I ask this question to people from time to time.  I have pretty much always gotten the same answer, which is to say “Zero nights you moron, who sleeps in a bed with bedbugs?

I mean if you knew that the bed had an actual bedbug, let alone a freaking colony, once you get done screaming and running around stripping off your PJs, checking every inch of your body several times over, most sane people would bring out the flame thrower and torch their bed lest the nasty little creatures somehow escape and infest the entire room, apartment or house.

While pointing the nozzle of the flamethrower at said bedbug infested mattress may not technically be the greenest option out there, there are solutions that sometimes transcend the need to be ecologically sensitive.  Anyways I am sure you can buy a carbon offset for the burning bed.

So when, for example, I hear from one of my building managers that during a routine, annual smoke alarm/CO monitor swap out the nice tenants down the hall mentioned that they have had bedbugs for a year, and that there solution has been to smash the bugs and wipe their remains on the walls and then go back to sleep, and that the bedbugs were in their old apartment but thought when they moved, bringing of course their old mattresses WITH THEM TO THE NEW (i.e. mine) APARTMENT who would have thoguth that the bedbugs would be there too.

What are the odds?

Its not like this is the only bunch of Einsteins I have had lengthy discourse with regarding this subject.  I bought a building once, and the nice lady and her daughter who lived down a different hall showed me the water bottles that they sprayed on the bedbugs to “make them go away”.  That the bedbugs had been in the apartment for some years might have been a clue that away was not nearly as far as they thought it was, but who am I to point out such fine points?

So while sustainable living is always the preferred option, there are times when you need to break out the no holds barred chemical warfare gear.  Not mustard gas mind you, though it is appealing – your pest guy (if he does not totally suck) will be able to show you the right stuff and should have a cleaning protocol to follow.  But seriously, if you had these things in your home, would you just roll over and go back to sleep?


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The Garbage Goldmine

by Sustainable Nikos on August 2, 2011 · 0 comments

in Miscellaneous Schmidt

Throughout my time working for SRELP and blogging on “sustainablechmidt.com,” I have continually referenced my goals of reducing “black bin” or garbage waste and increasing the volume of compost waste. However, I have only touched on or vaguely mentioned my project without going into any detail about the nuts and bolts of my task. I refrained from providing detail because although garbage is an undoubtedly important area of our lives, it isn’t particularly exciting. However, having come to the conclusion of my garbage project, I can definitively say that garbage IS something that can be exciting.

Garbage can be exciting in that one can save a boatload of money through careful and responsible waste management. In the case of SRELP’s building garbage profile, for example, Helmut was spending $3,878.05 per month to provide garbage services for the 6 buildings he manages. At several building locations, he was providing more garbage space than his tenants required. Available garbage volume is calculated by adding up the volume of available bin space (2 96 gallon bins provide 192 gallons of available bin space) and multiplying that sum by the number of garbage pickup days per week.  2 96 gallon bins picked up 7 times per week=1344 gallons of weekly available bin space.

By traveling to each building location repeatedly over the course of 2 wees and recording the amount of available volume that was being used, I was able to determine that most of our buildings use far less space than we provide.  In other words, we were paying to provide garbage volume that wasn’t being used.  We then worked to come up with a new available garbage volume that would better fit the habits and necessities of our tenants.  Upon finding said number, we called and changed our building garbage profiles for 3 out of the 6 buildings that we manage.  The results were as follows:

Original price for waste management: $3,878.05 per month

New price for waste management: $2,479.37 per month

By reducing our garbage bin reliance and applying a more eco-friendly waste management program, we saved (and will continue to save) $1,398.68 per month.  If saving almost $1,500 per month doesn’t make you excited, then just think that you can save a lot of money AND save the environment by becoming more compost and recycling conscientious.

Signing off,

A very excited SRELP intern


Mission Accomplished!

by Sustainable Nikos on July 27, 2011 · 0 comments

in Miscellaneous Schmidt

I am back! Recently, I went to our building on Bush Street with Steven and one of his colleagues from the SF Department of the Environment. We traveled from door to door, offering compost pails to the residents.  2/3 of the residents we met took the compost pails! The other 1/3 of the residents told us that we were (and I quote) “barking up the wrong tree.” 15 of the 33 residents answered the door during our entire voyage through the building!  On the whole, 11 out of the 33 residents were at home and accepted the compost bins– a  33%starting point.  I still consider this mission a success for both economic and environmental reasons:

Economically, the introduction of the compost bins allows for a reduction of garbage pickups.  After traveling to Bush street regularly  to check the volume of garbage bin space that was being used with the SRELP group, we came to the conclusion that we could reduce the garbage pickup schedule by 3 days (which saved more than $800 per month).  The compost bin will provide a new space for biodegradable waste, giving us the ability to reduce our reliance on the black bin, which saved us money.  Fortunately, San Francisco’s Recology policies ensure that compostable and recyclable waste management is a free service.  In this way, we can divert what was once garbage volume into composting volume, saving money.

Environmentally, even a 33% increase in compost use is beneficial.  True, it’s less than we would have hoped– but I am certain that through persistent phone calls and communication with our tenants, we can still convince some of the Bush street residents to help us save our planet.

Next stop, compost at Guerrero!


I’ve been researching kitchen cabinets for my sustainable apartment kitchen project here at Sustainable Schmidt, and stumbled upon the main “green” certification for the kitchen cabinet industry: KCMA‘s Environmental Stewardship Program (ESP).  KCMA, the Kitchen Cabinets Manufactures Association, is an industry-based group with over 400 members that began in 1955.  It started it’s ESP certification program in 2006 “to help cabinet manufacturers demonstrate their commitment to environmental sustainability and help consumers easily identify environmentally-friendly products.” Cabinet companies that seek certification have to go through the ESP’s point-based certification process, that involves collaboration with a sustainable forestry program and compliance with the formaldehyde emission level of the California Air Resources Compwood ATCM.

While this stewardship program seems relatively strict, I found it curious that this certification process for the cabinet industry is sponsored by its industry-based organization.  When you consider the fact that KCMA was “founded with the goal of promoting growth for the entire cabinet industry and strengthening individual members,” it’s hard to see how the ESP can objectively evaluate this industry.  One wonders if this “certified green” stamp that manufacturers can label their products with is less informative and more a form of greenwashing.  The ESP does receive a third-party consensus from the American National Standards Institute, which somewhat alleviates my worries.  However, ANSI’s mission statement is to “empower its members and constituents to strengthen the U.S. marketplace position in the global economy,” so economic factors still have a louder voice than environmental ones.

It might be informative to compare the ESP to what many consider to be a truly rigorous and objective third-party

certification system, Cradle to Cradle Certification.  Brainchild of William McDonough, whose book I featured in my last post, Cradle to Cradle Certification “is a multi-attribute eco-label that assesses a product’s safety to humans and the environment and design for future life cycles.” The multi-tiered format of the C2C certification system, from Platinum down to Gold, Silver, and Basic, already demonstrates a big difference in the legitimacy between this and KCMA’s ESP, which lacks any sort of differential standards.  In fact, C2C’s highest Platinum certification is so rigorous that no products have yet achieved this award.  On the other hand, because their is only one standard certification within the ESP, their lacks any incentive for cabinet manufacturers to upgrade their processes above the required minimum, and fails to reward those that take extra steps in their processes to be more sustainable.

Unlike Cradle to Cradle’s required standards for each tier of certification, the ESP certification process follows a point-based system where not all possible points have to be undertaken to receive certification.  Thus, manufacturers can skimp out on accomplishing certain aspects of it’s resource processes or product management completely unchecked without and consequences.  Furthermore, applicants for the ESP only need to “self-certify” that they’ve achieved certain tasks by filling out various forms.  C2C appoints their own project manager to each applicant who is trying to receive certification.  Strange enough, in this article manufacturers have reported little to no added cost for compliance with ESP, which adds to the perception that this certification process might be too light on manufacturers, who barely need to change their processes to comply.

All these points strongly call to question the true sustainability of KCMA’s Environmental Stewardship Program.  Something doesn’t sit right with industry-groups regulating industry-groups.  This voluntary certification’s stamp can be misleading to customer’s who are looking for environmentally friendly products for their homes.  Greenwashing or not, in 2007 KCMA gathered that its manufacturers sold a total of $10 billion in certified products.  The monetary incentive to be “green” is there, and industries are finding ways to take advantage of that fact without having to change their processes and actually strive for environmental stewardship.  Not surprisingly, there are yet to be any Cradle to Cradle Certified kitchen cabinet products, even on the Basic level.


In addition to my internship here with Sustainable Schmidt, I’ve been spending some time interning with San Mateo County government for their Energy Upgrade program.  This statewide incentive program provides rebates for homeowners who want to increase the energy efficiency of their homes.  This program is unique in that it helps you to “upgrade” the comfort and efficiency of  the home as a whole – not just single products like PG&E’s rebates.  Each county in the Bay Area has their respective branches to this program.  Rebate amount goes from $1000-$4000, depending on how much you improve your efficiency by.  My goal by the end of the summer is to convince my dad to retrofit our home with this program.  With any luck, we’ll be able to combine them with other rebates and tax credits.  If you’re looking for a comprehensive list of all the different rebates in your area, check out the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency.

Ever really thought about what that tree in front of your house does for you? The Colorado Tree Coalition has written a comprehensive list of the Benefits of Trees in Urban Areas.  I understood the obvious benefits of urban forests like carbon sequestration and reduced run-off, but had never considered how trees in neighborhoods would strengthen its community, or helps slow traffic.

I’m halfway through Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough & Michael Braungart.  These two authors introduce an interesting concept for product life-cycle that draws inspiration from nature itself.  Rather than creating products that create unusable waste and degrade the natural environment, a product design that encourages integration of its life with the rest its environment.  For example, whereas conventional roofing degrades, overheats, and eventually has to be thrown away, green roofs covered in plants “maintain the roof at a stable temperature, providing free evaporative cooling in hot weather and insulation in cold weather, and shields it from the sun destructive rays, making it last longer.” William McDonough gave a good lecture on TED Talks of this design concept: