Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Is Your Lawn Truly Green? Think Again...


Who would have thought that grass isn’t green? That’s a statement most people would never have heard a few years back. But it’s true. That beautiful thick green lawn which all suburbanites covet and pay dearly to have, is a huge producer of carbon dioxide.

Educated individuals would say that’s simply not true, and that all green plants absorb carbon dioxide and, in turn, they emit life giving oxygen. And they would be correct. But they have not considered all of the indirect effects of growing and maintaining that lush outdoor carpet which negates any oxygen giving benefits many times over.

First, lawns require water. Lots of it. In fact, in most areas, much more water than is supplied by natural climatic conditions. Water used for irrigation is generally from the same source as tap water, meaning it has been processed through a water treatment facility. Various chemicals have been added (which may leach through the ground) and energy is used, usually oil or coal generated, to process the water.

Second, lawns require regular fertilization, herbicides and pesticides. Their runoff is responsible for much of the pollution in our waterways, including the giant “dead zone” spreading out for over 8,000 square miles into the Gulf of Mexico from the Mississippi River delta. It takes 20 pounds of raw materials to manufacture one pound of fertilizer which also requires energy and exhausts 19 lbs of waste product. Not to mention the auto exhaust used for trips back and forth to the yard care store or having a lawn care company drive to your home.

Next, grass grows fast. This requires regular mowing. During the warm months, most lawns are mowed every week. In warmer regions, lawns are mowed throughout the year. Since lawnmowers lack catalytic converters, the EPA estimates that they spew from 5-35 times more emissions per hour than cars.

The same rationale applies to landscape plantings of shrubs, trees and ground cover. While many exotic plants are widely available in all areas, a well thought out native plantscape will substantially reduce maintenance, need for water, fertilizers and pesticides, and provide a home for birds, butterflies and other wildlife. Isn’t that a greener choice?

Keith Winn is the VP Marketing/COO of GreenProfit Solutions, Inc. which assists businesses in becoming environmentally responsible. You may view their website at www.greenprofitsolutions.com or e-mail Keith at [email protected] .

Friday, December 18, 2009

Shifting Baselines: The Danger of Changing Perceptions


Ever visit someplace from childhood and wonder, “wow, I remember it being much more expansive”? Now, go back a few more times and, before long, it will all appear normal. While not entirely the same concept, this is a worthwhile starting point for the worrisome idea of Shifting Baselines. Wait, come back! It may be a complicated-sounding term, but there’s no science lesson here today. Shifting Baselines essentially represents a change in what is perceived as normal. It is most often applied to environmental degradation, specifically in the oceans. So why is a change in perceptions an issue? Well, say a fisherman spent their entire life working the sea, never changing fishing grounds. If any aspect of the catch changed during their life, they’d be able to recall days of better (or worse) results. For them, the baseline is constant. A “big” fish is the same size their entire career, as is a “good” catch. Now, take the perspective of a fisherman new to the area. They have no idea what the conditions were in years past, therefore, their “baseline” is set to when they start.

Still unsure as to the dangers of a shifting baseline? Here’s some specifics to paint a clearer picture:
  • Fisherman 1 (lifelong resident) considers a “big fish” 150 lbs. and a “good” catch 1,000 lbs.
  • Fisherman 2 (new resident) has no previous experience, so a “big fish” for them is 50 lbs. and a subsequently “good” catch nets (forgive the pun) 400 lbs.

Due to this principle, modern onlookers have “shifted” their “baselines” (perception of normal) and don’t realize the massive decreases in both fish size and numbers. Conservation measures from that point on will strive to preserve what they believe is a healthy population, unaware of the losses already incurred.

So what can be done to avoid shifting our baselines? While I may have said there was no science lesson, there were no promises made regarding history! “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” - George Santayana. When written, it is likely there was little consideration for coral reefs, forests, or global fisheries given, however, the principle is the same. By educating on the past, there is a better chance of saving the future.

As an avid diver, snorkeler, and recreational fisher, I have seen a marked change in the marine habitats frequented. Coral reefs once rich with life are, to me, comparatively barren wastelands, a result of direct (overfishing, boat groundings, careless tourists) and indirect (increased fertilizer runoff, inadequate sewage treatment systems, decreased freshwater flow from the Everglades) impacts. Of course, new visitors see the still-colorful and fish-laden reef and perceive it as beautiful and unspoiled. My baseline, while not one of an “unspoiled” environment either, would be inconceivably stunning to those onlookers.

So now, with a newfound understanding of the troubles facing continually shifting perceptions, I want your opinion! What can be done to stem the continuing change in baselines, no matter the field? Also, have you experienced a Shifting Baseline, where others applauded what was once considered subpar? Tell us about it! Send your story to [email protected]. A particularly-inspiring recollection, with your permission, will be reprinted on our blog and website.

Learn more:
Shifting Baselines (A Non-Profit Project)
Shifting Baselines from Ocean Conservancy (PDF)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

How Lights Put a Business in the Black


Analyzing a business, what is the one item that simply “needs to work”? Sure, in the summer, the response is likely A/C, and it definitely could be a serious detriment to productivity, but there’s an even more base requirement. No, it’s not that Blackberry or iPhone, rather, it is lighting. A dark environment makes doing business nearly impossible. Yet, it is the very equipment which allows a company to continue operating effectively that is seen as simply another consumable. In recent years, more attention has been brought to illumination as a means of “going green” through the use of CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Lights) and, on a smaller scale, LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes). The efforts are laudable, and much improvement has been made, however, lights are still seen as an end in and of themselves, not as a means to improving the business’s bottom line.

What could this possibly mean? Surely lights have two levels of benefits: longer life and lower energy consumption, but is it surprising to hear that they actually have many more effects? Take an office environment, for example. A comprehensive lighting audit should result in lower operating costs and reduced maintenance, but, if done properly, should also improve the quality of light, reducing eye strain (a cause of headaches), increasing productivity, and, reducing absenteeism!

Right, and the company is on the Fortune 500 in 3-month’s time. Sarcasm aside, these are all true (well, maybe not the Fortune 500, yet). Think about the last visit to a jewelry store. Were their lights a dull yellow, with areas of bluish hue, and the corners tending to hold a strong glare? No! Everything was presented in crisp, clean light approaching the tones of daylight, and why might that be? A jewelry store’s interest is in making their product look stunning, and they embrace proper lighting to emphasize that goal. The same, in effect, is true in any other business. When the lighting is at its best, employees, customers, and the actions each take are as well. This translates into a variety of benefits for the company. In healthcare, a clean light allows medical practitioners to diagnose and treat patients most effectively. On the manufacturing floor, proper lighting improves safety through a reduction in accidents and can provide a boost to quality control standards. Even in the classroom, a well-illuminated environment has been linked to an improvement in test scores and student behavior.

So, for those who passed on perusing The Article No One Will Read, here is the necessary summary:

Proper lighting is less common than it should be, but not troublesome to resolve
Well-lit environments allow everyone and everything to operate at their best
Beneficial light and cost savings can go hand-in-hand
Including a lighting audit within a company’s sustainability initiative can pay large dividends
  • Going Green,
  • Brightening the office,
  • Reducing the energy bill,
  • and replacing fewer lights
are all a singular goal!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Article No One Will Read


Wow. I just had a wake up call, maybe even an epiphany. While this may not be a completely green topic, it does refer to email, so unless you are printing your emails (and why would you do that?), I guess we can consider this a sustainable article.

Maybe I am the loner, but when I receive an email, and decide to open it, I generally read the whole message. These are from friends, family and known business associates. I do the same when I receive an email newsletter. After all, these are publications I subscribed to, so most of the content would be of interest to me. After sending out an important email to my friends and family, I found out that I am most definitely in the minority.

I sent out an email to about 60 people close to me, explaining an important topic, and asking their help in performing a 2 minute task. I ....wait a minute, are you still there? OK - I had to resend it 3 times so far, each time, re-explaining in different ways, as dozens of otherwise intelligent and computer savvy people were hopelessly lost. I finally had to build and send an instructional video.

Most writers of emails and newsletters track by Open rate. That’s totally irrelevant, because statistics and research tell me that MOST PEOPLE WON’T EVEN READ THIS. That’s right. And it’s because of a newly diagnosed syndrome, called Email Attention Deficit Disorder (EADD).

Due to information overload, it is estimated that there are over 2 billion people with this syndrome. Symptoms are:

• Simply scanning the first word or two of each sentence or paragraph;
• If the first word does not catch their attention, they skip to the next paragraph;
• If the paragraph has more than a few lines, they don’t even bother scanning;
• The average EADD sufferer spends less than 51 seconds scanning an email.

What does catch their attention?

Highlighted important words – in red
• Bulleted topics
• Short, easy to manage paragraphs
• Videos – it’s easier than reading

What are the consequences of EADD?

• Sufferers generally miss the important points of the story
• If there is a task required in the email, ironically, they spend more time trying to perform it
• Very little knowledge is gained
• Increases confusion on topic

DO YOU HAVE EADD? If you are still reading, then you’re probably OK.

Pharmaceutical companies are ramping up research on this affliction and I’m sure we’ll soon see TV commercials to “Ask Your Doctor” for the latest and greatest new drugs…I don’t suppose they will have an email campaign.

OK, OK..my friend the Doctor just called. EADD is not an “official” syndrome….I just made that up. But the statistics and “symptoms” are real. Keep these in mind when writing your emails and newsletters and you will get more Opens and even more importantly, more people understanding your content.

Keith Winn is the VP Marketing/COO of GreenProfit Solutions, Inc. which assists businesses in becoming environmentally responsible. You may view their website at www.greenprofitsolutions.com or e-mail Keith at [email protected] .

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Help Us Plant 1000 Trees


As you are probably aware, through our company, GreenProfit Solutions, we are quite involved in the efforts to curb climate change. According to most scientists, South Florida is the #1 “At Risk” region on the planet, so we do have a sense of urgency. We are trying to educate companies, governments and individuals through our speaking engagements, webinars, and participation serving on the Advisory Boards of the Eco Chamber, Port of Miami Propeller Club, Riverwalk Trust Sustainability Committee, Broward County Climate Change Task Force, Smart Growth Partnership, Living Green Fair, Emerge Broward, Lauderdale Air and Beach Festival, as well as Chairing and serving on the Ft. Lauderdale Chamber Diplomat & Concierge Committees, Chairperson of the New Member Committee, South Florida Chamber of Commerce as well as Sustainability Advisors for various non-profit organizations. As you can see, we take our mission seriously.

Our company is seeking people with a similar passion so we can geometrically increase our effect. We are offering a very affordable Business Opportunity model to those who wish to work with small and medium size companies in building their own part or full time business…and we need your help.

We have an advertising budget, and we could just place business opportunity ads or hire an advertising firm. But we want our dollars for this campaign to do more and that’s where you come in.

We all know someone who is looking for a way to supplement their income, or someone with a green passion, or someone seeking to follow their dream and start their own business. And, the people we know, also know other people with similar situations and similar passions.

We have built a complete informational system on our Opportunity, and for every 10 people who complete our online form and join our No Cost, No Obligation mailing list, we will have a tree planted in a vital region of the world. Trees are nature’s way of offsetting climate change. It is our goal through this campaign to plant a minimum of a 1000 trees, which means we need to have 10,000 people to subscribe.

We all have seen and some of us have forwarded those silly emails which promise “good luck”. Now, there is no luck required. By forwarding the email below, you are already helping to save the planet.

Thank you in advance for your help and participation.
---------------------------

PLEASE HELP FIGHT CLIMATE CHANGE - PLANT 1000 TREES – NO COST!

Our friends at GreenProfit Solutions, Inc., a socially and environmentally responsible company, are offering to pay to have 1,000 trees planted. The company is seeking to get the word out on their Green Business Opportunity and your No-Obligation subscription to receive information is all it takes. GreenProfit Solutions will have 1 tree planted for every ten subscriptions, with a goal of planting 1000 trees.

All subscribers receive a Free Business Report and the knowledge that they have helped do their part in the fight against Climate Change. Click to subscribe at their special web page.

Let’s help GreenProfit reach their goal. Please forward this email to every adult on your e-mail list.

Follow their progress on Twitter.

Joseph Winn is the President/CEO of GreenProfit Solutions, Inc. which assists businesses in becoming environmentally responsible. You may view their website at www.greenprofitsolutions.com or e-mail Joseph at [email protected] .

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Is Your Seafood Sustainable?


Fishing practices worldwide are damaging our oceans, depleting fish populations, destroying habitats and polluting the water. Informed consumers can help turn the tide. However, before finding a solution, we must discover the problems facing marine ecosystems. The following three issues can be solved through the same strategy, consumer choice. So what are these global challenges facing fisheries?

Overfishing
With an ever-growing world population to feed, fisheries worldwide are strained to their limits, in a state of decline, or, in worst case scenarios, have already collapsed. In the western Atlantic, cod were once so plentiful that fishing trawlers had a hard time just pushing through them. Today, they are almost nonexistent. When a fishery collapses, thousands of people are forced out of work and the fish species itself becomes in danger of extinction. Worldwide, fishing fleets are taking fish out of the oceans faster than they can reproduce. It is important to know which fish are most vulnerable to overfishing. Generally long-lived and slow growing species, including the Chilean Sea Bass (formerly known as the Patagonian Toothfish), living at least 40 years, and the Orange Roughy (Slimehead family), known to survive for over a century, tend to mature late and have low reproduction rates. Effectively, even relatively minor fishing pressures can have devastating impacts on such fisheries.

Habitat Destruction
Another major issue facing global fisheries is habitat destruction. Some trawling techniques employ an extremely efficient method of dragging nets along the ocean's bottom, scooping up nearly every fish in its path. While it results in large catch rates, it also has the unfortunate result of destroying any life on the ocean floor as large rollers are used to weigh the nets down. This leaves a flattened seascape, unable to recruit new life in the now-barren habitat.

Bycatch
This is another serious problem in global fisheries. Most prevalent in the previously-described trawling style of fishing, it is the unwanted or unintentional catch of non-target species. Worldwide, it is estimated that fisheries dispose of 25% of their catch for this reason, resulting in a nearly 100% mortality for those unfortunate enough to be caught. For example, it is estimated that for each pound of shrimp caught in a trawl net, an average of two to ten pounds of other marine life is caught and discarded overboard as bycatch. In addition, dolphins, whales, turtles, and sharks are frequently caught in trawlers’ nets and long-line operations, often severely affecting their populations.

Solutions
So how can you help? Well, in the simplest and most effective way any consumer can: with their wallet. Patronize establishments which support sustainable fisheries while making an effort to educate those who have yet to understand the issues. Certain grocery stores have committed to stocking sustainably harvested fish as well. How can you tell? Look for the Marine Stewardship Council seal on produce counters or in restaurants. But what about fish which aren't under the MSC guidelines? The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch has compiled and published a series of Regional Guides which you may download free of charge. These handy pocket guides show you which fish to avoid, good seafood alternatives, and best choices for both health and sustainability. Prefer a paperless alternative? A free iPhone app (opens in iTunes), complete with all regions and their respective seafood recommendations, is available, making sustainable seafood choices accessible anywhere your iPhone or iPod Touch travels.

Photo credit: Monterey Bay Aquarium


Joseph Winn is the President/CEO of GreenProfit Solutions, Inc. which assists businesses in becoming environmentally responsible. You may view their website at www.greenprofitsolutions.com or e-mail Joseph at [email protected] .

Friday, June 5, 2009

Water

Being based in South Florida, water is a regular part of our lives. On the west, we are bordered by the Gulf of Mexico, while the Atlantic Ocean graces our eastern shore. The southwest region of the state is entirely dominated by the Everglades, a region of enormous biodiversity and importance. This completely notwithstanding the Florida Keys, the only living barrier reef system in the continental United States. For us, water isn’t just a drink or the recipe for a fun weekend; it is our livelihood. As the top tourist destination on the planet, we entertained over 76 million visitors in 2004, providing a $57 billion effect on our economy . Much of this is due to our shores and underwater treasures. From airboat tours to SCUBA diving trips, our natural resources are invaluable economically and environmentally.

So how can we balance their environmental preservation with our own social growth? The draining of the Everglades has been covered nationally as one of the most ambitious land reclamation projects ever conceived. Looking back, was it a bad idea? Absolutely, it disrupted the natural flow of freshwater from the Lake Okeechobee region into the Everglades and subsequently, the Florida Bay. We’re now spending billions of dollars and countless work hours in an attempt to return the system to some semblance of the original design. However, by drying up a large part of the historical Everglades in the early 20th century, it accomplished the original intent of the Army Corps of Engineers. Massive population centers in South Florida would not exist as we know them had the region not been dried and water flows redirected into canal systems. Permanent building was impossible due to the constant variation in water levels before the canals. Much of the reclaimed wetlands was initially used for farming, a natural fit due to the rich swampy “muck”. Our economy grew from those farmers, fast-forwarding to Flagler’s Railroad and the first tourists. Some of those visitors constructed winter homes in the area, slowly converting the region from the next agricultural frontier (which it remains to this day in some regions) to the must-visit destination of the U.S.

Of course, even then, tourists came here not for the mosquitoes, humidity, or sunburns (well, maybe the tanning), but for the water. Since the water they craved was ocean, there was need for another source of water to drink. Underneath the southern part of the state lies the Biscayne Aquifer, the primary source of our water supply. While other regions have large, well-filtered aquifers buried thousands of feet below the ground, the Biscayne Aquifer is essentially our water table. It fluctuates with rainfall and is directly accessible from the surface. While it makes extraction very simple, it presents a number of significant issues. Fertilizers and other toxins readily make their way into our water supply. Additionally, when over-pumping or periods of drought occur, saltwater intrusion becomes a serious problem. Ironic that the state which receives more rainfall than nearly anywhere else in the continental United States is most at risk for water shortages.

“Thanks for the history lesson”, the reader might say, “but what’s it to us?” Especially here, where the environment is so closely linked with our economic well-being, the need to consider sustainability along with growth is essential. The advice for Floridians is valid anywhere. Nutrient overload is causing damage to our nearshore water quality, reef health, and wetland viability. This originates from agricultural facilities, yes, but also from the average family’s green lawn. How can you make a difference? Take care to avoid fertilizers and pesticides unless necessary, then using only the natural varieties. Time-release formulas can positively affect our water supply as they only use what is needed at the moment, minimizing runoff. It may not be apparent, but no matter where you are, every chemical you pour into your soil eventually makes its way to a waterway. Native plants require fewer, if any, fertilizers. A growing trend nationally is xeriscaping, or planting native flora. My home county has a NatureScape Broward program which highlights homes and businesses who have met a xeriscaping goal. These yards require less care and watering, thereby lowering their total cost of upkeep.

Reducing total water consumption also helps to preserve the natural environment. In a way, it is unfortunate that, for most users, water is so cheap as to render a financial savings extremely minimal. At a rate of ~$2 per 1,000 gallons, even massive reductions will not result in significant savings. However, there is another reason to save water — it’s a limited resource. Though we may not have a direct eye into our own supply, know that the less each of us use, the better off all us will fare.

A number of technologies, both old and new, are available to help reduce our depletion of valuable aquifers. Low-flow toilets, shower-heads, and faucets can more than halve indoor usage. Atmospheric water generators allow drinking water to be produced straight from the humidity in the air, purified for instant enjoyment. For irrigation purposes, cisterns connected to building gutters can retain the water necessary to keep the plants green through the hot summer or dry spring seasons.

Whether it be flowing down a plain in the Everglades, surrounding a healthy coral reef, or sitting in an ice-filled glass, water is an essential resource. Please treat it as such.

Joseph Winn is the President/CEO of GreenProfit Solutions, Inc. which assists businesses in becoming environmentally responsible. You may view their website at www.greenprofitsolutions.com or e-mail Joseph at [email protected] .

Friday, May 1, 2009

Greening Your Paper

Paper. It comes in countless forms, be it for magazines (shiny), newspaper (thin), or office printers. The material is used for more than just traditional sheets; there are sticky notes, mailing envelopes, and packaging that embrace its varied purposes. Of course, all paper, at its base, is the same, right? The conventional wisdom reads: paper = tree, with the primary variations being in what quality level is desired. Unfortunately, this isn’t entirely true. There are many aspects to consider, from recycled content (and is it pre- or post-consumer?) and certification level, to chlorine content. Let’s go through in that order.

Recycled paper products have been available for many years, and are perhaps the most widely used of the “green” office supplies. The premise is that the paper is produced from other paper as opposed to new trees. It can originate through pre- or post-consumer material, but what is the difference? Pre-consumer content may have been paper, but for a variety of reasons (off-cuts, misprints, poor quality, etc.) failed to be released from the production process. Much of this is immediately recycled, therefore explaining the high prevalence of pre-consumer content in recycled products. Post-consumer content originates from the paper you place in your office recycle bin. The percentage seen on the recycled paper packaging at the store is the sum of both these paper formats.

So, now you’re wondering why all paper isn’t simply 100% recycled (with varying pre- and post-consumer content)? Well, different compositions are better suited for differing purposes. Beyond 35% post-consumer content, the pulp is unreliable for commercial printing, but is normally fine for personal and office use. Paperboard, cardboard, and other packaging materials do not require a high quality, and are therefore often 100% recycled. All of these forms can be recycled approximately seven times, at which point the fibers are too short for reuse.

With no defined standard on what makes paper “recycled”, it is up to the consumer to know what they are purchasing. Seek the highest percentage of post-consumer content in the quality you need, but remember, you will likely be unable to find more than 35% due to the limitations explained previously. As new experts on recycled paper, there’s a large question that is not addressed by the recycling process: any takers? It deals with how the virgin wood pulp is harvested, thus leading the discussion to certified paper.

Certified paper is the exact same paper you’re used to, however, it originated from forests managed in a standardized way with consideration for a variety of environmental and social factors. The process is third-party monitored from tree to paper by one (or more) of three primary certification agencies: Forest Stewardship Council, Sustainable Forestry Initiative, and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification. FSC is the largest and was set up by the United Nations, while SFI was put together by the paper industry in North America, and PEFC by the same groups in France and Europe. Each operate similarly, and a producer may seek multiple certifications. This paper may also contain recycled content, however, since its production results in minimal to no net tree (or biodiversity) loss, it makes paper a more renewable and sustainable resource.

Finally, chlorine usage in the paper production process can result in large chemical effluent from the facility. To minimize this pollution, chlorine-free paper is now in production. According to the Natural Resources Council of Maine, however, there are three different labels one might see : TCF (Totally Chlorine Free), PCF (Processed Chlorine Free), and ECF (Elemental Chlorine Free). TCF means both the virgin and recycled content are chlorine free, while PCF only provides assurance the virgin fibers are free of chlorine (recycled content may contain chlorine). ECF only refers to the type of chlorine used, has no bearing on the chlorine in the paper, and therefore does not avoid the production of dioxins in the effluent.

In review, recycled or certified paper is good, certified paper with high recycled content is better, while certified recycled paper rated TCF (Totally Chlorine Free) is best. Of course, the standard practices of reducing and reusing still apply.

Enjoy your newfound paper wisdom, and print wisely!

References:
Forest Stewardship Council: www.fsc.org
Sustainable Forestry Initiative: www.sfiprogram.org
Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification: www.pefc.org
Natural Resources Council of Maine: www.nrcm.org/chlorinefreepaper.asp

Joseph Winn is the President/CEO of GreenProfit Solutions, Inc. which assists businesses in becoming environmentally responsible. You may view their website at www.greenprofitsolutions.com or e-mail Joseph at [email protected] .

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Driving and Stopping Smarter

Who loves driving in stop-and-go traffic, only to break through and be stuck at the next 7 straight red lights? Even if there is abnormally fantastic music playing, that scenario is quite far from the quintessential "relaxing evening". What might surprise you is that the environment agrees; from a "green" standpoint, maximizing efficiency produces the least impacts, in this case, a smooth drive home.

The difference in a vehicle's city and highway mileage is directly related to the increased acceleration and braking experienced in typical city driving. On highways, the engine is able to settle into an ideal pattern, generating the proper energy for the speed you desire, more so if the speed is kept in all car's optimal range (55-60). When city driving, much of the distance covered is while the car is speeding up from a standstill, a process which consumes far more fuel (and produces more emissions) than driving steadily at one speed.

As mentioned in a previous article, my car has a real time fuel consumption computer which I've referenced for other statistics. In strictly stop-and-go urban driving, the car usually manages about 22-25 MPG. While accelerating, however, that number falls to 10 or below! Consider this: the first light turns green, and the traffic flow begins moving towards the next set of lights, which promptly turns red. At this point, the momentum the car generated is wasted in braking for the next intersection. Therefore, for this area of travel, the vehicle's mileage was likely less than half even the EPA rating!

There is another aspect to consider: idling. As much (or as little) as a non-hybrid vehicle sips fuel when driving, they all get 0 MPG when idling. According to the Canadian Office of Energy Efficiency, the average engine consumes between ¼ to ¾ of a gallon for every hour it is left idling. Considering the average Canadian (American drivers are likely quite similar) leaves their engine idling for 5-10 minutes daily, assuming $2.00/gallon, the car generates about 2.5 pounds of carbon dioxide and directly costs the owner 5-10¢...daily. A good methodology to follow is to turn off the engine if it will be idling for more than about 30 seconds. Modern engines use less gas to restart than they do to operate for 15 seconds. Contrary to popular belief, it is no longer necessary to leave the vehicle idling when cold; it warms up more effectively when being lightly driven.

So it's been established that idling wastes fuel (and generates more CO2), while consistent red lights decrease gas mileage, both contributing to increased costs of vehicle ownership (and increased emissions), but how do they relate?

While the American Federal government is attempting to take a leadership role in reducing emissions and maximizing efficiency, without any detraction to those efforts, it is likely they will be slow to implement. However, development of climate change task forces by local community and county governments have great potential for effecting immediate and substantial change. While traffic elimination is a pipe dream (but something that both "green" and "non-green" citizens would welcome!), one issue that is rarely discussed is traffic light timing.

In most urban and sub-urban regions, nearly all traffic lights on major roads are networked on a central timing system, affected normally by time of day, individual car sensors, and emergency vehicles. The goal of such a system is to promote a smooth flow of traffic in all directions, while maximizing safety in your commute. Additionally, most have a "magic speed" configured, in which, assuming no traffic, one could hit every green light the entire road through. Unfortunately, in many regions, there are certain lights that always seem to be red. It isn't a coincidence, though it might be an accident.

How can you help? Encourage your local climate change task forces (if you have) as well as your city and county commissioners to push for traffic light timing programs. This is probably the first place you've seen it written, but nevertheless: Go green with traffic light timing! By decreasing stop-and-go driving patterns as well as reducing idle time of commuters, localities can make a substantial affect on their own emissions, thereby taking a worthwhile step in their green efforts.

Joseph Winn is the President/CEO of GreenProfit Solutions, Inc. which assists businesses in becoming environmentally responsible. You may view their website at www.greenprofitsolutions.com or e-mail Joseph at [email protected] .

Friday, March 27, 2009

Alternative Disposables

Yes, I know. Before all of you start yelling Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle, please understand there are times when disposable items are the only practical option. For example, how about when you ask for that doggie bag at your favorite restaurant? Suppose your folks are over for a summer BBQ? Or your company is planning an event or conference?

Most restaurants today provide Styrofoam® to package your take out foods. In the United States, the word styrofoam® is often used as a generic term for expanded polystyrene foam, such as disposable coffee cups, coolers, or packaging material. These goods are typically white and constructed of expanded polystyrene beads, a petroleum product. Unrecycled polystyrene, which does not biodegrade, is often abundant in the outdoor environment, particularly along shores and waterways, and contributes to solid waste pollution. According to the Wikipedia, polystyrene can be recycled, a “6” under the familiar plastics numbering system.

Now, here’s the kicker. Even though polystyrene carries a #6 recycling symbol, the actual process required to recycle the material is often more costly than initial manufacturing. So what does that mean? Even if you carefully place all recyclable Styrofoam® into the appropriate recycling bins, it will likely still end up in a landfill…for thousands of years. When it does finally break down into its lowest basic form, it remains a major pollutant for wildlife and water supplies. Is it any wonder some cities are attempting to eliminate it? Seattle is leading the charge by becoming the first US city on record to completely ban Styrofoam® products.

What about typical clear plastic cups, utensils, or even paper goods? The clear plastic cups and utensils are still made from petroleum. Even though some of these items can be recycled, “contamination” by food products excludes them from the process and diverts them to the landfills anyway! Additionally, we are still supporting a non-sustainable industry…of which 80% is controlled by non-domestic companies. Paper goods are made from trees, a renewable resource, and they will eventually biodegrade without leaving toxic remnants. This potentially could be a sustainable industry, however, the Forest Stewardship Council reports that less than 10% of the paper used worldwide is from sustainable forests.

One of the newest sustainable alternatives are items manufactured from Polylactic Acid (PLA), a polymer derived from corn, also known as “corn plastic”. This material mimics clear plastic, yet does not biodegrade in a natural or landfill environment, but instead requires commercial composting, a service not available in many areas. Other items, including packing materials, are made from corn- or potato-starch. These begin degrading immediately upon contact with water.

Another alternative is Bagasse. This byproduct of sugar production resembles the appearance and properties of Styrofoam®. As with PLA, bagasse also biodegrades quickly in a commercial composting facility yet also breaks down in a landfill environment within a reasonable time frame. However, this presents its own set of problems. Landfills are not designed for their contents to rapidly break down, and waste management managers are concerned about such products creating “holes” in their fills after exactly that occurs.

So what’s the answer? Right now, there is no one solution. We will need to approach the sustainable disposables issue from a variety of paths. Perhaps one can embrace bagasse for utensils and coffee cups, PLA for clear plates and uninsulated glasses, and recycled/certified paper containers for take out purposes (Advantage: Cardboard containers don’t dissolve in the microwave!). While this remains non-ideal due to the shortage of composting facilities and valid concerns with corn products raising food prices, it is in everyone’s interest to start the transition away from the damaging disposables so prevalent in our lives today.

*Styrofoam is a registered trademark of Dow Chemical Company

Joseph Winn is the President/CEO of GreenProfit Solutions, Inc. which assists businesses in becoming environmentally responsible. You may view their website at www.greenprofitsolutions.com or e-mail Joseph at [email protected] .

Monday, March 9, 2009

Greenwashing – The Dark Side of the Green Movement

For every positive action in nature, there is an equal negative reaction. Yin and Yang. And so it has been since history began. The Green Movement is no different.

Now that a growing number of consumers are becoming educated on the environmental issues facing us all and wanting to do their part to protect the health of their families, employees, communities and planet, a new evil comes lurking out of the shadows. This evil is not easily recognized as it is dressed in friendly green garb, and comes with promises of purity and environmental benefits.

It’s known as “greenwashing”. The watchdog and testing agency, Terra Choice Environmental Marketing/Eco-Logo defines greenwashing as: “the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.” With the amount of money being spent each on year on green products and services increasing at a rapid pace, it’s no wonder individuals and companies who prior, had little concern for the environment, are rushing to portray themselves and their products as green.

What is the extent of this practice? In an effort to describe, understand, and quantify the growth of greenwashing, TerraChoice Environmental Marketing Inc. conducted a survey of six category-leading big box stores. Through these surveys, they identified 1,018 consumer products bearing 1,753 environmental claims. Of the 1,018 products examined, all but one made claims that are demonstrably false or that risk misleading intended audiences.

Each of these greenwashing claims fell into one of six categories, labeled by TerraChoice as the “Six Sins of Greenwashing”. The categories included:

1. Sin of the Hidden Trade-Off – a product is claimed “green” for a single attribute
2. Sin of No Proof - A “green” claim that cannot be substantiated.
3. Sin of Vagueness – Claim is either too broad or ill defined and easily misunderstood by consumer.
4. Sin of Irrelevance – Claim may be truthful, but unimportant in making a decision on that product.
5. Sin of Fibbing – Making environmental claims that are simply false.
6. Sin of Lesser of Two Evils - These are “green” claims that may be true within the product category, but that risk distracting the consumer from the greater environmental impacts of the category as a whole.

The Green Movement is still in its infancy and is just starting to build trust among people now concerned about the environment. These are people who, in many cases, are now willing to pay more for a green product. Should that product not be green or live up to its promises, many new green consumers will lose faith in the movement as a whole.

It’s easy for companies to tout their own horn on how green they are. When possible, consumers should look for product certifications from governments and standard setting bodies such as EcoLogo and Green Seal. However, not all small and medium size companies can afford the fees required for testing by these agencies. Companies in this category, and those in the service industry, should review their own company practices, set a plan for their own green initiatives, and strive for professional third party recognition of their efforts. With all that is at stake, no company can afford to be on the “dark side” and lose the confidence of the new green consumer.

Joseph Winn is the President/CEO of GreenProfit Solutions, Inc. which assists businesses in becoming environmentally responsible. You may view their website at www.greenprofitsolutions.com or e-mail Joseph at [email protected] .

Green Building – LEEDing the Way

Going Green today encompasses much more than just recycling and changing to CFL bulbs. With a global energy crisis, combined with climate change, companies are just now beginning to look into a relatively new concept: Green Buildings. The online Wikipedia defines a Green Building as “the practice of increasing the efficiency with which buildings use resources — energy, water, and materials — while reducing building impacts on human health and the environment during the building's lifecycle, through better siting, design, construction, operation, maintenance, and removal.”

Green Building is based upon the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Certification standard developed by the U.S. Green Building Council. In the commercial arena, LEED buildings are typically healthier work environments and have lower operational costs than conventionally designed buildings. LEED incorporates a scoring system to achieve various levels of certification which are: Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. These are based upon the following criteria:

• Sustainable sites
• Water Efficiency
• Energy and atmosphere
• Materials and resources
• Indoor environmental quality
• Innovation and design process

Since LEED’s inception in 1996, there are now more than 14,000 projects in 30 countries. CitiBank began its LEED building program back in 2006 and has so far opened several new LEED Gold facilities in Irving, Texas, Queens, NY and in Germany. The company has committed $10 billion in green real estate initiatives over the next 20 years. On a smaller scale, Navy Federal Credit Union completed their new LEED Gold Call Center in Pensacola, FL which currently houses 300 employees. This is the first stage of a four building corporate campus which will eventually house over 3,000 employees. Their studies show a 25-40% reduction in energy usage and their employee turnover rate was reduced from 60% to only 17%.

Typical costs for new LEED building average only 2% above conventional building. However, other factors such as availability of sustainable materials and unfamiliarity of LEED processes may cause delays which could affect the costs. However, when averaged over a building’s 40 year life span, the benefits clearly outweigh the costs.

While the new construction makes the news, LEED construction is also making headway in the refurbishing and renovation of existing buildings. Due to original construction limitations, LEED renovated buildings rarely receive a rating of higher than “Certified”, although based upon how thorough and extensive the renovation, a rating of Silver is possible.

You can find complete information on LEED at www.usgbc.org.

Joseph Winn is the President/CEO of GreenProfit Solutions, Inc. which assists businesses in becoming environmentally responsible. You may view their website at www.greenprofitsolutions.com or e-mail Joseph at [email protected] .

Corporate Social Responsibility - Is it Good for Business?

Going Green today is more than just setting up a recycling program or using e-statements. While many businesses are familiar with the old concept of social responsibility, wherein companies, on a voluntary basis, reached out to assist their customers and communities, the definition now has been greatly expanded. Possibly due to the growing environmental issues facing our communities and planet, a new concept is being applied.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a concept that organizations and mostly companies, have an obligation to consider the interests of customers, employees, shareholders, communities, and ecological considerations in all aspects of their operations. Just like the old definition of social responsibility, this obligation is seen to extend beyond their statutory obligation to comply with legislation.
This concept applies to all businesses in all industries. Regardless of whether the company is a white collar office based service organization or a blue collar based manufacturing facility, there are steps that must be considered and taken to alleviate the impact of the company’s activities on the environment. While a factory belching smoke has obvious environmental impacts, other industries impacts may not be as apparent. Consider the nice clean white collar office building. How much energy is it using? How much paper? Ink? Water? All of these factors , and many more, while unseen, have an deleterious impact on the environment.

How? Let’s just consider water for now. For every gallon used, the water must be cleaned, processed and re-purified. This is an energy intensive procedure and requires substantial use of electricity, most of which is produced today from fossil fuels. Processing paper from wood pulp typically requires enormous amounts of water usage, not to mention the trees destroyed and chemical emissions released into our atmosphere and sometimes, waterways. And it’s not just the factories using water. Think of it this way: each time you flush the toilet, you are indirectly releasing additional CO2 into the atmosphere, speeding global warming.

Of course, we are not advocating that you send your employees into the woods whenever nature calls, but an overall policy of CSR should include a systematic program on water usage reduction. Most importantly, your CSR policy should consider not only local effects of your business activities, but also the far reaching effects.

Besides the rewards of “doing the right thing”, there are monetary rewards for CSR: recent surveys indicate a growing number of your prospects and customers now take a company’s environmental policies into consideration before doing business. Companies that truly Go Green enhance their marketability, improve their employee relations, and reduce their energy costs. As they used to say, it’s a win-win-win for everyone.

Joseph Winn is the President/CEO of GreenProfit Solutions, Inc. which assists businesses in becoming environmentally responsible. You may view their website at www.greenprofitsolutions.com or e-mail Joseph at [email protected] .

photo credit: Swisscan on Flickr

Friday, February 27, 2009

Saving Money, Saving Fuel: Is the Hybrid Worth It?


Car buying - you cringe just at the thought of it. The tedious search for safety testing results and drivability reviews is at hand, not to mention the new set of payments that will go along with this vehicle. This is the point at which to decide to go new or used. Both have their benefits and downsides, and their balance varies depending on the situation. Of course, those tasks exclude the other decisions inherent in the process: Style of vehicle (sedan, SUV, crossover), engine size (the 4-cylinder is efficient, but the 6-cylinder has a great kick), color, and packages (GPS and audio system or just the audio, but what about the moonroof?). Recently, a new option is under consideration by the average car buyer: hybrid or conventional? At first glance, the appeal of a hybrid is overwhelming; the improved fuel economy, partial silent operation, and green appearance all make it a difficult treat to resist. However, with all the hoopla around hybrids, seeing through the marketing spectacle is important to make an informed decision on whether they are a beneficial option for you. Indeed, the impact on your wallet may actually be higher if you purchase a hybrid!

Let’s get a few things out of the way. First, hybrids don’t automatically mean amazing gas mileage. Yes, they will be better, often significantly so, than their equivalent conventional model, but all too commonly, the difference is not nearly large enough to expect to pay less in the long run. I recently purchased a new vehicle, and was torn between two sedans, one was a hybrid, and the other was a normal 4-cylinder. With the hybrid, research found that I should expect an average of 35 MPG for my driving style (40% city, 60% highway). On the other hand, the conventional vehicle (which I drive now) has demonstrated an average of slightly above 28 MPG, based upon the on-board computer. Now, I’m all for reducing our usage of oil, but was the hybrid worth it? Looking into the costs, I discovered quite a sticker shock - the hybrid was nearly $8,000 more! Assuming I drive 10,000 miles a year, at 28 MPG, the conventional engine burns 357 gallons of gasoline. At $2.00 a gallon, the annual fuel cost is $714. With the hybrid, getting 35 MPG, I’d have used 285 gallons, resulting in an annual fuel cost of $571. Therefore, the hybrid would only save me $143 annually in fuel costs. At this rate, to pay off the $8,000 premium, I’d have to drive for 55 years (or hope fuel prices rise substantially)! Ignoring the 10-year lifetime of the batteries, the payoff simply was not there.

In my case, the decision was simple. The costs were simply too high. To partially offset the diminished mileage between my vehicle and the hybrid, I practice the standard efficient driving techniques, driving under 70 on the highways, accelerating and braking at moderate speeds, and coasting, instead of driving, towards red lights, just to name a few. Only a few days ago, I found myself on a local road with a posted speed limit of 50 MPH. Setting the cruise control to 53 MPH, I took a look at the real-time fuel consumption meter, and then did a double-take. The car was consistently getting over 39 MPG! This non-hybrid vehicle was performing better than the hybrid equivalent, and all it took was careful and intelligent driving.

The point to drive home (pun intended) here is not that hybrids are bad or a poor financial decision, rather, their usefulness is extremely dependent on your normal driving patterns. Consider a hybrid when the price variance is less than a few thousand, you tend to drive mostly in the city (hybrid mileage is opposite conventional cars, the city range tends to be higher), and the difference in mileage is significant. Also, this entire situation assumes a new car purchase with no leasing.

Joseph Winn is the President/CEO of GreenProfit Solutions, Inc. which assists businesses in becoming environmentally responsible. You may view their website at www.greenprofitsolutions.com or e-mail Joseph at [email protected] .

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

New or Used Car - Which is Greener?


As much as you try, bicycling and public transportation just won’t cut it. Perhaps your home is far from a transit hub, or you simply live in a region where public transportation is ineffective. Bicycles are out of the question for any length of trip because your bike lanes are approximately 12 inch strips on the right side of the road (welcome to my city). Even carpooling, while beneficial for certain destinations, cannot always assist in getting groceries and other necessities. So, as green as you strive to be, there’s no way around having a car.

Do not despair! There are many options available that can help minimize your impacts. The first decision should go without saying, but with marketing messages coming from all angles, rational thought can be swayed by its influence. Most simply, buy the largest vehicle you need, yet the smallest you can manage. While that new 7-seater with half-ton pickup bed seems like a great idea for transporting landscaping supplies concurrently with the soccer team, you have to ask yourself; will the majority of this vehicle’s use be embracing its many features? If not, you can likely look to a smaller, more efficient, and cheaper mode of transportation.

Now that you have identified the class of vehicle, it’s time to decide between new versus pre-owned. Unfortunately, from an environmental standpoint, there is little agreement amongst researchers on which is the “greener” choice. While an older, inefficient vehicle is obviously less desired than a new and extremely efficient hybrid or compact car, further questions arise on the fate of the original one and energy/resources used for the construction of the new vehicle. Without delving into conjecture and independent statistics, leave it at this: If you absolutely need a car, pursue the best value for the dollar over its lifetime, including both new and used in your consideration.

Use the EPA’s Green Vehicle Guide to learn about the overall emissions and fuel usage from a variety of vehicles, including your own to use as a baseline. While you may not see a direct impact on your wallet from reduced emission levels, you are making a choice that benefits everyone, at no additional cost to yourself. As an example, an EPA SmartWay or higher rated vehicle is so clean, it would have to be driven many thousands of miles to equal the air pollution generated by running a lawn mower for one hour (Of course, this raises many valid questions about the lawn mower). In addition, residents of certain states may purchase vehicles with a Partial Zero Emission Vehicle (PZEV) rating, nearly the same standard hybrids such as the Civic and Prius are required to meet. The tailpipe emissions of these cars are often cleaner than the ambient air in your own city! Don’t take that as an endorsement to breathe through your car’s exhaust, but understand the improvements being made on vehicle emissions.

One final note: In 2008, the EPA changed their MPG reporting standards. This means that vehicles of model year 2008 or later are using the new numbers, however, 2007 and earlier models are based on a separate calculation. When shopping for used cars, it may appear that an older model achieves substantially better fuel economy than the new model, but this difference is more than likely attributed to the changed reporting. Why was this done? To confuse the consumers in an already stressful situation? No, rather, the new fuel economy standards should better reflect the normal usage of a vehicle (A/C on more often, driving at faster highway speeds, etc.). What does this all mean to you, the consumer? Finally, the numbers you see on the sticker are likely what you will see when driving. On the Green Vehicle Guide mentioned earlier, the EPA has posted adjusted MPG numbers for some older model year vehicles for appropriate comparison.

Now if only they would help decide between the hardtop and convertible...

Joseph Winn is the President/CEO of GreenProfit Solutions, Inc. which assists businesses in becoming environmentally responsible. You may view their website at www.greenprofitsolutions.com or e-mail Joseph at [email protected] .

Monday, January 12, 2009

Junk Mail – How Can It Be Stopped?


Some companies seem to get it… By reducing your paper use, you can also dramatically reduce greenhouse gases. By promoting services like e-statements and online bill pay, your company can also save money. For those of us who do not understand the correlation between paper and climate change, here are a few facts:

It takes trees to make paper…lots of them. Trees are the planet’s “filters”. A tree takes in carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) and produces live-giving oxygen. According to Conservatree, just 1 carton (10 reams) of 100% virgin copier paper uses .6 trees, and 1 tree makes 16.67 reams of copy paper or 8,333.3 sheets. Now, let’s factor in pulp processing. Besides the tremendous energy usage to operate these paper mills (that’s more greenhouse gases), the converting of pulp to paper takes a tremendous amount of water which also has to be reprocessed and re-filtered…again, more energy and greenhouse gases. And last, the inks. Most printing is still performed with petroleum and solvent based inks. Not only does that keep our country dependent on oil, but these inks contain toxins which can eventually end up leeching into public water supplies through old landfills.

So, let’s get back to how you can rid your company of the most common annoyance and help the cause: junk mail. Nobody wants it, you did not ask for it, yet it continues to show up in your mailroom, desks,or PO boxes day after day. In fact, the organization 41pounds.org estimates that weight to be the amount of junk mail every American receives in just one year. If your organization is diligent, then you might try to sort through those items which can be recycled, but for the majority, this so far is not the case. Most junk mail gets thrown out with the trash, and ends up in landfills. Here is just some of the impact:

• More than 100 million trees are destroyed each year to produce junk mail. 42% of timber harvested nationwide becomes pulpwood for paper.
• The world’s temperate forests absorb 2 billion tons of carbon annually. Creating and shipping junk mail produces more greenhouse gas emissions than 9 million cars.
• About 28 billion gallons of water are wasted to produce and recycle junk mail each year.
There is an easy solution: Catalog Choice offers a free service wherein you can use their website to unsubscribe from various mailings. As mentioned earlier, www.41pounds.org , also offers, for a nominal fee, a comprehensive unsubscription program to help your company in stopping that annoying flow of unwanted catalogs, coupons, credit card offers, and just about anything else you do not wish to see in your mailbox.

You can do your organization a favor and help your community and planet in the process. Now, can someone tell me how I can stop that endless flow of junk e-mail?

Photo courtesy of TELportfolio on Flickr.

Joseph Winn is the President/CEO of GreenProfit Solutions, Inc. which assists businesses in becoming environmentally responsible. You may view their website at www.greenprofitsolutions.com or e-mail Joseph at [email protected] .