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.

Got Milk? Got Hormones?

October 21, 2010 · Filed Under Environment, Food, Guest Posts, Health, News

Who wants the unruly hormones of a teenager? How about a big dose of them in your glass of milk? For quite a few years now rbGH, or genetically modified bovine growth hormones have been slipped in your milk without even a notice. When dairy farmers found out, they tried to label their milk as “rbGH-free”. A term that Monsanto, a genetic engineering and agriculture company, almost got banned. They tried to make it unlawful for companies to put that label on their milk. Why? Because it could cost them their bloated market share of profits from rbGH milk.

What are Bovine Growth Hormones?

When companies focus on profits, not their product, their is room for error and maltreatment of not only animals but the end product. RbGH and its genetic counterparts were created to trigger the hormones in a cow that occur after they have given birth. Why? So they produce an excessive amount of milk. Simple business economics then step in. More milk from one cow means more profits, more profits mean cheaper prices, which mean a larger market share, meaning higher profits. If only the reality of that circle was accurate.

What is the risk associated with rbGH ingestion?

While still under-researched due to great efforts by Monsanto, the risks are starting to become exposed. The highest? Cancer. If you are at risk for any sort of hereditary cancer, immediately switch to milk labeled as either ” Certified Organic” or “rbGH Free”. Associations including the American Public Health Association and the American Nurses Association have publicly demoted the hormone-induced milk as a cancer risk. There are several other potential health risks associated with this milk. This is not to mention the risks of drinking milk from cows living in unhealthy conditions. Many cows who are fed hormones repeatedly are unable to stand on their own because their udders have become so swollen from the excessive milk production. Companies have designed ways to force them to stand, ways to re-strap their udders, and other less than pleasant solutions to something whose real solution is to get rid of hormones all together.

So get educated, and buy certified organic or hormone-free milk. These farmers care more for your health and the welfare of their animals than the large corporations such as Monsanto who have quantified in place of qualified their products.

Bottoms up on this wholesome treat, hormone free I hope.

Photo Credits:

Photo 1 and Photo 2

The FTC Cracks Down on Eco-Labels

October 19, 2010 · Filed Under Environment, Government, Guest Posts, News

Fall is in the air, and the FTC is back at it again. The oversaturated “green” market is getting a little bit of a kick from the FTC again after the Bamboo Scandal in February of 2010. The Federal Trade Commission has decided to regulate the terms many big brands have started to use in promoting their products as a green as can be.

Why the Crack Down?

This regulatory body’s efforts to reinforce meaning in the green marketplace has come after a sea of over 300 third-party certifications have been created and big brands can’t market anything without a little eco-twist. The FTC has said that their interest comes from their responsibility to hold companies responsible for the claims that they make on their packaging. A lesson learned by several retailers after the FTC exposed them as selling Rayon in place of Bamboo.

Is it Good or Bad for Consumers?

It is too early to say. As for now, it should be a good transformation from random claims and strategic names of “The Eco Window 2000″ which has nothing to do with being eco-friendly outside of its name. As for the 300+ third-party certifiers, this information may come a little too late. Since the United States government has failed to regulate many products and claims the same way other developed nations have over the past 20 years, third party certifiers emerged as a solution to a growing problem in the US. They provided information and security in eco-claims. Now, the new FTC guidelines may make some of these certifications irrelevant, or they may even conflict with the new guidelines.

Where are these Mysterious Guidelines?

They are listed on the FTC’s website as: Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Campaigns found here. Check them out for yourself.

So the good news is that the US government has belatedly started to regulate environmental claims, and hopefully as third party certifiers with worthy certifications come to understand the new rules, they will work together to solve the discrepancies. It looks as though this may be the first significant step they will make in stopping the greenwashing game through regulation.

Photo Credit

What is…Slow Food?

October 14, 2010 · Filed Under Environment, Food, Health, News

We are starting a new series of “What is…” to help fill out our collective eco-friendly vocabulary. Today we are taking a look at Slow Food, the opposite or counter revolution to Fast Food.

The Slow Food movement is typically accredited to starting in Italy. Italians love their food, and when they heard McDonalds was coming to encroach on their traditions, a Slow Food revolution started in 1989. It is about embracing your food, where it comes from, and the rich culture that surrounds food.

They believe that:

Everyone has a fundamental right to the pleasure of good food and consequently the responsibility to protect the heritage of food, tradition and culture that make this pleasure possible.

To date the non-profit organization has over 100,000 members worldwide and growing. If you would like to learn more check out the Slow Food International’s website.

Photo Credit.

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.

The Bed Bug Epidemic

October 6, 2010 · Filed Under Green, Health, News

Bed bugs have been a hot topic recently.  They are no longer only in our beds or hotels, but now being found in the workplace, movie theaters and even in schools. With their resurgence, people are taking desperate measures by beginning to use dangerous chemicals to get rid of them as they did many years ago. There are other safer and more natural solutions that can help us fight against these pesky little bugs.

Bed Bugs

Photo by {link:http://www.flickr.com/photos/bahkubean/1223665489/}Mandy Jouan{/link}.

Prevention

Though bed bugs do not carry disease and only cause skin irritation, they are still a pest that you don’t want in your home.  Once bed bugs infiltrate your home, fighting against them can be extremely difficult.  By taking a few measures, you can avoid getting them in the first place.

Cleanliness

By making sure that you bedding materials are cleaned on a regular basis can help prevent these creatures from making your bed their home.  If you leave sheets on your bed for weeks without cleaning, it can be a breeding ground for these creatures.

Second Hand Items

I have mentioned several times about buying items from consignment shops to save a little money and get more use out of a perfectly good item.  When buying items, especially furniture, do a quick inspection on the items to make sure they are free of bed bugs.  If there are signs of an infestation, you may want to avoid the item or make sure it is free of bed bugs before bringing it into your home.

Keep Items Off of Bed

Whenever you go anywhere, avoid just throwing your clothes on the bed.  If you clothes have bed bugs on them, it will make it easy for them to make their way onto your bed.  Hang clothes that you plan to wear again and just avoid getting them in contact with your bed.

Traveling

Make sure to be extremely careful when traveling that you don’t bring them back into your home.  Keep all of your items off of the floor and properly inspecting your bed before sleeping.  If you do think that you may been in contact, throw all of your clothes right into the washer and inspect all items you bring back into your home.  Also, try doing a quick Google search before picking a hotel to see if the hotel has a recurring problem of bed bugs.

Foam Bedding

One way that some have thrown out there is to get natural latex bedding.  They say that latex and other foam beddings are too dense for bed bugs to live, making it resistant to these bugs.  Though bed bugs can still survive, it’s not as habitable as traditional mattresses.

Natural Pest Control

No matter how much we try, beg bugs still make their way into our homes.  The normal reaction is to call the local pest control guy and have them exterminated with chemicals.  The problem with fighting them in this manner is that bed bugs have built an immunity to many of the chemicals we are using to get rid of them.  And on top of that, do you really want to expose your family to dangerous chemicals?

The most popular method mentioned that can help eliminate bed bugs is to use extreme temperatures.  Bed bugs cannot survive in extreme cold or hot conditions.  A common way mentioned is to use a high pressure steam cleaner to clean the infected areas.  The best way is to contact local pest control experts and find out if they provide chemical-free solutions similar to companies like ThermaPureHeat.

Say “Adios” to Slash and Burn

September 20, 2010 · Filed Under Environment, Guest Posts, News

Sash and burn farming is employed all of the World, typically in third world nations clearing land for a more profitable outcome than rainforest or bush. One of the biggest instigators for slash and burn farming is cattle. Recently the Rainforest Alliance and USAID launched a Standard for Sustainable Cattle Production Systems. It is designed to be a catalyst for more sustainable cattle practices, specifically in Latin and South America. The voluntary standard specifically focuses on solid environmental, social, and animal-welfare practices that can earn them the “Rainforest Alliance Certified” seal of approval.

What is Slash-and-Burn Farming?
Slash and burn farming has been growing like wildfire (sorry, bad pun) especially across Central and South America. As the Amazon and other previously remote, inaccessible, and forested areas become more open and accessible, the local people and foreign companies are harvesting as much as they can out of the land and the people. Slash and burn is a technique typically employed by poor individuals native to a country that are trying to find a way out of poverty. They “slash” the growing things like plants and trees, some harvest them for money, and then they “burn” the ground to clear the way for animals like cattle that can provide them a better income. The problem? First the biodiversity and habitat native to the area are completely demolished. But more importantly, this type of farming promotes increased deforestation. Since the land is burned it is only good for grazing cattle for a short period of time. It also leads to increased greenhouse gas emissions and often the animals are treated poorly. Lastly, it doesn’t provide a stable income for the individuals doing the farming, but it provides them with something.

Why Is This Important?
The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 26% of the Earth’s surface is used for pasture land for cattle, and that cattle account for 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions.  Slash and burn farming may not be able to be stopped completely, but if farming practices are significantly improved to become more sustainable, it should reduce the amount of land that will be lost to deforestation and contributing to ghg emissions. Also of great importance is teaching and providing a more sustainable livelihood for the native people of these countries in an ever-changing world.

What Does It Entail?
This is the first tropical sustainable cattle standard that is voluntary. It is available for cattle farms in Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania. According to the Rainforest Alliance, this certification only applies to farms where cattle have access to pasture and relies on integrated management systems, sustainable pasture management, animal welfare, and carbon-footprint reduction. It works in conjunction with the Sustainable Agriculture Standard and was partially developed in Coasta Rica. The process included over 130 organizations from 34 countries as well as workshops throughout Central and South American countries. It received it’s International Standards Committee approval in July of 2010 and will be rolled out soon.

What is the US’s Role Now and into the Future?
Due to CAFTA-DR’s Environmental and Labor Excellence Program, issues like this can be addressed in a more open, voluntary, and secure way. Now CAFTA is not perfect legislation, but under this agreement it can help better secure, promote, and support more sustainable ways of treating the environment. The hope is that by obtaining the seal, these farmers will have a more secure and stable market for their cattle in the United States and possibly abroad. A security that is not typically offered for slash and burn farmers focused on making ends meet in an increasingly globalized and monetized world. Only time will tell if the farmers will accept, implement, and reap the benefits of sustainable farming practices or if it will put them at an economic disadvantage that pushes them further toward the more environmentally destructive practices.

What Can I Do?
Let’s support this international, multi-sector effort and see how it plays out. The Rainforest Alliance has been aggressively working to get their certification system in place, noticed and respected. Eco-labeling is still a bit like the Wild West, you never know who will win out in the end. But you can be assured that once this label hits the marketplace, it should gain a serious amount of credibility. This type of work is never easy, simple, or without its flaws. But that never means it’s not worthwhile.

Cheers to work being done on an international scale!

Slash and Burn Photo Credit.
Lungs of Earth Photo Credit.

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