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Virtual Energy Forum

Friday, June 26, 2009 by Kyle Scribner

Orchard Garden Hotel
How exactly is $787B in stimulus funds being spent to help America become greener?

Which hotel is California’s first to become LEED certified (and just what does that mean, anyway)?

What Rockies town has become America’s “first smart-grid city”?

How can my company become more sustainable?

Interesting questions, huh?

And you know all the answers if you took my advice and participated in the Virtual Energy Forum, held yesterday and Wednesday at VirtualEnergyForum.com. But just in case you missed it, here’s a recap of two of the presentations I found most interesting:

Green stimulus funds
Mark Ginsberg, director of the Department of Energy, kicked things off with a not-quite-rousing but still informative presentation on U.S. energy management under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. He described the nation’s major metro areas (or as I like to call them, “Captivate hotbeds”) as the “action places where energy efficiencies can really be applied.” (Since almost all Captivate viewers live and/or work in the big city, he’s basically calling on you, dear Captivate viewer, to help usher in a new era of environmental responsibility!) He reiterated the U.S. plan to get 10% of our energy from renewable resources by 2012 and 25% by 2025, and to reduce greenhouse gases by 80% by 2050. Mr. Ginsberg explained the DOE and EERE (Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy) has almost $60 billion to spend toward those goals, with that money being allocated to states, which in turn allocate to businesses, municipalities and/or homeowners. He pointed out where to find energy funding opportunities and how to track where the money is actually going.

Orchard Garden Hotel
Melanie Lapointe of Swinerton Builders and Stefan Muhle of San Francisco’s Orchard Garden Hotel explained how the 86-room boutique hotel received California’s first LEED certification. LEED is the U.S. Green Building Council’s way of recognizing environmentally responsible architecture. In addition to the usual greening techniques – such as incorporating low-flow aerators on faucets; using Energy Star appliances; and utilizing planters that retain water to feed a plant over time, eliminating the need for an irrigation system – the pair pointed out some interesting angles you don’t normally give much thought to. Take worker training. You can have all the green tools in place, but if people aren’t using them correctly, Muhle says, what’s the use? One example he cited was breaking the old chef’s habit of defrosting food by keeping it under a stream of water. Huge waste of resources that can be solved simply by breaking an old habit. Another method the hotel uses to minimize footprint is to contract with environmentally aware companies, so not only is the hotel green in and of itself but also in its outside relationships. One example Muhle gave was how the hotel, too small for onsite laundry facilities, hired a local laundry that uses Earth-friendly cleansers and energy-efficient equipment. But the coolest thing the pair talked about was the futuristic-sounding Energy Key Card System, in which a guest’s key card doubles as an activator for the room’s lights and heating/cooling system. With this thing, you never have to worry about turning stuff off – or on, for that matter. It takes care of it for you. And they point out there are a couple traditional outlets in case you need power for something, like a laptop, when you’re not in the room. They say the system shows energy savings of close to 25%. Among the hotel’s other green aspects: It’s close to multiple modes of mass transit; car-sharing and carpooling services; a “bike to work” program, including bike racks and employee showering facilities; and a “cool roof” system that reduces the sun’s heat impact.

There’s a ton more greening info at the Virtual Energy Forum. If you sign up, you can still check out archived content on demand for the next 90 days.














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Greenest Cities

Wednesday, June 24, 2009 by Kyle Scribner

A Mitsubishi plug-in drives in ...

Mother Nature Network just released its list of America’s greenest cities. And no, San Francisco is not on top (No. 2, actually).

The Top 5:

  • Eugene, Ore., which boasts an award-winning hybrid public transit system.

  • Oakland, Calif., and its “zero waste and oil-independent by 2020” plan.

  • Boston, Mass., home of the "Green by 2015" goal.

  • San Francisco, Calif., whose recycling facility features an artist-in-residence.

And in a grand move to enhance anticipation, I’m not revealing No. 1. You’ll have to visit MNN’s list to see it (though I will give you a hint: I not too long ago wrote about the city).

One of the cool things about Mother Nature Network, other than that they’re a content provider for Captivate, is their staff. Peter Dykstra, formerly CNN’s science director, headed up MNN’s editorial group until just last month, when he left to become Deputy Director at the Pew Charitable Trust’s Environment Group. And MNN’s Director of Environmental Affairs is keyboardist for the Rolling Stones! That’s Chuck Leavell, who, in addition to being in one of the most iconic rock bands ever, is a renowned environmentalist and author.

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World Wide View

Friday, June 12, 2009 by Kyle Scribner

How often have you looked at the policies politicians come up with and thought, “I could do better than that”?

Well here’s your chance.

The U.N. Climate Change Conference, being held in Copenhagen in December, will determine THE global climate agenda. What the world’s heavyweights decide upon in Copenhagen will replace the Kyoto Protocol and dictate how thousands of countries approach climate change for years to come.

And you can help shape just what topics those heavyweights will focus on.

World Wide Views on Global Warming is giving citizens around the world the opportunity to tell the decision-makers what to do. The “global citizen deliberation event,” launched by the Danish Board of Technology, will gather roughly 100 residents in each of a variety of cities across 40 nations on September 26 to get input on policy recommendations like emission reduction, implementation and funding. It’s perhaps the public’s best chance to have a real say on one of our generation’s most important issues.

There will be seven U.S. locations: Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz.; Pomona College in Claremont, Calif.; Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colo.; Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Ga.; North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C.; University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wis.; and Museum of Science, Boston, in Boston, Mass.

David Sittenfeld of the Boston Museum of Science says, “The Museum and its partners are honored to lead Boston citizens in a discussion that will influence climate change policy-making on a global scale, and thereby impact the health of our planet. Their contributions will help ensure a more sustainable planet for their children and for future generations around the world.”

To be considered for inclusion in one of the panels, you need to apply through each venue. I believe the application deadlines vary; Boston’s is July 31. For more information, click on the city nearest you:

Atlanta

Boston

Claremont

Golden

Madison

Raleigh

Tempe

Some venues had yet to update their information as of this posting. You can also check out the World Wide Views listing.

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Climate Wizard

Wednesday, June 10, 2009 by Kyle Scribner

Global warming, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change put it, is unequivocal. Now a group of scientists from the University of Washington, University of Southern Mississippi and the Nature Conservancy are attempting to put a finer point on that assertion, with the release of the Climate Wizard.

The Climate Wizard is an easy-to-use, plain-to-read tool that localizes climate change data down to the state level. It allows users to see temperature and precipitation projections for their home states, all the way out to the year 2100.

It’s a tricky thing, because simple 3-day weather predictions, never mind decades-out climate projections, are notoriously difficult to pin down. But the tool is based on IPCC data, which is generally accepted as the best we have available (or at least was at the time of its release two years ago. Some have said it’s overblown, while other studies have since shown the IPCC projections are too conservative).

In any case, it’s an amazing tool that renders boring blah-blah science-speak in a neat graphical format.

And if you’re skeptical about projections, check out the feature that shows PAST temperature changes. It illustrates the trend over the past 50 years, and might just be the best predictor of all. (If so, the news ain’t good. New York, for example, shows a nearly degree rise just between 1950 and 2006.)





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Weaning Yourself Off Plastic Bags

Friday, June 5, 2009 by Kyle Scribner

I had always heard about how bad plastic bags are for the environment. So about a year ago, I decided to stop using them. It seemed like a pretty simple way to help out.

But it isn’t simple. I quickly realized I couldn’t live without the stupid things. When I wasn’t looking, they had ingrained themselves into the fabric of my life – not only did they get my groceries home, but they had become a variety of valuable tools: my lunchbox, my soiled-diaper stink isolators, my recycled-items holding units, etc., etc.

But I was determined. The replacement for their main use, getting groceries home from the store, was easy, because my wife used to be a teacher and, apparently, teachers accumulate reams of canvas bags from years of giveaways at seminars and through textbook promotions. I use the biggest one to hold all the others and leave it hanging on a hook in the basement stairwell so I can easily snag it on my way out to the store.

The challenging part was eliminating all those secondary uses. But I did it, with the help of one really simple little mindset switch I made. I’ll reveal it farther down.

But first let’s get into why we should even bother to stop using plastic bags. Why is it, exactly, that Ireland, India, China, San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, and the latest, Washington, DC, have enacted bans or taxes to discourage plastic bag use?

Most obviously, they’re unsightly. Hundreds of billions of plastic bags are used in the U.S. each year, making them one of the most common pieces of litter blowing across the nation’s streets and into our waterways. And once they’re out there, they’re not going anywhere – plastic bags don’t biodegrade, but rather eventually break down into tiny pieces that can harm wildlife. And as for harming wildlife: By collecting by the trillions in the oceans, bags are killing sea turtles and untold legions of other marine animals.

A less-obvious reason to stop using plastic bags is revealed when you take a look at how they’re made – they’re composed of polymers, which come from fossil fuels like oil or gas. The more plastic bags we use, the more CO2 we release into the atmosphere.

So what are the alternatives? If you don’t happen to be married to a teacher, you’ll have to go buy some reusable bags. Suggestions:

Revenge Is … bags, made from recycled bottles

Mission Playground’s organic cotton bag

Wavyo, for a big selection of recycled/cotton bags

Simple Shoes’ assortment of multiple-use bags

Calypso Studios’ woven rice cloth totes

Passchal designer bags, which aren’t going to help you all that much at the grocery store but felt I had to mention because they’re made from tractor tire inner tubes. Very cool.

Or you could just pick up a bunch at your local store, since they all have them now for super-cheap.

And that little change I made that freed me from using grocery bags for little household duties? I realized I had enough plastic bags already in the house from other sources, and simply started re-using those. I now stuff the smelly diaps in empty bread, produce, or newspaper bags, or food-storage bags after they’ve been used a couple times.





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About

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.