My own educational adventures have been long.  I earned my B.A. from Oberlin College in 2007, and then went back to school at Columbia University for my M.A. for 2009 – 2010.  After a year off, I’m heading off for a Ph.D program in environmental anthropology at the end of the month.

Between frantically preparing for my move and ensuring that I am properly enrolled and registered for new courses, I’ve had to think through what I’ll need for the upcoming year, and how I can source what I need ethically and in an environmentally-responsible way.

So, below, here are some of the ideas I’ve come up with by perusing the Green Depot website.  I hope this comes in handy for anyone getting ready to head back to school – whether for elementary school, high school, college, or grad school.

GREEN DEPOT SOLUTIONS

TerraCycle Straw Paper: Roughly four billion trees are felled every year for the production of printer paper, which poses a significant threat to the environment and a massive contribution to climate change.  This paper is instead made from straw – the kind used for animal bedding as a byproduct of straw production – and is a much more sustainable material for paper-making than wood.  This paper is fully compatible with laser printers, ink jet printers, and copy machines.

Hero Bags Pig Lunch Sack: Cute!  These lunch bags are made from organic cotton, has a handy cotton carrying strap, and a stylish silk screen “butchery artwork” design of a happy pig.  The bag stands upright with a flat bottom, and it is large enough to hold a large sandwich, a tall beverage, and multiple snacks.  It is machine washable, and should be line-dried.

Ecosystem Flexicover Journals: The journals are excellent for expressing your thoughts or taking notes in class.  They are made of 100% post-consumer recycled paper (the best kind of recycled paper you can purchase) and contain 192 smooth, bright-white eco-friendly pages.  The books come with a back pocket on the inside cover, an organic cotton bookmark, perforated pages, and an elastic enclosure.  Plus, there is an ID number in the back of every book that allows you to track where parts of the journal were made via ecosystem’s website, and resources for learning where to recycle them.

Design Ideas Recycled Newspaper Pencils: A truly ingenious idea, these pencils are made entirely from recycled newspapers that are wound tightly around a no. 2 pencil lead.  Design Ideas ads an adhesive, presses them into a barrel shape, and the pencil turns out to be just as strong as a standard one constructed from wood.  Newsprint images from an English edition Chinese newspaper are visible on the barrel surface, and these can be sharpened just as you would a regular pencil.  They come in a set of twelve.

Decomposition Books: As straightforward as they are classic, these “decomposition books” are constructed from 100% post-consumer waste recycled paper.  They are made with bio gas derived energy, and feature several aesthetically-appealing designs.  They’re college ruled with 80 sheets per book, at 7.5″ x 9.75″ and produced in the United States.  At $4.95, they’re a great bargain for a green back-to-school product.

Solar Backpack: A truly remarkable item. the Solar Back Pack was designed specifically to efficiently charge virtually all handheld electronic devices via built-in solar panels and a battery.  The bag itself is built from a sturdy recycled PET fabric (that usually comes from soda bottles) and has a spacious main compartment with four interior pockets, plus space for glasses, a laptop, and a front pocket for holding charging devices.  A universal USB battery stores power for anytime use, indoors or outdoors, sunny or cloudy, and can be charged even when sun is not readily available.  When the sun is out, the solar panels go to work and charge the USB battery themselves.  The battery can be fully charged from 7 hours of contact with direct sun, or 5.5 hours from a USB port or optional DC or AC.  It’s even capable of charging a smart phone with just 4 hours of sun.  Comes with a 2-year warranty on pack and panels, and a 1-year warranty on the battery.

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

One little personal sustainability tool that we here at Green Depot are fond of is Practically Green’s green quiz.  We’re sure that a lot of folks who are interested in how to boost their “green credentials” have taken sustainability lifestyle tests before – whether about your carbon footprint, or your water consumption, or you energy and fuel usage.

Practically Green takes sustainability quizzing in another direction, though, to not only provide an evaluation of your sustainability efforts (or perhaps lack of effort, as it were).  The site takes your results and turns them into both a tool to help you find resources to do more, and to use those new tools as a way to engage with others using social media, to help them boost their sustainability credentials.  It’s a five-minute green quiz, bundled together with a web 2.0 sensibility.

As Practically Green’s website says, their tools help you to figure out better what you’re doing, and what more you could be doing.  PG is a resource providing an assessment of your lifestyle in the areas of energy, health, “stuff”, and water; customizable suggestions for further actions; a robust interactive database of effective environmental actions and products; a social network; and ultimately a practical way for anybody to live more sustainably.

Click the link below to visit PG and take the quiz!  And don’t be discouraged if your results don’t come back as “superbly green.”  Despite all my efforts, I only scored a 7 out of 10.

http://practicallygreen.com/quiz

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

By now, most Americans are likely familiar with Energy Star as a certification label for higher-efficiency appliances and other products.

But behind the scenes of Energy Star are lobby groups and nonprofits working to raise energy efficiency standards within the appliance industry.  Some of these organizations provide their own certification processes for energy-efficient products.  The Consortium for Energy Efficiency is one such organization.

The Consortium for Energy Efficiency (CEE) was founded in 1991 in Boston as a nonprofit, public benefit corportation that “works with its members to promote the use of energy-efficient products, technologies, and services,” according to their fact sheet [PDF].  Today, those members include gas, water, and electric utilities; research and development organizations; state energy offices; and regional energy programs.  CEE receives significant support and guidance from both the EPA and the Department of Energy.

CEE’s work sets standards across industries and sectors to create a more sustainable America.  Their initiatives since 1991 have included providing definitions for high-performance commercial kitchens (2006); promoting energy efficiency in municipal water and wastewater facilities (2004); providing resources for energy-efficient traffic signals (1999); and in 1994 spearheaded an initiative to stimulate the residential market for CFL lightbulbs in partnership with Energy Star.  CEE is currently investigating the potential for expanding the LED residential lighting market.

More than providing evaluative criteria for the manufacturing and services industries, though, CEE also runs certification programs, similar to Energy Star, for home appliances including refrigerators, air-conditioners, clothes washers, and dishwashers.  This program, which compliments Energy Star, is the Super-Efficient Home Appliance Initiative (SEHA), and has proven to be an evaluative criteria of such a quality as to be official registered as an ISO standard.

When looking for energy-efficient appliances, starting out with an Energy Star product is a good start.  But to determine which products are the absolute highest-efficiency, turn to SEHA-certified products.  Since 1997, the SEHA program has identified the super-efficient spectrum of the Energy Star spectrum.

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

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.

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.