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Campus of Naropa University

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Going to a green college may sound trendy, but for some students, a school with green, sustainable policies will be much more appealing to them.  Although they may not major in environmental studies, going to a green college will have a positive impact on their quality of life.

LEED Certified Buildings

When colleges, like Lawrence University, add new buildings they are often LEED certified which means they reduce energy and water use, improve air quality and use natural lighting when possible. Green garden roofs are often used to absorb energy, cool the building or reduce runoff by capturing rainwater.  Other colleges have renovated their residential halls  to make them more comfortable and less dorm-like to live in. 

 Eating Local and Organic

Other schools grow their own fruits and vegetables or support their community by buying from local farmers and dairies. Since organic vegetables have a shorter shelf life than commercially grown vegetables, they can quickly be used in cafeterias on college campuses that often serve three meals a day. Schools like Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, shun long-distance, low-grade cafeteria food, offering their students only the good stuff.

Do you need a car?

Can you walk from your dorm or apartment to classes? If the campus is large, is there plenty of public transportation?  What kinds of transportation is available? Green schools such as Arizona State University and University of Arkansas-Fayetteville provide a myriad of transportation options, from free bus passes to bike share and even car share programs.


It’s nothing new; everyone knows that the Great Lakes are polluted. However, researchers have recently found pharmaceutical byproducts in Lake Michigan and Lake Erie which raise new concerns about the potential health risk for more than 40 million people who rely on the Great Lakes for drinking water.

The drugs are only a small part of the contaminants that make up the chemical soup stretching from Minnesota to New York. 

A new study by Alliance for the Great Lakes looks at existing data on chemicals and chemical byproducts in the lakes and the impact it may have on the Great Lakes.  “Exposure to some of these chemicals…is cause for consternation for people and concern over fish and wildlife impacts,” writes lead author Dr. Rebecca Klaper, Shaw Associate Professor at the Great Lakes WATER Institute in Milwaukee.

What’s in the chemical soup?

The study shows that there several emerging contaminants in the Great Lakes today including flame retardants, modern pesticides, pharmaceuticals, the antibacterial and antifungal agent Triclosan and the insect repellant DEET. The now famous bisphenol A (BPA)  used in a  large variety of plastics including baby bottles and food packaging, was found in more than half the water samples analyzed to date.

The conclusion

 There’s too little data  and not enough understanding about the emerging contaminants to know how they’ll affect the health of the Great Lakes organisms and the people who live around the lakes. Due to the flawed U.S. system for managing chemicals, exposure to some of these manmade and naturally occurring chemicals, in  water, land and air, is unavoidable. 

The Alliance is calling for a national comprehensive plan to address gaps in research regarding emerging contaminants’ potential harm to public health and the environment and to identify which chemicals may be the most damaging.

Design freedom with metal roofing, house in Da...

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Three main types of solar roofing systems are available to homeowners: solar metal roof, traditional solar roof and a metal roof. Each system has its advantages and disadvantages, but how effective a system is also depends on environment, local climate and where the roof is located.

Metal roof

A metal roof will last forever, if taken care of properly and can come with a warranty of  up to 50 years, so you’ll never have to go back to asphalt shingles. Other advantages include saving up to 40% on summer energy bills with metal because of its reflectivity.  A metal roof might also provide a discount on your home owners’ insurance, depending on where you live, due to its storm resistant properties.

Traditional solar roof

Solar roofing panels can be mounted on traditional roofing materials such as asphalt shingles or clamped on to metal roofing and jut out from the roof’s exterior.  The panels are often fixed facing south or mounted on a tracking device that follow the sun, allowing the panels to capture the most sunlight. Traditional solar cells are made of silicon, are flat-plate and usually the most efficient.

Solar metal roof

Solar laminate panels adhere to the surface of a metal roof and can capture the sun from many angles in cloudy or shady weather conditions. The laminate may require more surface area than solar panels to generate comparable energy. Although the cost of a solar metal roof can be recouped in roughly six years through lower utility bills and net metering,  many consumers can’t see beyond the additional cost.


If you’re deciding between a metal or solar metal roof, get an energy audit and then get several bids from contractors who can provide a cost-benefit analysis of several systems.  Your research will pay off when you find the system that will fit your budget, net the most savings and increase the curb appeal of your home.

Heavy flooding, snowfall or even a hard rain often create stormwater runoff  in some communities around the country. Excess water becomes an issue when it flows over the ground;  hitting a driveway, street or sidewalk which prevent  water from soaking into the ground. Instead, the water often picks up dirt, grass clippings, hazardous chemicals and other pollutants before it flows into a storm sewer system, which carries it untreated into a water shed.  The following tips can help reduce pollution runoff around your home.

Auto service: Have a mechanic check your cars for fluid leaks. Make sure to recycle your used motor oil and not pour it down the drain.

 Car wash: Take your car to a car wash where dirty water will be recycled and properly disposed.

Lawn fertilizer & treatment: Find organic methods to maintain your lawn and flowerbeds; use mulch and stones from the local recycling center for weed and moisture control.

Gutter replacement & repair: Direct downspouts away from paved surfaces; consider a rain barrel or creating a rain garden to capture additional runoff.

Landscaping:  Plant native plants and grasses that are drought and pest resistant to help runoff and erosion. Depending on the type and grade of your yard, consider a retaining wall or permeable pavers.

Plumbing: If you think your sewer or stormwater line maybe damaged and leaking pollutants, ask your plumber for a video inspection of your pipes.

Pooper scoopers/dog walking: Pick up after your dog so harmful bacteria isn’t washed into local water systems.

Septic tank: Get your septic tank pumped and inspected once a year. Poorly maintained systems can release bacteria.

“Asian carp” refers to several species of related fish, the bighead and silver carp,  originating from Asia. The fish were originally imported in the southern United States to keep aquaculture facilities clean and  provide fresh fish for fish markets. Unfortunately, Bighead and silver carp escaped into the wild in the 1980s and have been swimming north ever since, taking over the Mississippi and Illinois River systems.


The Threat

Asian carp have been found in the Illinois River, which connects the Mississippi River to Lake Michigan. Due to their large size, aggressive nature and rapid rate of reproduction, these fish could significantly disrupt the Great Lakes ecosystem.  Scientists are concerned that the carp will force some native lake species into extinction, reduce the number of fish in the lakes as well as affect the economy of the Great Lakes.

To prevent the carp from entering the Great Lakes, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. EPA, the State of Illinois, the International Joint Commission,  Great Lakes Fishery Commission, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are working together to install and maintain a permanent electric barrier between the fish and Lake Michigan.

Opponents of the project don’t want the Mississippi River and Great Lakes to be permanently and physically separated, but many researchers in the U.S. and Canada believe it’s the only solution.

Cover of "Yoga Chant"

Cover of Yoga Chant

I came to the Christine Center several years ago to hear a Kirtan group play on a Saturday night. Although I was certain the place would be overrun by uptight nuns in habits, I thought I’d give it a try.

The Kirtan group led by Ragini was dynamic and magical. Turns out Kirtan by Ragini is the largest independent and ongoing yoga chant scene in the nation. I’d never heard of Kirtan, ever. Or the Christine Center.

Nestled in the Wisconsin woods on 125 acres, the spiritual center is a place to slow down and be. A variety of workshops are available as well as guided retreats, work/study programs, body/energy work;  however you can come just to read or hiking with the deer. Rustic hermitages, camping and guest houses are available with fresh vegetarian meals three times a day.  Simply put, it’s a quiet place to renew your body, mind, heart and spirit.  

In alignment with their philosophy, the center is eco-friendly; they recycle and reuse as much as possible. Many of the buildings have solar and radiant heat. They grow and can most of their vegetables from several large gardens. And they barter and trade with the folks in Willard whenever possible, rather than using cash.


Will Allen nets a Tilapia at the urban farm Gr...

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Sweet Water Organics is an urban fish and vegetable farm with a big dream. In 2009 a couple of guys from Milwaukee leased a former crane factory, fixed it up, built tanks and planting beds and created an indoor wetland.

The sustainable aquaponics system was inspired by Will Allen, founder of Growing Power, a non-profit urban farming operation. In the re-circulating systems, fish waste acts as a  natural fertilizer for plant growth and plants act as a water filter. Sweet Water wants to expand Will’s vision, and prove this type of venture can be profitable.

The urban fish and vegetable farm currently sells lettuce, basil, peppers, watercress, chard, spinach and perch.  Local restaurants purchase the perch for their Friday fish fries, a long-standing Milwaukee tradition.

Co-founders Josh Fraundorf  and James Godsil have plans to expand this site, add two more sites in Milwaukee and sell 400,000 pounds of perch a year and 800 to 1,000 pounds of produce a week.

Sweet Water Organics is part of  Sweet Water Foundation which seeks to develop intergenerational and interdisciplinary educational programming for sustainability with a focus on the potential of urban agriculture and aquaculture in the 21st century setting.

When it finally opens next year, the Green Leaf Inn in  Wisconsin will be the only hotel in the United States that generates as much energy as it uses.

The Inn will use a wind turbine, solar power and geothermal energy to produce electricity, warm and cool air and hot water.

Other sustainable features include a 30,000 gallon underground tank to store rainwater for filling toilets and watering the landscape; a charging station for battery-powered cars; its own waste treatment system and suites with energy systems that shut down automatically when guests leave.

And it leaves no carbon footprint.

Located outside Delavan and near Lake Geneva, the 19-room Inn offers  hot tubs in every suite, wooden furniture and extensive gardens. Couples and groups can come to Green Leaf to relax and if they choose, learn about green living.

To learn more about the Green Leaf Inn, Fritz Kreiss and his wife Catherine McQueen and their story, visit them at

The Delta company

Delta opened the world’s largest biomass power plant in the Netherlands that runs on chicken manure, in September 2008 . The plant recycles one-third of the country’s total 1.2 million tons of poultry waste produced each year, or 440,000 tons, into useable energy. Roughly 270 million kilowatt-hours of sustainable electricity can be generated to provide power for 90,000 households each year. For Dutch poultry producers sending their waste to the power plant provides an environmentally safer and less expensive way to get manure off their farms.

Environmental issues

The Netherlands are a highly productive group of countries about twice the size of New Jersey. Agriculture is one of their most important industries but in a country of 15 million people, there are 110 million livestock animals in the Netherlands at a given time, including 85 million chickens, 14 million pigs and 3 million cows. And since chickens and pigs reproduce several times a year, the total livestock turnover in the Netherlands is about 450 million per year. Not surprisingly, it’s too much manure for such a small country to process.

The animals produce about 80 to 100 million metric tons of manure per year, about two times the amount of fertilizer the soil needs to produce a good harvest of crops. Some of it gets shipped to other countries to be processed, but a lot of the manure gets ploughed into the soil anyway. Cow and pig manure are safer for the environment, but chicken manure releases CO2 and  methane, a very strong greenhouse gas. When chicken manure is used as an alternative energy source, the methane isn’t released into the environment.

Biomass as a renewable energy source

Most fuels used for electricity production,  coal, oil and natural gas, are non-renewable resources. Once they are used to produce electricity, they are gone forever. Renewable energy – wind, solar, hydropower, and biomass energy – comes directly or indirectly from solar energy. When these power sources are managed correctly, they can provide energy indefinitely.

Biomass is material from living, or recently living organisms, both plants and animals. There are five basic categories of material: wood from wood products and/or processing; high yield crops grown for energy applications; agricultural residues from harvesting or processing like manure or silage; food waste from food and drink preparation and post-consumer waste; and industrial waste from manufacturing processes.

In an article published by Reuters, Argentine officials said they are the first government worldwide to require that companies engaged in potentially hazardous activities buy insurance to cover environmental damage. Government officials said about 35,000 companies in Argentina would have to comply with the new rules.

Argentina’s Congress approved the law in 2002, but companies didn’t comply with it because -ironically- there weren’t regulations to define which activities were considered dangerous.  During 2003  the office defined hazardous activities, established a criteria for policies amounts, and created a division of environmental insurance.

“Argentina is taking a leadership role in the region on this issue,” Sergio Chodos, an undersecretary at the Environment Secretariat. “There’s a lot of environmental insurance sold in Europe, but it’s not obligatory because it doesn’t have to be. In Argentina, lawmakers understood that this had to be made obligatory,” he said. Insurance policies will range in price from 120,000 pesos ($36,090) a year to 50 million pesos ($15 million), depending on a given company’s activities, output and the potential risk involved.

Global Warming
In February 2008, Argentina’s biggest newspaper, Clarin, dedicated its cover to the country’s contribution to global warming. Clarin asserts that even though the country isn’t near the developed nations levels of contamination,  Argentinians contaminate more than Indians, Chinese and Brazilians.

“Argentina contributes between 0.5 and 0.6 %  to the total greenhouse gases emissions, a laughable level compared with the 25%  the United States emit. But on a deeper analysis, Argentinians emit per capita more than Chinese and Hindus, whose countries are in full economic development, or even more than Brazilians and Uruguayans.”

The Numbers
44% of Argentinean emissions come from agriculture and cattle activity, and 70% of that,  from the methane that the 55 million cows that inhabit the country exhale. According to Guillermo Berra, a professional from the INTA, one way to reduce emissions would be to change the cows’ feed and improve their reproductive cycle. With measurements like that, “there could be a reduction between 10 and 20 percent of emissions”, says Berra.

Soy cultivation, gas waste, dirty energy and garbage fillings are among other Argentinean contributions. Soy cultivation is one of the worst contaminants in Argentinean agriculture. “Soy emits nitrous oxide, which is 300 times stronger than carbon. If above that, we continue to destroy native forests, the balance is tragic,” observes Osvaldo Canziani, Argentinean representative in the Inter-Governmental Panel of Experts in Climate Change from the United Nations.