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Green Brains and Smart Things, For Once

Back from vacation this week.  I hope I didn’t ruin your week!  Hahahaha!  (this week or last, you decide)

This week is more of a rave than a rant.  I want to share some energy efficiency and sustainability successes and trends that make sense.  If you have read many rants, I typically rail against dumb policy and technologies that are roads to dead ends.  Energy efficiency and sustainability, in my opinion, must either cost next to nothing or have a decent return on investment, even though that ROI may be difficult to quantify.

First cases come from a month and a half ago while attending a board meeting for the Iowa Association for Energy Efficiency on the campus of Iowa State University.  Like many if not most other campuses, they are implementing green policies to the point of having a full-time coordinator.  My knowledge of typical practices is that they include a bunch of fluff and dumb ideas, like “let’s put up a wind turbine”, while campus facilities are bleeding energy like [insert your own gory example here].

First, they got rid of food trays.  Let’s examine the cost and benefits.  Cost=zero.  Benefit; if I remember correctly, they reduced food waste by 50%, or was it 30% (?), saving all the resources and energy associated with growing, processing, transporting and cooking the food.  I believe students were on an all-you can eat meal plan as well, so the reduced food waste also lowered meal plan costs.  Going even deeper, you know how food portions have grown to obscene volumes in part by using obscenely large dishes.  Pull out your tape measure sometime when you get your food at a decent restaurant.  Your humungous portion is hidden by the fact that the dish it comes in could be used for giving your dog a bath.  A college cafeteria tray is big.  Point is, students probably eat less and are therefore healthier.  This is as brilliant as it gets.

Second thing ISU is doing is deploying solar-powered trash receptacles / compactors.  You may be thinking, what a stupid, overpriced waste of money.  Normally I would be on that wagon but these are actually smart trash bins as well.  They wirelessly ping the waste management company when they need to be emptied.  Therefore, rather than running around and dumping every trash bin every day even if it only contains a couple empty booze flasks, an empty case of Miller Lite, and a pizza box (college kids), they wait to be told to pick up the garbage.  Garbage truck fuel and much more importantly pricey labor is saved.  Maybe the return on investment is still only 2.3% but at least there are smart elements to it.

Now there are laws being developed such that retailers must charge for plastic bags.  Washington DC imposed a 5 cent TAX for every disposable bag – paper or plastic. I think I’ve said before that I disagree with ramming green down peoples’ throats, especially in this way with a tax.  I say at least the retailers should get to keep the money for bags, like the People’s Food Co-Op (PFC) in La Crosse does.  They actually pay you to bring your own bags/boxes.

The interesting thing in this article is that peer pressure is used to nudge the masses into doing green.  This works for me, and grocery bags are the perfect example.  When I was in graduate school one of my roommates from Belgium would always take his used paper grocery bags for our weekly grocery haul.  Then I started doing that and continued to do it a while here in La Crosse but then I quit.  Boooooo!  But I shop at least weekly at the PFC and I always take a reusable bag or box there.  In fact, I’ll even go back out to the car to get them if I forget.  My Capital brewery Blonde Dopplebock box has been through the PFC at least a couple hundred times.  If you don’t believe it, you can see the tape reinforcements, tattered edges, and notice the old logo and artwork on the box.  The sentimental value builds over time.  It’s like my 18 year old Wisconsin sweatshirt with vented elbows and neckline, with fringe.  It’s absolutely priceless.

There is still need for entrepreneurial design for this bagging stuff though.  I don’t see mom or dad filling up two grocery carts with kids in tow and then messing around with a mishmash of 14 reusable bags.  Better think about that one.  Need something like a backpack as a reusable dispenser for reusable bags.  Include creature features like a cup holder, or better yet, a Camelback to stay hydrated, or relaxed depending on the beverage of your choice.

Jeff Ihnen

Author Jeff Ihnen

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