Friday, May 30, 2008
Thursday, May 29, 2008
But from an environmental standpoint, it gets overwhelming when you think about all the non-recycled bottles, paper plates, plastic cups, and overpriced merchandise that is overlooked at the different venues. It gets depressing when you realize that this action is repeated nearly five times a week when bands tour through the city.
Luckily, Guster’s lead vocalist/guitarist, Adam Gardner, and wife, Lauren Sullivan, have decided to change the way the music industry approaches the environment. By founding the non-profit organization, REVERB, they have been able to connect with many mainstream bands and artists to educate them and their fans on the importance of conserving while on tour.
Some of the services REVERB offers are connecting tour buses with biodiesel and bio-gradable catering utensils, recycling bottles and cans, providing green merchandise such as old guitar strings to be used as necklaces, and educating the fans about sustainable living in their “Eco-Village” camps.
However, as much good as REVERB does for the many bands it partners up with, there is an aspect of touring that even the band can't control: pollution. According to REVERB's website, nearly 80% of the CO2 footprint produced while a band is on tour can be traced to the fans. In an effort to reduce the amount of CO2 released by traveling fans, REVERB works closely with groups like The Barenaked Ladies and The Dave Matthews Band to promote their Fans Carbon Offset Programs. The bands promote online awareness and encourage their fans to carpool or take advantage of public transportation whenever possible. The program will also sell eco-friendly merchandise with proceeds going towards REVERB and other eco-conscious programs.
Do you remember the last time you went to see a band where the bar still served you a drink in a glass? How about the last concert that didn't sell water bottled in plastic? Or an outdoor festival without the ubiquitous plastic cup?
The change-over seems to have occurred sometime in the 1980’s, since I remember going to many shows in that era where the water was in fountains, the beer was in cans or glass bottles, and paper cups (albeit poly-coated, or with plastic straws and lids) were the norm. Bars that served drinks in plastic cups were rare. You could still bring a thermos to outdoor concerts, as long as it wasn't filled with alcohol. And vendors selling things like hot dogs in plastic clamshells, which they do now in many of our arenas, was unheard of.
The amount of non-recyclable plastic trash left after one Memorial Day party in my neighborhood tells me that entertainment and waste still go hand in hand, and we have a long way to go towards reducing petrochemical pollution. Plastic cups, cutlery, plates etc. are not currently recycled in this city, so the best solution for festivals and concerts is to bring your own containers or choose biodegradable alternatives. Two local examples, the annual Philadelphia Folk Festival, and the upcoming Popped Music Festival, provide water stations, so concert go-ers can fill their own bottles, instead of buying bottled water.
Getting bars, or any businesses, to comply with recycling laws has been next to impossible for the city's underfunded Streets and Walkways Education and Enforcement Program (S.W.E.E.P). But it might be getting easier, now that Mayor Nutter has appointed a new Director of Sustainability, Mark Allen Hughes. Hopefully, we will start to see more clubs sending their cans, glass, and plastic bottles to the recycling center instead of the dumpster. Unfortunately, this city still doesn't recycle plastic cups, so that problem will only be solved when clubs and bars start making more sustainable choices.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
The festival I’m most familiar with. Having attended it about six years ago, I remember it being a mess, paper strewn everywhere and bottles all over the ground (which were later used in a fight between the crowds waiting for NOFX and the crowd watching Reel Big Fish). Knowing how big of an offender they were, I wanted to see if they would step up, especially with the long associated political and social awareness that, from time to time, is associated with punk rock.
While I doubt the grounds will be free of any trash, it looks like The Warped Tour is really taking a stance. From a very visible tab on the main page, the site will direct you to web page that not only shows how you can be green for the concert, but other practical guides for home. There’s a catch though: the sites don’t launch until June 1st, so aside from knowing that this information will soon be there, the only real content available now is information on the tour using biodiesel for their buses and reusable plates and cutlery for their meals.
And to typically motivate the young, you can also win a trip with your favorite band to St Croix. I guess that’s cool? All this information is available on their website, so check it out. Also, if you’re planning to attend, check out the Gaslight Anthem. Say you heard them when.
So we’re a little bit late on this one. The concert was April 25-27, 2008 and Prince did a pretty kick-ass rendition of “Creep” by Radiohead. The people behind Coachella had joined up with the Global Inheritance site, which I talked about yesterday, to help keep the grounds clean. They also ran a program to help collect water bottles. If you brought ten empties, you got one free fresh bottle. Sounds cheesy, but at $5 a bottle, it's a steal.
Additionally, they had a tent setup called the EnergyFACTory. Here, you could not only charge your cell phone by riding a stationary bike, but help out dehydrated and exhausted patrons by powering a mist fan. They also had an ethanol corn tree, which is corn cooked in ethanol (isn’t that redundant?). I don’t know what that is, but I want one. Check out the rest of the fun stuff they had at the EnergyFACTory page.
Bonnaroo is a four day festival that takes place from June 12 - 15, 2008 in Tenessee. To match the eclectic musical lineup, the Centeroo, as its called, featured just as much of a mix-up. For example, the mainly environmental awareness section is located right next to a hair salon, where you can get a new ‘do (I really wish I was kidding). The Planet Roo section will have yoga, eco-friendly cafes, and a solar stage, which highlights activists and activist-minded performers.
While that’s cool and all, I really wish they didn’t make the Planet Roo section feel so new age. It’d be nice if they mixed in other options, to give it less of a hoity feel and more approachable for someone who may be nervous about getting their learning on, especially at a concert of that magnitude. Still though, the festival is very conscious and wants to keep it as safe and clean as possible. The lineup’s killer too.
I want to add a final note, though. Every website mentions carpooling, but car pollution still a main offender. The concerts all try to help with offsets, but this will still be a huge problem for concerts of this size.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Let's start things off with Piebald. Piebald is a band I’d seen a few times in college. Though one of their albums, If It Weren’t for Venetian Blinds, It’d Be Curtains for Us All, is still in my top ten albums of all time, I really hadn’t followed them as I’d gotten older. When I did an initial search of bands going green, they were the one that first jumped out at me. Surprised, I navigated to their site, where I learned about their RV, which they had converted to run on waste vegetable oil. They have a great video that helps introduce the viewer on how an engine like that works (which is very similar to that of a diesel system). The Grease Not Gas website can further educate you as well.
As we are going to be traveling to shoot the film, this seems like an affordable way to transport our equipment to the shooting locations. Not only would it be safer for the environment, but it could save us money, a major plus when shooting an independent film. Unfortunately, Piebald recently broke up. You should still check them out though, they’re music is still awesome!
Someone else that took me by surprise were The Roots. A local hip-hop group, The Roots have their hands in many organizations, most notably with PETA. But while I couldn’t find much on their causes outside of a few, small articles tied in with their new album (which I haven't heard, but apparently has songs about the environment), I did get to stumble across this really cool site called Global Inheritance.
What’s great about Global Inheritance is they are presenting new ways to tackle activism, something I’ve lamented to a few people about recently. With times changing, a lot of the old methods of protest just don’t seem to have the same power. This site seems to realize that, offering various alternatives that get the message across while still feeling cutting edge and without condescension. While it seems to be more west coast-based, I’m hoping to hear more out of this collective, especially with their partnership with Planet Green, the new Discovery Channel which should launch in two weeks.
Monday, May 26, 2008
With Memorial Day Weekend slowly winding down and summer about to officially start, now seems like a good time to turn our focus to musicians and the various tours and one-off concerts that happen over the summer. There's been a lot of green activity in the music world, and we think there's probably a lot for us to learn from it before we delve into planning our production.
We're going to first touch base on some bands that have made a concerted effort to spread the word on environmental awareness in their own unique ways. We'll also be checking to see what some of the bigger festival tours are doing to help off-set their carbon footprints, if they do so at all.
We'll then take a tour of Philadelphia's own big venues and rock out on Friday with some green music videos.
Friday, May 23, 2008
We thought a good way to introduce the concept of peak oil (that elephant in the room) and squeeze in a "Fun Friday" post for the close of Energy Week would be the heartwarming end-of-days comic strip, Luz, Girl of the Knowing. (I know, sick sense of humor around here.)
Informative, sweetly detailed, and sincere, the strip, penned by prodigious Canadian-Chilean talent Claudia Davila, illustrates urban kid Luz's "cup half-full" perspective as she prepares for life without petroleum. Some of the facts are scarier than you think, but Luz, comfortable in her role as bad-news-bearer, doesn't indulge in fear.
In Episode 17, she bravely tells her class that the U.S. is both the # 1 consumer of oil (Canada is #2) and the #1 importer. In 2007, the world started using more oil than it could produce. Hence the term "peak oil."
In Episode 29 (the latest one), Gord, the neighborhood survivalist tells Luz that people think we'll be fine when the oil runs out, because of alternative fuels, "But it won't help...solar, nuclear, biofuel, none of these put together could make as much energy as the world needs."
Gulp. So what will we do?
Says Luz: "Um, basically...we should start figuring out how to live without it."
A scenario which Davila envisions through rose-colored glasses as Little House on the Urban Grid, a journey back to simpler, more self-sufficient times of canning, candlelight, medicinal herbs and battery-powered radios. And perhaps raising one's own rabbits in the backyard for protein. Luz is a brave soul indeed.
To learn more about peak oil, check out this primer, provided by The Energy Bulletin. And to read more about our current oil situation, here are some recent articles from The Nation and The Wall Street Journal.
If I’m going to try and at least play Devil’s advocate to coal power, the only thing I see it has going for it is that it's readily available. What that really means is that there's enough coal to get us by for the foreseeable future (though some figures have it up to 300 years). The problem is that coal is the biggest offender in producing climate change. Some steps have been made to help decrease carbon output by combining it with other gases to cut down on its toxic emissions, but the effect is so small that it’s barely noticeable.
Also, it apparently will help create more jobs for coal miners.
And that's where the positives pretty much end. Having been to Centralia (a town in Pennsylvania whose mines are still on fire) highlighted for me not only the terrible effect coal has on the environment, but also on communities. Coal produces a lot of toxins that cause cancer and various other unwanted diseases. It’s also incredibly deadly to mine, which was most recently highlighted two years ago in West Virginia.
In addition, acid rain is another side effect which has negative implications not only on the rain forest, but in water reserves, building foundations, and human life.
Unfortunately, many developing nations use coal as their main energy source. China is a major offender, using 2.3 billion tons of coal per year, one-third of the amount produced globally. India also uses a lot as well (447 million tons). This has led to another problem: when does developing a nation end and global awareness begin? Add to that America’s own coal consumption (we’re #2 with 1 billion tons) and it looks like it may be a long way before we view that grill as coal’s main power use.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
At the base of the Wasatch Mountain Range in Utah is a 5000 acre environmental meeting ground for “world leaders, Pulitzer Prize-winning authors, Academy Award-winning actors and directors, innovative scientists and accomplished corporate leaders.” It's called The Sundance Preserve. This year, Robert Redford decided to open his film festival there, with a screening of Josh Tickell’s biodiesel documentary Fields of Fuel, which received standing ovations and went on to win the Audience Award. The film will go on the road starting in New York City, and will follow the presidential campaign nationwide, in an attempt to "make green energy the #1 issue in the 2008 presidential elections."
Josh first discovered biodiesel in 1996, while studying abroad on an organic farm in East Germany. He applied what he learned there to his chemistry and engineering education, designing a portable machine that made fuel out of used cooking oil. He then toured the country for two years, towing his "Green Grease Machine" behind his Veggie Van, an unmodified, diesel engine Winnebago fueled by used fryer grease from fast food restaurants. He has written two books, and in 2005, Bill Clinton selected him to be part of his Global Initiative on Climate Change, helping to finance his biodiesel powered "relief ships" that provided much-needed food and supplies to Hurricane Katrina survivors. Fields of Fuel is his latest effort to mobilize Americans to ditch their foreign oil dependence for a more sustainable fuel future.
These benefits to public health are significant even in the 5-20% mixtures that currently dominate the market, but 100% biodiesel is the future Josh is shooting for, so until Fields of Fuel is released in our area, check out his website, biodieselamerica.org.
Last weeks’ topic was biodiesel, with a presentation by Brent Baker of Tri-State Biodiesel (featured in Fields of Fuel). He gave an overview of the biodiesel industry, then highlighted his company’s use of 100% recycled waste fat from New York City restaurants. The New York City Parks Department uses biodiesel for its fleet, as does the Department of Sanitation, and the state has a 5% home heating biofuel mandate by 2012. Private companies are starting to come on board as well, and Tri-State Biodiesel now supplies biodiesel to Whole Foods Markets, and Fresh Direct, an online grocery delivery service.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Don't lump biodiesel in with the other biofuels Kemper mentioned in his blog on ethanols. As you'll be reading in Karyn's blogs tomorrow, biodiesel is a fuel of a different breed.
The following facts have been reprinted from the website of Fry-O-Diesel, a plant in north Philadelphia that not only produces biodiesel from waste greases, but has also invented patent-pending technology to turn trap-grease (a sludgy amalgam of fats trapped in the sewer) into pure fuel.
- Biodiesel is a clean-burning, renewable fuel made from animal or vegetable fats, greases, and oils. Biodiesel can be used in most conventional diesel engines with NO modification.
- Since biodiesel is produced from oil and grease feedstocks, it can be produced on a long-term, renewable basis.
- With even 2% biodiesel added, fuel burns more efficiently and even improves the efficiency of retrofit technologies like diesel oxidation catalysts and particulate filters by inhibiting the accumulation of ash.
- Biodiesel is significantly less toxic than petroleum diesel, and is more biodegradable than petrodiesel, reducing the negative impacts of spills.
- Biodiesel is four times as efficient as diesel fuel in utilizing fossil energy. Biodiesel yields around 3.2 units of fuel for every unit of fossil energy consumed in the lifecycle. By contrast, petroleum diesels life cycle yields on only 0.83 units of fuel product per unit of fossil energy consumed –Biodiesel Lifecycle Inventory Study, DOE & USDA, 1998
- An estimated 6 million gallons of yellow grease are generated each year by restaurants and food service companies in the Philadelphia area.
- An estimated 10 million gallons of trap grease are generated each year in the Philadelphia area. Trap grease does not have a value in the market place – it is incinerated or dumped in landfills.
- Restaurants must pay for both yellow grease and trap grease removal. Some refuse to comply with city codes and dispose of the waste illegally, in dumpsters and down sewer lines.
While we’ve covered some of the more mainstream power alternatives out there, that doesn’t mean that we’ve covered them all. Here are some links to other ideas that haven’t really gained traction yet, but may one day!
Who said that using the bathroom was a “waste” of time? Feel guilty for just sitting and reading? Leviathan Power wants to change that. They’ve found a way to place hydroelectric turbines in the sewer systems. So go ahead, give it that second flush!
Ignore the fact that the post date is April Fool's Day, because this is no laughing matter. Some scientists have found a way to make living scum into an alternative power source. Where can you find the scum? Texas. Apparently, 50% of algae’s weight is made up of oil, and Valcent, based in El Paso, has developed a space-saving system to grow it vertically! Leave it to those Texans to find a new way to “drill” for that commodity!
No need to feel guilty about throwing out your banana peels and chicken bones. Apparently, landfill gas is a viable power source when combined with other natural gases. Even better, the process burns a significant amount of methane (a greenhouse gas with 23 times the negative impact as CO2) to create that energy.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Prohibition being over and all, ethanol is making a big comeback. As an additive to petroleum gas, even at as low as 10%, it cuts back on carbon monoxide and dioxide emissions. It also could create upwards of 200,000 new jobs in rural America, a positive that’s needed as we teeter on the edge of a recession.
However, there’s a nasty side to the ethanol boom. The recent increase in world food prices is a direct correlation to ethanol’s newfound fame. Corn now being an in-demand commodity (and being sold for fuel not food) many farmers have also cut back on producing other grains, like wheat. Less crops means less food, which leads to the higher food cost. Also, the amount of corn needed to keep a car running for a month could feed a family for a year. This is the deal-breaker for me, and why I don’t think this is a feasible option. Life comes before convenience.
Switch grass is another biofuel that’s been making the rounds. When broken down, it can also be formed into ethanol oil. Unlike corn, it can grow in almost any location and doesn’t need much maintenance. It’s also perennial, so there’s no need to have to turn a field after every crop. An acre of switch grass produces 1,000 gallons of ethanol vs. the 400 gallons that corn produces.
But as always, there’s a catch. It takes more energy to make switch grass ethanol than what it produces. Not to mention the "environmentally disastrous" consequences the new ethanol market is having on the rainforests, wetlands, and grasslands of the world.
A prime example of the cost of ethanol opportunism is Brazil, pictured above. American farmers (seeing opportunity) are converting their soybean fields to corn, so Brazilian farmers (seeing opportunity) are expanding their soybean fields into cattle pastures, pushing cattle farmers (??) into the rainforest. Deforestation accounts for 20% of all carbon emissions; to clear the world's largest carbon sinks to make supposedly "greener" biofuels only accelerates global warming. So don't let the politicians fool you into believing they know what's best for the environment with their hoo-haaing about agrofuels.
To learn more about the hacking and burning of the Amazon and the Cerrado to a precarious tipping point, read this Time Magazine article, "The Clean Energy Scam." It'll scare you away from the moonshine for good.
The Bicycle Coalition of Philadelphia (bicyclecoalition.org) promotes ”the bicycle as an environmentally friendly, healthy, and economical form of transportation and recreation through advocacy and education.” May is Bike Month, last week was Bike Week, and this Wednesday, May 21st is the global Ride of Silence, an annual ride in honor of cyclists injured or killed on the public roadways (rideofsilence.org). According to Sam Tremble of the Philadelphia Weekly, “in the last 12 months, six cyclists have been killed on the road in the Philadelphia area”, so join local cyclists in this moving memorial, beginning at the Art Museum steps at 6:45 pm.
Monday, May 19, 2008
One of my best friends grew up in Poland. As a child, he was playing with friends in some puddles in the forest near their town. He went home and felt sick. His mother took him to the hospital. For the next three months of his life, he spent his days in a hospital bed, a lovely shade of yellow due to toxic poisoning. Apparently, the area where he had been playing was contaminated by the Chernobyl meltdown a few years earlier.
I’m including the above to highlight one of the major risks that sometimes isn’t discussed when nuclear power comes to the forefront of the energy conversation. While it’s not as unsafe as some people will pulpit, it’s also never going to be 100% secure. And when you jump from 2,000 to 17,000 plants (which is about what would be needed to power most first world countries), the former argument will gain much more ground.
This is a theory discussion, though. Politics will be politics and the actual production of this number of plants will never come to be, because of a lack of interest in the private sector and incredibly high costs of construction and maintenance. Still, it is important to view nuclear energy as an alternative to fossil fuels, even as a worst case scenario.
-Because nuclear power plants produce very little CO2, they don’t contribute to global warming.
-The technology already exists. The plants only need to be built, so not much research is necessary.
-Mining for uranium is safer than mining for coal.
-They produce a LOT of electrical power in one single plant.
-That whole "toxic waste being incredible deadly and having a breakdown life of 100,000 years" isn’t really a good thing.
-Uranium doesn’t grow on trees. Even if this became a viable solution, there’s really only enough to keep most first world plants going for the next thirty to sixty years.
-Nuclear Meltdowns. Nothing good has ever come of them. See first paragraph.
-Some terrorists may view them as a giant target. The more that are produced, the greater the safety threat.
In New York City next month, the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) will host a workshop entitled "Geothermal 101 – the Hottest Clean Energy Source" at the Ritz Carlton Battery Park. Introducing geothermal energy to the NYC finance community, this event will feature "expert speakers from all of the major names in geothermal including, ThermaSource, EGS, Inc. MidAmerican Energy, Ormat, Glitnir, US Renewables, GeothermEx, UTC Power, Terra-Gen Power, and many more. Keynote speakers will be President of Iceland, Olafur Ragnar Grimmson and Director for Climate Change and Energy Initiative for Google.org, Dan Reicher." For more info go to: http://geo-energy.org/financeWorkshop/work_shop.asp
Friday, May 16, 2008
Recently, I watched The 11th Hour, a simultaneously devastating and inspiring documentary narrated and co-produced by Leonardo DiCaprio. Broader in scope than Al Gore’s global warming documentary An Inconvenient Truth, this film is an urgent call-to-arms, adding toxic pollution, natural resource depletion, and mass species extinction to the list of environmental degradations threatening to irrevocably alter human existence.
Both men have been at the forefront of a fledgling celebrity environmental movement (it was DiCaprio and Gore, at the 2007 Academy awards, who announced that the Oscars had “officially gone green”) and they, along with many others, have been using their star power and wealth as tools to raise awareness about our impact on the planet’s ecosystem.
Predictably, accusations of hypocrisy abound. Rampant consumption largely defines the entertainment business, but my admitted skepticism stems more from the movie industry’s failure thus far to recognize that it is during the actual construction of the sets that most of the environmental destruction takes place.
As a scenic painter, I know firsthand the sheer amount of wood, steel, aluminum, plastic, etc. that fills the dumpsters daily, often for scenes that never make it into the final film. Houses, restaurants, even entire apartment buildings and shopping malls are built from rainforest luaun wood and formaldehyde-filled lumber, only to be shot for a few weeks (or days), and then thrown away. Gallons of toxic, petrochemical paint, solvents, and adhesives not only find their way into our waterways and landfills, but into the lungs and bloodstreams of the workers, even on huge, multi-million dollar union productions.
It is routine for designers to demand (and for production to pay for) large-scale, costly changes throughout the course of a build, but requests for less toxic, more sustainable building materials are deemed too expensive. In fact, it has been my experience that the larger the film’s budget, the more waste it generates, and the more safety and environmental regulations are ignored. While any positive changes, from recycled office paper to hybrid cars are welcome, no amount of carbon credits can “offset” the effects of chronic toxin exposure on worker health, or reduce the amount of plastic permanently deposited in our planet’s oceans and soil.
Unfortunately, most of this takes place long before the shoot crew arrives, so how much actors like DiCaprio really know about what takes place during the making of a film is an open question. I know that it gets either scant attention, or is entirely absent from the various industry eco-activist websites (like 11thhouraction.com). Access to actors/directors/producers is, of course, limited, so we have the unfortunate circumstance where the people who know the most about what needs to change have no direct way to communicate with the people most able to make that change happen. Perhaps that is an environmental blind spot in most large corporations. But the film business has not just profit, but art, entertainment, and even education as goals, and it is clearly not just the viewing public, but the filmmakers and actors themselves that need to become fully aware of the irresponsible recklessness endemic in their industry.
Thursday, May 15, 2008
Like solar energy, wind power is very alluring because it's so simple. It comes from wind – a clean, renewable and naturally occurring source of energy. Kinetic energy to be exact.
Kinetic energy can be turned into either mechanical energy or electrical energy. People have been using wind to do mechanical things for centuries like grind grain or pump water. This is what a windmill is used for.
A wind turbine is the proper term for the mechanism used to change wind motion into electricity. The wind blows the blades which are attached to a hub. The hub is mounted on a shaft that spins as the wind blows. A gear transmission box increases the speed of the spinning. This higher energy then travels down a high speed shaft to a generator that makes electricity.
A single smaller turbine can power a home or school, but most often you'll find turbines grouped together into wind farms. This electricity is collected at a substation, increased in voltage, and released along power lines into "the grid."
According to a groovy educational site called EnergyQuest, "The sunlight falling on the United States in one day contains more than twice the energy we consume in an entire year. California has enough wind gusts to produce 11 percent of the world's wind electricity." And another study shows that the potential of wind power on land and near-shore is over five times the world's current energy use in all forms. So I don't really feel like rooting around for the "cons" of wind energy.
But I will.
In order for turbines to work, wind speeds must be between 12-14 miles per hour. Obviously that cannot be a constant. But the solution to intermittency is that, besides storage from peak production times, electricity from different smaller sources can be aggregated into a super-grid, thereby balancing out abundances and deficiencies. The trick is to think about a web of renewable sources, not one everlasting fount.
What about the land mass a wind farm requires? It can actually be twice as productive, as this land can be still be used for agriculture. And what about the carbon footprint of wind energy? The manufacture and construction of wind farms requires the use and transport of large amounts of steel, concrete, and aluminum, but the emission released in this production can be offset in only nine months of operation for off-shore turbines.
Any other cons? While wind turbines don't need water to generate electricity, there have been instances of lubricating oils or hydraulic fluid leakage. In some cases this could contaminate drinking water. Wind turbines also seem to be bat killers.
Hmm. When weighing this against all of the pollution and environmental havoc wreaked by fossil fuels (bye-bye ice caps!), I'm not really deterred.
After years of calls for a new energy future in Pennsylvania, we could finally see state lawmakers deliver far-reaching and historic clean energy solutions in the next two months-solutions that will make real cuts in global warming pollution and save us money on our electric bills.
Your efforts have helped us get this far, but victory is far from certain. So in the coming weeks I'll be asking you to help us push these initiatives across the finish line.
Take action today by asking your state senator, Sen. Williams, to pass these critical energy initiatives:
Two critical bills being debated in Harrisburg (House Bill 2200 and Special Session House Bill 1) would make big cuts in energy use and provide critical support for clean energy like wind and solar power. Both of these bills have already passed the state House, but now we need your help to push them through the Senate before the legislative recess in early July.
Take action and email Sen. Williams today by clicking on the link below:http://www.pennenvironment.org
Their investment was to install solar panels on the roof of their row home. Most solar panel installation in Philadelphia has been on institutions, like the Friends Center at 15th and Cherry St. or new construction projects built by the “green building” team of architect/developers Tim and Patrick McDonald.
Of course, the most daunting obstacle was coming up with the financing. A federal tax rebate and a Pennsylvania Sustainable Development Solar PV Grant brought the cost down from $26,000 to $15,000, but the state grant is no longer available, so unfortunately Solardelphia (www.solardelphia.com), the company who installed the panels, has to tell all new customers that until our state government decides to enact new legislation and funding opportunities, doing what my parents did will be out of the financial reach of most Philadelphia residents. So while my parents have done the pioneering work of showing that it’s possible, here’s a few things we all can do to to try to make it possible for more homeowners in the future:
- see the action alerts at votesolar.org, including their current campaign to urge Congress to extend the Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) by attaching it to the next legislative vehicle that moves. The House and the Senate are at an impasse over inclusion of the Solar ITC in current Iraq War Supplemental legislation, and we are close to the Memorial Day recess. Call the Capitol switchboard at 202/224-3121.
- call/email/write your PA representatives (if you don’t know who they are, find them at hallwatch.org) and tell them to enact new residential renewable energy grants.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
In my backyard there are five separate solar-powered lamps scattered across the lawn. These were purchased in hopes of spreading light across our dark yard so we could make sure my roommate’s dog wasn’t going to make a late night break. Unfortunately, they cast about as much light as the nighttime sky.*
While I don’t think the following pros and cons for solar energy are biased, I do want to highlight that for this region, solar power may not be the strongest alternative energy option, especially with the insane amount of rain we’ve seen in the last few weeks.
- A solar energy system can operate independently of other sources; it doesn't need a connection to a power or gas grid at all.
- Solar panels don’t pollute. The only traceable pollution comes from their manufacturing, transportation and installation.
- Once you install a solar system, there is no additional charge, which is cost effective in the long run.
- Advances have been made to grab more power on overcast days.
- It’s not going anywhere for a very, very long time. Thanks, sun!
- It’s very quiet. You don’t need a turbine to catch those rays.
- Some utilities will buy unused energy from you!
- $$$. The cost of setting up a home system can be very expensive. It’s about $10 - $12 a watt, so look to spend around $20,000 to make your home solar sustainable (some states will offset this).
- If the area you live in doesn’t get a lot of sun, look to spend more to get those watts.
- The sun doesn’t shine at night. After it sets, your home will have to run off of a battery back-up. If it’s raining all day, that can mean a dark, candle-lit night (how quaint) or electricity obtained from another power source.
- They can take up a lot of space. If you have a small roof or tight yard, expect most of it to go to the panels.
*I attribute this more to a shoddy product than the inefficiency of solar power.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
The image of the vampire is iconic. While traits and appearance have varied since the invention of the movie camera, one thing has remained constant: The vampire’s need for blood, which itself is a metaphor for energy and power. Thanks to a bill that passed in California (The aptly titled Vampire Slayer bill) in 2004, we can now add another representation to that legend. The prong.
Just because something is plugged in and fully charged does not automatically mean that it’s done sucking up any more energy. It slowly nibbles away, eating up small amounts of energy that don’t seem that big individually, but have repercussions universally. A computer left on all day may seem like a good idea, but over the course of a year can cost you, on average, $34. And while it may not look like a lot of money, this is only a small fraction of the devices secretly keeping themselves powered. On average, 5 - 8% of a household’s yearly energy cost goes to these phantom bloodsuckers.
There is hope, though. A device called the Energy Detective can gauge how much power is being misused for the cheap price of $190. However, the internet provides other alternatives for a much better price: free. For instance, this chart from Good Magazine gives a clear idea of appliances in your house that are repeat offenders and how much they waste. The easy solution? Disconnect them. Once I showed Jenny, she walked around the office (i.e., her apartment) unplugging everything in sight. This also goes for ipod plugs, cell phones, and other small devices that need to be constantly charged. Instead of plugging them in overnight, do it at the office or during the day while you go about household tasks.
So before you leave the house, check those sockets! Van Helsing would be proud.
...bottle caps...yogurt containers...disposable utensils...coffee lids...poly-coated frozen food boxes...straws...fast-food containers...styrofoam...paint buckets...six-pack rings....plant pots...cd cases...cosmetic containers...old toothbrushes...
This is the petrochemical detritus of our modern life. While nature recycles its detritus for nutrients, reincorporating it back into a sustainable system, our man-made plastics are “landfill”, literally filling the land, as well as our oceans, with non-biodegradable, non-renewable, toxic garbage. Rarely recycled, plastic accounts for an estimated 25% of all landfill space, and it is the fastest growing portion of municipal solid waste (plasticdebris.org). According to the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, only 3.5% of plastic is recycled in any way, and 60-80% of all marine debris is now plastic. Here in Philadelphia, we only recycle 7% of our total waste, and have only recently begun to collect #1 and #2 plastics curbside.
So what is the answer? Obviously, the main thing we all can do is expand our understanding of plastic waste to include more than just plastic bags and water bottles. Sure, it’s great to bring your own bag to the store, but not filling that bag with products packaged in plastic is just as important. You might choose organic produce, but if it is put into plastic bags and trucked hundreds (or thousands!) of miles, the whole concept of sustainable agriculture is being polluted. Water and soda bottles may be recyclable in some areas, but the market for products made from recycled plastics cannot keep pace with our consumption, so a better solution is to not buy these products in the first place. Also, convenience foods and beverages are often packaged in plastic or styrofoam, but a great deal of evidence now suggests that chemicals like antimony, DEHP (di-2-ehtylhexyl phthalate), bispehonal-A and the carcinogenic benzene and styrene make their way into the foods and liquids they hold, which is reason enough to avoid them. And finally, plastics are made from petroleum, an often overlooked aspect of our dependency on foreign oil, so any efforts to shift to renewables must include not just new fuels but alternatives to all petrochemical products.
- stainless steel water bottles at www.kleankanteen.com (sold locally at Mugshots Coffeehouse)
- stainless steel lunch/to go containers at www.to-goware.com
- reusable cotton produce bags and biodegradable containers/plates/cutlery at www.greenhome.com
- many bags/utensils/bottles at reusablebags.com
- soy wax paper (regular wax paper is petroleum based paraffin) at www.greenfeet.com
- If You Care 100% recycled aluminum foil at Whole Foods
- BioBag biodegradable trash/pet waste/lawn bags at www.ecoproducts.com
For those products with no reasonable alternatives (toothbrushes?) or that you are not prepared to live without (yogurt?) there is:
It is well worth the trip to visit this amazing facility (about 45 minutes from Philadelphia) that takes everything listed at the beginning of this post, and MUCH more (see website for complete list). Also, you can save up your recyclables with family and friends, so that you only have to make the trip once or twice a year.
Don't be a schmykel. Please recycle.
Can I recycle windowed envelopes?
Yep! All non-natural fibers and metals make their way out when the paper’s turned into pulp in the recycling process.
Can I recycle post-it notes?
Yessiree - as long as your recycler takes mixed-paper. Contrary to public opinion, most post-its are 99% paper, so not only do they recycle easily, they also don’t gum up the machines, a criticism often lobbed at them.
Should I recycle my pizza box?
Thanks, but no. "Food and grease-tainted paper is not desirable to have in pulping systems that recycle recovered paper."
Can you recycle plastic-coated paper cups?
No, unfortunately, there is no recyclable value. The same goes for wax-coated. While Styrofoam takes less energy to produce, it does not degrade, which is something paper has to its advantage.
The problem is using paper cups to begin with. Very few of them come from recycled paper, and Americans are projected to increase our consumption of them from 17 billion to 23 billion by 2010. If those #s don't scare you into bringing your own mug, read this.
Why can’t you recycle all plastics in Philly?
The official answer is that there isn’t enough demand to break down the plastic content in #s 3-7, because you can only garner a certain amount of reusable materials. However, according to some sources, a city will increase its plastic recycling count if it accept all numbers. Something worth bringing up at the next city council meeting. Philadelphia also has both single-stream (everything in one bucket) and dual-stream (separate your papers and cans, no plastics) recycling, but this summer will condense to single-stream. (Ahh, much better.) Learn more about Philadelphia's recycling program from this comprehensive City Paper Guide.
So if I can't recycle plastic #s 3-7 with the city, where can I recycle them?
Recycling Services, a mecca for plastics and other materials your city won't take. Located in Pottstown, PA, it's only a 45 minute drive from Philly. So save up all of your odds and ends (their list of accepted materials is exhaustive and specific, so please check it out) and make a trip once a year. It's worth it to see Jim Crater's amazing place and wandering peacock.
Meanwhile, make sure you separate your #1s and #2s for city recycling. Even a small amount of the wrong type of plastic can ruin a recycling melt. Because a lot of people don't take time to separate it, much plastic collected for recycling is actually landfilled when it could go to larger recycling centers like the one in Pottstown.
Can you recycle the caps on plastic bottles?
Yes, but not through most municipal recycling programs. They're made from a different type of plastic resin and can contaminate the other plastics. I did a search for "plastic bottle tops" and pulled up three straight pages of ways to turn them into fishing lures. Is anything NOT a craft project?! Luckily, Recycling Services will take them (see above).
Egads! There's plastic everywhere! What about baggies, cling wrap and bread bags??
Some of this falls into plastic type #2. Please refer to this chart at plasticbagrecycling.org to see the breakout and click on your location to see specifically what your city will take.
We're setting up our production office on location, and I'm not familiar with the recycling services there...
We'll be covering production waste in more detail soon, but if you're in a jam, try this handy 1-2-3 from the National Recycling Coalition.
I'm auditioning for America's Next Top Recycler, I'm burning to know more!
Here's a quick, helpful guide for when you're in doubt!
Monday, May 12, 2008
How did the Sustainable Group start as a company? Was it initially for environmental good?
Yes, both my business partner and I are very environmentally conscious in our daily lives. We live in the beautiful, Pacific Northwest where it's tough to not be aware of the natural beauty around us. We wanted to dabble in something new. We had both started a couple of technologies companies but wanted to build a company that made great products but ones that could be easily recycled or reused at the end of their life cycle. The REBINDER was our flagship product. Taking the same concept of a traditional vinyl binder but making it a little more sexy. Coming from a tech business that received several vinyl binders per year, we felt the guilt of throwing the old ones away to replace the new ones. We thought, what if we could make the ring metals removable so that you could recycle your old cover. The REBINDER was a different concept but really sent a message to consumers using vinyl/plastic binders that take for ever to break down in a landfill. The REBINDER covers are made of recycled corrugated cardboard or chipboard that can be recycled in any home curbside recycling. We sell replacement covers that can be used with the existing ring metals and assembly.
What are some of the practices your office has adopted to operate more sustainably? Does it cost much more to go green?
What do you generally recommend to a small company planning to make the switch to a more green way of running things?
I think the best advice is to start small. There's a term floating around now that I just heard of called "eco-anxiety". People tend to get overwhelmed that they are doing enough. You can't expect to change everything overnight. Every little bit helps, whether it's recycling in your office, using CFL bulbs for lighting and turning your computer off at night. And here's a shameless plug... buy recycled office supplies. :) Switching over to 100% post-consumer recycled paper can make a big difference. Using environmentally friendly cleaning supplies, 100% PCR toilet paper, and the list goes on.
What is the general time frame it takes to make a ReBinder from drawing board to warehouse floor?
It's actually quite fast. We run roughly 20-30 thousand covers per size on press which takes about a day to run. They are shipped about a half mile down the road where our assembly team inserts the rings, screws and T-nuts. It takes less than a minute to assemble a REBINDER and about the same to disassemble it.
What are some new materials or projects your company is looking to roll out in the coming year?
We just rolled out a 1.5" REBINDER with a solid, rigid chipboard cover. We are also going to be selling PLA (corn plastic) trade show badge-holders. Trade show badge-holders have been a big request from our customers that have been using our products at conferences around the country.
What does "sustainability" mean to you?
To me, sustainability means being conscious of the impact you're making around you. Whether that's in your business or personal life. For every action, there's a reaction. There's a great book I read several years ago by Paul Hawken called "The Ecology of Commerce" that really shaped my views on running a company and even the way I live my life outside the office.
We’ll start off with Energy Vampirism, consumer products that slowly sap out energy without you knowing, and give you some tips on how to best combat the problem. We’ll also go more in-depth on energy sources and give you the scoop, both pro and con, on solar, wind, nuclear, etc. We’ll finish up the discussion next week with a discussion on bio-fuels, such as switch grass and ethanol, and see if they really live up to the hype.
Also this week we're going to be joined by Karyn Gerred, a Philadelphia environmentalist and scenic artist. She will be regularly contributing news on green happenings in the film industry among other pertinent environmental facts. To start things off, she's gathered more recycling information, so look for an updated FAQs tomorrow!
Friday, May 9, 2008
- Email rather than snail mail.
- Opt for electronic billing.
- Use PayPal as an option for sending donations.
- Use Google Documents or some another web-based platform for file exchange.
- Use a USB key rather than CDs to carry documents.
- Use a scanner for archiving documents.
- Purchase paper products with the highest possible post-consumer paper content including:
- printer paper
- mailing labels
- file folders
- toilet paper
- paper towels
- Re-print on backs of used paper.
- Print double-sided scripts and docs whenever possible.
- Shut the computer down when you're not using it, and unplug it at night.
- Unplug all electronics and chargers when not in use.
- Use energy efficient lightbulbs.
- No disposable utensils or cups in the office. All eating utensils, plates, cups and napkins will be 100% reusable.
- Use biodegradable and non-toxic products for office cleaning.
- Purchase biodegradable trash bags when we run out of regular.
- Provide cloth shopping bags for groceries/take-out.
- Provide recycling bins for paper, plastic, glass, metal and CD/DVDs.
- Separate plastics into different recycling bins (i.e. #s 1 & 2 together, the rest separated).
- Bike, walk, or use public transportation whenever possible. Car reserved for longer distances or for locations difficult to access by public transportation.
And then there's the page itself, that beautiful landscape, blank or cluttered, receptive or unyielding, infinite with potential, but finite in dimension. Always an artifact of intimacy. This physical page is a much better vessel for the wandering brain - a place to sketch, not linearly plot a course by the flash of a blinking cursor.
Don't get me wrong, the computer is a godsend for writers (spell-checks, revisions, archiving, copying & pasting), not to mention anyone interested in blogging or self-promotion. Believe me, Future Weather has not come this far with a fountain pen by candlelight.
But it's positively nerve-wracking to sit at the computer for the thirteenth hour of the day reading from the densely-packed electric light of an LCD monitor that threatens to pull your neck and eye muscles taut as a slingshot. And it's so delicious to turn it off, pick up your pen and take a meandering scratch across the pages of a notebook, datebook, calendar, post-it note, napkin or newspaper margin; or open a book, the act of turning pages a rhythmic literature in and of itself; or, one of life's sweetest pleasures, cross something off your list.
For some brains, there must be an aspect of reading comprehension that correlates to spatial perception, because I find a paper edit far more productive than editing from whatever word processor I'm using. I also find that the older I get, structural thinking and complex organization is much easier when working from a physical page as opposed to a virtual one.
None of this, however, is in any way meant to justify an unchecked use of paper. But as Kemper suggests, though writers and readers should find more ways to reduce their use of paper (and insist on using 100% post-consumer recycled paper when they do use it), we will not be able to give up pen and paper entirely. Unless we're forced to return to the caves.
Thursday, May 8, 2008
Watch Conservatree bust a few office paper myths:
Their definition of pre-consumer waste is "paper made out of paper scraps and trimmings left over from the paper manufacturing process". In other words, even though it has been recycled, trees were newly cut down to obtain this material.
A startling fact World Centric mentions is that paper makes up 40% of total waste because it is not recycled. By purchasing 100% post-consumer recycled paper, we are creating a demand for paper that would normally end up in a landfill, and no trees are cut down to make it.
So watch your percentages when purchasing paper. 100% recycled can be misleading if only 30% of it is post-consumer.
The entry goes on to provide an oddly wistful and culturally revealing list of types of post-consumer waste:
- parts that are not needed, such as fruit skins, bones in meat, etc.
- undesired things received, e.g.:
- advertising material in the mailbox
- a flyer received in the street without having the opportunity to refuse
- dust, weed, fallen leaves, etc.
- things one no longer needs, e.g. a magazine that has been read, things replaced by new versions, clothes out of fashion, remaining food that one cannot keep or does not want to keep
- broken things, things no longer working, spoilt food, worn-out clothes, clothes which no longer fit
- outgrown items toys, clothing, books, schoolwork
- disposables such as Kleenex and finished batteries
- human waste, waste of pets, waste water from various forms of cleaning
- "post-life waste"
- (not a very respectful term though): one's body or ashes
- things the heirs do not want and cannot sell
"In many countries, such as the United States, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in post-consumer waste once it leaves the consumer's home. Anyone can search it, including the police, and any incriminating evidence recovered can be used at trial."
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
I’m trying though. Lately, I’ve been editing pieces on my computer, something I’ve rarely done. I end up skimming more than I do when it’s on a piece of paper, and the pull of the internet is much stronger than I want to admit. But it’s a skill that I need to further develop, as technology won’t be waiting for me to catch up. And if I need to, I can always print out pages on the back of ones I’ve already used, a trick that I’ve picked up from Jenny.
I’ve also started reusing a lot of my older notebooks. Most of them are barely filled, wholly dedicated to projects that never made it farther than ten pages in said books. I have seven of these. Instead of carrying two or three books, each with a title referring to my musings, I’ve condensed it to one, a title and date written at the top of each page to jog my memory when I need it.
The note cards aren’t going anywhere for now, though. My greatest ideas have always started on a scrap of paper. As I write this, 2000 index cards are stacked on the corner of my desk waiting to be tacked onto a corkboard to map out characters and plotlines. Doing anything but using these up would be environmentally irresponsible. When they dwindle down though, I’m going to try my best to find responsible substitutes, whether it be the backs of outdated business cards, electronic "notecards" or recycled ones.
It might take me longer to edit, and I may have to spend more time in front of the computer. But these are things I know in the long run will not only be a positive for the environment, but also for improving my writing process. Sometimes, you gotta see the forest for the trees.
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
Is your office a sea of non-recycled paper floating little styrofoam coffee boats? Here's some green relief.
Flock Browser: Eco-Edition
While I’m a Firefox guy, Jenny has been raving about this free internet browser from Yahoo that not only gives you super-browser powers (tagging, clipboards, blog uploaders and instant access to all of your virtual haunts at once), but more importantly, up-to-the-minute eco-news and media feeds.
Spend most of your time traveling and speaking with clients on your cell phone? Try out Credo Mobile, a division of the socially conscious phone company Working Assets. 1% of all their profit goes directly to "progressive" non-profits. Their plans are pretty comparable to other providers, but they do run off the Sprint network, which I know is problematic for some. While the phone selection is limited, it does include PVC-free options and solar-powered chargers. Learn about it where I did: National Geographics Green Guide.
Wild 'N Out!
The New York Zoos "Build Your Wild Self" website is a great place to get in touch with your inner animal, make wild desktop wallpaper, and drown out the sound of the copy machine with rad animal sound effects. Rarr.
1) Catalog Choice
Tired of a mailbox full of vapid catalogs? Catalog Choice allows you to select which ones you want to stop. It's far more effective if you have the customer number from the back of the catalog.
2) Opt-Out Prescreen
A few simple clicks and and you'll stop receiving all those annoying requests for credit cards. Electronically, you can do a five year opt-out; by mail, you can permanently opt-out. Either way, you're saving a lot of trees.
3) Contact Your Credit Cards Directly
Simply tell them you only want info about your account and are not interested in receiving
any other promotions (balance transfer checks, insurance, etc.). They will take you off the list.
Monday, May 5, 2008
There's a lot of paperwork that must be done for a movie to get made - script rewrites, business plans, contracts, press kits and all other forms of hodgepodge that begin to clutter up the workspace. In short, a film spends half its life in an office.
This week, we're going to delve into how to make that office greener from cutting down on on junk mail to joining a socially conscious mobile phone company. Jenny and I will also be talking from a writer's perspective on paper consumption, something we're both very familiar with.
Brad Hole from The Sustainable Group will chime in with some helpful pointers on how you can modify your office to be more sustainable while also highlighting some interesting facts about his green office products company. We'll finish up the week with a checklist of green actions we're going to attempt in our own production office.
Friday, May 2, 2008
It takes about 700 years for a plastic bottle in a landfill to begin decomposing. That’s the number that made me give serious thought to my recycling efforts, long before “sustainable” and “green” became the corporate buzzwords they are today. I’m not painting myself as a crusader for recycling, because frankly, I'm a bit more of a cynic about America's habits. I’ll soon be starting a job designing landfills. With all the waste production in this country, I have no concerns about job security.
I don’t remember exactly when the city of Philadelphia first implemented its recycling program. I just remember those new red trucks with the low sides that would come by the house to pick up our recycling. The distinctive plastic buckets issued by the city held about 10 gallons and were blue. My parents would save cans and glass bottles and jars and put them out in the bucket for the biweekly collection. Newspapers would be placed into old brown paper grocery bags, as if we were wrapping the papers for delivery to the recycling center. The process remained just like that for a good number of years.
In those early days, the city also operated several collection points for plastic bottles. One of these points was at our local high school, so my dad would collect #1 and #2 plastic bottles and drop them off one Saturday morning a month. Around 1996, there were cut backs in the city budget and we lost our recycling site. There were still a few sites that would collect, but my dad decided it was too far away to continue collecting.
Luckily, a few things changed with the city’s recycling program in the following years. The city got newer, bigger trucks. Eventually they even issued each house a new recycling bin, still blue, but now much bigger and actually capable of holding a good amount of recycling. We could now recycle glossy paper in addition to newspapers, so magazines and catalogs could be added to our grocery bags for recycling.
These days, though, the municipality has started doing city-wide curbside plastic recycling. For the first time, paper, corrugated cardboard, glass, steel and aluminum cans and #1 and #2 plastics can all be recycled at the curb. If you need a recycling bin, you can pick one up at a number of sanitation yards throughout the city. You can visit recyclingpays.phila.gov for more details.
The thing that confuses me most is why more people don’t recycle their trash. My roommates, my family and I are not doing anything that takes extra effort. We have an additional bin in the kitchen for recycling . The only real work required is to check plastic container and lids to make sure they're an accepted type.
A few weeks ago, Michael Nutter held a spring cleaning in the city. The mayor challenged the citizens of Philadelphia to a day of city sponsored clean up. Philly provided the trash trucks, corporate sponsors provided the trash bags and gloves and the citizens provided the muscle. Over 10,000 people turned out, to remove over 2.5 millions pounds of litter from the streets. After going out, cleaning up and seeing the difference that can be made, I decided to take the mayor up on his challenge to continue recycling efforts. Most American trash isn't going anywhere; it's not breaking down any time soon. Get on it.
Jimmy is getting his B.S. in Civic Engineering from Drexel and will be heading to Japan this summer to study soil. Upon his return in the fall, he will be working in Waste Management.