Supermarkets chill out in a greener way

Read the full story at SmartPlanet.

Just when I thought I was getting in touch with the various industry-specific sustainability regulations, I’ve just been reading about another one: the GreenChill Partnership from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

This particular certification initiative is focused on the emissions and chemical management associated with retail refrigeration systems. The EPA estimate is that the typical supermarket leaks 1,000 pounds of harmful refrigerant gas into the atmosphere. The GreenChill program focuses on decreasing that amount; like many certification efforts it can be earned at three different levels, silver, gold and platinum. Approximately 20 percent of all the supermarkets in the United States (about 7,300) participate in the GreenChill program. Hmm, that’s not a very high percentage, is it?

U.S. invests $156M into ‘groundbreaking’ clean energy projects

Read the full story at SmartPlanet.

The U.S. Energy Department might be scrambling to finalize the remaining conditional loan guarantees before Friday’s deadline, but it still found time to award $156 million to 60 potentially ‘groundbreaking’ energy research projects.

State environmental commissioners pass resolution supporting National Pollution Prevention Roundtable’s 2025 Safer Chemistry Industry Challenge Program

Here’s the full text of the resolution:


WHEREAS, the 2011 International Year of Chemistry established by the United Nations commemorates the achievements of chemistry; and

WHEREAS, raising awareness of chemistry among the general public to attract young people into the field, as well as highlighting the role of chemistry in solving global problems is critical; and

WHEREAS, the chemical industry is responsible for significant improvements to the health and well being of all Americans and for people around the world, and is vital to the U.S. economy by providing hundreds of thousands of jobs and supplying hundreds of products; and

WHEREAS, there are increasing concerns about the safety of chemicals in commerce and an overwhelming agreement on the need to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976; and

WHEREAS, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Conversation on Public Health and Chemical Exposures brought thousands of people from across the United States to create an Action Agenda to help governments strengthen efforts to protect the public from harmful chemical exposures; and

WHEREAS, people expect to be kept safe from harmful chemical exposures and recognize the urgency to protect children and other vulnerable populations and the environment; and

WHEREAS, workers have the greatest risk of industrial chemical exposure given their proximity to chemicals in the workplace, often in high concentrations; and

WHEREAS, many businesses are working to achieve high levels of environmental compliance and performance through sustainable business practices to remain competitive in the global marketplace; and

WHEREAS, the U.S. EPA’s National Partnership for Environmental Priorities (NPEP) reduced 42 million pounds of chemicals in partnership with more than 280 public and private organizations; and

WHEREAS, the U.S. EPA Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention intends to identify priority chemicals for review and possible risk management action under TSCA, and supports enhanced chemicals management and design for environment (DfE) programs to assess the full life-cycle risks posed by the use of toxic chemicals in products; and

WHEREAS, the U.S. EPA Great Lakes National Program Office has awarded a grant to the National Pollution Prevention Roundtable (NPPR) to conduct business technical assistance to reduce the use of priority chemicals of concern through source reduction with a goal to prevent at least 2 million pounds of toxic chemicals from entering the Great Lakes ecosystem; and

WHEREAS, alternatives assessment is a process of identifying and comparing potential chemical and non-chemical alternatives to a chemical of concern to facilitate informed substitution; and

WHEREAS, pollution prevention can achieve toxics use reduction, promote green chemistry and engineering, and provide educational and economic opportunities to develop safer chemicals, processes and products; and

WHEREAS, states, universities, and businesses play an important role in implementing pollution prevention programs, voluntary initiatives, and technical assistance services, including providing assistance to small businesses.


ECOS member states should actively participate in U.S. EPA’s process for identifying priority chemicals for review and assessment, including providing input on data sources for prioritization. States should provide input on sources of hazard data sources and risk data sources to assist U.S. EPA in selecting specific chemicals from the initial group for further assessment. U.S. EPA’s identification process is outlined here:

ECOS state members, led by the Great Lakes region, support collaborative efforts to work with the National Pollution Prevention Roundtable and other organizations to support the 2025 Safer Chemistry Industry Challenge Program with a goal to reduce the use of chemicals of concern by 25% using 2005 use as a baseline.

To the extent possible, states should work in partnership with industry sectors or individual facilities to target chemicals of concern to promote the substitution of hazardous chemicals with less toxic alternatives, green chemistry, research and development, recognition programs, and public education.

ECOS requests the Administrator of the U.S. EPA to endorse and fund toxic use reduction efforts through the State Performance Partnership Agreements, state pollution prevention grants, and public-private partnership efforts.

Universities as green innovators

Read the full story in Sustainable Industries.

Stanford University has long held a tradition of innovation. The legendary tech startups, such as Yahoo and Google, that were founded by Stanford students in its hallowed halls is now the stuff of legend in SIlicon Valley. (In fact, Sun Microsystems got their original name as an acronym for Stanford University Network.) Billions of dollars have literally walked off campus, yet this atmosphere of innovation continues today.

Other universities share in this tradition. At MIT, for example, alumni have founded 25,800 companies which generate revenues of about $1.9 trillion a year.

While you could argue that if Stanford had an agreement that gave them even one-tenth of 1 percent of anything created by their students, they would have an endless endowment worth billions. But perhaps this would scare off the future tech billionaires from ever matriculating in the first place. Instead, what if a university could utilize their students as an in-house R&D (research and development) laboratory? Students would still be free to profit from their inventions, but the institution could benefit from the ideas in some way.

At a symposium for The Earth Institute at Columbia University, I met Sam Harrington, marketing director for Ecovative Design. It turns out that a similar innovation is currently happening at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in upstate New York. Instead of tech companies, they’re developing a new wave of innovative materials. Ecovative was started by RPI students who developed an innovative foam material derived from mycelium (a.k.a. mushroom fungi) called EcoCradle. In its’ current state, EcoCradle is a surprisingly affordable and effective alternative to oil-based Styrofoam. This “mushroom foam” could have thousands of potential uses.

Power to the people

Read the full story in Sustainable Industries Journal.

Due out this week, Rifkins’s latest book – “The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World” – has my attention more than anything that came before it. In it, Rifkin asks readers to imagine hundreds of millions of people producing their own green energy in their homes, offices and factories, and sharing it with each other on an “energy internet.” He proclaims this Third Industrial Revolution (TIR) will create thousands of businesses and millions of jobs, and usher in a fundamental reordering of human relationships, from top-down to lateral power, that will “impact the way we conduct commerce, govern society, educate our children, and engage in civic life.”

Climate change’s coming of age

Read the full story in Sustainable Industries Journal.

If you think about the evolution of climate change policy as a child growing up, I’d argue that we’re firmly planted in the teenage years: we’ve seen solid development, but now we’re weathering plenty of rebellion that reinforces how far we still have to go to comfortably claim adulthood.

Recently, climate change denial among certain politicians, combined with an increasing number of extreme weather events, has been nothing short of alarming. As we ready ourselves for a particularly divisive election year, it’s increasingly obvious that if we’re going to achieve meaningful progress on climate over the next few years, it’s not going to come federally, but rather from the state level. And with wildfires, hurricanes and floods beating at every corner of the nation’s door, the teenager needs some guidance and direction.

Worldchanging, again

Read the full story at Sustainable Industries Journal.

Architecture for Humanity today made public an announcement that it is acquiring cash-strapped online magazine Worldchanging.

Co-founded by iconic Seattle editor and speaker Alex Steffen, Worldchanging will be merging its assets with Architecture for Humanity’s Open Architecture Network to form a new site offering “both ideas and tools for building a better world.”

The Charlie Brown of Alternative Energy? Why Geothermal Deserves More Support

Read the full story in E The Environmental Magazine.

Among alternative energy, wind and solar get all the media attention, all the glamour.  Yet both suffer from intermittency, from the problem that their power sources wax and wane.  Solar disappears at night and weakens when clouds interrupt, while wind has its own unpredictable schedule.  By contrast, geothermal draws on heat from deep below the earth to provide reliable base load power 24 hours a day. Unlike solar, it’s also currently competitive with conventional energy costs. Yet geothermal remains the Charlie Brown of renewables (or perhaps the Rodney Dangerfield): Although widespread development is often predicted, such hopes are repeatedly jerked away.

Sun In: Solar Tube Lighting Is Easy, Affordable and Energy Efficient

Read the full story in E The Environmental Magazine.

We’d all love to let in a little more sunlight, particularly as the days grow shorter, but that pesky roof keeps getting in the way. While bulky, traditional skylights have been used for years to open up roof space and illuminate interiors, light tubes, also known as solar tubes, are a slimmer, less expensive and more energy efficient way to channel natural light inside.

EPA Releases Final Health Assessment for TCE

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today released the final health assessment for trichloroethylene (TCE) to the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) database.  IRIS is a human health assessment program that evaluates the latest science on chemicals in our environment. The final assessment characterizes the chemical as carcinogenic to humans and as a human noncancer health hazard. This assessment will also allow for a better understanding of the risks posed to communities from exposure to TCE in soil, water and air. It will provide federal, state, local and other policy makers with the latest scientific information to make decisions about cleanup and other actions to protect people’s health. 

“This assessment is an important first step, providing valuable information to the state, local and federal agencies responsible for protecting the health of the American people,” said Paul Anastas, assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Research and Development. “It underscores the importance of EPA’s science and, in particular, the critical value of the IRIS database for ensuring that government officials and the American people have the information they need to protect their health and the health of their children.”

TCE is one of the most common man-made chemicals found in the environment. It is a volatile chemical and a widely used chlorinated solvent. Frequently found at Superfund sites across the country, TCE’s movement from contaminated ground water and soil, into the indoor air of overlying buildings, is of serious concern. EPA already has drinking water standards for TCE and standards for cleaning up TCE at Superfund sites throughout the country.

  • TCE toxicity values as reported in the assessment will be considered in:
  • Establishing cleanup methods at the 761 Superfund sites where TCE has been identified as a contaminant
  • Understanding the risk from vapor intrusion as TCE vapors move from contaminated groundwater and soil into the indoor air of overlying buildings
  • Revising EPA’s Maximum Contaminant Level for TCE as part of the carcinogenic volatile organic compounds group in drinking water, as described in the agency’s drinking water strategy
  • Developing appropriate regulatory standards limiting the atmospheric emissions of TCE – a hazardous air pollutant under the Clean Air Act

This assessment has undergone several levels of peer review including, agency review, interagency review, public comment, external peer review by EPA’s Science Advisory Board in January 2011, and a scientific consultation review in 2006 by the National Academy of Sciences. Comments from all reviewers are addressed in the final assessment.

EPA continues to strengthen IRIS as part of an ongoing effort to ensure concrete research and science are used to protect human health and the environment. In May 2009, EPA restructured the IRIS program to reinforce independent review and ensure the timely publication of assessments. In July 2011, EPA announced further changes to strengthen the IRIS program in response to recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences. EPA’s peer review process is designed to elicit the strongest possible critique to ensure that each final IRIS assessment reflects sound, rigorous science.

More information on IRIS: