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 an upstream ditch limits downstream algae

Read the full story at Great Lakes Echo.

A ditch cuts through the fields of this Indiana landscape.

But it’s no ordinary ditch. This one reduces the nutrients leaving the farm fields that can eventually pollute waterways nearby and far away.

It is called a two-stage ditch because of the two levels of soil, called benches, on either side of the stream that flows through it. The benches act as a buffer, soaking up the fertilizers and other water contaminants draining from the field.

DeWitt board, Clinton Landfill owners reach deal barring PCBs

Read the full story in the News-Gazette.

Ending a 7-year-long dispute, the DeWitt County Board on Thursday night voted to approve a settlement agreement with the owners of Clinton Landfill that keeps PCBs and manufactured-gas-plant wastes out of the landfill.

The landfill sits over the Mahomet Aquifer, which is the water source for Champaign-Urbana and about 800,000 central Illinois residents.

This Company Does Something Cool With Something Most of Us Recycle

Read the full story in HuffPost Green.

Most of us see old milk jugs as something for the recycle bin (or, in the case of one blogger, the makings of a D.I.Y. Storm Trooper helmet). But for toy maker Green Toys, the plastic jugs become the start of something fun: toys.

Green Toys’ line — which ranges from kitchen sets to vehicles piloted by little bears — is made completely from recycled milk jugs. To date, the company has recycled over 24,000,000 jugs. The plastic that milk jugs are made out of is called high-density polyethylene. Since this type of plastic is used for food storage, it is also safe for children. Green Toys products pass several safety tests, including the FDA regulation for food contact.

Webinar/Workshop: Buildings of the Future: NYC Workshop

Mon, May 4, 2015 8:00 AM – 4:00 PM CDT
Register at

We have invited over a dozen of thought leaders in academia and industry to explore our future buildings through a series of moderated conversations led by our host universities. The panel discussions will focus on the interactions of city, buildings, environment, and occupants.

Panelists hope to answer the question of “What can a standard American building be in a high-density urban environment in 100 years from a city to personal scale.” The dialogue will examine the energy, resource, and information flows of today and tomorrow; how technologies have been and will be influencing city life; how a connected built environment can help us adapt to changes; and prepare for unanticipated events.

More details about each session can be found here:

8:30–9:00 Welcome and Introduction

9:00–9:30 Buildings of the Future: Seeing Beyond this Century
Nora Wang, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Pat Phelan, Department of Energy

9:30–11:00 Cities of the Future: Intelligence and Resilience
Jorge Gonzalez, The City College of New York

Panelists: Alex Washburn, Stevens Institute of Technology
Mark Arend, City University of New York
Stuart Gaffin, Columbia University

11:00–12:30 Urban Data for Future Cities
Masoud Ghandehari, New York University

Panelists: Tom Butcher, Brookhaven National Labs
David Gifford, New York City Economic Development Corporation
Constantine Kontakosta, NYU
Michael Harrington, Con Edison
Mark De Yoanna, National Grid

12:30–1:00 Break for Lunch

1:00–2:30 Occupants of the Future: Wellness and Performance
Edward Bogucz and Chetna Chianese, Syracuse Center of Excellence

Panelists: Michael Speaks, Syracuse University
Vivian Loftness, Carnegie Mellon University
Joseph Allen, Harvard University

2:30–4:00 Smart Buildings and Smart Controls
Bill Worek, Stony Brook University

Panelists: Mike Schell, AirTest
Marc Thuillard, Belimo-US
Larry Weber, Honeywell

4:00–4:30 Summary

Energy Department Announces Winners of 2015 Race to Zero Student Design Competition

The Energy Department announced winners of its second annual Race to Zero Student Design Competition, a collegiate competition engaging university students to design zero energy-ready homes. A zero energy-ready home is a high-performance home that is so energy efficient it can offset all or most of its annual energy consumption with renewable energy. This significantly reduces a home’s annual electricity costs while improving comfort, health, safety, and durability.

The awards recognize students who excel at integrating solid building science principles into designs for zero energy-ready homes including creative solutions to real-world problems. Criteria for recognition included adherence to the Department’s Zero Energy Ready Home program criteria, clear project plans, and overall competency in applying best practices from the Department’s Building America program. Top priorities for each entry are geared toward developing cost-effective, market-ready, zero energy-ready homes.

The competition is intended to inspire next-generation architects, engineers, and construction managers to apply the latest building science innovations in new and existing buildings. A major goal of the competition as it grows in popularity is to advance building science curriculum in university programs across the country. Competing undergraduate students, graduate students, and university faculty are at the forefront of a leadership movement to design truly sustainable homes.

This year’s competition featured 33 teams from 27 universities. Over the last several months, students were tasked with redesigning an existing floor plan or creating a new house design to meet the competition’s cost-effective, high-performance home energy requirements. The final portion of the competition concluded at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado, April 18-19, as the students presented their innovative designs to a panel of national experts. These experts included leading high-performance home builders, building science professionals, building product manufacturer technical experts, and national laboratory research scientists.

Eighteen awards were given in five categories:

Grand Winner

  • University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Grand Winner Finalists

  • Appalachian State University, Boone, North Carolina
  • Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Pennsylvania College of Technology Williamsport, Williamsport, Pennsylvania
  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign–Team Illinois, Champaign, Illinois

Analysis Excellence

  • Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia
  • Ryerson University–Team DAS Haus, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  • University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, California
  • Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia

Design Excellence

  • Penn State University, State College, Pennsylvania
  • Prairie View A&M University, Prairie View, Texas
  • Ryerson University’s Department of Architectural Science–Team Provenance Lane,  Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  • Ryerson University’s Department of Architectural Science–Team Øzone,  Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  • University of Las Vegas, Las Vegas, Nevada

Systems Integration Excellence

  • Illinois State University–Team Redbird Red, Normal, Illinois
  • Penn State University, State College, Pennsylvania
  • Ryerson University’s Department of Architectural Science–Team Øzone,  Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  • Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia

The Department also announced it will hold the 2016 Race to Zero Student Design Competition next April at NREL. View the list of winners or visit the program website to learn more about the competition.

The Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) works with private industry, universities, and national laboratories to accelerate the development and facilitate deployment of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies and market-based solutions that strengthen U.S. energy security, environmental quality, and economic vitality. Visit the Building Technologies Office website to learn more about broader efforts to help new and existing homes across the United States achieve cost-effective, energy-saving solutions.

Michigan office prepares for health impacts of climate change

Listen to the full story from Great Lakes Echo.

Since 2009, Michigan officials have been ramping up an effort to address the health consequences of climate change. For example, health experts anticipate greater respiratory challenges like asthma as warmer temperatures intensify smog and fuel more wildfires that emit soot. The Michigan Climate & Health Adaptation Program, MI-CHAP, is participating in a joint effort with the national Centers for Disease Control to create what it calls “climate-ready states and cities.”

The MI-CHAP effort takes place in the Michigan Department of Community Health and Human Services.

Current State speaks with MI-CHAP program manager Aaron Ferguson.