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Fact Finding Missions

Ask Umbra on comparing green products

Q. Dear Umbra, I am a consumer who has recently convinced a friend of mine to green his business. I am now in charge of doing all of the research. My question is, how do I go about assessing the life cycle of various products? ... Do you know of such a service/website? I have tried to Google things but it is very hard to get side by side comparisons. Also, do you know of a good website that rates random products according to their environmental impact? Tamara A.Munich, Germany Data, people. We need data.iStockA. Dearest Tamara, Welcome to my …


Electric cars get better mileage

From a study published in this week's Science Express ($ub Req'd): Bioelectricity produces an average 81% more transportation kilometers and 108% more emissions offsets per unit area cropland than cellulosic ethanol… Given the limited area of land that is available to grow biofuels crops without causing direct or indirect land use impacts, bioenergy applications should maximize the efficiency with which a given land area is used to meet transportation and climate change goals. Bioelectricity is the act of making electric power by burning biomass for boilers or turbines instead of fossil fuels like coal. In a nutshell the study says …


Don't be corny

A bad idea, plus lots of cash

What's that in your gas tank?This is a blog post about the intersection of a bad idea and lots of cash--your cash. The bad idea is this: growing crops to ferment and distill them into ethanol for internal combustion engines. A few days ago, the EPA revealed that by its calculations, use of corn-based ethanol will actually raise greenhouse gas emissions over the next 30 years compared to gasoline. And then Friday, Science published a paper by Stanford academics claiming that it makes much more sense to burn corn to produce energy for electric cars than it does to convert …


Climate Savings Bond

Pinko bastion spawns capitalist solution to solar financing

Berkeley is Fox News' nightmare. The city's political spectrum runs from center left to left of Lenin. Malcolm X not only has an elementary school named after him but his birthday is a public holiday. The best pizza in town comes from a workers' collective (veggie only) located across the street from Alice Waters' Chez Panisse -- she who would smash the agricultural-industrial state. And did I mention Breast Freedom Day at People's Park? A lot more solar panels like these could be installed across California if more cities adopt Berkeley's model for financing installation.City of BerkeleyBut this hotbed of …


Where in the world is the junk wall?

Behind the scenes at Fortune Brainstorm Green 2009

What's better than attending the Fortune Brainstorm Green 2009 and hearing Ford Chairman Bill Ford and Founder and CEO of A Better Place Shai Agassi speak? Shaking hands with Former President Bill Clinton, of course!  Not too shabby for a couple of days in Orange County.  Beyond the speakers and the networking, the artistic angle of the conference was phenomenal. "Ultimately, it was the most comfortable and eye-pleasing conference I’ve ever attended." Herman Miller Who would have thought that a chair could be chique, ergonomic, and green all at the same time? Herman Miller did. "One of Fortune’s Most Admired …


daft clunk

‘Clunkers’ debunkers attack Democrats’ auto trade-in plan

Should the clunkers plan be junked?Support “cash for clunkers” as an auto-industry bailout if you must, but don’t call it green. So say the Wall Street Journal, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, and U.K. environmentalist George Monbiot, all critical of the environmental benefits of the proposal President Barack Obama endorsed yesterday. Obama and Democratic House lawmakers reached compromise on a plan that would pay drivers $3,500 to $4,500 to trade in gas-guzzling older vehicles for more fuel-efficient new ones. The idea has been tossed about as a way to give automakers a boost and retire the nation’s dirtiest …


A long Rowe to hoe, video

Exelon CEO: Really, we want a cap on carbon

The CEO of Exelon Corp., one of the nation's largest electric utilities, is calling for a carbon cap in a new national TV ad. This comes just a day after Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), who is leading GOP efforts to kill the House climate and energy bill, told business leaders who want climate action to "keep their powder dry." (We wonder how that strikes Rowe, who has donated $10,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee for each of the past two years.) "I'm a utility CEO -- not who you'd expect to be for a cap on carbon pollution," says …


Cool Companies, Part 1: How the best businesses boost profits and productivity by reducing GHGs

[Please send me any case studies of companies, buildings, and factories in the last 10 years that have cost-effectively reduced and carbon emissions. I am, as always, looking for well-documented cases where a systems approach to energy and carbon achieved deep savings and productivity gains.] Ten years ago next month I published the first collection of detailed case studies, some 100 in all, of how businesses were cutting energy use and boosting productivity while reducing pollution:  Cool Companies. The few times that I have posted case studies here, many people have been surprised by the savings that real companies have …


GOP to Jim Rogers: STFU

House Republicans blow off biz leaders who want climate action

House Republicans are ramping up their campaign against the Democratic leadership's climate and energy bill -- and telling business leaders to get with the program or get out of the way. On Tuesday, a group of key Republicans hosted a summit on Capitol Hill to bash the Waxman-Markey bill as an "energy tax" that would cost average Americans $3,100 a year (though that figure has been thoroughly debunked). "This legislation represents, and is tantamount to, an economic declaration of war on the Midwest by liberals in Washington, D.C.," said Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), who spearheaded the event. Representatives from industry …


Gold in them piles

Businesses struggle to profit from sewage sludge

Part 2 of Grist's special series on poop. "We're trying to get the pieces bigger -- ideally the size of pencil erasers," said John "Rus" Miller, handing me a plastic packet of a brown, dry, crumbly material with the texture of couscous and the odor of manure. That's because it was manure -- in the form of dried sewage sludge. To me, it looked and smelled like shit. But when Miller looked at the pellets, he saw coal. I was visiting a company named Enertech's plant in Rialto, California, because I was searching for alternatives for what we currently do …