Ecoinnovation: Sustainability & Going Green

Where Creativity Can Save the Planet

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


Kitchen Gardening: A Healthy Alternative March 25, 2010

Filed under: Agriculture — bt25 @ 4:41 pm

Spring has definitely sprung in San Diego, and Spring break is finally giving me the opportunity to enjoy the sunny days and cool breezes.  The last posting described aquaponics as a local, organic food solution.  As I mentioned previously—I would love to have one of these systems, but it’s not really feasible for me now because I’m limited in both time and money.  So, I’ve thought up an alternative—a kitchen garden.

I spent the first five years of my life on a farm in rural Appalachia and some of my best memories were of running around barefoot and eating sun-warmed tomatoes fresh off the vine. Where I grew up, everyone had a little kitchen garden—even if only a couple of bean stalks, a tomato plant, and some herbs.

My kitchen garden is also starting small.  Because our apartment doesn’t have a yard, I used containers to plant my garden.  I chose tomatoes and lettuce, vegetables I am familiar with growing and that we commonly purchase. I also planted some mint and basil, two herbs I use a lot for cooking, but are expensive to buy at the store.  On average, a single tomato plant yields about 35 lbs, while the lettuce plants will yield about six pounds.  If all goes well, these veggies should certainly put a dent into our grocery bill.

Kitchen Garden
My Tiny Kitchen Container Garden

I’m wondering if kitchen gardens, like the victory gardens of WWII, are becoming more common as people grapple with the cost of feeding their families during the current economic downturn.  Aside from the obvious economic and health benefits, home gardening is great for the environment.  Kitchen gardens reduce the number of miles food travels and the number of trips to the grocery store.


Can “Being Green” Save On Groceries? March 17, 2010

Filed under: Agriculture — bt25 @ 3:16 am

I recently stumbled upon a sustainable way to produce food that has turned me into somewhat of an ‘eco-nerd’ this past week.  Pressed to find a paper topic on a “green tech” business, I was procrastinating by browsing the New York Times.  When I found an article describing the phenomenon of home Aquaponics systems.  These systems work by combining soil free plant production (hydroponics) with fish farming (aquaculture).  Basically, the fish waste acts as a natural fertilizer for the plants, and the plants filter the water for the fish.  It is a completely ‘closed-loop’ system that produces incredibly high yields–these systems can produce eighteen times more than field grown crops.  All of this, using less 50% of water used in traditional irrigation and no fertilizers or pesticides.

Home systems vary in size and yields–but I want one of these!  Fresh veggies and tasty fish, while reducing my impact on the environment.  What’s not to love?  After researching the industry, I would however, want to design my system utilizing gravity to maximize energy efficiency in pumping, and install solar panels to offset any further energy consumption.  With careful design, I think you could rig an Aquaponics system to be close to (if not completely ) carbon neutral.

Earth Solutions Aquaponics System, Small Home System

But how economically feasible are these systems?  Our household spends about $200/month on fresh produce and seafood.  The Nelson & Pade Demonstration system costs about $3600 to install.  A system like this one, would allow us to continue our normal consumption (2 lbs of fish and 19 lbs of produce a week). Given this cost structure, it would take this system about 18 months to pay for itself.  If this seems like a big investment; there are smaller systems for around $250.00, but these can’t sustain fish for consumption.  Or if you’re handy–there are countless handbooks instructing on how to build one in the backyard.

Aquaponics systems have interesting implications for commercial food production as well.  These systems can be set up in urban areas, which gives a whole new meaning to ‘local and organically grown.’  Not to mention reduced transport costs due to proximity to retailers.  Developing countries and arid areas with food security problems could also benefit from these systems as well.  Aquaponics is a great example of using biomimicry to re-vamp traditional, environmentally devastating commercial agricultural practices.


Red Wine, White Wine…Green Wine? March 14, 2010

Filed under: Agriculture — bt25 @ 1:25 am

For the inaugural posting on this blog; I would like to concentrate on a product I personally love–Wine!  As a graduate student, I get to do a lot of group projects.  The most recent one examined the operations of a winery located in Temecula, the wine growing region closest to San Diego.  We focused specifically on some of the creative, sustainable things the winery was already doing and made some suggestions for strategic improvements.  A good rule of thumb for anyone who is considering adopting a sustainable business practice, is that any investment should be central to that business’ core purpose.  In other words, we tried to look for eco-innovations that were not only sustainable, but also improved the wine-making process.  In background research, we found that most wineries have great sustainable processes in their viticulture (grape growing), but are deficient in their wine making.  The winery we looked at was no exception.

View From the Tasting Room

View From the Tasting Room, Photo Credit Zachary Wagner-Rubin

Current Eco-Innovations

  • Biodynamic Pest Control:  The winery took advantage of predator prey relationships to foster raptor habitats.  The raptors eat the pests and no pesticides are necessary.

    Raptor Nesting Pole, Photo Credit to Zachary Wagner-Rubin

  • Composting:  By-products of wine, stems, leaves, and seeds are all seperated from the juice and are used as a natural fertilizer for the vines.  Most winemakers believe that fertilizers and pesticides damage the flavor profile of wine.

    Stems, Leaves, and Seeds Conveyed For Composting

  • Drip Irrigation:  Drip irrigation is a highly efficient way to irrigate.  Water drips directly onto the root of the plant; so very little water is wasted through run-off or evaporation.  Drip irrigation also aids in bringing forward the fruit flavor of the grape.

Suggested Eco-Innovations

  • Improve Water Use:  Currently 70% of water used in wineries is used to clean barrels and vats.  We recommend using a water filtration and reuse system to reduce water use by 70% through water recycling.  A great one recently was piloted at Kendall-Jackson Wineries.
  • Sustainable Packaging:  Currently the winery uses natural corks.  However 2% of wine is wasted through moldy corks (amounts to $150,000 annual expense for this winery).  Screw on caps are more sustainable because of their recyclability and reduce product spoilage.
  • Sustainability Certifications:  The winery is currently employing sustainble viticulture practices; it would be low cost to achieve certification and would allow brand differentiation in the highly saturated Temecula region.