Coronavirus: Falling power demand is impacting clean energy

March 26, 2020 by  
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With the pandemic spurring a dramatic drop in economic activity across Europe, electricity, renewables and carbon prices have also plummeted

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Coronavirus: Falling power demand is impacting clean energy

Air pollution could make COVID-19 more dangerous

March 17, 2020 by  
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Some climate experts are hypothesizing that living in areas with high air pollution could make cases of COVID-19 worse. Smoking tobacco products could also worsen the effects of the virus. “Given what we know now, it is very likely that people who are exposed to more air pollution and who are smoking tobacco products are going to fare worse if infected with COVID than those who are breathing cleaner air , and who don’t smoke,” Aaron Bernstein, interim director of the Center for Climate, Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told the Washington Post. Because no large-scale studies have been done to connect air pollution with the virus, Bernstein’s view is still a hypothesis. Related: Coronavirus and its impact on carbon emissions Some of the world’s more polluted regions have seen the most coronavirus fatalities, such as densely populated urban areas of Iran and China. The air quality is so bad that people living in Tehran or in the Hebei province of China may routinely inhale an equivalent amount of air pollution as someone who smokes a pack of cigarettes a day. Northern Italy is one of Europe’s most polluted areas. South Korean cities have high air pollution levels and a high rate of tobacco use. During the severe acute respiratory syndrome [SARS] epidemic in 2003, researchers noticed a correlation between low air quality and regions with more fatalities. However, they didn’t conclude air pollution was necessarily the cause. Other factors, including socioeconomic status, may also have played a role in the disease’s patterns. There may also be a correlation between smoking and the deadliness of COVID-19. Researchers found worse outcomes for smokers who suffered from Middle East respiratory syndrome, both in the Middle East and in South Korea. Pneumonia , to which smokers are often susceptible, is sometimes part of severe coronavirus cases. Via U.S. News & World Report and The Hill Image via Edmond Yu

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Air pollution could make COVID-19 more dangerous

A sculptural office crowns the solar-powered Stellar building in India

March 17, 2020 by  
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Following four years of design and construction, Mumbai-based design studio Sanjay Puri Architects recently completed Stellar, a solar-powered commercial building in Ahmedabad, India. The building features a striking sculptural office on its northwest side. Constructed with rust-red colored aluminum sheets, the angular office is a focal point for not only the 110-meter-long building but also for the bustling intersection where the building is located. To mitigate the city’s temperatures, which rise to an excess of 95 degrees Fahrenheit for eight months of the year, Stellar features a series of terraces that deflect solar gain. Spanning an area of 18,580 square meters, the multistory building houses retail on its lower three levels and office spaces on the upper four levels. About one-third of the offices open onto landscaped terraces and are set back from the building perimeter to take advantage of solar shading. The terraces are connected to a rainwater harvesting tank that stores runoff for reuse. Solar panels have also been installed on the terraces to harness renewable energy . Related: Sculptural, energy-saving office boasts the “smartest building advances in Germany” The crowning distinction of Stellar is the 500-square-meter office on the building’s northwest side. Surrounded by a spacious, north-facing outdoor terrace, the eye-catching office is wrapped in angular aluminum sheets strategically placed to protect the windows from the sun. Small triangular perforations along the sides of select panels also allow natural light to pass through into the office during the day and are backlit at night to give the office a beautiful, glowing effect. “This office space is deliberately designed to contrast with the rest of the building, creating an interesting juxtaposition of color, volume and geometry in addition to creating an individual identity based upon the brief,” the architects explained. “The simple rectilinear geometry with muted color tones and the complex angular geometry awash with color contrast to create a unique composition.” + Sanjay Puri Architects Photography by Abhishek Shah via Sanjay Puri Architects

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A sculptural office crowns the solar-powered Stellar building in India

Meet the urban planner responsible for San Francisco’s car-free Market Street

February 18, 2020 by  
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Downtown San Francisco is putting pedestrians first by turning the 2-mile Market Street, a major hub for the city, into a completely car-free space. Inhabitat spoke with an urban planner of the esteemed Perkins and Will for more details about the groundbreaking, pedestrian-friendly project. While the complete redesign is expected to extend into the rest of the year, January 29 marked the official ban of cars on the thoroughfare. The structural transformation will include a restriction of public cars, but it will also implement newer two-way streets, intersection safety improvements and extensions for the Muni (the city’s public transit system). Buses, as well as a fleet of vintage streetcars, will also be able to operate along the street. Related: Perkins and Will designs modular, affordable housing for the homeless Inhabitat caught up with urban planner and developer Geeti Silwal from the San Francisco branch of design firm Perkins and Will . Silwal was an integral part of the design and development of the Market Street project. Her initial design created the vision and laid the foundation for the car-free initiative, taking close to a decade to finally come to pass. Inhabitat: The plan to make San Francisco’s Market Street car-free was 10 years in the making. Can you talk a bit about how this project began? Silwal: The project was initiated primarily to take advantage of the fact that Market Street needed to replace its aging utility that would need to be dug up soon. The city agencies took this opportunity to reimagine the role and identity of the city’s premiere boulevard. Working with six key city and county agencies, Perkins and Will led a team of urban designers, transportation planners, infrastructure engineers, public realm strategists, streetscape designers and wayfinding experts to lead this exploration. We started in 2011 meeting three demanding — and sometimes competing — objectives: placemaking, enhancing transit experience and improving infrastructure. In order to meet these objectives, we expanded the scope of the study to include Mission Street to help relieve the demands on Market Street. We analyzed: What if Market Street offered seamless transit transfers and relied on Mission Street to provide safe, pleasant, dedicated and buffered bike lanes? What if we minimized space dedicated to private vehicles to provide more space for pedestrians and bicyclists ? What is the right bike infrastructure to invite the 8- to 80-year-olds to ride on Market Street? Would this achieve our shared vision of Market Street as a destination to socialize and enjoy street life and to interact with public art , nature and each other?  We saw this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a beautiful street befitting the world-class city it represented. Prioritizing and structuring the street for people and public life over movement of private vehicles was a fundamental goal that the entire team got behind. Inhabitat: How do you feel now that this vision has come to life? Silwal: It’s gratifying. If you were to walk Market Street today and compare it to walking it the week before it went car-free , you’d notice a dramatic difference. Market Street now feels peaceful, safe and comfortable — it really feels like a completely different place. There has been a positive response from the media and people in general. We’ve heard many people say, “I took transit and it was so fast and so much better!” or “I biked Market Street and it feels as though I am in Amsterdam.” And this is only the beginning. More improvements will happen in the next few years as the future phases of the Better Market Street project unfold. Inhabitat: What do you think banning cars on some of San Francisco’s streets means for the rest of the country? Are there many other environmentally minded cities following suit? Silwal: The Better Market Street project was inspired by several cities in Europe, which have streets prioritized for pedestrians, cyclists and transit. There are many examples outside of Europe as well. I come from India, and in my home city, Shimla, the main streets in the mall and lower mall area are closed to traffic and are for pedestrian use only. We need to embrace the qualities of these streets that put ‘people first’. Market Street’s new image will be instrumental in inspiring other cities to rethink their streets. It will take strong political will, persistent public agency collaboration, community support and individual behavioral change to think beyond cars. Inhabitat: What about the design do you think was most integral to the environmental benefits of the project? Silwal: By not enabling private vehicles, people are encouraged to use low-carbon modes of transportation and subsequently, greenhouse gas emissions are dramatically reduced. By making Market Street safe, inviting, comfortable and efficient for pedestrians, cyclists and public transit users, people are more likely to take these modes of transit. Related: Car-free Sundays are the norm in Colombia’s capital city, Bogotá Inhabitat: We love your motto — Designing urban centers with the fundamental organizing principle of ‘people first’ creates more humane, inclusive and socially connected cities . What is important about putting pedestrians first in the fight against climate change? Silwal: We’re in a climate crisis , and we need to base our urban planning around it. Transportation is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. By prioritizing cars, we have structured our streets to promote that. If we design streets for the low-carbon modes, we will have a different outcome. I would say that ‘pedestrians first’ is fundamentally about a ‘people first’ approach. Designing cities that allow the majority of people to navigate their city on foot, bike or transit will result in a huge reduction in carbon emissions. Providing an efficient, enjoyable and a robust network of transit system reduces single-occupancy car trips.  We know that climate change impacts will have a more severe effect on the most vulnerable population of our cities. Planning for physical and social connectedness is an important criterion in dealing with climate change. Social connectedness that is about face-to-face interaction enables people to know, understand and empathize more with their fellow beings. It facilitates social resilience. A resilient city is better prepared to fight climate change. Inhabitat: Can you talk about safety, which was the other big concern before Market Street’s car ban went into effect? Silwal: Market Street has always been a popular street for the cyclist community, but it is also infamous for 20 times more collisions than similar streets in the state. Reducing conflict among pedestrians, cyclists and drivers was a key goal for this project. This change will make it much safer for commuting pedestrians and cyclists. Further enhancements to the bike infrastructure will be rolled out in future phases of the Better Market Street project that will have a dedicated and buffered environment for cyclists — making it even safer. Inhabitat: What’s next for you? Can we look forward to any other exciting sustainability projects in the future? Silwal: Through our urban design practice, Perkins and Will is continually planning, advocating and proposing for pedestrian/bike-prioritized connectivity in existing environments and new developments. Mission Rock is a project along San Francisco’s eastern waterfront on the Giants’ 25-acre surface parking lot. Mission Rock’s Shared Public Way will offer a new street prioritized for pedestrians, with limited vehicle movement. The Shared Public Way at Mission Rock will be a dynamic space with street rooms, stormwater gardens and tree groves that will create a lively and unique environment. These design elements serve as cues to differentiate pedestrian-dedicated areas from the shared pedestrian/vehicular zone. Vehicles on the Shared Public Way will be limited to one-way travel for drop-off, pickup and deliveries only. Besides streets, Perkins and Will is currently engaged in the Living Community Challenge (LCC) pilot project in the city of Sacramento called the Sacramento Valley Station Master Plan. “LCC is a certification program that guides the design and construction of buildings and neighborhoods to be socially just, culturally rich and ecologically restorative. LCC projects aim to have a net-positive impact in seven petals: place, water, energy, health & happiness, materials, equity and beauty.” This project plans to be a regenerative project. It plans to be a net-positive carbon, net-positive water and net-positive energy community around the regional intermodal mobility hub in Sacramento. We are privileged to work in an industry that lays the foundation for smarter, sustainable design that has a positive impact on the places and people that inhabit it. + Perkins and Will Images via Perkins and Will

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Meet the urban planner responsible for San Francisco’s car-free Market Street

Craft beer waste saves Montana town $1M for wastewater treatment

February 18, 2020 by  
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A Montana town has found a money-saving solution to its sewage and wastewater treatment expenses, thanks to a nearby craft brewery. The innovation caught the eye of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which provided the town and its water reclamation facility an Honorable Mention accolade in one of the federal agency’s annual awards. Havre, Montana has a population of 10,000. Its 40-year-old water reclamation facility, as the EPA has described, “needed upgrades to help meet their final ammonia and residual chlorine limits,” while processing more than 6 million gallons of water . Related: EWG warns ‘forever chemicals’ are contaminating US drinking water at levels far worse than expected Unfortunately, with more than 10 breweries nearby, the wastewater generated further increased because beer waste is “rich in yeast, hops and sugar.” These contents are known to skew the microbial activity process that removes both nitrogen and phosphorus from the water as it is being treated. In short, if nitrogen and phosphorus are not removed before the treated water enters the drain-off into estuaries, then bacterial and algal blooms will arise. These unwanted blooms would disturb an estuary’s water chemistry enough to adversely affect the ecosystem. Engineering consultant Coralyn Revis offered a paradigm shift to solve the issue. “If we can use [brewery waste] correctly and put it in the right spot, it’s very beneficial to the process,” Revis said. “This is super-simplified, but like, if they’re eating their french fries, they need a little ketchup with it. So to get the nitrate out, you dose a little carbon, and the bugs are happier.” Havre’s wastewater plant manager, Drue Newfield, sought Michael Garrity, Triple Dog Brewing Company’s owner, to source leftover barley for feeding the water treatment microbes. The spent barley was used as a substitute for the chemical alum, an aluminum-sulfate solution. The joint endeavor saved the community from investing an additional $1 million in upgrades to the water treatment plant. “To further enhance the biological phosphorus removal process, 10 gallons of waste barley mash from a local brewery gets added daily as an external source of carbon and volatile fatty acid supplement,” the EPA explained. “These improvements have allowed the facility to continuously meet all permit effluent limits and has significantly improved the operability, reliability and treatment capability of the facility. These upgrades have greatly improved the quality of wastewater effluent discharged to the Milk River, particularly with respect to nutrient levels and ammonia toxicity.” The endeavor has been federally acknowledged as a creative and successful example for integrating community involvement at solving water quality infrastructure challenges in four key areas: public health, economy, sustainability and innovation. Via NPR , Core77 and EPA Image via Manfred Richter

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Craft beer waste saves Montana town $1M for wastewater treatment

Climate crisis drives bumblebees closer to extinction

February 10, 2020 by  
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The climate crisis, rampant misuse of pesticides , lack of plant diversity, habitat loss, parasites and pathogens have collectively created the perfect storm for a decline in the bumblebee populations in both Europe and North America, according to the research team of Peter Soroye, Tim Newbold and Jeremy Kerr, who have recently published their findings in Science . The research shows that “Within just one human generation, the odds for bumblebee survival have dropped by an average of more than 30%.” The imminent mass extinction of bumblebees could mean a dreary future devoid of wild plants and many farmed crops, given that bumblebees are among the most crucial pollinators out there. Global warming has led to both temperature extremes and unpredictable precipitation. The combination of these atmospheric conditions has exacerbated local bumblebee extinction rates by reducing colonization, shrinking site occupancy and diminishing a habitat’s fertility to support the bumblebee population. Bumblebees tend to overheat, which is why they prefer more temperature regions. Related: Native bees are going extinct without much buzz But weather isn’t the only culprit. The dynamic use of land has contributed to habitat loss, and pesticide use has likewise resulted in a significant decline in these pollinators. Bumblebees are larger and fuzzier than honeybees. While they are not honey producers, they are still key pollinators. Many important fruits, nuts, vegetables and staple crops rely on bumblebees thriving. “When they land on flowers, they physically shake these flowers and shake the pollen off,” explained Peter Soroye, the study’s lead author. “A lot of crops like squash, berries, tomatoes need bumblebees to pollinate them, and honeybees or other pollinators just can’t do that.” In Europe, bumblebee populations decreased by an average of 17% between 1975 and 2000. For North American bumblebees, numbers plummeted by about 46% over the same period. These numbers indicate that the loss of bumblebees could adversely affect food diversity in the future.  “If things continue along the path without any change, then we can really quickly start to see a lot of these species being lost forever,” Soroye said. To mitigate against extinction, he recommended, “If you have a garden , fill it full of native plants that the bees can go visit.” + Science Via National Geographic and Reuters Image via Valerian Guillot

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Climate crisis drives bumblebees closer to extinction

BREEAM-certified renovation for 70s modernist icon in Amsterdam

January 28, 2020 by  
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MVSA Architects has dramatically breathed new life into Amsterdam’s iconic Rivierstaete — a monolithic 1973 modernist office building on the Amstel — with a sustainable and architecturally sensitive makeover that connects the building to the riverfront and surrounding community in a way unlike ever before. Completed last year, the renovation has earned a BREEAM Very Good distinction for its future-proof design that emphasizes flexibility as well as energy-saving technologies. The addition of green roofs and terraces help absorb stormwater runoff to make the building “Amsterdam Rainproof.” Located in the south of Amsterdam , the eight-story Rivierstaete was originally designed by architect Hugh Maaskant as Europe’s largest office building in the early 1970s. In recent years, the massive modernist building has struggled to attract tenants and, in 2013, international real estate company Vastint purchased the structure in a public sale and tapped MVSA Architects to lead the redesign. Instead of taking the easier option of demolishing and constructing a new building on site, the team decided to embrace the original design with a renovation. Critical to the redesign was opening up the building to the surroundings, which necessitated replacing the original pinched band of windows on the white-tiled facade with floor-to-ceiling glass . The new glazed facade, along with planted roof terraces added at different levels, gives the building a more open and inviting feel. The roof terraces, roof gardens, and green roofs also help provide water buffering and retention. Related: Amsterdam’s new circular archives building sustainably generates all of its own energy The glazed facade helps bring a greater amount of natural light indoors, which have now been rendered completely asbestos free to contribute to a cleaner and healthier working environment. Daylight control and motion sensors as well as solar shades provide optimized and energy-efficient climate control. The interior layout has also been reconfigured for flexibility to ensure a future-proof design.  + MVSA Architects Images via MVSA, Barwerd van der Plas, and Philip Lyaruu

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BREEAM-certified renovation for 70s modernist icon in Amsterdam

JetBlue embarks on journey to offset all U.S. domestic flights

January 14, 2020 by  
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The move is becoming more common in Europe but is unprecedented among North American airlines.

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JetBlue embarks on journey to offset all U.S. domestic flights

BMW is the first carmaker to join responsible mining initiative

January 14, 2020 by  
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Carmakers are coming under increasing pressure to ensure the materials used for electric vehicle production are responsibly sourced.

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Deciphering wine labels: the differences between organic, natural, biodynamic and sustainable wines

November 15, 2019 by  
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‘Tis the season for holiday celebrations, cocktail parties and family gatherings. But before you pop the corks on those bottles of wine, take a moment to understand what you are about to drink. If you are hoping to serve wine made with sustainably grown, organic grapes , read the label carefully before committing to the purchase, or you might not be getting what you expect. With words like “natural,” “organic,” “biodynamic” and “sustainable,” it can be hard to decipher which wine is truly best for the planet. Here are some tips to understand sustainable wine labels. Marketing is a powerful tool, and companies will advertise characteristics of their wines that they think will appeal to the consumer. However, the terminology can be so confusing that a winery might misguide you without meaning to. Some words are so similar that you (and they) might even assume they all mean the same thing. Related: This is how climate change will impact wine Fortunately, steps have been taken to standardize the verbiage on these labels so you can better understand what’s in the bottle. But there is still variation throughout the food and beverage industry, especially for wine. Here is the terminology you are likely to see and exactly what it all means for the wines you imbibe. Organic or 100 percent organic wine In the U.S., the term organic is regulated and must fit into specific criteria. However, even within that criteria, you will find different wording. For example, wines made from organically grown grapes are grown without the use of pesticides , fungicides, herbicides, etc., and these wines do not contain sulfites added during wine production. (Organic wines do contain naturally occurring sulfites.) Note that the standards for “organic” classifications in Canada and Europe allow for a small amount of sulfites to be used during production. Biodynamic wine Biodynamic wines are organic, and these wines also follow farming ideologies dating back to the 1920s, when Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher and academic, presented scientific support showing that in order for a grape to reach its potential, the entire vineyard must be taken into account. In addition to growing grapes without chemicals or common additions such as yeast, the lunar and astrological cycles are often considered when making decisions about the health of the vineyard . These wines are also produced without interference to adjust for acidity. For example, instead of making changes during fermentation and flavor development, the focus is on healthy roots, soil and the atmosphere of the vineyard as a whole. Like the term “organic,” “biodynamic” wines have earned certification by meeting specific requirements. The governing board that approves the label is the Demeter Association, a branch of an organization dating back to 1928 during Steiner’s efforts to bring societal awareness about biodynamics in agriculture. Sustainable wine This label is fairly subjective and typically refers to the way the vineyard is managed more than the way the wine is produced. A vineyard (or farm) that aims to grow crops sustainably is concerned with the impact on the planet. This means using natural methods of balancing the soil, such as crop rotation. It can also mean using energy or water-saving practices . If your wine is made “sustainably,” it likely means it was made organically in accordance with the typical goals of sustainable farming, but don’t assume it’s organic without the label identifying it as such. Natural, all-natural or 100 percent natural wine When you see the word “natural” on a label, be aware that there are limited regulations surrounding the use of this term. There is no distinction between “natural,” “all-natural” or “100 percent natural.” Manufacturers of all types of food can slap this wording on labels. But most producers in the wine industry see the “natural” classification differently. For wine-making, a natural wine is the result of a natural process, meaning that process involves as little intervention as possible throughout the stages. In other words, the wine is fermented grapes in their most natural form. That means that a natural wine is organic and sometimes biodynamic, but organic and biodynamic wines are not always natural. Furthermore, any of these wines may or may not be sustainably produced. Because there is no oversight committee for a “natural” label, selecting a wine is all about getting to know the winemaker and asking questions at the tasting room. If you live in a wine region, buy locally so you can see the vineyard and know the source of your bottle. If you don’t live near a winery, do you research online. Most wineries are proud to share their growing practices and provide transparency if they are using sustainable, organic, natural or biodynamic methods. Via Wine Spectator , Eating Well and The Guardian Images via Shutterstock

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Deciphering wine labels: the differences between organic, natural, biodynamic and sustainable wines

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