Posts tagged eco

Eco-conscious Christmas

It can be hard, come holiday time, to stick to your eco-guns when purchasing gifts for others.  After all, even though you LOVE your NatureMill composter and would like to buy one for the world, to your auntie Mary, no matter how well you explain the concept, it’s just plug-in box full of trash.  So unless you want some serious regifting going on, you might want to find  some products that sneak your eco-conscious sensibility in the back door, while your none-the-wiser fam revels in their tasty and chic gifts.

For some eco-chic clothing that doesn’t slack on style, check out nau.com, a socially conscious outwear company that offers coats galore for the dark days of winter.  They offer all sorts of other great clothes too, but hey, it’s cold out there!  I especially like the Shroud of Purrin Hoodie (yes, they have a good sense of humor!), which takes the classic hoodie and adds some super soft lovin’ to the inside, while sporting class it up cut details that take it from the gym to your dinner date without a change of clothing.  For urbanites, they also offer the super soft coat in a trench version, shown below.  The best thing about nau.com is that for any purchases made, 2% of the sale price will be donated to your choice of five eco-conscious causes.

Of course some people are receptive to getting green gifts, and for them, please, promote away!  Perhaps you could send a sheep or cow (in their name, not to their doorstep, can you imagine the shipping?) via Heifer International, an organization that lets you adopt a livestock animal or flock of birds for a family in a developing country.  Or maybe buy a TerraPass with carbon offset points for someone you love, helping them to green their whole year.  It’s a little less cute than a smiling cow, but promotes alternative energy development and comes with a convenient calculator that will let you offset individual actions such as that holiday plane flight to visit Grandma. And if you’re stuck for green ideas, they also have a gift store on their site which makes it easy to pick up eco-gadgets for anyone in the family.

And finally, if you want to give a present to your whole town, visit RecycleBank.com and express your city’s interest in joining their recycling program, which actually PAYS YOU TO RECYCLE (which you do anyway, right?  So it’s free money!!!)  When a city signs up with RecycleBank, the company puts RFID tags on your curbside recycle bins and on the trucks that come and pick up their contents.  For every pound you recycle, the truck logs the weight of your bin, and you earn points and coupons which can be redeemed at local businesses for free or discounted stuff, thereby stimulating your local economy and encouraging recycling at the same time!  Some cities currently using the program have seen recycling rates go up from around 3% to almost 30%, and the cities themselves save hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in reduced waste transport costs to the landfill, which they split with the company.  So next year, there will finally be enough money in the town budget to buy LED lights to power the annual light festival, or switch to CFLs in city buildings, saving money (and landfill space!) for generations to come.

Comments (1) »

Coastal Cleanup Day 2008

If you’re in the Los Angeles area this Saturday September 20, join over 11,000 volunteers in the LA basin alone for California Coastal Cleanup Day 2008, a 24 year tradition that’s become the largest volunteer event in the world. Last year, over 60,000 volunteers picked up almost a million pounds of trash across the state, and this year, the Los Angeles event will pick up its millionth pound.  You’ll find everyone from the corner grocer to celebrities shoulder to shoulder attacking the coastal waste that causes visual blight and environmental danger.  Did you know that the North Pacific Trash Gyre, the large swirling mass of trash floating between Hawaii and Japan is more than twice as large as the state of Texas and is growing faster than even the scientists studying it had feared?  Or that plastics, which break down into little tiny pellets after extended exposure to water, are so prevalent that you could cover the surface of the world’s oceans with a saran wrap coating of the plastics in them? Obviously every bottle you pick up helps stem the tide.

If you’re not able to join everyone in Los Angeles (check out the website, complete with map of locations, here), consider starting a similar event in your area.  After all, waste has a not-so-funny way of wandering toward the sea, even from far inland places.  Or if this Saturday doesn’t work, make any day your cleanup day! With a few fliers and an ad on Craigslist you’re sure to attract a like minded crowd to help get some unwanted trash off the streets.  Often, local parks have cleanup days that offer both benefit and beautiful surroundings in addition to an educational afternoon.  Some of my favorite memories from youth are of going to my local park and cleaning up the riverbanks.  Needless to say, cleaning my room didn’t hold the same appeal.

If you can’t do any of the above… (you didn’t think I was going to let anyone off the hook, did you?)… then sit your butt down on that couch if you’re not already there and get to thinking.   The best way to eliminate waste is to avoid creating it in the first place. Find a way to encourage recycling or to make throwing things in the trash more appealing than tossing it on the ground.  Design a better trash can, out of which waste doesn’t blow away in high winds.  Create a non-toxic biodegradable packaging so that when people do throw their containers down, it’s not creating an everlasting toxic legacy.  There are at least as many ways to help the planet as there are people to try them, so find yours and get started! Hope to see all you locals at the beach!

Leave a comment »

PowerCube Energy: Solar in a Box

PowerCube 600 Energy system

If the intricacies of setting up a home solar solution have you flummoxed, you may be looking for an out-of-the-box solution for your energy needs.  It’s not exactly portable (unless you own a forklift!), but the PowerCube 600 Energy system is just that… a box that you simply open and start harvesting light energyVisit the PowerCube site for pictures of the cube being set up to appreciate how easy it really is. The site and technology appear to be young, but the promise of a standalone power system in a box can hardly be overstated.

From what I can see, the box has a variety of power outs so that you can hook up various devices to the unit. And the site claims that you can increase your energy output by daisy chaining multiple units together, providing enough for off-grid applications and primary power-source situations. I like the box design, it looks sturdy and easy to ship, given its size, and it seems like a good fit for programs that offer solar power to remote communities across the globe. I haven’t been able to access the spec sheet yet, but the maker’s site, a yacht building company, shows the product in more operative detail.  All from Reluminati, an eco-concious design lab that sports several lines of solar powered products.  Be the first on your block to sever your ties to the grid when the PowerCube rolls off the assembly line this summer.

Leave a comment »

Big Belly: an Appetite for Trash

Now that’s a good idea! Anyone tried one?

Leave a comment »

MOVIE REVIEW: Who Killed the Electric Car?

Yesterday was a media-rich day for me. Besides reading Power by the People, I also got a chance to check out the 2006 film “Who Killed the Electric Car?”, which outlines the rise and fall of the GM EV1. It’s filmed in traditional documentary format, with cameos by Tom Hanks, Steve Martin, Mel Gibson, and other celebrity EV1 owners. It’s actually kind of amusing to see these people introduced as “blah blah, EV driver”, without the fanfare associated with their day jobs.

Who Killed the Electric Car?

The film starts out outlining the history of California’s Zero-Emissions Vehicle Mandate, enacted by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) in 1993. The mandate stated that in order to sell cars in California, car makers must create at least 10% of their vehicles to be zero-emissions. This led to the further development by GM of the prototype “Impact” car that had won the solar Grand Prix race in 1989. After developing a car that could be marketed, and introducing it at the L.A. Auto Show, GM released some cars for lease in California and Arizona, dubbing it the “EV1”. It was relatively inexpensive, quiet, and very fast. Soon, Ford, Honda, and other car companies were scrambling to make their own electric vehicles so they could compete in the California market. But they weren’t happy about having to devote R&D money to that quest.

The mandate stated that the only way car companies could get around having to produce zero-emissions cars was to prove that there existed no demand for them. So car companies set about doing just that. You’ll see some of the old commercials for electric vehicles, which come off looking more like public service announcements about some scary new disease than a car ad. GM claimed that while they had a waiting list of 4,000 people who wanted an EV1, that list only translated to about 50 car leases. Ask Chelsea Sexton, the EV1 sales representative who is interviewed throughout the film what she thinks of that, and you’ll meet a lot of skepticism. Many other arguments that the car companies used to “kill the electric car” are also presented, some actually funny in their logic.

Regardless of what the car companies thought about investing in electric vehicles, the death blow to the Zero-Emissions Vehicle Mandate came from within… when in 2003, CARB actually repealed the very Mandate it had drafted, due to pressure from the car companies and a powerful new lobby, backed by the Bush administration: Hydrogen Fuel Cells. Shortly after the mandate died its grizzly death (see the movie for details about the decline and the players behind it), GM bought the Hummer car line, and within a month, quietly closed its EV1 facility and laid off the staff there. Then something strange happened. GM began a systematic recall of its EV1 vehicles, threatening legal action against those who did not allow GM to personally come and pick up the cars. By 2004, there were no cars left in private hands.

If you’re still reading, this is a movie that you should see, so I won’t go into the details about the recall campaign and the protests that followed this unprecedented action. Suffice it to say that the car companies promised one thing and did entirely something else, stifling real technological advances in the process. And governmental regulators? Well, I’ve never loved ’em, but it’s very disheartening to see how the oil industry, the car companies, and legislators colluded to feed a gas-hungry economy more high-fuel toys. Like tax credits: $4,000 for an electric vehicle, or $100,000 for a vehicle over 6,000 pounds (ie. the Hummer). 100k for owning a Hummer? On what planet does that make sense? Certainly not this one.

So, yes, watch this movie. It’s as much about how the long fingers of corporations and the government have entwined our lives as it even is about the technology behind the EV1. But that is a valuable lesson to learn, especially if you’re someone planning to make a change in the world. Just watch what happens to the Oshanskys when they introduce a new battery technology to the car companies. It isn’t pretty. But in the end, the message is positive. Progress can be stifled, but it cannot be stopped. Good technologies WILL find their way the marketplace if there is a demand for them. It is up to us, the consumers, to demand products that embrace alternative energy technologies, rather than letting the powers-that-be spoon feed us their idea of the future.

Leave a comment »

BOOK REVIEW: Power of the People

I just finished reading Power of the People: America’s New Energy Choices (2007), a nice short read about the history of, current usage of, and the future possibilities for energy consumption in the United States. At 188 pocket-sized pages, the book doesn’t take more than an afternoon to thumb through. This is thanks to the concise way in which Carol Sue Tombari explains things. She writes as though you’re sitting down together to share a nice salad lunch, not stuffy, not too complicated. But in the mix, she throws in a surprising amount of information about the current energy landscape. You see, Ms. Tombari knows what she’s talking about, after years working for both private and governmental authorities on the topic of energy. So when she talks about the ways in which power utilities fell victim to disincentives for innovation when they “reregulated” in the 1990s, you can bet she saw it happen from the front lines.

Power of the People

The book is divided into two main sections of two chapters each. First, you find out why all this is important anyway. What IS the energy crisis? Then on to Energy 101, a brief discussion of the current power generating technologies and what is already possible in terms of augmenting power load both at the personal and utility level. I learned a lot about how the utilities work (and why this model is outdated). The next main section focuses on the future. What will we have to do to survive the looming power shortage? In the first chapter, she outlines the different players in the energy system, and then discusses how each is challenged by setbacks, and suggests how that challenge will have to be overcome. The last chapter outlines the future and its many possibilities.

I really liked the format of the sections, in which each technology is presented in “the good”, “the bad”, and “the balance” sections. This allows you to get a clear overview of the limitations and promises without delving too deep into science. If you are looking to implement alternative energy solutions in your life but don’t know which one fits for you, I’d recommend this book heartily. If you already have a clear idea of what’s going on, you’ll still find a nicely written essay with interesting photocopy-friendly facts to quote.

The best audience for this book, however, are those who are looking for a way to change energy consumption on a societal level. Buried within the outlines of various technologies is an underlying cry – “Innovate!”, challenging readers to help find the solutions alternative energy implementation barriers. Only a few logistic issues separate most alternative technologies from gaining wide-spread acceptance. What is the power of the future? Could you be the mind to crack the riddle?

Leave a comment »

SEQL: 100 Ways you can improve the environment

Here’s a quick reference for any of you needing a jump start on your energy reduction goals, courtesy of SEQL (Sustainable Environment for Quality of Life). Rather than analyze or reword, I’ll just present the list for you to browse. The full PDF copy of this document is available from their website, www.seql.org. Many of the tasks take under a minute to complete… which ones can you implement today?

Comments (3) »

%d bloggers like this: