Designing Our Future: engaging students on how to plan with an environmental justice mindset

Read the full post from EPA.

About the Author: Kofi Boone is an Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture at North Carolina State University. His work focuses on the changing nature of communities and developing tools for enhanced community engagement and design.

Communities negatively impacted by city planning processes are most often the communities that lack the opportunity to participate in designing the environment around them. Whether it be the placement of amenities like parks or access to public transportation infrastructure, the narrative tends to be the same: low-income and minority populations aren’t involved in the design-making.

But I think that this problem presents an increasingly important opportunity for students interested in designing and planning for environmental justice.

A car made from tequila? Ford Motor Co says it’s good for the planet

Read the full story in The Guardian.

When you put tequila and cars side-by-side, the story doesn’t usually end well. But Ford is trying to change the narrative.

The car manufacturer has plans to introduce a new kind of plastic for some of its automobile parts using waste material generated by Jose Cuervo, the tequila manufacturer. Tequila is made by juicing the heart of an agave plant, a spiky desert succulent with a core composed of very strong fibers. These fibers are left over during the juicing process, and are usually thrown away or burned.

Now, Ford hopes to use these agave fibers to create a so-called bioplastic to replace synthetic materials, such as fiberglass, which are used to strengthen plastic components in cars – things such as storage bins, air-conditioning ducts and fuse boxes.

Have biomaterials reached a tipping point?

Read the full story in GreenBiz.

The untapped potential for biotechnology to solve myriad sustainability challenges is drawing the attention of forward-thinking companies across industries. Today, over $400 billion worth of conventional manufacturing products are produced each year using biomass, according to (PDF) Duke University’s Center for Sustainability & Commerce.

While biofuels have garnered much of the spotlight, bio-based alternatives to plastic and other fossil-based materials quickly are making their way to the mainstream. These materials can be used for a variety of applications in manufacturing, construction, apparel and more. But many bio-based materials have yet to reach scale, thanks to industry clinging to classic chemistry.

This is beginning to change, as breakthroughs in bio-based materials engineering reach a tipping point. Collective understanding of how microbes work is, for the first time, allowing us to make chemicals in a safer and more environmentally friendly way. It is possible for us to engineer microbes to have specific functions, including a variety of sustainability applications.

Edible food packaging made from milk proteins

Read the full story from the American Chemical Society.

At the grocery store, most foods—meats, breads, cheeses, snacks—come wrapped in plastic packaging. Not only does this create a lot of non-recyclable, non-biodegradable waste, but thin plastic films are not great at preventing spoilage. And some plastics are suspected of leaching potentially harmful compounds into food. To address these issues, scientists are now developing a packaging film made of milk proteins—and it is even edible.

The researchers are presenting their work today at the 252nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). ACS, the world’s largest scientific society, is holding the meeting here through Thursday. It features more than 9,000 presentations on a wide range of science topics.

This Bee-Inspired Algorithm Helps Delivery Companies Plan The Most Efficient Route

Read the full story at Fast Company.

For a delivery truck making rounds, minor tweaks in a route can save huge amounts of time and gas. That’s why UPS spent a decade and hundreds of millions of dollars building an algorithm to help calculate where trucks should turn. A startup called Routific designed an algorithm to help everyone else—like local flower delivery companies—also save fuel.

10 organizations leading the pack on healthy materials

Read the full story in GreenBiz.

Our homes are fraught with carcinogens. Endocrine disruptors, neurotoxins and a laundry list of other types of harmful chemicals are likely in every room of your house. These toxics are in the hygiene products in your medicine cabinet as well as in the materials that make up your bathroom.

If a consumer was posed with the choice between a product that contains toxics or a comparable nontoxic product, one would imagine that the consumer clearly would choose the latter.

Historically, chemical-free alternatives were not largely available, but recently, consumers are gaining ever-growing access to healthier options. Companies are learning that manufacturing healthy products is indeed marketable, cost-effective and smart business practice.

You can find healthier alternative products in standard retailers, ranging from household cleaners that contain innocuous ingredients such as baking soda to furniture free from halogenated flame retardant (HFRs) coatings.

Ingredient transparency gives consumers the option to make informed choices about the products they buy, and is on the upswing. Below is a list of 10 companies forging the demand for a healthy materials economy.