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US Thanksgiving: talking turkey about sustainability



Today is Thanksgiving, the day our American cousins attend parades, eat turkeys, watch American football, and, well, give thanks. To mark the day, we’ve reviewed the major sustainability stories of the year with an American flavour. It’s not quite a Thanksgiving dinner, but at least the turkeys will be happier.

2013 was the year that US president Barack Obama delivered his Climate Action Plan, seemingly breaking further from America’s historical reluctance to commit to preserving our climate.  Introducing the plan, he sent a message not so much firm as outright aggressive to those standing in his way.

“Sticking your head in the sand might make you feel safer, but it’s not going to protect you from the coming storm”, Obama warned sceptics. It was a speech that boosted cleantech investment, angered Fox News (what doesn’t?), and heartened many environmentalists, who thought that perhaps the White House had belatedly, finally turned green.

This came as polling showed that however loud certain conservative TV personalities can rage, the US public supported climate change action.

However, those same believers may now be forgiven for wondering how much of Obama’s pledge was merely rhetoric. Since then, and indeed throughout the whole of 2013, America’s environmental record has been mixed.

One of the foremost front-page issues of American environmentalism over the last year has been the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

The development, which would link Canada’s super-polluting tar sands to refineries in Texas, was first proposed in 2008, and had been originally scheduled for completion in 2013. However, the development first needs the go-ahead from the US State Department, as it crosses the US-Canada border. Obama’s administration has so far delayed this decision.

A considerable lobby of supporters is urging Obama to get on with it, despite reports indicating that Keystone may bring minimal economic benefits while generating a rush of high-risk oil investments. The president has not ruled out the project. In his definitive climate change speech, he said that the pipeline would only be approved “if it doesn’t significantly exacerbate the climate problem”.

The US government has also been criticised for its stance on emissions from aviation, which is directly at odds with Obama’s strong words. Under the emissions trading system (ETS), the EU has attempted to make airlines pay for their pollution contributions.

However, last November Obama gave his transport secretary the power to prevent US airlines from participating. When the aviation industry is responsible for 5% of all global emissions, this seems like a move that will only undermine America’s decarbonisation efforts in other areas.

Obama also this year praised the sustainability initiatives of nations such as Sweden, a world leader in renewable energy. However, America’s own energy revolution has been (fossil) fuelled by fracking and shale gas. 

There has been good news, though, with some of it rather paradoxically linked to the rise shale gas. In 2012, US energy related carbon emissions fell to their lowest levels since 1994, according to recently released Energy Information Administration (EIA) figures. This achievement was partly credited to the substitution of natural gas for coal in electricity production, while the input of renewable sources actually fell.

Yet, this eye-catching headline comes with significant caveats. While shale gas has replaced coal in the US, this very same coal has still been mined and burnt elsewhere. In 2012, US coal exports reached a record high of 126m short tonnes, a 17% increase on the previous year. As some of this coal will have been exported to developing nations with less advanced energy generation technology, the environmental impact may in fact have been worse.

To make matters worse, the US government may be significantly underestimating its polluting output, according to a recent study suggesting the country is emitting twice as much methane – a greenhouse gas 21 times as potent as CO2 – as previously thought.

Perhaps providing more cause for optimism is Obama’s pledge, as part of that climate action plan, that the US would end its financing for foreign coal projects. He said at the time, “Power plants can still dump limitless carbon pollution into the air for free. That’s not right, that’s not safe and it needs to stop.” 

In July, the Export-Import Bank of the US rejected a proposal to fund the construction of a coal-fired power plant in Vietnam, showing perhaps that this was a policy being taken seriously. The significance of this act should not be underestimated, as a recent report identified the Bank of America as one of the leading financers of international coal projects over the last 8 years. 

In economic terms however, the US is still surely a long way from sustainability. Its eye-watering levels of debt were recently highlighted by the embarrassing government shutdown crisis. The US currently has a growing debt pile of around $17 trillion (£10.6 trillion) – the price of around 965 billion Thanksgiving turkeys.


How Going Green Can Save A Company Money



going green can save company money
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By GOLFX

What is going green?

Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.

The first step in going green

There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.

Making needed changes within the company

After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.

Reducing the common paper waste

paper waste

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Yury Zap

Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.

Make money by spreading the word

Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.

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5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable




sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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