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Category Archives: Green News

  • Water, Water Everywhere, Nor Any Drop to Drink….
    Californians hope to avoid a desolate future with the development of desalination systems across the state. Photo by Bruce Rolff.

    Californians hope to avoid a desolate future with the development of desalination systems across the state. Photo by Bruce Rolff.

    SANTA BARBARA, CA — And so goes the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, the iconic tome by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Of course, it refers to a seaman who is adrift with no supplies. How fitting, then, that we apply this life lesson to the current situation in Santa Barbara, if not the entire Southwestern U.S.

    The media has finally awakened to what many of us have been banging the drum about for months – to borrow from the 1972 Albert Hammond pop tune, “It Never Rains In Southern California.” In essence, this has caused a drought we have not seen in decades, as detailed in my previous articles, Red, White, and Waterless and Squeezing Water From a Rock. So let’s look at Santa Barbara as a microcosm of what could happen in many cities throughout the country if we don’t do something about it, and quickly.

    From a variety of research and interviews I conducted with experts on weather patterns and climate trends, one central theme emerges: we as a society need to prepare now for the possibility that this drought will continue indefinitely. While not probable, at least we hope not, it is most definitely a possibility. Life must go on, and to sustain it we need clean water for everyone. Regardless of whether it rains.

    “I have been here since 1964, and the climate today is very different than it was in those days,” explained Tom Mosby, General Manager of the Montecito Water District. “The succession used to be two weeks of fog, then four or five days of warm, sunny conditions. Now, it seems that the inverse is true. No rain is a huge problem for us.” Montecito is the tiny, toney town that lies adjacent to Santa Barbara, populated mostly by wealthy retirees and those escaping L.A. in search of solitude and open space. Oprah’s famous $50 million estate lies within the Montecito city limits. “Our water conservation plan now includes water rationing which has been very successful. We believe the majority of our customers are checking their water meters daily to track allocation,” Mosby said.

    Montecito has very limited groundwater, equivalent to less than 7% of its annual water supply which has compounded its water shortage problem. The District’s reliance on surface water reservoirs, coupled with below average rainfall led to the declaration of a water shortage emergency on February 11. If it doesn’t rain during fall/winter 2014-15, a stage 4 (they are currently in stage 3) state of emergency could be declared which would mean little to no water for outdoor landscaping.

    The Santa Barbara area has been a leader in water conservation, as its residents have been very responsible about decreasing water consumption in recent years. So much so, in fact, that in an ironic twist, the local water districts may have to raise their rates again – this time by 100 percent – because revenues are down dramatically. A vicious cycle? Perhaps yes, and one that could be repeated in any geographic area that is short on water but successful in persuading homeowners to cut usage. Thus, we face yet another quandary in going green which only frustrates the consumer trying to do the right thing.

    The City of Santa Barbara did have the foresight to plan, design and break ground on a desalination plant back in 1991. Fortunately or unfortunately, plans to complete the plant were scrapped as the 1986-91 drought came to a dramatic end. Just recently, the City Council initiated reactivation proceedings to get the plant construction going once again. This will cost just under $30 million, and will provide enough clean water for about half of the Santa Barbara Water District’s customers.

    The Carlsbad Desalination Project, seen here, is set to deliver clean drinking water to 300,000 San Diego county residents by 2016.

    The Carlsbad Desalination Project, seen here, is set to deliver clean drinking water to 300,000 San Diego county residents by 2016.

    While the City of Santa Barbara wants to cooperate with Montecito to allow its residents to purchase water produced by the plant, a complicated situation related to approval and permitting process due to the infamous Coastal Commission may well prevent this. “We have to get desal now,” declared Darlene Bierig, President of the Montecito Water Board. Recycling wastewater is also an option but realistically, this is more suited for agricultural, landscape, golf course and cemetery water than for drinking. The conventional wisdom seems to be moving toward desal and rapidly. This, in my opinion, is one of the better arrows in our quiver if we no longer enjoy the benefits of consistent, bountiful rainfall.

    With the challenges Santa Barbara’s original desalination plant faces, setting up a small-scale desalination plant is an alternative possibility in Montecito. I consulted an Israeli expert in water management, Clive Lipchin, to see if it is possible to enable Montecito to provide water for its citizens in a stand alone, self-sufficient manner. As with all new desal development, Lipchin notes, “There are infrastructure questions such as the state of the water grid and the possibility of easily inserting the desalination plant into the grid. Other issues include the best site for such a plant and its proximity to the coast, the location of the brine outfall, the current cost of water and electricity, and environmental regulations.” Considering the factors, Lipchin suggests a small-scale desalination plant could be built faster and cheaper than waiting for City of Santa Barbara. “There are options to build a desal plant in a modular configuration with construction costs ranging from $5-10 million. Israel has done this successfully for small communities in Cyprus and Malta.”

    The Carlsbad, CA desalination plant will closely resemble Ashkelon, Israel's 3rd generation desalination plant, seen here.

    The Carlsbad, CA desalination plant will closely resemble Ashkelon, Israel’s 3rd generation desalination plant, seen here.

    “Water banking” is another idea that Santa Barbara has cooked up to deal with the current shortages, according to Santa Barbara Acting Water Resources Manager, Joshua Haggmark. “Water banking is the practice of foregoing water deliveries during certain periods, and banking either the right to use the unused water in the future, or saving it for someone else to use in exchange for a fee or delivery in-kind,” explains Jasper Womach, Agricultural Policy Specialist for the Congressional Research Service. “It is best used where there is significant storage capacity to facilitate such transfers of water.”

    In my view, that could be helpful but will not solve the water shortage. A massive, ongoing source of clean water to replace Mother Nature’s downpours is desperately needed. Just last month, the L.A. Times and USC’s Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences conducted a poll of 1,500 registered voters. Results showed that 89 percent of respondents agree that the drought is a major problem or even a crisis. An encouraging 75 percent believe the state should invest in desalination of ocean water for household use. This support was consistent across demographic groups, with 48 percent strongly in favor and 26 percent somewhat in favor.

    Let’s head about 200 miles south, to the beach town of Carlsbad which is located in North County San Diego. As we speak, SoCal’s only large desal plant is being constructed. The plant will create enough fresh water to serve 300,000 area residents. “We are developers and owners of the project,” said Peter MacLaggan, Senior VP of Poseidon Water, the contractor who is building the plant which is projected to come online in 2016. “The project has been in development for 12 years, as the approval process began in 2003 and ended in 2009. Six long years. After the permits, we worked with the San Diego County Water Authority to get the contracts in place, and then we raised $734 million through a bond issue, along with $167 million in private equity,” explained MacLaggan. This is probably typical of what a large desal plant would require – about a billion dollars, and about 10 years if not longer.

    The Carlsbad desalination plant will be able to produce 1 gallon of freshwater for every 2 gallons of seawater it intakes.

    The Carlsbad desalination plant will be able to produce 1 gallon of freshwater for every 2 gallons of seawater it intakes.

    Key environmental issues associated with desal plants are first and foremost, the intake portion of the process and its effect upon larval fish eggs, and secondly, expulsion of the brine or salt back into the ocean. While larger fish will be able to swim away from the intake ducts, microscopic fish and plankton that are vital to the underwater food chain can be damaged by the desal process. In addition, a tremendous amount of power is required to run the plant, thus use of fossil fuels vs. renewable energy is a critical discussion. Oceana’s California Campaign Director, Dr. Geoff Shester, stresses, “Turning seawater into drinking water requires massive amounts of energy and poses risks to an already stressed ocean ecosystem, as the salty brine byproducts fundamentally disrupt the ocean’s delicate chemical balance. Relying on desalination as an alternative water source fails to solve the underlying problem that California’s inefficient use of water is outstripping our water supply, while creating a wide suite of new risks to our ocean which we don’t yet fully comprehend.”

    Desal plants cannot be built offshore because the efficiency of production becomes significantly lower. Another issue is this: land, extremely valuable coastal land at that, will be needed to build more desal plants. Thus years of lawsuits and ultimately, use of eminent domain by the state may be required to secure key sites for a network of desal plants that can produce enough water to support highly populated Southern California. “The next desalination project will be easier because decisions and precedents are already set,” added MacLaggan. Hopefully he is right about this.

    As you can probably tell, I am a huge proponent of desalination as part of the answer to our water problems. As I sit here in my hotel room in Tel Aviv, I quaff a tasty glass of desal water. Not to mention, I washed my hair this morning and noticed the sheen and texture is actually better than washing my hair with Nevada or SoCal water. While admittedly there are environmental issues to deal with, this reminds me of the debate about wind power generated by turbines located in the desert. Some of our leading environmental watchdog NGOs are constantly banging the drum about the need for renewable energy, but then they question wind farms because they are visually unattractive and might affect the mating patterns of the snail darter. Similarly, ocean preservation advocates need to get real about the need for desal plants as a partial fix for inadequate rainfall. Fortunately, we’re quickly witnessing an advancement of technology to minimize environmental impacts, as showcased in Damian Palin’s TED Talk, Mining Minerals From Seawater. Palin proposes an innovative solution using bacteria to extract heavy metals from the toxic brine, thus minimizing pollutants that reenter the seawater and creating what Palin describes as “a new mining industry that is in harmony with nature.”

    Given the lead time required to plan, approve, design and build these plants, we are already way behind and crisis may occur before enough of them come on stream – not only in Southern California but anywhere with a coastline that is short of fresh water. Let’s take a cue from Israel, which has developed a network of desal plants that produce enough water to keep the admittedly tiny desert nation supplied indefinitely with zero rainfall. It is time right now to move past the conversation, debates and wishful thinking. Oceans make up 71 percent of the earth’s surface, so we know there IS enough salt water to meet our desal needs. We need to be building desal plants yesterday, throughout the world, to ensure fresh drinking water for all. Please help the cause by explaining this to your family, friends, legislators, and the media.

    As always, thanks for reading and considering My Inner Green viewpoint.

    by Jennifer Schwab - June 23, 2014
  • A New Champion At The Weather Channel Answers All You Want To Know About The Weather But Were Afraid To Ask

    No, Sam Champion is not just another handsome talking head. To prove it, he has taken the bold step of leaving perhaps the #1 weatherperson position in the world at ABC’s Good Morning America to become Managing Editor at The Weather Channel. His new show is called AMHQ, for America’s Morning Headquarters. It is an amalgam of news, sports, lifestyle, and of course, weather forecasting and reporting, running each weekday from 7-10 a.m. ET. From a journalistic integrity standpoint, I should say upfront that I am a Sam Champion fan. I appeared on his “Just One Thing” environmental segment on GMA several times in previous years. A new executive producer did away not only with that segment, but essentially all reporting on environmental subjects. While he won’t comment on that, I suspect this is one of a number of reasons that Sam elected to move on from GMA. Champion is an Emmy and Peabody award winner who is a serious weatherman and proud of it. “I’m going to be a hypocrite here. I want to wake up every morning with my feet on the sand, 20 steps from the ocean. If I am not by the beach, I am not a whole person. But I realize it’s not a safe place to build or locate a community. We have allowed people to make incredible amounts of money off of our desire to live on the beach. Unfortunately, we’ve not thought about how (beaches) are the natural protectors for everything behind them.” This is Sam Champion, admitting his own preferences but trying to educate us on the power of weather patterns and how they can endanger our lives. In this case, he refers to rebuilding on the same spot after natural disasters, be it Hurricane Sandy or the Asian tsunami. Here’s what Champion has to say about the Southern California/Southwestern U.S. drought, and its ramifications, such as last week’s San Diego wildfires: “We have to stop being surprised. I am so @#$%^&* tired of people being surprised. We should not be surprised when areas that have seen drought before experience it again. We should not be surprised that towns previously leveled by hurricanes will be leveled again. I’m so tired of us being surprised. While I understand that (the beach is) one of the most desirable places for people to feel connected to the world and at peace, we should not allow people to rebuild after a disaster. I understand why we are torn on this, but we have to think ahead for others. We have to make sure people are safe….” Indeed, Sam Champion is passionate about climate change and its ramifications. He is very concerned about water shortages in coming decades. He has the courage to say what we are just now beginning to understand about where we should be vs. where we are on alternate water sources. “We are horribly prepared (for drought in the Southwest). If we were, we would have several options available to get people water. We are still relying on watersheds, snow melts, and rain. If you live in a coastal area and have not made desalination options available to your community because of money, energy requirements or other factors…if you don’t have a “B” choice for water, that is just wrong. That is not politics, either, that is reality.” I explained to Sam that I recently visited Israel, where they have perfected the art of providing desalinized drinking water for all at a fair price point. His comment: “California, and many other parts of the world, could learn a lot from the Israelis when it comes to preparing for perpetual drought conditions.” The 52-year-old Kentucky native faces the reality that the Southwest could be in for an ongoing drought unlike anything we are used to. “We are just now beginning to understand global weather patterns. We used to think of weather locally, but it is truly anything but – it’s a global thing. We are still trying to figure out El Nino and La Ninas. If an El Nino occurs, it can mean X for this region and Y for that one. You are not looking just at warming water temperatures. To say California will be in a period of ongoing drought, I don’t know that anyone can say for certain. But I don’t see a lot of help coming to change this situation. If we have not figured out a way to handle the drought over the past 25 years, we have a problem.” About Sam’s new show. How was it going from GMA to AMHQ? “We created a show that is hyper informative because I saw there was a different audience. The new audience is 24-hour informed. They are following stories, news, websites, they have alerts on their smartphones. The Weather Channel is built to work on a 24-hour news cycle. We are adjusting to the new pace of information. Facebook, Twitter, we are dealing with a news cycle being right now, this minute. AMHQ is sequenced to this pace. We have the most live shots of tornadoes. We were in Pensacola, Florida for the floods, California for the fires, Minnesota for cold air and snow, and those are just the live shots.” Champion, who married his partner, Rubem Robierb, in 2012, does not see it as his responsibility to convince the climate change deniers of their shortsightedness. “It’s not my job to change minds. Growing up as a journalist and being in the news business for 30 years, it’s only my job to talk about the facts as they are presented. When scientists present facts, we report them. When disasters happen, we deal in statistics and stories about the people who are affected, and follow it all the way through recovery. I don’t need to be political and don’t want to push anyone’s agenda. There are people who want to mitigate climate change and others who want to make money on the topic. I am here to do neither. My goal is to help people understand their environment, and get to a safe place as needed. If you move to the tornado belt, you need to know the risks. If you live in California, you need to know about the drought and the potential dangers because of it. I try to help people understand this so they can take necessary steps to protect themselves from weather-related disasters. Many people assume that if you encounter a tornado and you are in a car, you should jump out and lay down in a ditch.” According to Champion, this is really an old wive’s tale. He says being inside your car is far safer than lying in a ditch. Not surprisingly, Champion likes the focus on weather as opposed to all types of news. “It was a pleasant surprise to have people approach me to say this is a show they are proud to have their children watch while getting ready for school. It’s a smart show. The kids are learning about weather and other important news but not murders and beatings. That stuff is eye candy designed to keep you glued to your TV, but it is not necessarily information you truly need to know. I certainly did not design a kids show, but it’s nice to have moms tell us they feel great about having our show on with the kids in the room.” Champion enjoys scuba diving as a hobby, and not surprisingly, relates what he sees back to weather and climate change. “When you dive for the first time and see coral reefs, come back again three years later and they are gone or bleached due to ocean acidification, you become concerned and want to share that with people. I’m tired of the pushback because I’m not a part of the conspiracy. I’m just sharing with you what I observe.” (Some of you may recall my earlier column entitled “Diving With The Dream Team” in which I report the exact same phenomenon.) Sam’s recommendation for what we do going forward to combat the adverse effects of climate change and their impact upon our weather personifies his practical, no-nonsense approach to climate change and how the weather is reported. “Here are things we can do together to deal with issues that are very real. You can debate the cause, but let’s come together for the solution.”

    by Jennifer Schwab - June 22, 2014
  • Malaysia Flight 370: A Movie In The Making, or, Is This The Titanic of the 21st Century?


    In case you are wondering why the “My Inner Green” girl is writing about the disappearance of a commercial jetliner, allow me to explain. First, my hobby is flying (I’m working on my twin engine license, in fact). Second, I am a student of the Mideast, both its history and the current conflict. It is certainly possible that the mysterious goings-on surrounding the disappearance of Flight 370 can be traced back to something other than a mechanical failure. And third, you have to assume that there are scriptwriters in L.A. feverishly developing storylines for the next great blockbuster on flights in distress and its consequences as we speak.

    Let’s begin with why I think this may well be a terrorist act. Two guys, an Italian and an Austrian both in their 30s, have their passports stolen, one in 2012 and the other in 2013, respectively. They do not know each other and are not linked, just coincidence that they were both in Thailand and got their passports stolen. Then the passports surface in Pattaya, a city in Thailand that you don’t go to for the thread count. Let’s just say I doubt if these two gentlemen are very happy with being publicly linked to a place that some refer to as the Dante’s inferno of the modern world.

    So if you are still with me, the passports are used by a Mr. Ali to buy one-way plane tickets for two men who are not present at the time. This occurred only last Thursday at Grand Horizon travel agency in Pattaya. So the tickets were from Kuala Lumpur (nobody seems to know how they got from Pattaya, Thailand to Kuala Lumpur) to Beijing to Amsterdam to Copenhagen and Frankfurt. Quite a circuitous route to put it mildly.

    On top of this, five men checked in for the flight, including baggage…then mysteriously were able to reclaim their bags and did not board the flight. This has been kind of buried in the news coverage. Why aren’t the authorities combing the face of the earth to identify these guys (perhaps they are but can’t find them?). The fact that this was not a red flag to Malaysian Air officials, nor did Malaysian passport control catch the fact that the two stolen passports – which are flagged on Interpol – were not detected is nothing short of shocking. It would seem to me that even our own much-maligned TSA agents would have been alerted by the five guys and/or the phony passports.

    Meanwhile, some news agencies, including Reuters, seem to think this was not an act of terrorism because there are indications that the plane had turned back and was headed for Kuala Lumpur at the time of its disappearance. If that was the case, riddle me this: why would the pilots not have sent some sort of distress signal back to the tower in K-L? What if terrorists had commandeered the plane and intentionally turned it around, heading back to K-L to perhaps fly into the Petronas Towers – the world’s tallest and most famous twin towers remaining? Or possibly the terrorists were heading to Beijing to crash into the Chinese city’s downtown? Maybe the pilot is an unrecognized hero for refusing to follow those plans and instead ditched Flight 370 into the drink, nose first? After all, he was 53 years old and had over 18,000 hours of experience. Not an amateur, to be sure. The weather was good so no solace there.

    In any event, why has no wreckage been located? So where art thou, oh jetliner? Again, Hollywood and alien interference comes to mind. Not being a sci-fi enthusiast, I quickly discount that concept. I am not a professional aerodynamicist or ocean scientist, but it would seem that if the pilot intentionally nosed the plane into the water on a friendly angle, it may not have been blown to smithereens and thus it could be resting on the ocean floor a la Titanic, making it much harder to locate. (Bear in mind that the Titanic rests more than 12.000 feet below surface.) This just might explain why 34 airplanes and 40 ships from multiple countries can’t find even a scrap of the Boeing 777-200 — which has a near perfect safety record.

    This is truly an international incident. Countries participating in the search range from the U.S. to Australia, Philippines, Vietnam, China, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand, and others. A total of 239 people are assumed dead, of which 154 were Chinese or Taiwanese. Thirty-eight were from Malaysia. Three Americans were also on the list, two children and one adult, an employee of IBM. All totally MIA (Missing In Action), at least at this time.

    So was it a mechanical failure? Pilot actions? Terrorism? Too many pieces of the puzzle just don’t add up. Given the facts and theories, I am voting for number three until proven otherwise. For now, the saga continues and as we pray for the families that have lost loved ones, Hollywood is sharpening their pencils. If this is anything like the disappearance of the Titanic, it may be 2087 (it took 83 years to find the Titanic) and a blockbuster feature film or two before we get to the bottom of this one?

    by Jennifer Schwab - March 11, 2014
  • Top 5 New Smart Home Technologies

    By Heather Logan

    TOKYO, JAPAN – I’ve recently returned from an explorative journey to Japan as part of Panasonic’s eco press tour to discover the latest and greatest innovations to make your home easy to care for. Below are the top 5 technologies to come from Panasonic’s showcase center and Eco Ideas Home. This zero-emission smart house combines science and nature’s elements to make an intelligently designed home that is unlike anything we’ve seen before.

    Hydroponic Kitchen Counter Herb and Veggie Garden

    From one side, it looks like a modern kitchen counter. On the other side, you can feed your family from your own hydroponic garden. Vegetable cultivation conditions are monitored on a 24-hour basis with smartphones or computers fitted with network cameras. This monitoring even allows growth records to be shared. Now everyone can have a green thumb.

    Color Changing Rooms

    This groundbreaking innovation from Panasonic uses LED technology to allow you to extract color from one object and impart it in another object instantly. With the use of color extraction tubes, you can change the look of a LED-equipped wall or furniture piece at a whim. The company is keeping mum as this technology is in development, but from what we’ve seen so far, this is painting of the future.

    ECO NAVI Ventilation System and Air Conditioning

    This hybrid air-conditioning system uses both natural and mechanical ventilation to maximize air temperature control and energy efficiency. The system detects people’s movements throughout the home to direct air where it is needed most.

    The Wind Passage Tower can measure the differences in temperature between indoor and outdoor air to bring in cooler ground air in the summer and warmer air in the winter through an underground duct.

    With sensors to detect any wastage of energy, now you don’t have to stress about a light being left on. Did I mention this works in harmony with their floor heating system? I’m feeling comfortable already.

    Smart Home Energy Management System (SMARTHEMS)

    Panasonic’s Smart Home Energy Management System (SMARTHEMS) will make you feel like you’re living in a smartphone app. It links all appliances and energy supplies into one central network. The program, which can be accessed by a TV or smart device, visualizes the energy, gas, and water consumption throughout the home. It acts as your personal energy consultant, displaying the progress made towards energy-saving targets and providing advice to support energy-saving activities.

    If you live in a community with other smart homes, you can link your system to the Community Energy Management System (CEMS) for the town, as seen in the Fujisawa Smart Town in Japan. With CEMS, residents can share excess energy, respond to energy needs, and track community usage trends in an effort towards electricity conservation.

    Energy Storage Cell for SMARTHEMS

    This small, easy on the eyes energy storage cell from Panasonic uses high-capacity lithium-ion batteries to store electricity. It provides electricity at night from energy created from the home’s solar panels during the day and offers up to 3 days of energy independence during natural disasters.

    These smart home technologies are demonstrative of a world where beauty, creativity, and innovation are bringing us back into balance with nature and a higher quality of living. To learn about more smart home technologies, follow my posts as I explore how sustainability and technology converge.

    Related Posts by Heather Logan
    Save the Seas with Your Diet
    Shrimp Cocktail with a Side of Snared Endangered Species
    How Religious Sites Are Using Eco-Technologies To Reflect Their Values 

    by Heather-Leigh Logan - December 26, 2013
  • How Religious Sites Are Using Eco-Technologies To Reflect Their Values

    By Heather Logan

    KYOTO, JAPAN – On Friday, November 15th, the Kiyomizu Buddhist Temple unveiled a stunning new lighting display. Thanks to a generous donation from Panasonic, this historic Japanese site is now illuminated entirely by LED lighting. Hundreds of people waited in line for the anticipated “fall illumination” unveiling event, which allowed visitors to tour the grounds after sunset. SCGH journalist Heather Logan sat down with one of temple’s monks to learn why they decided to make the switch to Panasonic’s energy-efficient lighting.

    The Kiyomizu Temple, meaning Temple of Pure Water, has its origins in environmental preservation. “LED has the symbolic meaning of protecting the environment. This is a temple that people come to visit from all over the world. We want the people who are visiting this place to see the message behind our lighting change. We are very concerned about the future of the temple and its people. This consideration has been part of our tradition for 1,200 years. There is a saying in Japanese, “Tradition is a continuous reconfirmation.” By making the switch to LEDs, we are reconfirming our Buddhist values.”

    Since its inception in 778,  the temple grounds have experienced ten fires in its history. The grounds house over 30 Buddhist structures, built primarily out of wood, making it particularly susceptible to fires. One of the biggest draws towards LED lighting is that the bulbs produce less heat, protecting the structures from fire damage.

    Why else did the Kiyomizu Buddhist Temple make the switch to LEDs?

    • Better quality
    • Longer lasting
    • Increased energy savings
    • Lowered utility costs
    • Wide range of natural lighting schemes

    “This temple has been crystalized into what it is today because of the contributions people have made to the temple over the centuries. Panasonic is one of these donors. We will have to consider solar panels and other clean energy projects for our future and we look forward to working with Panasonic in those efforts.”

    Visiting the Temple

    Visiting this historic temple is an easy 15 minute bus ride from Kyoto Station. After departing Kyoto Station on bus 100 or 206, you can exit at either the Kiyomizu-michi or Gojo-zaka bus stops. From there, you will make a 15 minute uphill walk through the Higashiyama District, a quaint shopping street with local restaurants and souvenir shops. The temple hours of operations are from 6 am – 6 pm daily and reopen from 6:30 pm to 9:30 pm during spring and fall illumination (mid March to mid April and mid November to early December). The cost of admission is $4 USD.

    Related Posts by Heather Logan
    Save the Seas with Your Diet
    Shrimp Cocktail with a Side of Snared Endangered Species

    by Heather-Leigh Logan - December 24, 2013
  • Biochar Initiative Restores Hillside at Former Silver Mine in Colorado

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    By Neila Columbo

    ASPEN, CO — Once an active silver mine in the early 19th century, Hope Mine recently transformed from a barren, abandoned plot into a verdant, restored landscape. SCGH explores the innovative biochar initiative led by the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES) that made it possible.

    Following the devaluation of silver and the Silver Panic of 1893, Hope Mine became a largely forgotten, desolate knoll.  In 2003, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) assumed ownership of the mine and began to assess the mine waste that had formed at the site in large piles of toxic rock.  Although the Aspen Water Department found no evidence of danger at the time, the site’s proximity to Castle Creek raised concern: If a storm or other event propelled the slope-like layers of mine waste to erode, Aspen’s water supply could be contaminated.

    In response to this concern, USFS and ACES formed a partnership to explore solutions for restoring the site’s landscape to benefit the community and surrounding forest environment. Among their considerations, cost-effectiveness was paramount; a traditional mine restoration could cost over a million dollars.  After several brainstorming sessions, they began to consider an experimental idea burgeoning in the green energy field—biochar.

    A byproduct of charcoal, biochar is created by burning wood products in the absence of oxygen. The substance not only holds the capacity to improve soil vitality, but it also acts as a carbon “sponge,” sequestering atmospheric carbon and thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions. While archeological studies indicate that the origin of biochar traces back over 2,000 years to the South American Amazon basin, scientists are now studying how biochar technologies can produce green energy and address global warming.

    Realizing that the feasibility of biochar as a large-scale green technology remained in its early stages, ACES and USFS  teamed up with a young Colorado-based environmental entrepreneur, Morgan Williams. At the time, Williams’ start-up non-profit organization, Biochar Solutions, was exploring the use of biochar for local projects. In 2010, Williams, ACES and USFS launched the Hope Mine Reclamation Project together.

    The first and largest biochar mine reclamation initiative in the U.S. by any measure, the project was extraordinarily successful. Within the first year, the barren land flourished into a green hillside, new soil began to regenerate, and living plants began to spring.

    Jamie Cundiff, Forest Health Program Director at ACES, observed, “It was quite extraordinary to see the transformation at the site of the mine, and the possibility for re-establishing vegetation and biodiversity to an area that once seemed so damaged.”

    Cundiff added that the multitude of positive developments resulting from the restoration was inspiring. In the technical process of creating biochar, Williams’ organization was able to harvest and burn dead trees that have been associated with the growing problem of mountain pine beetles in forests throughout Colorado and the U.S.

    “Mountain pine beetles are a complicated issue in the U.S.,” Cundiff explained. “While they are a natural presence in forests, their population has increased due to changes in climate, intensifying the possibility of forest fires. When trees are under greater stress, they are more likely to be attacked by the pine beetles and die. Unfortunately, the influence of human-induced climate change is affecting this balance.”

    While the cost of transporting the dead trees prevented the Hope Mine Project from harvesting all their materials from the forests, Cundiff notes this as an area for progress. Researchers are currently developing biochar ‘blankets’ to lay directly on scrap piles of dead wood as a method of creating biochar.

    Following the success of the Hope Mine Project, Williams’ Biochar Solutions grew from a non-profit start-up to a growing for-profit green tech business. In addition, ACES has begun developing its own small-scale biochar production system for use at its own sites. This system will enhance restoration effects by returning wood products back to the site in the form of biochar.

    In a stirring speech at the Aspen Environment Forum in June 2012, Williams shared his experience with the Hope Mine Project and his vision for the potential of biochar. He recalls his early conversations with ACES and USFS, and how the possibility of reclaiming the mine seemed as far-fetched as the first moon landing in the 1960s. He pondered at the time, “Could we do this, could we turn the biomass from the mountain pine beetle into this biochar and put it into this mine site and regrow it?”

    Given the triumphant restoration of the Hope Mine, the answer Williams, Cundiff, and their colleagues discovered … is a resounding “yes.”

    •  Read further about the Hope Mine Biochar Project and the work of ACES here.
    •  Watch an animated short film by ACES on forest health that includes biochar here.

    For related articles, see:
    Climate Change Affects National Park 
    Clean, Renewable Energy Could Power the U.S. by 2050
    Turning Trash Into Renewable Energy
    Restoring the Gulf Beyond Deepwater Horizon

    © 2013 SCGH, LLC.

    by Neila Columbo - January 29, 2013
  • Crowdfunding for Green

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    Companies seeking to expand or launch new projects have a tough time of it, particularly green-based companies. Sierra Club Green Home explores why more green entrepreneurs are turning to crowdfunding as a viable financial option to help them grow.

    Crowdfunding is a financial vehicle that helps entrepreneurs, start-ups, small businesses, and even musicians and artists to raise much needed funds by pitching their ideas directly to the general public via the internet and asking for pledges.  It lets them bypass the lengthy, often grueling process of seeking venture capitalists or “angels.” However, a crowdfunding campaign offers no guarantees. Success or failure rests on the efforts of the entrepreneur and the response from the public.

    Many crowdfunding websites have gained prominence over the past few years. Perhaps the best known are Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Launched in 2009, Kickstarter has seen over $250 million pledged to more than 24,000 creative projects backed by two million people. Projects encompass a panorama of topics and industries, covering innovative products, books, movies, technology, and much more.

    Kickstarter has helped to successfully fund green business campaigns including the WindowFarms Project—a vertical hydroponic “farm” that allows urban folks to grow fresh veggies year round in almost any window—and ANI (As Nature Intended) shoes—stylish, vegan, eco-friendly “Barefoot” shoes made with 100% organic canvas and recycled packaging. Examples of active green Kickstarter campaigns include the following projects:

    • Lean, Mean & Green—an exciting documentary focused on what residents of urban areas are doing to turn urban blight into something extraordinary and useful to their communities. This campaign closes December 9th, 2012.
    • Urban Air—a project to convert conventional advertising billboards in Los Angeles into above-ground living bamboo gardens. The campaign ends December 11th, 2012.

    Project organizers run everything on Kickstarter campaigns. They build their web page; shoot and upload pictures and video clips; set their minimum funding goal timelines (the “by when” the project must be funded or end); and  come up with tiered incentives to entice donor participation. From there, it’s all about promotion—casting as wide a net as possible to publicize their campaigns, create excitement, and elicit oodles of donations to turn the dream campaign into reality.

    An added benefit is Kickstarter’s focus on building a community around its projects/campaigns. Running a campaign is a way to connect with potential customers, build word-of-mouth, and generate enthusiasm about a forthcoming project.

    Yanna Sharifi, founder of ANI, was surprised at the number of people contacting ANI to sell the shoes in their stores after learning about ANI on Kickstarter. “I think being eco-friendly is a plus [with crowdfunding] and definitely helps,” said Sharifi.

    Like Kickstarter, Indiegogo provides a platform where passionate people with creative projects can tell their story to the public and inspire others to get involved. While Kickstarter campaign fundraising is “all or nothing,” Indiegogo takes a different approach. It offers two funding options: Flexible Funding and Fixed Funding.

    Both funding options charge four percent of monies raised when a campaign meets or surpasses its goal, but the entrepreneur can choose what happens should the campaign fall short: 1) Flexible Funding lets campaigns keep the money they’ve raised, but collects nine percent; or 2) Fixed Funding simply refunds the money back to the contributors, with no fees required.

    Some of the exciting green projects currently listed on Indiegogo include the following:

    • The GreenG Network—its first project will be to help eliminate invasive, allergy-causing forest species in Oklahoma and turn them into biobased chemicals and products. This campaign closes December 7th, 2012.
    • Tenderloin Vertical Garden—a project to transform a blank wall in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district into a thriving produce-filled green wall. This campaign, if successful, will increase green produce availability in an area of San Francisco which currently has limited access. The campaign closes January 6, 2013.

    Though not a crowdfunding platform, LivingSocial is a new venture launched in May 2012 that’s helping fund some green-related businesses. Mission Small BusinessSM, a partnership between Chase Bank and LivingSocial, funds individual grants of $250,000 each to twelve small businesses. To date, the grant program has awarded up to $3 million to small business owners nationwide.

    This funding program was designed “to increase awareness of the important role small businesses play in local communities and to help small businesses grow.” Companies and entrepreneurs submit applications, along with a 500 word essay detailing why their business is unique, a plan for how they’ll utilize the grant to grow their business, and how the business is involved with its community.

    In addition to receiving the grant, winners work with LivingSocial and its social media staff to design a LivingSocial promotion for their business.  This opportunity allows recipients to expand and/or grow their small business by adding locations, equipment, products, or distribution.

    The public votes for their favorite project via their Facebook, and winners must accrue at least 250 votes. Finalists in 2012’s inaugural competition were chosen by a distinguished panel of industry experts:

    • Steve Case, Chairman/CEO of American Online (AOL)
    • David Chavern, EVP & COO of  U.S. Chamber of Commerce
    • Jason Calacanis, Founder and CEO, Mahalo.com, a knowledge sharing web service
    • Candace Nelson, Founder, Sprinkles Cupcakes (the first nationwide cupcake bakery)
    • Tim O’Shaughnessy, CEO and Co-Founder, LivingSocial
    • Richard Quigley, President, Business Card and Innovation, Chase

    The winners of this funding competition were announced on August 21st, 2012. Among the 12 winners is EcoScraps, a Utah-based company that creates nutrient-enriched soil from recycled fruits and vegetables to grow healthy plants. Another green winner, PlanetReuse, is a consulting and brokering company that matches materials with designers, builders, and owners to serve LEED projects while cutting costs.

    “What led us to participate in the Chase-Living Social competition,” said Nathan Benjamin, PlanetReuse’s Principal + Founder, “was the opportunity to make reused materials simple, top-of-mind, and easy to access.”

    “If we could reuse 25 percent more construction and demolition materials that are currently headed for the landfill by the year 2020, and put those materials back to good use,” said Nathan, “it would be like salvaging sixty-eight Empire State Buildings each year!”

    These exciting platforms provide opportunities for green entrepreneurs to not only source much needed funding, but to also gauge consumer interest, build a brand, and expand their reach to make a difference. Success or failure primarily rests on how resourceful and connected they are. It’s real twenty-first century American-style innovation, and we’re definitely going to see more of it.

    For related article, see:
    ECOnomics — Creating Environmental Capital
    Sustainable Brands Save the Environment with Creativity
    Environmentalism and Innovation at Sierra Nevada Competition
    Eco-Entrepreneurs Inspire at Opportunity Green

     © 2012 SCGH, LLC.

    by Debra Atlas - December 03, 2012
  • Teaching Kids Environmentalism with Edible Schoolyards

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    By Kristina Anderson
    August 20, 2012

    SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA — In our grandparents’ time, it was common for anyone who had a little outdoor space to grow food. This was seen as very practical. In our time however, few of us can say we have ever made a salad from our garden, and many children grow up believing that food comes solely from grocery stores. We have lost the sense of self-sufficiency, and the simple pride that comes from the care and creation of the food we eat. This cultivation of food in a town or city is called “urban agriculture.”

    There are those who believe strongly that this process is one we must recapture, or our younger counterparts may feel the disconnect of our current system more acutely than the rest of us.

    “Children, no matter what their age, are more inclined to try new food and to experience food that they might not normally try or taste when they see the evolution of say, a piece of kale from seed to table,” says Erika Dimmler, director of the up and coming Edible Schoolyard in Sacramento.

    The concept of the Edible Schoolyard Project began sixteen years ago in Berkeley, California. It is a program that uses the process of growing food as a means of educating students.

    “I think when you can take some of those classes and integrate a garden component, they certainly can have more of an impact,” says Dimmler.

    Dimmler attributes the success of these methods not only to the plants themselves, but to the hands-on approach that they afford. Research on urban agriculture demonstrates that such programs foster improvements in the physical health, mental health, and scholastic performance of involved students.

    The new Edible Schoolyard in Sacramento will serve high schools, though similar projects have focused on middle or elementary school students. The program is being championed by Greenwise Joint Venture, a local effort assembled by the mayor of Sacramento that uses the help of community leaders and experts in order to shape a more ecologically sustainable environment and economy for its citizens.

    The details of the program’s location and start-date have not yet been finalized, but the residents of Sacramento along with Sierra Club Green Home anxiously await what promises to be a fantastic addition to local education.

    For related articles, see:
    Los Angeles Youth Plant Seeds of Sustainability and Social Justice 
    College Replaces Lawn With Environmental Sanctuary
    New Sustainable Gardens Take Root in Japan 

    © 2012 SCGH, LLC. All rights reserved.

    by Kristina Anderson - August 17, 2012
  • Slipping Sustainability Through The Back Door

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    Laguna Niguel, CA — America is going green, but not the way environmentalists had planned it. The unlikely hero is none other than Corporate America, which is giving consumers the green whether they realize it or not. Why? Because it’s good for the customer, it’s good business, and let’s face it, as MGM Senior Vice President of Environment and Energy Cindy Ortega articulates, “It is also good for employee morale and retention — people want to work for companies who care about the world around them.”

    Here’s a great example of this sales strategy as employed by The Home Depot: “Over 70 percent of the wood we now sell is certified. But you won’t find us advertising or promoting that fact,” said Ron Jarvis, senior vice president of Environmental Innovation for The Home Depot at its Atlanta headquarters. Jarvis was in Laguna Niguel recently to attend “Fortune Brainstorm Green,” a high level conference attended by many prominent green industry corporate and NGO executives.

    “Our data shows that most customers will not pay extra for sustainable wood, and in some cases, they consider “green” wood a negative. We believe that FSC wood is the best way to go for both quality and sustainability reasons, so, most of the wood we sell in developing countries is FSC certified. We do believe in educating our customers and employees about sustainability, but at the same time the voice of the customer is always our top priority. Thus including FSC wood without charging a price premium is the right thing to do, and thankfully, due to our enormous volume and purchasing power, we can make this equation work business-wise,” Jarvis explained.

    Jarvis’ competitors at Lowe’s also have a couple examples of this same premise. “There are multiple variations of a “green” consumer. In fact, according to the 2011 US LOHAS Consumers Trends poll, 83 percent of consumers identify with “green” at some level. However, the greenness of consumers changes with multiple factors, including the economy and available income, as well as age and generations,” said Michael Chenard, Director of Corporate Sustainability for Lowe’s at its Mooresville, NC headquarters. “Today, 100 percent of the bathroom faucets Lowe’s carries are WaterSense (low flow) certified, and that’s been the case for more than three years. Lowe’s also has more in-stock Energy Star-qualified appliances and lighting fixtures than any other major home improvement retailer.”

    Keeping with the theme of “going green through the back door,” shipping giant UPS is using sophisticated software and data to develop the cheapest, most fuel efficient way to move packages from point A to point B. These savings are passed along to the consumer, according to Scott Wicker, UPS’ chief sustainability officer at its Atlanta headquarters. Also in attendance at Fortune Brainstorm Green, Wicker said UPS is testing all types of fuel efficient vehicles in its massive fleet, including full electric, hybrid, compressed natural gas and liquefied natural gas, among others. Vehicles that operate out of central depots in large urban areas are the best prospect for going full greenfleet because of the range limitations of electric and other nascent technologies. “We also use telematics to monitor over 200 data points via satellite from our trucks, which helps us train the drivers in maximum fuel efficient driving techniques and ensure they are taking the shortest routes, not letting the engines idle excessively, among other factors,” Wicker said. Alas, out of over 100,000 vehicles, only about 2,600 are truly alt-fuel at this time. Wicker says that number will grow over time, but not surprisingly, cost will ultimately trump all other considerations.

    How about the clothes we wear? Levi’s is also employing the “going green through the back door” technique. “We are committed to the Better Cotton Initiative because we believe it can change the way cotton is grown around the world, positively impacting the environment and supporting 300 million people engaged in cotton farming around the world — without creating higher prices for consumers,” said Brianna Wolf, Manager of Environmental Sustainability at Levi Strauss & Co. “Last fall, we started blending the first Better Cotton harvest into Levi and Denizen products. To date, we’ve produced more than five million garments containing a Better Cotton blend.” However, you won’t find a label identifying clothing made with Better Cotton quite yet. “Participating brands are holding off on direct product labeling during this start-up phase, to allow supply to scale to meet demand. For now, we encourage consumers to learn more about Better Cotton and support brands who are integrating it into their product lines at bettercotton.org,” explained Wolf.

    And what about that all-important cup of morning Joe? While many consumers are frustrated by Starbucks’ lack of recyclable cups, the company does take good care of its key suppliers — the coffee growers toiling in the fields of faraway places. “When someone buys a cup of our coffee, they probably don’t know that the beans are produced with social, environmental and economic best practices in mind. Our C.A.F.E. Practices coffee-buying program includes rigorous sourcing standards covering: fair wages and benefits; access to medical care and education; specific high standards for conservation and biodiversity; amongst other criteria.” said Kelly Goodejohn, Director of Ethical Sourcing for Starbucks. “For the past ten years we have partnered with Conservation International on C.A.F.E. Practices. Currently, 84% of our coffee is ethically sourced through this model. By 2015, 100% of our coffee will be third party verified or certified, ensuring that all the coffee we purchase has been grown and processed responsibly.”

    Indeed, there are some case histories that bear out the thesis that mostly due to the economy, consumers simply have not embraced going green over the past several years. This is a bitter pill to swallow for green opinion leaders, but may explain why products like Clorox Green Works home cleaning products have gone straight up, then plunged back to earth with a resounding thud. Recall that Green Works was launched in 2008 with great fanfare, and zoomed to over $100 million in sales within two years. Inexplicably, sales started to drop off, and even a price reduction to parity with non-green competitive products could not revive Green Works. Adding insult to injury, general opinion of experts was that the Green Works products performed very well, and backed up the claims made by Clorox. This is worthy of mention because a number of green products have been rushed to market without proper testing, bringing a black eye to the movement when consumers felt snake bit by paying premium prices for products that did not live up to their hype.

    “In the past, consumers have felt that purchasing green products would require some form of sacrifice — spending more money or an inferior design. Today, that has changed,” declared Joel Babbit, CEO and co-founder of online daily green news magazine Mother Nature Network (MNN). “Not only have prices become more comparable — but the associated savings in lower energy bills, water usage, and using lesser quantities that come with green products often result in a cost advantage. On the design side — as opposed to the clunky or boring approach so common just a few years ago — many of the most innovative and attractive products now entering the market are green.”

    You can read more by Jennifer Schwab by following her blog, Inner Green.

    by Jennifer Schwab - August 15, 2012
  • Streaming Movies is Now Portable with mUVichip

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    By Debra Atlas
    August 15, 2012 

    Some of us remember VHS – those big plastic boxes we used to record and watch movies and our favorite TV shows on. Then came DVD’s and CD’s, which allowed for more portability and higher quality viewing, although there’s still a lot of plastic involved.

    At the recent Sierra Nevada Innovation Challenge, a small start-up company called Flixchip may well make those devices obsolete – and put a lot more fun in movie watching.

    Flixchip, launched in December 2011, has developed the mUVichip. The mUVichip is a patented, credit card sized device with a USB port, a simple connection that’s become the industry standard on any electronic device. mUVichip acts like localized Wi-Fi, allowing you to carry your movies with you in a pint-sized, convenient package and play them wherever you go.

    This is the first global, solid-state, movie and game distribution media that will allow consumers to enjoy their entertainment on almost any device – computers, mobile phones, iPad, Android tablets, TVs, etc. Packaged as a collectible card with high-quality graphics, its handy MagnaClick allows the user to snap the chip in place, then use and organize it without the need for DVDs, Blu-Ray drives or any additional equipment or disc storage boxes.

    Although this pocket-sized movie system is made of plastic, it does away with the outside plastic package, the whole bookstyle, snap-open container and the plastic disc associated with video viewing.

    “It’s a lot less plastic that has to be created,” said Greg Helland, FlixChip Corp.’s Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. “And you’re not throwing away the majority of plastic once you buy it!”

    Every great product is created as a solution to a problem and mUVichip arose out of just that. A perennial traveler, mUVichip’s founder, John Strisower, wanted to be able to have the convenience of watching movies on the go. With that in mind, he looked at the USB solid-state drive to be the movie delivery system of the future.

    His idea was to have a credit card carrier with a magnetic connection point, said Helland. Having this as a carrier with a mUVie chip would attract a wide audience. And it allowed Strisower to fulfill his desire to watch TV, movies or have games at his fingertips any time, anywhere – whether it was on a plane, in a car, or in a cabin where there’s no reception of any kind.

    mUVichips will give people more flexibility, says Helland. You’ll be able to take the mUVichip out of its credit card sized carrier, put it in your pocket and take it with you on the plane and have all your movies with you!

    Other larger companies have tried to have movies on USB, said Helland, but it was a technical solution – a piece of hardware you had a movie on. “It wasn’t a draw to consumers,” Helland said. But having it used as a collectable card was. “Everybody who’s had this chip in their hand with this collectable card has thought “Wow! This is awesome! It’s that ‘total cool!’ factor,” touts Helland.

    The beauty of the mUVichip is that it’s based around UltraViolet technology. Originally designed for online use as part of the Cloud, UltraViolet is streaming video that let’s you watch movies and TV shows wherever you go. This single file format with the UV format built into it was created by a consortium of many of the major movie studios, including Sony Pictures, Universal Studios, 20th Century Fox and Warner Home Video. At around this same time, Flixchip was looking at putting movies onto a USB drive. With their amazing timing, the company was able to piggyback its innovative technology with that of the movie studios.

    “It’s been wonderful,” said Helland. “Now we’re accelerating the acceptance of UltraViolet out in the world!”

    The fundamental issue that UV solves is that of download time. Downloading a standard 1.5 gigabyte HD movie is too big for most households to stream, said Helland. For most folks, that’s a full day process. Ninety percent of America doesn’t have the higher speed, he notes.

    Telecommunication companies see the value in this as well. With more people watching videos and streaming large amounts of data on their cellphones, phone companies are seeing the future going from unlimited plans to metered plans. Instead of losing revenue when customers shift to upgraded streaming services, the telecommunication companies can charge higher rates for metered plans instead.

    The mUVichip technology gets rid of that data usage barrier, Helland said. You can sit with your device, Android, computer, etc. and watch something as many times as you want. That makes it a perfect take-along for road trips with kids, for camping, houseboating, even on a cruise.

    “Just take a bunch of mUVichips with you and your device,” said Helland. “You can now have 150 mUVichips where you had 30 DVDs before. We’re giving (people) freedom on how to watch their movies. Any time, any place, on any device!”

    The company has two different products with the mUVichip: mUVifi and mUVifi +. mUVifi has a single movie chip (1 movie) that can go out to up to five people at a time, depending on the length of the movie. muvifi + has six ports, with six different chips in it. It can play six different movies at the same time and can stream to up to eight people at a time. They then can watch whichever movie, whenever they want, independently of each other. They’ll be able to start, pause, go backwards, forwards, or start at different times, even if they watch the same movie as someone else on the same card!

    Imagine taking muvifi + on your next car trip with your kids. “Everybody’s watching the movie they want to watch or playing the game they want to play and everybody’s having a good trip,” said Helland.

    In the fall of 2012, Flixchip will launch its mUVichip Kickstarter campaign. Those who participate in the campaign will be among the 1st to get titles on a Flixchip mUVichip. They’ll also get special edition mUVichips, Helland said.

    These colorful, card sized movie carriers will likely revolutionize the way we take our movies with us, just as the iPod did with our music. Priced comparably to a DVD, who wouldn’t want to have a couple of these in their pocket for their next trip?!


    For related articles, see:

    Netflix Subscribers See Red, But Video Streaming Is All Green  

    Environmentalism and Innovation at Sierra Nevada Competition

    Sundance Film Festival Highlights Best-In-Class Green Docs


    © 2011 SCGH, LLC.

    by Debra Atlas - August 15, 2012

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