When Wangari Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work founding the Greenbelt Movement, the word “pioneering” got thrown around a lot, and often applied to the Nobel laureate’s gender. Maathai was a pioneer, but not because she was woman: if anything, social entrepreneurship involves recognizing the value of activities often denigrated as “women’s work.” This year, the United Nations Environment Programme’s SEED Award continued this fallacy with its creation of a “gender equality” prize: just a quick look at the 34 other social enterprises it recognized with awards this year shows that when it comes to creating businesses around activities that value people and planet while creating a profit, women seem to “get it” much more often than their male counterparts.
I admit that I know very little about Uganda: Idi Amin (gathered largely from THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND) and news reports of the bizarre “Kill the Gays” bill pretty much sums it up. I learned a bit in January about efforts to protect their coffee crop from the effects of climate change, but still wouldn’t want take a test on the country. So perhaps my pleasant surprise at news of a growing organic agricultural movement in the country is just a sign of my ignorance, but it strikes me as a really positive development in a nation that has been torn by by political and social unrest for decades.
What’s the Hog Butcher of the World to do when it’s no longer butchering hogs? How about grow vegetables? That’s the concept behind The Plant, a planned vertical farm in Chicago’s Back of the Yard neighborhood (which is also home to Testa Produce’s new – and very green – distribution center). When complete, the 93,500 square foot facility will house aquaponic growing facilities, and even help sprout numerous sustainable food businesses.
In contrast to the above post title, the title of the Time article we just read is “A New Dating Site for People Who Can’t Have Sex.” These are two very different things: you can have sex without having intercourse (hello, oral, manual, frottage, etc.), but if you can’t have sex then that implies you can’t do anything sexual. We thought this new dating site, 2date4love, was for people who can’t or don’t want to have any (or much) sex, be it because of illness, faulty equipment, low libido, asexuality, age, past trauma, religious reasons or whatever. But it turns out the site is targeted at people who can’t have intercourse (says so right on the homepage).
Last week, sustainable business pioneer (and a personal hero of mine) Ray Anderson lost his battle with cancer. Founder and longtime CEO of Interface, Ray was a pioneer from the outset. A commercial flooring company, Interface brought the carpet square to the United States. At age sixty, after nearly two decades of success, Ray could’ve retired to a house on the golf course and lived out his golden years in luxury. Instead, after reading Paul Hawken’s “The Ecology of Commerce,” this established businessman had an epiphany (or, as he liked to call it, a “spear in the chest” moment): he had found success and made his fortune by plundering the Earth’s resources. Ray committed himself and his company to big, hairy, audacious goals concerning their environmental impact, and made amazing strides in an industry that’s traditionally been very resource and energy intensive.
Builders and architects have fallen in love with shipping containers and are using them to design and build everything from office buildings to prison space. It makes sense: they come in standard sizes (a bit like Legos), they’re sturdy, mobile, and readily available. This also makes shipping containers ideal for temporary developments, and a new open-air market in Brooklyn is putting that notion to the test.
On our kitchen counter, my wife has a set of glass jars designed for storing staples: flour, sugar, coffee, tea, etc. Of course, we have to buy the products that go into those jars at the store, empty them from their packaging, and then either recycle or trash whatever they came in.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could just take those jars to the store and fill them?
Green roofs are quickly becoming a standard for improving building energy efficiency and managing storm water run-off. Chicago became a green roofing hub during the Daley administration, and Toronto now mandates them for new buildings. But, unless a building owner has plans for a rooftop garden (and the care required for it), a green roof requires plants that can thrive under hot, dry, and sunny conditions. Farmer and management consultant Ed Snodgrass saw an opportunity here, and, in 2004, expanded his wholesale nursery into the green roof plants niche.
Vinyl, aka PVC, is everywhere… and, as we’ve noted before (and as the film BLUE VINYL argued), it’s pretty nasty stuff. The best thing we could do is to stop making and using it, and substitute more environmentally benign materials. Second best… make use of all that vinyl that often goes to landfills.
Bamboo’s been touted as the ultimate green material, both because of its quick ability to renew itself, and its durability. While the environmental aspects are complex, the tropical grass has become a favorite material for everything from building materials to fabric to bicycles. A team of riders set off on a cross-country journey yesterday to tout the material itself, as well as the economic potential of growing it in the United States… specifically, in Alabama.
As tornadoes have left wreckage across numerous parts of the US in recent months, a number of people are looking at all the debris left behind… and seeing opportunity. In Birmingham, Alabama, for instance, Southeast Renewables has set up station at the North Georgia landfill to sort our recyclable materials… a process that will make the company money, and save some for the city on disposal fees: the company claims it can recycle up to 80% of the tornado wreckage. In North Carolina’s Triangle area, individuals are the ones taking the initiative: local television station NBC-17 reported on a couple collecting scrap metal debris and taking it to a recycler… and making about $300 a day.
Did you know it’s International Compost Awareness Week? Yeah, just found out myself… but agree that composting is a topic worthy of celebration and education. Most of us probably associate the word with backyard bins and piles (or smells coming from the neighbors’ bins or piles), but it’s also turning into a big business… largely because both large waste haulers and smart entrepreneurs are recognizing not only the demand for this “black gold,” but also that the raw materials are available for free.
In the developed world, renewable energy technologies have to compete with existing infrastructure based on fossil fuels or nuclear power. In the developing world, however, power grids and centralized power stations are often in poor shape or non-existent, so technologies like solar and wind play on a much more level playing field. Cambodia’s grid was relatively primitive from the start, and decades of warfare have degraded it even further; as a result, over 11 million people have no access to it.
In this kind of setting, solar power often works as a safe, affordable means of providing the most basic electric “luxury”: lighting.
When William McDonough and Michael Braungart popularized the term “upcycling” in their 2002 book Cradle to Cradle, they were referring to industrial-scale recycling and production. The term, however, has really captured the imagination of the crafty community: you don’t need to browse Etsy for long before coming across handmade products crafted out of used materials of some kind. And St. Louis’ own Upcycle Exchange is just one example of an organization that’s popped up to serve this niche though collecting and distributing materials that the more creative among us see as the basis of something new, useful, and likely even beautiful.
Early last month, I got the opportunity to spend some time at Ecohub, a green-focused coworking space developed by old friend Yeves Perez and partners. Opened last Spring, Ecohub is thriving, and has served as home to 27 green businesses and “in-kind” partners since its launch.
It turns out that the concept itself is taking wings in SoCal: SignOn San Diego reported yesterday that many building owners are looking at coworking spaces as a way to make use of (and take rent from) otherwise unoccupied offices and suites. So far, six companies now offer shared space for budding entrepreneurs… and while not all green focused, you could argue that the coworking concept itself is quite green in the sense that it allows these tenants to share resources — from utilities to office machines to the existing buildings themselves — that they might otherwise procure on their own.
Thus far, car sharing services have looked a lot like traditional rental programs. Sure, there are a few key differences — cars located near potential drivers rather than the airport, membership models, etc. — but Zipcar and WeCar still provided cars they bought to customers for set time periods. In February, I took note of a different model — distributed or “peer-to-peer” car sharing — in which anyone who owned a car could rent it out to someone else. RelayRides was just getting off the ground on the East Coast, but legal changes in California may make the Golden State the place where distributed car sharing really takes off.
As the temperatures drop, you may be reaching for sweaters, jackets, and other garments made from some kind of wool… maybe lambswool, merino, or cashmere. If Julian Wilson and Aaron Pattillo have their way, yak wool may soon be a part of your cold weather fashion mix.
Wilson and Pattillo founded Khunu, a company that makes apparel from this unique material, in 2009. The two discovered yak wool while trekking on the Tibetan plateau, and recognized an opportunity both to introduce this soft, warm fiber to a larger market, and to create a business that supports the impoverished people of Tibet and Mongolia (their main sourcing areas). Launched as a social enterprise, the company purchases the wool at fair trade prices, and returns 2 percent of sales to the communities that supply the raw material.
Ecovillages don’t get a lot of press coverage, so you can probably be forgiven if you automatically associate them with EASY RIDER and the word “commune.” Those associations typically gloss over the diversity present in these communities (which continue to spring up), including their economic diversity. Nope, they’re not all socialist utopias… while sharing is a big part of almost any intentional community, entrepreneurship and commerce also figures into the equation in many cases.
“Deal-a-day” service Groupon has grown dramatically since it’s launch, so it’s no surprise that other entrepreneurs are figuring out ways to replicate this model. Today’s Vancouver Sun tells the story of one BC-based entrepreneur looking to ride the group buying wave… but with a decidedly green tint.
Colleges and universities are at the forefront of experimenting with transportation alternatives to drive and park: car sharing and bike sharing services are popping at campuses all over the US to provide greener transportation alternatives… as well as hold off on parking lot expansions.
When you hear the phrase “mission-driven business,” you likely think of a company dedicated exclusively to using commerce to address social and environmental problems. That’s definitely the case with A Cup of Organic, a coffee company and cafe based outside of Tampa, Florida. But the owners of this company take the word “mission” much more literally, too: all devout Christians, they devote a portion of their profits to funding missionary work.
If you’re looking for green t-shirts, you’ve got lots of choices: organic cotton, recycled materials, or even bamboo and hemp. To my knowledge, though, Alex Eaves’ Stay Vocal is the only company out there selling reused t-shirts. That’s right… buy one of his products, and it may be a shirt someone’s worn before… though it’s just as likely to be a shirt that a vendor would’ve have otherwise tossed if Stay Vocal hadn’t purchased it. The company puts its own marks on these shirts through a variety of means: patches that go over existing printing, printing on top of printing, or even turning the shirt inside out and adding design.
Bartering’s been around nearly as long as human beings themselves; in recent years, the concept has gained new attention with the advent of services like Freecycle, Bookcrossing, and Swapstyle. It’s a pretty green model, as people are usually swapping used goods… and, of course, it’s cheap.
From the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to the Gulf oil spill, you don’t have to look far for evidence of how heavily we pollute our oceans. The effects of this pollution are both environmental and economic: harming ocean life diminishes our capacity to make use of the many resources on which we rely provided by the planet’s ample blue spaces. Just take a look at some of the numbers from NOAA, National Geographic, and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute: