Two energy-efficient cork homes are elevated off the landscape in northern Spain

February 27, 2019 by  
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Barcelona-based firm López-Rivera Arquitectos has unveiled two beautiful homes tucked into a dense forest in northern Spain. The natural forest, which is comprised of cork and pine trees, inspired the architects to clad both homes in a gorgeous cork facade . The sustainable material helped create an energy-efficient and resilient design that is also raised off the ground to reduce the impact on the landscape. Located in Platfrugell, Catalonia, the two cork houses are located on a rugged landscape, marked by uneven and steep terrain. The challenging topography, as well as the architects’ respect for nature, inspired the design to go vertical. Anchored into a strong base of concrete, the two homes are elevated on cross-laminated timber supports, which were locally-sourced. Related: Solar-powered cork house pursues healthy, sustainable living Both of the homes are entirely clad in two layers of cork to connect the homes into the environment, which is a dense, wooded landscape dominated by the presence of cork trees. The designers also chose the material for its durable and long-lasting features, and for its ability to tightly insulate the homes, conserving energy throughout the year. In fact, the project’s many passive features have earned both of the homes a Class A energy rating. The interior design of the two structures was also based on their natural setting. The wooden walls were left exposed to continue the cabin-the-woods atmosphere. To keep the residents warm and cozy in the cold months, the ceramic-tiled floors are heated through a system of underfloor heating. During the summer months, the adjustable casement wood windows enable almost constant air ventilation  through the interior. For those searing hot days, an adjacent swimming pool is the perfect cool-down spot. With no hallways and rooms of varying sizes, the living spaces were arranged so that there is no clear distinction between them. According to the architects, this was strategic so that the interior spaces would be defined by their relationship to the outdoors. Large open-air decks are at the heart of the design and offer stunning views of the surrounding forest as well as distant views of the sea. + López-Rivera Arquitectos Photos by José Hevia and Juande Jarrillo via López-Rivera Arquitectos

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Two energy-efficient cork homes are elevated off the landscape in northern Spain

Essential eco-friendly fixtures to incorporate into your home

February 20, 2019 by  
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Being a steward of the environment means evaluating how many resources you and your family consume and consistently looking for ways to reduce your carbon footprint. The good news is that it’s pretty easy to make small eco-friendly fixtures to your home that can have a huge impact towards those goals. Water costs WaterSense, a federal program sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency provides information about the most water-efficient fixtures for your home. Look for a label that indicates the device has met the strict restrictions certified by an independent testing facility for the best water conservation and lowest water costs. Related: 10 money-saving tips for a green home Faucets The bathroom and kitchen faucets provide a convenience water source for washing hands, brushing teeth and cleaning dishes. With the ability to crank out significant amounts of water, most of the water you pay for heads right down the drain. Instead of free-flowing the cash out of your wallet, look into aerating faucet heads. They work by forcing air through the system, which provides good water pressure while using significantly less water. Look for a model with WaterSense certification and replace each faucet as they begin to leak or as your budget allows. Toilets Standard toilets are a culprit for much of the water usage in the average home. By replacing standard toilets with low flow models, you will see the savings add up. Basically these devices work by providing two flush options: one for solid waste  and one for liquid waste that uses about ? the amount of water. Doing the math, that will save you 25-33% on your toilet flushes alone. With a standard flush requiring around three gallons, that’s some big savings. Showerheads Low flow showerheads work in the same way as other water fixtures. In addition to the aforementioned aerating design, there are other options for slowing the flow in your morning shower. Shower heads equipped with a laminar-flow shower head that feeds individual beads of water through the holes, allows less water flow over all. Other shower heads use a flow restrictor, which allow more or less water through depending on your water pressure preference. Whichever style you choose, look for a shower head with less than 2.5 gpm (gallons per minute) flow rate and a WaterSense certification. Bathtubs Bathtubs are notorious for requiring copious amount of water. After all, submersion in a hot bath averages a consumption of around 30-50 gallons. Showers with a standard shower head, by comparison, use about 10 gallons every four minutes so calculating your shower time will help you evaluate the best water savings. If you’re a disciplined sort, keeping it under ten minutes, than a shower is probably the way to go, especially if you invest in a water-conserving shower head. If you just can’t seem to shut it down in less than 20 minutes, than a bath won’t cost you any more. Lighting One of the best conveniences in a modern home is the ability to flip a switch and bring light to nearly any room in the house. But each flip of the switch costs you at the meter. One option to lower those costs is to replace the type of switch you use. For example, dimmer switches allow you to set the bulb at a lower output level. Lower output means lower consumption and therefore, a lower bill. Timers are another useful option if your family tends to leave lights on frequently. A device that tells your lights to turn off at a specified time will keep the meter from running all day when they are not needed. Motion sensored lights also save money by automatically turning lights on when you enter the room and turning them off behind you when they sense inactivity. Of course, the bulbs you use also make a huge difference in the amount of energy you’re consuming. Traditional incandescent bulbs suck up significantly more energy than the more modern halogen incandescents, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and light emitting diodes (LEDs) that not only require less energy, but also last 3-25 times longer. Look for the Energy Star rating on the bulbs you select and be sure to responsibly recycle old bulbs that contain mercury. Electrical costs Your day to day activities are reflected in your electrical bill, whether your house is powered by electricity alone or a combination of sources such as natural gas. The costs of heating, cooling and providing power to the outlets in your home add up quickly, so any changes you can make to reduce your usage will pay you back in the wallet and environmentally. Related: A renovated Toronto home boasts energy savings of over 50% Heating and cooling Heating and cooling costs make-up the lion’s share of every home’s electrical bill. Air conditioners and furnaces should be maintained for the best performance and replaced when they fail or when convenient to you. As your budget allows, swap out old systems for new ones that are more efficient and, of course, Energy Star certified. Although the unit is an investment up front, the savings long term are worth it. In addition, there are often local, state and federal tax credits that help offset the cost. Insulated windows and doors are another investment that can add up to huge savings. Energy Star models are much more energy efficient than those made even ten years ago, keeping warm air in and cold air out, which also equates to lower heating and cooling costs. Another relatively inexpensive fixture that can save you on your heating and cooling bills is an automatic thermostat. These smart devices are easy to find and install. By programming your thermostat to keep the temperature of the home lower during the night and when nobody is home, you avoid paying unnecessary heating and cooling costs automatically. Water heaters Another mainstream fixture that uses both water and electricity for heating is the water heater. By switching over to tankless water heaters, the average homeowner can save up to $100 per year. You can either install a central unit that provides on-demand water for your entire house, or you can use individual units, installed in each bathroom , kitchen, laundry, and other areas that require a water heater. These units work by only heating water as the faucet requests it, rather than keeping a huge tank of water heated and at the ready constantly. Images via Skitterphoto , 955169 , Karishea , TBIT

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Essential eco-friendly fixtures to incorporate into your home

Don’t forget to fight for these "less glamorous" endangered species

February 20, 2019 by  
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Not all endangered animals have their own PR firms to save them. Many are living humble lives outside the limelight. A new poster campaign, commissioned by NetCredit, aims to draw attention to these underdogs in the conservation movement. According to Luke Doyle, who worked on the campaign, “The research team gathered data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to build a long list of species that are flagged as ‘endangered’ or ‘threatened’ in every state of the U.S. The team then shortlisted the top populations at risk of extinction in each state, making sure that there were no duplicated species , as in some cases, certain states are home to the same populations. When finding a species that had been shortlisted already but was repeated in two or more states, we moved forward with the next domestic species on the list for the state we were working on.” Related: These are the most endangered species in the world Here’s an assortment of these endangered and threatened animals from different regions of the US. See the full list of endangered animals in every state here . Arkansas: ivory-billed woodpecker Logging decimated the home of the ivory-billed woodpecker, which was first reported extinct in 1944. However, occasional reported sightings give hope that a small population still lives on. California: Point Arena mountain beaver This primitive rodent is called a “living fossil.” They live underground, surfacing to eat stinging nestles and thistles. Agriculture , roads and recreational use of land threaten what’s left of their habitat. Illinois: cave amphipod An Illinois original, this gray amphipod lives in cold water, shunning light. Extremely sensitive, this little crustacean is very susceptible to pesticides and other human-made chemicals. Scientists are working to restore the population by 2023. Indiana: Indiana bat Pollution and commercial caving threaten the Indiana bat, endangered since 1967. More recently, white-nose syndrome has killed many more while they hibernate in limestone caves. Louisiana: Louisiana pine snake As pine forests are logged, this point-nosed snake loses its habitat. The Louisiana pine snake is non-venomous and grows up to a meter and a half long. Conservationists estimate their population at a few thousand. Missouri: Ozark hellbender This curved salamander can live up to 50 years — if they can survive poaching, contaminated water and habitat loss. They hang out under rocks during the day, breathing through their skin. At night, they hunt insects and crayfish. New Jersey: Sei whale This mysterious 60-foot baleen whale likes the deep water far from coastlines. Until commercial whaling ended in 1987, the Sei whale was fair game. They’re seldom seen, but still occasionally get caught in fishing gear. Related: Ghost gear is haunting our oceans North Carolina: Carolina northern flying squirrel Only found in North Carolina, southwest Virginia and Tennessee, this ice-age flying squirrel is struggling to survive pollution and climate change . Pennsylvania: short-eared owl These owls nest in grassy areas, such as around the Philadelphia Airport. Developers and agricultural practices threaten their remaining nesting places. South Dakota: black-footed ferret The only ferret native to North America, fewer than 500 are left in South Dakota. These members of the weasel family rely on prairie dogs for food — and prairie dog populations are also decreasing. Via NetCredit Images via NetCredit and Ryan Moehring of USFWS

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Don’t forget to fight for these "less glamorous" endangered species

Nissan unveils incredible solar-powered mobile workshop for woodworkers

February 15, 2019 by  
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Over the years, we’ve seen thousands of unique van conversions , but Nissan has taken the van-loving world by storm with its new NV300 concept van — a mobile workshop for woodworking professionals. The amazing design, which was a collaboration between Nissan and UK-based firm Studio Hardie , is fully-functioning mobile woodworking studio that can be taken off grid, letting wood-loving artisans find inspiration anywhere they choose. What’s more, the van runs on solar power and its tools are powered by an emissions-free, weatherproof power pack made out of recycled electric car batteries. Unveiled at the Brussels Motor Show in Belgium, the van’s incredible design was created to provide the average craftsperson with optimal flexibility to move regularly between jobs as needed, in a functional and sustainable way. Slated for a springtime launch in Europe, the van will come in various lengths and heights. Related: DIY kits help explorers transform Sprinter vans into rugged adventure vehicles By contrast to the dark exterior, the van’s bright interior space lit by LED lighting is a woodworker’s dream come true. Lined in “lightweight and strong” pale ash, peg boards, boxes, cabinets and cubbies were built into the walls, while the doors have been outfitted for optimal tool storage. A wheeled stool glides on on metal rails to keep it from sliding around. The open interior allows the woodworkers to use the portable workbench inside during inclement weather. As studio founder William Hardie explained to Dezeen , “We decided to create a grid which we could anchor desks, racks and boxes to; this gave the interior a strong and rational form. We then played with our three-dimensional lines, adding or taking away to create a functional Mondrian-esque grid,” he stated. “The designs for the tool storage came from years of site work, thinking about how we work, what tool you want where. We often work in far-flung parts of the country and having such a versatile refined workspace that you can use on site is the ideal solution.” As an energy source, the van conversion operates on solar power and can go completely off grid. All of the power tools run on an Energy Roam battery, an emissions-free, weatherproof power pack with a storage capacity of 700 watt-hours. The batteries are repurposed from Nissan’s Leaf electric vehicles. + Studio Hardy Via Dezeen Images via Nissan

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Nissan unveils incredible solar-powered mobile workshop for woodworkers

Compensation for conservation: water markets are economists’ answer to scarcity

February 15, 2019 by  
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As cites grow and put more pressure on water sources, scarcity is an increasingly important issue. More than two thirds of the world’s population experience a water shortage every year. Just because water continues to reach your tap does not mean your area isn’t experiencing a shortage. Instead, it could mean your town is forced to tap sources, such as rivers, faster than they can renew. Economists have introduced one solution, water markets, which assign a value to usage under the premise that when something has a dollar value, people are more likely to conserve it. What are water markets? When preserving nature for nature’s sake is not enough to get a company’s attention, sometimes the best strategy is through its bottom line. Related: 7 ways to conserve water and reduce your water footprint Water markets function similarly to the stock market or carbon trading markets, where water usage rights and quantities can be traded among voluntary stakeholders within a watershed. There are different types of trades and markets that vary based on local legislation, infrastructure and government regulation. Ultimately, one water user sells a portion of its predetermined water allotment to another user, meaning it reduces the quantity of water it uses (in exchange for compensation), while the buyer utilizes the agreed upon amount of water. Why would the seller engage in a water market? A farmer, for example, might sell a portion of their water access and use the funding to purchase more efficient irrigation or use it as compensation for reducing their yield. Why would the buyer engage in a water market? A metropolitan area, for example, might purchase water from farmers upstream and use it for urban residents. This enables more efficient use of the water available, without forcing the government to tap into reserves or build expensive infrastructure to reach far away sources. Environmental organizations might also purchase water and then not use it, simply to ensure that an optimum amount of water cycles through the watershed to support healthy ecosystems . Why do we need water markets? Most people consider water a human right and a shared resource; however, this means that people do not necessarily have tangible incentive to conserve . Agriculture is the largest water user, with more than 90 percent of all water going to irrigated farms . But nearly 75 percent of all irrigated farms are vulnerable to scarcity, and almost 20 percent of all irrigated crops are produced with nonrenewable groundwater. This means that a fifth of everything we eat taps the earth’s water supply beyond what the water cycle can naturally replenish. This rate is alarmingly unsustainable. As The Nature Conservancy reported , “Nature is the silent and unseen victim of water scarcity.” But with the rise in severe weather, including flooding and drought , those who are paying attention could argue that nature is not so silent. Not to mention the 844 million people living without adequate access to clean water who are also victims in plain sight. Have water markets been successful? Australia’s Murray-Darling river has one of the most widely cited examples of a successful water market. Established in response to a seven-year drought, the market provides farmers with an alternate revenue stream that helps them stay in business even during times of water crises. Currently, 40 percent of all water used within the extensive basin in southeastern Australia is traded water. Another example comes from San Diego, California , where the water authority pays farmers to reduce water and reroute it to urban areas. This traded water covers one third of the city’s water needs. Reducing water use on large farms — without destroying local economies and food supplies — inevitably has to be a major part of the solution. Unlike carbon trading, which many argue promotes “pay to pollute,” water markets offer “compensation for conservation.” According to The Nature Conservancy , water markets “offer a powerful mechanism for alleviating water scarcity, restoring ecosystems and driving sustainable water management.” Markets, however, are intended to be one solution within a more comprehensive conservation strategy. Other components include enforcing meaningful reductions in water usage —  forcing businesses to innovate more efficient operations, appliances and products. The concepts of trading and monetizing water access are complex, abstract and focus on major players. More research is continually needed to ensure that market approaches do not only benefit the loudest and highest bidders, but to ensure the equity of markets for small and nontraditional users. + ‘The Nature Conservancy’ Image via Diego Delso

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Compensation for conservation: water markets are economists’ answer to scarcity

Tesla to snap up battery developer Maxwell Technologies in $218m deal

February 14, 2019 by  
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Elon Musk’s electric vehicle giant moves to strengthen its battery division with all-stock transaction.

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Tesla to snap up battery developer Maxwell Technologies in $218m deal

Oil rig off South Korea’s coast to become a floating hotel that operates on tidal energy

February 13, 2019 by  
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As today’s urban planners are struggling on how to integrate renewable energy into existing infrastructure, some forward-thinking architects are making the task much easier. Beijing-based firm Margot Krasojevi? Architecture has just released a design that would see an existing oil rig in South Korea’s coast converted into a futuristic lighthouse hotel whose organic flowing form would be installed with pivoting turbines to harness tidal energy to power the hotel. The lighthouse hotel is slated for an area off the coast of mainland South Korea near the island of Jeju, which is only accessible by boat. Currently there is an existing oil rig floating in the water, which will be repurposed into a large platform support for the lighthouse hotel. Related: This futuristic energy-positive hotel will harness power from the tides The hotel’s design will be comprised of multiple flowing volumes made out of layered aluminum surfaces and a series of partly inflated membrane sections. These materials were chosen for not only their durability, but also their light weight. In case of emergency or rogue waves, the airlock sections split apart and float. Wrapped around the structure’s main core, a number of flipwing turbines will harvest the tidal power. As seawater crashes over surfaces, the turbines will pivot in accordance with the wind and wave motion, converting kinetic water energy into electrical energy. According to the architect, the turbines will generate enough clean energy to run the hotel and the structure’s desalination filters. Any surplus energy will be stored. The lighthouse hotel’s interior will have three main sections, the guest rooms, the lobby and various social areas. The lantern room, which is at the top of the hotel will have a Fresnel glass lantern that projects light rays out to the sea. The refracted light will also beam through the interior of the hotel, creating a vibrant, light-filled atmosphere. + Margot Krasojevi? Architecture Images via Margot Krasojevi? Architecture

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Oil rig off South Korea’s coast to become a floating hotel that operates on tidal energy

A renovated Toronto home boasts energy savings of over 50%

February 13, 2019 by  
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Blending East Asian and Western influences to reflect the client’s Asian-Canadian background, the Echo House is an elegant renovation and expansion project that follows ecologically sustainable principles. Designed by local architecture firm Paul Raff Studio , the home, which covers an expansive area of 11,140 square feet, is set on a two-acre property in the Bridle Path neighborhood of Toronto , Canada. Improvements to the existing structure as well as new high-efficiency heating, cooling and ventilation systems have led to over 50 percent savings in the home’s energy consumption. Inspired by the “eastern philosophy of harmony with nature,” the Echo House was designed with strong connections to the environment. Large full-height glazing, open spaces and optimized views of the outdoors strengthen these bonds, while strategically placed openings allow cooling cross breezes and sounds of birdsong to filter through the interior. Garden views were of particular importance and are articulated by walls of glass and huge sliding doors that completely open up the garden-facing side of the home, creating a seamless indoor-outdoor living space. “The name Echo House originates from its design aspirations and listening: be it the echo of birdsong or trees rustling in the wind,” Paul Raff Studio shared in a statement. “The homeowners say, ‘It is an expansive house, but almost all the spaces in it are intimate in size, and they all lead to the living room. It is like a sanctuary at the center of the house.’” The large living spaces were important to the clients, a cosmopolitan family that loves to cook, entertain and host large family gatherings. Related: Beautiful cedar-clad Bridge House crosses a ravine in Ontario Ecological sustainability was also important for the homeowner and architects. Consequently, the renovated building exterior has been sheathed in a very high-performance insulation envelope, while new energy-efficient systems have greatly lowered the home’s energy consumption. Reclaimed Douglas fir was used for the Korean art-inspired exterior wood screens that give the house a sculptural effect. + Paul Raff Studio Images by Ben Rahn / A-Frame

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A renovated Toronto home boasts energy savings of over 50%

Energy-efficient villa in Portugal uses locally sourced cork for insulation

February 5, 2019 by  
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When tasked with reforming an existing home for an older couple looking to live out their retirement years in picturesque Algarve, Portugal, local firm Core Architects looked to make the structure as energy-efficient as possible. In addition to converting the previously two-story home into a one-story reborn as Villa GK, the architects used various ecological building materials such as cork insulation and travertine rock, which were both locally-sourced. The homeowners had visited Algarve for years, but when it came to living there full-time, they knew that they had to reform the two-story home to adjust to their comfort levels as they aged. Working closely with the couple, the architects created a plan that would turn the 2,000-square-foot home into a more open, one-story layout. To do this, the team decided to slope the home and add an outdoor staircase that leads to the garden, complete with a putting course. Related: A modern vacation retreat is embedded into the rolling hills of southern Portugal The home’s new layout not only helped create a flowing living space, but it was also orientated to take advantage of the sun’s position . Additionally, the architects were able to optimize cross-ventilation for the interior. A large glazed facade looks out over the swimming pool and, of course, stunning views of the sea in the distance. To create an energy-efficient home that would keep the interior temperature comfortable and reduce energy costs, the home was built with concrete and clad in heat-efficient clay blocks. This system not only added a tight thermal shell, but it also made the home more secure in case of an earthquake, which are somewhat common in the area. According to the architects,”In our projects we only use thermal clay tiles with mortar-free butt jointing. These are produced in Portugal and are fast and easy to work with. Their thermal performance is more than twice as efficient than the traditional bricks that are conventionally used.” They used locally-sourced cork boards and cork caulking to further insulate the home. The home was also installed with a solar thermal system for heating water. The interior living space is bright and airy with optimal natural light reaching each room. A neutral color palette of all-white gives the space a sleek, Mediterranean feel. The living room runs into an open kitchen, which features a beautiful island made out of locally-sourced travertine. + Core Architects Via Dwell Photography by Alexander Bogorodskiy via Core Architects  

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Energy-efficient villa in Portugal uses locally sourced cork for insulation

It’s time to decide: clean your room or plant a tree

February 5, 2019 by  
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Are luxury and sustainability compatible? The Parq Vancouver complex in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia strives to have it all by balancing two luxury hotels, a casino and eight restaurants with LEED gold standards and a host of environmental initiatives, including the option to forgo one common hotel amenity in favor of a greener option. One of the Parq’s newer programs is a twist on skipping housekeeping in favor of an alternative reward, something becoming more popular among hotels . At the Parq , when a guest checks in for more than two nights, they can skip room cleaning and opt instead for either 500 bonus Marriott points per night or having a tree planted. That’s one tree for every two nights. If they stayed at the hotel long enough, soon they’d foster a small grove. Related: Meet the teen planting 150 trees for every person on Earth To personalize the tree planting program, the Parq allows guests to include their names or dedicate the seedling to somebody else. This information appears on a webpage showing a cartoon version of the forest, including where the tree is planted and to whom it’s dedicated. Workers plant the trees in the Ann and Sandy Cross Conservation Area near Calgary, Alberta. Cutting down on hotel housekeeping is better for both the environment and the hotel’s operating costs. Less frequent washing of towels and bedding means decreased water usage and fewer chemicals dripping into sewers. “You get the benefit of not using cleaning chemicals in the rest of the room,” Jeanne Marie Varney, who teaches courses on sustainability at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, told the New York Times . “Not running vacuum cleaners saves energy .” The Parq, open since late 2017, also offers an unusual 30,000-square-foot park on its sixth floor, designed by landscape artist Christopher Phillips of PFS Studio. This elevated park combines an oxygen hit from more than 200 pine trees with dramatic views of Vancouver’s skyline. If that’s not enough green space , travelers can visit next door province Alberta to look for the tree that exists because they skipped room cleaning. The Ann & Sandy Cross Conservation Area welcomes hikers and snowshoers. + Parq Vancouver Via New York Times Images via Heiko Stein

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It’s time to decide: clean your room or plant a tree

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