People all over the world are starting to see an increase in extreme and volatile weather, record-breaking “natural” disasters, shifting seasons and habitats, species losses, and dwindling resources. (These are all trends that climate scientists accurately predicted would occur as a result of high levels of greenhouse gas emissions.) This climatological and ecological instability is creating huge economic burdens and heart-breaking social disruption and dislocation, and climate projections show that the situation will almost certainly get worse.

As the costs and consequences of climate change become impossible to ignore, more people are recognizing the need to be more prepared for the challenges we’re likely to face in the short-term and the long-term (e.g., power outages, food and water shortages, or flooding from storms and sea level rise in some areas). A variety of initiatives are arising that aim to share ways of becoming more resilient—i.e., able to survive and thrive in the face of climate-related dangers. These efforts are occurring at the household, community, town, city, regional, and global levels.

Some initiatives are focused on the design of durable, climate-responsive, and disaster-resistant homes and buildings, including dwellings that can withstand hurricanes, floods, or earthquakes, or that incorporate “passive” heating or natural cooling strategies so that they can remain livable when there is no power; later this year I will post a list of companies that design and manufacturer disaster-resistant homes. Other initiatives are focused on personal or local food security; or the decentralization of energy production into localized or on-site power generation; or restoring degraded or contaminated land and habitats; or creating self-sufficient rural homesteads, self-reliant communities, and/or strong local economies.

While many of these have been grassroots efforts, the importance of resilience as a key requirement for sustainability is also beginning to be understood at an institutional, policy-making level. For examples, some major cities (e.g., San Francisco, New York, Seattle) see the writing on the wall and are actively trying to figure out how to become more adaptive and make their systems and infrastructure more robust and secure.

These are some noteworthy resilience-related initiatives and information resources:

  • Resilience  (a program of the Post Carbon Institute)

RDI explains resilience well: “Resilience is the capacity to bounce back after a disturbance or interruption of some sort. At various levels —individuals, households, communities, and regions — through resilience we can maintain livable conditions in the event of natural disasters, loss of power, or other interruptions in normally available services.  Relative to climate change, resilience involves adaptation to the wide range of regional and localized impacts that are expected with a warming planet: more intense storms, greater precipitation, coastal and valley flooding, longer and more severe droughts in some areas, wildfires, melting permafrost, warmer temperatures, and power outages.  Resilient design is the intentional design of buildings, landscapes, communities, and regions in response to the these vulnerabilities.”

The various actions that they suggest are organized into these 12 categories:

1.) Ensure that a home is safe in a storm. 2.) Build to resist or survive rain and flooding. 3.) Build super-insulated envelopes. 4.) Incorporate passive solar design in heating climates. 5.) Minimize cooling loads in cooling climates. 6.) Provide natural cooling. 7.) Maximize daylighting. 8.) Provide backup renewable energy systems. 9.) Plan for water shortages. 10.) Address fire resistance and durability. 11.) Consider resilience at the community scale. 12.) Support local food production.

  • Hunt Utilities Group (HUG): a resilient-homes research and development campus in Minnesota. (More info about them here.)
  • Mother Earth News, which focuses on modern homesteading, among other resilience-relevant topics

Related posts:  

 

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February 28, 2013
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You can find fresh, daily morsels of information and inspiration on The Green Spotlight’s Facebook Page. Anyone can view the page, even if they don’t have a Facebook account. But if you do have an account, we hope you’ll click on the Like button (if you haven’t already “Liked” the page).

Please visit the Page to get a sense of the wide variety of topics that it covers, and you are welcome to comment on the posts and share your own recommended links.

Here’s a sampling of topics that we’ve spotlighted on the page over the last month or so:

  • Mosaic’s successful solar crowdfunding platform
  • Hybrid Vehicle Scorecard
  • Global Green’s K-12 Green School Makeover grants
  • The ultra-green, newly built Bullitt Center in Seattle
  • Fossil Free: a divestment campaign for campus endowments
  • Farmigo.com: a virtual farmer’s market that delivers to workplaces, schools +
  • Webinar on community/neighborhood/bulk solar projects
  • How to opt out of receiving the printed Yellow Pages
  • New books: Clean Break; Carbon Zero; etc.
  • New films: You’ve Been Trumped; Promised Land; etc.
  • Organizations: 350.org, Rural Renewable Energy Alliance, etc.
  • Cartoons, photos, graphics
  • Great quotations from Martin Luther King Jr., John Burroughs, Rachel Carson, Ross Gelbspan, Mary Oliver, etc.
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January 21, 2013
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There are a number of large and well-known environmental organizations (e.g., NRDC and the Sierra Club) and other broad-based sustainability groups that do very good work. But there are also many lesser-known, smaller, or more issue-specific environmental organizations that I believe also deserve attention and financial support. You might not have heard of all of these groups before, but they’re worth knowing about. They include:

It was difficult to narrow down my long list of favorite organizations to this small set; there are so many other effective organizations and initiatives that deserve support, as well. If you have a favorite organization to recommend, please mention it in the Comments section.

Remember that you can always give a donation to a group or a cause in honor of someone else—as a gift. It’s a wonderful type of gift to give for the holidays or any other occasion. You can also give someone a charity gift card (such as the TisBest Charity Gift Card) that allows the recipient to spend the funds on a charity of their choice.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to mention a few other non-profit groups that are near and dear to my heart, though they are not directly related to environmental issues. I hope you will look into and support some of these groups, as well:

Also consider making donations to local organizations that serve your community (e.g., food banks, shelters), as well as to local and nationwide public radio/TV programs and other non-profit media outlets.

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December 7, 2012
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More than a dozen of the Green Spotlight’s previous posts have referenced green products. Below is a list of many of those posts, which have covered everything from building- and home-related products to films, chocolates, and other types of goods. Many of the products mentioned in these posts would make good and useful gifts (for holidays, birthdays, etc.).

At the bottom of this post, I’ve also added links to some books for eco-minded readers.

Home/Building Products

Other Products

Books

The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World’s Wild Places, by Bernie Krause

Or if you’re interested in books on green business, check out the book listing at the bottom of our Green Business post.

You can find a wide selection of books on sustainable living from Chelsea Green Publishing and from New Society Publishers.

And here are a bunch of other books on sustainability topics.

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November 26, 2012
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Generators are typically used to provide electricity during power outages (e.g., during storms, emergencies, and related disaster-relief operations) or in off-grid situations or areas where there is no access to a built-in power source (e.g., on construction sites, on camping trips, or at outdoor events—for concert stages, food booths, etc.). So, in a nutshell, they’re mostly used for temporary, portable/mobile, back-up, or remote power needs.

Conventional generators have a number of downsides. They require gasoline (or diesel fuel), which can be expensive—especially during emergencies, when there can also be gas shortages. The stinky emissions from gas-powered generators also contribute to air pollution and climate change, and they can cause carbon monoxide poisoning when placed inside a home or building, or too close to doors, windows, or vents on the outside of a building. (In fact, several people who were using generators due to Hurricane Sandy died from carbon monoxide poisoning.) Furthermore, gas generators are very loud.

Solar generators provide a smart, silent, safe, and clean alternative that uses renewable energy (no fuel = no emissions), and there are a number of products available to choose from these days. (Biodiesel or hybrid generators are other options to consider.)

Below is a list of the U.S.-based solar generator brands that I’ve looked into so far; this is not a comprehensive listing.  If you know of other brands of solar generators and would recommend them, please let us know in the Comments. Thanks!

SolManSmall-Scale, Compact Units

These solar generators are designed to provide a modest amount of electricity for temporary, emergency, or low-use power needs. The smallest units can easily charge gadgets and power lights, but do not have the capacity to run large, power-hungry equipment or appliances (e.g., refrigerators or heaters) for more than a short time. (For example, a 1500-watt unit can generally only run a small space heater for up to 2 hours or so at night, when the unit is not being recharged by the sun.) The average price among these compact options is somewhere around $3,000 – $4,000, though you can find some that are less expensive (note: the cheapest products often use panels or components that are made in China). The prices could change significantly in coming months and years, as the cost of solar panels continues to go down, and battery and photovoltaic technologies are evolving rapidly.

SolMan (from Sol Solutions, based in Northern California)

EasySun (from Suburb Solar, based in Northern Michigan)

Ready2Go (from E.A.R.T.H., based in Hawaii and Southern California)

SUNRNR (A.K.A. Sun Runner, based in Virginia)

Larger Systems

Some of these are intended for use on construction job sites or public works projects. Most are mounted on trailers that can be towed. While many of these generators are meant for commercial/industrial uses, some could also potentially be used to power an entire off-grid homestead.

Mobile Solar PowerMobile Solar Power (based in Central California)

Pure Power Distribution (based in Southern California)

SolaRover (based in Colorado)

 

Some companies offer hybrid systems that allow for back-up generation using biodiesel, if solar power is not providing adequate energy for a user’s needs.

Please chime in with additional info and recommendations based on your own experience or knowledge of solar or biodiesel generators!

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November 12, 2012
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If you would like to be represented by more elected officials who support environmental safeguards for our air, water, and land, take a good look at the resources provided by the League of Conservation Voters (LCV). LCV “is a national non-profit organization that works to turn environmental values into national priorities. To secure the environmental future of our planet, LCV advocates for sound environmental policies” and works to “elect pro-environment candidates who will adopt and implement such policies.”

One of LCV’s flagship reports is its annual National Environmental Scorecard, which shows how each congressperson voted on every environmentally relevant piece of legislation. You can search the Scorecard by state, zip code, a congressperson’s name, or by year. Or you can download a PDF of the entire Scorecard.  Congressman Paul Ryan earned a very low score of 3% in LCV’s 2011 Scorecard, and just 13% the year before.

LCV endorses pro-environment candidates (or at least candidates who are far more green-leaning than their viable opponents) in Congressional, Gubernatorial, and Presidential races. See their list of current endorsements here . The Senate candidates whom they’ve endorsed for the upcoming election include: Tim Kaine (VA), Tammy Baldwin (WI), Jon Tester (MT), Richard Carmona (AZ), Martin Heinrich (NM), Elizabeth Warren (MA), and Chris Murphy (CT), among others. A few of the House candidates they’ve endorsed include: Tammy Duckworth (IL), Ami Bera (CA), Jared Huffman (CA), Dina Titus (NV), Raul Grijalva (AZ), and Ron Barber (AZ), among many others. LCV has also endorsed Barack Obama for President, and Jay Inslee for Governor of Washington. [A post-election update: Almost all of the endorsed pro-environment candidates won their races. LCV has created a webpage they call Environmental Facebook, with profiles of all of the newly elected, LCV-supported congresspeople.]

LCV also makes anti-endorsements. This year, LCV named five incumbent House candidates to a group they’ve dubbed the Flat Earth Five: five of the most staunchly anti-science, climate-change deniers (AKA denialists) in the House of Representatives. LCV is encouraging voters to vote against the Flat Earth Five, who are: Dan Lungren (CA); Dan Benishek (MI); Joe Walsh (IL); Ann Marie Buerkle (NY); and Francisco Canseco (TX).  LCV issues an annual Dirty Dozen list, as well, which includes the Flat Earth Five this year, as well as other candidates who consistently vote against clean energy and conservation. Among this year’s Dirty Dozen are: George Allen (VA); Heather Wilson (NM); Dennis Rehberg (MT); Josh Mandel (OH); Linda McMahon (CT); and Mitt Romney.  Since 1996, 60 percent of candidates named to the annual “Dirty Dozen” lists have been defeated. [A post-election update: 11 out of the 12 of the "Dirty Dozen" and 4 out of the 5 of the "Flat Earth Five" were defeated.]

More than 30 states now have their own state-level LCVs, which hold state elected officials accountable on various environmental issues. Click on the map at that link to find the website for your state’s LCV and learn about your state and local candidates.

LCV features several petitions and actions that people can participate in.  Some other ways to get involved with and support the League of Conservation Voters are to: join their Facebook page or follow their Twitter feed; share their videos; sign up to be on their mailing list; or donate to LCV or to specific pro-environment candidates.

Patagonia (the company) also has a Vote the Environment project, which is affiliated with LCV, along with the band Wilco, the group HeadCount, and others.

Other important info for the upcoming election:

Make sure you are able to vote:

  • Verify that you are still registered to vote: Go to CanIVote.org and click on your state and follow the links, or contact your county’s elections office.  Thousands of voters have been purged from the voter rolls in several states. Make sure you aren’t one of them.
  • Register to vote, or re-register to vote (if you’ve moved or changed your name or been wrongfully purged from the registration system): Pick up a voter registration form at a Post Office (or a library or government building) in your county; or go to RockTheVote.com, 866OurVote.org, or to your county’s election office to register. Be sure to register before the deadline for your state. And if you think you might not be able to get to the polls on election day (the upcoming national election is Tuesday, November 6), fill out the absentee ballot form to receive a mail-in ballot before the deadline.
  • Get info on your polling location and hours, as well as voting requirements in your area (e.g., voter ID requirements), and report any voting problems: Go to Election Protection’s 866OurVote.org website, or call 1-866-OUR-VOTE, email help@866ourvote.org, or download their free Smartphone app.

  • Find out whether your state’s voting systems are reliable and publicly verifiable: Go to VerifiedVoting.org: working for election integrity/preparedness, i.e., reducing the odds of electronic and physical vote tampering, to try to ensure and verify that every vote is counted as cast.

And last but not least: please vote—not just for your own sake, but for the sake of your family, future generations, and the environment and atmosphere that we all share and depend on for life.  Thank you.

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September 25, 2012
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Conserving water is becoming increasingly important, and it has become a necessity in areas that are suffering from drought. According to the UN, by 2025 (in less than 15 years), 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water-stressed conditions, as a result of water shortages from climate change and rising levels of water use due to a growing population.

Reducing your water use will not only lower your water bills and help prevent potential water shortages. It also reduces the strain on municipal water systems and infrastructure (e.g., sewer, water treatment and distribution), which helps reduce the energy, maintenance, and the associated taxes required to run and expand those systems. Using less water can also save you money on your energy bill, because electricity or gas is used to heat your water. Water conservation also leaves more water available for critical uses, such as drinking, growing food, and fighting fires; and it keeps more water in lakes, rivers, and streams for aquatic species.

These are some of the ways that you can reduce your household water use, both indoors and outdoors:

INDOORS:

  1. Replace your toilets, faucets, and showerheads with high-efficiency (WaterSense labeled) plumbing fixtures, or at least add aerators to your faucets. Consider getting a dual-flush toilet. Switching to such fixtures results in significant water savings.
  2. Do not let faucets run longer than is necessary for your task. And when you turn a faucet off, make sure that it is turned all the way off.
  3. Try to take short showers, or don’t take a shower every day (if you aren’t really dirty—from work, exercise, recreation, etc.).
  4. When using a clothes washer or dishwasher, only wash fairly full loads (or select a light-load setting for small loads). If you’re buying a new washer, select a high-efficiency, water-saving model. Front-loading washing machines are typically more efficient than top-loading machines.
  5. Wash dirty dishes immediately or soak them before hand-washing, so that they can be washed off more easily and quickly (requiring less water).
  6. If a faucet is dripping or if your toilet is running (for too long after it has been flushed), have the leak fixed right away. A leaking toilet can waste more than 50 gallons of water each day, and a dripping faucet or showerhead can waste up to 1,000 gallons of water per week (according to ResourceVenture.org). Also check for washing machine or dishwasher leaks (usually found where the hose is connected to the machine or at the shut-off valve). Familiarize yourself with the water shut-offs behind your toilet, sinks, and washing machine, as well as the water shut-off for the entire house, so that you know how to turn off the water when needed.
  7. As the saying goes, “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.” There’s generally no need to flush a toilet after it’s only been peed in one time. Hold off on flushing until the toilet has been peed in 2-3 times or has been used for “doing #2.”
  8. Compare your water bills (or water meter readings) from month to month and from year to year, to monitor the results of your conservation efforts and to look for any sudden spikes in water use, which could be caused by leaks.

OUTDOORS (yard / lawn / garden):

  1. Water your yard/garden during the coolest and least windy time of the day (usually early morning) to avoid losing a lot of water via evaporation.
  2. When you add new plants, trees, or other vegetation, select drought-tolerant or native/adapted plants that require little, if any, irrigation. To get information on how to choose the best plants for your area, click here.
  3. Putting mulch on your garden or landscaped areas can help the soil retain moisture longer.
  4. Turf grass typically requires much more water than groundcover or shrubs, so the less lawn area you have, the less irrigating you will need to do. If adding or reseeding grass areas, select a drought-tolerant grass variety or consider replacing the grass area with groundcover. As an added bonus, most types of groundcovers and some types of grasses will only grow a few inches tall, so they would rarely if ever need to be mowed.
  5. If you are installing an irrigation system, choose a high-efficiency irrigation system. Drip, micro, and bubbler irrigation systems are more efficient than spray or sprinkler irrigation, because they deliver water directly to plants’ roots, minimizing evaporative water loss.
  6. If you have an irrigation system or sprinklers, make sure that all spray or drip spouts are oriented in such a way that they are watering planted areas only and are not watering the sides of buildings, pathways or other paved areas. In addition to wasting water, allowing water to pool up on pavement can make it slippery to walk on an can degrade the pavement over time.
  7. Also, for irrigation systems, perform (or have an irrigation specialist perform) regular system checks and maintenance, to make sure there are no leaking heads, pipes, or valves. Make sure the irrigation system is not watering the lawn/yard/garden during (or immediately preceding or following) rainy days. Even on dry days, make sure the system is not over-watering the plants or over-saturating the soil. Re-program the system seasonally and as necessary to adjust to weather conditions. Winterize the system before the first frost of each year. If issues arise, consider hiring an irrigation professional to do an irrigation audit.
  8. Consider adding rainwater collection barrels/tanks at downspouts (or a bucket in your shower or yard, or a greywater system) for use in watering your yard/garden.
  9. Sweep your sidewalks and driveway (and other paved areas), rather than hosing them down.

At a broader level, two of the most effective ways to reduce water use (indirectly but significantly) are: to reduce your energy use (because the generation of electricity typically requires enormous amounts of water), and to reduce or eliminate your consumption of meat (because raising meat animals, especially corn-fed factory-farmed beef cows, requires enormous amounts of water).

For more information on water conservation, visit these websites:

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August 30, 2012
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Below is a listing of companies that offer green dwellings in the form of modular, prefab/manufactured, compact and/or mobile structures. These days, there are many such options available that are not only green, but also beautiful, well-made, and often low-cost. Some of these structures are homes or cabins/cottages, while others can be used as an addition, a backyard studio, office, in-law unit/guest house, or some other type of “accessory dwelling unit.”

They come in a wide range of sizes, from teeny-tiny one-room spaces (e.g., 100 sq. ft.) and small units (see the Tiny/Compact Structures section below) to conventionally sized homes. They are also available in a wide variety of styles; some have traditional designs, while others have a very modern look. Some are available as plans and/or DIY kits, and others have designated builders. Many can be modified or customized.

Prefab (factory-built) homes have many benefits. They can be built more efficiently (e.g., less material waste), more quickly, with more precision and durability (i.e., higher quality), and they typically have more predictable costs (and often cost less) than site-built homes.

The levels of greenness vary among the following options, but all of them tout some green features.

This is not a comprehensive listing; there are many other companies that make similar types of green structures. I’ve provided links below to other directories that list additional options. If you know of another green modular, prefab, mobile, or small home designer or manufacturer that you would recommend, please share it in the Comments.

Note: The asterisk (*) shown after certain listings indicates that those companies seem to offer at least one low-cost/affordable option. Some of the other companies might also offer such options, but specific pricing isn’t available on all of the websites; in some cases, one must contact the company for pricing information.

Blu Homes (offices in CA, MA, and MI)

BlueSky MOD (based in Toronto, Canada)

Clayton i-house

Clever Homes (based in CA)

Eco-Infill (based in CO)

EcoMod Structures (based in WV) *

FabCab

IdeaBox (based in OR)

Jot House *

Lindal Cedar Homes (see Mod.Fab and Lindal Architects Collaborative; Lindal has an international network of dealers) *

Living Homes (based in CA)
C6 = their low-cost option*

Marmol Radziner Prefab (based in CA)

Method Homes (based in WA)

New Old Green Modular Home (from New World Home)

OHOME (Healthy Buildings Technology Group; based in CA)

OMD (Office of Mobile Design; based in CA)

Piece Homes (Davis Studio Architecture + Design; based in CA)

Rocio Romero LV series (based in MO) *

Stillwater Dwellings (based in WA) *

Studio 101 Designs (based in CA)

2morrow Studio (based in VT) *

weeHouses (Alchemy Architects, based in MN, with factories around the country) *

Xtreme Green Homes (based in NC, SC, and VA)

ZETA Communities (modular multi-family developments; based in CA)

For a listing of MANY other types of modular/manufactured homes (some of which have green features), see this compendium.

Books on green prefab homes:

Prefabulous + Almost Off the Grid: Your Path to Building an Energy-Independent Home, by Sheri Koones

Prefabulous + Sustainable: Building and Customizing an Affordable, Energy-Efficient Home, by Sheri Koones

Prefab Green, by Michelle Kaufmann

Prefab, by Allison Arieff


Tiny / Compact Structures  *
(some of which are mobile)

Many of the companies listed above offer one or two options for small dwellings, while the following companies specialize in small structures:

Ecopods (based in Ontario, Canada)

GreenPods (based in WA)

kitHAUS (based in CA)

L41 Home (based in BC, Canada)

Leaf House (based in the Yukon, Canada)

Little Green Buildings (made w/ SIPs; based in WA)

Little House on the Trailer (based in CA)

Modern-Shed (based in WA, with dealers in all states)

Tumbleweed Tiny House Co. (house plans and some pre-built homes; some are mobile)

Wee Cabins (based in MN)

weeHouses (Alchemy Architects, based in MN, with factories around the country)

YardPods (based in CA)

m-ch (Micro Compact Home; based in Germany)

For a listing of many other types of small homes (some of which have other green features), see this Tiny House Directory.

Resources on small homes:

Tiny House Blog

Small House Society

The Small House Book, by Jay Shafer

Little House on a Small Planet: Simple Homes, Cozy Retreats, and Energy Efficient Possibilities, by Shay Salomon

And here’s a listing of other books on compact design.

 

* Low-cost/affordable option(s) available

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July 30, 2012
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The Green Spotlight has created some simple, colorful graphics of some of our favorite Quotations.  Here’s a batch of four new ones:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Click on each image to see a larger (full-size, e-card) version.

Please feel free to pass them on. You can use the Share icons at the bottom of the post (for direct links to email, Facebook, Twitter, etc.), or just drag a full-size graphic onto your desktop and share it from there.

Click here to see four other quotation graphics, which were posted previously.

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June 29, 2012
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