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Archive for the ‘Great Reads’ Category

The FTC’s New Green Guide: What You Need To Know

Monday, October 25th, 2010’s recent story, Is Your Product Really Eco-Friendly, breaks down the coming changes with the Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides.

Here’s what we learned:

Any claims of being eco-friendly must be backed by scientific evidence or you could be penalized.

“In recent years, businesses have increasingly used ‘green’ marketing to capture consumers’ attention,” said FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz. “But what companies think green claims mean and what consumers really understand are sometimes two different things.”

The new Green Guides will recommend when terms like “degradable” and “recyclable” can be used.

Degradable = if a product is capable of decomposing in a landfill within a year.
Recyclable = the facilities needed to recycle the item must be widely available – as opposed to only available in a few places with very good recycling programs.

“Most companies really do want to comply,” Leibowitz said. “They want to sell products in an environmentally friendly way. But for those companies that don’t, that fall on the wrong side of the final Green Guides, we’re going to go after them.”

Find more on the FTC’s current Green Guides here.

The Story of Stuff

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

In honor of our current eco-friendly promotion, here’s one of the most entertaining takes on consumption and its impact on the planet. Enjoy!

Great Read: Tim O’Reilly on How the Web is a Sustainability Platform

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

Originally published by

Next month’s GreenBiz Innovation Forum focuses on the intersection of sustainability and innovation, including how innovation happens inside large companies. Tim O’Reilly, one of the “innovisionaries” to be featured at the event, has been thinking about such things for a long time. He is largely credited with driving both the open source and web 2.0 technology movements into mainstream concepts. Tim’s long-term vision for his company is to change the world by spreading the knowledge of innovators. In addition to O’Reilly Media, Tim is a founder of Safari Books Online, a pioneering subscription service for accessing books online, and O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, an early-stage venture firm.

Recently, Greener World Media president Eric Faurot chatted with O’Reilly about the web as an innovation platform.

Eric Faurot: You have been at the forefront of both the open source and Web 2.0 paradigm shifts. Do you see any parallels to the current sustainability movement?
Tim O’Reilly: One is that the Web represented a complete sea change in the media world. People were in denial for a long time and most companies completely missed the opportunity because they tried to marginalize it. In a way sustainability is an even greater change in the world of consumer products. People are still in denial. I think one of the big lessons from the Web is that things that seem to start small can actually be utterly transforming.

EF: How does the Web change the way we should think about sustainable innovation?
TO: Self-service is one of the big elements of the Internet that I think people haven’t fully come to grips with and part of the potential of in the sustainability movement. People helping each other. People collaborating. It’s like collective action to create certain kinds of efficiency in a system.
For example, eBay and Craigslist are self-service platforms for small sellers to move their stuff. They created new markets. There is a creative destruction here: Craigslist has decimated newspapers and yet a Craigslist world is actually a better, more efficient world for consumers. So when we think about what really happens when the world becomes more sustainable we think of all the things that we stop doing.

EF: Won’t that sound scary to some people?
TO: If you think of the world as zero-sum game then you’re afraid of the future because all you can see is this new thing is coming and it makes you less. But if it’s not a zero-sum game and it’s really about creating value then when you stop doing something that’s less valuable that frees up resources to do something that’s more valuable. That’s how societies get richer.
EF: Can you elaborate on what you mean by “platform?”
TO: All of the great Internet success stories are platform stories in one way or another. A platform is a set of mechanisms that allow other people to use what you do to create value for themselves and for everyone else in the marketplace.

EF: So, Apple’s App Store is a good example of a “platform?”
TO: Absolutely. They are also a great example of a big company that reinvented itself. Apple created new markets where there is consumer demand, where there is this classic sort of American consumer culture world and yet it’s much more sustainable. You can consume new music, new books, and new apps on the same device. In a world of digital goods that’s perfectly okay.

Great Read: eBay Says Small, Online Retail Beats Brick-and-Mortar On Carbon Footprint & Calculates By How Much

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

photo: Keith Williamson via flickr

Originally published by TreeHugger

With a new debate ongoing on whether the touted environmental benefits of telecommuting are true, here’s a related tangent to consider: A new white paper done by Cooler at the behest of eBay attempts to quantify the carbon footprint reduction associated with small, online businesses.

Here’s the complete paper and one example:
Compared to a single big box retail store grossing $100 million per year, new data reveals that the day-to-day operations of $100 million in sales through small, Web-based businesses generate approximately 1,400 tons fewer CO2-equivalent emissions per year than their offline counterparts: that’s the same amount of energy it takes to power 108 homes for a year. The impact of an individual shopper is equally dramatic – a consumer who spends $100 at a brick-and-mortar retail store is paying to release about 53 pounds of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the same as nearly three gallons of gas from a mid-sized vehicle.
The paper goes into how that’s calculated, taking into account lots a variables on what it takes to have an actual storefront, warehousing, average distance traveled to stores, etc etc. At the broadest level I’m not sure it’s worth it to parse how that was done; check it out for yourself if you’re so inclined.

But what is worth pointing out is this:

Low-Carbon Transport Options, Better Community Development Could Change Situation
1) All of these factors, particularly those regarding average distance travelled to stores and how those trips are made, are based on current conditions of community development. Which means that these stats only are meaningful in a current and short-term context. Should in the mid-to-long term, assuming more communities have better public transit and there is more local development allowing for significantly lowering this segment of the overall carbon footprint of a purchase, the balance could even out. In other words, just because small online businesses appear better today does not mean that it’s necessarily the best form of distributing goods five or ten years from now. It may be or may not be.

Real-World Businesses Have Benefits Not Encapsulated in Carbon Footprint
2) There are benefits to small real-world businesses that occur outside of carbon footprint. Though difficult to quantify and compare against that 1,400 tons GHG savings, having vibrant communities with a variety of small locally owned businesses is something worth working towards in more places regardless of the climate effect.

All of which isn’t an argument against online small retail–in fact, in the spirit of full disclosure, in my non-TreeHugger life, I operate a de facto micro online business selling used books, and mostly only buy used books as well, much of the time from similar small online sellers. Small, online retail connects buyers and sellers in very much mutually enriching ways, no doubt about it.

It’s Not An Either-Or Situation
3) The thing is that it’s not, nor should it be an either-or situation. There are real benefits to online retailing and mass delivery for some goods, as there are genuine and broad benefits to having vibrant local brick-and-mortar businesses. The two are in no way mutually exclusive and it’s wrong to try to justify one over the other on differences in carbon savings alone.

Though Cooler’s work for eBay gives an interesting and valuable insight into part of the retail picture and its connection with climate change, ultimately, a more holistic perspective is required in evaluating the plusses and minuses of the situation.