Thursday, February 26, 2009

Giving Paper The Pink Slip

My final project for "Environmental Economics: Evaluating the Impact of Sustainable Practices" from UCSD, is comparing the use of paper towels versus electronic hand dryer. The aim is to find out which of the two alternatives has a higher life cycle cost and subsequently which makes more long term economic and environmental sense.

There are various parts with attached values that will have to be considered in this project.

First from the towel side, things like number of paper towels consumed, cost of the towels, handling costs like cost of generating requisitions and purchase orders receiving, servicing towel dispensers, cost of trash cans and plastic liners,
increased maintenance work resulting from messy paper towel usage, collecting and disposing of used towels etc.
And from the hand dryer side, number of hand drying, hours of hand dryer usage, cost of electricity, maintenance of the motors, cleaning filters and repair etc.

Most of the hand dryers fail in their primary function of drying hands, they either take 20-30 seconds to dry hand(which seems like an eternity because you have to stand in one spot for so long) or blasts with a little too warm air. Also there is a issue with blasting your hands with recirculated air from the bathrooms which is saturated with tiny particles of you-know-what.

On the other hand the paper cost a fortune, virgin or recycled both use resources that head straight to the landfill. The thought of using trees for wiping your hand is saddening too. Though hand dryers use energy, they automatically shut down and therefore don't waste energy. They eliminate the need of paper and keep paper out of the waste stream.

The climate conservancy in the article "
PAPER TOWELS VS. ELECTRIC HAND DRYERS" conclude that about 0.123 pounds of greenhouse-gas emissions per paper-towel session (the researchers assumed that a hand-washer uses two towels to dry off). The range for hand dryers, by contrast, was between 0.02 pounds and 0.088 pounds, depending on wattage and drying time.

It does seem like a good choice to use hand dryers. Currently the two most recommended and energy efficient hand dryers are
Xlerator which is Green Spec approves and helps qualify for LEED, and Dyson that dries in just 12 seconds.

All said and done most people still like using paper towels, so what is s agood environmental choice for them? Greenpeace recently released its latest "Recycled Tissue and Toilet Paper Guide". This guide will help you find the most green brands of paper towels and tissue.

To download it in a handy pocket size format click here.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

11 Sustainable Design Principles - A Guide to Guilt Free Design.

As design students or practitioners we have a grave responsibility towards the future. Winston Churchill famously said " We shape our buildings, and thereafter they shape us".

The products all around us are our responsibility. And all the products in the land fills are our doing.

We as designers have played a significant role in creating this mess we’re in. We manipulate fashion and style to fuel the desire for the next new thing. We help invent planned obsolescence. We promote unbridled consumerism. We sell our services to move more and more products off the shelves and then help push those products into our overflowing landfills by offering ever-present new and improved.

Now with the growing global concerns about environmental problems such as climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss and about social problems related to poverty, health, working circumstances, safety and inequity,designers need to think about their stand on design and sustainability.

The field of "Sustainable Design" focuses on reducing the environmental impact of a product during its manufacture, use and disposal or reuse. It uses strategies such as avoiding use of toxic substances during production, minimizing materials used, minimizing energy or water required during use, and designing for repair, reuse or disassemble and recycling.

Following is the simple sustainability checklist that can be used before and during the design process.

1. Question the premise of design
  • Is it really needed?
  • Can the utility be combined with something already available?
  • Ask if the need can be fulfilled in any creative way.
2. Select low impact materials
  • Clean materials with least or no hazardous chemicals.
  • Post or pre-consumer recycled material.
  • Renewable material
  • Easily recyclable material
  • Locally produced material
  • Material with lower carbon foot print.
3. Use less material
  • Reduce the overall weight
  • Reduce volume.
4. Reduce complexity
  • Simplify the design
  • Eliminate unnecessary fasteners or components.
  • Use less material variety - it makes recycling easier, efficient and more profitable.
5. Make it more useful
  • Think multi-use products like Swiss army knife.
  • Combine utilities that naturally occur together like dough maker, blender, food processor.
6. Design for durability
  • Long lasting high quality materials.
  • Easy upgrading - no planned in obsolesce please.
7. Easy maintenance and repair
  • Design the product with the possibilities of local service and maintenance companies in mind.
  • Ensure that maintaining and repairing the product becomes a pleasure for the consumer rather than a duty.
  • Develop new innovative service and repair centers.
8. Design for low energy & water use
  • During manufacturing of the product.
  • Consumption during the lifetime of the product.
  • Default power-down mode.
  • Stand-by functions and similar devices can be switched off by the user.
  • Fewer consumables during product lifetime like permanent filter in coffee makers instead of paper filters.
  • Use less ,clean or reusable packaging.
9. Optimize production process
  • low energy production
  • less production waste
  • safety and cleanliness of work place
10. Design for dismantling
  • Make it modular.
  • Can be economically & efficiently transported.
  • Easy to repair & refurbishing.
11. Design for end of life
  • Long lasting quality products get handed down for reuse.
  • As much as possible make every thing recyclable.
  • Offer to take the product back for environmental friendly disposal.
There definitely are many new skills to learn, sensibilities to develop and parameters to add to the design process. And this does increase the range of our responsibilities as designers and offers real and difficult challenges to business as usual. But if we want to design without guilt we just can't wish away the current mess, we as designers will have to design our way out.

Killing two birds with one stone!

When I first thought about "Carbon Collecting and Storage" I wondered where all the collected carbon will go and what kind of catastrophe will all the stored carbon cause in the future. Later I speculated about turning that problem into opportunity.

In the same vein is this interesting article that talks about a device that is designed to convert CO2 into fuel. Killing two birds with one stone !!! In one single action this device will take care of two major problems energy and global warming. Talk about blessings!!

Here is the link to the article.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Understanding Recycling

Recycling is one of the easiest ways in which we can reduce our impact on the earth(carbon foot print). It makes sense on multiple counts like

1. Saves money - Throwing trash away is expensive. First, we need a place to put our garbage (a landfill) and then we need to pay to store it there forever.

2. Saves energy - Recycled materials compared to virgin materials saves a lot of energy, for example, it takes 95% less energy to make an aluminum can from recycled aluminum than it does from virgin aluminum.

3. Prevents pollution - Recycling also reduces climate change emissions from incinerators and landfills. (According to the EPA, recycling provides an annual benefit of 49.7 million metric tons of carbon equivalent emissions reduced, comparable to removing 39.4 million passenger cars from the road each year.). Also by using recycled materials, the manufacturer creates fewer greenhouse gases.

4. Prevents resource destruction - Recycling enables returning back discarded products to manufacturers for use in new products which prevents the pollution and destruction that occurs when virgin materials—like trees and precious metals—are extracted
from the earth.

5. Creates jobs - For every one job at a landfill, there are ten jobs in recycling processing and 25 jobs in recycling-based manufacturers. The recycling industry employs more workers than the auto industry.

6. Creates a just and sustainable society - It is estimated that we are currently consuming at a rate of 123%, using 23% more resources than the Earth can sustain. This means we are jeopardizing the ability of future generations to meet their needs. And as populations continue to increase and seek the affluence and consumerism of the Western culture, there will be increasing conflict over our limited supply of resources, everything from precious metals to clean water.

Like many of you I recycle diligently and hope the stuff I put in the blue bin is creating value and not going waste. That said the recycling business model always raised many questions. I was always curious to understand the complete recycling process. How bottles, cans, newspapers, egg cartons and junk mail are separated and turned into new materials and products. And how in spite of incurring expenditure in collecting, transporting and sorting they still managed to make profits.

The following video helps to find the answer to many questions related to recycling.

7 Steps Towards Sustainable Purchasing.

As society demands more transparency and responsible behavior from the business sector, many companies are taking action to improve their competitive advantage by embracing Sustainable Business Practices as a core business strategy.

The following 9 point guideline gives a basic idea of things that need to be looked at when thinking of Sustainable Business Practices.

1. Energy conservation and efficiency
2. Energy efficient equipment & lighting replacements
3. Water conservation and water purity
4. Improving indoor air quality
5. Creating a toxic-free workplace
6. Recycling and waste reduction strategies
7. Sustainable purchasing strategies, including electricity from renewable sources
8. Sustainable travel and transportation options
9. Tax credits, rebates and other financial incentives

One of the things that has a major impact is Sustainable Purchasing. The next three slides talk about 7 things that a business can do to purchase sustainably.

7 Steps Towards Suatainable Purchasing

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Step that each of us could take today to make our world more sustainable

Thinking about everything that is wrong with the world makes me feel sad and helpless. I wonder what, if anything a bunch of people can do to correct it. Things like global warming are way to big for any of us to deal by ourselves. It overwhelms me.

Most people I interact with to feel strongly about climate change, conservation and sustainability and want to do things to make a difference. Here are a list of ideas with which each of us can contribute individually.

  • Change your light bulbs from incandescent to CFL or LED. This one thing is going to reduce your energy bills drastically. This is not only good for the environment but good for your pocket.
  • Turn the lights off when you leave the room.
  • Use energy efficient appliances. Look for the blue energy star logo.
  • Wash your clothes in warm water instead of hot.
  • Air dry the clothes if you can.
  • Set the thermostat a couple of degrees less.
  • Caulk and weatherstrip all your doors and windows. Insulate your walls and ceilings.
  • Use the dishwasher only when it's full.
  • Install low-flow shower heads.
  • Turn down the thermostat on the water heater.
  • If possible, install solar panels.
  • Adjust your computer’s settings to shut down after being idle for a certain amount of time.
  • Turn off unused electronics like coffee maker.
  • Car pool if you can or use public transport.

  • Use double-sided printing.
  • Print rough drafts and informal memos on the unused side of paper that would otherwise be thrown out (draft paper.
  • Load laser printer paper trays with draft paper.
  • Reuse draft and computer paper for notes and scrap paper.
  • Use digital signatures on documents.
  • Buy products made from recycled paper, plastic etc.
  • View and pay your bills online.
  • Say no to plastic bags.
  • Buy wine from a nearby vineyard or beer from a neighborhood brewery.
  • Cake from a local bakery.
  • Use seasonal flowers.
  • Grocery from farmers market or food co-ops in your area.
4. Use organic personal care products.
5. Compost
6. Plant a tree

Plastic Bags

Sometime last month Tarun and decided to totally cut down our use of plastic bags, and I'm proud to say that its been a month and we haven't used any!!! We carry our cloth bag with us all the time, and when we forget we just carry stuff in our arms. Needless to say its a great feeling.

Few days back I received this inserting compilation of facts about plastic bags. Might like to check it out here.

Hopes it make you think and make some changes too!!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The World keeps getting better

Built in obsolescence in every thing around me is trying my patience. How many of you out there remember when a toaster lasted 20 years, a kettle 30? How did we manage to go from 30 to 3?

Its pretty commonsensical that longer lifespans for stuff would mean a huge reduction to world-wide landfills, not to mention a reduction of manufacturing emissions and the valuable materials, energy and effort that go into manufacturing them.

So discovering Hand-Me-Downs a range of jackets and bags that have been designed specifically to last 10 or more years from a UK clothing brand Howies is super news!!

Discarded clothing problem is what Hand-me-downs are designed to solve.

By using high quality components like
rust-proof aluminum zips & hardware and organic tweed and ventile (an extremely tightly woven cotton fabric that's inherently water-resistant and uses 30 percent more yarn than conventional fabrics) they make very sturdy bags and jackets that have an extended life. Calling the product hand-me-down clearly drives the message of donating once your own use is over.

A great idea to learn from and emulate in other products as well.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The size of the problem equals the size of the opportunity

In my last post I was worried about the impacts of carbon storing on the environment and was questioning the consequences of playing with mother nature. Later in the night a thought jumped out at me "The size of the problem equals the size of the opportunity".

And suddenly as if all the pieces of the puzzle started falling in place. Imagine if all the collected carbon can be turned into diamonds!!

As a concept it is a very engaging one. Turning a big problem into a most desired product. There can be a slew of opportunities for ventures that turn the carbon into usable commodities. Recycle or composting business model does exactly that, imagine the possibilities !!!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Is any solution a problem in disguise?

We all have been hearing about the concept Carbon Capturing since a while now, the idea and its premise seems plausible enough. Along with cutting down emissions, capturing what is already out there seems a logical step forward. Though the long term ramifications are not clear yet.

Going against what would naturally happen is always a scary situation. What if the environment is inversely affected by this? What if this one choice makes the future worst off?

It makes me wonder if in the process of creating solutions we are only setting off new problems in motion. Is any solution a problem in disguise?

McKinsley Quarterly has a new interactive exhibit "What is carbon capture and storage?" that provides a background for further discussion.

Disneyland Powers Steam Trains With Recycled Cooking Oil

As part of its ongoing commitment to the environment, Disneyland Resort announced that it has begun using recycled cooking oil to power its Disneyland Railroad steam trains.

The oil used to cook French Fries and other foods is processed to power the Disneyland Railroad and Mark Twain Riverboat. This move allows the Resort to save approximately 200,000 gallons of petroleum diesel per year.

"These initiatives demonstrate Disneyland Resort's ongoing commitment to balancing environmental stewardship throughout our operations," said Michael O'Grattan, senior vice president of resort operations. "These are just a few steps in our ongoing journey to reduce Disneyland Resort's environmental footprint."

All major businesses are increasingly showing concern with reducing their footprints, and it gives me hope that the future will see more clean technologies, less dependence on non renewable resources and a cleaner environment.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Wal-Mart Pushes Green Outside U.S. Borders

Wal-Mart announced this week goals to reduce phosphates in products in the Americas region by 70 percent by 2011. The move is part of a larger environmental plan for the region, which will also include more sustainable packaging.

“Our reach around the world puts us in a unique position to drive sustainable change across national boundaries and into the global supply chain,” said Craig Herkert, president and CEO of Wal-Mart Americas.

Story of stuff

PS. I am reminded of the 20 min video"The story of stuff" by Annie Leonard. A must watch if one is concerned about our impact on the earth.

Purchasing in the Concern Economy

Concern Economy is a way of looking at the world that recognizes that a thriving & healthy world is standing on three pillars - a strong economy, a healthy environment and social well-being. It means that we make sure that the choices we make are not only economically wise but also environmentally and socially responsible.

A lot of the decisions that we make are through every day purchasing. What to buy, from were, how much are the kinds of decisions that a business or a household makes everyday. Cost and quality are important factors but there are other things too worth considering for a positive impact on the business and society.

We begin by looking at what products are made of, where they come from, how they were made and how they will be disposed. It is also imperative to consider whether a purchase needs to be made at all.

The basic idea behind Concern Purchasing is to shift purchasing dollars away from goods that negatively impact the society and environment to those that are more environmentally sound and socially beneficial.

But the fundamental question remains.
What are the benefits, both qualitative and quantitative?

Saving money (conserving resources like energy, fuel, water)and local development seem to be the most obvious ones. Employee moral and retention, enhanced brand image, compliance (environmental, health, safety regulations) and risk avoidance, competitive advantage are the other reasons to switch to Concerned Purchasing.

And of course by doing all this you are helping to preserve the earth and its resources for your children and their children's children.