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Sustainable Business


Batteries could make power grid unnecessary in some countries

One and a half billion citizens of planet Earth aren't connected to the power grid, and if Aquion Energy has its way, they will remain so forever. But not because they will be turned into Soylent Green! If that's what you were thinking.

Aquion specializes in making large batteries, cheaply. They don’t look like much -- they live in a former TV factory outside Pittsburgh, and you'll probably never buy any of their products. To the world's poor, however, they're working on something that could make a profound difference to their quality of life, reports Kevin Bullis at Technology Review.


A road made of crushed toilets

"Poticrete" is what Bellingham, Wash., is calling their new road material, which incorporates ground-up toilets. Clever! No doubt whichever worker bee thought up that one got an extra slice of sheet cake at the office party.

Bellingham used poticrete in its Meador Kansas Ellis Trail Project, which is the first road ever to be certified by the Greenroads Foundation:


Why your iThings don’t have to be weCruel

Free marketeers and green-minded people tend to converge on a single belief -- that electronic goods such as Apple iPhones and iPads are inherently unsustainable. Making such goods is only possible, the story goes, because of the unbearable mistreatment of workers who make those products, and the extraction of raw materials under environmentally destructive conditions. Treat workers fairly, and extract rare earths and such in ways that don't degrade the ecology, and costs would explode -- your iPad would carry the price tag of a small car.

This argument is sometimes made by those who don't want to see anything done about the horrible treatment of workers in places like Foxconn in China, where nets have been placed to catch workers driven to attempting suicide by jumping from building windows and roofs. Sometimes it is made by those who think this whole technological civilization thing is a mistake. In both cases it is wrong.

Here is the truth: The single greatest cost component of both the iPhone and the iPad is neither labor nor materials, but profits.


Ask Umbra: What’s the greenest business card?

Send your question to Umbra!

Q. Dear Umbra,

How can I get “free,” “environmentally” friendly business cards? I am starting to network with my new credentials, LEED GA and BPI certification. So I need an eye-catching business card.

Dee R.
Philadelphia, Pa.

A. Dearest Dee,

First of all, congratulations. For those who don’t speak eco-acronym, Dee here has become something of a green-building expert, proving her chops as both a LEED Green Associate -- someone with expertise in environmentally friendly construction and design -- and a Building Performance Institute professional, chock-full of knowledge about home energy performance and efficiency. Go Dee!


House fit for a green: Sustainable home construction booms

When it comes to home building, green is queen.

Cross-posted from Climate Progress.

With the construction industry still recovering in the U.S., companies offering “green” services may be able to set themselves apart and grow business faster, according to a survey conducted by McGraw Hill Construction.

In 2011, green builds in the residential sector made up 17 percent of construction, totaling $17 billion in economic activity. And the value of the residential green building market is expected to grow fivefold by 2016, taking up to 38 percent of the market and representing $87 billion to $114 billion.


The Facebook of ride-sharing has arrived

Got a road trip coming up? Why not use Ridejoy to save yourself the gas money and maybe make a new friend in the process?

The site's a lot like apartment/room-share site AirBnB. It leverages the power of the web to connect people so that they can use their resources more efficiently -- and, of course, save money in the process.

Here's how it works. You post an upcoming road trip on the site, name your price (sharing the cost of the gas, say) and see who's interested. Like AirBnB, connections to your real Facebook profile and reviews by others who have met you through the site help establish that you're not an ax murderer or whatever.


Gearhead’s lament: What’s to be done with last year’s skis?

Todd Loose of Waste-Not Recycling holding chunks of metal salvaged from used ski gear. (Photo by Joshua Zaffos.)

You don’t need to spend much time on the slopes to know that winter sports enthusiasts are the ultimate gearheads. Beyond the outrageous fashion fads (neon one-piece, anyone?), design and technology breakthroughs allow manufacturers to roll out more lightweight and higher-performance gear every season.

The steady advances are great for bombing down runs on powder days and pretending you’re Lindsey Vonn. But the heaps of old skis, snowboards, and boots that get tossed into garages, sheds, and trash piles are a wasteful legacy. Notwithstanding niche craftsfolk who turn their share of old skis into fences and Adirondack chairs, much of this stockpile is destined for the landfill.

Greg Schneider is well aware of the problem. As recycling program manager for Snowsports Industries America, an industry trade group, Schneider has spent three seasons collecting castoff equipment from a handful of retail outlets in Colorado and Utah, and he’s already built up a 300-ton massif of ancient gear.

His next challenge? Finding a use for the stuff.


Four ways enviros can keep Walmart in the hot seat

Hot-looking chair

This post concludes the "Walmart's Greenwash" series. To check out the rest of the series, follow the links at right, or start with the introduction.

Walmart's sustainability campaign is not your typical corporate greenwash. It is more complex and clever than that. It has enough substance mixed in with the spin to draw you in. It's easy to get swept up in the big numbers Walmart can roll out -- like the 30 tons of plastic hangers it recycles every month -- and to be charmed by the very fact of this giant company, with its hard-nosed corporate culture, using a word like "sustainability."

More than a few environmentalists have been won over. With their endorsements and the flood of positive press that seems to follow each of Walmart's green announcements, the company has managed to turn around flagging poll numbers, shift its labor practices out of the limelight, and, most crucially, crank up its expansion machine.

The environmental consequences of Walmart's ongoing growth far outweigh the modest reductions in resource use that the company has made.


Why Apple should pour money into clean energy

In the last five years, Google has poured more than $700 million into financing for clean energy projects. That's not the kind of thing you do just to burnish your "green" credentials for a credulous public -- it's serious money, deployed with the express aim of diversifying the company's holdings with "businesses that can earn good returns and that aren't correlated to other investments," says Rick Needham, Google's director of green business operations.