Going Green: Building & Renovating

Thinking of renovating or building a new home? Here are a few tips from Simon Gear to keep things green and sustainable.

 1. Build Appropriately

Next time you’re in the Eastern Cape, do yourself a favour and stop by Grahamstown. Have a wander through the town and pause to think about the fact that many of the buildings you see there pre-date your grandparents’ births by half a century or more. And because they’ve lasted so long, every one of those buildings is inherently more eco-friendly than any modern development. Somewhere after the Second World War the building industry lost its pride and soul. Sure, there are a couple of worthwhile projects going up here and there, but I have yet to see anything that can compare to the quality of materials and craftsmanship used more than a century ago. So next time you build, be realistic. If you envisage this building being a testament to your time on the planet, do your bit. Pick decent, long-lasting materials. Employ the best builders you can afford and take your time and do it right. If you have something more temporary in mind, look at building with wood (or indeed straw, little pig) and thus dramatically reducing the footprint of the structure.

2. Think About What You Build With

Everything material has embodied energy. That is, energy that went into the creation of the material, and this energy needs to be taken into account when making decisions on the ecological footprint of a building. For example, the amount of energy (and associated emissions) that goes into making fired bricks or cement is substantial, whereas natural stone or wood will obviously have very low embodied energy. There are a host of green building techniques and materials on the market these days but you still need to do a little bit of research to confirm which is going to be best for your area and application. As a general rule, the closer to the site you can source your material, and the fewer production steps it has had to go through, the better. Same principles as green food, really.

3. Permeable Paving

One of the most difficult to manage side effects of our love for paved surfaces is the additional power created by water run-off that isn’t slowed by soil infiltration. This increased run-off means that water courses downstream have to cope with larger and faster flowing volumes of water than they would otherwise have to, often leading to quite severe erosion problems in places. By laying down permeable paving, surface run-off is slowed down as it slowly permeates the paving and seeps into the soil below, better mimicking a natural system and thereby maintaining a more natural cycle. You may not notice the difference immediately but a wetland a few blocks away may continue to receive its water flow in a more natural manner, making the knock-on effect enormous.

4. Leave Your Geyser Alone

Concentrate your power savings elsewhere. Geysers seem to come in for an awful lot of attention when it comes to power-saving ideas. Unfortunately, most geyser management plans are either geared towards shifting power demand away from peak periods, which doesn’t necessarily save you anything, or decreasing the effectiveness of the thing by turning down the thermostat. If you’re a showering household (and you should be) then lowering the temperature of the water will likely save you money as you will simply use less cold water to compensate. But if you bath, you’ll simply empty the geyser with the first draw, leaving no hot water for the second bath. As far as insulation is concerned, your geyser should already be well insulated, and there is some evidence that during our hot summer, insulation may land up increasing your electricity demand because you aren’t taking advantage of the hot roof space in which your geyser sits. One thing you can do is to switch it off when you go away for a few days but apart from that, you’re probably better off spending your time and money making savings elsewhere.

COP21: Shows The End Of Fossil Fuels Is Near

The wheel of climate action turns slowly, but in Paris it has turned. There’s much in this deal that frustrates and disappoints me, but it still puts the fossil fuel industry squarely on the wrong side of history.

Parts of this deal have been diluted and polluted by the people who despoil our planet, but it contains a new temperature limit of 1.5 degrees. That single number, and the new goal of net zero emissions by the second half of this century, will cause consternation in the boardrooms of coal companies and the palaces of oil-exporting states and that is a very good thing. The transition away from fossil fuels is inevitable.

Now comes our great task of this century. How do we meet this new goal? The measures outlined simply do not get us there. When it comes to forcing real, meaningful action, Paris fails to meet the moment. We have a 1.5 degree wall to climb, but the ladder isn’t long enough. The emissions targets outlined in this agreement are simply not big enough to get us to where we need to be.

There is also not enough in this deal for the nations and people on the frontlines of climate change. It contains an inherent, ingrained injustice. The nations which caused this problem have promised too little to help the people on the frontlines of this crisis who are already losing their lives and livelihoods for problems they did not create.

This deal won’t dig us out the hole we’re in, but it makes the sides less steep. To pull us free of fossil fuels we are going to need to mobilise in ever greater numbers. This year the climate movement beat the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, we kicked coal into terminal decline and put coal into terminal decline. We stand for a future powered by renewable energy, and it is a future we will win.

This is why our efforts have never been confined to these conference halls. Just as we've carried our messages of justice, equity, and environmental protection into the venues of the climate negotiations, and echoed the collective demand to speed the end of fossil fuels to the faces of our leaders, we will continue to raise our voices long after these talks are over.

We came to the COP with hope. Not a hope based on the commitments we wished our leaders would make, but a hope built on a movements that we have built together with many others. Together we are challenging the fossil fuel oligarchy, we are ushering in the era of solutions, and we are moving the political benchmark of what is possible.


While our political leaders walk, our movements run, and we must keep running.


From the High Arctic to Brazil, from the Alberta tar sands to Indonesia’s peatlands, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Mediterranean we will stand against those faceless corporations and regressive governments that would risk our childrens' future.

We will push our beautifully simple solution to climate change - 100% renewable energy for all - and make sure it is heard and embraced. From schoolyards in Greece, to the streetlights of India, to small Arctic communities like Clyde River in Canada, we will showcase the clean, renewable solutions that are already here, and pressure our governments to make them available for everyone, fast.

Finally, we will stand with those communities on the front lines of this struggle. They are the leaders of this movement. They are the ones facing the rising seas, the superstorms, and the direct effects of our governments’ collective inaction. We will amplify their voices so the world is forced to hear our call for change.

In 2016 we - the entire climate movement - will escalate the fight. Together we will show the world that if our governments won’t act to stop the carbon bullies, then we will.

History is waiting in the wings, and we’re standing on the right side of it.

Going Green: Tips For A Green Holiday Season

With the holiday season quickly approaching, here are a few tips from Simon Gear on making your holiday season a little bit greener.

Buy Simple Presents

Too many of us allow the whole holiday gift-giving thing to become far too much of a strain and we invariably land up buying gifts for the sake of it, rather than finding things that are actually going to be used and appreciated. The best possible piece of advice I can give here is to make a list of everyone you will be gifting and then take yourself off to your local organic market. In about half an hour you can fill up with the most fantastic range of sweets and preserves, all of which will be appreciated and all of which will cost neither you nor the planet much at all.

Give Green Year-End Gifts To Your Workforce

The opportunities to change people’s lives with fairly simple gifts are boundless, particularly if you employ people who live well outside the big city centres. Start by chatting to your workers and getting a sense of what sort of lives they lead back home. You may well find that a simple gift like a basic solar-powered LED lighting system or a hot box cooker could make a huge difference. Other opportunities include a seed set for a trench garden (plus a company training day to teach people how to plant it); ceiling boards for RDP houses; or water barrels to keep veggie gardens hydrated. Expand the footprint of your business out into the lives of the people who work with you.

Reuse Wrapping - Buy Gift Packets/Bags

Words cannot express the joy I felt when, about a decade ago, the fashion arose of no longer wrapping gifts but rather just plunking them in one of those gift packets. I’ve never been able to wrap any package without it coming out looking like a parcel bomb post-explosion, so to spend a little extra and just pop it in the packet right there in the shop, felt like a personal blessing from the Ghost of Christmas Present. And then it got even better. Because you don’t really do anything with the bag but carry it straight over to your girlfriend’s house and hand it to her, everyone now has a collection of these packets in near mint condition. We should never have to buy wrapping paper again.

Buy Gifts Online At Charity Sites

You never think of it until it’s too late so I’m suggesting it now. Probably the best way to give great gifts that also have a sustainable aspect to them is to start doing your gift shopping online at charity websites. These days almost all of the large charities have some form of online shop. The merchandise available ranges from stuff very specific to the work of that organisation to pretty comprehensive collections of guide books, organic products and clothing. If you're in South Africa, browse around, but and are good places to start.

Paperless Christmas

If you celebrate Christmas, is great fun. It is a virtual advent calendar with video clips and so on behind each door. The site is run by BRF, a British church-based charity, and the site is a good example of crossing the boundary between tradition and technology. The clips are very kiddie friendly and the whole site is slick and well managed. The thinking behind it is partially to set up paperless alternatives to traditional Christmas favourites, such as advent calendars and cards. Of course, I found that it served to remind my son of his chocolate-filled real word calendar, rather than to distract him from it. But it still proved a fun way to start the day together throughout the Christmas period.

Get A Real Tree...But Not A Whole One

I’m not a huge fan of pine trees. They are completely wrong for the South African landscape; always looking somehow dirty and bedraggled, and their habit of poisoning the soil at their base makes them an appalling choice for a garden. But when compared to a plastic tree, they sneak in above bottom. The thing about Christmas trees is that there is no reason to have a whole one. Assuming you want to go traditional and have something pine-like in the first place, simply finding a pine tree and sawing off a lower branch provides you with a perfectly sized tree for the living room. Otherwise, finding an interesting piece of drift wood or just bringing in an entire pot plant is likely to work just as well. The nice thing about fetching a likely pine branch is it rapidly becomes one of those annual Christmas memories for dads to share with their kids.

Carbon Disclosure Encouraging Better Business Practices

Globally, various environmental disclosure mechanisms have evolved in recent years. One of these disclosure mechanisms is the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP). The CDP is a global not-for-profit initiative that requests companies to disclose on matters like greenhouse gas pollution and water impacts. It is one of the premium disclosure mechanisms as it provides an overview of 81% of the world’s largest public companies and how these companies are seeking ways to reduce their environmental impact.

Winner of the 2014 South African Energy Efficiency Association Patron Award and Nedbank Carbon Specialist, Dr Marco Lotz, says that disclosure initiatives, including the CDP, have helped move energy efficiency and sustainably reporting into mainstream business thinking.

“Electricity constraints and rising electricity tariffs have motivated companies to reduce their energy consumption.

“Also, investors and shareholders are placing increasing demand on companies to disclose more information around their impact on the environment,” Marco explains.




The United Nations (UN) forecasts that by 2030 nearly 50% of the world population will live in areas facing water scarcity. Less than 1% of the world’s water is easily accessible fresh water and South Africa is a water scarce country ranking in the top 30 driest in the world. Moreover, even with water being available South Africa is facing water distribution efficiency and infrastructure limitations.

Analysts therefore see water disclosure projects as a vital tool for investors and businesses to be able to evaluate companies’ ability to operate successfully in a water-constrained world.

“The proposed carbon tax, increased water scarcity, and possible climate change impacts are all factors that companies need to be cognisant of when quantifying their operational impact, investigating capital expansion projects and the overarching strategic market positioning.” says Marco.

It is imperative for any disclosure mechanism to evolve as the sustainability space is ever-evolving. This will ensure that the correct measures are disclosed and compared between different disclosing periods.

Currently, there is limited legislative obligation for organisations to disclose environmental impacts beyond legal compliance. This could change in the near future if the proposed domestic carbon tax requires increased disclosure. It is then in the best interest of organisations to start to do internal environmental impact monitoring before it becomes a requirement. 


For more detail and other topics,



The Wonders Of Oxygen

An unlikely hero. It’s colourless, odourless, and without it we cannot live. Yet we give very little thought to just how important it is and more specifically, how it could benefit our health.

If you’re on the lookout for alternative healing methods for a whole host of health issues ranging from cancer and anemia to influenza and various infections or skin disorders such as eczema and psoriasis, then perhaps you should consider ozone therapy as a viable option.

The Source Of Disease

It is believed that the fundamental cause of all disease is a lack of oxygen. The understanding that the human body is predominantly composed of water and that water is over 80% oxygen further supports this theory. It therefore stands to reason that the only element that is in continuous demand is oxygen and therefore its absence is fatal in a matter of minutes.

In addition, free radicals created as a by-product of oxygen metabolism, then poach electrons from other molecules, ultimately damaging those molecules. Our bodies tend to function reasonably well with some free radicals floating around, in fact our bodies can purposefully create them in order to neutralize pathogenic bacteria and viruses. However, as with anything is life, too much of even a good thing can become problematic and as such, an excess of these free radicals has been linked to a number of poor health conditions. Moreover, this entire process can be augmented through external factors such as increased stress and exposure to pollution, harmful light including sunlight as well as smoking and the consumption of alcohol.

Enter In Super Oxygen: Ozone

Ozone was discovered in 1840 by German-Swiss chemist Christian Friedrich Schonbeing, when he observed a gas with an “electric and pungent smell” that could be considered “super-active oxygen”.* Seventeen years later Werner von Siemens, German inventor and industrialist and also the founder of the electrical and telecommunications company Siemens, developed the first ozone generator. By 1881 Dr. J. H. Kellogg first used Ozone in steam saunas at his clinic based in Michigan and in 1926 Dr. Otto Warburg, former director of the Kaiser Institute for Cell Physiology in Berlin, released his research on cancer detailing a vital link to the disease and oxygen. In fact,according to his research he had discovered that the cause of cancer is a lack of oxygen at the cellular level. As a result, in 1931 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine for his work, and in 1944 he was presented with a second Nobel Prize, the only person ever to receive two Nobel Prizes for medicine. His research discovered that the principal cause of cancer is when the respiration of oxygen in normal body cells is replaced by the fermentation of sugar. He discovered that normal, functioning cells thrive in an alkaline body whereas cancer cells thrive in an acidic state. In addition, acidosis is prevalent when there is a lack of oxygen and vice versa.** Fast forward to the modern era when only now these alternative methods gaining traction.

Why We May Need It

I have written about my journey to overcoming skin issues, eczema in particular, and whilst researching root causes as well as natural remedies for these issues, I came across Ozone therapy. My mom then shared an article with me on a South African woman who travelled all the way to Vichy in France to treat her chronic eczema by bathing in Ozone spas. So when I experienced a particularly bad flare-up of eczema earlier this year, I decided to find a local Ozone institution and was put in touch with Ozone therapist and the head of the Ozone Therapy Association of South Africa, Dr. Michelle Nicolopulos. Dr. Nicolopulos, shared how the various applications of Ozone have developed over the years and currently include six modalities: Major Autohemotherapy, Minor Autohemotherapy, Bio-oxidative Therapy, Ozone Saline Drips, Insufflation, EBOO and Hyperthermia Total Body Exposure (Steam Saunas).

“Every breathing person should consider ozone therapy, whether young or old. The basis of what we do is oxygen and we all know that you cannot survive without oxygen” says Dr. Nicolopulos. It is her opinion that when it comes to disease, the general consensus in naturopathic circles, is that the patient probably most likely has very low oxygen levels and therefore high acid levels. “This situation becomes a breeding ground for ill health. If each person maintained high oxygen levels they would be less likely to ever get sick because viruses cannot survive in high oxygen [environments], because they are anaerobic.”

She believes that our modern lifestyles are huge precursors of disease. “One of our biggest problems, as the human race, is our greed. Everything we do today is based on instant gratification and we do not consider the consequence of our actions. Fast food, fast lifestyles, high stress, zero health maintenance, pollution, hormones in our meat, genetically modified seeds, over population, over fishing, toxic medication, vaccines, shallow breathing...and the list goes on – no wonder we are sick”.

She advises patients to find a way to slow down and highly recommends ozone therapy treatments as a solution.

My Experience

I sat in an ozone chamber for a duration of 30-40minutes and this was probably the hardest part of the treatment as I felt slightly claustrophobic but Dr. Nicolopulos and I chatted up a storm which helped ease my nerves. She is interested in the health history of her clients and makes a concerted effort to share her knowledge beyond ozone treatment, which includes an Ayurvedic approach to nutrition. Before I knew it the 30 minutes were over and I experienced a sudden rush of blood to the head or a light headed feeling. At first this felt abnormal but Dr. Nicolopulos assured me that it was very normal and in fact was an elevated state of being. She highlighted that most of us do not know what true wellness actually feels like. By the time I wrote this article I had attended three sessions with Dr. Nicolopulos and a definite improvement in my condition and energy levels.

Give ozone therapy a try!




Image Credit

Gardening During The Drought

South Africa has been going through a bad drought and there are huge water shortages in Phokeng in the North West province where I live. A lot of articles in the media talk about the water crisis, its impact on farmers and communities and what government is doing to help alleviate the problem.

Sometimes I find myself laughing hard at what people say, not because it’s funny, but because I want to cry and laughing stops the tears. On the one hand we are encouraged to grow as much of our own food as we can to help reduce the spiraling food costs, yet the water shortages make it extremely hard to do so. How do I grow my own food when drinking water is limited?

I’ve tried to be as prepared as I can for the extreme heat and semi-arid climate of Phokeng (located just outside Rustenburg), where every year mid-summer temperatures skate close to 40 degrees Celcius and the water shortages are becoming a norm, even when nationally nobody talks about drought.

The odd advantage I have is that I inherited my home from my parents who invested heavily in self-sufficient practices during the apartheid years, as they had no access to municipal water. They dug a borehole, which supplies a 5000 litre tank linked to my household supply. When I started to grow my food year-round, I also invested in a 10 000 litre tank, which provides for the garden solely. You’d think with all that storage drought wouldn’t be one of my biggest issues right now, would you?

The problem is that access to water in my community is a sporadic thing. So those of us who have stored water or boreholes end up sharing what we have until municipal water starts running again.

I’m never sure when the water will come back, so I ration to the water from the 10 000 litre tank very carefully, with every household allowed 40 litres daily, where there are no children, and 80 litres for households that have children. So far, the system sort of works for all of us – my gate is always open, and everyone knows how much they can take.

Water Tank

But, back to food gardening, my conundrum is this: how can I water my food garden, which is supposed to provide up to 80% of our vegetables and 100% of our herbs, when my neighbours don’t even have water to drink, cook, bath or flush their toilets? I’m afraid it would feel like a slap in their faces to watch me “throw water onto the ground,” when they need it to drink. So for now, I don’t water my garden. Much.

My poor garden is still standing though. And it’s still productive, though not as much as I would like. Here are some of the strategies I’ve employed /plan to employ to aid my food garden’s survival:

Plant Early

Phokeng is always hot in late Spring and Summer and rain remains sporadic due to the climate. So right from the beginning, I’ve had to learn optimal times to plant so that by the time the daily heat is high, my plants have a strong hold on the ground.

Choose Plants That Do Well With Limited Water

I’m still struggling with my plant selection, trying to find vegetables that can survive prolonged droughts and heat year after year, but which my family will enjoy eating. It’s no use growing cactus-based plants if my family won’t eat it!

So far, I’ve found that root vegetables like carrots, beetroot and onion do OK but not wonderfully, in drought periods. I also struggle with cabbage, though kale and rape do well enough. For now, my garden is restricted to very basic crops: greens like spinach, chard, kale and rape; a variety of beans, zucchini (summer squash) and artichokes. My onion and leeks are struggling. It is my hope they’ll survive the dry spell.

Mulching Is Necessary

Irrigation is not only about watering the garden; it’s about retaining whatever moisture the soil may already have. Unfortunately, I learned that the hard way.

Reduce Competition For Water In The Soil

When there are big amounts of rain, I’m happy to let my garden to grow wild and for seeds from previous seasons to unexpectedly sprout and surprise me. Unfortunately, when there is a water shortage I don’t have that luxury. All the weeds and unplanned seedlings have to go, so that the crops that I’m nursing through the process can have as much water as the soil can retain.

Grey Water Adds Much-Needed Moisture

So far we water with grey water when we remember to carry it out of the house with buckets. It’s hard work. But it’s worth it, because I can water my garden without any feelings of guilt. So next time I have two cents to rub together, I’m going to invest in a piping system from the house, so the water automatically goes to the garden.

Collect Rain Water (When It Comes)

When I was growing up, my grandfather had several tanks collecting rainwater from the roof gutters. We used some of the water for the garden, and the rest for laundry and cleaning in order to save money on the petrol we required to run the generator for the borehole. When we began to get municipal water, we relaxed on that, thinking we didn’t need to collect rainwater anymore. That was a mistake. It’s better to collect as much rainwater as we can, when we can, so that we have some stored for dry periods such as this one.

Cover And Shade

My garden is a busy mix of fruits, vegetables, and herbs, all interspersed. Long-term, the fruit trees will provide shade for plants that are sensitive to the sun, so that they can grow midsummer without going crispy. Big leafy plants such as artichokes also provide shade for smaller plants like chives, spring onions and “cut and come again” lettuce.

Mostly, I find myself constantly re-evaluating my gardening practices to check if they can help me keep my family fed while also using as little water as possible. What can I change without compromising my crops? What can I do in terms of planning for the medium-term because clearly, this drought is not a once-off thing? Chances are, next year and the year after will also be dry, and as a result, food prices will keep climbing and my garden will become a critical part of my regular food supply.

I hope that other gardeners will also start exploring this topic and proposing possible solutions that can help those of us who rely on our gardens for most of our meals.

Going Green: 4 Appliance Tips

Washing Machine:

Set your washing machine to 30°. Go and have a look at your washing machine. No rush, I’ll wait … Any idea what all those dials and settings mean? No, me neither. If you’re anyone other than an R&D specialist for one of the big washing machine companies, I’m prepared to bet that apart from some early fiddling when you first got the thing, you just leave your machine on one setting and be done with it. So if you’re going to leave it on one setting, it may as well be a green one. Modern washing powders are such that you can get away with washing clothes at much lower temperatures than was needed in the past. A whole movement has sprung up in Europe encouraging people to set their machines to wash at 30°. This simple act should save around 40% of the energy used to wash your clothes.


Only run dishwashers when full. Your dishwasher is actually an energy- and water-saving device provided you only run it when it’s full. Then you’re deriving maximum benefit as it uses the same amount of water and energy whether you’re cleaning the detritus from a debauched dinner party or just one tea cup. And limit the amount of rinsing you do before you pack the dishwasher (you can see a husband is writing this, huh?). I’ve seen plenty of very sweet, well-meaning little old ladies who insist on just about polishing plates until they glow before popping them in the washer. If you’re going to do that, you may as well cut the washer out entirely and do your dishes by hand. Dishwashers are actually pretty good at what they do, provided you pack the stuff properly. Let them do their work.


Don’t overload your fridge The more stuff in your fridge, the harder it has to work at keeping everything cold. Don’t pack your fridge with bottles and jars that haven’t been opened yet or scraps of food and leftovers that you know you aren’t going to eat. Rather than waste the energy required to keep it cold, be honest with yourself about the stuff that you know is going to land up as compost and direct it straight to the earthwormery without storing it lovingly for four days first. On that note, allow food to have cooled naturally first before refrigerating it. All you’re achieving by putting warm food into the fridge is forcing it to work a bit harder and running the risk of cracking any glass panels, as the shelves try to expand from the heat and contract from the cold at the same time. Also, leave space between items in your fridge to allow efficient cooling. The more spread out everything in your fridge is, the more efficiently it’s cooled, thus saving you power. This is also true of leftovers. Rather than keeping food in a narrow pot that will be difficult to cool, decant food into a thinner flatter Tupperware, which will retain less heat and probably be easier to store too.

Small Appliances vs. Your Stove

Use small appliances rather than your stove whenever possible. If your recipe calls for boiling water, it is much more efficient to boil the water in your kettle and then transfer it into your pot on the stove rather than to boil water from scratch on the hot plate. Using smaller appliances rather than larger ones will save you energy. Boiling using a kettle, reheating small amounts in the microwave and blending or liquidising using a hand-held mixer are all better than using large appliances for the same functions.

Warning: Got Milk?

Let's take a look at why we should be thinking twice about genetically engineered milk: This product forces cows to produce more milk than they are naturally equipped to give, and as a result destroys the physical condition of the animals, interfering with their breeding cycles (when it doesn't destroy them outright), and also causes infections in their udders. In turn, farmers are compelled to increase their use of antibiotics, aggravating an unhealthy dynamic whose ultimate result will be enhanced enemy microorganisms. The milk produced by the implementation of this engineering method contains elevated levels of a growth hormone implicated in a variety of cancers and other diseases.

The costs of producing milk in this manner are significant. Starting with the costs of the product, then adding to that the costs of the labor involved in injecting them, the extra feed needed to help the cows sustain the unnatural burden to their systems, and finally the veterinary costs that are so inevitably linked to the product's use that the manufacturer included vet vouchers as a sales tool to help offset that expense. The recommended feed to help cows survive the demands of these antibiotics is animal protein, which raises the specter that the product's use could advance the spread of other diseases.

By appealing exclusively to large dairy herds, the product threatens to pit the large farmer against the family farmer, so much so that it works as advertised and helps big farmers produce more milk. This only adds to the chronic oversupply and helps depress milk prices further, thereby throwing more family dairy farmers out of business. And by reducing consumer confidence in the safety of milk, it limits demand for milk as well as other dairy products, again depressing prices and threatening the livelihood of the small farmer.

Think twice about where and how your dairy is produced, and when in Almond Milk?

How The Tech Industry Can Help Save The Climate

Connecting people across continents. Delivering breaking news. Enabling government transparency. Facilitating social revolutions. Stopping global warming?

The Internet is capable of doing so much, but perhaps the idea that it can help rescue the planet from runaway global warming comes as a surprise to you.

Every time we post a Facebook status to our friends, watch the latest episode of our favorite show on Netflix, or tweet to our followers, that information is housed in giant data centers which require a lot of electricity. These data centers are a key part of the cloud, and a single one can require as much energy as a medium-sized city.

If cloud computing were a country, it would rank sixth in the world on the basis of how much electricity it uses, and the amount of data shuttling around the world is expected to triple in the next few years as more and more people get connected.

The Internet we love, and the companies that run it, are at a crossroads in terms of where their energy comes from. Many of these companies have already chosen the road to a green internet and a sustainable future. Facebook, Apple and Google have committed to 100 percent renewable energy, in response to users around the world who have asked them for a greener internet. Other fast-growing technology companies, like Salesforce, Rackspace and Box, have joined them in making the same commitment, proving that 100 percent renewable energy is 100 percent possible for any company with the will.

By contrast some of the most popular online companies, including social media sites that we use every day like Twitter, Pinterest and Tumblr, still power their platforms with fossil fuels and nuclear energy. The largest cloud company currently is Amazon Web Services, a division of, and hosts the data for some of the most popular online brands in the world. But unlike other major online brands like Google and Apple, Amazon is still primarily powering its digital empire with the dirty sources of energy that threaten our communities and our climate. Of course, Amazon doesn't have to remain stuck in the energy sources of the 1800s. Energy sources like wind and solar made up for more than half of all the new electricity in the United States in 2012.

Meanwhile digital pioneers are making our world greener, both online and offline. Apple is operating the largest privately owned solar installation in the U.S. at one of its data centers. Facebook pushed a U.S. power company to supply its data center with 100 percent wind energy. Google has pioneered the use of clean power purchases, buying wind energy to provide electricity for its services like Gmail and YouTube, as well as the rest of the power grid.

If Amazon and others want to stay innovative and relevant, it's high time they made the switch to the abundant, sustainable, renewable energy of today.

Simply put, we need a greener online to preserve a greener offline.

The Internet has helped move the world to more freedom, transparency and democracy. It's only natural that it moves the world to a clean energy revolution that will last for generations to come. These companies can make that happen, but only if they hear from you.

Join me in asking our favorite Internet companies to commit to 100 percent renewable energy for their data centers.

Introducing Google's Project Sunroof

Project Sunroof uses information that’s in Google Maps to figure out how much sun falls on a roof and takes into account stuff like the angle of the roof, the weather, and obstructions like trees and chimneys. Then it uses those measurements to figure out how many panels you’d probably need and how much you could save on your electric bill, including solar incentives in your area. You can see how buying or leasing panels affects your savings, and then send your estimate to installers in your area, instantly.

Cron Job Starts