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29 posts from January 2012

January 19, 2012

Top 10 States for LEED Buildings Announced

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) released its list of the top 10 states with the most LEED-certified green bulidings per capita for 2011. D.C. topped the list with just more than 31 square feet of LEED-certified space per person. Colorado, Illinois, and Virginia came in next with 2.74, 2.69, and 2.42 square feet per person, respectively. Here's the full chart: 

Sq. ft. of LEED-certified space earned in 2011
Per capita
New York

A LEED rating is based on state-of-the-art strategies such as sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, material selections, and indoor environmental quality. 

"Being in the top three is a testament to the diversity of stakeholders from across Illinois who understand the significant environmental, economic, and social benefits related to LEED certification," said Doug Widener, executive director of the USGBC's Illinois chapter.

Continue reading "Top 10 States for LEED Buildings Announced" »

Green Your Winter Camping Trip: Recycle Fuel Canisters

Camping stoveSnow on the ground shouldn't stop anybody from getting outside. This week's tips will make your cold-weather camping trip enjoyable and environmentally friendly.

Tip #3: Recycle your empty fuel bottles.

Another way to stay warm in winter's backcountry is by enjoying hearty meals and many hot drinks. Since this requires a lot of burn time for stoves, the amount of empty fuel bottles can really add up. When recycling your canisters, make sure it's completely empty. Jetboil makes a handy puncturing tool, but if you want to stay away from single-use canisters altogether, consider choosing an MSR stove with refillable fuel bottles. And remember to check with your community's recycling facilities before dropping your bottles in your curbside bin.

Tell us: What's your favorite hot drink in winter?

January 18, 2012

TRAVEL: The Mystique of the Socotra Islands

Dragons blood treeCharles Darwin, upon arriving in the Galapagos Islands in 1835, wrote: "The natural history of this archipelago is very remarkable: it seems to be a little world within itself; the greater number of its inhabitants, both vegetable and animal, being found nowhere else." Darwin spent five weeks on the islands, accruing observations that would inspire his opus on natural selection, The Origin of Species. Researchers call areas of the world like the Galapagos "biodiversity hotspots" — regions of incredible biodiversity that can be useful in establishing lost links between species.

Another such hotspot is Yemen's Socotra Islands, often called "the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean." Due to its unique history of continental isolation, well over a third of its species are completely endemic — that is, they're found nowhere else in the world. Socotra's unique plant life garners special attention: The dragon's blood tree, Dracaena cinnabari (pictured above), and the bottle tree, Adenium obesum (pictured below), look otherworldly.

Human life on the island is remarkably isolated. Most Socotris don't have running water or electricity, and many communicate through an ancient, unwritten language. Until 2005, there were no paved roads and no way of getting to the islands during monsoon season. Still, 44,000 people live there (almost twice the population of the Galapagos, despite Socotra's smaller landmass). A majority of them live below Yemen's absolute poverty line.

Bottle treeSocotra's significant human presence has spurred debate over how the islands' biological diversity can be preserved while progressing the humans' living conditions. Fortunately, the native Socotri have already established many environmental guidelines, which makes outside preservation efforts much easier. In April 2000, the Yemeni government passed the Socotra Zoning Plan to delinate areas into three categories: resource use, general use, and natural sanctuary. The U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) got involved in 2003, with a five-year, $6 million program for sustainable development.

The islands have been open to eco-friendly tourism in the past, but the current Yemeni uprising has restricted access, especially for westerners. Security threats were already boiling before the protests started, due to the escalation of Al Qaeda presence in Yemen. Recently, the U.S. Department of State issued a statement urging that no U.S. citizen travel to Yemen. In short, don't expect a safe vacation to Socotra in the near future.

Continue reading "TRAVEL: The Mystique of the Socotra Islands" »

Green Your Winter Camping Trip: Snow Shelter

QuinzheeSnow on the ground shouldn't stop anybody from getting outside. This week's tips will make your cold-weather camping trip enjoyable and environmentally friendly.

Tip #2: Build your shelter out of snow.

Instead of using a tent made of petroleum-based materials, try creating a shelter out of snow. A quinzhee is great option if you don't mind spending the time and hard work to create it. The Appalachian Mountain Club has a tutorial video online and Falcon Guides publishes a book that includes quinzhee-building instruction, as well as other helpful tips for your winter adventure.

Tell us: What do you use for shelter when you camp?

January 17, 2012

This Sculptor Carts Junk Out of the Scrapyard, Into Artistic Stardom

Clayton Bailey with friendsClimbing through three-story piles of scrap metal at his local salvage yard, Custom Alloy in Oakland, California, is Clayton Bailey's idea of the perfect afternoon.

Digging through the masses of what many would consider junk, the artist finds inspiration to satisfy his boundless imagination. From discarded vacuum cleaners, coffee pots, and an array of other found objects, he's created an entire cast of shiny robotic characters.

Bailey's always been interested in chemistry and science and is strongly influenced by the magazine Mad. His interests may be geeky, but underlying all his work lurks a mischievous sense of humor.

"Spaceships have always been a fascination," he says. "I've made three rockets so far, but none of them have actually gotten off the ground." He's got one in his front yard, pointed toward the heavens, poised for blast-off. 

"I try to wake up every morning with enthusiasm for something new," Bailey says. "Whatever I am working on at that time is what I'm excited about." Over a 50-year span, Bailey's edgy contemporary art has been shown around the world. His retrospective show, "Clayton Bailey's World of Wonders" has been featured at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, California, since early autumn.

In his Port Costa workshop, each of his works has its own personality. Marilyn Monrobot,Marilyn Monrobot whom Bailey calls "the world's most beautiful robot," sports a prominent pair of 1957 Cadillac bumper bullets. Wrestlebots square off for a match as Tubehead and Two-Headed Baby watch from the sidelines. Bailey's famous Horndogs, made from Kirby vacuum cleaners and chrome-plated truck horns; Pitcherbot, chasing its little teacups; and a robot made from Kohler toilets round out the family.

Bailey strives to add a kinetic element to his pieces so that they come to life. He's worked with motion detectors, aquarium aerators, and washing-machine timers. He likes to invite in elements of nature, using lenses to magnify and record sunlight and, more recently, harnessing wind power. "Having an extremely windy day ignited my interest to create whirlybirds and a giant bobbing bird, complete with animated bait," he says.

Some of Bailey's pieces have taken on controversy as he constantly pushes the boundaries. "The most flack I've gotten was for my coin-operated electric chair for the condemned man. You simply pull the lever."

Continue reading "This Sculptor Carts Junk Out of the Scrapyard, Into Artistic Stardom" »

Green Your Winter Camping Trip: Eco-Layers


Snow on the ground shouldn't stop anybody from getting outside. This week's tips will make your cold-weather camping trip enjoyable and environmentally friendly.

Tip #1: Layer up.

Layers are the easiest way to warm up in winter. When it comes to choosing your outdoor gear, go with an eco-aware brand like Patagonia. They make outerwear of excellent quality, but when your Patagonia pieces finally do wear out, the company takes them back and recycles them into new fabric. The company is also part of 1% For The Planet and takes on environmental campaigns.

Tip #2: Build a snow shelter.

Tip #3: Recycle fuel canisters.

Tell us: How do you green your camping trips?

January 12, 2012

Hey Mr. Green, Can I Sell Carbon Offsets?

Ask Mr. GreenHey Mr. Green,

I had a residential geothermal system installed last year. How do you calculate the greenhouse-gas offsets for the system, and how do I go about selling them?

—Betty in Revere, Missouri

The good news is that geothermal heating and cooling systems do reduce greenhouse gasses, carbon dioxide being the most significant. The bad news is that no system exists for selling residential carbon offsets, according to Geoexchange, a trade organization for the geothermal heat-pump industry.

But you can at least enjoy a bit of moral satisfaction by doing fairly reliable estimates of the CO2 offset that your geothermal system is responsible for. Start with a simple “before” and “after,” like those weird weight-loss ads in which a pasty guy who looks like a termite queen with man breasts stands next to his new, tanned, svelte self, all abs and pecs. Just compare your average annual gas, heating oil, and electric use before you installed the system with your annual consumption after the installation.

If you use propane, subtract the gallons burned before geothermal from the gallons burned after, and multiply that number by 12.7 to get the total pounds of reduced CO2 emissions.

If you use heating oil, do the same subtraction of before and after, and multiply by 22 to get your total pounds of reduced emissions.

For natural gas, total up the average annual therms used during your pre-geothermal era, and subtract from that the number of therms used in your post-geothermal era. Then multiply this result by 11.7, which is the number of pounds of CO2 emitted per therm burned. (If you don’t have the records, you can get them from your power company.)

Continue reading "Hey Mr. Green, Can I Sell Carbon Offsets?" »

Green Projects for 2012: Recycled Credit-Card Bling

Turn credit cards into jewelryHarness the new year's momentum to transform your tired old stuff into fresh new creations. This week, we're providing ideas for craft projects to invigorate your 2012.

Tip #4: Make jewelry from credit or gift cards.

If you've resolved to spend less in 2012 or have simply drained all your holiday gift cards dry, now's a good time to cut up the plastic and make a unique piece of jewelry with it. With the help of a few tools, those expired credit cards, gift cards, and membership cards can be reincarnated as a bracelet or a pair of earrings. Now when's the last time bling actually helped your budget?

Tell us: How do you reuse plastic?

January 11, 2012

Hong Kong the Latest to Introduce Trash Metering

Hong kong landfill barges

The advent of the progressive trash tax is upon us. Hong Kong announced Tuesday a “pay-as-you-throw” plan for garbage disposal — called "trash metering" — as a way to cope with limited landfill space. If the proposal goes through, people will pay taxes based on how much garbage they throw away. There will be a three-month “public-consultation” period before Hong Kong’s Environmental Bureau makes a final decision on the matter.

Trash metering already exists in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, New Zealand, and other countries. Hong Kong’s Secretary of the Environment, Edward Yau, said the program could “prompt the public to change their daily living habits,” referring, quite possibly, to the city’s 2,026 pounds of trash produced per person per year. And Hong Kong has a notorious space problem — 10,031 tons of solid waste get dumped every day into an overflowing landfill system.

The possibility of trash metering in yet another major city could boost the movement in the U.S. The latest EPA report acknowledges more than 7,000 communities that use the system, a number that continues to grow. Under trash metering, citizens recycle and compost more of their waste to save money. It's also a way to decrease waste-management costs in cities that are struggling to foot the bill.

Time will tell whether the greater public can get behind trash metering. But if Hong Kong’s plan is any indication, programs will continue to pop up internationally and the movement toward more effective waste management will continue to gain ground.

--Justin Cohn / image: istock/oksanaphoto

Green Projects for 2012: Recycle Soap and Candles

Learn how to reuse candlesHarness the new year's momentum to transform your tired old stuff into fresh new creations. This week, we're providing ideas for craft projects to invigorate your 2012.

Tip #3: Revive soap scraps and candle remnants.

Decorative candles tend to burn out before all the wax has been consumed, but those "dead" candles can be heated and re-formed into new creations. Bits of bar soap can also be recycled through a simple process using water and heat. Techniques vary, but we like National Geographic's instructions for making candles and Planet Green's ideas for reusing soap.

Tell us: How do you reuse household objects?

image: istock/JoeClemson

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