Monday, August 31, 2009

Green Walls

I've blogged before about vertical gardens, but now I've found a cool system that helps you create an entire green wall!

I was cruising through the Top 100 Products issue of Buildings Magazine, and ran across Green Walls by Green Screen.

Green Screen is a 3-D welded wire trellising system that can be used pretty much anywhere, even as a free-standing element. When used in conjunction with a building, the trellising system keeps plants from growing directly on the facade, thereby protecting the building.

Definitely some beautiful options out there. Wonder if my HOA would approve? Or if I could actually keep the plants alive? :)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

To Demount or Not to Demount

When thinking about constructing an office or renovating an existing facility, many facility managers, architects, and designers consider demountable walls.

For those of you that aren't in the biz, demountable walls are essentially pieces of furniture that go from floor-to-ceiling to create a separation of space. They can be easily disassembled, moved, and reassembled.

When thinking about construction, cost is always an issue. The first costs of installing permanent drywall partitions are pretty much always lower than those of demountable partitions BUT, given the lifecycle cost of having to demolish and rebuild walls versus the deconstruction of demountable walls AND the focus on sustainability, demountable walls can be a good option for some situations.

Some of the demountable wall plusses include:

  • Flexibility
  • Modularity
  • Technology - flexibility for wirign and cabling
  • Reuseability
  • Appearance - they can be snazzy
  • Integration with furniture systems is possible
  • Potential for lower lifecycle cost
  • Higher upfront cost
  • Acoustical privacy can be an issue
  • Appearance - they can be ugly, too!

As always, consult with designers and manufacturers before making a decision!!

Friday, August 28, 2009

How Green is Your Alma Mater?

I received a press release from our friends at Greenopia (you may remember them from the post). This time, they were sharing information about the greenness of institutes of higher education (colleges & universities).

Institutions were evaluated on a number of criteria, including environmental reporting, green building design, waste program, renewable energy, green food options, alternative fuel vehicles, and water conservation.

My hubby will be pleased to see that his alma mater (Penn State) received 3 out of 4 leaves landing it in the top 10, while mine (University of Virginia) got a whopping ZERO! C'mon Wahoos, let's pick up the pace for next year!!

Greenest Universities: West Coast Beats Out East Coast

by Starre Vartan
Monday, August 24, 2009

Universities aren't shy about touting their green initiatives, and for good reason. When making a decision about what college to attend, as well as who to work for after they've graduated, most Millenials will opt for the greener choice. But a few well-publicized green initiatives don't make a college more environmentally-friendly than the next; Yale has gotten tons of press about its planet-friendly practices, but it was beaten out by fellow Ivy Harvard, in Greenopia's recently-released environmental rating of 100 of the largest universities in the United States.

At the top of the list, receiving 4 out of a possible 4 leafs were the University of Washington (for 4 LEED buildings and 25% of food served in cafeterias being locally-grown, as well as a comprehensive composting program) and the University of California at Santa Barbara. UCSB got top marks for having 6 LEED-certified buildings (with 20! more on the way) and a recycling rate of 62%

Rounding out the top 10 greenest schools were the University of Oregon, the University of California at Davis, Colorado State, Stanford, Harvard, Penn State, the University of California at San Diego, and Duke.

“Rating the environmental performance of a university is a daunting task”, said Doug Mazeffa, Greenopia’s Research Director. “There are many different criteria that must be considered before any conclusions can be drawn.”

Data was collected from the university itself or from other credible sources pertaining to the green building design, waste program, food selection, campus vehicle fleet, water conservation measures, climate performance, renewable energy usage, and the overall environmental transparency of the school.

“It was fascinating to see the variability in the environmental performance of each university”, said Gay Browne, CEO of Greenopia. “Some schools have made a tremendous effort, while others really have yet to make any significant changes to their policies.”

Click here to see the full rankings and all the Universitys' rankings.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Happy Planets!

I was cruising along the internet superhighway the other day and ran across the "Happy Planet Index."

The Happy Planet Index rates countries based on ecological impact and human well-being. Essentially, it measures how much countries damage the planet against how long their citizens live and how happily they do.

HPI measures 143 countries (99% of the world's population). This year's happiest planet country was Costa Rica. Overall, the countries with the highest HPI scores were located in Latin America (green on the map below). Note that NO countries scored highly in all categories, and we all have "a ways to go."

The United States' score was a mere 30.7 out of 100, putting the country in the bottom of the pile. The good news is that the US scored highly for life expectancy and satisfaction; however, our consumption of natural resources was dreadful - 9.4 global hectares per capita. The global goal is 2.1 gha/person, meaning that in the US, we are using nearly four times our fair share. YIKES!

The Happy Planet Index was created by nef, a global think-tank committed to making the world a better place :)

Download their data here!

Image source: HideYourArms

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Green Workplace Interviews Sprint's Sustainability Manager

The Green Workplace interviews Alicia Martin to find out about Sprint's green initiatives internally and their newest green product...the"Reclaim" phone that just hit the market - it's 80% recycled material and very GREEN.

Podcast of The Green Workplace interview with Alicia Martin, Sprint

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Timberland's Green Index Rating

I'm continually frustrated as a consumer that I just can't make informed decisions when comparing two products. I mean, which is really the best environmental choice? I know, you're thinking... the right decision not buying the product in the first place! But hey, sometimes I just need to buy something. And when I do, it's nice to know more than just price and pretty packaging when making a decision.

Timberland puts the equivalent of "nutrition labels" on its products with ratings based on greenhouse gas emissions, the use of solvents and resource consumption (their Green Index rating). It doesn't indicate "plane miles traveled" to get to the store or your doorstep, but this is a variable measure I guess. They have been doing this for a while, which is pretty impressive considering how most companies aren't even close to doing this.

All in all, I commend their setting the standard for embedding environmental metrics into their brand. Sadly, these same metrics are not available for other brands to help me do a little cross comparison, but I'm much more willing to buy something with an environmental label. I mean, at least they care enough to tell me that they are at least thinking about it. Hint, hint all you marketing groups out there!

Another interesting tidbit on their website... they plan on being carbon neutral by 2010. Remember when that seemed a really long time away? Let's see if they can make it happen!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Save Power with an Ecostrip

Do you dash out the door at the end of every day and you turn off your computer, but forget to forget to turn off your monitor, cell phone, printer and everything else that is sucking up energy while you sleep? Have no fear, Ecostrip is here! This modified powerstrip will turn off everything plugged into it when you turn off your computer for the day. Only one switch to remember now.

According to their site:

This powerstrip saves 10% on your home or business electric bill.

The price of energy affects businesses, schools and homes worldwide. The USB EcoStrip 2.0 eliminates the flow of electricity to computer peripherals when the computer is turned off, thereby drastically reducing electricity bills in the home and workplace.

According to the Department of Energy, 75 percent of all household electricity consumption is consumed when products are turned off. This costs the average home almost $1,200 each year.

Image from Ecostrip website.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Control Your Lighting and Control Your Costs

Commercial buildings spend roughly 1/3 of their operating budgets on energy. Adura offers building operators an way to reduce this energy use with a solution that increases a space’s energy efficiency with minimal retrofitting, new switches, or reconstruction. With Adura’s technology, you can use the same switch to turn off the lights in one part of a room while turning them on in another part. These “advanced lighting controls” run off a wireless system that saves up to 70% on electricity use.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Say it Fast: Solar Thermal Power Tower

It's just fun to say out loud and fast (do it - I promise no one will think you are weird)! The good news: eSolar has opened the country's first solar thermal power tower plant. Using mirrors to track and direct solar energy, the solar thermal tower power will provide 5MW of energy. Not too shabby!

Check it out: eSolar Flips the Switch on First Solar Power Tower in U.S.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Go Green with Golfers

Water conservation is kind of a big deal, no matter what your climate. One of the big ways to save water is to get rid of your water-hog lawn and replace with xeriscaping. But, not everyone is quite ready to give up the American dream of the white picket fence and green, green grass.

So, how can you get your green grass without high water bills or greenie guilt? I just learned from the New York Times that golf course managers have got the process down: On the Fairway, New Lessons in Saving Water.

Some quick tips:

  • Allow grass to grow longer
  • Repair leaks in hoses/irrigation as soon as you find them (and be on the lookout for them)
  • Keep lawnmower blades sharp, sharp, sharp
  • Plant appropriate grass species for the environment
  • Use watering cans for isolated dry spots
  • Replace annuals with perennials (ok, not grass, but still relevant to water use)
Any other great tips for more environmentally-friendly ways to keep your grass green?

Image Source: Travel Golfer

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Tastes Great! Less Footprint!! I know at the end of a hot day, there's nothing tastier than cracking open a frosty brew (especially a Delicious Miller Lite - yes, I know, it is not the choice of most beer snobs, but if it is good enough for Nick Lachey, it is good enough for me!)

Tim O has blogged before about green brewers, so when I received the following press release from Greenopia, I thought I might share. While DML is not on the list, it was still interesting to see

Check out their release, below:

Drunk on the Environment? Greenopia Rates 15 Major Beer Breweries for Sustainability

SANTA MONICA, California (August 11, 2009) - Greenopia today released a comprehensive rating of environmental impact of 15 of the largest breweries in the world. New Belgium Brewery took top honors receiving 4 leafs and Eel River received 3 Greenopia leafs.

One of the oldest beverages in the world, beer has only recently been getting attention for its environmental impact, which varies depending on the efficiency of the brewery and ingredients used. Concerns include the fact that beer production often requires 7-10 liters of water for every liter of beer and its key ingredients are often difficult to obtain through organic means. Some beer companies, like Eel River and New Belgium Brewery have taken significant steps to decrease their impact.

“We have found that the amount of resources that go into beer production is not common knowledge”, said Doug Mazeffa, Greenopia’s Research Director. “We are happy to support the companies who have been able to reduce their impact through better resource management.”

Greenopia used a comprehensive set of criteria to determine the beer company ratings. Data was collected from the companies themselves pertaining to the growing practices of the barley, malt and hops; transportation of the beer; brewery production efficiencies; and attributes of the beer packaging. Weights were set based off the relative life cycle impacts of each criterion during beer production.

“We were surprised at how progressive some of the major beer companies were,” said Gay Browne, CEO of Greenopia. “Even some of the industry giants like Anheuser-Busch, Corona, and Labatt Blue had some green merit.”

To find stores who carry eco-friendly beer near you, check out Greenopia's local green business directories.

Greenopia employs its award-winning eco-analysis method to deliver actionable green assessments to the rapidly growing green consumer market. Green businesses and merchants use Greenopia's targeted marketing methods to effectively reach consumers making greener choices.

About Greenopia: The leading online directory for green, sustainable and socially conscious, daily purchase decisions. Greenopia provides the market's only independent rating and ranking of green services and products. Our rankings and ratings are based on our review of publicly available information and reflect our evaluation of such information. To find out more, please visit

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Robots are Cool!

Check this out: there's a design out there for a robotic package delivery system.

I learned about this proposal in an article in Wired: Robot Design Delivers Packages Through Sewers. The concept is called the Urban Mole and it's kind of like those tubes you use to send your deposits at the bank drive through (who am I kidding, we all use ATMs and online banking...but hopefully most of you get the picture). Oh, and it wouldn't be a vacuum, small carriers would run on rails. Still pretty darn cool!

Just think of the carbon savings from courier services and overnight mail alone!

Check out another idea for underground services: Recycling Sucks!

Image Source: Wired

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Portland ROCKS!

I got the opportunity to visit one of my favorite cities last month: Portland, Oregon (not Maine). This was my second trip to the city, and I have to admit, I'm hooked! If it were only a wee bit closer to my family (all on the East Coast), I'd move in a heartbeat.

Portland is a super-green city. It's one of the few places I've been where there are recycling bins everywhere (including hotel rooms). Bikers rule the streets (well, there are a lot more of them than any other city in the US I've ever seen). The city is dedicated to green building and stormwater management. Heck, there's even a green business networking group.

Oh and don't forget, you're only two hours from the coast, right by the Columbia River Gorge, and an hour from Mount Hood. An outdoorsy person's heaven.

I was extremely excited to run across an article on Portland's greatness this week: Why Portland Beats Vancouver. The article points to three major highlights of the city: its welcoming of young people, bicycle friendliness, and handling of the homeless population. I agree 100% on the first two, although am a little less up on the third. I found the homeless population to be large and more aggressive at panhandling than I'd have liked (and I come from WDC, which has no shortage of homeless people)!

Keep up the good work, Portland. To the rest of us, let's see this as an opportunity to compete and green up our own places!

Photo shows view from International Rose Test Garden - sorry it's not the best, was taken with a cell phone camera!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Greening Your Greens?

Many workplaces engage a florist to provide weekly/biweekly floral creations to grace their front reception area. My office is no different. Over the years, we've tried a number of different options, ranging from professional florists to amateurs from the office designing arrangements. Our latest attempt with a professional florist turned out disastrously...for a high price, we were receiving very "artistic" creations, such as an orange in a glass bowl of rocks with some twigs sticking out of the top. Perhaps innovative to some, but just plain weird to most.

In addition to the general design weirdness, cut flowers are just not that "green" - reasons can include:
  • Transportation costs (many come from South America, Southeast Asia, or Africa)
  • Pesticide and fertilizer use (particularly an issue in countries with less stringent environmental protection laws)
  • Poor greenhouse working conditions (again not all countries have equal labor laws)
  • Many cut flowers go bad/to waste before they reach their final destination
We'd tried live plants, too, but they never looked right and no one could truly get the care down pat. Two months ago, we started a new program - rotating plants. Essentially, we 'lease' a plant (in our office, we've selected orchids). The plant stays for a set period of time, then is picked up and switched out by the vendor. The "used" plant goes back to the shop for some TLC. Some are resent out to clients, others are sold. Last night, I was walking by the shop and saw a bunch of orchids out for sale - they were some "old" rotating plants that were deemed no longer suitable for office lobbies, but PERFECTLY suitable for my little jungle at home. A true bargain at $10. I wonder what the odds are I can keep it looking good?

Note: for fans of cut flowers, they're not all bad - just like your food, look for locally-grown, pesticide free versions! And be sure to compost them when you're done

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

It's Out!

Well, even though I've had the privileged of being able to read drafts of my colleague's new book, The Green Workplace, I immediately went out and purchased my personal copy the old fashioned way - I couldn't wait for our order to come in. I had intended to submit a photo of me purchasing the book at the local bookstore but the Sales Associate warned me that it was "against copyright laws" and refused. I replied, "but my buddyette wrote the book and I want to paste it on her blog!" That led to the inevitable bureaucratic sink hole of "you can ask my manager..."

I haven't finished reading it yet nor providing a review but do have a few of observations. The first chapter starts with a quote from a conservative newspaper journalist! The first group of people she acknowledges is her team - a great group of greeniacs - which speaks volumes about her leadership. Leigh put her heart and soul into this work and it's just the start of a long journey versus the completion of a book.

I look forward to finish reading the book as well as hearing from you what turned you on and made a difference in your journey towards a more sustainable lifestyle.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Guilty Commuting

By now, we're getting to be more cognizant of our commuting habits to and from work....but what about to and from meetings?!

I'm lucky to work in a very transit-friendly city (Washington, DC), but sometimes transit is not the easiest solution for commuting to and from meetings.

Last week, I went to a meeting near the White House from our office in Georgetown. I took a cab to get there because I was carrying binders full of paper (GASP - I'd tried to do an electronic submission, but the client was just not quite ready for that). Our partner firm is another big green company, so when it was time to go, I felt like I couldn't possibly take a cab home (hello 7 MPG!).

My options:

  • Cab (~$8, 8 minutes)
  • Metrorail (~$1.35, 2 minutes on train; 30 minutes walking; unknown wait time)
  • Bus ($1.25, 15 minutes on bus; 10 minutes walking; unknown wait time)
  • Walking ($0, 35 minutes walking)
Other considerations besides time, direct cost, and carbon footprint included outfit (were my shoes appropriate for a long walk), hourly rate (walking costs my company/project more than a shorter commute), health (walking is good for me, cabs frequently cause car sickness, and there are opportunities for germ sharing on transit), and thermal comfort (have you ever been to DC in late July/early August - hazy, hot, and HUMID).

I ended up walking because I hate riding the bus, and the metro would take nearly as long. I arrived back at work a hot, sweaty mess...but with a carbon-free commute. What would you do?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Using Fibonacci to Make Better Fans

Most fluid-handling devices on the market (fans, mixers, pumps, turbines, propellers) face significant efficiency limitations associated with drag, inefficient energy usage, excessive noise and frictional wear of components.

By contrast, nature has developed an optimal flow pattern that is ubiquitous in the natural systems. The logarithmic spiral (also known as the Fibonacci Spiral or Sequence) is common in natural systems. This pattern is found in seashells, storm weather patterns, and even in the pores of our skin.

The photo above is Pax Scientific's Lily Impeller (image from Pax's website). Classic propellers used by today’s freightliners do little to cut down on drag, causing cavitation (air bubbles) that reduces efficiency to around 50 percent. By contrast, Harman’s impeller channels water in the spiraling pattern in which it naturally travels.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Eco-Machines:Treat Waste Water the Natural Way

Conventional sewage treatment is a complex, multi-step process that often involves chemicals to break down and "clean" waste water. See picture below from our friends at Wikipedia:

But it doesn't have to be this way.

Inspired by ecosystems as old as the earth itself, John Todd Ecological Design, Inc. offers the Eco-Machine™. Eco-Machines offer unsurpassed environmental, technological, and economic
advantages over conventional wastewater treatment options by mimicking the water purification processes found in wetlands and marshes. The Eco-Machine is built using natural ecological engineering principles, leveraging natural processes rather than chemical processes. The systems are designed to conserve and recycle wastewater for irrigation, toilet flushing, and other nonpotable uses. Here are a couple of examples from their website:

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