May 06

One Drop At A Time

waterdropIn beginning a new season, we are inclined to become introspective. We look at our daily lives and routines and evaluate in order to improve. You may wonder if you are doing enough to care for yourself, your fellow humans and the environment.

When looking for ways to live a more fulfilling and responsible life, it is easy to become overwhelmed. There are many facets of life on which one could focus; however, the thought of conquering everything at once can be daunting. A great solution to this is to begin with some small, simple things that involve daily activities. In reality, the small things that you do each day make the biggest impact overall. For example, here are three easy ways to save water, the world’s most precious resource. In doing so, you will be helping yourself, fellow humans and the environment, one drop at a time.

Time it: Every day, you do things that involve running a faucet for a period of time, whether it’s washing dishes or brushing your teeth. The mind can wander while the tap is running and valuable water is going down the drain. One way to get the job done effectively is to set a timer. If you know that the timer is going to go off, and you will have to shut off the sink at the sound of the alarm, you will be more cognizant of the amount of resources you use. Once you use a timer a few times, you will subconsciously become accustomed to using water in a timelier manner. This way, in addition to saving resources, you will also save time.

Install it: In doing a little research about water conservation devices, you might be surprised at how easy they are to install and implement into your daily routine. Water-saving showerheads use a fraction of the H2O that regular showerheads use, while still functioning efficiently. Once you have your high-efficiency shower head installed, you can save the wet stuff by simply showering normally. You will use less, therefore simultaneously saving money on your bills and helping our planet.

Drink it: Ironically, drinking water is a great way to conserve it. Use a filter to purify your tap water and opt to drink it instead of bottled water, soda or other beverages. Considering that water composes 75 percent of your body, it must be the healthiest thing you can drink. By drinking purified water from you tap, you are also reducing the amount that goes into manufacturing non-water beverages. Everyday, millions of gallons of precious H2O are used to manufacture soda. Make a resolution to limit or discontinue drinking packaged drinks and create a healthier Earth and a healthier you.

Water conservation is one of Ashley’s favorite topics to write about. If you’re looking for more information regarding water saving showerheads, please visit http://www.niagaraconservation.com/

Aug 22

Make Back-To-School A “Green” Event

Photograph courtesy of tncountryfan/Flickr, Creative Commons license

Photograph courtesy of tncountryfan/Flickr, Creative Commons license

What motivates people to save energy? This year, the Great Energy Challenge launched a project, the 360º Energy Diet, designed in part to tackle this very question. (Another round of the diet begins this fall.) For some people who joined, it was the idea of living a simpler, less wasteful lifestyle. Others liked the idea of losing weight, whether it was literally shedding pounds by switching to less energy-intensive eating habits, or lightening their monthly bills by saving on electricity and other expenses.

survey released earlier this year by the consulting firms Deloitte and the Harrison Group confirms that financial incentives can motivate changes in energy use. Sixty-eight percent of respondents agreed with the statement “I/Our family took several extra steps to reduce our electric bill as a result of the recession.” Even more striking, 95 percent of those consumers have no plans to go back to their pre-recession spending habits, even if the economy improves.

Operating on this same “green” (i.e. monetary) concept, the company Recyclebank offers consumers in the United States and the United Kingdom discounts and deals in exchange for everyday planet-friendly actions such as recycling electronics or cutting energy use at home. Looking ahead to the school year, when many families are making lots of new purchases and preparing students to participate in many new activities, Recyclebank offers these tips for a less resource-intensive back-to-school season:

Pack waste-free lunches: It’s estimated that Americans go through 100 billion plastic bags a year- this averages to 360 bags per person. Purchase a reusable lunch bag or box for your child, and fill reusable bottles with water or juice. If you do use plastic bags, reuse and recycle them. Clean and dry Ziploc® bags can be recycled at most grocery stores where you drop off plastic shopping bags.

Encourage school cafeterias to buy local:
 At the next PTA meeting, discuss the topic with other parents and consider connecting with school administrators about bringing local food to the cafeteria for sustainable and healthy lunches. Contact the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service for resources and information on farm-to-school programs.

Conserve paper:
 Remind your family to only print when truly necessary. If you must print, do it on 100-percent recycled paper, which is often cheaper than paper made from trees. Consider investing in eReaders and tablet computers; your children can use them for school assignments and you forgo buying paper books, newspapers and magazines.

Choose sustainable school supplies:
 In the United States alone, approximately 11,600 incense-cedar trees are cut down to create the 2 billion pencils made each year. To minimize your environmental footprint, opt for school supplies wrapped in limited packaging and recycle what you can. Seek out greener supplies like recycled or mechanical pencils, refillable pens and paper clips made from recycled steel.

“Upcycle” last year’s supplies: Three-ring binders that are still in great working order can be refurbished at home. Cover the entire exterior of the binder with a sheet of cork contact paper, then trim to size for a clean, modern looking folder.

Recycle old electronics: If you’re upgrading your family’s electronics this year, be mindful of recycling old models (Recyclebank offers rewards for this). Don’t forget to recycle the batteries too.

Green your wardrobe: Shop in vintage or thrift stores to suspend the life of clothing, or even arrange a clothing swap with friends or relatives. When buying new clothes, look for those made with sustainable fabrics like organic cotton and bamboo.

Streamline transportation:
 Use school or public buses when at all possible to reduce emissions. If you must drive, arrange a carpool. Getting bikes (and helmets) for the whole family is the most efficient way to go – and fun and healthy too.

In order to up the ante on many of these actions, Recyclebank is holding a Green Your School Year Challenge that begins Wednesday and goes through Sept. 30. The highest scorers can win prizes including $2,500 gift cards to Macy’s, electric bicycles and e-readers. No matter what your motivation, the fall season offers a good opportunity to reevaluate some of the choices we make every year, and possibly get some “green” in the process.

Aug 11

Barbie Goes Green

Barbie gets a green roof

Posted: 2011-08-10 21:58:03 UTC

Kaid Benfield, Director, Sustainable Communities & Smart Growth, Washington, DC

I vacationed in Prague not long ago and wandered into a museum full of Barbie dolls.  Pretty impressive, in its way.  Barbie has come a long way over the years, and her newest incarnation over the years, and her newest incarnation is as an architect with a green home.

Architect Barbie (via Inhabitat)Bridgette Meinhold previewed Architect Barbie in Inhabitat:

“Various people and organizations have long been vying to get Barbie to become an architect and, finally in 2010, Mattel agreed.  University of Buffalo professor Despina Stratigakos and Kelly Hayes McAlonie consulted for Mattel and made suggestions about Architect Barbie’s clothing and her accessories.  While many disapprove of Architect Barbie’s choice of footwear, the architecture plan tube, and her choice of pink, the designers had good reason to choose all the items. They had to find a balance between stereotypes and pushing the boundaries.”  

I don’t have a big problem with that, actually, and would sooner hire an Architect Barbie than a hypothetical Architect Ken to design my building.

If I did, chances are the building might have some cool green features.  This summer, the American Institute of Architects held a design competition for Architect Barbie’s “Dream House.”  Among the guidelines, according to Meinhold, were that the home should reflect “the best sustainable design principles” with a smart home office, a top of the line kitchen “and tons of space to entertain.”

Architect Barbie's Dream House (via AIA)

The winning entry, designed by Ting Li and Maja Parklar, provides Barbie with the latest technology.  From the AIA press release announcing the winner:

“The winning house design features entertaining space and chef’s open kitchen on the first floor, along with an office / library / meeting space. There is also a terrace on the second floor.  The third and fourth floors are Barbie® doll’s private enclave, her bedroom and her inspiration room respectively.  The roof has a green house and a landscaped garden for her domestic pets.  The design elements include solar panels, landscaped rooftop and irrigation system, operable shading devices, bamboo flooring, low flow toilet and sink fixtures, and locally sourced and manufactured materials and furnishings.”

Go here for Meinhold’s latest coverage of the dream house, and lots of good images.

Of course, this being an AIA competition, the house has nearly 5,000 square feet of living space and is sited on a three-acre lot in Malibu with a three-car garage.  The Institute isn’t known for giving much weight to green locations with walkability and transportation choices in its competitions, unfortunately.  So I think “the best sustainable design principles” should come with a disclaimer in this case.  Even Barbie can’t have everything, apparently.

The series on NRDC’s sustainable communities agenda will resume tomorrow.

Move your cursor over the images for credit information.

Kaid Benfield writes (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment.  For more posts, see his blog’s home page.


Jun 22

Dire forecast of marine life catastrophe – San Francisco Chronicle

The world’s oceans are degenerating far faster than predicted and marine life is facing extinction due to a range of human impacts – from overfishing to climate change – a report compiled by international scientists warned Tuesday.

The cumulative impact of “severe individual stresses,” ranging from climate warming and sea-water acidification to widespread chemical pollution and overfishing, would threaten the marine environment with a catastrophe “unprecedented in human history.”

The conclusions were published by a panel of international scientists who reviewed recent research at a workshop at Oxford University in Britain. They will be presented to the United Nations in New York this week for discussions on reforming governance of the oceans.

The report warned that damage to marine life would harm its ability to support humans, and that entire ecosystems, such as coral reefs, could be lost in a generation. Coral deaths alone would be considered a mass extinction, according to study chief author Alex Rogers of Oxford University. A single bleaching event in 1998 killed one-sixth of the world’s tropical coral reefs.

Carl Lundin, director of global marine programs at the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which helped produce the report with the International Program on the State of the Ocean, pointed to deaths of 1,000-year-old coral in the Indian Ocean and called the situation “really unprecedented.”

Chemicals and plastics from daily life are also causing problems for sea creatures, the report said. Overall, the world’s oceans just can’t bounce back from problems – such as oil spills – as they used to, scientists said.

“Unless action is taken now, the consequences of our activities are at a high risk of causing, through the combined effects of climate change, overexploitation, pollution and habitat loss, the next globally significant extinction event in the ocean,” it said.

The marine scientists called for a range of urgent measures to cut carbon emissions, reduce overfishing, shut unsustainable fisheries, create protected areas in the seas and cut pollution.

“As we considered the cumulative effect of what humankind does to the ocean, the implications became far worse than we had individually realized,” Rogers said. “This is a very serious situation demanding unequivocal action at every level.”

A separate study released Monday provided the most detailed look yet of sea level rise from global warming. It found the world’s oceans have been rising significantly over the past century. The yearly rise is slightly less than one-tenth of an inch, but it adds up over decades. That study was published in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This article appeared on page A – 4 of the San Francisco Chronicle