Friday, March 30, 2012

What is in a Name?

I have always been big on calling things as I see them.. but then again in an age of branding and marketing the name you give something has a great affect on its longevity and identity.

I recall thinking I hated the term "green building" and why I called my business Vida Verde.. still green but with a spin. I often laugh at it now as I watch people struggle with its pronunciation.

There are the acronyms that inspire a type of insider knowledge..such as LEED which if you are not into green build you have no idea what that is or what they do.

And my favorites are Passive House and Net Zero Energy the two I think that are the most mis-reprensentative of the bunch. It takes energy to build and for a home to perform. No home is passive if its functioning and they create energy so to say its using none or doing so passively it is a home that needs some work.

Because of the constant upheaval change and costs associated with certification I stepped out of the game. I still keep up on the many different standards and programs so I can assist in research but I have no plans to become a "verifier" in the near future. I simply can't afford the costs associated with many of the programs especially when it comes to liability insurance. I would much rather keep my hourly billing to a reasonable rate and help those seeking information and knowledge rather than "stars"

The current fight over Passive House has reached a new height with Treehugger chiming in to add what I think is a reasonable thought on the matter. There is continuing debate at Inhabitat (blogs I follow list) or Green Building Advisor that for those interested can check out on their own time.

Honestly I do think that whatever anyone wants to do is worth doing if not for the chance to try something new. Every idea starts somewhere and its worth trying for that alone. I however do not think its right to sell a program telling people that their homes are "worth" more when we know "worth" is determined by what you are willing to pay for it.. I use the shoe analogy. Are Manolo Blahniks better than Jimmy Choo because they both cost triple digits - so do my feet feel better or do I? Again its a matter of worth and frankly that is what I see when I hear about the latest and greatest house certification program.

So in the House wars I have no horse in that race. I think that Passive House has a great history and purpose and it needs to be looked at in the same way LEED, Net Zero, or any other does. A teaching and learning tool to make homes perform better. Period.

Countdown to Earth Hour

Well as this was the first I had heard of Earth Hour I am sure my countdown will be rather quick.

Ironically where did I hear of it? From a vendor trying to sell me Eco friendly office supplies. Nothing like buying stuff to honor the planet.

What is Earth Hour? This is from their website

In 2007, WWF-Australia inspired Sydney-siders to show their support for climate change action in the first ever Earth Hour event. It showed that everyone, from children to CEOs and politicians, has the power to change the world they live in. In Sydney, Australia, 2.2 million individuals and more than 2,000 businesses turned their lights out for one hour to take a stand against climate change.

In 2008, the plan was to take Earth Hour to the rest of Australia. But then the City of Toronto, Canada, signed up and it wasn’t long before 35 countries and almost 400 cities and towns were part of the event. It said something compelling to the world: that the climate challenges facing our planet are so significant that change needs to be global.

With the invitation to ‘switch off’ extended to everyone, Earth Hour quickly became an annual global event. It’s scheduled on the last Saturday of every March – closely coinciding with the equinox to ensure most cities are in darkness as it rolled out around the Earth.

In 2011, Earth Hour saw hundreds of millions of people across 135 countries switch off for an hour. But it also marked the start of something new – going Beyond the Hour to commit to lasting action on climate change. And with the power of social networks behind the Earth Hour message, we hope to attract even more participation so we can build a truly global community committed to creating a more sustainable planet.

Well we have Earth Day adding an hour to note the crisis in our Globe about the climate seems expedient if not time saving. Which given our current climate it may be a good thing.

I have linked the website for Earth Hour here. There are many interesting games, activities and ideas from which to choose. Enjoy and have every day an Earth day with every hour one.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Green School This

As I do work part time in schools I know the need for functioning healthy buildings. I also know the need for functioning classrooms, stimulated and invigorated staff and students. And all of those come at a cost.

The desire to create and build LEED schools seems to be part of a push for building the industry but without realization that having a 4 star LEED public school is not going to matter in a district where kids families are barely making ends meet. The dynamics here seem to be perhaps a reflection of the wealthy hedge funders and business people who believe that their financial success is translatable and transferable to whatever industry or busines they desire. And Education is a billion dollar industry that is non profit in in its present form. And our current model of business is that nothing should be left for non profit.. as you can see its worked great on health care.

So do we spend the hard earned money needed to bring kids up to ever increasing standards on building great green buildings or do we spend the money on the classroom and build high technology factories where teaching is self directed and highly tested?

The E.P.A. tested for radon in a sample of schools nationwide between 1990 and 1991. They found that from that 927 school study there are over 70,000 classrooms in the U.S. that have radon concentration levels exceeding the E.P.A action level. Since that time little has been done on either a federal or state level to test for radon levels let alone remove the problem.

I am all for green schools and building a healthy school but really how will this be achieved? We cannot even agree on how to educate our children so I don't see this being a priority anytime soon.

There are schools that are focusing on Green and Sustainable issues. It would be nice to see that all schools are not choosing that as an "option". But we have a long road ahead to making that "Little Green Schoolhouse" a reality for all.

** for those in search of ways to build skills try tutors. As a former math tutor I found that working with small groups of students you have the flexibility not offered in the classroom and you end up with great results***

Green Code Stat!

I just read in Green Builder Magazine the development of the ICC Green Code. The idea is to establish a clear coherent plan/model/fill in the blank of what defines "green build" Will this be the go to for all green build across the country or just another of the many competing if not confusing green standards that exist?

As one who sees the profit model behind a great deal of green certification programs I am always suspect when "sponsors" are behind any great piece of legislation. But this is our system of Government - those with money have access and those with access write legislation. But many of the players on this include the AIA and ASHRAE so I see the green forest and the trees with this plan.

So while I am pleased that we are closer to finding a singular source of concepts and ideas that dictate and define Green Building we have to realize that as in anything there is no ONE clear type of build that fits in our ever changing and complex landscape.

ICC Announces Availability of New Green Code

A new model code for constructing and remodeling buildings is expected to make buildings more efficient, reduce waste, and have a positive impact on health, safety and community welfare. The 2012 International Green Construction Code (IgCC) will increase the energy-efficiency of structures, while providing direction and oversight of green design and construction, according to the International Code Council.
“Today, the Code Council and its sponsors announce a new green construction code that will make a contribution toward healthier, lower impact, and more sustainable building practices,” said Richard P. Weiland, CEO of the ICC which developed the new code. “The International Green Construction Code published today was developed during the last three years with input from code and construction industry professionals, environmental organizations, policy makers and the public. Our community was diligent in developing a code that is not only adoptable, usable and enforceable, but also flexible and adaptable. We expect this new model code, like the family of other ICC Codes, to be adopted across the country and used globally.”

For more than 100 years, building codes in the United States have evolved to incorporate critical safeguards for building occupants based on the most current building science. More recently, communities have been calling for a regulatory tool that offers minimum safeguards against building-related risks for safe and sustainable construction, and complements voluntary rating systems. Several state and local jurisdictions already have taken this direction by putting into place early versions of the IgCC that were released during the development of the code.

The 2012 IgCC was developed at public hearings with input from experts in code development and enforcement, architecture, engineering, building science, environmental advocacy, government, business, academia and the public. IgCC was developed with the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and ASTM International as the initial cooperating sponsors, and with the support of ASHRAE, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES).

“Coordinated with the ICC family of codes, the IgCC is designed for use in communities that are pursuing sustainable construction above and beyond the traditional level of requirements in our codes,” said William D. Dupler, ICC Board President. “This code has been developed in collaboration with our sponsors. We thank them for their valuable support and for recognizing the need to develop a comprehensive set of green regulations.”

Green construction creates jobs and contributes to economic growth according to the U.S. Green Building Council Green Jobs Study. In addition, there is no significant difference in the average life cycle cost for green buildings as compared to non-green buildings, according to research by the global construction consultants firm Davis Langdon.

The IgCC is the first model code to include sustainability measures for an entire construction project and its site—from design, through construction, certificate of occupancy and beyond. It establishes minimum green requirements for buildings. The IgCC offers flexibility to jurisdictions that adopt the code by establishing several levels of compliance, starting with the core provisions of the code, and then offering “jurisdictional requirement” options that can be customized to fit the needs of a local community. A jurisdiction can also require higher performance through the use of “project electives” provisions.

The code acts as an overlay to the existing set of International Codes, including provisions of the International Energy Conservation Code and ICC-700, the National Green Building Standard, and incorporates ASHRAE Standard 189.1 as an alternate path to compliance. The IgCC provides model code language that establishes a baseline for new and existing buildings related to energy conservation, water efficiency, site impacts, building waste, material resource efficiency and other sustainability measures. The IgCC will be updated alongside the other model codes developed through the Code Council’s open, transparent, and consensus-based code development process.

The International Code Council is a member-focused association dedicated to helping the building safety community and construction industry provide safe and sustainable construction through the development of codes and standards used in the design, build and compliance process. Most U.S. communities and many global markets choose the International Codes.

Steel Me This

In an ever increasing need to expand my blog and take a little time off to recover from my auto accident, I have been inviting guest bloggers to take a turn and submit an article on issues in sustainability.

Todays blogger is Nicola Crozier, freelance environmental writer currently working with uShip. (Their contact information is below). Nicola has written an article on steel framing vs wood framing as it relates to residental build.

To add my two cents I am not a big fan of steel framing, unless absloutely necessary, in the case of residential construction - for many reasons. I am however pro steel for use of interior divisions/walls. But I leave it up to you to debate and discuss the pros vs cons as stated below. And I welcome any comments.

Steel versus Wood: The Eco Housing Debate

To steel or not to steel? That is the question! When constructing a new home, what should you be using; wood or steel frames? And, vitally, what will make your structure more eco-friendly?

Steel frames are becoming increasingly popular, with construction companies choosing them over the more traditional wood frames of the past. With a decrease in the supply and an increase in the price of wood this is hardly surprising, but what does this mean in terms of green construction

At first glance it seems that steel frames are the greener option with the obvious advantage of keeping vital trees in the ground, saving this precious renewable resource, but it isn’t just the outer structure of a construction that we should be thinking about. Steel frames on residential properties pose a thermal heat loss threat making thermal breaks essential. In a steel frame, the studs will act as thermal bridges, allowing heat to escape. Regular insulation on steel framed homes is ineffective, however, radiant barrier insulation will act as the perfect thermal break, reflecting heat and therefore stopping around 97% heat loss in winter and heat penetration in summer.

Setting aside insulation difficulties when using steel frames, this light, inexpensive alternative to wood framing is easy to ship, incredibly durable and provides more structural support than its wooden counterpart, meaning much less material is used. The average house built using wood frames will use around 40 trees, whereas just 11 recycled cars provide enough steel to construct the same house using steel frames.

Any construction waste created when building using steel frames can also be recycled, although, steel frames will also contain non-renewable resources, including zinc and iron, which can pose ecological damage during extraction.

It is important to consider that the embodied energy used to manufacture steel is incredibly high and although the difference between embodied energy used to manufacture wood and steel is significant, it isn’t as high as people believe. The Environmental Building News stated in an article that the energy used to manufacture wood is only 28% higher than used to manufacture steel.

For every argument against steel framing there seems to be an argument for, and despite potential thermal heat loss and the environmental cost of manufacture, it would seem that steel framed homes are here to stay, and with good reason. So, which side are you on?

This post was written on behalf of the shipping aggregator, uShip. uShip specialise in various types of shipping, including house removals, and have recently offered 100% climate neutral transport throughout Germany and Mainland Europe.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Get Your Garden In Order

I just got this wonderful submission from Ashley Halligan of Software Advice.

As a greenie the irony is that I am also the worst gardner in the world. A shame I admittedly acknowledge as both parents were prodigious successful gardners with a full veggie garden and fruit trees in our very urban home. I miss those days picking and enjoying the fruits of my labor and treasure any and all green space gardners who grow delightful treats in small spaces.

Feel free to read the article below and click on the link to find all the great other links Ashley provides for reference.

5 Simple Ways to ‘Green’ Your Properties’ Landscapes

by Ashley Halligan
Property Management Analyst,
Software Advice

Landscaping may seem like a tiresome, tedious and expensive burden for property managers, especially when nature brings drought and other challenges. Factor in organic, all-natural and green landscaping, and it becomes even more daunting. But, environmental issues are at the forefront of public discussion, and tenants have taken notice. Making your rental property greener can make it more marketable–plus, a green landscape generally requires less upkeep, with lower maintenance costs.

Furthermore, a little green TLC can be beneficial to the environment by reducing contaminants in water runoff and providing a toxin-free environment for humans and animals. And it doesn’t require a hefty investment.

The Environmental Protection Agency says that, “Maintaining a wide variety of healthy plants, soil organisms, beneficial insects and animals can keep most pests and diseases in check.” The EPA refers to this as “putting nature to work.” When you restore the natural biological environment, the ecosystem returns to a natural functioning place, where organisms and microorganisms ward off pests, and help maintain nutritious soil. But, how do you restore an ecosystem?

I’ve compiled five inexpensive ways to make your landscape more environmentally friendly, lower maintenance, and safer for both family and pets.

1) Test your soil.

Standard soil tests measure pH levels and the levels of elements like phosphorous, potassium, calcium and magnesium, among other things. Testing lets you know what your soil needs. Otherwise, the fertilizers and mulch you’re using–some of which are quite expensive–may not be meeting the needs of your yard. There are a variety of soil tests that can be performed at home; otherwise, universities are a great place to seek testing.

According to Ohio State University’s Research Area, “Soil testing can boost garden yield and quality. It is a very inexpensive way of maintaining good plant health and maximum plant productivity.” OSU’s Research Area charges $20 for a soil test that can tell a homeowner quite a bit about their ecosystem–and how to create an optimal environment based on their findings.

2) Use grass clippings as mulch.

One of the EPA’s four GreenScapes suggestions is to reuse. One way to apply this is by repurposing your grass clippings as mulch.

Proper grass cutting suggests you keep grass blades at three inches, and leave the grass clippings on your lawn. This limits the ability for weeds to grow. Additionally, grass clippings provide 58 percent of the nutrients your lawn needs.

3) Collect rainwater–and use it.

In a recent article, Times Daily mentions that, “A 55-gallon barrel connected to a 1,000-square-foot roof will fill up during a 1-inch rain. The barrels can be purchased for $50 to $120 each, or constructed out of food-grade drums.”

Going back to the EPA’s principles of reusing, rainwater provides healthier hydration for your lawn and foliage, without the contaminants often found in tap water. The Times Daily article further states, “Many municipalities experience a 30 percent to 40 percent increase in residential water usage in the summer. Rain barrels can help reduce that.”

4) Skip the pesticide.

Each year, American homeowners apply 70 million pounds of pesticides to maintain their lawns. According to the National Audubon Society, much of this usage is solely for aesthetic purposes.

Insecticides, herbicides and fungicides have been linked to a range of illnesses, diseases and birth defects. Furthermore, chemicals can be quite costly. Why not eliminate the use of unnecessary chemicals, allow your yard to nurture itself, and protect communities and wildlife while doing so?

5) Consider xeriscaping.

Xeriscaping involves creating a landscape that’s in alignment with your local climate and indigenous species. For instance, create a desert environment if you are, in fact, in a natural desert climate like Phoenix. Plant cacti, not a lush grass lawn.

Non-indigenous plants, grasses, trees, etc. require far more maintenance and resources, particularly water. It’s far less expensive to maintain natural foliage than non-indigenous species.

Overall, the initial investment of going green and restoring a natural environment may be slightly more than synthetic lawn care. But, over time, property managers can save money by eliminating unnecessary water and chemical use.

Additionally, a natural lawn is somewhat self-caring, meaning you’ll spend fewer hours maintaining it once it’s been restored. The added knowledge of having a yard that’s better for your community, and safer for pets, wildlife, and your family brings the effort full circle. And best of all, it’ll help attract tenants.

Have you undertaken a green initiative in landscaping? What was your experience like? Did you find that the initial investment proved valuable in the end? Has upkeep become easier? Feel free to share your experiences below, or email me at

Read more:

Monday, March 26, 2012

Habitat for Humanity

I received this last week and I share it with you. I had volunteered with Habitat when I lived in Oakland and they were building "green" when it was just a nascent concept in the bigger build picture.

I can't stress enough the good works Habitat does for those families and communities where they build. They transform lives and neighborhoods. Feel free to read the below letter and get involved. Even if it means visiting your Habitat resale store.. the best place to buy salvaged goods.

Nissan has created a new Facebook app that’s meant to spread awareness of green building and raise funds for Habitat for Humanity is doing. It does so by inviting participants to have a little fun in a virtual Habitat build: type in a command, and the volunteers will do as you say. The slapstick starts when you command an otherwise mild-mannered volunteer to smash windows, or, in one case, throw things (items are returned, mysteriously, by a giant penguin). The brand put together a simulation video showing what happens when you type in a silly command:

While it is a fun game its mission is serious: To support the building of green homes for families that desperately need decent housing. Participants in the Facebook app are directed to Habitat for Humanity, where they can donate, volunteer for a build, or take action in their communities. To view the full app, please cut and paste the following: In addition, the top 100 scorers get a personalized video from Nissan at the build site featuring volunteers pounding a nail into the structure in the name of each winner, as well as a Nissan t-shirt. In this way, anyone can virtually participate with Nissan employees in building sustainable homes for low-income families.

Nissan has partnered with Habitat for Humanity since 2006, taking part in the rebuilding of the Gulf states after Hurricane Katrina. Nissan employees are very passionate about the cause, as are many Nissan owners, who’ve volunteered more than 56,000 hours for Habitat. Nissan-sponsored Habitat homes are equipped with many "green living" features, including low-flowing plumbing fixtures, programmable thermostats, energy-efficient fluorescent lighting, high-performance windows and ENERGY STAR® appliances.

So far, Nissan has donated $7.5 million in grant money and donations to the organization, built 50 homes, donated 104 Nissan vehicles to help building efforts, and over 5,000 Nissan employees have volunteered. Now, though, the company is taking the Habitat program to a whole new green and social level with this game. It’s using the power of social media to stem the tide of indifference and get a new generation involved in green, affordable building.

Brand This

Are you in business where finding the right market is essential for growth? Are you looking for ways to maximize shopper engagement?

Then I have a business that can help you reach those goals - RPM Ltd. Experiential Marketing. They take the engagement approach to communications - fulfilling brand promises by creating positive and tangible brand behavior.

A lot is made about "branding" and the idea that when from that brand there is identity. And when brands truly engage people they inspire greater levels of understanding, preference, advocacy and loyalty.

Who do you want to engage? Who is your audience? Your customer? Your client? Finding the right message to reach that group or individual you want the right messenger. RPM can offer you the way to build your brand and establish the message that builds credibility and tangibility - two things that are the keys to permanence and relevance.

So for you businesses seeking a partner in business that sees it the same way you do then check RPM for further info and advice. It can't hurt. And something that can't hurt can't be bad...


It is getting to that time of year to start thinking about a holiday. As one who could use one herself I can say from personal experience that Portuguese beaches are an excellent option for an inexpensive vacation destination.

If its weather you are after the weather in Portugal is fantastic, as is the coastline with perhaps best golden sand beaches in the world.

Accommodations can range from the most economical to the most luxurious options, be it looking for something a little more self directed or all-inclusive holidays - CheapHolidays offers it all.

The options that are available can be be simply accommodation or can include your flight and auto rental. Their site offers a wide variety from which to choose and late deals that allow the spontaneous a chance to take advantage of a great deal at the last minute.

From the Azores to Lisbon, there is enough in Portugal to find something for everyone. From lounging on the beach to a golf excursion there are enough options and variations that should give everyone in the party a chance to find their perfect place of zen.

And as one who has been to Portugal I can attest to its great people and gorgeous environment. Its win win and that is a holiday.

Fire This

Funny how things come your way. Given my recent accident I have been worrying a lot about my security in my home. And today I just received word of a company that provides the kind of assurance home owners are seeking to protect themselves and their loved ones.

If you are looking for fire alarms, security systems, even first aid kits, then these professionals will help you find the most suitable for your homes.

Finding appropriate and easy to understand and install systems is essential for piece of mind and ease of worries. As I said my recent accident brought to my attention that there are long term needs that I have simply neglected.

By doing a simple inventory and check be it for your residence or business you may find yourself lacking is simple coverage from first aid kits, signage or working fire extinguishers (those are a basic for any home with fireplace, barbecue or gas stove). There is no better time of year to run a quick test to see if everything is working and that all residents or occupants understand what to do in an emergency situation. And to make sure all the equipment performs as it should.

Save money, property and more importantly lives with having current running safety equipment. Its a must for your home or business.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Waste It Want It

With my move planned for the year end I have been looking for the way to make my move the greenest possible. From recycled containers, self shipping and the ability to return or recycle moving goods and materials, there are many ways to eliminate waste and reduce cost if you are willing to look for it.

Finding ways to reduce waste, even small scale, are essential to reducing the long term environmental affects but also your overall costs for disposal. Its a green-green win.

This was from the New York Times a few days ago discussing the ways companies are actively seeking your garbage and turn that into something reusable for the business in other way. The best example is from our local Starbucks taking the coffee cups and having them recycled to napkins. It takes the idea of Waste Not Want Not into Want It.

As I said in my last blog post the idea of innovation can be renovation and rejuvenation. Taking what's old and make it new again.

Companies Pick Up Used Packaging, and Recycling’s Cost
Allen Brisson-Smith for The New York Times

Published: March 23, 2012

You might be doing both, as a result of a new trend in recycling, courtesy of the manufacturers who make the original products. A growing number of large food and beverage companies in the United States are assuming the costs of recycling their packaging after consumers are finished with it, a responsibility long imposed on packaged goods companies in Europe and more recently in parts of Asia, Latin America and Canada.

Several factors are converging to make what is known as “extended producer responsibility” more attractive and, perhaps, more commonplace in the United States.

“Local governments are literally going broke and so are looking for ways to shift the costs of recycling off onto someone, and companies that make the packaging are logical candidates,” said Jim Hanna, director of environmental impact at the Starbucks Corporation. “More environmentally conscious consumers are demanding that companies share their values, too.”

Perhaps most important, he said, “companies are becoming more aware that resources are limited and what they’ve traditionally thrown away — wow, it has value.” It is now cheaper to recycle an aluminum can into a new can than it is to make one from virgin material, and the same is becoming true for plastic bottles.

“Shredding, melting, recasting and rerolling used aluminum beverage cans into new aluminum can sheet saves 95 percent of the energy that it takes to make can sheet from raw ore,” said Beth Schmitt, director of recycling at Alcoa.

The principle is the same with used plastic bottles, which are made from petroleum — and are one of the country’s largest exports to China, where they are used to make fabric fibers. “Tuna cans, cereal boxes, laundry detergent bottles — all of it has value in end markets that are thirsty for it,” said Michael Washburn, director of sustainability at NestlĂ© Waters North America, a bottled-water producer.

So far, company-sponsored recycling efforts are voluntary in the United States. Many states have laws requiring companies to take responsibility for spent products like batteries and mercury switches, but so far, only Maine has a law that might shift the cost of discarded packaging to business. Passed in 2010, it established a framework that allows the state to add products, including packaging, to the list of those for which manufacturers must assume the costs of disposal. So far, however, no new products have been added.

Opposition to mandated responsibility for packaging after use is widespread, even among companies that are already required to do it abroad. “We’re not convinced there’s compelling evidence that it’s the most appropriate solution for the U.S.,” said Meghan Stasz, director of sustainability at the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents more than 300 food, beverage and packaged goods companies.

Nonetheless, a few prominent food and beverage companies are moving on their own to recapture their packaging after their customers are done with it.

Coca-Cola has a whole subsidiary, Coca-Cola Recycling L.L.C., devoted to its stated goal of ensuring the recycling of 100 percent of its cans and bottles in North America by 2015 and 50 percent in the rest of the world. To that end, seven factories owned wholly or in part by the company toil away around the globe recycling plastic, including one in Spartanburg, S.C.

Coke is also experimenting with nonpetroleum-based packaging materials. Products like Dasani and Sprite come in PlantBottles made of polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, which are up to 30 percent plant-based and can go through the same process that regular, 100 percent oil-based PET bottles go through. The packaging has won awards and last year became a new source of revenue for Coke when the H. J. Heinz Company licensed it for use in its ketchup bottles. The company also places bins at events and locations like Nascar races to collect bottles for recycling.

Asking customers to return packaging to bins is a growing trend among companies. Starbucks now has bins in which customers can deposit their cups at 18 percent of its stores in the United States and Canada, up from 5 percent just a year ago. The company has a goal of 100 percent by 2015.

In Chicago, the company has developed a closed-loop system in which cups from its stores are trucked to a recycling facility in Green Bay, Wis., where they are mixed with other recycled material and turned into paper napkins that it uses in its stores.

“There are financial benefits to doing this,” said Mr. Hanna of Starbucks. “It lowers operating costs, and we also save money because it helps us retain good people every year and builds brand reputation at no cost to the marketing budget. It makes business sense.”

Starbucks did a pilot project with a paper mill in Mississippi to prove that used cups could be recycled into new paper cups in much the same way that PET bottles and aluminum cans can be recycled into new bottles and cans. But there still is little demand from recyclers for used cups, and many communities lack the infrastructure to collect and process them.

Stonyfield Farm, the New Hampshire yogurt maker, has had more success with its containers. By chance, Eric Hudson, the founder of Preserve, a company created in 1996 to create products out of recycled materials, bumped into an executive from Stonyfield Farm. Stonyfield has the kind of customers who “call asking, ‘Have you considered putting your products in glass?’ ” according to Amy Elkes, its brand program and consumer insights manager, and it was eager to find a way to recycle its yogurt cups.

Despite its wholesome image, yogurt, one of the most widely sold dairy products, is largely sold in polypropylene, or No. 5, plastic cups, which most municipalities do not recycle.

After a meeting with Mr. Hudson, Stonyfield told its customers that they could mail in their used cups for recycling. About 200 customers responded.

Finally, in 2008, the company struck a deal to put collection bins in Whole Foods stores, and the effort took off. Customers can take any No. 5 container to Whole Foods stores — margarine tubs, other brands’ yogurt containers — where they are collected, taken to a plant for processing, and then turned into toothbrushes and razors by Preserve.

Last year, some 11 million six-ounce No. 5 yogurt cups were collected through the program, up from 2.3 million in 2009, according to Stonyfield.

Two other large producers of yogurt in No. 5 cups, General Mills and Danone, would not comment, but they, like almost all other consumer packaged goods companies, are no doubt keeping a wary eye on Walmart, the giant retailer, which already requires its suppliers to tell it the composition of their packaging.

Brooke Buchanan, a Walmart spokeswoman, said the company did not favor legislation that would mandate extended producer responsibility. But environmental advocates say the impact would be enormous if the company were to require its suppliers to participate in, say, a program in which consumers returned packaging to its stores.

Bill Sheehan, executive director of the Product Policy Institute, a nonprofit group that works to build support for extended producer responsibility, said, “Walmart is doing some pretty good things environmentally all on their own, and because of their size, they’re able to have a broad effect on what suppliers do.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

There is no blind side to Green

I read this article this morning in the NY Times about an apparel company called SustainU that produces sustainable clothing for the college market. For those not in the loop many colleges/universities are becoming strong advocates of the buy local market when it comes to the sport clothing marketed on campus.

The double appeal is that SustainU found themselves a unique manufacturing plant that hires the blind. This would be called a win win in most situations. In a country that is struggling to establish manufacturing finding one that also hires the "disabled" shows that industry and innovation are not missing in America.

I think the philosophy of green is what will be the mission to restore America in America. From the costs of energy to the concept of values of sustainability there is nothing to lose lose when it comes to green business.

There are challenges and yes there are risks - that is business. However without risk there are no opportunities. But ultimately it falls on the model of profit. I do believe that we are so vested in the concept of profit and the percentage of it in relation to the cost of doing business we cannot see the forest for the green trees.

Hiring the Blind, While Making a Green Statement
Published: March 24, 2012

WHEN Chris Yura, chief executive of the apparel company SustainU, was looking for a factory to produce 24,000 T-shirts, it was important that it be within 200 miles of where the fabric was made.

SustainU, based in Morgantown, W.Va., uses all-recycled materials to make clothing for colleges and universities. As its name indicates, it is committed to “social, economic and environmental sustainability,” Mr. Yura says. Lighter transportation demands would mean more environmental benefits and a faster turnaround time, not to mention reduced shipping costs.

The company found a factory in Winston-Salem, N.C., that seemed a logical choice. But it was no ordinary factory. Owned and operated by Winston-Salem Industries for the Blind, the factory has a work force that is blind or otherwise visually impaired.

To many, this may have been a deterrent, or at least raised doubts. “Even though you have the Americans With Disabilities Act, it’s still a challenge because people who are not familiar with the blind have misperceptions about what they can or can’t do, and it affects their decision to give people a chance,” said Kevin A. Lynch, chief executive of the nonprofit National Industries for the Blind.

The unemployment rate for blind adults of working age is nearly 70 percent — a number that has been stagnant for 30 years, Mr. Lynch said.

There may be a notion that hiring blind workers — or any disabled worker, for that matter — means spending more time, money and resources on training and equipment. But Mr. Yura said he found that there ultimately was no difference in either cost or quality between working with the Winston-Salem agency, an affiliate of the national group, and any other domestic manufacturer.

When blind people contact the agency, they often have very little work experience. They are trained to complete specific tasks and are set up with adaptive equipment to help them do their jobs. If they are making eyeglass lenses, for example, audio alerts let them know when the lenses have spent enough time in a fining, or polishing, machine. Or if they are assembling parachutes, tactile measurement guides, in the form of long wooden rails, help make sure that the lengths of ropes are all equal.

The training offers practical skills and an opportunity for upward mobility through certification classes. Workers with no experience receive minimum wage, while those with some experience are paid in line with workers doing similar jobs at other area factories, said Jeanne Wilkinson, vice president for business strategies at the Winston-Salem agency.

Anastasia Powell, a mother of three daughters who has been with the agency seven years, works in the factory’s T-shirt unit. Her job is to sew together shoulder seams. She received four months of training, and her sewing machine is specifically designed for her. A four- to six-inch metal strip is attached to the machine’s foot — where the needle contacts the fabric — to help line up the material.

“I gather my material at the corner, under my foot— the foot secures the material — and line up the guide,” Ms. Powell said. “The guide helps me make sure the seam is straight, and helps me cut off an accurate amount of material. After that, I complete the process on the second side of the shirt and send it over to the next operation.”

Ms. Powell, who has been completely blind since the age of 21, called the alteration to her machine “very minor.”

“The only difference between me and a sighted person is just that four- to six-inch strip of metal,” she said. “Nothing else had to be added.”

THE federal government has long known about the effectiveness of a blind work force. The National Industries for the Blind was established in 1938 as a result of a law signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt that required federal agencies to buy supplies made by blind workers.

Ever since, the group and its agencies have been making products as varied as brooms and mattresses for the government and military. (In addition to clothing, the Winston-Salem agency produces eyeglasses for veterans and parachutes for soldiers in Afghanistan.)

But with the gradual withdrawal of American forces from war zones and the overall downsizing of the military, the national group hoped to do more business with private-sector companies in the future, Mr. Lynch said.

“I think there’s a growing interest out there in the general public for social responsibility, and I think that’s translating over to corporate responsibility,” he said. “There is also a real interest for things made in America.”

Showing that high-quality products can be made in America by people who are blind is a major selling point, he said.

Mr. Yura, who is already lining up another job with the Winston-Salem agency, is happy to endorse this message. And as for how those 24,000 T-shirts turned out? “You would never know whether the person who made the garment had full vision capability or not. It all looks the same. It’s the same product at the end of the day.”

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Drives Me Batty

One of the most important discussions I have with homeowners is often over insulation. There is no question what you choose to insulate your home with has far reaching consequences and outcomes.

There are a multitude of choices regarding insulation - some "greener" than others but the overall idea is that insulation in and of itself serves a purpose - to reduce waste and consumption - the most green thing there is.

So what kinds of insulation are there? A quick review of the Department of Energy website will provide you with the numerous types of insulation and the pros and cons of each.

The energy geeks can debate, discuss all the equations and R values of each and ultimately define what makes a certain type of insulation a better "performer" but to home owners it ultimately comes down to "how much?"

The cost and the concept of a "payback period" is where the heavy spread sheet calculations occur. The payback period is that ever fluctuating number that determines the overall cost vs time of return on the product. This is often the most challenging of factors to determine as it is a "guesstimate" on the cost of energy over a specified time frame - which is ideally to determine how long or soon this improvement is going to pay itself off.

I loathe the overall idea of SPP, as simply put if you can't afford it don't do it and nothing is set in stone - from energy costs and interest rates to well how long you are willing to stay somewhere makes this only a perspective not a fundamental. So you ultimately make your decision on what it costs right now and if you can afford it.

And where you live and what climate zone you live in also determines the minimum/desirable amount of insulation a home needs. This is often confused with building codes which do take into account some of that but its been proven time and time again to be on the minimal side. So again a little geek energy is going to be needed here to find out where and how much you may need to get the most bang for your buck

The next factor is in the installation itself. The simple factor is that insulation is an art form and skill set. Poorly installed insulation regardless of the type has a massive affect on its affects.

The Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET), a national association of home energy raters, has long debated this issue regarding how to estimate the R-value of walls and how it often falls to the skill of the insulation installer. So it is worth using a certified RESNET or HERS rater/inspector if you are truly in doubt.

And finally its behavior. All the insulation in the world will not help if you are using energy inappropriately. From excessive use to poor ventilation all of the factors that can affect an overall home performance often falls down to the residents.

But a well insulated home is one defined by one that where the insulation is done well. There are few gaps and accommodations are made for the type of home and its overall design.

So when deciding what do about your insulation needs take four factors: performance, installation method and quality, material characteristics, and cost. And then the hard part really begins.. finding the type of provider who can meet them. And that is the real energy used there.

Education: Get What You Pay Fpr

I received this from a Peter Kim who asked me what I thought of his graphic that illustrates the overall failure in Education to meet up to the demands that our society now requires.

I will let you dear readers discuss, debate, and/or dialog the concepts presented in the graphic but it is clear that as in all issues surrounding sustainability Education is at the forefront...

Why America's Education Isn't Worth the Money

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Warehouses Go Green

I just received a charming email from Michael Koploy, a supply chain blogger at Software Advice.

He thought that I might be interested in an article he wrote about on warehouse retrofits to reduce energy consumption.

I thought it was an interesting read and Michael did his homework on the subject on how to find affordable ways to make warehouses more sustainable.

The article suggests 9 retrofits such as applying a cool roof, investing in destratification fans and increasing natural lighting with light tubes.

Good ideas for spaces often overlooked in the greening of America.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Green Army Wanted

I have always admired the grit and gusto of America's "Greenest" City - Greensburg.

For those of you who followed their series on the Green TV network to rebuild after a storm destroyed the town you are aware of the determination and frustrations of its citizens. Well more cities have entered that quest and now our friends of Greensburg are asking for their friends in Joplin.

I am proud to follow their journey and share with you their most recent letter to me with regards to their special needs at this time.

So if you are interested please read below and get involved.


Dear Tanya,

Hello from southwestern Kansas. Before we get to telling you about the featured articles, we want to address the distressing spate of storms hitting the country in recent weeks. Our hearts go out to the thousands of people whose lives have been impacted by the tornados. We have been getting many requests for information and inquiries about how to best help these folks.

GreenTown has been working to develop resources that will take the benefit of what we've learned in Greensburg to help others through their recovery. This is a very big project that takes a lot of time and resources. If you are interested in supporting us in these efforts, please partner with us to make a difference.

If you have special expertise or anything else that you can offer to people who are rebuilding, please let us know. One of our priority projects is developing a skills bank and pool of mentors who are on call to help - no matter where you live. You can contact GreenTown by phone at 620-723-2790 or email. Thank you for your support and generosity.

In this issue of the GreenTown newsletter we feature a couple of articles dealing with caring for water and soil. We hope that the suggestions offered for water conservation and natural lawn care are helpful. I encountered some very eye-opening statistics during the course of researching these feature stories. We trust that knowledge is indeed power.

The GreenTown Joplin report will bring you up to date on our affiliate's activities in that community. There is an enormous outpouring of generosity and ingenuity into the community, and many local folks are committed to building back stronger and more sustainably.

We also introduce you to a planned community in South Africa in the second installment of our series, Living Green Around the Globe, written by Sarah Thyparambil, one of our AmeriCorps staff. Crossways Farm Village is re-visioning an old dairy farm to be a "forefront of a new way of living".

Finally, we feature an article about how to care for high performance buildings, long after the LEED certification has been awarded. Thanks to Ashley Halligan for her informative article!

The fifth anniversary of the May 4 tornado is coming up this spring and the community will be alive with activity. If you've never been to Greensburg - or haven't been here in awhile - we hope you'll consider a visit and celebrate the rebirth of this visionary town. The May 4-6 weekend promises to be a special time.

Best wishes to you in all that you do.


Catherine Hart
Program Director & Co-Founder
Greensburg GreenTown

Get Building

Construction is back! And the need for equipment is growing. One such company is Tractor Export a premier machinery & heavy equipment provider out of Florida,

Tractor Export has over 40 years in the business and they specialize in the procurement, preparation and delivery of virtually any type of used construction equipment for sale in the United States

As a full service provider, Tractor Export is your one-stop solution to supply the exact equipment that your business needs, secure the lowest prices available, and deliver everything to your port with the peace of mind that comes with buying from one of the most reputable companies in the industry.

Are you looking for used trucks for sale? How about used farm tractors for sale? They got them all and are ready to ship to your location and destination.

From a used bull dozer to a backhoe loader, Tractor Export has the kind of heavy construction equipment you will need to build.

Spanish speakers are available to assist and they ship worldwide to your port of call. Now is the time to get building

**brought to you by your friends at Tractor Export***

Latch Key Kids

Guest written by our friend Mason Abbott

When my husband lost his job in the recent economic meltdown, we decided the best thing for our family would be for me to go back to work. He’s since found a new job, but I discovered that I actually enjoyed being back at work; we decided that our kids were old enough now to take care of themselves when they get home from school, and the entire situation has worked out so well for us. The one downside for me is the worrying that comes along with leaving my kids alone, even if it is only for a few hours. I constantly worry that someone is going to leave the oven on, or that there might be a break in. I know it’s a little illogical to worry about an intruder in broad daylight in our safe neighborhood, but suffice it to say I am a worrier. In any event, my husband fortunately recommended that we sign up for a home monitoring service—not only do they monitor for break-ins, they also make sure there is no carbon monoxide present in the home! I don’t have to worry anymore; I know the alarm company will get in touch immediately if there are any issues. The best part is that the adt pricing is very affordable. It’s a win-win situation, in my opinion.