitation? (Though Neenah has provided the paper for the last three presidents’ inaugurations). Unfortunately, I don’t think anyone will be recycling this valuable keepsake — but then again, it’s not likely to end up in landfills either.

Queensland University of Technology researcher in Australia discovered a new way to make paper. It uses bagasse, the fibrous sugar cane waste from sugar production. The bagasse fiber is made into pulp for the production of paper, board, structural and packaging materials like tableware that fast food vendors can use. This “treeless” paper is 100% biodegradable and compostable, and it gives sugar cane producers another industry into which they can sell.

Technically, sugar cane was first used by the Egyptians for producing paper, but the process was lost when the technology of using wood fibers became widely adopted. With tree-made paper accounting for more than 90 percent of the world’s paper production, this valuable research is crucial. The use of sugar cane helps to preserve our forests and turns out to be cheaper than using wood. Not to mention the fact that using recycled paper also saves up to 64% of energy costs. Incidentally, many new energy companies are focusing on bagasse as an ideal material for biofuel.

Every time you make a paper selection, you have the power to help protect our environment.

Energy efficiency vs. production

The March 26 Wall Street Journal published an excellent piece on how electricity companies are rethinking power plant plans and providing an opening for renewables. The piece addresses how power plants are a huge consumer of water, accounting for nearly half of all water withdrawals in the US — much of which is returned to waterways with the loss of 2% to 3% (which is substantial — 1.6 to 1.7 trillion gallons of water per year). New technologies are helping power companies build plants that require far less water. The article mentions a power plant in Northern California with a cooling system that can “cut its water intake from 40,000 gallons a minute to 1.6 gallons.”

Such systems are part of what we at Hart-Boillot think of as the clean-tech supply chain, and are a critical part of moving to reduce consumption and the global human carbon footprint. Many pundits feel that even without developing alternative sources of energy, we have the technology and ability to make massive reductions in our usage — some claim that such reductions would preempt the need for alternative sources which by themselves are energy intensive to build and deploy.

Amory Lovins, head of the Rocky Mountain Institute and one of the most compelling speakers I have ever heard (clean, green or anything else), published this paper in 2005: Energy End-Use Efficiency. He starts with: “Increasing energy end-use efficiency—technologically providing more desired service per unit of delivered energy consumed—is generally the largest, least expensive, most benign, most quickly deployable, least visible, least understood, and most neglected way to provide energy services.”

Lovins distinguishes efficiency from conservation — efficiency meaning to do more with as much or less energy — and spends some time on how much economic benefit can be derived from efficiency gains.

Pieces like the Wall Street Journal article and the Lovins white paper remind us of the important role our clients play in the clean-tech supply chain. Devices such as Vicor’s power supplies and LEM’s wireless energy meters may not have the sex appeal of solar panels and wind turbines — yet they are critical to raising efficiency in numerous markets and delivering a cleaner, greener world.

Strategies for the Green Economy — the new Joel Makower book

I had the good fortune of seeing Joel Makower speak at a recent Renewable Energy Business Network event. He’s not only an excellent speaker, but an excellent writer. I have been reading his blog, Two Steps Forward, for a while — his simple style draws you in, but unlike many “activist” writers, Makower doesn’t shy away from complexity — presenting numerous sides of every issue in an even-handed manner.

Among the many gems in this book is the appendix, “The Ecological Roadmap — Earthjustice Findings on Environmental Values,” by Cara Pike. This is a MUST READ for green or clean-tech marketers. It presents the results of research into environmental worldviews, breaking the US population down into 10 separate categories and detailing their attributes and beliefs, along with suggestions for what and how to market to each category.

Here are three other gems that stuck with me from Makower’s book, Strategies for the Green Economy: Opportunities and Challenges in the New World of Business.

  • No green deed goes unpunished: Makower gives several examples of organizations that are getting green but cannot publicize their good deeds because doing so would shed light on more significant problems, thus inciting previously untapped criticism from environmental activist groups. This can lead to not talking about environmental efforts, called “greenmuting” by McDonald’s Bob Langert.
  • The Greenwasher in all of us:” Quoting directly, “While it’s generally a good thing to maintain high standards for companies seeking to claim environmental leadership, I can’t help but ponder the hypocrisy of it all — how much more we expect of companies than of ourselves.” Makower goes on to discuss how his audiences are often railing against businesses but rarely implementing greener practices in their own lives.
  • A Tale of Two Circles: This is the title of one of the book’s chapters, which addresses “how the public and companies can focus on a set of environmental issues or aspects of corproate operations that may not necessarily have the biggest environmental impact. And it offers a warning to companies that have been telling the wrong story when the public’s focus changes.” Makower goes on to show how public discourse focuses on the amount of waste that ends up in our municipal landfills. What we don’t talk about is the industrial/commercial/agricultural waste. As the author notes, “It’s only a matter of time before […] the public recognizes that for every pound of trash that ends up in municapl landfills, at least 65 more pounds are created upstream by industrial processes — and that a lot of this waste is far more dangerous to environmental and human health than our newspapers and grass clippings.”

Pointing out these few important pieces of Makower’s work does not do justice to a book that reads beautifully and is literally filled with facts and figures that will make you think, act, and potentially adjust your business and marketing strategies.

Composting — reducing greenwaste for a greener world and a greener thumb

The average household discards between one and two pounds of organic waste each day. For the city of New York, that adds up to over one million pounds per year. New York has its own compost project, and as does San Francisco, and even Los Angeles is starting a pilot table-scrap composting program.

Click here to see what composting programs might be available in your region.

The EPA notes that composting could reduce waste going into dumps by 700 pounds per year per household. If that’s not convincing enough, the EPA also lists the following benefits of composting:

  • Reduce local garbage disposal costs
  • Conserve valuable landfill space
  • Reduce air emissions from the incinerator plants that burn garbage
  • Produce a nutrient-rich additive for soil.

We started composting this year. Here are some tips we learned the hard way:

  • If you’re in an area with animals roaming (foxes, bears, raccoons, skunks), do not compost meat products and oils. They will attract animals more than your other organic waste.
  • If your compost begins to smell nasty, use cut grass and leaves in it to accelerate the breakdown of organic matter. You can also cut larger items into smaller pieces (corn cobs, watermelon rinds, grapefruit skins) to help them break down. Ideally, your compost will give off a rich smell that shouldn’t be offensive.
  • Get two compost bins or tumblers — we use these recycled pickling barrels made by a company in Vermont, Jack’s Composters and Rain Barrels. When one seems a bit full, we let the compost mature and use the other barrel.

Some benefits we’ve experienced: our kitchen garbage smells far less than it used to,and we change it less often (organic waste is what generally decomposes and stinks first); we have amazing, rich compost to use in potting plants or for growing vegetables in the summer; we feel better about bringing less garbage to the dump; when it’s time to finally give up on that rotting fruit or head of lettuce, it feels better to recycle it in the compost than to throw it in the trash.

If you get into composting and want to learn more, try these useful sites: