Greener Buildings & Palm Oil Problems

  • Orangutans are endangered because of poaching and because the rainforests where they live are being destroyed, increasingly for production of palm oil. (Photo by Flickr user sebr).

The Environmental Protection Agency just put out its list of the 25 most energy-efficient cities. These are cities that had the most Energy Star certified buildings last year. To earn the EPA’s Energy Star rating, buildings have to perform in the top 25 percent of buildings nationwide.

Detroit came in 9th on the EPA’s all-star list.

“Detroit did a lot of things right. They actually moved up six spots from 2009 so they should be congratulated on their improvements in energy efficiency.”

That’s Maura Beard. She’s with the EPA’s Energy Star program. She says this is the first time Detroit made the top ten list… with 151 Energy Star rated buildings.


“There are quite a few K-12 schools, there’s also the Theodore Levin Courthouse, the Coleman Young Municipal Center, you have a number of Kmarts, Verizon Wireless and Staples and a Sears store so you have some retailers that are really stepping up and seeing the value as well.”

The EPA’s report says an Energy Star certified building typically uses 35 percent less energy and releases 35 percent less planet-warming carbon dioxide than an average building.

Beard says owners of commercial buildings can save a lot of energy by making some changes that don’t cost much. Things like switching to more efficient lighting… and making sure office equipment is shut down at the end of the day.

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This is the Environment Report.

Two Ann Arbor teens are trying to save orangutans on the other side of the globe from becoming extinct. Orangutans have become an endangered species because of poaching and because the rainforests they live in are being destroyed. Lindsey Smith reports:

15-year olds Rhiannon Tomtishen and Madison Vorva became friends four years ago through Girl Scouts. They decided to work together to earn a bronze award.

“It was sort of selfish. I did want to wear, you know, that nice shiny pin on my Girl Scout vest.”

Tomtishen says they were inspired by researcher Jane Goodall. Instead of researching gorillas, they chose the endangered orangutan.

Orangutans’ habitat is in the rainforest in Asia. Ecologist Doug Boucher says the primates have fewer and fewer places to live as the forest is cut down.

“We traditionally think of deforestation as being done by peasant farmers, you know, cutting down a couple of acres of forest to plant their crops but in fact that’s not the case anymore.”

Boucher says big commercial farmers are using the land more and more to raise cattle and grow soybeans and oil palm trees.

Oil palm trees have a high yield compared to olive trees, corn, or other vegetable oil. You can find palm oil in bath and beauty products as well as thousands of processed foods including girl cookies.

Again, Rhiannon Tomtishen.

“So I felt motivated to continue this project and I think we also felt that because we were Girl Scouts and because this was an issue in Girl Scout cookies, we thought we were going to be able to make a change.”

So far, the teens have not been able to persuade Girls Scout of America to get the palm oil out of their cookies.

But they have been successful with Battle Creek-based cereal maker Kellogg’s. Kellogg’s owns one of the two companies that makes Girl Scout cookies. Kellogg’s announced they’d begin purchasing green palm certificates. The certificates give farmers who don’t cut down rainforests extra money.

At this point you can’t buy sustainable palm oil because it all gets mixed together before getting to buyers.

So these two Girl Scouts have stopped eating Girl Scout cookies and refuse to sell them.

For the Environment Report, I’m Lindsey Smith.