Electronics retailers need green to get back in black

We’ve all been hearing that green can and should be the economic engine that gets America working again. The Consumer Electronics Association is advising struggling consumer electronics retailers (Remember Circuit City? Tweeter? CompUSA? All recently disappeared from the retail landscape) that they should focus like never before on green products and messaging in order to survive and thrive in the rebuilding economy.

That’s easier said than done, of course, but articles in the electronics retail trades like this one definitely help further the conversation. Some interesting points in this article:

  • The vast majority of consumers have no concept of a connection between green and electronics (and when you think about it, on the surface, why should they? They appear to be mutually exclusive concepts.). Consumer awareness of green computers is 17 percent, and consumer awareness of green televisions is 15 percent. When people think of green, they think largely of household products and food, says the article.
  • It’s clear that not many, if any, CE manufacturers are ready to go totally green, but what everyone needs to understand is that it’s called “going green” for a reason: It’s a process that will take place over time. That’s reflected in what the article says the majority of consumers would currently “demand” from green electronics products: recyclable packaging, recyclable product, energy efficient product, packaging made with recycled materials and biodegradable packaging. This isn’t radical stuff, by any means. If you’re a manufacturer who isn’t doing most or all of these things, you should be doing so already, or at the very least investigating it. And if you’re a retailer selling products with these attributes, you should be crowing about it.
  • The article says that a slight majority of consumers would pay a slight premium for green-friendly electronics.

Electronics have a tough hurdle to overcome in the green arena, since they consume energy in order to operate. But they’re making strides. It’s time for your friendly neighborhood dealers to understand how and what those strides are, and communicate them to you effectively so you can make educated decisions about the electronics you buy, and how to use them in the most energy efficient and enviromentally responsible ways possible. It’s the kind of “value-added” service brick-and-mortar retailers should be providing in order to justify their continued existence in a world where you can buy almost any electronics product online.

Posted by Joe Paone

Dining out, Eating Green

Because restaurant profit margins are so thin, many venues are unable to buy local or offer numerous organic dishes, but that shouldn’t force you to stay home. Even if there’s not a single local or organic offering, eating in a restaurant doesn’t mean completely sacrificing your commitment to eating green.  By learning and practicing a few tips when ordering, you can ensure the dining decisions you make will be the best ones for your taste buds and the environment.

The following ideas are the inspiration of Jared Koch, author of Clean Plates NYC and contributor to The Daily Green website which offers a slideshow and the following tips in the article,  8 Ways to Eat Green, Even when Eating Out.

  • Order Filtered Tap Water – Restaurants that filter tap water already score big but if filtering is not a practice they employ, even regular tap water is better than plastic or glass bottles.
  • With Beans, Go Beyond Soy – Beans are a healthier vegetarian protein option. Ask if they’ve been soaked overnight, which makes them easier to digest. Or look for whole grains, tempeh (a fermented soy), or good quality free-range eggs. Can’t do without soy? Inquire whether the eatery serves an organic, non-GMO (genetically modified) soy entrée.
  • Be Sweet Smart – Ask if the chef makes any desserts using natural sweeteners like raw honey, maple syrup or agave nectar. If not, go for some fresh fruit. Or — if you can’t resist the cake — split it with everyone.
  • Beware Trans Fats – These are so bad for you (think heart disease, diabetes) that NYC has banned trans-fats from restaurants, and California will take them off menus next year. Opt for steamed, baked, or roasted dishes. Or ask: “What cooking oils do you use?” Coconut’s ideal (most stable at high heat); high-quality olive oil and organic butter aren’t perfect, but they’re better than most vegetable oils.
  • Skip the Table Salt – Two exceptions: high-quality sea salt or Himalayan crystal salt. Each is chock-full of good-for-you magnesium and trace minerals. (The teen waitress at your local Applebee’s may furrow her brow when anything “Himalayan” is requested, but it’s worth a shot right?)
  • Eat Happy Chickens – When ordering meat, inquire where your animal lived (local is best), how it was raised, and what it was fed. At a minimum, go for hormone- and antibiotic-free animals; even better, look for free-range chicken, pasture-raised and grass-fed beef, or wild or organic-farmed fish.
  • Eat Meals From the 21st Century – Frozen veggies and microwaved meals — convenient cooking that skips steps — aren’t going to be as healthy. Ask your waiter: Do you use a microwave? Are your vegetables fresh or frozen? Better yet, are they locally and organically grown?
  • Consider the Overall Meal – What if the meat’s not organic and there are trans-fats galore? No matter what, eat your veggies; you’ll counteract some of the negative effects of other foods. To avoid poorly raised animal products and bad oils, try pasta (with its lower glycemic index, pasta cooked al dente is best) with broccoli and tomato sauce. Steaming or poaching is also preferred.

Posted by: Nick

Locavore Eating, Cheeky Monkey Style

I’ve blogged about these guys before but tonight I am working and eating at the Cheeky Monkey in Narragansett, RI. Jeff Cruf, chef owner, embodies all that is great about local eating. Jeff sources local fare from RI and other NE farms and always looks to get the freshest catch of fish, littlenecks and oysters daily. With a regular menu and a host of nightly specials, there is range of options and something for everyone on the menu.

Tonight’s special salad is locally grown organic baby greens, a mix of red leaf, green leaf, and butter lettuces tossed with goat cheese, cranberries, pecans, apples and a dressing that is a subtle hint of creamy white baslamic and shallots. For dinner I am having striped bass caught and delivered from our coastal waters. Jeff’s sauce is a lobster and local mushrooms  that are harvested from beneath the deck of a home in Bonnet Shores (researched for safety) and  gently poured over the delicate white fish and served with mashed potatoes and grilled veggies.

The food was amazing. Everything was prepared and presented delightfully and gave this locavore a favorite foodie night out.

posted by KDL | follow me on Twitter:newscaster

Rooftop Garden Expected to Deliver 30 Tons of Local-Grown Produce

This year challenges have certainly brought about more than a few positive changes in consumer spending and behavioral patterns amongst the American public. Whether we can attribute that to the economic turndown or growing support for the green movement, these conscious lifestyle changes are, somewhat, refreshing. There is the emergence of “staycationers” opting for the comforts of home this summer, a generation of restaurant regulars reverting back to frequent at-home dining. There has also been a resurgence of gardening; consumers rediscovering (or finding for the first time) their green thumb to save on groceries (and pesticides) with home-grown vegetation… even in cities.

In New York City, private garden space, beyond window boxes, is at a premium and more than $1 billion in vegetables are imported into the city annually. Gotham Greens, a Queens-based organization focused on delivering locally grown, sustainable produce, now has its eye on NYC’s plentiful rooftops to provide the city and its dwellers with fresh fruits and vegetables, grown and harvested in the heart of the Big Apple.

This fall, Gotham Greens will embark on construction of the first hydroponic* rooftop farm in NYC. The planned 12,000 square-foot farm will have a sterile greenhouse powered by solar panels (located on neighboring roof) and use captured rainwater to achieve this water-based, soil-free method of farming. The goal is to produce 30 tons of local-grown fruits and vegetables per year. The first harvest is expected in early 2010 and produce will go to local customers, the first being Whole Foods in NY, and nearby farmer markets.

I am completely intrigued and I, (I’m sure along with about 8 million New Yorkers) am interested to see the realization of this project.

*The hydroponic method of growth relies on plants’ roots to absorb essential mineral nutrients introduced by its water supply, hence making the presence of soil unnecessary for most terrestrial plants. This eliminates fertilizer and pesticide runoff, a leading cause of global water pollution.

Posted by: Katie

Green Building Perspectives: NuVo Technologies

NuVo Logo 6

In this week’s Green Building Perspectives, we sat down with David Rodarte, President and COO of NuVo Technologies. NuVo will be supporting the home’s whole home audio system with its revolutionary Essentia E6G, the first system of its kind to earn the coveted ENERGY STAR rating for its low energy consumption. As a company, NuVo has been at the forefront of the green movement in the consumer electronics space.  

What do you think of the Green Life Smart Life Project? What interested your company in the GLSL project?

We were highly intrigued by Green Life Smart Life from the minute we heard about it. In particular, the project appealed to us because it was focused on showing and proving that green-conscious lifestyles and consumer electronics usage weren’t mutually exclusive concepts.

NuVo has long been a proponent of the greening of electronics. In 2007, we debuted the first whole home audio system to earn the ENERGY STAR: our Essentia E6G system, which has been incredibly well-received not only for its energy efficiency but also for its performance and value. Our use of digital amplification throughout our line greatly reduces the heat that our whole home audio products once generated, and thus further reduces our systems’ energy consumption. Our OLED Control Pads consume less energy (and look better) than the LCD controllers used by other players in our category.

We’re even about to introduce a whole home audio system called Renovia that uses the existing electrical wiring in a home to deliver audio and associated metadata throughout the house. Traditionally, you need to pull new wire all over a home to get quality whole home audio to each room; with Renovia, your audio uses wiring that’s already there. Not only will Renovia give whole home audio an attractive appeal to existing homeowners, but it also eliminates the need for installers to run a lot of fresh copper wiring.

Green Life Smart Life is a great rallying point for our industry in terms of rethinking how we do business. We want to support that effort, because the custom installation industry needs to stay relevant and in step with the times and with social mores. At NuVo, we’ve been thinking about how we can become greener for years. We have aggressively moved to rethink and reduce our use of hazardous materials, to rethink and reduce our packaging, to rethink and reduce our manufacturing waste. We instituted a company-wide recycling program. A lot of that sounds like common sense and, to be frank, a lot of it IS common sense. But just because things make sense doesn’t mean a company will commit and follow through on them. It takes an organizational will, a direction, and the dedication of the people who work for the company. We’re so fortunate that, as a company, we employ people who want to make a positive difference.

Where does your company see green building going in the next five years?   

Obviously, new construction will become greener over the coming years. Projects like Green Life Smart Life will help to educate the consumer on housing choices they can make that are smart and responsible. There are proactive efforts by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) that are providing leadership for both builders and electronics manufacturers to offer energy-smart products and lead to good practice standards. Not only is this trend encouraging for the planet, but it’s also encouraging for our nation’s economic recovery. Innovation like green building is going drive this recovery, and products like ours that support energy-efficient, environmentally responsible lifestyles will only become more attractive to home buyers over time.

NuVo Essentia E6GSystem

NuVo Essentia E6G System

We view green building really as more of an opportunity than a challenge. In many ways, taking green building, energy efficiency and environmental consciousness into account helps us become more efficient as a manufacturer. By thinking through smart decisions to reduce materials, you ultimately reduce your expenses as a manufacturer. A traditional power supply for an audio system can weigh two or more pounds; a more energy-efficient digital power supply is weighed in ounces. You use less copper, you reduce the size of the amplifier box, you incur less shipping expense in terms of weight and size, you produce less material to recycle or reuse at the end of the product’s life cycle. It all adds up to a better value for the consumer, for the manufacturer, and for the planet. 

Do you think green practices/manufacturing will ever dominate your business? 

I believe the consumer electronics industry will be proactive in best practices and that manufacturers will be responsive to consumer preferences for green products. It will become a standard way of doing business for our industry to practice green standards. NuVo will remain at the forefront of this effort.

What do you think installers need to do, or prepare to do, to take full advantage of the green movement? 

Installers need to become educated and aware about green. Good green practice presents many opportunities that can make a difference in an installer’s bottom line. The installer can reduce material usage, such as copper cabling. The installer can implement smart designs that utilize low-energy-consumption appliances, or provide controls that shut down electronics when not in use. The installer can manipulate a home to be most efficient in general power consumption, utilize lighting control to reduce light output to an optimum level instead of just “on”,  control HVAC temperature  cycling. The list just goes on and on. A green-aware installer can truly make a difference… and profit from it as well.

What Is Cap & Trade: Understanding the Waxman-Markley Climate Bill

They’ve tackled bank bailouts, reforming health care and saving the automakers – the U.S. government’s been busy the last few months.  But what of global warming?  Obama and his team promised to tackle this problem head on.  And so it has begun.  There is a new climate energy bill making its way through the House this week, named after its two sponsors, Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.)   The basic premise of this new climate bill is the attempt to reduce greenhouse gases by instituting a cap and trade program

Under this bill, companies and manufacturers will be required to obtain a permit per every ton of carbon dioxide they emit each year.  Each year, the number of permits will be reduced, thus increasing the market value of each permit and gives companies the incentive to install and use renewable energies.  As the more limited supply of permits increases their price, companies can either pay to install cleaner equipment, fund carbon-offset projects, or buy these permits on a secondary market from other companies that have cleaned up their operations and now have extra permits to sell.

The goal here is obviously to put a price on natural capital, or the toll taken on the environment in manufacturing and distribution by way of fossil fuel consumption.  The more expensive it is to use typical energy sources, the more companies will turn to renewable sources like solar, wind, geothermal and water – making them a realistic and competitive alternative.

Though the central feature of the Waxman-Markley bill, the cap and trade program isn’t the only attempt to curb greenhouse gas emissions.  According to the bill’s summary, companies will be required to adhere to increasingly tough standards on energy consumption.

The draft promotes renewable energy by requiring retail electricity suppliers to meet a certain percentage of their load with electricity generated from renewable resources, like wind, biomass, solar, and geothermal . . . [They] begin at 6% in 2012 and gradually rises to 25% in 2025. The governor of any state may choose to meet one fifth of this requirement with energy efficiency measures.

The bill also provides funding to universities, colleges and technical learning centers through the Secretary of Education to prepare students for jobs in “green” fields including renewable energy and sustainable development.  Of course, there are plans for a massive, nationwide smart grid to be implemented, revolutionizing the utility industry and reducing consumption across the board.

This bill is facing opposition in the House, particularly from the Agricultural committee (read more about that here) and even sterner opposition in the Senate.  But being the first bill on climate change from the US government that actually helps mitigate global warming, it needs all of our support.

Posted by: Ashley / follow me on Twitter

A lesson on how not to get screwed from a sub contractor

When you build a home, you have this moment when you say, crap, we hired the wrong guy.

I am there. This has been going on since our foundation dig and we are at insulation to give you an idea of how long.

We hired William Anthony Excavating out of North Kingstown, RI to handle the excavation of the house project after receiving numerous recommendations and bids for the work. This organization has proven to be unprofessional, unreliable and utterly incompetent.

Let me explain the series of events so you don’t have to suffer through the time and expense we have.

1. Hire even more local. Believe it or not, I wish we had used someone from our town. When we went searching for our excavators, one of our requirements was we wanted someone who was a licensed septic installer so we could compete the foundation excavation and septic installation at the same time. This would do two things for us: (1) provide a bigger job which makes bids more competitive; and (2) only have to excavate one more time at final grading and galley installation. We couldn’t find someone in our town that had their own equipment so we went to a bigger operation. This has proven to be a bad idea.

2. Don’t let them work when you are out of town. November was a very busy month with the house being under construction and preparing for the holidays. But it was also a busy month for work too, and I found myself travelling with my job every week back-to-back. There was a point when my husband and I didn’t see each other for eleven days we had been travelling on such opposite schedules. Excavation for the house went on while we were gone. I mean, how hard can it be? We gave WAE plans by our civil engineer (Dowdell) that were then approved by the town. We also had our Dowdell stake the foundation for the exact location of the house. We gave WAE instructions both verbally and via email and our landscape architects were stopping by the job to make sure everything was going in according to the plans. This was not enough. Not being able to stop by the job site daily and see what had happened proved to be a critical error.

3. Make sure they follow the plans. We made a big error on our part. When we did the scope-of-work with WAE somehow the installation of four galleys, that were not approved by the town or included on a single set of plans, got listed in the  SOW. Now, when errors like this have happened in the past, on a smaller scale, the subcontractor has always contacted us to verify information on  job. This did not happen on this job.

4. Before I left for GreenBuild I got a bill from WAE that the job was done. All I could think was; “It is? How is that possible; I haven’t seen anything?” At that point I hadn’t received a call from our engineer and there was still a huge pile of dirt in front of the house and the final rough grading wasn’t done. I asked my husband to check in on this (it’s November 16th). I called their office and spoke with Roseann and attempted to explain to her what I needed. I emailed her my list. “What’s up with the rocks? The huge dirt pile? The galley credit? Is the septic inspection done? Can we get an estimate for the next phase of work to be done?”(I always find people work better when motivated, usually it works. Not this time.) We told WAE what they needed to do and not to do on the job, e.g.; don’t spread the final pile of dirt without going through what the landscape architect has noted as grade to foundation or talking to Bill Dowdell.

5. I didn’t hear back from WAE, so I called my engineer. I explain to him what is going on and he is dismayed that the septic tank and pipes are in the ground, covered with dirt and graded. My engineer says to me; “He never called in his license number to me or a start of construction”. This is in direct violation of DEM. Awesome I think.

So the saga began.

Strike 1: We show up after getting back from Greenbuild (11/23) and the dirt is spread in massive clumps, holes and divots everywhere. The wood that was delivered is half covered in the mud. Awesome. WAE claims that though we told them not to spread the dirt, spreading the dirt according the height of the landscape architect’s plans was not on their SOW.  Apparently however, spreading it haphazardly and with large grooves, divots and holes was.

Strike 2: After ten days of silence from WAE (did I mention they told me that they only wanted to deal with my husband to which I responded, good luck with that), we followed with a week of arguing with them. Dowdell sends WAE a fax asking when the job will start (he already knows the septic is in the ground). Monday, December 1st, WAE calls in the Start of Construction for a septic tank that was already in the ground and covered.

Strike 3: Friday December 5th WAE agrees to show up on the job to “dig up the septic tank”. The Dowdell Survey crew goes to the site and discovers problems and calls WAE. Our engineer, Dowdell Engineering, tells WAE to dig out the tank. The 2-man crew arrives to run data which proves problematic. They rush back to the site before WAE leaves to verify the data. WAE is informed that the inlet pipe has to be raised and the tank riser (that they just replaced (so tank riser #2, the first one was wrong) is now too short. Dowdell leaves the site to allow them to complete the job. They tell Dowdell they have, and cover and grade everything before a final inspection by Dowdell.

Bill Dowdell returns to the site on Saturday, December 6thto find a 4” vertical pipe set as an inspection port at the inlet side of the tank. Dowdell again checks the connection and data; and studying the as-built inverts of the inlet pipe and outlet pipe in relation to the top of tank elevation and comparing them to the cross-section of the tank provided by the tank manufacturers, Dowdell concludes the tank was installed too low to make the D-box pipe where WAE wanted to tie into this not able to get to the D-box by gravity, so the installer (WAE) simply pulled the outlet pipe up to make it slope to the D-box pipe  (located approx 10’ downstream of the tank) thus making the outlet pipe 0.1” higher than the inlet pipe and rendering the tank useless as a settling tank and placing the inlet into a precarious backflow position. (Can anyone say hack job?)

By the way; did I mention the cover to this septic tank didn’t fit the riser and was never bolted? (Oh yes, see Abby fell in our Septic Tank.) This is just another example of the pure incompetence and disregard displayed by this company. Who, dare I ask, digs a six foot deep hole, and then doesn’t fasten the cover so any child walking along that may step on it can fall in?

Did I also mention how WAE (Tony) told my engineer that he wasn’t speaking to him after Tony “screamed at him on the phone”. There’s some pure professionalism for you. He then emailed Bill Dowdell this on Monday, December 8th, 2008: Per your recommendation this morning to lower the building sewer, I am proposing the following; We will return to the site and install a new 4” SDR 35 PVC building sewer at a invert provided by you to within 5’ of the proposed dwelling as per RI Plumbing Code. Upon your approval and provision of new invert elevation, we will return and re-install the building sewer as agreed upon. Please respond within 24 hours if possible as we will return to the site immediately for final resolution.”

But hold on we retorted; “We’ve already paid for Dowdell Engineering to go out to the site twice to certify your consistent errors, what is our credit?” In addition to these errors, we had to hire a second excavator, the very awesome Wilcox Excavation from Saunderstown (who remarked at how sloppy the excavation job WAE completed, as did his competitor, the contractor, the plumber and everyone else who had been on the site) to fix the grading mess WAE made with the pile of dirt I explicitly told their office manager not to spread without us present. I also told Raposo of WAE via email not to spread the dirt without first getting the information from my landscape architect. And, we had to redo the water calculations for the town for the unapproved galleys. So hold on WAE, let’s address all of the problems you’ve created before rushing back out to the job site.

What was William Anthony’s response, they cc: their lawyer. They point on the RI Mechanics Lien Law. They say their SOW didn’t include inspection fees (We never asked for inspection fees. Not once. We asked WAE to do their job. We know inspection is Dowdell’s job but how can he inspect if WAE covers up their work? Or if he never knows WAE was doing the work in the first place? And when there are repeated errors, how many times is the homeowner supposed to pay for the inspector to come out to certify faulty work?)

Honestly the whole thing has been a nightmare. We have tried graciously to work it out with them, offering to pay them for the work they did without problems but compensating us for the work that was defective and caused unnecessary additional fees. They however, had taken the hard-line stance and refused to even acknowledge that any of this was their fault.

So, we didn’t pay our bill, they fought back with the RI Mechanics Lien. In our mind, they didn’t do the work contracted and we tried to resolve it and come to a resolution but they aren’t even trying. So, we notified RI DEM stating WAE installed a septic tank without calling in a Start of Construction. They knew they raised the outlet and compromised the invert and they covered up that same tank before it was inspected.  We also called our lawyer for guidance who suggested we send a detailed letter stating our complaints, thier costs, our plan of action for filing greivances and the back up for all of the above. We did. We were contracted by their lawayer and concessions were made, they agreed to come back to fix the tank and have it inspected by their engineer. We said fine but our engineer had to inspect it too. They made monetary concessions on overruns they drove, they installed a brand new septic tank now with two risers, and they then credited us for the electrical trench they never dug (but charged us for).

So all the paperwork was completed the middle of May; and we had requested everything be comeplete by the end of May as we were heading into our final excavation needs. WAE missed their deadline (shocker) and after a call from my husband, WAE called in their new DIG number from DEM and notifed our engineer the day before that they were going to be onsite. Dowdell, a busy man, was booked and notified WAE as much. WAE flipped out on Dowdell and Dowdell finally said enough. The end result, DEM was called in to inspect WAEs work and render judgement.

What an ordeal, but as of today, we have a signed lien release and a working septic approved by RI DEM.

We’re fortunate that we have built before and because of that we knew what to do and what to ask for when things seemed wrong. We’ve also worked with the same engineer on four projects and trust him, his reputation is stellar.

If you ever find yourself in a similar situation with a contractor on a project, there are three things you can do immediately (1) call your town Building Inspector, their job is to help you; (2) call the organization that monitors the company’s license, in our case that was DEM; (3) call a lawyer for guidance, we did not know our rights under the Mechanics Lien law and that legal advice was critical in protecting us and ultimately getting the outcome we desired.

We finally got it done, but this was not a fun part of the project.

Had I known all this at the time, I would have asked for a Surety Bond to guarantee performance.

Anyone have their own contractor nightmare story? Feel free to share!

posted by KDL | follow me on Twitter: newscaster