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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One little known fact about New York City is how famous it once was for its shellfish trade; indeed, the harvesting and shelling of oysters was once one of NYC’s primary products.

Before Dutch colonists arrived in the area, shellfish were an integral part of the subsistence economy and culture of the Lenape peoples, who lived on Manhattan Island before being displaced.  According to the Mannahatta Project – a study conducted by researchers at Columbia determining the ecology of Manhattan Island 400 years ago – oysters were consumed in large numbers, and used for cutting tools and clothing ornament; clams were used to craft necklaces that were exchanged as currency throughout the region.  The harbor was also home to blue mussels, lobsters, crabs, and other edible shellfish.

Over the next few centuries following settlement, the health of the waters around Manhattan began to degrade due to industrial pollution, and shellfish were overharvested leading to a massive decline in the populations of shellfish.  This was sort of a cascade effect – because, amazingly, shellfish act as biological filters of chemicals and pollutants.  They draw toxins out of the water and store them in their flesh, cleaning the water like a carbon filter in a water bottle.  When populations began to decline because of water contamination, smaller populations of shellfish meant that the water was cleaned less efficiently, leading to high levels of pollutants: a classic feedback loop.

Oysters are no longer a common part of the New York City economy, or a common part of its marine ecology.  But that doesn’t mean that the future doesn’t have some potential renewal for the purifying shellfish

As Grist reported earlier this week, the Museum of Modern Art is currently exhibiting a program called Rising Currents, “in which several designers presented plans for dealing with the effect of higher sea levels on the biggest city in the United States.”  One of those proposals is to return a healthy shellfish population to the waters of New York harbor, ensuring cleaner water for the ecosystem and for people.  Ideally, the shellfish could even be edible by 2050, assuming other water pollution mitigation efforts were successful.

This plan is not only limited to the art gallery, though.  New York/New Jersey Bay Keeper has actually had a repopulation program in place for a few years.  The New York Harbor School, located on Governor’s Island, has undertaken a program of oyster farming in the harbor.

Although it will many decades before shellfish are able to make the water in the harbor as healthy as it was 400 years ago, it’s certainly a strong step in a good direction – good for the health of the planet, and for people.

GREEN DEPOT SOLUTIONS

While the water in New York harbor is by no means drinkable, that doesn’t mean that tap water can’t be enjoyed.  While those hearty oysters continue their work of repopulating and filtering toxins out of our waterways, we can filter our own water with these green products, ensuring clean water in the home, and less plastic in the landfill.

The GE Carbon Single Stage Filtration System is an under-counter single catridge filtration system from GE, improving the taste and odor of regular tap water by reducing sediment and chlorine.  It fits the cold water faucet of any sink, and can be mounted horizontally or vertically.

The Ovopur Water Purifier uses gravity to dispense water, requiring not electricity to operate.  It is constructed from porcelain, glass, and metal and contains multiple levels of water filtration – including activated carbon, bioceramics, and quartz crystal.  The filer cartridges can be returned to Aquaovo for recycling.

After you’ve filtered your water, you might consider carrying it in the Kor One Water Bottle.  It is a BPA-free plastic bottle that can be recycled by the manufacturer after use to be made into more Kor One bottles.  For each bottle you buy, 1% of the sales go to a charity dealing with water-related issues.  They’re color-coded by issue/charity: blue is for ocean protection; green is for watershed protection; orange is for bottle container recycling, and pink is for the global water crisis.

For more filtrations options visit our water filtration section.  For water bottles, visit our water bottle section.  For other green products, including green building materials, make sure to visit http://greendepot.com

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NYC water supply system reservoir in the Catskill mountains, by flickr user CarbonNYC.

This past summer a lot of attention was paid to the issue of “hydrofracking.”  Hydrofracking – or, to use the proper terminology, hydraulic fracturing – is a process of natural gas and oil extraction.  The principle of hydraulic fracturing is relatively simple.  Oil companies use a water mixture that is pumped into rock beds to fracture the rock and release quantities of oil and gas that can then be collected and refined.

In New York state, there has been substantial controversy over this practice especially around the Catskill mountains.  Underneath large areas of New York, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Virginia is a layer of shale rock, known as the Marcellus Shale, that contains as much as 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, or the equivalent of 80 million barrels of oil.  All told, the Marcellus Shale covers an area roughly 48,000 square miles.

Energy companies are keen to tap into this fossil fuel resource, but there are significant environmental and human health impacts that the process entails.  When an oil company wants to tap into the Marcellus Shale, they begin by clearcutting the drilling site of any forest that was once there.  Then, they bore down into the shale layer, at which time they twist the drills around horizontally and extend their machinery out 8,000 feet in each direction.

In the process of drilling, oil companies almost always drill through the natural water table or aquifer.  In each case of hydraulic fracturing, companies utilize between six and eight million gallons of fresh water.  After the initial injection of water, chemicals are added to the shale to make the process more efficient, and often consist of diesel fuel, benzene, and hydrochloric acid.

There have been numerous recorded instances of these chemicals, and even perhaps natural gas and oil, leaking out during the hydrofracking process and entering into local water tables.  Nearby famers and residents of hydrofracking sites have reported increased health issues that many believe are associated with the mining and extraction of natural gas by this process.  Oil companies insist that the “small amounts” they inject into mining sites are benign in those quantities, but there is little government oversight to follow up on extraction and ensure that these chemicals are not leaking into the watershed.  Companies are reluctant to release data on the chemicals they use, and how much of them that they use, nor are they legally required to do so.

This has been an especially important issue for people living in New York state and New York City, because a large amount of our municipal water comes from reservoirs in the Catskill mountains that may be affected by runoff from hydraulic fracturing.  The story of New York City’s water system is truly remarkable – for not only do our reservoirs, 80 miles away, provide an enormous metropolis all the safe drinking water they can consume, the city has also been incredibly proactive in preserving the watershed.  This has ensured that the water supply to New York City is clean and naturally purified of contaminants.  To date, the NYC Department of Environmental Protection has purchased or protected over 70,000 acres of land since 1997, through conservation easements.

A huge amount of effort has gone into preserving our watershed and ensuring our water is safe, which is why both New York City residents and city officials have been so adamant that hydraulic fracturing be outlawed in the state of New York.  And today, on December 6, there has been success in stopping hydrofracking in New York state.  The state has passed a moratorium on horizontal drilling in the state until May 15, 2011, to “allow time for the completion of a detailed and comprehensive scientific analysis of hydraulic fracturing,” wrote City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.  “We are confident [the report] will affirm our contention that hydraulic fracturing should never be done within New York City’s upstate unfiltered water supply.”

GREEN DEPOT SOLUTIONS

New York City’s drinking water is a very special, precious resource.  It is clean, unpolluted, and naturally filtered.  It should be enjoyed and celebrated!  Drinking water from bottles creates a huge mess for the environment – it takes energy to extract and bottle water, to ship to stores, and then most bottles wind up going to landfill or into the oceans, rather than to recycling.

So here are a few ways to enjoy New York City’s – or any municipality’s – tap water more often.

The GE Carbon Single Stage Filtration System is an under-counter single catridge filtration system from GE, improving the taste and odor of regular tap water by reducing sediment and chlorine.  It fits the cold water faucet of any sink, and can be mounted horizontally or vertically.

The Ovopur Water Purifier uses gravity to dispense water, requiring not electricity to operate.  It is constructed from porcelain, glass, and metal and contains multiple levels of water filtration – including activated carbon, bioceramics, and quartz crystal.  The filer cartridges can be returned to Aquaovo for recycling.

After you’ve filtered your water, you might consider carrying it in the Kor One Water Bottle.  It is a BPA-free plastic bottle that can be recycled by the manufacturer after use to be made into more Kor One bottles.  For each bottle you buy, 1% of the sales go to a charity dealing with water-related issues.  They’re color-coded by issue/charity: blue is for ocean protection; green is for watershed protection; orange is for bottle container recycling, and pink is for the global water crisis.

For more filtrations options visit our water filtration section.  For water bottles, visit our water bottle section.  For other green products, make sure to visit http://greendepot.com

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As the New York Times reported on Sunday, there is a growing nation-wide movement to ban the sale of bottled water on college and university campuses.  Prominent institutions like Seattle University and the University of Wisconsin have reportedly banned all sales of bottled water; others, with multiyear contracts to beverage companies, have compromised and removed bottled water from their meal plans.

Water is essential to life, and many of us rely on bottled water when we’re away from the home.  In New York City, our tap water is unparalleled in quality, but many people are discouraged from drinking tap water because of an unsavory taste.

But bottled water is expensive, and most bottles either go straight to landfills or wind up in our waterways, eventually making their way to the ocean.  And this is not to mention the carbon footprint of bottled water, as those bottles are produced using petroleum products and then shipped up to thousands of miles.  Bottled water is neither a cost-effective, nor environmentally-friendly way to stay hydrated.

GREEN DEPOT SOLUTIONS

There have likely never been more options available to the consumer seeking to replace their bottled water habit with the more humble reusable water bottle.  Water bottles are a reusable green product that can last years and years – long after flimsy disposable bottles have been sent to the landfill or recycling center.

Aquavo’s  Therm-O Bottle is a double-walled glass thermos, insulating your beverage to keep it cold or hot all day long.  Some plastic water bottles contain potentially-dangerous BPAs, but that’s not a risk for this glass bottle.

For those who prefer filtered water on the go, the BPA-free Bobble Water Bottle contains a built-in filter to remove chemicals and impurities.

The classic Klean Kanteen is made from food-grade, 100% recyclable stainless steel – nearly indestructible, and BPA-free.

koroneThe Kor One Water Bottle is a beautiful piece of design, BPA-free and designed to be melted down for reuse by the manufacturer if they are ever discarded.

For more water bottles and other green products, visit Green Depot online.

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by flickr user caveman_92223

When we think of where our energy comes from, we more often than not envision the billowing smokestacks of a coal plant.  It’s true that coal is a major source of energy for most Americans, accounting for over 50% of our energy production according to the Department of Energy, but it’s also important to remember that it is not our only source of energy.

Take, for instance, the massive proliferation of wind power over the last few years.  In 2008, new wind projects accounted for 42% of new power-producing capacity for the United States, and an additional 10,000MW of new capacity were brought online in 2009.  According to the American Wind Energy Association, this sets the U.S. on track to produce 20% of our electricity from wind by 2030,

Wind power accounts for nearly 2% of the electricity produced in the United States, but represents a power source that is considered more-or-less environmentally-friendly.  Wind turbines, after production and installation, do not necessitate the use of fossil fuels to produce energy.  The attributable benefits are substantial – the wind power fleet in the U.S. avoids an estimated 62 million tons of carbon dioxide annually – an equivalent of taking 10.5 millions cars off the road and conserves 20 billion gallons of water annually otherwise slated for cooling or steam production in fossil-fuel and nuclear power plants.

Compared to the burning of fossil fuels for energy, wind power is indeed an environmentally-option, but is beset by some other challenges.  One of the foremost is local opposition to the aesthetic appearance of a wind farm on agricultural or ocean landscapes (notoriously, construction on the Cape Wind Project was delayed for years for this reason).  There have been accusations that wind farms disrupt migratory bird patterns, and that windmills produce low-level vibrations and noise (a claim which has yet to be scientifically verified).

Still, the future of wind looks bright – the DoE’s Wind and Water Power Program notes the proliferation of small scale and distributed wind turbines, large-scale offshore wind projects, and 20% targets for wind production by 2030.  Weaning ourselves off of fossil-fuel consumption can only mean good things for the state of the planet.

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While it’s one thing (and a great thing) to talk about green building, it’s not every day that we meet people who are actually doing it on a grand scale. So to bring a fresh dose of reality to the conversation, we tracked down someone who not only talks the green talk but is decidedly walking the green walk, too. Here’s a short Q&A session with Thom Woglom, a green contractor in Warwick, New York. Thom is a regular Green Depot customer, and with 25 years of experience as a general contractor, he is now the owner and president of Greenway Technologies of Warwick–a contracting company specializing in green building. He kindly took the time to answer some basic questions about the business for us.

Green Depot: Thom, what are some of the reasons your customers have given for choosing a green contractor and green building materials, as opposed to going the standard route?
Thom Woglom:
Well, the community of Warwick is special in that it’s both very rural and is made up of a lot of progressive thinkers. So there’s a big emphasis on nature here, and preserving it. The environment is very much on people’s minds these days–there’s a huge amount of interest in green products. But beyond that, our company (my son is my lead foreman) is unique in that we also offer an electronics-recycling service to the community–and a lot of our green building customers come to us by way of that. We think the key to expanding the green movement lies within forming a sense of community around it, because the biggest changes are happening within communities and are growing from the ground up. So we provide a service for our community that helps it become more green-conscious, and as an added benefit, it brings our green business new interest and customers.

GD: What are some products you use often that you order from Green Depot?
TW: We use a lot of your National Fiber cellulose insulation, your Solatube ventilation and daylighting systems, and your Complete Radiant subflooring. We’re about to start working on a house that will have all of those products and many more–they client is going all-out, with a rainwater containment and reuse system, a freshwater swimming pool, wind power, and even a Permaculture site design.

GD: That’s fantastic! Hopefully one day every house will be like that… But are there any areas of the house where that client chose a non-green option? And if so, why?
TW: Well, one of the reasons we’ve heard most often from clients when they don’t want to go with a green choice is concerns about reliability. People haven’t seen most of these new green technologies in action over a long enough time to feel 100% comfortable relying on them yet. This client’s way of addressing those concerns was to have a backup to each of the major systems. So in addition to solar power and heating, he’s installing traditional fossil-fueled electricity and a furnace, too, just in case the greener systems fail (which, of course, we don’t believe they will). It’s an interesting approach. Many clients are also put off by the pricing for green systems, which are generally higher than what they find at a mass-market discount warehouse, but might not be too much higher than non-discounted traditional systems. But price isn’t the main concern for this particular client.

GD: What about the installation of green systems–is it any more difficult or easier than installing traditional heating, cooling and insulation?
TW: It’s all in how you think about it. Any new system requires learning something new, but the basic tools and techniques of building and installation stay the same. As it happens, some of the older workers who might be resistant to learning new methods are now aging out of the workforce, and we’re taking the opportunity to teach the new systems to the new generation of workers from the very beginning. But ultimately, regardless of age, if you’re willing to learn and read instructions, green building really isn’t any more difficult.

GD: Thanks for sharing your experience and expertise, Thom!

Thom Woglom and his company are currently building their area’s first interactive showroom for green building and landscaping, which will feature everything from super-insulated windows and low-flow toilets to compost makers and edible landscaping.

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