Conflicting Desires

US Fracking Map

What happened to all those promises that fracking was going to bring down polyethylene prices (they have risen significantly of late) and facilitate the re-shoring of manufacturing (where are the jobs) ? This statement is not to minimize my own deep concerns and reservations about the practice of fracking at all. These concerns are significant and serious. Should we build more nuclear reactors on the coast of our oceans in earthquake prone regions ? Anyone want to suggest that as the solution to all of our economic challenges at this point ? I doubt it. At least I would not even consider making such a suggestion.

Susan Freinkel in a article asks “Looking for another reason to worry about fracking? We’re going to bubble-wrap the entire planet with the overabundance of plastic it produces.” She notes that “weaning ourselves from the presence of throwaway plastics in our everyday lives may soon be harder than it’s ever been—thanks to the recent boom in shale gas, of all things”. She shares that “According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, new developments in drilling and extraction technology have opened the door for the capture of more than 2,000 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas—enough to take us, at current rates of consumption, into the 22nd century.”

Freinkel writes that – “Natural gas contains many of the vital raw materials that are used to manufacture plastics and chemicals. The new tide of cheap natural gas has launched the petrochemical industry on the biggest building spree it has seen in many years, with many experts predicting enormous increases in production of those plastics most often used in consumer packaging and single-use products.”

“This is the first time in more than a decade we’ve been able to talk about building facilities [and] increasing capacity,” says Steve Russell, vice president of the plastics department of the American Chemistry Council, which her article goes on to share “represents many of the world’s biggest producers of raw plastics and recently produced a report analyzing the impact of the shale gas boom. To date, companies under its aegis have announced plans to spend more than $100 billion by 2020 to build new facilities or expand existing ones.”

Plastic Consumer Group

“Most of the proposed projects are focused on extracting ethylene from the ethane contained in natural gas. Ethylene is one of the most widely used chemicals in the world—a key raw material for ammonia, antifreeze, vinyl, and rubber. But more than anything else it’s used to make polyethylene: the plastic found in toys and diapers, plastic bags and bubble wrap, milk jugs and squeeze bottles. It’s the chief plastic found in most consumer packaging. Not surprisingly, it’s also the type of plastic most often found floating in ocean garbage patches, thousands of miles from land.” Recycled polyethylene is also the material that our Origins panel product is made of.

With the growth in fracking, any “industry interest in developing greener, biobased plastics has dimmed. When oil and gas prices were higher, the major petrochemical companies were all busy exploring ways to make plastics from renewable feedstocks, such as corn, sugar cane, and sugar beets, as well as from non-food plants (such as algae).” “Anecdotally, that does seem a little off the front burner, compared to where it was,” says Don Loepp, editor of Plastics News.

The United Nations Climate Summit took place in New York City last week. The leaders used the one-day summit to announce plans by governments, investors and financial institutions to mobilize more than $200 billion to finance clean energy and support resilience among vulnerable nations. Several other U.N. initiatives were announced including efforts to reduce methane, a harmful greenhouse gas as well as plans to invest in cleaner transportation and a pledge to end deforestation by 2030. In advance of the summit, there were climate marches in New York City (upwards of 300,000) and other locations around the globe.

2014 People's Climate March New York City

2014 People’s Climate March
New York City

“What we can achieve through this conference is to forge a new model of development for the world,” French President François Hollande said. “There will have to be a new pricing system for carbon which will have to serve as a signal for the way we use it. We have to bring into play what finance has in terms of imagination and shift it to serve the good of planet. We need to define a new economy for the world.” France will be the host country for next year’s summit.

A surprising and encouraging statement came from Stephen Heintz, president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund – “John D. Rockefeller, the founder of Standard Oil, moved America out of whale oil and into petroleum. We are quite convinced that if he were alive today, as an astute businessman looking out to the future, he would be moving out of fossil fuels and investing in clean, renewable energy.” Also encouraging is the stampede of institutional investors who are committing to expediently decarbonize and measure and disclose the carbon footprint of assets under management. Those making the commitment include foundations, individuals, faith groups, health care organizations, cities and universities around the world.

There is HOPE. Somewhere between such conflicting desires as rapidly growing economies with an appetite for more consumer goods (in India plastic consumption had already been forecast to double over the next five years) and the truly scary sides of climate change gobbling up the coasts where much of the planet’s population currently resides (and are certain to find themselves pushed to migrate even if the planet can keep the rise in global temperatures to no more that 2 degrees C by the target date established at the climate summit) is a balance that equals sustainability. I believe such a balance is possible to achieve even in the context of improving the quality of life for people all over the planet. I hope my optimistic perspective proves out. In the meantime, I do my part and try to remember patience, for even though the need seems quite urgent in reality, such changes in human nature tend to evolve slowly.

TShirt - Post-consumer Recycled to Polyester

TShirt – Post-consumer Recycled to Polyester

“Wrap Party” by Susan Freinkel at OnEarth.org posted 04/28/14 – http://www.onearth.org/articles/2014/04/why-the-plastics-industry-is-raucously-celebrating-the-fracking-boom

“Climate summit kicks off with promises of $200 billion for clean energy” by Michael Casey at Fortune.com posted 09/23/14 – http://fortune.com/tag/new-energy/

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Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer

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What’s New May Be What Is Disappearing

Office Cubicles

I remember when I first went to work in the traditional office in the early 1970s, one sat at their desk and remained focused on their work. Interaction with co-workers was seen as not getting one’s work done. Collaboration was not encouraged because work was broken down into discrete actions that a single person was responsible for completing. Cubicle sales peaked in 2000 when they accounted for 37% of all office furniture sales.

“The journey is actually seen as beneficial because as people are working in different ways, you are not expecting them to be only working in one place, therefore work is a kind of continuous activity and you are always thinking” said Simon Allford of Allford Hall Monaghan Morris who noted that when he started his career, the focus was getting from the elevator to one’s desk as quickly as possible. The change in perspective has only been evolving in the last decade. According to Philip Tidd of Gensler, large corporations have realized that packing employees tightly into spaces does not result in greater productivity. He said “Your productivity is not measured by the amount of time you sit behind a thing called a desk. It is what you do . . . where you can get in a zone of concentration.”

So, what’s new now is what is disappearing – the desk and “the corner office” (that perk of the successful executive that is rarely there to occupy that space). The cross-fertilization of many minds contributing to solutions and business products is now being encouraged in the architecture of some of the biggest names in the economy. This according to an interesting article published in The Guardian titled – “Death of the desk: the architects shaping offices of the future” by Shane Hickey published Sept 14, 2014. Many of those names – HOK and Gensler notably – are quite familiar to our business from long years of providing architects and interior designers with quality recycled-content materials for the built environment.

Apple O Building

Apple O Building

Apple’s O Building gave rise to a funny cartoon but the design by Norman Foster had a serious purpose. The concept was meant to facilitate collaboration between workers. The building real estate will include 80% green space and during 75% of a year, there will be no need for air-conditioning because the building will take advantage of the natural climate. The energy for the building will come from a large array of solar collectors on the roof.

The BBC’s new Broadcasting House headquarters in central London has large units similar to American diner booths in common areas where staff can have chance meetings. The interior including all carpets and fabrics (which was designed by architects HOK) have been tested for the screen. Filming can now take place across the whole building according to Andy Baker, who oversees the corporation’s London locations. Even the radio studios have been integrated in with glassed areas that cut the space they need.

Though working in an isolated and much smaller structure than these giants, our family business is conducive to interaction and collaboration as we all do our work in a large open plan space where no one has to do more than turn to face the other to have a meeting of the minds for strategy and long range planning. Help with a technical issue or sticky situation is always close at hand.

Treadmill Desk

Treadmill Desk

Back in May of 2013, I was inspired by an article in The New Yorker by Susan Orlean titled “The Walking Alive – Don’t stop moving” in which the author writes about her treadmill desk and how when she couldn’t run, she decided to walk. I was so inspired, I thought that I might want one. Instead, I decided to incorporate a little break once or twice a day for a little hike alongside the creek and back to refresh my mind and move my body. I don’t have a traditional desk. My laptop is on a stand with a view of the wild forest out my window. Next to me is a rolling cart for my current work projects with bin like sliding shelves. I am happy with the arrangement.

A little more than a year later, the same proponent and expert from The New Yorker article (Dr James Levine, director of the Mayo Clinic at Arizona State University’s Obesity Solutions Initiative) re-emerged with the same passion in a Sept 8-15, 2014 Time Magazine article – “Stand Up for Yourself” by Alice Park. This time my partner took the message to heart and is trying out standing at his desk instead of sitting. Whether it is a long-term change or a novel experiment remains to be seen.

~ Information Resources

“Death of the desk: the architects shaping offices of the future” by Shane Hickey posted in The Guardian on Sept 14, 2014 – http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/sep/14/office-designs-apple-bbc-google

“New Apple Headquarters” featured in Business Interiors posted Dec 13, 2013 – http://www.businessinteriors.co.uk/new-apple-headquarters-best-office-building-world-designed-london/

“The Walking Alive” by Susan Orlean posted in The New Yorker on May 20, 2013 – http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/05/20/the-walking-alive

“Standing Up Helps Your Health” by Alice Park posted in Time magazine on Aug 28, 2014 – http://time.com/3204289/stand-up-for-your-health/

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Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer

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Of Course We Want Healthy

Healthy Environment

It is becoming increasingly difficult for a small manufacturer creating a niche product that has positive environmental impacts (keeping materials with residual value and usefulness out of the landfill) to play the game that a diverse group of well-intentioned strategies and organizations are making necessary to continue to be specified by architects and interior designers. These standardizations are a good response to a whole host of “green” certification opportunists, maybe even a necessary response to that system which grew out of uncertainties regarding the claims that businesses make to market their products. With an increasingly concerned populace, the environmental and health impacts of the multitude of products they come into contact with everyday matters.

Recently, we were unable to participate in a specified project because we didn’t have an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) These are rigorous third party verified standard formats that assess (but do not judge) a product’s environmental impact. These evaluations are based on a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) that is performed using established Product Category Rules (PCRs). After the related work to create a EPD is completed, simply registering a single EPD costs 1,500 Euros.

Recently, a customer requested a Health Product Declaration (HPD) for our Origins material which they market as one of the surface treatment options for a line of children’s furniture. The HPD Collaborative is a collaboration of organizations, corporations, and companies intent on changing the impact that manufacturing and construction have on our environment and health. The HPD is an open standard, through which manufacturers report what makes up their product and any hazards that consumers need to be made aware. We are currently compiling the data to create this. That will not be a simple matter. The two colors this company has chosen (Origins 503 Warm Orange and 504 Cool Blue) have up to 14 different materials/colors (13 colors, some at less than 1% of the final formula, in a neutral colored base comprising 50% by weight from natural milk jugs). The ratio of colorant for each of the individual colors is 2-4% in natural (colorless) HDPE resin. We will need to know from what components each of the colorants has been created and then calculate how much of the entire product each of these contributes.

Origins 504 Cool Blue

Origins 504 Cool Blue

Certainly, we are happy to be 100% transparent about our products. We have always done our best to make that a dominant value. When we first selected our colorants 25+ years ago, we were reassured that none were toxic though not FDA grade (not meant to come into contact with food). Since we didn’t expect our products to be used in that way, the color houses we work with gave us all the reassurance we needed at the time. But times change and both EPDs and HPDs are becoming important factors in being able to supply our product to the marketplace.

Still, I’m not complaining. Health is important to me personally. I am careful about what I eat and feed my family. I care about the quality of water we drink and the purity of the air we breathe. We all make getting enough physical exercise a priority. At Yemm & Hart we do care that the product we provide to you won’t make anyone spending a lot of time in the vicinity of it ill. We will do our best within our means to afford to make all the information requested available to the professionals whose work goes on to impact untold numbers of people who may never know what a EPD or HDP are or that these are concepts created to keep them healthy.

In other slightly related news, the American Chemistry Council and the US Green Building Council have only recently announced that rather than fighting against one another’s interests, they will seek to leverage each other’s strengths for the common good of all. The primary source of contention has been related to chemical disclosures and some proposals as part of LEED v4 that could have discouraged the use of certain plastic products (primarily with PVC content) by issuing demerits. Some pressure from states such as Ohio to ban LEED v4 in order to protect state based manufacturers of foam insulation and vinyl products may have motivated the USGBC to be more conciliatory. The American Chemistry Council brings some science and technology expertise to marry with the USGBC’s very green environmental hearts. Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) will be part of that contribution.

You-Control-Climate-Change-773583_1

As Rick Fedrizzi, the USGBC president/CEO and founding chair, expressed it – “The looming impacts of climate change and the possibilities of improving human health and wellbeing favor collaboration and engagement as key strategies . . . (in order to support) forward progress.” Those who do care, and Yemm & Hart as a company and its founders are among those who have cared for a very long time, are doing the best we can to ethically and morally rise to meet ALL of the inherent challenges facing humanity at this time in the planet’s history.

~ Information Resourcs

“HPDs and EPDs” – http://www.certainteed.com/Ceilings/Sustainability/EPDs-LCA

“What is an EPD?” – http://www.environdec.com/en/What-is-an-EPD/#.VBXwq7d0y70

HPD Standard – http://hpdcollaborative.org/standard-documents/hpdstandard_v1_0_121215.pdf

Origins Patterns Color Chart – http://www.yemmhart.com/materials/origins/colorchartpatterns.html

“Truce ? ACC, US Green Building Council agree to work together on LEED” by Catherine Kavanaugh on Plastics News posted Aug 28, 2014 – http://www.plasticsnews.com/article/20140828/NEWS/140829913/truce-acc-us-green-building-council-agree-to-work-together-on-leed

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Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer

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Becoming Mainstream

In the early days of a product, it may be seen as novel or even so far out on the leading edge that it may not ever be fully developed. Currently, a lot of materials research in focused on making materials store electricity for dispersal later, much like a battery does and actually replacing the battery itself, or magnetizing a material to enhance its properties somehow. Currently, there is research into glass fabric that includes a thermoelectric (TE) generator embedded into it. It’s flexible enough to be worn as a bracelet and it has been a lack of flexibility that has been an issue with TE generators. The materials required to absorb a significant amount of energy have previously been rigid and difficult to work into a wearable form. Already, the technology currently draws enough to power a watch or a small electronic device.

KAIST Wearable Tech

KAIST Wearable Tech

And where does it get the power from ? The human body. The technology collects the difference in heat between your body and the outside environment. This excess is then converted into energy through thermoelectric generation. It’s like a solar panel targeted to body heat. By using glass fabric, the team at South Korea’s KAIST University (lead by Professor Byung Jin Cho) is able to produce a material that is lightweight, flexible and capable of generating a significant amount of energy per square centimeter. Professor Cho expects “that this technology will find further applications in scale-up systems such as automobiles, factories, aircrafts, and vessels where we see abundant thermal energy being wasted.” This technology is still in development but is likely to emerge as wrist-style wearables like smartwatches and heart monitors.

There was a time when solar and wind power were way out on that kind of leading edge. While an environmentalist’s heart may have quickly recognized the value of infinitely renewable energy early on (say decades ago) the cost was often prohibitive. Those venture capitalists that were the most forward thinking were those who risked their investments to bring about the revolution in energy taking place in today’s world that utilizes a variety of sources to reduce the harmful impacts of an over-reliance on traditional petroleum sources.

According to an article by Michael Grunwald in Time Magazine’s September 8-15, 2014 issue, venture capitalists now see wind and solar as such a safe investment that it is no longer attractive to them. Who we see financing now are the BIG guys (Bank of America, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs). In other words, solar has gotten too mainstream for the out front, leading edge venture capitalists to enjoy playing. This is good news – clean power appears to be with us for a long haul.

house-solar-and-wind-energy

Certainly, the technology is now cheaper and more predictable – and produces good steady returns for the risk-adverse institutional capital in the economy. Happily, it is stated by Grunwald that green electricity now produces “more than half of new US generating capacity”. And this is good news overall for homeowners and utility rate payers (if their utilities participate in buying wind power). And of course, it IS good news for our planet.

And although refinements to the technical aspects (better solar panels, better wind turbines, cheaper batteries and biofuels) will continue to make clean energy more and more desirable, it is the financial innovations coming from the wizards of Wall Street that are making news at Time magazine. One of these innovations is the solar lease. No longer does a home or business owner have to fund upfront as much as tens of thousands of dollars to go solar. Like a mortgage or car payment, there are now 20-year leases.

Time will tell if this is really good news because most of us have not forgotten, and are still feeling the effects of, Wall Street’s penchant for “securitization”. It still hurts to even think about all the damage such novelties have wrought. The market for commercial solar securities has grown from $1 billion in 2008 to $15 billion today. There are even more obscure schemes a foot and more understandable formats like green bonds (growing from $2 billion in 2012 to almost $17 billion in just the first half of 2014).

When Yemm & Hart first began to market Origins (our 100% post-consumer, high-density polyethylene panels made from #2 plastics sourced from milk jugs and detergent bottles primarily), we were in a brave new world. Those who bought our materials tended to be fringe artists, product developers and university students (and these still make up interest and small purchases of our materials). In our early days, we tried not to influence what someone might decide to make out of our material. We left that door wide open. Our first restroom partitions were created at the request of customers. It was not a huge leap for solid resin partitions were already in the market and accepted but in those days “recycled” was often a scary word for the specifier. After all it was trash or garbage and sorting out the wrong resin types from bales of plastics was a huge undertaking. Cleaning that plastic was also challenging.

Yet over time technology came in and businesses that specialize in the initial stages of making post-consumer waste a reliable material. Along with volume and predicatability of supply quality came mainstreaming. For us, mainstreaming means partnering with specialized business entities – architects and interior designers to recommend the specifications and factories that already had a long track record in the engineering and fabrication of restroom partitions for example. With mainstream acceptance comes new competition but sometimes, what a company does – such as we commit Yemm & Hart to continue to make available – turns out to be too much trouble and not worth the cost (unless the project is so large that such additional costs are easily absorbed).

Origins 304 SF Natural  at NYC Parks, Olmstead Center

Origins 304 SF Natural
at NYC Parks, Olmstead Center

Today, while the product Origins has become a mainstream choice for restroom partitions and countertops, Yemm & Hart is still able to consider a project as small as one stall or a single vanity in a washroom, while at the same time able to meet projects as large as The Pentagon (in post 9/11 repairs), the Ohio DNR renovation of a former department store or a Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh. We are confident that we can handle any size of project because we have carefully selected the best partners to assist us in providing the customer with mainstream reliability.

~ Information Resources

“Wearable Tech Powered By Body Heat Could Be Reality” posted by Ryan Matthew Pierson on April 17, 2014 – http://wearableworldnews.com/2014/04/17/wearable-tech-powered-body-heat-reality/

“Wall Street Goes Green” posted by Michael Grunwald on August 28, 2014 – http://time.com/3204258/wall-street-goes-green/

“Origins 304 SF Natural at NYC Parks, Olmstead Center” – http://www.yemmhart.com/

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Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer

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