Bee-killing pesticide approved for emergency use in the UK

January 12, 2021 by  
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The U.K. government is reversing a ban on a dangerous pesticide. The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) and British Sugar lobbied hard to get a product containing neonicotinoid thiamethoxam sanctioned for emergency use on sugar beets. Not only is this chemical thought to kill bees, but rainwater will wash it from fields into rivers. Last we heard, fish weren’t requesting neonicotinoid thiamethoxam any more than were insects, many of which already face serious declines. Matt Shardlow, chief executive of the conservation group Buglife, was one of many environmentalists unhappy with the decision. “In addition, no action is proposed to prevent the pollution of rivers with insecticides applied to sugar beet,” Shardlow said . “Nothing has changed scientifically since the decision to ban neonics from use on sugar beet in 2018. They are still going to harm the environment .” Related: Flea treatments are poisoning England’s rivers Beet yellows virus is carried by aphids and has a ruinous effect on sugar beet crops. The U.K. has tracked this disease with national surveys since 1946, charting the effects of chemicals, farm hygiene and other factors on the changes and developments in virus yellows disease. Treating sugar beet seeds with neonicotinoid thiamethoxam is one approach used to control this disease . “Virus yellows disease is having an unprecedented impact on Britain’s sugar beet crop, with some growers experiencing yield losses of up to 80%, and this authorization is desperately needed to fight this disease,” said Michael Sly, chairman of the NFU sugar board. “It will be crucial in ensuring that Britain’s sugar beet growers continue to have viable farm businesses.” He emphasized that pesticides would be used in a limited and controlled way. In 2018, the EU decided to protect bees by banning outdoor uses of thiamethoxam. But now 11 countries, including Spain, Denmark and Belgium, have signed emergency authorizations to use this controversial chemical. Via The Guardian and Pest Management Science Image via Kurt Bouda

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Bee-killing pesticide approved for emergency use in the UK

Amazon’s new eco-friendly shopping platform

October 29, 2020 by  
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During the pandemic, it seems like Amazon has come to dominate our world, especially during lockdowns when few vehicles save Amazon delivery vans traveled the roads. Many people have been relying on the website throughout the pandemic. But now, the e-commerce giant is trying to save the Earth by promoting eco-friendly shopping on its new platform. The new platform made its U.S. debut in September. This week, shoppers in the U.K., Germany, France, Spain and Italy will be able to browse more than 40,000 items certified by the Carbon Trust, Fairtrade International and other environmental certifying organizations. From bamboo toothbrushes to plant-based garbage bags, Amazon will display these products in a dedicated section of its website. Many small businesses across Europe are participating, including U.K. brands Kite Clothing, which sews sustainable kids’ clothes, and Faith in Nature, makers of shampoo bars. Related: The pros and cons of online versus in-store shopping According to Doug Gurr, Amazon U.K. manager, customers will more easily discover sustainable products on the new platform. “With 18 external certification programs and our own new certification, we’re incentivizing selling partners to create sustainable products that help protect the planet for future generations,” Gurr said, as reported by The Guardian . But not everybody is impressed. Some large environmental nonprofits think the giant company is doing too little. “Amazon sells millions of products and this latest initiative covers just a tiny fraction of the total,” said Will McCallum, senior campaigner at Greenpeace U.K. “By certifying only a limited range of goods, Amazon is implicitly admitting that the rest of its business model isn’t up to scratch. The environmental and climate crises we are facing demand more than token gestures and piecemeal action.” Further, environmental campaigners also found some discrepancies within the new platform, with single-use items like cotton swabs, disposable wipes and novelty Donald Trump toilet paper all labeled with Amazon’s own sustainable certification. After being contacted, Amazon removed the label from these products, citing this as a mistake. In the perfect world, everybody in the supply chain would care about the planet, from the manufacturer to the seller to the end consumer. Here’s hoping that Amazon shoppers will make a point of purchasing sustainable products via the new platform, if not from local shops in their neighborhood. Via The Guardian Image via Christian Wiediger

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This energy-efficient home in Spain has a rainwater-fed infinity pool

August 11, 2020 by  
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Find Casa Palerm on the beautiful Balearic island of Mallorca, located in the Spanish Mediterranean. The area is known for its lavish beach resorts, world-famous beaches, stunning limestone mountains and ancient ruins. This home in Spain designed by OHLAB is an example of an energy-efficient architectural design that doesn’t detract from its stunning surroundings. The house itself is an extension of an existing hotel in Lloret de Vistalegre, a region in the center of Mallorca that is rich with wide-open countrysides. Near the hotel’s property farmhouse, Casa Palerm functions as a smaller vacation home . Related: This is one of the only LEED Gold-certified hotels in Spain There is one compact, single level making up the house, which is topped with a pitched roof. The entire structure has a width of about six meters with low-cost beams and no columns. This layout not only favors cross-ventilation , natural lighting and thermoregulation of the interior but also provides a parallel layout to take full advantage of the property’s views. The stretching countryside, as well as the Tramuntana Mountains to the north, can be enjoyed from multiple spots in the house. The living/dining room opens up to a massive porch on both sides, providing excellent ventilation during favorable weather. This panoramic format is built intentionally to have cinematographic proportions of 2.66:1, invoking a feel of being inside an old movie theater. The windows here can be completely hidden in the facade to be opened or closed depending on the season. A wattle (cañizo) pergola on the ceiling expands on both sides to protect the terraces from the hot summer sun and to filter the light and shadows. These energy-efficient choices, paired with the discrete design, help integrate the home into its surrounding environment.  Low-maintenance, drought-resistant Mediterranean plants and deciduous trees make up the garden, providing natural shade and aesthetics. Rainwater is stored in the water-collecting tank under the terrace to be reused for the garden irrigation, toilet tanks and the infinity pool. Natural and local materials , such as the rustic local limestone for the mortar plastering, became essential tools during construction. The home also contains reused ceramic tiles for the roof, local mare stone, sepi wood and artisan cement for the floors and sinks. + OHLAB Photography by José Hevia via OHLAB

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This energy-efficient home in Spain has a rainwater-fed infinity pool

Apple Hotel gains a green-roofed wellness center in South Tyrol

August 11, 2020 by  
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Bolzano-based architecture practice noa* (network of architecture) has recently completed the latest stage of expansion for Apfelhotel (Apple Hotel), a nature-focused retreat tucked away in the village of Saltaus in northern Italy. The recently completed phase includes 18 new guest suites and a green-roofed wellness facility that serves as the hotel’s centerpiece. Covered with a layer of earth and plants, the curved spa appears to blend seamlessly into a grassy hillside on one side and opens up to views of the landscape and apple fields on the other. In 2014, noa* won a design competition to expand on Apfelhotel’s historic structure and, in 2016, completed the expansion of the grounds, a renovation of the main building and restaurant as well as the addition of the Apfelsauna (Apple Sauna). Earlier this year, the architects added a wellness facility and 18 new suites on the hotel’s east-facing side that have been carefully crafted to complement the rural landscape and the existing renovated farmhouse . The guest rooms are spread out across three floors in three independent buildings, each wrapped in a wooden rhombus-pattered facade that pays homage to the traditional vernacular while appearing distinctively contemporary.  Related: A historic hotel is sustainably revamped into a charming “alpine village” getaway The new wellness facility — known as the Brunnenhaus (Water Well House) — forms the “green heart” of the hotel campus. The entrance to the green-roofed spa was built from a curved, semi-exposed concrete shell embedded into a grassy hill and punctuated with a door fabricated from old timber. The interior houses an adults-only upper level with a sauna , lounge, relaxation room, Finnish spa with panoramic outdoor views, a cave-like steam bath and an adjacent terrace fitted with an outdoor shower.  “The entire Apfelhotel project reflects the nature and passion of its family-owners, whose aim is to make people feel truly at home, rather than like a hotel guest,” the architects explained. “Together with noa*, the architecture was created with a great sense of integrity towards this special place, which becomes a unit with nature, ties in with its history, and maintains its own identity through applied design — where occasionally, glimpses of the apple can be seen in the surrounding nature and design.” + noa* Photography by Alex Filz via noa*

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Apple Hotel gains a green-roofed wellness center in South Tyrol

MVRDV plans to sustainably repurpose the Dutch Expo 2000 Pavilion

August 11, 2020 by  
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MVRDV has unveiled plans to sustainably transform one of its seminal projects, the Dutch Pavilion at the 2000 World Expo in Hannover. The redesign will highlight the Expo Pavilion’s reputation as a landmark for sustainable design, while transforming it into a co-working office building flanked by two new buildings: one containing student housing and the other comprising offices and parking spaces. The new vision for the Expo 2000 Pavilion will also retain the building’s third-floor forest, which made the pavilion an icon in the 2000 World Expo.  MVRDV’s design for the original Expo 2000 Pavilion responds to the Dutch Expo theme “Holland Creates Space.” The architects took a space-saving approach by stacking six different Dutch landscapes into a tower and leaving the remainder of the site open as multipurpose outdoor space. This “stacked landscape” concept conceptualizes the building as a self-contained ecosystem capable of generating its own internal resource cycles.  Related: MVRDV designs a sustainable “urban living room” for Shenzhen The architects’ new vision for the pavilion maintains the “stacked landscape” concept, while renovating the interior to better fit an office environment. The first floor that was originally used as a grid of greenhouses, for instance, will be turned into an office with a similarly strict rectilinear layout. On the second floor, the architects will repurpose pod planters into glazed meeting rooms and office spaces. The third-floor forest level and exterior staircases will largely be kept the same as will the ground-level “dunes” that will remain as communal meeting areas with small cafes and exhibition spaces. The co-working office building will be complemented by two new buildings that form perimeter blocks around the site and create an entry point on the west side of the site. The larger of the two buildings will contain 370 student apartments as well as 300 bike parking spots. The smaller building will feature three levels of office and meeting rooms as well as ample parking. The two new buildings will feature stepped roofs with colorful accessible terraces with different programming — from gardens and sports facilities to study areas and a cinema — in a nod to the “stacked landscape” concept.  + MVRDV Images via MVRDV

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MVRDV plans to sustainably repurpose the Dutch Expo 2000 Pavilion

Research facility minimizes its carbon footprint to attract international talent

June 16, 2020 by  
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Spain’s coastal city of Badalona has recently welcomed the Centre for Comparative Medicine and Bio-Image, a new research facility designed to meet high standards of energy efficiency and sustainability. Pilar Calderon and Marc Folch of Barcelona-based architecture firm Calderon-Folch Studio teamed up with Pol Sarsanedas and landscape designer Lluís Corbella to create a site-specific building that would offer the highest levels of comfort as a means to attract and retain both local and international talent. Embedded into the landscape, the compact facility was constructed with a prefabricated wooden framework and clad in larch to blend in with the nearby forest. Because the Centre for Comparative Medicine and Bio-Image is located on sloped terrain, the architects placed the portion of the building containing the research floors partly underground to take advantage of thermal mass for stable climatic conditions year-round. Building into the landscape has also allowed the architects to create two access levels: one used as a general entrance for the administrative area, and the other for logistic purposes for the scientific-technical area. The separation of areas by levels optimizes building operations and adheres to the strict requirements of biological containment. Related: Green-roofed Honey Bee Research Centre targets LEED Gold “The new Centre for Comparative Medicine and Bio-Image holds a research center of the first order,” the designers explained in a project statement. “A research facility based on ethical research criteria, technical and functional complexity, and comfort features that have been resolved in an efficient and sustainable way that strongly considers its relationship with the environment.” Natural materials, large glazed openings and naturalized exterior spaces visually tie the research facility to the environment. Eco-friendly considerations were also taken with the use of a modular , lightweight wooden framework with loose-fill cellulose and structural insulated panels that minimize material waste. Moreover, the building follows passive solar principles. The research facility is equipped with high-performance energy and air-flow recycling technologies as well as a 250-square-meter rainwater collection tank for sanitary and irrigation purposes. + Calderon-Folch Studio Photography by José Hevia via Calderon-Folch Studio

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Research facility minimizes its carbon footprint to attract international talent

Migrating monarch butterflies get the right-of-way in new agreement

May 22, 2020 by  
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A new nationwide right-of-way agreement aims to protect migrating monarch butterflies. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) signed the agreement, which involves more than 45 transportation and energy companies and many private landowners in creating protected corridors across the country. These promised lands are mostly along roadsides and utility corridors. The agreement allows participants to dedicate parts of their land as monarch conservation management areas. In exchange, the USFW assures landowners that they won’t have to take additional conservation measures on the rest of their land if the monarch butterfly later is listed as endangered. This change in status could happen as soon as December 2020, when the USFWS plans to decide whether the monarch meets criteria for being listed as an endangered species . Related: What’s causing the decline in monarch butterfly populations? “Some companies wanted to wait to see how the listing would play out,” Iris Caldwell, a program manager at the Energy Resources Center at UIC and part of the Rights-of-Way as Habitat Working Group , told Mongabay . “But if you are following what’s happening with the butterflies , you know we really can’t wait. We need to be creating habitat on a variety of different landscapes, as much as we can.” The working group included 200 energy, transportation, government and nonprofits who tried to determine a win-win solution for butterflies and landowners. “How can you incentivize a regulated entity or a utility to do this voluntary proactive work,” Caldwell asked, “and still give them kind of the flexibility and the certainty that they need and be able to, in fact, invest in that work without kind of a fear of repercussion?” Under the new agreement, landowners may alter some of their practices, including timing mowing to avoid times when monarch larvae are developing, not using herbicides on the conservation corridors, replanting if the land is disturbed by construction and planting more beneficial native plants the butterflies will enjoy. UIC’s role will be to coordinate efforts between all partners and to be an intermediary between the USFWS and landowners. Monarchs are one of the most popular and recognizable butterflies on Earth, with their bright orange wings, black lines and white dots. Every year, millions of these butterflies migrate from the northern and eastern U.S. and Canada to spend winter in southern California and Mexico. Monarch butterflies are native to North and South America, although they’re no longer found south of Mexico. They’ve followed milkweed to expand their range as far as Portugal, Spain, Hawaii, Australia and New Zealand. In the continental U.S., they fall into two categories: western monarchs — which are found west of the Rockies and spend winter in southern California — and eastern monarchs, whose breeding grounds are Canada and the Great Plains and who migrate to Mexico in the winter. Both populations have plummeted more than 80% in the last 10 years. Via Mongabay and National Geographic Image via Jessica Bolser / USFWS

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Tiny minimalist cabin in the Pyrenees uses natural materials

May 21, 2020 by  
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Although known as one of the most idyllic areas in Spain, the Catalan Pyrenees are also known for their rugged landscapes and harsh winter climate, both of which make construction very challenging. Barcelona-based firm  Agora Arquitectura  recently took on this challenge by building the Weekend Shelter — a tiny, minimalist cabin constructed out of carefully-selected natural materials that make the structure extremely  resilient. At just 430 square feet, the Weekend Shelter was designed to be a part-time refuge set in the remote area of Isòvol, Spain .  The region is known for its breathtaking landscapes and extremely harsh winters, which are marked by heavy snow and rain. Accordingly, the  shelter’s construction  is a complex combination made out of resilient and sustainable natural materials that can withstand the test of time. Related: These solar-powered prefab cabins can be set up in just 4 hours The structure was  prefabricated off-site  to save on construction costs and minimize environmental impact. Once the prefab pieces were delivered on-site, the cabin was assembled quickly. The first step was to elevate the structure off the landscape to protect it and add a flexible option to move the shelter in the future if necessary. The shelter design consists of three thermal layers. First, the frame of the structure is made out of concrete blocks to help create a strong barrier from snow and moisture. Then, a shell of oriented strand board was used to cover the main frame. To add an extra layer of resilience, the exterior was then clad in panels of expanded  corks  and topped with a rubber membrane, again creating an impermeable shell. Three large sliding glass doors lead to the interior, which is flooded with natural light. The interior walls, ceilings and flooring are all covered in  sustainably-sourced  plywood panels, which, according to the architects, help provide great thermal and acoustic protection to the living space. Throughout the structure, the cabin counts on several  passive strategies  to reduce its energy use. Being oriented towards the south ensures that the interior is illuminated by natural light. The glass doors are double-paned to limit heat loss during winter. Additionally, wrapping around the front walkway is a simple system of roll-up shutters that allow the residents to fully control the amount of shade and sun that enters the living space. + Agora Arquitectura Via Archdaily Photography by Joan Casals Pañella

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Spains first Passivhaus nursing home generates surplus energy

May 13, 2020 by  
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Madrid-based design studio CSO Arquitectura has completed Spain’s first Passivhaus-certified nursing home in Camarzana de Tera. Built as an expansion of the nursing home that the firm had completed in 2005, the new addition provides additional bedrooms and stronger connections with the outdoors. The new, airtight building is also equipped with solar panels to power both the old and new buildings. Conceived as an “energy machine”, the new nursing home extension boasts a minimal energy footprint thanks to its airtight envelope constructed from a prefabricated wooden framework system. The prefabricated components were made in a Barcelona workshop and were then transported via trucks to the site, where they were assembled in one week. This process reduced costs and construction time and has environmentally friendly benefits that include waste reduction. Related: Spanish elderly care center wrapped in a pixelated green facade The new construction is semi-buried and comprises three south-facing “programmatic bands” linked by a long corridor. The first “band” houses the daytime services and a north-facing greenhouse with planting beds for the residents. The two remaining sections consist of the bedrooms, each of which opens up to an individual terrace and shares access to a communal patio. Exposed wood, large windows and framed views of nature were key in creating a welcoming sense of home — a distinguishing feature that the architects targeted as a contrast to the stereotypical cold feel of institutions and hospitals. The new nursing home extension is topped with an 18 kW photovoltaic array along with 20 solar thermal panels and rooftop seating. When combined with the building’s airtight envelope, which was engineered to follow passive solar strategies, the renewable energy systems are capable of producing surplus energy, which is diverted to the old building. The Passivhaus-certified extension also includes triple glazed openings, radiant floors, rainwater harvesting and mechanical ventilation equipped with heat recovery.  + CSO Arquitectura Photography by David Frutos via CSO Arquitectura

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How to cook dry beans

April 23, 2020 by  
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The time has come. You’ve cooked everything in the fridge, anything halfway palatable in the freezer and cupboard, and the only thing standing between you and a pandemic panic trip to the grocery store is that forgotten bag of dried chickpeas. Or maybe  coronavirus  has decimated your paycheck and you’re trying to stretch those food dollars farther than they’ve ever stretched before. Dried beans and peas are the answer. They’re inexpensive and full of protein and nutrients. And now that we’re sheltering in place, there’s plenty of time to cook them. Dried beans 101 One of the reasons that people avoid cooking dried beans is that they don’t provide instant gratification. Instead, you need to plan ahead. The first step is sorting through your beans , peas or lentils to pick out rocks. Yes, rocks. Don’t skip this step because nobody wants to make an emergency dentist trip right now. Well, ever. But especially not now. You can shake your beans into in a colander a small handful at a time, or spread them out on a cookie sheet and look for any non-beans hiding in their midst. Once you’ve sorted out any rocks or withered or discolored beans, rinse those remaining in your colander. Next comes soaking. This step is somewhat controversial. Proponents say soaking removes sugars from the beans, making them less gassy and decreasing cooking times. Other people say this step is overrated and not so effective. Still, with the pandemic forcing people to spend so much time at home, an overnight soak can’t hurt. The beans are going to swell up, so add two or three times as much  water  as beans. When you’re ready to use the beans, drain and rinse. You can feed the bean water to your  plants . Getting started So, which beans should you cook? That depends on what dishes you want to make or, in these times, which beans you can find. My nearest and least crowded neighborhood store is a big  Korean  market. So the pandemic has me experimenting with adzuki and mung beans for the first time. There are hundreds of types of beans and legumes in the world. Here we’ll consider some of the most popular and easy to find. When cooking beans, cover the beans with an extra few inches of water in the pot, to account for absorption and evaporation. You’ll want to bring the beans to a boil, then turn your pot down to simmer. Cooking without a lid results in firmer beans. If you prefer a softer bean, put the lid on slightly ajar to allow some steam to escape. If you want to flavor your beans as they  cook , throw in some onion, garlic, bay leaves, cumin or dried chili peppers. Check your beans often to make sure there’s still water, or you’ll be scraping your pot later. Black beans Black beans are a mainstay of Central American, South American and Caribbean cuisine, and are tops in tacos and veggie burgers. They go especially well with  avocado , dairy or nondairy cheese, jalapeños and tomatoes. You’ll need to cook your presoaked black beans for at least 60 to 90 minutes. If they’re still not soft, simmer for another 30 minutes. Black beans contain about 8 grams of protein per half-cup serving, according to the  Bean Institute . They’re also high in folate, manganese, thiamine and iron. Kidney beans Kidney beans are firmer than black beans. They hold up well in cold bean salads and are a mainstay of chili. They come in dark and light red, the latter being popular in Portugal, Spain and the  Caribbean . Mustard, vinegar, pasta, sauerkraut, sweet potato and yogurt all mix well with kidney beans. Allow 90 to 120 minutes for cooking. Like black beans, kidneys contain about 8 grams of protein per half-cup serving. They also contain significant amounts of folate, manganese, thiamine, copper and iron. Garbanzo beans Also known as chickpeas, this bean is a staple of Middle Eastern cooking. Think falafel and hummus. It’s also used to make chole in Indian cooking. Or toss a handful into a salad for a filling  protein  boost. Garbanzos taste good with cumin, olive oil, ginger, garlic, sesame seeds and tomatoes. Your soaked chickpeas will take 60-120 minutes to cook. Start checking their consistency after an hour. Garbanzos are particularly high in manganese and folate and contain more iron and copper than other common beans. According to  Healthline , they’re a high-carb food that’s good for increasing insulin sensitivity and reducing blood sugar. Pinto beans Pinto beans are one of the most popular beans in the Americas, and the most widely produced bean in the US. They’re the usual bean for making Mexican  refried beans, although black beans also work. Pintos pair well with chiles, cilantro, black olives and onions. Cook them for 90 to 120 minutes. Pinto beans are good sources of folate, manganese, copper and thiamine. Lentils Lentils are the exception to the soak first and cook long rule. These small, high protein legumes cook quickly, so they are very convenient to have on hand for putting meals together in a hurry. Brown lentils are the most popular type. They cook in about 20 minutes and hold their shape well for stews. Yellow and red lentils take as little as five minutes to cook and have a nutty flavor. Tiny beluga lentils are black and resemble caviar. Lentils are one of the least expensive ways to get protein, plus nutrients like folate, phosphorus, manganese and  copper . Don’t be intimidated by the need to sort and soak. Beans are good for you and good for the planet, as they provide a protein source that’s both more humane and environmentally friendlier than eating  animals . Images via Pexels and Pixabay

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