Voices from the Salon

More or less weekly posts from more or less experts on topics more or less related to climate change

Are You Wasting Electricity? Probably More Than You Think

Time Posted on April 13, 2010 UTC User Dave Chameides Comment 3318 comments

Dave Chameides, AKA Sustainable Dave is a 2 time Emmy award winning filmmaker, father of two, and self taught environmental educator.  For the year of 2008, he kept all of his trash and recycling in his basement in order to better understand his waste footprint and in the process, was able to cut his yearly trash output to less than 30 pounds.  His website, 365 Days of Trash, and story became an international sensation and his message of waste reduction was carried around the world.

Presently, Chameides is the Director of Sustainability at the Shalhevet School in Los Angeles.  He is a frequent contributor to several online publications and is writing a book based on his year long project.  Chameides also continues to teach Chasing Sustainability, an environmental seminar he created 3 years ago, to schools, businesses and religious and social groups.  He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and 2 kids, and yes, he is still married.

I have something to admit.  I generally take electricity for granted.

Take just now for instance.  I sat down to write, turned on my computer and never once considered that there may not be juice in the line sparking those electrons into a tizzy of visual information.  You see, I live in the U.S. and as a result, never really have to go without.  The light always goes on, the fridge always stays cold and my cell phone is always charged (well, at least when I don’t forget to plug it in).

What’s more problematic than taking electricity for granted however, is the idea that I have (or had) little idea from whence it came.  For the most part, I do know, as we have solar panels on the roof of our house and these little buggers generate most of our volts and watts.  But there are times when we use more than we generate, when the sun doesn’t shine, or as with the last few weeks, a part in my inverter breaks and the new one is on backorder.  So instead of knowing that I was in a sense “covered” I now have been thinking more and more about the power coming into my house.

Where does it come from, who puts it there, how does it effect them, and in a more indirect way, how does it affect me and my family?  The problem it seems, is that we are all so far removed from the process that we are not being confronted with the questions we should be asking.  Consider this for a second.  What if instead of turning on the light switch and going about our business, we had to do the following?

Step 1: Open the window and ask Bud next door to head down into the mine and shovel up some coal.  While Bud’s down there, you wait anxiously in the hopes that you won’t hear the mine cave in because Bud’s a good guy and he always let’s you borrow his chainsaw.  When Bud comes back up, pay him a couple cents for the wheelbarrow full of coal and head to step 2.

Step 2:  Run that wheelbarrow over to Mary across the street and ask her to throw it into her coal fired electricity plant and shoot some watts over to your house.  Make sure to throw Mary a couple of cents for her work as well and then retire to your living room, ready to turn that light on.

Step 3:  Try not to look out of the window or you will see all of the pollution that the generator puts out heading to your house where it will build up and hang out as long as you live there.  Afterall, that power may be cheap, but it certainly isn’t free - right?

Step 4:  Enjoy that extra light you turned on, the one by the big bay window.

Now I know this seems ridiculous, but wouldn’t this kind of accountability make you think twice before flipping the switch? I often think of those guys in West Virginia spending their days down in the mines so I can watch re-runs of Family Guy on TiVo and I have to wonder if I’m doing the right thing.

So here are a few ideas I’d like to throw out there.

For starters, check out this EPA guide on how clean the electricity you use is (http://www.epa.gov/cleanenergy/energy-and-you/how-clean.html) and then follow through on the last page and investigate buying green power.  Basically you’ll pay a few bucks extra a month and depending on where you are, they will either supply you with clean power, or buy an amount equal to your usage from green power elsewhere.  Either way, you’re being more responsible for your impact.  Another interesting site is here (http://www.ilovemountains.org/) where you can determine if your power company is involved in mountain top removal.

The next thing to do is to stop wasting so much power in the first place and the place to start is to turn your lights off.  That’s right, simple.  Just turn them off.  Some friends of mine did this for two months and saved 20% on their power bill.  That’s money in your pocket right?  Nothing wrong with that.

Next up, kill your vampires.  Take a look around your domicile right now.  Do you have a microwave, a dvd player, stereo, or television?  If the answer is yes, all those little buggers are sucking juice 24/7 and amping up your power bill at the same time.  Why?  Well for starters, anything that has a remote, is waiting for you to turn it on.  The average vcr, dvd player, or television will use more electricity in the “off” state than it will ever consume while you are using it.  And that microwave?  If you’re like me and use it to heat rather than cook, it’ll most likely use more power telling you time than it ever will heating your food (http://michaelbluejay.com/electricity/vampire.html).  It’s a microwave, not a clock right? 

But why stop there.  Do you have a cell phone, ipod, rechargeable camera batteries?  Did you know that almost all of these chargers still use power when plugged in even when they aren’t juicing something?  Don’t believe me?  Pick up a Kill-A-Watt meter and give it a whirl.  You’ll be shocked at how many things you’ll find are sipping watts all day long.

According to the US Department of Energy (www.energy.gov) , nearly 20% of all the electricity used in the average American home is vampire power.  If we could cut this out, it would be equivalent to shutting down 36 coal powered plants.  That seems like a really good idea doesn't it?

So unplug those chargers and throw those dvd players and microwaves on a power strip.  You’ll help the environment, save yourself some greenbacks, and who knows, maybe even get a few more years out of that old tv set.

Low Powered Lights

Time Posted on February 23, 2010 UTC User Yoram Bernet Comment 2703 comments

First of all - a big disclaimer - i'm going to talk about reducing my electricity usage. Now - one of the points that I try to hammer home ceaselessly to anyone who will listen, is that here in the Northwest, in general, we don't make a big dent in our carbon emissions by reducing our electricity usage. Our electricity usage is hydro generated. So - to the first order, our electricity does not produce carbon emissions in its generation. Now - that's not entirely true... Ask me about what Seattle City Light calls 'the margin' and i'll explain in further detail. Suffice it to say for now that for my household, there's not lots to be gained by reducing electricity use. Further - i'm not even going to talk about swapping out our hoggish electric water heater or our refrigerator. No - i'm going to talk about lighting, which tends to be a small fraction of total electricity use in most households anyway.

Yes - i've been fiddling with trying to reduce the electricity we use for our lighting. Why?

Well - for one - it's the principle of the matter. While my primary focus is in changing the behaviors that produce a relatively large portion of my carbon emissions, I feel that I, more than most, need to try to also tackle those areas that might not be as significant. I need to 'walk the talk' across the board. Second - whatever I learn from this exercise, i'm going to share with you all, so that those of you who use electricity generated by coal (which generates per kWh more than ten times the emissions of our electricity) can benefit from my mistakes. Third - we're building a net-zero home in Oregon. In that home, we will be generating our own electricity. So - I need a strategy for minimizing any electricity use in that home.

My strategy has been to replace incandescent bulbs with either compact fluorescents (CFs) or LED bulbs, wherever possible. I've found that it's not as easy as it seems. So - in the following paragraphs, i'll share with you the lessons that i've learned.

Where do I Start?
Most of us are surprised to find that we have more than one hundred bulbs in our homes! Some of us may have several hundreds. Deciding which ones to start with can be so daunting that it drives us to just punt on the problem and tackle it at some later date. Here are a couple of tips to help pick those first few bulbs to replace:

  • Start with the power hogs - the power consumed by any bulb is a product of both the wattage rating of the bulb (its brightness) and the number of hours that it's on daily. For example - a 100W bulb in a closet that's switched on for five minutes a day, accounts for 3 kWh per year (about 0.03 percent of the average home's electricity use. On the other hand, those six 50 W recessed bulbs in the kitchen that are on for an average of three hours per day, year round - they account for about 330 kWh per year - one hundred times more than the closet bulb. You can calculate the power consumed (which is directly proportional to the amount of emissions generated) for any of your lighting sources, using the following formula: annual power consumed (in kWh/year) = (average number of hours per day x 365 (days per year) x bulb wattage)/1000.
  • Don't confuse low voltage with low power. Many of us have low voltage bulbs (especially in such places as under cabinet lighting). These are not low power. They take just as much energy (actually, slightly more due to losses in the transformers) as their high voltage counterparts. That said, they tend to be difficult to find actual low power substitutes for so these might not be the best place to start.
  • Bulb base or form factor - most of our bulbs feature the standard screw-in base that we've seen for years and years (known as an E-26 or E-27 base). These are the bulbs for which you're most likely to find a reasonable replacement in CFs or LEDs. This is not to say that there are not low power alternatives available for other form factors - there are. It's just that you'll have much more selection in standard bases. While the 'floods' that are used in many recessed lighting fixtures have a specialized form factor, they often use a standard base and there is a reasonably good selection of these available in low power versions.
  • Dimmability - many of us have dimmer switches. While LED bulbs generally work just fine with dimmer switches, CFs must be specifically rated as dimmable. Using a non dimmable CF bulb with a dimmer switch can actually cause the bulb to overheat to the point that it becomes a fire hazard. As a consequence, you will find that there are fewer options for replacing bulbs that are on dimmer switches than for replacing bulbs that are on a straight on/off switch.

In conclusion, start with the power hogs that have standard bases and are not on dimmer switches. Many of us will find those exterior bulbs that we use over our front and back entry doors to be prime candidates.

Once you've picked the bulbs to start with, make a list of the bulbs that you'd like to replace, noting number of bulbs, power rating, form factor and whether or not they are dimmable.

Where do I Buy Low Power Bulbs?
I've found the greatest variety of CF bulbs at Home Depot and Lowe's Home Centers. IKEA also has an excellent selection, with an especially good set of non-standard base varieties. For  LED bulbs, Home Depot and Lowe's are also reasonable. Bulbman is a good online resource for CF bulbs. I've been particularly impressed with LED bulbs from Pharox.

Regardless of where you purchase your bulbs, keep the receipts for a few weeks. There's a lot of new technology in these bulbs that has not yet withstood the test of time. Out of some fifty bulbs that I purchased at Home Depot, one failed after just a few days and had to be returned.

What Should I look For?
Now that you're at the store (be it brick and mortar or on-line) with your list in hand, what should you look for? 

  • CF or LED? - LED bulbs generally conusme about one tenth the power of a standard incandescent bulb. For CFs, the ratio is about one-quarter. In addition, CF bulbs contain trace amounts of mercury, while LED bulbs do not. Finally - LED bulbs last longer than CFs. All these considerations point in the direction of LED bulbs. That said, there are generally fewer options available today in LED bulbs, their light tends to be less appealing and they tend to be pricier than CF bulbs.
  • Power rating - we're used to selecting light bulbs by their power rating. We have a pretty good idea of how much light a 100W bulb generates vs. a 40W bulb. With the new low power bulbs, power ratings can be confusing. Most of the low power bulbs will state an incandescent equivalent power or lighting power. Look for this number as opposed to the actual power consumption of the bulb.
  • Base - make sure that the bulbs you choose have the same base as the bulbs that you're replacing. Also - a very important thing to look for is whether the bulb is rated for base-up use. Most bulbs are nowadays, but some that are not, remain on the market. A bulb that is not intended for base-up use should not be put in a lighting fixture that inverts the bulb (leaves its base up). Doing so will significantly shorten the life of the bulb.
  • Dimmability - if you're replacng a bulb that's on a dimmer switch, make sure to pick a replacement that is explicitly noted as dimmable.
  • Color temperature - this refers to the color of the light that the bulb will generate. The incandescent bulbs that we have grown so used to generate a very 'warm' light, that tends to the orange end of the spectrum. By contrast, certain bulbs generate a very 'cold' or blueish light. A high color temperature indicates a bulb tending towards a (ironically) colder feeling and a bluer light. Most of us prefer (at least for our living spaces), the warmer light generated by bulbs with a low color temperature. The color temperature of an incandescent bulb is typically close to 2,700 degrees Kelvin. If you want a warm light, look for a bulb that has a similar color temperature.
  • CRI - this is an acronym for color rendering index, which refers to the ability of a light source to render colors faithfully. Incandescent bulbs have CRIs in the range of 90 - 95. The CRI for CF bulbs is often in the low 80s. The CRI may or may not be specified on the product packaging, but if it is - look for as high a CRI as you can find.

Notes on Color and Color Perception
Many people, including myself, find the light from CF and LED bulbs to be objectionable, especially in comparison to the warm incandescent bulbs that we're used to. This can be true even for those bulbs that have a warm color temperature. This is not an insurmountable problem. Here are some notes and tips regarding light color.

  • Make sure that you buy bulbs of the right color temperature (see previous section) and as high a CRI as you can.
  • If you are in the process of painting your living space or are considering lighting for a new space, choose paint colors that tend to warmth rather than cold. Many off-whites have a little bit of blue or green in them, making them cold. Others have a little bit of red or yellow, making them warm. Warm paint colors will minimize the color distortion associated with low power bulbs. Cold paint colors will exacerbate them.
  • Many people find that the initial transition to low power bulbs is difficult at first but that over time, they grow used to the color of the new bulbs and barely notice the difference.
  • If you find yourslef replacing a set of bulbs in a living space (such as all the recessed bulbs in your living room) and simply can't live with the color of the light from the new bulbs - replace half of the bulbs and leave the other half incandescent.
  • Often, dimmed CFs or LEDs will look much colder than ones operating at full intensity. While I expect that technology will eventually fix this problem, you can get around it in the short term by using the approach suggested in the next section.

All My Light Fixtures are Dimmable
Even though we were able to find dimmable low power bulbs for most of our dimmable fixtures, we often found that we didn't like the quality of the light as we dimmed the bulbs. While we expect technology to come to our aid (in the form of more pleasing dimmable bulbs) in the long term, we recommend working around the problem in the short term, as follows:

Separate your task lighting from your mood lighting. Consider for example, a living room that is powered by a single, dimmable overhead light fixture. Put high light output bulbs (say 100W equivalents) in your overhead fixture and low light output bulbs (say 40W equivalents) in one or more table lamps or other smaller fixtures. You can then remove the dimmer switch from your overhead fixture altogether (or not - but be sure to do so if you are using non-dimmable bulbs in the fixture).Instead of dimming, you now simply turn off the overhead and turn on the smaller fixtures. We're making this approach an integral part of our lighting and electricity plan for our new home. Instead of dimmers in each room, rooms will be wired with one or more 'dim light' circuits and a 'bright light circuit'. We can turn on one or more of the dim light circuits for varying levels of low light. At the other extreme, we can turn on the bright light circuit when we need to maximize brightness. As a result, we'll always operate our low powered bulbs at their full intensity, thereby getting the most pleasing color from them.

Note that many low power bulbs do not actually change color as they are dimmed. Rather, because we are used to incadescent bulbs that become even warmer as they are dimmed, we tend to perceive dimmed bulbs as colder than they actually are. When this effect is at work, the low the light circuits described above might still be perceived as objectionably cold. In this case, simply keep incandescent bulbs in the low light circuits. You'll still reduce your electricity usage because you've replaced the high light output bulbs in the bright light circuit with low power alternatives.

What Does it Mean to Serve?

Time Posted on January 26, 2010 UTC User Todd Cloutier Comment 2540 comments

Todd Cloutier is a retired submarine officer, and member of Sustainable Edmonds, a small local group of concerned citizens in Edmonds, WA.  Sustainable Edmonds, formed in 2008, initially focused on community education events and workshops on topics ranging from solar installation to organic gardening. 

This year, Sustainable Edmonds has partnered with the City of Edmonds in an effort to reduce electricity and natural gas consumption in Edmonds.

My buzzed haircut is pretty much a dead giveaway.  Either I’m in the military, or I haven’t given up the habit.  It’s the latter.  Regardless, every time somebody hears I was in the Navy, I am thanked for my service.
And every time that happens, I feel somewhat conflicted.  Not in a political sense, with angst about what constitutes a just war, but rather, in the sense that I feel that service to one’s community, and one’s country, is carried on by far more people out of uniform than in.

Last year, I was approaching the end of my time in the Navy – a rush of assignments, mostly at sea, spanning 24 years.  With the finances somewhat in order, I looked forward to being able to do what I wanted to do, vice what I had to do.  Part of this was joining up with a few folks in Edmonds who had started up a group called Sustainable Edmonds.  I was struck by how this couple, Bob and Janice Freeman, both well past the age where they’d have to worry about the ultimate effects of global climate change, were dedicating their time and energy in pushing a myriad of efforts in our little city here on the coast.  That’s the kind of service I was interested in.

After a few meetings, though, my years as a “get it done” manager started taking over.  Making Edmonds a sustainable community was too much for us to take on.  Not to imply we should quit, but, rather, that we should prioritize our efforts to get the maximum benefit towards the achievement of the ultimate goal.  I felt a sort of guilt in bringing this approach up, as I knew it ran counter to the interests of many in the community who had their specific projects that they wanted to pursue, and my approach would put their concerns at the bottom of the pile.  Not because their efforts weren’t righteous or worthy, but because our little group was so limited in its resources that we could not do it all and achieve effects on all fronts.  (that’s my military-speak coming out again…. Gotta watch that).
After a few meetings, and a few upset people, we followed this train of thought to its final station.  Our greatest concern was a combination of global climate change and the collapse of our local economy.  Edmonds is a mostly residential community, and the majority of greenhouse gases are generated through home heating and cooling.  If we could figure out how to reduce home heating and cooling energy use, we could not only “green up” Edmonds more than it already is, we could put more money in people’s pockets, and get our local contractors a little work in the process.

This brings us up to where we are now.  The Edmonds City Council provided us a small pool of money to get our conservation efforts started.  We’re using it to partially offset the cost of home and business energy audits for 10 homes and 10 businesses in Edmonds.  We’re going to use these pilot project participants as examples for the rest of the city, with the intent to use the demonstrated savings from the Pilot to inspire and inform action by others.  What we needed was some way to track utility usage for several people, and display it graphically to make it easier to share.

That’s where Carbon Salon comes in.  Through the wonder of social networking, I, an ex-Navy guy up in Edmonds still chipping salt off his shoulders, got in touch with Yoram and learned about Carbon Salon.  What serendipity!  For the Sustainable Edmonds pilot project, which we’ve creatively named “Save Energy Now!”, we’re going to have our participants use Carbon Salon’s ADT features to automatically track how much progress they’re making in reducing their energy consumption.  We’re also going to set up the homes and businesses into competing Salons to make it a little more fun.

Will this save the world?  By itself, not a chance.  But it is a firm step in the right direction.  Conservation has become a familiar refrain, yet few realize how powerful an engine of change it is.  Conserving energy not only saves you money, giving you money to spend (hopefully locally), it reduces the environmental impact of power generation, it reduces the outflow of our money to fund unstable and sometimes outright hostile foreign powers, and gives you a feeling of control over a small portion of your interaction with the outside world.  Not a bad way to start.

Those people who volunteer to take that first step along with us in this conservation mission; they truly serve, and deserve our thanks as well. 

Follow along with us at www.sustainableedmonds.org, or join our group on Facebook.

Why I Changed the Buttons on my Sportscoat

Time Posted on January 11, 2010 UTC User Yoram Bernet Comment 3389 comments

Todd Vogel is Executive Director of the International Sustainability Institute, a Seattle-based not-for-profit dedicated to bringing world-wide best practices in sustainability to the Puget Sound region.

For the last two years, ISI has worked with the City of Seattle, University of Washington Green Futures Lab and Gehl Architects of Copenhagen to bring state-of-the-art methods to Seattle for making great people places. Gehl Architects’ Public Space and Public Life study of Seattle is the most in-depth study of pedestrian behavior and public spaces in any U.S. city. It promises to establish a thirty-year vision for the city and a statistical baseline by which Seattle can measure its progress toward becoming a walkable, sustainable city.

Cooperation between ISI and the Green Futures Lab led to mapping people spaces in Seattle’s Southeast neighborhoods. ISI’s work also has resulted in new public art on Seattle’s streets as well as a movement to invigorate the city’s alleys.

I look at the necessary carbon reduction to save the planet, and I circle through a couple of different responses.

First, I feel overwhelmed. Whatever that I do or that we do as a society isn’t going to help much.

Next, I move into what I call the "Discipline" cycle – “Oops, I should have put that in recycling.” “Bust, I forgot to turn out that light.” I watch my habits and try to change the wasteful ones. This can become an obsession that clouds the big picture. And what is that big picture?

Moving toward steady, long-term change.  Dramatically reducing our greenhouse emissions isn’t a race we will win in a sprint. If we sprint at our hardest, without thinking strategically, we’ll end up bent over gasping for breath.

Even if a sprint won’t take us to the finish line, we don’t have to look for only one small change at a time.  That won’t help either. Small things add up on climate change only if everyone buys in. Anyone who has been on a Texas highway lately, awash in big SUVs, knows that everyone hasn’t bought in and that we have a lot of work to do.

This means that we have to multi-task. We need to do two small things at a time. We have to change one habit, say, like biking to the store instead of taking the car, and then change something else, something that brings change on the structural level. This “structural change” can be on the personal level, meaning a change in how you organize your own life – or on the societal level, meaning a change in how society organizes itself.

What's a structural change? It’s a change that makes it easier to make the right low-carbon emitting choice in future decisions.  It greases the skids for making better decisions in the future.

To replace car trips with bike trips, I started by committing to biking to one more event each week. I quickly saw how convenient and fun biking was, and the habit began to stick. The days I rode quickly increased.

Perhaps the most important thing I did was to make the structural change necessary to feed my habit of riding a bike as transportation. Since I attend a lot of meetings around town, I want clothes that I can ride in and attend meetings. I made the buttons on my sport coats functional so that I can roll up the sleeves on a hot day. I bought slacks that suitable for leaning over the handlebars in comfort, and I replaced my pedals with two-sided numbers that allow me to both clip in and wear street shoes. The result?  I don’t have to change clothes to get on my bike and go. I am ready to ride almost any time. And the more I ride, the more I hard-wired my life to ride. Lights are permanent fixtures on my handlebars. Panniers always stand at the ready, and my wife and I organize our condo storage unit to serve as a bike repair and staging depot. We make bike riding easy on ourselves.

The concept also works when we move from down-home examples like these to broader questions about how we, as a society, organize our lives. I’ll address one example in a future blog entry.

Reducing Our Emissions at Home

Time Posted on December 18, 2009 UTC User Yoram Bernet Comment 1665 comments

This post is by Carbon Salon founder, Yoram Bernet. Yoram's been using the monthly Carbon Salon newsletter to describe his family's efforts to reduce their carbon emissions. Now that we have a blog, Yoram will be using the blog for this purpose, rather than the newsletter.

We got our second bid on a replacement for our 20+ year old boiler, which is much more reasonable than the first: A 95% efficient boiler at $3000 or so plus about $1400 in labor. Discount by 30% federal tax credit and another $350 from Puget Sound Energy (PSE), brings the whole job down to about $2700. At our current gas usage and rates, the replacement would take about 15 years to pay for itself. However, given that energy prices are forecasted to rise (Seattle City Light just had a 14% rate hike approved), the break-even point is likely to come much sooner. Regardless, this is a long term investment in our home that stands to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 5 - 6% immediately!

Note that the PSE rebate on boilers becomes available in January. So - we're going to buy the new boiler first thing next year.

Fireplace Leaks
So far, replacing the glass doors doesn't look promising. We have a bid on installing a damper. It'll cost around $350 and it stands to reduce by half the amount of heat that we loose due to warm air escaping the house.

Compact Fluorescents
I pledged to replace 90% of our bulbs with CF bulbs by the time this newsletter came out. Well - I installed some 30 bulbs since that pledge but have not yet reached 90% in terms of number of bulbs. I've realized that I can't possibly do so without replacing a lot of our fixtures and switches. However... i've done the math and it turns out that number of bulbs is not the right metric. The more useful metric in terms of greenhouse gas emissions is the kWh that will be eliminated. In terms of kWhs, our recent bulb change marathon will save about 1600 kWh per year, which is about 13% of the average American household's electricity usage. The key is to go after the high wattage bulbs that are used a lot.

As it happens, for us in the Northwest, electricity represents only a small fraction of our greenhouse gas emissions (typically under 10%). So - while the bulb change marathon will have a meaningful impact on our emissions (on the order of 1%), it's not nearly as meaningful as the other measures we're taking this year.

I'll write more aobut our experience and about recommendations for a general CF strategy in a future blog post. One thing that I will mention here becuase it's just too important to defer: if you're planning on painting anytime soon, make sure to evaluate your paint color under the bulbs that you plan to use. Even the CF bulbs that have a color temperature equal to that of incandescent lights (2700K) can render certain paint colors with a nasty green hue. Our kitchen now looks a little like a prison at certain times of day. We're not going to repaint our kitchen any time soon but this message might get out in time for you to be forewarned: If you're painting with an off-white, choose a shade that has more of a magenta component and less of a green component.

It is Okay to be a Capitalist, Right?

Time Posted on December 16, 2009 UTC User Yoram Bernet Comment 2084 comments

Aaron is a local entrepreneur working in residential energy efficiency on several fronts. He recently formed G2B Ventures with a partnership of seed investors to create an energy efficient real estate investment company. Additionally, G2B consults with ShoreBank Enterprise Cascadia and others on helping to develop energy conservation loan programs. Aaron served on the City of Seattle’s Green Building Task Force, and is an advisor to EnergySavvy, a residential energy efficiency software company and a partner and advisor in GreenWorks Realty. Additionally, Aaron has managed construction sites in Gabon, Central Africa with the Peace Corps, and is a graduate of the Executive MBA program at the University of Washington.

Not too long ago I gave a talk at
Bloom!, a local Seattle function where sustainable business entrepreneurs have 18 minutes on the clock to tell their story, answer questions and then move on. It is a jazzy and frenetic format, and I had a lot of fun being part of the party-like speaking event. A week or so afterwards I asked the event organizers if they received any feedback on my talk, good or bad. The response was for the most part positive, except one person who commented that I was, well, “too capitalistic”. Pause… Deep breath… Contemplative grin…

I cut my green teeth nearly 20-years ago, at what was then the hippy liberal university of Western Washington, taking classes on environmental justice and ethics. At the time I lived with Johnny D, an Earth First activist who used our kitchen as the hub that the local Earth First crew used to plan out their next monkey-wrenching action against The Man. We thought that a career in environmentalism meant that you were either going to be an activist, an advocate in a non-profit somewhere, or an academic. No one at that time was considering capitalism’s role in the environmental movement. We considered capitalism to be the cause of our environmental problems, and not one of many remedies that can be used to cure them.

I understand where the comment after the speaking event comes from, and it continues to cause me to smile when I reflect on it. I don’t begrudge that perspective; I welcome the discussion as long as we don’t get bogged down in it. I continue to think it is amazing that there is even a discussion to be had, which is a sign of how far we have come. The fact is, markets that are allowed to run free within the regulatory framework structured by society have efficiency, scope and scale far beyond academia, advocacy, and activism. However, we shouldn’t embrace free markets and capitalism at the expense of the others. They all need to co-exist and be cross-functional and supportive, but we must recognize that economy rules our world, and that a fringe issue not embraced by the economy will always remain on the fringe. Until capitalism goes green, or the green movement goes capitalistic, society will continue creating brown fields, brown skies and toxic resources at the expense of future generations. Let’s take a peek into where capitalism is heading…

Daniel Goleman, the nationally known social psychologist and author of the #1 bestseller, Emotional Intelligence, recently completed a new book, Ecological Intelligence. In his book he explores how to remedy the lack of insight and understanding into the ecological impacts of the products we buy. He argues that by boosting our “ecological intelligence” we will collectively increase our understanding of the hidden ecological impacts and in so doing, bolster our resolve to improve them. He discusses how brain researchers examining purchase decisions have demonstrated that consumers’ emotional reactions to products’ ecological impacts matter for sales. He examines how companies in several industries such as retail and industrial chemical production are already changing the way they manage their supply chains to address the need to limit their impacts and position the business to thrive in a radically transparent marketplace. He states that his mission is to, “alert businesses to a coming wave, one that will wash over any company that markets a man-made product.” He calls for “radical transparency” in the marketplace that allows consumers to be ecologically intelligent about the products they purchase.

Another newly arriving concept on the marketplace scene is the L3C. The L3C is a “Low-Profit, Limited Liability Corporation”. This is a new type of LLC that is designed to attract private investors and philanthropists in ventures designed to provide a social benefit. An argument can be made that a new legally designated entity doesn’t need to be created in order to provide a social benefit. If a profit maximizing organization tackled the same business model as a low-profit organization I would submit that it could provide a far greater social benefit. There are several issues that would need to be addressed to flesh out the argument, but the fact that there is an argument to be had is encouraging. The L3C is yet another sign of our progress and the nature of our progressive times.

There are more examples of capitalism gone green from Socially Responsible Investing to sustainable supply chain management. In fact there are so many examples that I simply can’t mention them all, however one last example that is close to home remains. At
G2B we are actively engaged in helping to support efforts in profitable environmental enterprise. We are working hard to demonstrate the value of smart energy efficient up-grades in the residential housing market using a market based approach that is acutely aware of public policy overlap into the sector. By being focused on profit maximization and working with several local stakeholders to develop a market-driven premium for energy efficient homes, we will capitalize on the enhanced returns of energy efficiency to the benefit of our investors. If we can do this we will be one more example that when green goes capitalistic, society and the environment are beneficiaries as well as the investor.

Something is Changing in the State of Denmark

Time Posted on December 09, 2009 UTC User Yoram Bernet Comment 2363 comments

Jessie Dye is the Program and Outreach Director of Washington Interfaith Power & Light (www.waipl.org) where she leads advocacy efforts on behalf of climate and energy.  She also serves in the same capacity for Earth Ministry (www.earthministry.org), where she leads religious advocacy efforts in Washington State on safe chemicals, sustainable agriculture, clean water, and other important environmental issues. Jessie writes and speaks frequently on behalf of faith and environment and is a popular presenter on the subject of “Advocacy for All Creation: How to get your Legislator to Vote for the Earth.”

Jessie has a law degree from Emory University and an entire previous twenty-five year career in mediation and conflict resolution.  At a certain age, she determined that she was tired of being professionally neutral and that she wanted to have an opinion.  Her opinion is that people of faith should stand in protection of God’s Creation.  Jessie is a cradle Catholic and belongs to St. Mary’s Parish in the Central District of Seattle. 

For the better part of a decade, Jessie has served as a long-term host mother for young adults from around the world (Tajikistan, Costa Rica, Ghana, the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, Namibia, Tanzania, South Africa, and Kenya) who come to Seattle to learn environmental restoration and leadership skills with EarthCorps (www.earthcorps.org).  Jessie’s biological daughter is getting a Ph.D. in Political Science at the University of Washington and her son is partying at The Evergreen State College.  As if this weren’t enough, she fosters Golden Retrievers for Evergreen Retriever Rescue.

As two hundred of the world’s leaders meet in Copenhagen this week and next, something is changing in our global political identity.  

In December, 1997 when the first United Nations Framework on Climate Change was drafted (the famous Kyoto Protocol), a few scientists, environmentalists and Al Gore noticed. 

In December 2009, there has been a huge global movement leading up to the treaty negotiations.  For at least two years there have been public actions calling for climate protection.  Step It Up in April 2007 and the 350 Day of Action in October 2009 have fabulous websites with pix of adorable people from around the world calling for leaders to put a cap on CO2 in the atmosphere of 350 parts per million at this Copenhagen meeting.  The mayors of 944 U.S. cites have signed on to the Kyoto treaty, Arnold Schwarzenegger has become an environmental champion (who knew?) and a strong bill has passed the U.S. House of Representatives and is pending in the Senate.  China and India are actually stepping up, and school children from the Maldives to Moldavia are speaking out about greenhouse gases.  There is truly an international, multi-cultural, interfaith, intergenerational, multi-lateral movement of the people asking for climate protection. 

At Washington Interfaith Power and Light (a project of Earth Ministry) we have organized interfaith meetings with several legislators from the Washington State Delegation to let them know that the religious community is united in supporting a strong carbon cap.  “A nun, a rabbi, a Unitarian and a priest walk into a Senator’s office…” is not the beginning of a joke but a description of some members of  the group of our top faith leaders who have asked Senators Murray, Cantwell, and Representatives Baird, Inslee, Reichert, and McDermott to make climate protection a public policy in the U.S.  (None of the meetings involved a parrot or a penguin, though a polar bear was considered and rejected for being an agnostic). 

The best estimate of the social scientists at Earth Justice is that about 9% of Americans are “Truly Green”. (The number is 14% in Washington--are you surprised?)  Globally, somewhere around 10% of the population (that answers surveys) identify themselves as some type of environmentalist first, ahead of any national, ethnic, or political identity.  People born after 1969, the year humans landed on the moon, have the photo of the whole earth emblazoned on their retinas as the true picture of their home.   Most of the college students and young adults I know are in fact citizens of the world; at any given time, they might be anywhere doing river restoration or promoting community literacy.  Members of the world’s great religions, who have fought hideous wars for centuries, are unified to prevent climate change for the good of their collective grandchildren.

We are, after all, a single species with identical needs for clean water, healthy food, air to breathe and a desire to be loved and connected to our community.  How could we not have a global political movement to uphold those biological needs for survival for us all?  The atmosphere unites us; it cannot be divided between the rich and poor, among Jews, Christians, and Muslims, or by race.   In Copenhagen this very week, you can watch this new unity unfolding despite the very real details of a tough climate negotiation. 

If you are quiet, you can almost hear our species evolving.

Countdown to Heresy?

Time Posted on December 01, 2009 UTC User Yoram Bernet Comment 3592 comments

This blog is authored by Rabbi Daniel Weiner.

Rabbi Daniel Weiner is the Senior Rabbi of Temple De Hirsch Sinai in Seattle, where he strives to make community at the synagogue a ‘family of families’. He recieved a BA in Communication Studies from UCLA and earned his Masters Degree from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1989. He was ordained as a Rabbi in 1991.

Rabbi Weiner was a founder of Faith Forward, a cutting edge interfaith organization that highlighted and shared the inextricable bonds between progressive values and religious principles.

He is a popular lecturer at Seattle University’s school of Theology and Ministry. He teaches about the intersection of film and transcendent religious values through his “Spirit on the Screen” presentations.

Weiner has been lauded for his interfaith efforts on behalf of “Partners of Jews” and his leadership of the innovative and inspiring Rock Shabbat services. His columns have appeared in the Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He is a frequent guest on Seattle and Denver radio and television in the Pacific Northwest.

Rabbi Weiner recently published his book: Good God: Faith for the Rest of Us. See Good God for Us for information about his book and for Rabbi Weiner's blog.

Rabbi Weiner lives in Seattle with his wife, Cynthia and his children, Julia and Benjamin.

As the climate conscientious gather for this week’s Throttlin’ in Copenhagen (maybe Don King should have been involved?), the faithful and fervent on both sides are rallying to the barricades armed with the novel and the nutty.  Most recently, the schadenfreude-stricken critics of the British academic email scandal, tagged Climategate by the sound bite savvy, vie with progressives bearing Pentagon papers emphasizing the national security dangers of global warming in the hopes of a broader appeal to the hyper-vigilant, post-9/11 fearful.

Leaving it to the bloggersphere and punditocracy to hungrily pour and paw over the cultural carrion, I have been heartened by the substantive support of faith communities.  The usual suspects have come to the fore for flora and fauna: historically left-leaning, mainstream Protestants and Jews, and ideologically consistent Catholics whose absolutist passion for life encompasses the planetary conditions necessary to sustain life.  And in a transformation even the skeptical might deem miraculous, the next generation of conservative evangelicals have moved beyond the old guard’s dismissal of the environment as irrelevant to Jesus’ Triumphant Reunion Tour, focusing on Creation Care as a priority transcending even the Holy Trinity of fetuses, fornicators (especially the same-sex variety) and forced prayer.

And while this is definitely a welcome evolution in engagement and advocacy, it also reflects a deeper theological change.  Christian theology often seems to focus on the afterlife as resort destination, and thus the morality of our earthly sojourn is merely means to an everlasting end.  Judaism offers a definitively present-centered approach to embracing good and combating evil.  Heaven and Hell with small “h’s” are forged here and now through our actions and inactions rather than serving as cosmic carrots and sticks to sway and scare.  But concern for the present alone is insufficient.  More compellingly, we are cosmic debtors to a deity imbued with obvious power and infinite compassion, Who created the unnecessary-but-invaluable.  God didn’t need us.  Let’s be glad God wanted us.   The least we can do for this act of superfluous grace from the Ultimate LandLord is to live and care for our patrimony as grateful guardians of our generously subsidized housing.  

This shift of emphasis on sacred stewardship as payment for proven debt rather than investment in uncertain reward possesses the power to unite disparate faith communities into a movement that is more than the fashion of the moment.  It is nothing less than a theological revolution, and, as with the best theology, the gateway to a change in consciousness.

Time versus Energy

Time Posted on November 20, 2009 UTC User Yoram Bernet Comment 3052 comments

Welcome to our first blog post. This first one's from your's truly, Yoram Bernet. Future posts will be from scientists, government representatives, faith leaders, business owners, activists, writers and regular Carbon Salon users.

About Yoram - After 25 years in high tech, Yoram semi-retired to spend a year traveling with his wife, Maya. Upon returning from their travels, Yoram rekindled a passion for photography and turned it into a second career in architectural photography. Inspired by (among other things), the birth of his first child and by a tip from one particular photography subject, Yoram decided to create Carbon Salon. For the rest of the story, see How it Started. Yoram lives in Seattle with his wife, Maya and their two boys, Zakai and Malachi.

We all have heard at one point or another how matter and energy are interchangeable – how one can be converted to another. But – how about time and energy? As I find myself thinking more and more about how to go about my daily life in a less consumptive, lower emitting manner, I keep coming up against this tradeoff. If I had infinite time, I could do what I need to do with so much less energy (and correspondingly lower emissions).

Consider the following examples:

Several months ago, I had planned to meet a friend of mine for a snack in lower Queen Anne, before going to an event at The Intiman. We planned to meet at 5:00. I rode my bike, he took the bus. I arrived at about 4:55. He arrived at 5:10. I was quite happy to sit and read for fifteen minutes but my friend arrived quite upset that he was ten minutes late. For the first few minutes of our meeting, he ranted about the unreliability of the bus schedule. Why does this warrant a rant? In an ideal world, we’d all be able to accommodate fifteen minutes of uncertainty in our lives. However, in our increasingly busy and scheduled world, missing an appointment by ten or fifteen minutes begins a domino-effect that propagates through the remainder of the day, pushing subsequent appointments out later and later until we finally arrive at the end of the day exhausted, repeatedly berated for our tardiness and stressed.

In fact, it turns out that the uncertainty in public transport is a reason that many people I know pass it up for their personal vehicles. If I need to be someplace at a specific time, and I use public transport, then I need to consider the worst case scenario. If the bus schedule is subject to fifteen minutes variation, I need to leave fifteen minutes earlier just to be on the safe side. If the bus then arrives on time, I consider those fifteen minutes wasted! If only we could get beyond this and either schedule appointments with tolerance for variability or alternatively, enjoy fifteen minutes of time to just sit and wait for a bus – life would be easier and we would all use more public transport.

Another somewhat less pragmatic example – my family and I travel to Europe once a year to visit our families. That plane ride dominates our carbon emissions for the year. I half seriously suggested to my wife a few months ago, that we sail this time instead of flying. The conversation went something like this: 

Sweetie – how about we sail to England this year?
Sail!? You’re joking!
Well – somewhat, but – c’mon – it would be fun wouldn’t it.
No way.

Truth be told, it would not be easy. For one thing, we’d have to drop down and cross the Panama Canal before we actually got any closer to Europe. For another, it would take a couple of months each way. That doesn’t make sense for a four week vacation. Or does it? Wouldn’t the sailing itself be quality vacation time?

As I make these arguments, I do realize that they’re a bit extreme and furthermore, that my family is in the fortunate and uncommon position of being able to afford to take lots of time off. But nonetheless, there’s a truth and a pragmatism here. OK – so maybe sailing doesn’t make sense, but – what if we could travel from the West Coast to the East Coast in a fifteen hour train ride instead of a five hour plane ride? Would that make sense? What if planes were replaced by airships that took longer to reach their destination but that afforded us the luxury of spacious travel quarters while substantially reducing carbon emissions?

Could we slow down just a bit? What opportunities would open to us if we did? Could we take six week vacations instead of six day vacations – would we then be willing to spend a little more time in transit? Besides a lower carbon lifestyle, some of these changes might actually afford us a higher quality of life.

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