Friday, March 28, 2008

Calculate Your Carbon Footprint

How much CO2 your lifestyle creates is called your "carbon footprint." Home energy use, cars, and airplanes are how most of us produce carbon. Is your footprint average? Answer a few easy questions to learn your shoe size.

Click here to calculate your carbon footprint.

'Earth Hour' to plunge millions into darkness

By Madeleine Coorey

SYDNEY (AFP) - Twenty-six major cities around the world are expected to turn off the lights on major landmarks, plunging millions of people into darkness to raise awareness about global warming, organisers said.

'Earth Hour' founder Andy Ridley said 371 cities, towns or local governments from Australia to Canada and even Fiji had signed up for the 60-minute shutdown at 0900 GMT on March 29.

"There are definitely 26 (cities) that we think, if it all goes to plan, we are going to see a major event of lights going off," he told AFP.

Cities officially signed on include Chicago and San Francisco, Dublin, Manila, Bangkok, Copenhagen and Toronto, all of which will switch off lights on major landmarks and encourage businesses and homeowners to follow suit.

Ridley said it was also likely that other major European cities such as Rome and London, and the South Korean capital Seoul, although not officially taking part, would turn off lights on some attractions or landmarks.

The initiative began in Sydney last year and has become a global event, sweeping across 35 countries this year.

From 8:00 pm local time in Sydney, the energy-saving campaign will see harbourside icons such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House bathed only in moonlight, restaurant diners eat by candlelight and city skyscrapers turn off their neon signs.

Organisers hope the initiative will encourage people to be more aware of their energy usage, knowing that producing electricity pollutes the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels which are contributing to global warming.

But they are also aware that it will be just a small step in solving the problem of rising temperatures around the globe.

"Switching the lights off for an hour is not going to make a dent in global emissions," organiser Charles Stevens, of the environmental group WWF, told AFP.

"But what it does do is it is a great catalyst for much bigger changes. It engages people in the processes of becoming more energy efficient."

Stevens said the initiative encouraged businesses to be more careful with their electricity use while at the same time sending "a fairly powerful message to governments that people are demanding action."

Some 2.2 million people participated in last year's 'Earth Hour' in Sydney, cutting the central business district's energy usage by more than 10 percent.

While no cities from China or India are involved this year, Stevens said it was hoped that the movement would expand in 2009, which he said would be a particularly significant year given that it is the deadline for United Nations talks to determine future action on climate change after the Kyoto Protocol.

Ridley, who began 'Earth Hour' last year while working with WWF Australia, said the initiative was about individuals and global companies joining together to own a shared problem -- climate change.

"Governments and businesses are joining individuals, religious groups, schools and communities in this terrific movement that's all about making a change for the better," he said.

"It's staggering to see so much support from across the globe in just our second year and we're hoping that this will continue to grow year after year."

Cities officially involved in 'Earth Hour' include Aalborg, Aarhus, Adelaide, Atlanta, Bangkok, Brisbane, Canberra, Chicago, Christchurch, Copenhagen, Darwin, Dublin, Hobart, Manila, Melbourne, Montreal, Odense, Ottawa, Perth, Phoenix, San Francisco, Suva, Sydney, Tel Aviv, Toronto and Vancouver.

Click here for the article.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

San Francisco Skyline Could Go Dark

City Mulls Fines for Lights Left on After Hours

By Dan Shapley

Owners of skyscrapers would be fined for lights left on after hours under a new law being considered in San Francisco.

Mayor Gavin Newsom has been recognized nationwide for his attempts to make the city green, but this proposal came instead from Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin.

The first-in-the-nation rule would impose the commonsense energy-saving practice in a draconian way, with fines of $50 to $250 per offense, depending on the frequency of the problem.

Would this also mean that workaholics would be prevented from putting in long hours into the night?

Find the article here.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Green Basics: An Explanation of the Water Cycle (with Pictures and Diagrams)

Water, water, everywhere, so let's all have a drink (or so we all learned as kids, right?), but it's definitely not as easy as that these days. In honor of World Water Day (which may or may not have been today), let's sit back and enjoy an explanation of the water cycle.

Also known as the hydrologic cycle, the water cycle describes the process by which the various forms of water move about the planet in a fairly constant balance. But just because it's fairly balanced doesn't mean we have all the water we need, whenever we want it. But first, what is the cycle, really?

What is the water cycle?

Like all circular items, the water cycle has no true beginning and no end, though the water changes state from liquid to solid -- as ice and snow, for example -- and as vapor. The cycle is the process by which the water, in whatever form, goes from place to place, ocean to cloud to rainwater to river and back again through a cycle of rising air currents, precipitation, runoff and a few other processes.

How does the water cycle work?

It's a big circle: Rising air currents take the water, as vapor, up into the atmosphere, along with water from "evapotranspiration," which is water transpired or "breathed out" from plants and evaporated from the soil. The cooler temperatures in the atmosphere cause it to condense into clouds, which float around until the fall from the sky as precipitation. Some precipitation falls as snow and can accumulate as ice caps and glaciers, where it can stay, as frozen water, for thousands of years. In warmer climates, snow melts during the warmer spring and summer months, and that water flows into streams and rivers, which eventually return it to the ocean, or into the groundwater, which eventually reach underground aquifers. Over time, the water continues flowing, some to reenter the ocean, where the water cycle renews itself. There are four basic steps that tie this all together.

Four steps in the water cycle

  • Evaporation occurs when water transforms from liquid to gas, usually as a result of the sun's warming rays. Evaporation often technically includes transpiration from plants (the vapor the "breathe" out as they grow), though together they are specifically referred to as evapotranspiration.
  • Condensation occurs as the vapor rises into the atmosphere, creating clouds and fog. Once clouds are formed, advection -- the movement of water in its various states -- through the atmosphere. Without advection, the cycle would screech to a halt, as the water would evaporate and precipitate (the next step) in the same place.
  • Precipitation occurs when the vapor that condensed comes back out of the sky as rain, snow, sleet, hail. Most of it comes back to the ground or body of water, but some of it is intercepted by plant foliage and evaporates back to the atmosphere instead of making it to the ground, in a process called "canopy interception."
  • Runoff is the process by which water moves across land and includes both surface runoff -- when water travels over land -- and channel runoff -- when it gets into streams and rivers. As is bubbles and rambles along, it can drain into the ground, evaporate into the air, run into and become stored in lakes or reservoirs, or be gathered up for human uses.

    How does the water cycle work?

    It's not a perfectly linear cycle; the same water molecules don't go through the four cycles at the same speed, or spend the same amount of time in each one. As it turns out, much more water is "in storage" -- frozen in glaciers, sitting in lakes or reservoirs, or underground aquifers -- than is actually moving through the cycle, and most of it -- 95% of the world's water supply, actually -- is stored in our planet's oceans.

    Because of global warming, the water cycle will continue to intensify during the 21st century, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; notably, though, this doesn't mean increased precipitation across the board. In places where it's already dry, it's going to get drier, increasing the probability of drought.

    Glacial retreat is another water cycle-related consequence of a warming globe; as the temperature rises, the supply of water to glaciers from precipitation cannot keep up with the loss of water from melting and sublimation. When it rains, it pours, so to speak.

    For further water cycle-relating reading in TreeHugger, check out Dumb Question Dept.: If Earth is a Closed System and We're Running Out of Water, Where's it All Going?, Water Running Out in Atlanta and our How to Green Your Water guide. Elsewhere the USGS has a good intro and Wikipedia covers the basics as well.

    Quench your thirst for more green knowledge with our Green Basics column, which appears Thursdays here at TreeHugger.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Get Recession Ready: Use Your Rebate Money Wisely

So the House, Senate, and President have hammered out a deal to print out $150 billion for an economic-stimulus package that will send out cheques for up to $1,200 per family. They want you to go blow it on a plasma television—anything—and just shop till it's gone to keep the U.S. economic engine turning over.

It would not be the American way to suggest that you save it or pay down some debt, but if you are going to spend it, do it wisely. If you are going to do the right thing and blow it, do it right. Here are some of our suggestions.

1. Buy local: It is your patriotic duty to squeeze the most stimulus out of your dollar, and you do that by not shipping it overseas. Michael Shuman, in the Small-Mart Revolution explains how much better it is to spend your money in your local economy. In one study comparing two bookstores in Austin, Texas, economists found that $13 out of every $100 spent at Borders stayed in town, compared with $45 out of every $100 spent at the local bookshop.

2. Invest it in efficiency: Look at our series of posts on greening your house for winter—start with a programmable thermostat and keep going down the list until the money is gone. Trust us, you will get it all back within a year or two anyways in energy savings.

3. Buy a bike: Not a cheap one that will fall apart in weeks, but one that you can really have fun riding year round, so you can start using it instead of your car. That investment will pay for itself in weeks. Nervous? Don't miss our posts on how to commute to work by bike and how to ride your bike all winter.

4. Buy some good books: Yes, we know that the library is the greenest way to read, but authors have to eat too, and we only suggest keepers. Start with selections from our series on how to build a green library.

[see also ::Sustainablog]

Monday, March 17, 2008

Nordstrom Shifts to Recyclable Shopping Bags and Gift Boxes

March 17, 2008 - Department store chain Nordstrom is transitioning to fully recyclable shopping bags and gift boxes, to be rolled out as current supplies run out over the course of this year.

By the end of September, Nordstrom's expects to offer only 100% recyclable paper shopping bags at its locations throughout the U.S. (Its existing bags' non-recyclable propylene handles will be replaced by cotton.) In time for the Christmas shopping season, the company will also introduce new gift boxes made of 100% recycled paper stock sourced from 30% post-consumer waste. The silver foil on the current gift boxes will be converted to a matte silver ink, making them fully recyclable as well.

Nordstrom began selling reusable shopping totes, priced at $21.95, in its West Coast stores over the weekend.

Click here to view the article at Sustainable Life Media.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Pitney Bowes Outlines 7 Steps to Greener Mailings

March 5, 2008 - Consumers tend to overestimate the environmental toll of direct mailings, but companies can score big points for making their mailings more resource efficient, according to a new white paper from Pitney Bowes. "The Truth About Green" outlines seven steps to greener direct mail campaigns.
  1. Eliminate undeliverable mail. Mandate the highest address quality standards to stop waste generated by mail with bad addresses. These mail pieces increase environmental impact and stagnate business operations, resulting in significant financial costs to mailers. Take advantage of address management software that matches addresses against databases with the most up-to-date information.
  2. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Pay attention to paper stock and ask suppliers about using recycled paper. Choosing lighter weight paper also reduces the weight and bulk of a mailing, keeping costs at a minimum.
  3. Minimize unwanted mail. Reduce the amount of unwanted mail with personalized messages to the recipient. When consumers receive relevant material, that mail piece is less likely to find its way to the trash. Leverage location intelligence capabilities, which enable mailers with the information they need to target the right customer.
  4. Consolidate mailings. When a company sends out three separate mailings to the same individual in the same week, three times the amount of resource consumption occurs. Combining multiple communications in a single envelope helps the environment and cuts down on postage costs.
  5. Design more efficient operations. Take active steps to reduce the amount of CO2 emissions associated with your mail operations. Manage your resource consumption and follow the mantra: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
  6. Achieve more with your transaction mail. Transaction mail – bills, statements, and notifications – enjoy a 95% open rate, far higher than any other type of direct response effort. Make better use of these transactional documents by adding promotional messages to your bills and statements.
  7. Go certifiably green. Third-party assessments can help you benchmark your current operations and assist you in setting a plan of action. Promoting your eco-friendly practices to customers and prospects can be a smart way to build good will and customer loyalty.

"Changing customer expectations in the green marketplace are a call to action for the entire mailing industry, says Pitney Bowes CEO Murray Martin. "We need to engage with consumers and better communicate these practices while continuously expanding our stewardship efforts."

Download the white paper here (PDF).

You can find this story on

Monday, March 10, 2008

Sony Recycles Ads to Promote Product Recycling

March 7, 2008 - Sony is encouraging customers to recycle their old electronics by airing reruns of TV commercials for outdated Sony products from tape decks to giant camcorders, Advertising Age reports. The ad campaign runs in advance of a series of company-sponsored recycling events at which customers can drop off their old Sony electronics for free.

TV ads will run in regional markets ahead of 40 planned recycling events in the U.S. The first will take place this weekend in San Diego, where Sony Electronics is headquartered.

Sony has also partnered with waste-hauling giant Waste Management on setting up e-waste recycling points throughout the U.S. There are 100 such locations already scattered throughout the country, and the company plans to have one in each state by the end of the year, according to a Sony spokesman.

Article can be found on Sustainablelifemedia.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Your Guide to New Green Home Labels

Green Certification Helps Homeowners Get the Best Value

By Brian Clark Howard

It's clear that going green is becoming increasingly attractive to home buyers and sellers. But without having degrees in architecture, design and sustainability, how do consumers know the difference between inflated claims, overhyped language and the real deal in terms of energy efficiency, healthy indoor air quality and truly green materials?

For eating greener one can choose USDA certified organic foods. For vehicles there are official EPA fuel economy ratings. For green homes there are now a number of labeling systems that are starting to catch on in the marketplace, and which will hopefully spur acceptance, demand and innovation.

Across the country there are actually some 80 local and regional green-home certification programs, most of which are tied to local climactic conditions. More than 200,000 homes have thus far been certified by various programs -- and that number is expected to swell rapidly over the next year.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

5 Questions to Ask Before Getting Dental Work

Lead May Poison Crowns, Bridges, Veneers or Dentures

By Dan Shapley

An Ohio woman became ill because Chinese-made crown was laced with lead, a potent toxic metal, according to an ongoing investigation by 10TV News in Central Ohio.

As much as 20% of the crowns, bridges, veneers, dentures and other dental fixtures used by U.S. dentists are made in China or other foreign countries, according to Newsday. Like other imports, fewer than 1% of dental products are inspected by the Food and Drug Administration, so there's effectively no cop on this beat. The American Dental Association, at least, is investigating.

The ADA recommends asking these questions before having work done:

  1. Do you fashion your own crowns, bridges and other dental materials in the office or buy them from a dental lab?

  2. Where is the dental lab located?

  3. Does the lab outsource crowns or bridges to a foreign country?

  4. What materials are going to be used in my restoration?

  5. What other options do I have?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Dutch Town of Venlo Goes Cradle to Cradle

by Petz Scholtus, Barcelona on 03. 4.08

We heard a rumour that an entire town in the Netherlands had adopted McDonough and Braungart’s concept of Cradle to Cradle. Not really knowing what to expect we visited the Dutch town called Venlo in the province of Limburg.

What we experienced was awe-inspiring. Cradle to Cradle was everywhere, or rather, in everybody’s mouth since it is a little too early to see the practical results of this endorsement. From businessmen to young designers and even the bar keeper- everybody in Venlo knows about Cradle to Cradle and people are very enthusiastic about the new approach to making things. It feels like Michael Braungart, who is now a regular visitor in Venlo, infected the town with Cradle to Cradle thinking and faith. And why not? As the Venlonians say, it’s a great tool for innovation that also makes sense economically, while saving out planet and the future generations. We spoke to Harry Loozen, Director of the Chamber of Commerce, whose enthusiasm was very inspiring. He told us that the whole project started when a Dutch TV channel broadcasted about Cradle to Cradle in 2006. Since then, the small Dutch town has turned itself into a pioneering ground for ‘rethinking the way we make things’.

Entrepreneurs in Venlo saw the benefits in the new concept and decided to apply it to their town. Together with the superstars McDonough and Braungart, they managed to convince the industries, policy makers and creative people of Venlo to adapt the concept by making sure that ‘food = waste’. However, talking to those from the industry who are now expected to go Cradle to Cradle, we received confessions that it is a bigger challenge than first anticipated. In theory, Cradle to Cradle makes sense, it’s even fun. But as Joost Backus from Koekoek, a creative industry promoter, began his talk at a Cradle to Cradle workshop: “We straight away ran into difficulties.’

The designers from Qreamteam, a local design collective who also embraced the new challenge hoping to make a difference, agree that it’s easier said than done. They claim not even McDonough and Braungart have the real solution or many viable practical examples. One example of carpet (Shaw) or a car factory with a green roof (Ford Rouge) is not enough for these eager people to prove that Cradle to Cradle can really work. The Venlonians agree that there isn’t a practical solution to Cradle to Cradle yet, that it’s a bit of an utopia and very difficult to put into practice by the industry. But one thing is certain: they are not giving up even if a few skeptics are afraid that Cradle to Cradle is just a hype and that in a few years, people will move on to another concept.

For this not to happen, Venlo and other people around the world will yet have to prove that Cradle to Cradle is possible on a bigger and faster scale. And Venlo is definitely setting an example. The most impressive thing about this town and its 90.000 inhabitants adopting Cradle to Cradle is that it joints the industry with the politicians, the general public and the creative people in a giant common project. Not many projects anywhere have ever managed to turn a single town into a melting-pot of sustainable (or any other kind of) thinking. In Venlo, Cradle to Cradle is a term known to almost everyone and the common goal towards which they all work, share ideas, raise questions, find answers and take action to make it work.

The one big project they are all looking forward to is the Floriade in 2012, the World Horticulture Fair, held every 10 years. The Floriade organisers have also decided to adapt Cradle to Cradle as their main theme, building a 66-hectare sustainable fair ground, which afterwards will be used to build Greenpark Venlo, a planned green business area. And then there is Steven Spielberg who wants to include Venlo in his documentary about Cradle to Cradle.

So stay tuned; there are definitely more interesting stories to be told from Venlo, the small town with a big vision. And don’t hesitate to share your thoughts whether you think Cradle to Cradle will really make a difference, become mainstream and lead us to the next industrial revolution, or whether it is just a current trend or marketing tool. Thank you Teun den Dekker for the tip! ::Koekoek ::ConCradle ::Let’s Cradle

Monday, March 3, 2008

8 Ways to Green Your Recycling

Ideally, the act of recycling would be enough for you to rest easy. But here are eight ways to make your recycling efforts as eco-friendly as possible.

1. Change Your Recycling Perspective

Instead of asking, “What things around my house can I recycle?” try “What things CAN’T I recycle?” Putting cans and paper at the curb is how your parents recycled. The new generation is recycling everything from batteries to motor oil to computer monitors. Run a search using Earth 911’s recycling locator to find a destination for these and other products.

2. Know What You’re Recycling and Where to Recycle It

Driving around to five different recycling centers to find a home for your ferrous metals can easily be avoided with some research. Use Earth 911’s recycling locator to make sure a facility provides the services you want. Driving 10 extra miles because you didn’t do your homework will negate the effects of recycling.

3. Recycle in Groups

If you’re dropping off recycling, you’ll need a car instead of relying on a bike or public transportation. But what if you and three friends all recycled on the same day with one car-load?

Another option to recycle in groups is to Start a Recycling Program. This will cut down on your trips to the recycling center entirely.

4. Reuse Your Recycling Containers

Using plastic bags to carry your recyclables is great, but they only provide a one-time use. Instead, invest in storage bins that allow more content and can be used for numerous trips. Just make sure you keep the bins clean so you don’t attract bugs.

5. Pre-cycle When You Shop

Nearly everything you buy at the grocery store will come in some sort of container. The key to pre-cycling is finding products in containers that are either made from recycled material or recyclable, or both. Anything in aluminum, cardboard or glass will be easy to recycle. Plastics get trickier.

6. Start Green-cycling

What happens to all the waste you create while gardening? Some communities have yard waste pick-up service, but an alternative is creating your own compost system. Green-cycling can occur year round whether its recycling your Christmas tree or composting your autumn leaves.

7. Reuse Before You Recycle

Your plastic containers won’t be turned away if the writing has faded from a few trips through the microwave. Paper can be recycled no matter how many times it is written on. A little creativity can give many recyclables in your house a second life before they go to the curb.

8. Pass Along the Message

The current recycling rate in America is around 33 percent. By passing on some recycling knowledge, you can help raise that rate, and that is something worth talking about.

This story is part of Earth 911’s “Green Eight” series, where we showcase eight ways to green your life in various areas. Click here to see Earth 911’s “Green Eight” archive.