Thursday, May 04, 2017

Green Towers to Address Air Pollution in China

I’m sure most people can recall the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, China, but beyond Michael Phelps’ historic performance in the aquatic center, there is another significant thing I remember about those games.  I remember in the months and weeks leading up to the games, there was international concern over the air quality in and around Beijing.  The evening news featured videos showing smog and haze engulfing the major Chinese cities – especially Beijing – and showed people wearing masks over their mouths and noses as they walked their daily commute.  With China’s huge population, it is a country that has long been concerned with issues of sustainability, conservation, energy efficiency, and pollution.  As early as the mid-1990’s the Chinese government was working with architects and urban planners to develop a strategy for sustainable growth.  Despite previous failed projects (like this one), leaders in China continue to seek out the world’s brightest design-minds and sustainability experts to address the country’s growth, conservation, and sustainability issues.
Malmö, Sweden and Turning Torso building.  Photo – Krista Nutter 2010
A decade after the first prominent eco-village plans for China’s rural countryside, international architects are looking back into cities to implement the next “eco-revolution.”  Sustainable urban revitalization projects from the United States (Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Atlanta, Chicago, Cincinnati), Brazil, Sweden, and China have been featured in recent news. (Zajechowski, 2016)  In fact, I’ve experienced the urban revitalization in coastal Sweden’s city of Malmö firsthand – walking through parks of native plants and visiting buildings with green roofs and living walls.  I also visited an eco-village neighborhood there in the shadow of Santiago Calatrava’s Turning Torso high-rise residential building.  Many sustainability experts feel that to fully address global sustainability issues, we cannot ignore urban cities.

Figure 1

It appears that China’s next attempt at sustainable greatness has them pairing up with Italian architect and urban planner, Stefano Boeri.  Boeri is the creator of the “vertical forest” concept of urban eco-design, first unveiled in Milan, Italy (Frearson 2014) and now underway in Nanjing, China (Mairs 2017).  Boeri’s vertical forest designs mix high-density, multi-unit residential or mixed-use designs with bio-habitat installations featuring trees, shrubs, and plants on the terraces and façades of the buildings.  The plantings will then remove dust, particulates, and carbon dioxide from the air while providing oxygen to “de-pollute” the cities.  Visually, the towers provide interesting vertical green-space to the cityscape.  The affect is not unlike the many urban living walls that can be found in many cities across the United States, like this one in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Boeri’s vertical forests increase biodiversity in urban areas – drawing a variety of birds, bees, butterflies, and other pollinators to the area.  This is good news for urban gardeners.  The strategy also creates shaded, cooler and acoustically quieter interior spaces.  The designs were created with the help of a botanist and horticultural experts to assure that the correct selection of trees and plants were made for each different façade of the building.  Boeri’s Milan vertical forest project has received numerous awards, despite skeptics of the overall sustainability of the project due to increased structural requirements.  (A true assessment of the project’s success from the standpoint of a resident post-occupancy evaluation would be valuable; however one could not be located.) 

In terms of indoor air quality, I can’t help but think back to a product I ran into a few years ago.  Back in 2014, I wrote an article on a new product in development – a hardwood flooring product that purified the air.  Lauzon Pure Genius flooring is still available overseas, but I’ve yet to be able to find it here in the U.S.  It seems to be the perfect companion to the vertical forest and living wall projects happening across the world!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Why Light Pollution Matters

Of all the “green” initiatives, issues, or topics that I’ve done presentations on or spoken about, the one that receives more questions regarding its level of impact is light pollution.  For the past several years, I have lectured on sustainable construction and techniques to make buildings more kind to the environment and ecosystems in which they reside.  Along with the “big three” topics of energy efficiency, water efficiency, and indoor air quality, I also discuss things like material resources, waste management, and rainwater runoff mitigation.  However one topic that always raises eyebrows is light pollution. 
When I introduce the topic, I can almost see people thinking, “Light Pollution?  How can light be pollution?  These tree-huggers are just making stuff up now, right?  We have so many other types of pollution to worry about, why on earth would we waste our time worrying about light pollution.”  Interestingly, I always considered light pollution more of an annoyance or inconvenience than really an environmental issue.  I knew that scientists who study the sky were concerned about light pollution, and that light pollution creates a certain difficulty for them in their observation, but I really didn’t understand how that impacted the environment in the big picture. 
Then one summer, my family took a month-long trip to the western USA.  We camped in 14 National Parks – which by the way are pretty big on protecting dark skies and educating people about light pollution.  Most nights in National Park campgrounds, rangers host evening programs or presentations, and we happened to attend one on Light Pollution followed by an astronomy session with high powered telescopes in one of the darkest sky areas of the country (Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah).  During the light pollution program, we learned most of what I already knew about down-facing light fixtures, colored light sources, and ways to control outdoor light pollution to mitigate the effects of your outdoor lighting on your neighbor’s property.  However one part of the presentation focused on why addressing light pollution is important, and it was fascinating. 
You see, addressing light pollution is more than just cutting down the light you send across your property line into your neighbor’s yard because “he likes it dark since he’s a star-gazer.”  Addressing light pollution is actually quite critical in addressing environmental issues that impact local ecosystems, the food web, and other interrelated issues.  Insects and animals have developed inherent behaviors over thousands of years, including migration, mating, feeding, and navigating their surroundings.  These behaviors in some species require darkness without artificial illumination and can be negatively impacted by light pollution. 
Here’s an example:  In the light pollution presentation we saw at Bryce Canyon, we learned about a study scientists had done on the effect of light pollution on a certain frog population.  In areas not affected by light pollution, the particular species of frogs being studied were observed to feed less during times of the full moon (which causes greater illumination in the frogs’ environment).  However, when the moonlight was reduced through the natural moon phases or cloud-cover, frogs returned to feeding normally.  The same species of frog was then observed in an area thought to be affected by light pollution.  Scientists observed that not only did the frogs refrain from night feeding during the full moon, but they also refrained or significantly decreased their feeding in light polluted areas of their environment anytime the light pollution was present.  This caused adult frogs from this area to be smaller, less-nourished, and also for mating activities to decrease thus causing overall population numbers to decline.  This essentially affected every other species above them in the food web.  In addition, populations of insects that the frogs feed on – including mosquitoes – significantly increased in the area, which, of course, could lead to a long list of other impactful issues.

To learn more about light pollution, you can visit the Dark Sky website at  Here’s a one-minute video clip about what you can do to address light pollution in your community – you can start by turning off outdoor lights at night. 

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Throwback Thursday - What's in a Flush?

So over the past weekend I was visiting a school of design and reviewing them for CIDA (Council for Interior Design Accreditation).  I was talking with my colleagues on the visiting team and some of the faculty members at the school, and we were discussing my home and some of the things we went through in building such a "different" home.  I was recalling this story from 2006, so I thought I would share it again with my readers today . . .

Dual Flush toilets are everywhere now!  We have 3 of these:

Thursday, March 26, 2015

This or that? Clothes Dryers, Cool Roofs, and Christmas Trees

You know that guy who writes the books and articles, "Eat This, Not That"?  Well, here's my own little take on that theme - only instead of food, I'll be talking about green living this and that.

First, here's one from me personally.  I often have people ask me the question - Which Christmas Tree is Greener - Artificial or Real?  (I know, I hate talking about Christmas in March, but it's something worth thinking on a while - especially if you are thinking of making a change in your normal choice in this matter!  Think about it for a few months before you really have to decide!)  Of course the GREENEST choice is no tree at all, and I may get there someday, but not while my kids are still living at home.  For me, it's just too much tradition and too many memories to give up.  We make a big deal of getting our tree and decorating our tree together as a family, so I'm sorry, but my environmental legacy will just have to be tainted a bit.

There are people who are on both sides of this argument, but my research leads me to give a slight edge to the "cut-your-own" real tree.  Notice that I didn't say a real tree that was pre-cut from one of those tree lots - because who knows when that tree was cut and how long it's been on a truck, or where it came from?  I prefer the cut-your-own tree, because then you know exactly when it was cut, how far it traveled, and so on.  Cut-your-own trees last longer and stay healthier than pre-cut trees.  The trees farms are managed responsibly and the trees provide habitat and eco-benefits for the years that they are growing.  And because they are newly cut, the fire hazard is greatly reduced with a cut-your-own tree.  In fact, I would estimate that the cut your own tree that's watered regularly is the safest kind of tree.  I posed this question to my 10 year old and I think we've got a science fair project in the works to test the flammability of different types of Christmas trees, including artificial trees.  (Which I am NOT a fan of at all.  Any reason that a real tree could catch on fire is just as much of a reason that an artificial tree will catch on fire, and the toxic fumes created when all of that plastic goes up in flames severely decreases your chances of making it out because you'll be overcome by the fumes.  That's exactly the reason why building codes require plastic products like foam insulation to be protected with a fire barrier like gypsum board / drywall.)  There are tons of articles on the Internet about this debate - with conclusions on both sides - so do your own research and make the best choice for you.  Just remember that any live tree needs to be kept watered - check it daily -  and never leave lights on unattended when you are away or sleeping! (this is true for artificial trees too!)  There are lots of eco-friendly ways to get rid of your cut tree when you are finished with it - a quick search and you'll be presented with more ideas than you can imagine.  (who knew it could become an underwater fish habitat in a pond?)

Some other topics you might be interested in:

This or That - Clothes Dryers on Low for an extended time or High for a shorter time?  (Mr. Green answers that one here.)

This or That - a Vegetated / Green Roof or a Solar Reflective White Roof?  (Mr. Green answers that one here.)  Enjoy!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Green Home Tour

Today we hosted a lively group of 20 or so homeowners, architects, builders, and people interested in green design.  Chuck Lohre and his Green Cincinnati Education Advocacy group sponsored the tour, and we spent the morning talking about green building, passive solar design, energy efficiency, and rainwater catchment systems.  Fortunately, it was a nice, sunny morning and the house was working beautifully - we were even able to do an experiment to show how the design and windows allow the sunlight to enter the space, and the concrete floor absorbs the heat from the sun.  And of course, the highlight of the tour (at least for some) was seeing our electric meter running backwards.  There were a lot of eager people looking to learn more either for their businesses or for their own personal homes.  Here's a link to the article about the tour from the Cincinnati Enquirer:

I hope we were able to answer everyone's questions and inspire them to live well and dream green!  Please don't forget to Like, Share, Tweet, Follow, etc. - using the buttons below this post.  You can also subscribe to this blog using the Subscribe button over on the upper left of this page.  Thanks!