Posts Tagged ‘sustainability’

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.

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.

First LEED Platinum Hotel in California

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

olive oil press sculptureWhile most people venture to Napa valley looking for the ultimate Zin or even the latest trendy eatery, others (like those who arrive in Teslas) like to plug in at the region’s Greenest spots. Although dubbed by many as the in new in, chic, trendy inn, the sustainably designed Bardessono (named for environmentally conscious Italian family who still own the land) might be better described as a way for travelers to get their eco-solace on.

The first and currently only LEED-Platinum hotel in California, the Bardessono will give overnight guests the opportunity to truly appreciate the reuse and repurposing of almost every substance rather than just the Green classification acronym. That reuse extends not only to creative use of building and structural materials but also the creative aesthetic touches like the reused Corona bottle glass that outlines the bathroom mirrors.

Although Green and minimalist, the Bardessono offers nods to its Italian roots and well as Zen like touches. Thoughtfully placed within view of several rooms, the olive oil press sculpture offers meditation inducing water (reused) flow to represent olive oil. Not only does the piece offer a pleasing sight and sounds but the fact that the entire piece comes via salvaged items like the stone that used to be part of an 100 year old olive oil press makes it even more attractive.

The fact that Bardessono considers water such an important aspect not only with the various Zen like pieces but the fact that they value the H2O as a precious resource. In addition to the ubiquitous low flow water fixtures and toilets for the indoors, the outdoors contains landscaping designed with native and drought tolerant plants as well as a drip irrigation system. Even the grey and black water gets a second life as irrigation by the town of Yountville.

For us super Greenies who felt somewhat guilty about relaxing in the indoor whirlpool bath or the rooftop based outdoor hot tub and pool, we felt somewhat better knowing that the both solar and geothermal wells go toward heating both the hot tubs and pool. Even the room tubs contain a self-sanitizing feature so chemicals don’t have to be used to clean to fight mildew.

Although many hipsters consider this boutique hotel a new, hip, minimalist trendy overnight option, many guests don’t realize how much sustainable creativity went towards the design. Although some eco-travelers do make a special trip to the Bardessono (like the many electric car owners who know that they can recharge their car or we who arrived in a Prius) many don’t fully appreciate the full environmental thought and how hotels like this one will raise not only the Green building bar but also everyone’s consciousness.

Those Green values and education will help anyone get good night sleep.

Green Grand Canyon Part 2 – Phantom Ranch

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

grand cnayon zen shotWhile at the Miswak lodge the director of sustainability mentioned that the average visitor spends something like 17 minutes at the Grand Canyon which represents a longer period than the time Clark Griswold spends looking at the Canyon in the film “Vacation” but still a somewhat ridiculous amount of time.

A group of us (10 total) headed down the less traveled Kaibab Trail without much traffic. Those who we did run into only planned on heading down a mile or so. Que lastima for them. They would miss the wildlife that we spotted (deer, ring-tailed cats, bats), as well a magnificent Canyon highlights. A fast 5-6 hours later, most of the group tumbled into our 10-person cabin at the Phantom Ranch.

Although we could never get a straight explanation of the origin of the name, we did appreciate the various elements that the ranch did to make things more environmentally friendly. Not just the recycling and energy waste prevention but the educational evening discussions including one about the bats and their delicate balance with the environment and their misunderstanding with most of the human world.

Although striving to create a more sustainable environment, the fact that Phantom Ranch bathrooms contained these Rain Flurries caused some consternation. One of hikers – a green thinking attorney (yes, they do exist) mentioned looked that these showerheads looked like giant sunflowers. Although we enjoyed free flowing warm water after a pair of lengthy day hikes (we will get to that soon) these showerheads certainly don’t tow the party line as far as water conservation. We can’t imagine how much water they use or why they even exist in the shower rooms where the ranch continues to make green strides.

Speaking of strides, some of the better hikes to consider include the Clear Creek Trail, which for a 3/4 mile hike from the junction offers killer views directly down onto Phantom Ranch and the Bright Angel Creek drainage. However, keep the momentum going a few miles further to another overlook, which offers views of both the Black Bridge of the South Kaibab Trail and the Silver Bridge of the Bright Angel Trail along with a long stretch of the Colorado River and the Inner Gorge. Some of the rock formations (especially around sunrise or sunset) not only make for super photos but offer near moments of Zen, something that we all seek on our eco-trips.

Controversy About Huge Green Tiburon House

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

tiburon_gallery_09Across the Bay in Marin in Tiburon to be exact, a lot of rumblings continue to occur about a soon to be built Green House. A large, soon to be built Green house. 15,240 square feet of large to be exact making it one of the biggest in the county.

It brings up the question that we have debated before. Is it better to build a small “dirty” house or a large Green house? Seeing that Anders Swahn who wants to build this home runs a solar energy startup, we would think that he would get the whole idea of sustainability.

He plans to build the structure as carbon neutral with solar panels, geothermal heating and greywater recycling. It would be built to last for 200 years and, of course, would measure up to Marin County’s green building standards.

The problem that many neighbors have remains the size. Since when is a 15,000 square foot house sustainable. Unless 10 people live there. A lot of materials will be used to build it. No matter how much FSC certified lumber he uses it still would need copious amounts. We’re not even talking about the trees that will removed on the wooded bluff location in order to build the house (not to mention the 2000 sq ft guesthouse).

A more sustainable idea would be to buy another large home like the one for sale just down from the proposed site, a 10,944-square-foot estate, with 11 bedrooms and 10 baths that sits on the market for $37 million. He could add his Green bells and whistles to that estate and be more sustainable without sacrificing his need to live in a ginormous casa.

San Francisco’s Old U.S. Mint to Get a Shade Greener

Monday, August 2nd, 2010
San Francisco Mint

San Francisco Mint

For some builders and architects the challenge to even consider building Green from scratch remains daunting and monetarily off the radar but taking a structure like San Francisco’s Old U.S. Mint built in the 19th century and transforming it into a 21st century Green mixed-use cultural center would be even more challenging. San Francisco new goal is to create the most sustainability innovative National Historic Landmark in the United States. Like they say is Swingers, “That is so money.”

Back in the day, the US Mint used to print the green stuff now it will encompass Green thinking.

Some of the ideas that the building will incorporate include:
Natural Daylight – The redesign will include an alteration to the ground floor, which will allow daylight to reach the ground floor.
Natural Ventilation – Currently sealed windows will be redesigned to create natural ventilation.
Water Use – A new canopy drainage system will allow rainwater to be harvested, treated and stored for uses throughout the building. The water, among other benefits, will be used to feed vegetation on the roof.

Now if we can do something about the Bank Of Italy building.

Photo by Mike Hofmann

Great Plastic Adventure Completes Journey

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010
Plastiki arrival in Sydney

Plastiki arrival in Sydney

It seemed like just a short while ago that David De Rothschild set sail from San Francisco aboard his boat made of 12,500 plastic PET bottles, the Plastiki touched base in the planned destination of Sydney the other day.

De Rothschild and his crew completed the historic expedition in four legs: San Francisco – Kiribati – Western Samoa – New Caledonia before reaching the Australian Coast (Mooloolaba) on Monday 19 July and continuing on to Sydney. The innovative catamaran carrying a crew of six made its trip without major incident.

De Rothschild’s inspiration for this journey came after reading the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) report ‘Ecosystems and Biodiversity in Deep Waters and High Seas’. His journey included sailing through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

While most cruise ships maintain poor to awful records of creating pollution the Plastiki set out to educate people about the use and misuse of plastic bottles. The Plastiki which uses core principles of “cradle-to-cradle” design and biomimicry receives 68% of her buoyancy from 12,500 reclaimed plastic soft drink bottles and the super structure is made of a unique recyclable plastic material made from a self-reinforcing PET called Seretex.

Hopefully more people will put down their two liter plastic soda bottles to realize how much plastic we overuse in our throwaway society and how we can move toward inspired ideas as a sustainable alternative.

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.

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.