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Archive for the ‘Move’ Category

 

A sneak peak at Oroeco's spiffy new Dashboard, which automatically tracks your personal climate impacts, compares you with your friends, and gives you personalized tips for saving carbon and money.

A sneak peak at Oroeco’s spiffy new Dashboard, which automatically tracks your personal climate impacts, compares you with your friends, gives customized tips for saving carbon and money, and rewards you and your friends for taking action.

Earth Day 2014 is upon us! We’re marking the auspicious occasion with the launch of Oroeco BETA, the world’s first service that automatically tracks your impacts on climate change, then rewards you and all your friends for taking actions that lead to a happier, healthier planet. The journey has really just begun. Oroeco’s team, advisors and intrepid beta testers have put in long hours to get us where we are now, but Oroeco is still only scratching the surface of the transformative tool for sustainability we think it can be. We’ll always remain a work-in-progress, as we hope to be adding a LOT more functionality and improving your user experience for many years to come.

Whether or not Oroeco puts a dent in climate change really depends on you. We’re only as powerful as the number of you using us, the amount you decide to take meaningful action, and the friends you encourage to do the same. So go ahead, sign up to take us for a spin; then invite all your friends. If you don’t have one already, you’ll also have to create a (free) Mint.com account to get started, and our About page and FAQ will fill in some details about how and why we’re doing what we’re doing. We’d also love to hear your feedback about what you like, what you don’t, and what we should add next to make Oroeco as awesome as can be!

And if you dig Oroeco BETA, stay-tuned for our first awesome mobile app, launching soon(ish)! OK, we’ll get off our self-promotional soapbox now…

We’ve been a bit delinquent about blogging while diving neck-deep into Oroeco’s web app, but we’ll be reentering the blogosphere soon. We’re planning to delve deep into the nitty gritty scientific details of personal sustainability, but we could use your ideas for what you’d like to see us research and write about. So tell us, what burning climate conundrums keep you up at night? Paper or plastic? Trains, planes or automobiles? Cow-fart collectors? We are at your blogging disposal!

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A sexy green Tesla Roadster won’t save you $, but plenty of other eco autos will.

Need a whiff of new car smell in your life? Wondering how auto options shake out for both your pocketbook and the planet? Well, your tax dollars have funded a handy tool to help you green your wheels. Coming courtesy of EPA and DOE, fueleconomy.gov allows you to compare how different models stack up in terms of operating cost, gasoline consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions.

The site includes electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, so you can see that an all-electric Nissan Leaf will cost about $600 per year in fuel, compared with ~$1200/yr for a Toyota Prius hybrid, and ~$1,600/yr for a basic Honda Civic (based on average US gas prices and 15,000 miles per year, which you can personalize). Greenhouse gas emissions are a bit trickier to compare for electric vs. gasoline guzzlers, since there’s wide state by state variation in carbon emission intensity for electricity. So a Leaf may be neon green in Seattle (which gets most of its power from hydro and other renewables), but turn a much muddier color when driven in West Virginia (which still relies almost exclusively on coal to make electrons flow).

Don’t want to drop bling on a new ride? Fueleconomy.gov includes used cars too, so you can see how your old pickup performs alongside that sweet vintage Mustang on craigslist. Or, if you’re happy with what you’ve got, you can also check out tips for improving gas mileage (and saving money), like driving more efficiently and keeping your tires inflated (which can save $0.10 per gallon).

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Example of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) steps for the clothing industry.

You’ll hear us refer to “life cycle assessment” a fair bit here at Oroeco (or LCA, for acronym aficionados). So what exactly is it? In its broadest sense, LCA is the detailed accounting of something you care about related to the existence of a selected product or service. Sometimes also called “life cycle analysis” or ecological “footprinting,” LCA is most frequently applied to environmental indicators, particularly embodied energy, toxic pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. But LCA can also be applied to indicators without direct environmental links, like labor hours or raw material inputs.

LCA is essentially just accounting, but where traditional accounting deals with relatively well-documented costs and revenues, LCA typically requires substantial additional data collection to convert process input-output data into the metric(s) you’ve selected. Methodology details matter, sometimes immensely.  Just as unaccounted costs and revenue can dramatically alter a corporate balance sheet, what goes into (and gets left out of) any LCA can have profound impacts on LCA results and presumed implications.

Why care about LCA? First off, it’s quite hard to improve what you can’t measure. LCA is a powerful tool to get you information about the true impacts from a pair of Levi’s jeans, a carton of Tropicana orange juice, and all sorts of other consumables, impacts that aren’t otherwise apparent. LCA can be great for producers too, because looking closely at a product’s life cycle highlights where energy, water, and other inputs can be saved at each stage of production, either by upgrading to more efficient techniques, or by switching to more sustainable suppliers. These resource savings often also translate to cost savings, which hopefully get passed on to you. These savings, combined with growing consumer scrutiny of the “green labeling” movement, have pushed retail giants like Tesco and Walmart to start requiring LCA data from their suppliers.

The pic above illustrates the life cycle of a clothing product. If you’re interested in the life cycle carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions linked with owning a T-shirt, for example, you’d start by calculating all the material and energy inputs (and associated CO2) that go with production of raw materials (e.g. cotton, wool, or oil for synthetic fibers), and then include energy used in manufacturing of intermediate products (like yarn and cloth), clothing assembly, and retail sales. You’d also need to add on all the transportation and packaging energy needed to move stuff between each step. In some LCA calculations, known as “cradle-to-gate” LCA, accounting stops there at the checkout counter. But a complete LCA, known as “cradle-to-grave” or “cradle-to-cradle” LCA, will also include all the energy and material inputs linked to using your T-shirt, as well as what goes into disposal.

The results of LCA can be quite informative, and often surprising. For your T-shirt, chances are the use phase of the life cycle will have the largest climate impact, since you wash and dry your shirts many times before they find their way to the landfill (or Goodwill), with each load of laundry requiring a substantial amount of electricity and/or natural gas (as well as embodied energy in laundry detergent, fabric softener, dryer sheets, etc.), though you can reduce your use phase impacts by washing with cold water and hanging your clothes to dry. If you care more about toxics than CO2, it’s the pesticide-laden production of cotton that looks particularly incriminating, though that can also be avoided by buying organic.

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Annual CO2 emissions for an average U.S. household (blue = direct; green = indirect). Reference: Jones & Kammen 2011.

For those of us concerned about climate change and other global issues, the challenges can feel overwhelming. Despite solid scientific consensus that our world is warming from fossil fuels and deforestation, there’s been a lot of talk but very little action to foster sustainable solutions and let cooler heads prevail. The sickly state of the global economy has led many to assume we can’t afford to do anything anyway.

But the good news is we don’t need to wait for politicians and corporations to clean up their acts. We can do it ourselves. The power plants, factory farms, timber mills, and industrial smokestacks are all ultimately producing things that we use. While the Oroeco crew aspires to live by the original Golden Rule, there’s also wisdom in its cynical parody: “(s)he who has the gold makes the rules.” It’s your gold that companies are trying to get, so we think you should also be the one making the rules. The power to change things is ultimately in your hands, and your wallet. It’s both a daunting and an empowering revelation.

Which decisions matter most? Well, the answer depends on where you live, what your lifestyle is like, and what you care about. A great place to start (at least as far as climate is concerned) is a study by Chris Jones and Dan Kammen from the CoolClimate Network (a research team based out of University of California, Berkeley). The graph above shows how greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (measured in annual metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, mtCO2e) look for an average US household. While transportation and housing represent the largest categories of emissions, it may be surprising that food and other goods and services also have substantial GHG footprints.

What makes the CoolClimate study particularly appealing is that it not only shows where there’s room for improvement, it also illustrates (in the graph below) how saving carbon can end up saving you a lot of money. Some savings can come simply from buying less stuff. Additional savings comes from investing in more efficient products, like energy efficient appliances and a low-carbon diet (e.g. more veggies, less meat). Curious where the most carbon and cash can be saved in your life? Take the CoolClimate carbon calculator out for a spin to get a personalized ranking of the actions which maximize your savings based on your lifestyle.

Average $s saved from CO2 reducing actions (green = diet; yellow = transport; gray = home). Reference: Jones & Kammen 2011.

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