Harvard Office of Sustainability Launches E-Waste Collection Program

Read the full story in The Harvard Crimson.

Harvard’s Office for Sustainability has placed clear, blue, e-waste collection tubes in over 50 locations across campus. The new program strives to increase the degree to which Harvard students recycle smaller, handheld e-waste from laptops, batteries, chargers, and phones that is harder to keep track of than the larger waste already collected by building managers and other personnel.

Until now, students, faculty, and other members of the Harvard community have had to submit their smaller e-waste to building managers for proper disposal. The new collection program seeks to imitate e-waste recycling efforts that already exist at the Harvard Divinity School that seek to eliminate the middle man in the recycling process by having easily accessible collection receptacles that quickly fill up with laptop batteries, old phones, and other hazardous waste.

Tools of Change soliciting nominations for its 2013 Landmark behavior change case studies

Tools of Change is soliciting nominations for its 2013 Landmark behavior change case studies in two topic areas – (1) home / building energy conservation and (2) sustainable transportation. If you know of anyone working on a particularly effective or innovative approach for changing energy or transportation behaviours, please consider nominating them – or yourself. All nominations must include measured impact results.

Designation as a “Landmark” (best practice) case study through this peer selection process recognizes behavior change programs and approaches considered to be among the most successful, innovative, replicable and adaptable in the world. Designated programs gain exposure, credibility and free, on-line program case study materials, which may make it easier for them to maintain or increase program funding.

Nominations are screened by Tools of Change staff and then the most promising are rated by peer selection panels based on a standard scoring grid. Designated programs are captured in detail and presented to other social change practitioners through webinars, transcripts and video recordings of the webinars, and written case studies. Program organizers get a Landmark designation logo for use on websites and in electronic newsletters, providing click-through access to the program’s case study materials. Individuals nominating Landmark case studies are also suitably acknowledged.

The nomination form, which can be downloaded from www.toolsofchange.com/en/landmark/, must be submitted by May 31, 2013. Designations will be announced by October 2013, and case study webinars will be presented between January and May 2014.

To view Landmark case studies designated in past years, go to www.toolsofchange.com/en/landmark/.

Tools of Change was launched in January, 2000 as a collaborative effort between Cullbridge™ and such partners as the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Health Canada, Natural Resources Canada, the International Institute for Sustainable Development, Environment Canada, and Canada’s National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. Founded on the principles of community-based social marketing, Tools of Change engages program planners and facilitators from around the world to share and learn from their collective experiences. Its mandate is to build the capacity for planning and implementing more successful health, safety and environmental promotion programs.

The Tools of Change website, sections of which are based on a workbook co-authored by Jay Kassirer and Doug McKenzie-Mohr, currently hosts about 100 full-length case studies. An impact evaluation of site users found that most returned to the site many times, had improved their programs as a result, and had used the site to help explain and justify their ideas to colleagues and decision makers. Many had replicated ideas found on the site. The website was awarded the Society of Environmental Journalists’ highest rating as an information source for environmental journalists, and was recognized by the Infography as one of six superlative references on social marketing.

Recent Landmark Designations
The following are some recent examples of programs that have been designated.

Home / Building Energy

  • The Energy Smackdown uses engaging game play to involve community members in energy conservation, and television and webcasts to make visible the energy-saving efforts of teams of households. The Smackdown is organized into two broad challenges. In the household challenge, participants are evaluated based on their percent reduction in per person CO2 emissions as well as per person carbon footprint. For the team challenge, members of a community or organization work together to expand their impact and organize special challenge events that highlight key issues and raise awareness in the community. Season two participants reduced their home energy use by 17%.
  • Opower helps individual utility companies to send customized home energy use feedback reports to their residential utility customers. The full-colour reports include a comparison with other similar households, offer tips and strategies to reduce energy use, and provide seasonal energy consumption information. The program delivered 400 GWh (400,000,000 kWh) in energy savings over multiple regions in 2011.
  • BC Hydro’s Power Smart program is a great example of applying the “loyalty group” approach to progressively engage participants in changing behaviours. Energy savings for FY2010 were estimated at 5.15 GWh (5,150,000 KWh)

Sustainable Transportation

  • Bear Creek and Green Communities Canada’s Safe Routes to School programs both illustrate how much and how quickly transportation habits can change through elementary school programs. Over two years, the proportion of students walking or bicycling to Bear Creek consistently throughout the school year increased from 25% to 70%.
  • Edmonton’s LocalMotion project used a combination of special community events, a challenge, and opportunities for hands-on experience of alternate modes of transportation, to encourage residents in one neighbourhood to drive less. Vehicle volumes at six intersections decreased between 21% and 34%.
  • England’s Sustainable Travel Towns demonstrate how a sustained transportation demand management program can have greater impact when coupled with infrastructure improvements. By investing £10M over a five-year period, three towns in England have decreased car use and increased sustainable modes of travel. The number of walking trips per head grew by 10% to 13%, compared to a national decline in similar towns.
  • Fondaction and Carrefour provide a great model for businesses of all sizes. Employees who use alternatives to driving alone when commuting accumulate points. These points, based on greenhouse gas reductions, are redeemed each year for gift certificates for outdoor gear, fair trade products or charitable donations. To make it easier to make these choices, employees are also offered a 50% discount on public transit passes, reserved garage parking for carpoolers and free bike tune-ups. In the first two years of the program, Fondaction employees avoided 79 tons of GHG emissions and their use of public transit increased from 18% to 37% of all trips.

Scientists Solve Mercury Mystery

Read the full story from Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

By identifying two genes required for transforming inorganic into organic mercury, which is far more toxic, scientists today have taken a significant step toward protecting human health.

The question of how methylmercury, an organic form of mercury, is produced by natural processes in the environment has stumped scientists for decades, but a team led by researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory has solved the puzzle. Results of the study, published in the journal Science, provide the genetic basis for this process, known as microbial mercury methylation, and have far-reaching implications.

New Energy Department Funding to Establish Combined Heat and Power Technical Assistance Partnerships

In support of President Obama’s Executive Order “Accelerating Investment in Industrial Energy Efficiency” the Energy Department announces a new funding opportunity to establish regional Combined Heat and Power Technical Assistance Partnerships (CHP TAPs). These CHP TAPs will accelerate deployment of 40 gigawatts of new, cost effective combined heat and power (CHP) by helping remove market and non-market barriers. CHP is a commercially available clean energy solution that directly addresses a number of national priorities including improving the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturing, increasing energy efficiency, reducing emissions, enhancing our energy infrastructure, improving energy security and growing our economy.

The Energy Department will make up to $1.5 million available in fiscal year 2013 for selection of up to 8 awards under this funding opportunity announcement, and subject to congressional appropriations, the Department plans to make an additional $9.5 million available in fiscal years 2014, 2015 & 2016 to fully fund these projects, which will take 4 years to complete.

Combined heat and power is an efficient and clean approach to generating electric power and useful thermal energy from a single fuel source. Instead of purchasing electricity from the distribution grid and burning fuel in an on-site furnace or boiler to produce thermal energy, an industrial or commercial facility can use CHP to provide both energy services in one energy-efficient step. While CHP has been in use in the United States in some form or another for more than 100 years, it remains an underutilized resource today. CHP currently represents approximately 8% of U.S. generating capacity compared to over 30% in countries such as Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands. Its use in the U.S. has been limited, particularly in recent years, by a host of market and non-market barriers. The regional CHP TAPs will play a critical role in overcoming these barriers by providing critical education and outreach and technical assistance on CHP to stakeholders. They will provide fact-based, unbiased information on CHP, including technologies, project development, project financing, local electric and natural gas utilities interfaces, and related state best practice policies. They will be vendor, fuel, and technology neutral.

View the complete funding CHP TAPs announcement.

This funding opportunity announcement is open to: (A) an energy-intensive industry; (B) a national trade association representing an energy-intensive industry; or (C) a person acting on behalf of 1 or more energy-intensive industries or sectors, as determined by the Secretary. For the purposes of this funding opportunity announcement, eligible entities also include universities and non-profits, acting on behalf of one or more energy intensive industries or sectors.

What can business learn about sustainability from higher ed?

Read the full story at GreenBiz.

You may think that universities and corporations don’t have much in common from a sustainability perspective. But a decent-size university manages the equivalent of office buildings, restaurants, hotels, laundry services, hospitals, auto repair, retailers, waste haulers, and even small energy utilities. As such, universities and companies have a lot to learn from each other.

There’s a good case to be made that higher education is showing the way. More than 665 U.S. colleges and universities have publicly committed to pursue net-zero carbon emissions. Dozens have green procurement policies for everything from carpets to carrots to computers. The country’s largest geothermal system is at Ball State University. Washington University in St. Louis built one of the world’s first Living Buildings.

Why are they doing this? For the same reasons companies are: to reduce costs, improve quality, foster innovation, attract talent, and generally demonstrate leadership in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

EPA Releases State Enforcement Performance Information and Comparative Maps

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the release of state dashboards and comparative maps that provide the public with information about the performance of state and EPA enforcement and compliance programs across the country.

“Transparency and access to information at all levels helps to drive improvements in environmental performance,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Today’s release of state enforcement information highlights the important work going on at the state level to address serious pollution problems and also underscores areas where states and EPA may need to strengthen enforcement and compliance efforts.”

Most states and tribes in the United States have the authority to implement and enforce many of the nation’s air, water and waste laws. The dashboards and maps include state level data from the last five years and provide information including the number of completed inspections, types of violations found, enforcement actions taken, and penalties assessed by state. To ensure data quality, EPA made the maps and dashboards available to the states in advance of this public release, in order to provide an opportunity to make any necessary data corrections.

Users can customize the dashboards to view state activity, EPA activity, or combined activity. Where available, the site also allows users to view national averages and display state enforcement trends over time.

The interactive state performance dashboards are located on EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO) website. ECHO is an EPA transparency tool that allows the user to map federal and state inspection, violation, and enforcement information for more than 800,000 regulated facilities. The state dashboards and comparative maps that are available in ECHO are part of EPA’s commitment to increasing transparency and providing data to the public in a format that is easy to understand and use.

EPA will host two webinars demonstrating how to use the state dashboards and comparative maps now available in ECHO. The first will be held on February 12, at 1p.m. EST (for news media only). The second will be held on Tuesday, February 12, at 3p.m. EST (for the public). The demonstration will highlight the new features added to the tool, important information about the data, and how to compare data by state.

Mercury contamination in water can be detected with a mobile phone

Read the full story from Plataforma SINC.

Chemists at the University of Burgos (Spain) have manufactured a sheet that changes colour in the presence of water contaminated with mercury. The results can be seen with the naked eye but when photographing the membrane with a mobile phone the concentration of this extremely toxic metal can be quantified.

Hamid El Kaoutit, Pedro Estévez, Félix C. García, Felipe Serna and José M. García. “Sub-ppm quantification of Hg(II) in aqueous media using both the naked eye and digital information from pictures of a colorimetric sensory polymer membrane taken with the digital camera of a conventional mobile phone”. Analytical Methods 5: 54-58, 2013. DOI: 10.1039/C2AY26307F

Abstract: We present colorimetric sensory membranes for detecting Hg(II) in aqueous media. The colour response of the sensory materials can be tuned for detection with the naked eye, such as the maximum contaminant level of Hg(II) that is set by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for drinking water. Furthermore, the concentration of Hg(II) can be monitored using digital pictures of the membranes taken with conventional cameras. Thus, nanomolar concentration of Hg(II) could be detected by the naked eye due to colour changes of membranes, and the concentration of Hg(II) could be quantified, within the millimolar to nanomolar range, by means of analysing the digital information of pictures taken of the membranes after dipping them in water containing this environmentally poisonous cation.

University of Minnesota’s Institute on Environment Spring Frontiers Talks Start Feb. 13

IonE’s Spring Frontiers in the Environment speaker series kicks off Feb. 13 with a talk by BioTechnology Institute faculty member Larry Wackett on the pros and cons of fracking. Open to the public, Frontiers talks are held Wednesdays 12-1 p.m. in R380 Learning and Environmental Sciences on the University of Minnesota St. Paul campus and live online via UMConnect. Please join us weekly for thought-provoking conversations around key environmental issues.

February 13Larry Wackett
Is Frack a Four-Letter Word?

February 20 – Tim Bristol
Watersheds: Clean Water, Wild Places and Healthy Communities

February 27Mark Pedelty
Sound Ecology: The Environmental Effects of Mechanical Noise and Human Music

March 6Michael Noble
Unleashing Minnesota’s Solar Power Potential

March 13David Lipset
A Mangrove Lagoon in the Time of Climate Change: The Politics, Science and Culture of an Intertidal Environment in Papua New Guinea

March 27Katey Pelican
Global One Health: Lessons Learned in Applying the Land-Grant Mission on the Global Stage

April 3Dominic Travis
Rats, Bats and Monkeys, Oh My!

April 10Julian Marshall
Air Pollution Kills! So What? Air Quality Engineering to Improve Public Health

April 17 Kim Robien
Are All Tomatoes Created Equal? Maybe It’s Not Just What We Eat, but How Our Food Gets to the Table That Matters for Health

April 24Carissa Schively Slotterback
University–Community Collaboration to Advance Sustainability

April 29 (MON) – William F. Laurence

The Future of Biodiversity

May 1Laura Musacchio
Knowledge Systems for Ecosystem Services: Where Does the Cultural Dimension Fit In?

Biochar and its potential in Canadian forestry

Read the full story in Silviculture Magazine.

In the last few years research interest on charcoal in soils has veritably exploded.  A major motivation stems from the long persistence of charcoal in soils.  Wood chips added to soil decompose within a few years, and the half-life of larger logs is often only 20-25 years.  In contrast, 90%+ of charcoal remains present for at least 100 years, and a large portion is likely to be present for 1000 years or more.  This longevity is of great interest in terms of carbon “sequestration”.  Charcoal is >95% carbon, and diversion of organic waste material from agriculture and forestry into charcoal on a large scale could in theory be an important mechanism to remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it in a form that will remain put for a long period of time.  Unlike other proposed types of carbon “capture”, addition of charcoal to soils has considerable potential to have additional beneficial effects that have nothing to do with climate change.  The term that has emerged for charcoal intended for use as a soil amendment is “biochar” (Fig. 1), with the “bio” referring to its biological source.  Biochar as a climate mitigation strategy has recently been promoted by the likes of Al Gore, James Hansen, and James Lovelock.

GSA releases Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan

Read the plan. A PDF is also available.

GSA remains committed to leading the federal government towards a more sustainable future. GSA recognizes the important role it plays in facilitating sustainability goal achievement for other federal agencies. GSA will continue to identify and make available innovative, cost-effective, and sustainable solutions for federal agencies. GSA will also continue to examine ways in which it can use its sustainability efforts to improve the transparency of its operations; reduce costs and eliminate waste; improve accountability and agency performance management; and fully integrate sustainability into its day-to-day operations. In FYs 2012 and 2013, major areas of internal focus will be identifying ways in which GSA can improve tracking and assurance for its sustainability goals; enhance accountability for these goals; and deliver better data on cost savings and efficiencies created by sustainability initiatives. GSA’s external focus will be on developing new or improved products and services to aid other agencies in meeting their sustainability goals, and improving their mission performance while lowering costs of operations.