Archive for March, 2009

The Walls Are Alive

– written for ecomii blogs:

Many of us have heard of the architectural virtues of green roofs, but what about applying the same concept to our walls? Green-, eco-, bio-, vegetated -, or living walls bring vertical gardening and drip irrigation techniques together into a panel system of plants built against existing indoor or outdoor walls.

While a wall of climbing vines could be considered a living wall, several building design companies have come up with a more technological system of a wood or steel frame with a number of cells ranging from forty-five to hundreds, depending on the size of the project. Plants grow in soil, or between layers of fibrous material (felt or plastic mesh) and are irrigated through a drip system with a line every few rows distributing water to all the cells.

Aside from the obvious aesthetic value of a wall of greenery, living walls also improve indoor air quality – plants like dracaena and peace lilies have been proven to remove toxins and purify air. In locales with dry winters or little humidity, living walls can add much-needed moisture to the air. Added insulation to the building envelope and the associated summer cooling and winter heating of the indoor environment is another definite benefit of the systems. Outdoor walls, like green roofs, absorb and filter rainwater, diverting it from municipal storm water infrastructure that can often be overtaxed.

ELT Living Walls, a company that started with modular, pre-grown green roofs, has developed a system that ships internationally and is literally greening everything from universities to individual houses. This is a window herb box taken to a whole new level. For the individual practicing sustainable living, the idea of growing a vertical vegetable or herb garden right on one’s kitchen wall could be the ultimate in eating local, year-round.


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Ode to Kijiji

– written for ecomii blogs:

One of the common challenges to buying “green” products and services is the associated costs with better labor practices, better quality and more eco- and human friendly materials.

A true sustainable product will also have a cost reflecting a growing, but certainly not yet dominant market. It is fantastic to live in an age where consumers and corporations are starting to clue in to the fact that cutting corners and operating from a pure financial bottom line does not consider the health of people and the planet.

However, the manufacturing of more sustainable products is not an answer in itself. A greener economy does not have the power to absolve us of our overdrawn natural resource account, because it still requires a great amount of energy and virgin material to create new goods.

Enter Kijiji, an online classified website with localized ads. I have become dedicated to using this website for everything from my recently purchased “new to me” couch to collecting the necessary materials and creating the darkroom I’ve always wanted.

With every transaction I have undertaken through the website, my admiration grows for Kijiji. The user-friendly advanced searching options allows the searcher to set price ranges.

The pictures of the items for sale serve as a first glance assessment of the condition and appearance of the item, allowing the buyer to purchase high-quality goods while extending their lifespan. It is a reuse channel that, in my opinion, far surpasses the experience of a thrift or consignment store.

As a buyer, you have the opportunity to inquire about the history of the product, how many people have owned it, how it has been cared for, what sort of environment it has been in (eg. smoking, pets, etc.).

Kijiji in a small way, encourages community and face-to-face transactions. And in this time of financial market uncertainty, the one thing that we want to prevail is community. Don’t be afraid. Kijiji and other online classifieds like Craig’s List are revolutionizing the world of used goods.

Give an old couch new life today, go online and see what you can find.

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Finding the Right Size

-written for ecomii blogs:

The world’s population is expected to reach 9 billion by the year 2040.

That’s a lot of people to sustain.

Population growth tends to be a taboo and contentious issue within climate change discourse.  However, what holds true is that we as a global population, need to be creative and also realistic about how to support our growing species.

In North America, our cultural relation to space and the need for much of it has lead to a commonly held lifestyle that does not correlate to what the Earth’s resources can support.

In the city I live in, situated in the foothills of Western Canada, our geographical footprint is said to match or exceed that of New York City, and our population is just over one million; less than one-eighth the population of New York.

Yet, the building continues. Much of it to house single families living in near or certifiable mansions.

Recently I’ve come across the concept of “rightsizing” life, an idea that seems to offer a more realistic way to exist in our spaces. Right-sizing is a step beyond down-sizing, an evaluation process of understanding better the amount of space needed to live and simplifying life in the process.

It an acknowledgment that we have different spacial and material needs according to the stages of life. Right-sizing can extend to the home, vehicle, and luxury accessories like boats, RVs, or vacation homes.

It wouldn’t make sense to wear rubber boots year-round, and yet many people drive SUVs to see them through one season of the year.

Two-person families live in four-bedroom homes to be prepared for the two weeks of the year house guests are visiting. Entire homes sit vacant and unused, for the one month of the year its owners visit for vacation.

A great way to start the right-sizing process is to list properties and the big stuff you own and chart how often and effectively these things are being used. Monitor your use of space in your home for a week. Do you have a room, or several rooms that you barely enter?

Can you eliminate unused furniture or accumulated “stuff”?

Start by de-cluttering the home to better suit your stuff to your space rather than your space to your stuff. From there, you just might find it’s time to move that de-materialized life to a space that is your right size.

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Be The Bus

–written for ecomii blogs :

With rising gas prices, carbon-guilt and the knowledge that alternative transportation is the more sustainable approach to getting from here to there, many of us are looking for ways to do so in a viable way.  When it is just one body to move around, a bike, bus or light-rail train are usually convenient and workable. A whole other experience is alternatively transporting kids and the accompanying backpacks, snackpacks, toys, diaper bags, strollers and the rest of the provisions. Getting all of this in a self-contained vehicle is often trying enough, let alone taking it all to a public space like a bus.

Recently I’ve come across a concept that at least takes care of the kid’s school commute, provided you live within walking distance. The “walking school bus” gets together a regular group of kids and adults living along the same the route to the school and simulating a bus: a “driver”, a route with scheduled stops, and “riders”.

Pretty simple, yet it has explosive results. With statistics revealing that the average North American spends ninety percent of their time indoors, regular walking is a great way to ensure you and the kids get outside and are consistently active. It also solves any safety concerns around letting your kids walk themselves to school. Plan for two adults to be part of each bus and get to know your neighbors and fellow parents better. The walking school bus is a fantastic way to build a sense of community both within the school population and the neighborhood.

Check out The Walking School Bus for more resources on establishing a route, enlisting adult walkers, and basic safety principles. Getting started could be as easy as putting out some feelers with parents you already know and committing to walking the route, seeing who you pick up along the way!

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