Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

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.

Solar Compactors Hit City Parks

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

solar waste can

Even from our home perch here in San Francisco, we have to sometimes reach out for props to our So Cal brethren. In this case, some of us carpooled down to LA for the Thanksgiving weekend and even managed to avoid any real traffic jams.

Even more amazing, a couple of us spotted this solar compactor in Mar Vista park. This Big Belly in Mar Vista park represents only one of a growing trend where cities use these Solar-powered trash compactors to cut costs and emissions in 53 city parks. The solar compactors wirelessly monitor when they need to be emptied. They’re high-efficiency and low-maintenance which fits in with the mantra of so many cities (like LA).

We’re only surprised not to have spied these solar compactors in San Francisco. LA jumping ahead of San Francisco in the sustainability race? Hardly, but maybe LA will surprise the nation with a 405 full of fully electric cars soon.

Better Place CEO Shai Agassi Creates Buzz at Churchill Club

Monday, July 19th, 2010
Shai Agassi and Mark Johnson

Shai Agassi and Mark Johnson

Sometimes when walking into a room you can just feel the buzz and in this case the buzz came from the talk of electric cars and batteries by Better Place CEO Shai Agassi. We actually heard about this guy sometime ago with his vision to make zero emission vehicles a worldwide standard. Seeing Agassi in person at the Churchill Club event on July 15, moderated by Mark Johnson of Innosight, offered insight into Agassi’s thinking and business model of his company and infrastructure that will allow the electric car to move from back of the bus status into a major transportation option.

Americans simply don’t want to give up their $20,000 pollution emitting cars due to convenience. Americans don’t consider the $40 of black gold that they fork out each week to fill their tanks. Add that amount up versus the price of a rechargeable electric battery and the car expense seems less prohibitive. In terms of car expense, Agassi mentions that when the electric car is priced like a 3-year old gas car, then we will hit a tipping point. The cost to recharge batteries is based on “cheap electricity” like charging a battery in the middle of the night, so the costs are less. Even before the BP disaster, the cost to extract oil keeps rising and costs 20 times more to get than any other energy source.

Agassi made an interesting technology analogy where in the past we used snail mail, then moved to faxes, then to email and similarly we went from gas cars to hybrids and now we won’t move back to gas cars but forward to more technology driven electric cars. Agassi claims that each year batteries have improved eight percent so eventually we wont need (battery) switch stations.

Of course, the US and the moribund US automakers will take a wait and see attitude. Renault has put forth 15 percent of its R&D budget to work on the electric cars. The last company chief who put 15% of the R &D to a non-existing product was Steve Jobs (Ipod, Ipad). Agassi whose switch stations now dot Israel and Denmark said that the electric car versus the end of using oil would be a huge factor that determines the survival of the US dollar and US economy. If we can get crawl out form the oil wells and at least offer the same oil type incentives (subsidies) to people like Agassi and the electric car industry, then America and other counties will definitely find themselves in a Better Place.

The Green Side of Paperless Technology at Real Estate Connect 2010

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010
Exhibit Hall Real Estate Connect San Francisco 2010

Exhibit Hall Real Estate Connect San Francisco 2010

While wondering the exhibit hall of Real Estate Connect San Francisco 2010 style at the Pre-Conference Day, amongst all of the technology we figured that no one would go out of there way to promote Green but then we spied some of the “go paperless” inspired companies. In the race to go paperless, a few innovative companies have stepped up to create a paperless universe (at least in terms of contracts).

In the real estate world, agents often use ridiculous amounts of paper in which to disclose, offer and negotiate which in old school terms means that many trees get the saw for that counter offer.  We passed the DocuSign booth and discussed with the folks the Green benefits of using their technology, which allows people to sign contracts with an electronic signature. No more printing contracts. Just sign on-line. We can see the sustainable value in an item that eliminates paper use and general waste. But we discussed how much energy it takes to run the servers that run the DocuSign program. It would take a third party study to determine the paper, ink, transport carbon footprint savings versus the energy used to run something like DocuSign.

We brought this conundrum to another paperless company that not surprisingly goes by the name Go Paperless. Similar to DocuSign this technology allows people to sign and mark up documents using a stylus and tablet PC. Again, saving paper versus using more energy.

We all know that the cost of people runs high in terms of its impact with deforestation, transportation, recycling, shredding, printing, etc. so even at the cost of added energy use, companies that reduce (one of the three Rs) paper consumption can only improve things. We just hope that these companies use this Green philosophy inside their corporate offices as well.

CCSF Joint Use Facility To Go Platinum LEED

Monday, June 21st, 2010

ccsf-joint-use_extWe thought that the whole college system was broke, so where the heck will the get the green to build this sustainability built joint use building on the rapidly improving CCSF campus? Maybe they will have giant vegan cookie sale over the next few years.

It’s not that we aren’t ecstatic to see the campus using sustainable deign practices be having architect Peter Pfau shoot for a LEED Platinum rating. Some of the sustainable elements will include natural ventilation, a green roof, radiant flooring, a geothermal central plant, abundant daylight, durable and easy to maintain materials, well designed shading for west-facing façade, and post consumer/green materials. Notice the lack of big-ticket items? Just because a building shoots for a LEED Platinum rating doesn’t mean that the budget needs to unsustainable.

When the new three story facility opens we’re sure that the students and facility will be give the building high marks for indoor air quality and the overall healthy study conditions.  It makes us want to go back to school.

Laguna Honda Hospital Will Mark the First Green-Certified Hospital in California

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

laguna_honda_hospitalWith the downturn in overall new building, more sustainable efforts have seemingly fallen by the wayside. We’re glad to see that some projects have not totally disappeared. On June 26, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom will cut the ribbon on San Francisco’s new Laguna Honda Hospital and Rehabilitation Center, which will mark the first green-certified hospital in California.

Especially with energy still on everyone’s radar, the new technology in the hospital’s three new buildings will focus on energy and water savings. The buildings will use 30% less energy than statutory requirements, have Energy Star rated roofs which keep the buildings cooler on hot days and reduce energy use, and they have “closed-loop” air conditioning systems, meaning the system uses water for cooling is reused rather than wasted. Although do they really need AC in San Francisco?

Because this is a hospital, designers and builders people actually gave a nod to indoor air quality with use of low or zero VOC paints, wood, glues, and flooring materials in the new buildings. Reducing the highly toxic VOC’s, and other indoor air contaminants will only improve indoor health for Laguna Honda residents and staff.

With this green thinking, finally hospitals will start to realize that hospital recovery not only comes with injecting various medicines into patients but giving them a place that offers a healthier environment as well.

Image courtesy JKL

Maker Faire Draws Sustainable, Inspiring Inventors and Artists

Monday, May 24th, 2010
Mousetrap at Makers Faire

Mousetrap at Maker Faire

Unbelievable but true but this past weekend marked the first time that we attended the Maker Faire. True, in terms of numbers, we only stand a few behind those Makers who’ve made it there since its inception. Our Green posse scurried from the ingenious to downright crazy exhibits. For us Maker virgins, Donna our unofficial group leader for the day, mentioned that people might place this fair somewhere between Burning Man and Exploritorium. That description nailed it.

Why do we love this event and can’t believe that we hadn’t attended before? Not only did we encounter mad scientists of a sort but because almost every artist, scientist, inventor at the fair reuses, repurposes, and recycles other object to create art, cleaning robots, giant mousetraps, and transportation (mostly creatively built bikes).

Even the entertainment had a sustainable element with a solar stage but we caught the band Fossil Fuel at the Human Powered Stage where the bands powered their instruments and amps from bicycle powered generators. That way, we earned our music. Maybe people should try this with their TV so they would have some incentive to exercise.

Now, we can’t be sure about how sustainable it is to jolt 1,000,000 volts of electricity from two five foot Tesla Coils into a guy wearing a grounded metallic suit but the sheer spectacle of watching the long electrical arcs made us think how the electro guy might be able to creatively energize a small town.

Seeing all of the innovations like Algaelab which creates a personal algae photo-bioreactor and the not so practical but highly amusing inventions like the giant mousetrap made us believe that humans can still create mind-boggling inventions and art while not using up precious resources.

World’s First Convention Center Achieves LEED Platinum Rating

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

vancourvercovcenterNo doubt the current Olympics has and continue to dazzle people with the drama (some outside of the venues) but somehow lost amongst the sports accomplishments remains the fact that Vancouver touted this Olympics as the Greenest ever. It seems that China also made that claim a couple years ago. Instead of getting into a comparison of this green aspect versus that sustainable item, we took a look at the Vancouver Convention Center West, which marks the World’s First Convention Center to Achieve LEED Platinum Rating.

Yes, we’ve discussed our feeling about the LEED label and how we would like seeing more money going toward sustainable aspects versus a LEED plaque but nonetheless they built an impressive structure, which currently hosts the international media for the Olympic games. When the Olympics pack-up Vancouver will still have the dazzling sustainable structure.

What we like most is the six-acre living roof (Canada’s largest) which contains 400,000 native plants and grasses, and the green roof acts as an insulator to mediate the exterior air temperature, as well as reduces the building’s storm water runoff and integrates with the waterfront landscape ecosystem. With Vancouver being such a water friendly city, we also applaud the on-site black water treatment and desalinization systems that are projected to reduce potable water use 60 to 70 percent over typical convention centers. On the energy side, the center includes a heat pump system that takes advantage of the constant temperature of the adjacent seawater to produce heating and cooling. Very cool.

The people of Sochi have their work cut out for them if they hope to continue the Green trend of Olympics venues and buildings.

Big Important Speeches and Little Breakout Groups at BSR

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

No matter who attends the BSR conference, we always seem to find a balance between the people who legitimately wish to improve sustainability, not just for their company but the planet, and those who set out to further their profits by subtle or blatant greenwashing.

During the Thursday morning breakfast, Zhang Yue, chairman and CEO of China-based Broad Air Conditioning woke the crowd up as he spoke through an interpreter. A few minutes before that, I found myself asking a colleague “Who is this guy?” After 10 minutes, I changed my mind. More people should listen to this guy. True, I haven’t done due diligence on his company but if his company does half the things that he says they do then I’m on board. Yue created China’s first “non-electric chiller” and insists on showing consumers how triple paned windows will reduce their need to use air conditioners. Consider that their business revolves around making air conditioners. (more…)

BSR 2009 – Biodegradable Lanyards and Microsoft Sustainability

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

Ah, it feels good to have the BSR conference back in San Francisco. Even though the economy has gone to hell, it is good see that probably close to 1000 attendees hit the conference so the sour economy has not killed the whole notion of notion of sustainability and companies.

Good start — as we walked in and registered the staff handed me a recyclable, biodegradable, compostable lanyard.

The theme for this year’s conference – Sustainability in a Reset World

After admiring our lanyards and breakfast we jumped into packed conversation with Pamela Passman of Microsoft. Of course we considered today’s launch of Windows 7.

The discussion centered on the sustainability of Microsoft. Now, most people will admit that the technology business isn’t the least sustainable or “dirtiest” business. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t press a heavy carbon footprint. Passman discussed that companies need software to track their own carbon footprint.Microsoft may have many ideas for other comanies but they need to look in the mirror as well.

She admitted the two most pressing issues that Microsoft needs to improve in so far as reducing their carbon footprint that includes:

1- Traveling (lots of it)

2 – Data centers — The data centers continue to be electric and water intensive.
Microsoft claims to be attempting reduce the footprint of these data centers. (more…)