Certifiably Certifiable

Greenwashing has been a concern for quite some time. Determining the genuine “sustainable DNA” of a company or product is often complicated and confusing.

I ran into my own questioning during a recent trip to Portland while grubbing on some seriously delicious fish at Bamboo Sushi. Not only is the food outstanding, but Bamboo clearly has an unparalleled commitment to sustainably provided seafood. (excepting,

Moving Toward Contextualized Consumption:

ecolabels_300

of course, my homies at Salty Girl!). But here is the quandary: when a menu is riddled with the marks of “free-trade”, “organic”, “Monterrey Bay approved”,  farm-raised (or not, depending) FISH, how do consumers decipher the actual impact of their purchases?

We need to provide context for consumers and create consolidated, meaningful certifications. They may provide indicators that demonstrate decoupled production from resource consumption, or maybe demonstrating how increased production links to enhanced social metrics. Companies like Method, Patagonia, Apple..you know the ones…can work across product, process and service to provide clarity around what a sustainable product means. B Corporations are creating a dynamic consumer environment of the future.

In the meantime, it is promising that these companies are driving toward sustainable production internally. It is also a testament to the value of strong sustainability programs that these vanguards produce the best of the best. Don’t believe me? Head to Portland for a dinner out!

Renewables Suck Part III: Even Hoosiers Get the Blues

Full disclosure: I think renewable energy is..the best thing since IPA’s in a can, but I have been writing a few posts that explore the problems that large scale renewables create.

Another issue with utility scale renewable energy projects is that these often occur in areas far from high energy demand. For instance, much of California’s solar electricity is imported from projects in Nevada. As we build large renewable projects, we will also need to build capacity to deliver that electricity.

LMP Map

The map above shows how Locational Marginal Prices, the wholesale cost of electricity, fluctuate according to supply and demand. Each screen shot is a different hourly price of electricity across the midwest. These come from a site that tracks current wholesale electricity prices. These maps are a cool way to spend 5 minutes, and are pretty easy to read: Red= High Energy Costs, Blue/Purple=Cheap or Nearly Free energy.

Looking at the maps, you can see how the wholesale price of electricity changes throughout the day.That is, for most of the region. The cool blue spot in Indiana stays the same…no matter what happens around it.

The reason for persistent cheap energy in western Indiana is that three windfarms (Hoosier, Fowler Ridge, and Benton City) generate a great deal of electricity, but the transmission capacity hasn’t caught up to the generation quite yet. The electricity quite simply can’t be shipped to locations of demand. If they could offload that electricity to areas of higher demand, it would balance the costs throughout the region.

Credit where it is due: this insight came from Joel Cervelloni at Opower. Check out their really interesting work with energy reductions.

Renwables Suck Part II: Size Matters

Desert TortoiseI am writing a few posts that explore problems associated with renewable energy.

One serious issue of utility scale renewables is the vast amount of land required to build them. Not only are most of our renewable resources in remote locations that require new transmission lines, substations and telecommunications, but those locations are often undisturbed, fragile ecosystems.

For instance, the map above (go ahead and zoom in!) illustrates the tale of two generators. Both are in Blythe, California. Both are approximately 500 MW of electricity. However, the (proposed) solar field is about 3 miles long and 5,000 acres while the natural gas plant is about 50 total acres, 100xs smaller. The actual location of the natural gas plant is southeast of the solar field, but I have overlayed the footprint to illustrate the size difference. (If you are on a mobile device, or just want to play with the KMZ, you can download here.)

Climate change is the potentially the most serious environmental issue we face, and solar will be part of our solutions, but, think of the poor turtles that are homeless in Blythe.

Also, this…is pretty bizarre.

Renewables Suck: Part 1

California has a mandated target of 33% renewable energy procurement by 2020 (excludes large hydro). This pie chart is the state of the union…er…republic. Right now, we are floating right around 20%.

The next few posts will discuss the problems that renewables are creating and the hope that they provide.

Here are a few items on the agenda:

I missed the bus…

Hopefully for Kriss and Kross, missing the bus may be something that none of us have to “never ever ever do again.”  Thanks to mobile-apps that work as real time ride aggregators, group transportation on linear, fixed routes may become a thing of the past. Yaygo, a start up out of Berkeley’s Haas Business School is working on an app that adds your location to a van’s route with the touch of a button. People with similar locations and destinations are aggregated along the ride, creating an ad-hoc carpool. Programs like this may put an end to the days of empty (or overpacked) bus routes rolling through city streets and have the potential to alter how we think of public transportation.

In the meantime, getting schwasty-faced in San Francisco just got a little easier, and with increased van-pooling, it may become a little more sustainable too! 

Local Fare: Santa Barbara

Locavores would be hard pressed to land in a better place than Santa Barbara.  There are plenty of local fish markets and everybody knows somebody whose avocado tree won’t stop. (my own backyard has figs, avocados, oranges and clementines).  The farmer’s markets are always flush with great food too.

I just wanted to take a second to hype a few friends and their ventures into providing local options for food.  Pacific Pickle Works hand packs fresh, local, in-season produce with some ah-mazing flavors. If you have any compassion for your next bloody mary, find a way to get a spear of Pacific Pickle Work’s asparagus into it!

On a more “do-it-yourself” note, another local Santa Biz, Santa Barbara Aquaponics,  installs food “ecosystems”-both hobby and commercial scale.  Aquaponics is a combination of aquaculture and hydroponics, so you essentially raise fish while growing lettuce (or whatever other hydroponically grown plan you may want…like…tomatoes). It is really one of the more intriguing things I have seen in a while. These systems are definitely worth a look!

So, if you are lucky enough to live in the area, give these guys some love, and if you don’t…book a trip! I got plenty of avocados…

 

The Spppoooky Truth About Halloween Costumes

So, my friend Ryan Smith joked that, in choosing our costume, we should elect for the most sustainable option this year.  The sppoooooky truth about most of what we wear, however, is that the vast majority of clothing’s environmental impact comes from the use phase, not from materials or production.  The Danish Ministry of the Environment published a paper that examined the impact of textiles across a wide range of impacts, including toxicity, ozone formation, nutrient loading and…

ENerGY consumption. The table below represents the impact of each phase of textile life cycle, and, as you can see, owning clothes is much, much more intense than buying them.  Good news for H&M, bad news for the environment. (As a side note, it makes me very curious about whether or not Levi’s recent movement to re-purpose used bottles as jeans will actually reduce environmental impact…)

So, what can you do to save the environment while scaring up some candy? After you wash out whatever jello-shot-snickerdoodle-lipstick ends up on your (hopefully purchased second-hand) shirt….hang it on the line instead of throwing it into the drier.

 

 

 

Carrot Mob!

This weekend I attended a carrot mob at Telegraph Brewing. The event was hosted by Santa Barbara’s CEC and a portion of all sales were committed to sustainability upgrades for Telegraph’s new building. They will be installing a “cool roof” (reflects heat rather than transmitting it into the building).

Pretty awesome to see a showing of 100 or so folks supporting sustainable business with a carrot instead of a stick!

Pedal Power!

If you ever are lucky enough to grab a Graham Cracker Porter at the Denver Beer Company, take a spin on their malt crushing bike! The gears are connected to a mill that crushes specialty grains that add flavor, color, and yes, booze to beer.

According to a study by the Berkley National Laboratory, pumps, drives and motors  consume a great deal of a brewery’s electricity (this does not account for natural gas, just electricity). So, although the bike is primarily novelty, it is displacing an energy intensive process. If nothing else, as my friend Pete said: “It’s good to know that we will still be able to make beer after the apocalypse.”

As a bonus here is a graph of energy use by process:

and a bonus-bonus, here is a graph that shows energy intensity per unit of production. (Coors!?!?!)