Design Advantages of LED Lights

Sunday, February 5, 2012 Posted by
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Environmental products often suffer from apparent comparative disadvantages. A manufacturer who does not care about energy conservation, pollution, or other negative consequences can make a cheap and effective product. The challenge for a manufacturer who makes an environmentally useful product is to design a product that remains competitive with the offerings of other companies. Careful design decisions can turn an apparent disadvantage into a new selling point, giving the environmentally friendly product an advantage over standard offerings.

Fast Company Design describes one way to address this issue. Consumers are familiar with incandescent light bulbs, which effectively light up a house or a yard, even though they consume a large amount of electricity and produce excess heat. LED lights consume much less power, but they have an unusual appearance. LED lighting appears unfamiliar to consumers, and it can look strange inside a lighting fixture that was designed to hold an incandescent light bulb.

Numero 111 addressed this problem by redesigning its lamps so that a visitor would not notice the LED inside the lamp. The large shade prevents a homeowner from seeing the LED strips that create the light, so the lamp looks similar to a lamp that contains a standard incandescent bulb. This design decision converts a disadvantage into a strength. The redesigned lampshade has a unique, attractive appearance that serves as an incentive to purchase a lamp that contains LED light bulbs.

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LEDs have other advantages. They provide light at a lower temperature than incandescent bulbs, which reduces fire hazards. Inhabitat reports that an Italian company once decorated buildings with oil lamps, but these lamps could set buildings on fire, so the company needed to find an alternative. In 2012, the company used LED bulbs to illuminate a cathedral.

LEDs allow a manufacturer to conserve space, creating a major design advantage. For many years, science fiction writers talked about flat screen displays, and LED lighting eliminates the need for a bulky cathode ray tube. LED technology has not reached its full potential yet, so modular design creates another advantage for LED devices. LEDs Magazine reports that LED streetlights in New York include modular design to make upgrades more convenient. If manufacturers produce new LEDs that use less energy to produce light, New York authorities can simply remove the old LEDs.

Solving Problems at the Cost of a Vision

Tuesday, January 31, 2012 Posted by
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Recently, an article in Orion Magazine described the conflicting visions of modern environmentalists. The author describes the beauty of nature and his experiences in pristine environments throughout the world, and compares his passion for protecting these locations with the energy and economy centered vision of other environmentalists. He even mentions that clean energy projects damaged some of the last unspoiled wilderness areas, as desert regions that could not support other businesses proved suitable for wind and solar power.

This blog does not focus on describing the wildlife and climate of exotic regions, or offer travel tips and guides to visiting wilderness areas, although articles on these topics appear periodically. Although the Humboldt area still offers many relatively untouched redwood forests and even isolated beaches that have experienced little development, I came to the study of environmentalism through business studies.

Environmentalism has a natural link to economy because one of its top priorities involves the reduction of waste. When a car needs half as much fuel to travel to its destination, the driver pays half as much for gasoline, in addition to the reduction in carbon emissions, smog, and acid rain that the improved fuel efficiency provides. Whether an organization is a government agency or a private corporation, it must still budget its limited resources wisely.

The obvious concern for an environmentalist involves the decision the driver makes because of the improved efficiency of his vehicle. The driver could simply drive his car twice as far and use the same quantity of gas, or he could spend his savings to accomplish another environmentally destructive goal. Energy conservation triggered debates as environmentalists wondered whether the driver would end up using just as much energy with his efficient vehicle.

An energy and economy focused program can be promoted much more easily. Oil companies can market wind turbines and solar panels, build hydroelectric dams, or refine biodiesel. They may even favor environmental initiatives, because their managers know that their oil reservoirs are running out, and renewable energy offers a source of government subsidies that can support the development of alternative revenue streams. Technology companies, industrial firms, and electronics companies could invest in cleaner technology to help improve their reputations. A light bulb manufacturer can produce compact fluorescent bulbs. Larger firms that could afford cleaner manufacturing technology could even encourage stronger regulations that would put competitors who could not afford this equipment out of business. Shoppers who do not care about the environment consider design, product cost, and product features. Planning for resistance matters because environmental advocates also have limited resources. An environmentalist does have to remain wary of greenwashing, as a polluter may reorganize its marketing campaign to deal with a damaged brand.

Nevertheless, the energy and cost focused approach provides a path to accomplish urgent goals. Major disasters such as the Exxon Valdez spill and the Gulf of Mexico spill caused catastrophic damage. Environmentalists are quickly running out of time to deal with problems that include climate change and peak oil.

Switching to Plastic Wine Bottles for Environmental Reasons

Sunday, January 22, 2012 Posted by
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Wine Bottle After hearing about the damage caused by plastic waste on the beaches and in the oceans, the news that environmental organizations encouraged winemakers to store their wine in plastic bottles was a big surprise. Many cities assess extra fees on plastic bags to discourage shoppers from using plastic, and conduct anti-plastic informational campaigns. Nevertheless, winemakers in the United Kingdom received support from government supported environmental organizations for their plastic bottle initiative, reported Wine Anorak.

Although glass does not create floating islands of trash, it does have one major environmental disadvantage in comparison with plastic. Winemakers frequently ship their wines to markets in distant nations, and glass is heavy. Because plastic bottles weigh less than glass bottles, the trucks that carry the plastic wine bottles release fewer carbon emissions during transport. Wine Anorak states that the British government has calculated that switching to plastic wine bottles reduces annual carbon dioxide emissions by 90,000 tons.

Consumers who know about the issues that plastic waste creates may need some additional convincing before they purchase plastic wine bottles. Lesley Gevirtz, for the Globe and Mail, gives a more detailed argument, explaining that glass wine bottles weigh almost ten times more than plastic wine bottles, and PET can be recycled.
Of course, responsible parties need to make sure that consumers drop off PET in recycling bins and local facilities are available for PET recycling.

Glass manufacturers could reduce transportation costs by selling thinner bottles to winemakers. According to Modern Wine Magazine, British winemakers did make this request, but it irritated the glass manufacturers, as they did not want to produce thinner glass bottles. Transportation costs for the thinner glass bottles would still be higher than the costs of transporting plastic bottles, as reducing glass thickness by 90 percent would make wine bottles much more fragile.

The Daily Mail brings up a major issue with plastic wine bottles, mentioning a study that claims that white wine degrades in six months when stored in plastic bottles, although red wine suffered fewer effects. This is not a major problem for a consumer who plans to drink her wine soon after she buys it, but a consumer who plans to store the wine in her cellar for a longer period should be aware of this issue.

Of course, the switch to plastic bottles also affects costs. Winemakers pay less money to ship their lighter plastic bottles to far off foreign markets. Many beverage makers prefer plastic containers because of their durability, as glass bottles shatter easily. Wine makers do face a tradeoff here, as plastic bottles do make their wines look cheaper. For a budget wine this isn’t as important, but customers may not be willing to buy a high end wine in a plastic bottle.

Wind Turbine Cost Effectiveness

Monday, January 16, 2012 Posted by
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Calculating the payback period of a wind turbine requires accurate information about the average winds in an area, the lifespan of the turbine, and any additional setup and permit costs. Some wind turbines produce enough power to repay their setup costs within a few years, while other turbines may take decades to earn a profit for their owners. In some cases, a wind turbine has an infinite payback period, as it never returns its setup costs.

An article from the Medill School gives some examples of turbines in the last category. One homeowner set up a $5000 turbine, but because of the small amount of wind power it collects, he does not expect it to earn him $5000 before its expected life span ends.

Another article gives an example of a wind turbine that requires a more dedicated investment. Instead of a small, $5000 turbine that sits on the roof, the homeowner can build a $50,000 turbine that sits on its own tower. NYSERDA estimates that the $50,000 turbine requires another $12,500 in setup costs, and potentially adds $50-$150 per year in maintenance expenses. The maintenance expenses do have some impact on the payback period when it is relatively long. If the wind turbine provides $2500 worth of power each year, $62500/$2450 is 25.5 years, while $62500/2350 is 26.6 years. The extra $100 per year in maintenance adds about a year to the payback period.

Wind collection is much more important. If the homeowner selects a location that offers stronger wind, raising the value of the power the wind turbine provides to $5000 per year, the payback period drops significantly. Maintenance costs become drastically less important. $62500/$3950 is 15.8 years, while $62500/$3850 is 16.2 years, and the higher maintenance expense estimate now only adds about a third of a year to the payback period. According to NYSERDA, a wind speed increase of only 2 mph per hour, from 12 mph to 14 mph, can generate enough additional power to cut the wind turbine payback period by 10 years.

Unfortunately, many locations around the United States do not offer 14 mph winds. Wind Powering America provides a map of the United States that gives detailed information on average wind speeds in every state.
Some states, such as Wyoming and Colorado, include many locations with plentiful wind power, but the West and the Southeast tend to provide lower wind speeds. Many islands also report high average wind speeds. This map reports winds at a height of 80 meters, a typical height for large turbines on wind farms, although a homeowner typically installs a smaller and cheaper 30 meter tall turbine instead. Tower height makes a drastic difference in the amount of wind power a turbine can collect. Compare the Missouri average wind speed maps at 30 and 100 meters.

Environmentally Friendly Products and Cost Competitiveness

Sunday, January 8, 2012 Posted by
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Appliance subsidies, discounts, and tax credits provide cash benefits to consumers who purchase products which consume fewer resources and cause less environmental damage. The government agencies and nonprofits that fund these programs believe that consumers consider cost more important than environmental benefits, so reducing the cost of green products should lead to more sales. A study by Daniel Schwartz and George Loewenstein shows that sometimes, these discounts create the opposite effect, and discourage the purchase of green products.

The study measures two main strategies, adding a green label that proclaims the product’s environmental benefits and offering a price discount. The label increases sales, while the discount actually reduces sales if it appears without the label. The study does not explain why this behavior occurs. One answer may be that environmental advocates commonly promote the green lifestyle as a virtuous effort that hinges on a follower’s self sacrifice, like enrolling in a monastic order.

Altruistic appeal can convince a customer to spend more money for a product that provides few benefits, which may be necessary to market a product such as a bleach free cleaner that performs worse and costs more than a cleaner that contains bleach. The removal of the altruistic theme eliminates the main selling point for the product. This marketing approach also affects the perception of a brand by a customer who does not care about the environment. This customer believes that the product is not a good deal without considering the environmental factor.

These results also suggest that environmentally friendly products, such as compact fluorescent light bulbs, are effectively luxury goods. When customers demand more of a product at a higher price, the product is called a Veblen good. Veblen goods include fine artwork, luxury cars, yachts, and other status symbols that show off a buyer’s wealth, so they are more useful to the buyer when they cost more. The buyer may also believe that the product costs more because it includes better components, so it is a higher quality product.

Discounts may still have some effect on environmentally friendly products. If the discount reduces the environmentally friendly light bulb’s price enough so that a customer gains comparable performance at a lower price than a standard light bulb, a customer who primarily cares about cost still has an incentive to buy it.

The subsidy provider should consider the price of the non-green product when setting the size of the discount. If the green product is $10 and the subsidy reduces its price to $8, but a non-green product costs $5, the subsidy may be a bad idea. If the subsidy reduces the green product’s price to $4, it now has a cost advantage over every other product on the market. The subsidy will greatly improve sales, although the organization that provides the subsidy will incur high costs for that product. Eliminating subsidies for products in the first category may free up more funds to provide subsidies for products in the second category. For a product that does not receive a subsidy, this effect may help the manufacturer determine the proper price for the product.

The Flowerpot For Bad Gardeners

Wednesday, November 16, 2011 Posted by
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Have you ever decided to grow herbs? Fresh tomatoes? Setting up a garden can seem simple, just buy a plant, put it in a pot, and add water and fertilizer occasionally, and that’s all you need, right? Some plants are harder to grow than others are, and you might find out that some additional research is necessary. Ensuring that you have the appropriate levels of water and fertilizer at all times can also be challenging. Now there is a flowerpot for bad gardeners, or gardeners who just lack the time to care for their plants.

Click and Grow has developed an automated gardening pot that works with several types of plants. This is not a simple automated dispenser, such as the fish food release tools that feed your fish while you are on vacation. A basic fish food dispenser will keep dispensing fish food even if the fish are not hungry, polluting the water in the tank. The automated gardening pot includes sensors that can detect water and chemicals. The gardening pot sensor system both prevents waste and protects the plant from the effects of excess fertilizer.

The original design concept, reported by Wired in 2010, also allowed the pot to be connected by a USB cable to a personal computer, so it could receive additional software updates and perform additional monitoring tasks. The first model of the plant pot that was offered to consumers in 2011 did not include this USB connection, but Click and Grow was considering including it in future models, reported FastCo. Obviously, the USB connection is not necessary and including it would make it more complex to manage a product that is designed to make a task easier, and might also increase the cost of manufacturing the plant pots, so leaving it out seems like a good decision.

This is not the cheapest way to grow plants. The pot itself is reusable, but you also need a disposable seed cartridge for each plant. The pot is 59 euro and comes with a cartridge for Busy Lizzy decorative flowers, a type of Impatiens. Other seed cartridges start at 6.67 euro, so getting set up could cost around $100 if you want to try out several types of plants. TechCrunch reports that you will also have to replace the batteries that power the pot after 8 months. It does use 4 basic AA batteries, so you do not need to reorder special batteries from the company, and the company does state that the pot can operate on rechargeable batteries.

Social Sharing and Renting Organizations

Monday, November 14, 2011 Posted by
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Appliance sharing is an old concept, as plenty of people have gone next door to borrow the neighbor’s lawnmower, or borrowed a saw or another tool for the day. The limitation on traditional appliance sharing was that it usually involved your direct neighbors, or your close friends. Searching out people who would be willing to loan out appliances and tools was a challenge, and lenders needed to have some confidence that they would get their machinery back.

The traditional sharing model for a larger community is the library. Libraries are willing to lend out items to their members, some of which they may lose, because they can charge fines, and often receive government support or private donations. A tool library uses a similar subscription model, and uses the money it collects to purchase the tools. In 2011, appliance sharing organizations were helping consumers share their own home goods. With collaborative consumption, everyone can operate their own library.

Treehugger reported the introduction of a kitchen appliance library in Portland. Sharing kitchen appliances can be very useful because a cook may only need an appliance to prepare one type of special meal, so the appliance would sit around unused most of the time. A popcorn cooker is nice for home movie night, but most people don’t eat popcorn every day.

If your city does not want to fund a library, you can still share appliances without a central depot. Web applications can help you find other people who are willing to share their kitchen tools. Brain Pickings lists two of these organizations, Neighborgoods and Snapgoods. Neighborgoods displays a Google map on its website that shows where the people who are offering to share their consumer goods live, and about 10 tags showed up in Ventura and another 20 or so showed up in Santa Barbara.. Snapgoods adds social network integration, expanding the reach of the service.

Neighborgoods and Snapgoods allow their users to rent appliances, in addition to lending them out for free. Both libraries and rental services accomplish some of the same goals, as they reduce costs and reduce waste. Neighborgoods even keeps a running total of the money that you and your neighbors are saving. One issue with a sharing service is that a lender on the service may ask for a deposit, which could be as high as the cost of buying a replacement appliance.

Appliance rentals will probably not be as lucrative as some of the other peer to peer rental services, such as apartment rental and car rental sites. Shareable reports that renting out your car through a sharing service can potentially earn you as much as $9,000 per year, and room rental can get you $15,000 in a high cost of living area such as New York. Nevertheless, you can still earn a small amount of money by renting out your appliances, without taking on the risks of renting out a car or an apartment.

LED Streetlights and the Recovery Act

Tuesday, November 8, 2011 Posted by
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Replacing a city’s streetlights can save it a huge amount of money on its energy bills. LEDs can reduce streetlight power consumption by around 40 percent, according to the City of Palo Alto. USA Today reports that San Jose and Pittsburgh spend around $4 million a year on their streetlights, which means that another large city could potentially save $1.6 million in annual electricity costs. The Department of Energy reported even higher efficiency gains, as much as 70 percent power savings, in a study it performed.

The main issue for a city, especially in bad economic conditions, is paying to replace the old sodium streetlights with the new LED lights. LED lights cost 4 times as much as sodium streetlights, although they can last 10 times longer. The 2009 ARRA bill made $3.2 billion dollars available to local governments for environmental projects, including streetlight replacement. Most cities did not receive large enough cash grants to replace all of their streetlights from the stimulus program, although replacing several of the lights could demonstrate the effectiveness of streetlight replacement to a city government. LED Magazine reports that San Jose allocated $2 million of its stimulus grant to streetlight replacement, but this would fund the replacement of less than 3 percent of its lights.

A city has more control over the colors that a LED emits than it does over traditional gas lamps, which can also provide public safety benefits. The LED lights do not necessarily disrupt the atmosphere of an older town that has beautifully crafted iron lamps and poles either. Cooper, an LED street light manufacturer, worked with the city of Boise to make sure that the LED streetlights were installed properly on its antique lamp poles.

Incentive Based Advertising

Sunday, November 6, 2011 Posted by
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With traditional media, such as a television show, an advertiser has very few ways of convincing a consumer to help him advertise his product. Humor is typically one of the few effective methods, as a consumer who watches a dancing frog may call his friends over to see the commercial. It is much easier for a Web marketer to offer an incentive to a consumer, because he can give a consumer a cut of the revenue.

The main problem with this advertising method is that the Web marketer usually makes a very small amount of money when the consumer shares his ad, so he can only offer a small reward to the consumer. If the marketer offers the consumer ten cents to watch a minute long commercial and share it with his friends, this deal is not very attractive. This is effectively a pay rate of $6 an hour, and the consumer is giving up part of his free time to help the marketer, so a better incentive is necessary.

One type of incentive is to offer a reward that the consumer does not perceive as cash. Many online games that are free to play use this feature. If a consumer can watch a commercial to get a new dragon slaying sword, an in game sword can appear more attractive than an offline dime. This can be especially effective if other players have used their credit cards to purchase in game advantages, so a consumer who has less disposable income, such as a college student, cannot simply buy the sword with his own bank account.

Marketers have recognized the importance of this concept to green business. Many environmentally beneficial actions are relatively cheap, but they are difficult for a consumer to conveniently perform. For example, planting a tree is easy if you live in a rural area, but it is difficult if you live in a city, even if buying an individual seed costs almost nothing.

Clean Technica reports that this problem has been solved by the web site Click it For Good. Basically, if you help promote a green business, the green business will perform an action such as installing a wind turbine or planting a tree. Another benefit of this method is that a consumer can easily make a fractional contribution. A wind turbine costs more than a dime, of course, but if 100,000 people click on a link, the business now has $10,000 to pay for its turbine.

Method and its Ocean Plastic Bottles

Saturday, November 5, 2011 Posted by

Plastic waste in the ocean is a significant problem. Many types of plastic which are used in common consumer products, such as soft drink containers, utensils, and water bottles, cannot be easily broken down by microorganisms. Because these products are frequently thrown away improperly by consumers, they often get into storm drains and enter the ocean, where they form huge clumps of plastic that pose a menace to marine life.

Consumer products companies know that many of their potential customers are aware of this issue, and refuse to buy drinks that are sold in plastic containers because of the risk they pose to the marine environment. These companies have attempted to solve the problem by designing plastic containers that can be consumed by microorganisms after a customer is done with them, but building biodegradability features into plastic products has remained a difficult engineering challenge.

One Bay Area company, Method, has decided to clean up the marine pollution that its competitors have caused, and use its cleanup efforts to market its own products. High density polyethylene (HDPE), the plastic that is used in many plastic containers, is recyclable, so Method decided to use the HDPE that was floating in the ocean to make new bottles. This was also a difficult engineering task, as Method had to collect plastic waste that was located far offshore, which had been exposed to the sun and salt water for a long period of time. Treehugger reported that Method partnered with Envision Plastics, which had experience recycling HDPE, to design its plastic recovery process.

Tests of the recovery process were successful, and Method managed to make new plastic bottles that contained ocean plastic. These plastic bottles were made from completely recycled material, with one quarter of the material collected from Hawaii beaches. The experiment demonstrated that using ocean plastic to make new bottles was technically possible. Whether using ocean plastic was financially lucrative, or at least cost neutral, was Method’s other concern, as Method is a private company. Envision explained the details of the collection process. Method collected plastic trash from Hawaii beaches to perform the tests. Method would gain some goodwill from environmentally conscious consumers, but it still had to deal with logistics and recycling costs.

Green Biz explained that Method had two main financial concerns: finding a cost effective way to collect the plastic and deliver it to San Francisco, and using the plastic to design bottles that had an attractive appearance. As much of the plastic waste washes up on the shores of islands such as Hawaii, Method could partner with organizations that already performed beach cleanup to collect the waste, and pay for it to be delivered to the Bay Area. Pure Branding does bring up a marketing ethics issue here. Technically, the bottles had been floating in the ocean, but the proposed collection process involved picking up plastic bottles off a Hawaii beach, which did not actually reduce the amount of plastic in the ocean, although it did reduce the amount of plastic on the beach, which was also a major environmental problem. As for design concerns, the ocean plastic bottles were dark gray, as Envision demonstrated on its blog, compared to the brilliant colors of the company’s other plastic bottles, but this gray color could still offer marketing advantages, since a consumer could easily see that the bottles were recycled products.