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EarthTalk®

by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss


EarthTalk®
E - The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: I’m planning a major home renovation and want to include as many green-friendly features as possible. Where do I begin to look? -- Matthew Glaser, Queens, NY

There has never been a better time to renovate green, given the abundance of Earth-friendly building material choices as well as contractors well-versed in energy- and resource-efficiency. Many homeowners don’t realize that they can save money in the long run, despite the up front costs, by choosing materials and strategies that will lower utility bills and reduce maintenance and replacement costs moving forward.

For starters, look for building materials that contain post-consumer or post-industrial recycled content that can be easily recycled later. Also, make sure the materials are sustainably sourced—such as wood certified as sustainably harvested by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). And try to minimize the distance any building materials need to travel to help reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions.

In areas of the renovation that are not a complete tear-down and re-build, tighten things up by plugging holes, patching or replacing roofing or siding as needed and adding weather-stripping around doors and windows. Also, switch out older single-pane windows with more efficient modern double or triple pane styles. This can pay for itself in energy savings within just a few years while improving comfort. Also replace or add insulation to walls, attics and other spaces to keep heat inside and cold out (and vice-versa). And you can save lots of energy by swapping out old appliances with newer models that qualify for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s EnergyStar label. Such appliances must be 20-30 percent more energy efficient than standard models, and will reduce not only your carbon footprint but also utility bills.

For guidance on how to renovate as sustainably as possible, check out the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC’s) Green Home Guide, a free online resource which bases its recommendations on its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) guidelines for certifying “green” buildings. This site allows users to ask an experienced contractor questions on sustainable materials and techniques or find green home professionals nearby qualified for larger green renovation jobs.

Another valuable resource is the REGREEN website, a joint project of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) and the USGBC, which offers case studies for green remodeling projects, interactive tools and basic guidelines written so even do-it-yourselfer can understand. A REGREEN Strategy Generator widget can provide tailored tactics for specific green remodeling projects. “For example, if you enter the parameters ‘bathroom’ and ‘water efficiency’, the widget might suggest the installation of faucet aerators and low-water-use showerheads,” reports USGBC.

Talking over projects and options with a design professional at a retail green building supply store like Green Depot, with locations in 10 states, can also help homeowners source cutting edge materials that will save energy and money in the long run. Green Building Supply, which offers an extensive free “online learning center,” will ship a wide range of green building materials anywhere in the U.S.

CONTACTS: FSC, www.fsc.org; EnergyStar, www.energystar.gov; LEED Green Home Guide, greenhomeguide.com/program/leed-for-homes; REGREEN, Green Depot, www.greendepot.com; Green Building Supply, www.greenbuildingsupply.com.

EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe. Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.

EarthTalk®
E - The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: Some green groups are promoting the simple notion of sharing as a way to green communities and combat waste. Can you explain? -- Becky Lipscomb, Centereach, NY

The convergence of environmental awareness and consumer culture has created a whole new movement today whereby sharing is cool. Indeed, some environmentalists view sharing as key to maintaining our quality of life and our sanity in an increasingly cluttered world.

“Sharing is a relatively simple concept and a basic part of human life,” reports Janelle Orsi on Shareable, an online magazine that tells the story of sharing. “What’s new is that people are applying sharing in innovative and far-reaching ways, many of which require complex planning, new ways of thinking and organizing, and new technologies. In short, people are taking sharing to new levels, ranging from relatively simple applications of sharing to community-wide sharing initiatives—and beyond.”

In a shareable world, things like car sharing, clothing swaps, childcare coops, potlucks, and cohousing make life more fun, green, and affordable,” reports Shareable. “When we share, not only is a better life possible, but so is a better world.”

The non-profit Freecycle Network, which runs a Craigslist-style website where people can list items they want to give away, pioneered using the Internet to facilitate diverting reusable goods from landfills when it launched back in 2003. To date, more than nine million individuals across 5,000 different regions have used the group’s freecycle.org website to find new homes for old items.

According to Shareable, other examples such as Zipcar, Wikipedia, Kiva and Creative Commons show how successful sharing can be. “They show what’s possible when we share. They show that we don’t act merely for our own good, but go out of our way to contribute to the common good. They show that we can solve the crises we face, and thrive as never before. They show that a new world is emerging where the more you share the more respect you get, and where life works because everyone helps each other.”

Shareable and the Center for a New American Dream, a non-profit that highlights the connections between consumption, quality of life and the environment, have collaborated on the production of the new “Guide to Sharing,” a free downloadable booklet loaded with practical ideas about exchanging stuff, time, skills and space. Some of the ideas in the guide include: organizing a community swap; starting a local toy, seed or tool library; launching a skills exchange where community members can swap professional skills like carpentry or grant-writing; or setting up a food, transportation or gardening co-op. Some other sharing tips include car-sharing, gift circles, sharing backyard chickens with neighbors and launching a “free market” where people meet to trade skills and stuff.

For her part, Janelle Orsi envisions a future where public land is dedicated to community gardening, public libraries also lend tools, equipment and other goods, and citywide bike sharing, carpooling and wifi programs are all the rage. Orsi and others warn we had better get used to sharing, as it is here to stay.


CONTACTS: Freecycle Network, www.freecycle.org; Shareable, www.shareable.net; Center for a New American Dream, www.newdream.org.

EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe. Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.

EarthTalk®
E - The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: I understand that there are many internships available at environmental organizations, some involving working outdoors, some year-round with expenses paid. Where do I find these? -- Jason Baar, Los Angeles, CA

Internships can provide professional experience and on-the-job training for individuals looking to enter the environmental field. There are numerous opportunities and the key is to know where to look. Many businesses, non-profits and governmental organizations offer internships that are environmentally focused and can range from office work in many different departments to working outdoors, some year-round and some short term. Compensation also varies significantly and can range from unpaid (but earning college credit) to salaried and/or all-expenses-paid.

A good place to start is the Student Conservation Association (SCA), which places over 2,000 interns a year and focuses on expense paid year round internships, many of which are outdoors. They partner with public and private organizations along with federal agencies and prescreen applicants to create a national pool of candidates for organizations to select from to bring in for interviews. Internships through SCA can offer anywhere from $75-$300 per week in living expenses, plus housing, travel and medical costs. In addition, an Americorps education award may be available to interns at the completion of their internship.

The Environmental Careers Organization (ECO) is also a well known resource for finding internships for bachelors, masters and doctoral students and recent graduates. This program partners with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and through paid internships has turned out professionals in the environmental field for over 30 years. ECO selects 500 associates each year for 12-week to two-year internships. Sponsoring organizations offer internships in research and training programs in addition to office, laboratory and field work assignments. Associates earn between $400 and $800 per week and may also be compensated for relocation costs, housing, travel, and career development.

A few other places to look are EcoEmploy and Internmatch. EcoEmploy is a database of hundreds of non-profits, governmental agencies and companies whose work is in the environmental field. This comprehensive list, organized by state, offers a way to find organizations that may offer jobs or internships. Internmatch posts internships in several categories throughout the country and has a section dedicated to environmental internships. They range from summer to year round and paid to non-paid.

In addition to these resources, environmental departments within universities often post internship opportunities for students as well as other tips for finding and researching potential internships.

CONTACTS: The Student Conservation Association, www.thesca.org, The Environmental Careers Organization, www.eco.org; EcoEmploy, www.ecoemploy.com; Internmatch, www.internmatch.com.

EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe. Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.

EarthTalk®
E - The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: Might another possible source for ethanol be discarded pastries from bakeries? For that matter, wouldn’t fermenting unsold bananas, oranges and apples from grocery store produce departments be able to provide an ample supply of fuel? -- Curious in Warren, PA

Food waste is indeed an untapped resource with great potential for generating energy. Some one third of all food produced around the world gets discarded uneaten, and environmentalists, energy analysts and entrepreneurs are beginning to take notice. Diverting even just a portion of this waste to so-called waste-to-energy (WTE) systems could free up large amounts of landfill space while powering our vehicles and heating our homes, and thus putting a significant dent in our collective carbon footprint. Perhaps that’s why WTE is one of the fastest growing segments of the world’s quickly diversifying energy sector.

Currently there are some 800 industrial-scale WTE plants in more than three dozen countries around the world, and likely thousands of smaller systems at individual sites. Most employ anaerobic digesters, which make use of microorganisms to break down and convert organic waste into a fuel such as biogas, biodiesel or ethanol. With some 70 percent of food waste around the world still going into landfills, there is a lot of potential feedstock to keep this environmentally friendly carbon neutral fuel source coming.

“Waste-to-energy doesn’t involve drilling, fracking, or mining, and it doesn’t rely on scarce and politically-charged resources like oil,” reports RWL Water Group, an international company that installs water, wastewater and waste-to-energy systems. The waste from small slaughterhouses, breweries, dairy farms and coffee shops can power hundreds of typical homes each day if the infrastructure is in place to sort, collect and process the flow of organic material.

Navigant Research, which produced the 2012 report “Waste-to-Energy Technology Markets, which analyzes the global market opportunity for WTE, expects waste-to-energy to grow from its current market size of $6.2 billion to $29.2 billion by 2022. “With many countries facing dramatic population growth, rapid urbanization, rising levels of affluence, and resource scarcity, waste-to-energy is re-establishing itself as an attractive technology option to promote low carbon growth in the crowded renewable energy landscape,” says Navigant’s Mackinnon Lawrence. “China is already in the midst of scaling up capacity, and growth there is expected to shift the center of the WTE universe away from Europe to Asia Pacific.”

The question is whether governments and individuals will make the effort to support diversion of waste into yet another separate stream. In areas where such systems are working, individuals are incentivized to separate out their organic and food waste because it saves them money on their trash pick-up bills. And bakeries, restaurants, farms, grocers and other big producers of organic or food waste provide an endless source of feedstock for WTE systems as well.

“We’re barely scratching the surface of this potential—dumping over 70 percent of the world’s food waste into landfills, rather than harnessing it for fuel and electricity,” reports RWL. “Over the next 25 years, global energy demand will grow by 50 percent, while global oil supply dwindles at a rapid pace. Waste-to-energy is an obvious solution to meet the world’s burgeoning energy demand.”

CONTACTS: RWL Water Group, www.rwlwater.com; Navigant Research, www.navigantresearch.com.

EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe. Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.


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