Monday, November 30, 2009

Soap Hope

What happens after you build up a tech company and then sell it? You save the world and women's health by starting Soap Hope.

Their simple, green mission is that every purchase of their natural soap goes towards helping women in poverty. They invest 100% of their profits into microloans to underprivileged women. The staff does all the research to ensure the products are free of parabens, harmful chemicals, dyes and killer fragrances. They even offer coupons on some of their purchases. With fast online shipping, why not try something green and hopeful for the holidays.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

GoodGuide Scans

Here's an idea - use technology for information. However, there is nothing like have the right information at your fingertips just in time for Thanksgiving. Scan that can of green beans. Scan that bag of wild rice. Scan the whip cream for the pumpkin pie. Most of the barcode information has been scanned, tracked and logged into a super database, which your iPhone can look up to help you make good, healthy, environmental choices.

The free GoodGuide app is stupid simple. Just tap, scan, wait, and review the product ratings. The overall rating is accompanied by three categories of social, environmental and health ratings. Did I mention you don't necessarily need an iPhone to help your green conscience? You can also text "41411" saying "gguide shampoo" and you will be provided with information back indicating that Tom's of Maine, Burt's Bees, and Nuture My Body are the top 3 brands in that category.

Go GoodGuide! GoSustaino!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Talking Trash

To put it in simple terms, plastic outweighs surface zooplankton six to one in the North Pacific Gyre. There is more debris and junk out there than you can imagine and it is killing birds, fish and anything that swims near it. Somewhat like the blob, but worse and real! How does all of this happen?

When a plastic cup or container is thrown on the beach it gets caught in the California Current, (for example) which travels down the coast toward Central America, perhaps off the coast of Mexico to connect with the North Equatorial Current, which flows toward Asia. Off the coast of Japan, the Kuroshio Current could push it eastward again, until the North Pacific Current takes over and carries it past Hawaii to the garbage patch. These are currents that make up the North Pacific Gyre - the ultimate garbage vortex.
Capt. Charles Moore of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation first discovered the Great Pacific Garbage Patch - an endless floating waste of plastic trash. Now he is drawing attention to the growing, choking problem of plastic debris in our seas. See his adventures and disaster garbage stories here:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Self-repairing Architecture

Venice, Italy is sinking. To save it, Rachel Armstrong says we need to outgrow architecture made of inert materials and, well, make architecture that grows itself. She proposes a not-quite-alive material that does its own repairs and sequesters carbon, too

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Heating Up

The Spanish firm, Acciona Energy, is scaling up for major renewable projects in the U.S. Why and how? The biggest trend is incentives from our federal government. Sadly, our U.S. private companies could not get their act together as fast as the Saudi's and Europeans. This year alone Acciona opened the largest solar thermal plant in 16 years. Starting in Boulder City, NV, with a 64MW plant ($266million) and now planning a project 3 times bigger, in the desert, roughly 200MW strength. Of course, the location is still to be determined and surely sources are investigating feverishly. Today Acciona Energy owns both solar thermal and solar PV farms, and the power that is proposed to be generated by the solar thermal is estimated at $0.15 per kilowatt hour, or roughly half the cost power from panels.

Source: Treehugger News and Politics, Nov. 2009

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Bloomingdale Trail Project

New York has the High Line project, San Fran has the Bay Line, now Chicago is making their mark with the Bloomingdale Trail. The project is designed to transform railways into public parks along a 3-mile section of elevated rail. For the Chicago project, the design features include a greenhouse, hydrogen generation facility that offers organic, local food for the community and even provides a fuel source for the Chicago schools. A Sustaino idea for the locals! The Bloomingdale Trail was abandoned in 1980's and co-designed by Gesler and 4240 Architecture. Where is Cleveland's?

Monday, November 16, 2009

High Line Manhattan

Conservation, ecological restoration and industrial transformation are on the hot list these last ten years as big cities (Pittsburgh, Manhattan, Cleveland, and Chicago) are working to beautify their communities. Concrete, plants, brick, vegetable gardens - all living in harmony in the big city roofs and platforms. One of the more popular projects, High Line Project, has been getting the attention of Sustainos, Architects, City Planning Commissioners and Engineers. Why? With access to more federal money in form of grants and working to attract the Brain Gain, cities are working to one-up another each other while supporting the notion of buy local. Buy local at restaurants, stores, museums and art galleries!

The High Line project has been gaining lots of momentum (with the railway trains) through three of Manhattan's tremondous, dynamic, funky neighborhoods. These include the Meatpacking District, West Chelsea, and Hell's Kitchen/Clinton. When the High Line was built in the 1930's, the neighborhoods were dominated by industrial and transportation uses. Now many of the warehouses and factories have been transformed into hip art galleries, uber cool design studios, museums, residencies and restaurants.

Friday, November 13, 2009


Nissan is taking the LEAF, fully electric vehicle (EV) on the road today as they tour Los Angeles for four days. It is part of the Zero Emission Tour covering 11 states, 22 cities between now and February 14th. The goal is to build up awareness and commitment to being the first-mass-produced EV.

That's right - it's almost within our reach! (Hurray up MINI-E). With roughly a 100-mile range, top speed of 87mph, the battery can be charged in 30-minutes to reach 80% capacity. Not bad in comparison to the MINI-E, with about a 150-mile range, top speed of 92mph, and taking about 3 hours for a full charge. As the tour extends, the momentum builds, 2,500 network stations are under construction in Oregon, San Diego, Tennessee, and Phoenix. To read tour updates and schedules, visit the microsite here.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Eating Animals

An inspiring book by Jonathan Safran Foer called Eating Animals has hit a nerve with Foodies, Sustainos and Farmers. Indeed, a head-turning title that reveals the truth and challenges associated with our modern day meat-friendly diets. His book is part of the on-going documentary and educational trend complimenting Food, Inc., King Corn, Omnivores Dilemma, and The Future of Food. (I highly recommend seeing and reading all!). Each has a common, scary theme that points to corporate profits and the mass production of food, much of which is genetically modified.

This human food experiment becomes more real and "in your face" as the author documents the human costs of factory farming consisting of the dangers for slaughterhouse workers to the environmental effects of mass meat productions. He details how large amounts of pig shit, commonly sprayed into the air, is linked to increasing human respiratory problems as well as the mutation of new bacterial strains from antibiotic overuse on animals. While that is only scratching the surface on our nation's food conundrums, he takes a deeper look into our belief system associated with the symbolic relationship of food and traditions. To see the video and interview with Ellen, click here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


I'm back after a long weekend in Los Angeles, CA, absorbing not only some sunshine but a wealth of knowledge on new sustainable trends. While attending the 3rd Annual Opportunity Green Conference at UCLA, I felt grateful for having the opportunity to meet some of our nation's top sustainable brands, authors and entrepreneurs that are making a difference in our green economy. One of the many sponsors of the conference was MiniUSA as they showcased a variety of Mini-E's on the market. I was able to borrow one mug, fully electric, the whole weekend from a relative that is currently leasing one of the 500 in the marketplace today. Incredibly quiet, smooth, sexy and long lasting with a 150-mile range with speeds up to 92MPH. I quickly learned that I have a lead foot and the power went from 75% to 50% after aggressive driving. The regenerative breaking took some getting use to, but after 10-minutes many get the hang of not placing your foot on the brake as the vehicle slowly coasts and slows down.

Unfortunately, for the MidWest, South and East, the Mini E is not currently has option. The 500 vehicles are part of a one year pilot program in CA, NY, and NJ. Every 3 months drivers are asked to take in their vehicle for a short appointment where data is downloaded to learn about driving patterns, performance and battery maintenance. There has been talk that the owners may have the opportunity to have the program extended after one year or buy-out the vehicle. Again, negotiations with Munich headquarters are still underway to review data and demand.

As a Sustaino, I would love to have the opportunity to purchase one and install a plug-in option in my garage. With testing still underway, competition from Nissan LEAF, a fully electric vehicle (EV), is finalizing their contract for distribution in the U.S. Their Zero-Emission tour starts on Nov. 13th Los Angeles.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Auto XPrize 2009

The XPrize is a $10million+ award given to an individual or team that completes a specific goal, which is set by the XPrize Foundation. The XPrize taps in our competitive bones and creative minds as we work hard to see the fruits of our efforts solve national or global challenges. For the Auto category, this year's challenge is to produce a super fuel efficient vehicle as a reasonable real-world option. See a few of the 43 finalists from 10 countries. For more details, check out autoblog and Design Boom.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Dirty Energy

Who says you can't play with dirt? Most smart geeks are nowadays, especially, the Lebone team of Harvard scientists who are transforming ideas into off the grid technology. For years, scientists have been aware that small amounts of electricity could be harvested from a metabolic reaction of good ole bacteria. After huge investments in R&D and elbow grease, the innovators known today as Lebone, have been working to end Africa's energy and light crisis through the emerging technology of microbial fuel cells (MFC's).

The MFC's were small pouches of inexpensive wire and manure rich soil that could power LED lights and charge cellphones. With tweaks to their design, in 2008, the Lebone team (meaning light stick in Southern African Sotho language) tested their prototypes in Tanzania. Arriving in a 5-gallon bucket, the device comprised a graphite cloth anode, chicken wire, manure mud (for fuel), sand (for the ion barrier) and saltwater (as an electrolyte). The learnings from the field test proved helpful for the 2009 pilot program featuring 100 interconnected MFC's for increased voltage. As long as the microbes were kept happy by munching away, the power could be produced. Read more about the team's African adventures here.
Image and Source: Popular Mechanics, Nov. 2009.

Seeping Below

Deep below the Arctic Ocean, German and English scientists have found hundreds of methane gas plumes. Using sonar to identify 250 columns of bubbles, the findings point to a large source of methane. With this discovery, the US DOE says there is more energy in the trapped methane than all the world's combined fossil fuels. So what's stopping us from tapping it?

For starters, it's extremely cold the last time I checked in the Arctic. Meaning some of the bubbling and leaking methane become icelike hydrate and is trapped in the seabed, while the gas is released as the sediment thaws. More interestingly, a majority of the methane currently released from the ocean sediment and/or seabed is dissolved into the seawater. The good news it prevents the greenhouse gas (GHG) from reaching the atmosphere. The bad news is the increasing acidification of the water.

Source: Popular Mechanics, Nov. 2009
Image Source: Uprising Radio

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Eco Composter

I was watching Ask This Old House, on Sunday as usual and seemed to be magnetized by the a unique sphere. A tumbler system, known as the Eco Composter, is ideal for breaking down material into rich nutrients. Food scraps and leaves can be easily added to this innovative airflow system. While the holes are beneficial, you also won't have to break your back turning your compost because this one rolls allowing for easy mixing. Made of recycled materials, this 71-gallon composter one-ups traditional 25 and 50-gallon closed bins. Its easy to assemble, costs roughly $170 with a strong base stand, and properly closes to avoid having animals eat any of your leftovers.

Source: Green Living 2009

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Waves of Energy

Over the river and through the waves to San Francisco here I come. While surfers have collectively been magnetized to the west coast, an attractive site about 5 miles from the city's western beach is being scoped out for the Ocean Wave Energy Project. And it's simply that - a sustaino project investigating the potential of wave energy generation from the Pacific Ocean. For clarification, this is not tidal power.

For years, man has been trying desparately to harness energy from the earth's natural resources. Even water, while predictable, is not always controllable due to temperature variations, wind resistance, weather disturbances and lack of technology. While we certainly don't have a shortage of technology now, BioPower Systems, is one-upping our nation's green attempts through the integration of biomimicry. Inspired by the creatures it will live with, bioWAVE's modular wave system will be considered for the proposed Ocean Wave Energy Project and may lead to further project development, according to John Doyle, acting manager of infrastructure at San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. Thanks to heart-thrub, Mayor Gavin Newson, his leadership and vision to making San Francisco profitable, productive and sustainable, has put forth a new meaning to Triple Bottom Line while showcasing multiple city case studies.

These specific bioWAVE units, developed for 250kW, 500kW, 1000kW capacities, will connect to a utility-size power grid via subsea cables. It is predicted that the same Californian waves that boogie-up surfers could generate between 10MW and 100MW of power. That’s enough energy to power between 3,000 to 30,000 homes annually.

Source: Ode Magazine - Intelligent Optimists, 2009

Monday, November 2, 2009

Future Joysticks

Let's start November off on the right foot. More like non-lead foot with this electric vehicle from Toyota. The FT-EV II, "Future Toyota Electric Vehicle II" is cute as a button; however, the specs are unique and appealing even if you are not a fuel cell engineer or professional racecar driver.

Powered by a lithium-ion battery, the FT-EV II can easily zoom away with four passengers. From a design perspective, it is meant for short distances (92 mph top speed and 56 mile range) and based on the idea of future mobility societies. It is part of their brand philosophy to be futuristic, functional and innovative. Interestingly, it also has a joystick, which controls the brakes, steering and throttle, but not the seamless large windows and LED powered lights. It's being categorized as Ultra-compact (compared to the Toyota iQ). It's compact, cute, fast, and eco-friendly, and coming to a dealership near you in 2012.

Image Source: Design Boom, 2009