Archive for January, 2012

Conservation Education

Children are taught at a very young age about the food chain, but we have all suddenly forgotten how every living thing is connected in one way or another by the energy transfers that exist in the many food webs of nature. Endangered and extinct species have been increasing since the industrial revolution and these biological losses have effected every ecosystem. Recently more predominant animals, such as bees and species of birds, have slowly began to vanish. Bees and birds are a very important part of the human food chain and there will be extremely negative consequences if these populations are decreased any more than they already are; fortunately there are some working to slow or stop these developments.

The Trinity River Audubon Center is working towards educating visitors about conservation with a hands on approach. At the center patrons can take advantage of guided hikes, adult workshops, nature clubs, outdoor skills programs, yoga, birding classes, academic lectures, field-based education and family learning programs. All of these activities are filled with information on conservation facts and methods. While the Trinity River Audubon Center (TRAC) provides all of these education and conservation initiatives, it also exemplifies and informs in sustainability.

After Dallas Parks Services cleaned up what was once a landfill, the TRAC was built, but with certain specifications. Those designing the property wanted to include sustainable aspects, not only for environmental neutrality, but so that previous problems caused by landfills slowly repair. The center is designed to reduce land deterioration/erosion by implementing ponds and marshes to purify the runoff as it heads for the Trinity River. The materials for infrastructure are all made from a combination of recycled, local or sustainable materials, such as East Texas bamboo floors, recycled cotton sealing tiles, fly ash walls and recycled blue jean insulation. The outside paving is lightly colored to reduce heat island affect and is also permeable and shaded for very minimal upkeep. One way for the center to not effect wildlife and humans all over is to stop consuming water; they were able to accomplish this through water-efficient landscaping, natural growth, rainwater harvesting, low flow everything and a natural septic system that releases all waste underground on the property so that it can naturally be purified by above plant life. Sustainable solutions at the TRAC also include daylighting windows, solar powered parking lots and efficient heating/cooling/electric systems. Workshops on sustainability are also offered at the TRAC along with the many other educational programs.

Trinity River Audubon Center exemplifies equilibrium sustainability by conducting successful business, educating communities and efficiently designing and running a building that is rejuvenating the environment around it. Conservation plays a role in sustainability, because if organisms on this planet cease to exist, then the food chain slowly breaks and we humans cease to exist or exist in a sustainable manner. The effect of losing birds can be compared with the loss of bees we are experiencing now and how the world is slowly realizing how essential every small animal is. As humans spread out, territory for nature to thrive is lost, the Trinity River Audubon Center is at the forefront of this fight and they are doing an amazing job.

References:

http://www.trinityriveraudubon.org/site/PageServer?pagename=Home

http://www.youtube.com/user/VanishingOfTheBees00

 

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Sustainability: Good Business

Texas Instruments makes more than calculators and they’ve found a clean, sustainable way of doing so. This 14 billion dollar company is known by most as the calculator maker, but Texas Instruments (TI) draws most revenues from its processors and analog chips which are inside a multitude of products that people and businesses use everyday. TI’s Richardson campus and many other facilities have taken on sustainable initiatives to increase efficiency and savings, but along with these savings comes positive results for the environment. Thanks to Paul Westbrook, Sustainable Development Manager TI, the motto “The Balance of People, Profit and the Planet” is an accurate description of the equilibrium accomplished at the Richardson campus. After teaming up with Rocky Mountain Institute and involving the higher up decision makers of the company, the company gathered together to form a strategy for sustainable initiatives.

Creating microchips is a very energy intensive process that involves temperature and humidity controls that would normally require ample amounts of power, water and money. Fortunately, TI has developed strategies to save in all three areas of consumption:

Energy Savings:

  • Exterior Shades
  • Day Lighting
  • Reflective Roof
  • Efficient Lighting (Motion Censored LED)
  • Water Turbine Powered Faucet
  • Waste Heat Recovery Cooling System

Water Efficiency:

  • Reusable Water from Pond
  • Meadow Restoration (Native Landscaping)
  •  Efficient Irrigation Strategies

Monetary Benefits:

  • Less than $1.5 million investment
  • 30% less cost than previous facilities
  • Saved more than $1 million in operating costs
  • Full operation savings of $4 million annually

Environmental Benefits:

  • 20% energy reduction
  • 40% water use reduction
  • 50% emissions reduction

These actions lead to a LEED Gold certification of the TI office building and the first LEED Gold certified FAB (microchip production facility). The company has also decided to register all new major projects with LEED and integrate existing facilities with Best Practice Standards. TI is also providing vans for vanpools, subsidized DART passes, waste recycling programs and releasing corporate citizenship reports.

Along with internal sustainability, TI is also improving products to reduce operating energy for the consumer as well. Now it is companies like this that will be around for a long time to come. As businesses around the world embrace sustainability and change for the better, those refusing to change will fall by the way side. Eventually investors and consumers will recognize the advantages of purchasing and contributing to sustainable businesses. Efficiency increases productiveness, high productivity leads to growing profits. As Paul Westbrook summed up, “Sustainability is darn good business if you do it well.”

References:

Paul Westbrook – Sustainable Development Manager of Texas Instruments

http://www.ti.com/

http://www.ti.com/corp/docs/csr/index.shtml

2012

Public Sector Sustainability

The City of Bedford lies in the dead center of Dallas/Fort Worth and is, like most municipalities, suffering financial constraints that have no signs of letting up in the near future. Bedford is cutting costs as much as possible to stay viable, just as many local governments around the country are doing, but Bedford has finally taken a step toward sustainable practices concerning its brand new library. The library manager, Maria Redburn, was able to keep the library staff and operations from being outsourced in 2006 (with citizen and staff assistance); and with the help of city council a new library was built with environment, community and efficiency in mind.

The old Food Lion building had been left vacant for years on Forrest Ridge Drive in Bedford until the city decided they would re-adapt the building into the new Bedford Public Library. The city decided to make use of natural light with new windows that let in more light, but keep heat inside by using Low-E glass; where light is needed the library uses high-efficiency LED lights and fixtures with motion censors to stop wasteful energy use. Extra insulation has also been added to the walls and roof of the library to increase the buffer between inside and outside temperatures. The roof also features eco-traits such as photovoltaic solar panels and a white roof that reflects the sun light, both contributing to cutting and providing energy use. Outside the library are water efficient landscapes and a geothermal heat pump system under a field that aides in heating and cooling the library. All of the additional features mentioned were made possible by grants, alternative energy programs and the hard work of sustainable advocates within the Bedford community. Check out the real-time savings here: http://www.bedfordtx.gov/energy_efficiency/

As great as this is, the City of Bedford possesses many more facilities with absolutely no sustainable infrastructure or practices and this fact lends itself to  a fundamental problem: In a time when public sector is suffering, why are long-term/sustainable practices and development not at the forefront of municipal missions.

The City of Plano has decided to focus its efforts on sustainability by creating a brand new Environmental Education Center that costs the city absolutely nothing in utility costs. That’s right, the Environmental Education Center is completely powered by renewable energy and sustainable designs:

                

  • Architectural site orientation and layout plan for largest energy efficiency provided by roof overhangs & east-west orientation.
  • Rainwater harvesting, gray water recycling, low-flow water system and efficient irrigation endow great results concerning water conservation.
  • Utilization of site’s natural features by making use of nearby creek habitat and future discovery gardens.
  • Solar panels and natural lighting contribute to energy efficiency.
  • Use of recycled/renewable/nontoxic materials, such as low VOC paint, recycled carpet, tiles, fly ash concrete, glass and cradle to cradle furniture.
  • Interpretive displays, interactive programs, regional training site, workshops and public presentations encourage sustainable education.

With this center, Plano is able to provide private and public events at no cost to the city. This allows the Environmental Education Center to provide more and better quality services at less of a price. Autumn Dylan explained that the city has really embraced sustainable solutions and it is already starting to pay off; they’ve even created a green motto: “live green in Plano”. For more information contact: Sustainability & Environmental Services Customer Service – (972) 769-4150

In this economic climate cities taking on the challenge of revamping all facilities to sustainable buildings would be challenging, but wouldn’t it be in the city’s, tax payer’s and community’s best interest to make sure that all future buildings and developments be built and maintained to sustainable specifications? The less taxes spent on energy, the more funds available for services or savings in tax cuts.

True sustainability involves all components of an environment working together for the best results and this same theory can and is being applied to local governments. The North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) formed in 1966 to establish equilibrium needs between 16 counties. These counties must work together in order to avoid redundancies, waste and problems in planning and development. The NCTCOG, with its 240 members, have taken it upon themselves to work in community services, emergency preparedness programs, research & information, public affairs and primarily transportation.

Mindy Mize and Whitney Vandiver both work in the transportation department of the NCTCOG and are very passionate about increasing traffic efficiency. Along with traffic running smoothly they also pursue emission lowering strategies in order to attain federal funding programs. The NCTCOG is aware of population growth estimates and understand the need for solutions that need to be implemented today.The Regional Transportation Council of the NCTCOG has begun strategies for lowering traffic congestion and emissions; these include ride sharing and public transportation provided by Dart, TRE and The T services. Traffic is a very complicated in areas of funding, logistics, infrastructure and emissions. The NCTCOG is there, voluntarily, to provide commuters with avenues for better traffic and greener drive.

In the future it might be favorable for the NCTCOG to focus on mass public transportation in order to truly exemplify sustainability. Cities and counties cannot implement ample actions such as this, but when all of these counties come together anything is possible.

References:

Maria Redburn, Bedford Public Library Manager http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6535070.htmlhttp://www.governmentsustainability.co.uk/http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?ttype=2&tid=11513

Autumn Dylan, Environmental Education Center     http://plano.gov/Departments/HR/Pages/employment.aspxhttp://www.plano.gov/Departments/Environmental%20Services/Pages/EEC.aspx

Mindy Mize & Whitney Vandiver of the NCTCOG                                http://www.nctcog.org/trans/index.asp#

Texas Plant Life

Apparently there has been a Botanical Research Institute in Texas for 20 years; I had no idea what a botanical research institute was either. The Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT) has resided in Fort Worth for a long time, but recently moved to University Drive (Fort Worth Cultural District) after completion of the brand new BRIT long-term sustainable building. BRIT employees (Richard Smart & Sam Keishik)  pride themselves on the building and land having so many sustainable qualities. Everyone involved in planning the new BRIT wanted the building to exemplify and teach sustainability in every aspect possible. Listed are a majority of those sustainable features:

Parking Lot

  • Rain Gardens for proper storm water management.
  • Low-emission vehicle parking to reward those with energy-efficient automobiles.
  • Native Texas plants for less maintenance and water use.
  • Energy efficient LED lighting to encourage natural light levels.
  • Necessary irrigation provided by the BRIT’s retention pond.

Surrounding Land

  • Prairie habitat that is easily maintained, low irrigation and natural to the habitat.
  • Retention pond for all irrigation needs and storm-water runoff collection.
  • Cistern for added runoff collection, potable water use and irrigation.
  • Underground geothermal well to maintain heating and cooling.

Building (Outside)

  • Vegetative prairie roof to cut heating/cooling and runoff.
  • Tube solar panels on roof providing 14% of BRIT energy.
  • Light walls and white roof to lower heat absorption and reflection for solar tubes.

Building (Inside)

  • Day-lighting windows & LED/fluorescent bulbs for lower energy use .
  • Smart lighting motion detectors and light harvesting sensors for efficient light usage.
  • Sustainable bamboo & sinker cypress used for walls and ceilings.
  • Recycling containers and pick-up for processing.
  • Low-flow toilets/faucets and waterless urinals to reduce water use.
  • LEED standard paints and carpeting for better indoor air quality.

With all of these design specifications the BRIT was able to meet a LEED Platinum rating and will see a payback of their investment within five years. With all of the savings accrued, the BRIT has been able to better focus and invest in the purpose of the building: “to  conserve our natural heritage by deepening our knowledge of the plant world and achieving public understanding of the value plants bring to life”. The BRIT contains one of the largest libraries of botanic reference materials in the world and an herbarium (preserved plant museum) for botanical research. It is becoming more clear that humans are becoming disconnected from nature and its effects on life. The BRIT exists to engage the public over plant life/plant trends and provide basic knowledge to reduce extinction rates and increase biodiversity. With a LEED platinum building and an ample collection of botanical resources the BRIT serves the community by example; a rare feature in today’s world.

Steve Chaney of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, also understands the importance of plant life and how it affects sustainability. The Texas AgriLife Service, an extension of Texas A&M,provides Texans with information regarding anything and everything having to do with horticulture. Chaney is a wealth of knowledge on plant skills, tips and facts that effect everything from lawn care to water reservoir levels. Texas AgriLife is concerned not only with biodiversity and plant degradation, but also water use, considering irrigation plays a major role in plant health. Chaney encourages education on plant ecology and sustainable landscaping and has even provided “7 Principles of Sustainable Landscaping”: 1.Planning & Design 2.Soil Analysis 3.Plant Selection 4.Practical Turf Areas 5.Efficient Irrigation 6.Mulch 7.Landscape Management Best Practices. The BRIT, Texas AgriLife Service and Steve Chaney understand the importance of plant life and its effect on the world. The encouragement of biodiversity and home gardening will hopefully become more mainstream with the help of these change agents.

References:

Processes in Recycling

Recycling has been around for a long time, but most businesses are unfamiliar with the details of the process or the correct avenues for successful recovery. Separating recycled materials is very important; the many plastics and papers are separated into smaller sub groups that makes the entire process easier for recycling facilities. Unfortunately the general public are not aware of the sub separation groups, but today in Dallas, TX there is a solution: Recycle Revolution. Eddie Lott, founder of Recycle Revolution, became aware of this problem four years ago and decided there was a need for responsible and correct recycling practices for businesses. Recycle Revolution provides a service to Dallas and surrounding businesses by collecting materials and separating them. When the separation process has completed, Recycle Revolution is able to distribute the organized material to proper recycling facilities across the state. Eddie understands that convincing businesses to pay for recycling services is a hard sale, but when factoring in the price of hauling off garbage, most businesses are willing to pay the monthly fee to do the right thing the correct way.

Essentially, Recycle Revolution, is a distribution center for waste and is able to make sure that the delivered materials live a second life or more. Eddie, his mother and coworkers have also started taking in food waste and are in the beginning stages of composting. Recycle Revolution is open to receiving any waste materials and will explore every avenue for finding the proper destination for the waste.

Across the metroplex lies a small brewery in Fort Worth that also practices in recycling initiatives. Rahr & Sons brewery, a small craft beer company in the heart of Fort Worth, provides a quality product for a local alternative to national beers in a bloated beer market. Aside from feeling good about buying local/high quality beer, consumers can appreciate that Rahr has incorporated recycling as well. Grain, used in beer making, is left over when the process is complete and those at Rahr have found two ways to not waste the left overs. The Texas Hereford Association comes by at the end of brewing days and collects the used grain to feed local cows or the Artisan Baking Company will pick up the Ugly Pug grain and use it for bread as samples or sales to the public. Along with helping cows and bread enthusiasts, local beer enthusiasts can bring in 20 Rahr six-pack carriers for a discount on tasting and tour days. Rahr has also installed a fermentation tank that was once used in the production of milk; Jason Lyon, a Rahr & Sons Brewer, explained that re-purposing is very important to the company and they take advantage of recycling and reuse whenever possible.

Recycling is an option for consumers and businesses, but unfortunately all products do not recycle or are not worth it due to the high cost of recycling. A solution to this dilemma is closing the loop, or stopping waste that cannot be recycled from being produced. This closed loop, or cradle to cradle, solution can only be accomplished by manufacturers who can make sure that components of products can all be reused or biodegraded. Rahr & Sons has accomplished cradle to cradle with their grain moving from production process, to feeding cows or baking bread, to returning that waste to the ground; but grain is originally a biodegradable material, therefore it remains biodegradable throughout the process. If Rahr could find a way to guarantee that their bottles and cases would be biodegraded or reused, they would effectively close the loop on their production process. Those at Recycle Revolution are slowly approaching these solutions as best they can, but the fact that both companies are working toward good and engaging the community demonstrates how practical sustainable endeavors, such as recycling, continue to be.

References: Jason Lyon, Brewer at Rahr & Sons Brewing Company

Eddie & Maria Lott, Recycle Revolution

http://www.recyclerevolutiondallas.com/http://www.mcdonough.com/cradle_to_cradle.htmhttp://rahrbrewing.com/;

The De La Pena Home

Located on 718 North Bailey Street near downtown Fort Worth, sits a newly constructed lot with a very modern feel. The Ferriers, the company responsible for building the home, calls it the “Cowtown Contemporary” and it is very new on the inside and out. Just a year ago Thomas & Charolette De La Pena decided it was time for a new house and instead of buying an already built, unsustainable home, they decided to get something more eco-friendly and manageable. Don Ferrier is known for his attention to detail when it comes to foundation so they put down a slab that could stand the test of time and the De La Pena’s decided to keep the foundation as the floor, so that allergens and other carpet creatures were not a problem along with the fact that most carpets are made in very unsustainable ways. The walls, inside and out, are all painted concrete/Hardy paneling (concrete) which will decrease maintenance, increase insulation and has an elegant modern look. The walls are all insulated with spray foam as well; it seems that the De La Penas decided to make the most energy savings by keeping the heating and cooling in the house. The house also boasts dual flush toilets, a tankless water heater, native landscaping, cross ventilation, a TED smart reader (real-time energy use indicator), a detached garage, and duel mini split a/c untis.

The house is truly beautiful, inside and out, but one thing bothered me while hearing just how insulated the house is. It seems that the De La Penas have done such a good job of sealing everything in, that I began to worry about an issue that most do not consider: indoor air quality. Although plugging up any loose ends of a house is good for retaining heating and cooling, it also enables indoor carcinogens to stay and contaminate the air. Now a window could be opened, allowing for fresh outdoor air to circulate and push out some of the indoor air, but Mr. De La Pena explained that his sinuses are sensitive so windows would not be opened often. The mini split units, like most a/c systems, will allow for some filtering of the air in and out of the house, but an easy way to clean indoor air seemed non-existent in the home. Indoor plants were located no where in the house, from what I could see, and I think this would be a great solution for purifying the air in the home. The right indoor plants can greatly reduce volatile organic compounds and create fresh oxygen from carbon dioxide that the homeowners expel themselves. NASA recently compiled a list of the best plants for improving indoor air quality after testing the plants absorption of common pollutants. The list of plants are below and are located at most nurseries and home improvement stores, in fact, Home Depot and Lowes usually have indoor air quality plants on display.

1. Philodendron scandens `oxycardium’, heartleaf philodendron
2. Philodendron domesticum, elephant ear philodendron
3. Dracaena fragrans `Massangeana’, cornstalk dracaena
4. Hedera helix, English ivy
5. Chlorophytum comosum, spider plant
6. Dracaena deremensis `Janet Craig’, Janet Craig dracaena
7. Dracaena deremensis `Warneckii’, Warneck dracaena
8. Ficus benjamina, weeping fig
9. Epipiremnum aureum, golden pothos
10. Spathiphyllum `Mauna Loa’, peace lily
11. Philodendron selloum, selloum philodendron
12. Aglaonema modestum, Chinese evergreen
13. Chamaedorea sefritzii, bamboo or reed palm
14. Sansevieria trifasciata, snake plant
15. Dracaena marginata , red-edged dracaena
These plants are beautiful and vary in many ways and the De La Penas could arrange them in many ways throughout their sun lit house. NASA recommends around fifteen samples of these plants throughout a house of 2,000 square feet (the Cowtown Contemporary is 1,730 square feet) or less. The house truly is beautiful and it is great that people are considering the environment when constructing new homes, but homeowners must consider the air they are breathing in as well.

References: http://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/ssctrs.ssc.nasa.gov/journal_mas/journal_mas.pdf; http://www.ferriercustomhomes.com/home/http://www.epa.gov/iaq/