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

Touring restored wetlands at a Wisconsin nature conservancy

November 1, 2019 by  
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The village of Williams Bay, Wisconsin hasn’t changed much since Harold Friestad was a kid, he told me as we walked through Kishwauketoe Nature Conservancy (KNC). Now almost 80 and the conservancy’s chairman, Friestad is proud of being a factor in stunting the small town’s growth. He was president when the village board bought 231 acres of lakefront property in 1989 to create KNC. “What I want on my tombstone,” he said as our sneakers sank into the wetlands , “is, ‘Because of Harold, there will never be a stoplight in Williams Bay.’” Nature conservancy history The nature conservancy sits against Geneva Lake , long a summer playground for rich Chicagoans . Before that, it was home of the Potawatomi people. The name Kishwauketoe comes from a Potawatomi word meaning “lake of the sparkling water.” The current conservancy land was once a rail yard. But when the train was decommissioned, developers swooped in, wanting to build hotels, golf courses and shopping centers. Area residents wished to stop the developers and keep Williams Bay small and quiet. The Williams Bay Village Board, led by Friestad, negotiated a price of $1.575 million for the 231-acre parcel. “People knew I was a businessman,” said Friestad, who worked for Lake Geneva Cruise Line for 50 years, retiring as general manager in 2015. “They didn’t know I love nature so much.” Even though he got an excellent price — a 10-acre estate could now cost $15 million — Friestad said, “A lot of people didn’t like the idea of me spending all that money to buy it.” But now people value the conservancy, and some of Williams Bay’s 2,500 residents even bought their homes in the village so they could walk the wetland trails every day. “It’s almost sacred now,” Friestad said. “I don’t know how you put a value on it. But it’s priceless to me, and it’s priceless to many, many people.” Donations, volunteer hours, summer interns and a few part-time workers power the conservancy, which has never received tax dollars. During my weekday visit, one woman was chainsawing dead branches, a couple of folks were repairing a boardwalk and a controlled burn was going on in the distance. In the conservancy’s nearly 30-year run, the crew has restored more than 65 acres of prairie, planted a 15-acre arboretum, created a spawning area for lake trout, installed boardwalks over the wettest wetlands, cleared invasive species and constructed a four-story viewing tower. They’ve also built and continue to maintain more than 4 miles of trails. Visiting the Kishwauketoe Nature Conservancy On the October day I visited, the conservancy was quiet. I saw only a half-dozen other walkers during the hour or two I was there. Things are busier in summer, Friestad said, when up to 500 people may visit in a day. Non-human residents include deer, coyotes, foxes and raccoons. Some years, beavers move in. The conservancy has a public education campaign about the benefits of beavers, not the most-loved local animal. Reptile-wise, the conservancy is home to garter snakes and the rare Blanding’s turtle, which has a striking yellow throat. People can walk through the area on their own 365 days a year. The conservancy also offers many guided walks, some focusing on particular aspects, such as history, geology, botany or trees . Those who want to get dirt under their nails can join volunteer workdays and autumn seed harvesting. Every summer, the conservancy hosts a 5K run/walk. I’d recommend the Friday morning walk, which Friestad usually leads. Trail cams Kishwauketoe participates in the statewide Snapshot Wisconsin program, a network of trail cameras. The project provides information for wildlife managers and lets citizen scientists get involved in monitoring Wisconsin’s natural resources. Jim Killian, KNC board member, Wisconsin master naturalist program instructor and coauthor of an upcoming book on the conservancy , learned about Snapshot Wisconsin while attending a master naturalist conference in March 2018. “I immediately sought permission from the Wisconsin DNR [Department of Natural Resources] to host a wildlife trail camera for the Wisconsin Snapshot Wisconsin in KNC,” Killian said. “Because of the location and size of KNC, I learned that I qualified to host two trail cameras in our conservancy. While the program participation requirements are quite stringent, I thoroughly enjoy this volunteer work.” The cameras work with a motion sensor. “At night and in low light, the cameras utilize an infrared flash to capture images,” Killian said. “That is why they appear as black and white. One camera is located on the edge of a small open field/prairie area, while the other is located on the edge of a very dense, wooded area and on the bank of a small stream, which is a popular watering spot for wildlife of many varieties. This stream remains as a source of open water all year, including in the midst of a very cold winter.” Killian services each trail camera at least once every three months to replace the memory card and batteries and to upload the captured images to the Wisconsin DNR. The DNR places the images on a website and invites the public to help classify them. Of the thousands of images captured at KNC so far, Killian said deer are No. 1, followed by squirrels, turkeys , coyotes, raccoons, opossums, cottontail rabbits, redtail foxes, woodchucks, blue jays, cardinals, sandhill crane, northern flickers and mink. Do the trail cams reveal any surprises? “The humor of wildlife,” he said. “I would have never suspected that animals do the funniest things, including selfies, when they know or sense that their image is being captured by a camera. This is particularly true for deer.” KNC is open year-round. If you’re looking for immense peace and quiet, visit in winter … and bring your cross-country skis . + Kishwauketoe Nature Conservancy Images via Harold Friestad / Kishwauketoe Nature Conservancy, Wisconsin DNR Snapshot Wisconsin (trail cam imagery) and Teresa Bergen / Inhabitat

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Touring restored wetlands at a Wisconsin nature conservancy

Decrepit barn in Quebec was converted into stunning modern design by salvaging all of its old materials

November 1, 2019 by  
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We’ve seen quite a few amazing barn conversions over the years, but this new design by La Firme is simply breathtaking. Located in a rural area in Quebec, the old barn was in near ruins until the Montreal-based firm was hired to convert it into a secondary family home. Thankfully, instead of bulldozing the beautiful old building to the ground, the studio managed to salvage nearly every single material to reuse in the new design. Referred to simply as The Barn, the building has sat at the foot of the Owl’s Head Mountain for decades. Sitting majestically over the idyllic setting, the barn is elevated up on a small hill with expansive rolling hills on one side and forest on the other. Related: 6 barns converted into beautiful new homes Despite its pristine landscape, the old barn had fallen into dire disrepair. However, the owner had a strong attachment to the building and wished to see it’s life extended. Accordingly, when he approached the La Firme team about converting the barn into a cozy modern home for his children, his primary request was that they do what they could to retain its original character. The architects took his request seriously, approaching the conversion with a strategy of adaptive reuse . According to the team, the project began by numbering and recording each and every single piece of the hemlock structure. As they were rebuilding the new family home, they managed to reuse every every part of the old barn. With the original materials given a second chance, some new elements were added to create a contemporary home. For example, a new standing seam metal roof creates a nice contrast with the barn’s weathered facade. And although the exterior retained its rustic, agrarian roots, the interior of the home is a beautifully contemporary design . With massive 30-foot ceilings with exposed beams and all-white walls, the living space is fresh and modern. Large steel-framed windows and an entire glazed front wall provide breathtaking views of the landscape. + La Firme Via Uncrate Photography via Ulysse Lemerise

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Use texture, height and variety to create pizzazz in your small garden this fall

October 18, 2019 by  
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As the crisp, misty mornings of fall greet the day, autumn colors emerge across the landscape. Meanwhile, your garden and flower pots begin to look barren and colorless as annuals die off and perennials go dormant for the upcoming winter. In most areas, though, there is still plenty of life left in the fall, even in the smallest spaces around your home. With a bit of planning, you can bring a new season of life to your porch, patio or balcony, even during the short days of fall. To get started, follow these tips for color, variety, texture and height variation. Color Fall is synonymous with falling leaves and bare trees, leaving a trail of red, orange and yellow along the roads. You can match the colors associated with the season using pumpkin decor, rusty red or gold mums, plants that produce berries, ornamental grasses and plants that retain their colorful leaves until late into the season. Grab a journal and list some plants common to your area that offer complementary colors. Then, add in some accents, like prolific white mums, silver-leaved herbs such as sage and evergreens like boxwood for a stable green color. On that note, remember that evergreens are a delightful option for every season and make a nice backdrop to seasonal plants that you can swap out every few months. This gives you a lot of options year-round, even with limited space. Related: 11 unique edible plants for your garden Variety Along with the plan for color comes a blueprint for variety. Your preference might be to have window boxes full of a single varietal. If so, great! If not, choose plants that contrast each other throughout the space. Include plants with different types of leaves, heights and lifespans. Put some in the window box, but surround it with potted plants, shrubs, trees and even an ever-changing vase of fresh wildflowers. Just be sure to choose options that can be pruned to stay small or are naturally compact. Even your planters can add to the variety in texture and color. Use galvanized buckets or watering cans mixed with colorful ceramic pots and a miniature wheelbarrow. Insert a glass vase with bamboo , surround plants with an old tire or carve out a pumpkin for a naturally-compostable planter. Use bronze, terracotta or copper to add to the fall color palette, and make them really stand out by surrounding them with white rocks. Texture Plants in nature vary from each other as much as the human face or fingerprint. Embrace that diversity to feed the need for visual appeal. After all, your garden space, no matter how small, should bring you pleasure. Mix it up — bring in some spiky leaves and balance those with the dainty Sweet Alyssum. Throw in some curvy-edged flowering kale, and place it next to your Aster that still might be in bloom, attracting bees and butterflies well into the season. Height Nothing adds variety and depth like a display of flowers, plants and shrubs of varying heights. This can be accomplished using supports or props. For example, use a window box. Then, place a table beneath it with potted plants ranging from tiny succulents to larger herbs . On the ground, add another layer of potted or planted options. Mix in small trees and shrubs if your space allows. You can also choose plants that are all planted in the same bed with diverse heights. Just plant the tallest selections in the back, so they don’t obscure the view of the lower-to-the-ground superstars behind them. Depending on how much space you have, you might include a dwarf conifer, Dogwood or slow-growing Japanese Maple. For very small spaces , use pots to contain purple fountain grass, croton and other plants. Also, use those long-lasting summer climbers to your advantage. Create height with the hops over the pergola, grapes covering the arbor or ivy up the pillars in the front of the house. Placement Another planning consideration includes the placement of your plants. For a back patio or areas where you still spend a lot of time outdoors in the fall, create clusters of texture or color along the edges. Plant a tree just off the edge of the deck and surround it with seasonal potted plants that sit on the deck, creating a vignette of eye-catching cohesion. If you spend most of your time next to the window near the front porch, invest in color within the frame of the window. For an upstairs office, load up the window box. If you’re going for curb appeal, make sure to include border plants to pull the look together. A simple display of a few potted chrysanthemums with some decorative gourds can spice up the entrance to your home. Hanging baskets are another option that complement your decor in any season and work in any space, large or small. Small gardens might present some challenges, but with the right plant selections, you can create spaces that bring visual interest and life to your balcony or patio throughout the seasons. Images via Shutterstock

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Use texture, height and variety to create pizzazz in your small garden this fall

Are bioplastics better for the environment or a waste of time?

August 21, 2019 by  
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There has been massive pushback against the use of plastics over the past few years, including single-use plastic bans in cities all over the world. Industrial entrepreneurs have responded to these mounting concerns with a new product that seems like the perfect solution– bioplastic. It looks and feels like plastic, but its made from plants, so it’s good for the environment, right? Turns out, the answer is much more complicated and likely just another case of greenwashing . What are bioplastics? Traditional plastic is a petroleum-derived product that is made from fossil fuels. In fact, 8 percent of all oil is used for the production of plastic. Bioplastic, on the other hand, is made at least partly from plant-based materials. There are two subcategories of bioplastics that are important to understand: Bio-based plastics These plastics are entirely or partially made from plant-based materials. Most are made from sugarcane that is processed in industrial ethanol facilities, but some bioplastics use corn and other plant materials. The plant materials are used in a lab to create chemical compounds that are identical to petroleum-based compounds. For example, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) can be made from either plant or petroleum products, but the end material is the same and it is not biodegradable. “There are a lot of bioplastics or materials that are called bioplastics that are not biodegradable,” said Constance Ißbrücker, the lead for environmental affairs at European Bioplastics. There are two main types of bioplastic produced: polyactic acid (PLA) and polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA). PLA is made from plant sugars, while PHA is made from microbes that produce the substance when they are deprived of nutrients. Related: A guide to the different types of plastic Biodegradable plastics Biodegradable plastics are typically plant-based items that can be broken down by microbes within a reasonable time frame. All biodegradable plastics, however, require very specific conditions within an industrial composting facility. Otherwise, these so-called “biodegradable plastics” also function like petroleum-based plastic and remain in the environment for hundreds of years. What are the benefits of bioplastics? Although they aren’t perfect, many environmental and waste experts still believe bioplastics have the potential to reduce our negative impact on the environment. Here are a few of the main benefits of bioplastics: Bioplastics reduce fossil fuel demand Since bioplastics are made from plant-based materials instead of fossil fuels , their rising popularity means less oil extraction specifically for the purpose of producing plastic. Bioplastics are less toxic Despite their chemical similarity, bioplasitcs do not contain bisphenol A (BPA) which is known to be a toxic hormone disrupter. BPA is commonly found in conventional plastics, although it is increasingly avoided. Bioplastics support rural, agrarian economies Oil is concentrated in just a few countries and controlled by major corporations but plants, on the other hand, are everywhere. For this reason, it is believed that bioplastics support a more equitable and distributed economy. Who would you rather give your money to, a wealthy oil executive or a farmer ? Related: How to easily make your own reusable produce bags What are the drawbacks? Bioplastics require monocultures While you might feel better about supporting agriculture instead of the oil execs, there is still a lot of controversy about industrial agriculture and the use of land for plastic production. Currently, only 0.02 percent of agricultural land is used to supply bioplastic factories, but with the rising interest and demand, the percentage of land use is expected to rise. If the bioplastic industry expands into more agricultural land, some worry it will take over land that is needed to feed the world population. In addition to the threat to food security, the spread of monoculture crops like sugar and corn wreck havoc on natural ecosystems. The conversion of land to agriculture causes deforestation, desertification, loss of biodiversity and habitat, and increased pressure on limited water reserves. So these new straws aren’t saving the seas? Many people have seen the photos of sea turtles suffocating from a plastic straw stuck in their nose. In fact, these images were so powerful it further convinced people to ditch straws and opt for the biodegradable plastic straw, which we all thought would surely save the sea turtles without getting soggy in an iced coffee. Unfortunately, all biodegradable plastics can only biodegrade in industrial composting facilities, where temperatures reach a consistent 136 degrees Fahrenheit. And if your town doesn’t have those facilities, these new “green” straws are no better than regular straws in terms of threatening marine life. In other words, they don’t breakdown in the open environment and they don’t break down in the sea. Frederik Wurm , a plastic chemist, believes drinking straws made from PLA are “the perfect example for greenwashing.” They cost the vendor more money and they don’t break down on the beach or in the ocean. Some PHA materials have been found to break down on the seafloor, but the efficacy depends on the environment. Although it only took two weeks to breakdown in the tropics, it took months in colder climates and might never break down in the Arctic. Innovation and investment are imperative Given the surging popularity of bioplastics and biodegradable plastics, there is a need for increased investigation and investment in the industry. The best tool against the overwhelming challenge of climate change is human innovation. New products that aren’t just greenwashing but are actually sustainable are needed and may be possible with demand for more research. “This is a field right now for entrepreneurial investors. There’s no shortage of incredible opportunity for alternatives that are marine degradable, that don’t overtax the land and our food production system,” said Dune Ives , founder of an environmental nonprofit focused on business solutions. Via Undark Images via Flickr , Wikimedia Commons

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Are bioplastics better for the environment or a waste of time?

Digging deeper for climate solutions: deep-root GMOs could feed world and store carbon

August 15, 2019 by  
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Scientists are experimenting with new genetic modification technology that “supercharges” plants to enhance what they already excel at– sequestering carbon. As the world scrambles to find innovative mitigation solutions, plants have been doing what they quietly perfected over millions and millions of years ago– taking carbon from the atmosphere and converting it into carbohydrates, energy and oxygen. A recent study shows one research institute’s promising progress on the quest to create a patented plant that grows deeper, cork-like roots that store 20 times more carbon than the average plant . The researchers believe these findings can eventually be applied to cash crops at a scale that can truly impact climate change. Related: Scientists confirm tree planting is our best bet against climate change The California-based Salk Institute is leading the way in what they call the Harnessing Plants Initiative. Their goal is to create an enhanced plant that not only stores more carbon but also yields an agricultural product that profits farmers and feeds people. Historically, genetic plant modification has been used to target and enhance specific traits within a plant, such as the size or taste of the fruit or its resistance to pests and disease. Now, Salk’s plant biologists are targeting specific hormones and genes that indicate and increase root biomass. Deep dive: why deep roots matter For centuries, farmers have recognized that deeper roots stabilize the soil and make trees and crops more resilient to heavy winds, floods, hurricanes and erosion. Deep roots also encourage drought resistance because they allow the plant to search for hard to reach water reserves that haven’t been dried out by the sun. But recently, deep roots have become coveted for their ability to sequester , store and stabilize carbon dioxide . The carbon in roots is stored as a complex carbohydrate that is not easily broken down by soil microbes and therefore it is more stable storage than above ground plants, especially for plants that are frequently harvested. The idea behind deep roots is actually very logical– deeper roots store the carbon further from the place we are trying to keep it away from– the atmosphere. Although plants have always sequestered carbon, they can no longer keep up with the rate that humans are pumping it into the atmosphere– at least not naturally. Globally, people emit 37 billion tons of carbon dioxide every year and plants can only capture about half. The idea, according the Salk’s plant biologist, Wolfgang Busch, is to “store carbon in parts of the soil where the carbon is more stable. Change the biochemistry, increase the stability. We’re not trying to get plants to do something they don’t normally do,” says Busch . “We’re just trying to increase the efficiency. Then we can use that to mitigate climate change .” Joanne Chory, also a plant biologist at the Salk Institute echoed Busch’s explanation in an interview with Foreign Policy News. “All we have to do is make them about 2 percent more efficient at redistributing carbon than they are right now, and we can effect a global change,” said Chory . The Salk Ideal Plant Wolfgang Busch, Chory and their team of plant biologists at the Salk Institute recently published their preliminary findings in Cell. Their research focused on a test plant – the thale cress – where they experimented with root hormones and a specific gene found to control the shape of roots. The science behind it: hormones and genes The hormone auxin is the most important hormone that dictates root growth. The biologists at Salk, however, also identified a gene – EXOCYST70A3 – that controls the shape and extent of roots by monitoring how much of the auxin hormone is released. By identifying and isolating these findings, the researchers can now control the size and direction of the roots in their test plants. The EXOCYST70A3 gene is present in all plants, so their research is profoundly scalable if applied to the world’s top grown crops. Indeed, Salk intends to apply their findings to corn , soy, rice, wheat, cotton and rapeseed (canola). Salk’s secret sauce: suberin But the researchers didn’t stop at isolating the hormone and gene, they also identified a specific substance to modify and replicate based on its benefits. According to their website, their ‘secret sauce’ is a substance called suberin . Suberin is a cork material that is carbon-rich, found naturally in plants and resistant to decomposition. It enhances soil, but is also one of the best (meaning most stable) storage vessels for carbon dioxide. Salk’s patented plant, The Ideal Plant, will maximize suberin within its roots. Ultimately, their plants will increase root biomass that is both deeper and higher in suberin. But aren’t GMOs bad for the environment? There is a lot of controversy surrounding genetically modified organisms , including their potentially harmful impacts on human health , ecosystems and farmers’ livelihoods. However, GMO proponents believe they are the answer to feeding the world’s growing population and increasing resilience against a rapidly changing environment. For the Salk Institute, GMO nay-sayers, like the European Union and India, aren’t their biggest concern. Their research continues (and receives millions of dollars of investment) for expected implementation in places where GMOs are not banned. In order to reach their goal of using the Salk Ideal Plant to store half of the carbon that humans emit every year, the researchers claim they would need their patented product in six percent of the world’s agriculturally productive land. While there are natural ways of cross breeding to reach similar results, it would take considerably longer and there simply isn’t enough time. The climate clock is ticking The Salk Institute’s recently published study holds promising breakthroughs, but they are still not ready with a usable product and time is running out. Environmental experts agree that drastic action needs to be taken to mitigate greenhouse gases , so the best time to start planting the yet-to-be-designed Ideal Plant was years ago. Via Vice Images via Salk Institute

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Digging deeper for climate solutions: deep-root GMOs could feed world and store carbon

Energy-efficient home uses recycled heat to reduce C02 emissions

August 15, 2019 by  
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The Lane End House by PAD studio incorporates natural building material and sustainable solutions to increase energy-efficiency . The resulting design creates a passive home with a smaller environmental footprint and a focus on sustainability.  The exterior of the house contains balcony areas that act as solar shading for the property, complete with thoughtfully-placed openings to create a greater distribution of natural ventilation to rid the home of intense heat during the hot Summer months.  Landscape-wise, the clients wanted to incorporate a natural feel as often as possible, with large windows to connect the inhabitants with the outdoors and a functioning herb garden located on the first floor balcony. The placement of the grand windows creates natural sunlight to light the home during the day while incorporating more profound landscape views. Related: Contemporary barn-inspired home adheres to passive house principles According to the client, “we wanted a house that was big enough to comfortably accommodate the two of us and our lifestyle – and no bigger. For us that meant carefully considered, flexible, multipurpose spaces that created a sense of space whilst retaining a modest footprint .” High quality, insulated timber wood used to create the frame both reduces the need for artificial cooling and heating in the home, and provides an eco-friendly alternative to traditional (and heavy carbon emission-inducing) building materials. Additionally, the timber is locally-produced from renewable sources and the brick used to make the fireplace is hand-made by local vendors. On the ground floor, concrete was inserted to make the structure even more air-tight and regulate interior temperatures even further.  The builders installed a MVHR system designed to recycle heat produced from the kitchen and bathroom and mix it with clean air circulated through the ventilation and naturally colder areas of the house. In addition to completing the standard methods such as SAP calculations and EPS ratings, the impressive home was also built to Passive House ideology. +PAD Studio Images via PAD Studio

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Do people in tiny houses live more sustainably?

August 2, 2019 by  
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Minimalist living is as old as time, but the tiny house trend sweeping across North America and Europe has influenced many people to downsize, declutter and live simply. A new investigation into the habits of tiny house residents reveals that living in smaller houses encourages people to adopt more sustainable habits across the board. What are tiny houses? The unofficial definition of a tiny house is typically any single housing unit under 500 square feet. Many tiny houses are on wheels to get around state and federal government laws that limit the minimum habitable dwelling size. Because of this restriction, tiny house owners often own the transportable housing unit but not necessarily the land that it is on. Related: Is a tiny home right for you? The media and tiny house designers market the micro-dwellings as environmentally friendly alternatives to large family homes. Sellers encourage prospective buyers to downsize their possessions and kiss their mortgages goodbye in exchange for experiential riches like travel and financial freedom. Though they take up less space and store less junk, few studies exist that actually prove that living in tiny houses is more sustainable. Little house habits Maria Saxton, an environmental design and planning PhD candidate, studied the impact that downsizing into a tiny house had on inhabitants’ sustainable behaviors. She conducted surveys and in-depth interviews of 80 downsizers who had been living in their new tiny homes for at least a year. She calculated their individual ecological footprints before and after the move and examined which behaviors changed for the better and which changed for the worse. Her research discovered that on average, residents reduced their individual footprints by 45 percent after they settled into a tiny home, which is a huge reduction. She also found that the move and new lifestyle impacted other aspects and behaviors even without the inhabitants realizing it. Ecological footprint is usually calculated by determining the amount of land that it would take every year to support an individual’s consumption. The average American’s footprint is 8.4 hectares per person per year. That’s about the equivalent of eight football fields per person. Among those who downsized to tiny houses, the average footprint was approximately 3.87 hectares per person compared to a per-person average of 7 hectares before the move. How tiny houses encourage sustainable living Remarkably, housing-related behaviors and consumption patterns weren’t the only changes that the residents experienced. Of more than 100 individual behaviors examined, about 86 percent changed to become more environmentally friendly. For example, tiny house residents tended to shop and buy significantly less than the average American and less than they themselves did previously. Without room to store additional items, tiny house inhabitants simply could not support their old consumption habits. While 86 percent of behaviors changed for the better, about 13 percent changed for the worse. For example, tiny house residents tended to eat out more to avoid the frustration of cooking in a cramped kitchen. These residents recycled less because they had limited space for sorting and storing recyclable materials. They also tended to travel more, including both adventure trips and traveling further for basic items, likely because many tiny houses are located in more rural areas than where the owners previously lived. According to a separate investigation into the habits and motivations of tiny house dwellers, the majority of downsizers simply kept a storage unit. So, while they had fewer items within an arm’s reach, they hadn’t really committed to a minimalist lifestyle, and they could still support the overflow of their overconsumption. Smarter designs to support sustainability According to Saxton, the results of this study are critical for tiny house designers as well as to influence archaic laws that restrict tiny houses. If tiny house inhabitants truly do live more sustainably, towns and cities should be encouraging residents to make the move. Related: 7 tips for decorating a tiny home Architects and designers of the little abodes can also use the results of the research to integrate designs that address the prohibitive factors causing that 13 percent shift to less sustainable behaviors. For example — how can the kitchens be larger and more functional? How can trash and recycling storage be expanded to accommodate proper sorting of recyclable materials? Despite the tiny trend, housing is growing in size and destruction In 1973, the average house was 1,660 square feet, but by 2017, the average house sold was 2,631 square feet . This represents a 63 percent increase in the average size of a house in just 45 years. Although the tiny house trend skyrocketed among a niche corner of the population in over-industrialized countries, the majority of people still think bigger is better, which comes at a cost to the environment . The construction of oversized houses means loss of natural habitat and biodiversity , including the fragmentation of ecosystems to clear the way for new housing developments. In addition, the carbon footprint of the materials and construction industry is enormous. Commercial and residential buildings together contribute 39 percent of the U.S.’s total carbon emissions. This includes the transportation and sourcing of the building materials, the energy needed for construction and the environmental cost of maintenance. Maybe they are just another trend, but maybe tiny houses can be a small solution to global warming on an individual and community level. At the very least, the research concludes that cities and towns should re-examine existing laws that discourage tiny house dwellers from owning land or remove the wheels to at least allow residents to feel a sense of permanence. One town, Spur, Texas, adjusted its laws and sells itself as the first tiny home town in America. As the trend continues, other towns and cities would be wise to follow suit. Via The Conversation Images via Paul VanDerWerf , Christoph Scholz and Nicolás Boullosa ( 1 , 2 )

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Do people in tiny houses live more sustainably?

Energy-efficient greenhouses surround the new French Open tennis court

August 2, 2019 by  
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Plants from around the world are flourishing in four curved greenhouses in an unexpected place — directly behind the spectator stands of the new Simonne Mathieu tennis court at Roland-Garros, home of the French Open. Designed by the Paris-based studio Marc Mimram Architecture & Associés , the 5,000-seat sunken tennis court not only offers a strikingly modern space for the annual tournament but also offers a visual extension of the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil botanical garden, where the stadium is located. The steel-and-glass greenhouses were built to reference the historical hothouses of the 19th century but feature a modern, energy-efficient design built to the highest technical specifications. Named after the famous tennis player who played at the Roland-Garros in the 1930s, the Simonne Mathieu tennis court is a new venue for hosting the international tennis championships hosted every year in Paris. Taking inspiration from Auteuil’s greenhouses designed by Jean Camille Formige in 1898, Marc Mimram Architecture & Associés introduced new public space around the partially sunken tennis court in the form of four modern, steel-and-glass greenhouses that are visible from the spectator stands. Related: Solar-powered aquaponic greenhouses grow up to 880 lbs of produce each year “These new greenhouses form a glass backdrop, a case within which plants from four continents can flourish,” the architects explained. “They refer to the design of the nearby hothouses and are inspired by, without imitating, architecture in metal that, since the construction of the Crystal Palace in London in 1851, still stands, with its delicate relationship between light and structure, as the perfect model of airiness and economy.” Sheathed in double-pane glass for superior insulation, these curved greenhouses feature flora from the Americas, Asia, Africa and Oceania. A meandering paved pathway traverses each greenhouse. Because the greenhouses are a new addition of public space, they will be accessible to visitors throughout the year, even outside of the two-week French Open tournament. + Marc Mimram Architecture & Associés Via ArchDaily Photography by Erieta Attali via Marc Mimram Architecture & Associés

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Energy-efficient greenhouses surround the new French Open tennis court

The ultimate guide to eco-friendly period products

July 31, 2019 by  
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If you’re a person who is serious about protecting the environment, you’re probably conscious of how much trash you generate every time you have a period. In addition to being chock-full of plastics sent straight to landfills, pads and tampons also contain harsh chemicals that are toxic . Yet most people continue exposing their bodies to these products month after month. Luckily, there are better options out there for both you and the planet — here’s a guide to help you find what might work best for you. “Anything coming in constant contact with your skin will land in your bloodstream for distribution throughout your body,” Dr. Joseph Mercola wrote in an alarming Huffington Post article about the dangers of menstrual products. Despite the potential dangers, the chemical ingredients in tampons and pads are an industry secret, protected by nondisclosure policies that favor corporations, manufacturers and innovators but put consumers at serious risk. So if you want to cut down on polluting nature and your body, consider this comprehensive guide on more sustainable product options available right now. As always, be sure to consult with your healthcare provider to help determine the best options for you. Menstrual cups Menstrual cups are one of the most eco-friendly options out there. If you can get over the initial learning curve, they are easy and convenient to use. Why we love them Although the up-front sticker price is higher, when you calculate how much you spend every month on tampons or pads, the savings are obvious. The cups are comfortable and barely noticeable once they have been inserted — the same way you might get used to a tampon and hardly realize it is there. They are especially easy for travelers who want to save precious space in their luggage and say goodbye to last-minute, emergency trips to the convenience store. Most cup brands come in multiple sizes and some even come in varying levels of firmness, depending on your preference, flow, age and whether or not you have had a vaginal birth. The cups are capable of handling even heavy flow days, with most users reporting minimal — if any — leaks. Below is a brief review of a few popular brands. Diva Cup ($35) The Diva Cup is the most recognized and popular brand. It has three sizes (including one for teens), lasts up to 12 hours and is made from medical-grade silicone. Sustain Natural Period Cup ($39) These cups are flexible, compact and made entirely of medical-grade silicone . They claim to hold three tampons-worth of liquid and are available in two sizes. This is also the only brand that currently offers a microwave case for cleaning the cup. Peachlife Menstrual Cup ($22) Also made of medical-grade silicone, this cup uniquely comes in a variety of firmness levels (soft, medium-firm and extra-firm). Unlike other brands that come to a point, the Peachlife cup has a silicone ring at the bottom for easy removal (but remember, you still have to break the suction of the cup; you cannot just tug on the ring!). Cups are not without challenges Menstrual cups cannot be recycled at the end of their lifecycles, but when you calculate how many pads and tampons you averted from landfills, this product is worth it. The cups can also be difficult to maneuver at first. Once you have practiced and get the hang of folding the cup, inserting it and then breaking the seal to remove, it’s just as easy as any other option. It typically takes about three periods to fully adapt to using a menstrual cup. Because of cultural and religious beliefs, some people do have objections or hesitations to using a cup. Related: Study shows menstrual cups are safe and just as effective as tampons, pads A new spin on ‘period underwear’ Absorbent underwear brands like THINX and Lunapads are increasing in popularity and market share. They are simply underwear that you wear during your period that are specially manufactured to absorb menstrual blood. Why they’re so easy If you know how to put on your undies, then you know how to use these — they have all other products beat in terms of ease of use. They are also eco-friendly, because you wash and reuse them each time you have your period. That means they do not produce landfill trash every month. The downside of absorbent underwear Period underwear is more expensive than your typical pair of underwear because of their patented absorption technology . You will also need a few pairs depending on the length and flow of your period and how often you’re able to wash and dry them. Like the cups though, when you tally the cost of underwear against lifetime tampon expenses, they’re a smart economic choice. The horrors of tampons and better options “The average American woman uses 16,800 tampons in her lifetime — or up to 24,360 if she’s on estrogen replacement therapy,” said Dr. Mercola. That’s a lot of trash , but it is also a lot of time that your body is exposed to toxic chemicals. Cotton is better; organic cotton is best You may have heard health experts say that cotton underwear is best for promoting vaginal health — the same goes for tampons. Look for brands that specifically say they are made from organic cotton, but assume that most conventional brands are now made from plastics and synthetic materials. These materials are not breathable, can get fragmented and left behind and might encourage health problems like yeast and bacterial growth. Most tampons are also bleached with substances linked to abnormal tissue growth, abnormal cell growth and immune system suppression. Americans use 7 billion tampon applicators every year; the chemicals in the applicator, phthalates, have been generally linked to organ damage, lower I.Q. and asthma. What to try instead Using tampons without applicators will significantly cut down the plastic waste you generate. Brands like o.b. offer tampons that can be inserted with just your finger. Seventh Generation offers a chlorine-free, organic cotton tampon that reduces your exposure to chemicals. Organyc also offers a 100 percent organic cotton tampon. What about pads? Many people prefer pads for comfort or cultural reasons; however, the average sanitary pad contains “the equivalent of about four plastic bags, and this doesn’t include the other chemicals like BPA , BPS, phthalates and toxic dioxin created by the bleaching process.” Even though they have plastic in them, pads are never recyclable because they have been contaminated with bodily fluid. Because pads have a bigger volume than tampons, they produce even more waste. The average person throws away between 250 and 300 pounds of pads or tampons in their lifetime. What to use if you prefer pads There are reusable sanitary pads online that significantly reduce the amount of trash produced. Simply place the pad in your underwear; when it is dirty, rinse it with cold water and then add it to the laundry. You can buy reusable pads from Gladrags or find cute designs via Etsy. You can also try your hand at sewing your own . Disposable tampons and pads dominate the menstrual care market, but it doesn’t have to be that way. With small personal changes, you can protect your health, wallet and the planet. Images via Shutterstock

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