Tag Archives: Green

What Makes a City Green?

Copenhagen. Portland. Bogotá. Even though these cities are scattered across different continents, there is at least one thing they have in common in terms of function and culture: They are considered to be some of greenest cities in the world.

What do these cities do to become world leaders in urban conservation? From transportation to harnessing solar power, their policies and actions can help be applied to your city or town to create a more sustainable environment.

Here are some examples of what makes a city green:

Efficient Public Transportation and Biking

bike-lane-sign

One thing top green cities have in common is their public transportation and the prevalence of bike lanes and bike-friendly commuting.

Sustainable cities have more efficient and accessible public transportation from subways to metros. Los Angeles has lanes specifically for their buses. Portland, Ore. utilized the city’s layout to build light rails.

Metro bus lines are also working hard to become an easier option than driving to your destination. Metros that rework their master plan can make more direct routes and less stops, making transit by bus quicker, so it allows commuters to leave their cars at home, and some cities are decking out buses with new technology to make them greener. For example, Reykjavik has made the switch to hydrogen powered buses.

Green cities also put a heavier emphasis on biking instead of driving, but biking in high density urban areas can be a challenge if there are no viable options other than riding in the street, which often is a safety risk.

Cities like Copenhagen and Malmö, Sweden combat this by installing separate bike lanes. Other cities are taking action by getting buses to allow bikes on board for longer trips and creating bike sharing programs. Right now in Copenhagen, 33 percent of commuters choose to go by bike, and that number is expected to grow to 50 percent by 2015.

Using Local, Renewable Sources

solar-panels-871284454772qkB9

Solar energy, hydroelectric power and geothermal energy are all renewable sources that eco-friendly cities harness to be more sustainable.

Solar energy is probably the easiest energy to obtain and it can be used in both smaller and larger capacities. For example, Chicago, Vancouver and Philadelphia have solar-powered trash compactors. These cans from BigBelly Solar are the size of a normal garbage can, but its solar panels allow it to operate without electricity and it acts as a trash compactor, allowing five times as much garbage in a single bag.

Solar panels are also used to operate buildings. The Cincinnati Zoo recently installed solar panels over their parking lot, making it the biggest publicly accessible solar panel display in the country. The energy harvested from these panels are used to operate the entire zoo, and on sunny days the zoo can operate fully off the grid. Any leftover energy can be stored and used on cloudy days and throughout the winter when daylight is weaker.

Some cities have other renewable energy options available to them due to their geographical locations. Reykjavik is completely powered by renewable energy because they are surrounded by geothermal energy which can be converted into clean energy. Ninety percent of Vancouver is powered by renewable energy through hydroelectric, solar, wave, wind and tidal energy.

Leadership

White House Leadership Summit on Women, Climate and Energy
White House Leadership Summit on Women, Climate and Energy

In the end, creating sustainable cities comes down to leaders who are serious about environmental policy and who want to make an impact. From a single citizen to the local or national government, anybody can be a green leader. Portland became green because its city’s government was the first in the United States to take climate change seriously. Their planning and lawmaking allowed for the changes necessary to make their city sustainable.

Leaders both in science and government made it possible for Iceland to harness geothermal energy and run their capital entirely on it. Business can make changes by building to LEED standards.

Saving the environment relies on leadership, and that all comes down to every single person. You can take action by making small changes like riding the bus or biking to work and by voting for politicians at all levels of government who want to use their position to make the city or country greener.

Green Collar Jobs

As the green industry is growing, there are jobs available even in these economic times. While other areas of industry are suffering, green careers seem to be the new wave of the future. This is great because it’s predicted that green jobs are going to be sustainable as many more people are getting involved in conservation and going green. In this era of the green economy these are the job that are projected to be in high demand:

1. Solar Power Installer

Much of our energy is now being harvested from the sun. After being proven incredibly effective, solar power is becoming much more prominent and many places are making the switch to save money. So anyone going into construction might consider specializing in installing solar-thermal water heaters and rooftop photovoltaic cells as they are in increasing demand.

2. Conservation Biologist

The direction of our education is steadily becoming more focused on the sciences as that is the direction our economy is heading. If you majored in science in college, you could be a great conservation biologist. There is a renewal in the desire to preserve the environment, so there is a growing demand for scientists who are knowledgeable and willing to study and work with ecosystems and wildlife.  This will also open opportunities to teach or participate in research.

3. Urban Planner

As the urban aspect of environmentalism is the focus of this blog, the job of urban planner needs to be included. Urban planners are key to lowering America’s carbon footprint.Urban planners are responsible for designing metropolises so the flow of potential problems, many of the environmental like garbage and flooding, is limited. Employment in this sector is projected to grow 15 percent by 2016.

 

DIY Compost Pile

Last week I wrote about how you can actually use egg shells in your compost pile, but then I realized I haven’t written anything about starting a compost pile. It’s actually really simple and really effective if you like to garden. You can even start a compost bin in an apartment. Here’s how you get started:

1. Get a bin

You can actually just make a compost pile an actual pile, but everyone recommends getting a bin for the sake of neatness and organization. Also if you plan on composting food scraps, it’s better for keeping the animals away. Below is what a typical compost bin looks like:

This commercial bin stacks for easy turning.

Ideally, you’ll want a bin that is about a cubic yard, but you can work with one that’s smaller.

2. Green, brown and everything in between

A good mixture of green and brown scraps is recommended. Green scraps such as grass trimmings, young weeds and comfrey leaves provide nitrogen to the pile and generates heat. Brown scraps are high in carbon and add fiber. You can use dead plants, autumn leaves and even cardboard to give this kick to your compost. Coffee grounds, hair and paper towels can also be composted, but use these items sparingly.

Make sure you mix everything in the bin really well too. You want to layer it so it’s even and there’s no compact areas of green or brown. Depending on the materials you have available either do a mixture of 3 parts brown to 1 part green, or half and half. Use a pitchfork or a shovel to turn your pile once a week to ensure the mixture keeps decomposing.

3. Maintain

Like I said above, you need to turn the pile once a week. This keeps the air flowing through the pile to help the  anaerobic decomposition. But you also want to keep the pile damp. Depending on the weather where you live, you might need to add water to it. The temperature is important also. The best way to test temperature is to feel the top of the pile. If it’s warm or hot, the compost pile is working. If not, just add more green material high in nitrogen.

4. Don’ts of Composting

Try to avoid composting bread, nuts, pasta or cooked food. They don’t break down well and cause your compost to turn slimy. Also out of health and safety reasons, never try to compost meat, bones, plastic, oil, fats, human or animal waste (ew) or magazines.

Give it some time then harvest it. You have been successfully sustainable!

3 Things You Can Effectively Reuse

I was watching TV the other night when a commercial came on. CBS Cares was advocating for reusing items instead of trashing them. I was so excited! Then I saw them drop a coin into a bank fashioned out of a pop liter, and I raised my eyebrows.

Look CBS, I know you care, but who is going to want to keep a pop bottle piggy bank around for years? Eventually it’s going to end up in a landfill anyways. Don’t misunderstand me, a pop bottle piggy bank is very clever, but there are items you can reuse more effectively. So I wanted to name a few:

1. Eggshells

Eggshells are great for composting. They decompose quickly and enrich the soil with calcium. Crushed eggshells sprinkled into the soil also acts as a great insect and pest repellent for gardens. And if you’re into Pinterest I bet you’ve seen this:

eggs

You can reuse eggshells to grow seedlings. Just fill with potting soil and plant the seeds. They transfer easily into the ground once the seedlings are too big for their containers.

Eggshells also can make coffee less bitter, just crush them up and line a coffee filter. When you’re done, toss into a compost pile if you have one.

And if you’re brave, eggshells and apple cider vinegar can even be combined to produce a home remedy for minor skin irritations.

Also, researchers at the Ohio State University are developing ways to use discarded chicken egg shells into a sustainable hydrogen fuel. Turns out these little powerhouses are all sorts of useful.

2. T-Shirts

When you don’t know what to do with your old t-shirts, don’t throw them away. Start a DIY project!

I have plenty of old t-shirts from high school that I don’t wear anymore because they’ve shrank or became worn and dingy. Instead of tossing them though, I’m always looking for ways to give them a second life. Earth 911 has some great ideas you can utilize to reuse your old shirts. Don’t worry if you’re not handy with a needle and thread, many of these ideas only require scissors or glue. I particularly like the idea of making a shirt to make a shopping bag.

Market-Tote

3. Packing Peanuts

Packing peanuts are often thought of as little environmental nightmares. While the best thing to do is find a recycling center who will take them off your hands, there are things you can do with them.

polystyrene-packing-peanuts-how-to-recycle

For one, you can save them and store them away until you need to mail something. By paying them forward, you reduce the need for more packing peanuts, and you can request the next recipient do the same. If you have a green thumb, packing peanuts can also be used in lieu of gravel for gardens and potted plants. The biodegradable variety are great for drainage and they’ll make potted plants lighter. Packing peanuts also keep ice from melting quickly. All you have to do is fill a plastic baggie with them and place them on top of ice in a cooler.

So have you ever tried reusing any of these items? Are there any household items you do reuse or are interested in their reuse potential?

Fair Trade 101

 

https://i2.wp.com/hilo.hawaii.edu/studentaffairs/ssc/images/world-fair-trade-day-logo.jpg

So my readers gave me a great idea after my last post.

While I was rambling on my soapbox about how sustainable fair trade chocolate is, they wanted to know more about fair trade itself. To be honest, I didn’t know many details when it came to fair trade. Buying fair trade was just something nice I thought I was doing, but I didn’t give it much thought beyond that. Now that I know the impact of it, I decided to write a little beginner’s crash course. Let’s begin, shall we?

What is Fair Trade?

The official definition from the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO):

Fair Trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade.  It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalizes producers and workers-especially in the South.  Fair Trade Organizations (backed by consumers) are engaged actively in supporting producers, awareness raising and in campaigning for changes in the rules and practice of international trade.

Fair trade is exactly what it sounds like; it’s the fair exchange of money for goods like coffee, tea, chocolate, jewelry, furniture and art. It’s a global economic model that empowers farmers and producers, especially those working in developing countries, by cutting out needless middlemen and paying providers a fair wage for their goods. The diagram below shows the efficiency and practicality of fair trade versus that of the traditional model:

The Price of Fair Trade

Let’s just admit it, conventional trade is a lot easier on our wallets; using coffee as an example, by comparing a bag of fair trade coffee on Amazon to a canister of coffee at the grocery store you can see a pretty big difference in price, and it’s coffee- a product many people consume on a daily basis. Twelve ounces of coffee doesn’t last long. My reader hayden44e wrote:

I hate that Fair Trade everything seems to be so expensive, although I can totally understand why. I was always a huge fan of fair trade coffee.

12 ounce bag of Fair Trade coffee: ~ $10 dollars12 ounce canister of conventional trade coffee: ~ $3
12 ounce bag of Fair Trade coffee: ~ $10
12 ounce canister of conventional trade coffee: ~ $3

The price of fair trade goods are often higher than non-certified products because when a consumer purchases fair trade, they are covering the costs of production plus a living wage (enough for food, shelter, education and medical care) for the producer. The good news is that by the laws of supply and demand, the more people who buy fair trade, the lower the price will go.  Tea, chocolate and coffee are relatively lower in cost differences because when fair trade became available, many people were willing to support it and buy these items at fair trade prices.

So if money’s tight but you really want to support fair trade, you can do what I do and buy fair trade goods when it’s convenient financially. It’s better to support fair trade every once in a while than not at all. Plus, fair trade is as much a human rights movement as it is economics, so you can always advocate for it, even when money is tight.

One of my readers, Holly, knows a lot about fair trade also. Her advice on how not to spend too much:

Findlay Market also offers a lot of green options for fair prices if places like Park + Vine are out of your price range. Even Kroger locations have been offering more and more local/green options. It’s so awesome to see the trend taking root in everyday American culture.

What Else?

By supporting and buying fair trade, you’re not only ensuring fair wages for farmers, but you’re improving communities in developing countries. Fair trade cooperatives (the farms where products are grown) often reinvest their revenue into their business and into their local communities. Not only that, but with the purchase of the cooperative’s goods, they receive funding called a social premium. This social premium in turn is used to build the local community. What the social premium is put towards often depends on the needs of the community, but the most common investments are in schools and education, healthcare, environmental projects, gender equity and business development.

Fair trade is also sustainable. In conventional trade, farmers are often forced into practices that destroy the environment. Fair trade however encourages sustainable farming methods like reforestation, water conservation and growing organic. The standards are pretty high too. You can read more about the requirements here. Fun fact: 85 percent of fair trade coffee is grown organically.

So now I know, but where do I go?

Local:

Online:

So now that you know more about the impact, are you more likely to buy fair trade goods? Is there anything you wanted to know that I didn’t cover? Class dismissed.

For more information:

World Fair Trade Organization

Green America

Fair Trade USA

Fair Trade International

Shop Green for Valentine’s Day

green heart

Valentine’s Day is coming up, but you still haven’t bought your significant other’s gift? Don’t despair, there’s still time! Better yet, it’s a great chance to add a little green to a holiday traditionally colored by reds, whites and pinks.

Fair Trade Chocolate

Fair trade is a movement setting the standard for economically fair and sustainable production of goods. Farmers involved in fair trade are encouraged to use the local natural habitat and to avoid using harmful pesticides on their products.

Wanted: For crimes against nature.
Wanted: For crimes against nature.

Chocolate is a wonderful gift for Valentine’s Day, but normal chocolate production is bad for the environment as it destroys rainforests and cacao normally is covered in pesticides. Fortunately for the chocoholic, the movement is growing so organic, fair trade chocolate is becoming more available. It costs more, but it’s definitely greener.

Where to Buy:

Living Flowers

Fresh cut flowers are pretty, but they don’t last very long, and they can get expensive as it gets closer to Valentine’s Day.

Now you’re probably thinking: “What’s the problem with fresh cut flowers? They’re natural and they just decay once they get sent to the landfill.”

Nope.

But they look so innocent.
But they look so innocent.

Jennifer Grayson explains it really well in this Huffington Post article. It basically comes down to the same problem fair trade is trying to tackle: poor working conditions. Then you have the problem of pollution while distributing the flowers across the United States, pesticides and insecticides and to top it all off they emit methane when they wilt and decay. The alternative for flower lovers? Living, blooming flowers!

Blooming flowers live much longer and are much easier on the environment. Green thumbs don’t matter; many varieties of potted plants are hardy and low maintenance. They’re easy to find too; just visit any local grocery store or garden center and opt for the potted plant instead of the cut roses, or visit Apartment Therapy for ideas on what kind of flowers to look for. Beware, some plants/flowers can be very pricey. Lowe’s carries some reasonably priced house plants that range from $3 to $35.

Where to Buy:

  • Local grocery store
  • Garden centers

Earth-friendly Consumerism

It might not sound like a good precedent to set by giving your loved one a recycled gift for Valentine’s Day, but that’s not your only option. (Although Global Good Partners has excellent recycled products.)

If you go for recycled gifts, just make sure this isn't your shopping destination.
If you go for recycled gifts, just make sure this isn’t your shopping destination.

You can buy fair trade or locally made gifts instead. The Daily Green has some great ideas for what to look for while shopping.

Also instead of the traditional, cheesy Hallmark greeting card, consider making your own! Inhabitat has a couple examples that you can utilize to make creative, personalized cards.

Where to Buy:

So how about it? Are you planning on shopping green for Valentine’s Day? What about any other time? Have you ever bought fair trade, locally made or recycled products? If so, what? Let me know in the comments! Have a great Valentine’s Day!

3 Great Green Initiatives from the Cincinnati Zoo

I took a trip to the Cincinnati Zoo this past Friday. Not just because it’s Penguin Days (although penguins are pretty awesome), but I wanted to see some of the conservation efforts the zoo has been implementing.

Back in 2010, the former governor of Ohio, Ted Strickland, called the Cincinnati Zoo “the greenest zoo in America” after it had received Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, certifications on four of their buildings. I read about all their initiatives online, but I wanted to see firsthand what is making the zoo leaders in sustainability, and while there are many, many green projects that  the zoo is responsible for, the three below are, in my opinion, the most innovative and unique.

3. Water Conservation

Rain garden sign in the Go Green Gardens
Rain garden sign in the Go Green Gardens

Storm water runoff is a huge problem in Cincinnati. Our sewer system is one of the oldest in the country, and with the growing urban population, it’s no longer built to handle the city’s needs. So when it rains, things get messy. To handle the overflow issues, the Cincinnati Zoo decided to try a few methods, one is the pervious pavement that soaks up water when it rains instead of letting it flow into the sewers. The others are literally green: rain gardens and vegetative roofs.

Rain garden outside the Schott Education Center
Rain garden outside the Schott Education Center

Rain gardens are planted in low areas with local, water-thirsty plants. They collect rainwater as it falls and runs off the pavement, reducing flooding in the zoo’s neighborhood. It’s an ideal garden for urban living as it also functions as a habitat for wildlife and it doesn’t need much space. The benefits from a rain garden also include reducing pollution and erosion and the fact that the plants’ roots will purify rain water as it runs deeper into the soil. The zoo hopes that their rain gardens in the Go Green Garden and just outside the Education Center will serve as an example to other large, urban facilities on how they can begin conserving water.

Green roof on the giraffe barn
Green roof on the giraffe barn

Vegetative roofs serve the same function as a rain garden, holding up to 75 percent of rainfall. They also are useful for reducing the urban island heat effect which increases the temperature of cities and suburbs by up to 7 degrees more than rural areas, not to mention it cuts back on pollution by filtering the air. Just like the rain gardens, the two green roofs at the zoo, one on top of the giraffe barn and the other at the Primate Center are designed as a test to see what works and what can be improved.

2. Composting and Recycling

Solar trash compactor
Solar trash compactor

I’ve always seen the green recycling bins scattered around the zoo whenever I visited, but I saw something new this time, and being the nerd that I am, I was really excited to see it: a solar trash compactor. I’m not sure how popular or widespread these are, but it’s the first time I’ve ever seen one. From BigBelly Solar, it’s a literally a smart trashcan. It goes beyond recycling to reducing the amount of waste. It uses miniature solar panels to power the compactor on and crush whatever is in it. The best things about this is that it is an on-site compactor, so it can hold up to five times a normal trashcan’s capacity, reducing the number of times it needs to be collected and taken to Rumpke. Less exhaust, less pollution.

Composting is another project the zoo is working on. With that many animals, there’s going to be a lot of waste. Not just the kind of waste I know you’re all thinking, but food scraps and bedding need to be replaced as well as leaves and grass trimmings from maintenance, and that old material needs to go somewhere. So instead of wasting it, the zoo composts it. About 7 tons of organic material are composted each week. The zoo actually is in a partnership with Marvin’s Organic Gardens, a landscaping company who only uses organic material. More than 2,700 pounds of animal waste is composted daily at Marvin’s Organic Gardens totaling up to more than 1 million pounds every year.

And finally…

1. Solar Panels

Solar canopy over the parking lot
Solar canopy over the parking lot

Solar panels aren’t exactly new technology, but the way the zoo is using them is unlike anything else. A solar canopy sits in the parking lot, sheltering cars and generating energy to power zoo. It’s made up of 6,400 panels and is the largest publicly accessible, urban solar array in the United States.  The winter sunlight is really weak, but even when my friend Rachael and I visited, the zoo was operating on 75 percent of power harvested by the solar canopy. Now imagine in the summer on a really sunny day how much solar energy the zoo collects. On those really sunny days they can operate off the grid. Not only that, but any extra energy collected on those days can be stored and saved for another time.

Control panel
The interactive green monitor allows visitors to see how much solar energy the zoo is running on at that time.

(One other good thing about the solar canopy: it protects your car. That becomes really helpful to visitors in the summer when there’s no other way to avoid getting in a stifling car with seat belt clips just waiting to burn your hands. Also, almost all of it was locally made!)

Solar panels and wind turbine in the Go Green Garden

The reason I admire the Cincinnati Zoo so much is because they’re so focused on conservation efforts with wildlife and ecosystems, they are very green energy savvy, they encourage sustainability and because they prove that even a large, urban facility can operate in an earth-friendly, eco-conscious way with little strain on the environment. There are so many more green initiatives there, and I encourage everyone to go check them out.

And of course go see the penguins:

For more information on the Cincinnati Zoo’s green initiatives go to: http://cincinnatizoo.org/conservation/go-green/green-initiative/