Corporate energy reduction – real or hype?

SAP Headquarters

SAP America's new HQ - a story of big time water and energy efficiency

News stories abound with corporate carbon emission and energy reductions. But what’s real and what’s hype?

Today’s story that cruise line Costa has “cut fuel and potable water consumption by five percent during the fiscal year starting in December 2007”  is notably a good step in the right direction. That they’ve also “increased its “special waste” (cooking oil, used batteries, neon lamps, photo developing fluid) recycling to 30 percent in 2008, up from 26 percent in 2007” is a better news story.

But the one that really got my attention today was about SAP America’s new $90 million Philadelphia headquarters. When complete, it’s expected to have an energy and water savings of 40-50 percent, when compared to similar buildings.

So far the building is using about one kilowatt of electricity per square foot, said SAP Project Manager Brian Barrett. That compares to about 2.5 kilowatts per square foot typical in other buildings, he said.

So tell me about the big steps you’re taking,  corporate America, not the baby steps that you hope will make you look good. The bigger the step, the bolder and more progressive you’ll look to your customers. And with growing consumer demand for corporate responsibility, that’s what they really want anyway.

Get the hint?

Turkey, Travel and Thankfulness

ThanksgivingOnly one day away, Thanksgiving is a time for many things:

  • swelling crowds in airports waiting for overbooked planes
  • a much needed break from hectic schedules, to do’s and last minute “critical” projects
  • spending time either alone wishing you were with loved ones or actually being with them and sometimes wondering what you were pining for
  • eating way too much food (whether alone or at a big feast) that you may regret the next day (or sooner!)

I may sound a bit jaded but I’m not really. I’ve done all the above and suspect many of you have as well, at some time or other.

Snoopy ThanksgivingThis year, I’ll be spending Turkey Day with my family – parents, siblings, nephews and niece. It will be noisy, too much food and a few tense moments thrown in. But no matter what, I’m thankful for it all. After many holidays spent just my dog and me, it’s nice to be able to connect, even have the occasional “sparring” session, as it were. It’s all about family – love ’em, warts, tempers and all.

Whatever you’ll be doing, remember that gratitude – for all things small and large – is a special gift you give yourself and others this time of year.

Happy Thanksgiving. Be back again on the weekend. Come on back and enjoy the holiday!

Minnesota begins pilot program to recycle old holiday lights

Minnesotans will be able to recycle old holiday lights this year

Minnesotans will be able to recycle old holiday lights this year

The Recycling Association of Minnesota has launched its Recycle Your Holidays light strand collection program. Now strands of older holiday lights can be placed curbside in recycling bins and business drop offs throughout the state.

Select retailers are accepting drop-off of these lights until January 10, 2010. Stores are also offering $5 coupons for every strand recycled at their locations.

This pilot program is being tested through Randy´s Environmental Services in Delano, MN to determine the program’s viability.

And the ways to recycle just keep growing. Next?

Penn students become reps for sustainability

sustainabilityA group of students at the University of Pennsylvania are about to become Eco-reps, volunteers from three Penn residence halls and one fraternity that educate their peers about sustainability and of Penn’s  Climate Action Plan commitments.

Twenty seven students in all – ten students in U of P’s Hill College House, ten in Kings Court English College  House, six in Rodin College House and one in Tau Epsilon Phi – are being trained to be sustainability ambassadors to fellow residents.

Dan Garofalo, the University’s sustainability coordinator, said “we  believe motivated students who are interested in environmental issues can help  their peers make better choices and decisions in their behavior as it  relates to the environment.”

sustainability 2This group of committed eco-minded students will focus on the University’s environmental initiatives, including:

  • reduced energy consumption and carbon production
  • improved waste reduction and recycling  habits
  • water conservation practices
  • green transportation alternatives   
  • consumer choices

Their goal is to create a more sustainable campus  environment. They’re gearing up to their first joint event: an energy-conservation challenge where residents of each building pledges to “unplug, turn  down or turn off” their electronics and thermostats while they’re away during  winter break. Energy data will be compared to last year’s to pinpoint the  reductions.

There are Eco-reps programs at a number of universities around the country. Seems like college students around the country are embracing sustainabilityand turning that into positive actions, something our politicians could take lessons from.

TerraCycle to recycle diaper packaging

TerraCycleThe company that created a world-famous organic fertilizer from worm poop and has  “re-purposed” discarded product packaging is at it again.

TerraCycle created their Drink Brigade  program two years ago, Since then, they’ve taken product packaging waste like candy and cookie wrappers and used drink pouches that would have ended up in landfills and given them a second life as lunchboxes, binders and portable speakers. They recently partnered with Kraft Foods UK to turn Kenco brand product packaging into frames, book covers and satchels.

Huggies displayNow TerraCycle has expanded again, this time partnering with paper goods company Kimberly-Clark– maker of Huggies brand diapers – to turn that product’s plastic waste into something useful. TerraCycle will”upcycle”  the discarded plastic, creating new diaper bags. Keeping with their practice of creating products that appeal to the original target markets, the new product will be co-branded with the original and sold at major retailers like Walmart and Target next year.

TerraCycle collects nearly one million pieces of post-consumer packaging  per week, 95% of which is collected in the U.S., said company spokesman Albe Zakes . They also work with major manufacturers to collect between 500 and 3,000 tons of pre-consumer factory waste each year.

Way to go TerraCycle! So what’s next?

Self-adjusting glasses for the poor

New eye glasses will help bring improved sight to the world's poor

New eye glasses will help bring improved sight to the world's poor

Though a bit of a departure, there was a story that came across my email today I felt was important for the impact of the subject.

The poorest people all over the world can ill afford to purchase eye glasses to see well. Now British scientist Josh Silver – a professor of physics at Oxford University – has come up with a method of creating inexpensive glasses that wearers can self-adjust to their own prescription.

The novel solution entails combining durable plastic lenses with a pair of clear circular sacks filled with fluid. A small syringe connects each sack to either “arm” of the eyeglasses. Wearers adjust the syringe’s dial to increase or reduce the amount of fluid in the sack, which changes the power of the lens. Each lens is then sealed by twisting a small screw and removing the syringes.

Silver is working towards an ambitious goal: to offer glasses to a billion of the world’s poorest people by 2020. Already 30,000 of these new glasses have been distributed in 15 countries. Silver’s next goal is to launch a trial in India where they hope to distribute one million pairs of glasses.

New Eye Glasses.2Ultimately, Silver and his team plan to give 100 pairs every year to needy people across the world .

Silver, now retired, makes no profit from this venture. Though a huge undertaking, Silver’s reward is the reaction of people who can suddenly do everyday tasks with ease that before were almost impossible.

“People put them on, and smile,” says Major Kevin White, formerly of the US military’s humanitarian program, who organized the distribution of thousands of pairs around the world after discovering Silver’s glasses on Google.

They all say, ‘Look, I can read those tiny little letters.'”

For more on this amazing project, see

Waste reduction at JC Penney's – no more big catalogs

JC Penney LogoAnother consumer icon will soon bite the dust. JC Penney’s says it will eliminate their twice-yearly Big Book catalogs due to customer preference for online sales.

Officials at Penney’s say the change will likely result in a reduction in paper consumption of 25% to 30% .

“Big book catalogs have become less relevant as customers have embraced shopping online, where they have ready access to our entire assortment at any time on,” said Mike Boylson, Penney’s Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer.

The company plans to instead produce smaller, targeted catalogs throughout the year and emphasize their digital presence. Also they’ll revamp existing catalogs to reduce paper use, utilizing low-weight paper with 10 percent recycled content when possible and only mailing catalogues out on request.

A good move – for Penney’s and for the environment.

An eco-resort like no other

Lapa Rios 1aDuring my recent trip to Costa Rica, I visited three eco-resorts. All were based around the idea of sustainability, but how this played out was gloriously diverse.

You wouldn’t call Lapa Rios – the 2nd eco-resort on my “tour” -a luxury resort. Yet its charm and beauty make it a first class green destination.

Unlike Arenas del Mar, the eco-resort I’d visited prior to coming here, there are lots of “not here’s” for guests to know. These include:

  • no TV
  • no hairdryers or curling irons
  • no internet
Lapa Rios in the midst of the surrounding rainforest

Lapa Rios in the midst of the surrounding rainforest

“Why have (piped music),  says General Manager Juan Pinto, “when you have the toucans, the macaws, and the howling monkeys?”

For those used to being  “plugged in”, it’s a system shock, but one guests surrender to.

Located on the southern tip of Costa Rica, known as the Osa Peninsula, the motto of Lapa Rios, says Pinto, is “Experience, Learn, Connect, Relax”.

““It’s important in the tropical forest to learn, to take something (back) with you,” he said.

Surrounded by rainforest – both primary (old growth forests) and secondary (former pastures that have been reforested) – and bordered by a private nature reserve with amazing wildlife and pristine beaches, conservation and sustainability are evident at this beautiful resort.

The exquisite Blue Morpho butterfly perched on a flowering plant in the rainforst

The exquisite Blue Morpho butterfly perched on a flowering plant in the rainforst

All the furniture is made from wood from sustainable plantations. Baskets and dispensers are made by local craftsmen. Footbridges that connect trails on the property are made from discarded railroad ties. All the electricity is generated via solar.

Lapa Rios  keeps pigs on the property (away from guests, of course). What leftover food they don’t eat goes to the  property’s biodigester to produce biogas for cooking.

The food at Lapa Rios was both beautifully prepared, delicious and organic. Buying locally, though preferable, can be challenging, Pinto says. Locals may have some but not all of what the resort needs. They make up the balance from San Jose – a ten hour drive.

But Lapa Rios encourages local vendors and suppliers.

Quality and commitment are equally important with their suppliers, Pinto explained.

If a vendor isn’t doing organic or sustainable practices and they switch, Lapa Rios will buy from them. Or, “if anyone comes with a quality product,” he said, “if it’s a little higher and (they) show commitment, we’ll change.”

Embracing the community is a sustainability trait I also found at Arenas del Mar. Though there’s a great deal more to come – about eco-resorts, the rainforest and sustainable business practices I observed – this expanded view of sustainability is one the U.S. would do well to consider investing in.

Southwest Airline "ups" their sustainability quotient

Southwest green plane 2Southwest Airlines, famous for their low fares and offbeat cabin announcements, is going boldly into the green horizon.

They’ve announced the addition of their green plane – a Boeing 737-700 which, they say, achieves a weight savings of of almost five pounds per seat, saving fuel and reducing emissions, and uses recyclable materials.

Some of these eco-friendly elements include:

  • recyclable floor carpet that can eliminate the total replacement of certain areas
  • recyclable, durable seat covers
  • Southwest green plane 1a lighter weight foam fill from Garnier PURtec for seat back covers
  • a bulkhead product that’s more long lasting than their current leather one
  • aluminum aisle strips versus the standard plastic ones, which makes them recyclable,  more durable and reduces waste

Sounds good so far. This adds to Southwest’s on-going environmental practices, which include water conservation, energy management and even noise reduction.

Way to go, Southwest. Now if you can just make the conversion to biofuel, I’ll really get excited!

New process uses less energy for desalination

Desalination – the ability produce much needed freshwater from seawater – has always been an expensive and energy-intensive proposition. But Vancouver, B.C. cleantech company Saltworks Technologies ( is about to revolutionize the industry.

Utilizing an innovative thermo-ionic energy conversion system, Saltworks will be able to reduce energy by harnessing low.temperature heat and atmospheric dryness. The system works best in the dry regions that need water.

“The greatest challenge for the desalination industry is to increase the energy efficiency of the process faster than the price of generating electricity from fossil fuels,” says industry tracker Global Water Intelligence (GWI)

With their innovative Thermo-IonicTM energy conversion system, Saltworks’ patent pending technology will use up to 80 percent less electrical/mechanical energy relative to leading desalination technologies by harnessing low temperature heat and atmospheric dryness to overcome the desalination energy barrier.

For more on this exciting breakthrough, see