Friday, June 27, 2008
It’s a challenging proposition – think about all those iced lattes you have in the summer, the “to go” containers you frequently carry home with you from different restaurants, and the sheer number of items in your household that contain at least some plastic.
This is a great example of a place where small changes are the way to go. If you’re one of the people aiming to eliminate plastic from your life, start small. LifeWithoutPlastic.com has a lot of great plastic-free products that they offer as alternatives to traditional plastic-filled products.
In addition, their website also features a section called “Facts on Plastic” that discusses the health risks associated with plastic and also provides a lot of detail on what all the different resin codes on the bottom of plastic containers mean for the average consumer. Beyond that, they provide tips for living a more plastic-free life if you are interested.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Originally, what I was going to write about was how malware (viruses, botnets and spyware) can infect huge numbers of computers and turn them, often unbeknownst to their owners, into power-eating zombies – carrying out compute-intensive tasks, sending huge amounts of spam, and otherwise just wasting a lot of CPU cycles and thus energy. With some sources [1,2] pegging botnet sizes at an average of roughly 20,000 computers (with many examples of significantly larger botnets), the aggregate annual global energy waste generated by malware could reasonably be estimated to be in the tens of millions of kilowatt-hours or more. In reality, malware is a real and growing ecological threat and financial drain – it’s a grim scene, and one few people are talking about.
But there’s a bit more to the story than just going on the offensive and trying to put an end to malware, as many out there are nobly endeavoring to do. There’s really, effectively, an arms race going on between anti-malware software vendors and malware creators. With each innovation in anti-malware technology, malware creators find a new way to sneak in and exploit some new flaw or technique. As anti-malware technology evolves, it’s worth considering how much extra processing overhead computers and servers must now carry out in order to ensure that data being exchanged is “safe”.
While there will likely always be millions of PCs that will live out their entire natural service lives as energy-sucking zombies without a lick of malware protection, those other computers and devices that do have anti-malware software are also consuming more power than they theoretically should need to (e.g. by having to continuously scan incoming files, memory, the registry, etc.) – simply as the cost of doing business in today’s world. While anti-malware software is incredibly sophisticated, and most of the high-quality products out there are very well-implemented and as courteous and efficient as possible, this still does not take away from the fact that the malware arms race has a real cost in terms of extra energy consumption. I’m not sure how exactly one would quantify the energy cost of this arms race, but it certainly would be interesting (and depressing) to have that data in order to consider the true carbon footprint of the global malware battle.
So what do we do from here? Aside from continuing to research and implement many of the incredibly smart (and respectful and non-invasive) anti-malware solutions at higher levels than just individual clients (e.g. at the network-level), an easy thing we all can do is to simply make sure we power-down or put to sleep our computers when they’re not in use. Of course, we offer the SURVEYOR product here at Verdiem for larger organizations to help reduce power consumption, but individual users can also do their part by taking five minutes or less to ensure that their PC power management is enabled and configured to put their computer to sleep during idle times.
When an idle computer is powered off or sleeping, it has a vastly smaller surface area needlessly exposed to invading malware. Aside from the obvious energy savings of effective power management, that computer also becomes one less player in the hidden global ecological threat that is the malware arms race. That’s something I think we can all feel good about.
 M. Abu Rajab, J. Zarfoss, F. Monrose, and A. Terzis. My botnet is bigger than yours (maybe, better than yours): why size estimates remain challenging. In Proceedings of the first annual workshop on hot topics in botnets, March 2007.
At a time when the kids are out of school and our vacations are under way, it behooves us to keep focused on trying to live more sustainable lifestyles. We've got a few suggestions for ways to do that:
Summer Tip #1: Summer is all about getting outside and exploring. This year, think about skipping the annual road trip and travelling by train instead.
Summer Tip #2: Save money! Figure out ways where you can cut energy costs to save money at home. Turning off lights/computers/appliances at home and walking or bussing instead of driving are some easy ways to save some cash that can then be applied to more interesting activities.
Summer Tip #3: If your kids are staying home with you, now might be a good time to spend learning about ways to be more environmentally-friendly. You can even turn it into a game - offering prizes for remembering to recycle, taking public transportation or dropping energy usage. Remember to keep it simple and don't expect too much right away.
We hope you enjoy your summer!
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Start the Green Team. Create a task force of representatives from various parts of the organization to meet regularly to discuss, prioritize and implement organization-wide sustainability initiatives. Think twice about staffing this team with executives. Find the people most passionate about sustainability – those who will most actively mobilize and empower their respective organizations to participate fully in identifying organization-wide opportunities to reduce waste and environmental impact.
Focus on problems and solutions. Many cross-functional groups (no matter what the topic or charter) spend too much time discussing the problems, and not enough time identifying or discovering solutions. Build a set of ground rules for your Green Team, one of which is that problems cannot be discussed or presented beyond the team unless solutions are also provided. It’s OK if those solutions haven’t yet been researched or fully vetted, but it’s important to create a team that’s focused on action and progress, not just opportunity identification.
Make idea solicitation easy. Members of the Green Team are mere facilitators and representatives of their organizations. Create tools and processes where employees throughout the organization are encouraged to identify and submit opportunities for consideration. Make it easy and fun to be part of the process.
Find low-hanging fruit. Start with what’s easy, both to gain momentum and to show quick progress. There’s no better way to ignite the passion and creativity of a wider audience of employees than to show quick momentum and success from your sustainability efforts. No opportunity is too small as long as the effect is positive and measurable.
Reward the heroes! This may be the most important part of creating an ongoing, fun, and productive sustainability focus throughout the organization. Reward and recognize your heroes. Give them something for their desks, and recognition from company leadership. Associate them with the idea and initiative from start to finish, and ongoing if necessary. Will one of your employees be responsible for $35 million in global energy savings someday? Maybe…
And don’t forget to get your customers to become heroes too. Great ideas for your organization and brand – inside and out – don’t just come from employees. Starbucks is the latest company to directly engage customers in idea generation. (Click here to read more about their initiatives and innovations, and how they’re making their own customers into innovation heroes.)
This is a mere start to what’s possible. Now let’s do as we say, and start the interaction. In the comments section below, share a bit about your organization’s opportunity. What can you do – starting today – to encourage employees and customers throughout your organizational ecosystem to become Green Heroes? What one thing will you do before the end of the day today to get things started?
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Setting ambitious goals is one thing, achieving them in a measurable way is another.
Deb Horvath at Washington Mutual, by the way, is a hero. According to CIO Magazine, her organization is set to save more than $3 million dollars a year by implementing green IT policies organization wide.
Ron Spalter is also a hero. The deputy COO for City University of New York (CUNY) organized the individual IT departments for more than 15 CUNY campuses to cut their IT power consumption by more than $3 million over five years (PDF), putting hundreds of thousands of dollars back into their pockets each year.
But for every C-level executive who’s taken a leadership and early adopter position on identifying and executing sustainable initiatives internally and externally for their organizations, there are dozens of regular people – like you and I – with sustainable ideas, inspiration and ambition.
I see this every day at Verdiem.com. The vast majority of interest we get in green IT solutions is from individual employees throughout organizations – mostly from IT, but elsewhere in the company as well.
My favorite was the HR manager from a large Midwest-based company who was passionate about helping make her company more sustainable, and also knew that tangible “green” results would help with both employee morale and recruiting.
She was just one example of countless employees throughout your organization who just may hold the secret to true environmental progress and sustainable results – for your products, your processes, your customers and your brand.
And the beautiful thing about individual ideas and initiatives is that their true impact is rarely confined to the pure task at hand.
Forrester Research recently talked about the idea of Green IT Heroes in an attempt to inspire IT professionals to think well beyond the traditional IT boundaries in terms of the sustainability impact they could have on their organization.
Sure, IT groups can directly impact things like equipment lifecycle management, energy consumption and more.
But IT can also impact telecommuting options. By partnering with the HR group, IT can create and implement secure remote-access options that make telecommuting a more meaningful, seamless and productive option for more employees.
By proposing and initiating ideas like this, says Forrester, IT can be an even greater Green Hero in the organization.
And those ideas clearly don’t need to originate from the CIO. They can start anywhere in the organization, as long as that individual has both the passion and the opportunity to share.
We tend to think of our heroes as greater than ourselves - representing feats, achievements and ideals we ourselves aspire to. But many of the best ideas start with us. Regular people, inspired to extraordinary achievements. In your organization, do all of the best ideas come from the CEO? Or do they originate all across the organization?
I thought so.
Take my company, for example. Verdiem tackles the problem of IT energy waste, and has developed technology to cut PC-related power bills by up to 60%, saving some companies millions of dollars on their power bill each year. The idea came not from an MBA, or a venture capital-backed think tank, but from an individual employee of Washington County, Ore.
She left work one night and noticed that all of the computers in her office were still on, fully powered. They would likely stay on all night, she thought, for the next 14 hours or so, until everyone came back into work.
She knew that this happened every night, at offices across the country (and the globe), and it bothered her. She shared her concern with her husband that night, and it bothered him too. As a software engineer, he knew that software could likely be applied to this problem to ensure that power wasn’t wasted when computers were inactive, in a way that didn’t add any additional burden or productivity loss for users.
That’s how SURVEYOR was born. Seven years later, SURVEYOR has saved organizations more than $35 million dollars on their energy bills (and growing), and has been responsible for cutting hundreds of thousands of tons of PC-related CO2 emissions from entering the atmosphere.
That employee from Washington County is a hero. Her spark is responsible for an incredible amount of cost and carbon savings worldwide.
Friday, June 20, 2008
Specifically, the report notes that investment decisions and operational improvements associated with adopting sustainable practices could be responsible for the higher margins.
Click here to read the whole story on Environmental Leader.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
One area that is often overlooked in the software industry is the “social cost” of building and improving software. While most of us who work as software developers spend most of our time figuring out the coolest new features to add, and how to delight our customers to no end, we don’t often sit down and think about what all this extra code means to the world around us. In particular, is what we’re adding actually useful? Are the CPU cycles taken to execute that code repeatedly (and, if you’re truly successful, on millions upon millions of computers worldwide) really necessary?
We’re all familiar with one form or another of performance work in software – setting goals for what is considered “reasonable” for latency and throughput for a particular set of operations. But what if we take this optimization process a step further and apply a second filter of ecological prudence to the mix?
Say, for example, you have a hypothetical program that distributes some large collection of data to all of its clients. Rather than sort the data on the server side, you instead leave the sorting to the clients. While in theory this isn’t a huge deal, let’s also say that this process is repeated hundreds of times a day to tens of thousands of clients. So, what starts out as a minor (and probably trivial) design decision can actually begin to add up to a lot of extraneous CPU cycles spread out over tens of thousands of machines – meaning lots and lots of watt-hours of electricity being chewed up needlessly every day.
Chances are your perf tests won’t hiccup over such a design choice, but the difference in aggregate power consumption between approaches (one where the sort is performed a single time on the server versus n-times on each client) couldn’t be greater.
Now, this isn’t to say that we all need to go and re-think every piece of software ever written – that would be absurd and probably impossible. But, something that we should accustom ourselves to doing, as designers and implementers of software systems, is to think about how our system designs consume power at scale. Are there places where large computations are being performed repeatedly and redundantly? The example of pre-sorting data before sending it to clients is an obvious oversimplification – but in many systems, similar “waste patterns” can emerge.
After spending a number of years building software that ran on millions of computers, I became acutely aware of how many instances of waste patterns actually exist out there. While you could do what I ended up doing (taking a job at Verdiem where I could build software that actively reduces energy consumption), a less severe approach is to simply embrace waste-conscious design practices (many of us are already doing this, often unknowingly).
As you find these waste patterns in your designs, take note of them – share them with your colleagues, write about them in your blog, etc. - and tell the world what you did to reduce waste and why it really can matter (and, more often than not, why getting rid of that pattern didn’t end up tanking performance or killing your software’s functionality). Indeed, as more and more developers become aware of and embrace waste-conscious design practices, the aggregate energy savings will also multiply – less pollution, fewer new power plants, lower energy costs – once again, helping to reduce the hidden “social cost” of building software.
Ironically, I read this article shortly after I picked up National Geographic’s “Green Guide” magazine, one in a series of publications produced by top tier media corporations tailored at those interested in living a more sustainable lifestyle and understanding some of the key issues involved.
While scientists are nearly all in agreement regarding the existence of global warming, it seems consumers are reaching a level of information overload regarding “green living,” and sometimes this information is not all complementary.
In closing the article, Williams highlighted a couple organizations who have specifically tried to simplify the process for consumers, pointing to the Natural Resources Defense Council’s website www.simplesteps.org, where users can choose the depth of information they receive. In addition, Williams cited Greenpeace’s new strategy to help people to better understand environmental concerns through combining them all under the umbrella of climate change instead of separating them into distinct categories.
We’d like to hear from you - what organizations do you find produce the most consistent and helpful sustainability information?
Verdiem Wins Microsoft Partner Award in ISV/Software Solutions, Innovation Partner of the Year Category!
Click here for more information. To see all of the winners and finalists, you can see Microsoft’s press release here.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Friday, June 6, 2008
He offered some fascinating stats related to bottled water I wanted to share here.
According to Clorox’s research, 60 million water bottles are thrown away every day in the
Clorox sells the Brita water pitchers and filters, which is why these statistics are important to them. According to Clorox, the Brita filter can replace 300 standard 16.9 oz plastic water bottles. That’s over 15 pounds of plastic saved, not to mention shipping costs and associated carbon emissions with getting bottled waters from plants to retailers to our homes and businesses.
The opportunities to lessen our environmental impact, literally all around us, are staggering.
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
Andrew Winston, co-author of the fantastic book Green to Gold, started the day this morning at Sustainable Brands 2008 with a quick update on green marketing and innovations across various industries. What struck me most from his comments were the innovations that were neither complicated nor still in development.
Two quick examples:
If you watch UPS trucks and vans delivering packages around your area, you will notice they no longer make left-hand turns. UPS trucks now only make right-hand turns, even if it takes a little longer to get there.
Why? Left-hand turns mean sitting at red lights far more often, which means idling, which means wasting gas. By only taking right-hand turns, UPS is cutting their gas consumption (and gas budget) significantly.
No traditional cleaning products, no chemicals. Just tap water.
They’re doing this by ionizing the water to separate the acid from the base, then applying it to the floor in two separate parts. As the two re-form on the floor back into tap water, the re-ionization process picks up the dirt. Early reports from facilities managers say that the tap water approach is actually doing a better job of cleaning floors than the chemicals and other cleaning supplies they’d been using before.
According to Winston, ionizing water has been used to clean wounds in hospitals for several years. Someone recently thought that technology might work on the hospital floor, thus an innovation was born.
Today, I live in the city and work in the city. There is a bus that stops literally right in front of my house and drops me off a block from work, so I take it everyday. As I was riding the #12 downtown this morning, I noticed the latest gas prices. $4.25 for Regular, $4.45 for Premium. Yikes.
And I wonder, how many daily commuters are now turning to King Country Metro and similar public transportation organizations across the country? It seems that some of the people who drive long distances every day are now wondering if they can justify the additional costs to fill up.
A recent Associated Press article highlighted this very idea, with the following statistics demonstrating a substantial shift in commuting patterns:
“Among the cities registering big increases in the first quarter were Baltimore, where light rail ridership was up 17 percent from the same period a year ago; Seattle, which saw a 28 percent jump in commuter rail passengers; Boston, where subway ridership rose 9 percent; and San Antonio, where the number of bus riders climbed 11 percent…
…Meanwhile, the number of miles driven on American roads fell slightly last year — from 3.014 trillion to 3.003 trillion, according to the Federal Highway Administration. It was the first time since 1980 that the figure had not increased. The drop has continued this year.”
While public transportation won’t suit everyone’s needs, it certainly seems to be gaining popularity as the alternative becomes less and less financially viable for many commuters.
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
I had lunch today with a recent graduate of the Boston Architectural College, who has been studying the topic of sustainability in sports. His central area of interest wasn’t necessarily to learn what professional sports organizations are doing to green their own operations, but how sports could be the single greatest accelerator of sustainability awareness, momentum and engagement among mainstream consumers.
Sports, perhaps more than any other topic in mainstream
The opportunity tactically for sports to accelerate green awareness doesn’t just lie with the teams themselves, but also their participating athletes. It’s one thing for the Los Angeles Lakers to go green. It’s another level entirely if Kobe Bryant does it, and both explicitly and implicitly drives his fans to follow him.
Are any of your local professional sports organizations already “going green”? If so, how are they doing it, and what impact has that already had on fans? Please share in the comments below!
Sustainable products and brands aren’t just about creation and consumption. They’re also about having a sustainable strategy for disposal. And that end-game isn’t always well thought out today even with sustainable products.
At the Sustainable Brands conference last night, Leonard Robinson from the California EPA commented that the patent approval process for new products should require an analysis of the entire lifecycle of the product, including how it will be disposed of. His comment generated the only spontaneous, mid-speech round of applause of the night.
The fluorescent, spiral-shaped lights we’ve been buying at the hardware store lately? They contain mercury, and must be recycled. But few consumers know this, nor do they have a clear means and location to do that recycling. Subsequently, those mercury-filled light bulbs are being added to our landfills.
Apple’s iPod has been considered a strong green product, since it essentially eliminates the need for CDs and all of their packaging. But what happens to the iPod itself when we’re done with it? When we’ve moved onto the latest model, how can previous iPod models be recycled, re-used or repurposed?
Many companies, such as Keen, are thinking through the entire lifecycle of their products already, and communicating that to their customers. Other brands are directly or indirectly (through government programs) working on take-back programs so that more and more products can be adequately recycled or safely disposed of.
Today’s green products are gaining momentum and market share due to their improved footprint and impact at the front end. But as those products make their way through their use cycle, consumer awareness of the end-game will increase. Brands will do well to think through that element of the lifecycle now.
More than 500 brand marketers, agencies and green marketing specialists are in
While the ranks of early adopters in the sustainability movement are growing, and the volume of interest at an individual level also grows daily, that interest still pales to our collective focus on other national issues.
Yes, we’re worried about the environment, but not yet enough. Not enough to make it a national priority, and not enough to take collective action at a meaningful scale.
The critical mass of worry and action is still largely focused on the coasts. The West Coast, and
But the Midwest – where energy prices are almost half what they are in
Products like the G Diaper may lead the way. It’s something every parent needs, it’s still disposable, but it’s also flushable. It’s biodegradable through our existing waste management systems, vs. sitting in landfills.
It’s continued innovations like this that will take sustainability from early adopters all the way to Peoria.
It’s clear in talking to many companies here in Monterey this week that sustainability is still largely being driven by marketing objectives – be it PR, competitive differentiation, or simply aligning with growing consumer awareness and activism.
But for others, sustainability has become profitable. Either by tangibly increasing sales or market share, or by cutting costs, brands nationwide are using green to make green.
Some examples heard at Sustainable Brands 2008 this week:
- Staples has retrofitted all of its distribution trucks so that they cannot drive faster than 60 miles per hour. This not only makes the trucks safer (think lower insurance premiums) but also increases their fuel efficiency by 15 percent. Staples is saving 500,000 gallons of diesel fuel a year this way.
- Stonyfield Farm was one of the first yogurt makers to move from hard plastic lids to foil tops, saving $1,000,000 a year in the process (not to mention reducing the plastic needed for packaging)
- More than 55 percent of employees at Sun Microsystems telecommute at least half of the time. While they couldn’t cite specific figures, Sun says this has reduced operating costs for the company significantly (while also decreasing employee commute time and measurably increasing job satisfaction)
How is your organization using sustainability initiatives to make money or save money?
(1) to establish the core of a Federal program that will reduce United States greenhouse gas emissions substantially enough between 2007 and 2050 to avert the catastrophic impacts of global climate change; and
(2) to accomplish that purpose while preserving robust growth in the United States economy, creating new jobs, and avoiding the imposition of hardship on United States citizens.
The article cites concerns about whether this bill, in its current form, should get passed, noting that “the debate will force senators to take a stand on some of the most difficult, expensive and potentially life-altering questions that will face the world in coming decades.”
At the heart of this debate are two central themes. Proponents argue that our nation cannot wait until fuel prices come down in order to deal with these larger issues. Opponents believe “the bill would direct the largest changes in the American economy since the 1930s and should not be rushed through Congress without painstaking debate.”
This is what Frank Ackerman, an economist at Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University, had to say:
“How do you price the increased deaths, the losses of endangered species and unique habitats, the increased damages from hurricanes that are becoming more intense...Those numbers dwarf any reasonable estimate of the cost of doing something about climate change. The choice is a no-brainer.”
What do you think? Your comments and insights would be greatly appreciated.
Monday, June 2, 2008
One would expect a conference about sustainable marketing to be full of sustainability options and strategies itself. For example, upon registration for Sustainable Brands 2008, each attendee had an option to purchase an offset for their travel to and from Monterey.
Now that I’m here, I can see to what great extent sustainability permeates the entire event. Almost everything here is biodegradable, recyclable, organic or offset. Some examples:
- The program was printed on 100% post-consumer recycled paper from Mohawk Fine Papers, using 100% soy-based ink from GreenerPrinter
- Conference signage was printed by EcoBanner; 100% of the signs can be recycled or reused
- The conference tote bags are 100% recycled cotton canvas, and conference t-shirts are made of organic cotton and printed at an eco-friendly fabric printer
- Even the A/V equipment and strategy for the show emits 58% fewer carbon emissions vs. the typical conference A/V needs
What’s struck me the most – if I had experienced all of this at any other conference – I probably wouldn’t have noticed it was eco-friendly. There’s no reason more of our industry get-togethers can’t be like this.
This was the quote from U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer, Chairman of the JEC, on the problem:
“It has been apparent for far too long that to millions of Americans who fly, our domestic air travel system is broken and today’s Joint Economic Committee report puts a dollar figure on this mess. In 2007 alone passengers, airlines, and our economy felt a $41 billion punch in the gut from flight delays and the problem is only going to get worse.”
You can find the press release here.