Rethink Your Water Heater

The longer this recession drones on, the more we all should seriously investigate the options available to us in every facet of our lives. This is particularly true in terms of the nature and expense of how we heat, cool and otherwise maintain our homes.

Today, for example, let’s consider water heaters, which you usually don’t notice until they break.

How many homeowners are tired of the same-old, same-old: gas, electric and oil water heaters that not only can be operationally temperamental but also are increasingly expensive to use on a monthly basis.

Personally, I’m intrigued by tankless (on-demand) water heaters and solar water heaters.

In the case of the former, I like that water is heated only when it is needed, as opposed to sitting in a tank on standby and periodically reheating itself just so it’s ready when you turn that hot water knob on your sink. That’s just a lot of needlessly wasteful energy consumption, and a tankless heater would eliminate it. With tankless, you also get the benefit of not losing heat from water just sitting, stored in tank waiting to be used onkly to be re-heated at the time of use.

In the case of the latter, I love the concept of using the sun’s free and freely available energy to heat water rather than continue to fork money over month after month to the oil company and the electric company.

Now, in both of these cases, you’re going to pay more up front than you would for a traditional water heater. But consider how much less you’ll pay going forward on a monthly basis to utilities. And consider how much better solar energy in particular is for the environment. As for those costs, substantial state and federal tax breaks are available for many of these products in many areas, which can really help alleviate the sticker shock you might get when you first explore your tankless and solar options.

I encourage all U.S. homeowners to research this topic. A great example of an average American taking the solar water heater plunge can be found here. As far as info, a good place to start could be this pretty awesome microsite about water heating available from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Keep in mind that, depending on where you live, one particular water heater strategy might be a better idea than another might be.

Good luck, rethink your home energy options, and best wishes for a warm, toasty, prosperous 2009!

Posted by Joe Paone

RI DEM Decides to Enforce Commercial Recycling

I need to do my two finger clap for the fact that the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management is finally making more than 2,000 RI businesses account for their recycling efforts. Though the state has mandatory commercial recycling regulations, they’ve just now decided to enforce it.

It’s good to know they are doing their job by enforcing a mandatory regulation, that really, really becomes mandatory after March 1, 2009. The enforcement initiative will now include unscheduled inspections of recycling programs at randomly selected companies (comprised of businesses of 50 or more employees). This group of companies is blamed for about 60 percent of the waste buried in the landfill annually.

KDL | follow me on Twitter: newscaster

Urban Renewal, Through an Environmental Lens

Why do certain neighborhoods of New York have disproportionate levels of asthma? What are the connections between ecological, economic and social degradation? Sustainable South Bronx (SSBx), an innovative non-profit group, is passionate about answering these questions and providing sustainable alternatives to years of flawed urban planning.

For Miquela Craytor, executive director of SSBx, a healthy community is an empowered one. “We aim to provide education to all members of our community,” she says, “and use our professional capacity to empower individuals to work within the systems that are set up, to participate and vocalize their needs.”

Connecting individuals to their city is an enriching exchange, says Craytor, which is why SSBx supports programs and policies informed by local needs, such as access to green space, safer air and waterfronts, green collar job training, education, legislation reform and environmental stewardship.

Before SSBx’s founding in 2001 by visionary South Bronx resident Majora Carter, the South Bronx held 40 percent of the entire city’s waste, 100 percent of the Bronx’s waste, a sewage treatment plant, and the lowest ratio of parks to people in New York. Fifty percent of the population is still at or below the poverty line.

With her inspired ideas, Carter helped bring the South Bronx its first open-waterfront park in 60 years, Hunts Point Riverside Park. Then she secured $1.25 million in federal funds for a greenway along the South Bronx waterfront, “bringing the neighborhood open space, pedestrian and bike paths, and space for mixed-use economic development,” according to the group.

The greenway and green roof installation rebates exemplify the SSBx vision of a day-to-day difference. Because change starts at home, the organization has installed a green and cool roof on top of its South Bronx office. It also works with BEST (The Bronx Environmental Stewardship Training), a successful green collar skills training and job placement system.

Launching this February will be two major SSBx initiatives. Like BEST, a new green collar training program will share skills needed to restore the Bronx, Craytor says: “It’s a model of hands-on training in the green collar economy.” Retrofits will be a special focus of this program, sharpening skills in the field for more efficient building renovations. Students will learn how to solve on-site environmental problems like leaky windows and inefficient lighting. “We are connecting the dots, not only providing training but linking up students to employers,” says Craytor. “It’s the next step of our larger job-training focus and emphasis on economic opportunities.”

Also beginning in February is the launch of a Sustainable Design track for local 9th- and 10th-grade high school students. Craytor explains that math and science students will approach design through sustainable digital design lens and clean manufacturing techniques.

While the new initiatives are exciting, they will roll out at a time when the recession is ravaging many non-profit budgets. “It’s a challenge,” Craytor admits, “but 2009 is presenting an important opportunity for a ‘new’ conversation. We need to take this moment to seek clarity on the environment and giving voice to all individuals. There is a desperate need to bring a quality of life to places that have been overlooked and now the desire and vision is being identified.”

(See SSBx Founder Majora Carter tell her story here.)

Posted by Margot Douaihy

You put the polypropylene in the coconut and mix it all up…

I have never tried to get into a coconut. They are not delicious to me and I lack the patience and muscle required to knock one open. However we all may be driving in one someday. Some groovy guys from Baylor University wondered where something such as coconut husks could be used other than falling from trees and knocking people out, and considered its capabilities as a composite material. Well golly gee it worked. Granted they had to mix it with polypropylene to make it work, they managed to turn it into a lightweight, strong, and unflammable material that works pretty well for cars. It has been used as trunk liners, floorboards and car-door interior covers. They make up for the polypropylene use when you consider that using all the extra coconut husks from other countries will help stop the spread of malaria and help coconut farmers make some extra mula. You can find out more at ecogeek or msnbc.

Published by: Ashley Gee (intern)

The Problem With Convenience

Before bottled water, there was…..well, what was there?  Before we began harvesting huge amounts of toxic producing plastics to store our beverages, how did we survive?   The truth is, bottled beverages are a matter of convenience more than anything else.  And in some instances, they are simply unavoidable.  Take the airport.  As a frequent traveler, I am constantly faced with the no liquids through security dilemma which, while I understand the security precautions, can be very irritating.  I own a variety of travel mugs and eco-friendly reusable water bottles but I am not allowed to take them into the airport.  So what is my solution?  Buy a bottle of (exceptionally overpriced) water from the Hudson News stand.

I would be more at ease with this solution if I was able to recycle the bottle easily, but I’m not.  Not all airports provide proper recycling containers and (she cringes) many, many glass and plastic bottles, as well as paper goods, are thrown in the trash and sent to the landfill.  Last Wednesday, while preparing to land on an early morning flight from Baltimore to Providence, I took deep breaths as I watched every single item of waste on the plane go into the same trash bag (evidently Southwest doesn’t care about our planet as much as they claim to) and promptly deposited into a trash receptacle.  Newspapers!  Water bottles!  All going to the dump.  Sigh.

Our local coffee haunt is just as guilty.  Handing out countless paper cups a day, there isn’t a single recycling option in site.  (Kim hassles them about this on a regular basis.  I just bring my travel mug.)

So while it is best to avoid bottled beverages altogether, sometimes, the convenience factor ranks higher than the green one and unless all businesses join us 2009 and learn that there is only a finite number of places we have to store trash on this planet (and even smaller amounts of air space left for all that methane to absorb into…), plastics, paper, glass will all sadly head straight for the landfill. 

Posted by: Ashley  / ashleyatcaster on Twitter

How can we help Obama go Green?

Poor Barack Obama. We bloggers have been all a flutter over our new president since the day he won the election. Reminding him to keep his promises(Sustainablog), posting our requests and ideas on how he should run as president, how he should turn America green while saving the economy, and how when he signed on as pres he also took up position as Captain Planet. Matt Hickman from points out that the poor guy must be sick of us, which he very well may be. But I like to think the opposite.
This is the first time I have been excited about our leadership, its the first time I ever bothered to vote and now I’m a little piece of something historic. And it seems like there are millions more who are just as excited if not more. Especially those of us trying to bring awareness to the abuse of our planet. Instead of feeling annoyed or attacked, I like to think that Barack is feeding off of our energy, our enthusiasm, and recognizing that we arent telling him how to do his job,we aren’t putting the weight of all of our hopes and goals on his shoulders, but we so desperately want to help him accomplish them.
Eco Geek, excited about Obamas ambitious goal to double Americas renewable energy production in three years, posted some of their advice to help him reach that goal (here is step one and step two). Max Gladwell also wrote a two parter dedicated to the new commander in chief (here and here). The No Impact Man points out that those of us who care about changing Americas wasteful ways shouldn’t start slacking now that we have an eco minded president, but we need to “lay it on thicker” because now there is finally somebody who will listen. You can go to any green blog and find a post to Barack Obama, not because we’re being bossy, but because we know he’s listening and we want to help. All he has to do is ask and we’ll put our rings together (Captain Planet reference) and back him up!
So when it comes to my message to our new leader theres not much more I can add to what my fellow bloggers have posted other than Go get ’em tiger! and We got your back!
published by: Ashley (intern)

Abby’s Blog Kids Helping the Earth 15

This entry is less about being good for the earth and more about donating and just doing something that is good.

Abby is in Girl Scouts, or more appropriately since she is so little, she is in Daisy Troop. Right now it is Girl Scout Cookie selling season, this is the big fundraiser for the organization annually and funds most of the groups’ actvities annually. So whether it is at your local grocery store or from a scout in your neighborhood, despite the tough economic times, buy a box of cookies for a cause.

Here’s a link to find cookies in your area.

posted by Abby’s mom