Category Archives: Responsible Materials

The Sustainable World of Packing Peanuts and Bubble Wrap

Here at PNS Energy we ship and receive enough packing peanuts, bubble wrap, cardboard, foam, and plastic to last a lifetime.  Shipping practices are oftentimes the most flexible part of the order processing procedure, yet it is widely known that the packaging and shipping arm of most companies are fairly unsustainable. We have all experienced the shocking feeling of opening up a package and wondering why 6 billion foam peanuts were used to ship a candle, then outraged when it is discovered that those peanuts are Styrofoam and cannot be recycled or composted.

We know first hand that the elimination of packaging all-together is highly unlikely (solar cells break very easily) but we can continually strive to become more efficient in our packing and selection of materials. We are seeing more and more companies and individuals that use recyclable or reusable material in their shipping and packing processes. With that said, I believe there is great potential and opportunity for us to come up with a widespread solution to sustainable packaging. This is something that should, and could easily be accomplished right now. Innovative people and leading companies are already developing shipping and packaging alternatives that will hopefully change how the world views product transportation. Here are just a few of those excellent ideas and companies that are taking sustainable packaging to the next level:

  1. Ecovative DesignEcocradle Mushroom Packaging is perhaps one of the most innovative products I’ve seen that involves mushrooms. This packaging material is “grown” from crop waste and is 100% renewable and biodegradable. Apparently they create the material by growing mycelium, a fungal network of threadlike cells, around crop waste like”buckwheat husks, oat hulls, or cotton burrs.” It takes 5-7 days to grow and they can make almost any shape to meet the packaging requirement so maybe someday we will be shipping our Anywhere Solar Modules in some Mushroom Packaging!

    EcoCradle vs. Styrofoam

    EcoCradle squares off vs. Styrofoam

  2. Eco.Bottle – The Eco.Bottle is distributed by Berlin Packaging and created by Ecologic Brands Inc. It is a molded fiber bottle made from “recycled corrugated cardboard and newspapers.” The shell is 100% recyclable and compostable while the inside features a recyclable inner plastic pouch system. With this design, the bottle uses up to 70% less plastic than traditional bottles. I have yet to see any Eco.Bottles in the supermarket but apparently it is being used by Seventh Generation for their Natural 4X laundry detergent and will hopefully be used for a wide variety of beverages, personal care products, paints and stains in the near future.
    Eco.Bottle and Seventh Generation

    The entire packaging system uses 66% less plastic than a typical 100 oz 2X laundry bottle. -Seventhgeneration.com

    These two products are just an example of the progress companies are making in the realm of sustainable packaging. There are many more organizations out there that are changing the packaging game for good so that in the future, all packaging will be environmentally responsible and more efficient (Here is a list of companies that offer certified compostable packaging materials).

    In closing I leave you with the vision of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition: Sustainable packaging should be “sourced responsibly, designed to be effective and safe throughout its life cycle, meets market criteria for performance and cost, is made entirely using renewable energy, and once used, is recycled efficiently to provide a valuable resource for subsequent generations.”

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Filed under Conservation, Manufacturing, Recycle, Recycled Materials, Responsible Materials, Supply Chain Management, Sustainable Businiess

Bamboo and the PV Solar Shutter

What happens when you combine bamboo hardwood flooring with PV solar panels?

The PV Solar Shutter of course!

PNS Energy was able to create these great looking window shutters that also generate power by combining the strength of bamboo and its aesthetic and renewable qualities with the power generation capabilities of PV solar cells.

Bamboo Wood by Cali Bamboo was selected for the construction of the solar shutter in an effort to make the product as sustainable and earth friendly as possible. Bamboo is extremely strong and is often compared to the likes of steel, concrete, and graphite. This woody grass also regenerates at an alarming pace; a pole of bamboo can regenerate to full mass in just 6 years while conventional wood takes between 30-60 years to grow back to their full mass. This fact alone made the selection of bamboo for the PV Solar Shutter a no-brainer.

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Filed under Bamboo, Carbon Footprint, Environment, Renewable Energy, Responsible Materials, San Diego, Solar

Pure Ingredients, Package Free – The Idea Behind in.gredients

It has been quite some time since we have made a new post so for this blog post I would like to get back into things with a short and simple post highlighting a company that I think is worth following as they try to revolutionize the grocery shopping game.

For in.gredients, the concept is pretty simple. They aim to create the country’s first package free and zero waste grocery store. However, carrying out that concept may prove to be a challenge (think of all the packaging you see at your grocery store/supermarket).

Bring clean containers from home, fill them, weigh them, and then pay.

The store is not open yet but progress is taking place and they plan on opening their microgrocery store in Austin, TX later this year. Let’s hope for the success of in.gredients so it can be a model for other stores of its kind.

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Filed under Beer, Buy Local, Conservation, Free Trade, Gardening, Responsible Materials, 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

A Lesson on Power Outages and Growing Up

Power outage in San Diego County, September 8th, 2011 by Sean M. Haffey

It began at the office when us employees thought we were losing our minds, having a seizure, or both. The lights flickered, then poof, we were in the dark. Considering that it was already 3:30 PM, we thought this was a perfect opportunity to wrap things up for the day and head home early.  Lucky for us, nearly 5 million other people thought the same thing, which made the drive home thrilling as we inched along in traffic (It took around 2 hours to drive 16 miles).

Recap of the outage

While everyone was sitting in traffic pondering their day or the beautiful weather, we realized that we may be in for an extended blackout. The San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) news conference didn’t  provide any positive news as they still had no idea what had happened; all they could tell us initially is that it was triggered in Arizona, a terrorist attack was very unlikely, and it could be 24-48 hours before the power was restored. Most people weren’t too concerned, as work and school would most likely be canceled on Friday, making for two 3-day weekends in a row and an opportunity to stay up and have some fun in the dark!
Once we arrived safe and sound at home, our feelings went from the relief from being off the road and not having to work the next day, to anxiety and a feeling of being unprepared for what could be a long few days. I had no cash and ATMs would be down, the gas light was on in my car, and my cell phone battery was on its last leg (not to mention, I couldn’t watch the NFL season opener). We were down to our last few drinks from our large jugs of purified water and already hearing about boil alerts in parts of the county. We only had two candles, but luckily, we bought a handy LED camping lantern a few days prior. Coming from someone who sells the Emergency Power Kit and wrote a blog about being prepared weeks ago, I was drastically under-prepared and kicking myself for not keeping one of those kits in my car or utility closet.
This outage proves to me how reliant we are on electricity and how lucky we are to have steady sources of power here in the States. Now, I could go without TV, cell phones, internet, and video games for as long as needed (and I’m sure most people could as well) but I take for granted other things that electricity provides. Fresh water, sewage treatment, smooth traffic, street lights, lighting at home, emergency services, and food storage are all things I can say I would miss greatly.
With that said, I am going to make a conscious effort to be more prepared and responsible when it comes to emergencies; I think it’s about time I invest in a good flashlight, candles, some sort of water purification device, maybe a small reserve of cash, first aid kit, and the Emergency Power Kit sitting in my office.
I know this looks bad; my mother probably thinks I can’t take care of myself and would be better off back in my parent’s basement.
This relatively small inconvenience has proven that I have grown too comfortable; and it takes a potentially catastrophic event, like this blackout, to bring me back to Earth and realize that something like this can happen at any moment.
Luckily, our good friends and neighbors provided us with the essentials – candles, chips and salsa, beer, and wine got us through the night!
For the real essentials to get you out of the dark click here. 
-T
(A big thank you is in order for all of the power company workers, the police force, EMT staff, firefighters, and others for helping us through the outage and getting things back in order in no time!)

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Filed under Conservation, Department of Energy, Emergency, Energy Efficiency, Green Technology, Innovation, Natural disaster, Outdoor Adventure, Preparedness, Renewable Energy, Responsible Materials, Uncategorized

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

Brand New Display for Dwell on Design

Here is a sneak peak of our new trade show display. Come see the full display in action at Dwell on Design, June 24-26 at the LA Convention Center. We will also be featuring our Emergency Power Kit for portable back-up energy when you need it most. http://plugnsaveenergyproducts.com/

 

Golden Brown PV Solar Cells in a Natural Basswood Shutter

Turkish Blue PV Solar Cells in an Arctic White Shutter

Army Green PV Solar Cells in an Oak Finished Shutter

Exterior PV Solar Shutter with an interior PV Solar Shutter in the window - A complete set-up!

Standard white PV Solar Shutter in our display piece

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Filed under Buy Local, Conservation, Energy Efficiency, Green Technology, Innovation, Recycled Materials, Renewable Energy, Responsible Materials, Solar, Weatherization, Window Coverings