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Bad Guys Going Good?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008 by Kyle Scribner

So, we all know where we stand on the feds, right? They’re the enemy, the bad guys, “the Man” (as in, “stick it to ... ”).

I mean, as environmentalists, we understand that big government cares first about big business and other concerns are addressed only insofar as they don’t inconvenience said Big Biz, don’t we? After all, you don’t have to look hard for evidence that the current administration seems to not care about our natural world.

But in our haste to ‘fight the power,’ we may miss some things. There are, in fact, some very cool green initiatives going on at the federal level. For instance, all the electronics we use in our offices every day can amount to a whole lot of environmental baggage. Here’s how the government is helping to ease that load:

-- The EPA’s eCycling site is a clearinghouse for info on how businesses and individuals can dispose of computers in an environmentally friendly way.

-- EPEAT, established with a grant from the EPA, helps people choose the computers that hurt the environment the least.

-- The Federal Electronics Challenge (and its sister program, The State Electronics Challenge) is an awards program that encourages government agencies to think green when buying/using/disposing of electronics.

I know the more jaded of you out there are saying, “the government’s caring about the environment only because the environment is becoming big business.” Yeah, maybe. But the action’s what counts, not the motivation. Isn’t it?

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The Day After Earth Day

Wednesday, April 23, 2008 by Kyle Scribner

Today is April 23, the day after Earth Day. It’s not a significant date on any calendar, but it does have meaning for each of us. It can be the start of 364 straight days of not having to think about our role in the natural world, of not having to consider how important it is to live an environmentally conscious life.

Or, maybe, it could be the day we recognize that thinking about nature shouldn’t be a once-a-year obligation. It could be the day we finally get around to reading Walden or Silent Spring; the day we, for no good reason, stop and actually listen to the sounds birds make; the day we notice that the trees that line the walkway to our office aren’t all the same type; the day we stop flicking our butts into the street.

Today can be when we put Earth Day and its distractions behind us to again focus on the important things like arranging for the babysitter and getting to the bank before it closes. Or it can be when take a few minutes alone, maybe late tonight, to watch the stars or listen to the wind in the trees, and to rethink the meaning of “important.”

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Wind Beneath Your (Building) Wings

Saturday, April 19, 2008 by Kyle Scribner

Wind is one of the biggies of the alternative energy world (along with solar, hydro, geothermal and biomass), but it notoriously has had drawbacks: it’s not always there, and when it is, you need lots of open space to harness it, because – well, let’s just say that windmill at your local putt-putt ain’t actual size. Now, those drawbacks are being mitigated with the advent of building-integrated wind turbines. These mini-windmills, designed to take advantage of the turbulent, gusty winds seen in cities, can be installed directly on buildings in high-density areas; no big, open fields necessary. The turbines supply some of a building’s power, lessening its dependence on the electrical grid. Self-sustaining buildings – workplaces, apartments and schools that are able to generate at least as much energy as they consume – are becoming reality, and wind turbines are playing a role. See them in action:

Chicago: The Ford Calumet Environmental Center, set to open next summer in an ecologically sensitive area of Chicago, is being designed with a “zero-impact footprint” goal, with wind turbines a major part of that plan.

Boston: The Logan Office Center at Boston’s Logan International Airport is adding 20 wind turbines to help offset its energy use.

Bahrain: The granddaddy of them all, the Bahrain World Trade Center, has no need for mini-windmills. They’re going with full-size turbines, lack of wide-open space be damned. Three 95-foot blades supply 11-15% of the two towers’ power, the first time windmills of that scale have been integrated into a building.

Let us know what you think. Can you see your office utilizing a windmill?

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"Park"ing Spots Are Easy to Find

Wednesday, April 16, 2008 by Kyle Scribner

Where do you go when you feel like you absolutely have to get out of the city? Sometimes it’s better to look within: the park. They’re there, the big, green oases in every corner of American urbanity. But if we’ve worked for a long time in one city, it’s easy to ignore the park, to become jaded, to sniff at the simple pleasure of a stroll through its grounds as a touristy activity that’s below us (true metro denizens that we are). But next time you hit overload, don’t go making big plans for an escape to the 'burbs or beyond. Simply grab a book, walk down the street, and rediscover the charm of relaxing under the spread of an elm that is itself in the shadow of skyscrapers, the charm of escaping by staying right where you are.

If you’re in a Captivate Network market, you’re probably near one of what the CEO of the American Society of Landscape Architects tells USA Today are the best parks in the nation.

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Wild Animals in the City

Monday, April 14, 2008 by Kyle Scribner

You see the stories every now and then: A wild animal finds its way into an urban area, scaring the beejezus out of unsuspecting city folk (most of who consider the time a red squirrel [which are, admittedly, ornery critters] leapt out near them from a low-lying pine branch as their most exciting animal encounter), becoming the main topic on all the local news channels and rallying the populace to take up arms in defense of their labradoodles. The best result for the animal is that it is captured by authorities and released back into the wild. Sadly, the tales sometimes end like this Chicago Tribune story of a Chicago-roaming cougar. What’s your wild encounter story?

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Springtime Is Vernal Pooltime

Sunday, April 13, 2008 by Kyle Scribner

It’s spring so our first back-to-nature post will deal with a singularly spring phenomenon: vernal pools. These shallow pools form in ground depressions in forested areas or meadows in early spring and are a great way to observe life-cycles of smaller animals such as frogs and salamanders. Pools in the Midwest and East, often formed by snowmelt, typically have different characteristics than those in the West, but at any vernal pool you’re likely to see a variety of amphibians, from the spotted salamander (above) to the Western spadefoot toad. The best vernal pool shows come at night, when all the critters are active – and when you’ll get to hear these guys, a sound guaranteed to take you back to being a kid. The beauty of vernal pools is that they are often so small you can find them in relatively compact places. However, finding them is half the adventure – they’re tough to pinpoint, since those most familiar with the pools like to keep them pristine and often won’t give precise locations. But here’s some info to get you headed in the right direction:

New York City: Matthew Brown, Supervisor of the Soil and Water Lab at Central Park Conservancy, hints that the Azalea Pond area in the Central Park Ramble might be a good place to start. Outside Manhattan, Queens' Cunningham Park and Staten Island’s Long Pond Park Preserve promise vernal pools.

Boston: The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife says there are seven vernal pools in Boston. Many of the city’s Urban Wilds, such as the 90-acre Allandale Woods, would appear to be viable vernal pool locations, as would Mass Audubon’s Habitat Education Center and Wildlife Sanctuary, just six miles from downtown, and Boston Nature Center in Mattapan.

Chicago: The guys at the Chicago Herpetological Society would sooner pass up a face-to-face encounter with a Fijian iguana than divulge vernal-pool locations. But they are chock full of species info and their members post some truly gorgeous photos. Also, the Chicago Wilderness Consortium offers plenty of facts about Chicago-area wildlife and indicates that vernal pools can be found at their Gompers Park Wetland.

So all you need now are your mudding boots, a flashlight, and a sense of adventure – a healthy sense of adventure that is – don’t wander around unsafe places at night and don’t trespass on private property. Report back with your findings!

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Survey on Restorative Power of Nature

Thursday, April 10, 2008 by Kyle Scribner

A survey came out today that I found affirming because it taps into the same mindset that I had in starting this blog: There are a lot of people out there who would like to reconnect with nature but need a little push to do so. The survey commissioned by Scotts Miracle-Gro claims 61% of Americans say they understand the benefit of nature, but still don't spend enough time outdoors. I know this comes from a source with an agenda – the more time you spend outside the more likely you are to be shamed into doing something about your scraggly lawn – but I think it’s still getting to a truth. Hopefully this blog can help cut that 61% down a bit.

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California Power Play

Tuesday, April 8, 2008 by Kyle Scribner

Going green seems simple enough: You just set your mind to helping the environment and follow the three-step process of reduce, reuse, recycle, right? But this Los Angeles Times story underscores how difficult it can be to do the right thing, even when you mean well. The 87-year-old billionaire behind online-college behemoth University of Phoenix is pushing an alternative-energy ballot initiative in California that is opposed by seeming comrades-in-arms such as the Environmental Defense Fund and the American Wind Energy Association. Opponents say the act will be counterproductive to long-term progress in developing alternative energies; proponents claim there’s huge public support for it. California has a reputation as being one of the greenest states, so there may be a lot riding on how this plays out. Who’s right? Let us know, Californians and other interested parties.

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Welcome to Green Among Gray

Monday, April 7, 2008 by Kyle Scribner

I imagine some of you are saying, “not another blog about the environment.” Well, yes, technically this is another blog about the environment, but hopefully it’ll be delivering something a bit different. There will be the standard stuff –environmental news and tips – tailored so the big-city worker can easily apply it to his/her life. But Green Among Gray’s main function is to move you to appreciate nature again, to be awed by it like you were as a kid. Why bother, you ask? First, the world appears to be heading for trouble, natural-resource-wise, and one way to stem that is to keep nature top-of-mind; second, we could all use a boost of energy, and a lot of restorative power can come from reconnecting with nature; and, finally, a more shallow reason: ‘Green’ is chic – you’ll have something to add the next time the dinner conversation turns to conservation.

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Kyle Scribner is a born-again nature freak who also happens to be an editor at Captivate Network.

You know that exhilarated feeling you got as a kid when you would go down to the pond to catch frogs? It never really goes away; it’s just dormant. So I'm here to slap a mix of facts and borderline balanced opinion on you, to poke a stick at the nature freak slumbering in us all and maybe get him to once again come out and play.

And we might even learn a few things about the environment as we go.


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About Green Among Gray

How do you commune with nature or become part of the solution to the environmental crisis when you're trapped in a cement-and-glass, gas-guzzling, power-sucking, emissions-spewing metropolis 8 hours (or more) a day? How do you go 'green' in a world of gray?

Actually, there are plenty of ways, and Green Among Gray aims to show high-rise inhabitants how they can help ease the load on the environment and on their minds by exploring natural oases, conservation tips, and other ways to stay green while working in the concrete-built world of the big city.

Look for short updates on the latest environmental news along with periodic longer features on specific places and events that allow big-city workers to get close to nature.