Ecoinnovation: Sustainability & Going Green

Where Creativity Can Save the Planet

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 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!


Earth Day 2010 April 22, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — bt25 @ 6:53 pm

In honor of Earth Day I’d like to focus on why this blog exists.  Our planet is an incredibly valuable resource and it is in danger.  If we don’t fundamentally change the way we do things, we will damage it beyond its ability to recover.  Earth Day is an marker of the importance of environmental stewardship; it is a time for us to appreciate the importance of the planet that surrounds us.  In the spirit of appreciation I’d like to post a few pictures from our recent trip to Big Sur.  The redwoods never fail to make me admire the value of nature.

Redwoods in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Ferns in Big Sur

This part of California is one of my favorite places to visit because the lush forest makes such a contrast to the desert of San Diego.

From the Last Forest Fire

Forest fires are a part of life in California, but the damage never fails to shock me.  Redwoods are naturally resilient to wildfires–their bark has adapted to withstand high temperatures, but this ancient tree just couldn’t survive the last one.

Wildflowers by the Side of the Road

We saw so many brilliant wildflowers, I probably took about 700 pictures of them.  I particularly liked this photo because it gives a sense of the foggy weather that characterizes Big Sur this time of year.

Happy Earth Day!


Politics and the Planet: San Diego City Government April 16, 2010

Filed under: Policy — bt25 @ 4:35 pm

I envision this to be a space where policy, business and innovation can be discussed in terms of sustainability.  We’ve talked about some creative eco-business moves, but still haven’t gotten around to discussing environmental policy.  Legislation can be a double-edged sword for green business.  On one hand governments can subsidize green technologies, which can aid a fledging business.  But–just as easily–governments can choose to back one kind of eco-friendly practice over another, damaging early adopters.  How these politics play out can greatly affect the environmental and business landscape.

I was recently able to see how this process occurs in San Diego as a project lead for the 2009 San Diego Environmental Quality Report Card.  The report card is a mechanism used in San Diego to hold city officials accountable for their votes on environmental quality.  We analyzed nearly one hundred City Council votes and twenty-six Mayoral public statements.  We also examined twenty-seven individual budget items.  This data was weighted according to its environmental impacts, and then the city officials were given grades.

For those of you who might be interested in some of the big issues in the San Diego environmental policy landscape, I’d like to provide a brief summary below:

  • Indirect Potable Reuse (IPR), which would result in the first water reclamation project of its kind in San Diego County.
  • Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant:  As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the city of San Diego received $12.5 million dollars.  A spending plan was developed that determined the money would be spent on a water conservation and energy efficiency program for the economically disadvantaged, water and energy audits and education, street light retrofits, upgrades for city owned buildings, and the development of a climate protection action plan for the City of San Diego.
  • In 2009 the Mayor executed a twenty year Power Purchasing Agreement (PPA) with Sun Edison for the installation and operation of a solar photovoltaic system at the Otay-Water Treatment Plant.  One of the stated Mayoral goals is to continue to pursue solar energy options in San Diego.

Businesses operating in San Diego need to be aware of these shifts in water and energy resource management.  For businesses not operating in San Diego, I would suggest doing a quick search to find a local report card like ours.  In addition to the requisite grades, there should be a detailed listing of the environmental legislation affecting your area.  It pays to see the external threats and opportunities to your business, and often these come in the form of policy.


Looking Good, Going Green April 8, 2010

Filed under: Retail — bt25 @ 3:48 am

After a lull in my posts due to finals and travels over spring break, I’d like to pick back up on a subject different from food but equally essential to our daily lives—clothing.

Clothes, especially those made out of synthetic fabrics like polyester can take hundreds of years to decompose in the landfill.  They are also made from petrochemicals, thus have large carbon footprints.  The book Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy gives great insight into the stages cotton goes through in its lifecycle.  Non-organic cotton can cause as much ecological harm as traditional agro-industry.

Sustainable clothing made from natural fabrics, like hemp, have held namely a niche market. This is definitely on the verge of changing.  The other weekend, while shopping at one of my favorite retailers, H&M, I discovered a new collection of sustainable clothing.   The Garden Collection, released in Spring 2010, is made from sustainable materials like organic wool, linen, and cotton as well as recycled cotton, polyester, and wool. The recycled materials are derived mostly from H&M’s leftovers from the production process.  This is a great example of using sustainability initiatives to capture a growing market while becoming more efficient.

Another interesting aspect of the H&M model, is that its inventory and distribution systems are extremely responsive to customer demands.  Accurate forecasting and a Just-In-Time-Distribution system allow for very short lead times, which in turn satisfy rapidly changing trends.  My prediction is that we will see other retailers with similar models—such as Zara and Forever21—will soon roll out sustainable clothing lines as well.

The Garden Collection does not contain the typical ill-fitting, tie-dyed garments that we associate with sustainable clothing; rather, it is quite fashion forward.  The garments blend beautifully with the other items that H&M offers, and are just as affordable.  I especially loved this breezy blue shift, and chic red cocktail dress:

Garden Collection, H&M

Cocktail Dresses from the Garden Collection, by H&M