Posts Tagged ‘environment’

Never pay an Electricity Bill again? Sounds pretty good to me.

Posted in Models, Movements, Sustainable Cities, Visions by emma.gerard on August 21st, 2013

Source: Climate progress

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photo from: Habitat for Humanity of washington DC

From the article Why Habitat For Humanity’s Newest Homeowner Might Never Pay An Electricity Bill by JOANNA M. FOSTER

Lakiya’s new home is the first super energy-efficient passive house in D.C. It also just happens to be a Habitat for Humanity home.

The house doesn’t look like a futuristic spaceship, but it is different from the other small pre-fab houses along the street. It is a two home duplex with a big wooden porch in front and, of course, solar panels on the roof.

Lakiya’s house started out two years ago as an entry in the Department of Energy’s biannual Solar Decathlon. Dubbed “Empowerhouse” for the competition, it was an ambitious concept brought to life by engineering and architecture students from Stevens Institute of TechnologyParsons The New School for Design and Milano School for International Affairs, management and Urban Policy, many of whom had never even wielded a hammer before attempting this elaborate construction project. The team’s dream was to build a solar-powered house that could not only compete with the most cutting-edge technologies out there, but was actually affordable and something ordinary people would want to live in.

According to Josh Layrea, one of the Stevens engineers, the winning entry from a German team two years before cost over two million dollars. “It was an impressive piece of engineering,” Laryea concedes. “But made for exhibit, not habitation. The entire outside of the house was covered in solar panels.” Laryea and his teammates had a different goal. In a way, they were in a competition of their own, in which they were competing against themselves to see if they could create something that Habitat for Humanity could use not only as a home for a low-income family in the Deanwood area of D.C. but also as an affordable housing prototype for Habitat going forward. The Stevens-Parson-Milano house won the top prize for cost-effectiveness at the Solar Decathlon.

Lakiya’s house was built based on passive house design principles. The basic concept of passive house is to lower energy consumption by being super-insulated and practically airtight. Empowerhouse has 12-inch thick walls and triple-glazed windows and, as a result, uses up to 90 percent less energy for heating and cooling than an ordinary house. Such low energy consumption enabled Empowerhouse to have one of the smallest solar panel arrays in the competition, which helps keep construction and maintenance costs down.

As anyone who worked on Empowerhouse hoped, Lakiya’s home is not the end of the dream. Habitat is gearing up to build six more passive houses in Ivy City, a short drive from Deanwood. They’ll look a bit different from Empowerhouse, more townhouses than duplex, but they’ll cost about the same and hopefully pass on the same savings.

“As much as we can afford, we would like to have the highest standard of energy efficiency available for our homeowners,” said Susanne Slater, President and CEO of D.C. Habitat for Humanity. “Our whole mission is to provide affordable housing to low income families, and if homeowners pay less in energy costs, that helps us reach that goal.”

“I really believe that with the mounting cost of electricity, passive houses with solar panels are going to take off,” said Slater. “And our homeowners are going to be out in front of the movement.”

>>> You can read the original article on Climate Progress


Nature and neighbourhoods: Milwaukees’s Urban Ecology Centres

Posted in Models by Jessica Bird on January 14th, 2013

Source: Urban Milwaukee, via Tim Beatley
UECValley

Photo by Alec Brooks from Urban Milwaukee website.

From ‘Rise of the Urban Ecology Center‘ by Peggy Shulz

How a small non-profit in a trailer in Riverside Park rose to become a major player with centers erected in three county parks. “Save the park.” That was the single, not-so-simple goal of a very loosely organized group of concerned residents of Riverside Park in the early 1990s. Little did they know that two decades later, a trio of nationally recognized ecology education centers would grow out of their efforts. Today, school children in three distinct neighborhoods — Riverside Park, Washington Park and Menomonee Valley — boast an Urban Ecology Center where children learn about ecology and their environment through a wide range of programs and activities, including “outdoor laboratories,” a full year of trips for students at nearby schools, after-school programs and preschool programs. […]

The site of the original UEC, Riverside Park, was designed in 1865 by Frederick Law Olmsted as the western anchor of Newberry Boulevard, with Lake Park serving as the eastern anchor. In the years since the park was created, it had fallen into disrepair. With the intent of building an MPS middle school, a square block and a half of homes to the south of the original Riverside Park were torn down, beginning in the late 1960s. That land then stood mostly vacant for decades, with the exception of occasional garden plots. Even before all the homes were demolished, though, MPS changed its plans. By 1991, the entire expanse had become crime-ridden, including the area between what was by then a bike trail (but had earlier been railroad tracks) and the Milwaukee River. It was filled with trash and invasive plant species.

It was time to reclaim the park, but the concerned neighbors weren’t at all sure how they were going to do it. After a lot of thought, they decided to begin by cleaning it up, with the ultimate goal of using the park to teach neighborhood children about ecology and being friends of the earth. Litter and crime would be replaced with learning. A doublewide trailer was placed just north of Park Place and east of the bike trail. […] It wasn’t until 2004 that the award-winning Riverside Park location of the Urban Ecology center opened. […] The center now manages the county-owned portion of the parkland with volunteers. A capital campaign followed shortly thereafter, based on the long list of schools that already had asked to have their students participate in UEC activities. The early goal of saving Riverside Park was realized. “We essentially turned a problem into an asset,” [executive director Ken] Leinbach said. “The land was healed with volunteers, and kids were learning about their environment.”

Just as the Riverside Park location grew out of a desire to save the park, the Washington Park and Menomonee Valley sites were “natural” areas in the city that needed restoration. According to Leinbach, in planning all three locations UEC took certain factors into account: a nearby body of water, woods and fields; proximity to schools; and some measure of wealth in the surrounding neighborhood. “We knew we needed the neighbors’ help to sustain our program economically,” Leinbach explained. The mission of all three UEC sites can be boiled down to “intentionally/institutionally getting kids connected to nature with adult mentors,” Leinbach said. The founders never intended the center to be a model for anyone else. “I think you do something and it can become a model, if it works,” Leinbach said. “You don’t set out to create a model.” But it has turned into one, even internationally. […]

Dennis Grzezinski, a UEC board member, describes three aspects of the center that have contributed to its success: environmental education, a community center and a nature center. The variety of programming is based on just a few primary concepts, Grzezinski said. “Proximity of the students to the center promotes deeper relationships between the students and the educators as mentors or models,” he said. Schools that participate must be within a 2-1/2 mile radius. That makes it easier for the students to return to the center over and over and establish a connection to a natural place that has different seasons, where they can plant bushes and trees and watch them grow over time. […] “This organization … comes from humble, common-sense, low-budget origins,” Grzezinski said. “We do things on a shoestring budget. Environmentalism is about using resources carefully and not wasting them.”

When Leinbach was studying environmental education in graduate school, he recalls thinking that the world is a fragile place and we humans weren’t helping. Through the Urban Ecology center’s three locations, many humans are helping —reclaiming, rebuilding and maintaining fragile, natural places for the long term, and creating a stronger sense of community in the process.

>>> You can read the full article on Urban Milwaukee.
>>> You can learn more about the Urban Ecology Centers on their website.


Seed Matters: Sowing more good

Posted in Movements by Jessica Bird on December 12th, 2012


Screenshot from the Seed Matters website.

An initiative of the Cliff Bar Family Foundation, Seed Matters is dedicated to protecting and ameliorating organic seed, thus increasing the abundance of healthy, nutritious crops that benefit both people and the planet. Their goals are to ‘conserve crop genetic diversity, promote farmers’ roles and rights as seed innovators and stewards, and reinvigorate public seed research and education.’ The Seed Matters website tells the story of seed, about the programs aimed at achieving their goals, and how you can get involved. Oh, and the website is really quite beautiful. – [JB]

From ‘Why Seed Matters: We reap what we sow‘ on the Seed Matters site:

We probably don’t think about it when we sit down to eat our cereal in the morning or tuck the kids into cotton sheets at night, but it all starts with seed.  Seed matters. And the seed we sow affects the quality, nutrition, cost and environmental impact of all the food we eat and every fiber we wear.

It’s time we sow more good. The last several decades of industrial agriculture have developed seed that is suited to intensive chemical agriculture. While this has sometimes resulted in higher yields, it has come with very real costs. Unintended consequences include air and water pollution, increased pesticide use, greater dependence on fossil fuels, degraded soil health, and the loss of biological and genetic diversity. These are facts.

The success of diverse, regional, and resilient food systems requires a different approach to seed – an organic approach.

And yet, today’s farmers don’t have access to sufficient seed developed for organic systems. Worldwide, 95% of organic farmers rely on seed bred for conventional, high-input chemical agriculture. There’s an alternative. Organic plant breeding can increase yields, improve nutrition, and reduce usage of pesticides, fertilizer, and energy. We invite you to join us – engage and grow the work of improving organic seed systems.

>> Find out more from Seed Matters


Seasonal Calendars: learning from Indigenous ecological knowledge

Posted in Models, Research by Jessica Bird on November 14th, 2012


Seasonal calendar from the Ngan’gi language group in the Northern Territory (TRaCK)

From the SBS Podcast Indigenous weather knowledge bridges gap by Naomi Selvaratnam

Indigenous communities across northern Australia have helped to develop seasonal calendars using their environmental knowledge. The calendars detail the changes in plant and animal life across the year, and can include as many as 13 seasons.

Darwin-based CSIRO researcher, Emma Woodward says the project highlights the importance of incorporating Indigenous knowledge into scientific research projects. She told Naomi Selvaratnam the value of indigenous knowledge is frequently underestimated by scientists.

The following comes from the CSIRO about the most recently released seasons calendar from the Gooniyandi language group in the Fitzroy Valley in the Kimberly.

The Mingayooroo – Manyi Waranggiri Yarrangi, Gooniyandi Seasons calendar was developed by key knowledge-holders of the Gooniyandi language group from the Fitzroy Valley in the Kimberley and CSIRO, as part of a Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge project on Indigenous socio-economic values and rivers flows in northern Australia.

The seasonal cycle recorded on the calendar follows 4 main seasons: Barranga (‘very hot weather time’); Yidirla (‘wet season time when the river runs’); Ngamari (‘female cold weather time’) and Girlinggoowa (‘male cold weather time’). Gooniyandi people closely follow meteorological events, including wind speed and direction, clouds and rain types, as each event is linked to different behaviours of animals. Gooniyandi people can therefore look to the weather to tell them when it is the best time for hunting and collecting different plants and animals.

The Gooniyandi Seasons calendar represents a wealth of Indigenous ecological knowledge. The development of the calendar was driven by a community desire to document seasonal-specific knowledge of the Margaret and Fitzroy Rivers in the Kimberley, including the environmental indicators that act as cues for bush tucker collection. The calendar also addresses community concern about the loss of traditional knowledge, as older people from the language group pass away and younger people are not being exposed to Indigenous ecological knowledge.

>>> You can listen to the podcast on SBS World News Radio and download the Gooniyandi seasons calendar from CSIRO.
>>> You can also access seasonal calendars for other Indigenous groups from TRaCK (Tropical Rivers and Coast Knowledge) research hub.


Agroecology versus Industrial Agriculture: Infographic

Posted in Models, Tools by Jessica Bird on September 27th, 2012

Source: Nourishing The Planet

Infographic by The Christensen Fund

From the Infographic ‘Soil to Sky: of agroecology versus industrial agriculture’ by The Christensen Fund

In order to feed our world without destroying it, an holistic type of agriculture is needed, and we have a choice. Here we compare the current high-input industrial system with a renewed vision for agriculture: the agroecolocial system. […]

Agroecological strategies can better feed the world, fight climate change and poverty, and protect soil and water while maintaining healthy, liveable communities and local economies. Industrial agriculture contributes to climate change, malnutrition and ecosystem degradation around the planet. It has not delivered on its promise to feed the world.

Go to the post on Nourishing the Planet for a higher resolution version.


Australia’s transition to a post carbon future: Post Carbon Pathways report

Posted in Movements, Research by Jessica Bird on April 11th, 2012


Image source: AAP 

From What Australia can learn from the world’s best de-carbonisation policies by John Wiseman and Taegen Edwards

Around the world an increasing number of detailed policy road maps are demonstrating the possibility, necessity and urgency of a rapid transition to a just and sustainable post carbon future. The key barriers to this transition are social and political, not technological and financial.

The Post Carbon Pathways report, published by the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne and the Centre for Policy Development has reviewed 18 of the most comprehensive and rigorous post carbon economy transition strategies. As Australia enters the next phase of the climate change policy debate, this report will provide vital information on how other jurisdictions are designing and implementing large-scale plans to remove carbon from their economies. The review focuses on transition road maps produced by governments with the strongest emissions reduction targets, such as Germany, Denmark and the UK. It also looks at the most comprehensive and influential non-government authored strategies such as Zero Carbon Britain, Zero Carbon Australia and World in Transition (German Advisory Council on Global Change). Our analysis of these diverse ways of reaching a post-carbon future highlights several key lessons.

The window is closing fast
A wide range of detailed national and global level strategies demonstrate the technological and economic feasibility of rapidly moving to a post carbon economy. This goal can still be achieved at the scale and speed required to significantly reduce the risk of runaway climate change. But the gateway for effective action is rapidly closing. Decisive action in the next five to ten years will be critical. There is a crucial difference between transition strategies that advocate a pragmatic and evolutionary approach and those that advocate more rapid and transformational change. […]

Technology is not the most significant barrier
Analysis of these strategies shows that technological barriers are not the most significant obstacles to a fair and swift transition to a post carbon economy. The integrated suite of technological and systemic changes needed to reach a just and sustainable post carbon future will clearly need to include:

  • rapid reductions in energy consumption and improvements in energy efficiency
  • rapid replacement of fossil fuels by renewable energy
  • significant investment in forests and sustainable agriculture to draw down and sequester carbon into sustainable carbon sinks.

We already have the technologies to achieve emission reductions at the required speed and scale. Soaring investment in technological innovation, particularly in the United States, China and Germany, is driving down the price of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies at a remarkable speed.

Financial and economic barriers: significant but not insurmountable
The economic and social costs of failing to take action to reduce emissions are becoming increasingly clear – as are the multiple employment, health and environmental co-benefits of a swift transition to a post carbon economy. Most strategies advocate a mix of market based and regulatory mechanisms, underpinned by clear long-term emissions reduction targets. Some authors however remain cautious of relying too much on carbon pricing. They recommend additional, more direct interventions such as:

  • binding renewable energy targets
  • feed-in tariffs
  • eliminating fossil fuel subsidies
  • allocating the funds to close fossil fuel power stations.

Strategies with emissions reduction targets that are more strongly informed by climate science also commonly advocate a significant shift towards economic priorities which focus on improving social and ecological wellbeing rather than unconstrained growth in material consumption.  […]

There is no solution to climate change without climate justice
Intergenerational justice – the need to respect and protect the livelihoods and opportunities of future generations – remains the most powerful ethical justification for taking prudent and decisive climate change action now. There is also widespread recognition that political support for a rapid transition to a post carbon economy depends on implementing policies to overcome key social equity challenges – within and beyond national borders.

The key barriers are social and political
The biggest barriers preventing a rapid transition to a post carbon future are social and political – not technological and financial. The difficulty of securing and sustaining broad social and political support is widely recognised as the greatest barrier to a swift transition to a post carbon economy. The most significant gap in post carbon economy transition strategies is a lack of detailed game plans for mobilising political leadership and public support. Worryingly, even the most optimistic of the social change theories underpinning these strategies, tend to rely on a variety of ‘Pearl Harbor’ scenarios in which one or more catastrophic ecological events would provide the necessary wake up call. […] The development and communication of inspiring stories and compelling images of a just and sustainable post carbon future will be particularly crucial.

Australia’s post carbon pathway leadership challenge
The Australian Government’s 2020 emissions reduction target (a 5% decrease on 2000 levels) is clearly still far from the level required for Australia to make a responsible and fair contribution to global emissions reductions. Australia’s 2050 target (an 80% decrease on 2000 levels) is more robust. But there is no detail as yet as to how this target will be achieved. Evidence from the most promising transition strategies elsewhere suggests we need a more informed and thoughtful debate about the kind of economic growth and industry mix that Australia should aim for. We need to talk about the fairest approaches to mobilising the required levels of financial, human and social capital. Most importantly, a far more visionary level of political leadership will be required in order to drive an Australian climate change debate informed primarily by climate science rather than short-term calculations of political and economic feasibility. […]

Read the article in full on The Conversation.
Read the Post Carbon Pathways briefing paper, summary report or full report.


Sustainable Restaurant Association (UK): Network for Restaurants, Suppliers & Diners

Posted in Models, Movements by Kate Archdeacon on July 6th, 2011

Via Food Climate Research Network (FCRN)

The Sustainable Restaurant Association is a not for profit membership organisation helping restaurants become more sustainable and diners make more sustainable choices when dining out. We help our member restaurants source food more sustainably, manage resources more efficiently and work more closely with their community. Our independently verified star rating system means diners can choose a restaurant that matches their sustainability priorities. We recognise restaurants as one, two or three star sustainability champions depending on how they rate against a wide range of criteria covering 14 areas of sustainability. So, whether a diner’s main concern is animal welfare or carbon reduction, the SRA and its members are committed to a change for the better. We also help keep sustainability on the news agenda at a local and national level, running campaigns on issues such as finding more sustainable fish supplies, food waste and energy efficiency.

Ways in which we’ve helped restaurants be more sustainable.

Since our launch in March 2010 we’ve provided restaurants with hundreds of practical, cost saving, sustainable solutions across our three sustainable categories. Here are just a few examples of the varied ways in which the SRA has helped our members:

  • Society – Ping Pong, with 12 sites in London, wanted to engage with a local charity working with homeless people – we put them in touch with St Mungo’s and now they are working together. [UPDATE Feb 29, 2012: Ping Pong ended up working with a different charity, according to a St Mungo’s rep who contacted SCN.]
  • Environment – Quo Vadis, in Soho, asked to us solve their waste problem. The restaurant recognised it was sending too much to landfill. We introduced them to Harrow Waste. Now nothing goes to landfill, they have installed a glass crusher, cardboard and glass is separated from the rest and they are starting to recycle paper and plastic, saving thousands of pounds in the process.
  • Sourcing – In early 2011 all 11 Leon restaurants introduced a new item on its menu – the fish finger wrap and wanted to be sure that the cod was from a sustainable source. Our extensive research proved positive and now the wrap is Leon’s bestseller – making it sustainable in every sense.
www.thesra.org/

Well worth reading the SRA 2010 Report for more detail on the way it’s been working. KA


People & Planet International Photography Competition

Posted in seeking by Kate Archdeacon on April 1st, 2011


Image © People and Planet Diary 2011

The People & Planet International Photography Competition is open to amateur and professional photographers anywhere in the world. The competition aims to select 53 photos to be published in the 2012 People & Planet: Social Justice & Environment Diary & Calendar, which raise money for a group of Australian charities .

We’re looking for 53 images of people, places or things which tell a story about a social-justice or environment issue. Photos of almost any genre will be accepted, including portraits, landscapes, animals, objects, or any combination of these. We particularly like photos which tell “good news” stories about social-justice or the environment. With 53 spots up for grabs, this is an incredible opportunity to have your photos published and achieve international fame!
You can submit up to 4 photos per entrant. All submitted photos must be accompanied by 3-5 sentences describing the image and the social-justice or environment issues which are raised by the photo. Photos will be assessed jointly with the accompanying description.

The People & Planet International Photography Competition is open to everyone, and we particularly encourage people living in the developing/majority world to enter.

1st Prize: A$1,300
2nd Prize: A$350
Diary Cover Prize: A$350 

Entries close 31 May 2011

http://peopleandplanet.org.au/photo-competition/


Hand-made hives for backyard bee-keeping

Posted in Models by Kate Archdeacon on September 6th, 2010

Source: Springwise

Beekeeping by Hans_van_Rijnberk on Flickr

Image: Beekeeping by Hans_van_Rijnberk on Flickr under CC

Keeping bees in an urban environment can be tricky and unhealthy for the bees.  Now there is now a bee keeping hive for urban farmers that also concentrates on the health of your bees while making it easy to upkeep the hive.

Read the full article.


Building Niches for Biodiversity

Posted in Research by Kate Archdeacon on August 26th, 2010

Source: Treehugger

From “Biodiversity for Low and Zero Carbon Buildings: A Technical Guide for New Build (Book Review)” by Kimberley Mok:

With major declines observed in bee, bat, bird and other critical species, it makes sense that newer built environments now being designed with zero- or low-carbon status in mind should also integrate ways to boost wildlife diversity as well. That’s the premise of Biodiversity for Low and Zero Carbon Buildings: A Technical Guide for New Build by Dr. Carol Williams.

Dr. Williams, who is associated with the UK-based Bat Conservation Trust (BCT), points out that imperfections in the craftsmanship of traditional buildings allowed certain species to find ecological niches and roosting opportunities right alongside humans.  Not so with newer, ‘air-tight’ construction, hence the need to accommodate and integrate built-in habitats for now-threatened species ranging from certain bats, owls and peregrine falcons. Thus, the book is apparently the first of its kind to consciously target biodiversity enhancement in new developments, rather than retrofitting existing structures.

Unless biodiversity is considered early on in the design process, these ever more stringent demands for increased energy efficiency of buildings will lead to losses in the biodiversity that have shared our built environment for centuries. This book addresses this issue because if we do not, there will be very few, if any, future roosting opportunities for bats or nesting opportunities for birds in our buildings. Without these measures, key species will be adversely affected by new developments; not only meaning a failure to achieve truly sustainable building, but also an erosion of the quality of life we all hope to experience in our working and home environments.

With a focus on the sustainable building process and wildlife in the United Kingdom, the book is practical in its scope, providing plenty of tables and technical information on how to size and orient suitable building elements that each particular species could call home.  There’s also valuable information on prefabricated wildlife-friendly components from various manufacturers, plus a chapter on living walls, roof gardens and artificial lighting. Full of clearly annotated architectural drawings, colour photos and well-organised information, this book will be an excellent reference for architects and developers in the sustainable building industry.

Original article by Kimberley Mok on Treehugger.