Reducing Environmental Footprint Through Bicycle Commuting

We are always looking for new ideas that we can suggest as a way for students to help the environment. Ideally, these tips are the type of ideas they can carry into their new careers with them after college.

Something we as student body have been working hard on promoting during May is bicycle commuting (www.davescheapbikes.com/best-commuting-bikes).  Our goal is that by synergizing our publicity efforts with the upcoming bike to work month, we can raise awareness and inspire more people to ride.

 

Advantages

Very few of us need cars. We live close to campus and, even when we go home, many of us use the bus or train. Granted, there are long-distance trips that need a vehicle. We will concede that point. But, if the lifestyle can be adjusted to allow for grouping those long trips together into occasional events, it can reduce the need even to own a vehicle.

Ridesharing can pick up those gaps.

Ditching the vehicle not only reduces your ecological impact, but it also empowers the budget by skirting the need for vehicle payments and insurance.

Cycling is considered the most efficient manner of transportation. It is faster than walking and enables you to travel faster, and farther using less energy than running requires.

One could argue that we are the most efficient source for transportation when you realize that humans have been calculated to have 25% energy efficiency to gasoline vehicle’s 20% (that is not counting the cost of energy to process fuel).

Some back-of-the-napkin math hypothesizes that horses are twice as efficient as cars so that they might give we humans a run for our money.

There are also the fitness benefits. In our sedentary society, having a reason to get out and exercise can do wonders for reducing our insulin resistance and encouraging weight loss and overall health.

Even if you can replace your driving with just 2-3 days of commuting by bicycle, you can do your part toward establishing a sustainable society.

Dealing With Drawbacks

Sweat

The first concern riders have is maintaining a clean, fresh appearance when riding. For this reasons, it makes sense to wear separate clothes for cycling, especially if it is hot out or you will be riding for longer than 20 minutes.

Wet wipes can make all of the difference in your freshness. A quick dry off with paper towels or wet wipes (or a towel you carry with you) can do wonders at removing the stench. Removing the sweat removes the bacteria-growing environment that creates body odor.

 

Weather

Granted, it may not work to ride in the rain. Although with a rain jacket and a waterproof backpack, you could likely still complete the ride.

Sometimes a close eye on a good weather app can help you navigate storms. You might leave a little earlier or later, but that attention to weather might be all it takes some days to allow still you to ride.

One of the advantages of an eco-focused mindset is that it turns us more in tune with nature and what is occurring around us.

 

Distance

A lightweight road bike can easily travel 30 miles in a couple of hours with just minimal training. Vintage road bikes are often sold online and in local sales for under $100.

Picking up one that fits you can significantly expand the range of what you think is possible when it comes to cycling.

 

Theft

Cycling to a destination puts your bicycle at higher risk for theft. Carrying it in with you is ideal, in those scenarios where you are allowed to do that.

Otherwise, investing in a high-quality lock is always advisable. A locking Seatpost and locking wheels can help prevent those vulnerable components from being lifted while you are inside.

Of course, this a risk no matter what your form of transportation is, but thinking ahead and investing in a lock can do a lot to help you prevent that.

 

Lighting/Visibility

It is worthwhile to invest in a rear blinking light. When sharing the road with larger vehicles, it is beneficial to have as much visibility as possible.

Even in the daytime, wearing bright colors or a bright vest can help protect you by making you more visible to other drivers.

Headlights are typically required by law for after dark riding and is recommended, even for daytime driving.

In the US, over 700 people are killed every year in cycling accidents, and in the Eu, that number is closer to 300.

Be aware of your surroundings. Articulated trucks, Lorries with poor visibility and semi’s offer some of the highest risk to cyclists. Don’t hesitate to get off the road anytime you feel unsafe.

 

Bags Or Backpack?

Finally, that age-old question.

Most people who commute on a regular basis will find that attaching baskets or saddlebags to their bicycle will enhance their experience. They can carry more with less effort.

Backpacks are nice for lightweight loads and for keeping the laptop safe, but a basket attached to your bike is ideal for carrying books, beer and other groceries.

If you commute for a few weeks, you will likely choose to upgrade to a rear-mounted basket. Keep in mind that front mounted baskets cannot carry as much as rear mounted ones and they can effect your steering.

Commercial Greenhouses In Tight Urban Environments

I was recently present at an event where there was a discussion surrounding the funding of an indoor greenhouse. The proposal called for converting an abandoned factory into a fully functioning greenhouse which would use artificial lighting and hydroponics to grow lettuce.

As we crowd into tighter urban spaces, moving our food sources in closer to us can help save resources by cutting down on transportation costs.

However, some forces are slowing the progress of this idea. To begin with, urban space is at a premium and is often cost-prohibitive for this type of production facility. This is why abandoned factories and other blighted land types are typically a top consideration.

Additionally, it takes resources to run these facilities. The light systems require electricity. Ideally, these facilities will either pull this energy from a green energy source or build a solar station of their own to support their electricity needs. With the other costs involved in construction, it is rare that these considerations are given much priority.

This often results in dirty energy being used for an otherwise green project.

Consideration also has to be given to where any water from the lettuce farm will be disposed of as it is high in nitrogen and other fertilizers that can encourage algae overgrowth in the waterways it is discharged into.

Properly designed, though, these hydroponic systems require less water because they don’t loose as much to evaporation in a temperature controlled environment as opposed to an open-aired farm.

Additionally, with the correct recycling system, it reduces the discharge, which puts fewer fertilizer chemicals into the waterways than most agriculture operations.

Despite these considerations, there are some exciting developments on this front. A new type of indoor greenhouse called “pink houses” use pink LED lights as their ideal source. Pink light is a lower-energy light, and it uses electricity than full-spectrum bulbs. Additionally, because it is a cooler light, it lowers the amount of energy required to reduce interior building heat inside these operations.

This type of vertical farming is finding added incentive from the medical marijuana industry. A facility in Texas called Caliber Bioethics grows Marijuana under license for medical research. Their warehouse stacks the trays 50 feet high to maximize the growing space.

Thanks to this technology, they can grow 2.2 million plants in a 150,00 square foot space.

A fascinating discovery that Caliber Bioethics has discovered is that by protecting their plants and providing them with ideal lighting conditions, they can grow their plants 20% faster than the competition.

Un unfair advantage, indeed.

As romantic as the idea of sky-high skyscrapers that have hanging gardens growing off their side and providing an entire city with its nutritional requirements, Cary Mitchell of Purdue University doesn’t think it is going to work out that way

Dr. Mitchell has been researching ways to grow vegetables in tight urban spaces. He imagines that societies will capitalize on suburban areas by adding warehouses on the edge of the city where land is slightly less expensive.

This theory makes sense. Except for cities like New York, most of the major metropolis in American can be traversed in under an hour. Moving produce production to the edge would allow these towns to be near their food source without sacrificing the vital commercial or residential living space.

We have yet to see vertical farming take off. But the technology is there and is proven. Now we just need some pioneering individuals, unused space, and plenty of funding to put it more of these farms into production.

5 Simple Water Conservation Steps To Save Lives

Over 3 million people die due to a lack of clean water.

In Western society, clean water is one of those attributes that we take for granted. Whether it we access that water through private wells that are a hundred feet deep or via the city water system, we have clean water at every tap.

In some areas, there are drought concerns. This translates into a higher price for water and mandatory rotation schedules for outside use of water (such as watering the lawn or washing the car). In these communities, residents will be in tune to the preciousness of fresh water.

There is some thought that more communities should regard water with the same level of reverence as these drought-stricken communities.

As global warming increases, the risk of losing access to clean water sources also increased. In most communities, just a few summers without adequate rain would spark a massive drought.

Additionally, massive storm situations such as hurricanes can bring salt water inland and contaminate the existing sources of water (and the related infrastructure) leaving it nonoperational.

And, all of the water processing — both in the cleaning before use and the treatment of sewage – requires energy. Reducing water use also reduces our energy use.

However, our consideration of water conservation needs to go beyond simply turning the water off while we brush our teeth and shave (although those are good practices.)

Many consumer products require large amounts of water in their production. This article discusses this “hidden cost of water” in depth.

For example, by some calculation,  it requires 2,400 gallons of water to produce just one pound of meat. This takes into account the water needed to grow crops to feed the livestock. Then you have the water that the livestock uses. And then you also have the water used during the processing of the meat.

It adds up quickly.

Coffee, for example, should be a pretty low user of water, right? It turns out that one gallon of coffee may use over 1,000 gallons of water to make one gallon of coffee. Ironically, coffee beans are often grown in communities where clean water is in scarce supply.

When it comes to your evening beverage, it turns out that it is better for the environment to go with beer. It only needs about 300 gallons of water per gallon of beer. Wine, with all of the grapes required, takes over 800 gallons. Once again, we often see grapes grown in the coveted Northern California space which is often a drought-stricken area.

While it is impossible to escape these hidden costs of water — especially if you choose a healthy lifestyle rich in fruits and vegetables — it is important to be conscious of them.

If California is suffering a drought, is it possible to purchase more of our vegetables from local sources in our water-rich community?If enough educated people begin shifting their purchasing decisions, it can help change the pressure on the environment.

Additionally, we need more and better sources of machinery for maintaining clean water. Developments in these areas of desalination and low energy filtration will ensure that our future generations can meet their demand.

The main point of this article is to highlight that any given community is always just one small disaster away from experiencing a lack of clean water.

Water education is an essential skill that should be proactive. Arrange a tour at your local water supply, and get a first-hand view of your community’s current water condition.

Reducing Your Footprint Through Veganism

I was fascinated by this recent article about Richard Branson investing in a new “meat company.”

I completely expected it to be some synthetic meat manufacturer (in a way, they are). The key differentiation is that they create realistic veggie patties.

This company, called “Memphis Meats” is one of a handle of companies leading the charge towards a meatless society.

The idea is that these meat substitutes will allow our society to enjoy the health benefits of avoiding red meat while also preventing the health and environmental side effects.

The Environmental Devastation Of Cattle Farming

The movie Okja  isn’t designed so much to turn you into a vegan as it is to help challenge the assumptions we have about our meat production.

We’ve all seen the cattle yards where animals are herded together before they are slaughtered. What most of us likely don’t realize is that this same scene is also being played out in the fragile rainforests of Brazil.

Hundreds of thousands of acres of this critical CO2 sink are burned off to make way for the new herds as these operations expand. Their meat is shipped off to the remotest locations of the globe.

Cattle are known to produce methane gas which, in turn, depletes the ozone layer.

This is further exacerbated by the lack of rainforest that contributes to healthy, clean ai

Reducing our dependence on Animal meat can help reverse this damage and restore the ozone and reduce the impact of the greenhouse effect on our society.

Memphis Meats hopes to be at the forefront of this trend with a system that requires 1% of the land and water to produce the same pound of meat as a cow would.

Production capacity is the current hangup. Richard Branson is investing heavily in this company to the tune of $17 million. Rumor is, he is a major fan of this product and how realistic it tastes.

In the meantime, reducing your meat intake can not only greatly reduce your impact on the globe, but it can also help improve your health. Sure, you might not want to eat veggie burgers all the time, but substituting them out 50/50 can do a lot to move the cause forward.

Richar Branson is bullish on this idea with predictions that we will be a meatless society by as early as 2030. While I don’t think we will ever become a purely meatless society, I can envision a scenario where all fast food and most restaurant food are created out of a vegetarian product.

As this progresses, it will require a certain level of food savviness to navigate. For health reason, you can’t assume that a vegetarian burger is the healthiest option. There will need to be a more significant differentiation between “organic” and “non-organic” food options.

Something few people know is that livestock production uses 1/3 or the world’s fresh water.

In a world where 4 million people die  every year from a lack of clean water, it pays to pay close attention to these statistics. What is one person’s nightmare today could become a global nightmare if we don’t aggressively protect these resources and plan for a sustainable future.

One that our kids can count on.

Meat is a delicacy that many humans have enjoyed. With the over-eating of western society and the spreading global population, it is important that we begin examining how our life choices fit into the puzzle of environmental sustainability.

LEED Principles For The Everyday Office

As an employee or intern, what can you do to encourage your office to conserve energy?

Energy conservation in the office is a tricky subject. This is perhaps best observed in many local school districts across the country.

To reduce costs, some school districts have started investing in energy conservation agencies who monitor and maintain low energy usage.

These companies begin by helping them establish easy ways of saving energy. Perhaps they suggest toilets that use less energy. These can be installed over time as the old toilets need replacement.

LED lights are a pretty common suggestion. For a minimal cost, the entire building can be retrofitted with LED lighting that uses much less energy.

But then these energy plans begin to face some resistance. The thermostat is the one place where buildings can save the most on their energy costs. It is also the one taboo topic to bring up. Teachers hate being too cold or too warm. Changing the temperature of the workplace by only a few degrees can bring not only huge savings but also countless complaints.

And suddenly it makes sense why they hire these energy consultants as an outside party. If they were an employee, the school principal would likely render their position toothless after the first week.

As an employee, you have to be careful not to cross the line and make the rest of the office mad at you. In fact, most improvement towards energy conservation might have to wait until much later in your career.

However, there might be some ways you can get the ideas into management’s ears. Just don’t expect to get any credit for these ideas because they will likely have to go through multiple decision makers before they are implemented.

  1. The first step is to inquire of housekeeping if they can install recycle bins in the breakroom. This is one of the earliest concepts of conservation, introduced in the 1970’s. If you ask “where’s the recycle bin?” in earshot of the right decision maker like it is a matter of fact thing, it should be pretty easy to encourage your company to take this step. After all, it is one phone call.
  2. Lighting is another excellent place to encourage conservation. Bragging to your coworkers in earshot of the boos about how much saved on your electric bill and how quickly the new LED lights in your house will pay for themselves, should be enough to pique interest. As a bonus, you might be able to convince your coworkers to install them in their houses as well.
  3. The “suggestion box” if your business is lucky enough to have a channel for receiving employee suggestions, this is an ideal way to sneak ideas in. Bonus points if you can talk with key people and find out approximately how much the company will save. For example, calculating the current number of light bulbs, the amount of energy they use, and then including the amount of money collected can help provide the decision makers with useful data they can use to make these more costly changes.
  4. Stay aware of what commercial rebates your local power company offers for companies that upgrade to more energy-efficient options. Sometimes significant rebates or tax credits are available to help business transition more easily. Including these in your proposal can sometimes be all that it takes. You save the company money and find them some free money as well!

We have to acknowledge that we live in a world of flawed humans. Being a constant, friendly reminder that the environment is our mutual home can help encourage new behaviors.