Saturday, September 10, 2011

Water bottles are bad, so why are you still using them?

I recently came across an article about bottled water, and it provided me with even more reasons not to use them. If you or someone you know still uses bottled water, you need to read this, or share this article with them.

1) Bottled water is not tested, nor do the companies have to tell you where they get it from. Tap water is regulated, and your city must submit reports to the EPA listing the results, and disclose the results to the public. Laboratory results of bottled water have shown far worse performance than tap water. A company could literally fill up bottles from the tap and sell them as "Pure Glacier Stream" and you would have no idea if that was true or not. Approximately 25% of bottled water comes directly from municipal (city) tap water.

2) It's expensive. The average price of bottled water is 240-10,000 times more expensive than tap water. Per gallon, it is more expensive than gasoline! Over 90% of the cost of bottled water is associated with the bottle, lid and label.

3) Plastic bottles made from PET and Tetra Paks have a higher rate of leaching into the bottled water, the longer it sits in the container. The results continue to come in, and they don't look good. Many of the leaching substances are hormone-mimicking, like estrogen.

4) Most people cannot taste a difference. Here is a blind statistical study we conducted that compared bottled water, tap water and filtered water. Our testers could not taste a difference.

5) Water bottling companies destroy the water aquifers of communities. Most of the water bottle companies are large corporations, like Coca-Cola, Nestle, and Pepsi (to name a few). They come into a community, extract the water for almost no cost, dry up the ecosystem, then take their profits and leave.

6) Manufacturing the plastic bottles (from oil), pumping and filling the bottles, packaging and transporting the bottles greatly increases carbon emissions. Most of the time, the bottles are shipped far away from where the water is collected and filled, so this can have a huge impact on our carbon footprint.

7) Most plastic bottles are STILL not recycled. Only 1 out of every 4 bottles (about 25%) are actually recycled. Even if that number was 100%, recycling doesn't make the problem go away. We need to REDUCE our usage, to avoid the carbon impact in the first place (see #6)

Recommendation: Use a reusable aluminum water bottle filled with filtered tap water. You may not even need to filter the water depending on where you live.

Here is a good pamphlet developed by the Sierra Club that summarizes these same arguments against bottled water.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Solar powered coffee van coming to a town near you?

I recently stumbled upon a mobile coffee company this week, near where my wife works.

Besspresso is a solar and biofuel (soy-based) powered green van that serves a blend of organic, fair trade, and sustainable wood roasted coffee and various espresso drinks. They serve their coffee in 100% biodegradable corn and plant based cups.

They originated near Portland, Oregon a few years ago, but the new owners are taking it all over the United States. They will be here in Iowa City for a few more weeks, then off to Tempe, Arizona for the remainder of the year. They will also be making stops at various music and environmental festivals this summer.

They offer a relaxing atmosphere to enjoy coffee outdoors, and listen to music through their high quality loudspeaker system.

To learn more about their service, and where they are located now, visit their website at:

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Top 4 reasons why trees are awesome!

I recently saw a presentation from Trees Forever, a local organization focused on trees (of course). They explained the benefits of trees, but I really had no idea about ALL the benefits a tree provides.

The message focused on four main areas how trees help us out:
  1. Save energy by reducing utility bills
    • provide shade to reduce air conditioning needs in summer
    • reduce "heat island effect" in cities with lots of cement (also reducing air conditioning)
    • slow down winter winds to reduce heating needs in winter
  2. Reduce stormwater run-off into streams and rivers
    • Rain is intercepted by tree leaves, slows down amount of rain that lands on the ground
    • Rain is absorbed by tree roots, instead of drained into streets
    • Tree roots make dirt more porous, allowing faster absorption of rain into ground (and back into aquifers after being cleansed and filtered by the soil)
  3. Reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) escaping into atmosphere
    • Trees need carbon to breathe so the more there are, the less that escapes
  4. Property value increase for your home when you have:
    • Mature trees (about 2% increase for medium/large trees in your yard, up to 15% increase in high income neighborhoods)
    • Trees in the front yard (about 3-5% increase)
    • Good tree coverage in the neighborhood (about 6-9% increase)
They didn't even get into the other benefits of trees, such as improved air quality, calming effect for children, recovery time for hospitalized patients, wildlife habitat, or the multiple purposes it serves as a raw material (heat, paper, goods, fruits, etc).

So it definitely pays to invest in trees in your yard. The rule of thumb they provided was a 4:1 ratio, so for every $1 you spend on a tree, you'll get $4 in savings. To learn more about the financial benefits of trees, visit to calculate what you can save long term.

Visit Trees Forever to learn more about their organization.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Philadelphia Eagles set the bar high for sports industry

One of the last industries you think of for promoting sustainability is the sports world. Players and fans flying and driving all over to attend games in large air-conditioned venues with lots of lights, huge amounts of concession stand food in disposeable containers.

One team is stepping out and taking the lead towards sustainability, the Philadelphia Eagles of the National Football League (NFL).

In 2003, the Philadelphia Eagles owners, Jeffrey and Christina Lurie, decided they wanted to make the Eagles more environmentally responsible.  They had the insight to see that they could make a difference, and set the team apart from others with a program called “Go Green!”

The Go Green! initiative focuses around some key initiatives: renewable energy, energy efficiency and conservation, recycling and waste reduction, reforestation (tree planting), and procurement decisions.
To start with, the Eagles offset their carbon emissions for the 2010 season through the GoZero program, which is managed by the Conservation Fund organization. They had been working their way up to 100% offset over the years. In 2009, the Eagles ran 100% of their operations on wind and solar, a small portion of which comes from their solar array at the NovaCare Complex, which produced 12,757 kilowatt-hours (kWh). In addition, they have cut their stadium’s annual electricity use by nearly 50% since 2004 through energy conservation and efficiency improvements.
The Eagles also created the country’s first Renewable Energy Employee Benefit Program, which encourages all full-time Eagles employees to purchase renewable energy credits (REC’s) from Delaware Valley region energy. The program compensates employees by paying the difference in price between current and renewable energy. In 2009, more than half of the organization’s eligible employees took advantage of this program.
In 2008 and 2009, the Eagles offset 100% of the greenhouse gas generated by team travel (air, bus, train and hotel) through tree planting. Their tree planting efforts take place at Eagles Forest, a 6.5-acre site at Neshaminy State Park in Bensalem, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. It contains more than 4,000 trees and shrubs, including over 150 trees that have been purchased by Eagles fans. They are also sponsoring tree plantings in Louisiana’s Lake Ophelia National Wildlife Refuge in Marksville, Louisiana, and helping with restoration projects in that area due to the recent oil spill in the gulf.

In 2009, they launched a composting program, in conjunction with their cafeteria service provider. They capture unwanted and disposed of food, and utilize compostable or post-consumer recycled content for utensils, plates and cups. In addition, the cooking oil is sent out for conversion to bio-diesel. They are also using environmentally preferable cleaning products to clean the food service and facilities areas. Along with a strong recycling program that has been in-place since 2003, they are getting very close to achieving a zero-waste operation.

In the office area, they have also made strides in reducing paper usage. They reduced newsletter publications by 36 tons of paper by moving more of the publications to online. They also moved to a digital media guide, saving more than 200 trees. They also increased the post-consumer content of the following items: game day programs, office printer paper, business cards, memo pads, invoices, staff handbooks, stadium credentials, facial tissue, hand towels, toilet paper, stadium maps, event staff birthday cards, tickets, cardstock and certain envelopes.
The efforts continue with the cheerleaders. The 2010-2011 Eagle Cheerleaders calendar was the first in the league to be printed on post-consumer recycled paper. The 38 cheerleaders are wearing eco-friendly bikinis made from organic cotton or recycled plastic bottles, with accessories (earrings, necklaces and bracelets) made from recycled materials such as CD's and computer chips. Additionally, 10% of the calendar sales will go to the Gulf Restoration Network to help protect and restore the natural resources of the Gulf for future generations.
Finally, one of the key activities that got the effort moving was the Carbon Neutral game, which took place in 2005 between the St. Louis Rams and the Eagles. The teams worked with Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC),, and NativeEnergy to offset the energy usage for a single game. They agreed to use clean energy from a Native American wind project in the Midwest, and energy from a Pennsylvania dairy farm methane project.
They determined that a single game produced 58 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution. The majority of the energy during the game came from heating the dome (wintertime in St. Louis), and running the huge lights during the game.  However, fans, media, and teams traveling by air, bus, and car to the game had a much greater impact. They estimated that travel took up more than 10,900 tons of CO2 – about 99% of the event's total carbon footprint.
Hats off the Eagles, and especially Christina Lurie, for her drive and determination to make this happen! I hope that other teams pay attention, and start competing with them in their sustainability efforts, not just on the football field. 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Offset your carbon emission usage to feel better and make a difference

I was a little leary of carbon offset programs, but as I read more into, they have a very rigorous process for validating projects. Even though I do drive a Prius, I do impact the environment with the gas I purchase and consume. I also commute 25 miles each way, five days a week, so those miles add up to about 15,000 per year.

Therefore, I decided to offset the last years worth of driving. According to their calculator, I have contributed almost 3 metric tons of CO2 to the environment in the last year. To offset that amount, I had to pay about $30, or around $2.50 per month. That seems very reasonable to me, and it helps me feel slightly better about my driving habits.

Don't get me wrong. Paying someone to allow me to continue my bad behavior is not the intent. The alternative is that I don't spend the $30 on anything related to the environment, so I'm letting them do it for me. I don't want to pay that amount each year (as affordable as it is), so there is some incentive for me to continue to find ways to reduce my driving.

If businesses and companies were forced to offset their carbon footprint each year, imagine how many projects we could get started? For example, my company generates about 150,000 metric tons per year. If they paid $10 per metric ton (which is what charges), that would be about $1.5 million! Imagine how many solar and wind projects we could implement with that kind of investment! (As a side note, my company has set aside $500,000 to fund energy reducion projects this year, which is a great start).

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Good movie about where electricity comes from

We attended a green expo today, and one of the sessions was a 1-hour video called "Kilowatt Ours: A Plan to Re-Energize America", which was made in 2007. I hadn't even heard of it before, but I was very impressed with it.

The movie, created by Jeff Barrie, explores the source of our electricity and the problems caused by energy production including mountain top removal, childhood asthma and global warming. He walks through step-by-step how you can reduce your energy usage in your home and learn more about "green" renewable energy. 

One of the better parts of the movie was the discussion about energy conservation that many cities have taken on. Instead of building new power plants to address their increasing energy demands, the city of Austin, and the state of California spent a fraction of the power plant construction costs on education and rebates. In Iowa, we are having the discussion right now about building a new nuclear plant to meet our increasing energy demand, so that really hit home for me.

You can also download a classroom exercise for grade school kids, that corresponds with the movie

You can learn more about the movie at