Tree Free Sneezing

Nothing quite like the mental picture of sneezing or blowing your nose into a tree free tissue, now is there?  Except perhaps the image of blowing your sweet nose into sugar cane tissue!

Name:  Ralph Bianculli, Jr

Company/Products: Emerald Brand, Tree Free Facial Tissue

What’s your personal definition of greening?

A product made in an environmentally preferable way. Whether the raw materials are renewable/sustainable/recycled. All chemicals in our products are environmentally safe and chlorine free. A reduction in carbon footprint from a similarly equivalent product.

How did you get started in green business?

We began in 1998 with 4 SKUS of 100% recycled products. We now produce more than 60 environmentally friendly SKUS including paper made from sugarcane waste that is traditionally burned.

Why did you choose to supply

You guys have a wonderful message and a true commitment to become green. (Though I wish you would sell some more of our Tree Free products..!) (Editor’s note, Ralph, what are you waiting for?  Call us and sell us more!)

What do you and your company do in your own life and operations to walk the walk?

We recycled all around the office, use all of our green products in the office environment, limit printing per employee, and use eco-efficient distribution logistics.

What is the best greening advice you can give our customers?

Do some research on the product you’re purchasing, make sure the company is credible and that the product is truly GREEN.

What’s your personal favorite of your products that carries?

Tree free facial tissue, of course!

What’s been the biggest change in the green sector since you got started?

The biggest challenge is converting customers over to green at cost neutral or less, something which we have overcome in the last few years. It’s fantastic, now consumers can spend the same amount of money and use our eco-friendly products. It’s an easy choice for them.

Do you really think green products make a big difference and why?

ABSOLUTELY! Take a look at our eco-calculator on our homepage and you’ll see!

Do you think consumers now are aware green products exist, or is there still a lot more education to do?

Consumers are much more aware. Since we launched our tree free line with the Duane Reade/Walgreens group the numbers speak for themselves , as we outsold Charmin for the first time in Duane Reade’s history. Consumers still need to be educated though. They need to know things go beyond “recycled”.

If you could invent a green product that doesn’t exist, what would it be?

It’s a secret!

Thank you for your time- we are looking forward to many more years working with you!

Not Just Totes for Totes Sa(c)ke – How Green are You?

Nice to hear from you Marcelle.  Reusable shopping bags have become the rage.  My wife just leaves a stack of them in her car.

Name:  Marcelle Bakula, Owner & Original Cold Callin’ Tote Sales Person

Company: SteppingStones (manufacturer of the EcoSac Reusable Shopping Bag System)

What’s your personal definition of greening?

Awareness of human’s impacts on the natural world. It should become a way of life where we are all more conscious (and therefore conscientious) of every personal act and its impact on our planet and resources.

How did you get started in green business?

I have been an “environmentalist” my entire life so it was a natural fit when friends started up this reusable bag business back in 1988.  I became their “cold call” sales person and several years later, they allowed me to buy the company when they moved in a different direction.

Why did you choose to supply

Any way that we can expose more people to the concept of and access to renewable, reusable produce, bulk, and shopping bags, we want to offer it!

What do you and your company do in your own life and operations to walk the walk?

Everything we can! From the “typical” such as recycled paper, printing front and back for invoices/packing lists to low energy light bulbs etc. We also join and support organizations such as organic trade associations, environmental and green organizations, and donating to county-wide non-profits. We are still learning about more ways to be even more green….  Example: this past year we all got our “to-go ware” items so no more take-out containers and bought reusable/sustainable bamboo utensils for lunch!

What is the best greening advice you can give our customers?

Do your best to raise your own consciousness about your own impact on the earth:  driving – can I walk? Can I combine errands? Can I do something for a neighbor to save them a trip?   buying: ask “Do I NEED it? If so, is it “green” If not: “Can I donate this amount of money (instead of buying this product) to provide basics such as food for a hungry child? “Do my friends and family need more stuff?” Find alternative gifts for worthwhile non-profits instead of cheap goods…home: energy-efficient enough? Do I use reusable bags for all my shopping?  Am I pesticide/poison free?

Stop using plastic whenever & wherever you can: every piece of plastic you have ever used is still here and will be for generations to come..

What’s your personal favorite of your products that carries?

The Uno and Duo EuroSac, GlobalGrocer Tote, and GardenSac kits you carry of ours, of course!

What’s been the biggest change in the green sector since you got started?

Lowering of “green” standards. Stores & organizations (even supposedly green ones) jumping immediately to synthetics (nylon, polyproylene & polyethlyne shopping bags) and cheap-from-China bags. The Wal-Mart factor: saying they’re green…but not “truly” – green-washing is abundant.

Do you really think green products make a big difference and why?

I hope they do, gotta try! (my cynical self is honest enough to know that I fear that due to the economy and lack of education, we’re compromising on too many fronts…I’ve known for over 30 years that much needs to be done, but here we are 30 years later & we’re still dragging our feet…

Do you think consumers now are aware green products exist, or is there still a lot more education to do?

Much more education – leaders leading by example…. stop the pendulum from swinging back?! Ex: When the next president, who might be a Republican,  gets into the White House, will he remove the solar panels?!  Take out the garden? go backwards?)

If you could invent a green product that doesn’t exist, what would it be?

Not a product:  a way of living:  don’t allow corporations to ruin the planet (no more gas-guzzlers allowed, no more “non-green” products – no more waste of non-renewable resources – Helium should NOT be allowed for filling balloons. Chemistry council and plastic bag manufacturers (or logging operations) should not be allowed to call the shots!

A Cleantech Blogger’s Home Energy Audit – The Results Are In

A few weeks ago I blogged a very bad experience trying to get an energy audit done on my home.  The vendor, Standard Renewable Energy, part of Gridpoint, just didn’t do the job.  After our blog article, the company came back to do the audit right for me, complete with a IR camera looking for hotspots, blower door test, and duct test.

I just got my report, and wanted to share the experience.  Consider it kind of like our cleantech blogger CSR report.  I’ve posted the full energy audit report on our Yahoo! Group for your reading pleasure.

For those of you who want to blog your own home energy audit, I’d love for you to join the Yahoo! Group and send in a message with your experience or report in attachment.

If you’re looking to sort through what kinds of products are available, our sister site has a ton of them including:

as well as hundreds of articles on the how to side of things, for everything from energy efficiency to general greening.

My personal scorecard:

The results were mixed, not bad over all, but a lot of room for improvement.

I apparently have a pretty low energy rate house, at 23 kBTUs/Sq Ft, apparently a little over half the average.  Not bad for a 55 year old ranch house. This despite very little insulation in the attic, none in walls, and not particularly efficient appliances.  But for better or worse, with our total summer energy bill in the $125/month range ($8.9/kwh) plus gas bill for hot water at less than $20/month, not much makes economic sense to do.  I think we may just be very boring in our energy use!

We didn’t do so hot on the blower and duct tests (that’s where they pull a light vacuum and measure how leaky your house envelope and duct work is.  The combination is a measure of how much your system is air conditioning things other than your home).  We are about double the recommended levels of leakage, and that’s after redoing the windows.

And we haven’t insulated the attic (current R value is estimated at 13, something like R 38 is desirable).  The nearly $1800 attic insulation quote I had gotten previously was looking like a 5-7 year payback, and unfortunately paying to seal the ducts and replace the air return looks like it would be marginal as well.  Sealing the ducts probably would pay off, however, we have an old house whose air return is way undersized and very poorly sealed, probably a vestige of the original heat only return pre air conditioning, meaning I’d need to tear up my hallway and put a new one in the ceiling to do it right.  The other big move would be to do some sort of an attic fan to do active attic ventilation, and keep my cooling load down.

One bathroom is basically an energy black hole, sucking my energy straight out to somewhere, but except for attic insulation they didn’t have a lot of good suggestions for this one. Since it’s my bathroom not hers, my wife just didn’t seem as concerned as I was.

The big contributor to be honest is likely not even in the house – we bought a very well shaded moderately sized house with 4 huge oak trees and 1 magnolia shading it, and keep the AC in high 70s in favor of a lot of ceiling fans.

And apparently, despite having big pretty windows and lots of light, we don’t have a high window area/square foot ratio, and all but one are pretty shaded. We did replace them with energy efficient double paned windows this summer, which besides an Energy Star washer/dryer was our only major energy efficiency move so far. Even more than the energy, replacing the windows made a huge difference in comfort, while still keeping the AC temperature fairly high.

On the negative side, I added 26 recessed can lights to the ceiling (I can’t help it, I like light!), about doubling the lighting capacity of the house to 5kW with very few CFLs.  But each room has multiple lighting systems (eg, ceiling fixture plus recessed or recessed plus lamps) on different switches, and we are pretty good about keeping on only what we need, so it really didn’t drive up the usage.

We’ve got a couple of small, cheap items that definitely make economic sense.   Only 1 of the 4 outside doors is weatherstripped (and one has a huge south facing single paned window that failed the IR test badly), and caulking along the base boards/sealing the various light switches (they make basically soft gaskets you can put on yourself that do the trick) and attic stairs would help seal the living area a bit (maybe just offsetting all those lighting cans!).

The south facing roof is mostly shaded by trees, and that plus our low electricity and hot water usage and low electric rates means solar is pretty much out.

We’ve done nothing about “vampires” or phantom loads, but we also don’t have a huge number of electronics, so it’s not too bad.

The one thing I was really excited about which the auditor just didn’t seem to think was worthwhile was an attic radiant barrier.  They recommended simply attic better ventilation as a first step.

In any case I’ll blog the results in a couple of months and give the blow by blow on whatever we end up doing.

My conclusions:

It’s hard to really find a lot things that were economic and environmental no brainers.  Most of the big items looked to be “on the bubble.”  Lots of little things from CFLs to those little light socket gaskets and weatherstripping need to get done.   And I do need to bite the bullet on some big items like the insulation.

Part of me really wants to see how far down I could get my energy usage. Is 300 kWh/month possible without self generating?  I’m going to have to do some calculations.

One of the problems with a house like ours is that when you start with moderately low usage, and plan on doing all the small cheap items, your bill gets so low you can’t payback any of the big ones.  So maybe energy efficiency retrofits is only really the province of the true energy hog or those who just believe.

Neal Dikeman is a partner at cleantech merchant bank Jane Capital Partners LLC, chief blogger of, and is responsible for starting companies in carbon, superconductors, solar and fuel cells, as well as launching  He is a Texas Aggie, and his grandfather and great grandfather were both refrigeration and air conditioning engineers.