Friday, August 21, 2009

GreenWorksLinks Back-to-School Environmental News Digest

A truly good book teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hint. What I began by reading, I must finish by acting.
This week GreenWorksLinks goes back to school and looks at energy savings at institutions across the country and other items of environmental interest for returning students. While the following links are not news stories that would have made your local papers they are all steps in the right direction.

An Education in Energy Efficient Schools
Charlottesville Elementary Schools Receive Honor for Saving Energy
Global Youth United in Efforts to Stop Climate Change
Green jobs place teens in a learning environment
Wellness in the Schools
Atlanta area schools going greener
Ohio school renovates stadium with environment in mind
New 'Princeton Guide to Ecology' explores topics from climate change to community organization
Eco-Schools in the UK
LEED for Schools

Next week GreenWorksLinks looks at a project in a New York school while squeezing in a course on why the Internet goes down at inopportune times.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Emperor's new clothes - Don't be bamboozled by green clothing claims states FTC

The FTC came down on four clothing companies this week for claiming that their clothing apparel was made of bamboo and environmentally friendly. In its findings against Sami Designs LLC, doing business as (DBA) Jonäno; CSE Inc., DBA Mad Mod; Pure Bamboo LLC and; the M Group Inc., DBA Bamboosa the FTC opened a lot of eyes as its complaint went beyond greenwashing.

While the companies could have been using bamboo as the basis for their clothing lines what the cited companies were selling to consumers under a green banner was in fact rayon.

Rayon, neither a natural or synthetic fiber, begins its journey to the store shelves as a cellulose fiber. Any plant or tree - including bamboo - can be used as the basis of the fiber. During the energy intensive manufacturing process of rayon the fiber source of the plant is dissolved in harsh chemicals. The process eliminates all natural properties of the bamboo plant and any claims to the benefit of bamboo clothing run counter to the science involved. Worse yet, hazardous air pollutants are emitted in the rayon process.

“With the tremendous expansion of green claims in today’s marketplace, it is particularly important for the FTC to address deceptive environmental claims, so that consumers can trust that the products they buy have the environmentally friendly attributes they want,” said David Vladeck, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “When companies sell products woven from man-made fibers, such as rayon, it is important that they accurately label and advertise those products – both with respect to the fibers they use and to the qualities those fibers possess.”

Bamboo is not the only niche clothing market that has had troubles backing up its environmental claims.

Cotton, the undisputed king of fibers, has strayed from its roots to become a toxic environmental offender accounting for more than a quarter of all agricultural pesticide use. Organic cotton hopes to reverse that trend. Representing less than one half of one percent of global cotton production organic cotton faces an uphill battle for marketplace acceptance. An expensive proposition, organic cotton includes costly chemical process challenges to keep the boll organic in the growing and manufacturing phases. The cost threshold for consumers has led the industry to focus more of its environmental efforts on cleaner cotton.

Hemp, once an agricultural staple has seen a resurgence in popularity and applications as consumers and legislators now see the difference between hemp and its outlawed cousin cannabis. Using less land, one acre of hemp will produce as much fiber as 2-3 acres of cotton and contribute to a healthy, enriched, microbial soil life. As with cotton and bamboo clothing alternatives the problem with hemp has more to do with the unregulated manufacturing process in underdeveloped countries where the hemp is primarily milled.

Closer to home, clothing made from the durable, long fibers of hemp could be entering the mainstream sooner rather than later. Hanesbrands Inc. in partnership with Naturally Advanced Technologies Inc. announced this month that it is now developing a process facility for commercial grade organic hemp production in North Carolina.

Is America being bamboozled by misleading environmental claims? Jonäno, Mad Mod, and Pure Bamboo have agreed to settlements with the FTC and a final report may be issued at the FTC's discretion after September 10. Jonäno who has agreed to conform to the new labeling guidelines has issued a statement of its own that addresses the FTC's complaint.

Monday, August 17, 2009

'Killer spices' provide eco-friendly pesticides for organic fruits and veggies

WASHINGTON, Aug. 16, 2009 — Mention rosemary, thyme, clove, and mint and most people think of a delicious meal. Think bigger…acres bigger. These well-known spices are now becoming organic agriculture's key weapons against insect pests as the industry tries to satisfy demands for fruits and veggies among the growing portion of consumers who want food produced in more natural ways.

In a study presented here today at the American Chemical Society's 238th National Meeting, scientists in Canada are reporting exciting new research on these so-called "essential oil pesticides" or "killer spices." These substances represent a relatively new class of natural insecticides that show promise as an environmentally-friendly alternative to conventional pesticides while also posing less risk to human and animal health, the researcher says.

"We are exploring the potential use of natural pesticides based on plant essential oils — commonly used in foods and beverages as flavorings," says study presenter Murray Isman, Ph.D., of the University of British Columbia. These new pesticides are generally a mixture of tiny amounts of two to four different spices diluted in water. Some kill insects outright, while others repel them.

Over the past decade, Isman and colleagues tested many plant essential oils and found that they have a broad range of insecticidal activity against agricultural pests. Some spiced-based commercial products now being used by farmers have already shown success in protecting organic strawberry, spinach, and tomato crops against destructive aphids and mites, the researcher says.

"These products expand the limited arsenal of organic growers to combat pests," explains Isman. "They're still only a small piece of the insecticide market, but they're growing and gaining momentum."

The natural pesticides have several advantages. Unlike conventional pesticides, these "killer spices" do not require extensive regulatory approval and are readily available. An additional advantage is that insects are less likely to evolve resistance — the ability to shrug off once-effective toxins — Isman says. They're also safer for farm workers, who are at high risk for pesticide exposure, he notes.

But the new pesticides also have shortcomings. Since essential oils tend to evaporate quickly and degrade rapidly in sunlight, farmers need to apply the spice-based pesticides to crops more frequently than conventional pesticides. Some last only a few hours, compared to days or even months for conventional pesticides. As these natural pesticides are generally less potent than conventional pesticides, they also must be applied in higher concentrations to achieve acceptable levels of pest control, Isman says. Researchers are now seeking ways of making the natural pesticides longer-lasting and more potent, he notes.

"They're not a panacea for pest control," cautions Isman. Conventional pesticides are still the most effective way to control caterpillars, grasshoppers, beetles and other large insects on commercial food crops, he says. "But at the end of the day, it comes down to what's good for the environment and what's good for human health."

The "killer spices" aren't just limited to agricultural use. Some show promise in the home as eco-friendly toxins and repellents against mosquitoes, flies, and roaches. Unlike conventional bug sprays, which have a harsh odor, these natural pesticides tend to have a pleasant, spicy aroma. Many contain the same oils that are used in aromatherapy products, including cinnamon and peppermint, Isman notes.

Manufacturers have already developed spice-based products that can repel ticks and fleas on dogs and cats without harming the animals. Researchers are now exploring the use of other spice-based products for use on fruits and vegetables to destroy microbes, such as E. coil and Salmonella, which cause food poisoning.

Other scientists are currently exploring the insect-fighting potential of lavender, basil, bergamot, patchouli oil, and at least a dozen other oils from exotic plant sources in China. Funding for this study was provided by EcoSMART®, a botanical pesticide company based in Alpharetta, Ga.

Friday, August 14, 2009

GreenWorksLinks Environmental News Digest

All endeavor calls for the ability to tramp the last mile, shape the last plan, endure the last hours toil. The fight to the finish spirit is the one characteristic we must posses if we are to face the future as finishers.
This week GreenWorksLinks takes a look at gadgets, gizmos and pie-in-the-sky ideas that may or may not take off. While the following links are not news stories that would have made your local papers they are all steps in the right direction.

We begin this week with a touch of whimsy before heading to Mars and returning safely to the desert.

Low Impact Wooden Home
Magenn Air Rotor System
Biologically Inspired Ocean Power Systems
Quiet revolution
'Cloud ship' scheme to deflect the sun's rays is favourite to cut global warming
Electric car future may power a charging industry
Reduce your Carbon skateprint: K2 Eco inline skates
Extend Your Laptop Battery Life
Free Heat From An Old Window And Some Soda Cans.
EPA Puts Weight Behind EcoCAR Competition
ASU To Save $127K Annually With LEDs

This weekend marks the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. Has the environmental movement grown or stagnated since 1969?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

UN greenplex to dock at Navy Shipyard after $500 million environmental clean up

Will Hunters Point become another SF landmark?
The much maligned Hunters Point Shipyard on San Francisco Bay - a site poisoned by toxic waste for most of its 100 year life - is getting a lifeline extended to it by the UN after a $500 million cleanup that has been ongoing since the 1990s is completed.

When it's completed in 2012, the 80 000 square foot complex will be home to the UN Global Compact Sustainability Center. The think tank will address climate change challenges and include a conference center and UN offices.

"We are excited to partner with the City of San Francisco to work towards securing a sustainability center for the UN Global Compact", said Gavin Power, Deputy Director of the UN Global Compact. "California, in general, and San Francisco, in particular, have been at the forefront of environmental sustainability for many years and all the right ingredients are here. This would also have poignant significance given that San Francisco is the birthplace of the United Nations," he added.

The UN greenplex is but one component to the redevelopment of the 500 acre site. A site once so contaminated that it qualified as a Federal Superfund Site. Hunter's Point is now the focus of a $2 billion revitalization project that will see the lands transferred back to the City of San Francisco.

A major aspect of the urban renewal project is affordable housing. One-third of the more than 10 000 housing units to be developed on the site are to be set at or below market values. A key component of the housing initiative is the rebuilding of a nearby public housing development.

Encircled by 300 acres of parkland Hunters Point, as envisioned by planners, will also include an office park and retail shops in addition to the UN greenplex and housing components.

The developer, Lennar Corp., states that Hunters Point, "will be the first neighborhood in San Francisco powered entirely by clean, reliable public power."

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Bangladesh to receive additional $130 million for rural energy project

Most people in Bangladesh do not have access to electricity.
The World Bank has approved $130 million in financing to support rural access to energy in Bangladesh. This new funding builds on the Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Development Credit and is targeted toward three programs for the south Asian country on the Bay of Bengal. Financing will focus on solar home systems in rural areas, compact fluorescent bulbs (CFL) and additional energy distribution networks.

With more than 250 000 rural applications worldwide solar home systems are a cost-effective way to improve rural quality of life. The plan in Bangladesh is to provide electricity to 300 000 households through solar home applications. "Many of these households in poor areas are too remote to connect to the electricity grid and would never receive electricity through conventional electrification methods,” states Rob Floyd, Acting World Bank Country Director for Bangladesh.

In areas of the country with the highest electricity demand 10 million CFLs will be distributed to replace incandescent bulbs. The Government’s long-term objective is to replace all incandescents with 30 million CFLs in the long term. “Replacing these lamps, which will be free of charge for residential consumers, is expected to reduce the peak demand by about 360 MW,” said Raihan Elahi, Senior Energy Specialist and Task Leader for the project.

Only 40 percent of Bangladesh has access to electricity and demand is growing at a rate of over 500 MW a year. Per capita electricity generation is among the lowest in the world, at about 165 kWh per year and REREDC supports the continued renovation of the electricity distribution network. The development credit provides financing for renewable energy projects that include biomass and biogas power plants among other initiatives.

The World Bank credit is additional financing for REREDC. Since 2003 REREDC has connected 600 000 consumers to the electricity grid and constructed about 8 500 km of new distribution in addition to the solar home systems.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Declarations, warnings and goals dominate climate change news

What will the future hold for these children in Mexico?
The leaders of Canada, Mexico and the United States issued a declaration on climate change at the conclusion of the Three Amigos summit this past weekend in Guadalajara, Mexico.

President Calderón, President Obama and Prime Minister Harper as heads of the three countries meet annually at what is formally known as the North American Leaders’ Summit. Issues of climate change along with H1N1 virus and the economy were the focus of this year's discussions.

The declaration on climate change comes on the heels of United Nations Chief Ban Ki-moon stating that climate change is the most pressing issue facing the planet today. In a keynote address to the Global Environment Forum in his native South Korea, Ban Ki-moon said, "The human suffering will be incalculable," if climate change remains unchecked.

"As we move toward Copenhagen in December, we must seal a climate change deal that secures our common future," added Ban.

The North American leaders declaration addresses the Copenhagen conference. "Building on our respective national efforts, we will show leadership by working swiftly and responsibly to combat climate change as a region and to achieve a successful outcome at the 15th Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change," reads the joint statement.

North American Leaders’ Declaration on Climate Change and Clean Energy "recognizes the broad scientific view that the increase in global average temperature above pre-industrial levels ought not to exceed 2 degrees C, we support a global goal of reducing global emissions by at least 50 percent compared to 1990 or more recent years by 2050, with developed countries reducing emissions by at least 80 percent compared to 1990 or more recent years by 2050."

The 80 percent reduction in GHG from 1990 levels is the same number and time frame that the G8 countries agreed to at its July meeting in Italy. These distant targets were also agreed to by the House of Representatives in passing the ACES bill last month.

New York Governor David Paterson signed an executive order late last week that establishes a goal to reduce 80 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in the state by 2050. The executive order also creates a climate change council.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Picture your children discovering one of 30 million species

Along came a spider...

You can see the finish line. There are only a few weeks left until the kids go back to school and you are running out of ideas and things to do to keep them occupied this summer. Get them to explore the world around them with a camera and they could win a trip to National Geographic's headquarters in Washington D.C.

See the Bigger Picture is a photo contest aimed at children to examine local biodiversity through photography. With 2010 being the International Year of Biodiversity your children will have a head start on ecological issues going into the new school year.

Sponsored by National Geographic, Airbus and the Secretariat of the Convention of Biological Diversity the competition is "designed to stimulate and raise worldwide awareness on biodiversity and the preservation of threatened ecosystems amongst children, families and educators."

There are up to 30 million unknown species of plants and animals out there. Encouraging your child to look for one of them could benefit the family peace and science as well.

The campaign ends on September 8th - the children should be back in school by then.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Turning brownfields into green

A potential urban renewal site.
The province of British Columbia is dishing out $1 million to 12 brownfield projects in the western Canadian province. The cash outlay is the first major financing package of its recently formed Brownfield Renewal Strategy program. The BRS is providing up to $40,000 for preliminary site investigations and up to 85 percent of the costs for other types of work.

“The Brownfield Renewal Strategy program is focused on encouraging the redevelopment of under-used lands that have potential for community benefit,” said BC Agriculture and Lands Minister Steve Thomson. “The goal is for this funding to support the initial environmental work necessary to return these sites back into productive use. The program acts as an important catalyst for local economic growth, because for every dollar of government funding we put into these investigations, two dollars are invested by the successful applicants.”

With a scarcity of land in metropolitan areas brownfield properties are being eyed for urban renewal projects. Once deemed unpalatable to developers owing to their industrial lineage and potential site contamination, the costs associated with rehabilitating brownfield lands has dropped while the technology to clean up the lands has advanced.

Organizations such as the non-profit National Brownfield Association encourage the use of green design when developing brownfield sites. Headquartered in Chicago, the NBA acts as a resource center for public and private sector professionals in both Canada and the United States.

At the federal level in America the EPA has a brownfield website with information on how to access grants and funding, while reading up on applicable laws and statutes and success stories.

The EPA has recently provided federal stimulus funds to a number of communities nationwide from a pool of close to $7 million. The funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is intended to provide brownfield job training across the country. Tacoma, Washington received $500 000 this week to provide training for up to 200 interested job seekers.

“This brownfield job training program will put people to work in jobs that help clean up the environment and boost Tacoma’s economy,” said acting EPA regional administrator Michelle Pirzadeh.

Back in Canada, the province of BC will host the Canadian Brownfields 2009 Conference in Vancouver this fall. The October date marks the first time that the conference is being held outside of eastern Canada. The NBA's flagship "The Big Deal 2010" conference is headed to Atlanta in April.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Urban campaign launched to Green the Block

Green the Block will reach out to under-served communities.
The White House in moving forward with its clean energy economy knows that it is imperative that marginalized groups are not left behind. With $60 billion already invested in green jobs all Americans must be informed and have access to the new opportunities available.

Green the Block is a new campaign to engage and ensure that vulnerable communities are part of the process. Organized by Green For All and the Hip Hop Caucus this new initiative will "encourage education, legislative advocacy, private-sector development and youth activism." Launched on August 4, Green the Block will target communities at risk and provide them with the requisite tools to access the benefits and opportunities that arise from clean energy investments.

“Green the Block is a movement to build a clean-energy economy where everyone has a chance to succeed,” said Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, CEO of Green For All. “That starts with making sure that those who are often left out and left behind – low-income people and communities of color – have a voice and a presence in this movement. These communities also need a fair share of the economic, social and environmental benefits this transition is creating.”

Reverend Lennox Yearwood, Jr., president of the Hip Hop Caucus, states, “The building of a clean-energy economy in the United States can serve to create new pathways out of poverty for the 78 million people in this country who are presently poor or near poor.”

Yearwood adds that, "The first milestone for Green the Block will be on our National Day of Service, September 11, 2009, where we will organize Green the Block service events around the country in coordination with the President's initiative, United We Serve."

Members of the White House "Green" Cabinet were also on hand for the announcement. Secretary Shaun Donovan, Department of Housing and Urban Development said, “The transition to clean energy and the benefits from it should extend to every corner of the country and penetrate communities that have long been passed over whenever waves of economic innovation are developing.”

Under Secretary Kristina Johnson, Department of Energy, said, “Cleaner communities are more livable communities. This is a chance for us to significantly change course in our use of energy and lift up the economic fortunes of individuals and families.” To date the DOE has earmarked more than $8 billion for weatherization projects in local communities. These projects include the installation of new energy-efficient windows and doors and better forms of building and housing insulation.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Climate change a threat to beach quality

How safe is your beach?
A report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) on the state of American beaches show that climate change will make water pollution worse.

NRDC’s report – Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches – compiled with data from the EPA, illustrates that American beaches are egregiously contaminated. One of the main sources of contaminants and cause of beach closures is storm water runoff. Funneled through stormwater pipes and the sewer system, human and animal waste matter can infiltrate local beaches after heavy rains.

“Pollution from dirty stormwater runoff and sewage overflows continues to make its way to our beaches. This not only makes swimmers sick – it hurts coastal economies,” said Nancy Stoner, NRDC Water Program Co-Director. “Americans should not suffer the consequences of contaminated beachwater. From contracting the flu or pink eye, to jeopardizing millions of jobs and billions of dollars that rely on clean coasts, there are serious costs to inaction.”

Health concerns identified
According to the NRDC report the health of swimmers nationwide was compromised last year as the number of beach advisory and closings exceeded 20 000 for the fourth year in a row.

Without climate change mitigation beach conditions are expected to worsen. Exploring the effect of climate change on beachwater quality for the first time the NRDC report opines that through a combination of rising temperatures and more, intense summer storms pollution and health problems will rise.

Issues arising from climate change include health issues from pathogens found on the nation's beaches. These pathogens cause intestinal and neurological problems. The report states that health concerns from polluted beaches can be fatal for people with weak immune systems, children and the elderly.

“Nobody wants their trip to the beach to send them to the bathroom or, worse, the emergency room,” said Stoner. “It is vitally important to remember that if it has recently rained – or you see or smell a pipe discharging onto the beach – keep your head above water or avoid swimming altogether.”

Stormwater issues
Stormwater runoff - the primary source of pollution - continues to be a serious problem that has not been addressed. The NRDC suggests that federal, state and local governments act together to make beachwater quality a priority.

Proven measures to lessen the impact of climate change on beach quality include enhanced stormwater controls and filtering rain where it falls on the ground. Filtering includes green roofs, permeable pavement, rain gardens and tree boxes on city streets.

Measures such as those outlined above would help regions like the Great Lakes. Wetter than usual conditions in the area in 2008 saw a 13 percent increase in closing and advisory days. The region also happened to have one of the highest levels of contamination in the nation as 13 percent of its samples exceeded health standards. Historically, the Great Lakes region has been the dirtiest in the nation over the last four years of the NRDC reports.

Nationwide, samples containing human or animal fecal matter averaged seven percent - showing no change from 2006.More than 200 beaches are rated in the report.

Five-star ratings
Not all is gloom and doom in the report as the NRDC takes a page out of popular guide books and provide a five-star beach rating system. The ratings can help you plan your next vacation spot or warn you away from certain local beaches.

Communities that can boast of having five-star beaches include Laguna, Newport and Huntington Beach in California, Duluth, Minnesota and Ocean City, Maryland.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Special Delivery - NYC's largest green roof courtesy of USPS

Manhattan's largest green roof is perched atop the Morgan mail processing facility. The USPS facility on West 28th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues is not just NYC's largest green roof it is also one of the largest in the nation at 2.5 acres in area.

“The Postal Service is taking the lead when it comes to making a positive impact on the environment,” said Tom Samra, vice president, Facilities said at yesterday's launch. “We’re proud to dedicate our first green roof, and we are pleased to showcase this environmental oasis today in New York City.”

Green roofs are noted for the ability to reduce the energy load of the buildings they sit atop.The Morgan green roof will help the USPS meet its energy reduction target for the facility of 30 percent by 2015. Contaminants in storm water runoff that empties into city sewers will be reduced by 75 percent in the summer months, dropping to 35 percent during winter.

When built in 1933 the roof of the historic landmark was originally expected to serve as an extra mail processing station. Able to support 200 pounds per square foot the roof was deemed strong enough to withstand the added load incumbent with a green roof. Not only is the project environmentally friendly it is financially sound. Another benefit of a green roof is that it extends the life of a roof. In the case of the Morgan site the life expectancy of the roof - 50 years - is twice as long as that of a conventional roof.

Sam Pulcrano, vice president, Sustainability stated that the roof provides employees with a beautiful outdoor environment. Sitting seven stories above midtown Manhattan, the 2.2 million square foot roof offers breathtaking vistas. Landscaped with native plants and trees the postal park comes furnished with 14 certified-sustainable Brazilian wood benches and maintenance-free grass.

Sky-high accomplishments aside the USPS has also expanded its recycling program at NYC outlets. Since adding mixed paper and cardboard the post office is recycling 400 tons of materials per month. With more than 2700 tons recycled that is nearly three times the amount recycled prior to last October.

In the last 12 months, the Postal Service also has expanded its recycling program in New York City to include mixed paper and cardboard, resulting in nearly 400 tons of materials recycled each month. Since last October post offices in New York City have recycled 2,770 tons of mixed paper and cardboard, an increase of 1,861 tons, or nearly triple what was recycled in the same period the previous year.