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.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

10 things Congress could do to protect the climate

This article contains 10 actions that Congress could take to keep us within the 1.5 C climate targets. And none of them are a carbon tax.

Results of a 4 day work week

Companies are experimenting with a 4 day work week—not four 10-hour days, four 8 hour days—and they’re finding this increases productivity and reduces burnout. It may also be a way to share the benefits that automation and artificial intelligence may bring. What’s the reaction when clients call on Friday and get an automated message saying no one is there to answer? 


Monday, January 14, 2019

Eliminating the ‘act of God’ defense

Here’s an interesting question. In the age of climate change, should we eliminate ‘act of God’ provisions in laws, environmental regulations, insurance policies and the like?

Broadly, two criteria qualify an event as an act of God: 1) No human agency could have stopped the event, and 2) no human agency could have exercised due care to prevent or avoid the event’s effects. In other words, acts of God must be unpredictable, and their damage must be unpreventable. On that basis alone, the act of God is nearly obsolete, or at least it should be. While specific weather events such as hurricanes or fires may seem to be acts of God, our growing knowledge of climate systems challenges any vision of weather divorced from human activity. Humans meddle with the climate, which meddles with weather, and the two can’t be disentangled.

The Chicken-Human era

Millions of years from now, what will be the lasting legacy of humans? Concrete dams will have silted up, becoming waterfalls (unless drought has sucked the rivers dry.) If humans are gone, Nature will have reclaimed our cities according to the book, The World Without Us. But according to this Scientific American article, future archeologists will be struck by chicken.

Hundreds of millions of years from now, when humans are probably long gone, what sort of geologic record will we leave behind for future archaeologists? Plastics, sure? Concrete, maybe? ...[Chicken]
Yep, chicken. Humanity consumes some 66 billion birds a year. Billion, with a B. The mass of chickens on the Earth is so big… it beats the mass of all other birds combined
"The numbers are astonishing." Richard Thomas is an archaeologist at the University of Leicester, who writes with his colleagues in the journal Royal Society Open Science that chicken bones could be a unique signifier of our eraknown as the 'Anthropocene.' 
Another reason to consider a plant-based diet.

Of course the term Chicken-Human era will also allude to our playing chicken with human-caused climate change.

NY Drug Take Back Law goes into effect

Europe has Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) regulations, making manufacturers responsible for their products at the end-of-life. Toaster ovens to BMWs. That created incentives for manufacturers to design products that last and components that could be reused. It also drove systems for  recovering these materials.

The US watered the concept down to Extended Product Responsibility (also EPR but the responsibility is shared among stakeholders...leaving it less clear who should pay.) Think of electronics recycling in the US; consumers often have to pay, creating another little hurdle for doing the right thing. Of course, even with the European EPR, the cost of these programs likely get included to some degree into the price of the product but making collection “free” to the consumer eliminates a psychological barrier.

New York State has passed an EU-style EPR regulation for left-over drugs which sometimes get into the wrong hands or get flushed down the toilet, polluting our waterways.

The Drug Take Back Act will help give manufacturers of pharmaceutical products responsibility for costs of the take-back program, with focal points being public education and awareness, as well as drug collection, transport, and destruction. Under this new law, chain and mail-order pharmacies will be required to provide consumers with collection options, including drop boxes and prepaid mail-back envelopes. The measure will also ensure rural, urban, and other underserved communities have access to ongoing collection services so that all persons have reasonable access to locations to dispose of their drugs and prevent over-saturation in higher populated areas.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

How arctic warming affects the jet stream (in plain language)

You’ve likely heard that climate change is changing the jet stream, driving cold air deep into the US or stalling hurricanes like the one in Texas. But how exactly does this work? This article explains the phenomenon in terms we can all understand.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Sustainable investing booming (and so is greenwashing)

The good news is that more and more assets are being screened for sustainability:

According to the latest report by the US Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment (US SIF), investors now consider environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors for $12 trillion of professionally managed assets. That’s a 38% increase from 2016. It’s also out of a total universe of $46.6 trillion of professionally managed assets in the US. That means that almost a quarter of assets could now be considered “sustainably” or “responsibly” invested.

But the lack of an industry standard muddies the water. Right now, there are several standards and the same company can do well in one but poorly in another. You can avoid disappointment by pushing your investment professionals to tell you more about how they define sustainable investing.

The confusion begins with the terminology. Swiss bank UBS surveyed more than 5,000 of its wealthiest clients and found little understanding of the differences between the three main approaches to sustainable and socially responsible investing: exclusion, integration, and impact investing. 1
Exclusion means not investing in companies that are involved in activities that don’t support certain values, most often weapons and tobacco companies. Integration means actively incorporating environmental, social, or governance factors into investment choices. Impact investing intends to generate measurable ESG impact as well as a financial return.

Socially responsible investing preceeded sustainable investing and I would not consider it/exclusion to be enough for sustainable investing, because your values might be pro or con gay rights, pro or con military, pro or con alcohol. Sustainable investing at a minimum looks at the best performing  companies (from a sustainability perspective) in each industry sector with the expectation that they will actually out-perform their less-enlightened competitors because they have a better handle on emerging risks and opportunities. Impact investing is the next step up, for example, investing in projects that will make the world better (like fighting climate change or building public transportation.)

Friday, January 11, 2019

More utilities switching to renewables to save money

Utilities are realizing that renewables are the way to the future. Coal powered plants (arguably the dirtiest form of electrical generation, spreading mercury and radioactivity around the globe) are now too expensive. Even Pacificorp, my former employer that owned coal mines in Wyoming, is making the switch.

For example, PacifiCorp, a large utility serving customers in six Western states, released a study (PDF) in early December showing that 13 out of its 22 existing coal-fired generating units were more costly to keep running than to replace with new, cleaner resources. Consumers Energy in Michigan filed a plan in June with its regulator to retire all of its coal-fired generators by 2040, replacing them entirely with renewable resources and energy efficiency investments. And the Northern Indiana Public Service Company, in the heart of coal country, announced in November it could save its customers $4 billion by retiring all of its coal plants ahead of schedule and replacing them with wind, solar and batteries.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

How to choose more environmentally friendly products

We've been working with the Sedona Marathon to help them create a zero waste event in 2019. They've managed to get rid of individual water bottles with water stations. But the runners still need to grab a cup of water as they run by. Is it better to use paper cups (which may or may not be compostable) or plastic (which, if they are #5, can be recycled along with yogurt containers)? Some restaurants have been wondering, should we buy the bio-based 'plastic' forks or the 'compostable' hot beverage cups.

The answers are complicated, but this article does a nice job of providing some guidance. The main points are:

--Much of the environmental impact of a material happens before the consumer gets it, so go for higher recycled content if you are choosing between two products made of the same material.

--But recycled content isn't necessarily a good indicator if you're choosing between different materials (like #5 plastic vs glass.)

--Recyclability and compostability are not always the best guides in part because the materials may or may not actually get recycled or composted.

If you want to go deeper into the research, click here:

How to implement carbon taxes without angry yellow-vest protests

Macron certainly bungled the deployment of his climate policies, revealing deep anger in France about the cost of living. Australia didn’t create such a press frenzy because they found a way to make carbon taxes acceptable: use the tax money to improve the lives of the poor.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Turning low-value plastics into fuel

Renewlogy is a social enterprise that has developed a process for turning plastic into fuel. But with any plastics recycling, it’s important to have the processing be close to the sources of plastic. Otherwise the fossil fuels required to transport them outweigh any benefits of recycling. So Renewlogy has a wait list for building these plants. They already have plants in Idaho and Nova Scotia. Phoenix may be next.

How we can have our fish and eat them too

Worldwide, fisheries are struggling. Overfishing, destructive fishing practices and climate change are having an impact. But this recent report shows that with careful management, at least some fisheries can recover.

Matt Tinning of the Environmental Defense Fund said in a statement that the reports show the U.S. is steadily rebuilding once depleted fisheries and reducing overfishing while simultaneously adding jobs, increasing landings and boosting revenues in the fishing sector. “The comeback of U.S. fisheries is one of the great conservation success stories of our time,” he said. “When sound science is coupled with market incentives, people and nature can prosper together”

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Which emotion drives climate action?

A sense of urgency is driven by emotions. So if we want to overcome inertia in our society to speed climate action to a pace that matches the problem, which emotions should we tap? Fear? Anger? Hope? This article explores communication strategies and the nuances of each.

Spoiler alert:

Alarmism doesn’t motivate effective action, and it might be just as harmful as climate change denial.

Monday, January 7, 2019

A 10 step program for climate believers

I have some empathy for climate deniers. Who wants to accept that our systems and behavior are driving the planet off the edge, threatening our children’s future, burning down our forests, flooding the coasts? It’s hard. Psychologists are taking note of the impact on adults and children. The danger is that fear and despair will drive people into see-no-evil helplessness. We all need to feel empowered to change the future.

So here’s a group, The Good Grief Group, that is promoting a 10 step program. We need to be able to look the problems straight-on but not get sucked into despair. We each need to find our way through this unprecedented challenge. This group-discussion approach could be helpful to many.

3 things we need to speed up climate action

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicated that by 2030 (11 years from now) we need to have made huge cuts in carbon to avert the worst effects of climate change. So what needs to happen so that the world can make changes fast enough? According to this short BBC video, the U.N. needs to solve these three challenges:

Financing for poorer countries
Transparency so everyone can verify countries are living up to commitments
Bolder goals that match the science.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Something else to talk to your doctor about

The medical industry is rife with energy intensive technologies, toxic cleaning products and pharmaceuticals that end up in our rivers, and single use disposables. So while they try to make us better, doctors are also making us and the planet worse. When my mom broke her hip (for the third time; osteoporosis sucks) she rested on a thick waffle pad like mattress toppers you can buy in the store, but probably 6” thick. When she left the hospital, they asked if we wanted it because otherwise, it was going in the trash.

To reduce these wasteful impacts, the World Medical Association has created My Green Doctor.

My Green Doctor guides office staff to operate an office Green Team and make changes in their environmental practices.  There are more than 140 Action Steps to choose from on topics of energy & water use, recycling, safe uses of chemicals, transportation choices, climate change, renewable energy and healthy foods.  There is an emphasis on teaching your patients in the office and waiting room and an effort to improve community environmental health.  This programme has demonstrated that it can lower office overhead expenses significantly. Your office staff members and you can register to use My Green Doctor free of charge, can obtain a waiting room certificate just for registering, and can qualify for a Green Doctor Office certificate from the WMA.

Learn more here.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

New governors planning bold climate action

It appears states are finally ready to start experimenting with different climate change policies. While Washington State’s ballot measure wasn’t approved in November, other governors are pushing forward. Oregon is looking at a Cap and Trade/Invest approach. Colorado’s largest utility, Xcel, is doing a lot of the work for the state by committing to a carbon free energy mix by 2050. New Mexico’s incoming governor wants to export renewable energy to other states.

Friday, January 4, 2019

The link between climate change and human migration

Climate change is not just affecting the environment. It's affecting people, driving conflicts and migrations. Watch this short video to learn about the relationship between immigration and climate change.

Luxembourg plans to make all public transit free

Luxembourg has a novel solution for traffic and climate change: make all public transportation free.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Good progress on responsible cotton

In Arizona schools, kids are taught about the 5C’s, the basis of our state economy (cotton, copper, climate, cattle, citrus). Many of these industries have an embarrassing environmental legacy. Cotton, for example, is responsible for close to a quarter of the world’s insecticides. (More about cotton’s impacts here.)

 But efforts have been underway for decades to clean up cotton’s act. I remember in the early 2000’s Nike wanting to switch to organic cotton but they couldn’t find enough of a supply. Finally growers are responding to the demands of the market.

According to the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), 2017 was a banner year for sustainable cotton, and this multi-stakeholder group is well on its way to achieve its goal of having 30 percent of all cotton grown globally being grown responsibly and sustainably.

Um, that still leaves 70% being grown irresponsibly. So keep reading labels.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Israel will ditch coal by 2030

Twenty eight countries have joined the Powering Past Coal Alliance which wants coal power to be a thing of the dirty industrial past by 2050. Israel recently committed to eliminating all coal fired plants by 2030. Right now, a majority of their electricity comes from fossil fuels, coal and natural gas.

Take-out containers: Plastic, bio-plastic, or biodegradable?

Gerardo Moceri, owner of Gerardo’s Italian Restaurant in Sedona, is really trying to do the right thing. He’s created a 5 year sustainability plan and made a lot of changes to make his restaurant more sustainable. But deciding what take-out containers to use has been complicated. We discussed adjusting portion sizes to eliminate the problem at the front end, but still some people will not finish their meal and want to take it with them. Visitors can't be expected to bring their own containers.

A few things were clear: a big 'No' to Styrofoam containers. He’s found waxed paper containers which might be composted, but of course, most people won’t compost them, so they’ll create methane in the landfill. Around Sedona, where we don’t yet have widely deployed composting services, Sedona Recycles recommends using a plastic take-out container called Ecopax (a #5 like yogurt containers) in beige which is easy to recycle along with yogurt containers.

Since we have so many visitors, he often provides a fork. He knew plastic is bad; that’ll just end up in the landfill. He’s engaged his rep from Greco and Sons to help him find alternatives. Randy Plath showed up with bio-plastic forks made from plants and biodegradable forks. “What’s the difference?” I asked. “Is the plant-based plastic also biodegradable? Isn't the biodegradable one also made from plants?” He needed to double-check.

Ack, it's frustrating. That's why Moceri wants to serve as a resource for other restaurants. If he figures out the best answer, the others don't have to do all the research themselves.

I told Gerardo that perhaps he should just go buy a bunch of cheap metal forks from Goodwill. Customers could take them home and use them to stir up their pet’s food. If travelers didn’t want to take them home in their luggage, hotels could add the forks to their metals recycling.

Just because something is labeled as biodegradable, it may not easily break down in nature or in your backyard compost pile. Many need industrial compost generate a lot more heat. See my previous post, When Biodegradable Isn’t.

So, more research is needed. But here’s an interesting article about the benefits of bioplastic.
Switching from petroleum-based polymers to polymers that are biologically based could decrease carbon emissions by hundreds of millions of tons every year. Bio-based polymers are not only renewable and more environmentally friendly to produce, but they actually can have a net beneficial effect on climate change by acting as a carbon sink. But not all bio-polymers are created equal.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

New Years resolution to eat less meat? Try these approaches.

I once read that Mahatma Gandhi said something along these lines: you can’t give something up (because your brain focuses on missing it... I won’t eat the cookie, that sweet, rich, chewy, chocolate chip...); instead you need to want something else more.

Such is the case with changing your diet. Eating less meat or going full on vegan is healthier, less expensive, better for the planet, and can reduce animal cruelty. I found a vegetarian diet made it much easier for me to keep the weight off. With all those things going for it, it should be easy to switch, but it’s not for most people.

So here’s an article that steps you through the options, to have your (turkey/engineered/veggie) burger and eat it too.

Climate friendly food choices

Here’s a fun calculator to play with. You choose a food item and indicate how often you eat it. The calculator indicates greenhouses gases associated with that dietary item, but it also gives you a graph showing how that item compares to other similar foods. So rather than pushing you to go all-vegan, it helps you find more climate friendly alternatives for your existing diet. Note the results are global figures; they don’t take into account buying local and in season.

I chose apples, 3-5 times a week, because my husband and I often share one as dessert (along with some chocolate, of course!). Fortunately, the calculator’s results gave me a pat on the back.