Saturday, January 31, 2009

Sustainable Cities Collective

At Greenbuild this year, I was filmed with lots of other folks talking about our thoughts about the environmental movement and giving advice to Barack Obama as he begins his first year in office. The film was organized by the Sustainable Cities Collective - who just launched their website today. The film is short and an excellent melding of ideas and thoughts - check it out!

The purpose of the Sustainable City Collective is to "create a community where urban policymakers, technologists and entrepreneurs can share their ideas across disciplines, build consensus, and drive solutions." Too early to tell how this site will take shape, but I love the idea. Cities policy makers and planners have a lot to share and learn from each other and tools like this are sure to help.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Travelocity Pinpoints Green Hotels

Finally, a resource for the eco-minded tourist!

Travelocity has launched a directory of green hotels designed to help travelers separate the truly green from the greenwashed. The Green Directory is based on a four-tier rating system created by the Partnership for the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria. The site flags properties that have been certified by the Rainforest Alliance and the U.S. EPA's Energy Star program.

Travelocity built its green directory after an in-house survey revealed that nearly 60% of consumers would weigh environmental performance when choosing a hotel this year.

The hospitality industry is increasingly targeting green-minded travelers. Major hotel chains, like Marriott, are investing money to green both their properties and their image in the marketplace. Consultants to assist in greening the hospitality industry are starting to crop up as well.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sustainability Buzzword Generator

You may have heard of bullfighter software to help you eliminate the use of jargon/buzzwords and unnecessarily complicated sentences ("paradigm of synergy" anyone?), but did you know you can create your own sustainability buzzwords? It's equally as fun (and funny).

My entries:
the green workplace ---> triple bottom line convergence forum
green vision --->intelligent environmental network
recycling bins --->responsible adaptive programme

I could waste hours with this!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Just when you thought the Prius couldn't get any cooler..

The all-new 2010 Prius hybrid will feature solar panels on some of the high-end models that will power the electronics like the air conditioning.  That's right.  Solar panels powering the car.  The next Prius is rumored to be even more efficient than the current generation, a trend I've come to expect from a company that believes in Kaizen principles  or "incremental improvement".  

But seriously, to rant a tiny bit on our good friends in Detroit, what is is going to take to get you to realize we want beautiful, fuel efficient cars, not gas guzzling trucks?  Bill Ford, Mr. Environmentalist, worked with Bill McDonough to build acres of green roofs on his Michigan plants, but the cars he sells are still gas guzzlers!  Seriously, if Americans are going to keep jobs in America, we're going to have to bring the very best of designers and green thinkers into our factory floors.  

iPhone app tracks commuter carbon footprint

Companies looking for ways to encourage their employees to carpool or take alternative transportation to work now have a new tool at their disposal - a GPS-enabled carbon footprint application for the iPhone.

Available for free download at the iPhone App Store, the Carbon Tracker, from carbon-management firm Clear Standards, enables users to calculate the carbon footprint from daily commuting, vacations, or business trips.

The application takes advantage of the iPhone's GPS function to estimate distance traveled. Emissions are calculated based on averages from tools developed by the World Resources Institute.

Users can also set monthly "maximum emission" goals and monitor their progress against their own personal carbon footprint reduction targets.

"Although Clear Standards is known for developing carbon management software for businesses, we recognize the important role of individuals in helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," says Richard Mendis, co-founder of Clear Standards. "The Carbon Tracker iPhone app...engages individuals as part of our overall carbon management and sustainability solutions."
Both businesses and their employees stand to gain from cutting commute distances. Sun Microsystems' Open Work telecommuting program, for example, not only cuts the company's building management costs but also saves employees more than $1,700 a year in gasoline and wear and tear on their vehicles, according to Sun's latest statistics.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Energy Inefficiency

Remember how your parents used to yell at you to close the refrigerator door? This was probably a cost-avoidance measure, but it was also environmentally friendly.

Overall, Americans need to do a better job of closing the refrigerator door, not running the air conditioning when the windows are on, and turning off the lights when we leave the room...both at home and in the office (I can't tell you how many times I've come into the office early in the morning to find that the conference room lights are on)!

Over the past couple of weeks I have run into a couple of articles talking about America's greatest untapped "natural resource" - energy efficiency.

The first article, America's Untapped Energy Resource: Boosting Efficiency, points out that efficiency isn't quite as sexy as solar or wind power, but that it is a remarkably simple and easy way to reduce reliance on dirty fossil fuels. Instead of providing more, and cleaner energy, we should use less (and cleaner, of course). We've already made huge strides: "the Alliance to Save Energy calculates that without the efficiency gains we've made since the last energy crisis, in 1973, our economy would use nearly 50% more energy today."
The author argues that there are two major ways to be more efficient: 1. Using more efficient equipment, and 2. Using equipment more efficiently. Simply put, we need to stop wasting energy and money.
The second was an opinion piece in the New York Times: Energy Inefficient. This piece points out how Americans spend more energy than other industrialized (or rapidly industrializing) countries to complete the same activities.
Pretty interesting (and inspiring) stuff! It's definitely got me thinking about my office Green Team and what I can do in my home!
Image Source: Technology Student

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

First Inaugurations speech to ever mention energy, climate, renewables!

I cried many times yesterday, and yes, this was one of those times:

President Barack Obama was sworn in yesterday, and his inaugural address called for the expanded use of renewable energy to meet the twin challenges of energy security and climate change. Noting that "each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet," President Obama looked to the near future, saying that as a nation, the United States will "harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories." Those were the first references ever to our nation's energy use, to renewable resources, and to climate change in an inauguration speech of a U.S. president. President Obama later circled back to the subject of climate change, proclaiming that "with old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to ... roll back the specter of a warming planet." See the inaugural addresses of all the presidents, including President Obama's inaugural address, on the American Presidency Project Web site, an effort of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

As the president was being sworn in, the newly revised White House Web site went live, and it prominently features President Obama's agenda for energy and the environment. The president's "New Energy for America" plan calls for a federal investment of $150 billion over the next decade to catalyze private efforts to build a clean energy future. Specifically, the plan calls for renewable energy to supply 10% of the nation's electricity by 2012, rising to 25% by 2025. The plan also calls for deploying energy efficiency, including the weatherization of one million homes each year. It also calls for an economy-wide cap-and-trade program to achieve an 80% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. And to help meet that goal, the plan sets a target of placing one million plug-in hybrid cars on the road by 2015, along with a national standard to reduce the carbon emissions from our motor fuels. To help meet the plug-in hybrid goal, the plan calls for a new $7,000 tax credit for those who purchase advanced vehicles. See the president's New Energy for America plan on the White House Web site.

The U.S. Senate also acted swiftly following the inauguration, and in a brief session the senators confirmed the nominations of Dr. Steven Chu as Secretary of Energy, Tom Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture, and Ken Salazar as Secretary of Interior. In an Interior Department press release, Salazar noted the importance of federal lands to energy production, promising to help build a clean energy economy for the twenty-first century. He also called President Obama's energy imperative "our moon shot" for energy independence. See the announcement of the confirmations from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Gas Guzzlers Pay More to Park

London’s borough of Richmond has begun a policy where cars with more emissions pay bigger parking fees. Under the plan, the cars generating higher carbon dioxide emissions will be charged about a dollar an hour more to park than hybrids like the Toyota Prius. Richmond officials estimate the parking price-hike will effect 40 percent of cars.

Source: “Cars with More Emissions Pay Bigger Parking Fees In Britain,” by Ben Mack, Wired Blog Network, January 8, 2009.

Monday, January 19, 2009


In the UK press there has recently been much buzz around ‘passive houses’ (PassivHaus in their origional German). I have just written a post on PassivHaus of the Life at HOK blog - I thought you guys might be interested too.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Is Blogging Killing the Environment?

I ran across an interesting article in Technology Times Online: Revealed: the environmental impact of Google searches. This article essentially says that the amount of infrastructure used by Google (or, for that matter, any service with massive server farms) has a huge environmental impact...going so far as to equate the carbon emissions of two Google searches to those from boiling a cup of tea. Google immediately hit back via their blog: Powering a Google Search.

Regardless of the actual numbers and the companies certainly is worthwhile thinking about how we can be most efficient in selecting our computers, servers, and service providers!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Home and Office Improvement Rocks!

D-I-Y projects can be very rewarding, but can also put a terrible strain on your back and your relationships (I think there is a divorce category entitled "home improvement disasters"). Every 18 months or so, my hubby and I embark on a major home renovation project (see photo above)...working in an architecture firm, I always think I can do it myself better than I really can. I have the same illusions about my sports skills.

Anyway, despite being midway through a project, I was inspired by some of the 10 Things You Must Put in Your Next House found in Builder Magazine. Some of these are super-green projects, some are super-simple, and all can be easily applied in your home or small office.
  • Radiant heated floors
  • Butcher block countertops
  • Glass tiles
  • Dual flush toilet
  • Low flow showerheads (super cheap and easy, trust me!)
  • On demand/tankless water heater
  • Water recirculator
  • Folding patio door
  • Central vacuum
  • Excellent insulation

Friday, January 9, 2009

Top 10 Transportation Trends

Yes, you guessed it, another transportation post! This to share Inhabitat's list of top 10 green transportation trends:

  1. The green car will save the industry (Although I heart my Prius, I can't wait to check out the Chevy Volt!)
  2. Compact is cool (although falling gas prices might hurt this trend...hopefully not, per Green A's post)
  3. It's not just about fuel efficiency
  4. Get your mileage on
  5. Breaking the alternative energy record
  6. Muscle cars go green
  7. We love bikes (just ask stinkydub!)
  8. The skateboard goes green
  9. Do it yourself
  10. Big thoughts
Can't wait to see what 2009 brings!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Motorola Builds Phone from Recycled Water Bottles

Today, Motorola unveiled the world's first carbon-neutral phone made from recycled water bottles. Through an alliance with Carbon, Motorola will offset the carbon dioxide required to manufacture, distribute and operate the phone. The phone earned its CarbonFree Product Certification after an extensive product life-cycle assessment.

Even better, Motorola has reduced the phone's packaging by 22 percent, the materials inside are printed on 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper, and a postage-paid recycling envelope makes it easy for consumers to recycle their previous phones at no cost.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Power of Peer Pressure to be Green

Dr. Robert Cialdini, a well-known social psychologist, is an internationally respected expert in the fields of persuasion, compliance, and negotiation. His recent studies have investigated the reasons why individuals take environmentally friendly actions. Among these are saving money and doing the right thing for the environment, but he has found that “social proof” is a particularly compelling influence. Social proof, also known as informational social influence, is a psychological phenomenon that occurs in ambiguous social situations when people are unable to determine the appropriate mode of behavior. Making the assumption that those surrounding them possess more knowledge about the situation, individuals deem the behavior of others as appropriate or better informed.

Positive Energy, a software company, is working with Dr. Cialdini to develop customized energy reports. The reports take utility information and send customers personalized energy use data through a regular newsletter. The newsletter provides customers detailed information about their own energy consumption, but also compares them to their neighbors and to “ideal” citizens in the neighborhood. By customizing utility reports that compare customers to people more like them, Positive Energy has been able to influence behavior that benefits the environment.

Are You Breathing Bad Air?

When I think of sooty air, I generally think of city smog. The EPA recently released a surprising list of "nonattainment areas" - where air pollution levels persistently exceed the national ambient air quality standards.

This list contains tried and true sooty cities such as LA, as well as newcomers such as Fairbanks and Juneau, AK; Nogales, AZ.; Pinehurst, ID; Davenport and Muscatine, IA; Klamath and Oakridge, OR.; Provo and Salt Lake City, UT; Seattle, WA; Green Bay, Madison, and Milwaukee, WI; and the Logan, UT.

Check out a couple of articles on the topic:
Image Source: Flickoff

Monday, January 5, 2009

Wikis for Good

A wiki is a page or collection of Web pages designed to enable anyone who accesses it to contribute or modify content, using a simplified markup language. The collaborative encyclopedia Wikipedia is one of the best-known wikis. Wikis are used in business to provide intranets and Knowledge Management systems. The power of this technology is only just now being tapped, but given the complexity of environmental issues, tools like these will be critical to understanding issues and building consensus around solutions. The groups exploring wiki technology are surprising:

  • The United Nations (UN), notorious for endless deliberations, is looking to technology to help facilitate consensus. Its Global Compact Office, which promotes corporate responsibility, has embraced the wiki in hopes that it will help staff in 80 countries share information and reach common understanding with less deliberation and more speed. This project intends to review and tag thousands of separately generated UN reports so that they are searchable and more easily accessible.
  • IBM has used internal wikis since 2005, with the intention of selling the concept to its clients. IBM has incorporated the wiki and other collaborative software into its corporate products like Lotus Notes, a desktop software for accessing e-mail and other applications.
    Sixteen U.S. intelligence agencies have begun using a common wiki called Intellipedia, a government-run—and top-secret—information-sharing source that allows them to merge research and intelligence gathering.
  • WikiCongress—a user-generated Capitol Hill founded by former U.S. congressional staffers—lets the public vote on bills, create petitions and propose new policy, and then forwards the results to legislators.

So if all of these wikis are in play, how can we leverage wikis to help the green movement? Try Wikipedia's new Sustainable Wiki and contribute your content!

Source: Power in Numbers: How wiki software is reforming bloated bureaucracies and changing the face of communication, Newsweek, Jessica Bennett, August, 2007.

Transit: A Hot Topic for 2008

You may have noticed my recent obsession with transit/transportation. I was happy to see that Planetizen agreed and named "Re-Investment in Transit" a top planning issue of 2008.

Check out their list of top transit articles:

Image Source: Florida Department of Transportation

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Real Time Feedback Encourages Students to Save Energy

A group of students at Oberlin College did a study is to assess how socio-technical feedback, combined with incentives might encourage students to conserve resources. They set up an automated data monitoring system that provided dormitory residents with real-time web-based feedback on their energy and water use. In contrast, utility meters were manually read for 20 other dormitories, and data provided to those residents just once per week. For both groups, resource use was monitored during a baseline period and during a two week “dorm energy competition” during which feedback, education and conservation incentives were provided.
Overall, the introduction of feedback, education and incentives resulted in a 32 percent reduction in electricity use but only a 3 percent reduction in water use. Dormitories that received the real-time feedback were more effective at conservation, reducing their electricity consumption by 55 percent compared to 31 percent for dormitories that only received feedback once a week.

This group of students who did this study went on to create Lucid Design Group, a company that uses this technology for other colleges and universities as well as corporate campuses.


  • John E. Petersen, Vladislav Shunturov, Kathryn Janda, Gavin Platt and Kate Weinberger, “Dormitory residents reduce electricity consumption when exposed to real-time visual feedback and incentives,” International Journal of Sustainabilityin Higher Education, Vol. 8 No. 1, 2007, pp. 16-33.
  • "Energy Dashboards: Using Real-Time Feedback to Influence Behavior," Environmental Building News, Volume 17, Number 12 · December 2008.

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