Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sunday Comics

This is how I feel sometimes while researching topics for the blog. Happy Sunday!

Friday, January 28, 2011

LEED Design: ConAgra's Food Production

Not to long ago I went on a lengthy rant about how awesome Walgreens is being by rolling out a fleet of LEED certified pharmacies, which you can find here. The main point of my article was that the public benefits from Walgreens' initiative because they are indirectly educated by being surrounded with green initiatives.

Another form of indirect consumer education can be seen with ConAgra Foods. They are the proud owners of the first LEED Platinum certified frozen food manufacturing plant. This is impressive because manufacturing plants are resource intensive, but this proves that companies can still be efficient in their traditional practices while embracing more efficient and modern technologies.

It is a safe bet that ConAgra Foods will advertise their green practices on any products that come out of this plant, which will attract new customers while also turning consumers on to greener practices. This could place new pressure on ConAgra's competitors that could end up leading to more food manufacturers pursuing LEED certification.

This is the direction that I have expected the world to start head, but it is nice to actually observe it happen before my eyes. It may seem like a small deal right now, but down the road we could look back and point to this as the beginning of something big.

And guess who told you about it?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sustainability Inspired By Food-Coma

Today's blog is going to be a little on the short side for two reasons. The first reason is that the job search is just chugging along, if by "chugging along" I mean a full time job with minimal feedback...but I gotta keep on punching.

The second reason is I just had lunch and now I am slipping into a food-coma which will make it difficult for me to balance between blogging AND job searching, so I am going to have to focus all my energy on the search and sacrifice the blog for the day.

Since my lack of productivity can be linked to food, it probably comes as no surprise that I honed in on an article about cooking.  The entire article can be found here, but the excerpt below pretty much explains what the entire thing is about.
But recently my husband bought me a pan coated in textured ceramic. It is promoted as green because it is made completely without PFOAs or other toxic chemicals, according to the manufacturer. Fab.

But I also love the way the pan feels and performs. Not only does it easily wipe clean of even foods like scrambled eggs with American cheese (no, I don’t make this — my 9-year-old son does), but when I need to brown something, it leaves behind enough bits to make a nice sauce. The weight in my hand is very satisfying, too.
Yes. The New York Times actually published something with the word "Fab." Though I have never watched it, I am fairly certain that The Jersey Shore is to blame for this type of language.

Long story short, here is another example of sustainable products being better for you and the environment while not sacrificing function or style. Seriously. How FAB is this pan?!?!

...Now if you will excuse me, I need to find a job, or at least get an interview...

Monday, January 24, 2011

Electric Vehicles: The Charging Hurdle

Even though job searching and application submissions have reached a fever pitch for yours truly, I did get around to reading an interesting article on electric vehicles and the charging infrastructure that needs to be developed. The entire article can be found here, but I actually thought the most interesting part of the entire article was the comments section.

For those that read a lot of articles (or watch a lot of YouTube videos), you will know that the comments sections are typically plagued with misinformed ranting and multiple ad hominem attacks. While these are sometimes amusing to read, it is scary to think that there are actually people out there that are subscribing to these shallow points of view.

With this in mind, I was relieved to see a poster that went by the name of Garry G actually presenting interesting points of view. The most enjoyable part of this rather long commentary was when he said the following:
"I am a professional strategist w/ clients in the transportation/utility infrastructure world - and realize this is a multi-decade transition. But building fixed plug in infrastructure is a 20th century strategy to a 21st century problem. Portable fuels must be included in the EV media landscape."
I believe that this is a concept that many people are not ready to truly wrap their heads around. Most people are still trying to make EV's fit into the traditional vehicle model, which may prove to be similar to trying to pound a round peg into a square hole.

While Garry G doesn't present any concrete solutions, his comments provide readers a different way of thinking about how we should approach these issues. Even though I know the majority of people that read the article will probably not even read what he said, it was a breathe of fresh air in an otherwise hostile commentary environment.

On a not-so-related note, saying ad hominem made me think of a great Surviving The World that was just posted and I have linked to below. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sunday Comics

Solar Power Explained.
Happy Sunday! Go Bears!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Label Recognition: Wind Washing?

I came across an interesting article on the NY Times Environmental Blog that was talking about a new label that people may start to come across more as they are shopping.

A few companies are hoping that this label will begin to appear on products in the near future:
Now, a group of companies and environmental organizations, including the wind turbine maker Vestas and the World Wildlife Fund, have unveiled a new label that they hope will tug at consumers’ heartstrings by detailing to what extent wind power was used to make various products. Called “WindMade,” the label will be run by a nonprofit foundation and will require participating companies to undergo certification.

Exactly how the certification process will work has not yet been decided, and further details will be announced this month at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the group behind the initiative said.
I want alternative energy to play a bigger role in the world, for both social and economic reasons, but I hope that the requirements to apply this label to your products are strict.

If any corporation that incorporates a fraction of wind energy in their utility bill can slap this label on their products, then I believe that this is just another form of "green washing" which can be seen all over the place these days.

I can appreciate that wind energy has suffered recently due to cheap natural gas cannibalizing demand to switch to wind turbines, but mislabeling products to spark demand for more wind energy is not the answer. It may work in the short run, but ultimately it cheapens the entire concept of clean energy and distracts from the real issues that clean energy is attempting to address.

I remain confident that companies like Vestas and organizations like the WWF will not screw this up, but this is certainly opening the door for other companies to end up creating their own labels that may not have the same standards.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Back To Basics: Bike Infrastructure

Living near Chicago, I have enjoyed the perks of having various bike paths throughout the city and along the lake. It is great exercise and provides and cheap way to get from point A to B without emitting any pollution or consuming fuel.

My Sweet Ride
This addresses two obvious issues that are very important to this country:
  • Weight Control
  • Energy Consumption
To my surprise though, job creation may be addressed through the expansion of a biking infrastructure. A study in Baltimore has shown that the investment into biking infrastructures creates more jobs when compared to a focus on traditional roadways:
Each $1 million spent creating on-street bike lanes directly creates 7.9 jobs and creates a total of 14.4 jobs when we include the indirect and induced effects,” the author, Heidi Garrett-Peltier, writes, “The two categories of road repairs have the lowest employment effects, with 3-4 direct jobs and approximately 7 total jobs created for each $1 million.
Obviously this interests me because biking reduces pollution and helps people lead a healthier life, all while being financially attractive to the government.

As I have said before, the only way any of these environmentally friendly projects will achieve staying power is if they make financially sound arguments, and as far as I can tell from this Baltimore study, a furthered investment into biking infrastructures seems like a no-brainer.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Starbucks Needs To Stop Distributing Two Cups Per Visit

I love coffee shops. For those that know me personally, this is far from a huge secret. I will spend hours in a coffee shop reading and catching up on work that I would otherwise never do in my own apartment.

I think it is the relaxed atmosphere that attracts me to coffee shops...and the coffee, I like coffee.

However, the thing that I still can't wrap my head around is constant waste of paper cups. I wrote on this topic back in November as many of you will remember, and today I have developed yet another complaint about the paper cup system.

Starbucks seems to love serving their coffee in not one, but two paper cups stacked on one another. By stacking two cups on top of one another, they have created a small space of air between the two cups allowing the coffee to stay warmer longer. This is essentially the same result you get from putting plastic wrap over your windows during the winter to keep the heat from being lost as quickly.

If your only concern is that your coffee needs to be warm, then this is a fine solution. I have even mocked up a plan below that will allow Starbucks to have the WARMEST COFFEE EVER.

I'm a photoshop expert.
9 cups. Boom! I think this system actually allows the coffee to get hotter as it just sits there.

In all seriousness, if you're looking to have your coffee stay hot as long as possible, then I guess stacking cups is fine. However, because most people fail to recycle their cup(s) after finishing their coffee, the stacked-cup system is essentially doubling the waste that Starbucks is generating.

An alternative solution to keeping your drink hot for as long as possible is to get a personal mug. Many of them are made out of materials that can retain heat much longer than paper ever could and the repeated use you get out of them is "greener" than constantly using paper cups.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sunday Comics

Meanwhile, Vice President Kermit...

Friday, January 14, 2011

Walgreens: Leading In Corporate LEED Establishments

You see the term "LEED Certified" thrown around a lot. More times than not, you will see this term describing a new office building being constructed out of cleaner materials and utilizing more efficient means of energy consumption.

This is great and I hope the practice only continues to grow, but when it comes down to it, it goes unnoticed. For the most part, the only people noticing these LEED certified changes are the people working within the office building, and even then they don't really see the results until they look at their energy bill.

The transparency of these changes is a mixed blessing:
  • It is good because people have this idea that more efficiency means sacrificing aesthetic value and functionality, so when they don't notice a difference between LEED certified and traditional buildings it proves that there are no sacrifices being mad.
  • It is bad because when people don't notice the changes taking place, it makes it more difficult to transfer these clean practices to people's homes.
This is where Walgreens is doing such a nice job "educating" the general public. Walgreens has been rolling out LEED certified stores in Illinois and is planning to expand their sustainable fleet to other states in the near future. Here is what their store in Chicago has to offer:
The Logan Square Walgreens, nestled in an urban area right off the Kennedy Expressway, features a “green roof” with plants growing on it. The roof also has a white coating to help reduce heating and cooling costs. The store will save nearly 34,000 gallons of water a year with efficient water fixtures. During construction, 85 percent of waste was diverted from landfills. The site was a brownfield which was cleaned up and redeveloped for this project. Coolers, freezers and exterior signs all use LED lights, reducing energy use by 50 percent over fluorescent lighting. The store will save enough electricity to power more than five homes a year. In addition, there is special parking for hybrid vehicles, bike racks and nearby public transportation.
This is great for many environmental reasons, and I don't think I have to hold your hand and explain exactly what those are. What truly is great about this is that hundreds of people walk through this Walgreens every day, and each one is getting a hands on experience of what efficiency can look like.

The store also showcases many different informational signs telling the shoppers about all the different aspects of this green store. This is definitely something that a LEED certified business park can't offer to the general public.

Finally, this just makes good business sense. The most glaring benefits are the water and electricity savings that the store is enjoying:
  • 34,000 gallons of water saved.
  • Cutting enough electricity from their bill to power more than 5 homes a year.
These are real savings that Walgreens can take to the bank.

Also, did you catch the part about the LED lighting?
          You think that their informational signs will praise their lighting?
                    Want to bet that Walgreens will start selling more LED bulbs this year?

I hope more companies follow Walgreens lead and start pursuing these sustainable business practices more aggressively.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

California's Bright Future: Solar Along Highways

There are moments in my life where I wish there was a written document of me stating an idea because every now and then I will see one of my ideas that I had years ago STOLEN!

This was actually half the motivation behind me starting this blog, so that I have time-stamped records of some of my ideas so that I can take credit for them when they are made successful by other people in the future.

The other half of my motivation was for the women. Blogs get you ALL SORTS of women.

One idea that I had before the beginning of this blog was to use the Interstate Highway System as a backbone for alternative energy projects.  This would enable you to line the roads with solar panels as well as run high-capacity transmission lines along the federally owned land to the consumers.  That is as far as I thought about it though before I started daydreaming about leprechauns or something like that, but today I had the displeasure of reading one of the bullet points of Jerry Brown's plan energy plan through 2020:
Solar energy projects up to 20 megawatts in size should be built on public and private property throughout the state. For example, we should create the California Solar Highway by placing solar panels alongside our state highways.
Curse you, new governor of California! You stole the fleeting idea that I had years ago!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Cape Wind: It Is About Time

Well look at that.  A week after announcing that I am switching over to a three-day posting regimen, I am finally posting something on time!

Today I woke up to an article about Cape Wind being cleared for construction, and my first reaction was similar to the last modern Star Wars movie:

"Finally, it is over."

Man, this character sucked.
The Cape Wind battle has been a long and relatively boring ordeal since its beginning in 2009. Never has there been a better demonstration of few rich old people holding up progress for their own aesthetic interests.  The main complaint was that the wind farm would destroy the scenic quality of the Nantucket Sound, which you can see in an artists rendition below:

You are probably thinking "EWWWWWW!," and who could blame you.  Those minuscule wind turbines are totally going to ruin the view out of your multi-million dollar beach house, but sacrifices MUST be made in the name of progress.

In all seriousness, this project has taken an unnecessarily long time to get to the construction phase, and hopefully once it is finally completed, it will set a precedent for other coastal areas to allow these farms to be constructed.  They don't damage the property value of these coastal residences at all, and may even increase the value over time with a cheaper source of energy.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Sunday Comics

Troll Science - (
I'm pretty late to the party when it comes to the meme that was Troll Science, and while most of it is stupid and repetitive, the infinite zombie power made me laugh.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Energy Efficiency In The Big Apple

Since the beginning of this blog’s run, I have talked a lot about alternative energy and all the promising things it has to offer. It is an area that is constantly seeing new growth, and I hope to work within one day (hire me).

However, many of the big changes in alternative energy are still off in the distance meaning that in order to make an impact on energy consumption and carbon emissions people will have to attack on different avenues.

One of these avenues is energy efficiency.

By creating more efficient energy consuming products and implementing more efficient means of using these products, energy consumption can be greatly reduced without actually have to sacrifice functionality.

A very large-scale example of efficiency can be seen with the renovations being planned for the Empire State Building in New York City:
The New York Times gushes:
Owners of the New York City landmark announced on Monday that they will be beginning a renovation this summer expected to reduce the skyscraper’s energy use by 38 percent a year by 2013, at an annual savings of $4.4 million. The retrofit project will add $20 million to the $500 million building makeover already under way that aims to attract larger corporate occupants at higher rents.
The main areas of focus for these renovations will be the lighting, heating, and water systems that haven’t really changed since the buildings original construction in 1931.

A Google Image Search revealed that there were large gorillas climbing the ESB in the old days... different times.
The NY Times makes an interesting statement saying that “While the energy-saving improvements will be substantial, no one visiting the building is very likely to notice them — most involve slight changes or will be hidden in the building’s innards.”

This is wonderful because many people believe that these projects sacrifice aesthetic value. This simply is not that case, and hopefully other cities will see the Empire State Building’s example and decide to make the investment to save millions of dollars on energy bills annually.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Wind Turbines Eating Entire Bird Populations?

During my last semester at school, I got to write a fairly enjoyable paper on the dangers that wind turbines pose to bat populations.  To make a long story short, bats are getting killed by wind turbines as their navigation systems are "jammed" by the noise created by the rotating blades.

A "similar" event is happening with wind turbines killing birds as they migrate. I place similar in quotations because birds do not use sonar to navigate, and to be completely honest these birds aren't presenting as challenging of a problem as the bats.
A spokeswoman for the American Bird Conservancy rants:
Golden eagles, whooping cranes and greater sage-grouse are likely to be among the birds most affected by poorly planned and sited wind projects.
Because these birds are migrating, a simple solution to the bird kills is to shut off the turbines during migration season.  This isn't that difficult to do because migration patterns are relatively predictable and fall along pretty standard paths.  Obviously it isn't perfectly mechanical and there will be variability in how birds actually do migrate, but shutting off certain turbines makes more sense than just abandoning construction of clean energy entirely in these areas.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Sunday Comics

Something to think about when using chemicals on your lawn.
The New Yorker
Welcome to 2011. Be brilliant.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Site News: New Years Edition

We did it. We made it to 2011.

Starting this Monday, Sustainabili-City is going to be moving to a new posting format.  Instead of being a daily blog, I am not going to be posting articles every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Seeing that I am now job searching around the clock, it only makes sense that I spend a little less time trying to write on a topic every day and instead focus more on the job market.  I think this will be better in the long run because now my articles won't feel as rushed as they have lately and once I do get a job, I find it hard to believe that I would be able to keep up with a daily blog.

Before you all start emailing me, I will also still post comics on Sunday since I'm pretty sure that is what keeps the majority of you coming back to the blog anyways.

Hope you all had a great NYE celebration and you haven't been taking too many ibuprofen today.  Happy New Year!