January Story Roundup | From Small Green Living to Bill Gates’s OmniProcessor to Hyperloop

For Bill Gates, Waste is Truly a Terrible Thing to Waste

The Internet was abuzz earlier this month with news of Bill Gates drinking water freshly filtered from a sewage plant.  The image of the multi-billionaire holding a glass of clean water that was once made of sludge from human waste is indeed a compelling one, but it’s no mere stunt.

Thirst-quenching.  Bill Gates confidently takes a sip of freshly filtered water from his OmniProcessor sewage plant.

Thirst-quenching. Bill Gates confidently takes a sip of freshly filtered water from his OmniProcessor sewage plant. (Image from Wired.com)

His philanthropic foundation is behind the new reinvented sewage treatment plant, called the OmniProcessor.  A self-powering machine, the OmniProcessor can turn sewer sludge into clean potable water, but with the added bonus of generating electricity through high-pressure steam, as well as creating pathogen-free ash as fertilizers.  In contrast, traditional plants use electricity from the grid.  The OmniProcessor addresses severe sanitation issues in many developing countries, particularly improper disposal of human waste.

via Forbes

 

Hyperloop’s Test Track is Underway

The reality of the Hyperloop is almost at hand.  Almost two years after visionary entrepreneur Elon Musk publicized the design for his revolutionary high-speed transport …

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Product Disclosure and the Quest for Transparency

The exact number of McDonald’s French fries recently made the news, because apparently it’s more or less 19.  Whatever the true figure, it’s still a lot to use for what is essentially just fried potatoes.  Then it occurred to us that the fries’ red carton holder have never listed the ingredients at all.  It’s beyond us how McDonald’s can get away with this.

French fries and their unlisted rogue ingredients.

French fries and their unlisted rogue ingredients.

In green building, that kind of omission would have been a no-no, of course.  LEED v4 made sure of that, especially with the improved rigorous standards of Materials and Resources section.  Since then, manufacturers have been under pressure to make the necessary product disclosures.  In particular LEED v4’s new requirements— LCAs (Life Cycle Assessments), EPDs (Environmental Product Declarations) and HPDs (Health Product Declarations) became powerful tools for disclosure.

As a recap, LCAs measure the impacts of the entire building and the various materials that comprise it throughout their entire life-cycle, especially with regards to climate change.  EPDs, on the other hand, are an extension of LCAs, reporting the environmental impacts of a product and written according to a standardized format called PCR (Product Category Rules).  Meanwhile HPDs reveals the ingredients and contents of a product and their impacts on human health.

These transparency tools strive to turn green building projects inside out.  By delving on both levels of building and product as well as their life cycles, LEED v4’s perspective is more holistic and long-term. 

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Why We Need More Green Retrofits for Buildings in the World

Retrofitting is probably the single nicest tribute we can pay to old buildings.  We update our computer, our phones and apps, even our wardrobe, so why not our buildings too?  In a world where buildings still use as much as 40% of the world’s energy, old buildings definitely bear the brunt of blame.

The iconic Empire State Building enjoys as much as 38% energy savings from its retrofit.

The iconic Empire State Building enjoys as much as 38% energy savings from its retrofit.

In this respect, green building should be a united goal of new and old buildings alike.  Old buildings still outnumber new energy-efficient ones.  If these old buildings don’t keep abreast of sustainability tech of new structures, the situation puts a damper on all the green efforts of the latter.

 

The Empire State Building Retrofit Example

The Empire State Building’s nifty makeover in 2009 is one of our favorite retrofitting stories.  The iconic building was renovated to the tune of $120 million, with four teams collaborating on the project.  From insulated windows to LED lighting to energy-efficient elevators to automation technology and web-based tenant energy management system—everything was taken care of.  Expected energy savings is a hefty 38% annually (or $4.4 million) over a 3-year payback period.

In 2011, the Empire State Building …

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Six Trends for Green Building in 2015

2014 was a record year for building tall.  A record number of 97 skyscrapers (those that tower 200 feet or taller) rose up last year.  In China alone, some 44,000 feet of skyscrapers were built, a sure sign of progress.

But all that energetic construction can’t be good for the planet.  Up to 40% are raw materials in building construction.  Buildings still take a large chunk of the pie of energy consumption and total carbon dioxide emissions.

Stunning view of New Shanghai Tower from a crane (Photo by Wei Gensheng)

Stunning view of New Shanghai Tower from a crane (Photo by Wei Gensheng)

Thankfully, amid this mad dash to build tall and big and aplenty, builders make an effort to go green.  Last year, the USGBC reported its milestone of 3 billion …

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New Year’s Resolutions With a Green Twist

If you’re like most people, your New Year’s resolutions usually have something to do with self-image, family, health, or wealth.  Starting now, I’ll take pride in my own body, I’ll exercise more regularly, eat wisely, spend more time with my family, save, save, save.  And various other vows of self-improvement.  
New year, New growth. (Image from Windows)

New year, New growth. (Image from Windows)


That’s all fine and good.  But what about the planet?  Yes, our planet.  Or more specifically, our relationship with the planet and the many ecosystems that make it up—water, air, earth, plants, animals, even insects.  
 
Amid these busy, hectic times, rare is the person who can broaden the scope of his/her New Year’s resolutions to include Mother Nature.  You might be saying I’ve already got lots of problems as it is, I can’t even keep my own resolutions beyond a week, how much more something as big and demanding as the environment?  

The thing is, you don’t have to be an environmentalist or a treehugger to make your New Year resolutions a little greener.  All you have to do is rephrase some of your New …

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