Will a “Net Carbon Pollution” redline finally offer global #peatlands some respect and protection?

Listening to President Obama speak about climate change Tuesday I was encouraged to hear him bring up the concept of “net carbon pollution” in regard to evaluating the fate of the Keystone Pipeline. I’m neither for nor against that project but it immediately made me wonder how this new evaluation process would judge other, non-fossil fuel, projects and products being imported into the U.S. “Net carbon pollution” is the entire, sum total of the gas released into the atmosphere, not just from production and consumption, but also the impacts caused by the evaluated project or product on habitat it directly degrades. In this case, the impacts of extracting the oil from the Canadian Tar Sands and the construction of the pipeline will likely have some measurable impacts to carbon sequestering, permafrost soils, peatlands and boreal forests.

Changes to the water table in drained peatlands, for instance, will expose and oxidize peat above the water line and release stored carbon and methane into the atmosphere. The lower water table will also inhibit new peat moss growth on the dry surface and impact the ability to sequester carbon away from or out of the atmosphere in the future. Any sum total of a “net carbon pollution” formula will include the directly impacted carbon and the estimated totals of carbon that would have been stored if the habitat had been maintained in a natural state.

A typical Ontario Peat Bog

To put this in perspective then, the “net carbon pollution” footprint of imported Canadian sphagnum peat moss calculates carbon from the 1.1 million tons of product that crosses the U.S. border annually, the gigatons of carbon oxidizing back in drained commercial bogs and any carbon that would have been sequestered if the site had been maintained in a pristine state. This would also be true of peatland impacting products like palm oil, which seems to be used in just about every consumer product on the supermarket shelves these days.

Coincidently, just a day before the President’s speech the Center for International Forest Research (www.cifor.org) reported that negotiators in Bonn agreed to put the subject of “High Carbon Ecosystems” like peatlands on the agenda for the Warsaw U.N. Climate Summit this fall. “Until recently, such high-carbon… peatlands had not been considered specifically for discussion by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)” the report stated.

Frankly, I’m not surprised peatlands have never made the official agenda until now. The totally transparent focus at nearly every U.N. Climate Summit has been addressing climate financing, which is code for a carbon tax on industrial nations for redistribution to the developing world. A UNFCCC journalist from one of those developing nations, where peatlands are currently burning to make way for palm oil plantations, recently mused in an article, “should we stop making efforts to protect our severely damaged environment, or even continue the damage to blackmail rich nations…?” Relatively common sentiment like this makes me wonder if peatland destruction is a calculated casualty of a political and financial agenda.

It’s always been my naïve opinion that if all the climate scientists, NGOs, U.N. staffers and government officials hovering about at these “Earth Summits” were truly concerned about the increasing carbon levels, then they would move to preserve and protect peatland ecosystems immediately and without equivocation. A mere 3% of the earth’s tertiary surface designated as peatlands, holding 30% of all soil carbon should merit more fervent protections. Considering these wetlands continually vacuum the greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere systematically, organically, naturally and without any funding support from the U.N. you would think it would be a priority. However, if the goal is to fan the flames of crisis, then turning a blind eye to the spewing a few million gigatons of carbon annually from burning and degraded peatlands, then documenting the higher atmospheric CO2 levels, may just be the sick, twisted and calculated means to an end.

Many speculated that a new U.S. policy based on decreasing the “net carbon pollution” was likely intended to derail coal, oil and natural gas projects but the unintended consequences could be farther reaching. If practiced with an even hand it may just provide leadership on global climate change by protecting high carbon peatlands and revealing some greenwashed projects and products as the true carbon pigs they can no longer deny being. Wind farm projects built on peat bogs, peat burning electrical generation plants, palm oil in all of it’s forms and yes peat moss, used to fill flowerpots, will all be exposed as high net-carbon polluters.

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How doggedness, tenacity and perseverance are building a business established to save #peatlands (& make money, of course)

A tiny, cream colored, Shiba Inu and her prized chew toys were brought in to my home recently by a couple that fostered the dog for a few weeks. The original owners gave her a year and a half long test drive but decided she wasn’t working out. The fosters would have loved keeping the dog but the wife learned she is allergic to the breed’s dander and I suspect a few of Yoko’s quirks too. The dog snapped at a young visitor in their home. Her Swiss born husband was clearly bonded to this foxy little girl and slightly devastated by my willingness to adopt his irritable orphan. Calling an incident free week after the drop-off to check in, Yoko clearly recognized his distinct Swiss/German accent over the speaker. After we hung up I gave Yoko a rub behind the ears and a favorite chewie to calm and comfort her.

Many of you may be asking yourselves what in the world does this have to do with a blog dedicated to PittMoss™ and our business start-up. To be honest, it’s been a long time since I’ve lived with a dog so observing Yoko’s behavior has been insightful to say the least. I’m amazed at the recall and focus she has and it reminds me of the meaning behind the expression, dogged determination. She whined for about a week whenever she would go near a recliner in my living room. One recent night I sat down to watch a bit of the Stanley Cup Series and kicked back. Yoko immediately jumped up on the footrest and dug out a shoe shaped chew toy from the exposed folds and carried it around the rest of the night.

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When she sets her mind to something, she fixates and isn’t easily refocused. It made me realized that’s precisely where I am at the moment with my start-up and after a sixteen-year effort to put life into this product I think I know a little about doggedness. Since I don’t have a full time career (and paycheck) distracting me any longer I think I’ve been a bit more focused than normal. Besides being dragged out to see a movie last week it’s been forever since I’ve done anything resembling entertainment outside my home or office. Surprisingly, I find myself forgetting to eat. Now I can almost hear a few snickers from those of you who know me best and admittedly it’s not very often, but it happens.

It seems nothing is more important to me than installing the new equipment, filling our existing orders (that now equal about 10% of our first year goals), developing a brand identity and reeling in an investment that has been pledged (and accepted) by a wonderful Angel, who I’ll tell you about when all the ink is dry. We are planning for the launch of our improved plant in July and we hope to kick-off a crowd-funding campaign in August. The chew toy buried in the seat cushions, the ultimate goal or dream in all of this is one day cornering the horticulture peat moss market and witnessing the demise of commercial peat extraction. So, fair warning to anyone getting between my new fixation and me. I’m not in any mood to play and I will bite!

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If the elevator pitch is going the way of the carnival barker, then step right up and pass me a straw hat and megaphone!


The PittMoss™ Team attended an Elevator Pitch competition at the urging of our friends at the Idea Foundry of Pittsburgh. They told us about the competition and we submitted a hastily prepared application before the scheduled deadline that very afternoon. To compete, participants offer a sixty to ninety second presentation highlighting the best elements of their business plan to a room full of prospective investors and the other presenting teams. In our case, the other twenty-five or so, teams were composed of young, brilliant, hipsters, Carnegie Mellon programmers, Pitt engineers and biomedical brainiacs. They all seemed to be quite comfortable with the contest but I honestly felt a bit like Honey Boo-Boo at a MENSA meeting.

The idea behind the elevator pitch is as formulaic and day dreamy as a Hollywood Romantic Comedy. You know the Rom-Com formula, right? The fantasy that boy meets girl, or boy meets boy, or girl meets girl, as they exchange glances over the ripe tomatoes or the leafy greens in the market. After a few misunderstandings, trademark zingers, and a wasted hour and a half of my life, they realize they are perfect for each other. Elevator pitch advocates have been selling a similar fantasy to entrepreneurs since Doris Day and Rock Hudson were Hollywood “sweethearts”. The perfect investor is out there at the gas pump or the coffee counter and you better be ready with your well-rehearsed, sixty-second pick-up line.

Business development experts advise to be ready for any chance opportunity when you meet a Mark Cuban type on, well, an elevator. If the high-powered prospective investor isn’t jabbering on their phone, then launch right into your appeal for capital. You better get all the fine points across before that lift door opens and your target escapes your speed dating for dollars moment. If he or she likes your idea, and the moxy for sharing it, we’re encouraged to believe, the entrepreneur with the winning elevator pitch will be invited into their boardroom to hash out contracts.

I’ll admit, I don’t harbor any fantasy about winning the lotto or being discovered on America’s Got Talent (anymore) and frankly didn’t expect much to come of this either. The night of the competition I shakily presented my sixty-second pitch in ninety tormenting seconds, until I was cut off. To my supreme surprise, the audience voted PittMoss™ in to the top three elevator pitches of the night. Before the event concluded we were making plans to meet investors in their boardrooms. Maybe I should go buy a lotto ticket or stock up on some produce. How about both?

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Carbon Levels & No Faking Concern for the Planet’s #Peatlands

Carbon dioxide in our planet’s atmosphere just hit 400 parts per million for the first time in human evolution. Many climate experts are pointing fingers at the consumption of gas, oil and coal as the main culprit behind the rebounding numbers, not seen since our ancestors ascended from the African savanna. I comprehend the science of atmospheric carbon but really don’t know what to think about this news. I must admit to being a healthy skeptic these days about anything government or academia has to say about climate change. Their constant and consistent hustle for money, our money, in the form of carbon taxes and the dreadful U.N. REDD+, redistribution of wealth scheme, deters my acceptance of their impartiality.

I ask myself, is this really about reducing carbon in the atmosphere or is it an agenda to reign in and redistribute wealth with a new global carbon tax? If it were about reducing carbon there would be one simple way to prove that to a few of us who actually care about the world’s peatlands. The U.N, NGOs and governments of the world would garner a vocal convert to their cause if they saw fit to ban the international trade of peat and peat moss. Hell, they would gain a new evangelist if they even feigned interest in saving the planet’s peatlands. Hold on to your biscuits peat pushers, a ban on peat, or peatland killing palm oil plantation development in Southeast Asia, will never happen but amuse me for a moment or two.

Peatlands make up only 3% of the earth’s tertiary surface but sequester an unbelievable 30% of the planet’s carbon, far more than equatorial rainforest. These systems found all around the globe function as giant carbon vacuums year in and year out absorbing gigatons of carbon. When international U.N. meetings take place on the subject of atmospheric carbon it is always about the tax on coal, gas, and oil. Occasionally, I’m shocked to see the issue of peat included in those proceedings but it is a rare occurrence. What I find so ironic is that the ecological systems that captured all the carbon in coal, oil and natural gas are still very much functioning in the planet’s peatlands. Each spring the new seasonal growth of wetland plants and mosses pushes down the previous years growth below the water surface and the trapped carbon is sequestered from the atmosphere. The acidic waters of peatlands retards degradation as witnessed by the bog people found when European bogs are drained and mined for flowerpot filling. Doesn’t it make sense to keep these beneficial systems functioning 100% if you actually have concern about reducing carbon levels in the atmosphere?

It seems to me that protecting peatlands from exploitation is a priority if you actually have a goal to reduce carbon levels. The simplicity of the solution must not make sense to the governments, academics and NGOs pushing the climate change agenda, carbon tax or REDD+ plans because none of them seem to give a rat’s a$$ about carbon sequestering peatlands. In fact, I contend the exploited and degraded peatlands are only making the carbon problem worse and that’s something the climate change folks can actually use to scare the public into their tax schemes.

Think I’m a black helicopter guy, a bunker builder? Trust me, I’m not. I voted for Al Gore and Michael Dukakis for god’s sake, so consider the following facts if you don’t believe me. Millions of acres of carbon and methane rich peatland have burned in Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries in the past few decades since the global warming issue arose in the late 1980s. And why are these peatlands on fire and habitat species like the Orangutan quickly becoming extinct? It is all happening to make way for palm oil plantations to supply “environmentally beneficial” biofuels and fat-free donut fryer grease. The U.N., NGOs, Governments and the venerable corporate Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) taking charge have essentially turned a blind eye to the abject destruction and draining of tropical peatland rainforest swamps.

To add further to the absurdity and my skepticism, Indonesia will be exempt from the carbon tax schemes like REDD+, while they have become the third highest carbon polluting country on the planet behind China and the U.S. That new rank has been achieved, not through use of gas, oil and coal, but by burning and draining their peatlands for a non-essential commodity that had very limited market potential thirty years ago. Yep, that’s right, palm-oil production is being nurtured and propelled up by European Bio-Fuel projects supported by many of the same NGOs, Governments and Academics pushing the carbon tax schemes. Am I skeptical? Yes and you should be too unless the same organizations rallying for a new carbon tax save the peatlands of the planet first, or as I said earlier, at least fake an effort for me.

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Lost in translation: A green-washing guide to words like Renewable, Sustainable, Ecological, Environmental, Organic, or All-Natural

After I posted “Why Are We Draining Wetlands and Destroying Peat Bogs to Fill Flower Pots?” it received many supportive comments in various forums. A few prospective customers even sent me their contact information. One commenter, obviously supportive of the peat industry, defended it as a “renewable resource” and that made me think about the weasel words advertising, marketing and sales executives use to garner green-credibility for their products. I hear words, like organic, ecological and natural a bit differently than most, I guess, like nails on a chalkboard differently. The reference to peat being “renewable” was exceptionally exasperating, maybe because it’s technically true.

Draining Peat Bogs to Fill Flower Pots

In my former convention sales life, there was a story circulating about an east coast destination telling prospective clients that their center was also “green”. No one could quite understand how that had been achieved unless they were referring to the actual color of their building. Green-washing, whether literal or figurative, is telling people your building is green after painting it that color, putting out recycling cans with no real intention of recycling, or using terms like “renewable” when words like “sustainable”, “environmental” or “ecological” would not be true. Renewable, which means to regenerate or regrow, implies that extracting peat from water purifying, carbon sequestering, wildlife nurturing, climate moderating, wetland is environmentally responsible, which of course it is not.

While peat renews itself, growing one tiny millimeter each year, it would take upwards of 10,000 years, at that rate, to achieve meaningful restoration. That’s exactly why the lower 48 states have next to no active peat moss operations any longer. Americans extracted much of our resources decades ago and now import 1.1 million tons of Canadian wetland wilderness annually. The unsustainable exploitation of the commodity at the lower latitudes is exactly why such operations keep marching northwards. That is true both in North America and in Europe.

So, yes, I’ll admit that peat is renewable, just like pure white baby Seal fur, Rhinoceros horn, exotic bird feathers, Elephant and Whale Ivory can all regrow and be considered “renewable”. Despite that, 160 nations have seen fit to ban the trade of such items through an International Trade Agreement, because continued commercial consumption of these “renewable” products would lead to unsustainability and extinction. Once leadership or the consumers in those same country’s finally comprehend that, destroying carbon sequestering peatlands to fill frivolous flower pots has global climate implications no amount of greenwash will stop the momentum to end the peat trade. I have a feeling some peat pusher just heard nails on a chalkboard.

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Shop local: 68 cents of every dollar spent at locally owned Garden Centers stays in the community*

We were out at Johnston’s Greenhouses yesterday, under cloudless blue skies and temperatures in the seventies, to prepare for the delivery of some new production equipment. I have to say being back at a greenhouse, on a beautiful spring day, with employees scurrying around helping customers fill their trunks with hanging baskets, flats of annuals and vegetables, really took me back to my roots in the retail side of the industry. My first real career after college was managing the garden center at several locations of a retailer in Chicagoland. Unfortunately, the popular regional chain did not survive once national big box home improvement stores moved to the region, but by that time PittMoss™ research was underway.

This time of year can be challenging for any employee in a garden center and can be described as Christmas on steroids. You know the scene; frazzled employees being peppered with a dozen different requests or questions, lines backed up at the registers, cashiers calling for change or check approvals, a need to find those ever elusive stockers for a carry out or to round up carts. Then there were the inevitable phone calls coming in throughout the day. “Mr. Handley, customers holding on lines one, two and three”. So not all the memories of being back at the garden center are particularly pleasant ones but that is what this time of year is all about. Satisfy your customers at all cost!

This busy six to eight week period from late April through early June is make or break for many independent garden centers, which are likely at their most vulnerable. An owner of a family operation like Johnston’s are extended financially, emotionally and physically at this time of year and the only recourse is to trudge on day after day, serving the all important customer. One beautiful blissful day in June you’ll suddenly notice that the calls have subsided, customers have thinned, the remaining inventory of plants is limited and you’ll finally find the stock guys. A life outside of the garden center can now be considered until the fall rush. Golf anyone?

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Johnston the Florist provides plants wholesale throughout the Pittsburgh area and has four locations of their own http://www.johnstontheflorist.com/locations.html. At their country place location there is a pretty modern building on busy Lincoln Way that was their retail garden center up until this year. That building is now a year round wedding reception and event venue and the garden center has been moved near the greenhouses, past the family homestead and barn. The move allows the family operation to have year round income from hosting weddings and the positioning of the garden center, feet from the production area, is very clever on many levels.

This area of their operation has been a behind the scenes production area for over a century, when the current owner’s great grandfather built the entire greenhouse operation from the ground up. This family dynasty of Pittsburgh area flower growers, led by Steve and Mark Guffey are shrewd to invite their customers to see the nuts and bolts of their farming operation, bubble gum, Band-Aids, duct tape and all. Customers want to be engaged, they want to be part of something were being told by experts. Meeting the actual growers who know something about your plants besides the current sales price and seeing the complex, ancient waterworks, antiquated steam heating systems that tangle around the polyhouses and buildings like kudzu on a telephone pole certainly provide an authentic experience.

The hard work, ingenuity and can-do attitude of the place that customers will surely appreciate, also inspires my crew and it makes us believe we can build our own business with a large dose of luck. Showing off their greenhouses as part of a garden center customer experience is pure and simple brilliance. Of course, we knew these guys were smart. After all, they’ve started to use PittMoss™ to grow their plants and became our business partners.

*The International Council of Shopping Centers Survey

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Retiring old notions about saving for the future! Ditching the 401K to fund a Business!

PittMoss™ made its very first public appearance at the Garden Marketplace of the Western Pennsylvania Horticulture Symposium.  Matt Knapp and your's truly talked to a few hundred gardeners. Almost everyone who came by our booth was interested in PittMoss™ and most were aware of the controversy of using peat moss.  Honestly, that surprised me a bit but it is great to know the word about peat is getting out!

PittMoss™ made its very first public appearance at the Garden Marketplace of the Western Pennsylvania Horticulture Symposium. Matt Knapp and your’s truly talked to a few hundred gardeners. Almost everyone who came by our booth was interested in PittMoss™ and most were aware of the controversy of using peat moss. Honestly, that surprised me a bit but it is great to know the word about peat is getting out!

An investor stepped up to the plate this past week and invested his entire retirement savings into The PittMoss™ Development Company and he knows it’s risky. My 401k funds arrived to keep the cash flow healthy while we continue to work toward sustainable revenues. Matt, VJ and I celebrated the new infusion of cash by paying our landlord the two years of rent we owed him. Two crisp dollar bills changed hands that day at Johnston Greenhouses, and sadly, I borrowed them from VJ, who also paid for lunch at Jodi B’s. Anyone see my wallet?

Once I decided to make the jump from full-time employment to full-time entrepreneur, the cashing out of my 401k became a nearly full-time distraction. I watched the market like an exaggeratedly engaged cat watches their prey, over-reacting to any sudden movement, or any shift or transfer of weight. I worried the whole system would crash before I could hold a check in my hand and finally take total control of my future.

If you recall the last six months were a minefield of market altering events, sequesters, Fiscal Cliffs, deadlines, and each of them triggered a call or email to my financial advisor. Can you blame me? Anyone remember 2008? Hell, the commercials about investing in gold as a hedge for the “coming global economic chaos” caused me panic attacks. So I apologize for all that high maintenance behavior Brian. You did give me some excellent advice.

From January 1, 2013 until I cashed out earlier this month, my mutual fund’s performance just about washed the 20% federal tax from my withdrawal. So, in your face Tax Man and a sincere tip o’ the hat to my moneyman. You just can’t believe though how happy I am to be out of that cluster muck.

While I got lucky exiting the market on a high note I honestly could have used that extra 20% to purchase supplies, a critical piece of bagging equipment or hire an additional employee. Please don’t get me wrong; I’m happy to pay my taxes and always have since the age of 12. I am just thinking out loud in terms of stimulating the economy and getting people back to work. Don’t our elected officials always talk a good game about those two goals? Isn’t that always the justification for stimulus spending, large corporate tax abatements or to lure a Hollywood movie production to town?

Average Americans are sick of only being thought of as taxpayers and grazing herds of consumers. We tire of being encouraged to spend to support our increasingly feeble economy. I know it can’t just be me. Federal, State and Local government seem to understand incentive is important for the big company developments, so how about incenting us, the people, the small business people? After all, U.S. Small business employs about 50% of all American workers and represent a third of all export value so it makes sense to stimulate that sector of the economy too.

American workers have nearly $10 Trillion dollars invested in 401Ks and Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs). Can you imagine the dynamic growth that could occur if a tenth of that money was divested from Wall Street and invested on Main Street or the nearby industrial parkway? Now I know people will say, that kind of money leaving “Wall Street” would be devastating. Devastating for whom? The mutual fund managers who celebrate massive layoffs as good management practice and whose outrageous fees destroy our ability to accumulate wealth? Devastating for the publicly traded giants who would rather use our retirement savings, while they sit on nearly $2 Trillion in cash reserves? Oh boo, freaking who!

Can I be the only one out here who has worked and saved for 20 years, yet constantly dreamed of starting a business? NO! Hell no! I don’t believe that. It seems like we’ve run out of ideas to rev up the economy and create new living waged jobs, especially for young adults and minorities who have limited educations and experience. Unemployment and underemployment of those young adults is a national travesty and no one wants to talk about it. That’s shameful!

Why not give 401k, early withdrawal, tax abatement a shot? It is a risk, of course, and businesses often fail. However, older, more seasoned entrepreneurs have better success rates than their younger counterparts, sorry it’s a fact, and can put decades of retirement savings to work along with those young eager workers. Wouldn’t that be an incredible thing to do?

For Additional info watch The Retirement Gamble from Frontline; http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/retirement-gamble/

Small Business Statistics
http://www.sba.gov/sites/default/files/FAQ_Sept_2012.pdf

Big Business Cash Hoard
http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/12/the-growing-corporate-cash-hoard/

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