Day: May 1, 2013

We Could Be Doing Something Useful With the Energy Under Our Feet

Read the full story in Atlantic Cities.

Every time you take a step, a tiny bit of energy goes to waste. You raise one leg and plant another. And in the space of that modest footfall, the energy created by your landing sole dissipates beneath you.

“At the moment,” says Oliver Schneider, the managing director of London-based architecture and innovation consultancy The Facility, “when you walk along the ground, the energy that you’re giving out actually goes into the ground as vibration through the body, as sound, as friction that wears your shoes out.”

Picture a whole crowd of pedestrians scuffing their soles and stomping to work – maybe on a subway platform, or in food court – and that accumulated footfall starts to look like something that might be useful. The Facility has been working on variations of this notion for a decade, harnessing energy from foot traffic, from cars rolling over roadways, or trains rumbling across railroad tracks. And as long as we’re looking for renewable energy just about anywhere we can find it, why not literally beneath our feet?

The Best Excuse Ever for Getting Your Groceries Delivered: It’s Greener

Read the full story at Atlantic Cities.

Delivery trucks are typically heavy, diesel-burning beasts that churn out clouds of exhaust – not the greatest thing for the environment. But if grocery-store owners and consumers were to use them smartly, these boxy vehicles might in fact reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, according to new research.

The climate-changing qualities of services like FreshDirect, Peapod and Google’s trial project in San Francisco are the subject of a recent study by Anne Goodchild and Erica Wygonik, engineers at the University of Washington. They found that the traditional method of grocery shopping in America – driving to and from a store – is much less friendly to the overheated atmosphere than simply ordering the supplies online. The difference they detected is stark: Going the delivery truck-route reduced CO2 emissions by at least half in their model, compared to car trips.

16 Rules for ‘Smarter’ Smart Growth

Read the full story in Atlantic Cities.

I hesitate to write yet another article about bringing “smart growth,” the combination of ideas born in the 1990s to counter suburban sprawl – into the 21st century. I’ve long argued that, at a minimum, it’s time to update the so-called “ten principle” adopted back then by the Smart Growth Network that emphasize compact development, transportation choices, and so on. We’ve learned so much since then, about green infrastructure, food, health, green buildings, the merits of moderate density, revitalization and gentrification, and more, that would allow us to make communities even smarter.

But most smart growth advocates remain concentrated on the infill+density+transit formula of the 1990s. The one major addition to the menu that I would recognize since the 1990s has been walkability (and perhaps its cousin, complete streets), and it’s an important one. But that’s about it, for what the major parts of the smart growth movement spend their time on.

So I was heartened to see a Twitter link earlier this week to an article in the awkwardly named UrbDeZine San Diego titled “10 Rules for Smarter Smart Growth.” I have company in this lonely quest!

Harvard University Recognizes EPA Renewable Energy Program as a Top Government Innovation

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) RE-Powering America’s Land Initiative was recognized as one of the Top 25 Innovations in American Government by Harvard University. The initiative, started at EPA in 2008, encourages development of renewable energy on potentially contaminated lands, landfills and mining sites.

“We are honored that EPA and the RE-Powering Initiative have been recognized for its promotion of innovative land revitalization. The EPA saw an opportunity to return contaminated or potentially contaminated lands to productive reuse while supporting renewable energy development,” said Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. “As President Obama has made clear, investments in American-made renewable energy are vital to our economic security and environmental health.”

The RE-Powering Initiative supports the transformation of liabilities into assets for surrounding communities. Since RE-Powering’s inception, more than 70 renewable energy projects have been installed on contaminated sites or landfills. These early projects represent over 215 MW of installed capacity, which could power approximately 35,000 homes, and provide a foundation for future development as demonstrations of the latest technologies in both renewable energy and remediation design.

The Harvard Innovations Award is funded by the Ford Foundation and administered by the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Over 400 government initiatives have been recognized since the Innovations program began in 1985.

“These Top 25 innovations in government offer real, tangible ways to protect our most disadvantaged citizens, educate the next-generation workforce, and utilize data analytics to enhance government performance,” said Stephen Goldsmith, director of the Innovations in Government program at the Ash Center. “Despite diminishing resources, these government programs have developed model innovations that other struggling agencies should be inspired to replicate and adapt to their own communities.”

In 2000, the EPA Brownfields program was recognized as the Innovations in American Government’s overall award winner. Final award selection for this year is anticipated later in 2013.

Land Application of Treated Sewage Sludge: Community Health and Environmental Justice

Amy Lowman, Mary Anne McDonald, Steve Wing, Naeema Muhammad (2013). “Land Application of Treated Sewage Sludge: Community Health and Environmental Justice.” Environmental Health Perspectives 121:537-542. Online at http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1205470.

Abstract

Background: In the United States, most of the treated sewage sludge (biosolids) is applied to farmland as a soil amendment. Critics suggest that rules regulating sewage sludge treatment and land application may be insufficient to protect public health and the environment. Neighbors of land application sites report illness following land application events.

Objectives: We used qualitative research methods to evaluate health and quality of life near land application sites.

Methods: We conducted in-depth interviews with neighbors of land application sites and used qualitative analytic software and team-based methods to analyze interview transcripts and identify themes.

Results: Thirty-four people in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia responded to interviews. Key themes were health impacts, environmental impacts, and environmental justice. Over half of the respondents attributed physical symptoms to application events. Most noted offensive sludge odors that interfere with daily activities and opportunities to socialize with family and friends. Several questioned the fairness of disposing of urban waste in rural neighborhoods. Although a few respondents were satisfied with the responsiveness of public officials regarding sludge, many reported a lack of public notification about land application in their neighborhoods, as well as difficulty reporting concerns to public officials and influencing decisions about how the practice is conducted where they live.

Conclusions: Community members are key witnesses of land application events and their potential impacts on health, quality of life, and the environment. Meaningful involvement of community members in decision making about land application of sewage sludge will strengthen environmental health protections.

Environmental Exposures in the Context of Child Care

Read the full story in Environmental Health Perspectives.

Research has proven that infants and toddlers, who spend more time on the floor and experience the world with their hands and mouths, are not merely in closer contact with many indoor pollutants but also more sensitive to them.Yet environmental health standards in child care settings nationwide — which can include not just centers but also private homes, workplaces, universities, and places of worship — still lag behind those of schools, where children are older, larger, and somewhat less susceptible to environmental exposures. Unlike with more uniformly regulated schools, child care licensing, permitting, and oversight occur on a variety of levels, resulting in a fractured regulatory landscape.

Alan Alda wants scientists to cut out the jargon

Read the full story in R&D Magazine.

Among the procedures Army surgeon Hawkeye Pierce performed on “M.A.S.H.” was an end-to-end anastomosis.

Most of the viewers, actor Alan Alda concedes, had no idea he was talking about removing a damaged piece of intestine and reconnecting the healthy pieces.

Today, the award-winning film and television star is on a mission to teach physicians, physicists and scientists of all types to ditch the jargon and get their points across in clear, simple language.

The former host of the long-running PBS series “Scientific American Frontiers” is a founder and visiting professor of journalism at the Stony Brook University Center for Communicating Science, which has just been named in his honor.

Mysterious catalyst explained

Read the full story in R&D Magazine.

From methanol to formaldehyde—this reaction is the starting point for the synthesis of many everyday plastics. Using catalysts made of gold particles, formaldehyde could be produced without the environmentally hazardous waste generated in conventional methods. Just how the mysterious gold catalyst works has been found out by theoretical and experimental researchers at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum in a cooperation project. In the international edition of the journal Angewandte Chemie they report in detail on what happens on the gold surface during the chemical reaction.

2013 Gibbs & Soell Sense & Sustainability Study

Download the document (requires free registration).

Attend a sustainability conference and you are likely to find at least one discussion panel or presentation dedicated to the “green” consumer and what it takes to motivate people to embrace sustainable choices.  While much of the discussion revolves around product marketing, the 2013 G&S Sense & Sustainability® Study suggests internal communications may be even more effective in driving behavioral change.

“Consumer” is a term for such a diverse group of people it’s hard to make general assumptions, but there is a common title that more than half of U.S. adults share ­– employee.  According to a study conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Gibbs & Soell, a global business communications agency, when employees engage in sustainability activities at work, 73 percent are more likely to become sustainable consumers at home, and 80 percent are more likely to encourage others to behave more sustainability.

It’s been well documented that engaging employees in sustainability activities at work helps improve organizational productivity, employee satisfaction and talent retention. Now we find that engaging employees in sustainability also translates to more advocates of sustainability at home and in the community.

Unfortunately, not enough employees feel engaged. Of the more than 1,000 employed adults surveyed, 63 percent said that no one at their company is responsible for corporate sustainability, or they are not sure who is. Nearly 70 percent also said they wished their employer engaged in more sustainable business practices and less than half felt their company does a good job of communicating about sustainability.

However, their desire to learn about responsible corporate behaviors doesn’t stop with their employer. Among employed adults, there is also a strong link between knowledge gained about a company’s sustainability efforts and their intent to purchase from that company. Three-quarters say they would be more likely to buy a company’s products or services if they learned it was making a greater effort to adopt environmentally-conscious practices.

Certainly, marketing communications is a key component for educating consumers about sustainable choices, but it’s important that companies don’t lose sight of those consumers they influence from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. As the G&S Sense & Sustainability Study demonstrates, an investment in employee engagement clearly pays dividends externally as well as internally.