And the Wheels of the Bus Go Round and Round…

Bristol’s Bio Bus runs on faeces and household waste. Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA

A little over 2 years ago contributor Megan Madill wrote about one of the “Green Cities” of Europe, not to mention all the wonderful bike sharing (and bike friendly) initiatives worldwide.

But this news from the city of Bristol via the Guardian takes first prize. The innovation itself is a wonderful thing, but our applause actually goes more to the cheeky graphics.

UK’s first ‘poo bus’ hits the road

Britain’s first “poo bus”, which runs on human and household waste, goes into regular service this month. Continue reading

21st Century Alchemy

Scientists at the City University of Hong Kong can turn coffee grounds and stale bakery goods into a sugary solution that can be applied to manufacture plastic. Photograph: Alamy

Scientists at the City University of Hong Kong can turn coffee grounds and stale bakery goods into a sugary solution that can be applied to manufacture plastic. Photograph: Alamy

We frequently talk about the recycling on these pages, with an eye toward the developing awareness that the concept is no longer limited to inorganic, static materials. This recent article in the Guardian indicates that plant cellulose based plastic is just the tip of the iceberg in the possible ways to convert the mountains of food waste in many parts of the world into materials with environmental benifits.

Scientists at the City University of Hong Kong have found that they can turn coffee grounds and stale bakery goods – collected from a local Starbucks – into a sugary solution that can be used to manufacture plastic. The food waste was mixed with bacteria and fermented to produce succinic acid, a substance usually made from petrochemicals, that can be found in a range of fibres, fabrics and plastics. Continue reading

Algae Could Turn Toxic Water Into Metal and Biofuel

Contaminated water at Wheal Jane, where the Department for Environment is spending £2m a year on combating pollution. Photograph: Rex Features. Via The Guardian.

We’ve featured pieces on different biofuels before, though probably not enough of them. We’ve also recently seen an example of how science can help clean up the messes that other scientifically informed — but less environmentally scrupulous — activities create, like the new carbon-scrubbing structures that might be used in coal plants. The topic of bioremediation is one of great interest and which we plan on sharing more about, especially in the mycological realm. For now we’ll start with this story of algal bioremediation and resource recuperation in Cornwall, one of England’s most historically important mining regions. Jamie Doward reports for The Guardian:

A groundbreaking research project to clean up a flooded Cornish tin mine is using algae to harvest the precious heavy metals in its toxic water, while simultaneously producing biofuel.

If the project, which is at a very early stage, is proven to work, it could have huge environmental benefits around the world.

Continue reading

A New Break for Alaska’s Bristol Bay

Helicopter view of the area surrounding Bristol Bay, Alaska. Still image extracted from WH.gov video linked below.

We’ve hosted a good number of Alaskan “bird of the day” photos here, and we share the near-universal affinity for the charismatic Arctic mammal that is the polar bear. Two years ago, Carol Browner and John Podesta wrote an open letter on Bloomberg.com opposing any more drilling in the Arctic, and now we’re happy to announce that President Obama signed an executive order last week that bans exploration for oil and gas in Bristol Bay until another president chooses to counteract the order in the future. Read coverage by Peter Baker for the New York Times below:

Mr. Obama first put the ecologically sensitive area of the Bering Sea — home to an important population of whales, seals and sea lions — off limits to oil rigs in 2010, but that restriction was set to expire in 2017, several months after he leaves office. With the new executive memorandum that he signed in the Oval Office on Tuesday, Mr. Obama made the ban permanent unless a future president acts to reverse it and allow leasing of the waters of the bay.

“It is a beautiful natural wonder, and it’s something that’s too precious to us to just be putting out to the highest bidder,” Mr. Obama said in a one-minute video announcing his decision, which was posted on the White House website.

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The Sense in Sustainability

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Today we went to  a 68 acre fish farm in Thrissur called ‘Haya Poya’. They were using a traditional box system (the local name is petty para) to collect fish and manage the water level. We went to learn about implementing aquaculture at Kayal Villa, a newer property.

By using this traditional method, they do not have to introduce new varieties of fish in order to farm. They do this mainly because it is less costly to collect the fish naturally than to artificially introduce fish. Also, since it is all local varieties, it limits the possibility of messing up the natural ecosystem with foreign invasive species.

During our ride home, the agronomist, Mr. Deyal, and I continued the conversation about doing what’s ecologically beneficial is actually easier and more cost-efficient. He said

“Only an ecologically viable system will be economically viable. When we fight against the environment, the environment will go against us and we will have to invest more money to protect against it.”

This reminds me of a conversation I had with an oil driller recently. When I asked him what the most challenging thing about his job was, he said ‘going against nature,’ and then proceeded to tell me how rebellious nature was to the oil drilling process and how costly it is. I found it interesting that although their career choices were the antithesis of each other, the conversations I had with them had parallel messages: going against nature is costly.  Continue reading

Energy, Development and the Global Environment

Bosch is testing the viability of electric cars in Singapore. Photograph: Samuel He/Bosch

Bosch is testing the viability of electric cars in Singapore. Photograph: Samuel He/Bosch

Normally we avoid articles that look strictly like press releases promoting a PR firm’s client.  However, in this case, a couple of exceptions were allowed.  First, we like the storyline because of its relevance to three years’ worth of posts on our site.  Second, there is not one iota of obnoxious flimflam, which is what normally forces us to avoid press releases.

But, an additional component to this one really made the difference. Nearly one year ago two of Raxa Collective’s contributors had the opportunity to visit Duke University and sit in the office of the founder and director of their Center for Energy, Development and the Global Environment. A conversation that was meant to last 15 minutes continued for hours that day, because of the credible commitment that Center and its leadership are making to ensure that future business leaders see sustainability as serious business. So, we gladly pass this newsworthy article on:

When it comes to sustainability ambitions, Singapore might take the prize. The island nation, which currently relies on neighboring Malaysia for its water, is aiming for water self-sufficiency by 2050, with 55% of its water needs met via recycled water and 25% from seawater desalination. Continue reading

Tackling Tough Topics

Author Vaclav Smil tackles the big problems facing America and the world.   Andreas Laszlo Konrath

Author Vaclav Smil tackles the big problems facing America and the world. Andreas Laszlo Konrath

Thanks to this interview in Wired magazine (click the image above to go to the source) we hear a bit about the craft of a thinker-writer’s approach to major economic, environmental and technological puzzles, one book at a time, but at an amazing pace:

You’ve written over 30 books and published three this year alone. How do you do it?

Hemingway knew the secret. I mean, he was a lush and a bad man in many ways, but he knew the secret. You get up and, first thing in the morning, you do your 500 words. Do it every day and you’ve got a book in eight or nine months.

What draws you to such big, all-encompassing subjects?

I saw how the university life goes, both in Europe and then in the US. I was at Penn State, and I was just aghast, because everyone was what I call drillers of deeper wells. These academics sit at the bottom of a deep well and they look up and see a sliver of the sky. They know everything about that little sliver of sky and nothing else. I scan all my horizons. Continue reading

Shine A Light

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Green Blog shares this news about a significant innovation at the intersection of crowdfunding, renewables and community welfare in Africa and Asia:

By visiting Web sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, you can give money to any number of causes. These Web sites collect small amounts from many individuals in what is known as crowdfunding to finance everything from business start-ups to charitable causes to art projects.

While online crowdfunding is still relatively new, it has already demonstrated that many small contributions can add up. Deloitte, the accounting and consulting firm, estimates that the largest 30 crowdfunding sites raised more than $1.5 billion over the last five years, and expects that in 2013 alone the number could be $3 billion.

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Industrialized Biofuels Part 2: Brazil’s Production

This post continues my discussion of biofuels from Part 1.

Brazil contains many of the world’s biodiversity hotspots, as well as one of the most important CO­2-sinks in the form of rainforests. As the second largest sugarcane grower in the world, Brazil’s biofuel production relies heavily on sugarcane ethanol, which has one of the highest savings in GHG emissions compared to fossil fuels. However, increasing sugarcane production is not sustainable in the long-term if one of Brazil’s goals is to curtail GHG emissions, since growing more sugarcane means cutting down more rainforest. Instead, second- and third-generation (advanced) biofuels should be considered viable options for replacing sugarcane, or at least strongly supplementing it.

Continue reading

Opposition to Arctic Drilling

Illustration by Aisha Franz

Illustration by Aisha Franz

Click on the image above to read an open letter from two influential policy insiders:

Why We Now Oppose Drilling in the Arctic

By Carol Browner & John Podesta Jan 18, 2013
The Arctic Ocean is subject to some of the most volatile weather patterns on the planet. Geologists believe it also contains vast undersea oil and gas reserves. Continue reading

The Wind Power Debate Gets More Interesting

An offshore wind turbine, part of the London Array wind farm site, located in the outer Thames Estuary, about 70 miles east of London. Image: phault via flickr

An article in Inside Science (click the image above to go to the article) discusses new research demonstrating that wind power might be able to generate all the world’s electricity needs without large atmospheric effects:

There is enough energy for people to reap from the wind to meet all of the world’s power demands without radically altering the planet’s climate, according to two independent teams of scientists.

Wind power is often touted as environmentally friendly, generating no pollutants. It is an increasingly popular source of renewable energy, with the United States aiming to produce 20 percent of its electricity by wind power by 2030. Still, there have been questions as to how much energy wind power can supply the world, and how green it actually is, given how it pulls energy from the atmosphere. Continue reading

Engineering a Conversation

Guest Author: Siobhan Powers

My roomie Chi-Chi recently blogged about miscommunication between clients and architects so I thought it may be timely to bring to light some of my own recent difficulties in conversation and work development. I could not even begin to blog about engineer-non-engineer relations as that would take all day and there’s no point-we’re nerds to the core, I’ve realized and thus, misunderstood. Recently, however, I’ve found not just confusion between myself and non-engineers, but also with my fellow engineers-my people!

I have had few moments of serious language barriers during my time in India. Most people speak at least a little English, and if not there are pictures and hand gestures that can get points across. Shopping and dining is easy enough. Camping with strangers? You’ll find something to talk about (reference my other blog post– shout-out to Chief and Wise Eyes!). Engineering conversations, however, are not like this-there are no commonalities across language boundaries that can be pointed at and then nodded about, but instead there are abstract concepts like energy and science (gasp!).

Gijo and I talking over some data in the engineering office.

Continue reading

Carbon Emissions Series: Scope 2 for Hospitality

In our continuing discussion about the types of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, we have now come to scope 2 and how it relates to the hospitality industry. Much of the research at the Cornell Hotel School focuses on lowering electricity usage, which directly correlates with scope 2 emissions. Let’s start off with a definition.

Scope 2: Indirect GHG emissions from consumption of purchased electricity, heat or steam.

One of the biggest sources of scope 2 emissions is the coal-fired power plant, which emits CO2, NOx, SOx, and a number of heavy metals. Although it is extremely inefficient, coal remains a major source of electricity in the United States.

Continue reading

Carbon Emissions Series: Scope 1 for Hospitality

In my previous post, I identified carbon emissions as the significant metric to track for hospitality, and I explained why hospitality is one of the best industries to target for sustainability efforts. Now I’d like to delve deeper into the different types of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and how they relate to hospitality. My goal of this three-part explanation is to provide our readers with a broad understanding of the scopes of GHG emissions and with a general idea of the extent to which hospitality contributes to climate change. Let’s jump right in!

The Greenhouse Gas Protocol defines three scopes of emissions. Our discussion today will focus only on the first scope, as it relates to hotel properties: direct, on-site emissions.

Continue reading

Optimism and Opportunity

Many of my posts reflect my outlook to err on the upside of life’s circumstances.  I try to drown out my inner (and often powerful) pessimism by surrounding myself with positivity and optimism.  I find that this is a careful balance of being hopeful while remaining realistic.  Today, when I was taking a break from my coursework, or the slightly negative part of my day, I watched an encouraging Ted Talk that I think demonstrates hopeful realism.

Johan Rockstrom suggests that the earth is at a point where major transformation must occur.  He optimistically recommends that we use and continue to use crises as opportunities and local initiatives to transform and sustain life.  Also, he makes a realistic statement that climate change is not our biggest problem only a symptom of our land use.

I found this talk engaging and thought-provoking.  I agree that I transformation is soon to happen and I look forward to being a part of it.

Needing Mr. Miyagi

Anyone who has ever been to ski slopes may have experienced small, pint-sized, infant skiers buzzing down the hills.  As a veteran skier of 18-years, I proudly proclaim that I was once one of these daring children.  However, I learned this past weekend that through the years I have lost this fearlessness when I was challenged to try snowboarding.  I would love to boast that my first run was very similar to this video, but the aching of my entire body keeps me truthful as if to say, “Ha!  You wish, Meg!”

Several times I met the side of the mountain and regardless of the many parts of my body that hit, the solid surface was resilient to my attacks; in fact, the bruises that continue to surface would argue that it fought back with increasing firmness.  The absence of soft, powdery snow brought my awareness to this season’s lack of typical winter weather, and it drew my attention to the resort’s snow-making cannons.  Continue reading

Schneider Electric: Saving Energy across Multiple Cultures

Last week in my Facilities Management course at the Cornell Hotel School, Al Nels, Global Account Manager for Marriott from Schneider Electric, presented in class as a guest speaker. His presentation explored the energy-saving capabilities of various systems developed by Schneider Electric, as well as simple tips that hotels often overlook. Among the many insights Nels shared, one in particular stood out to me: the cultural divide between American and European hotel guests—and the steps that Schneider is taking in order to save energy in both areas of the world.

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Europe’s Green Capital

So I’ve left behind the wild, lush landscape of the Costa Rican rainforest and arrived in Strasbourg, France, to find a completely different kind of green.

Costa Rica is one of those countries the climate change debate focuses on – it’s the epitome of natural diversity and everywhere you turn there is some species or habitat that could be gone in 20 years’ time. Or 10 years’ time. From the rainforests I hiked through to the sloth sanctuary my mum and I visited, everything there seems at once so wild and so fragile. The conservation efforts we see there are direct, tackling the specific problems the land faces: protected areas are being designated, turtle-watching programmes are being set up to monitor and protect the species, and the people at Aviarios sloth sanctuary provide education for locals as well as caring for the animals.

Places like the Manuel Antonio National Park have to concentrate on the effects of climate change.

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Equitable Origin’s Partnership With Coordinating Organization Of Indigenous Communities Of The Amazon Basin (COICA)

Equitable Origin has renewed its cooperation agreement with the Coordinadora de Organizaciones Indígenas de la Cuenca Amazónica (COICA).  The EO100 Standard is an ongoing project that will improve environmental and social practices in the oil and gas industry and we are very appreciative of the continued active support of COICA. Continue reading

Digging Your Own Well

We often talk about ‘imagination’ as if it’s a fixture of the human mind. Human beings, as common sense would have it, are inherently able to imagine what is different; we bring what is distant near only by thinking it so. In the middle of a blistering New England winter, for instance, we might picture ourselves on a sandy beach in Florida; in the mess of rapid and haphazard “development,” we might imagine pristine, virgin land.

But imagination—like all of our most transcendent capacities—exists not invariably, of course, but in degrees, in flux, in varying quantities and qualities, and sometimes—that is, in some minds—hardly at all. I was reminded of this last week following the death of North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-Il, which caused me to reflect upon (and imagine) the lives and minds that comprise a nation with only one permitted text upon which to project its fantasies—the doctrine of North Korean socialism.

And yet this extreme example serves only as a limiting case, one which indicates a more universal difficulty. We’re all always limited in our imaginings. We block their course, sometimes deliberately, but also sometimes mechanically, and often blindly. This is what makes routine possible, and what makes even our most arbitrary and destructive habits seem perfectly natural. We cling to what is readily available, forgetting the partial nature of our given sphere. While imagination brings what’s distant near, habit forgets the possibility of distance (and difference) at all.

Cultivating one’s imagination is a privilege, one which we ought to covet and guard with jealousy. I was granted this privilege this past summer, when I was able to stay in Kumily, Kerala for two months—Kumily, a place so unlike any of the other places I call home in custom and in ambience, in ethic and in landscape. I wrote previously about how the hills and depths of the Periyar moved me, and about how Raxa Collective’s work with the Forest Department and the Development Committees humbled and inspired me. But in that post I neglected to mention one of the more memorable moments of my stay at Cardamom County, one which broadened the horizons of my imagination even more than the occasional monkey-encounter or motorcycle ride through Tamil Nadu. Continue reading