Posts Tagged ‘sustainability’

Green Innovation Can Be Child’s Play

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

It is a commonly held belief that all, or most, green technology must be expensive to develop and to purchase. A perfect example is the Tesla Roadster, an all electric sports car with a price tag of $100,000+. The Tesla Roadster accelerates from 0 to 60 miles an hour in 3.7 seconds. Not too shabby. Expensive, but very green. Helping to perpetuate the idea that only Hollywood stars can afford to be super Green
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Then comes along a 16 year old named Azeem Hill. He and his buddies, as part of high school project, decided to build a super hybrid sports car to rival the Tesla and hybrids on the market as part of the Automotive X Competition. He and his team mates built a car that accelerates from 0 to 60 in 5 seconds and gets 70 mpg on the highway and 100 mpg in the city. Not bad for some high school kids in Philly competing against the likes of MIT and multimillion dollar tech firms, proving that inovation can come from the most unlikely places. Check out the video and be impressed with what can be done with imagination, persistence and a very small budget.

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Doyle Community Park & Center

Saturday, July 3rd, 2010

Doyle Center

Doyle Center

It is sometimes amazing what you find in your own backyard or more correctly your community’s backyard. A few days ago while grocery shopping I saw an announcement posted for a community meeting at the Doyle Center here in Leominster, MA. For those of you not up on Leominster trivia, the Doyle Center is a Gold LEED certified conference center set amid 170 acres of pristine park land overseen by The Trustees of Reservations. The meeting was at 6 pm that evening (June 30th) and would focus on the best use of this magnificent resource in my community. How could I not go? It had all my favorite things being discussed: maintenance of a beautiful old house that was part of the original property, a new eco chic conference center with all the bells and whistles, and a discussion of sustainability. I was so there.

Wesley Ward, Vice President of Land Conservation for The Trustees was heading up the meeting which was focused on presenting preliminary ideas for how The Trustees envision making better use of the property and to garner ideas and feedback from the community members who were present. As with all meetings, there were naysayers, rules quoters, and the sort of people who you have to listen too, BUT there was a good number of people who saw the vision of what was trying to be acheived. That was very exciting!

Of course yours truly couldn’t let this occasion go by without getting on my soapbox and stumping for more places for people to learn the skills to “Go Green” in cost effective, economical ways. After all, let’s get real, if we wait around till the government, our educational systems, corporations, etc. get around to embracing sustainability, I mean really embracing it, we are in real trouble. This has to be a grass roots, neighborhood, community based level movement and I’m excited that places like the Doyle Community Park & Center exist. They deserve a lot more attention than they are getting. Check out Doyle Community Park & Center, as well as the great work of The Trustees of Reservations in Massachusetts.

Have a fabulous 4th of July!

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Know Your Farmer

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

If necessary one can live without an accountant, a lawyer, and a great many other service providers, but how long do you think you would last without a farmer? Check out the Know Your Farmer website from the USDA. The videos are pretty awesome too.

from Treehugger.com

from Treehugger.com

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Biodiversity, Thomas Jefferson and Antique Vegetables

Monday, March 22nd, 2010
Monticello Vegetable Garden

Monticello Vegetable Garden

I spent part of this last weekend roaming around Thomas Jefferson’s estate, Monticello, outside of Charlottesville, Virginia. It is an amazing place and while I love taking the tour of the house that he designed, it is the grounds that I love best. Specifically the gardens. There is an area off of Mulberry Row, which was the main throughfare of the estate, where Jefferson had the vegetable garden for the plantation. Jefferson’s household vegetable garden was over 1000 feet long and covered 2 square acres. It overlooks an 8 acre orchard and a separate vineyard. I should be so lucky to have such a garden plot. Forget the 5000 acres of woodlands that go with it.

My gardening is limited to container gardening in my postage stamp sized backyard of my townhouse in Massachusetts these days. However, I have managed to bring home a small part of Monticello that I hope to enjoy as the growing season begins in New England. One of the things I love about Monticello is that they have the Thomas Jefferson Centre for Historic Plants. The Center collects, preserves, and distributes historic plant varieties and strives to promote greater appreciation for the origins and evolution of garden plants.  One of the things that the Center does is sell Heirloom seeds to the public. What are Heirloom seeds you might ask and how are they different from any other seeds you might purchase and plant this Spring.
Typically there are 3 types of seeds familar to most gardners. The first kind is called First generation hybrids (F1 hybrids). These seeds are hand-pollinated, and are patented, often sterile. These seeds are genetically identical within specific food types and are sold exclusively by multinational seed companies.
A second type of seeds are genetically engineered. Bioengineered seeds are rapidly contaminating the global seed supply and threatening the purity of seeds everywhere. The DNA of the plant has been changed permanently when it is artifically modified. A cold water fish gene could be spliced into a tomato to make the plant more resistant to frost, for example.
A third kind of seeds are called heirloom or open-pollinated. Typically, heirlooms have adapted over time to whatever climate and soil they have been grown in. Due to their genetics, they are often resistant to local pests, diseases and extremes of weather.
With heirloom seeds there are thousands or 10,000s varieties of a type of fruit or vegetable, compared to the very few F1 hybrid types of the same fruit or vegetable.
The loss of genetic seed diversity facing us today may lead to a catastrophe far beyond our imagining. The Irish potato famine, which led to the death or displacement of two and a half million people in the 1840s, is an example of what can happen when farmers rely on only a few plant species as crop cornerstones.
We can help save heirloom seeds by learning how to buy and save these genetically diverse jewels ourselves. There are a number of sources of information regarding heirloom plants and seeds as well as a variety of suppliers where heirlooms can be purchased. A few are listed below. As Spring gets kicked off consider supporting biodiversity by planting heirloom seeds and plants. Besides they taste fantastic!
Monticello Vegetable Garden

Monticello Vegetable Garden

I recently spent a weekend roaming around Thomas Jefferson’s estate, Monticello, outside of Charlottesville, Virginia. It is an amazing place and while I love taking the tour of the house that he designed, it is the grounds that I love best. Specifically the gardens. There is an area off of Mulberry Row, which was the main throughfare of the estate, where Jefferson had the vegetable garden for the plantation. Jefferson’s household vegetable garden was over 1000 feet long and covered 2 square acres. It overlooks an 8 acre orchard and a separate vineyard. I should be so lucky to have such a garden plot. Forget the 5000 acres of woodlands that go with it.

My gardening is limited to container gardening in my postage stamp sized backyard of my townhouse in Massachusetts these days. However, I have managed to bring home a small part of Monticello that I hope to enjoy as the growing season begins in New England. One of the things I love about Monticello is that they have the Thomas Jefferson Centre for Historic Plants. The Center collects, preserves, and distributes historic plant varieties and strives to promote greater appreciation for the origins and evolution of garden plants.  One of the things that the Center does is sell Heirloom seeds to the public. What are Heirloom seeds you might ask and how are they different from any other seeds you might purchase and plant this Spring. I’m glad you asked…

Typically there are 3 types of seeds familar to most gardners. The first kind is called First generation hybrids (F1 hybrids). These seeds are hand-pollinated, and are patented and often sterile. These seeds are genetically identical within specific food types and are sold exclusively by multinational seed companies. Since they are usually sterile you get to buy new seeds every year to grow your beans, tomatoes, flowers, whatever. Hence, you are a permanent repeat customer for the seed companies.

A second type of seeds are genetically engineered. Bioengineered seeds are rapidly contaminating the global seed supply and threatening the genetic integrity of seeds everywhere. The DNA of the plant has been changed permanently when it is artifically modified. A common trick is to splice DNA from a fish that survives in extreme cold water into strawberries so they become frost resistant. Not a bad idea on the surface, but the biological implications are quite frightening.

A third kind of seeds are called heirloom or open-pollinated. Typically, heirlooms have adapted over time to whatever climate and soil they have been grown in. Due to their genetics, they are often resistant to local pests, diseases and extremes of weather.With heirloom seeds there are thousands or 10,000s varieties of a type of fruit or vegetable, compared to the very few F1 hybrid types of the same fruit or vegetable. This is good. If a disease attacks and destroys a particular variety of tomato there are still a few thousand varieties around that may resist that disease.

The loss of genetic seed diversity facing us today may lead to a catastrophe far beyond our imagining. The Irish potato famine, which led to the death or displacement of two and a half million people in the 1840s, is an example of what can happen when farmers rely on only a few plant species as crop cornerstones.

We can help save heirloom seeds by learning how to buy and save these genetically diverse jewels ourselves. There are a number of sources of information regarding heirloom plants and seeds as well as a variety of suppliers where heirlooms can be purchased. A few are listed below. As Spring gets kicked off consider supporting biodiversity by planting heirloom seeds and plants. Besides they taste fantastic!

Seeds of Change

Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants

Seed Saver Exchange

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

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Food Deserts

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010
Image: m_bartosch / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image: m_bartosch / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

At this time of year in New England I tend to go through fresh fruit and vegetable withdrawal. I know I can go to the local grocery store and buy produce shipped in from hundreds or thousands of miles away and, if all else fails, I will probably do that. But I prefer local produce from the surrounding area where I live. It is part of the way I try to keep my personal carbon footprint small. Right now in the dead of winter, when I check the Locavore app on my iTouch it says, ” Nothing currently in season here [Massachusetts].” and to add insult to injury, it also says, “No new food coming into season soon.” As if lack of sunlight, snow and bitter cold weren’t enough. But I do know that eventually there will be beautiful fresh vegetables and gorgeous fruit on display at any number of farmers markets in the area.

Not everybody is so lucky though. In what are being described as “food deserts” there is a complete lack of healthy, fresh produce year round. These food deserts are commonly found in poor urban areas. There maybe any number of convenience stores and fast food restaurants in these areas, but no place that has the healthy, tempting fresh produce I see most Saturdays at my local farmers market. Interestingly enough the First Lady, as part of her Let’s Move campaign, has targeted eliminating these food deserts in the next seven years. Here is a link to an article in the Huffington Post about her plans. Check it out. There is even some pretty cool video.

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Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright …

Monday, February 15th, 2010
Yesterday (Febuary 14th,2010) was the beginning of the Chinese New Year. 2010 is designated as the Year of the Tiger, the Metal Tiger to be exact. According to Chinese astrology this year is one where strength and speed will be rewarded.  So with that in mind I would like to direct your attention to the plight of the wild Tiger.
Tigers have been on the endangered species list since the 1960s. At that time it was estimated that only 35,000 tigers remained in all of Asia. After more than 30 years of world wide conservation, in 2009 less than 3,500 wild tigers remain.
Massive infrastructure development throughout Asia has destroyed the majority of the tiger habitates and threaten the few remaining ones every day. Additionally, the growing economic prosperity in Asia has spawned a huge illegal trade in products made from tigers. Tigers are being treated as commodities to be traded as opposed to ecological assets to be protected and conserved. It is now considered a sign of status to serve Tiger meat to your dinner party guests in some parts of Asia.
To learn more about the importance of Tigers in the ecosystem and biodiversity check out the Save the Tiger Fund and download the free ebook, Ride the Tiger, Tiger Conservation in Human Dominated Landscapes.
Let’s not lose these magnificent cats to the cold cut platters of a dinner party. Let us act with strength and speed to save the big cats and the habitates that are necessary for their survival, after all it is the year of the Tiger.

2_tigersYesterday, Feb. 14th,  was the beginning of the Chinese New Year. 2010 is designated as the Year of the Tiger, the Metal Tiger to be exact. According to Chinese astrology this year is one where strength and speed will be rewarded.  So with that in mind I would like to direct your attention to the plight of the wild tiger.

Tigers have been on the endangered species list since the 1960s. At that time it was estimated that only 35,000 tigers remained in all of Asia. After more than 30 years of world wide conservation, in 2009 less than 3,500 wild tigers remain.

Massive infrastructure development throughout Asia has destroyed the majority of the tiger habitats and threaten the few remaining ones every day. Additionally, the growing economic prosperity in Asia has spawned a huge illegal trade in products made from tigers. Tigers are being treated as commodities to be traded as opposed to ecological assets to be protected and conserved. It is now considered a sign of status to serve Tiger meat to your dinner guests in some parts of Asia.

To learn more about the importance of tigers in the ecosystem and biodiversity check out the Save the Tiger Fund and download the free ebook, Ride the Tiger, Tiger Conservation in Human Dominated Landscapes.

Let’s not lose these magnificent cats to the cold cut platters of a dinner party. Let us act with strength and speed to save these big cats and the habitats that are necessary for their survival, after all it is the year of the Tiger. tigers-tiny-babies

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High Tech Composting

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

DSCN0467Okay, I admit it. I am a gadget freak. If there were such a thing as AA for technology addicts I would be forced to stand up and say, ” Hi, my name is Kathryn and I am addicted to anything that has gears, microprocessors and blinking lights.” But occasionally my fascination with gadgets leads me to stumble across really amazing technology that is not only gee whiz cool but also supports saving the planet. That happened a few months ago while visiting friends in Florida.

My friend Pat is not a gadget freak, but she is a die-hard gardener. She showed me this amazing gadget she had in her house – an electric composter! This fascinated me. I have had compost bins before. They usually require a good deal of space and a fair amount of work if they are going to be successful and there is always the issue of the smell if you put the wrong things in them. Not very pleasant. Since I now live in an apartment I thought any hope of composting was out, but here in a relatively small ((20″x20″x12″) container I could make compost in my kitchen! The issue of smell is taken care of by a carbon filter built into the system, so absolutely no smell – how great is that. So for Christmas, Santa brought my household a NatureMill Plus XE Compost Bin like my friend Pat’s. We have been using it for a few weeks now and here is what I think about it.

My composter lives in my kitchen, so even though the spec sheet said you could put meat, fish, dairy, even pet waste in the thing, I started out with more traditional stuff like vegetable scrapes. If there was going to be any kind of compost meltdown I wanted it to be manageable. When the composter is running it is quiet too. It doesn’t make as much noise as any other appliance in the kitchen. Nice. Even when you open the door to add more scrapes you are not hit with the trash can smell. The compost items are processed continuously, mixing every 4 hours, until they are completely ground down to small particles.

Week 2 saw me getting braver and adding meat, fish, and dairy scraps to the composter. I have to admit I did this with some trepidation. But because this is an electric composter that uses high heat to decompose the compost items it makes adding these items possible without the smell and “uck” factor. One of the cool aspects of the NatureMill composter is that it has an Energy Save Mode that reduces energy consumption by 75% over the standard usage. Over the next month or so I plan to track how much energy it actually uses.  I could bore you with a lot of technical details that you can find on the product website, but I won’t. I will give you the website and suggest that if you aren’t composting because you don’t have the time, space, etc. you check out the NatureMill product line. It is another way to save money (have you priced bags of compost at the local garden store?) and go green all at the same time.

Check out NatureMill’s website: www.naturemill.com for all the details on their products and ordering information.

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Lost In Data

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

P1010683In the early 1990s I was a part of a project for NASA called EOS. EOS stands for Earth Observing System. Unlike the Hubble project, whose goal was to look out as far as possible into space and map that distance, EOS was tasked with gathering as much data on the state of this little blue marble that we call home. EOS was, and still is, a coordinated series of polar orbiting and low inclination satellites for long term observations of our planet. EOS monitors and records the state of land surface, the biosphere, the atmosphere and the oceans 24/7.

In the early 1990s the engineers and scientists that I worked with on EOS imagined that we would be downloading as much as a terabyte of data a day. At that time this was a mind-boggling concept that very few people could wrap their heads around, including those of us building the system. Today I have several hard drives sitting around my house that are a terabyte or more. Who knew that our thirst for data would be so great? But the question that haunts me, as an engineer is … “If we have all this data, what are we doing with it?”

In the last 10 to 15 years scientists have published innumerable papers sighting mountains of data regarding the threat that global warming is and will have on our planet and yet there is still debate as to whether or not the threat exists, especially in the United States. 187 countries have signed and ratified the Kyoto Protocol aimed at combating global warming. The only country that has stated no intention to ratify the Protocol is the same country that designed and built EOS, the United States. Pretty weird, huh? The country with the most technologically advanced system for monitoring the planet refuses to ratify a Protocol intended to reduce carbon emissions and protect the planet from global warming. I have a theory about why this is…

According to a University of California, San Diego study the average American consumes 34 GB of data daily, including 100,000 words of information. We are literally drowning in data. Data flows over us and around us via cell phones, computers, blackberries, iPods, gaming systems, you name it. But I think we have lost the ability to think critically about what to do with the data. What data is truly useful and what is noise. In most cases, I think we go with the more-is-better mode and hope that at some critical tipping point when we have “enough” data the solution to any given problem will magically be revealed to us. The problem with that idea is usually the “enough” point rarely comes and we continue to wait for more or better data. Hence, the government (or other authority body) calling for more studies on global warming (or other life/planet threatening issue). Meanwhile, the problems get worse while we wait for more/better data.

So being a person trained to prototype first, correct, and prototype again. I say, “Enough already! Let’s just get to it!” Let’s pull out all the ideas and dump them on the table. Yes, ALL of them. The crazy ones, the weird ones, the ones nobody thinks will ever work. Yes, even the really dorky ones. We can’t afford to play it safe any more if we are going to save the planet and we can’t afford to sit on our hands and give up. We can’t afford not to be optimistic. We can’t afford not to find a way. If we can’t find the answers here on planet Earth, inside each of us, then I doubt seriously looking out into the universe is going to reveal them to us. So what do you think? Ready to give it a go?

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Laundry Hangout

Sunday, May 31st, 2009
© Kathryn Neel

© Kathryn Neel

When I was a little kid growing up in the South I remember my Mom hanging clothes out to dry on the clothesline in our backyard. I use to love to walk between the lines and smell the sheets as they were drying in the hot summer sun. The smell of those sheets as I went to bed at night or when I pulled on my shorts and shirt to go out to play each day always held the faint sent of the honeysuckle that grew on our back fence and rooted me to home. These days our clothes usually smell of of whatever variety of dryer sheet we threw in with the load and don’t connect us in any way with our environment.

Except for refrigerators, the biggest energy consumers in most homes are the washer and the dryer. The good news is that it’s easy to to dramatically reduce the energy these appliances use. By washing all clothes in cold water, you can reduce consumption by as much as 90%. Unless clothing has grease or oil stains, cold water will clean just fine and will keep colors brighter longer. What’s more, by drying laundry on a clothesline or rack you can save $75 and 700 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions a year. The simplest fix of all: don’t wash your clothes until they look dirty or they fail the sniff test.

Let’s bring back that real nature fresh scent to our laundry and make Mother Earth proud.

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Half Way Mark In A Green Year

Monday, May 18th, 2009

Clouds over MA 1

© Kathryn Neel

Like most people, when the New Year rolls around I dutifully make New Year’s resolutions. There are the standards. I will exercise more. Save more money this year. Lose weight. But this year I decided to make some Green resolutions as well. At the halfway mark 2009 I’ve had better luck keeping to these the plan to train for the Berkshires to Boston Bike Race.

I know for myself, from past experience, if I just say I’m going to exercise or lose weight without a step-by-step plan in place my good intentions will last a week tops. I also find that it is easier to stick with small changes over the long haul. So here are some things I have done so far to lighten my carbon footprint on spaceship Earth. If they seem doable to you give them a try.

FOOD

Instead of having food delivered to your office, walk to a nearby restaurant and save on take-out containers by dining in. At the very least, bring your own silverware and a bottle of your favorite condiment to the office so you can skip the plastic utensils and individual packets of salt, pepper, ketchup and soy sauce. Better yet, pack your lunch. It will save resources and money.

TRANSPORTATION

Take two fewer car trips over the next seven days; replace them with walking, biking or public transportation. Keep track of each car trip you make in a notebook. “Changing your car habits is one of the most dramatic ways to reduce your environmental impact,” says Jodi Helmer, author of The Green Year: 365 Small Things You Can Do to Make a Big Difference. Start writing down how many gallons of gas you buy each time you fill up. I use an app called Gas Cubby on my iTouch to keep track of this. For each car trip you do without you can note any other benefits you reap besides saving gas – such as getting more exercise, reading time, spending time interacting with friends and neighbors.

EVERYDAY PURCHASES

Create your own personal “Going Green” kit. Small purchases that can add up to a big impact include:

- reusable tote bags

- stainless steel water bottle

- stainless steel travel mug

- BYO-lunch supplies: an insulated carrier, utensils and wax paper or aluminum foil (skip the plastic wrap)

- compact florescent light bulbs

Breaking your efforts into smaller, more manageable tasks isn’t a cop out. By break things down into smaller steps each small step can add up to changes that will benefit the health of the planet and even your own health in the months and years to come. These are some small ways to stop global warming.

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