Archive for September, 2010

Walking the Walk

September 30, 2010 Leave a comment

Here at Combined Technologies, we take sustainability seriously and try to incorporate it in more than just our business. Jerry Thompson, the top dog here exemplifies this practice. He is pictured here with his wife Michelle, and their 2 children Regan and River in front of their house that sports solar panels. Not in the picture is their composting efforts or their hybrid car. They practice what they preach and make the effort to live a more sustainable lifestyle. Below is a recent article from the Chicago Tribune about the Thompsons and their solar panel project. Enjoy.

It’s not that easy going green.
Municipalities continue to straggle in permit process for alternative energy systems.

September 24, 2010|By Judith Nemes, Special to Tribune Newspapers

When Jerry Thompson wanted to put a row of solar panels on the roof of his family’s Mundelein ranch home last year, he thought it would take about three weeks to get a simple building permit from the Lake County Board. He was wrong.

It took closer to 10 weeks, some reinforcements necessary to strengthen the roof and $1,000 in unexpected costs for a structural engineer’s additional calculations to satisfy the board’s concerns.

“I guess they were just treading carefully because I was putting a lot of weight on the roof,” said Thompson, who eventually installed 24 solar photovoltaic panels for electricity and five panels propped up at a 30-degree angle for heating and hot water. “But they left me in the dark about how to deal with the process, and I certainly wasn’t expecting to spend an extra $1,000 on the engineer when you could see his first calculations were accurate. They obviously didn’t have much experience with solar energy.”

To address concerns about the sometimes confusing permit process for alternative energy systems, the Lake County Board is expected to vote this fall on a new ordinance for permitting wind turbines, said David Husemoller, a senior planner for Lake County. He added that an alternative energy task force recently developed a model ordinance for permit guidelines for solar and geothermal energy systems for the board to consider next.

While more homeowners and businesses are considering the benefits of adding alternative energy systems to their homes, the Thompsons’ frustration in seeking approval for their project from a local municipality that had little or no experience in this area isn’t uncommon. Similar incidents are occurring in many smaller cities and villages around Chicago where municipalities haven’t updated their regulations and codes to properly evaluate those types of inquiries.

Chicago, on the other hand, has explicit codes in its building permit regulations as well as a green permit process, which was designed to speed up permit approvals if certain eco-friendly features are in a new building or renovation project, including solar energy systems.

“In smaller municipalities, a property owner applying for a permit to install a renewable energy system on their roof would have no idea what they’d be getting into in the local regulatory process,” observed Mark Burger, president of the Illinois Solar Energy Association (ISEA),a nonprofit group that represents homeowners, manufacturers and installers. “In some cases, they might be the first ones in their area to ask for it, and they’d be the guinea pigs because there’s nothing in the codes and standards for how to proceed. In other areas, they might have no problem getting their permit request approved.”

He added: “Community leaders have to realize solar and wind power will become more pervasive no matter what, so they shouldn’t ignore this issue.”

Indeed, the annual Illinois Solar Tour, scheduled for Saturday, has more homeowners and businesses showing their solar energy systems to the public compared with last year.

Even Commonwealth Edison is encouraging homeowners in its Smart Grid Innovation Corridor to consider the merits of adding solar panels to their homes. The corridor encompasses Bellwood, Berwyn, Broadview, Forest Park, Hillside, Maywood, Melrose Park, Oak Park, River Forest and the Humboldt Park neighborhood in Chicago. In a three-year pilot project, ComEd is inviting qualified homeowners to apply for solar panels and receive credits on their utility bills if they use less energy than they produce.

The good news for homeowners and businesses pursuing alternative energy systems is that more municipalities are addressing the matter when it arises by crafting new standards to clarify what’s considered acceptable for installing solar and wind energy systems, said Burger. Minor tweaking of regulations already on the books is all that’s needed in some instances, he said. In fact, the ISEA and Illinois State University are planning a workshop early next year in Chicago to educate local elected and appointed officials and inspectors about developing and interpreting codes and standards for solar and wind installations.

Schaumburg approved a new ordinance in June that adds simple guidelines to its zoning code for height and location requirements for solar and wind energy systems installed by homeowners and businesses, said Tom Farace, a senior planner in the village’s Community Development Department. The village had no references in its existing codes to renewable energy.

When Brighton Car Wash in Naperville wanted to add a wind turbine to its roof this year, the City Council denied the request because the building code wasn’t clear-cut about how to evaluate the project, said Suzanne Thorsen, a project manager for the city of Naperville and author of a new ordinance that will give better guidance for approving installations of solar and wind energy systems.

“We had been hearing about other municipalities that were regulating wind turbines and solar panels in the last three years, and we decided it was time to get an ordinance on the books specifically for renewable technology,” said Thorsen. The City Council is expected to vote on the proposed ordinance this fall.

Ron Cowgill could have saved himself plenty of heartache last fall if Glenview had specific regulations dictating how business owners can mount solar panels on their buildings. Cowgill, owner of D/R Services Unlimited, a residential remodeling company that also installs clean energy systems, approached the village for a building permit to install six solar panels on the roof of his business. A village staffer told Cowgill he’d have to first submit drawings showing placement of a screen in front of the solar panels to block their view from the street because that’s required for air-conditioning units.

“The screen would have cast a shadow across the panels, rendering them useless because the sun has to hit all parts of it for it to work properly,” he said. “I also didn’t have enough space on the roof to set them back and out of view from the street.”

Cowgill ignored the village’s request and put the panels up in an awning fashion over the front windows of his business, hoping he wouldn’t be fined (he wasn’t). Since then, Cowgill reapplied and was awarded a permit in July after he complied with the commission’s request for minor adjustments to the panels.

Janet Spector Bishop, Glenview’s communications director, confirmed that all mechanical systems are required to be screened so they can’t be viewed from the ground in front of a building, and noted there aren’t any separate requirements for alternative energy systems. However, she said staffers are researching the issue and hope to make recommendations to the Village Board about how to issue permits specifically for newer clean energy systems.

Cowgill agrees the regulations should be updated.

“The village needs new policies for wind and solar installations,” he said. “They need to be classified separately from equipment because it’s not the same as an AC unit you stick on the roof. They also need to train building inspectors to know what to look for to make sure they’re safe up there.”

Lake County could probably benefit from training its inspectors to check on new renewable energy systems in the area. After Thompson’s solar installer completed the job at his home in Mundelein, he was surprised to find the Lake County inspector who showed up told him it was the first time he was inspecting solar panels.

“The inspector was meticulous about checking the wiring to make sure it was up to code, but he didn’t climb up on the roof, and he never went into the attic to check that the reinforcements we promised to make were actually there,” Thompson said.

Illinois Solar Tour

Anyone interested in getting a firsthand look at solar energy systems installed in homes and businesses can check out the annual Illinois Solar Tour on Saturday. The self-guided tour is part of a national event, during which homeowners and businesses will open their doors — and rooftops — and invite renewable energy enthusiasts to check out the variety of systems available.

This year, there are 185 participants in the Illinois tour, up from 150 last year, according to the Illinois Solar Energy Association, which is organizing the event. Close to 80 percent of the tour is concentrated in Chicago and outlying suburbs, and residences make up about 70 percent of the total. The rest are businesses and a smattering of churches, municipal buildings and schools.

At least one site in each geographic area of the state will have a docent available to provide information and answer questions.

Tours can be found online at

Representatives from the IBEW-NECA Technical Institute in Alsip will conduct a workshop demonstrating a hands-on installation of a solar photovoltaic system at its school at 8 a.m. (

Free tour books for the statewide event will be distributed at 17 Whole Foods Market locations throughout Illinois and can be downloaded from the ISEA’s Web site at

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Sustainable Packaging Forum 2010

September 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Sustainable Packaging Forum in Phoenix, Arizona. Over 300 people were in attendance representing some 270 companies to learn and share about the issues of sustainability in packaging. In a 2 day period 30 speakers presented information that was current and pertinent to the concerns of many in regards to the future of sustainability in packaging and the effects it has on our society and environment. The range was vast and the audience was thoroughly engaged.

During those 2 days I was able to snag 4 of the presenters to sit with me for brief interviews after their presentations. Posted here are those interviews and I want to thank the people involved for giving me the opportunity to ask them further questions about their concerns.

Interview #1

Ian Hanna
Director of Development
Forest Stewardship Council – US

Ian Hanna leads efforts to substantially increase the resources and capacity of the Forest Stewardship Council – US ( FSC-US)  at an economically challenging yet promising time, as FSC is experiencing unprecedented growth in the marketplace. Before joining FSC-US staff, Ian served as Director of Northwest Certified Forestry at Northwest Natural Resource Group (NNRG), a rural development non-profit, where he created programs for family woodlands certification. Prior to NNRG, Ian founded Windfall Lumber in Olympia, Wash., and he has worked for The Nature Conservancy of Washington, the Certified Forest Products Council, and the Certified Wood & Paper Association. He was also a member of the FSC-US Board of Directors from 2007-2009.

What is your biggest challenge at FSC?
In North America as a whole, supply of FSC-certified pulp and solid wood products has really hit a critical mass in the last couple years. There are over 130 million FSC-certified acres in North America. And with big new opportunities, such as the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement specifying “FSC or better” for the bulk of Canadian forests, we expect this supply to continue growing. But in specific regions – like the Southeastern United States – it can be tough to find FSC-certified pulp suppliers. This is the biggest way the packaging industry can help: Ask your suppliers for FSC-certified corrugated and other packaging. Send a demand signal.

What is your biggest point of resistance?
Companies like Home Depot, IKEA, Nike and Office Depot state a preference for FSC in their procurement policies, and the environmental community supports FSC as the gold standard of certification. But among some, there is still debate about FSC vis-a-vis other certification programs. We think the debate will subside over time, as retailers and other companies realize that FSC is the only standard to protect brand integrity and reduce risk related to use of forest products. And not only that, but highlighting other certification programs can actually increase risk with some audiences – those conscious consumers who increasingly drive brand value. To many conscious consumers, using any certification other than FSC sends a message that the retailer is following a path of least resistance. Basically, it says “our use of forest products is barely legal,” which is obviously the exact opposite of what a retailer would want.

What is the value of FSC certification to packaging manufacturers?
FSC certification is a way to differentiate your product, demonstrate alignment of values with your customers, and elevate the value of packaging in the eyes of the end consumer. And for many companies, FSC certification is a requirement to be considered as a supplier, because they have a procurement policy in place. Basically, it provides access to new market opportunities.

How does FSC bring more meaning to the package?
FSC certification sends a message that the packaging comes from a well managed forest. It imbues a range of value that conscious consumers understand: care for the planet, integrity, democratic and transparent decision making. At this point, the niche is small, but significant, since these same consumers are driving growth in demand. At FSC we have a core belief: Where we use forests, we have a responsibility to use them well. We know many consumers share this belief. And we know time is on our side. More consumers are trying to understand the impact of their purchases on the planet and on people. As they do so, they are looking at all aspects of a purchase, including the packaging. So adding meaning to the package is already important. And this importance will only grow over time.

At what rate does FSC raw material go back to regeneration in comparison to removal for product?
There is really no difference between FSC and the conventional market. Not sure this question is really all that relevant or important.

What efforts does FSC take to educate the consumer?
FSC is developing a consumer-facing education platform that will roll out over the coming year. In the past, we have engaged consumers through our retail partners, environmental nonprofits and the rest of the FSC network. We wanted to make sure the supply was in place before we pushed to increase demand. We’ll continuing working with our partners, of course, but now that we have hit a critical mass of supply, we are also ramping up our own consumer education efforts. Stay tuned for major consumer promotions next year.

Interview #2

Scott Mouw
North Carolina State Recycling

Scott Mouw has 22 years of professional recycling experience, including four years as Solid Waste Director for Franklin County, N.C., and 18 years with the State of North Carolina. He supervises the State of North Carolina’s recycling program, which uses a broad range of policy, technical assistance, outreach and funding tools to increase material recovery across the state and simultaneously grow North Carolina’s economy.

Scott is a long-standing board member of the Product Stewardship Institute, the Carolina Recycling Association, NC Keep America Beautiful, and the Southeast Recycling Development Council and is involved in many activities to strengthen public and private sector networks to increase material recovery.

He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign and a master’s degree and a master’s in public administration from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill.

With frustration in local and state government in regards to recycling, should this issue go under a national mandate?

I feel this would be politically impossible to execute especially in a short term effort. What we need to see is the states work with the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) on a plan to execute such a commitment.

Should recycling be treated similarly to littering – that is, should fines be implemented for non-recycling in order to move this effort forward?

I feel it would be more considerable to offer a financial incentive for recycling efforts as the reward method does seem to be a more positive method that works.

Do you find that consumers want recycling efforts escalated or is apathy to this issue growing?

Consumers definitely want to recycle. When you put the choice in front of the public, they choose recycling every time.

Interview #3

Jason Metnick
Senior Director, Market Access & Product Labeling
Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI Inc.)

Jason Metnick is the senior director of market access and product labeling for the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI Inc.) program, a third-party forest certification system in North America. The SFI standard, one of the largest sustainable forestry certification programs in the world, is based on principles and measures that promote sustainability including measures to protect for water quality, biodiversity, wildlife habitat, species at risk and forests of exceptional conservation value.

As Senior Director for SFI Inc., Jason works directly with companies in the wood, paper and packaging supply chain including forest landowners, manufacturers, merchants, lumberyards, dealers, wholesalers, converters, printers and end users to promote the SFI program and assist with third-party forest certification and on-product labeling.

In addition to brand recognition, Jason also oversees the Office of Label Use and Licensing.  The SFI Office of Label Use and Licensing encompasses over 260 companies, universities, conservation groups and state agencies that represent close to 200 million acres (more than 68.8 million hectares) of forestland across North America.  The Office of Label Use and Licensing administers the rules and procedures for SFI on-product label usage.

Jason holds a bachelor’s of science degree in forestry from Northern Arizona University and is a member of the Society of American Foresters.  He also sits on a number of committees related to certification, labeling and claims, including the Programme for Endorsement of Forest Certification’s chain-of-custody committee and the Center for Resource Solutions’ Purchasers Advisory Committee. He also is a member of Walmart’s Sustainable Value Network for Wood & Paper products and chairs the ASTM task group on chain of custody.

Why should a manufacturer go to your organization on stead of say the FSI?

There will be some suppliers that are SFI certified, some that are FSC certified, and many that are dual certified.  Both SFI and FSC are great programs, and if the end result is a company wants to know the wood fiber comes from a responsible or legal source, both SFI and FSC can achieve that.

You mentioned in your presentation that there is overselling. Is there overselling to the consumer?

All SFI on-product labels have the SFI website, so a consumer or end user can gather more information on what the SFI program and that label represent.

How does SFI management measure the value of its organization and message?

SFI publishers a annual report each year that tracks the number of acres certified to the program as well as the number of new chain of custody certificates.  To view this year’s annual report, check out

What is the length of your certification process?

That can vary from applicant to applicant depending on where they are in the process and what they know and understand about it.   It can be anywhere from a month to a few months.

Interview #4

Sara Hartwell
Senior Policy Advisor
EPA Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery

Sara Hartwell is a Senior Policy Advisor in EPA’s Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery.  She is an analytical chemist, focused on materials management issues.  She manages EPA’s Waste Reduction Model (WARM), a life-cycle perspective tool for estimating the energy conservation and greenhouse gas emissions reduction benefits of five alternative materials management scenarios.  She developed a derivative tool, the individual Waste Reduction Model (iWARM), a consumer-facing life-cycle perspective tool for estimating the energy conservation benefits of recycling, rather than landfilling, individual products.

Sara is on the Executive Committee of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition and the Steering Committee for Walmart’s Packaging Sustainable Value network.  Currently, much of her work is focused on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) discussions with state governments and producers of consumer packaged goods.

What progress has the EPA seen in the management of waste in the last 5 years and what caused them?

Recycling rates have increased and there has been gains in some of the materials collected. Also we have to realize that with more people contributing to waste pick up and recycling efforts comes more waste.

How informed does the EPA feel today’s consumers are on the subject of waste, recycling and composting?

Interest is there and it flows outward through the media to consumers regarding all the mentions and references to “Going Green”. Clearly there is interest in this subject and consumers always need access to recycling as they know it is a positive for the environment without a huge financial investment.

Do you feel that the consumer is effectively educated on package recycling?

Simply put, there is always room for improvement in this regard.

What should retailers and manufacturers be doing to communicate to consumers about recycling?

Retailers, brand owners and package manufacturers should work together to communicate the importance and value of recycling together in some sort of proactive way. This is something they need need to do as a group effort.

So there you have four different speakers with views that are reflective of the efforts and concerns today in paper packaging material harvesting, recycling and waste management. Our interest now is to see how the recipients of the conference take with them the information presented and in what ways they implement their discoveries.

To learn more about our packaging efforts and offerings at Combined Technologies, Inc. go to

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Not Wasting Any Time.

September 2, 2010 Leave a comment

Recently there was an article posted on about recycling and composting efforts in San Francisco. In 2008, through recycling and composting, the city diverted 77% of its garbage from landfills – a national record. In 2009 the city instituted a mandatory recycling and composting program for all residences and businesses. Composting rose 45% since then measuring 600 tons of compostable material a day compared to 400 tons a year ago. This is truly an amazing effort.

When we work with clients we try to confirm their interest in sustainable packaging. In explaining to them the plus side of packaging their products in a more sustainable configuration we notice a certain amount of fear on their part. Change can be difficult for some and not all our contacts have the authority to make these changes so readily. What should we do then?

Part of what we tell them is to simply rethink the materials they specify. Some are more prone to a recyclable nature than others and can be used without a noticeable difference. Others may cost a bit more due to availability or quantities. Either way a step in the right direction would be made. A big consideration to this equation is the issue of recycling and what materials are used. On a recent tour of a waste facility we noted that although all plastic was taken, the only plastic used in recycling was pop, milk and water bottles. With that said, an effort to get municipalities on board in regards to recycling need to start. Another day, another story to tackle. In the meantime, consider your packaging and what steps, no matter what size, you want to take.

As a footnote to this entry, we have a huge bag of clamshell samples we were planning to take home and put in the recycle bin. Then we realized that it would just all end up in the landfill. So, we’re going to grind them all up and transport and sell them back to the extruder to go back into production.

A step in the right direction.

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