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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Green by Design: Skye Creative

Author's note: I'm so glad to be back at Greener after a long absence. During December and January, I took the big step of leaving my academic position, and striking out into the corporate world. It's been quite a transition, but now that I'm resettled, I want to get back to bringing you stories of people working to make the world a "greener" place.

Shea Gunther describes himself as "CEO of Skye Creative, Entrepreneur, Environmentalist, Father, Husband, Blogger" in the masthead of his "Musings of an Eco-Entrepreneur" blog. That he wears many hats should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the entrepreneurial lifestyle. What is surprising and impressive, though, is the mark that this 27-year-old has already managed to make in the worlds of green business and graphic design. In an industry that's responsible for up to 40% of North America's solid waste, Shea has envisioned and created a company devoted to not only "delivering cohesive design strategies that drive [Skye Creative] clients' bottom line," but also to creating those strategies in an environmentally sustainable manner. Just as his blog presents an individual playing many roles, Shea has built his year-old company around a "triple-bottom-line" mission that educates clients on the benefits of green business while providing profit-driven solutions to their design needs - all while adopting a "do little harm" philosophy of business success.

Despite his relatively young age, Shea's no stranger to the ups and downs of start-ups: after two years of college at the University of New Hampshire and the Rochester Institute of Technology, Shea joined fellow door-to-door book salesman Nate Wieler in a move to Chapel Hill, NC, and the start-up of Zoom Culture, a broadcast media dot com. Like many of these companies, the pair found intense investor interest, and managed to raise a total of $16 million. In the process, they also hired hundreds of employees, and made three programs that aired on television. Like so many Internet enterprises, though, a lack of revenue drove the small company into "dot bomb" status.

Undeterred, and now living in Boulder, CO, Shea's next venture, Renewable Choice Energy proved more successful. Started in the basement of co-founder Quayle Hodek's house, RCE grew into "a profitable provider of wind power to homes and businesses." In January, Shea announced on "Musings of an Eco-Entrepreneur" that RCE had landed a contract with Whole Foods Markets to purchase wind power green tags that would offset 100% of the company's projected energy use for 2006. The decision by Whole Foods made the company the largest purchaser of wind power offsets in the United States, and gave Renewable Choice Energy national exposure.

Shea's photograph published with the USA Today article on Whole Foods.

By the time of that announcement, though, Shea had married girlfriend Heather, and the couple had their first child. In order to spend more time with his new family, Shea left RCE to freelance as a graphic designer. As "an entrepreneur to the core," though, he began to look for another venture. The birth of Skye Creative, as Shea describes on his blog, carried overtones of Jerry Maguire:
One night I was having a hard time getting to sleep. I had finally settled my brain down and was in that hazy middle zone between being awake and asleep when the Big Idea came to me. The Big Idea that would be a nexus of three of my passions, business, great design, and the environment. I got up and turned on my laptop. In an hour I had worked out the rough idea for Skye Creative.
After several months of marketing research and refinement of the business plan, Shea launched Skye Creative. After a year in business, he's most proud of "still being around," but also of the impact the company's already made: "I'm very proud that even if we shut down tomorrow, we've made some impact by bringing up the issue of the environmental impact of what we do in the graphic design industry." The young company's also made an impact in the Boulder area with clients ranging from florists to publishers to a deep-sea diving company.

Despite a string of successes, Shea's clearly still has energy to spare: he launched "Musings of an Eco-Entrepreneur" with a 24-hour "blogathon," and will host another one alongside other green blogs on February 24-25 to raise funds for The Nature Conservancy. Despite the obvious demands of business and family, he still finds time to coach a high school competitive frisbee team. The company belongs to the Boulder Chamber of Commerce, and Shea's also active at Greenbusiness.net. Energy and passion clearly drive this young entrepreneur, and we'll be watching to see which hat he tries on next.

Jeff McIntire-Strasburg -- Guest Columnist
Greener Magazine

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8:51 PM

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Katrina Cottage

A conversation with architect Marianne Cusato

In the fall of 2005, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour announced a conference on Gulf Coast recovery, called the Mississippi Renewal Forum. Architect Marianne Cusato and her little creation that could, The Katrina Cottage became instantly recognized as an icon for the Charrette or design conference. Everybody loved the Katrina Cottage.

We spoke to Marianne Cusato recently and asked about her firm's involvement with the Recovery Conference, the design criteria and the future of sustainable housing technologies for rebuilding in the storm's aftermath.

A long time associate and protégé of conference organizer Andrés Duany, Cusato was given a design challenge, which at first seemed simple enough, come up with an affordable housing design that would blend with the gulf coast's tradition and style while remaining economically feasible for large scale redevelopment.

Their innovative solution was, at once, both simple and elegant. Taking the standard dimensions of a FEMA trailer, 14 feet by 22 feet or 308 square feet, they designed a single family home similar in style to the traditional "shot gun" house; a straight line structure with gable roof, double hung sash windows in a 6 light over 6 configuration. On the front of the home, to soften the appearance and create a warm, neighborly element she attached an 8' porch. The result is a well-proportioned cottage-like home that immediately evokes images of an old settled southern parish neighborhood filled with families, barking dogs, and tree lined avenues.

"Everyone loved the Cottage," the architect said as if slightly bemused at the thought. The attention Cusato's Katrina Cottage has received in the press has taken her by surprise. She thinks however that her design strikes a cord with folks who want to see their communities and neighborhoods returned to normalcy. The design of the Katrina Cottage does that in many ways, some subtle and some not so subtle but always, very personal. She told us her intention was to meet the conference requirements by building a traditional stick-built, affordable structure - it costs a modest $35,000. They used standard construction methods that would seem familiar to any contractor, and yet would utilize high performance materials such as a long lasting metal roof and "Hardie Board" siding, which reproduces a traditional clapboard appearance. While the use of non-traditional materials virtually eliminates the constant need for expensive, time-consuming maintenance.

However, beyond the exacting design considerations of scale and details like the open rafter tails and front porch rail seating there is a feeling you get from looking at the cottage that it is somehow familiar, as though you had seen it before. Perhaps the home of a favorite aunt or a friend's house you once visited as a child. The front porch beckons and we are all drawn to its human scale and warmth.

The cottage design may be replicated in three traditional styles and can be "re-skinned" with alternative roof styles, windows and other features thus suiting it for different locals and climate conditions. The design is modular as well and may be seamlessly expanded when conditions warrant or even placed on a wheeled frame and moved along streets and highways like a traditional mobile home.

We asked the architect if their decision to build with traditional materials and methods had as much to do with availability and access as with any consideration regarding sustainability. Her answer was simple and direct, "Any good design must also be sustainable or it is no longer good design." Apparently others think that as well the firm has been fielding a steady stream of inquiries regarding the Katrina Cottage, some of them from rather unusual sources. South Main on the River Park, a kayaker's urban initiative in Buena Vista, Colorado wants to build an attractive, sustainable and eco friendly community of homes on the river's edge for wild water enthusiasts. Others are looking at the Katrina Cottage concept for inspiration regarding inner city redevelopment and housing diversification projects.

Architect Cusato was quick to point out that although her design seems to solve some of the conference goals there were a host of other solutions, which were equally innovative and, like the Katrina Cottage, helped to make this Governor's event especially productive.

We'll have a follow up report next month when we take a further look at "good" design and the implications for sustainable, ecologically friendly development practices.

by Harlan Weikle
Greener Magazine

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3:18 PM

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The antiperspirant evolution

Concern regarding the use of antiperspirants has been a popular topic of discussion in the press recently. Research and consumer advocate groups routinely raise questions concerning ingredients, toxicity, long-term health risks as well as their effect on the environment.

The use of antiperspirants to control perspiration, a simple by product of our bodies’ natural temperature regulating process, is commonly used in western cultures to prevent rather than simply mask perspiration odour. The operative word “odour”, was the pivotal factor motivating ancient Egyptians to concoct fragrances by mixing citrus scents with spices that were pleasant to the senses. Ironically, in a virtual mirror example of social development an early, indigenous culture in Brazil known as The Bororo People, believed body odour was associated with the life force of a person, breath odor with the soul.

While the Bororo people used body odors as a social marker to identify individuals and their families, western society as early 1910 began marketing “deodourants” and “antiperspirants,” claiming “bad odour” was a hindrance to social success. By the mid eighties, a new consciousness began to emerge that focused on human and environmental health; people began to question the excessive use of chemicals in personal products and their cumulative effect on health and the environment.

Research now finds that there are indeed risks from the continued use of chemical ingredients contained in antiperspirants, ingredients such as; fragrance, BHT, propylene glycol, talc, silica, and peg-8 distearate are listed as potential hazards for gastrointestinal or liver function, causing a potential risk to the immune and nervous systems. So how can we control perspiration without exposing ourselves to the risks to our health or to social embarrassment?

There are antiperspirants on the market that are natural, chemical free, not tested on animals and environmentally friendly. Products such as ‘Herbal Magic,’ ‘Certain Dri Antiperspirant,’ and ‘Ban Classic Original’ antiperspirants have been assessed by the Environmental Working Group and pronounced to be products of “low” concern.

Another option, suggested in the book “How it all Vegan,” is to use a natural antiperspirant made from cornstarch and any essential oil of your choice. Using this “home” recipe ensures that your antiperspirant is completely biodegradable and the ingredients may be found in most households, which make it convenient as well as inexpensive.

For centuries, people have waged perfumed war on body odour by using fragrances from natural sources. Technological advances supplied us with a full arsenal of antiperspirants in a variety of applications from roll-ons to sprays, creams, pads and dry sticks, even gels, which promise to reduce or even eliminate perspiration. Today, however, people have begun to realize that technology’s attempt to address one social concern may have brought about another even more debilitating concern, the potential harmful affect on human and environmental health. If we are to overcome this potential risk to ourselves and the planet, it’s time, now, to take the initiative and educate ourselves, learn the issues and discover those natural products that are in harmony with the attempt to promote a healthy lifestyle for ourselves and the rest of the planet.

by Diane Cimetta
Greener Magazine

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7:40 AM