Tag Archives: green economy

GoGreen ’11 Portland Green Line Series: George Northcroft on What Happens When The Federal Government Goes Green

The U.S. Government is the largest landowner in the world—so when they decide to go green, it amounts to huge impact. In this week’s Green Line Series, U.S. General Services Administration’s Northwest/Arctic Regional Administrator, George Northcroft, tells us how greening the government’s supply chain is driving a more sustainable economy in Oregon and beyond.

GoGreen Conference: When the government decides to green its supply chain—what does that encompass? How far is GSA going in terms of implementing sustainable best practices?
George Northcroft: GSA is looking at the big picture of our carbon footprint, and that includes the supply chain. Right now, we are looking at how we can incorporate sustainability requirements into our supply chain contracts. While we’re still working out the details, this would likely mean asking our suppliers to provide a greenhouse gas inventory of their own emissions, for GSA to use in procurement decisions. We are currently doing a pilot program called the GreenGov Supply Chain Partnership to work with industry to learn the best way to do this.

GG: The U.S. Government is naturally a huge consumer of goods, services and raw resources. How do your choices impact the overall supply chain of sustainable goods in this country?
GN: In our region alone – Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska – GSA leases or owns more than 600 office buildings, and procures $10 billion in goods and services each year. We have enormous leverage on the supply chain, and are using our purchasing power to encourage businesses to make more sustainable goods and services available, since there is an tremendous Federal market seeking them.

GG: Do you believe that GSA and other large organizations have a greater weight to pull in shifting the paradigm towards a green economy because your potential for impact is so much greater than most? If so, what kind of role is GSA pursuing and how?
GN: As the world’s biggest landlord and purchaser of goods and services, we have a special obligation to lead the shift to a green economy. In green building, we have established a Green Proving Ground project where innovative green-building technologies are being tested at Federal buildings across the country and the agency is learning more about those technologies to apply them elsewhere. We also manage the Federal vehicle fleet, and have been making steady progress toward greening our vehicles. In the last two years, we’ve moved the Federal fleet to 50% alternative fuel vehicles and that number is still increasing. We are conducting a 100-vehicle pilot of electric vehicles (Chevy Volts and Nissan Leafs, and Thinks) across the country to learn how electric vehicles can work in the government setting. As stewards of taxpayers dollars, the governments needs to be on the cutting edge and I think we are doing a good job of leveraging our purchasing power while making sound financial choices in a lean budget environment.

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GoGreen ’11 Portland Green Line Series: Intel’s Lorie Wigle on Empowering People To Make Sustainable Choices

Intel’s General Manager for Eco-Technology and GoGreen ’11 Portland Keynote Speaker, Lorie Wigle, has her eye fixed on the business opportunities in sustainability. Using Intel technology, she and her team are tackling our biggest environmental problems by increasing efficiency, driving systemic integration and empowering people with the tools to make smarter choices about their energy and resource consumption.

GoGreen Conference: Tell us about the connections between Intel’s penchant for chasing invention, ingenuity and discovery as a technology company, and sustainability. How does a greener mindset fit into that picture?

Lorie Wigle: It’s interesting because that question causes us to ask: What does sustainability mean? There’s a writer and proprietor at Greenbiz.com, Joel Makower, who has formed a framework to describe it in the context of business. His theory is that companies go through three stages of evolution in sustainability.

The first one is to do no harm. For Intel that’s very germane to the way we run our factories. Our factories use energy and water. If we want to do no harm, we have to figure out how to minimize our impact. Intel has actually been reporting our environmental footprint since 1994. We make goals well in advance of necessity and we look closely at our environmental footprint in order to ensure we’re meeting them across the board.

The second stage, as Joel puts it, is to do well by doing good. A great example of that at Intel is how we look at our microprocessors. Microprocessors are used in servers, data centers and the notebook computers and smartphones we all carry around with us. Energy efficiency has become a prime basis for competition with the microprocessor—so the more energy efficient we make our products, the better we do in the marketplace and by the environment.

We did an analysis for our CEO recently, looking at the overall energy consumption of the first one billion connected PCs. There were approximately one billion connected PCs in 2007 and together they consumed about 320 terawatt hours of energy per year. Now, we’re forecasting there will be two billion connected PCs globally by the end of 2014—but the amazing thing is that those two billion PCs will use half the energy that the first billion used, and they’ll do seventeen times as much work. The reason for that is that we’ve been able to capitalize on Moore’s Law—which is the doubling of transistors every 18 to 24 months—to drive better energy efficiency and form factors. Through things like this, we do well by doing good.

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PDX 2010 Green Line Series: Chandra Brown + United Streetcar Leading A Green Manfacturing Movement in US

Before you lament once more that everything these days is made overseas, Chandra Brown and United Streetcar (a branch off company of Oregon Iron Works) are surging ahead into the future of modern, efficient manufacturing and creating a lot of green jobs in the process. Chandra will keynote tomorrow’s GoGreen Portland and we cannot wait. Her enthusiasm is absolutely contagious and her company is a model for green companies looking to compete in the global market. We know you’ll walk out of this session inspired to continue pushing the sustainable movement for US businesses.

GG: How did you come to United Streetcar? What are your personal motivations for working in a field that is so plugged into the sustainable business community?
CB:
How I came to be involved with United Streetcar actually starts a while back. I began working with Oregon Iron Works— which is a large, traditional metal manufacturing company—in the early 1990s. We built boats, bridges, and now wave energy devices. I’d been a vice-president at Oregon Iron Works for several years doing outreach and business development. One of my jobs was always to be on the look out for the next growth opportunity.

So it all started when I was sitting around, actually talking about the city and the old Portland Streetcar with some friends. I live in Southeast Portland and had loved the streetcars. One of the women I was speaking to was Lynn Peterson from Clackamas County, although at the time I believe she was with Lake Oswego, and Shelly Parini, who at the time was with Clackamas Country Economic Development team. We were chatting and they told me there were no modern streetcars built in the United States. I couldn’t believe it. It just didn’t seem correct—I mean streetcars were founded here. I knew that Portland had imported their streetcars from the Czech Republic, but I didn’t know that was because there was no US made option available at the time.

I went back and did a bit of research and found out that, indeed, my friends were correct. There were no modern streetcars being built in the United States. I thought it was a great opportunity. I absolutely believe streetcars have revolutionized downtown Portland and I think they are a great model for other urban centers across the United States. It’s a very green industry and I knew that [Oregon Iron Works] could build them. We had built much more complicated and larger scale products in the past. I was confident in our workforce here and that if I could figure out a way to get the project funded, they could figure out a way to get the cars built. So that was how United Streetcar came to be.

That was four years ago, and the course of these past four years, we have built a prototype—a gorgeous red, white and blue, “Made in the USA” streetcar, which was opened up by US Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, in July of 2009. People always ask where that streetcar is these days and it will eventually be running on the streets of Portland—right now we have it back in our shop in Clackamas, Oregon, because we’re making the car have a greater level of US made content. We have a great commitment, not only to the green community and the sustainable movement, but also to the US manufacturing sector and to creating US jobs. We don’t think just being green is enough. We also want to have all the requisite jobs and work happening here in the United States.

Our first “Made in the USA” car was around 70 percent US-content. That’s instead of a 100 percent European content car. We made it using over 200 vendors in 20 states across the US with a huge amount of local vendors in the Northwest. So it really is the creation of this nation’s new green industry. And the big reason we have the car back in is because we’re changing out one of the largest pieces that was not US content—the propulsion system. Thanks to the Federal Transit System and excellent work by our congressmen—particularly Congressmen DeFazio and Blumenauer—we received an FTA innovation grant, which is allowing us to take out that foreign propulsion system and put in a US made propulsion system. Once that is completed, it will take the car up to around 90 percent US content. After that it will need to be tested for months and hopefully before the end of 2011, the car will be back on the streets of Portland and we’ll all be riding a US built streetcar.

GG: There’s the obvious reasons why streetcars are more sustainable than individual auto transportation due to the increased numbers of people they carry. Tell us about the deeper levels of sustainability United Streetcar is building into its product, whether its actual physical components or on the operations side of things.
CB:
The streetcar itself is inherently more green. It runs on electricity, so there are zero emissions, but it’s a lot more than that. It’s a catalyst for economic revitalization downtown, which helps increase the overall density of people living there and allows Portland citizens to walk, bike or ride a streetcar to work instead of driving in from a suburb. One statistic that many people don’t know about is that the current Portland streetcar line currently reduces total miles traveled by over 70 million miles per year. That’s people getting out of their cars and taking these short trips on the streetcar—it makes a huge difference. And the density along the streetcar line is much higher, so you’re getting a much more advantageous use of land. In addition, as many people know, there was over $3.5 billion of investment within three blocks of the streetcar line in downtown Portland. So there are a lot of things that make it very sustainable.

Within the vehicle itself, since we’re building an American made streetcar, we do things very differently than they do overseas. We’re much more efficient in our shop. We’re lean, we use highly efficient machines that use much less electricity and draw, we put in things like LED lights and design the car in a different way so that we can use fixtures. That allows us to build hundreds of thousands of things out of the same fixture and every one will be the same and repeatable.

Also, we use a lot of steel. Most people don’t know that the most recycled product in the world is steel. That means everything that we do here has a huge amount of recycled content. It’s recycled much more than paper and plastic, because steel can be melted down without losing any of its properties. In addition, we’re doing things like putting in different flooring that will make the car quieter and decrease the overall noise. We consider noise pollution a green issue as well.
There’s a whole variety of other small tweaks we’ve been making to create a car that is as green as possible. However, I think the biggest thing, which often gets overlooked, is that we source locally as much as possible. There are a huge number of parts and pieces that go into each streetcar, many of which we don’t build. We don’t make seats and wires, etc. here at Oregon Iron Works. We integrate all of those things and put them together, but we don’t actually make them. Our commitment to buying local means that we heavily decrease transportation costs and emissions on the shipping of products. We work very closely with all of our supplier networks. I think that’s a huge advantage versus others manufacturers that buying parts from Europe and have them shipped over here.

GG: How have Oregon Iron Works and United Streetcar managed to be competitive in the green manufacturing space versus foreign competitors? Is it important to keep green, manufacturing jobs in the US?
CB:
We think it’s absolutely critical to keep good, green manufacturing jobs in place in the US for a wide variety of reasons. It’s something we have a huge passion for. People don’t often think about it this way, but many times it boils down to being green because of national security and where we’re going as a nation. If we lose the capability to build things here in the United States, we are going to become more and more dependent on foreign companies and countries. We can’t just trade our oil dependence on the Middle East for a manufacturing dependence on China and Korea. It doesn’t make sense. We’re still not helping the country in terms of being in charge of its own security and its ability to move forward in the more sustainable direction we want to take. So it’s absolutely critical to have US manufacturing here.

A simple example is bridges. If we lose our capability to build bridges here, if something were to happen—if an earthquake in San Francisco collapses the Oakland Bay Bridge—we would have to wait months and months to get that bridge back in place. The pieces area so big and so heavy that they cannot be air freighted. They would have to go on a long flow ship that’s large enough to carry the weight of these huge bridge pieces. In terms of damage to a green economy, think about the impact of shutting down the city of San Francisco for months. All the alternate transportation would be less accessible and there would be millions of extra miles added onto commutes as people have to go around while you wait for those ships.

If things can be done here in the United States, you could get a new bridge in weeks. So keeping manufacturing in place is something that’s related to most everything, especially transportation and infrastructure. And transportation is one of the largest issues we have in terms of building a green economy here. That’s just one example of why we think it’s so important.

We’re fortunate that we’ve been able to be really successful—and people always ask us how we continue to compete internationally. The US manufacturing worker is still the most productive in the entire world. So what may take 20 people to do outside the country, because the labor rates are low and they don’t have the same insurance and healthcare, etc., takes one or two people here. Our one person is 10 times more productive. So as long as we’re investing in state of the art equipment and machinery, we’re able to get a sufficiently high amount of efficiency out of our workers that we still can be competitive.

Also, when you take into account decreased shipping costs—because if it’s going someplace in the US, you don’t have to ship the material half way across the world—building it here allows us to use our entire vendor network and reduce the miles things travel. That saves a lot in the costs of transportation and emissions, both for components and final products.

GG: What do you think the role is for alternative transportation options like streetcars in maintaining a sustainable city?
CB:
I like to think that streetcars are one piece of an important puzzle to keep our downtown urban centers going. Streetcars can’t do it alone, but I think they’re a critical component, because they produce zero emissions and decrease the total amount of miles traveled to get people from point A to point B. Even more than that, they are catalysts for the downtown areas. They have increased economic development along the entire line, which is even different than the light rail, where you see development around stops, but bigger, less developed areas between them. So streetcars are piece of it. Do you need buses? Absolutely. Do you need light rail? Absolutely. We are big believers that for urban centers to survive and thrive, you need a variety of types of transit infrastructure to achieve the greenest and most efficient way to move people where they need to go.

GG: How do you think supporting streetcars and other alternative transit options help businesses in general? What’s in it for the average business-owner in Portland to get behind these initiatives?
CB:
Well if you’re a good business person, you’re interested in decreasing your city’s emissions. We should be supportive of these kind of initiatives because they’ll decrease pollution. We should also be for more alternative transit, because it decreases congestion, which is bad for business because 1) it can delay my workforce and 2) it’s creating pollution and 3) congestion is inhibitive to any business that ships or does any type of product transport.

It can also be a benefit, because depending on where your business is located and what industry you’re in, it brings you customers. That’s why there is so much investment along a streetcar line. All the developers, whether it’s for housing or retail, are thrilled because it’s going to help their bottom lines and increase overall profitability. It’s a little bit different if you’re a suburban businessperson, but you would still want it because it enhances the quality of life of your employees. Higher quality of life is a part of a crop of advantages that can lure talented and skilled workers to your city and therefore your company.

GG: What do you see as some of the biggest challenges cities face as they develop alternative transportation systems? Do you have any insights as a leader in your industry on what we, as businesspeople and citizens, can do to conquer those challenges?
CB:
Sadly, the biggest challenge facing pretty much any local, state and federal government, is funding. Obviously, we’re in the middle of a federal crisis in terms of funding infrastructure and transit—even roads—across the United States. So each city has to struggle with the prioritization of where to put their limited resources. It’s very challenging. And anytime you’re talking about any kind of transit investment, you’re talking about a long and big investment. It pays off so much over time, but it’s hard to remember that. Our streetcars can last over 35 years. So while there may be a lot of upfront costs, as time goes by, cities recoup all of that back and get other benefits as well. It’s just a difficult thing to put in a new infrastructure project, when it’s fairly expensive for most cities.

Money really is the biggest challenge and fixing that is difficult. Awareness is a tough one too. Citizens really need to understand the benefits, so they’re willing to let some of the city’s or the county’s or transit agency’s resources go towards these improvements. There have been other things that have been pretty successful for renewable energy, like incentives. We’re always looking to see incentives for streetcars, light rail and buses—anything that’s going to decrease miles traveled and emissions. Should we be rewarding that and incentivizing that? Especially in polluted cities? We think so. It’s one of the ways we think the challenges could be met over time, but it’s a complicated equation, no doubt about it.

GG: What are you most excited to share with GoGreen attendees about the work United Streetcar is doing and the success that you’ve had?
CB:
I think one of the best things we can do is to show that the US green manufacturing and industry is alive and well. If a traditional, metal manufacturing company that builds boats and bridges, can eventually be building wave energy devices and modern streetcars, it’s a pretty huge compliment to the innovation and ingenuity of the American public and the American worker. To me, that’s so incredibly exciting. We’re creating jobs for this new economy and if we can continue to get the right kind of support, hopefully this could turn into a pretty big piece of the United States’ industry fabric. That’s something I really love sharing. It’s not just about United Streetcar and Oregon Iron Works. Yes, I love my company, and we’ve invested millions to take a leadership role in this, but it takes all these other suppliers succeeding as well to create an industry here in the United States. And I think that’s something we should all be proud of supporting.

Chandra Brown is the CEO of United Streetcar and the keynote speaker at the GoGreen Conference in Portland, Oregon on October 5, 2010. The conference is this Tuesday + GoGreen 2009 sold out, so register for GoGreen Conference 2010 Portland soon to join us: http://www.portland.gogreenconference.net/registration.

To learn more about Chandra and United Streetcar, visit: http://www.unitedstreetcar.com

PDX 2010 Green Line Series: Verde’s Alan Hipólito Talks Equitable Access To The Green Economy

We’ve heard the rumors and seen the proof about explosive growth in what’s called the new “green economy.” But not everyone’s getting a fair share of the benefits. Verde’s Executive Director, Alan Hipólito talks with The Green Line Series on how to better integrate underrepresented populations into this new green economy, the advantages of a richly diverse workforce and why it’s crucial to the sustainable business movement’s success.

GG: Can you give us an overview of Verde’s programs and what your mission in the community is?
AH:
We used to say that our goal at Verde was to connect low-income people and people of color with the economic benefits of protecting the environment. But over time that’s evolved into a broader goal of building environmental wealth in those communities. Environmental wealth coming from traditional, natural resources —like clean air, clean water, uncontaminated land, parks, green spaces and habitat—to environmental technologies—like storm water management, ecoroofs, solar installations, weatherization, etc.—and then lastly a third kind of group which involves knowledge and economic opportunity—so environmental education, job training, jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities.

We build wealth in a community in two ways –through social enterprise, and through outreach and advocacy activities.

GG: We obviously talk a lot about making businesses more sustainable at GoGreen–what’s the missing link in your mind that Verde is trying to address?
AH:
If you accept, as I think most folks do, that the definition of sustainability involves a triple bottom line or a three-legged stool—highlighting environment, economy and equity—the sustainable movement has done a pretty good job delivering environmental performance and economic performance, but it does a terrible job of delivering equity. It comes down to the fact that most sustainability practitioners do not wake up in the morning and think about how their activities are going to impact lower income people and people of color. They wake up thinking about how they’re going to make money and protect the environment. They’re lacking that focus and so it doesn’t always happen.

GG: Other than the obvious reasons of fairness, what are the additional advantages to bringing those stakeholders to the table?
AH:
There are a number of them. One is, as we’ve seen with climate change legislation, sustainability practitioners don’t have the political numbers to consistently carry or achieve their legislative priorities. That’s a big building block right there in front of them, that’s often completely discounted.

There’s also an intellectual benefit, that’s been documented many times, to having diverse perspectives around the table. Instead of coming from one limited perspective, you have broader perspectives that tend to uplift the entirety of a program or movement. And there are competitive advantages to having a more diverse workforce as well, because we live in a global economy and the nation is getting more diverse over time. Monocultural, monochromatic initiatives and businesses aren’t well poised for success as we go forward.

GG: Do you think it’s possible for us to make the transition to a green economy if we leave behind low-income populations and people of color?
AH:
No. Absolutely not. It’s not possible. Some states are majority minority now. How are you going to have sustainability when you leave half the population out? You can’t do that.

There’s a train of thought out there, which recognizes that a lot of sustainability involves adopting practices that low-income immigrant communities never got rid of. So these notions of basic reduction of consumption, and reusing items that have already been purchased, local economies, bartering and exchange, local economic networks, alternative transportation—these are behaviors that low-income immigrant communities use all the time. Granted, some of them are forced upon these communities because of economic marginalization—they can’t afford a car or to dispose of items purchased that could be used again. But there are a lot of sustainable practices that already exist within these communities that the mainstream culture is just trying to reorient itself towards.

GG: How is the green economy specifically suited to provide high-quality jobs to historically underserved populations?
AH:
It depends on which people you’re talking about. For adults and specifically adults of a certain age, generally speaking there are more limited career pathways available. A 47-year-old immigrant laborer has less of a chance to become a wetland hydrologist or an environmental engineer as opposed to their son or daughter or granddaughter or grandson, who are exposed to issues of environmental protection or environmental careers early on, and have the opportunity to make decisions about their future that a lot of other people make all the time.

For us, the way we always identify appropriate business avenues is through a combination of market demand–what environmental industries or businesses seem to have demonstrable demand for the foreseeable future—capital needs—how much do these businesses need to get started—and training needs—what are we training people to do and what’s the skill set required for the job. If, given the adult population that we want to serve, it doesn’t make sense for us to be heavy on professional services then we won’t. With the population we’re working with in Portland, you can see why we would have a nursery, and landscape and weatherization contracting businesses based on our populations criteria.

Speaking more broadly, a number of organizations exist at the community level that have begun to develop resources and programs to help take individual community members, who might be underemployed or unemployed, with some or multiple barriers to employment, and provide them with both the support and training necessary so that they can be ready for a long term job or career opportunity in the green economy. We have programs like that which have started up over the last three to four years—which was not happening before—in which we’ve started to see the community-based organizations that serve low-income people, people of color or a given geographic area, really try and figure out how to take somebody from where they are all the way to a good job, that’s going somewhere, at a green business.

GG: What are some of the best practices, methodologies and things that need to happen in terms of legislative support or government support to manifest a shift towards a more diverse and equitable sustainable movement?
AH:
I won’t jump into all the things that need to happen in our education system to support the children of low-income families and youth of color, because I’m not really qualified to speak to that—other than to mention that what we try to do is bring them real world examples from their own community that can say: “I’m your neighbor or someone who lives down the street. I look like you and talk like you and I have a green job. I have health benefits and am getting job training. We’re improving your neighborhood. We built that playground over there and planted that tree over here and weatherized the homes on your street—and you can do it too. In fact, you can do things beyond what I can do. The physical work that I do is good and honorable, but you have even more choices. And myself and my partners want to tell you what they are.”

But that’s just a small part of the solution to support disadvantaged youth in our communities. Governmentally and with other organizations, there are two big things. The first is concerning governments, and this is something we work on quite a bit with our partners, where we’re looking for progressive or inclusive public contracting mechanisms. These kinds of best practices are pretty late to come to the sustainable movement. In the past, many people all over the city and country have worked really hard to develop models and practices that help incentivize participation by minority and women owned businesses, support a diverse work force, etc. And those have, to a great extent, happened on large construction projects like stadiums and skyscrapers.

These practices are late to come to sustainability for a lot of reasons, although we’ve started to see a change in that over the last couple of years. But if environmental policy makers—who are trying to incent the growth of an ecoroof industry or the green building industry, or who are trying to bring the Oregon Sustainability Center to life—if they adopted progressive and inclusive contracting practices they would make a big difference in the economic lives of low-income citizens and people of color in the community, not to mention the businesses that employ them. When government comes to the market place it can make a big difference and government is certainly coming to the marketplace around sustainability.

The other thing that I’ll say is that one of the challenges that has existed in connecting disadvantaged community members with good, green jobs that are going somewhere, is the current and historical disconnect between these communities and the environmental movement. So, for example, there are people in the community and at community-based organizations who know all about these inclusive contracting practices and all about designing a job-training program to meet the needs of a certain employer or sector. They know how to create public contracting models that would incent and employer to hire a diverse workforce—but they don’t know a lot about sustainability. They generally don’t know a lot about the specific job skills that are required for a particular green business or sector.

On the other side of that divide are the business owners and industry advocates. There are folks who know everything you every possibly want to know about how to fund, build and operate a bio-fuel facility or to grow the alternative fuel industry in the region or the state. They know everything about ecoroof design and construction, and what kinds of public policies would encourage further ecoroof use in the region. But these practitioners, correspondingly, don’t know much at all about how to create jobs for low-income people and people of color.

What we see is a real need to bring those two arenas together—the people who know how to create jobs and know how to train people with the sustainability practitioners who know what kind of job their businesses are going to need and know what is driving demand for these jobs.

GG: If I’m a business owner, and I want to integrate progressive and inclusive hiring practices into what I’m doing. What are some things I need to start thinking about and resources to reach out to in order to start the process?
AH:
Obviously, we’d encourage you to reach out to us, but only because we’re part of a larger group of community-based organizations from the Native-American community, the Black community, the Latino and immigrant communities—and we’ve come together to design a comprehensive training pathway to connect our residents to good green jobs. Together with the workforce system, trainers, apprenticeship programs and some employers, we were awarded a $4 million Federal grant to further design this pathway. So if an employer knows they will have a need for four weatherization technicians and six solar installers, and so on—then that’s the arena to engage, because we’re designing the training to meet the needs of the employers.

Alan Hipólito is the Executive Director of Verde, a Portland-based non-profit working to provide green career opportunities to disadvantaged citizens and communities. He’s also a featured speaker at the GoGreen Conference 2010 in Portland, Oregon on October 5, 2010. The conference is next Tuesday + GoGreen 2009 sold out, so register for GoGreen Conference 2010 Portland soon to join us: http://www.portland.gogreenconference.net/registration.

To learn more about the awesome work going on at Verde: http://www.verdenw.org