Monday, March 18, 2019

Gardeners: no more bugaboos

Insects are struggling. Not just honeybees and Monarchs. It’s much broader than that. (Read more: You might think that’s good news: fewer ants in the house, fewer bug bites in summer. But many are pollinators and bird food. Our local lizards love’m. So here are 5 things you can do to protect insects and the planet.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Solo: an electric car for one; roadster for two

Most commuters drive to work alone. So why not build a $15k vehicle for them? That’s the inspiration for the Solo. In the US, most car owners would still want another car, but many families already do. Imagine the extra space you’d have in your garage if this were one of your cars. It probably has even more potential in car sharing fleets.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Weaving our society back together


It's an epidemic in US and British society. It's a risk factor for early death. It leads to anger (even shootings) and drug abuse.

Now a group under the Aspen Institute is trying to do something about it.

The question for each of us is: What can I do today and tomorrow to replace loneliness, division and distrust with relationship, community and purpose?
Weave is a community of people who are helping each other answer this question. We seek to learn from those who are weaving communities everywhere, establishing connection, building relationships, offering care and creating intimacy and trust. We want to spread the values they live out every day. We want to be part of a cultural revolution that replaces a culture of hyper-individualism with a culture of relationalism, a way of living that puts our connections with one another at the center of our lives. The revolution will be moral or it will not be at all.

A personal anecdote: When my husband and I moved from the country to Portland, Oregon to be 'close to people,' we discovered almost no one on our street knew one another. When I asked, people shrugged. "People are busy. Their networks are through work." They didn't know what they were missing until I hosted a discussion group for 6 weeks, just to lock them in a room long enough to get to know one another. A half dozen households or so on the 4-block-long street participated. At the end, everyone said, "This was GREAT! We should keep it going." It turned into monthly potlucks which wove the neighborhood together.  We ate great food and laughed and got to know one another. Kids played together.

Word got out.  It started to take a long time to walk down the street because we'd get drawn into conversations. One day a woman drove down the street, stopped at a cluster of us chatting on the sidewalk and rolled down her window. "I understand everyone knows everyone on this street. I'm looking for Emma who baby sits. Do you know which house is hers?" We did. People started buying homes on the street to be part of it.

When an elderly neighbor got a compression fracture, we took care of her for a month until her daughter could come help. One person took her to the doctor, another shopped, I cleaned the cat box. When our Muslim neighbors' house was vandalized, fearing it was a hate crime, I gave them the keys to our house as we were just leaving on vacation. "Please, take your kids and move into our house."

For years, people thanked me for getting this started. But I had to keep reminding them, I did it for me. I was hungry for community. I just needed them to want it too.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

How restaurants can be greener

Restaurants can be significant contributors to sustainability solutions, both through their direct practices and by educating customers on what to request from other establishments.

Hiba Amin from the Toast blog* highlights a wide range of practical steps that restaurants can take to Reduce waste, Reuse materials, Recycle products, and make greener Cleaning choices. Plus she gives tips on sustainable sourcing from suppliers.

Although the post is oriented to restaurants, many of the ideas apply to individuals and other types of businesses too!

To learn more about how one Sedona restaurant created a sustainability plan to implement ideas like these, be sure to attend the Sustainable Leaders Gathering on Monday April 8, 3-5pm at Gerardo’s Italian Kitchen, 2675 W State Route 89A, Sedona.

*Thanks to Radhika Jen Marie of ChocolaTree Organic Oasis for forwarding this excellent resource!

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Hemp waste can store energy, acts like superconductor

Hemp is an amazing crop with lots of potential. But like anything, there are by-products (aka waste.) Here's a way to use the left over fibers as a superconductor, similar to graphene, to store energy.

They "cooked" cannabis bark into carbon nanosheets and built supercapacitors "on a par with or better than graphene" - the industry gold standard.
Electric cars and power tools could harness this hemp technology, the US researchers say.
They presented their work at the American Chemical Society meeting in San Francisco.
"People ask me: why hemp? I say, why not?" said Dr David Mitlin of Clarkson University, New York, who describes his device in the journal ACS Nano.
"We're making graphene-like materials for a thousandth of the price - and we're doing it with waste.
"The hemp we use is perfectly legal to grow. It has no THC in it at all - so there's no overlap with any recreational activities."

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

“De-paving” — Digging up asphalt and concrete

Development used to mean laying down more asphalt and concrete. But that has created sterile, harsh, hot habitats for humans. It destroys habitat for other creatures and intensifies flood events.
Image courtesy of Yes! Magazine.

Look at this picture near Portland OR and notice how your body relaxes. Imagine now that it’s an alley of asphalt. We want to be surrounded by life.

The kids wanted something different for the Inukai Family Boys and Girls Club’s 5,000 square feet of alleyside space. They talked about a soccer field or a traditional playground—but surprised Schutz by choosing a nature park. They imagined dirt, logs, and boulders to climb on, raised beds to grow flowers and veggies, and hundreds of trees and plants throughout.

This is why cities are de-paving and “daylighting” streams that have been pushed into pipes.

Friday, March 8, 2019

To buy or not to buy a new phone

Many people wonder whether it’s better to keep their old phone or buy a new one. Here’s a nice info graphic that can help you decide. See the link to the entire article and source on Green America.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

For elephants, cracked skin is cool

In this short National Geographic video, you’ll learn how craggy elephant skin helps them to stay cool. The cracks allow them to store 10 times more water in their skin than if it were smooth. They’re like walking swamp coolers. Nature is so amazing. Imagine the biomimicry applications of this.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

EVs projected to be 10% of sales by 2024

Adoption of new technologies typically follows a bell curve. At first, sales seem pitiful. For a long time, it seems a fringe product and mainstream producers bask in their denial. But once the “early majority” grab hold, growth is exponential.

According to recent projections, electric cars will be cheaper to own—without subsidies—by 2022 and by 2024 sales will reach 10%. Since cars lifespan averages around 12 years, it will take a couple decades to replace them, unless gas prices spike or government steps up incentives.

By 2030, as the cost of batteries keeps falling, the report projects that sales could grow to 21 million vehicles for the year. But that’s 14 million fewer electric cars than the industry plans to make; Deloitte’s researchers think that sales won’t match the investments car companies are putting into EVs.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

The most important lever you have to stop climate change: vote (and hurry up)

NPR interviewed David Wallace-Wells, the author of The Uninhabitable Earth, a book that explains (take a breath) that climate change is much worse than we think: it’s happening much faster than we think, will affect everyone and everything much sooner than we think. This is the opening paragraph of his book:

It is worse, much worse, than you think. The slowness of climate change is a fairy tale, perhaps as pernicious as the one that says it isn’t happening at all, and comes to us bundled with several others in an anthology of comforting delusions: that global warming is an Arctic saga, unfolding remotely; that it is strictly a matter of sea level and coastlines, not an enveloping crisis sparing no place and leaving no life un-deformed; that it is a crisis of the “natural” world, not the human one; that those two are distinct, and that we live today somehow outside or beyond or at the very least defended against nature, not circumscribed and literally overwhelmed by it; that wealth can be a shield against the ravages of warming; that the burning of fossil fuels is the price of continued economic growth; that growth, and the technology it produces, will allow us to engineer our way out of environmental disaster; that there is any analogue to the scale or scope of this threat, in the long span of human history, that might give us confidence in staring it down.
None of this is true.

The good news is we are in control. We can fix it. We know what to do.

What can you do? Vote for people and policies that will change this trajectory.

I think people who are moved to live a little more responsibly when it comes to carbon, they should. If they want to eat less meat, if they want to fly less, that’s wonderful. I applaud them. It’s really noble.
But the contribution that you can make as an individual, adding up all of your lifestyle choices, is completely trivial to the impact that you can have through politics, through voting. I do think so.

Friday, March 1, 2019

How to market plant-based foods; options for pets

If you do the math, we need to move away from meat and toward a plant based diet to protect the climate. But it’s really hard for some people to give up foods they were raised on. According to the World Resources Institute, we don’t need to force everyone to go vegan.

They found that if people swapped out 30% of their meat intake for vegetarian options like legumes and peas by 2050, the agriculture sector would be able to reduce its emissions and keep the possibility of holding global warming below 2 degrees Celsius in sight.
So how do you make plant based options sound really yummy? Well, you don’t say vegan or meat-free or eco-friendly or healthy.

Highlighting the provenance of the food or flavor (“Cumberland-spiced”) makes people feel more emotionally connected to what they’re purchasing. Also, focusing on flavor over health benefits draws more sales: BBL cited a study that found people vastly prefer “zesty ginger turmeric” sweet potatoes over “health conscious” ones. (I wonder why?) And adding descriptions like creamy or spicy encourage people to see plant-based options as equally appealing to those made with meat. “Research has shown that before we consume food, our brain constructs a mental simulation of how it might taste, and what the experience of eating will be like,” Vennard says, so more details build up positive associations with plant-based dishes.
Don’t forget your pets. According to some estimates, cat and dog foods represent up to 30% of the environmental impact from meat production in the US.

 On a personal note, I’ve been experimenting with vegan dog food. For the kibble, I chose V-dog (from because I liked the protein sources and variety of ingredients. The dogs love it. I even use it as training treats. It is quite a bit more expensive than Purina-like brands you might buy in the grocery. But our dogs are gaining weight on it so if we cut back on the quantity, the cost differential will be less.

We like to put something else in the food to provide variety of nutrients and flavor. So instead of buying canned meat foods, our dogs are getting vegetarian toppers: yogurt, egg, grated cheese, canned pumpkin, etc. They’re lovin’ it. So we haven’t gone full vegan yet, but certainly we’ve made a big dent in our pet-based climate impacts. And it’s probably healthier for them...less weird by-products and bio-accumulative toxics.

Sustainability plans are an employee retention tool

In a recent study of 1000 employees in large US companies, 70% said that if their employer had a sustainability plan, it would make them more likely to stay with that company long term. Half the workers said they would take a cut in pay to work for an environmentally responsible company. Two-thirds of Millennials would take a cut in pay.

The message here should not be to adopt sustainability so you can pay your workers a pittance. Instead, you should harness the passion most employees feel for doing good, to make a real difference.

DIY RESOURCES: Here are two resources to help you create a sustainability plan:

Sustainability Plan Worksheet: This is for first-timers and small businesses.

The Step by Step Guide to Sustainability Planning: This is for more organizations with some experience under their belt, larger organizations and sustainability directors.

[Note: The April 8, 2019 Sustainable Leaders Gathering  in Sedona focuses on sustainability planning and we will walk through the Sustainability Plan Worksheet. Contact Darcy Hitchcock for an invitation to the event. ]

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Is the Green New Deal feasible?

Popular Science weighs in on the Green New Deal. One of the debates is what energy sources are considered renewable and clean energy. Are nukes in or out. But according to reputable experts, the Green New Deal might be financially sound.

Though our current mix of energy is dominated by fossil fuels, that doesn’t mean 100% renewable goals are infeasible. “It’s technically and economically possible to do it by 2030,” says Mark Z. Jacobson, Stanford University civil and environmental engineering professor, about a transition to 100% clean, renewable energy. “But for social and political reasons, it will probably take longer, maybe up to 2050.”
 In total, a nation-wide energy transition would cost $15 trillion, says Jacobson. But, he adds, “It’s much cheaper than the current system—it’s like one-eighth the social cost and one-half the direct energy cost, so it’s really foolish not to do so.”

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Boulder reaches 2020 cliamte goal early

Like Ray Anderson liked to say, "If someone can do it, it must be possible." Boulder has been growing but they still met their 202 climate goal.

The City of Boulder has achieved a 16 percent reduction in community greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions compared to a 2005 baseline, according to the city’s annual inventory . The analysis shows that Boulder has achieved its 2020 GHG emissions reduction target three years early and, even more noteworthy, has done so during a time of economic and population growth in the city.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Housing for Tourist Town Workers

It's a dilemma for any tourist destination. Real estate values go up, long term rentals are converted to AirBnBs, and suddenly no one who works in your town can live there. In the Village of Oak Creek, we lost our elementary school because so few people with kids could live and work here.

What can be done? This June 2018 issue of Affordable Housing Finance has some examples. The article starts on page 24 and includes examples from the Florida Keys and Vail, among others.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Tesla releasing Dog Mode

Teslas will soon have Dog Mode, keeping your pooch comfy while parked. In hopes that passers by won’t break the window and call the cops, the display will show the inside temp and a message, “My owner will be back soon”.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

4 lessons to learn from the world to combat climate change

As we in the US wring our hands, wondering what can possibly be done to meet climate goals, other countries are plowing ahead. This article highlights 4 things we can do, that others have done, to make significant progress.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The cost of sprawl: $1 trillion per year in US

When auto companies bought up and killed off public transit in the early 1900’s to build a car-fueled world, they set the stage for sprawl.

Sprawl is made possible by highways. This is expensive—in 2015, the Victoria Transport Policy Institute estimated that sprawl costs America more than $1 trillion a year in reduced business activity, environmental damage, consumer expenses, and other costs. Leaving aside the emissions from the 1.1 billion trips Americans take per day (87 percent of which are taken in personal vehicles), spreading everything out has eaten up an enormous amount of natural land.
This article makes the case for addressing sprawl in climate policies, in particular building workforce housing in walkable, transit oriented developments.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Might population peak sooner than we think?

There’s a well-known formula in sustainability called IPAT:


Human Impacts are a function of Population x Affluence (consumption) x Technology.

It points out that we have three levers to reduce our environmental impacts: reduce population growth, reduce consumption or change technology to those with a lighter impact.

The 20th Century was an environmental disaster on fronts. Human population ballooned from about 2 billion to 6 or 7. Rising affluence, especially in Asia (a good thing for people in abject poverty) turned into conspicuous consumption and a plastic ocean. Technology brought us traffic jams, invasive species carried by planes and mountaintop removal.

But in the 21st Century, there are glimmers of hope.

P....Morality has prevented us from limiting births or purposefully shortening lifespans. Even China gave up on it one-child policy. But researchers discovered that educating women and giving them access to family planning services was a powerful lever to reduce the birth rate. This new book, Empty Planet, the author calls into question the U.N. estimates of population growth, arguing that cellphones are driving a cultural change, projecting we will hit 9 billion by 2100 and fall from there.

A...Techniques associated with The Circular Economy and biomimicry (see previous posts) may limit the destruction associated with our stuff.

T...Technologies like renewable energy and nanotechnology might let us have the same benefits with less impact.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

USPS experimenting with electric trucks

We can always tell the mail truck from any other vehicle on the street just by sound. Vroom, sigh, vroom, sigh. But someday we may have to go check to see if the mail is in. The Postal Service is experimenting with quiet electric vehicles in Fresno. It’s a great application since they are never far from their charging station and the electric motor probably is more forgiving of all that idling. It should save money in the long run too.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

How a city in Brazil ensures no one is hungry

Brazil has been an incubator for sustainable civic innovations. Decades ago I visited Curitiba to see how they fought hunger, built community and developed a world-class transportation system. (Search out a TedTalk by Jaime Lerner...A song of the city Part of what drives innovation there is they have all our same problems—in spades—but not much money to throw at it. They have to find elegant solutions that solve multiple problems, the essence of sustainability.
Innovations keep happening in Brazil. Belo Horizonte is a city of 2.5 million that has used Participatory Budgeting ( as one way to solve their hunger crisis.

The city agency developed dozens of innovations to assure everyone the right to food, especially by weaving together the interests of farmers and consumers. It offered local family farmers dozens of choice spots of public space on which to sell to urban consumers, essentially redistributing retailer markups on produce—which often reached 100 percent—to consumers and the farmers. Farmers’ profits grew, since there was no wholesaler taking a cut. And poor people got access to fresh, healthy food.
“For ABC sellers with the best spots, there’s another obligation attached to being able to use the city land,” a former manager within this city agency, Adriana Aranha, explained. “Every weekend they have to drive produce-laden trucks to the poor neighborhoods outside of the city center, so everyone can get good produce.”

Friday, February 15, 2019

Meet your Meat

The phrase, "Meet your meat," used to refer to people understanding where their shrink-wrapped steaks and chicken nuggets come from. When you've looked Bessie in her limpid brown eyes, you tend to have more empathy for how she is treated, concern for how the meat is processed, and respect for the sacrifice behind the product.

But with the cultural change toward less meat-eating in most of the developed world, and the need for greenhouse gas reductions, will meat disappear from our diets? This article says no. It's just your meat may be 'meat,' grown in a lab. Bessie can retire to pasture.

Are people really eating less meat?Actually, no. Overall meat consumption continues to increase on a global scale, buoyed by rising affluence in developing economies such as China and Brazil. But while per capita consumption in the U.S., the world’s biggest beef consumer, is also growing, countries such as France, Germany, Spain and Sweden are cutting back on meat. What’s more, there’s a discernible shift in attitudes in wealthy nations, including the U.S. In a 2015 study, two-thirds of Americans said they had reduced their meat intake and a recent Gallup poll showed the number of U.S. vegans had risen by more than 3 million between 2012 and 2018 to about 3 percent of the population. While a third of U.K. consumers have lowered or stopped meat purchases, Germans have been winding down meat consumption since 2011.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Good or bad news? Google is dealing on solar/wind farms everywhere

Google (Alphabet) has been working for years to open up energy markets so they could procure their energy not from their local utility but instead from renewable energy farms. (Homeowners and small businesses can do the same through Arcadia Power.) That sounds good, right? They’re trying to run their entire, gigantic tech infrastructure on renewables, including a new deal in Taiwan.

Google is the first company to benefit from a change in the country’s [Taiwan’s] electricity laws that allows non-utility organizations to procure power directly. It took many trips to the country, by many Googlers, over the last several years to lay the groundwork for this installation, according to Michael Terrell, head of energy market development at Google, who chatted with me about the strategy.
After all, it’s impossible to cover a company’s power needs with deals in just one region or country. Plus, it should be intriguing for any company wondering how to help its supply chain procure more clean power.

But it got me thinking about where this is headed. A lot of people are okay with seeing solar panels on houses or a couple wind turbines on the serve their own needs. But how are we going to feel when one multinational after another wants to blanket our land with huge installations to serve their own needs? A big blight on your landscape, brought to you by Bayer or Amazon or BP. Isn’t this another form of imperialism?

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Zero waste, reusable packaging coming soon

Loop, a coalition of major brands, are developing a way to sell youevertyhing from ice cream to shampoo in returnable, reusable containers. As cofounder of TerraCycle said,

“We run what is today the world’s largest supply chain on ocean plastic, collecting it and going into Unilever and Procter & Gamble products and so on,” Szaky says. “But every day, more and more gets put in the ocean, so no matter how much we clean the ocean, we’re never going to solve the problem. That’s really where Loop emerged…To us, the root cause of waste is not plastic, per se, it’s using things once, and that’s really what Loop tries to change as much as possible.”

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Solar = 242,000 jobs, up 158% since 2010

With solar costs cascading downward, jobs and installations are up. (Not surprisingly there was a little drop in jobs in the past two years, probably due to lack of enthusiasm in the Whitehouse.)

If you wonder why Arizona Public Service is blasé about solar on your roof, the cost chart in this article shows why: utility scale solar costs less. But a UBS analyst thinks renewable energy will “effectively be free” by 2030.

The industry is still expected to rise in the coming years. A report last month from the Energy Information Administration stated that wind and solar, which provided three percent of the United States' energy generation in 2018, will comprise 13 percent of generation in 2020. Around 18 percent of the 24 gigawatts of power set to come online next year is expected to come from photovoltaic solar panels.

Do US automakers even WANT to sell electric cars

When Dale and I went in to buy our first Volt, we knew more about the car than the sales person. He gave incorrect information about its range. Dealerships around here don’t even have an electric model to show you; the manufacturers send them all to California and Oregon. You see lots of ads for gigantic Ford pick ups, usually careening through fragile habitat, but zip for their electric models. Dealerships make a lot of money through repairs but electric vehicles need much less maintenance.

GM is closing plants, ostensibly to focus more on electric vehicles. But they are stopping production on cars, focusing on bigger, more lucrative trucks and SUVs, eliminating any hope for modest mobility. Most of the power of a vehicle goes to moving the vehicle, not the passengers, so the bigger the vehicle, the more inefficient it is.

According to this article (see link), we are currently in the ‘chasm’ between the early adopters and the early majority. Their motivations are different. The early adopters are willing to take some risk and inconvenience; early majority, not so much.

This article suggests there’s a role for government to play, to promote the benefits of electric cars and maintain the tax credit. It might seem a big request of the current administration but we spend millions and millions of dollars promoting our industries abroad.

Monday, February 11, 2019

What's often forgotten in arguments against regulation

Here's an interesting perspective on environmental regulations. Typically the government looks at the cost to companies to comply vs the costs in human health, etc. if they don't. The morality of pitting corporate profits against human life aside,  this article makes the case that regulations spawn new industries and jobs. A cost to a coal-fired power plant to add scrubbers is income to the companies that sell them scrubbers.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

OLIO, an app to share food you don’t need

You’ve learned in earlier posts that foodwaste is a significant source of greenhouse gases and in the US, muchof the waste is caused by us. Bought more bananas that you can eat? Got 5 boxes of pasta when your doc says to try gluten free? Got cans of tuna but your daughter just turned vegan? Is your apple tree loaded or the yogurt getting close to the use-by date? Now all you have to do is snap a photo and post it on OLIO. Someone nearby will arrange to pick it up.

DiCaprio models how to avoid titanic climate impacts

Leonardo DiCaprio’s organization has been crunching numbers, laying out a couple options to a 5 degree increase in global temperatures, which is what we’re heading toward if we do nothing. In this report he lays out actions in different sectors and importantly also examines the impact on employment.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Carbon Capture and Storage: what’s it role in combatting climate change?

Karl Henrik Robert, founder of The Natural Step, warned us that the longer we waited, the farther we went down “the funnel”, the more expensive it would be to achieve sustainability. Had we started the transition to renewable energy 20-30 years ago, we wouldn’t be faced with the need for an all out effort by 2030.

We no longer have time to choose technologies to reduce emissions. Research has shown that we need to deploy all solutions, including for example demand-side measures, energy efficiency, resource efficiency, electrification of heat and fuel switching. Exactly how many emissions reductions will be delivered by CCS [carbon capture and storage] depends on a variety of factors, including local and regional circumstances and electricity prices.
 According to this article, CCS will be particularly important in certain industrial sectors like cement, steel, etc.

Costs vary largely among these applications in the industrial sector (PDF). Generally, costs of adding carbon capture equipment to an existing facility are lower for plants where the CO2 is already separated as part of the production process. This means that such facilities produce a pure stream of CO2, such as natural gas processing and fertilizer and bioethanol production processes. For them, the cost of adding CCS ranges around $20 to $25 per ton of carbon captured. Higher costs are associated with processes that result in a more diluted Co2 waste stream such as in iron, steel and cement production which can range anywhere up to 125$/t.
Fortunately the US still has a tax credit for CSS.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Cops driving Teslas

Tesla cars are expensive to purchase. But increasingly, police departments are being drawn to them. It’s not just the “Insane Mode” that should let them outrun virtually any car on the road. They’ll also be cheaper to own and operate over the 5 years they usually own their cruisers.

The single Model S might’ve been more expensive right off the bat, at just over $61,000 plus the costs of converting it into a fully-fledged police cruiser, according to a press release. Modifications include a “light bar, push bumper, and ballistic barriers.”
But savings in gas and maintenance could make it a lot cheaper for the Department over five years of use — the average life cycle of such a vehicle. The Fremont Police Department has already installed a solar array on top of the Police Complex’s carport to charge electric cars, including the new Tesla.
So don’t say I didn’t warn you. The next Tesla you see might be in your rear view mirror with a flashing light bar. Drive safe. Don’t text and drive!

2018 Climate Report in three US maps

2018 was the 4th hottest on record. But what did that mean in the US? Virtually everywhere was warmer but some places like Arizona were much above normal. It brought record-breaking soaking rains east of the Mississippi but parched the Southwest. Want to know how your state fared last year? Check out this article. The entire country should be preparing for this being the new-normal. And we need to work faster to stop it from getting worse.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Healthcare represents 10% of greenhouse gases

All those MRIs, air conditioning, laundry, incinerated medical waste. It adds up. According to this article, the healthcare field represents about 10% of our greenhouse gas emissions. The article includes things they could do now to turn things around.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Electric cars cheaper over their lifetime than gas guzzlers

Auto companies promote the environmental benefits of electric cars, but that only appeals to the “dark green” market segment. Initial cost can be a barrier to purchasers who don’t see the need to take a perceived risk on new technology. Perhaps instead car makers should tell people that electric cars are more powerful and cost less to own and operate. There’s a nice chart in this article that compares the lifetime cost of vehicles. Wouldn’t you rather have a car that rarely need servicing?

The other barrier we need to overcome is thinking that our car has to do everything: Take us back and forth to work and the grocery = 95%; go on one long road trip with the kid in the summer = 5%. Why not buy an electric car that gets you around the vast majority of the time and then rent a van for your road trip?

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Resource for Cities

The UN has just released a guide to help cities pursue the Sustainable Development Goals. You can download it off this page:

The guide includes a 10-step process:

1. Setting up the leadership and management structure, including budget and timelines, for the planning process
2. Identifying core values for your city
3. Establishing work teams
4. Assembling baseline data, including population trends and eco-nomic conditions
5. Taking stock of what your city is already doing that aligns with the SDGs, identifying gaps, and analyzing those most important to fill
6. Identifying budget resources and potential funding sources
7. Developing a draft framework for the plan, including targets, benchmarks, metrics and indicators
8. Identifying stakeholders, outside advisors (including university and academic partners), and community resources; establishing processes to work with them; and integrating their knowledge and ideas into the drafted plan
9. Aligning budgets and accountability mechanisms, including met-rics and indicators, and final reviews
10. Launching the plan while establishing the feedback and account-ability mechanisms

Image credit: UN

In 12 years, DC will have 100% renewable energy

The gap between Congress in the District of Columbia and DC itself is astounding. The District has a climate action plan; Congress not so much. The District has a renewable energy standard; Congress nada. The District has declared it will be run on 100% renewable energy by 2032.

“I think it’s especially interesting because less than three years ago, [D.C.’s] renewable portfolio standard for 2032 was 50%,” says Jay Orfield, who works with the communities program at the nonprofit NRDC. “I think that speaks to a number of elements in support of renewables–the pricing continuing to come down, but then also realizing that action on climate change needs to be ramped up.”

Monday, February 4, 2019

New science: methane disproportionately increases sea level

This is new to me. I had been told by scientists that carbon dioxide was absorbed by the oceans (making it more acidic) but methane was not taken up by the oceans. Technically true.  But this new research shows that methane, which leaves the atmosphere faster than CO2, affects sea level for centuries. In addition to heating up the air which affects ocean temperature, methane creates a radiative effect (like the sun on your face on a cold day) even when and if global temperature falls.
We show that short-lived greenhouse gases contribute to sea-level rise through thermal expansion (TSLR) over much longer time scales than their atmospheric lifetimes. For example, at least half of the TSLR due to increases in methane is expected to remain present for more than 200 y, even if anthropogenic emissions cease altogether, despite the 10-y atmospheric lifetime of this gas.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

What’s changing climate deniers’ minds

In the US, acceptance of climate science has increased by 8% in three years. We’re up to 78%. It’s intriguing to dig into the data to see who is changing their minds.

A recent Monmouth poll found that 78 percent of Americans believe climate change is real and leading to sea-level rise and more extreme weather. That’s up from 70 percent three years ago. The headline-grabbing takeaway: A majority of Republicans — 64 percent — are now believers, a 15-point jump from 2015

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Flowers hear bees

It’s important to remember what we’re fighting for, the preservation of complex life on earth. And that complexity is mind-blowing. As animals, we tend not to think much of plant intelligence. But researchers are finding that trees in forests communicate and support one another. Plants decide which direction to send their roots, toward the better resources. And now we know that flowers can hear bees and boost their nectar’s sugar content.

Look on with awe and wonder.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Cutting plastic from your kitchen

This article reveals a variety of efforts to reduce plastic. It features a couple products to help in the kitchen, including the Final Straw (an easily portable, reusable straw) and a better alternative to ziplock bags made from silicone called the Stasher. You can even cook in them!

US House of Reps has Climate Committee again

The House just resurrected a committee to focus on climate change, now called the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. What can they do? They  have no legislative authority but they can hold hearings. Learn more in this Scientific American interview with Rep. Kathy Castor.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

What do Toyota, Kenworth and 7-Eleven have in common?

Toyota and Kenworth recently agreed to produce hydrogen fuel cell trucks for California; and in Japan, Toyota is working with 7-Eleven stores to sell hydrogen fuel. If that pans out, it could provide an easy way to quickly expand fueling stations for hydrogen-powered vehicles.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Two reasons eastern US is freezing despite climate change

Its so predictable. A big snowstorm or colder temps bring out the climate deniers. This week’s historic deep freeze spreading across the Midwest, North East and as far south as Atlanta (just in time for the Super Bowl) may leave you wondering, if the world is warming, why are we seeing colder temps?

It’s actually ironically more proof of climate change. Two reasons: more cold air is coming down by land and less warming is coming by sea.

1. The polar vortex is usually blocked by temperature differences. The cold arctic weather is blocked by  a life preserver of warm air, driving the jet stream in a tight circle. But as sea ice disappears, the arctic region warms faster than the rest of the planet. So the temperature DIFFERENCE has dropped. This makes the polar vortex more squirrelly because the jet stream punches through a weakened barrier. This is happening more often, bringing bitter cold deep into the eastern half of the US.

High altitude, east-to-west winds known as jet streams rely on the difference between cold Arctic air and warm tropical air to propel them forward. As the air in the Arctic warms, those jet streams slow and prevent normal weather patterns from circulating—floods last longer and droughts become more persistent. One study published in Science Advances last October predicted extreme, deadly weather events could increase by as much as 50 percent by 2100.

2. The Gulf Stream is slowing. The Gulf Stream brings warm water up the eastern seaboard, past Greenland and down past Europe, making those areas warmer than they otherwise would be. Paris, for example, at 48.8 N latitude, is as far north as Minnesota. (The US/Canadian border was set to 49 degrees.)

But as Greenland melts,the fresh water blocks the seawater, slowing the cyclic flow. Look at the map of global warming temps. Look at the dark blue dot by Greenland. Smack dab on the peak of  Gulf Stream.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Modern day self-directed work teams

Back in the 1980’s and 90’s, before switching my focus to sustainability, I was a management consultant focusing on self-directed work teams: front line employees, typically in cross functional teams, empowered to make important management decisions. For 10 years, Marsha Willard and I hosted the Symposium on Self-Direction and published several books on teams.

Like any movement, we had our heroes like Ricardo Semler of Semco (read Maverick) and Ralph Stayer of Johnsonville Foods (read Flight of the Buffalo) who stopped being The Boss to let their employees lead. Roger Sant and Dennis Bakke started AES with the intention of radical accountability, front line employees making multimillion dollar deals, deciding to buy a power plant or not. They ran afoul of the SEC which made them list this cultural value of “having fun” as a risk factor.

We were inspired by the Mondragon Cooperatives, worker owned cooperatives on an industrial scale. All of this was built on the sociology-technical systems research done around WWII at Tavistock where researchers were trying to understand how to improve English coal production during the war.

It was a great win, win, win: managers got better performance, customers got better quality and employees had more control. It seemed an incontrovertible law to move from autocratic manager-knows-best leadership to shared leadership.

So imagine my surprise when in the 2000’s this model of empowerment shifted away from a trend toward organizational democracy,  and instead devolved into “employee engagement.” Managers asking employeees to get onboard with what THEY expected. At most, asking for input but not handing over real authority. And in some cases, autocratic nerds created toxic workplaces.

But a recent TED Talk gives me hope that these leadership practices are being resurrected. Staid, old companies needing to be more flexible are mimicking start ups, putting people in cross functional teams and giving them the power to innovate. Hmmm, where did I hear that before?

What are you willing to give up to change the way we work?

The Real State of the Union: How the US compare to similar countries

The 2018 Social Progress Index has been released. It compares countries on a wide range of indicators of society’s well-being, like child mortality, life expectancy, access to education, inclusion and environmental quality. This link will take you to a page comparing the US with 15 countries of similar GDP per capita. It’s not a pretty picture.

If you dig into the results, you’ll find some surprising deficiencies that we should work on. You’ve probably already heard about infant and maternal mortality, obesity, children’s test scores. But we’re also doing poorly on wastewater treatment*, early marriage and violence against minorities.

Here’s a short article summarizing the results which blames our pitiful performance on our spending priorities:

Does the U.S. government’s priority for military spending explain, at least partially, the discrepancy between the worldwide preeminence of the U.S. armed forces and the feeble global standing of major American domestic institutions?  Back in April 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower pointed to their connection.  Addressing the American Society of Newspaper editors, he declared:  “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.”  A militarized world “is not spending money alone.  It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.” 

As a point of reference,
 In 2017 (the last year for which global figures are available), the U.S. government accounted for over a third of the world’s military expenditures―more than the next 7 highest-spending countries combined.

* I was curious about the low wastewater treatment rating. Based on their definition, we likely rate poorly due to the prevalence of septic systems. Here’s their indicator.

Wastewater treatment 

The percentage of collected, generated, or produced wastewater that is treated, normalized by the population connected to centralized wastewater treatment facilities. The Environmental Performance Index log-transforms the raw values of this indicator in order to scale results on a 0 to 100 scale.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Communicating climate change with beer

Bill Clinton’s campaign advisor famously said, “It’s the economy, stupid.” It’s what people really care about. Now scientists are refining that message to build a sense of urgency around climate action. Tell people the cost of beer may double or triple as drought limits barley supplies. Hit them in their beer gut. This is one of a number of strategies to elevate climate change as a priority.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Mirror, mirror, who’s the most democratic of them all?

Like the wicked witch in Snow White who expects the magic mirror to say she’s the loveliest of them all, the United States likes to think of itself as the penultimate democracy. But according to The Economist’s democracy index, we’re not even close. We’re #25, classified as a flawed democracy.

Democracy is a sustainability issue because having a say is an important human need (what Manfred Max-Neef’s model of human needs calls Participation.) We may not always get our way but we are more likely to support an action if we had a voice. Feeling out of control undermines human health. And a diverse set of voices usually leads to better decisions.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Status report on recycling in the Sedona area

A version of this article was first published by the Red Rock News on Wednesday January 16th under the title,
“How to recycles plastics properly”

by Jill McCutcheon, Sedona Recycles (a founding Alliance member) (edited by Darcy Hitchcock)

Markets for many recyclables are collapsing

2018 has come to an end and it was a very bumpy ride for the recycling industry. Early in the year, the export market for recyclable materials disappeared. Unlike previous slowdowns in the export market, this was a dead stop.

Sedona Recycles has always made it a point to try to sell recyclables to domestic mills for remanufacture. We pride ourselves on exceptionally clean collected, processed and baled material. In this case it didn’t matter, everyone who was exporting materials now needed domestic homes for their recyclables. The markets were saturated. This was the perfect buyer’s market but not a good one for those doing the recycling.

Clean, uncontaminated recyclables are key

In 2019 as a result of changes in the recycling world, clean material is where it’s at.

When you recycle with Sedona Recycles, you help by separating materials first. Then, we carefully sort the materials to maximize the quality and value of the materials.

Other facilities have had to take a long hard look at what commingled recycling. This is where all recycling is dumped into one container (although combining trash and recycling in one container is even worse.) Comingled recycling has produced contaminated feedstock for remanufacturing. For a very long time they got away with it because China accepted their material, but not anymore.

What you can do to help

So, what can you do?

Purchase thoughtfully. As consumers we need to be conscious of what we purchase. Remember, REDUCE comes before REUSE and RECYCLING is the last option before the landfill. Avoid over-packaging. Where there are choices, choose larger containers and less packaging. Here are a few examples:

Buy lettuce loose. Avoid buying greens in #1 plastic boxes. I can’t find anyone to take them. They have 3 very specific problems: Other similarly shaped containers get mixed with them causing contamination, the adhesive used to affix the labels does not wash off easily and they are treated with UV protectant and silicone. Avoiding this packaging is difficult, especially for berries, but we need to try. Please do not include these boxes in your recycling.

Bring your own water bottle. Stop buying single use water bottles.  Here's a fact sheet that should shock you.

When eating, out refuse the take out container if it is Styrofoam or clear plastic. The only currently recyclable take out containers are cardboard and number 5. You can always ask for a piece of foil which we can include with our metals. Or come prepared with your own reusable container.

Only choose plastics that can be recycled now. In 2019 we need to get real and not pretend that the chasing-arrows on plastic means plastics are recyclable. In many cases, 'recyclable' cannot be recycled because no one will take the material.

Here are some simple rules to follow when purchasing products in plastic for the current market:

Clear bottles with the #1 are acceptable; they can be clear, blue, brown or green as long as you can see through them. They must be bottles, not other shapes.

Buy milk and any liquid you can in #2 plastic (not paperboard or shelf-stable boxes). We can always recycle these bottles. Examples are milk jugs and detergent bottles.

Buy #5 packaging. This material is used for yogurt, cottage cheese, cups and ice tea containers to name a few. We can take these and hopefully this will continue.

We really try our best at the center to do things responsibly and sometimes that means we have to make changes to what we take to be honest to those of you who bring us and drop off your materials.

Let’s all try this year to buy less and recycle more. You can always visit to see what is recyclable and what isn’t.

Framing matters: 3 unhelpful climate action metaphors

The language we choose has a big impact on how appealing something sounds and how people think about it. Politicians are usually pretty wise about such things: tax “relief,” who wouldn’t want that?

But we seem to be bumbling the language about climate action. Do we need a Manhattan Project like WWII? Yes, it’s urgent but we already have most of the technologies we need to solve the problem. What about a Green New Deal? This sets up a barrier for Conservatives who tend not to be a fan of FDR’s Big Government solution to the Great Depresson.

So what metaphor do we use? This author recommends tobacco, socially-accepted harmful behavior fed by corporate misinformation.

What do you think?

Thursday, January 24, 2019

How to reduce food waste at home

We, you and me, are the largest cause of food waste. We buy produce without knowing what recipe it belongs in. We avoid buying misshaped fruits. We store things improperly. And use-by dates encourage us to toss perfectly good food.

In developing countries 40% of losses occur at post-harvest and processing levels while in industrialized countries more than 40% of losses happen at retail and consumer levels. (Source)

This article includes a number of helpful resources and tips.

And here’s a link to the USDA site with more info on their US Food Waste Challenge.

Here’s a U.N. site with lots of fascinating factoids:

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

10 groups leading climate action; are you in one or more?

This article puts a focus on 10 groups that are going to be instrumental in driving climate action. You might be in one or more groups which include teenagers, women, investors, mayors and weather forecasters. This might give you ideas of things you can do personally (like talk to your investment advisor, write to your mayor, or notice if your TV weather personality ever mentions climate change.)

 I was interested to hear about the TechStars/Nature Conservancy business accelerator that debuted in 2018. It will be interesting to see what happens with the start ups that got support. You can follow the link in the article to learn more.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Can we save the climate without throttling back the economy

There’s a tendency toward wishful thinking around climate change: New techologies will save us; a fee on carbon would change behavior; somehow, the ‘free market’ will figure this out. At the heart of these ideas is a hope we won’t have to change our lives, give up anything. But what happens when you do the math?

The experts are of two minds. Linear thinkers say no:

Schröder and Storm took those historical trends [population, GDP, adoption of clean technologies, etc] and projected them through 2050, using official numbers from the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Long story short, they conclude that the level of action required to hit Paris targets “does compromise economic growth.” The reality, they say, is that “‘green’ growth predicated on carbon decoupling is impossible if we rule out (as is done by the IEA and OECD) truly game-changing technological progress and revolutionary social change.”
Exponential thinkers say Maybe. The adoption of technologies starts slowly and then rapidly accelerates exponentially, what’s referred to as the S-Curve.

If decarbonization of energy supply followed something like the logistics substitution curve above, it would take 12 years for the rate of decline in fossil fuel supply to reach even 5 percent annually. That is considered aggressive in today’s modeling. However, Grubb writes, “by the end of the 35 year time period, the incumbent industry is driven out by the newcomer, declining at rates exceeding 20 percent a year in the latter stages.”
If the decline in fossil fuel supply were linear and steady, averaged out over those 35 years, it would have to be 10 percent a year. At least at the outset, that seems almost impossible. And that’s roughly where we are with climate change: facing changes that, if averaged out over the next three or four decades, require a pace of change that seems impossible based on historical trends.
The problem with that analysis is that feedback loops in the climate may also drive global temperatures exponentially, so waiting for the S-Curve to take off could mean we have to reduce even more carbon and other greenhouse gases.

A prudent society would create incentives for low-carbon technologies and jobs, encourage norms around less-is-more instead of hyper consumerism, and invest heavily in groundbreaking technologies. And it would measure and report progress on climate action at least as often as we hear about GDP and unemployment.

Is your city doing these 5 things to stop climate change?

Is your municipality doing all these 5 actions to stop climate change? If not, forward this article to your representatives.

Monday, January 21, 2019

2/3 consumers expect companies to do good in the world

It’s not enough anymore to make a good product at a fair price. Globally, about two-thirds of consumers expect their brands to care about more than making a profit. They expect companies to share and act on their values. One company was shocked when Target dropped their product because its brand didn’t “stand for anything.”

According to Accenture Strategy’s annual Global Consumer Pulse Research survey nearly two-thirds of consumers expect companies to create products and services that “take a stand” on issues that they also feel passionate about.

Tiny Orkney embracing renewables

Orkney, a windy, small archipelago in Scotland best known for the Ring of Brodgar (considered more important than Stonehenge), is now also becoming known for renewables. They’ve managed that without much help from the British government.

Orkney was once utterly dependent on power that was produced by burning coal and gas on the Scottish mainland and then transmitted through an undersea cable. Today the islands are so festooned with wind turbines, they cannot find enough uses for the emission-free power they create on their own.
They are mulling opportunities for the excess energy, including building hydrogen powered ferries.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

8 indicators of progress toward Circular Economy in 2018

We are still a long way from eliminating waste, from turning every left-over thing into something else...into a new product or compost for the soil. But 2018 contained 8 positive actions/commitments to move us in that direction.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

The Defense Dept sees climate change as a threat

A new report by the Defense Department outlines how climate change is affecting their own bases and operations.

“The effects of a changing climate are a national security issue with potential impacts to Department of Defense missions, operational plans, and installations,” states the 22-page document, which was published Thursday.
The congressionally mandated analysis looked at a total of 79 military installations around the country. The Defense Department found that 53 sites are currently vulnerable to repeat flooding. Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, for example, has experienced 14 inches of sea level rise since 1930. Additionally, more than half of the 79 bases are at risk from drought, while nearly half are vulnerable to wildfire.
Odd that it took a British publication to let us know. 

7 New Years resolutions for the sustainability field

The sustainability field is maturing. When I entered the field in the 1990s, I knew most of the players.   We huddled together, inventing and sharing strategies to entice organizations to engage. Four of us in Portland, Oregon created the International Society of Sustainability Professionals. It seemed an act of hubris, but our colleagues needed a professional association and now it has an international board and it has defined our professional accreditation.

We’ve made a lot of progress. The vast majority of the world’s largest corporations produce sustainability or corporate responsibility reports. Sustainability has become a household term. There are still people and businesses that don’t get it yet; that’s just how Diffusion of Innovation happens. You reach the tipping point usually when about 20% get it; 80% are still oblivious. For those of us early adopters, the tipping point was palpable. I can’t recall the year at least a decade ago, but I remember we were all asking one another, “It feels like something has shifted. Are you seeing it too?”

Now the field that has evolved from fringe idea to mainstream needs to get to work making a difference. This article proposes 7 shifts we must make. Tell me what you think.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Jellyfish Barge: how to grow food with no impacts

How are we going to grow enough food with depleted aquifers, droughts, etc.? Here’s an amazing design and example of biomimicry. It’s made from recycled materials. It floats on the ocean, creates its own fresh water, and only uses renewable energy. It’s called the Jellyfish Barge. Perhaps we could also cover our wastewater treatment ponds with these as well.

Population: Possible solutions ease social impacts of low fertility rates

When my parents were born, there were about 2 billion people. By the time I was born, the population had doubled to 4 billion. Right now we are headed to 8 billion, doubling once again. In two generations, we’ve gone from 2 to 8 billion. That’s a lot of people needing food, housing, energy, clean water, etc.

While world population is still growing (mostly due to Africa), many regions are actually falling below the replacement level, having fewer babies than those who pass on. Some countries are freaked out by that. Who will care for the elderly. Social Security is founded on population growth. And countries whose self image is based on what people look like (race), worry that immigration will change who they are. Italy, South Korea and China have all tried to encourage people to have babies, an example of the Tragedy of the Commons, doing what makes sense in a narrow view but whose actions undermine the health of the underlying system.

It’s certainly good for the environment to have population stabilizing. But it may be a rocky time as our societies adjust. However this article asserts that artificial intelligence and robotics may help us. Take a look at the graph of regional fertility rates.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

B-Corps: Blurring the lines between business and charity

If you’ve ever started a business, you had to choose between forming as a C-Corp, S-Corp, or LLC. But a B-Corp is a certification for any type of business. B stands for Benefit, where you bake into the business’ DNA to provide benefits to ALL stakeholders, not just the shareholders. Employees, the community and the environment benefit from your operation.

My former consulting firm became an early B-Corp. Now there are close to 2700 in 60 different countries. The certification is similar to our Sustainable Business Certification in that it is certifying the organization, not a product. In some ways, it’s more rigorous that ours, requiring audits, etc. And in some ways it’s less rigorous, not going to full sustainability. But for our certified companies, this might be a good next step. To become a B-Corp, you have to write into your corporate by-laws that you’ll consider stakeholders when making decisions. This should help preserve the values if the business is sold or management changes.

Learn more about B-Corps in this recent interview with the founders.

The Lancet publishes roadmap to sustainable diet

Just in time for the Sedona VegFest this weekend, The British medical journal, The Lancet, has just released their findings on how we might feed a soon-to-be population of 10 billion without destroying the planet.
  • Feeding a growing population of 10 billion people by 2050 with a healthy and sustainable diet will be impossible without transforming eating habits, improving food production, and reducing food waste. First scientific targets for a healthy diet that places healthy food consumption within the boundaries of our planet will require significant change, but are within reach.
  •  Compared with current diets, global adoption of the new recommendations by 2050 will require global consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar to decrease by more than 50%, while consumption of nuts, fruits, vegetables, and legumes must increase more than two-fold. Global targets will need to be applied locally - for example, countries in North America eat almost 6.5 times the recommended amount of red meat, while countries in South Asia eat only half the recommended amount. All countries are eating more starchy vegetables (potatoes and cassava) than recommended with intakes ranging from between 1.5 times above the recommendation in South Asia and by 7.5 times in sub-Saharan Africa.