Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Stand By Me

Though some may dispute, it just doesn't get any more Metro Green than this:


UPDATE: OK, maybe it does get more Metro Green:

UPDATE 2: Interested in more? Check it out here: Playing For Change.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

TerraCycle - Near Perfect Eco-Capitalism

Caught a glimpse of a National Geographic TV special featuring TerraCycle, a company that makes all its products from waste. All its products. Every part of everything, recycled, upcycled, repurposed, reused.

Check it out:

(As of this posting, their website ( was down so no link can be provided at the moment. But I'll update this post with a link when their site comes back up.)

UPDATE: Here's the link to

UPADTE 2: From the TerraCycle home page: Terra-Ific!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day 2009 - Kids Edition

I want to take a minute on this Earth Day 2009 to acknowledge the efforts of elementary educators (everywhere, really, but particularly those under whose influence my children fortunately fall) in whom I've seen a commendable dedication to spreading the word about sustainability, recycling, respect for the earth and all the elements that will enrich their imaginations and spur them to green living, thinking and action.

You may even recall this March 13th Metro Green post about Project Rescue, a "play" my 3rd-grade daughter's combined classes staged.

The image above is the cover of an elementary education news publication produced by Time, Inc. called "Time For Kids. This week's issue, titled "Green Schools," features articles on resource conservation (particularly water and electricity), trash recycling, photo-voltaics and solar collection, and even a charming little piece on composting, which, for the benefit of the first-graders, exaggerates the "ewww!" factor by describing how "worm poop is mixed with soil."

On the back a little "test" challenges kids to study a schoolyard illustration and then circle all the "Earth-smart choices" they see and "X" all the things they see that should be changed.

My son and I went over it together and he was sufficiently inspired to urge us to observe another Earth Hour tonight before bed. So we did, thoroughly revisiting the camaraderie we had shared on March 28th when we'd offed all the lights and snuggled together outside looking at the stars and talking about what it means to be kind to Mother Earth.

Tonight before bed we read together a poem called "Mother Earth Needs Your Help" by Tonda Rae Nalle that my son's first-grade teacher had sent home in his backpack:

Our world is a large and beautiful place,
But soon we will run out of space
For all our litter trash and cans.
So let's start now and lend our hands
To clean up our roadsides, parks, and streams.
It's not as impossible as it seems.
Our world will remain a beautiful place
And future generations won't run out of space.

Recycling is a lesson learned
From Mother Nature, who in turn,
Will teach us if we only try
To recycle the things we use and buy.
If we all work hard and do our share
Our world will survive because we care.
Admittedly, not Shakespeare, but a lovely little message to send home with the kids as the effects and the effectiveness of each progressive Earth Day become more and more critical to the health of the planet and to the quality of our lives on it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Sunday NY Times Magazine - The Green Issue

For those coming late to the party, pick up a copy of last Sunday's (April 19) New York Times. Pull out the magazine and you'll find what's being called the Green Issue. For those who prefer investigating online: The Green Mind. (May be behind a subscription wall... but I believe registration is free).

Of greatest note here at Metro Green is the Times' focus study of Shai Agassi and his visionary efforts to promote electric cars with interchangeable batteries. Batteries Not Included is an in-depth look at the progress Agassi has been making with his Better Place concept for the operating mechanisms of viable all-electric car transportation. Metro Green readers will remember Agassi from our March 23rd post entitled "E=MC2 for E value "Electric" (as in car)..." Central to the topic of electric cars is this puzzling conundrum:
"The most advanced electric car currently for sale, the Tesla Roadster, runs for no more than 250 miles on a charge, and others can do only 50 miles or so; then they require two or more hours of plug-in time to recharge. The problem of refueling is so significant that fans of electric cars have a phrase for it: range anxiety, the nagging fear that you’ll run out of juice before you can find a charge spot and be stranded at the side of the road. It is the major reason that most Americans, even as they cheer on the development of low- or no-emissions vehicles, are leery of actually buying one. And if people won’t buy them, carmakers won’t make them."
It is the single question best answered thus far by Agassi's Better Place battery changing stations. Author Clive Thompson also updates our original essay touting in summation the recently-committed Obama stimulus plan's $2.4B in development grants for electric cars and plug-in electric hybrids.

Jon Gertner also has a worthwhile psycho-social inquiry into the nature of our struggle to get 100% behind sustainability efforts and the green lifestyle in his essay "Why Isn't The Brain Green?"

All in all a very worthwhile read and what better way to ring in April 22nd: Earth Day 2009?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Congress for the New Urbanism

Metro Green acknowledges and salutes Congress for the New Urbanism, a non-profit (501(c)(3) corporation) think tank dedicated to sustainability at the urban (city/neighborhood) level. From their "Who We Are" web link:

The Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) is the leading organization promoting walkable, neighborhood-based development as an alternative to sprawl. CNU takes a proactive, multi-disciplinary approach to restoring our communities. Members are the life of the organization – they are the planners, developers, architects, engineers, public officials, investors, and community activists who create and influence our built environment, transforming growth patterns from the inside out. Whether it's bringing restorative plans to hurricane-battered communities in the Gulf Coast, turning dying malls into vibrant mixed-use neighborhoods, or reconnecting isolated public housing projects to the surrounding fabric, new urbanists are providing leadership in community building.

Our relationship with our members allows us to do more than just talk about the problems of the built environment. Together, we are creating tools that make it easier to put New Urbanism into practice around the world.

In March, CNU's John Norquist testified before Congress earning a cooperative response from Obama administration officials:

"...bringing a message about how federal investments in integrated networks of walkable streets and public transportation will strengthen communities, bolster regional economies and dramatically reduce carbon emissions and other environmental impacts. “For thousands of years, urban thoroughfares were used for commerce, movement, and social interaction,“ says Norquist. “Only in the 20th century did engineers start to think that traffic should be segregated from other activities. Increasingly though, Americans are turning away from the isolation of automobile-dependent areas and choosing to live in neighborhoods with traditional walkable street networks. Federal policies should reflect the choices people are making. The time for grade-separated highways as the centerpiece of federal transportation policy has come and gone.“

Two key Obama Administration officials sounded similar themes in a remarkable joint appearance before the same subcommittee yesterday: Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Secretary Shaun Donovan of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The two cabinet officials used the joint appearance to announce a Sustainable Communities partnership “to help American families gain better access to affordable housing, more transportation options, and lower transportation costs.“ Although CNU and other reform organizations are eager to work with both agencies to put meat on the bones of these aspirations, the plans coming from both departments are highly promising. The NRDC's Kaid Benfield provides highlights of what's planned under this partnership in a posting at CNU's group blog:

“One of my highest priorities is to help promote more livable communities through sustainable surface transportation programs,” concluded Secretary LaHood yesterday.

Further exploration into the activities of CNU (and membership in the organization!) could prove useful and productive as we move forward toward a sustainable future. Kudos to the Obama administration for responding so positively to community-generated leadership.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Plastic Plague

A very strong new blog called "Say No To Plastic..." makes a powerful case for the adverse impacts of non-biodegradable plastics on our global ecosystems. Though they don't cite their reference sources, if the following "quick facts" list is accurate, alarm bells should be sounding... from one end the planet to the other:


* A plastic milk jug takes 1 million years to decompose. ONE!

* A plastic cup can take 50 - 80 years to decompose.

* Americans use 2.5 million plastic bottles every HOUR.

* Plastic bags and other plastic garbage thrown into the ocean kill as many as 1 million sea creatures every year.

* Today, Americans generate 10.5 million tons of plastic waste a year but recycle only 1 or 2 % of it.

* An estimated 14 billion pounds of trash, much of it plastic is dumped in the world’s oceans every year.

* The worldwide fishing industry dumps an estimated 150,000 tons of plastic into the ocean each year, including packaging, plastic nets, lines, and buoys.

* Each of us creates 1,500 lbs of trash every year that has to be disposed of . . . much of it could be recycled.

* Every year we make enough plastic film to shrink-wrap the state of Texas.

Now, take a look at what's happening in a region of the Pacific Ocean (between San Francisco and Hawaii) called the North Pacific Gyre:

Recycle all the plastic bottles you possibly can. If the local grocer uses plastic bags, create a recycling box or bin and from time to time return them to the store. The urgency of dealing with this plastic plague cannot be understated. Unchecked, it will eventually find its way onto our dinner plates... if it hasn't already.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

If you REALLY love tofu... a bit of Metro Green humor

I don't ordinarily watch (or pay much attention to) Fox News but this story made me laugh out loud. Was it the subject matter or the deeply "challenged" news anchors? Hard to say, but on the eve of tax day... here, for your quasi-green amusement:

Monday, April 13, 2009

If Westwood, NJ can do it, what's stopping the rest of us?

Westwood, New Jersey... rethinking how an entire town operates. Sever ties with traditional energy? Why not? Garbage trucks running on bio-diesel? Hybrid cop cars? But of course! Wind turbines, solar panels and the installation of a hydro-generator on a nearby river? Obviously!

It's all in the works and Westwood City Hall is 100% on board. And the movement is generating considerable accolades and attention beyond the city limits.

Shows what leadership, political will and community buy-in can accomplish in a town not unlike say, for example... yours.

Video clip from CBS News this morning:

Watch CBS Videos Online

Saturday, April 11, 2009

5 Ways To Monitor Energy And Money Use

Dave Burdick writing the other day at Huffington Post had this interesting column on monitoring energy consumption and how to measure the direct expense. Self-explanatory and posted without further comment:

We all know we need to use less energy to save money. But we work best with goals -- how much energy, exactly, should we save? Easier to work in dollars, right?

Well, Michael Graham Richard over at Planet Green reports that there's an easy conversion:

Eric Drexler, a great scientist and engineer who also recently started blogging, noticed something interesting about the average electricity rate in the US ($0.115 per kilowatt-hour): One watt for one year costs one dollar.

Why is this interesting? Because most of us aren't really good at estimating our energy usage and what part of our electricity bill comes from what.

So, armed with that knowledge, here's how to get started monitoring the speed at which money and energy are leaving your home.

Coolest ways to monitor your energy use:

Plug it in, plug your appliances into it and do some math (or don't, with the EZ model) -- and you'll know how many watts you're using.

Monitor energy use from afar! Maybe you want to spy on your roommates to make sure they don't crank the A/C while you're out of town. Or maybe you're less crazy and you just wonder about natural fluctuations during the day. Either way, combining Kill-A-Watt and Twitter can keep you posted on your appliances' energy draw.

Where Kill-A-Watt reports on energy use of specific appliances, the Meter Reader (runs about $200) will monitor your whole home's energy use.

An incredibly cool (and immodest, if you watch the video) device that monitors home energy use via your home's energy meter. It's like the Meter Reader, but looks much cooler -- and it knows it.

This is not for your average consumer, but it's pretty incredible. When this house uses too much energy, the whole world knows -- because big, illuminated orbs outside the house will glow red!

We all know we need to use less energy to save money. But we work best with goals -- how much energy, exactly, should we save? Easier to work in dollars, right? Well, Michael Graham Richard over at P...
We all know we need to use less energy to save money. But we work best with goals -- how much energy, exactly, should we save? Easier to work in dollars, right? Well, Michael Graham Richard over at P...

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Oh God, here they come...

Did You Know? & 2.0

Not exactly Metro Green, but since Aristotle held "the swift perception of relations" to be "the hallmark of genius," here is an interesting primer in global economic, social and cultural relativity, just so... you know... we can all be geniuses. (Some redundancies, but both videos are worth watching & absorbing).

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Adaptive Reuse - Podcast: Kirsten Ritchie on Green Biz Radio

Adaptive Reuse is the term given to the retrofitting and repurposing of existing buildings to minimize new construction while maximizing energy conservation in the satisfaction of our demand for space.

This podcast, features Kirsten Ritchie, director of sustainable design with Gensler, the international architecture, design and planning firm based in San Francisco. In this interview from mid January, Ritchie talked with Green Biz Radio Associate Editor Leslie Guevarra about adaptive reuse — a practice that gives new life to old buildings.

Here's how it began:
LG: Please talk to us about adaptive reuse. Why are we hearing more and more about this strategy these days?

KR: Well, certainly, I'd love to chat about it with you. But what I'd first would like to do for our listening audience is to have them understand what adaptive reuse is. Or when we use that term, what we believe is.

Adaptive reuse is where you're actually taking an existing building and you're repositioning its function. So for example, you have a situation where you had an old manufacturing plant and you're transforming it to use as a commercial office. We have that example right here in our offices in San Francisco where we are located in the old Hills Brothers Coffee Building and it was originally a coffee plant built in the turn of the century. Now it has wonderful commercial offices in it.

Another example would be for our Ferry Building, which of course, was originally built as a terminal for all the ferries that were plowing the Bay. And now it is a wonderful market hall.

So when talking about adaptive reuse, that's what we mean. We mean taking a building and really repurposing it for use that is popular and needed in today's marketplace.

So why are we hearing so much about adaptive reuse? You see it in the newspapers, of course a lot on the design magazines, a lot in the development area.

And the reason for that is first of all, we have a huge amount of existing building stock and we need to be smarter about using it. Particularly if you look at the older buildings, they have wonderful bones from a design perspective. They have high floor-to-floor ceiling heights that allow us to bring in a lot of natural daylight. It allows for good circulation systems, it allows you to optimize how you set up your lighting systems.

And of course, the buildings themselves are pretty strong, sturdy buildings. They've been around so long and they have a lot of materials in them and you want to take advantage of that.

Also, buildings in particular that were built in the earlier part of the century were designed to optimize their performance in what we call the passive state. That is, being able to take advantage of solar orientation and wind and natural ventilation because we didn't have such reliance that we do now on mechanical systems for our comfort. So they're very smartly designed buildings.

The only thing is that their use or what they were originally designed for is no longer needed. And so what you now want to do is say how can I take this building that's, for example, plunked down in the middle of a city, an old manufacturing plant, and take advantage of it because we need housing or we need offices or we need hotels. And can we use these buildings to provide that function?

And the answer is absolutely yes. And so we're really looking to get so much smarter about repositioning and reusing and adapting the use of these buildings to meet needs that we have in the marketplace right now.
In this conversation, Ritchie explores the impacts of - and the long-term implications for - repurposing the "built environment" and concludes it is of necessity that adaptive reuse becomes the standard for how we approach our need for space - to live, work and play in - in the years and decades ahead.

LG: Now, we're talking about ways to transform the built environment. And it sounds like this is part of the same extended family of strategies that could include industrial infills and retrofits.

What you're looking at from an adaptive reuse perspective is saying, if we really want to do something about our energy consumption and we really want to do something about the carbon issue, we have to get, we have to improve the performance of the existing building stock big time. We have over 300 billion square feet of buildings in the United States that are already built and we have a lot of great green rating systems that are out there kind of more focused on new construction.

To get our energy down, we've got to go after those 300 billion square feet of existing building and by going into an existing building, adapting its reuse, improving its performance, being smarter about how you manage — for example, manage daylight and provide thermal comfort, we can significantly reduce the energy consumption associated with the operating of that building as well.

UPDATE: More on Gensler; awarded Green Space Today's February 2009 Firm of the Month.
See photos of Gensler's award-winning adaptive reuse designs and new project build-outs. And more from Sustainable Design Director Kirsten Ritchie.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Mat Stein's Environmental "Ponzi Scheme" Analogy

Writing at Chelsea Green (originally posted at The Huffington Post), Mat Stein has drafted a Metro Green eye-opening tour de force - titled "We're Running Our World Like a Ponzi Scheme" - in which he reflects on the nature of our consumerism and compares it to a giant Ponzi scheme that will ultimately collapse, leaving future - but not so distant - generations holding little more than the heated sands of a ruined landscape and a barely habitable world.

A Ponzi scheme is a fraudulent investment operation that promises, and delivers (at least for a while) exceptionally high and consistent financial returns to investors. These returns are paid to its investors from their own money, and the money paid by subsequent investors, rather than from any actual profit earned by bona fide income generating investments (such as manufacturing, mining, or rental income). In ways similar to "pyramid schemes" or "chain letters", in order for a Ponzi scheme to work, it must continuously attract an ever increasing pool of investment from unsuspecting customers, in order to provide an ever increasing supply of money to draw upon to maintain payments to its ever increasing pool of investors. The trick is to promise such glorious results that the greed factor overcomes its victim's common sense as they turn a blind eye to the fact that the scheme lacks a solid foundation and can't go on forever. It is absolutely critical to the success of all Ponzi schemes that an aura of respectability and impeccability be maintained for as long as possible, for as soon as suspicions spread concerning the fraudulent nature of the business, new investments dry up and the Ponzi scheme collapses, since it has no source of true earned income with which to maintain payments to investors.

So, is it true that we are running our planet like a Ponzi scheme? And if this is true, does it mean that we must inevitably face collapse, as all Ponzi schemes must eventually end in catastrophe?

The illusion that the "Free Market" is the logical savior of our world has been maintained by the promise of riches and an ever increasing standard of living and lifespan that has been demonstrated by the industrialized world for the past several hundred years. On the surface, who can look at the apparent success of America, and not come to that quick conclusion? However, when you look deeper, you will find that this success is built on a business model based upon exponential growth, and that this growth must be fed by a similar exponential growth in consumption of energy, natural resources, raw materials, and in the continuous expansion to new markets. All of this is well and good when the world has an abundant supply of undeveloped lands and unused resources, but it starts coming apart as that same world approaches its natural limits to growth and consumption.

To summarize Stein's model, the environmental Ponzi Scheme promotes and promises a future dependent on necessary, life-sustaining assets - such as forests, oceans, the atmosphere, fresh waters and other vital resources - that simply will NOT be in place or available when the generation it is being sold to tries to collect. Stein makes a very persuasive case for the consequences of depleting these resources and then asserts:

If the previous list is not enough to convince yourself that we are operating a giant Ponzi scheme, and that we are running out of new sources of energy, untapped markets, and raw materials to keep it running, then the following two figures should open your eyes.

The second figure shows us that back in the mid 1980's, when our world had just over half its current population, we first exceeded the capacity of our planet to continuously supply us with the food and raw materials that we consume, and to process our wastes. What this means, is that we have been consuming our planet's resources faster than they regenerate, and polluting its natural systems faster than they can recover. This "drawing down" of our resources, is essentially spending the money from investors (all of us) in this Ponzi scheme, and when the remaining "money" (the natural resources and ecosystems of our world) can't support the payments anymore, it will most certainly collapse!

Unfortunately, it's going to take more than minor changes in the way we do business to get off this giant Ponzi scheme. It will not be easy, but I do believe it is doable. For a good idea of what it is going to take to make the shift to sustainability and get off this Ponzi scheme, see my prior Huff Post blog, 12 Tips for the Sustainability Shift.

Chris Jordan’s pictures of excess...

This TED talk was from last year but is an eye-opening look at statistics about consumption and excess.

Chris has a new exhibit called Running The Numbers II - Portraits of global mass culture which you can find photos of on his website.

Just over 11 minutes... and so very worth it.

The essence of this shatteringly provocative talk is to make meaning out of vast, fathomless statistics by rendering them into images; look at them, illustrated graphically, arrestingly and with the style and originality only an artist of Chris Jordan's caliber - only one with his vision, his wit and his profound sense of irony - can create.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

T. Boone Pickens - Entrepreneur or Philanthropist?

As one of those persuaded early on - when he first took to the TV airwaves - that Boone Pickens was worth listening to, I'm still persuaded, though too, I'm still uncertain as to whether his motives are philanthropic or entrepreneurial. So much so, in fact, these days I think the new portmanteau "philanthropreneurial" (or should that be "entreprelanthropist?) best describes what he's up to.

I like his vitality, I like his down-home, good-old-boy mien (however put on or affected it may be... he's obviously very sophisticated), and I think his marketing and political savvy border on genius.

Regardless of what you think of T. Boone Pickens and his Pickens Plan for reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil, I can say without reservation this IS the way to move the conversation forward:

Not yet familiar with T. Boone and the Pickens Plan? Here's a link to the website. And here's The Plan.