Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

What is an avatar?

Thursday, December 13th, 2007

I have explained Second Life to a number of people who have heard of the site, but don’t know exactly what it is all about. Without exception, they have two reactions. First, they are shocked to find out that people are spending real world currency to buy things in a virtual world, and second, they want to know what an avatar is.

AvatarAn avatar is a character that is used online to represent a person. In Second Life, computer games and other virtual worlds, the avatar is usually a 3D representation – but an avatar could be a 2D image, an icon or any symbol that is representative of a person.

It’s just a matter of time before the term “avatar” becomes mainstream. Second Life and other virtual worlds are continuing to gain audiences (a quick check of the SL site shows that it has 11,377,825 uniquely named avatars or “residents”). This week, a Massachusetts congressman‘s avatar addressed a conference on global warming in Bali via Second Life. In October, the popular TV show The Office had an episode that featured Second Life and showed some of the characters’ avatars.

I don’t frequent any of the virtual worlds, so I just checked to see if I could find a site where I could create an avatar of myself for this post, and I came across Meez – I used the site to create the avatar that you see pictured here. Not an exact representation, but it was fun to put together anyway.

If you want to find out more about 3D avatars, this page on the Second Life site will be helpful.

What happens if “green” goes wrong?

Sunday, October 21st, 2007

I have managed to turn Blog Action Day into Blog Action Week, and in researching and thinking about how the Internet can apply to environmental issues (which is a little tricky when you take a global, non-digital event and try to talk about how the Internet connects to it), there have been two things that have caused me at least a few moments of concern. While environmental consciousness is rising in popularity, what happens if:

The coolness factor fades. What happens when it isn’t so cool to be green because everyone has talked it and marketed it to death? What if Leo and Cameron slowly tire of the work that they’re doing? What happens when the notion that people should care about the environment will just be a given? When the pressure from the media and marketing campaigns to “be green” fades?

Let me give an example by applying this to cigarette smoking. Today there are no advertisements about how this or that company is so great because they don’t let people smoke at their desks – but in some companies it used to be cool to smoke at work. Now people understand that smoking – which is proven to kill lots of people every year  – is not cool. It’s assumed to be bad. So the people who smoke do it surreptitiously, and the cigarette advertisers continue to spend millions promoting smoking, but in a sneakier way than they did it in the past, spending less on billboards and more on giveaways like t-shirts that appeal to young people. Companies are happy to keep things where they are currently – they have a ban on smoking in public places, offer some kind of counseling and incentives to their employees through their corporate health insurance, but that’s it. Do you see companies assessing their employees’ behavior and making changes to try to eliminate all opportunities for social smoking on coffee breaks? Or providing time off to people who need to get into a quit smoking program? Are they taking the mission to eliminate smoking to the next level? Not typically.

So what if we apply this to the environment? My concern is that if companies are no longer getting the marketing benefit and pressure from their employees and consumers, they might take some of the emphasis off their environmental efforts. This is because being “green” is hard work and costs companies money. According to a survey of 500 business executives by Grant Thornton 77% of executives expect to increase spending on environmental programs in the next several years. In their opinion, the three greatest benefits of enacting corporate responsibility programs are: improves public opinion, improves customer relations and attracts/retains talent.

My concern is that these corporations will get to a certain point, and stop. Once they no longer can put out a press release about how great they are because they “reduced emissions” or “implemented recycling” or “saved the environment” will they continue to push forward? And for individuals, I have a similar concern. There will be a certain percentage of individuals and families who will continue to work to make even greater changes to help the environment because they always have and know that it’s important, but what about the people who fade out when it’s no longer popular but still is more work? Will they think twice about not throwing their paper or aluminum cans in the trash or leaving every light in their house on? My hope is that they will, but my fear is that they won’t.

“Being green” becomes an exclusive right of the middle and upper classes. I realize that environmental advocates are saying that it isn’t more expensive to make environmental choices. But even if that is true, I don’t necessarily believe that it’s true. And this is an issue – because if my perception is that being environmentally conscious is more expensive than not, then there are likely lots of other people who think that too.

Right now, the products that are associated with environmentalism (hybrid cars, organic food, energy star products and light bulbs) are the expensive alternative. I agree that if you weigh the cost with the long-term impact, it’s certainly worth the upfront expense – if you have the money. But for the half of the world — nearly three billion people — who live on less than two dollars a day – my bet is that they can’t stomach the upfront expense to make those more expensive purchases that will save them in the long run.

I was at Logan Airport in Boston last weekend looking for a place to park in central parking. It was jammed with cars. I eventually made my way to the 5th floor, and there were a slew of places open, right by the entrance. I drove up to the section and saw a sign “Preferred parking for Hybrid, Alternative Fuel and Powered Vehicles only.” And then in small type below “All other vehicles will be towed.”

I both love (mostly) and hate (just a little bit) this sign. I love the encouragement that it gives to frequent travelers (most of whom do have the money to buy a hybrid car) to think about the environment. But the language of preference – implying that if you have a hybrid car (which you might not be able to afford) you will get preferential treatment…that feels awful close to snobbery.

I was surprised to see that there is something written about this in Wikipedia under environmentalism>popular environmentalism:

Environmentalist action has recently led to the development of a new subculture. It is mainly composed of the educated upper-class. These environmentally conscious types take special pride in their sustainable consumption patterns, shopping at grocery stores that trumpet earth-friendliness (such as Whole Foods Market) and buying organic products.

Some environmentalists complain that this group of elites is shopping under the banner of environmentalism without espousing any of its true ideals. Because organic and sustainable products are often more expensive, purchasing them has become a mark of wealth.

We need to work to make sure that environmental options are not only an option for the wealthy.

~ Colored Glass ~

How to make your business more environmentally friendly

Thursday, October 18th, 2007

I have a friend who is a nurse at a large hospital in the Baltimore area. She is committed to environmental causes, and has an “activist” personality – when she disagrees with something, she doesn’t stand by silently and watch things unfold. So when she could no longer tolerate all the bad environmental practices at her workplace, she decided to send the president of the hospital a letter along with a copy of the movie “An Inconvenient Truth.” Eventually, after some follow-up phone calls, she was put in touch with one of the executives of the hospital and is now heading up a committee to try to change some of the less-than-environmentally-friendly practices and policies.

She is frustrated. It’s hard work, slow-going and difficult for a nurse to get buy-in from the executives and directors. She’s putting in sometimes 40 extra hours per week on this project (on top of her regular hours). She is not getting paid for the additional work. And she feels guilty about spending so much time on the project because she could be playing with her daughters.

When I saw my friend a couple of weeks ago, I asked her if it was worth it. She couldn’t really answer me because she feels like nothing has changed from her efforts. But she is hopeful. And she made a convincing argument about why she is trying so hard.

Her belief is that even though she helps her family be environmentally conscious – by recycling, using energy-efficient light bulbs and appliances, eating locally grown food, driving a hybrid car – they will never have the environmental impact that the one hospital has in a very short period of time.

I looked it up. According to the Hospitals for a Healthy Environment (H2E) Web site, “The nation’s hospitals generate approximately 6,600 tons of waste per day. Though we commonly associate hospitals with regulated medical waste generation, as much as 80 to 85% of a health care facility’s waste is non-hazardous solid waste—such as paper, cardboard, food waste, metal, glass, and plastics—similar to what you would find in other commercial facilities.”

In contrast, each individual in the U.S. generates on average 4.4 pounds of waste per day per person. Don’t get me wrong, this is still bad because over the course of a lifetime, the average American will throw away 45,000 tons of trash.

But the hospitals in the U.S. generate that much waste in 6.8 days.

This sounds like I am drawing a conclusion that one person doesn’t make a difference, that no matter what our individual efforts are, they will never be enough to combat the negative impact of big business. But I’m not saying that one person can’t change the world –one person can have a significant impact, just look at my friend – but a company has a much bigger environmental footprint than any one person, and a big company even more so. So perhaps the time of the each individual is well-spent trying to influence the people around them. Change from the bottom up.

So what can your company do? And how can you help to influence the people around you to change? Here are some ways to get things done that will make a positive environmental impact.

Let your employees telecommute. Some corporate cultures are still trying to get over the idea that employees are less efficient if they work from home. The truth of the matter is that companies that offer telecommuting enjoy improved productivity of 7% to 20% or more. And every person that works from home helps the environment. To see just how much, check out this calculator that allows you to measure the amount of emissions and gasoline that is saved through telecommuting by entering the number of workers, miles of the commute and number of days working from home. Just see how quickly the numbers add up.

Recycle. This may seem so obvious. But one company that I worked at (recently!) had no recycling at the office. None. There were not even any bins to recycle paper. When I left that job, I spent the last two weeks cleaning out my office and hauling boxes of paper and magazines to the church down the street where they have a paper recycling dumpster.

Get a paper recycling dumpster. There are probably many places you can do this, but the one that I have seen is Paper Retriever. By signing up for the program, you can get a paper recycling dumpster in your office’s parking lot, fill it with paper and then donate the proceeds to a local school or environmental charity.

Use an environmentally friendly Web host. Facilities like Affordable Internet Services Online (AISO) use solar panels to run their data center and servers that reduce energy use by 60%.

Start reading an environmental blog.
Here are 20 options. By reading an environmental blog every day, it will help keep you plugged into environmental issues and thinking about ways that you can make a difference.

There’s a lot that you can do. There’s even more that your company can do with your help

~ Surprising Green ~

Blog Action Day a success

Wednesday, October 17th, 2007

I just heard from the folks at Blog Action Day on the final statistics for their endeavor, and it sounds to me like their mission was a success. Their goal was to activate bloggers across all topic areas to spend one day blogging on the environment – the final tally was that 20,603 blogs participated. You can find more information about the event and sign up to be notified about next year’s event at the Blog Action Day Web site.  

The greening of the world

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007

Environmental protestBeing environmentally conscience is trendy right now. Let me be quick to say that I think this is a good thing, I don’t mean to belittle the movement with my choice of words. I also think that the United States has hit a tipping point, and that environmental causes will never go back to being just left-wing issues, due in part (at least) to the work that Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore has done to educate the masses on environmental issues. Along the way, Gore has managed to recruit a large number of high-profile celebrities to the cause. The verdict? It is now “cool” to be green. Today is “Blog Action Day” and 19,745 bloggers (including myself) have signed up to blog about the environment. Along with bloggers, companies are moving to earth-friendly messaging. When something is as cool as “being green” is cool, it’s time to market that angle for all its worth. Some examples:

GM has a corporate responsibility section of its Web site with numerous assertions of its greenness.

Steve Jobs wrote a letter about Apple being green. (Greenpeace disagrees, claiming that the iPhone contains hazardous chemicals.

P&G’s Environmental Science Department is (thankfully) asking the same questions as consumers of its products, such as “When the ingredients in Tide and Crest disappear down the drain, where do they end up?”

My verdict: Green may be getting popular, but we still have a long way to go before we get it right.

* The little girls in the picture are my friends Charlotte & Rob’s daughters.

~ Red Door ~