Due to its inescapable relationship with the earth and natural ecosystems, agriculture offers ripe grounds for testing the potential of biomimicry to transform our world into a cleaner, healthier place. The Biomimicry Institute 3.8 is currently keeping tabs on a number of food- and agriculture-related biomimicry projects in its AskNature database. These include a closed-loop Colombian coffee farm system that takes inspiration from tropical and soil ecosystems to repurpose 99.8% of the coffee plant that typically goes to waste in the coffee-making process and turns it into a mulch with which coffee farmers grow shiitake mushrooms.
Perhaps the most promising case study of innovators imitating nature in
order to solve agricultural issues is the Land Institute’s Natural Systems Agriculture project.
Here, the Land Institute is using prairie ecosystems as a model for
food production in which natural systems and processes obviate the need
for pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and similar inputs. Specifically,
they have been experimenting with wild, deep-rooted perennials like
mammoth wildrye and maximilian sunflower in an effort to develop a
polycultural agriculture system in Kansas that mimics natural prairie
ecosystems. READ MORE >>
Discarded building materials represent a remarkable portion of the waste stream in the United States—as much as 40 percent of the total volume. The nature of construction materials—wood, metals, and minerals fastened to one another—often makes their recycling or reuse dauntingly cost-prohibitive. Rebuilding Exchange, a Chicago nonprofit founded in 2009, has nevertheless discovered a niche, extracting usable materials from both condemned-area buildings and the waste stream of manufacturing companies like Horigan Urban Forest Products, Central Steel & Wire Company, and Vermont Natural Coatings.
Rebuilding Exchange’s new RX Made initiative took root during a 2011 job-training program for professionals and those with barriers to employment, to educate them in building deconstruction and the reuse of construction materials. READ MORE >>
Historic preservation is a green building strategy. A new guidance manual, LEED for Neighborhood Development and Historic Preservation, outlines strategies (and reasoning) geared towards helping project teams incorporate historic resources into their developments. This new recourse connects reuse and rehabilitation of historic resources with energy, water, waste, and infrastructure efficiency. It identifies the ways, some explicit and some nuanced, that the LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) rating system encourages preservation.
For those of us who still claim an allegiance to the nonprofit sector qua nonprofits as opposed to alternative visions of nonprofits as sort of second-rate for-profit wannabes or as arms and outposts of government, Joe Nocera’s op-ed in the New York Times is so welcome. Relying on a clearly generative conversation he had with urban redevelopment author Roberta Gratz, Nocera looks at the rebuilding of the Ninth Ward of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and, after the more recent Superstorm Sandy devastation, the Rockaways in the New York City borough of Queens.
Nocera reminds us that after Katrina, city leaders—and we should note, though he didn’t, foundation leaders who participated in their planning efforts—concluded that the Lower Ninth Ward should not be rebuilt, but set aside as green space. Given that much of New Orleans is below sea level, that conclusion could have been slapped down on much of the city, but it was aimed at the very low income Lower Ninth Ward. Katrina had accomplished the desired urban redevelopment—or “urban renewal by removal”—that some politicians had long wanted.
The green space plan didn’t go through, but, as Gratz told Nocera, the big money for redevelopment went to the tourist areas, not neighborhoods like the Lower Ninth. Nonetheless, people trickled back into the neighborhood, despite admonitions that the neighborhood should never be rebuilt. People worked together through neighborhood organizations and other nonprofits, such as Brad Pitt’s Make It Right, to restore the neighborhood in environmentally sensitive and pragmatic ways. Government is now responding to the Lower Ninth, not because it was in the grand plan, but because the presence and activism of neighborhood residents are making it impossible not to do so. READ MORE >>
American Institute of Architects (AIA) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Center for Advanced Urbanism (CAU) have announced a research collaboration to support AIA efforts through the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), Decade of Design, a measure focused on improving the health of urban communities. As the global population continues to shift toward urban environments, urban conditions of the past century have become too outdated to address the increase in population and pollution. In order to advance the state of city livability, professionals in the design and planning fields must reconsider how urban environments need to be designed to work optimally in regards to social, economic and health challenges. MIT’s collaboration with the profession-based organization of the AIA allows the school’s research to reach the professional world for application and development. READ MORE >>
In 2006, the Labour government gave the housebuilding industry 10 years’ notice to make its products zero-carbon. This ambitious requirement was launched as part of the Code for Sustainable Homes, and included interim carbon reduction targets along the way: 25% reduction in emissions in 2010 and 44% in 2013. Zero-carbon was going to be expensive - adding up to £40,000 per home - but the argument was that the industry would find ways of reducing these costs as the 2016 deadline approached.
About the only aspect of the zero-carbon requirement welcomed by the
industry were the clear carbon reduction milestones along the way. This
gave manufacturers confidence to invest in zero-carbon-friendly products
and galvanised housebuilders into action. A collection of odd-looking
homes sprung up at BRE’s innovation park at Garston, near Watford.
Zero-carbon made the industry innovate.
That confidence has taken a battering since the last election. The chancellor George Osborne changed the definition of zero-carbon in the March 2011 Budget so
housebuilders would no longer have to provide zero-carbon energy for
domestic appliances, just heating, fixed lighting and hot water. Confidence has been further undermined by cuts in feed-in tariff rates for renewable technologies.
The biggest wobble, however, came from the 2013 Part L consultation. Instead of the 25% cut in carbon
emissions over 2010 as proposed in the Code for Sustainable Homes, the
government favoured an 8% cut, citing the election pledge not to place
additional burdens on housebuilders during this parliament. This means
that housebuilders face a much bigger jump in 2016 to keep the
zero-carbon deadline on track. Additionally, the details of allowable
solutions, the mechanism for handling how carbon emissions are mitigated
off site, has yet to be finalised. The Zero Carbon Hub put forward
proposals for managing this process in July 2011 but the government has
yet to respond.
The carbon reduction jump needed in 2016 to keep
the zero-carbon policy on track may be too big for the housebuilding
industry to cope with. This means the date could be shifted to 2019,
which would align with the date for all other buildings to be
zero-carbon. READ MORE >>
I bought my first car two weeks ago from an old Cajun mechanic named Dub. For $2500 I got a gigantic white 1997 Lincoln Towncar with a plush burgundy interior, a cassette player, and the phrase ‘Executive Series’ written in cursive on the side. This thing turns heads, particularly when I attempt to parallel park. On Mardi Gras day, I foolishly attempted to drive across town. As drums and horns boomed from all directions, I ran into closed road after closed road. Some were officially barricaded or blocked by a patrol car with flashing lights, others were filled with people, lawn chairs, and barbecue grills. Soon I was trapped in my ridiculous piece of Detroit metal on a side street in the Treme, swal-lowed up by feathers, umbrellas, and cheers as the Zulu parade began to roll.
At its heart, Mardi Gras is a citywide pedestrian revolt against the car. READ MORE >>
By John Talberth, Erin Gray, Logan Yonavjak, Todd Gartner
Cities around the country are starting to realize the economic—to say nothing of environmental—benefits of this shifting reality. A recent analysis by New York City found that green roofs and bioswales could help meet water-quality goals with savings of more than $1 billion compared to conventional infrastructure; the Chesapeake Bay could reduce nitrogen loading at less than half the price by using cover crops instead of upgraded wastewater plants. The City of Philadelphia found that the net present value of green infrastructure for storm-water control ranged from $1.94 to $4.45 billion, while gray infrastructure benefits ranged from only $0.06 to $0.14 billion over a 40-year period. And using a system of wetlands, North Carolina could minimize storm-water runoff for 47 cents per thousand gallons treated. Using conventional storm-water controls, this figure jumps to $3.24 per thousand gallons.3-5
An emerging hypothesis in environmental management settings is that investment in ecosystem-based green infrastructure solutions provides economically superior environmental quality outcomes when compared to investments in technology-based or “gray” infrastructure. READ MORE >>