Architect designs his own breezy, plant-filled home in Los Angeles

November 18, 2020 by  
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David Montalba, founding principal of Montalba Architects, recently completed a 5,450-square-foot personal residence in Santa Monica, California. The design is based around a vertical courtyard concept with movable wooden screens that make up the facade. These screens help cool the home in an energy-efficient way during the area’s hot summers. Several additional green design elements, including a Tesla Powerwall and solar panels, further reduce the home’s carbon footprint. At three stories, the home seamlessly merges indoor and outdoor with the series of operable wooden screens, providing just enough privacy from neighbors. The vertical courtyard connects all levels of the house while a concrete base acts as an anchor to the lower levels. Landscaped balconies and the enclosed courtyard are divided by lush plants and connected with a bridge. The result is an L-shaped plan centered around the courtyard, locking into the site while the second floor hovers above the concrete footing and living quarters on the ground floor. Related: Santa Barbara home is surrounded by wooden screens for natural climate control   “Given the lot’s size and the neighborhood, the biggest challenge was making sure we didn’t overbuild and maintained some degree of privacy with our immediate neighbors,” Montalba said. “This was achieved by creating a basement level and vertical courtyard in which the house is organized. Los Angeles has a long history of residential courtyard buildings and that in combination with the privacy it offered helped drive this concept.” The louvers provide cross-ventilation over the footprint of the house, while the strategically placed pool provides evaporative cooling to create a breezy corridor through the living area. Adjacent terraced gardens and the perimeter of the home are landscaped with native plants for shading, cooling and stormwater retention. Other eco-friendly features include a rainwater collection system for potable water, a Tesla Powerwall , solar panels and radiant heating and cooling systems. A vertical garden adds more plant life to the home, while a thermal mass in the basement helps further achieve comfortable temperatures year-round. Soft tones and organic colors are featured in the interior design, with floor-to-ceiling length windows to let in plenty of natural light. + Montalba Architects Photography by Kevin Scott via v2com

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Architect designs his own breezy, plant-filled home in Los Angeles

Brussels train station transformed into wooden shopping and event center

November 17, 2020 by  
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The Gare Maritime railway station in Brussels has seen a huge transformation. The building, formerly one of Europe’s largest railway stations for goods, has been renovated into a new city district shopping and event development made of cross-laminated timber. Reimagined as a multi-purpose public space for companies and events, the building is covered entirely in  wood  and highlights sustainable architectural practices such as solar energy and rainwater collection systems. According to the architects at Neutelings Riedijk, the structure is the largest  cross-laminated timber  project in Europe. Architects added a series of 12 new building volumes to accommodate a new program of 45,000 square meters. Along with the existing halls, roofs and side aisles, the new design creates a structure that mimics a small city with streets and parks. Related: Sweden’s tallest timber building could save 550 tons of CO2 The choice of wood came down to sustainability and weight, as a concrete construction would have been five times heavier. Cross-laminated timber with a facade finishing in oak offered the perfect solution to create a prefabricated and dry construction method with shorter building time. As a result, the design features demountable connections and modular wooden building elements to promote sustainability. The central space is reserved for public events and contains a green walking boulevard on both sides. Routes measure 16 meters wide, giving pedestrians plenty of room to enjoy the spacious inner garden complete with a hundred trees. Overall, the space includes a total of 10 gardens based on four themes: woodland, flowers, grass and fragrance. As Brussels enjoys a Mediterranean climate, designers chose plants that adapt to the specific growing conditions. The Gare Maritime also remains completely energy neutral and fossil-free thanks to glass facades and solar cells, with a total area of 17,000 square meters of roof space dedicated to  solar panels . The building uses geothermal energy and a rainwater collection system to water the massive gardens. + Neutelings Riedijk Architects Via ArchDaily Photo: Filip Dujardin/Sarah Blee/Tim Fisher | © Neutelings Riedijk Architects

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Brussels train station transformed into wooden shopping and event center

Brussels train station transformed into wooden shopping and event center

November 17, 2020 by  
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The Gare Maritime railway station in Brussels has seen a huge transformation. The building, formerly one of Europe’s largest railway stations for goods, has been renovated into a new city district shopping and event development made of cross-laminated timber. Reimagined as a multi-purpose public space for companies and events, the building is covered entirely in  wood  and highlights sustainable architectural practices such as solar energy and rainwater collection systems. According to the architects at Neutelings Riedijk, the structure is the largest  cross-laminated timber  project in Europe. Architects added a series of 12 new building volumes to accommodate a new program of 45,000 square meters. Along with the existing halls, roofs and side aisles, the new design creates a structure that mimics a small city with streets and parks. Related: Sweden’s tallest timber building could save 550 tons of CO2 The choice of wood came down to sustainability and weight, as a concrete construction would have been five times heavier. Cross-laminated timber with a facade finishing in oak offered the perfect solution to create a prefabricated and dry construction method with shorter building time. As a result, the design features demountable connections and modular wooden building elements to promote sustainability. The central space is reserved for public events and contains a green walking boulevard on both sides. Routes measure 16 meters wide, giving pedestrians plenty of room to enjoy the spacious inner garden complete with a hundred trees. Overall, the space includes a total of 10 gardens based on four themes: woodland, flowers, grass and fragrance. As Brussels enjoys a Mediterranean climate, designers chose plants that adapt to the specific growing conditions. The Gare Maritime also remains completely energy neutral and fossil-free thanks to glass facades and solar cells, with a total area of 17,000 square meters of roof space dedicated to  solar panels . The building uses geothermal energy and a rainwater collection system to water the massive gardens. + Neutelings Riedijk Architects Via ArchDaily Photo: Filip Dujardin/Sarah Blee/Tim Fisher | © Neutelings Riedijk Architects

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Brussels train station transformed into wooden shopping and event center

Brussels train station transformed into wooden shopping and event center

November 17, 2020 by  
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The Gare Maritime railway station in Brussels has seen a huge transformation. The building, formerly one of Europe’s largest railway stations for goods, has been renovated into a new city district shopping and event development made of cross-laminated timber. Reimagined as a multi-purpose public space for companies and events, the building is covered entirely in  wood  and highlights sustainable architectural practices such as solar energy and rainwater collection systems. According to the architects at Neutelings Riedijk, the structure is the largest  cross-laminated timber  project in Europe. Architects added a series of 12 new building volumes to accommodate a new program of 45,000 square meters. Along with the existing halls, roofs and side aisles, the new design creates a structure that mimics a small city with streets and parks. Related: Sweden’s tallest timber building could save 550 tons of CO2 The choice of wood came down to sustainability and weight, as a concrete construction would have been five times heavier. Cross-laminated timber with a facade finishing in oak offered the perfect solution to create a prefabricated and dry construction method with shorter building time. As a result, the design features demountable connections and modular wooden building elements to promote sustainability. The central space is reserved for public events and contains a green walking boulevard on both sides. Routes measure 16 meters wide, giving pedestrians plenty of room to enjoy the spacious inner garden complete with a hundred trees. Overall, the space includes a total of 10 gardens based on four themes: woodland, flowers, grass and fragrance. As Brussels enjoys a Mediterranean climate, designers chose plants that adapt to the specific growing conditions. The Gare Maritime also remains completely energy neutral and fossil-free thanks to glass facades and solar cells, with a total area of 17,000 square meters of roof space dedicated to  solar panels . The building uses geothermal energy and a rainwater collection system to water the massive gardens. + Neutelings Riedijk Architects Via ArchDaily Photo: Filip Dujardin/Sarah Blee/Tim Fisher | © Neutelings Riedijk Architects

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Brussels train station transformed into wooden shopping and event center

These elevated wooden cabins can only accessed via hiking trail

November 5, 2020 by  
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Norweigian architectural firm Spacegroup has released renderings of the Movikheien Cabins, a development of raised wooden cabins in Hagefjorden, Norway. The property design purposefully does not include car-accessible roads; this limited access, along with the elevated cabins, aims to exhibit minimal physical encroachment on the natural terrain. According to the architects, the global COVID-19 pandemic that initially hit in mid-March has opened new opportunities in local travel industries despite having negative consequences on the economy. While international travel became limited due to pandemic restrictions, leading to uncertainty in the airline industry and a historically low value for the Norweigan Krone, the locals began to turn to domestic travel to explore the destinations in their own backyards. Related: Snøhetta completes stunning Norwegian cabins for glacier hikers The new development will boast environmentally friendly design and social inclusivity. In the past, cabin and campground developments meant manipulating the natural terrain by cutting down large areas of forest to produce oversized structures with large carbon footprints. The Movikheien Cabins project breaks this trend, with traditional “light touch” small units measuring about 62 square meters each and made using 100% wood construction. Sixteen new cabins are proposed for the development, each sitting on elevated columns above the terrain to preserve the landscape while remaining connected to the forest. This shared-yet-separate space provides a social community element all while protecting the land. Even better, a principle concept in the planning is dedicated to ensuring that the space would not be accessible to cars, since building roads would require too much intervention in the landscape. Instead, the site is accessed solely by a hiking trail designed by the client and architects as well as a rock climber and arborist who walked and mapped the location. This aspect also contributes to a lower construction footprint, as all building components must be of a dimension to be transported without the use of heavy machinery. + Spacegroup Images via Spacegroup

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These elevated wooden cabins can only accessed via hiking trail

Renewable energy to power 2024 Olympic aquatic center

October 23, 2020 by  
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The architectural team of VenhoevenCS and Ateliers 2/3/4/ have revealed plans for a timber aquatic center in Paris, which will use a smart energy system to provide 90% of needed energy from recovered or  renewable energy  sources for the 2024 Olympics. The complex will also include a vast pedestrian bridge connecting it to the existing Stade de France. As the only new building constructed for the 2024 games, the timber aquatic center will remain useful well after the  Olympic  games end, with further opportunities for residents to learn swimming, practice sports, relax and build community. The idea is to provide healthy living incentives for the local people, as well as promote sustainability and biodiversity with abundant vegetation surrounding the structure. The proposal includes plans to create room for over 100 trees onsite to improve air quality, stimulate biodiversity and create new ecological connections. Related: Tokyo’s Olympic medals will be made from recycled phones According to the designers, the complex’s  solar roof  will be one of France’s largest solar farms and will cover 25% of all required electricity consumption, equivalent to 200 homes. With water preservation paramount for utility cost and environmental conservation, the building includes an efficient water consumption system to reuse 50% of the old water when freshwater is needed. The center also utilizes  upcycled furniture  in its design. All of the furniture inside restaurants, bars and entrances uses wood waste from the construction site or demolition sites, and the chairs are fashioned from 100% recycled plastic collected from a nearby school. The main structure is made of  wood , with a suspended roof shape that will minimize the need for air conditioning and make it more efficient to heat. The interior Olympic arena tribunes on three sides and contains room for 5,000 spectators to congregate around a massive modular pool for swimming, diving and water polo competitions. All other events will occur inside temporary venues or existing structures. + VenhoevenCS Via Dezeen Design: VenhoevenCS & Ateliers 2/3/4/ Images: Proloog

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Europe’s wood pellet market is worsening environmental racism in the American South

October 21, 2020 by  
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Europe’s wood pellet market is worsening environmental racism in the American South Danielle Purifoy Wed, 10/21/2020 – 00:45 This story was originally published by Southerly , in partnership with Scalawag and Environmental Health News for its Powerlines series, which looks at climate change, justice, and infrastructure in the American South. The series is supported by the Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture at Columbia University, and is part of their  POWER project .  In 2013, when Enviva Biomass opened a new plant near Belinda Joyner’s community in Northampton County, North Carolina, she already knew what to expect. As the Northeast Organizer for  Clean Water for North Carolina , she’d met with residents of a small, majority Black town called Ahoskie, 40 miles from her home. Enviva had built its  first North Carolina plant  there two years before.  The corporation, which manufactures wood pellets as a purportedly renewable alternative to coal, did what most industries do in prospective communities — they promised jobs, economic development, and minimal impacts. What Ahoskie got was approximately 50 direct jobs, local tree loss,  noise ,  heavy traffic, air pollution, and combustible dust  from wood drying and processing that threatens their health and enjoyment of their homes. On top of those impacts, as many scientists and environmental groups now say, wood pellets are not the hoped-for transition fuel championed just 11 years ago.  However, like Ahoskie, Joyner’s community wasn’t quick to organize against the plant.  “I made an announcement in my church that this plant was coming and I kind of gave them a gist of what it would entail and at first, you know how people just don’t kinda pay you any attention?” she said. “And then once [Enviva] start building it, then they were saying ‘oh this is coming,’ and I told them ‘this is what I tried to tell you all about.’”  In June, I interviewed Joyner and other members of her community in Northampton County, which is located in the Northeast corner of the state, close to the Virginia state line. The area is rural, and peppered with industries — including Westrock Paper Mill, a warehouse and distribution center for Lowe’s Hardware, an industrial hog farm, and Enviva. Until it was canceled in late July, the  Atlantic Coast Pipeline  was slated to run through the county, connecting to a newly constructed compressor station.  The county is also majority Black (57 percent), with 21 percent of residents living in poverty compared to 14 percent statewide,  according to the most recent data  from the U.S. Census. The county’s median household income is 38 percent lower than the state as a whole; it is classified by North Carolina as a  “Tier 1” county , meaning that it is among the 40 most economically distressed of the state’s 100 counties. From Northampton County to Alabama’s Black Belt, residents and activists say companies like Enviva exploit mostly communities of color with promises to build up busted local economies with a “green energy” industry. Joyner’s home sits in a cozy loop of houses in a small Northampton County town. As I pull up to her house, she’s sitting on her porch with her sister and neighbors, chatting with masks on. The community is tight; they’ve shared a lot of their lives in this place.  For seven years, they’ve also had to share the burdens and losses from Enviva. “I call Northampton County the dumping ground,” Joyner said. “Being that we live right here off I-95, and it’s easy access, they just feel like more or less they can just come in here and give us anything, and we’re supposed to be happy after we get it.”  Enviva is the world’s largest producer of industrial wood pellets and is part of a rapidly growing industry in the U.S. South, where companies find ample forests, lax business regulations, and ports along the Atlantic coast. Though there is some domestic demand for wood pellets for electric utilities — particularly in the Northeast — the majority of wood pellets manufactured in the region are  exported to the European Union  (EU) and the United Kingdom (UK), to fulfill global commitments to mitigate climate change by reducing reliance on fossil fuels.  Other wood pellet companies have flocked to the region, including  Drax , a major energy utility in the UK that now manufactures wood pellets in the U.S. South to burn them overseas in its power plants. Collectively, the region’s wood pellet industry exports more than 7.4 million tons of pellets per year. With facility expansions and several prospective plants on the horizon, that number is expected to climb in coming years. From Northampton County to Alabama’s Black Belt, residents and activists say companies like Enviva exploit mostly communities of color with promises to build up busted local economies with a “green energy” industry. Instead, communities hosting wood pellet facilities are not only further burdened by pollution and other local dangers, they are also entangled in yet another climate damaging trend — the destruction of biodiverse hardwood forests and the rise of monoculture tree plantations to produce energy that appears to pose climate threats similar to coal.  The rise of the wood pellet industry in the U.S. South can be traced back to 2009, when wood pellets were touted as a “transition fuel” that could be used to advance the  EU’s climate goals  — a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels, and a 20 percent increase in renewable energy by 2020. Wood pellets were considered to be renewable energy because replanted forests could recapture carbon lost in the clear cutting and burning process. They were also coveted because unlike solar, wind, or water energy, wood pellets can be burned in the same incinerators as coal with some retrofits, thus eliminating the expense of new infrastructure. The U.S. South was targeted for sourcing wood pellets because of its status as the world’s “wood basket” — it is the largest producer of wood products, according to Emily Zucchino, Director of Community Engagement for the Dogwood Alliance, an environmental nonprofit committed to protect[ing] Southern forests across 14 [U.S.] states.  Enviva Biomass, headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, has a large foothold in the region, with nine wood pellet manufacturing plants across six states — North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Virginia and Mississippi — and two more facilities pending. A sign outside of the Ahoskie facility reads, “This is Enviva Country.” A spokesperson wrote that the company has a production capacity of 4.9 million metric tons of pellets per year.  Several other wood pellet production companies also operate in the region — Pinnacle Renewable Energy Inc in Alabama, Highland Pellets in Arkansas, Mohegan Renewable Energy in Tennessee, and Drax, which manufactures wood pellets mostly near the Gulf Coast.  But even if the EU has met its 2020 climate goals — the region claims to have already  reduced emissions by 23.2   percent  in 2018  — the use of wood pellets raises important questions about the EU’s carbon accounting, [PDM1] and even more questions about public health and climate consequences for the U.S. South, which is already bearing the brunt of climate change effects.  “As more and more science came out about the industry… it became clear that this is not the green and carbon neutral energy it was made out to be,” Zucchino said. According to  a 2009 study  on climate accounting published in  Science Magazine , at the point of combustion, wood pellets put more carbon into the atmosphere than coal, despite generating less energy per unit than coal. Other studies, like one published in 2012 in  GBC Bioenergy , directly challenge the idea that wood pellets are renewable energy because forests can be replanted. The “carbon debt” generated when forests are cut and their stored carbon is burned into the atmosphere can take decades, if not more than a century, to “repay” through forest regrowth. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says humans must reduce carbon emissions by 45 percent by 2030 to avoid the most catastrophic climate change impacts.  As more and more science came out about the industry… it became clear that this is not the green and carbon neutral energy it was made out to be. What makes the wood pellet strategy even more complicated is that,  due to loopholes in the EU climate policy , carbon emissions from burning wood pellets are often never counted.  Kenneth Richter, a Germany-based environmental policy consultant for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said that the loophole is due to the disconnect in carbon accounting between the EU’s land use change policies and its energy policies. Carbon loss is measured only when trees are cut, and not when they’re burned for power. Another problem is that when pellets are imported, the EU counts no emissions at all. Though the theory is that the exporting nations would account for those emissions from clear cutting forests, the U.S. does not account for carbon loss from the wood pellet industry because it is no longer part of the Paris Agreement on climate change.  “You have massive amounts of carbon going into the atmosphere but everyone pretends they’re not there,” Richter said. “Everyone else says it’s someone else’s responsibility.”  The EU and UK also provide heavy subsidies to the industry because of the expense of importing wood pellets. Their reliance on the energy source to meet stringent emissions targets is now heavily political — and hard to correct — despite the growing scientific evidence against it.  “Energy companies in many European countries have obligations to produce a certain percentage from renewable sources,” Richter said. “It’s easiest to burn wood with coal, much cheaper than solar panels. They’re pushing the governments — if you don’t allow us to do this [burn wood pellets] and don’t subsidize us we’re going to fail. Drax is a prime example. It produces a large percentage of the UK’s electricity. If [the UK] took subsidies away from Drax, it would fail and cause difficulties in producing enough electricity in the short term.”  Northampton County residents like Joyner are more immediately concerned about the acute impacts of wood pellet manufacturing, from local clear cutting of privately-owned forests to the 24/7 production process.  “The noise… banging and during all hours of the night,” Silverleen Alston, who lives about a mile from Enviva’s plant in Northampton County, said in our interview at Joyner’s home. “I used to call up there [to Enviva] and tell them, why don’t they stop, lower the noise or whatever, till I stopped. I don’t even do it no more.”  In addition to the noise from grinding trees and truck traffic, Alston and others complain about a constant cloud of dust flowing from the plant onto their homes, cars, gardens, and into their lungs.  “The stuff is in the air, coming [in] all directions. I keep my car in a carport, and you can see the stuff on the car. So you know it’s not just coming down from above,” Alston said.  A  2018 report  by the Environmental Integrity Project found that 21 wood pellet mills exporting to the EU emit thousands of tons of particulate matter (fine dust), carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides (smog), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) per year, each of which are  associated with a range of illnesses , from respiratory and heart disease to cancer. These wood pellet mills also emit 3.1 million tons of greenhouse gases per year. The report also found that at least a third of wood pellet facilities violated their air permit limits in 2017. Fires and explosions have erupted in plants in five states largely from wood dust, which is combustible. In 2017, a wood pellet storage silo owned by German Pellets in Port Arthur, Texas,  caught fire  and burned unchecked for two months, sending many local residents to the hospital. Later that year, a  worker at the silo died  when pellets fell on the Bobcat machine he was operating. Many of Alston’s family members, who live together on a large plot of land they own, suffer from respiratory illnesses that have been exacerbated since Enviva’s arrival. Her father had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)   and died two years ago. Her aunt also has COPD, and her sister has to sleep on a breathing machine. Alston, her mother, and another sister all have breathing problems, though not as severe.  These wood pellet mills also emit 3.1 million tons of greenhouse gases per year. … Fires and explosions have erupted in plants in five states largely from wood dust, which is combustible. Other community members complain about not being able to spend as much time outdoors anymore.  “We have a gentleman that lives in the area, he said that he has to wash his car every three days and power wash his house every three months, and that’s the stuff that comes from Enviva,” Joyner said. “There’s a young man that lives out there that says he doesn’t cook out anymore because he can see the residue falling from the sky.” Richie Harding, a pastor of a local church in Northampton County, doesn’t live close enough to Enviva to experience the dust, but the private forest where Enviva sources its trees is near his house. When I interviewed him by phone, he told me that large swaths of the forest are now gone and listed the wildlife he’s observed in the area since the clear cutting.  “There’s been a high increase in the amount of animals,” Harding said. “Bobcats, black bears… coyotes… sightings more frequent in the Gaston area.”  In an email response Enviva’s director of communications and public affairs María Moreno wrote that Enviva follows all applicable environmental laws, including the U.S. Clean Air Act, and even exceeds regulation standards in controlling air pollution at its facilities.  “We use state-of-the-art, industry-proven air emission controls to reduce emissions from our manufacturing process with at least 95% destruction efficiency,” Moreno wrote. “We are going above and beyond what is required by the law as an industry leader to show our commitment to environmental stewardship in the communities where we live and operate.”  Despite installing additional pollution controls and obtaining an environmental justice (EJ) analysis approved by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) last year, Enviva’s claims do not reflect the daily experiences of residents living near the facility. In my interview with Alston, she told me that her husband still has to wash the dust from the plant off their car every other day. Further,  a 2018 study  of wood pellet mills in the U.S. South found that all wood pellet mills in North Carolina and South Carolina are located in low income communities of color typically overburdened by toxic industry. Across the region, the authors found that they are 50 percent more likely to be located in low income communities of color. Pine pellets in front a wall of fire wood. Photo by  tchara  on Shutterstock. As for the forest impacts, Moreno wrote that Enviva only takes “low grade wood,” which is a “by-product of a traditional timber harvest,” and that the higher demand for forest products like wood pellets leads to  more  forest growth.  But Richter, the EU-based environmental policy consultant, says the term “low-grade wood” is business jargon for otherwise healthy trees that are not valuable for the industry, but are very valuable for the planet. He says the increased forest growth that Enviva claims comes from higher demand for wood products is not the same kind of naturally occurring forests that people recognize.  “[O]ften these naturally grown forests are cut down and replaced with something that’s essentially a plantation,” Richter said. “Trees in rows, monoculture. One species, fairly fast growing, hardly any space between them. Sprayed with fertilizers [and] pesticides. It’s an agricultural crop. You lose the wildlife and biodiversity of what you previously had in a natural forest. Companies still call that a forest but it’s nowhere near what’s contained in an actual natural forest.” According to a 2018  Dogwood Alliance report , since 1953, the U.S. South has lost over 33 million acres of natural forest, and gained 40 million acres of pine plantations.  Black families like Alston’s and Joyner’s have owned land in Northampton County for generations, and experienced the closeness and safety of the communities, the freedom of living on the land. Joyner says the noise and pollution made some people in her community want to move away. She called one of her friends who moved an hour south to Zebulon, NC, “one of the fortunate ones.” According to a 2018 Dogwood Alliance report, since 1953, the U.S. South has lost over 33 million acres of natural forest, and gained 40 million acres of pine plantations. But many others can’t afford to move — and some don’t want to. “[Enviva] had mentioned to us, you know, had we thought about moving?” Alston said. “I’m on family earned land, that my grandaddy was invested in. To me, I really can say they couldn’t pay me enough to move.” Enviva got  support from Northampton County Commissioners  before opening the plant in 2013. They made the same promises that they made to Ahoskie — economic development and jobs. But according to Joyner, the public hearings for Enviva’s permit, organized by NCDEQ, were mostly publicized in newspapers and on posters tacked along the road. Not many knew they were happening, or understood what was at stake, so there was low attendance.  “If you really wanted to know what [the poster] was, you basically had to get out of your car and go and look at it,” Joyner said.  After the plant was built, and residents began experiencing the pollution and noise, they joined forces with Dogwood Alliance, which has been monitoring the growth of the wood pellet industry across the U.S. South, to advocate for improved environmental conditions at the plant. But after several meetings with the county commission, Enviva plant administrators and the company’s former public relations director, there were no improvements to the plant; the company has donated resources to local schools and meals to local residents.  Last year, NCDEQ granted Enviva a permit  to expand its Northampton plant , increasing its production capacity from 550,000 metric tons per year to 781,255 metric tons annually.  “We had a public hearing on the 20th of August last year,” Joyner said. “We had 40 or so people there opposed to the expansion and of course the only people who were for the expansion were people who worked for Enviva.”  Even if Enviva exceeds the requirements of its own air permit in its expanded facility, as Moreno wrote in our interview, there are still concerns about further deterioration of environmental quality in the community, and what it means for residents’ health.  “When I looked at the officer that was choking George Floyd, and he said I can’t breathe, this is the same thing that the industries are doing to our communities,” Joyner said. “It’s fine to have jobs, but give us some jobs that don’t kill us.”  As the wood pellet industry continues to grow across the South, Enviva has targeted Alabama and Mississippi for future expansion. The company is building facilities producing significantly larger quantities of wood pellets for export through a deep water  marine port and storage silo  currently under construction in Pasagoula, Mississippi. In each state, the company’s pitch remains the same: jobs and economic development.  “They go into these low wealth communities, promise opportunity, and a lot of residents bite on it,” said Rev. Michael Malcom, executive director of Alabama Interfaith Power and Light. “If we could get ahead of this, we could go in and tell them about the dangers of the wood pellet industry. But unfortunately, the way the system works in Alabama, ADEM keeps things under wraps until it’s time for the public hearing.”  Alabama has the third most timberland acreage in the contiguous 48 states, much of it in the form of pine plantations owned by  private absentee landowners  disconnected from local residents.  Enviva’s first Alabama facility  will be located in a small Black town called Epes, and is projected to open in 2021, with a production capacity of over one million metric tons of wood pellets per year. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) approved the permit last December, with additional  support from Alabama governor Kay Ivey .  Malcom said it is likely that Enviva spends as much as a full year making the case for a new manufacturing plant in a community, promising good jobs and low environmental impacts.  “When they announce [the facility], it’s already too late. [Enviva has] already gone in [to the community] and greased the wheel,” Malcom said.  Through mutual connections to the Dogwood Alliance, Malcom teamed up with Mississippi-based Katherine Egland, Chair of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Committee and Co-founder of the  Education, Economics, Environmental, Climate and Health Organization  to develop interventions for preventing the growth of the wood pellet industry in the Southeast. Their first chance was in Lucedale, Mississippi, a predominantly White rural community, where Enviva is now constructing a facility permitted last July. Malcom said Enviva had already convinced many people that the mill would be a good thing for the community, bringing much needed jobs.  “[ At the public hearing ] they were basically shooting our talking points back to us and saying, ’so what?’” Malcom said. “One guy literally said, ‘They [Enviva opponents] tell us we can get cancer. What’s wrong with that? Got to have something.” Industrial logging-dependent communities are some of the most poverty stricken places in the South … If industrial logging were the solution to these places, they’d be some of the wealthiest on earth. It’s just not true. After the hearing in Lucedale, Enviva  released a statement  saying that it was “proud to have the opportunity to create 90 direct jobs in Lucedale, 30 direct jobs in Pascagoula, and hundreds of additional indirect and construction jobs.” It also made a disclaimer that any ‘forward looking statements’ about its operations were estimated projections, and could not be assured. Regardless of the jobs projections, Zucchino said that the longer term impacts of the industry undermine other forms of economic growth.  “Industrial logging-dependent communities are some of the most poverty stricken places in the South,” Zucchino said. “If industrial logging were the solution to these places, they’d be some of the wealthiest on earth. It’s just not true.” Back in North Carolina, a predominantly Indigenous and Black community in Robeson County, were largely unswayed by the economic promise of the wood pellet industry. Already burdened with hog factory farms, coal ash waste sites, a landfill, a poultry litter burning plant, and increasing flood risk due to climate change, Robeson County residents mounted a long opposition campaign  against a new wood pellet facility  owned by London-based Active Energy Group (AEG),  including over 1000 public comments, substantial media coverage, and a public hearing  in which an overwhelming majority of speakers opposed the plant. Nevertheless, NCDEQ approved an  air permit for AEG in June . Construction is already in progress. Unlike the white wood pellets manufactured by companies like Enviva, which require energy utilities to retrofit their coal incinerators, AEG’s facility will manufacture  wood pellets called CoalSwitch , designed to be a direct substitute for coal, with no retrofits required.  “There’s a lot of moving pieces with this facility, and kind of a lot of confusion,” Zucchino said. “Not a lot of clarity [about whether] they have contracts for export, how big are they going to be. [AEG] is pioneering this [black wood pellet technology]; they’ve tried it in Utah without success… it hasn’t been done successfully anywhere as far as I know.”  Zaynab Nasif, public information officer for the Division of Air Quality at NCDEQ wrote via email that the agency provided additional avenues for community participation for the AEG site, and responded to concerns raised during that process by adding more stringent testing requirements for hazardous pollutants to the facility’s air permit.  But many residents of Robeson County, which is about 180 miles from Northampton County, are already suffering from high rates of respiratory illness, including COVID-19. Additionally, clear cutting more of the county’s forests for wood pellet production will likely exacerbate the region’s climate vulnerability.  “Enough is enough,” said Joyner, who travels frequently to Robeson County. “I’ve seen the damage that has been done there. It’s a shame to want to wreak havoc on a community in that way.”  In recent years, some new communities impacted by the wood pellet industry have begun organizing against it. Residents of the Netherlands,  who pay significant tariffs for the shipment of wood pellets from the U.S. , traveled to North Carolina and other parts of the South to understand the environmental impacts of the industry, and to fight for better climate policies in the EU.  “We have had people come here wondering, ‘why are you doing this to your land? We would not do this to our land,’” said Harding, who lives in Northampton County. “They see that America was destroying land just for a dollar, and that was really troublesome to them. They don’t understand pretty much like we don’t understand.” I am reminded with the wood pellet trade, if you look at the map of the wood pellet trade states and the former cotton trade states, they are the same. Since Egland started organizing with Malcom in Mississippi and Alabama a couple of years ago, she’s been struck by historic parallels of the wood pellet industry with other extractive legacies in the South and has been working locally and globally to motivate others to intervene.  “I am reminded with the wood pellet trade, if you look at the map of the wood pellet trade states and the former cotton trade states, they are the same,” she said. “The UK ignored the human rights abuses of the cotton trade, with slavery, now they are imperiling the descendants of that same population with the wood pellets. [The U.S. South] also happens to be the most climate vulnerable region in the nation.” There are some signs of progress, including European policies limiting wood pellet imports and decreased expansion of the industry in the U.S. South. Recently, North Carolina governor Roy Cooper and NCDEQ committed to  excluding wood pellets  from the state’s energy mix in its Clean Energy Plan.  Richter says an opening for change is on the horizon in the EU, as the government must revisit its existing climate legislation to prepare for new greenhouse gas reduction targets — a  55 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030  compared to 1990 levels. One piece of that legislation is the  Renewable Energy Directive (RED) , which he says is driving the demand for wood pellets as renewable energy. Kicking wood pellets out of the “renewables club” would kill existing subsidies for the industry, which he hopes can be diverted to pay for solar, wind, and water energy sources.  “[T]here’s also the  European Green Deal , the European road map for making economies sustainable. The person responsible for that is Franz Timmermans, the Vice President of the EU. He’s said that bioenergy needs to be reviewed. And we hope that he can become a bit of a champion for our demands.”  Zucchino also sees some momentum building against the wood pellet industry, from coalitions forming regionally, within states, and internationally.  “One of the things I’m proudest of in my time at Dogwood [Alliance] is the amount of movement building that we’ve accomplished around this issue,” she said. “We are seeing encouraging advances in the understanding of and policy around the wood pellet industry. But we need to see more and we need to see it happen quickly.”  Pull Quote From Northampton County to Alabama’s Black Belt, residents and activists say companies like Enviva exploit mostly communities of color with promises to build up busted local economies with a “green energy” industry. As more and more science came out about the industry… it became clear that this is not the green and carbon neutral energy it was made out to be. These wood pellet mills also emit 3.1 million tons of greenhouse gases per year. … Fires and explosions have erupted in plants in five states largely from wood dust, which is combustible. According to a 2018 Dogwood Alliance report, since 1953, the U.S. South has lost over 33 million acres of natural forest, and gained 40 million acres of pine plantations. Industrial logging-dependent communities are some of the most poverty stricken places in the South … If industrial logging were the solution to these places, they’d be some of the wealthiest on earth. It’s just not true. I am reminded with the wood pellet trade, if you look at the map of the wood pellet trade states and the former cotton trade states, they are the same. Topics Energy & Climate Pollution Prevention Human Rights Environmental Justice Racial Justice Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off A pellet factory, where pine wood shavings are moved on a conveyor belt. Photo by  Juan Enrique del Barrio  on Shutterstock.

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Europe’s wood pellet market is worsening environmental racism in the American South

Spend the night among the trees in southern Denmark

September 21, 2020 by  
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Before one ventures into the wilderness, where to shelter is always part of the initial planning process. While a tent or a lean-to might come to mind, if you find yourself in a particular section of the landscape near Genner, Denmark, a nest hanging from the treetops could be your chosen sleeping spot. The Hanging Shelter, called Hængende Ly in Danish, is much more than a hammock amidst the tree branches. In fact, it features a one-of-a-kind custom design constructed using traditional shipbuilding techniques. The end result is an enclosed structure perched 2.5 meters above the ground that offers 360-degree views of the surrounding nature. Related: Prefab eco-pods offer luxury lodging in any environment A basic ladder is the only access point to the Hanging Shelter, where visitors will immediately notice the steam bent oak that forms the curved walls and floor. In the vertical direction, eight additional arched wood frames shape the rounded walls. A thin, clear membrane covers the entire shelter, offering protection without disrupting the all-encompassing views. This unique structure was designed and produced in Genner, Denmark, by a team of skilled boat builders and engineers in collaboration with Stedse Architects. The Hanging Shelter’s location inspired the project after the architects and design partners were hiking around the Genner area. With equal passions for nature and wood, the team came together to highlight nature, design and skilled woodworking in a single overnight accommodation with minimal site impact . The architects enlisted the help of a local boat builder, who used traditional techniques to construct the finished product. Stedse Architects has a history of creating architecture centered around “sustainable construction, including climate adaptation, energy-efficient buildings, energy calculations and environmental consulting.” As an overall company goal, Stedse Architects focuses on wood architecture and rethinking traditional woodworking. Using the Hanging Shelter as an example, the company hopes that the project will “show the potential of using wood as a natural, sustainable and adaptable building material .” + Stedse Architects Photography by Thomas Illemann via Stedse Architects

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Spend the night among the trees in southern Denmark

DIVAK sunglasses protect your eyes and the planet

July 8, 2020 by  
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DIVAK is one company that believes that protecting your eyes can also mean protecting the planet. With new-to-the-market, wood-framed sunglasses , there’s no need to make a choice between the two. DIVAK sunglasses are the product of a partnership made in Bulgaria between Kiril, who worked as an online marketing specialist, and Ivo, a wood specialist who spent years making sunglasses for fun. More than simply protective eyewear, DIVAK sunglasses are made with the very specific goal of honoring nature during the design and manufacturing process. To meet this goal, the duo developed a process of turning wood into a fashion statement. The resulting sunglasses are eco-friendly, ultra-strong and made of real wood . Related: Sustainably sourced sunglasses built to last a lifetime rather than a season Relying on natural materials was important to the DIVAK team, so it selected birch wood, a natural, biodegradable and renewable resource. The company also uses only non-toxic glue and recyclable materials for the other components of the sunglasses. As an added show of its commitment to nature, DIVAK will plant five trees into the wilds of Bulgaria for every pair of sunglasses purchased. Handcrafted to enhance the wooden texture, the sunglasses are made using an eight-step process that makes the wood look rich and elegant and highlights the grain for an individual look to each pair. To further the quality of construction, DIVAK lenses are made with high-quality German triacetate. The polarized lenses offer UV 400 protection and are pressure-, impact- and water-resistant. DIVAK sunglasses come in two universal designs: The Tribal model comes in both large and small sizes, while the Cat Eye model features a more rounded appearance and is offered in one standard size. No matter the style , each pair is accompanied by a matching wooden case. To encourage a full circle of sustainable practices, the company will send free replacement parts if a frame or temple breaks, and it also encourages customers to return old DIVAK sunglasses. DIVAK will dismantle the sunglasses, keep parts that can be used again and recycle the other pieces. Plus, it offers a 50% discount on the next pair. The company’s Kickstarter campaign was a raging success, earning $14,571 of a $5,000 goal with 194 backers. Now fully funded, the team has moved into production and is working through the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure shipments to its backers. DIVAK is accepting additional pre-orders, too. + DIVAK Images via DIVAK

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DIVAK sunglasses protect your eyes and the planet

The Iceberg Sofa draws attention to melting glaciers

June 15, 2020 by  
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Fnji, a design brand based in China, is using its platform to raise awareness for global warming , specifically the effect on sea ice. The new Iceberg Sofa is a sculptural furniture piece made of interconnecting gray-blue blocks, inspired by melting ocean glaciers and set to be released in September 2020. According to the U.S. Global Change Research Program , a federally-mandated organization that researches changes in the global environment and its impacts on society, the world’s average temperature has increased by more than 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1880s. Even worse, average global temperatures have exceeded the last century’s average every year since 1980. Minimum sea ice extent (the ocean area that has an ice concentration of 15% or more) in the Arctic has steadily decreased by 33% since the year 1979. Related: Floating ICEBERG creatively confronts global warming To raise awareness of this issue, Fnji founder Guqi Gao designed the Iceberg Sofa. The sofa is made of Kvadrat Fiord multipurpose wool fabric that combines blended and undyed yarn, giving the piece a dotted texture mimicking the blue and white glitter of a polar glacier. An interlocking block design gives it an organic-yet-organized look, with the added benefit of a comfortable touch thanks to the high-quality wool. Sculptural in form, every “ice block” making up the sofa is unique. Beneath the fabric, the internal structure is processed independently and each sponge is crafted separately before being assembled together under the surface, a technical process requiring detailed skill. Each block is meant to represent its own identity and provide different perspectives independent of the entire piece. Different shapes come into play once again in the solid wooden base, which is designed to represent melted portions of glaciers with its curves. This isn’t the first staggering environmental issue that Fnji has addressed through design. The Iceberg Sofa is a continuation of the Crestline Collection, which takes inspiration from nature and environmental protection. + Fnji Images via Fnji

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