Saturday, February 14, 2009

Listen To The Wind

Wind generators are one of the most reliable forms of alternative power sources on the planet.

They manufacture power by transforming the kinetic energy of the wind into mechanical energy.

This energy is then either harnessed directly (in the case of windmills, for example, which were once used to change wheat into flour, or to pump water for farming) or coupled to a generator that creates a direct current that can be used in a more general sense.

In this article I will be talking about the type of wind generators that produce electric energy, as this is more useful to us in our daily lives.

Wind turbines are basically large windmills, with gigantic blades that rotate in the wind and produce power from the conversion of the wind’s force. Wind turbines are made of plastic, aluminum, steel and numerous other space-age metals.

Wind turbines do have a few negative effects on the environment.

One such negative effect is sight pollution. Wind turbines are very visible and quite unsightly because they must be put in proximity to windy, open terrain to be useful.

Wind turbines also require a great deal of energy in their manufacture. This energy is typically fossil-based, and it can take up to five years before wind tunnels are positive in terms of total carbon emissions.

Wind turbines also are linked to the mauling of rare species of birds. Birds have been mutilated as they passed through the turbine fans during migration.

Despite all of the downsides, however, wind turbines should be a choice when talking about a broad plan for renewable energy.

Once erected, wind turbines are amazingly efficient in a larger sense. They generate power from a natural, eco-friendly renewable resource, without the hidden social or environmental penalties that we incur with the use of fossil fuels.

There is no need to mine for fuel or to transport it; there are no global warming pollutants created and no need to store, process or dispose of toxic wastes.

At the low end of the scale, turbines can be as tiny as 5 feet in diameter and are capable of only a few hundred watts.

On the high end of the spectrum, turbines can be as big as 300 feet in diameter and are capable of generating two to five megawatts of power.

As with photovoltaic solar power generation, there might be rebates available for construction of wind turbines, and excess energy can be sold back to the power company.

Wind velocity is affected by topography and increases with height above the ground, so wind turbines are generally installed on top of large towers.

In a typical application, the wind turbine sits on top of a tall tower and generates low voltage direct current, which is used to charge a battery store.

This stored potential energy is ultimately used by routing it through an inverter that changes the low voltage direct current power into an alternating current that can be used in household applications.

By concentrating a substantial number of turbines into wind farms, a substantial amount of electricity can be stored and used, perhaps, for an entire city.

Because the wind doesn’t blow all of the time in many areas, wind turbines are used as adjuncts in hybrid configurations with many different technologies – photovoltaic panels and diesel generators, to name two – to provide a consistent source of electricity.

Unlike fossil-fuel stations, wind turbines are clean and green. They don’t create the carbon dioxide emissions that are causing greenhouse gases or the acidic emissions that cause acid rain.

Today’s turbines are divided into 2 categories: horizontal turbines and vertical turbines.

Horizontal axis wind turbines are actually far better at capturing the wind than vertical axis turbines given the same amount of swept area (which is the diameter of the circle traced by the outside tip of the rotor blades).

Although the public application of wind power has gotten widespread attention, there potentially is an even better use of this gift from Mother Nature, better than the massive wind farms you see on TV.

In fact, this alternate use of wind power could be a financial windfall for you.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Picking a Sustainable Yoga Mat

It does not matter whether you are a yoga newbie or have been doing yoga so long you've memorized your instructor's routine, asana-by-asana - sooner or later you'll be in the market for a new yoga mat. I used to think every yoga mat was created equally until I bought a jute yoga mat and discovered that it didn't smell like chemicals. Of course, it fell apart within two months...

That's when I decided to write an article about the different types of yoga mats out there, how to choose one that's best for you, and how to choose one that isn't terrible for the environment either.

The Standard Cheap Yoga Mat

Many people get a cheapo mat the first time. This is fine, especially if you're not sure whether you are going to be a yoga fanatic yet. You can usually find these from between $5 and $10 at any mega-store like Target or Kmart.

There are several problems with a standard yoga mat. First, they are often very thin and do not provide much cushioning. Most importantly, however, they stink like chemicals and are made using a very environmentally hazardous process. Furthermore, the chemicals used may be bad for your health. They are made using phthalates, which turn hard plastics into soft plastics. Studies on rodents involving large amounts of phthalates have shown damage to the liver, the kidneys, the lungs and the developing testes.

I know a lot of people who use standard yoga mats and they're not dead or dying (that I know of). Just don't leave them in the trunk of your car because they tend to release a chemical smell when they get hot.

Jute and Cork Yoga Mats

Jute and cork yoga mats are an affordable, eco-friendly alternative to the standard yoga mat, but they have some drawbacks of their own. Cork and jute mats both come from very porous plants. As the material absorbs your sweat during yoga classes, it becomes A: a bit stinky and B: a little weak. While it is not going to fall apart in your hands like wet paper, don't expect one of these to last a long time if you do yoga more than once a month.

Rubber Yoga Mats

Rubber yoga mats are my favorite. They are durable, affordable and - best of all - they are made from rubber, which is a fairly sustainable material that comes from the rubber tree. Just make sure that you are buying a "natural" rubber mat because the material can be produced synthetically as well - although synthetic rubber isn't nearly as bad for the environment and your health as phthalates.

Natural rubber yoga mats should be avoided if you are allergic to latex. Instead, try one of the phthalate-free, latex free mats from this page . They are a little more expensive, but if you are allergic to latex, don't want to work out on chemicals, and need something that isn't going to fall apart on you - this type of mat is definitely the way to go.

Using a Pilates Mat for Yoga

Pilates mats are much thicker than yoga mats. This is required because you are spending more time on the floor, often with pressure points like hips, knees, shoulders and elbows supporting some or all of your weight. It is also very important for cushioning to keep your spine from getting injured when doing rolls while lying on your back. Can you use a pilates mat for yoga? Sure, but they are more expensive, bulkier, and you will need to make sure they have a non-slip surface. Yoga mats do tend to be "stickier" which is needed when doing most asanas. But if you do yoga and pilates, try buying just the pilates mat and see if you like it for yoga as well. I do not, however, advise using a yoga mat for pilates, as it can cause injury.

Places to find yoga mats online: - Gaiam Yoga Products are well known for their quality and for including many eco-conscious options like jute and rubber. The can be a little pricey, but if you look for items on sale there are deals to be found. - Eco Mall's yoga and fitness section has a huge list of online resources, most of which have a "green" outlook on business. - First Page Fitness has a directory of businesses in the fitness industry, many of which sell yoga mats online. - Target has a lot of inexpensive yoga products, including a few different types of standard yoga and pilates mats. If your goal is to just buy something cheap to get started with, I'd advise skipping all of the expensive shops and just going to Target.

Using the Class Yoga Mats

I strongly discourage using the communal yoga mats found in most fitness centers and studios. These are breeding grounds for germs and bacteria. You can buy yoga mat wipes if you must use a communal mat. Most of these wipes are just expensively packaged alcohol pads, so you can save a lot of money by getting a box of wipes from Walgreens.

Going Without a Yoga Mat

People have been practicing yoga for thousands of years without modern mats. The reason why most people these days use a yoga mat is because they wear socks, which cause their feet to slip during poses. Even if they do their yoga routine without socks (which can be very unhygienic in most fitness centers and yoga studios) today's yoga routine typically takes place on a tile or hard-wood floor, which becomes slippery as the feet sweat. Thus, a sticky yoga mat provides the necessary foundation on which to perform the asanas. However, if you regularly practice in an environment that does not have a slippery surface - such as outdoors or on carpet - there really is no need for a yoga mat at all. I have also found that a pair of yoga socks like these - - works just as well as a mat without all of the hassle and a fraction of the cost.

Whether you go with a standard mat, a Pilates mat, socks, or one of the many "green" options available these days, there is a yoga mat made just for you! I hope the above information helps you decide.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Is Cotton Really That Green?

You might think you know which fabric is superior; you may even have debated the issue. But do you know which is better for the environment? The confusion lies in the fiber itself. Cotton is natural and polyester is synthetic. Natural has become synonymous with green and clean. So cotton is better, right? Not entirely.

Let’s be honest textiles are toxic to produce, energy consuming and water intensive given the raw materials required to produce them.

Cotton can be replanted and is therefore renewable but this doesn’t count for much if it is not grown sustainably. Cotton production contributes to an inconceivable amount of global pesticide and insecticide use. Organic cotton is fantastic in that does not use these but it is still incredibly water intensive, often diverting water away from communities. Cotton irrigation is a major contributor in the depletion of the Aral Sea.

Polyester requires less water but is more energy intensive requiring wood and oil to produce, thereby contributing to global warming from harmful greenhouse gases. Polyester however, is 100% recyclable and in some countries, like Japan, garment recycling is possible through recycling centers. This will hopefully be undertaken by many more countries, until perhaps
recycling our polyester clothes will become as commonplace as recycling other paper and plastic products. In addition to being recyclable, polyester fibres are now starting to be produced from post-consumer and post-industrial recycled materials.

Combining all these factors it is easy to assume that there is no clear winner for the environment in terms of production and perhaps there isn’t. But a garment’s ecological footprint does not end once it is produced. To derive a meaningful evaluation the life-cycle of the product must be assessed. For apparel this can include low-impact maintenance, as it is the energy and water consumption expended over the lifetime of a garment that must be considered.

Polyester is more stain-resistant. It can be washed in cold water and dries quickly. Cotton garments waste energy. They must be washed more frequently as they are less stain-resistant, often require hot water to remove stains and need to be tumble-dried to dry in a comparable time frame. Synthetic fabrics like polyester do not lose their shape like cotton and therefore increase their wear life, further reducing environmental impacts.

The nature of clothing and seasonal fashion means that the textile industry is a major contributor of global warming. The industry needs to become eco-conscious and as with all solutions there needs to be a multi-pronged strategy. Until manufacturers and growers are required to factor in environmental costs, products that do less damage will cost more. It is up to us as consumers to dictate demand. The real challenge is not people switching from natural fibers to synthetic ones as we have been wearing polyester for decades now. The real challenge lies in convincing the consumer to pay for more ecologically sustainable clothing. Would you?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

What's In Your Tap Water

One of the consequences of being "one nation under drugs" is being exposed to toxic, prescription drug metabolites via your tap water! Fortunately, with the right water filter, you can avoid it.

Drug giant Merck recently warned that "There’s no doubt about it, pharmaceuticals are being detected in the environment and there is genuine concern that these compounds, in the small concentrations that they’re at, could be causing impacts to human health and aquatic organisms." To wit, officials in Philadelphia identified 56 pharmaceuticals or by-products in tap water. Such medications included pain meds, cholesterol lowering drugs, birth control pills, antidepressants and blood pressure meds! None of which belong in little Johnny’s "sippy cup."

Don’t expect your city to be any different. The federal government doesn’t require any testing or safety limits for drugs in tap water. Protect yourself with the right water filter!

The market is flooded with various types of water filters - microfiltration, ultrafiltration, nanofiltration, reverse osmosis, electrodialysis reversal, membrane bioreactors, and combinations of membranes in series. For about $180, you can rest assured that your water is free and clear of "other people’s drugs.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Sustainable Waste Management Defined

A recent report produced by the Brundtland Commission (formally the World Commission on Environment and Development) provides an excellent definition of what sustainable development is. The UK Government’s Sustainable Development strategy, published by the DETR also defined it, and that definition can be found online.

However, these definitions need to be acted on and not just thought up. The idea is after all very simple to understand so here is a breakdown of what these definition might mean to you:

Sustainable development starts with the theory that the most sustainable aim for all is a better quality of life, not only today, but for generations to come.

To achieve this, sustainable development is about achieving economic growth, in the form of higher living standards. It is definitely not about scrimping and not buying things, or punishing ourselves for enjoying the use of the world's resources now.

But it is about protecting and enhancing the environment we live in, not just for its own sake but for our own enlightened self interest, because a damaged environment would quite soon begin to hold back economic growth and lead to a lower the quality of life.

To be truly sustainable, history shows us that things only work in the long term if we all make sure that economic and environmental benefits are freely available to the whole society and not just to the privileged few.

Sustainability is compatible with all the major faiths and can be supported by all. Therefore there should be no excuses for not meeting your objectives. It is commonly accepted that sustainable development must encompass four broad objectives;

*Social progress which recognizes the needs of everyone.

*Effective protection of the environment

*Prudent use of natural resources

*Maintaining stable levels of economic growth and employment.

One of the most important areas of sustainability for society to act on is the disposal of waste. Nothing else, other than fossil fuel energy over-use causing climate change, and war, has the potential to do so much accumulating damage.

Unsustainable waste management poisons watercourses and underground water, leaves litter around everywhere that harms our wildlife, encourages rats and vermin, pollutes the air with odors and unhealthy aerosols and can render vast areas of land damaged or largely unusable.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Doing What Green You Can; When You Can!

More and more people are realizing how important it is to lead a life that makes a minimal impact on the environment. Every person making their own individual contribution can lead to substantial difference for the future and protection of our planet. A big step that you can take is to use sustainable materials when constructing your home or commercial business. Appreciating how these green materials can be included into your life can go a long way to lessening your impact on the environment.

The best place to start when trying to understand what sustainable materials are-is to first understand what the term "sustainable" refers to. Sustainability means consuming quantities and categories of resources in such a manner that will make sure that the resource will be there for generations to come. Another way to think about this is as resources that renew themselves. This concept can be better understood through illustrations. Building with wood is an excellent example of sustainability. By Planting trees, a forest can be re-grown. Then wood can once again be used as a building material A counter example would be the use of steel for a building. Although steel cannot be replenished, it can at least be recycled.

The other aspect to sustainability is recyclable materials. Many materials are recyclable. You can use these materials for areas like floors, walls and countertops. You can also get recycled stone to use as a material as well.

As you pick and choose materials for your home, if you are going for sustainability, an aspect of the issue is understanding how much energy is used to get materials to you. Try to locate materials that have taken less energy to transport. For instance, if you fancy granite for a countertop, then go with the local manufacturer rather than purchasing it from a far-off provider such as Malaysia. Much more energy will be consumed getting that material from the Malaysia to your home than from the local supplier.

Using sustainable materials is just one step on the path of having an eco-friendly property. You also want to bring all of the other elements together, such as the architecture, materials, and the construction methods. Map out your plans for things like your water usage, energy usage, and make sure that the building site blends in with the natural locale of the home. You want to take as little as possible from nature and be mindful of your consumption.

Converting your home to a sustainable household is not something that you have to do all at once. Instead, you can convert your home over the course of time. When you have occasion to renovate or improve, pick sustainable materials. In place of of paint, use natural fibers that will make your home's air quality better. Rather than tile, use bamboo as a floor covering. For countertops, give cork a try in place of granite. Each of these changes will help make a difference.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Swiss Cheese

The future of building technology is here and it’s full of holes. The Swiss cheese exoskeleton shell of COR, the first sustainable, mixed use condominium in Miami, Florida is a hyper-efficient smart skin simultaneously providing the building structure, thermal mass for insulation, shading for natural cooling, terrace enclosures, armatures for energy producing turbines, and loggias for congregating at the ground level.

COR, represents a dynamic synergy between architecture, structural engineering and ecology. The design is not only revolutionary in sustainable terms, but in visual impact. The impression of this building is arresting even in light of the current architectural trend towards irregular, non-linear features exploding upon the recent architectural landscape.

The building rises 400 feet, and seems to float over the city as a futuristic and ethereal being, punctuated by a multitude of round Swiss Cheese holes, which at times come together to form a living bubble-on-pond effect.

The architect credits the developer for being receptive to the unusual design wherein the structure of the building is both the skin and an aperture to hold the wind turbines. Oppenheim notes that COR evolved from a complex architectural study including careful analysis of its site.

The surprise of the design arises from its functionality and its vision in creating an energy efficient sustainable building. Oppenheim states that he views building materials as opportunities to provide dual uses—for example, the skin of COR is not just cladding, it provides an armature for wind turbines, protection from the sun and forms an arcade at the ground level.

Rising 25 stories above Miami’s Design District, COR extracts power from its environment utilizing the latest in advancements in wind turbines, photovoltaic technology and solar hot water generation. With an estimated completion date of 2010, COR is 480,000 square feet, with 113 residential units ranging in size from 700 to 2,000 sf, with prices from $300,00 to 1 million. COR will have a cafĂ©, 2 restaurants, office space and live work galleries.

Sustainable design is architecture that creates a minimal impact on the environment and makes maximum and intelligent use of the world’s dwindling resources. Sustainability and green design also includes creating healthy indoor environments.

Water is becoming the new frontier for concern, both through density and drought. Green and sustainable elements in COR include water harvesting, capturing rain water and roof run-off in cisterns, using filtration systems in recycling grey water produced from washing machines, dishwashers and other household and light business use, and filtering it for use again as irrigation.

The wind farms on the roof of COR will generate power-reducing dependency on electric power and saving energy by producing solar hot water. Energy efficient appliances with energy star features will be using less water overall. LED lighting will be used instead of incandescent, natural daylight will flood interiors through energy efficient glass, and the multi use building shell provides thermal mass for insulation and shading for outdoor terraces and cooking.

COR has been received with applause. Unanimously approved by the Urban Design Review Board of the City of Miami, the project represents the ideals fostered by Miami Mayor, Manny Diaz for its properties of green and ecologically sustainable sound design. Oppenheim is a part of Mayor Diaz’ Green Committee.

Oppenheim notes that this project may represent solutions for the concerns of global warming, dwindling resources such as land and water, and competition for fewer and fewer resources. Certainly it blazes across the new frontier of sustainability.