Growing change: Can agriculture be good for the climate?

August 2, 2019 by  
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Regenerative farming practices can promote soil fertility. They also have the potential to build economic resilience on farms by buffering the risk from threats such as pests, diseases and climate shocks.

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Growing change: Can agriculture be good for the climate?

A global guide to ‘restoration hotspots’ for tropical rainforests

August 2, 2019 by  
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The five countries with the largest potential are Brazil, Indonesia, India, Madagascar and Colombia.

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A global guide to ‘restoration hotspots’ for tropical rainforests

Investors and companies push clean energy to the tipping point

August 1, 2019 by  
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State pension funds, religious institutions and major philanthropic foundations are calling for action, inspired by the urgency of the climate crisis and the potential for future returns.

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Investors and companies push clean energy to the tipping point

Can mass timber reform construction’s carbon footprint?

July 11, 2019 by  
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A new technique for building wooden mid- and high-rise buildings may unlock a critical strategy for reducing the construction industry’s massive carbon footprint. Although forestry, construction and climate experts disagree on the extent of its benefits, mass timber is a promising substitute for concrete and steel, materials that contribute 5 percent of global carbon emissions each. Buildings in general are responsible for 40 percent of all emissions and architects are calling this new green building technique “the next great disruption to the construction industry.” What is mass timber? In order to be considered ‘mass timber,’ buildings must use wood products (typically engineered panels) as the primary load-bearing structure. More than just wood-framed houses, mass timber is a more extensive building style that can be used for mid- and high-rise buildings. Builders can use a variety of woods, often from small trees, to create a strong structure where the wood grain is stacked perpendicularly to further fortify the building. Because of its versatility in terms of wood types, mass timber projects can be sourced sustainably by capitalizing on small and diseased trees that are cleared to manage forests and prevent wildfires. It also means that sourcing can be localized to further reduce carbon emissions during transportation. Although deforestation is a major concern around the world, forests in the United States are sustainably managed . A collaboration between the mass timber and sustainable forestry industries has the potential to support this budding construction industry niche with profound implications for fighting climate change. The benefits of mass timber The primary benefit of using wood instead of concrete and steel is the reduction in carbon emissions. Since concrete and steel emit greenhouse gases during production and transportation, it is believed that using locally sourced wood will reduce the overall carbon footprint of the building’s construction. In addition to a lower emission profile, wooden panels, posts and beams also sequester carbon . The wooden panels are lighter and stronger than steel and potentially could be made to be fireproof. Wooden interiors are naturally warming, so they also encourage energy efficiency and reduce heating bills. With rising popularity, especially in Europe and the northwestern U.S., the wooden interiors are also increasingly sought after as an aesthetically pleasing and trendy look. “Say the typical steel and concrete building has an emissions profile of 2,000 metric tons of CO2; with mass timber, you can easily invert so you are sequestering 2,000 tons of CO2,” architect Andrew Ruff said. “Instead of adding to climate change, you are mitigating climate change . That’s the goal.” Related: NYC passes landmark bill to cut carbon emissions of big buildings by 80% Furthermore, the construction process has multiple benefits when compared to traditional concrete and steel. For example, the construction process itself is quicker and quieter (making for happy neighbors during construction!), and the materials are less sensitive to weather fluctuations during building. “Mass timber is the future,” said Russ Vaagen , a fourth generation lumberman in Washington. “It has a lighter carbon footprint ; is at least 25 percent faster to build with and requires 75 percent fewer workers on the active deck; comes from forests that are renewable and that, in many cases, need thinning to reduce the danger of wildfire and disease; holds great promise as affordable housing; and even increases homeowners’ health and well-being, according to several studies of wood’s biophilic attributes.” Is mass timber just a passing trend? Not everyone is sold on mass timber’s benefits, or at least the extent to which this technique can impact climate change. Its trendiness has re-opened sawmills in Oregon and sent loggers back to work, but is it really all that it is cracked up to be? “We want to debunk the myth that mass timber is in any way, shape or form related to some kind of environmental benefit,” said John Talberth, president of the Center for Sustainable Economy in Portland. Related: 5 key benefits of green buildings on the environment and your lifestyle Most researchers agree that there is simply not enough data to make such large claims about the benefits of mass timber — nor enough data to prove it false. For example, the carbon sequestration calculations need to take into account the transportation, manufacturing and logging of all wood materials when making comparisons to concrete and steel emissions. According to a recent paper on forestry and climate mitigation, the forest product industry is Oregon’s No. 1 contributor of carbon emissions, so it is not exactly a clean industry. Furthermore, the wooden beams would need to be reused beyond the predicted life of the building itself in order for the carbon sequestration benefits to be realized, because the decomposition of wood also emits carbon dioxide . Mark Wishnie of The Nature Conservancy explained, “To really understand the potential impact of the increased use of mass timber on climate, we need to conduct a much more detailed set of analyses.” Living up to sustainability promises Forestry experts contend that the rapid growth in popularity of the mass timber industry must be married with sustainable forestry initiatives, such as certification standards, to ensure that the harvest, manufacturing and transportation processes are environmentally friendly, transparent and included in more accurate cost-benefit analyses. Major environmental advocates, including the Audubon Society and Sierra Club, wrote a letter of concern to government representatives in Oregon, expressing doubts and recommending more cautious support. The letter also explicitly endorsed the need for certification standards. The letter said, “Without such a requirement, the city may be encouraging the already rampant clear-cutting of Oregon’s forests … In fact, because it can utilize smaller material than traditional timber construction, it may provide a perverse incentive to shorten logging rotations and more aggressively clear-cut.” Via Yale Environment 360 Images via Shutterstock

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Can mass timber reform construction’s carbon footprint?

Poland Spring pledges 100% recycled bottles by 2022

June 5, 2019 by  
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This week, Nestlé Waters North America promised that its Poland Spring brand would start using 100 percent recycled bottles by 2022. The announcement is part of Nestlé’s larger pledge to increase recycled bottle use and has the potential to significantly boost the recycled plastic industry. According to the $247 billion corporation, 25 percent of all its water products will use the recycled bottles by 2021, and 50 percent will use recycled bottles by 2050. The Poland Spring brand has a huge market share in the U.S. and will amount to a significant amount of recycled bottles used annually. Related: New report reveals 70 million metric tons of plastic burned worldwide each year “We spent a lot of time designing these bottles to ensure that they move efficiently and effectively through the recycling value web. We want the bottle back,” said chief sustainability officer David Tulauskas. Tulauskas also noted that because of discrepancies in recycling programs and compliance in different cities across the country, the recycled bottle program has been difficult to streamline and roll out. Cities with stricter recycling policies actually make the process more complex, because the recycled plastic buyer must rely on consumers taking the proper measures to clean the plastic and place it in the proper recycling stream. The buying power of Poland Spring will boost the confidence and dependability of recycled plastic producers. Without secured buyers, these facilities do not have the motivation nor reliable cash flow to increase production. Poland Spring’s interest and investment in the industry has the potential to increase the amount of food-grade, high-quality PET plastic produced, which is the type of plastic needed for bottles. “They need confidence that we’re going to buy from them for the long term to make sure that it’s worthwhile for them to make the investment,” Tulauskas explained to CNN . Last year, Americans used 50 billion plastic water bottles and only recycled 23 percent of them. That means that approximately $1 billion in recyclable plastic is wasted every year when it could be re-routed back to companies to quench the thirst for plastic next year. + Nestlé Via The Hill and CNN Image via Mike Mozart

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Poland Spring pledges 100% recycled bottles by 2022

Designers recycle aluminum production waste into functional ceramic decor

March 25, 2019 by  
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The red clay ceramics produced by the design team at Royal College of Art and Imperial College London may look like the creation of any standard potter. However, these are not your everyday bowls and teapots. In fact, they are the result of a process that uses a by-product from aluminum production that transforms the so-called red mud into a raw material suitable for making kitchen wares. Bauxite residue is a by-product from the refining of alumina, which is a precursor to the process we know as aluminum production. It is not an insignificant by-product either. In fact the process creates bauxite residue at twice the rate of the amount of aluminum produced from it. Around the world, the watery red material is left behind in huge pools of abandoned waste so the team of scientists and designers decided to find a way to make use of it. Designers Guillermo Whittembury, Joris Olde-Rikkert, Kevin Rouff, and Luis Paco Bockelmann were excited to dive into the potential of the otherwise neglected by-product, hoping they could find practical applications for it. To discover the potential of the discarded substance, the team paired up with material experts from Imperial College London and KU Leuven, scored some red mud from one of the oldest alumina production facility on the planet, and headed into R&D. Through hundreds of tests and experiments they discovered a versatile ceramic as well as an alternative concrete. The R.E.D. (residue enabled design) project, also known as From Wasteland to Living Room, resulted in a vast array of cups, saucers, teapots, bowls, vases and a myriad of other design pieces. Related: This British café is serving to-go coffee in ceramic mugs to combat waste They also found that the fired color in the finished product produced a range of colors from a standard terracotta to a deep burgundy. To bring out more variety, the team used metal oxides from the residue to make glazes in a range of colors too. “The designers aim to make people at once aware of the impact of materials taken for granted, like aluminium, and to hint to the potential of their byproducts. “We want people to see that Red Mud isn’t a ‘waste’, that industry is keen to find uses for it, and that using it is possible,” states Kevin. This project is a small step towards what they believe as a more sustainable future in which “wastes” will be considered as valuable assets, and they hope it stimulates more uses of the material. + R.E.D. Via Dezeen Images via R.E.D.

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Designers recycle aluminum production waste into functional ceramic decor

The Green New Deal: From resolution to reality

March 12, 2019 by  
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Appropriately defined and implemented, it has the potential to be a powerful vision for society, one that yields both short- and longer-term benefits that are tangible to voters.

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The Green New Deal: From resolution to reality

Why Columbus is shifting mobility patterns to lower greenhouse gas emissions

March 12, 2019 by  
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Incentivizing EV adoption with partnerships, better planning and more.

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Why Columbus is shifting mobility patterns to lower greenhouse gas emissions

Here’s the 101: How to create transit-oriented communities in Los Angeles

March 12, 2019 by  
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Reframing the land use and transportation debate, L.A. is trying to make mobility about its people.

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Here’s the 101: How to create transit-oriented communities in Los Angeles

Is your sustainability team thinking enough about human rights?

November 12, 2018 by  
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By overlooking socioeconomic factors, we limit the potential for transformation.

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Is your sustainability team thinking enough about human rights?

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