Ready for Some Environmental Rap? — How Well Can You Sing Your Eco-Measurement Terminology?

It’s been 40 years since Marvin Gaye wrote and produced his hit single “Mercy Mercy Me” – subtitled “The Ecology Song”.* Forty years later this beautifully crafted song is still as fresh and as relevant today as it ever was but what has dramatically changed since 1971 is the establishment of Eco-Standards – specifically new Eco-Measurement Standards – that companies, consumers, and governmental agencies alike are continually working on in order to compare the environmental impacts that different products, processes, and social initiatives have on planet Earth. The health of our environment is now being quantified and here are but a few of the more interesting eco-measurement developments that are appearing more and more in our everyday lexicon.

1-Carbon Footprint Standard- Introduced in 2008 by The Carbon Trust, the BSI British Standards, and the UK Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, the Carbon Footprint Standard is a new standard intended to help businesses assess the greenhouse gas emissions embedded in their goods and services throughout their entire life cycle.

2-Eco-Efficiency Ratio- Introduced in 1992 by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, it is essentially a Ratio comparison of ‘Product or Service Value / (Divided By) ‘Environmental Influence’. The numerator, ‘Product or Service Value’, is defined as “Net Sales” – the Quantity of Goods or Services Produced or Provided to Customers – and the denominator, ‘Environmental Influence’, is defined as Energy Consumption plus Materials Consumption, Water Consumption, Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Ozone Depleting Substance Emissions.

3-Eco-Index- Launched in 2010 by the OIA (Outdoor Industry Association) and the European Outdoor Group, the Eco-Index is an Outdoor Industry Environmental Assessment Tool designed to be used by companies to incorporate environmental considerations and to advance sustainable practices across a product’s life cycle. It incorporates Environmental Guidelines, Performance Indicators, and Footprint Metrics to assess environmental impacts and improvements within six product life cycle stages: Materials, Packaging, Product Manufacturing and Assembly, Transport and Distribution, Use and Service, and End of Life.

4-Eco-Innovation Scoreboard (Eco-IS)- First published in 2010, the Eco-Innovation Scoreboard developed by the Eco-Innovation Observatory in Belgium is the first tool to assess and illustrate eco-innovation performance across the 27 European Union Member States. The Eco-IS shows how well individual Member States perform compared to the EU average and presents their strengths and weaknesses as well as identifies the barriers and drivers to eco-innovation. The core part of the Eco-IS is the “performance profile”, which contains indicators in five areas: eco-innovation inputs, eco-innovation activities, eco-innovation outputs, environmental outcomes, and socio-economic outcomes. The 2010 version of the Eco-IS is based on 13 sub-indicators in these five areas. The 2011 version of the Eco-IS, which is updated on an annual basis, is based on 16 sub-indicators.

5-Ecological Footprint (EF)– First introduced in the 1990’s, it is a measure of the human demand for natural resources versus the planet’s ecological capacity to regenerate – the amount of biologically productive land and sea area necessary to supply the resources for human population consumption and the absorption of accompanied waste.

6-Ecometrics- Based upon the principles of resource management and various mathematical and statistical applications, Ecometrics is a quantitative analysis of evaluating economic, social, and environmental opportunity costs of a given activity. In short Ecometrics is a way to identify sustainable trends in consumption and production of a given activity.

7-Energy Star Label-Introduced by the US government agency, the Environmental Protection Agency in the early 1990’s, this government-backed symbol has become an international standard that identifies energy efficient consumer products that generally use 20% to 30% less energy than required by federal standards.

8-Environmental Performance Index (EPI)- First introduced in 2002 and developed by Yale University and Columbia University in collaboration with the World Economic Forum and Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, the EPI index ranks 163 countries on 25 performance indicators to see how close countries are to established environmental policy goals.

9-Global Warming Potential (GWP) – is a relative measure of how
different greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere. GWP’s compare the heat-absorbing ability of each mass of gas relative to a similar mass of carbon dioxide (CO2) as well as their associated decay rate.

10-Green Stock Index- Launched just last year in 2011 by Luxembourg-based Living Planet Fund Management Company and the European broker, Cheuvreux – the Green Stock Index consists of a portfolio of 50 European listed companies that are active in finding eco-friendly solutions to the world’s most important environmental challenges as it relates to renewable energies and transportation, water and waste management, and various eco-products and services.

11-Happy Planet Index (HPI) – Introduced in July of 2006 by the New Economics Foundation, this index is a ”measure of the environmental efficiency of supporting human well-being”. It incorporates Life Satisfaction and Life Expectancy together with Environmental Costs per capita – the natural resources required to sustain a country’s lifestyle.

12-LEED Certification – Introduced by the U.S. Green Building Council in 1998, the Leadership in Energy and Conservation Design (LEED) Certification is an internationally recognized mark of excellence that provides independent, third party verification that a building, home, or community has been designed and built in accordance to a rating system of high performance indicators in the areas of design innovation, sustainable site development, water efficiency, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality. In summary, LEED Certification is a quantitative measurement of a building’s performance based on the number of “points” that a building is able to achieve in each of the above six areas.
13-Net-Zero Home- A home or building which generates as much energy as it consumes.

14-Sustainable Society Index (SSI) – Introduced in 2006 by The Sustainable Foundation based in the Netherlands, The Sustainable Society Index, SSI, includes three ‘wellbeing’ dimensions: Human Well-Being, Environmental Well-Being and Economic Well-Being. Utilizing 24 key indicators, The SSI measures the actual level of sustainability of 151 countries and the distance of each country to sustainability over time.

15-Triple Bottom Line Accounting (TBL/3BL) – Introduced in 2007 by the United Nations and ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability, this corporate accounting includes social, economic, and environmental costs and benefits in its management reporting.

16- Water Footprint – First introduced in 2002 by Professor Arjen Hoekstra of The UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education in the Netherlands, the Water Footprint is a multidimensional indicator that indicates how much freshwater volume is consumed, evaporated, and/or polluted per unit of time at a specific location. It can be calculated for any defined individual, family group, business, community or nation. Thus the water footprint provides a basis for assessing the impacts of goods and services on freshwater systems and formulating strategies to reduce those impacts. In 2009 a ‘Global Water Footprint Standard’ was introduced by the Water Footprint Network, an international network of governments, corporations, non-governmental organizations and UN bodies – but just this year it has been updated, revised and expanded after extensive consultations with partners and researchers worldwide.

Yes, Marvin Gaye – Your lyrics still ring in our ears but now they are in our eco-standards of measurement and accountability.

Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy Me” Lyrics
Woo ah, mercy mercy me
Woo, things ain’t what they used to be
No, no
Where did all the blue skies go?
Poison is the wind that blows
From the north and south and east
Woo, mercy mercy me
Oh, things ain’t what they used to be
No, no
Oil wasted on the oceans and in our seas
Ah, Fish full of mercury
Ah oh, Oh, mercy mercy me
Oh, things ain’t what they used to be
No, no
Radiation under ground and in the sky
Animals and birds who live nearby are dying
Oh, mercy mercy me
Oh, things ain’t what they used to be
What about this overcrowded land?
How much more abuse from man can she stand?
My sweet Lord
My sweet Lord
My sweet Lord

Fit For A King, Even “The Sun King” Himself: Today’s Eco-Exquisite Elements of Interior Design!

When one thinks of King Louis XIV of France, one thinks of the opulent interior of the Palace of Versailles – a royal court filled with luxury and splendor. When I think of King Louis XIV, I often think of him as an overzealous client who would marvel at today’s inexpensive eco-exquisite interior design solutions and command that one of everything i.e. eco-flooring, eco-wall covering, eco-décor, and eco-furniture be fashioned into French eco-luxury goods to be shown at his place of business.

Well, one doesn’t necessarily need to be French or a King to appreciate great wine and great interior design products, rather one needs a sophisticated sensibility to know what to look for in today’s eco-conscious construction of home ornamentation. Here then are some of the most popular elements and eco-innovations of Eco-Interior Designing :

1- Bamboo Products – Yes, one can find bamboo products practically everywhere – bamboo blinds, flooring, frames, furniture, cutting boards, bowls, plates, utensils, countertops, and even bamboo towels. It is this versatility that makes bamboo such a popular design option along with the fact that bamboo products are durable, light weight, flexible, and resistant to moisture. It is also a very dense wood with a hardness that rivals oak and unlike this traditional hardwood – it only takes three to five years for bamboo to mature. Indeed, bamboo is one of the fastest-growing plants in the world – and in certain species, it can grow up to three feet a day. In addition the oxygen output of bamboo is 35% greater than trees and bamboo works well to prevent soil erosion along riverbanks, steep hillsides, and in flood plains. This all makes bamboo an excellent renewable resource.
2- Cork Products – When one thinks of cork, one usually thinks of ‘cork stoppers’ to seal sparkling wines or olive oil bottles but in fact cork flooring is an easy installation product most widely used today in both the residential and commercial markets due in part to its great insulating properties, (both in respect to temperature and sound), its hypo-allergenic properties (resistant to insects, mold, and germs), its shock absorbent properties (surprisingly soft and comfortable texture), its fire resistant properties and its low maintenance properties. In addition, cork flooring comes in a variety of dramatically beautiful finishes, patterns, and colors both in tiles and planks. Mosaic cork tiles are made from recycled wine corks and large-sized cork planks are made from post-industrial cork pieces. Mosaic cork tiles, in particular, are an ideal choice for the bathroom and can also be used as a backsplash in the shower. As for cork’s green credentials, cork is 90% air and is essentially the outer bark of the Cork Oak Tree that grows in Portugal and Spain. It is harvested every 9 years and since the bark is renewable, the process can be repeated for 2 centuries or more. And since cork flooring is also 100% biodegradable, it has a very low impact on the environment when it is recycled.
3- Recycled Leather Products – Founded in 2005, EcoDomo LLC in Rockville, Maryland, is an outstanding example of an innovatively creative eco-business that develops, manufactures, and designs a vast array of sustainable interior design products that are both luxurious and beautiful which include recycled leather tiles for floors, walls, staircases, ceilings, area rugs, and furniture. These recycled leathers are made from the leftover hides from tanneries. “The recycling process uses 99.8% of the products input in the manufacturing process in a closed-loop water filtration system.” The result is a recycled leather tile that is more resilient to wear and tear and temperature differentials than regular hide leather, easy to install, use, and maintain, and naturally good at absorbing noise. Client installations of this recycled leather product have been applied to boardrooms, commercial hotels, bank lobbies, restaurants, gyms, elevators, fireplaces, and theaters.
4- Recycled Plastic Bottle Products – Yes, another great eco-innovation is the transformation of post-consumer waste – specifically ‘polyethylene terephthalate’ fibers or “PET” found in soda bottles, ketchup bottles, water bottles, and house cleaning bottles – into polyester carpet tiles! The result is a carpet rich in colors with low moisture absorption, permanent stain and static resistance, and superior strength and abrasion resistance. One can find these carpets under the labels – Resistron or Permalon.
5- Recycled Rubber Products – Founded in 1995, Rubber Flooring Direct in Laguna Hills, California is another outstanding example of a company making eco-innovative flooring products from 100% recycled rubber including gym and weight room flooring, fitness center flooring, physical therapy flooring, doggy day care flooring, equine pavers, playground mats, golf course tiles, and ice rink arena flooring. These eco-friendly sports flooring products are made from old discarded car and truck tires. The result is an array of recycled rubber tiles, rubber rolls, and interlocking rubber tiles more durable than virgin rubber and that is extremely clean, tough but cushiony, and looks great for many years to come.
6- Jute Products – Jute is a vegetable fiber that can be spun into coarse, strong threads to make burlap bags, wallpaper, rugs, chair coverings, curtains, and carpets. It is primarily grown in India and Bangladesh (taking only 4 to 6 months to grow) and is a popular choice in home décor as it is strong, durable, UV resistant with good sound and heat insulation properties and anti-static properties.
7- Hemp Products – Hemp plants have been harvested for over a thousand years throughout much of the temperate areas of the world. It is one of the fastest growing plants and its fibers are not only strong and durable, they are pest-resistant making it a very eco-friendly green flooring product.
8- Sisal Products – Sisal is a stiff fiber obtained from the agave plant known for its strength, durability, sound-absorbing properties, ability to stretch and resistance to deterioration in saltwater. It’s an ideal choice for beachfront carpeting and cat-scratching posts. Sisal production is the greatest in Brazil but it is also produced in Tanzania, China, and Kenya.
9- Abaca Products – Abaca is a species of banana native to the Philippines and grown there as well as in Ecuador and Costs Rica. Its fibers were originally used for making twines and ropes but it is now used in making uncommonly beautiful carpets and furniture.
10- Coir Products – Mainly grown in India and Sri Lanka, coir is a natural fiber harvested from the husks of coconuts. Its natural beauty, its resiliency against abrasions and moisture make it an ideal choice for floor mats, doormats, and mattresses.
11- Seagrass Products – Seagrasses are marine flowering plants which often grow in large meadows that resemble their terrestrial counterparts and are used by basket weavers the world over to make handicraft storage baskets, bins, boxes, doormats, and elegant floor coverings. The result is a highly spill-resistant, durable, home décor feature that retains the fresh look of the outdoors.
12- Grasscloth Products – Grasscloth today is associated with natural wallcoverings. Grasscloth wallpaper is made by weaving dried grasses together and affixing it to a paper backing. The fibers uses to make grasscloth wallpaper include a medley of sea grass, sisal, jute, bamboo, and other textured sustainable materials. The result is a versatile green design element that can act as a dramatic focal point or a warm and interesting backdrop for furnishings.

One last thing to note here – I have this fanciful notion that if King Louis XIV of France were alive today, he would certainly make some ‘eco-interactive’ changes to his “Hall of Mirrors” at Versailles with some of these popular eco-exquisite elements of interior design. In particular, I envision him purchasing some of CORNING INC.’s “LOTUS GLASS” – an Environmentally Friendly Scratch-Resistant Glass – with Touchscreen Capabilities and a Video Display. You see, I am a chimerical descendant of King Louis IX, “The Saint King” of France and I have this unique crystal ball with heat-resistant, clairvoyant-reflecting properties that’s telling me….Oh yes, Happy Eco-Interior Designing to You!

Bioprospecting Into the Ocean Deep: Looking For Marine-Derived Medicines, Skin Creams, and Along the Way a Sunburn Protection Pill!

Therapies of the future are now taking on an interesting turn – the ocean is now the most promising frontier for tackling human diseases as a natural source for developing new pharmaceutical drugs. In addition to the fact that the ocean covers 74% of the planet’s surface – it supports the greatest diversity of life on Earth – many of them adapted to extreme environments of pitch black darkness and pressure levels that would kill a human being. And it turns out that marine invertebrates (animals without backbones) produce more antibiotic, anti-cancer, and anti-inflammatory substances than any group of organisms on land. Many of them have evolved an arsenal of unique chemical compounds that help them survive in their ocean environment. Below are a few examples of marine organisms doing just that – enhancing our understanding of basic biochemical and physiological processes.

ALGAE – is being looked at for developing anti-inflammatory and anti-neurodegenerative compounds to treat HIV, Arthritis, and Parkinson’s disease. SEAWEED (Marine Algae) have various levels of antioxidants which can be isolated and used as food supplements or as part of medical treatments for several conditions including coronary heart disease and cancer. A chemically derived compound known as Kainic acid taken from red algae off the coast of Japan and Taiwan is now being used as an anti-worming agent and being looked at to treat Epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease. It is also being used as a diagnostic chemical to investigate Huntington’s disease. Sea algae is also being used to create skin creams that promise to boost moisture levels and firm and protect against premature aging i.e. red marine algae, brown algae, and green algae as seen in many beauty product collections.

CONE SNAILS – produce a venom (neurotoxins) that paralyze and kill prey. A chemically- derived medication named “Prialt” is now being used as a powerful pain-killer in AIDS and cancer patients. It is 1000 times more potent than morphine.

CORAL REEFS – One species called ‘Sea whips’ produces substances called ‘Pseudopterosins” that reduce swelling and skin irritation and accelerate wound healing. Two other species of coral that already supply cancer medicine are the Coral ‘Sarcodictyon roseum’ found at a depth of 100 meters in the Mediterranean and the shallow-water ‘Eleutherobia’ species found in western Australia. Another species of coral found near the Bahamas has anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties which is now in use in a commercial skin-care product to defeat allergic responses in the skin. And Kings College London is in the process of developing a tablet to prevent sunburn derived from the coral reef’s own chemical compound which they plan to market in two years time.

HORSEHOE CRABS – Its blood is used to test intravenous drugs and implants/prosthetics for endotoxins – byproducts of bacterial contamination.

SEA SPONGES – The first marine-derived cancer drug ever developed – now known as “Cytosar-U” and used to treat leukemia and lymphoma – was acquired from a species of Caribbean sponges. Another sponge species currently being looked at produces an anti-inflammatory chemical, “Topsentin” which may be helpful in treating diseases like arthritis – a Pacific sponge now being tested may provide potential treatment for asthmatics – and another has antiviral properties which is already being used in the AZT treatment of Aids patients.

SEA URCHINS – provide models for understanding human biology – they are specifically used to demonstrate fertilization and embryo development.

TOADFISH – Blessed with the fastest twitching muscles in the vertebrate world, the toadfish can vibrate its swim bladder muscle an astounding 200 times per second – scientists are hoping to find medicines that will help to treat human muscles of all kinds i.e. heart disease and nerve regeneration.

TUNICATES/SEA SQUIRTS – One tunicate species that lives out in the West Indies coral reefs produces a chemical “Ecteinascidin” which is now being tested in humans for treatment of breast and ovarian cancers and other solid tumors.

Time will only tell whether or not other sea creatures such as sharks, jellyfish, squids, octopuses and cuttlefishes will be the pharmaceutical-sponsored remedies of the future in today’s scientifically-monitored, FDA-approved world.