Black Rail Bird Threatened (last week) – Offsetting Good News

Last week’s post ended:

“As sea level rise has been noted more recently, you might ask yourself if something else contributed to the Eastern Black Rail’s near-extinction over the 25-year period? How ’bout substantial coastal urbanization that’s included paving over wetlands? ‘Dozer blades versus biodiversity.

“Yes, several islands have already disappeared in the Chesapeake Bay, but inhabitants had somewhere else to move to.”

Today’s post –

Good news last year for jobs chipping away at climate change

New solar PV arrays being installed over white membrane roofing at St. Margaret’s Church, Annapolis, MD (2016)

“The U.S. solar industry added 51,000 jobs last year, report says.” (The Washington Post, 2.8.17)

In the year ended 2016, the solar industry has shown 4 consecutive years of job growth with a 24.5% gain from 2015 to 2016.

The Solar Foundation recently reported that more than half of the 51k jobs were in solar panel installations. Also noted as contributing to the rise in jobs was the expiry of the Federal solar tax credit in 2016–causing a spike, if you will. But, that tax credit has been extended through a phase-down period from 2019 and  2022.

That’s unless the climate-change skeptics now in charge decide to roll it back.

Meanwhile, the Foundation estimated that about 14 billion watts of electric power from solar was added to U.S. grids in 2016.

Wind turbine – ground up view

Wind energy installed ranks largest in Texas with 20,321 MW capacity as reported by the American Wind Energy Association. Gov. Rick Perry’s successful nomination as U.S. Energy Secretary brought this to bear when the president told him, to the effect, “keep doing what you’re doing,” a reference to energy production–fossil fuels, and (I hope he realizes?) renewable.

Texas is one of the biggest manufactures of wind turbines and component parts. Other related stats from the AWEA’s website:

Wind Generation
Percentage of In-State Energy Production: 10.8%
Equivalent U.S. Homes Powered: 327,000

Economic Benefits
Wind Industry Employment: 24,001 to 25,000
Wind Manufacturing Facilities: 40
Total Project Investment: $32.7 billion
Annual Land Lease Payments: >$50 million

Environmental Benefits
Annual Water Savings (gallons): 14.7 billion
Equivalent Bottles of Water Saved: 111 billion
CO2 Emissions Avoided (metric tons): 28.3 million
Equivalent Cars Worth of Emissions Avoided: 6.0 million

Today is U. N. World Water Day

From EarthEcho International’s website: “[Today] individuals, schools and community groups around the world will take a stand for clean water and healthy waterways by participating in the EarthEcho Water Challenge (formerly the World Water Monitoring Challenge).   Through the simple actions of testing and sharing data about a community’s water, EarthEcho Water Challenge participants become part of a growing movement of 1.4 million citizens in 143 countries who are working to conserve and protect water resources around the globe. Click here if desiring actual engagement with your kids/grandkids one day soon. (It’s easy.)

Reminder: Earth Day’s coming in just 30 days. It’s yours and mine to restore so how ’bout we get busier about it?

Posted in Sustainable Buildings, Sustainable Businesses, Sustainable Environment, Sustainable Lifestyles Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Black Rail Bird Threatened – Offsetting Good News (next week)

The 6″ small Eastern Black Rail bird as harbinger of something huge

I once wrote for the worthy “Bay Journal Daily News” a story about natural shorelines; a particularly great project just off the Severn River at Annapolis.

In its lead piece on Monday, I was dismayed to find an article by Karl Blankenship about the Eastern Black Rail bird population being threatened by sea level rise. Their habitat, marshlands along the Chesapeake Bay and elsewhere along the Eastern Seaboard, is being drowned.

But, let me interrupt this post for a certain kind of context-

“Regarding the March 10 news article ‘EPA’s leader dismisses climate-change science’: Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has said that ‘measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do.’ I can note with experience that we can say the same about hurricane landfall: not precise, but devastating. We know it’s going to happen and the lack of precision does not stop coastal communities in harm’s way from preparing for the worst.

“D. James Baker, Washington. The writer was administrator of the National Oceanographic and Atmosphere Administration from 1993 to 2001.” Letters to the Editor, The Washington Post, 3.13.17

Back to the small Eastern Black Rail bird and the “Bay Journal” article.

“‘We know almost nothing about this species,’ …ornithologist Bryan Watts, director of the Center for Conservation Biology in Virginia, [told Blankenship]. ‘It’s very tiny and incredibly secretive. Even most bird watchers have never seen this species before.'”

The Black Rail bird is about 6″ long, and is active between midnight and about 4am.

“Now, even hearing their call is unlikely. Its habitat, a delicately balanced zone deep within coastal marshes, is being flooded by rising waters. And the Eastern black rail is disappearing fast — potentially becoming the first victim of sea level rise around the Chesapeake Bay and other areas of the East Coast.”

Its nests and eggs are what are going under as entire marshland habitats are flooded.

Because the bird’s population has dropped some 90% in well less than 3 decades, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may protect it through the federal Endangered Species Act. A recommendation is expected to be made in later 2018.

As sea level rise has been noted more recently, you might ask yourself if something else contributed to the Eastern Black Rail’s near-extinction over the 25-year period? How ’bout substantial coastal urbanization that’s included paving over wetlands? ‘Dozer blades versus biodiversity.

Yes, several islands have already disappeared in the Chesapeake Bay, but inhabitants found somewhere else to move to.

 BTW, Earth Day 2017’s coming soon (Saturday, April  22)

Consider doing something about it. Check with local schools or area environmental non-profits for their sponsorship programs.

Among my choices are planting trees along Catoctin Creek, MD, sponsored by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Or, closer to home: Community Trash Cleanup with Friends of Herring Run Park, sponsored by Blue Water Baltimore.

Posted in Sustainable Environment Tagged with: , , , ,

Protect/Sustain our Way of Life!

My reading digest suggests rather clearly that we humans are losing the variety of life on Earth–biodiversity–at an accelerating rate. Chief among reasons: air pollution. And ocean acidification and warming, induced by fossil fuel burning, where coral reefs are dying as are other marine life, such as sharks, which feed there.

Hawksbill turtle – poached

Another is poaching where the elephant is nearing extinction; to name one animal.

In last week’s post, I mentioned learning about USGBC board member Dr. Aaron Bernstein of the Harvard School of Public Health. I said he’d co-written/-edited the book called Sustaining Life: How Human Health Depends on Biodiversity. It’s a tome; textbook format with beautiful cover and over 540 pp. (Got a used copy nearly new for a nearly give-away price.)

I think a good share of the “Preface” is worth offering you. We need to sharpen our awareness of human’s place in the biosphere!

“Edward O. Wilson once said about ants, ‘We need them to survive, but they don’t need us  at all.’ The same, in fact, could be said about countless other insects, bacteria, fungi, plankton, plants, and other organisms. This fundamental truth, however, is largely lost to many of us. Rather, we humans generally act as if we were totally independent of Nature, as if we could do without most of its creatures and the life-giving services they provide, as if the natural world were designed to be an infinite source of products and services for our use alone and an infinite sink for our wastes.

Extracts from plants, such as the rosy periwinkle, are used to make life-sustaining pharmaceuticals

“During the past 50 years or so, for example, our actions have resulted in the loss of roughly one-fifth of Earth’s topsoil, one-fifth of its land suitable for agriculture, almost 90 percent of its large commercial marine fisheries, and one-third of its forests, while we now need these resources more than ever, as our population has almost tripled during this period of time, increasing from 2.5 to more than 6.5 billion.

“We have changed the composition of the atmosphere, thinning the ozone layer that filters out harmful ultraviolet radiation, toxic to all living things on land and in surface waters, and increasing the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide to levels not present on Earth for more than 600,000 years. These carbon dioxide emissions, caused mainly by our burning fossil fuels, are unleashing a warming of Earth’s surface and of the oceans and a change in the climate that will increasingly threaten our health and the survival of other species worldwide. And we are now consuming or wasting or diverting almost half of all the net biological production on land, which ultimately derives from photosynthesis, and more than half of the planet’s renewal fresh water.

Malayan Flying Fox – Nipah virus moving from the Malayan Flying Fox to humankind by loss of natural habitat

“We are so damaging the habitats in which other species live that we are driving them to distinction, the only truly irreversible consequence of our environmental assaults, at a rate that is hundred to even thousands of times greater than natural background levels. As a result, some biologists have concluded that we have entered into what they are calling ‘the sixth great extinction event,’ the fifth having occurred sixty-five million years ago when dinosaurs and many other organisms were wiped out. That event was most likely the result of a giant asteroid striking Earth; this one we are causing [italics mine].

“Most disturbing of all, as a result of all of these actions taken together, we are disrupting what are called ‘ecosystem services,’ that is, the various ways that organisms, and the sum total of their interactions with each other and with the environments in which they live, function to keep alive life on this planet, including human life, alive.”

Kind of a wake-up call–if not an indictment. Tons more to learn in this tome…

Tailed amphibians, Earth inhabitants for more than 350m years “are among the most threatened group of organisms” for extinction.

P.S. Use the search tool to find previous posts about air pollution and ocean acidification.

Posted in Sustainable Environment Tagged with: ,

Explore the True (Lifecycle) Costs of Coal – Harvard School of Public Health

The U.S. Green Building Council recently called for its members to vote in an election of new directors to its board. Before casting my vote, I, of course, thought it a good idea to review the background of the candidates.

One is Aaron Bernstein, M.D., M.P.H., Associate Director and Program Director, Climate, Energy, and Health at Harvard University’s Center for Health and the Global Environment at the T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Dr. Bernstein is also a practicing physician at Boston Children’s Hospital, and co-author/-editor of the award-winning book, Sustaining Life: How Human Health Depends on Biodiversity. He’s an “avid bicyclist [who] peddles to and from work year round” as per his bio seen at the USGBC website.

Looking up Dr. Bernstein at Harvard’s Center for Health and the Global Environment, I stumbled across this marvelous, interactive schematic illustrating the life cycle of coal.

This image may be explored interactively by visiting here.

Make time to see it.  C’mon, it’s an “Ivy League” product. Seriously, a very user-friendly representation of scholarly, important research on the costs of coal to the environment and human health.

To see the highly technical report (published in the annals of the New York Academy of Sciences) that informs this graphic, go here.

Posted in Sustainable Environment Tagged with: , ,

R.I.P., Trailblazer David Burwell

For some years, walker and bicyclist friends of mine have talked about outdoor pleasures found along the Baltimore and Annapolis (B&A) Trail running 13 mi. from Annapolis to Glen Burnie, MD. There are 2 stops along the way where food/refreshments can easily be procured. The paved, 8′ wide Trail runs in the roadbed of the old B&A rail line that connected Annapolis to Baltimore. At Glen Burnie, the replacement Baltimore light rail runs into Baltimore City and further to its terminus in Hunt Valley.

The Trail is a part of the East Coast Greenway which runs from FL to ME. Over 30% of this span is traffic-free. ECG was founded in 1991.

Elroy-Sparta State Trail, WI (probably the oldest rail-trail in the U.S., ca. 1965)

But, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) was co-founded 5 years earlier by David G. Burwell who died 3 weeks ago at age 69.

Inspiring the vision of RTC was Burwell’s mother (foreground right in a family photo) who successfully campaigned to turn a defunct Cape Cod railway into the 11-mi. Shining Sea Bikeway there.

Burwell and co-founder Peter Harnik became the first to coordinate national efforts to build a network of abandoned rail lines into bicycle and nature walk trails. Burwell was RTC’s president for its first 15 years. Prior to co-founding RTC, he worked on transportation issues for the National Wildlife Federation.

“It was David who turned ‘rails-to-trails’ from an idea with very good potential into a powerful force backed by firm legal standing, true political muscle and undeniable financial backing,” said Harnick in a recently released statement from RTC quoted in The Washington Post. The National Park Service’s National Trail Systems Act of 1968 was a progenitor.

The late Laurance Rockefeller, an environmental activist, championed the launch of RTC with a grant of $75k, calling Burwell “a fireball of energy and determination and talent.”

Among Burwell’s credentials was his 1973 UVA law degree, the training for which he skilfully employed in helping officials of the Interstate Commerce Commission write new regulations making it easier to convert abandoned rail lines to active people trails. Among RTC’s early competitors were the road building industry; and right-of-way ownership issues across jurisdictions. Another credential was his public advocacy guide, The End of the Road: A Citizens Guide to Transportation Problemsolving, published in 1978.

As WaPo writer Matt Schudel says: “In 1991, the conservancy won a major battle with the passage of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act which mandated that a small portion of federal highway funds be reserved for projects other than paved roads. That money helped groups buy old railroad property, rip up the tracks or build new trails alongside existing rail lines.”

“At office functions he could always be found in the corner energetically chatting with the interns. He felt it was his duty to find future leaders and push them towards public service,” said Shin-pei Tsay, Executive Director of the Gehl Institute, in a memoriam piece written 2 weeks ago. Tsai worked as an intern under Burwell at RTC .

the 150-mile Great Allegheny Passage spans from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, MD

“Today, often in conjunction with the National Park Service, the [RTC] has helped build more than 2,000 trails on more than 22,000 miles of rail corridor in all 50 states and the District [of Columbia]. Another 8.000 miles of trails are in the planning stage.”

I like to think of New York City’s The High Line as a rails-to-trails conversion. After all, it was originally designed and used as an elevated freight railway along the Lower West Side of Manhattan. Its inspiration is said to be the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy movement across our land.

The High Line, New York City, photo (c) Richard G. Williams

Opening Day for Trails, RTC’s 5th annual, occurs on April 8th when people across the country will walk, run, ride or other special event along the trails.


Posted in Green Infrastructure, Sustainable Environment, Sustainable Lifestyles Tagged with: , , , , ,

Not St. Paddy’s Day (yet) but let’s have a look at “Green Beer” – 2

Last week’s post left off by stating that Guinness Storehouse No. 4 is now a carbon-neutral building.

Meanwhile, in Mills River, NC, Sierra Nevada’s new brewery was opened in 2014. LEED® Platinum certification was awarded last year.

USGBC magazine writer Hennick’s piece quotes Sierra Nevada’s Cheri Chastain, sustainability manager, who says: “With Mills River, we were coming into a new community. We wanted to set the stage to show [that] this is how Sierra Nevada does business.

“We made the decision that we’re going to do this, and we’re going to do it right, and we’re going to get that third-party validation that tells us that we did it right.” (Amen.)

About sustainability, she says: “Sustainability is the ability to sustain something, whether it’s lifestyle or a business. Every project that we decided to do or every change in operations has an economic, environmental, and social benefit. We’re trying to get people to shift away from thinking that sustainability is synonymous with environmentalism.”

Permit me to opine that sustainability is ultimately about the biosphere and all its components; a would-be holistic truth.

Hennick notes: “The…brewery includes nearly 2,200 [PV] solar panels and uses microturbine technology to convert methane biogas captured from an onsite wastewater treatment plant into electricity.” Between the solar PV system and the microturbines, an estimated 32% of electrical power needs will be satisfied on-site. Green power is also contracted.

tree-like “solar canopies” installed in visitor parking areas

As with Storehouse No.4, rainwater at Mills Creek is captured for on-site irrigation and other purposes. Notable are the parking areas which were constructed with permeable pavers to allow immediate area percolation of what otherwise would be rainwater runoff.

Also interesting is the fact that engineers “built” a model of typical energy usage within a brewery of same size for comparison with energy modeling based on the actual brewery design specifications and commissioning protocols. According to the Sierra Nevada website: “…heat recovery and recycling, automation, and process controls can have a significant impact on energy conservation…” for an estimated 49% greater efficiency than “our theoretical brewery”.

OBTH, Sierra Nevada works with growers towards sustainable farming practices.

LEED ON! Enjoy Guinness and Sierra Nevada (responsibly), readers.

Posted in Green Infrastructure, Sustainable Buildings, Sustainable Businesses, Sustainable Environment Tagged with: , , , ,

Not St. Paddy’s Day (yet) but let’s have a look at “Green Beer” – 1

Several summers ago, a memorable family trip to find ancestral roots in Ireland, among objectives, was had.

During our stay in Dublin, we 5 toured the Guinness St. James Gate Storehouse and, of course, found  time to drink a free pint there too.

Towards the end of the tour, the women wound up in one Storehouse cafe while my son and I took in a panorama of the city from the top-floor glass-walled Gravity Bar when not taking a gulp through the foam.

Gravity Bar

I wrote about Guinness briefly awhile back. What brings it to mind again is a piece appearing in the Nov/Dec issue of the USGBC (U.S. Green Building Council) magazine about the company (founded 1759) and upstart competitor Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. (founded in 1980 in Chico, CA). Both companies have new LEED® Platinum certified brewing facilities!

First, let’s look at Guinness’s Storehouse No. 4–built on a reclaimed brownfield site–recipient of the Platinum certification in 2015 after opening the year before. (Diageo became Guinness’s parent company in 1997.)

Sustainability goals were embraced by Diageo back in 2008. Michael Wilson, global environmental sustainability director, is quoted in the USGBC piece by Calvin Hennick: “Climate change was becoming more and more of a prevalent issue,  and there was more media attention, and I think that was a driving force. Other large-scale multinational companies were beginning to play their part as well.”

“It’s not a short-term agenda. This is something we see continuing for an extended period. We’re not immune to climate change. We believe that we actually have a role to play in obviating the risks around climate change.”

And, importantly: “Looking forward, the consumer of the future will be much more in tune with brands and products that demonstrate responsibility toward the environment.” (I’ve written about such companies, typically under the title Greenwash or Raw Milk if you want to search for those posts.)

So what’s cool, and sustainable, about Store House No. 4? At website Jetson Green: “The most notable sustainable features…are an energy recovery system, which works to reduce the need for steam heating, and a hybrid refrigeration system which runs at 32 ºF instead of 25 ºF (0 ºC instead of -4 ºC) as was the case with the previous one. They also optimized the structure’s orientation, took advantage of solar shading and used high-performance insulation. The lighting is automatic and highly-efficient.”

That the electrical power required comes from a combined heat and power plant (CHP), thermal energy consumption has been reduced by 33%. Air conditioning is used only in spaces where regular human occupancy or certain mechanical function require it. Of course low-flow plumbing fixtures have been installed.

In the overall, water use attributable to brewing has been reduced by 14%.  Similar to what I wrote in the preceding post about Colgate-Palmolive’s drive toward water stewardship, Diageo aims to return 100% of wastewater to the environment safely, and to replenish its water used for products made in water-stressed areas by 2020.  Laudable!

Storehouse No. 4 is now a carbon-neutral building. Net zero waste went to a landfill during construction as is the case during ops.

Water feature in the Guinness museum at St. James Gate Storehouse

Be sure to see the conclusion of this “Green Beer” post next week at about this time. We’ll come back to the USA to talk in a bit of detail about Sierra Nevada Brewing Company’s newest facility.

Posted in Green Infrastructure, Sustainable Buildings, Sustainable Businesses, Sustainable Environment Tagged with: , , , ,

Greenwash or Raw Milk for Big Business? Looking at Colgate-Palmolive

For some reason, global consumer products company Colgate-Palmolive was not among the 154 companies that signed the 2015 American Business Act on Climate Pledge. Competitors Proctor & Gamble and Unilever were. (I’ve written about others which committed–several on Goldman Sachs and Starbucks.)

Among the Climate Pledge goals are:

  • Reducing emissions by as much as 50%
  • Reducing water usage by as much as 80%
  • Achieving zero waste-to-landfill
  • Purchasing 100% renewable energy, and
  • Pursuing zero net deforestation in supply chains

However, the U.S. Greenbuilding Council (USGBC) featured Colgate in its May/Jun ’16 magazine issue as a company striving “to become a leader in sustainable building practices worldwide.”

Just a few months earlier, Colgate was recognized by the USGBC for its sustainability leadership in the evolution of green manufacturing. Then-President Rick Fedrizzi said: “…at the company’s heart is a culture of care for the planet, and the awareness-building and education it does around water conservation says a great deal about its end-to-end commitment to leadership.”

I remember sitting among some 1,200 sustainability professionals at Greenbuild International in October ’15 as this video began to roll ahead of the Keynote speaker–just the man in the PJ’s version of this video rolling. No words. After a few long moments, someone who got it started laughing. Then those seated nearby. Then laughter rolling like waves over the grand hall.

Eleven of Colgate-Palmolive’s facilities are LEED certified at some level with another 8 in the pipeline. Its new toothbrush manufacturing facility in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, opened in 2009, is LEED® Silver Certified, and, thankfully for the employees there, has “quality/daylight views” in 90% of occupied spaces.

Global strategies include “Reducing Our Impact on Climate and the Environment” through 2020 goals:

  • Responsibly source forest commodities to reach zero net deforestation
  • Promote use of renewable energy and reduce absolute greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing by 25% compared to 2002
  • Reduce manufacturing energy use intensity (EUI) by one third compared to 2002
  • Halve manufacturing waste sent to landfill per ton of product compared to 2010, working toward our goal of “Zero Waste”
  • Partner with key suppliers, customers and consumers to reduce energy, greenhouse gas emissions and waste

These goals may seem somewhat less ambitious than those set under the Climate Pledge, but are similar, and laudable.

Not called out in the USGBC award press release are several others I think important:

  • Reduce manufacturing water intensity to half of its 2002 use level, and, related,
  • Replenish water withdrawn in highly stressed regions
  • Increase supplier participation in the company’s water stewardship program

A vital aspect of Colgate’s sustainable business practices includes its climate resilience work as a subset of its Enterprise Risk Management Program.

The impacts of episodic climatic events such as storms, floods, droughts and extreme temperature to its global facilities and supply chain ops are managed programmatically. From its 2014 Sustainability Planet Report:

“Property loss control third-party assessments are conducted for all natural disaster hazards on a rotational basis, including at least annually for all strategic sites. Category contingency product sourcing plans have been developed and are updated routinely. Colgate also conducts contingency planning for anticipated climatic events to ensure continuity of operations.

“In 2015, contingency planning was completed for materials sourced from the Gulf of Mexico with the potential to be impacted during hurricane season and agriculturally sourced materials from around the world impacted by El Niño.”

Other facts of interest; these from its 2015 Sustainability Report:

  1. Its EUI score declined by 21.7% from 2005-2015 (from slightly over 155 MWh/ton of product manufactured to about 120).
  2. Its CO2 Intensity score from 2005-2015 was reduced by about 26.2% (from 0.46 kgCO2/ton of product manufactured to about 0.365).
  3. Its Water Use Intensity score from 2005-2015 declined 31.1% (from 1.507 cubic meters/ton of product manufactured to 1.008).
  4. Purchased enough Green-e certified wind power RECs (renewable energy certificates) to make it into the National Top 100 list of the largest green power users.
  5. Over 90% of its pulp and paper is certified or is in the process of being certified as being sourced from responsibly managed forests.

Definitely raw milk! Committed to leading its own divisions and suppliers in sustainability objectives and ops while showcasing the realm of best management practices for its customers–you and me.

Here’s a short video about the company’s sustainability endeavors offered by the USGBC-

Incidentally, Colgate-Palmolive was named to the list of the World’s Most Ethical Companies in 2013.


Posted in Sustainable Buildings, Sustainable Businesses, Sustainable Environment Tagged with: , ,

More on Auto-Centric Sprawl

Unhealthy too?

These suburban views are common to many of us.

Makes me think of William Whyte’s The Organization Man (1956)

For those of you unfamiliar with Whyte’s work, he showed how big corporations of the day sought out the ideal worker who “goes along to get along” rather than anything approaching “goes against the grain.”

I thought I spotted a lot of that growing up in the suburbs of Detroit. I remember the pipe-smoking father of a classmate who took the bus to work; briefcase, Detroit Free Press edition under arm and a bland smile. He was a big-hearted guy as a Cub Scout leader, but otherwise as dull as an Organization Man. Later, I decided there could have been something therapeutic about taking the bus instead of driving. Riding the main arteries on the bus route, he was likely less spun around by those winding streets in the Levittown’s of America; but an Organization Man nonetheless.

In a recent shift from this era of auto-centric sprawl, I wrote back in November about the relocation of GE’s corporate HQ from lawnmower-bound Fairfield County to waterfront Boston.

Bringing my attention again to classic suburban development was a Washington Post article by Kathrine Shaver titled “Suburbs increasingly view their auto-centric sprawl as a health hazard.”

“Planners in Prince George’s County [MD] have talked for years about reshaping communities to help residents fetch a gallon of milk via a walk or a bicycle ride, rather than add to stifling traffic congestion by having to drive.” She then says these same planners now view low-density auto-dependent design as a health hazard as much as a traffic hazard.

“Nearly 70 percent of [PG County’s] adults are considered overweight or obese, and many areas of the county lack sidewalks or feel unsafe–whether from cars or crime–for walking, cycling or playing outside.” Okay, disadvantages of auto-centric suburbs have been observable for years. (Ever read Jane Jacob’s classic The Death and Life of Great American Cities as a counterpoint?)

The difference may increasingly be the desire to erase the current picture in many auto-centric ‘burbs in order to start suburban neighborhoods all over again with designs for human healthiness; both physical and mental. Bear in mind that in 2015 life expectancy in the U.S. declined for the first time since 1993. Think the classic suburban-development-related lifestyle may be a contributor?

As an urban dweller once again, I can’t tell you how I happily rely on my bicycle, and own two feet, to satisfy some of my needs, i.e., grocery shopping, cultural venues and sporting events, parks and a myriad of dining spots.

But, Shaver goes on to say it’s not just physical health. As well-known to subscribers to Nature Sacred or readers of its Facebook page, or, in the Baltimore area, Parks and People Foundation, open space and trees support mental health. Her article makes mention of the recent Stanford University studies reporting that “spending time in nature can boost mood and working memory while reducing brain activity related to depression.”

The Mid-Atlantic region of Kaiser Permanente has got some significant skin ($1M+) in the auto-centric game in PG County in the recent 5 years. Its focus has been 4 lower-income towns in the County. Some share of the $$ has been invested to “address barriers to healthy eating and physical activity.”

“We know we need to address the environments in which our members live, not only their health when they enter our medical centers,” said regional community health director, Celeste James.

“The Port Towns Community Health Partnership has resulted in two new urban farms, a new weekly farmers market, and classes about healthy eating and exercise in local school, [James] said.”

Unfortunately, beneficial changes from these initiatives couldn’t be bench-marked for lack of neighborhood-specific health data.

Mueller, TX, is an example of a new, 700-acre pedestrian-oriented community in Austin. Zuemei Zhu, a Texas A&M University architecture professor, conducted a pilot study there of health effects back in 2014. From her surveys, 65% of Mueller residents reported they’d become more physically active since moving there. And, 48% claimed their health had improved.

These suburban views are less common to many of  us.

Meuller calls itself a sustainable transit-oriented community (aka New Urbanist). It was built on the site of an old municipal airfield. If curious, click here to go to its website to learn more about it. Also, here linked is its “Environmental Education Packet: Creating a Green Community.”

Kentlands, located in suburban Washington, DC, was a progenitor. It was pioneered in the late 1980s by developer Joseph Alfandre who hired husband-wife architects Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk who were becoming known by the moniker New Urbanists. I remember getting all excited about the return of alleys for access to garages in the rear, and allowable dwelling (in-law) units above.


Posted in Sustainable Environment, Sustainable Lifestyles Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Barn New and green

I once attended “Barn Again,” an event at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC, where participants got to help reconstruct a historic barn within the cavernous great hall. It was a blast. Pegs for mortise and tenon joints ‘n all.

(Staff photo by Brian Krista, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

This post features my friend Polly Bart, a green builder of great inquisitiveness and resourcefulness (and a Harley rider of many years).

Polly is a true general contractor, but with a twist. She’s a green general contractor, dba Greenbuilders, Inc. Founded in 2004, her company contracts for new and renovated bathrooms, kitchens, green roofs, small interior spaces and outdoor living spaces and, lately, thatched roofs.

What caught my attention about Polly is a recent article about her work in the Real Estate section of The Baltimore Sun. Couldn’t miss it as there was a great pix of her above the fold showing her standing at the thatched roof portion of her barn, a newer project. (Similar pix used here.)

About this barn new, she was quoted as saying: “This building is a demonstration and a laboratory for me.” Were you to know that Bart holds a PhD, any surprise would dissolve. She’s curious like that–laboratories for learning and all.

Thatching is a very green thing as it can be made from material harvested regionally, if not locally. For roofing, the materials can include straw, water reed, sedge, palm leaves, rushes and heather. The materials are layered so as to shed water away from the roof underlayment, much as shingling would. It can be installed with no underlayment as in Bart’s barn; with rafters built closer together for good support when additionally loaded by snow.

(photo ©HdeK)

As you’d likely know, thatching for roofs has been in use for a very long time, and still is in countries where materials and know-how are abundant. Here’s a very contrasting, yet ag-related use in the Netherlands. It’s a so-called farm house near Alkmaar where the combination of thatch and tile roofing is reported to be common.

Bart calls her barn building a “hybrid”. From The Sun: “What stands out when approaching the barn is the thatched roof that dominates the front half of the structure. Made from phragmites, a common reed, thatch is a natural insulator.”

“The thatched roof is 13 inches thick and waterproof (the capillary action in the reeds makes them waterproof).”

It’s highly resistant to heat build-up so would reduce air conditioning costs derived from typically hotter ambient summer air made so by dark-colored roofing. In fact, while the temperature of a black roof in the summer heat in the Baltimore-Washington region might reach as much as 150º, Bart would have us know that the temperature off her thatched roof would be the same as the ambient temperature surrounding it. Very cool, very green, right? And, it holds in heat, allowing for lower winter heating costs.

Along the backside of the thatched roof is the rest of the barn which is covered by a “conventional” green roof. Its composition is sedem, soil and some local, crushed shale. Crushed shale is to slow rainwater runoff and help assure better filtration through the sedem and soil.

“Bart acknowledges that her thatch is from Turkey. Considered an invasive species in the [U.S.], phragmites do grow in the Chesapeake Bay area and could be harvested for use.” A professional installer came from Ireland to assist her in the thatching job.

Polly told me she’ll harvest the thatch locally next time, now that she’s been through it once. It’ll be more expensive as Turkish labor costs are a fraction of comparable U.S., and container shipping is rather inexpensive for such lightweight material. But, locally-procured is her typical green MO.

What’s for Bart’s barn flooring? Packed earth. She says it’s easy to keep clean after layering beeswax and linseed oil over it, making it waterproof.

For the walls in the attached structure, she’s used straw bales. They’re are coated with lime, water and sand and, like big, parged blocks, installed along the exteriors, recessed under the roof eves.

If thatching is something you’d like to incorporate into your structure and you live in the Baltimore-Washington area, drop Polly an email or leave a VM. She’s smart, affable, and knowledgeable (as a peek at her website would make plain).


Posted in Sustainable Buildings, Sustainable Environment Tagged with: , , ,