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In Lebanon: Building Resource recovery capabilities and a prefab house

At dMASS.net, we generally focus on resource input reductions rather than resource recovery or pollution and waste prevention for several reasons:
  • Recycling and waste reduction efforts are widely reported elsewhere.
  • Recycling often makes resource waste more economical. A variety of businesses and public entities become dependent on maintaining a flow of resource wastes in order to survive.
  • Ultimately, the only way to dramatically reduce waste is to reduce resource use in the first place.

Yet there is no question that using resources mined above grade uses significantly fewer resources than manufacturing products with virgin resources. And once in awhile a project comes along that is so outstanding it merits our attention. For example, Cedar Environmental of Lebanon, founded and headed by Ziad Abichaker, developed Eco-Prefab 1.0, an extraordinary prefabricated house constructed with 100 percent recycled materials.

I met Ziad last year when we were co-presenters at the Eco Meda conference on waste management in Barcelona.  Ziad has been building the social enterprise Cedar Environmental by engaging the citizens of many small Lebanese communities in resource recovery. No such efforts have ever been undertaken in these communities, and there is little or no waste management or industrial infrastructure to support such an enterprise. Yet he and his colleagues are creating a viable and growing business based on a commitment to the environment. Moreover, they’re transforming resources into products that meet the needs of the citizens of those communities. Ziad, an engineer, is designing the technology for an entire local resource ecosystem.

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dMASS Holiday Gift Giving

The scenes from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation replay in my mind every year during the holiday season. This year, I couldn’t help but think about the volume of resources used in the Griswold’s Christmas traditions as they cut Christmas trees, hang wreaths, string lights, and spread holiday cheer by sending cards and wrapping gifts.

The parallels to the real world are obvious: the mass of resources used every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas is staggering.

This year, Cyber Monday sales were up 33 percent over 2010 sales, setting a new record. It's hard to read the statistics and not wonder whether this increased economic activity has enhanced our lives - and if it has, by how much, for how long, and how many resources were put into circulation to generate the benefits from all this activity.

Fortunately, there is a dMASS trend afoot in gift giving! For example, today's electronics deliver more function with less mass than ever before. Gift card sales were even higher than those for electronics. With Groupon and Lifesta, recipients can use their virtual gift cards to access local deals. Gift Rocket "combines the thoughtfulness of a gift certificate with the flexibility of cash.” American Express and Visa have essentially the same offering, though they require the recipient to have a physical prepaid gift card in hand. Plastic Jungle, Card Pool, Gift Card Rescue and Card Woo are gift card exchanges where people can buy and sell unused gift cards.

Gift Simple acts as a sort of gift registry to leverage one’s social network and consolidate the gift giving and receiving process. Though tacky from a traditional standpoint, this gifting process does save resources if it helps create a better match between gifts and recipients. When people receive gifts they want and will actually use, fewer resources are wasted on manufacturing goods that sit idle, generating no benefits at all. It also means fewer resources wasted on shipping returns.

As Christmas nips at our heels and last minute shoppers struggle to identify the perfect gift, we have some suggestions to help. You can now gift apps , ebooks, subscriptions (e.g., Hulu, Netflix), a virtual library membership, spa experiences, or restaurant gift cards. Know someone who has everything? How about giving the gift of time or customized virtual real estate: give a domain name! If you need more ideas for a weightless gift giving guide, you can find useful articles on gifts you can’t unwrap here .

All of us at dMASS want to express our gratitude for your support during the past year. We wish you a joyous holiday season!

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Improving Resource Performance: An important business strategy for any company

If I were to ask you to name a product that uses fewer resources than its previous versions or models yet is more powerful or effective, you would probably identify an electronic device, maybe a phone or music player.  Products and services that deliver much more benefit with much less – things that reflect dMASS thinking - are fairly evident in the electronics industry.  But would you be surprised to find the same kind of thinking behind improvements in cat litter, roofing material, and laundry detergent? It's easy to overlook advancements from companies whose brands don't have direct contact with individual consumers, companies who make components for the things people buy.  But we’re interested in dMASS progress by companies working in less visible areas of the economy like commodities, materials manufacturing, and business-to-business.  Their actions speak to the financial value and long-term strategic importance of increasing resource performance.

We recently spent some time learning about AMCOL, one of the world’s leading producers of bentonite (a type of clay).  Though you likely haven’t heard of AMCOL (as they do not market their products directly to consumers), chances are you've encountered their products.  They've introduced several innovations that demonstrate how any company can employ resource performance improvements as a business strategy.

The first example is a material they process for a common household product – cat litter.  AMCOL is the company that developed clumping clay for scoopable cat litter.  A litter box holds about 10 to 15 pounds of material.  With traditional cat litter, all of the material is dumped and replaced after a few days.  With clumping clay, only the effected material has to be removed.  Usage drops down to about 2 ½ pounds per week, a 75 to 83 percent reduction in mass.  Multiply the savings times the number of feline pets and weeks in a year, and it becomes a very large number.  AMCOL is now exploring technologies for low-density laundry detergents that work in cold water, use no phosphates, and require little packaging.  The end result will be a product that requires much less mass than liquid laundry detergents, uses less fuel in shipping, and has less impact on wastewater.  The company also developed Strong Seal, a roofing underlayment manufactured from recycled tire crumb.  The product has higher insulating properties and better waterproofing performance than tar paper and is recyclable.  These are just a few examples of how, by developing new applications for materials and investing in research and development, this particular company is taking steps to improve resource performance.

Much of the focus on “green” or sustainable industries and products right now is on attractive consumer goods, prominent retail firms, cars and other high-profile goods, and what you might call principal sustainable industries, like clean energy.  If we are to achieve a sustainable economy, everyone needs to participate; we need radical resource performance improvements in every sector of the economy.  Gains in resource performance reflect improvements in both environmental and financial sustainability.  Companies can create a competitive advantage by developing products that use less mass and deliver needed functions better, an advantage that will only grow with rising fuel and resource prices and supply uncertainties.  Meanwhile, investors will benefit from understanding how the companies they invest in source, use, and are improving the performance of resources.

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