EarthTalk: Is it true that environmental non-profits
have been hit hard by the economic downturn, and has this
had an impact on their effectiveness?
-- Bridget W., Bainbridge Island, WA
groups are relying increasingly on volunteers to get
by as contributions and grants have dried up during
the economic downturn. Here two volunteers volunteer
last election day at the polls, trying to get petition
signatures to persuade Congress to make climate change
© Gregg Carlstrom, courtesy Flickr
of every stripe have been suffering from the economic downturn.
In a recent survey of 800 U.S.-based non-profits, 75 percent
reported feeling the effects of the downturn, with more
than half already experiencing significant cuts in funding
from both government and private foundation sources.
to a recently released report from Civic Enterprises and
the Democratic Leadership Council entitled “Quiet
Crisis: The Impact of the Economic Downturn on the Nonprofit
Sector,” few of these groups have strong reserves
to weather the downturn—more than half have less than
three months of operating funds on hand, while three-quarters
cannot make it six months on existing cash reserves.
the outlook is not promising. The Chronicle of Philanthropy,
which reports on trends in grantmaking, says that foundation
assets have declined by some 28 percent following the economy’s
nosedive; two-thirds of them expect to have reduced grants
significantly by the end of 2009. Many grantmakers have,
in fact, suspended grants altogether for the time being.
funding troubles, many environmental groups continue to
provide core services. According to the Environmental Grantmakers
Association (EGA), many cash-strapped groups are adapting
by using more volunteers to get their work done, and actively
seeking partnerships with other groups in order to make
the most of limited resources and share overhead costs.
And, of course, many green groups have cut costs through
hiring freezes, layoffs and forced reductions in pay and
hours for existing employees.
To Mark Tercek,
president of the non-profit Nature Conservancy, the silver
lining in the funding crisis for green groups is that it
forces them to operate more efficiently and focus on core
priorities: “Non-profits…have to be smart about
adjusting to a tougher economic environment, including setting
priorities,” he says. “If resources are going
to be constrained…then organizations have to ask the
questions: ‘What are we really best at? What are we
uniquely positioned to do?’” Tercek adds that
the recession also provides an “opportunity to connect
the economic stimulus to environmental matters.”
just what the Obama administration hopes to do. By encouraging
development of green technologies and services, the federal
government aims to leverage environmental progress for an
overall economic benefit. Most federal funding will go toward
incentives for businesses and homeowners to adopt greener
ways, but green groups with related expertise are in a good
position to benefit as well.
for green groups could come if Congress passes the Edward
M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which aims to flood non-profits
with some 250,000 volunteers each year in a program akin
to the Peace Corps but on the domestic front. Non-profits
are also seeking changes to the federal tax code to further
encourage corporate, foundation and individual donations.
Crisis Report; EGA;
EarthTalk: I am considering upgrading some
older appliances in my home. Where can I find information
on which models are the most energy efficient?
-- Jonathan Duda, Olivebridge, NY
one when shopping for new appliances is to look for
models emblazoned with the blue EnergyStar logo. This
helps you zero in on those that have been determined
by the federal government to be at least 10 to 25
percent more energy-efficient than conventional models.
There has never
been a better time to upgrade some of those older creaky
appliances that are gobbling up much more energy (or water)
than they need to in your home. Fortunately, most of the
sifting-through to find the best values has already been
done for you.
The first thing
to do when shopping for new equipment is to look for models
emblazoned with the blue EnergyStar logo. This helps you
zero in on those models that have been determined by the
federal government—EnergyStar is a joint program of
the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department
of Energy—to be at least 10 to 25 percent more energy-efficient
(and often much more) than conventional models.
for example, EnergyStar qualified models use 31 percent
less energy and 33 percent less water than conventional
machines while performing as well as or better, according
to EnergyStar. With clothes washers, EnergyStar models can
cut energy use by over a third and water use by half. EnergyStar-rated
refrigerators will cut electrical use in half, compared
to older machines made before 1993. With air conditioners,
the savings is there, too, though at a more modest 10 percent
over conventional models.
began in 1992 and first evaluated only computers and monitors,
is a great jumping off point for evaluating everything from
major appliances to home heating and cooling, lighting,
home electronics, office equipment and more. The EPA recently
extended the label to cover new homes and commercial and
After first zeroing
in on EnergyStar models, be sure to check out the accompanying
yellow EnergyGuide sticker, which gets down to the nitty-gritty
and estimates how much energy the appliance uses, compares
its energy use to similar products and lists approximate
annual operating costs. EnergyGuide labels also appear on
appliances not EnergyStar compliant. Visit the EnergyStar
website (address below) and immerse yourself.
Another way to help sort through the thousands of appliances
out there that are EnergyStar-compliant is by checking out
the Consumers Union (publisher of Consumer Reports magazine)
free Greener Choices website, which compares a wide range
of merchandise according to their relative environmental
provides detailed information on dishwashers, washers and
dryers, air conditioners, refrigerators and vacuum cleaners.
Each appliance is assessed in comparison to other models
via the website’s Green Buying Guides, which can help
consumers decide how green they should go. It also offers
up a series of calculators to determine the energy use of
your current appliances, new or old. By providing the efficiency
and price of various models, the site helps consumers decide
how much green “bang” they want for a specific
amount of bucks.