Thursday, November 29, 2007

F3: Taking a step at a time....

I've been going a little reflective in these past few posts, so it's time to get back to action. I haven't had a five for footprint (F3) post in awhile. To recap, F3 is an effort to reduce your average personal carbon emissions by five percent. The idea is to think in terms of doable steps. Now five percent may seem like a lot until you think of it another way and that's 1 day in 20, or about once a month don't drive to work. I've covered some suggestions such as telecommuting, carpooling and bicycling in the past. So what else can you do.

Well one step that has been suggested is walking to work, but to be honest that's a tough sell. Most people don't live within walking distance of their work unless they are self employed, and usually that's to the next bedroom. One of my favorite blogs is My Open Wallet has a post on a site called Walk Score where you enter your address and it calculates a "walk score" to tell you how walkable your neighborhood is. Mine is a little above the middle at 51, some walkability but it's no pedestrian paradise.

If you can pull it off, walking to work is amazing. But short of that, living in a place where you can meet your needs without taking your car is a nice experience. I know that when I was going "solo" as a "consultant" it was nice to have friends meet me for lunch down the street at a local restaurant where I could take a break from working. It's definitely a contrast to driving in a car for an hour.

What prevents most places from having a decent walk score is how governments zone land use. Most places do not allow for a corner store anymore, because it would depress property values. Though oddly, a look at most places reveal that the walkable places with mixed use are the most expensive. James Kunstler covers this eloquently in his book Home from Nowhere He is often vitriolic and sometimes not polite, but he is amusing in making his arguments.

I'm not sure that walking to work will be realistic, but creating walkable places close to home is a first step, and sometimes a call to action can only happen one step at a time.

Resurrection Technology

I work in a particularly faddish field. technology prides itself on bigger faster replacing what came before. in that way we are no different than fashion. i was just at my parents digging for some thing i had stored at their place and found boxes of floppy disks from multiple generations. they still have utility but barely. is progress the accumulation of the past.

it's got me wondering could we create new technology to reuse the old technology. is there resurrection technology to infuse new life in to the old. a '57 Chevy and '67 Mustang in mint condition, is there a way to make a '81 PC more than landfill?

There is a movement (perhaps, too strong a word) spearheaded by O'reilly's Make Magazine that specializes in presenting ideas to repurpose products for new uses. Often the products are new, but they can be old too. There is a blog on Make Culture that has some funny things.

Some of the unexpected items that are reused can lead to some stunning results. I'm not a handbag person (can't you tell), but I can imagine getting this of a handbag made of old candy wrappers.

The Wall Street Journal in an article on green gifts describes it as:

Made from repurposed candy wrappers, this handbag from Ecoist is nearly sold out at, $98. But similar bags are available.

Not quite cradle to cradle, but still a culture of imagination in the items around us. It's what makes great cooks is that they see new ways to use common ingredients, the same applies here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Economies of Elegance...

people decry scarcity but in a world of plenty it makes you ask yourself what do you really want. we are told we want everything in a cheap world. but if everything you own is cheap what do you value? Think about it, when food was scarce, a Rubeneque figure was the ideal of beauty, in a world of abundant food, rail stick thin became a sign of beauty (ok maybe sometimes societies overshoot in different ways). in a world of too many goods, why is profligate spending and consumption the norm instead of refined taste and priority?

in design we speak of blessed constraints that force elegant solutions. could we create an economy of elegance?

imagine you have a huge opportunity to move somewhere you really would want to go but there's a catch there is only room for half your current lifestyle. What stays and what goes with you?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

do you have a hula hoop?

Well I'm back from my Thanksgiving break and made it back. While I was visiting my parents, I had an opportunity to do some holiday shopping, or at least some holiday window shopping. It got me thinking about how every season, the pundits in the business press try to figure out what the must give gift of the year. Is it electronics, a cabbage patch kid or a TMX Elmo or an iPod. You get the pictures.

It got me wondering which of the "must gives" remain an active part of our lives. It's not universal, since everyone has gifts that they like. But it is fascinating to see a product capture the Zeitgeist of our times. It's amazing how small differences in a product can make a huge difference in the way we use it. I have a 2nd Generation iPod that I infrequently use. It's more for collectible value right now than anything else, however, I have a 1st Generation iPod Nano that I use all the time, this despite the fact that it has less space. I'm debating whether to buy a new one with more memory, it's not essential but would be nice to have. So the iPod was a "must have" that really mattered. I wonder about things like toys which are more novel than have utility.

I find it interesting that we spend a lot of time (and money) trying to figure out the perfect gift for that special person. how odd that that that special gift ends up being so general when we get the must have. We get caught up in the must have to stand out that we end up looking like everyone else.

i think back on all the fads and fashion disasters of the past. i think of the hula hoop and those films of the past where everyone had to have one. who has a hula hoop now? how many hula hoops are there in landfills? And will we still be wearing Crocs for a long time?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Giving Thanks

I head out tomorrow back to Colorado for Thanksgiving and this will be my one time out for the holidays, as I'll be skipping the Christmas holiday break and staying in California. I think it makes sense as Thanksgiving is more about getting together and showing gratitude to those close to us and those who matter. I'll be taking a few days off from blogging, though I may be sneaking in a post if inspiration strikes.

Since I'll most likely be watching endless hours of "Food Network" as my way of relaxing (a treat in moderation) or stuck entranced in a "Law and Order" marathon, I wanted to put out a pre-post Thanksgiving post. It's interesting that while Thanksgiving day is about giving thanks, the next day is the start of the holiday shopping season where the focus is on giving stuff.

I've alluded in my posts the link between consumption and it's impact on the environment. It's not just the energy in making the stuff, it's all the impact of disposing it, transporting it, packaging it, marketing it. A lot goes on, and I know that much of the current economy is based on that model. But if we want to go Carbonfree, we need to rethink how we show our love and caring during this season.

The best way to rethink, is to literally RE-think, or RE-member gifts from the past. Think about in seasons past what things have given you the most happiness. It probably wasn't always what you thought it would be. It's also a good time to ask your loved ones, not "What do you want for Christmas?" but "What presents in the past have you really enjoyed?" since it'll give you an idea of how to give gifts that matter to them over the long run, not just what's in their mind today.

I'm going to close on a somewhat tacky note, and that's the idea of RE-gifting. Is there anything that you have that you don't use anymore that's in really good condition. An iPod that doesn't get used much, or a video game that sits in the closet, or even a non-electronic gift like an old backgammon set. Consider giving those away to those who will use them.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

It's the network.....

I love that this blog is a great way for me think voice what I think are some new thoughts on the notion of reducing our impact on the earth while maintaining a good life, even if it is a different life. But as much fun as it is for me to pontificate and shout out about the blog, it's great when it become a virtuous cycle, and that's when comments lead to cool ideas. Reader Green Bean comments about spreading the message in a constructive way, in it she talks about starting a Green Book Club. What a great idea, so I figured I'd highlight it here. Green Bean's comment as part of the network of conversations.

It got me thinking what are Green Books that have influenced my thinking, Edward Abbey is often cited, but that seems cliched. I'll detour and suggest a book that isn't overtly green but talks about the human condition and that is Albert Camus's The Plague". What do we do in desperation, and how humanity can rise above.

What are green books, what does it mean to be green, is it about the composting, or is it about an attitude of take only what you need and leave enough for renewal? Or is it capturing a thought or moment that says, we live in our own world there is no other? Looks like I'll be revisiting my library.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Beantown goes Carbon Free

Or at least the Boston Globe does, a friend of mine sent me a link to this article on strategies for commuters to drive less. Some of them like ride your bike will be familiar to regular readers. However, there are some interesting things I did not know. For instance, for newer cars, letting your car idle more than 10 seconds, It's actually better to turn it off and restart. But only if your car was built after 2002. They have other tips. Definitely worth a quick read.

There are other great stories, Meaghan O'Neill's 84 Ways You Can Help the Planet has a lot of really interesting facts. Many of the tips seem counter-intuitive. For instance it is better now to use your dishwasher. Another really interesting way to get involved is through Green Drinks, happy hours for a happy earth.

Many of these things on these lists are changes of life, and than others are just finding alternatives. I'm going to be washing my clothes, so it's great that my landlord installed high efficiency clothes washer and dryer. No change in how I do things. Things that we have to do actively will be tougher, so consider moving closer to your job, or change your job to be closer to your home.

Like I was saying....

A few days ago, I had a post about reasonable discussion and identifying what facts would change your mind.

I'll close on when to debate...For those adherents to any position, including our own. The question to ask, what facts or events would lead to a change in one's position. If the person cannot respond with a reasonable response, then you cannot discuss meaningfully with that person. Those people have ideologies, and you can't change their mind. To quote (though attribution is dubious) John Maynard Keynes "“When the facts change, I change my mind – what do you do, sir?”"

Imagine how depressed I was to read the NY Times dotearth blog post titled ‘Dangerous’ Warming Still Undefinable to White House and realize that any progress is futile. I hate to get political on this blog, but this current administration has always started with the end in mind, and ignored the facts. I welcome a difference in opinions, but only if it's possible for one to change one's mind.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Selling the Science and not sounding shrilll

The United Nations just published a depressing report on the risks of inaction on climate change. The New York Times Article gives a good summary. The gist of the report is "we're all in this together" which sadly reminds me of the film Brazil by Terry Gilliam, about a dystopic world which is well dystopic. The developed world needs to figure out a way to reduce it's emissions and provide an alternate path for the developing world. Hypocrisy alert while I take a break from getting ready to drive a lot of miles to go to a winery, and while adding that, I just bought a plane ticket to head to my parents for the Holidays. And that hypocrisy is the point, even the best efforts of the aware (and I'll give myself a few points for that) can't mitigate that normalcy right now is damn hard to reduce our carbon footprint. Systemic technologies will be needed.

So back to my point of this post, the paper sounds dire, the paper sounds scary, the paper sounds shrill. This week, I participated in a corporate reorg which is de rigeur in corporate life. This one is interesting in that the engineers are in charge, not bad I get what they are trying to do. But in the communications, they ended up annoying a bunch of people. And that's what I fear the fact based approach to climate change is doing. It's not accident that Al Gore a non-scientist has been the most effective at getting the message out.

We need to sell the science and the technology, and that may mean that we need a more rounded education. The technology is there, but the creators tend to look at the communication arts in the same way that an English major looks at E&M. This blog is about spreading the word, or more documenting it as I still don't have the platform to spread effectively. I need to comment on other blogs and build traffic. But the risk is that we echo chamber.

So I leave with a rhetorical question. What does the science and green community need to do to sell without being shrill. Aside from hot models talking about global warming, I'm at a loss.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Never let them see you sweat -- or try not to.

These past two weeks, I've tried to be more conscious about how much I drive to work. I have the luxury with some advance planning to not have to drive to work. There are exceptions when I have after work activities, but in general I can get away with either riding my bike to work or taking mass transit. However both those modes require some adjustments.

When I bike to work, depending on the weather, I can show up to work a little sweatier than I'd like to. And when that's the case I have to bring my work clothes with me an grab a shower. No biggies, we have a gym with towels and other amenities. It just means I have to leave for work a little earlier. (I often drive to work when I'm running late -- not great in the morning about planning).

If I take mass transit, I have to walk and allocate some extra time to get to the stop, and to walk from the stop to work. Again, needing a little extra time. Did I say something about not so hot on the morning planning.

So I decided to try an experiment, what if I rode my bike to the light rail, put my bike on the light rail and rode from the stop. Both ends, it's short enough that I won't get too sweaty. So far not too bad, but still lugging the bike around isn't always so convenient. Thinking about experimenting with one of those folding scooters. Just need to score one from freecycle.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Built to Last or Bought to Trash?

That's a term I learned from American Public Media's Marketplace radio show's special called "Consumed" The premise of the show explores our economy's model of growth based on consumption and whether it is sustainable. It asks, is our need to have more a disease, where does our trash go? It explores the disposable assumption of many items that were once meant to last a lifetime or at least a very long time.

For example, H&M and Ikea (interesting that both are Swedish companies) specialize in items that are meant to slowly deconstruct begging for new stuff. It's cheap so it doesn't matter. How does that alter the way we look at what we buy, it is built to last, or bought to trash.

If you get a moment, give it a listen or read.

Monday, November 12, 2007

I love it when it stops raining....

Because then Kendra Stanley can turn those rain jackets into grocery bags. The San Francisco Chronicle has this story about how Stanley is taking old raincoats and making them bags for shopping. San Francisco earlier this year passed an ordinance banning plastic disposable bags. If you are interested in seeing someo of her unique creations visit for details.

An initiative I am trying to do at work is get us to stop giving away T-shirts at work and consider offering canvas grocery bags. Morningstar Trading offers canvas bags made of recycled materials for their bags. The bags can be imprinted with marketing material. You can't skimp, buy the ones with the fold flat bottoms.

On the subject of bags, it's great to see that the hipster groceries like Whole Paycheck, erhm Foods, Trader Joe's and even Safeway O is for Organic, are selling reuseable canvas bags. Now if I could only get a Wegman's reusable bag. It's neat to see them all over the farmers markets where people are bringing them.

When the "Capitalist's Tool' talks about being green...

Today, the Wall Street Journal has a report on ways to go green. Frequent readers of this blog are already aware of many of the tips listed. But it's nice to see it in a mainstream paper that is well regarded by the right. The WSJ validates green living tips as not being limited to a bunch of tree huggers.

One of the frustrations of the green/anti-green debate has been a focus on costs instead of efficiencies. Capitalist systems tend to reward those systems that are more efficient. Using less energy and resources to accomplish something is usually markets tend to. Unfortunately we do not live in economic worlds, but socio-political ones and the notions of power (political, not energy) and interests distort things toward inefficiencies. I've talked about externalities in the past. The nice thing about this journal report is that it highlights things are are more efficient and less costly. An example:

And compact fluorescents won't cost you an arm and a leg. In California, for instance, utility rebates and volume discounts have driven down the cost of a four-pack of 25-watt compact fluorescents to about $2 -- versus $40 or more for the 100-watt equivalents in 1999. Prices have gotten so low that some compact fluorescents pay for themselves in energy savings the first month.

I'll close on when to debate...For those adherents to any position, including our own. The question to ask, what facts or events would lead to a change in one's position. If the person cannot respond with a reasonable response, then you cannot discuss meaningfully with that person. Those people have ideologies, and you can't change their mind. To quote (though attribution is dubious) John Maynard Keynes "“When the facts change, I change my mind – what do you do, sir?”"

Saturday, November 10, 2007

"What ever you do, don't cross the streams"

Single stream or multistream recycling. This is the dilemma that municipalities deal with in the Hamlet of the Garbage dump, "to sort or not to sort" The San Francisco Chronicle has this article on composters struggling to make cleaner compost free of contaminants. How do you struggle to get people to sort their trash, sometowns have given up and just pay service to do it for them.

Is the solution instead to make sorting unnecessary? Can we come up with machines that do it? Or do we take the "Cradle to Cradle" approach where waste becomes the raw material for the next product?

Recharge, Recycle, Re-something else (lack of words)

Trying to understand batteries and the endless different types will cause anyone to go apoplectic. That's the experience of the author of this NY Times Article trying to decipher the advantages and disadvantages of different batteries. Including their eco-value. In the article there is this section on how to find resources to recycle batteries.

One thing everyone agrees on is that all batteries should be recycled, and most communities offer battery recycling sites. For rechargeable batteries, you can log onto, or call 1-877-2-RECYCLE (1-877-2-732-9253) and find the location of a local site that collects rechargeable batteries, including those in laptops and cellphones.

I've moved to rechareables for my computer's wireless keyboard and mouse. Looking for places to cut down on charge. Also trying to find devices that have AC adapters support in addition to batteries for things such as label makers etc.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Welcome "My Open Wallet" readers....

Greetings readers coming from Madame X's "My Open Wallet" blog. I hope that you spend a few minutes to look around and become convinced that wisely spending your green can be green as well.

Is it a surprise that when you don't waste that you are you also kind to the planet. If you self propel, you save money on gas, you save money on doctors and you feel better.

For those personal finance types, this blog started off as "Carfree in California" when I lost my car due to an accident. I decided to live car free and it lasted for about 8 weeks. I have a car, but now I drive less, buy less gas and have more money to save, invest and buy what I really car about. Feel free to leave comments.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Shut up and show the way....

A frustration with the current hipsterism is thinking that being aware of being green is enough. Part of it is that the whole global warming problem is so huge, that we hope someone will fix it Or we lament that it's too hard to reduce our carbon impact and we wish that people would do something to make it easier.

I'm going to break it to you, the reason that we are so wasteful is that it's easy. We've built an entire infrastructure to make it easy to be wasteful, it's going to take a long time to build an infrastructure that makes it easy to do the right thing. But it is possible to do change things, that's what's called leadership. So time to start leading, show people it's not that tough.

Show people that doing five for fiveprint didn't cause you to lose that promotion.
Show people that taking care of the earth is taking care of yourself and show off that hot bod that results.
Show people that you don't have to hide rows of ugly trashcans, because you only need one.
Show people that you can change and so can they.

It's going to be challenge, yeah it is. You wouldn't want it any other way.

So if you find yourself bitching and whining, shut up and lead the way.

Green Sweet Home

It's nice to know that you're green, it even helps if someone says you are. The Wall Street Journal has an article on the different certifications for buildings to be rated as "green". The cost of these certifications aren't cheap, and while fantastic for their marquee value for high profile buildings, it may not make sense for an individual to pursue. Since much of the certification comes from what building materials were used, it can be worse off to retrofit since you'd have to lose some of the existing materials.

Other forms of peace of mind are available, since the goal is that you are as green as can be. Some tips to make your home more Carbonfree.

1) Reduce the consumption of electricity and gas in your home. Can you insulate rooms better, have you sealed openings that cause a draft. Do you have curtains that can seal in heat during winter nights? CFLs and LEDs can help too. Do you have appliance you no longer use plugged in. Little things like that can reduce the energy used to heat your house and reduce carbon emissions.

2) Are you using products that use post-consumer recycled materials?

3) Remodel with sustainable products. If you put in a hardwood floor, consider alternatives such as bamboo.

4) Consider living with less square footage per person. Sarah Susanka in the Not So Big House series of books covers more efficient ways of using space so that less is more.

There are many ways to certify yourself green that will be obvious without the seal.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Making the invisible visible...

I recently attended a lecture which described science as "making the invisible visible." It's a nice phrase, since it embodies so much of what is progress in our history. Most of the great advances in medicine came from understanding the role that invisible microbes play in making people sick. People now instinctively are more hygenic as they understand what causes illness doesn't have to be something they see.

The New York Times has an article called The Carbon Calculus that describes pricing fuels based on their contribution of CO2 to the atmosphere. This pricing is in economic parlance an externality. Any cost that is not directly captured. Beyond greenhouse gases we don't accurately capture the cost of automobiles in things such as road costs, health costs, etc. It really can be too much.

Other things to consider is the cost of other items, such as mentioned in the article is wine bottles. The argument that glass is heavy and costly but plastic bags and cardboard is actually better.

This notion of capturing the carbon cost is a good way to make the invisible visible.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Retrogrouch Reader....

Or how to procratinate from writing software. In my last post I mentioned Grant Petersen who use to be the Marketing Director and now run Rivendell Bicycle Works. For long time cyclists, Petersen can be described as being just a wee bit opinionated, maybe divisive, often controversial, but always good for a thought provoking quip. I was looking for a decent reference in Wikipedia, but instead got caught up in a few of his old interviews.

One interesting article came from the Dahon website titled What they don't tell you about Bicycle Commuting and it's spot on. Petersen has no interest in guilt trips or even noble causes, just an amazing sense of taste and aesthetics. I think it would be fair to say if Steve Jobs made bicycles, he'd be Grant Petersen. Dahon's and Bike Fridays are these interesting folding bicycles. I've investigated them as a means to create a bike/mass transit option.

Grant Petersen talks about his design philosophy in this interview and he talks about the power of simplicity. This is an example of how he thinks...

Simple things make people feel smart, or at least competent, and complication has the opposite effect. If people feel smart and competent, they’re happy, and happy people are nice to other people, and it all starts or stops with how hard it is to use something.

Good Stuff.

Green of another Kind.

The New York Times has an article detailing how the city of Portland, Oregon pro-bicycle policies have ended up being pro-business as well. A bicycling workforce is good for employers too, since they tend to be healthier.

The gist of the article is that Portland's pro-bicycle infrastructure has created a mini eco-system of merchants and businesses that support bicyclists. Most of the businesses cited are niche players, focused on high-personalization and customization. Meaning that no one company takes it all (well Nike might be an exception). I dream of one day having a custom bicycle, one that fits my strange body dimensions.

In the Bay Area there are a few craft bicycle vendors including Rivendell Bicycles headed up by the retrogrouchy Grant Petersen in Walnut Creek.

Mass Production means creating a value chain far away from home, some communities such as Ithaca, NY have experimented with their own local currency such as Ithaca Hours. This close to home approach is often more green, meaning less pineapples from far away places. Somethings are unavoidably far like coffee, but you do what you can.

The notion that green cannot be green is one we need to change, and glad to see Portland is leading the way.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Save the Date: November 15 - America 3R Day

OK, well not exactly 3Rs, but November 15 is America Recycles Day as sponsored by the National Recycling Coalition. It is a day to heighten people's awareness of recycling and how recycling works. It's a day to encourage people to recycle and buy products using recycled raw materials.

But why wait for a good thing if you know it's a good thing, you might as well start now. Technically NRD is about recycling, but I'd also encourage the other two Rs, Reduce and Reuse.

Reduce - Pause before you buy something and ask, do you really need it? Can you borrow it, can you get it from the library?

Reuse - if something is just sitting in your house unused and it's not going to get used. Consider "Freecycling" it, by offering it to the community for someone who could use it, or someone who will just freecycle it again.

Lastly be generous, while buying less stuff feel free to spend on more experiences. Life is about cycles and paying it forward.

Thursday, November 01, 2007


At work we've been talking a lot about motivation. Why do people do things that seem counter to their own best interests or do things that may not make much of a visible difference? So much of society and our government policy is motivated towards being wasteful. We don't make mass transit easy, and recycling can be so much of a pain in the ass. Yet why do I and others do it.

Here are some possibiltities...

1) Pure Aesthetics. Much of our garbage and packaging is just plain distasteful. You look at how much over-packaging and it's like seeing too much ketchup on your fries. Too much of a good thing. I dislike SUVs because it seems so gluttinous.

2) Delayed englightened self-interest: All this talk about saving the planet is a crock, it really is about saving what we have. Much of my motivation concerns that I like trees, I like the outdoors, I have scorching heat. There are lots of things we are on the path too, and I want to do what I can to mitigate it. Roubini, the NYU economist has a rule that he does not predict events and their timing. So much is clear what is going to happen.

3) Societal Norms. Here is a story about one woman's challenges with bringing her own bag to the store. In Europe you pay for your bags each time, here you save money for bringing your own. What's normal anyway.

These are obviously a few motivations, not all mine or what drive me, though there are elements that apply to me. So let me close with this, if you are going to race you have to train, it doesn't happen instantly. But once you start it gets easier and easier. Oil is at $94 a barrel, you might as well start figuing out how to live with less now, since race day is coming real soon.