Archive for June, 2008

Alright, I know what you’re thinking — I don’t want to wash my hands with the water I use in the toilet. But why not? The water we use in our toilets is actually the same water we drink out of the faucet (unless you’re into bottled water).

We have a toilet sink at my work and I think it’s great. You save water and it forces you to reconsider how you use water for other daily chores. Why do we use clean drinking water in our toilets? Why do we use our clean drinking water to water our gardens?

Even if you’re not a fan of the toilet sink, you have to admire it because it makes you think about your daily water consumption.


Eight colleges have been awarded U.S. Green Building Council grants for programs that teach about sustainable construction:

  • Cornell University received a grant for a program in which students will go out of the classroom to understand the broad scope of green building practice.
  • The Eastern Iowa Community College District received a grant for a green-construction-technologies program it is creating within its Renewable Energy Systems Technician program.
  • Grand Valley State University received a grant for its comprehensive campus sustainability program, which is intended to engage students and the community.
  • Santa Fe Community College received a grant for an online course to visually document the entire process of building an energy-efficient house that generates its power off the grid.
  • The University of Maine at Farmington received a grant for a program that uses sustainable buildings on the campus to teach students about green building.
  • The University of Texas at Austin received a grant for a program in which students will create innovative and sustainable housing located in Austin’s alleys.
  • The University of Virginia received a grant for a program in which students create sustainable, modular, affordable housing units.
    • ecoMOD: A multi-year research and design / build / evaluate project at the School of Architecture, in partnership with the UVA School of Engineering and Applied Science. Over the next several years, UVA students and faculty are designing and building several 400 to 1,500 square foot ecological, modular and affordable housing units.
  • Yavapai College received a grant for its residential-technology building program.

At the 76th Annual Meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors, presidential hopeful Barack Obama talked about the future of urban development in America.

Barack said that “we need to strengthen our cities. But we also need to stop seeing our cities as the problem and start seeing them as the solution. Because strong cities are the building blocks of strong regions, and strong regions are essential for a strong America.” [quote not in YouTube video]

The New York Times quotes Obama as saying that the federal government should provide aid in building and repairing the roads, rail networks, electrical grids, water systems and telecommunications networks that stitch together metropolitan areas.

Barack, where you reading my blog last week? I said the same thing: “Cities are the solution as compact and walkable urban areas are the most sustainable forms of development.”

Barack, you keep trying to win me over. First you played basketball with the North Carolina Tarheels, then you rode your bike around an urban Chicago neighborhood, and now you’re apparently reading my blog (that’s a laugh).

What’s next?

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has created a Farm-to-School program to get more locally-grown fresh fruit and vegetables into the diets of school teachers, students, and employees. The Farm-to-School program will bring farmers and schools together in a common goal to attack the problem of childhood obesity and provide better nutrition through consumption of fresh produce. The agency has created a website to match farmers with school food service directors.

Currently, Virginia schools spend approximately six million dollars on fruit and vegetables. The Farm-to-School program will open the door for more of that money to go to Virginia farmers so that they can sustain their agricultural operations. Todd P. Haymore, Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner said that “this is a win-win situation for Virginia’s children and for Virginia’s farmers.”

The Buy Fresh, Buy Local movement is growing in Virginia, and the Farm-to-School program will only bolster it. However, I would like to see the program take the local food initiative a step further. The program should provide funds for schools to create community gardens. The gardens would be on school grounds, and students, teachers, parents, and members of the surrounding community could help grow the crops and harvest the produce. The community garden would be interactive classrooms for the students as they could learn first hand how to grow food and eat healthy. Furthermore, the gardens would give parents, teachers, and community members the opportunity to socialize and participate in school-wide activities.

Where would they put the gardens? How about on top of the schools’ roofs. Ever school I’ve ever been to has had a flat roof — perfect for green roofs. So, why not combine a green roof with a community garden. The students could learn about food and green technologies, and the schools would benefit from nutritious produce; healthy, active students, faculty, and employees; and energy savings.

Remember, you are what you eat.

On June 20 Monocle Magazine released its list of the Top Ten Most Livable Cities in the World. In order to devise this list Monocle Magazine identified the components and forces that make a city not simply attractive or wealthy but truly liveable. Monocle wanted to look “beyond the recycling bins and congestion charges to see what makes for a liveable city… Tolerance, punctual transit, plenty of sunshine and the ability to get a drink in the wee hours all count for something.”

Here is a list of the actual metrics used:

  • International, long-haul connections combined with a well-managed, thoughtfully designed airport
  • Murder rates and domestic burglaries
  • State education and health care
  • Hours of sunshine and average temperatures
  • Communications, connectivity, tolerance and the ease of getting a drink after 1:00 am
  • Cost/quality of public transport and taxis
  • Strength of local media
  • Availability and range of international print media
  • Access to nature
  • Amount of green space
  • Key environmental initiatives

Now, here is the list of the Top Ten Most Livable Cities in the World.

  1. Munich
  2. Copenhagen
  3. Zurich
  4. Tokyo
  5. Vienna
  6. Helsinki
  7. Sydney
  8. Stockholm
  9. Honolulu
  10. Madrid

Why do these cities have in common? They’re not located in the continental United States (sure, Honolulu made it but its basically its own country in the middle of the Pacific Ocean).

New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and even Portland failed to make the list. I’m guessing the crime rates in most American cities kept them out of the Top Ten. What can we do to make our cities world-class? More comprehensive public transportation? Stronger environmental initiatives? Better leadership?

All of the above and more…

Good news Tarheel Fans! Junior Danny Green and sophomores Ty Lawson and Wayne “The Rain” Ellington are coming back next year. The three made their announcement just before the underclassmen deadline for the NBA Draft. Now I would have to say the Tarheels are the early favorites to make the 2009 Final Four as they return all of their starters (Hansbrough, Thompson, Ginyard, Ellington, Lawson), retain their 6th man (Green), and add a collection of McDonald’s All-Americans and highly rated recruits (Ed Davis, Larry Drew, and Tyler Zeller). Additionally, Bobby Frasor should be healthy again, and the bench only loses Quentin Thomas, Surry Wood and Alex Stepheson (transfer to UCLA).

The Lawson decision is a little bittersweet as he was recently stopped for a DWI, but I don’t think that his legal troubles will overshadow a potentially epic season. The last two seasons have ended in disappointment as the Tarheels were manhandled by the Kansas Jayhawks in the Final Four this paster year and the year before the Heels blew a late lead in the Elite Eight to the Georgetown Hoyas.

I can’t wait to see the Carolina Blue make a late season march in the NCAA tournament. Maybe Barack Obama’s recent visit will inspire the Tarheels to go all of the way. Go Heels!

One of the biggest drawbacks of solar panels is that they’re rather difficult to install. To address this issue Lumeta has developed a “peel and stick” solar panel called the Lumeta Power-Ply 380. These panels only take about 30 minutes to install as they don’t require mounting systems like most solar power systems. Unfortunately, the flat roof style installation loses about 5% of the power production because it’s not in the ideal position to catch the sun’s rays. However, the easy installation process might be worth this energy deficiency.

The recent innovations in solar technology is very promising, and I think solar will become a more viable option as the technology decreases in price and increases in efficiency. Plus, when you have companies look Google investing in solar technologies, only the sky is the limit. I’ve seen solar panels incorporated into shingles, window blinds, brief cases, and backpacks — you can always find a new place to stick a solar panel.

Thanks to JetsonGreen for sharing this product.

Virginia Governor Tim Kaine stopped by Staunton today at the Stonewall Jackson Hotel and Conference Center to address the attendees of the Virginia United Land Trust (VaULT) conference. The Governor mentioned that land preservation was one of his top priorities as Governor, if not THE top priority (early childhood education is another major priority along with transportation and health care). Governor Kaine talked about his goals for land preservation in Virginia and the need for a strong private/public partnership in order to accomplish these goals. Kaine has pledged to preserve 400,000 acres of land during his term, and he was confident that Virginia can accomplish this goal under his reign. Additionally, he recognized that the state’s land preservation and conservation efforts must continue after his term is finished in order for the state to protect its most important historic, scenic, and natural resources.

The VaULT conference is a three-day event, and the conference includes a number of tours and field trips around Staunton. This year’s VaULT Conference has drawn land preservation advocates from across the state, and the participants are attending a series of seminars and workshops to learn the ins-and-outs of land conservation.

I saw an article about farmers in the Mississippi delta in The New York Times, and I thought I’d share it so you can see how higher gas prices have affected them. Obviously higher gas prices have caused people to reconsider their daily car trips and how they are going to pay for gasoline. However, higher gas prices have affected people in a number of different ways.

  • Farmers are borrowing money from their bosses so they can fill their tanks and get to work.
  • Some are switching jobs for shorter commutes.
  • People are giving up meat so they can buy fuel.
  • Gasoline theft is rising.
  • Drivers are running out of gas more often, leaving their cars by the side of the road.

The higher gas prices are not only changing the way people travel, but also the way that they eat, work, and play.

Median annual income.

These maps were published yesterday on The New York Times website. These graphics show that gas prices are high throughout the country, but how hard they hit individual families depends on income levels, which vary widely.

Average Gasoline Price per Gallon.

Think we’ve got it bad in Virginia? Check out the West, especially California. I’ve heard that experts at Goldman and Sachs predict that gasoline prices will reach $6 before the end of the year. Time to dust off your bicycles and bus passes.

Percent of income spent on gasoline.

This map shows how the areas that have been hit the hardest by the rise in gasoline prices. Citizens in the South and Midwest are spending a large portion of their personal income on gasoline. My guess is that citizens in this region have to take the bus, carpool, or spend money on gasoline to get to work or run daily errands.