Sunny Zhang is a junior at Duke University studying Environmental Science and Public Policy. She enjoys roadtrips, reading about nature and upcycling.
As a college student, getting up on a weekend before 10 a.m. is a rare occasion. Surprisingly, I found myself awake at 4:30 a.m., the morning after my 20th birthday, waking up to watch birds.
I was on a study abroad class field excursion, at the Bengal Florican Conservation Areas in the grasslands of Kompong Thom, Cambodia, partly to observe birds. Mainly, we were there to observe ecotourism in action, or responsible and educated travel to natural areas that conserves the environment while sustainably benefiting the local community.
My class toured with the Sam Veasna Center (SVC), a non-profit local Cambodian NGO that manages wildlife viewing trips. Its goal is aligned with the definition of ecotourism: to provide sustainable livelihoods for local Cambodian communities from ecotourism, while preserving conservation sites. SVC provides the communities with income and employment in exchange for no-hunting and land-use agreements.
Prior to experiencing ecotourism, I had my doubts. Ecotourism overall faces serious potential challenges—overtaxed natural resources, corruption, environmental degradation, cultural exploitation, loss of local power to outside developers.
And to be honest, I was not expecting much, especially at 4:30 a.m., a time college students are more likely to be staying up than waking up. But the morning was filled with adrenaline rushes, watching beautiful and critically endangered Bengal Floricans. The 20 students in my class, posing as amateur birders, were absolutely hooked.
It is estimated that there are less than 1,000 Bengal Florican birds left in the world, the overwhelming majority of which live within and depend on the conservation area. But large portions of Cambodian grasslands are being converted to usage for rice cultivation. The Bengal Florican grasslands could have been turned into agricultural farmlands, and the birds that we watched could have easily been pressured to extinction due to loss of habitat. The area is also important for the preservation of many other bird species.
Just as interesting as the birds though, was the system that was set in place to protect them. SVC attracts eco-tourists to Cambodia, who pay to go on wildlife viewing expeditions. A portion of the price tourists pay is given to the village for conserving the wetland area, on conditions of refrains on hunting and farming on the land. Later, SVC guides told our class that around 24 percent of a tourist’s fee will go towards conservation, with another 15 percent of the payment paying for local services. On average, communities get around $20,000 per year through their contracts with SVC.
We spoke to villagers later that day, and they were pleased and proud of the program. Kunthea, one of our SVC guides, translated the sentiments of an old villager:
“From 1979 until now, [I] thought everything from wildlife would be gone, lost. [I] worried about the future, and [I] didn’t know the Bengal Florican birds were still in the woods. So when [I] saw the tourists coming, [I] was happy.”
Village leaders were also strong advocates of the program—the village uses the benefits from its contract with SVC on community development projects, such as running schools or building wells.
It’s not to say there isn’t any room for improvement. My class observed that perhaps there needed to be more planning for long-term local development that minimized impacts on conservation areas. Paying for preservation of the land also makes it vulnerable to be bought out for a higher amount by developers or other business interests.
But undoubtedly, SVC is making a positive impact in Cambodia, and it shows promising conservation influence. The Sam Veasna Center is doing its part in saving the Bengal Florican, while aiding the local community—now that’s helping two birds with one eco-tour.
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By Emma DiPasquale
Emma DiPasquale is a rising senior at John Carroll University. She studies English and environmental studies and hopes to pursue a masters degree in English literature with focus in environmental theory. Emma worked as an intern at EcoWatch last summer.
It was a cold winter evening in February when citizens gathered at University Heights Public Library, as they had and would again at key locations around Cleveland's east side, dreaming of a network of bike trails and hiking paths connecting their parks and open spaces. In a small room across the hall from a noisy children's reading nook, poster boards and stickers were set up for community members to share their input on where they would like to see new on-and off-road trails for what's officially being called the Eastside Greenway project.
Generally, a greenway system refers to an open space or natural areas that are linear in form. Cities down south and out west have developed these systems in recent years for different purposes that align with their needs.
Greenways take on different sets of characteristics depending on the goals established for it, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. They can be for recreation, conservation, restoration, water quality improvement and environmental education. The Eastside Greenway is planned for recreational purposes, which includes activities such as bicycling, jogging, running and walking.
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources states that the benefits of greenway systems are multitudinous. Greenways can promote healthy living in that they encourage more exercise among users. Since a recreational greenway allows for many different uses, it attracts a wider audience with varying preferences in terms of what types of exercise they will use the trails for.
Greenways also provide environmental advantages, including improving air quality by decreasing the number of greenhouse gases emitted because of the alternative transportation routes. Economic improvement is also a factor, as greenways increase property values because of the added green space, which in turn increases tax revenue, helping to filter money through local governments.
Greenways are important in developing communities because they provide a means of getting from place to place without a car: to school, a friend's home, the library, a restaurant or work, to name a few destinations. They are safer alternatives to streets because they separate the user from automobiles and they also provide a more aesthetically pleasing atmosphere for the user.
The Eastside Greenway project promotes this idea of linking various neighborhoods to different locations throughout communities. The project seeks to connect the east side of Cleveland with 19 Greater Cleveland municipalities through a unified trail network that will link neighborhoods to a variety of destinations and existing green spaces such as the Metroparks reservations of Acacia, Euclid Creek, Lakefront and North Chagrin.
The project began back in the summer of 2012, according to Anna Swanberg, project manager for LAND Studio. At the time, Kirby Date, a student at Cleveland State University's Maxine Goodman Levin's College of Urban Affairs, was doing community outreach work near Forest Hills Park in East Cleveland. Date was interested in the idea of a unified greenway system, considering the somewhat close proximity of Forest Hills Park to Euclid Creek Reservation. Date presented her ideas to the Cleveland Metroparks Board of Commissioners. Coincidentally, her proposal was overheard by LAND Studio, a non-profit developer of Cleveland's urban parks. LAND Studio decided to expand the project, and placed Swanberg on the project that summer.
Swanberg, who is experienced in landscape architecture, has been involved in every stage of the planning process including leading a scoping study in 2012 and 2013 regarding the areas included in the greenway project. The study came to a close in 2013 and it was decided that a more formal plan was needed. Swanberg, with LAND Studio, partnered with the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission to receive a Transportation for Livable Communities Initiative grant from the Northeast Areawide Coordinating Agency to conduct a planning study for the Eastside Greenway in 2014 and 2015.
The planning process will result in specific trail recommendations across the east side, suggested trail locations and a strategy for moving forward into design and implementation of these trails in the master plan, according to Swanberg.
Swanberg's other duties included identifying communities to include in the project, engaging those communities to get them on board, identifying missing links in these communities and, more recently, publicizing the meetings held by the Eastside Greenway partners LAND Studio, SmithGroup JJR, Michael Baker International, Cuyahoga County Planning Commission and Northeast Areawide Coordinating Agency.
Currently, many trail segments are already in place on the east side, but they lack critical connections, according to the Eastside Greenway website. Linking all the trails would make inter-community connections, provide safe, alternative means of transportation, decrease the need for cars and other vehicles, and improve quality of life for a broad group of people, says Swanberg. Today, approximately 30 miles of trails are already in place. When completed, the Eastside Greenway will link about 60 miles of trails.
At the February public meeting in University Heights, Neal Billetdeaux, senior landscape architect for the architecture, engineering and planning firm SmithGroup JJR, and Nancy Lyon-Stadler, traffic and planning manager at Michael Baker International, kicked off the program with a PowerPoint about the project.
Several maps outlined existing and potential new trails, demonstrating the full extent of this interconnected network. The maps showcased existing trails, missing links and secondary connectors, which provide on- and off-street connections between the major green spaces that already exist to destinations such as job centers, community services and commercial areas. Connecting this system could be as simple as adding different types of bike lanes to certain roads, or as extensive as building off-road, multi-use trails.
A variety of bike path options were also pictured in the presentation. These included shared-lane markings, or sharrows, which are markings placed in the center of a travel line to indicate that a cyclist may use the full lane. Bike lanes were also pictured, which are paths that are not separated from roads. Protected bike lanes, which are separated from roads, were pictured as well. Protected lanes are more expensive since they use posts, curbs, grass or parked cars to keep the bike lane away from traffic.
A 2012 study done by Portland State University by Jennifer Dill, a professor of urban studies and planning, analyzed these types of trails and their users. Dill found that about 57 percent of Portlanders would like to ride bikes more, but are simply afraid to ride among cars. The study found that protected bike lanes help to diminish fear among this group of potential path users.
“Information on these types of bike lanes is the kind of evidence that helps us, in terms of what to present to potential Cleveland users," Billetdeaux commented. He mentioned Roger Geller, bicycle coordinator for Portland's Office of Transportation, and his paper, “Four Types of Cyclists," as helping the Cleveland project's planners understand which types of bikers use which types of trails.
Billetdeaux said he anticipates that protected bike lanes will play a large role in Cleveland's new greenway system. “In terms of the missing link segments, we are really hoping to create off-road trails. We know we won't be able to get that everywhere, so we are planning on creating protected bike lines in the areas we can't get off-road trails. We are trying not to do anything less than that."
“For the secondary connectors, we are thinking about more varied paths," he added. “We could start with protected bike lanes, and go down to regular bike lanes and sharrows from there."
Billetdeaux cited Atlanta, St. Louis and Minneapolis as specific examples of greenways systems that have influenced the plans for Cleveland. In the works since 1991, Atlanta's greenway system, or PATH Foundation, has seen success in terms of bridging the gaps between different communities and have seen improvements in bringing people together from all races, ages and income levels. Atlanta's network of trails continues to grow as its citizens look for safer ways to exercise and connect with their neighbors. Overall, the PATH Foundation says it has encouraged health and well-being, promoted public safety and increased real estate values. This system has shown what Cleveland is working towards and ultimately hopes to achieve, said Billetdeaux.
The project has some other goals that are not as clearly visible, such as fixing up vacant properties, working with communities and their existing plans to add trails in their areas, and including environmentally friendly buildings and facilities into the plan.
The Cuyahoga County Board of Health, along with LAND studio, Cuyahoga County Planning Commission and Human Impact Partners, did a health impact assessment to help in the planning process. The formal definition of health impact assessment, according to the World Health Organization, is a combination of procedures, methods and tools that systematically judges the potential, and sometimes unintended, effects of a proposed project, plan or policy on the health of a population and the distribution of those effects within the population. Health impact assessments also try to identify ways to manage those effects.
The Cuyahoga County Board of Health representative highlighted the target areas for this health impact assessment during the meeting, noting that the overarching focus was equity. The assessment centered around three main ideas: crime or fear of crime, social cohesion and transportation, and physical activity and safety.
The health impact assessment came up with several recommendations to ensure equity. Establishing neighborhood watch groups, ensuring good geographic distribution of facilities, incorporating play or recreation areas, creating an education campaign and a comprehensive greenway management plan were a few of the recommendations.
“We have never had the opportunity to work with a health impact assessment for evaluation," Billetdeaux said. “Empirical data will help us in our planning process. The only downside with this is that a lot of people who attended the meetings didn't seem to understand the connection or importance of the health impact assessment. We are trying to make this clearer in our next round of public meetings."
The feedback during the Feb. 3 meeting was sometimes skeptical, but overall the communities were very supportive of the concept, according to Lyon-Stadler. There were a lot of questions from a diverse audience, but ultimately, the meeting provided the last bit of feedback the partners needed to take the next steps. For now, those next steps are to refine prioritization methods, which means the partners will determine which trails are the most important, given the community feedback from the meetings and an online survey, while keeping in mind the original goals of the project.
The partners shared a master plan at the public meetings held this month, and by July 2015 a final plan will be complete, according to Lyon-Stadler. “This is by far my favorite project I've worked on," said Swanberg. “I've been pleased with the overwhelmingly positive reaction from the community members. I know they're excited to see this plan finished and begin to see some development in their neighborhoods."
Lyon-Stadler, another project partner and big-time cyclist, says she has ridden most of the study area on her bike, which she believes gives her a different perspective. “This project has been very fun," she says. “Working on projects like these is definitely one of my favorite things to do professionally because I'm out there. I appreciate having the parks and the green space and the opportunity to be out in nature and breathing and moving, so if I can make that easier for others that is hugely rewarding."
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Installing solar panels is a great option for homeowners who want to reduce their power bills, and the payback period can be just a handful of years with favorable conditions. However, renters and apartment owners cannot use a typical solar power system due to the lack of space, and renters in particular must also negotiate with their landlords. A miniature solar system that is portable and easy to install can be a better option in these cases.
Rooftop solar systems can greatly reduce your electric bills, and you can add solar batteries to store solar energy for use at night. However, because most systems are tied to the power local grid, you must meet many technical requirements and get a permit to put solar on your property. The initial investment and paperwork are not a problem when installing solar panels in a home you own, but they're a limiting factor for renters.
If you don't own your home or apartment, you may have little incentive to invest in improving someone else's property. Even if your landlord gives you permission to install solar panels, the decision only makes sense financially if you plan to rent for a very long time — longer than the solar payback period. Also, consider the following factors:
- When your lease ends, your landlord may not be willing to purchase the solar panels you installed.
- Moving rooftop solar panels to another home is difficult, and you will need a professional installation and another permit for the new property.
There are many types of miniature solar systems that can be installed without the complex requirements and permitting procedures of more permanent structures. These systems are an excellent option for renters, since taking them to another property is as simple as relocating your TV.
Solar Benefits for Non-Homeowners
Solar panel systems offer a common benefit, regardless of their size: they generate electricity from sunlight, reducing the amount of electricity you must pay your utility company for each month. Solar power also lowers the environmental footprint of your home, especially if you live in a region where most of the grid electricity comes from fossil fuels.
Homeowners get a few extra benefits when they install a traditional solar system, including:
- Their property becomes more valuable, and many states don't charge increased property taxes for the portion of home value that corresponds to solar panels.
- Homeowners also qualify for the 26% federal solar tax credit as well as any additional incentives from state governments or utility companies.
- There are permitting and grid connection requirements to meet, but once the solar PV system starts operating, it provides electricity for decades with minimal maintenance.
While mini solar panel systems may not be eligible for these perks, they have their benefits compared with rooftop systems. For example, they are much easier to install, with no permitting involved, and any maintenance is much simpler. Small-scale solar systems also have a lower price, and they are easily relocated.
The power bill savings achieved by a rooftop solar system are much higher, but that's because they're much larger. Many homeowners use solar PV systems that have capacities at or above 6 kW (6,000 W), while miniature systems often only generate up to 100 W. As you might expect, the corresponding cost of solar panels is very different: A 6 kW solar system can cost around $18,000 (before incentives) to install, while a miniature 100 W system might cost less than $300. However, each dollar invested is earned back multiple times over in both cases.
How to Utilize Solar Energy When You Rent
There are several options for renters who want to use solar power. These include:
- Plug-in mini solar systems
- Off-grid solar and battery systems
- Portable solar panels
- DIY solar setups
- Appliance-specific solar panels
Plug-in mini solar systems work exactly like rooftop PV systems — they connect to your residence's wiring and synchronize with the voltage and frequency of your grid power — just at a smaller scale. The power generated by a plug-in mini system is usually enough to power several electronic devices and LED bulbs, but not high-power devices like air conditioners and washing machines.
Here are some things to consider when deciding whether a solar plug-in mini system is right for your rental property:
- Plug-and-play solar panels are not subject to the permitting requirements and interconnection procedures of a traditional rooftop installation, and they can be simply connected to a suitable power outlet.
- NOTE: When using plug-in solar panels, you must make sure that the power outlet used has a circuit with enough capacity to carry the current, as well as an adequate breaker. Otherwise, you can cause an electrical fault.
- Because this type of panel connects to the electrical system of the property, you should ask your landlord for permission before investing in one. You should also ask an electrician to check the power outlet you plan on plugging the panels into to make sure it has adequate capacity.
Off-grid solar panels and solar battery systems are completely disconnected from the grid, which makes them a popular option for remote or rural sites with no electric service. In these types of systems, one or more solar panels are used to charge a battery or solar generator with USB charging sockets and power outlets for small appliances. These off-grid systems are also a viable option for renters, because they are entirely self-contained and don't connect to the utility grid.
Portable solar panels are popular for camping, but they can also be used by renters to power small devices. These are some of the smallest solar panels available, and they only have a few watts of capacity. Their main purpose is charging smartphones, tablets and other tiny USB devices, and many of them have built-in LED flashlights.
DIY solar panel setups are also an option. You can shop online for compatible solar panels, inverters, batteries and solar charge controllers, and then build a custom system according to your needs. However, keep in mind that you must have at least basic knowledge about electricity to safely and successfully install a homemade solar system.
Appliance-specific solar panels are also a viable option for renters. You can find many devices with built-in solar panels, which don't depend on a power outlet to operate. For example, you can install solar-powered outdoor lights for your backyard or balcony, or use a solar air conditioning unit or fan to provide extra ventilation during the hottest hours of the day.
Pros and Cons of Small Solar Units
Miniature solar systems have advantages and limitations like any device. They have a lower cost than traditional rooftop systems, plus they are easier to install and relocate. Just keep in mind that they can't power larger appliances, which means their power bill savings are small.
The following table summarizes the pros and cons of the most common types of miniature solar systems:
|Renter-Friendly Solar System||Pros||Cons||Typical Price|
|Plug-in solar system||
- Easy to install
- Can be plugged into a normal power outlet
- Can only operate when connected to the grid
- You need a dedicated circuit and breaker of adequate capacity
|$1,500 for a 600 W solar system|
|Off-grid solar system||
- Can charge batteries or generators to be used after sunset
- Fully independent from the grid
|- Batteries increase the system cost significantly if you want a high energy storage capacity||$400 for a 100 W solar panel with a 24,000 mAh battery|
- Easy to carry
- Can be used for camping and other trips
|- Limited use: Charging smartphones and other small devices||$100 or less for a foldable 30 W panel|
|DIY Solar||- You can create a custom system that meets your needs||- Basic electrical knowledge is needed to set up a safe system||Variable, depending on the components used.|
- Easy to install
- The solar panel is often included with the price of the device
|- You can only use the solar panel to power one appliance or device||Variable, depending on the appliance|
Miniature solar power systems are designed for small, low-power devices such as LED bulbs and electronic gadgets. If you're a renter and would like to increase your savings beyond what is possible with small solar kits, you can consider joining a community solar project near you.
- These projects normally have two membership options: purchasing a share or paying a monthly subscription.
- In both cases, you will be entitled to a portion of the kilowatt-hours produced by the system, and this portion will be subtracted from your bill.
Another advantage of community solar is that you can move freely to another apartment or home. Since the solar panels are not physically located where you live, you can usually re-assign the electricity savings to your new address.
Products to Help Renters Maximize Solar
There are many brands of miniature solar kits, but you should look for a reliable provider like Sunboxlabs. Since you're dealing with electricity, purchasing high-quality products is strongly advised to avoid accidents. Before purchasing any solar panel or a related component, make sure it has an electrical certification mark such as:
- UL (Underwriters Laboratories)
- ETL (Intertek)
- CSA (Canadian Standards Association)
- CE (Conformité Européenne)
You can look for a solar kit that includes all components, such as this WindyNation 100 Watt Solar Panel Kit. Alternatively, you can buy compatible parts separately, and build your own system. The following are some recommendations:
|Solar System Component||Recommended Product|
|Solar Panel||Renogy 100 Watt 12 Volt Monocrystalline Solar Panel|
|Battery||Mighty Max 12V Battery|
|Solar charge controller||ALLPOWERS 20A Solar Charger Controller|
|Inverter||BESTEK 500W Power Inverter|
Keep in mind that you will also need wiring to connect all components together, and make sure you read all instructions carefully to ensure safety.
Morgan Sinclaire is a third-year math major at the University of Washington involved in Divest UW for the past two years.
“If it’s wrong to wreck the planet, then it’s wrong to profit from that wreckage.”
This quote by Bill McKibben has become the mantra of the fossil fuel divestment movement, the campaign which has sprouted up on hundreds of college campuses across the country with one simple goal: to get universities to stop investing in the same fossil fuel industry that is accelerating us all towards planetary catastrophe.
Here at the University of Washington in Seattle, Divest UW has gotten one of the biggest victories of the movement so far, with the Board of Regents voting to divest from coal today.
Founded in 2012, back when the fossil fuel divestment movement was just starting to spring up on college campuses, Divest UW has been pushing for this for a long time. We have shown that students here would like to see their school get its money out of dirty energy, with our divestment resolutions passing overwhelmingly in both the undergraduate and graduate student senates, but not until this week was our administration moved.
And that is why today’s victory is all the more significant: it validates all the work our group has put into this over the past three years, and we are proud to see our university recognize the growing power of the student movement to tackle climate change. With its $2.8 billion endowment, the UW is largest public university to divest from this destructive industry.
Divest UW is still concerned with our university’s investments in oil and gas companies, which have also shown an utter disregard for our environment. Here in Seattle, this hits home with Shell’s plans to dock at our Port for the purpose of going to the ends of the Earth to drill for oil.
Climate change is already here, and we cannot turn a blind eye to rising seas, severe droughts, devastating storms and dire food insecurity. All of us, as individuals, institutions and governments, have a choice to make—between letting this crisis worsen catastrophically or taking action to right this wrong. By severing our ties to the coal industry—the worst climate offender out there—the University of Washington has taken a strong, positive stand for a better future.
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Morgan Rogers is a senior at Baldwin Wallace University pursuing a Bachelor's degree in Sustainability with double minors in Urban Studies and Sociology. After graduating she would like to work with environmental nonprofit organizations in the Cleveland area.
Cleveland, Ohio was once a booming industrial city, home to winning sports teams and both economic growth and innovation. Cleveland was doing so well it was deemed the “best location in the nation" in the 1950s. But less than 20 years later that reputation would all change.
When Cleveland's Cuyahoga River caught fire in 1969 due to the water being so polluted from industrial waste, the event sparked national attention. As word spread about the "city whose river caught fire" Cleveland's reputation took a major hit. Cleveland became the symbol for environmental degradation, and the city was nicknamed the "mistake on the lake." This legacy continued for quite some time as the rust belt city's manufacturers moved out, praised sports teams declined and the city that was once considered to be the "best location in the nation" became somewhat of a joke to the rest of country—a place no one wanted to visit.
Fortunately, Cleveland has been trying to make a new reputation for itself in recent years and is beginning to step out of the smoke screen of its 1969 river fire. In 2009, the city created Sustainable Cleveland 2019, a 10-year action plan initiative devoted to addressing environmental issues and raising awareness. The goal of this action plan is to focus on a different aspect of sustainability within the city each year until the year 2019—50 years after the infamous fire. Cleveland is building a new reputation of a sustainable "green city on a blue lake" by promoting nine sustainability initiatives. Each initiative serves as the year's theme for addressing environmental issues in the city. The nine themes are:
- 2011: The Year of Energy Efficiency
- 2012: The Year of Local Foods
- 2013: The Year of Advanced and Renewable Energy
- 2014: The Year of Zero Waste
- 2015: The Year of Clean Water
- 2016: The Year of Sustainability Mobility
- 2017: The Year of Vibrant Green Space
- 2018: The Year of Vital Neighborhoods
- 2019: The Year of People
This is the year of Clean Water in which the City of Cleveland will be focusing on the region's vital water resources. Cleveland just celebrated EarthFest—the nation's longest running Earth Day celebration—which uses the sustainability initiatives as its theme every year as well. In the fall the City of Cleveland holds a sustainability summit that calls together environmentalists, business leaders, students and other concerned citizens to sit down and talk about what can be done to address the year's theme. Every year, the summit produces new working groups and new organizations to tackle the city's environmental challenges.
So, how successful is this type of action plan? Cleveland has made great strides in sustainability, particularly in the local food movement. In fact, Cleveland was recently ranked seventh place in Time's "America's Best Food Cities" for 2015, beating out notable "foodie cities" like San Francisco which came in at 19, New Orleans at 15, New York City at 10 and even Portland, Oregon which ranked 8. Cleveland is also home to Ohio City Fresh Food Collaborative, one of the largest contiguous urban farms in the U.S. at six acres.
Cleveland is even making serious strides in renewable energy. LEEDCo is planning to build an offshore wind pilot project, Icebreaker, seven miles offshore of downtown Cleveland, which could become the first offshore freshwater wind project in North America.
Cleveland has come a long way in the 50 years since the infamous Cuyahoga River fire, even hosting a sustainable celebratory Burning River Fest every year in the summer to help Clevelanders celebrate just how far the city has come. Home to one of the largest urban farms in the country, the longest running Earth Day celebration and what would be the country's first offshore freshwater wind farm, Cleveland is well on its way to achieving its vision of a "green city on a blue lake." The city is crafting a new reputation for itself and leading the way in sustainability efforts, all the while redeeming itself of the Cuyahoga River fire as well as its polluting legacy.
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Sean Gogolin is a graduating senior at Bowling Green State University. There he studies Environmental Policy & Analysis, and looks to further his education in earning an Masters in Public Policy after graduation. Prior to his involvement with EcoWatch, he worked with Sierra Club last summer in Washington, DC.
Social Entrepreneurship—a simple, productive concept, yet some how shrouded in ambiguity and a general lack of understanding. The practice can be defined as combining a social cause with a business savvy intuition—taking business techniques to pressing social issues. And the best part, social entrepreneurs can still generate profit. Unlike a cause group or non-profit, social entrepreneurs are not heavily bound by funding restrictions. The sky is in fact, the limit. With the success that TOMS and Warby Parker have seen, social entrepreneurship has proven to be successful when aptly applied. This brings me to environmentalism.
social entrepreneurship has proven to be successful when aptly applied. Photo credit: Shutterstock
One major flaw of the environmental movement is its inability to garner support from the private sector. In a world where environmental regulations are often pitted against business profits, imagine an economy where those two forces are working harmoniously. Social entrepreneurship offers that chance.
Bill Drayton, the father of social entrepreneurship defines the concept as “business with a cause.” In a world where developers and entrepreneurs possess more power than ever, we are thriving off of technological innovation. Instead of examining simply how to make money, leaders are devising ways to both make money and to serve the public. Simon Sinek, an English author best known for the development of the concept, “Start with Why” and the “golden circle,” argues that the working class is no longer fulfilled by their work because we no longer interact with, and help others. Sinek believes that the idea behind the business should not be to generate profits, but to capitalize on an idea. Apple has done this with its “Think Different” campaign—they think differently from other companies, but they happen to make great computers.
Moving forward, the environmental movement must look for new ways to incorporate these principles. The Millennials, as a generation, have a tremendous opportunity to do so. We must deconstruct the battle of environment vs. business, and create new business models with a “Why” reinforcing them. Combine the agility of business with the commitment of environmentalism—coming together to form sustainability driven social entrepreneurship practices.
This call to action by no means excuses the federal government, although it does seek to bypass its latency and gridlock. However, in a world where record-breaking droughts in the west, and brutal winters in the northeast have become the norm, we must look to our most powerful instruments to drive change and spur innovation.
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Nikhil (Nikki) Goel is the editor-in-chief of Cavs Nation and a writer for EcoWatch. He currently attends Case Western Reserve University and studies Chemical Engineering. He hopes to pursue Environmental Policy some day, making writing more than a hobby. Born and raised in Cleveland, his love for the Cavaliers is self-explanatory. Nikki is a passionate advocate for unisex nomenclature and a fruit connoisseur. If you need to pick out a ripe watermelon, find him.
Can the “Open Source” Agenda Lift Humanity above Globalization?
Brilliance doesn’t stem from success. It radiates from trendsetters who make change and bring our species closer to “tomorrow.” Innovators like Elon Musk, who’s achieved capitalistic success while refusing to compromise environmental standards. Musk’s pioneering electric automotive company, Tesla, is galvanizing a new economic movement: one with a manual gearshift in the market in order to supply a new demand. Continuing the trend is this year’s release of the Mirai, Toyota granted unrestricted use of thousands of hydrogen fuel cell patents (including pending patents), subsequently passing a torch that not only sympathizes with climate change activists but also empathizes with the realities of globalization.
These realities date back to the 18th century, when President George Washington signed a bill that laid out the framework for an inclusive and flexible American patent system. Since then, the ingenuity of Americans and avant-gardists around the world has been capitalized into an economic era with an ideal, optimistic lifestyle. Unfortunately, despite globalization’s spherical connotation, its steamrolling proliferation does not come to full circle. By sculpting the planet for its resources, man’s era of industrialization has left the carvings out to dry. Current civic culture supports a backwards relationship between the economy and environment, in which patents that liberated visionaries from past fiscal boundaries have now inadvertently ensnared the potential of smarter, more viable economic growth. And yet, with the imagination that crafted today comes the extrapolation that we can find a solution tomorrow.
Here’s the thing about most of tomorrow’s environmental solutions: we already have them, here, today. Environmental problems typically run parallel with this redundancy, in a situation that is just as politically and economically tangled. The fossil fuel industry is transparently saturated, perforated with ostensible controversies that reveal how colossally difficult it is to overcome humanity’s dependency. “Tomorrow” might be a bit more distant from the dark reality Musk believes our economy faces today, where “electric car programs at the major manufacturers are small to non-existent, constituting an average of far less than 1% of their total vehicle sales.” Tesla therefore cannot create substantial change in the economy, society or environment if they’re only impacting a fraction of one percent of the market. The situation has settled in between invention and implementation, where we cannot take the hydrogen-powered train until the ensuing tracks are in place.
By releasing royalty-free use of 5,680 fuel-cell patents vital to the construction of hydrogen-powered vehicles, Toyota is placing those tracks and growing that one percent. It’s not enough to get on board, however; to continue the movement, each piece needs to provide an extension—another piece—that can streamline humans as fast as industrialization has. So when Tesla supplied Toyota with battery packs for developing its fuel cell technology, Toyota then promised an additional 70 hydrogen-fueling station patents that can be used by any electric automotive product let alone for its production. This economic phalanx can carry society to tomorrow while bringing tomorrow a bit closer with each new extension made today.
Don’t mistake these extensions as hyper or heroic. From an ECON 101 perspective, relinquishing proprietary components of a business is economic suicide. Before telling these companies’ novel engineers to stick to science, the economic potential of this movement can put Tesla and Toyota’s hydrogen-electric tandem ahead of all other future competitors in a market that is sure to grow.
Toyota eluded to this part of the marketing strategy, as their senior vice president, Bob Carter, explains that companies who manufacture and sell hydrogen-fuel cell vehicles can free use the patents “through their initial market introduction period, which they anticipate is today to the end of 2020.” Hence after, companies still interested in using the patents must sign a licensing contract. However, by placing “good faith” in the industry as well as within themselves, Tesla and Toyota are looking to set a palpable bar for others to exceed with an appropriate mentality that they’ve got nothing to lose. Sounds radical? How could it, considering creative innovation and bold risk-taking is how “tomorrow” is perceived and eventually conceived.
This “tomorrow” has been teed up by Tesla and driven by Toyota’s latest swing. Now it’s time for the rest of the industry to follow through, completing a stroke that can put society on the green every time. All that’s left is putting people into a better future. Sinking that putt is a result of successfully rising above globalization by globalizing an environmental solution.
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Emma Loewe is a senior at Duke University where she studies Environmental Science, English and Visual Media. She loves being outside, taking pictures and finding creative ways to write about sustainability.
It’s 2 p.m. in Whole Foods. Organic D’anjou pears from Washington beckon you into the produce section where a variable bounty awaits. Organic white onions sit unblemished despite their recent journey from the California croplands, whole trade Mexican bell peppers bask in their vibrant hues and hefty slices of New York strip steak gather around a “no cages, no crates, no crowding” label.
But what does it all mean?
More people are opting to go green than ever before and grocery stores are shifting to meet demand. Nearly three-quarters of U.S. supermarkets are now stocked with organic products. With humble beginnings rooted in the environmental movement of the 1970s, the organic market has expanded to conjure images of green pastures and smiling cows in the minds of shoppers nationwide. However, this imagined ideal does not always pan out.
The organic market is policed by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), an advisory committee composed of farmers, conservationists, consumer reps, processors, scientists and retailers. While some of the 15 constituent members are small-scale organic farmers by trade, others represent more industrialized interests. Carmela Beck, a NOSB farmer, is a program manager at Discolls. Tom Chapman, a handler, earns his living sourcing ingredients for Clif Bar. These members illustrate the notion that the organic market, like the conventional agriculture market, is ultimately a business. It has increased its supply in order to meet the demand of a booming market—taking on some characteristics more inherent to large-scale farming in the process.
Every five years, the NOSB revisits its list of synthetic substances that may be used in organic production and handling. These ingredients often serve to increase shelf life or product yield. The current list includes some chemical compounds—your ethanols, isporopanols and sodium hyplochlorates, in addition to some more baffling additives—liquid fish products and humic acids to name a few. I set out to Whole Foods (the very chain where, coincidentally, a previous NOSB member works as a quality standards coordinator) to look a little closer at its labels.
Over the course of my search, I came across organic trail mix that featured Silicon Dioxide, Cirtric Acids and Maltodextrin. Try saying that five times fast. The canned goods aisle brought me to organic soup made up of sodium citrate and a dash of “cheese flavor” for good measure. The organic cereal I picked up was made with vegetable glycerin—a common additive in cosmetics and soaps because of its cooling effect on the skin. Green pastures and smiling cows be dammed.
The labels on these organic products are often as varied as their ingredient lists. The label that carries the most weight as far as organics go is the one that reads “USDA Certified 100% Organic.” Foods that bear this label are made up of only organic ingredients and those synthetics that the standards board deems safe. The next step down is the “Certified Organic” label, which requires that at least 95 percent of a product’s ingredients are organic. This is followed by the “Made with Organic Ingredients” seal, which says that at least 70 percent of a food’s components are organic. Pair these markers with the 19 other third-party organic labels that exist outside of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) system and you end up with grocery shelves overflowing with sustainable claims. Many of the packages I saw in Whole Foods also advertised “all natural,” “premium quality” and “sustainably sourced” ingredients next to their various organic seals. Though the USDA has a regulatory team to monitor national product packaging, its scope is limited and most of these promises go unchecked and unsubstantiated.
You don’t need to look beyond your local grocery’s shelves to realize that the organic food market is defined in its complexities.
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Saren Peetz is a fourth-year College of the Atlantic student from Hudson, Ohio. “Through this project, I feel my interests have finally found a home, together, on islands. I am excited to continue this kind of work in both the Samso and Mount Desert Island communities this fall.”
[Editor's note: This is the third article in a 4-part series (read Part I, Part II and Part IV) from College of the Atlantic students studying ways to develop and implement renewable energy solutions for the Maine coast in a unique multidisciplinary, multigenerational field-based course developed by College of the Atlantic faculty and the Island Institute under the auspices of the Fund for Maine Islands. College of the Atlantic is an University partner on EcoWatch.]
It is hard to believe that, a month ago today, I boarded the ferry to leave Samso island. I feel my class and its participants have accomplished so much in just four weeks—in great part thanks to the inspiration of this little island in the middle of the Kattegat Sea.
Peaks Island, Maine—formerly a section of Portland—has 1,000 year-round residents and approximately one square mile of land. Photo credit: Saren Peetz
Samso gave us the ability to experience the possibilities for the future of Maine islands firsthand, and gain momentum for our own potential back home. This momentum allowed us to hit the ground running—literally—once back in the states.
I drove up to Bar Harbor on Saturday after flying in from Europe, and by Sunday evening I was back down in Portland boarding a ferry to Peaks Island—part of a three-person team focusing on Peaks through the Collaborative for Island Energy Research and Action (CIERA) program.
Located 20 minutes off Portland, Peaks Island has around 1,000 year-round residents and approximately one square mile of land. Fellow College of the Atlantic student Lauren Pepperman, islander Sam Saltonstall and I are working to decrease the dependence on heating oil and propane on the island.
While some teams in CIERA are struggling with the costly production of on-island electricity, Peaks receives its electricity from the mainland. Although we benefit from mainland prices for that particular utility, Peaks islanders are still paying as much as $1 more per gallon for heating oil than the mainland.
Like many islands in Maine, vacationers flock to Peaks during the summer. This swell in population during the warmest time of the year, while beneficial to the economy of the island, facilitates the construction of poorly insulated housing stock. Over the years, summer cottages became year-round housing, resulting in high heating bills for islanders. Our team recognizes that better home efficiency and converting to electrically driven heating systems could move Peaks away from the issue of high-cost heat.
While sitting in the Samso Energy Academy as we initiated this project’s journey, my team came up against the very first—and perhaps the most important—question in this process.
How do you get a community on board with such a project?
Soren Hermansen and his wife, Malene Lundén, leaders of the Samso project, have stressed time and time again to the CIERA group the need for a community to not only be in support of your work, but also to be involved within it.
The project needs to be “our” work—not “my” work or “their” work. It is inclusive.
We learned that, for Samso, this meant networking within different groups on the island, holding community meetings and engaging various community leaders.
Following this model, Lauren, Sam and I developed and sent out a survey to Peaks islanders while we were in Denmark.
As part of the survey, we asked them if they would be interested in helping their neighbors save money on energy bills. We recognized this as a loaded question.
The obligation is obviously to say yes, but this was somewhat intentional. We want islanders to start seeing energy costs as a community issue—and one they need to tackle together.
The results of this survey were presented at the first energy-related community meeting on Peaks Island on Oct. 13.
Lauren, Sam and I were expecting 20 to 30 people to attend. Nearly 50 did.
Slowly, as more people take initiative and rise to the occasion, it is possible for the community as a whole to become the leader of its own progress. Photo credit: Saren Peetz
During the meeting, we presented to the community information we obtained during the Samso experience and held breakout sessions to identify the challenges and potential for progress in energy work on the island.
I would not say that the atmosphere of the meeting was either pessimistic or optimistic, but rather realistic and hopeful for the future.
It was the community meeting that brought Lauren and I down to Peaks for the weekend.
In just the three days we spent there, I was amazed at resourcefulness of the community members of this tiny island. We met with the resident architect, the contractor, the school principal, contacted a former energy auditor and walked past the house of an islander who is a consultant for wind power. (He wasn’t home at the time, otherwise we would have stopped to say hello). All this knowledge and potential packed into 1.1 square miles. Amazing.
It has been essential to bring nearly all these talented local specialists into the project. They have conducted energy inventories of the local school, formulated future plans and offered contracting knowledge. Through this process I have learned that using the community as a resource not only benefits the project directly, but also fosters ownership of it amongst those involved. Slowly, as more people take initiative and rise to the occasion, it is possible for the community as a whole to become the leader of its own progress.
Soren and Malene were honest with us about Samso. These projects are not always triumph and glory; there are struggles and challenges along the way. As leaders of such projects, it can be difficult to remain motivated, to keep the end goal in mind. Project leaders can burn out, and their projects with them. Yet even after seventeen years, Malene and Soren have remained passionate about their work and their island. How they possibly managed this has been my question throughout this course. What keeps leaders going throughout marathon projects?
My experience these past few weeks with the members of the Peaks Island community may hold the answer to this question.
When the community is given the opportunity to take ownership of its own projects, the leadership burn-out of individuals may be mitigated. The weight of the project does not rest on any one person. This allows the initial project leader to take on a more facilitative role, as Soren has done on Samso. In this way, the role of community ownership is important throughout the life of a project, and not only at the beginning. It is what allows a project to be sustainable.
For this reason, we chose the school on Peaks Island to become the community model in energy efficiency and sustainable heating.
Participants in a Fund for Maine Islands course pioneered by College of the Atlantic and the Island Institute chose the school on Peaks Island to become a community model in energy efficiency and sustainable heating. Photo credit: Saren Peetz
Everyone pays taxes to the school, and many people on the island have school-age children. This entails an automatic sense of ownership over what happens there on behalf of the community. As we go about plans to supplant the current boiler with heat pumps—a strategy that could easily save the school tens of thousands of dollars a year on heating alone—and insulate the basement, we are already gaining support from Peaks islanders.
With a little time and proof of success, this support could flourish into leadership on projects in the future.
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