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: Under city lights, urban camping takes root

Posted on August 12, 2013 | green living, New York, San Fran, sustainable living
Summer begins with a lot of good intentions, plans to get back into nature and reconnect with our roots.  But, if your camping ambitions have yet to materialize, don’t despair: a night under the stars might be closer than you think!

City governments and urban entrepreneurs across the world are now paying increased attention to providing camping options within city limits.  Sound like an oxymoron?  Well it is, which is why urban camping is blossoming into an outdoor experience unto itself: not quite rural romping not quite city hustling.

One fascinating example is taking root in Amsterdam where architects Oscar Rommens and Joris Van Reuseldrew drew inspiration from the skyscraper but gave it a campy twist.  Their creation is a small-scale, mobile, urban camping facility.  The unit is a literal and figurative platform for city explorers to  stay overnight (avoid exorbitant hotel prices), connect with other travelers and rediscover urbanity in a totally new way.

While vertical camping catalyzes innovative new designs, it also creates room for the bare-boned traditionalists.  Spearheading this approach are the folks at Bivouac, a summer rooftop art instillation that doubles as 15-person campsite. The project is currently running in New York, Boston and across the pond in London.
The campers here aren’t typically travelers, Bivouac is more an experiment in day-to-day life in the high-tech city jungle. Guests are encouraged to live their normal daily lives, taking the subway and working as usual, before retreating to their low-fi oasis at night (without showers, internet or electricity). Interested in setting up camp? Check it out here.

In the Midwest, urban camping has a unique iteration that’s more nature-focused.  North Face has teamed up with the Chicago parks department to create the Camping 101 Program, giving novice campers and their families the chance to have a slumber-party in select public parks.  The initiative is so well-loved that North Face is teaming up with other state park agencies in California, Idaho, Massachusetts, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, Missouri, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Oregon.

The consensus when it comes to easily-accessible camping is clearly more, more, more! Have you pitched a tent in an urban jungle? 

We’d love to hear about your adventures.

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.

Green Living: The Surprising Truth About Urban Trees

Most city-dwellers operate under the assumption that, like binoculars and snow tires, the United States Park Service is simply irrelevant to their urban existence.  But, as it turns out, the Forest Service has been hard at work pounding the pavement of America’s major city centers to bring us the surprising truth about city trees: they’re saving our lives, quite literally.

In the first of two recently published studies, director Geoffrey Donovan and his team revealed a direct and dramatic correlation between loss of trees and loss of human life in city centers. According to the study, as deforestation of urban areas spread across the country there was an increase in mortality related to cardiovascular and lower-respiratory-tract illness: 6,113 related lower respiratory system-related deaths and 15,080 cardiovascular-related deaths.

According to Donovan, the research warrants a value shift in popular opinion; rather than equating trees with recreation/decoration we need to think of them as pillars in the infrastructure of public health. We need to starting taking trees very seriously.

The second study surveyed the tree populations of 10 major cities (Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Syracuse) to determine how effectively they were filtering out air pollutants.  And guess what? They’re doing a phenomenal job, so much so that urban trees and forests are saving an average of one life per year per city. That means in New York City alone, trees save an average of eight lives annually.

We hope that this newly reveled super power will inspire city residents to get involved planting more trees in their communities.

If you’re looking for ways to get involved, there are dozens of non-profits looking for volunteers.  Friends of the Urban Forest in San Francisco for instance has planted more than 47,000 trees since 1981.  They have also earned bragging rights by planting 43% of the city’s street tree canopy, and now, as it turns out, saving some lives along the way!