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Vote for Your Favorite Company Expediting Renewable Energy

Every quarter, the nonprofit Green America gives out their People & Planet Award and a $5,000 cash prize to three businesses that practice the best in sustainability in categories such as community development, green travel, worker empowerment and more. This winter's 10 finalists have been recognized for their efforts in advancing clean energy. You can help decide the winners by voting for your three favorites before 8 p.m. EST, March 2.

1. Organic Transit (Durham, North Carolina)

Organic Transit builds solar-powered ELF (“Electric, Light and Fun”) bikes that can go up to 30 miles per hour and comes with headlights, turn signals, a roof and plenty of cargo space, The Atlantic’s CityLab reported. The company says that if their ELF is used in place of a car, it could prevent up to six tons of CO2 from spewing into the atmosphere each year.

2. Rain Catchers (Kernersville, North Carolina)

Addressing global water shortages, food insecurity and climate changeRain Catchers secures quality water supply through rain water harvesting and storing it below ground. They practice innovative water harvesting solutions, such as solar pumping from any water source, storm water management, UV filtration and more.

3. SkyBar (Tucson, Arizona)

Sky Bar is the only solar-powered bar on Earth and also shares its 300 solar panels with its sister restaurant, Brooklyn Pizza Company. When it gets dark, the bar offers astronomy shows along with deep space images displayed from their own telescopes.

4. Sunlight Solar Systems (Salt Lake City, Utah)

Locally owned Sunlight Solar Systems has installed more than 250 residential, commercial and industrial projects since 2008. Their green practices are from top to bottom—their office and warehouse is a net-zero building and they recycle everything from glass, cardboard, metals and plastics.

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5. Technicians for Sustainability (Tucson, Arizona)

Since 2003, Technicians for Sustainability has installed more than 9 megawatts of solar in Southern Arizona. The company specializes in renewable energy and sustainable technologies for residential and commercial settings, including solar electric and solar hot water.

"Solar in Arizona is a ‘no brainer.’ To me, the cost was like buying a small car, but unlike a car, solar pays for itself after a few years and offsets your electricity bills for the next 25 years,” said Technicians For Sustainability customer Marri. Photo credit: Technicians For Sustainability

6. Clean Power Perks in (Boston, Massachusetts) 

Clean Power Perks is a web-based platform that helps people find clean energy brands and also rewards them with exclusive deals and discounts from brands like prAna, Preserve, Emmy’s Organics, Timberland and other businesses that use clean energy.

7. Ethical Electric in (District of Columbia) 

Energy company Ethical Electric allows their customers to buy 100 percent clean power from renewable sources like wind and solar. In 2014 alone, Ethical Electric's customers have abated 605 millions pounds of CO2, the equivalent of preventing the burning of 294 million pounds of coal, taking 57,773 cars off the road or planting 7 million trees, the company says.

8. Envision Solar (San Diego, California)

Envision Solar aims to transform parking lots into solar power plants that can also charge electric vehicles at the same time. The company creates solar tree structures and the world’s only transportable solar-powered electric vehicle charging station, called the EV ARC.

9. Maple Hill Farm Inn and Conference Center (Hallowell, Maine)

It's not your average B&B, that's for sure. Maple Hill Farm Inn runs on solar and wind power, heats with a sustainable wood-pellet boiler, uses LED lighting and is planning an EV-charging station. "We have always been committed to protect Maine’s beautiful environment (which is why our guests come to stay with us) and to tread as lightly on the Earth as we can," the company says. "We have always used local and Maine-made products, minimized our use of harmful chemicals, reduced our solid waste and shared our commitment to sustainability with all our guests."

Maine's first certified Environmental Leader green lodging and conference center with large solar electric array, solar hot water and wind turbine. Photo Credit: Maple Hill Farm Inn and Conference Center

10. NativeEnergy (Burlington, Vermont)

NativeEnergy provides businesses and individuals the opportunity to invest in new clean energy in the U.S. and clean water in developing countries. The company helps businesses and individuals identify and reduce their greenhouse gas pollution and attain their sustainability goals. Clients include eBay, Keurig Green Mountain, Ben & Jerry's, Interface, Stonyfield Farm, Esurance and National Geographic. The company will dedicate the $5,000 prize to helping implement the Ghana Clean water project, which will help offset 325 metric tons of CO2, the equivalent of taking about 68 passenger cars off the road for a year.

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Sustainable t-shirts by Allbirds are made from a new, low-carbon material that uses a mineral extract from discarded snow crab shells. Jerry Buttles / Allbirds

In the age of consumption, sustainability innovations can help shift cultural habits and protect dwindling natural resources. Improvements in source materials, product durability and end-of-life disposal procedures can create consumer products that are better for the Earth throughout their lifecycles. Three recent advancements hope to make a difference.

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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