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