Tag Archives: Sustainability

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.

Back and Greener Than Ever

After a hiatus that was much longer than I intended, I’m back! Once you stop doing something it gets harder and harder to start it up again, and I began seeing this blog as an obligation instead of a passion project. It was a burden to try to create content when I wasn’t really sure of the direction I wanted it to go in, but now I have a better perspective and I’m ready for an overhaul and relaunch of Urban Conserve.

I first started this blog as a school project, and I knew I wanted to write about the environment, but that’s such a broad topic and it was hard to narrow it into a precise direction. I tried writing about sustainability in my hometown of Cincinnati, calling the blog Urban Conserve, but then I sort of expanded to conservation and sustainability throughout the world, then tried to shrink it back to just Cincinnati while throwing in some DIY projects. It was a headache, and I felt like I was missing out narrowing my blog into such a tiny space. There was no room to grow.

Now, I know I want to write all-encompassing posts about urban conservation topics and news that affect cities and the environment. So now at Urban Conserve, you will find broader green posts, but with the same urban angle. You will still find DIY tips and tricks in addition to environmental news and features because you are still a large part of creating a sustainable Earth.

So past and new readers, welcome to the new Urban Conserve!

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 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/