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Green Power and You – Perfect Together

August 26, 2012
Princeton Municipal Light Department project

Princeton Municipal Light Department turbines on Wachusett Mountain are part of Mass Energy’s green power portfolio. Photo by Sam Feinsilver.

Two municipal light plants. A cranberry farmer. A union hall. Four different schools. A regional wastewater district. A family-owned ski slope. The common thread? All are owners of community-scale wind projects and they can all help you green your electricity.

But how does greening your electricity work? It comes down to Renewable Energy Credits. Green power suppliers purchase renewable energy credits (aka RECs, green tags, renewable energy certificates) on their members’ behalf. RECs are tradable, non-tangible energy commodities that represent proof that 1 megawatt-hour of electricity was generated from a renewable energy source.

In order to understand how RECs work, it is important to understand how electricity is generated. In New England, everyone is served by a large, interconnected electricity grid which makes it nearly impossible to deliver energy produced by a specific generator (say, a wind turbine) to a specific end-user (say, your home). So, in order to track generation, the Independent System Operator (ISO) New England (the organization in charge of coordinating the region’s grid) established a system to create, trade, and track certificates (RECs) that describe electricity generated anywhere on the grid by renewable sources (even the solar panels on your home). When you buy RECs, you stake a claim to that electricity, and the REC recombined with physical electricity from the grid that comes to your home then officially becomes green power. While green power suppliers can’t deliver that wind turbine’s electricity directly to your home, RECs give you the exclusive right to claim that enough renewable energy came onto the grid to cover your electricity use. And that means that less electricity had to come from fossil-fueled sources.

Your purchase of RECs can also drive local renewable energy development—but not all RECs are created equal. In order to have the most impact on renewable energy development, your purchase needs to be utilized in the context of a long-term contract. The most beneficial green power program support local renewable energy projects by signing long-term REC purchasing contracts with them, allowing the developer to count on a stable source of funding. Programs are able to sign such contracts by aggregating consumer demand—using the buying power of members (and more members = more contracts). Then, by “retiring” these RECs from the market, green power programs force utilities and other suppliers required to purchase RECs to look elsewhere, creating additional demand.

Green Drinks‘ July and August happy hour co-host can help you purchase RECs and contribute to our local green power system.  The Mass Energy Consumer Alliances’ provides two different programs for members. New England Wind is sourced from 100% local wind power. It costs the average household just 74 cents per day, in addition to regular electricity charges. New England GreenStart is sourced from 100% local wind, solar, low-impact hydro, and digester gas or “cow” power. It costs the average household just 45 cents per day, in addition to regular electricity costs. The resource map below shows the geographical locations of Mass Energy’s various renewable energy credit suppliers.

 Resources Map

Joining with Mass Energy’s green programs not only helps you feel better about your electricity, but meaningfully adds your voice to thousands of others advocating and funding more clean energy projects in New England. Perhaps more important, however, is how the nature of these projects lends itself to a vision of renewable energy development that Mass Energy shares with its members. In almost every case, the projects keep much of their financial gains local, benefiting the communities in which they are sited. For example, Mass Energy buys RECs from the Scituate, MA turbine that was erected in April of this year. Scituate’s turbine has allowed the town to offset some municipal electricity costs—saving the town money that can be used for schools, roads, jobs, and more. Mass Energy and its members are proud of the impact they make for local communities.

Erin Taylor is the Marketing and Membership Manager at the Massachusetts Energy Consumers Alliance.
Originally founded in 1982 as a heating oil cooperative, Mass Energy’s programs now span energy efficiency and green power as well. The green power programs, New England Wind and New England GreenStart, allow members to green their electricity right on their National Grid electricity bill (or, for members in NSTAR or WMECO territory, as a monthly match separate from the bill). Both programs are 100% federally tax-deductible and drive development of community-scale clean energy in Massachusetts.

Advocacy for Sustainable Mass Transit – Past, Present, and Future

May 3, 2012

Editor’s Note:  This is BGD’s first opinion/advocacy blog post.  It reflects the personal opinions of the author. No affiliated organizations were made aware of the content and are not responsible or presumed to be in agreement with these opinions.  It also does not necessarily reflect the views of BGD or those of its steering committee.

 

By Melissa Downes

The MBTA has announced a third option for next years service starting on July 1st where fares will by raised by 25% and the elimination of services will be a fraction of the original Scenario 1 and 2 proposals (click here for the Powerpoint Presentation). If you are part of the 6,000+ individuals who attended public hearings, don’t break out the champagne yet. For those of you who did not participate, don’t worry you’ve only missed the first quarter of the game. You see the MBTA annual budget is forecasted to be in deficit for the next four years, and the solutions for this year are band aids at best.

The Past

Like most citizens, I had originally thought that this budget problem was largely the result of the Big Dig – central artery highway project – debt being unfairly dropped onto the MBTA. However, while the debt payments are significant that’s only part of the structural issues. Furthermore, the MBTA’s general manager stated that the debt is appropriate because there was a gain of some licensing powers that could generate income. Also like most citizens, I didn’t fully appreciate the framework in place for funding the MBTA. For example, communities with public transportation provide payments to the state which is based on population and adjustments for social – economic factors. This is in addition to the fares and other income sources such as monies from other state taxes and selling ad space on MBTA rider vehicles.

This is a great example of why having business experience doesn’t necessarily help aspiring government leaders. If this was a product line for a business, we’d take the revenue from the bus route minus expenses and that number would represent a positive or negative number. What business calls a profit or loss but in government it’s called a budget surplus or loss. The government doesn’t have the concept of tying the cash flow in and out for an individual government service as a means of assessing its financial viability.

The Present

So what, surely they have an objective way of prioritizing service based on use and financial viability? I certainly couldn’t find any evidence of it. While the subsidy rates were published, I found 2 buses with the same subsidy rate where one had no change to service while another was suggested for complete elimination. The MBTA also stated that an area with multiple service options would receive greater cuts than those areas with a sole option. Again evidence to the contrary, as riders spoke at public hearings to raise the concern about being house bond because there was no second option. Some citizens stated the cuts being made meant buying a car which was not possible either financially or handicaps that prevented them driving.

In addition to lack of transparency, the finger pointing game was in full evidence during this process. I sent the Governor a letter with policy suggestions – not a word of user impact. The standard reply letter dutifully arrived to state that he understands the T is about people not money and that he made proposals but the legislators voted against these. The Governor failed to mention that he commissioned an independent review in 2009 that predicted such financial straights. Furthermore, the solutions for this year are short term by raiding the cookie jars – monies from the snow removal and the Department of Registry of Motor Vehicles for example.  Naturally, there was no mention by the Governor that the same budget deficit was projected to happen for the next 3 years.

And Finally…

That brings us to the future. Riders were clear on their personal impacts and concern for smart growth. Should the Governor get points for the Green Communities Act (requires qualified municipals to cut energy consumption at least 20%) if citizens increase car miles related to service cuts and reduce the environmental benefits? Neither the riders nor the state have articulated a clear regional and long term vision for public transit. What exactly would it take for the governor, legislators and MBTA management to come up with a long term plan to make the system slogan “Best in the country” true? Community input and pressure is going to be necessary to effect long term changes. I am positive that green advocacy is going to be necessary to accomplish these goals. Therefore, I was surprised that the sustainability community was absent from the debate– no comment on either the ICLEI (International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives) or MCAN (Massachusetts Climate Action Network) websites.

Here’s the good news, this is a great opportunity for sustainability professionals to show case our value statement. The social impacts will be made clear by the general public and the environmental impacts by the natural conservation groups. Businesses also have a stake in the MBTA service in terms of their employees being able to continue to get to work. For Waltham and Newton residents, as an example, all bus service was proposed to be cut to South Station. South Station is a commuting destination for a lot of high paying legal and financial services jobs a.k.a. home owners. Therefore the long term strategy for the T will require integrating these three focuses. The ability to create a vision that addresses the trade offs and provides a regional transit solution goes right to the core of the triple bottom line. We have three more bites at the apple and a solid six months to plan the next quarter of the game.

Melissa Downs is a client oriented, strategic consultant improving employers’ profitability via initiatives such as launching new business lines and continuous business improvements within operations. An experienced program and project management, she utilizes communication skills and critical thinking to build consensus and negotiate priorities. A comprehensive understanding of green issues began as a graduate student and continued as teaching fellow at Harvard University in the Sustainability and Environmental Management program. Melissa is also active in Waltham, MA as the Vice-Chairperson for the Mayor’s Energy Committee charged with meeting the Green Communities Act and outreach with all stakeholders within the city as we move towards a vision of our energy future.

Boston Green Drinks (BGD) is a community of Bostonians interested in sustainability. We bring together people across the ‘green’ spectrum – including energy, food, environment, art, education, health and community services. Our regular gathering takes place on the last Tuesday of every month.

A Closer Look at Green Eating

March 24, 2012

Editor’s Note: Our Green Your Eats event has ended (check out the Boston Food Swap blog for the recap) but we have enlisted Michael Oshman of the Green Restaurant Association to provide tips for choosing sustainable restaurants all year long!

Putting solar on your home is a powerful and exciting environmental step. Getting into an electric car that takes you to work and play surely lowers your environmental footprint.  But these are not steps that everybody can do. Most of our ability to make significant environmental change happens in the small everyday steps. By now, most of us have heard about or are already doing things, such as recycling, using energy efficient lighting, buying safer cleaners, purchasing some organic food, and buying recycled paper.

One of the most important things to add to that list of easy, everyday steps that all of us could do to improve our individual and collective environmental impact… is to Dine Green. The environmental impact of our dining choices is monumental. The restaurant industry is the largest consumer of electricity in the retail sector. The average distance between the farm and your mouth is 1500 miles. Restaurants use hundreds of thousands of gallons of water in each location per year, and there are 1 million restaurants in the United States alone. So, every time we eat out, we are choosing a more sustainable or unsustainable world. From the coffee on the way to work, to the sandwich you grab for lunch, to the nice meal you have at your favorite restaurant, eating out is a regular parts of most people’s wife on a weekly if not daily basis. It is one of those green decisions that many people could make everyday.

Sustainable Liquor

Consider the statistics:

•  Each restaurant can produce a few hundred thousand pounds of garbage per year

•  95% of that waste can be recycled and composted

•  Lighting accounts for 13% of the total electricity each restaurant uses

•  90% of that lighting energy can be eliminated through the use of LED and CFL bulbs

•  The average consumer spends about 48% of his/her food budget eating out

Now, here is the good news. There are 850 Certified Green Restaurants® or restaurants that are in the midst of the certification process. Each 2 Star Certified Green Restaurant® has a full-scale recycling program, is Styrofoam-free, has earned a total of 100 Green Points™, and has earned 10 green points in each of the following categories: energy, water, waste, disposables, food, and chemicals. These Certified Green Restaurants®, which can be found on dinegreen.com and dinegreenboston.com, are not just claiming environmental accomplishments. They’ve gone through a rigorous process of certification, where each one of their steps has been vetted and is transparently available for you to see online in a Green Label, which describes every step, every point, achieved in each category. And each Certified Green Restaurant® goes through a recertification process each year. This is the ultimate in transparency that all of us consumers deserve in every sector of the market, not relying on a business, but instead relying on third-party certification standards that give us the confidence to make the proper green decisions.

Some of the most esteemed and famous restaurateurs in the world have made the decision to have their restaurants become Certified Green Restaurants®, such as Mario Batali, Eric Ripert, Rick Bayless, corporate cafeterias of Deutsche Bank, Royal Bank of Scotland, Chase Manhattan, New York Times headquarters, Microsoft, and more.  Right here in Boston, we have great Certified Green Restaurants® that can be found on dinegreenboston.com.

So what can you do?

If you would like to take your environmental ethic into your dining decisions, then I encourage you to consider the following:

•  Next time you dine out, start your search at DinegreenBoston.com

•  If you are dining in a restaurant that is not a Certified Green Restaurant®, leave them a green tip card. Click on the following link, http://dinegreen.com/downloads/2008Suggestioncard.pdf, where you can print these tip cards encouraging restaurants to become Certified Green Restaurants®

By encouraging restaurants to go through a transparent certification process, where the restaurants will be making environmental steps in energy, water, disposables, food, waste, and chemicals, you will not only be helping to lower their environmental impact, but you will also be sending a message to them that in 2012 transparency is an important part of the consumer market.  We’ve all seen restaurants that say at the bottom of their menu … “organic and local whenever possible” or “we recycle”.  We’ve been working with restaurants for 22 years, and let me tell you that “ organic and local whenever possible” is a very general term that for some restaurants means close to 99% and for other restaurants means close to 1%. The only way to know what a restaurant is doing is for the restaurant to proudly have their steps and accomplishments be communicated in a transparent fashion by being vetted by a third-party certification.

We’ve seen the power of consumers in New York and Boston and in 44 states and Canada encourage restaurants to meet the 2, 3, or 4 star Certified Green Restaurant® standards. Let us celebrate Boston’s Certified Green Restaurants®, and let’s encourage hundreds of other restaurants to follow their lead.

- Michael Oshman, Founder and CEO of the Green Restaurant Association. The GRA was founded in 1990. Since the beginning, the GRA has worked to provide convenient and cost-effective tools to help the restaurant industry reduce its harmful impact on the environment. The GRA founded the green restaurant movement and is one of the pioneering founders of the green business movement as well.

Cotton’s Hidden Costs

January 11, 2012

Clothing prices have increased dramatically over the past two years, and not just due to the bad economy. From August 2010 to February 2011 cotton prices rose over 137% because of bad weather conditions in China, India, and Pakistan. This obviously impacts people through the clothing and linens industry, but it also indirectly affects people through other costs as well. For example, a hotel stay may be more expensive since the hotel is forced to pay increased costs for bed sheets and towels. The high price of cotton is also the reason that many advocate for the use of a dollar coin because coins are now much cheaper to produce than actual dollar bills.

Organic Cotton

Photo Credit: Organic-Cotton.us

 

     Sadly, cotton production also has hidden costs, mainly its incredible environmental impact. Cotton is considered “the world’s dirtiest crop” because even though it accounts for only 2.5% of the world’s cultivated land, it uses 16% of the pesticides! Traditional cotton growers often use pesticides and herbicides that are known human hazards. These dangerous toxins, such as aldicarb, then leach into ground water systems. 16 states have found aldicarb in drinking water supplies. Synthetic fertilizers are also used to grow cotton, which create an entirely different hazard. When fertilizers enter waterways, they add excess nutrients which lead to algae blooms. The algae absorbs much of the water’s oxygen, making it impossible for marine life to remain in the area. The best known example of this phenomenon is the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Since many farms line the length of the Mississippi River, lots of fertilizer travels downstream to the gulf, putting not only wildlife, but also the gulf coast economy, at risk.

Hypoxic Zone Map by Stephanie Clark

Cotton is also a very water-intensive crop which adds to the cost and the environmental impact. It is also an expensive crop to spin to produce into final consumer goods. The United States is the second largest cotton grower, but most of the cotton is exported to countries that have cheap labor costs. This practice adds to the carbon footprint of cotton and to the humanitarian impact. Avoiding fast fashion and paying fair prices for cotton goods is one way to purchase cotton responsibly. Another way, of course, is to stick with organic cotton goods. Cotton is a great natural fiber and has a wide variety of applications, so it is hard to avoid altogether. However, purchasing organic, local, or fairly traded materials helps minimize your negative social and environmental footprint.

Cameron Bruns is a contributor to Merida, the premier source for distinctively designed natural rugs with a conscience for sustainability. Merida was founded on and is committed to a tradition of integrating the finest quality natural fibers with innovative textile design to create beautiful collections of custom rugs.

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is – Clean Energy Donations

November 2, 2011

Editor’s note:  This is a guest post from the team at New Generation Energy.  We at Boston Green Drinks love the idea of donating money to helping clean energy projects advance. 

Lowering your carbon footprint online is quite simple: You go to a website like TerraPass, enter your credit card info, and that’s it! You can take your next trip guilt free. While these offset organizations are phenomenal and help raise awareness about emissions, you have very little control over how your money is used.

New Generation Energy is different.

We run a Green Project Listing Site that features green energy and energy efficiency projects at nonprofits nationwide. It’s similar to a microfinance site but support is in the form a donation rather than a loan, and all listed projects have measurable energy and carbon savings.

In other words, YOU pick the project, neighborhood, and organization your want your carbon offset dollars to go to. And you’re not only lowering your impact on the environment with your donation — you’re also helping a local community go green.

After you donate to a project, we email you your personal carbon savings as well as the dollar amount you saved the nonprofit. In addition, we update you regularly on the progress of the project and include photos and videos so you actually see your dollars being put to work and making a difference.

Some of our recently funded projects include a $21,000 solar panel installation at a school in Sudbury, Mass. that is expected to save 154,343 lbs of carbon over its lifetime, and a $25,000 geothermal installation at church in Tennessee with a carbon savings of 1,809,360 lbs. We’re also in the process of helping a senior center in Minnesota raise $16,000 for a weatherization project, which will offset 325,366 lbs of CO2 and First Parish in Brookline is using our site to raise $8000 for a green project trifiecta. It’s a water conservation and window and attic insulation project that will save about 389,654 lbs of CO2.

These figures are calculated from the organization’s energy audits — or estimates – as well as the latest energy metrics. You can check out more detailed information about a project’s carbon savings on its data sheet.  (Example here.)

In total, our listing site has helped save more than 5 million lbs of CO2 and fund 11 green projects nationwide!

Check out all the projects on the Green Project Listing Site and follow us on Twitter and Facebook!

– Bianca Strzelczyk is the digital marketing manager at New Generation Energy. She can be reached at media@newgenerationenergy.org.

A Toast to a Greener Plate

September 15, 2011

When we plan events,  the Boston Green Drinks Steering Committee hopes the resulting conversations represent various definitions of sustainability.   So far, we’ve seen you chatting about everything from energy to natural resources.  Although all sustainability topics play an important role in making our lives more productive and responsible, no topic is more universal to everyone’s experience than food.  Because we all eat, we all need to pay extra attention to the sustainability of our food system and how it affects our lives.

The team at the Center for Science in the Public Interest would like to make it easier for people across the U.S. to understand how the content of their plates can affect their health and their environment.  To that end, they are launching the first annual Food Day on October 24th, 2011.  Their goal is to turn Food Day in to the sustainable food system equivalent of Earth Day by encouraging discussion about how our food gets to our tables and how it affects our health.

Food Day has 6 principles:

Food Day
I challenge all Green Drinks attendees, blog readers, and friends to observe Food Day in any way you can.  You can visit the Food Day website to find any number of fun and informative events across the country.  For the slightly more adventurous, reach out to existing event organizers and offer to help them plan.  Volunteer to spread the word, set up event rooms, or build websites.  If you have a food related business or service, sponsor or partner with one of the events.  However you choose to participate, you owe it to yourself, the people who bring food to your table, and the natural resources from which your food grows to learn how to make more sustainable choices about what you eat.

If you want to stay current on Food Day happenings around Boston, you can also “Like” Food Day Massachusetts on Facebook.

It’s time for America to Eat Real and Boston’s sustainability community can lead the way (that means you)!

Lyn Huckabee is a Boston Green Drinks Steering Committee member and co-founder of the Boston Food Swap.  She holds a seat on the Cambridge Climate Protection Action Committee and the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Service advisory board.  She is a long-time member of the Junior League of Boston.  By day, she is a public servant advancing state energy policy.

Let’s Talk Tourism

September 12, 2011
Travel Sign

Image Credit: Flickr user Kenski1970 under a Creative Commons license

Tourism is recognized by the United Nations as the 4th largest industry in the world. As such, the industry’s global footprint threatens ecosystems and cultures worldwide and contributes to ever-growing carbon emissions. But it doesn’t have to.

The tourism and hospitality industry has made notable changes to business as usual and rightfully so—the natural world is its product after all. Contrary to other industries, tourism doesn’t have smokestacks that make it an obvious offender like some of its industrial counterparts. Nevertheless, given that tourists have to travel to travel, they’re flying, tour busing, driving and cruise boating hundreds of thousands of miles each year. You get the idea.

The relatively new and rapidly emerging field of sustainable tourism seeks to help develop and manage tourism with lower environmental impacts, social and cultural benefits to communities, and positive economic opportunities for countries around the world. You are likely familiar with its marketing buzz cousin, ecotourism. But isn’t that what sustainable tourism is? Sometimes. Let’s talk about what we’re talking about.

By definition, “ecotourism” is nature-based tourism. This includes activities such as biking, diving, rock-climbing, caving, skiing, or rafting. Sustainable tourism on the other hand is more all encompassing and representative of what professionals in the field are trying to accomplish. After all, not all “ecotourism” is sustainable.

As with anything, definitions will run the gamut and vary in their nuances. For example, the United Nations World Tourism Organization, “promotes the sustainable development and management of tourism globally… involving both public and private sectors for the generation of social, economic and cultural benefits for host communities commensurate with global development interests, for ensuring the supply of quality tourism products and avoiding or reducing negative impacts upon the natural and socio-cultural environments.”

The first US organization founded to promote responsible travel, the International Ecotourism Society, “promotes responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.”

I like the Boy Scout’s motto: Help your neighbors and leave the campground better than you found it. At its most basic level, sustainable tourism is about managing environmental impact, preserving cultural heritage, and ensuring positive socio-economic benefits for local communities.

In 2009, tourism in Massachusetts generated $22.9 billion in total domestic and international traveler spending (direct and indirect); total payroll income of $6.5 billion; and 199,100 jobs statewide. And remember, this is in a recession.

Boston area groups have made great strides in developing sustainable tourism initiatives, which are essential to help minimize environmental impacts and protect the numerous natural and historical treasures Boston and greater Massachusetts offer. Click around on some of the great local initiatives below including those by Sustainable Business Leader Program certified participant Boston Duck Tours (now that deserves a Quack! Quack!).

This fall, I am helping teach a course on Environmental Management of International Tourism Development at the Harvard Extension School. This course provides professionals worldwide the opportunity to join the dialog on improving the environmental management of one of the world’s largest industries. We endeavor to expand professional knowledge in the field using student research to dive deeply into international challenges caused by extensive use of natural resources, little government oversight, and rapid growth.

There’s a lot of potential here, which is why avid travelers like me have dedicated their careers to harnessing the tremendous potential of the tourism industry to create positive and lasting change in the world. Now get inspired and get packing!

Useful links:

Alison Hillegeist is a Sustainable Development Consultant who is currently helping teach courses in the Sustainability and Environmental Management program at Harvard Extension School. Alison has a Master’s Degree in Sustainable Development and 15 years of professional experience in communications and project management. She is motivated by the belief that travel is one of life’s great pleasures and that tourism can be a positive and transformative force for change in the world. Traveling the world has been a major influence in her personal and professional evolution and solidified her desire to pursue conservation and community development as her chosen career path. She is particularly interested in organizational/industry change management—helping organizations fulfill their responsibility to improve the environment and give back to the communities they serve.

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