Hibernation Time: Make Your Home a Safe Haven for Heat

It’s January, and that means that it’s hibernation time! In the Pacific Northwest, the weather is getting truly blustery, the trees have nearly finished dropping their leaves, and the unchained barbecues are bashing against the sliding doors in the storm. The salmon are arriving to lay their eggs, and migratory birds like the Swainson’s Thrush have long since gone. It’s time for humans to think about winter too, and this involves more than putting the snow tires on the car, if you have one.

How can you keep the heat in this winter and keep the heating bills down? I’m proud to say that every year, our heating and electricity bills have been just a little lower than the year before. We’ve done this through a combination of behavior changes and new gadgets for the home. What can you do to keep your heating bills low too?

Do a fall furnace cleaning. While we’re supposed to clean our furnace filters regularly, many of us don’t. While you’re at it, get your home air ducts cleaned too. Cleaning out a furnace can result in better air quality in the home and a higher efficiency furnace.

Get a new furnace. Now, if your old furnace is perfectly serviceable, don’t go out and buy a new one. But if it’s time, then choose a furnace that’s high efficiency. These furnaces will save vast quantities of money and energy on heating bills because they are so much more efficient than the ancient beasts many of us have in our homes.

Give your water heater a blankie. Unless you have a tankless or on demand hot water heater, you likely have a lot of water standing around getting heated all day. Winter is a time when we love to have hot baths and showers. Keep that energy in the water, not in the air of your basement by getting a water heater insulating blanket.

Go on a search for leaks around the home. If possible, get a professional to do this with a blower door test. This will reveal hidden sources of leaks, and the professional will often recommend the best ways to fix the problems and the easiest and least expensive problems to fix. Common quirks include inadequate insulation behind

Put a roof on it! Some of our attics are so poorly insulated that it’s as if you have a giant hole in your roof. It’s often very worthwhile to add insulation up there so that the heat that heats your home is not heating the air above your home as well.

Turn down the heat, sneaky-style. Use a programmable thermostat that turns the heat down when you sleep. Invest in a good quilt, some warm jammies, and snuggle up with those you love, whether human or animal companions.

House train yourself. Think of the cold air that flies in the door every time you open those doors. It’s easy to leave the door open when you’re chatting with a neighbor or taking out the garbage. Break the habit, and your furnace and your heat bills will thank you.
Get a wool sweater. Now, you don’t need to wear a thick scarf and mittens in the house, but winter is time for sweaters. Instead of walking around in a tank top and shorts at home, dress up and watch your energy savings grow!

Cuddle up for the winter in a cozy home, with some energy conservation flair. By winter-proofing a home and winter-proofing your energy conservation habits, you can save both money and energy this winter.

A Compact New Year

You’ve heard of compact cars, but have you heard of The Compact? The idea was created by a group of friends in San Francisco who came up with the not-so-crazy notion that it would be possible to live off of the refuse of modern society for a year. Aside from food, underwear and toiletries, they would only buy used items for a year. This concept has spawned a yahoo group and a number of compact-oriented blogs.

At our house, we tend to consume very little that is new. I just received a load of extruded foam insulation off Freecycle and a table off Craigslist, and I’m using them to insulate our worm bins. Freecycle is a fabulous resource for those who seek to buy used: it’s an email group that is regional in nature, where people post wanted and offered ads by the dozens. You generally need to pick up the materials that you ask for or request. The items that people want to get rid of are endless. In the past, we’ve gotten a jogging stroller off Freecycle that led me through training for a marathon. The used and free sections of Craigslist are a similar wellspring of used goodies.

In my somewhat younger years, I was a devotee of The Tightwad Gazette. I liked it not just for its emphasis on frugality but for its emphasis on creativity. Finding and using secondhand objects is an inherently creative process. There’s the thrill of the hunt, the joy of the find, and the wondering how you’re ever going to make this into something usable. Then there’s the pride in knowing that you have an old headboard standing sideways in your vegetable patch. At least, there is for me.

Why am I a little nervous about buying into The Compact? For one thing, I am a bit concerned about the useful objects that I planned to invest in during the new year. I am hoping to get some dimmable compact florescent light bulbs or new dimmable LEDs to replace the incandescent bulbs in our dimmers. Until relatively recently, we could only use energy-wasting bulbs in these fixtures, but that’s going to change. I might be able to find them used, but chances are I will get them new. The energy savings are worth it. Some investments in our home are hard to get used, yet they will pay back in energy and water savings. They’re an investment in conservation, even though they don’t follow the “buy used” rule.

I am also striving to go car-free for a couple of months in the new year. For many years, I purposefully had no driver’s license until I realized that people were making two round trips to pick me up, and that sometimes it would make more ecological sense for me to drive myself. At the moment, I am the proverbial lady who drives to church on Sunday, I use a car only on the weekend, and we’re striving to carpool to church in the new year. The problem? Generally Sundays are also my free and used stuff run, when I pick up used needful things on my way to or from our other errands. So I’ll need to think of other, more creative ways to get my used stuff; maybe I’ll find ways not to need it at all.

This new year, I’m looking at ways to make our life more compact; to use less and to use what we need and adapt what we have. Here’s to a Compact new year, whatever your iteration of it. Whether you’re planning to reduce your car usage, eat locally, buy used, or get clever at adapting what you already have, here’s to some compactness in your life, whatever form that might take.

Take the Train: Reduce Your Holiday Travel Emissions

The busy holiday season is a big traveling time for many folks. If you’re worried about the environmental impact of your travel and want to reduce your carbon emissions, considering taking the train!

Train = Reduced CO2

It’s obvious by now that any mode of transport (other than walking and biking, pretty much) will result in increased carbon emissions, but the train has proved to be the lesser of environmental evils when compared to the automobile or plane. There are several calculators out there that will give you side-by-side comparisons to make the picture clearer.

Fact is, the train is the best choice for the ecologically-minded traveler. Here in the US, passenger train travel is provided by Amtrak. Unfortunately, the US rail system is quite underdeveloped compared to those of other countries (Japan, and all over Europe), but most major cities are served by Amtrak. Check out Amtrak’s website for route information and price details. They typically have special deals advertised on their website, so you may find that your travel is discounted, as well.

Other train travel benefits

Despite how much longer it takes to get anywhere on the train, there are many benefits to train travel other than reduced carbon emissions. When was the last time you took a plane and it actually departed on time? Do you look forward to the tedious security before even getting near the airplane? The train is an overall much more pleasant traveling experience with its lack of frequent delays and overbearing security. Do you suffer from jet lag? Although the train is slow, you have time to relax and adjust to changing time zones. Not only that, you get a great view of the countryside during your journey.

Every winter, I take the train from Illinois to New York to visit family. It is a two day journey. However, I never worry if my train is going to be delayed, or if I will be harassed by security officials. When I sit on the train, I can sleep and relax, and watch the sights. The whole experience is incredibly less tense than taking a flight. (Did I mention the seats are roomier on a train, too?)

Ultimately, the choice is yours. Perhaps you’d like to do something different and take the train this holiday seasons. Consider the smaller carbon footprint you’ll have as a result!


Art from Trash

November 15th is “America Recycles Day,” and what could be a more inspiring way to reduce waste in your household than to encourage your children to recycle trash materials and objects into art?

Plenty of modern and contemporary artists use unusual materials and objects in their art creations. You’ll find all kinds of scrap materials and useful objects that can be reused in art projects, if you look around your house. Junk mail, kitchen containers, scraps of gift-wrap or wallpaper, old magazines, and all kinds of other objects will come in useful.

Artist’s Principles

As an artist, your materials should be treated with respect. Save scrap materials in large boxes, making sure they are clean and dry before storing. In the same way that you would respect and value materials that you bought from an art store, you should value the scrap materials and trash objects that you are going to incorporate into your art.

When you work with any materials, including trash, keep your art creativity environment clean and tidy. Wash your tools when needed, and have a good supply of paper towels for cleaning up as you work.

Creativity can be just as much about discovering new and different ways to use and incorporate novel materials into your art as about the end result. Encourage your child to enjoy the process of making his or her artistic creations. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to make art, and while your child may enjoy following instructions in order to create something designed by someone else, encourage out-of-the-box thinking and teach your child to value his own ideas as much as any ideas he finds in a book or on a website.

Creating Art Collages

Incorporating collage techniques into art paintings is a great introduction for young children to the idea of using different materials. Most children are familiar with drawing using crayons, and painting with poster paints, and creating art collages is a wonderful new approach that can build on your child’s existing experience.

Your child will be in good company when using art collage techniques! Early users of modern art collage in paintings included Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. Braque started by pasting pieces of rough wallpaper onto his charcoal drawings, and Picasso incorporated oilcloth and other fabrics into his paintings. Picasso also produced a series of musical artworks using music sheet paper, cloth, newspaper, and other scraps, often cut into the shapes of musical instruments.

Why not introduce your child to Picasso’s art in the form of his music collage art paintings, provide some large pieces of cardboard, glue, paints, and scraps of material, and see where your child’s artist inspiration takes him?

Make Your Own Art Prints

Polystyrene is used as packaging for all kinds of products, particularly foodstuffs, and can be used in art projects to make prints – a much more creative and positive use than sending it straight to the landfill site.

A really simple way to start out printing with kids is to make art stamps using old Styrofoam trays. You’ll need:
Old Styrofoam trays (if you use ones that were used in raw meat packaging, be sure to wash them carefully with soap and hot water)
Large plastic bottle caps – the bigger the better
Paintbrush or roller
Sharp scissors
Water-based inks or thick poster paints

Cut circles out of Styrofoam to fit onto the tops of the bottle caps, then stick the circles onto the caps and allow to dry.

Use the pencil to create a drawing or pattern on the Styrofoam. Press firmly, as you need to make the grooves quite deep.

Carefully coat the stamp sparingly with your chosen ink or paint, using a brush or roller. The idea is for the ink to cover the flat part of the stamp without going into the grooves that make up your pattern.

Press the stamp firmly onto the paper and see your printed art pattern!

An Art Hobby for Your Child?

Once you have introduced your children to the idea of using trash for art, you may well find that they are inspired to continue with new and more ambitious art projects. To help them on their artistic road, here are some final tips:
Provide your child with a space to work. A large desk in a quiet part of the house is ideal. The kitchen table may be your only option, but if at all possible, a dedicated place where your child can leave his tools and materials easily accessible is the best option.
Save plenty of boxes and other containers for storing art materials and scraps.
Encourage your child to think of new and interesting ways to incorporate trash and scraps into his art, paintings, collages, and craft projects.
Always praise your child’s efforts and remember that it is the enjoyment of the process that is the most important part of art!


Wreaths of Hope: Crafting a Local, Ethical Christmas

Use less, and buy it locally: these are two of the mantras of the movement towards a lower-carbon life. For those who strive for a more local and less consumer-driven Christmas, social enterprise can create a meaningful connection between employees, gift givers, and recipients. In Vancouver’s downtown eastside, an organization called Emerging Hope fuses local, ethical consumption with handcrafted Christmas gifts.

A look in my closet would reveal that I’m a gift-a-holic. Summer thrift store finds and relics from fall craft fairs are secreted away in The Gift Closet, ready for Christmas. I try to temper my obsession with gifts with my desire to buy ethically and to buy less. We have an abundance of material wealth in our society, and often at Christmas I feel overwhelmed by this abundance. Even the children have so much. The elders in our family love to receive gifts, too, but they don’t need “stuff.”

Yet at Christmas we’re called to give, and give again: to charities, as a volunteer, to family. For the past five years, our family has supported a local organization called Emerging Hope, a landscaping company that is also a social enterprise. It’s a simple but innovative concept: hire people who have barriers to employment and link them to the rush for Christmas gifts in a meaningful and beautiful way.

Emerging Hope is located in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, the poorest postal code in Canada. The area has an amazing history – it has been a center of the logging industry, a thriving Japan town and China town, and it is now a slowly gentrifying and very diverse cultural and economic community that arcs along the side of Vancouver’s central business and tourist district. The town that is to be the site of the 2010 Winter Olympics is known for its mountains, its oceans and for the variable reputation of the downtown core, as portrayed in television shows like The DaVinci Code.

Into this scene comes the organization Emerging Hope, a social enterprise with a simple, beautiful, and very fragrant mission. For those who are struggling with multiple employment barriers, it can be difficult to find and keep a job. Addiction, mental health, and a history of homelessness all pose challenges to reentering the workforce. There’s a need for detox centers, retraining programs, and so much more. The need can feel overwhelming. While Emerging Hope is a small enterprise, it has become an inspiring example. Every year, the organization provides over 1300 hours of paid work for people on the Downtown Eastside. In the spring, employees make planter boxes. In the fall, they go on an annual Cone Quest to harvest the bounty of the pine trees for Christmas wreathes.

The wreaths from Emerging Hope are large and fragrant and delivered several weeks before Christmas, ready to bestow seasonal scents on those who enter each home. They’re a perfect fusion of nature, art, and ethics, and it’s locally-created, not imported. However, it’s the personal connection with an organization that makes these wreaths special. At Emerging Hope, the creator of the wreath signs her creation, and the wreaths are hand-delivered by volunteers who chat with those who receive the gift. While the wreath may be a way to support local, ethical business, the true gift is the human connection: the heart behind the organization and the participation of its employees and volunteers in recreating a meaningful Christmas.

Introducing Children to Environmental Issues

As environmentally aware parents, we want to educate our children about environmental issues, and bring them up to consider their own impact on the environment. We want our children to learn to behave in a responsible fashion, making decisions based not only on their own needs and wants but also considering the impact on the natural world around them.

However, it is important to be careful about how you communicate with your children regarding environmental issues. It can be terrifying for a young child to learn about global warming, for example. Children’s vivid imaginations can overwhelm them, and they can easily translate, for example, an increased risk of flooding to the thought that there is an imminent risk that their own home may be swept away and their whole family killed. That kind of terrorized thinking can be extremely damaging for a young child’s emotional development, and is certainly not conducive to raising a happy, responsible child.

Psychologists have coined a new term, “eco-anxiety” to describe excessive anxiety and distress due to worries over environmental problems. Some adults experience panic attacks, sleeplessness and other anxiety related symptoms due to their belief of impending world wide doom. This is neither helpful nor conducive to an attitude that fosters positive action. Imagine how much more frightening this kind of thinking can be for a young child.

In times of war, children can be traumatized by the constant presence of danger, brought home to them in the form of attack drills or bomb scares. However, at least during wartime children are never led to believe that they themselves are somehow responsible for the possibility of enemy attacks. This is why in some ways the threat of environmental catastrophe is worse: children may easily internalize the idea that not only is their world in danger of imminent destruction but this may be their own fault!

Letting children know that they can help the environment by taking simple measures such as switching lights off when they leave a room, not creating unnecessary waste and walking or cycling instead of being driven is a good idea – but always be careful to phrase such suggestions positively. Don’t ever threaten a child by saying that he’s contributing to global warming if he forgets to do one of these things.

Keep Environmental Issues Discussions Age Appropriate

When you talk to your children about environmental issues, bear in mind their age, maturity and sensitivity. For children under the age of about seven, you should be especially careful not to share too much detailed information about the potential effects of environmental problems. For example, if your child loves animals, he could be very traumatized by the knowledge that polar bears are losing their habitat and even drowning because of global warming. Be aware of this and provide reassurance to counter levels of fear and guilt that could be too disturbing.

School Age Children

At school age, many children want more detailed information on environmental issues. Be sure to share this information in a positive way, emphasizing what your child and your family can do to help. Do not dwell excessively on potential global catastrophes, and if your child becomes alarmed or anxious provide plenty of reassurance. It is important to tell your child that the government, authorities and adults are tackling these issues and that they can help, but are not responsible for “doing it all”. A child should never feel that the fate of the world rests on his shoulders!

Teenagers and the Environment

Teenagers can be vociferous and effective spokespeople for the environment. At this age, you should be able to communicate openly and honestly with your teenager regarding environmental issues. Encourage them to investigate issues for themselves and start to develop their own viewpoints and ideas.

At this age your child may also start to have political opinions, and have a broader appreciation of the role of government and corporations in providing solutions to environmental issues. You can encourage such wider thinking by sourcing information from local corporations and “green” political parties.

Your Child, Your Family, Your World

Talking with your child about environmental issues can be a very positive thing to do; just be sure that you are doing so with due consideration for how much information they are able to emotionally cope with at any particular age.

Remember to focus on the positive steps that your child can realistically take to help. Keep your instructions and suggestions simple for young children, and never let them think that environmental problems are their fault.

Tackling global warming and other important environmental issues can only be done by cooperative efforts, so don’t let your child feel responsible for more than he can do. Most importantly of all, be sure that the adults in your family are setting a positive example.

Water Miser, Water Lover: Creative Ways to Conserve Water in the Home

From greywater showers to the old-fashioned rain barrel, here are some creative ways to conserve water in the home.We humans love water. We love it hot in showers and hot tubs. We love it cold to drink or in pools on a warm day. But other animals and plants love it too. How can we share this precious resource with them, keep it clean, and enjoy it ourselves?

You probably turn off the tap when you brush your teeth. Beyond the tap, here are some new ways to become more frugal with your water use. Honor our precious water by using it again and again.

Do the One Flush, Two Flush                                                          
Looking for ways to conserve water? Allemande right over to the toilet bowl. New low flow toilets are amazingly effective. Some are even dual flush, with two buttons for … larger and smaller loads, shall we say? Going beyond the low flow toilet? The Aqus Water Saver toilet system goes a step further, allowing you to reuse water from the bathroom sink in your toilet.

Go Grey in the Garden                                                               
Grey water isn’t always grey, but it is water that has been used before. This is the water you use in your sink or shower. It may have some soap and food waste in it, but it can be used again in the garden or for flushing the toilet. The simplest way to reuse your grey water is to place a dishpan in your sink. As you wash fruit and vegetables, clean your hands or pre-rinse dishes, collect the water in the dishpan and use it to water your garden. This water is not all that soapy and would normally head down the drain to the sewage treatment plant.

Rain, Rain, Come Again, Drip Into My Barrel                                              
Rain barrels have come a long way from the traditional keg-style open barrel. They come in all sizes and shapes, many suitable for installing right against the wall of your home. Attach a downspout diverter to your outdoor spout to catch the rainwater as it falls and funnel it into the barrel.

Sing in the (Low Flow, Greywater) Shower                                        
Low flow showerheads are widely available. Installing one is fairly simple and will dramatically reduce your water use, especially if you love long showers.

Looking to reduce your water use even more? Due to its water crisis, Australia is at the forefront of showerhead innovation. Recent inventions include the Quench Showerhead, a shower head that allows you to wash, lather, and rinse. After the soap has gone down the drain, turn the shower into an automatic recirculation mode. This allows you to take a long, hot shower that uses only 4 liters of water.

The Aqualim is another Australian shower invention. The inventor was inspired by his teenage daughter’s epic showers. He created a showerhead that allows you to pre-set a desired amount of water. As you get close to your designated water use, the Aqualim gradually turns the water flow down and off.

A combination of new and old technologies can help you honor and conserve our water. Whether it’s with a simple dishpan or a water recirculation system, you can use and reuse water in your home.

How To Go Green And Save Too In 7 Simple Tips

At a time when the world faces increasing global warming, as more and more harmful greenhouse gases pour out into the atmosphere, more and more people are wondering how to go green and make it cost effective too. The good news is that it’s very easy to do. In fact, done properly it’s hard not to save money while helping the planet recover. So, here’s how to go green (and save money) in 7 simple tips.

1. Lower your winter heating by at least one degree. If you can stand two or three degrees lower, then all the better. You will use less energy and still feel comfortable. Then in summer, let the air conditioning cool the house a little less. That’s a great start in how to go green.

2. Set your washing machine to wash clothes in cold water. Modern cleaning powders don’t need hot water, and heating the water is what consumes most of the energy that the washing machine uses.

3. Don’t use the dryer to dry your clothes! That’s not how to go green. It uses far too much energy and it’s expensive too. Hang your clothes out to dry. The air is great at drying clothes – your grandmother could have told you that.

4. Compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs use 10% of the energy that a standard bulb needs and they last 10 times longer. So, change your light bulbs. And if you want to know how to go green in a bigger way with lights, check out the new LED bulbs. They can be twice as efficient as the CFL bulbs.

5. Use less water. Check all faucets for leaks and fix any you find. Take shorter showers, don’t bath, and consider getting a new toilet cistern that will use less than two gallons of water per flush. Standard cistern use some three and a half gallons. Using less water uses less energy and saves you money!

6. Walk rather than drive for very short trips. Use a bicycle for moderate trips, and only use the car if you really have to. Gasoline is expensive and it pollutes the atmosphere. Save on burning it and you will save on your money too, as well as help the environment.

7. When you have to drive, keep your speed down to around 55 miles per hour if possible. Your car’s engine will be running at its most efficient at that speed burning the minimum amount of gas. Practice driving smoothly as well. Don’t accelerate fast from a standing start, and don’t brake hard. This is how to go green with your car, though using public transport, walking and cycling is even better.

Give Your Credit Card Where Credit is Due

For many years, environmentalists were known specifically for their ability to stand strong on issues without budging.  Corporate entities could contribute to their causes, join environmental task forces, whatever positioned them as greener, and we’re constantly slammed by eco-groups for “not doing enough.”

Those more militant, extreme tactics worked well in the age of Love Canal when state and federal environmental protection agencies were in their infancy, permitting and regulations were still in development, and there was little incentive – economic or image wise – for business to do the right thing.

But times have changed. With the exception of those dedicated to fighting a loosing battle, most of us, for the most part, accept that we’ve got to find better ways of doing things before we damage our only home in some irreparable way. That change is under way – but it’s going to take some time. 

If you don’t believe me, ask Adam Werbach, once the youngest president of the Sierra Club. He’s now a consultant to eco enemy number one, Wal-Mart (see Fastcompany: http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/118/working-with-the-enemy.html). Werbach likely wonders how he got where his is today himself, but Wal-Mart courted him, and took him behind closed doors to convince him they were absolutely serious.  He learned that as the movement progresses, cooperation and discussion are more constructive than protests, sit-ins and the “it’s not enough” attitude that has defined environmentalists for years. 

Werbach has lost lots of friends, yet he pushes on in a spirit of cooperation – he even addressed the Sierra Club as he left about how the traditional tools of the environmental movement have seen their day.

Yes, there are still many businesses out there that still don’t get it.  But Werbach makes a lot of sense in embracing those who are trying, and really do want to do the right thing – for whatever reason.  Think of it in terms of supply and demand.  Corporate efforts – like say Clorox’s commitment to its new Green Works line – will never be followed up on and expanded if consumers do not respond.  Instead of saying “that’s not enough,” we should be saying “OK, this is good start, let’s see what else you can do.”

In addition to following the latest on environmental science, we who truly care need to follow the latest in environmental business.  Yes, start ups and eco companies are great.  But let’s face it.  Few appeal to the larger consumer base, and the stories of breakthrough successes are few and far between.  Mainstream attempts are one of our best bets for real change.  Afterall, you can already buy sustainable clothing, furniture, footware, accessories, and thousands of other responsible items from major companies.

Recently, on a popular networking Web site, a member of the green business community asked others for names of premium brands that are truly green.  I sent in some ideas – Aveda, Timberland, Patagonia, Burt’s Bees, Method, and so on.  Other suggestions were all less than mainstream brands – some I had never heard of.  And of course all of the entrepreneurs were out there trying to pass their newer items off as “premium.”  Then the arguing started.  “Method isn’t really green.” “Not all of that company’s offerings are green, so the company is not either.” “Burt’s Bees is owned by Clorox!!!”

It’s that kind of hairsplitting by the so called green-minded that discourages big business from even trying.  Realize it or not, for many compelling reasons, industry cannot change on a dime.  Take the energy industry – we’ve relied on fossil fuels for decades.  They can not simply be removed from the mix tomorrow if we expect to be able to power our homes, businesses, hospitals and mission critical operations.  Any plan needs to consider a change in our energy mix over time – one that replaces traditional energy jobs with new jobs and is thoughtful about phasing in the necessary infrastructure to sustain a move to green power.  That takes cooperation, and unfortunately, time.

So, shop at Wal-Mart – they’ve made a real commitment to decreasing packaging that has spilled over into the retail supply chain.  Reward Clorox for buying Burt’s Bees and spending millions to promote a brand that makes a real difference in the cosmetics field.  Shop in Timberland’s mall stores – they’re the first retailer in the country to insist their mall shops are LEED certified.  Buy L.L. Bean’s “Water Hog” doormats, now made of all sustainable materials. 

Dare to surprise yourself. Be smart enough to know who else is doing what before you fall back on the easy “business doesn’t do enough” attitude.

Someone Somewhere is Doing Something

Less than a year ago, everyone was all about the environment.  But with so many other topics taking center stage, many have started wondering what, if anything, is happening on the green front.

While there’s almost no news coming from Washington these days, environmental initiatives are taking shape across America.  Progress may not be as quick as some would like, but green projects are taking form like never before.  Here are some examples of what’s happening out there:

The Gap Inc. is powering its West Coast distribution center with a 1-megawatt solar power system, which it expects to offset 2.5 million pounds of green house gas annually.  Also using solar energy in various operations to cut back on fossil-fuel energy use: Applied Materials, United Natural Foods, Aveda, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Sam’s Club, Toyota, Constellation Wines and Rutgers University.  Want to go solar yourself?  There are products available in the Neutral Existence store to help, or check out solar panels at Ikea or Sam’s Club.

While the economic crisis may have curbed the American desire to build, build, build, it seems many of those who are constructing or renovating structures are doing it with a green mindset.  This year, 51 Stop & Shop grocery stores received LEED certification.  Coffee Beans International opened a LEED certified office and bean roasting facility in Portland, Oregon recently. Toyota unveiled its first LEED certified car dealership in Utah—it unveiled the first ever in Texas. Kettle Foods has a Gold LEED manufacturing facility and Kraft has an 800,000 sq. ft. LEED recognized distribution center near Chicago. Not much good news on banking these days, but all new Wells Fargo and Citi branches are following pre-certified LEED designs, like a variety of other consumer market builders, including Office Depot.

There’s no longer a need to pitch electronics to the landfill and whine about how nobody is offering recycling services.  Dell and Toshiba both offer programs, and Office Depot has an extensive one itself, particularly targeting items like printer cartridges and old cell phones.  Best Buy’s got one, too.  Hewlett-Packard has even partnered with the State of California to TRACK where its recyclable printer cartridges go.  So stop waiting for curbside e-waste pick up and stop those pitiful stories on third-world people who get paid pennies to unsafely dismantle American e-waste.

And Home Depot – all of them – now recycles your CFL bulbs.  If you didn’t know these great new bulbs need to be treated separately from your basic garbage, shame on you.  They contain mercury, which if regularly disposed of by everyone in their curbside trash could turn landfills into an ever bigger problem down the road.  Home Depot knows that with its retail weight, it can get great deals on bulk recycling of these “could be hazardous” little curlicues.  Say thank you when you drop yours off.

If you’re into pre-cycling, try the ultimate pre-cycle.  Buy H-P’s Pavillion laptop at a Sam’s Club or Wal-Mart in a reusable, 100 percent-recycled messenger bag.  Or look into Payless’s up and coming line of eco-shoes,mm made from recycled fabrics, rubbers, etc. Or if you partake in an occasional drink or two, make it Miller Time. Miller Brewing which currently recycles 99.9 percent of its packaging waste.

Corporate and business initiatives will hopefully continue to grow – this listing hasn’t even scratched the surface.  You can encourage projects and programs like these with your dollars.  If you want to know more, visit http://www.environmentalleader.com – it’s a Web site all about what the business world is doing on the green front. These examples all came from it. 

Now for the caveat.  Are these initiatives all perfect?  Probably not. Are some public relations-based more than responsibility-based? Most likely. Could corporate America do more?  Absolutely. 

It’s no secret that business is slow on this stuff.  That doesn’t mean that every project or initiative it does support to the global audience is greenwash. Many of these, as well as programs in hotels, sports arenas, apparel manufacturing and other industries, have produced real results, and more importantly, have the potential to convince those with the purse strings to keep investing in green.

What will transpire under the current market conditions remains to be seen.  Some of these projects and others like it might die for re-financing to right the system.  At the same time, there are those in the hallowed halls out there who realize that there’s a reason the word “efficiency” is so often linked to green.  Better operating procedures, better buildings, better management of raw materials and waste, just make for better business.