Being Green – Good News?!?!?!

Hi Folks:  Well, Friday has come around once again and that means it’s ‘green day’ here for us.  Without question the biggest news in the world this week is the aftermath following the earthquake in Haiti.  If you’re interested you can find links to disaster relief sites here.  It’s events like this that bring the words ‘climate change’ into real focus.  It’s wonderful that so many millions of dollars and thousands of hours of effort have been offered in assisting the people of Haiti deal with what’s happened on their island; as Marcia said to me though, where were the funds to help them upgrade their infrastructure BEFORE this happened?

Ah well.  The title of this blog post is ‘Good News’ and all evidence to the contrary, there is good news to be found.  Last week’s post focused on what I see as the somewhat bewildering plethora of green building standards and certifications, but even that is good news in a way.  It wasn’t that many years ago that none of this existed.  One article I came across this week is titled ‘A Very Brief History of Sustainability‘.  These ideas continue to spread beyond building construction as well.  On the Sustainable Sites Initiative website you can find information on “The Sustainable Sites Initiative: Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks 2009” (.pdf), which includes “all stages of the site development process from site selection to landscape maintenance”.  There’s also a companion guide called “The Case for Sustainable Landscapes” (.pdf)  It brings a different slant to the idea of being ‘green’.  Another site I came across talks about greening up building operations and maintenance.  In the US these guidelines fall under the USGBC LEED for Existing Buildings – Operations and Maintenance Guide.  The article I read is titled, “LEED Cleaning – Why Not?”  Consider for a moment the wide range of chemicals used in traditional cleaning products and their effects on both the people using them and everyone else occupying the building after their use.  I certainly applaud less toxic alternatives! 

Going away from buildings completely for a moment, there was an article this week about a company in Iowa that wants to build a  plant to convert waste poultry fat into biofuel.  If that makes you go ‘Ewww!’, think about that 1.4 billion pounds of fat being tossed into landfill instead…  Actually, it reminds me of the process of recovering energy from waste (and neutralizing toxic waste of any kind) using plasma gasification.  A couple of the companies doing this include Startech Environmental Corp. and Recovered Energy, Inc.

In the news this week, Governor Schwarzenegger announced California’s new ‘green’ building code (.pdf)  It’s the first ‘green’ building code adopted  by a state in the US.  It was in 2008 that the government of BC brought out their new ‘green’ building code and it was a first step toward increasing efficiency in new buildings being built here in the province, with more changes promised.  The new California code offers firm guidelines on reducing energy and water usage ; I think it’s an idea that’s been long overdue, and that every province/ state/ country should adopt similar or more stringent guidelines!  While there are new innovations in terms of design and products all the time, the basics behind ‘green’ building concepts have been around for decades if not centuries.  All that’s been missing is the political will to move them into action.  Personally, I believe the housing industry is facing a similar challenge to the one encountered in the forest industry.  After so many years of indiscriminate logging it’s not enough to plant one tree for every tree that’s harvested.  We need to plant at least two to make up for the loss.  Similarly, while it’s a great step to reduce the energy/water/waste in a building’s life cycle, we really need to design buildings that generate more energy than they use, that purify more water than they use, etc.  I found this great article article on ‘Advanced Codes: Efficient Strategies for Future Model Energy Codes‘, written by Dave Hewitt of the New Buildings Institute.

Let’s see, what other good news do I have to share?  eSolar, the product of Bill Gross and others, recently announced the building of a 2GW concentrated solar plant in China.  And in New York, the Long Island Power Authority is collaborating with BP Solar to build a 32MW solar plant there.  The Sustainable Forestry Initiative recently announced a new standard, SFI 2010-2014. From the site: “The SFI 2010-2014 Standard promotes sustainable forest management through 14 core principles, 20 objectives, 39 performance measures and 114 indicators developed by professional foresters, conservationists, scientists and others. The standard addresses key environmental, social and economic forest values – from water quality and biodiversity to harvesting and regeneration.”  Also in the ‘good news’ category, in Las Vegas, NV the Vegas CityCenter has earned six LEED Gold Certifications.  Congratulations to them!

Marcia and I watched a really intriguing TED video this week featuring Willie Smits‘ work to save orangutans in Borneo.  In the process he and those with whom he worked turned a denuded landscape in the SE part of Borneo into a regenerated rainforest and provided food, shelter and employment for several thousand people.  Yes the trees are harvested (sustainably), but in planting the trees they’ve discovered that they have changed the microclimate of the area, balanced the water table, provided income for local people, and by establishing the trees the local flora and fauna have returned.  It’s a win-win-win situation, and that’s very good news!

While the world in which we find ourselves, the world we’ve created for ourselves has its share of challenges at the moment, I think the good news outweighs the bad.  Every day there are new discoveries, new insights, new ideas.  There’s also greater communication among individuals, companies and governments (the ‘Nopenhagen Summit‘ notwithstanding).  One site I came across today that encourages creative solutions to design challenges is ‘Innocentive‘.  Those with a design challenge can post their idea and their challenge on the site and invite comments, critiques and new ideas from others.  This is the path I believe that we must follow to restore balance to our lives and our planet.  Another TED video we watched this week spoke of a plan in India (warning, TED videos can be very addictive!) to teach children to take charge, to infuse them with the (highly contagious) ‘I Can’ bug!  The program has grown to include children all over India.  Think about what the world can be as we allow this idea to spread… I like it!!

Okay, links this week include (in no particular order):

Okay, a couple of things before I go.  First, the third and final webinar from the USDOE regarding the revitalization of Greensburg, KS aired recently.  The slides and a video of the presentation are available for download here.  The people of Greensburg and the many agencies involved with the rebuilding of the town are to be commended on all that they have achieved.  Perhaps a similar strategy might be used in Haiti.

Second, my father once told me about a project where a plan to build a highway involved moving a river bed.  The riverbed was completely recreated, and the environmental consultant on the project insisted that the major rocks in the bed be replaced facing the same direction they were in the old bed.  To this end he painted arrows on top of all of the big rocks before they were moved.  Unfortunately there was a misunderstanding somewhere along the way and the rocks were placed with the arrows facing in the opposite direction.  The environmental consultant insisted they all be turned around.  Yes, I’ve done my share of environmental consulting over the years, and yes, that sounds inane even to me.  The point of sharing this story (and yes, I do have one), is  only partly that as we move forward with our disparate plans to create a better world in which to live that we need to be willing to cooperate with each other.  It also reminded me of a section of the following page, where a potential client asked the writer if her business cards were on recycled paper.  When she responded in the affirmative, the potential client responded that she should add a symbol to that effect because this particular prospective client would not hire someone without that label on his or her card.  Read the full story here: Eco-labeling vs. greenmuting: What’s right for you? It’s a question worth considering.

Have a great week, and be sure to leave us a comment with the good news you’ve discovered this week!

Mike.

P.S.  If you live in BC’s Okanagan Region you do not want to miss this talk on Thursday, January 21, 2010:
Innovation
Vineyard: CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES with Doug McLeod, Associate Dean, Science, Technology and Health at Okanagan College.

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