Saturday, March 31, 2007

Cork, Rubber, and Shoe Lace

For the first time in my life I stepped on to a floor made of Cork, a few days ago. Let me tell you this, I have never seen anything like it ever before. And as if love at first sight was not enough, I went to and office and there it was again, although in different color and finish.

Beautiful !!!

In just a week I saw and felt the advantages of a using a cork floor - already sold on it and going for it the next time I get the floors done. Here are a few benefits:

  • Sustainable Resource
  • Mold Resistant
  • Sound Absorbing
  • Heat/Cold Insulating
  • Anti Microbial

Another new development, which The Epoch Times reported, is the new state of the art sports club that the famious Canadian born and Phoenix Suns' basketball player Steve Nash is opening. This will open in Vancouver ( sometime in the summer of 2007. The club building itself will be designed aspiring Leeds Silver Certification, which is the top notch recognition for being green.

The reason I call the club state of the art, however, is for different reasons that what most of us are used to. The sweet part of the story was to read that the floors in this building will be made of recyled and sustainable material - Bamboo, Recycled Tyres, and Shoe Laces. Yes, you read it right - the area rugs will be made of reused shoelaces.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Child Labor in Canada

Yes, that's how unbelievable it was when I read the title of this post after I wrote it. There seems to be a mistake here. Child Labor in the developed West is not only outlawed but these countries also dedicate resources to stop this practice in other parts of the world, specially Asia. But let me tell you, it is not.

Gold Paved Roads
It is a not a secret that Canada's crude oil reserves are one of the largest in the world, only second to Saudi Arabia. One province in particular, Alberta, which is on the western frontier of Canada is the leader with an estimated 174 billion barrels of oil ( just in the Oil Sands (google for Oil Sands to learn more about it). This is such a big area of natural resources that the oil companies have been investing billions of dollars every year for the last few years in order to tap into the back gold rush. Approximately 100 billion dollars worth of investment is on the board for the next 5 years so that these companies can double and triple their production throughput to take advantage of the rising oil prices in the world and the developing geopolitics.

Long story short, the province of Alberta that has only 3 million residents, which are primarily centered in Edmonton and Calgary, is one of the fastest growing regions in North America. The situation is so bad that housing is a problem in Calgary and literally hundreds and thousands of workers have to be accomodated in mobile trailers by their companies, at times 6-8 to a trailer. There's T-cranes all over the downtown of Calgary reflecting the optimism, enthusiasm, and the sense of urgency for developing office and residential high rises, fast. Jobs are plenty and there's a shortage of labor specially in trades like carpentry, plumbing, electricals, etc. The euphoria in the area is running so high that there're myths far and wide that the street of Calgary are paved with gold. Calgary, at time seems to me a re-enactment of how San Francisco might have developed during and immediately after the gold rush of the mid 1800s.

Youth in the Labor Force
With a city that is growing leaps and bounds and where people are moving into from as far as Toronto and Texas arise the problems of supply and demand. Low birthrates and aging population is not helping either. There is so much demand for labor in this province that the government had to lower down the age limit of employment in the province of Alberta in 2005. Children, 12, 13, and 14 years old can now work in some trades, including restaurants. Youth unemployment rate is now the lowest in Canada, at 7.3%. Details of employment for persons under the age of 18 can be found at

Labor Law Violations
Adolescents in Alberta are allowed only in certain trades, during certain hours of the day and under the certain supervisory arrangements. This is to ensure that children are not exposed to hazardous conditions like heavy machinery and high heat apparatus like deep friers, etc. Special work permits are required by employers to hire adolescents. There is an extended list of codes that and regulations that on the first sight make it look like a very ingenuine way not only to solve short-term labor problems but also to build long-term capacity for the nation.

The provincial government's decision of lowering the age of employment to 12 years, although being done with good intention, is firing back. It is drawing a lot of flak lately from the local newspapers and other groups. Not a day goes by without editorials, or letters to editors, or other forms of open expression in public. It is not uncommon to over hear convesations, generally opposing the government decision to lower the age. The reason is quite obvious - while the laws are there the vigilance is missing. There's just not enough enforcement of the laws by the goverment. Employers don't apply for permits or don't follow the guidelines properly or at all sometimes. The results, as published in newspapers are horrendous. Children with frequent burns, longer than expected work hours during school time are not uncommon to hear of.

A big question now is - if this is not child labor, than what is? How is this different from young boys and girls working in shoe manufacturing companies in some Asian country? Should this be allowed to go on just because this is Canada? What would it take before proper enforcement is carried out - a death? What moral authority will the government of Canada have to police child labor in other countries? And, the biggest question of all - isn't this creating a environment where a lots of children will end up missing a chance to get proper education and ultimately end up in the workforce not fully qualified?

Friday, March 23, 2007

Wind Energy - A Substitute for Solar in the North

A good news to begin with - Wind power is the fastest growing segment of the renewable energy sources. :) Denmark generates 20% of its energy demands from wind power. Global wind energy capacity has sustained growth rates of over 25% (source: The Pembina Institute). And, Canada plans to generate 5% of its energy demands by 2010 from wind power.

For a few years now I had always wondered how the colder countries of the North like Canada, Sweden, Norway, etc. will be able to take advantage of solar energy. The reason is that both the availability of sunlight and the efficiency of solar panels go down drastically in those regions due to climatic conditions. I never realized that some of these countries are actually very lucky to have wind power like no where else in the world. Western Canada for example has abundant natural wind available year round that some of the hotter regions of north American doesn't have.

As expected of responsible corporations this energy source is now being invested and tapped into and being developed into a parallel revenue stream by some energy companies. Suncor, in Canada, has already been named as one of "10 Green Giants in Business" by Fortune magazine this year. It has invested in wind power for approximately 140 MW ( ) of power generation in Canada from wind power, although there was no mandate from any regulatory authority to do so. This is anticipated to reduce the CO2 emissions by 400,000 tonnes, half of which has already been achieved.

Here are three biggest advantages that a wind turbines and wind energy has:

  1. It has got very little footprint. Turbines can be installed in the rural areas and the land below them can still be used for farming.
  2. Energy partnership can be inked with the local farmers where the energy company promises the farmers a percentage of energy generated. This will not only ensure availability of land but also much needed power to the farmers, specially for irrigation.
  3. The cost of wind power or wind energy has come down to almost 4 cents per KWh, a decrease of 80% in the last 20 years.

Images are from Suncor website.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Rainbow Flower may not be Pointless Afterall

A few years ago when Wipro Technologies changed its logo to the rainbow flower (shown on the right) the first thing that popped in my mind was 'environment'. There was no reason other than getting on the green bandwagon, at least that I could think of, why Wipro would choose the logo it did. Its lighting business and the portfolio that also includes manufacturing services were convincing enough pointers back then.

Month turned into years and I never ever got to know the reason and rationale behind the rainbow sunflower. That was until I read Bangalore Tiger by Steve Hamm ( ). Turns out that there wes no green philosophy that prompted Wipro to change the logo. In fact, it was an image makeover by a Bengali painter, Shombit Sengupta to revive brand Wipro. Oh Well!

But as I read the book further on, it turned out that Wipro actually has an incredible record so far when it comes to caring for the environment. Here are a few facts I got from the book:

  1. Wiproites planted 174, 422 saplings along the shore of Bay of Bengal to help restore the coastline.
  2. Wipro has reduced water consumption by 60%.
  3. It reduced food waste by 38%.
  4. Energy consumption is reduced by 10%.
  5. Wipro grounds/lawns and toilets use recycled water.
  6. It harvests rainwater in its Bangalore campuses. In 2005 alone 12,000 kiloliters of water was collected, which was good to serve the facilities for 45 days.
  7. Wipro center in Gurgaon, India is certified as a platinum rated building, by the US Green Building Council, for its energy conservation features. There are only 10 other such buildings in the world.
Going the extra mile to reduce food waste, on Wipro's part, is really impressive that I had never heard of before. In 2001 Wiproites wasted 85 grams of food per person, which seemed excessive to Wipro. So, it started to sensitize its employees, measured waste weekly and published the numbers so that people can have a look at it and reduce their serving size. It seemed to have worked and now the waste is about 45 grams per person. What's even more impressive is that this waste is composted and is used to fertilize trees and shrubs on its grounds.
I am not sure if I can ask for anything else after efforts like these. The best part is that it is all coming from top down, something that will get emulated by the rank an file in everyday life. Good going, Wipro.
Images are from and

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Travel Mug is a Friendly Idea

Like millions of other human beings I too am a caffeine addict. But I try to restrict my intake just in the form of morning coffee. Well, that's actually how it started until I got hooked on to it. Now, I step inside my favourite coffee shop, wherever I can find it, about 3-4 times a day atleast if not more.

Recently, one morning I stopped for a coffee along with a colleague of mine when she actually went ahead and bought a travel mug. I asked her why and she said because she always uses one and prefers to get her coffee in her mug. Again, out of curiosity, I asked her if it tastes better in a mug. The answer was not quite what I had expected. I was waiting for her to say "yes" so that I get an excuse to buy one myself. They look cool, don't they? Sorry for the digression - but her answer was, "No". That's when I couldn't resist and asked her one more question, "Why would you spend $10 to get a mug when you can get it in a disposable cup?" Just as I was asking the question the obvious answer came to me. And that's exactly what she said. She didn't want to waste paper.

Alert and Thinking
Putting it all into context, I ran a few numbers quickly. My favorite coffee shop chain may be selling between 1.5 to 2.0 billion paper cups annually. That number in itself was mind boggling and big enough for me to become a convert. I am glad that the coffee company realized the impact it has on the environment. So they introduced 10% post-consumer recycled fiber in their cups and sleeves. The difference it made is substantial, which is highlighted in the figure on the right. Imagine a world where we don't have paper cups at all in just this coffee chain alone. It would:

  • Save atleast 780,00 trees from being felled,
  • Provide 6400 homes a total of 580 billion BTUs of energy,
  • Avoid 470 million gallons of wastewater, and
  • Prevent 30 million pounds of solid waste.
These are huge figures, that doesn't count the other big places where we as consumers waste paper getting out water and sodas in paper cups. Think about it the next time you are out to grab a cup of coffee. The environment may be safer with you buying a travel mug.

Did I just waste $10
So you just bought the idea because you want to have a little impact on the environment because of your coffee drinking habit. Well done, you say to yourself and head to get the $10 travel mug only to have a last minute revelation that you are actually getting robbed. That's what I thought too only until I did a little math.

Bringing in my own travel mug saves me about $0.10 cents everytime I buy a coffee. With my consuming pattern of 3-4 coffees a day, it'd be just a month of so before I break even and almost get a tavel mug for free. It's not a bad proposition, if you ask me. And let's not forget that I also contributed 100 less paper cups to the trash cans.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Save Energy in Offices

A few months ago I was browsing through my picture gallery and wondered why I took so many of them, late at night, not of people but of high rise buildings. That is because there's something about tall buildings, well lit from inside against the dark sky that fascinates me. That's when I started noticing that residential towers start to turn dark as the night progresses but corporate America almost never have their lights turned off. Look at the picture on the right, the bulding on the near right is an office that is lit when the two towers to the far left are starting to turn dark as the night progresses.

Just last week I was in an office space trying to turn the lights off so that a powerpoint presentation could be better visible. It turned out that there was no switch on that floor that'd do it. This was an 80 storey building and seeing the lights on late nights from outside on the street, I suspect that this is how most of the floors would be. Now I realize that it's not the hard working employees putting in long hours but the outdated and inefficient electrical systems designs and layouts that make the metro skylines beautiful at night.

Inefficient and Outdated Lighting Systems
What surprises me is that in this day and age these building engineers can't program their lighting systems efficiently and install intelligent sensors that would turn the lights off when no one's around. Imagine the benefits this could reap if high rise corporate America can take a few little steps. The power saved could be used to get the chillers ready for being used next day to cool the buildings, putting less load on the grid during peak temperature hours. Or it can be used to cool down the server farms that are now consuming more power than ever and growing at an astounding pace, around the globe. Most important of all, the money saved in electricity bills can be donated for charity, or to investments in alternative energy sources.
Image Polishing
It is not long before people like me along with other environmentally conscious, hopefully like some of you, will start to realize that the real belivers and caretakers of the environment are the ones who think and act genuine, who innovatively try to reduce the negative impact they have, and who take steps to conserve the precious resources we've got. It is or will be very obvious that no matter how much media you get on your side highlighting your getting on the environmental bandwagon, it'll all be seen as image polishing steps unless basic attitudes and habits are changed and demonstrated. Turning your offices dark at night can be your first step towards a greener world.

How can you Help?
So the question now is who can take steps to do something about it? It certainly should be the facilities managment staff of these big buildings. But even before them, it's people like you and I who can make a difference. Turn your office lights off when you leave for home. Shut down whatever you can before you leave for home, including monitors, TVs, table lamps. And spread these good habits around. Talk to your friends and co-workers and influence them to do the same.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Corn Hangers - Promotionally Challenged

A few weeks ago I wrote about Walmart's initiave to turn green. On my last trip to Walmart I wandered in the clothes' hanger section out of curiosity to see how the product range has varied since my last visit. To my surprise there wasn't much change. But it was good to see the corn hangers have a decent space for themselves, albeit a little lower than I had expected. Yes, they were in a row that was about at the knee height of a person of average height; a place where it was not quiet as noticeable as it it ought to be. Another thing that made it a little less attractive was the pricing. Can't blame Walmart entirely for it. At $3.xx for a set of 5 hangers it was about 3 times as expensive as the all plastic ones which were $0.99 for the same number. I guess, the technology is still expensive.

Missing from the Website
Another area of improvement is the placement of the product on the Walmart website. This product doesn't show up in the search result for Featured Items. I guess, it's the price that makes it a lesser candidate to show up on the site. At Walmart price is the biggest differentiator, afterall.

Made in the USA
All said, the sight of those was wonderful and pleasing. Specially, when I read "Made of 100% Corn", "100% Compostable" and the big and bold, "Grown and Made in the USA".
Walmart website image is from and the image is edited with the text box and text, "Where's the Corn Hangers, Mr. Green?".

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Nau Open - For Positive and Substantive Change

In a previous blog about Walmart's green intiative ( ) I had written about cloth hangers made out of corn. To take the concept a little further down and closer to your body today I am glad to write about clothes that are made out of corn.

Nau, an apparel business, has recently announced opening new stores in Boulder, Portland, Seattle, and Chicago. These stores, which will open by April 2007, will be the first for the company.

It has launched a line of clothing, both indoor and outdoor that is made out of corn and recycled soda bottles. Moreover, they have committed to contribute 5% of every sale from their point of sale process to an environmental, social, or humanitarian charitable organization, which are preselected. Every customer has an option at the time of purchase to select an organization of their choice to make their donations to.
It is impressive to know that Nau has an environmental inclination while designing material and clothes. They recommend line-drying, not ironing, avoiding dry cleaning, and a cold wash. Just think about how much energy and water we'll all save if we all followed these practices. Well, don't worry, if Nau gets popular, very soon it'll be a trend.
And just when you thought, 'what about after my clothes wear down', Nau is ready with the solution. They have an afterlife program for clothes. Give it back to them when you think you have worn it enough. They'll ensure that it doesn't end up in landfill somewhere. Slick, isn't it?
Image is from Nau's website.

Friday, March 02, 2007

DestiNY USA - Dream too Ambitious?

How often does it happen that people draw business plans and invest their time not just for material gains but for improving the world around them. Not very often. And that is because the road for common good is not as simple as the road for personal good. Sadly that's exactly what happened with the DestiNY USA project; the road was bumpier than expected.

DestiNY USA?
DestiNY USA? Yeah I know. I Had the same reaction the first time I heard of it. Name sounds like a philosophical offshoot out of a socio-economic research at some ivy league. Suprisingly, it is quite the opposite. It's a name that Robert Congel chose to name his 'monumental' gift to America. In concept, DestiNY is a huge theme park that will not only transform the local economy of the surrounding regions of Syracuse, NY but will also be a live example of eliminating dependence on fossil fuels and will drive innovation in areas of renewable energy, sustainable design, building systems, transportation, and lifestyle technologies.

Economic Transformation

  • 250,000 new jobs

  • $65 billion in new taxes generated over 30 years

Independence from Fossil Fuels

  • 100% fossil fuel free vehicles

  • 100% water reuse

Innovation Powerhouse

  • 3-D design and simulation for construction

  • R&D Park

Using these innovative techniques Bob Congel's dream is an 800 acre waterfront recreational theme park that has 6 million sq. ft. of glass covered paradise under it with 4000 hotel rooms.


Recently, the project has run into rough waters. On the one hand there are concerns about the genuinity of the intention behind the dream, while on the other there are doubts about the technical feasibility of the project. There is no such building in the world as of today and none of the mega-scale projects have dared to even claim being as green as DestiNY is promising. The kind of consumption pattern that this theme park will generate once it comes up is also a matter of concern to some. In particular, the gas people will burn to drive up to Syrasuse, NY from different parts of New England and eastern Canada and the upper mid-west including flying from different regions is not going well with the sceptics.

Meanwhile, it seems that Bob Congel has diverted his attention back to his original business - mall construction.

Feelings and Frustrations

It is sad to see such a good initiative, which had the potential to change the energy generation and consumption patterns of this country, come to a halt, which leaves me wondering how the people of Syracuse feel. What are there feelings and frustrations they have about this see-saw with a capitalist and the government?

The website of DestiNY USA is:

Images are from the DestiNY USA website above.