9. BETTER LIVING THROUGH GREEN CHEMISTRY
As the movement to get toxics out of air, water and food migrates to consumer products, green chemistry and “materials management” initiatives are flourishing. Last fall the OSU-UO Center for Sustainable Materials Chemistry received $20 million in funding from the National Science Foundation. This past spring, Gov. John Kitzhaber signed an executive order to invest more resources in green chemistry, including requiring state agencies to develop plans favoring healthy green products in purchasing for electronics, furniture and building.
Such efforts should boost the prospects of companies such as Inpria, a Corvallis company that has developed a water-based process for manufacturing thin film components for the tech industry. The startup was cofounded by Doug Keszler, who is also the director of the Sustainable Materials Chemistry Center. Mainstreaming sustainable materials chemistry requires developing processes and materials that exceed the performance of conventional materials, Keszler says. “If we hit performance, there is a pathway to zero waste.”
Here are a few other initiatives aimed at helping sustainable chemistry and materials researchers along with product manufacturers meet environmental and performance targets more quickly.
A green electronics registry:
Launched in 2006, EPEAT (electronic product environmental assessment tool) rates electronic products based on a variety of lifecycle factors, then connects institutional purchasers to the preferable choice. EPEAT operates in 42 countries and is growing geographically. It covers computers, laptops, imaging devices and is expanding into printers, televisions and servers. EPEAT works with large purchasers to include EPEAT in contracts for “hundreds of thousands of products,” says Robert Frisbee, who was hired this past spring as EPEAT’s first CEO. “Then you get a snowball effect where producers see the market exists and focus on making more efficient products.” In 2007, less than 10% of EPEAT-rated products attained a gold standard; now it’s 50%. Over their lifetime, compared to products that did not meet registry criteria, EPEAT-rated products purchased in 2010 will reduce the use of primary materials by 15.7 million metric tons and use of toxic materials by 1,156 metric tons.
Oregon DEQ’s 2050 Vision:
Since 2009, Oregon has required electronics manufacturers to provide free recycling for televisions, computers and other electronics. Although the program has been hugely successful — 26 million pounds were recycled in 2011 — it doesn’t address the design, manufacturing or consumption of those products. Now the Department of Environmental Quality is putting together an ambitious new plan called the “2050 Vision for Materials Management.” A work in progress, the 2050 vision shifts the focus from managing waste materials and products (such as electronics) at the end of their life to addressing their lifecycle impacts. The goal is a closed-loop system in which all materials are reused.
The Living Building Red List:
The list covers toxic chemicals and materials to avoid in buildings and materials and is part of a push to make healthy products part of green building. Google adopted the Red List last year for all new office construction, a move that will encourage “more manufacturers to reformulate their products to be less toxic,” says Jason McLennan, author of the Living Building Challenge.
10. IN THE END, JUST DO IT
The green revolution is often framed in terms of the Next Big Thing — the silver bullet that will eliminate greenhouse gas emissions, reduce energy consumption and improve human and environmental health. But at least in the green building and smart-grid sectors, it’s the human factor — not the technology — that may be holding us back.
“For whatever reason in our culture we are always looking for that magic technology to save us and all we need to do is invent the box. But that attitude often gets used as a crutch. Really the trick is knowing how to properly put together buildings with proven technologies, like passive design. That’s the sort of innovation we should focus on. We can do this now.”
-Jason McLennan CEO of the Northwest-based Cascadia Green Building Council, author of the Living Building Challenge
“Smart grid technology is interesting but for the most part we’re applying technology that already exists; we’re using radio waves to carry the application. Smart meters aren’t rocket science, they just aren’t cool. There is some innovation in terms of new standards. The biggest challenge to implementing the smart grid is not the technology but the basic statutory, regulatory and structure of industry. Just in the Northwest we have 40 or 50 utilities that serve [the grid] and all operate it with their own boards.”
-James Materco-founder, director of California-based Quality Logic; founding board member, Smart Grid Oregon