Posts Tagged ‘Research’

Solar Energy from Existing Structures: Free Calculator

Posted in Research by Kate Archdeacon on November 11th, 2011

Source: Renewables International

Image from SEES Manual

From New software calculates a city’s potential by Sven Ullrich & Craig Morris:

Researchers at the University of Göteborg in Sweden have come up with a new computer program to analyze the potential of solar power generation and solar heat for entire cities. The program supports a wide range of data formats.

Called Solar Energy from Existing Structures (SEES), the new software collects, stores, analyzes, and graphically displays geographical data for roofs to determine their suitability for solar arrays. It calculates both the angle of solar incidence and shading from trees and nearby structures. In addition to this data, the roof angle and climate data are included with a resolution of up to an hour. The program shows building roofs in their actual environment. In the model, the sun shines on the building’s three-dimensional surroundings to correctly reveal shading, which can also be calculated for individual months and the year as a whole.

Read the full article by Sven Ullrich & Craig Morris on Renewables International.

Food Waste & Blaming the Individual: Research Article

Posted in Research by Kate Archdeacon on October 13th, 2011

Source: Food Climate Research Network (FCRN)

Photo by abbyladybug via flickr CC

From “Attitudes to and behaviours around food waste“:

This paper is written by David Evans of the Sustainable Consumption Institute. It is based on observations of ‘ordinary’ people shopping for and preparing food (19 households in all). It argues that, contrary to the prevailing view, people do know how to cook and do care about throwing food away. However it argues that the pressure to ‘eat properly’, in part a consequence of the styles promoted by celebrity chefs, gives rise to food purchasing habits that are unrealistic and give rise to waste. It concludes by suggesting ways in which food waste can be reduced – by portion resizing and by moves to “normalise the provisioning of foodstuffs that are not susceptible to rapid decay” (ie. tins, dried foods, frozen foods etc).

Reference and abstract as follows:

Evans D (2011). Blaming the consumer – once again: the social and material contexts of everyday food waste practices in some English households, Critical Public Health, 1–12


In public debates about the volume of food that is currently wasted by UK households, there exists a tendency to blame the consumer or individualise responsibilities for affecting change. Drawing on ethnographic examples, this article explores the dynamics of domestic food practices and considers their consequences in terms of waste. Discussions are structured around the following themes: (1) feeding the family; (2) eating ‘properly’; (3) the materiality of ‘proper’ food and its intersections with the socio-temporal demands of everyday life and (4) anxieties surrounding food safety and storage. Particular attention is paid to the role of public health interventions in shaping the contexts through which food is at risk of wastage. Taken together, I argue that household food waste cannot be conceptualised as a problem of individual consumer behaviour and suggest that policies and interventions might usefully be targeted at the social and material conditions in which food is provisioned.

Read the article and related links on FCRN.

Or read about it on the SCI website.


Call for Papers: Sustainable Urban Transformation

Posted in Research, seeking by Kate Archdeacon on August 25th, 2011

Image: GiorgioAntonio via flickr CC

A  Special Issue of the Journal of Cleaner Production on Sustainable Urban Transformation

The emerging concept of “Sustainable Urban Transformation” places the emphasis on understanding cities as a source of possibilities, promoting active collaboration among diverse stakeholders (particularly researchers and practitioners), and integrating different perspectives and bodies of knowledge and expertise.

This Special Issue on “Sustainable Urban Transformation” calls for contributions that advance knowledge and understanding related to a range of topics, including: governance and planning, innovation and competitiveness, lifestyle and consumption, resource management and climate mitigation and adaptation, transport and accessibility, buildings, and social interaction and public space.

Contributions can address some or all of these dimensions. Contributions that address relevant issues that are creatively beyond these categories will also be welcomed. Authors are encouraged to highlight and explore examples of city initiatives that clearly document “walking the talk” of sustainable development.

Extended Abstracts due October 15, visit the site for more information.


Urban Agriculture Potential: Report

Posted in Movements, Research by Kate Archdeacon on August 23rd, 2011

Source: The City Fix

Sembradores Urbanos in Mexico City, photo by K. Archdeacon

From “New Report: The Potential for Urban Agriculture” by Itir Sonuparlak:

A new report by the Urban Design Lab (UDL) of Columbia University’s Earth Institute explores the potential for urban agriculture in New York City. The report, “The Potential for Urban Agriculture in New York City,” complements the existing discussion on sustainable cities. Developing agricultural spaces within or near urban areas has a great potential to reduce food transportation costs and environmental effects, as well as provide opportunities for economic development and diminish the disparities in access to healthy foods. In order to become a viable option to food production for the masses, urban agriculture must overcome challenges of scalability, energy efficiency and labor costs.

To understand the capacity of New York City’s crop production, UDL’s report aims to answer how much land could be productively used for agriculture and how much crop could realistically be grown in the given land. When it comes to the benefits of urban agriculture in New York City, the study also considers factors like food security, storm water runoff and sewer overflow mitigation, urban heat island effect, energy consumption, waste reduction, as well as opportunities for composting for agricultural purposes.

The study highlights 12 key findings:

  • Urban agriculture can play a critical role as productive green urban infrastructure.
  • Urban agriculture can play an important role in community development.
  • There is a substantial amount of land potentially available for urban agriculture in NYC.
  • Intensive growing methods adapted to urban spaces can result in yields per acre which greatly exceed those of conventional production techniques.
  • While urban agriculture cannot supply the entire city with all of its food needs, in certain neighborhoods it can significantly contribute to food security.
  • There is a need for cost/benefit analyses that reflect the full complexity of the city’s social and environmental challenges.
  • NYC’s rooftops are a vast, underused resource that could be transformed for food production.
  • Bureaucratic challenges are a major barrier to the expansion of urban farming.
  • Existing infrastructure has the potential to support the expansion of urban agriculture.
  • Urban farmers are establishing viable businesses by taking advantage of multiple revenue streams.
  • Urban agriculture is part of a broader horticultural approach to urban greening that encompasses more than fruits and vegetables.
  • Urban agriculture functions as a catalyst for larger food system transformations.
Read the full article by Itir Sonuparlak for a summary of the above points, or download the report.

Keeping Stormwater Out of the Sewer System: Green Roofs

Posted in Models, Research by Kate Archdeacon on June 6th, 2011

Source: Environmental Research Web

From “Columbia researchers find green roof is a cost-effective way to keep water out of sewers“:

Green roofs like the one atop a Con Edison building in Long Island City, Queens can be a cost-effective way to keep water from running into sewer systems and causing overflows, Columbia University researchers have found. The Con Edison Green Roof, which is home to 21,000 plants on a quarter acre of The Learning Center, retains 30 percent of the rainwater that falls on it. The plants then release the water as vapor, the researchers said in the study (

If New York City’s 1 billion square feet of roofs were transformed into green roofs, it would be possible to keep more than 10 billion gallons of water a year out of the city sewer system, according to the study led by Stuart Gaffin, research scientist at Columbia’s Center for Climate Systems Research. New York City, like other older urban centers, has a combined sewer system that carries storm water and wastewater. The system often reaches capacity during rains and must discharge a mix of storm water and sewage into New York Harbor, the Hudson River, the East River and other waterways. Con Edison built the green roof and formed its research partnership with Columbia in 2008. The partners saw the green roof and an adjoining white roof as an outdoor laboratory for environmental research. Gaffin’s team found last year that the green roof and white roof save energy and reduce urban air temperatures. Under its “cool roofs” program, Con Edison has turned many roofs on company facilities white to save energy and protect the environment.

“The information we are collecting from Con Edison’s roofs is invaluable in helping us determine the costs and benefits of green infrastructure projects,” Gaffin said. “Without solid data from experiments like this, it is impossible for us to know which projects are the best options for protecting the environment.” “When we built our green roof we were confident that researchers from Columbia would gain important knowledge about protecting the environment,” said Saddie Smith, vice president for Facilities for Con Edison. “Three years later, it’s clear that our project has helped us understand how roofs can save energy, cool the atmosphere and prevent storm water runoff.”

The researchers used instrumentation to measure sunlight, and other forms of energy entering and leaving the green roof. That data allowed them to calculate the amount of energy leaving the roof in the form of water vapor. The study concluded that based on the cost of building and maintaining a green roof it costs as little as 2 cents a year to capture each gallon of water.

This article is from Columbia University via Environmental Research Web.

Pros and Cons of Re-Manufacturing: MIT Energy Analysis

Posted in Research by Kate Archdeacon on May 24th, 2011

Source: Environmental Research Web

Image: Truck PR via flickr CC

From “When is it worth remanufacturing?“:

It seems like a no-brainer: Remanufacturing products rather than making new ones from scratch – widely done with everything from retread tires to refilled inkjet cartridges to remanufactured engines – should save a lot of energy, right? Not so fast, says a new study by researchers at MIT. In some cases, the conventional wisdom is indeed correct. But out of 25 case studies on products in eight categories done by a team led by Professor of Mechanical Engineering Timothy Gutowski, there were just as many cases where remanufacturing actually cost more energy as cases where it saved energy. And for the majority of the items, the savings were negligible or the energy balance was too close to call.

Why are the new results so different from what might have been assumed? The MIT team looked at the total energy used over the lifetime of a product – a life-cycle analysis – rather than just the energy used in the manufacturing process itself. In virtually all cases, it costs less money and less energy to make a product from the recycled “core” – the reusable part of the product – than to start from scratch. But the catch is that many of these remanufactured products are less energy efficient, or newer versions are more energy efficient, so the extra energy used over their lifetime cancels out the savings from the manufacturing stage.


Gutowski emphasizes that this research does not necessarily suggest a specific course of action. For any given product, there may be other reasons for preferring the remanufactured version even if it produces a net energy penalty. For example, remanufacturing may reduce the burden on landfills, reduce use and disposal of some toxic materials, or produce needed jobs in a particular area. And the expanded use of cell phones may have important social benefits, such as contributing to the recent wave of revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East. “We’re not saying you shouldn’t do it,” he says – just suggesting that it’s worth understanding the decision’s effects in their entirety. “You think you’re doing the right thing, it sounds so simple,” Gutowski says. But when it comes to understanding the true impact of purchasing decisions on energy use, “things are far more complicated than we expect.”

Interested?  Read the full article from MIT on Environmental Research Web.

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.

From Resilience Theory To Practice: 11 Commandments

Posted in Research by Kate Archdeacon on April 6th, 2011

Source: Stockholm Resilience Centre: Research for governance of social-ecological systems.

Photo of Neural Sky by rox sm via flickr CC

From “The 11 Commandments: Brian Walker presents 11 issues to think about when applying resilience theory“:

[Stockholm Resilience Centre Senior Research Fellow] Brian Walker has been instrumental in formulating social-ecological resilience theory. At a time when resilience has become a widespread term used by scientists, politicians, business leaders, NGOs and other practitioners alike, Walker is starting to see the need to develop ideas on how to apply resilience theory into practice.

“This need has become apparent in my work with a range of different practitioners, from Australian farmers hit by climate change effects and global economic trends to the government officials who have to develop appropriate policies. It becomes doubly difficult when you’re dealing with regions that involve more than one country, like the Arctic”, says Walker. “Generally, the resilience concept is a very useful tool in communicating with practitioners. A common problem, however, is that people tend to focus too much on one scale — the scale that most concerns them. A lot remains to be done when it comes to the practical work of implementation”, he continues.

At the recent Resilience 2011 conference in Arizona, Walker presented 11 areas where more attention is needed in order to tackle problems with applying resilience ideas:

  1. You cannot understand or manage a system by focusing on one scale.
  2. Increasing resilience at one scale can reduce resilience at other scales.
  3. Social-ecological systems are essentially self-organizing systems with thresholds.
  4. Thresholds can move.
  5. There is a hierarchy of thresholds with some embedded within others.
  6. Trying to make the system very resilient in one way can lead to loss of resilience in others.
  7. While theory development around specified resilience (identifying thresholds, etc.) is active and encouraging, the theory on general resilience lacks rigour and needs research.
  8. Both specified resilience and general resilience are important and interact.
  9. The proposition of panarchy has become popular and widely used, as a concept, but it, too, lacks rigour in application.
  10. Resilience and transformability are not “opposites”; they are compatible aspects of a complex adaptive system that functions at multiple scales.
  11. Navigating the combined influences of exogenous shocks and endogenous changes calls for adaptive governance.

Read the full article for links to Brian Walker’s presentation and a video illustrating resilience in humans and ecosystems.

Peter Harper: ‘Zero Carbon Britain 2030? in Sydney

Posted in Events by Kate Archdeacon on March 30th, 2011

Zero Carbon by 2030 – Britain’s dream or reality?

Technology says we can. Science says we must. Is it time to say we will?

SPEAKER: Peter Harper, Centre for Alternative Technology (UK), Coordinator Zero Carbon Britain

Two public lectures by UK scientist Peter Harper, from the Centre of Alternative Technology (CAT), in Wales on ZeroCarbonBritain 2030 – a plan offering a positive realistic, policy framework to eliminate emissions from fossil fuels within 20 years. Zero Carbon Britain(ZCB) brought together leading UK’s thinkers, including policy makers, scientists, academics, industry and NGOs to provide political, economic and technological solutions to the urgent challenges raised by climate science.

Governments and businesses seem paralysed and unable to plan for a rapid transition to a low-carbon economy. ZCB shows what can be done by harnessing the voluntary contribution from experts working outside their institutions. The ZCB report,released in June 2010, provides a fully integrated vision of how Britain can respond to the challenges of climate change, resource depletion and global inequity, with the potential for a low-carbon future to enrich society as a whole.

During lectures in Melbourne and Sydney, Peter will explore how we can ‘Power Down’ demand in the built environment, transport, land use and institute behavioural change, then ‘Power Up’ the energy system with renewables. He’ll outline the key thinking behind the report, including why a low carbon economy is an investment in the future, and look at the ways sustainable community based and multi-lateral initiatives will concurrently inform a global energy infrastructure.

Sydney, Tuesday 19 April, 6.30-8pm, Vestibule, Sydney Town Hall

Please register your attendance by Friday 15 April to

Presented by the British Council, VEIL (Victorian Eco-Innovation Lab), Banksia Environmental Foundation, Key Message and the City of Sydney.


Beyond Food Miles: Some Types Of Food Take More Energy

Posted in Research by Kate Archdeacon on March 17th, 2011

Source: PostCarbon Institute

Image: renatamiyagusku via flickr CC

From “Beyond Food Miles” by Michael Bomford:

NOTE: The following article is concerned strictly with the energy equation of the food system and is intended to stimulate questions about how best to grow, transport, store and prepare (ideally local) foods. There are many reasons to favor local food, including supporting local economies and building local food security.

A locavore is “a person who endeavors to eat only locally produced food.”[1] What better diet could there be for an energy constrained world? After all, feeding Americans accounts for about 15% of US energy use,[2] and the average food item travels more than 5,000 miles from farm to fork.[3] It seems obvious that eating locally will go a long way to reducing food system energy use. Yet cracking the case of America’s energy-intensive food system demands that we look beyond the obvious.

A local diet can reduce energy use somewhat, but there are even more effective ways to tackle the problem. Single-minded pursuit of local food, without consideration of the bigger picture, can actually make things worse from an energy perspective.[4]

If you realize you’re spending too much money, the first thing to do is figure out where it’s going. Cutting back on pizza won’t make much difference if you’re spending most of your money on beer. Similarly, the first step in reducing food system energy use is to figure out where all the energy is going. That’s what a team of economists working for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) did last year, in a report called “Energy Use in the US Food System“.

The report contains some surprises. Transportation is the smallest piece of the food system energy pie. Even farming isn’t a particularly big contributor. The big energy users turn out to be food processing, packaging, selling, and preparation. Our kitchens command the biggest slice of the pie, using twice as much energy as the farms that grew the food in the first place.


Read the full article by Michael Bomford at the Post-Carbon Institute for more information and access to the end-notes included above.