With the holidays just around the corner, millions of Americans are going to be traveling to visit relatives and friends in other parts of the country. For consumers of environmentally friendly products, this is the perfect opportunity to support those businesses that make an effort to perform their operations in such a way that they create minimal ecological impact and limit their environmental footprint.
The best way to support green business this time of year is to select a responsible and sustainably run airline. Which companies succeed in this area?
- Virgin America is, hands down, one of the greenest airlines you can choose. To begin with, they're new, which means that their fleet is made up of planes that have been constructed in the last decade, a period during which airplanes have become increasingly fuel efficient. They also have a comprehensive recycling program and a goal of diverting 50 percent of their waste from landfills. They even offer passengers the option of offsetting their carbon emissions from flying.
- When it comes to flying in Europe, it's hard to beat Air France. Environmental news site Greenopia picked Air France as its management has shown a strong commitment to biofuels and recycling.
It's important to keep in mind that many airlines pursue these goals not because they're altruistic, but because they see the potential for reducing expenses, and increasing profits, by using less fuel and fewer natural resources in their operations. But it's still a good idea to reward those companies that make an effort with your business, rather than encouraging the bad habits of companies that haven't gotten on board with environmental issues.
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Most people know Kanye West for his music and highly public personal life, but many are unaware that the famous rapper is also a product designer. He founded his own firm called DONDA that aims to create new products and architecture that are both beautiful and utilitarian. However, West said he feels that his work in these areas has been marginalized by the design community due to his race and public persona.
So on a recent visit to Boston, West stopped by the Harvard University Graduate School of Design (HUGSD) to speak about these issues with the HUGSD's African American Student Union. He told them that he believes better design can help create utopia, but that politics often stands in the way. His brief lecture has sparked a lot of interest in the subject of design and its importance to the lives of everyday people.
In a recent interview with Grist.org, several students of the HUGSD spoke about West's comments and their connection to issues such as climate change and green living. They provide some powerful insight into the need for better urban planning and design if humanity is to be able to avert global warming crisis.
"In New York City, [Hurricane] Sandy showed you can no longer just ignore these questions, like how it can operate without its subway system, or how do you design a new subway and switch system that can accommodate that kind of density without compromising the health of all those people," said HUGSD student Héctor Tarrido-Picart. "When Kanye said he wanted a utopia, I personally didn't read that as utopia in the literary sense, but rather him saying that the future has to be thought out."
West's efforts in design and his outreach to minority students of the field is important because it can help encourage more underrepresented populations to pursue this discipline. The effect of that will be more manpower devoted to solving humanity's biggest problems, including how best to implement green business ideas and create better environmentally friendly products.
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Just because it's the holiday season doesn't mean you have to give up on being energy efficient and green living. There are plenty of ways for you and your family to cut back on energy usage and creating refuse by simply changing a few of your seasonal habits.
National Grid, a major utility in the Northeast, shared some information with WWLP-22, a Massachusetts news station, about how you can achieve these goals without affecting your enjoyment of the holidays:
- Cook many dishes at a time in the oven. Rather than baking entrees and sides one at a time, try overlapping and cooking several at once. You should also try to use the smallest appliance possible. Smaller portions should be cooked in a microwave, as it uses about half the energy of a conventional oven. If you must use the oven, you should refrain from opening the door frequently, as this causes the temperature to drop and more gas is used.
- If you live in a colder area, rather than having a second fridge, you may want to consider storing food items in the garage or basement, where it is typically cold enough to preserve them.
- Use energy efficient light emitting diodes (LEDs) if you are decorating the outside of your house with Christmas lights. LEDs use 90 percent less energy than conventional bulbs.
- When buying new electronics for your loved ones and friends, purchase only items that are labeled with the Energy Star certification. This ensures that they have a limited energy footprint.
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The 2014 Honda Accord won "Green Car of the Year" honors at last week's L.A. Auto Show in Los Angeles. Honda beat out competing vehicles from Mazda, BMW, Audi and Toyota to take the prize, the second time in three years that it has won the award. The 2012 natural gas-powered Honda Civic won the same title in 2011.
"Mainstream buyers have long found the Accord a popular choice because of its efficiency, functionality, safety, and value," Ron Cogan, editor and publisher of Green Car Journal and Carsofchange.com, said in a news release. "With the addition of exceptional hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions to the already-fuel efficient Accord line, Honda's Accord becomes an even more compelling choice."
So what makes the Accord such a great car? To begin with, it's relatively affordable compared to other models. The four-cylinder version starts at about $22,000, with the higher-end versions, featuring plug-in hybrid engines as well as conventional gasoline hybrid 6-cylinder motors, retail for about $40,000. In addition to improved fuel efficiency, the Accord offers all of the modern amenities that you would expect to find in a luxury car package, yet it comes at a much lower price than competing models from companies like Mercedes and BMW.
One of the features that makes the plug-in hybrid version of the Accord one of the most environmentally friendly cars is that it can travel up to 12 miles on its battery without engaging the gasoline engine, making short trips and errands much more efficient. Plug-in hybrids have been experiencing tremendous growth over the last two years, and the 2014 Accord is likely to accelerate that trend even further.
LifeIsGreen.com is your number one source for news and information about green vehicles, so keep checking back!
With Hanukkah and Christmas just around the corner, shoppers have begun the holiday season by purchasing gifts for their loved ones. This presents the perfect opportunity for being environmentally conscious, as there are countless eco friendly products out there that would make for great gifts!
When doing your holiday shopping, here are a few things to look for if you want to buy products that are responsibly and sustainably manufactured:
- Items made with recyclables: It's never been easier to find gifts that are made with an alternative to plastic and other materials that have been recycled.
- Limited or no packaging: Since it's only going to end up in the trash, you may as well try to find products that either come with little or no packaging.
- Local products: Just as you would with food, try to find gifts that were made locally.
- Quality over quantity: Buying gifts that will last a long time is much better than purchasing items that will end up in a landfill within a few months.
- Vintage and used gifts: While some may believe that all gifts should be brand new, your loved ones will certainly appreciate a well-picked vintage item such as clothing or furniture, given how popular vintage and antique style is these days.
If we all take these small steps to ensure that our gift-giving is environmentally friendly, we can put a major dent in the amount of trash that makes its way to dumps, while also finding a new home for items that had been abandoned by previous owners. Most importantly, the recipients will love that their presents were green products!
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For most of the country, temperatures are definitely dropping and winter weather is finally settling in. It's a good idea at this point to do what you can to weatherize your home and make it more efficient, as the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that heating costs this winter will rise 13 percent for homeowners using natural gas and 2 percent for those with electric heating systems.
There are tons of energy saving tips we could give you, but today we'll focus on three of the most important:
- Have your furnace cleaned: Over time, your furnace can develop large deposits of ash and carbon that need to be cleaned out. Doing so will make your heating system perform more efficiently, while also reducing the risk of corrosion.
- Install triple-paned glass: You often hear about the benefits of double-paned glass when compared to conventional single-paned windows. But the energy savings only increase if you invest in windows with a third pane of glass. Triple-paned windows can help you increase energy efficiency 20 percent over double-paned glass, and they also provide better soundproofing capabilities.
- Reverse your fan direction: If you have ceiling fans, have the direction they spin reversed so that warm air is forced downward.
We tend to focus a lot on the financial benefits of becoming more energy efficient, but it's important to remember that reducing fossil fuel consumption is hugely important if we are to avoid a climate catastrophe. Following these tips will help you save energy at home while doing your part to save the planet.
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Despite the recent surge in sales for environmentally friendly cars and other eco friendly products, the United States isn't necessarily in a position to brag about its energy efficiency. According to a recent study by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), out of the twelve largest economies in the world, America ranks ninth in efficiency. The report analyzed energy use and conservation in a number of areas, including transportation, building codes and power distribution, and found that the United States lags behind the UK, Germany, Italy, Japan, France, the European Union, Australia and China.
In an effort to move the country to the top of that list, U.S. Senators Rob Portman of Ohio and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire have proposed new legislation that would address the problem by having the federal government adopt energy conservation practices, while also encouraging the manufacturing industry to become more efficient as well.
This legislation will be the subject of a Congressional briefing this week, at which representatives from the ACEEE will discuss the advantages to the economy of reducing energy consumption and promoting green technology.
"There's always more to do," Ross Eisenberg, vice president of energy and resources policy at the National Association of Manufacturers, said in an interview with Bloomberg News. "Our economy is doing well while we're also saving energy and reducing emissions."
Although the country has its work cut out for it in the years ahead, one positive note is that the United States has made huge strides in this area over the last 40 years. The ACEEE says that it takes half of the energy used in 1973 to produce the same level of gross domestic product in 2013. This contradicts the oft-repeated claim that efforts to protect the environment necessitate a slowdown in economic growth.
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New York is typically thought of as one of the most environmentally friendly cities in the nation, particularly under the leadership of Michael Bloomberg. The outgoing mayor of the Big Apple has put in place several laws that are aimed at reducing the city's environmental footprint, including replacing all the city's streetlights with LED lamps and introducing all-electric buses into the transportation system. But his most recent effort, and probably his last as mayor, is to reform the city's recycling system to make it much more effective at diverting waste from landfills.
Time Magazine notes that New York currently recycles about 15 percent of its trash, less than half the nationwide average of 34 percent. The publication speculates on a number of reasons why this might be the case, including the fact that curbside pickup in the city is a bit of a mess, with neighbors' trash intermingling and people less willing to devote space to a recycling bin in addition to their trash can.
Mayor Bloomberg has introduced an aggressive plan to tackle food waste, which we detailed a few months back. Essentially, the city is creating a massive composting plant, which will process about 10 percent of New York's food waste, while another 10 percent will be burned to generate electricity. But it will take a sustained effort from Bloomberg's successor, mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, to see these programs through to completion. The good news is that de Blasio has been vocal about his commitment to such efforts, so it's a safe bet that Bloomberg's vision for a cleaner New York will carry forward.
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Bicycles are terrific green vehicles, so it would make sense for municipalities to encourage as many citizens as possible to leave their car at home and purchase a bicycle instead for daily commuting and running errands. It's certainly true that many cities have created extensive bike lane networks and infrastructure that makes it easier for bicyclists to stay safe on the roads. But as a recent New York Times op-ed points out, there's a major problem with the way these cities are prosecuting (or not prosecuting, as the case may be) drivers who hit bicyclists on the street.
In the article, Daniel Duane, a San Francisco journalist who enjoys biking but worries about the safety issues, notes that there are countless instances of bicyclists who are hit, and sometimes killed, by motorists. Yet these drivers are often allowed to walk away from the incident without as much as a citation, let alone the possibility of jail time. Police departments are typically hesitant to file charges, and in the rare case that these drivers go on trial, juries are unwilling to convict.
The Economist notes that this isn't the case in other countries. In the bike-friendly Netherlands, the driver is almost always at fault if they hit a cyclist. That country has considerably more bike riders than the United States, but in America there are eight times as many cycling deaths per billion kilometers traveled. In order to create the kind of cycling culture in the States that exists in Northern Europe, policy makers and law enforcement must come up with a better system of punishing drivers for hitting cyclists. Given how important bikes will be in the coming decades to reducing carbon emissions and lowering obesity rates, it is essential for local leaders to create a culture that values these habits rather than implicitly punishes them.
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An energy efficiency program in Rhode Island has resulted in the creation of 529 jobs while helping businesses and homes across the state lower their overall energy expenditures. The program, which has a budget of $83 million, was the subject of a report published by National Grid, Rhode Island's main utility company. The company stated that the program has a $27 million payroll, and that each of the jobs it created resulted in an annual income of $51,410.
A recent story in the Providence Journal highlights the efficiency improvement project undertaken by Citizens Bank, which has been replacing the lighting in all of its branches with more efficient bulbs. Each bank is enjoying about $5,000 in annual savings from lower electricity costs. That's not much for each facility, but if you add up the bank's hundreds of branches, it amounts to several million dollars a year.
"For more than 25 years Rhode Island has led the way in creating innovative energy-efficiency programs that have cut our customers' energy costs and benefited our environment," Timothy F. Horan, president of National Grid in Rhode Island, said in a statement. "Now we have data to prove energy efficiency is helping to drive the state's economy."
In the grand scheme of things, the Rhode Island program only amounts to a small part of what is needed to make the country more efficient. But as communities hear more about these types of projects and programs and mimic them, it could lead to improvements on a macro scale that would have a major impact on the environment.
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