Thursday, April 2, 2009

Five Ways to Go Green Without Really Trying

We like green. Green apples. Green Bay. The Green Mile. Asparagus. And we have this sweater. Anyway, we like green, but we've never been "green." We're, shall we say, suspicious about any word so often swathed in so much righteousness. Because "green" can too easily be equated with "good," which is a vast oversimplification, especially when so much fact gets aggressively manipulated by so many interested parties in the name of "green."

We have this friend who gave us some perspective on "green." His name is Bjørn Lomborg, a political economist, environmental activist, and fierce optimist, who brought eight economists (including five Nobel laureates) together a year ago to come up with a sensible plan for environmental activism. It's called the Copenhagen Consensus. He wrote an essay in our 75th Anniversary Issue (October 2008) that convinced us that the small things we do (and some of the big things we do) can't amount to much unless we overhaul our list of priorities (placing malnutrition above, say, reducing CO2 emissions). His essay makes environmentalism a powerful and complex idea. You can read it here.

So, about being "green" we're a little ambivalent. But about doing good we aren't conflicted at all. The products on these pages are good, and using them feels good. They improve our lives. They work. And they're environmentally sound. Which is a bonus.

Virtues:

+ Gas-free

+ Noise-free

+ Aerobic

If pollution and sloth ever become virtues, self-propelled and riding mowers will be the trappings of the righteous. Until then, we'll stick with old-fashioned manual mowers. They don't use gas, don't stink, don't involve a potentially arm-snapping rip cord. And then there's the whisperlike sound they make. It's almost worth the looks you'll get from neighbors.


The hatchback already comes close to the practical ideal: Seats five, sips gas, handles like a go-kart, looks cool — enough. Utilitarian. But the new breed of sport hatchback is more sport, less hatchback. Take the MazdaSpeed3 pictured above. (See also: Volkswagen GTI, Subaru WRX.) With 263 hp, 26 mpg highway, and a $23,500 base price, it's frugal enough for daily commuting, roomy enough for errands — and powerful enough to remind you you're not driving a Prius.

Until the late 1800s, beer came in one kind of container — the keg — and was sold in one place: the local saloon. Folks wishing to drink elsewhere would bring jugs to be filled at the tap. These were known as growlers. And the invention of the beer can all but killed them.

These days beer makers across the country are distributing growlers again. (And many brewpubs and specialty grocers will let you fill your own growlers directly from their taps.) Plunk down seven or eight bucks plus a two- or three-dollar bottle deposit, and head home with half a gallon of the crispest, freshest ale (or stout or pilsner) you've ever tasted. When you're done, you bring the bottle back and reclaim your deposit — or treat it as a down payment on the next growler. The bottle itself gets cleaned and returned to its source, ready to be filled again.


Before modern chemistry gave us oil and latex varieties, "house paint" meant milk paint. You'd take a bucket of milk, add powdered lime (the mineral, not the fruit) and some pigment, and stir. The result was an odor-free, fade-proof coating with the added benefits of extreme toughness and zero cases of lead poisoning. Since 1974, the Old-Fashioned Milk Paint Company has been offering genuine milk paint in powder form, and there's a new version formulated specially for interior walls. Look for it wherever gorp is sold (or at milkpaint.com).

There's no reason to buy hand soap, dish soap, shampoo, body bars, body wash, or shaving cream when you can just buy a bottle of Dr. Bronner's. The stuff's been around since World War II, is 100 percent organic, and cleans everything from rugs to babies. Dr. Bronner's comes in eight scents — we prefer the original peppermint — and according to the label can be used in eighteen different ways. (According to the Internet, there are hundreds more.)

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Prison Mattresses Go From Convicts to Carpets

A mattress recycling program being tested in the United Kingdom could lead to homes filled with bits of the country's penal system.

The Prison Service dumps 50,000 mattresses a year, and as the prison population increases - there are about 82,000 convicts in England and Wales - the Prison Service buys 60,000 new mattresses a year.


Hoping to find a way to send zero mattresses to landfills, U.K. jails are testing out the recycling possibilities for mattresses. First up are two trials with companies that are turning the mattresses into carpet underlay, fence panels and roof tiles.

Here's hoping that if the program's a success it will also boost recycling mattresses outside of the prison system, or even inspire a prison mattress recycle system here in the U.S. (prison population: 2.2 million). Or at least help expand the few recycling options that exist.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Pentagon looks at green options

THE Pentagon may seem an unlikely promoter of alternative energy, but the biggest consumer of oil in the United States is looking at ways to become just that by partnering with private firms.

"When you don't use as much fuel, not only does it not cost you as much, but it also saves lives and injuries of those people who would have to deliver fuel through hostile territory," Assistant Army Secretary for Installations and the Environment Keith Eastin said.

Despite reducing its overall energy consumption by five per cent between 2005 and 2007, the US military spent $US13 billion ($18.46 billion) on energy in 2007 and requested an additional $US5 billion ($7.1 billion) due to a spike in oil prices.

The stakes are high, with the army estimating that reducing fuel consumption by just one per cent translates to about 6400 fewer soldiers in fuel convoys, a favourite target of insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.

All of this has added up to renewed urgency for the Pentagon to reduce its energy consumption. It is already federally mandated to obtain 25 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025.

Hundreds of small companies are expected to benefit from the military's green energy push, developing everything from alternative fuels to electric vehicles and efficient power generators.

One low tech initiative that has yielded surprisingly big results is spraying tents with a layer of hard foam. The insulation helps maintain steady temperatures inside the tents, reducing fuel consumption for heating or cooling by 50 per cent and saving an estimated 100,000 gallons of fuel or $US2 million ($2.84 million) per day.

"Each gallon you save is a ton of money that can be used elsewhere, either at the installation or fighting the war," Mr Eastin said. He estimated that a three-dollar gallon of fuel can end up costing up to $US28 ($40) on the battlefield after factoring in transportation and security costs.

With a staggering $US7.7 billion ($10.93 billion) spent last year on aircraft fuel alone, the US Air Force is the military's biggest energy consumer.

It is purchasing renewable energy, reducing aircraft loads and certifying its entire fleet to fly on a 50/50 synthetic fuel blend by 2011.

"Our efforts to drive a domestic source of synthetic fuels is a piece of the puzzle to be more secure as a nation and as the air force," said Kevin Billings, acting air force secretary for installations, environment and logistics.

HVAC boot cleared of Asbestos in Los Angeles

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