Category Archives: Sustainable Businiess

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

Share the Spirit: Give to Those Who Give Back to the Earth!

The PNS Energy team is committed to leaving the planet a better place than we found it.   Part of what we considering doing our part as responsible citizens is to promote those nonprofits working to better understand what is happening to our planet and to help preserve it.

Dr. Cook in action with the Green Learning Adventure!

We have two local favorites:   California Center for Sustainable Energy’s Green Learning Adventure and the Surfrider Foundation.   In 2011 we shared our some of resources with both of these wonderful organizations.  As you look for yearend donations, we ask you to consider giving to organizations that support our planet!  For all you Southern California residents, help us support and promote these great, grassroots organizations.

If you are looking for a national organization working to support the Earth through intelligent, measurable means we put together a list (below) and noted their mission statements.

Union of Concerned Scientists

The Union of Concerned Scientists is a nonprofit partnership of scientists and citizens combining rigorous scientific analysis, innovative policy development, and effective citizen advocacy to achieve practical environmental solutions.

Sierra Club

Sierra Club’s mission is to explore, enjoy, and protect the wild places of the earth; To practice and promote the responsible use of the earth’s ecosystems and resources; To educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment; and to use all lawful means to carry out these objectives.

Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)

NRDC’s mission is to safeguard the Earth: its people, its plants and animals and the natural systems on which all life depends.

350.org

350.org unites an international movement around the climate solutions that science and justice demand.

Rainforest Action Network (RAN)

Rainforest Action Network’s mission is to want those who come after us to inherit a world where the wild is still alive.

Climate Protection Campaign

The Climate Protection Campaign mission is to create a positive future for our children and all life by inspiring action in response to the climate crisis. They advance practical, science-based solutions for achieving significant greenhouse gas reductions.

Center for Biological Diversity

The Center for Biological Diversity believes that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in the world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, they work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. They do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

ClimateWorks Foundation

ClimateWorks is an international philanthropic network dedicated to achieving low-carbon prosperity.

Acterra: Action for a Sustainable Earth

To bring people together to create local solutions for a healthy planet.

 

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Filed under Beach clean-up, Carbon Footprint, Conservation, Energy Efficiency, Environment, Philanthropy, San Diego, Surfrider Foundation, Sustainable Businiess

In Case You Missed It: Vol. 4

To start off I would like to wish everyone a Happy Holiday Season…

Now to the list!

  1. Educational Institutions Leading the Way – Big news was released this week in New York City where Cornell University won a high-profile competition to build a new applied-science campus on Roosevelt Island. The renewable energy sources on campus will have the potential to reduce energy consumption at the school by 75%. In other  educational news, the U.S. Green Building Council released its inaugural “Best of Green Schools 2011” list.
  2. We discovered another amazing technology we are keeping an eye on in the near future. Researchers at MIT have made it possible to produce photo voltaic cells on paper or fabric, much like printing a document from your computer.
  3. A Sticky Situation – Chinese solar module manufacturers have been accused of dumping solar panels into the U.S. market. This has sparked a tough debate on the international trade of solar energy. On one side of the fence are U.S. solar module manufacturers. When Chinese solar companies “dump,” or sell their modules in the U.S. below cost, it drives other international manufacturers out of business and eliminates competition (U.S. manufacturers). On the other hand, solar prices have been cut dramatically due to this “dumping” of panels by Chinese companies. So for the end consumer and the solar energy market in general it is now more cost effective than ever to adopt solar energy. To sum it all up, U.S. manufacturing jobs are being threatened by foreign solar subsidies while U.S. solar installers and distributors are seeing their business increase. More information available here.
  4. Because 2011 is coming to an end and we love giving you the best news out there we will include another list in the middle of our list. Here are the “Top 10 Green Business Stories of 2011.”
  5. President Obama announces historic new mercury pollution standards on December 21, 2011. These new standards will better protect our people and environments from dangerous mercury and other pollution from coal fired power plants. Send a personal thank you to the president by following this link.

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Filed under Energy Efficiency, Solar, Sustainable Businiess, USGBC

Fun and Rewarding Places to Work!

Seems like we are all pretty quick to criticize corporate America and assume that big employers are bad employers.

It is great to catch a company doing something good for both the Earth and their employees by promoting making buildings where they work and live more environmentally friendly.    Here is a shining example – Clif Bar and Company , manufacturer and distributor of all kinds of healthy and great tasting bars and drinks.

 In addition to incentives for taking public transportation, buying commuter bikes, and buying the most fuel efficient cars on the market, Cliff Bar employees can get up to $1,000 for eco-home improvements!   Nice way to practice what they preach and support making good choices both at work and at home.

Clif Bar understands the value of both human and natural capital but, true to form for a company that was “started on a bike ride”, do not sing their own praises.   I read about Cliff Bar and Company and went to their site to see how they presented their employee benefits and this is all I found:

“Clif Bar & Company is a pretty neat place to go to work every day.  If you like tasty food, nice people and lots of interesting challenges, we’d love to hear from you.  Did we mention there’s a rock-climbing wall?”

Clif Bar founder Gary Erickson (left) and his wife, co-owner Kit Crawford on the climbing wall.

My friend Dr. Andrea Cook told me about programs at the California Center for Sustainable Energy (CCSE) – an awesome San Diego company that really walks the walk.    CCSE did their own upgrade to their space and installed motion sensor lights, high efficiency bathrooms with waterless urinals, quick air dry for hands, and have reverse osmosis water onsite and always available.  In addition, they have a monthly “Green Award” monthly given to an employee who is recognized (caught) doing something green that goes above and beyond (or is out of character).

-Ruth

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Filed under Buy Local, Conservation, Energy Efficiency, Recycled Materials, Renewable Energy, Sustainable Businiess

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

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