February 9th, 2009
Written by Keith Rockmael, courtesy of GreenBuildingElements.com
With the economy in turmoil, a real estate prices dropping, green communities and green building will become more important. It’s easy to see how broken our current community model is in terms of the urban sprawl; the average American commute continues to grow longer. Between 1969 and 2001, the number of vehicle miles traveled for commuting jumped from 4,180 to 5,720.
The Sierra Club notes that today’s average American driver spends what amounts to 55 eight hour workdays behind the wheel every year. Gas won’t stay at the current level so we need to look at developing more sustainable communities.
San Francisco area architect Michelle Kaufmann and Kelly Melia-Teevan came up with a top 10 (sorry Letterman) EcoPrinciples for Communities.
1. Smart Design
Some architects play God; instead of working with nature they go against it. Building orientation remains a big, no cost key, as well as designing to use less, and to collaborate with the landscape.
2. Energy Efficiency
Kind of a no brainer here. Everyone from Obama on down seems to be talking about energy efficiency. While some aspects remain somewhat pricey such as photovoltaic systems, other energy saving methods such as passive solar layouts, sealing building envelopes with super efficient insulation and glass and harnessing alternative energy sources offer not only a decent ROI but save the Earth’s resources as well.
3. Water Conservation
Here in the Bay Area we are headed for a drought. Ideas for water savings include basic ideas such as xeriscaping. Who needs a lawn anyway? Sculpting bioswales into the land, irrigating with rainwater catchment systems and paving with only pervious ground surfaces can conserve gallons without much added cost.
4. Reduce Waste
As one of the Three R’s, Kauffman suggests designing easy to access, easy to use recycling centers. How smart can it be to drive with a plastic bag of aluminum cans to the faraway recycling center? Also, she offers ideas such as integrating on-site composting, and facilitating “living machines” (engineered waste treatment system designed to process a building’s sanitary drainage on-site).
5. Healthy Environment
Everyone seems to forget this area in terms of Green Building. It won’t do much good to maintain a clean environment but have sick people living in unhealthy homes. A sustainable neighborhood will offer easy access to exercise, encourage cooking classes and establishing on-site food production instead of driving to some fast food joint for a completely unsustainable meal.
Cities such as San Francisco thrive because of the richness of diversity. A sustainable community will create an assortment of residents from different backgrounds, ages and cultures. The housing will offer both market rate and affordable rate housing options.
7. Smart Location
The name says it all. Kauffman suggests building and designing for environmental, social, and economic benefits. Might builders think about building near easy access to mass transit and choosing areas near sources of quality food? Is that too progressive?
8. Respect the Land
Something that seems to have disappeared from the vocabulary – r-e-s-p-e-c-t. That’s right just like Aretha. New green communities would protect the existing landscape and ecology by adopting functional, comfortable density, minimizing site disturbance and protecting biodiversity by maintaining native ecosystem.
9. Smart Auto Strategy
As much as we’d like to rid ourselves of cars completely it just isn’t going to happen. However, we can lessen the intrusion and impact of automobiles in communities by implementing smart parking requirements, and separating parking streets from pedestrian streets and bike lanes. Constructing more narrow streets in an effort to encourage walking and biking rather than driving isn’t rocket science.
10. Shared Resources
Create more community within the community (see how that works) by introducing resource sharing (bikes, cars, tools, garden equipment, child care), establish community victory gardens, and building playgrounds, parks, athletic fields, picnic areas, etc rather than just concrete jungles.
Let the greening begin.
Popularity: 5% [?]
February 6th, 2009
The 2nd Annual Greener Gadgets Design Competition is on, and there are lots of compelling, interesting, and just plain kooky designs in the mix. Core 77 design magazine and Greener Gadgets host this competition to inspire outstanding design innovations for greener electronics. The top 50 entries are published online for voting and commenting. You can vote for your favorites. Voting ends February 20, so get on it!
One cool product is the eMetric. This is a wireless office power management system. Designer Jason Deperro contends that the eMetric “allows teams of conscientious workers to control and learn about their electronics’ energy consumption - saving energy and money.” We like the idea very much that teams of folks could instantly track their usage and then work to lower their power consumption. It’s e-Nifty.
One design we also like is the Indoor Drying Rackby Rob Podell. First of all, it’s not electronic, so that’s cool. Also, we’re big fans of air-drying laundry here at Low Impact Living (remember that your clothes dryer is one of the worst power-sucking, inefficient appliances in your home), so we think this drying rack is pretty nifty. It folds down from the wall and creates an aerated kind of table for drying. Easy, attractive and electricity-free!
We also dig the CompostAll. This kitchen device, designed by frog design, is a replacement for the home in-sink garbage disposal. It allows food waste to be composted instead of sent down the drain. The CompostAll saves mulched food waste in a removable container under the sink. Frog design claims that the devise provides a convenient, discreet, and odor-free location for food waste. What’s also pretty cool is that it comes with an alert light on the sinktop that tells the user the container is full. Then you can just take the container out from under the sink and put the contents into your outdoor compost bin. You already have one of those, yes?
In the kooky column, I’ll add the Guilty Wallet. Ruhel Mohammed has designed a series of wallets aimed at helping people cut our consumer culture (which he spells in ALL CAPS). He makes the interesting argument that we need fewer green gadgets and instead should all buy less. He goes on, “We spend for so many reasons, but it is undeniably true that we spend through one of these vessels: GREED, LUST, PRIDE, ROTH, SLOTH, GLUTTONY and ENVY. Although spending and debt are the foundations of the capitalist society, we should be careful of excessive spending or GREED.” Wow, don’t get Ruhel involved in a debate at a cafe– it will not be a short discussion. His wallets may not have much of an impact, but they do make you think about spending for a brief moment.
Popularity: 4% [?]
February 2nd, 2009
You care about the environment and also your family’s health. So it’s time to embrace eco-friendly child care!
Many daycare and child-care centers around the U.S. are embracing eco-friendly ways, and it’s not a day too soon. That’s why we’re building a huge directory of eco-friendly child care centers around the country. We have over 120 listed so far and we’re adding more every day. Check them out! And if you know of one you’d like to add, please send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The State of Oregon’s Environmental Council has taken a pioneering role in certifying child-care centers with their Eco-Healthy Child Care program. Child care facilities qualify as “Eco-Healthy” by completing a 25-element checklist that highlights 25 steps facilities can take to ensure a safe place for children. Eco-healthy child care centers commit to reducing a child’s exposure to toxins and other environmental health hazards.
As you know, children’s little lungs and respiratory systems are particularly sensitive to toxins and irritants in cleaners, carpeting, furniture and other elements. That’s why it’s so important to pay attention to indoor air quality when children are in the mix. You need to be able to rest assured that your daycare center uses non-toxic cleaners and is careful about outdoor and other pollutants that might come in from landscaping, street care, etc.
The Eco-Healthy Child Care checklist includes questions about cleaning toxins, lead paint, furniture, plastic toys, recycling and more. Take the checklist to your current daycare facility and have them fill it out– it will be illuminating for you as a parent and may inspire them to take positive action!
We hope you can find a great facility near you– and please continue to check back here at Low Impact Living as we will be adding centers frequently. Here’s to healthy kids and a healthy planet!
Popularity: 3% [?]
January 30th, 2009
We’ve written before here at Low Impact Living about the relationship between meat consumption and global warming. The sad truth is that the raising and distribution of meat is a major contributor to our global warming crisis.
However, beef is by far the worst of the meats from an environmental perspective. According to an excellent new article in Scientific American, beef contributes more than 13 times as much to global warming as do the gases emitted from producing chicken. And it’s even more shocking when you compare beef to potatoes– the multiplier is 57.
The article, by Nathan Fiala, highlights some other alarming facts. For example:
- Producing the meat eaten by an average American each year produces the equivalent greenhouse gases as driving a car 1,800 miles
- Meat production is responsible for between 14 and 22 percent of the 36 Billion tons of greenhouse gases we produce on Earth each year
Please read the entire article How Meat Contributes to Global Warming here.
Popularity: 2% [?]
January 29th, 2009
Here at Low Impact Living are big advocates for residential renewable energy. We’d like to see every home in the US being fed by solar, wind and/or geothermal power. (And we hope that President Obama will be driving to make that vision a reality!)
But we also understand that very few of us Americans can afford $20,000+ for an installation of a solar PV system– especially these days! That’s why we’re always on the look out for ways people can save on solar. So when I heard about what 1 Block Off the Grid (1BOG) is trying to do, I was intrigued.
1 Block Off the Grid (1BOG) is based in San Francisco, but they are launching a nationwide effort to create community-based buying clubs for solar power. They claim that, “By aggregating consumers and negotiating on their behalf we take the fear out of buying new green technologies, decrease the purchase price, and increase the adoption rate of these technologies.”
If you’ve ever gotten and compared quotes for a solar installation, you know it can indeed be confusing and intimidating. Having a group discount negotiated by a third party sounds like a great idea to us.
1BOG did one set of installations in San Francisco in 2008, and they are just getting their 2009 group ready for another round. They are working with SolarCity for the new installations there. The 1BOG website says they are launching a group for Los Angeles in February 2009. Sign up quick!
I did some research and it seems that one of the participants in 1BOG’s inaugural program in San Francisco cut 43 percent off list price, according to co-founder Sylvia Ventura. But that is not necessarily a standard savings. For the average participant it would probably be closer to about 20 percent off. For a $25,000 solar system, you could save $5,000 — and you’ll get additional goverment rebates as well. Not too shabby!
We also want to remind everyone to always consider a solar hot water system if a solar electric system is too expensive. Solar hot water systems cost in the $4-6K range and will still save you a TON off of your power bills.
Popularity: 4% [?]