Cool smart windows and insulating blinds

smart winsowsIsn’t sunlight wonderful? Like me, you probably prefer a bright, clear sunny day to a cloudy, gloomy one.

But sunlight creates problems indoors. In the summer heat comes through the windows with the light, making your air conditioning work harder.

In the winter, heat escapes through the windows, making your furnace work harder. Ultraviolet rays fade the colors of your walls, carpets, furniture, and artwork year round.

Wouldn’t it be nice if windows were smart enough to let in the cheery sunlight without the damaging ultraviolet and without wreaking havoc on indoor temperatures? Smart windows exist, and advancing technology is making them both less expensive and more flexible.

Smart glass technology has mostly been limited to commercial buildings, aircraft, and the like. In a few years smart windows (and skylights) suitable for your house and car will become available. Heat blocking window treatments are available now. Continue reading

Take a bite out of food waste

Food waste

Food waste

Does food waste bother you?

I have seen estimates that between 30-40% of the food grown in this country never reaches the table.

Once it does, food waste comprises the largest component of municipal solid waste, and consumers generate as much as half of it.

It’s a long journey from farm to table. Not everything planted will grow. Not everything grown will reach harvest because of weather and other problems. Not everything harvested will reach grocery stores, food processors, restaurants, and other destinations before it rots.

None of these losses, serious as they are, count as food waste. Continue reading

Microbial Fuel Cells: Making Electricity from Sewage

wastewater discharge pipe

Wastewater discharge pipe

About three years ago, I wrote about a fairly new technology for generating electricity from the waste we flush down the toilet, microbial fuel cells.

At that time, several research teams were working on them, but they were still a strictly experimental technology. Are we any closer to harnessing the electricity microbes generate? Somewhat. Continue reading

10 Greenest Cities in the World

City skyline graphicContributed by Tane Clark

Until very recently in human history, most of the world’s population lived in rural areas. Now most people live in cities. What do you think of when you think about cities and sustainability?

I suspect that most of us still have vestiges of the rural mindset and think of cities as crowed and dirty.

A lot of them are, but with most people living in cities, humanity will find sustainability completely out of reach until our cities become green. Cities account for 75% of the world’s energy use, for example.

The greenest cities have to be among the largest. The largest cities have some inherent advantages, such as the population density necessary for really good public transportation. Practices like using renewable energy or replacing traffic signals with LED lights have a greater environmental impact in a large city than in a small one. Continue reading

Solar Energy Facts and Begging the Questions

solar energy, Nevada

Solar farm at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada

If you follow this blog, you probably believe that solar energy is a good thing, along with other renewable energy. You may also wonder why anyone would disagree, but the entire concept remains controversial.

Many states use tax credits to encourage the development of solar power and other renewable energy.

Opponents point out that renewable energy is intermittent and that renewable energy sources can’t survive without handouts from the government.

These claims beg at least two questions. <language maven hat> That is, they are based on a kind of circular reasoning that assumes the answer to a question it doesn’t actually address. “Beg the question” does not mean “raise the question” as so many people misuse the expression these days.</language maven hat>

What are the questions that go unasked by opponents of solar energy?  Continue reading

World Green Building Week


LEED plaque for Proximity Hotel

Infographic contributed by Megan Wilson

Countries around the world are observing this week, September 21-27, as World Green Building Week. Countries on every continent except, of course, Antarctica, are participating and holding events.

The leading means of designating a sustainable building project is LEED certification. (Leading with LEED—I like it!)

I have written about LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) before as an example of how sustainability moves forward without (or despite) the federal government.

The U.S. Green Building Council, a non-profit corporation, devised LEED standards and revises them periodically. Continue reading

Organic Farming: Advantages and Disadvantages

Organic farm shop

Organic farm shop

What does organic food have to do with sustainability and green living?

For many people who are passionate about environmental issues, sustainability, especially sustainability in agriculture, absolutely requires organic farming.

They tout the health benefits and claim that conventional farming destroys the soil and pollutes water.

They disapprove of factory farming and often take a dim view of industry in general. A dim and short-sighted view. In fact, organic farming on a large scale is factory farming. It is the organic farming industry.

Like any industry, the organic farming industry has its own spin and seeks to persuade the public that it is better than the alternatives. And like any industry, organic farming can easily overstate its case. Continue reading

Residential Occupancy Sensors

residential occupancy sensors

Light switch with passive infrared sensor / Photo by Z22

You may have entered a room at work or some other public place and the lights turn on automatically. The room has an occupancy sensor. Wouldn’t it be handy to have them at home? You can.

Occupancy sensors, also known as motion detectors, turn lights and other equipment on and off automatically, depending on whether people are in the room.

They play a large role in the sustainability plans of companies and other entities by reducing lighting, and therefore the electricity necessary to keep the lights on. They are now also available for residential use. Continue reading