Archive for April, 2011

It’s Not Easy Being Green: Impressions From Curitiba

Posted in Movements, Research by Kate Archdeacon on April 27th, 2011

Source: Core 77

Photo: It’s Not Easy Being Green “waste” paper materials workshop in Curitiba

From “It’s Not Easy Being Green: Brazil” by Aart van Bezooyen and Paula Raché:

“Last Monday, our Brazilian friend Claudia offered to drive us to the airport…until she realized that Monday was her “car-free day.” Cars in São Paulo have to stay off the road one day a week, a regulation that was introduced to reduce the city’s heavy traffic. Even the city’s own mayor uses a helicopter in order to be on time for his meetings. Of course it’s a pity that we lost our ride to the airport but somehow we appreciated the sustainable sound of this solution to reduce heavy traffic in a city where traffic is a monster. That is, until our friend explained that this “sustainable idea” resulted in most people buying two cars allowing them to (again) drive all week long. It’s not easy being green.” –Observations on São Paulo, on our way to Argentina

Two designers, six months and a dozen countries. São Paulo’s traffic rule is just one the everyday discoveries for the It’s Not Easy Being Green project, an initiative by two designers exploring sustainability in materials and design around the world.

First Impressions From Curitiba, Brazil. March 5-17, 2011

On March 4th, we traveled from Rio de Janeiro to Curitiba by bus. What should have been a 12-hour bus trip turned into an 18-hour experience due to heavy traffic surrounding the Carnaval holidays. During Carnaval, thousands of people travel in two directions: while one half travels to Rio de Janeiro to party at the biggest street festival in the world, the other half escapes to the coast to relax—it seems we were caught somewhere in the middle.

Curitiba is the 8th largest city in Brazil and often recognized as the most sustainable city in Brazil. Before our journey we read articles about the city’s recycling programs and world-famous bus system that allows almost everyone to get anywhere with public transport. The city also has many parks and forests to enjoy on foot or bicycle. In other words, the city serves as an example of green urban planning.

Arriving in Curitiba we found ourselves in the middle of a city full of skyscrapers with more infamous cars than famous buses. The city center is anything but green and riding a bike downtown seemed to be a sure way to get seriously injured or killed. For a so-called “Green Capital,” we were quite disappointed. The next day, our local host took us for a drive around the city—only then did we discover the green parks of Curitiba. Unlike Central Park in New York City, Curitiba has some 30 parks and forests along the outside ring of the city. We enjoyed this green discovery and hope that the parks will be cherished since the city is rapidly expanding making the conservation of its green perimeter a significant challenge for the near future. During our stay we also learned that most of the “green” success stories including the bus system, green parks and high recycling rates originated in the early 1970’s when architect Jaime Lerner was mayor of the city. Today, many of these systems are under strain. Most young people we spoke with would prefer a car due to the unpredictable and sometimes unsafe bus system. The parks are being swallowed by the ever-expanding city of Curitiba (the population tripled in the past 20 years) making the conservation of its green surroundings a big challenge for the near future.

Curitiba’s trash bins allow separated waste disposal up to five categories: paper, plastic, metal, glass and organic waste. When we looked into the trash bins we noticed that oftentimes the waste was not separated at all. Of course separating waste is only the beginning of a sustainable system. Recycling seems to work pretty well but there are still few programs for reusing or recycling the collected waste (which became one of topics we focused on during our workshop).

Read the full article from Aart & Paula on Core 77 to find out more about their project, including materials reuse workshops in Curitiba.


Aart van Bezooyen and Paula Raché are a Dutch-German design couple living and working in Hamburg, Germany. With the “It’s Not Easy Being Green” project, they are using their creative skills to give our tired planet a helping hand. Paula Raché is a Berlin-born designer with work experience in graphic, packaging and exhibition design. Aart van Bezooyen is a design teacher and founder of Material Stories where he inspires and enables the best use of materials to make design more competitive, creative and sustainable. Together they provide lectures and workshops to explore and share alternatives in materials and design that can give our world a better future.

ReFit West: Retrofitting Existing Homes Update

Posted in Movements, Research by Kate Archdeacon on April 21st, 2011

Source: Forum for the Future

Image from the Refit West Update

Forum for the Future has published a new guide on retrofitting owner-occupied homes, intended to inform the development of a nationally viable scheme. Refit West: Update from the front line – real homeowner retrofit journeys and barriers the Green Deal must overcome gives policy makers, key energy sector players, and domestic carbon reduction professionals, valuable results from a live pilot retrofitting scheme.

The report provides a number of key insights into the homeowner experience and outlines the information required at each stage of the retrofitting journey. Based on the lessons learnt from a Bristol-based pilot project, we have been working with actual homeowners as they carried out energy efficiency works to their homes. It presents a number of recommendations that will need to be in place to ensure successful take up of the Green Deal.

We believe that the key to developing a nationally viable retrofitting scheme lies in empowering and supporting individuals as they make decisions and commission works to their homes. A flexible and people-centred approach, delivering a positive experience for early adopters and recognising and valuing the work carried out, is essential for any larger retrofitting programme to succeed.

Scaling up any retrofitting scheme will need to take account of three key elements: providing appropriate financial incentives to refit houses; creating demand from homeowners; and ensuring there is a workforce with the skills to carry it out.

Download the report ‘Update from the front line: real homeowner retrofit journeys and barrier to Green Deal must overcome’ or visit the Refit West Project site.

Learning from a Community Composting Setback

Posted in Movements, Opinion, Research by Kate Archdeacon on April 20th, 2011

From “Community composting – here one day, gone the next” by Russ Grayson:


“…A new technology or new approach to doing something had a greater chance of long-term success when it comes as a package containing the technology + a clear plan for its maintenance + the training of those who will take over and use it.”


What had started as an innovative idea of local people came to an end when, one warm Wednesday afternoon in late March 2011, the City of Sydney removed the community composting installation in Peace Park, Chippendale. The removal reminded me of something I had learned some time ago at a place not very far away.

Technology transfer: a three-legged construction

In those days I worked for an international development NGO operating in the South Pacific and what I learned still makes a lot of sense to me. We worked in village food security and small scale, sustainable farming systems using the LEISA (Low External Input Sustainable Agriculture) approach, however the NGO—then based only hundreds of metres away in the University of Technology, Sydney, though 14 years in the past—also did village micro-hydro electrification.

It would have been easy for the NGO to have come in to some Solomon Island village and install a micro-hydro system, turn on the lights and leave. That approach was not unknown when it came to development assistance work by government programs and even by small, community based NGOs. Instead, those in the NGO were savvy enough to know that technology transfer, to be done properly, comes as a three legged structure. That technology transfer structure is this: a new technology or new approach to doing something had a greater chance of long-term success when it comes as a package containing the technology + a clear plan for its maintenance + the training of those who will take over and use it. It’s a simple enough proposition but it’s all too often ignored. The lesson has stayed with me and it came to mind when I started working with the City of Sydney where I collaborate with the City’s waste projects co-ordinator on community composting trials.


Gone, but a reboot is coming

Community composting is a new idea both to communities and to local government. Neither have tried it before. Solutions are being developed and trialled as we go. There are no instruction manuals. The City and local people installed a community composting system consisting of seven Aerobin composters (one for each day of the week) in Peace Park in inner urban Chippendale that is within easy walking distance of Sydney’s busy Railway Square.

That day in late March, the City in agreement with the local people who had been maintaining the system removed the seven Aerobins of the community composting facility. The reason? Cockroaches. Multitudes of cockroaches. The community compost had gone from a good idea in local resource recovery to a public health issue. There had been the comment from locals about odour and flies, though these may have been not the common house fly but vinegar flies and other flying insects that appear during composting as part of the decomposition process.

Read the rest of this entry »

Connecting Britain To A European Supergrid

Posted in Models by Kate Archdeacon on April 19th, 2011


Image: The Guardian

From “BritNed power cable boosts hopes for European supergrid” by Damian Carrington:

It stretches 260km under the North Sea, contains 23,000 tonnes of copper and lead, and may represent the first step towards a renewable energy revolution based on a European electricity “supergrid”. The £500m BritNed cable, which has just entered operation, is the first direct current electricity link from the UK to another country in 25 years. The high voltage cable, a joint venture between the UK National Grid and the Dutch grid operator TenneT, has a capacity of 1,000MW, the equivalent of a nuclear power station. It runs from the Isle of Grain in Kent to Maasvlakte, near Rotterdam, in the Netherlands.

High voltage DC (HVDC) cables allow electricity to be transmitted over much greater distances than existing alternating current lines, which start losing power after 80km. A network of HVDC cables across Europe is seen as the key to “weather-proofing” the large scale use of renewable energy, some forms of which are intermittent and have to be balanced in real time with generation elsewhere. “Our investment in this interconnector means that we are joining a much wider European electricity market,” said Nick Winser, executive director of National Grid. “This ability we now have to move power across national borders means we can use the full potential of renewable energy from wind – making it easier to import when wind is not available and export when there is a surplus.”

In the short term, linking the UK and European grids boosts the UK’s energy security and helps stabilise wholesale energy prices. Chris Huhne, secretary of state for energy and climate change, said: “Renewables win as it means surplus wind power can be easily shared [and] consumers win as a single European market puts pressure on prices.”

“This is a major step,” said Louise Hutchins, head of UK energy campaigns at Greenpeace. “It sends a signal to renewable manufacturers that we’re a step closer to unlocking the potential of one the world’s main renewable power houses – the North Sea.”

Read the full article by Damian Carrington on the Guardian.

Wayfinding for Walkability

Posted in Models, Research by Kate Archdeacon on April 18th, 2011

Source: Sustainable Cities Collective

Image: Martin Deutsch via flickr CC

From “Will London’s New Wayfinding System Get More People Walking?” by This Big City:

If you’ve walked through Covent Garden, Southbank or Oxford Street recently, the chances are you will have stumbled across the funky new Legible London pedestrian signs installed by Transport for London (TfL). These sleek, stylish ‘monoliths’ have been sprouting up all over the capital during the last year.  Each monolith is strategically placed and has:

  • An easy-to-read map that is orientated to the users point of view;
  • 5 and 15 minute walking distances;
  • 3D drawings of key shops and buildings in the area.

Changing Londoners’ mental maps
The thinking behind the new system is to encourage more people to walk around London instead of driving or using already overcrowded public transport. By catching people at key decision points – such as tube stations – and providing them with the right information on walking times and local attractions, it is hoped that they will choose to walk.
According to TfL, information really is key in achieving modal shift. Research found that most Londoners mental map of London is based on the tube map which is geographically distorted and can be very misleading. For instance there are over 100 connections on the underground where its quicker to walk than take the tube! Legible London maps will often show users that their destination is closer and more walkable than they think.

A city of villages
To provide Londoners with a coherent wayfinding system, the Legible London designers have broken the city down into three key spatial hierarchies:

  • Areas: ‘broad areas of the city’ such as the West End;
  • Villages: ‘commonly used names’ which Londoners use to quickly connect one part of the city to another;
  • Neighbourhoods: there are several neighbourhoods in each village.

TfL believe that this process of breaking places down, helps pedestrians to explore and find their way around the city:

As you become more familiar with a particular place, the more you can keep sub-dividing it into smaller, linked pieces, creating a more detailed mental map.

Read the full article by This Big City on Sustainable Cities Collective.

Communicating The Future: Competition

Posted in Movements, seeking by Kate Archdeacon on April 15th, 2011

© Practical Action found via Information Is Beautiful

The Minor Foundation for Major Challenges invites you to participate in a competition that aims to select an extraordinarily good way of communicating the issue of man-made climate change. The competition aims to inspire participants that have the ability to communicate a complex message in a way that might surprise or even awaken people.

If you can illustrate man-made climate change, its causes or consequences in a way that brings the response:

  • Aha!
  • So this is what it is all about!
  • Something has to be done about it!
  • We have to reduce our emissions of CO2!

Then please, consider participating in our competition and share your submission with us!

Read the rest of this entry »

Changing Habits: Making Energy Consumption Visible

Posted in Models by Kate Archdeacon on April 14th, 2011


Image: nora* via flickr CC

From “Tidy St: Shining a light on community energy efficiency” by Flemmich Webb:

[In Tidy Street in Brighton, UK], residents who volunteered for a new energy-saving initiative have been given electricity meters so they can monitor their daily energy use, and identify which devices are using the most power, and when. For the past three weeks, they have been entering daily meter readings on, to build up a picture of each household’s energy use. Once people started measuring – 17 of the street’s 52 households signed up straight away – local street artist Snub was commissioned to paint the street’s average energy use against the Brighton average in a graph on the road outside their homes.

“It’s a great way to do it,” says Paul Clark, a software developer who has lived on Tidy Street for 10 years. “It engages people – passers-by often ask what it’s all about – and for those of us that live here, it’s something to be proud of.” Open-source software designed specially for the project allows each household to compare their energy use not only with the Brighton average, but also with the national average or even that of other countries.

Involving the community was key to getting the project off the ground, says Jon Bird, the project co-ordinator and designer of the software. “I went along to the residents’ annual street party last year, and explained what we were trying to do; that it was voluntary and that no one was trying to impose anything on anyone,” he says. “Then it was a case of identifying the ‘champions’ in the street – those who were going to tell their neighbours about the project; those who were going to be doing the measuring in the individual households.”

Each household has chosen its own icon to mark the data points on the street and online graphs and residents’ input helps foster the sense they own the project. Ruth Goodall, 70, who has lived on Tidy Street for 30 years, says she wasn’t interested in her electricity use before the initiative but measuring it every day has inspired her to change her behaviour. “I always used to fill up my kettle to the top but having seen how much extra power that uses I’m careful to just boil what I need,” she says. Strikingly, over the three weeks the project has been running, the street’s average energy use has dropped by 15%, with some people cutting usage by as much as 30%. Much of this has been achieved by simple behavioural changes such as turning of lights and devices on standby. “Now the challenge is to see if those reductions can be maintained,” says Bird.

Phase two of the project is about to be launched, during which 10 households on Tidy Street will for the first time measure their gas usage over the next six months. “We are also looking at working with community groups based in the city, such as Brighton and Hove 10:10, to encourage other streets and organisations in the city, to start measuring their energy use,” says Bird, who has recently been approached by one school, keen to set up an electricity-use measuring project with its pupils.

Perhaps energy companies should take note. Next year sees the introduction of the “green deal”, a scheme whereby people can invest in energy efficiency improvements to their homes, community spaces and businesses at no upfront cost, instead paying through installments on their energy bills. Community engagement will be key to their ability to deliver the programme.

This article was posted by Flemmich Webb on the Guardian.

Adaptive Capacity: Design for Resilience and Resourcefulness

Posted in Movements, Research by Kate Archdeacon on April 13th, 2011

Source: Core 77

© Shelterbox UK

From “Building Adaptive Capacity: Towards a Design for Sustainability 3.0” by Michael Sammet:


Designing to expand adaptive capacity means creating objects, templates and platforms that allow people and systems to survive and even thrive in a complex and uncertain planet. In a world increasingly shaped by peak oil, global warming, economic uncertainty and environmental disasters (Deep Water Horizon, Pakistani floods, Fukushima), designers are coming to grips with how to help users create local resilience and self-reliance. In fact, the concept of resilience has become an important term that designers are just now grappling with. An emergent property of systems that is related to the “longevity” tenet of sustainability but qualitatively different from its “no impact” focus, resilience is concerned with cycles of change and positive adaptation. Resilience thinking integrates social and environmental factors into a holistic framework that helps users prepare for —or even take advantage of—shocks to a system.

In their 2006 book Resilience Thinking, Brian Walker and David Salt explain the concept of the four phases of the adaptive cycle: rapid growth, conservation, release and reorganization. They argue that building adaptive capacity based on resilience, not optimal efficiency, allows systems to absorb and prepare for external disturbances without crossing thresholds that shift to another regime. Designers need to consider differentiated, integrated strategies for change rather than rational, efficient strategies that maximize and exploit the growth of early stages. These growth-focused systems certainly yield more substantial paybacks but at the expense of resilience, such that they are more prone to massive shakeups after significant fluctuations. As Salt and Walker explain, “any proposal for sustainable development that does not acknowledge a system’s resilience is simply not going to keep delivering goods and services. The key to sustainability lies in enhancing the resilience of social-ecological systems, not in optimizing isolated components of the system.”

Design for resilience, which has surfaced at the burgeoning conjunction of environmental science, localism and business scenario planning, is just now beginning to appear on designers’ radar and can be implemented on many different levels. At the most practical level, ShelterBox can help a group of ten survive major disaster for a prolonged period. Transition Towns are popping up all over the globe as people begin to redesign their cities in response to the rising cost and resource depletion of fossil fuels. Forage movements, permaculture projects and farmers markets are all examples of ways of building resilient food systems. After recent government interference of communication systems in the Middle East, resilience thinking led designers to consider how to create decentralized, localized Internet and cell phone systems, not just new, faster and lighter versions of the old models.

From a larger article on Design for Sustainability by Michael Sammet for Core 77.

Check out this excellent article about Food Connect’s small local network delivering food to residents in the Brisbane floods. KA

How to Gauge a City’s Carbon Footprint: Linking Emissions to Affluence

Posted in Research by Kate Archdeacon on April 12th, 2011

Source: Environmental Research Web

Image: mikecogh via flickr CC

From “Carbon emissions ‘unrelated to city density’” by Nadya Anscombe:
- When analysing the carbon footprint of a city, most research studies look at the emissions generated by the inhabitants of that city. Typically they come to the conclusion that denser cities produce less carbon emissions on a per capita basis.But Jukka Heinonen and his colleague Seppo Junnila from Aalto University, Finland, have a different way of examining this issue. They believe that emissions should not be allocated to where they are produced, but to where they are consumed.

“For example, if a television is made in a big factory in the countryside, but bought by someone living in a city, the carbon emission generated from the production of that television should be allocated to the consumer, not the factory,” Heinonen told environmentalresearchweb. “When you look at carbon consumption in this way it becomes almost irrelevant where someone lives and how dense the city is in which they live.”

Heinonen and Junnila studied the two largest metropolitan areas in Finland: Helsinki and its two surrounding cities Espoo and Vantaa; and the important inland city of Tampere, together with the seven neighbouring semi-urban cities. The seven cities around Tampere were allocated into two groups: rural cities (RTC) and urban cities (UCT).  The pair found that carbon consumption was directly linked to income and was not necessarily related to the density of the city. “Espoo is a less dense city than Helsinki, but carbon consumption per capita is higher in Espoo than in Helsinki because Espoo is a more affluent city,” said Heinonen.

To come to these conclusions, the researchers used a hybrid life cycle analysis (LCA) approach. This combines the principles of an input–output LCA – where emissions are calculated based on monetary transactions – and a process LCA, where emissions are assessed based on the energy and mass flows in the main production and supply chain processes.  Heinonen and Junnila looked at 10 consumption areas: heat and electricity; building and property; maintenance and operation; private transport; public transportation; consumer goods; leisure goods; leisure services; travelling abroad; and health, nursing and training services.
“We found that the biggest impacts on a consumer’s carbon footprint are heat and electricity; the construction and maintenance of buildings; and private transport,” said Heinonen. “Tampere is considerably more dense than the urban and rural cities surrounding it, but we found a negligible difference in carbon consumption between these three metropolitan areas.”  The researchers believe that their study is a useful model for analysing the emissions of different urban structures that could be used in urban development when low-carbon solutions are sought. They have published their research in Environmental Research Letters (ERL).

This article by Nadya Anscombe for Environmental Research Web.

“Innovation: driving resilient energy and economic futures” Conference

Posted in Events by Kate Archdeacon on April 8th, 2011

How can innovation and economic reform assist in developing the new energy sources required to reduce the impact of climate change? Intergenerational equity needs to be considered when developing enduring climate change solutions.  This conference will deal with these issues and aims to offer many benefits for those operating in varied policy, planning and management contexts in energy, environment, planning, economics, communities and more.  This conference will contribute to the debates on the practical application of innovation to the shifts required by industry, government, and the community in addressing climate change.

Join prominent and insightful presenters such as Prof Will Steffen, Dr John Hewson, Anna Skarbek & Dr David Martin to explore the themes of Australia’s innovation performance, creating new energy markets, climate prosperity and intergenerational equity.

April 14, The Australian National University, Canberra

Visit the Australia 21 website for more details or to register.