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Sustainable Business

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Everything that is good for the environment is a job

Van Jones. (Photo by Zach Gross.)

In his newest book, Rebuild the Dream, green economy pioneer Van Jones reflects on his journey from grassroots outsider to White House insider, shares intimate details of his time in government, and provides a blueprint for reinventing the American Dream. Along the way, he contrasts the structure and rhetoric of the 2008 Obama campaign, the Tea Party movement, and Occupy Wall Street. The following excerpt from the book focuses on a new green economy.

Many politicians want us to lower our expectations about the economy. I say it is time to raise them. We should go beyond the shriveled thinking imposed upon us by today’s mania for austerity. The time has come to propose solutions at the scale of the problems we face. We can and we must revive the economy -- in a way that respects people and the planet.

For too long, we have acted as if we had to choose between strong economic performance and strong environmental performance. We have been torn between our children’s need for a robust economy today and our grandchildren’s need for a healthy planet tomorrow. We have been trapped in the “jobs versus the environment” dilemma.

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If fossil fuel subsidies were distributed to every person, we’d each get $58/year

Globally, every year fossil fuels get six times as much money in subsidies than renewable energy. Given a world population of around 7 billion, that means every man woman and child on the planet is spending an average of $58 a year to prop this industry up, but only around $9 to support renewables.

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How successful cities are like marijuana

Photo by Spreng Ben.

If you've got an acre of land, and a magical get-out-of-jail-free card, which cash crop do you grow -- wheat, soybeans, or marijuana?

That’s a good metaphor for a city's decision to invest in its downtown versus sprawl, says Joe Minicozzi, the new projects director at Public Interest Projects. Minicozzi uses the pot-vs.-soybeans hypothetical because people intuitively grasp the value of cash crops -- that an acre of high-grade weed throws off 10 or 20 times as much income as a food crop.

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Would you like a bamboo keyboard? Of course you would

The iZen bamboo keyboard is 92 percent bamboo, because normally keyboards are made from plastic, and plastic is made from oil and we'd rather not.

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DIY printable furniture ships as information, not parts

If your modular furniture from IKEA was fashioned from wood harvested on one continent, cut and finished on another, and shipped to yet a third, that’s not exactly sustainable. That's why design firm Filson and Rohrbacher decided to replace actual furniture with its evanescent, Platonic ideal: pure information. Download the computerized machine-ready plans at their website and you can use them to build just about anything out of anything.

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McDonald’s ditches Styrofoam … maybe

McDonald’s may be getting a little less evil … maybe … I guess … if consumers really, really want it to. The fast food behemoth recently announced plans to swap out Styrofoam cups for paper ones at 2,000 of its stores. If customers respond well to drinking their bargain coffee out of greener vessels, the Golden Arches will start using paper cups at all of its 13,000+ restaurants.

In the stores where the paper cups are being used, customers who order a hot beverage will now get it in a double-walled fiber hot cup. McDonald’s will be looking at “consumer acceptance, operation impact, and overall importance.”

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Chinese cheaters? U.S. slaps modest tariffs on solar panels from China

Chinese workers with a solar panelCross-posted from Climate Progress.

After months of speculation and debate about unfair Chinese subsidies to domestic solar manufacturers, the U.S. solar industry finally has an answer to one piece of the ongoing trade case: Solar panels imported from China will be hit with a small tariff.

The Department of Commerce issued a preliminary decision today based upon the agency’s impartial review of Chinese subsidies to domestic solar companies.

The tariffs range from 2.9 percent to 4.73 percent -- dramatically lower than the 20 percent expected by many industry analysts. But this decision from Commerce is just the first of two key tariff rulings. While today's ruling addressed the issue of subsidies, a separate decision on whether Chinese companies are dumping panels into the U.S. market below cost is expected in May.

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Soon, your toilet could heat your apartment building

Now you can dump energy waste just by, well, taking a massive dump. Green tech company OriginOil is working on a project that uses toilet wastewater as a way to heat apartment buildings.

OriginOil, a start-up based in Los Angeles, CA., has begun a pilot of its urban algae farm concept at the La Défense complex near Paris. Wastewater from buildings nourishes algae growth; algae is processed to make heat. The company is attempting to prove that integrating algae production into large building complexes will help bring them closer to net zero.

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Need a ride? Check out London’s mobile bike library

Photo by London Bicycle Library.

A bus and a library make most people think of boring days locked inside a school -- unless that bus holds an AWESOME mobile bike library! Meet London’s Bicycle Library: This roving bike provider lets Londoners “check out” a bike, just as they might check out a book from a public library (although the bike library requires a small deposit, too).

The librarians provide on-site expertise to teach you about the art and science of bicycles. There’s even a bicycle matchmaking service where a librarian can match you with your true love on two wheels. Given that you can choose from folding, MiniVelo, "fixies" (Fix Gear Single Speed), Ladies Coaster, Mens Coaster, cargo, and electric bicycles, there’s no excuse for not finding something that works for you.

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New Melbourne restaurant runs on your pee

Melbourne’s Greenhouse restaurant wants your patronage. But more importantly, it wants your pee.

That’s right -- this pop-up restaurant, which is open from March 2 through the 21st in honor of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, wants you to get all up in its custom-made toilets. The green eatery is collecting human urine and using it to fertilize soybean and canola crops. The restaurant, which is designed by Joost Bakker who is clearly a maniac, then uses unrefined canola oil to generate electricity for all of its operations.

Urine may seem an unorthodox energy source, but it is actually a great source of fertilizer when diluted. According to Bakker, “Urine is incredible for nitrogen, it’s so valuable -- you only need the urine of 25 people to provide fertilizer for a hectare of crop.”