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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The hidden city

Coral reefs are disappearing at an alarming rate throughout the earth's oceans. Once considered a hazard to mariners, coral platforms and barrier reefs are now known for what they truly are "cities of the sea." But these densely populated, vast enclaves of marine life are increasingly threatened by man's expansive development and pressure for use of the ocean's food source.

Population growth has more land under development every day, development that strips land of natural vegetation and replaces it with either agricultural crop areas or urban infrastructure both of which increase fresh rain water runoff. Runoff water contains pollutants as well as sediment that choke living coral by either creating algae blooms which reduce the sunlight reaching the coral and starving the colony or simply poisoning the coral with chemical toxins.

Corals too are very popular as decorative accessories in fashion and home furnishing. Often, when people vacation in tropical locations surrounded by beautiful, exotic reefs tourists want to take coral souvenirs home. In order to do this, they either collect pieces of coral themselves or buy pieces from a "curios" shop that in turn get their coral from commercial collectors. This is very damaging because typically only the healthiest, most beautiful corals are selected.

Reef fish populations have been greatly decreased in some areas of the world. The removal of large numbers of reef fish has caused the coral reef ecosystems to become unbalanced and allowed more competitive organisms, such as algae to smother and kill large tracts of productive coral colonies.

Ultimately however perhaps the most destructive process to coral formations comes from commercial and private vessels. Fuel leaks and the increasing occurrence of spills by large tankers are extremely damaging to coral formations. Boat anchors can and do cause great damage to reefs, overtime destroying entire colonies.

What you can do:

  • Limit the amount of chemical runoff from your lawn or garden, use only biodegradable natural fertilizers.
  • Support organic farmers in your area - and then buy locally.
  • Avoid purchasing coral jewelry and decorative artifacts.
  • If you are a sport fisherman or diver, pay attention to the reservations protecting coral preserves.
  • Learn more about coral and the ocean life it supports by visiting The Dry Tortugas National Park site part of the Florida Keys.
  • Visit our new Greener Earth Maps feature for an interactive tour of the 'shoals' at The Dry Tortuga, by satellite from our partners at Google Earth.

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10:06 PM

Sorry for the Delay...

My weekly column, which I normally post on Wednesdays, will appear on Friday this week. Thanks for your patience.

Jeff McIntire-Strasburg
Guest Columnist -- Greener magazine

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5:46 PM

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Lightness of Being

African swallowtail butterfly wings are coated with fluorescent pigments that work like the light emitting diodes (LEDs) used in electronic displays, according to researchers at the University of Exeter. In fact, the butterfly’s method of signaling is superior in efficiency to LEDs manufactured today, because light that is normally trapped or reflected sideways is re-directed outward by micro-holes in the wings.

"Unlike the diodes, the butterfly's system clearly doesn't have semiconductor in it and it doesn't produce its own radiative energy," lead researcher Peter Vukusic told the BBC. "That makes it doubly efficient in a way...When you study these things and get a feel for the photonic architecture available, you really start to appreciate the elegance with which nature put some of these things together.”

The technical term for the butterfly’s LEDs is “photonic structure.” The field of study in which engineers and designers find their inspiration in nature is called biomimetics. It’s being used to improve body armor by studying the composition of sea snail shells and raise fuel efficiency in Mercedes-Benz cars by investigating the aerodynamics of tropical fish.

“Nature always achieves its objectives economically, with the minimum energy, conserves its resources and completely recycles its waste – an example which is well worth following,” said Daimler Chrysler in a press release.

Artist Bill Miller salvages linoleum and vinyl flooring to produce his colorful collages. Miller got his start raiding abandoned steel mills in Pittsburgh for sculptural materials. Today, he is more often invited to rip up retro flooring by homeowners. Find out where his work is being shown; donate your linoleum by calling 917-741-9410 or sending an email to bm122@concentric.net.

Gregory Yanick - New York
Greener Magazine Staff Writer

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5:54 PM

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Green Glass, Inc.: Thinking Outside the Bottle

Many people would claim that they've found inspiration in a good bottle of wine. For Sean Penrith and Philip Tetley, the founders of Green Glass, Inc., inspiration sprung not so much from a bottle's contents, but from the bottle itself:
Late one night [in 1992] while clearing the table after a dinner party, Sean's wife, Mara, mentioned that it was a shame there was no further use for the attractive empty wine bottles they were about to toss in the refuse bin. As soon as she said it, inspiration struck…turn the bottle upside down…remove the base, twist the neck closed…and voila…a drinking glass. And with the striking colors and shapes of many glass bottles, the result is unique stemware that combines environmental consciousness with exquisite taste. (link)
Young, idealistic, and basically broke, Penrith, an electrical engineer, and Tetley, a biologist and conservationist, recognized an opportunity in Mara's observation. Each invested $100 and began working on a process to convert wine bottles into glassware in a garage in their native South Africa. After numerous frustrations and many broken bottles, the pair successfully created machinery to automate the process. Now able to produce a glass every ten seconds (as opposed to hand-processing twelve bottles a day), the company moved into a South African factory. Word spread quickly of the young companies' unique products, and within two years, Green Glass received the "Business of the Year" award and was recognized as one of the four best new businesses in South Africa. Since then, the company has opened a US-based production facility in Schofield, Wisconsin, and has the capacity to produce 225,000 glasses a month. In thirteen years, Mara's brainstorm has blossomed into a global enterprise recognized for its innovation, style and environmental responsibility.

Green Glass' large-scale production has become absolutely necessary, as the demand for it's products has outstripped its supply from the company's earliest days. Penrith and Tetley, who began selling Green Glass products on the weekends in Johannesburg, now claim an impressive list of corporate clients, including Walt Disney, BMW, Perrier, Hyatt Hotels, Beringer Wines and Benzinger Family Winery. Individuals who set their tables with Green Glass products include King Juan Carlos of Spain, "lifestyle authority" and author Danny Seo, and actresses Ellen Burstyn and Linda Blair.

While the number of A-list clients is impressive, Green Glass' wide range of tableware and home accessories will fit most budgets, and provide fodder for conversation. Dinner guests may experience "déjà vu" when drinking from wine and water glasses, as Green Glass recycles bottles from wineries in the United States, Canada and Europe. Other reclaimed materials often find their way into products: two vases, for instance, combine recycled glass with holders fashioned from reclaimed bed springs. One of my favorite items is the Cactus Clear tumbler, made from the bottles of Mexico's Sol beer.

These items, along with the many others that Green Glass produces, should inspire even the hippest environmentalists. While Penrith is rightfully proud of his company's acceptance in the most stylish circles, he bristles at the suggestion that environmental consciousness itself is merely a part of the fashion statement made by "green" lifestyle products. "I believe that being 'green' is not just fashionable - it's essential. Our customers want to live 'the good life," but I equate that with an overall high quality of life. Our environment and sustainable engagement with it are just as much a part of 'the good life' as the things we purchase and enjoy."

There's no doubt that a customer who shares Penrith's view of living well can purchase and enjoy his company's products and know that Green Glass itself is sustainably engaged with the environment. Green Glass gives its customer more than high-quality, attractive glassware - it also creates a model for living well while treading lightly.

Jeff McIntire-Strasburg
Guest Columnist -- Greener Magazine

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11:15 AM

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Summer Rayne Oakes: Fashioning a More Sustainable World

Hippies and clothes-horses, beware! If you still believe sustainability can't be stylish, or style can't be sustainable, fashion model Summer Rayne Oakes has a message for you: "If you're a fashionista, you can't see beyond your Spring collection. If you're an environmentalist, you can't see past your own back yard." Such directness is typical of this 21-year-old Cornell graduate who's taken on the challenge of proving to the fashion and media worlds that the newest look doesn't have to involve environmental degradation or exploitative labor practices. In pursuing this mission, Oakes weaves the roles of student, educator, diplomat, entrepreneur and model into a unique professional identity: "Traditional ways of doing business need to be breached, and innovation needs to allow for bridge-building between corporations, non-profits, and governments. It is necessary to be 'multi-lingual,' metaphorically speaking, for spontaneous cooperation to occur.... That is where I see my role coming into play -- this 'multi-lingualist' that bridges the gap between stakeholder entities in order to create a 'spontaneous collaboration for sustainability' as it relates to the fashion & beauty industries."

"Multi-lingualist" may be a phrase that your computer's spell checker doesn't recognize (not yet, anyway), but Oakes has already established herself as a fluent translator of several professional "languages." She recently published a cover story in Yogi Times entitled "How Fashion Got Its Soul Back" in which she demonstrated her virtuosity both with a keyboard and the multiple disciplines underlying sustainability. She also writes a monthly column called "Behind the Label" for international fashion magazine Lucire. She created EcoFashion 101, a "conscious curriculum with style," that engages middle and high-school aged students with the concept of sustainability through fashion and popular culture. She's involved in Organic Portraits, an effort to promote ecological knowledge and raise funds for the El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve in Chiapas, Mexico, through avant-garde photography and sustainable fashion. Finally, she's on the road participating in both ethical fashion shows and interactive workshops on sustainable style.

While just reading about her range of activities may bring on a spell of fatigue, Oakes has been a multi-tasker from a young age. Raised in rural northeastern Pennsylvania, she notes that her parents supported her early interest in the natural world. At the same time, "my mother fondly pushed me into activities that I probably would have never pursued: tennis, ballet, piano and art." At her small high school, Oakes pursued growing interests in social causes, and served as an HIV/AIDS peer educator, a tobacco peer educator, a state environmental competitor, and a peer mediator. In her senior year, she introduced her school to the Yellow Ribbon Project, a suicide prevention program. In college, she continued her environmental education by pursuing a major in natural resources, and after watching a gleeful professor jump into a lake to capture whirligig beetles, she added a second major in entomology. She notes that all of these experiences contributed to her current activities: "My passion for bringing upbeat social and environmental ventures to the fashion and media industries has been an evolution of all my past experiences, including getting down and dirty with some six-legged creatures."

Despite her success at a young age, Oakess eclectic past keeps her philosophical about the direction of her unique calling. "Though I have clear ideas of my own, there is no telling where my current work will take me. I can say, however, that it has been one heck of a roller coaster ride thus far. When you are paving a new way for change, you hit a lot of bumpy roads, and it's never without a lot of ups and downs." So far, though, Oakes has demonstrated that bumpy roads can lead both to changed minds in established industries and more sustainable efforts to keep the world stylish. For the latest on Summer Rayne Oakes' projects, visit http://www.summerrayne.net/news.htm.

Jeff McIntire-Strasburg
Guest Columnist -- Greener Magazine

Photograph by Storm Williams.

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1:41 PM

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Clean Energy is a Breeze

Wyoming-based Terra Moya Aqua, Inc. (TMA) revealed a vertical wind turbine this week purported to be both more efficient and environmentally friendly. The company says it can make 80 percent more power than the conventional propeller-driven models from the same wind, and that the more compact design creates fewer disruptions for both humans and wildlife.

Wind power generates only about one percent of U.S. energy production. But a single wind turbine can displace 2.5 million pounds of carbon dioxide per year. And the power source is inexhaustible. The #1 state for wind energy could win you a bar bet (PDF). (Answer: North Dakota.) Meanwhile, with 21 percent of the population but only eight percent of the world's energy consumption today, China realizes non-carbon energy sources are necessary. Solar is popular.

The Kyoto Protocol might cut into economic growth for some European countries, says a new report by the International Council for Capital Formation (ICCF), sponsored in part by energy and banking groups. Naturally, the countries most affected, such as Spain and Italy, are those furthest away from meeting target emissions reductions. The report (PDF) argues that carbon caps won't encourage private investment in renewable energies; rather, they will increase energy costs, the prices of goods and unemployment.

An alternative to the Kyoto Protocol is the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate. The partnership is less rigid, and focuses more so on technology, while seeking to accomplish goals similar to the Protocol. But will it work any better? European Commission spokeswoman Barbara Helferrich told the BBC in July 2005: "[The Asia-Pacific pact] is no substitute for agreements like the Kyoto Protocol and we do not expect it to have a real impact on climate change... There will have to be binding global agreements, but on what scale and what basis is yet to be decided."

Gregory Yanick - New York
Greener Magazine Staff Writer

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2:52 PM

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Goodbye Dubai

Dubai, part of the UAE, lies on the western edge of the Arabian Sea. About the size of Rhode Island, Dubai is the wealthiest of the Arab Emerates holding an estimated 10% of the world's oil reserves. Dubai is perhaps the most neutral, politically, of all the Arab nations having established close ties with governments, industry and people from many nations and they have cultivated an unusual tolerance of booze, recreational drugs, halter tops, and other foreign vices formally proscribed by Islamic law.

In 2000 the hereditary leader of this small emirate Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum otherwise known as Sheik “Mo” determined the stage for his country’s financial future by embarking on a 6 year building program to turn Dubai into the vacation Mecca of the world. His plan: to recreate the Dubai’s 44 mile long coast line of white sand beach and azure seas into over 1200 miles of luxury residential and commercial beach front property, hotels, resorts and even a "Trump" card or two; a kind of amalgam of Disney-esque entertainment and an Emerald City/Vegas-style/Blade Runner vision of the future. The shear magnitude of the project would strain engineering and financial resources beyond everyone’s imagination, but the project begun in 2001 is nearing completion in 2006 and has spawned 3 sister projects which together are sometimes called the 8th wonder of the world.

Utilizing enough rock and boulders to build 3 Great Pyramids and sand mined from the bottom of the Arabian sea engineers have built the first of 4 man made islands, The Palm Jumeirah off the coast of Dubai. Environmentalists have been watching closely and with some trepidation, concerned about the long term affect on the surrounding sea life as well as the impact on the existing coast line, ocean currents and weather pattern changes that they fear will result from such a massive construction project. Dubai officials largely discount those concerns and have employed some measure of control and environmental monitoring to ensure that the eco system remains intact.

Recently biologists conducting a survey of the waters surrounding the 5 mile wide break reported that in fact the construction seems to have been a boon to fish populations who have moved into the artificial reef. Modifications to the initial surrounding water break include channels cut through to the interior lagoon to allow natural cross currents and reduce wave building action. Finally project designers made one crucial decision that perhaps more than any single choice determined the success or failure of the project; their decision to use only natural materials for the foundation: rock and sand, may be the crucial pin upon which pivots the future of these man made islands.

It remains to be seen if this technology will become the standard for future construction off the ocean’s shorelines or will climate change and rising sea levels bring a quick demise to this expensive experiment.

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1:08 PM

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

GreenBusiness.net: Continuing the Conversation

Editor's note: A new feature in Greener Magazine premiers today with the introduction of our guest Columnists and Editorial page Greener Board. Our first Guest Columnist is a pioneer sustainability author and commentator who began sustainablog in July, 2003. Jeff McIntire-Strasburg is a writer, a teacher and a passionate green activist.

When I first came across the GreenBusiness.net web site, which touted “a discussion list for eco-entrepreneurs,” I was excited to find such a resource, and quickly signed up. After a couple of weeks with no discussion, though, I was afraid that the list was yet another one of those great online concepts that never quite caught on. The discussion did begin, however, and as I joined in with my two cents, I came to realize that this “great online concept” would work because creator Jason Trout simply wasn’t the kind of person to let an idea die.

Like most entrepreneurs in green business, Jason’s desires are simple: higher profits and a greener planet. While he’s in the process of making that first million and saving the world from itself, though, Jason has one more modest goal: keeping the lines of communication open among the growing sustainable business community. GreenBusiness.net, started in February 2004, was his attempt to recognize that goal. In the year and a half since, the site has grown to a community of over 230 members, ranging from heavy-hitters to newbies, and has morphed from a simple email discussion list to a full-fledged discussion portal. Members have enjoyed conversation about the joys and challenges of running a sustainable business with like-minded entrepreneurs. Frequent participant Jennifer Boulden of Anavo Group and IdealBite compares the list to “a green cocktail party” where everyone understands the concept of sustainability. “I am a 'green business owner' - and sometimes it gets tiring to have so many people look at you quizzically when you answer that age old question at the cocktail party: ‘so, what do you do?”

Read More!

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9:06 AM

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Climate change updates

A new study on climate change adds the dimensions of health and economics to the usual ecological concerns.

"We found that impacts of climate change are likely to lead to ramifications that overlap in several areas including our health, our economy and the natural systems on which we depend," wrote Paul Epstein, the study's lead author and Associate Director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School. "A comparable event would be the aftermath of flooding, contamination and homelessness witnessed after Hurricane Katrina hit the US Gulf coast in August. Analysis of the potential ripple effects stemming from an unstable climate shows the need for more sustainable practices to safeguard and insure a healthy future."

The report, titled Climate Change Futures, was sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme and European reinsurance giant Swiss Re, and shows the current effects of climate change on infectious diseases, such as West Nile virus, and extreme weather, such as droughts and floods.

At a press conference in New York City on November 1, however, Epstein expressed optimism.

"There are great opportunities here, " he said. "The clean energy transition that we're embarking on is where Wall Street has to move. It's for all of our bottom lines to invest in ecological reconstruction. Conservation and clean energy will build a secure future, and will drive the engine of growth for the 21st century.”

An article published this week in the Journal of Climate projects a temperature increase of 14.5 degrees "if humans continue to use fossil fuels in a business-as-usual manner for the next few centuries." The temperature at the poles would rise an alarming 68 degrees.

"The temperature estimate is actually conservative because the model didn't take into consideration changing land use such as deforestation and build out of cities into outlying wilderness areas," said lead author Govindasamy Bala of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

"It's a cautionary tale," said Gerald A. Meehl, of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. to the New York Times, who has put together a package of resources on the subject (requires registration). "The message is not to give up because the changes appear overwhelming, but instead the message should be the longer we wait to do something, the worse the consequences."

Researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz say the range of California's oak woodlands "will shift northward and could shrink to nearly half their current size" by the end of the century due to climate warming trends.

Lisa Sloan, coauthor of the study, said the results show the importance of looking at regional variations.

"More intense hurricanes are the issue on the Gulf Coast, while melting sea ice is important in the Arctic," she said. "In California, the strongest effects of climate change are in the mountains, creating concern for our water supply and for the natural ecosystems that attract so many visitors."

The study will be published in the November 8 issue of the journal of the National Academy of Science.

Gregory Yanick - New York
Greener Magazine Staff Writer

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2:18 PM