Buzzword for a New
Because you're an
environmentally aware person, you have probably come across the term sustainability,
or its longer cousin, sustainable development. But do you really know what it
means? Here's a definition that's close to what The President's Council on Sustainable
Development uses: Sustainability means meeting the needs of current generations without
compromising the ability of future generations to do the same.
Frankly, this definition doesn't
appeal to us, because it is based solely upon meeting the needs of humans. What about the
needs of other animals, as well as plants, bacteria, etc.? To us, this definition contains
a trap: It rests upon the debatable assumption that new technologies will always be
available to offset any harm we humans might cause other living organisms or the overall
environment. A careful look at history will show that in many instances, technology has
been a leading cause of environmental degradation, not a shining knight that has come to
the biosphere's rescue.
Before you start calling us old fashioned or even
Luddites, please understand that we are not anti-technology. But we don't think it's a
good idea to assume and even hope that some as yet unforeseen invention or discovery will
clean the air and water, reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and arrest overpopulation,
deforestation and urban sprawl.
We do know one thing, however. In the effort to
create a sustainable 21st Century, a key strategy must be to dramatically improve
efficiency. We must live lighter, love lighter and locomote lighter. In short, we must do
an even better job of using less stuff in the future to deliver the same benefits we
Obviously, this will not be an easy task. But it is
good to know that learning about, and contributing to, sustainability efforts is becoming
part of mainstream academic thought. This is true even in the most unlikely of places --
the nation's top business schools. When schools like Kellogg (Northwestern), the
University of Michigan, and Kenan-Flagler ( UNC) start talking sustainability, the
business world listens.
What We Can Do
We can't wait for business to first understand, and
then solve, our environmental problems. Besides, the commercial sector only creates waste
in the service of consumers. That's all of us, folks. And that means it's time we all got
involved. Given that it's pretty much the dead of winter, we'll stick to tips that you can
Avoid the draft.
Leaking windows and doors rob your home of heat, energy and money. And if your furnace
works harder than it has to, its useful life declines, maintenance costs increase, and
emissions go up as well. There's a simple thing you can do to cut your utility bill: Run a
small piece of paper around the edges of your doors and windows. If it flutters, you've
got a leak. All you need to do is put a small piece of insulating putty, such as Mortite,
at the leak point on windows. A big roll costs under $5. Doors may require insulating
strips, which cost less than $10 and only take a few minutes to install.
Also, if you have drapes, use them. They will help
keep in warm air by insulating the room from cold air leakage through the windows. If
you're about to buy drapes, please consider having them lined. The extra cost will be
offset by the energy savings you'll receive from the added insulation value.
Keep it clean.
When it comes to energy efficiency and long service life, there's nothing like a clean
machine. That's because dirt and lint-free equipment runs better, keeping down wear and
tear and the increased service costs associated with higher usage.
Cleaning appliances is simple:
Remove lint and dust from the coils of your refrigerator, freezer and
humidifier/dehumidifier. Ditto for the lint in and around your dryer, furnace and any
vents leading to or from these machines. Change or clean the filter in your air purifier
or furnace. The dollar it costs to do so will be saved many times over in reduced energy
and maintenance costs. And don't forget to regularly clean or replace the filter and dirt
bags in your vacuum cleaner, dust buster, etc.
Stay Out of Hot Water.
Your hot water heater may be the most energy consuming
appliance in your home. Try turning down the temperature a bit, and see what happens. You
may be able to save up to 15% on your overall energy bill by just dialing down the
temperature 5 to 10 degrees.
And, as we've said before, use the vacation setting
on the dial when you go away. This will keep the pilot light going, or if electric,
minimize the number of heating cycles. After all, why pay to keep water hot if you're not
at home to use it?
Also, don't forget that many washing machines will
do a fine job with warm or cold water. If you do need to use hot water, wait until you've
got a full load. This same logic applies to your dishwasher: pile in the dishes and
cutlery, then try one of the lighter duty settings.
Turn it down!
Not the music, the thermostat. This is especially true at
night, when you won't notice the cooler temperatures. You may even sleep better, too! We'd
recommend 60-62 degrees F at night, and 66-70 degrees F during the day. If you're still
uncomfortable, a blanket or sweater is a lot cheaper, and uses a lot less energy, than
running the furnace or boiler.
Make sure lights are off when you leave the room. When
bulbs burn out, consider replacing them with compact fluorescents. If lights have dimmers,
try turning down the lighting level. You'll enjoy the ambiance while saving money and
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Are these tips new and radical? No. But you'll be
amazed how much can be saved by following a few of them. And you'll be doing your part to
assure that the next 1000 years creates a more sustainable world than the previous
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As the debate regarding the reality of global warming rages
on, we are bombarded with arguments from all sides. The problem is, most of us aren't
experts, and don't have the time, or even inclination, to become professional
About Global Warming
However, this does not absolve us from the need to
understand the issues and be able to make decisions for ourselves. To help, we will be
looking at a few of the typical arguments that are used to try and reduce concern for
issues related to greenhouse gases, global warming and climate change. Our hope is that we
can help you see through some of these points so that your own thinking becomes clearer.
Humans are only responsible for a small portion of the carbon dioxide (CO2) generated and emitted into the
atmosphere. Therefor, our effect is small and need not be of real concern.
The first statement above is true, since it is
estimated that humanity accounts for less than 5% of total annual carbon dioxide
emissions. However, it doesn't really lead to the conclusion presented in the second
sentence. Here's why: Let's say that you have an old fashioned two pan scale, with a
weight sitting on one side and an empty pan on the other. You and some friends start
adding sand to the empty pan. At some point, the sand and the weight will be of equal
mass, and the scales will balance. This situation is comparable to the way in which our
climate worked up until about a hundred years ago.
Now, if one of you adds even a small amount of sand,
the balance will be tipped. Did it matter who added the sand, or how much he or she had
contributed to creating the balance in the first place? No!
This example provides the perfect way to think about
climate change. Before humans started burning large amounts of fossil fuels in the
mid-Nineteenth Century, there was an apparent balance between the amount of carbon dioxide
being naturally emitted and the amount being naturally absorbed. Our need for energy is
removing that balance. Thus, what matters is whether or not we are "tipping the
environmental scales" not whether we are a big part of the overall process. Think
of the parable "the straw that broke the camel's back" and you'll be on the
Argument 2: Increased carbon dioxide in
the atmosphere will encourage tree growth, which will "suck up" the extra CO2 and give off additional amounts of
oxygen. Thus, the problem will solve itself.
Sounds simple, right? Unfortunately, it doesn't take
into account what's commonly known as the law of unintended consequences, which states
that every solution creates new, and hard to foresee, problems.
Some of these problems are
just beginning to come to light. Researchers at the University of Michigan's School of
Natural Resources and the Environment have been exposing plants to increased amounts of
CO2. What they've found is that while increased carbon dioxide does cause increased
growth, it's not uniform growth: The nutrients in the plant leaves declines as a
percentage of total weight. This means that animals eating the leaves receive less
nutrients per pound of food, and as a result may have to eat more in order to get proper
nutrient levels. This will cause an increase in their body weight, making them more
susceptible to predators. Such an occurrence would create havoc with the food chain, as
predator populations intially grow while prey populations fall, leading to reductions in
the predator population, etc.
Argument 3: We all want
warmer weather, so global warming would be good.
Tell that to countries like Bangladesh and island
nations that would cease to exist, thanks to rising seas. Ditto for parts of Florida,
California, Mexico, Japan, etc., with coastlines that would become part of the local
Argument 4: A warmer climate
means calmer weather and fewer major storms.
This statement may have been true in the past,
but current climate history is quite different. For example, the number and severity of
violent hurricanes and tropical storms in 1998 was larger than anticipated. The same
number of major ocean-forming storms is expected this year, too. These increases are
occurring during some of the warmest years on record.
What Should We Do?
A little precaution is called for, if we expect to either prevent or reduce
the effects of greenhouse gas emissions. Some of our suggestions may surprise you:
Forget about the paper, glass and plastic debates.
Buy products that are concentrated and/or come in the lightest weight, most efficient
material available. Those products with significantly lighter weight packaging use far
fewer energy resources, and thus create far few emissions, than products packaged in
heavier, more rigid, containers. Thus, when you take a long term, lifecycle approach to
environmental concerns, you find that light makes right.
Keep the pedal from the metal. Gasoline
consumption is the primary way that consumers burn fossil fuels and spew CO2 into the environment. Slow down, drive less and carpool when possible. Also, keep your car tuned and, if buying a new
one, check the fuel efficiency numbers.
sensible family planning. Let's be honest: products and packages don't create
environmental problems -- people do. A sustainable world thus starts with sustainable
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Now's the time to settle in with a good book. We have a few suggestions,
thanks to readers who have passed along their favorites, or who have written books of
Preventing Waste at the Source (Norman J.
Crampton, Lewis Publishers, 1998, $49.95)
Norm is well known as the Director of the Indiana
Institute on Recycling. As a progressive environmental leader, he was one of the first
recyclers to see that waste prevention strategies must also be addressed and developed.
If you're a solid waste professional, environmental
manager or businessperson interested in reducing waste and saving money, this book is
filled with excellent case histories. Examples include ways to cut waste in the front
office, warehouse and factory floor. The book also contains ideas for moving from
disposable to reusable packaging, as well as procedures you can use to measure progress or
Profit Centers in Industrial Ecology: The
Business Executive's Approach to the Environment (Ronald Smith, Jr., Quorum Books,
This book is also aimed at a business audience
looking to integrate better environmental stewardship into everyday practices. After
taking readers through ways in which environmental factors affect products and
productivity, the author cites case histories in a wide variety of fields.
50 Ways to Make the Most Money Having a Garage
Sale (Send $5 to CMS Publishing, Box 583303, Mpls., MN 55458)
OK, it's not really a book. It's a great little
pamphlet that will help keep your old stuff out of the dumpster and put a few extra bucks
in your pocket. Examples: Put old clothes on hangers, as shoppers will buy more "off
the rack" than off the table. Also, put out lawn chairs so that shoppers' companions
can relax. This will make it easier for buyers to spend time purchasing rather than
babysitting friends and relatives.
Invest in Yourself: Six Secrets to a Rich Life ($22.95,
Wiley, 1998, 326 pages)
From our good friends at The Pocket Change
Investor, this book can help you improve the financial and emotional quality of your
lives. Tips include ways in which you can pare down debts, live within your means,
simplify your living and financial situations, and invest for the future.
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The Times, They Are A Changin'
The success of this newsletter has
created an inadvertent problem for us: We can't go on like this. So to help us control
costs, the following changes will take effect immediately:
The report will be published quarterly.
Subscriptions for those who start receiving the
paper version of the report after March 31, 1999 will cost (a measly) $6.00 a year.
We ask our current subscribers to do the
Switch to e-mail if possible. (Call us to do so.)
Provide us with change of address information.
Make a contribution of $6 or more.
Arrange to have your company or organization
sponsor our Earth Day and ULS activities.
Thanks for your understanding and support!
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Green Greeks -- That's they're name, and they're serious.
We're talking about a program at the University of Michigan being created by brothers and
sisters to help the fraternity and sorority systems become more sustainable. Current
projects look to reduce water and energy consumption as well as food waste. Increased
recycling is also on the agenda. For more info, contact Tracey Finlayson at 734-827-1318.
Re-Roll Out the Red Carpet -- Commercial carpet
producer Collins & Aikman Floorcoverings has developed a way to recycle old carpets
into new ones. Besides reducing their costs of production, the process offers two
important environmental features. First, it keeps literally tons of carpet out of
landfills. Second, it reduces the need to produce carpet from virgin materials. The
company is also looking to replace both its pile and backing with more environmentally
sustainable polymers. CAF's efforts earned it the National Recycling Coalition's 1998
Annual Buy Recycled Business Alliance Innovative New Product Award. Contact Lee Schilling,
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