A Sustainable Holiday Season Suggestion

The holiday season marks the point of the year where many retail businesses begin to turn a profit for the fiscal year, and chances are you’ve helped some retail business along the way to getting into the black.  But amongst the holiday consumerism madness, it seems we, as a country, lose sight of what the holiday’s are truly about.  For the sake of sounding preachy, the holidays are a celebration of the people, friends and family, with whom we surround ourselves.  Beyond family and friends, the holiday season is a celebration of our respective communities, and right now, America is seeing a new emphasis on community building.

Communities all over the country are becoming more solidified due to difficult financial times and an aging general population.  2010 saw the lowest relocation rate since the United States began tracking relocation rates in population surveys in 1948.  One could argue that something good has come out of the financial depression; what began as a strictly food related movement, has grown to something that applies to all goods and services. 

The local movement displays behavior that may seem like an act of financial sacrifice; that we must give up creature comforts that exist abroad in order to survive; but in reality, what we end with is a far more sustainable society.  With more people staking into local communities and moving around less, suddenly we have created a healthier environment for small businesses.  With strengthened communities comes community pride, and out of community pride comes local brand loyalty.  Community members will buy locally produced and sold products to help support the community, which intern creates stronger small businesses.  Thriving small businesses create jobs for the community.  Ultimately, the community becomes a self-sustaining economic entity, less influenced by the rise and fall of the global markets.

Additionally, a localized economy helps reduce fossil fuel use from the transportation of goods which helps maintain a healthier global environment.  Localized economies satisfy the triple bottom line of sustainability, being beneficial from economic, social, and environmental standpoints.  We all have the opportunity to help make this holiday season more sustainable.

A more localized American life sets up an opportunity for citizens to help better their local communities while showing their appreciation for their loved ones.  This holiday season, if you chose to buy gifts for your family and friends, buy them something from a local owned and operated business and put your money directly back into the local economy.  If you do not live near a locally owned or operated business, buy your loved ones an experience gift; take your  loved one to a movie, restaurant, sporting event, live theater event, or a concert.  This type of gift can be just as special as a material gift because of how personalized and memorable the gift can be.

Experience gifts offer the same economic stimulus as a product from a local business but without the resource use of a material product.  Ultimately, this is a better option for anyone trying to be environmentally conscience during the holiday season.  If you have last minute holiday shopping, you don’t have to go far to get your friends and family something special.  This holiday season, act locally, and think globally.  Happy holidays!

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Southwest Airlines Celebrates 40th Anniversary With Green Future In Mind

Despite current fuel prices being as high as the airplanes themselves, Southwest Airlines celebrates its 40th birthday with the intention to continue its service for many more years to come. In recent talks with Solena, Southwest Airlines plans to secure a deal with the biomass fuel company. The deal will provide the airline company with fuel produced from biomass.

Along with several other airlines, including Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, FedEx, JetBlue Airways, United Continental, and US Airways, Southwest Airlines is negotiating with Solena Fuels for a supply of 100% biomass fuel. Solena hopes their GreenSky plant in northern California will be able to convert 550,000 tons into 16 million gallons of fuel by the year 2015.

As airlines start using biofuels for their jets, it will benefit the wallets of passengers. Biofuels cost less than half of their fossil fuel counterparts. If airlines can pay less for fuel, then airfare prices will most likely go down.

Implementing advanced technology, Solena Group is able to convert any type of biomass into usable fuel. One of the sources for biomass will be trash, providing some relief for overflowing landfills. Additionally, the company has teamed up with Spain’s Bio Fuel Systems S.A. to deal with carbon dioxide emissions during the conversion process. Solena is able to use the carbon dioxide to grow micro-algae, which is then converted to electricity. Solena’s operations are effectively carbon neutral.

However, there are conflicting opinions on the eco-friendliness of biofuels. Some experts argue biofuels do not burn cleanly and can result in more harmful emissions than fossil fuels. Most people will agree, though, that biofuels are a sustainable source of energy; producing biofuel is safer than drilling for oil.

In addition to their plan of acquiring biofuel to power their jets, the airline company’s festivities include other eco-friendly endeavors. In collaboration with the Student Conservation Association, Southwest Airlines has launched the Conservation in Action tour: 40 Projects for 40 Years. The first stop of the tour is Dallas, Texas and the tour will last throughout the summer. Says Gary Kelly, President and CEO of Southwest Airlines, “This is the perfect way to celebrate our 40th Anniversary. Volunteering and giving back is something our people do year round. It’s our way of saying thank you to the communities that have given so much to us.”

In Dallas, SCA interns and Southwest employees took part in three separate community projects in the city. One of the projects was to plant 500 trees. With the help of Southwest Airlines and the SCA, leaders of the Texas Tree Foundation say planting the trees took only a few hours to complete. Without the help of volunteers, it would have taken a whole month.

A separate group of volunteers headed over to the Trinity River Audubon Center. Despite being a landfill in the past, the eco-friendly, LEED certified center is now situated on the site. About 100 volunteers worked on various improvements to the center, such as fixing fences, planting grass, and removing old Christmas trees.

The third project involved Dallas’s Rochester Park. Another 100 volunteers revitalized the park. Volunteers recreated and cleaned up a trail covered in trash and destroyed by off-highway vehicles. The amount of litter collected totaled 50 bags of trash and 20 bags of recyclables. Also, volunteers rejuvenated a kiosk damaged by vandalism.

During the tour, Southwest Airlines is also showing off their RV designed to run on biofuel. The RV is scheduled to stop by 25 cities across the country throughout the tour.

Lastly, until June 23, 2011, Southwest Airlines has cut prices on airfare in commemoration of its 40th anniversary. As low as $40 for a one-way ticket, the airline company wishes to bolster its image as a leader in customer service by offering their passengers deals on airfare.

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Google Forms New Renewable Energy Research and Development Team

Google’s newly minted CEO, Larry Page, announced the formation of a new research and development team at the company’s latest annual shareholder meeting.  The team, which will be composed of five employees, will be responsible for developing utility-scale renewable energy technologies.  The end goal is to create a form of renewable energy  that is more cost effective than coal that can be applied on a mass scale.  Page acknowledges that people are always curious to know “what is the latest crazy thing that Google did.”  But, this new team was not created to develop an off-the-wall, obscure, or purely entertaining form of technology.  It is being assembled to hopefully realize Google Inc’s longstanding goal of “RE<C,” meaning creating a way for renewable energy that is cheaper than coal, in a relatively short time span.

The creation of the research and development team marks Google’s latest green move, but definitely not its first.  The company set a goal in 2007 to become completely carbon neutral.  That involved focusing on the efficiency of its massive operations, and in order to do that Google hired Rick Needham in 2008 as Director of Green Business Operations and Strategy.  His initial task was to cut down on Google’s overall energy use.  However, as Needham noted, “Efficiency doesn’t get you to zero, and so, our next step is to go and seek and use renewable energy.”  Needham’s role eventually evolved.  Soon he was no longer just in charge of reducing Google’s carbon footprint.  

When Needham joined Google in 2008, the company was making only very small investments in clean energy ventures.  Before the end of the year, though, the Great Recession was in full swing and the financial institutions who were investing in renewable energy development had crumbled.  Google saw an opportunity to scale up their investments in renewable energy, resulting in benefits to company shareholders and the planet alike.  The company soon started researching potential projects that would produce favorable financial returns and projects set to have large impacts.  The company’s philosophy on these investments is that larger projects are, by definition, going to have larger impacts.  And with the end goal of revolutionizing energy use all over the globe, it makes sense that large-scale projects are of greater interest to the company.

Google made its first major investment in renewable energy over a year ago.  Last May the company made a $39 million tax-equity investment in two distinct wind projects in North Dakota.  Following the success of this initial project, Google recently made two additional astronomical investments: one in the amount of $168 million in the Ivanpah solar farm (located in the Mojave desert), and a $100 million investment in the Shepherds Flat wind farm (the largest wind farm in the world).  Within the last two weeks Google invested another $55 million in a wind farm in Tehachapi, California.  To date, Google’s total investments in clean energy top $400 million.

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Hockey Goes Green Again

Game three of the Stanley Cup is underway, and unless you are a fan of the Vancouver Canucks or the Boston Bruins, you may not really care.  Maybe you’re a fan of the San Jose Sharks or the Tampa Bay Lightning and you are still trying to comprehend that this isn’t going to be your year.  But, regardless of which team you cheer for, NHL Green (the National Hockey League’s sustainability initiative) recently made an announcement that all hockey fans can be proud of.

Last Wednesday, on the first day of the best-of-seven game series, NHL Green announced that the 2011 Stanley Cup would be the first ever “water-neutral” series in the history of the National Hockey League.  This represents the latest efforts of NHL Green to make professional hockey as sustainable as possible.  With water being a key ingredient for the game of hockey, it makes sense that conserving water would be a priority for the initiative. 

How does the NHL plan to make the Stanley Cup “water neutral?”  

To begin with, every drop of water used at the Stanley Cup this year will be tracked.  That includes everything from the ice on the arena floor to the ice cubes handed out in thousands of drinks to the water used from every faucet.  Once that amount has been calculated, the National Hockey League will work with the Bonneville Environmental Foundation to ensure that an equal amount of water is returned to a troubled stretch of the Deschutes River, which is in Oregon.  

The National Hockey League will be purchasing Water Restoration Certificates from Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF).  BEF created the Water Restoration Certificate program in 2009 to enable businesses and other agencies to offset their water use.  It is the first national, market-based program that uses purchased credits to restore river flow to deteriorating fresh water habitats in America.  Each Water Restoration Certificate purchased by the NHL at the conclusion of the Stanley Cup represents 1,000 gallons of water.  Regardless of the actual amount of water used at the Stanley Cup, the NHL has committed to purchasing at least 1,000 Water Restoration Certificates.  Consequentially, the NHL will be helping to restore at least 1 million gallons of water to the Middle Deschutes river. 

Where will the water come from?

This agreement does not mean that the NHL is paying the Bonneville Environmental Foundation to move 1 million gallons of water from a healthy ecosystem to an unhealthy ecosystem.  The way that Water Restoration Credits work is by creating an economic incentive for landowners along the river not to use the water in the river.  Water laws in many western states give water rights to those who own land surrounding rivers.  Landowners are given water permits which delineate how much water they are legally allowed to extract from the river.  When river waters are running low, especially in dry summer months, the combined volume of water permits often exceeds the amount of water in the river.  Compounding this issue is the fact water laws dictate landowners must use their allotted amount of water, or they risk losing their water rights.  The end result, not surprisingly, leads to rivers that run dry.

Fortunately, however, water laws are beginning to evolve.  The law declares that water must be used for permit holders for a “beneficial use”.  In the past, leaving the water running in the river was not classified as a beneficial use but that is beginning to change.  Many water rights holders are now permitted to leave the water as is without risking losing their rights.  This is where the Bonneville Environmental Foundation’s Water Restoration Certificates come in.  Now that not using the water is an option, BEF creates an economic incentive for landowners not to use the water.  They essentially use the funds gained from selling Water Restoration Certificates to pay landowners to leave the water in the river.  

The BEF’s Water Restoration Certificate program has been hugely successful in restoring multiple watersheds in the Pacific Northwest.  This recently announced collaboration with the National Hockey League will enable them to continue renewing damaged ecosystems, and hopefully will inspire similarly green initiatives from other professional sports leagues.

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Garnier Going Green

The cosmetic giant Garnier by L’Oreal is making industry-wide changes to be a greener, more eco-friendly company.

Part of that plan is to encourage recycling from its consumers.  When Garnier’s consumers sign up with TerraCycle, Garnier’s partner in the their green efforts, they will get two cents per unit of waste donated to the charity of their choice.  Also, TerraCycle will take the packaging collected from Garnier or any other cosmetic brand and use it to build playgrounds all across the U.S.  To get involved, participants just need to sign up with TerraCycle’s Personal Care and Beauty Brigade program.  

Last month, Garnier appointed Pamela Alabaster, an 18-year company veteran, in charge of their new sustainability function, which looks to incorporate their new sustainable practices and strategies into the company’s infrastructure. 

Another part of Garnier’s sustainability efforts are their new packaging improvements, which include using bio-derived plastics and cardboard from sustainable sources as well as more naturally derived ingredients.  Garnier is also rolling out their new line of “green” haircare products. These new products are made with non-ecotoxic substances and are without silicone, paraben or dye, and the packaging is made from 50% recycled bottles.  The packaging also includes promotions and instructions on how to be more environmentally friendly by recycling the bottles and showering for five minutes less each day. 

For the next month, TerraCycle and Garnier will be touring the country and stopping at various festivals and events to endorse their new green products as well as their partnership with TerraCycle.  Their program will teach and encourage customers to have a positive effect on the environment.

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