Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Economic growth is officially decoupled from greenhouse gases

In the dirty 20th Century, if you wanted economic growth, it came with an increasing dose of fossil fuel-driven greenhouse gases. But that has changed. Take a look at the charts in this article. The world has proven it can have GDP growth with less climate-forcing gases. This is especially heartening because GDP counts all economic activity, stuff that adds to our quality of life (education, food, entertainment) and stuff that doesn’t (cleaning up oil spills, extreme weather events, fracking.)

New data gives hope for meeting the Paris climate targets | Dana Nuccitelli - the guardian

Monday, October 30, 2017

Internal combustion engines increasingly are being banned

A number of countries are planning to ban the sale of vehicles with internal combustion engines and certain cities will be banning them from their streets in part to improve air quality. See who’s doing what...

These Are All the Nations Banning Gas-Powered Cars by 2040 - Futurism

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Greening electronics

Do you have any electronics on your Dear Santa list? If so, you might check out the 2017 Guide to Greener Electronics. You can choose phones, computers and TVs from companies that minimize toxic materials and make energy efficient models.


Friday, October 27, 2017

If capitalism based on cheapness, what does it mean about us?

Fish don't contemplate the water in which they swim and we don't often contemplate the form of capitalism that our culture has sloshed around in for the last century. But here's an historical perspective on capitalism and what it was based on, 7 cheap things:
Together with Binghamton University professor Jason W. Moore, he [Raj Patel] has written The History of the World in Seven Cheap Things (University of California Press, 2017), which aims to put it all together for us. The seven “things” of the title aren’t physical objects as much as they are a hidden social, ecological and economic infrastructure: nature, money, work, care, food, energy, and lives. The point being that cheapness is a process of responding to economic crises by devaluing each of those forces so that capitalism can continue to concentrate wealth in the hands of the already-wealthy. 

It can be scary to talk about the end of capitalism, heretical even. My career has been about transforming it instead, getting business to see its self interest in sustainability, exploring democratic alternatives to organizational forms like worker owned cooperatives to share the wealth more equitably, increasing employees' power over their workplace with self-directed teams, and reframing the purpose of organizations from making stuff to making a difference.

Capitalism started with the need to have people with lots of money (capitalists) provide the funds to make something happen, be it Columbus's voyage or building an automobile assembly plant. But what happens when we are all producing our own energy and making what we need with 3D printers using apps off the web? When artificial intelligence and robotics do much of our work?

Everything comes to an end, even economic systems. It would behoove us to consider what we want to evolve toward, what principles should drive our economy. Did anyone ever think that the well-being of a society should be based on how much stuff people buy? As if the earth were nothing more than a resource to be plundered instead of the gift we inherited to pass on. The leaders who initially promoted consumerism as a way to improve living standards assumed we would reach a state of 'enough' and then evolve to something else. I think it's time.

Some suggested reading:

Homo Economicus Interruptus, by Darcy Hitchcock

Contemporary American Society, "Consumerism"

Free lesson plans on sustainability goals

The world has committed to 17 sustainability goals. Teachers can now get lesson plans for each goal.


See also this article with other resources and approaches.

Circular economy is gaining momentum

In previous posts, we’ve talked about the Circular Economy where materials get recovered and reused repeatedly, shunning the Take-Make-Waste economy we have now.

There’s evidence that this idea is taking hold in the US.
Verizon, for example, has built a best-in-class reverse logistics system to take back mobile phones after consumers upgrade to a new model. Precious metals and reusable microelectronic components are worth real money, so Verizon treats them as a significant raw material source. HP has done the same thing with printer supplies and now claims that 75% of its ink cartridges are made with "closed loop" recycled plastic.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

New tools to support sustainable entrepreneurship

Marsha Willard and I used to teach together at the first sustainable MBA program (then called Bainbridge Graduate Institute, now part of Presidio Graduate School). Through that affiliation, we were asked by the Lemelson Foundation, to build a sustainability tool to supplement the well-known Business Model Canvas. Our tool is now part of a suite of tools funded by Lemelson that have just been released as a suite, Sustaining Our Planet: A Toolkit for Entrepreneurs.

Each toolkit uses a unique lens for “sustainability” during different stages of business or product development. Together, they offer a holistic picture of what it means for a company to be environmentally sustainable.

Presidio Graduate School’s “Business Sustainability Booster” extends the well-known “Business Model Canvas” (BMC). It guides leaders of start-ups and existing enterprises through a set of questions to make their business models more socially, environmentally, and economically sustainable.

VentureWell’s “Inventing Green: A Toolkit for Sustainable Design” helps early-stage inventors understand how the lifecycle of their products will affect the environment. The toolkit includes a video series and several resources that can be used together, a la carte, or mixed with other tools.

NESsT’s “I2E Inventing Green Tool” is an online tool that simplifies the process of assessing and tracking environmental impact. The tool is designed for companies – including those operating in under-resourced countries – that have started early production and sales and are validating or preparing to scale.

Choose the right tool for you

Are you….?
Presidio Graduate Shool: Business Sustainability Booster
VentureWell Inventing Green: Sustainability Toolkit
NESsT I2E: Inventing Green

Just starting to develop a business model?


Using the Business Model Canvas?


Inventing a new product?


Committed to social impact?
Working to assure product and supply chain design takes sustainability into account?


Curious about the environmental impact of your product’s life cycle?

Focused on continuous improvement relative to the social and environmental impact of your business and need direct support with implementation?

Wanting to measure the environmental impact of your business, benchmark against the industry standard, validate, prepare to scale and/or create a sustainability report?


Fossil fuel free zones in cities by 2030

Twelve cities have committed to buying only zero emission buses and making major zones of their city fossil free by 2030. That will be a breath of fresh air! Literally!

Starting in 2025, the Mayors of London, Los Angeles, Paris, Cape Town, Copenhagen, Barcelona, Quito, Vancouver, Mexico City, Milan, Seattle and Auckland have promised to only purchase electric or other zero emission buses for their city fleets, and to make "major areas" of their cities fossil fuel free by 2030 at the latest. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

What smart cities are doing to prepare for inevitable climate change

Yes, we need to reverse climate change but a certain amount of disruption is already baked into the atmosphere. Rather than just stand around waiting for disaster, smart cities are making changes to address impacts they are likely to face. This article has a nice chart of likely impacts to worry about and some wonderful examples of what can be done now to prepare. One example:

The Clichy-Batignolles urban project in the Paris area built a “climate-proof” urban area that is both attractive for residents during the summer time and able to absorb precipitation during heavy rain periods. A 10-hectares park – open 24 hours a day with pools, drinking fountains, water jets, along with cooling buildings that reflect sunlight and have green roofs, etc. – has reduced energy demand and stormwater treatment. The volume of stormwater treatment declined by 50 percent.
 Calamitous Climate: A Tale of Two Countries Illuminates the Necessity of Preparation - Triple Pundit

Want some pesticides with your fruit and veggies?.

We are supposed to eat more fruits and veggies, but they've likely been treated with pesticides. Even organic produce may have some, albeit a safer, less toxic type. This article reveals how to wash most of it away and tries to put your exposure in perspective. But better yet, grow some of your food at home.
How to actually remove pesticides from your fruit - Popular Science

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Humans are destroying species, creating species

Sometimes you come across an idea that is such a different way of thinking, you feel like someone is wringing your brain. There's a controversial conversation going on in the conservation community:At the same time that humans are causing a mass extinction event, we are also creating new species (like beefalo) or setting the stage for new species (like moving a species from one continent to another where it will go its evolutionary own way).

No one is saying we should just shrug about endangered species. But this scientist is saying that we might want to reframe how we think about new hybrids or invasive species brought over from elsewhere.
Normally when you bring species together in continental areas, all of the species survive. It's very unusual that one of the native species goes completely extinct. So you're getting more diversity. Where all of this goes wrong from a conservation point of view is, first of all, a perception problem. People are prone to equate change to loss. And they see the arrival of a new species as almost equivalent to a loss as well, because it represents a further departure from a previous state.
The only thing we know is that the future isn't going to look like the past.

The case that humans are creating new species despite killing off so many - Vox

Monday, October 23, 2017

Sustainability: how do we get from here to there?

I just finished reading No Is Not Enough by author Naomi Klein. She does a remarkable job of describing long-term trends (like corporate branding, the so-called Shock Doctrine, climate change- and conflict-driven immigration, and the financial collapse of 2008) led to the wave of political upsets, hate and nationalism we see in the US and other nations.

But rather than feed our lesser angels, she lays out an approach to move toward an inclusive, just and environmentally sane society. She and a host of other thinkers created the Leap Manifesto for Canada. It can be the basis of similar agreements where you live. As I said in Dragonfly's Question, "To create a positive and sustainable future, we must first envision it." The Leap Manifesto is a vision for the future. You can sign onto it or customize it for your location.


Pollution kills 1 in 6 people. Which countries are the worst.

We need a clean energy revolution and fast. Pollution is killing 1 put of 6 people worldwide, mostly from air pollution. Thanks to environmental regulation and activism, the US residents are exposed to significantly cleaner air. Instead our risks include Contaminates of Emerging Concern, like tiny quantities of chemicals that mimic hormones in our personal care products and plastic containers.


Sunday, October 22, 2017

10 steps to personal resilience

Saving the world can be tiresome business. Knowledge of the world's problems can drag you down. And sometimes Nature smacks us down for our lack of respect for her needs. Here are ten steps to build your resilience, your ability to take what comes and bounce back to deal with it. This is an important skill to teach our kids and all of our citizens.


11 year old invents device to detect lead in water

The Flint water crisis put lead in the news. Gitanjali Rao mulled this for a couple years, finding the existing testing option lacking. So in 7th grade, with a smartphone and some nanotubes and access to some laboratories, she invented a better way. Sustainable entrepreneurship in action. Way to go!


Carbon offsets driven by blockchain?

If you didn't understand the nouns in the title, this article may not be for you. But a company in Canada is exploring how we can offset our greenhouse gases by paying a fee that retailers then use to create incentives for customers to make more sustainable decisions. All using the security technology undergirding Bitcoin, the online currency.

Can Personal Carbon Trading Take Off On The Blockchain? - Fast Company

Instant solar farm: just add land

Solar includes unnecessary costs due to lack of standardization. Someone has to engineer the panels going on your roof, the utility and city/county inspectors have to approve it. Maybe even your home owners association. Now multiply all that for building a community solar farm.

Now there is a product that lets you build a solar farm for your whole community. It's also something that could be delivered to devastated communities like Puerto Rico.


Saturday, October 21, 2017

Nuclear radiation has affected 5 generations

In this National Geographic photo essay, you get a sense of the long-term, intergenerational impacts of nuclear weapons, poorly designed nuclear power plants and the continuing question of what to do with all the nuclear waste.

This Is What Nuclear Weapons Leave in Their Wake - National Geographic

Solar has become 4x cheaper than your electric utility prices

The cost of solar is plunging below 3 cents per kWh. If you live in the US, you're probably paying 4 times that, or more. Bids on a large scale solar project in Saudi Arabia are all below 3 cents.


Friday, October 20, 2017

What's killing 9 million people a year and costing economies trillions of dollars?

Hint: it's not war and terrorism. Not even close.

Take a look at the graph in this article. Air pollution dwarfs the other causes. And if it's killing us, it's likely having an impact on other forms of life as well. A lot of the pollution is in developing countries. However,
 Rich nations still have work to do to tackle pollution: the US and Japan are in the top 10 for deaths from “modern” forms of pollution, ie fossil fuel-related air pollution and chemical pollution.


Thursday, October 19, 2017

Idaho may be going dark (in a good way)

The US has a number of certified Dark Sky Parks and communities (including Sedona and Flagstaff) but Idaho may become the first Dark Sky Reserve in the US, covering a much larger swath of land.


Saturday, October 14, 2017

Why is this accounting firm telling business to address inequality in the community?

PriceWaterhouse Coopers is encouraging clients to address social inequities, skill gaps and trust to build resilient communities. This social justice emphasis is an important part of sustainability. Why do they think business should spend time and money doing it? Because business depends on the health of the community.

PwC is also walking the talk:
Access Your Potential™ (AYP), a $320M, five-year commitment with a laser sharp focus on underserved communities with programs of training, mentoring, and access to resources to enable students to develop financial capability and learn the technology skills that are fast becoming essential life skills.


Friday, October 13, 2017

Making prosthetics for kids in school's 3D printer with recycled plastic

You think it's bad when your kids outgrow $50 Nike's. Imagine if your child needed an artificial arm, actually several of them to do different things, each costing $40,000. And then outgrowing them. That's the problem this high school boy took on, making an arm for himself, running three machines with one hand.


What do Americans think of a carbon tax?

A majority of voters in a recent poll were willing to pay 15% more for energy to build renewable energy. Sixty-six percent like a revenue-neutral tax-and-dividend.

Americans Are Willing To Pay A Carbon Tax, But Trump Won’t Even Consider It - HuffPost

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Is there a business case for buying carbon offsets or RECs?

Courtesy Stuart Miles, Freedigitalphotos.net
At a recent Sedona City Council meeting, one of the Councilors asked what the business case might be for Renewable Energy Credits (REC's). (Basically these are the renewable portion of the kWh's produced, the cost premium, which can be bought and sold.) I wanted to broaden the question to include carbon offsets/credits where you compute your greenhouse gases and via a third party, pay for a project that offsets that amount of carbon dioxide or equivalent gases. (Nature doesn't care who reduces greenhouse gases and it may be cheaper for someone else to do it than you.)

Here's my answer.


It is incumbent on every generation to pay its own debts as it goes.
A principle which if acted on would save one-half the wars of the world. 

—Thomas Jefferson

Every day that we as a society continue to be unsustainable, we are leaving debts for the future generations (environmental, social, and genetic), in some cases, for the current generations downwind or downstream.

While it is still legal to buy energy based on fossil fuels, it doesn’t make it right. Purchasing RECs or carbon offsets are a way to internalize costs imposed on others, what economists call ‘externalities,’ basically problems you caused that you don’t have to pay for: asthma medicines for kids living near coal-fired power plants, rebuilding costs for survivors of more frequent extreme weather events, managing disposal and storage of nuclear fuel for thousands of years, etc.

While this moral argument might not impress your Finance Director, there are ways to use these methods to improve your competitiveness.


A number of companies now have internal carbon fees. You could ‘charge’ each department the equivalent of a carbon offset, giving them incentives to be more energy efficient, and then allocate those funds for renewable projects or other carbon-reduction strategies. If you challenged each department to find the savings to pay for their internal carbon offset, this could uncover other cost-savings measures. (Resource: http://blogs.edf.org/markets/2016/12/08/how-companies-set-internal-prices-on-carbon/)


Visitors could be offered the opportunity to buy a carbon offset for their trips. (This could be as an opt-in or an opt-out fee.) If 1/10th of our 3 million visitors paid, on average, $10 (perhaps tax-deductible), that would result in $3 million a year that could be spent on local projects (City, schools or workforce housing), creating local jobs.

Demetri Wagner, owner of El Rincon Restaurant, has already built a system and non-profit to do this, which could be adapted to this situation. He was so concerned about climate change, he created the World Survival Foundation and the GenIsis Project where individuals or organizations can calculate their carbon impact and pay for a carbon offset, directing it to the school of their choice. To make his offset program credible, I believe he needs to move away from market pricing to project pricing so that if you purchase a metric ton of GHG offsets, you actually offset that amount. My point is there is already a system in the Verde Valley that could be adapted to do this.


What if Sedona (or your community) became the first carbon-neutral destination, a guilt-free trip? Places like Costa Rica and Montenegro are among those working on it. Why not us? Given the ‘first mover advantage,’ we could get a lot of free publicity if we were first. In the last 20 years, early-adopter businesses like Interface Carpet have all said they couldn’t have paid for all the free publicity they got. Here’s a google search that reveals some of the tourist destinations intending to become climate neutral.

This paper provides a critical review of the concept of “carbon neutrality” for tourism destinations within the framework of the UNWTO's Davos Declaration, ...
"We have an opportunity to become the first carbon-neutral tourist destination," he said. "We want Costa Rica to be a guilt-free location to visit, and that will be ...
Aug 24, 2017 - While a lot of destinations claim to be doing their part to minimize their ... This means their Myanmar trip is fully carbon offset, to the tune of 577 ...
Jan 25, 2012 - Bequia is a delightful link in the chain of islands which make St. Vincent and the Grenadines such an attractive destination for sun worshipping ...
Oct 30, 2009 - Costa Rica threw down a green gauntlet this week, announcing its plan to become the world's first carbon-neutral destination. At a sustainable ...
Apr 7, 2017 - Montenegro is taking a number of steps to become a hot ecotourism destination.
https://www.theguardian.com › Environment › Greenhouse gas emissions
Mar 26, 2009 - By setting out the steps to enable the Maldives to brand itself as a carbon-neutral destination, we could be accused of actually encouraging ...


If an organization decides that they should offset some or all of their carbon emissions, then you must ask what method is the best carbon-return-on-investment, what actions get you to carbon neutral at the cheapest cost.
  1. Energy efficiency is often the cheapest place to start, often with amazing internal rates of returns (30% is not unusual). This also reduces the amount of carbon-emitting energy you have to offset. Remember to think also about actions that can reduce transportation-related emissions as well.
  2. Green power programs are available from most, if not all, electric utilities. You can also sign up with Arcadia Power, which likely has a cleaner mix than your utility.
  3. Solar panels and co-generation systems can have a big first cost, but leasing programs and energy savings performance contracts can eliminate the initial cost investment and save you money on utilities right off the bat.
  4. REC's and carbon offsets can be used for whatever else you can't eliminate.

Turning food waste into profit

This Detroit composting business can't keep up with demand, yet. This scalable business model could work in your town.


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Good or bad idea: Proctor and Gamble bottle from ocean trash

Sustainability is about seeing the whole system and thinking long term, inventing the future and working backward from that positive future, not muddling forward from an unsustainable system.

Proctor and Gamble has recently proudly announced a new dish soap bottle made from ocean plastic. This is not exactly what the circular economy is about: taking plastic trash from the ocean, turning it into dish soap bottles, which may find their way back into the ocean. Short term, it at least helps clean the ocean but long term it's not a solution, not unless every bottle is recycled. We either need to put a deposit on all bottles worldwide (making them valuable, creating an incentive to recycle every single one) or we need plastics that biodegrade in open air, sunlight or rain when tossed "away."


Swedish have a terrible term for de-cluttering your life

Leave it to the Swedish. My favorite Swedish word is one for which the English have no equivalent: Lagom. It means just the right amount. In English, 'enough' has a demanding or self-sacrificing tone to it. Not lagom. It's perfect, not too much, not too little (salt, fresh air, furniture, stuff.) Just right. Ahh.

Now they have a term for de-cluttering your life, especially as you age: death cleaning. I think something got lost in translation, but it's a good idea. Don't leave your family a pile of stuff to clean out after you die. Slowly, start getting rid of the stuff now. Let others enjoy whatever you don't use or cherish.

Once you do it, you'll realize what a burden stuff is. My husband and I learned that the hard way when our house was slowly destroyed by a mudslide. We lived in a trailer for 7 months as we rebuilt a three bedroom home for the two of us, just because we had three bedroom sets, one from my mom, one from my grandmother. How do you give that up? Now we had to pay for the bigger house, paint it, heat it, maintain it. I realized after living in the trailer that all I needed in addition was room for an office and a washer/dryer. We could have lived in the garage of our rebuilt house. We rebuilt a house for our stuff, not for us. What were we thinking?


Monday, October 9, 2017

Climate solutions, in priority order

Climate change obviously is a huge issue and we are running out of time to keep it under control. Up to now, we have had lots of potential solutions, but we didn't know which could make the biggest difference worldwide. Drawdown, a book and website edited by Paul Hawken, represents several years of work to answer the question: which strategies have the greatest potential to reduce greenhouse gases by 2050 and what would they cost and save?

Here's a link to the website page that lists the strategies in priority order. The answers are likely to surprise you. Number 1 is refrigerant management because commonly used refrigerant molecules have a gigantic greenhouse gas effect as compared to carbon dioxide.

Take a look at their list and let us know what you and your city/town are doing.


Here is their top 10 from their list of 80 solutions. In the Verde Valley of Arizona, we can directly work on refrigerants, food waste and diet, and solar (farms and roof top). Some places may have enough wind. But you can also affect the others through your purchasing decisions (don't buy exotic tropical hardwoods) and charitable donations.
Refrigerant ManagementMaterials89.74N/A$-902.77
2Wind Turbines (Onshore)Electricity Generation84.60$1,225.37$7,425.00
3Reduced Food WasteFood70.53N/AN/A
4Plant-Rich DietFood66.11N/AN/A
5Tropical ForestsLand Use61.23N/AN/A
6Educating GirlsWomen and Girls59.60N/AN/A
7Family PlanningWomen and Girls59.60N/AN/A
8Solar FarmsElectricity Generation36.90$-80.60$5,023.84
10Rooftop Solar

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Ecotourism gone wrong

Ecotourism can help protect our wondrous planet, giving locals an incentive to preserve it instead of plundering it to survive. But don't participate in activities that encourage locals to trap, imprison and abuse animals for your pleasure. This practice has been in the news for places in Asia (e.g., petting tiger cubs) and now it's taken off in the Amazon. Here's why we should all refuse to engage in these types of tourist activities. Don't hurt the creatures you went to honor.

Special Report: The Amazon Is the New Frontier for Deadly Wildlife Tourism - National Geographic

We should be rebuilding Puerto Rico with this!

Aircrete. $2000 per structure. Fireproof, insect proof. People could build their own homes with the tools in this video. When I saw the outside, it looks like it might be a dark Hobbit House. But they are gorgeous inside. Watch at least the beginning of the video. Granted, cement has a high climate impact but there isn't a lot in these structures because it's mixed with a foam that can be made with dish soap. No kidding!


Friday, October 6, 2017

A reminder that other creatures deserve respect

Humans have been taught that we are at the top of a long line of evolution. Certainly we are "better" than worms. We ere taught that the Earth was made for us to plunder. So it's not surprising that some treat other animals like objects, something to chase, imprison, kill, eat. I saw two stories in the last two days that are good reminders of the sentient, empathetic creatures we share the planet with.

Octavia, the octopus who loves to be petted and play tricks on people
These creatures are smart, playful, and incredibly alien - Popular Science

The lion pride that protected a hurt fox (well, dad wasn't into it but mom insisted)

Is our two-party system feeding climate denial?

Here are two articles, one that shows that while there's a big split between Democrats and Republicans, a majority of Americans now accept (note, I'm not using the word, believe, a word associated with faith, not knowledge) climate change is happening. The second article explores why the US has more climate deniers than our peers in the world. There are a number of contributing factors and certainly it's been politicized, but our two party system amplifies the divide, leaving us with binary thinking to retain our political worldview.

Growing majority believes global warming is happening - Axios

Why people around the world fear climate change more than Americans do - Salon

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Who's the fairest cotton buyer in the land?

Traditionally grown cotton is a nasty business. The last figures I saw were that cotton uses 1/4 of the world's herbicides. They use it to nuke the leaves before harvesting the cotton. The chemicals flow through the fields and make the workers sick. It's often grown in arid places (like Arizona) where water is scarce. Now go to your pantry and see how many products have cottonseed oil. Those seeds got soaked by the spray. Are your chips not so tasty all of a sudden?

But efforts are underway to promote organic cotton. The non-profit Solidaridad rates retailers and manufacturers on their cotton buying practices and policies. You'll never guess who came out on top.


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

What's in your closet? DIY chemical inventory

Lots of organizations have chemicals hidden away in closets—cleaning products, landscape products, paints, equipment oils and solvents—some old, some duplicates because no one knew you already had some, quite a bit of them more toxic than is really needed. So how to you get a handle on what you have?

The process of cataloging and assessing your chemicals is called a chemical inventory. If you're a big operation, you might want to invest in software or a consultant to do it. But the process described below is a reasonable way for small businesses and service organizations to do it yourself.

Why do it

  • Clean out old chemicals
  • Consolidate supplies so no one reorders something you already have
  • Improve employee safety and reduce workplace hazards
  • Make sure you are complying with OSHA regulations
  • Identify products for which you want to seek safer alternatives

Tips for doing it

  • Do it as a team with staff. Wander around together in one another's work area and open closet doors. Keep asking, What's in here? What do you use that for? Keep it light-hearted. You don't want anyone to feel ashamed. But you do want employees to be aware of and feel responsible for what's in their work area.
  • Be sure you have all the appropriate safety equipment based on what you know you have. This may include gloves, protective eyewear, etc. Bring a cart to gather up all the chemicals you decide to get rid of. Find out where you can safely dispose of any old product. If something is not in its original container, label it to the best of your ability and dispose of it.
  • Find out where the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) are kept. You're required to have these available and up to date in case of a spill or accident. Doing this chemical inventory will reveal any gaps.
  • Decide what you do not want to include in the inventory. You probably don't need to count every bottle of Whiteout or Expo marker. 

How to do it

1. Log what you find on a spreadsheet as you walk around the workplace. (See the Sample Chemical Inventory Spreadsheet we have provided for your use. See partial image below.)

In general, you want to gather this information:
  • Product name.
  • Where it's stored. (If you sort by product or ingredient, you may find you have small quantities all over the place.)
  • Active ingredients. (Both the name of the chemical and since the same chemical may be called different things, the standard 'CAS number')
  • Quantity. (Since some products will be fluid and others may be powder or solid, you need a way to compare these different units. On our spreadsheet, we provide a crude way of doing this that is usually adequate: count gallons and pounds as roughly equivalent. If you have a 55 gallon drum, that's likely to be a bigger issue than a a few ounces of something else. You'll multiply this quantity or volume by estimated toxicity in the spreadsheet.)
  • What it's used for. (This is helpful because you can then sort by, for example, 'cleaning carpets.' You may find that different products are used in different buildings. You may be able to save money by purchasing a larger quantity of one and switch to the most benign alternative.)
  • Comments/Notes. (You might note the condition of the product if the can is rusting or if the product is clearly old and likely no longer any good. Janitors may complain of lung or skin irritation.)
2. Estimate toxicity. After you've logged all the chemicals, gather the MSDSs and use them to estimate the toxicity of each product. (Our spreadsheet includes factors like flammability and known or suspected risks to workers, the public, and the environment (including carcinogens, teratogens, etc.) These should be described in the MSDSs or the Scorecard website mentioned below.

3. Combine and score each product. If you found the same product in different locations, combine them into one row, one quantity. Then score each product based on quantity and toxicity. In our spreadsheet, we add up the points for each of the hazards (on a 0-4 scale) and multiply it by the quantity to get a rough score. A higher score is bad...more toxic and more of it.

4. Analyze the spreadsheet. By sorting by different columns, you can find out if:

  • You have the same product in multiple locations (search by product)
  • You use different products for the same purpose (search by use)
  • There are safer alternatives to what you are using (search by score and investigate alternatives high-scoring products)
  • You need a better way to monitory your inventory (search by product and then location)
  • You can reduce the hazardous waste on site, reducing costs associated with handling and regulations (sort by score)
5. Take action. Your actions might include:
  • Creating gray-lists (chemicals you want to phase out) and black-lists, chemicals now banned from purchase. 
  • Standardizing purchasing protocols and storage locations.
  • Finding safer alternatives to high-scoring products.
  • Seeking vendors with green products or services.
  • Getting to root causes. Why are things getting dirty? Do carpets require nastier products to clean than hard surfaces and if so, why not pull the carpet? Could mulch reduce weeds and build soil. Where are the critters getting into the building?


You can google "green _[function]___" or "environmentally preferable ___" to find guidelines and products in a wide variety of functions from cleaning facilities, pest control, and auto maintenance.

You can add your industry to the search if you have special needs or requirements.  For example, a search for "green cleaning" and "hotels" will reveal good advice from Connecticut.

Here are a few links to get you started.

How solar energy can help your community

We all know that solar panels can save you money in the long run. Here's a case example where it helped the community. One surprising way was that they donated their excess solar energy to help two families in need.


How to get microplastics and Rx out of our water

One of the barriers to converting wastewater to drinking water is that it still has small quantities of "emerging" pollutants, basically weird stuff that humans make that can't easily be removed. Things like pharmaceuticals, tiny bits of plastic (that research shows may pass through the blood brain barrier."

The only way we are going to be able to handle a growing population in the dry southwest is to reuse and recycle water. We need an efficient and cost-effective way to remove these pollutants. Even if the amounts are parts per billion, they will over time build up if they don't break down.

New German technology referred to as Wasser 3.0 (Water 3.0) is now being test in wastewater treatment plants.


Monday, October 2, 2017

Some tools for a paperless or at least file-cabinet-less office

Mentioning the "paperless office" usually is followed with guffaws. If only we hadn't invented the printer!

But there are a lot of hidden costs associated to using paper: all the trees, all the floor space taken up with file cabinets, all the time finding and shuttling around paperwork. A former client, an attorney firm, found that going paperless made them much more productive.

Of course there are costs associated with electronic files too: time scanning files that start as paper, storage space and all the energy involved with server farms, offsite backups. And then there is a risk of cyberattacks and technology changes that could make electronic files inaccessible.

Here are some tools to help you move away from paper.

Make your life paperless with these apps and gadgets - Popular Science

Natural disasters aren't natural

This article makes the point that hazards are natural; disasters are man made. We let people build in high fire zones. Houston had no flood evacuation zones that would have let locals get to higher ground. The poor often get shunted to the most hazardous places, in flood zones and near chemical plants.  As climate change makes the hazards worse, it's time we do a better job to prepare. An ounce of prevention is worth a ton of rebuilding.

There's no such thing as a natural disaster - Popular Science

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Subtle sexism

As a society, we often ask girls and women quite different questions than boys and men. Watch this two minute video to see if you've slipped up on occasion.


I remember one of my job interviews around 1980. "Are you married?" (Alarm bells.) No. "Do you have a boyfriend?" (Louder alarm bells!) Yes. "If he was transferred, would you go with him?"