Author Archives: tjones

an intensive green roof in manhattan. image licensed under creative commons.

In terms of sustainability and reducing one’s impact on the environment, living in a city can have – perhaps surprisingly – distinct advantages over living in the suburbs or countryside.  New York City, in particular, is consistently ranked as one of the most energy-efficient places to live in America, thanks to our proliferative public transportation system, reliance on natural gas as our primary energy source, walkability, and mixed-use zoning laws.  Indeed, an average New Yorker’s carbon footprint is about one-third that of an average American.

I don’t meant to offer unqualified praise of New York City and its efficiency, because there are significant environmental drawbacks to living in a large city, as well.  The issues we face in New York are substantial: lack of access to green space; the relatively long distance food must travel to feed our massive population; elevated asthma rates, especially in children; the urban heat island effect; and severe water pollution from heavy rains, thanks to our combined sewage-storm water pipes.

But fortunately, different governmental, nonprofit, and civic organizations are working to address these issues, and Sustainable South Bronx is one of them.

In particular, Sustainable South Bronx (SSBX) is working on the expansion of green roofs – the environmentally- and socially-beneficial effects of which are substantial and numerous.

Green roofs, in their most basic form, are living vegetation systems, or gardens, on the roofs of buildings.  They come in numerous forms, shapes, and sizes, but this is one of their great strengths – they can be adapted to function in nearly any scenario, providing substantial benefits to the buildings and communities where they are located.

Typically a green roof consists of an impermeable membrane across the surface of the roof.  On top of this is placed a drainage layer, a filter fabric, a lightweight growing medium, and finally vegetation.  Roofs which are capable of bearing very heavy loads can support even trees and large shrubbery; roofs which are a little weaker typically support lighter-weight flora like grasses and wildflowers.

The benefits are indeed surprising, and actually mitigate many of the urban environmental issues I listed above – even childhood asthma rates.  Green roofs provide insulation from the sun, and lower the temperature of the building, reducing cooling costs in the summer, and reducing heat loss in the winter.  They also perform important functions for the urban water cycle: green roofs absorb rainwater, preventing excess water from running directly into the sewage system which exhausts into local waterways (including the East and Hudson rivers in NYC).  Green roofs also reduce the urban heat island effect through natural shading, insulating, evaporative and evapotranspirative properties.  They also provide more green space to area residents, and reduce air pollution by trapping particulate matter, and reduce greenhouse gases by absorbing more carbon dioxide.  To read more about the numerous benefits of green roofs, feel free to read this report by Sustainable South Bronx on the urban heat island effect. [PDF].

SSBX was founded in 2001 by environmental justice activist Majora Carter.  SSBx actually built the first green and cool demonstration roof in NYC above their offices in the Bronx; in 2007 they expanded their mission to a for-profit green roof installation company, Smart Roofs LLC.  But what is perhaps most innovative about SSBx’s approach to sustainable community development is its keen awareness of the intersection of social issues and environmental issues, the hallmark of an environmental justice approach.  To that end, SSBx has built green roofs with the community in mind, for the purpose of increasing green space in one of the most dense city neighborhoods, with the least access to green space.

A rendering of the Bronx Greenway. Image: NYCEDC.

And not only does SSBx support the expansion of green spaces throughout the Bronx, they do so through community green job training programs, boosting employment and worker activity, while at the same time improving the health of people and the environment in one of the most underprivileged and polluted parts of New York City.  The Bronx Environmental Stewardship Training Academy (BEST) is one of the city’s most successful green collar training programs.  The program has trained numerous people who continue the upkeep of other SSBx projects – like the Bronx Greenway, where they have planted and continue to maintain over 400 trees.

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit http://www.greendepot.com.

 

It may be surprising that it hasn’t happened earlier, but formaldehyde has now been officially included in the Health and Human Services Report on Carcinogens, paving the way for further regulation of the chemical.

As Treehugger reports, scientists and politicians have known about the risks for years, but the formaldehyde industry has fought long and hard to prevent its inclusion on the HHS Report on Carcinogens.  The Report is a federally-mandated document that “identifies agents, substances, mixtures, or exposures… known to be a human carcinogen.”

The commission responsible for the report, the National Toxicology Program has noted of the particular dangers posed to certain segments of the workforce – namely, industrial workers and embalmers – which include myeloid leukemia and rare cancers in the sinuses and parts of the throat.

We at Green Depot especially care about this issue, because it turns out that urea-formaldehyde is often added to the adhesives used to produce conventional particle board, plywood, and other lumber products.  Formaldehyde is a volatile organic compound (VOC) meaning that if products made with the chemical are found in the home, they can offgas into the household environment for years to come, meaning long-term exposure.  This is of tremendous cause for concern as homeowners push for higher energy efficiency through weatherization programs, which limits the draftiness of homes – confining offgassing formaldehyde in living areas.

It should be noted that wood intrinsically contains a small amount of naturally occurring phenol-formaldehyde. The levels of formaldehyde naturally found in wood is not considered to be hazaradous, and is not a cause for concern in the same way that the formaldehyde that off-gasses from many plywoods, insulations, particle boards can be.

Green Depot carries a number of no added urea-formaldehyde plywood, flooring, green building materials and other green products.  You can visit our Green Wood Supplies department by clicking here.

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit http://www.greendepot.com.

Last week we wrote about the potential dangers of interior finishes – namely, the presence of volatile organic compounds, which can be hazardous to human health and the environment.

Vermont Natural Coatings also crafts a safer professional wood finish – but one that is, remarkably, produced using recycled whey protein, a byproduct of cheese production.

While at first the idea of using a cheese byproduct to produce a wood finish might sound far-fetched, it’s really an astonishing and ingenious product.  The finish is made from protein extracted from whey, from a process researched by scientists at the University of Vermont over a number of years.  Whey, as a natural substance, naturally creates a durable film.  When extracted, that film is converted into a long molecular polymer, and proves to be a very beautiful, even, and durable finish for wood.

Not only is it an effective and durable product, but it does not off-gas and is extremely low-VOC and odor free, allowing for a much more rapid application so your family can get back into their home faster and live healthier.  Vermont Natural Coatings also uses responsibly-sourced packaging materials for all of their products.  To learn more about Polywhey, click on the screen capture below to watch a fascinating video about their products on YouTube:

Polywhey is currently carried by our Ecohaus stores out West, and will soon become part of Green Depot‘s regular inventory.  To learn more about the superior qualities of Polywhey and to learn how to make an order, you can click here.

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit http://www.greendepot.com.

image credit: flickr user pfsullivan_1056 on creative commons license

For some folks, having a cool indoor temperature during the summer is a matter of health.  But for many of the rest of us, having indoor air conditioning is a matter of comfort, rather than health.

But what many of us don’t realize is the extent of the impact that air conditioners can have on the environment – and on our utility bill.  In many instances – especially here in the Northeast U.S., where Green Depot is headquartered – a fan can prove to be significantly more economical and environmentally-friendly, and create a home environment that is just as comfortable as it would be with an air conditioner.

How an A/C Works

Air conditioners don’t differ much from how a refrigerator functions.  An air conditioner pumps a chemical refrigerant through a cycle of compression and expansion.  As the refrigerant moves, it absorbs heat from the interior of a home and pumps it to the outdoors.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics, which is also known as the Entropy Law, states simply that when there is a heat differential – i.e., when one area of a room is hotter than another, the heat will move from the hotter part to the cooler until an equilibrium is reached between the two.  An air conditioner has to mechanically compress the refrigerant into a hot liquid form to suck the heat out of a room efficiently enough to cool it down.  This requires a substantial amount of energy – usually electricity – to accomplish.  You can read more about how air conditioners work by clicking here.

The Impacts of A/C

The substantial amount of energy needed to make an air conditioner function typically comes from a power plant or a car engine.  According to National Geographic, air conditioner use in the U.S. results in average of about 100 millions tons of CO2 emissions from power plants each year.  Surprisingly, that accounts for 1/5 of all kilowatt-hours consumed per year.  Think about it – one fifth of all electricity consumption in the United States goes to cooling buildings, and even this is often not enough electricity to supply Americans with the air conditioning they use in the hottest summer months: consider the brownouts and rolling blackouts that many of us experience in the hottest days of August.  And according to alternet.org, the electricity used to air condition the U.S. exceeds the entire electricity consumption of the India and Indonesia combined.

Air Conditioners and the Ozone

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the depletion of the ozone layer was a major cause of concern for governments, environmentalists, and citizens alike.  A major contributor to that depletion at the time were chlorofluorocarbons – CFCs – which were widely used as air conditioner coolants.

an image of the 2009 "hole" in the ozone layer, taken by scientists at NASA's Godard Space Center via their flickr account, gsfc, on a Creative Commons license

Thanks to international policy coordination, CFCs were replaced by the much more ozone-friendly hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) which deplete 95 percent less ozone.  But according to National Geographic, demand has grown significantly for air conditioners in India and China, and despite the 95% reduction in ozone depletion thanks to HCFCs, the volume of air conditioners being used has set back ozone recovery by 25 years.  In the U.S., ozone-depleting coolants were made illegal in 2010, but many of the older air conditioners we use still use HCFCs (and the oldest still use CFCs).  In developing nations, HCFCs will be allowed until 2040.

Air Conditioners and Healthy Home Air

One of the other major issues concerning air conditioner use are the impacts they have on human health.  A co0ler environment in the hottest summer days can make the difference between life and death for infants, the elderly, and those in poor health, but air conditioners also run the risk of becoming health hazards.  Dirty air filters in air conditioners can allow allergens, pesticides, and other particulate matter into the home which may aggravate respiratory conditions, such as asthma.

Air Conditioners vs. Fans

Fans don’t cool a home, but they do have the potential to make a home much more comfortable in the summer months, without the massive energy drain that air conditioners require, and without the risks posed to the environment and respiratory health.  Fans work by moving air around, and whisking moisture and heat away from the skin.

GREEN DEPOT SOLUTIONS

The Bedfan Cooling System

Green Depot carries a wide array of green products that can be used to help make your home more comfortable in the summer, without sacrificing your electricity bill or the internet.

We carry a number of standard fans that can be used around the home (like the Vornado Compact 530 Whole Room Fan, or the Charly Metal Fan), but there are other fan options to make home more comfortable.

The Bedfan cooling system fits at the end of a bed and circulates cool air under your sheets at night, removing the heat that is trapped by your sheets, and has even been proven to stop night sweats due to menopause, andropause, diseases, or medications.

The Vornado Under-Cabinet Circulator fan affixes underneath any horizontal surface: cabinets, desks, in the kitchen, the laundry room, office, or workroom.

Lastly, the Solatube Solar Attic Fan is a solar-powered fan that vents all the hot air that has risen into your attic space out into the environment.  Not only does it cool your home, it also wicks moisture from the air, leaving your attic free of molds and mildews that can become a health hazard over time.

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit http://www.greendepot.com.

One of the big issues with interior household finishes – whether for wood, metal, or the paints that cover our walls – are the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that they contain.

Conventional finishes typically contain a synthetic, liquid solvent that gives off – or “offgasses” – toxic fumes that come from volatile organic compounds present in the solvent.  This is the source of the poignant smell in paints, turpentine, varnish, stains, and other finishing products, which can often cause headaches and other health issues, if they are inhaled in enough volume over time.  The troubling thing about conventional products with a high-VOC content is that those substances can continue to offgas VOCs for years after it has dried, and after the poignant smell has abated.  Just because you can’t smell the VOCs anymore doesn’t mean you’re not still inhaling toxic fumes.

Wood and cork finishes also contain potentially-hazardous VOCs, which is why Green Depot carries a low-VOC wood finish to keep you, your family, and the environment healthy.

GREEN DEPOT SOLUTIONS

OSMO Polyx-Oil is one of several green products we carry to help you finish your interior.  OSMO Hardwax Oil in particular is an engineered finish made with plant oils and waxes, with enough mineral spirits to allow an easy application.  This finish offers durability and renewability with a lustrous finish, and will never crack, blister, or flake off: the finish has open pores that “breathe” allowing moisture to pass from the wood, unlike polyurethane which creates a plastic film seal over the wood.

OSMO Polyx-Oil is made from two natural waxes and three natural oils and contains no biocides or preservatives.

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit http://www.greendepot.com.

sunSummer brings so many wonderful things – cookouts, camping trips, and trips to the beach.  But one of the less wonderful things that accompanies the arrival of summer are sunburns.

UV radiation is a serious cause for concern.  And each year, millions of Americans apply sunscreens and sunblocks to prevent those rays from reaching their skin.  But what’s surprising to know is that many of the products which we use to block the sun are unregulated by any governmental organization, and therefore can put anyone at risk to the exposure of hazardous chemicals whenever they apply sunscreen.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a nonprofit environmental organization located in Washington, D.C. that is dedicated to research and advocacy in the areas of toxic chemicals, agricultural subsidies, public lands, and corporate accountability.  One of their major projects in the last few years was their 2010 guide to sunscreens.

The EWG has done some astonishing research into the safety of commonly-used sunscreens.  On their website, they cite a few salient facts as the rationale behind conducting an audit of the safety of sunscreens, and reasons why you should chose a sunscreen that is less risky in terms of its chemical ingredients:

  • 1. The FDA has failed to finalize its 1978 sunscreen safety standards, and this has muddled the understanding of the safety and efficacy of conventional sunscreens.
  • 2. There’s no clear consensus on whether sunscreens prevent skin cancer – meaning that choosing a more toxic sunscreen to prevent cancer might be more dangerous than using a milder, or natural one, and avoiding more sun.
  • 3. Major “chemical” sunscreens penetrate the skin and may disrupt the body’s hormone systems; mineral-based sunscreens do not penetrate the skin.
  • 4. This is the 34th summer in a row without final U.S. sunscreen safety regulations.

To learn more about the dangers of sunscreens, you can visit the EWG’s 9 surprising truth’s page by clicking here.

So, what alternatives then exist?

Fortunately, the Environmental Working Group has gone through and analyzed an entire host of sunscreen products, in an effort to identify which are the safest for human use.  These would be sunscreens that pose the least amount of risk in terms of toxicity and chemical exposure, with the least amount of effects on human health.  You can access the full guide by clicking here.

GREEN DEPOT SOLUTIONS

Green Depot carries one green product in particular that has been vetted and cleared by the EWG as being one of the safest available and most effective sunscreens on the market.

Badger brand unscented natural sunscreen has been given a rating of “1” by the EWG, placing it in the highest bracket for safety and efficacy.  This sunscreen is water resistant for at least 40 minutes, environmentally-friendly, safe for children, and blocks both UVA and UVB rays.  This entire line of natural sunscreens uses the mineral zinc oxide instead of chemicals to block the sun, and a base of only certified organic plant oils and beeswax to moisturize the skin.

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit http://www.greendepot.com.