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24 posts from October 2013

October 31, 2013

Solar Innovations: Sidewalks, Windows, and Legos?

The sun could one day become our greatest energy sourceThis year, researchers have made huge progress in solar energy. In fact, one group of German scientists recently hit a new world record in solar panel efficiency. At 44.7 percent efficiency, their array almost triples the efficiency of commercially available panels. 

At the same time as this breakthrough, another research team was improving their panels — by channeling Lego block design. Check out three recent solar innovations that have us excited.

Continue reading "Solar Innovations: Sidewalks, Windows, and Legos?" »

10 Scary Eco-Horror Films

eco-horror moviesIt's time to break out the scary movies and the organic popcorn. To celebrate Halloween, we picked 10 spooky environmental films for their laughs, screams, and genuinely frightening messages. And if these eco-horror movies keep you up at night, don't say we didn't warn you.

The Birds - 1963
It's always nice to start off with a classic, and The Birds is certainly that. Revisit Alfred Hitchcock's famous horror film and its many fine feathered friends this Halloween for a nostalgic and thrilling look at nature fighting back. On that note, there are lots of movies with animals enacting revenge, so make sure to check them out as well.


The Day After Tomorrow - 2004
Global warming goes apocalyptic in this thrilling end-of-days scenario, where climate change brings about massive weather disturbances and ushers in a new Ice Age. Wrought with extreme ramifications for our harm to the planet, this movie shows Mother Nature dealing some serious payback.

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October 30, 2013

There's Money in Green Education

With the green economy demanding fresh minds, students who are environmentally concerned but fiscally challenged have options, because schools and nonprofits are rallying resources to assist eco-scholars. Aid comes in the form of both financial assistance and career-development opportunities. The Earth Island Institute's Brower Youth Awards, for one, is granted annually to six young environmental activists. Ariana Katovich, a member of the first batch of recipients, received the $3,000 award in 2000. She's now the institute's director of restoration and director of its Streets Alive! project.

"Winning the award was very cool,' Katovich says. "But more important, it introduced me to the institute's network, which played a major role in me getting the job I hold now."

That's the general viewpoint among institutions: Scholarships that develop students' careers are, in the long run, more valuable than just money. "Students are trying to figure out how to turn their passion into a paycheck. Our recipients use these scholarships to jump-start their green careers,' says Niles Barnes, senior programs coordinator at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). The organization, which has been offering awards to students for eight years, provides not only grants but also access to its huge network of contacts in the environmental workforce.

Continue reading "There's Money in Green Education" »

October 28, 2013

Bikes Reimagined: 3 Groundbreaking Designs

These innovators think they have the answer for re-imagining the bikeWhile we often marvel over the beauty and simplicity of the bicycle, we aren't usually surprised by new designs. Yes, shifting systems have become more complex, bikes are constantly becoming more lightweight, and styles have certainly changed. But the bike's basic structure — the fork, the frame, the wheels — has remained basically the same for years.

A few brave innovators, however, have decided to take a hammer to the classic bike — simplifying it, making it more efficient, and crafting it into a more versatile machine. These three groundbreaking new designs caught our attention.

The Bicymple
For those of you who thought the fixed gear bike was too bare bones comes the bicymple — a chainless single-speed that looks like two unicycles fused together. This simple bike presents the rider with extra movement capabilities, a very light build, and as seen in the video below, a new way to revisit the bike. Josh Bechtel, the Washington-based designer of the bike, created a Kickstarter for the bicymple that was successfully funded for double the goal amount. Bechtel is now taking preorders for the bike.

Continue reading "Bikes Reimagined: 3 Groundbreaking Designs" »

Ask Mr. Green: How Much Energy to Make a New Car?

Mr. Green is Bob SchildgenHey Mr. Green,

Approximately how much energy (measured in equivalent of gallons of gas) does it take to manufacture a new car? My old car meets my driving needs and averages 32 miles per gallon, and I use less than 100 gallons per year. If I get a more efficient car, would it benefit the planet, or would the resources used to build the car be more than the savings in energy usage?

Judy, in Oakland, California

It takes roughly the equivalent of 260 gallons of gasoline to make the typical car of around 3,000 pounds, according to an exhaustive study by the Argonne National Laboratory. (And I do mean exhaustive. These guys have factored in darn near everything but the calories consumed by the assembly-line workers.) A hybrid car takes about 25% more energy than a regular car, or around the equivalent of 325 gallons because it requires more juice to make the batteries.

Continue reading "Ask Mr. Green: How Much Energy to Make a New Car?" »

DIY: Turn Old Books Into A Bookshelf

Repurpose bookshelfThis summer, I went through boxes of books that were collecting dust in my parents' garage. I unearthed volumes from my childhood like Little House on the Prairie and a mini-biography of Florence Nightingale so worn that I was amazed it hadn't fallen apart. I wanted to keep these treasures, but I ran out of shelf space a long time ago—a problem any bibliophile can relate to. Even the Library of Congress, with 838 miles of shelves, has books piled on the floor and stacked on metal carts.

Clearly, there are just too many books. E-readers were supposed to solve this problem, but they are hard to bond with and aren't necessarily better for the environment. I'd have to read a minimum of 40 volumes on one for it to be the greener choice, according to a life cycle assessment by Daniel Goleman and Gregory Norris in the New York Times. Most of my childhood library ended up at the thrift store, but I kept a few favorites. Since I can't shelve them, I drilled some brackets into the wall and turned them into actual shelves. It gives me more space, and best of all, the books are still intact, so I can reread them if I want to. Now that's a happy ending.


You'll be drilling holes in the wall.

What You'll Need:
  • Hardback book
  • Electric drill
  • 1 corner bracket (2")
  • 2 corner brackets (3 1/2")
  • Six steel flathead wood screws
  • Flathead screw driver
  • Ruler
  • Gloves
  • Goggles
  • 2 to 6 plastic anchors (optional)


Text by Wendy Becktold

Photo by Lori Eanes

October 25, 2013

Eco Ed: Online Classes Change the World for Better and Worse

Virtual Learning

Halfway into his engineering studies, Roberto Civille Rodrigues quit school. To get across town to the University of São Paulo in Brazil, the 25-year-old battled a rush hour commute that could take almost two hours each way. He dropped out knowing that his "chalkboard and PowerPoint classes" could be replaced. "I wasn't learning what I wanted to learn," Rodrigues says. "I was taking many classes that I didn't need."

Instead, Rodrigues mined the major online-education platforms--Coursera, edX, and Udacity--for subjects he actually wanted to study. By staying home, he also cut the emissions of his former, two-hour commute.

In the United States, though, universities teem with people living close, small, and car-free. But for the world's burgeoning population of eager students, a greener higher education may involve no campus at all.

Massive open online courses, or MOOCs, have emerged from prestigious schools: Harvard and MIT teamed up on edX; Stanford spawned Udacity. Consisting of recorded lectures, online readings, and interactive tests, MOOCs allow anyone, anywhere, to take a university course--usually for free. The most popular ones attract tens of thousands of people.

Jonathan Tomkin, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has already had 60,000 students register for his free course, Introduction to Sustainability, in the two times he's offered it on Coursera, a for-profit platform that presents classes from more than 80 colleges. Online courses, he explains, may not cure pressing eco-problems, but their reach adds up. "The environmental impact of education is not large relative to other factors," he says, "but the same amount of resources could be used to teach thousands as opposed to just tens in a regular classroom. Just think about what you need to do to heat a room with 10,000 people." (Critics counter that online learners are presumably in individual heated rooms instead.)

Continue reading "Eco Ed: Online Classes Change the World for Better and Worse" »

October 18, 2013

Gifts of Warmth

Keep loved ones cozy this holiday season by giving eco-friendly presents that do double duty as alternatives to cranking up the heater. Here are some ideas: 

Nest thermostatThe NEST Learning Thermostat is a sexy little gadget that can knock 20% off your energy bill by "learning" your schedule and adapting to climatic needs. It's smart enough to know—and respond—when you've left the house, though you can control it from anywhere via smartphone. A rewarding leaf appears when it's at energy-conserving temperatures (often, only one degree below your usual setting), and it sends you a monthly email detailing exactly how your home is consuming its energy. $249

Coyuchi blanket



Love the sophisticated chevron look of Missoni but hate that most haute brands don't give a hoot about the environment? Go with this COYUCHI Zigzag Matelassé Coverlet for a similarly mod look. Its yarn-dyed cotton (no toxins or bleaches) is approved by the Global Organic Textile Standard, the strictest certification of its kind. Choose from three sizes, from throw to king. $122 to $360

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October 17, 2013

Groom & Grow Your Beard Naturally

young John Muir and his beard

Now that "No-Shave November" is looming, many are planning to honor the month with a nice face-sweater (pictured). Maybe you're following in the footsteps of 19th century mountaineers, poets, and philosophers like John Muir, Walt Whitman, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, bearding their way into American history; or taking after modern day facial-hair heroes like Jack Passion, the world champion, with a billowing fire-red beard.

Beards, indeed are a privilege, and with privilege comes responsibility. Before growing out your "Grizzly Adams," you ought to check out these modern beard products, designed for the environmentally conscious beard grower — because you're worth it!

Beard Oils Brooklyn Grooming boasts a fine line of vegan beard beautifying products from their Fort Greene collection, namely their moisturizing and soothing beard oil. After all, beards can itch and tingle and, like your scalp, develop dandruff over time. This oil consists of hempseed and organic sesame, and is subtly scented like a passing breath.

Or, if your natural musk is not enough and you'd prefer a mildly scented beard, slap on some Beard Tamer conditioning oil, made by Queen Bee Trading. This concoction consists of oils of avocado, jojoba, and almond and has a rich scent of sandalwood, white cedar, basil, and black pepper.

Beard Wax There comes a time when beard bristles grow rebellious. Wax helps keep your beard in check. There are plenty of beard waxes out there, but then there's Honest Amish  Original Beard Wax, handmade and blended with beeswax, fruit and nut butters, and botanicals.

Continue reading "Groom & Grow Your Beard Naturally" »

Clean Sweets: 5 Eco-Friendly Sugar Alternatives

Winter is for hot toddies and nogs, pies still warm from the oven, and fudge that makes your teeth ache. For those planning on baking up treats this holiday season, these sweeteners will ease the guilt that'll come with each glorious bite. SweetLeaf Stevia

When former healthcare executive Jim May founded WISDOM NATURAL BRANDS in 1982, it was because a Peace Corps volunteer who'd worked in Paraguay convinced him to taste the leaves of an herb called stevia. Once May learned that the processed plant can be up to 300 times sweeter than sugar but lacks calories, carbohydrates, or chemicals, he realized it could be a potent natural alternative to artificial sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose, and high-fructose corn syrup. He sunk his life savings into starting the company that now makes SweetLeaf Stevia, instilling strict rules for sustainable practices: No chemicals, solvents, or alcohols are used when extracting or purifying the plant; leaf residue becomes mulch or cattle feed; and water is recycled to irrigate local Guaraní farms. $14 for a 4.1-ounce bottle Bee Raw

Zeke Freeman grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania, where his twin passions sprouted: producing artisanal food and caring for pollinators. "I was able to eat homegrown fruits and vegetables off the land," he says. "We won't have that if we lose the honeybees." After he founded BEE RAW, he started the Save the Bees fund to combat colony collapse disorder, which has wiped out millions of hives. The company's Single Varietal Honey is pesticide-free, of course, but also unprocessed, unfiltered, and packaged in beautiful, gift-worthy glass. Flavors include wild raspberry, star thistle, orange blossom, and blueberry—each of which will last years if properly stored. $12 to $15 for a 10.5-ounce jar

Continue reading "Clean Sweets: 5 Eco-Friendly Sugar Alternatives" »

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