Fourteen small ways to save the planet
Green car parks, snow-eating robots and recycled fire engines can all help build a more sustainable lifestyle. But it would help if cows cut their gas emissions too
Plastic fire trucks
What’s red, but green all over? A recyclable plastic fire engine that runs on eco-friendly fuel. Four of these trucks have been stationed across Gloucestershire. Their alloy bodies are welded out of thermoplastic Polyprene, a highly durable, recyclable material. Three are fitted with catalytic converters and all four run on eco-friendly biofuel. They have a minimum life expectancy of 10 years.
Knees and trees never tire
Rubber sidewalks are springing up all over America, thanks to a company that’s turning old tyres into pavement slabs. Roots from trees can push up concrete slabs, creating dangerous, uneven surfaces. Rubbersidewalks’ new flexible walkways let roots grow without disrupting the sidewalk, so preventing injury and related lawsuits. The easy-on-the-knees pavements are cheap and easy to install, and one panel of sidewalk recycles five tyres.
How many batteries does it take to change the world? Just one if the Texan company Eestor’s ultracapacitator – a battery that uses barium-titanate powders instead of lithium-ion – lives up to the hype. The ultracapacitator lasts 10 times longer than traditional batteries, costs half the price and doesn’t contain any toxic chemicals or materials. Eestor’s modest, simple goal is to “replace the electro-chemical battery” in every application, from energy storage to electric vehicles and laptop computers.
Essential oils for cows
Methane emissions contribute significantly to climate chaos – and 14% of these emissions come from the humble cow. The problem is so serious that the EU proposed a quota for farm animal flatulence and New Zealand has even proposed a ‘flatulence tax’. Luckily, researchers in Aberdeen have found that essential oils in plants have such a beneficial effect on a cow’s stomach, they emit 70% less gas. And in Mexico, methane gas from waste at Granjas Carroll piggeries has been turned into electricity, saving the equivalent of 310,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.
The race to develop a green car has a new entrant on the grid: BMW’s hydrogen-powered car. Instead of pumping out murky clouds of carbon dioxide, the Hydrogen 7 emits dewy billows of pure water vapour. The keen green driver will, at the moment, struggle to find anywhere to refuel with hydrogen. California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has called for a statewide hydrogen highway network with 150 refuelling stops by 2010. Hydrogen may help green the world’s cars but it could take a decade or so.
In winter, 4m-high ‘walls’ of snow can cause chaos in central Japan. So researchers have developed Yuki-taro, an autonomous snowplough. Armed with GPS and video-camera eyes, the robot eats up snow and compresses it into hard blocks which it expels from its rear. Stored till summer, the blocks can be used to help with refrigeration or cooling. By 2012, a new improved Yuki-taro could be on sale for just £4,300.
Mechanical engineering students at Adelaide University have created the world’s first motorbike to run on the carbon-neutral fuel biodiesel. By tinkering with a customised bike frame, students created an engine which is less bulky than those usually used in motorbikes yet just as powerful. In Thailand, Vichai Wattanapailin has developed a motorbike which is fuelled by lead-free benzine, is fitted with a catalytic converter and can switch its engine off if it’s idling in heavy traffic.
The park on a car park
The Windy City’s Millennium Park is one of the world’s largest green roofs. Opened in 2004, the park now has more than 900 plants and has helped turn a grey urban expanse into a lush cultural haven. Over 24 acres of public parkland sit atop two subterranean car parks, a 1,500 seater theatre and a railway station. During construction the roof decking was waterproofed and landforms created from Styrofoam. Chicago has optioned 100 green roof builds with 93,000m2 of green space.
Architects and building owners must embrace sustainable design. Buildings account for 39% of America’s energy consumption, whereas transport (including cars) comprises 27%. The typical commercial structure will cost 10 times as much to run over a100-year life span as its cost to build Phillip G. Bernstein, architect, who teaches at the Yale School of Architecture
Growing in the wind
Ski resorts can count the cost of global warming in lost business and unpredictable snowfalls. So 19 resorts in seven American states have united to fight the problem.
These resorts have all converted to buying wind power credits to fuel 100% of their electricity needs. This initiative saves the equivalent of 150,000 return flights from New York to San Francisco in carbon dioxide emissions.
In a country where the environment is under severe pressure, singer-songwriter Tsai Brasil has tried to make his debut album carbon neutral. He calculated the negative environmental impact his CD would have, from the extraction of raw materials to the delivery of the finished product. Estimating that his CD had caused 5.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, he balanced this with some appropriate, carefully planned reforestation.
You need 20,000 litres of water a day to keep a football pitch in good nick. But in the south of England droughts and hose pipe bans mean it can be hard to use that much water. So, when architects designed Dartford FC’s new ground, they created two lakes nearby to collect rainwater. In a normal year the groundsmen shouldn’t need to use a drop of mains water to keep the pitch in good order. The 4,000- seat stadium has been dubbed the UK’s first ever sustainable football ground; it even has a green roof – made out of turf.
A green community
This village, built on a old army barracks south of Freiburg, has been developed as a model for sustainable living. People can travel free on the trams but must pay £11,000 for a car parking space. Vauban was completed in 2006. The 4,700 residents had a say in the village’s design. There is ample room for children’s play areas, a good public transport system and all the houses were built to low energy standards.
Inspired by Amsterdam’s free bike culture, Vienna has introduced 1,540 distinctive communal bicycles into the inner city. To beat vandals, the redesigned Citybikes are made of unique, durable parts. They are free to use for the first hour and can be taken from and returned to any of 100 depots where they’re secured as safely as supermarket trolleys. Touch screens at each depot show availability. The drive to reduce car usage has also led to the development of Florisdorf, a 450-resident car-free housing development.
On the remake
China’s rapid economic expansion comes with one hefty price tag: huge pollution costs. And, to trim those costs, the state has recently invested in a remanufacturing plant in Shanghai. Remanufacturing, a sophisticated yet simple method of remaking old pieces of machinery and equipment that are sold on as new, helps reduce waste and saves money by reducing the cost of materials. In a land full of cheap labour, this could save industry billions.
Article first published in Design Council Magazine, Issue 2, Summer 2007