Ecoinnovation: Sustainability & Going Green

Where Creativity Can Save the Planet

Green your Wallet and Commute December 1, 2010

Filed under: Retail — bt25 @ 10:15 pm

Due to an unfortunate car accident, I’ve been forced to contemplate purchasing a new vehicle.  As I began to research possibilities for new vehicles, the first thing that I wanted to know was regarding fuel economy.  This might be common knowledge for those that are a bit more car savvy, but I stumbled across a great website, www.fueleconomy.gov .  This is a good way to research fuel economy, to get information about tax incentives, and to even get tips on how to increase gas mileage. 

 My favorite feature is that the site provides some useful statistics on the monetary and environmental costs of cars.  These statistics are great for doing side by side comparisons of potential purchases.  To illustrate, the site uses average fuel prices to give the consumer information about the cost of driving 25 miles (average commute), the cost of filling up the gas tank, and the annual fuel cost for a particular model of car.  It even shows how many barrels of oil the car would use annually.  I just thought I would share this great resource for aiding consumers in better planning of all of the costs (and savingsJ) associated with a car purchase.

 

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Compost! November 23, 2010

Filed under: Agriculture — bt25 @ 10:25 pm

After a little sabbatical to accommodate adjusting to a new job, I am re-animating my blog.  With the holiday’s right around the corner, I thought it would be good to shift the focus to food.  I always thought of composting as logical it significantly reduces the amount of waste that goes into the landfill.  One look at the waste bin at our house and it’s clear that a majority of our trash is organic and biodegradable (food).  One fact recently surprised me.  Even one hundred percent biodegradable materials, like food, cannot break down completely in a landfill[1].  One landfill study, “The Garbage Project,” conducted by the University of Arizona uncovered still-recognizable 25-year old hot dogs, corncobs and grapes in landfills.[2]  Backyard composting can solve some of these problems, but the economies of scale gained by commercial composting facilities are undeniable, especially considering the business and environmental benefits. 

 San Francisco is a great example of this kind landfill diversion.  More than 300 businesses and institutions participate in composting collection programs, and more than 37,400 tons of commercial organics were diverted in 1999 (33% of commercial sector organic waste).[3]  This number has continued to climb over the years.  Organic waste is diverted in a myriad of ways; edible food goes to food banks, and animal feed, while newly composted soil is sold to agricultural enterprises.  These create revenue streams for the city.  This news is not just good for the government and the environment, but it also helps save costs for business owners.  Many produce markets and restaurants have reduced their trash by 90 percent and are saving up to 50 percent on their trash bills.[4]  Industrial composting can also close the gap between the technological advances in the creation of biodegradable packaging, and those biodegradable products actually breaking down.   The infrastructure is in place, and people already separate their trash; policies that encourage commercial composting is now a matter of convincing policymakers to prioritize these programs for their communities.

 

Transitions June 29, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — bt25 @ 5:25 am

My last post happened one graduation, one week of family visits, one new job (!),  several celebrations, and many goodbyes ago.  It has been a wonderful, but very busy time of transition. Because of the aforementioned new job, I want to highlight two great organizations:  the Equinox Center and Qualcomm.  I have been lucky enough to work for Equinox Center over the past several weeks, and I recently started work for Qualcomm.  Although my new position is not directly related to their sustainability efforts, Qualcomm is well known here in San Diego as a leader in going green.

This link is a review of a sustainability recently taken by the Equinox Center.  The Equinox Center is an environmental policy organization that “researches and advances best practices and innovative solutions to balance San Diego’s regional growth with our finite natural resources.”

 

Politics and the Planet: The Copenhagen Accords May 21, 2010

Filed under: Policy — bt25 @ 3:11 pm

I would like to take some time to discuss what happened in Copenhagen.  I know it was difficult for me to keep up with what was happening, and I thought that it might be helpful to have a little briefing for those of you who might have been participating in time-consuming activities—like grad school—over the past several months.

Background
The Kyoto Protocol is set to expire in 2013, which is why in December 2009, the Denmark Government hosted the United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNCCC).  This conference was a series of negotiations with the aim of addressing climate change.  You might have heard the term COP 15 in the news—this is an abbreviation for the fifteenth session of the Conference of Parties.  COP 15 is the governing body of the UNCCC that must approve any agreement reached at the conference.  One hundred and twenty governments sent their respective heads of state to participate; unfortunately the negotiations were not concluded.  Because of this failure to agree, 2010 has seen a series of follow-up negotiations, which will culminate in December at the Mexican hosted COP 16 session.

So What Happened?
The Copenhagen negotiations hit a major deadlock on namely three issues:  mitigation targets, financial aid for climate change adjustment, and compensation for avoiding deforestation.  When we study international agreements we typically see a divide between developed and developing nations, and the Copenhagen negotiations were no different.  Essentially, the rift centers on who would pay for the costs associated with climate change.  In an effort to continue making progress despite deadlocks, the Copenhagen Accord was drafted outside of official channels by twenty-eight nations including the U.S., China, India, and Brazil.  Regardless of widespread support, the Accords could not be approved because of the rules of consensus in the Conference of Parties.  Several countries blocked approval because of the belief that the Accords were both undemocratic and weak.


What’s Next?
The current hope is that between now and December, the Copenhagen Accords can be negotiated upon so that all members of the COP are satisfied—leading to an international agreement on climate change.

 

Compostable Biopolymers: Too Good To Be True? May 14, 2010

Filed under: Manufacturing — bt25 @ 5:45 pm

When I first heard about compostable biopolymers, I thought they had to be too good to be true.  They seemed to be such a great solution to our current dependency on petroleum based plastics.  After fairly exhaustive research, I have to say that they really do seem to be a viable option for companies to avoid the environmental risks and impacts associated with traditional plastics.

I’ve outlined three important benefits for businesses considering the use of compostable bioplastics:  The alleviation of financial risk, the quality and safety of end products, and the environmental viability of biopolymers.

Reduction and Stabilization of Costs

Cellulosic biodegradable Biopolymers are a viable raw materials solution for many companies.  There are several reasons for why organizations should consider adopting this raw material.  The biggest reason for switching is the reduction of financial risk through the stabilization and reduction of costs.  Market prices of traditional plastics follow the same erratic pattern as fuel prices.[1] This volatility creates cost fluctuations, which can be eliminated by using renewable inputs such as cellulose.  Additionally, because this technology is relatively new, companies can reduce their costs by locking in low-price contracts with biopolymer startup companies.  At least in the short run, companies who begin using biopolymers can take advantage of the financial opportunities associated with being the first adopter.

Quality and Safety of Bioplastic Products

Critics often pose the complaint that products created out of biopolymers do not perform as well as their traditional counterparts.  The accompanying photograph shows a biodegradable, bioplastic produced by the Danish company, Papcorn.  Bioplastics such as these are already in use on college campuses in the United States—students say they cannot tell the difference between these and more conventional plastic dinnerware.[2] Additionally, much like traditional, petroleum-based polymers, biopolymers are flexible in their applications.  Biopolymers can be used from everything from clothing fibers to injection molding and packaging materials.[3] Finally, the safe, non-toxic aspect of biopolymers makes them appealing to producers of toys and plastic containers, such as water bottles.

Dishes Made From Compostable Bioplastic

Environmental Viability

Biodegradable cellulosic biopolymers are also environmentally viable because they draw their raw materials from non-food sources.  This ensures that companies who invest in this raw material will not encounter the same problems associated with some bio-fuel technologies. Additionally, end of life environmental impact is practically non-existent.  Biodegradable plastics are derived from “natural sources that are microbial grown.  The fiber reinforcements are produced from common crops such as hemp.  Microorganisms are able to consume these materials in their entirety, eventually leaving only carbon dioxide and water as by-products.[4]” Biodegradable bio-plastics used for packaging and other products will greatly reduce the amount of plastic ending up in landfills.

The manufacturing process of bio-plastics is also more eco-efficient.  It only produces approximately .27 pounds of C02 per pound of plastic as opposed to 3 pounds of C02 per pound of traditional plastics.[5] This kind of C02 reduction translates to real future cost savings as more countries are taxing or capping carbon emissions.


[1] http://www.iewc.com/uploadedImages/News/Plastics.jpg

[2] Environment News Wire, “Four Plastics Companies Commit to Biodegradable Plastics,” February 16, 2005.

[3] http://www.natureworksllc.com/Product-And-Applications.aspx

[4] Biodegradable Polymers:  Past, Present, and Future: M. Kolybaba, L.G. Tabil , S. Panigrahi, W.J. Crerar, T. Powell, B. Wang

[5] http://www.ecogeek.org/content/view/2038/64/

 

Can Corporate Social Responsibility Add Value? May 5, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — bt25 @ 2:34 am

I’ve often wondered if corporate social responsibility initiatives can bring actual value to a business.  I recently came across an article written by Michael Porter (of Porter’s 5 forces) which really clarified what kinds of CSR strategies can contribute to a company’s success.  I’ve condensed and simplified the key points of the article below:

For many successful firms, corporate social responsibility is not merely a public relations ploy.  Rather it can create shared opportunity for both social welfare and corporate gain. Strategic CSR can also provide additional value to product offerings and differentiated market positioning.

When corporate social responsibility is done strategically it can provide a source of competitive advantage to corporations while creating real social change.  Strategic CSR is the adoption of small-scale initiatives that pertain to a companies’ core business.  The best CSR initiatives are both self-perpetuating and create meaningful impacts.  For instance, Microsoft created a partnership to broaden access to community college education for individuals.  This partnership resulted in both the generation of a well-trained workforce; from which Microsoft was able to address its labor shortage problem.  Additionally, this program created a notably stronger community college system.  Another example of a CSR program central to the core business of a company is that of Nestlé.  In order to ensure the highest quality ingredients for the company’s chocolate, Nestlé works with all members of its global supply chain to spread best agricultural best practices and technology, especially in underdeveloped countries.  This results in sustainable development, supplier loyalty, and high quality chocolate.

Nestlé Corporate Social Responsibility Strategy Image from Nestlé Corporate Website

In addition to creating a competitive advantage for a company logistically or with regard to product quality, CSR can actually help companies command better prices and create stronger brands.  For example, consumers are willing to pay a premium for coffees that are organic and fairly traded—it is (rather unfortunately) a strong differentiating factor in today’s marketplace.  Brand equity can also be built on a good corporate image; consumers who feel they are doing something positive by purchasing a product or service will be more likely to continue to purchase it.

CSR is good for public relations, but if that were the only benefit, companies would not continue to pursue strategic initiatives in this area.  Smart executives are realizing that social and environmental benefits do not have to be at odds with corporate interests.  Rather, social issues can be carefully addressed in ways that create competitive advantages for firms.

To access the original article:  http://www.fsg-impact.org/ideas/item/strategy_and_society.html

 

Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery April 29, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — bt25 @ 4:11 am

I was recently introduced to a new field called biomimicry, which I think is an incredible tool for solving problems and changing the way companies do business.  We are lucky here in San Diego because we actually have a Biomimicry Institute affiliated with our world famous zoo.  According to the institute’s website, “Biomimicry is the science and art of emulating Nature’s best biological ideas to solve human problems.”  These ‘problems’ can range from process innovations to product design.  The amazing side benefit of natural process design is that biomimicked products and practices are quite sustainable.

So this is all great in theory, but can biomimicry actually be profitable?

In a word:  Yes.  There have been many advances in materials design linked to biomimicry.  For example, self-cleaning surfaces that mimic the beading of water off certain leaves were recently inspired using biomimicry.  These surfaces have the added benefit of reducing the need for harmful chemical cleaners.  Building design is another area where nature has been inspiring.  Termite mounds use tunnels and venting to keep the temperature cool in their hot, dessert homes.  Architects have used these techniques to do the same–saving the monetary and environmental cost of heating and cooling.

Pax Technologies used biomimicry to design a highly efficient mixing blade. Image of impeller via PAX Scientific, all rights reserved; Image of calla lily via the equinest

Asknature.org is an entire database of natural processes that can serve as inspiration to product design.  Type the word “urban planning”  into the database and an entry pops up describing the usefulness of radiating lines found in sea urchins for city planning.  Radiating lines minimize the distance from the center, facilitating transportation to the outlying points–add branching, similar to the human circulatory system, and you have a highly efficient transportation grid.

I encourage anyone with an entrepreneurial spirit to have a look at some of these websites–you might stumble upon the next big thing.  Just be sure to thank mother nature!

 

 
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