Thursday, February 16, 2012 3:28 PM
It’s hard to enter a store these days without being visually assaulted by labels, logos, and signs that appeal to our environmental consciousness. It turns out that there’s an even more powerful way for marketers to signal an environmental product to shoppers: Make it brown.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Dunkin’ Donuts and Target’s in-store cafes have switched from white to brown napkins, while Seventh Generation even adds brown pigments to its eco-friendly diapers “to drive home the environmental message.”
And Cascades Tissue is about to enter a new frontier with its U.S. rollout of a beige toilet paper called Moka. It might be a hard sell for fussy Americans, though. Writes WSJ:
Consumers in regions outside of North America are more accepting of recycled toilet paper and more readily embrace colored or fragranced rolls. Kimberly-Clark’s local brands sell apricot-colored paper in the U.K., green in Poland, “sunny orange” in Switzerland and “natural pebble” in Germany, the company says.
It’s a different story in the U.S. When Cascades pitched its Moka toilet paper to distributors at a recent trade show, “faces showed disgust” at first, says [Cascades marketing director Isabell] Faivre. “Then they would feel the product and it was, ‘Oh, wow, that would be perfect,’” for customers who want softness, but also want green credentials, she says.
Let’s not kid ourselves, however: Most Americans prefer bleached-white, super-cushy toilet paper, and the vast majority of the stuff we buy is highly unsustainable. As of 2009, 98 percent of the toilet paper sold in the United States came from virgin wood, according to Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council, as reported in The Guardian in a story that explores “the tenderness of the delicate American buttock.”
As Hershkowitz put it:
“Future generations are going to look at the way we make toilet paper as one of the greatest excesses of our age. Making toilet paper from virgin wood is a lot worse than driving Hummers in terms of global warming pollution.”
Christophers Mims at Grist has a solution: Stop using the stuff. I’m going to let him make the case:
The solution is straightforward: Do away with T.P. Think that sounds unsanitary? Not as unsanitary as our current approach. This is how a friend put it: What if I pooped on your arm and you wiped it off with a paper towel. Is it clean now?
There’s nothing even weird about the idea — lots of cultures don’t share our freakish obsession with sticking paper up our bums. The French invented the bidet in 1710.
Wall Street Journal
, licensed under
Tuesday, December 13, 2011 11:51 AM
Go ahead and recycle your cans and bottles, your papers and boxes: It’s all good. But personal recycling efforts are relatively small in volume compared to the mountains of material thrown away every day at construction sites. Liz Pacheco reports in Philadelphia’s Grid magazine on Revolution Recovery, a green business that’s pioneering ways to keep this daily deluge of construction and demolition waste out of landfills.
“They looked in a Dumpster and said ‘How can I find a use for this?’ not ‘How can I get rid of this,’” one business colleague tells Grid, referring to company co-owners Avi Golen and Jon Wybar.
Golen and Wybar treat their enterprise as a mining operation of sorts, extracting materials and finding markets for them. Wood, their most popular material, is either reused by nonprofits and arts groups or turned into mulch or fuel chips. Rubble such as brick, concrete, and asphalt is crushed and repurposed in paving and drainage applications. And they’re always hunting for new ways to extract treasure from what some people might call waste:
“You classify waste as commingled material, mixed material,” says Golen. “So, anytime you mix wood, drywall and cardboard into a Dumpster, people look at it and see waste, where we see commodities just mixed together.”
Their cavernous sorting facility is an impressive operation where huge overhead conveyors carry bins past crews of workers that extract materials, then send them tumbling down into garage-sized enclosures. It’s a resource-intensive operation compared to a traditional waste facility, but, writes Pacheco, “Recycling construction waste is becoming mainstream and more waste companies are adapting their ways.”
Image by Tesla Aldrich, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, December 02, 2011 4:52 PM
Some fallacies die long, slow, hard deaths, and it appears that’s what’s happening with the happy, comforting, brainless mantra “Growth is good.” The ongoing global economic recession and looming environmental catastrophe have finally caused a significant number of people to question just how we think we’re going to economically grow forever on a crowded planet with finite resources.
British economist Tim Jackson, author of the 2009 book Prosperity Without Growth, explains in a Q&A with OnEarth executive editor George Black that this previously unmentionable notion is gaining currency even among some forward-thinking business leaders:
You say in your book that “questioning growth is deemed to be the act of lunatics, idealists, and revolutionaries.” Is that more true or less true now than when you wrote it in 2009?
Both. It’s more true in the sense that there’s a ferocious backlash against those who question the quasi-religious fervor about getting growth back. But at another level there’s this really interesting thing going on, with a whole spectrum of people beginning to question the assumption that it’s desirable, from ordinary people who have always been uncertain about why things must expand indefinitely to groups that have previously been obsessed with the idea of growth, like the World Economic Forum in Davos. It continues to surprise me that my book has had such resonance among business leaders. I was trying to say that it’s a real dilemma to structurally reorganize your economy. This isn’t an easy thing, and there are no off-the-shelf solutions. But we have to go into that place, no matter how dark and counterintuitive it seems. And I think that’s something the more visionary CEOs respond to, actually enjoy to some extent.
Image by Sunset Parkerpix, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, September 16, 2011 11:45 AM
Whisky fuels lots of things—rebellions, country and western songs, and Shane MacGowan, to name just a few. Now it’s going to power 9,000 homes in Scotland.
More specifically, whisky byproducts are going to power the homes, in the distillery-rich region of Speyside, by helping to fuel a local biomass energy plant.
“Waste products from around 16 of the area’s 50 distilleries will be used at the site, including well-known brands such as Glenlivet, Chivas Regal, Macallan, and Famous Grouse,” the Guardian reports.
Spent grains from the whisky distilling process, known as draff, will be burned along with wood to create electricity at the combined heat and power (CHP) plant. Another byproduct, a high-protein liquid residue called pot ale, will be made into a syrup for animal feed—which will be conveniently made at a plant next door.
Construction of the biomass plant is set to begin soon, the London Press Service reported last month, and it should be up and running by early 2013.
The Scots aren’t the only whisky makers who are seriously thinking green. On this side of the pond (where we spell it with an “e,” thank you), fine bourbon whiskey distiller Maker’s Mark has made waves with its sustainability initiatives, which according to Inhabitat include biogas reuse, aggressive waste reduction, an on-site nature preserve, and a mostly local, no-GMO grain supply chain.
(Thanks, World Rivers Review.)
Sources: The Guardian, London Press Service, Inhabitat
, licensed under
Wednesday, August 31, 2011 2:37 PM
Is that wood legal? Scan it and see. Liberia is putting barcodes on lumber in order to clean up its logging industry and preserve its rainforest. The U.K.’s Solutions Journal reports in its July-August issue on the innovation ordered by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, which is part of a deal that clears the way for sales to the European Union.
Liberia’s landscape and recent history both factor into the new policy, reports Solutions:
Liberia has nearly two-thirds of West Africa’s remaining rainforest; it also has a history of corruption and illegal logging. The U.N. placed sanctions on Liberian “logs of war” after former President Charles Taylor was accused of using timber profits to buy weapons during the country’s 14-year civil war. The sanctions were lifted in 2006, but the country’s timber industry has not recovered. … Sirleaf is hoping the deal with the EU will stimulate growth and encourage foreign investment in Liberia.
Opinions are divided as to whether the new approach will in fact clean up Liberia’s logging industry; some observers worry that new markets will lead to corruption and actually increase unsustainable logging.
Fred Pearce at Yale Environment 360 recently traveled to Liberia to investigate, and while his report adds valuable historical and social context, he ultimately finds that political factors—most notably the outcome of the upcoming Liberian October presidential election—could undo any progress made by the new barcoding policy.
Still, it’s an interesting idea, and one worth watching. As one conservationist tells Environment 360, “Liberia has an opportunity to show the world how it’s done. They start from a fresh place.”
Sources: The Solutions Journal
(article not available online),Yale Environment 360
, licensed under
Thursday, July 14, 2011 2:50 PM
A growing number of beer makers are incorporating green practices in their brewing operations, but a couple of brothers setting up a brewery in Chicago are setting their sights even higher, reports the Chicago Reader: They’re aiming for a zero-waste facility.
The key is that the New Chicago Brewing Company is not a freestanding operation but part of The Plant, a former meatpacking facility that is being renovated to house a bunch of symbiotic businesses under one roof. One makes pickles, one makes kombucha tea, and one is an aquaponics operation that will produce tilapia, greens, mushrooms, and herbs. The Reader reports:
The idea is to turn the whole compound into a zero-waste facility. The heat for brewing New Chicago’s beer will come from an anaerobic digester, which uses bacteria to convert organic waste—produced in the building and by neighboring food businesses—to biogas (and sludge, which becomes fertilizer). The gas is then cleaned, compressed, and run through a high-pressure turbine (repurposed from a military fighter jet engine) to create electricity and 850-degree steam. The brewery, in turn, will produce spent grains—which can be used to feed the tilapia, grow mushrooms, and feed the digester—and carbon dioxide—which will be piped to the plants in the building to make them grow faster.
Sounds like a great idea, though it has a ways to go yet. The brothers, Samuel Evans and Jesse Edwin Evans, don’t expect to be brewing beer till March 2012, and The Plant’s website shows pretty clearly that the facility is a DIY work in progress. But Samuel Evans figures that ultimately their production costs will be “insanely lower—like 75 percent lower” than a conventional brewery.
Once they’re up and running, New Chicago plans to produce 12,000 barrels of beer in the first year, to be sold to city bars and liquor stores. The Evanses also hope to sell beer on-site in a tasting room and to help aspiring brewers make and market their own concoctions.
It’ll be up to beer aficionados to decide how stellar the suds are. But if the Evans brothers realize their ambitions, New Chicago will help set a new standard for sustainable breweries—and others businesses too. “Nothing leaves our brewery except beer,” they write on the New Chicago website. “Imagine if that were true for all production businesses.”
Source: Chicago Reader, The Plant, New Chicago Brewing Company
Diagram by Matt Bergstrom.
Monday, May 16, 2011 4:20 PM
Would you want to go camping, hiking, biking, or trail running with the Koch brothers? Me neither. Well, then, why on earth would you want to do any of those things with the products they help make?
That’s the thorny question that may face many green-minded outdoor recreationists when it sinks in that a host of material brands used in their gear are controlled by the right-wing brothers David and Charles Koch, who have been widely outed as major funders of anti-environment politics and climate-change denial PR campaigns.
Like what materials, you ask?
Like the Polarguard insulation in your sleeping bag, the Coolmax fabric in your running outfit, the Lycra in your swimwear, the Supplex in your windbreaker, and—woe upon woe—the Cordura that’s ubiquitous in the gear world. I own duffels, backpacks, stuff sacks, fanny packs, bike bags, luggage, gaiters, and binocular cases made of the stuff.
Now, it’s no surprise to me that these materials are all made from petroleum, so I had an inkling they weren’t exactly the most sustainable products: Using “dinosaur squeezin’s” to make fabric and insulation is as problematic as using it to fuel our cars. But it pains me to think that the very gear that helps me journey out into inspirational natural settings is tainted because it’s part of a corporate machine that is quite literally and demonstrably destroying the very same natural world.
What’s the answer?
Well, for me, it’s going to start with taking a close look at the “ingredients” in any gear I consider buying and trying my best to avoid Koch-related components. I have considered replacing my well-worn canvas Duluth canoe pack with a lighter, more rain-repellent Cordura-based model—but hey, what’s the hurry? I’ve started to check out new bike commuter panniers as mine wear out, but I’ll look into rubber, hemp, and other materials before I’ll go for a straight-up replacement. And sorry, ladies, but my new body-hugging Speedo purchase is indefinitely postponed.
The sad fact is, you’d have to work really hard to keep the Kochs entirely out of your life—Daily Kos rounded up a full roster of Koch-controlled brands, and it’s dauntingly broad, from Brawny paper towels and Quilted Northern toilet paper to Georgia Pacific building products and Stainmaster carpet. But I’m one of those idealistic types who thinks that individual spending decisions really can make a difference, and if “outdoorsy” people aren’t going to go up against these modern-day barons, who will?
Some folks might claim that politics and commerce should remain separate realms, but the Kochs certainly wouldn’t claim any such compartmentalization. In fact, as The Nation recently reported, Koch Industries has aggressively moved to influence its own workers’ voting decisions in the wake of the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, which held that corporations hold political lobbying rights akin to human rights.
There’s been a bit of chatter about the Koch-Cordura connection—a question on an REI forum, mutterings in green circles after boycott-Koch lists were posted—but frankly I think a lot of people conveniently avoid thinking too hard about how their gear-store decisions are tied to the planet. (Just like their SUV and air travel and sushi habits.) PR-savvy Cordura, perhaps aware that a storm may be a-brewin’, is running a hip new “Most Durable Person” sweepstakes that’s being co-sponsored and hyped by the Gear Junkie, the gear fetishist’s top online enabler, who in a breathless 30th birthday post in 2007 called Cordura “the fabric of our lives” and “a mainstay miracle fabric.”
Describing it as “a commodity material used by hundreds of outdoors gear companies,” the Gear Junkie noted that Koch acquired the brand in 2004 from Dupont—meaning that nearly all of my Cordura gear, since it predates the sale, is 100 percent Koch-free. Which will allow me to sleep just a little better in my tent at night.
I’ve previously called for the outdoor gear industry to step up and start greening up its act. Many gear companies could start, it seems, by looking at their supply chains and seeing if anyone named Koch is involved.
Sources: Daily Kos, The Nation, REI, Gear Junkie
Image by mariachily, licensed under Creative Commons.
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.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011 11:48 AM
Many craft beer brewers are taking measures to be more sustainable, but few of them have taken things as far as the Alaskan Brewing Company. The company makes its beers, including its flagship Alaskan Amber Ale, in the fogbound southeastern Alaska city of Juneau, which is accessible only by sea or air, and sells them in 10 western states. Plant manager Curtis Holmes tells Triple Pundit that being way off the road has pushed the brewery to hone efficiency and cut waste:
Rural Alaska isn’t exactly where you’d expect to find a test market for new technology, but brewing in Alaska’s remote location creates new challenges which can make sustainable practices become more cost effective, compared to living somewhere else. When you consider that all of our raw materials (except for water) have to be shipped over 900 miles by barge from Seattle, it can seem like a crazy idea to operate a packaging brewery in Juneau, Alaska. But we’ve found some innovative ways to mitigate our operating costs, reduce waste and decrease our local and global footprint.
Among the brewmeisters’ green moves: They recycle everything they can, including the carbon dioxide from their fermentation process, which keeps it from being released into the atmosphere and cuts down on the CO2 they ship from Seattle. They got a new mash press that helps them save a million gallons of water a year. And they are installing a new biomass steam boiler, which will be fueled entirely by waste grain and will supply 70 percent of the entire brewery’s energy needs.
It’s getting to be a pretty tight loop—except for the beer itself, of course, which goes out to beer lovers’appreciative palates and then takes a different path into the waste stream. But as my colleague Brad Zellar recently wrote, some scientists are even working on a way to recycle that into hydrogen fuel.
Source: Triple Pundit
Image by Alaskan Dude, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, September 09, 2010 5:13 PM
On a planet with a changing climate and dwindling resources, we need a lot more sustainability experts and a lot fewer legal experts, David A. Bainbridge suggests at Triple Pundit. Bainbridge notes that there are more than a million lawyers in America and only about 10,000 professionally trained ecologists:
If our priorities were more properly ordered to promote sustained abundance, the balance between new ecology graduates and lawyers would be reversed. I can envision a day where 30,000 ecologists and sustainability specialists will graduate each year—and only 100 lawyers. This sounds outrageous, I know, but unraveling the complexities of America’s many varied ecosystems and developing cradle-to-cradle industrial ecosystems that will be good for people and the environment could easily absorb this many green-tech specialists and scientists.
Sustainability programs need the same priority as the “Man on the Moon” push in the 1960s (project Apollo $25 billion) or the National Institute of Health ($31 billon per year). With adequate funding much needed progress could be made ... .
Of course, lawyers are always an easy target, ranking right down there with journalists (ouch) among the lowest-regarded professions. And new multibillion-dollar government expenditures are not exactly commanding widespread support these days. But Bainbridge may be on to something here: He points out that every corporation should have a sustainability specialist, and just staffing the U.S. companies that have annual sales of more than $1 billion would take more than 250,000 such specialists. That's a lot of green jobs.
Laid-off lawyers, your new career awaits.
Source: Triple Pundit
Image by AlfredLow, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010 4:12 PM
OK, all you outdoorsy people: How green is your gear? Chances are, not very green at all. Most waterproof/breathable outerwear is made from highly toxic compounds; many fabrics for tents and clothing are created from petrochemicals; and metals for your tent poles, cook kits, and high-tech electronic devices are typically ripped from the earth in a most unsustainable way. Now go enjoy your hike, jerk.
Change is coming, but slowly.
The U.K.-based magazine Ethical Consumer breaks down some of the greenest—and least green—outdoor gear in the “Outdoor Special Buyers’ Guide” in its July-August issue. While many of the brands analyzed wouldn’t be familiar to U.S. consumers, a few international names such as Patagonia, Lowe Alpine, REI, The North Face, Salomon, and Columbia show up. (Of these, Patagonia and Lowe Alpine fare the best.) Writer Simon Birch notes the paradox at work in a leadoff article laced with Britishisms such as “hillwalkers”:
It’s a sad fact that few if any of the vast number of walkers who regularly head to the hills every weekend and who clearly love the outdoors make the connection between their walking jackets, boots, and other clobber and the whacking big environmental impact that results from their production.
In trying to explain this lack of environmental awareness, some suggest that since the outdoor industry regularly uses the sweeping backdrop of panoramic mountains to help market and advertise their gear, the public assumes that the industry is by default environmentally responsible.
Ethical Consumer breaks this myth wide open by reporting on angles such as the environmental downsides of both cotton and synthetic fabrics and the potential dangers of nanoparticles that are being increasingly used in gear. Animal and human rights figure into the calculus, too: Other articles describe the mistreatment of Merino sheep by some Australian woolgrowers and unfair working conditions in the outdoor industry supply chain. Overall, the industry gets a poor rating and a good scolding. The cover headline is “Lost: Why the Outdoor Gear Industry Is Ethically Way Off Track.”
I’d love to see a similarly rigorous analysis applied to outdoor gear brands sold in the United States: If there’s a great independent third-party green gear review out there, I haven’t seen it. And it would be nice if the glossy outdoor magazines did fewer gear-porn photo spreads and more reporting on what actually goes into making that gear.
As in all product sectors, greenwashing is a problem. Sierra Trading Post, a large online outdoor retailer, used to maintain an eco-conscious gear guide but has abandoned it because of a lack of industry-wide standards. Sierra reports on its website that the trade group the Outdoor Industry Association is working on creating standards and plans to roll them out at the 2011 Outdoor Retail Winter Show.
In many other industries, industry-created environmental standards have ended up lacking teeth and can actually end up misleading consumers instead of helping. Let’s hope our gear gurus have the good sense to do the right thing and create truly sustainable, credible standards that don’t destroy the very thing—nature itself—that keeps us heading into the hills for solitude, inspiration, and adventure.
Source: Ethical Consumer (subscription required), Sierra Trading Post
Image by Phil W. Shirley, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, April 22, 2010 3:20 PM
On the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, I’m glad to see mainstream media attention turning to the 800-pound gorilla in the environmental movement: corporate influence. Both the New York Times and the Washington Post published Earth Day stories that explore big business’s buy-in to green groups and green marketing, and question whether commerce has co-opted the movement.
According to the Times,
So strong was the antibusiness sentiment for the first Earth Day in 1970 that organizers took no money from corporations and held teach-ins “to challenge corporate and government leaders.”
Forty years later, the day has turned into a premier marketing platform for selling a variety of goods and services, like office products, Greek yogurt and eco-dentistry.
The Washington Post points out that we the consumers are also to blame, having been convinced by many companies that buying their green product is the best way to save the planet. Reports the Post:
This year, a poll conducted by professors at George Mason, Yale and American universities showed that respondents who were most alarmed about climate change were more than eight times more likely to express their concern through shopping for “green” products than by contacting an elected official multiple times about it.
From the anti-consumer bent of the first Earth Day, “we’ve gone to the opposite extreme. We’re too respectful of business,” said Adam Rome, a professor at Pennsylvania State University who studies environmental history. He said that Americans have continued to buy more goods and use more energy in the past four decades—and that, in many ways, American pollution was outsourced, as manufacturing moved overseas.
Of course, there’s always been griping by “pure” environmentalists that business has a suspect agenda—but the debate has gone beyond whether business should be a partner in change to whether it is actively pulling the strings in major environmental groups. Last month, The Nation set off a kerfuffle in environmental circles with an article, “The Wrong Kind of Green,” that called out groups like Conservation International and the Sierra Club for being tainted by corporate ties. (A fiery exchange ensued.) And last year Christine MacDonald’s book Green Inc., which I reviewed in Utne Reader, made a similar case at greater—and quite convincing—length.
It’s a vital discussion, and I for one am glad that it’s finally being had. It seems no great coincidence that on this Earth Day, President Obama took a stern line with our nation’s largest financiers over their irresponsible behavior. Talk about unsustainable: The titans of Wall Street can’t even keep their corporations sustainable in the short term, let alone for the long haul on a planet with dwindling resources. Are they our partners in creating a healthy, safe, and beautiful world? Or our enemies?
Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, The Nation, Green Inc.
Image by mandiberg, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010 5:01 PM
“Compostable” plastics are being marketed as a green solution to waste and pollution—but our sister magazine Mother Earth News found in an independent test of “bioplastic” bags that many of them don’t live up to their claims. Of five bags tested, none of them were completely compostable in home composting conditions.
Mother Earth News commissioned the test from Woods End Laboratories, which specializes in evaluating composts, soils, and organic wastes. The lab found that some of the bags did break down under high under higher temperatures resembling commercial composting operations—but this is seldom spelled out in marketing claims. Writes editor Cheryl Long:
The bottom line: Most plastic packaging that claims to be “biodegradable” or “compostable” will only partially break down under the conditions typical of most home compost piles.
Check out the full bioplastic bag report online (pdf) and look for an article about it in the June-July issue of Mother Earth News, which goes on sale May 25.
Even though some bioplastics can break down in larger operations, cities that are pioneering municipal composting programs have had problems with the materials, reports the Northern California environmental magazine Terrain. In October 2009, a group touring Berkeley, California’s municipal food and yard waste composting site
... observed employees picking all plastic items—both petroleum– and plant-based—out of the dumped materials. Any smaller plastics that made it through the initial screening were removed later, as the material was sent through a trommel and a sorting station.
Here’s the reason: even if bioplastic items are suited to break down in a commercial facility, they look nearly identical to the petroleum-based plastic they are meant to replace, which makes it difficult for workers at the plant to distinguish between the two. Because of the quantity of waste they are sorting, and the difficulty of identifying the types of plastics that arrive at the facility, laborers remove all plastics, including most compostable bioplastics, which are then hauled off to the landfill along with the other contaminants.
Source: Mother Earth News, Terrain
Thursday, April 08, 2010 11:11 AM
Attention firearms enthusiasts: The U.S. government is not going to take away your weapons, as you might have heard. But it is going to make sure that the stocks of new rifles and revolvers are made from legally sourced wood.
The 110-year-old Lacey Act was amended in 2008 to ban the trade of illegally logged wood products. Rules went into effect a year ago for goods including flooring, plywood, sawn timber, and caskets—and now the law’s scope has expanded further. The environmental blog Mongabay reports on the new level of scrutiny:
April 1, 2010, marks the beginning of U.S. enforcement for basic transparency requirements under the Lacey Act for guitars, revolvers, hand tools, pool cues, and certain furniture. This requires manufacturers of such items to declare basic information about where their wood comes from and how it is sourced.
Mongabay notes that the law isn’t messing around: Last year, federal agents raided the Nashville headquarters of Gibson Guitars after being tipped that it was using illegally logged Madagascar rosewood in its instruments. I assume they’ll be even more heavily armed if they approach the headquarters of, say, Smith & Wesson to serve a summons. (I think it goes without saying that they’ll pass a “This Property Protected by Smith & Wesson” sticker on their way in.)
It’s got to rankle many an NRA diehard to think that the weapon he once thought would have to be pried from his cold, dead hands might actually have the tree-hugger stamp of approval on its wood parts.
Image by ~Steve Z~, 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, September 01, 2009 5:41 PM
Rail all you want against paving paradise, but concrete is going to be with us for a while. We might as well make it greener, right? Environmental Building News writes in its August 2009 issue about a new disposal system for concrete washout, the water left over after washing down concrete equipment. Washout, the magazine writes, “can be nearly as caustic as drain cleaner and can contain metals that are toxic to aquatic life, including chromium, copper, and zinc.”
To make proper disposal easier and certain, Atlantic Concrete Washout delivers an empty sealed container to construction sites, and workers put the washout into it. When it’s full, the company sends a truck to pump out the water, separates the solids from the water, and sends the water to a state industrial wastewater treatment facility.
Environmental Building News points out that it can be expensive and gas-intensive to tote these heavy water loads around, but still the Environmental Protection Agency regards the containers as the best way to contain concrete wastewater. Atlantic Concrete Washout operates in Florida and California (under the name National Concrete Washout), but such services are springing up across the United States. And at least one firm, California's On Site Washout Corp., is selling self-contained washout disposal equipment for job sites.
The concrete industry is addressing the larger issue of climate change, too. World Watch (Sept.-Oct. 2009) reports that the industry’s Cement Sustainability Initiative “has helped the world’s 18 leading cement companies slow the growth of their carbon dioxide emissions. Net emissions grew only 35 percent from 1990 to 2006, while cement production climbed 53 percent.”
Sources: Building Green, World Watch (article not available online)
Image by ThrasherDave, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, August 06, 2009 11:50 AM
Greenpeace gets in people’s faces—especially the faces of polluters, politicians, illegal whalers, and others whose actions damage the environment. The environmental group is well known for such stunts as intercepting whaling vessels and scaling high-profile targets such as smokestacks and Mount Rushmore to hang banners. It also publicly shames corporations: Its Kleercut campaign targeted Kleenex maker Kimberly-Clark for using virgin timber in its tissues, paper towels, and toilet paper, and in June the group issued a report, “Slaughtering the Amazon,” that called out shoe makers including Nike and Timberland for using leather from cattle farms that are cutting into the Amazon rainforest.
If you think that such tactics are old hat and too confrontational to do any real good, think again: Kimberly-Clark, Nike, and Timberland have all responded to Greenpeace’s prodding in recent weeks and in fact are now working with the group to reform their ways. These successes are a good reminder that it often takes both a stick and a carrot to effect real change.
Is there some good old-fashioned ass-covering going on here? Surely. Any corporation with sense knows that bad PR can hinder profits—especially if, like Timberland, you loudly trumpet your environmental credentials as a selling point and are outed for being less than green. But there are also many other factors at play: Perhaps the company has internal pressures that keep it from greening up its act. Perhaps it was not aware—as Timberland and Nike claimed—that its supply chain was suspect. And perhaps it simply hadn’t felt enough heat from consumers until Greenpeace turned it up to an uncomfortable level.
Greenpeace has gotten pretty good at making the transition from foe to friend, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t kind of awkward. The group put out this hilarious video to capture the next phase of its relationship with Kimberly-Clark:
Sources: Treehugger, Greenpeace, Grist
Thursday, June 04, 2009 1:46 PM
We’ve previously written about “The True Cost of Leather,” citing the Ecologist’s reporting about toxic tanneries in Bangladesh. It turns out there’s even more to the story if you follow the shoe industry’s supply chain to Brazil—and it might change the way you feel about the shoes you’re wearing right now.
Greenpeace this week announced the release of a report, “Slaughtering the Amazon,” that calls out several major shoe makers for using leather from cattle farms in the Amazon, which are gobbling up rainforest at an alarming rate and hence driving greenhouse gas emissions. Among the makers singled out in the report are Nike, Adidas, Reebok, and two brands that have a place in my own closet: Timberland and Clark’s. I specifically sought out the Timberland brand because of the company’s stated environmental consciousness.
Grist’s Tom Philpott notes that the report “is really about the perils of using state policy to prop up global, corporate-dominated trade” and notes three clear themes:
The expansion of cattle production in Brazil drives Amazon deforestation—and deforestation in turn drives climate change.
The Brazilian government and the World Bank actively support the expansion of the nation’s cattle sector.
The real beneficiaries of such policies are not Brazilians. Indeed, labor conditions on Amazonian cattle farms are harrowing—and often tantamount to slavery, Greenpeace shows. Rather, it’s the companies that buy the products cheap and sell them dear.
Greenpeace allows that some of the companies named may not in fact know that they are using leather from unsustainable Amazon farms, due in part to a convoluted supply chain that effectively “launders” leather supplies from criminal or “dirty” sources. But that doesn’t let them off the hook, it argues, and suggests that people write to the companies and urge them to clean up their acts. Timberland and Clark’s, my letter is in the mail.
(Prologue: Timberland spokeswoman Kate King writes that “Timberland wants to engage with Greenpeace on the issue of tropical deforestation” in a response on Greenpeace’s blog.)
Sources: Greenpeace, Grist
, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009 2:59 PM
By snapping up rack after rack of cheap, mass-made clothing, we’re making ourselves all look alike, trashing the planet, and mistreating our fellow humans, writes Charty Durrant in “The Tyranny of Trends” in the May-June issue of the British magazine Resurgence. What makes her case especially compelling is that Durrant is not a radical outside observer but a co-creator of the very culture she derides: She is a former fashion editor of the Sunday Times, the Observer, and British Vogue and a lecturer at the London College of Fashion.
“As a fashion editor of twenty years’ standing,” she writes, “I have found it extremely uncomfortable to admit that the seemingly harmless fashion industry is actually driving our demise. It is at the heart of all that ails us; pull at any social or environmental thread, and it will lead you back to the fashion industry.”
Durrants singles out “fast fashion,” which cops leading designers’ styles with cheap sweatshop-made knockoffs, as especially unethical and urges a return to “built to last” thinking in apparel.
While many of Durrant’s brand and store references are British, stateside shoppers inspired by her message can clean up their fashion purchases by seeking out green- and ethical-minded clothing makers like Patagonia, Nau, and Linda Loudermilk and using online resources like the Autonomie Project and Artfire to find fashionable apparel and accessories that don’t leave a big ugly footprint on the other side of the world.
Also, to keep up with the latest in green women’s fashion, check out blogs like Sprig, Eco-Chick and, for a more global perspective, Eco Fashion World.
Sources: Resurgence, Patagonia, Nau, Linda Loudermilk, Autonomie Project, Artfire, Sprig, Eco-Chick, Eco Fashion World
Image of Linda Loudermilk courtesy of Linda Loudermilk.
Friday, March 13, 2009 6:01 PM
Perhaps you’ve heard the buzz about environmentally friendly wines made with organic or biodynamic growing methods. But what about the containers that vino comes in? A few pioneers are trying to green up the wine bottle manufacturing business.
Sustainable Industries reports on Cameron Family Glass, a new glass factory in southwestern Washington that is carving out a niche as a local supplier of sustainably produced wine bottles. Most wineries use bottles imported from Mexico or France, but Cameron aims to supply 5 percent of the total number of bottles used by Washington, Oregon, and California wineries, thus reducing shipping emissions. It also plans to run its new factory on “98 percent” hydropower and wind power, says president and CEO Jim Cameron.
One of Cameron’s buyers, Heather Staten of Phelps Creek Vineyards in Hood Rood, Oregon, tells Sustainable Industries that there’s been an unsustainable arms race of sorts among high-end winemakers, saying that “very heavy bottles have become synonymous with quality” to the consumer.
The New York Times’ Green Inc. blog recently focused on the wine bottle weight issue, citing a column in the Napa Valley Register that noted that wine bottles appeared to have added more than a pound in recent decades, often in the base of the bottle.
Green Inc. reports that some winemakers such as California’s Fetzer Vineyards have bucked this trend and moved toward lighter bottles—and that more and more of the glass going into wine and other bottles is recycled. The Glass Packaging Institute is shooting for 50 percent recycled glass by 2013.
In the meantime, don’t fall for marketing gimmicks: The heavier the bottler, the more of an environmental lightweight the winemaker.
Sources: Sustainable Industries, Green Inc.
Thursday, July 03, 2008 10:59 AM
We at Utne Reader were bummed out to hear in May that the Portland-based sustainable apparel maker Nau was shutting down and selling off it stock. Our disappointment wasn’t just because Utne Reader had partnered with Nau on promotional events like a showcase at South by Southwest, or because some of us had grown quite fond of the stylish, eco-friendly clothes in which they outfitted us. It also stemmed from the fact that Nau was a sort of standard bearer for the sustainable business community, and its demise was a symbolic blow that seemed to portend trouble ahead for its peers.
But wait! Save your dire predictions for another day. Sustainable Industries reports that California-based apparel maker Horny Toad has agreed to buy all Nau’s remaining assets. Under the deal Nau will be a part of Horny Toad, though its line of products and brand name will remain independent.
The really great news? Horny Toad CEO Gordon Seabury intends to preserve the best aspects of Nau’s business model, including using organic and recycled textiles, reducing environmental impacts, and donating a percentage of profits to partner nonprofits. This mode of doing business is “an untouchable aspect” of Nau, Seabury tells Sustainable Industries.
Nau will of course be a different company. Only 12 of its 60 headquarters employees remain in the new iteration of the firm, its five stores will stay closed—it will sell products through other retailers—and the product line will be trimmed. But it’s clear that for at least the next three to five years, Seabury’s stated timetable for profitability, Nau’s groundbreaking spirit will live on.
Want to gain a fresh perspective? Read stories that matter? Feel optimistic about the future? It's all here! Utne Reader offers provocative writing from diverse perspectives, insightful analysis of art and media, down-to-earth news and in-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.
Save Even More Money By Paying NOW!
Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $6 and get 6 issues of Utne Reader for only $29.95 (USA only).
Or Bill Me Later and pay just $36 for 6 issues of Utne Reader!