Monday, April 21, 2008

Greener footprints

This week's NYT Magazine "green issue" is devoted to reducing carbon footprint, mostly from a consumer's perspective. I appreciate the focus on individual lifestyle changes that can and should be made: For all the talk about strengthening national energy policy, creating incentives for companies to go green, and developing more energy-efficient products, each citizen has a responsibility to make the kinds of behavioral changes advocated in this article to reduce the carbon footprint on their end. Public awareness (combined with incentives that, say, reduce energy use or encourage recycling) remains the key to changing behavior, but the task is Herculean. The average American, I conjecture, is hard-pressed to stay informed of the complicated environmental impacts of their lifestyle decisions, many of which are tied interminably with energy use. I consider myself a fairly environmentally responsible citizen, yet it took me a while to incorporate recycling, composting, reusing cloth grocery bags, etc. into my routine. Can we reasonably expect those who are either indifferent or have other priorities (raising a family, etc.) to do the same with any amount of ease?

Some highlights from the article w/ unsolicited commentary:

• LEED certification -- The article addresses shortcomings about the LEED certification process that were raised in class, such as assigning the same points for multiple bicycle racks as for installing an efficient cogeneration system. The US Green Building Council is apparently working on the next generation of LEED guidelines; meanwhile other standards like Green Globes are apparently in the pipeline.

• San Franisco's composting program -- A not-insignificant 20% of SF's emissions come from rot (methane from discarded food). The city then developed a program by which food scraps, recyclables, and trash are picked up -- but only the first two are done so free of charge.

• Greener Products -- A whopping 95% percent of a product’s environmental impact occurs prior to its purchase, taking into account "the harvesting of resources and the processes of manufacturing, packaging and shipping." Companies are increasingly being held accountable for the waste their products create, which would obviously lighten the burden on the end user.

• Grocery bags -- Efforts are underway to ban the use of plastic grocery bags around the world (visit Bag the Bags for a local example), but paper bags are not much better in terms of energy consumption from C2G. As we know, reusable cloth bags reign supreme, but a viable disposable option is right around the corner: cornstarch plastic bags that are compostable (they break down w/in a month without producing hazardous emissions).

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