Author: Laura B.

I'm the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center's Sustainability Information Curator, which is a fancy way of saying embedded librarian. I'm also Executive Director of the Great Lakes Regional Pollution Prevention Roundtable. When not writing for Environmental News Bits, I'm an avid reader. Visit Laura's Reads to see what I'm currently reading.

How Walmart’s green label aims to drive supplier ‘race to the top’

Read the full post in GreenBiz.

What do Tide laundry detergent, a poster covered in adorable puppies wearing headphones and a baseball hat emblazoned with the cast of Duck Dynasty have in common?

One, they’re all sold at Walmart. Two, the grab bag of products are all made by Walmart suppliers included in an initial batch of 150 companies that earned the right to be included in a new “sustainability leader” section of the mega-retailer’s growing e-commerce operation. Those suppliers range from consumer products giants like Procter & Gamble and Unilever to smaller businesses like California-based Musco Family Olive Co.

The new online badging program, announced on Tuesday at a company Milestone Meeting held just south of San Francisco, is an outgrowth of the company’s efforts to index supply chain sustainability standards across product categories. About 1,300 suppliers participated in Walmart supplier sustainability surveys last year, and about 12 percent of those companies have received the new sustainability leaders designation, Walmart Director of Product Sustainability Robert Kaplan told GreenBiz.

New mobile air pollution monitor being tested in Los Angeles

Read the full story from Southern California Public Radio.

The ability to identify pollutants in the air is made difficult by changing conditions and the fact that harmful substances are usually invisible to the naked eye. A new vehicle being tested in Los Angeles may change how air monitoring occurs by providing real time data of toxic substances in the air.

A Digital Waterfall That Illuminates the Threat of Air Pollution

Read the full story at Hyperallergic.

While we can see the rhythm of traffic or the churning clouds from factory smokestacks, the actual levels of pollution in our daily air are less visible. In an ongoing public art project by artist Andrea Polli called “Particle Falls,” a waterfall of light changes colors from blue to flaming reds and yellows based on real time air quality data.

Making the Healthy Choice the Easy Choice: ULI Publication Contains Strategies for Development that Encourages Healthy Lifestyles

The mixed-income Greenbridge community in Seattle, Washington, features retail, residential, and other uses clustered closely.  ©Derek Reeves

The mixed-income Greenbridge community in Seattle, Washington, features retail, residential, and other uses clustered closely. ©Derek Reeves

Development strategies that can improve health outcomes, such as providing protected bikeways, minimizing noise pollution, and offering amenities such as community gardens, are highlighted in a new publication from the Urban Land Institute (ULI), the Building Healthy Places Toolkit: Strategies for Enhancing Health in the Built Environment.

The Building Healthy Places Toolkit outlines 21 practical, evidence-based recommendations that the development community can use to promote health at the building or project scale. The recommendations, based on the latest documentation of the need for and impact of building for health, were formulated to help developers, owners, property managers, designers, and investors understand opportunities to integrate health promoting practices into real estate development.

The release of the report is in response to declining health trends in the United States and other countries around the world, with many of the conditions linked to past land use decisions that limited options for healthy, active living environments. For instance:

  • 13 million school days are missed each year in the U.S. due to asthma-related illnesses;
  • The number of children with type 2 diabetes related to sedentary lifestyles has tripled since 1980;
  • By 2030, it is anticipated that one out of 11 people in the U.S. will be at least 100 pounds overweight; and,
  • Healthcare costs – the cost to treat illness, not keep people well — currently consume 19 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) of the United States; 9 percent of the GDP in Europe; and 5 percent of the GDP in China.

“In many communities around the world, the healthy choice is not the easy choice,” said ULI Global Chief Executive Officer Patrick L. Phillips. “We know that the built environment has a profound impact on health outcomes. ULI is aiming to encourage development practices that promote health and wellness, physical activity and social interaction. Increasingly, the ability of developers and communities to deliver on health is translating into market value for projects.”

ULI’s work connecting land use and health includes documentation that communities and projects that are able to meet the market demand for health will see their value endure over time. Some indications of the growing demand for and rising value associated with healthy places:

  • Seventy-six percent of Millennials think walkability is important in where they choose to live;
  • More than half of Americans (51 percent) want to live in a community that has transit. 53 percent want to be close to shops, restaurants, and offices.
  • Homes located in neighborhoods with good walkability are worth $34,000 more on average than similar homes in neighborhoods with average walkability.
  • Access to sunlight in office buildings increases worker productivity by 15 percent.

The report’s 21 recommendations are organized into three categories 1) the availability of opportunities to be physically active; 2) access to healthy food and drinking water, and 3) exposure to a healthy environment with a high degree of social interaction:

On physical activity:

  • Incorporate a mix land uses (to reduce the need to drive from place to place)
  • Design well-connected street networks at the human scale
  • Provide sidewalks and enticing, pedestrian-oriented streetscapes
  • Provide infrastructure to support biking
  • Design visible, enticing stairs to encourage frequent use
  • Install stair prompts and signage
  • Provide high-quality spaces for multigenerational play and recreation
  • Build play spaces for children

On healthy food and drinking water:

  • Accommodate a grocery store
  • Host a farmers market
  • Promote healthy food retail
  • Support on-site gardening and farming
  • Enhance access to drinking water

On healthy environment and social well-being:

  • Ban smoking
  • Use materials and products that support healthy indoor air quality
  • Facilitate proper ventilation and airflow
  • Maximize indoor lighting quality
  • Minimize noise pollution
  • Increase access to nature
  • Facilitate social engagement
  • Adopt pet-friendly policies

The 21 recommendations are accompanied by evidence-based strategies, suggested best practices, project descriptions and photos, and quotes by real estate leaders. The report illustrates the application of the recommendations to seven real estate typologies – master-planned communities, multifamily, mixed-use, office, industrial, single-family, and retail. The report also includes summaries of leading health and sustainability certification systems.

The Center for Active Design was the contributing author and expert content advisor for the Toolkit. The Center is a nonprofit organization that promotes architecture and urban planning solutions to improve public health. “This groundbreaking toolkit illuminates the intersection between health and real estate development,” says Joanna Frank, Executive Director of the Center for Active Design. “By translating the latest health evidence into practical recommendations, this resource empowers developers to provide opportunities for active, healthy lifestyles – while meeting growing market demand for health-promoting places.”

The project was generously supported by the Colorado Health Foundation and a gift to the ULI Foundation from the estate of Melvin Simon. The Colorado Health Foundation has been a key partner in ULI’s health-related work. “We are at a rare and exciting moment in public life that allows us to put our heads together and design communities that put people first by creating buildings, neighborhoods and towns that help people live healthy lives,” stated Khanh Nguyen, portfolio director – Healthy Living, Colorado Health Foundation. “Obesity is one of our biggest health challenges. In order to address this multifaceted issue, we commend ULI and its many partners on producing a toolkit that will inspire and guide both the development and health communities as they collectively design for generations to come.”

The Building Healthy Places Toolkit is part of ULI’s Building Healthy Places initiative. The initiative, which started in 2013, is an ongoing program of work that is leveraging the power of ULI’s global networks to shape projects and places in ways that improve the health of people and communities.

“Health happens not in your doctor’s office, but where you live. ULI has created a work that can — and I hope will — change how every building and rebuilding, every subdivision and retrofit, will be carried out in America and perhaps beyond,” said Dr. Richard Jackson, a nationally renowned pediatrician and chair of environmental health services at the University of California, Los Angeles Fielding School of Public Health. Dr. Jackson serves on the Building Healthy Places initiative’s advisory board, which guides ULI’s work on land use and health.

The report identifies several opportunities to amplify the effects of the recommendations. These include forming new partnerships that support health priorities; gaining a deeper understanding of community health needs; measuring health outcomes; using language that reinforces health messages; and considering health at every stage of the real estate development process.

Projects highlighted in the report include GlaxoSmithKline Headquarters in Philadelphia; Miasteczko Wilanow in Warsaw; Mariposa in Denver; Rancho Sahuarita in Sahuarita, Arizona; Ecopark in Hanoi, Vietnam; Via Verde in South Bronx, New York; The Hercules Campus in Playa Vista, Calif.; SoundCloud in Berlin; and Rouse Hill Town Centre in Sydney, Australia.

For more information on ULI’s Building Healthy Places Initiative, visit

Click here to download high resolution images from the report.

2015 Groundwater Foundation National Conference Call for Papers

October 20-22, 2015
Embassy Suites
Lincoln, Nebraska
For more information:

The Groundwater Foundation began in 1985 with enthusiasm and passion for groundwater. Now, 30 years later, the Foundation celebrates this milestone by looking to the future: it truly is just the beginning.

Groundwater is perhaps an even more critical resource now than three decades ago. Increased demand for groundwater for drinking water, agriculture, and industry, along with ever-changing threats from contamination, puts groundwater at an important juncture – one that necessitates action by each and every one of us.

The 2015 Groundwater Foundation National Conference will serve as a call to action on behalf of groundwater.  The future is upon us, and action is needed to identify challenges and develop approaches and solutions to address them. From climate change and growing societal needs to a wide variety of emerging contaminants, each of us will need to be prepared to prevent and mitigate the potential risks to this precious resource.

Through knowledgeable speakers, educational workshops, and unique tours, conference participants will find tools and experiences to help them take action to protect groundwater in their communities.

Abstracts are now being accepted for the 2015 National Conference. Deadline for submission is March 31, 2015.

California building codes: to analyze the forest you need to understand the trees

Read the full post from ACEEE.

ACEEE is a strong supporter of analyzing energy efficiency programs in order to see what they have accomplished and to learn lessons so we can do even better. It was thus with interest that we reviewed “How Much Energy Do Building Energy Codes Really Save? Evidence from California” by Arik Levinson. In this paper Levinson conducts several analyses and concludes that “there is no evidence that homes constructed since California instituted its building energy codes use less electricity today than homes built before the codes came into effect.” On the surface his conclusions about the efficacy of building codes are very different from other recent analyses such as papers by Aroonruengsawat et al., Deason and Hobbs, and Jacobsen and Kotchen, so we took a deeper look.