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Articles Posted in the Business, Lifestyle category

Guide to climate friendlier gadgets

November 26, 2008
Posted in Business, Lifestyle

The lastest Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics has just been released and this time, in the run-up to the big UN climate change talks in Poland next week, the focus is on climate leadership.

Consumer electronics can play an important role in moving the world towards a low-carbon future, but most companies have been slow to get serious about climate change, says Greenpeace. Although they have made “gradual” improvements on toxic and e-waste issues over the past few years, only a minority of consumer electronics companies are really leading on energy and climate change. And now Greenpeace wants them to step up to the challenge and show leadership.

Since June, the greener electronics guide has examined companies on their climate and energy criteria, which include, their direct emissions, their product performance, their use of renewable energy and their political support for emission cuts. And here’s what Greenpeace found:

Of the 18 market-leading companies included, only Sharp, Fujitsu Siemens and Philips show full support for the necessary emissions cuts of 30 percent for industrial nations by 2020.

Only HP and Philips have made commitments to make substantial cuts in their own emissions from the product manufacture and supply chain.

All the other companies in the guide make “vague or essentially meaningless statements about global emissions reductions and have no plans to make absolute emissions cuts themselves”.

Many companies have gained points from their products’ efficiency improvements.

Most companies use little renewable energy. Nokia, which is still in the number one spot, sources 25 percent of its total electricity use from renewable energy and is committed to sourcing 50 percent by 2010.

Other brands with points for renewable energy use are FSC, Microsoft, Toshiba, Motorola and Philips.

Although Philips and HP score well on energy issues, Greenpeace says they’re position on toxics is letting them down.

Those who score well on toxic chemical criteria already have products on the market free of the worst substances, including Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Toshiba, FSC and Sharp.

Overall, the biggest moves up the ranking are Motorola, (from 15th to joint 7th), Toshiba (from 7th to 3rd) and Sharp, (up from 16th to 10th).

The companies falling down the ranking are the PC brands Acer, Dell, HP and Apple. Although Apple drops a place, it has improved its total score this time because of better reporting on the carbon footprint of its products, and although not scoring any extra points, its new iPods are now free of both PVC and brominated flame retardants.

Read more about how the companies fared.

Wine industry can help conserve cork forests

November 10, 2008
Posted in Conservation, Lifestyle

Photo: A cork oak tree in the mountains near Alcala de los Gazules, Andalucia. Spain
© WWF-Canon / Edward PARKER – WWF

The growing use of plastic and metal substitutes for cork in the wine industry is threatening the Mediterranean’s cork oak forests, says the WWF.

Cork comes from ancient Mediterranean forests. It is a totally natural, renewable and recyclable product. No trees are cut to harvest the cork, instead bark of cork oak trees are stripped every 9-12 years. This is one of the most environmental friendly harvesting processes in the world, the environmental group says.

The cork used in wine bottles and its role in sustainable forestry was an issue raised by the environmental organisation at the general assembly of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) held in Cape Town last week.

The WWF highlighted the vital role the wine industry plays in maintaining the economic value of cork and thus conserving the cork forests. Cork for wine bottle stoppers accounts for almost 70 percent of the total value of the cork market.

“cork forests are home and a source of income to thousands of people and support one of the highest levels of biodiversity in the planet. Decreasing demand from the wine industry for cork stoppers would force entire communities to leave, resulting in more forest fires, desertification and the permanent loss of 2.7 million hectares of forest,” the organisation says.

In its efforts to preserve cork oak landscapes, the WWF is using FSC certification as a market-based tool to drive best management practices on the ground while ensuring sustainable cork markets.

Wine bottles sealed with FSC cork are already available on the market. Three wine producers/ bottlers have certified their chain of custody and seal their wine bottles with FSC cork stoppers (South Africa, Oregon, and Spain). And wine retailers such as Woolworths in South Africa are showing a growing interest in FSC cork, says the WWF-SA.

The FSC is an independent, non profit organisation whose certification system helps consumers make more informed choices when buying timber products. The FSC label is an indication that a product comes from a sustainably managed forest. Although there appears to be disagreement over its certification of “monoculture plantations”.

Worldwide Blogger Bake Off

October 27, 2008
Posted in Lifestyle

The Worldwide Blogger Bake Off is a campaign of Breadline Africa that aims to raise $1-million for poverty alleviation in Africa. Breadline Africa will use the donations they receive to convert shipping containers into community kitchens in poor communities.

Why join? Well, Breadline Africa says: “Other than the overwhelming sense of satisfaction from lending a helping hand, the new snazzy container kitchen could be named after you or your blog as well as a Amazon voucher worth $500.”

Want to join in? Go to the Worldwide Blogger Bake off website for more info.

My contribution will be to match the R90 donated by the Cape Town Oracle, who tagged me. And I will contribute a recipe for Mandazi because they remind me of many happy months spent travelling around East Africa and the hospitality of the people there. I’m not going to tag anybody. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether you want to join in or not.

New carbon footprint calculator for cellphones launched by WWF

October 22, 2008
Posted in Green tips, Lifestyle

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has launched an easy-to-use carbon footprint calculator for cellphones in partnership with BULKSMS.com – the first of its kind in South Africa.

Called MyCO2Print, it is far simpler than the carbon footprint calculators on the web, says Carolyn Cramer of the WWF. “This is intentional. We wanted a tool which would enable South Africans to measure their carbon footprint in terms of travel and energy use and to try to improve it on a monthly basis.”

MyCO2 footrprint asks just five easy questions:

  • how many people there are in your household;
  • how many kilometres a month your household drives and in what kind of car (small, medium or large);
  • what’s your household air travel in kms;
  • how much you spend a month on electricity; and
  • how many kgs of gas you use.

It will then calculate how many kgs of carbon your household produces per month; how much carbon you as a member of that household contribute per month, which you can compare to an average user; and what your approximate cost to the environment is per month in rands. (This calculation is based on figures derived from the Stern Report, the WWF says.) Then it’ll tell you whether you’re doing well or not and offer a useful energy saving tip.

A very handy feature is that it remembers your data so next time you use the calculator you can compare your results, this is a quick and easy way to measure how lifestyle changes you and your family make benefit the environment.

The WWF hopes the MyCO2Print will appeal to young people in particular. “We envisage school teachers using it as a innovative tool in the classroom to educate on climate change and the environment,” says Cramer.

To try out the MyCO2Print calculator, sms CO2 to 34017. Your phone must be wap-enabled. SMSs are charged at R2.00.

Another reason why shade-grown coffee is best

October 22, 2008
Posted in Lifestyle

Next time you buy a cup of coffee or coffe beans check if it’s shade grown. Coffee grown in this way is not only more environmentally friendly, it could also have long-term benefits for the millions of people in developing countries who rely on coffee for their livelihoods, say researchers.

Traditionally, coffee farmers in Latin America grew their plants under the shade of a diverse canopy of beans. But, in an effort to increase production, many have apparently abandoned these old methods in favour of “sun coffee”, which involves thinning or removing the canopy and using high-yield strains that grow best in direct sunlight.

Shade-grown farms boost biodiversity by providing a haven for birds and other animals and they require less synthetic fertiliser, pesticides and herbicides than sun-coffee plantations, say researchers from the University of Michigan. They also say that the canopy shields coffee plants during extreme weather events, such as droughts and severe storms, that are expected to become more frequent because of climate change.

“Shaded coffee is ideal because it will buffer the system from climate change while protecting biodiversity,” said Ivette Perfecto of the university’s school of natural resources and environment, who has studied biodiversity in Latin American coffee plantations for 20 years.

Shade trees help dampen the effects of drought and heat waves by maintaining a cool, moist microclimate beneath the canopy. They also act as windbreaks during storms and help reduce runoff and erosion, the researchers say.

“These two trends – increasing agricultural intensification and the trend towards more frequent extreme-weather events – will work in concert to increase farmer vulnerability,” said Brenda Lin, the lead author of the study, which was published in the October edition of the journal BioScience.

“We should take advantage of the services the ecosystems naturally provide, and use them to protect farmers’ livelihoods.”

Source: Science Daily

EU bans light bulbs

October 22, 2008
Posted in Green News, Lifestyle

The European Union this month pulled the plug on old-fashioned incandescent light bulbs. They will be banned in Europe as of 2010. The EU has also lifted import duties on energy-saving lamps from China, which will help lower retail prices of more energy-efficient light bulbs.

Incandescent bulbs use up to five times more energy than efficient lights, such as compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) and light-emitting diodes (LEDs). By replacing old lamps with the best available technology the EU will reportedly reduce the energy consumption for lighting of its 500-million citizens by 60 percent, which is the equivalent of about 30-million tons of carbon dioxide a year.

Australia has also banned incandescent light bulbs from 2010.

Source: WWF

Nokia offers SA’s first cellphone take-back service

October 13, 2008
Posted in Lifestyle

If each of the 3 billion people in the world who owns a cellphone recycled just one device, 240,000 tons of raw materials could be saved and greenhouse gases equivalent to taking 4 million cars off the road could be saved, says Markus Terho, a director of environmental affairs at Nokia.

But at present only 3 percent of old cellphones are being recycled because people appear to be unaware that they can be.

Nokia has started taking back unwanted cellphones in South Africa with the aim of raising consumer awareness in this country of the fact that these devices can be recycled.

The company has already placed recycling boxes at 20 of its care points, but pretty soon all 34 Nokia care points countrywide should have them, the company says. Take-back collection points should display Nokia’s “We recycle” logo on a poster in the shop window.

You can drop off any make of mobile device including accessories and batteries, the company says.

At present the phones that are handed in are shipped overseas to an accredited recycler because there are no accredited partners in South Africa with the required certifications to do the recycling locally. But the company says it is working at sourcing recyclers within the local market that can be given the necessary accreditation to ensure the proper treatment of used devices.

Between 65 and 80 percent of any Nokia device is recyclable, says Terho. Precious materials can be reclaimed and reused in products such as kettles, park benches, dental fillings or even saxophones and other metal musical instruments. Plastics that can’t be recycled are burnt to provide energy for the recycling process, and other materials are ground up into chips and used as construction materials or for building roads. In this way nothing has to go to landfill, says the company.

Thanks to its globally expanding cellphone take-back programme, Nokia has reclaimed the top spot in the latest Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics. The company says it’s working hard to make it easier for people to recycle, providing information and take-back programmes.

A survey conducted earlier this year found that globally people on average have each owned about five phones, but very few are thrown away or recycled. More than 40 pecent of people simply had them lying around unused in drawers. About 25 percent said they passed on their old phones to friends or family, and 16 percent sold their used devices in emerging markets.

To find your closest Nokia Care point visit the Nokia website or phone 086 11 NOKIA.

Have some respect for our public spaces

October 13, 2008
Posted in Lifestyle

This is a picture of Germiston Lake, a public recreation area east of Johannesburg. It was taken at about 4pm on Sunday. It could be a lovely place to spend a weekend afternoon. But nowadays it’s not the kind of place you want to take your children. The ground around the children’s playground is littered with shards of broken glass. And despite the fact that there is a dustbin just a few metres from where this party sat, they just upped and left their beer bottles and dirty paper plates lying on the ground. It’s really sad to see people treat public spaces in this way. There are so few of them in Johannesburg as it is.

Cool gadgets for eco-friendly people

October 8, 2008
Posted in Lifestyle, Renewable energy

Here’s proof that environmentally friendly gadgets don’t have to be home-made and held together with duct tape. The three below are clever, simple, look good and use renewable energy.

Swiss-based company Sakku produces solar bags with an integrated ultra-light and flexible solar panel that allows you to charge your cell phone, MP3 Player or GPS tracker with solar energy. The bags come in three models: Sakku.traveller, which is made out of recycled sail cloth from boats sailing on Swiss lakes; Sakku.worker, which has a cushioned compartment for laptops and comes in black cordura with an extra-large belt; and Sakku.buddy, which uses recycled sun shutters. Best of all these bags are available in South Africa from Tashi Solar. The bags are available either with or without a battery which stores energy so you can charge your appliance when you need to. The bags start at R3,352.00. Read more

Eat less meat and take a load off the planet

October 1, 2008
Posted in Food, Green tips, Lifestyle

Want to do something to help combat global warming? Eat less meat. This is the sage advice of the head of the world’s top scientific body on climate change, the IPCC.

“Give up meat for one day [a week] initially, and decrease it from there,” Dr Rajendra Pachauri, was recently quoted in The Observer as saying.

This is one of the most effective lifestyle changes you could make to decrease your carbon footprint. Meat production is responsible for about a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions, says the Food and Agriculture Organisation. Read more

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