This is why investors want financial regulators to tackle climate risk

August 24, 2020 by  
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This is why investors want financial regulators to tackle climate risk Ravi Varghese Mon, 08/24/2020 – 01:15 To understand economic crises of the recent past, present and future, there may be no finer teacher than Michael Lewis. Many readers will be familiar with Lewis’s book “The Big Short,” which documented how excesses in global credit markets spawned a worldwide financial crisis. But a later book of his — “The Fifth Risk” — best explains why we were unprepared for the current pandemic and why we need a different approach to deal with threats such as climate change.  Lewis’s thesis is simple, but profound: Dealing with catastrophic risks is the purview of government. In particular, the U.S. government bears the unenviable burden of “the biggest portfolio of such risks ever managed by a single institution in the history of the world.” Some of these risks spring readily to mind — financial crises, hurricanes and terrorist threats, just to name a few. Others, such as a global pandemic, previously might have seemed too far-fetched to be worthy of serious consideration. Lewis warns that these risks are “like bombs with very long fuses that … might or might not explode” in the distant future. Climate change falls squarely in this category. It is far easier to mobilize resources and public support to combat a spreading virus than to make investments and formulate policy which might only reap rewards decades from now. It is even more challenging when multiple government agencies are involved, requiring the hard, thankless work of endless coordination. This was one lesson of the financial crisis: it wasn’t always easy to know which government entity had regulatory oversight of a complex cast of financial actors and a dizzying array of exotic instruments. Similarly, a threat such as climate change permeates so many elements of society and the economy that it’s hard to know who should do what. Thankfully, a timely new report from Ceres, a Boston-based sustainability organization, has eliminated some of that hard work. ” Addressing Climate as a Systemic Risk ,” produced by the Ceres Accelerator for Sustainable Capital Markets, exhorts U.S. financial regulators to take proactive steps to understand climate change. Appropriate oversight by financial regulators involves the collection of data, which can assist federal, state and municipal authorities in planning for a changing climate. The report offers 50 specific recommendations to seven federal financial regulatory agencies, as well as state and federal insurance regulators. Broadly speaking, Ceres calls for regulators to assess climate impact on financial market stability, increase oversight where climate change creates risk, and foster greater disclosure from companies and financial intermediaries.  Investors should cheer these ambitions. That’s why we joined more than 70 other signatories , including investment firms with more than $1 trillion of assets under management, in supporting a Ceres-led letter backing this initiative. As a signatory, we believe the logic is unshakable: Prudent regulation, enacted with a long-term perspective, can ensure that capital is funneled to sectors aligned with a future where global temperature rise is limited to 2 degrees Celsius. Investors are already concerned about stranded asset risk in large swathes of the economy, such as energy, utilities, transportation and infrastructure. To reduce this risk, regulators in the U.S. can benefit from joining their international peers in forward-thinking organizations such as the Network for Greening of the Financial System (NGFS).  Furthermore, appropriate oversight by financial regulators involves the collection of data, which can assist federal, state and municipal authorities in planning for a changing climate. Questions abound over the efficacy of stimulus spending in the ongoing pandemic. Long-term planning helps ensure that spending is implemented in a thoughtful manner, with maximum return wrung out of every dollar. The fiscal implications of climate change, meanwhile, are already appearing. As Ceres points out, recent research suggests private mortgage lenders are already shifting riskier mortgages to government-sponsored entities. Most investors surely will balk at the notion of privatized gains and socialized losses.  In “The Fifth Risk,” Lewis is unstintingly effusive about the dedication and caliber of government employees he encountered. But even if regulators were to adopt all of the Ceres recommendations, they would not make headlines for their actions. That, perhaps, makes their work all the more important. As Lewis reminds us, “it’s the places in our government where the cameras never roll that you have to worry about most.” Armed with this new report from Ceres, financial regulators can help investors worry a little bit less.  Pull Quote Appropriate oversight by financial regulators involves the collection of data, which can assist federal, state and municipal authorities in planning for a changing climate. Topics Finance & Investing GreenFin ESG Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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Former railway yard to receive a green transformation in St. Petersburg

August 3, 2020 by  
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Dutch architectural firms KCAP and Orange Architects have teamed up with A.Len Architectural Bureau to redesign St. Petersburg’s former Tovarno-Vitebskaya railway yard into a new mixed-use district with extensive greenery. Created as a continuation of Glorax Development’s Ligovsky City neighborhood development project, the new adaptive reuse proposal will combine historic structures with contemporary architecture to inject new life into the area while paying homage to the site’s history. A variety of green space will be incorporated into the masterplan, from linear parks and landscaped boulevards that follow the historic railway tracks to more intimate courtyards and walkways interspersed between the new buildings. Located in the southeastern part of St. Petersburg’s “gray belt”, the adaptive reuse proposal would transform a former railway yard on Ligovsky Prospekt into a predominately residential district for 8,600 people. The 30-hectare site would also include restaurants, cafes, leisure facilities, street retail, service companies, sports facilities, four kindergartens, one primary and one secondary school and both underground and surface parking lots.  Related: A forgotten railway takes on new life as a new cultural destination in France The architects have inventoried the existing architectural structures and plan to reuse many historic elements — such as small buildings, blue cranes, tracks and poles — into the long and linear public parks that will be developed along the main railway tracks from north to south. The project’s main entrance will be located on the primarily mixed-use northern end where the new “Borovaya” metro station will stand and serve as the new urban center for Ligovsky. In contrast, the southern part of the site will feature taller buildings, three of which will create a strong building edge nicknamed “The Trio.” “We want to create an active and landscaped environment where you can feel the history of the railway and live with the people around you,” said Patrick Meijers, partner at Orange Architects. “An area that simultaneously is smoothly connected to the city of St. Petersburg.” + KCAP + Orange Architects Images via Orange Architects

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Former railway yard to receive a green transformation in St. Petersburg

Demystifying the ‘Absolute Zero’ concept

May 29, 2020 by  
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Demystifying the ‘Absolute Zero’ concept Heather Clancy Fri, 05/29/2020 – 02:15 If your sustainability team has regular debates about how to label or describe its various initiatives, it’s not alone. The nuances of all the various adjectives and descriptors that are used to describe climate action — from “science-based” to “net zero” to “carbon negative” — are enough to make heads spin, especially for those who spend their professional lives worrying about how to communicate these concepts. The analysts and journalists of GreenBiz feel your pain. So, it was hardly surprising when literally thousands of GreenBiz community members signed up for the recent webcast about “Absolute Zero,” moderated by yours truly. It was one of the best-attended sessions in the history of our online events.  Technically speaking, the literal definition of absolute zero is the lowest possible temperature that’s theoretically possible. From the climate perspective, the phrase is used frequently by UK Fires, a research collaboration between the universities of Cambridge, Oxford, Nottingham, Bath and Imperial College London — although it’s not all that common (yet at least) in North American circles.  So how does this idea apply to the world of sustainability? Here’s the first thing to understand about the concept of Absolute Zero as it applies to corporate climate action: It’s not all about you, and it’s not all about reducing greenhouse gas emissions to limit global temperature increases to below 1.5 degrees Celsius. That’s just the table stakes. The reality, though, is that any individual company must use a combination of strategies to inch or leap toward that goal — and the combination of what an organization is able to use will depend a great deal not just on its industry sector but also on its financial clout and support from the C-suite.  It might, for example, buy carbon offsets to kickstart action in the short term without delay, then move on to supporting initiatives that directly affect its operations, such as installing new technologies for energy efficiency or clean energy. From there, the focus for many companies often progresses into its supply chain — the place many corporate sustainability teams spend a lot of their time today. The most ambitious plans (at least right now) are those seeking ways to enable reductions for others on top of all that. Some organizations never may reach the last stage. But those that can should try, according to the speakers on this month’s webcast. “In a world in which we know some companies will not be able to reach net zero, it’s absolutely imperative that others who can reach it go beyond,” said Charlotte Bande, climate strategy lead for sustainability consulting firm Quantis. Bande said Absolute Zero (a concept that the firm is socializing with its clients) is the long-term guidepost that businesses should navigate toward — it encourages companies to maximize their individual contributions toward the vision of achieving net zero emissions by 2050. “Absolute sustainability is about making sure that society operates within planetary boundaries while satisfying human needs,” Bande said. Included in that should be strategies addressing biodiversity, land use, freshwater consumption, the phosphorus cycle and the nitrogen cycle, she noted. How might Absolute Zero apply to your own strategy? During the next 10 years — a period the United Nations Global Compact has dubbed the ” Decade of Action ” — companies must focus far more on mitigating their impact not just within their own corporate boundaries but within their entire value chain, including suppliers and customers, according to the speakers on the GreenBiz webcast.  That means paying far more attention to issues related to sustainable development, such as child labor policies, community water abuses or gender equity issues, said Owen Hewlett, chief technical officer of Gold Standard, a Swiss NGO that issues carbon credits.  “We very much see that climate results are optimized when you deal with sustainable development at the same time,” he said. Offsetting versus insetting Hewlett devoted part of his presentation to a discussion about ” insetting ,” which he and Bande defined as activities within a company’s supply chain that can be counted toward science-based targets even though they are technically outside a company’s direct boundaries — such as addressing the emissions of suppliers in tiers one or two of a company’s supply chain.  In that way, insetting is distinct from the more broadly used process of “offsetting,” a term often used to describe the process of supporting projects focused on carbon removal in order to receive credit for the reductions that it enables.  For many organizations, the distinction is elusive, but many companies use the process of offsetting to kickstart their corporate emissions reductions. The idea of insetting is often associated with natural climate solutions , although it can be accomplished by any verifiable activity that mitigates emissions related to a company’s value chain.  We very much see that climate results are optimized when you deal with sustainable development at the same time. “The real test is this question: What does it count towards? If it’s in boundary, you can report it against science-based targets. If it’s outside boundaries, then it should be considered enabling reductions [for others]. Often, it’s a bit of both,” Hewlett acknowledged. One example of insetting is a program that the petcare divisions of food company Mars created to help wheat farmers improve their productivity and measure the carbon sequestration impact of activities such as reducing fertilizer usage and using cover crops and manures.  Apple’s program to invest in renewable energy for some suppliers is another illustration of an initiative that could be considered an example of insetting. (This example wasn’t used on the webcast, but it helps illustrate what’s possible.)   Leadership is a constantly moving target Focusing on reducing Scope 3 emissions that are upstream or downstream in a company’s value chain is a growing focus for sustainability teams in sectors such as food and consumer packaged goods — as is focusing on the creation of products and services that help other organizations, particularly customers and suppliers, cut their impact more broadly.  During the webcast, one of several polling questions probed attendees about where they thought it was possible to “maximize the potential” of their sustainable business strategies. More than half of those who responded during the live session said “enabling others to reduce” was where their largest future impact lies. The idea that companies have a responsibility not just for their own emissions but also for those of their customers and suppliers is being embraced by a growing number of companies, including Microsoft.   In January, the technology company publicly embraced a “carbon negative” climate strategy that will see Microsoft begin to charge its different business units an internal carbon fee for their Scope 3 emissions — it also does this for Scope 1 and Scope 2 impacts. It also committed $1 billion in funding to new technologies, innovations and climate solutions, with the intent of taking responsibility for past emission. “We really zeroed in on what we’re doing not only in our own operations but in our value chain,” said Elizabeth Willmott, carbon program manager at Microsoft, on the webcast. In a sense, successful companies and industrialized nations should bear responsibility for the climate impact of their economic sense, she said. “What is exciting is that it embraces the idea of net zero, but goes beyond,” Willmott said. While Microsoft hasn’t used the phrase Absolute Zero to describe this strategy, the carbon negative nomenclature has been used by others, including retailer IKEA, which actually adopted a similar philosophy in 2018. (IKEA now uses the term ” climate positive ” to describe its policy, as does Intuit, which is teaming up with Project Drawdown for help.  Regardless what they actually call it, the aim is the same: These companies intend to remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than they produce — because they have the means of doing so.  Microsoft considers the future impact of its products — particularly its cloud software services — as a key motivator for its recent strategy shift. In that sense, its climate policy is increasingly being embedded into core business decisions, including future “co-innovation” with both retail and enterprise customers.  “What is a leadership move today won’t be tomorrow,” Willmott said during the webcast. Pull Quote We very much see that climate results are optimized when you deal with sustainable development at the same time. Topics Corporate Strategy Carbon Removal Offsets Natural Climate Solutions Collective Insight GreenBiz 101 Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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Demystifying the ‘Absolute Zero’ concept

Residential energy is becoming companies’ business

May 29, 2020 by  
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Residential energy is becoming companies’ business Sarah Golden Fri, 05/29/2020 – 01:45 In this crazy upside-down world, the line between residential and commercial energy is getting fuzzy.  Everything changed so quickly, it makes sense that climate and energy teams have yet to figure out how to account for the shift. But as companies such as Mastercard , Facebook and Twitter look at long-term remote work policies, working from home (WFH) is adding a new dimension to corporate carbon accounting.  And it’s not too soon for climate-forward companies to think about how to incentivize employees to make their home (office) run off clean energy.  It’s still early days for companies thinking about WFH energy usages as part of their own greenhouse gas footprint. Right now, commercial energy use is still high , and it’s not clear when or which workers will head back to the office.  It’s not too soon for climate-forward companies to think about how to incentivize employees to make their home (office) run off clean energy. According to Noah Goldstein, director of sustainability at Guidehouse, there also aren’t great calculations for what the GHG impact of working from home would be. The guidance is that the company is only responsible for “additional” energy use, but that is hard to determine without baseline calculations.  “I can foresee some companies accounting for WFH in their 2020 or 2021 footprint, but very, very few in number,” said Goldstein in an email.  Five companies with residential energy programs for the COVID era With people hunkering down at home as we enter a hotter than normal summer , residential demand response will be critical to keep energy affordable and clean(er).  The pandemic began in a shoulder month — meaning a time of year where heating and cooling demands are low as most of the country experiences temperate weather. With restrictions on movement still in effect, grid operators are preparing for air conditioners alone to strain our energy infrastructure. Demand response is a promising solution. According to an analysis by Wood Mackenzie, residential demand response would unlock more than 10 gigawatts of additional energy capacity. This would help utilities and states stay on track for clean energy goals and reduce energy bills at a time when households are struggling more than ever to make ends meet.  Here are five companies with updated offerings tailored to the COVID-19 era, designed to make residential energy use smarter as our homes become our office (and bar and restaurant and concert venue and movie theater…) 1. Google Nest partners with utilities Google recently announced its partnership with Consumers Energy to bring smart thermostats to up to 100,000 households in Michigan. According to its release , those who receive a thermostat will be enrolled in the utility’s Smart Thermostat Program, which shifts energy use to off-peak hours.  The partnership is part of Consumers’ Clean Energy Plan, which is striving to reach net-zero carbon emissions. Shifting energy use during peak times is key to staying on track.  This is just the first in a series of Google Nest’s partnerships. The company is expected to announce three more utility partnerships at the start of June.  Google isn’t the only company teaming up with utilities to gamify demand response. Logical Buildings launched its GridRewards campaign last month to encourage residents to reduce energy usage at key times. Logical Buildings partnered with a consortium of municipalities in Westchester, New York.  2. OhmConnect launches AutoOhms Last week, OhmConnect announced AutoOhms , its newest program that offers cash incentives for “timely, smarter energy use.” AutoOhm will power down energy-intensive connected appliances in 15-minute increments during peak energy times. Customers will receive a text message when peak rates are about to kick in and can select appliances to power down through an app. Through this “gamified” experience, the customer can actively see their energy savings.  The program is available for customers of California’s three big investor-owned utilities: Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric.  3. Tesla Energy discusses Autobidder Always a big dreamer, it comes as no surprise that Tesla’s energy division has its sights on becoming a distributed global utility.  Tesla has been deploying distributed energy assets (think solar, electric vehicles, Powerwalls) while investing in grid-scale energy and storage projects. Now the company’s vision is to control these individual assets as one beast on its platform Autobidder . According to the website, Autobidder allows anyone with energy storage assets — be they EVs, solar plus storage, a home battery, anything — to engage in real-time trading and make additional money from the energy asset.  Apparently, Autobidder already has been (quietly) around for a few years, operations at Tesla’s energy storage facility in South Australia. With Tesla talking about the software, the company is likely hoping for wider adoption.  4. Leap Energy develops a demand response marketplace Leap, a newer company in the world of demand response, is working to create a marketplace to better monetize energy resources. Its vision is to engage connected energy resources that aren’t currently participating in grid flexibility — which, according to its CEO Thomas Folker, is about 90 percent of energy assets. “We are an aggregator of other aggregators,” said Folker in a phone conversation last month. “We don’t physically control any hardware, we don’t acquire any customers. We just provide the software that allows for this all to happen.” The platform allows for end energy users to bid on resources and automatically facilitates the exchange. Its users are demand response companies — such as OhmConnect and Google Nest — and works to increase the value of distributed energy resources while providing flexibility to the grid.  5. Span turns homes into microgrids New on the scene with a fresh round of Series A finance, Span bills itself as a smart panel company that works to integrate a home’s solar, energy storage and electric vehicle. It’s kind of like using a home’s energy assets as a microgrid.  Span’s selling point is energy resilience. The system works to keep power flowing to where customers need it in the event of a power outage, which, the company points out in a release , is of growing importance as California is looking at a future where shelter in place could overlap with planned power outages. (The company is initially focusing on California and Hawaii as key markets.) This increased level of control and connected energy assets also means users can rely on their own resources when the grid has more dirty energy.  This article is adapted from GreenBiz’s newsletter Energy Weekly, running Thursdays. Subscribe here . Pull Quote It’s not too soon for climate-forward companies to think about how to incentivize employees to make their home (office) run off clean energy. Topics Energy & Climate COVID-19 Energy Efficiency Featured Column Power Points Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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Airy Santa Monica Canyon home embraces views of nature and art

May 27, 2020 by  
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Reclaimed materials, a world-class art collection and an indoor/outdoor lifestyle combine in this recently completed Los Angeles residence designed by Santa Monica-based firm  Conner + Perry Architects . Built for  Los Angeles natives, this luxurious four-bedroom family home with large windows and a natural material palette was thoughtfully inserted into a wooded Santa Monica Canyon. Salvaged materials taken from the old existing home on-site and felled wood found on the property have been repurposed into beautiful focal elements for the house, such as the grand entry doors and outdoor furniture.  Designed to embrace the “quintessential California indoor/outdoor experience,” the two-story Santa Monica Canyon home opens up with fully pocketing glass exterior walls to a central courtyard with a pool and outdoor shower. Extended canopy-like cantilevered eaves protect from the sun. The charred wood ( Shou Sugi Ban ) siding, copper, exposed steel and concrete materials that wrap the home’s exterior were selected for their organic nature and their low-maintenance, climate-compatible qualities.  To pay homage to the history of the site, which was used as a Forestry Service test station for Eucalyptus tree testing in the 1910s and 1920s, the architects  salvaged  much of the original 1940s cabin that once occupied the property. Related: New Santa Monica City Services Building will produce more energy than it uses The home interior takes cues from nature and includes a mix of massangis gray  limestone  and French oak used for the floors, weathered brass, blackened steel elements and a variety of marble and tiles. The warm yet restrained palette also provides a neutral backdrop for the clients’ world-class art collection; the interior floor plan was designed to frame views of either the art pieces or landscape views. “Each of them has described the house as having a magical or mystical quality, allowing light in at the right moments, as well as the shadows of the trees , and a calming mirroring effect,” Kristopher Conner, Conner + Perry Architects co-founder, said. + Conner + Perry Architects Images by Taiyo Watanabe

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Italy’s Relaunch Decree helps homeowners install solar photovoltaic systems for free

May 27, 2020 by  
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Italy has been hit hard by COVID-19 and is attempting to jump-start its economy through the Relaunch Decree, a revitalization package of 55 billion euros ($60 billion) that Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and his cabinet passed earlier this month. The stimulus includes tax breaks for clean energy projects and renovations; Italian homeowners are offered free rooftop installations of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems through the Relaunch Decree. To help Italy recover from the coronavirus-induced recession, incentives — like tax credits for homeowners pivoting toward energy efficient home improvement projects — are offered. According to Ernst & Young’s Global Tax News , “Individuals can offset 110% of qualified building renovation and energy efficiency costs incurred between 1 July 2020 and 31 December 2021 against their tax liabilities in five equal installments (up to certain thresholds).” Related: First home solar pavement installed on a driveway PV Magazine explained that the bonus is “for building-renovation projects from 65% to 110% and a jump in support for PV installations and storage systems associated with such renovation projects, from 50% of costs to 110%.” Any solar photovoltaic installations for the next year-and-a-half will be subsidized. Only a few weeks ago, Green Tech Media warned that Italy’s subsidy-free solar sector had stalled due to the pandemic, placing many projects on hold. While the solar industry is no stranger to vicissitude cycles, the pandemic added unexpected variables. “For the sector, the Relaunch Decree is certainly a great opportunity for the spread of photovoltaics on the roofs of Italian homes,” said Paolo Rocco Viscontini, president of PV association Italia Solare. Italy’s investment incentives for solar should come as no surprise, since Statista describes Italy as “the leading country worldwide for electricity consumption covered by solar PV.” Since the early 2000s, Italy has been a strong proponent of solar installations. In 2017, it unveiled its National Energy Strategy — a 10-year plan to decarbonize, expand renewable energy and promote energy efficiency and environmental sustainability. As of early 2020, Italy is second only to Germany in the photovoltaic sector, with solar power as the country’s preferred renewable energy source. In 2019, Italy had a 69% increase in solar photovoltaic installations compared to 2018. That growth was deemed “the most substantial recorded in Italy” by PV Europe with a grand total of 56,590 new solar power system installations in 2019, of which 50,653 were residential. While COVID-19 dampened photovoltaic growth for Italy’s first quarter of 2020, many nonetheless hope that the Relaunch Decree’s incentives can support a swift restart of the solar PV sector. Tom Heggarty, principal solar analyst for global energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie, said , “Solar [projects are] pretty quick to develop and construct. So once we start to see restrictions lifted, the industry should, theoretically, be in a good place to bounce back quite quickly.” Via EY Global Tax News , PV Magazine , Green Tech Media , Statista and PV Europe Image via Giorgio Trovato

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Planning a low-water garden with expert Guy Banner

April 28, 2020 by  
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For those fortunate enough to have some outdoor space, gardening has become a top  pandemic  activity. It gets people outdoors doing something constructive while maintaining social distancing. You might even grow something to eat. But as all eco-conscious people know, gardening requires water. Sometimes a lot of water. For low-water gardening tips, we asked horticulturalist Guy Banner of  Red Butte Garden  in Salt Lake City for some tips. Banner worked as a field botanist for federal agencies like the U.S. Geological Service and the U.S. Forest Service in Oregon before going back home to Utah. He now co-owns  Grand Prismatic Seed , which specializes in hardy organic seeds, and works as the assistant horticulturalist in Red Butte’s Water Conservation Garden. Red Butte is a gorgeous 100-acre botanical garden with display gardens, hiking  trails , walking paths, talks, outdoor concerts, flower shows and lots of educational displays for home gardeners. It’s definitely worth a trip once we can leave our houses again. Inhabitat: Could you tell us a little bit about the history and inspiration behind Red Butte’s Water Conservation Garden? Banner: The  Water Conservation Garden (WCG) had been a long-term goal for the garden as a response to our arid climate and regional projected population growth as well as an opportunity to create a garden space with a different feel and plant palette. Ten years of planning and preparation came before the grand opening in the spring of 2017. The hope was to create a water conservation garden that demonstrated low to no water use through design,  plant selection and gardening techniques without sacrificing high aesthetic value. I believe it has been a success. The WCG hosts plants from similar climates across the globe but there is a special emphasis on housing many examples of the beautiful and well-adapted native flora of the western U.S. Inhabitat: Any tips for people planning a low-water garden at home? Banner: There are many lovely dry shade plants, but the majority of the most colorful and structural low-water plants need full sun and warmth. They are great for sunny south and west facing garden beds.  Rocks , slopes, windbreaks, evergreens and structures can be used to create warmer sheltered spaces for more cold-sensitive plants. Low-water plants tend to need good drainage in the  soil , especially in non-arid climates. You can find out your soil’s drainage by doing a simple DIY soil percolation test, like this one from Tennessee State University Cooperative Extension:  Soil Perc. Test. To improve drainage, plant on a slope, use rock, gravel, sharp sand and coarse organic material to amend heavy clay soils and/or use plants adapted to those conditions. You can also build mounded beds with large rocks, cobble, cinder blocks, etc. inside to give height and good drainage. If you are lucky enough to have a naturally moist and/or cool garden site, ‘low-water’ plants for you can have higher water needs. Draw inspiration from your native upland flora . Those plants will indicate plant types that can thrive in your area without extra water. Newly planted and transplanted plants will have to be watered regularly until their roots can establish. Establishment can take between one and three years, depending on how slow-growing the plant is. Only the most low-water plants can establish with little to no water after initial planting. Rainfall should be considered. Plants that grow from seed or seedlings in your beds will create the best root systems most quickly, because the roots are free to grow to their fullest potential while seeking out the nutrients and moisture in your garden soil. Mulch is a great way to improve soil texture, moderate temperature, reduce weeds and retain moisture. Use well-draining inorganic rock or gravel mulches around very xeric plants that are prone to rot if their stems and crowns are surrounded by excess moisture. The spongy organic material, beneficial bacteria and fungi of healthy living soils help plants to better utilize available water and nutrients. The natural symbiosis of roots with beneficial fungi (mycorrhiza) in upwards of 90% of studied plant families help plant roots access much more of the soil’s water and nutrients than they can on their own. To improve sterile and impoverished soils use healthy compost or beneficial soil life inoculants. Be minimal and cautious with pesticides, toxic materials and repeated heavy tillage. Visit and support your local nurseries, botanical gardens, university extension programs and gardening clubs. They can be excellent resources. Inhabitat: What are the biggest water-related mistakes people make when planting a garden? Banner: One of the biggest mistakes in low-water gardening is to mix plants with high and low water needs in the same irrigation zones. This creates a lot of hand watering or drowned low-water plants. The key is to create ‘hydrozones’ of plants with similar water needs that receive the same irrigation. Another water-related mistake is to not maximize the water that naturally falls on your garden area. Unless you live in a heavy rainfall area, slow, spread and sink the water you receive by integrating passive rainwater harvesting into your landscaping . It can be particularly useful to integrate your rain gutter downspouts, create swales and basins and then hydrozone the plantings based on how much water is retained. Be mindful of rainfall patterns, leaks and potential flooding in your designs. Inhabitat: What have you learned from working at the Water Conservation Garden? Banner: It’s always teaching me new things of course but here are some of the most poignant lessons that I have learned. The amount of water used to establish many of our garden’s low-water plants is more than some of the most xeric or sandy soil adapted plants can handle; they establish better now with the lower water scheduling. The natural slopes of our foothill garden have helped significantly with drainage of our rocky, clay soils. The use of native annuals and summer drought-adapted bulbs in the garden can create a wonderfully lush landscape by taking advantage of natural seasonal moisture. People are very excited and often surprised to see the wide range of possibilities in low water gardening that we display, and it inspires me to continue to make the garden botanically interesting, aesthetic and approachable. Inhabitat: Can you recommend some low-water plants? Banner:  My current favorite low-water plants are Northern Blazing Star (Liatris scariosa var. nieuwlandii), Shasta Sulphur Buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum var. polyanthum), Long trunked Spanish Dagger (Yucca gloriosa), Palmer’s penstemon (Penstemon palmeri), Smoothstem blazingstar (Mentzelia laevicaulis), Pale stonecrop (Sedum sediforme), Silverleaf Oak (Quercus hypoleucoides), Yellowhorn (Xanthoceras sorbifolium), Texas beargrass (Nolina texana),  Arizona fescue (Festuca arizonica), New Mexico Agave (Agave parryii var. neomexicana), ‘Frazier Park’ Big Berry Manzanita (Arctostaphylos glauca ‘Frazier Park’), Canyon Liveforever (Dudleya cymosa), Saint John’s Chamomile (Anthemis sancti-johannis) Inhabitat: Anything else our readers should know about water conservation and gardening? Banner: There is a lot to explore in finding the best water- conserving garden for your unique situation. While there are many general guidelines and recommendations you will find special opportunities as you dig deeper in your gardening practice (pun intended). Don’t be afraid to experiment and make some mistakes. Have fun with it! For more information on what to plant for your climate zone, check out this EPA site . + Guy Banner, Red Butte Garden Images via Teresa Bergen

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How to celebrate Earth Day virtually in 2020

April 17, 2020 by  
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With social distancing in full force this Earth Day , the 50th anniversary of this environmental movement is certainly one for the history books. Just because you can’t go outside in large groups this year doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of inventive ways to celebrate Earth, though. The Earth Day 2020 theme is “climate action,” and while we aren’t able to come together physically this year, technology is presenting some unique opportunities to show your love for the Earth virtually. Learn the history The first Earth Day took place on April 22, 1970, when 20 million Americans (about 10% of the U.S. population at that time) took to the streets and college campuses to protest environmental ignorance and promote environmental awareness. The movement, now recognized as the world’s largest civic event each year, launched the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts. Related: How Earth Day began and how it helps the planet Take a virtual tour Because many of us are now homeschooling kids, Google has created 360-degree tours of 113 different national park sites, including monuments, historic sites and shorelines. The Nature Conservancy also features a series of virtual field trips designed for grades 5-8. Live webcams have also gained popularity since social distancing began. People may be staying indoors for the most part, but animals are still keeping up with their daily routines. Check out live feeds of marine animals at Monterey Bay Aquarium or a series of different feeds, from remote locations throughout Africa to rescue animal facilities around the world, with Explore.org . Earthx , in partnership with National Geographic, is streaming everything from speaker series to film festivals to student activities via its website. Participate in a running challenge A healthy running challenge that raises awareness for the environment is a win-win to celebrate this year’s Earth Day. The 2020 Earth Day Run presented by The Virtual Run Challenge encourages participants to spend the month of April (though you can start anytime) to collectively run the distance of the equator — 24,901 miles. Log your running and walking miles every day and connect with others for a common goal; participation is free. Related: Orca Running offers a Social Distance Run Virtual Strides is celebrating Earth Day by hosting the 5K/10K/Half-Marathon Earth Run virtually. After runners (or walkers) finish their course, they can upload results and photos to the website. Registration isn’t free, but a portion of the proceeds from the race (around $4 from each registration) will be donated to EarthShare, a non-profit that supports critical environmental causes. In the past, the organization has raised more than $300 million for programs benefiting air, land, water, wildlife and public health. Download the Earth Challenge 2020 app By downloading the Earth Challenge 2020 app , you’ll help gather critical environmental data near your area, providing scientists and other “citizen scientists” with research to help maintain a cleaner planet. Users measure air quality and plastic pollution where they are and add each reading to a global database. Related: Earth Day 2020 goes digital For example, Earth Challenge 2020 launched its monarch butterfly project on April 1 with a goal to fill 1 billion data points before the month’s end. When users launch the app, they are able to snap pictures of insects that they see, submit them to be verified and allow scientists to better understand the distribution of butterflies and migration patterns. This kind of knowledge is essential to identify the different regions that need habitat restoration. Take action From April 20 to April 25, more than 100 speakers from five continents will participate in the largest online climate conference ever held to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Topics ranging from climate finance and agriculture to circular economy and politics will be discussed and can be viewed virtually via the partnership program We Don’t Have Time . Sign up with the official Earth Day website volunteer database for the latest resources and information on at-home or online activities as well as ways to spread the word to your friends. You can also create your own “act of green” and share it with the rest of the Earth Day community. The official Earth Day website also has a planning guide to help get people inspired and organized; check the map for ideas and to see how other people around the world are celebrating. Spread the word Digital tools are making it easier than ever to connect, especially through social media. You can bring your friends, teachers and family together to raise awareness and do their own part for the environment. Utilize Vote Earth to take the pledge to vote for climate candidates . The global initiative has already mobilized millions of people who wish to show their concern for the Earth and demand change at the polls. Sign up on the website to pledge to vote for candidates who support sustainability in your next election, and you’ll have the option to receive automatic email reminders to vote. + Earth Day Images via Carl Heyerdahl , University of Michigan School of Environment and Sustainability , Arek Adeoye , U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region

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Cool, California ranch house in San Francisco is a sustainable gem

April 17, 2020 by  
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San Francisco-based firm Malcolm Davis Architecture  has managed to combine the cool vibe of Cali design with the energy-saving principles of  sustainable living . Their latest design is a modern ranch home that was built using reclaimed materials and boasts several active and passive strategies that reduce the home’s environmental impact. According to the architects, the design for the beautiful home was inspired by Northern California’s stunning landscape. From the beginning, the team worked to establish an eco-friendly approach when it came to protecting the home’s  natural vegetation . As one of the first steps, the team worked in collaboration with  Ground Studio Landscape Architecture  to ensure that the existing redwood and oak trees found on site would be protected during the construction process. Additionally, the landscape architects added an olive grove just steps away from the home. Related: Reclaimed wood home resembles barns in Sonoma Valley The home’s construction itself also followed a sustainable outline that included repurposed materials and passive elements. Instead of demolishing the existing home that was on site to make way for the new design, for example, the team carefully dismantled the building materials to be re-used in the new design. As such, the new home was built using salvaged lumber  and several other repurposed building materials such as brick and glass. A green walkway leads up to the one-story ranch, which is flanked on both sides by massive walls of sliding glass doors. On one side, the doors lead into a charming interior courtyard, while on the other side, the doors lead out to the heart of the home — an outdoor patio with a swimming pool. Throughout the interior spaces, the home boasts a stunningly modern, but casual design that focuses on letting the homeowners enjoy a casual, indoor-outdoor lifestyle. The combination of bright white walls, large swaths of glass,  exposed concrete  (used on the flooring and walls) and wooden accents gives the home a bright, healthy atmosphere. Concealed within the home’s stunning design are several sustainable elements. The home uses several  passive concepts  to reduce artificial energy use, such as orientating the home to make the most out of southern sun exposure. Additionally, the extended flat roof with overhangs shields the interior living space from the strong summer sun. The operable glass doors and ultra-large windows provide optimal cross ventilation for natural cooling throughout the home. In addition to its passive elements, the home uses several active elements as well. For example, the home was installed with a solar array to produce clean energy, and solar thermal panels heat the home’s water supply and pool water. The home also has an integral  greywater harvesting system  that reroutes rainwater to be used to flush toilets and irrigate the landscaping. + Malcolm Davis Architecture Photography by Bruce Damonte Photography Via v2com

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Cool, California ranch house in San Francisco is a sustainable gem

In Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, the Avant Cycle Cafe builds community

February 6, 2020 by  
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It all started with a flat tire. A man cycling through Lake Geneva, Wisconsin was charmed by the historic town but really wished it had a bike shop to fix his flat. This cycling mishap has morphed into Avant Cycle Cafe , a community hub that combines a full-service bike shop with excellent coffee and pastries. “Cyclists have a natural inclination to coffee,” managers Ann Esarco and Andrew Gruber told Inhabitat. “When the two worlds came together, it was just a natural fit.” The city of Lake Geneva sits 10 miles north of the Illinois state line in southeastern Wisconsin. Its population of about 7,700 swells in summer, when droves of people from Chicago come for boating and other warm-weather sports. The architecture is another draw. The area saw an upsurge in construction at the end of the 19th century, and many Victorian mansions still stand. This makes the town and environs a compelling place to explore on foot or by bike. Local sourcing at Avant Cycle Cafe The cafe’s menu focuses on hot drinks and treats. Avant Cycle Cafe serves cider made from locally grown apples and has a case full of baked goods. Don’t expect to just order a regular coffee. You can choose from drip, pour over or French press, plus the full range of espresso drinks. You might also be surprised to find that a cafe in a small town in the famous dairy state of Wisconsin offers almond, soy, oat and coconut milk alternatives . Related: San Francisco bike shop lets you trade in car for e-bike This is no ordinary coffee, either. Avant Cycle Cafe sources its beans from Lake Geneva Coffee Roastery . Owner Jeremiah Fox started roasting his own coffee on his stovetop in 2012. Now, the coffee entrepreneur, who is visually impaired, uses his other senses — hearing, taste and smell — to fine-tune his commercial roast profiles. Talking timers and special tactile points on the controls of his machinery allow him to adjust the air flow and temperature for his small-batch coffee. Fox uses electricity for a clean air process, versus roasting with gas, which pollutes both the beans and the air with hydrogen sulfide. According to Fox, his process also makes for coffee that’s easier on customers’ stomachs. Building a cycling community Tourism is seasonal. While some people do visit in winter, summer is high season for Lake Geneva. Avant Cycle Cafe values its summer customers and is happy when they return for more coffee and another bike rental. Both tourists and locals join a series of summer Sunday breakfast rides, where groups pedal together to area restaurants, diners and cafes . The rides are casual with a no-drop policy, meaning nobody gets left behind. Once, the group rode out to see Fox’s coffee roasting operation in the nearby town of Elkhorn. The rides are usually 12 to 15 miles each way. Avant Cycle Cafe believes in cultivating local community year-round, not just when the sun is shining and tourists fill hotel beds. “Our locals are fantastic,” Esarco and Gruber said. They even have one customer who comes in three times a day. In addition to the cafe and bike shop, an upstairs area called The Loft is a rustic, bright and cozy room open to customers for studying and relaxing. It can also be reserved for private events like engagement parties, bridal showers and youth group meetings. This year, Avant Cycle Cafe is hosting a weekly Tuesday night program called 13 Weeks of Winter. “It’s an effort to engage the community in providing entertaining and enriching activities when most people aren’t even thinking of cycling,” Esarco and Gruber explained. While some topics are very on-point, such as a talk by cycling icon Lon Haldeman, an intro to bike maintenance and learning opportunities about the history of coffee, others draw on the community’s wider expertise. Local art gallery ReVive Studio will lead a mosaic pendant class in March. Another night, people can come for Reiki healing. The Chili for Charity contest brought together 10 local restaurants and recently raised more than $1,000 for local organizations. As Esarco and Gruber put it, “Cycling and coffee is just the meeting ground. The community expands out from there.” What’s next for biking in Lake Geneva? Workers at Avant Cycle Cafe are actively making Lake Geneva a better biking town. They’ve begun working with the national Rails to Trails Conservancy, which takes disused railroad tracks and converts them to multi-use trails for hiking and cycling. They are also lobbying elected officials to incorporate bikes into urban planning . “Our aim is to include a marked bike lane on the renovations to Highway 120 from just outside Lake Geneva to the White River State Trail ,” Esarco and Gruber said. This 19-mile trail follows a former rail corridor and is only a few miles from Lake Geneva, so a marked bike lane would greatly improve safe access. Avant Cycle Cafe just started selling and servicing e-bikes , which could give some would-be cyclists an extra boost of confidence. This summer, the cafe will also be offering private, guided tours around the lake. “It’s been wonderful to be in a position to get more people on bikes, having fun and riding around beautiful Lake Geneva,” Esarco and Gruber said. “We want to make Lake Geneva the place to be for cyclists.” + Avant Cycle Cafe Photography by Teresa Bergen / Inhabitat

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