New stacking concept for sustainability

I have been writing and thinking about how sustainable thinking happens. What are the webs of information that lead up to an aha moment, or is it a gradual change where people go from not recycling to recycling over the course of months, and not eating organic to eating more of it?

On MindMeister, I started considering what are the stacks of information which if I read a piece every day for a year would take me closer to sustainability. I think its distributed knowledge that makes for sustainability thinking. This process allows me to see relationships to dozens of other things without “my head hurting”. I have heard this phrase often from my friends. Well, what’s the gradual process that makes us more sustainable each moment.

Check this mindmap out that is a work in progress.


A Week of Public Transit in Los Angeles – Day 1 & 2

Coming into Los Angeles from Orange County, I decided to only take public transportation. Locals there were stunned. I heard various things, “Why!?”, “Good luck with that, man,” or blank stares. This was usually followed by, so what are you doing here. It’s been a while.

This is an important point because behavior and perspective toward transit is what will help people make changes. The truth is people like to get to and from work as quickly. Once affordable for a family in America, nearly all of them buy 2-3 cars. This choice is part of efficiency and convenience.

From my perspective, I want to see how LA treats its low income population, and the few thoughtful folks who see the point of not driving in southern California.

The trains from Irvine include Amtrak and the local Metro trains. Amtrak travels about 15 minutes ahead of the Metro system. Add all this time up and you can get home 20% to 30% faster. Google has a great system to show busses, options for walking certain distances, how many transfers are requires, and the travel time.

As I arrived I started hearing about Carmageddon. The closure of 405 was planned for the next weekend. This was poignant and timely. My choice was timed just right.

As I arrived downtown in Los Angeles, the train ride had been smooth and quick. I saw several backed up sections of the freeway heading north. Zipping past these stalled cars made me smile. I remember commuting back and forth from Mar Vista to Irvine for several months before moving within 15 minutes on my OC office.

The downtown station, Union, is connected to the bus terminal and the Metro train subway which travels to the San Fernando Valley, Pasadena, Inland Empire, Hollywood, and a yet completed section which heads toward the beach (via Culver City). This sounds promising.

I trotted over to the bus station with my 3 choices for bus routes and times printed from the internet while in Orange County. I’d never taken the busses or trains when living in LA, so this was all new to me.

City’s Design, Transit System, can ease gas costs

This Article was reposted from US Today

By Larry Copeland, USA TODAY

Some cities in the USA are better positioned to deal with rising gas prices than others because of their design and transit systems, according to a national non-profit group that works to build stronger cities.

The key factor: whether residents have to drive everywhere, or have other options.

That’s according to CEOs for Cities, a Chicago-based network of civic, business, academic and philanthropic leaders seeking to build and sustain stronger cities for the future. Researchers analyzed federal government data on vehicle miles traveled in 51 metropolitan areas that have at least 1 million residents.


Image from USA Today

It’s a timely analysis: Gas prices have eased a bit in the past few days — to a national average of $3.60 for a gallon of regular unleaded Monday — but they are still 28% higher than a year ago.


· TRAFFIC: Metro areas’ congestion up 11%

The average American driver logs 25 miles per day. Motorists in compactly developed cities that have extensive transit systems can drive nearly 50% less.

The way to cut back on driving miles in a city isn’t by reducing commutes, says Carol “What adds up is all those small trips, which are much shorter and not as necessary,” she says. “The question is, how do we make the city a place where we don’t have to drive as much or as often?”

Edward McMahon, an expert on sustainable development at the Urban Land Institute (ULI) in Washington, D.C., says the analysis confirms a study done in 2009 on the relationship between urban design and driving.

“Most trips in a car are not back and forth to work,” he says. “Most trips — 80% to 85% — are lifestyle trips to the movies, the grocery store, taking the kids to school, and so on. What we found is if you live in a community where you can walk, ride a bike, take a short trip, those savings start to add up really quickly.”

McMahon says ULI examined automobile usage trends in two Maryland cities: Bethesda, a mixed-use community with transit, and Germantown, a traditional car-oriented suburb. “We found that in Bethesda, about 75% of trips during the day were in fact on city transit,” he says. “In Germantown, 90% of all trips were by car.”

Cities where people drive less tend to do well in three essential areas, Coletta says:

Land use. People running errands, such as to buy milk, can walk instead of getting in the car and having to park, Coletta says.

Urban design. Sidewalks or bike trails are designed in such a way that people want to walk.

Transportation. The public transportation network is extensive enough that residents have choices.

CEOs for Cities estimates that if every driver in those 51 metro areas cut their driving by just 1 mile a day, the savings on gas and other costs would total $29 billion a year.

Natural Gas- Not as Green as it used to be

This post was originally published by on March 8th. It is a great update from a post we wrote a few months ago on the same subject.

Natural gas has been in the news a lot recently.


Graph: New York Times. Click on Image to enlarge

On the economics side, we are seeing a fascinating divergence of petroleum and natural gas prices. For decades, oil and gas prices have tracked pretty closely–natural gas prices rising and falling as international political events boosted or depressed oil prices. Today, for the first time, as oil prices are surging, natural gas prices are still falling. In the last few weeks, natural gas prices have fallen to historic lows, compared with oil.


A little over a week ago, the New York Times reported that on an apples-to-apples comparison (in which natural gas prices were converted to barrel-of-oil-equivalents), oil was four times as expensive as natural gas. And the price of oil has risen nearly $10 per barrel since then. That difference in price between these two energy sources has never been so great.

Image: From ReelFacts; adapted from USGS. Click on Image to enlarge

One significant implication is a significant regional disparity in hardship with home heating. About 55% of the country heats with natural gas, and those homeowners and renters have seen their heating costs go down. The 7% of Americans who heat with heating oil, however, have seen heating costs rise dramatically. In New England, heating oil prices have risen to over $3.60 per gallon.

The drop in price of natural gas has been driven by oversupply. We’re finding and producing more natural gas, and that has depressed prices. And we’re discovering huge new deposits of this energy source–most prominently with the vast Marcellus Shale deposits in Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, and West Virginia.


Image: Clean Water for North Carolina. Click on image to enlarge.

Named for the village of Marcellus, New York, this black shale formation was believed in 2002 to contain 1.9 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of natural gas (the U.S. uses about 23 TCF of natural gas per year), but by 2009, that estimate by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) had increased to 269 TCF!


Environmental benefits of natural gas

We have long looked to natural gas as the cleanest of fossil fuels. Burning it emits little nitrogen or sulfur pollution. Natural gas is mostly methane (a molecule comprised of one carbon atoms and four hydrogen atoms); it has the lowest carbon-to-hydrogen ratio of any hydrocarbon. That means burning natural gas releases more water vapor and less carbon dioxide than burning oil or coal (which have higher carbon-to-hydrogen ratios).

This is significant, because carbon dioxide is our most significant greenhouse gas–the leading culprit in global climate change. Burning natural gas instead of coal or oil will reduce the pace of climate change, proponents argue. The combustion of natural gas releases 117 pounds of CO2 per million Btus of heat produced, while burning the same heat content of gasoline emits 156 pounds, fuel oil 161 pounds, and coal 205 to 227 pounds, according to DOE.

Environmental concerns

Even as we tout the environmental benefits of natural gas, it has come under greater environmental scrutiny recently. For starters, the extraction and processing of natural gas releases some methane directly into the atmosphere, and methane is about 20 times as potent a greenhouse gas as CO2. Some estimate that while burning natural gas instead of coal to generate electricity results in only about half the CO2 emissions, when you factor in the direct emissions of methane, the greenhouse gas reduction is only about 25% (considering CO2-equivalents).

In addition, with Marcellus Shale natural gas production, there is significant potential for groundwater and drinking water contamination. This is because a practice called hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” involves injecting a mixture of water, sand, and various chemicals deep underground at extremely high pressure (as much as 10,000 psi) to fracture the underlying rock and free trapped pockets of natural gas.

The process is very water-intensive–with each fracking operation requiring as much as 5 million gallons of water, according to FracTracker, a project of the Center for Healthy Environments & Communities at the University of Pittsburgh. A single well may generate 1,000 tons of drilling waste that can include not only water and mud but also a range of salts, heavy metals, and naturally occurring radioactive material; much of that waste is held in surface impoundments. Leakage from those impoundments and the fracturing of rock sediments deep underground is contaminating groundwater throughout the region–the subject of a 2010 documentary film,Gasland.

Photo: PhillyWorkersVoice. Click on image to enlarge.

Currently, fracking is exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act–through a special provision in the 2005 Energy Policy Act passed during the George W. Bush Administration. That provision is known as the Halliburton Loophole; according to the New York Times it was added to the bill at the insistence of Vice President Dick Cheney to strip the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of the authority to regulate this practice.
Clearly, natural gas can–and should–play a role in a shift to cleaner, lower-carbon energy sources, but there’s no free lunch with this energy source. By understanding the impacts of natural gas extraction, we are reminded of the need to improve efficiency–no matter what the energy source. The less we use the better.

A Peaceful Uprising for the Environment

Several years back an economics major from the University of Utah bid on (and won) $1.8 million worth of oil and gas leases. However, he had no intention of ever paying for them. This was Tim DeChristopher’s way of protesting the gas and oil usage in favor of a more energy efficient and sustainable option. According to the Peaceful Uprising website, shortly after it was discovered that DeChristopher was not going to pay for the leases, “they were cancelled by Interior Secretary Salazar. The revoked parcels were subsequently broken up into three categories: parcels appropriate for future auction since they are surrounded by existing oil development, those never appropriate for future auction, because of their wilderness value, and those requiring further consideration to determine the appropriateness of drilling.

After being evaluated by Secretary Salazar, only 29 of the 116 parcels up for auction went through. Most of them were permanently dismissed; a handful of the parcels warranted further evaluation.”

This result is also due to the work of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance who had been raising red flags and working on lawsuits against the selling of the leases at the same time as DeChristopher.

DeChristopher was charged with two felonies related to the disruption of the auction. He was tried and found guilty on March 3rd, 2011.

However, even in the face of jail, he leaves the public with an inspiring message. The message focused on the importance of supporting each other and not allowing anyone to feel as though they are facing challenges alone. DeChristopher described his experience during the trial: ” Everything that went on inside that building tried to convince me that I was alone, and that I was weak. Inside that building, they tried to convince me that I was a little finger out there on my own that could easily be broken. All of you out here were the reminder, for all of us, that I wasn’t just a finger all alone in there, but that i was connected to a hand, with many fingers, that can unite as one fist, and that fist cannot be broken by the power that they have in there.”

Sustainble1000 has been following the trial throughout and was able to get an interview with DeChristopher. This has been a very important trial for protesters everywhere. While the result was not ideal, it is true, as DeChristopher stated after his verdict, that  “We know that now I’ll have to go to prison. We know that now that’s reality, but that’s just the job I have to do. That’s the role that I face, and many before me have gone to jail for justice. If we’re going to keep our vision, many after me will have to join me as well. Nobody ever told us that this battle would be easy. Nobody ever told us that we wouldn’t have to make sacrifices. We knew that when we started this fight.”

Just because this trial has been decided, we hope that protesters and the people of the world do not forget to fight for what they believe. And in fighting will find companions who will stand beside them in the face of challenge and work until what is right has been done.

Stick with us! We’re working on the transition

Dear followers,

We at Sustainable1000, thank you for your patience as we work on the transition to wordpress and beyond.

More updates will be coming soon!


Shane and S1000

>Greg Overbeck and Sustainable Food Services

>(By Priyanka Kotadia)

“In Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, the government in a matter of years has put a lot of energy behind recycling food waste as livestock feed, it’s environmentally friendly, it provides cheap livestock feed for the farmers in those parts of the world, and it avoids sending the food waste to landfill,” said Tristram Stuart, author of Waste: Uncovering the Global food scandal. While some nations have taken drastic measures in recycling, the US government has made minor attempts in revising its policies towards compostable material. Few sectors of the food industry are taking precaution in their waste production to attract more customers and media attention. Greg Overbeck, sustainable restaurant owner from North Carolina, discusses his environmentally friendly measures with Shane Snipes for Sustainable 1000.

Founder of MEZ, a contemporary Mexican restaurant, Overbeck was one of the first to attain LEED certification for this restaurant. The US government grants a LEED certification to any “building or community [that] was designed and built using strategies aimed at improving performance across all the metrics that matter most: energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts.” Such certification has helped business owners like Overbeck in boosting their business income. Overbeck asserted that he uses local produce and environmentally friendly utensils to continue his ‘green’ mission. However, even his business is not entirely eco-friendly because he claims that ‘economic viability,’ is the most significant aspect in any business.
            Restaurants like MEZ demonstrate that Americans are taking some eco-friendly measures in our everyday but it is not enough. If other nations have effectively transitioned into nearly 100% recycling mode while still maintaining booming economy, why is the US legging behind?