A Sampling of Potential Green Business Opportunities
Green business development is the ultimate ambition of the Green University® LLC internship program. Whether you are interested in small-scale, short-term enterprises or a full-time green career, the internship program is the place to discuss and develop green business concepts with Thomas J. Elpel and like-minded interns. It is our goal to recruit a small army of motivated ecopreneurs to enter the business world to make a large-scale demonstration that green business is good business.
Previous interns are earning lifetime royalties from projects such as illustrating Tom's book Roadmap to Reality and co-starring in the Art of Nothing Wilderness Survival video Canoe Camping: On a song and a paddle. Other interns have manufactured and sold hundreds of bowdrill and handdrill fire kits. We have also seriously considered profit-sharing house-construction enterprises with past interns. We have lots of green business ideas to develop already, or you can explore completely new frontiers of your own imagining. There is no obligation to launch a green business project while at Green University®, LLC, although you may be asked to help out with new or existing enterprises.
At Green University® LLC interns have the opportunity to dive into a wide range of wilderness survival skills, self-sufficiencient living, and world-changing green business projects, including:
Publishing | Earth Skills | Architecture | Energy | Transportation | Recycling
1) People generally make positive decisions when they know what the choices are, but few individuals or businesses realize that ecologically friendly choices can be achievable, practical, and more economical than conventional choices.
2) Although we may lose half of all life on earth in the next few decades, few people know enough about nature to notice any difference.
Green University® LLC Solutions: The most important step to changing the world is to articulate the vision. Quality nature guides can help people to connect with the earth in a way that will inspire them to become motivated ecopreneurs who will make real change in the world. But green publishing is only effective if it is backed up by real-world experience where ideas are put into action. For this purpose, published content must cover the big picture of creating a sustainable world at a profit, along with more specific details on creating sustainable businesses, shifting consciousness, plus how-to manuals on green building and green living:
- Publishing: We do our own publishing through HOPS Press, LLC. We are working to raise awareness about the natural world and sustainable solutions through a variety of media including books, videos, audio programs, articles, and through content on the world wide web.
Students at Green University® LLC have the opportunity to participate directly in the research, development, and marketing of new books and videos. For example, Tom is working with former intern Brandon to develop a database-style key for plant identification.
- Website Development: Quality website development has the potential to initiate more change more quickly than most other mediums. If you like what we are doing and want to assist with website ideas and development, please Contact Us so we can figure out how to work together. We are always able to trade books or hands-on instruction for good help!
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Earth Skills Education
1) People don't know enough about the natural world around them to be good stewards or to be able to see through the confusing media messages for and against environmental issues.
2) Even in rural places like Montana where kids have always played in the great outdoors, young people are too distracted with video games, entertainment centers, and activities in town to wonder or care about what is in the creek or fields, or on the other side of the mountain.
Green University® LLC Solutions: The only way to have good advocates for nature is to get people involved in nature. We are working on this issue on several levels varying from earth skills education for kids in public schools, to our Internship program, and the development of a curriculum guide that can be used to help people better connect with nature:
- Earth Skills Education in the Schools: Through our business Hollowtop Outdoor Primitive School, LLC we have been working with the local schools to get kids out of the classroom for hands-on instruction in earth skills education. We have taken elementary kids out for day-long field trips, and brought the junior high kids out for overnight trips.
Green University® LLC students can help apply for grants to help fund the continuing operation and expansion of this program for the public schools. Green University® interns can also help out as assistant guides on outings. Please see Hollowtop Outdoor Primitive School, LLC's K - 12 Class Schedule for additional information.
- Outdoor Skills Curriculum Guide: We are in the initial stages of developing an Outdoor Skills Curriculum Guide that will be usable by public schools anywhere to systematically provide hands-on training for kids to become comfortable in the outdoors. The idea is to provide a guide that ties into existing school curriculum with hands-on exercises that enable proficiency in the outdoors while stimulating an ethic of stewardship. There will be activities for kids in every grade level. Students who have the benefit of participating every year through school, even if only for one day each year, will have a well-rounded exposure and basic competence by the time they graduate from public school.
Green University® LLC students have the opportunity to participate in the development of this curriculum guide. (See also Green Publishing.)
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1) To achieve a sustainable economy we need to put a cork in essentially every fossil fuel smokestack in the world, including the exhaust flues from every house and business.
2) To protect open space and biodiversity, we need to build new houses and roads only in places where they belong-- as part of existing or strategically placed communities, not in sprawling subdivisions or in biologically important sites.
Green University® LLC Solutions: We are working to construct new buildings to "net-zero" standards, that need no fossil fuel inputs once completed, developing only in appropriate places, and also researching options for retrofitting older buildings for greater efficiency:
- Net-Zero Construction: In net-zero construction, buildings are designed to produce as much energy as they consume. Construction emphasizes energy efficiency and passive solar design, combined with active solar panels (or another green energy source) to generate electricity. These buildings might be connected to the grid, but the electric meter runs both forwards and backwards, averaging zero consumption over the course of a year. Such houses are already being built, but they need to be mass-produced at a low cost from low-maintenance materials. It is okay if the building process is somewhat energy intensive, as long as the end product is a net-zero structure. If buildings were made that way in the past, then we would not be facing an energy and climate crises today.
Students at Green University® have the opportunity to get hands-on experience in the development of net-zero passive solar stone, log, and strawbale homes and buildings. Our previous project was a low-cost, solar heated stone house built out of mostly recycled materials. It is our goal to eventually launch a commercial construction business that will market both high-end and low-end net-zero buildings, with advertising that will raise consumers expectations, so that they will demand net-zero construction from other builders as well. (See also our Sustainable Living Page.)
| Built by Green University® LLC interns out of mostly recycled materials, this house has a daylight basement (not visible from this side), plus a main level, a large loft, insulated garage and greenhouse.|
Green Homes For Sale.com Buy or Sell Green or Healthy Homes.
GreenFloors.com Enviro-friendly flooring options.
- Habitat Conscious Development: Where a building is placed is just as important as how it is constructed. New developments often chop up critical habitat, imperiling native plants and animals while damaging scenic and recreational qualities for everyone else. Those who seek to be closer to nature are often the first ones to hack into our remaining wild spaces. Conscientious developers are needed to put new buildings where they belong, conserving habitat for wildlife and for human enjoyment. Preserving habitat this way can lead to higher profits, as smart development often fetches a higher price on the marketplace. Students at Green University® LLC have the opportunity to help launch our construction business to build new houses only in places where houses belong.
Sewanee Creek Village Most of the property is set aside for conservation.
- Retrofitting Existing Structures: When all new buildings are constructed to net-zero standards, then we will still have to retrofit all the existing buildings so that they no longer require fossil fuel inputs. Students at Green University® LLC sometimes have the opportunity to participate in energy-efficiency retrofits in older buildings. Each year we try to do at least one energy-efficiency project, anything from installing LED lightbulbs to caulking, weather stripping, adding in double door "airlocks," upgrading windows, or improving roof insulation. We have also dismantled and recycled old trailerhouses and utilized the insulation to upgrade other structures. Experience from projects like these will help us to eventually retrofit old buildings to net-zero standards.
- Green Building Publishing: The results of our green building projects are published on our websites as well as in books and videos through HOPS Press, LLC to help spread the word about better building practices. (See also Green Publishing.)
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1) To build a sustainable world we need to use energy more efficiently and switch from fossil fuels to green energy sources like solar, wind, and biofuels.
Green University® LLC Solutions: Conservation is the most important step to maintain quality of life without requiring so much power, followed by green energy development to replace fossil fuels. Wind power and biofuels like wood waste are already very economical, but solar has the greatest long-term potential to free us from fossil fuel dependence:
- Photovoltaics & Wind Power: We are already on the cusp of a green energy revolution as advances in photovoltaic technologies continue to bring the price of solar energy down almost as fast as the price of computing. Solar panels are popping up on more and more buildings and will blossom on virtually every structure once the cost crosses the threshold that makes solar electricity cheaper than fossil fuel electricity. It is not a question of "if" but "when" the threshold will be crossed. We have already installed enough solar panels on the Elpel residence to generate as much electricity as the place consumes. (Read the articles Building a House on Limited Means and We've Gone Solar! for more information.)
Green University® LLC students have the opportunity to participate in the construction of new energy efficient buildings, the retrofitting of older buildings, and the eventual installation of solar and wind power on these projects. (See also Green Architecture.)
Related Links: The Solar Catalyst Group is seeking to harness market forces to bring the cost of solar electricity down to a competitive level with fossil fuels.
- Home-Scale Incinerator-Boiler Systems: The Elpel house includes a wood-burning cookstove with a boiler system, which converts waste paper, tree trimmings, and wood waste into hot water and cooking heat. We are interested in developing a more mainstream version of the household incinerator-boiler to supplement solar hot water heaters. Any waste paper and wood scraps that cannot be recycled otherwise would be diverted from the trash to the incinerator-boiler to generate hot water, especially useful in cloudy weather when solar hot water is not an option. Green University® LLC students may have the opportunity to develop and market this product if they are interested.
- Waste-to-Energy Electrical Generation: We are constantly seeing large piles of scrap wood and tree trimmings that are either land-filled or torched for disposal. It makes more sense to divert this clean wood waste to scaled down waste-to-energy systems as a source of renewable power for dozens or hundreds of homes. It would be easier and far more economical to produce lots of small waste-to-energy incinerators to distribute over a wide area, than to make fewer, more centralized plants. Green University® LLC students may have the opportunity to develop and market this product if they are interested.
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1) We need to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels, including to replace essentially every existing car and truck with ecological alternatives such as compressed air cars, gas-electric hybrids, hydrogen cars, and biodiesel.
2) The average meal travels 1,500+ miles from farm fields to the dinner table. Organic food often travels even farther, and both organic and factory farmed foods are increasingly being shipped from the other side of the world. We need to shorten product distribution networks to make more efficient use of fuels.
Green University® LLC Solutions: High efficiency and alternative energy vehicles such as plug-in hybrids and compressed air cars are rapidly being developed for mainstream markets. the meantime we can utilize what we do have: hybrid-electric vehicles that use less gas, along with biodiesel as a low-cost fossil fuel substitute, plus we can develop circular distribution networks to reducing shipping costs:
- Gas-Electric Hybrids: In the 1980's Rocky Mountain Institute envisioned 150+ mpg gas-electric hybrid cars made from ultralight, safe and durable fiber composite materials. They gave their ideas freely to interested automotive, aircraft, computing, and start-up companies. Then they started playing all these companies off of each other, suggesting that to keep up with the competition, they should be investing research dollars into these new technologies. The result is that at least some of their ideas have come to market in the form of gas-electric hybrid vehicles, with regenerative braking and fiber composite car bodies yet to come.
Plug-in hybrids will make it possible to charge up of the grid, or from alternative energy sources like solar. In a power outage, it is even possible to reverse the flow of energy to power lights and essential appliances in a house with the gas generator and batteries of the car.
- Hydrogen Cars: The first hydrogen powered cars on the market will likely include on-board reformers for stripping hydrogen from natural gas. Homeowners will be able to fuel up right at home, and the fuel cell may be used to generate electricity to run the utility meter backwards whenever the car is plugged in at home. The fuel supply will shift over to solar as continued price drops lead to a world where solar cells cover every available roof surface, and where even the paint on a house has solar electric capacity. We will be following these developments closely and doing whatever we can to help bring about the hydrogen revolution.
- Hydrogen Boosters: Existing gas and diesel vehicles can be retrofitted with hydrogen boosters to hopefully increase fuel economy. Hydrogen boosters use electricity from the alternator to split water into oxygen and hydrogen gas, which are routed through the air intake back to the engine. Thermodynamics dictates that it is impossible to create more energy than you start with, and the hydrogen booster would logically seem to lose energy since the original gas or diesel fuel is first burned to generate electricity, then converted to hydrogen, and then fed back to the engine. However, the benefit of the hydrogen and oxygen gas is that it improves combustion to burn the fuel more thoroughly, especially helpful for older engines. At Green University® LLC we are currently testing a hydrogen booster on a 1982 diesel Toyota pickup.
- Air Cars: Reinforced tanks hidden underneath the Air Car can be filled with highly compressed air, which is slowly released through the engine to power the vehicle. Air cars can be filled up at home with a special air compressor unit, or filled at any outlet with the aid of an onboard compressor. A supplementary gas tank is used as fuel to heat the compressed air, expanding it to maintain pressure as the quantity of air in the tanks decreases. We hope to purchase an Air Car when they become available.
- Biodiesel and Straight Vegetable Oil (SVO): There is enough waste vegetable oil (french fry grease) from restaurants to fuel about 3% of our nation's diesel cars and trucks, but the grease is often thrown away. Many innovative individuals are already collecting this french fry grease to use as their own low-cost fuel as biodiesel, or in diesel vehicles modified to run on straight vegetable oil:
- Biodiesel: Waste vegetable oil can be converted to biodiesel in a chemical reaction with lye and methanol for about 70¢ per gallon. The chemical reaction changes the vegetable oil into a fluid diesel fuel that won't gum up the fuel lines, plus a waste product, which can be converted into soap. The resulting biodiesel can be used interchangeably with ordinary diesel fuel, without the need to modify the vehicle.
Most people are too busy to deal with the precise chemistry involved in making quality biodiesel on a small scale, but Tom's brother Alan successfully built a biodiesel processor and is now making his own fuel from waste vegetable oil. Tom also owns a diesel truck. Interested Green University® LLC interns may be able to participate in the fuel-making process by request.
In our opinion, the technology seems ideal for fleet operations (rather than for individuals), such as for our proposed circular distribution networks (see below), in which trucks could pick up waste vegetable oil while delivering and picking up other goods along a circular route. The fuel could be brought back to a centralized biodiesel facility for controlled processing.
- Straight Vegetable Oil (SVO): Diesel vehicles can be modified with an extra fuel tank and special heating systems to run on straight vegetable oil, without the need to process the oil with lye and methanol to make biodiesel. Instead, the fuel is filtered and dumped into the extra fuel tank. The car or truck is started on ordinary diesel (or biodiesel) fuel. As the engine is warmed up, the hot radiator fluid is piped around the secondary fuel tank and fuel lines to warm and thin the waste vegetable oil. When the oil is adequately thinned, then it will flow and burn properly in the diesel engine. A switch is used to change over to the secondary fuel tank. Flipping the switch back prior to your destination causes diesel fuel to run through the vegetable oil lines, purging them before oil cools and congeals in the lines. Kits to convert a vehicle over to straight vegetable oil cost about $1,000, but once installed, the fuel itself is free. Tom's brother Nick installed an SVO system and is driving thousands of miles on waste french fry grease.
- Circular Distribution Networks: For a farmer/producer to get their product to a store a hundred miles away, they need to either mail it, drive it there themselves, or get enough orders in enough stores so that they can ship the product to a major distributor (who may be hundreds of miles away) who will then distribute the product back to local stores. Small town grocery stores are faced with a similar problem. The wholesale price for goods delivered to a small town grocery store is often as high or higher than the retail price for the same goods at a big store in the city. Thus customers often make the drive to the city themselves, rather than buy local and pay the extra mark-up.
We propose a circular distribution network, where for example, any grocery store in Montana could order goods via computer from any producer in Montana. The producers would download all their orders, package them for delivery to different stores, and drop them off at their own local grocery store, transforming every drop-off point into a pick-up point as well. Shipping charges would be deducted from a flat rate transaction fee through the centralized processing program on the internet. A circular distribution network would be much more fuel- and labor-efficient, making it economically competitive to get local products to market, and economically viable for small town stores to compete with the discounts offered by bigger retailers in the city. It would also offer an efficient means for related projects, such as for collecting French fry grease from small towns statewide to run the entire fleet of trucks on biodiesel (see above).
Green University® students have the opportunity to help us transform this idea from theory into practice, owning a piece of the company upon graduation. Once successfully demonstrated, it can be mimicked by other distribution networks elsewhere.
International Bicycle Fund Sustainable transportation, urban planning, international bicycle tours.
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1) We must close the loop on waste streams, so that all waste is recycled as useful inputs into new materials.
2) It is not cost effective to ship many types of recycled goods (glass, plastic, etc.) long distances to reprocessing plants. Recycling is more effective where there are local markets to work with.
3) Many people are not interested in sorting the recyclables out of their trash, and never will be. New recycling systems need to be developed to process trash from those who simply don't care.
Green University® LLC Solutions: Closing the loop on waste is good for the environment and the economy. An aluminum can picked up off the street can be donated to a non-profit organization to 1) raise money for a worthy cause; 2) save a little bit of rainforest where the bauxite ore is mined to make aluminum, 3) create local jobs to ship and refine the scrap aluminum for reuse, and 4) it saves about 95% of the energy otherwise required to refine virgin bauxite ore into useable aluminum.
We are interested in recycling solutions for all types of waste, including the obvious like glass and plastic, as well as the more unique forms of waste, such as deerskins and rusty barb-wire that otherwise tend to end up in landfills.
In addition, we are working to publicize and support emerging technologies, such as thermal depolymerization (see below) that can convert waste back into valuable resources.
- Local Recycling Efforts: The Elpel's recycle everything possible, including aluminum cans, tin cans, glass bottles (which are used for silica content to make cement at a local cement plant), No. 1 and No. 2 plastics, cardboard, newspapers, magazines, scrap iron, scrap aluminum, scrap copper, brass, and lead--basically everything possible right down to bent nails from the garage or brass bullet shells picked up off the roads. We also collect packing material such as bubble wrap and styrofoam peanuts for use in packing and shipping our orders. Tom's brother has also built a hot-wire tool to cut waste beadboard into packing peanuts.
- Barbwire Baskets: The west is littered with thousands of miles of rusty barbwire fences slowly sinking into the ground. Loose wires laying around from decomposing fences can be an unseen hazard to humans and animals alike. Turning old barbed wire into decorative baskets and curios is one way to help clean up the countryside and put the materials to good use. It won't change the world in any big way, but it is one way to make a green income doing something beneficial. Maybe you will have even better product ideas of your own!
- Braintanned Buckskin: Hunting season produces tens of thousands of deer hides that either end up in landfills, rot on people's fences, or go to tanneries where toxic chemicals are used to process the hides into useable leather. The all natural brain-tanning process we use is a desirable alternative, but it is generally too labor intensive to be economical. We've been experimenting with the braintanning process since 1985, and we are interested in mass-producing braintan buckskin for sale as well as making clothes to fit mainstream fashions for mainstream markets. Green University® LLC students have the opportunity to learn this skill to produce their own buckskin clothing and potentially to produce buckskins for resale.
- Tire Sandals: A well-made pair of tire sandals with moccasin liners makes some of the most comfortable and durable footwear possible. We would like to find an economical way to manufacture tire sandals for resale, based on the pattern developed by Jack Fee and Thomas J. Elpel. Green University® LLC students have the opportunity to pursue this project if they are interested in developing it more.
- Tree Salvage Nursery: Thousands of trees are cut and bulldozed in highway construction projects every year. Those trees have great potential value, especially here in the west where trees grow slowly. For example, a ten-foot tall juniper shrub could be 30-50 years old. It may be possible to start a nursery business by working with a state department of transportation or private road construction businesses to go out ahead of the bulldozers to remove the marketable vegetation. With a tool that digs up trees with a big root ball, you could harvest trees that would sell for up to a few hundred dollars apiece, depending on size and kind.
Another idea is to rent out live, potted Christmas trees. Christmas Trees can be offered for sale or rent, so that customers have the option of planting them in their yard or returning them to you. Green University® LLC students have the opportunity to pursue these kinds of projects if they are interested in developing them more.
- Thermal Depolymerization: A company named Changing World Technologies has created a process called 'thermal depolymerization' that is designed to turn almost any carbon-based waste product into high quality oil, clean burning gas, and purified minerals that have many industrial applications. Examples of waste that can be turned into these useful products include turkey guts, tires, plastic bottles, harbor-dredged muck, old computers, garbage, medical waste, oil-refinery residues, and even biological weapons like anthrax spores.
At present many computers are "recycled" by shipping them to poor countries like China where a few valuable parts are salvaged, and the rest is torched in landfills, filling the skies with choking, toxic smoke. Thermal depolymerization can convert this waste into useful resources instead, either at a profit, or at no greater expense than the current "recycling" method. The technology is new but in existence, and it only needs investors and customers to keep it rolling.
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