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Gertie Finds a New Home

Gertie is a camper — a “short” bus with a powerful International engine. In 2006, I drove her from Colorado to Maine while chronicling in this blog a quest for biodiesel fuel.
This week, Gertie found a new home with the Maine Earth Walk Project. Her owner, the organizer and publicist for Maine Earth Walk, reports that her engine purrs, and, but for a handful of minor repairs, she is road-worthy. Participants in the Project are walking this week from Portland to Augusta, and Gertie will be with them.
If you wish to participate in the Walk, in celebration of this amazing earth that sustains us, contact maineearthwalk@gmail. Below is a message from Maine Earth Walk Projet.

Dear Friends,

For too long we have witnessed the tragic neglect and exploitation of our Mother Earth, along with the erosion of the basic Human Rights of people everywhere. It’s an ongoing tragedy that threatens the balance of life and the very existence of all living beings on Earth.

“This we know, the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web he does to himself.” ~ Chief Seattle,Native American

We must address the problems we face, we must restore the balance and our spiritual relationship with our Mother Earth through mutual cooperation as Human Beings regardless of race, religion, ideology or nationality.

The MAINE EARTH WALK seeks to affirm the dignity of all Human Beings by reaffirming our Human Rights. We must exercise our Civil Rights as Citizens of Planet Earth. It is our duty to Stand Up and Speak Out! To Petition our Governments for Peace!! It is also our responsibility to Preserve and Protect our Planet Earth! We proclaim ‘Earth Day, Every Day !’, encouraging continuous stewardship of our environment. In this way each of us helps to protect, preserve, and restore the delicate balance of Nature that sustains Life on our Planet Earth.

The MAINE EARTH WALK, in solidarity with Occupy Movements both nationally and globally, is a movement by the People and for the People. We invite all the People of Maine to join our cause. To work together for rebuilding our communities for a Sustainable Way of Life.

The MAINE EARTH WALK is a nine day, seventy six mile walk and camping trip from Portland to Augusta, for sharing our ecological and Human Rights messages with all. Everyone is invited to join the walk as a volunteer, whether for just a segment or for the entire journey. We will begin the Walk from Portland’s Lincoln Park at 10AM on Monday, April 23rd, follow Route 1 to Brunswick and then Route 24 to Augusta with an average daily walk of ten miles.

The Walk will culminate on May Day, May 1st. 3 mile Maine Earth Walk from Hallowell to Augusta via River Rail Trail, 12noon Gathering at Capital Park, for our May Day Rally!

Bring signs, banners and messages that help raise Earth awareness and/or consciousness of related causes. Bring your songs and stories, poetry and positive spirit for our Mother Earth. Families, friends, and people from all walks of life are all welcome to Demonstrate our Unity.

There are many ways to participate in MAINE EARTH WALK. We are seeking letters of support; from civic leaders, business owners, and concerned citizens, to be shared with the general public and eachother. Join us along the way, and for our Town Hall Meetups.
We are seeking campsite hosts along the walk route. All support will help ensure the success of this Project ! Food and donations are appreciated for the Maine Earth Walk Project.
The MAINE EARTH WALK thanks you for your support. We are a grass-roots social movement.

If you wish to walk with us, Please contact us ~ maineearthwalk@gmail

As a prayer for Peace on Earth, Justice for All, and a better World for Future Generations!

Stand Up! Walk with Us! Speak Out!

Sincerely,
Maine Earth Walkers

Geoengineering our Future

The Economist had an article in a recent issue about the “anthropocene” period, our new geologic era, where mankind is the dominant force in the geology of the planet.  A period where our agriculture, cities, dams, etc literally have and will permanently change the face of the earth itself, forever.

The article suggests that we are the driving force on a GEOLOGIC scale, and will never and can never go back to Walden Pond, and that a planet that supports 10 billion of us WILL look vastly different than it used to.  And that it has too.  Or it can’t support 10 billion of us.  And that that may be OK, as long as we worry about how a DIFFERENT look for Earth can be sustainable, even though it is not “pristine” and “natural”.

It got me thinking.

Not too long ago I wrote about some comments by renowned Lawrence Berkeley energy scientist Art Rosenfeld, describing the potential and low cost of white, “cool roofs” both to combat the heat island effect in cities, and to massively and cheaply manage energy use and carbon footprint.  He even commented how coupled with literally changing pavement color could make a massive difference, and called for policies and products to change the game.  Is this not just geoengineering for low impact?

REDD and forestation carbon credits and programs, just coming into their own in a big way, boil down to geoengineering by tree planting – not much different in principle than the geoengineering we’ve done by reworking forests into crop fields and native grasslands into modern hybrids, just optimized for different outcomes.  Is this just sustainable geoengineering optimization?

The Athabasca tar sands from space apparently look like a massive scar on the Earth.  An unmitigated environmental disaster, right? But consider, a few years ago I went back as an adult to the Boy Scout High Adventure camp at Philmont. I’d been there as a boy 15 years before.  When I was first there, the practices were all about low and zero impact backpacking.  Leave no trace was the mantra.  When I went back to a camp handling massively larger volumes of Scouts, that had changed.  You were literally forbidden from leaving the beaten path.  Built in permanent “sumps” for food disposal were in almost EVERY camp site.  Low impact does not mean no impact, and the volumes of people they were handling were much too high, and low impact was becoming high impact, so they’d changed to “concentrated impact” where necessary.  Is Athabasca just another permanent sump?

Are we at the same point as a globe?  Does sustainability need to recognize this?  What if geoengineering for sustainability means low impact needs to also mean concentrated, controllable impact on a global scale?  Does that make the tar sands maybe not quite as bad an environmental disaster as thought?  Because, to paraphrase a statement made to me in one recent conversation, nobody would go there otherwise, so what better place to do it if we have to?

So I ask, what if geoengineering IS our de facto future?  Because we’re just too large a population for anything else.  What if the Economist article is right, and we’re already there and have NO choice?  Does that change our perspective on cleantech, sustainability, and policy?  I think it may.

7 Book Reviews in Cleantech and Energy

Sandor Schoichet s a longtime Cleantech Blog reader, and Director of Meridian Management Consultants.  Sandor has EE and SM degrees in Electrical Engineering & Computer Science from MIT, where he studied artificial intelligence, office automation, and business process reengineering, and completed a joint program in Management of Innovation at the Sloan and Harvard business schools. He holds undergraduate degrees in Information Sciences and Philosophy from UC Santa Cruz.  He published these book reviews on our sister site Cleantech.org, and following our Cleantech Bookshelf,  we liked them so much we’re republishing them here as a Reader’s Choice Bookshelf.

Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution
by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, L. Hunter Lovins

If there was one key to turning around the damaging business and environmental practices of modern culture, what would it be?  ‘Natural Capitalism,’ the seminal 1999 call for a broader focus on sustainability, presents an overwhelming case that the key is resource efficiency and effectiveness.  Just as conventional capitalism is all about using financial capital effectively, so ‘natural capitalism’ is about expanding that bottom line focus to include the  natural resources and ecosystem services underlying the ability of business and society to function in the first place.  The authors argue that with appropriate shifts in business perspective and government policy, our economy could be something like 90% more efficient in its use of irreplaceable natural resources, thereby mitigating ecosystem impacts, enabling global development, and staving off climate change.

Throughout history, until very recently, man has been a small actor in an overwhelmingly large world.  Most of the book explores how this has given rise to our ingrained cultural patterns of wasteful resource utilization, limited focus on capital efficiency, and drive for production volumes, while assuming unbounded access to subsidized natural resources and ‘free’ ecosystem services.  Shifting perspective to include natural capital on the business balance sheet, and to expand lean manufacturing principles beyond the factory walls is what’s required to address the ecology/climate change nexus.  This change in perspective is embodied in a range of sustainable business concepts, including the ‘triple bottom line’ (profits, people, and planet), and the ‘cradle-to-cradle’ model for recycling products and integrating industries to eliminate ‘waste’.

The basic principles of natural capitalism put forward can be summarized as: (1) focus on natural resource efficiency (2) using closed loop, biomemetic, nontoxic processes (3) to deliver more appropriate end-user services (4) while investing in restoring, sustaining, and expanding natural capital.  Following these principles leads not to constraints on business or lowered expectations, but an enormous range of new business opportunities to profit from improved efficiencies and environmentally beneficial activities.  One of the best expressions of this perspective comes in the discussion on climate change, providing a refreshing contrast to the recent spate of bad news on this front: “Together, the [available business] opportunities can turn climate change into an unnecessary artifact of [our] uneconomically wasteful use of resources.”

While the authors deliver an awesome, deeply researched articulation of their vision, showing with many examples why it’s important and how it can work within our current capitalistic economies, the book has two key flaws.  First, it falls prey to the syndrome first articulated by Paul Saffo, founder of the Institute for the Future, of confusing a clear vision of the future with a short path.  This combines with an  excessive reliance on sheer volume of examples to make their points, too many of them poorly explained, bristling with non-comparable numbers, and substituting hand-waving for real outcomes.  Deeper exploration of fewer examples might have illustrated the principles better, and have been much easier to read.  Also, 11 years after the original publication, many of the examples are seen to be hastily chosen and and used to support glib and overreaching conclusions that make the authors seem naive.  Examples include the advent hydrogen powered cars (“hypercars”), the potential for shutting down Ruhr Valley coal production in favor of direct social payments to coal workers, or the imminent triumph of the Kyoto Protocols for international carbon trading.  And, while much attention is paid to articulating the perverse incentives, misguided taxes and subsidies, and split responsibilities that impede more efficient system approaches, there’s short shrift given to new technology adoption rates, the scale of existing infrastructure investments, or the political complexities of changing incentives and subsidies.

However, if you are interested in understanding the genesis and foundations of the modern sustainability movement, this is a fundamental text.  Despite its flaws, after 11 years the fundamental argument and principles hold up well and are still inspiring.

Power Hungry: The Myths of “Green” Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future
by Robert Bryce

Bryce bills himself as a purveyor of “industrial strength journalism,” and ‘Power Hungry’ doesn’t disappoint. Starting with a clear statement of his own energy policy – “I’m in favor of air conditioning and cold beer.” – Bryce provides a muscular, data-driven analysis of our modern industrial civilization and the changing mix of energy sources that power it. This is an eye-opening discussion that does an unusually good job of conveying the scale of our existing energy infrastructure, and the challenge of providing adequate energy supplies for the future, not just for the US and Europe, but for the developing world and the third world as well, under the constraints of economics and decarbonization. Bryce articulate four energy imperatives – power density, energy density, cost, and scale – and uses them as a consistent framework for looking at what he calls the “Myths of Green Energy.” His “myths” run the gamut from the idea that wind power can really reduce overall CO2 emissions, to the idea that the US lags other countries in energy efficiency, to the idea that carbon capture and sequestration could work at scale, and intriguingly, even the idea that oil is a dirty fuel compared to the alternatives. While the debunking of green alternatives has flaws, especially in the lack of attention to advanced biofuels, smart grid technologies, and green building materials, it is refreshingly apolitical – focused on facts, practical alternatives, and the requirements of scale. In some ways Bryce ends up with conclusions similar to those of Bill McKibben in his recent book ‘Eaarth': we will not be able to turn the tide on atmospheric CO2 quickly enough, the scale is too large, the transition times are too long, the pressure for global development is too great. We will have no choice but to mitigate some problems and adapt to the rest. However, instead of advocating acceptance of a “graceful decline” as McKibben does, Bryce lays out an energetic path forward, a “no regrets” policy he dubs N2N: shifting electrical generation aggressively towards natural gas in the near term, while investing in advanced nuclear technologies for the long run. The strongest element of the book is how he effectively links the future economic health of the US with rising prospects for the rest of the world … and that will take massive quantities of carbon-free power, not only for economic development, but for mitigating unavoidable climate change impacts as well. ‘Power Hungry’ is a challenging and valuable read for everyone interested in green energy and an effective response to the climate crisis.

Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto
by Stewart Brand

Brand, as ever, is a clear and forceful writer, fearlessly putting himself on the line with specific recommendations and a call to action. This is the Plan missing from Al Gore’s otherwise excellent textbook, ‘Our Choice: A Plan to Solve to Climate Crisis’ –harder-edged, more urgent, more tech-savvy, willing to name names, kick butt, and provoke a reaction. This is the place to start if you’re ready to move beyond the conventional green perspective and really get a grip on what responding to the climate challenge entails. Frightening and exhilarating at the same time!

Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
by Bill McKibben

I’m conflicted about this book, and McKibben’s style in general. First, this is a valuable contribution to the debate about how to think about climate change and appropriate goals for our planetary future. McKibben actually presents many good ideas (in the second half of the book), rooted in a realistic and compelling vision of how our world is changing and how we need to adapt. However, his writing style, especially when presenting bad news (the first half of the book) is just “one damn thing after another,” an endless listing of specifics without adequate context or meaningful analysis … he apparently does not understand that anecdotes are not evidence. While he makes his argument most energetically, and has lots of suggestive detail that appears to support it, in the cases with which I am directly familiar he is guilty of taking things out of context, then making gross simplifications and overreaching generalizations. And this is too bad, because, overall, I think he’s basically right, and that his suggestions for change are excellent. Probably the most important aspect of this book is simply his tough, clear-eyed situation assessment of the damage that’s already been done, the building momentum of environmental change, and the need to get on with a meaningful response. I worry, though, that by beating us over the head with a stream of bad news, and then framing his suggestions for a response in terms of achieving a “graceful decline”, too many people will be turned off and won’t hear the good ideas towards the end of the book. The grand project of changing our culture so that we can live in a durable and robust symbiosis with our environment on a global scale … that’s not a graceful decline, but a call to help create a new age as exciting as any that went before.

Turning Oil Into Salt: Energy Independence Through Fuel Choice
by Anne Korin, Gal Luft

This slim volume is the clearest and most direct analysis I’ve yet seen of oil’s position as a strategic commodity, and the potential for open fuel standards to enable a market-based pathway to transportation fuel choice. Especially notable for its independent perspective … we hear so much about the need for ‘drop in’ petroleum equivalents and the ‘ethanol blend wall’, but not nearly enough about other approaches that might emulate the open interface model that has driven the phenomenal growth of the internet. Absolutely required reading for anyone interested in clean energy, the potential contribution of biofuels to achieving energy security, and the practical steps that we need to take to move down the path.

Science as a Contact Sport: Inside the Battle to Save Earth’s Climate
by Stephen H. Schneider, Tim Flannery

If you care about the big picture of climate change that’s driving the urgency behind global environmental agreements and the commercialization of greentech, then Schneider’s ‘Science as a Contact Sport’ is must reading. The book achieves two objectives in an engaging and forceful manner. First it is a great introduction to the science of climate change, presented through Schneider’s personal experience as a key participant in its development. And second, it provides much-needed insight into how the issue has played out in the US legislature and the global media, again from an up-close and personal point of view. Democracy and government are both messy systems, but still are forums where the environmental and greentech communities must ultimately triumph, and Schneider’s personal experience should be of value to everyone engaged in the battle. Some elements of Schneider’s message echo Al Gore’s discussion in ‘The Assault on Reason,’ but are presented in a clearer, more direct, and better operationalized manner. Highly recommended!

Why We Hate the Oil Companies: Straight Talk from an Energy Insider
by John Hofmeister

Hofmeister writes with refreshing directness and lack of pretense about two key ideas: the disconnect between “political time” and “energy time” that drives legislative dysfunction in energy and environmental planning; and his own proposal for an independent Federal Energy Resources Board to fix it. Most of the book is a walkthrough of the current US energy business and infrastructure … the “straight talk from an energy insider” part. He convincingly lays out an array of problems with the approaches advocated by just about everyone, from left-wing environmentalists, to right-wing “infotainers”, to the energy and utility power industry itself … with special scorn for the disastrous and long-running failure of our elected officials of all stripes to address our energy needs in a serious manner. The book provides a prescient and unnerving in-depth background to current newspaper reporting on the BP spill disaster in the Gulf (it went to press just before the explosion and blowout). Hofmeister is on less firm footing, however, when he switches to his proposal for an independent energy regulatory agency modeled on the Federal Reserve. While he surely gets an ‘A’ for boldness and for thinking outside the box, how this is supposed to work and how we are supposed to get there in advance of a national energy disaster akin to the Great Depression, are both left up to “grassroots pressure.” All I can say is that I hope his non-profit, Citizens for Affordable Energy.org, is successful at pushing his ideas onto the national stage, and helping to build a consensus focus on practical solutions. Highly recommended … wherever you stand on these complex issues, Hofmeister will push your buttons and make you think about what a real solution might look like.

Texas A&M Sustainability Day and The Aggie Green Fund

I had a chance to stop in at the Campus Sustainability Day at my alma mater, Texas A&M today.  It was great to see all the activity.  We definitely didn’t have such when I was in school.

The turnout included various Texas A&M facilities and utilities departments, a number of student committees and organizations, and local businesses. As one example, the Department of Residence Life was showcasing now the series of programs it runs and an Energy Challenge to get students engaged in greening the campus (my old dorm, Lechner, came in bottom third, I noticed).

And the University now also has a 2 year old Office of Sustainability, which has developed the university master sustainability plan around 12 target areas:

  • Management of Climate Change
  • Purchasing of Sustainable Goods and Services
  • Optimization of Energy Use
  • Sustainable Food and Dining
  • Management of Water Resources
  • Waste Management
  • Sustainable Land Use
  • Use of Green Building Practices
  • Utilization of Alternative Transportation and Fuels
  • Improving Social and Economic Factors
  • Education and Research
  • Management and Funding Support

I had a chance to chat with the Office of Sustainability’s Director, Kelly Wellman, about some of the programs they are working on.  A massive city unto itself, the campus has a huge potential to be a force for sustainability.  A&M’s self assessment highlights a long term plan to improve, but it was great to see it hasn’t been standing still.

Highlights include:
A free biodiesel powered transit bus system
A 65% reduction in per square foot water usage since 1991
And a 33% per square foot energy use reduction since 2002

But the one that struck me the most was the newly launched Aggie Green Fund.  The Green Fund is “a student initiated and student controlled fund that will empower students to take action and bring about novel and creative sustainability initiatives to our campus. It will cost only $3 per semester or $1.50 per summer session, generating approximately $300,000 per academic year for sustainability initiatives.”  Basically it allows a student committee to select and fund student proposed sustainability projects with student approved and student funded money.  This year is the first year of operations, as it was passed in a student vote last year with 57% voting to assess themselves a dedicated sustainability fee to make it happen.

Quite inspiring.  Especially in a world where public funding for state universities has been under pressure.  I hope when I was a student that I’d have been one of the 57% voting yes.

Neal Dikeman is a Texas Aggie, Class of ’98, and a Partner at cleantech merchant bank Jane Capital Partners LLC.  He is one of the owners of the leading ecostore on the web for green and environmental products, Greenhome.com.

I Am Shocked — Shocked! — At Green Hypocracy

by Richard T. Stuebi

In today’s world, it’s easy to claim being “green”. You can recycle, you can drive a Prius, you can have solar panels on your house, you can install CFLs in every light socket, but…in actuality, how green really are you?

This question was the focus of a recent posting on Yahoo! by Lori Bongiorno entitled “Signs of a Green Hypocrite”, in which Ms. Bongiorno illustrates several hypothetical examples of someone seeming to be doing the right thing…only to swamp the environmental benefit by some other ill-advised action.

Of course, green hypocracy is not limited to individuals. As indicated by a recent survey by Gibbs & Soell, a relatively small minority of Americans believes that the majority of businesses are committed to sustainability. Clearly, the concern about “greenwashing” is widespread.

It’s not that hard to understand why. First of all, the measuring stick for green-ness is not universally defined. To the extent it’s vaguely understood (e.g., greenhouse gas emissions), one’s performance on the metric is not comprehensively measured by any independent and auditworthy reporting body. So, claims about one’s green activities are just that — claims.

As we all know, talk is damn cheap. It’s actions that really count. And, in the case of global environmental concerns, it’s the accumulation of actions that really counts. There won’t be a significant accumulation of environmentally-friendly actions as long as they’re wholly voluntary and cost more than the alternative.

On a slightly different but related point, Joseph Stanislaw — an independent advisor to Deloitte — has been making the case via a recently-released white paper “Clean Over Green” that the energy debates (and perhaps the whole cleantech movement) has been distorted by the use of the term “green” rather than “clean”. In Stanislaw’s view, only a small set of technologies (e.g., wind, solar) get the semantic benefit of being known as “green”, whereas other forms of energy that don’t quite qualify (e.g., natural gas, nuclear) still can make major environmental improvements — yet get discounted in the court of public opinion.

The confusion, hypocracy, and cynicism about “green” and “sustainability” would be washed away if all economic actors in society face a meaningful price associated with their environmental footprint. In such a world, each party can either reduce their footprint — and profit from it — or can maintain (or even expand) their footprint and pay the price. In such a world, claims wouldn’t matter much, but real performance sure would.

Alas, lacking such a robust and all-encompassing system to internalize environmentally-friendly action into numbers that everyone understands and cares about — dollars — the cleantech world will remain subject to a lot of hype and promotion, and wariness will be warranted.

Richard T. Stuebi is a founding principal of NorTech Energy Enterprise, the advanced energy initiative at NorTech, where he is on loan from The Cleveland Foundation as its Fellow of Energy and Environmental Advancement. He is also a Managing Director in charge of cleantech investment activities at Early Stage Partners, a Cleveland-based venture capital firm.

A Good Green Story

by Richard T. Stuebi

One of the more promising stories to emerge from Cleveland in recent years is the formation of the Evergreen Cooperatives, a holding company to fund start-up companies that:

  • Employ disadvantaged citizens from some of the most poverty-stricken neighborhoods in Cleveland
  • Are founded on the principle of being worker-owned cooperatives, to enable employees to participate in the wealth-creation of the business
  • Serve the needs of the local community, anchored by the market requirements of major enduring institutions such as the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, and Case Western Reserve University
  • Provide a product/service that is truly sustainable and consistent with the green economy of the future

Since Evergreen was formed and seed-funded in late 2009, the first three businesses launched are the Evergreen Cooperative Laundry, Ohio Cooperative Solar, and GreenCity Growers Cooperative. With just a few months of operation, these green economy enterprises are now employing dozens of Clevelanders who otherwise would be challenged in finding meaningful employment opportunities, affording true career-tracks and wealth-creation (as opposed to merely a meager wage).

Admittedly still in its early days, the long-term impact of Evergreen will only be known and felt years from now. But, the prospects are promising. In the late 1950’s, the Mondragon region of Spain suffered from many of the same economic travails now besetting Cleveland, but the formation of the Mondragon Corporation (a similar network of cooperative businesses) has now led to an economic powerhouse of more than 100 firms employing 120,000 people and annual revenues of more than $20 billion.

The world is taking notice of this social experiment: so far in 2010, Evergreen has been reported on in The Economist and Business Week, but perhaps the most thorough story on the Evergreen Cooperative is found in “The Cleveland Model”, an article appearing in a recent issue of The Nation. I urge you to read this article to learn more about a truly positive glimmer of hope in the revitalization of the industrial Midwest of the United States — and in the mainstreaming of cleantech throughout the American economy all the way into its inner cities.

There are too many heroes underlying the birth of Evergreen to list in one place, and I’m sure I don’t know them all, but I cannot complete this posting without special tips of the hat to: Lillian Kuri and India Pierce Lee of the The Cleveland Foundation, Ted Howard of the Democracy Collaborative, Stephen Kiel of Ohio Cooperative Solar, Mary Ann Stropki of ShoreBank Enterprise, and the late and deeply-missed John Logue of the Ohio Employee Ownership Center at Kent State University.


Richard T. Stuebi is a founding principal of NorTech Energy Enterprise, the advanced energy initiative at NorTech, where he is on loan from The Cleveland Foundation as its Fellow of Energy and Environmental Advancement. He is also a Managing Director in charge of cleantech investment activities at Early Stage Partners, a Cleveland-based venture capital firm.

EcoCAR’s Top 10 Green Resolutions of 2010

by Richard T. Stuebi
 
I’ve been crunched for time over the holiday season, so I’ve dropped the ball on writing original content. Sorry about that. To fill the gap, I received the following email from Katy Rohlicek representing EcoCAR, which I’m posting verbatim:

“When it comes to making a fresh start at the beginning of the year, we usually listen to ‘experts’ – leaders, celebrities, doctors, coaches, therapists, etc. In 2010, we say, let’s listen to our youth. Better yet, how about a group of young engineers from 16 universities across North America who are part of a competition to design and build a greener car of the future. They’re part of the EcoCAR Challenge, which means they think about green automotive engineering 24/7. But that wasn’t quite enough – they wanted sustainability to touch all aspects of their lives. So, EcoCAR students from Victoria, Canada to Daytona Beach developed the following list of ten green resolutions to help them, and others, live a more sustainable, eco-friendly life in 2010:

1. Drive smart. We appropriately begin with a no-brainer resolution for the EcoCAR teams. There are many small changes you can make to green your time behind the wheel. Planning trips to avoid traffic and stop lights, maintaining steady and legal speeds, slowly accelerating, limiting use of air conditioning, heated seats, and rear window defoggers, and avoiding unnecessary heavy loads can all improve fuel economy.

2. Set car-free goals. Whether it is biking to work or running errands on foot, it’s easier to stick to a greener transportation plan if you set goals. University of Wisconsin EcoCAR team member Dan Grice set an ambitious goal for 2010: 3,000 commuter miles by bike. He says, ‘Bike commuting is my goal. I want to average four days a week which would eliminate 3,000 miles of driving in 2010.’ No bike? EcoCAR’s Mississippi State University team takes advantage of the free bicycle-share program. Look around or start one in your area.

3. Try sharing. Car pooling may have been an invention of necessity to dodge traffic, but it’s greener than ever even if it’s still not the most popular option – 77% of Americans drive to work alone. EcoCAR’s Texas Tech University team is doing its part and has started car pooling to their garage daily. Local car sharing programs are taking off too and chances are we could all benefit from taking up one of these options. EcoCAR’s University of Waterloo and University of West Virginia teams both take part in new campus car share programs which rent hybrids by the hour.

4. Drop mileage from your food. Country of origin labels, wait lists for CSAs and the overcrowded farmer’s market scene add up to one thing: Americans are paying more attention to where their food comes from. Beth Bezaire from Ohio State University’s EcoCAR team says, ‘Purchasing food that has to fly across the world has become less appealing.’ The teams suggest buying local as much as possible and setting a goal, like resolving to incorporate one local food product into your meals every day. Push your school or office to incorporate local foods into the menu, like they did at the University of Victoria in Canada (UVic) cafeteria, or eat out at restaurants that support regional farms.

5. Grow a garden. Seriously. Take a page from food author Michael Pollan and don’t be afraid to grow a garden, even if you only have a small space. You may discover it’s easier than you think. If land is at a premium, find a community garden. UVic’s Campus Community Garden rents 15 foot long plots for $30 a year and they currently have a waiting list! Get one started on your campus or sign up for a space in your local community garden.

6. Read or watch something new. The EcoCAR teams may know a lot about green engineering, but they are also challenging themselves to learn about other issues this year as well – whether it’s sustainable food, water footprint or other environmental issues. Jeff Waldner from UVic says, ‘I find that knowing more about the problem makes me think more about the solution. The first time I picked up a book about global climate change, I was shocked at how much I didn’t know about the issue.’

7. Remember the little things. Switch your light bulbs, look for products made from recycled or lower footprint materials, buy energy efficient electronics and appliances, go paperless, and conserve heat and water. The EcoCAR teams say it’s easier for young adults to start small, especially when time and money are often a factor. Also, these behavioral changes may seem minor, but they add up.

8. Don’t forget the trees. It’s easy to toss a plastic bottle or empty can into a recycling container, but it’s paper that typically gets the cold shoulder. The average American uses 650 pounds of paper per year and a lot goes to the landfill – paper products make up the largest percentage of waste at about 36%. Find simple ways, especially at work, to make sure paper gets tossed into the recycle bin. University of Wisconsin EcoCAR team member Brian Lee offers this tip: ‘Get an empty cardboard box, put it under your desk and when it gets full, empty it in the actual paper recycling bin. This works for me because I don’t have to go out of my way and since the box is right at your feet, I always remember to recycle.’

9. Assess energy. Alternative energy sources are becoming more affordable and there is new funding available for smaller solar and wind installations. If you can’t consider renewable energy at home, look at the other areas of your life. For the EcoCAR teams, that means getting involved and encouraging their schools to go green. At UVic, solar panels heat the indoor swimming pool, parking ticket dispensers and lights around campus. An added selling point is hiring local renewable energy companies to do the job.

10. Speak up. Don’t be afraid to say something to help change behavior. Dana Bubonovich who is on Penn State University’s EcoCAR team says, ‘I remind people on campus to throw their bottles in a recycling bin. It may cause a little embarrassment, but they recycle it.’ If that’s not your style, share ideas and advice or get involved. Go to city meetings on sustainability topics and offer opinions, volunteer with local organizations or keep tabs on your government’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals.

I look forward to your feedback and hope you’ll be interested in working together to spread the word. You can read more about the teams on their website (http://www.ecocarchallenge.org/) or blog (http://www.greengarageblog.org/).”

Well, I did my part. Best wishes for 2010 to everyone.

Richard T. Stuebi is a founding principal of the advanced energy initiative at NorTech, where he is on loan from The Cleveland Foundation as its Fellow of Energy and Environmental Advancement. He is also a Managing Director in charge of cleantech investment activities at Early Stage Partners, a Cleveland-based venture capital firm.

A Tale of Two Cities

by Richard T. Stuebi

as posted to Huffington Post

It is the best of times; it is the worst of times. The climate isn’t changing; we must move to a sustainable way of life.

Earlier in August, a meeting called “Debunking Climate Change Myths” was held in Springfield, Missouri, bringing together about 150 figures and sympathizers of the climate skeptic community. The meeting was organized by Ron Boyer, a member of the Missouri Air Conservation Commission who also founded a group called Scientists for Truth. I didn’t attend their meeting, so I don’t know firsthand what this event was aiming to accomplish, but here is a breathless report on how the meeting transpired.

Apparently, Mr. Boyer convened the meeting because he wanted to increase the public platform for climate skeptics to tell their story, which essentially boils down to this:

“We can’t be sure that human-induced climate change is really happening, so therefore we shouldn’t bend over backwards to do anything different until we’re absolutely sure that human-induced climate change is really happening. And, in fact, we’re absolutely sure that human-induced climate change is NOT really happening.”

Put another way, the story being told in these self-referential (and self-reverential) circles is effectively:

“We like the way things are, thank you very much, and we don’t want to change the way we produce or use energy. We’re very pleased to be spewing lots of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and we’re seduced by the allure of consuming lots of resources in doing so, and we simply can’t be bothered to entertain any other different way of life, liberty or pursuit of happiness.”

It seems as if the skeptics’ story is gaining currency among a fearful, confused and angry public: a Gallup poll from earlier in 2009 reports an increase in the number of respondents doubtful about climate change, so the tactics of the climate skeptic storytellers seem to be effective in the current environment. As a result, I would guess that you’ll be hearing their story told more frequently and loudly as the debates about the Waxman-Markey climate legislation to be considered in the Senate intensify: expect the disciples of the Springfield skeptic crowd to participate in Tea Party protests against any action, coming to a local auditorium near you.

While the climate skeptics congregated in Springfield, several hundred miles northeast in Cleveland, I joined about 700 other people in attending a city-wide sustainability summit entitled Sustainable Cleveland 2019. Convened by Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, the summit was designed to have a broad cross-section of interests begin charting a course for the region’s future, premised on a concerted move to a green economy as an engine for overall revitalization.

After a rousing introductory keynote speech by Van Jones, the Special Adviser for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality in the Obama Administration, the attendees spent three days assessing the region’s strengths and opportunities to surface priorities for action in the coming decade, to provide something worth celebrating in 2019 – commemorating 50 years since the infamous Cuyahoga River fire, which awakened the U.S. environmental movement.

As profiled extensively in reporting by John Funk of The Plain-Dealer, Sustainable Cleveland 2019 was an exuberant gathering. In contrast to the “just say no” story being told among the climate skeptics in Springfield, the story being written in Cleveland is one of optimism and constructive engagement. The story goes something like this:

“We the people of Cleveland want to reinvent our city and region. Because of forces far larger than us, we know we must fundamentally change the way we live and work. We understand the situation we face, and we will not resist or complain. In fact, making the necessary changes provides us the opportunity to create something much better than we have now – and even better than we ever had.”

A number of voices in the blogosphere pooh-poohed the Sustainable Cleveland 2019. To be sure, the summit was far from perfect: it was too long, and at times entailed too much hyperbole and rah-rah for my tastes, sometimes lapsing into unrealistic naivete. However, these faults are worth tolerating, if it means greater traction among a broader constituency so as to improve our chances for achieving wide-scale beneficial change. If I were to criticize anyone, it would be the cynical bloggers for sitting on the sidelines and throwing rocks at passers-by with their unhelpful comments.

Cleveland, Springfield: there’s no doubt in my mind which city was hosting the more interesting and significant gathering – the one offering any path forward worth pursuing.

In his provocative remarks to the Cleveland audience, Peter Senge, Senior Lecturer at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, observed that most segments of the world population were increasingly coming to the recognition that “the future has no future”.

For those minds that convened in Springfield, this fear of the future has the skeptics running like lemmings back to the unrecapturable past. Here in Cleveland, a big chunk of our population sees that the present (much less the past) is truly unsustainable and is taking responsibility to invent a new and improved world for themselves: a future that indeed has a future.

Richard T. Stuebi is the Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc. Effective September 1, he will also become Managing Director of Early Stage Partners.

Getting Smart About Agriculture

Nine months ago, I joined Terraqualo, a new startup aimed at helping growers of specialty crops make best irrigation decisions, using a cost-effective wireless network of sensors and actuators. In this new weekly column on “Sustainable Agriculture on Cleantech Blog”, I will share some of the lessons I have learned, and invite you to contribute as well in the form of comments. 

Whether you are an investor looking to invest in an agriculture technology startup, or an engineer with a high-tech idea for agriculture, eventually, you are going to need to do your homework, and understand the business of agriculture. As I have discovered, getting into the field of agriculture high-tech  requires the ability to grasp multiple disciplines, and a good dose of humility. Before you go out and talk to the experts, UC Davis professors, farm advisors, commodity groups, and growers, I suggest you get smart very quickly, using the vast knowledge available online. Here are some of my favorite sources,
USDA websites:
  • NASS (National Agricultural Statistics Service)
  • ARS (Agricultural Research Service)
  • NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service)
  • ERS (Economic Research Service)
  • Census
UC  ANR (Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources) 
Scientific papers:
Farmers’ publications:
Happy research!
Marguerite Manteau-Rao is VP Marketing for Terraqualo, a new venture in precision irrigation for growers of specialty crops. Marguerite is the creator of  La Marguerite, a popular environmental blog, and has written extensively for a number of other blogs, including Huffington Post Green. She has a multidisciplinary background as an engineer, marketer, and  social worker. You can follow her on Twitter .

Blogroll Review: Corny Carpet, Cocoa Car, and Carbon Consolidation

Pretty much everything you eat these days contains corn, whether in the form of corn syrup, sauces, starch, or other food additives. Pretty soon, we will also get upholstery made from this plant. Already being used for biofuels, corn is also a chemical feedstock.

Joel Makower shared this story from his attendance of a gathering of investors and entrepreneurs in cleantech:

For example, there’s a carpeting fiber made from corn instead of petro-based nylon that requires nearly a third less energy and emits nearly two-thirds fewer greenhouse gases. It is being manufactured at a repurposed polyester factory.

This is just one example of many, where businesses see as an opportunity to further sustainability goals into their plans.

Imagine eating your furniture once it’s ready to be disposed! :)

And speaking of food, Megan Treacy at EcoGeek reports of a racecar that runs on the waste products of chocolate manufacturing. Even more remarkable is that the steering wheel, seat and car body are made from plant fibers including carrots, flax, soy, and other vegetables.

In other news…

* Greentech Media says a shopping spree has begun for carbon accounting software.

* Karla says that Waxman Bill is flawed.

* At VentureBeat, Matt says funding is falling except for energy storage.

* Maria has some cool pictures from the American Wind Energy Association meeting. Check out the small wind turbines!

Ontological Shock

by Heather Rae
for cleantechblog.com

The term came up over lunch. A group of home energy evaluators convened at King Eider’s pub in Damariscotta. That morning, we had completed filming of an energy evaluation with the film crew from Maine Public Broadcasting Network. We were talking about the future of the country and the economy and our children; these topics, with this group, erupt out of discussions about energy and oil and staying warm in Maine. Curry Caputo, principal at Sustainable Structures, Inc. was one of the energy evaluators. He said his uncle, a therapist, uses a term to describe the end of cheap oil in America: Ontological Shock.

Everything as you know it and believe it to be true — will come into question. After an evening of “Googling” ontological shock, and watching the indie film, Crude Awakening/The Oil Crash, (a chillingly calm alarm) it occurred to me that we in Maine are getting a taste of what’s to come as the age of easily accessible and cheap oil comes to a close.

February’s storms put a stranglehold on mid-coast Maine. First, there were the power outages. Wide swathes of mid-Coast Maine remained without power for days. Which meant many were without heat. Which meant water pipes were a-freezin’ and a-crackin’. The toilets didn’t flush. Parents shuttled their broods to coffee shops and YMCAs and college gyms to find warmth and hot showers.
Generators rumbled throughout the neighborhood and town. The regulator on the propane tank froze somewhere around 5am. (For a minute, it appeared that the silencing of the generator’s roar meant the resumption of grid power, but no.) The 90-year old great-aunt in the apartment unit was out of power and heat and hot water. Schedules were scrambled; meetings were canceled and offices closed.
As if we were living in a third world — struggling to engage in a first world economy — we shoveled snow from roofs, walkways, driveways. And then we were hit with back-to-back storms. Construction workers removed the sky’s deluge before they began repairs. Snow plows plied the roads throughout the night long, their drivers appearing bleary eyed at the local Irving station to down coffee and donuts…or as the day became night, they joined the plumbers at the local bar, on emergency call for bursting pipes and flooded basements, smelling of oil in their insulated overalls, taking in a beer or two before the next call. The hair is greasy and the clothes aromatic. For all of us. A giant yellow DOT plow had stuck in a towering bank of snow, and the plow itself had cracked into threes. The tips of trees bowed into roads, cracking huge limbs, strewing twigs and draping power lines.
My drive to town was glistening and beautiful. We settled in to simply getting by.
And, I couldn’t help but wonder, what if there were no fuel for the furnaces and boilers and DOT trucks…or it were so expensive to operate snowplows and heat homes that we could only wait for the sun to melt us into recovery?
Spring is officially here, event if the snow lingers. Trees remain bent to the roads, and the memory of this winter will be forced upon us for a while.

Ich Bin Ein Freiburger

by Richard T. Stuebi

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of joining a delegation led by Cleveland Mayor Frank G. Jackson to visit Baden-Wurttemberg, the southwestern-most state in Germany. The aim of the trip was to begin building stronger commercial bridges between the Cleveland area and Baden-Wurttemberg – two heavy industrial economies of similar size. I was there to represent our region’s interests and activities in advanced energy, in an aim to identify and explore potential collaborations in the academic, civic and private sectors.

As part of our tour, we spent a day in Freiburg, a delightful university city nestled in the corner where Switzerland and France abut Germany. And, in their lovely city hall, we had the privilege of meeting with Freiburg’s dynamic Mayor Dr. Dieter Salomon and the city’s environmental minister, Dr. Dieter Worner.

Though I had previously heard of Freiburg, the two Dieters opened my eyes to what Freiburg had been able to accomplish – and, alas, what also remained to be accomplished – in the realm of sustainability, with their Freiburg Green City plan.

Freiburg frequently hosts public sector leaders from around the world to learn how to put a city on a low-carbon trajectory, as it is widely recognized to be the foremost green city in Germany, which in turn is widely recognized to be the country farthest down the sustainability path in Europe, which in turn is widely recognized to be far ahead of other continents in dealing substantively with the climate change threat.

We were humbled by what we learned. Way back in 1996, before climate change was much of a concern in the U.S., Freiburg officials decreed that it would aim to reduce CO2 emissions by 25% by the year 2010. To achieve this, Freiburg pursued two priorities.

First, it established very ambitious building energy efficiency standards – 20% below already-stringent German national levels. Yes, building professionals (architects, engineers, contractors) initially objected to this stance as being too hard or too costly. However, over time, the building community learned how to meet these tough standards at a minimal 1% cost premium over conventional buildings not meeting the standard. Now, the Freiburg-based businesses have a substantial competitive advantage in the German building marketplace. This goes to show that good policy can drive private sector innovation and subsequently economic health of a key sector of the economy.

Second, Freiburg seized upon its natural advantage – it is the sunniest place in all of Germany – to become the leading player in the soon-to-be-booming German solar market. With a major investment to establish the Fraunhofer Institute of Solar Energy, affiliated with the University of Freiburg, the city became Ground Zero for R&D on new solar technologies. This, in turn, spawned many businesses – either spun-out from Fraunhofer or founded by people who worked or studied in Freiburg – that were able to catch the wave as the solar market in Germany took off.

The net result: Freiburg now lays claim to an environmental business cluster of 1500 companies, employing 15,000, generating over 500 million euros of annual revenues. For a city of roughly 200,000 population, this is green economic development writ large.

We were also surprised by what we learned: namely, that Freiburg was really struggling to achieve significant emission reductions. Despite strong mechanisms to drive reduced emissions in the economy, Freiburg had only been able to achieve a 7% reduction in CO2 emissions since 1996. Freiburg readily admits that it won’t be able to attain the 25% reduction target it had set for itself by 2010.

So, Freiburg is finding out it’s not so easy to be as green as it wanted to be, as we all need to be.

That being said, I did take heart in noting that Freiburg wasn’t giving up in the face of adversity, as it is ratcheting its goal for 2030 to reduce CO2 emissions by 40%.

I also noted that a key reason for Freiburg failing to achieve its emission reductions was economic/population growth. Although aggregate CO2 emissions had only fallen by 7%, on a per capita basis, CO2 emissions had declined by about 30%. In other words, Freiburg’s population had grown substantially – one of the few places in Germany to experience population growth.

It’s hard to escape the conclusion that Freiburg’s environmental posture and ambitions are key attractors for this growth. The best and the brightest of Germany seem to be flocking to Freiburg to be part of the vanguard in moving to a low-carbon economy.

Lastly, I am inspired by Freiburg’s civic motto. By my transcription (and excuse my lack of knowledge of German), Freiburg’s credo is “Gut leben stadt viel haben”, which translates approximately to “A good life is more important than lots of possessions.”

A lovely city, Freiburg is living proof that one can live a good life and be at the forefront of sustainability.

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President at NextWave Energy, Inc. In 2009, he will also become a Managing Director of Early Stage Partners.

Robert Metcalfe Is Wrong, Clean Technology Alone Will Not Work

by Marguerite Manteau-Rao

I got a sneak preview of Scientific American’s Earth 3.0 special issue on ‘Solutions for Sustainable Progress’. Mostly great stuff, with the exception of one article, that prompted me to write this rebuttal.

In ‘Learning from the Internet’, Robert M. Metcalfe, venture capitalist and Internet pioneer, expands on the dangerous idea that,

I don’t think for a moment that we’re going to conserve our way out of the energy crisis. Internet history shows that prosperity depends on abundant bandwidth. Prosperity (gross domestic product, per capita) is proportional to energy use. We are not going to lower per capita consumptionof energy in the U.S. We are going to enable the rest of the world to be as prosperous by using not less but more energy. We need to make energy cheap, clean and therefore abundant – really abundant, for a really long time.

Sounds familiar? This is the same kind of thinking endorsed in an earlier McKinsey study, and also to a lesser extent, by Al Gore in his Moon Shot Challenge speech.

Makes me mad. The average citizen is already confused enough. The last thing we need is more tenors in green tech and green biz to lull us into thinking that technology will get us out of our mess. Besides, I do not see what climate change has to do with the Internet.

We need to get out of this pervasive either-or thinking. Energy conservation and new energy technologies are not mutually exclusive. Instead, they are meant to work together. One without the other will not work. It’s a matter of simple maths, and of mitigating our risks, in the unlikely event that technology does not deliver on all its promises.


Marguerite Manteau-Rao is a green blogger and marketing consultant on sustainability and social media. Her green blog, La Marguerite, focuses on behavioral solutions to climate change and other global sustainability issues. Marguerite is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post. You can follow her on Twitter.

Getting Content Into Sustainability Wikis

by Marguerite Manteau-Rao

(This post originally appeared on La Marguerite blog)

Sustainability wikis such as Wikia Green or Appropedia have an important role to play, in the gathering of solutions for a sustainable future. The big challenge of course, is how to engage contributors into volunteering free content. As a content creator in the sustainability field, with hundreds of articles to my credit, all on blogs, I yet have to contribute to a collaborative platform. I started sharing some of my reasons in previous posts, here and here. In a nutshell:

  • I am comfortable with blogging. It is what I know, and past the initial hurdle of setting up a blog, which by the way is very low, it’s been smooth sailing ever since.
  • I like the feeling of being in control, and of having all my stuff in one place.
  • When I contribute to other blogs, it is usually a boost for my recognition and helps enlarge my audience.
  • Contributing to other blogs is a no brainer; hardly any setup is required, and I usually do a slight rewrite to address issue of duplicate content.
  • I love the creative freedom of writing whatever I want whenever I want.
  • My blog is also a social place to meet cyberfriends I have made along the way, and who keep coming back for more discussions.
  • I get tremendous satisfaction from direct feedback from readers, particularly when something they read on my blog, either from me or other readers, is making an impact on their thinking or behaviors.
  • There is lots of reciprocity going on amongst bloggers, thanks to linking, trackbacks, and pingbacks. As a result, the give and take feels very fair.
  • Although I am very familiar with wikis, have consulted for wiki startups, and have started several private wikis of my own, I find making the move from blogging to contributing to public wiki platforms a huge step.
  • First, there is the issue of time. If I could somehow export content that’s already on my blog, automatically, I would consider it.
  • Second, is the problem of attribution, and ownership of content. Although, I am not one to hang on to my creative product with steel claws, it is very important to me that I be given credit for it.
  • Third, is the issue of duplicate content, and how that might affect ranking of original content with search engines. If content is going to be exported automatically, and frequently, I would not have the time to do rewrites to avoid duplicate content problem.
  • My blog is not my only source of content either. There are quite a few projects I have been working on, that are sitting either in some files on my desktop, or in Google groups discussions, and that I wouldn’t mind sharing, if I could just turn those over with one click.

The bottom line is, if you want my content, make it super easy for me, and make sure I get credit for it.

There is a huge pool of potential content providers like myself, scattered all over the Internet, and elsewhere, who could share their knowledge, under the right conditions:

I will end by sharing my dream of the perfect sustainability wiki. Imagine a place where you can find nearly all that has been published about sustainable solutions all over the world. Imagine that contributors would not have to worry about adapting their content to the specific wiki requirements. Wiki editors would take care of that chore. Imagine that contributors could get credited each time, with ample linkage back to their original websites. Imagine a widget that would allow contributors to send their content automatically to the wiki in one click. Imagine that getting my content on the wiki would be all benefit for me, in addition to the reward from helping the greater community. Imagine . . .

Maybe this discussion can be continued at the upcoming Open Sustainability Network Camp that will take place in October, in San Francisco?

Marguerite Manteau-Rao is a green blogger and marketing consultant on sustainability and social media. Her green blog, La Marguerite, focuses on behavioral solutions to climate change and other global sustainability issues. Marguerite is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post. Since Sarah Palin’s VP nomination, she has also been impersonating Ms. Palin at What’s Sarah Thinking? blog

Food for Thought is Closer than You Think

By John Addison (8/28/08). About half of the global warming caused by transportation is the result of goods and services that we all use; the other is from our personal vehicles ride. We can buy an organic apple that was grown locally, or we can buy an apple grown ten thousand miles away that used oil-refined fuel and natural gas derived fertilizers sourced another ten thousand miles away. Fish caught in Norway are shipped to China for cutting and packaging then shipped back to Norway.

Food is just one example of our potential to save. Food often requires large amounts of fossil fuels for farming machinery, fertilizers, pesticides, food processing, distribution and packaging materials. Transporting fresh products overseas by air, rather than sourcing them locally requires up to 50 times more fossil fuel energy. An air shipment of 1 kg of vegetables consumes 4 to 5 liters of petroleum, whereas the same amount of locally grown produce consumes about 0.1 to 0.3 liters (“Climate change: beyond whether,” UBS Research Report).

Millions are now buying produce locally to enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables, while avoiding this tragic shipping cost. During my last trip to Whole Foods, they stated that 60% of their produce is local. Each bin included a label stating where the fruit or vegetable was grown, making it easy to buy local. Organic food is more likely to be local. Many communities have local shops, farmers markets, and co-ops which offer locally grown food.

Type “CSA” and your zip code into Google or your favorite search engine. You are likely to be presented with choices of where you can buy locally grown seasonal food and/or have the food delivered to you.

Slow Food Nation, the largest celebration of American food in history, will take place in San Francisco over Labor Day weekend (August 29 to September 1, 2008). An unprecedented event, Slow Food Nation will bring together tens of thousands to experience the connection between plate and planet. The majority of Slow Food Nation’s events will be free and open to the public; certain events are ticketed.

Copyright 2008 © John Addison. Permission to reproduce if this copyright notice is preserved. John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report and writes about how people are reducing their petroleum dependency and carbon footprint.

Are Clean Tech and Sustainability Types Afraid of Web 2.0?

by Marguerite Manteau-Rao

Social media and sustainability may align in at least ten ways, according to Max Gladwell, but they certainly do not intersect very much in actuality.

Proof is this quick search I conducted on Twitter, of last 24 hours of business conversations on “sustainability”, “clean tech” and “green”. Here are the results. I only kept original conversations, not automatic tweets:

19 tweets in 24 hours, that’s not very many. Of course, not all conversations on clean tech and sustainability got captured with my basic search. Still, it gives an indication of how little the green business folks are using social media. My experience of the green business people around me, is that they tend to be very engaged in real life networking, and not so much in virtual networks. This has a lot to do with clean tech and sustainability types’ lesser familiarity with Web 2.0 tools.

Marguerite Manteau-Rao is a green blogger and marketing consultant on sustainability and social media issues. Her blog, La Marguerite, focuses on behavioral solutions to climate change and other global sustainability issues. She also writes for the Huffington Post.

What’s the Buzz About Clean Tech and Other Green Stuff?

by Marguerite Manteau-Rao

Green or sustainability? Clean tech or environmental conservation? If you want to get a sense for what topics generate the most buzz at any point in time, Nielsen BlogPulse is the place to go:

‘Green’ is a word understood by all. Sustainability is still a concept for the business elite.  

I thought clean tech would have an edge over conservation. Nielsen statistics are proving otherwise. I find it rather encouraging. Note the peak on Earth Day, for conservation. Conservation is still very much associated with big environmental events.

Solar is still generating more buzz, ahead of other clean tech approaches. As more and more of the public discourse shifts towards energy efficiency, it will be interesting to see if it gets reflected in blogging conversations.


Now you play!

Marguerite Manteau-Rao is a green blogger and marketing consultant on sustainability and social media issues. Her blog, La Marguerite, focuses on behavioral solutions to climate change and other global sustainability issues.

Green Supply Chain Management, It’s Good For the Environment, It’s Good For the Bottom Line

by Marguerite Manteau-Rao


While the majority of global executives consider carbon reduction an important aspect of purchasing and supply chain management, only a minority follow through:

That’s too bad, according to the McKinsey study. Not only are these companies not helping fight climate change as much as they could, they are also missing out on some cost lowering opportunities. The facts:
  • For consumer goods marketers, high-tech, and other manufacturers, between 40-60% of their carbon footprint is in their supply chain.
  • For retailers, the number is even higher, 80%.
  • Many of the opportunities to reduce emissions carry no net life-cycle costs, with the upfront investment more than paying for itself through lower energy or material usage.
  • Others may require tradeoffs between emissions and profitability, in areas such as logistics and product design.
  • Forward-looking companies are using such discussions as opportunities for supplier development.
  • This opens up the possibility of still lower costs and improved operational performance, in addition to helping suppliers remove carbon from their supply chains.

Wal-Mart comes to mind, as a great example of a company that understands the multiple benefits of a greener supply chain. The question of, why are not more companies following Wal-Mart‘s lead, warrants further examination. Is it lack of knowledge? Having to attend to other, more pressing issues? Inertia? What do you think?

Marguerite Manteau-Rao is a green blogger and marketing consultant on sustainability and social media issues. Her blog, La Marguerite, focuses on behavioral solutions to climate change. 

My aura is…

by Heather Rae
for cleantechblog.com

One of three dealers of Benjamin Moore paint in my travel distance (which is getting shorter and shorter with the increase in gas prices) carries the new Aura line, as well as the EcoSpec low-voc line of paints.
Farther north, along Route 1, another dealer is weighing the costs of the investment in the new machines needed to carry the Aura line against the sales potential; this dealer carries the EcoSpec line and, as evidenced by the dust on the paint can, it’s not a fast moving product. (And the sales guy told me so.)
Inland a bit and north, the third does not carry Aura or the EcoSpec line. For those unfamiliar with Maine, the progression up the coast and inland is an economic transition as much as geographic one. It’s also a transition from areas where “green” products are known, respected and carried…to one where they are not, or not so much.
What’s got my goat in making the decision to try the new Aura line is the marketing. I sat in my car outside the paint store down south and stared at the promotional poster for some time. The marketing is clearly aimed at women …“What Color is Your Aura.”
It took some sleuthing on the part of the paint dealer to tell me the VOC content of the paint (pre-colorant). To my surprise, the Aura paint line is backed by GreenGuard and qualifies for LEED credit. The dealer printed out the product information buried somewhere on their website where I couldn’t find it.
Aura, which uses only waterborne colorants for tinting, comes in at 47 Grams/Liter of VOCs.
By comparison, the Regal line (the standard line I’ve been using) comes in at nearly three times that amount of VOCs. (“Unthinned, this product is formulated not to exceed 150 Grams/Liter.”)
I can’t bash Benjamin Moore for putting the eco-benefits of this paint low on the list — number seven out of eight in the list of attributes of Aura paint with ColorLockTM.
In marketing home performance, our limited market research indicates that homeowners follow-through with making significant energy-saving improvements to their homes not because it’s “green” or “the right thing to do,” but because the improvements make the home more comfortable, healthier, safer and/or increase the value of the home. The checks get written to tighten up the house to get the bats and the squirrels out of the attic, not necessarily because they reduce carbon footprints.
Here in Maine we market home performance as an investment-grade evaluation. The energy and money savings, the innoculation against rising fuel costs…while these are the measurable goals we seek to obtain, these have not been the messages used to sell home performance services. I’ve been monitoring comments submitted by homeowners seeking these home performance evaluations. It’s a mixed bag of desires.

So, if Benjamin Moore wants to appeal to my feminine aura with the simplicity, freedom, versatality, harmony and great design ideas found in this paint, have at it. I just wish somewhere on that promotion was a mention of GreenGuard or LEED compliance.


Heather Rae, a contributor to cleantechblog.com, is a consultant in sustainability. She currently manages a home performance program in Maine and serves on the board of Maine Interfaith Power & Light. In 2006, she built out a biobus using green building materials and wrote on cleantechblog of her drive from Colorado to Maine and her quest for biofuels. In 2007, she began renovation of an 1880 farmhouse using building science and green building principles.

Taking Control

by Heather Rae

Maine Congressman Tom Allen hopes to dislodge Senator Susan Collins from her Senatorial seat. Allen spoke a few weeks back at an event sponsored by the Hydrogen Energy Center and other energy-oriented organizations at the Frontier Cafe in Brunswick. Allen said that without the right kind of leadership in the executive office, real progress on clean energy will not be made. As we’ve seen.
While the Pentagon asks for the biggest budget hike since World War II, the Bush clean-tech plan gets mixed reviews. Christian Science Monitor Reporter Brad Knickerbocker writes: “After seven years in office, President Bush’s positions on energy and climate change are clear: Emphasize increased energy supplies over conservation, favor voluntary steps to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, oppose international efforts to force changes in national policy, and make sure nothing puts too much stress on the economy.” (See Dick smile.)
Grist has posted a chart of the presidential candidates’ positions on energy and climate, and Solar Nation has posted the League of Conservation Voters’ round-up.
Not waiting for the leaders to get on board, or steer the nation into a ditch, Maine’s Midcoast Green Collaborative is organizing its second clean energy exposition in Damariscotta. Last April, the Expo was well-attended, focused and informative. Peter Drum, a young attorney who moved his practice from Washington to his home state of Maine, is one of the founders of the Collaborative. In the leadership vacuum, smart, hardworking visionaries step in.

“On April 18, 2008, Midcoast Green Collaborative is holding our second annual Maine Sustainable Energy Expo). This event is designed to showcase sustainable building and remodeling methods and technologies, sustainable energy production technology, and more sustainable transportation choices.
The Expo puts consumers in touch with vendors and contractors who specialize in green home building and renovation and renewable, disperse energy production. Some attendees told us that from the vendor/contractor side, they had more serious contacts at our show than at any other event in the State including the Bangor and Portland home shows.
From the consumer side, they were thrilled to see that so many sustainable energy technologies were available in-State. We would love to get input from all of you and invite you to attend. Last year, we had an overwhelming response.
Though we marketed the event from Portland to Bangor, we actually had attendees from as far as New Hampshire and New Brunswick, Canada. Thousands of people attended our event and we believe that it is the biggest event of its kind in Maine. The exhibitor lists were filled shortly after they were sent out. We are now trying to locate additional space for other exhibitors who have contacted us.
The greater social impact of this effort might not be obvious, but we feel that the potential impact of efforts like our Expo are incredible. Maine Watch, this weekend, highlighted LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program). While programs like LIHEAP are critical to getting people through this winter, the answer, really, is to make it easier to get through the winter.
Our governments have been woefully irresponsible with our energy policy. By keeping energy artificially cheap, we have provided little incentive to winterize and weatherize homes, introduce more efficient transportation choices, and consume locally. On the other end, we have provided very little regulation for home/factory home/mobile home construction for insulation, CAFE (coporate average fuel economy) standards have not been raised in over two decades, and very little money has been provided for renewable energy research.
Therefore, U.S. policy has provided neither significant market incentives nor increasing efficiency regulations over the last 28 years. Our efforts will make it easier for people to make it through the winter here. Our goal can be reached with green home building, better energy standards that are enforced for all new homes, and renovating the current housing stock.
With our initiatives, we are hoping to ‘teach people to fish’ rather than giving them a fish (i.e. LIHEAP). Our energy audits offer performance improvements that range from very inexpensive (replacing old bulbs with CFLs) to expensive (replacing all of the windows in a home) and gives the approximate energy savings of each improvement.
People are grumbling about the economy and with good reason. The stimulus package, as it was so aptly pointed out by a morning edition commentator, is a little like the Federal government saying to its close friend ‘Gee, I am sorry that you have cancer. Have a cookie, you’ll feel better.’
If we truly want to change our economic well-being, we HAVE to get our energy use under control. Frankly, every President and Congress since Carter has been completely irresponsible about the most pressing issue of our time; fossil fuel dependence. Nixon arguably did more than Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Bush the Second put together.
If you want to track the U.S. economy, you need only look at fossil fuel prices. In the 1990s, fuel was cheap and the economy roared. Today, oil is nearly three times the cost it was just a few years ago. When the average home heating budget goes from $1200 to $3600 a year, that is a big decrease in disposable income and does not include the additional expenditures for gasoline that further erode disposable income. These increased fuel costs make everything more expensive because of the structure of our economy. Food is grown in intense cultivation, shipped and average of 2500 miles in cold storage, and then consumed. The same is true of retail goods made and shipped all over the world.
This is probably the most counter-productive structure for an economy and can only exist in an era of dirt cheap fuel. Those days are fast becoming history. This goes for all goods. Of course, as everything gets more expensive, more people are pushed into foreclosure, bankruptcy, etc.
Fossil fuels are not going to get less expensive, significantly, ever again. In fact, they are even undervalued today. If you want an idea of the amount of ‘human labor’ stored in a gallon of gas, just try to push your car the number of miles that it gets per gallon. If your car gets 20 miles per gallon, try to push it 20 miles.
If we, as a nation, don’t do something soon, we are looking at a long term, perhaps never-ending depression in this country from today’s standard of living as oil prices rise, global climate change and ocean level rise (and the huge impacts from such events), and increasing marginalization and indebtedness of the U.S. as a world power (see the Wall Street Journal’s recent article about the diminishing power of the U.S. vis-a-vis Russia and other oil states) . That is why these are such critical issues.
Our energy Expo is just our first step in trying to help solve, what is really a quiet national emergency. The good news is that there is still time, though very little, for the U.S. to retool its economy and civilization. We must dramatically change but such change is possible. The Expo is a way for us to do our part to get our communities to change and is thus a positive and empowering event. We can take control of our energy future and usher in a new era of energy independence, local sustainability and domestic economic development, we need only make the commitment to do so.”

Other Goings On This Week
I was to head to Washington with my husband of 2.5 months, and scheduled to ask Senator Collins a few questions about federal energy policy to “fair and balance” Allen, Grist, Solar Nation and all. It turned out to be a wretched week; my husband collided with a sand truck on icy Route 1. He emerged alive and OK, but with cracked neck vertebrae. Washington (and heaven, thankfully) can wait. My thanks to everyone who has expressed support, to PenBay and Maine Medical Hospitals, to amazing family, and especially to Dr. Chip Teel.