Green Your Halloween!

With Halloween 2014 coming on the heels of the BoxTrolls movie, recycled (and recyclable) cardboard costumes are sure to be in high demand.  Even if you won’t be creating one of these characters, we’ve got great tips for greening this season of ghosts and gourds.

* Make crafty trick-or-treat sacks using recyclable paper bags and paper scraps or put removable decorations on tote bags or pillow cases for an extra sturdy, reusable option. Find great ideas for decorations, party planning, costumes and more at

* Create costumes from items you already own and avoid purchasing unnecessary single-use items. Find new-to-you ensembles and donate your old ones at GrowNYC’s Halloween Costume Swaps on October 25 and 26 or try your local thrift store for inspiration.  Get great recyclable costume ideas for all ages from the Cardboard Costume Challenge and Inhabitots.

* When you’re finished showing off your costume, recycle it! Use your building’s textile bin if you have one or find a Greenmarket collection near you.

* Compost your jack-o-lantern in your backyard or curbside collection bin, at a Greenmarket food scrap collection or see if community groups and gardens near you accept scraps for composting.  Make it a family affair, complete with snacks, at a Pumpkin Smash 2014 event, sponsored by the NYC Compost Project.

* Too much candy?  Find a local dentist participating in Halloween Candy Buyback, where kids can get prizes or even cash.  Candy is donated to Operation Gratitude, for inclusion in care packages for troops overseas.


Electric-Car Drivers Trading Gas for Solar Power


This July 2014 photo provided by Samuel Avery shows a 2014 Chevy Volt plug in Hart County, Ky. Avery, who is a professional solar installer, built both the garage and panel installation. A growing number of electric-vehicle owners are powering their cars with solar energy from panels on their homes. Photo: Samuel Avery, AP

DETROIT (AP) — Owners of electric vehicles have already gone gas-free. Now, a growing number are powering their cars with sunlight.

Solar panels installed on the roof of a home or garage can easily generate enough electricity to power an electric or plug-in gas-electric hybrid vehicle. The panels aren’t cheap, and neither are the cars. A Ford Fusion Energi plug-in sedan, for example, is $7,200 more than an equivalent gas-powered Fusion even after a $4,007 federal tax credit.

But advocates say the investment pays off over time and is worth it for the thrill of fossil fuel-free driving.

“We think it was one of the best things in the world to do,” says Kevin Tofel, who bought a Chevrolet Volt in 2012 to soak up the excess power from his home solar-energy system. “We will never go back to an all-gas car.”

No one knows exactly how many electric cars are being powered by solar energy, but the number of electric and plug-in hybrid cars in the U.S. is growing. Last year, 97,563 were sold in the U.S., according to Ward’s AutoInfoBank, up 83 percent from the year before. Meanwhile, solar installations grew 21 percent in the second quarter of this year, and more than 500,000 homes and businesses now have them, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Tofel, 45, a senior writer for the technology website Gigaom, installed 41 solar panels on the roof of his Telford, Pennsylvania, home in 2011. The solar array — the term for a group of panels — cost $51,865, but after state and federal tax credits, the total cost was $29,205.

In the first year, Tofel found that the panels provided 13.8 megawatt hours of electricity, but his family was using only 7.59 megawatt hours. So in 2012, Tofel traded in an Acura RDX for a Volt plug-in hybrid that could be charged using some of that excess solar energy. In a typical year, with 15,243 miles of driving, the Volt used 5.074 megawatt hours.

Tofel used to spend $250 per month on gas for the Acura; now, he spends just $50, for the times when the Volt isn’t near a charging station and he has to fill its backup gas engine. Charging the Volt overnight costs him $1.50, but the family makes that money back during the day when it sends solar power to the electric grid. He estimates that adding the car will cut his break-even point on the solar investment from 11.7 years to six years.

Powering a car with solar energy isn’t for everyone. Among things to consider:


A south- or southeast-facing roof is a necessity, and there can’t be shady trees around the house. Sam Avery, who installs solar panels in Kentucky through his company, Avery and Sun, says dormers, chimneys and other design features can hamper an installation.

“If people do have a good site, it’s usually by chance,” he says. “I have to retrofit a lot.”


The cost of installing solar panels has come down, from $8 to $10 per watt eight years ago to $3 a watt or less now. But it’s still a huge investment.

Bill Webster, 39, a graphic designer at a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., paid $36,740 for his solar array in Frederick, Maryland, three years ago, or around $3.60 per watt. Tax credits reduced his net cost to around $20,000.

Before the installation, his family was paying $1,500 per year for electricity. Now, he pays $5.36 per month, the administrative fee for connecting to the grid. That fuels his home and his all-electric Nissan Leaf, which uses around a third of the energy that his solar panels generate. Webster thinks he’ll break even on his investment in six years.

Some solar companies offer leasing programs, which let customers pay a fixed monthly cost for panels. There are also some incentive programs; Honda Motor Co. offers $400 toward the installation of panels through SolarCity, a company that installs them in 15 states.

Buyers also could consider a smaller system just to power a car. A Leaf needs around 4.5 megawatt hours of electricity per year to go 15,000 miles. Eighteen 250-watt panels — a $13,500 investment at $3 per watt — would produce that much electricity.


For Webster, who has a predictable roundtrip commute of less than 50 miles and lives near a lot of electric charging stations, an all-electric car like the Leaf makes sense. But for Avery, who lives in rural Kentucky, the Volt was the better choice because he needs the security of a backup gas engine.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s fuel-economy website — — lists the number of kilowatt hours that a car uses to travel 100 miles, which can help potential buyers calculate their energy needs.

In short, people considering powering a car with solar energy have some math to do. Or maybe they don’t. For Avery, the environmental benefit outweighs everything.

“The reason to go solar is not to save money,” he says. “The real reason to go solar is that we have to do it.”


Solar-powered trees are planted in Israel

All trees convert sunlight into chemical energy, but now there are trees that convert sunlight into power to charge devices, cool water, offer free Wi-Fi and more for the benefit of their surrounding communities. Thanks to an imaginative idea from an Israeli company called Sologic, solar-powered trees are taking root to raise environmental awareness while providing green energy.

The eTree comprises a metal trunk that branches out to support solar panels instead of leaves. The structure, which looks like a pixelated tree in an 8-bit video game, uses the energy captured by the solar panels to provide USB charging outlets for smartphones and tablets, free Wi-Fi, a water trough for pets, a drinking-water fountain for humans, nighttime lighting and informational LCD screens.

“We’re used to seeing big companies working on large-scale systems,” says Michael Lasry, founder of Sologic. “Now we see solar energy becoming accessible to each one of us on the street.”

The first eTrees were unveiled Thursday at the HaNadiv Gardens near Zikhron Ya’akov in Israel. Sologic has plans to sell more of these solar-powered trees in China and France.

One Acacia model eTree (the kind planted in Israel) costs about $100,000. A seven-panel version can generate up to 1.4 kilowatts, which is enough to run 35 laptops.

The big price tag means the eTree probably won’t replace traditional rooftop solar panels, but it has a chance at becoming a popular eye-pleasing fixture in parks across the globe, according to Eli Barnea, an investor in Israel’s largest private power company.

Sologic foresees future eTrees utilizing cameras along with touchscreen displays to enable someone standing beneath one solar-powered tree to say hello to someone else standing beneath another eTree planted anywhere in the world.


IKEA, Swiss Re, Mars, H&M go all-in on renewable energy

By Heather Clancy

Using the backdrop of Climate Week NYC to underscore their commitments, more than a dozen global companies are making multi-year pledges to switch to 100 percent renewable power.

The campaign, called RE100, encourages 100 of the world’s largest businesses to commit to similar all-in goals by 2020. So far, early signers include (in alphabetical order) include: BT, Commerzbank, FIA Formula E, H&M, IKEA, KPN, Mars, Nestle, Philips, Reed Elsevier, J. Safra Sarasin, Swiss Re and Yoox. (IKEA and Swiss Re were the founding sponsors.) Although it isn’t name, Walmart made this pledge long ago.

image by Bush Philosopher via Flickr

“We decided on a 100 percent renewable power approach because as a leading wholesale provider of reinsurance and insurance we believe that tackling climate change while meeting the energy needs of a growing and developing world is an urgent matter. This can only be done by improving energy efficiency and switching to low carbon options including renewable energy sources,” said Jurg Trub, head of environmental and commodity markets for Swiss Re.

“Renewable energy is common sense energy,” said Steve Howard, chief sustainability officer for IKEA Group, during a launch event on the opening day of the Climate Week, convened by The Climate Group. “There is no peak sun, no peak wind. We struck sun, we struck wind long before we struck oil.”

To be clear, 2020 is the date guiding the RE100 pledges. It doesn’t technically mean the full-blown switchover has to happen by then—although IKEA alone will invest close to $1.9 billion dollars in renewable energy projects before 2020 to meet its goal.

So far, IKEA has generated more than 1,425 gigawatts of power from renewable sources, an admirable feat considering how difficult it is for businesses to procure renewable energy. But Howard and other business and political leaders gathered in New York this week say the corporate world must speak up more forcefully and move far faster to address climate change issues.

“You can make a powerful argument that it is the most important challenge that we face on the planet, because it is about the planet itself,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told the gathering, referencing the People’s Climate March that took place over the weekend. He added: “It doesn’t cost more to deal with climate change, it costs more to ignore it.” A report published this week by the newly formed We Mean Business coalition suggests that companies making investments in low-carbon technologies are realizing a 27 percent average internal rate of return.

“The [report] underlines that we do not have to choose between climate action and economic growth,” said Unilever CEO Paul Polman. “The report shows this is a false dilemma. They can be achieved simultaneously. The next 15 years are critical. Around $90 trillion will be invested in cities, land use and energy infrastructure globally between now and 2030.”

An estimated 400,000 people took to New York streets for the climate march, four times the number anticipated. Aside from the list of people you’d normally expect to show up (like Al Gore, Jane Goodall, Sting or Leonardo DiCaprio) were top executives from IKEA, NRG Unilever and members of We Mean Business.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also donned his walking shoes to underscore the need for better collaboration between communities, citizens, and the public and private sectors. “This is our world, this is our planet earth. It is a very small planet,” Ki-moon told the roughly 250 people attending the Climate Week opening session. “If we cannot swim together, we will always sink. There is no Plan B, because there is no Planet B.”

The We Mean Business coalition was launched to leverage the collective voices of business leaders around the world, hoping to create a ripple effect of positive actions that help limit the global rise in temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius. Among the causes it is advocating on behalf of the private sector (it wants all these things by 2015):

  • A heightened sense of urgency by governments to stabilize emissions
  • Policies that encourage businesses to reduce their impact, including an elimination of fossil fuels subsidies; meaningful carbon pricing; an end to deforestation; robust energy-efficiency standards; support for scaling renewable energy; and trade incentives that encourage a low-carbon economy
  • Clearer long-term goals
  • More transparency and accountability related to climate issues
  • Public finance mechanisms to support investments in low-carbon and resilient infrastructure by the private sector

“The inclusion of business at the summit and over the past few years is a recognition that climate change is not a one-person issue,” said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, during a briefing call before the summit. “It is not a one-sector issue. It cannot be solve by one country, one sector, by one level of government. Climate is an every-person issue, and it requires everyone to work collaboratively in order to reach the solutions to the level and at the speed that we need to find.”

Among the leaders that We Mean Business recruited to stress the need for collaboration was Apple CEO Tim Cook, who pointed to the need for a corporate ripple effect. “We know we will not make enough of a difference if we only solve part of the world,” he said during an on-stage interview with Figueres.


The Need For Solar Panels Is Greater than Ever

Fortunately The Economics Couldn’t Have Been Better

[Image Credit | Inhabitat]

Going green or eco-friendly has suddenly become very important in the United States. One of the best long-term investments for eco-conscious citizens is to install solar-panels on their roofs. Interestingly, now might be the best time to get it done.

Earlier, solar panel installation companies were primarily concerned with cutting down costs involved in installation. Now they are equally interested in enhancing the capability and capacity of the solar panels. Installers wanted cheaper solar panels, fewer workers in a crew, faster racking installation, and any other improvement they could make. Surprisingly, the technology behind the panels they installed didn’t seem to matter.

However, priorities have changed almost overnight. Interestingly, there are multiple subtle reasons for the change apart from cost of panels and efficiency.

There are multiple incentives: It is always recommended to get solar panels installed by professional authorized agencies. While these may certainly be more expensive than other non-official teams, you can get back almost $3,000 dollars in installation costs alone, reported Energy Informative. But whatever you do, experts advise, never take up the project as a Do It Yourself (DIY). Home insurers often require the installation of solar-panels to be carried out by authorized agencies only, or else your beloved home might not get the adequate coverage it requires.

Apart from the rebates, the cost of generating electricity from solar panels has dropped substantially. Based on trends, the average cost of solar panels has dropped from $76.67 per watt in 1977 to about $0.613 per watt today, reported CleanTechnica.

Your neighbors may not have a say in your installation; you can go ahead and install solar panels over your roof and your neighbors won’t be able to object. However, some home owners association can and do object to the installation. While these reasons can be quite trivial, one must ensure their compliance in order to get solar power.

Thankfully, the local governments and utility companies have slowly changed their stance towards solar panels. In fact, the governments offer multiple incentives to people who opt to spend on solar panels, an investment that is initially quite substantial. By purchasing a solar or other renewable energy system, you are an environmental patron, and therefore entitled to a 30 percent solar Federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) until 2016.

Moreover, utility companies have to mandatorily accommodate homes that draw part of their power from solar panels. Interestingly, there are provisions that allow solar paneled homes to offload surplus power back to the utility companies and earn energy credits.