Sunday, May 31, 2009

But I Recycle!!!

I think that is every one's entrance and largest justification in the green cycle. I RECYCLE DAMMIT!!

Well yes and no. Right now with the downturn a lot of recyclable materials are simply going overseas and then promptly into landfills.

My favorite story was at the EcoTuesday/Greendrinks/Sustainable/Meetup/Greenminds what-have-you event and the host said, "I am reducing my carbon footprint and I no longer travel." Okay then... meanwhile out came his most recent toy the IPhone, hooked to his laptop, which I am sure was once another version only older by say two years and so on. Yes you may be not traveling but your carbon footprint is still a big ole size 13.

My biggest pet peeve is because we are so disposable with regards to personal electronics, one by design, the other by marketing, we think we are "recycling" these items by giving them to the local E-Charity. Well like your car you thought was donated was actually sent to an demolishing company for funds, your Ipod Nano is being sent to China and being dismantled by a charming child in less than hygienic and safe circumstances.

Attached is an article from the NY Times discussing the need to change legislation. I do participate in Electronic recycling and the first question I asked was where does this go and they brought out, no, not an adorable Chinese kid but a large man named Joe. He was their equivalent of a sweat shop employee. So in the meantime until this is mandated, do your part and ask to meet "Joe."

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Few Rules for Recycling Electronics

By TOM ZELLER Jr.
Published: May 31, 2009

NEW YORK — Jeffrey L. Nixon, the owner of an electronics-recycling company called EarthECycle, says he has been unfairly painted as a purveyor of electronic waste to developing nations already choking on the rich world’s discarded — and toxic — gadgetry.

Among other sorts of equipment reclamation, Mr. Nixon’s company, based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, offers an attractive fund-raising opportunity for charities. In return for the charities’ sponsoring and orchestrating of electronics recycling events in their local communities, during which consumers can drop off their old computers, keyboards, printers and the like, EarthECycle not only hauls away the equipment, it promises to pay cash — often in the tens of thousands of dollars, depending on how much equipment is collected — to the charitable organizers.

He can do this, Mr. Nixon said, because he is able to resell the equipment — for reuse, repair or recycling of parts — on a bustling global market.

“Everybody wins all around,” Mr. Nixon told me in a phone call Friday.

Not everyone agrees. In a scathing report published early last week, the Basel Action Network, or BAN, an advocacy group based in Seattle that seeks to curb the exporting of electronic waste from the United States, argued that EarthECycle — and companies like it — falsely represent themselves as recyclers.

“The public all along is led to thinking they are doing a good deed, and that their old equipment is getting recycled,” the BAN report stated.

“The reality,” the report continued, “is that this is a scam.”

Whether or not that’s true is an open question. BAN activists did quietly monitor two recent EarthECycle collection events in Western Pennsylvania, sponsored by two local humane societies. The group reported having observed computer equipment being hauled first to two warehouses and, some days later, having been loaded into seven oceangoing containers.

Those were later determined to be headed for ports in China and South Africa.

But the details — and the legality of it all — get tangled after that. Mr. Nixon emphatically denies doing anything wrong, insisting that he carefully scrutinizes buyers to make sure they are licensed and reputable. He also argues that groups like BAN are trying to corner the recycling market for their own network of accredited vendors.

Activists at BAN say that last charge is ludicrous and argue that Mr. Nixon’s company falsely portrays itself as a recycler, when in reality it simply passes the unexamined material downstream to the highest bidder.

Proper processing of discarded electronic equipment, they add — which can contain any number of toxic materials — could not be achieved within a business model that not only hauls away discarded electronics free but also pays organizations for the privilege.

BAN also suggests that Mr. Nixon’s shipments might have run afoul of local and international guidelines binding the recipient nations, as well as rules, adopted two years ago by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, governing the international movement of cathode-ray tubes — found in many old monitors and television sets.

China, the group noted, turned back Mr. Nixon’s shipments when notified that they were on their way.

For his part, Mr. Nixon says that he is squared away with the E.P.A. and that he recalled the China shipments himself upon learning independently that his buyer might not be as reputable as he had thought.

He also said he wished BAN had approached him to discuss its concerns before issuing its report.

“If somebody is outright grossly negligent, then you pull their pants down, bend them over and give them a spanking,” Mr. Nixon said. “But you don’t bring them out to the firing line for what might be only a potential offense.”

Whatever its specifics, the case is emblematic of a larger and oft-lamented truth attending the endless tide of consumer electronics coursing through the American waste stream — and one that works in favor, at least for the moment, of American brokers like Mr. Nixon: There really are precious few rules to break.

As noted in a report from the Government Accountability Office for the House Foreign Affairs Committee last August, the United States remains notoriously lax in its regulation of electronics waste and the business of shipping it overseas. “U.S. hazardous waste regulations have not deterred exports of potentially hazardous used electronics,” the report concluded.

Indeed, in what has become a well-documented problem, the stuff often ends up in developing countries where labor is cheap, and eager, underground economies subsist on harvesting whatever might be of value from the snarl of plastic, glass and metal.

Over the past several years, numerous documentary films and news reports have described the toxic ecosystems that develop as a result, where acrid plumes of smoke rise from circuit-board smelting pits, and children bustle amid a soup of dioxins and mercury leaking from mountains of smoldering electronic trash.

The Basel Convention, an international treaty drawn up in the late 1980s at the dawn of the e-waste boom and ultimately ratified by 169 nations, was designed to curb the international trade in electronics waste. A later amendment — signed by considerably fewer nations — restricted the movement of hazardous electronics waste from rich countries to poor ones.

Several countries — including those in the European Union — have incorporated the tenets of the Basel Convention and its amendment into national law.

The United States, along with Haiti and Afghanistan, have thus far not ratified the Basel Convention.

“The ultimate solution would be to pass a really good federal bill that would require that all recyclers in the U.S. meet very high standards,” said Sarah Westervelt, the e-waste project coordinator at BAN, “and that the U.S. ratify the Basel Convention and its amendment.”

A federal e-waste bill, in fact, was put forward in Congress in May, but environmental advocates have lambasted an exception in the draft for equipment being shipped for “repair or refurbishment.” Such a loophole, they say, gives the green light to brokers like Mr. Nixon and creates a legal foundation for the very sort of murky, difficult-to-follow trafficking that feeds toxic slums in developing nations.

“This is now an industry-supported bill, but not one that has any support from the environmental community,” said Barbara Kyle, the national coordinator of the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, an advocacy group based in San Francisco that promotes environmentally conscious design and responsible recycling in the electronics industry. “It will not actually stop the kinds of exports that need to be stopped,” Ms. Kyle said. “It will simply relabel them as exports for refurbishment.”

In the absence of legislation, some electronics makers are formalizing restrictions of their own. Last month, Dell, the computer giant, won accolades from environmental advocates for formally banning the exporting of nonfunctioning equipment collected by its recycling programs.

Still, Dell’s pledge notwithstanding, the American e-waste export market remains largely open for business — and as far as Mr. Nixon is concerned, that is a good thing.

He said he supports the spirit of groups like BAN and the Basel Convention but that in their specifics, they throttle a lucrative market that brings work and useful electronics to people that might not otherwise have access.

The solution, he says, is to monitor more closely foreign companies that purchase and move the equipment downstream, to ensure that it is being handled properly. “We should maintain our moral and legal prowess,” Mr. Nixon said, “but we shouldn’t limit our ability to do world trade.”

Its the People, Damn it!

I have written of late of the way the most valuable resource, people, have been treated of late. From layoffs, to massive corruption, to age and sex and race discrimination and to economic injustice, I feel its an issue that is truly the most essential in the entire Sustainability discussion.

Today begins the Sustainable Brands conference. Obviously I am not there, I simply see no need to tout my philosophy or listen to others wax on about how we must do more to save the Environment, build Corporate Ethics, blah blah blah. You are preaching to the choir here. And while I would love a trip to Monterrey I see no value in spending that kind of green when there is little for me to gain, financially or intellectually, regarding the topic. As I have said in the past I really hate Networking for Network's sake. There is a purpose and that is to build business, friends I have, so unless there is a quid pro quo, no I am not interested in just what I can do for you. So remember that as well when partaking in this. If you cannot help them nor they you than you are wasting every one's times. And sadly I have come to realize that Pay it Forward, that was just a movie, and a bad movie at that.

And as I have also said, I am pretty direct, to the point and I like to get to business. I wrote about the article in Fast Company with regards to hiring and once again I see another article about how companies arrogance when it comes to simply maintain communication with applicants - good or bad - is fairly atrocious. I want to reiterate what the article says.. THEY ARE CUSTOMERS TOO!

If we are truly to consider how we are sustainable in business its by treating everyone with the most simple and oldest of business rules - The Golden One. Treat others how you wish to be treated.

I have always been polite to anyone seeking work from me and I have also said that when you do ask for work or network be prepared that a rejection is possible but its still your company and name and that individual may be your customer or know of one in the future. I reach out and when I don't get returned phone calls or my time is wasted that tells me a lot about them. And when the time comes to do business with them I will remember that. Yes I hate networking and I get more requests than legitimate referrals in exchange, so I avoid it. I do that because I know that I will be less inclined to maintain my professional demeanor and that could damage my business. One bad day can end up to be many.

You have one name and when someone comes to you for employment, regardless of their experience, your needs, etc BE POLITE, BE HONEST and more importantly GET BACK TO THEM. All communication needs to be immediate and to the point. We are so afraid of rejection and/or litigation we say nothing rather that something. Of the MANY businesses I interviewed with, I can say now to others that well I met them and they were hideous, I cannot recommend them. I can think of right now two local contracting companies that even based on my limited contact with them prohibits me from every doing business with them on any level. That is how significant my encounters were with them. Not a great way to maintain good customer relations. And I keep that in mind when solicited from others as well. You only have one name and if you ruin that you ruin not only your reputation but could ruin your business as well.

Here is the article which for both those in the hot seat and out of it may take notice of what is good practice when it comes to communicating with those looking for work.

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Preoccupations
Be Nice to Job Seekers. (They’re Shoppers, Too.)


By JON PICOULT
Published: May 30, 2009

IN an environment of rapidly rising unemployment, scores of managers and executives have had doctor-as-patient, “aha” moments, as they find themselves among the millions of American workers looking for new jobs.

Now on the other side of the hiring table, these people are seeing for themselves how job candidates are often treated during the recruiting process. And it’s not a pretty picture.

Companies’ interaction with job candidates is often devoid of basic professional courtesies that were routinely accorded to these managers and executives in their previous roles: prompt responses to phone calls and e-mail, personalized attention and frequent “keep in the loop” communications. Indeed, as these former executives soon discover, the rules of engagement in the recruiting arena are quite different from those they were accustomed to in the corner office.

In this new world, candidates’ correspondence to companies is rarely acknowledged. Calls are seldom returned. Status updates are not routinely provided. Rejection decisions are not consistently communicated. As I’ve heard many a job seeker describe it, this is the “black hole” into which résumés, inquiries, follow-up calls and any other types of communication are lobbed.

These discourtesies are not reserved only for the masses of “poor fit” candidates. They even manifest themselves in interaction with job finalists — people you’d think a company would want to woo and impress.

In their defense, human resource departments receive lots of inquiries from job seekers. It’s hard to pay personal attention to each and every one — though with most job applications now submitted or recorded electronically, companies can and should be more communicative using automated means.

But in the whirlwind of daily activity, a business can lose sight that there are real people behind all those résumés. And how the company treats those people, well before any of them become employees, says a lot about it, its brand and its values.

In the current labor market, where there is a glut of supply, perhaps some companies think they have the upper hand and can afford to skimp on the niceties. They are mistaken, though, because every economic cycle eventually turns, and there is always competition for the best talent, regardless of economic conditions.

It’s for this reason that human-resources professionals and company leaders need to treat job candidates like customers. After all, these candidates are buying a “product”: a new company, a new role, a promise of career fulfillment and advancement.

A Stanford Business School case study found that some companies get this concept and capitalize on it. Southwest Airlines, for one, recognizes that employment candidates are not only career customers — but that they could also be, or become, customers of the airline.

Southwest’s core principles of respect permeate its recruiting, where there is a focus on making sure that no applicant feels inferior or rejected. Many Southwest job applicants have a better experience being rejected by Southwest than they have being hired by other companies. As a result, Southwest gets the best people, and it shows in its superior financial results.

Another example comes from the food industry, where I recently heard a story about a manager from Nabisco who was attending a human-resources industry conference. When he declared that his company responded to every résumé it received — solicited and unsolicited — he was met with incredulous stares from his peers.

“Why respond to every résumé when that’s clearly not necessary?” someone asked.

The Nabisco manager smiled and replied, “ Because — everyone eats cookies."

Companies reveal their true colors during the recruiting and selection process. If an organization pays only lip service to principles like respect, kindness and service excellence — that will become apparent through the process and evident to job candidates.

The experience that a company delivers to prospective employees will undoubtedly influence their perceptions of the company, both as an employer and as a business they might consider patronizing.

Companies have much to gain — in talent, in positive word of mouth and in basic corporate responsibility — by bringing greater civility to their recruiting. Few, though, are stepping up to the plate.

So for all you job seekers out there, the next time you hear nothing after contacting a potential employer, don’t take personal offense — that’s how most companies operate. And when you walk out of an interview knowing that you nailed it, but then never hear from the company again — don’t theorize about whether you had toilet paper stuck to your shoe or a stain on your shirt. It is, unfortunately, par for the course.

Let’s hope that some basic human courtesy and kindness find their way back into recruiting. And, of course, when those of you who are out of work do land that next job, don’t forget what it was like on the other side — and be sure to treat your prospective employees accordingly.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Foam or Not to Foam, that is the Question

I get a lot of requests about foam insulation. I am not a big fan and I like it only in the crawl spaces - attic and foundation as it is unlikely to interfere with wiring, is in areas that are tough to work with and are sinks for heat and cold and will unlikely be subject to any deconstruction in the future. Foam may be made of all kinds of Eco friendly materials but once treated with flame retardants they are not easily disposed of and have a long long life in the landfill.

I was looking at varying message boards as I had a question on car repair and ironically I found this post. Nothing I think says is better than a user who has looked at all the options and is relying on that to share with others.

This is one man's post regarding foam insulation.

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Unfortunately when it comes to foam it's not Foam is Foam is Foam. There are several types of foam out there. So you can't just say foam is great without saying what type of foam. And you can't compare without comparing the pricing differentials.

It would be like talking about dirt or soils. Everyone on this list has dirt around their house, but the soil types vary wildly which greatly influences building techniques and problems.

The foam being pushed the most by the installers is the one with the most profit potential for them. It is cheapest and the one most trouble prone in the long run.

Foam installers push the soft foam vs. the hard foam. The soft foam is known as a sponge in the industry. It costs less than a third the of the cost of the hard foam so their profit margin is higher because most people think any kind of foam will do. The soft foam has a much lower R value per inch and also retains water. So that leak in your roof or wall line will cause it to remain wet and your wall will rot. Check with the foam suppliers and find out which one they'd install in their own house.

I dont' remember the exact values but in researching foam companies for installation in the house I am currently building I found that the companies that pushed to fill the void with foam were pushing the soft foam and even with filling the void (vs. the skim coat they try to get you to buy) they couldn't equal the R value of a couple of inches of the hard foam.

The soft foam IS a better sound barrier and any foam does seal the house better than any other method.

When I built I used a full OSB exterior wall, Tyvek, PLUS I added 1" thick foam sheets with all joints taped (foam effectiveness falls off near a joint) which gave me a very tight seal so I wasn't as concerned about the extra sealing a sprayed foam would give me as much as people with normal construction would have been.

Due to the price differentials, I ended up with blown cellulose in the walls and a foam barrier under the roof line simply due to costs. A plus is that cellulose is quieter than the soft foam. This whole package cost me about $8,000 vs. the $21,000-$23,000. I simply couldn't justify the difference in price. I didn't get a substandard insulation factor as this gave me a minimum R21 in the walls and R45 in the ceilings.

When the build process began I had 3 bids for foam and they ran from $11,000-$13,000. When it came time to actually install the foam all 3 bids mysteriously jumped to $21,000-$23,000. Come to find out that is normal in the industry. If they told you the actual price of the foam up front you'd never do it. So they get you to build for the foam (like leaving off the radiant barrier to your roof decking) so that you feel you don't have a choice and will bite the bullet when the time comes to install.

So asking is foam worth it is like asking is an engine worth it in my car. What kind of engine are we talking about here? Do you want mileage or performance? Due to the ignorance factor of the public, when it comes to foam, the installers are able to install a VW engine but charge for a Ferrari engine.

With all that said, I am installing DIY VersaFoam in my metal shop walls because of the price. I know it isn't anything near as nice as the "real stuff", but it will quieten down the shop, give me a solid surface to work with for cladding the interior and is a whole lot better for the interior construction I will be doing than either fiberglass or foam. At about $700 for 400 sq feet it makes sense.

Green not Priority

I found this study from a year ago discussing priorities customers seek when having a kitchen remodeling and Green was not a priority.

This doesn't surprise me because as I have said many times there is a luxury option type feeling associated with Green and there is no doubt that current wheat, kerei or agriboard are still considerably more expensive when it comes to cabinet material. That said I have said the long lasting and quality associated with cabinets made locally are superior to any so called "euro cabinet" designer or mass produced.

Any other Eco friendly "green" kitchen product - counter tops and flooring run the gamut of pricing and options so the cost there is a matter of choice and compromise. I would much rather have a quality Soapstone or butcher block counter top over granite any day. And the costs for each can be quite comparable to even less.

Yet I do think that many "greenies" do overreach in their belief that everyone embraces their attitudes and philosophy. Looking at local blogs comments regarding the potential bankruptcy and failure of the LEED developments here fairly confirm the attitude towards the label "green."

So the real issue here is education: oneself and one's clients in order to find the best products at the best value to find the best and most appropriate Eco friendly solutions for that kitchen/bath/house remodel.

Here is the report and again I do think it is a lack of understanding, education and more importantly snobbery that leads people to think that going green is somehow an expensive option.

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Environmental Impact of Products Not Top Priority for Most Kitchen Remodelers

While ‘green’ kitchen design is a hot topic throughout the industry and now prominently promoted in manufacturer advertising, it still does not currently have a big impact on consumers’ real-world purchasing decisions for products used in kitchen remodeling projects.

The Research Institute for Cooking & Kitchen Intelligence’s (RICKI) latest research study, Remodelers 360, a survey of nearly 9,500 American consumers, examined how they use their kitchens as well as consumers’ kitchen design preferences and their kitchen remodeling experiences and attitudes. Close to 600 respondents had remodeled or made improvements to their kitchens in the past year and spent $2,500 or more and were
asked an additional battery of questions specifically related to their recent remodeling experience, including the environmental impact question .

“As we’ve found in our research over the years, price, design and other factors take priority over environmental issues,” according to Brenda Bryan, Executive Direct or of RICKI. “It seems that people might say they want to be more ‘eco-friendly’ but do not want to be limited in their design and materials options or pay more for their
remodel.”

In the Remodelers 360 study, only 10 percent of kitchen remodelers said they purchased only products that they felt did not have a negative impact on the environment .
“When slicing and dicing the data, one finding that surprised me and may seem counter intuitive to some is that lower-income respondents are more likely than t heir wealthier counterparts to have considered the environmental impact of their purchases for their kitchen remodel,” says Bryan.

Another one third of respondents (36%) said they strongly considered environmental impact when making decisions for their kitchen remodel , so a sizable minority is at least giving considerable thought to the environmental impact of their decisions. However, over half (54%) say other considerations took precedent over environmental concerns .


Q.: Which of the following statements best describes your decisions about your kitchen remodeling purchases?

I only purchased products I felt did not have a negative impact on the environment. 10%

I strongly considered environmental impact on my purchases. 36%

Other considerations were more pressing this time than the environmental impact of my purchases. 54%


In addition to conducting research with consumers, we also talk with certified kitchen designers on an ongoing basis through RICKI’s proprietary kitchen designer panel. Most say that they have more clients now who are interested in using products that are recycled or natural, but few clients are willing to incur additional expense to do so. As one designer put it, there’s ‘a lot more talk than action’, at least at this point.”

God Save the Queen

Front page this a.m. NY Times.. Queen goes Green. Okay, not quite but Buckingham Palace, home to the Queen of England (you know the old broad the Obama's gave an Ipod to) has switched their lighting to LED.

Prince Charles could be called a "green" monarch as he has been a great supporter of organic farming and green building for many years. And yes even a critic of some of the excesses and silliness found in green architecture so it goes to show that you can love and embrace qualities of things but still see the real problems with it. I wonder if he would now say he wishes he was an "organic tampon?"

But on that note....I have been a BIG proponent of LED lighting and its values. Yes the trade off on costs are still high but I have not ever changed a light bulb in one LED lamp for 5 years and it runs 24/7. And these costs are coming down.

I reprint the article here and highlight some of the things that I think are important with regards to why I embrace LED's over CFL's.

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Green Promise Seen in Switch to LED Lighting

By ELISABETH ROSENTHAL and FELICITY BARRINGER
Published: May 29, 2009

To change the bulbs in the 60-foot-high ceiling lights of Buckingham Palace’s grand stairwell, workers had to erect scaffolding and cover precious portraits of royal forebears.

So when a lighting designer two years ago proposed installing light emitting diodes or LEDs, an emerging lighting technology, the royal family readily assented. The new lights, the designer said, would last more than 22 years and enormously reduce energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions — a big plus for Prince Charles, an ardent environmentalist. Since then, the palace has installed the lighting in chandeliers and on the exterior, where illuminating the entire facade uses less electricity than running an electric teakettle.

In shifting to LED lighting, the palace is part of a small but fast-growing trend that is redefining the century-old conception of lighting, replacing energy-wasting disposable bulbs with efficient fixtures that are often semi-permanent, like those used in plumbing.

Studies suggest that a complete conversion to the lights could decrease carbon dioxide emissions from electric power use for lighting by up to 50 percent in just over 20 years; in the United States, lighting accounts for about 6 percent of all energy use. A recent report by McKinsey & Company cited conversion to LED lighting as potentially the most cost effective of a number of simple approaches to tackling global warming using existing technology.

LED lighting was once relegated to basketball scoreboards, cellphone consoles, traffic lights and colored Christmas lights. But as a result of rapid developments in the technology, it is now poised to become common on streets and in buildings, as well as in homes and offices. Some American cities, including Ann Arbor, Mich., and Raleigh, N.C., are using the lights to illuminate streets and parking garages, and dozens more are exploring the technology. And the lighting now adorns the conference rooms and bars of some Renaissance hotels, a corridor in the Pentagon and a new green building at Stanford.

LEDs are more than twice as efficient as compact fluorescent bulbs, currently the standard for greener lighting. Unlike compact fluorescents, LEDs turn on quickly and are compatible with dimmer switches. And while fluorescent bulbs contain mercury, which requires special disposal, LED bulbs contain no toxic elements, and last so long that disposal is not much of an issue.

“It is fit-and-forget-lighting that is essentially there for as long as you live,” said Colin Humphreys, a researcher at Cambridge University who works on gallium nitride LED lights, which now adorn structures in Britain.

The switch to LEDs is proceeding far more rapidly than experts had predicted just two years ago. President Obama’s stimulus package, which offers money for “green” infrastructure investment, will accelerate that pace, experts say. San Jose, Calif., plans to use $2 million in energy-efficiency grants to install 1,500 LED streetlights.

Thanks in part to the injection of federal cash, sales of the lights in new “solid state” fixtures — a $297 million industry in 2007 — are likely to become a near-billion-dollar industry by 2013, said Stephen Montgomery, director of LED research projects at Electronicast, a California consultancy. And after years of resisting what they had dismissed as a fringe technology, giants like General Electric and Philips have begun making LEDs.

Though the United States Department of Energy calls LED “a pivotal emerging technology,” there remain significant barriers. Homeowners may balk at the high initial cost, which lighting experts say currently will take 5 to 10 years to recoup in electricity savings. An outdoor LED spotlight today costs $100, as opposed to $7 for a regular bulb.

Another issue is that current LEDs generally provide only “directional light” rather than a 360-degree glow, meaning they are better suited to downward facing streetlights and ceiling lights than to many lamp-type settings.

And in the rush to make cheaper LED lights, poorly made products could erase the technology’s natural advantage, experts warn. LEDs are tiny sandwiches of two different materials that release light as electrons jump from one to the other. The lights must be carefully designed so heat does not damage them, reducing their lifespan to months from decades. And technological advances that receive rave reviews in a university laboratory may not perform as well when mass produced for the real world.

Britain’s Low Carbon Trust, an environmental nonprofit group, has replaced the 12 LED fixtures bought three years ago for its offices with conventional bulbs, because the LED lights were not bright enough, said Mischa Hewitt, a program manager at the trust. But he says he still thinks the technology is important.

Brian Owen, a contributor to the trade magazine LEDs, said that while it is good that cities are exploring LED lighting: “They have to do their due diligence. Rash decisions can result in disappointment or disaster.”

At the same time, nearly monthly scientific advances are addressing many of the problems, decreasing the high price of the bulbs somewhat and improving their ability to provide normal white light bright enough to illuminate rooms and streets.

For example, many LEDs are currently made on precious materials like sapphire. But scientists at a government-financed laboratory at Cambridge University have figured out how to grow them on silicon wafers, potentially making the lights far cheaper. While the original LEDs gave off only glowing red or green light, newer versions produce a blue light that, increasingly, can be manipulated to simulate incandescent bulbs. And researchers at dozens of universities are working to make the bulbs more usable.

“This is a technology on a very fast learning curve,” said Jon Creyts, an author of the McKinsey report, who predicted that the technology could be in widespread use within five years.

So far, the use of LEDs has been predominantly in outdoor settings. Toronto, Raleigh, Ann Arbor and Anchorage — not to mention Tianjin, China, and Torraca, Italy — have adopted LEDs for street and parking garage lighting, forsaking the yellow glow of traditional high-pressure sodium lamps. Three major California cities — Los Angeles (140,000 streetlights), San Jose (62,000) and San Francisco (30,000) — have embarked on some LED conversions.

Ann Arbor adopted the technology early, working with Relume Technologies, of Oxford, Mich., to design LEDs that would fit the globes of downtown fixtures. The $515 cost of installing each light will be paid back in reduced maintenance and electrical costs in four years and four months, said Mike Bergren, the city’s field-operations manager.

Because the light from LEDs can be modulated, in Ann Arbor they have been programmed to perform various useful tricks — to become brighter when someone walks under a light or to flicker outside of a home to guide paramedics to an emergency. And because they do not emit ultraviolet light, they attract no bugs.

People who live around Carolina Pines Park in Raleigh say they are pleased with the park’s new LED lights because they can be directed downward, away from home windows.

The lights are also rapidly moving indoors, where they could have an enormous effect on climate change. About 20 percent of carbon dioxide emissions associated with buildings in the United States and the United Kingdom are related to indoor lighting; in some houses the number is as high as 40 percent.

This month, LED lights were for the first time the centerpiece at two of the world’s major trade shows for lighting, Lightfare International in New York and EuroLuce in Milan. A growing number of builders are starting to fit them into public buildings, offices and homes.

Ted Van Hyning, director of event technology at the Renaissance Hotel in Cleveland, said the new LED lights in the hotel’s conference rooms use 10 percent of the electricity of the fluorescent lights they replaced. And maintenance costs are far lower: A fluorescent bulb might last 3,000 hours while an LED fixture lasts more than 100,000 hours, Mr. Van Hyning said, adding: “We have six-figure energy costs a year, and these lights could represent a huge saving. Besides, they’re cool and sexy and fun.”

Buoyed by the improvements in the technology, Peter Byrne, a lighting designer and energy consultant for Buckingham Palace, installed the 32,000 custom LEDs in the ceiling of the grand stairwell when older fixtures wore out.

Mr. Byrne recognizes that Buckingham Palace is not the average home. “They need high-quality light — they have a lot of gold,” he said, “and gold tends to look silver if you light it poorly.”

Still he has started using the technology in other projects, for their light and their environmental benefit. He estimates that half of lights in homes, and particularly those in offices and stores can already be replaced by LEDs.

“At this point, LEDs can’t be used in all lights but that’s changing every month,” Mr. Byrne said. “If you go into Wal-Mart, and look at all those twin 8-foot fluorescents above every aisle, you realize that the potential is enormous.”

Friday, May 29, 2009

Smoke gets in your eyes but butts are everywhere

I have never been a smoker. I had parents who smoked and my mother's affection for the Camel cigarette is forever burned into my memories among other places, no doubt.

But as I watch smokers become smokers non grata relegated to clustering on corners and isolated locations with the idea of protecting us non smokers from their toxic waste. Well not completely. The litter of their remains plauge us regardless and despite taxes, warnings and well the shame of isolation nothing stops the growing problem of butts.

This is from the NY Times this morning on the issue of cigarette waste. And yes this is another small issue that has big repurcussions.

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Cigarette Butts: Tiny Trash That Piles Up

By LESLIE KAUFMAN
Published: May 28, 2009

Andrea Scott says she would never throw a candy wrapper on the ground.

“Littering is one of my pet peeves, and I always told my kids they’d be in big trouble if I catch them doing it,” said Ms. Scott, a 43-year-old financial executive, as she sat outside an office tower on Michigan Avenue in Chicago on a recent sunny afternoon. “I see people throw stuff out their car windows, and I cringe.”

Yet she confesses that she routinely discards cigarette butts on the sidewalk.

For her and countless other American smokers, cigarette butts are an exception to the no-littering rule. “Aren’t cigarettes biodegradable?” volunteered Libby Moustakas, a co-worker who was enjoying a smoking break with Ms. Scott.

But dozens of municipalities across the nation have had enough. Weary of the butts’ unsightliness and the costs of sweeping them up, cities have passed bans on smoking on beaches and playgrounds. In San Francisco, Mayor Gavin Newsom said last week that he would go a step further, seeking a 33-cents-a-pack tax to cover the $11 million that the city spends annually to remove cigarette litter.

Nationally, cigarette butts account for one-quarter or more of the items tossed onto streets and other roadways, San Francisco and other cities report.

Nathan Ballard, a spokesman for Mr. Newsom, described this as a predictable outcome of poor product design. “There is no good practical way of dealing with cigarettes,” he said. “You have a fiery object in your hand and so you have to throw it down and crush it under your heel. And then we have to clean it up.”

In her defense, Ms. Scott, the Chicago executive, pointed out that her city does not provide enough receptacles, like concrete planters filled with sand. And she fears that throwing them in a trash can could ignite a fire.

Still other smokers see butts as a more natural kind of trash than, say, a plastic bottle. But they are not biodegradable: they contain plastic filters that enter sewers and storm drains, and get swept into rivers and then out to sea, where they can release toxic chemicals including nicotine, benzene and cadmium.

For years, campaigns for heavy per-pack taxes and smoking bans in office buildings, restaurants and bars were driven mainly by health concerns about secondhand smoke, which can lead to lung cancer, emphysema and other diseases. In moving on to butt litter, municipalities are reckoning with the broader environmental consequences of the country’s most vilified personal habit.

Cigarette companies acknowledge the problem. The Cigarette Litter Prevention Program, created by the nonprofit group Keep America Beautiful, is financed by Philip Morris, the cigarette giant. The prevention program’s statistics show that butts constitute 28 percent to 33 percent of all litter nationwide — measured by item number, not volume. Similarly, the nonprofit Ocean Conservancy, which also receives money from Philip Morris, has found that butts account for 28 percent of littered items washing up on beaches worldwide.

The manufacturers say they are working on making their product more environmentally friendly. Frank Lester, a spokesman for Reynolds American Inc., the nation’s second-largest cigarette maker, said the industry viewed the development of a biodegradable cigarette to be its “holy grail,” but that challenges persisted. Cigarette company documents indicate that consumers have not liked the taste or the draw of alternative filters.

William R. Phelps, a spokesman for Philip Morris, said his company favored programs that hold smokers and cities responsible for reducing the trash. For example, the Keep America Beautiful campaign promotes solutions like portable ashtrays, more receptacles in public areas and better enforcement of littering laws, he said. Last year, the program had 178 cities or urban districts enlisted — the university district in Philadelphia and the arts district in Dallas, for example — that reduced cigarette littering by an average of 46 percent, officials said.

That approach is favored by Analynn LaChica, 34, who works for AT&T in San Francisco. Ms. LaChica estimates that of the 5 to 10 cigarettes she smokes each day, at least three butts end up on the ground.

“People who smoke use it as a stress reliever,” she explained. “It is satisfying to just toss it down when you are done.”

Nonetheless, she said, she would change her behavior if San Francisco installed ashtrays on top of trash receptacles. Putting it out that way would be more “ladylike,” she said.

For many environmentalists, the problem is not just the litter, but the toxicity. Thomas Novotny, a professor of global health at San Diego State University who supports the San Francisco proposal and beach bans elsewhere, said recent experiments had shown that one butt has enough poisons to kill half the minnows in a liter of water — a standard laboratory test for toxins — in 96 hours.

“Butts are full of poisonous substances, including nicotine, which is a pesticide,” Professor Novotny said.

Some smokers are getting the message. Alex Ceruti, 32, a business owner in the South Beach section of Miami Beach, said he had always discarded his butt in an ashtray or other receptacle after finishing a cigarette. “That’s the only part of the cigarette that is not biodegradable,” he said.

“I think it’s nasty the way people throw them on the ground,” Mr. Ceruti added, observing a young tattooed woman who cast her cigarette on the sidewalk before entering a coffee shop.

Mr. Ceruti and his friend Marcos van Dulken, 26, who also smokes, say they even patrol their favorite beach once in a while to pick up filters.

“I’m not going to lie,” said Mr. van Dulken, an actor who owns a small production company. “Sometimes I throw them on the ground. But I really try not to do that.”

Wood You?

I love wood and as I work in Residential sector there is little I think compare. I have been to see some of the infmaous concrete homes located in California and while they are unique and highly sustainable there is a coldness and aesthetic that is not something everyone embraces. As for siding here the concrete fiberboards of varying companies are highly popular but they too come with a wealth of problems and there inablity to be recycled upon life (usually 25 years) does not appeal.

I love brick and stone and plaster but each come with its own trade offs and there are issues with how much insulation you can add. So no building material is perfect and you have to make considerations on what is your priority when building.

I have already written about my dislike of the composite decking and the uptick in exotics has led people to believe they are "sustainably" harvested. Well we have no guarantees and much like bamboo is done in Countries where the Environmental and Labor policies are uniquely their own. So in other words, buyer be aware.

This editorial is from the NY Times this morning and deals with this essential organic compound that is the foundation of all building. And I have to agree we must act now on a large scale but still change our behavior on the smaller one.

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Forests and the Planet
Published: May 28, 2009

A major shortcoming of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on climate change was its failure to address the huge amounts of greenhouse gas emissions caused by the destruction of the world’s rain forests. A proposal that rich nations be allowed to offset some of their emissions by paying poorer counties to leave their rain forests intact was shot down after European environmental groups objected. They argued that it would allow rich countries to buy their way out of their own obligations. The planet has been paying for that colossal blunder ever since.

Deforestation accounts for one-fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases — about the same as China’s emissions, more than the emissions generated by all of the world’s cars and trucks. And the world is doing far too little to stop it. An estimated 30 million acres of rain forest disappear every year, destroying biodiversity and pouring billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The global warming bill now working its way through the House seeks to change this destructive dynamic in two ways. It sets up a carbon trading system that is expected to raise upward of $60 billion annually through the sale of pollution allowances. Five percent of that would be set aside to help prevent deforestation, either through a special international fund or as bilateral grants to poor countries.

In addition, the bill would allow for the kinds of offsets proposed and rejected in Kyoto, Japan. For example, a power company having trouble meeting its emissions limits could satisfy some of its obligations by paying to reduce deforestation elsewhere in the world.

The economics make sense. It is a relatively inexpensive way for industrialized nations to get credit for reducing global emissions while they make the necessary investments to control their own pollution. And it is a good deal for poor countries. The World Bank estimates that an acre of rain forest converted to crops is worth $100 to $250. It’s worth far more under a system that puts a value on carbon. An average acre stores about 200 tons of carbon; assuming a low price of $10 a ton, that acre is suddenly worth $2,000.

A big effort will still be required to resist the loggers, miners, ranchers and politicians who have had their way with the rain forests for years. And any plan must include safeguards and inspection mechanisms to ensure that the allowances and offsets are being used properly.

But with the rain forests shrinking and the planet warming up, it’s crucial to get the right incentives in place — first as part of broad climate change legislation in the United States, then as part of a new global treaty that the world’s nations hope to negotiate in the fall.

What is Mold

What is Mold?
I was at a Health Fair a couple of weeks ago and was asked by a little girl what exactly mold was. Her mother said she was watching a home improvement show (already a kid after my own heart!) and saw them discussing it and she was worried did they have it.

The answer is yes. Unless you safely live in a bubble that is beyond reproach you have mold. Mold is organic and its everywhere but its when its inside your home, visible or not, only then should you worry. And not that the Mold will kill you.. no unless its one of the three super toxic varieties that you somehow manage to digest, the most it does is affect your indoor air quality and the way you breathe. so those with Asthma or upper respiratory or immune problems will be most likely to be uncomfortable but the rest of us might just feel similar to anyone undergoing seasonal allergy affection.

But its too cavalier to just simply say well okay then and dismiss the problem. Mold's presence means a much more significant and costlier problem, leakage or damage from a leak or a ventilation issue.

It is impossible to get rid of all mold and mold spores indoors; some mold spores will be found floating through the air and in house dust. The mold spores will not grow if moisture is not present. Indoor mold growth can and should be prevented or controlled by controlling moisture indoors. If there is mold growth in your home, you must clean up the mold and fix the water problem. If you clean up the mold, but don't fix the water problem, then, most likely, the mold problem will come back.

So when I hear people say "I will go with foam insulation so I dont' get mold" I have to remind them that it doesn't stop or solve mold problems it just doesn't activate its growth will simply be hidden from view and simply stick to the cladding and studs which are not affected by insulation.

Cleanup does depend on the type and extent of damage. As someone who was in litigation for over three years with mold as a part of the lawsuit I quickly learned that there is no clear testing procedure nor clean up procedure that is consistent.

The number one thing to do is to follow a simple process in resolving and avoiding the problem in the future - fixing leaks and adding appropriate ventilation that will control the humidity in your home.

I reprint this from the EPA website that gives you the necessary info regarding how and what to do in instances of mold.

EPA INFO

When water leaks or spills occur indoors - ACT QUICKLY. If wet or damp materials or areas are dried 24-48 hours after a leak or spill happens, in most cases mold will not grow.

Clean and repair roof gutters regularly.

Make sure the ground slopes away from the building foundation, so that water does not enter or collect around the foundation.

Keep air conditioning drip pans clean and the drain lines unobstructed and flowing properly.

Keep indoor humidity low. If possible, keep indoor humidity below 60 percent (ideally between 30 and 50 percent) relative humidity. Relative humidity can be measured with a moisture or humidity meter, a small, inexpensive ($10-$50) instrument available at many hardware stores.

If you see condensation or moisture collecting on windows, walls or pipes ACT QUICKLY to dry the wet surface and reduce the moisture/water source. Condensation can be a sign of high humidity.
Actions that will help to reduce humidity

Vent appliances that produce moisture, such as clothes dryers, stoves, and kerosene heaters to the outside where possible. (Combustion appliances such as stoves and kerosene heaters produce water vapor and will increase the humidity unless vented to the outside.)

Use air conditioners and/or de-humidifiers when needed.

Run the bathroom fan or open the window when showering. Use exhaust fans or open windows whenever cooking, running the dishwasher or dishwashing, etc.
Actions that will help prevent condensation

Reduce the humidity.

Increase ventilation or air movement by opening doors and/or windows, when practical. Use fans as needed.

Cover cold surfaces, such as cold water pipes, with insulation.

Increase air temperature.
Testing or Sampling for Mold

Is sampling for mold needed? In most cases, if visible mold growth is present, sampling is unnecessary. Since no EPA or other federal limits have been set for mold or mold spores, sampling cannot be used to check a building's compliance with federal mold standards. Surface sampling may be useful to determine if an area has been adequately cleaned or remediated. Sampling for mold should be conducted by professionals who have specific experience in designing mold sampling protocols, sampling methods, and interpreting results. Sample analysis should follow analytical methods recommended by the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), or other professional organizations.

Renters: Report all plumbing leaks and moisture problems immediately to your building owner, manager, or superintendent. In cases where persistent water problems are not addressed, you may want to contact local, state, or federal health or housing authorities. [Note: Find your state health department contacts at www.epa.gov/iaq/whereyoulive.html (just click on your state).]

Interviews Suck and Blow and Not in a Good way

Interviews Suck and Blow and not in a good way.
The massive amount of unemployed has lead to massive amounts of job seekers being put in the hot seat and companies being able to cherry pick applicants, subjecting them through grueling interviews, silly test and measures reductions in salaries, benefits and options all for the privilege of having a job.

I went through this a few years ago when I divorced and my husband and I shut our venture and I went on not but over 80 interviews for jobs that I was vastly over qualified to companies where my expertise and knowledge were the ubiquitous "perfect fit."

It was then I realized that age discrimination and sexism particularly in the construction industry was rampant and that there was no real opportunity for me to do what I wanted to do unless I did it myself.

When I formed Vida Verde I had a partner. He was the "brawn" to the "brains" so to speak. We worked together setting up retail stores doing the finish work and making them "green" and we got along, shared a similar work vibe and his youth and easy manner I thought would make a great partner for my future venture. I was more interested in Education, Coaching and Consulting and I thought he would take the the build/remodel side. It was only after we started I realized that he was great to show up, do the work and the quality of the work was outstanding but that was the extent of his commitment and interest. It was after I received an email saying that he liked to work on the projects but that anything other than that - networking, finding leads, building the business, accounting, etc was not something he was interested in. He had joined a band and was now putting his energy in that. I understood and despite all of our previous conversations, they were simply words that at the time he felt I wanted to hear or he believed he wanted - at that time. The offer of security, the thought of being an "owner" in a business seemed good and "cool" but the reality of it quickly came true when we watched the nature of the jobs turn from real work to small maintenance and handyman jobs and none of them green in nature or design.

I learned that finding the right partner, associate and employee was in fact more than words and that you need to actually see the work to know if the person is a "perfect fit."

I don't put a lot of faith in words of late. Our President is a magnificent orator and highly intelligent two qualities lacking in his predecessor. But when it comes to the actual deeds, I have had real issues, particularly centered around the financial crisis. However I am willing to allow him to work at the job within the confines of the contract he is under - four years - and at that time I can evaluate his performance then.

We take risks hiring people but ultimately it takes working with them to decide if they have the skills and talents to contribute to the growth of your company and of course that means supervision, guidance, mentoring and expectations. Instead its become hire the cheapest and youngest or the one with connections and let nature take its course. They either will leave or thankfully use corporate restructuring as a way of thinning the herds. It used to be 90 days but now I doubt seriously that period is a legitimate evaluation tool on either part.

I will spare the details of some of my most "notorious" interviews but why I think of myself as presentable, articulate and qualified, when you are rejected from a dog walking position as not possessing the right kind of experience (odd when you have a dog for 16 years and her amazing ability to not need a leash or ever wander off without me is commented by everyone who meets us) has to make you wonder what that "kind" of experience is exactly. I also took batteries of tests and my favorite was one for sales in a Remodeling firm that concluded I was "social" and the owner (a former Accountant whose contracting experience was buying the franchise) asked if that meant I would be willing to "give" things to customers. I presumed he was indirectly asking if I would commit an act of fraud to make a sale, had I known that now I would have gone to an Investment bank for a job.

So on that note I have been on many many interviews where my skills were not the real issue.

Now that employers are in this wonderful position of further enhancing their own security at your expense you wonder how you will ever find work let alone work that challenges you, utilizes your experience and more importantly rewards you financially for that "privilege." My guess is that this will be a rough road for all of us.

So how does this article in Fast Company finally support my belief that interviews are really just like model "go sees" where they actually see the person behind the resume and they confirm or reject their "vision" of what they are seeking in an applicant. So many books, articles, etc talk about acing the interview but in reality they are not true measures of job success.

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Why It May Be Wiser To Hire People Without Meeting Them
By: Dan Heath & Chip Heath


When the economy finally turns around, you'll start hiring people again. You'll sift through dozens of impressive-sounding résumés -- who knew there were so many VPs in the world? -- and bring in the standouts for the critical final stage: the interview. You'll size them up, test the "culture fit," and peer into their souls. Then you'll make your decision. This is the Official Hiring Process of America. And it ignores, almost completely, what decades of research tell us about how to pick good employees.

Here's the reality: Interviews are less predictive of job performance than work samples, job-knowledge tests, and peer ratings of past job performance. Even a simple intelligence test is dramatically more useful.

Most of the time, it's not easy to suss out the true value of interviews, because we don't hire people who do poorly in interviews. But in one study, reported by psychologist Robyn Dawes, a unique situation emerged that allowed the value of interviews to be assessed. In 1979, the University of Texas Medical School interviewed the top 800 applicants and scored them on a seven-point scale. These ratings played a key role in the admissions decision, in addition to the students' grades and the quality of their undergraduate schools. UT admitted only those students who ranked higher than 350 (out of 800) on the interview.

Then, unexpectedly, the Texas legislature required the medical school to accept 50 more students. Unfortunately, by the time the school was told to admit more students, the only ones still available were the dregs of the interviewees. So the school admitted 50 of these bottom-dwellers, who'd ranked between 700 and 800.

Fortunately, no one at the school was aware who were the 700s and who were the 100s, so fate had created a perfectly designed horse race between the good interviewees and the lousy ones. And the performance difference? Nada. Both groups graduated and received honors at the same rate.

Well, sure, you scoff. The dregs might do fine in the coursework, but a good interviewer picks up on social skills! So once the dregs started working in a real hospital, where relationships matter, it would become abundantly clear who was Meredith Grey and who was Quasimodo.

Nope, didn't happen. Both groups performed equally well in the first year of residency. The interviews correlated with nothing other than, well, the ability to interview.

With so little proof that interviews work, why do we rely on them so much? Because we all think we're good at it. We are Barbara Walters or Mike Wallace, taking the measure of the person. Psychologist Richard Nisbett calls this the "interview illusion" -- our certainty that we're learning more in an interview than we really are. Dawes points out that in grad-school admissions, interviews are often taken as seriously as GPA. The absurdity, he says, is that "you and I, looking at a folder or interviewing someone for a half-hour, are supposed to be able to form a better impression than one based on three-and-a-half years of the cumulative evaluation of 20 to 40 different professors."

Imagine if baseball GMs, in recruiting potential players, ignored past batting statistics and instead had a beer with players at Applebee's to test their culture fit. That's what we're doing by betting on interviews.

So, instead, figure out whether candidates can do the job. Research has consistently shown that one of the best predictors of job performance is a work sample. If you're hiring a graphic designer, get them to design something. If you're hiring a salesperson, ask them to sell you something. If you're hiring a chief executive, ask them to say nothing -- but reassuringly.

In the process, you might be surprised. For instance, the head of marketing for an environmental nonprofit -- call her Elizabeth -- needed to fill a marketing-director position. One candidate in particular -- call her Marge -- stood out. Marge had come recommended by a board member, and she had more than 20 years of experience. Even better, when Elizabeth called in Marge for an interview, the two of them immediately hit it off. "She was somebody I could see being friends with," Elizabeth says.

Then came the test. Elizabeth had created a simple, timed writing test, inspired by a couple of actual writing projects that were on her own to-do list. She was almost embarrassed to ask Marge to do it. (Twenty years of experience!) But when the test was over, Elizabeth was shocked by the samples of Marge's work. "They were awful," she says. "I never would have known in a million years from her résumé, or from meeting her." The job went to Roger, who aced the test. Unsurprisingly, he's aced the job, too, Elizabeth reports. (Question: Would your company have hired Roger?)

Giving job tests might be the easiest competitive advantage you ever acquire. While your competitors hire friendly people whose "biggest weakness" is "working too hard," you'll be discovering the true stars.

Taking Care of Business

A couple of weeks ago I taught a seminar on Indoor Air quality and the dangers many contractors face when demolishing or deconstructing an old home.

We have come a long way baby when it comes to realizing the danger removing Asbestos and Asbestos content products from the home and disposing of them properly and more importantly safely. We are so much more aware of the role carbon monoxide plays in the home in off gassing from appliances and how adequate ventilation is necessary for a healthy life.

We have been always a leader when it came to environmental safety rules when it came to the workplace and then it stopped. The 80s led to a complete change in philosophy and practices that we realize now is not just killing us its killing the planet. From Coal Mines to Cement manufacturing we have to start to make a change in the way we do business and what we expect business to do. Moving to China or Mexico does not eliminate the problem it just moves it further away but the long term effects are the same.

We don't have the luxury of ignorance or time to deny what is happening to our lives. The Obama Administration embraces stringent quality of air standards and a rebirth of Environmental policies that will have widespread affects. But in the meantime remaining aware and being cautious, yes changing behavior is still a major component in making our and planet healthier and safer.

I submit an article written by a guest for your review which also has a link to their website. I urge you to read and go there to make sure you understand the issues and health problems that can result from exposure to the toxic chemicals that still remain part of our lives.

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Dirty Industries Have a Long Tail of Consequences

In recent years there has been a great deal of national attention focused on the improvement of industrial environmental standards. Even as we attempt to rebuild our economy, we seem to be focused on not only restoring industry, but also using this as an opportunity to do it in a way that is not environmentally destructive. This provides us the opportunity to improve all aspects of these industries, including the workplace hazards among workers and the health hazards affecting members of the surrounding communities that were all too common.

What many people may fail to realize is that not only does the health of our planet depend on improved environmental standards, but our health may as well. Health complications of industry can essentially be divided into two categories, both direct and indirect.

Direct health conditions which have arisen as a result of the burning of fossil fuels, for instant, are increased asthmas rates in areas with high smog indices. Even mild cases of asthma can deteriorate overall respiratory capacity over time and leave breathing seriously diminished if the quality of the air people breathe is unimproved. Release of chlorofluorocarbons into the atmosphere has shown to lower our filtered sunlight, increasing ultraviolet light exposure. Ultraviolet light has been conclusively link to skin cancer. Perhaps it is no surprise then that skin cancer incidence in countries like South Africa and Australia, where the atmosphere is most diminished, is much higher than other areas of the earth.

Indirect health consequences include those which can be attributed to antiquated industrial infrastructure, including toxin exposure among workers. Oil refinery workers, for instance, are shown to have a much higher chance of developing mesothelioma, a rare cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, than those in cleaner industries. While asbestos was banned for most uses in the late 1970s several of these refineries and factories are still using pre-ban equipment which is exposing workers to harmful asbestos fibers.

We see then, that there is a clear advantage to implementation of cleaner, more sustainable energy policies and environmental attitudes, not only for the health or our planet and our posterity, but that of world’s population even today.

Written by James O’Shea, representative of maacenter, the web's leading organization for relevant and authoritative information regarding asbestos and health complications associated with asbestos exposure. Our organization is staffed entirely by writers and other developers who recognize the importance of building awareness in the fight against cancer.

Go to http://www.maacenter.org/


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

My Love/Hate Affair

How many have you had a love/hate affair? The kind you know is bad for you but you do it anyway? Well I have had a longstanding one with Home Improvement and Flip this House shows for years.

The Head of HGTV was just named by either Time or Newsweek as a contributing nemesis to the housing crisis. And certainly ire should be directed to the programmers at A&E for their numerous "Flip this House." My favorite new one is on the "Green" Channel, Green this House.

While some did actually discuss the problems faced by flippers from scheduling to financing and in fact many of the perceived profits were not reached it was irrelevant during the boom time of the housing bubbles peak. Additionally, many had gleeful Real Estate Agents arriving to declare the perceived appraised value of the house based of course on the inflated prices of comps in the area. One of the many "flippers" were also frauds and/or individuals convicted or under investigation for business problems. We can only assume no one bothered to give Robert Kirosaki a call for advice. Now he touts the Stock market.. Good to know he is so flexible in his skills and expertise.

During this time, I don't know how many people would call for estimates and time frames only to use them for their own purpose to budget, DIY or competitive shop. Its why we stopped offering free estimates and charged a flat fee for what we called a Cost Analysis. Much more comprehensive than a standard bid we offered two types of alternatives - green product vs not and broke down the time frame needed for each line item as well as providing source and product information in detail. Homeowners were then given that as a proprietary estimate that they could do with what they like but we were also compensated for our time and efforts. If they elected to hire us we deducted that fee from the billing.

And with that Clients could see easily how much time was involved in doing the labor, the actual costs (with our markup visible), sub contractors needed and the overall estimate in which to budget and plan accordingly.

Home Improvement shows RARELY IF EVER give any cost analysis and the time frames are distorted due to editing and the unseen factor of having NUMEROUS professionals and others to work overtime on completing the project. Of course the contractors had the extra bonus of being hot. In all my days I don't think many of my crew could compare to a Ty (a former male model) or Carter Oosterhouse. Ironically locally there is our own version of a Ty who was a model and in fact his company and website make liberal mention and use of that profession and portfolio. As for the work I have no idea I have never gotten past looking at his sexy pics to know.

I do like the shows for the current product info they provide. I can no longer afford to go to the numerous trade shows and since they do attend and use the companies advertising I can stay apprised on the latest groovy shower heads, styles and etc.

I do also think any homeowner curious about what to do with their home use them for generating ideas but in all honesty magazines and books are better because you can see a better before and after perspective and again that necessary financial information lacking.

I also like the DIY channels Deconstruction show. It really offers an educational builders geek like analysis of what products and materials are made of and how they compare to others of a similar vein.

Many contractors shudder at those who want to be more active managers, diy'ers and designers in the process. If those things interest you then ask upfront about that make sure you have that spelled out in the contract what you are not doing. One of the things I mention during a client consult is how to read a Construction Contract and understand who is doing what, the work and payment trail and ultimately who is doing what and who is managing whom.

These shows show happy homeowners working alongside the decorator, architect and contractor without incident. I want to remind you as I said in the last post the Brady Bunch was a fictional TV show, Jon and Kate - not.

But unlike that train wreck I will continue to watch my Home Improvement/Real Estate shows but unlike most viewers I watch with entertainment not enlightenment as my goal.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Why Jon & Kate plus 8 must be stopped

Frankly I have never watched this show until I was inadvertently directed to it by wanting to watch Renovation Nation and who should be getting solar panels but the family that epitomizes many things wrong with the state of the Nation. One being the inability to conceive naturally so forcing nature to go against itself by giving birth to what is equivalent to a litter; by having a ginormous family that is excessively utilizing valuable resources; by having a TV crew document every move; by having no discernible profession other than "reality stars" and in turn using more resources to accomplish this; by living off sponsors and other people's money and sending out the message that being famous will allow you to get well free solar panels among other goodies. That said, however, they of all people need to have their home functioning from renewable sources more than most.

The other problem is why anyone watches this? Is it to see the issues surrounding a modern day Waltons? To see a marriage disintegrating on television? To see a control freak and hateful woman manipulate children, the media, her husband and anyone foolish enough to cross her path? I am assuming its the last one.

Then we have the Duggins, Ocotmom and Brad and Angelina who clearly were products of televisions influence of the aforementioned Walton's, the Brady Bunch, With Six you Get Egg roll, Yours Mine and Ours, ALL which hearken back to a time when we were unaware of the effects of population and consumption on the long term effects of the world. We speak of "the children's future" when we discuss why we must implement these changes and our worries for their future when discussing the current economy but then I see people who are going against the very nature they seek to protect by having more children than they can rightfully afford - financially, emotionally, psychologically and so on.

And yes I am unaware it is judgmental and that I cannot understand the need and desire for some to have children that they will go to any length or means in order to have a child... A CHILD. But when it becomes the equivalent of a petting zoo is it about having a child or fulfilling some need that is rooted in fantasy? At least Brad and Angie adopt some of their kids although frankly I cannot believe that even in America there are not some truly needy and desperate children here. And on that note I leave for India immediately as those Slumdog babies were adorable and hard workers!

I am not against families but I have to wonder why we feel this overwhelming need to participate in others by buying, reading and watching anything to do with them. I think it only encourages more to do it for less than intrinsic means.

Depends on what your definition of "is" is

This morning in the New York Times there is a discussion about the problems surrounding the current push for States to meet their quotas for switching their sources of energy to more renewable or alternative sources. Of course in classic fashion defining what those are seems to be of debate.

With the Obama Administration still holding fast of making America "green" there is a drive to find ourselves moving forward on climate issues that have been stagnant for decades while Congress spent most of the time placating the lobbyists of those more traditional sources of energy. Be it Solar or Hydro, Nuclear or Coal moving toward those goals have been largely challenged not by finances but by litigation, municipal and individual as they struggle to move into a new way of power. China is already making great headway's in producing "clean" coal (an oxymoron that well "is" what it "is") and France has been "nuclear" at least in power for years. All without incident.

But history, legacy and lobbying are hard pressed in the United States. And though California is considered the leader in this push to clean our air their current insolvency makes one wonder how they will be able to pursue or even enforce this in the years to come. And if California is the great prognosticator of the country are they with regards to that as well.

The challenges to make America green does need to once again fall to us. We need not to install those solar panels, the geothermal system or grey water tanks but instead put our money and time in lobbying our government, our Congress to truly play fair and do what is right for the country and not for business or for party loyalties that serve only the select and elect few. Your greatest "non-renewable"energy is booting out those Congressional leaders who have stopped serving the peoples and countries interest long ago and finding others who will.

The article is reprinted for your review with particular passages highlighted for your attention.

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With Billions at Stake, Trying to Expand the Meaning of ‘Renewable Energy’

By FELICITY BARRINGER
Published: May 24, 2009

The definition of renewable energy seems clear cut: The sun continues to shine, so solar energy is renewable. The wind continues to blow, so wind turbines churn out renewable power.


But industries are now pushing to have a growing number of other technologies categorized as renewable — or at least as environmentally advantageous. They include nuclear power plants and the burning of garbage and even the waste from coal mines.

The lure of the renewable label is understandable. Federal tax breaks for renewable energy have been reauthorized, and quotas for renewable energy production have been set in 28 states, accompanied by extensive new grants, loans and other economic advantages. And legislation is moving through both houses of Congress to establish national quotas for renewable energy sources, including the climate bill passed by the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday.

With billions of dollars at stake, legislators have been besieged by lobbyists eager to share in the wealth.

“They’ve been queuing up outside staff offices, everyone with all their ideas as to what should be included,” said Bill Wicker, the spokesman for the Democratic majority on the Senate energy committee, which is considering a national quota.

In some states, the definition of “renewable” or “alternative” has already expanded. In Pennsylvania, waste coal and methane from coal mines receive the same treatment as solar panels and wind turbines. In Nevada, old tires can count as a renewable fuel, provided microwaves are used to break down their chemical structure.

About half of the 28 states with renewable mandates include electricity generated by burning garbage (the District of Columbia also has a quota for renewable energy). In Florida, the nuclear power industry is lobbying to be included but has not yet succeeded.

Government incentives for renewable energy were intended to give an economic boost to technologies like wind and solar power that were not yet economically competitive with coal and natural gas, which together provide more than two-thirds of the country’s electricity.

The benefits that go with the designation include renewable energy credits, which promise to be a valuable commodity if a national renewable energy standard becomes law and utilities with high levels of renewable sources can sell credits to those with less.

If a source of electricity already widely used by some utilities — hydropower or nuclear power, for example — is deemed renewable, it allows utilities to meet the new renewable-energy requirements while doing little to add wind or solar power to the electrical grid. House Republicans tried unsuccessfully last week to have nuclear energy included under the climate bill passed by the House committee.

Environmental groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists, Environment America and the Natural Resources Defense Council say they are frustrated by the increasing elasticity of the word “renewable” in legislators’ hands.

“Usually this is a very political process, and not driven in any way, shape or form by any strict scientific or ecological definition of renewables,” said Nathanael Greene of the N.R.D.C.


But some of the industries that have claimed the renewable mantle argue that they deserve it.

“A banana is renewable — you can grow them forever,” said Bob Eisenbud, a vice president for government affairs at Waste Management, which receives about 10 percent of its annual revenues of $13.3 billion from waste and landfill energy generation. “A banana that goes into garbage and gets burned,” he added, is “a renewable resource and producing renewable energy.”

But environmentalists argue that one of the goals of renewable energy is to cut back on the heat-trapping gases emitted from burning most things, whether fossil fuels or bananas. When there is no fire, there are no emissions. The waste-to-energy technology described by Mr. Eisenbud was not included in the original draft of the climate legislation that received House committee approval, but it was contained in the version that moved out of the committee, thanks to language inserted by Representative Baron P. Hill, Democrat of Indiana. A new $227 million waste-to-energy plant was already planned in northern Indiana, outside his district.

On the Senate side, an effort to get the benefits of the renewable designation for advanced coal-burning technologies failed, however.

Senator Jeff Bingaman, Democrat of New Mexico and chairman of the Senate energy committee, said that if too many new technologies beyond core renewable sources like wind and solar were to be included, “the whole purpose of the renewable electricity standard is defeated.”

The goal, he said, is “to encourage the development of some of these newer technologies and bring the price down.”

He added, “If you throw in everything else” and call it renewable, “then your numbers get way out of whack.”

Leon Lowery, a Democratic staff member for the committee, said that both environmentalists and industry had tinkered with the common-sense understanding of renewable sources to make definitions fit policy goals.

“If you try to assign a sort of conceptual definition, you find yourself in strange places,” Mr. Lowery said. “Anyone would acknowledge that hydropower is renewable, but do we want to give credits to the Grand Coulee Dam?”

To do so, he added, would give hydropower — which already benefits from rich federal subsidies that make it some of the cheapest energy available — the same status as solar or wind technologies.

Among states that have already adopted quotas for renewable energy, the standards vary from Wisconsin’s, which requires that 10 percent of all power come from renewable sources by 2015, to those of Oregon and Minnesota, which call for 25 percent from renewable sources by 2025. California is raising its mandate to 33 percent by 2020, though its utilities have already indicated that the existing quota — 20 percent by 2010 — will be difficult to meet.

In some states, quotas for renewable energy are paired with mandates for advanced technologies that are not necessarily renewable. For example, Ohio, which currently receives nearly two-thirds of its electricity from burning coal, requires that 25 percent of the state’s electricity must come from renewable or advanced technologies by 2025, but of that, half must come from core renewable sources, and some of the remainder can come from burning chemically treated coal.

Graham Mathews, a lobbyist representing Covanta Energy, another waste-to-energy company, said the political horse-trading on renewable energy legislation was typical of all energy measures. “Energy policy is balkanized by region, and that dictates the debate. The politics become incredibly complicated,” he said.


“Stepping back and looking at it,” Mr. Mathews added, “it sometimes doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Broken Record

I have written before on what I believe is one of the single most essential reform facing this country's future - Health Care.

Anytime I hear the terms "volunteer" and "corporation" merged together I think of the phrase "I will only put it in for a minute." Its about that effective as well.

The time for Single Payer plans is now. Harry and Louise are back and a new team player with Rick Scott's fake ads, the ire that is often credited to Bill and Hillary but once again they were just second bananas to Jimmy Carter's cry for help in 1976. Yes the same Jimmy Carter who warned us of the Energy Crisis, who had a solar water heater installed in the White House, wore sweaters and actually was a real Christian spoke of our escalating and out of control medical costs.

The insurance industry wants to run the program and that is the cat in the hen house. Sorry but their voluntary willingness to cooperate with the Obama Administration has already been rescinded and they are well known donors to Baucus's office who is "conveniently" running the Health Care reform table. A table with no representative from the Single Payer system.

As we know also this week Medicare is in the deep insolvent hole where AIG, Bear Stearns, Fannie, Freddie among others are residing. And while they received assistance in the tunes of billions, one half of the personal bankruptcies in this country are medically related. Where are those bailout funds?

Bill Moyer's Journal devoted tonight's program to this very issue. I urge you to download that episode to understand what is going on with regards to this matter. I urge you next to make those calls or write those e-mails to those in the position of power to reconsider Single Payer. And that includes President Obama who once advocated such a program.

I reprint this from the Morning Call.com discussing this issue. Its time to do something and make this relevant decision that affects us all. The time is now for Single Payer coverage.

Why is Single-payer health care off the table?

>Someone at a May 14 town hall meeting in Rio Rancho, N.M., asked President Obama why a publicly financed, privately delivered system of health care (commonly called single-payer) was ''off the plate'' when millions are going bankrupt using their credit cards to cover health care costs. The response, lengthy and indirect, was that he would support single-payer if starting from scratch, but he believes the country does not ''want a huge disruption as we go into health-care reform.''

I wonder if the roughly 50 million Americans without health coverage, and millions more who are vastly underinsured, are concerned about a ''disruption'' in our country's health care system when they are only one major illness or injury away from the major life disruptions of bankruptcy or foreclosure?

I followed with dismay the recent Senate Finance Committee hearings conducted by Sen. Max Baucus. He refuses to invite representatives supporting a single-payer system to the table, while claiming, ''I care deeply about your views.'' However, his refusal to seat a single person representing this view among the 15 ''expert witnesses,'' and the arrest of those demanding a seat, certainly raises a few questions about his sincerity and that of senators claiming to want health care reform.

Sen. Baucus is too profoundly conflicted to be leading the charge for health-care reform. Particularly troubling is that at $413,000, he was the third-largest beneficiary of health care and pharmaceutical dollars since 2005, according to a March 8 article by Dan Eggen in the Washington Post (''Health Sector Has Donated Millions to Lawmakers''). Could it be that all that money has something to do with the direction health care ''reform'' is taking -- and which President Obama appears to be embracing -- namely, that not only is single-payer off the table, but so is a public option (supported by 73 percent of Americans, according to a recent Lake Research Partners poll

Recent news reports indicated that health insurers have claimed they would cut approximately $2 trillion over the next 10 years -- for a total of $21 trillion vs. $23 trillion in health-care expenditures, or less than 10 percent. They claim it would be done through a variety of measures, including elimination of the ''overuse'' of care (even greater rejection of valid claim?). Absent from the discussion is any form of accountability -- i.e., there is nothing in place to ensure fulfillment of the claim -- just a wink and a nod, and perhaps no one will notice.

Most advocates deeply distrust voluntary efforts and recall that insurers made promises going back to the 1970s that were then abandoned. Nothing will change until citizens see through the ruse and demand a system that serves the people, rather than insurance and pharmaceutical companies -- electing representatives and senators who support real reform and reject companies that attempt to buy influence in order to prevent meaningful reform.

The insurers' real concern appears to be revealed in a statement from Bob Rusbuldt, president and CEO of the main primary care agents lobby group: ''My concern is that if we have a government option in health-care reform, over a very short period of time it will crowd out the private sector'' (May 18, Insurance Journal, ''P/C Insurance Agents Battle Public Health Care Reform Option'').

To Rent or Not

In this tough time where foreclosures and housing prices seeming to overwhelm anyone, even those with equity and security, what does it mean to be renter in this time?

Well it would be nice to see banks opening those homes under foreclosure with a lease-option to buy plan for the previous owners or in a turn of new business (which just might make them solvent) become Property Owners. They in turn could rent the homes, placing them under Management of qualified firms who would secure and maintain the homes. Homes that are lived in and maintained have a better likelihood of selling when times improve, leaving homes uninhabited and neglected leave them open to a well of problems - from vandalism to sheer deterioration.

I have been renting now for the past few years and only one dud in the mix the AMLI apartments of Lake Union. Easy to move into and done so quickly, part of the appeal when relocating, I lived in a badly managed and maintained building. I liked to call them Transient Housing for those with " money." Rents in that area of town were and are excessive but the trendy appeal of living with views, amenities and close to the city cannot be ignored. However the units had multiple tenants (as in more than should be living there), vandalism, theft and damage common as a result of the turnover. The other nightmare developments are those in Belltown. Blocks of ugly expensive high rise apartments that do nothing for living quality, density or appropriate rental rates. But when you are moving too (or back) in my case the luxury of hunting and finding the right property is not always available and many of these units offer specials and deals that make it attractive when relocating on the quick.

I went back to renting in San Francisco after settling a lawsuit over mold (I will write about mold in the near future) and thankfully got most of my money back on the property but by that time the real estate frenzy and its excessive costs for housing left me cold. I was also divorcing so why buy when you are not sure of your future plans.

As I have been fortunate to rent and don't mind the sacrifices as I know it cannot be perfect, I like where I live, location, location, location and my landlord lives nearby. I had a similar arrangement in West Oakland my last year in the Bay area and loved it. And yes I like a more urban area and while security may be an issue (shootings yes they do happen Virgina) I am ultimately fine with my choice.

I have also always rented new builds... they are not "green" but they are better insulated and have more energy efficient appliances so that keeps those utility bills down. Are the rents higher? Yes and No (thanks to my location issues) but again its about the long term and as I don't see buying anytime soon I would rather live well and sacrifice from say the shoe budget in return.

Can Renter's have "green" units and will that mean cost more? Yes and no. Again if you want those great "green" features such as Paperstone countertops and formaldehyde cabinets, yes. Their costs simply negate that. But no on low VOC paints that you can do yourself, cork or marmoleum flooring, even recycled content linoleum is available. If you and your landlord are considering hardwood well Bamboo is cheap (go dark to avoid discoloring common to bamboo) or even Palm wood engineered flooring. Getting carpet out is better for you and your landlord. Formica is perfectly okay and durable as is laminate cabinets. These things usually off gas most in their first year and they are already declining to non existent levels within 7 years of manufacturing.

Upgrading the property is something that more than ever is essential to add value and landlords need to take advantages of those tax credits that you can point out.... Replacing windows is the last thing, instead clean up that insulation surrounding them and that will payback quickly on your utility bills.

Renters have had bad raps. We are not eligible for tax credits and there is a move afoot to change that. I encourage it. Banks also need to realize that many condos will be renting and having the requirement of a certain number of units owner occupied will also need to change. Already several buildings in Seattle are switching to rentals which means when the market kicks up those renting will be forced to move. Having "mixed use" buildings with tenants, commercial and residential, as well as owners allows for diversity of occupants. That also goes in line with rental rates that are more in line with the average income of the community not the perceived income of "desirables" that agents want to appeal to.

This morning on MSN they presented a good argument as to why Renting can be good for us. I


8 reasons we need renters

The current housing crisis serves as a reminder that our communities need renters as much as they need homeowners.

By Karen Aho of MSN Real Estate

It may be time to give a renter a hug. Or at least a place to live.
Long the nation's neglected stepchild, the renter has been overlooked by politicians and scorned by homeowners for decades.

The bias against renters has been growing ever since homeowners crossed into the majority in the 1950s. And where has it gotten us? We have a mortgage/financial crisis, clogged highways, abandoned houses, tax-strapped cities and working families now homeless and in need of affordable rental housing.

In fact, many of the country's current crises can be linked in some way to the desire to own a house with a yard and a white picket fence.

"It gives us a good reason to take a fresh look at stereotypes of ownership versus renting, and when you look at that you realize that we really haven't been good to renters," says Jeffrey Lubell, executive director of the Center for Housing Policy, a research arm of the National Housing Conference, an organization that advocates for national policies that promote affordable housing.

For instance:
Many land-use regulations and zoning laws discourage high-density housing, resulting in sprawl and high commuting costs.
The U.S. tax code heavily favors homeowners, excluding many profits from home sales and returning some $112 billion in property-tax deductions to homeowners from 2008-2012, according to the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation. Another $90 billion will be returned to homeowners in 2009 through the mortgage-interest deduction alone. By contrast, less than one-third of that is appropriated to assist renters in the 2009 Housing and Urban Development (HUD) budget.
People assume that renters — as a class of people — are irresponsible. "Renters are renters for a reason," a former landlord with the user name "linicx" wrote on a citi-data forum, iterating what's hardly an uncommon sentiment.
Entire neighborhoods even ban renters from their midst, forcing homes that no one will buy to sit empty.

In the end, current times may shine a new light on what housing wonks have been saying for years: that we need renters as much as they need us.
"Pretty much everybody at one point in their life rents, and that should give everyone pause that this is critical to the functioning of our communities," says Debra Schwartz, director of program-related investments at the MacArthur Foundation, which has launched a $150 million initiative to help revive affordable rental housing.

Here are eight ways that renters help our towns and why we need them:

1. So businesses can attract workers. Need to hire workers? Those workers — particularly the young, the mobile and the low-income earners — need housing. This should be a no-brainer, but unfortunately it's not.
"This is a real concern," says Peter Tatian, a senior research associate at the Urban Institute, a research organization that focuses on social and economic problems and issues. "They are seeing a problem attracting workers for particular kinds of jobs because of the housing costs."
When towns don't build rental housing, particularly affordable rental housing, near industrial and business centers, everyone pays: Businesses pay higher wages to offset employees' added transportation costs and residents pay higher taxes to beef up the roads, public transit systems and parking areas.

2. To let critical workers live in every community"The reality is we need people of all income levels for our society to function," says Lubell. "In high-priced communities there are teachers and nurses and firefighters who cannot afford to live in the communities they serve. They have a long commute, or they're not there when we need them.
"Ultimately, if you want to attract the best firefighters, the best teachers, the best police officers, they need to have a place to live."

3. Because a mobile economy is a thriving economy. What if you had a job to offer, but no one could come? Millions of Americans now find themselves tied to their homes due to a weak sales market or the high transaction costs associated with selling and buying a home.
In an interesting study of European nations in the 1990s, British economist Andrew Oswald found that countries with high rates of homeownership also had high rates of unemployment, and vice versa.
"There's been a presumption that it's really good for a country to have a high rate of homeownership," Oswald told The Boston Globe. "But that homeownership equates with inflexibility."

4. To reduce sprawl. The well-worn saying in real estate is to drive out to where you can afford to buy.
"The ideal of homeownership, which is a single family with a yard, drives sprawl," says Tom Davis, manager of strategic operations for the Preservation of Affordable Housing, a Boston nonprofit.
And it's hard to find anyone willing to talk up sprawl. Among its deleterious effects: traffic congestion, pollution, long commutes, less open space, less clean air and water, fewer small business districts and walking areas, more big-box stores.
Workers who cannot find viable rental options close to work — in either the city or the suburbs — drive and drive and drive.
Americans spend more than 540 million hours commuting in their cars every year, a pleasure for which we all pay in billions of dollars in highway construction, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. The environment coughs up a donation, too, by remitting some of its oxygen.
"If families have to drive an hour to work in your community, there are going to be environmental problems and there's going to be congestion," Lubell says. "We are all tethered together, and I think the sooner we realize that, the better we'll all be."
Lubell attributes much of the apprehension around higher-density housing to fear of the unknown. "There is a myth about density that if we have too many people in one place that it will lead to problems," he says. Yet, "when you show people pictures of dense places - Greenwich Village, Paris — they love it. They say, 'Oh, I'd love to live there.'
"The reality is that a dense environment can offer a very high quality of life," he says. "But when you're living in a place where everyone has a car, you tend to think a lot more negatively about density."

5. To give an overdue dollar boost to the rest of the economyA study by the Center for Housing Policy, a research arm of the nonprofit National Housing Conference, found that households earning $20,000 to $50,000 per year spend an average of 57% of their income on the combined costs of housing and transportation. It leaves little, if any, money for discretionary spending. It's bad — very bad — for them, and it's bad for the economy as a whole. "It takes money away from other investments," says Davis. "They're not doing the things that drive other economic activities."
These high housing costs come when people are forced to live far from work, or when they stretch their budget to buy to take advantage of cultural and government incentives.
As the country is learning now, such a stretch is painful to everyone when it faces a sudden need for readjustment.
6. To revitalize communities — even take them green"A rental development can often drive the revitalization of a community," says the Preservation of Affordable Housing’s Davis.
Towns call his organization to help create large, affordable rental communities, finding that they stimulate jobs and business.
Large rental properties also tend to conform to high standards and respond to complaints, because they have more at stake and can be held accountable. Their scale also makes environmental construction and renovation incentives more attractive, so it's more likely such apartment complexes will go green.
"If you're trying to get government money into the greening of buildings the way to make an impact is at the multi-family level because you can do it at scale," Davis says.
On a small scale, too, a rental allows an elderly homeowner to rent his first floor to a young person, or the elderly or disabled person to rent a place near work or care centers.

7. To lift property valuesThe rental building is not an ugly stepchild after all. A Center for Housing Policy survey (View the report in this .PDF file) of analyses done throughout the country in the past several decades found that in a great majority of cases, new, affordable rental units caused neighboring property values to either remain stable or to rise.
Although the survey did not speculate as to why, housing experts say in many cases it may be due to the simple fact that a well-kept, occupied building is always better for the neighborhood than a forsaken urban lot or an abandoned building.
"Everybody can be a renter at different stages in their lives," Davis says. "It's not that the people are different, it's how the properties are managed that determines whether a property is an asset or a detriment to the community."
Tom Cohn, executive vice president of the Property Management Association, an educational trade group, agrees. He says rental behavior typically follows management behavior; if a building is well-cared for, 95% of renters will play by the rules, probably the same percentage as owners.
"I think there is a false perception that if you don't own something, you won't take as good care of it," Cohn says. "To say that someone who doesn't own is irresponsible and doesn't care about where they live, or their neighbors, is ludicrous."

8. To improve children's chances of success New research that focuses on how often families move, as opposed to whether they rent or own, is debunking the myth that children of families that own homes perform better in school than those that rent. By concentrating on stability instead, researchers found that children — and adults — thrive when they don't have to move as often, regardless of whether they rent or own. (For more, see these reviews http://www.nhc.org/housing/intersections of various studies on the links between housing and outcomes, such as this one on stable housing and education (PDF).)

Advocates say that as the current foreclosure crisis demonstrates, an increase in the supply of affordable rental housing may actually provider greater stability to families and communities, not less.