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Car Sharing is the New Consumer Model

Linda Baker, E/The Environmental Magazine
…The rapid growth in car-share companies—five have sprouted up in the U.S. since 2000—do more than fill a growing niche market. Car sharing also reflects a green business trend called “product service systems” (PSS), otherwise known by its more ungainly iteration, “servicizing.” Morph a product into a service, so the logic goes, and you reduce the ecological footprint of the product itself. In the Flexcar scenario, for example, consumers don’t buy a car; they buy the service the car provides. This shift in orientation trims mileage driven, eases congestion, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions contributing to global warming.

First proposed by Swiss technology analyst Walter Stahel in the 1970s, product service systems are climbing the rungs of the global sustainability ladder. A major push is coming from the European Union, which will launch a three-year initiative this summer applying PSS insights to the food, transportation and energy sectors. “Sustainable Home Services,” another EU program, catalogues a range of mobility, security and repair services available in European cities.

Fueled by Internet technologies, computer recycling campaigns and new business models such as car sharing, PSS momentum is also building in the U.S., as environmentalists, businesses and product designers rethink the very definition of sustainable consumption.

“PSS is the most interesting idea to emerge in the environmental arena in 15 years,” says Reid Lifset, associate director of the Industrial Environmental Management Program at Yale University. Instead of targeting the design of more sustainable products, said Lifset, PSS asks: “What are the functions that you want the product to accomplish? It’s a genuinely novel way to approach the quest for environmental improvement.”
(1X March 2006)

Community farming in LA: neoliberalism at the garden gate

Tom Philpott, CounterPunch
The fate of LA’s South Central Community Farm, the nation’s largest community garden, hinges on a dubious back-room deal between a developer and an ambitious city attorney. According to the Los Angeles Times, though, it’s all pretty straight-forward.

“It would be nice to keep the South Central Community Garden, an island of lush kitchen crops covering 14 acres amid the industrial warehouses, packing plants and junkyards that stretch for miles in a seemingly endless sweep along Alameda Street,” the paper declared in a March 11 editorial. But the garden sits on private property, the Times continued, and its owner “has every right to kick out the people who have been squatting there for more than a decade.” And the putative owner, Brentwood developer Ralph Horowitz, is exercising his right to the hilt. He has evicted the gardeners, who are now clinging to the land on the strength of a court-ordered stay that expires March 20.

In its place Horowitz plans to erect a warehouse-possibly for Wal-Mart. The garden lies conveniently near the Alameda Corridor, a $2.4 billion city project designed to facilitate the flow of goods shipped into the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports through the metropolitan area. Since its completion in 2002, big-box retailers have scrambled to build warehouses in South Central.

If Horowitz and his apologists at the Times have their way, the 350 families who tend plots at the garden, all of who whom live under the poverty line according USDA’s guidelines, will have to find a new source of fresh food. Although they’ve created a “special, almost magical, place,” the Times opined, “no magic is so strong that it erases a landowner’s right to either his property or its fair value.”

Irony abounds here like vegetables in a well-tended garden plot.
(16 March 2006)

Food miles don’t go the distance

Gareth Edwards-Jones, BBC (viewpoint)
We are all used to buying goods that originate from abroad, be they toys from China, cars from Germany or clothes from India.

We don’t hear too much about the environmental impacts of such imports, but we do hear a lot about food which is produced overseas.

Indeed, the terms “food miles” was coined in order to convey to the general public that an awful lot of food travels an awful long way before it finally reaches our mouths.

But food doesn’t have to travel from an exotic location in order for it to clock up food miles. UK-produced food can also travel substantial distances between farm, processors, storage depot and the supermarket.

A lot of people object to this accumulation of food miles, and we seem to have increasing calls for “local food” and “slow food”. While those making these calls may seem to have common sense on their side, the science which could be used to underpin their arguments is at best confusing, and at worst absent.

…Unfortunately though, simply getting consumers to target food miles when making their purchasing decisions may not necessarily bring about a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, as these are emitted from many more places within food systems than just trucks, planes and automobiles.

For example, the production of fertiliser, pesticides, machinery and packaging all use energy – the generation of which will undoubtedly have contributed some greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

In addition, storing and cooking food also consumes energy.

Gareth Edwards-Jones is Professor of Agriculture and Land Use at the School of Agricultural and Forest Sciences, University of Wales, Bangor.
(16 March 2006) has some comments.

Auto design challenge: 250 MPG equals $25 million from the X Foundation

Inside Line, Edmunds
LOS ANGELES — The foundation behind the first private manned space flight is turning its attention to the car industry’s final frontier: fuel economy.

The California-based X Prize Foundation is offering a $25-million award for the first mass-produced vehicle that offers a quantum jump in fuel-efficiency. It’s still working out the final rules, but the foundation plans to offer a prize to any group that sells 10,000 vehicles capable of 250 mpg.

…What this means to you: Encouraging massively fuel-efficient cars is a better way to spend $25 million than providing “space tourism” for a handful of super-rich space cadets.
(14 March 2006)
Related: Interview with Mark Goodstein, X PRIZE Foundation .

In search of ethical gladrags

Vanessa Richmond,

Two women on a mission
Is a locally manufactured wardrobe possible?
Slow clothes movement

While reading the 100-mile diet series, I got to thinking about my other material indulgences. If food typically travels between 2,500 and 4,000 miles before it ends up on our plate, clothes are even farther wanderers. Hong Kong, where many of BC’s clothes are made, is 6378 miles (10,265 km) from Vancouver, and that’s not even counting the distance the fabric travels to get from the mill to the factory, or the distance the fibers travel from their source to the mill.

Sure, the fossil fuel use (never mind chemicals, dyes, resource consumption and manufacturing conditions) should have been what made me want to go local. But I have to admit, that came later (more on that in a minute). But it did cause Dorothy Woodend and I to set ourselves a challenge. This spring and summer, we’d outfit ourselves entirely in locally designed and manufactured clothes.

Wearing Vancouver’s local designs isn’t a difficult plan. Sarah Murray a local fashion PR, says there are easily over 300 local designers in her database. But she certainly paused for a moment when I said we wanted them manufactured locally, too.

Even though I’m a fan of many local designers, I knew that by adding the “locally made” rule, the list of possibilities was quite a bit shorter, so I had some apprehensions: would the clothes would be very time consuming to find, more expensive, a strange fit?

So I was relieved to find company on my quest. Angela Murrills, the fashion writer for the Georgia Straight, coined the term “slow clothes movement” to describe it.
(17 March 2006)