Being Green – Corporate Responsibility

Hi Folks:

When I first started writing the ‘Being Green‘ section of our blog it grew out of my own interest in green building and it focused primarily in that direction.  However, as I’ve gone along I’ve expanded this series to include more general ideas concerning living ‘green’, sustainability and CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility).  Now, I’m far from a CSR ‘expert’, but I wanted to highlight a really interesting report put out this year by a group called the ‘International Society of Sustainability Professionals‘ (ISSP).  The report, entitled, “What are the Core Competencies Sustainability Professionals Need to Have?” is available as a .pdf download, here.  It’s 65 pages long, and I must admit I haven’t finished reading it yet, but I have found what I’ve read to be quite valuable.  The report is targeted primarily toward two groups of people: a) those who are working in the CSR field as either independent consultants or corporate employees; b) those who work in HR and who are most likely to interact with those in group ‘a’.  I don’t work in either of those fields, but I think the underlying ideas of communication, financial and environmental sustainability, problem solving, etc. (some of the key findings) really affect everyone, no matter their industry or their position in a given company or corporation.  One thing we continue to discover more and more is that we are all connected, whether we’re discussing a corporation (with its suppliers and clients), an ecosystem or a planet.  In short, I think it’s a valuable report for everyone to read. Continue Reading →

Being Green: Appreciating the Moment

Hi Folks:

September is upon us and kids have finished their first week back at school… A short post this week, but in last Friday’s ‘Being Green‘ post I added a link provided by my nephew (in-law) about one person’s daily commute by bicycle, and how he stops every day for a moment or two, sometimes longer, on the bridge connecting north and south Edmonton in order to appreciate the world around him.  After posting that I received an e-mail from my nephew reminding me about our experiences at the provincial legislature grounds in Edmonton; we were there in 2003 when my niece and nephew-in-law were married.  It wasn’t something I will forget.

I’ve been to the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa on more than one occasion, and tossed a few coins into the fountain housing the eternal flame.  I’ve been to the legislative grounds in several other provinces as well, including the one here in Victoria, but none of them compare (in my opinion) to the one in Edmonton.  Why, you ask?  Well, simply because instead of the requisite fountain on the grounds (the fountain here in Victoria was surrounded by a 15-foot fence on Canada Day), the grounds in Edmonton have been made into a water park, including a huge fountain and a wading pool.  For the people, by the people, and of the people.  On the warm day in August that we were there, the entire grounds were filled with people playing in the water, having picnics in the shade, walking, reading, cycling, and just generally having fun.  There was a wonderful sense that the locals felt they had a right to be there, that this was created for them.  And so it was. Continue Reading →

Being Green – Celebrate!

Hi Folks:

Happy Friday!  End of the week and time for the ‘Being Green‘ post.  It’s going to be a short post this week, mostly because it’s too beautiful outside to invest too much time in front of a computer.  So, in honour of today’s beautiful weather and in honour of summer in general, I thought I’d just offer a couple of links to things that are worth celebrating (from a ‘green’ perspective):

First is a development I recently heard about in Germany called ‘Solarsiedlung (Solar Village)‘, which has the main building (Sonnenschiff (Solar Ship)) at its heart.  This community  incorporates many ‘green’ standards, including rooftop gardens, rainwater collection, passive solar orientation, a woodchip boiler for winter heating and Passivhaus standards for construction, but the reason for the ‘Solar Village’ moniker is the huge number of solar panels in use in the project.  Not only does their use make the project ‘net-zero’, it actually produces more energy than it uses.  Four times more energy… which definitely makes it energy positive.  The designer of the Solar Village project is Rolf Disch.  You can find out more about this and other projects on his website; he also has a site on what he terms ‘PlusEnergy‘.  In a time when people are wondering what they can do to help reduce their energy costs, this development proves that it’s possible to go far beyond that, in a practical way.

Second, Cree Lighting and Habitat for Humanity have begun construction on the first Habitat house that will incorporate all LED lighting.  According to the Cree website, lighting is the single biggest energy user in the average home, at 22% of energy use.  I did a blog post on lighting a while back, and while LEDs do have some disadvantages, at the moment they’re the most efficient and most environmentally friendly lighting technology.  Continued development can only make them better.

Next, a little fun with a story about three swimming pools on Park Avenue in New York city.  The project was done by the development company Macro Sea, in cooperation with the city of New York.  Each pool is made from a converted dumpster, and completely portable.  Drop it off the back of a truck, fill it with water, plug in the filter and have fun!  The pools opened at 7:00 a.m. daily, and from the images I’ve seen there was no shortage of participants!  Given the heat islands presented by most cities, this is a great idea.

And finally, for now, also from New York, the office tower at One Bryant Park has become the first office tower to achieve LEED Platinum certification.  That’s something that’s definitely worth celebrating!!

Okay, the links for this week include:

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

P.S. Looking for something to do with your summer? How about making some giant soap bubbles? (YouTube video) We’ve had a lot of fun with ours over the years – we even had them at our wedding reception!! You can get them here: BubbleThing The ingredients are non-toxic, and they really are a lot of fun for kids of all ages.

Being Green… Why?

Hi Folks:

Friday once again, so that means it’s time for this week’s ‘Being Green‘ post.  I usually come up with a subject for each week’s post sometime during the week based on an inspiration that I have or something I come across, but this week I was coming up empty…

Then today I came across a blog post with the title, “Why Ask Why? It’s a Good Sustainability Starting Point“.  The post does make some good points for any company at the beginning stages of determining their sustainability strategy, and is well worth reading. Continue Reading →

Being Green – Ecolabels

Hi Folks:

Friday once again, so TGIF to ya! For this week’s ‘Being Green‘ post I wanted to reference a couple of articles I came across this week. Before I get to that, however, something more important… our son just finished school – again! His time at Royal Roads University is all over for him as of yesterday, as he’ll be graduating with a BA in Professional Communication. We’re very proud, as you may imagine, and since it was his idea to get this blog started, we owe him a debt of gratitude as well.

Okay, on with the show. I’ve written before about the (to me) often bewildering array of different (sometimes convergent and often divergent) ‘green’ classification systems, covering everything from green building to green travel – but it wasn’t until I came across the following article from the World Resources Institute that I had a clearer idea of exactly how muddy the waters are. The article, titled, “New Website and Survey Look Behind-the-Scenes at Ecolabels’ Environmental Claims” mentions 340 different ‘ecolabels’ around the world, spread over 42 industry sectors. The results for 328 of these ecolabels from 207 countries and 40 industry sectors may be found at ‘Ecolabel Index’. You may also read the full document here (.pdf): Global Ecolabel Monitor 2010. Continue Reading →

Being Green – Keeping Cool…

Happy Friday, everyone!

Well it’s 28o C here in our little corner of the planet as I write this week’s ‘Being Green‘ post.  Not as hot as some of the places on the planet, but still enough to make one consider moving to Australia for the next little while.  As the recent grid failure in the greater Toronto area can attest, people are doing what they can to stay cool despite the heat – no matter the ‘cost’ – and that got me thinking about green tips to stay cool.  I did an Ecosia search on that and it pulled up over 8.6 million links; obviously I’m not the only one to consider this.

If you’re designing a new structure, the choices are many, limited primarily by budget and design.  Site selection, passive solar and extra insulation are all good considerations, and there are many green products, both existing and new that can make your new building more energy efficient.  A couple of things you may not have considered include both the colour of your roof and the colour of your exterior walls.  Black shingle roof tiles may look good, but they absorb a lot of heat.  I’ve seen several homes in this area recently that have been painted a dark charcoal and the same applies there.

If your home has an attic, proper ventilation of the attic space can prevent a buildup of heat above the ceiling.  Again, if you’re building or renovating, consider the most energy efficient doors and windows you can afford.  They’ll not only prevent heat loss in the winter, but they’ll help keep your house cool in the summer.  Careful installation is equally imporant, as air gaps will allow hot air out in the winter and in during summer.  If your location allows it, keep some of the windows open from late evening to early morning as they’ll help cool the house overnight but be sure to close them before the day heats up.  Blinds or draperies (especially those in a lighter colour) can help shield some of the sun’s rays, as do awnings.

Fans (whether ceiling fans or portable ones) do nothing to lower the temperature of a room but the movement of air will help with evaporation of perspiration from your skin, which can help to lower your body temperature.  Keeping that in mind, leaving a fan running when you go out serves no real purpose other than to drive up your electricity bill.  Also, if you live in an area that has both high heat and high humidity, consider a dehumifier.  Lowering the humidy of the air in your controlled space will allow you to raise the temperature of your air conditioning unit while still feeling cool.

Air conditioners, whether portable or central are becoming more and more common, and are adding to the energy demands of virtually every municipality.  Like your furnace, ensure that your A/C unit is properly serviced to keep it running efficiently.  If it has a filter, keep it clean.  Try to use it only as a last resort, and keep in mind that a thermostat is simply a switch activated by heat.  Turning down your thermostat will not cool your house any quicker, but it will force the cooling system to run longer to reach the lower temperature setting.

Heat pumps – whether air-source or ground-source provide both heating in cooler weather and cooling in warmer weather.  Ground-source heat pumps are much more efficient than air-source heat pumps, but they also involve more extensive installation and are more expensive up front.

Remember that everything that uses electricity generates heat, albeit some more than others.  Do you really need to run your clothes dryer in the middle of the day, or could you wait until evening?  How about a clothesline?  Can you wash your clothes in cold water?  Ditto the stove/oven; a microwave uses much less energy than an oven.  A ‘full’ dishwasher uses less water than doing dishes by hand, but leave the dry cycle off.    How old is your refrigerator?  What’s its efficiency rating?  Have you thought about what you want before you open the fridge/freezer door?  Make sure your kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans remove air to the outside, and/or open the window when taking a shower.

Have you replaced the incandescent light bulbs in your house with either CFLs or LED lights?  We owe a debt of gratitude to the inventors of the electric light bulb (Edison included) but the standard light bulb generates far more heat than light, as anyone who has ever used an ‘Easy Bake Oven‘ can attest.  Are you familiar with the ‘phantom electrical loads‘ in your house?  These waste energy, but they also generate heat.

On a personal level, wear loose-fitting clothing that is of a natural material.  Confine activity to cooler periods of the day when at all possible.  Drink plenty of water, and stay away from beverages that contain high levels of sugar and caffeine.  Caffeine stimulates the body’s systems and sugar inhibits water absorption by the cells.  Remember that if you’re thirsty you’ve already lost too much water.  Hunger is also often a sign of dehydration.  Drinking hot liquids/ eating spicy foods enables the body’s air conditioning system by making you perspire.  If you’re overheated, lie down and place a cool wet cloth on your forehead or at the back of your neck.  Be aware of the symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke, in yourself and others.

There are many more possibilities, some of them simple and some more complex.  Examples may be found here and here.  Above all, stay cool!  A relaxed mental attitude will go a long way to keeping your body healthy too.

Okay, this week’s links include many I’ve come across this past week, but there are also some links that I discovered when weeding out my bookmarks file – oldies but goodies:

Okay, that’s it for now.

Have a great week!

P.S. Global Giving is a group that matches donors with non-profits, and their Green Open Challenge is currently underway. To win, a group needs to recruit at least 50 donors who will donate at least $4000 (collectively, not individually) – an average of $80 each. To some people $80 is a lot of money; to others it won’t even pay for dinner.

All of the causes are worth supporting.  As an example, one of this years participants is Vakan’Ala, a group from Madagascar that is working to reforest the country. Right now Madagascar loses 100,000 ha of forest per year, in a country that is only 58.7 million ha in total area. Their request is here: Primary Forest Restoration in Madagascar

Being Green – Accountability

Hi Folks:

Before I get started on this week’s ‘Being Green‘ post I wanted to mention two things. First, last week I mentioned that several members of Victoria’s Emerging Green Builders collaborated on an entry for the USGBC’s 2010 Natural Talent Design Competition. You can find more information on their entry here: ARK | Hurricane Resistant Flooding Solution. Second, if you’re in Kelowna, BC on June 15, 2010 you can “Explore the Future of Architecture at Okanagan College”

Okay… it’s taken me a little while to get started on this week’s post. I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to say, but I wasn’t sure how to get started. In short, writer’s block! For all you non-writers out there, writer’s block is not when you’re sitting there staring at a blank screen or a blank page. Writer’s block is when you’re doing everything but sitting there staring at a blank screen/ page.

So, in desperation (that’s my belief and I’m sticking with it) I decamped to the local Starbucks for a tea and a cookie. Starbucks is about a 20 minute walk from where we live, but because I was already behind schedule I elected to take the bus down instead. As I stood there waiting for the bus I picked up about 10 or 15 pieces of litter and put them in the trash can located beside the bus shelter. I didn’t get to the many cigarette butts before the bus arrived. Continue Reading →

Being Green – Emerging Technologies

Hi Folks:

For this week’s ‘Being Green‘ post I wanted to offer a shout out to a few new (to me at least) emerging technologies.  All three of these have the ‘power’ (pun intended) to change our future.  I don’t often highlight specific companies in my blog posts, but have when I thought it was worth doing so and this is one of those times.  Continue Reading →

Being Green – Going Solar

Hi Folks:  Before I get into this week’s ‘Being Green’ post, last Friday I talked a bit about ‘Modeling and Monitoring‘.  I came across a link this week from the American Society of Landscape Architects on “Sustainability Toolkit: Environmental Models” that fits in with that post, so I wanted to mention it first.  Also, I’m a big advocate of LED lighting, but I came across an interesting article this week on LEDs and why ‘not all LED lights are created equal‘. Continue Reading →

Being Green – Intentional Communities

Hi Folks:

I was going to talk about intentional communities last week but life got in the way.  Actually, last Friday night Marcia and I were at an open meeting to discuss Victoria’s Official Community Plan.  In a way this fits in as sustainability, green building, water and energy are key issues for any OCP.  Vancouver has recently gone through a similar process, as are other cities around the world.

A topic like ‘intentional communities’ is vast, certainly more than can be contained in one writing (even if that writing was a book), and the idea of an intentional community means many different things to many different people.  However, since I’m writing this I get to define some of the parameters at least, and others are most welcome to continue the discussion in the comments below.  Let’s break this down into its components: intention and community. Continue Reading →