Going plastic neutral: Footprints, credits and offsets

September 14, 2020 by  
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Going plastic neutral: Footprints, credits and offsets What does it mean for companies to go “plastic neutral” and what will it take to scale, track and standardize effective plastic-offsetting infrastructure? From Norway to Microsoft, companies and countries alike have been making headlines with sweeping commitments to go carbon neutral. But what about going “plastic neutral”? Much like carbon neutrality, its plastics counterpart will require a significant reduction of outputs. But as companies work to shift supply chains and develop infrastructure to achieve ambitious plastics-reduction goals, offsets could offer a near-term approach to lightening a company’s plastic footprint. From tools to calculate plastic footprints, to a standardized system for plastics credits, to on-the-ground projects and partnerships with informal waste workers, several organizations are developing critical elements of an effective and impact-oriented plastic-offsetting system. Learn how these trailblazers are partnering to establish a market for plastic waste, and how your company can support their efforts while advancing your plastic reduction or neutrality goals. Speakers Kristin Hughes, Director, Global Plastic Action Partnership, Member of the Executive Commit, World Economic Forum Svanika Balasubramanian, Co-Founder & CEO, rePurpose Julianne Baroody, Director, Standards Development, Verra Nick McCulloch, Senior Manager, Sustainability, Rubicon Global Holly Secon Mon, 09/14/2020 – 11:23 Featured Off

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Painting wind turbines may reduce bird collisions and deaths

August 27, 2020 by  
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A new study published in the journal Ecology and Evolution shows that painting one blade on a wind turbine black may reduce bird deaths at wind farms by up to 70%. For a long time, organizations, such as the Royal Society For The Protection of Birds (RSPB), have been championing for more care when it comes to setting up wind power plants to avoid the deaths of birds through collisions. This study could reveal a simple solution. Although wind farms provide one of the cleanest sources of energy , they are tainted by the effects of the turbines on birds. It is common for birds to collide with the turbines and die on the spot. The study now shows that if the blades of turbines are painted black, the rate of accidents could greatly decrease. The study was conducted off the coast of Norway; the location is home to the Smøla plant, where six to nine white-tailed eagles are killed annually. Related: US and Canada in drastic crisis with 3 billion birds lost since 1970 According to Roel May, researcher at the Norwegian Institute of Nature Research and one of the authors of the study, wind power negatively impacts wild bird populations. “Collision of birds, especially raptors, is one of the main environmental concerns related to wind energy development,” May said. The main purpose of the study was to find out if there are any mitigating measures that could reduce the collisions. The researchers found that if one of the main rotor blades is painted black, it reduces the motion smear, making the blades visible to birds when they are in motion. While the findings are promising, the study authors warn that more research still has to be done. The new study provides a platform for more studies to explore the possibility of reducing bird deaths at renewable energy plants. “Although we found a significant drop in bird collision rates, its efficacy may well be site- and species-specific,” May explained. “At the moment there exists interest to carry out tests in the Netherlands and in South Africa.” Further studies will need to be carried out in diverse locations to determine the viability of such a move in different areas and on specific bird species. Members of RSPB are also championing for establishing wind power farms in safer locations, where there are no large populations of birds. + Ecology and Evolution Via BBC Image via Matthias Böckel

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Painting wind turbines may reduce bird collisions and deaths

Surprising ways seaweed benefits the environment

August 19, 2020 by  
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While the news often mentions the terrible things in the sea, such as gyres of plastic and other trash, the oceans also hold an extremely valuable resource: seaweed. This renewable and easily harvestable organism is used for everything from food to spa treatments to a possible  COVID-19 medicine. This eco-friendly ingredient also features in many common products, including paint, toothpaste, ice cream and beer. Farming seaweed People collect seaweed both wild and cultivated from seaweed  farms . Wild picking involves either wading into the seawater to gather the slippery crop or picking it up off the shoreline. Especially abundant harvests usually come post-storm when seaweed washes onshore. For centuries, people gathered seaweed using this traditional method. Nowadays, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, 96% of global seaweed production comes from farms instead of wild gathering. Depending on the type of seaweed grown, farming may involve attaching the seaweed to rope lines suspended in the sea just off the coast, or growing the seaweed in nets. Seaweed farming in Japan started in the 1600s, and the practice may date back to the 15th century in Korea. Other parts of Asia, including  China , Indonesia and the Philippines, also produce seaweed for food and other products. In the Philippines alone, about 40,000 people made their living from seaweed production in the late 90s. When it’s time to harvest seaweed, people in most seaweed-growing countries use boats and machinery like rakes or trawlers. While easier than hand collection, harvesting with these tools can adversely affect habitats and wreck sea animals’ homes. To combat this, farmers in Norway devised a rake method that only removes the floating top canopy of seaweed, this avoiding seabed disruption. Seaweed helping the environment Farming seaweed might even improve the sea’s health, according to findings from Chinese researchers in a 2019 issue of  Stochastic Environmental Research and Risk Assessment . Research found that seaweed aquaculture can help combat eutrophication, the process whereby water becomes so overly enriched with nutrients that it causes excessive algae growth and oxygen depletion. The study discovered that seaweed aquaculture removed more than 75,000 metric tons of nitrogen and more than 9,500 metric tons of phosphate from coastal waters. Seaweed aquaculture also sequestered and absorbed a large amount of CO2 and released more than a million metric tons of oxygen. As a natural filter, seaweed helps remove pollutants from the environment; this does mean people should eat seaweed in moderation, though, as it can contain high levels of metals and iodine. In addition to keeping oceans healthy, seaweed also helps terrestrial farmers. When used as fertilizer, seaweed helps farmers avoid using nearly 30,000 tons of chemical fertilizers. Summarizing these benefits, the seaweed study’s authors wrote, “These results demonstrate that Chinese seaweed aquaculture has turned the  pollutants  that cause eutrophication into nutrients, which generates considerable environmental benefits as well as socio-economic values.” Seaweed in cosmetics and medicine Diverse parts of the world use seaweed in  cosmetics , too. Many Tanzanian women farm seaweed for export to China, Korea, Vietnam and other countries that use it as an ingredient in cosmetics and skincare products.  Even Ireland has harvested seaweed for hundreds of years. A 12th-century poem recounts how monks distributed edible seaweed to hungry poor people. In the early 20th century, the Irish coast housed nearly 300 seaweed bathhouses. You can still find some places in County Sligo to take a traditional seaweed bath. “This is our traditional spa treatment,” said Neil Walton, owner of Voya Seaweed Baths in the town of Strandhill. Scientists continue searching for more health benefits from  seaweed . The Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York has even explored using seaweed extract to treat COVID-19. This extract contains variations of heparin, a common anticoagulant. Though heparin usually comes from animal tissue, this seaweed alternative may become popular. If so, this could lower costs for seaweed as a biofuel resource. Seaweed as biofuel Seaweed aquaculture may also increase the use of biomass as  renewable energy . In 2015, biomass-derived energy accounted for about 5% of U.S. energy use . Biomass energy encompasses plant and animal-derived energy, such as food crop waste, animal farming, human sewage, wood or forest residue and horticultural byproducts. So far, seaweed as biofuel has garnered little commercial interest, and the market remains mostly unexplored. But the industry holds great potential. According to Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, a United States government agency that funds and promotes research and development of energy technologies, U.S. seaweed cultivation could reach 500 million tons and provide more energy than 23 billion gallons of gasoline. Seaweed farming paired with other industries Seaweed farming can also work with other industries, such as fish farming. Some environmental experts worry that open-sea fisheries negatively impact ecosystems due to the excess fish feed and fish feces floating in the water. Integrating seaweed production into fish farms could help reduce nitrogen  emissions  and break down other pollutants. A seaweed farm could also pair well with an offshore  wind farm . The first such operation is being built by Belgian-Dutch consortium Wier & Wind this year. The company plans to grow patches of seaweed for biofuel between large turbines 23 km off Zeebrugge in Belgium. This combination may lead to a genius symbiotic relationship. Seaweed production would make use of large open spaces between turbines, and the turbines would prevent ships from running over floating seaweed. Images via Pixabay,  Rich Brooks ,  Ronald Tagra  and  Gregg Gorman

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Trump administration furthers Arctic drilling plan

August 19, 2020 by  
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The Trump administration’s environmental protection rollbacks seem to now come daily. Today’s bad news? A plan to allow  oil  and gas companies to drill in Alaska’s so-far pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In 2017, a Republican tax bill opened part of the refuge to gas and oil leasing. Monday’s development pushed the plan further, aiming to sell the first drilling leases by the end of 2020. Many Republicans back the plan, despite opposition from environmental groups and Alaska’s Indigenous communities. Related: EPA loosens restrictions on methane emissions The over 19 million-acre refuge has long remained off-limits to development. Managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, most of the refuge is true wilderness, free from roads, trails and facilities, and open to the public for exploration. The few travelers who visit access the refuge by private planes and air taxis. Visitors may witness the Polar and grizzly bears , wolves, wolverines, caribou, beluga whales, musk oxen and walruses that call this area home. Though wildlife outnumbers people here, both the Gwich’in and Iñupiat people reside on and live off resources from the land.  Sometimes calling themselves “caribou people,” the Gwich’in have based their culture around these reindeer for centuries. The Gwich’in live in 15 villages across northeast  Alaska  and northwest Canada and have actively fought against gas and oil leasing. David Smith, a Gwich’in leader in Arctic Village, worries that the industries will harm caribou and change his nation’s way of life. “I would say this is like no other place on earth, so we shouldn’t be treated like any other place on earth,” Smith said in an interview with  Alaska Public Media . “I can drive in any direction and  hunt  freely. I can drive in any direction and go trapping.” Despite the recent news, the fight to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge continues. Still, environmental groups say that once companies buy drilling rights, it will be harder for future presidents to stop  Arctic  drilling. “The Trump administration never stops pushing to drill in the Arctic Refuge — and we will never stop suing them,” said Gina McCarthy, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “America has safeguarded the refuge for decades, and we will not allow the administration to strip that protection away now.” Via Thomson Reuters Foundation Image via U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters

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Elevated, green-roofed cabin minimizes impact on mountain in Norway

May 7, 2020 by  
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Designed by San Francisco- and Oslo-based firm Mork-Ulnes Architects , the Skigard Hytte Cabin in Norway features various openings on each side that allow the architects, who designed the cabin for themselves, to immerse themselves in the incredible, mountainous surroundings. The 1,500-square-foot cabin is resilient to the extreme weather and is elevated off the landscape to reduce its impact. To top it all off, the cabin is crowned with a lush green roof . Located close to the peak of the mountain, the beautiful wood cabin holds court west of Kvitfjell, a ski resort about 45 minutes north of Lillehammer. The pristine area is known for its skiing opportunities and is appreciated for its spectacular natural beauty. With a shared love of skiing and exploring the outdoors, architects Casper and Lexie Mork-Ulnes decided to build their dream cabin here. Related: Pinwheel-shaped timber cabin grows more beautiful over time Perched on a steep slope on thin CLT stilts to reduce its impact, the cabin was designed to pay homage to the area by using traditional building materials such as skigard , a cut log that is typically used for fencing by Norwegian farmers. The rough, diagonal facade gives the cabin a unique appearance throughout the year. But in the wintertime, snow falls and gathers within the log gaps, blending the Skigard Hytte Cabin into its surroundings. The cabin’s grass-covered rooftop is also a nod to the vernacular architecture , including the typical log house constructions found throughout Scandinavia in the 19th century. The sod roof moves with the wind, contrasting and complementing the cabin’s otherwise rigid exterior. The interior design is also Scandinavian in both appearance and materials. Throughout the cabin, the minimalist design features solid pine paneling. From nearly every angle, full-height glazing provides ample natural light and, of course, picturesque views. Spanning about 1,500 square feet, the cabin has three bedrooms and a spa, along with a guest annex. The main living area follows an open-plan layout housing the kitchen, dining area and lounge space. At the end of this area is the master bedroom and sauna . Walking through the other side of the home, the residents are greeted by a unique, open-air portal that leads to the guest annex. The annex offers breathtaking views of the mountain range and valleys below. + Mork-Ulnes Architects Via ArchDaily Photography by Bruce Damonte, Juan Benavides and Tor Ivan Boine via Mork-Ulnes Architects

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Climate change could lead to dramatic decline in narwhals

May 6, 2020 by  
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Climate change is affecting everybody, even narwhals. These mysterious “unicorns of the sea” may decline by 25% by the end of this century, according to a new study . Narwhals are a type of Arctic-dwelling whale found only in the cold waters of Greenland, Canada, Norway and Russia. Their population currently numbers about 200,000. In winter, most narwhals spend up to 5 months beneath the sea ice. They are recognizable by a single long, spiral tusk, which is actually an enlarged tooth. Related: Arctic shipping routes could threaten “unicorns of the sea” Researchers from Denmark, Canada, Norway, Germany and the U.K. studied tissue samples from 121 narwhals, mostly collected between 1982 and 2012. Some were killed by Inuit hunters in Greenland and Canada. Other samples came from archaeological remains from digs in Russia and northern Europe. Researchers were even able to collect tiny samples from a throne chair featuring narwhal tusks in Denmark. “They had special access to be able to drill little tiny bits of tusk from that throne,” said Steven Ferguson, an Arctic marine mammal research scientist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and one of the study’s authors. These samples helped them learn more about narwhal DNA. Through a combination of DNA information and habitat modeling, the researchers investigated the impact of previous climate shifts on narwhal distribution and estimated what the future might hold for these creatures. Scientists confirmed that the world has three narwhal populations. Most live in two different groups off Canada’s northeastern coasts. The third population of about 10,000 lives off Greenland’s east coast, extending as far as Russia. The researchers were surprised to find that narwhals show the lowest genetic diversity in any marine mammal studied. They weren’t sure why this is. As sea ice melts because of global warming , the narwhals’ habitats will shrink, and the animals will probably move northward. But as they are crowded into a smaller habitat, they’ll become more vulnerable to human encroachment, competition for food, new diseases and orca predation. Unlike other polar mammals, narwhals are only found in very limited locales. “They really seem to have this Atlantic Ocean habitat,” Ferguson said. “So there’s an open question as to what might happen as we continue to lose sea ice.” + Royal Society Publishing Via Forbes and The Narwhal

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Half-buried home in Brazil is crafted from rammed earth

May 6, 2020 by  
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On a windswept hill a three-hour drive from São Paulo, Brazilian architecture firm Arquipélago Arquitetos has completed the House in Cunha, a low-lying, contemporary home that is primarily built of locally sourced rammed earth. To protect the building from the cold, prevailing winds, the architects partly buried the structure into the earth and repurposed the excavated soil as construction material for the building walls. The thick, earthen walls and the building’s sunken position also provide the benefit of thermal mass to help maintain comfortable and stable interior temperatures year-round. The design for House in Cunha takes inspiration from the surrounding landscape and the region’s traditional culture for ceramic crafts. Set atop a hill, the building is oriented for optimal views of the Mantiqueira Mountains, while its low-lying profile and rammed earth construction help blend it into the landscape. Related: Inspiring rammed earth hospital brings affordable care to rural Nepal The main walls of the home were constructed of rammed earth via a building technique that allows for easy assembly and disassembly. “All the characteristics of hardness, thermal inertia, color, brightness and tactile quality are factors due to the physical and chemical characteristics of that specific soil,” the architects noted. In addition to rammed earth construction, architects also used a local pottery technique to create straw-colored bricks for the remaining walls. Despite its use of traditional materials and construction techniques, the House in Cunha features a minimalist and contemporary design. The main living areas face north to take advantage of winter sunlight and open up to an L-shaped outdoor deck sheltered by deep roof overhangs. Large windows bring panoramic views and ample natural light indoors, while a mix of timber surfaces and brightly colored furnishings help create a cozy and welcoming atmosphere. The home also includes three bedrooms and two baths; the bedrooms face the northwest and also open up to the outdoor deck. + Arquipélago Arquitetos Photography by Federico Cairoli via Arquipélago Arquitetos

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Half-buried home in Brazil is crafted from rammed earth

Self-sustaining Ugandan surgical facility provides healthcare to underserved areas

January 21, 2020 by  
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In an inspiring example of humanitarian architecture, Kliment Halsband Architects teamed up with Mount Sinai Surgery in New York to create the Mount Sinai Kyabirwa Uganda Surgical Facility, a prototype for an independent, self-sustaining ambulatory surgical facility. According to the architects, roughly 5 billion people lack any form of safe or affordable surgery, leading to millions of deaths annually worldwide. In response, the architects created a modular, easily replicable surgical facility to provide ambulatory surgical procedures for underserved populations in resource-poor regions. Located in Kyabirwa, a rural village near the equator in Uganda, the Mount Sinai Kyabirwa Uganda Surgical Facility is located on a site that originally lacked potable water, reliable electricity, internet or adequate sanitary facilities. To keep construction simple, the architects used a modular and minimally invasive design inspired by locally available materials. Taking advantage of the area’s abundance of red clay, the architects used locally sourced and fired bricks and cladding tiles for the main structure and topped it with a wavy roof reminiscent of the nearby White Nile. Related: Snøhetta designs healing forest cabins for patients at Norway’s largest hospitals Uninterrupted power is provided by 75 kWp solar panels installed atop the wavy roof, Li-Lead Acid Hybrid battery storage, an onsite generator and intermittent power from the grid. The team also installed 20 miles of underground cabling with fiberoptic service to provide critical internet connection for telemedicine links to Mount Sinai Surgery in New York, where doctors provide advanced surgical consultation and real-time operating room video conferencing. Gravity tanks with a filter and sterilization system store well water and intermittently available town water on-site, while water from a graywater system is recycled for toilet flushing and irrigation. The building relies primarily on natural ventilation and is not air conditioned with the exception of the operating rooms. “The primary reason for the limited availability of surgical treatments in underserved parts of the world is the belief that surgery is either too expensive or too complicated to be broadly available,” reads the project’s client statement. “We believe that surgical treatments are essential to building healthy communities worldwide and that surgical therapies need not be complex or expensive. This model is built around developing an independent, self-sustaining facility capable of providing surgical treatments in resource-poor areas.” + Kliment Halsband Architects Photography by Bob Ditty and Will Boase via Kliment Halsband Architects

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Snhetta-designed center may provide a rare look inside the worlds largest seed vault

November 7, 2019 by  
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Snøhetta has unveiled preliminary designs for The Arc, a proposed visitor center for Arctic preservation storage on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, a remote island north of the Arctic Circle. Commissioned by Arctic Memory AS, the visitor center will provide a digital glimpse inside the Svalbard Global Seed Vault — the world’s largest secure seed storage — as well as a look at the contents of the Arctic World Archive, a vault for preserving the world’s digital heritage. Powered by solar energy, The Arc will not only educate visitors about the importance of resource preservation but will also inspire a call to action on global warming. Located in Longyearbyen, The Arc — named in reference to its location in the Arctic — will comprise two visually distinct volumes: an entrance building and an exhibition building. Built of cross-laminated timber and clad in charred wood and dark glass, the low-lying entrance building will house a lobby, ticketing, wardrobe and a cafe as well as facilities for the Arctic World Archive and technical rooms. The building will also be elevated off the ground to prevent heating of permafrost and snow accumulation, and it will be topped with rooftop solar panels. Related: Rising temperatures are putting the Global Seed Vault at risk In contrast to the dark entrance building, the exhibition building will be tall and conical with an all-white facade that looks as though it were formed by the forces of erosion. The exhibition building is connected to the entrance building via a glass access bridge that provides views of the towering geological formations to the south as well as a stunning landscape to the north. The vertical vault of the exhibition building houses a powerful digital archive with permanent and temporary exhibits and an environment that mimics the experience of being inside one of the real vaults. Visitors can experience the vaults’ contents via wall projections managed with touchscreens, VR experiences and other physical and digital exhibit elements. At the heart of the vault is the ceremony room, a conditioned auditorium with a large deciduous tree symbolizing the vegetation that once grew on Svalbard millions of years ago when the temperatures were 5 to 8 degrees Celsius higher. “At the current rate of carbon emissions, temperatures could rise high enough for a forest to grow again on Svalbard within only 150-200 years,” the architects said. “The tree in the ceremony room is both a symbol of the past and a call to action — a living icon for global warming and our responsibility to preserve the Arctic, and all of nature, for future generations.” + Snøhetta Images via Snøhetta and Plomp

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Snhetta-designed center may provide a rare look inside the worlds largest seed vault

A Tourist’s-Eye View of Norway’s Green Lifestyle

July 25, 2019 by  
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Norway has a strong environmental reputation. Oslo’s aggressive climate change … The post A Tourist’s-Eye View of Norway’s Green Lifestyle appeared first on Earth911.com.

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