Thursday, September 30, 2010

'Stop building crap!' Eco El Paso keynote speaker said

Lucia Athens, the former manager of the city of Seattle Green Building Program, Austin's Chief Sustainability Officer and the author of Building an Emerald City, share these operating principles to working toward sustainability at Eco El Paso today.
  1. Walk the talk
  2. Charm a skeptic
  3. Stop building crap
  4. Question conventions and rules
  5. Champion quirky ideas
  6. Take action in the face of uncertainty
  7. Make friends with chaos (Chaos is a natural occurrence when there is change. Chaos is where opportunities lie.)
  8. Dance at the revolution (have fun)
She talked about absolutely amazing green projects around the country, including:
 A dog park in Massachussets where the lights are powered by dog poo (seen here being deposited in a methane digester).
 The green roof at the Chicago City Hall where beehives produce RoofTop Honey sold at farmers' markets. (She also talked about roof-to-table restaurants where produce grown on the roof are used in the cooking.)

The High Line park in New York, built on an abandoned elevated subway track.
Goat vegetation management in Seattle where the city hires a company that brings goats to hard to reach landscaping to clean it up.

Other notable projects are in Greensburg, Kansas, a small town destroyed by a tornado that decided to rebuild all green. And in Southeast False Creek, Vancouver BC, they use heat from the sewers to heat and power the area.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sustainable city in the desert

Today's New York Times had a really interesting story about a sustainable city being built in the United Arabs Emirates named Masdar. The author bemoans the fact that it's in essence a gated community for the ultra-rich but one can hope that some of this architecture trickles down.

It's a lot of passive solar stuff and ventilation based on ancient Middle Eastern desert architecture like narrow streets with overhangs and wind towers that drive cool air inside. Below is a cut view of a street. No cars are allowed. You drive electric vehicles under the city!

Here's a photo of a street. Notice the narrowness and the overhangs.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Photos of my visit to the Friedman Recycling plant

(I wish to thank Friedman Recycling for giving me a tour of their El Paso recycling facility recently. These 10 photos go with today's column in the El Paso Times.)

 Meet Friedman Recycling co-owner Morris Friedman at the El Paso plant on Wren Street in the Northeast.
280 tons of our recycling trash comes in per day.
 A bulldozer digs into the mountain.
Separating big paper from small paper.
This is all junk mail, people. Undelivered junk mail.
That red tube sucks up plastic bags (which cannot be recycled at the plant at this time).
I think this looks like an M.C. Escher painting. Like this one:

That's all the stuff you shouldn't put in your blue bin because it's not recyclable.
All packaged and ready to be shipped.
Looks like pop art!

COLUMN: Where does our recycling go?

In today's El Paso Times
Recycling: Where does it all go?
By Louie Gilot
Don’t you just feel so virtuous, even a little smug, each time you put an empty milk jug or a used newspaper into a blue bin? You’re recycling! You’re saving the planet! Well, not so fast. In reality, you’ve only just started the process. That milk jug or newspaper will then be collected by a big truck, and taken to a plant to be sorted, packaged and sold off to be cleaned and turned into raw material for manufacturing.
Finally, the crucial last part that closes the recycling cycle takes place back at the store. Until you buy products with recycled content, you haven’t truly recycled yet.
This piece of wisdom was imparted to me by Morris Friedman, co-owner of Friedman Recycling, the Phoenix-based recycling company with a contract with the City of El Paso. Mr. Friedman recently gave me a tour of his plant on Wren Avenue, which takes in all our residential recycling (and some from businesses, schools and military facilities) at the rate of 280 tons per day.
I had one big question for Mr. Friedman: Where does it all go? Here’s what he said.
-Water bottles (Polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, or #1 plastics) are melted into pellets that can be made into insulation fiber for sleeping bags and coats, carpets, or even new water bottles.
-Milk jugs and shampoo bottles (High-density polyethylene, or HDPE, or #2 plastics) become car bumpers, trash cans, flower pots and laundry hampers.
-Metal goes to smelters.
-Newsprint goes back to the El Paso Times.
All those processes take place in the United States (though not in El Paso). Cardboard is the only material sent to China and Mexico where the demand for packaging is high because of manufacturing.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Billboards in Venice? Blasphemy!

The photo says it all. The Italians are now puttin giant billboards all over Venice. Have they gone crazy? I've never seen anything so ugly (no offense to Julianne Moore). Imagine you have saved for years for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Venice and this is what you find? I'd be majorly poed. For more information against billboards anywhere, click here.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Underwhelmed by GE's electric car charger

I saw a commercial last night about this slick looking GE electric car charger. I checked it out online but found it's not super innovative. Sure, it looks cool but basically, it's a nice package over a pretty standard charger. In addition, it's barely taller than a car so despite its LED ring, you may miss it.

Finally, the designer (Yves Behar, who designed the one-laptop-per-child) seems to have solved few of the issues with electric car chargers. Namely, you have to park in front of it for 8 hours... Given that reality, isn't it inefficient to have the charger only service one vehicle? Wouldn't it make sense to have each charger able to service several vehicles in a flower pattern, for instance?

Friday, September 17, 2010

"Science is not democracy"

I just read this quote in an interview of Barry Marshall, the scientist who discovered in the 1980s that stomach ulcers are not caused by stress but rather by a bacteria, See photo (he got the Nobel Prize in medicine in 2005 for his discovery). The quote reminded me of the so-called debate over climate change. Here's what he said:
There's a saying, "Science is not a democracy." It doesn't matter how many millions of people there are on the other side. There's one right, and it's perfectly possible for all the rest to be wrong.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Can a disposable cooler be green?

I saw this product this morning at the store. It's a disposable cardboard cooler (it pops into place and you just fill it with ice) that you chuck after a few hours. Granted, it's made out of recycled paper and you probably can recycle it again. But how is that more green than just reusing your old, plastic cooler again and again?

Any thoughts, readers?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Flying green on Aeromexico

My trip to Mexico City ended on a green note when, after landing in Juarez, the Aeromexico flight attendant asked us all to close the window shades and open the vents so that they would not waste so much AC to cool the plane while it sat on the tarmac being serviced. I like that they want to save energy. I also like that they put us, the customers, to work and forced us to think about simple passive cooling techniques for our homes and cars.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Day two in Mexico City

Today on the menu: Quesadillas with huitlacoche, a mushroom that grows on (or near?) corn. Basically, a delicious parasite. Our American, genetically-modified corn doesn't have have mushrooms or anything else growing on (or near) it, but Mexican corn (natural and awesome) does! Yeah, Mexican holistic agriculture!

But this trip is not just about eating, I swear. I also walk around and saw these public rental bicycles called Ecobici. You can rent them (the first 30 minutes are free) and return them at any Ecobici station around town.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

La Greenga is in Mexico City

This is my first trip to Mexico City and I was bracing myself for an onslaught of air pollution but either I'm used to it from leaving in El Paso (eh,eh) or things haves changed since the environmental horror stories of the 1990s, because it felt great. A quick Google search shows that Mexico City 2010 is indeed a more breathable place thanks to an aggressive government campaign.

Still, there was haze over the lovely skyline this morning (you can see Latin America's first skyscraper on the right, built in 1948, and the Alameda Central, Mexico City's central park to the right):
Also, did you know they sell meat at airports in Mexico? In France, they sell perfume.
And finally, I don't know if that counts as a green thing, but I ate crickets (chapulines, the reddish dish) and ant eggs (escamoles, the whitish dish in the back). Somehow, I always thought these would taste good. Boy, was I wrong!
Here you have some green arguments for eating bugs. Basically, they're a perfectly good source of protein (without the greenhouse gas emisions) and could help solve food shortages. So I guess I'll try them again when I recover from this first experience.

COLUMN: Fall is for learning to be greener

In today's El Paso Times
Fall is for learning to be greener
By Louie Gilot
Fall is the season for green events in El Paso. It may be a coincidence but in the past few years, several green conferences and expos have taken place in autumn. Whether you are an individual or you are representing a business, these green events are great opportunities to learn and meet like-minded people. And maybe more importantly, they can motivate and inspire us. Being green is all about thinking differently about the things we’ve always done a certain way. In the process, you learn a lot of neat stuff.
Last year for instance, I learned that having white kitchen countertops, instead of the fashionable dark granite ones, means you don’t have to use so many lights to see what you are cooking.
This year, we have two excellent events taking place at the end of the month.
-Eco El Paso, from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday September 30, at the El Paso Convention Center. Fees range from $40 to $150. More information at
-El Paso Pride Environmental Summit, from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., October 1, at the Camino Real Hotel. Entrance is free.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Online scorecards track climate impact of companies

ClimateCounts tracks the climate impact of companies and gives tham scores of "Stuck," "Starting," or "Striding." Here are their findings for some apparel companies:

But they also track airlines, media companies, electronics makers and much more.

Green Chamber of Commerce in Las Vegas

The Green Chamber of Commerce opened a Las Vegas Chapter this month. That's Las Vegas, Nevada, not New Mexico. Everything is possible!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Green triathlon was a great success

It did ruin my Labor Day weekend (I had to wake up at 4 am Sunday) but I am soooo proud to have been the Green Director of the Eagle in the Sun triathlon. You can read about the event here. My involvement of course was limited to making sure we recycled and did all sorts of green things. Check out the recycling bins at the water stations provided by the Tiguas' environmental services.

Friday, September 3, 2010

San Francisco shares its list of green vendors

The city of San Francisco decided to share with the public the list of 1,000 green vendors with whom they do business and who abide by the city's environmental requirements. The city put it all in a searchable Web site called SFApprovedList. This is a great resource for businesses and even individual consumers who want to be sure they are buying green products. And it is great publicity for the vendors who are doing the right thing by being green.

Maybe the city of El Paso could follow suit?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

PETITION: Save the Mountains

The Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition is circulating a petition to show opposition to plans to expand Transmountain on the West Side to a freeway and destroying the natural landscape there. Environmentalists understand we may have to widen Transmountain to ease traffic but they are opposed to making it a freeway.

The City Council too was against it, and then, a week later, were for it with only Reps. Susie Byrd and Eddie Holguin standing their ground. For full background, read the El Paso Times story.

You can sign the petition online. The text of the petition is after the jump.

Last night's environmental forum well attended

Last night's environmental forum organized by Jose Rodriguez, former El Paso County Attorney and Democratic candidate for State Senate,was well attended. We heard from Marty Howell, the city's sustainability manager who told us that thanks to weatherization programs, the city saved $1.5 million on its annual electric bill between 2008 and 2009. (The bill went from $9 million to $7.5 million or a 15% decrease.) Pretty impressive.

(Note: I don't know if my blog is subject to FCC campaign rules, so just in case, let me mention that Mr. Rodriguez is running against the Republican Dan Chavez.)

What the WHAT?!? Environmentalist shoots up Discovery Channel

Environmentalist James Jay Lee was apparently driven over the edge by, of all things, "Kate Plus 8." Why? Because he felt it promoted population growth. He also proposed shows to Discovery Channel about saving the planet but his ideas were rejected.

He was shot and killed yesterday after taking hostages at the Discovery Channel's Maryland's headquarters.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

I tried soy milk in my iced coffee

I was offered soy milk with my iced coffee, which I normally take black, this morning. My first reaction was, "hell, no." But my favorite barista asked, "Did you ever try it?" I hadn't so I did. It tastes nutty. I think I like it.

But is it really all that environmentally-friendly? On one hand, it takes less energy to grow soy than to raise cows. But on the other hand, you don't drink soy. It has to be processed into milk, which takes more energy than just pasteurizing and packaging cow milk. For more on this connundrum, go to this article in Slate Magazine.