Category Archives: sustainability

Why I Moved to a Green Hosting Service

Disclaimer: My research was comprehensive but not unlimited. Other “green” hosting options are surely available. I only considered U.S. companies. Also, there are affiliate links for AISO.net in this article.

GreenServerRoomA few months ago, my contract for hosting The Mindful Consumer and my other blog, The Geo Factor, came up for renewal. Because I had done some research around green data centers for my professional work, I knew that data centers have options for their energy sources. So I began to investigate the Web site and blog hosting companies that independent businesses and bloggers use, which all of course use their own data centers or outsource to others.

Paying attention to the sustainability practices of the technologies used to convey my messages seems apropos. I figured that others touting environmentalism and sustainable living would share my attitude, so my first inclination was to find green hosting service companies by looking at which hosting companies the other green bloggers use.

logo_epagppartnerUnfortunately, my run through that sustainable living neighborhood yielded few who were using hosting companies generally considered green. Most sites say nothing about their sustainability practices or energy usage policies. So I used WhoIsHostingThis to check several of the big environmental organizations and green bloggers. Some use Amazon Web services, which uses some renewable sources. Several sites appear to use Rackspace Hosting, which doesn’t mention sustainable practices on its Web site, but I dug around to find that its parent Rackspace claims to use 35% renewables.

Such lack of attention amongst the environmental community to its hosting choices is troubling. These organizations and their members are doing important work to improve sustainability and help the earth. So why not pay attention to who is hosting their Web sites? By some estimates cloud computing alone is consuming 1-2 percent of the world’s electricity resources. Others estimate that information technology-related emissions are approximately 2 percent of global emissions, equal to emissions from the global aviation sector. Perhaps the smaller “green” hosting companies can’t support the larger sites. Maybe the organizations did think through the decision, but aren’t communicating their reasons publically. There ought to be clear statements from green bloggers and environmental organizations about their hosting providers, not buried on an obscure CSR page.

PIA03149To end my own hypocrisy, I decided to switch to a hosting provider that like me considers sustainability important. First, I looked into my hosting company at the time, Westhost. I had used Westhost for years, and its services were adequate for my needs. However, there’s no commitment to sustainability through any statement of policy or use of renewable energy. When I asked its support group, they pointed me to its server company, which didn’t mention sustainability. It was time to investigate alternatives.

I found 10 hosting companies that touted their sustainable practices with options oriented to a low-volume user like me. But not all are created equal. Sustainable hosting comes in multiple levels in which the hosting company:

  1. Claims sustainable practices such as recycling and encouraging employee telecommuting. One provider touts that it plants trees.
  2. Claims to purchase and use servers with the best-available energy efficiencies.
  3. Purchases renewable energy credits to offset use of standard energy sources.
  4. Uses renewable energy.

Screenshot 2015-01-22 17.38.56

Only one amongst those I found, AISO.net, actually uses renewable energy. While the renewable energy credits are better than nothing, I decided to support direct use of renewable energy. AISO.net stands distinct from the other providers I found. Its on-site solar panels in Menifee, California power the data center and office. Backup generators use the cleaner propane fuel instead of diesel. AISO.net also uses windows and solar tubes for natural lighting. To maintain temperature, its building is painted white and its cooling system uses latent cooling rather than traditional refrigeration. Another difference is its use of wireless Internet backbones rather than cables, eliminating the digging necessary to add more feeds or bandwidth. Inside, AISO.net uses a mini wind turbine in its ducting to charge batteries. Lastly, the company building has a green roof and rainwater collection system.

There are other factors to consider in selecting a hosting plan, including bandwidth and disk space limits, number of domains and databases allowed, and price. The importance of those variables differs based on your site.

Frankly, no other hosting provider seems to approach the sustainable practices of AISO.net. I worried about support from what looks like a relatively small company. Surely, I thought, I would run into support challenges during the transition but decided they were worth the risk.

So I selected my hosting plan and started the transition from Westhost. There were issues moving my two blogs off Westhost and onto AISO.net. Those issues were the result of me not completely understanding the process and doing some things out of order. AISO.net support people helped me navigate through all of the issues and were very patient with my limited technical knowledge. My timing of transition was around the holidays, yet the support people were always responsive; I heard back usually within hours.

For its part, the Westhost people were also supportive, but its documentation about leaving its service and moving the data elsewhere was non-existent. Of course I can’t yet report on AISO.net’s reliability and ongoing service but based on my installation experiences, expect good things.

AISO-green-data-center1-300x224Finding a “green” hosting service was surprisingly difficult. This a time when climate change is in the news daily, and environmental groups and bloggers are being heard more than ever. Sadly, the community seems behind in its hosting selections. Fortunately, I was able to move my two blogs easily to a hosting provider that aligns with our mindful consumption practices – AISO.net.

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5 Reasons to Attend Green Festival

Green Fest Banner NYCWhen we think of festivals, we oftentimes think of a community celebration – typically centered on music, food, or art. So it’s apropos that the “largest and longest-running sustainability and green living event” in America is the Green Festival®. Attendees enjoy music, food, and art as well as education and “green” products/services. Over the past 13 years it’s grown into more than a festival – it’s Festival Plus.

Green Festival visits five U.S. cities each year: New York City, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco. Chicago’s Navy Per is the next stop, with more than 250 businesses showing their wares over three days. We’ve attended several times in Washington.

Here are the five reasons it’s worth going.

 1. Green Festival Exhibit Floor DCSustainable Stuff. I’m always amazed at the range of exhibitors and presentations as well as the quality of the food and products in the marketplace. On the exhibit floor, there’s everything from Ford showing its latest electric and hybrid cars to a small natural soap maker called The Fanciful Fox. You’ll see brands you know, such as Clif Bar, and many you don’t. We talked with some of the vendors who were still operating out of their homes. And there are many free samples!

2. Ideas. The event is also a great chance to learn new things about living sustainably. The upcoming Chicago event, for example, has almost 50 speakers – including authors, filmmakers, politicians, musicians, and scientists. Ralph Nader spoke at the Washington event. There were 83 speakers at the recent Los Angeles festival. Topics range from gardening to yoga to solar power.

GFCommunityAward3. Awards. Green Festival offers a Community Award at each location – a $5,000 grant awarded to a deserving local non-profit, chosen by the public on-site at the festival and online. Selected at the Washington D.C. event was The Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture, which is dedicated to creating a more equitable and sustainable local food system in the Washington, DC area.

4. Low Cost. Admission is reasonable and family friendly at only ten bucks per person (16 and under free, discounts to seniors and students). Volunteers enjoy free admission.

Kids Activities NYC5. Children and Adult Friendly. There’s a play area, puppet shows, dancing, plus plenty of products geared to children. And with kids (and adults like me) it’s always great to have a ready source of inexpensive and tasty food (some spicy!) nearby. Plus fashion shows, musical performances, and more for the grownups.

Green Festival is a fun way to learn more about sustainable living, through food, music, art, shopping, and discussions.

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4 Easy Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

There are several easy, but not obvious, ways people can reduce their carbon footprint.

carbon footprintEating locally grown food is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. Buying local not only reduces the use of fossil fuels, it also helps the local economy and is typically healthier than eating food from distant lands. Local food is typically fresher, tastier, and uses fewer or no chemicals.

Unplugging electronics when not in use reduces the use of electricity in the home and workplace. Even when not in use, electronics that are plugged in use a small trickle of electricity, commonly called phantom load and standby power. Have you ever noticed those little green or red lights, or the always-on clock display? Over time, this waste adds up. Lawrence Berkeley National Labs estimates that as much as 10% of residential electricity use is from standby power, which is responsible for about 1% of global CO2 emissions.  One way to make the turn-offs easier is to use power strips and end the phantom use with one switch for multiple appliances or electronics.

A third way to reduce one’s carbon footprint is to reduce or avoid printing at the office and at home. Printing uses electricity as well as chemicals and paper. Much of the electricity used by printers, especially laser printers, is from standby mode. Instead of printing so much, review drafts on the computer screen and share documents online using a cloud-based service such as Google Drive, DropBox, or SharePoint. Also, Energy Star printers have lower standby electricity use.

Lastly, you can simply buy less stuff. Buying less by purchasing only what you need means you are simply not participating in the culture of overconsumption common is many western societies and directly linked to our individual carbon footprint.

Using these few easy steps, you can make meaningful progress toward reducing your carbon footprint.

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Green Festival DC – Sustainability Show Off

Washington, D.C. 2013 Event Guide
See sustainability in action at the Green Festival DC.

We’re excited to be attending the upcoming Green Festival DC, at the DC Convention Center this coming weekend. It’s the ninth iteration of the festival which we’ve attended the last few years. What is the Green Festival? It’s a place to see and learn about sustainability from economic, cultural, and environmental perspectives. Like we often say here, there are many aspects to living with a sustainability mindset rather than one of blind consumption.

There’s yummy organic food and interesting speakers including iconic Ralph Nader. And a Green Kids Zone as well as an eco-fashion show. So the festival has something for almost everyone, with a focus on sustainability. There’s also lots of food samples, free Ford electric-car rides, and hundreds of vendors. We know from experience that the festival is fun and informative!

This year, there is an expanded emphasis on food, and who doesn’t like food? Food highlights include:

  • Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food and Water Watch and author of the best-selling book Foodopoly, who will speak about food policy
  • DC-based FRESHFARM Markets (FRESHFARM Markets FoodPrints Program) who will present special sessions on “Eating Healthy On A Budget”
  • An Organic Food Court and a Sustainable Beer & Wine Garden
  • Workshops on raising backyard chickens, composting, growing herbs and other sustainability topics.

According to its organizers, Green America and Global Exchange, tickets are $10 for a one day pass and $20 for a full weekend pass when purchased online at www.greenfestivals.org, or $15 and $25 at the door. (All tickets provide access to exhibit floor, all workshops/yoga classes, speakers and films.) And there is FREE admission for anyone who rides a bike to the event and parks with the Clif Bar bike valet, youth under eighteen, union members, volunteers and Green America and Global Exchange members.

Location: Walter E. Washington Convention Center, 801 Mount Vernon Place N.W. Hall A, in Washington, DC. Hour are Saturday, September 21st 10am – 6pm and Sunday, September 22nd 11am – 5pm.

The Mindful Consumer will be there, tweeting from @mindfulconsumer. Let us know if you’re going and we’ll try to meet you. Of course watch Twitter and this blog for our perspectives and announcements from the festival.

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Clean Energy Stalled?

IEA Tracking Clean Energy Progress 2013“… the average unit of energy produced today is basically as dirty as it was 20 years ago,” says the International Energy Agency (IEA),

IEA released an annual report, Tracking Clean Energy Progress 2013. The 154-page report recommendations stress “that the true cost of energy must be reflected in consumer prices, through carbon pricing and the phase-out of fossil-fuel subsidies. Technologies like electric vehicles, wind and solar will need support for several years more, but policies should be flexible and transparent. More stringent and broader energy performance standards, building codes and fuel economy standards can drive energy efficiency.”

IEA asserts that stark messages emerge:

  • progress has not been fast enough
  • large market failures are preventing clean energy solutions from being taken up
  • considerable energy-efficiency potential remains untapped
  • policies need to better address the energy system as a whole
  • energy-related research, development and demonstration need to accelerate

The silver lining is that the uses of solar photovoltaic, wind, and advanced vehicle technologies (especially hybrid-electric and electric vehicles) are growing. Still, very few regions have comprehensive fuel economy measures in place, says IEA. Also, while the U.S. uses less coal than before, other countries use more.

You can dive into the specifics with visualization tools on the IEA site.

How does this affect consumers? IEA encourages governments to reflect the true cost of energy in consumer prices. Without a doubt this would mean higher prices. Still, shouldn’t the true cost of things be reflected in the price tags?

My takeaway from the report is that governments need to start doing more towards lowering carbon emissions. And consumers need to accept — or better yet demand — change. Are you willing to pay more and use less to help delay global warming? Are you willing to tell your government to move faster on clean energy initiatives?

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AT&T is Wrong. More is NOT Better. Mindful Consumption is Better.

AT&T’s popular commercial “More is Better” not only exploits children, it promotes the ill-founded and overly simplistic concept that more is always better. Really? Better for whom? Many people don’t need faster phone network service or don’t want to pay more money for faster speeds. Some can’t even afford to own a cellular phone or subscribe to such services.

AT&T More is Better campaign

Some people practice mindful consumption and don’t buy everything we’re encouraged to consume. These phone companies work daily to convince us that more is better – faster network, more Gs (we’re up to 4G – wow!), more apps, larger screens, lighter devices, longer battery life, higher resolution, better cameras.

Meanwhile, where do cell phones go when they stop working and are discarded by their owners? In the U.S. in 2010, 152 million mobile phones were disposed of, with 11% of those recycled. In the UK and Europe, over 105 million mobile phones are discarded each year, according to a recent report by Mobiles2Money.co.uk. The phones contain palladium, gold, silver, and copper as well as plastics, glass, and ceramics. According to the EPA, some of the internals of phones are hazardous to the environment when tossed into landfills. “EPA is very concerned about ensuring the proper management of used electronics and has undertaken important work to increase the collection and responsible recycling of used electronics.” We need to recycle phones more than we do today.

This ad promotes the idea that even children inherently know that more is better. Mindless consumerism is in part the result of the assumption that more is better. However, always wanting and taking more, while there isn’t enough to go around, is short sighted and destructive. Sustainability comes from mindful consumption in which we each take what we need. Yet our modern society expects us to want more and take more when we are able. We need to adjust our thinking – more is not better when it comes to consumption.

To be better stewards of our planet requires us to change our thinking. If we can use what we need, and improve inefficiencies in our processes, we can sustain a larger population and potentially close the gap between the overabundance some enjoy and the shortages elsewhere. A circle of children who appear to be privileged  is not representative of the majority. How many of us would want to hear our children say, “We want more. We want more” as they sit in a group as portrayed in the AT&T spot? What would a circle of children in impoverished areas say? “We want some. We want some.”

So AT&T has it wrong. Faster is not always better. And more is certainly not always better.

It’s not complicated.

 

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