Home Office Pitfalls

Scootsits_1 I’m talking on the phone to a client in Las Vegas. I see Scooter the Siamese Cat at the top of the stairs.

I’m thinking "Scooter don’t do it!"

He turns around and starts howling. He points his nose up and lets out about five 6-second yowls — they sound like someone is torturing a baby.

I don’t know how he does it, but he can always tell when I don’t want him to howl. Then he really lets go. But if I’m on the phone with a friend and I want Scooter to howl because I’m bragging about his vocal skills, he’s completely silent. Nada.

He’s old but rarely misses an opportunity for mischief.

The Ford Rouge Center

Ford takes the leadership in Detriot:

In 1917, Ford Motor Company’s River Rouge plant was an icon of 20th century manufacturing. A modern marvel, the full-scale vertically integrated production system, which functioned like a single complex machine, was later copied by other manufacturers.

Today, revitalization plans for the Ford Rouge Center are no less ambitious with the goal of becoming an icon of sustainable manufacturing for the 21st century. In other words, an environmentally-responsible facility that produces quality vehicles at lower costs. And it all starts at the redesigned Dearborn Truck Plant in Dearborn, Mich., home to the 2004 F-150 as well as the world’s largest living roof, a porous pavement parking lot, natural wetlands, and a process for turning paint fumes into power, to name some of the environmental initiatives in action.

Link: Ford Vehicles: Environmental Initiatives

"It’s a living laboratory," says Andy Acho, Ford Motor Company’s Worldwide Director of Environmental Outreach & Strategy, who arranged our sneak peek of the facility, which opens to the public in May 2004. "As we learn more, we’ll find places to apply these technical and environmental initiatives."

On tour at the plant, also innovative for state-of-the-art lean and flexible manufacturing, you learn plenty about the 1,100-acre Ford Rouge Center in glorious detail. You begin at the Rouge Visitor Center, which recently earned Gold certification by the U.S. Green Building Council. First, a three-screen film tells the history of the Rouge followed by a 360-degree multisensory movie taking you into the 21st century. Detailing the production of a new F-150 with special effects – sound, heat, vibration and mist – it puts you "there" in the production process. At the Observation Deck, a panoramic view of the 10.4-acre living roof reveals the future of automotive manufacturing. Finally, you see the production process firsthand on a self-guided 1/3-mile tour of the final assembly line along an elevated walkway.

10.4 acre living roof

Of all the initiatives, the 10.4-acre living roof, the world’s largest, seems to be generating the most interest. It is covered with sedum, a drought-resistant perennial ground cover that flowers in the summer, attracting butterflies. It looks like a large lawn – the size of five football fields – inviting enough to conjure images of picnicking, although that, we are told, will not be happening.

Rather, the roof’s primary function is to catch and clean rainfall as part of a natural storm water management system, which maintains water quality in nearby lakes and steams. The living roof works with the porous pavement, underground storage basins, natural treatment wetlands and vegetated swales to reduce the amount of storm water flowing into the Rouge River. The porous pavement allows rainwater to trickle down through gravel and into stone storage basins to filter out particles. So instead of having a chemical-based storm water treatment plant, this system mimics nature.

Sedum also traps airborne dust and dirt, absorbs carbon dioxide and creates oxygen, all of which help improve air quality while providing a habitat for birds, insects and butterflies. The living roof will also save money: It is expected to last at least twice as long as a traditional roof and because sedum insulates the building, it costs less to heat and cool the plant. You also learn that Henry Ford was big on natural light, hence there are 10 giant window boxes, plus 36 smaller skylights atop the plant, further cutting electric bills.

The redesigned Ford Rouge Assembly Plant, just outside of Detroit, opened in June, 2004.

Fumes-to-Fuel and Phytoremediation

Also within the Rouge Center, Ford is testing a system that generates electricity from paint fumes. The Fumes-to-Fuel System converts the volatile organic compounds found in paint fumes into hydrogen fuel for fuel cells. The electricity produced by the fuel cells will then be sent to the plant’s energy grid.

Phytoremediation is another experiment that naturally removes contaminants (left over from decades of steel manufacturing) from the soil. The process uses plants, and the microbes attached to their roots, to break down contaminants into harmless organic compounds, which are absorbed into the roots. This method costs less than excavating and landfilling, is solar driven and adds beauty to the landscape while restoring wildlife habitats.

Even during the last stage of the tour, inside the one-million square-foot final assembly plant, where videos and live shots explain how the vehicle is assembled, you discover still more environmental initiatives. One plaque, for example, explains that the company minimizes waste by packaging vehicle parts in reusable plastic containers.

Indeed, the signs are all around. As you leave, while it’s clear you’re at a large manufacturing complex, you also pass a crabapple orchard (which provides food for birds, bees and other pollinators), wetlands, and plenty of green spaces. As Acho puts it, "The Rouge Center is an outstanding example of Ford Motor Company’s dedication to providing ingenious environmental solutions that will position us as a leader in the automotive industry in the 21st century. And it continues our quest for proactive environmental actions that help preserve the environment for future generations."

Ford’s Escape Hybrid

Kudos to Ford

The Ford Escape Hybrid is a whole new kind of SUV that combines electric and gasoline propulsion without compromise to provide breakthrough performance, efficiency, cleanliness and convenience.

The Escape Hybrid is the first vehicle to combine an advanced hybrid powertrain in a highly versatile sport-utility configuration. Conventional cars and trucks use a gasoline-fueled internal combustion engine to generate power. So does a hybrid vehicle. The twist is the hybrid’s second power channel, which comes from an integrated electric-drive system.

Hybrids combine the best of both worlds – the attributes of an advanced gasoline engine blended with the benefits inherent to electric power. Ford’s no-compromise approach means that the Escape Hybrid drives normally and performs superbly. It also offers all the features you’d expect: comfortable seating for five, cargo room that can be expanded from 27.6 cubic feet (behind the 2nd row seat) to a maximum of 65.5 (with the rear seat cushions removed) cubic feet and 1,000-pound towing capacity. Plus the optional Intelligent 4WD System offers the same all-weather traction and off-road capability available in traditional Escape models.

Link: Ford Vehicles: Environmental Initiatives

Like a Rolling Stone in the Music Business

This article about Bob Dylan’s big break illustrates how well the music business recognizes talent.

Shaun Considine tells the saga of Bob Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone, which was just named greatest rock ‘n’ roll song of all time by Rolling Stone magazine. He was co-ordinator of new releases at Columbia Records when song was recorded in 1965.

He says that the single was almost not released because company executives thought it was too long and because they did not like rock ‘n’ roll (It was this thinking that had led the label to turn down Elvis Presley in 1955 and the first American album by the Beatles in 1963).

Considine took the single to hot new disco in Manhattan and had it played there. A DJ at one radio station and music programmer at another heard song and rest is history.

Link: The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Contributor: The Hit We Almost Missed.

Turning Waste into Energy

From Joel Makower at the Two Steps Forward blog:

Turning waste into fuel. Seems like one of those too-good-to-be-true concepts — like cars that run on water. But it’s far from farfetched.

An Agricultural Research Service soil scientist at the North Central Soil Conservation Research Laboratory in Morris, Minn., has teamed up with an inventor of a patent-pending process to turn agricultural biomass — wastes like peanut shells — into hydrogen fuel and charcoal fertilizer. Volatiles and steam released by charring biomass produce hydrogen. The charring turns the biomass into charcoal pieces. This charcoal becomes a nitrogen-enriched fertilizer with the addition of ammonia formed by combining a third of the hydrogen with nitrogen. The remaining hydrogen can be sold as fuel, both for a hydrogen-based, clean diesel and to run fuel cells.

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin at Madison have found a way to use the carbon monoxide — a waste gas — to produce more energy in a reaction that can take place at room temperature. The method could eventually be used in portable systems that use renewable fuel produced from plant matter, said James Dumesic, a U of W professor of chemical and biological engineering. The process could also be used to treat wastewater and contaminated gas streams, he said.

Dr. Bruce Rittmann, a professor at Northwestern University, has posed an answer to the following quandary: On a two-year trip to Mars, according to one estimate, a crew of six humans will generate more than six tons of solid organic waste — much of it feces. So what do you do with all that?

According to Space.com, what Rittmann proposes to do is to harness bacteria — specifically, a member of the Geobacteraceae family that feeds on, and can decompose, organic material. Geobacter microbes were first discovered in the muck of the Potomac River in 1987; they like to live in places where there’s no oxygen and plenty of iron. They also have the unexpected ability to move electrons into metal. That means that under the right conditions, Geobacter microbes can both process waste and generate electricity.

This isn’t just pie-in-the-sky stuff. In Washington state, King County’s Wastewater Treatment Division, FuelCell Energy Inc., and the U.S. EPA are jointly sponsoring the world’s largest demonstration project of a fuel cell using digester gas — a.k.a. methane — as fuel. Two King County wastewater treatment plants now use gas generated during treatment operations, which is sold to two local utilities.

What’s going on here? While a typical fuel cell runs on hydrogen, these microbial fuel cells rely on bacteria to metabolize food, releasing electrons that yield a steady electrical current. Other microbial fuel cells have used fuels like glucose or ethanol. In the case of King County, the fuel was skimmed from the settling pond of a wastewater treatment plant.

The potential, suffice to say, is tremendous. Why drill, dig, and mine "virgin" energy sources when there is endless potential to capture the detritus of human and industrial activity and transform it into electricity and usable fuels?

Link: The Alchemy of Turning Waste into Energy

The rise of the green building

Architecture: New buildings use design and technology to reduce environmental impact, cut costs and provide better places to work

IT IS officially known as the Swiss Re Tower, or 30 St Mary Axe. But Londoners universally refer to the newest addition to their skyline as “the Gherkin”, thanks to the 41-storey building’s distinctive, curved profile, which actually looks more like a pine cone (see right). What is most remarkable about the building is not its name or its shape, however, but its energy-efficiency. Thanks to its artful design and some fancy technology, it is expected to consume up to 50% less energy than a comparable conventional office building.
Most people are not used to thinking of large buildings as vast, energy-guzzling machines. But that is what they are. In America, buildings account for 65% of electricity consumption, 36% of total energy use and 30% of greenhouse-gas emissions. So making buildings more energy-efficient could have a significant impact on energy policy, notes Rebecca Flora of the Green Building Alliance, a group that promotes sustainable architecture. That is a key goal of the “green architecture” movement, which is changing the way buildings are designed, built and run.

Link: Economist.com | REPORTS.

via Alex Steffen

USC Opens Green Dorm and Learning Center

This makes me proud to be an alumnus.

This complex uses 45 percent less energy and 20 percent less water than traditional facilities of the same size.

The University of South Carolina officially opened the school’s first "green" dorm, called West Quad, a 172,000-square-foot complex that includes three four-story buildings that houses 500 undergraduates. The complex is one of the first of its kind in the U.S., and the school believes it is helping set the standard for more eco-conscious college facilities.

The complex, which was built with a significant amount of recycled materials–ranging from the cement blocks and copper roof to the interior carpet–is also intended to encourage students to learn more about their environment. Biology students, faculty, and residents even helped grow and plant drought-resistant, low-growing greenery as part of an extensive storm-water filtering and management system. The complex also boasts an outdoor amphitheater, and a cafeteria that sells healthy foods and environmentally sensitive products.

As part of that philosophy, West Quad includes a 9,000-square-foot living and learning center where classes are held on sustainability, environmental groups can hold meetings and faculty can host conferences.

The complex cost $30.9 million to build, about the same cost as a traditional residence hall, despite the fast-dissolving myth that building green costs more. Furthermore, its systems will operate with significantly reduced utility costs, since West Quad uses 45 percent less energy and 20 percent less water than traditional residence halls of the same size.

Water is preheated by a solar collection system and electricity and hot water for the learning center are generated partly by a five-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell, which also will be used as a teaching tool by chemical-engineering faculty. The turf roof on the learning center not only cools the building by absorbing heat but reduces rainwater runoff, improving storm water management. The complex will also contribute fewer greenhouse gases, since its heating, ventilation, cooling, refrigeration and fire suppression systems are free of ozone-depleting substances.

Special light shelves in the windows ensure energy efficiency and comfort by deflecting natural light into the rooms and reflecting it off the ceiling to light the room and reduce the heat of direct sunlight. Interior lights have motion sensors. Low-flow plumbing, high-efficiency washers and dryers, a changing room for bicyclists who commute to campus and lots of outdoor green space for relaxation add to West Quad’s intelligent design.

USC has registered West Quad with the U.S. Green Building Council and is awaiting the council’s LEED certification. To date, only two universities have residence halls with LEED certification–Carnegie Mellon, with a 71,000-square-foot building, and Duke University, which renovated a residence hall.

If certified, West Quad will be the third LEED building in South Carolina. The other two are Furman University’s Hipp Hall, an academic building; and the Cox and Dinkins offices, an engineering and surveying firm in Columbia.

The university is also currently constructing its new Arnold School of Public Health to adhere to sustainable principles.

Link: Interior Design – USC Opens Green Dorm and Learning Center

via Treehugger

New Eco-Friendly Printing Service Combines Quality with Sustainability

I hope businesses founded on ideals like this can be successful.

WASHINGTON, Nov. 18, 2004 – GreenerPrinter.com, a new environmentally friendly printing service, offers businesses the first online, certified “green” printer to ship products in a “climate-neutral” way — having a zero-net impact on the earth’s climate.

GreenerPrinter.com combines environmental responsibility with high-quality, cost-effective products, and is a partnership between GreenBiz.com, the premier online resource center on business, the environment and the bottom line, and Tulip Graphics, a full-service graphics production services company.

Through GreenerPrinter.com, customers can obtain high-quality, cost-competitive printing services featuring real-time print quotes, online ordering and state-of-the-art recycled paper options. With a standard product turnaround of three days, organizations can align printing needs of any scope and size with environmental goals.

“GreenerPrinter.com provides access to environmentally responsible printing services that are convenient and affordable, no matter where the customer is based,” said Joel Makower, founder of GreenBiz.com. “Thanks to great suppliers, including New Leaf Paper and Climate Neutral Network, GreenerPrinter.com offers a unique combination of top-notch results with minimal impact on the environment, both in production and shipping.”

While many companies offer options including recycled papers and environmentally friendly inks, the climate-neutral aspect of GreenPrinter.com sets this service apart. The climate impact of shipping finished print jobs is offset 100% through investments in WindBuilders and Green Tags, both of which reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Link: GreenBiz News

U.Va Professor Leads Study of North America Environment

Hopefully they will uncover some important cause-and-effect relationships.

Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and other early Americans kept meticulous records of temperature, precipitation and barometric pressure. They often compared notes with each other, looking for long-term trends and relationships. Jefferson even proposed that every county seat have a weather station. He was concerned about the effects of climate change on farming.

By the 1870s, the United States began building a network of weather stations across the country to better predict the weather and to understand the relationships between conditions in different areas. This eventually led to our daily weather forecasts, which can be relied upon for agriculture, transportation, commerce and everyday safety.

Jefferson also suggested conducting biological surveys, which have happened too, but sometimes haphazardly, with scientists in different locations often working in isolation on similar problems.
That may be about to change.

Bruce Hayden, U.Va. professor of environmental sciences, has been chosen by the National Science Foundation to head a national team of scientists in planning a multimillion-dollar National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). The project will consist of numerous research stations across the continent, from the arctic to the tropics, all linked by state-of–the-art communications and data management equipment.

The concept for NEON is driven by the understanding that most systems in nature, such as watersheds or grasslands, share common characteristics and that all systems are interrelated and ultimately co-dependent. By setting up observatories around the continent — each conducting similar observations and studies and sharing data throughout a long period of time — patterns and trends will begin to emerge, enlightening scientists’ understanding of the various ecosystems and the global environment. Hayden and his colleagues hope to design a network that will allow scientists to more fully understand the effects of human activity on landscapes and how nature responds to these changes. The long-term goal of NEON is prediction of the future states of ecological systems.

Some of the big areas that will be investigated include climate change, patterns of land use, invasive species and the spread of infectious disease.

Link: A&S Online – Jefferson’s dream come true.