Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Building With Whole Trees

Roald Gundersen, an architect who may revolutionize the building industry, shinnied up a slender white ash near his house here on a recent afternoon, hoisting himself higher and higher until the limber trunk began to bend slowly toward the forest floor.

"Look at Papa!" his life and business partner, Amelia Baxter, 31, called to their 3-year-old daughter, Estella, who was crouching in the leaves, reaching for a mushroom. Their son, Cameron, 9 months, was nestled in a sling across Ms. Baxter's chest.

Wild mushrooms and watercress are among the treasures of this 134-acre forest, but its greatest resource is its small-diameter trees - thousands like the one Mr. Gundersen, 49, was hugging like a monkey.

"Whooh!" he said, jumping to the ground and gingerly rubbing his back. "This isn't as easy as it used to be. But see how the tree holds the memory of the weight?"

The ash, no more than five inches thick, was still bent toward the ground. Mr. Gundersen will continue to work on it, bending and pruning it over the next few years in this forest which lies about 10 miles east of the Mississippi River and 150 miles northwest of Madison.

Loggers pass over such trees because they are too small to mill, but this forester-architect, who founded Gundersen Design in 1991 and built his first house here two years later, has made a career of working with them.

"Curves are stronger than straight lines," he explained. "A single arch supporting a roof can laterally brace the building in all directions."

The firm, recently renamed Whole Tree Architecture and Construction, is also owned by Ms. Baxter, a onetime urban farmer and community organizer with a knack for administration and fundraising. She also manages a community forest project modeled after a community-supported agriculture project, in which paying members harvest sustainable riches like mushrooms, firewood and watercress from these woods, and those who want to build a house can select from about 1,000 trees, inventoried according to species, size and shape, and located with global positioning system coordinates, a living inventory that was paid for with a $150,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture.

According to research by the Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, run by the USDA, a whole, unmilled tree can support 50 percent more weight than the largest piece of lumber milled from the same tree. So Mr. Gundersen uses small-diameter trees as rafters and framing in his airy structures, and big trees felled by wind, disease or insects as powerful columns and curving beams.

Taking small trees from a crowded stand in the forest is much like thinning carrots in a row: the remaining plants get more light, air and nutrients. Carrots grow longer and straighter; trees get bigger and healthier.

And when the trees are left whole, they sequester carbon. "For every ton of wood, a ton and a half of carbon dioxide is locked up," he said, whereas producing a ton of steel releases two to five tons of carbon. So the more whole wood is used in place of steel, the less carbon is pumped into the air.

These passive solar structures also need very little or no supplemental heat.

Tom Spaulding, the executive director of Angelic Organics Learning Center, near Rockford, Ill., northwest of Chicago, knows about this because he commissioned Mr. Gundersen to build a 1,600-square-foot training center in 2003. He said: "In the middle of winter, on a 20-below day, we're in shorts, with the windows and doors open. And we don't burn a bit of petroleum."

"It's eminently more frugal and sustainable than milling trees," he added. "These are weed trees, so when you take them out, you improve the forest stand and get a building out of it. You haven't stripped an entire hillside out west to build it, or used a lot of oil to transport the lumber."

Mr. Gundersen had a rough feeling for all of this 16 years ago, when he started building a simple A-frame house here for his first wife and their son, Ian, now 15. He wanted to encourage local farmers to use materials like wood and straw from their own farms to build low-cost, energy-efficient structures. So he used small aspens that were crowding out young oaks nearby.

"I would just carry them home and peel them," said Mr. Gundersen, who later realized he could peel them while they were standing, making them "a lot lighter to haul and not so dangerous to fell."

Mr. Gundersen, who built most of the house singlehandedly, also recognized the beauty of large trees downed by disease or wind, and used the peeled trunks, shorn of their central branches a few feet from the crook, as supporting columns in the house. "I thought they were beautiful, but I didn't think how strong they were," he said

Article © Anne Raver, NY Times. Picture © Paul Kelley, NY Times

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Christmas Tree Recycling

What Are Your Recycling Choices?

After the holidays, don't throw your natural tree away! Here are some tips on what to do with your tree after the holidays. In general, you have these options:

1. Curbside pick-up for recycling - Most areas will collect trees during their regular pickup schedules on the 2 weeks following Christmas. There are often requirements for size, removing ornaments, flocking, etc.
2. Call for an appointment to have a non-profit in your area pickup your tree. Some boy scout troops are offering a pickup service for a small donation (often $5).
3. Take your tree to a drop off recycling center. Most counties have free drop-off locations throughout the county. Usually, you may take up to two trees to any of the following drop-off locations at no charge.
4. Cut the tree to fit loosely into your yard waste container.

Other tips and ideas

* Removing the tree: The best way to avoid a mess removing your tree is to place a plastic tree bag (which are available at hardware stores) underneath the stand when you set the tree up! You can hide it with a tree skirt. Then, when the holidays are done, pull the bag up around the tree, stand and all, and carry it outside. Obviously, you will want to remove the stand before recycling the tree. If some needles do scatter inside, it is better to sweep them up; as needles can clog vacuum cleaners.
* Tree Recycling / Mulching programs are a fast-growing trend in communities throughout the nation. Check below on this page or with your local department of public works for information. They chip and shred the trees, then make the mulch available for use in your garden. Your hauler will notify you of pick-up dates in your area. There are a few things you must do to make your tree ready for RECYCLING. Here are some general tips - but be sure to check with your local hauler - these are just general guidelines! To find your local hauler:
If it is Waste Management Inc (WM), click here to find your Local WM Service Provider's Website - or click here to contact your Local WM Customer Service Center by Phone - find the 1-800 number of your Local Customer Service Center
If your local hauler is AW / BFI (Allied Waste) - Click here to locate the contact information for your local hauler.
* Soil erosion barriers: Some communities use Christmas trees to make effective sand and soil erosion barriers, especially at for lake and river shoreline stabilization and river delta sedimentation management (Louisiana does both).
* Fish feeders: Sunk into private fish ponds trees make excellent refuge and feeding area for fish.
* Bird feeders: Place the Christmas tree in the garden or backyard and use it as a bird feeder and sanctuary. Fresh orange slices or strung popcorn will attract the birds and they can sit in the branches for shelter. (Make sure all decorations, hooks, garland and tinsel strands are removed). Eventually (within a year) the branches will become brittle and you can break the tree apart by hand or chip it in a chipper. See this article from Perdue University for more information.
* Mulch: A Christmas tree is biodegradable; its branches may be removed, chipped, and used as mulch in the garden. If you have a neighbor with a chip, see if he will chip it for you.
* Paths for Hiking Trails: Some counties use the shredded trees as a free, renewable and natural path material that fits both the environment and the needs of hikers!
* Living, rooted trees: Of course, next year, you could get a rooted (ball and burlapped or containerized) tree and then plant it in your yard after Christmas (It's a good idea to pre-dig the hole in the late Fall while the soil is still soft, then plant the tree into that hole immediately after Christmas.) NOTE: Living trees have a better survival rate in mild climates, than in a northern area.
* Important: Never burn your Christmas tree in a fireplace or wood stove. Pines, firs and other evergreens have a high content of flammable turpentine oils. Burning the tree may contribute to creosote buildup and risk a chimney fire.

Article ©

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Eco Gift Ideas: Beyond the Stores

This holiday season, remember there are more options than just what you can find in the stores. Here are some ideas for the socially conscious person on your list this year.

Offer gifts that don't involve buying anything. For example, time together, a back rub, babysitting, offer to teach something you know how to do (e.g., making candles), donation to charity, seeds from your garden, tickets to an event (musical, lecture series, play, concert, etc.), organic house cleaning service, gift certificates for spas, music downloads, movie downloads, etc.

Other gift ideas:

* Give the gift that keeps on growing -- a tree!
* Buy gifts from Fair Trade Shops.
* Give alternative charity gifts or donate to your favorite charity in honor of someone
* Feed a child in honor of someone you love and support organization for fighting hunger.
* Consider purchasing gifts from companies focused on providing products which use renewable energy sources (i.e., solar powered radio or outdoor lighting).
* Purchase gifts made from reused and natural materials or find ideas for making your own eco gifts.
* Shop for gifts at antique stores, estate sales or flea markets.
* Donate to a local charity that is distributing holiday gifts for underprivileged children.
* Create sustainable gift baskets filled with sustainable gift items (e.g., compact fluorescent light bulbs, plastic bag dryer, organic cotton socks/scarfs/hats/etc., shower head with mist setting for lowest flow showers, organic and/or vegan snack items, organic cotton towels, shade grown coffee, fair trade gifts, solar battery charger, solar radio/flashlight, etc.)

Article ©

Eco Friendly Holiday Gifts

This holiday season we have our top ten gifts ideas for 2009. Everything for the green geek to the eco baby, see what tops our list:

  • iPhone Solar Skin From NovoThink ($69.95) - Charge your iPhone from the sun with this innovative skin cover from

  • SIGG Water Bottles ($21.99) - Swiss-made, leach-proof, safe water bottles. SIGG bottles are manufactured in an ecologically-friendly environment and are 100% recyclable after their very long lives.

  • bumGenius 3.0 One-Size Cloth Diapers ($17.95) - It easy to switch to cloth diapers for your baby with washable, reusable diapers from Cotton Babies

  • Cascata Rain Water Collection and Storage System from Algreen ($199) - 65-gallon rain barrel makes saving rain water easy.

  • pb Bamboo Travel Blanket ($39.95) - Perfect for the traveler in your life. Bamboo is a
    soft and smooth fabric that provides superior ventilation and wicking.

  • El Naturalista Women's Pump ($182) - A vegetable-tanned leather shoe with microfibra lining that is antibacterial, antimicrobial and anti-odor.

  • Samsung Reclaim ($29.99 and up with contract) - The eco-friendly cell phone made from 80%
    recycled materials.

  • Triple Home Recycle Bin from Get Organized ($75.88) - Stainless steel bin with color coded foot petals to keep your paper, plastic and glass separate.

  • Cork Furniture - Cork is a natural, sustainable, renewable, non-toxic material. Check out the designs by Corque

  • Sport Solar Oven ($135) - Solar cooking will roast meats, bake fish and chicken, steam veggies,
    it can even bake cookies and cooks rice and pasta with only solar energy.

  • Article © Lisa A Swan, Design Forward

    Saturday, October 31, 2009

    Green Investing

    This column by Yahoo's David Jackson, "The Green Investor" is a great place to start looking for a new way to invest your money.

    Investing in green can improve our quality of life and improve the environment, while helping our bottom line. Green investing is becoming more mainstream everyday, and with it brings a host of financial opportunities.

    By investing Green, you can support the companies and the technologies that are helping the environment while (hopefully) increasing your personal wealth. On a wider scale the growing trend of Green Investing can go so far as to influence policy decisions public companies make.

    As with any investing, you can WIN or LOSE so do your research, but whether you are trying to save the world or looking for the next big Growth Industry to ignite your portfolio reading The Green Investor.

    Article © greenUPGRADER

    The Green Investor...

    Waste Less Living

    Waste Less Living is a 'Zero-Waste' service that has an effective system for distributing, collecting, and then composting your waste from your next party or event.

    They take the the waste generated at your party or event and turn it into a compost, instead of sending it to the trash. They help you identify potential sources of trash and recommend viable and economical alternatives to reduce your waste up-front. They then provide and deliver all the necessary tableware to your event site. Once the party is over, they collect all the tableware and food waste and compost it off-site for you.

    So how does it work:
    The kit contains biodegradable and 100% compostable plates, cups, utensils, napkins and trash bags. They deliver the kits, you use them, and they take your waste (tableware and food scraps) away for composting and not landfilling.

    Their products are:

    * Boidegradable and 100% compostable
    * Made from renewable resources (i.e. corn, sugar, potatoes, post-consumer-waste paper, wheat, rice, bamboo)
    * Eco-friendly alterantive to plastic, Styrofoam, and paper disposable tableware
    * Reduce green house gases and other enviormental impacts
    * Affordable

    No more guilt about using disposables because your waste will be used to make more of the stuff. It's the perfect solution that is sustainable!

    Article © Lisa A. Swan, Design Forward


    Monday, September 28, 2009

    Natural Insecticides

    As you may be experiencing a increase of ants in your house or getting ready to plant a winter garden, here are some tips on natural pest control:

    * Garlic control
    * Orange Oil
    * Mint, cloves, rosemary & thyme can be used as insecticides
    * Insecticidal Soaps
    * Neem Oil - Neem oil is used in gardens and landscapes against insects that chew on plants such as black vine weevil.
    * Diatomaceous Earth - Diatomaceous earth is a dry, powdery material derived from the shells of marine organisms. It is used mainly to deter and kill crawling pests both indoors and outdoors.
    * Boric Acid - Boric acid is used mainly in structural pest control against insects like termites, carpenter ants and powderpost beetles, and in baits for cockroaches. Boric acid is generally used in the borate form, often sodium borate.
    * Vinegar and Salt

    Article © Lisa A. Swan, Design Forward

    Cloud-seeding ships could combat climate change

    It should be possible to counteract the global warming associated with a doubling of carbon dioxide levels by enhancing the reflectivity of low-lying clouds above the oceans, according to researchers in the US and UK. John Latham of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, US, and colleagues say that this can be done using a worldwide fleet of autonomous ships spraying salt water into the air.

    Clouds are a key component of the Earth's climate system. They can both heat the planet by trapping the longer-wavelength radiation given off from the Earth's surface and cool it by reflecting incoming shorter wavelength radiation back into space. The greater weight of the second mechanism means that, on balance, clouds have a cooling effect.

    'Twomey effect' boosts reflectivity

    Latham's proposal, previously put forward by himself and a number of other scientists, involves increasing the reflectivity, or "albedo", of clouds lying about 1 km above the ocean's surface. The idea relies on the "Twomey effect", which says that increasing the concentration of water droplets within a cloud raises the overall surface area of the droplets and thereby enhances the cloud's albedo. By spraying fine droplets of sea water into the air, the small particles of salt within each droplet act as new centres of condensation when they reach the clouds above, leading to a greater concentration of water droplets within each cloud.

    Latham and co-workers, including wave-energy researcher Stephen Salter of Edinburgh University, claim that such spraying could increase the rate at which clouds reflect solar energy back into space by as much as 3.7 Wm-2. This is the extra power per unit area that scientists say will arrive at the Earth's surface following a doubling of the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide compared to pre-industrial levels - 550 ppm vs 275 ppm (Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A DOI:10.1098/rsta.2008.0137).

    New spin on sailing

    The 300-tonne unmanned ships used to seed the clouds would be powered by the wind, but would not use conventional sails. Instead they would be fitted with a number of 20 m-high, 2.5 m-diameter cylinders known as "Flettner rotors" that would be made to spin continuously. This spinning would generate a force perpendicular to the wind direction, propelling the ship forward if it is oriented at right angles to the wind (Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A DOI: 10.1098/rsta.2008.0136).

    These rotors would be easier to operate remotely than sails and would also serve as the conduits for the upward spray, with the spray consisting of droplets 0.8 µm in diameter generated by passing sea water through micro nozzles. The power for the spray and the cylinder rotation would be provided by oversized propellers operating as turbines.

    The immediate effect of seeding clouds in this way would be a local cooling of the sea surface, and as such the technique could be targeted at coral reefs, diminishing polar ice sheets or other vulnerable regions. However, the great thermal heat capacity of the ocean and the currents within it mean that these initial effects would eventually spread across the globe.

    Fleet of 1500

    Latham and colleagues calculate that, depending on exactly what fraction of low-level maritime clouds are targeted (with some regions, notably the sea off the west coasts of Africa and North and South America, more susceptible to this technique than others), around 1500 ships would be needed altogether to counteract a carbon doubling, at a cost of some £1m to £2m each. This would involve an initial fleet expanding by some 50 ships a year if the scheme is to keep in step with the current rate of increase in atmospheric carbon-dioxide levels.

    This cloud-seeding proposal is one of a number of ideas put forward by scientists in recent years to "geoengineer" the Earth in response to climate change rather than, or as well as, deal with the causes of the change. A series of papers on several proposals, including Latham's, have been published in a recent issue of the journal Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A entitled Geoscale engineering to avert dangerous climate change.

    Latham maintains that his group's idea is not pie in the sky and that its feasibility is supported by two of the world's leading computer climate models, as well as recently obtained experimental cloud data. He points out that, unlike rival techniques, the system could be used to vary the degree of cooling as required and could be switched off instantaneously if needed. However, he adds more research must be done to find out a number of unknowns - such as exactly what fraction of spray droplets will reach the clouds - and to establish that the technique would not create any harmful climatic side effects. More work must also be done on the spray technology, he says.

    About the author

    Edwin Cartlidge is a science journalist based in Italy

    Article © Edwin Cartlidge,


    Friday, August 28, 2009

    Coolerado Hybrid A/C Wins Cooling Challenge Using 60 Percent Less Energy

    * Coolerado unit beat 2010 DOE efficiency standard by 60 percent
    * Cooling capacity increases as outside temperature increase
    * wo-year payback possible through energy savings, utility rebates and tax incentives

    University of California, Davis issued a challenge to manufacturers to build more efficient air conditioners for the Western U.S. The objective was to exceed the 2010 U.S. Department of Energy efficiency standards by an aggressive 40 percent. Coolerado Corporation, the first certified winner of the UC Davis Western Cooling Challenge, entered the program with its new hybrid commercial rooftop unit - a system using its proprietary indirect evaporative technology in concert with a traditional compressor and refrigerant system. DOE laboratory testing indicates that Coolerado's new system, the Coolerado H80, beat the 2010 standards by 60 percent at peak demand and will use 80 percent less energy overall.

    Testing revealed that the new H80 also has the Coolerado signature; cooling capacity increases as outside temperature increases - not typical of other systems. Eric Kozubal, senior mechanical engineer at the DOE National Renewable Energy Laboratory, conducted the testing and said, "In western climates, the Coolerado H80 provides cooling and ventilation for buildings at efficiency far above standard equipment available today. Laboratory testing shows that the H80 provides consistent cooling performance even when temperatures rise above 95 degrees."

    "The UC Davis challenge also targeted water conservation, limiting water use for technologies that use evaporation as part of the cooling process," said Mark Modera, director of the UC Davis Western Cooling Efficiency Center. "The water allowance in the challenge was set such that water used at the air conditioner should be mitigated by the savings in water required to produce less power. DOE/NREL determined that the water use for the Coolerado H80 is less than the objective set by UC Davis and is about the same amount of water that will be used to generate electricity for a traditional air conditioner meeting the new DOE 2010 standard."

    The H80 is the first system Coolerado is offering that includes dehumidification, recirculation and an option for heating. The H80 delivers over five tons of air conditioning at 105 degrees Fahrenheit, which is equivalent to larger traditional systems that lose capacity as outside temperatures climb. In some extreme operating conditions and climates, the Coolerado H80 will deliver as much cooling as an eight-ton conventional system and will have an Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) over 20.

    Coolerado began taking H80 orders in August for delivery late this year and is currently building several units which will be delivered to Australia for installation during its cooling season (December). Customers may expect to realize a two-year payback on the price of the H80 through energy savings, utility rebates and tax incentives.

    The unit that was initially tested at the DOE lab in Golden, Colorado is operational on a building at a college in Sacramento, California. The Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) will be monitoring the energy savings of the unit during the next several years.

    Article & Picture ©

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    Clock Running Down on First-Time Home Buyer Tax Credit

    According to a news report by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), the clock running down on the $8,000 tax credit for first-time home buyers and less than four months to go, builders are urging qualified prospective buyers to start the sales process long before the Nov. 30 deadline.

    Faulty appraisals that have been using foreclosed properties as comparables for new homes have been slowing down the sales process in many instances, builders warn, creating hiccups in the financing stage that can often push the closing date much later than originally expected.

    First-time buyers should also anticipate tighter lending standards that generally don't allow 100% financing, making buyers responsible for coming up with enough money prior to their purchase to meet required downpayment and closing costs.

    For these two reasons alone, young families considering becoming home owners should be advised to start the process long before they put a bid on a new home. As part of that effort, builders can provide key educational information on the home buying process - including financing and closing - that their customers need to ensure that they occupy their new home in time to claim the tax credit.

    Assistance on Upfront Costs Available in 16 States

    For home buyers who need assistance with downpayment and closing costs, some state housing finance agencies are able to provide a short-term loan based on the home buyer's qualification for the federal tax credit.

    Sixteen state housing finance agencies - in Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia - are participating in loan programs to help facilitate home sales for first-time home buyers in their area.

    Each state is different and qualifications and restrictions vary among the programs.

    Home buyers should be warned, however, that there are organizations or individuals who are providing this service who are not legally permitted to do so. If the organization is a unit of state government, such as a state housing finance agency, it is safe to say that it is reputable. Otherwise, a home buyer should check with their local Better Business Bureau or through a state or local government's department of consumer affairs to ensure that the program they are working with is legitimate.

    Remind Buyers of Requirements, Special Circumstances

    Although the tax credit has three requirements listed for home buyers to qualify - status as a first-time home buyer, timeframe in which the home must be purchased and income limits - it is sometimes not that simple. Specific situations - such as those involving the sale of a home between related individuals or prior ownership of a mobile home as a primary residence - may result in a buyer's disqualification from claiming the credit.

    In a statement released last week, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) warned taxpayers to beware of first-time home buyer tax credit fraud. Home buyers who may be unsure of their status on claiming the tax credit should seek professional advice from a certified public accountant or an enrolled agent licensed by the federal government.

    Home buyers who may need additional information can find answers to frequently asked questions about the tax credit at

    Article and Picture ©


    White Roofs Catch On as Energy Cost Cutters

    SAN FRANCISCO - Returning to their ranch-style house in Sacramento after a long summer workday, Jon and Kim Waldrep were routinely met by a wall of heat.

    "We'd come home in the summer, and the house would be 115 degrees, stifling," said Mr. Waldrep, a regional manager for a national company.

    He or his wife would race to the thermostat and turn on the air-conditioning as their four small children, just picked up from day care, awaited relief.

    All that changed last month. "Now we come home on days when it's over 100 degrees outside, and the house is at 80 degrees," Mr. Waldrep said.

    Their solution was a new roof: a shiny plasticized white covering that experts say is not only an energy saver but also a way to help cool the planet.

    Relying on the centuries-old principle that white objects absorb less heat than dark ones, homeowners like the Waldreps are in the vanguard of a movement embracing "cool roofs" as one of the most affordable weapons against climate change.

    Studies show that white roofs reduce air-conditioning costs by 20 percent or more in hot, sunny weather. Lower energy consumption also means fewer of the carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming.

    What is more, a white roof can cost as little as 15 percent more than its dark counterpart, depending on the materials used, while slashing electricity bills.

    Energy Secretary Steven Chu, a Nobel laureate in physics, has proselytized for cool roofs at home and abroad. "Make it white," he advised a television audience on Comedy Central's "Daily Show" last week.

    The scientist Mr. Chu calls his hero, Art Rosenfeld, a member of the California Energy Commission who has been campaigning for cool roofs since the 1980s, argues that turning all of the world's roofs "light" over the next 20 years could save the equivalent of 24 billion metric tons in carbon dioxide emissions.

    "That is what the whole world emitted last year," Mr. Rosenfeld said. "So, in a sense, it's like turning off the world for a year."

    This month the Waldreps' three-bedroom house is consuming 10 percent less electricity than it did a year ago. (The savings would be greater if the family ran its central air during the workday.)

    From Dubai to New Delhi to Osaka, Japan, reflective roofs have been embraced by local officials seeking to rein in energy costs. In the United States, they have been standard equipment for a decade at new Wal-Mart stores. More than 75 percent of the chain's 4,268 outlets in the United States have them.

    California, Florida and Georgia have adopted building codes that encourage white-roof installations for commercial buildings.

    Drawing on federal stimulus dollars earmarked for energy-efficiency projects, state energy offices and local utilities often offer financing for cool roofs. The roofs can qualify for tax credits if the roofing materials pass muster with the Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star program.

    Still, the ardor of the cool-roof advocates has prompted a bit of a backlash.

    Some roofing specialists and architects argue that supporters fail to account for climate differences or the complexities of roof construction. In cooler climates, they say, reflective roofs can mean higher heating bills.

    Scientists acknowledge that the extra heating costs may outweigh the air-conditioning savings in cities like Detroit or Minneapolis.

    But for most types of construction, they say, light roofs yield significant net benefits as far north as New York or Chicago. Although those cities have cold winters, they are heat islands in the summer, with hundreds of thousands of square feet of roof surface absorbing energy.

    The physics behind cool roofs is simple. Solar energy delivers both light and heat, and the heat from sunlight is readily absorbed by dark colors. (An asphalt roof in New York can rise to 180 degrees on a hot summer day.) Lighter colors, however, reflect back a sizable fraction of the radiation, helping to keep a building - and, more broadly, the city and Earth - cooler. They also re-emit some of the heat they absorb.

    Unlike high-technology solutions to reducing energy use, like light-emitting diodes in lamp fixtures, white roofs have a long and humble history. Houses in hot climates have been whitewashed for centuries.

    Before the advent of central air-conditioning in the mid-20th-century, white- and cream-colored houses with reflective tin roofs were the norm in South Florida, for example. Then central air-conditioning arrived, along with dark roofs whose basic ingredients were often asphalt, tar and bitumen, or asphalt-based shingles. These materials absorb as much as 90 percent of the sun's heat energy - often useful in New England, but less so in Texas. By contrast, a white roof can absorb as little as 10 percent or 15 percent.

    "Relative newcomers to the West and South brought a lot of habits and products from the Northeast," said Joe Reilly, the president of American Rooftile Coatings, a supplier. "What you see happening now is common sense."

    Around the country, roof makers are racing to develop products in the hope of profiting as the movement spreads from the flat roofs of the country's malls to the sloped roofs of its suburbs.

    Years of detailed work by scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory have provided the roof makers with a rainbow of colors - the equivalent of a table of the elements - showing the amount of light that each hue reflects and the amount of heat it re-emits.

    White is not always a buyer's first choice of color. So suppliers like American Rooftile Coatings have used federal color charts to create "cool" but traditional colors, like cream, sienna and gray, that yield savings, though less than dazzling white roofs do.

    In an experiment, the National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tenn., had two kinds of terra-cotta-colored cement tiles from American Rooftile installed on four new homes at the Fort Irwin Army base in California. One kind was covered with a special paint and reflected 45 percent of the sun's rays - nearly twice as much as the other kind. The two homes with roofs of highly reflective paint used 35 percent less electricity last summer than the two with less reflective paint.

    Still, William Miller of the Oak Ridge laboratory, who organized the experiment, says he distrusts the margin of difference; he wants to figure out whether some of it resulted from different family habits.

    Hashem Akbari, Dr. Rosenfeld's colleague at the Lawrence Berkeley laboratory, says he is unsure how long it will take cool roofs to truly catch on. But he points out that most roofs, whether tile or asphalt-shingle, have a life span of 20 to 25 years.

    If the roughly 5 percent of all roofs that are replaced each year were given cool colors, he said, the country's transformation would be complete in two decades.

    Article © Felicity Barringer, New York Times


    Friday, July 31, 2009

    Straw Bale Gardening

    Limited space? No soil? Toxic or rocky ground? Spare corner? Edge of drive or yard? Here's bales of advice for you on the straw bale gardening way.

    Especially good for those with dickey backs, straw bale gardening needs only someone to lug the jolly bales into place and with a minimum of effort you'll have a marvel of bounty and beauty indeed.

    We can learn from others here. There are timely tips on straw bale gardening that will save you angst.
    Here's the hoedown:

    The bale is the garden. Put it on your balcony or path if you want to.

    Use one or umpteen bales as you need and in any pattern. Because straw bale gardening is raised, it's easy to work with, so make sure you allow for handy access.

    Wheat or oat straw is best as it's the stalks left from harvesting grain with very few seed left. Hay bales are less popular as they are made of whole plants with mucho seeds and often other weeds in. Use what you can get locally - it may even be lucerne or pea straw bales.

    Put the bales in the exact place, because it's too hard to even nudge these monsters once you've got your little straw bale garden factory in full swing.

    You'll get one good season out of a bale and usually two, albeit with a bit of sag. It makes for great compost or mulch when finished with. Straw bale for garden

    Lay them lengthwise to make planting easy by just parting the straw. Make sure the string is running around each bale and not on the side touching the ground in case it's degradable twine.

    Keep the twine there to hold it all in place and if it does rot, bang some stakes in at both ends, or chock up the ends with something heavyish, like rocks, bricks, boxes or plant containers.

    Starting off with slightly aged bales of about 6 months is best, but if they're new, thoroughly soak with water and leave for 5 or so days whilst the temperature rises and cooks the inside, then they will cool and be ready for planting. They won't be composting much inside yet, that takes months, but you don't want that initial hot cooking of your plants.

    Some sneaky people speed up the process of producing microbes and rot by following a 10-day pre-treatment regime of water and ammonium nitrate on the top of each bale. But, hey, organic gardeners are a patient lot aren't we, so let's follow nature?

    Keep watered. That's going to be your biggest task. Straw bale gardening uses more water than a normal garden, so set up a system now. It may be that swilling out the teapot on it each day is enough in your area, or you may need to keep the hose handy.

    Straw bale gardening - plants to plant

    Annuals of vegetables, herbs or flowers will love it. Remember your bales will be history in 1-2 years. Young plants can go straight in. Pull apart or use a trowel and depending on the state of the straw, put a handful of compost soil in too, then let the straw go back into place.

    Seeds can be planted on top if you put a layer of compost soil there first.

    Top heavies like corn and okra, are not so good, unless you grow dwarf varieties. With straw bale gardening it's hard to put solid stakes in so big tomato plants are out, although they will happily dangle over the edge.

    Each bale should take up to half a dozen cucumbers, trailing down. Squash, zucchini, melons - maybe 3 plants, or a couple of tomato plants per bale with one or two herbs and leafy veggies in between. Four pepper plants will fit or 12-15 bean or pea plants.

    There's no limit and why not poke in around the side a plant or two of some flowering annual for colour and companion if you like.

    Once every 1-2 weeks water in a liquid organic feed, such as compost tea or fish emulsion. Tip some worms on top if you want to use your bales only one season.

    It's simple to pull out any wayward grain seeds with straw bale gardening, but with hay bales you may need to occasionally give them a haircut rather than try and pull the tenacious new sprouts out.

    Article & Picture ©


    Composting Fundamentals

    Good composting is a matter of providing the proper environmental conditions for microbial life. Compost is made by billions of microbes (fungi, bacteria, etc.) that digest the yard and kitchen wastes (food) you provide for them. If the pile is cool enough, worms, insects, and their relatives will help out the microbes. All of these will slowly make compost out of your yard and kitchen wastes under any conditions. However, like people, these living things need air, water, and food. If you maintain your pile to provide for their needs, they'll happily turn your yard and kitchen wastes into compost much more quickly. Keep in mind the following basic ideas while building your compost piles:

    Composting microbes are aerobic -- they can't do their work well unless they are provided with air. Without air, anaerobic (non-air needing) microbes take over the pile. They do cause slow decomposition, but tend to smell like putrefying garbage! For this reason, it's important to make sure that there are plenty of air passageways into your compost pile. Some compost ingredients, such as green grass clippings or wet leaves, mat down very easily into slimy layers that air cannot get through. Other ingredients, such as straw, don't mat down easily and are very helpful in allowing air into the center of a pile. To make sure that you have adequate aeration for your pile and its microbes, thoroughly break up or mix in any ingredients that might mat down and exclude air. You can also turn the pile to get air into it, which means completely breaking it apart with a spade or garden fork and then piling it back together in a more 'fluffed-up' condition.

    Ideally, your pile should be as moist as a wrung-out sponge to fit the needs of compost microbes. At this moisture level, there is a thin film of water coating every particle in the pile, making it very easy for microbes to live and disperse themselves throughout the pile. If your pile is drier than this, it won't be very good microbial habitat, and composting will be slowed significantly. If your pile is a great deal wetter, the sodden ingredients will be so heavy that they will tend to mat down and exclude air from the pile, again slowing the composting process (and perhaps creating anaerobic odor problems). If you are using dry ingredients, such as autumn leaves or straw, you'll need to moisten them as you add them to the pile. Kitchen fruit and vegetable wastes generally have plenty of moisture, as do fresh green grass clippings and garden thinnings. Watch out for far-too-soggy piles in wet climates (a tarp may help to keep rain off during wet weather). In dry climates, it may be necessary to water your pile occasionally to maintain proper moisture.

    In broad terms, there are two major kinds of food that composting microbes need.

    'Browns' are dry and dead plant materials such as straw, dry brown weeds, autumn leaves, and wood chips or sawdust. These materials are mostly made of chemicals that are just long chains of sugar molecules linked together. As such, these items are a source of energy for the compost microbes. Because they tend to be dry, browns often need to be moistened before they are put into a compost system.

    'Greens' are fresh (and often green) plant materials such as green weeds from the garden, kitchen fruit and vegetable scraps, green leaves, coffee grounds and tea bags, fresh horse manure, etc. Compared to browns, greens have more nitrogen in them. Nitrogen is a critical element in amino acids and proteins, and can be thought of as a protein source for the billions of multiplying microbes.

    A good mix of browns and greens is the best nutritional balance for the microbes. This mix also helps out with the aeration and amount of water in the pile. Browns, for instance, tend to be bulky and promote good aeration. Greens, on the other hand, are typically high in moisture, and balance out the dry nature of the browns.

    Article and Picture © VegWeb, LLC

    Complete Article

    Thursday, June 25, 2009

    Eight Tips for Getting Your Sustainability Project Off the Ground

    Article by Deborah Fleischer

    In Part I of this series, I focused on the business value of going green. This piece focuses on in-the-trenches advice for new sustainability directors at companies just getting started on implementing a sustainability strategy.

    1. Look at the big picture and identify your company's greatest impacts. Review your key business operations to understand the key environmental issues for your business and the opportunities and risks presented by these issues. Alex McIntosh, Director of Corporate Citizenship at Nestlé Waters, advises new directors to "think broadly about what sustainability means to your business, look beyond your four walls, up and down your full value chain." Then," he continues, "quantify your impacts [green house gas (GHG) emissions or life cycle assessment (LCA) or tons of waste] and prioritize the places where your impacts are the greatest. Pay lots of attention to how people inside the company are being rewarded or penalized for their performance in those areas."

    2. Land some quick wins -- go for cost savings. To start, prioritize and focus on capturing the low-hanging fruit. Look for opportunities that will deliver results quickly, such as increasing efficiency and reducing waste. Scan your business and look for logical opportunities to save money and develop measurable metrics to track results.

    3. Be authentic. If you are going to use sustainability as a product differentiator, be sure you have done all you can to be authentically green. This does not mean you have to be perfect. Consumers want honesty and transparency, not perfection. But with today's social media tools, it only takes a moment on Twitter for someone to accuse you of greenwashing.

    4. Develop internal partners. For directors getting started, begin to network throughout the company and create relationships with directors who oversee key functions, including product design, procurement, sales, supply chain, governmental affairs, social investment, analyst relations and employee engagement. Look for opportunities to gain their trust and educate them on the value sustainability offers the company, including product differentiation that can capture market share and drive top-line revenues.

    5. Engage your stakeholders. McIntosh suggests meeting with as many people as you can outside of your company, "prioritizing to meet with the most influential and interested stakeholders first."

    "Stakeholder engagement is an important, essential element in good citizenship and good business strategy. You need to know what issues are most important to the people that are most relevant to your business," suggests McIntosh.

    Include your supply chain, customers, investors and employees in your outreach so you can understand what leadership looks like or what risks may be coming. What issues do they care about? What is important to them? How are they tackling their end of the equation? Answers to these questions can help inform your strategy and programs.

    6. Engage employees. If you are short on resources to implement new programs, look to your employees. Bonnie Nixon, Director of Environmental Sustainability at Hewlett Packard, explained that the company engages employees on multiple levels, ranging from providing them energy kits to reduce their personal carbon footprint at home to offering incentives for biking to work to encouraging them to innovate more and find ways to imbed sustainability into product design, the supply chain and the sales process.

    7. Develop a communications strategy. A key component to a sustainability program is communicating both internally and externally about your efforts and results. Develop a strategy that details how you are going to communicate your efforts -- both your successes and future areas for improvement.

    8. Develop a long-term strategy. Going green does not happen overnight. Hunter Lovins, the president and founder of Natural Capitalism Solutions warns, "avoid the temptation to be green all at once. This is a years long process, like continuous improvement."

    Bonnie Nixon adds, "in addition to a short-term strategy, you need to develop a longer term plan that looks at potential trends and regulations out there and what your future customer segment is going to look like."

    Ultimately, you want to aim for an authentic strategy that is linked to your company's mission, vision, brand and values that will deliver significant, quantifiable, bottom-line results.

    Deborah Fleischer is the founder and president of Green Impact, providing strategic environmental consulting services to mid-sized companies and NGOs who want to launch a new green initiative or cross-sector collaboration, but lack the in-house capacity to get it up and running. She brings expertise in sustainability strategy, program development, stakeholder engagement and written communications.

    Article and Picture ©


    Greenopia Ranks 50 State Governors for Environmental Responsibility

    Greenopia's research team has released a new ranking: this time it's a comprehensive ranking of all 50 United States governors. Topping the list is Governor Bill Ritter of Colorado followed closely by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California. The entire ranking results are available at 50 Greenest Governors. See Top Ten below.
    "We looked at all 50 governors in the US and compared their policies, transparency, and interest group ratings and ranked them. It was a monumental task," said Doug Mazeffa, Greenopia's director of research. "People want to know which Governors are the eco-leaders or laggards, and especially identify those making repeated eco-gaffes."
    Data for this study was collected from each governor's own web pages and cross-checked against credible sites such as VoteSmart and OnTheIssues. Energy and emission data was collected from the Department of Energy and the environmental platform data for each political party was collected from either the DNC or RNC's main site.
    As part of Greenopia's mission to keep consumers (and voters) informed on issues of eco-friendly importance, the Greenest Governors project reveals which state governments are most dedicated to preserving the environment. The US Constitution preserves the notion that America is a federation of sovereign states and legal powers not specifically granted to the federal government are retained by the states. This means that Governors and state legislatures hold significant sway over state-based green initiatives and policies.
    "Over the past few years we have begun to see certain states emerging as environmental leaders," remarked Gay Browne, Greenopia founder and CEO. "Those states enacting environmental laws stricter than federal guidelines have gone to greater lengths to protect the environment and to create more sustainable development, including green jobs."

    The Top Ten Greenest Governors

    1. Bill Ritter of Colorado
    2. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California
    3. Ted Kulongowski of Oregon
    4. Christine Gregoire of Washington state
    5. John Baldacci of Maine
    6. Martin O'Malley of Maryland
    7. Bill Richardson of New Mexico
    8. James Douglas of Vermont
    9. Jon Corzine of New Jersey
    10. Jodi Rell of Connecticut

    Colorado Governor Bill Ritter, had the following comment to make regarding the analysis done by Greenopia, "I very much appreciate this honor as an acknowledgment of our success at building a New Energy Economy all across Colorado. Over the past 2½ years, we have established Colorado as a national and international leader in renewable energy. While renewable energy and energy conservation are vital to our environmental future, the recession has also made it clear how important they are to our economic future. Thanks to our New Energy Economy, we are creating thousands of new jobs, attracting scores of new companies and leading the way toward greater energy independence through research and innovation."


    Seminar on August 1: Building Green

    Seminar: Building Green: Making Your Home More Energy Efficient

    Join Design Forward's Lisa Swan in Glendale on August 1, 2009 for a Building Green seminar for home owners.

    Class Description: Whether you are interested in a new house, remodeling your existing home, or just adding a few sustainable features, this innovative class will give you an in depth review of green building and sustainable architecture. Learn about solar and wind energy, wall systems such as straw bale, insulated concrete forms and foam insulation, natural and recycled materials, efficient windows and appliances, and more. Also learn how you can save money through State and local rebates.
    Reference Class: SI011

    Instructor: Lisa Swan is the owner of Design Forward, a residential design firm, specializing in sustainable and green projects. She is an Honors' graduate of the Illinois Institute of Technology, with a Bachelor of Architecture and has an MBA from Norwich University.

    Date & Time: August 1, 2009 9:30am - 12:30am

    Cost: $35, plus $10 materials fee is payable to the instructor in class.

    Location: Glendale, CA - Garfield Campus of the Glendale Community College

    Register Begins June 1, 2009:

    More Info

    Wednesday, May 27, 2009

    Pond-Powered Biofuels: Turning Algae into America's New Energy

    Just three years ago, Colorado-based inventor Jim Sears shuttered himself in his garage and began tinkering with a design to mass-produce biofuel. His reactor (plastic bags) and his feedstock (algae) may have struck soybean farmers as a laughable gamble. But the experiment worked, and today, Sears' company, Solix Biofuels in Fort Collins, is among several startups betting their futures on the photosynthetic powers of unicellular green goo.

    The science is simple: Algae need water, sunlight and carbon dioxide to grow. The oil they produce can then be harvested and converted into biodiesel; the algae's carbohydrate content can be fermented into ethanol. Both are much cleaner-burning fuels than petroleum-based diesel or gas.

    The reality is more complex. Trying to grow concentrations of the finicky organism is a bit like trying to balance the water in a fish tank. It's also expensive. The water needs to be just the right temperature for algae to proliferate, and even then open ponds can become choked with invasive species. Atmospheric levels of CO2 also aren't high enough to spur exponential growth.

    Solix addresses these problems by containing the algae in closed "photobioreactors"-triangular chambers made from sheets of polyethylene plastic (similar to a painter's dropcloth)-and bubbling supplemental carbon dioxide through the system. Eventually, the source of the CO2 will be exhaust from power plants and other industrial processes, providing the added benefit of capturing a potent greenhouse gas before it reaches the atmosphere.

    Given the right conditions, algae can double its volume overnight. Unlike other biofuel feedstocks, such as soy or corn, it can be harvested day after day. Up to 50 percent of an alga's body weight is comprised of oil, whereas oil-palm trees-currently the largest producer of oil to make biofuels-yield just about 20 percent of their weight in oil. Across the board, yields are already impressive: Soy produces some 50 gallons of oil per acre per year; canola, 150 gallons; and palm, 650 gallons. But algae is expected to produce 10,000 gallons per acre per year, and eventually even more.

    "If we were to replace all of the diesel that we use in the United States" with an algae derivative, says Solix CEO Douglas Henston, "we could do it on an area of land that's about one-half of 1 percent of the current farm land that we use now."

    Solix plans to complete its second prototype by the end of April and to begin building a pilot plant this fall. That plant will take advantage of CO2 generated from the fermentation and boiler processes of New Belgium Brewery, also in Fort Collins. The company's initial target is to be competitive with biodiesel, which historically sells for about $2 per gallon, wholesale. They believe they can reach this goal within a few years, and are ultimately aiming to compete with petroleum.

    John Sheehan, an energy analyst with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colo., believes these goals are within reach. "There is no other resource that comes even close in magnitude to the potential for making oil," says Sheehan, who worked in the lab's algae program before it was shut down by the Department of Energy. One of algae's great strengths, Sheehan adds, is its ability to grow well in brackish water. In the desert southwest, where much of the groundwater is saline and unsuitable for other forms of agriculture, algae can proliferate.

    GreenFuel Technologies Corp., based in Cambridge, Mass., is focused on cultivating algae that can produce high yields of both biodiesel and ethanol. There are more than 100,000 strains of algae, with differing ratios of three main types of molecule: oils, carbohydrates and protein. Strains of algae high in carbohydrates as well as oils produce starches that can be separated and fermented into ethanol; the remaining proteins can be turned into animal grains. GreenFuel hopes its pilot plant will see initial yields of 8000 gallons of biodiesel and 5000 gallons of ethanol per acre of algae.

    The main focus now, says Cary Bullock, GreenFuel's president and CEO, is figuring out "how to grow algae fast enough and cheap enough that it makes sense economically. That's not easy to do."

    With the science well in hand, the degree to which algae-based biofuels can replace petroleum-or the limited acreage of traditional feedstocks-rests upon that bottom line. Once the technology hits the ground, will a commercial-scale facility be on par with petroleum? Says Bullock: "You don't know until you've actually built the thing."


    Article © Picture ©

    Here's A Cheap Way To Install Solar Panels On Your House

    Cool Tools has an interesting suggestion for home owners who want to incorporate solar technology, but can't afford the steep investment costs: let the solar panel company finance it for you. The trade-off is you won't save as much money as you would if you paid for them outright, but you will save some money, and the company that's paying for the panels has a financial incentive to keep them working properly over the course of the agreement.

    You sign up with a company that installs high-quality panels on your property for no money down. Zero dollars! On sunny days the panels make electrons which run your meter backwards. The quantity of panels are sized to cover about 80-90% of your current electric bill, so that you should be expected to pay the utility only 10-20% of what you pay now. In addition to the much smaller payment to your electric grid company you will also now pay the solar company a fee based on the number of watts you send into the grid. This is how they make money to cover the costs of installing the panels and their profit. The rates they will charge you per kilowatt will be less than the utility rates, so your total bill for electricity will be less each month. (Not zero, not half, but less.) Because the solar company makes money by how much electricity your panels produce they have a clear incentive to maintain the panels' performance and keep them clean and the inverters going. After 15-18 years, you own the panels and set up free and clear.

    Kevin Kelly notes that by going the financing route, you're exchanging the bulk of the energy produced for free installation, which means the savings you'll see are real but not dramatic:

    "While you may be generating 90% of your usage, because you are leasing the panels, your total combined bill will not be 90% less. It may only be 10% less per month. But since it costs you nothing or little up front, over 18 years that 10% adds up."

    Visit his site for more information on how solar power purchasing agreements (Solar PPAs) work, and some links to companies that offer them. "Zero-Down Solar Panels" [Cool Tools]


    Article & Picture ©

    Friday, April 24, 2009

    Green Fast Food Restaurants

    What do you do when you've forgotton your healthy snacks and your only option is...nothing but fast food joints? Do you give up and go eat the greasiest, cheapest burger and fries and then throw away a bag full of garbage? Your excuses to indulge in unhealthy and unsustainable fare are dwindling. These days, there's lots of diet-friendly options at most fast food purveyors, and they are also making strides towards being healthier for the planet too (some more so than others, so read on).

    Consult Greenopia's newly released Fast Food Ratings Guide to find out which of your fave quick-stop meal joints have the lowest impact. We've rated which fast food restaurants are making strides to be more sustainable, considering back-end practices, packaging, and transportation and we've noted the number of veggie and vegan choices and typical meal calorie ranges for each chain too.

    According to the guide, when faced with a growling belly, your best bet is to go with a smaller chain whenever possible, like: Pizza Fusion, Burgerville (39 locations in the Pacific Northwest), Le Pain Quotidien (30 national locations) or Evos; each earned between a 3 and 4 leaf rating for initiatives like serving local and/or organic foods, offering biodegradable cutlery, choosing green buildings for new restaurants, or offsetting with wind credits.

    Fast Food Ratings Guide

    Article © Starre Vartan, Greenopia Picture © Greenopia


    Earth Day Events

    April 22, 2009 marked the 39th Earth Day, but the festivities are not over. Find a Earth Day event happening near you this weekend at the Earth Day Network.

    Earth Day Events...

    Sunday, March 22, 2009

    Happy Birthday, Design Forward

    Happy Birthday! March 1, 2009 marks Design Forward's 7th year in business. We want to thank everyone who has supported us so far. We look forward to continuing our work in the sustainable and green community for many more years.

    Experts Gather to Discuss the State of Green Business

    More than 500 people gathered Monday for the State of Green Business Forum in San Francisco, an all-day event that marked the release of the State of Green Business 2009 report from the editors of The report attempts to measure the adoption of green business practices in the U.S.

    The Forum featured more than a dozen industry leaders to bring various aspects of the report to life: water management, green jobs, innovation and energy efficiency. Executive Editor Joel Makower also assembled a panel of advisors of President Barack Obama to discuss the new administration and its efforts to jumpstart a green economy.

    In opening up the forum, Makower presented an overview of the finding of this year's report: in a nutshell, companies are doing OK, but there's plenty of room for improvement.

    "Is all of this green activity we read about actually moving the needle?" Makower asked. "The answer, in aggregate, is not so much."

    In running down a list of latest news stories, Makower offered examples of corporate environmental successes, all occurring since Nov. 4, 2008. Among them are beverage companies committing to grow their sales without using more water to make products, an apparel company incorporating green design principles into all its products, an IT company that developed energy management tools to dramatically cut companywide energy use, and a consumer products company selling $20 billion in greener products.

    Despite the green success stories, the details of the State of Green Business Report are a mixed bag, but that progress is much slower than what we need. Makower outlined eight of the 20 indicators in the report that highlighted the good, the bad and the neutral in green business practices.

    Among the sinking indicators Makower discussed were electronic waste and carbon intensity; in both cases companies in the U.S. are making slight improvements -- in total electronics taken back for recycling and the amount of CO2 equivalent generated per dollar of economic activity, respectively -- but that those improvements are failing to outpace the growth of the problems at hand.

    On the more promising side, energy efficiency and paper use are areas in which U.S. businesses are swimming along well: "Energy efficiency is back on the table," Makower explained in looking at the long and steady decline in the amount of energy needed to power the economy year after year. In looking over the trends of the last few years, Makower said he expects that improved energy efficiency is something he expects to see as part of the discussion in businesses nationwide for years to come.

    Article © GreenBiz

    Read Complete Article...

    Waste to Energy

    The enormous increase in the quantum and diversity of waste materials generated by human activity and their potentially harmful effects on the general environment and public health, have led to an increasing awareness about an urgent need to adopt scientific methods for safe disposal of wastes. While there is an obvious need to minimize the generation of wastes and to reuse and recycle them, the technologies for recovery of energy from wastes can play a vital role in mitigating the problems. Besides recovery of substantial energy, these technologies can lead to a substantial reduction in the overall waste quantities requiring final disposal, which can be better managed for safe disposal in a controlled manner while meeting the pollution control standards.

    Waste generation rates are affected by socio-economic development, degree of industrialization, and climate. Generally, the greater the economic prosperity and the higher percentage of urban population, the greater the amount of solid waste produced. Reduction in the volume and mass of solid waste is a crucial issue especially in the light of limited availability of final disposal sites in many parts of the world. Although numerous waste and byproduct recovery processes have been introduced, anaerobic digestion has unique and integrative potential, simultaneously acting as a waste treatment and recovery process.

    Waste-to-Energy Conversion Pathways

    A host of technologies are available for realizing the potential of waste as an energy source, ranging from very simple systems for disposing of dry waste to more complex technologies capable of dealing with large amounts of industrial waste. There are three main pathways for conversion of organic waste material to energy - thermochemical, biochemical and physicochemical.

    Thermochemical Conversion
    Combustion of waste has been used for many years as a way of reducing waste volume and neutralizing many of the potentially harmful elements within it. Combustion can only be used to create an energy source when heat recovery is included. Heat recovered from the combustion process can then be used to either power turbines for electricity generation or to provide direct space and water heating. Some waste streams are also suitable for fueling a combined heat and power system, although quality and reliability of supply are important factors to consider.

    Thermochemical conversion, characterized by higher temperature and conversion rates, is best suited for lower moisture feedstock and is generally less selective for products. Thermochemical conversion includes incineration, pyrolysis and gasification. The incineration technology is the controlled combustion of waste with the recovery of heat to produce steam which in turn produces power through steam turbines. Pyrolysis and gasification represent refined thermal treatment methods as alternatives to incineration and are characterized by the transformation of the waste into product gas as energy carrier for later combustion in, for example, a boiler or a gas engine.

    Biochemical Conversion
    The bio-chemical conversion processes, which include anaerobic digestion and fermentation, are preferred for wastes having high percentage of organic biodegradable (putrescible) matter and high moisture content. Anaerobic digestion is a reliable technology for the treatment of wet, organic waste. Organic waste from various sources is composted in highly controlled, oxygen-free conditions circumstances resulting in the production of biogas which can be used to produce both electricity and heat. Anaerobic digestion also results in a dry residue called digestate which can be used as a soil conditioner.

    Alcohol fermentation is the transformation of organic fraction of biomass to ethanol by a series of biochemical reactions using specialized microorganisms. It finds good deal of application in the transformation of woody biomass into cellulosic ethanol.

    Physico-chemical Conversion
    The physico-chemical technology involves various processes to improve physical and chemical properties of solid waste. The combustible fraction of the waste is converted into high-energy fuel pellets which may be used in steam generation. Fuel pellets have several distinct advantages over coal and wood because it is cleaner, free from incombustibles, has lower ash and moisture contents, is of uniform size, cost-effective, and eco-friendly.

    Article © Picture © The PFM Group

    Read complete article...

    Thursday, February 26, 2009

    New Federal Energy Tax Credits

    On February 17, 2009, President Obama signed a stimulus bill (The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009) that made some significant changes to the energy efficiency tax credits. The highlights are:

    * The tax credits that were previously effective for 2009, have been extended to 2010 as well.
    * The tax credit has been raised from 10% to 30%.
    * The tax credits that were for a specific dollar amount (ex $300 for a CAC), have been converted to 30% of the cost.
    * The maximum credit has been raised from $500 to $1500 for the two years (2009-2010). However, some improvements such as geothermal heat pumps, solar water heaters, and solar panels are not subject to the $1,500 maximum.
    * The $200 cap on windows has been removed.

    Tax Credits for Consumers:
    Home Improvements
    Tax credits are now available for home improvements:

    * must be "placed in service" from January 1, 2009 through December 31, 2010
    * must be for taxpayers principal residence
    * maximum amount is $1,500 in 2009 & 2010 for most home improvements (geothermal heat pumps, solar water heaters, solar panels, fuel cells, and windmills are not subject to this cap)
    * for record keeping, save your receipts and the Manufacturer Certification Statement, OR for windows, you can save the ENERGY STAR label from your new windows
    * improvements made in 2009 will be claimed on your 2009 taxes (filed by April 15, 2010) - use IRS Tax Form 5695 (2009 version) - it will be available late 2009 or early 2010
    * If you are building a new home, you can qualify for the tax credit for photovoltaics, solar water heaters, small wind systems and fuel cells, but not the tax credits for windows, doors, insulation, roofs, HVAC, or non-solar water heaters. More.

    Tax Deductions for Commercial Buildings:
    A tax deduction of up to $1.80 per square foot is available to owners or designers of new or existing commercial buildings that save at least 50% of the heating and cooling energy of a building that meets ASHRAE Standard 90.1-2001. Partial deductions of up to $.60 per square foot can be taken for measures affecting any one of three building systems: the building envelope, lighting, or heating and cooling systems. These tax deductions are available for systems "placed in service" from January 1, 2006 through December 31, 2013.

    More Info...

    Soy Seal

    Spray polyurethane foam insulation is an incredible breakthrough in insulation for our homes, but one of the downsides is the requirement for a certified dealer and installer.
    However, BioBased Insulation has recently introduced a soy based natural sealer that is based on the same technology - in a can.

    Soy Seal bio-based insulating foam sealant is spray applied and expands to:
    · Seal leaks
    · Save energy
    · Stop moisture
    · Increase comfort
    · Decrease carbon emissions
    · Reduce heating & cooling costs-naturally

    Soy Seal for Gaps & Cracks can be used to seal around pipe penetrations, floor vents and more. Soy Seal for Windows & Doors is specially formulated to repel water, and it won't bow windows or doors.
    Made from renewable, natural oils, Soy Seal exceeds the USDA bio- based standards and meets the stringent indoor air quality certification, GREENGUARD for Children and Schools.

    Soy Seal website

    Seminar on May 30: Building Green

    Seminar: Building Green: Making Your Home More Energy Efficient

    Join Design Forward's Lisa Swan in Glendale on May 30, 2009 for a Building Green seminar for home owners.

    Class Description: Whether you are interested in a new house, remodeling your existing home, or just adding a few sustainable features, this innovative class will give you an in depth review of green building and sustainable architecture. Learn about solar and wind energy, wall systems such as straw bale, insulated concrete forms and foam insulation, natural and recycled materials, efficient windows and appliances, and more. Also learn how you can save money through State and local rebates.
    Reference Class: SI011

    Instructor: Lisa Swan is the owner of Design Forward, a residential design firm, specializing in sustainable and green projects. She is an Honors' graduate of the Illinois Institute of Technology, with a Bachelor of Architecture and has an MBA from Norwich University.

    Date & Time: May 30, 2009 9:30am - 12:30am

    Cost: $35, plus $10 materials fee is payable to the instructor in class.

    Location: Glendale, CA - Garfield Campus of the Glendale Community College

    Register Begins March 1, 2009:

    More Info...

    Thursday, January 22, 2009

    Building Modular Homes

    Brief synopsis taken from Seminar from Dr. Nabil Taha, structural engineer:

    Many believe that lower cost is the main reason to build modular, but surprisingly, lower cost is only a secondary consideration.

    1. Superior Quality is the main reason
    2. followed by Quicker Building Time,
    3. then Fixed Costs.

    Five good reasons to build a modular home:

    * Modular homes are built from the best quality lumber and are protected in a factory controlled environment. (in contract, on-site houses are typically built from average quality lumber and are open to rain and/or snow during construction, which can cause wood to warp or swell leading to a lifetime of structural and mold problems.)
    * Factories offer skilled craftsmen steady employment and benefits, resulting in a consistent skilled labor force. You will have no worries about delays relating to inexperienced or tardy laborers
    * With additional insulation and precision craftsmanship, modular homes can be significantly more energy efficient. Your utility bills can be far cheaper than your neighbors and save you more money in years to come.
    * Factory inspections cover every construction detail of a modular home, which are built to the strictest codes (IBC and IRC).
    * Faster use. You can choose a brand new inventory home that is already built and move in on your land in a matter of weeks.

    Additional benefits from building modular:

    * Faster Loan approvals
    * Less costly design and engineering
    * Guaranteed price
    * Potentially better return on investment

    Modular Homes Consumers Guide

    Seminar: Building Green

    Seminar: Building Green: Making Your Home More Energy Efficient

    Join Design Forward's Lisa Swan in Glendale on February 7, 2009 for a Building Green seminar for home owners.

    Class Description: Whether you are interested in a new house, remodeling your existing home, or just adding a few sustainable features, this innovative class will give you an in depth review of green building and sustainable architecture. Learn about solar and wind energy, wall systems such as straw bale, insulated concrete forms and foam insulation, natural and recycled materials, efficient windows and appliances, and more. Also learn how you can save money through State and local rebates.
    Reference Class: SI011

    Instructor: Lisa Swan is the owner of Design Forward, a residential design firm, specializing in sustainable and green projects. She is an Honors' graduate of the Illinois Institute of Technology, with a Bachelor of Architecture and has an MBA from Norwich University.

    February 7, 2009 1:00pm - 4:00pm

    Cost: $35, plus $10 materials fee is payable to the instructor in class.

    Location: Glendale, CA - Garfield Campus of the Glendale Community College, Room 120

    More Info:

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