Archive for October, 2010

Community Action for Safer Roadways

Posted in Models, Movements by Kate Archdeacon on October 29th, 2010

Source: Victoria Walks

From “London’s Do-It-Yourself Approach to Safer Streets” by Elizabeth Press:

In the UK, the non-profit Sustrans is pioneering* a community-based method to reclaim streets from high-speed traffic and make neighbourhoods safer and more sociable places.

Called “DIY Streets,” the program brings neighbours together to help them redesign their streets in a way that puts people, safety, and streetlife first. So far, individual streets have benefited from DIY redesigns in 11 communities in England and Wales. Recently Streetfilms got a walk through of one successful DIY project — on Clapton Terrace in London. With the people who made it happen as our guides, we saw how planners and neighbours collaborated to transform a place where speeding used to rule into a local street with calm traffic and safe space to socialise.

Can the DIY model work on a bigger scale than an individual street? We’re about to find out: Residents of the London Borough of Haringey will soon be working with Sustrans on the first neighbourhood-wide DIY project.

* Note: David Engwicht (Creative Communities International) has been doing community-consultation for safer neighbourhoods since 1995. KA

From Rubbish Truck to Horse & Cart

Posted in Movements by Kate Archdeacon on October 27th, 2010


Photo © Sita

From French towns swap rubbish trucks for horse-drawn carts by Jacqueline Karp:

Long before recycling became a household word, a Paris prefect called Eugene Poubelle, introduced three separate containers for household waste – glass and pottery, oyster and mussel shells, and the rest – and had horse-drawn carts empty them. Six years later, his surname entered the Academy dictionary as the word for “dustbin”. Now, over a century later, a growing number of French towns are returning to horse-drawn kerbside waste collection, as a better way to recycle.

For Jean Baptiste, mayor of medieval Peyrestortes, near Perpignan and one of 60 towns now using horses to collect waste, the benefit above all is practical. “You can’t turn a waste collection vehicle around here. We used to block streets to traffic and keep waste in open skips.” He sold off a dustbin lorry and acquired two Breton carthorses instead. Asked whether the changes are saving money, he says: “It’s too early. But money isn’t the only reason. The exhaust smells have gone, the noise has gone, and instead we have the clip-clop of horses’ hooves.”

In Saint Prix, however, in Greater Paris, Mayor Jean-Pierre Enjalbert is certain he is saving money as the novelty of the horses has increased recycling rates. “By using the horse for garden waste collection, we have raised awareness. People are composting more. Incineration used to cost us €107 a tonne, ridiculous for burning wet matter, now we only pay €37 to collect and compost the waste.”

Read the full article by Jacqueline Karp.

Low-Income Sustainable Housing: South Bronx, NY

Posted in Models by Kate Archdeacon on October 22nd, 2010

Source: The Ecologist

From “Greening the Big Apple: how building got sustainable in the Bronx” by Gwen Schantz

In 2008, in an effort to raise money in the face of a crippling budget deficit, the New York City Housing Authority announced that it would sell off several acres of public land in the South Bronx. Rather than simply giving the land to the highest bidder, however, the city prioritised developments that would incorporate sustainable design and give affordable housing a modern green face. Blue Sea Development Company was one among four firms with winning proposals, and will break ground this October on the Forest Houses development, a beacon of green building set among 15 ageing brown-brick public housing towers in the neighbourhood of Morrisania.
This new building will raise the bar for New York’s green building sector as a whole. Inside and out, the structure is designed to maximise efficiency and exploit green materials and techniques. Energy savings add up bit by bit throughout the building, from the smallest energy-star household appliances to the direct-drive lifts that use as much as 60 per cent less energy than conventional ones.
In addition to energy-saving systems and design for healthy living, the development will be a showcase of green building materials. The apartments will feature durable faux-wood flooring made from 70 per cent recycled vinyl content, common areas will be laid with recycled nylon carpet tiles and doormats made from recycled tyres, and vinyl panelling made with 53 per cent recycled content will cover interior walls.
Perhaps the most interesting feature of this new development, however, is the 10,000 sq ft hydroponic greenhouse on the roof that will tie into the efficiencies of the building, utilising waste heat while insulating the top storey against heat and cold. Photovoltaic panels will supply electricity to the greenhouse and power air conditioners in the summer, cooling the greenhouse during the hottest times of the day. Additional cooling will come from passive design that maximises air flow and incorporates shade cloth and evaporative cooling pads.

The greenhouse will collect and filter rainwater to grow hydroponic vegetables year-round, yielding 10-20lb of fresh food per square foot. The rooftop structure won’t be carbon-neutral, but according to Benjamin Linsley, whose firm Bright Farm Systems designed the greenhouse, the energy draw of an urban rooftop greenhouse ‘is tiny compared to putting a greenhouse on the perimeter of the city’, because it benefits from the rising heat that constantly radiates from below.

Read the full article by Gwen Schantz for more details on the construction, including systems for heating & cooling, and reducing pollution-related illnesses for the residents.

The Environmentalist’s Paradox: Research Paper

Posted in Research by Kate Archdeacon on October 20th, 2010

Source: Stockholm Resilience Centre

Image: eliazar via flickr CC

From The environmentalist’s paradox: Centre researchers analyse why humans do better while the earth does worse:

For some time, ecologists have shown that the Earth’s life support systems are declining. However simultaneously, human wealth, health, education, and life span is increasing.

The paradox not an illusion

In a new paper centre researchers Garry Peterson and Maria Tengö together with collaborators from McGill University untangled these potential explanations of Environmentalist´s Paradox. The authors present four hypotheses to why human well-being is increasing while ecosystem services degrade:

1. Human well-being is actually declining because current ways to measure this are wrong or incomplete.
2. Food production and continued agricultural growth trumps all other ecosystems because only provisioning services are important for human well-being.
3. Technology makes human less dependent on ecosystem services
4. The worst is yet to come: there is a time lag after ecosystem service degradation before human well-being is affected.

As for the first hypothesis, Peterson and colleagues argue that there is a large body of evidence demonstrating that human wellbeing, even of the worst off, has increased during the past fifty years, suggesting that the paradox is not an illusion.

Mixed support for the other hypotheses

Their assessment of the second hypothesis is that agricultural ecosystems strongly support human wellbeing. However, support for hypotheses three and four is mixed. Despite great advances in technology and social organization that have increased the benefits people get from nature, we have increased rather than decreased our use of ecosystems.

There is little evidence from the past of sustained decreases in human wellbeing caused by environmental decline, but as the scope of human use of the planet has increased there are reasons to remain concerned about the future, says co-author Maria Tengö.

There is evidence that regulating ecosystem services that maintain stable environments for people are decreasing locally, while we are also pushing the entire earth system across its planetary boundaries.

These findings do not show that the environment is unimportant but rather that people are extremely innovative and adaptive. However, the careless destruction of ecological infrastructure is leaving people worse off than they would be if we made more thoughtful investments in ecological infrastructure. We have a lot of understanding of how humanity alters the biosphere, but little understanding of how these changes impact us, says Garry Peterson.

Time to invest in ecological infrastructure

The authors argue that humanity is under-investing in ecological infrastructure, and suggest three areas: agriculture, cities, and infrastructure, where increased management, research, and governance to enhance ecosystem services could yield major gains in human wellbeing.

Major reasons for this lack of investment are disciplinary boundaries among researchers and inadequate attention to environmental governance.

Researchers often address narrow aspects of global environmental change, based upon disciplinary assumptions that are often unconvincing to researchers outside their own discipline. We need research that addresses practical questions beyond disciplinary focus as well as increased theoretical and practical attention to environmental governance, say Peterson and Tengö.


Ciara Raudsepp-Hearne, Garry D. Peterson, Maria Tengö, Elena M. Bennett, Tim Holland, Karina Benessaiah, Graham K. MacDonald and Laura Pfeifer 2010 Untangling the Environmentalist’s Paradox: Why is Human Well-Being Increasing as Ecosystem Services Degrade? BioScience 60(8):576-589. doi: 10.1525/bio.2010.60.8.4

The environmentalist’s paradox

Building as Teaching Tool for Sustainability

Posted in Models by Kate Archdeacon on October 18th, 2010

Image: Ross Barney Architects

From an article on World Architects about the James | Swenson Civil Engineering Building by John Hill:

As sustainability continues to take hold in the architectural profession, the most desirable projects enable designers to express green features, making them educational devices to the clients and users. Chicago firm Ross Barney Architects has done such a thing to great effect at the University of Minnesota in Duluth. The architects answered some questions about their design of the James | Swenson Civil Engineering Building.



Designed to display the building systems as a pedagogical tool, the building showcases the structural, and mechanical systems as well as stormwater management techniques. The building acts as a working classroom for the students using the space. Structurally, the building utilizes precast concrete walls, precast hollowcore floor slabs, and steel. The puzzle piece precast walls of the structural lab educate that precast can be formed into any shape, while still forming together in a unique pattern offering slot windows throughout the finished concrete box. The south wall of the space retains the exterior tilt-up braces and kickers that are used as temporary supports during the construction process to feature the process of this construction.



The oversized scuppers serve a functional role in preventing rainwater from overflowing the storm sewer system and causing environmental damage to the local stream beds. Water is directed from the rooftop, down the scuppers, and into a trio of above ground Corten cylinders, which distribute the water into an underground French drain. This reused greywater fills the flume in the Hydraulics Laboratory for student experiments, or gradually filters back into the hydrological system of the site. In addition to the French drain, a number of other stormwater retention strategies were employed, including; an intensive green roof over 30% of the total roof area, rain gardens with non-irrigated native plantings, and permeable pavers. Through the combination of greywater reuse and the implementation of low-flow restroom fixtures, a 56% reduction in water usage was achieved.

Read the full article by John Hill.

Showcasing Sustainability and Design: Sustain 2010

Posted in Movements, Research by Kate Archdeacon on October 15th, 2010

Image: One of the winning designs – Energy Trumps, from Embodied by Rich Gilbert

Sustain is a showcase for the work, issues and arguments that relate to the ever-more-complex arena of sustainability within the Royal College of Art (UK). The RCA offers a unique forum: we can open up and explore issues without the pressure solely to present solutions; and we bring the ‘systems’-thinking creativity of cross-disciplinary discussion to the presentation and discussion of sustainable practice in art and design disciplines.

Sustainability represents a key emerging institutional need across the creative and cultural industries. Our goal at the RCA is to inspire and challenge a new creative generation across the UK to embrace and address sustainability in their work, demonstrating how principles of sustainability and responsibility can fuel innovation, and support and enhance real-world strategies for change.

The Sustain Award 2010 was presented on 23 September. All the works included in the Sustain 2010 Exhibition can be seen online.

Further reading: The Challenges of Teaching Sustainability: the RCA’s Approach on core77

Urban Agriculture: Underused Spaces

Posted in Movements by Kate Archdeacon on October 14th, 2010

Source: The Ecologist

© tokyo green space

From “How to grow food in strange places – by the experts” by Helen Babbs:

You don’t need a garden to grow your own fruit and veg. If you’re a budding horticulturalist with no space to swing a trowel, here are some creative – and sometimes bizarre – ideas from around the world

Mushrooms in disused railway tunnels and strawberries in drainpipes… perhaps it’s silly but I find food growing in strange places both bizarre and romantic. Horticulture can be so creative. It can involve melons growing on net curtains and rice growing on pavements. Introduce an against-the-odds element – like doing it in Tokyo, that seething, steely metropolis – and it’s somehow all the more exciting.

My love of the bizarre and the romantic – and of vegetables – has led me on a journey, albeit it an armchair one. I’ve found people growing food in some unlikely places, for fun and from necessity, and on a personal and a commercial scale.

Rowena and Philip Mansfield farm fruit, herbs and fish in Anglesey, North Wales. I was drawn to this Welsh couple, who have swapped urban life for something very rural, because they’ve been growing strawberries in a drainpipe.

From sections of humble pipe, and employing less humble hydroponics, they’ve harvested 75lb of berries. They’re dismissive of my delight. ‘Nothing original about drainpipes,’ says Philip. ‘We look at all pipes and see them sprouting food. Just pass water along the tube and let the plant roots touch the liquid – they’ll take up whatever nutrients they need.’


Read the full article by Helen Babbs for more on urban food-growing (and some inspiration)!

Get Cycling to Work

Posted in Movements by Kate Archdeacon on October 13th, 2010

Source: The Ecologist

Image: question everything via flickr CC

From “Pedal power: ditch the headaches and cycle to work” by Juliet Kemp:

Commuting to work by bike is easier – and the reasons not to do it flimsier – than you think. Here’s our guide to dealing with the excuses and improving pedal power in your workplace.

You arrive at the office on a Monday morning, cheerfully invigorated from your cycle ride in, and run into a colleague. ‘Oh, I drove past you on your bike this morning,’ she says. Then, inevitably, you’ll hear: ‘I don’t know how you do it – I could never cycle in myself.’

If you’ve ever had this conversation, you’ll know that there’s a few reasons that people always give for why they wouldn’t cycle to work. The good news is that most of them can be solved, with a little help from your employer.

There’s a business case, as well as an environmental case, to be made for encouraging more people to cycle to work: a recent study estimated that increasing cycling by 20 per cent by 2015 would save employers £87 million by reducing absences, and that cycling to work reduces mortality by 39 per cent. Marshall some of the information from the article, recruit a few other office cyclists to work with you and get your management on board to bust those excuses.

Read the full article by Juliet Kemp, which addresses issues like security, road safety, employer options and bike loan schemes in the UK.

Eco-Rating for Mobile Phones

Posted in Research by Kate Archdeacon on October 11th, 2010

Source: Forum for the Future

© Forum for the Future

Forum for the Future worked with Telefónica O2 UK to develop the UK’s first sustainable rating scheme for mobile phones.  Eco rating scores handsets out of five according to their environmental impact, how they help people lead more sustainable lives and the ethical performance of the manufacturer. It launched in O2’s UK stores in August 2010 and Telefónica is currently considering how the wider group could adopt it.

The scheme is designed to help customers take sustainability into account when choosing a new mobile, to encourage healthy competition between handset manufacturers to drive up standards, and to help the industry understand the role it can play in creating a sustainable future.

The project started in August 2009 after research by O2 found a demand from customers for information about the sustainability of their handset – the whole picture and not just one or two elements of environmental performance. Forum and O2, working in close collaboration with handset manufacturers, developed a simple rating system that would make fair comparisons between different types of handset to reward and encourage innovation. Eco rating combines benchmarking of handsets with life cycle thinking, and uses transparent, robust and non-contentious measures to do away with the need for detailed technical data.

Read more about the Eco-Rating project.

Biodiversity 100: Australia

Posted in Movements, seeking by Kate Archdeacon on October 8th, 2010


Image: obliot via flickr CC

From “Back Biodiversity 100, save our wildlife” by George Monbiot & Guillaume Chapron:

A few weeks ago, the Guardian launched the Biodiversity 100 campaign to prod governments into action. We asked the public and some of the world’s top ecologists to help us compile a list of 100 specific tasks that will show whether or not governments are serious about protecting biodiversity. Each task would be aimed at a government among the G20 nations, and they would be asked to sign up to it at Nagoya.

Biodiversity conservation is, or should be, all about specific action. It cannot be achieved by vague commitments. As the celebrated British ecologist Prof Sir John Lawton says: “Politicians keep talking about the threat of the loss of biodiversity. But nothing happens. Those of us who care have got to put pressure on the world’s governments to stop saying one thing and doing something completely different. This campaign will make a real contribution.”

We hope he’s right. And we see no reason why he shouldn’t be, given the recent conservation successes – Montenegro’s decision to postpone its dam-building programme; Russia’s vast new national parks; Ecuador’s determination not to allow new oil drilling in its rainforests. But to make this campaign work, you have to get behind it. That means pestering your MP, bothering your environment minister, demanding that your government stops hiding behind platitudes and starts talking about specifics. It means insisting that they treat the world’s natural wonders not as a disposable asset but as a precious charge.

Biodiversity 100: actions for Australia – Recommendations for Australia focus on invasive plants and fish that damage native populations.

Visit the campaign website for more information, including links to other regions’ actions.