The Little Things: Part VII

The warm weather is finally arriving, and here a few ways to make the most of the summer, and cut your carbon footprint.

  1. Laundry: There are many ways to reduce the amount of energy that goes into the cleaning of your clothes, and though it would be great if everybody followed all these steps, even just changing one thing about how you do laundry can make a huge difference.
    • To laundry in the early morning or late at night: stay away from peak uses in water consumption hours which overloads the power system making energy lines run less efficiently.
    • Only wash: by hanging clothes to dry not only saves energy and money, but clothes last for longer and fade slower.
    • Wash in cold water: most times Hot and Warm settings on a washer aren’t needed. The detergents that we use fully cleans the clothes thoroughly, even on the cold settings.
    • Use environmentally safe detergents.
  2. Keep shades down and windows open: The big waste of energy during the summer is the AC constantly being on, but by keeping windows open all night, early morning and evenings, and keeping blinds down during the late mornings to late afternoons can drastically keep the temperature down in a house. Also the use of low and high house vents that brings in cold air from bottom vents and pushes hot air out of top vents are very effective.
  3. Shading Foliage: Planting trees that create a lot of shade in the summer can drastically lower the heat in houses by blocking and reflecting sunlight (plus they let in sun during the winter cause of the lack of leaves). Also planting wall climbing vines on the side of houses can also block sunlight (and can create insulation in the winter cause the snow lands on the hibernating stems).
  4. Stay in the basement: This is obvious way to stay out of the heat and not use the AC.

Don’t forget to get out of the house and enjoy all the nice weather.


Earth Day 2013

Once again the earth has done a full rotation around the sun and it is another year older. I hope you brought a present.

Society has made leaps on bounds over the past year with the increasing green energy initiatives, the rising in urban greenery and agriculture, electric cars, organic food and reducing of waste through recycling and compost campaigns.

At the same time, it’s always two steps forward and one step back: oil spills, constant pollution, contaminated natural resources, super storms and droughts due to climate change from human made chemicals destroying the atmosphere.

The earth has paid for human progress, for industrial revolution, for convenience, for getting from point A to point B as fast a possible. Though many great things have come from advances of industry, things have gotten out of hand.

Great change needs to happen now, not over the next few years or by the year 2020. Even stopping now the damage we have done to our planet will continue for years and years.

Today, when we celebrate humanities home, is when a new revolution needs to start. Not one of smoke stacks, but of sustainability. Every person needs to contribute, with no one standing on the side lines thinking one person doesn’t make much of a difference.

Recycle. Compost. Reuse. Plant. Enjoy nature. Walk or bike. Open the windows. Eat veggies. Use less. Do more.

In the end humans are only hurting themselves. The polluting people do to the earth, ends up poisoning us, and long after the last person can’t hold a breath, the earth will still be around, ready to convert itself back to its former glory.

Happy Earth Day.

Poison in the Soil

The number of urban farms and city gardening is on the rise in city communities across the country. By converting abandon space to grow produce is increasing community bonds and property value.

The problem is the danger present in urban farming: soil contamination.

As villages become towns and towns become cities the space tends to change from one type of use to another, such as residential to industrial or commercial. Depending on the function history of land, there could be a one or dozens of contaminates that are harmful if ingested.

In Chicago the biggest contaminate is lead in which a recent study found that 1 in 12 children born in the city will have enough lead in their blood to be considered lead-poisoned. Cities differ on the contaminate, but the problem remains the same.

Steps can be taken to protect people in this area and even to reclaim the land for future use by the public. The first step is to find out if the area you have selected for gardening is clean.

There are labs that you can send soil samples that are both businesses or run by the government. Also check with local university or high schools as they sometimes have their students test soil samples and compile data on clean and contaminate land in the surrounding area.

Soils that are free of harmful containates are cleared to be gardened(just make sure not to poison it by using pesticides or herbicides and to fertilized correctly in order to keep the soil healthy), but if harmful metals or chemicals are found there are ways to use the land safely.

Raised Garden Beds or Containers

Building a raised garden bed or using separate containers is a great way to use the land and keep plants from getting contaminated. The separation of the soil in which the plants will grow in and surrounding areas soil will help keep plants healthy, plus gardening becomes easier by keeping weeds away, better sun exposure, and making it easier for people with back problems to reach plants.

Introducing Micro-Organism to the Soil

Some contaminates are the result of chemical run-off or dumping and are very harmful in their complex forms, but spreading specific micro-organism to the soil will break-down these chemicals rendering the soil safe. Soil testing labs have all the information on what micro-organisms to use for different contaminates and where to buy them.

Using Plants to Collect Contaminates

This method involves planting vegetation that will collect contaminates in the soil as they grow. Plants such as sunflowers (planted for arsenic) or hydrillas (planted for Mercury, Cadmium, Chromium, and lead) used to clean up soils. Though low in cost and environmentally friendly, this method takes a long time and only cleans the soil as far down as the plants roots go.

Many urban governments are already utilizing these methods to undo damage due to pollution and negligence. With the information available now and a growing number of environmental groups working to clean up our world, future generations can have clean food and land to live healthy.




America’s Largest Vertical Farm (Chicago)

Vertical farming isn’t a new idea, it’s been around since the early 90s. It has been the  development of these farms that has been slow, so it is only in the last few years that they have started to pop up around the world.

If you need a crash course on vertical farming go to one of my earlier posts.

Opened on Friday March 22nd, FarmHere’s vertical farm is the largest indoor vertical farm in the nation, taking up 90,000 square feet of a refurbished abandon warehouse out in Bedford Park, Ill. (a suburb of Chicago). Once the facility hits full production it will be able to produce 1 million pounds of chemical and pesticide free leafy greens (basil, arugula, and mint to name a few).

The facility will also provide close to 200 jobs for the surrounding community, with some workers provided by Windy City Harvest, a urban agriculture training program that works with youth from low-income areas.

FarmHere is already in partnership with commercial Chicago grocers, such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.

What is truly exciting is if this model is able to not only work, but succeed, then other vertical farms can easily be jump-started into existence in the many empty warehouses that litter the Chicagoland area.

The facility is a closed loop system of plants growing from minerals produced by the aquaponics tanks of tilapia, who in turn feed off parts of the plant greens.

Though this is, by far, not the first vertical farm in the city (The Plant), but the large-scale production shadows all smaller early attempts.

For someone who has read and experienced different projects in sustainability over the last few years, I only get more excited for the not-so-distant future.

Laying Out and Taking in Some Solar Rays

The race towards becoming the first entirely green country has begun. Around the world governments are investing in green technologies and methods to provide cheap clean energy, with a majority of money being spent on the greatest source of energy within our reach: the sun.

Solar power used to be only a good idea, problem was that solar panels of the past where fragile, expensive and very inefficient. In many ways this can still be considered the case for many countries not adapting to this renewable energy source.

Solar power in America yields over 1,650 MW energy a year with large amounts of solar fields in the states Nevada, California and Arizona, though this is only a fraction of the 9538.8 KW that we use in energy yearly. Right now it stands at number four of the top ten solar powered countries, just a little ahead of Italy.

Coming in at number 3 is Japan. Japanese banks project that the solar market in their country to be $19 Billion in the next few years. After the tsunami that hit Japan in 2011 that caused a accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant and problems at a few more nuclear facilities, the people of Japan are looking for safer ways for it’s country to harness energy for the future. Combined with a culture that prides it self on efficiency in area usage and being minimal minded, Japan could become ones of the first countries to be run entirely by green energy.

Spain is in the number 2 spot due to government’s focus on creating a national solar energy industry and its excellent sun exposure. But considering the financial problems that Spain has been having recently, they might lose their current rank and might also have to delay future plans of solar independence.

The top country should be no surprise with hundreds of news stories in December of 2012 of having reach the number of 32.3 GW  of produced solar power.  Germany set a world record on Saturday May 26, 2012 when solar power accounted for 40% of total electricity consumption across the country. With German companies working towards efficiency in all facets of life and the economic stability of the county, it’s predicted that by 2050 Germany will be entirely run on renewable energy sources.

It is amazing to see the green revolution in action, and utilization of solar power is only the beginning.

The Art of Perserving: Part II-Pickling

As a chief I enjoy having a wide range of vegetables to be able to cook with at any given time, though mold has other idea for my once ripe tomatoes and green peppers. As I hate seeing the blue and white fuzziness on my food, I have dove into the wonderful world of pickling.

Pickling “also known as brining or corning, is the process of preserving food by anaerobic fermentation in brine to produce lactic acid, or marinating and storing it in an acid solution, usually vinegar.”

The most common vegetable people think of when pickling is mentioned is cucumber, and even though there is hundreds of pickling recipes to pick from just from this one vegetable, most vegetables also can be pickled in a number of ways: sweet, sour, tangy, spicy, crunchy, soft and name a few.

Pickling uses the canning method, in which I wrote of before, that jams do, but one should be aware that some recipes call for longer times in boiling water then most jams take to seal correctly.

Pickling recipes also differ at many parts during the process before canning, such as putting pickling salt on the vegetables and letting them sit for a few hours compared to slightly cooking them before putting them into jars. Even afterward steps can differ consisting of putting the vegetables in the jars either whole or slicing the vegetable in a certain way and then using a preserving/pickling agent to fill the jar to about an 1 1/2 inch to the top.

There is also the use of spices to give even more flavor as the vegetables ferment, and the longer they are in the jars the more flavor the vegetables will absorb, so be observant of the directions that go with each recipe.

Interested? Well a great time to start is when vegetables start to come into season and are sold cheap. During this time buy a big amount in order to pickle a bunch so to enjoy them throughout the year (remember this is how people made use of their harvests during the winter months and also how they survived said months). And thanks to global trading preserving can start at any time. Why just the other day I pickled beets in red wine, vinegar and a mix of spices; now just the few week wait and I’ll have delicious pickled beets to enjoy.

A great sight for pickling and other preserving recipes is Punk Domestics.  This website is community based of people that share a passion for preserving, giving their own homemade recipes while also helping others tweak their own recipes to make them better.

Just wait for the first batch of your pickled vegetables to taste, you’ll be hooked

The Little Things: Part VI Automobile Edition

It is inevitable that people are going to drive cars (in America it’s almost a right of passage), and though to be truly green one would have to give up these machines, there are still steps to make your cruising time as green as possible.

Car Pooling:

Do you find your drives to and from work lonely? Is having to drive through traffic everyday cause depression or anger? Why not join/start a car share program for your area or, if your company is large, for your workplace.  Just between two people switching off driving can help. There are less cars on the road and not only do you save on gas and stress, but you can finally play/read/catch up on that mobile game/book/extra sleep that you’ve wanted for a while.

Driving Aggressively:

A great way to lower that carbon footprint is to drive passively. By gunning the engine or starting/stopping suddenly can eat up gas rather then just driving at a constant speed. The trick is to use the car’s momentum to move forward. Other tricks is staying a safe distance away from the car ahead of you so can slow down instead of slamming on the breaks. Also don’t ref your engine, this isn’t Nascar.

Car Sharing:

If you live in the city, but only need a car every now and then, look into car sharing programs like I-GO. When you need to go shopping, or move something big, or even drive out to the country, just renting the car for the hour/day is much cheaper than paying for numerous expenses that come with owning a car in the city, plus these cars are in convenient locations (at near shopping centers or colleges), so only using the car for the return trip has it’s benefits such as not having to find park.


There is really no need to idle a car with the only exception being in slow moving stop and go traffic.  One reason is that modern cars these days don’t need to warm up as much to drive efficiently as the cars needed to 15 years ago. A car turning on is equivalent to about 10 seconds of driving, so even if it’s for a few minutes of waiting outside a house to pick someone up, shut off the car.

Having a Large Car:

Do you really need a hummer/truck/jeep for city driving? Unless your using the vehicle for it’s intended purpose, then it’s easier on everyone (yourself include) to just get a smaller, more efficient car. Have I mentioned the savings?

This is only part one of driving greener, stay tuned for part two.

A Vote for Green

Now that the election for the most powerful man in the world is over, I can finally talk about my reasons for voting the way I did..of course only on the issues as far as the subject matter of this blog.

Besides all the social and economical issues that have filled this election, there was also environmental issues such as green energy, oil pipelines, and using natural resources to cover the energy need of the country, that seemed to be in the background during debates and speeches. Reading this, it is easily seen that I’m all for green energy and sustainability, and, during the election, this was an important point, not only for my vote, but for the future of USA.

To keep relying on fossil fuels and destroying the environment so that Americans can live a convenient cheap lifestyle now is not the direction the country needs to be going, let alone the rest of the world. Giving tax cuts in green technology and energy is extremely important for the health of our nations future. Becoming less dependent on oil and investing in energy that is renewable is the best direction for our country,as it will create an increasing stable job market and, eventually, make power the house or car inexpensive, letting people invest and spend money on other culture improving venues. Fossil fuels will run out, but before that, they will become so expensive that even something as small as driving to the store will cost as much as the shopping bill.

The problem that pro-fossil fuel people have is that they are very near-sighted (meaning they can’t see very far in-front of their own faces), they care about the next few years of comfort, and not the decades of hardship afterwards. Already there are countries who understand the need for the a green future, like Sweden or the U.K., and a part of America is right along with them, but having people who appose green energy is just a vote for greed of the now, instead of a sound investment for the future.

Of course I understand if this isn’t a major issue for you and you decided to vote on the numerous other issues which are  important in their own ways. But, as I have stated before, why is there even an argument against green energy? Well I guess you can ask the same question about global warming, where there a still people who believe it’s a lie made up by most scientists around the world.

C2C: Cradle-to-Cradle

A system of safety. A system of sustainability. A system of reusing, recycling, and renewing.

This is the Cradle-to-Cradle system.

Copyright Zhiying.lim 21 August 2012

This is an idea for industrial products which involves using materials from two different categories: Technical nutrients (which is limited to non-toxic/harmful materials that can be reused continuously without losing quality), and Biological nutrients (which can be disposed and decompose into soil).  By only using these types of materials, industry can enter into the C2C cycle where they can benefit from lower financial cost, receive green tax incentives, and help bring sustainable practices to business which in turn will benefit the future  generations of humans live safely on this planet.

Some companies have already started to practice C2C, such as the Nike Considered camping, with hope of expanding it to the company as a whole. This idea has also been used in sewage treatment plants, which, after removing harmful contaminates from waste water, turns the leftover sludge into fertilizer–some have even started to developed ways to recycle the water.

Although the two authors of the idea have written a book that was published 10 years ago, not much action has come of it because the makers have kept the consultancy and certification on a very private level. This is now changing as a non-profit, started by the two idea holders, has been created in order to let the idea spread publicly through industry. Recently a Certification Standards Board was created (June 2012) so that companies can apply for C2C certification.

It is ideas such as these that really give me hope for the future of our world. Right now the human civilization is beginning to under go a change from what started with the Industrial Revolution. As raw materials get more expensive to procure while recycled materials becomes the cheaper choice and green energy is more readily available and cheaper, there will be no point for industries to continue using methods that are harmful towards the earth, which is when a true green revolution will start.

Laying a Greenier Roof

In case you’re new to my blog, I am all about the little things a person can do to reduce their carbon footprint. But the little things I write about usually don’t take up much time or effort, so it’s pretty easy and simple to adopt it into ones life.

Building a green roof can be a lot of work, depending on how ‘green’ you actually want it. There are two types: one pretty simple to get installed and will start saving on cooling bills throughout warm months, and one which is much more complicated, but will save on cooling and heating bills and will also help prevent flooding.

1) The Reflector Roof:

Looking at a high view from most cities in the 90s building tops were all black. It is no mistake to anyone, it was just the only way to cover the top of buildings and keep the weather from leaking inside. Over the last decade a new tar to replace the black color one has been developed and now city rooftops are colored white and have reflective properties.

This is a practice that has been growing in the past years as the business in making buildings more green and sustainable is growing. By covering your roof in reflective coats electricity bills can be dramatically lowered during the hot months of the years. The process is the same as any other roof installation and the initial costs are quickly repaid by consistently lower cooling bills. There is also tax write-offs available, making the process a smart investment for the future.

2) The (literally) Green Roof:

Now becoming a increasingly popular practice in cities, such as Chicago, raising plants and green space on rooftops is a sure fire way to lower electricity bills all year long. In the summer the layers of dirt, plants, and shade provided by the plants, keep the building underneath very cool. During the winter the dirt adds an extra layer of installation and helps to prevent heat from escaping. Having a green roof can also help with flooding problems as some of the water is being collected by the plants and getting soaked into the soil (and if you install rain barrels, which the water is used during dry days). This is a great idea for any city in the world, as it is a multifunctional idea. With space lacking in the city, growing plants on the roof tops lets people have small gardens and fresh food, while also having the potential to raise property values.

Now the hard part: designing, installing and maintaining. There is a ton of work that needs to go into building a green roof. First it is important to understand that it will add weight to a roof, especially when it rains. It is important to find out the weight load of your roof then work with that weight (there are light and heavy weight green roofs styles). Then the work that goes into the roof: laying soil, gardening, and watering (if you want to grow veggies or fruit),  plus all of this work is done on the roof so getting equipment and tools up on top of the house is gonna be difficult and tricky.

For now these are great options for making a sustainable roof. Soon technology such as solar cells will be easily affordable, and helping save even more on electricity bill, but that is in the near to distant future.

So instead of dark rooftops, make them bright and colorful, save some money and make the world a little better/brighter for the future.

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