Five percent of new commercial construction meets standards set by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program (LEED). Ten percent of new homes satisfy the federal government’s Energy Star guidelines, meaning they’re nearly one-third more energy-efficient than regulations require. But U.S. buildings put out about a third of the country’s greenhouse gasses, and at the rate green building is penetrating the market today, it will be many years before we save the 70 percent of emissions thought necessary to stabilize the climate.
Lindsay Suter, a green architect in Connecticut, made a vow. He wasn’t going to design mega mansions or outsized additions. Instead, he was going to devote 100 percent of his practice to environmentally themed designs. It’s a promise he kept.
In 2002, William McDonough and Michael Braungart published Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things (Northpoint Press). They identify two fundamental problems. The first is that we design products to be thrown "away" when, in fact, there is no "away," and cradle-to-grave designs foul our own nest. The Earth is a finite, closed, living system, and the things we produce are not beamed to a distant galaxy but stay right here and affect the health of our planet.
As the construction industry "goes global," the amazing diversity of the world’s architecture has suffered. In the last 30 to 50 years, new buildings in New York, London and Beijing have started to look the same.
We interview Michael Braungart, co-author of Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things (Northpoint Press) with green architect William McDonough.
SUPER POOPERS, eco-friendly products; A CLEANER, GREENER BEER (OR TWO),New Belgium’s new organic beer; ALT-SHOPPING, a little Brooklyn shop that specializes in handcrafted arts from around the U.S. and abroad; YOUR DARK MASTER
THE COCOA BEAN!, an array of chocolate products from Veré; FAIR TRADE TEAS, The Republic of Tea, an all-natural tea company; SMOOTH OPERATORS, super-smooth skin razors
Originally associated with disgruntled teens, blogs have grown into a legitimate form of online news and entertainment, covering an array of subjects from fashion and politics to the environment. And now the "eco-blog" is gaining in popularity.
Ogden, Utah is poised to become a popular year-round tourist destination for outdoorsy types who seek an alternative to Colorado’s saturated ski resorts and sky-high tourist towns. It features miles of hiking and mountain biking trails and two ski resorts, tucked into the valley of the Wasatch Mountains. But Ogden faces the same challenge as many nature-centered towns—how to best enjoy the natural world without exploiting it.
Henry Ford had the right idea when he designed the Model T—it was a flex-fuel vehicle that could run on gasoline or ethanol. Today, biofuels are not a simple substitute for fossil energy—we don’t have enough farm land, for one thing—but they can certainly be combined with other fuels in a diverse energy portfolio.
There’s nothing like a cleanser that actually works as advertised, bulldozing through dirt and leaving a surface sparkling clean. But conventional cleaning products can actually leave indoor air polluted with a toxic smog of petrochemical volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and the synthetic fragrances used to mask them. Here are some ingredients to avoid in cleaning products, and safer, simpler alternatives.
"Cow’s milk yogurt is packed with calcium, protein and Vitamin D," says Althea Zincowski, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. People who are allergic to milk products, or very lactose intolerant, can try a non-milk soy-based yogurt. Most, but not all of the lactose (natural milk sugar) in yogurt is digested by beneficial bacteria, so the majority of lactose-intolerant people can eat yogurt unless they are very sensitive. For a more exotic flavor or animal alternative to cow’s milk, there are also goat’s milk and sheep’s milk yogurts.
Even at the green grocery store, harmful food additives lurk behind innocent-looking labels. Hundreds of shoppers who reached for "Quorn" veggie burgers, for example, became ill with severe vomiting and diarrhea. Others developed hives and had trouble breathing. Government regulators protect the public from harmful food additives much of the time, but there are obvious holes in the system.
Sixty years ago, it carried 45 billion cubic feet of fresh water and powered a hydroelectric plant. Today, only 3.5 billion cubic feet flow down the lower Jordan River—and of this, about half is sewage or salt water. Some stretches are so dry, you’d have to portage a kayak. While deterioration on this scale is appalling anywhere, it’s especially so when the body of water, flowing through Israel and Jordan, has such deep resonance in human culture.
Worldwide development of hydrogen as the transport fuel of the future is growing exponentially, with Europe a dynamic center of hydrogen activity. A new Europe-wide coalition of carmakers and oil companies proclaimed, "Now is the time to move forward
to pave the way for the introduction of hydrogen-based mobility in Europe."
Although we like to think that the music we consume is planet-friendly (don’t groups do global warming benefits?) the truth is that CDs and big-ticket tours create carbon emissions and hefty material waste streams. The good news is that an industry vanguard is recognizing that impact and taking steps to neutralize it. Some performers even try to reduce carbon emissions above and beyond their own impact.
It is widely agreed that aquatic life and fisheries are in global decline. However, a new report says the damage could be worse than previously suspected. Appearing in Science, the report summarized a four-year study by a team of ecologists and economists, and concluded that at current rates of over-fishing almost all marine life harvested by humans will be wiped out before 2050.
The Democratic Congressional victories are likely to provide new momentum for the U.S. to finally act on climate change. Three newly empowered Senators—Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) sent a letter to President Bush November 15 urging him to work with them to "signal to the world that global warming legislation is on the way."
When Wal-Mart announced plans to double its offering of organic products (see "High-Volume Organic: Should We Applaud When Wal-Mart Goes Crunchy?" Currents, September/ October 2006) the organic community responded with mixed feelings. Now skeptics have new ammunition, because the Cornucopia Institute has filed a legal complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture accusing Wal-Mart of selling non-organic food products as organic.
When Chiquita Brands started selling bananas with "Rainforest Alliance Certified" stickers in European stores last year, some people suspected that Chiquita, with a documented history of worker abuse and environmental damage, was participating in a little "greenwashing."E recently toured two Chiquita plantations in Costa Rica and found that the company has taken major steps to improve the environment. However, some Costa Rican workers still feel they are treated unfairly by the banana giant.
Last October, Iceland announced it would resume hunting great whales, breaking a 20-year moratorium on commercial whaling. Icelandic whalers will be allowed to kill nine endangered fin whales and 30 smaller, more abundant minkes by the end of August. The killing has already begun: By the end of last November, whalers had killed seven fins, producing a storm of international criticism.
When it comes to solid waste, most people think of candy wrappers, soda bottles and Styrofoam packing peanuts instead of the house they’re living in or the Target where they shop. However, the EPA estimates that up to 40 percent of U.S. solid waste is construction and demolition debris. Deconstruction—taking homes and commercial buildings apart, rather than landfilling the waste—does involve more labor than demolition, but it also avoids costly disposal fees. What had been a total loss—demolition and landfilling—turns into a revenue-generating opportunity to resell what was previously waste.
Blue Spruce Farm in Bridport, Vermont, long owned by the Audet family, is sizable for Vermont, with 1,000 Holstein milking cows. Not a factory operation, Blue Spruce isn’t organic, either. But it’s green in another way. The manure from all those pooping cows, collected by "alley scrapers" that run along the floor like a giant squeegee, is processed into renewable electricity.
Rice farming may look pretty from a distance, with its bucolic images of farmers in conical hats ankle deep in water as they cultivate green sprouts, but it has earned a bad environmental reputation because of its wasteful irrigation systems and incursions into wetlands. But not all rice farming is environmentally destructive.
As the weather gets colder and many of us batten down for winter, it’s a great time to start drawing up plans for those improvements you’ve been contemplating. Go green and you can make an important individual contribution to the environment, help take a bite out of global warming, and save money over the long haul, too.
Why It’s Cool to Eat Bugs, Buy Local Produce and Use Glass Containers.