Day: October 21, 2021

Webinar series: 21st Century Schools: Cleaner and Greener

Learn how to decarbonize P-12 schools over time to support a healthy, energy efficient, indoor environment.

  • Part 1: Setting up the Roadmap (Nov 10, 2021 – 11 am-noon CST)
  • Part 2: Goal Setting and Stories of Success (Dec 8, 2021 – 11 am-noon CST)
  • Part 3: Setting Up Documentation to Guide Carbon Neutral Construction (Jan12, 2022 – 11 am-noon CST)

Getting to zero carbon in K-12 schools can seem an insurmountable goal, but a “Zero Over Time” approach that leverages naturally occurring events over the building’s lifecycle can cost effectively reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions. This involves capitalizing on events like new construction, modernizations, system retrofits, and equipment replacement as they happen. School districts have proven that ambitious energy and carbon goals are achievable within existing budget and staffing limitations. Building on a successful cohort model where dozens of districts joined NBI to prepare for rapidly advancing legislation and policy – this series will lay the groundwork for district success to 2050 and beyond.

Schools wishing to attend will have their registration fee covered. Please email reilly@newbuildings.org to receive your comp code.

Cost for non-school district attendees will be $60 for the series.

Register here to attend.

Adidas and ThredUp want to resell your used footwear

Read the full story in Fast Company.

The program aims to “extend the lifecycle” of clothing items by rewarding consumers with points in exchange for their old gear.

Colour me better: fixing figures for colour blindness

Read the full story in Nature.

Images can be made more accessible by choosing hues, shapes and textures carefully.

Caring for the environment has a long Catholic lineage – hundreds of years before Pope Francis

Pope Francis has laid emphasis on protecting the environment, but he’s not the only pope to speak about caring for nature. AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino

by Joanne M. Pierce (College of the Holy Cross)

Pope Francis led dozens of religious leaders Oct. 4, 2021 in issuing a plea to protect the environment, warning that “Future generations will never forgive us if we miss the opportunity to protect our common home.”

The appeal, which calls for net-zero emissions, was released after months of meetings leading up to the United Nations’ November climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

The pope has voiced support for green policies before, including his 2015 encyclical letter to the entire Catholic Church “On Care for Our Common Home.”

But Francis is not the first Catholic leader to emphasize care for the planet. In fact, every pope for the past half-century – except John Paul I, who died after just one month in office – has addressed environmental issues in their official publications.

As a scholar whose research focuses on the medieval Church, I see many of these concerns deeply rooted in the history of the Catholic tradition.

The early tradition

One of the basic beliefs of Christianity is that the material world was created directly by God, and thus fundamentally connected with God’s goodness.

This is clearly expressed in the creation narrative in the book of Genesis, part of the sacred scripture shared by Christians and Jews. As God completes each element of the world – day, night, land, sea, etc. – he sees that “it was good.” On the sixth day, when God creates human beings in God’s own image, they are given “dominion” or “rule” over everything that lives on the Earth.

Early Christians insisted that the beauty of creation reflected God’s glory. But as Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire, they had to defend this view of the basic goodness of creation when challenged by another religious viewpoint.

This movement – called Gnosticism, from the Greek word meaning “knowledge” – taught that the physical world was created not directly by God, but by a lesser spiritual being, out of malice or ignorance. At best, the material world was a worthless distraction; at worst, an evil snare for human souls. Gnostic teachers offered to teach their followers how to free their spirits from attachment to their physical bodies and the material world. In this way, after death they could return to the realm of spiritual reality and reunite with the divine.

Many theologians and bishops criticized this interpretation of their faith. Several wrote lengthy, detailed critiques of Gnostic teaching; at stake, they believed, was the salvation of souls.

The most prominent of these was St. Irenaeus of Lyons, who lived in the second century A.D. On Oct. 7, 2021, Francis announced that he would declare Irenaeus a “Doctor of the Church,” a title reserved for saints whose writings have had a profound impact on the life of the Church.

In Irenaeus’ treatise Against the Heresies, a passionate defense of the teaching of the scriptures and apostles, he states that creation itself reveals God and God’s glory; the only higher revelation is Jesus Christ himself.

At the beginning of the Middle Ages, however, Western Christianity was left with a lingering suspicion of “worldly things,” despite this early stress on the basic goodness of material creation.

An illumination depicts Hildegard of Bingen experiencing a spiritual vision while dictating to a scribe.
Hildegard of Bingen did it all: music, botany, medicine, drama and theology. Miniatur aus dem Rupertsberger Codex des Liber Scivias/Wikimedia Commons

The Benedictine tradition

By the third century, some Christians began to seek a life more fully focused on God by removing themselves from society to pray and work together in communal groups. This kind of monasticism swept across Western Europe during the medieval period.

The most influential of these monastic orders were the Benedictines, who balanced their lives between daily prayer services and work – which often involved agriculture and care of the surrounding environment. Each monk or nun pledged to remain at the same monastery for life, unless its abbot or abbess – the monk or nun in charge – ordered them to move to another. Because of this, Benedictines became known as “lovers of place.”

Today, one Benedictine saint has become especially connected with environmental concerns: St. Hildegard of Bingen, who died in A.D. 1179. This German abbess was one of the most accomplished women of the Middle Ages. An expert on herbal medicines and botany, she also wrote religious plays, composed liturgical chants and hymns, and authored theological works and poems based on her mystical experiences. She insisted that God loved the Earth as a husband loves a wife, and espoused a kind of “green” theology, called viriditas, condemning the harm that human activity could do to nature.

Hildegard has been acclaimed as an unofficial patron saint of environmentalists. In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI declared her a “Doctor of the Church,” like Irenaeus.

A fresco depicts St. Francis preaching to a group of birds under a tree, while another monk looks on.
St. Francis, patron saint of animals and ecology, famously preached to the birds. Giotto di Bondone/Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi/Wikimedia Commons

The Franciscan tradition

St. Francis of Assisi, son of an Italian cloth merchant, has over the centuries become renowned for his love of the natural world. After time as a soldier and prisoner of war, Francis underwent a spiritual conversion. Rejecting his father’s wealth, he chose to live a life of radical poverty and public preaching until his death in A.D. 1226. Early on, male members of his new mendicant movement, the Franciscians, took religious vows but traveled from town to town with no fixed residence, begging for food and lodging.

One of Francis’ few documents is a poem, the Canticle of the Sun, which lyrically expressed his belief in the kinship between human beings and the rest of the natural world. Even the Sun and the Moon are addressed as “brother” and “sister.” And as he lay dying, it is said that he asked to be laid on the bare Earth.

Legends about his preaching and miracles circulated widely, and some involved his concern for animals, treating them with the same dignity as human beings. One story holds that he preached to birds and convinced a vicious wolf to live in peace with nearby townspeople.

In 1979, Pope John Paul II named St. Francis the patron saint of ecology because he “revered nature as a wonderful gift of God.” And in 2015, Pope Francis used the first words of the Canticle of the Sun, Laudatio si’, to open his encyclical on the environment and serve as its official title.

Although often overshadowed by the notion that the material world is only a passing distraction, reverence for a creation deeply loved by God has also been an important part of Catholic tradition. Contemporary teaching on the environment is only its most recent expression.

Joanne M. Pierce, Professor Emerita of Religious Studies, College of the Holy Cross

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

A systematic literature review on employee relations with CSR: State of art and future research agenda

Onkila, T., & Sarna, B. (2021). “A systematic literature review on employee relations with CSR: State of art and future research agenda.” Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management, 1-13. https://doi.org/10.1002/csr.2210 [open access]

Abstract: Within recent years, the literature on employee–CSR relations has grown significantly. However, the research is fragmented throughout various journals and disciplines, and we still lack a comprehensive literature review on the topic to show what we currently know about the employee relationship with CSR, and what we do not know. In this study, we conduct a systematic literature review on employee relations with CSR, based 331 journal articles. We analyze their methodological and theoretical approaches. Based on their key findings, we build a categorization of dominant research findings and their connections. Building on our review, we show how the research has been dominated by a focus on the organizational implementation of CSR and organizational benefits. Employees have been mainly perceived as implementers of top-down sustainability policies and as mediators towards organizational CSR-related benefits. We also discuss the need for future research on the more active role of employees in CSR relations, especially bottom-up change processes and understanding the role of tensions and complexities.

Q&A: Sustainable farming expert weighs in on California’s historic investments in ‘climate smart’ agriculture

Read the full story at Inside Climate News.

Gov. Newsom’s new $15 billion climate package includes more than $1 billion for sustainable agriculture, but the work is just starting.

What does a tree see?

Read the full story at JStor Daily.

A hundred-year-old red oak in a Massachusetts forest told a writer and a team of scientists secrets about change over time.

A major federal response to occupational extreme heat is here at last

Constructions workers in warm climates are often exposed to dangerous heat. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

by Lynée Turek-Hankins and Katharine Mach (University of Miami)

The summer of 2021 was devilishly hot across much of the U.S. Just five minutes in an attic guest room with no air conditioning could be enough to leave a person drenched in sweat and lightheaded, as one of us discovered during a heat wave in Washington state. It’s the kind of heat where it’s impossible to move, to think, to do anything.

In parts of the U.S., people work in heat and then go home to heat all summer long. Research shows that chronic heat exposure is a growing threat to health and productivity, yet it’s often overlooked by employers.

A new federal initiative to combat unhealthy heat exposure for vulnerable populations, including workers, could finally provide some relief. By bringing multiple agencies together to solve the problem of heat, the Biden administration has the opportunity to help workers avoid dangerous acute and chronic heat exposure at work and at home.

But the plan has some important gaps and ambiguities that, as infrastructure and policy researchers, we believe should be addressed to keep people safe.

A worker in a reflective vest holds a
A construction worker guides traffic on a humid, 100-degree day in Washington, D.C. Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Image

Who’s at risk

Heat is not a health and safety issue if you’re sitting in a well-constructed, air-conditioned building. But people who work primarily outside, whether in agriculture, construction or mining, in military training or on a utility or wildfire crew, may have limited access to a cool environment on hot days, and that can raise their risks.

Heat indoors can also be a threat to workers, such as cooks in a steamy kitchen or factory workers on an assembly line without adequate airflow. Personal protective equipment and clothing like hazmat suits can also intensify the impact of excessive heat.

When heat combines with other hazards, like humidity, particulate matter or ozone in the air, the health risks increase. Even if none of the hazards on its own is considered “extreme,” combined they may pose a threat. At many points in the day, a worker may face a large cumulative burden of environmental hazards that add up, with few options for adequately dealing with them.

Workers who are exposed to excess heat on the job are more likely than average Americans to be low-income, to be immigrants, to have chronic health problems, to lack health insurance or to live in poor-quality housing without air conditioning. That suggests they may also lack a cool environment at home and may be at higher risk.

A sweating cook carries as plate past rows of ovens. The photo is shot with the cook slightly blurred, capturing the frenetic pace of the kitchen
Indoor workplaces like kitchens and factories can expose workers to high heat for many hours at a time. Jeff Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

How the body responds to heat

Cool night temperatures are important for the body to recover from daytime heat exposure. Research has shown that hot nights can reduce the body’s capacity to rehydrate and negatively affect sleep, potentially leading to more workplace injuries the following day.

A severe heat episode may also permanently harm internal organs. One study linked hospitalization from acute heat illness to an increased risk of early death later in life.

People have different thresholds for heat exposure. Preexisting health conditions, such as those affecting the heart or lungs, can increase the likelihood that extreme heat will harm the person’s health.

Whether a person is acclimatized, meaning they have adjusted to the heat, is also important. One hundred degrees Fahrenheit in Seattle (38 Celsius) is different from 100 F in Las Vegas. However, getting used to a climate can only take you so far. The body’s ability to cool itself off diminishes significantly beyond 95 F (35 C). Hence, there are upper limits to acclimatization. Likewise, acclimatization may not prevent health effects from chronic heat exposure.

Chart showing where heat crosses the dangerous threshold for each percentage of relative humidity. At 100% humidity, 90 degrees is dangerous. At 40% humidity the same temperature requires caution and 108 becomes dangerous.
Humidity increases the health risk as temperatures rise. NOAA

Adapting workers for the increasing extreme heat

There are many strategies for reducing occupational exposure to heat. A workplace may require breaks and offer water; implement technologies that keep workers cool, such as cooling vests; reduce expected rates of productivity when temperatures climb; or even stop work.

Some of these strategies, however, will likely become less effective under intensifying climate change. Some locations may face high temperatures combined with humidity levels that exceed thresholds for workability.

The Biden administration’s new efforts, announced in late September 2021, provide direction for adapting to extreme heat in and out of the workplace. Some of the proposed strategies include creating standards for heat exposure at work, improving enforcement and inspections for the heat safety of workers, increasing opportunities to direct federal funds to household cooling assistance and technologies, and transforming schools into locations with free air conditioning access.

As presented, the strategies for workers are isolated to the workplace and hot days. However, chronic heat exposure, whether from living in a hot home or a habitually hot climate, is an emerging risk. Worker-specific responses that target social determinants of health and chronic exposure may be necessary, such as improving access to cooling among itinerant workers in temporary housing.

Rapidly reducing emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases is also essential to reduce climate change that will bring more frequent exposure to dangerous temperatures.

About a dozen farmworkers in long sleeves, jeans, hats and boots sit in the shade of a covered, open-air truck bed.
Farmworkers get a shade break while picking melons on a hot day in California. AP Photo/Terry Chea

Other gaps in the plan

The proposal for addressing the most pressing heat risks across America also has important gaps.

First, other environmental threats like air pollution exacerbate heat-related health impacts but aren’t currently factored in with high temperatures and humidity when developing workplace health and safety standards and heat-health policies. From emergency responders exposed to toxic dust at the Surfside Condo collapse to farmworkers facing wildfire smoke in Fresno, California, addressing heat and poor air quality together is a critical need.

Second, the proposal doesn’t address heat risk in other facilities, including prisons and migration detention centers. Here, heat protections and proper enforcement of those protections are critical for both the workers and the people in those facilities.

Third, in addition to increasing federal spending on cooling assistance, utilities could be required to stop residential utility shut-offs during extreme heat events. Although many utilities provide such protections to people with medical waivers, this process can be arduous.

Solutions should consider what influences a person’s vulnerability to heat, as well as their threat of chronic exposure. Ambitious heat safety policies are critical in a rapidly warming world.

Lynée Turek-Hankins, Ph.D. Student in Environmental Science & Policy, University of Miami and Katharine Mach, Associate Professor of Environmental Science and Policy, University of Miami

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

GM, GE look to develop rare earth materials supply chain

Read the full story from the Associated Press.

General Motors and General Electric are looking at developing a supply chain of rare earth materials that help make electric vehicles and renewable energy equipment.

Bye-bye, batteries! Engineers release software for DIY battery-free electronics

Read the full story at Centered.

When playing a handheld video game, don’t you just want to keep going and going without worrying about replacing batteries? Now you can, thanks to Northwestern University computer engineers. 

They were on the team that developed a battery-free Game Boy that harvests solar energy and kinetic energy from the user’s button mashing to power the device. Now they introduced a platform to enable even novice programmers and hobbyists to build their own battery-free electronics.

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