Dec 10, 2007

There Is No Easy Answer

First off - congrats to Team SQ on winning the Governor's Gold Award for small business - now, lets get back to work!

Sometimes it can be hard to see through the green bubble that covers certain Oregon and NW cities and identify national trends. There is certainly greening that is happening at the local level and with large players like Walmart who are under scrutiny from every angle. Now it seems the mid-level of the US is greening as well. As reported by the Environmental Leader, Arby's is installing solar water heaters at 33 locations in North Carolina. To be fair, one of Arby's justifications is that it will save them $12k a year on their natural gas bill, but they also mention that they are reducing CO2 as well.

Solar water heaters that not only save money, but decrease a building's carbon footprint as well, are a no-brainer. Unfortunately, not everything is that clearcut and everything has a trade off - like I've said time and time again, there is no silver bullet.

Nalgene bottles, once heralded as the reusable, indestructible and non-chemical-leaching, are now being banned at a Canadian outdoor store due to questions on a chemical used in the plastic. This may not come as a complete surprise - many people have developed an overall suspicion of all plastics (I recently bought and am very happy with a Sigg thermos).

On the food front, some researchers at UC:Davis have started to do some research on the carbon impact of locally-grown food vs centrally-grown food. As a company, we of course have a local bias, but there are some very valid questions raised by the article based on economies of scale.

They use the example of a strawberry, grown in either: a large scale farm in California or a small scale farm locally. On a per-strawberry basis, the impact of transportation, fertilizer, labor, etc. has the potential to be lower on the large scale farm, due to the sheer quantity of strawberries they can produce, even when transporting them thousands of miles. The research isn't done, but it will be interesting to see what the answer is.

Close to home, wave power is getting some press. "Free energy", like solar, geothermal and wind, comes from global forces that are not tied to human activities (like biofuels are).
The big question surrounding all these energy alternatives are: what is the unintended impact on natural systems and are they a worth-while alternative?
  • Will wave power disrupt sea life?
  • How much energy does it take to produce the solar panels?
  • How many birds and bats get chopped up by wind turbines?
Every new technology has drawbacks; you can't have a silver bullet without having to worry about gun control. At least we can be sure of one thing: is renewable alternative energy overall better than conventional fossil fuels like coal and natural gas? Yes.

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