Minnesota Historical Society M-Flame Logo

The Phenomenon of Waste

This week the topic of the Institutional Sustainability blog is waste. Although there are many contexts in which waste can occur, the concept of waste alludes to an unnecessary loss of potential. In this post, I will examine the implications of consumer waste and some of the artistic visions that have arisen through different mediums which address the phenomenon of gratuitous consumer waste.

Wave Powered Energy

As the world continues its search for alternative sources of energy, scientists have begun to look to the oceans. Although somewhat of a novel concept to the modern energy industry, harnessing oceanic waves for power actually began in the late 18th century. “The first wave-power patent was for a 1799 proposal by a Parisian named Monsieur Girard and his son to use direct mechanical action to drive pumps, saws, mills, or other heavy machinery (Ocean Energy Council).” In United Kingdom, one company is focusing its efforts on a technology called the Searaser. This unique system harnesses the rise and fall of oceanic currents, which generates energy off shore.Inventor Alvin Smith explains that it is imperative to split the process and have the transformation of energy off shore because of the hostile nature of the ocean environment and the cohesiveness of sea water (Carrington 2012).  

Going Paperless?

In our own project, we've been struggling with the use of paper.  Our full technical report, which is about 500+ pages, has been electronically distributed to almost anyone it might impact.  We also have a summary document that is a scant 20 pages, double-sided, which does get printed out quite a few times for distribution.  While energy savings already seems to come naturally to many people, saving paper can be a huge cultural change.  I, myself, prefer to read large documents from a hard-copy print-out, rather than on a bright computer screen.  E-ink technology does help the comfort level of digital reading, but there are still other barriers.  The concept of going paper-less has come up many times, and if we reduce the question to only the environmental impact of electricity use from digital devices versus reduced paper consumption, it becomes a little simpler than the question of cultural change.  However, this is still a tricky question in that the scope and assumptions of usage will greatly change the conclusions.   (Read more...)

The Evolving Relationship between Historic Preservation and Green Building

A popular mantra among historic preservationists is “The greenest building is the one that is already built.” (source 1) But to what degree is this true? On one hand, existing buildings contain embodied energy, generate less construction and demolition waste, and support smart growth. On the other hand, older buildings not properly maintained over time may have inefficient mechanical systems, leaky windows, and degraded materials, like roofing and insulation; these are all causes of high energy consumption. Historic preservation and sustainable building practices have not always worked together, but this relationship is evolving. This brief blog highlights a few of these changes.


Image source: http://www.nps.gov/tps/sustainability.htm

The American Work Week

Growing up in America one is familiar with the standard 9-5, forty hour work week. Arising from union labor disputes during the 19th century, the first federal 8 hour work day legislation was passed in 1868. Most people in the workforce today look at the forty hour work week as the bare minimum, as most jobs require supplementary time to complete tasks on time. There is an interesting case study coming out of the state of Utah where they have amended the work week to a 10 hour, 4 day a week work schedule for state employees. Utah is the first state to implement this change, and the program has produced "unexpected boosts to productivity and worker satisfaction (Brundin 2009)." Originally the program aimed to help ease driving budgets for employees by cutting the commute by 20% and to also cut energy costs in government buildings by 20%. NPR reports that, "So far, energy use has been reduced — but only by 13 percent. Each of Utah's 900 government buildings is unique. State energy managers have to figure out how to turn everything off on Fridays — especially the massive heating and air conditioning units (Brundin 2009)."

Polyface Farms

 In an age of increased concern for the health of the environment, the industrialized food production industry has been examined by authors, film makers, and reporters more and more in the past decade. Historically authors have been concerned with the food industry and the working conditions, this can be seen in Upton Sinclair's novel The Jungle published in 1906. A century later Michael Pollan published his seminal work, The Omnivores Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. Perhaps the most important piece of environmental writing in the past decade Pollan discusses conflicts humans face as omnivores (omnivorous def.- eating all kinds of food indiscriminately). Pollan praises the efforts of Joel Salatin owner of Polyface Farm which is located in rural Virginia. But what sets Salatin’s farm apart? Put simply he has created the antithesis of industrialized agriculture, and at the same time increasing yields per acre. How is this possible? In this week's post I will examine Polyface Farms and its eccentric and visionary creator Joel Salatin.

UN Talks in Durban, South Africa

Beginning November 28th to December 9th 2011

The annual UN climate summit are set to begin November 28th in Durban, South Africa. This summit is projected to be "...one the biggest gatherings on climate change in history (South Africa)." Over 20,000 delegates representing over 200 countries as well as CEOs from companies from all areas of industry will be in attendance. The aim of the summit will be to attempt to come to an agreement on a "legally binding climate treaty." There is a sense of urgency to make a adequate treaty which is acceptable for developing and developed countries. The previous two summits (Copenhagen 2009 & Cancun 2010) have failed to ratify a universally accepted treaty. With the current world economic status it seems environmental agendas will be faced with pragmatic arguments regarding proper use of fiscal resources from struggling countries. It will fall to major world players such as the United States, China, India, and the traditional Western Powers to determine the course of action in regards to climate health and industrial regulation. Emission regulation and standards for pre and post industrialized countries are necessary if humanity is to reverse some of the damage done by unchecked expansion.

Book Club: November

With winter fast approaching, most of us will begin searching for indoor activities to keep ourselves busy during the frigid months to come. I thought I would share a few books written by environmentally minded authors which I have particularly enjoyed.

Review: National Food Day (24 October 2011)

Last week I advertised The University of Minnesota Twin Cities "Food Day." What I didn't know that this October 24th was the first national "Food Day." This is an incredible opportunity for those concerned with the state of the food industry in the United States. Our grocery stores are dominated by unhealthy processed foods, "Food Day" focuses on spreading the word regarding nutritious, sustainable, and environmentally conscious foods. Like Earth Day before it, Food Day has the potential to inform the population about the food they eat, and encourages a reconsideration of the industrialization of the food industry.

The Myth of Natural

In the past few decades there has been an increased effort to become more environmentally conscious. The movement to become more sustainable has had effects on essentially all industries. From the use organic cotton in the clothing industry to the incorporation of recycled materials in the production of consumer goods, sustainability has become an aim for a number of companies. Price Waterhouse Cooper reports that,