Friday, June 7, 2013 | By Jason Zaworski | No Comments
Oregon grows some of the best produce and plants in the world and one of the best places to purchase them is at your local farmers market. Need a few more reasons why you should find a farmers market? Here are three to get you going:
It’s a community. Shopping for food can be a chore – or it can be a splendid, outdoor experience in a colorful friendly environment. Studies show that you’re 10 times more likely to have a meaningful conversation at a farmers market than at a regular grocery store. Come by yourself and make some new friends or make a day of it with family or friends.
Get to know the face behind your food. Remember when a family knew their butcher and their baker? At a farmers market you can get to know the people who grow, raise, bake, preserve and prepare your food. You can learn their names, talk to them about what they grow or make, and find out what life is like for them. And they get to know you too, and remember you and your favorite choices.
Try something new. Ever get tired of the same ole same ole? It wouldn’t hurt ya to try something new. Don’t know what do to with kohlrabi, let alone spell it? Many vendors offer recipes and tips on how to cook unfamiliar items, so grab a recipe card or simply chat with the farmer who grew it!
Farmers markets are good for you and good for Oregon. Find the market nearest you at InLocalWeLove.com.
Thursday, June 6, 2013 | By Great Energy Challenge | No Comments
Recently I was asked to serve as a judge for the Shell Student Energy Challenge, an infographic competition that was part of the student fuel-efficiency contest, Shell Eco-marathon. Shell sponsors National Geographic’s Great Energy Challenge initiative.
This provided a fascinating opportunity to evaluate what many of us feel: that we must begin by not only communicating better the risks of neglecting the planet, but also by highlighting the antidotes to our current miserable record of planetary care.
If we are not doing this, who will? Well, the segment of the population we all point to as the one most likely both to care and to take action is well on its way, the competition amply proved. That group is secondary school and college-age kids and young adults. (As I often sadly say, this group is also most likely to bring a class-action lawsuit against those of us older than 50. We really have no defense to the contention that we had and have sufficient data on how damaging our life-style has become, and we also have ample data on the many opportunities to change things for the better, but to date, have not done so. That, however, is the subject for another note.)
Shell Eco-marathon is a global mileage challenge and forum for current and future leaders who are working to find smarter solutions to the world’s energy challenge. Student teams compete to design, build, and drive the most energy-efficient vehicle possible.
I have had the opportunity to read a great many entries from high schools and colleges in the United States and Canada, who competed in the Americas division of the competition, and from students in the separate Europe Shell Student Energy Challenge In a single poster, students were asked to describe visually and in text and words our current situation and how we can address this crisis. More specifically, the question posed to these students was:
By the year 2050, the earth’s population is expected to exceed nine billion people and the demand for energy is expected to triple. What does the global energy mix look like in the year 2050?
The best entries are truly inspiring, and short of critiquing each (a very “over 50″ thing to do), I’ll start by just sharing a few. I don’t agree with all of their assessments (more on that later), but want to highlight those that really caught my eye:
University of Toronto
The University of Toronto team did a great job of making particularly clear the mix of energy supply-side sources today and in the future, and highlighting just how much is riding on a set of sectors that occupy an exceedingly small supply tomorrow. My quibble with this infographic, which took second place in the Americas contest, is that I think these students are far too conservative on solar, geothermal, and nuclear. (Remember that this latter category includes everything from the exceedingly costly (today) nuclear fission plants, to small modular nuclear reactors, and fusion.) Notice that coal is entirely absent from this team’s assessment in 2050. Critically absent, however—and for some, hard to graphically portray—is what many feel will be the largest resource: efficiency.
Norwegian University of Science and Technology
To be sure energy efficiency is not neglected here (above). This infographic by the DNV Fuel Fighter team from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology is one that takes a narrow view of just this resource, but does a great job showing just how diverse energy efficiency options truly are.
University of Missouri
The University of Missouri team captured first place in the Americas contest with this wonderful version that captures the diversity of energy options—and the ability for people everywhere to exploit some of their local resources. While quibbles can abound here (such as the amazing solar, geothermal, and other resources in Africa and Australia, to name two neglected regions), but I’d really like to see their “H” hydroelectric light bulbs be used for another energy carrier, H2 (hydrogen). I’d also have a bit more on the benefits and the perils of large-scale hydropower in the figure.
Delft University of Technology
Students from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands delivered this excellent take on the benefits and the challenges of the place where most experts think we are headed: toward more and more mega-cities and mega-regions. This visually clean, but perhaps a bit “lean” infographic focusing on the future of urban areas took second place in the Europe competition.
Technical University of Crete
Thistruly beautiful infographic (above) from the Technical University of Crete, Greece, won first place in the Europe competition. Another infographic to appeal to geeks like myself (and I think the watchers of shows like “The Big Bang Theory” is below, by Warsaw University of Technology in Poland.
Warsaw University of Technology
This final info-graphic—and all of these were winners in my voting—highlights another key point: there is a great deal to learn that underpins innovative new thinking on sustainable energy and economic systems.
If there is a missing theme to note in these great posters, though, it is people, policies, and behavior. I’ll be suggesting and offering to judge similar competitions that take equally insightful looks at what does and what can motivate behavior change— by individuals, by households, communities, countries, and leaders.
I will be hoping and rooting for that competition to really drive home the importance of the balance we need between technical and social innovations!
Thursday, June 6, 2013 | By National Geographic News | No Comments
A U.S. government-supported project in Tennessee seeks to launch a new kind of nuclear plant—a “small modular reactor.” Can downsizing address both cost and safety concerns?
Wednesday, June 5, 2013 | By Great Energy Challenge | No Comments
From swapping in smarter lighting to installing solar panels, many homeowners are seeking energy efficiency boosts that can cut bills and lower their carbon footprint. But just how green can a home get? Julie Torres Moskovitz offers an answer in The Greenest Home, a just-released visual and practical guide to some remarkable passive houses around the world. (See related posts: “Green Fridays, Smart Lighting and More: How National Geographic Cuts Its Energy Use” and “A Model Net Zero Home by the Numbers.”)
What is a passive house? “Simply said,” Moskovitz writes, “a Passive House is a building that is very well insulated, virtually airtight, and primarily heated by the sun.” The interior temperature is designed to stay at 68 degrees Fahrenheit, and to bring in fresh air while removing exhaust air.
In order to meet the passive house standard in the United States, the book says, a home must be tested for airtightness, and caps are set on energy demand for heating and cooling.
The energy savings these homes can achieve are remarkable (reductions of up to 70 percent, according to the book), but what’s really striking about the homes in the book is just how modern, airy and inviting they look. Moskovitz answered our questions via e-mail.
How did the idea for this book come to you? What did you hope to achieve?
I was working on a Passive House retrofit project in Brooklyn and networking with people in the NYC Passive House scene. I realized that not only was there a lot of very current work happening that wasn’t yet captured in a book, but that it could be tremendously useful to collect information and present it in a way that would allow the public to better understand what Passive House is. I also insisted on adding an appendix with technical data, drawings, and construction photos that would help architects, builders, and students learn about meeting the Passive House standards.
I committed to writing a book that shows how integral the Passive House philosophy is through all stages of a project. I find that a lot of green design books are confusing for readers. For example, a text that describes an efficient technology in one sentence while dedicating the next to a concern like importing rare stone slabs from Italy for a kitchen counter, that runs contrary to green thinking. Passive House is green through and through and enables a homeowner to conserve energy without sacrificing comfort.
Is there a house (or houses) in the book that stands out to you in particular, either aesthetically or in terms of its energy-saving features?
My favorite project in the book is by BLAF Architecten in Asse, Belgium. I just love how congenial the design is with features like a basketball court in the yard, an ever-morphing chalkboard façade, and interior spaces that are so optimistic. It seems like a fun playhouse for a family to enjoy year-round. On top of all this, it’s Passive and Energy Plus that feeds power back to the grid with its 20 solar photovoltaic panels.
You display the latitude and longitude with each house listing in the book. Why is that?
This infographic came about when we were looking at how to order the case studies in relation to one another. Since location and performance are corollary in Passive House, we felt this to be a natural way to present the data. The coordinates reiterate that we are on one planet together and that orientation is integral to Passive House.
It matters how the sun affects each façade of your building, as windows and glass doors are part of the energy balance in the home. I combined the use of latitude with a graphic of Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion map, which envisions the continents as one island, and makes the point of how vulnerable we all are to climate change but also how interconnected.
What are some of the challenges one encounters when designing a passive house? Are retrofits harder?
The main challenge is getting buy-in from everyone involved so that there is comprehensive problem-solving at each phase of the project, especially during construction, when hasty decisions can negatively impact the stringent Passive House requirements, particularly airtightness.
Retrofits should theoretically be harder because you are working with elements that were inherited from the previous builder. However, I know it’s doable. Having completed a certified retrofit project, I know that the speed bumps are not likely to dissuade those committed to the Passive House model.
The book features homes from all over the world, but is there one country or region where you would say great progress is being made in green home design?
Well, I am going to give it to North America—precisely I am thinking of BC Passive House in Canada, founded by Matheo Durfeld. Passive House in Europe has a 15-year lead with established component manufacturing. In North America, the opportunities are limitless, as business-minded individuals begin to develop Passive House products for our market. For example, Durfeld founded a manufacturing plant that prefabricates building envelope panels that meet rigorous Passive House standards.
I noticed that many of the houses in the book have what seems to be a similar look: simple, smooth, a lot of dark wood on the exterior, irregularly placed windows, often rectangular. Is that just a function of the modern aesthetic now, or are there more practical reasons for this style?
It primarily speaks to a contemporary aesthetic but also to the fact that the homeowners aren’t over-doing it with materials and finishes that would contradict the greenness of what they created at the airtight thermal building envelope. In the book I was actually trying to highlight that these homes are inspiring modern designs, yet are super-high performance; they are models for 21st century living and show that green, formally speaking, can be anything.
What misperceptions do you think people have about passive houses?
The worst one is when people think that the windows don’t open and that there isn’t fresh air.
How does cost compare? Have you evaluated (or been asked about) payback times in terms of saved energy versus any additional cost required to make a house passive?
It’s very hard to do a cost comparison because there are so many varying factors. I have heard varying percentages but somewhere between 5 percent to 7 percent more for a Passive House is probably accurate. I am hesitant to give a definitive though because so many things factor in. If I am working with a client we work on other aspects of designing a comfortable and desirable home and this takes into account their programming needs. It’s very hard to separate those costs from what costs are the ones specific to a Passive House. Yes I am often asked about evaluating payback but it’s usually a developer wanting to know the bottom-line dollar investment. Clients realize there is more than a straightforward payback. For example, there is the stability of not being so dependent on volatile energy pricing, and the comfort of knowing that they have significantly reduced their carbon footprint.
How do you see the future evolving for passive house design and the market for it?
Well I am eagerly awaiting that tipping point where Passive House is in the vernacular and more people consider it for themselves. I hope my book will help familiarize the public about it. I am starting to receive calls from developers interested in Passive House. This is a good sign, as it suggests that they have market pressures to consider, not merely “green” design, but the deep potential impact of the Passive House model.
Browse the book:
This post has been updated from the original to remove references to energy consumption for the passive house standard, as cited in the book, and a misleading comparison with average energy consumption in American homes based on government data. Each figure was based on very different methodology.
Monday, June 3, 2013 | By EarthShare | No Comments
Tackling Climate Change: A Smart Investment
SalFalko / Flickr
In the financial community, the conventional wisdom holds
that businesses will continue investing in fossil fuels, despite the damage
they do to the climate, because they’re profitable. Last month, financial-services
company The Motley Fool held a symposium challenging the idea that
fossil fuels are a wise investment, even when you exclude environmental harms.
Staff from EarthShare member organizations including The
Union of Concerned Scientists and Green America joined other guests to show how
companies are thriving by addressing climate risk in their portfolios and
operations. If you’re an investor or business owner, you’ll want to take their
lessons to heart.
an economist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, introduced the audience to
the concept of the Carbon
Bubble. The idea is
simple: because we can’t burn most of the fuels that energy companies have in
their reserves without causing catastrophic warming, those reserves are
currently overvalued by the market. In other words, companies are placing
“unburnable carbon” in their portfolios.
“We’re in a new
normal now,” Cleetus said. “And we’ve got to start taking climate change as a
base issue for everything we do, including the way we invest.”
industry is preparing more than most, particularly those companies that insure
other insurance companies (“reinsurers” like Munich Re and Swiss Re). That’s
because they have to pay out when towns get swept away by floods or crops
wither from sustained droughts. Private insurers are so cognizant of climate
risk that they no longer provide flood insurance in the U.S., leaving the
federal government to provide that service.
every time one of these events happen, every single taxpayer is on the hook,
whether we’re talking about disaster relief or paying insurance claims. So this
is not just about the people getting flooded,” Cleetus said.
Stu Dalheim, Vice President of
Shareholder Advocacy at Calvert Investments has also witnessed the direct
impacts of climate change on businesses:
companies like VF Corporation [an apparel company] have earnings impacts due to
floods in Pakistan which caused cotton prices to go up. [They’re already]
dealing with very thin margins in their supply chain.”
How can you find out if a company you
invest in is truly addressing climate change? Find out if their sustainably goals are integrated
into everything they do, said Joe Cosola of the Center for Climate and Energy
Solutions. And look at their 10-K
filings with the Security
and Exchange Commission (SEC).
“You can often
tell quite quickly how seriously they take their [climate] risks,” Cosola said.
climate change in one’s business plan helps companies avoid risk on one hand,
and also opens up opportunities on the other. Organizations like Opower and
National Geographic are making and saving money by making sustainability a core
part of their businesses.
Geographic saves $500,000 per year on utilities through energy saving measures
in its buildings. Opower is in the business of helping companies and homeowners
reduce their energy costs – nearly $300 million since they launched in 2007.
One of Opower’s
clients, an energy utility called National Grid, is banking on efficiency.
can… make as much money investing in energy efficiency as they would investing
in other types of transmission, distribution, and power generation – sometimes they
make even more,” said Opower’s Senior Director of Market Development Jim
Kapsis. “You’re aligning the incentives
of the private sector with what is in the social interest and what’s also,
frankly, in the economic interest of the country because we’re wasting a lot of
resources that would be better used to stimulate other parts of the economy.”
America, an EarthShare organization that certifies small businesses on
sustainability measures, has found that consumers, too, are more apt to support
businesses that are good to the environment. This is backed up by the results
of a recently released Cone Communications/Echo
Global CSR study, which indicated that consumer
affinity surges when companies support social or environmental issues: 96% of global citizens reported
having a more positive image of a company; 94% will be more likely to trust
that company; and 93% will be more loyal to the company (i.e., continue buying
products or services).
“If you provide a product that’s genuinely
green, and not greenwashed, then people can see that your company is actually
walking the talk and are more likely to buy the product,” said Todd Larsen,
Green America’s Corporate Responsibility Director.
business community is finding that their continued existence is dependent on addressing
climate change. Investors can play a role in encouraging this shift by
supporting companies that have an eye on the future and using shareholder
activism or removing support from those that aren’t.
may be difficult, according to Cleetus, but “’Let’s not do anything’ is not
To learn more about climate change
impacts on investing, visit:
Investor Initiatives, Carbon Disclosure Project
Social Investing, Green America*
Investor Network, Ceres
Clean Technology: A Smart Investment for the United
States, Union of
Friday, May 31, 2013 | By Great Energy Challenge | No Comments
On a recent late night at the office, I got a warning from the cleaning woman: “You know the lights all shut off at 10 o’clock, right?” Fortunately, I had never stayed at National Geographic late enough to learn that fact. But I had noticed before that at 8:00 p.m., my computer sends a message saying it is going into sleep mode unless I click a button to keep it on.
Those automatic shut-offs are one of many small measures that have added up to big energy savings for the National Geographic Society. In fact, the Society’s facilities department announced earlier this year that NG achieved a record for energy conservation last year, hitting its lowest-ever level of energy use at 13,947,932 kilowatt hours. That’s 25 percent less energy than the Society used at its peak in 2000. Frank Candore, chief engineer for NGS, says each kilowatt hour saved amounts to 15.5 cents — at that rate, the Society has shaved nearly $700,000 off its annual energy bill.
The lights across National Geographic’s LEED-certified headquarters here in Washington, D.C. are shut off anywhere between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. on weekdays, depending on the location, and automatically come on at 7:15 a.m. The engineering staff also took one fluorescent bulb out of each fixture and replaced the remaining ones with higher-output bulbs, which cut the building’s lighting use almost in half, according to Candore.
Other ways NG cuts energy use:
- building temperature adjustments and improved heating/cooling systems
- smart printers that print only when you’re there to pick up the job, reducing paper waste
- Low-flow toilets and faucets in bathrooms
- Discounts and subsidies for Metro commuters and carpoolers
- Ample recycling and composting bins; compostable cups and containers in the cafeteria (and a discount on coffee if you bring your own mug)
- Green Fridays
What’s a Green Friday, you ask? For nine or ten days each year in warmer months, the Society shuts down most of its offices and cafeteria. If work needs to be done, employees do it remotely. According to Candore, every Green Friday saves 15,000 kilowatt hours, and this year, Green Fridays will add up to $21,000 in energy savings.
“We used to be 100 percent customer-oriented,” Candore said of his department. “If you called me and said, ‘I’m going to come in Saturday. Could you turn the air on for me?’ No problem.” Because of the way the building operated, that meant turning on the air conditioning for several floors on half of a whole building all day for one person—who may or may not have ended up coming to the office after all.
“About 10 years ago, we started saying, you know, we can’t keep running the equipment for one or two or three or four people. So we get people fans now if they want to come in on a Saturday or off hours,” he said.
Operators of large buildings like National Geographic have a significant role to play in increasing energy efficiency, and it’s clear to anyone who has passed a fully lit, empty office building at night that there is widespread room for improvement. Buildings account for about 40 percent of domestic energy use, and commercial buildings account for nearly half of that amount. As part of a larger effort to boost American energy efficiency, President Obama created the Better Buildings Initiative two years ago with the goal of making commercial buildings 20 percent more efficient by 2020.
Making such an improvement, however, isn’t as simple as just shutting off more lights. National Geographic’s progress is the product of several smaller changes that add up to large savings, and it’s countered somewhat by the cost associated with testing different approaches and new-to-market equipment.
“A lot of it’s all educating us, too,” Candore said. “We’re on the cutting edge of this, and not everything we do is a success.” He says, for example, that it took time to recognize energy savings from new, smaller boilers that were installed a couple of years ago. “We were thinking maybe we had a flop there,” he said. Changes to the way the boilers were being operated eventually resulted in improved performance.
The Society continues to look for improvements on energy use, and the engineering department is evaluating smart panels that would help fine-tune control over the building systems. As efforts to lower the Society’s carbon footprint continue internally, the new goal for 2015 is to achieve a 10 percent reduction in electrical use, 10 percent reduction in water use, 25 percent reduction in landfill waste, and 5 percent reduction in greenhouse gases for NG’s vendors and suppliers.
Many of the Society’s efforts at sustainability are also powered by a “green team” of employees who volunteer their time to help put ideas into practice and to bolster energy awareness across divisions. Candore said that citing the environment, rather than savings, as the impetus for occasionally jarring changes tends to elicit support from coworkers. But, he said, “We’d rather not even call it the green initiative. We’d rather just call it best building business practices, because that’s what it is.”
Wednesday, May 29, 2013 | By National Geographic News | No Comments
The countries that have made the most progress still have far to go to bring electricity and clean energy to their populations, a World Bank-led report details.
Wednesday, May 29, 2013 | By Great Energy Challenge | No Comments
U.S. Department of State photo
We generally complain that action on climate change is mired in polarized partisan politics and thus nothing can be done. True to an extent, but let’s hold on a bit.
In terms of generating important discussion about the clarity that exists around the conclusion that the scientific debate over climate change as an anthropogenic process is over, the political bully pulpit can be incredibly powerful.
A case in point is the paper published last week in Environmental Research Letters, where I am the Editor-in-Chief: “Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature” John Cook, of the Global Change Institute, University of Queensland, Australia, was lead author of the paper, which begins with this abstract:
We analyze the evolution of the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming (AGW) in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, examining 11,944 climate abstracts from 1991–2011 matching the topics “global climate change” or “global warming.” We find that 66.4 percent of abstracts expressed no position on AGW, 32.6 percent endorsed AGW, 0.7 percent rejected AGW and 0.3 percent were uncertain about the cause of global warming. Among abstracts expressing a position on AGW, 97.1 percent endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming. In a second phase of this study, we invited authors to rate their own papers. Compared to abstract ratings, a smaller percentage of self-rated papers expressed no position on AGW (35.5 percent.) Among self-rated papers expressing a position on AGW, 97.2 percent endorsed the consensus. For both abstract ratings and authors’ self-ratings, the percentage of endorsements among papers expressing a position on AGW marginally increased over time. Our analysis indicates that the number of papers rejecting the consensus on AGW is a vanishingly small proportion of the published research.
The paper came out, and President Barack Obama’s Twitter account weighed in:
That high-profile tweet (not directly from the president, but like all his tweets, from the campaign group formed to support his political agenda) drove a wave of attention to the research. Follow-on tweets came from Vice-President Al Gore and U. S. Congressman Henry Waxman. Television coverage followed in: ABC Lateline, Al Jazeera (Inside Story), CNN International, Democracy Now, and NRK. At last count there were over 200 newspaper and magazine pieces, and a number of radio segments. At last count there were several hundred blog posts on the findings of this paper and the Obama Tweet. A link to the ever-growing set of media coverage is: http://sks.to/tcpmedia.
The article has been downloaded over 21,600 article downloads in just a few days of having the paper published online.
What this story highlights – beyond the excellent data collection, analysis and scholarship in the paper itself – is the value of thoughtful comments and recognition of these findings.
Daniel M. Kammen is the Distinguished Professor of Energy at the University of California, Berkeley, where he founded and directs the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (http://rael.berkeley.edu). Kammen is a Coordinating Lead Author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. Kammen the Lead Scholar for the Fulbright NEXUS program in energy and climate for the U. S. Department of State.
Wednesday, May 29, 2013 | By National Geographic News | No Comments
In the valley that once lured gold seekers, oil prospectors are converging on the Monterey shale—a sharp new twist in California’s path to cleaner energy.
Wednesday, May 29, 2013 | By EarthShare | No Comments
Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative
Seeks to preserve and maintain the wildlife, wilderness and natural processes of the mountainous region from Yellowstone National Park to the Yukon Territory.
466 Kensington Avenue
Missoula, MT 59801
Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) Number: 49235