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 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!