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Better stewardship



Published January 18, 2011
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Did you know that 2011 is the year of the rabbit? In the Chinese calendar, if you were born in the year of the rabbit you are elegant, worship beauty, and carry messages of mercy to all with whom you have contact. I don't know about you, but the rabbits that I know are anything but elegant. They are long-eared creatures that eat everything in your garden, dig holes, and generally raise havoc. I think "varmint" is a pretty good description.

That just goes to show you that there are always two sides to every story. To elaborate: Our editor sent me a massive document from The Atlantic magazine. The title of the article is "The Danger of Cosmic Genius." This is a story of Freeman Dyson, a physicist of Einsteinian brilliance, and his view on global warming. The article is written by Kenneth Brower, whose father was the first executive director of the Sierra Club. The story reflects the Dyson theory that there is no global warming. Brower essentially says that Dyson is completely and utterly mad.

I wish I could say the same thing about my friend, CD. For the last 12 months CD and I have gone back and forth on greenhouse gas, which I believe causes global warming. CD says that reducing human CO2 emissions will have no measurable cooling effect on planetary temperature. There isn't a month that I don't receive something in the mail from CD on counterpoint arguments, the failure of the United Nations climate talks, and the misguided focus on sustainability. CD's view is that money and time spent on change in global warming is misdirected. For example, the recent UN meeting in Cancun cost money that under-developed countries should have put into their economies. To be sure, he makes a valid point when he reminds us that Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, opened the proceedings with a prayer to Ixchel, the Mayan goddess of the moon and also the mythological supreme being of fertility. Figueres wanted Ixchel to send rain for crops. Not only is Ixchel the supreme being of fertility, she is also the goddess of reason, creativity, and weaving, kind of a homebody. Figueres hoped Ixchel would inspire the delegates at the convention.

But she really messed up. Figueres, along with the rest of the "environmentalists," threw a huge party on the beach on the first night. This doesn't sit well with Ian Roberts, professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who believes that fossil fuel energy is causing the world to get hotter and fatter: "Why did we have this party if it creates additional carbon footprint? Did anyone look at the virtual bounty before them and recognize the hypocrisy of promoting rationing in the developed world to cut emissions?"

You know, maybe CD and Freeman Dyson have a point. Maybe we're our own worst enemy. Remember what Pogo said: "We have met the enemy and he is us." Brilliant.

As we enter 2011, I am reassured that three initiatives will continue. The first is sustainable packaging, aka, Walmart's scorecard and the actions by the Global Packaging Project (Trust me, everyone in our supply chain will be affected by this activity.). The second is energy and the global challenge to create change that is practical, affordable, and achievable. And third, the ongoing debate in our industry to create a friendlier technology. As 2011 unfolds I will spend time on each and do my best to bring an understanding to each of these very complicated issues.

I do know that we have seen change in our manufacturing community over the last several years that encourages recycling. While this may be an offshoot of customer requirements, I would prefer to think it is a result of a balanced approach to better stewardship. "Waste not, want not" is a maxim that business is beginning to follow. While it is a fact that we have only diverted about 20 percent of household waste here in the United States, we are finding better ways to recycle in business. There are some nice benefits.

Achievements
Here are several examples of success stories that I picked up in a variety of trade publications:

* Kraft Foods owns Philadelphia Cream Cheese. One of the waste streams from processing this product is the whey. This biodegradable material gives off a flammable gas during the natural degradation process. The Lowville, NY, USA, plant installed an anaerobic digester to generate methane from the whey. The gas is captured and replaces about 33 percent of the natural gas that the plant was purchasing. The plant also replaced the lighting system in the factory, resulting in a reduction of purchased power by nearly 1 million kilowatt hours last year.

* General Motors built a manufacturing plant a few years ago in Delta Township, MI, USA. Considering that the roof of the facility collected a significant volume of water when it rained, they designed a collection system to gather the storm water in elevated tanks just below the roof. The water is used for the plant's sanitary needs. No pumps were needed and city water was no longer required.

* Southern California Edison took notice of the empty roofs in areas they supplied. They started a five-year plan to build photovoltaic (solar cell) systems on these roofs. The gathered electricity will be fed to neighborhood grids. A second benefit is that these roofs will get less sun and weathering, cooling the buildings and hopefully increasing their lifespans.

* California State University in Fresno noticed the parking lots around campus. In conjunction with Chevron Energy Solutions, they constructed elevated solar panels that covered 5.5 acres of parking lots. This not only provides plenty of power but shades the student's cars and provides some protection from the weather without sacrificing additional land space.

* Finally, there's a wonderful story about some ingenious farmers in Wisconsin. While some of you have seen batches of wind turbines, wind is relatively scarce in the state. A number of farmers have discovered that they can install digesters that turn what was once a burden into cash by collecting cattle waste and converting it into gas to generate electricity, which then operates milking equipment.

Are these changes driven by a concern for reducing greenhouse gas (methane from cows), or by customers wanting more sustainable solutions or economics? I really don't think we need to worry about the driver if the results provide for a healthier community. Perhaps that's the key with rabbits, to channel their need for survival into something that benefits us all. I'm thinking of a large cage with a wheel, like a hamster cage where the wheel revolves, creating energy which reduces dependence on fossil fuel. Shades of Freeman Dyson. Sorry CD.

Happy New Year to you all.

Another Letter from the Earth.

Calvin Frost is chairman of Channeled Resources Group, headquartered in Chicago, the parent company of Maratech International and GMC Coating. His email address is cfrost@channeledresources.com.


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