The Great American Rail-Trail to offer bike access from coast to coast

January 6, 2021 by  
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People have turned toward outdoor exercise as a way to keep fit, lift spirits and fight the monotony of a pandemic. Now, new and veteran outdoor athletes have something exciting to train for: the cross-country Great American Rail-Trail, which will one day let people bike or hike from Washington state to Washington, D.C. The Great American Rail Trail is a project of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC), which was founded in 1986. Back then, a few out-of-service railroad corridors had been converted into usable trails . Today, the U.S. has more than 24,000 miles of rail-trails. The Great American Rail-Trail project requires another 8,000 miles to connect existing trails. Related: How to make American cities bike-friendly The plan is for the trail to traverse Washington state, the top of Idaho and part of western Montana, then cross the whole of Wyoming, Nebraska and Iowa. It will travel through the top of Illinois, then cross Indiana, Ohio and small sections of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Maryland before ending in Washington, D.C. The route will cover more than 3,700 miles. With 50 million people living within 50 miles of the route, planners expect it to get a lot of use. Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has raised more than $4 million in public and private funds to complete the massive trail. “This year has proven how vital projects like the Great American Rail-Trail are to the country. Millions of people have found their way outside on trails as a way to cope with the pandemic,” said Ryan Chao, president of RTC. “As the Great American Rail-Trail connects more towns, cities, states and regions, this infrastructure serves as the backbone of resilient communities, while uniting us around a bold, ambitious and impactful vision.” When complete, the Great American Rail-Trail will join other ambitious thoroughfares around the world. The EuroVelo 6 route travels 2,765 miles through 10 European countries between the Black Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Last year, the Great North Trail opened in the U.K. and allows hikers and bikers to travel from northern England’s Peak District to the northeastern tip of Scotland. + Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Image via Pam Patterson

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The Great American Rail-Trail to offer bike access from coast to coast

Why Google, BASF and Sephora are coming together on safer chemistry

October 28, 2020 by  
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Why Google, BASF and Sephora are coming together on safer chemistry Elsa Wenzel Wed, 10/28/2020 – 02:02 It’s probably fair to say that nobody expressly set out to devise a sunscreen to bleach coral reefs or a yoga mat to emit carcinogens. Yet toxic substances circulate in waterways and bloodstreams, leached out from all the consumables of everyday life. Shortsightedness and paltry data in the cycles of product design and engineering are partly to blame for this collateral damage of modern chemistry. Most product designers are unlettered in chemistry, and the practice of green chemistry remains in its early years. Even a basic count of all the industrial chemicals in use is scarce — somewhere over 80,000 , according to the U.S. Toxic Substances Control Act Inventory, although the EPA total for recent output is less than 9,000 . It’s simply asking too much of most people formulating a consumer product only to include ingredients that are proven not to harm living systems. But what if design teams seeking safer ingredients didn’t have to know much about the molecules that comprise the stuff they’re making? What if they had a handy menu that graded each chemical? In theory, picking a less-toxic choice could be as simple as shunning an “F” or “C” ingredient for an “A” or a “B” on the list. We really saw this as a key to unlock in order to improve safe and circular chemistry. That’s the vision being advanced by ChemFORWARD, a mission-driven nonprofit backed by leading corporations with serious ambitions to accelerate safer chemistry. The effort is attracting pioneers in green chemistry, design and data to build a first-of-its-kind clearinghouse to help design teams and supply chains ditch hazardous chemicals for good. Leaders on board “We really saw this as a key to unlock in order to improve safe and circular chemistry,” said Mike Werner, circular economy lead at Google, who serves on the nonprofit’s advisory board. The search giant pushes for safer chemistry and a circular economy on myriad levels , including within its office spaces, at its data centers and inside the devices it sells. “ChemFORWARD fits [into] this really big important puzzle toward making materials healthy and safe.” Google is among ChemFORWARD’s roster of “co-design” partners that includes Sephora, Target, Levi’s, HP, Levi Strauss, H&M, Nike, Steelcase and Method, each recognized for various leadership efforts toward safer chemistry. Last year, for example, Sephora became the first major cosmetics retailer to broadcast its policy on chemicals. Target’s Sustainable Product Standard came on the scene in 2013. Nike has its own Chemistry Playbook . Levi’s innovations include its recyclable Wellthread denim line. Other ChemFORWARD partners include the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals.  ChemFORWARD’s technical advisory board is led by Art Fong, Apple’s green chemistry lead. Corporate scientists and chemists also come together via ChemFORWARD for regular meetings and peer reviews with third-party toxicology firms. The nonprofit is betting that teaming up with such pathfinders will help spark lasting industry innovation via its tool, in the process lowering the cost for even small companies to find safer chemical alternatives for their products. “Our intention is to reverse decades of negative impacts from the inundation of toxic chemicals that we find in our products, our economy, our environment and our bodies,” said ChemFORWARD Executive Director Stacy Glass, who has led the effort from a project within the  Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute to its current iteration, housed within the Washington, D.C.-based Healthy Building Network , a nonprofit that advocates for sustainable building materials. “We need new solutions, new ways of thinking about things to have safe, circular products.” We are fundamentally changing the way that chemical hazard data is created, maintained, distributed and financed. ChemFORWARD seeks not only to display what chemicals not to use, but also what’s available instead. This aim progresses away from the longtime industry reliance on restricted substances lists that can leave product makers empty-handed, while liberating data that until recently has been trapped in various PDF reports or proprietary databases. ChemFORWARD seeks to stand apart from other data plays by building bridges in the supply chain with its “collaborative, harmonized” approach. “We are fundamentally changing the way that chemical hazard data is created, maintained, distributed and financed,” Glass said. What’s inside However, ChemFORWARD is entering an area that’s already seeing a lot of activity. Multiple hazards assessment standards are available in increasingly usable formats to help companies identify problematic chemicals. The for-profit firm Scivera , launched in 2008 in Charlottesville, Virginia, offers a subscription database SciveraLENS, with color-coded grades for chemicals based on their inherent hazards. ChemFORWARD’s web-based software pools together data from some of the best-known chemicals assessment methodologies. A color-coded letter grade rolls up information from the United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System of Classification , Cradle to Cradle (on material health) and the EPA SaferChoice Safer Chemical Ingredients List . That results in offering users more than 50 pieces of interpretation and over 20 human and environmental endpoints, such as around neurotoxicity or aquatic toxicity, for each chemical. A view inside a ChemFORWARD display of dimethyl phthalate, used in plastics. “The work that ChemFORWARD is doing and proposes to do will provide important additional information to a community of organizations seeking real-world data to better understand the safety implications of their materials choices,” said green chemistry trailblazer John C. Warner, a distinguished research fellow at synthetic biology startup Zymergen. Think of nearly any consumer-product chemical villain that’s dominated recent headlines for disrupting ecosystems or being linked to cancer or hormonal havoc. Chances are ChemFORWARD is building a collection of alternatives to it. These include ortho-phthalate plasticizers found in flexible toys, UV-blocking oxybenzone in sunscreens and halogenated flame retardants in electronics. ChemFORWARD has portfolios of alternative cleaning solvents , cosmetics preservatives and fragrance fixatives. The goal is for ChemFORWARD to scale up from about 200 to 2,000 safer chemicals in 2021. “The more technical person can see the technical data they need,” Glass said. “But most companies need, ‘Can I use it [or] can I not use it?’ for an answer.” More than skin deep ChemFORWARD is building clearinghouses for electronics and food packaging, but one of its earliest repositories coalesces data in beauty and personal care, with hundreds of safer alternatives. Someone shopping around to include a safer surfactant in a skin cleanser or an emollient in a moisturizing lotion can consult the tool for the green “A” or “B” options. Sephora, which is mindful of its many eco-conscious young customers and became a co-design partner with ChemFORWARD in March, recently took steps to advance beyond its restricted substances list. The company says 94 percent of all the products it sells eliminate potentially negative “high-priority” chemicals. The Clean at Sephora label for sustainable beauty care products in its catalog features goods from more than five dozen smaller companies, including BeautyCounter . “We knew the importance of creating a baseline expectation for all brands in terms of safety and the environment,” Carley Klekas, Sephora’s senior manager of product sustainability, said. “Sephora already had rigorous requirements in place, specifically with our in-house brand, Sephora Collection, that goes beyond EU regulations, but we also wanted to expand this even more across the brands we carry.” These chemicals used in cosmetics display letter grades according to safety. It teamed up with ChemFORWARD and EDF on a research project that prioritized four chemical categories common within beauty and personal care: preservatives; benzophenones; silicones; and ethanolamines. Sephora then sponsored chemical hazard assessments for the alternative ingredients named in the research. As a result of the partnership, safer alternatives have been assessed for 73 percent of Sephora’s high-priority chemicals — and made available to industry via ChemFORWARD. “We needed a credible and innovative resource to help us assess alternatives to chemicals within our policy, to ensure they were safe, and that we were avoiding regrettable substitution,” Klekas said. “We know this is important work to be done and will ultimately help showcase that there are safer alternatives to the high-priority chemicals we seek to reduce in our assortment, while also help the industry identify gaps where more innovation is needed.” The innovation puzzle Glass sees ChemFORWARD’s highest mission as its potential for furthering innovation. But that requires buy-in not only from retailers and product manufacturers, but also from the chemical producers themselves. The process of making chemical substitutions is only one step along the path to optimizing shiny, new, safer chemicals, which Glass hopes to help propel. Enter Pat Harmon, industry manager at chemicals powerhouse BASF. He’s been involved with ChemFORWARD for many years after meeting Lauren Heine through a Green Chemistry & Commerce Council (G3C) event. Heine was then executive director of the nonprofit Northwest Green Chemistry and had just joined MaterialWise, the early iteration of ChemFORWARD, where she’s now director of safer materials and data integrity. BASF’s sustainability strategy hinges upon developing chemicals that advance sustainability, called “accelerators,” which account for more than 25 percent of its sales. Ninety-five percent of BASF’s products have been evaluated for potential sustainability contributions. BASF has a history of involvement in collaborative assessments, and it quantifies the sustainability benefits of its products through life-cycle assessments and its Sustainable Solutions Steering methodology. It’s really powerful in terms of thinking about moving to green chemistry. Harmon aligned with Heine on the need for better third-party assessments for alternatives to troublesome ortho-phthalates, which are tied to multiple health problems. He also liked what she described of how the fledgling nonprofit chemical clearinghouse might lower the cost to companies of chemical assessments while moving away from “negative lists.” ChemFORWARD’s involvement with leadership brands and retailers, which are ultimately BASF’s downstream customers, also helped to elevate the case for BASF getting involved.  Eventually, BASF shared details for ChemFORWARD about several of its plasticizer accelerators, including its ortho-phthalate alternatives Hexamoll DINCH and Palatinol DOTP . These are used in flexible PVC and in a broad range of applications including children’s toys, yoga mats, wiring cable, vinyl flooring and automotive interiors. A bridge? “Now, chemical suppliers have the option to market their safer alternatives and to validate their low-hazard claims through an independent, trusted platform,” Glass said. “In this way, we create a bridge between chemical suppliers, their customers and prospective customers with data that has been traditionally hard to come by, difficult to interpret and sometimes hard to trust.” Harmon sees ChemFORWARD as a useful tool for companies that ultimately use BASF’s chemicals as well as a resource that can help move safer chemistry forward in industry, demonstrating for BASF’s customers the value of the safer decisions behind their product formulations. And the involvement with CHEMForward may help BASF to identify potential market gaps in areas where the number of attractive chemical alternatives is slim.  “This is why the ChemFORWARD project is so important,” Harmon said. “It’s one of the ways to help understand that you’re making the right decisions to move to new substances. I would really like to see this approach be used more and more.” For example, what if ChemFORWARD could grow to include the broader area of plastics additives in addition to plasticizers, such as flame retardants and light stabilizers? That could bring more of the plastic industry onboard, he added. “If you make it broader for the whole plastics industry, then you have a lot of people who would have interest in using this type of tool,” Harmon said, optimistic that ChemFORWARD may help to advance plastics circularity longer term. For example, if it identifies safer plastics used, say, in medical equipment that’s currently discarded, then more IV bags or other consumables finally might be recycled without the possibility of circulating harmful chemicals into the marketplace and the environment, Harmon said.   Here’s a view of inherent hazards for benzophenone, known to damage coral reefs. It has been banned in sunscreens in Hawaii. ChemFORWARD’s small team hopes to encourage more chemical suppliers to get involved by providing them a means to bring forth their safer chemicals in a way that’s trustworthy, verified and peer-reviewed by a third party, also broadening the availability of their chemicals for certifications and reporting. Companies can use this information for marketing purposes, including for consumer labels, but it’s also critical for risk management and verifying internal claims about a product. “As we get more and more eyes on our platform, we’ll be able to make that case even more strongly that: ‘Hey, chemical suppliers, if you have good stuff and you want to verify those claims, this is a great place to do it,'” Glass said. “We feel a tremendous sense of urgency to not only stop unknowing toxic chemical exposure, but to empower those who are working to create a safe and circular future for all.” Data driven Glass spent a decade in green building, serving as VP for the built environment at the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute , which shaped in 2016 the earliest version of ChemFORWARD. Research across industries, up and down supply chains, found that companies lacked information to use better chemistry. Good attempts by other nonprofits had failed to gain traction. Recognizing a larger industry need, the institute spun out the effort, which currently counts less than 10 staff members distributed across the U.S. and a network of toxicologists. I realized this was a data organization problem, our not knowing what was in our stuff and what we’re exposed to. “I realized this was a data organization problem, our not knowing what was in our stuff and what we’re exposed to, and the incredible tax this exposure is causing to society,” Glass said. “I’m not a chemist, I’m not a toxicologist — I said, we can fix this. I see the solution clearly. I’ll take any data solution, any scalable solution, that will get this information into the hands of designers and formulators so (they) can make safer decisions.” It’s possible ChemFORWARD ultimately could feed data into life-cycle analysis or supply chain management tools. It can’t hurt to have Google as a partner, and it’s worth noting that the advisory board’s latest addition is Kimberly Shenk, co-founder of the AI-driven supply chain transparency startup Novi. The movement, however, has a long road ahead. It’s still relatively cheap for companies to crank out new molecules, and the chemicals industry is a powerful economic engine and lobbying force. Nevertheless, ChemFORWARD and others pivoting away from the conventional focus in managing chemical risks and instead toward making decisions based on inherent toxicity is a huge paradigm shift, said Mark Rossi, executive director of Clean Production Action, who also created the GreenScreen for Safer Chemicals hazard assessment method with Heine. “It’s really powerful in terms of thinking about moving to green chemistry,” he said. “All chemistry should be green chemistry, and how do you get there? This is all part of that movement toward making choices based on hazards.” Pull Quote We really saw this as a key to unlock in order to improve safe and circular chemistry. We are fundamentally changing the way that chemical hazard data is created, maintained, distributed and financed. It’s really powerful in terms of thinking about moving to green chemistry. I realized this was a data organization problem, our not knowing what was in our stuff and what we’re exposed to. We create a bridge between chemical suppliers, their customers and prospective customers with data that has been traditionally hard to come by, difficult to interpret and sometimes hard to trust. Hey, chemical suppliers, if you have good stuff and you want to verify those claims, this is a great place to do it. Topics Chemicals & Toxics Data Eco-Design BASF Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Industrial chemicals have proliferated exponentially since the time of this antique medical cabinet, and new ways of organizing them are sorely needed. Shutterstock Triff Close Authorship

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Why Google, BASF and Sephora are coming together on safer chemistry

A vote for clean energy

October 16, 2020 by  
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A vote for clean energy Sarah Golden Fri, 10/16/2020 – 01:45 I recently joined the most impressive group of clean energy leaders I’ve known, and it happens to have come together in support of Joe Biden for president. The network: Clean Energy for Biden (CE4B).  It includes more than 9,500 clean energy professionals in the public, private and nonprofit sectors. There are entrepreneurs, engineers, policymakers, technicians and investors. There are thought leaders I’ve long admired and business leaders that have made clean energy more accessible to all people. Clean energy professionals as a voting bloc CE4B is evidence that the clean energy sector is, perhaps for the first time, a significant voting bloc in the United States.  Before the start of the COVID crisis, the clean energy sector employed nearly 3.4 million Americans in all 50 states. In 42 states, more people are included in clean energy than in the fossil fuel industry. If mobilized, these millions of Americans could have a major impact in this and future elections.  CE4B shows that support for clean energy as a voting issue is already widespread. The self-organizing, all-volunteer effort has more than 25 active state teams and organized more than 100 grassroots events, which collectively have raised more than $2.6 million on behalf of the Biden campaign.  The executive council is more than 50 industry leaders, including household names (for energy nerds) and representation from major companies, including Kate Brandt of Google, Jigar Shah of Generate Capital, Kate Gordon of California’s Office of Planning and Research and Jon Wellinghoff, former chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Why get political now? We don’t write about politics much at GreenBiz (although I’m sure regular Energy Weeklyians have a sense of my personal politics).  Much about this presidential contest is outside of the purview of my job as an energy analyst. But when it comes to accelerating the adoption of clean energy, I would be remiss to not call attention to what may be the starkest difference in energy platforms in American history.  If I may simplify the two men’s stances, Donald Trump’s energy policy looks backward to the energy that powered our past, and Biden is looking forward to the fuels of the future. I’m not going to dive into either candidate’s specific platform; others already have written much on the topic. Rather, I’m here to highlight that candidates who support clean energy policy are also supporting economic, climate and social justice policies.  Clean energy policy is economic policy As the economic fallout of the COVID pandemic is coming into focus and the job creation is leveling off, the clean energy transition represents an opportunity to put Americans back to work.  First, clean energy is more jobs-rich than fossil fuels, meaning more people are employed per unit of energy created. A 2010 study found that for every $1 million invested, oil and gas would create roughly five jobs, while wind and solar would create 13 or 14 jobs.  Second, clean energy jobs are distributed. While dirty energy is usually centralized — think coal miners in West Virginia or roughnecks in North Dakota — clean energy manufacturers, technicians and installers are needed in every community, and provide options at every skill level. According to E2, all but two of America’s 3,007 counties are home to clean energy jobs.  Third, prioritizing clean energy gives America a chance to be a global leaders in advanced energy technologies. Getting ahead of the innovation curve means the country could be exporting technologies as other nations race to meet climate goals. Which I find a lot more exciting than trying to prop up dinosaur industries.  My two cents: if you are worried about the economy, supporting candidates that understand the jobs potential in the clean energy sector is a smart move.  Clean energy policy is climate policy  Scientists agree that the next decade will be critical to addressing climate change and avoiding the worst of its economic impacts and human toll.  So it makes sense that voters are beginning to see climate as a voting issue. A recent poll from Pew Research shows that 68 percent of likely voters rank climate as “very” or “somewhat” important, up from 44 percent in 2009. Luckily, the same policies that will create clean energy jobs will curb energy-related emissions. While energy is not the only source of climate-changing emissions, it is a sector that has carbon-free solutions today, meaning it must rapidly decarbonize to give us a chance at a safe climate future.  We’re already seeing the economic impacts of extreme weather across the country and world. Politicians that work to curb the worst impacts of climate change are working to curb the human and economic tolls.  Clean energy policy is social justice policy Like so many other issues, those most affected by pollution from dirty energy are low-income communities and communities of color.  If you’re Black in America, you have higher rates of lung cancer and asthma, and are more likely to have (and die from) heart disease, all linked to living with dirty air. Nearly one in two Latinx people in the U.S. live in counties where the air doesn’t meet EPA smog standards. People of color are more likely to live near highways, airports, power plants and refineries.  That all takes a toll on health, economic potential and quality of life. Supporting a just energy transition is synonymous with supporting marginalized communities to become more resilient, prosperous and healthy.  Clean energy technologies — the same that uplift the economy and address climate change — can help all communities thrive. Politicians who understand that are taking the realities of environmental racism seriously.  Vote Clean energy is a rare issue that is win-win-win: it uplifts the economy, creates jobs and helps curb climate change. The only downside is incumbent energy powers need to get out of the way.  Of course, the sector isn’t perfect. Clean energy advocates are working hard to not replicate the same inequities or unintended consequences as the old, dirty energy sources. But I, for one, am ready for political debates about how to best create energy systems for the future, rather than debate if we should stay in the past.  And, no matter what your political ideology is, if you’re a U.S. reader, vote in whatever way you can. It’s what being American is all about.  This essay first appeared in GreenBiz’s newsletter Energy Weekly, running Thursdays. Subscribe here . Topics Energy & Climate Policy & Politics Social Justice Clean Energy Featured Column Power Points Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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A vote for clean energy

Severe coastal floods could affect 287 million people by 2100

August 3, 2020 by  
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A recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports has revealed that more than 4% of the world’s population could be exposed to severe flooding by the end of the century. The study was inspired by a continuous rise in the number of coastal floods across the world, and it builds upon previous research from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Currently, about 148 million people experience flooding events across the world, but this could increase to 287 million by 2100. Many of the floods are related to the rise in sea levels caused by melting glaciers. The study has now revealed that if measures are not taken to control greenhouse gas emissions , about 77 million additional people would be exposed to flooding in the next 80 years. However, even if the measures being taken to curb greenhouse gas emissions are maintained, global warming would still continue at a rate of 1.8 degrees Celsius. This would mean that about 54 million people will be exposed to coastal flooding at the end of the century. The effects of increased coastal flooding will get worse with time. In the worst-case scenario, coastal assets worth $14.2 trillion will experience flooding at the turn of the century — an equivalent of 20% of the current global GDP. Considering such factors, efforts must be made to minimize greenhouse gas emissions. Related: Venice’s worst flood in 50 years blamed on climate change The causes of increased flooding in coastal cities are human-caused global warming , storm surges and high tides. As global temperatures rise, more land-based ice melts, leading to sea level rise. But the study indicates that even immediate action may not stop the extreme flooding. The report warns that by 2050, major flooding events will have increased in intensity. A one-in-100-years flooding event could occur every 10 years. As much as 4% of the global population might be exposed to severe flooding events. Professor Ian Young of the University of Melbourne and co-author of the study said, “We certainly need to mitigate our greenhouse gases but that won’t solve this problem. The sea-level rise is already baked in — even if we reduce emissions today the sea level will continue to rise because the glaciers will continue to melt for hundreds of years.” The study has identified some regions that are likely to be affected the most by the continuous rise in sea levels. Among the areas of highest concern include southeastern China, northern Australia and Bangladesh as well as Gujarat and West Bengal in India. In the U.S., North Carolina, Maryland and Virginia have been identified as the most likely to be exposed. Other countries that are likely to be affected by major flooding include France, Germany and the U.K. + Scientific Reports Via The Guardian Image via Kelly Sikkema

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Severe coastal floods could affect 287 million people by 2100

Mysterious seeds from China arriving in mail across America

July 30, 2020 by  
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Agricultural officials from several states have expressed alarm over unsolicited packages of seeds delivered to residents. The packages appear to come from China, as they feature China Post labeling. Agricultural officers advise farmers not to plant the seeds, in case they are harmful or invasive. Warnings sent out to farmers and residents follow reports of unsolicited seed packages being delivered in residents’ mail. Several people reported receiving seeds in white pouches that featured Chinese writing and the words “China Post.” Another concerning detail is that the seed packages were not labeled as food or agricultural products. Envelopes included misleading labels, with some listing the contents as jewelry, toys or earbuds. States that have released public notices against planting the unsolicited seeds include Washington, Virginia, Kentucky, Delaware, Colorado, Iowa, Georgia, Minnesota, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, Oklahoma, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia, North Dakota, Texas, Alabama and Florida. Kentucky , one of the first states to receive reports of unsolicited seeds, issued warnings to residents. As Ryan Quarles, Kentucky’s Agriculture Commissioner, wrote on Twitter, residents should “put the package and seeds in a zip lock bag and wash your hands immediately.” Residents must also send any seeds they receive to the Department of Agriculture. Following the reports, several other states, including Arkansas, Michigan , Oregon and New Jersey, issued warnings to residents. Such measures may help prevent farmers from planting harmful, contaminated seeds. The Chinese Embassy in Washington claims these China Post packages “to be fake ones with erroneous layouts and entries.” Cecilia Sequeira, spokesperson for the U.S. Agriculture Department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, says the department is working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to stop illegal importation of prohibited seeds. Should you receive any mysterious seeds in the mail, report it to the nearest Agriculture Office. + NY Times Image via Pexels

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Mysterious seeds from China arriving in mail across America

Rael San Fratello prints amazing 3D mud structures as prototypes for affordable housing of the future

October 24, 2019 by  
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Led by architects Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello, design studio Rael San Fratello has become well-known for creating innovative and sustainable designs, but now the studio is truly breaking ground when it comes to 3D printing . As part of its Emerging Objects series, the design team has created four solid mud structures. Built by a low-cost, portable 3D robot, the four buildings were all printed using soil and wood sourced on site in Colorado’s expansive Valle de San Luis. The team chose Colorado’s San Luis Valley as the site for their series due to its rich history of Ancestral Pueblo and the Indo-Hispano cultures. Referring to the traditional building practices of these cultures, which predominately included using earthen materials to create sturdy housing, Rael San Fratello has managed to create four 3D-printed prototypes: Hearth, Beacon, Lookout and Kiln, that explore the various techniques of mud construction . Related: BigDelta machine 3D-prints durable, affordable houses from dirt The project, called Mud Frontiers, began by researching the typical earthen items that have been made from the clay harvested from the area. They then collaborated with 3D ceramic print company 3D Potter to create a small, portable robot called Potterbot XLS-1, which was built to print the mud creations on site. The first design, Hearth was built using a thin wall of mud reinforced with rot-resistant juniper wood. This structure has a tiny fireplace on the interior that burns the wood as well. The second design, Beacon was designed to research just how thin the mud walls could be by stacking various coils of mudwork. In this structure, light illuminates through the indentations along the walls, serving as a “beacon” of light. The third design, Lookout, was comprised of a network of undulating mud coils that are layers to form a staircase, creating a structure that is strong enough to withstand substantial weight. Additionally, this structure was built with cross sections of mud piping that can be used to create a system of natural air circulation through various openings. The final prototype, Kiln, included a culmination of the anterior designs, but adds a kiln that uses locally-sourced clay fired with juniper wood to create earthen ware items. Using the various traditional techniques helped designers determine that mud could indeed be a viable solution for providing more affordable construction options in the future. Especially as urban and rural area designers and architects look for sustainable materials to build resilient structures. “What we learned was really how accessible, robust and powerful it was to print large scale structures so quickly using the soil just beneath our feet,” Rael told Dezeen. “We discovered work flows for printing, material mixture processes, structural applications and theories about new and old ways of living and designing for the future using humankind’s most humble material.” + Rael San Fratello + Emerging Objects Via Dezeen Photography by Rael San Fratello

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LEED Platinum CoLab Building brings first-ever CLT structure to Virginia

September 13, 2019 by  
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Earlier this summer, William McDonough + Partners and HITT Contracting officially opened Co|Lab, an innovative research space in Falls Church that has received LEED Platinum certification for its high-performance design. It is also the first cross-laminated timber structure in Virginia and the first commercial mass timber building in the Washington, D.C. metro area. As a beacon for sustainable design, the impressive building incorporates a wide swath of green features — such as Cradle-to-Cradle materials and roof-mounted photovoltaic panels — and is expected to achieve Zero Energy Certification. Located close to HITT’s headquarters in northern Virginia, the 8,650-square-foot Co|Lab serves as a research and testing center for emerging materials and technology . In addition to a double-height lab workspace that offers room for full-scale spatial and building “mockups,” the building includes flexible meeting and conference spaces, all of which are oriented for maximum access to natural light. The layout is organized around the workspace to encourage engagement between clients and team members through direct observation and hands-on interaction. Related: Interview with green architect and Cradle-to-Cradle founder William McDonough Per William McDonough + Partner’s commitment to circular economy principles, Co|Lab is constructed with high-value mass timber elements that can be disassembled and reused or recycled if needed. The use of mass timber also reduces the building’s carbon footprint and aids occupant well-being. Cradle-to-Cradle, Health Product Declaration, Forest Stewardship Council and Declare products were also used to promote human and environmental health. All of Co|Lab’s energy consumption will be offset by a rooftop solar array to ensure zero-energy consumption. “We designed HITT’s Co|Lab based on our concept of building like a tree,” said McDonough. “Instead of just talking about minimal environmental footprint, we talk about beneficial environmental footprint — not just minimizing negative emissions — we talk about optimizing positive emissions.” The building will also pursue Petal Certification from the International Living Future Institute. + William McDonough + Partners Photography by John Cole Photography via William McDonough + Partners

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LEED Platinum CoLab Building brings first-ever CLT structure to Virginia

Are Virginia Data Centers Making Your Data Dirty?

September 9, 2019 by  
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It is said that 70 percent of the world’s internet … The post Are Virginia Data Centers Making Your Data Dirty? appeared first on Earth911.com.

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Hurricane Dorian causes onshore oil spill in Bahamas

September 6, 2019 by  
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Besides demolishing homes, uprooting wildlife and ravaging forests, Hurricane Dorian has also caused an onshore oil spill in the Bahamas. Norwegian energy company Equinor reported it discovered an oil spill at its storage and transshipment terminal. “Our initial aerial assessment of the South Riding Point facility has found that the terminal has sustained damage, and oil has been observed on the ground outside of the onshore tanks,” Equinor said. Related: Hurricane Dorian threatens endangered bird species Before Hurricane Dorian hit, Equinor said it closed all its operations at the South Riding Point terminal on Aug. 31, and no staff was on the premises. “It is too early to indicate any volumes,” the company said. “At this point there are no observations of any oil spill at sea.” Equinor’s terminal contains 6.75 million barrels of crude and condensate storage and provides heavy crude oil blending services. “While weather conditions on the island have improved, road conditions and flooding continue to impact our ability to assess the situation and the scope of damages to the terminal and its surroundings,” the company added. Weather forecasters reported Hurricane Dorian made landfall early Friday morning at Cape Hatteras, North Carolina and is now a Category 1 hurricane. Hurricane warnings have been issued for Canada as the hurricane continues moving northeast, and the threat of storm surges in North Carolina and Virginia remains. At the time of writing, at least 30 people have been killed in the Bahamas , the health minister said. More deaths are expected to be announced. Via Reuters , NBC News and The Weather Channel Image via NOAA

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Hurricane Dorian causes onshore oil spill in Bahamas

Experts warn earths topsoil is almost gone

June 3, 2019 by  
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Nearly half of all the world’s top soil has disappeared over the last 150 years, despite its critical importance to our food supply. At least 95 percent of our global food supply relies on rich topsoil for production and the better the soil the more nutritious the food. Experts warn that without massive reformations to agriculture and city planning, we could run out of topsoil in the next 60 years. Intensive farming is the primary cause for the loss of topsoil. Soil that is exposed to elements like wind and rain is easily lost on farms that rely on chemical inputs to compensate for the lack of nutritious top soil. Other farming practices, like over-tilling, synthetic chemical use and lack of cover crops contributes to the degradation of soil as well. Related: Researchers rush to link toxic chemical to health concerns “We never want to see our soil unless we go looking for it,” says Keith Berns a farmer in Nebraska who advocates for the use of cover crops and no-till methods. Across the country, more and more farmers are switching to strategies that do not plow or till their land and are seeing more organic matter in their soil. Although not all farmers are sold on its benefits, the percentage of land using no-till methodology was up to 40 percent in 2017, a small but significant increase from just 32 percent in 2012. Similarly, the percentage of land with cover crops saw an increase of 50 percent from five years prior, which totals about 15 million acres of cover crop. Soil advocates are hopeful that state legislation and programs will further incentivize farmers to practice more responsible farming that maintains and replenishes soil . In Maryland and Virginia, for example, government grants helped encourage farmers to switch to cover crop systems and the benefits to the soil have been considerable. Via The Guardian Image via daeron

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Experts warn earths topsoil is almost gone

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