Earth Day Message: Take Meaningful Steps

Greg Galitzine : Green Blog
Greg Galitzine
| Helping environmentally-conscientious business leaders choose environmentally-friendly solutions.

Earth Day Message: Take Meaningful Steps

The Earth is our home, folks, and there isn't exactly another piece of real estate like it in the galactic neighborhood, so let's not try to make in uninhabitable by our own hands.

Here are some meaningful steps we can take:

* Go hosted. Buying and accessing centrally managed solutions uses less hardware hence less e-waste and are more energy-efficient than purchasing and installing separate units on premises. If for some reason you need on-premises computing then make sure you virtualize them to maximize utilization and minimize waste

* Repair, remodel, not replace. That goes for almost any product: from computers to cars, and to buildings

* Make and buy products for adaptability, earth-friendliness, and longevity. Go for timeless design, durability, and modularity rather than the latest and greatest with long-term lowest TCO (total cost of ownership) and total environmental impacts (TEI)

Here is one example of this: Subaru's array of cars and mini-SUVs (Yes, I own one, a 2001 Forester). Subaru's vehicles are more expensive than similar models from other manufacturers, and they don't grab headlines or blab PR for their environmental friendliness (though the firm's U.S. plant has gained attention). 

Yet the longevity and reliability of the Subaru line is unsurpassed. Mine has 150K on the clock: a senior in most makes but middle aged for a Subaru and treated right it can well last another 150K.

What does that mean for the environment? A Subaru that goes 300K before being 'cremated' in electric furnaces, melted to scrap will have a lower TCO and TEI than more fuel-efficient than hybrids that less 2/3rds as long or less.

* Don't drive if you can walk or ride. That goes for the ludicrous practice of driving children to nearby schools. The safety risks from vehicle accidents--and the harm both from added pollution and obesity--outweighs any perceived security issues.

Sorry but I grew up in the suburbs of a midsized Midwestern city that was not exactly Mayberry, and I walked to school. So did my wife who lived in rough-and-tumble working class neighborhoods and housing projects in New York City. As much as you love your kids you can't moddlycoddle them. They've got to learn how to cope in the real world. Unfortunately many of them don't and have become real headaches for employers who hire and soon fire them. That's one reason why contact center turnover is so high...

* Be sparing in your travel. Conference rather than take business trips, take the train, bus, or in coastal areas, the ferry rather than fly for short-distances. If you must fly use mass transit, shuttle buses, and shared-ride vans rather than rental cars and taxis.

Speaking of which two new airport-to-downtown rail lines open this year, both in the Pacific Northwest, in Seattle, Wash. and Vancouver, B.C., Canada.  Both services will be a welcome alternative to the notoriously crowded highways in the region. Taking them means less chance of missing one's flight...

* Work from home for you and your staff. No more commuting. 

AT&T found that a full-time teleworker who would have normally driven 15 miles round trip per day in a car getting 20 mpg would prevent the release of 3,680 lbs of carbon dioxide (CO2), a key source of greenhouse gases, per year. The Canadian Telework Association reports that if 1 million Canadians work from home 1 day each week, in a year, Canada would save some 550 million pounds of CO2, 26 million gallons of fuel, and 480 million miles--and wear and tear on publicly-funded highways and streets. 

Nortel is one of a growing number of firms that does just that, utilizing the firm's fine and proven technologies. As reported by TMC's Michaen Dinan, Nortel has about 11 percent of its own workforce teleworking, which the company estimates will save about $9,000 in real estate and associated energy costs per teleworking employee, and save an estimated 3.4 million gallons of fuel and 1.9 million hours in commute time per year.

* When you do go home reuse existing space to minimize the TEI. Don't add on to your house or buy a new-build unless it is on an existing pre-developed peace of land.

* If you need an office, locate in existing buildings, ones built on brownfield sites, and all with excellent mass transit access including sidewalks. And when selecting a home, do likewise. 

Don't locate your business or home in 'greenfield' i.e. sprawl developments no matter how 'green' the structures are...for the added damage in more people driving to work and more driving, period, plus the loss of open space far outweigh the 'green' or greenwash gains of being in such buildings.

Low-density urban sprawl is an environmental cancer. It destroys the health like pincers in two ways: by ruining life-renewing greenspace, including food supply and by propagating car dependency.

For example the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and Natural Resources Canada estimated that households living in low-density sprawl emit about 26,000 lbs of CO2 each year compared with just 7,700 lbs for those living in neo-traditional inner area compact development housing

There's a whole host of other ills--literally--connected with sprawl.

--A study in The American Journal of Health Promotion and the American Journal of Public Health reported that Americans living in sprawling developments are 6 lbs heavier and are at greater risk for diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.

--A research review by the Ontario College of Family Physicians demonstrated that suburban areas have a higher incidence of cardiovascular and lung diseases including asthma in children, cancer, obesity, diabetes, traffic injuries and deaths. The report concluded that air pollution, gridlock, added traffic accidents, lack of physical activity, and negative social impacts such as road rage, lead to a variety of these health problems.

Don't believe the nonsense from the development community that sprawl is a matter of free market choice. It isn't. Not with taxpayer subsidies such as for highways and mortgages, and for environmental costs that distort the marketplace. Here is some evidence of the above:

-- "The Fiscal Cost of Sprawl: How Sprawl Contributes to Local Governments' Budget Woes" by the Environment Colorado Research and Policy Center, Colorado State University, published 2003 reports that $1 in revenues from sprawl is outweighed by $1.65 in additional service expenditures

--The C.D. Howe Institute in Canada calculated that sprawl would cost the Toronto area $55 billion, plus $14 billion in operating expenditures over the next 25 years, compared $42.8 billion (or 22%) less. The savings amount to $1 billion/year from capital, maintenance, and including $200 million related to air pollution, health care, and the policing associated with automobile accidents

--The David Suzuki Foundation has quantified the annual losses: in erosion control, wildlife habitat, water quality from sprawl. These range from $12,000 per hectare ($5,000 per acre) for farmland to as high as $30,000 per hectare ($12,300 per acre) for wetlands

Don't believe the whines from the construction/highway lobby about the need to repair infrastructure and relieve congestion with more roads. Those claims are a crock. There are an overwhelming number of studies demonstrating that more roads lead to more sprawl.

--The Surface Transportation Policy Project (STPP) 1999 reported that between 1982 and 1997, metro areas that were aggressive in expanding the amount of road space per person fared no better in terms of rush-hour congestion than those that did the least to add new road space; in fact, they did slightly worse. This, it said, is due in part to induced travel. 

STPP found that every 10% increase in the highway network results in a 5.3% increase in the amount of driving, over and above any increases caused by population growth or other factors. In addition, road-building has not been an effective congestion-fighting measure: the metro areas that added the most highway space per person have seen congestion levels rise at a slightly higher rate than areas that added few roads per resident.

--"Analysis of Metropolitan Highway Capacity and the Growth in Vehicle Miles of Travel", published in 2000 and authored by Robert Noland, University of London Center for Transport Studies and William A. Cowart, ICF Consulting in Fairfax, VA., concluded:

"In addition the impact of lane mile additions on VMT [vehicle-miles traveled] growth appears to be greater in urbanized areas with larger percent increases in total capacity. This may be evidence for a strong sprawl inducing impact of large increases in lane mile capacity relative to the existing infrastructure."

Jack Shafer in Slate wrote a great article on this titled 'Infrastructure Madness'. In it he said "The scary-sounding phrases structurally deficient and functionally obsolete combined with those big numbers are enough to make you bite your nails bloody every time you drive over a river or beneath an underpass. Yet if any of the cited pieces paused to define either inspection term, you'd come away from the alarmist stories with a yawn. 

As a 2006 report by U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration puts it, structural deficiencies are characterized by deteriorated conditions of significant bridge elements and reduced load carrying capacity. Functional obsolescence is a function of the geometrics of the bridge not meeting current design standards. Neither type of deficiency indicates that the bridge is unsafe. [Emphasis added.]"

And yes don't believe the greenwash about 'green' vehicles. There's no such animal no matter how they are fueled. 'Green' cars and trucks demand and chew up asphalt that require construction and repair from, and which destroy open space: a 2-track rail line can carry 8 times as much goods and people as 2 lanes of highway on the same footprint.

Don't believe the claims that sprawls and roads are essential to create jobs in a tough economy. That's another load of hooey too. You can argue that you can create more and lasting economic impacts--with much fewer downsides--by investing in rural broadband, mass transit, high-speed rail, education, and healthcare. And by encouraging people and businesses to remodel, not replace, and build only on brownfields and by transit stations.

One wishes that the construction companies and developer get with the program because there is work available in a green environment. There is money to be made in rebuilding/remodeling and in building on brownfields and at transit stations, in cleanup, and in fixing up roads that truly need it, and in transportation alternatives. Money that is renewable too as these investments will decay, become obsolete, and need upgrading.

Finally: fight for your home, your planet. If a developer wants to turn your local swamp into a mall or a planner wants to rip out some trees for a widened road demand that they pay the total price for the destruction and for the added costs you and your offspring have to pay. If they 'greenwash' by promising 'green buildings' call them on it. No more free rides to our demise.

Also query candidates on environmental issues and hold them accountable. Look into and question where they get their campaign contributions from. Who are they working for: you or those who line their pockets?

Lastly consider joining or at least financially contributing to your local community association as well as established reputable organizations such as the Sierra Club and likeminded specialized groups such as the National Association of Railroad Passengers.

Think globally...act, well...



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