Archive for the ‘Eco-Entreprenuers’ Category

True Sustainable Eco Lodge At Hix Island House In Vieques

Friday, January 13th, 2012
Casa Solaris

Casa Solaris

The tourism department for Puerto Rico claims that the ex-military base for the US turned tourist destination Vieques offers visitors a eco-island experience. They may claim eco-island status as a whole however we had to search pretty diligently to find anything authentically eco friendly. Our diligence paid off with a visit to the muy verde Hix Island House

Our timing couldn’t have been better as the hillside eco resort recently opened a new additional called Casa Solaris. We see many lodges called “eco lodges” but Hix Island House offers a true and tranquil eco-villa experience.  Firstly, the architect John Hix created his new Casa Solaris building completely off the grid. The completely self contained wing offers six minimalist designed rooms powered by both a photovoltaic system and solar hot water. The pool also gets its heat from the nearby solar panels and contains a locally used a low chemical cleaning system significantly less toxic than the typical chlorine based products.

Speaking of water, in addition to dual flush toilets, the building contains a greywater system that transports used sink and shower water to the nearby field to irrigate the soon to be planted bananas trees and other indigenous fruits.

Lest we forget abut the materials used to create the building. Originally John Hix wanted to use wood however he discovered that wood doesn’t hold up well through hurricanes so he opted for concrete. The use of concrete in the overall design includes the floor, walls, countertops and showers. The al fresco shower may be the best experience with the cement floor and walls, the views of the rain forest and ocean, as well as the fact that the heated water comes via the sun.

We also enjoyed the fresh baked bread and the local fruit (Mango). One of our few disappointments comes from the fact that locals don’t grow more local tropical fruit (Corazon, passion fruit) which they grow on the main island. The Hix Island House staff already planted various fruit trees to rectify that issue.

Besides letting guests know about the sustainable design of this villa, they continue to educate the locals so that Viequenses will use the sustainable knowledge to create sustainable homes and lodges of their own.

The education, design and sustainability make the Hix Island House one of the true eco-resorts not only in Puerto Rico but in todo el mundo.

Aquaponics Outside PCBC and West Coast Green

Friday, June 24th, 2011

P1010675How could anyone not notice the small box of growing vegetables sitting atop a large fish tank sitting outside the zero energy house at the entrance to the PCBC and West Coast Green conference? Sure, this unusual fish and vegetable combination drew a lot of eyeballs but did anyone stop to ask what the heck this sea-veggie contraption does? We did.

For those outside of the land Down Under, most people remain unaware of aquaponics. Australian farmers continue to use this sustainable way to grow fish and vegetables due to their continuing extreme drought conditions.

The concept behind aquaponics can be explained rather simply. The water and fish poop from the tank move upward into the stone filled bed which feeds the plants. The hydroton pebbles, imported from Germany, have bacteria that absorb the fish poop then convert the poop to nitrites then nitrates which is fertilizer. Okay, we’re not chemists but when Kevin Warnock who put this contraption together using parts from Costco and a fish supply place shows us that the plants grow six times faster than in dirt and the fish grow twice as fast as in the wild we have to think that this may be a good idea.

Even better, consider the water that can be saved. Not only do the vegetables use about 1/10th the water of vegetables grown in dirt but the systems needs no chemicals to clean the water. Kevin only adds water (for the fish and fish food) but no cleaners, chemicals or pesticides.

People can put this contraption in their patios for about $1000 or so but it works an a larger scale in Oz. Sign us up a veggie and fish farmers because with a sustainable system like this we could get used to eating salmon salad.

PCBC and West Coast Green Combination – Organic Architect Speaks

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

P1010666San Francisco might be known for food, liberalism and Green laws but also for density. Not the stupid kind but rather living in tight quarters. With those ideas, it made sense to combine PCBC and West Coast Green especially considering that real estate, especially new construction and Green building, continue to suffer greatly due to the economic downturn. After all dirty building and green building belong in the same event.

The crowds seemed a little thin on the first day at San Francisco’s Moscone Center but things will probably pick up during day two. One place where the crowd packed into the space was to see noted organic architect Eric Corey freed. The noted sustainable Howard Roark never disappoints in his presentations no matter the setting.

Freed offered his usual collection of bold, entertaining, outrageous slides to accompany his presentation. (Where does he get those photos?) A good portion of his 20 minute presentation focused on the car and how we have designed our society around the auto. Besides sprinkling in car facts such as the average American spends 84 hours stuck in traffic, and 94 percent of cars remain parked. So why do we have a love affair with our cars? Cars only destroy community which rings true in places like LA and Houston.

Even though Freed makes his living as a noted architect, his presentation weighed so heavily against the car that you might think that he changed his profession to bicycle inventor. His anti-car discussion eventually lead to several ideas to fix cities so that they change into people friendly instead of car friendly areas:

1-     Ban the lawns and replace with victory gardens.

2-     No straight streets.

3-     Require porous roads and lots to reduce water waste

4-     Make solar available as an over the counter purchase

5-     Bring back corner stores. This one we might not totally agree with unless the corner stores actually sell something besides processed crap.

6-     Encourage local real estate developers so that houses don’t look cookie cutter all over the US.

It’s good to have to someone thinking out of the box even if his requirements run on a slightly fascist model.

Green Festival Rolls Into San Francisco

Monday, April 11th, 2011
Joey Shepp

Joey Shepp

The Green festival rolled into San Francisco this past weekend with less fanfare than in the past. Not that the participants, vendors and speakers didn’t have the energy of years past but this recent version saw a drop in vendors and also in the overall show days (from 3 to 2). Maybe the festival needs work on the “less is more” thinking and revert to the November only event.

The event did offer some notable and thought provoking speakers. We spent time to hear local Joey Shepp discuss social media for sustainable business. Even for people experienced with sustainable business ideas he certainly added some innovative ideas. We saw several business people typing notes madly on the Smart Pads. Some of the products and ideas worth mentioning include: the Fujitsu scansnap that quickly scans documents and business cards and the like quickly and efficiently. Of course he mentioned the world of cloud computing and how they will cut down on paper use. He mentioned that currently products will be about what the client wants not what the company wants (crowd sourcing) and that great sustainable ideas don’t have to come from angel investors or VC with organizations like Kiva, Kickstarter, and Crowdfire as outlets for people to start their own business. With so much info, he quickly rushed through his belief that Wikileaks will add truth and cause companies (or governments) to be more transparent. It adds truth, and what remains is education and creativity.

The other thing that seemed to be generating buzz is the GMO talk. Organizations may be angling toward getting mandatory labeling of GMOs on the California ballot because a high percentage of consumers want GMO labeled and because supermarkets, products and apparently are government don’t want to be transparent about what our food contains.

Visit to Organic Apple Farm in Mendocino

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

applesWelcome to 2011 and while we took a hiatus, and a few road trips, we discovered a few things outside of San Francisco. In Mendocino many wineries and coincidently grapes exist (some of which have an organic or even biodynamic angle) but on one particular day our palates had a taste for crunchy apples.

We stopped in at one of those apple stands while driving along Highway 128 and being that they offered conventionally grown apples we asked them about what chemicals they used. One lady replied that she didn’t know exactly but that they did spray. However she kindly mentioned their neighbors around the corner who grew organic apples. Back in the car.

Only because the lady pointed out the neighboring organic apple farm did we manage to find it. Although a sign for the Apple Farm does exist on Highway 128, it would be easy to miss. Pulling up into the farm, we immediately noticed the difference between the apple stands along 128. and this one.

The Apple Farm items (crates of apples, bottles of apple cider, apple vinegar) sit in a self-service corner with a change box and slot for the payment. Yes, they operate on the honor system here. It’s even easier to honor the fact that the Apple Farm has been operating organically since 1984. Since this place functions as a working farm they don’t operate tours per se but they allow visitors to wander though the orchards or even have lunch on the grounds. Those who ask nicely (and can find someone to ask) may even pick some fresh persimmons from the trees.

Crunch on some Sierra Beauties for those who like tart, crunchy apples and don’t overlook the “free box” of overripe persimmons and apples as they make great additions to a smoothie. And stopping here will make a great addition to any green-minded road trip to Mendocino.

Directions: Take Hwy 101 North, exit at Cloverdale (Boonville, Ft. Bragg, Hwy 128) continue NW on Hwy 128 to Boonville, continue on through Philo, 4 miles past Philo turn left at Philo/Greenwood Rd (also road to elk) farm is 1/4 mile on left at bridge.

Green Festival 2010 – San Francisco

Monday, November 8th, 2010

healthy home furnitureAlthough many great speakers informed, educated and inspired the well attended Green Festival in SF, a couple of us circulated among the vendor booths to check out the newest and greatest and not so greatest products.

Although not having a full opportunity to do our due diligence we did pepper some of the vendors with various questions about their products.

The Solar Lite caught our attention with the their hanging displays of flashlights (and the solar lantern). The light puts out a nifty 40 lumens which would come in handy for camping trips and the fact that it can hold a charge for three years makes it earthquake preparedness friendly. It would be great if the flashlight itself were made of something greener than plastic but the fact that it saves people from chucking batteries into the landfill makes it shine.

We only mention Bright Earth foods because the owner (more like a an alchemist) acted to passionately about his sustainability produced Noni and other superfoods that we have to give out props. After doing the Noni shot we did feel happier knowing that all Noni drinks are not created equal.

At the far end of the exhibits, we ran into (almost literally) the Green Bike Effect bikes. These folding and electric bikes recently came on the market from Alameda. One of us jumped on the bike which offered a quick giddyap and can reach speeds of near 20 mph. Unlike mopeds, these don’t cause CO2 emissions and cause less noise pollution as well. Although we would prefer if the bike itself weren’t made in China or if some of the bike components or even the saddle came from repurposed material, it still may encourage people to do the electric commute.

We definitely aren’t interior designers but we couldn’t help but stop and sit in the Exotic Green Furniture, which we talked with owner James Michaels. To be sure, he gets excited about his formaldehyde free furniture and the fact that much of the furniture utilizes other materials so it fits in with some of the cradle-to-cradle mentality. Some of his tables come from dormant coconut trees, which is a story in itself, and we will hit on that topic in a future post.

GreenCycler – Simple Composter at West Coast Green 2010

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

compost item

It may be a few weeks after West Coast Green 10 but we’re still digging out from various events, items and gadgets. Many companies offered products with fancy displays and high tech visuals. One of the gadgets that caught our eye also caught this piece of celery. The simple GreenCycler comes by way of Denver and offers a new take on compost.
We like to think of it as a trash compactor for compost. It basically condenses the compost then stores it in a fruit fly proof container before a human takes the ultra condensed compost, hopefully into the their own compost bin then eventually their yard. We realize that this item wouldn’t be such a great benefit for people who toss their compost into the large green city compost containers but for those who have their own compost bin then GreenCycler which mulches the food to a smaller mass which works to speed up the compost process.

We could see this item being a good seller for restaurants that compost their scraps, schools that show kids how do compost as well as people with their own victory gardens. Is the GreenCycler the great Green invention of 2010? Not really but it shows some innovation and some thinking outside the box.

William McDonough at West Coast Green 10 – Deep Dive Part 2

Monday, October 4th, 2010

mcdonough wcg10Being so busy at West Coast Green 10 and in honor of ecoMonday we post part two of the William McDonough “deep dive”, and he does get deep. While most people throw around the term “carbon footprint” or simply use it in passing, McDonough talked about a skyscraper that he worked on 21 years ago, and calculated the amount of trees that would be need to be planted not only to offset the building of the skyscraper but to operate it as well. He convinced the person financing the building that the cost of the trees could be used in place of the marketing budget. Who needs a marketing budget when the story of the tree planting ends up as a front-page story on the Wall Street Journal? Green does pay.

Speaking of trees, we fully agree that people need to start thinking about the “rights of nature” and not just human right. We need think more in terms of abundance, not scarcity.

He mentioned things like the Endangered Species Act, which seems to be thinking in the wrong direction, with the reactive thinking. We need to start thinking proactively.

Our government and other governments and entities continually throw about numbers and plans to deal with our environmental impact. Think about the lofty goals for the UN, US government whatever about reducing carbon emissions by 20% (or whatever number) by 2020 that don’t illustrate “less bad” thinking. As McDonough states, “being less bad is not good”. And that is what our country continues to do or promote. We warn people in CA entering buildings (thanks to Prop 65) that the building contains various materials that cause cancer yet they remain legal and we continue to use them to construct buildings. Isn’t there something illogical about that thinking?

Seeing McDonough makes us (and the rest of the crowd) more motivated. We’re not here to be less bad, we’re here to be more good.”

Here’s a call to action to start being more good.

William McDonough (Mr. Sustainable) at West Coast Green 10

Saturday, October 2nd, 2010

willaim mcdonoughThey normally refer to William McDonough as Mr. Sustainable but after watching his unplugged marathon presentation at the first day of West Coast Green 10, we might refer to him as Green John Wooden or the Eco Vince Lombardi. Why? Because like the two notable sports coach legends they built their winning teams based on sound foundations and fundamentals. Oh, and they were great motivators.

In a wold of sound bites and 60 second You Tube videos, how could anyone would not be impressed and awed but his powerfully fact filled, logical yet often funny almost 3 hour presentation? He began by showing his upbringings in Ireland where his first house designs incorporated solar collectors. Impressive how his progressive thought goes way back in the day. He jumped forward to tell a story about his first US based project in New York when he fought to get compost toilets approved for Hindu temple. (In some places, unless you live in national park,  it sometimes remains challenging to get approved to install compost toilets).

Then in 1984, McDonough started questioning manufacturers about what was in their wood, paint, carpets and Building Materials Supplier told him, “It’s proprietary. It’s legal. Go away.” So much for transparency.

And so much for the first part of this post. We’ll post additional highlights from McDonough who, lucky for the planet and us, has not gone away.

Photo by Darilyn  Kotzenberg

Radius Sticks To Its Locally Inspired Theme

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

radiusWhen people talked about locally grown or produced they usually mean within 200 miles or so. That’s normally about how far we expand our blog radius. The radius of where things come from marks not only the name of this French California inspired café and restaurant but also the philosophy behind Radius.

This SoMa based café and restaurant doesn’t just plaster the name up as a marketing gimmick but the owners stand behind their idea. Their food, wine and even the building elements that make up the interior generally comes from within 200 miles.

Most people will point to their Tamales Bay oysters, Ritual coffee, Pt. Reyes Blue – Cow Girl cheese and Anchor Steam beer but we find the repurposed church pews (from a San Jose church) used for table seating and the reused display cabinets deliciously appealing. The owners sourced practically all of the furniture, fixtures and equipment from other places. All of the reclaimed wood from the floors to the tables gives the café and restaurant an invitingly warm feel.

Radius maintains an advantage of its location. The restaurant can and does source wine from Napa and Sonoma, seafood from just up the coast and organic veggies from the plethora of farmers markets. But the trick would be to open a Radius in say Des Moines. Sure, keeping within the radius to manage the Green building element would be doable but sourcing a food and drinks menu such as the one here in SoMa would present a sizable challenge. Hopefully, others will be inspired by the Radius philosophy and rise to the challenge of making things work from a local scale rather than from a globalized, generic world view.