First Solar and SolarCity
It's been estimated that the Earth absorbs as much energy from the sun in one hour as all human activity consumes in an entire year.
So why not just give an award to the sun? Because we can't harness that energy in a highly affordable, efficient way. Yet.
The past year has seen a number of technological breakthroughs that have reduced the cost of manufacturing photovoltaic panels, which means that the upfront cost of installing them is coming down sharply. That means that -- with the help of government incentives -- more homes and businesses will power up without the use of coal-fired power plants, or the electrical grid at all.
One of the most promising developments has come from First Solar (the company with the very encouraging tagline, "lowering the cost of solar electricity"). The company is using the high-tech equivalent of a printing press to pump out thin film solar panels that can easily be installed for a variety of uses. Remember history lessons about the printing press: It made widespread literacy not only possible, but a social necessity.
Another promising development came from SolarCity which removed the upfront costs of installing solar panels altogether by offering homeowners the option of leasing them. Homeowners benefit from reduced energy costs that offset the monthly cost of the lease, and don't have to fret over the installation or equipment costs.
The best part? These two companies are working together to popularize solar energy across America. That's a partnership that has Heart of Green written all over it.
Summer Rayne Oakes
For too long in the marketplace, "green" was synonymous with one of two things cheap and dirty (like hand-me-down sweaters), or highly designed and way too expensive.
Summer Rayne Oakes is among those pioneers creating a third category: affordable and stylish.
Oakes has made a career of cause-related modeling and innovative activism in support of sustainability. She is the author of Style, Naturally: The Savvy Shopping Guide to Sustainable Fashion and Beauty and she is a spokesperson and host for Planet Green, Discovery's 24-hour green television station. It's not the career most would imagine from a Cornell University-trained entomologist.
In April 2009, Oakes launches a line of environmentally sustainable shoes with Payless under the label Zoe & Zac. They're made with organic cotton, linen and hemp, use only water-based glues, recycled rubber and other environmentally sound materials.
Affordable? Check. Stylish? Check. Heart of Green? Check.
Burt's Bees and Haagen-Dazs
When the U.S. honey bee population began to crash, many started worrying about colony collapse disorder costing us big -- seeing as how about one-third of the crops we grow rely on pollination.
But two national companies looked at their own livelihoods and realized that they, too, relied on honey bees. Perceiving the threat not only to the ecosystem but their bottom lines, Burt's Bees and Haagen-Dazs did something about it.
Haagen-Dazs ice cream wouldn't have all those delicious flavors without the crops bees pollinate. So the company launched an advertising campaign and Website (helpthehoneybees.com) to educate the public about the crisis and offer ideas for things we can do to help (like planting a bee-friendly garden). Oh, and they ponied up $125,000 to the University of California-Davis for a model bee garden.
Burt's Bees meanwhile donated 5% of the sales from one beeswax product to colony collapse disorder research -- dollars that are sorely needed as scientists amp up their research capacity for this beguiling and complex malady.
For using some corporate clout to benefit the bees, both companies deserve a Heart of Green.
To go green -- to really go green and really make a difference -- you should just be a hermit and not buy anything. Right?
Wrong, says Diane MacEachern, who has been making waves showing women how to spend the same amount of money, but spend it better. Her goal: Inspire 1 million women to shift $1,000 of their current budget to environmentally friendly products. Why? Those little ripples of household spending would cause a $1 billion tsunami in the marketplace, inspiring manufacturers and retailers to sell more green merchandise.
Her One in a Million campaign is just one offshoot of a project she calls the Big Green Purse -- which is also a book and (proud conflict-of-interest disclaimer alert!) blog shared with The Daily Green.
Diane, your $1 billion green idea deserves a big a Heart of Green.
The X Prize Foundation
Most awards honor past achievement or invest in new research. The X Prize Foundation just dangles $10 million and waits for entrepreneurs to earn it.
For its Automotive X Prize, sponsored by Progressive Insurance, the X Prize Foundation aims to "inspire a new generation of viable, super-efficient vehicles that help break our addiction to oil and stem the effects of climate change." Specifically, it will reward one of 111 qualifying teams for producing a vehicle that can achieve 100 mpg fuel economy in a rigorous field test.
The average U.S. passenger car in 2008 got just over 31 mpg (and the average SUV just 23 mpg). In other words, you will be able to drive three to four times as far on a tank of gas in the vehicle that wins the Automotive X Prize, versus in the average car today. For setting the bar so high -- and rewarding those who will provide us the car of the future -- the X Prize Foundation deserves a Heart of Green.
World of Good
What's better than bringing together 200 ethical artisans and 20,000 eco-friendly and fair trade products in one marketplace?
Opening that marketplace to a ready-made audience of 84 million buyers who spend $60 billion every year.
That's what World of Good is all about. The marketplace was conceived of by Robert Chatwani and Priya Haji (pictured) as a place -- in a nutshell -- to connect ethical consumers with the good people creating ethically produced and environmentally sustainable stuff. The connective tissue is supplied by none other than eBay -- the pioneering online auction house and retailer. (Proud conflict-of-interest alert! Ebay is a sponsor of The Daily Green's first annual Heart of Green awards ceremony, but the staff of The Daily Green had selected World of Good as a nominee before that sponsorship had been discussed.)
Launched in Fall 2008, the "worldofgood.com by eBay" has the right mindset and the right infrastructure to transform the marketplace and elevate fair trade, ethical and sustainable goods to a mainstream audience. World of Good and eBay deserve a Heart of Green.
When we clean, we just want to get rid of dirt and grime. We don't want to breathe suspect chemicals. That's why green cleaning, whether with baking soda, vinegar and other DIY home recipes, or with a commercial cleaner makes so much sense.
Several good cleaners have been on the market for years, but Clorox made a big spritz with the introduction of its Greenworks line of nontoxic cleaners. With its marketing muscle and retailer relationships, Clorox amped up the market for green cleaners in a big way, raking in an estimated $40 million in first-year sales -- without taking a cent away from older brands on the market.
That's what mainstreaming green is all about, and Clorox -- whatever other cleaners it might still be selling -- deserves kudos.
Alliance to Save Energy
Hey, buddy! Want to save $12,000 on your next tax bill?
Sounds improbable, but if you invest in energy efficiency improvements, you can save that much or more on taxes. A new energy efficient window and a hybrid car here, a solar-powered hot water heater and geothermal heating and cooling there... it really adds up.
While we can thank our hardworking elected representatives for the help, this is one case where we really need to thank the lobbyists. And when it comes to energy efficiency, The Alliance to Save Energy deserves a lot of credit. The group organized a campaign to pressure Congress to retain and expand energy efficiency tax credits that benefit homeowners, hybrid car buyers and other regular people. Not only that, but the nonprofit organization provides useful guidance about how regular people can actually make sense of federal tax laws.
For giving us the tools -- and cash -- we need to go green, The Alliance to Save Energy deserves our thanks.
Nalgene, Wal-Mart and Toys R Us
Anyone watching chemical regulation has to wonder just who is looking out for us? Independent scientists discover worrying things about chemicals widely used in consumer products, advocacy groups publicize the findings...and then, often, nothing happens. The chemical industry stands behind its product, and the government, often, sits on its hands.
But when news began to circulate widely about Bisphenol A's reported propensity to mimic estrogen in 2008, Nalgene stopped using it to make its reusable plastic water bottles and Wal-Mart pledged to stop selling baby bottles made out of plastics that used it. When similar concerns about the hormone-mimicking qualities of phthalates began to get the attention of certain legislators in California, Wal-Mart and Toys R Us decided to stop selling baby products that contained the chemical.
True, concerns about these chemicals weren't new -- they just had never before been so widespread. But these retailers and manufacturers still managed to act more nimbly to prevent unnecessary exposure than the chemical makers or the government. For that, they deserve credit.
There's the Little Engine That Could, and then there's the very little car that did.
U.S. consumers looking for a fuel-efficient car have had basically the same choices for several years -- but the introduction of the 2009 Smart gave car buyers a new spunky choice. At 33 mpg in the city and 41 mpg on the highway, the Smart ranks No. 5 on the list of most fuel-efficient 2009 cars and SUVs.
Plus, it's a parallel parker's dream. Nice job, Smart (Now, watch out for the sporty, tiny Fiat 500, which Chrysler may be bringing to the market if and when it merges with the Italian automaker). For giving consumers more choice and a whole new look, the Smart Fortwo deserves a Heart of Green.