Thursday, December 15, 2011

Business Electricity

Electric Outlet MacroMost often on this blog I am talking about using less energy. That can be propane, natural gas, coal, wood, oil, and electricity (among others). More often then not though I am talking about things you can do in your home to reduce you consumption of energy. Not sure why I thought of it today, but I got to thinking about ways that businesses could reduce their use of electricity. Lots of business use electricity and plenty of it. From small home based businesses to large industrial operations there are lots of places to save. 

Common Ways to Save Electricity

Many of the common household ways that I mention on this blog will also apply to businesses as well. A great example is a small retail store (or even a large one for that matter) which lights their store with incandescent bulbs. Not only are they wasting their business electricity by using inefficient bulbs but they are going to feel it more then at home because typically a store is going to leave their lights on 24 hours a day. The first thing they need to think about it spending the upfront money to get CFL's or even LED's. Yeah they will spend a little now (which is going to be a tax deduction) but they are going to save much more then that over the life of the bulbs! The next thing they need to think about is whether or not they really need to leave the lights on 24 hours a day. The argument usually is during the day they want to light their products better and therefore hopefully translate that into more sales, and during the night it is for security reasons. Well it might be worth doing some testing to see if they really need the lights on during the day. Or maybe turn off the lights near windows on sunny days and turn them on when the sun goes down. You could even consider posting a sign at the front door mentioning how you are going green and have turned off some lighting, and can potentially increase sales to people like me. Then for the nighttime security, maybe you could leave on half the lights you normally do. Or turn them off except for a few small ones, and install motion detectors so that if anyone should come into the store the lights will come on.

Systematic Ways to Save Business Electricity

Another way to reduce you electrical consumption at a business is to work to change your whole business culture. Have training sessions with you employee discussing ways to reduce electrical consumption in their day to day work, and emphasize how important it is. You might even consider holding a contest asking for employees to submit ways to save electricity. Make a big deal of awarding the winner and implementing their idea. Not only will you save with what you do on that one idea, but hopefully you'll be reinforcing how committed you are to saving electricity and therefore the planet and encourage people to save even if it's not part of the contest.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Age of Stupid - Great Climate Change Documentary

Blue IcebergsToday I saw a really great climate change documentary. It was called The Age of Stupid and was directed by Franny Armstrong. It was set in the future 2055 to be exact. The premise is that the one guy is basically the last, or one of the last, human on Earth. He is reflecting on how stupid humans were to have ruined the climate and become extinct even though they clearly saw it coming and could have stopped. The great line from the movie went something like this, "Humans certainly aren't the first species to kill themselves off, but they are the first to do it when they saw it coming". He goes on to compare what happened to suicide, which really fits quite well when you think about it. 

It is basically a montage of news clips which were real, except for the ones from the future of course. One of the really interesting concepts I took away from the movie is a great way to look at the whole climate change issue. Essentially it all breaks down to how much land is needed to support the number of people in the world. This includes the land for trees to create lumber and paper, the land for stream for us to drink, etc etc etc. It all comes down to how much resources this planet has to offer and how much we are using. Clearly right now we are using more then are replenished by Earth year after year. That is working for now because this planet has so many resources, but it is quickly starting to catch up with is for two reasons.

Reason #1 what we are doing isn't sustainable

First we can't sustain what we are doing now because there are just so many of us and the number is growing. This is what it all comes down to for me. I keep going back to the fact that there are just too many of us. Like it seems no matter how basically we decide to live our lives when there are 9-10 billion of us, it just isn't going to matter. With that many people we are just going to use more then the planet can replenish every year. This means were are going to be dipping into the planet's reserves of resources every year, and at some point there just won't be any left. It's just like a financial budget. You can spend more then you make for a while, but eventually it just catches up with you. Even if you have money in the bank, if you keep dipping into it each year eventually it is going to be gone, and then it's game over.

Reason #2 what we are doing isn't sustainable

The other issue with people is the amount of energy we use every year. Not matter the form we are essentially using energy. Whether it be the food we eat, the paper we write on, the clothes we wear, the house we live in, it all consumes energy in one form or the other. It's this energy which is the resources that I'm talking about. Not only are there so many of us living our lives that we are using more energy then is created by the sun shining on the planet each year, we are also using more and more of it each year. American specifically are the worst. We have be industrialized the longest I guess so we've just gotten used to being consumers. The goal of consumerism is to keep getting people to buy more then they did last year, and it works great until you realize that the resources are finite and there is just no way around the fact that you are going to eventually run out of resources.

A really interesting fact from the movie is that if all people on the planet right now lived the way that the average American does we would actually need 5 planet Earths to sustain it all! So with the amount of people alive now, living like we do in America, we would need more land to create all those resources each year. How much more? 5 times what we have now!!! And just think with climate change speeding up the caps are going to melts and there is going to be even less usable land as time goes by. It's like a train with no breaks going down hill!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Peak Oil Crisis in Chesterfield, UK?

Himba 1So I was doing a little internet research about the looming peak oil crisis today. And interesting search term kept coming up, "Peak Oil Chesterfield". It kept catching my eye even though I didn't know what it was. It sounded something like it was a specific location in the world where peak oil was really coming to a head. I decided I needed to look into this further as it might be the canary in the coal mine, at least so I thought. 

It turns out though that "Peak Oil Chesterfield" has nothing specific to do with the peak oil crisis. The location is in Chesterfield in the United Kingdom. It is a local oil delivery company which has chosen for it's name, Peak Oil. I mean it's almost laughable if it wasn't so sad, right? I assume this particular area of the UK is mountainous and is at the peak of this mountain and hence the name. They say they have been in business for over 35 years and, assuming they have had the name that whole time, I'm sure they chose the name based on the topography having no idea of what peak oil would mean to you and I.

Don't get me wrong I'm sure they are a small to medium sized family business that delivery oil just like all the oil delivery companies here in the US. They are just families trying to make a buck, and until we as consumers stop calling for deliveries they are crazy not to continue this business. They could have chosen a name which was their last name, or any other multitudes of options that you see on the sides of oil trucks around making their deliveries. Put they chose peak oil. It is just a head shaker like no other!

Peak oil to me of course means the phenomenon where once you take out half of the oil out of the ground from a reserve then it is going to get harder each year to take out the same amount. It'll get more and more expensive and soon will get to the point where the amount you can sell it for isn't worth the cost to get it out of the ground. That is what happened here in the US in the 70 and lead to the infamous gas shortages and rationing. This is also what is speculated is either all ready happened or just about to happen world wide. We forgot about all the pain of the 70's because we quickly found a cheap alternative in the Middle East for cheap oil. But as we are hitting the peak oil there as well we are going to be reminded of that pain as well. The trick is this has become a global market and there aren't other cheap sources of oil to be found once these are gone!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Christmas Trees Are Green But Are They Green

Christmas Tree DetailSo we made the annual family trek to get the Christmas Tree today. Mission accomplished. I even have it in the stand and strung with lights (LED's of course). I saw an interesting sign at the tree farm this year though. It ready something like, "Breath Deep - the trees naturally collect carbon dioxide and let off oxygen. If you don't cut them down we can't plant more. So get your tree and do you part for the environment". 

Now I guess you could call getting a Christmas Tree a guilty pleasure for me. I mean the gas we use on the way to and from is a waste, and the whole process of growing the tree and running the business I'm sure has a big carbon foot print. I do still do it though, I think some traditions are necessary, as long as you try to keep it limited to some extent. In fairness we carpooled to the tree farm and like I said I light the tree with LED's, so at least that's something.

Anyway, the sign keeps sticking with me. It just feels like the string of half truths that normally the crazy climate change disbelievers put out. Yeah trees do suck up CO2, so that part is good. But once you cut them down you have killed them and therefore begun the decomposition process which is going to release that CO2. Trees are like CO2 storage compartments. They do indeed suck it up and pull it out of the atmosphere, but once they die or are burned they release that back into the air again. So yes planting new trees is what will then capture the CO2 that was released from a older trees breaking down. But we as Christmas Tree consumers would really only be helping if we were cutting down trees that were about to die and making room for new ones. The trees we are cutting down are in fine shape, that is why we chose them. I'm not sure what the total life expectancy of a Christmas Tree is but I know when I walk though the woods most of them on 40-100 feet tall. The one I put in my living room is less then 8 feet, so there was a lot of life left in that tree if it was just left alone.

So don't get me wrong, we all need to live a little as long as we stay conscious of what is happening to this planet and work to get it back on the right track. So you and I don't have to beat ourselves up because we partake in a old tradition with our family. It just bothers me that these kind of statements are made so that people are thinking they are really helping the planet when they are actually hurting it. You gotta do what you gotta do, but at least know what it is that you are doing!

Friday, December 9, 2011

What is Green Tech?

Wind turbineThese days I seem to hear the term "Green Tech" more and more, which is a good thing! I kind of thing of Green Tech and two things but really the definition that most people think of when the say it means the invention of new technology which will reduce green house gases and be good (or better) for the environment. 

Examples of Green Tech

So what is green technology? An example of green technology would be a new light bulb with puts out the same amount of light with less energy usage. So the new invention is going to use less energy and therefore less CO2 is going to get released to power that light bulb.

Green technology doesn't have to be what we typically think of as technology though. Even if something isn't electronics or science it could still be considered green tech, at least according to my green technology definition. New green technology could be something as mundane as a new sponge that somehow required less soap to wash the same amount of dishes. This would help the environment because the company wouldn't have to make as much soap, so the the energy involved in the manufacture and delivery of bottles of soap would be reduced.

More typically though green tech is associated with clean energy though. So a new solar panel would be a great example of what most people associate with green tech. Or lets say a wind turbine which can get more energy out of the same amount of wind would be a nice fit as well.

My other meaning of Green Tech

So for me the other meaning for green tech has more to do with fixing the issues we have caused with the environment. So the planet is dirty with oil spills, the air is full of small particles from industry, and the atmosphere is full of green house gasses. Another meaning of green technology for me is a new invention which would directly remove this mess from our environment. So maybe a machine that would fly around and filter out the particles from the air, that would be great. Or something that would extract the CO2 from the atmosphere and store it some where.

The key difference to me between the two is that one is something that reduces the impact of what we do to the planet and the other cleans up the effects of what we do to the planet. Both are very important and likely necessary if we are going to save the day before we ruin Earth for all of us!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Oil Pricing And How Soon We Are Going To Run Out Of It

Oil refineryI heard a really interesting news story on the radio this morning. They were talking about oil pricing and why even though US demand is down overall the price at the pump remains high. Typically when demand goes down the price should be going down as well. For the time of year (gas is usually cheaper in the winter time) gasoline and diesel are are historically high national averages. 

Lower Demand

So it turns out that the demand for oil is down in the US because of two main factors. The first is that the economy is still bad and many folks are still unemployed. Because there are many fewer people driving back and forth to work every day we are buying less gas. Also because people have less money in their pocket because of the bad economy they are thinking twice about spending at the pump. The other main factor is that, on average, the cars on the road in the US are getting more and more fuel efficient. Pruis, Volt, and Leaf and others are major contributors to this reduced need for gas. But all newer cars in general are getting better and better gas mileage which is having a real effect on the amount of gas we are all buying.

Why is the price saying so high then?

Well it turns out that the oil refiners here in the states started to realize they were ending up with a surplus. They also realized that the emerging nations are needing more and more gas and diesel, so our refiners are actually exporting it to other nations. This is a time when the overall economy being so global is bad for us. Normally give the existing conditions and reduced demand we would see a nice drop in the price at the pump. But because US oil refiners have found a market to still be able to sell that surplus the price is staying as high as ever. Ouch.


So let's think about this. Oil is pumped out of the ground in the Middle East. It is them put in oil tankers and shipped across oceans to the US. US oil refiners in NJ, Louisiana, and other coastal states then refine this oil into it's elements (gasoline, diesel, etc). Most of that is then trucked in tanker trucks to the gas stations all over the US for us to buy. But increasingly some of that gasoline and diesel is being put back into oil tankers and shipped back over oceans to developing countries where demand for oil products is increasing rapidly. The inefficiency of that whole process just boggles my mind!! The energy that it takes to create oil which we use to create energy is staggering!

When are we going to run out?

So just in case you never thought about it before, oil is a finite resource. That means there is an exact amount of it underground on Earth and no more. Once it's gone it's gone. It's been so plentiful for so many years that for a long time nobody put any thought into running out of it. But it is indeed going to happen and really is all ready happening.

The key really isn't so much when we suck the last drop out of the ground, because we are never as a planet ever going to see the last drop extracted at all. The key is when it becomes too expensive to pull oil out of the ground to make it worth doing. This is oversimplified but basically once you take out half of the oil in a given reserve it becomes harder and therefore more expensive to get the remaining half (peak oil). It increases exponentially as you get past the halfway point. So each year past the midway point of removing oil from the ground you are going to end up getting less then the year before and it will cost you more. As we reach that midway point as a planet (which many argue we just recently did or are just about to) oil is going to become more and more expensive. This is why sites that were historically not worth bothering with are becoming financially viable, like oil tar sands. Many of these new sites seem to take more energy to get the oil then that oil can produce. But because oil is become scarce it is becoming financially viable so it's being done.

The trick is that yes it seems that because of some key factors (the economy and better fuel efficiency in automobiles) the US is reducing it's over all oil demand. However many emerging countries are just hitting their stride like we in the US did as we industrialized. These are countries like China and India which have much larger populations then we do here in the US. Because these countries have such large populations they have the potential to dwarf our oil demand in future years. So if we aren't all ready at the midpoint of oil then we are racing there VERY quickly!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Global Warming or Global Warning?

Unhappy FeetWhen I hear people talk about the environmental issues I have heard this term used almost interchangeably. Well not by the same people it's just that it seems half of the people think the term they are looking for is Global Warming and the other half think it's Global Warning. In most cases what the people are talking about when they use both terms is the same. It's just an unfortunate twist of the English language that they sound the same. The terms are indeed related to the same topic, but they are not synonyms.  

Global Warming

The term that most all people that use either term are looking for is indeed Global Warming. This is the green house effect which is caused by greenhouse gasses (most commonly CO2 and methane) which is causing the average temperature of the planet to rise, hence Global warming. The globe is getting hotter.

Part of the reason that it's an issue, and there is still debate about whether it's happening (BTW its happening!), is because it is warming relatively slowly. It is slow global warming in that its only a small percentage of a degree per year and year to year it is impossible to FEEL the difference. However scientifically you can measure it and see year after year, decade to decade the planet is warming. You can also see evidence around the globe. The most common example is the melting ice caps. Also keep in mind this is the average temperature. One degree of average global temperature rise is enough to have significant effects. So even if each year is only a part of a degree rise, how many years does it take to make a degree and really start effecting out lives in a major way?

Global Warning

Global warning is really just a term talking about the overall concern about global warming. In other words, the melting of the ice caps is a global warning about global warming. I think global warning was even the name of a movie about global warming, and has been used many times in movies for the same reason. Like I say, they are related terms for sure but they indeed have different meanings. It's because they sound so much alike that there is confusion. It only take a handful of people to get confused to start spreading the word.

So now you know, the correct term for the effect of greenhouse gasses is Global Warming. All the tangible results of greenhouse gasses warming out planet should be taken as strong Global Warnings.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Saving Hot Water - A Small Tip For Today

FaucetSo there are big ideals which will save millions of tons of carbon in the atmosphere and there are smaller tips which will just put a tiny dent in the CO2 levels. However these small tips if done by everyone can really add up as well. 

The suggestion today has to do when you are doing something at the sink which you would normally use hot water for. This would including washing your hands or rinsing your toothbrush, etc. First you should think about whether you really need to use hot water at all. Like do you really need to rinse your brush with hot water? Probably not, so you can just turn the handle all the way to cold and rinse it quick. Yes you are still going to use the same amount of water, but you aren't going to use any hot water. This will save all the energy that was needed to heat up that amount of water you ran off to rinse your brush. As an energy cost the amount needed to heat the water is much more then was is required to pump it and get it to you.

If you would like to still use hot water for a task, think about how often you never get hot water because you are done with your water task before the hot water actually starts coming out. This occurs because your hot water tank is far away from you in the basement. So when you run the hot water it has to travel all the way through the pipes to your sink before you get it. So if you are waiting for hot water then you are wasting all the water that filled the pipes and has cooled down. If you have to have hot water for your task then so be it. If you are like me though I'll just wash my hands while I'm waiting and end up being done before it gets there. If that is the case then what is the point? I mean I indeed just washed my hands with cold water. But in doing so I ran the hot water out of the tank and into the pipes, just not all the way to the sink I was at. So that hot water that I didn't even use is going to sit in the pipes and get cold and it'll happen again when I wash my hands. My point in all this is if you are going to end up just using cold water then just use the cold water from the tap. Don't waste the hot water by running into the pipes and not using it.

The do make a pump that you can install near you hot water tank which will circulate the hot water though the house so that it gets to your tap right away. I had one in my old house and it worked great. I don't think it cost much more then $30-$40 and it only took a 30 mins or so to install. The downside is that the pump was electric so I was using energy to save the energy. They manufacturer has of course thought of this, so there was  a timer build into the pump. So I would set it to come on in the morning when we woke up for work, shut off for the day, and the come on again about the time we came home from work until bed time. It really worked great. I think I'm going to look into getting one for the new house. Especially for the upstairs bathroom which takes forever to get hot water!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Paperless Billing - Going Green

Torn PaperEveryone should be going green! The environment needs it and our future needs it. We are all going to have to change the way we live in a big way sooner or later. The question is what we do in the mean time before it all ready hits out lives and changes things forever. What we do now has the potential to set up for a soft landing when that necessary changes comes. Or we can choose to do nothing, pretend everything is fine, and try to survive the hard landing that will inevitably come. 

So if you are trying to figure out what you should be doing to help the best bet is to start thinking of small things that you can be doing to get the ball rolling. Hopefully these small steps will eventually lead to big steps. And even if they stay as small steps if we all start doing them, then can actually add up to have a major beneficial impact!

Paperless Billing

It's one of the easiest things that we can all start doing today and very few of us, as a percentage, do it. I'm actually guilty of this as well. I have just always gotten paper statements in the mail and I'm a bit afraid that without them I'll forget to pay a bill. I do have a few bills that come electronically and I never forget them so really I don't know what I'm worried about. I just need to set up a routine so that whatever reminds me to pay my bills doesn't have to come in my mailbox. Whether it be the email reminder that they send or if it's a remind that I get thought an online financial site like Mint.

So I'm going to make a pledge right now that I hope you will make as well. From now on whenever I am online looking at my billing statements, and the little notice pops up about how I can change to paperless billing, I am going to do it. Every time! I mean if I/you really need the hard copy you can always click through a screen or two and just print it out. I would suggest that you don't ever really need that since you can always access it online, but it's start either way.

How it Helps

There are a lot of ways that going to paperless billing helps. For one, obviously there is way less paper that would be needed each month if all your bills were electronic. Just think how many less trees (which suck up CO2) would have to be cut down if we all went to paperless billing!

Next is the shipping cost. In dollars this is the price of the stamp for the company to mail you the bill. You might argue that you don't care about that because it's not costing you anything. But be assured that anything that costs a company something is getting passed onto the customer. So if we all went paperless it would reduce the cost for the company sending that bill, and potentially they could pass the savings along to us in the form of cheaper prices. Also if you are still mailing a check back to them for payment then you can save the cost of that stamp for yourself too. There is also the carbon footprint involved with the mailing of the hard copies back and forth. There is gas for the truck to drive that letter to you and your payment back. It might not sound like a lot because it's one letter on a truck that was going to make the trip anyway. But even just the weight of one bill is something. And if we all did it then it would really add up. Think of the weight of one piece of paper. It's basically nothing. But then think of the weight of a box of printer paper you get from the office supply store. Now that is something. It wouldn't really take that many people switching to paperless bills to save that much paper a month. I'm thinking maybe 100 people switching would save that!

So the next time the little window pops up, or you see it on your hard copy statement, just click the box and start going paperless!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Green Design - From the Start!

lawn mowerWith all that is going on with the environment and global warming these days it should be obvious that we have a problem and need to get something done about it. In fairness I know this is kind of wishful thinking, and there are crazy people out there that actually think nothing is wrong, but at least there are more and more people that understand the truth these days. 

Anyway, with that said I know we aren't going to realistically drop what we are doing as a society and just start tomorrow with a carbon neutral society, even if we were all on the same page and really wanted to. The trick I think is to understand that something is wrong and at least start making steps in that direction. At least when the climate crashes to a point where it has a serious impact on our lives, or more realistically when we run out of affordable oil and it impacts our life seriously, then the landing can be softer!

Green Design

I think one big thing we could easily start doing is making products right from the beginning with green design in mind. So right when someone is conceptualizing a product, it should be part of our culture that we factor in green design. How could it use the least amount of power possible, and how could you have it make the least amount of impact on the environment (both during operation and in disposal)?

So if you are thinking about producing a new lawn mower then of course you are going to think about all the things that a person would want a lawn mower to do well. But then, right from the original planning stage, you also need to factor in how you could design it to use the least about of power (gas or electricity) during it's useful life. Next you should also be factoring in how you could design it to make the least impact on the environment when it's disposed of when that useful life is over. So maybe that means you are going to use as many parts as possible that can be recycles easily into some new product. Or maybe it means that you are going to use parts that will decompose more quickly with a lower impact on the environment. Or maybe some other totally new factor that would help with it's impact on the environment because that is the type of thought process and breakthrough that would likely extend to all products and really give us the leap forward that we need!

Existing Products

Of course we should always be trying to improve the design of existing products so that newly manufactured ones can have a lower over impact on the environment then the ones products last year. If that was a solid part of the process for all products then we could really make strides on global warming and hopefully start to turn things around.

What keeps this green design from happening more?

The major issue is that for the most part it isn't profitable for companies to incorporate these types of design factors. They have no real cost when you decide to throw our their product and for the most part they don't care how much energy you burn when using it. The exception is in a case like cars where they can use it as a selling point to get you to buy more. But that is the point after all. If the consumers don't require it then it won't ever happen. Green design factors are only going to hit the companies bottom line when consumers start including green thought into their buying decisions. I promise you companies will always respond to consumer needs and wants. If not they would stop selling their product and go out of business.

So maybe the next time you are making a buying decision, whether it be something small as part of you weekly grocery shopping or something big like a new TV or new car, try to factor in the green aspects of the product. I promise you start doing this whenever you buy something, then manufactures will too! Then we'll all be in a better place!