Tag Archives: sustainability

Science and art join hands to transition the world toward a sustainable future

 Photo Credit: Dancers Gloria Benedikt and Mimmo Miccolis; Photo by Morgan Marinoni.

In an era when science and politics often collide, public confidence in science seems to be on the downswing. This hasn’t ever been made more obvious than today, as we’ve witnessed the dangers of polarization while the current pandemic sweeps the globe or the ambivalent response in the face of the more silent, but much more menacing, threat of climate change.

When reason fails, perhaps the heart can light the way. That’s what Gloria Benedikt — Project Leader of Science and Art at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Laxenburg, Austria, and a trained ballet dancer and choreographer — hopes to ultimately achieve through the synergy of art and science.

In a new IIASA report, Benedikt outlines a foundation for how such a collaboration can take place in order to tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges.

“The idea of connecting science and art goes back to the enlightenment but was not realized for many reasons outlined in the report. Since the 18th century, we have entered a period of significant progress through specialization in all fields. The idea to connect science and art had a revival in recent decades because we are starting to see the limits in progress through specialization,” Benedikt told ZME Science.

“Science and technology have been a successful team in solving some problems. Think, for instance, about the so-called ozone hole. Scientists found out that the problem was certain chemicals. The solution was to get rid of them. Policymakers could ban them quite easily because technology was able to deliver an alternative solution to these chemicals. The solution to this problem was relatively easy as no significant behavior change was needed from the public to solve this problem.”

But sometimes things aren’t so straightforward. Not everything can be fixed with nuts and bolts. Complex societal problems often require nuanced solutions, and satisfying all stakeholders is virtually impossible. The fact of the matter is, hard facts are often not enough in order to propel massive action and shift paradigms of thinking.

“Climate change is far more complex. Scientists again found out what the problem is: CO2 emissions. But technology by itself cannot adequately reduce CO2 emissions. We also need behavior change from individual citizens. And for policy to be effective, we need the public on board.”

“This is why scientists need new partners to get the public on board and this is where artists come in to support the cultural shift we need. Climate change is at the core of a much larger transformation that is necessary and will require a paradigm shift in how we humans see our relationship with planet earth,” Benedikt said.

Gloria Benedikt. Credit: Daniel Dömölky Photography, Facebook

Since she joined IIASA in 2015, Benedikt has assembled a team of artists and researchers with whom she pursued various projects where music, dance, and theater joined hands with science. The goal was to cast a new light onto thorny topics such as biodiversity loss, climate change, or migration.

These projects were performed as plenary sessions at international events such as the World Science Forum, the International Conference on Sustainable Development, and the European Forum Alpbach, as well as in performance venues such as Carnegie Hall and Harvard University’s Farkas Hall. 

You can catch a glimpse of these projects as they unfolded in Science & Art for Life’s Sake, an hour-long documentary embedded below.

How to organize a successful science-art communication project

Benedikt makes the case that her work should not be confused with activism. Instead, her projects are all about letting the science speak for itself, albeit in a different language than its conventional communication channels, such as papers published in scientific journals or keynote speeches.

In her report, the Austrian researcher has outlined four main principles that anyone can use to communicate science through art in a non-judgmental manner that lets people absorb concepts at their own pace.

“High-quality art, like high-quality science, does not tell people what to do. Instead, it uncovers complexities that are not apparent on the surface. To overcome the knowledge-to-action gap without going down the dogmatic route, we need to empower people by helping them understand what is happening so they can make well-informed choices,” she said.

“This is why we have developed four fundamental principles for artists and scientists who seek to engage with scientific findings that face the knowledge-to-action gap.”

“First, if artists engage with science, their responsibility is to stay true to the science and not express their own opinion.”

“Second, the artists’ challenge is to uncover the meaning of this finding, the ethical dilemma, so the public can understand why it matters. Ethics is not the domain of science, so here artists have an essential role to play.” 

“Third, aim for a constructive outcome. It would be much easier to stage a drama, tragedy, or a happy end. But neither will be helpful. We need the creativity of artists here to envision what the world will look like if we walk the sustainable path. This empowers people and helps them understand what they can do, what their role is on this world stage. Then they can make better-informed choices.”

“Fourth, to understand the effect of these choices we have developed interactive components. In many of the productions, we have adapted simulation games. They initially were developed to help policymakers make better-informed decisions. Now we turned them into stage games to help audiences make better-informed decisions.”

Gloria Benedikt and Mimmo Miccolis performing ‘COURAGE’ at the European Forum Alpbach Political Symposium 2016. Credit: Maria Nositernig, IIASA, Flickr.

Of course, crystalizing this process wasn’t easy nor without its challenges. As a journalist, I am very familiar with the reluctance of some scientists to communicate their work to the general public. Some fear that their findings may be misinterpreted or sensationalized to the point that they might feel ridiculed, others have a holier than thou attitude who see no point in distilling high-level abstractions to the level of a layperson. Benedikt had her own fair share of skepticism that she had to endure and overcome.

“First, I had to earn trust from the scientists that I would not wrench their work. When they saw the first few works I created, this changed. It also helped that I asked for paper and book recommendations before I showed up with an idea for a new work,” she said.

“Looking back, one of the most memorable moments behind the scenes was when I had the first meeting with a scientist for a new project where we would try to turn scientific papers into theater plays. After I had explained a little bit about my motivation for the project, he said: ‘You don’t have to convince me of this idea. Twenty years ago, when I started to work on this new branch of science called sustainability science, I already thought that we should be telling our findings in stories. But I’m a scientist, and I did not know anyone who could tell them as stories.’ It was a special moment that made me realize that two worlds – that were meant to – were finally coming together.”

Does it really work?

Credit: Daniel Kruganov | IIASA.

While Benedikt’s performances involve some degree of feedback, such as questionnaires after a show, which have all generally been positive, she underlines the fact behavior change cannot be isolated to one particular experience. By her own account, she is simply “one piece of the puzzle”, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a process to her work.

“The performances are constructed based on elements whose effectiveness has already been confirmed by neuroscience and psychology,” said Benedikt.

“For instance, we use multimodal communication. We have text written by scientists or in collaboration with playrights spoken by a narrator or by actors, combined with music and dance. Neuroscientists have found that the more forms of communication are used, the more parts of the brain light up. And the more parts of the brain are active, the deeper and longer-lasting the experience. So this explains why a performance about science is more effective than a PowerPoint presentation conveying the facts. And by now there is plenty of evidence that stories are our natural mode of grasping complex content. “

“Every performance has an artistic opening before the scientific content comes in. This approach is in line with the first principle of moral psychology: emotions come first, strategic reasoning second.”

“Psychologists have also found that “subtle messages included in narratives” leave room for people to digest the information at their own rhythm as opposed to being directly confronted with it and are thus “less likely to create resistance.” Since findings from sustainability science tend to meet resistance on an ethical level, conveying messages through a medium that can create openness is important.”

“We use metaphors, symbols, and archetypes, which are storytelling and artistic devices that require the audience to participate in creating meaning actively. Audience members are invited to use their imagination to complete or unpack the poetic images offered to them. Instead of being passive recipients of information, they are active creators of meaning. Science tells us that information sticks when it is activity derived.”

“All of this helps to make scientific insights accessible and allows the public to derive meaning. But we still have not tackled the biggest challenge: overcoming the knowledge-to-action gap.”

Now, it’s your turn

The new report is meant for stakeholders in policy, science, and art. Benedikt hopes that her work will inspire others in these fields to step in order to accelerate our transition toward a sustainable future.

“In the science world, interest in the science-art interface has increased in the last years. But the conversation by enlarge is still quite confusing. There seems to be no clarity in terms of why and how we should pursue this. This confusion is not surprising as no concentrated effort has been made. By focused effort, I mean assigning someone to investigate this for half a decade as IIASA has done. I hope the report will now clarify why and how artists and scientists can work together effectively,” she said.

“In the art world, we see a different challenge. The artists are ready to engage, but the system, as mentioned above, is not providing them with adequate conditions. Artists will need some guidance as engaging effectively with science requires specific skills. I hope the report starts to fill that gap. Scaling up will also require a new place for artists and scientists to connect and facilitate collaborations.”

Overconsumption is the bane of sustainability, new study concludes

Any transition towards a sustainable world can only be effective if societal changes complement technological advancements, according to a new study. Nevertheless, this will be difficult as societies, economies and cultures push for more consumption and economic growth.

Credit Wikipedia Commons

Researchers led by University of New South Wales sustainability scientist Tommy Wiedmann looked at the existing academic discussions on the link between wealth, economy and associated impacts, summarizing the available evidence and identifying possible solution approaches.

“Recent scientists’ warnings have done a great job at describing the many perils our natural world is facing through crises in climate, biodiversity and food systems,” said Wiedemman. “However, none of these warnings has explicitly considered the role of growth-oriented economies and the pursuit of affluence.”

We can’t rely only on technology to solve the current existential environmental problems such as climate change and biodiversity loss, the researchers argued. Instead, we need to change our lifestyles and reduce overconsumption in combination with structural change. However, as this pandemic has shown, individual action is also insufficient to sustainably reduce emissions — we need massive societal levels if we want to keep the Earth livable.

Co-author Julia Steinberger, Professor of Ecological Economics at the University of Leeds, said in a statement that affluence is often portrayed as something to aspire to. But affluence is actually a driver of social and environmental impacts, warning about its dangers.

“Our paper has shown that it’s actually dangerous and leads to planetary-scale destruction. To protect ourselves from the worsening climate crisis, we must reduce inequality and challenge the notion that riches, and those who possess them, are inherently good,” Steinberger said.

The world’s most affluent citizens are responsible for most environmental impacts and are central to any future prospect of retreating to safer conditions, the researchers argued, asking to acknowledge the role of overconsumption and affluence through significant lifestyle changes.

If we want to transition to a sustainable world, we need to change our ways as well as our technology. But the responsibility doesn’t lie only on individuals — broader structural changes are required.

“Individuals’ attempts at such lifestyle transitions may be doomed to fail, because existing societies, economies and cultures incentivize consumption expansion,” Prof Wiedmann said. “We have to get away from our obsession with economic growth and manage our economies in a way that protects our climate and natural resources.”

The researchers dismissed the idea of “green growth” or “sustainable growth” and described it as a myth. As long as there is a growth of population and the economy, it is impossible for technology to keep up with reducing the environmental impacts, Wiedmann said.

Instead, they proposed different ways to enforce lifestyle changes, such as reducing overconsumption by the wealthiest through taxation policies. The list of possibilities also includes wealth redistribution, a guaranteed basic income, reduced working hours and green investments.

The next step for the team will be to model scenarios for sustainable transformations, which means looking at different pathways of development with a computer model to see what we need to do to achieve the best possible outcome. They started with Australia, showing fairer, greener and more prosperous country is possible.

“We hope that this review shows a different perspective on what matters, and supports us in overcoming deeply entrenched views on how humans have to dominate nature, and on how our economies have to grow evermore. We can’t keep behaving as if we had a spare planet available,” they argued.

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.

Italy makes climate change lessons compulsory at schools

Climate change will soon become a compulsory course in all the schools of Italy, making it the first country to take such a move, according to new legislation announced by the Education Ministry.

Credit Wikipedia Commons

All state schools will dedicate around an hour a week to sustainability and climate change issues from the beginning of the next academic year said the Education Minister Lorenzo Fioramonti. That would amount to around 33 hours a year.

“This is a new model of civic education centered on sustainable development and climate change,” the minister told The Telegraph. “It’s a new subject that will be taught from grade one to grade 13, from the ages of six through to 19.”

The lessons will be built into existing civics classes, which will have an “environmentalist footprint” from September 2020, Vincenzo Cramarossa, Fioramonti’s spokesman, said.

The syllabus will be based on the United Nation’s 17 sustainable development goals, including how to live more sustainably, how to combat the pollution of the oceans and how to address poverty and social injustice, among many others.

“Italy will be the first country in the world to adopt this framework,” Fioramonti said. “There are countries like Bhutan which focus on happiness and well-being rather than GDP, but this is the first time that a country has taken the UN agenda and turned it into a teaching model.”

Fioramonti was appointed Education minister two months ago. In September, when millions of schoolchildren around the world took part in Fridays for Future marches, he said Italian children should be allowed to miss school for the day.

An economics professor at South Africa’s Pretoria University, Fioramonti told Reuters in an interview that the entire ministry “is being changed to make sustainability and climate the center of the education model.”

“I want to make the Italian education system the first education system that puts the environment and society at the core of everything we learn in school,” he said.

Cramarossa said a panel of scientific experts, including Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of Columbia University’s Center for Sustainable Development, and American economic and social theorist Jeremy Rifkin, will help the ministry redevelop the national curriculum to pay more attention to climate change and sustainability.

Embracing sustainability

Embracing Sustainability in the Business World

Embracing sustainability

Credit: Pixabay.

Sustainability is a buzzword that’s thrown around a lot when it comes to being environmentally friendly, but it’s often overlooked in the business world. We set computers aside when we don’t need them anymore, toss toner cartridges into the trash and use more than 90 million tons of paper every single year at U.S. businesses alone.

How can businesses embrace more sustainable practices?

Go Paperless

We’ve already mentioned how much paper Americans use every year. The easiest way to combat this kind of wastefulness and embrace sustainability in your office is, obviously, to go paperless.

We can translate most of our papers into digital formats seamlessly. We can even sign and digitize documents that require a signature, like a contract. Paper checks should be a thing of the past, and we can share hourly statements and bills digitally rather than printing them.

Storing interoffice documents in the cloud not only eliminates paper in the office, but it also facilitates collaboration with employees both inside and outside of the office. If security is a concern, you can lock the files with both a password and location — the latter means users can only access data on computers or devices that are in a particular area.

Going paperless is not something you’ll be able to do overnight. Instead, set up a plan over the course of one year or five years — or however long you think it will take for you to go completely paperless.

Water Dispensing Systems

Even if you have humidifiers in the office, these environments are inherently dry, so many people carry water bottles to stay hydrated. Encourage employees to ditch the disposable water bottle by offering filtered water refill stations throughout the office. You can even opt for refill stations that fit on top of your existing water fountains, which have a vertical filling spout so you don’t have to tilt your water bottle sideways to fill it.

You can even go one step further by offering branded water bottles with your logo and information on them — you’re doing something good for the environment while getting some free advertisement in the process.

Opt for Green Energy

Switching to green energy is one of the best ways to embrace sustainability, but it isn’t always the easiest step. Start by talking to your power company — they may have green energy programs you can opt into at little to no cost.

Depending on your building location and local building regulations, you may be able to install solar panels that will offset your energy usage. This is quite an investment, but if you’re committed to going green, it can be a great way to get away from traditional power grids that burn fossil fuels for power.

Sustainability was once thought to be the enemy of profit, but more and more examples are emerging that show that sustainable businesses can not only turn a profit — they can also thrive.

Encourage Carpooling

Just one person commuting to and from work five days a week generates nearly 7500 pounds of CO2 every year. Multiply that by the number of employees you have.

Encouraging carpooling or using public transportation can help to reduce the carbon footprint of your business exponentially. Even getting just five people to stop solo commuting can help reduce your carbon footprint by more than 35,000 pounds of CO2 every year — and that’s assuming your employees are only driving 15 miles to work and have a car that gets decent gas mileage.

Go Green — Literally

Office spaces are generally drab and bare, but they don’t have to be. Adding greenery to your office — especially if you have windows — can be an excellent way to improve morale in your office. It’s also an inexpensive way to improve office air quality. Most of these plants are easy to keep alive and remove chemicals like benzene, formaldehyde and ammonia from the air.

Having greenery is better for your employees in more ways than one, and it doesn’t take much to add some plants to your office.

Work From Home

Telecommuting is becoming increasingly popular in a host of different industries. It’s easier for employees to work from home, and it helps to reduce their carbon footprint by eliminating their commute.

If your employees could complete their work from home, consider offering it as an option for at least a few days a week. You might still want to meet in the office regularly for meetings or collaborative projects, but it’s beneficial to the environment to allow your staff to work from home when possible.

Sustainability is a lot more accessible than it was a decade ago, and business and sustainability are no longer mutually exclusive. Even in developing countries, we are beginning to see stories of business owners and consumers alike prioritizing clean energy and other environmentally friendly practices that will, in turn, only serve to help the health and wellness of their people.

If countries that are still sometimes struggling to meet their citizens’ basic needs can make sustainability a priority, America can definitely afford to step it up. Even small steps can help make your business more sustainable overall. If you’re committed to the path, you can work up to the bigger ones. Take it one day at a time — what’s important is that we are trying to make a difference.

Chimney.

Fairly Tradeable: Corporate sustainability limited in both scope and outcome, analysis reveals

The first large-scale analysis of corporate practices in the field of sustainability shows that things aren’t rosy. While many companies touch upon the issue on some level, most of them source sustainable materials only for a small subset of what they use, or only for a limited portion of their supply chain.

Chimney.

Image credits Michael Gaida.

Most of us want the sweetness of chocolate without the bitter aftertaste of cocoa-farmer-exploitation or deforestation. So, we scour our local groceries for bars stamped with the Fair Trade or Rainforest Alliance certifications and bite down with complete abandon, knowing that we’re a good person.

Don’t choke on that velvety brown bit of deliciousness, but I’ve got bad news. A team of Stanford University researchers has produced the first large-scale study of corporate sustainability practices and, according to their findings, buying sustainable products isn’t as easy as that. Over half of the companies involved in the study applied some type of sustainability practice one or more levels in their supply chain, but these are much more limited in scope and reach than you’d imagine

“Our results show a glass half full and half empty,” said study co-author Eric Lambin.

The paper looks at sourcing practices through the lens of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, a to-do list that should lead us towards a sustainable global economy. Global supply chains touch on more than 80% of global trade and employ more than one in five workers, the authors note, making them one of the make-or-break factors in achieving the goals set out by the U.N.

So, they set out to analyze 449 publicly listed companies in the food, textile, and wood-product sectors. They report that about half employ some form of sustainable sourcing practice — this can range from third-party certifications of production standards to environmental training for their suppliers. Here are some highlights of their most important findings:

  • Over 70% of these sustainable sourcing practices only extended to a subset of input materials for a given product. For example, a company used recycled materials for packaging, but the rest of its products didn’t use sustainably-sourced materials.
  • Only 15% of sustainable sourcing practices focused on health, energy, infrastructure, climate change, education, gender or poverty.
  • Almost all such practices impacted a single tier in the supply chain, usually first-tier suppliers — such as the textile factories that sew garments. The remaining processes (growing cotton or wool, dyeing the cloth, so on) remained unaddressed.
  • Over 25% of sustainable sourcing practices apply to a single product line — for example, using Fair Trade certification for only one type of chocolate bar in a company that sells several types.

“Advancing environmental and social goals in supply chains can quickly become very complex,” said study co-author Joann de Zegher.

“This complexity is reflected in our findings that companies use a broad range of strategies and that current efforts have limited reach.”

It’s not all bad news, however. The researchers report that companies are “significantly more likely” to adopt at least one sustainable sourcing practice when faced with pressure from consumers and civil society at large. Companies headquartered in countries with more and more active NGOs were also found to be more likely to use sustainable sourcing practices, highlighting the importance of citizen involvement in this matter. Lead author Tannis Thorlakson hopes that the findings will motivate consumers to demand more sustainability from producers and that the paper will serve as “a call to action for those 48 percent of companies that aren’t doing anything to address sustainability challenges in their supply chain.”

So the next time you can’t find any Fair Trade-stamped chocolate bar at the grocery, write a strongly-worded email of dissatisfaction to the producer — you might just make the difference in keeping chocolate around for future generations.

The paper “Companies’ contribution to sustainability through global supply chains” has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Win-Win: Eat healthy for yourself but also for the environment

It should come as no surprise to anyone that what we consume has an impact on the environment. But you don’t have to turn vegan or eat only gluten-free products to help the environment. According to a recent study, if people followed the dietary recommendations put forward by their local governments, the strain on the Earth would be considerably lessened.

Credit: Pixabay.

Credit: Pixabay.

If every citizen living in any of the 28 high-income countries included in the study, such as the U.S., Japan, or Germany, followed local dietary recommendations, there would be a 13 to 25 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions related to food production. What’s more, the amount of land required to grow food would decrease by as much as 17 percent.

To grow food for more than seven billion people, we release 20 to 30 percent of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions. A staggering one-third of all ice-free land on Earth is currently being used to grow food.

Win-Win

The Dutch team at Leiden University, led by Paul Behrens, employed the Exiobase database, which compiles information like greenhouse gas emissions, land demand, and fertilizer pollution caused by the production of each type of food across the world. This extensive database also takes into account the cost of the machinery involved in food production, as well as the cost of shipping food all the way from the farmers to a supermarket near you. It was then only a matter of calculating the impact people have on the environment with what they’re currently eating versus the impact they would have, were they to follow the recommended diet.

The analysis takes into account that some foods, depending on where they’re grown, can require more or fewer resources. English tomatoes require more energy than in Spain where it is warmer, for instance.

“It’s superb that we have this information,” Behrens said. “You can trace the impact of any consumption across the world.”

Credit: Pixabay.

Credit: Pixabay.

[panel style=”panel-success” title=”Summary 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans” footer=”2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines, health.gov.”]

  1. Follow a healthy eating pattern throughout your life. All food and beverage choices matter. Choose a healthy eating pattern at an appropriate calorie level to help achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, support nutrient adequacy, and reduce the risk of chronic disease.
  2. Focus on variety, nutrient density, and amount. To meet nutrient needs within calorie limits, choose a variety of nutrient-dense foods across and within all food groups in recommended amounts.
  3. Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats and reduce sodium (salt) intake. Cut back on foods and beverages higher in these components to amounts that fit within healthy eating patterns.
  4.  Consider cultural and personal preferences when shifting to healthier food and beverages to make the transition easier to accomplish and maintain.
  5. Support other people’s healthy eating patterns. Everyone has a role in helping to create and support healthy eating patterns in multiple settings nationwide, from home to school to work to whole communities.

[/panel]

Behrens and colleagues computed the energy and resources required for the diets of people living in 39 countries, as well as for the dietary recommendations put out by governments in those countries.

When the diets were calculated, the researchers were careful to keep the calorie counts of both diets the same, only altering the percentage of different food groups that people actually eat. Ultimately, Behrens found that people living in the world’s 28 wealthiest countries could significantly lower their environmental impact if they chose to follow their government’s dietary recommendations.

“In general, meat is worse than other types of food because every time something eats something else, you get a loss of energy,” Behrens said. “Eating any animal is going to have more of an impact compared to other food groups.”

Credit: Pixabay.

Credit: Pixabay.

[panel style=”panel-info” title=”Key Dietary Recommendations from US Gov.” footer=”2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines, health.gov.”]

Maintain a healthy eating pattern that accounts for all foods and beverages within an appropriate calorie level.

A healthy eating pattern includes:

  • A variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups — dark green, red, and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy, and other
  • Fruits, especially whole fruits
  • Grains, at least half of which are whole grains
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages
  • A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts, seeds, and soy products
  • Oils

A healthy eating pattern limits:

  • Saturated fats and trans fats, added sugars, and sodium

Key Recommendations that are quantitative are provided for several components of the diet that should be limited. These components are of particular public health concern in the United States, and the specified limits can help individuals achieve healthy eating patterns within calorie limits:

  • Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from added sugars
  • Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from saturated fats
  • Consume less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day of sodium
  • If alcohol is consumed, it should be consumed in moderation — up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men — and only by adults of legal drinking age.

In tandem with the recommendations above, Americans of all ages — children, adolescents, adults, and older adults — should meet the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans to help promote health and reduce the risk of chronic disease. Americans should aim to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight. The relationship between diet and physical activity contributes to calorie balance and body weight management. As such, the Dietary Guidelines includes a Key Recommendation to

  • Meet the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.[/panel]

When you think about it, eating healthily is a win-win situation because not don’t only keep yourself healthy — but also the environment. However, rarely, if ever, is this point raised during awareness campaigns.

“Dietary recommendations can be a great way to talk about human health and the health of the environment,” Behrens said. “The main point is you can win both ways.”

If you’re interested, use this link for the most recent edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 

Scientific reference: Paul Behrens et al. Evaluating the environmental impacts of dietary recommendations, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2017). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1711889114

The plasma rock -- a sustainable material made from landfill waste.

Eco-designer turns landfill waste into ‘plasma rock’ — a sustainable, all-purpose material

Dutch designer Inge Sluijs has found a creative solution that might partly solve our waste problems, all while providing us with a sustainable material. How so? Well, Sluijs has basically blasted waste collected from landfills with plasma hotter than the surface of the sun. What you end up with is a hard, rock-like material that can be used to fashion all sorts of eco-friendly goods. Plasma, waste removal, and sustainable materials all at the same time? Now that’s something that ZME Science loves!

The plasma rock -- a sustainable material made from landfill waste.

The plasma rock — a sustainable material made from landfill waste. Credit: Inge Sluijs

Where humans go, trash is never far behind — not even in space. Even remote, supposedly pristine locations, where humans haven’t set foot in decades, haven’t been spared. To find the epitome of modern-day consumerism and unlawful waste, one doesn’t need to roam too far. That’s landfills. These enormous stockpiles of human-sourced waste that we force-feed into the soil grow larger and larger by the moment. In some places, like close to coastlines, landfills can be likened to ticking time bombs waiting to unleash a fury of pollution onto marine life.

The designer turned coastal landfill waste into a rock-like sustainable material. Credit: Inge Sluijs

Coastline landfills are precisely where Sluijs decided to start sourcing material for her plasma rock. In a fully mechanized and automated plant, landfill waste is transported across a conveyer belt to a gasifier where all junk is heated at 800 degrees Celsius, turning everything into gas. Next in the loop is the pacifier where the gas is superheated to 1,500 degrees Celsius and blasted with plasma –– ionized gas that can generate a magnetic field and, also, the stuff lightnings are made of. The plasma torch itself can reach temperatures in excess of 5,500 degrees Celsius, or hotter than the sun’s corona.

Left to right: plasma rock, waste turned into powder for gassification, starting landfill waste. Credit: Inge Sluijs.

Left to right: plasma rock, waste turned into powder for gasification, starting landfill waste. Credit: Inge Sluijs.

The intense heat breaks down the gasified waste into atomic elements. At the end of the gasification process, you end up with a slag that Sluijs called the plasma rock. Once it cools, the slag is fully vitrified, taking on a rock-like appearance and sharp edges. Its chemical composition depends on the type of waste used but mainly, the rock is made of silica, lime, and alumina, with a mix of elements and compounds like titanium, magnesium, sodium oxide, iron oxide, phosphate, and potassium.

Tests run so far always render syngas (a potential fuel), heat (which can be recirculated to increase efficiency) and the plasma rock — that’s regardless of the waste material be it leftover food, plastic or baby diapers.  About 100 kg of landfill waste will result in 20 kg of plasma rock.

“While the coastal historic landfill waste was toxic the Plasma Rock is virtually un-bleachable that means that any hazardous materials are inert and will not dissolve out of the material,” Sluijs wrote on her website.

“The quality of this nearly undiscovered material is that it is mechanically strong, very dense and environmentally stable.”

To demonstrate the practicality of this durable, non-toxic material, Sluijs and collaborators have made all sorts of useful goods out of the plasma rock. For instance, waste from the East Tilbury landfill located in Essex, England, was turned into decorated Tilbury Tiles which currently sell as souvenirs around town.

plasma rock

Credit: Inge Sluijs

She’s also made glass vases decorated with plasma rock specks, showing landfill waste can have a second life in your living room.

Plasma Rock

Credit: Inge Suijs.

bugs-no-meat

Replacing half the meat we eat with edible insects could could save a third of the world’s farmlands

bugs-no-meat

Agriculture is in an awkward position where it both affects and is affected by climate change. According to the UN, agriculture accounts for up to 18% of all global carbon emissions, which is much more than all of the vehicles and airplanes collectively produce in the whole world. As human population is expected to grow to 10 billion by the end of the century, we will only cut down more forests to make way for a much larger population with a much larger appetite than today (hundreds of millions will leave poverty and thus will want access to a high-protein diet). Researchers at the University of Edinburgh and Scotland’s Rural College believe bugs could be a solution to our growing food supply problem.

A sustainable solution to a meaty problem

The researchers found growing insects and larvae for food is sustainable. Their research suggests that replacing half of the meat we eat worldwide with crickets and mealworms would cut farmland use by a third, consequently vastly reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The analysis suggests that even a marginal introduction of insects in people’s diets can have a significant impact, the team reported in the journal Global Food Security. 

Specifically, halving global meat consumption and eating insects instead could free up 1,680 million hectares of land or a landmass 70 times the sizes of the UK. That might sound silly to some people but really, it’s doable with a bit of policy and good oversight. In 2014, 400 million fewer animals were killed for food largely because consumers from developed countries are eating healthier and are looking into vegetarian options.

“A mix of small changes in consumer behaviour, such as replacing beef with chicken, reducing food waste and potentially introducing insects more commonly into diets, would help achieve land savings and a more sustainable food system,” said Dr Peter Alexander of University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences and Scotland’s Rural College

The researchers analyzed data from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization to compare the environmental impacts of conventional meat production with alternative food sources like insects, imitation meat, and lab-grown meat. Out of the three scenarios analyzed, the team found that insects and ‘fake beef’ like tofu are the most sustainable options because these require the least land and energy to make. Out of all the types of meat, beef is the least sustainable the researchers say.

A surprising find was lab-grown meat was found to be no more sustainable than chicken or eggs. Lab-grown meat requires an equivalent area of land but more energy than chicken meat or eggs.

This isn’t the first study that found an insect diet is desirable. Insects should become a staple of people’s diets around the world as an environmentally friendly alternative to meat, according to a report by the UK government’s waste agency, and the UN has listed bugs as a viable solution to our meat problem ever since 2013. Anticipating a demand for insect food as well as people’s reluctance to try gross-looking food (insects don’t taste bad — I’ve tried some), some scientists are already exploring ways of making insects more appealing. Worm meatballs and cricket falafels are some of the items on the menu.

On average, every person on Earth currently consumes 42.9 kilograms of meat per year, a statistic which includes babies and adults, meat eaters and vegetarians alike — basically everyone. In the United States, however, a country with a standard of living many people from the rest of the world aspire to, the average meat intake per person per year is 118 kilograms. If everyone in the world ate meat or consumed energy like the average American, we’d need a planet seven times larger than Earth to support ourselves.

Over the past 50 years, global meat production has almost quadrupled from 78 million tonnes in 1963 to a current total of 308 million tonnes per year. We might be in for yet another quadrupling by the end of the century at the current trend we’re seeing. Genetically modified organisms, programs meant at reducing food waste, and — why not — a rich diet of worms and all sorts of insects might get us through all this.

NASA is designing small away-from-home-ecosystems to make space exploration sustainable

Researchers at NASA and the University of Arizona, Tucson will be working together to bring long-term sustainability to our space pioneers — one greenhouse at a time.

NASA's Greenhouse.

The prototype greenhouse housed at the University of Arizona’s Controlled Environment Agriculture Center.
Image credits University of Arizona

Astronauts have already shown the world their green thumbs by growing plants and veggies aboard the ISS. But when going farther away from our blue cradle, crews will have to rely on on-site resources for food and oxygen. To make sure they’re well stocked with both on future journeys, NASA researchers at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and the University of Arizona (UA) are working out how to grow enough plants to feed and air a whole crew on a long-term journey.

“We’re working with a team of scientists, engineers and small businesses at the University of Arizona to develop a closed-loop system,” said Dr. Ray Wheeler, lead scientist in Kennedy Advanced Life Support Research, about the Prototype Lunar/Mars Greenhouse project. “The approach uses plants to scrub carbon dioxide, while providing food and oxygen.”

The prototype is an inflatable greenhouse specifically tuned to keep the plants happy and continuously growing and will provide food, scrub the breathing air while recycling both water and waste. They’re cylindrical, measuring 18 feet in length and more than 8 feet in diameter. They were designed and built by Sadler Machine Company, one of the project partners.

These greenhouses will maintain a waste-none, closed-looped process called a bioregenerative life support system. The CO2 astronauts exhale will be fed through the greenhouse so the plants can photosynthesize and generate oxygen. Water will either be shuttled along from Earth or sourced from “the lunar or Martian landing site,” NASA notes. The liquid will be enriched in gases and nutrient salts and will be pumped across the crop’s roots then recycled — basically, hydroponics in space.

Inside_greenhouse.

The crops were selected to provide not only food, but air revitalization, water recycling and waste recycling.
Image credits University of Arizona.

Researchers at the UA are currently testing different species of plants to determine what would survive best, and what buds, seeds, or other material are required to make the greenhouses self-sufficient on a mission. Figuring out what to take and how to best use local resources afterward will be key, since deep space missions will be hard and pricey to constantly supply from home. So, NASA researchers are working on systems which can harness such resources — with an emphasis on water.

“We’re mimicking what the plants would have if they were on Earth and make use of these processes for life support,” said Dr. Gene Giacomelli, director of the Controlled Environment Agriculture Center at the University of Arizona. “The entire system of the lunar greenhouse does represent, in a small way, the biological systems that are here on Earth.”

The greenhouses will likely need to be buried under soil or rock to protect the plants inside from cosmic radiation, which means specialized lighting will be required to keep them alive. Currently, the team has succeeded in using either electrical LED light or hybrid methods “using both natural and artificial lighting” — which involves the use of light concentrators on the surface to track the movement of the sun and feed its light underground through fiber optic channels.

What’s left to do now is to find out how many greenhouses will be needed per crew. Giacomelli says the next step on the agenda is to test with additional units and computer models to ensure a steady supply of oxygen can be produced from the lunar greenhouses.

 

Top chefs are using leftover food in Rio to feed the poor

Leftover food from the Olympic Village in Rio is being prepared by a group of international chefs and served to the poor. They want to continue the initiative after the Olympics are over as well.

Massimo Botura (left). Photo by br1dotcom.

The Olympics in Brazil has come under fire for several reasons, not in the least because of its lack of sustainability. Large areas of Brazil are struggling with poverty, corruption and dramatic income inequality and there’s a good chance that the country will end up in a financial hole after the Olympic Games. Overall, for the average Brazilian, the odds are that the Olympics will have a negative effect.

A group of chefs is working hard to minimize that effect. Massimo Bottura, who runs the three-Michelin-star restaurant Osteria Francescana, and Brazil’s David Hertz are producing 5,000 meals a day from food left over by the 11,000 athletes staying in the Olympic Village.

They drew inspiration from Refetterio Ambrosiano, an Italian initiative that was launched in Italy last year. They’re also using food which would otherwise be thrown away.

‘RefettoRio Gastromotiva is going to work only with ingredients that are about to be wasted, like ugly fruit and vegetables, or yoghurt that is going to be wasted in two days if you don’t buy it,’ Mr Hertz said. ‘We want to fight hunger and provide access to good food.’

Gastromotiva will continue after the Olympic and Paralympic games are over as a social initiative, while also providing vocational training for aspiring restaurant professionals. It’s a great initiative which could go a long way towards providing food to Rio’s impoverished.

What countries do the most good for the planet? The results are surprising

It’s kind of strange that we often think about what countries are doing the most harm to the planet, but we rarely think which countries are doing the most good. Announced at the TEDSalon in Berlin, the Good Country Index measures just that, and the winners are quite surprising; the losers, not so much (sorry USA).

What, Ireland ?! Yep, according to Simon Anholt, who’s spent the past two years compiling an index to determine which of the 125 countries do the most good. Even though it doesn’t really rank that good in terms of security and “greenness”, Ireland takes the top spot, followed closely by Finland, Switzerland, the Netherlands and New Zealand. As a matter of fact, New Zealand is the single non-European country in the top 10. But how does this index work?

“I wanted to know why people admire Country A and not Country B,” Anholt said in a phone interview before he unveiled the full Index at the TEDSalon in Berlin on Monday, June 23. “To cut a long story short, I discovered the thing people most admired is the perception that a country is good. That turned out to be much more important than the perception they’re rich or beautiful or powerful or modern or anything like that. So then I wanted to know which countries are perceived to contribute the most to humanity — and which countries actually are good.”

In case you’re wondering, the US didn’t even make the top 20 – coming in at 21; you can read the whole index here. It’s important to note that the benefits that the countries do are calculated per dollar of GDP, and not for the total GDP.

“If the ranking were based on the total contribution of each entire country rather than per dollar of GDP, it’s likely the U.S. would have ranked a bit higher, as its total contribution is so great,” acknowledges Anholt. “But then again, so is its total debit and harm.”

Of course, when it comes to this type of rankings, there is no absolute order, the idea is to get a general overview – and this does paint a clear picture.

He analyzed 7 main categories: Science and Technology, Culture, International Peace and Security, World Order, Planet and Climate, Prosperity and Equality, Health and Wellbeing. While the overall results seem quite convincing, when you look at the data per category, some things are quite strange.

For example, the first country ranking for International Peace and Security is Egypt. I’m clearly not an expert in sociology, but I’d dare say there are some pretty good reasons why that shouldn’t happen! Nigeria ranks in at 9, with Ghana coming on 12 and Kuwait at 18 – countries which have significant problems when it comes to peace and security. In fact, results for this entire category seem kind of skewed, with less developed countries overwhelmingly taking the first places.

When it comes to health, Spain comes in at 1st place, which is understandable – the Spanish medical system is amazing. The US fares much better at 9, but not nearly as good as Canada (4). Also, for Planet and Climate, Canada is in the second place. Really? Canada?! Canada who’s pumping oil out of tar sands like there’s no tomorrow? Who’s taking away money from environmental researchers who speak against these explorations? I don’t really know…

Still, it’s quite an interesting overall result. Managing this type of ambiguous, rarely fully available data is a gargantuan task – and as years pass, I think we’ll see a more refined index. In the meanwhile, let’s all play our part in making the world a better place.

Sustainable livestock requires pastures with shrubs and trees

It may seem like a shock for many people (especially those outside America) that it takes research to know livestock should be fed with pastures and shrubs; but most cattle in the US are fed with grain and corn, because it is cheaper due to subsidies. Unfortunately, this method is unsustainable and will only end up hurting both the economy and the environment in the long run.

A silvopastural landscape.

Professor Donald Broom, from the University of Cambridge led a research which concluded that the future of livestock should include forest-pastoral (silvopastoral) systems which include shrubs and trees with edible leaves or fruits as well as herbage.

“Consumers are now demanding more sustainable and ethically sourced food, including production without negative impacts on animal welfare, the environment and the livelihood of poor producers. Silvopastoral systems address all of these concerns with the added benefit of increased production in the long term.”

Most of the cattle production done today occurs on cleared land with only grasses grown specifically for the cows; this of course means removing the trees and shrubs, as well as an increased use of pesticide. Also, there is a lot of fertilizer used to maintain the pasture and it usually contaminates the soil and waterways by agricultural chemicals.

As a sustainable alternative, researchers advocate the use of a diverse group of edible plants such as that in a silvopastural landscape which:

  • promotes healthy soil with better water retention
  • helps fight soil erosion
  • encourages predation of harmful animals
  • minimizes greenhoue emissions
  • reduces the carbon footprint of the activity and minimizes greenhouse emissions
  • reduces injury risk and stress for animals
  • increases biodiversity
  • improves job satisfaction for farms.

“The planting as forage plants of both shrubs and trees whose leaves and small branches can be consumed by farmed animals can transform the prospects of obtaining sustainable animal production,” said Professor Broom. “Such planting of ‘fodder trees’ has already been successful in several countries, including the plant Chamaecytisus palmensis which is now widely used for cattle feed in Australia.”

Farming is one of the main enemies of biodiversity – it’s estimated that 33% of the total land surface of the world is used for livestock production.

“It is clear that silvopastoral systems increase biodiversity, improve animal welfare and provide good working conditions while enabling a profitable farming business. The next step is to get farmers to adopt this proven, sustainable model.”

His paper ‘Sustainable, efficient livestock production with high biodiversity and good welfare for animals’ was published today, 25 September, in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

In a Harvard speech, Al Gore explains we treat the sky as a ‘sewer’

Society treats the sky like an “open sewer” – pumping carbon waste into the air the same way it pumped waste into waterways, and with the same results. People are getting sick, Gore explained, comparing the climate crisis to 19th-century cholera epidemics, including one in London where the outbreak was traced to a single water pump whose source was infected by feces containing the cholera bacterium.

al gore

“We’re using the atmosphere as an open sewer. It’s functionally insane. It traps heat,” Gore said. “A lot of communities experience one in 100-year events, one in 1,000-year events … every few years.”

Gore delivered the speech at the inaugural Paul R. Epstein Memorial Lecture in honor of the former Harvard Medical School instructor and authority on the links between climate change and human health. He also praised Harvard’s efforts on energy issues, highlighting the founding of the Office for Sustainability and the enthusiasm of today’s students. He also mentioned student-led initiatives to convince universities, nonprofits, and even environmental groups to divest of fossil fuel-related stocks, but noted the problems that accompany these initiatives.

“It is a difficult question for nonprofits and universities,” Gore said, “and you will find even environmental groups that are passionately committed to doing the right thing, when it comes to protecting … their endowment, they want to make sure they don’t put it at risk so they can keep using it for the good purposes it was established for — totally understandable.”

Regardless of what you think of Al Gore and his activities, this is one really good metaphor, and I believe this is what we should take from his speech.

Via Harvard News

Architects reveal plan for China’s first self sufficient, carless city

Most people perceive China as a greatly polluted, overcrowded country, with little to no interest in renewable energy and a sustainable future. But that legacy is changing.

Chicago-based architects Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill have unveiled plans for Chengdu Tianfu District Great City, a self sustainable satellite city which offers insightful solutions to the crowded infrastructure, murky traffic and great pollution that plague major China cities.

The city’s main focus is to avoid the high energy consumption and carbon emissions associated with suburban sprawl. According to the architects, it will take no more than 8 years to finish it, from the moment work is started (that’s China for you – just takes 8 years to build a city). When completed, it will house about 30.000 families, totaling 80.000 people.

Looking at an aerial blueprint, it’s easy to understand the city’s low pollution secret: the distance between any two points is no longer than a 15 minute walk, thus practically eliminating the need for automobiles.The city is built around a regional transit hub, which connects Great City to Chengdu and surrounding areas via mass transit though, but it’s expected that most people will work inside the city.

Thanks to green developing and renewable energy, it will consume 48 percent less energy and 58 percent less water than a conventional development with a similar population. Within the urban area, 15 percent will be reserved for parks and green areas while 60 percent will be earmarked for construction. The rest will be destined to infrastructure, such as roads and pedestrian streets.

“We’ve designed this project as a dense vertical city that acknowledges and in fact embraces the surrounding landscape—a city whose residents will live in harmony with nature rather than in opposition to it,” remarked Gordon Gill. “Great City will demonstrate that high-density living doesn’t have to be polluted and alienated from nature. Everything within the built environment of Great City is considered to enhance the quality of life of its residents. Quite simply, it offers a great place to live, work and raise a family.”

Ikea to produce 100% renewable energy by 2020 – sets sustainable standard

I’m not necessarily a big fan of Ikea, but you have to admire this kind of initiative. The Swedish corporation announced they will go for a sustainable business model, one which features €1.5 billion investments in solar and wind power.

The furniture company has remained true to its initial model, which involved doing things as cheaply and efficiently as possible, while also maintaining the classic Swedish design. Twenty-five years on and it now has outlets in 41 countries, and renewable energy is the next logical step.

The company’s chief executive Mikael Ohlsson said the move was sure to drive innovation in the industry and beyond. The plan is to make 70% of spent energy renewable by 2015 (less than three years from now) and reach total self sufficiency by 2020. The target seems quite achievable, especially considering how the 342,000 solar panels on its outlets and factories already generate more than a quarter of its total energy. Add that to the fact that they have wind farms in six countries across Europe and that they’ve already invested half of the €1.5 billion figure, and it looks like a serious long run strategy.

The company also intends to plant as many trees as it uses for furniture by 2020, selling energy efficient products like induction cookers, using LED lights across the company (which, it says, will cut emissions equal to those produced by the Netherlands), ensuring its other bought-in products are sustainable and helping supply clean water to the areas its factories are based. They have also introduced a new concept called kitchen recycling – and it’s not about waste, it’s about the actual kitchen.

“Some things are best recycled by local authorities,” Ikea’s chief sustainability officer Steve Howard told the Financial Times, “but others, we can help, like kitchens, wardrobes, mattresses. Maybe we could have low-cost leasing of kitchens and see a product offering become a service one. We want a smarter consumption, and maybe people are less attached to ownership”.

Despite numerous controversies, especially related to taxation and forest felling, Ikea seems to set itself as a model for others to follow – if they actually follow through with all their plans.

Via Wired

Airports are getting Greener and Greener

6 Eco-Friendly Business Travel Tips

Business often involves a lot of traveling, but asides from making your business itself more eco friendly, you could very well pitch in and include the same environmental philosophy to your daily lifestyle as well. By consciously pondering your business travel solutions, you’ll be contributing to a cleaner environment, and the six tips we’ve listed here will help you start off. Also, you’ll be able to save money too, not just  from booking late deals online, but also from keeping green.

Eco Airports

Airports are getting Greener and Greener

Airports are getting Greener and Greener

Airports around the world create enormous carbon footprints due to carbon emissions and passengers using a lot of energy that’s derived from non-environmental friendly sources.  Look for airports with ground-heating pumps, wind catchers and water recycling facilities. Many airports have started to  install wind turbines to accommodate the sites electricity usage.

Public Transport

Eco Buses - Fuel Economy

Eco Buses – Fuel Economy

Using buses instead of taxi’s can really reduce your carbon footprint. Furthermore, walking is the best way and is great for your fitness.   Overall, this will release less greenhouse gases into our atmosphere.

Green Dining

Organic Eating - The Way Forward Eco Fans

Organic Eating – The Way Forward Eco Fans

Eating in restaurants can be extremely expensive, the best approach is to prepare and cook your own food during your trip. Local supermarkets have a wide selection of organic vegetables and fruits, everything you need to make your favourite dish.  At all costs, avoid using fast food outlets as their products contain a lot of unhealthy preservatives and ingredients.

Flying Green

Green Flying

Green Flying

When away for long period of time, we tend to pack heavy luggage, but do you really need everything there? Consumable products like tooth paste, deodorants, food and so on should be left out. Pay attention to how many clothes you bring along too. A plane’s fuel usage is directly affected by the amount of luggage its holding. Now a few kilograms of luggage on your side doesn’t mean anything, but if every passenger aboard is responsible, it can make a whole lot of difference. Don’t mind what other people do, set an example! Furthermore, you will save time and money by not having to check in bags and wait for them at the other end.

Shopping

Great Green Shopping

Great Green Shopping

Thinking about where you shop and what you purchase can really help the planet.  A good way to start is to reuse plastic bags or a bring your own bags, made from eco friendly materials.  Try not to shop at big chain stores and target independent shops and markets that support the local infrastructure.

Green Accommodation

Green Accommodation

Green Accommodation – Eoo Setting are Important

Another important issue that business travelers must look out for is eco hotels. Most modern hotels use up a large amount of energy due to lights, cleaning utilities and air conditioners, making them non- eco-friendly. One idea is to stay with friends in the area, this will also save you a lot of money.

[VIDEO] A brief history of fossil fuels

As fossil fuel resources significantly diminish every year, the world gets ever tumultuous and panic slowly begins to settle moment by moment. Luckily, suitable energy is a topic which gets a lot of attention nowadays, although not nearly as publicized as it should, seeing how the general public is still at a low awareness level.

The Post Carbon Institute is doing its best to pitch in by releasing this very informative and entertaining animated video which offers a brief history of fossil use by mankind and how the post carbon society might look like in the future if the necessary steps towards sustainable life are taken.

Click on the YouTube player below and enjoy!

Puma replaces shoe box with reusable bags

I had some serious thought on whether to write this or not. It’s not a paid post or anything, and quite frankly, I’ve never owned anything from Puma. But I was absolutely thrilled to find out about their initiative to replace the shoe boxes with reusable bags. It’s exactly this kind of small thing, but that requires minimum efforts that I believe can make a significative difference.

Just to take a look at the numbers, they would save 8.500 tons of paper (that weights about as much as 80.000 soccer teams) and would also reduce the consumption of water and energy by 60 percent. They say they won’t save any money with this (don’t know if this is true though, but that’s what they claim).

“To begin with, we don’t expect to save costs with this. It may even have a negative impact in the short term. But over the long run, there should be cost savings,” Chief Executive Jochen Zeitz said “Sustainability is not only absolutely necessary considering the situation our planet is in, we as companies are also overdue to take responsibility,” Zeitz said. “We can’t wait for governments. Companies have to lead the way and we want to be among the leaders.”

Good initiative. My hat is off to you.

Huge sustainable plan in the Incheon Free Economic Zone will unite North and South Korea via world’s longest bridge

OnJin-gun island will be transformed as a sustainable resort and the masterplan will eventually connect South to North Korea and the airport via the world’s longest bridge.

OnJin-gun island will be transformed as a sustainable resort and the masterplan will eventually connect South to North Korea and the airport via the world’s longest bridge.

The leading architectural firm Foster + Partners has recently won an international competition in which companies where supposed to come up with schemes towards developing the Incheon Free Economic Zone. Foster’s plan, the winning plan, is incredibly bold, encompassing the islands of KangHwa and OnJin-gun, to the north west of Seoul, basically connecting the the two feuding countries together. A huge project, billions of dollars and a fine stretch of land separating the two totally different countries. North and South, communism and capitalism – one bridge to fill the gap.

Oh, and it’s a pretty freakin’ long too! The longest in the world according to Foster’s press release and initial, very calculated, assessments. What really seems interesting though is the whole scale of the project, which will entirely revolve on the concept of total self-sustainability. The 300 square-kilometre masterplan will extend organically from a central transportation spine, creating a centre for green industry and serving a population that is expected to grow from 35,000 to 320,000 residents and commuters.

There will be three main sites within the free trade zone of Incheon: the north of Kanghwa will be a centre of inter-korean economic cooperation, taking advantage of its strategic location close to Incheon airport and North korea, while the south of the island will be mixed-use, combining green technology industry with community, cultural and residential buildings.

When the project will be complete, the Incheon area will become the leading national, and quite possibly south-east Asian, landmark for the sustainability industry, manufacturing photovoltaic panels and wind turbines, and developing new products and technology within a new research and development institute in the south of KangHwa. State-of-the-art measures employed within the masterplan include biomass energy generation, the use of hydrogen fuel cells and hydroponic roofs. OnJin-gun island will be transformed as a sustainable resort and the masterplan will eventually connect South to North Korea and the airport via the world’s longest bridge.

The slick design mixes modern minimalist architecture with the local oriental one, dashed with sweet green living design traits.

The slick design mixes modern minimalist architecture with the local oriental one, dashed with sweet green living design traits.

From a design point of view, like we can plainly see from the 3D modeled photos, it all looks amazing! The center theme for the Incheon project is agriculture and green living, taking inspiration from the current situation of the area, the Incheon landstrip being a monstly rural, rugged area. Foster wants to preserve this by incorporating existing elements such as irrigation channels, green spaces and roads, while the arrangement of buildings within the masterplan follows the natural topology of the site, incorporating green roofs to further harmonise with the landscape. Like the veins of a leaf, the smaller roads and pedestrian avenues extend from the central transportation spine.  There will be no structure above 50 metres, so the scheme will not extend into the foothills or mountain, thus preserving the rural landscape.

“Working at a very strategic level, we saw the masterplan as an opportunity to explore the sustainable potential of this extraordinary island, exploiting its pivotal position close to Seoul and its rugged landscape. We are delighted that the judges share our vision and, along with our collaborators at A+U, PHA and MIC, we hope to develop the project into the next stage,” said Grant Brooker, a design director at Foster + Partners.

This massive scheme layed out by Foster and Partners will require a slated 10-15 years worth of developing time. The whole thing looks superb though, and I, personally, am dying to learn more about it. A few more pics bellow.

Incheon

fosterpartners_korea

via Foster + Partners [pics via Design Boom]

Energy from space

space solar panelOur planet needs more and more energy as years pass, and the idea that this energy could come from outer space is getting heard stronger and more often with each passing day. For about 50 years people have been fascinated by this idea and now, John Mankins, president of the Space Power Association made a technical demonstration which led to the idea that this project could actually become practical.

Using microwaves and transmitting them from Maui to the nearby Hawaii, he managed to show that energy could be transmitted through all the atmosphere. As you could have noticed from the right side of the site, we promoted a programme, Discovery Channel’s Project Earth which featured some really interesting ideas.

The project that Mankins developed was featured there too, and it took only four months to prepare, costing less than US$1 million. This work brought together specialists from the US and Japan, making it obvious that “it is possible to make real progress quickly, affordably and internationally”. The thing is that solar panels connect just a fraction from the sun’s rays, even in the hot sunny days. Placing them in space would be very different, as a square meter will collect 250 watts. The energy could then be sent back to earth in the form of microwaves, who go through the atmosphere in a way that sun rays don’t. This is where the particular project came up, trying to prove the last part of the idea.

They sent a 20-watt which went to more than 100 kms, but it was not well collimated, as the energy which arrived in Hawaii was less than a watt. Still, the results were promising and further investments would almost definitely lead to a spectacular development. This is what Mankins hopes for too, but he estimates the price at for a 5–10 megawatt pilot plant in orbit in less than 10 years at about $10 billion, using conventional satellite lanchers. Scientists are reserved in what concerns this issue, and it’s absolutely normal to have a rough start, especially because this was a dream even a few years ago. Still, this small step might just be the necessary impulse to make people think more seriously about achieving this goal.

“I think it’s an idea whose time may have come,” says Roger Harrison, director of the Eisenhower Center for Space and Defense Studies in Colorado Springs. “I would be a little sceptical, but I’m more than happy to be proven wrong.”