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Sep 122012
 

From Yale Environment 360

A Kohl's store in Laguna sports a solar roof (Photo: Kohl's)

A growing number of major U.S. companies, led by the nation’s largest big-box retailers, are installing rooftop solar power systems to help cut energy costs and increase profits, a new report says.

According to the report, released by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and the Vote Solar Initiative, more than 3,600 non-residential systems were activated in the U.S. during the first half of 2012, led by retail giants such as Walmart, Costco, and Kohl’s department stores, all of which have sharply increased their solar power installations in recent months.

Among the top 20 U.S. companies by solar capacity, almost half are big-box retailers, according to the report.

“Five or six years ago, you probably would have read about a pledge in an annual report about what they’re doing for the environment,” Rhone Resch, SEIA’s chief executive, told the New York Times. “Now what you’re seeing is it’s a smart investment that they’re making for their shareholders, and this is a standard business practice.”


Aug 252009
 

From Green Right Now Reports

There’s a nice symmetry to this green trend that’s taken root among financial institutions. Aware that their paper-spewing tendencies carry a high carbon price (not to mention their actual price), many banks and credit companies are planting trees for customers who agree to forgo paper statements.

The latest to announce such a tree-planting project is the Kinecta Federal Credit Union in Manhattan Beach, Calif. Kinecta will make a donation to plant a tree in the Brazilian Rain Forest for every customer who converts to electronic statements between now and Sept. 30.

“Our intention is not only to show our commitment to being a green organization, but also to motivate our members to consider the positive global impact even the smallest decision can have,” said Shannon Doiron, Director of Marketing & eCommerce in a news release. “Collectively, credit union members can make a tremendous difference simply by opting out of paper statements.”

The LA-area credit union hopes to plant 1,000 trees through the Nature Conservancy, which will put the plan into action.

Electronic statements save banks money — an estimated $12 to $17 annually per customer, according to the Arbor Day Foundation, which partners with institutions to handle the tree plantings.

And that savings can benefit customers, especially when credit unions or member-owned investment groups are involved. (Kinecta has 225,000 members to whom the savings can accrue.)

As important to environmentalists, and increasingly so to businesses, reeling in the paper trail can significantly reduce the company’s carbon footprint. Trees help clean the air and save habitat for wildlife, stacking up positive points for a company inventorying its environmental impact; by contrast, paper statements are resource intensive.

Other financial and retail organizations that have planted trees to encourage paperless statements include:

  • Bank of America, Sovereign Bank, AT&T, T Mobile, Mary Kay and Allstate have all partnered with the Arbor Day Foundation at various times in the past two years during paperless promotions that reward customers with tree plantings.
  • HSBC in the United Kingdom created an online virtual forest to depict the real tree planting going on as customers moved online, though their initial proposition was not one-for-one — the going gold standard today.
  • Bank of New York Mellon, Bank of America and Allstate have partnered with the Nature Conservancy to plant trees in exchange for customers going paperless.


Jul 212009
 

From Green Right Now Reports

FedEx has added 92 hybrid-electric trucks to its fleet, all of which are converted standard delivery trucks.

The increase represents a jump of 50 percent in the company’s hybrid fleet, bringing it to a total of 264 hybrid-electric vehicles. FedEx estimates that its hybrid fleet has saved an estimated 1,521 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions since 2004. That’s equivalent to taking 279 cars off the road annually.

The hybrid conversions, which retrofitted 2000 and 2001 model trucks, also helped boost green jobs in the Charlotte, N.C., area, creating 50 new, although temporary jobs, the company reported in an announcement today.

“FedEx and our suppliers have demonstrated that converted hybrids are a viable, lower-cost option compared to purchasing new hybrids,” said John Formisano, vice president, Global Vehicles, FedEx Express in the statement.

The retrofitted vehicles will be placed into service in San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles.

FedEx credited California with helping FeEx initiate its hybrid program in 2004 by providing incentives for hybrid vehicles.

In today’s announcement, Formisano urged the federal government to keep incentives alive to make projects such as the retrofits more scalable.

“We now need government incentives to end a Catch-22 situation: Production volumes are low due to high cost, and costs will only come down with higher production volumes,” he said.

The new hybrid trucks are projected to improve fuel economy by 44 percent. They will produce almost no particulate matter compared to the old combustion engine trucks (a 96 percent reduction) and also will have significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions, the company reported.

For more information on FedEx, which employs 280,000 people worldwide, its hybrid vehicles and other energy saving measures the company uses, see news.fedex.com


Jun 302009
 

By Michele Chan Santos
Green Right Now

Green-minded visitors to northern Colorado should consider a tour of the New Belgium Brewing Company in Fort Collins. New Belgium, best known for its Fat Tire Amber Ale brand, is one of the most environmentally progressive breweries in the world. The brewery has used wind-powered electricity since 1999, and green-design methods have been incorporated throughout the company. I visited the headquarters on a recent trip and discovered that many aspects of company life are dedicated to sustainability.

New Belgium sponsors a charity bike-and-music event called “Tour de Fat” in eleven cities in the United States, including Austin, Chicago, Minneapolis and Portland, that encourages people to trade their car for a bike, at least for a day. At Tour de Fat events, beer is served in compostable cups, and  performers take to a solar-powered stage. (A Tour de Fat schedule is online.)

Cycling has long been part of New Belgium’s corporate culture. Before he founded the company, Jeff Lebesch went on a tour of Belgian breweries, traveling through Europe in 1989 on a mountain bike, a rarity at the time. Many people commented on the “fat tires” he used, which inspired the name of Fat Tire Amber Ale. Today, employees of New Belgium each receive a mountain bike on the one-year anniversary of their hire date. They are encouraged to use the bikes to commute to work, thus reducing their carbon footprints. Outside the headquarters, dozens of bikes are lined up, looking well-used.

Tours of the brewery are free, and they are offered several days per week. One of the first things visitors notice is the beautiful pine wood used throughout the building, on ceilings, walls and floors. The wood has a bluish tint, meaning it’s “beetlekill” wood. Throughout Colorado, thousands of acres of lodgepole pines have been lost to a pine bark beetle infestation. The beetle injects a fungus into the trees, which tints the wood blue. Using the wood is a way to utilize these dead trees, the tour guide explained.

The most impressive sight on the tour is the gigantic “Merlin” brewing kettle, the size of a school bus. Traditional brew kettles heat the wort (unfermented beer, the liquid that comes from mashing grains) in a giant kettle that heats from the bottom, similar to how you heat a pan of water on the kitchen stove.

The Merlin, made by the Germany company Steinecker, has a huge cone-shaped heating element standing inside the vast cylindrical kettle. The liquid heats more quickly than in a traditional kettle because the heating surface is much larger, and the wort heats from the center out. Since the wort heats faster, the brew kettle uses less energy than traditional methods.

Every brewery produces a large amount of wastewater as a result of the brewing process. New Belgium built its own water-treatment plant, which includes anaerobic digestion. The company also uses the methane produced by the plant to generate electricity and heat. As it continues to work on new ways to save energy, New Belgium plans to install a solar photovoltaic array.

Best of all for visitors, each brewery guest 21 and up can sample four types of beer for free, in the first-floor bar called the “Liquid Center.” Most visitors start with the Fat Tire, and then move on to try other flavors, like Sunshine Wheat, Skinny Dip and Blue Paddle.

Copyright © 2009 Green Right Now | Distributed by Noofangle Media


Jun 042009
 

From Green Right Now Reports:

A new survey by BBMG has found that 77 percent of consumers say they can make a “positive difference” by buying products from socially and environmentally responsible companies.

And nearly as many respondents (72 percent) say they have “avoided purchasing products from companies I disagree with.”

The results, according to BBMG, show that companies face significant risks and rewards based on their corporate behavior.

Company behavior drives person-to-person recommendations as well, with 55 percent of the consumers polled saying they often “encourage others to buy from companies that are socially and environmentally responsible.”

In addition, 28 percent of those surveyed said they often post reviews and recommendations of products on blogs, message boards and social networking sites.

“Consumers are craving brands that deliver both value and values,” said Raphael, Bemporad, BBMG co-founder, in a statement. “More than ever, consumers are rewarding companies that deliver holistic brand benefits and punishing those that don’t.”

The survey, the 2009 BBMG Conscious Consumer Report: Redefining Value in a New Economy, conducted in conjunction with research partners Global Strategy Group and Bagatto, surveyed 2,000 adults in late 2008.

BBMG is a branding and marketing agency with offices in New York City and San Francisco.


May 212009
 

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

You know your car is a gas hound. But what about the water it requires?

Keeping a car clean, whether you rinse it off in your driveway or get it scrubbed at a professional wash, uses buckets of agua, more than you might realize.

If you’re careful, washing your car at home might use 10 gallons of water, but probably more like 25 or 50. A car wash can use much more, in the range of 75 to 100 gallons.

The International Car Wash Association says car washes are not a problem because the water consumed at car washes is recycled and reused. Water is properly disposed of via the sewer system where it can be treated and returned to circulation, the association says. (This is not the case with home car washing, which we’ll get to.)

However, just as foregoing paper is more effective at saving forests than using recycled paper, the greenest car wash is the one that doesn’t use water at all.

The cutting edge of the car cleaning biz has been spawning products that clean and polish your car without water, and lately, car washes that do the same.

Take Houston’s new car detailing service and car wash, Eco-Suds Hand Car Wash.

This new service in Northwest Houston, uses a water-based cleaning solution that is non-hazardous and biodegradable. The formula dissolves dirt and the residue is easily wiped off with a microfiber cloth. The process doesn’t scratch because polymers enwrap the dirt. The car is wiped clean and buffed, leaving it smooth and shiny (see photo above), says Kevin Dunn, co-owner of the Eco-Suds Hand Car Wash.

Dunn touts the service as eco-friendly on two counts — it avoids toxic runoff because the cleaning solution does not contain any oil, mineral spirits or kerosene, harmful chemicals that turn up in competitor’s formulas. And, the process is virtually water-less (there’s some water in the solution), saving the community dozens of gallons of water for each car and truck cleaned.

“According to our estimates, we believe we have saved roughly 90,000 gallons since we opened in mid-February,” he said. “Not too bad for one single location in just three months.”

As the Eco-Suds website notes, conventional car washes cannot compete with that level of water conservation because even their recycled water is typically mixed with 40 to 80 gallons of fresh water for each new car washed.

Eco-Suds is frugal with natural resources, but uses significant human capital, employing hand washers. It competes with both mass-market and luxury detailing services, with packages starting at $25 for an exterior wash and interior cleaning, ranging up to $225 for the “platinum package” with various levels in between.

Eco-Suds bills itself as the nation’s “first full service, eco-friendly car wash and detail” — and it is a unique stand alone facility — but it is not the first enterprise to try to create a greener model for the car wash business.

Several have gone eco by switching to greener cleaning ingredients and polishes and adding water recapture capabilities, but they’re still using large quantities of water.

A few select car washes are getting more aggressive about water use.

The Eco-Pit in San Diego is another virtually water-less car wash that uses a line of Earth-friendly products.

Seattle has Advanced Mobile, a car detailing service that uses biodegradable soaps and comes to clients, washing their cars at their location and reclaiming all the water used. The mobile aspect of this business throws a wrench into the process of assessing its carbon imprint (would it be more or the same as a drop in car wash?), but the EPA was impressed enough with its water conservation to award it a Water Efficiency Leader award in 2006.  Advanced Mobile also has outlets in Portland and Chicago.

In Nevada, the Southern Nevada Water Authority promotes car washes that reclaim or recycle their water on its Water Smart program by offering coupons to these businesses on its website.

Now, about washing your car at home. The Environmental Protection Agency and some state agencies warn against it. At least, they tell us not to wash the car or truck in the driveway because the runoff is hazardous to  the environment. The phosphates in some soaps can harm fish down the line, because they act as fertilizers, making algae grow and choking off oxygen for aquatic life. And that oily sheen you see in the rivulets running toward the storm drain (from undercarriage goo and petroleum distillates) can be a real problem for many life forms.

If you must wash at home, park on grass or gravel, so the runoff can be reabsorbed by the soil, the experts say. And use a phosphate-free soap.

It’s better to use commercial carwash, the EPA notes, because that water can be recycled and will be cleansed by local water treatment facilities before being returned to the water system or the environment.

Charity groups should do the same. Instead of setting up a DIY venture in a school parking lot, school and church groups should operate on grass or gravel, or partner with a local commercial car wash.

Even better — work with a commercial car wash that doesn’t use water.

Copyright © 2009 Green Right Now | Distributed by Noofangle Media


May 112009
 

By Shermakaye Bass
Green Right Now

Only a few years ago, you couldn’t give old wood away. Dilapidated barns and falling-down sheds were a nuisance to most people who owned them; they’d actually pay you to come haul the stuff off.

Boy, how things change. Daniel and Amy Balog find it ironic, and exciting, that reclaimed wood has become fashionable. The Tennessee-based furniture makers are riding that trend simply doing what they do best – reusing old things and creating cool, utilitarian designs.

With 11th Hour Furniture, which uses 100 percent reclaimed wood for its striking mission and shaker-style furnishings, they aren’t jumping on the trend-wagon or trying to get rich off materials that were given to them (by nature and by neighbors), as many reclaimed-wood designers are doing. They’re after something different, aesthetically and otherwise.

“We want to get everybody a table. There’s a lot of guys out here that only want to sell one or two  a year and charge $12,000. I want to sell 200 and charge $800. That’ll help the environment, and it’ll be nice and you can hand it down to your kids and grandkids,” says Daniel, a lifelong recycler who studied design and sculpture at the Cleveland Institute of Art.

The artist and his wife, a geologist, went into furniture design after moving their family to a plot of land Daniel owned outside Pikeville, TN, several years ago. Then in 2006, the couple segued into something that felt more, well, natural to them – starting 11th Hour, which mostly harvests its wood from old barns in the area, and whose provenance can often be traced through generations of the same family. The company also follows strict, self-set green guidelines – working with local or regional woods; using non-toxic finishes (typically Mike Mahoney’s Bowlmaker brand); running an energy-efficient workshop; purchasing carbon offsets from CarbonFund.org, and of course recycling all scraps.

But unlike many other reclaimed-wood workers, they start from the ground-up, literally and figuratively – ascertaining the customer’s needs and designing pieces to spec, even offering to take the client on-site to check out the source.

Other designers of note who fit this category but are substantially more expensive include Live Edge on Vancouver Island and Hudson Furniture in New York City.

“Our whole thing is truly green from the harvesting of the wood to the time they come pick it up. We try to use everything we can of the barn,” says Daniel Balog, explaining that wood considered flawed by some designers has a peculiar beauty to him.

“It’s all a mystery to us. …  Some of the (salvaged) pieces are not good looking, but when we start matching them up – and a lot of them have bee holes and nail holes – it just works. I’ve got 10,000 feet of harvested wood in back of the shop (locals now call them to offer wood). Or if the client wants to come out here, they can pick them out” – something encouraged by the Balogs, who also give discounts to clients who pick up their own furniture.

“We have a lot of customers lately from New York that are really into the white pine and not a lot of knotholes,” he says, “but the majority of people that want it say, ‘Build me a table. I don’t care what it looks like or how many beeholes it’s got.’ …  We know the people that have these barns, so we have this whole history around it. We can say, ‘It’s the Blankenships’ old barn, they were third-generation millers.’ Or, ‘It’s the Evans’ barn’.”

But there’s more to the reclaimed-wood movement than its greenness or trendiness. It’s the epitome of holistic design.


Apr 292009
 

Michael Caruso, co-owner of Amerisweep, LLC, metro Atlanta area

What I do:

Our company specializes in cleaning parking decks and surface lots using a pressure washing system that reclaims and reuses about 95 percent of the water. The ride-on pressure washer isn’t hooked up to a water source.

How it helps:

A typical pressure washer will use 2,500 to 5,000 gallons of water during a four-hour job and all that water will pour down the drains of the parking decks with dirt and oil.
The Cyclone System we use captures all of these pollutants, keeps them from going down the drains and saves a tremendous amount of precious water in the whole process. Cleaning one parking deck might take 40 hours, so, when you do the math, our company is using about 2,400 gallons while other companies might have to use as much as 40,000 gallons.

How I got here:

Our company was a subsidiary of a large parking company. When the parking company told me they wanted to shut down the operation, I bought the company in January.
Working for the parking company taught me how to take care of a client and how the appearance of a garage is a key to the success of a parking garage. If people are not comfortable parking in a garage because of its cleanliness, they will find somewhere else to park.

Where I’m going:

Since Georgia is in a drought scenario, the Cyclone is the perfect answer to my industry’s needs. There is a lot of concrete out there that needs to be cleaned and water is a sacred commodity. This is the best answer to take care of both.

How I’m doing:

We’re ahead of projections and strongly believe our prospects are extremely bright. We can be green at less cost to the client.

Advice:

Going green is a good way to look out for the client’s needs and gives you an edge in the market place.