Monday, November 14, 2011

Plastic Bags, and Why We Should Ban Them

Rarely have I been as affected by a movie as I have by "BagIt!" This film manages to be informative, entertaining, and inspiring, without being preachy. I'll attempt to do the same. Here are some lessons that I took away.

The correct answer to the question, "Paper or plastic?", is "neither, I brought my own bags". Here are some reasons why: A common estimate is that global consumption of plastic bags is 500 billion annually, which breaks down to 1 million bags used per minute. Why make something that gets used for one hour out of something that takes over a thousand years to degrade?

The production of plastic bags requires great amounts of petroleum, a non renewable natural resource. Toxic chemicals are also employed during the manufacturing process.

About 10% of plastic ends up in our oceans. Presently, there are five great "gyres" or vortices of plastic. We picture a swirling mass of plastic bags - but it's worse than that. The plastic doesn't biodegrade, it photodegrades, which means that it breaks down into a plastic pellet soup that extends into the depths of the ocean and can't be cleaned up. The pellets find their way into the stomachs of marine animals and birds that mistake them for food. The animal's intestines fill up with choking plastic instead. We also take this toxic mess in when we eat these fish, turtles, etc.

Plastic bags are not "free" to the user. The cost of purchase by the vendor is passed on to the consumer, as is the cost of sending this waste to the landfill.

I am by no means perfect, but "BagIt!" inspired me to tighten up on my use of plastics in general. As far as trying to eliminate the use of the plastic shopping bags, I now keep one of those bags that fold up into it's own small pocket in my purse, and one in my backpack. I have also purchased small cloth bags for produce. Here's a good source:

Here in Boulder, Colorado, we're attempting to legislate against the use of plastic bags. We're joining with many other cities, and countries throughout the US, Europe, and Asia. You would be surprised to see he number and variety of places that have either banned, or instituted a fine on the use of plastic bags. Click here to see a partial list:

There are many more reasons not to use plastic, but I suggest you do yourself a favor and see the film.

For more ways to save energy and the environment, see our website,

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Read All About Us!

This month, we were fortunate enough to be the featured business in the Green America ( newsletter. This fine nonprofit, formally known as Co-op America, is the publisher of several informative peices, including "The Green Pages" business directory.
I am so happy with this article, that I am submitting it here in it's entirety.

January 2011 —
Lower Your Carbon Footprint in 2011

Positive Energy; Boulder, CO

Are you ready for some good news from the green economy? Thanks to stimulus-funding in support of energy-efficiency, green business owner Diane Merker says she's as busy as she's ever been.

Selling products like low-energy light fixtures, programmable thermostats, insulation against home-heat loss, home-energy monitors, and more, Merker's business, Positive Energy, is a one-stop shop for drastically reducing your home-energy use. Energy efficiency for all of us is the first step toward pulling our greenhouse gas emissions way down, and using energy at a rate compatible with widespread use of renewables. Check out our interview with Diane, and check out her blog, Positively Green, for more information on how to save money and energy with Positive Energy.

Green America: What does your business do?

Playing with cars
A compact fluorescent porchlight from Positive Energy.

Diane Merker: I started my company, Positive Energy in 1985 as a bulk-ordering catalog for the 1000 agencies then funded by the Department of Energy (DOE) and Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP), for purchasing the energy-efficiency products that they installed in low income clients’ homes.

In 1995, I added the online Green Builder’s Catalog (, to sell these same products to the energy-conscious homeowner and contractor. It is hard to believe that just 15 years ago, when I told my mother that I was adding this Web site, she asked, “Why green? Why not another color?” In the time since then, I'm happy to say, “green”, and” energy conservation” have become household words.

What makes your business "green" and what are your most popular products?

Diane: On the Green Builder site, my biggest sellers are low-energy ventilation and whole-house fans. Besides helping the environment, most of the products that I sell also make the home a more comfortable place to be. For instance, besides being low energy users, our fans are super-quiet.

I'm a one-woman operation (with two friends who assist me for a half-day every week, and cover for vacations), and so I control how green my office can be. I use every piece of paper twice, and then recycle. I walk or bike to work every day, and provide bus passes for my two employees. Whatever is shipped from our location goes out in a reused box. I will even admit to cardboard dumpster-diving to find a good box.

What did you do before you started your green business?

Kitchen toys
Use the "Watt's Up" meter to monitor the electricity usage of your household appliance, and replace the biggest energy hogs.

Diane: I moved to Colorado in 1981 to study solar energy. When the solar tax credits disappeared a few years later, and the bottom fell out of that industry, I took a job as an energy auditor for a weatherization program. Realizing the need for bulk buying, I started my business. I thought up the name “Positive Energy,” and knew right away that it was the perfect two-word description of what I wanted to be aiming for.

What are some of the challenges of maintaining high standards of social and environmental responsibility?

Diane: I still struggle with questions about every product that I sell – how much energy is used in transporting the products to the customer, what are the labor conditions in the manufacturers factory, etc. I try to work with small US companies with good practices, but this isn’t always easy. I try to have a personal contact with my vendors, so that I know and trust that their values align with mine.

What has been your proudest moment as a green business owner?

Waldorf doll
Converting your toilet to a dual-flush model with this simple adaptation can save water, energy, and money.

Diane: Really, in every aspect, I am so glad that I made the decision to start my own business 25 years ago. I am often the moderator for our local Green Building Guild’s monthly meetings. I am always proud to look out at the value-oriented, thoughtful, and committed group that assembles and realize that I am a part of this movement.

What's inspiring you now in the green economy?

Diane: Right now, I am inspired by the additional work for weatherization that the government stimulus package has made possible. More low-income homes being made energy efficient means employment for auditors and installers, lower energy bills for homeowners and a cleaner planet for all of us.

What advice would you give to other green entrepreneurs just starting out?

Diane: Be flexible by staying small would be my advice. I added my Web site for homeowners and private contractors when the government stopped funding the DOE weatherization programs. Don’t think that one bad year means that you have to bag the whole thing. After being in business for 25 years, I look at the big picture and realize that there are years that are better, and years that are not so good. If you have a good idea, and love what you do, stick it out, and things probably will turn around.

What is your next green step for the future?

Diane: I am in the fortunate position right now of being too busy (because of the stimulus package) to think about the next step! I would like to work with private energy auditors to make sure that this good work being done in the public sector has a future in the private sector once stimulus funds disappear.

What green product (besides your own!) could you not live without?

Diane: I love our Renai on demand water heater. We have never had a problem with it, it saves on our water heating bill, and we never run out of hot water.