Tuesday, 14 December 2010 17:58

Three Great Gifts under $35

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It happens every year. Your group gets everyone excited about a Secret Santa or White Elephant gift exchange, then sets a dollar limit that makes it pretty hard to give (or receive) something that's not going to end up at the bottom of a drawer. Or trapped in a spiral of regifting. If you're feeling hard-pressed to find a quality gift under $35, Grounds for Change, a certified carbon neutral product by our CarbonFree® certification program, is serving up three great options this year that you know will be enjoyed. Not only does Grounds for Change brew up rich, full-bodied, Fair Trade Organic coffees, it's a company run with a commitment to social and environmental sustainability that you can be proud supporting. Order before 11:00pm tonight to meet the standard ground shipping deadline to make sure your gift arrives by Christmas. After that they suggest upgrading to a expedited shipping method to have it by December 24th. Chocoholic Gift Box ($33.95) - Satisfy the craving for that perfect combination of coffee and chocolate with this box packed with three bags of organic beans and three different bars of dark chocolate. Femenino Gift Box ($33.95) - Celebrate Fair Trade and women's rights in coffee producing countries with this trio of blends from Mexico and Peru, plus a handmade copper and brass coffee scoop from Chile. Mini Medley Gift Box ($30.95) - A gift to indulge all tastes, this medley includes two bags of coffee, one box of tea and a canister of hot chocolate mix.
Tuesday, 14 December 2010 12:06

Flexible Solar Panels Popping up in Cities

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Building vast fields of solar panels is a clean and efficient way to power a community, but the challenge is in the long-distance transmission. Where are you going to find the space to build solar fields in huge cities like New York or Los Angeles? Developers have been chasing the solution in the form of very thin plastic solar cells that can be attached to anything from windows to car roofs, and one tech company took a leap forward to deliver. Konarka Technologies, Inc., already produces thin organic based photovoltaic (OPV) solar cells like the ones seen on backpacks that can charge your cell phone, but those only produce at a low energy level. Konarka's newest inception of OPV solar cells demonstrated a record-breaking 8.3% efficiency. The possibilities are great, although maybe not quite New York City-block huge. At least not right now anyway. San Francisco took the torch and ran with this innovation in 2009, outfitting bus stop shelters with thin OPV solar cells embedded in wavy red "Power Plastic." California sunshine is absorbed during the day and used to power the intercom, LED lighting and wireless routers for the city-wide WiFi that San Franciscans enjoy.
The 8.3% efficiency rating on flexible cells is about half the energy produced from the rigid, silicon-based solar panels, so it won't be lighting up entire cities just yet. Bus shelters are a small step but at least one in the right direction.
Thursday, 09 December 2010 12:36

Five Ideas for Alternative Gift Wrap

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Each year Americans produce four million tons of garbage from gift wrap and shopping bags alone, according to the waste watchers at Use Less Stuff. Reduce your landfill impact this holiday season by checking out these alternative ways to wrap gifts. 1. Seeded paper: Give two gifts in one by wrapping presents with seeded paper. Bloomin' Flower Cards makes a gift wrap from 100% recycled paper infused with wildflower seeds like Black-Eyed Susans and Forget-Me-Nots. Just take the wrapping outside, dig a shallow hole, drop the paper, cover with soil and water periodically. Flowers will burst from the site in 4-8 weeks. 2. Post-consumer wrapping paper: If sleek and smooth wrapping paper is more your style, there's no reason not to use a recycled brand. EndoPrint makes prints on 100% post-consumer waste paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. All ink is soy-based and non-toxic and, to top it off, completely chlorine-free. The company also supports wind power production. They have some really neat designs like candy cane snowflakes or deco orange pods. 3. Reused materials: Because you go straight to your GPS navigator for directions anyway, use old paper maps to make your gift stand out in intricately designed paper. If there aren't any maps lying around, used bookstores usually have diverse collection of metro, street and world maps. 4. Recycled bows: Some people save and horde gift bows for reuse, but if the bow coffers are low this year you don't have to run to the store to refill. Crafty how-to blog How About Orange takes you through four easy steps to make your own out of glossy magazine pages. 5. Fabric wrapping: Rather than trying to save and smooth out crumpled paper for next year, invest in a set of reusable fabric bags. There are a number of vendors who sell pre-made bags or fabrics cut to match different sized boxes, or you can watch this great video to learn how to use your own fabrics to wrap gifts in the Japanese Furoshiki style. Having trouble viewing the video? Please click here.
[caption id="attachment_6797" align="alignleft" width="275" caption="Bearded seal - the federal government has nominated two species of seals as threatened"][/caption] The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) proposed ringed seals in the Arctic Basin and North Atlantic and bearded seals in the Pacific Ocean be protected under the Endangered Species Act. There would be four subspecies of ringed seals and two of bearded seals listed. Both seals depend on ice, or ice floes, as a hunting platform for fish, as well as a place to give birth to their pups. Yet these floes are melting and are expected to continue to melt. "It's a clear indication that climate change is happening and it's affecting habitat," said NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service's Julie Speegle. Bearded seals eat small prey found along the ocean floor, like squid and clams, so relocating from sea ice to land would endanger their ability to maintain an adequate food supply. Ringed seals are the primary prey for polar bears and dig hiding holes in the ice to escape. The Endangered Species Act had been signed into law in 1973 to shelter species in danger of extinction as a "consequence of economic growth and development untempered by adequate concern and conservation." NOAA climate models were used to predict future diminishing ice loss conditions. The government agency has a year to finalize its decision on designating the seals as a threatened species, which would require government agencies to take steps to increase the sea mammals' population and ensure that federal and commercial businesses, like gas, oil and shipping, don't further affect their habitat.
Tuesday, 07 December 2010 13:13

Supreme Court to Review Utility Emissions Case

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Can states sue electric companies for failing to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions? The Supreme Court has agreed to hear this case. The high-profile case, American Electric Power v. Connecticut, established in 2004 that coal-burning utilities were liable for lawsuits because of public nuisance for their contribution to global warming. The review by the Supreme Court is seen as a win for the utilities in question—American Electric Power, Duke Energy, Southern Company, Xcel Energy and the Tennessee Valley Authority—as it gives them the opportunity to try reversing the lower court's decision. The power companies assert that this is not a judicial issue but a legislative one that should be handled under the EPA's Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases, essentially that the Clean Air Act trumps common law decisions. However, as explained by UCLA law professor Jonathan Zasloff:
The EPA’s regulation only applies to mobile sources, not stationary sources like power plants.  Thus—and here is the kicker—until the EPA actually starts regulating all sources of carbon dioxide, the Court said that it can’t really determine whether or not displacement has occurred. This holding is potentially significant, because it can put polluters in a real bind.  Their normal strategy is to tie up new regulations in the courts for several years—maybe until they can get a more friendly administration.  But now, the Second Circuit has told them that the only way to get rid of the public nuisance lawsuit is to let those regulations go into effect.  The judges have told the power companies to choose their poison.
The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the appeal in March 2011.
Monday, 06 December 2010 17:26

All’s Quiet on the COP16 Front

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Noticeably absent from this year’s UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP) in Cancun, Mexico, is a sense of urgency and belief that much will get accomplished. While the usual actors of delegates, media and NGOs from around the world are here, there are fewer of all three roaming the conference centers. I hear no talk of a grand coalition compromise of the largest emitters–with or without the US on board–and the island and developing countries seem lacking in their exhortations to the rest of the world. Mostly, it is very quiet here. (Part of me wonders if our call a couple weeks ago for the US to stay home was heeded but without, as of yet, the second part of our call—that the rest of the world should stand up and cut a deal.) We knew attendance would be lower and, after the US elections and failure of Congress to pass energy and climate legislation this year, that the US role would be limited, decreasing the prospects of a grand agreement. But I have to wonder, where is the basic framework from Copenhagen? Last year, the agreement sitting on the table had the US reducing emissions by 17% by 2020, the EU another 25% and China reducing its carbon intensity by 45%. Canada was in, as were dozens of other countries, with real reductions or changes. That deal was there to be had when a hundred heads of state bombarded the place. Today, the Copenhagen (remember when it was renamed ‘Hopenhagen’?) agreement is nowhere to be seen and there is no talk of any leaders dropping in. A huge change. The overriding message from the last year is that governments simply will not provide the leadership we need to solve climate change. And it’s not just the US. The EU, Japan, China, India, Australia, Brazil and a hundred others have what they need to create a global pact to reduce emissions. China, India, Brazil and Indonesia, along with most of the hundred or developing countries stand to gain investment, jobs, development and technology transfer through a global cap and trade deal; the EU, Japan, Canada, Australia and many others gain efficiency, increase their competitiveness, reduce their reliance on imported energy, improve national security, clean the air and reduce health costs–all at much lower cost than going it alone. The deal is there. Is it complicated? Sure. So what? If they won’t lead, we must! Fair or not, the ball is back in our court to solve climate change, to get wind to cost less than coal and make efficient technologies a better deal than inefficient technologies. When you go carbon neutral with Carbonfund.org that is exactly what you are supporting. Over the next week at COP and months ahead, Carbonfund.org will be laying out the business and individual case for how to solve climate change, with or without government leadership. We are determined to make 2011 a monumental year in this fight. Stay tuned.
Friday, 03 December 2010 10:46

Fight Climate Change with Purchasing Power

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In a market economy, what we buy has the power to effect change far beyond the cash register. Join the Responsible Purchasing Network (RPN) and Carbonfund.org on December 10th, from 11:00am – 12:15pm Pacific Time (2:00 – 3:15pm, Eastern Time) for a webinar about addressing climate change in purchasing decisions. If a brand of coffee becomes popular, for example, it won't sit on shelves long and stores will order more because they can rely on this brand. The coffee company will have to produce more beans to meet the demand from the stores, necessitating a bigger harvest of crops and a larger manufacturing facility to handle all this coffee. If this brew is, say, a Sumatran blend, then more shipping will be needed to bring over the beans. These steps have an impact on the carbon footprint of the end product. Tune into the webinar to learn how your business or organization’s purchasing practices can help meet your climate or environmental protection goals. RPN Director Alicia Culver will also highlight key product categories that can substantially reduce energy and GHG emissions while also saving money. Dare Wenzler, director of business development at Carbonfund.org, will describe the CarbonFree® Certified label, how it was developed, and how it can be referred to when purchasing products for government agencies and businesses. Click here to sign up for the webinar.
Thursday, 02 December 2010 14:59

5 Free Green Apps for Your Phone

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1. CauseWorld (iPhone and Android): This app works like a digital loyalty card. “Check in” with your phone when you walk into stores and businesses and instead of collecting hole punches in a card, you rack up karma points that can be used to donate to your favorite cause. For one karma point, Carbonfund.org will offset two pounds of CO2. [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="199" caption="CauseWorld app"][/caption] 2. Green Gas Saver (iPhone): You may have heard taking it easy on turns and acceleration will improve your car's fuel efficiency, but it's hard to always remember that behind the wheel. This app allows you to snap your iPhone or iPod Touch into a dashboard mount and receive a fuel efficiency score at the end of your trip. Green Gas Saver is also popular tool for the terrified parents of new teenage drivers. 3. Find Green (iPhone and Android): Formerly known as 3rdWhale, Find Green helps you do just that. The GPS-powered app pinpoints your location and directs you to nearby green and sustainable businesses. With over 60,000 listings, you can flip through everything from retail to food to leisure and then decide if you want a location that’s in driving, biking or walking distance. 4. GoodGuide (iPhone): For conscientious consumers puzzling over two seemingly identical dish soaps, the GoodGuice app allows you to scan the barcode on over 50,000 products to instantly receive detailed ratings for the health, environment and social responsibility record for food, toys, personal care and household products. You can also use the app to pull up ranked lists for products, like the 10 best air fresheners. 5. Energy Savings Calculator (Android): If you’re trying to decide whether it’d be worth it to buy new appliances now or wait until they really fall apart, you can use the Energy Savings Calculator app as a tie-breaker. Punch in a few fields (energy used in watts, hours used a day, etc.) for your old appliance and the new one, and the app calculates a savings summary report with week, month and yearly savings as well as return on investment time for money spent on new appliances.