The Sarasota area is known primarily for its sugar-sand beaches and crystal blue water. We are sensitive about our natural environment—it’s what brought us here. We hate cigarette butts on our beaches and styrofoam cups in our bay. But we also hate air pollution, metallic drinking water, traffic, and the host of old carcinogens that serve as building materials, packaging, disposable utensils, and containers. We are willing to sacrifice commerce, new housing, and even a hotter Big Mac if it means keeping trash, hydrocarbons, ozone, and waste out of our environment. We have long had a sense that there has to be a better way of living than the throw-away, don’t-look-back, bomber pilot mentality that has been degrading our natural resources until we barely have any.
Enter “green” business. Hooray! We like that green business thing. It sounds good: green business. We’re all glad we’re now conducting green business. If only we knew what it is.
What the heck is Green Business?
It depends on whom you ask. In construction, for instance, there are at least three types of green businesses. One is retrofitting existing structures with non-polluting, low-carbon, clean materials and systems. Think of today’s high efficiency heat pumps as opposed to the coal-burning furnaces of fifty or so years ago. Another is green new construction—solar hot water systems, heat-reflecting roofing, maybe even structural insulated panel (SIP) construction. A third is increasing energy efficiency on the buildings we have—R-35 attic insulation (bonus points for blown-in recycled paper), double-paned windows, clean and tight duct-work.
So green business comprises green processes and green materials. And there’s the additional step of using green materials that are produced using green processes. For example, textiles used to be a large-carbon-footprint1 manufacturing process: carpets, for instance, made of petroleum-based materials like nylon and polyester, processed on vast, petroleum-lubricated machines that used tremendous amounts of electricity generated by coal-fired plants. Nasty stuff. Now there are textile companies that manufacture their carpet from recycled plastic bottles using non-polluting chemical processes in low carbon-emission plants. That’s a perfect example of green processes used to turn out a green product.
What does this mean for you?
It means you have options.
There are a number of green builders in the Sarasota community. Two examples: 1) Willis A. Smith Construction Company, Inc. recently completed the reclamation of a building on University Parkway for use by Gateway Bank. The new bank, designed by Carlson Studio Architecture, retrofitted HVAC systems and irrigation systems, illumination and water systems, and the building envelope using green products and green processes. The building is not only beautiful, it’s tight and efficient. 2) Habitat for Humanity of Sarasota has converted to SIP construction, solar water heaters, and underground drip irrigation. These innovations reduce Habitat neighborhoods’ carbon footprint and save Habitat families up to 58 percent on their utility bills.
There are other green businesses outside the construction sciences, though. Several companies in the Sarasota community produce systems for capturing sunlight—an endless and non-polluting resource—to generate heat (solar thermal technologies) and electricity (photovoltaic technologies). Those are green products. When those products are manufactured and installed in eco-friendly ways, the impact is further enhanced by those green processes. A number of companies in the Sarasota community specialize in systems that reclaim used water. Gray water, water previously used for cooking or cleaning or drinking, can often be used for landscape irrigation or for steam in power generation, saving the scarce freshwater resource. When the gray water is used to produce steam, it can be distilled to produce fresh water again and may be reused for drinking water.
Of course, the ultimate eco-friendly business is waste-to-energy, and it’s coming to a power grid near you. The community’s landfill—where all the trash and garbage you leave at curbside for pick-up are buried—is mined for fuel. Combustibles are incinerated at high temperatures (and you’d be surprised what things are combustible at 2,000° Fahrenheit) to produce heat to turn turbines. This also reduces the volume of the waste by between 90 and 95 percent. The emissions are scrubbed of pollutants just like in other power generation systems, and the remaining water vapor is released out the cooling tower.
These businesses and others like them result in cleaner air to breathe, cleaner water to drink, and safe and beautiful beaches for us all to play on, walk along, and swim. The alternative really is smog, sludge, and staying indoors. Just ask our Horseshoe Cove neighbors at Shired Island, Dixie County, Florida—America’s Most Polluted Beach for 2009.2
What can you do?
First, you don’t have to rush right out and buy all new appliances and retrofit your whole house. But, as you replace and repair, think green, and patronize retailers, tradespeople, and service providers who offer eco-friendly and low-carbon-footprint options.
Here’s another simple way you can make a difference. To begin reducing your carbon footprint, you can take measures to save energy. The energy conservation business has come a long way from the freeze-in-the-dark recommendations of even a few years ago. First, find out how much energy you use and how you use it by conducting an energy audit. The Alliance to Save Energy offers an on-line Home Energy Checkup that “points out typical energy efficiency measures and identifies potential savings.”2 Another tool you can use is the Home Energy Saver at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories’ Web site.3 This is an online survey of your total energy use, providing estimates of savings from various energy efficiency measures and listings of energy-efficient appliances. Then act on what you learn: more insulation, more conservation, more awareness of how you use energy day-to-day.
Here’s another thing you can do: Contact your city and county commissioners and tell them “Yes, we want traffic roundabouts, and we want them strategically placed, and we want them soon!”
Now, round-abouts do some very good things—in addition to the added safety for our kids, grandkids, and seniors (not to mention our tourists) as they cross busy streets. First, they have been shown actually to expedite traffic in spite of the lower velocity of the cars. No stoplights mean fewer full stops, so more traffic flows more efficiently minute by minute. In addition, no stoplights mean no vehicles sitting and idling, thereby reducing non-productive carbon monoxide and dioxide emissions from just-passing-through motorists. Fewer stops and starts are easier on the road surfaces, as is lower speed, so our streets last longer and require less extensive (and less costly) repairs. Of course, lower speed also allows us to admire the beauty of our surroundings—the boats on the bay, the Spanish moss hanging languidly from the banyans.
You want to keep the bay and the lands around it clean and beautiful and healthful. And fortunately, you have a lot of businesses that want the very same thing. Some want it for the very same reasons you do—property values will go back up, the Sarasota area stays a wonderful place to live and work, and visiting friends and relatives go insane with envy. Others want it because they have gone into business to insure it—green products, green processes, and green construction.
Know this: you have active and committed business allies in your desire to keep our community green. In fact, You + Business = Environment.
Check out these links for more information:
1. “A measure of the impact our activities have on the environment, and in particular climate change. It relates to the amount of greenhouse gases produced in our day-to-day lives through burning fossil fuels for electricity, heating and transportation etc.” (www.carbonfootprint.com) The carbon footprint is a measurement of all greenhouse gases we individually produce in units of kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent.
For a free carbon footprint calculator for your home, go to http://www.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx.
2. Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Testing the Waters 2009 report
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How are you employing green practices in your life to protect our environment? What else can greater Sarasota do to "green" our community?
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