December 7, 2010
Although this might be a little hard on your good shoes, a recent campaign in Shanghai by China’s Environmental Protection Foundation (yes, they really do exist) was creative. One small green step in a country with over 500 million vehicles on the road.
The campaign won the Grand Prix at the Green Awards in London recently.
May 12, 2010
As we’ve seen with project like the United Arab Emirates’ Masdar City, there’s something to be said for raising a city’s energy profile with a splashy public display — like any huge public monument, it definitely makes it hard to look the other way. But when it comes to splashy projects, Rio de Janeiro’s got everyone else beat: Their latest design for the 2016 Olympic Games is nothing less than a giant, artificial waterfall.
Designed with embedded solar panels that provide power for the city and the games’ facilities during the day, the Solar City Tower will use excess energy to pump seawater into its upper recesses, 60 above sea level. At night, this water would be released with the help of turbines, producing even more power. To accommodate guests and tourists, the facility includes an amphitheatre at the tower’s base and an urban plaza with a glass walkway located at its top.
Though the structure’s “urban waterfall” display isn’t intended to be constant (no matter how much renewable power fuels the process, it would be awfully hard to justify building a giant waterfall for nothing but show), the effect it produces is undeniable — like Rio’s iconic Christ the Redeemer statue, it’s hard to look away from something so massive. And that attention, in turns, draws attention back to the city’s larger energy goals.
Greenhouse gas emissions continue to be a major point of discussion for contemporary Olympic Games and Rio de Janeiro has been drawing attention to its emissions since its original bid. When it comes to making big statements about energy use and emissions, it helps to make a big splash.
image RAFAA architecture and design
November 3, 2009
Is carbon-counting the next big food trend? Unilever is introducing a new low-carbon “ambient” ice cream. You read that right.
In an effort to reduce their carbon footprint, the company responsible for other successful ice creams such as Ben & Jerry’s, has developed an ice cream that need not be frozen until the consumer takes it home.
Freezing is an incredibly carbon-intense process when done on such a large scale. By omitting the frozen storage and transportation, Unilever hopes to see huge savings. The company is also making changes to their bases of operations, installing more energy-efficient appliances and making other carbon-smart energy upgrades.
Low-carbon ice cream sounds like a great place to start. But the company is less confident about how the product will be received, and even how it will taste. If you’ve ever let a bowl of ice cream melt, and tried sticking it back in the freezer, you’ll understand why.
A spokesperson for Unilever says “when the ambient ice cream is frozen at home it will have the right microstructure to produce a fantastic consumer experience.” But will the product taste any good after it’s been frozen in an uncontrolled environment?
So far, it looks like taste has taken a back seat to carbon-conciousness. But as any carb-counter will tell you; if it tastes good, it must be bad for you – and may be bad for the planet too!
September 30, 2009
A climate change challenge on the B.C. coast has changed how kids view their impact on the environment.
Now, they can turn it around and change how their families’ perception too. The B.C. Sustainable Energy Association Climate Change Challenge was like an eco-marathon, where students had to complete 34 environmental tasks in 30 days.
Of the 550 students participating, two won first place by accomplishing all the given tasks. The prize was a new bicycle and helmet, awarded to two first prize winners: Alexander Mayrhofer from Nanaimo; and Lindsay Richards from Gabriola Island.
One of the tasks was abstaining from meat at least once a week, a task both winners found particularly challenging. Despite this, both students claim the month of living with the environment uppermost in mind has changed their daily lives for good.
This school year, teachers in B.C. can book a Climate Change Workshop in their classrooms. The B.C. Sustainable Energy Association uses a climate change game to illustrate how even the smallest everyday decisions can have a major impact.
The workshop may even inspire their students to have a 30 day challenge of their own. This year’s participants showed how much of a difference only a month can make: both in their own lives, and the lives of their friends and families.
The take-home lesson is what some parents may not necessarily have learned while they were in school. Namely, that doing your part for the environment can become an easy part of everyday life.
If that’s not a good lesson for kids, what is?
September 18, 2009
When Google started, there weren’t enough computers around to bother worrying about their combined energy efficiency.
Over time, computer and Internet use has exploded in ways they never imagined. In addition to probably rubbing their hands with glee, Google also started devoting resources to thinking about how much energy they were wasting.
Every search and every page you load requires energy, releasing 20 milligrams of CO2 per second. While it may not be included in your energy bill, it comes from somewhere. Giant data centres – warehouses of servers storing every Internet file – require lots of energy.
The Internet has an enormous carbon footprint, and it’s only getting bigger. Certain environmental groups claim the IT industry has an even bigger carbon footprint than the aviation industry. It happened so quickly that many Internet firms had a hard time catching up.
Luckily, some were prepared. Google’s headquarters makes use of 9,200 solar panels, and their new Toronto office is Bullfrog-powered. It’s also constructed almost entirely from recycled materials, from old tires for their floors, to pop cans recycled into work stations.
Google’s data centres were already upgraded to be energy-efficient about six years ago; way ahead of the curve. The company is now looking at enhanced geothermal energy as an equally green – but possibly more reliable – energy source.
In Kelowna, the biggest green data center in Canada has recently been completed, and runs on hydroelectricity. RackForce Networks Inc says that it has only 2% of the carbon footprint a typical data centre does.
In time, renewable energy sources may prove the most important “Google search” ever.
September 15, 2009
This fall, kids going back to school will be learning a lot about a certain colour: green. In many places in Ontario, kids will be starting their day by climbing onto green buses.
They’re still yellow, don’t worry all you traditionalists. But inside, they’re actually “green.”
Student Transportation of Canada (STC) has announced plans to increase their fleet of “green” buses to 900 biofueled vehicles. Already a leader in biofuel transportation, STC is intent on reducing their carbon emissions and shrinking their carbon footprints.
The green doesn’t stop once the children get to school.
In some lucky places, the kids are greeted upon their arrival with school gardens designed by Evergreen, a non-profit organization. They help create a garden that is both attractive for play, but also teaches them about plant growth and food production.
In Hamilton, a design for a new Catholic school will include solar panels, a green roof, rain-water toilets, outdoor classroom, and light systems that self-adjust based on the amount of sun. It will be the only LEED-certified school in the area.
Apart from the prestigious LEED-status, the Seeds Foundation has been recognizing schools for their green efforts for 30 years. Schools are rewarded for taking on projects as simple as recycling in the classroom, and litter clean-up days.
Designations are based on the number of projects completed, from Green status for 100 projects, to Earth School status with 1000 projects, and beyond.
With everyday exposure to things like recycling, awareness of greenhouse gas, and environmental clubs, students walk away with the tools to make smart and Earth-friendly decisions later on.
June 12, 2009
The U.S. Department of Agriculture says that approximately 15 percent of the world’s food is grown in urban areas. This number is expected to rise as the population increases, food prices sky-rocket, and environmental awareness swells.
But in places like Cuba and other developing nations, the new Green Movement is old news. When the Soviet Union fell apart in the early 1990s, Cuba’s oil supply was cut off, reducing rations of imported foods. Cuba was forced to become self-sufficient and began planting thousands of cooperative gardens. They have been hitting pay dirt ever since.
Cuba may have been forced to go green, but now busy cities in North America are starting to pay attention. Vertical urban gardens are blooming on rooftops, beside parking lots and in vacant and abandoned spaces. Some architects are even beginning to design urban buildings to incorporate these rooftop gardens right from their inception.
And this ‘growing trend’ is catching on in Egypt, Singapore and Russia. Increasing oxygen production in some of these congested areas is nothing to cough at either. Energy, economic and environmental payoffs make vertical farming such a fruitful solution.
Vegetables and chickens: coming soon to a rooftop near you.
January 15, 2009
The focus of most eco-technology is improving the efficiency of things in order to minimize their carbon footprint. Car manufacturers aim for more fuel efficient cars, manufacturers to try for streamlined processes and everywhere people are scaling back to use less energy.
A study presented by Cornell University and Monsanto revealed that bovine somatotropin or bST, also called bovine growth hormone (BGH), a protein hormone produced in the pituitary glands of cattle, could make a real difference. Using BGH could reduce the overall carbon footprint by as much as 9 per cent.
Research shows that cows given BGH can produce 10 more pounds of milk per day. In terms of eco inputs, that means less land is required, less water and feed is consumed, and less fuel is needed. On the other side of the eco-quation, these high-performance cows produce less manure and greenhouse gas per unit of output.
Translated into energy usage, BGH on a large scale could save enough electricity to power 15,000 households; generate enough heat for 16,000 households; and save enough water to supply 10,000 households. The reduction in the carbon footprint is equivalent to removing 400,000 cars from the road or planting 300 million trees.
Put another way, a 150-cow dairy producing 10 more pounds of milk per cow would be equivalent to removing 38 cars from the road or planting 28,000 trees.
Indeed, biotechnology is making the most unlikely eco-friendly industry a little easier on our environment with what amounts to a simple solution to the problem: instead of making more, make things better.
October 7, 2008
It’s no surprise that a Hollywood blockbuster leaves a huge carbon footprint. The lights, the camera, the action all cost energy, not to mention the flights to global locations, lavish studio offices and the multiple takes to get it just right on screen. In fact, the film industry has the dubious distinction of being a top polluter in Los Angeles, second only to petroleum.
Thanks to A-list stars like Cate Blanchett, George Clooney, Leonardo DiCaprio and Harrision Ford standing up for the environment, Hollywood is going green and offsetting their carbon footprint. The most straightforward approach is to tally carbon emissions and plant trees to offset that number. Other approaches include recycling programs, reducing paper consumption by using double-sided scripts and supplying crew members with bikes for on-set transportation.
Recent carbon neutral films include “Evan Almighty”, “An Inconvenient Truth”, and “Syriana”. Producer Marty Bowen and Director Catherine Hardwicke even shelled out $15,000 to offset the carbon emissions for “The Nativity Story”.
Other members of the industry are taking it even further. For example, The Dave Matthews Band has partnered with a company called Native Energy to offset their carbon emissions for their entire history. With a dose of cool from Hollywood, going green getting is likely to continue as the hottest trend in the consumer mainstream.
September 19, 2008
The more concerned about climate change we get, the more difficult it can be to absorb the only thing more invisible and pervasive than greenhouse gas: guilt. Taking the weight of an entire planet on your shoulders is tiring work, to be sure, and every decision we make to reduce our carbon footprint seems impossibly insignificant when compared to kilotonnes of annual Canadian emissions.
But if years of dealing with crushing guilt has taught us anything, it’s surely that the best (or, at least, easiest) way to defray our feelings of inadequacy are to point fingers. And where better than into our past?
While conventional wisdom tells us that our current levels of pollution far outstrip our past’s, researchers at Reno, NV’s Desert Research Institute have found the highest levels of heavy metals in arctic ice from the periods of highest coal use, namely about a century ago. Taken from Greenland, the core samples suggest that it was during the time that North America and Europe were still voraciously consuming impurity-laden coal that the most pollution was created, as much as two to five times more than our current levels, which are a byproduct of cleaner-burning oil and gas.
It’s important not to read too much into the discovery, assuming, that is, you’re held back by the bounds of personal environmental restraint and the recognition that making more responsible choices about your energy use is an important responsibility.