Category Archives: Corporate Sustainability

Corporate Sustainability

How to Recycle e-Waste

By Leah Kaminsky

As technology advances at lightning speed, we’ve become used to upgrading our devices on a regular basis. But we don’t often think about where our old electronics go and whom they’re harming when they’re there. The common though is “once it’s in the trash, it’s out of our minds.”

So where do our unwanted devices go? The answer is simple: nowhere good. Too often companies claiming to be recyclers send our e-waste abroad to third world countries where they take a massive toll on the environment as well as on human health.

What to do?

First, think of ways you can get more life out of your devices. That means (dare I say it?) holding on to them for a little longer or giving them to a younger member of the family. You can also look for companies that will refurbish devices, saving salvageable parts and using them to make something new. Or sell your old products online and see a return on some of your investment. You can find a number of companies who will resell devices for you, taking the hassle of shipping and customer management out of the equation.

Another great option is to donate those old devices to schools or charities, especially in countries where resources and capital are scarce. For example, just having a cell phone to arrange meetings can radically improve the lot of a small businesswoman in a foreign country. Before donating, make sure to check out a charity’s credentials and follow any guidelines they might have. For example, don’t just drop off an old computer at a school, as they might not even have the need for old technology.

Sure, it takes a little more thought to reduce the impact of your e-waste, but we’ve got to do something to counter the negative effects of our technology addiction. Being proactive about what you do with old technology is the first step.

Biomimicry is the Best Form of Flattery

Evolution has designed plants and animals to live within the constraints of their environments rather than to fight them as we often do.  As resources on our planet become increasingly scarce, scientists are turning back to nature for inspiration.

For instance, the designers of Zimbabwe’s Eastgate Centre turned to the nests of the Macrotermes michaelseni (termite) for inspiration.  These nests utilize complex ventilation systems and perfectly chosen building materials so that they can remain within one degree of 31 °C no matter how greatly the outside temperature varies.  Once constructed on this model, the Eastgate Centre became one of the world’s first buildings to self-regulate temperature without the help of air conditioning.

In this TED talk, architect Michael Pawlyn discusses not just what we can learn from individual creatures but also how we can model entire production systems after those of the natural world.  By producing our goods in closed loop models in which every material is reused so that it might even produce the initial product again, our production can be more like a real ecosystem.  One example is the “Cardboard to Caviar Project”, in which cardboard is gathered from local restaurants, broken down by worm collecting systems and fed to sturgeons, which produce caviar that is then sold back to restaurants. 

But how does this apply to you?  Try gathering a group of likeminded folks and challenging yourselves to develop more closed loop projects.  Even something as simple as composting can fit the bill.  Or, take a walk in the woods and open your eyes to what’s out there.  You might just solve an engineering problem you didn’t know you had!

Additional references

Green Jobs

You don’t have to be Kermit the frog to turn your natural green into a career these days. With a host of eco-friendly initiatives making their way down the congressional pipeline, corporations, small businesses, city governments, and even homeowners are scrambling to ready themselves for the new green economy. That’s bad news for big polluters and great news for anyone seeking employment in an industry that employs over 2.7 million workers and has seen explosive growth throughout the recession.

Many industries – especially those that deal in fossil fuels – are urgently seeking Corporate Responsibility Managers to help bring old practices into compliance with new regulations while also heading initiatives in sustainable energy. Local and regional government planners and organizations are employing lawyers, LEED certified architects, designers, energy consultants and civil engineers with green backgrounds to help them plan for a more sustainable future. This means designing better, smarter cities with more extensive public transport networks, a sustainable energy grid, increased parkland, and more funding for green initiatives.

Within these areas there will also be a great need for “green collar” workers to install all of that new green machinery and make it run. Solar panel installers will be in high demand as the use of solar energy spreads, as will wind turbine installers and operators. Vastly expanded transportation networks will call for more drivers and operators, and green factories will require workers for their lines.

As a burgeoning industry, there has never been a better time to get involved in the green industry. You can have a real hand in shaping the direction of our economy, our government, and the way we live. So go green and earn green at the same time!

Additional References

The Phantom of the Electric Bill

The phenomenon known as “phantom electricity” is the continuous sucking of power from everything you leave plugged in – and it’s a big deal, accounting for roughly four billion*, yes BILLION dollars spent annually by residential America. The biggest energy vampires? Television and audio equipment, computers, and large appliances.  

How do you fight back? Simply being cognizant of phantom energy is half the battle. The other half is figuring out what to do about it. The simplest solution is to unplug everything (yes, everything) when you’re not using it: phone chargers, computers, media equipment, lamps and appliances.

Keep in mind; I said “simplest,” not easiest solution.  The easiest is to buy some smart power strips – those extension cord-looking things with several plug-in slots and convenient on/off toggle switches. By using these you can easily plug in everything from one area in your house (say your DVR, DVD player, TV, receiver, speakers, etc.) and simply flip the switch to “off” when everything is powered down. That’ll stop most of the insidious energy-sucking.

More simple ways to stop power bleeding

  1. If you’re not using a power strip, at least put your computer on hibernate mode when not in use.
  2. Disable “quick start” mode on blu-ray players. 
  3. Unplug things you’re not constantly using, like coffee makers, toasters and other small appliances. 
  4. Disconnect your cell phone, Bluetooth, tablet and other chargers once they’re powered up. 
  5. Buy appliances with the Energy Star® rating – they’re designed to use less energy, thus reducing phantom use.

 To learn more about phantom electric use, I’ve included some handy links below.

Phantom Load – a white paper by Student Sustainability Education Coordinators at University of California, Berkeley

Energy Reduction – from the U.S. Department of Energy

Standby Power FAQ  - from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

The dirt on composting at drugstore.com & TheNaturalStore.com

Talking about a green lifestyle is easy. Living the green actually takes some effort. As long-time advocates of composting, drugstore.com, parent to TheNaturalStore.com, began a composting program in our corporate offices in 2010.

We’ve been actively reducing our carbon footprint at our home office near Seattle, Washington for many years. While we’ve always been advocates of composting, it’s something that’s been difficult to actualize here in our corporate offices. Our biggest barrier was where to locate the compost receptacle. We’re in a high rise with little extra space. But after a discussion with building management and a subsequent grant from the City of Bellevue, we instigated a building-wide composting program. Each tenant received a unique container and biobag liners in their kitchen. Each day, the containers are dumped into a main compost receptacle where they’re collected by Cedar Grove Composting. Cedar Grove transforms food waste into nutrient-rich compost that’s sold in stores all over the country as well as at their Northwest facilities. 

We introduced this program to our employees with an informational brown bag lunch meeting. Cedar Grove, building management and our sustainability team was on hand to discuss the dos and don’ts of the composting process. Together, our teams learned which items are compostable (like food scraps & coffee grounds), which are recyclable (such as, plastic containers & cups) and which go directly into the trash (like plastic utensils & straws). The program turned out to be simple for our employees to grasp, and we enjoy knowing we’re making a difference in our community.

Introductions are in Order

Corky and "The Mona Lisa"

So…I guess introductions are in order.  As our Director of Corporate Sustainability, I’m also our chief blogger here at TheNaturalStore.com.  That means when I’m not blogging, I’m tasked with the interesting job of trying to make our business run as sustainably as possible, from developing our recycling efforts to commute trip reduction programs.

Going green — as they say these days — isn’t anything new to me. I’ve been sort of impassioned (some might say obsessed) about living a more natural lifestyle since the second grade, and when you’re as old as I am, well let’s just say — I’ve been doing this sustainability thing; studying it, making a career out of it, raising my kids with it, for quite a while.

Still, it’s a daunting job, for sure, and one that I would never even attempt to do  – if it wasn’t for the whole team around here, and the incredible energy and smarts they share. We have a Sustainability Task Force as well as our Green Merchandising Team: all kinds of talented, dedicated folks who you’ll be hearing from down the road.

So welcome again! Let’s get started. Together we’ll plow through; answer some questions, raise more and hopefully have some fun – or at least discover a neat new product, or great deal, while we are at it.

What We’re All About

It’s Called Sustainability
Some of us shop natural for personal health reasons, others to help the environment by using fewer chemicals. We don’t think it’s a choice of one or the other, “green” or “natural” but both – and more. When you think about the interconnectedness that our choices have on our personal lives, our society, our economy, and the planet — it’s called “sustainability”. It’s that funny new term that sounds more complicated than it needs to. I like the official definition, created by the U.N’.s World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987:

“Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

TheNaturalStore.com’s sustainability vision is three-fold. Our highest priority is offering our customers the largest and best selection of natural and environmentally friendly products online.

Reducing Our Footprint
Secondly, here at the office, we’re focused on reducing our overall footprint, and doing so in a manner that is authentic and transparent. Since we started our Going Green Initiative just two years ago we have had some tremendous successes, and no doubt we’ll be going into various programs in more detail here. (Meanwhile, if you can’t wait to know more, read our Green@Work tab, for more about what we’ve been up to.)

Sharing Information and Resources
A huge priority for us is educating our shoppers. We love sharing the information and resources we come across in our research with you. It’s sort of a passion. I love it when a shopper or employee asks, “What makes this green”? It’s not that I necessarily have the answers – but I get a kick out of pointing folks in the right direction, or helping them learn the questions to ask for themselves. Because really it’s for each of us to ask ourselves what’s sustainable for the kind of home, community, and planet we want to sustain. What does your version of future needs even look like? Yours may not be the same as mine, and that’s where it can get sort of interesting, so let’s learn more together.

Partnering with  Brands that Support Sustainability
Over the years we’ve developed long-lasting partnerships with brands we consider to be the real leaders in sustainability. These are companies, like Seventh Generation, Burt’s, Clif, Method, and SunMar, that are helping develop product and ingredient standards and transparency, or product life cycle guidelines that help us all. We’ve learned much from them over the years, and look forward to sharing that knowledge with you.

But buying more isn’t always the answer . We’ll share household tips that may even cut back on purchases, spending and hopefully natural resources (my clothes are hanging on the line here as I write). No, that doesn’t mean I have my laundry draping all over the office, although I sort of like that image. I work from home—my small farm – two days a week. Lots of us at the office telecommute, which is another way we actively cut our impact on the environment, reduce traffic, and equalize the work/life balance we are all after—or so I hope!

We call it “Livin’ the Green”

Welcome to livin’ the green — our new blog! Happy to have you with us as we get started. We’re taking steps towards greener, more natural – healthier living, and I’m guessing, just by being here, you’ve made some similar decisions. Sharing information is what this blog is all about. We want to provide guidance around product labeling and ingredients, as well as share standards and guidelines that can help you make the best sustainable shopping decisions. Clearly, there is no one formula, or one-way to “be green”. But sharing information and committing to learning more is a great place to start!

Livin' the Green

Just Livin' The Green!

We call it “livin’ the green” because it isn’t that we are all trying to do? Live our own dream. And if you are shopping at TheNaturalStore.com I figure your dream most likely includes a natural, greenish hue, or at least a green tinge around the edges. Hopefully we all care about keeping ourselves and this planet in the best shape we can…whatever that looks like –  for each of us.

Picking one photo for our masthead has proven to be just about impossible. What one single image conveys green and natural living? Is it the food we eat? The kids we raise? The bikes we ride? The mountains we climb? The garden we grow? For me – I try to integrate sustainability into just about everything I do. Not to say I always  make the greenest choices. No way. But I do try to be conscious of the impact my choices make. Hence the array of photos, from rural to urban and the suburbs in between; from working and commuting, to farming and taking tropical adventures; we all have choices to make. Which really is why we are doing this. It’s sort of like we can’t help it.

For the last couple of years, here at the office, we’ve been sharing cool bits of info about the green and natural world in emails to the whole company. Folks here seem to have liked getting sustainability tips and new product ideas, or learn just how important it is to turn off their monitors – to save energy over the weekend. So we got the idea to go further with it; turn it into a blog and share it with our loyal customers. Hopefully, that’s you!