Being Green – ‘Green’ Fuel?

Hi Folks:

I came across both of the articles below on the same day, and both outline similar ideas.  If you’re interested in environmental topics you’re likely aware of the process for converting used fry oil into biodiesel, and the process of creating fuel oil using bacteria.  But this is something different.  Since fuel is basically hydrocarbons, the basic idea is to combine carbon from CO2 from the air with hydrogen from water to create fuel.  Technically it’s not ‘carbon neutral‘ because burning the fuel releases the CO2 back into the atmosphere (in addition to whatever energy was required to produce it) but it’s a really intriguing line of research and one that I trust will go forward.

Air Fuel Synthesis
Converting sea water to Navy jet fuel

Mike.

P.S. Speaking of fuel, I was at the office supply store yesterday to pick up a batch of paper for our printer and I noticed they were stocking a paper made from 80% wheat straw and 20% wood fibre.  It sounded good to me, and I almost bought a package of it to try until I turned it over and discovered that while the company is based in Canada, the actual paper is made in India.  How does the energy and trees saved in using a waste product to make paper balance out against the fuel used to ship it halfway around the world?  It reminded me of another article I’d read recently that spoke to the balance between building an energy-efficient house and having a long commute to work every day.  This isn’t intented to be critical of any particular company, but it does speak to the challenges we face as individuals, as communities and as inhabitants of a global biosphere in the choices we make to ‘live green’.

For me, I bought the Canadian-sourced, FSC and Rainforest Alliance-certified paper instead.

Being Green – Another Look at Solar

Hi Folks:

Normally I do my ‘Being Green‘ posts on Fridays, but this one’s been bumped a day.  I’ve written two previous posts on energy from the sun: “Going Solar” and “Bottling Sunshine“, but this week I wanted to highlight a couple of ongoing projects that are really addressing this more completely.

In his 2011 TED talk, Paul Romer outlined ideas for the world’s first ‘charter cities‘.  The idea has its own benefits and challenges, but it is already garnering some interest.  An example of a ‘charter city’ that is currently being built might be the following: If you do a search on the term ‘solar valley‘, one of projects will show up first is a ‘model city’ being constructed in Shandong, China.  A product of the Himin Solar Energy Group, China’s Solar Valley is looking to both produce and use solar technology concurrently.  From the website:

“Covering an area of over 330 hectares (815 acres) in total, China Solar Valley leads the way in solar industrialization, including the seven wonders in solar area, namely, an unprecedented solar thermal manufacturing base, the first automatic production line of evacuated tubes in the world, a company-owned solar museum, a PV lighting road of over 10 kilometers, a demonstration area for solar architectures, a professional testing center well beyond international requirements, an international renewable energy communication center—the main site of 2010 International Solar Cities Congress (ISCC).”

More information on this ‘model city’ may be found here.

Now, when one thinks of solar, three differing technologies come to mind.  One is the generation of electricity using solar photovoltaic  panels or by using a group of focused mirrors to focus the sun’s light on a boiler, and the second is to create hot water using evacuated tubes.  From an architectural design standpoint, there’s also the idea of ‘thermal mass’ and ‘passive solar’ design to aid in heating a building in winter but shading it in summer.  Passive solar design can work well in temperate climates, but in countries like Abu Dhabi in the UAE, keeping a building warm is rarely a concern.  When designing two new office towers in Abu Dhabi, Aedas was faced with the problem of how to keep the buildings cool in the face of their daily dose of sunshine.  While some designers might choose to use mechanical systems (air conditioning) to achieve this goal, they developed and implement a new twist on a very old idea.  A traditional component of Arabic architecture is the ‘Mashrabiya‘, a geometric lattice screen made of wood (or sometimes stone).  The Mashrabiya has been in use since at least the 12th century, and provides several advantages, among them privacy (the ability to see out without being seen), shade from the street, and through clever design, an updraft of cooling breeze.

For their project in Abu Dhabi, the design team created a set of mechanically operated, geometric ‘petals’ that open and close to provide shade from the heat of the sun.  The panels cover the south side of the buildings, and power for these shades is generated by photovoltaic panels on the building itself.  Since the panels are set about six feet out from the building, the space between the buildings’ windows and the panels provides an air column for updraft.  While not strictly biomimicry, the open and closing of the panels resembles a vertical field of flowers.  More information can be found on the Aedas Abu Dhabi site (move your mouse to the left edge of the screen to open the flyout menu – there’s a video segment as well as the images).  Personally, I think it’s brilliant!

Okay, that’s it for now…  Have a great week!!

Hugs,
Mike.

Being Green – Going Beyond Design

Hi Folks:  Been a little quiet here on the ‘Being Green‘ side of our blog for a while, but I wanted to take a moment to highlight a couple of articles I came across recently.  Actually, in starting this I remembered a somewhat similar post I had written, which as fate would have it, was written almost exactly a year ago.  That one was titled, “Being Green – Questions“.  Anyway, I digress…

The first article I wanted to mention is on the ‘Buildinggreen.com’ site, and titled “Net-Zero Does Not Live by Design Alone: The Human Factor“.  From the article: Continue Reading →

Being Green – Finding Inspiration

Hi Folks:

One of the amazing things about the internet is the ability to connect people in ways that simply wasn’t possible before.  The ‘net of course isn’t a ‘place’ in itself, but an international network that showcases information on every subject imaginable.  I often turn to specific sites as a way of finding inspiration for whatever project I’m working on and I recently came across a few that relate to the ‘green’ field.

The first is ‘The Designers Accord‘.  “The Designers Accord is a global coalition of designers, educators, and business leaders working together to create positive environmental and social impact.” One of the initiatives of the Designers Accord is a series of 17 videos put forth by the people at Core77.  Called the ‘Sustainability in 7‘ series, each short video profiles one person who is working in the area of sustainable design.  My personal favourite is Bill McDonough (he’s my hero) but each one has their own merit.  You can either watch the videos all at once or pick one every day for a short burst of inspiration.  All of the people featured are designers and all of them speak to various areas of design, so you may be thinking that if you’re not a designer these videos aren’t for you.  That’s not true, really.  Each of us, in our own way is the designer of our own lives.  The choices that we make, the items we purchase (and those we don’t) and more each contribute to the impact we make on our present and our future, both individually and collectively.  There’s a lot more than videos to the Designers Accord site; it’s well worth checking out.

The second is the new POV section of the Herman Miller website.  This site profiles the work of five different architects (so far) and gives some insight into how they create the buildings they design.

The third is that the folks at Environmental Design + Construction magazine and Sustainable Facility magazine have completely redesigned their websites.  There’s a wealth of articles, podcasts, webinars and more available.  Worth checking out!

Wherever you are in the world, take a moment to find some inspiration today.  It could be a bird call, the shape of a cloud or someone’s smile… easy to find if you look for it!

Hugs,
Mike.

Being Green – Carrot Mobs

Hi Folks:

Been a little quiet here on our ‘Being Green‘ site for the past few weeks, but life has been keeping us busy.  I wanted to share an idea I only heard about a few weeks back; the idea started in San Francisco in 2008 but has since spread to cities around the world.  The term ‘Carrot Mob‘ refers to the two general ideas for motivation – carrot and stick.  The carrot of course is positive reinforcement, and the stick refers to negative enforcement.  The problem with negative enforcement, as has been proven over and over again in psychological studies, is that it doesn’t work.  Positive reinforcement or incentive, however, can create long-lasting change.

The idea behind a ‘carrot mob’ is a variation on the premise of ‘voting with your wallet’.  It’s a little different than a ‘flash mob‘, as the latter, by design, serves no real purpose other than to have fun and surprise passersby.  We’re all consumers to one degree or another.  Individually and collectively we choose what products and services survive and thrive in our local and global economy.  Some have tried ‘boycotts’ as a way of expressing dissatisfaction, but a carrot mob is sometimes called a ‘buycott’ instead.  This isn’t ‘rampant consumerism’ or ‘buying for buying’s sake’, but an effective way to help support local businesses make ‘green’ changes to their operations.

The basic idea behind a carrot mob is that local businesses (restaurants for example) that want to ‘green’ their operations pledge a percentage of one day’s sales to achieving this goal.  Often several businesses are asked to compete, and the winner is chosen by the mob participants.  There have been two carrot mobs here in Victoria so far, both of which have been organized by students at the University of Victoria:

  1. In 2010 Wannawafel earned 327% of their normal daily income and used a portion of the proceeds, as promised, to invest in biodegradable napkins and other sustainable products.
  2. Earlier this month the Fernwood Inn was chosen as the site for a carrot mob.  On the day of the event, the owners pledged to match proceeds for the day dollar for dollar toward sustainable initiatives, and by closing time had generated a total of $16,137.26 toward that cause.  That makes it the largest carrot mob fundraiser in North America to date, and the second largest in the world.  The UVic students are planning an even bigger event for mid-May, which will include having several establishments competing for participants.

No matter where you live, this is a great idea that can easily be scaled up or down.  Contact local businesses, introduce them to the idea and see what changes they would like to make in their operations.  Drum up support and get the competition going!  And once the carrot mob has passed by, remember to keep supporting those companies that are aligned with what you value.

Okay… I usually end my ‘Being Green’ blog posts by adding a (long) list of links to other articles and sites of interest that I’ve come across in the past week.  However, in a world of Facebook and Twitter and the like, from what I can tell those links aren’t often followed.  It takes me many hours each week to collect and link all of those sites together, and I’m not going to bother if nobody’s using them.  What I’ve started doing instead is retweeting/posting the articles that I find the most interesting.  So, I leave it up to you.  If the links I post here are of value you to you and you’d like me to continue adding them in, post a comment here and let me know.  If you’re happy getting the news from other sources, that’s quite fine with me.  And if you want to follow Marcia and/or me on Twitter, you can find us through the Blogroll links on the right hand side of this page.  What I will continue to add are links to time-specific events, conferences and the like.  For example, the Living Future UnConference is happening in Vancouver, BC on April 27-29, 2011 and the ISEAL Alliance Conference Public Day is June 8, 2011 in Zurich, Switzerland.

That’s it for now.  Have a great week!

Hugs,
Mike.

P.S.  I don’t drink Pepsi, but this is still a good idea: Pepsi Hits the Farm

Being Green: Turning Back the Clock

Hi Folks:

Friday once again, and time for this week’s ‘Being Green‘ post.  Before I get to that, however, I wanted to add in the following link: How to say “peace” in 100 languages.  Always a good idea…

Much of the cosmetics industry seems to revolve around the idea of being able to turn back the aging process a few years… I’m getting a little grayer around the muzzle myself (I’m the wolf part of wolfnowl.com) but I’m rather proud of those white hairs – and not just because it makes me look like Santa Claus.  However, that’s not what this blog post is about.

My mind often works in a ‘ping-pong’ fashion (some might call it ‘cascade failure’  instead 😉 ) and while I was fishing around for an idea for this week’s ‘green’ post I found myself thinking about the webinar with Dr. Jennifer Languell I watched last week.  One of the things she mentioned was our (over)reliance on technology such as air conditioning systems when we could choose instead to incorporate passive systems that require no energy generation.  That got me thinking about an episode I’d seen on television once about a house that had incorporated waterways and gardens within the main floor of the house; one that essentially required intensive airflow modification to keep the temperature and humidity in check.  It was an engineering marvel that worked very well… as long as the electricity to run the system wasn’t lost.  That got me thinking about different technologies, including methods used by ancient cultures, that don’t rely on such elaborate mechanical systems.  Many people tend to see ancient and especially aboriginal cultures as being ‘primitive’, but in many cases their technology and their Ways of being equalled or surpassed our own.  For example, the Hopi people of the American southwest have been growing corn in a desert for millenia. Continue Reading →

Being Green: The Value of Conservation

Hi Folks:

Friday once again, and time for this week’s ‘Being Green‘ post!  In last week’s post I referenced an article titled, “World’s ‘Greenest’ Home? It Depends on What You Mean by Green“.  One of the homes mentioned in the article includes:

A California couple, whom The Atlantic magazine has featured in their quest to build “the world’s greenest home” — a five-bedroom, 5,600-square-foot house with solar panels strong enough to charge five electric cars, power the house and return energy to the grid.

<snip>

Solar panels and other features let some trendy houses produce enough of their own energy that they actually sell power back to the energy company, which is nifty. Yet a person vying to live in the world’s “greenest” house could theoretically load it up with big-screen TVs and other less-than-efficient appliances, then write a mega-check to put solar panels all over the roof. But the resources consumed would belie the “green” label.

“You can get to net-zero just by writing a check,” notes Roberts. “There’s something a little off about that.”

For the most part I agree with the author of this post and was going to write a comment to that effect but wasn’t quite sure how to phrase it.  The answer came from a webinar I watched this week. Continue Reading →

Being Green – Fair Trade

Hi Folks:

Friday once again, and time for this week’s ‘Being Green‘ post.  Imagine getting up every morning and going to work, but discovering on payday that you have to pay your boss for being there…  Sounds silly, right?  Consider then that of the roughly 8 million tonnes of coffee consumed every year, some 80% is sold for less than what it costs to grow it.  That’s just one example, albeit a common one; where would we be without our caffeine jolt in the morning?  While people are generally happy to discover low prices on foods and other products in the store, how many stop to consider what the ‘cost’ of those low prices really is?

The term ‘Fair Trade‘ has been given several definitions, but the one agreed upon by the four member organizations of ‘FINE’ (from Wikipedia) is:

In 2001, FINE members agreed the following definition of fair trade, on which to base their work:

Fair trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers – especially in the South. Fair trade organisations, backed by consumers, are engaged actively in supporting producers, awareness raising and in campaigning for changes in the rules and practice of conventional international trade”.

FINE members further agreed to define fair trade‘s strategic intent as:

  • deliberately to work with marginalised producers and workers in order to help them move from a position of vulnerability to security and economic self-sufficiency,
  • to empower producers and workers as stakeholders in their own organisations,
  • actively to play a wider role in the global arena to achieve greater equity in international trade.

Continue Reading →

Being Green: Green Consumers

Hi Folks:

Friday once again, and time for this week’s ‘Being Green‘ post.  The title for this post was inspired by a couple of articles I read this week.  The first was, “It’s not easy being a green consumer“, and it begins with:

Green consumerism has the ring of being an oxymoron, but we all need to consume to live. One could go crazy trying to be totally consistent (even Gandhi realized that). Buying less and local are good starts. Combining that with some research and exercising common sense could go a long way, it seems, towards making us all more responsible consumers. (GW)

Continue Reading →

Being Green – Celebrating Abundance

Hi Folks:

Friday once again, and time for this week’s ‘Being Green‘ post.  I usually decide on a weekly topic based on something I pick up during the week past, and for this week’s post I had a few ideas… all of which evaporated when I received a note from a fellow forum user this morning (thanks, D.!)  He pointed me to a Youtube video of William McDonough giving the opening keynote address for “Global Forum 2009: Business as an Agent of World Benefit“.  The video is a little over an hour and I haven’t listened to it all yet, but I will.  I really like the reference near the beginning of the talk to the green roof on the Ford plant instead of asphalt (‘ass fault’, as two words denoting blame).  I’ve been a fan of William McDonough and his work for a number of years now, both in the work of his architectural firm and from his founding partnership with MBDC, the people behind the ‘Cradle to Cradle’ certification.  In his opening for the TED talk he did in 2005 he lamented how a ‘rubber duck’ sold in the state of California needs to carry what amounts to a biohazard label.  There’s just no reason for that. Continue Reading →