What is…the buzz about sustainable palm oil?

December 15, 2010 · Filed Under Alternative Energy, Environment, Events, Green, Guest Posts, News

Ahhh, the renewable resource conundrum. How do you really deter

mine the renewability of a resource? By rate or regeneration? Availability? Potential to re-grow? Monetary investments to ‘renew’ it? Natural balance?

Palm Oil, the latest explosion on the renewables market came under scrutiny for being a root cause of severe deforestation. Greenpeace and other environmental groups internationally protested specific companies that were harvested palm oil in unsustainable methods. In a twofold act, there was a push to make palm oil sustainable to help secure the growing market for palm oil as well as to provide a viable long-term product. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) formed to help provide guidelines based on a scientific understanding of the natural thresholds and best practices for harvesting palm oil.

The buzz? The Netherlands has publicly committed itself to be the first Country to use only sustainable palm oil by the year 2015. Companies have in turn been dropping Sinar Mas as a palm oil supplier after Greenpeace’s attacks on its questionable practices that may have led to severe deforestation. Among those companies Nestle, Cadbury, and Kraft were quick to drop the company. More progressive companies are themselves committing to responsible palm oil sourcing including Seventh Generation and General Mills.

Photo Credits 1 and Greenpeace.

The Road Powered By…The Sun?

December 6, 2010 · Filed Under Environment, Green, Guest Posts, News, Solar

With the Autobahn in Germany and the US’s extensive highway system who would have thought that Italy was actually the first country in the world to build motorways? Completed in 1926, the road from Milan to Lake Como, or the A8 was the first true motorway. Well, the Italians are at it again with the advent of the World’s first 100% solar-powered motorway!

What is a solar-powered motorway?
Good question! I did quite a bit of digging to truly understand the concept, and it is quite revolutionary. Focused on a reduced environmental impact for the long-haul for both the ecological system and the human system, the roadway will boast the newest innovations in energy, safety, and construction. This motorway, the Catania-Siracusa, is the first large-scale integration of major infrastructure and distributed power generation. It will feature 80,000 PV panels along the road that will power the lights, tunnel fans, road signs, emergency telephones, and all the services and street furniture. The PV cells are hoisted in 3 artificial tunnels on the road and are estimated to produce 12 million kWh on an annual basis. This will reduce an approximate 31,000 tons of oil and 10,000 tons of CO2 emissions annually. WHOA!

The additional ecological efforts included “the planting of thousands of trees and plants, improving existing tree lines and hedges, and increasing the extension of local woods.”

How far along are they?
The construction portion is complete and is scheduled to open to the public in January 2011. 1/4 of all solar panels were installed and operational at the end of September, and their steady progress has continued. To date they are expected to finish on time. Although the Italians have a little bit of experience in this sector having built out solar panels along the A20, Messina-Palermo motorway, totalling 368 kWp to provide electricity for all of the building located along the 183km motorway. They have also done a similar project near the Alps.

These are quite impressive numbers and efforts made for long-term sustainability through out Italy. Now if only we can learn from their efforts and do the same when our “season of Road Construction” starts up in the US after the winter months.

To learn more about solar-powered roadways, check out the Matter Network’s article.

Where do you think we should build solar-powered roads in the US? Have you heard of the Idaho man who suggests building roads WITH solar panels in place of asphalt? Now that is turning roads into truly productive and usable spaces.

Photo Credits: Reverberi Italy

Has Facebook Gone Green?

November 12, 2010 · Filed Under Alternative Energy, Green, Guest Posts, News

Phew! The heat WAS on Facebook for awhile after getting into a public debate with Greenpeace about utilizing coal-fired plants to power the social networking behemoth. In response (kind of), Facebook has launched several eco-friendly campaigns and efforts to combat their not-so-pretty energy sourcing.
Taking Control with a Green Page

Amidst the waves of information and mis-information, Facebook has created their own “Green” Page to assist in communicating their environmental efforts as well as providing global environmental news from a variety of sources. Treehugger, Greenbiz, and other mainstream environmental news sources’ articles are re-posted on their page. Thus far there are around 18,000 Fans or people who “like” the page. They highlight their programs including recycling and composting efforts (a reduction of 294 tons of CO2 emissions), reducing their water consumption by almost 60%, lighting updates that have saved enough energy to date to power 330 homes for a year, and their green transportation program that offers shared rides to their employees. They also tout some of their energy and techie-geek improvements including a new photo storage program that has uses 20% less energy than their former solution. Not too shabby.

Partners from Greener Pastures

They are also getting smart and teaming up with organizations who know quite a bit about eco-friendly living and solutions. Their partners include the Alliance to Save Energy and Digital Energy Solutions Campaign. The Alliance has launched a website titled “livingefficiently.org” for consumers to learn more about energy consumption and quick tips (of course it is nothing compared to the Pays to live Green’s blog ;)). These partnerships are helping Facebook gather the information they need for effective action in the eco-sphere along with increased credibility after being blasted by Greenpeace.

The Language of Eco-Geek

So being the techie-geeks they are, Facebook’s internal geniuses came up with a new language that cuts the number of servers needed in half. It’s name? HipHop…perhaps a bit comical when the stereotypical picture of a computer geek, but we like the “hip” connotation it has that things are progressing and moving forward. The good part other than for Facebook is that they are providing the language on the open sourcing networks to share the energy-savings (and of course who wouldn’t want to invent the next BIG computer language?).

Playing Nice

Well, Facebook may not have made any friends at Greenpeace recently, but they are taking their learnings to the streat and are working to share best practices with others in open platforms so companies and individuals alike can learn something from Facebook’s efforts.

So despite Facebook’s recent investment in a coal-friend power plant, they are getting a few of their green ducks in a row, persay, and moving in the right direction to help set an example for what is possible in the realm of online behemoths.

Photo Credits: Green Peace.

Unhappy Californians Boot the Happy Meal

November 8, 2010 · Filed Under Alternative Energy, Food, Government, Green, Guest Posts, Health

The (in power) people of San Francisco have spoken. Out with the Happy Meal! Almost…

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance that requires any restaurant that includes toys with a purchase to meet specific nutritional guidelines. This continues San Francisco’s distinct lead as the most legislatively progressive City in the United States. After banning plastic bags, requiring all government run offices utilize non-toxic cleaning products, and putting a standard into place that all new government construction must be LEED certified, the people in power in San Francisco continue their visionary practices.

Despite McDonald’s claims of persecution and targeting, the ordinance is applicable to all restaurants that include a toy with purchase that do not meet specific nutritional guidelines. The ordinance has been under consideration for awhile, and restaurant industry groups as well as individual companies like McDonalds have been fighting its passage into law.

Why an Ordinance on Meals with Toys?

Childhood Obesity

The overweight and obesity numbers in the United States are staggering. Sadly enough, 15% of the children in the US are either overweight or obese. An atrocious and unhealthy jump since the advent of fast food. With a variety of factors playing into these numbers, it is difficult to pinpoint a true culprit. Perhaps that is because this epidemic that threatens the health of tens of millions of Americans has a large span of “causes”. Cheap food (with a high true cost to our health, environment, and human rights in developing nations), chemically-simulated food experience (read Omnivore’s Dilemma to read about how through a manipulation of the senses, chemists can make any piece of food trick your senses), and American’s distinct lack of exercise relative to other developed nations. The numbers threatening the lives of children have become such a large concern that the health care industry is has significantly increased their charges, and the health and fitness industry have significantly increased their range of products and enrollments for extreme cases of weight loss.


Now, the Ordinance that was passed actually does not “ban” anyone from selling food, it requires that they meet specific nutritional guidelines in order to provide a meal with a toy. The Ordinance goes into effect December 1st, so restauranteurs have a small bit of time (and plenty of previous notice prior to the vote) to get their new toy-included meals in nutritional order.

Direct-Marketing to Children

Direct marketing to children has been banned in many locations, and there are a few legislative actions that have been put in place to reduce this type of marketing. The first major and successful attack on direct-marketing to children came from the TRUTH campaign and others targeting cigarette companies like Philip Morris with the idea that if the companies target them, the ‘children’ or young adults have the right to target the companies right back. Although meals with toys may be marketed to a younger group, less vocal and action-oriented to fight their plastic toy that comes with their meal, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors took it upon themselves to protect the children. Some individuals believe that these types of regulation also help give power back to parents and guardians as the decision-makers during a time when the market is flooded with “wants” and “new things” to tantalize even the most well-behaved child.

The Details (honestly)

As stated earlier, this was not a direct attack on McDonalds but instead on an unsustainable and unhealthy practice within ALL food establishments. By creating standards that are clear and accepted by nutritionists and doctors as acceptable for healthy meals, not just happy meals, the government has taken children’s health upon themselves.

The nutritional requiremenst are…

  • Calories: Less than 600
  • Sodium: Less than 640 milligram.
  • Fat: Less than 35 percent of calories from fat; Less than 10 percent from saturated fat (with exception for nuts, seeds, eggs or low-fat cheese).
  • Fruits & Vegetables: At least half a cup of fruit or three-quarters of a cup of vegetables

“This is a challenge to the restaurant industry to think about children’s health first and join the wide range of local restaurants that have already made this commitment,” Mar said.

And it challenge it may be for some restaurants to truly adhere to these standards.

Will My Happy Meal be Banned?

This legislation was passed within the City of San Francisco. There has been little talk about other Cities, States, or the Federal government following San Francisco’s lead. That said, if McDonalds and other food establishments with toys as part of meals want to stay in that market, they will have to adapt. If the larger companies adapt, and smaller businesses can share their lessons and transitions to healthier meals, then there is little reason not to adopt the healthier standards. If the framework and advice from similar businesses is available, why not take advantage of it?

Did they go to far?

Companies like McDonalds are claiming discrimination and that the San Francisco government has gone too far. Is the regulation of the industry fair? Well, that can be a pretty subjective discussion. What is important is that it is legal, and the intent behind the regulation was not to discriminate, but to address a growing epidemic of childhood obesity that threatens the lives of our future changemakers. In fact, the issue of childhood obesity has grown into such a health threat in the United States, that First Lady Michelle Obama, and world famous Chef Jamie Oliver are making very public efforts to bring nutrition, proportion control, and education back to food for children in the US.

What do you think? Do you think the San Francisco government went too far, or that we as a nation haven’t gone far enough to address this critical health issue?

Photo Credits:
Last Happy Meal

Epoch Times

Solar Power to Go Down in Price?

October 22, 2010 · Filed Under Green, News, Solar

The solar company 1366 Technologies has finally received enough funds to bring their process of producing solar wafers at a fraction of their current cost into production. The Direct Wafer manufacturing process in which they developed could help bring the cost of producing solar panels by almost 80%.

The current process of producing solar wafers contains several steps. Not only is this a lengthy process, but a good portion of the original silicon is often wasted during the process. Both factors contribute to the higher cost. The Direct Wafer on the other hand avoids all these steps and converts silicon directly into the wafers. A wafer can then be produced in as little as seconds.

The plan is to start making silicon wafers in 2012, start selling them to a major Chinese solar manufacturer. They could then make their way to the US approximately a year after that.

Let’s hear Frank van Mierlo, CEO of 1366 technologies explain this process.

This sounds like a really promising process that could help bring the cost down so that using solar energy can compete with cheaper sources of energy.

Solar Panels Planned For White House

October 7, 2010 · Filed Under Government, News, Solar

Interesting news just came out on Tuesday that the Obama administration has plans to put solar panels and a solar water heater on the White House.  This move is drawing heavy praise from the solar industry.

Rhone Resch, president and chief executive of the Solar Energy Industries Association, had this to say about the move:

Putting solar on the roof of the nation’s most important home is a powerful symbol calling on all Americans to rethink how we create energy

I have to agree completely with this statement and in high support of the move.  The White House uses a large amount of energy annually and there is lots of space on the roof to accommodate solar panels.  Also, the President will no longer just praising renewable energy without actually using it.  The White House will now be running off of clean renewable energy.

What’s even more interesting is that Obama was not the first President to think about Solar Energy for the White House.  The history of solar panels on the White House actually dates back to the Carter Administration.

Video by Newsy.

The solar industry is also pushing to have solar panels put on government buildings across the country.  The hope is that this move will encourage others to begin thinking about renewable energy or at least support it’s future. Let’s hope that this move can in fact do that and help stimulate the renewable energy market.

Is Wind Energy Not Worth The Investment?

August 26, 2010 · Filed Under Environment, Green, News, Wind

Robert Bryce from the Wall Street Journal thinks that wind energy could actually be causing more carbon emissions than often advertised.  Bryce found research that suggests because wind is not a consistent source of energy, coal plants have to pick up the slack.  The research found that it requires more energy to start coal fire generators than if left running.  Hist entire piece called  Wind Power Won’t Cool Down the Planet can be found on the Wall Street Journal.

Not Thinking Ahead

The major flaw with Bryce’s argument would have to be the fact that he is only thinking about now, without looking ahead into the future.  Wind may be the most popular now, but there are so many other sources of energy that we can invest in that could help us eliminate our need for coal and oil.  I may be a little naive, but I would hope that America would one day rely on only renewable and clean energy sources.

That could be 50, 75 or even more than 100 years down the road.  The fact is that we cannot continue to rely on the current sources of energy that we are without causing further damage to our planet as well as shortage of those sources.  The only way we are going to see long term reduction in carbon emissions is if we keep investing and continue to incorporate wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable sources available to us.

The cost of investing in renewable energy is high at the moment, but it could help reduce future energy costs.  Research can also be done now to help reduce that cost and help make it more efficient in the future.  The cost will be drastically reduced and electricity can be generated a higher percentage of the time.

Another point that he brings up is that natural gas is a solution we should consider.  There is enough natural gas to meet our needs, but what happens when that runs out?  It’s only a matter of time before we have to go back and start considering renewable energy sources again.

To answer the original question of this post: Yes.  Some of the points that Bryce brings up in his article are valid.  People may be pocketing incentives from the government and wind energy is currently expensive.  The major problem is that all solutions we currently have are only short term.  We need to continue investing in renewable energy and get over these initial speed bumps to one day be using a source that will not leave us in a bind in the future.

What are your thoughts?

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