Posts Tagged ‘Water’

Green Film Picks At The San Francisco International Film Festival 2012

Monday, April 16th, 2012
Last Call at the Oasis

Last Call at the Oasis

With the San Francisco International Film Festival 2012 just around the corner, we wanted to offer a Green/Sustainable  sneak at some of the Green themed films on the festival plate.

Most of the Green themed films come in the form of documentaries such as Bitter Seeds, which delves into a story of how genetically modified seeds in India continue to make farmers desperately poor. This film could be particularly relevant with several US states attempting to get GMO food labeling on the 2012 ballots.

We’ve seen water films in the past and we’re excited (and frightened) to see Last Call at the Oasis, which focuses on the ever-increasing global water crisis. This documentary from Oscar-winner and Palo Alto native Jessica Yu, shot by SF local Jon Else also features several Bay Area experts, deals with the impending worldwide fresh water shortage.

We also heard good things about a narrative film, called Valley of Saints, which deals with fisherman who battle water pollution  and shrinking water supply in Dal Lake in the Kashmir region of India.

Green films here we come.

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.

Northstar’s New Zephyr Lodge Shoots For LEED

Monday, December 26th, 2011

zephyr ski lodgeIt’s been a dry winter in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and that must mean that Mother Nature must be telling us something. She’s telling us to go sustainable or no more snow. Maybe that’s an exaggeration but some resorts have begun to get the message. Some resorts (like Northstar) have built new projects with LEED certification standards.

We got a chance to check out Northstar’s newly opened Zephyr Lodge. The warmly designed building is shooting for LEED certification which takes a snowshoe step in the right direction.

We couldn’t help but notice the wood paneled interior and exterior which not only gives the lodge a cozy feeling but it does so in a sustainable way using reclaimed barn wood and tin from Montana.

The interior receives a notable amount of natural light from the large window wall that faces the mountains. To us, that design is a no brainer with a great view and tons of natural light.

Speaking of light, the lodge also offers high tech programming in the building so that lights only turn on when a lack of ambient light exists.

The bathrooms offer the ubiquitous low flow toilets and we love the high powered hand dryers. We just have to question why they have paper towel dispensers next to the hand dryers.

We sampled some of the tasty cuisine which supposedly offers a significant amount of either organic or locally sourced ingredients. We haven’t verified the menu ingredients yet. Stick around as we post more about the sustainable slopes in the Lake Tahoe region.

Semper Fi Documentary Film – Military Eco-intelligence?

Monday, November 7th, 2011

SemperFiposterIs there such a thing as Military Eco-intelligence? Normally we wouldn’t dare consider the military Eco-friendly considering all of the weapons and other military waste that they have left behind in their various closed military sites. Seeing the new documentary Semper-fi Always Faithful didn’t exactly change our minds.

When Marine Corp Master Sergeant Jerry Ensminger’s nine-year old daughter Janey died of a rare type of leukemia, he sought to find answers. For years he struggled to find closure and answers to what happened. His persistent uncovering of information led to the shocking discovery of a Marine Corps cover-up of one of the largest water contamination incidents in U.S. history.

The film follows the personable and persistent Ensminger to expose the Marine Corp to their culpability of poisoning thousands of military personal as well a civilians in North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune. The film directors ( Tony Hardmon, Rachel Libert ) build on the momentum that Ensminger brings. The military trained him well. He acts like a marine on a mission who won’t take no for an answer. Ensminger carries the weight of exposing the environmental injustice of the Marines on his back and keeps his target in sights like an eagle-eyed sniper.

The film not only centers on Camp Lejeune but shows the environmental injustices in military bases and surrounding areas in various regions around the country. The film feels like a punch to the gut of the top brass of the Marines. How could they poison the water supply of the faithful people who make up the Marines then cover it up and deny? Sounds like typical military operations.

Semper Fi represents a rare opportunity to show marines and ex-marines as pseudo environmentalists, a position not normally associated with the military. A powerful film indeed and perhaps it will act as an early morning revelry and lead the troops to be always faithful to Jerry Ensminger and his environmental cause.

New Environmental Documentary Patagonia Rising Plays at DocFest 2011

Monday, October 10th, 2011

IMG_0687We all make decisions in life. For Chile they have a whopper of a decision that centers on Patagonia. The new documentary film Patagonia Rising that plays at Doc Fest 2011 revolves around issues that will likely alter the region and have far reaching effects in the future.
Patagonia Rising investigates a plan to build five large hydroelectric dams on two of the world’s purest free flowing rivers in Patagonia, Chile.

The film highlights the various cultural communities caught in the middle of a conglomerate with their renewable energy plan, scientists with alternative energy ideas, local pro-dam business people and various local citizens who claim that their culture and livelihood will cease to exist if these dams become a reality.

Besides power and energy, the film also delves into the issue of water rights. As fresh water becomes scarcer, it will someday move ahead of oil as the resource that countries fight over.

The title refers to the climate change that has affected the glacial melt and overflow of many rivers that flow through the region. The film displays how flooding continues to dramatically disrupt communities, agriculture and lifestyle.

Like other enviro doc films, Patagonia Rising creates a well-balanced story that brings awareness to an important situation. Oakland based director Brian Lilla offers some stunning cinematography and subtly brings a human aspect to the situation. Althugh the film offers a mostly anti-dam slant, Lilla attempts to give all sides a voice and let the viewers decide for themselves. Although interesting and insightful, the film lacks emotion and raw energy that other docu films offer. Many of the locals who highlight Lilla’s focus lack dynamism which causes a certain passiveness to the film. A film like this needs more energy and outrage.

The film, produced in 2010, has a fairly short shelf life, with the hydroelectric decision to be made sometime in 2011. Depending on that outcome, the film could represent a historical archive of how things once appeared in Patagonia.

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.

A Green Look at the Grand Canyon

Monday, November 15th, 2010
Miwak lodge

Maswik lodge

From Costa Rica to Alaska and many places in between, travelers like us often see eco-lodges proudly displaying advertising claiming how “eco friendlily” or “green” the lodge is. Oftentimes, the “eco-lodge” claim has more to do with the location in a rain forest, in or near a state park. Some places might be better tagged Greenwashing lodge. That doesn’t mean that lodges located in national park areas can’t be considered eco-friendly or even (gasp) sustainable minded.

Take some of the lodges that sit right on the ledge (or close to it) of the Grand Canyon. Anyone would be hard pressed to find any excess PR expressing how Green the Maswik or Bright Angel lodges are. The Xanterra lodges have been on the Green bandwagon for about 10 years (and that includes the Grand Canyon Railway that during certain dates runs on cooking grease from their own used cooking oil.)

Good thing they act proactively with their resources because Arizona seems be in drought denial. Eventually, the state will run out of fresh water and if the hotels (especially the ones in Phoenix) don’t do something about it then the state will be something like dust in the wind.

Water, more than any other resource, remains a top concern for the Grand Canyon hotels.
At the Maswik and Bright Angel lodges, the guest and public bathrooms offer numerous water savings features like low flow showerheads, low flow and hooray waterless toilets. Get over the waterless urinals guys.

In the Canyon, people don’t realize that 40% of the park’s energy use comes as a result of moving water. Not drinking it, just moving it.

Beyond the H2O, one of the big challenges comes about because the historical buildings have certain limitations and restrictions so it isn’t like they can just place a water catchment system (or even solar panels) on the lodges.

They focus on small creative things with significant environmental impact but low visibility impact. The Bright Angle lodge recently installed recycled carpet in their dining room, which counts as only a small aspect to their attempt for LEED Gold certification. Even those small shampoo bottles, normally taboo in an eco lodge, come in Plastarch bottles, made from a corn based, biodegradable material.

For those who don’t get enough environmental reading, feel free to check out a copy of the company sustainability report that resides in each room. It contains successes and failures but at least they continue to be transparent.

Next week – we go down the trails and into Phantom Ranch.

5 Energy Efficient Improvements To Make with FHA 203K Loans

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

green fiberHaving recently attended West Coast Green, we couldn’t help but thinking how this whole mortgage crises set the Green building movement back a few years. Unfortunately people will think about getting their loan mod or forbearance before they think about buying formaldehyde free cabinets or installing a water catchment system. The thing that many people don’t realize is that with the right property (and loan officer) buyers can use the FHA 203K loan to improve a home with Green elements.

In terms of Green building and Green interiors, people always get fixated on the energy savings aspects. True, much of Green building centers on energy (and savings) but don’t overlook the health benefits (like using zero VOC paint)

With the 203K loan in mind, here we listed 5 Green improvements that can improve a home, save money and increase the value:

1-    Go Energy Star – Energy Star appliances remain the way to go to not only cut down on an energy bill but it works as a plus for the planet as well. Some Energy Star appliances can chop 20% of a monthly energy bill and they often cost about the same as their inefficient cousins.

2-    Insulate baby Insulate – With winter looming, it only makes sense to either add or upgrade the walls and the attic. Many Green insulation options such as Bonded Logic to soy-based polyurethane can be found.

3-    Water Water Everywhere – Things like low flow showerheads (which should be a given these days) represents an inexpensive fix but think about low flow toilets, tankless hot water heaters, and for the more adventurous a water catchment system.

4-    Replace those Windows – Anyone that has ancient leaky windows might consider replacing them. The low–E, dual pane windows continue to hit the market at a fast clip. To us they represent a no-brainer as they not only preserve energy costs but they cut down on outside noise as well. Typical Eco-Star windows only cost about $15 more then their leaky brothers.

5-    Not to many people in the Bay Area have those old (pre 1992) inefficient furnaces that have a standing pilot light but consider sending it out to pasture (not the junkyard but some place like Building Resources) as they waste abut 35 percent of the fuel the use. Better to use the 203K money for a “condensing furnace” with annual efficiency of at least 90 percent. That number along with the possible 27 percent savings on a heating bill definitely sounds better to us.

Inman Winery – Pinot, Green and an Old Barn

Friday, September 10th, 2010
Inman Pinot on Terrazzo Countertop

Inman Pinot on Terrazzo Countertop

When someone puts more emphasis on their practices and product rather than their marketing then that might cause one to ponder. Such was the case when we almost passed by Inman Family Wines on our sustainable wine journey. They basically have no signage and they certainly don’t have a big banner (like some other businesses) stating “We’re Green.” Instead owner Kathleen Inman speaks softly and carries a big green stick. In other words – Green deeds not words.

Although Kathleen’s Inman has been selling wine and receiving accolades for over 10 years, she only recently opened her tasting room in July. But like the rest of her operation she thinks about the big picture, as she took the effort to repurpose an old redwood barn into the tasting room and production facility. Although it would certainly qualify for LEED (maybe Gold) status she wisely decided to use the $60,000 or so that it would cost to get LEED certified on things that actually make a difference.

The tasting room utilizes wood from the barn as doors and panels, Nearly all of the steel used to make the primary frame of the building came from post consumer and post industrial recycled materials (old cars), the countertops are either made from Terrazzo (repurposed wine bottles), and the remaining countertops (not quite completed) will be from a composite concrete with high percentage of fly ash. The roof boasts a full array of solar panels (enough to power 98% of the winery), and we wondered around back to check out the water reclamation biomass system, which costs a few hundred grand and will save over 54,600 gallons of water per year with the ability to save even more.

We even liked the story of a local contractor who offered to pave a black tarmac over her decomposed granite parking lot but she told him that they prefer to minimize the heat-island effect. She didn’t really say that to him but we just embellished the story a bit.

Lot’s of people talk big when it comes to Green this and sustainable that but she puts her philosophy (and her bank account) in action. Her farming practices come as close to organic and biodynamic (although she has not received certification yet) and probably exceed most of the standards. We nibbled on the grapes right off the vine (don’t try that at a conventional farm) before even sampling her well respected 2008 Pinot Gris , 2008 Endless Crush Rose, and three Pinot Noirs all 2007 – the Thorn Ridge Ranch, the OGV Estate (Olivet Grange Vineyard, which is the organically farmed vineyard surrounding the winery) and the Russian River.

Most winemakers have wine running through their veins but Katherine Inman has big carafe of Green mixed in as well. She believes in making great wine but doing it the right way. We clink glasses to that philosophy. Cheers.