Using urban forestry to fight for environmental justice

March 30, 2021 by  
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Using urban forestry to fight for environmental justice Breanna Draxler Tue, 03/30/2021 – 00:05 The term “urban forest” may sound like an oxymoron. When most of us think about forests, we may picture vast expanses of tall trunks and dappled sunlight filtering through the leaves, far from the busyness of the city. But the trees that line city streets and surround apartment complexes across the U.S. hold great value, in part because of their proximity to people. “Per tree, you’re getting way more value for an urban tree than a tree out in the wild,” said Mark McPherson, founder and director of a Seattle nonprofit called City Forest Credits. In an increasingly urbanizing world, cities are, after all, “right where people live and breathe and recreate.” Trees — and urban trees in particular — provide enormous benefits. For starters, they’re responsible for producing oxygen and removing CO2 and other pollutants from the air. Urban forests in the U.S. remove an estimated 75,000 tons of air pollution per year . They reduce the impact of falling rain and encourage that water to soak into the ground, reducing flooding and erosion as well as preventing pollution from entering waterways . And the shade they provide isn’t just good for picnics; trees absorb heat and release water vapor that cools the surrounding air. The U.S. Forest Service estimates that trees reduce the energy consumption needed to cool homes in the U.S. by more than 7 percent. To find out just how much one tree can do, you can even estimate the value of the benefits of a specific tree near you using a calculator developed by a collaboration of tree experts and nonprofits. The trouble is that these benefits are not equitably distributed. “Nationally, there’s a trend for trees to follow wealth,” said Leslie Berckes, director of programs for Trees Forever, a nonprofit environmental group that works with communities across Iowa and Illinois to plant and care for trees. She said wealthier communities tend to have more trees for a variety of reasons, including racist housing practices. “Redlining left a lot of scars on communities, one of those being less green space, less tree cover,” Berckes said. And the results are life-threatening. In the absence of trees, these urban areas tend to be concrete — either buildings or sidewalks or streets. These impervious surfaces absorb heat during the day and then release it at night, preventing the relief of cooling temperatures and creating urban heat islands . “People are getting sick or dying from heat,” Berckes said, “and their utility bills are going up. … Heat is the biggest killer from [a] natural disaster perspective.” Building community by planting trees To better support the health of these communities, Berckes’ organization employs local teenagers to plant and care for trees. Trees Forever pays a starting rate of $10 an hour — higher than the state’s minimum wage of $7.25 — and then bumps it up to $15 an hour for crew leaders. In addition, Trees Forever provides teens with professional development resources such as resume-building, mock interviews, financial literacy courses, stress management tools and shadowing professionals in green jobs. Although COVID-19 has paused some of these activities, the organization sees this multifaceted support as an investment in a local workforce that will then have the knowledge and skills to continue the important work of tree-planting for building healthier communities. Dawud Benedict, 18, has been planting trees with Trees Forever since the fall. He applied after hearing about a friend’s positive experience working with the organization. “It just sounded nice to do something more for Des Moines area,” he said. The work has taught him to appreciate trees and their benefits to the community and the world, he says, as well as to work together as a group. He enjoys being able to drive past work sites and point out trees that he helped plant in his community. “I feel like I’m making a bigger impact,” he said. In recent years, Trees Forever has endeavored to put equity at the center of their work through training and education, although Berckes admits that a lot more work must be done. “Our own staff is all white,” she said. “Iowa is a predominantly white state. When we go to work with some of these small towns, I bet the percentage of white people is 80 to 90-or-more percent.” Much of the group’s outreach historically has focused on door-knocking and connecting with groups such as neighborhood associations, churches and local businesses. But Trees Forever’s traditional methods weren’t reaching Hispanic residents who moved to these communities to work in the meatpacking industry. So to make access to the benefits of urban trees more equitable, the organization is working to overcome language barriers and meet these community members where they are. West Des Moines is home to three Microsoft data centers and two more are slated for construction starting in 2021. In the corporation’s efforts to invest in communities that house its data centers, it funded Trees Forever’s work in 2019. And in 2020, the collaborative piloted a project that promises to put equity first. The project, the Impact Scorecard, is being rolled out in West Des Moines as well as Phoenix. The creator of the scorecard, Mark McPherson, said Microsoft was looking for high-impact projects and his organization, City Forest Credits, developed a way to measure the impacts of trees on equity, human health and the environment. Nationally, there’s a trend for trees to follow wealth. Redlining left a lot of scars on communities, one of those being less green space. “As a society, we have not found a way to put natural capital on the balance sheet as an asset,” he said. “There’s no asset value to the trees; only an expense item.” As such, trees necessarily fall to the bottom of many city’s budgets, or off of them altogether. “Urban trees don’t just store carbon, they reduce stormwater, they improve air, they provide energy savings in terms of heating and cooling. They can, if done right, tremendously advance environmental justice — they provide human health benefits, biodiversity, bird and pollinator habitat, slope stability and the list goes on. They are like utilities,” McPherson said. “They provide incredible services.” Those services are immensely valuable to cities. They reduce the costs of doing all kinds of other work, including stormwater management, air purification and water retention. Sure, some carbon markets put a dollar value on capturing CO2. But the problem, McPherson found, was that carbon markets couldn’t capture any values of urban forests specifically. Carbon credits typically are sold by the ton for huge acreages of forest. In the city, an individual tree won’t store enough carbon to make a blip on these particular charts, but it has incredible value for countless lives. So he teamed up with his older brother, Greg McPherson, a scientist emeritus with the U.S. Forest Service who founded the Center for Urban Forest Research. In the ’90s, he moved to Chicago to figure out how to quantify the value of the services that trees provide to the city and he continues to refine benefit-cost analyses for trees. The Impact Scorecard is the latest outcome of this work. It aims to get corporations and other private funders to underwrite the costs of doing important community-led work through the planting of urban forests. “That’s a critical part of environmental justice,” explains Mark McPherson, who, as a white man, said he works hard to avoid the tropes of white saviorism. “Not just, you beam in from your NGO office and plant trees,” but rather “to actually have these projects led by the local community.” Letting communities lead That’s what drives the work of Lydia Scott, director of the Chicago Region Trees Initiative. This partnership brings together 14 organizations — from the Morton Arboretum to the U.S. Forest Service, the Chicago Parks Department to the Chicago Department of Public Health — to leverage resources and expertise in support of the urban forest in and around Chicago. She said trees can help reduce crime, improve property values and reduce temperatures. To let communities lead, though, members of the initiative had to be willing to listen. Some neighborhoods, for example, didn’t want trees or actively removed them to prevent obstructing street lights because of safety concerns. Police departments, too, sometimes cite a need for open lines of sight on sidewalks and in parks. “This was an eye-opener for us,” Scott said. It all comes down to having the right tree in the right place. That’s why her organization works within communities to show the value of trees and evidence of the ways trees can support a different dynamic. But unlike a forest on public lands or a reservation, urban forests can’t be managed as a whole. Urban areas are a mix of public and private lands, so to plant trees requires the buy-in of a greater number of stakeholders. “We know trees have a dramatic impact on quality of life,” Scott said. They are critical infrastructure in communities and should be protected and budgeted as such, she said, but they are rarely recognized for the value and services they provide. All too often she hears that “trees are a luxury we handle after everything else.” With COVID-19, being outside is more important than ever and people are seeing and appreciating trees in a whole new way. But in some ways the work is made harder, Scott said. City budgets are tight and meeting basic needs such as housing and safety is necessarily taking priority. Measuring impact Here’s where the scorecard comes in. It matches communities who want to invest in their tree cover with private funders, such as corporations who want to make investments that have a measurable impact. That impact is broken down into three categories that emphasize the value of urban trees specifically: equity; human health; and environmental benefits. McPherson said that urban forests are unique because they connect global atmospheric benefits with ecosystem benefits and resilience and mitigation benefits. “Very seldom do you get a climate action that fits all of those,” he said. To look at the benefits of trees at scale, the Chicago Region Trees Initiative developed a map that breaks it down by neighborhood , indicating the percentage of land covered by impervious surfaces, the percentage of tree cover and the financial benefit those trees provide the community. It also includes location-specific information on air quality, heat, flooding and vulnerable populations. Screenshot from the Chicago Region Trees  interactive map page . Take, for example, the La Grange Park area of south Chicago. It has 47 percent tree cover and 30 percent impervious surfaces. The calculator estimates the community gains more than $750,000 a year from these trees. In contrast, Bedford Park, just to the south, has only 7 percent tree cover and 59 percent impervious surfaces. Their benefit from these trees is $300,000. But the calculator also estimates that the community could reasonably boost that tree canopy to as much as 65 percent of the neighborhood’s land area — a ninefold increase — which would also up their benefits. Scott said the priority communities don’t always track exactly on racial or socioeconomic lines. In fact, the two neighborhoods with the fewest trees, according to their assessment, were actually quite well-off financially, so the initiative decided to focus its efforts elsewhere. These communities have the resources available to make change but choose not to. Instead, the initiative is prioritizing projects that put health and equity at the center. An assessment of educational facilities, for example, identified a list of 24 schools and 24 day cares in Chicago within 500 feet of an expressway. The initiative is doing air-quality testing and planting vegetative buffers as a means of improving air quality at each facility. (A 2013 study found that adding a row of trees between a roadway and nearby houses reduced pollution levels in the houses by 50 percent.) By using the Impact Scorecard, funders have third party verification of the health, equity and environmental benefits of the project. “The trees in our neighborhoods tell a story about our society — one of equity,” McPherson said. The story we’re trying to craft, he said, is one in which living in a city is healthy, equitable and connected with nature. Pull Quote Nationally, there’s a trend for trees to follow wealth. Redlining left a lot of scars on communities, one of those being less green space. Topics Social Justice Environmental Justice Tree Planting Yes! Magazine Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Urban forests can be an indicator of equality in cities.  Getty Images Jose Luis Pelaez Close Authorship

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Using urban forestry to fight for environmental justice

Is your team embedding equity considerations into its carbon removal projects?

January 18, 2021 by  
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Is your team embedding equity considerations into its carbon removal projects? Gloria Oladipo Mon, 01/18/2021 – 01:15 With carbon emissions expected to rebound this year, 2021 presents another opportunity for companies to invest in climate-saving initiatives that move the corporate world closer to a net-zero future, especially carbon removal projects . While some companies already have started investing in these solutions on a larger scale, questions remain about how to conduct the process equitably. In other words, what environmental justice considerations should companies evaluate when investing in these opportunities? There’s a good reason to ask. Historically, carbon removal projects have a legacy of potentially reifying inequality; projects in the Global South become responsible for hosting said projects and their associated consequences while countries (and companies) in the Global North use these initiatives to meet their carbon reduction targets. Examples of this dynamic include projects such as a hydroelectric plant in Guatemala ( later linked to egregious human rights abuse ) and forest preservation projects in Brazil ; both offered Western companies opportunities to gain carbon offset credits, but the reality of their impact from a human rights standpoint was less understood.  Ugbaad Kozar, senior policy advisor at Carbon180, discussed these disparities and the power imbalance associated with carbon removal measures. “There’s a long history of Global South countries inheriting the burden of hosting projects that have benefited wealthier countries in reaching their climate targets,” Kozar said. “These projects can lead to inadequate payments, loss of local control over natural resources, loss of ability to use their land for other livelihood purposes.” A number of safeguards developed by NGOs can aid companies deciding whose carbon removal projects to invest in, Kozar said.  Carbon removal is still relatively nascent, which gives us a unique opportunity to shape how, where and which solutions will be deployed. For example, in 2005, the “Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and enhancement of carbon stocks” (REDD+) system was created as a social and biodiversity safeguard to make sure carbon removal efforts didn’t harm biodiversity and that its benefits were given to local communities. Elsewhere, the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance , a partnership spanning several international environmental NGOs, created “Climate, Community and Biodiversity” standards to ensure land-based projects respected community stakeholders and their cultures, and nurtured biodiversity, among other goals.   However, as argued by Holly Buck, assistant professor of environment and sustainability at the University at Buffalo, these safeguards have not been carried out without issues. REDD+ social safeguards have had mixed results ; the impact of the safeguards sometimes have been difficult to monitor and interventions made based on the safeguards had mixed results, she noted. Looking forward, that means companies have an opportunity to be even more progressive in establishing their own standards for equity considerations related to carbon removal, according to Kozar and Buck.  “Companies are even poised to play a role in having even more ambitious standards because some of those safeguards haven’t always been working out as well as intended … [companies can make] sure that theoretical co-benefits are actually delivered upon and [pay] more attention to who reaps the benefits from these projects,” Buck said.  Where to start? Before analyzing equity considerations related to their external carbon removal work, companies should first ensure they cultivate a workplace culture of justice within their organizations, Buck and Kozar said. This type of internal work is not only critical to unseeding racism in general (demonstrated as more carbon capture companies focus on making meaningful contributions to environmental justice ). Among other things, the Clean Air Task Force  also is following projects in California and Texas to determine how carbon capture technology might play a role in reducing local air pollution, with a view to releasing its research after this year to front-line communities. it’s an important first step for companies hoping to address oppression in their environmental work.   “It is so important for companies to start by looking internally and meaningfully begin anti-oppression work and diversification of the workforce. Doing so allows for opportunities to refute and rethink contextual perspectives and to understand the drivers of inequity and injustice,” Kozar said.  It is so important for companies to start by looking internally and meaningfully begin anti-oppression work and diversification of the workforce … In addition to creating equity within the workplace, companies investing in carbon removal projects must be committed to transparency about the process itself, all associated data, community involvement and an equitable distribution of resources. Carbon removal projects can be an opaque process, shrouded in litigation and inaccessible information; community members where carbon removal projects are located should be made aware of the process and included in the discussion of the project’s effects. “With industrial removal, some of the questions at the project site are: Are people happy with the industrial facility? Is it impacting them? … Are they seeing any benefit from it or just having to live next to a waste disposal site?” Buck said.   Most important, benefits need to be equitably distributed, ideally problem-solving for legacy effects of climate change that often occur in marginalized communities. For instance, a strategy of planting trees not only could address removing emissions but also help cool neighborhoods, reduce pollution, provide shade and have other benefits, an example Kozar provided.  Buck also cited the importance of government involvement to help ensure benefits are given equally. She noted how the California government helps redistribute funds from the state’s cap-and-trade program to vulnerable communities.  Overall, while the increase in companies investing in carbon removal programs signals a positive shift in more climate-friendly thinking, it’s critical to participate in these solutions in a way that centers and benefits oppressed communities, Buck and Kozar advised.  “Carbon removal is still relatively nascent, which gives us a unique opportunity to shape how, where and whi ch solutions will be deployed. As the industry emerges and scales, key players need to prioritize transparency and accountability, ensuring they do not ignore legacy pollution that harms marginalized communities,” Kozar said.  Pull Quote Carbon removal is still relatively nascent, which gives us a unique opportunity to shape how, where and which solutions will be deployed. It is so important for companies to start by looking internally and meaningfully begin anti-oppression work and diversification of the workforce … Topics Carbon Removal Social Justice Equity & Inclusion Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Climeworks’ technology captures atmospheric carbon by drawing in air and binding the CO2 using a filter. The filter is heated to release the concentrated gas, which can be used in industrial applications, such as a source of carbonization for the food and beverage industry. Courtesy of Julia Dunlop/Climeworks Close Authorship

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Is your team embedding equity considerations into its carbon removal projects?

Why Aren’t My Hens Laying Eggs? Backyard Chicken Basics

September 8, 2020 by  
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Keeping a small flock of backyard chickens has numerous benefits. … The post Why Aren’t My Hens Laying Eggs? Backyard Chicken Basics appeared first on Earth 911.

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Why Aren’t My Hens Laying Eggs? Backyard Chicken Basics

Reusable packaging provides untapped payoffs for business

August 13, 2020 by  
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Reusable packaging provides untapped payoffs for business Joana Kleine Jäger Thu, 08/13/2020 – 01:45 Remember the time when milk was delivered to your door in reusable glass bottles? If not, you were probably born during the plastics-era, which began about 50 years ago. Until the 1980s, glass or cotton bags were the go-to packaging materials for many products, such as milk and flour. Today, plastic has taken over. In 2018, 40 percent of the 360 million tonnes of plastics produced globally were converted to packaging. Prized for its durability and ultimate convenience, the plastic addiction from business to consumer is proving hard to shift. But the increasing presence of post-consumer plastic littering the natural environment is a sobering reminder of the extent of damage our love affair with plastic has delivered. Ultimately, we cannot fix this with recycling alone. Alternative materials and models such as bio-based packaging and reuse offer a prime opportunity to extend the lifetime of valuable materials and deliver financial savings to businesses. The case for reusable packaging If we succeed in building and scaling reuse systems, they will outperform single-use systems. This not only benefits the environment but also businesses. About 95 percent of the value of plastic packaging material ($83 to $124 billion annually) is lost to the economy after a very short first-use cycle. Most of it ends up in our environment. The retailer also needs to invest in marketing the benefits and exciting consumers about the opportunity to change to a circular packaging model. In contrast, research and on-the ground experiences with reusable packaging by Searious Business, a solution provider for zero plastic waste practices, show yearly financial savings of up to 30 percent compared to throw-away versions. Thus, reusable packaging is not only key to achieving a circular economy and solving the plastic pollution problem, but also equally presents untapped business potential. To grasp this potential, business must explore collaborations and capacity sharing to achieve wide-scale success and profit. Benefits of teaming up Only when key stakeholders align their efforts can the industry change towards a paradigm of reuse. Replacing single-use with reusable packaging may seem straightforward — technically speaking. Most reuse concepts, such as “bring your own” are rather simple. However, our current packaging system is geared toward single-use packaging. Take the food sector, for example. In today’s fast-paced world, ready-made meals are the preferred option for many consumers. Producers parcel ready-made food in small portions in thoughtfully designed packaging, which ends up in the bin soon after consumption. Reusable packaging provides an environmentally friendlier, financially viable alternative: Together with three major retailers, Searious Business has identified opportunities to reduce carbon footprint by 43 tonnes per year through reusable food containers. Financial pay-offs have appeared within eight months. Only when key stakeholders align their efforts can the industry change towards a paradigm of reuse. However, these results cannot be achieved alone. They require close collaboration with waste management players, cleaning facilities and logistics companies. Where the packaging was previously disposed of, the retailer needs to arrange collection points, ensure timely collection by the cleaners and likewise timely return so that the packing can be reused. The retailer also needs to invest in marketing the benefits and exciting consumers about the opportunity to change to a circular packaging model, so that the system is well used and adequate scale can be realized to make a successful change. Numerous stakeholders need to engage in coordinated actions to reduce plastic waste and gain financial benefit for all parties involved. For reuse platforms to be financially viable and make an impact, scale up through collaboration and capacity sharing is inevitable. How to get started As the above example demonstrates, collaborations are crucial for reuse endeavors. But how can a business get started? Circle Economy’s guide for collaborations in a circular economy directs businesses through the process of identifying attractive partners and establishing successful partnerships. The impact organization found that in scoping a potential new collaboration, businesses first need to understand the local context, market and material flows. This includes relevant legislation, consumption habits, the distance to sourcing and the existing reuse infrastructure, which can vastly differ between locations. Choosing the right partner to implement reuse packaging systems further depends on the company vision. Once a business has a clear vision for the future, it needs to assess which capabilities and resources are needed to reach this vision and what can be filled internally. Gaps identified can be filled by partners. Crucial roles a partner can take Based on the gaps identified, businesses can determine which type of collaboration they need to make the circular transition happen. To illustrate this process, we identify three major roles that a reusable packaging partner can take on, as well as five significant characteristics. 1. When McDonald’s and Burger King joined food delivery platform Deliveroo, they did not only want to meet evolving consumer demands for mobile ordering. They also recognized the benefits of serving as each other’s impact extenders. When competitors collaborate to reach common goals, they can learn together, overcome hurdles, increase volume and scale, share investments or establish standardization of packaging. Such “coopetition” is often pooled under reuse platforms such as Deliveroo. 2. Businesses looking to introduce reusable packaging also can partner with companies that serve as promoters, and help to make reusable packaging accepted and ordinary (again) — or even desirable — through marketing campaigns. Social enterprise Dopper, known for its reusable water bottles, has collaborated with the Amsterdam-based Van Gogh museum to create a Special Edition of their bottles with prints of the famous painter’s works. 3. Returnable packaging schemes such as BarePack meal containers in Singapore and RePack packages in Europe work much in the same way that library books are borrowed, enjoyed and returned. With both consumers and businesses recognizing their environmental and financial benefits, these schemes are gaining market share and increasingly becoming part of our daily lives. Here, we see how businesses tapping into the potential of product-service-systems and product-life-extension business models can serve as use-phase-supporters or businesses seeking to introduce reusable packaging. As reuse system operators, BarePack and RePack support businesses with elements such as (reverse) logistics, cleaning and refilling. What makes a winning partner Deciphering the gaps that your business needs filled is the first step, but the nitty-gritty is crucial too: certain characteristics that can amplify your partnership also should be on your radar. Partnering companies should aim to find a strategic fit: your vision on circularity aligns and your market, context and geographical fit. While knowledge exchange collaborations might operate globally, geographical proximity is needed to ensure resource efficiency and profitability when implementing reusable packaging on the ground. Reusable packaging is a playground for innovation, so creativity is a desirable characteristic: out-of-the-box thinking and novel business models. Open communication and collaborative learning are also important as they can enable joint progress towards successful reuse models and uncertainties can be reduced. Partners should also show alignment with the mission. Being on the same page in terms of sharing interests and benefits will result in flexibility. Finally, circular economy collaborations are characterized by mutual dependence and long-term goals. Therefore, a partner should show commitment in terms of wanting the change and investing resources. Pull Quote The retailer also needs to invest in marketing the benefits and exciting consumers about the opportunity to change to a circular packaging model. Only when key stakeholders align their efforts can the industry change towards a paradigm of reuse. Choosing the right partner to implement reuse packaging systems further depends on the company vision. Contributors Willemijn Peeters Topics Design & Packaging Circular Economy Plastic Circle Economy Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Reusable packaging comes in many forms. Shutterstock Oleksandra Naumenko Close Authorship

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Reusable packaging provides untapped payoffs for business

Natural Swimming Pools: Benefits, Considerations, and Cost To Build

March 24, 2020 by  
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A swimming pool can be a great way to cool … The post Natural Swimming Pools: Benefits, Considerations, and Cost To Build appeared first on Earth911.com.

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Natural Swimming Pools: Benefits, Considerations, and Cost To Build

We Earthlings: Do You Use Too Much Toilet Paper?

March 24, 2020 by  
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As the new coronavirus sweeps the United States, many Americans … The post We Earthlings: Do You Use Too Much Toilet Paper? appeared first on Earth911.com.

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American Forests’ Eric Sprague on the importance of trees and the role companies play with forests

March 3, 2020 by  
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Eric Sprague, vice president for forest restoration at American Forests, says the threat to forests is just as important now as it was in 1875, when the organization was founded. “Climate change is really affecting our forests, degrading the ability they have to provide all the benefits that we rely on,” Sprague says. “American Forests is, again, bringing folks together to help solve some of these challenges.”

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American Forests’ Eric Sprague on the importance of trees and the role companies play with forests

Infographic: Benefits of an Earth Sheltered Home

February 25, 2020 by  
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A growing number of homeowners are taking steps to make … The post Infographic: Benefits of an Earth Sheltered Home appeared first on Earth911.com.

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Infographic: Benefits of an Earth Sheltered Home

Telecommuting has benefits, but here’s why employers aren’t more flexible

January 17, 2020 by  
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One of the benefits is getting workers off the road.

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Telecommuting has benefits, but here’s why employers aren’t more flexible

Episode 203: Conversations about the State of Green Business

January 17, 2020 by  
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Plus, an interview with John Schulz, director of sustainability integration at AT&T, and outtakes from the State of Green Business webcast.

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Episode 203: Conversations about the State of Green Business

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