April 6th, 2009
Until recently, the federal government wasn’t what we would consider a friend of the environment. Fortunately, some cities have spent the last few years (or decades!) looking forward, and have worked hard to implement sustainable practices and policies.
All of the cities discussed below have wide-reaching programs for improving their impact on the environment, including transportation, energy use, and water conservation. Here’s what a few of the forward-thinking cities in this great country of ours have been up to.
Long known as a mecca for green – both the leafy kind and the environmental kind – Portland reins supreme over many a list of America’s greenest cities Why? Because they do it all. As the first city in the country to adopt a plan to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions, Portland managed to reduce their emissions to 17% below 1990 levels by 2007 (when adjusted for population growth). With results like that, it’s hard to argue the City’s green cred.
But that achievement only fueled Portland’s fire to make further reductions. The City has set a goal for receiving 100% of the power used in municipal operations and facilities from renewable sources, and has retrofitted traffic signals with energy-sipping LEDs, saving 3% of emissions and $265,000 per year.
Portland also uses unique methods for implementing sustainable practices, including getting their citizens involved. For example, to eliminate the use of pesticides in parks, the City enlists volunteers to help staff with weeding. They have also implemented integrated pest management methods. After a successful three-year trial program at three parks, two additional parks have been added to the program. These simple changes, partnered with a little hard work, provide Portland’s citizens with tons of pesticide-free green space.
Chicago is working hard to green their city – their Climate Action Plan has set a goal for reducing carbon emissions to 25% below 1990 levels by 2020. Ambitious, considering the plan was just released last year.
To address the issue of energy use, the City is investing heavily in cogeneration, a method for creating electricity that also makes use of the heat generated in the process. Heat is a byproduct of electricity production that is usually just vented into the atmosphere. Cogeneration uses the heat from burning fuel to heat water, producing steam that in turn runs a turbine, producing additional electricity. Any additional heat can be used to heat the building housing the cogeneration system. This method is expected to supply 1.5 billion kilowatts of energy, enough for 25% of the increase in use in Chicago during 2000 – 2010.
In addition to addressing energy use, Chicago has launched many other initiatives, including a Green Office Challenge to motivate offices to reduce their eco-impact, and establishing drop off locations for expired or unused prescriptions. Oddly, many people flush their prescriptions, adversely affecting our water supply and wildlife
Like Chicago, the City of Boston has specific goals for reducing its carbon footprint, and is tackling energy use as a means to meet those goals. Plans are in the works for a methane-fed power source, based on the grass clippings of Boston residents. The City has also announced its new Boston Buying Initiative, a program that will combine the energy purchasing power of small businesses. The initiative will not only reduce costs for small businesses struggling to make ends meet in this difficult economy, but will provide access to tools and resources to cut energy use, saving even more money and reducing their impact on the environment. Other initiatives focus on improving buildings and structures, transportation, and land and water use.
The City of Austin, known mostly for its music scene and as the home of the University of Texas, also sports a reputation as the most progressive of Texas cities. In regards to the environment, Austin sets the standards for the state – an important role, considering three of the country’s largest cities are in Texas (Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas).
If you’re at all familiar with Austin, then you likely know about Barton Springs Pool – an oasis of natural beauty and abundance that only adds to Austin’s uniqueness. Under threat from commercial development, efforts to protect not just the springs but all of Austin’s water supply are seen in many aspects of Austin’s plans for sustainability. For example, the Green Building Program includes many water-related requirements, including protecting native plants, minimizing water used for landscaping, and educating contractors on water conservation.
Other programs include “Dillo Dirt,” (Texan translation: ‘dillo is short for armadillo) a compost made from residents’ landscaping trimmings and sewage sludge. A Heat Island Containment Policy provides incentives and requirements for reflective roofs and shade tree plantings, thus reducing the City’s heat island effect (Austin certainly doesn’t need to be any hotter in the summer!)
Though California as a whole enjoys a reputation of leadership when it comes to environmental progress, many early steps are first taken in San Francisco. For example, San Fran was the first city to ban single-use plastic bags, a move that many other cities are following.
Perhaps surprisingly, San Francisco has also jumped into solar energy production with both feet. Turns out, solar panels work just fine in the fog…who knew? After a successful installation at Moscone Convention Center generated enough electricity to fully power it during events, the City started installations at many different municipal facilities. Residents, too, are joining the bandwagon. Check out this cool solar map to see all of the installations! San Francisco also focuses on broader issues like environmental justice (clean food, water, and air for all!), zero waste, and toxics reduction.
We’re thankful for the local leadership that has paved the way towards sustainable cities. With a new president and a new focus on greening our country, expect to see even more initiatives coming soon to your city!
Popularity: 3% [?]
March 25th, 2009
The NatureMill Indoor composter is the ideal gadget for any ecowarrior without a yard or garden. The composter allows you to recycle your waste food easily and quickly. You can compost up to 120 lbs (55kg) of waste per month using the indoor composter!
The composter mixes and heats the waste, as well as adding moisture to encourage the breakdown of food matter. Once the food waste has broken down, you can then retrieve the compost from the bottom container of the composter.
The heat kills nasty bacteria and destroys the majority of smells. If you do smell anything from the composter, the worst you’d smell would be damp straw or mushrooms. The carbon filter inside the composter helps with the odors and only needs replacing every 5 years. Although the composter is always switched on, it only uses 5kWh a month, which costs very little in real money. Just pence really.
If you live in an flat (or apartment as they’re called in the US), then the NatureMill Indoor composter is a perfect way to reduce your landfill waste even if you don’t have a garden. The composter is small enough to fit in a kitchen cupboard, or could be stored in your garage if you have one. You can use the newly created soil to top-up your indoor plants with some natural fertilizer.
And here’s the best bit about the composter. Due to the way the waste is mixed and aerated, the decomposing material releases no methane into the atmosphere. This means you can do your bit to help reduce greenhouse gasses too!
This guest article about the NatureMill indoor composter was written by Dan Harrison. Dan has a passion for all kinds of eco-friendly gadgets. Dan also runs DailyEcoTips.com where you can read a new eco tip every day!
Popularity: 6% [?]
March 22nd, 2009
Written by Clayton B. Cornell, courtesy of Gas2.0
President Obama announced today that $2.4 billion will be made available for the US-based development of plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles.
The fund is intended to spur growth in research and manufacturing of next-generation plug-in hybrid vehicles and advanced battery componenents for electric cars, while creating tens of thousands of US jobs and reducing US petroleum dependence. It should also help meet the President’s goal of putting one million plug-in hybrid vehicles on the road by 2015.
The President made the announcement while visiting Southern California Edison’s Electric Vehicle Center. SCE is one of the largest electric utilities in the country and researches battery-powered and hybrid engines, along with potential impacts of having massive numbers of electric vehicles taking power from conventional utility networks.
This investment will not only reduce our dependence on foreign oil, it will put Americans back to work. It positions American manufacturers on the cutting edge of innovation and solving our energy challenges.
The plan was partially outlined on the Department of Energy’s website:
- The Department of Energy is offering up to $1.5 billion in grants to U.S. based manufacturers to produce these highly efficient batteries and their components.
- The Department of Energy is offering up to $500 million in grants to U.S. based manufacturers to produce other components needed for electric vehicles, such as electric motors and other components.
- The Department of Energy is offering up to $400 million to demonstrate and evaluate Plug-In Hybrids and other electric infrastructure concepts — like truck stop charging station, electric rail, and training for technicians to build and repair electric vehicles.
Popularity: 3% [?]
March 20th, 2009
In a recent article for the Scientific American, Michael Lemonic wrote about the Top 10 Myths About Sustainability. The article is a great reminder that we still have a ways to go - not only in our understanding of what sustainability is, but in how to live a more sustainable life. The following is a summary of Lemonic’s Top 10 Myths. (more…)
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% [?]