The Akshar Foundation is creating sustainable schools to teach children important life skills

May 24, 2019 by  
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Based in Assam, India, the Akshar Foundation is on a mission to create a new type of sustainable school with its unique education model. The education reform initiative strives to create government schools that are eco-friendly, low-cost and centered in building the most successful environment for children to learn and grow. At the forefront of the school’s positive environmental impact is its recycling model. Instead of tuition, students pay “plastic school fees” by bringing in a minimum of 25 pieces of plastic from their homes or communities each week. Most of these plastic items are non-recyclable and would otherwise be destined for a landfill. Instead, the school staff and students find creative ways to reuse the plastic throughout the campus. While India doesn’t have nearly as much plastic use per capita compared to the United States, the country’s massive population (and the fact that 40 percent of plastic waste is neither collected nor recycled) means that India still produces enough plastic to pollute its oceans and rivers substantially. Luckily, thanks to the country’s recent bans on single-use plastics, along with innovative organizations like the Akshar Foundation, India is beginning to fight back against plastic pollution. Related: India plans to eliminate single-use plastic by 2022 Clean plastic waste is collected by the children, who can take items that would otherwise be thrown out from their own homes or collect plastic from around their communities. The material is then separated and cleaned, and the plastic bottles are compacted with other plastic materials, such as plastic bags and packets, to create a “brick.” These “eco-bricks” are used to construct things for the school, everything from toilets to flower planters, to save money and teach the students important vocational skills. The kids learn how to make the bricks, mix the cement and learn the construction skills necessary to build with and reuse recycled materials. In addition to the recycling program and regular curriculum, students are trained in sustainable subjects such as gardening , carpentry and solar tech. The foundation plans to eventually implement irrigation, electronics and lighting into the educational program to supplement the Akshar Landscaping Enterprise as well. Through this program, students are taught to run a profitable business in the landscaping industry and how to beautify public spaces, all while connecting with nature. India accounts for over one-third of the world’s rabies-related deaths, most of which are spread by the large number of stray dogs that live on the country’s streets. The school runs a campus animal shelter in order to bring awareness to the street animal crisis. The students and faculty sheltered, cared for and found homes for 20 dogs in the first year of the program. The children play a part in the medical care for the dogs, as well as caring for them while they are recovering from medical procedures before finding them forever homes. Students are able to learn basic medical skills thanks to this program. Akshar schools enable a “meta-teaching” program so that each student has access to personalized, private tutoring to supplement regular lessons. Each younger child is mentored by an older student who has been trained to tutor, all while being guided by an adult teacher. Related: Green school in Bali shows students how to live sustainably Children in India are often motivated to quit school out of pressure to earn an income and help their families, resulting in about 47 million students dropping out of school by the 10th grade throughout the country. Akshar has this covered, too. The foundation pays students to work part-time at the school to supplement their learning, with wages based on academic level and teaching skill (meaning students are motivated to improve grades even more). With sponsorship from the Motivation for Excellence Nalanda Project , Akshar students have access to the latest technology to aid in their learning. Student teachers are able to utilize tech such as tablets to add an extra resource to tutoring and mentoring. Younger students are therefore able to familiarize themselves with technology and be taught by a peer who is closer to them in age in addition to an adult teacher. All students take part in the secondary curriculum that combines abstract learning with practical life skills. Some examples include pairing carpentry with mathematics, solar technology with physics, embroidery with economics, teaching with psychology, recycling with ecology and landscaping with biology. Through these inventive school models, the Akshar Foundation hopes to arm its students with skills that will help them in all aspects of life. In addition to gaining experience in the usual subjects of math and science, children learn empathy, responsibility, sustainability and cooperation. The flagship 100-student school, Akshar Forum, serves as a “testing ground” for teaching methods that will eventually spread to more and more schools throughout the country in the coming years. By implementing a fellowship program, government schools will have the chance to learn Akshar’s innovative education design for a period of two years by a trained fellow. Partners for the school include the United Nations, The Education Alliance and the Education Research & Development Foundation. Learn more about the Akshar Foundation by visiting its website . + Akshar Foundation Images via Akshar Foundation

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The Akshar Foundation is creating sustainable schools to teach children important life skills

Labour Party launches solar panel program for 1.75M homes

May 17, 2019 by  
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Britain’s Labour Party has announced a major new green program, pledging to install solar panels on up to 1.75 million government-subsidized and low-income houses. In what has been called the start of a U.K. version of America’s Green New Deal , the goal of the project is to radically address climate change while creating green jobs. The Labour Party will provide free solar panels to one million government-subsidized homes and offer grants and interest-free loans for panels on up to 750,000 additional low-income homes. The panels will be enough to power the homes, providing residents with free electricity and savings of approximately $150 USD per year. Any additional electricity produced from the panels will return to the national grid, which the party says will become publicly owned by local authorities. The program will also provide nearly 17,000 jobs in the renewable energy  industry. Related: Britain celebrates first week without coal power since 1882 When completed, the 1.75 million solar-powered homes will reduce electricity-related carbon emissions by 7.1 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, which is equivalent to taking four million cars off the road. Like the Green New Deal, the Labour Party’s green revolution promises to benefit low-income people and spur economic growth. This so-called “just transition” provides democratic access to energy sources at affordable prices as well as support for current employees of carbon-emitting industries to gain skills in green industries like renewable energy and technology . The program is led by Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, who said , “By focusing on low-income households, we will reduce fuel poverty and increase support for renewable energy. Social justice and climate justice as one. Environmental destruction and inequality not only can, but must be tackled at the same time.” Critics of the program, however, argue that solar panels on private residences are a distraction from addressing and regulating large-scale carbon polluters . Via The Guardian Image via Pixabay

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Labour Party launches solar panel program for 1.75M homes

A Dutch village inspired the design of this solar-powered home

May 16, 2019 by  
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Within a cluster of traditional Dutch homes in The Hague, local firm Global Architects  designed a single-family home that stands out from its neighbors with its contemporary design, yet relates to the surroundings with a layout that references the concept of a village. Aptly named the Hidden Village, the modern home also distinguishes itself with its use of energy efficient technologies that span passive solar principles to the use of solar panels and an air-heat pump. As a potential forever home, the all-electric home emphasizes adaptability so that the rooms can be easily changed to fit different needs over time. With an area of 1,830 square feet, the Hidden Village offers a spacious environment for a family of four— two adults and two children— across two floors. To give each family member a sense of privacy while allowing them to have direct contact with one another, the architects organized the house around a central technical core that’s surrounded by living rooms, which have access to the outdoors. The upper floor consists of three bedrooms, a bathroom and a play space; the flex room on the ground floor can be used as a bedroom for visiting grandparents. The home features views of the outdoors and carries a strong theme of indoor/ outdoor living emphasized not only with outdoor decks and large walls of glass, but also with internal windows that frame views from room to room, as well as a balcony on the mezzanine. “Hidden Village has been designed by Global Architects as a total concept in which the design of the exterior, interior and outdoor space are fully aligned and reinforce each other,” the architects explain in their press release. “The entire design is a relationship between an open space, characterized by a playful composition of skylights, and the different functional rooms that enter it.” Related: Fabulous multigenerational home allows owners to comfortably age in place Hidden Village also prioritizes energy efficiency. In addition to ample natural lighting, the house is built with passive building blocks with insulation RC values of 9. Eco-friendly spray cladding is used on the facade and combined with dark gray aluminum frames, triple glazing  and Western Red Cedar slats for a contemporary appearance. Solar rooftop panels, a heat recovery system and an air-heat pump power the home. + Global Architects Images via Global Architects

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A Dutch village inspired the design of this solar-powered home

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

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

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

Designer creates algae-sourced alternative for plastic packaging

February 27, 2019 by  
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Food packaging has a become a target in the world of sustainability and environmentalism. Walk down the aisle of any supermarket or look in your own shopping cart, and you’re likely to see package after package made from petroleum-based plastic. A few resourceful scientists and engineers have chosen to tackle the problem, including designer Margarita Talep, who has developed an algae-based alternative to plastic. With the short lifecycle of most packaging, Talep wanted to create a material that would stand up to the task of holding food and other products but break down quickly once it hit the waste stream. Related: Nuatan is the bioplastic that could answer the plastic pollution crisis Agar, a gel-like substance sourced from seaweed, is not new to the food world, as it is commonly used as a food thickener. With that understanding, Talep heats the agar to create a polymer and then adds water as a plasticizer and natural dyes for color. To achieve the goal of all-natural ingredients, natural dyes are sourced from fruits and vegetables such as beets, carrots, blueberries and purple cabbage. After the mixture of agar and other ingredients is heated, it is cooled, a process that transforms it into a gel. At this point, the mixture is turned into thin plastic or poured into molds to cool. By adjusting the ingredients, Talep has created a firm material that will mold into shapes, such as the trays that a package of donuts sit in. The technique is versatile enough that it can also create a replacement for plastic bags, like those pasta is sold in. With the overarching goal of replacing single-use , disposable packaging, the algae packaging breaks down naturally within two to three months during warm summer months, depending on the thickness of the material. In the colder winter months, the material still breaks down, but requires a few extra weeks. + Margarita Talep Images via Margarita Talep

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Designer creates algae-sourced alternative for plastic packaging

The sustainable wardrobe: its more accessible than you think

January 29, 2019 by  
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When it comes to making sure our homes are eco-friendly, it is easy to neglect the closet. Your clothes, however, might just be the biggest culprit. All those synthetic fabrics will take over 200 years to fully decompose, and the microfibers often end up in the ocean and in the bellies of sea creatures. The fashion industry produces 20 percent of all wastewater, and the amount of pollutants it emits is the second largest in the world (the first is oil). This is all while generating 10 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined total from all international flights and maritime shipping. So what can you do to build a more sustainable wardrobe? First and foremost, educate yourself. Before you do anything, learn why you’re doing it. Start out by doing some research to figure out what your biggest priority is. Vegan and cruelty-free? Non-toxic materials? Organic materials? Do you care more about what the clothes are made out of, or who made the clothes? Arming yourself with information makes it easier to make better decisions for yourself and the environment. Support ethical businesses The rise of fast fashion has brought about high demand for cheap, trendy clothing items. The cost of manufacturing these inexpensive clothes has led many factories to turn toward cheap labor and sweatshops in developing countries — often with dangerous work conditions on unlivable wages. When you do purchase clothes, read the label and see where it was made. If you’re not sure about the country, opt for the U.S. and the U.K. where the labor laws are more strict and regulated. Invest in higher quality, eco-friendly fabrics Growing materials for certain fabrics take a heavier toll on the planet, so buying clothes made from natural materials like organic cotton, linen or hemp can help offset the environmental impacts. Not only do certain fabric materials take huge amounts of water to grow, but the chemicals used to rid these crops of pests also seep down into the soil and natural water supply. The upside is that not all crops are grown this way. Organic cotton is grown without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. Hemp is versatile, strong and requires much fewer pesticides or fertilizers to grow. Linen, made from flax, demands less water and energy sources, and it is naturally biodegradable. Related: Faux fur or real fur, which one is better for the planet? Don’t throw clothes away This seems simple enough, but it’s surprising just how many pieces of clothing end up in the trash every year. In 2015, there were 10.5 million tons of textiles in landfills, and many of those were synthetic fibers that don’t decompose. When a favorite piece of clothing gets torn, mend it up rather than tossing it in the trash — you’ll save more money, too! Not a master sewer? Take it to a tailor. If you really want to get rid of something, take it to a donation center or thrift store. Or, try a clothing swap with a friend — you’ll both get new pieces for your wardrobes without anything ending up in the trash can. Related: Eco-friendly options for decluttering waste Shop vintage and thrift When it comes to fashion, choose timeless over trendy. Buy clothes that will work year-round rather than just for a season. Think multi-purposefully. Most importantly, don’t think that being on a budget means limiting yourself to cheap clothes or fast fashion trends. Shop mindfully Stop to ask yourself: do I need this, or do I just want it? There’s a big difference there. If you really need something new for a wedding or special event, buy with purpose. Don’t just go into a store to shop for nothing in particular, or you’ll most definitely end up with something you don’t need. Also, if you buy items that are more versatile, it will actually help you in the long run. You’ll have more outfit choices and less clutter to worry about in your closet. Take good care of the clothes you have Using a lower temperature in your washing is not only less damaging to fabrics, but it’s a win for the environment, too. Heating accounts for 90 percent of the energy used from doing a load of laundry. If you can swing it, skip the dryer altogether and hang-dry your clothes (of course, this works better in a dry, warm climate). You can also try washing your clothes in larger batches, because this will waste less water and electricity. Consider switching to an eco-friendly brand of detergent as well. Keep an eye out for ones that are biodegradable , phosphate-free and made from plant-derived ingredients. The better shape your clothes are in, the longer they will last. Related: How to decode confusing labels on common household cleaners DIY Here’s the good news: there are more ways to express your personal style than buying clothes. Learn to make your own accessories or bags; it might turn into a fun new hobby or a skill you never knew you had! Rather than throwing old clothes away, repurpose them into something new. Old T-shirts make great dusting rags, and soft materials like cotton can be made into pillowcases or quilts. Check out these great ideas for recycling old clothes from DIY for Life. Images via Charles Etoroma , MNZ , Prudence Earl , Raw Pixel , Peggy and Marco Lachmann-Anke , Egle and Shutterstock

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The sustainable wardrobe: its more accessible than you think

This luxurious tiny home is powered by Southern Californian sunshine

January 15, 2019 by  
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Who says a tiny house can’t be luxurious? Certainly not David Latimer and Taylor Mallon of New Frontier Tiny Homes, designers of this comfortable and alluring solar-powered tiny home. The contemporary farmhouse style of the Orchid House allows for off-grid living without sacrificing comfort, and it is entirely powered by solar energy. Though it was built in Nashville, the Orchid House currently resides on an undeveloped piece of property in Southern California . The owner is an LA-based artist who decided a tiny house was the best option for the remote space. The structure is built on wheels, so it can be moved easily for relocation or emergencies (like wildfires, from which it recently had to be saved). Related: Breathtakingly beautiful tiny home is surprisingly luxurious inside The structure is wholly powered by the famous Southern Californian sunshine. Both the siding and the roof of the house are made of the same dimensional cedar. The designer used an intricate process to give the roof a floating appearance inspired by Scandinavian architecture . The inside walls and ceiling of this beautiful tiny home are made of maple plywood, except for inside the bathroom, which is made entirely of tile and mirrors. The floor is solid oak and all the furniture is walnut. New Frontier Tiny Homes custom-built all of the furniture except for the kitchen table and chairs, which are from West Elm. A combination of floor-to-ceiling windows and skylights brings  natural light into the entire dwelling. A garage door allows for the opening up of the entire wall as well, so there’s a sense of openness between the interior and the natural environment outside. The designers’ love of clean lines inspired the storage, which is completely hidden. The open-floor plan makes room for a guest area, and the loft has space for a lavish king-sized bed. The restroom features a full-sized shower and “The Rolls Royce of non-flushable toilets ,” according to the designers. The incinerator toilet ensures there are no pesky sewer or septic systems for the property, making it both uncomplicated and environmentally friendly. As gorgeous as this home looks during the day, it is just as breathtaking at night. Inspired by a total solar eclipse witnessed in 2017, the designers used valence LED lighting strips to create a lovely glowing effect around the light fixtures and front porch. Each lighting strip can be dimmed and has a separate switch. + New Frontier Tiny Homes Via Dwell Photography by StudioBuell Photography via New Frontier Tiny Homes

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This luxurious tiny home is powered by Southern Californian sunshine

California approves rule to require solar panels on new houses

December 12, 2018 by  
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The California Building Standards Commission has given its final approval to a new housing rule that is the first of its kind in the United States. Starting in 2020, the commission is requiring that all new homes built in the state include solar panels. “These provisions really are historic and will be a beacon of light for the rest of the country,” said commissioner Kent Sasaki. “[It’s] the beginning of substantial improvement in how we produce energy and reduce the consumption of fossil fuels .” Related: California waters could open soon to offshore wind farms In addition to the solar panel requirement, the new standard also includes an incentive for homeowners to add a high-capacity battery to their electrical system to store the sun’s energy. The rule does have an exemption for homes that are built in locations that are often in the shade. California has a history of setting trends across the country, and this new rule is the next step in the state’s progressive environmental policy. The state has a goal of sharply reducing greenhouse gas emissions and drawing all of its electricity from renewable energy sources. The California Energy Commission first endorsed the solar panel rule back in May as part of California’s Green Building Standards Code. This past week, the Building Standards Commission added the requirement with a unanimous vote. Drew Bohan, executive director of the energy commission, said that the homes built under the new rule should use about 50 percent less energy compared to previous standards. The new solar power requirement is for single-family homes and multi-family buildings up to three stories high. It will add about $10,000 to the upfront cost of a home, but the lower electricity bills should balance that out over time. Bohan said that over the course of a 30-year mortgage, a homeowner should save about $19,000. Homeowners will have the option of buying the panels outright, leasing them or taking part in a power purchase agreement with the home builder. Via NPR Image via Ulleo

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California approves rule to require solar panels on new houses

Minimalist TRIPTYCH house pulls the Quebec outdoors in

December 12, 2018 by  
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Nestled in the Laurentian Mountains about a hundred kilometers from Montreal is TRIPTYCH, a crisp and contemporary home that blurs the boundaries of indoor and outdoor living. Designed by Montreal-based architecture firm yh2 , the residence was built in the image of three interconnected pavilions fitted out in a natural material palette as well as full-height glazing to pull the forested landscape indoors. Envisioned as a “theatrical stage for the surrounding nature,” the sculptural abode was carefully situated and angled for optimized views accentuated by the roofs that slope upwards in three directions. Constructed over the span of two years in Wentworth-Nord, Quebec, TRIPTYCH includes 2,500 square feet of living space spread out across two floors. The main living spaces—comprising an open-plan kitchen, dining room, and living room—are centrally located on the first floor in addition to an office, spacious outdoor terrace, and a guest suite located in the west wing. The master bedroom, on the other hand, is found on the ground floor’s east wing beneath the living room and is separated from the interior parking garage on the east end by centrally located storage and utility rooms. “The architects designed this building with a classical triptych in mind,” explains the firm in their project statement. “It features a central piece, with direct views of Lac St-Cyr, and two side pavilions meant to be in more intimate contact with the nearby trees. The project is about the idea of fragmentation; it evolved from the desire to integrate three discrete shapes among existing trees on naturally sloping grounds.” The three pavilions are connected with two glassed-in passageways. Related: Decrepit lumberjack shack transformed into a beautiful retreat with minimal site impact Natural materials were predominately used in construction. Eastern cedar planks clad the exterior facade and continue into the entrance area to blur the line between the indoors and out. The interior walls and ceiling are mainly gypsum board or white cedar while the floors are white oak or polished concrete. Black aluminum casings on the wide patio doors and windows provide a pop of contrast against the light-colored wood. + yh2 Photo credit: Maxime Brouillet

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Minimalist TRIPTYCH house pulls the Quebec outdoors in

Solar-powered modular retreat design in Melbourne inspired by the local landscape

December 12, 2018 by  
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A family’s wish to spend time in a self-sufficient weekend home has resulted in a beautiful modular design. Located just southeast of Melbourne, the solar-powered Fish Creek Home is a prefab design, comprised of two Archiblox modules that boast various sustainable features that make the home completely energy efficient. The large home, which is 1,371 square feet, is clad in corrugated Colorbond in a slate grey color. A wooden pergola and wrap-around deck are made out of natural timber panels . Built to reduce impact on the landscape, the interior space is comprised of just two elongated modules, the main living area and the bedrooms. The sleeping module was oriented to the northwest to protect it from the wind. Strategic skylights allow for stunning night sky views. Butting up to a lush green forest, this part of the home is calm and quiet, the perfect atmosphere to enjoy a soak in the private outdoor bathtub that sits on the deck. Related: Australia’s first carbon-positive prefab house produces more energy than it consumes The living module was orientated to the North to make the most out of the amazing sea views. Multiple floor-to-ceiling glass facades and windows flood the interior living space with natural light . A pair of large sliding doors open up to a wrap around deck, creating a seamless connection between the indoors and outdoors. The two spaces are connected by sliding doors that can close to provide a noise barrier between the rooms. Additionally, closing the wall allows the home to minimize heat loss in the wintertime. The home’s beautiful design is not only pleasing to the eye, but also hides a powerhouse system of sustainability . The home runs on a rooftop solar power array. Operable windows and doors throughout the home provide optimal cross ventilation while a wood-burning fireplace keeps the energy use down in wintertime. Additionally, the home was installed with a rainwater collection system to reduce water waste. The landscaping around the home was left in its natural state, with expansive stretches of greenery that lead out to the sea. The homeowners plan to use this space to create a permaculture edible garden so that their home is 100 percent sustainable. + Archiblox Via Dwell Images via Archiblox

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Solar-powered modular retreat design in Melbourne inspired by the local landscape

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