A Greener Champagne Bottle

Newly forged bottles, still red hot, being checked at random for defects at the Saint Gobain glass bottle factory.

By LIZ ALDERMAN  THE NEW YORK TIMES  Published: August 31, 2010

REIMS, France — Deep below a lush landscape of ripening Champagne grapes, Thierry Gasco, the master vintner for Pommery, ran his finger over the shoulders of a dark green bottle that looked just like the thousands of others reposing in his chilly subterranean cellars.

But to the practiced hand and eye, there is a subtle, if potentially significant, difference.

“This is how we’re remaking the future of Champagne,” he said, pointing to the area just below the neck. “We’re slimming the shoulders to make the bottle lighter, so our carbon footprint will be reduced to help keep Champagne here for future generations.”

The Champagne industry has embarked on a drive to cut the 200,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide it emits every year transporting billions of tiny bubbles around the world. Producing and shipping accounts for nearly a third of Champagne’s carbon emissions, with the hefty bottle the biggest offender.

Yet while many other industries might plaster their marketing with eco-friendly claims, changes to Champagne, as with so much else in France, are being made discreetly. Producers in this secretive business are tight-lipped about the costs and occasionally enigmatic about how much their carbon emissions will really be cut.

“Champagne is sometimes more humble than it should be,” said Philippe Wibrotte of the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne, the region’s trade organization. “Much is done for the promotion of the environment, but it’s kept quiet because we want to make sure each step is perfect.”

The industry speaks in hushed tones, too, in deference to the luxurious image and ritualistic traditions of Champagne, as symbolized for centuries by the bottle. It was Dom Pérignon, a Benedictine monk, who first thickened the glass in the mid-1600s to contain what was often referred to as “the devil’s wine” because its vessels exploded so often. Over time, the bottle was gradually recalibrated until 900 grams, or about two pounds, became the standard weight in the early 1970s.

The current retooling, which uses 65 fewer grams (2.3 ounces) of glass, is in response to a 2003 study of Champagne’s carbon footprint, which the industry wants to cut 25 percent by 2020, and 75 percent by 2050.

The move comes as efforts to reduce carbon output and improve vineyard ecology are accelerating worldwide, as wine houses reduce packaging, pesticides, water use and transportation. In California, for example, winegrowers are promoting what their trade group, the Wine Institute, says are nearly 230 “green practices,” including methods to cut carbon emissions.

Champagne accounts for only 10 percent of the three billion bottles of sparkling wine produced globally each year. But the bottle stands out for its heft. Italian prosecco, for instance, uses a 750-gram bottle. But it and its various fizzy cousins have only about half the pressure of Champagne — which generates three times the air pressure of a typical car tire.

Although some of Pommery’s restyled bottles are already on the market, the C.I.V.C. expects all Champagne houses to start using the new 835-gram vessel next April for bottling this month’s grape harvest; the new wave of bottles will hit stores after three years of fermentation. The effort, the group says, will trim carbon emissions by 8,000 metric tons annually — the equivalent of taking 4,000 small cars off the road.

“For Champagne producers to reduce the weight of their packaging is definitely a step in the right direction,” said Tyler Colman, an author of environmental studies on the wine industry, “because there’s less mass to transport around the world.”

Vranken-Pommery Monopole, which in addition to Pommery owns Heidsieck & Company Monopole and other labels, got a head start by adopting the lighter bottle in 2003. Consumers around the world may have already uncorked some specimens without noticing the new bottle. Moët & Chandon, Veuve Cliquot and a few others quietly switched this year, with those bottles still under fermentation.

The rest of the Champagne producers are deciding whether to embrace the C.I.V.C.’s mandate, which is voluntary but carries special force in this clannish community.

Designing a new bottle was no small feat. The container still had to withstand Champagne’s extreme pressure. It would also need to survive the four-year obstacle course from the factory floor to the cellars to the dining table, and fit in existing machinery at all Champagne houses. And it had to be molded so that consumers would barely detect the difference in the bottle’s classic shape.

“The bottle is part of Champagne’s image, and we don’t want to affect it,” said Daniel Lorson, a spokesman for the trade group.

Mr. Gasco said Vranken Pommery, one of the largest houses, has spent 500,000 to one million euros ($635,000 to about $1.3 million) each year since 1994 on environmental initiatives, including research and testing of the lighter bottle.

But the bottle, he said, is not about money, which has become tighter since the financial crisis. Industrywide sales for Champagne last year were 3.7 billion euros ($4.7 billion), down from nearly 5 billion euros in 2007.

“Reducing their carbon footprint and energy use is also a great way to make their operations more financially viable, especially with the economy the way it is,” said Euan Murray, an official at the Carbon Trust, a nonprofit group that advises businesses and government on global warming issues.

Sipping a glass of Pommery during an interview, Mr. Gasco eventually disclosed that the new bottles cost around 32 euro cents (41 United States cents) each, not much cheaper than the classic. But Mr. Gasco, who sits on the C.I.V.C.’s bottling panel, said “if everyone starts to use it, the price will come down.” Any savings, however, would be too slight to pass on to consumers, he said.

Most of the new Champagne bottles are made at the St. Gobain plant near here, where molten red glass is dropped from a 20-foot-high chute into molds at a rate of 160 a minute. The glass is cooled from more than 1,000 degrees Celsius for over an hour, scanned for imperfections and stacked on pallets for shipping.

A worker on Pommery’s assembly line, who declined to be named, said he noticed that a few more of the new bottles were exploding, and that they made a higher-pitched sound when they clinked together. Mr. Gasco denied there were more explosions, and said any damage more likely came from using heat to inject the cork.

Bruno Delhorbe, the director at the St. Gobain factory, said that using less glass lowered the carbon emissions necessary to make each bottle by 7 percent, and allowed about 2,400 more to be placed inside delivery trucks, reducing the number of trucks on the road.

Slimming the shoulders while thinning the glass, he noted, also allowed his clients to avoid giving their customers more Champagne for the same price.

Of course, there are even lighter alternatives: Many of the world’s producers of still wines are employing plastic bottles and box containers to reduce their carbon footprint.

But it may be a long time before Champagne goes that route. Most houses take pains to cultivate an image of luxury through packaging and pricing — and intimations that other sparkling wines are inferior because they simply are not Champagne.

Still, many producers insist that while tradition has its place, the environmentally motivated changes are about the future. Patrick LeBrun, an independent producer, said he started going green “for personal reasons.” He has not used herbicides for five years, and this year, he is putting all of his product into the lighter bottle.

“There’s about a 2-cent price difference but that’s not what decided me,” he said. Trying to improve the environment “is my contribution to the next generation.”

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U.S. on track to double renewable energy capacity: Biden

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. government stimulus spending has put the country on track to double renewable energy production capacity by 2012 and halve solar power costs by 2015, Vice President Joseph Biden said on Tuesday.

President Barack Obama’s stimulus spending poured $814 billion into the U.S. economy, including more than $100

Reuters – Solar panels sit on the roof of SunPower Corporation in Richmond, California March 18, 2010.

billion for science, technology and innovation projects.

With Energy Secretary Steven Chu by his side, Biden unveiled a new White House report estimating the impact of the Recovery Act funding on American innovation in transportation, renewable energy, broadband, smart electrical grids and medical research.

Biden said the stimulus funding would lead to breakthroughs in many of those areas.

“The government plants the seeds. The private sector nourishes and makes it grow,” Biden said. “And in the process, if we’re as innovative as we’ve been in the past, we launch entire new industries.”

The report outlined a goal of doubling renewable energy capacity from the 28.8 gigawatts of solar, wind and geothermal sources installed as of the end of 2008 to 57.6 GW by the end of 2011, which would be enough to power 16.7 million homes, or 55 million electric cars, for a year.

The manufacturing goal is to double the 2008 level of output of 6 GW of renewable equipment like wind turbines and solar panels to 12 GW at the end of 2011.

Solar power now accounts for less than 1 percent of U.S. electricity generation, while wind power produces almost 2 percent.

The cost of solar power is expected to be on par with common grid electricity by 2015, while the cost of electric car batteries is expected to fall by 70 percent between 2009 and 2015 and be competitive with common car batteries.

In May, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reported that the U.S. stimulus money put up to 2.8 million people to work and raised U.S. gross domestic product by up to 4.2 percent, but predicted the impact would taper off in 2011 and 2012, after peaking later this year.

(Reporting by Alina Selyukh; Editing by Walter Bagley)

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FTC Green Guidelines May Leave Marketers Red-Faced

Experts Say Pending Guides Could Upend Efforts, Make Some 300 Environmental Seals of Approval Unsustainable

By Jack Neff   August 23, 2010 adage.com

BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) — Attention marketers: Within the next few weeks, you may be recasting your entire green-marketing strategy.

Right now on the desks of Federal Trade Commissioners is the new set of so-called Green Guides that are used by the FTC to guide enforcement of existing laws. They are the first environmental-marketing guidelines in 12 years and could radically reshape how far marketers can go in painting their products, packaging or even corporate images green.

Christopher Cole, an advertising-law specialist and partner with law firm Manatt Phelps & Phillips in Washington, said the guides could render most of the more than 300 environmental seals of approval now in currency on packaging and products largely useless and possibly in violation of FTC standards. They could also influence efforts, seemingly stalled, by retailers such as Walmart to institute a sustainability-rating system for products.

The guides are expected to tighten standards for packaging claims such as “recyclable” or “biodegradable”; regulate how marketers use such terms as “carbon neutral”; and how quickly and close to the source of carbon output “carbon offsets” must be executed, among other things.

They may also attempt to define such legally and linguistically squishy terms as “sustainability” or tackle the central issue of many “greenwashing” controversies — trying to define how far companies can go in painting themselves as green in advertising when they or their products also have detrimental environmental impacts.

A spokesman for the FTC said the commission is on track to meet its schedule of issuing updated guidelines by the end of summer, and that they’re likely to cover areas that were the subject of FTC workshops over the past three years, including carbon offsets, packaging claims and environmental seals of approval.

“I would expect that they’re going to require more concrete showing of environmental benefits, and insubstantial environmental harm associated with anything that wants to claim green, friendly or eco-conscious terms,” he said. To the extent it’s been undefined, the bar has been pretty low.”

Almost certainly issuance of the guidelines will increase enforcement and litigation around green issues, Mr. Cole said.

Some of that will come from the FTC itself. During the first two years of the Obama administration, the FTC has already brought seven environmental advertising enforcement actions, compared to zero during the eight years of the Bush administration.

It’s unclear whether the new regulations will favor any one class of advertisers over another, Mr. Cole said. But an increase in litigation or arbitration of green claims could favor bigger marketers in a space where many key players remain relatively small independents, such as Seventh Generation and Method. The bigger players have bigger pockets and in-house counsel to handle litigation.

Spokespeople for both those companies said they’re following the development of the Green Guides closely but have no predictions on how they’ll look.

The Green Guides aren’t new laws; rather, they’re an update of how the FTC will interpret its mandate to enforce longstanding laws against unfair and deceptive advertising. Still, the spokesman said the FTC will treat them like other new regulations, publishing them in the Federal Register and instituting a comment period before they become final.

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Plastic bottle boat reaches Australia after stormy seas

July 23, 2010

(CNN) — After spending 125 days traveling over 8,000 nautical miles, the Plastiki is preparing to reach Sydney, its final destination, on Sunday.

The Plastiki’s arrival in Sydney will not, however, be the 60-foot catamaran’s first time to reach Australian soil. Winter storms producing near-hurricane strength winds forced the vessel and its crew to take refuge in Mooloolaba, Queensland on Monday.

Originally, the crew had hoped to land in Coffs Harbour, south from Mooloolaba, before heading to Sydney. After waiting out the bad weather, the Plastiki took off from its unexpected first port-of-call in Australia early Friday morning with hopes to reach Sydney in the next two days.

Brutal winter storms in the Tasman Sea made the leg from New Caledonia the most challenging. One night winds gusting over 60-knots surprised the crew, leaving them battling to prevent the mast buckling and losing the sail for eight hours.

“I’ve always been apprehensive of the Tasman Sea and this was my own worst nightmare come to fruition,” said Plastiki’s expedition leader, David de Rothschild.

Co-skipper of the boat, Dave Thomson called the waves some of “the biggest you’re likely to see.”

Once in Sydney, the Plastiki will be harbored at the Australian National Maritime Museum. It will remain on display for a month as crew members hold special events aimed at raising awareness of plastic waste in the ocean. The general public will also have the opportunity to visit the vessel during an open day.

Made of approximately 12,500 reclaimed plastic bottles and engineered using the most sustainable methods possible, the Plastiki is meant to be used as a platform upon which solutions to the myriad of environmental problems can be found.

Particularly, the Plastiki is hoping to raise awareness about single-use consumer products that are filling landfills and the sea.

The Plastiki has faced several challenges since departing from San Francisco in March. Engineering problems unique to a craft made of plastic water bottles forced the catamaran to make unscheduled stops, as has unpredictable weather.

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Empire State Building Goes Green, One Window at a Time

By David Roth

A fifth floor space inside the Empire State Building has been transformed into a cramped window-making workshop.

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Thursday, August 19, 2010

How does a Depression-era skyscraper go green? For the Empire State Building, which is in the middle of $550 million renovation that includes about $100 million in energy-efficient upgrades, all 6,514 windows must be replaced. And that’s no easy task.

As The Journal’s Anton Troianovski reports, the greening of the iconic 79-year-old tower has become a platform for Anthony Malkin, the real-estate scion who runs the building, to criticize as insufficient popular programs for assessing the environmental sustainability of buildings. If the world follows the U.S. lead on energy use, he told the audience at a real-estate panel earlier this summer, “We’re all going to die and we’ll go to war along the way.”

For the Empire State Building’s windows, Malkin brought in Serious Materials to handle a pane-by-pane upgrade. The Silicon Valley-based building materials company is transforming the old, inefficient windows into “super-insulating” units, a sort of glass sandwich that combines the existing panes with a mixture of inert gases and film. The finished product is a window anywhere from 250% to 400% more efficient than the windows they replace, according to the company.

“Dirty little secret: double-pane windows aren’t all that efficient,” says Serious Materials CEO Kevin Surace.

The replacement windows, which use what Surace calls a “suspended film system,” break up the convection current between the inside and outside of a building. That means less heat sneaks in through the windows on hot days when the air-conditioning is running, and warm air from inside has a harder time leaking out when it’s cold outside.

The team of workers tasked with the window upgrade spend their days removing, cleaning and re-fabricating the building’s 12-year-old double-pane windows. The process, which began in March and is expected to run until October, is projected to reduce solar heat gain by more than half and save $400,000 each year in energy costs.

The window work is being done on site, in an office-turned-workshop on the Empire State Building’s fifth floor. Malkin estimates that keeping the process in-house saves $2,300 per window. The Serious Materials workspace buzzes between 7 a.m. and 2 a.m., processing 75 windows per day in a space roughly the size of a Manhattan apartment. The room is so snug that engineers for the project had to shrink some of their equipment to fit in the space.

Keeping the workshop on site ensures the windows are out of their frames for just about 20 hours before the upgraded window is ready. The process is designed to keep waste at a minimum: just 4% of the building’s existing windows are being discarded, and only the gasket surrounding the original windows winds up in the trash.

Workers remove the windows from office spaces at night and bring them downstairs to the workshop. Once there, the windows are removed from their frames and peeled apart like Oreo cookies before being cleaned. The first cleaning is manual, using razor blades and pumices, followed by a wash with a chemical solution and finally water.

The deconstructed windows are then fitted with new steel spacers, treated with a metallized film and baked flat in an oven at 205 degrees. The windows are then sealed with a mixture of Kyrpton and Argon gas. Finally, the upgraded windows are put back — with the help of careful but firm malleting — into their original aluminum frames.

The on-site re-use and refabrication of the Empire State Building’s windows is unprecedented on a project of this size. But Paul Rode, the project executive from Johnson Controls Inc. who is overseeing the retrofit, believes it could become a popular model in the industry. “I’m never waiting for product. If a problem ever comes up, we don’t have to call someplace that’s 500 miles away,” he says. “Logistically, that’s just what you want in the construction business.”

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Warming Is Real. Now What? (EcoLuxury is what!)

Books of The New York Times

By MICHIKO KAKUTANI

Published: August 2, 2010

Even as Democrats abandoned efforts late last month to advance a major climate change bill through the Senate, books about global warming continue to pour forth. Two of the more interesting ones do not waste time rearguing debates over the science (in 2007 a United Nations panel, synthesizing the work of hundreds of climatologists from around the world, called evidence for global warming “unequivocal”), but instead take as a starting point the clear and present dangers posed by the greenhouse gases produced by burning fossil fuels.

 “The Climate War,” by Eric Pooley — deputy editor of Bloomberg BusinessWeek and former managing editor of Fortune — looks at the hotly contested politics of global warming, especially as it’s been played out in Washington over the last three years. “The Weather of the Future,” by Heidi Cullen — a senior research scientist with Climate Central, a nonprofit research organization — offers a scorching vision of what life might be like in the warmer world that is already on its way.

Although “Weather of the Future” sounds like an exercise in speculation, Ms. Cullen grounds her harrowing predictions — extrapolations, really — in “the best available science” derived from an array of climate models, environmental data and interviews with scientists. And her forecasts actually turn out to be an armature for discussing the fallout of climate change (from rising sea levels to more extreme weather) in an accessible, tactile fashion and for examining existing liabilities in various regions and cities, like overstretched infrastructure and dwindling water supplies.

In what will come as little surprise to Americans suffering through this summer’s persistent heat waves, Ms. Cullen notes that the average annual temperature in the United States “has risen more than two degrees F during the past 50 years, and the temperature will continue to rise, depending on the amount of heat-trapping gases we emit globally.”

By 2050, with midrange emissions, she writes, “a day so hot that it is currently experienced only once every 20 years would occur every three years over much of the continental United States”; and by the end the century, “such a day would occur every other year, or more often.”

Because a warmer climate means more evaporation of water from land and oceans, Ms. Cullen observes, it also results “in longer and more severe droughts in some areas and more flooding in others.” And because a warmer world means the continued melting of glaciers and polar ice, it leads to rising sea levels — which threaten places prone to flooding, as well as places vulnerable to sea surges during hurricanes.

In the case of New York City, hotter summers lead to a heavier reliance on air-conditioning, which leads to more stress on an already strained electrical grid. Also at risk, says Rae Zimmerman, a member of the New York City Panel on Climate Change, is much of the city’s critical infrastructure, which sits less than 10 feet above sea level, including the New York entrance to the Holland Tunnel (at 9.5 feet above sea level) and La Guardia Airport (at 6.8 feet above sea level).

As for the Central Valley in California, which is the hub of that state’s water supply system, providing water for two out of three Californians, it is vulnerable to the catastrophic failure of its canals and levees, whether from an earthquake or the slowly rising sea level — much the way New Orleans was vulnerable to flooding during Hurricane Katrina. Ms. Cullen adds that global warming is also likely to affect the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, which is the “true basis of California’s water system,” just as it is likely to lead to “hotter wildfires that are harder to control.”

In many parts of the world climate change will have serious geopolitical fallout as well. Droughts and floods in Bangladesh, Ms. Cullen says, could result in more and more climate refugees, even as a growing scarcity of groundwater in northern India could further exacerbate tensions between India and Pakistan. National security experts, she writes, see climate change as a “threat multiplier,” leading to increased tensions between rich and poor nations, and amplifying regional political disputes over access to water and food in times of drought (as has happened, for instance, in Darfur).

Although there were hopes that last year’s United Nations talks in Copenhagen would lead to an important accord on climate change, the final document to come out of the summit was a statement of intention, not a binding pledge, to begin taking action on global warming. In the view of many scientists and politicians, the disappointing outcome stemmed partly from the failure of the United States Senate to pass legislation intended to cap American emissions before the summit — which, in turn, meant that China would not agree to an absolute reduction of its emissions.

In “The Climate War,” which ends with the Copenhagen summit, Mr. Pooley gives us a detailed, if sometimes longwinded, account of the political battle to get Congress to take legislative action on global warming. It is a depressing account of gridlock in Washington, of efforts by conservative lobbyists to deny the phenomenon altogether (and when that hasn’t worked, to delay any sort of action), and of infighting within the environmental left over whether to compromise and try to get the support of centrists and corporate interests, or whether to take a hard-line, ideological stand. It is a story about how the economic meltdown of 2008 and the ensuing recession — and concerns about job losses and other short-term costs of establishing a clean-energy economy — affected the debate over global warming and the political arithmetic that members of Congress and the Obama administration have been doing over the viability of climate change legislation.

Mr. Pooley tells this story by focusing on a couple of key people: most notably, former Vice President Al Gore, the public face of the antiglobal warming crusade; Fred Krupp, executive director of the Environmental Defense Fund, who “often forged partnerships with industry and pushed for agreements that the left couldn’t stand”; and Mr. Krupp’s sometime ally Jim Rogers, chief executive of Duke Energy, who joined other business executives and the leaders of several national environmental groups to form the United States Climate Action Partnership, an organization calling for an economywide solution to global warming and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

In these pages Mr. Pooley deftly explicates the political maneuvering surrounding the controversial concept of “cap and trade” (a mandatory and declining limit on carbon emissions, combined with a system of tradable emissions permits) and does a suspenseful job of recounting the walk-up to last year’s extremely close vote in the House (219 to 212), passing a climate change bill. Because Senate Democrats decided only two weeks ago (long after this book went to press) that they did not have the votes to pass a broad energy bill including a cap on greenhouse gas emissions, Mr. Pooley’s book ends on an unfinished, cliffhanger note.

“In their least guarded moments,” Mr. Pooley writes, “the climate campaigners would tell you what they had always known in their bones: their work was necessary but not sufficient. Climate action was going to happen sooner or later, but they couldn’t make it happen. It might be inevitable — the true believers still believed it was — but it would only become real when enough people demanded it and shouted down the lobbyists and the professional deniers and demanded it again. Alexis de Tocqueville long ago said that in the United States, events ‘can move from the impossible to the inevitable without ever stopping at the probable.’ Was that still true? How bad did things need to get before the moment came? Would the prospect of a clean-energy economy, and the jobs it would bring, mobilize enough people to make a difference? Or would some sort of monstrous, galvanic weather event — epic heat and drought, Katrina on steroids — be needed to shake America fully awake?”

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D.O.E. targets home energy efficiency with $ 30 million funding

 By Nuel Navarrete (www.ecoseed.org)
Thursday, 22 July 2010

  The United States Department of Energy is releasing $30 million to fund building industry partnerships that will work on energy efficiency projects for homes.

The partnerships will be made up of experts in various fields such as retrofitting, finance and energy management, among others. Their main task will be to improve energy efficiency in United States homes.

Fifteen teams will each receive between $500,000 and $2.5 million, depending on their performance. The total amount of $30 million will be distributed during the initial 18 months.

A total of up to $20 million per year will also be made available for the partnerships, with three potential one-year extensions.

The project is under an Energy Department program that forges research partnerships across the residential building industry to come up with solutions to significantly reduce the average energy use of housing while improving comfort and quality.

Existing techniques and technologies in energy efficiency retrofitting – such as air-tight ducts, windows and doors, heating and cooling systems, insulation and caulking – can reduce energy use by up to 40 percent per home and cut energy bills by $40 billion annually.

“Home energy efficiency is one of the easiest, most immediate and most cost-effective ways to reduce carbon pollution and save money on energy bills, while creating new jobs,” said Steven Chu, energy secretary.

“By developing and using tools to reduce residential energy use, we will spur economic growth here in America and help homeowners make cost-cutting improvements in their homes,” he added.

The partnerships are expected to provide technical assistance to retrofit projects; research on and deploy new technologies and demonstration projects; and provide systems engineering, quality assurance and outreach for retrofit projects throughout the country.

One of the chosen teams, the Alliance for Residential Building Innovation, will focus on resolving technical and market barriers to large scale implementation of innovative energy solutions for new and existing homes.

Team members will work towards retrofit activities, providing considerable experience in audits, home performance contracting, marketing and finance.

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