Saving the Planet While Saving your Wallet

Austin Fermentation Festival – Many local eco festivals have classes on composting and reducing waste.

Reuse, Recycle or Do Without. It’s an old saying, and it’s the crossover point between saving money and saving the environment. With the three topics, we can take examples of each, and evaluate the overlap of where saving the planet can also save us money:

1. Reuse 
Before we buy new and part with any money, we should always try to reuse an item we already own, or that we can get from our community. Whether we reuse an item from our family, a friend, neighbor, or someone in a local Buy Nothing Network, it’s all part of extracting more value from an item and extending its life. As a child, I wore hand-me-down from my sister. Now that I have children of my own, I involve a larger network of neighbors and friends in the community for hand-me-downs. I volunteer with a local thrift organization, and the volume of donations that we see on a daily basis is massive.  There are too many used items to sell in the limited square footage currently available in this single organization, and so many of these donated items look close to new. Whether we reuse items from our network, or reuse our own items before buying a replacement, we should pause before buying new, and evaluate whether we can fill the need in a re-used manner. If we ask this question everyday, we can reduce so many thoughtless costs. Every throwaway item has a cost, every single-use plastic bag, plastic straw or paper cup has a cost to the environment and to our wallets, whether as a direct cost in our purchase, or as overhead in the places we shop. All of it is reflected in higher prices. The cleanup costs to society are even larger, as these items litter our public spaces, cause greater energy consumption and pollution and remain in the environment after their single use is long gone. Always choose to reuse, avoid single-use items, and question every purchase. Your wallet will thank you, along with a cleaner community.

Thrift stores have many items with years of useful life remaining, ready to be happily reused. Many times, these items are made of higher quality materials than items that can be purchased new today.

2: Recycle
Sometimes we will reach the end of the useful life of an item, and we cannot continue using it in its current form, or for its intended use. Does that mean it’s trash? Never! Even dirt has value in the garden. Some items can be recycled in the home and repurposed to a different use.  Many paper items can be composted in that garden, just as many food scraps can be fed to chickens or composted, and added back into the garden.  Stained t-shirts or old towels can be recycled into cleaning rags, just as old wool coats or sweaters can be cut down into hats or scarves.  We’ve forgotten many of the older ways of valuing our limited resources, such as the Depression Era repurposing of flour sacks into clothes and using magazines for paper dolls and similar toys.  In this era of fast fashion and constantly changing styles, it’s feels almost meditative to buy only quality fabric products from thrift stores for a few dollars, and then later repurposing that quality wool, cashmere, linen or cotton into hats or scarves, doll clothes or cleaning rags when the original item has fully completed its first useful life.  In this way, we can have a long reuse of an item, and then follow with a caring and artistic recycling of that original item into something else useful. This will keep money in your wallet, while still having all the items you need.

3. Do Without
This third strategy is also sometimes referred to as ‘Reduce’. This is the most aggressive of the three strategies, and the most underrated in our high consumption society.  The minimalism movement has brought back some of the questioning of how much is really needed to live our daily lives, and we can always build on this movement.  How many items do we need in our daily lives – how many shirts, coffees, shoes, etc. does a single person, or single family, need? The best way to save money is to not buy something in the first place, and the best way to conserve resources is to not use them at all. A Prius will use less gas per mile than an SUV, but walking or biking instead will use no gas at all. It is the most extreme, but also the most thorough and money/resource saving option.  

Whichever combination of options you use, consider the impact on both your personal finances, as well as your community. There are very noble reasons to go green and consider your impact on the earth, as well as very personal reasons to work towards financial independence. You can work towards both at once — it just takes some discipline to question what you really need.

Creating Climate Wealth ~ A Dispatch From SXSWECO

climate_wealthMost of us usually don’t use wealth and climate change in the same sentence. Jigar Shah and the Carbon War Room’s Ann Davlin were at SXSWECO yesterday to convince us things are changing. Their session,”Creating Climate Wealth,” showcased how individuals and businesses can capitalize on the climate chaos.

Davlin, who worked with Al Gore and at The Pentagon, started the discussion by reminding the audience that our society, even business, has had climate opportunities teed up before.

“This really isn’t all uncharted territory,” said Davlin. “A lot of today’s climate wealth environment was established by the success of the Carter administration.”

Most of us can associate the administration with solar panels on the White House, but Davlin highlighted the other policy and infrastructure decisions which helped set up many of the standards still used today.

“Everything from energy efficiency and vehicle emissions to power purchase agreements (PPAs) and the adoption of the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), has some connectivity to the efforts of lawmakers decades ago,” said Davlin.

“All the pieces are coming together, and we’re at a point where we can move forward. Carter won bi-partisan support for favorable policies and it lead to job creation and clean energy momentum.”

Davlin cited the residential PACE market, aimed at funding energy improvements, as another engine of growth and carbon reduction. She urged the group to think about the balance between an economic and ecologic argument.

“The capital is there, it’s more about how do we go in and approach a particular investor segment,” said Davlin. “We need to think about describing the impact in either financial terms or climate terms,” she added.

Shah opened up with a dig at our obsession with technology, questioning the value of the next new app.

“We have this weird fascination about technology,” said Shah. “The reality is that new technology is not fascinating in our industry.”

Instead, it’s about “infrastructure.” Shah noted that even with a seemingly unending technology cycle, energy costs for the average American family have increased about $4000 per year per family.

“Nobody tells they’re mom that I work in infrastructure,” he joked. But it’s easier to understand the notion of infrastructure when he describes it in the context of how the solar industry built out its own processes and practices. He mentioned how early power purchase agreements (PPAs) drove demand and led to more stable and innovative financing models that have continued to spur along the solar industry.

The conversation also addressed the opportunities in the electric vehicle (EV) industry and more broadly, the transportation industry.

“So what’s the climate wealth strategy for getting people in EVs,” asked Shah.

He mentioned recent data from Triple AAA that shows U.S car owners spend about $900 per month to own a vehicle. Besides more predictable maintenance costs for EVs, Shah thinks transportation companies and manufacturers will continue to move towards a cost per mile model.

“What you’ll see is an increase in “cost-per-mile” entrepreneurs as more time transfers to that model,” he said. “Then the question is what do you do with all the wasted space, like unused parking spots and emptier garages.”

The parking spot problem is in the industry’s headlights, sometimes referred to as one of the last mile problems in transportation. He was asked about what cities can do address it and some of the other planning challenges.

“Basically, 1000 entrepreneurs need to be knocking on doors and getting contracts, and then those need to get financed” he said.

Once autonomous vehicles are factored in, things get more interesting. Both panelists said the insurance industry is already adapting to that, preparing for the increasing loads of data from vehicle-based systems. They imagined a scenario that’s not so different from what healthcare providers might glean from health trackers to adjust our premiums.

Davlin also mentioned how microgrids, small-scale stations that can operate independently, are getting pushback from municipalities. Drawing from her pitches to Wall Street and private equity firms, Davlin reinforced how assumptions can’t be made that stakeholders understand the bigger picture. She described some scenarios where energy efficiency funding had to be reframed around a more resilient and risk-based approach.

Shah was then asked about the value proposition for solar, and how it plays into more climate opportunities.

“Solar is now an $80 billion a year industry with rooftop systems being added about every three to four minutes,” said Shah. “The industry needs to take responsibility for creating the next model for utilities.”

The panelists were also asked what city officials could do to spark more business-driven climate strategies.

Shah singled out transportation and waste management as two of the biggest pieces looming for cities. To magnify the cost reduction opportunity, he said the the average U.S. city transports its waste roughly 350 miles for disposal.

He also used the recent food waste ban in Massachusetts to show how waste reduction can create growth. Because of that policy, says Shah, 1200 anaerobic digesters will be built over the next five years, which will create jobs and reduce transportation costs..

Waste water management is also a part of the portfolio, especially with many treatment facilities across the U.S. nearing capacity. Things like pre-treatment, desalination, and other filtering applications are spurring the water management sector.

“A lot of these solutions have two year payback periods,” said Shah. “At that point, you’re basically forcing people to save money.”

As the session closed, a Nike representative in the audience asked the panelists to share specifics on the top things corporations could do to impact these climate wealth strategies. Davlin cited what Nike itself was doing as a member of the Sustainable Leather Working Group.

“Nike is actually dictating how the life of an animal is managed, everything from how it is fed, to how it is slaughtered,” said Davlin.
“What that means is more job creation, and a more visible and sustainable supply chain, ” she added,

Shah jumped in on the supply chain piece, saying the “greening of supply chains” is the toughest challenge for multinational corporations.

“You have to change the contracts and configure them to reward your best suppliers,” he said.  Part of the challenge is that adjustments to supplier agreements can impact short-term profits. But Shah urged companies to look past contracts and get more creative to drive growth, saying a company’s strategic partners can be rewarded in many ways.

“There’s still constraints to being driven through the Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO). But you have to make some financial commitments before any long-term strategy can really materialize,”said Shah

“The question becomes, how do we it home runs?” he told the group.climate_wealth

 

 

Houston’s One Bin Waste Management Strategy

“The process utilized in Houston will remove materials of less than two inches early in the sorting process to minimize contamination.  From there, products will be sorted into various “streams” for resale, reuse, or disposal. In addition to mining all conventional recyclable commodities, the design will produce compost or carbon-neutral fuel streams from the remaining organic waste.  All components of the facility and process are field-tested and proven, arranged to maximize productivity, uptime, and diversion rates.”

via One Bin For All: Houston Finds Hidden Value in Waste | Data-Smart City Solutions.

Evolving Our View Of Zero Waste

We’ve been digging into some waste management data after hearing about a Houston-based group doing some interesting things. More on that later. GreenBiz points us to research out of Australia that posits a different way of looking at waste streams. From the abstract:

“Currently, cities use their waste diversion rate as a tool to measure the performance of their waste management systems. However, diversion of waste from landfill does not give a holistic picture of zero waste performance. This paper conceptualises the concept of the ‘zero waste city’ and proposes a new tool to measure the performance of waste management systems called the ‘zero waste index’. The zero waste index forecasts the amount of virgin materials, energy, water and greenhouse gas emissions substituted by the resources that are recovered from waste streams.”

The GreenBiz piece captured perhaps the most important point.

“The researchers disagree with the commonly held belief that zero end disposal through landfill is the same thing as zero waste, and argue that this definition does not place enough emphasis on how waste can be reused as a material resource (as opposed to being incinerated, for instance).

And here’s a look at the researchers’ view of the Zero Waste City.

zero_waste_city
Zero Waste City