Thursday, January 20, 2011 4:59 PM
Hurricane Katrina did a whole lot of damage, but at least one good thing has come out of the disaster’s aftermath: Composite-wood products are now greener and healthier.
You might recall the widely reported story about the toxic trailers used to house Katrina refugees. The Federal Emergency Management Administration was criticized for putting disaster victims into trailers that had unhealthily high levels of urea-formaldehyde and other chemicals in their composite-wood components.
Composite-wood products consequently “came under intense scrutiny,” reports Sustainable Industries (Nov.-Dec. 2010), and as a result, “Alternatives in that market are now easy to locate and often cost neutral.”
One company making such an alternative is North Carolina-based Columbia Forest Products, whose PureBond composite wood uses a soy-based adhesive. The company has sold 40 million PureBond panels, marketing director Todd Vogelsinger tells Sustainable Industries, and has capitalized on the shifting post-Katrina legal landscape:
Vogelsinger says the company made the switch when it began to sense that the industry was moving toward an increasing focus on indoor air quality issues. His company’s evolution was spurred by the California Air Resources Board, which approved a statewide airborne toxic control measure to reduce formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products in 2007. The national version of the law, the Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act, will take effect in 2011. “This is the beginning of people really needing to change,” he says. “We are just grateful that we changed before the law. Now we don’t have to scramble.”
Sustainable Industries reports on similar developments in wallboard and insulation products, which have also greened up their acts as health and environmental issues have come to the fore. And the trend seems likely to continue:
Meanwhile, new issues keep cropping up meaning new market opportunities for companies offering solutions to health risks posed by the built environment. “It’s a perennial problem,” says Dennis Wilde, chief sustainability officer with Gerding Edlen Development Company based in Portland. “We are constantly unearthing new problems.”
Source: Sustainable Industries
Image by klynslis, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, May 14, 2010 12:40 PM
Trader Joe’s is widely viewed as a “green” company, attracting droves of eco-minded consumers who view its cozy, Hawaiian-themed stores as a cheaper alternative to Whole Foods or the neighborhood co-op. But as Sustainable Industries points out, it’s difficult to know how sustainable its operations really are—the company is “notoriously tight-lipped” about where its store-brand products come from.
A report on organic dairies from the Cornucopia Institute, a sustainable-agriculture watchdog group, warns consumers to be vigilant about the explosive growth in these sorts of “organic” store brands. Private-label organics like those in Trader Joe’s “seem to contradict what many thought the organic movement was all about: consumers understanding where their food comes from and how it is produced,” the report states. The Trader Joe’s brand of milk, for example, claims to be organic—but it won’t disclose which dairies it buys from. Ditto for the soybeans it uses in its brands of soy milk, tofu, and other products. And a recent report found that its store brand of veggie burgers are made using hexane-extracted soy protein.
“It’s a delicate balance for Trader Joes’s,” notes Sustainable Industries, “because while its customers want low prices for ‘natural’ grub, typically part of the value customers get out of Trader Joe’s is not just that its prices are low, but that they’re low for products that are perceived to be of high value.”
On a few occasions, customers have demanded certain standards: Widespread requests for cage-free eggs and GMO-free foods have been met throughout the company’s stores—according to Trader Joe’s, at least. “Neither claim is backed by a third-party auditing mechanism,” according to Sustainable Industries.
The company did recently agree to revamp its seafood policies, after a lengthy campaign by Greenpeace to get red-list fish out of its stores (“Traitor Joe’s”). Trader Joe’s has already removed the highly endangered orange roughy and red snapper from its shelves, and promises to “phase out” other frowned-upon fish by the end of 2012.
That’s a solid sustainable step—but if Trader Joe’s is going to live up to its reputation, it’s got a lot of fancy frozen meals and bags of trail mix to account for. For now, “customers are accepting that ignorance is bliss,” writes Sustainable Industries. “After all, it’s what keeps the prices low and the Two-Buck Chuck flowing.”
Source: Sustainable Industries
Friday, April 02, 2010 9:41 AM
Berkeley, California, is proving that municipal composting of urban food and yard waste is possible—but the city’s program is also experiencing growing pains, according to “Compost Confidential” in the Northern California environmental magazine Terrain:
Good ideas—like enriching the soil of organic farms with compost made from urban food waste—are not necessarily meshing with other good ideas, like using compostable plant-based plastics rather than disposable petroleum-based plastics. Pesticides approved for use on lawns are persisting all the way through the industrial composting process and contaminating the end product, making it unsuitable for organic agriculture. And the development of alternative composting technologies—namely biogas digesters—is provoking a debate over what food and yard waste should be used for.
In other words, large-scale composting is not as simple as it might seem—and it might not always be as grass-roots as some advocates hope. Terrain points out that “composting is an up-and-coming industry” that corporate waste haulers are eager to get into. Texas-based Waste Management Inc. has invested in British Columbia’s Harvest Power, the largest food and yard waste composting facility in North America.
Other cities are getting into the act. Portland, Oregon, plans to start a pilot food-waste program this spring, according to Sustainable Industries, which also reports that Portland, Corvallis, and Salem, Oregon, already have limited commercial food-waste collection.
In related news, Grist reported on April 1 that McDonald’s ditch a planned composting program “after scientists confirmed that no item on the McDonald’s menu is compostable.” Now that smells funny.
Source: Terrain, Sustainable Industries (article not available online), Grist
Image by John Winfield, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, March 02, 2010 5:40 PM
I like beer, especially distinctive and flavorful craft brews, and I’m an environmentalist. So I was disappointed to learn that the beer-brewing process is incredibly water-intensive, using six to eight gallons of water for every gallon of beer produced. Fortunately, some green-minded brewers are finding ways to reduce their water use, as well as to conserve energy and other resources.
Sustainable Industries reports in its February issue that Full Sail Brewing in Hood River, Oregon, the nation’s ninth largest craft brewery, has taken on water conservation with great zeal, reducing its water use to just 3.45 gallons for each gallon of beer brewed. The brewery also operates on a four-day workweek to cut down on water and energy use.
“We’re dedicated to operating our brewery in the most socially and environmentally sustaining manner possible, while producing world-class ales and lagers of the highest quality,” Full Sail’s website states, throwing in a nod toward the Columbia Gorge area’s natural beauty: “Let’s face it—without this heavenly environment, there would be no heavenly brews.” Read more on the “Responsibility” page of the Full Sail website.
Since I live in the Midwest, near the Great Lakes watershed, I was encouraged to see that many brewers in the Great Lakes region attended an event last October, the Great Lakes Craft Brewers and Water Conservation Conference, that’s been called the first independent gathering to bring together craft brewers, policymakers, and nonprofit organizations to discuss water conservation.
A blogger known unfortunately as the Beer Wench, Ashley Routson, wrote about the conference and the underlying water resource issues. Despite Routson’s limited grasp of environmental issues—she states that water shortages and global warming “are extremely controversial and both are disputed,” which sounds like Denial Inc. talking—she nonetheless compiles some enlightening statistics about declining worldwide water supplies.
One commenter on her post, home brewer Brian Cendrowski, conjures a vivid picture of brewery water use: “I spent a few days interning at a small craft brewer, and it was an eye-opening experience how much water was used throughout the process. It was a like a water park. I felt like I should have had my bathing suit on. Part of the issue for breweries is that everything has to be cleaned and sanitized so thoroughly. That requires water.”
How does the green-beer discussion affect my world? Well, I often drink a local craft brew, Summit Extra Pale Ale, in part because it’s a great beer and in part because I don’t like to buy brews shipped across the country or the world, a carbon-intensive undertaking. (Eat locally, drink locally.) But I don’t see any evidence of environmental consciousness on Summit’s website, let alone in its beer packaging: The 12-pack cartons that hold the best-selling Extra Pale Ale don’t boast of recycled content or even indicate their own recyclability. However, I was encouraged to catch a glimpse of Summit owner Mark Stutrud in a YouTube video report from the Great Lakes conference. Perhaps he was taking notes and is about to unveil some great new green initiatives. In the meantime, I think I’ll pick up a six-pack of Full Sail as a vote of confidence with my wallet.
The next Great Lakes Craft Brewers and Water Conservation Conference will be held October 18 and 19 in Milwaukee and Plain, Wisconsin.
Source: Sustainable Industries (article not available online), Beer Wench, Great Lakes Craft Brewers and Water Conservation Conference
Image by wickenden, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, July 07, 2009 10:52 AM
Solar panel startup companies are struggling in the current recession, according to Sustainable Industries. Startups, some of which are sitting on genuine innovations to make solar panels more efficient, can’t find the funding they need to get off the ground. Prices for solar panels have dropped precipitously lately, which is great news for everyone except for the startups that were banking on high prices and increased demand. Some of the companies have begun laying off workers, while others are radically shifting their business plans in order to survive.
Source: Sustainable Industries
Image by Mike Weston, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, June 05, 2009 5:30 PM
What’s the thirstiest industry in the United States? If you thought of agriculture, you’re spot on. But coming in second—guzzling 40 percent of U.S. freshwater withdrawals—is a surprisingly different undertaking: electricity.
Environmentally motivated researchers and policymakers are just beginning to grasp the importance of illuminating the complex relationship between water and energy, Sustainable Industries reports. The clock is ticking. By 2025, the United Nations forecasts half the world will meet with freshwater shortages. By 2050, upgrade that pinch to scarcity spanning three-quarters of the planet. And, oh, wouldn’t you know: All forms of energy production require water (and on the flip side, heating, treating, and distributing water requires energy too).
“Increased implementation of renewable power sources is key to securing future water supplies, but when it comes to water use, not all renewables are created equal,” writes Sara Stroud, SI’s Bay Area correspondent.
Wind and solar photovoltics are among the lesser offenders; they require only one gallon of water for each megawatt hour of electricity produced (excluding water used in manufacturing). (A megawatt is one million watts, and one megawatt hour could power 400-900 homes for that hour.) Compare that to corn-derived ethanol, which sucks anywhere from 5 to 2,000 liters of water for each liter of fuel. That higher number comes courtesy of agriculture undertaken in arid states, like California and Colorado.
“Federal incentives happened so quickly without evaluating consequences,” Dulce Fernandes of Network for New Energy Choices told SI. “If we are investing in alternatives, we have to get it right.”
Source: Sustainable Industries
Wednesday, January 16, 2008 3:30 PM
January means list time. Everyone feels entitled to publish an annual top ten list around the New Year, looking back on 2007’s notable scientific discoveries, blunders, and cat videos. But Sustainable Industries is looking ahead. The monthly green business magazine, nominated for a 2007 Utne Independent Press Award for its environmental coverage, has put out its annual Trend Watch, with in-depth articles on eight green business trends we can expect to see in 2008.
One thing to anticipate in 2008 is growth in the green building products industry. Despite worries over the U.S. housing slump, the green building market has been growing rapidly, with the market for green building materials increasing a whopping 23 percent annually from 2004 to 2006. Sustainable Industries attributes the growth to consumer demand, stricter building codes, and the reduced operating costs that come with green buildings.
But consumers aren’t satisfied with just living in green buildings—they also want to be able to keep tabs on their energy consumption within the home. Which is why Sustainable Industries predicts we will see an increase in technology that gives consumers easy access to energy usage information: “A growing number of savvy companies are providing value-added services that help individual users make sense of the environmental data available, using the now-ubiquitous cell phones, PDAs, laptops and other personal communication tools available.” One such tool, featured in Good magazine, shows how much energy is sucked up by common household appliances even when they are turned off. And Sustainable Industries reports that Nissan plans to add displays to vehicles that tell the driver how their acceleration and braking behaviors affect fuel efficiency.
Other predictions for 2008? Expect to see advances in battery operated cars, increased reliance on renewable energy sources, and a consolidation of green media sources.
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