Category: Community & Green Trends

A Common Bond

A Common Bond

The logo above is unknown outside of a small group of people in the world.

Every day in America around 17,000 households wake up with an uncommon object: they need to stop time. Because time will take another day in the life of one or more of their sons, and ultimately it will take the life of their sons.

These are the parents of boys with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), a genetic defect that prevents a victim from producing the protein dystrophin, the largest protein in the human body, and a critical component of muscle.  Without dystrophin the normal capacity of the human body to regenerate lean muscle will go horribly wrong, and in its place the body will form dysfunctional fibrotic or scar tissues. By the age of ten these boys will lose the ability to walk, by twenty the ability to breathe, and then their hearts will lose the ability to beat. It is estimated that a single parent is raising over 90% of all boys with DMD, as the practical effects of care for an incapacitating disability are punishing, both financially and emotionally.

Most seven-year-old boys with DMD have already lost the ability to run or climb stairs, but they do have 1000 more days with the ability to walk. With the sand through his hourglass rushing, each of these days is an opportunity for a parent to create a memory. The boy is unaware of the time he has left, or the path it will take.  To a certain extent, so are his parents.

After the DMD diagnosis, a parent’s first question is: can anything be done? The answer is yes and the next question is: who is doing what can be done and when will it be done? It is a race against time.

At this point, the parent learns that resources for disease therapies are based upon various imperatives, among them the size of the patient population. Logically those resources are aimed toward large disease populations. By definition orphan diseases such as DMD have a patient population of fewer than 250,000 in the US. There are reported to be 6,000 orphan diseases.  But few are as lethal and as unforgiving as Duchenne.  To encourage the development of therapies for an orphan disease, the government now grants an additional seven years to the owner of a patent that is a potential therapy for such a disease. Such are the incentives intended to turn the commercial interests of our society to orphan disease. However bringing a new drug to market costs pharmaceutical companies upwards of $500 million. There is no assurance that even if research indicated a therapy was possible, that it would be pursued by a commercial interest.   No responsible parent could surrender the fate of their child to such caprice.

But what are the options in confronting a really tough disease?  DMD is a disease that is genetic and affects almost every cell in a human body. It is one that represents chemical, biological and mechanical deficits expressed in many cellular pathways, in a cascade of injury to the entire person. It is a disease in which a true cure would have to restore the ability of a cell to manufacture the body’s largest protein. As daunting as that may sound, there are potential mitigations. Children are born without dystrophin but they have other proteins that (if activated) could supply some of the dystrophin functions.  Aspects of the pathways affected by the absence of dystrophin can potentially be restored by other means and ironically, the more potential therapies, the more drain on finite research resources and funds.

To reach effective outcomes the force of discovery must overcome the mass of the unknown. Viewed through the lens of a parent’s responsibility to their child, if there is a way it can be done, it must be done.

The Duchenne Alliance represents the collaboration of over 35 foundations on four continents with a shared commitment to urgently find new therapies for DMD. That is, to change the speed of research, development and clinical trials. To accelerate communication, funding and collaboration, the Alliance has created their own internet based “Dashboard” that allows the posting and evaluation and potential funding of medical research and clinical trials. In combination they participate in or support more than an estimated 100 individual research and clinical initiatives around the world. The Alliance works with the belief that collaboration among the initiatives will accelerate discovery and their individual paths will preserve broad, unrestricted and uncompromised investigation. They value the freedom to experiment, to be wrong, to learn from failure, and to fail fast. Like the discovery of the New World under sail, they view discovery as the province of many ships, on many paths.

Moreover, they know that in existing research are potential therapies already known to make improvements to the boy’s cellular functions. These outcomes would not individually represent dramatic changes, but they would make significant improvements. The foundations of the Alliance believe that research has now identified therapeutic pathways and interventions with a significant potential to mitigate the worst injuries of DMD and that possibility makes concerted action even more urgent. The foundations of the Alliance recognize and honor the accomplishments of the many researchers and organizations that have worked for better therapy and care of DMD boys. They will continue to support all of those efforts

Long ago the ancient mariners anticipated finding new worlds through their will to sail over the horizon. Horizons are but the limits of sight, not the limits of possibilities.  The Duchenne Alliance is the commitment of parents to make that journey for these boys. Success is far beyond the means of the individual parents to achieve. This is a call to action for people and institutions that understand why the Alliance came into being, and why its path is essential.

The Alliance is the bond of DMD parents to care for the boys before any other interest.  They are committed to beat time.  Please consider support for any foundation member or through the Duchenne Alliance itself, it will make a difference.

(Christopher and Danielle James are the parents of Matthew, a six-year-old boy with DMD and his three older brothers.  In 2009 they founded RaceMD, a non-profit dedicated to finding intermediate therapies for DMD. They gratefully acknowledge the public service of LAX Magazine in donating space for this opinion. The views expressed are those of the authors and do not represent those of any other institution or foundation).  

 

 

Growing Your Business With Non-Profit Partners

Growing Your Business With Non-Profit Partners

The current political and economic maelstrom has forced businesses to ride the roller coaster of uncertainty as they fight to retain their customers and maintain viability in the market place. Small businesses have had an especially tough challenge at a time when the book of best business practices seems to be rewritten every day. Economic uncertainty has created a consumer culture of buyer beware behavior, and Americans are becoming very savvy in the power of their dollar.

With high expectations and limited resources, how do you use the same marketing dollars to increase your ROI, brand yourself to target demographics, increase your visibility in the community, and provide your employees with leadership and training opportunities?

Partner with non-profits.

Increasing Your Visibility With Cause Branding
An easy way to increase your ROI is by spending your marketing dollars with non-profits that align with your mission and vision. But get specific about your engagement to identify how those dollars can best support the cause and your own marketing needs.

Sponsor dollars often will come with logo visibility on invitations, banners, event t-shirts, programs and collateral throughout the event. It is a quick way to get brand impression and to build support for your brand beyond just event day.

Sponsors also receive special benefits on the day of the event, including tickets that you can use to bring your clients to the event or provide to your employees as an appreciation and recognition tool.

Just as the consumer has become more sophisticated, so have the partnerships between non-profit and sponsor. Sponsors are driving new business, engaging new clients and targeting specific markets by being strategic about their sponsorships.

Employee Engagement and Satisfaction
As benefit’s budgets continue to get shaved, businesses continue to look for opportunities to increase employee satisfaction. Now, more than ever, company shareholders are becoming more engaged in their business’ support of issues and charities. Employee satisfaction yields retention, and alignment with a non-profit or cause can open a variety of engagement levels for employees and increase job satisfaction.

Skill Based Volunteering
Provide the professional skills and expertise of your staff to help a non-profit better run their business. Do you have a bookkeeper on staff that can provide a few hours a week of volunteer time? Do you have an in-house graphic design team that could tackle a project on the side?

Leadership Opportunities
Increase your network and grow your staff’s leadership skills by encouraging them to serve on a board of directors or an event planning committee. They will meet new people in the community, they will gain recognition for their work and for your company and they will feel like they can dedicate their time to a cause they care about.

Build Company Loyalty
Whether through a matching gift program, a company volunteer day in the community or the opportunity to provide leadership and key skills, more employees are saying that their company’s involvement in the community is a key reason for their loyalty to the company.

Fifty-seven percent of employees surveyed in 2010 stated that their company’s commitment to addressing social and environmental issues is one of the reasons they choose to work for a company.

By Samantha Swaim

www.samanthaswaim.com

 

Busch Studio at dusk

Grid Skipping

Busch Studio at dusk

If Doug Busch had his way then we’d all be living off the grid. Does that mean giving up your cell phone or deleting your Facebook account? No, it means that you are generating your own electricity, and not pulling energy from the electrical grid — the actual grid that powers the community. Doug believes that we all need to be educated in sustainable living practices, and that such practices are available to all economic and social classes. He knows it can be done and has plans to make it happen.

Doug plots and plans his grid-less takeover while sitting in one of the nicest houses in Los Angeles — it’s located just north of Malibu at the top of Trancas Canyon. His home literally sits at the top of the hill, and is an example of sustainable, ecologically conscious living. As well, it’s a truly beautiful mansion, fit to host royalty. The home is not just aesthetically pleasing but it’s über green. It uses passive solar design, which is based on using the energy of the sun to heat and cool living spaces. Doug has computerized controls — the same system that is used in the White House — to control the energy in each living space to make sure that it’s utilized for maximum energy efficiency. The system lowers window shades to protect during the hottest part of the day and opens windows to let in the cooler temperatures of the evening. Solar panels run along the south side, and there are even solar-trapping energy grids on the driveway that heat the stunning 110,000-gallon salt-water swimming pool. It’s the third largest private pool in Los Angeles. The home has a water distillation system and also a system that traps rainwater to provide irrigation to the numerous varieties of drought resistant plants that landscape the property. On the roof there’s an infinity pool where you can relax while you look at the sun setting over the ocean. At ground level there’s a koi and turtle area that allows for peaceful contemplation.
Doug’s latest project is Eco-Systems which rose out of “sustainable community” projects. This is a global network of leaders from business, government, social services, non-profits and civic groups engaged in creating models for economic, social, and ecological sustainability in our communities. It is in partnership with ecoTECH Design Studio, under the direction of Doug along with his cadre of LEED-certified architects and engineers and technology experts.

This group is also involved in a local project with Volunteers of America, who have a 20-acre housing project in North Hollywood. There are 474 low-income housing units on it. Doug’s team has proposed to redo all units to become energy sustainable, and to add 150 new units for teachers, artists, and people who are committed to the community. Of the 150 units, 50 will be for foster care children leaving the system. These older children will also be given jobs with artists or they will work on community-based improvement projects. The project also includes planning organic farms, day care, classes on sustainability and other helpful programs to spread knowledge and practical skills associated with sustainability. There will also be a time bank used to trade time for work, services, and the like. The streets will be removed to provide green space, gathering areas, recreational areas and farming. They will be removing 1200 cars from the streets (thus no need for the streets) and putting them in the newest computer controlled parking towers.

All units will feature the same set of green technologies and design features as Doug’s fancy house on his hill — 200% above LEED, and at a fraction of the cost of integrating the same technologies on a project-by-project (custom design) basis. All components will be sourced from best-in-class suppliers, including ecoTECH and partner technologies. Standard components for any modular unit will include:
• Green building design for maximum energy and water conservation
• Solar energy
• Solar tubes for hot water
• Zero carb heating and cooling
• Greywater re-use and water capture systems
• Building Biology enhanced designs for enhanced air quality and reduced man-made electrical radiations
• Green roofs, walls, landscape designs (options)
• Natural materials

Doug plans to spread the gospel of living sustainably and is reaching out globally as well: his next stop is Malaysia.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Doug is also an artist, an incredible photographer who got his start working with Ansel Adams. He uses black and white to capture landscapes and images of bodies of water. His work has been exhibited all over the world; he has collections in some of the best museums around including The Getty, LACMA, and the Smithsonian in Washington DC.  Doug’s work has been published in several photography books and his work is a frequent subject of photography magazines. In the 1990s Doug branched out into architectural design, and had many successes in his remodel of several of the houses of Los Angeles’s elite West Side community. He has also completed work throughout Malibu, the Palisades, Brentwood and Santa Monica.

Based on Doug’s history of success we are confident that this talented and committed man will make spectacular strides in bringing his environmentally responsible way of living to us all — and in doing so he will help honor the Earth, and help us do the same. Congratulations on your crucial and valuable work, Doug.

Doug Busch Pool House and Studio

Doug Busch Master Bath

Doug Busch Lower Water Roof Deck

Doug Busch Kitchen

Doug Busch NoHo Project

Green Lab Design Studio

Green Lab Design Studio

Green Lab Design Studio:
Amy Sciarretto

Where Eco-Friendly Isn’t An Option… It’s a Necessity

“I don’t think there is an easy solution to getting people as a whole to transition into a ‘green’ lifestyle,” says Green Lab Design Studio’s project manager Brandon Allen. “It takes a certain trigger to make you realize how damaging our daily decisions can multiply and equate over time. We encourage starting with the basics. Even with our clients, we start off small. We feel that if everyone slowly changes simple, everyday tasks in their lives, it can make a huge difference.”

Green Lab Design Studio, launched in June 2008, as a full service, environmentally friendly event and design agency.That’s fancyspeak for event planning for things like trade shows, art fairs and such. The company’s crowning achievement is the way it works diligently to create “put up and tear down” events for companies and corporations in an environmentally friendly way. The company does so by “bringing the aesthetic of interior design to the event industry while incorporating eco-conscious choices throughout the process,” Allen explains. “We stand out from the crowd by offering fashionable design that defies the conventional green ideas. We use the latest materials and processes to ensure our clients get the most cutting edge, eco-friendly event available. Our knowledge of industrial and event design along with an extensive library of sustainable renewable and recycled materials gives us an edge over other events agencies.” www.greenlabdesigns.com

Green Lab Design Studio’s Two Key “Going Green” Tips:

Start small.

“Take reusable bags with you when you go shopping or skip using a bag altogether if you only purchase a couple items. At the end of the day try to create as little waste as possible; if you aren’t going to use it, don’t take it, even if it’s free.” Everything is recyclable or reusable.

“Recycle everything you can. For old electronics, don’t just throw them out; take them to a proper waste center or hand them down if they are in working condition. Reusing or repurposing an item is much more eco-friendly then recycling it.”

Going Green

Going Green

Going Green
Amy Sciarretto

Nix the Plastic Forego the plastic bags at Target, your local Stop and Shop, PathMark or “insert store name here.” Instead, purchase a reusable, cloth grocery tote, many of which are on sale at the thrifty price of $1.99 (or cheaper) at the end caps of these mass merchants! It’s a stylish and affordable alternative to those pesky plastic bags! You can fold it up and tuck it in your pocket or handbag and pull it out when you go to the market.

Switch to Energy Efficient Light Bulbs And make sure to turn off the lights when you leave the room to conserve energy. Waste not, want not.

Purchase Locally Grown Fruits and Vegetables Not only will they provide for fresh, delicious snacks and meal sides, but locally grown and consumed produce cuts down on shipping, fuel and packing waste when the produce comes from out of town. Plus, you help your local farmers, growers and economy in one fell swoop.

Whenever Possible, Walk, Especially When Visiting a New City Instead of hopping in a cab or renting a car, especially if you’re Travelling in a big city, take in the sights, sounds and smells of the local area by walking. Chances are, you’ll witness something worth writing home about, such as a celebrity sighting or a street musician playing for nothing more than your spare change and his or her personal enjoyment. Even better, you’ll burn calories and be more heart healthy. If you can adapt this routine in your hometown, try walking to the convenience store instead of driving. Breathe in the fresh air. You’ll thank us later.

Watch Your Water Habits Instead of wearing your jeans once and tossing them in the hamper for the weekly wash, try wearing them a few days in a row. Jeans are always super stiff after you dry them, so revel in that worn-in, second skin feeling that comes from a pair of repeat-wear jeans. If you want to freshen them up, hang them out the window for an hour for a shot of freshness. Trust us, it works! Another way to conserve water is to limit your showers to five minutes or less. That’s more than enough time to soap up the hot spots and rinse them thoroughly. Also, don’t leave the water running while brushing your teeth. Blast the sink with a quick, short shot of water after your done and you’ll have saved several gallons of water.

Sustainably Building with Aluminum

Sustainably Building with Aluminum

Kirkland Charles, Tim Egan and Beverly Macy

Aluminum for a Greener World

What exactly does it mean to be green? For a material or product to be considered green, it should have a low impact on the environment.

Aluminum is one such material. It is no surprise that this sustainable, recyclable, durable commodity is the foundation of the red hot movement in the green building materials space.

As public awareness grows of alternative energy sources, advanced green design and building technologies are proving highly effective in lowering construction costs and reducing operating expenses. According to the U.S. Departments of Energy and Transportation, buildings drain an eye-popping 39% of the nation’s total energy, while all t ransportation — including cars — consumes 27%.

A recent McGraw-Hill Construction survey found that between 5-10% of new homes built in 2010 are expected to be green, creating a market of between $19 billion and $38 billion. In addition, sustainability has become the investment of choice, and green building products give an exceptionally good return on investment. Extruded aluminum has the inherent characteristics essential to sustainable construction and has found a key place in the construction for several reasons — it is extremely light weight, it is aesthetically flexible, and it is inherently recyclable. This ties directly into sustainable design initiatives that the c onstruction industry has embraced.

DuraFrame Incorporated manufactures structural aluminum building components and is revolutionizing the way residential and commercial structures are being built.

Headquartered in Gardnerville, Nevada, with offices in Los Angeles, DuraFrame’s extruded aluminum offers the inherent characteristics essential to sustainable construction. The company provides a building material that is more durable than wood or steel. Aluminum as a building material produces durable lasting buildings, allows for quicker erecting times and ultimately creates environmentally responsible structures.

The green movement has truly become a behemoth that is gaining support from even the unlikeliest of supporters. From Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth to Republican California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s recent Global Climate Change Summit, held in Beverly Hills, everyone’s talking about saving the planet and turning to innovative companies to lead t he way.

DuraFrame’s aluminum products fit squarely in the center of this red-hot green movement.

Building commercial and residential structures that last and using recycled aluminum as a building material is as green as it gets. The time has clearly come to climb aboard this key trend, which has taken off like a runaway train and if we don’t, it may cost us dearly.

Eco Ambition: Lighting the Way to a Greener World

Eco Ambition: Lighting the Way to a Greener World

Angelenos are constantly seeking new ways to be green. They’ll try everything from buying smaller cars and powering down air conditioning to electing paper instead of plastic at the grocery store. Downtown Los Angeles based Greentorch is lighting the way to a greener world.

Greentorch an eco-friendly lighting solutions company, was recently featured on segments of Discovery Channel’s Planet Green TV series entitled, Alter Eco, hosted by Adrian Grenier (star of HBO’s Entourage).

In a recent installment, Greentorch joined the Alter Eco team of Grenier, eco-developer Rick Byrd, and Supermodel Angela Lindvall, to overhaul the Pharmaka gallery in downtown Los Angeles, making it the first “green” art gallery in the country. The results were illuminating: use of Greentorch LED lighting technologies reduced the lighting load of the gallery by 90% from 3800 watts to 375 watts.

Not long after that first episode, Greentorch was back on the case, this time working with the Alter Eco team to overhaul a $3.5 million, 1920’s spanish stunner in Los Feliz. Again, the team delivered the goods, using CFL bulbs, solar trees, low-flow sinks and toilets to obtain Platinum LEED certification for the residential building.

LAX caught up with Greentorch CEO Gary Glass and CFO David Ferrigno to hear more about their products and plans in this emerging space.

LAX: What inspired the creation of www.Greentorch.com?

Gary Glass: Greentorch was an outgrowth of my experience as a programmer in the biotech industry. I spent years analyzing corporate processes and leveraging technology to make every department of a multi-national corporation paperless while still conforming to the rigorous documentation required for scientific research and by law. What I realized during my analysis was that running a business was incredibly taxing to the environment. Concurrently, a friend of mine was working at a major electrical company and wanted to break away and start his own company. He asked if I would lend my experience in systems, technology and infrastructure to his cause. I said, “Sure. But, instead of paying me cash, I want in on the game.” Luckily we wanted to focus on different areas of the electrical industry. I helped him start his company and he helped me start mine.

LAX: Why did you want to start in lighting?

GG: I wanted to build a platform for improving the environment long-term. I wanted to do the most good and have the biggest impact in terms sustainability and saving the environment. I felt that the place to do this was in commercial lighting, more specifically commercial safety lighting. I started with five different types of exit signs. It’s something that every company and every building has, needs. They’re a huge expense within the building process and one of the big hidden expenses in running a business, building or managing a property. We’re trying to spread the word as quickly as possible. Did you know that just one exit sign can burn up $40 of electricity per year? The costs of replacing the batteries or bulbs in these signs is even more. Imagine an average office, hotel or apartment building with hundreds of these! It’s almost always overlooked, but a quick simple way to identify thousands of dollars in savings per year.

LAX: Have you noticed a corporate trend toward going green?

GG: Yes. Thankfully it’s been catching on over the last five years. Current incandescent bulbs — the light bulbs in exit signs — are being pushed away finally. You’re seeing a faze-out of the energy- and maintenance-hog designs. Do the math. The Greentorch photoluminescent exit signs use zero electricity, and our LEC exit signs draw only 1/4th a watt, down from the typical 35-40 watts — with the money you can save by installing these new ultra energy-efficient exit-signs, it’s a no-brainer. These technologies have a great future within safety lighting and are available now.

LAX: What differentiates Greentorch from a traditional retailer or a web entity selling exit signs or energy-efficient lighting solutions?

David Ferrigno: Most companies who are bringing new products to the market are burdened by their costly legacy infrastructure. Prior to the internet, massive networks of wholesalers, transportation, distributors, logistics, sales reps, and brick-andmortar stores were required to deliver products to end users. Consider the overhead to support the organization in each of those areas. By leveraging technology we are more efficient, and bring the products directly from our factory to the end user. We operate lean and mean. We can bring innovation and new products to market quicker and pass that savings directly to the builder or consumer.

LAX: In addition to safety lighting, what other types of products do you offer?

GG: For general ambient lighting, we now offer high-powered LED light bulbs. Many companies are pitching compact fluorescent bulbs, but for now, we are deciding to not go this direction.

LAX: Let’s get back to the individual. Can changing out bulbs make a difference in my house?

GG: This is perfect. We actually just went through this example in the real world with another challenge given to us by Adrian and Alter Eco. They are building, with developer Richard Byrd and Byrd Development, an ultra luxury, Platinum LEED certified home in L.A. Rick and Adrian were familiar with what we could do in a commercial environment after we greened the Pharmaka Art gallery in downtown Los Angeles. “We need Greentorch technology for a house can you help us?” They were going to install 90 watt and 75 watt halogen bulbs throughout the home. They are going for a Spanish, rustic feel and with aesthetics that could not be accomplished using compact fluorescent. CFL would have ruined the warmth and comfort of the house. We also lit the 100-foot tall oak tree in the back yard using our 9watt fixture called the Lumenterra. Ask any landscape designer, and they will tell you, this is quite a feat!

Greentorch customers include Disney Corporate Headquarters, Boeing, McDonalds, The Valadon Hotel, MGM, Anaheim Convention Center, Vanity Fair, The United Nations, The Custom Hotel, Juicy Couture, House of Blues, UC Irvine, UC Davis, Stanford, Holiday Inn, Delta Airlines and The Irvine Company to name a few.

For more information:
Greentorch
www.greentorch.com
Alter Eco
www.planetgreen.discovery.com/tv/alter-eco
Pharamka
www.pharmaka-art.org
Byrd Development
www.byrddevelopment.com
Angela Lindvall
www.collagefoundation.org
Green Ambassadors
www.greenambassadors.org

- LISA FRANCE

Green Revolution: Sustainability, Business, and Cultural Change

Green Revolution: Sustainability, Business, and Cultural Change

These are the enthusiastic opening words of Senator Barbara Boxer at the USC “Green Revolution” Summit, an event put on by the USC Marshall School of Business and USC Alumni Association President Chuck Gold. The invited guests at the summit were not typical “greenies” but rather some of the most influential Fortune 500 companies in the world. CB Richard Ellis, Waste Management, and BP were all invited to share how and why their corporations were switching to more sustainable business practices. As I listened to the conference presentations it was hard to curb my enthusiasm. After all, with such magnitude and influence, even small changes within these companies can create significant measurable results, capable of reducing the environmental degradation related to consumerism. But as we enter this green revolution, we must be careful as consumers and engaged citizens to make sure these corporate efforts are truly effective and sustainable, not just timely attempts at corporate responsibility.

Immoderate enthusiasm and support can be just as dangerous as apathy or unrelenting criticism. Take, for example, the sheer excitement related to ethanol just last year when Congress mandated a five-fold increase in the use of bio-fuels. At the time, ethanol seemed to present a win-win situation for the United States — a way to reduce greenhouse gases while supporting American farmers. Now, as The Economist recently detailed in their “Silent Tsunami” issue, our mass production of corn for bio-fuel is clearly related to the world wide food crisis. Surely no Biodiesel advocating do-gooder was prepared to exacerbate world hunger issues when he slapped that lovely blue and yellow bumper sticker on his car and filled up at the “green-friendly” fuel station. This unfortunate outcome does not nullify the consumer’s good intentions; it simply exemplifies the need for critical review before mass popularization of green ideas.

It is this reality that prompted my own close review of the “sustainability practices” championed so proudly at this summit. Let’s consider Waste Management’s waste-to-energy policy. Waste Management is the largest waste disposal company in the United States. For recycling alone they process over 5.8 million tons of commodities each year. The “waste-to-energy” process is one of their most promulgated attempts to be a more green-friendly company. They plan to start running 60 waste-to-energy facilities in the US by 2012. Waste-to-energy is essentially collecting the trash that would otherwise sit in landfills, incinerating it, and using the heat produced to generate electricity. The most notable benefits of waste-to-energy plants are that they reduce the need for coal-fired power plants and minimize toxic landfill waste. As landfill waste decomposes, it releases harmful air pollutants such as methane gas, and waste-to-energy projects dramatically reduce these pollutants. Also, in the past few years, highly effective control designs have been adopted, greatly reducing the amount of dioxin and furan emissions from waste-to-energy incinerators.

Despite these benefits many environmentalists still oppose wasteto- energy plants. They argue that even when the most advanced technologies are used to minimize environmental contamination, incineration by-products (such as highly toxic flying ash and varying levels of heavy metal emissions like arsenic, mercury, and lead) are detrimental to the health of local residents and habitats. Are these environmental groups too purist in their sustainability ideology, not giving credit where credit is due? Or is Waste Management participating in “greenwashing” by only reporting the positive effects of waste-to-energy systems? As environmentalism becomes marketable, it is just as important to ask these questions and require methodologically rigorous answers, as it is to congratulate and recognize successes within the industry.

Unfortunately, advertising environmental sustainability without Implementing deep structural changes is increasingly common. Greenwashing was actually mentioned by several of the panelists at the USC’s Green Revolution Summit, but only in reference to their competitors. So how do we know that BP is not simply “hopping on the green train” as their representative Ann Hand implied BP’s competitors Chevron and Shell are doing? Fortunately, there are ways to identify outright green washing, but uncovering signs of a true commitment to change requires more investigation than the average consumer is willing to carry out. The time it takes to do the requisite research is often low on the list of priorities, understandably so. There is no doubt about the fact that we Americans are busy. Distinguishing green washing from true sustainable corporate change is not as easy as looking up the company’s website, or judging from the eco-friendly icons that dance around merrily on television commercials. It isn’t even as simple as reading through the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) report; although that is a start.

The best way to judge whether a company is truly committed to reducing their environmental impact is to look at how their stated goals are operationalized. Catch phrases such as “sustainable” and “green” are ubiquitous within CSR reports but carry little weight without a clear description of programmatic implementation. Sally Wilson, the Global Director of Environmental Policy for the largest real estate company in the world, CB Richard Ellis (CBRE), has done a notable job of operationalizing CBRE’s attempts at sustainability. For example, CBRE has absolved the use of bottled water in all of its offices throughout the U.S.

This may sound like a small change, but small changes within huge corporations create significant positive results. Most importantly, CBRE’s switch to no bottled water, and their commitment to promote LEED certification of their properties, are clearly defined and measurable changes. Another way to judge whether a company is green washing is to look at where their money is going. Most large companies give significant contributions to foundations, politicians, and lobby groups. If a company is purporting to be eco-friendly while supporting lobby groups that are working to weaken environmental standards, it is clear that their stated values are simply selling points.

BP is a complicated case in this respect. On the eco-friendly side, BP committed $500 million dollars to create the Berkeley Bio Sciences Institute in 2006. This institute is a potential powerhouse for the development of alternative energies. At the same time, BP/Conoco designated $600 million to the development of “Project Denali,” a gas pipeline that will aid in the hotly debated extraction of oil from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But what can we expect from one of the global giants in the fuel industry? Their first objective is to sustain their business, a fair and understandable priority.

The difficult truth is that each of the four companies represented at this conference are major competitors in markets which are inextricably linked to degradation of the natural environment. And their representatives know that. Sally Wilson from CBRE started her presentation by reminding us that nearly 40% of CO2 emissions come from buildings. The toxic effects from petroleum extraction and combustion, BP’s central market, are undeniable. And the heart of Waste Managements survival is the continued production of exorbitant waste.

It is also important to note that each of these companies, CB Richard Ellis, BP, and Waste Management, are making genuine concerted efforts to reduce their impact on the environment. They are leaders in sustainability within the markets that their corporations are based. The only possible harm in their sustainability efforts is the potential justification to maintain, or even increase, the current levels of consumerism within the United States. It is too early to see whether consumers who attempt to lessen their impact on the environment will actually consume more, as their guilt is squelched by buying from companies with an ecofriendly image.

Buying gas from BP is probably more environmentally sustainable than buying gas from Shell or Chevron, but the heart of the matter is simply buying less gas. Will consumers that would have otherwise skipped out on that road trip, biked to work, or chosen to use public transport, justify their increase in driving by buying gas at BP’s Helios House? If so, these marketing campaigns, even if they are substantiated by true internal changes, have the capacity to negatively affect the environmental movement.

Achieving carbon-neutrally was mentioned several times throughout the conference as a great way to become a “greener” company. But purchasing carbon-offsets is an example of a publicized, marketable antidote that lacks clear evidence of efficacy. The New York Times hits the nail on the head in their article, “Gas Guzzlers Find Forgiveness” by explaining that buying carbon credits does not actually eliminate pollution, but it does make consumers feel better about burning unnecessary gasoline.

If consumers or companies care deeply about reducing their carbon footprint, they should use less, conserve carbon cabinets, and when consumption is truly necessary, support the companies that have made greener structural changes. BP, Waste Management, CB Richard Ellis are all corporate entities that fall within that category. We should applaud these corporate attempts at sustainability while continuing to look closely at their stated policies, and improve them as necessary. At the same time, the most essential element of the green revolution is a larger change, one based in reforming the consumerism inherent in American culture rather than just reforming corporate policy.

- JOY LYNN AGNER