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Solutions & sustainability - Apr 4

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Mapping as an infill tool

Alex Steffen, WorldChanging
We need a bright green future, but the future we are actually building sometimes looks more dark gray. Particularly in North America, we still employ a whole suite of outmoded designs and technologies which we know are destabilizing the climate, undermining living systems and exacerbating social inequalities. It's hard to pick a favorite in this category, really -- coal-fired power plants? SUVs? manicured lawns? -- but in terms of its long-term impacts, it may be hard to beat suburban sprawl. Among its many other contributions to unsustainability (longer driving distances, social stratification, wasted government subsidies) sprawl is one of North America's leading destroyers of healthy farmland and natural areas.

If we're going to build truly sustainable cities, we need to start turning urban growth inward -- using the demand for more housing to rebuild and restore urban places. Such "infill" housing is almost inherently bright green, promoting as it does density, which is one of the best energy efficiency strategies we have and preserving rural lands.
(3 April 2006)


HP wants your Old PCs back

Business Week
It's pushing states to force recycling of TVs, computers, and other e-gear. Here's why
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A few years ago, when environmentalists in Washington State began agitating to rid local dumps of toxic old computers and televisions, they found an unexpected ally: Hewlett-Packard Co. (HPQ ). Teaming up with greens and retailers, HP took on IBM (IBM ), Apple Computer (AAPL ), and several major TV manufacturers, which were resisting recycling programs because of the costs.

...HP's efforts have made it the darling of environmentalists. They say take-back laws are more effective at getting digital junk recycled than point-of-sale fees, which tax consumer electronics products to fund state-run recycling programs. They're also pleased because effective programs in the U.S. reduce the likelihood that the products will be shipped to less developed countries and disassembled under unsafe conditions.

But HP's agenda isn't entirely altruistic. Take-back laws play to the company's strategic strengths. For decades the computer maker has invested in recycling infrastructure, a move that has lowered its production costs, given it a leg up in the secondary market for equipment, and allowed it to build a customer service out of "asset management," which includes protection of data that might remain on discarded gear.

In 2005, HP recycled more than 70,000 tons of product, the equivalent of about 10% of company sales and a 15% increase from the year before.

... The e-waste skirmish is part of an important new front in global environmentalism called product stewardship. Proponents argue that a company's responsibility for what it sells should include collection and disassembly at the end of the product's life cycle. As a slogan, product stewardship has been around since the Earth Days of the 1970s, but it is now a serious force in the auto and electronics sectors of Japan and Europe. The movement is likely to broaden in the U.S. as well.
(10 April 2006 issue)


A better shade of green for Wall Street
(commentary)
Bruce Piasecki and Peter Asmus, Christian Science Monitor
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. AND SAN FRANCISCO – Goldman Sachs became the first global investment bank to adopt a comprehensive environmental policy that acknowledges the value of "ecosystem services" last December. This firm, founded in 1869, is one of the oldest and most influential investment banking firms pushing brave new forms of corporate social responsibility.

With its groundbreaking initiative, Goldman Sachs recognizes the fact that we cannot achieve climate stabilization without government regulations to complement individual corporate actions. Today, virtually any company that voluntarily undertakes a transition to renewable energy and other noncarbon energy sources may put itself at a competitive disadvantage within its industry. A number of oil and auto executives have said privately that they can make the transition to clean energy, but they need government to regulate them so they can make the change in lock step with no loss of market share. Others are willing to move forward, sensing opportunity in being greener first.
(3 April 2006)


Your world. Your verdict: the small but beautiful ways that can help the fight to save the planet

Terry Kirby and Lucy Phillips, UK Independent
Last week, following the launch of an all-party inquiry into climate change, we invited Independent readers to send in suggestions for saving the planet. The response was huge. Today we publish a summary of the most popular ideas which, if put into practice, would be potent weapons in the fight against global warming
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Change a light bulb - and help save the planet. When it comes to the big question of how the world responds to the threat of climate change, it is clear that it is the small, everyday things that can really matter.

This is a major theme to have emerged in the phenomenal response to The Independent's appeal to readers for their views on how to tackle global warming, given the seeming inability of politicians, in Britain at least, to find ways of reducing carbon emissions.

But among the hundreds of letters and e-mails there are also demands for bigger, more fundamental changes - encouraging people to work from home, reducing packaging on consumer goods, enforced recycling and banning four-wheel drives from cities.
(3 April 2006)


Anything into oil

Brad Lemley, Discover
Turkey guts, junked car parts, and even raw sewage go in one end of this plant, and black gold comes out the other end
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The smell is a melange of midsummer corpse with fried liver overtones and a distinct fecal note. It comes from the worst stuff in the world-turkey slaughterhouse waste. Rotting heads, gnarled feet, slimy intestines, and lungs swollen with putrid gases have been trucked here from a local Butterball packager and dumped into an 80-foot-long hopper with a sickening glorp. In about 20 minutes, the awful mess disappears into the workings of the thermal conversion process plant in Carthage, Missouri.

Two hours later a much cleaner truck-an oil carrier-pulls up to the other end of the plant, and the driver attaches a hose to the truck's intake valve. One hundred fifty barrels of fuel oil, worth $12,600 wholesale, gush into the truck, headed for an oil company that will blend it with heavier fossil-fuel oils to upgrade the stock. Three tanker trucks arrive here on peak production days, loading up with 500 barrels of oil made from 270 tons of turkey guts and 20 tons of pig fat. Most of what cannot be converted into fuel oil becomes high-grade fertilizer; the rest is water clean enough to discharge into a municipal wastewater system.

For Brian Appal - and, maybe, for an energy-hungry world - it's a dream come true, better than turning straw into gold. The thermal conversion process can take material more plentiful and troublesome than straw - slaughterhouse waste, municipal sewage, old tires, mixed plastics, virtually all the wretched detritus of modern life - and make it something the world needs much more than gold: high quality oil.

Appal, chairman and CEO of Changing World Technologies, has prodded, pushed, and sometimes bulldozed his way toward this goal for nearly a decade, and his joy is almost palpable
(April 2006 issue)
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