Tuesday, September 30, 2008

USGBC Releases Strategic Plan

For those of you not on the USGBC's mailing list - check it out: Strategic Plan 2009-2013. This five-year plan (only 20 pages, so a quick read), outlines strategic goals and objectives as well as implementation strategies.

Strategic goals include:
  • "Catalyze and lead the building sector's active participation in th emovement to achieve sustainable cities and communities."
  • "Lead the dramatic reduction and eventual elimination of building construction and operations' contribution to climate change and natural resource depletion."
  • "Accelerate green building demand, delivery, and accessiblity."
  • "Advocate for effective and comprehensive green building policy and codes at all levels of government."
  • "Advance green building around the world by developing certification capacity, sharing knowledge, and collaboratively advancing regionally appropriate and effective green building practices and policies."
  • "Leverage USGBC's organizational structure and capacity to support and catalyze the market transformation required to achieve its mission."

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Fun Renewable Energy Tools

I went to a great presentation at the USGBC-NCR's chapter meeting last week. The presentation, sponsored by ACORE featured four speakers discussing renewable energy. One of the points that I really took home was the number of cool FREE resources that are available.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has lots of cool tools:
The presentations aren't up yet, but check the USGBC-NCR's site for past presentations.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Energy Star Not So Super?

Bad news for Energy Star: in it's October 2008 issue, Consumer Reports magazine criticizes the program. In the article "Energy Star has lost some luster" the magazine shares information on energy testing of appliances, with the basic finding that EPA's testing does not adequately reflect how products are used.
The article also identifies loopholes in the process, claims that qualifing standards are too lax, and that testing procedures are not up to snuff. Additionally, it points out that manufacturers are allowed to test their own products.
Very interesting...and highlights the importance of third-party review systems.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Sometimes Transit is Fun

Usually the days I blog about transit are days that have been wrought with public transit annoyances (rude people, train delays, etc). This week, I had a lot of fun riding the Metro.

First, it's great for people watching:
  • Man sitting at one end of train reading not one, but two books at the same time. Man in middle of car taking digital photos of reading guy (unbeknownst to photo subject).
  • Woman walking up escalator. Green hair, metal studded belt, no pants (translucent black tights only).

Second, it can be a fun way to restore faith in humanity:

  • Gentleman to me as I'm exiting the train (going to see Nationals baseball team lose 99th game of season): "You go, girl! Have fun at the game! World Series, right?"
  • I was talking to the guy sitting next to me on the way home from the game and mentioned that I was disappointed that I had not been able to snag one of the giveaways for my husband. The gentleman gave me his (he was a Yankees fan). So nice!

Faith restored in humanity...and transit enjoyment is definitely up this week ;) Maybe I'll ride it more than usual next week!

Anyone have fun (or gross, shocking, or other) transit stories to share?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Cycling to be Green?

What if you did something because you’re passionate about it and not because it’s “green”? But, that passionate thing you do contributes to greening our lifestyle, culture and environment. My passion is cycling and as a result of a few years mountain biking and then switching over to what we in the U.S. call “road biking” I extended this passion to commuting. I started not because of rising oil prices, traffic congestion, increased carbon emissions but simply because I like to ride.

I must admit, given my travel schedule and other family commitments, my goal is modest by cycling at least 1 day a week but it’s a start. However, I’m looking at ways to increase that goal. For example, I’m encouraging my 10 year old daughter to cycle to school. We could ride together (on separate bikes), I would drop her off at school, then I would continue on to work and repeat the reverse later that afternoon. I’ll have to report back on the success of this one! Or, having my wife join me on her bike for a trip to the grocery store.

As you might begin to see, for me, this is more about developing a culture around cycling – starting with my family – than being a green activist. At one point I was sharing with Greenette my passion and admitted it wasn’t my primary goal to make a difference in terms of being green but for the other reasons I’ve noted. For a moment I felt guilty or that maybe I should be telling people I decided to cycle to work because it’s more sustainable. Even the local NBC affiliate interviewed me for a story on Georgia’s economy hoping that I’d confess to “selling my car in exchange for a bike” in a response to the high gas prices. Greenette helped me see that we all can make a difference and it doesn’t have to start with saving the planet. Instead, it’s ok to find something you’re passionate about and then see how that can translate into improving our world – whether it’s reducing carbon emissions, improving your health, improving our culture or spending more time with your daughter.

If you think cycling has to be complicated as we in the U.S. have made it out to be, I suggest you check out Mikael Colville-Andersen’s two blogs about cycling in Copenhagen: http://www.copenhagencyclechic.com and http://www.copenhagenize.com. He’s also written a piece for the LA Times Blog http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/bottleneck/2008/08/how-copenhagen.html. Over there, cycling is just part of their culture and it does not require a high end bike, special clothes or even a helmet (gasp!). The bikes are functional, easy to ride and you don’t have to give up fashion. It’s just part of their culture and one we can learn from.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Atlanta Out of Gas

As if we needed another reason to reduce our addiction to fossil fuels - now we're literally running out of gas. One of my colleagues tried to get gas at four stations before he gave up and went home to work. This today from Fox News Atlanta:

The drought at the pump is still hitting Atlanta hard. Now, state and industry officials said they are working as fast as they can to restore fuel and are urging people not to panic.

Many motorists drove around metro Atlanta on Monday searching for any gas station that had fuel. Throughout the day, vehicles were lined up at gas stations in a desperate attempt to fill up on gas. Experts said Georgia’s gas shortage will likely continue for the next couple of days.

The president of a local petroleum company wants the federal government to wave the mandated clean burning fuel for the metro area. However in a written statement, the Environmental Protection Agency said "Localized shortages generally are not a fuel supply disruption for which a waiver may be granted."

Monday, September 22, 2008

The wake up call we've been waiting for?

In the UK news today was a warning from the Carbon Trust and McKinsey & Co that companies that fail to tackle climate change could lower the value of their businesses.
The study found that the deep emissions reductions necessary to tackle climate change, meet the Kyoto Protocol and put us on a path to a low carbon economy, will create significant business opportunities and risks. Companies’ futures will be highly dependent on how well prepared they are for the move, which will create large upsides and downsides for business.
Well positioned and proactive, forward thinking businesses could increase company value by up to 80%. Conversely, poorly positioned and laggard companies run the greatest risk of destroying value. The groundbreaking research found that as much as 65% of company value was at risk in some sectors.
The research covered six sectors of the economy including car manufacturing, brewing and consumer electronics valued at $7 trillion. Of these sectors, automotive firms stood to gain the most by adopting greener strategies by capitalising on the hybrid and electric car market, but also risked the greatest loss by failing to take on board these changes.
For more information, see the press release on The Carbon Trust website.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Sometimes You Just Have to Drive....

....and when you do, here's a cool way to cut your carbon emissions. Anyone who drives knows what a pain it can be to find parking. Spending an extra 15 minutes driving around trying to find a spot not only makes you cranky, but also uses fuel and creates additional emissions.

The question is, how to prevent this. I ran across a website that gives parking resources for a variety of locations (airports, cities, etc.). Next time you have to drive and don't know where to park, maybe it will come in handy: 15 Services for Finding Parking Spots.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Paint the Town .... White?

High albedo to the rescue! An announcement at California's annual Climate Change Research Conference shows the potential for massive global warming offsets by using high-albedo roofing materials.
"Globally, roofs account for 25% of the surface of most cities, and pavement accounts for about 35%. If all were switched to reflective material in 100 major urban areas, it would offset 44 metric gigatons of greenhouse gases."
Pretty unbelievable what a little paint could do!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Do You Live in the Most Sustainable City?

I ran across another cool article: The 20 Cities of 2020. This article discusses the ten large cities and ten mid-sized cities with the best sustainability plans. The researchers determined their list from a number of factors, including:
  • Economy
  • Population
  • Cultural activities
  • Universities
  • International acclaim
  • A good sustainability program/plan

The top ten big cities (Global Sustainability Centers):

  • Toronto, Canada
  • Singapore, Singapore
  • Hyderabad, India
  • Cape Town, South Africa
  • Abu Dhabi, UAE
  • New York City, USA
  • London, UK
  • Melbourne, Australia
  • Curitiba, Brazil
  • Frankfurt, Germany

I love that these cities are all over the world!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Wireless Power

First we had wireless telephones, then wireless internet...now wireless power? An old college pal sent me an article about arrays in orbit transmitting power via microwave. Pretty high-tech!

"Funded by the Discovery Channel, John C. Mankins finished a four month experiment which began by collecting solar power, nothing out of the ordinary. What happened next was relatively extraordinary, though -- he transmitted the power 92 miles (148 km) between two Hawaiian Islands. Terrestrial power transmission is only of interest to Mr. Mankins as a proof of concept. Mr. Mankins' true plans are out of this world. He envisions a network of 1,102 lb. (500 kg) satellites beaming solar power collected from panels back to Earth, satisfying all the world's power needs."

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

New Alliance between HOK and Biomimicry Guild

A press release went out yesterday - looks like HOK and the Biomimicry Guild are forming an alliance. Here's a clip:

This exclusive relationship between one of the world's largest architectural design firms and the only bio-inspired innovation company will integrate nature's innovations in the planning and design of buildings, communities and cities worldwide.

Established by biologists Janine Benyus and Dr. Dayna Baumeister in 1998, Biomimicry is a science that studies nature's best ideas and imitates these designs and processes to solve human problems. Biomimicry has inspired numerous commercial products and individual building projects, and the new alliance between the Biomimicry Guild and HOK has the potential to dramatically expand its scale and impact.

"Given the size, breadth and diversity of HOK's design practice, our firm can significantly influence the future generation of architecture, planning and interior design projects around the world," says HOK President Bill Hellmuth. The built
environment is the most fertile ground for biomimicry, according to Dayna Baumeister, PhD, co-founder of the Biomimicry Guild. "Buildings account for about 50% of total U.S. energy use, and our greatest collective impact will come from applying biomimicry to the planning and design of buildings, communities and cities -- at every scale and in every region," she says.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Commuting the Green Way

A colleague turned me on to this cool site: The Green Bike Project. This is a reward-based program in King County, Washington that tries to get more people out on their bikes. Participants pledge to reduce their drive alone commuting by 60% or more.
For those people that already have bikes, you'll get a free tune up. Folks without bikes will be loaned a green bike. Upon fulfilment of the pledge, bike owners qualify for entry for a $1000 REI gift card; green bike-borrowers get to keep their green bike.

Pretty cool, if you ask me! Now all I have to do is move to Seattle, sign up, and steal my helmet back from my 3-year old nephew.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Is your shower curtain bad for you (or the world)?

I have been an ardent avoider of all things poly-vinyl chloride (PVC) since I first saw the film Blue Vinyl a few years ago. The thing about vinyl is - and the Vinyl Institute is happy to tell you - it isn't always harmful when it is in use as a consumer product. It is reasonably durable and recyclable. Vinyl advocates will tell you that this makes it a 'green' product. However, there have been alarming discoveries that PVC is quite harmful at both ends of its lifecycle. And it my book, it isn't green if it harms the people who make it.

From http://www.bluevinyl.org/: "PVC requires hazardous chemicals in its production and very hazardous chemicals, such as dioxin and PCBs, are byproducts of that same production. PVC leaches or releases harmful chemicals in some consumer products, and toxic byproducts, including dioxins, are created when it is burned.
The manufacture of PVC can put worker health and fence-line communities at risk through exposure to hazardous chemicals that can cause a number of severe health problems including cancer, endometriosis, neurological damage, immune system damage, respiratory problems, liver and kidney damage, and birth defects."
So I needed to purchase a new shower curtain liner and found myself on the bath products aisle looking for a good alternative. The good news is I found shower curtains made from ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) and polyester. I wasn't familiar with EVA, so I went with the mold-resistent polyester variety and looked up EVA when I got home.

I don't know that EVA is wholly benign, but it turns out that many major retailers, such as IKEA, have turned to EVA as a safer alternative to PVC
It's good to know that there are alternatives, however it seems that despite the risks, PVC production is still on the rise. If more educated consumers start shopping for alternative products to vinyl, maybe the trend can be reversed.

Friday, September 12, 2008

"Look! It’s spinning!"

I ran across an interesting article in the New York Times that discusses the value of installing small-scale wind turbines. Essentially, the article suggests that most small-scale wind turbines are unlikely to produce enough energy to offset their cost. Regardless, people still seem interested in investing, despite the high cost.

My favorite part of the article was a quote by Jay Leno: “People seem fascinated by the turbines. You go, ‘Look! It’s spinning!’”

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Stinky Transit No More?

Have you ever gotten into a train or bus only to be accosted by unpleasant odors? I just learned that Paris and Berlin have "perfumes" to help de-odorize their commuter rail systems.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Sustainable Car Game

My husband and I went to the beach over Labor Day weekend - a very fun trip, although a bit crowded. One of our favorite beach games to play is "Hummer vs. Prius." We've played this game every year for the past three years. The results:
  • 2006 - 25 Hummer: 7 Prius
  • 2007 - 8 Hummer: 15 Prius
  • 2008 - 25 Hummer: 25 Prius
I was very suprised by this year's results. Pleasantly suprised that there were nearly twice as many Prius as the year before. Unpleasantly surprised to see how many Hummers were on the road. I'm not sure why there were so many...with gas prices high, and rising environmental consciousness, I expected far fewer.

Just thought I'd share my fun game and see if you had any ideas as to why the stats are playing out the way they have.
Also, very timely article from Time Magazine: A Brief History Of: The Humvee

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Gaming...to Help the Environment

With all the cool fun games out there, video games are not just for kids and geeks. People use video games for fitness, for camraderie (anyone up for a Rock Band party?), increasing hand-eye coordination, and the list goes on.

I was cruising through Planetizen's latest newsletter and saw this cool article: The Black Cloud: Using Games to Understand Air Quality. Although this is not the first time I've heard of games being used for educational purposes (I vaguely remember a "drilling for oil" game in 7th grade science...no joke!), it is the first time I've heard of games for the environment. If anyone knows of any others, please share!
"The Black Cloud" game places a number of sensors in locations throughout a neighborhood and transmits data to a website where people can watch. The sensor locations are not disclosed, so players get to figure it out based on what type of land use and behavior might cause the readings. It's a fascinating story and the kind of thing I could totally find myself playing :)

Monday, September 8, 2008

SketchUp Sustainability Toolbar

SketchUp is a super-cool, super-fun tool created by our friends at Google. This program brings 3-D rendering capabilities to literally anyone with a computer. Now, anyone with a computer can run analyses on their designs in SketchUp. I haven't tested it yet, but it sounds pretty cool!

Check out the announcement: Building Simulation Plug-in Available for Google Sketchup.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Decreasing your Delivery Footprint

At every job I've ever had, from my first internship to my current position, there has been a need to get materials from one place to another. As a member of the Millennial generation, my delivery needs have been cut drastically by email, but there are still occasions that require a hard copy arriving, and ASAP!

I've been very lucky to work in a city where often this can be accomplished in an environmentally-friendly manner: via bicycle courier. Anyone who has ever driven in DC knows that getting around by bike can be much more effective than driving or riding in a cab.

It was with great pleasure that I read that bicycle couriers are becoming more and more popular: Unburdened by Gas Costs, Bike Couriers See a Chance. Check it out and next time you're sending a package by courier, maybe it'll go by bike (or tricycle, or skateboard, or whatever)!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Green Coal-Fired Power Stations?

Some interesting news from Europe today. Germany has today unveiled a pilot project for the first carbon capture and storage (CCS) at a coal-fired energy plant. Next week this pilot will be formally commissioned.

The mechanism is: A cloud of pure oxygen will be breathed into the boiler. The flame will be lit. Then a cloud of powdered lignite will be injected. The outcome will be heat, water vapour, impurities, nine tonnes of CO2 an hour, and a landmark in clean technology.
The CO2 will then be separated, squashed to one 500th of its original volume and squeezed into a cylinder ready to be transported to a gas field. In the gas field the CO2 is forced 1,000m below the surface into porous rock.
More information on the BBC Website.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

CA Cities must reduce CO2 before they receive transportation funding

Looks like California is - once again - raising the bar. This time they are looking at creating incentives for cities and counties to reduce CO2 reduction goals by withholding government trasnportation funding unless certain requirements are met. Here's a clip from the Wall Street Journal yesterday:

California lawmakers passed a bill aimed at cutting carbon-dioxide emissions by rewarding cities and counties that prevent urban sprawl and improve public transportation.

The bill's proponents and transportation experts say it is the first measure in the nation to link government transportation funding with urban planning and CO2-reduction goals. Senate Bill 375 contends that cutting back on driving is as critical in the fight against global warming as producing cleaner fuels and more-efficient vehicles. Transportation experts say they expect the bill to become a model for state and national policy makers.

Under the new bill, regional planning authorities will have to develop realistic plans to meet emission-reduction targets in order to receive transportation funding and lighter regulations for builders. Compact projects built close to public-transportation options are rewarded with fewer regulatory hurdles.

With passenger vehicles accounting for about 30% of the state's emissions, lowering the number of miles Californians drive is indispensable, said Stanley Young, a spokesman for the Air Resources Board, the agency that implements the 2006 law.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Australian Business Pays for Green

Colliers International 2008 Office Tenant Survey found that environment and workplace wellbeing are now key issues for Australian office tenants.

The most notable changes in the results of the 2008 survey compared to 2005 revolved around increased awareness of issues regarding environmental sustainability, including a significantly increased demand to occupy environmentally sustainable buildings and fit outs. Colliers noted that the push for sustainability is coming from employees and so it has become a major issue in staff attraction and retention.

In fact, in terms of importance in attracting and retaining staff, the importance of a building’s environmental performance has moved up from being ranked 14th in 2005 to 8th in 2008.

The survey found 77% of tenants are implementing environmental sustainability in their new workplace fitout in 2008, up from 49% in 2005. These results show a large shift in awareness, but there is still nearly one quarter of tenants who are not implementing sustainability initiatives, so there is still a long way to go, even in such an environmentally progressive country as Australia.

For more info see Collier's press release.

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