A history of sustainable energy efforts at the White House

September 2, 2021 by  
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Global warming, carbon emissions and climate change have been hot topics for decades. All the while, the reigning U.S. administration has changed its tone with each election. As a result, the focus on renewable energy has waned and grown throughout the country and in the president’s own home. In fact, since the White House was first equipped with electricity, the use of  renewable energy  sources has seen an ebb and flow that matches the attitude of the commander in chief at the time.  The beginning of electricity at the White House September 1891 saw the introduction of electricity to the White House, although Mr. and Mrs. Harrison, President and First Lady at the time, feared electrocution and never touched the switches as a result. Related: Activists protest Biden’s compromised green infrastructure deal In 1926 President Calvin Coolidge saw the installment of the first electric refrigerator at the residence. Six years later, the Roosevelts installed air conditioning in the private quarters. Beginning in 1948, the White House saw an extensive renovation under the guidance of President Truman, which included upgrades to the electrical system. President Lyndon Johnson set an example of electricity conservation in the 1960s by consistently turning off lights when not in use, earning him the moniker “Light Bulb Johnson.” The first solar panels at the White House The year 1979 saw the first solar panel installation at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue when President Jimmy Carter had 32 solar panels placed on the White House roof in response to a national energy crisis (a result of the Arab oil embargo). Although the technology of the time did little more than heat  water  for the cafeteria and laundry, Carter hoped it would set an example for the future of the country saying, “a generation from now, this solar heater can either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken, or it can be a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people; harnessing the power of the Sun to enrich our lives as we move away from our crippling dependence on foreign oil .” However, his intentions didn’t take hold, and the solar panels were removed during the Reagan administration while roofing work was being done. While cost may have been a factor in the decision not to reinstall the solar panels, Reagan’s policies made it clear he supports oil more than green energy. When the Clintons moved into office and the residence, they committed to “Greening the White House,” which included installing  energy-efficient  windows, light bulbs and a new HVAC system. The first solar power system on site Breaking the trend of Democrats leaning into renewable options and Republicans reversing them, George W. Bush was the first to install a solar system that provided electricity to the grounds. The 9-kilowatt system produced both current and hot water, which was used in part to warm the presidential pool. Another notable event in the history of the White House’s sustainability journey took place in 2008 when the iconic Portico lantern was upgraded to LEDs . The arrival of modern solar panels President Barack Obama, who was very vocal about prioritizing  environmental issues , oversaw the installation of solar panels, completed in 2014. He also installed a solar water heater in the residence.  “By installing solar panels on arguably the most famous house in the country, his residence, the president is underscoring that commitment to lead and the promise and importance of renewable energy in the United States,” said Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. This newer technology was six times more effective than the solar equipment Carter installed, making a financial difference and not just a symbolic one. Those  solar panels  are still in use today.  The Trump administration not only did not put a priority on renewable resources but actively worked to roll back many of the environmental protections put in place before he took office. Solar panels make history For historical value, the solar panels installed during the Carter administration were kept in governmental storage until 1991, when half were installed above the cafeteria at Unity College in Maine . Here they provided hot water until the end of their useful life in 2005.  Today, other White House solar panels are on display at museums in the United States and China . Specifically, there are examples at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington D.C., Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum in Atlanta, Georgia, and the Solar Science and Technology Museum in Dezhou, China.  There’s also one on display at the NRG Systems headquarters, as an example of early technology at a company that manufactures modern  wind  and solar technology solutions. With all eyes on the White House for guidance on where we’ll focus next in the current of renewable energy , it’s clear that it will be some time before we see universal agreement on how to approach the topic.  For more information on the history of the solar panels President Jimmy Carter installed, you can check out the 2010 documentary “A Road Not Taken,” which details their journey from 1979 to 1986. + Energy.gov  Via Thought Co. and Sullivan Solar Power   Images via Pexels 

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A history of sustainable energy efforts at the White House

Louisiana dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Ida

August 31, 2021 by  
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Residents of Louisiana are stuck in the dark following destructive Hurricane Ida on Sunday. Officials are still counting losses and have said that it may take weeks before power is restored in some areas. The hurricane hit Louisiana with winds at speeds of 150 mph (240 km/h). Ida is now the fifth strongest hurricane to hit the U.S. mainland. Officials have confirmed the death of one person. Further, about 1 million residents of Louisiana are in the dark following destroyed power supply systems. Related: Climate change doubles natural disaster costs in the US According to CNN, about 25,000 workers from across the country are currently fighting to restore power . The workers are expected to bring back normalcy in phases, but some areas may wait longer than others before power returns. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said that although the hurricane was one of the strongest in history, protection measures helped reduce casualties and losses. “The systems we depended on to save lives and protect our city did just that and we are grateful, but there is so much more work to be done,” said Cantrell Hurricane Ida was initially predicted to be life-threatening, with some scientists even comparing it to Hurricane Katrina of 2005. Ida had a path similar to Katrina but did not cause as much destruction. Katrina claimed over 1,800 lives and properties worth billions. Some of the defense systems put in place after Katrina were effective in mitigating Ida’s effects. Governor John Bel Edwards said the systems “performed magnificently” in reducing the hurricane’s effect. Hurricane Ida gathered strength over the Gulf of Mexico , stopping up to 90% of the region’s oil production. Ida landed in New Orleans as a category four hurricane. A hurricane of this strength can destroy trees and buildings if there are no protection measures. As Hurricane Ida moved further inland, its winds speed dropped to 95 mph (153km/h), making it a category one hurricane. Even though the hurricane has downgraded to a tropical storm as it moves further inland, the National Hurricane Center has warned of potential flooding due to heavy rains. Residents of Mississippi , Alabama, and Florida have been asked to remain watchful. Mayor Cantrell has urged New Orleans residents who already evacuated to stay away from their homes until power returns. Via BBC and CNN Lead image via The National Guard

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Louisiana dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Ida

MINI Strip car uses 3D printing and recycled materials

August 24, 2021 by  
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With a focus on the future of sustainability in automotive design, the MINI Strip is a one-off car that resulted from a collaboration between two British brands. MINI and Paul Smith custom-made the vehicle, which premiered to the world in London in August 2021. The MINI Strip stands as a driving force behind innovations in sustainable auto manufacturing. The name comes from the starting point, which was a stripped-down Mini Cooper SE. From there, the entire design focuses on the theme of ‘Simplicity, Transparency, Sustainability,’ so only the final product only included the most essential components. Related: Maintaining an electric vehicle costs less than gas or hybrid counterparts The automotive background from MINI was an obvious contribution, but the team is quick to acknowledge the advantage of Smith’s outside-the-industry perspective, with Oliver Heilmer, head of MINI Design, saying, “Paul asked essential questions right at the start of the design process with his non-automotive and therefore fresh perspective. We are proud to have developed such a strong character statement together.“  Smith agreed, saying, “I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to rethink the iconic MINI. I know and love the existing car , but by respecting the past and looking to the future we have created something very special…Together I think we have created something truly unique, by going back to basics, reducing things down and stripping the car.” The car now represents a minimalist mindset, where less is more. This is seen in the raw exterior finish, where factory grinding marks were left to highlight that point. A thin film of clear paint protects the surface, but the exterior is otherwise unfinished. Visible screws incorporated into the design spotlight ease of maintenance and the ability of the car to be dismantled and the panels  recycled  at the end of useful life. The steering wheel is wrapped in handlebar tape, and the open spaces expose the airbags. The doors are covered in the same meshing as the airbags, showcasing the inner workings. The team chose to 3D-print sections of the car using recycled  plastic . Recycled Perspex was used for the grille trim, roof and wheel covers for a lightweight and eco-friendly solution. The interior of the car is more  minimalist  still, with stripped-down trim and little more in the way of controls than a space for a smartphone, switches for the power windows, and a start/stop control button. Material selection inside the car avoided leather and chrome in favor of seats upholstered in knitted fabric and floor mats made from recycled rubber. Recycled cork adds texture and visual interest to the dashboard topper pad, door shoulders and parcel shelf. Material selections are mostly recyclable and serve as an example as a substitute for foamed plastics. + BMW Group Via Automotive World Images via BMW Group 

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MINI Strip car uses 3D printing and recycled materials

Extinction Rebellion protests take over London

August 24, 2021 by  
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On Monday, Extinction Rebellion (XR) protestors blocked a busy junction in Covent Garden, London during their first day of protests. Participants chained themselves together to block a roundabout at Long Acre. A van joined at the junction with a 4-meter-high pink table featuring the slogan “Come to the table.” As XR plans a fortnight of protests in London , this slogan represents their call to bring everyone to the table to discuss the climate crisis. Related: Extinction Rebellion LA protests climate change by supergluing themselves to Universal Globe In a statement, XR explained, “As floods, fire , and famine break out around the world, it is clear that climate breakdown is here now, and there is no choice left now but to take urgent action. Everyone deserves a seat at the table to have a say in how to tackle the greatest crisis of our times.” Protesters remained at the junction until 7 p.m. when the police began arresting participants. The police showed up with an order signed by Superintendent Wayne Matthews, who claimed the gathering “may result in serious disruption to the community.” The order was also shared via social media . In response, XR members targeted for arrest laid on the ground, forcing police officers to carry them away. Police claim to have arrested 52 protestors. One of the protestors told reporters that XR’s actions have already succeeded in raising awareness. “By taking these arguably drastic actions, I hope that it makes some of the passersby, or the people who read about it, think about why we are worried enough to do that and it conveys there really is something to worry about,” said activist Tristan Strange. According to the Metropolitan police, law enforcement will continue with a “policing plan” for continued XR protests. Deputy assistant commissioner Matt Twist has added that “his officers would not be deterred by a recent supreme court ruling” supporting highway obstruction as “a legitimate and lawful form of protest,” as reported by The Guardian. Via The Guardian Lead image via Extinction Rebellion U.K.

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Extinction Rebellion protests take over London

Higg provides a sustainability report for consumer products

August 23, 2021 by  
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The race is on to battle climate change in notable and impactful ways. While every citizen can help by reducing emissions and lowering their carbon footprint, the largest contributors to the problem are businesses. Even companies with good intentions when it comes to monitoring materials and manufacturing may be contributing to the problem more than they think. Higg is a technological solution to this problem that addresses the issue by providing a score for a product’s impact. To understand the solution, we must first consider the problem. The life-cycle of a product begins with material selection, goes through production and moves onto delivery before it ever reaches consumer hands. Along the way, every decision can weigh heavily on the planet’s resources by stripping the land, using valuable resources like water and contributing to  waste  and pollution. Higg is a data-driven system that gives businesses the information they need when making eco-friendly decisions. This data allows them to avoid these contributing factors and instead rely on the most innovative solutions for a low carbon footprint at every level. Related: PaperTale app shows the ethics and sustainability of clothing with a simple scan Higg CEO Jason Kibbey says, “Higg has spent the last couple years working with consumer goods facilities, brands, and retailers to collect valuable data that helps companies measure their social and  environmental  impacts in a comparable way.” Higg works with companies to input and analyze data, giving them the power to better understand the environmental and social impact of each step in the cycle. Take, for example, a clothing company. With Higg tools, companies can measure the footprint of the plant where fabric is made. This includes water consumption, electrical usage,  pollution  and more. From there, the company can evaluate the manufacturing process of the product in the same categories and others, like wages, working conditions and safety. Post production, the clothing is shipped, so the analysis further tracks the impact of packaging, transport emissions and the environmental burden at the retail level.  The culmination of this information provides a critical tool for transparency in consumer goods industries. Providing a macro and micro view of the cradle-to-grave impact of individual products not only gives consumers more purchasing power but provides companies valuable, data-based information to share with investors, partners and customers.  “In order to achieve true sustainability change at the pace necessary to reach climate goals, consumer industries need access to rich, comparable, and actionable data. Without knowing true environmental performance, it’s impossible to know which steps companies should take to reduce impact, which actions make the biggest difference, or if industries are moving fast enough,” Kibbey added.  Along the way, the systems maintain a database of information that businesses can tap into when making decisions. For example, through data collection, a company can quickly see the  energy efficiency  of a particular manufacturing plant or compare the waste from different production facilities. Rather than individual reports that may be slanted in favor or disfavor of a particular company, Higg’s system is standardized for reliable comparisons of information that can be measured, managed and shared within and outside the company. This information is a powerful tool in the effort to enable true sustainability in corporate actions. “Higg provides easily synthesized data which makes it simple for companies to take meaningful action towards positive environmental and social impacts,” Kibbey said. While Higg is an essential tool for the decision-making process of eco-minded businesses, it’s equally valuable for the everyday consumer who is looking to make wise purchasing decisions. With these tools at its disposal, any apparel company can clean up its act. The information is now out there to understand a product’s impact. From there, it’s a company’s responsibility to evaluate and improve every step of its processes. This includes choosing the least-impactful materials to supporting manufacturing plants with fair trade policies and renewable energy investments to selecting packaging that is  recycled  and recyclable. With what equates to a sustainability score, consumers will be able to directly compare the actions of an increasing number of companies when choosing what products best align with their personal environmental goals.  Higg is a spinoff of a prior partnership between Patagonia and Walmart that set a mission to reduce the footprint of the apparel and footwear industries. This nonprofit industry association, called the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, resulted in the “development of the Higg Index, a suite of tools for the standardized measurement of supply chain sustainability,” according to Higg. The team at Higg comes from varied backgrounds, yet they all center around the same belief in making it easier for businesses and consumers to contribute to the solutions for a sustainable future for the planet. Mimi Frusha, COO at Higg, says, “We have a global crisis on our hands. Being part of Higg is how I contribute to what we all have ahead of us.” Josh Henretig, VP Global Partnerships, reinforces that thinking saying, “The urgency and complexity of the climate crisis is simply too large for any single organization to solve alone. We need the collective action of partnership and the speed and scale of technology if we are going to reverse the harmful impacts of human activity on the environment.” + Higg Images via Higg 

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Higg provides a sustainability report for consumer products

mySUN combines human energy and solar for a renewable solution

August 20, 2021 by  
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Solving the climate crisis requires smart energy solutions that will reduce the need for fossil fuels and create sustainable options. This is exactly what WZMH Architects is focused on. It wants to design buildings with reduced energy consumption that are fueled by renewable energy . But buildings that run on renewable energy need a renewable energy source to draw from. How about a combination of human energy, the sun and a great idea? Together with Ryerson University, WZMH has created a microgrid in a box. It’s a personal green energy-producing machine. Dubbed mySUN, it can be used to power LED lighting, mobile devices, heating systems and air conditioning units, among others. Related: DC Microgrids, building infrastructure for energy’s future This solar-powered design uses a plug-and-play system. The system works with the Sunrider bike , so users can generate their own energy, which can then be stored. Energy is generated through biomechanical power, otherwise known as the power of biological movement. You create energy every time you move. The average person creates 100 to 150 watts of power while riding a stationary bike. Adding a motor to a stationary bike can produce enough energy to run the lights in a 300-square-foot space for an entire day. This system harnesses that power. And because the mySUN box is so small, it can be put right into the walls of apartments . This creates power easily for individual units. The implications of such a device are enormous. With a device like this, apartment buildings could be erected with no copper wiring whatsoever. Each unit would have its own power source. In the words of Zenon Radewych, Principal at WZMH, “Think of the mySUN box as your own personal and portable green energy producing utility. It is a low-voltage, direct current device, making connectivity to a DC microgrid very simple. The mySUN can be integrated into a community of buildings that are DC-based, all feeding from the same DC microgrid. Green energy is then created through the use of solar panels, wind turbines or energy bikes, and is stored in battery packs that are part of mySUN. Instead of large and complex electrical plants in buildings, hundreds or thousands of mySUN units can share energy with multiple users through a DC microgrid.” DC Microgrids is a large-scale project WZMH Architects has been involved in where multiple energy sources are explored so their power can be harnessed. Ultimately, the plan is to use wind and solar power, among other renewable energy sources, to power entire communities and buildings. “At WZMH, we truly believe that people today want to make a difference in reducing their carbon footprint , and hope innovations like the mySUN provide cost-effective and sustainable solutions to our world’s energy problems,” Radewych added. + WZMH Images via Idea Workshop

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mySUN combines human energy and solar for a renewable solution

Inside the Olympics’ circularity strategy

July 26, 2021 by  
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Beyond sustainability lip-service or cute small-scale projects, the organizers recognize the power of the platform and seem to be using it to the best of their ability.

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Inside the Olympics’ circularity strategy

Episode 277: Talent wars, women leaders on mentoring

July 23, 2021 by  
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Tune in for contributions from seven of this year’s Women in Sustainability Leadership Awards honorees.

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Episode 277: Talent wars, women leaders on mentoring

Plantagon’s crowdfunded plantscraper aims to produce 500 metric tons of food a year

November 3, 2017 by  
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Swedish company Plantagon believes that ‘plantscrapers’ are the way of the future—and part of solution to the global food crisis. Part urban farm, part skyscraper, these vertical greenhouses could provide large-scale organic food production in cities, with a much smaller energy and carbon footprint than industrial agriculture. After years of research and development, Plantagon is now ready to embark on their first landmark plantscraper, called The World Food Building, and is crowdfunding their way to success . A pioneer in the fields of urban agriculture and food technology, Plantagon has set their sights on solving the food crisis as cities grow larger and arable land shrinks. Thus, the company created The World Food Building, a 60-meter-tall vertical farm and 16-story office building proposed for Linköping, Sweden that, if built, would serve as an international model for vertical industrial urban farming. The innovative ‘plantscraper’ would use Plantagon’s patented technology to produce 500 metric tons of organic food annually in a closed, clean, and climate-controlled environment. At least half of the energy used in food production would be recaptured and reused as floor heat in the office building. Plantagon estimates that The World Food Building could save 1,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions and 50 million liters of water as compared to traditional industrial farming systems. To turn their first plantscraper into reality, Plantagon has turned to crowdfunding and asked the community to join them as allies. “We are reaching out to people everywhere who feel that commercial organizations should also be the driving force of change,” said Hans Hassle, Plantagon’s Co-founder and Secretary-General. “People are sick and tired of businesses being shortsighted and just-for-profit driven. We believe it’s time for this to change and the time for ‘business as usual’ is over. With potentially 100,000 allies all over the world supporting Plantagon, we will show that the power of the crowd gets the job done.” + Plantagon

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Plantagon’s crowdfunded plantscraper aims to produce 500 metric tons of food a year

Chinas new futuristic library is unlike any weve seen before

November 3, 2017 by  
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MVRDV just completed the Tianjin Binhai Public Library, a spectacular cultural center that’s unlike any library we’ve ever seen. Created in collaboration with local architects TUPDI, the 33,800-square-meter library features floor-to-ceiling bookcases that cascade in curves around a luminous spherical auditorium. The undulating bookshelves and layered ceiling gives the cavernous library a distinctive sci-fi feel accentuated by the giant illusion of an eye visible from the outside. Built in record-breaking time of just three years, the Tianjin Binhai Library was constructed as part of a cluster of five cultural buildings in the Binhai district all connected by a glass-roofed public corridor. The library design is centered on the massive ball-shaped auditorium behind the information desk. Bookshelves are arranged on either side of the auditorium and ripple outwards and double as seating and stairs. These undulating contours continue to the ceiling where they’re embedded with lighting to create “illuminated topography,” and are echoed on the glass facade as curved louvers . “The Tianjin Binhai Library interior is almost cave-like, a continuous bookshelf. Not being able to touch the building’s volume we ‘rolled’ the ball shaped auditorium demanded by the brief into the building and the building simply made space for it, as a ‘hug’ between media and knowledge” says Winy Maas, co-founder of MVRDV. “We opened the building by creating a beautiful public space inside; a new urban living room is its centre. The bookshelves are great spaces to sit and at the same time allow for access to the upper floors. The angles and curves are meant to stimulate different uses of the space, such as reading, walking, meeting and discussing. Together they form the ‘eye’ of the building: to see and be seen.” Related: Energy-conscious library that doubles as a “living room” breaks ground in Shanghai The library’s first two floors comprise reading rooms, books, and lounge areas, while the upper floors house meeting rooms, offices, computer and audio rooms, and two rooftop patios . Although MVRDV designed for access to the upper bookshelves, the client decided to go against the original design due to the construction timeline. Instead, perforated aluminum plates printed to represent books were installed on the inaccessible upper shelves. Cleaning is down with ropes and movable scaffolding. While the upper reaches of the library are out of reach, visitors don’t seem to mind; the Tianjin Binhai Library has been a massive hit with the public who have been coming to visit in droves. + MVRDV All photos (c) Ossip van Duivenbode

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