Category Archives: Carbon Footprint

Good Energy = Good Business

Having solar panels has, to this point, been a luxury item and, even in the corporate world, only the elite brands (those we all know make tons of money) have been making the commitment to change to solar power.

Kohl’s Department Stores has taken their commitment to using solar (as part of their energy usage reduction plan) so much more mainstream.

The brand recognizes that as a company that focuses on their retail stores, their biggest environmental impact is in energy usage.  How about these accomplishments (taken from http://www.kohlsgreenscene.com/Energy/EnergyEfficiency.html):

  • 50 ENERGY STAR labeled stores
  • 116 activated solar sites
  • #1 Retailer for Green Power Purchases, #2 Overall and #12 for On-Site Generation
  • 100% of all Power used by Kohl’s comes from renewable energy sources
  • Energy Star Partner of the Year Award—2010 and 2011

Kohls has Installed Solar Panels on 116 Stores (solarpanelspower.net)

You can check out the Kohl’s Green Scene to see the depth of their whole environmental commitment.  You can go to your local Kohls and see the corporate commitment in action.  How cool is it that more people can exercise their option to choose to buy from a company that is really practicing great environmental leadership?

As more companies prove that you can be both environmentally friendly and profitable, choices will open up.  For example, look at what is happening at Johnson & Johnson or IKEA or Google.   It is so exciting that it might be time to start looking at the companies we buy from every day and try to make buying choices that reflect environmental values.

-Ruth

The Johnson & Johnson Solar Array – the largest solar array in New Jersey

PNS Energy

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Filed under Carbon Footprint, Conservation, Energy Efficiency, Innovation, Recycled Materials, Renewable Energy, Solar, Uncategorized

Vampire Power is Here to Stay

The phrase “vampire power” is becoming common language in the eco-friendly community and we are out to decipher what it actually means and give you some advice on how to prevent vampire power and save some easy money in the process.

Vampire or standby power is the electricity that devices use when they are plugged in and not actively turned on or in use. According to Standby Power, “an individual product draws relatively little standby power but a typical American home has forty products constantly drawing power. Together these amount to almost 10% of residential electricity use.” For example, most people have cell phone chargers that they leave plugged into their wall 24 hours a day. When the phone is not actually plugged in and charging, that charger is using, on average .26 watts. That is not a lot of energy by itself but if a household has 20-40 items that are always plugged in and drawing some power, it adds up. To put it into an even larger perspective, on a national basis, standby power accounts for more than 100 billion kilowatt hours of annual U.S. electricity consumption and more than $10 billion in annual energy costs (EnergyStar.gov).

From a business perspective, we wanted to use some of this information to save some money off our bottom line. By investigating and doing some of our own research we found that each workstation in the office accounts for around $38.00/year* in electricity used while in standby mode. Multiply that by how many people in the office and the savings add up, and think of all the wasted energy being used when no one is even at the office.

The TrickleStar PowerTap

In order to reduce the amount of standby power you consume, there are many options. One way would be to unplug all of your appliances, electronics, and chargers when you are not actively using them. This would work and is free but seems to be a massively inefficient use of your time. Another option is getting a basic power strip/surge protector with an on/off switch. When you are finished in your office or with the entertainment system you can switch off the power strip and now these devices will be immune from the bite of vampire power. Another, more modern option is to make a small investment into a smart power strip (We like the TrickleStar Powertap and the EcoStrip; they claim you can save up to $100/year on each computer and they plant a tree for every EcoStrip sold).  The smart power strip does what a basic strip does automatically. It senses when you turn off the main device (ie. TV or computer) then it shuts off the power to all the peripheral devices plugged into that power strip (DVD player, game device, sound system, monitor, printer, speakers, etc.).

The EcoStrip

Also, when buying new products, be sure to look for the EnergyStar rating as these products are some of the lowest rated standby power users (meaning they use minimal power when in standby mode). In addition to buying smart, when using a computer or TV make sure to enable the EnergyStar power management settings so they go into power saving mode when not in use.

All in all, these are some relatively small and inexpensive steps each and every one of us can take in order to save energy, money, and reduce our carbon footprint. Happy savings!

-Todd

*Estimated that the average workstation is in standby mode for 6,735 hours per year (employee “out of the office”). We used power use data on an average Desktop computer, monitor, fax machine, and printer in sleep mode and based our calculations on $0.19/kWh electric rate.

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Filed under Carbon Footprint, Cell Phone, Conservation, Energy Efficiency, Innovation

Can’t Be Recycled? Upcycle It!

We try so hard to be responsible and only buy things that come in recyclable containers and packaging.   But what do you do with the hard to recycle stuff or the things no one will take?

I found this great company, Terracycle, that is trying to eliminate the whole idea of waste.   They are signing people up to collect anything from pens to juice boxes to candy wrappers to cork to cell phones to key boards and back again.   They pay for you to ship it to them and then they “upcycle it” (turn it into a cool new product or material).

Here’s an example of a cool upcycling project.   Terracycle created the Drink Pouch Brigade.   They collected over 50 million drink pouches and turned them into upscale items like tote bags and Christmas tree skirts.  Over a million dollars from the sale of those items went to schools, charities, and nonprofits.   Not bad.

The Terracycle Tree-Skirt

In 2010 Terracycle set up what they called a “pop shop” in New York City’s Port Authority – a place where anyone could drop off hard to recycle items and buy upcycled items.  That is spreading some goodwill!

Pop-Up Shop in NYC Port Authority

-Dan

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Filed under Carbon Footprint, Conservation, Environment, Innovation, Recycled Materials, Supply Chain Management, Sustainable Businiess, Upcycle

K3 Wind and Solar Charger

This blog post features a new product we have been messing around with at the office for the past few weeks. I will give you a quick review of our experience with the K3 Wind and Solar Portable Device Charger.

The K3 Charger sun-bathing

The first thing I noticed was the K3 is very easy to operate; just set it out in the sun during the day and let the elements do all the work. When you need a charge on your device and do not have your wall charger with you or you are away from an outlet you simply pull the cord out of the built-in storage area, then plug into the USB port on the charger, finally plug in the correct tip to your phone and watch as your device charges up (according to the instructions you are supposed to give it a full charge from the wall first).
According the the K3 website, the charger is “ideal for mobile phones, iPods/mp3 players, iPhone, smartphones/PDAs, portable gaming devices, GPS units, digital cameras, Bluetooth headsets, and more.” I intend to use mine mostly as a supplemental charge for my cell phone.
The design of the K3 allows you to prop it in many different posistions to take advantage of the the angle of the sun. I also found a good way to put the K3 in the back window of my car. I drive with the windows down most of the time so the wind turbine can work on my commute.

Propped up to take advantage of the sun-angle.

One negative thing that I accidentally found out  was when I made the mistake of falling asleep with my phone plugged in to the charger and woke up to a dead battery in th K3. This made me use the wall charger once again to refill the K3, thus eliminating the benefits of using the sun to power my cell phone. I also figured out that if I want a good charge from the K3, it needs to be fully charged from the sun, wind, or wall before plugging it into your device. I tried to charge my phone with a half full battery in the K3 and it didn’t last very long.

The K3 Charging a Phone.

Overall, I recommend the K3 Charger as a good, quality, portable mobile device charger. I can’t wait to take it with me on my next camping trip – I’ll no longer have to worry about conserving my cell phone battery!
Amazon page featuring the K3.

Positives: Durable, Wind AND Solar, USB port and multiple tip options, LED lights show battery life, Looks cool(there is also a black color option), Unique
Negatives: A little bulky, takes more time to charge than expected, relatively short phone charging time.
Ideal Uses: Camping, car travel, take it to work for that “mid-day boost,” backpacking, etc…

Two color options for the charger.

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Filed under Carbon Footprint, Cell Phone, Cell Phone Battery, Conservation, Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency, Environment, Green Technology, Innovation, Outdoor Adventure, Parks, Renewable Energy, Solar, Uncategorized

The Big “Green” Apple

My recent trip to the Big Apple led to some very unexpected discoveries along the way. Having never visited New York I had no idea what to expect and frankly, I was not expecting good things in the realm of sustainability. I immediately think of mass consumption, millions of cars, old inefficient buildings, and a mindset of profit over the good of the surroundings.
Just to let you know, I was not seeking out the so-called “green” places in the city nor did I do any research prior to my visit. I also know and have learned that New York and the Northeast is leading the way when it comes to sustainability. I was just a plain old tourist checking out the city. Here are some things I found that impressed me along the way.
First off, the public transportation system is in a class of its own. According to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority “MTA subways, buses, and railroads provide 2.6 billion trips each year to New Yorkers.” You can get wherever you want in the city without ever needing a car.
Another thing I noticed was the importance of public green space and the unique way some people have created a beautiful landscape out of a so-called concrete jungle. Everyone knows about Central Park but we discovered a relatively new creation called the High Line.

High Line water feature

It’s a stunningly designed piece of art/urban park. Basically, it is an old elevated rain line that has been inoperable since 1980. In 2009, Friends of the High Line in a partnership with the City of New York opened the elevated public park. They have preserved the sense of the old rail line by keeping much of the old track and designing the landscape around it. “It features an integrated landscape, designed by landscape architects James Corner Field Operations, with architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro, combining meandering concrete pathways with naturalistic plantings. Fixed and movable seating, lighting, and
special features are also included in the park.”

High Line

I also ran across a few businesses that seem to be leading their peers by making their surrounding environment a priority. We stopped in the  Brooklyn Brewery for some tastings and a tour. They recently expanded their brewing operations and were operating a very impressive business in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood. We tried a few different beers and even though I am turned off by odd flavors in beer I was very happy with the Pumpkin Ale. During our tasting I noticed that they advertised these cool compostable cups. This lead me to do some more research and I also found out that “the company’s brewery and headquarters in Brooklyn are 100% powered by Newwind Energy.”

Cool Cups at the Brewery

Brooklyn Brewery New Expansion

Finally, we went to a very cool burger joint called Shake Shack. I had a burger and shake and they were excellent but what really stood out was a wall explaining their history and dedication to “going green.” They purchase wind power credits to offset 100% of their electricity and they also practice on-site composting and they recycle used cooking oil. In the construction of the building they used a plethora of sustainable building materials: walls made of fiberboard, wheat board tabletops and trash cans, ceiling tiles made from renewable wood, LED low voltage light fixtures, and they “introduced a green wall(recyclable modular unit and pre-grown living system) that will remain in bloom year round.”
Overall, I was very impressed with the dedication to sustainability shown by the people of New York – keep up the good work!

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Filed under Buy Local, Carbon Footprint, Conservation, Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency, Environment, Gardening, Green Technology, Innovation, NAHB, Outdoor Adventure, Parks, Recycled Materials, Renewable Energy, Responsible Materials, Solar, Sustainable Businiess, Uncategorized, USGBC, Water conservation

Small Scale Homebuilding

My interest in modular eco-friendly homes grew when I ran across some modular home companies at West Coast Green last year in San Francisco. That interest was pushed to the back of my mind until I ran across this story of a 16 year old building a self-contained “tiny green home” in his parents backyard because he, like most teenagers, “wanted to move out.”

That is not his only reason however. In this short video showcasing his house, the young man sites all sorts of economical and environmental reasons behind starting his project. 

He was happy about owning a home but not worrying about paying a mortgage. The small size also limits the amount of electricity and other utilities, saving money in the process. He was able to greatly reduce the amount of waste produced during construction due to the small scale of construction(he only had two trash cans of waste from one year of construction). Almost all of the materials used in construction have been reclaimed from salvage yards or donated from friends, the framing lumber was the only material purchased new as it was needed for the structure of the house. He estimates the total project costing $12,000.

This led me to asking the question: who is doing this on a larger scale? I rummaged through the internet and discovered many cool companies involved in the modular home business, and nearly all of them are focused on making their homes as efficient and eco-friendly as possible while keeping the associated costs for the consumer down(sections of the home are built in factories and loaded on a truck then assembled in a few days at the site – this allows the builder to reduce the cost of construction). Keywords and phrases that keep popping up when I search modular homes include: smart design, passive solar, simplify, healthy, water conservation, cheaper, solar, wind, thermal, easier, and flexible just to name a few. All of these terms are related to conservation and efficiency; Everyday we are told to be conservative with our resources in order to be more sustainable so why not become more conservative, economical, and efficient while building our homes. Here are some of the companies I discovered that are doing just that:

  • Alchemy Architects have designed the Weehouse using an ultra modern modular home that can be constructed fast and easy. They just developed a “net-zero” WeeHouse in Moab, Utah that will produce as much energy as it uses.
  • The modular homes featured at tinygreencabins.comcan be built on a trailer bed so that if you would like to take your home with you, you could hitch up the trailer and be on your way. They also offer non-toxic options, organic certified material, locally harvested lumber, steel framing, and recycled products. The cabins can also be customized with solar panels and solar hot water heaters.

    Wildfire Tiny House

  • Green Pod Development builds compact custom modular homes built for energy efficiency, indoor air quality, and sustainability. The SoloPod “features innovative designs and artful furnishings.”
  • And finally, Bluhomes, they claim that their “highly efficient, innovative steel-framed homes cost on average 50-70 percent less to operate on a monthly basis than conventional homes.”

    My personal favorite - The Glidehouse Bluhome

-T

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Filed under Buy Local, Carbon Footprint, Conservation, Energy Efficiency, Environment, Green Technology, Innovation, NAHB, Recycled Materials, Renewable Energy, Responsible Materials, Solar, Sustainable Businiess, Uncategorized, USGBC, Water conservation, Weatherization, Window Coverings

Knowledge — The Latest Renewable Energy Tool

This costs less than $40!

We all know that using solar and wind as a source, can help you create your own power leading to less energy being pulled from the grid. Unfortunately, not everybody has the means or ability to install solar panels or a wind turbine. Here is something you can do!

Centerpoint Energy and U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman found out that just knowing how much energy you are using can help you dramatically reduce your energy usage and bill. Centerpoint Energy installed smart meter In Home Displays into homes of a test group, and received incredible results. Just having your daily usage, including what every appliance is using at that moment, displayed in front of you drastically changes people’s actions regarding energy usage. Homes with the IHD (In Home Display), saw incredible changes in usage by doing everything from turning off the lights when leaving a room to adjusting the thermostat to replacing “antique” appliances.
The findings of this study fit right in with our philosophy. Putting in a solar system or a wind turbine is not the magic wand that allows you to lower your electric bill or your carbon footprint, but making changes, even small ones, can have some of the greatest impact. So maybe the saying should be “Knowledge Saves Power”.  Try plugging some of your appliances into a Watt meter.  You might just be surprised.

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Filed under Carbon Footprint, Conservation, Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency