by: Joel Makower
News, new resources, and other noteworthy items on sustainable business, clean technology, and related topics seem to be crossing my desk -- and my desktop -- at an accelerating pace. Herewith is the first in an irregular series of quick takes on items worth passing on:
- Down the Drain: The global consumption of bottled water reached 154 billion liters (41 billion gallons) in 2004, up 57% from the 98 billion liters consumed five years earlier, according to a new research from the Earth Policy Institute. Even in areas where tap water is safe to drink, demand for bottled water is increasing, producing unnecessary garbage and consuming vast quantities of energy. "Although in the industrial world bottled water is often no healthier than tap water, it can cost up to 10,000 times more," says author Emily Arnold. "At as much as $2.50 per liter ($10 per gallon), bottled water costs more than gasoline."
The U.S. is the world's leading consumer of bottled water, says Arnold, with Americans drinking 26 billion liters in 2004, or approximately one 8-ounce glass per person every day. Mexico has the second-highest consumption, at 18 billion liters. China and Brazil follow, at close to 12 billion liters each, followed by Italy and Germany, using just over 10 billion liters of bottled water each.
In contrast to tap water, which is distributed through an energy-efficient infrastructure, transporting bottled water long distances involves burning massive quantities of fossil fuels. Nearly a quarter of all bottled water crosses national borders to reach consumers, transported by boat, train, and truck. Fossil fuels also are used in water's packaging -- most commonly polyethylene terephthalate (PET -- a.k.a. plastic symbol number 1), derived from oil. Making bottles to meet Americans' demand for bottled water requires more than 1.5 million barrels of oil annually, enough to fuel some 100,000 U.S. cars for a year.
- Tap Lessons: Speaking of water, here's an advertising firm you might want to meet with only on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Employees at Austin-based Tuerff-Davis EnviroMedia Inc. say they will avoid showers on Thursdays to help focus attention on the drought in Texas. Texas is so dry this year that on January 19, Texas Gov. Rick Perry declared all 254 Texas counties a drought disaster.
The average person uses roughly 50 gallons of water for a 10-minute shower, says EnviroMedia. As such, the firm's employees will save an estimated 2,000 gallons of water by not showering one day a week.
- Golden State's Green Site: California has unveiled a spanking new Green California Web site filled with ideas, guidelines, reference materials, engineering data, and environmentally friendly purchasing information to assist state and local government agencies and local businesses improve their environmental performance.
The site is focused primarily on two broad areas: reference materials for the design, construction, benchmarking and operation of green buildings; and detailed information on environmentally friendly products and services -- such as office supplies, paper products, office machines, vehicle supplies, building materials, and medical supplies -- for government and business purchasing officials.
- Haul Monitors: A new report from the nonprofit research group INFORM finds that today's trash trucks are a lot cleaner than they used to be.
This is no small matter. In the U.S., there are nearly three times as many trash trucks than transit buses. But relatively little attention has been given to these behemoth vehicles, which are among the most polluting and least fuel-efficient vehicles on the road. Emissions from such heavy-duty trucks are a primary reason why 170 million Americans are living in areas where the air quality fails to meet human health standards set by the U.S. EPA -- and why upper respiratory illnesses are increasing at alarming rates
The new report finds that the use of cleaner, quieter natural gas-fueled trucks has been rising steadily since 2002; almost 1,500 are now in operation in the U.S. The report also finds that, for many reasons, natural gas has become the fuel of choice. In addition to offering considerable emissions reductions, these engines are dramatically quieter than those of diesel trucks.
- Green Car Interiors: And speaking of greener vehicles, Mitsubishi Motors Corp. may not have a lot to offer by way of environmentally friendly vehicle engines, but its interiors seem to be getting greener. The company has developed an automotive interior material that uses a plant-based resin, polybutylene succinate (PBS), derived from sugar cane or corn, combined with bamboo fiber. Parts made from this so-called "green plastic" will be used in the interior of a new-concept minicar, to be launched in Japan in 2007.