Monday, June 30, 2008

BALLE - Grow Deep



I spent the day with fellow BGIers representing the Carbon Concierge (CC) at the 6th Annual BALLE Grow Deep Conference held at Boston University. It was a fairly small event, and with two tables dedicated to the CC, we had ample space to engage people in conversations that we would hope to lead to them committing to take action on their companies’ GHG emissions. Considering it was my first foray into talking with new people about CO2 emissions, it went very well (image from surfrider.com).

Over the course of seven years, my personal opinion about what sustainability must be to make any progress as changed quite a bit. Immediately following 9/11, I quit my job and proceeded to sell my car and take to the bike, becoming involved in the bike business locally, Massbike, and the Responsible Business Association of Greater Boston (now known as the Sustainable Business Network). My tune changed as I learned about CERES, the WBCSD, and other global networks seeking to create change at the highest levels of corporations. As I have continued my sustainability education at BGI (Marlboro next year?), I believe I have completed my circle of thinking back to the idea of creating (and recreating) local economies. As fuel prices continue to rise (over $4.00/gallon for regular unleaded here in Boston at the time of this writing) this will become an economic imperative.

Hence, my interest in BALLE.

Perhaps the most important element of local economies is food. Given the rise of industrialized agriculture that was founded upon inexpensive petroleum (check out Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, I am about 1/4 of the way through), what can we do about reestablishing local food networks? Is there enough arable land (at least we have the ocean) in New England to feed the people in New England? At a subsistence level…I sincerely doubt it; at our current level…no way (uneducated conjecture).

In the spirit of closing the loop locally with the three forms of capital; natural, human, and financial, I attended sessions on local food and closing the loop on waste streams. The former featuring Michael Rozyne of Red Tomato, Marcel Van Ooyen of NYC’s Greenmarkets, and Judy Wicks of The White Dog Café, the latter featured Adam Mitchell of Save that Stuff and Amy Bauman of greenGoat.

I learned quite a bit from the local food session, including the fact that less than 2% of all the food supplied to American consumers comes through farmer’s markets. They have been growing in popularity, yet, they are a very small portion of our food consumption. The representative from Red Tomato, a Northeast regional marketing and sales organization was frank in his assessment of the potential for local food to help meet our demands…it can help…marginally. One of the biggest challenges they face is the destruction of the local food infrastructure…farms are gone, distribution and retail facilities are gone, and transportation costs are increasing. Is there an opportunity for biodiesel here? Judy Wicks of the White Dog Café in Philadelphia, one of the founders of BALLE and an innovator in rediscovering local food networks talked about the importance of the demand for local food. She mentioned her relatively recent discovery of the horrible conditions pigs were subjected to (they had already changed their buying for other meats) and stopped selling pork until she could find a local producer that maintained the natural feeding and rearing of the creatures.

Closing the loop on waste makes a heck of a lot of sense, and will again become more important as energy prices and resource prices increase. Imagine; taking materials that have value, that have embodied energy, and reusing them within the same geography. Why not? Adam from Save that Stuff went on to discuss the challenge of finding the right facilities to process the materials they gather from clients as well as the social implications of the low-wage jobs they create. I liked the fact that they have a service that seeks to reduce the overall waste generated by their customers (they are not paid by the trip). They face stiff competition from Waste Management, the 800 pound gorilla of garbage, and the one that makes more money from hauling MORE trash. I remember learning about WM’s effort to help customers reduce waste, Upstream Waste Management. I met Paul Ligon & Terry Huie, members of Upstream Waste Management at a NetImpact event at Harvard back in 2006. I remember thinking the idea had some merit.

Amy Bauman (who is a passionate advocate for reusing “stuff”) of greenGoat talked with us about the potential for reusing the building materials we blithely throw “away”. I loved her analysis of what materials were worth as salvage, and what they could be used for. She walks into a building and starts assessing the value of the resources that comprise the building; the brick, the cement, the wood, the windows, etc. It’s not something to be torn down, trucked away, and buried, but something that has tremendously valuable embodied energy, that we can harvest again. If you’re interested in tearing apart a house for reuse…give ‘em a call.

It was an engaging event, with people dedicated and interested in creating local economies. I am looking forward to reconnecting with the people at SBN Boston.

One last thing; the question I ask of myself, and sometimes pose to others that are concerned about environmental issues (as many of the BALLE people are) is, why are we traveling great distances for these events?

Monday, June 16, 2008


Double...

  • Buffalo, NY
  • Business Trip
  • Running
  • College Campus (empty)
  • Grassland
  • Groundhogs (Caddy Shack)
  • Thunderstorm!
  • Hail
  • Tough
  • Kept Going
  • Double Rainbow!!
  • Glorious

Monday, June 09, 2008

Do Children...


...have an appreciation for Nature that adults have lost? While waiting in the lobby of a local pharmaceutical manufacturing company in Massachusetts, I absent-mindedly flipped through a calendar. It was one made with crayon drawings from children, more than likely, the offspring of the employees of said company. I did not pay much attention, until I realized some common themes...climate change, global warming, nature scenes...interesting. I went back and counted; 5 out of 12 pictures drawn depicted scenes related to preserving nature:
  • A fish asking us not to pollute (with a motorboat puffing away in the background)
  • Two Polar Bears on a shrinking block of ice
  • The earth with a smoke spewing factory fouling the air (the scale was off)
  • A child stopping the train of global warming (literally) by saying we can all do it together The last drawing is escaping me
What do the young know and appreciate that the "mature" have forgotten?

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Hyper-what, "miling"?


With all my ranting about the need to reduce energy demand, you'd think I would know about hypermiling; nope, I learned about it at an ISPE event (of all places) from a gent I did not know. It is good to know that more people are thinking about fuel use and consumption.
So, being one of the wannabe greenies, I tried some hypermiling a few weeks ago. Here’s the data:
Car: 2004 Passat Wagon Auto 1.8L turbo (needs high octane…ouch!) ~50,500 miles on the odometer

Waltham, MA (near Boston) – Albany, NY
Set cruise at: 65 mph
Average velocity: 54 mph
Time: 3hr 15min (some noodling around the destination and when I left)
Distance: 175 mi
Avg. mpg: 32 mpg (usually get around 26-28 mpg with cruise set at 75 mph)
Albany - Waltham
Set cruise at: ~62 mph
Average velocity: 55 mph
Time: 3hr 9min
Distance: 172 mi
Avg. mpg: 37 mpg (usually, around 26-28 mpg with cruise set at 75 mph)

West to east is more downhill and there was a strong tailwind at times. I could not help but do some drafting with some trucks in both directions. Tire pressure WAS NOT maxed…I wonder what that will do?
Here are the comments from the gentleman I met at the ISPE event that introduced me to hypermiling:
I hit 29.8 on Friday. After a day of running around...my cumulative avg. mpg dropped to 29.6 and then ticked back up to 29.7.

I bought the car 07 Taurus with 30k miles on it and at that time it was showing 18.4. So I am overcoming the mpg history. My fist goal is 30mpg combined city and highway. Not sure how high it will go but I am increasing the tire pressure to recommended max and am looking into a K and N washable air filter. More air flow will also improve the mpg.

So you have improved approx 6mpg. So you have picked up approx 90 more miles to the tank saving 3 gallons at 4 bucks is 12 bucks savings per tank. Filling 3 times a week saves 36 at 50 weeks is 1800 dollars annual savings and approx 6k miles further annually. Nice job. Do the tires and drive like you have very little brake. I'm driving to Williamsburg, VA week of July 4th and that will take a chunk out of the negative mileage history...I wonder what increase I will see.

Some press related to increasing fuel prices, gas mileage, and traffic patterns that may be of interest.
Gasoline demand has fallen sharply since the beginning of the year and is headed for the first annual drop in 17 years, according to government estimates. The Transportation Department reported Friday that in March, Americans drove 11 billion fewer miles than in March 2007, a decline of 4.3 percent. It is the first time since 1979 that traffic has dropped from one March to the next, and the month-on-month percentage decline is the largest since record keeping began in 1942.

Traffic Wave Experiments , from a gentleman in Seattle, an interesting (and potentially intuitive) excerpt:
Once upon a time, years ago, I was driving through a number of stop/go traffic waves on I-520 at rush hour in Seattle. I decided to try something. On a day when I immediately started hitting the usual "waves" of stopped cars, I decided to drive smoothly. Rather than repeatedly rushing ahead with everyone else, only to come to a halt, I decided to try to move at the average speed of the traffic. I let a huge gap open up ahead of me, and timed things so I was arriving at the next "stop-wave" just as the last red brake lights were turning off ahead of me. It certainly felt weird to have that huge empty space ahead of me, but I knew I was driving no slower than anyone else. Sometimes I hit it just right and never had to touch the brakes at all. Other times I was too fast or slow. There were many "waves" that evening, and this gave me many opportunities to improve my skill as I drove along.

I kept this up for maybe half an hour while approaching the city. Finally I happened to glance at my rearview mirror. There was an interesting sight. It was dusk, the headlights were on, and I was going down a long hill to the bridges. I had a view of miles of highway behind me. In the neighboring lane I could see maybe five of the traffic stop-waves. But in the lane behind me, for miles, TOTALLY UNIFORM DISTRIBUTION. I hadn't realized it, but by driving at the average speed of the traffic around me, my car had been "eating" the traffic waves. Everyone ahead of me was caught in the stop/go cycle, while everyone behind me was forced to go at a nice smooth 35MPH or so. My single tiny car had erased miles and miles of stop-and-go traffic. Just one single "lubricant atom" had a profound effect on the turbulent particle flow within the entire miles of "tube."
Driving slowly and thinking about the impact this has on me and the world around me made me wonder, "What is the value of speeding up?" We drive faster, we "get away", and we ship goods to more people in more places faster than ever before...all in the name of economic growth. What are we growing, an economy that supports what we want or an economy that promotes consumption? What would slowing down accomplish? Would we refocus locally? Would we run off the rails of growth and fall into complete chaos?

Are we ready for this?

Perhaps mindfulness on a national level would do us some good.