Category: Environment


How Much is Enough?

For many years we have all heard about the threat of peak oil, energy security, climate change and pollution.

These global problems are just symptoms of a larger, overshadowing problem and all the symptoms can be solved with one solution.

The Overshadowing Problem:  Materialism and Conspicuous Consumption in America

We have become obsessed with lavish spending on goods and services acquired mainly for the purpose of displaying wealth and status. But material things do not bring anyone happiness in the long run. We should rediscover that happiness doesn’t come from what you own, but what you do.

The Solution: Minimalism

Not to the extreme meaning of the word, just living within your means. Create a lifestyle that brings you happiness and purpose. Maintain a life where satisfaction and success are measured by the things you do, not what you own. Between the combination of credit cards, conspicuous consumption and the accessibility of home loans, we have created the idea that happiness and success come from material things. But the truth is, it doesn’t.

Think about all the things we buy that give us instant satisfaction, but these things do not contribute to our happiness in the long run.

Former president Jimmy Carter once said during his ‘Crisis of Confidence’ speech in 1979, “Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns.”

Effects of Minimalism:

  • Energy and Resource Conservation. If we only demand and buy goods that improve our standard of living and quality of life, less energy and resources will be used in the production process. If we bought what we needed and not what we wanted, energy would be conserved. This would have a huge impact on the energy crisis, energy security and climate change. Resource conservation can directly reduce deforestation and depletion of natural resources.
  • Address Climate Change. With less energy and resources used in the production of goods, carbon emissions will decrease.
  • Switch from Manufacturing to Services. Some might suggest that with less manufacturing, jobs will be lost. I propose that jobs in manufacturing switch to the service and technology industries. Yes, people in manufacturing will loose their jobs, but training programs and placement should be provided in the switch to technology and service industries. Economists call this restructuring of the economy creative destruction. Restructuring of the economy will occur and the economy will be stronger and robust in the long run. Careers will be created to solve today’s problems and discover innovative solutions. These workers will be extremely valuable and will provide a new wave of indispensable workers in America.
  • Waste Reduction. If we consume what we need instead of what we want, fewer goods will be produced and ultimately less waste will be produced. We can significantly reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills, water bodies and the environment.

Why should you care?

Be part of the solution, not the problem. Think about your lifestyle and what makes you happy.

Is it material things or spending time with family and helping others?

What are you contributing to your neighborhood, city, nation and world?

My Advice:

  • Do what makes you happy. Volunteer, cook with your family, write a book, start a blog.
  • Consume what you need, not what you want. Buy things that improve the quality of your life, not just instant satisfaction from material things.
  • Have a purpose. Create a life that helps others, the environment and reap the benefits of happiness and satisfaction throughout your life.
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Many of us know eating fresh fruits, vegetables and staying away from processed fatty foods are part of a healthy lifestyle. So why do Americans maintain unhealthy eating habits?

People make choices based on their preferences and typically select the choice that derives the highest amount of satisfaction. Economists call this satisfaction utility. If we assume all people are rational, then people will select the choice that maximizes utility. When it comes to food, its hard to give up the cheeseburger for a healthy alternative.

Let’s face it. Fatty, salty and sugar filled foods just taste better. Our taste buds have developed over many decades to crave the fat, salt and sugar in our diet. Since we enjoyed it so much and it gave us instant satisfaction, unhealthy yet tasty food became the center of our diets.

Fast food is well…fast and easy. Today Americans work longer hours and have little time to prepare and cook food. So the simple solution is to eat processed and packaged food. For many of us, time is money. We sacrifice maintaining healthy diets for quick and easy meals. Sometimes these meals come in the form of a drive-up window or a frozen pizza.

Low quality processed food is cheaper. Buying poor quality processed food costs less money than buying fresh produce. Less time is spent on food preparation and cooking.

With these reasons, its no surprise why Americans have unhealthy eating habits.

But eating processed and unhealthy foods have huge costs. There is a tradeoff between eating unhealthy foods and adverse health effects that range from diabetes to cancer.

Here are the Stats:

According to a new study, mortality from obesity eventually “may result in a decline in future life expectancy.”

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that 18 % of teenagers are overweight.

Overweight adolescents have a 70 percent chance of becoming overweight adults.

The percentages jump significantly higher for adults.

According to the CDC, 67 % of adults are overweight or obese.

Ultimately, the food choices we make every day are leading to adverse health effects and eventually decreasing life expectancy. For the first time, parents may have higher life expectancies than their children if the obesity trend continues.

These stats signify the immediate need for a food revolution to not only eat healthy foods but to save lives.

Jamie Oliver has started the food revolution to educate and Americans about food and cooking. The first step in the food revolution is to serve healthy and unprocessed foods at all schools in America.

Sign the petition to keep processed foods out of America’s schools.

Food Revolution Solutions:

Where does your food come from? Many people, including myself cannot always answer this question. Knowing where our food comes from is both informational and will lead to healthier eating habits. People are usually afraid of things, ideas and foods that are unfamiliar. If Americans grew some of their own produce or at least knew where it came from and how it was produced, we would most likely eat better quality food and fresh produce.

If we were more connected with our food, we would appreciate the process and environmental systems that are involved with food production. We would have a greater appreciation for the food we eat and the environment.

The potential positive side effects of the food revolution might possibly be renewed environmentalism in America.

Become a chef. Cooking your own meals is healthy for your whole family and usually saves money in the long run. Many processed and prepared meals at the grocery store cost a lot more than making it at home. For example, ever seen the frozen pasta dishes in the freezer isle. You can make the same pasta and other dishes at home for a fraction of the cost, calories and fat. Cooking Light Magazine shares recipes that feed 4 for under 10$.

According to Jamie Oliver, “Switching from processed to fresh food will not only make you feel better but it will add years to your life.”

For those of you reading this, I urge you to take a second look at the food you eat. Next time at the grocery store take the time to choose unprocessed and healthy foods. Make your first stop the produce section. Read ingredient labels.

Rediscover food culture. Many Americans do not associate dinner and food with spending time with loved ones. We are a country of immigrants and behind every family is a history of food culture. If we value family time then preparing, cooking and sharing dinner with family could rediscover our unique food culture.

This weekend take the time to cook your own meals and eat them at the table with your family. Don’t know what to cook? Cooking Light has 20 easy recipes that take 20 minutes or less to make. So what are you waiting for? Get cooking!

On Friday April 16th, Western Washington University’s Economics Association will be hosting a comedy show featuring Yoram Bauman, the world’s first and only stand-up economist. If you want to learn more check out his website at www.standupeconomist.com.

Last year during my environmental economics course at Western Washington University, I had the opportunity to attend Bauman’s comedy show. If you enjoy economics and comedy, I truly recommend attending the show, but if you can’t watch this video instead. Enjoy!

When: Friday April 16th 8pm
Where: Western Washington University (Bellingham, WA) CF 115
Why: It’s FREE! Attend the show to maximize your utility while minimizing costs.

Can You Define Sustainability?

Growing up in the 90’s I never heard the word sustainability. Come to think of it, I had never heard of sustainability until my freshman year of college at Western Washington University. I was always familiar with conservation, recycling and pollution, but never used the term sustainability.

Key Sustainability Events

Environmentalism in the U.S. started in 1969 with the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) whose purpose was to “foster and promote the general welfare, to create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony and fulfill the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations.”

Beginning in April 2001, preparation for the World Summit for Sustainable Development (WSSD) to be held in Johannesburg, South Africa took place at the local, national, sub-regional, regional and global levels.

In March 2009 the Copenhagen Climate Council, an international team of leading climate scientists, issued a strongly worded statement: “The climate system is already moving beyond the patterns of natural variability within which our society and economy have developed and thrived. These parameters include global mean surface temperature, sea-level rise, ocean and ice sheet dynamics, ocean acidification, and extreme climatic events. There is a significant risk that many of the trends will accelerate, leading to an increasing risk of abrupt or irreversible climatic shifts.”

Before these key environmental events, sustainability was not in the vocabulary of mainstream America. It has only been recently that environmentalism has spread to mainstream America. But how many Americans actively value the environment? Do their actions reflect environmentalism?

Developing My Environmentalism

My love and respect for the environment was developed during family vacations to the Grand Canyon, Arches National Park, Mesa Verde, and numerous sailing adventures through the San Juan Islands in Washington. Early on I discovered that the environment was irreplaceable, yet magnificent. Back then I just saw the beauty, but the environment also provides many ecosystem services that cannot be recreated or reproduced by humans. Despite my family’s love of nature, I never new about sustainable living, the principles of new urbanism or climate change.

Even though environmental problems existed and affected my life, I never knew. As a teenager I never thought about CO2 emissions released from driving my car, or the amount of my garbage that ended up in a landfill. During my first year at college, I learned about the environmental problems that face our world today and potential solutions to these problems. Renewable energy, green building design and environmental economics were suddenly intriguing and I wanted to be part of the solution. I started taking courses in geology, oceanography, energy and resource economics. I recently graduated with a B.A. in Economics and a concentration in Environmental Studies. My goal is to work in the environmental field to contribute to solving environmental problems with innovative solutions.

But this is just my story. Many Americans do not highly value the environment. This is possibly the reason why I never heard about sustainability until I was an adult. We just don’t talk about sustainability enough. Why is environmentalism not a key American value?

Potential Problems with the Use of Sustainability

Do people know the meaning of sustainability? How many people can define sustainability?

Is there one true definition? Does this word, because of its many meanings lead to public ambivalence?

Does using the term sustainability harm environmentalism?

Solutions

  • Instead of approaching sustainability with a feel good method, it is more important to get attention by taking the opposite approach. Create pragmatic ideas to get the discussion started. Once people become passionate about a situation and understand the consequences, they will become active participants in the environmental discussion and the problem solving process. The most efficient way to plant environmentalism into mainstream America is to get the attention of the public by creating and maintaining an environmental discussion.
  • Anchor improving lifestyle with environmentalism. For change to happen, the focus can no longer be just about the environment but also needs to be about improving the lives of people. Sustainability should encompass the economy, environment and equity. Sustainability needs to include improving neighborhood connectivity and advocating healthy lifestyles. In order for people to care about the environment, there needs to be a strong link between the environment and how their life can improve in the process.

Comments and discussion are welcome. Hope you enjoyed the post!

Yesterday, while at Savannah Technical College, President Obama shared more details for the “HOMESTAR” program. The program is designed to boost investment in energy saving home improvements and create green jobs in the process.

Current unemployment in the construction sector is near 25% and this new program will increase demand for installation services and energy efficient products.

Key Elements to the HOMESTAR Program:

  • Direct rebates to consumers. Consumers will receive direct rebates from vendors when they invest in energy saving home improvements. These rebates will be given to consumers at the time of sale and will be reimbursed by the federal government. This part of the program will work much like “Cash for Clunkers” program.
  • $1,000 – $1,500 Silver Star Rebates. Investments in insulation, duct sealing, water heaters, HVAC units, windows, roofing and doors will be eligeble for 50% rebates, up to $1,000 – $1,500. These are minor upgrades, but will make a significant difference in energy consumption.
  • $3000 Gold Star Rebates. For more extensive upgrades, homeowners can receive a $3,000 rebate. To qualify, households would undergo an energy audit and achieve 20% energy savings. Energy savings over 20% would qualify for additional rebates.
  • Certification and Oversight. Contractors must be certified to perform energy efficient installations.
  • Financing Support. State and local governments will provide financing options for energy efficient investments. This will make investments in energy efficiency more affordable.

The White House states the program will create, “Tens of thousands of jobs while achieving substantial reductions in energy use – the equivalent of the entire output of three coal-fired power plants each year.”

On average, homeowners should expect to save $200 to $500 in energy savings per year.

A recent post on Fastcompany.com by Jamey Boiter asked the question, “Can brands launch sustainable campaigns without being accused of greenwashing?”

But, I would like to take this question one step further and introduce the public. How can the general public prevent greenwashing?

Recently, there has been an incredible amount of large corporations getting on the green bandwagon. But, is it greenwashing? Is it just marketing to boost profits or are companies really dedicated to sustainability?  What are companies’ incentives to ‘go green’? How should we, the public, hold greenwashing companies accountable? How can we discover greenwashing? How can we shape the decision making process for companies to avoid greenwashing?

Solutions:

1. Do your research. Make sure to check product chemicals and materials. Don’t just believe the labeling, read the ingredients list for all natural products and materials. Stick to brands that you know are eco-friendly.

2. Hold greenwashing companies accountable. Don’t buy from companies with history of greenwashing. Chances are if the truth is reflected in the sales, next time the company will not make the same mistake.

3. Be skeptical until proven environmentally safe. If something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Think about the life cycle of the product. Is the product chemical free? Can it be easily recycled? Does it contain post-consumer materials?

4. Be an advocate. Once you have done your research and backed it up with sound science, educate others with your knowledge and wisdom.

Walmart has recently developed a worldwide sustainability index initiative. The objective is to increase supply chain transparency and provide customers with product information. According to Walmart, “With this initiative, we are helping create a more transparent supply chain, driving product innovation and ultimately providing our customers with information they need to assess products’ sustainability”

The initiative is broken down into three steps 1) Supplier assessment 2) Lifecycle analysis database and 3) A simple tool for customers. Over 100,000 global suppliers will be evaluated on their own companies’ sustainability. The key areas of the survey focus on energy, climate, material efficiency, natural resources, people and community. Walmart plans to collaborate with universities, suppliers and retailers to create a database of information on products’ lifecycles, from cradle to grave.

In addition to the sustainability index, Walmart has pledged to eliminate 20 million metric tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from their global supply chain by the end of 2015. This is equivalent to 150 percent of the company’s estimated global carbon footprint growth over the next 5 years.

The sustainability index initiative is one way for corporate companies to be sustainable and avoid greenwashing. Increasing the transparency of products to customers is the first step to check the sustainability of a company. The next step is to hold companies responsible if they do not meet expectations. In the post, Boiter suggests, “They [brand managers] must be students of their consumers to fully understand them.” If a company is debating whether to incorporate sustainability into their business plan, consumers must strongly signal their tastes and preferences for sustainable business practices. The sustainability index initiative is the first step to,” Create a new retail standard for the 21st century.”

What do you think about Walmart’s sustainability index? Should it be the new retail standard for the 21st century? How else can retail companies avoid greenwashing and be sustainable? Please share your thoughts.

Given the current state of the U.S. economy with a 9.7 % unemployment rate in January, it is uncertain when the recession will end. Americans have cut back, businesses have scaled down production and the once rapid growth of the U.S. economy has stumbled. In the midst of the current environmental movement, many people voice that given the recession, now is not the time to spend money on green infrastructure. This post will present a cost-benefit and economic analysis of building green. My goal for this post is to positively add to the decision making process of individuals and businesses contemplating to build, buy and design green.

(Photo by Andre Movseyan/DeMaria Design)

THE BENEFITS:

Positive Return on Investment

According to a recent study, green homes in the Pacific Northwest are outselling their competition in the real estate market. Green certified homes in Seattle sold for 8.5 % more per square foot and were on the market 22% less time than other homes in the same area. This study shows that building green can result in positive net benefits. The study focused on new home sales between September 2007 and December 2009. Despite the recession, it seems that building green certified homes resulted in positive returns to the seller. But, what does the buyer gain from purchasing a green home?

Since green certified homes sold for 8.5 % more than other homes, buyers greatly value the environmental benefits of certified homes. Homebuyers paid a premium for certified homes that encompass renewable energy, eco-friendly materials and energy efficiency. Buyers of green homes believe that the purchase is a healthy and environmentally responsible choice for their family and are willing to pay a premium for these benefits. The value- added non-market environmental benefits of a green certified home are reflected in the higher price.

Save Money on Energy Bill

Photo: Flickr.com

Green certified building use energy efficient lighting. Energy Star compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) use 75 percent less energy and last 10 times longer than traditional light bulbs. In addition, CFLs save money. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, One CFL will save about $30 over its lifetime and pay for itself in about 6 months.” There is proof that Americans use CFLs. The Sylvania Socket Survey discovered, Almost three quarters (74%) say they have switched a light bulb for more energy efficiency in 2009.”

Photo: Green Over Gray

Healthy Living

Green certification checklists, such as LEED incorporate building materials and finishes with low volatile organic compounds (VOCs). LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.LEED is an internationally recognized green building certification system,  providing third-party verification that a building or community was designed and built using strategies aimed at improving performance across all the metrics that matter most: energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts.”

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection (EPA), VOCs are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. VOCs include a variety of household chemicals that cause adverse health effects. VOCs are found in higher concentrations indoors than outdoors (up to ten times higher). Designing, building and buying a LEED certified house will guarantee that you will have less exposure to harmful VOCs. Ultimately, indoor air quality will be improved.

Photo: Flickr.com

Conserve Finite Resources and Climate Change

The picture  above of the Redondo Beach home was made out of eight recycled steel shipping containers. Seventy percent of the building was efficiently assembled in a shop, saving time, money and resources.

LEED certified buildings incorporate recycled and renewable materials along with water conservation and energy efficiency design techniques. Choosing to incorporate Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood and recycled materials will help conserve the world’s finite resources, reduce deforestation and address climate change. Incorporating low flow shower heads, faucets and Energy Star dishwashers will conserve water. Energy efficient appliances, lighting, water heaters  and insulation will help conserve energy and reduce the use of resources.

THE COSTS:

Price/Money/Funding

Green certified buildings have higher upfront fixed costs. The building materials in certified buildings are of higher quality, therefore cost more than conventional materials. Sustainable, renewable and low VOC materials have many environmental benefits and their value is reflected in the higher retail price. Energy efficient appliances usually cost more than conventional appliances, but the amount of energy savings over the lifetime of the appliance might actually be less for an energy efficient model.

The U.S. economy has struggled during this recession and many budgets are being scaled back. Less funding may be available to build green. Priorities are being reconsidered, and for many Americans, putting food on the table is a higher priority in the current economic climate.  Currently, Americans might not value the environment as they once did in times of growth and prosperity.

To achieve LEED certification, the developer must submit an application documenting compliance with the requirements of the rating system as well as paying registration and certification fees. These additional fees add costs to the green building process.

Time

Designing LEED certified buildings may take more time than traditional buildings because there are many details involved to meet certification criteria. Also, the higher LEED certification of gold versus silver will need additional time in the planning process. The strict requirements equate more energy and time will be absorbed during the planning process. To achieve LEED certification status, developers might have to jump through additional hoops compared to the traditional proposal process. There is an opportunity cost of building green. Spending time researching, planning and designing green means there will be less time for other activities and projects. Each individual and company should consider if the time spend on building green creates more benefits than any other activity. Is building green the best use of time, money and resources?

Availability of Certified Materials

Abundant supply of building materials to meet LEED and green building certification might not exist. During the planning process, it may take more time to research and compile the materials needed to meet certification. Local Seattle sustainable design companies, for example, One Earth One Design, provide wholesale materials along with consulting services.

THE CONCLUSION:

According to Environmental Building News, “Even with a tight budget, many green building measures can be incorporated with minimal or zero increased up-front costs and they can yield enormous savings.”

In the end, green certified buildings have high upfront fixed costs, but have lower variable operating costs over the lifetime of the building. Life cycle cost analysis can be done for each project to address the upfront expenditure. “Studies have suggested that an initial up-front investment of 2% extra will yield over ten times the initial investment over the life cycle of the building.”

For existing buildings LEED has developed LEED-EB. Recent research has demonstrated that buildings which can achieve LEED-EB equivalencies can generate a tremendous Return on Investment (ROI). LEED-EB certified buildings achieved superior operating cost savings in 63% of the buildings surveyed ranging from $4.94 to $15.59 per square foot of floor space.

But a problem exists in the cost-benefit analysis.

Calculating project upfront costs can be determined with accuracy, but the environmental benefits of LEED certified buildings can not be monetized. This means that a dollar value can not be easily determined for green buildings. This is the reason for the disagreement to build green. The choice to build green is an individual one. Every person places a different value on environmental benefits. Therefore each cost-benefit analysis will have different results and outcomes. Whether you are making a personal or business decision to build, buy and design green, hopefully these concepts and ideas within this post provide a useful framework.

We want our lives to be sustainable, but sometimes the incentives are just not there. Incorporating sustainable living into your life is easier than you think. Here are some simple ways to utilize technology, save time and money.

1. Subscribe to On-line Newspapers, Magazines and Newsletters

Instead of receiving daily newspapers or monthly magazines, go on-line instead. Websites contain the same information as the publication, but doing so will save paper. Check out on-line editions of the New York Times, Seattle Times or Seattle Magazine.

2. Receive E-Statements

Switch utility bills, credit card bills and bank statements to E-Statements. You will receive your statement on time and will reduce the chance of it getting lost. Also, instead of writing a check, spending postage and time, pay your bills with an E-Check.

3. Use Email

By using email, you can save paper, money and time. Next time you think about sending a letter through the mail, choose email and save postage and paper in the process. Also join no junk mail lists to cut down on unwanted advertisements.

4. Say Hello with E-Cards

For the next birthday, holiday or important event, send an E-card instead. Americans send 7 billion cards per year. Producing a ton of virgin paper requires 20 trees. There are also many E-card companies that offer free cards. Save trees and send an E-card. Planning a party or event? Send invitations via Evite.com.

5. Stop Clipping Coupons

Sign up for E-coupons and check out your local weekly store ads on-line. This will allow you to research the weekly sales and organize shopping trips. Combining multiple shopping trips into just one will reduce your dependence on gasoline.

Here is a trailer for the series Design e².

“e² is a critically acclaimed, multipart PBS series about the innovators and pioneers who envision a better quality of life on earth: socially, culturally, economically and ecologically.”

Watch the season one first episode “The Green Apple”

The first episode begins in New York, a city that is leading the charge to green its industrial skyline with several groundbreaking projects. New York combats the urban myth of the bustling city as a “concrete jungle.” “The Green Apple” explores some of Manhattan’s most prominent and technologically advanced structures like One Bryant Park and The Solaire, as well as the innovative minds behind them. The episode illustrates how the ubiquitous skyscraper can surprisingly be a model of environmental responsibility.

Think outside the box

Get creative with alternative methods of transportation. Whether its renting bicycles for an adventure through the city, kayaking to pristine beaches or skiing through alpine terrain, try something new and discover the culture outside tourist hot spots.

Use local public transportation

When traveling, utilize the city’s trademark public transportation. In New York take the subway. San Francisco use the MUNI, street and cable cars. Seattle hop on a ferry to the San Juan Islands. Every large city has a public transportation system, take advantage of it during your travels.

Here is an interesting fact:

“20 percent: Carbon monoxide emissions saved if one in five Americans rode public transportation daily; the savings would be greater than the combined emissions from all chemical manufacturing and metal processing industries.”

Do your homework

Before you go, do some research on hotel locations, attractions and events near by. Finding accommodations near attractions, museums and restaurants will allow you to walk or take a short transit ride. Smart location is an essential part of reducing CO2 emissions and will save time and money too.

Discover the world on your feet

You never realize how beautiful and interesting a place is before you use your feet and start walking. Traveling the world in a car or plane allows you to miss the true character of the places you go. Our dependence on cars reduces the time spent exploring the world.

For example, living in Seattle, I used to mostly drive from place to place and never realize what was in between. Recently, I decided to put my car keys away and walk through my city. Downtown Seattle has so much to offer to pedestrians, from boutiques to unique coffee shops to wine bars. There are an endless supply of museums, shops, restaurants, theaters and bars within walking distance in Seattle.

Just last week I took the bus to see “South Pacific” at the Fifth Avenue Theater. From the theater was a short walk to shopping at H&M and dinner at Pike Place. After dinner I ventured a few blocks down to the Seattle Art Museum to see some amazing installation art. Discovering the true essence of Seattle was only possible for me by walking through the city. Every street has its own story to tell and unique character. Walking is the most valuable way to explore a location and truly enjoy your vacation.

What would you add to the list? Do you have examples from your travels?