Sustainable living: What’s All The Buzz About?

Posted on August 19, 2013 | eco-economy, going green, green innovation, green living

Once upon a time bees were the antagonists of our childhood summers – my, how things have changed. By now most of us know that bees are a vital player in our ecosystems. But they’re also in danger.

Buzzing bee armies are responsible for pollinating an entire third of human food but in the past thirteen years  the bee population has begun to vanish, decreasing by more than 30%.  The cause of this collapse continues to mystify scientists and hypotheses differ: the European Union blames harmful pesticides they are now mobilizing to ban, while the United States is pointing the finger away from human impact and towards parasitic mites.

Whatever the cause, bees need help and quick.

One of the most innovative, super-hero efforts to save the U.S. bee population is taking off, quite literally, at a Washington airport. Sea-Tac airport has reinvented a whopping 50 acres of what was previously unused space by giving it to bee keeper Bob Redmond for bee breeding.

And, if you though air traffic control was a big responsibility, try managing 18 hives and a half million bees single-highhandedly. Well, leave it to Bob! He says that what makes the airport the perfect home for the Flight Path Project is that it is a controlled area, one they can agro-tailor for optimal well be(e)ing.

But, does it work?  You bet. The airport is now home to 500,000 bees who fly 5.5 million times a day, 5,500 times that of the commercial flights from Sea-Tac.  If those aren’t the metrics of success we don’t know what is!

Sustainable Living: When Nerds Meet Nature

Love has moved online, and not just for personal relationships. The matchmaking potential for business romances (aka partnerships) is a burgeoning area in which savoy innovators, with a social conscience, are building new platforms.
Nerds for Nature are the superhero-cupids of this new frontier, an eclectic mix of techies, hackers, activists and environmentalists in the San Fransisco Bay area. They noticed that, while the non-profit industry stood the most to gain by harnessing the low-cost and high-impact power of new technologies, they were the most reticent and unsure how to do so.
Victoria Bogdan, a NFN member, recently told The Grist, “We thought, if we could bring together the tech-capable with the environmental professionals, and facilitate an exchange of ideas – just begin that dialogue – that would be something new”. So Nerds for Nature got to work, launching officially one short year ago at the Code for Oakland civic hackathon. And the sparks are flying.
So far, Nerds for Nature is facilitating matches through their widely successful Speed dating events.  They also run a BioBlitz meet-up in McLauren Park where nature Nerds, scientists, and amateur naturalists embark on a scavenger hunt of sorts to identify as many species as possible using the iNaturalist app to record their findings.  This is the new equivalent of dinner and a movie for industry dating.
We will be following closely to see what genius brainchildren Nerds for Nature can take responsibility for in the future!

Sustainable Living: Born to Die Phones

At ExchangeMyPhone there’s nothing we’re more seriously passionate about than fighting e-waste; it is quite literally what we’re all about.  So naturally, nothing makes us smile like when others join the crusade.
John Rogers, lead material scientist and resident e-waste butt-kicker at UI Urbana-Champaign, has just wrapped up a project developing circuit boards, specifically for cell phones, that dissolve when wet and know to break down when they have become obsolete.  The project has appropriately been dubbed “Born to Die.”
So, what does cell phone expiration look like? Basically a slow withering away that Rogers likens to a dead plant drying up. So far, the largest challenge is ensuring that the devices to not perish prematurely; so other words, if you spill your tea your cellphone won’t dissolve on the counter-top.  Such cell phones would have a “use before” date just like edible commodities.
“We’re talking about electronics that are very specifically engineered to have excellent properties, time independent, until the programmed moment at which you don’t need the device anymore, and then is dissolves away…” Rogers says, “that’s the trick.”

We are incredibly excited to see where Rogers’ research goes and will be cheering on our new ally!

Green Tech: Unlocking the Power of Play

Jessica O. Matthews and Julia Silverman are on a mission to show the world that the value of play can not only be measured in smiles but in very real economic and social terms.  Both Harvard students had volunteered traveled extensively in Africa and also shared a passion for soccer: the continent’s (and the world’s) most popular game.  In an engineering class they got the chance to marry these two passions, capitalizing on an opportunity to improve living conditions in African through the continent’s love of soccer.
What does such an ambitious project look like?  A sOccket, a small generator cleverly disguised as a soccer ball that charges as you play with it!  Three hours of LED illumination is stored in the sOccket per every half hour of playtime.  It can also charge small electronic devices like a cell phone.

This ingenious solution isn’t just making an economic impact by delivering renewable light energy to many rural areas.  There are important health benefits as well because most of the developing world still relies on on kerosene lamps that pose huge safety hazards: the fumes inhaled by children in kerosene-light homes is equivalent to smoking two packs of cigarettes a day.

The sOccett vs. huge public health threats is been a game that’s garnered the attention of an international audience.
Today there are more than 6,000 sOcckets “kicking around”, literally, from Africa to Mexico to Brazil.  Uncharted Play, the organization founded by Matthews and Silverman to distribute their product received overwhelming support from corporate sponsors principally because of how easily and effectively the tool integrates into daily life.  As Matthews explained, “Why don’t we give you something that you already like to do and get what you need.”

And sOccket has yet another a new fan, President Obama.  During his recent trip to Africa his team set to work distributing the item to many African nations and on a tour of a facility that manufacturers the ball he even showed off some of his soccer skills! A huge goal for the two Harvard girls who knew just how powerful play could be.

Sustainable Living: One Nation’s Trash…

During these turbulent economic times, while many national economies are burning through bailouts and austerity funds, Norway has taking a different approach. They have opted to burn through something more sustainable: garbage.  Oslo, the country’s capital city, has long recognized the value of recycling on a municipal level and half the education institutions are heated by electricity generated by incinerated waste (no easy task in this chilly Northern city).
But, through this hyper-efficient model, Oslo has also encountered a unique problem: lack of trash.  It seems that the urban population simply cannot produce enough waste to meet the demand of a trash-based heating system.  The solution? Imports.
While most of the world’s countries pay to have their garbage exported (the U.S. for instance ships millions of pounds of e-waste to Africa each year), Norway (and other Scandinavian countries like Sweden) are doing the opposite.  So much so, that Stockholm competes with Oslo to get the trash of Norwegian border cities to convert into energy.
“There’s a European waste market — it is a commodity.” Hege Rooth Olbergsveen, the senior adviser to Oslo’s waste recovery program, told the New York Times, “It’s a growing market.”

However, these waste-to-energy programs have left some environmentalist questioning the true efficiency of transporting garbage from further afield as Norway establishes relationships with Leeds, England and perhaps later on, with garbage-rich Southern Italy and Spain. The carbon footprint of the journeys are sizable, not to mention the safety risk of incinerating waste from countries with less than stringent disposal regulations.

But, despite criticisms, one fact remains indisputable: there is real, viable, economic value in what we throw away. And, as the world of reuse expands, this reality only gains momentum.

How do you think the commodification of trash will change the landscape of the global economy? Share your thoughts with us here!

Sustainable Living: A Bumpy Road For The Citi Bike Share

Posted on April 29, 2013 | green innovation, New York, sustainable living
There’s no place like New York. There’s also no debating the fact that the city leads the world in many arenas. However, when it comes to bike culture, New York lags behind other global metropolises like Paris, Toronto, Barcelona, London and Berlin. But this is all about to change: the Big Apple is kicking its bike presence into high gear with the May launch of Citi Bike, the long-awaited public bike sharing program.
It has been an uphill battle for the program to gain approval with members of the public, with residents protesting everything from safety concerns to the defacement of historical streets by bank adverts. Disgruntled Fort Greeners took to plastering the bike kiosks with protest stickers that read, “Residential landmark blocks are not for advertising or commercial activity.”  Others have expressed fears that the bikes infringe on parking spaces.  The most recent critics of NYC bike sharing program came just this weekend from local street venders, those who have been forced out of their regular corners by the racks. One of the protesters told CBS New York, “Many vendors are already crunched for space in the city.”
But the program has prevailed, and soon the bikes will be unveiled. 600 bike kiosks are now in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene and Clinton Hill neighborhoods alone.  The program will run as a pilot in Brooklyn, but Manhattan expansions are well underway (as you can see in the proposal map below):

The Citi Bike program offers annual memberships as well as twenty four hour ($9.95) or seven ($25.00) day options ($95.00).  So, ExchangeMyPhone readers, will you be buying a pass or taking a pass on the Citi bike sharing program?  Share your thoughts!

Sustainable Living: Houseplant 2.0

Spring has sprung and though your neighbor’s perfect garden is beautiful, it may leave you feeling inadequate about your plant-rearing abilities (not to mention this year’s houseplant casualties).  But, even for the world’s worst gardeners, the tech world is offering a solution: the Smart Herb Garden.
These small indoor gardens produce herbs without water or fertilizer (basically without any effort at all). Inspired by NASA, the engineers behind these gardens discovered that using nano material to grow vegetation is actually more efficient than conventional practices.
The principle is as simple as cartridge coffee makers: each Smart Herb Garden comes with cartridges for different plants. You simply plug in your garden, insert a cartridge and add water.
And, the seeds are spreading: more than 50,000 homes are enjoying basil, thyme, lemon balm- even mini tomatoes and strawberries from their click and grow gardens.  If you would like to contribute to the Kickstarter campaign and join the houseplant revolution learn more here.

Sustainable Living: The Incredible, Edible World

We often think of wealthy, urban centers as the crucibles of change in sustainable living. We think of cities as the place where the world’s innovators, and the necessary capital, collide and ideas become real.  We also tend to think that social change proliferates, dilutes and finally trickles down into smaller communities.  Well, the people of Todmorden, West Yorkshire, (a market town in Northern England) have a word for this ideology: bologna.
This small community of around 14,000 began a project in 2008 that is now shaping the way world leaders see sustainable agriculture and, just like their growing practices, the change was from the ground up! These motivated citizens did not wait for politicians, or the next urban zeitgeist, they simply got to work.
What work exactly?  The project is in essence an community gardening venture established by Pamela Warhurst, Mary Clear and a group of neighbors. Incredible Edible Todmorden aims to connect residents through local food-based activism and promote a world of kindness, both towards each other and the environment.
The word “homegrown” describes the fruits of the town’s labor, but it also encapsulates the flare with which they have executed the project.  According to Warhust, there were no action plans, no proposals and “we sure didn’t ask anybody’s permission.”  This spirited-roll up your sleeves-playfulness permeates every aspect of the project: from what they call “propaganda gardening” (planting corn stalks in front of the police station) to their beloved “sprouting cemeteries” (where they the soil they say, is very rich!).  In Todmorden there is none of the calculated, media-combed, dryness that is more and more germane to gross roots movements.
The three pillars of their project are simple: community, education and business. They believe that, if they can keep all these plates spinning, they will be sustainably self-sufficient.  The project started as a seed swap and has grown exponentially.  Volunteers have created vegetable tourism and an edible path tour of the town.  The local high school now teaches horticulture and local farmers have seen their profits increase so much they can now move into other areas like cheese and beer manufacturing.
In Incredible Edible Todmorden the motto is simple “If you eat, you’re in.”  And, as a result, the idea is spreading fast.  There are now more than 30 Incredible Edible towns worldwide from England to America, Japan to New Zealand.  People are getting a taste of this small town’s genius and coming back for seconds!

Sustainable Living: The Dirt on Footwear

sustainable living - OAT

When we talk about our carbon footprint maybe its time to get a little more literal, or, as OAT Shoes would argue, a lot more literal.  OAT Shoes is the force that is taking earth-friendly footwear to a whole new level: the soil.  Their shoes are made from 100% biodegradable materials which means that when you are done with your pair you compost them or even bury them in your garden!  But they don’t just hit the mark when it comes to sustainable living and materials, these shoes are hot.

OAT shoes

sustainable living

The simple, elegant and yet playful design is a departure from many style-sacrificing eco brands. Not here. Their fashion shows have even featured scantily clad models maneuvering wheelbarrows down the catwalk.  The centerpiece? A plant sprouting out of blooming shoe, pretty impressive. OAT is so fashionable in fact that the company walked away with the second prize at the Green Fashion Awards at Amsterdam International Fashion Week and have now branched out into bags and totes.

Blooming shoe - sustainable living

If, like most of us, you are just discovering the world of biodegradable shoes chances are you might have some footwear kicking around that just simply isn’t plantable but that doesn’t mean that you can’t recycle it.  For your fancy lady shoes you might consider transforming the prom experience of a girl in need by donating a pair to the Cinderella Project.  This non-profit aims to let girls in undeserved communities know “that they are not bound by personal or financial circumstances, and that the possibilities are endless for them.”

Cinderella project - sustainable living

For more practical, everyday shoes you might consider Soles 4 Souls.  The Nashville-based charity that has delivered over 19 million pairs of new and gently worn shoes to people in over 125 countries including Kenya, Thailand, Nepal and the United States. The non-profit also has a very strong disaster-relief force and coordinated efforts for the Asian Tsunami and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

At ExchangeMyPhone we love the idea of eco-equality for all which is why we admire organizations like the Cinderella Project and Soles 4 Souls and also why we make it our personal mission to provide free cell phone recycling for everyone!  At ExchangeMyPhone recycling is a right, plain and simple, and we are always humbled to find ourselves in such great company in the world of reuse.

The Giants of Iowa: Reuse, Re-rigged

The world of reuse is sometimes relegated to all things tiny: tiny homes, tiny devices, tiny art.  But in Iowa reuse is going not just big, its going gigantic, 8 stories to be exact!  That’s because in the middle of Iowa’s rolling farmlands there is, surprisingly, a mountain climber’s paradise where a number of unused grain silos have been converted into ice climbing walls.

In the fall of 2001 Don Briggs, a professor and climbing enthusiast, was helping a friend till his farmland in the municipality of Ceder Falls when he made a bet that he could scale one of the silos looming in the distance.  In the end, he won the bet and discovered that the most workable way to reach the peak was to ice climb it.

Briggs has now developed an intricate icing process by rigging hoses at the top of the structure which slow-drip downwards creating a semi-malleable wall of ice that changes depending on wind and weather conditions.

Since the silo opened for business it has attracted both beginners and experts alike and exposed a community famous for their flat farmlands to a taste of mountain life, close to home.  To learn more check out Silo Ice Climbing.