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Let me start this post by saying that I have consciously avoided a few issues dealing with the large corporate nature of both Wal-Mart and Home Depot. I wanted to concentrate on the “green” issues associated with two enormous entities, with such a wide sphere of influence, barreling into the environmental corporate responsibility.
Wal-Mart is the country’s largest retailer. The behemoth organization is often accused of stifling local business, has had reports surface about dubious labor practices, and is considered by many as the antithesis of local economies. But what of its sustainability practices? In November, 2006 Wal-Mart announced a partnership with GE plan to sell 100 million compact fluorescent bulbs in 2007. If it realizes that goal, about 22.5 billion tons of carbon will be avoided. January, 2007: Wal-Mart opened its first high-efficiency super store, which consumes 20% less energy then traditional stores through solar lighting, energy management and other measures. In May 2007 Wal-Mart released its plan to purchase solar power from numerous solar power providers. Wal-Mart’s lofty (albeit great conceptually) corporate environmental goals are to be supplied 100% by renewable energy, create zero waste and to sell products that sustain our resources and the environment. For more on Wal-Mart’s “sustainability” section see their corporate page here.
The nations second largest retailer is Home Depot. Today the New York Times printed an article titled “At Home Depot, How Green is that Chainsaw?” regarding the company’s new Eco Options marketing and product line. The new product line consists of over 2,500 products, selected from an original list of 60,000. In 2006 the company was named ENERGY STAR® partner of the year and donated over $200,000 for carbon offsets. This year, Home Depot was again ENERGY STAR® partner of the year, and pledged over $100 million for green, affordable housing and tree planting over the next decade. The company’s environmental principles include selling sustainable products, screening producers, recycling, reducing waste, employee eco-education, and energy efficiency. For more on Home Depot’s environmental profile see their corporate page here.
What does this mean for us? Well, anytime such large organizations commit to a project it sends a message to competitors. In effect, as alpha-retailers they are declaring that the corporate status quo is to be environmentally proactive. Competitors will have to step up to eco-business practices. In the end it is up to us, the consumer, to prove that we care about green through our purchases. It is up to us by using our wallets as our votes, shoring up those stores and companies we support, and avoiding those we don’t. I try to always shop locally…sorry Wal-Mart and Home Depot.
Let’s look at facts. Wal-Mart’s 2006 profits were nearly $85 billion. Green shouldn’t be an option, it should be mandatory. Home Depot’s profit in 2006 were nearly $30 billion. Ex-CEO Robert Nardelli resigned in January with a $210 million severance package. Suddenly, $100 million over a decade! doesn’t seem that ambitious. These are corporations that have the resources, the political strength, the ability to make some serious changes, but they are stopping short of their true potential, patting themselves on the back prematurely with grandiose press and marketing tools based on small-fry spending for the environment.
But, it remains up to us, consumers. We drive their profits, and so we decide what direction companies take. Let’s put some money back into the pockets of our local communities, let’s buy sustainable products, let’s stop buying SUV’s that get criminally low gas mileage. Oh, and please, let’s stop buying bottled water.
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A friend recently asked us to define the term “Sustainable.”
What was a rather simple question stimulated 4 hours of debate – a likely result for three people who have devoted the past 3 years to an endeavor that is centered around the concept.
We will not recount the evening of rants and flying objects below. Rather, some thoughts…
To be sustainable is to consciously and systematically strive to improve our environmental, economic and financial future for an individual, family and community. Sustainability reaches beyond our personalized actions. To be sustainable we need to educate, share and empower others to participate in the environmental and economic savings. Sustainability revolves around the idea of spreading the word, gathering the masses and creating avenues for positive change in order to make a lasting difference. Individually each of us is a drop in the bucket. Together we make a splash. This is the importance of infusing the ideas of sustainability into a community movement.
The discussion moved into a debate about the difference between “green” and “sustainable”.
Green connotes environmentally friendly attitudes and actions, but it fails to emphasize a long-term relationship between us and the environment. In addition, key to the concept of “Sustainability” is economic sustainability, and the understanding that many environmentally positive actions are associated with financial savings. Sustainability speaks to the idea that “being green earns you green,” and every unit of energy saved has an economic benefit. The new green awareness is inspiring , but to sustain it’s momentum it will have to be more than an upper-middle class cause.
We then touched on the linkage between “sustainability” and “organic”, “local” and “natural” products.
Organic once meant locally, small scale production goods. This is no longer the case with agribusiness realizing large economies of scale with mass-organic production, while reaping the price premium at the register. Locally produced goods should be championed, both from an environmental and financial perspective. Environmentally, local goods require less transportation, less packaging and less waste. Financially, locally produced goods keep financial benefits and jobs from the production process flowing back into the community (For an excellent read on this subject, see Bill McKibben’s, “Deep Economy.”)
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We vote for candidates to represent our concerns on the local and national levels. There are obvious shortcomings to our political system, but really it is the illusion that this is our only means of affecting change and the abdication of personal responsibility that is most problematic. Whether we like it or not, our consumer driven society puts much of our power in our pockets rather than our votes.
The products/services we purchase and our patterns of consumption send hundreds of signals every day about our preferences and willingness to pay for various environmental, social and health related attributes. For instance, by buying “Organic” Milk or “Cage-Free” Eggs we suggest that we care about health, the environment and are willing to pay a dollar extra for them.
There are myriad problems with this system, most notably markets tend to commodify our concerns and force us to pay a premium for them. This among among many other reasons is why unfettered markets are absolutely inadequate. On the other hand, there are just as many if not more opportunities related to the nature of our consumption where we can both express our preferences and save money in the process. Making sure to switch the lights off at night and the AC during the day, saves money and tells the utility that we don’t need them to invest in additional power plants and transmission lines which result in higher electricity rates and unnecessary emissions.
We complain about feeling powerless, but the truth is, as we move further into this “MY/I” world, we have an opportunity to empower ideals and affect change. That is, if we choose to take responsibility for our choices. Otherwise, “My/I” will continue to be an effective opiate for a disillusioned generation.
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In the gym, on the subway, at the restaurant, in the home…Just a few of the million spots we see our health crazed, consumer-driven generation toting around our other appendage: bottled water. In 2005 we Americans consumed over 8.2 billion gallons of bottled water, accounting for sales of nearly $11 billion, according to the Beverage Marketing Corporation. Worst of all, that represents a disastrous amount of energy, essentially wasted in the production, transportation and disposal of plastic bottles. “It would be like filling up a quarter of every bottle with oil,” says Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute.
But, bottled water is healthier for us, right? Not necessarily. According to an MSNBC report, 25% of bottled water is simply re-processed municipal water. In addition, the federal standards for municipal level drinking water are more stringent than those for its bottled counterpart.
A standing ovation to likes of Alice Waters and her ban of bottled water at the tables of much renowned Chez Panisse, her Berkeley, CA restaurant. Back east Joseph Bastianich and Mario Batali’s Del Posto in New York is also chasing away the bottle frenzy: kudos.
So, the moral of the story is, let’s move out of the dark ages and into the sustainable age. We should be carrying around reusable containers for our water needs. Start saving $2 every time you would have chugged a Poland Spring and simultaneously avoid another quarter-bottle of oil from being burned to make that bottle. The same goes for water’s cousin, coffee, but we will save that topic for another day.
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I was cleaning out my mother’s garage with my ten year old daughter. Thirty years of living and indiscriminate storing of the no longer ‘useful’ has overwhelmed the space originally designed to house two cars. My mother is no pack rat, but in her desire for cleanliness she has the tendency to take things lying around the house and pile them away in a place out of view. Hence the garage of yesteryears’ discard-ables.
Like an archaeologist excavating an ancient city, my daughter examined the contents of the garage in attempt to uncover the mystery of our lives. She is not old enough to really understand what has happened in the past 15 years and grasp how much things have changed. She has seen movies and heard stories, but for the most part my mother’s garage might as well be an ancient roman city.
She was holding a box of Swiffer mop replacements, which to my amazement were still completely intact in their individual polymer wrappings, when she asked the question that best characterizes our generational gap: “Daddy what was this for?”
I answered: “These were disposable mop heads that some people used to clean with. They could only be used a few times before you had to throw them away.”
As she always does in response to my explanations to this question, she shook her head in confusion.
It is impossible to explain the need for 95% of the goods we consumed in the 1990’s and 2000’s and how we were able to manufacture a need for all of them at the time. There is nothing one can say that would justify this behavior to a generation that now sees waste as obsolete and the environment, both physical and social as the only measures of progress.
Those of us that were of age during the height of hyper-consumerism have lived through two completely contrasting eras: “The Great Waste” and “The Great Recovery”. We were the ones that changed the course. We were the ones that disrupted our path towards self-destruction. But as the revolutionary fervor has subsided and we settle into this new era we must now live through the environmental and psychological consequences of what we forever ignored.
My mother’s garage is emblematic of all that was wrong, but cleaning it with my daughter reminds me of how far we have come and how close we were to not making it.
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If you are like me and most people in America, you would not have heard of John Doerr before reading this post. However, you will remember the name from today onwards after watching the video below. John is one of the country’s most successful tech-space venture capitalists with Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield, and Byers. His successful company investments include Google, Netscape, Amazon, and Sun Microsystems to name a few, and he now sits on the board of many a Fortune 500 tech company.
But for me, John is very much a hero because of his involvement in the Green Tech space and his campaign for environmental chance. John recognizes the immense potential in the environmental space, both for socially responsible action and financial profit. The video below speaks largely for itself, and so I’ll stop rambling now. At MakeMeSustainable we have been pointing to the “green is green” phenomenon for some time; but, you don’t have to take this young entrepreneurs word for it…listen to John. It is 20 minutes well worth watching.
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When are we going to wake up and smell the money? Let’s forget the marketing and branding potential for a few minutes (I’ll get to that later). How about we look at just the real, hard savings from taking a few small sustainable actions. I frequent numerous coffee shops around my area, and one thing always strikes me: waste. Wasted paper, disposable cups, and wasted energy. The following is the walk through of my coffee run this morning, concentrating on how this particular coffee shop can help themselves and help us all in the process. Next time you are at your local java spot, have a look around and see if you can’t
- The door is propped open, and as I walk in I’m hit with a blast of air conditioning. Every excessive degree of AC work is responsible for approximately 1/2 ton of carbon annually. I estimate keeping the door open accounts for a five degree temperature change, or a 2.5 ton carbon swing. Most importantly, with energy at about $0.11 per kwh, every reduction is money in the bank. I’d estimate a total savings of $150: if you live in Florida double that.
- As I approach the counter, the woman in front of me walks away with a cardboard tray of coffees and several bags of baked goods. One tray, four cups, four lids, four stirrers, sugar packets, two bags (with wax paper inside the bags) and napkins. Use four reusable mugs and everyone wins. We eliminate copious waste, the woman’s coffees stay warm longer, and the business owner cuts down on inventory (so they can incentivize the customer with a “mug discount”).
- I get to the counter, order an iced coffee (I love my mug, for personal and ecological reasons), and a scone. The barrista grabs the scone with the ubiquitous wax paper and is about to place it in a bag when I tell him it is to stay. I look around and 75% of the people in coffee shop are eating bagels and croissants out of paper bags. Using reusable dishware cuts down on waste and inventory, not to mention it’s much more pleasant to eat off a plate then out of a bag.
- Looking up and around, there are about 30 lights in the establishment between table lighting and ceiling lighting. Every single one is incandescent. The day has come for that to be criminal…sorry to the doubters, the lighting quality is equal now, CFL’s are dimmable, costs are dropping. Oh yeah, and every bulb my coffee shop switches out will be responsible for about $25 of savings annually, or $750 annually for 30 lights. No brainer.
- Without being long winded, here are the rest of the issues that could be addressed at all of our local coffee shops: Newspaper/bottle/can recycling, leaky sinks, electronic thermostat, bring-your-own bag/mug discounts, refillable sugar containers, and my all time biggest peeve, bottled water…I hate bottled water.
I’m not suggesting solar panels, geothermal pumps, or hydrogen powered vehicles. Just simple changes for your Gourmet Perks that can make a difference, both for the environment and the wallet.