Where does the majority of waste go in Minnesota? Is it in burn barrels, compost piles, landfills, recycling centers or waste-to-energy incinerators? In the Third Minnesota Report Card and Environmental Literacy study, only 5% of Minnesotan could answer this question. The answer is Recycling!!! The waste and recycling centers takes 41% of waste, landfills takes 35% of waste, waste to energy incinerators takes 20% of waste, burn barrels takes 3% of waste while composting takes 1% of waste.
*Graphic by Dorit Chazin
I went home to try out a product called Kill-a-Watt, which measures energy consumption for electrical plug-in devices. I wanted to measure how much energy is consumed when appliances were plugged-in and when they were not. Part of my curiosity came from the term, phantom load, where energy is still being drawn when an appliance is plugged-in but not in use. A study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other global environmental agencies showed that phantom loads cost 10% of an average household’s monthly energy bill [represented in the graphic] (Baltimore.cbslocal.com). It is recommended to unplug electrical outlets or switch-off power strips to prevent phantom loads.
graphic by Dorit Chazin
Much of our waste stream is now plastic. From food containers to packaging, and even the bag that holds our waste, plastic is a very common material in our everyday lives. As evidence of that, the waste stream in Minnesota is about 11% plastic. Further, of the 2,000,000 tons of recycling collected, only 2.32% is plastic. Thus, despite best efforts and a recycling rate of 50% in Minnesota, there is still a good amount of plastic making its way into the landfills and other waste processing facilities.
Bon Appétit, also known as the Minnesota Café at the Minnesota History Center, is an industry leader in sustainable food practices for more than 20 years. Bon Appétit practices sustainability as a value and mission. The organization in food management, food sourcing, relationship building and customers’ education proves Bon Appétit to be a leader to other restaurants on what sustainability actually means. Michelle Kirkwold, the General Manager of Bon Appétit says, “Bon Appetit is the first company to really see a link between food choices and carbon emissions.” Sustainability to Bon Appétit is not a marketing tool but rather a belief of healthy foods and a healthy environment.
Image of Michelle Kirkwold in front of the Minnesota Cafe (picture taken by Kao Choua Vue)
With release of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) like the Chevy Volt, and all electric vehicles (EVs) like the Nissan Leaf, and the push from Federal and local sources to put up more electric vehicle charging stations, there has been a lot of excitement about cars that will free us from gasoline dependence . Even further, the commercials for the PHEVs and EVs seem to suggest that these vehicles will solve climate change. In Leaf commercial below, a polar bear that has lost its home in the arctic due to global warming wanders into civilization, and hugs a man who drives the new Leaf, implying the electric vehicle helps reduce climate change. Let's test this assertion by calculating both cost and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions differences between electric vehicles, hybrids, and gasoline vehicles.
In 2006, the Habitat for Humanity organization, which remodels rundown houses for people in need, built the 1st affordable LEED house in Kent County, Michigan. A year later, the organization has committed to building homes to at least LEED Silver Certified standards. What it means is that they’ve fulfilled certain requirements that allow the home to be more sustainable. I like how Habitat for Humanity is committing to LEED, because it motivates them to incorporate sustainability into the project by promoting strategies such as lighting and water efficiency.
One of the things about sustainability is the absolute overload of information regarding what is green, sustainable, healthy, natural, and so forth. It seems that despite how common the terms have become, there is still a lot of confusion surrounding sustainability. The same is true as well for buildings. When thinking about a renovation, addition, or new building, there is a lot of confusing material out there. Should you use FSC wood or SFI wood? Is recycled content better, or all natural formaldehyde-free better?
While there is a lot of confusion, in the last few years, one certification system has gotten a significant amount of market transformation. LEED, a certification system developed by the US Green Building Council, standards for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. Development of the program started in 1994, and has since become one of the more popular green building certification systems in the U.S. and the world.
Just looking at all the sustainability websites listed on the MHS Green Team’s Delicious website, I thought it would be interesting to talk about the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Historic preservation was one of the things that got me interested in studying this subject, because it provides an outlook for the memories and stories stored within the historic places for centuries to come. Plus the National Trust for Historic Preservation is an organization that provides emphasis on saving historic places around the United States and basically restoring America’s history of communities. As I was navigating the web page, I found it fascinating that in their statement on historic preservation and sustainability, they discuss how we should preserve and reinvest in historic buildings, because it saves time, money, and helps fight climate change.
I recently went to DC for a seminar on User-Centered Analysis and Application Design, and the biggest question I kept getting from people in explaining this seminar was - "what is that?" and "why is that sustainable?" Also, people wanted to know if I saw the cherry-blossoms while I was in DC...
First of all, usability is "the extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction in a specified amount of use…" (ISO 9241-11). So, essentially, the product works well for your intended users. And, finally, the cherry-blossoms were nice.
The relationship to sustainability is a little bit more of a stretch. While it doesn't have direct correlation, good design is sustainable in many ways. For our blog, the environmental resource preservation messages can be made much more accessible if made very usable. Only the dedicated would keep coming back to a blog that was difficult to use and hard to navigate. For our main project purpose, the audit, the concept of usability can be integrated into our calculation tools, making tracking our level of sustainability easier for everyone. But, in general, the concepts of usability can even be used to help implement any of our sustainability strategies.