Posts Tagged ‘sustainability’

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Greendweller v1.2

January 22, 2008

Greendweller has been around about 3 months now and will likely reach the 1000 visitors milestone this week.  Hooray!  During that time I’ve realized to an extent what I can expect from myself, this blog, and you readers, so I’ve decided to make a couple changes to Greendweller.

Posting Schedule-  I’m dropping my posting schedule to 2/week, with every 4th-6th post or so double posted to The Sietch.  With most of my time devoted to graduating and finding a job in Chicago, there just isn’t time to write 5 well-researched posts a week.

Posts- That said, I still see a lot of value in blogging as a platform for yours and my own questions about sustainability.  My favorite posts are still those where we actually got down to numbers and were able to effectively evaluate practices or options.

Attitute- While everyone loves a warm fuzzy CFL post, there are some more controversial green issues I would like to explore here.   Expect to see more posts in the future covering such things as McMansions, meat consumption, and personal responsibility.

Thank you to everyone that has commented, become a regular reader, or just stopped by as a result of a random Google search.  Your support is the best motivation.

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Getting Your Green Degree: Evaluating Sources

January 17, 2008

After getting a comments about EarthLab (thanks Alex) and questions about other carbon calculators I realized it’s sometimes difficult to evaluate the legitimacy of the sustainable “facts” you see online.  Whenever I visit a website for research purposes (for this blog or my own knowledge) here’s what I look for:

Google Rank- If it’s the first or second result on your google search then it’s a very popular site and that can typically attest to a website’s legitimacy.  However, this also can give very commercialized sites so google rank should never be your sole indicator.

Page Design- Nearly every website of worth can afford to have decent to good typography, graphics, and general layout.  The exception to this is the government, but they have their own credibility.

Sponsoring Organization- This is a big one.  Personally I favor using U.S. governmental organizations websites for information, especially the USGS and DOE.  While conspiracy theorists may disagree, there is a rigor and standard to the research presented on these sites, and usually the information is extensive.  Otherwise your next best bet is probably a non-profit organization.  Since they’re not trying to make money off you, the only thing they’re selling is their ideals.  Look for broader or nationally known affiliations when evaluating the reliability of a non-profit’s information.  The USGBC is probably more reliable than John Doe’s Corncob Building Association.

Bias- Once I get past the above three, I start really looking at the information/advice a site is presenting.  Usually every site has some bias, but does that bias affect the truthfulness of their information?  A bit of reading and critical thinking can differentiate between a passionate but scientific source and extremists who would say anything to prove their point.

Is there anything else that you look for when determining the validity of a site?  Next post I’ll focus on just carbon calculators and where to go for reliable estimates.

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Legs To Stand On: Are Multiple (Weaker) Arguments Better Than A Few Strong Ones?

January 2, 2008

I was reading a post recently at The Sietch that discussed how the radioactive releases of burning coal (including the byproduct fly ash) and it’s potential detriment to our health is just another nail in the coffin for coal power. However, the radiation we could receive from coal isn’t really worth considering when you compare it to what we’re exposed to via naturally occurring radon and even medical x-rays: (via the USGS)

Coal doesn’t even make the pie chart.

Are “weak legs” like this one viable supports for arguments for sustainability or do they devalue the stronger ones they accompany? Is it worth it to even make the radioactive argument when issues such as greenhouse gas release, mountaintop removal, and air quality are so much more compelling? If the subject were being formally debated, an opponent could spend their entire time picking apart the weak legs and undermining your message, while completely circumventing any strong points you hoped they would have to concede.

Environmentalists shouldn’t have to grasp at straws here. We know things such as fossil fuels, over-consumerism, and habitat destruction are bad for the environment, and the people we need to convince know it too. So what’s the problem? Accountability and the bandwagon. It’s hard for individuals to see the environmental results of their shopping choices and energy use when the impact is hundreds or thousands of miles away. It’s also difficult to change when it seems everyone else lives just as wastefully. But the strongest points for sustainable practices have elements of both accountability and individuality.

Consider the “Save the Rainforest” campaigns of the 1990s. They focused on highlighting a specific area that was being destroyed, and connected it to individuals in the Western World. The rainforest is supposedly the home of miracle drugs for cancer and all sorts of unsavory illnesses. Everyone knows someone with cancer. So not only is a parrot in Brazil suffering from habitat destruction, but your great aunt as well.

It’s easy to start analyzing the details when you’re in a group of like-minded sustainable people. But when going head-to-head with an ardent consumerist, stick to the basics. They’re on our side.

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Getting Your Green Degree: Contacting Representatives

December 20, 2007

Every few months I get word of some bill sifting around the House, Senate, or my local legislature that piques my interest. Most recently it was the energy bill that is raising the average mpg standard to 35 from 25 but isn’t fulfilling its original potential (courtesy of The Sietch). Although I care deeply about these issues, I find it’s difficult to carry that momentum into actually writing or emailing my representative. This is something I think is common in our busy culture, especially within my demographic which is historically less politically active.

So here’s the skinny on letting the people in charge know what you (their boss) want them to do, and how to make it easy.

Step 1- Know your representatives. Assuming you’re from one of the 50 states (and not a territory) you are represented by 2 senators and 1 congressperson at the national level. You should know their names (although even I had to look mine up). Find your congressperson via this official House website. You need your 9-digit zip code. Here’s the Senate version.

Step 2- Know your issue. Be able to address a bill in Congress by it’s name (HR__ or S__) and think about at least one reason why you support/oppose it. You can find the bills from the current Congress here.

Step 3- Write your letter. Keep it brief and to the point. Be respectful to your representative by addressing them appropriately (The Honorable ____ usually works). By simply stating your opinion on the issue and your one or two reasons for that opinion you save both your time and the representative’s. They care what you think, but don’t have time for rambling or venting. If you want to discuss more than one issue, write more than one letter. CongressLink has some great tips for both letter writing and calling.

Step 4- Send your letter. If you’re emailing, push “send.” If you’re going with snail mail, lick and envelope and drop it in the mailbox. Shouldn’t need more instruction than that.

In truth, this can all be done in 15 minutes or less. Really. Don’t stress over the wording of your letter, just make it clear and concise. You’re writing to the office aide, not preparing an inauguration speech. The hard part is actually motivating yourself to do it. So next time something in Congress really riles you up, write them. It’ll take less time than the commercial breaks for Mythbusters.

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A Gaggle of Links!

December 19, 2007

Today I just might get my car back after my brakes failed last week. Thankfully the problems began not in the mountains of West Virginia on my way home for break, but in the parking lot right next to an auto shop. Although I never complain at the opportunity to borrow my mother’s Prius, it’s a little harder to convince myself to drive my father’s gas guzzling Yukon. I guess this Goldilocks will have to settle for my somewhere-in-between Chevy.

Ireland Bans Incandescent Light Bulbs (from Inhabitat) Imagine how much energy they’ll save! If only we could do that here in the U.S., but apparently we’re busy being the difficult child at the conference in Bali.

Where Me And My No Impact Blog Go From Here (from NoImpactMan) I don’t think that I could ever be as hard-core as Colin was, so I love his point about how by integrating sustainability into our institutions a bit will make it much easier for the masses to go green.

90% Emissions Reductions By 2030? Easy! (from Keith at The Sietch) When you treat the reductions like a loan or savings plan and apply the numbers, 90% really does seem to be within our grasp. I’d like go one step further though and shoot for 95%, because I think those that care should try to do more than just pull their own weight.

Why Don’t We Do It In Our Sleeves? (from Verda Vivo) Disease prevention is crucial around the holidays between the cold weather, the travel, and seeing all those family members. Wash your hands, too 🙂

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Beware Of Vampires…

December 18, 2007

Via The Sietch and Materialicious.

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Consumption happens even when you’re not looking.  Problem is that you invited it in.  Trent at The Simple Dollar clued me in to “smart power strips” which cut power to devices on the strip based on the on/off status of a master device.  For example, plug the tv, vcr, dvd player, and game console all into one of these strips, and judging by the above chart, the dvd player should get master status.  You’ll not only reduce your energy dependence but save hundreds of dollars a year in the process! 🙂

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An Attempt At Architecture

December 13, 2007

I was asked recently by Geoff to describe my thesis, as I had mentioned it earlier. I’ll admit it’s a little hard to write about, as it forces me to try and define something that is still very fluid, even though I currently have what looks more or less like a building.

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My site is in Chicago on the north side near Lake Michigan. The neighborhood is mostly 2-4 story residential, commercial, and mixed use construction, and many of the buildings are 100+ years old. I’m creating a series of apartment row houses to study the dwelling needs of the modern family and how solutions to those needs can be carbon neutral. While these structures will sit next to each other on site and interact as an apartment community, they are also an iterative process of discrete attempts to create spaces based on different familial conditions. Basically I’m designing them one at a time, each as it’s own study. The point is not to approach architectural perfection, but to examine the continuities and differences within a body of my own work. In each iteration I have been attempting to make private spaces and gathering places (not sure I like the rhyme) and exhibit qualities of simplicity and warmth and sustainability. Here are two of my sketch studies :

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While making the structures carbon neutral can influence the architectural language, it often also carries its own set of requirements and research. I’ve accessed local wind data and taken a site model into my university’s wind tunnel to assess the viability of using wind turbines on rooftops. Aerotecture is a Chicago company building turbines for commercial and residential use and has test locations in the same area as my site, so I’m theoretically using their 510V model in an array linked to the main electric grid. I’m planning on linking solar hot water heating to a geo-exchange system to provide radiant floor heating and perhaps even radiant ceiling cooling. 2 foot wide core walls between each design unit will help moderate solar gains, especially those from the non-conditioned access stairwells, which will rely solely on passive ventilation and shading for cooling and the sun for warmth.  Here’s one of my wind studies:

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There’s a lot left to do before graduation, as I still have a few iterations to go, plus several decisions about shared spaces, not to mention energy modeling so I can “prove” my carbon neutrality.  I’d welcome any input, so feel free to comment with questions or opinions!