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Posts Tagged ‘green’

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Photo: Library of Congress.
A New York City school around the time of the flu pandemic. History shows it’s possible to hold classes outdoors when the safety of breathing indoors is uncertain.

Photos taken in the 1918 flu pandemic show some schools holding classes with all the windows open or even outdoors. Could we do that today? Reporter Nate Berg at Fast Company looked into the question.

“Sharon Danks has been working for more than 20 years to get schoolkids outdoors,” he writes. “As a trained landscape architect and urban planner, she says too many schools across the country ignore the educational and health benefits offered by the outdoor spaces of their campuses. This is something she’s been trying to change through her nonprofit Green Schoolyards America, based in Berkeley, California. …

“In April, Danks began having conversations about reopening local schools with three other organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area. … In early June, the organizations cohosted a webinar on responding to COVID-19 by using outdoor spaces for education. More than 1,000 people from 40 states and eight countries registered.

“[The organizations then] created the National COVID-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative, an effort to create guidelines schools can follow to use their outdoor spaces more effectively in order to bring back face-to-face learning. Volunteers from across the country are now participating in 10 working groups focused on different aspects of moving classes outdoors, from funding to safety to the physical infrastructure needed to seat and teach students outside.

‘The central problem that we were looking at is that none of our schools were built to be able to accommodate kids 6 feet apart inside the building,’ Danks says.

“But what most schools are equipped with is outdoor space and playgrounds — spaces that can be adapted for outdoor learning. Through the use of physical objects such as shade structures and weatherproof seating and adjusted lesson plans that reduce teachers’ reliance on computer screens and overhead projectors, outdoor classrooms can allow classes to continue with the space and fresh air that epidemiologists believe prevents transmission of the virus.

“Outdoor learning can move all students outdoors, or at least shift enough of the student population outside to make indoor classrooms safe with smaller class sizes. Distance learning, with its inherent difficulties, inequities, and access challenges, may become just a rainy day backup plan. …

“In 2017, the San Mateo County Office of Education started an Environmental Literacy and Sustainability Initiative that focuses on increasing knowledge about environmental issues. It does so partly by integrating natural and outdoor spaces into school curricula. Andra Yeghoian, the initiative’s coordinator, says the program has been working to ensure that students at every grade level in its roughly 270 schools have daily access to outdoor learning and play spaces. … ‘Now COVID-19 has really flipped that to be that every kid at every grade level in every subject area can do the majority of their learning outside.’ …

“Danks estimates that only about 15% to 20% of schools in the U.S. have these kinds of facilities. ‘The other 80%, 85% of schools have probably never taken a class outside to do hands-on learning on their own site,’ she says.

“This is where the initiative’s working groups come in. Each is developing a set of two-page recommendations that will provide simple instructions for dealing with common outdoor complications like cold and hot weather, spatially distanced seating arrangements, dust, and insects. Eventually, the recommendations will be published as a free online guidebook. …

“Claire Latané is an assistant professor in Cal Poly Pomona’s landscape architecture department and is leading a group of volunteer landscape architects who are working directly with school officials to identify optimal spaces and sizes of outdoor classrooms. She says about 100 designers have signed up to help, and the first teams are using aerial imagery of campuses to find places with adequate shade, either under trees or carports, and ensuring any changes to school grounds comply with local fire and accessibility codes. They’re also advising on how the locations of outdoor classrooms can address weather concerns. …

“Three case studies have been published on Green Schoolyards America’s website, and offer suggestions for schools in different climates. … At a low cost of just a few thousand dollars, schools use only their existing outdoor shade and tree-covered areas, augmented with affordable seating such as hay bales and additional clothing for unexpected cold or wet weather. …

“The whole process of transitioning to outdoor education doesn’t have to be tortuous, Danks says.

‘In the last pandemic in 1918 to 1920, with tuberculosis and the Spanish flu, schools around the world went outside … even just moved their desks right outside their buildings,’ Danks says. ‘They didn’t overthink it, they just moved their space to where the air was fresher.’ ”

More at Fast Company, here.  Hat tip: ArtsJournal.

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philadelphia_washingtonlaneraingarden_web_option2_lightened

Photo: Philadelphia Water Department
A rain garden manages stormwater runoff in Philadelphia’s Germantown section. 

When I was at the magazine, I solicited several articles about Philadelphia and what people there were doing to bring more of the natural environment into urban living. It’s not easy for any city as budgets are often strained. But when you can make the case that environmental improvements ultimately save costs (or when an EPA is serious about quality of life), you have a better chance of getting things done.

Bruce Stutz at Yale Environment 360 (a great publication I recommend following on twitter @yaleE360) has the story.

“Benjamin Franklin, Philadelphia’s favorite son, described his city’s stormwater problem well: By ‘covering a ground plot with buildings and pavements, which carry off most of the rain and prevent its soaking into the Earth and renewing and purifying the Springs … the water of wells must gradually grow worse, and in time be unfit for use.’

“When he wrote this in 1789, many of Philadelphia’s water sources, the scores of streams that ran into the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers, were already cesspools of household and industrial waste. As they became intolerable eyesores and miasmic health hazards, the city simply covered them with brick arches, turned the streams into sewers, and on top constructed new streets, an expanding impervious landscape that left the rains with even fewer places for ‘soaking into the Earth.’

“Crude as it was, this network of underground-to-riverfront outfalls through ever-larger pipes was pretty much the way Philadelphia and other U.S. cities coped with their stormwater for the next 200 years.

“But Ben Franklin’s town has decided to take the lead in undoing this ever-more costly and outdated system that annually pours huge volumes of polluted stormwater runoff and untreated sewage into the Delaware and the Schuylkill. Instead of building more and bigger sewers and related infrastructure, Philadelphia has adopted a relatively new paradigm for urban stormwater: Rather than convey it, detain it — recreate in the urban streetscape the kinds of pervious places where, instead of running into surrounding waterways, rainfall and the contaminants it carries can once again soak into the earth.

“The city is now in the seventh year of a 25-year project designed to fulfill an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reduce by 85 percent Philadelphia’s combined sewer overflows. … Rather than spending an estimated $9.6 billion on a ‘gray’ infrastructure program of ever-larger tunnels, the city is investing an estimated $2.4 billion in public funds — to be augmented by large expenditures from the private sector — to create a citywide mosaic of green stormwater infrastructure. …

“At nearby Villanova University, the Urban Stormwater Partnership, founded in 2002 under environmental engineering professor Robert Traver, had begun experimenting with green stormwater infrastructure. [Howard Neukrug who served as the city’s water department commissioner from 2011 to 2015] developed a couple of low-impact pilot design projects, and in 2009, the Philadelphia Water Department released a revision — 12 years in the making — to its stormwater and sewage management plan….

The city is working now to standardize the construction of green infrastructure and monitor its effectiveness. Costs are coming down as green infrastructure becomes more widely adopted. …

“As the Water Department’s planners expand the network of greened acres, they are bringing social, economic, and environmental investment to often marginalized neighborhoods. [Marc Cammarata, the Water Department’s deputy commissioner of planning and environmental services] says that green stormwater infrastructure projects now support 430 jobs. … Residents already report that green infrastructure projects have reduced crime as green spaces proliferate, says Cammarata.

The Water Department’s website map is crowded with green infrastructure sites across the city. Visitors can zoom in on their neighborhood and see what’s there.”

More here.

 

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Photo: Marcus Teply/PRI
Dr. Andre Niemann with a partial model of his plan to turn Prosper-Haniel into a pumped storage system (basically a giant, water-powered battery). “It shows responsibility. It shows that if mining is over you’re not leaving the place.” 

Recently I read a sad story about a coal miner in the U.S. who once thought he and his infant son would have secure jobs long into the future. Now his mine is closing and he’s off to find another.

What’s sad to me is that although there are opportunities to retrain in up and coming industries, he and his family are chasing a dead one. But I can understand that he wants to keep earning six figures, a salary unlikely in most fields for which he might train.

Meanwhile, in Germany, people in an old coal town are biting the global-warming bullet and moving on.

Valerie Hamilton reports at PRI’s the World, “For most people, the top of the mine shaft at the Prosper-Haniel coal mine in Bottrop, Germany, just looks like a big black hole. But Andre Niemann looked into that hole and saw the future.

“Niemann leads the hydraulic engineering and water resources department at the University of Duisberg-Essen, in the heart of German coal country, western Germany’s Ruhr Valley. For more than 150 years, Germany mined millions of tons of anthracite, or hard coal, from coal mines here that at their peak employed half a million miners. But that’s history now — Germany’s government decided a decade ago to end subsidies that made German hard coal competitive with imports. …

“The end of hard coal mining in Germany comes just as Germany is working to slash its CO2 emissions by replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources like wind and solar. The country calls it the Energiewende, or ‘energy transition.’ But wind and solar aren’t always there when they’re needed, so a key challenge of the Energiewende is to find ways to store sun and wind energy for later use.

“One way to do that is with a pumped energy storage system — basically a giant, water-powered battery. When the sun is shining or the wind is blowing, the excess energy is used to pump large amounts of water uphill into a reservoir. When the sun goes down or the wind dies, that excess energy can be released by letting the water flow back downhill, through turbines that generate electricity like in a hydroelectric dam.

“Existing pump storage systems make use of hills or mountains for the necessary difference in altitude. But Niemann says the depth of a coal mine — like Prosper-Haniel — would work just as well.

“He and a team of researchers have worked up a plan to turn the mine into a pumped energy storage system that could generate 200 megawatts of power, enough for almost half a million homes. Water would be pumped through a closed system of pipes from 2,000 feet below ground level up to the surface and fall back down again on demand, regenerating 85 percent of the renewable energy used to pump the water up in the first place — energy that would otherwise be wasted. …

“Niemann, who grew up in a coal-mining family in the coal city of Ibbenbueren, says it would be a powerful symbol that as Germany transforms its energy landscape, coal regions won’t be left behind. …

“[Miner Ernst] Mueller explains the deal offered to him and every other mine worker in 2007, when the German government moved to end the subsidies that kept Germany’s hard coal mines afloat. …

“Underground workers over 50, and above-ground workers over 55, like Mueller, can retire early, paid by a company fund, as long as they have 20 years on the job. About 400 of their younger co-workers can stay on to maintain the mine area after it closes. The rest get job placement and training. Beike says [the company] promises to find every worker a new job. …

“The hope is, eventually, green business will pick up where coal left off. To prepare, the region has opened a new technical college in Bottrop to train the next generation of workers — not in coal, but in fields like green tech, water management and electro-mobility.”

More at Public Radio International, here.

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In September, Victoria Lynden tweeted about Costa Rica’s clean electricity. Although hydroelectric and geothermal approaches sometimes have issues of their own and cars in Costa Rica still use gas, two months without using fossil fuels to generate electricity sounded pretty good to me.

Brad Plumer wrote at Vox, “Costa Rica is pulling off a feat most countries just daydream about: For two straight months, the Central American country hasn’t burned any fossil fuels to generate electricity. That’s right: 100 percent renewable power.

“This isn’t a blip, either. For 300 total days last year and 150 days so far [in 2016], Costa Rica’s electricity has come entirely from renewable sources, mostly hydropower and geothermal. Heavy rains have helped four big hydroelectric dams run above their usual capacity, letting the country turn off its diesel generators.

“Now, there’s a huge, huge caveat here: Costa Rica hasn’t eschewed all fossil fuels entirely. The country still has more than 1 million cars running on old-fashioned gasoline, which is why imported oil still supplies over half its total energy needs. The country also has cement plants that burn coal.

“What Costa Rica’s doing is nevertheless impressive — and a reflection of how serious the tiny Central American country is about going green. At the same time, a closer look at the story shows just how difficult it would be for other countries to pull off something similar.

“When many people think of ‘renewables,’ they tend to think of giant wind turbines or gleaming solar panels. But that’s not what Costa Rica is relying on. For years, roughly 80 percent of the nation’s electricity has come from a technology that’s more than a century old — hydroelectric dams …

“Another 12 percent or so of Costa Rica’s electricity comes from geothermal plants, which tap heat deep in the Earth’s crust and can also run around the clock. …

“So if Costa Rica can get 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, why couldn’t other countries do the same? Why can’t the United States, which is far richer?

“One obstacle here is that hydropower and geothermal are very location-specific — and only a few countries are lucky enough to have such rich resources. Iceland gets nearly 100 percent of its electricity from these two sources. Paraguay gets almost all of its electricity from the massive Itaipú Dam. Brazil gets more than 75 percent of its power from hydropower. But those are exceptions. For most countries, hydropower can only satisfy a portion of their power needs.” Read on.

Seems to me that when a country wants to be greener (whether for the environment or to save money or both), it has already taken the first step to finding solutions that work for its own geography.

Chart: Observatory of Renewable Energy in Latin America and the Caribbean

 

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At Public Radio International, Jason Margolis and Ari Daniel reported recently on a Massachusetts business incubator focused on helping green startups by providing them with inexpensive space and shared tools.

“A few years ago, when Sorin Grama had just finished graduate work at MIT and was looking for a place to build his new solar electricity startup, he came across an old abandoned warehouse.

“ ‘My partner and I were looking at it and said, ‘Well, it’s a lot of space here, maybe others can join, it’s kind of lonely,” Grama says. ‘We put out a call to the MIT community.’

“Within weeks, a handful of startups were sharing that cavernous space.

“ ‘And we bonded. All the companies created a nice community, and we started sharing tools, people and ideas, and reading each other’s proposals for funding, things like that,’ Grama says. ‘We had a great Christmas party one year.’ …

“Today, their home is a massive old mid-19th century pipe factory in Somerville, just outside of Boston. It’s called Greentown Labs, and it’s one of the most successful in a new wave of what are called green business incubators, clusters of startups looking to build a business by helping cut carbon emissions and fight climate change. …

“They’re saving money [by getting started] at Greentown. If you need a power saw or an industrial press, no need to buy your own — just sign up for a time slot in the machine shop. The incubator also brings shared intellectual resources, like software, human resources, even PR help. …

“Outgrowing the incubator is part of the point, showing there’s money to be made tackling the world’s climate and energy challenges.

“It’s a growth area that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is betting on, putting millions in grants and loans toward a network of green tech incubators. Steven Pike, interim CEO of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, says it’s an efficient way to spend.

“ ‘We can try and go out and try to support individually 50 different companies,’ Pike says. Or, Massachusetts can invest in an incubator that supports 50 companies under one roof.

“He says Massachusetts has an audacious goal: ‘We want to be the Silicon Valley of clean energy, renewable energy.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Greentown Labs
Shared workspace at Greentown Labs.

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You haven’t heard the last word on tiny houses from this blog yet. Just check out Treehugger reporter Kimberley Mok’s amazing story about using a 3D printer to create a tiny house and SUV that can create, store, and share energy. Unreal but true.

“Designers from architecture firm SOM, University of Tennessee and researchers from the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory are cleverly tackling the energy issue by using a concept they call ‘integrated energy.’

“Their innovative design features a 3D printed house, that comes with a 3D printed SUV, which each generate, store and share energy — boosting energy efficiency both ways, while benefiting from the reduced construction waste and quick turnaround that comes with additive manufacturing techniques. …

“The design of both home and car uses carbon-fiber-reinforced ABS plastic (admittedly not the greenest of materials). The home was printed in separate modules that are assembled together and reinforced with steel rods, and insulated with a modified, highly efficient atmosphere insulation panels, resulting in a surprisingly strong and insulated structure.

“Certainly the most intriguing thing about the design is the reciprocal energy relationship that the car has with the house. … The 3D printed SUV is a hybrid that uses both electricity and natural gas to power itself. It’s parked on an inductive charging pad that allows it to send or receive energy from the solar-powered house — thus significantly solving the electricity issue on cloudy days. If there’s no electricity at all from either solar panels or car, the house can still tap into the energy grid. …

“Thanks to the additive manufacturing process, the prototype took only one year to realize from start to finish.” Read more here.

Photo: ORNL (Oak Ridge National Laboratory)

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As an official member of his town’s tree committee, John has been working hard to promote the many benefits of an urban tree canopy both for quality of life and for the business environment.

Now here comes a really unusual idea for fans of urban greenery. You just need a large body of water.

At the website “Pop Up City,” describes Rotterdam’s floating forest, thought up by (who else?) an artist.

“Rotterdam will get its first ‘bobbing forest’ in 2016: a collection of twenty trees that are floating in the Rijnhaven, a downtown harbor basin.

“Inspired by Jorge Bakker’s artwork ‘In Search of Habitus‘, an aquarium filled with bobbers that grow small trees, Dutch designers and entrepreneurs from Mothership decided to carry out this idea in ‘real life’. After experimenting with a sample tree last year, an entire floating forest of twenty trees is scheduled to be ‘planted’ on March 16, 2016.” Check out some intriguing photos here.

My only question as a person who grew up in a hurricane corridor: What happens if there’s a storm?

Photo: Popupcity.net

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One of the better aspects of the 2015 Massachusetts Conference for Women was hearing speakers like Candy Chang, an artist who engages ordinary people in public discourse.

At the December conference, Chang focused on Neighborland, a service co-founded with Dan and Tee Parham, that helps “residents and organizations collaborate on the future of their communities.”

This is how it works. Organizations start by posing a question. For example, they might hand out cards that say, “I want [blank] in my neighborhood,” and a resident might write in, “a night market.” Next, using Neighborland tools, ideas are collected from workshops, public installations, SMS, and Twitter. They are then discussed and voted on. The website says Neighborland has “sophisticated moderation, clustering, and de-duplication tools for organizers to aggregate all of the data from residents. Our reports make it easy for organizers to see trends in the data, make decisions, allocate resources, and keep participants involved in the fun part – making their neighborhoods better places.”

In this example, National Gardening Association’s Jenna Antonio DiMare reports on Adam Guerrero,  his Memphis, Tennessee, team of blight-busting ″Smart Mules,″ and their efforts to create a greener and more sustainable city.

“During the month of October, National Gardening Association (NGA) partnered with Neighborland to challenge Memphis residents to propose innovative projects to make their city and neighborhoods more sustainable. With a $1,000 grant awarded to the most promising project, Neighborland’s simple platform empowered local Memphis residents to ‘connect and make good things happen.’

“Despite receiving many inspiring project proposals, from founding an urban agriculture school to growing a newly established community garden, it was clear to NGA that the ‘Smart Mules’ project would have the greatest impact with the $1,000 award. …

″ ‘We are fighting [urban] blight, raising neighborhood morale, engaging our local government, and investing in a future for the neighborhood, all at the same time,’ writes the ‘Smart Mules’ team. To accomplish these goals, ‘Smart Mules’ provides work for many young, at-risk males who have been ‘largely dismissed’ or disenfranchised, according to team leader Guerrero.” More here about the work these young men are doing for sustainability.

(A couple years ago, I wrote about Candy Chang’s “Before I Die” interactive street art.)

Photo: Neighborland.com

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And speaking of schools that develop a love of the natural world, check out this story from the radio show Living on Earth.

“On the other side of the world, in the tourist paradise of Bali, there’s a school that the U.S. Green Building Council named the greenest school on Earth for 2012. It’s called the Green School, and it educates some 300 students from 25 different countries. Living on Earth’s Bobby Bascomb went to check out what’s so green about the school.”

Among the people he spoke with was Charis Ford, director of communications for the Green School.

“BOBBY BASCOMB: It rains a lot in Bali. Humidity and bugs typically destroy a bamboo structure in about 4 years, but the Green School buildings should survive 20 years or more.

“CHARIS FORD: We use treated bamboo, but it’s been treated with salt essentially. We heat water and we submerge the bamboo poles into the saltwater and it makes the bamboo unpalatable to termites and mold and funguses and other things that would biodegrade the bamboo. …

“FORD: All the building companies that he spoke with were like well, ‘You have to have walls. All schools have to have walls,’ and John [Hardy, a Canadian jewelry designer who moved to Bali in the 1970s and founded the school] said, ‘Why do they have to have walls?”’ They rubbed their chins and scratched their heads and said, “’Well, where are the kids going to hang the art?’ As it turns out, you don’t have to have walls. And we don’t have walls and we’re quite happy about it.

“BASCOMB: Just outside the classroom, a chicken wanders through a patch of green beans. Gardens are everywhere, integrated throughout the campus. They mimic a natural forest ecosystem using edible plants, a design called permaculture.

“FORD: When you wander around Green School’s campus, you might think it looks kind of like it’s wild, but then as you tune in and look at the plants that you’re around, you’ll see that that’s a bean trellis, and that’s a guava tree, and that’s ginger. Even though it looks like a jungle setting, you get a little closer and you see that’s chocolate — cacao pods — hanging from a tree next to you.” Lots more here. You also can listen to the recording of the radio interview.

Photo: Mark Fabian
On extremely hot days a canvas envelope can be pulled around a wall-less Green School classroom so cool air can be piped in to keep kids comfortable. 

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At the radio show Living on Earth, Steve Curwood recently interviewed Gary Cook of Greenpeace about an effort to get tech companies to be greener.

CURWOOD: “Back in 2012, you criticized Apple for using carbon-intensive energy from coal plants to power its servers. …

COOK: “Just after we spoke, they made a commitment to be 100 percent renewably powered, and as the end of last year, they even made that goal. So, it’s been quite a big shift.

CURWOOD: “100 percent renewable energy. How’s that possible?

COOK: “It requires some effort. Apple has done a lot in North Carolina where they have their largest data center in terms of deploying two different solar farms and an onsite fuel cell that’s powered with biogas energy, so it’s all renewable. They have several other data centers. … In Oregon they’re using wind; in Nevada they’re using solar.

“So they’ve actually shown a commitment from the top, been very aggressive, probably the most aggressive of any of the brands to make sure as they grow, they’re using clean energy.

CURWOOD: “Biogas. Where are they getting that from?’

COOK:” Currently, they’re getting that from landfill and some other renewable sources. The landfill is methane capture in the southeast, and they’re having that piped to where their data center is in North Carolina.”

The radio interview covers several other efforts tech companies are making. It’s a good thing, too, when you consider, as Living on Earth points out, “If the Internet were a country, it would be the sixth largest consumer of electricity in the world.” More here.

Photo: George Nikitin, Greenpeace
The Greenpeace Airship A.E. Bates flies over Facebook headquarters with a banners reading “Building a Greener Internet” and “Who’s The Next To Go Green?” Apple, Facebook and Google have committed to powering their data centers with renewable energy.

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No matter how much you like your routine or how pleasant your surroundings, sometimes you just have to get up and go out. Today I needed a change of scene so, in spite of the freezing temperatures and high wind, I went to look at some art.

The Design Museum is not far from my office, and the folks there come up with lots of good projects. I blogged here about their Street Seats, an array of public benches designed by creative people from around the world.

This being Design Week in Boston, I decided to check out the exhibit space they are using in a new apartment building called 315 on A, a lovely renovation of an 18th century warehouse for coffee.

The new exhibit is called Green Patriot Posters and features handsome posters from professionals as well as the pretty impressive results of a school poster contest on the conservation theme.

Many of the posters explicitly reference WW II posters. You know: “Loose lips sink ships” and all that. Here, the posters urge viewers to pursue a more sustainable way of life and fight global warming. More.

Be sure to check the poster over the left shoulder of the woman speaker in this video. That was my favorite in the show because it made me laugh out loud. I think you can see a Paul Bunyan figure with an ax. He is looking at the tree he was going to cut with an uncertain expression as the tree is growing out of his foot.

 

 

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I’m grateful to Scott, a former colleague, for putting this cool thing on Facebook. Looking at these healthy, growing plants is especially warming today, now that the temperature has gone back to 15 F.

Tim Blank at Future Growing LLC (which produces vertical aeroponic food farms) writes, “When you hear about a farm that supplies all-natural, sustainable produce, using 90% less water and 90% less land, one that utilizes the most advanced vertical aeroponic technology on earth, you surely would not guess it would be an Amish farm.

“Yet in Topeka, Indiana, you cannot get produce that is more local, fresh, healthy, and sustainable — even in the middle of an Indiana blizzard — like you can get at Sunrise Hydroponics, an Amish farm.

“Sunrise Hydroponics is owned and operated by husband-and-wife team Marlin and Loretta Miller on their rural farm in Topeka. I have had the privilege of working with the Amish community for more than half a decade, and have come to learn that, while their lives seem simple to many outsiders, their homes, farms, and businesses are highly innovative. The Amish utilize cutting-edge and creative forms of technology to improve their lives, while still falling within the guidelines of their belief system.” Read more here.

Greenhouse at Sunrise Hydroponics

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Trust Vermont to figure out how to do this.

The state had a highway rest stop in Guilford that was overwhelmed with visitors. The toilets could not keep up. Portable toilets were brought in to help, and everyone hated them.

“State officials,” says the Federal Highway Administration website, “needed a solution that could be designed and built quickly for the next foliage season.

” ‘We were looking for an alternative because we couldn’t continue with that high level of frustration,’ said [Dick Foster, director of the Vermont Information Center Division of the state’s Department of Buildings and General Services.]

“To further complicate matters, the welcome center was slated to be replaced by a newer facility in 2000, so the ‘quick fix’ also needed to be low cost. Tom Leytham, an architect who had designed other rest areas in the state, suggested the concept of using a Living Machine to Foster. …

” ‘I’d heard about Living Technologies, who had come up with a very elegant, simple solution that cleaned wastewater through a natural process involving plants.’

“Leytham drove Foster to South Burlington, Vt., where Living Technologies had installed a Living Machine to treat municipal wastewater. …

“In December 1996, in response to an inquiry from state officials, Living Technologies proposed a sewage-to-reuse system to reduce flows to the leachfields by recycling treated wastewater back into the restrooms to flush toilets. The Living Machine could be installed to serve the existing facilities at the Guilford center, and because the system was a modular design, it could be moved to another rest area when the center was relocated.

“In only eight months, the system was approved by the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, funded by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Vermont Department of Buildings and General Services, and installed by Living Technologies.”

The rest of the FHWA story by Molly Farrell, Liz Van der Hoven, and Tedann Olsen is here.

Katie Zezima at the NY Times adds more: “In a wing of the building, in the glass greenhouse, visitors look down on the vegetation from a grated ledge. The room, which offers spectacular mountain views, smells like a combination of mulch and chlorine.

“The building is heated and cooled by 24 geothermal wells. A similar system lies under the sidewalks to melt snow in the winter.” More from Zezima here.

Photo: Federal Highway Administration

http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/publications/publicroads/00mayjun/vermont.cfm

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I was reading an article by Kathleen Wolf, a social scientist whose “work is based on principles of environmental psychology and focuses on the human dimensions of urban forests and ecosystems.”

The following words struck me: “Interviewees say that merely looking at trees tends to reduce mental and physical stress. A walkable green environment is also thought to increase life satisfaction in later life and even longevity.” Hmm.

So to borrow some words from local honcho H.D. Thoreau, “I went to the woods to see if I could live” longer.

Photos include the Hapgood Wright Town Forest, Joe Pye Weed, an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, a log like a scaly snake, and various fungi indicating mysteries beneath the surface.

hapgood-wright-town-forest

scaly-snake-log

joe-pye-weed

10-fott-weed-and-swallowtail

fungus

lonely-mushroom

something-is-below-the-surface

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Building energy savings into school design means more money for education.

At Yes! Magazine, Erin L. McCoy describes what planners did for the rural Richardsville Elementary School near Bowling Green, Kentucky.

“When Richardsville opened its doors in fall 2010, it was the first net zero school in the nation, meaning that the school produces more energy on-site than it uses in a year.

“Solar tubes piping sunlight directly into classrooms eliminate much of the school’s demand for electric light, while a combination of geothermal and solar power cut down on the rest of the energy bill. Concrete floors treated with a soy-based stain don’t need buffing. The kitchen, which in most schools contributes to 20 percent of the energy bill, houses a combi-oven that cooks healthier meals and eliminates frying. This means an exhaust fan doesn’t pipe the school’s temperature-controlled air to the outdoors all day long.

“Meanwhile, ‘green screens’ in the front hall track the school’s energy usage so kids can see the impact of turning off a light in real time.

“These and other innovations make Richardsville better than net zero. It actually earns about $2,000 a month selling excess energy to the Tennessee Valley Authority. …

“Three factors are essential to making a green school work: First, you need the participation of the community and the local power company; second, you can’t forget that a school is a dynamic learning environment; and third, you need to speak the language of money.

“Since the economic recession began in 2008, school districts have suffered. Local tax bases were shaken as property values plummeted, and states have cut back on funding to districts, which were pushed to cut funds wherever they were able. Addressing energy use made a lot of financial sense.”

More.

Photograph: Michael Heinz/The Journal & Courier/AP/File
Students gather on the first day of school at Wyandotte Elementary School near Lafayette, Ind., in 2011. Wyandotte is one of many US schools that have made cutting energy use a priority.

 

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