An interesting article coming from the Environmental Leader this week.

The United Kingdom’s fifth largest grocery chain, the Co-operative Group, has announced its extremely forward-thinking “ethical operating plan,” encompassing 47 different goals, divided into eight key areas: democratic control, ethical finance, co-operative movements, global poverty, young people, responsible retailing, and environment.

The Co-operative Group’s environmental initiatives are amongst the most aggressive in the industry, and perhaps in the corporate world, generally.  According to the ethical operating plan’s website, nature conservation, pesticide reduction, waste and packaging, and water health are all concerns of the company, but it’s climate change that takes center stage for the entire ethical operating plan.  The carbon reduction efforts are even referred to by the Co-operative Group as “the toughest operational carbon reduction targets of any major business.”

The targets that the Co-operative Group has set out aim to reduce their carbon emissions by 35 percent by 2017 from their 2006 baseline.  According to Environmental Leader, the Co-operative Groups has already made a substantial amount of progress towards this goal by reducing their carbon by 20 percent since 2006.  Ultimately, the company seeks to become carbon neutral by 2012 — next year.  The number one UK retailer Tesco seeks to achieve this goal by 2050.

The retailer has also set out a number of environmental initiatives that aim to set new industry standards and benchmarks.

Here are a few of the Co-operative Group’s environmental initiatives, and some of the green product solutions that Green Depot can provide to the homeowner or consumer looking to reduce their environmental footprint, as well.

GREEN DEPOT SOLUTIONS FOR A MORE SUSTAINABLE WORLD

- Water health: the Co-op aims to reduce its water consumption by 10 percent by 2013.

Oxygenics TriSpa Low-flow Showerhead offers three pressurized settings, and reduces the amount of water used from an average of 2.5 gallons of water per minute, to 1.75 gallons per minute all while maintaining an average pressure of 60 pounds per square inch.  Compared to mainstream showerheads, this saves up to 30% of the water used during a shower, and the pressure is adjustable.

- Waste: the Co-op promises to ensure that the majority of its operational waste is reused or recylced, rather than deposited in a landfill.

One of the biggest contributors to waste in NYC’s landfills is compostable vegetable matter.  Indoor composting need not be the smelly nightmare many apartment owners fear it will be, with the NatureMill Home Composter.  It fits under a kitchen counter, and using gentle electric warmth  to speed up the decomposition process, ensures a steady supply of compost all winter long for the spring garden.  Additionally – it’s odor-free.

- Deforestation: the Co-op will use sustainable sourcing for palm oil by 2011, and soybeans by 2015.

Lumber that is not sustainably harvested is another major contributor to deforestation.  Green Depot carries FSC-certified wood products.  The FSC vets forest managers and lumber production companies to ensure that their methods are sustainable before going to market.  Certification criteria require that logging methods preserve biodiversity, reduce environmental impacts, maintain the rights of indigenous communities and forestry workers, include a long-term forest management plan, comply with laws and international treaties, and that logging practices do not destroy forests, protect the habitats of endangered wildlife, and that profits from commercial forest endeavors are shared equitably with forest communities.

- Pesticides: endosulfan and paraquat will be entirely banned from the Co-op’s products.

Chemicals and pesticides have become nearly omnipresent in our water supply, and this is a problem.  In certain concentrations, they can pose serious risks to human health.  Prolab Inc’s Pesticides in Water Test Kit monitors water for hazardous levels of pesticides. Pesticide ingestion and inhalation can cause internal organ damage, cancer, and prove fatal in extreme circumstances. The World Health Organization estimates that half of the ground and well water in the U.S. is contaminated with pesticides, resulting in 20,000 deaths each year.

- Packaging: a reduction of packaging weight by ten percent by 2012, and reducing the usage of plastic bags a further 15 percent of their 2006 baseline, on top of the sixty percent that they have already achieved.

Plastic bags are actually a major environmental nuisance, and contribute greatly to the size of the Pacific Trash Vortex.  The Baggu brand bag is a reliable solution.  It’s the same shape as a standard plastic grocery bag, but is reusable – its lifespan is designed to replace 300 to 700 disposable bags, and fits the contents of two to three of those bags.  They are lightweight, and often come with a zippered container pouch.

For a plethora of green products, including green building materials, visit http://www.greendepot.com and http://www.ecohaus.com.

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Today at Penn State University, President Obama outlined a new government program, the Better Buildings Initiative, which applies to offices, stores, schools, universities, hospitals, and other commercial and municipal buildings.  This is good news for any business owner considering a green retrofit for their commercial building, and I’ve written recently about the growing trend in green renovation.  You can learn more by clicking here.

Hopefully, the Better Buildings Initiative will mean encourage the growing trend of green renovation to proliferate even more rapidly.  As it is, the Better Buildings Initiative is a five-point plan, as reported by Environmental Leader:

1. Tax incentives to make green retrofitting more affordable;

2. Financing to guarantee funding for upgrades at hospitals, schools, and other commercial institutions;

3. Streamlining incentives for state and municipal governments;

4. The Better Buildings Challenge to encourage business and academic leaders to make stronger commitments to sustainable buildings;

5. And a host of other initiatives to encourage transparency in energy reform and green job training.

According to the White House’s information on the initiative, the program will reduce national energy consumption by 20% by 2020, reduce companies’ and business owners’ energy bills by roughly $40 billion dollars per year, and save energy by reforming outdated incentives and challenging the private sector to act.  You can learn more about the Better Building Initiative by clicking here.

Green Depot carries a wide range of green building products to help you renovate a business and take advantage of the incentives under the Better Building Initiative.  Our green products include sustainably-grown lumber, eco insulation, and VOC-free paints and drywall.  For these and many other green products, make sure to visit http://www.greendepot.com.

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An interesting report from the U.K.: a study of the most polluting cities in the world shows that cities that pollute the most aren’t the ones we might consider first.  People seem to often think that visibly-polluted cities in the developing world are the largest emitters of greenhouse gases.  It turns out this is a misconception!

As U.S.A. Today reports, cities like Nepal, India, and Bangladesh emit less than half a ton of carbon dioxide equivalent (meaning gases including carbon dioxide, but also methane and nitrous oxide).  But the highest emitters in the world are in the developed world, including Rotterdam, Denver, Sydney, Washington, Minneapolis, and Calgary.  Each of these cities emits more than 17 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per capita.  The study was funded by a London-based NGO, the International Institute for Environment and Development.

The lead author of the study, urban specialist at the World Bank Daniel Hoornweg, is keen to point out the two main drivers of greenhouse gas production on the level of the individual: lifestyle choices and consumption patterns, such as the Western consumer demand for Chinese goods.  From previous studies and reports, we also know that building energy consumption is a leading contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

But one of the more empowering things about knowing that it is lifestyle, consumption, and building choices that most significantly contribute to climate change is known that these are things we can change on and individual – and social – level.

It gives us hope, then, to read another recent article published in GreenSource that retrofitting buildings to be more environmentally-friendly is a growing trend (and actually one that might prove to be more environmentally-sound than new construction, which requires the new extraction of natural resources).  McGraw-Hill Construction already estimates that green building accounts for five to nine percent of the renovation market by value, and this is expected to expand up to 30 percent by 2014.  Green renovation can apply to any human building – for family homes, commercial institutions, and industrial buildings.

There are a few examples of these green renovations already, one of the most famous being the Empire State Building’s $20 million dollar retrofit that aims to reduce energy consumption by up to 40%, according to Business Insider in a 2009 article.  By installing (6,500) triple-glazed windows, insulating radiators, and updating the ventilation systems the building could earn a rating of 90 from EnergyStar, and a gold rating from LEED.

GreenDepot’s flagship store on the Bowery, in New York City, is another excellent example of green renovation – one which has earned a LEED Platinum rating.  Located in the bottom floor of a five-story building, the store has served as NYC’s first branch of the YMCA, an X-ray equipment manufacturer, a restaurant supply store, and a meditation center for Tibetan Buddhists.  Renovation – rather than demolition and new construction – is not just an effective way of reducing construction costs, it is also a dedicated application of a “reuse” ethic.

Since we already know that reinventing our lifestyle and consumption patterns to make a sustainable society demands reducing our consumption, reusing what we already have, and recycling what cannot be reused (reduce-reuse-recycle), retrofitting buildings with recycled and other green building materials is a significant and meaningful step towards creating green cities.  It’s a step towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions, whether you find yourself in one of the top carbon-emitting cities, or anywhere else.

IDEAS FOR RENOVATION and RETROFIT

The building sector accounts for 40% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, and consumes a full 70% of all electricity produced.  Hence, one of the most significant ways in which individuals contribute to greenhouse gas emissions is through their household energy consumption. Heating homes and heating water are two of the most energy-intensive activities that occur in a home.  So, here are some ways to help the homeowner make the most significant reduction of energy consumption:

Bonded Logic Installation

Bonded Logic Ultra Touch Insulation.  We’ve written extensively in the past about insulating homes and the added benefits of fitting your home so that it retains more heat, instead of losing it.  This is better for reducing heating costs, and thus for reducing our environmental footprint – approximately 4 metric tons of carbon dioxide are emitted each year from residences, most of which is the consequence of home heating.  Conventional fiberglass insulation is a suspected carcinogen, so using a green product like Bonded Logic Ultratouch Recycled Cotton Insulation is a major step towards making a greener home.  For an even more efficient home, National Fiber Cel-Pak Cellulose Insulation is a blow-in material that settles into the tiniest corners and cracks of walls, ceilings, and attics.

Water heaters are one of the largest consumers of energy in the average home, and swapping out an older-model water heater for a new, energy-efficient model can substantially reduce energy costs.  The GeoSpring Hybrid Water Heater is an especially energy-efficient model, qualified by ENERGY STAR.  It combines heat pump technology with traditional electric elements to save the homeowner up to 62% on annual water heating expenses  — even up to $320.

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit http://www.greendepot.com.

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Discouraging news comes every now and again.  Environmental Leader is reporting today that the shareholders of the homebuilder D.R. Horton have voted down calls to set definitive goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  According to a shareholder representative, the board decided that consumers would not be willing to pay more for more energy-efficient homes – even if savings add up over time.  What the decisions at D.R. Horton says is that its board are short-sighted, and perhaps misinformed.

Events like this are disappointing, but do not have to be defeating.  The fact is that there are many of us – many millions, even – who know that building greener, more energy-efficient homes is an admirable goal within itself, even independent of energy savings.  Building green homes contributes to a healthier and more sustainable world.  There is an ethical advantage to building green.

And, like I noted before, that’s independent of energy savings.  The fact is that many green building materials – like the ones that Green Depot carries – are more efficient, and competitively priced (if not lower-priced.  I had a friend purchase VOC-free caulking the other day from Green Depot, not knowing that I worked there, who remarked that the cost of that caulk was lower than even what she could find online).

Building green need not be the costly venture many imagine it to be, and does prove to be more efficient over time.  It can even help to mitigate the external costs (that is, indirect costs) of development that come from deforestation, water pollution, air pollution, and a chemically-contaminated home environment.  And building green – if one is going to build, anyway – is ethical and just, because it contributes to a healthier and more sustainable world.

Discouraging news like D.R. Horton’s rejection does not have to be a discouraging thing – rather it can be a clarion call for action.  And that is a good thing.

For green products and other green building materials, visit http://www.greendepot.com.

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environmental defense fund

The United Nations General Assembly has named 2011 the International Year of Forests, as a way of “raising awareness on sustainable management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests.”

While the media is often full of dire news about the state of the environment, occasionally there are bits of hope.  In 2010, for example, Brazil had a record-low level of deforestation due in part to new conservation and enforcement initiatives, according to the Environmental Defense Fund.

But just because deforestation is slowing in certain parts of the world does not mean that deforestation has ended.  It might then be useful to use 2011 as a time to consider all of the wood products, and especially tropical wood products, that we use in our life.  Paper, furniture, lumber, and cardboard are all forest products which, when consumed faster than forests can be replanted, lead to deforestation.  Even items like bamboo chopsticks and palm oil are linked to deforestation, as old-growth forests are cleared for plantations.

The foremost way to help reduce tropical deforestation is to use post-consumer recycled paper products, and, according to the Rainforest Alliance, to choose certified wood products for building projects.

GREEN DEPOT SOLUTIONS

Lumber products with an Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) seal are sourced from forests that are managed responsibly and sustainably.  The FSC vets forest managers and lumber production companies to ensure that their methods are sustainable and certifies that lumber before going to market.  Certification criteria require that logging methods preserve biodiversity, reduce environmental impacts, maintain the rights of indigenous communities and forestry workers, include a long-term forest management plan, comply with laws and international treaties, and that logging practices do not destroy forests, protect the habitats of endangered wildlife, and that profits from commercial forest endeavors are shared equitably with forest communities.  The FSC is non-governmental, non-for-profit, and all lumber producers participate in the program voluntarily.

Green Depot carries exclusively FSC-Certified wood, and provides Chain of Custody (CoC) documentation, ensuring total tracking of the supply chain from forest to mill to processor, distributor, or treater; and finally, to delivery at the Green Depot warehouse or jobsite.

For green products and green building materials, like eco insulation, visit http://www.greendepot.com.

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credit: NASA

Regardless of whether or not you believe that climate change is anthropogenic (that is, caused by humankind) or that it is occurring at all, weather data for 2010 show that it was one of the hottest years in the human scientific record, at least since meteorological records began to be kept in the 19th century.  Two American agencies have it tied as the hottest year on record – tied with 2005 – although the U.K.’s meteorological agency notes it as the second hottest.

Weather agencies record temperature several different ways – from ground and ocean sensors at weather stations to analyzing complicated satellite data – but there appears to be a consensus among government agencies in the U.S. and U.K. that the average global temperature is rising.  NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the U.K.’s Met Office might disagree on which years, specifically, tie for the hottest (is it 2010 and 2005, as the U.S. asserts, or 2005 and 1998, as the U.K. insists?), but the fact that three of the hottest years have occurred in the last two decades is consistent with projections that the atmosphere is continuing to warm.

There’s always a degree of statistical uncertainty whenever a scientific conclusion is made, especially with one on so grand a scale as a measurement of the entire earth’s average temperature.  But it is worthwhile to note that even the World Meterological Organization (WMO), the U.N.’s weather agency, has verified 2010’s average as the hottest on record (virtually tied with 2005 and 1998, whatever the technical differences between the U.S.’s and U.K.’s conclusions).

As the New York Times’ Green blog aptly states, “the bottom line is that the world’s three best measurements of surface temperature are showing no letup in the trend of a warming planet.”

GREEN DEPOT SOLUTIONS

While the planet is warming on average, this does not mean that every place will become warmer.  Subtle changes in the average global temperature mean that weather patterns will change, and some places will get drier and hotter, and some places will get cooler and wetter.  More intense weather events – like heat waves and blizzards, in particular – are projected to occur because of shifting global weather patterns.

People will turn to their conventional home heating and cooling systems to make these extremes more comfortable.  But these machines are energy-intensive, and there are more energy-efficient methods available to make the weather more comfortable.  Insulating a home is the most practical and cost-effective way to keep a house warm in the winter, and cool in the summer, and this in turn will contribute less to anthropogenic climate change than air conditioners and furnaces.  Below are two green products to help out with this.

Bonded Logic Installation

We’ve written extensively in the past about insulating homes and the added benefits of fitting your home so that it retains more heat, instead of losing it.  This is better for reducing heating costs, and thus for reducing our environmental footprint – approximately 4 metric tons of carbon dioxide are emitted each year from residences, most of which is the consequence of home heating.  Conventional fiberglass insulation is a suspected carcinogen, so using a green product like Bonded Logic Ultratouch Recycled Cotton Insulation is a major step towards making a greener home.  For an even more efficient home, National Fiber Cel-Pak Cellulose Insulation is a blow-in material that settles into the tiniest corners and cracks of walls, ceilings, and attics.

Closing up cracks and drafts in homes is an effective – and inexpensive – way to conserve energy and reduce heating and cooling costs.   Using VOC-free caulks is an important way to protect the health of everyone in your home.  VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, are chemicals that are “off-gassed” from conventional caulks and can cause serious neurological problems, kidney failure, and is a suspected carcinogen.  Safecoat is a toxin-free caulk that can be used to plug drafts and lower your winter energy bills.

For these green products and many others, like green building materials, visit http://www.greendepot.com.

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