Democratizing Sustainability

By Paige Donner

I'll 'fess up. "Democratizing sustainability," is not a phrase I coined nor one I've even used before. I first came across this "big idea" when reading a Fortune Magazine, July 2006 article about Wal-Mart, the "Green Machine," written by Marc Gunther. In it he says that, "The bigger idea here is that poor and middle-income Americans are every bit as interested in buying green products as are the well-to-do, so long as they are affordable."

Considering that Wal-Mart's sustainability initiatives can reach its 1.8 million employees, its 176 million weekly customers and its 60,000 suppliers, we're talking direct and massive influence exactly where it matters: on people's purchasing habits.

So when Charles Zimmerman, Vice-President of Prototype and New Format Development for Wal-Mart, walked onto the UCLA campus this past weekend to deliver his speech, it's no wonder people paid attention to what he had to say.

He began with a quick audit of the UCLA conference hall, "There are two CFL lightbulbs in this room, everything else is incandescent.," began the man who is leading the Sustainable Buildings Network program at Wal-Mart. "You know how many low-flow urinals I saw here? Zero." He continued, "We don't have to wait on President-elect Obama to change. We must all say to ourselves, I will fix this problem when I go home today."

Read Entire Article Here....

Government -mandated regulations or business-led change?

There's a conversation taking place these days, and it's focusing on how best to bring about these changes we know we need. Is it through government regulations or is it through enrepreneurial spirit and business-led initiative? Or is it a combination of both, a public-private partnership, as it were?


"I've never waited for government to do anything," said Michael Besancon, Sr. Global VP of Purchasing, Distribution and Marketing, Whole Foods Market. He cited the example of how Whole Foods drove the market for organic cotton clothing to points of purchase other than a clothing store.

Patagonia's VP of Environmental Programs and Communication, had this to say:
Rick Ridgeway: A Green Revolution as it were will have to be a combination of entrepreneurial initiative ideally with government support and subsidization. Obama has an opportunity to create a new Green Economy, as everyone is calling it, that in part would be based on incentives for entrepreneurial start-ups in the sector.
Paige Donner: If you had had subsidies when you were developing Patagonia, what specifically would have helped you?
Rick Ridgeway: If there had been support for organically grown and produced cotton that would have definitely helped us. When we made that conversion in the late 80's from only using organically grown cotton as a component percentage in our fiber mix to committing to using 100% organically grown cotton that commitment on our part created an initial loss because there wasn't enough organically grown cotton in the supply chain to meet even our own needs.

So, had there been some government support for those kinds of farming techniques, that definitely would have assisted us. Now, the market is going to drive those changes eventually and are even now as more companies, like Wal-Mart, are using these materials.
But there's a lag time involved and government support could eliminate the lagtime and boost the rate of conversion to those kinds of farming practices and benefit everybody, especially the planet.
Wal-Mart's Zimmerman said, "Wal-Mart's stock is up. The company that has taken the lead in sustainability is the one company whose stock is up this year." He continued by saying, "We don't need new legislation. We don't need a new President. We don't need a new Congress. We just need to do what we know is right."

For the $312-billion-a-year retailer, this m.o works. After all, the only entity that purchases more domestic energy than the Wal-Mart stores is the U.S. government. Even so, said Zimmerman, "As big as Wal-Mart is as an energy consumer, we still only consume less than 1% of the U.S.'s total energy." Nonetheless, they wield the purchasing power of a small country. They have asked their suppliers to conform, by 2009, to specified sustainable packaging perameters, which will "change the face of consumer goods packaging," said Barent Roth, a conference attendee and expert in sustainable packaging design. Wal-Mart Packaging Fact Sheet: Download file.


More from Wal-Mart

Charles Zimmerman, Sustainable Buildings Network, Wal-Mart

Paige Donner: Is this "green movement" best led by individuals, entrepreneurs and businesses as opposed to government?
Charles Zimmerman: From a personal, homeowner's standpoint there are things that obviously make sense but from an entrepreneurial standpoint I think you just need to look at the companies that have seem to have gotten it like the Wal-Marts and the BP's and the GE's and figure out how are they making these things work and making them viable businesses and how does that apply to whatever vertical I'm in?
Paige Donner: Will Wal-Mart be taking advantage of these new Incentive Tax Credits for solar paneling on rooftops?
Charles Zimmerman -- We have 22 pilot projects underway right now, 18 of which are in California, about half of them are completed, the others are underway. They are power purchase agreements. What we're doing is working with British Petroleum and two other companies with whom basically we've signed a 10-year lease where they put their equipment on our roof, maintain it and they file for any of the tax rebates and incentives. They maintain everything, we just buy the power from them.
We're not in the solar power business so it's really an efficient model for us and we really probably will go that direction going forward. So it would always be a 3rd party actually applying for those funds and then just applying those rebates and incentives towards what they can sell the power back to us for.
Paige Donner: Can you please elaborate on your healthy skepticism for Green Roofs? What do you think your auditing system may reveal?
Charles Zimmerman: I believe we are going to see a lot of thermal benefit. We'll have four inches of soil and planting media instead of just a thin roof, but at what cost? There can be a lot more cost-effective ways to achieve that thermal efficiency. Air quality -- our initial indications are that it's actually worse because you're pulling pollens and other organics off the roof. And water quality, we believe, it's also going to show that it's worse because of the organics from the soil media. So from a waste-water, rainwater storage standpoint, it'll show some benefits but there are probably a lot better ways to do that. And from a thermal standpoint as well.
Paige Donner: Will you tell us a little more about your carbon-dioxide secondary loop refrigaration system?
Charles Zimmerman: Most of our stores eventually will be heated by waste energy from our refrigeration system. There are presently only two such systems in the nation. There are a limited number of these units because it's new technology. When we say two in the U.S. we are talking about large scale grocery applications.
Paige Donner: When implementing a new sustainability practice, what kind of ROI do you look for?
Charles Zimmerman: It's important that the technology we use to make our buildings more energy efficient has an ROI. Many of the features we are incorporating into our stores have a 2-4 year average ROI. For example, the LED lights that have been added to our refrigeration cases have a 3 year ROI, due to three main factors -- 1. they use less energy than the traditional fluorescent bulbs, 2. They don't create as much heat, reducing the cooling load and 3. They last longer, reducing maintenance cost.
Paige Donner: Are your water conservation programs regional-specific?
There's a wide variety of water and energy and sewer rates across the U.S. today. Their paybacks may vary from one local to another. The necessity of those things really doesn't change. Three years ago nobody would've guessed that Georgia and South Carolina would have gone through what they went through so all of the initiatives that I've been speaking about are nationwide initiatives. To access compiled data on their environmental and sustainable business research.


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Clean Coal Isn't

By Paige Donner 

Prior to joining Grist, Russ Walker was assistant managing editor for Nation and World at

Walker agreed to this interview while attending the a Conference held this past weekend on UCLA's campus.

Paige Donner: Are we going to see a sea change with this new administration?
Russ Walker: Anything after the last eight years will be a sea change. We do know that Obama is looking to staff his cabinet, particularly in the environmental and energy areas, with more creative thinkers who are not beholden to big oil or big coal. That's the good news.
Russ Walker, Executive Editor of

The problem Obama faces is that he's dealing with an economic condition in America and in the world that is unprecedented in the lifetime of most Americans. We can be headed into a recession that lasts years instead of months and that will confine what he's able to do.
I think though that he has made clear that he doesn't want traditional public works programs like maybe you've seen in the New Deal era or in decades past where we spend a bunch of money to put people to work. They want to spend a bunch of money to put people to work on types of things that will pay off in the longer run for the economy.

For example, spending money on more research into renewables. Spending money to improve the electrical grid so that it's smart enough to deal with. The grid right now can't take in all these inputs. There's all this energy and solar coming online in the next few years but the grid itself can't sustain it.

It's like we're trying to jam too many cars onto a highway that wasn't built for this. So we'll need to make the grid bigger but we'll also need to make it smarter because renewables like wind and solar are available only a certain percentage of the time. We need to be able to figure out a way to store that energy and use it later when we need it. That's what I think you're going to see Obama doing. Question is whether or not he'll be able to win over Congress to the plan because without Congress, he can't do anything. And it's not a given that just because there are expanded democratic majorities aligned with Obama that you'll get this passed. Look at the Clinton era. The first two years of the Clinton era there was a Democratic Congress and there was no blanket adoption of his plans by any means.
Paige Donner: Attack or defend this premise, "Clean coal isn't."
Russ Walker: There's a lot of coal in Southern Illinois and I think any politician who represents a state with the coal industry has to pay heed or tip their hat in the direction of clean coal. If you pay close attention to what Obama and McCain said on the campaign trail, there were some subtle but very important differences.
When McCain talked about energy it was almost like a laundry list: Yes we're going to do clean coal, nuclear power and renewables and we're going to drill for more oil. He didn't put any nuance into it when he talked about clean coal, but Obama did.

It's a very clear signal that he's not ready to embrace clean coal hands down the way McCain was. What he said is that clean coal, if it works, if it's truly clean, we're going to invest in it. And I don't think anybody would disagree with that. If there was some way to actually sequester the carbon from coal and to mine it in a way that wasn't completely destroying large tracks of Appalachia and even Western states like Wyoming, then I think we'd all be fine with it. But, I think Obama is smart enough to know that there is no actual clean coal technology out there.

The Energy Department this year canceled the one effort to build a carbon capturing sequestration clean coal plant because they had a limited budget and they weren't able to afford it.

We've spent millions and millions of dollars on clean coal over the last few decades but no one really knows what that means.

I think for the current environmental movement it means first and foremost capturing the carbon and making sure that it doesn't go into the atmosphere. There's absolutely no proven technology for that now. There's one experimental station in Germany that's coming online right now and what we know is that they're going to be ejecting the carbon emissions deep into some abandoned mines there, I believe, is the plan. But we don't know. It's a test case. Will that carbon stay in the ground or will it ultimately seep out?

So, we're years away from clean coal technology if there even is one. And Obama has been clear that this needs to be a proven technology.
Likewise with nuclear. Nuclear probably should be and can be a big part of our solution to getting off of carbon. But as Obama has said over and over again it needs to be safe, it needs to be clean, and then we have to figure out a way to deal with the waste that the country actually wants to buy into.

Right now the only effort to get rid of all the highly radioactive waste revolves around Yucca Mountain and Yucca Mountain has been debated for twenty years and they haven't put any nuclear waste in there because the people of Nevada don't want it. Barring some sort of sea change in the politics of Nevada, we're not going to see safe storage of nuclear there any time soon.
HuffPost's Dave Burdick interviewed Thomas Friedman on the subject of clean coal. Read more here: Thomas Friedman on Clean Coal

Paige Donner: Mandatory or Entrepreneurial-led Green changes?
Russ Walker: America culturally and politically is not very open to top-down government solutions. It's never been that way and the few times the government has been successful in that kind of change is during great periods of cataclysm like the Great Depression or during the World Wars. So I personally think that the government's role in transitioning us to a new sort of green or clean tech economy has to be one of setting rules and leveling the playing field.

I mean, for example, we do not truly pay for the cost of carbon when we go to the pump. Because when you think about what goes into the gasoline that we burn or the coal that fires our electric plants it's not just the cost of extracting it, refining it and delivering it to us but it's also in terms of oil and national security costs. We're spending $10 billion a month in Iraq right now and that's directly related to oil supplies in the Middle East no matter what anyone wants to say about spreading democracy.

Secondly, the environmental costs of burning coal, which emits great amounts of mercury, are significant and we're not paying for that at the pump, we're basically transitioning that off into the future and expecting the government to somehow swing in behind and clean up hazardous waste, or figure out ways to scrub smoke stacks clean of mercury. So carbon needs to reflect the true cost.

Just like when you go now, in certain states, to buy a bottle of soda, you're paying up front the costs of recycling when you pay the deposit and you're getting the money back later on as a reward for actually recycling the bottle.
Paige Donner: So there has to be something put in place by government and then we'll follow the lead?
Russ Walker: There has to be something put in place by government so that it creates an ability for entrepreneurs in the green area to compete fairly with carbon.
When you had oil at $140 barrel, what happened? T. Boone Pickens appears out of nowhere, a Texas oil man, a bit of a gadfly but also a brilliant businessman, and he's building one of the biggest wind farms in the world in Texas and a big huge water aquifer. The wind farm is good, the effort to buy the water that sits under his land probably not good. But the big challenge with his wind farm is how does he import that into the grid?
If you read some of the literature of what he's up to, he's facing incredible challenges in getting the electrical grid backbone built so that he can actually plug into it. But still, when oil is $140 a barrel, which probably still doesn't reflect its true costs to the American people, you see incentives.

The Government needed to come in, it's probably too late now, particularly in a recession, and say, 'We're not going to let oil go below a certain point.' Every time oil gets near $70 a barrel or $100 a barrel, a tax kicks in, at the oil company level and not at the consumer level to insure that price per gallon doesn't ever get as low as it is today where it's at the $3 range.

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The Electric Revolution

By Paige Donner

As a wrap up to Alt Car Expo, film director and electric car lover, Chris Paine, hosted a fundraiser at his L.A. home for Plug In America. Paine's new film, Revenge of the Electric Vehicle will be out in '09. Some of the guests attending were James Woolsey, former Director of the CIA, Chelsea Sexton, electric vehicle evangelist, featured in Paine's first film, Who Killed The Electric Car? Also attending was Dave Barthmuss, electric vehicle spokesman for GM.

James Woolsey, Former Director of the CIA
"...this is not just a movement, this is a revolution..."

James Woolsey: "If 3 out of 4 cars on the road are Chevy Volts or electric vehicles like it from other manufacturers, that have a 40-mile electric range, that is they are all-electric vehicles 3/4 of the time, we are going to see the world change in some very fundamental ways. "
Editor's Note: ["40-mile all electric range," means that for its first 40 miles after it has been charged, the electric-powered vehicle travels purely on electricity. After that first 40 miles, it kicks in to a gasoline/electric hybrid-powered vehicle.]

Woolsey: "Today, at $120 per barrel oil, we ship to OPEC and all the oil producers, net, every year, about $620 billion dollars. And if oil is up at $135 [per barrel] where it was for awhile, we'd be shipping $700 billion a year, which is the same amount of money that everyone is arguing about with respect to the Wall Street Bailout."

"But we send that amount every year to OPEC and we don't get anything back for it. We are indirectly funding terrorism. This is the only war the U.S. has ever fought, except the Civil War, where we pay for both sides. It is madness. We have got to move against oil dependence. Not just foreign oil dependence, but oil dependence, as quickly as possible."

Editor's Note: [As McCain put it during Friday night's presidential debate, the U.S. has lost too much "blood and treasure" and therefore there is no question that America must be pro alternative energy fuels.]

Woolsey: "We need to destroy oil as a strategic commodity. What we mainly need to do is what electricity did to salt at the end of the 19th century. Salt was the only way to preserve meat. And it mattered whether your country had salt mines. Countries went to war over salt mines. It had been true for thousands of years. And then all of a sudden here comes electric grids. Which allowed people to refrigerate and freeze meat. Frozen and thawed meat tastes a lot better than meat that has been soaked in salt brine. So, within a relatively few years, salt was destroyed as a strategic commodity. We still use it. We still buy and sell it. But nobody controls their neighbor's behavior because they have salt mines any more."

"We need to do that to oil. We need to destroy its strategic role and its monopoly over transportation. Electricity, as was the case with salt, is going to be right at the heart of that. It's perfectly reasonable during the transition to try to use more domestic and less foreign oil because it helps with the balance of payments, it helps with the value of the dollar, and if you can do it in an environmentally sound way then it's a reasonable thing. I'm opposed to drilling in Alaska but I think the offshore drilling proposal is a reasonable thing."

Oil and Foreign Relations

Woolsey said that it's not a good idea to let China go hungry for oil. A China hungry for oil puts them in the position of wanting to "make nice" with regimes such as Iran and Sudan whose policies are not U.S. friendly.

On Iran and its nuclear power intentions: Woolsey said that to have an operating nuclear power plant and to claim that it's only for the purposes of generating nuclear-powered electricity is like saying 'We're going to build a truck manufacturing plant that's capable of building trucks and tanks...but we'll only build the trucks.' Iran's quest for nuclear power is fueling a Middle Eastern nuclear arms race, said Woolsey.

In answer to the question, Why don't we follow Brazil's path to its current state of Energy Independence through flex-fuel vehicles?

Woolsey responded that Brazil has a double growing season for sugarcane, which is the crop they use - not corn - to produce their ethanol. He said that cellulosic ethanol manufacturing is becoming increasingly an option as a fuel source and that option will become more and more viable even within the next year or two.

Read Article In Its Entirety....Here....

PD: How do you like your own Plug In Hybrid?

Woolsey: Oh, I love it! I have a converted Prius. It takes me 20 miles every day nearly all-electric. For those first 20 miles I get 150 to 200 miles per gallon. In a couple years, when potential car buyers are going into showrooms for Chevy for a Volt or for some other cars that are coming along the salesperson is going to be able to tell them that they're going to be able to drive at a tenth the cost of what they're driving at now. And I'd love it if they're concerned about national security. I'd love it if they're concerned about climate change. But, you know, they don't need to be concerned about either one to want to drive at a tenth the cost of what they're driving at now.
That is not just a movement,that is a revolution. Read more from Woolsey

Chris Paine on The Revenge of The Electric Car 
 "...this is about the future and the future is now..."

"The last film [Who Killed The Electric Car?]was about change being thwarted or blocked by everyone resisting change, because we all do. It's hard to change. It's easier to do what you did yesterday."
"This movie [Revenge of The Electric Car] is really about our capacity to change as individuals or as corporations like General Motors, for example. This is a story of hope. It should be a lot of fun, too. The 'revenge' part of it is so sweet to see this thing switch around so fast and all the people who were denounced as marginal crazies when these electric cars came out, now people are thinking they were rocket scientists all along."

"We're not here to throw salt in old wounds. We're really making a film about the future.

Dave Barthmuss, GM Spokesman
"...the future of GM lies in electricity..."

"I can't think of a better place to bring this Chevy Volt than to a Plug In America Fundraiser [held at Chris Paine's home, director of Who Killed The Electric Car? following Santa Monica's AltCar Expo]. Because these are the very important stakeholders that had to help us collectively prime the market and get people excited about electric vehicle technology.

On test-driving the Volt
Chris Paine, director of Who Killed The Electric Car?, drove a Volt on September 15th a day before [GM's] Centennial Celebration. He came away very impressed and said that it drives just as good as his EV1, maybe even a little bit better because it's 2008 technology and it's a little bit more refined on the interior."

"The vehicle that we have here is the vehicle that we rolled out for our Centennial where Rick Wagoner [GM Chief Executive] talked about our move from mechanically-driven vehicles to electrically-driven vehicles. And Bob Lutz [GM Vice Chairman] drove it out and this was the personification of where we are heading in the next century."

GM today is not like it was 10 or 15 years ago, nor is the world. We are in the midst of a huge transformation at GM. We are moving from a company that for the last 100 years has been based on mechanically-driven products towards one that will eventually be based on electrically-driven products. That is a huge business proposition for GM. And it can't be understated for people like Rick Wagoner and Bob Lutz to say that the future of GM lies in electricity. Because we can no longer be 96% reliant on a single energy source to power our vehicles at GM."

PD: How soon can the average consumer buy a Chevy Volt?

"By November of 2010 you can walk into a Chevy dealership and either purchase or lease a Chevy Volt. Price point, because it's a Chevrolet, it's supposed to be affordable because that's our affordable, high-volume brand. We don't want to price this so that only the richest celebrity can buy it."

PD: How can people help the process along?

"We need champions in pubic policy forums to help talk about the need for consumer-based incentives that will drive the cost down for early adopters like we had for the EV1. We need to work with various energy companies and utilities for help in putting charging stations in garages so that people who live in apartments, or maybe want to go to Home Depot, can basically plug in from point A to point B. So everybody has to have skin in this game and collectively we have to work together to get the policies and regulations in play to make this thing commercially viable."

"We'll concentrate on building the vehicle but key stakeholder organizations like Plug In America can help prime the market for these vehicles to be ready. We need to put these vehicles out on the road in extremely large numbers. Hundreds of thousands of units, millions of units, if we're going to have a profitable business proposition to go forward with and if we're really going to make a difference to meet our environment and energy concerns and displace the most amount of petroleum."

"We're not going to make a difference if we only sell a very small amount of these to a very select few. This has to be a vehicle for the masses.

Chevrolet is a global brand. We have the ability to potentially sell this in China, in India, to other kinds of nations. We potentially may be able to put this new E-Flex system into other kinds of vehicles. Maybe after the Chevy Volt it goes into something like a crossover vehicle."
Chelsea Sexton, Electric Vehicle Evangelist  
"...We need millions of electric cars on the road..."

"Electric vehicles are still a personal passion. It always has been. I didn't come at it completely from the environmental bent. I'm a Geek first, actually, and that's how I came to it. So I spend a lot of time interpreting between the national security hawks and the guys who are really focused on energy security and then the people more on the environmental end."

"At the same time, especially in this economy, it's so much more an economic issue and the fact that you can drive on less than a dollar a gallon equivalent when you use off-peak electricity versus $4 or more for a gallon of gasoline. For a variety of reasons people are coming to the same table and I don't care how you get there. As long as they arrive at the same solution. "

Mainstream vs. Marginalized

"We need millions of electric cars on the road. And we need them built in the 10's and 100's of thousands in order to bring cost down for the average consumer. Certainly, as much as I love Tesla and think they're wicked fun to drive, I could never afford one. I need something a bit more practical and I think a lot of other people do, too. And that requires the involvement of the large manufacturers. "

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Water Is The New Energy Crisis

By Paige Donner

"Rain is a blessing when it falls gently on parched fields, turning the earth green, causing the birds to sing."
-- Donald Worster

This was the subject of the conference held March 8th, at Caltech's campus in Pasadena, as part of the ongoing Caltech/MIT Enterprise Forum. Convened to discuss this juicy premise was Timothy F. Brick, Chair of the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) Board of Directors, who gave the Keynote Address and several other learned academics and entrepreneurs, as well as event sponsor Christie Parker Hale, LLP, and moderator Lynn Foster, Emerging Technologies Director, Greenberg Traurig, LLP.

The wars of the twenty-first century will be fought over water.
-- Ismail Serageldin, World Bank Vice President for Environmental Affairs

We used to think that energy and water would be the critical issues for the next century. Now we think water will be the critical issue.  
-- Mostafa Tolba, former head of the United Nations Environment Program

Mr. Brick began by stating that, "water is life." The quality of life on the planet, its ecosystem, and human health, depend on water. It is widely accepted that water will be the "oil" of the 21st century. But, unlike oil, the planet cannot survive without water.

The Metropolitan Water District, which Brick chairs, is the biggest water enterprise in the country. It serves over 18 million people which is a hefty 6% of the nation's population and half the population of the State of California.

So, what's the connection between Southern California and the Global state of water? California is a world center for water technology. The MWD of SoCal is used as a global measuring stick in terms of water purification and distribution, and in 2007 they were ranked #1 in water tasting in a global competition.

"Maybe we don't need bottled water as much as we thought," commented Brick. But more to the point, Southern California's scarce indigenous water resources make for a great problem/solution laboratory because if there's an issue concerning water - conservation, scarcity, recycling, purification, distribution, desalination, sustainability, invasive species - Californians have it and are trying to fix it.

"Let me assure you, California has plenty of water. . . albeit offshore." - A New Yorker cartoon.

"The water crisis is in need of creative thinking," stated Brick. "Developing sustainable water supplies for the future is a watershed science. We must change everything we do to make sure our water supplies are sustainable."

The world has seen its global water supply drop 33% since 1970. The MWD encourages a collaborative for development and commercialization of water technology and is interested to hear ideas to this end. It even offers grants to students who pursue this field of research. "There is tremendous commercialization potential in this field," said Brick, noting that water is still a heavily subsidized commodity and costs roughly $1 for 1,000 gallons.

"Water is life's mater and matrix, mother and medium. There is no life without water."
-- Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, Hungarian biochemist and Nobel Prize Winner for Medicine.

"Thousands have lived without love, not one without water." W.H. Auden

Charles "Chubb" Michaud, CEO and Technical Director of Systematix Company, pointed out that "water is the ultimate consumer product. Everyone needs it." He also added that it is underpriced. He agreed that "water is the next energy" and also emphasized that water is taken for granted. For example, in 2007, Southern California had 3 ½ inches of rain, compared with a few years ago when we had 57 inches. And yet residents of Southern California still have green lawns. "Our very success," interjected Brick, "has led to taking it [water] for granted."

"When the well is dry, we learn the worth of water."
Benjamin Franklin
According to Michaud, there are two central issues with water:
* Getting it here
* Making it clean enough

Both require a lot of energy. For example, he said, "We can't build a $100M desalination plant and plug it in to a 110 v. outlet." He says a step towards sustainability would be for residential consumers to find a safe, easy way to recycle their own gray water.

Read Entire Article Here...

This past weekend's buzzed about news item, coincidentally, was the AP story on trace amounts of drugs found in drinking water.

There are 55 billion gallons of water per person on the planet. Michaud pointed out (PDF) that "all water is used water. We've had the same amount of water on the planet for millions of years. Sewage is 99% water. We must overcome the 'Yuck!' factor of recycled water. Maybe call it 'previously experienced water.'"

Kidding aside, panelist Dr. Yoram Cohen, Director of UCLA's Water Technology Research Center pointed out that in Singapore, they have successfully done just that, calling it "new water." Cohen pointed out that they educate kids starting in kindergarten to prefer "new water" over bottled water. He also cited Israel's success at recycling 70% of their water as opposed to California's stats of 1-2%. Israel has also successfully implemented desalination plants and provides 35% of their drinking supply from seawater.

The Water-Energy Nexus

"If we could ever competitively, at a cheap rate, get fresh water from saltwater, ..(this) would be in the long-range interests of humanity which could really dwarf any other scientific accomplishments."

-- John F. Kennedy

It is important to note that while the energy industry is largely privatized, most water (80%) in the U.S. is delivered through public agencies. Water delivery is a major energy user: 19 % of our total consumption of energy in California is used for this purpose.

It is estimated that within 25 years, two-thirds of the world's inhabitants will live in countries with serious water problems. Increased water demand means higher energy demand. In the U.S., thermo-electric power production is about the same as is used for agriculture production. Advanced desalination processes are yielding high recovery rates - 95%, as claimed by UCLA's Yoram Cohen - but the energy requirements for the processing are still such that the price of the water yielded is currently much higher than what we currently pay. In Southern California, we import 71% of our water. Yes, our water costs are heavily subsidized.

"Over 1 billion people have no access to clean drinking water, and more than 2.9 billion have no access to sanitation services. The reality is that a child dies every eight seconds from drinking contaminated water, and the sanitation trend is getting sharply worse, mostly because of the worldwide drift of the rural peasantry to urban slums." 
-- Marq de Villiers

"Water is fundamental for life and health. The human right to water is indispensable for leading a healthy life in human dignity. It is a pre-requisite to the realization of all other human rights."
-- The United Nations Committee on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights

In the U.S. we use double the amount of water per capita that the world uses and 8 times what someone in India uses.

If you haven't yet read the AP article cited above, when you do you will pleased to know about these companies who were also presenters at the Caltech/MIT Forum on water.

According to James Harris of Crystal Clear Technologies, based in Oregon, they have developed the NMX™ Technology which extracts metals from water in a water purification system. This is for the removal of targeted contaminants with a focus on heavy metals ex: arsenic, cadmium, mercury, selenium. He calls this "distributed purification" and says his company has developed a "strategy to supply an in-home purification system that will provide consumers EPA standards superior quality water." He added, "That is, you absolutely DO NOT need to drink bottled water."

Another company is Sylvan Source which is based in Sunnyvale, California. According to Jim Simmons, Investor and Board Member, they are "redefining clean water."
Simmons cited a November 2004 article about "Male Fish Producing Eggs in Potomac River," from National Geographic News to drive home the point we "can't just rely on EPA standards. We are going after broad, very broad, contaminant reduction." He pointed out that there are 2,000 new chemicals created every year, in addition to the chemical compounds currently at risk to contaminate our water systems and supply. Their Sylvan Source M-600 "ultra-clean distillation water systems" product is shipping for residential use for broad contaminant removal - things such as solids, germs, viruses, gases/odors, salts and hydro-carbons.

He asked the audience: would we drink water that was once sewage? Several other panelists answered, saying "You likely already have, whether you know it or not."

Upcoming Events/Conferences:
The Urban Water Research Center, UC Irvine "Women in Water" April 24th, 2008
UNESCO, USGS and UC Irvine International Conference on Water Scarcity, Global Changes and Groundwater December 1-5, 2008


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