Posts Tagged ‘carbon neutral’

Carbon Consciousness

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

These days, as part of my semi-nomadic life as a program planning and interpretation consultant for public gardens and nature centers, I’ve been offsetting a lot of travel-related carbon emissions. Like this week. I just got back from one of those places that seem to engender periodic bursts of human creativity. Call it karma or happy coincidence, these places suddenly  become magnets for artists, oddballs, and other rebellious types who, through a critical mass of their collective contrarian consciousness, change the course of history. Like Florence in the 15th century, or Baraboo in the 20th century. Baraboo??

Baraboo is a small city in south central Wisconsin with a population of less than 12,000. The surrounding Baraboo Ranges are all that remain of one of the most ancient rock outcrops in North America, composed of Baraboo Quartzite, a metamorphosed form of sandstone that originated about 1.85 billion years ago in what geologists call the Early Proterozoic Eon. The Baraboo area is also the terminal moraine of the Wisconsinan, the place where this final glacier of the last Ice Age dumped its debris, creating impressive sights like Devil’s Lake Gorge, where quartzite blocks crunched up by the ice sheet cling tenuously to steep slopes.

It was in Baraboo in 1884 that the Ringling Brothers began their circus, a band of oddballs if there ever was one. Over six seasons, the circus expanded from a wagon show to a railroad show with 225 employees, touring cities across the United States each summer. Baraboo remained the circus’s headquarters and wintering grounds until 1918.

A few years later, in 1924, Aldo Leopold arrived in nearby Madison, and in the early 1930s he purchased a dilapidated chicken coop and a few hundred acres of Dust Bowl-ravaged land near Baraboo as a weekend retreat for his family. At the shack, as it was called, Leopold was inspired to write conservation classics like A Sand County Almanac, launching the fields of restoration ecology and land ethics. 

The Baraboo Ranges continue to work their magic. A couple of years ago, about a mile down the road from the shack, the Aldo Leopold Foundation built the Aldo Leopold Legacy Center. The second highest-rated LEED Platinum facility to date, the Legacy Center also meets the 2030 Challenge, which aims to rapidly transform the U.S. and global building sectors from the biggest single contributor of greenhouse gas emissions to a central part of the solution to the climate crisis by changing the way buildings and developments are planned, designed, and constructed. 

The Legacy Center also happens to be the first carbon-neutral building certified by LEED. The initial carbon budget for the facility was based on projected emissions from combustion (including stationary sources such as wood-burning stoves and fireplaces, vehicles driven by employees to and from and at work, and estimated visitor vehicle use); on-site electricity generation from photovoltaic cells; wind-generated electricity purchased at night and on days when the solar array does not meet building demand; and carbon sequestered by the Foundation’s 500 acres of forested land. You can find out more about how the Center reduces and offsets its carbon emissions here.

The beautiful facility is located on the land where Leopold perished in 1948 while fighting a brush fire on what was then a neighbor’s property.

Carbon Neutral Monday

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

I couldn’t care less if Angelina Jolie becomes the next octomom. I care a little bit more about the latest pictures of George Clooney, but not much. Yet every couple of months for years when I’d go get my hair done I’d still get sucked into consuming all the schlocky celebrity garbage in the magazines lying around the salon. This year, one of my New Year’s resolutions was to bring better reading with me to the beauty parlor. So for the next couple of days I’ll be blogging about a few of the things I read on Saturday when I went to get my hair cut.

To continue Friday’s burning question, I’ll start with Richard Conniff’s interesting piece in environment 360. Coniff uses the recent opening of Kroon Hall, the new home of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, as a jumping off point to ask whether it is feasible to achieve carbon neutrality, “the architectural Holy Grail in the age of global warming.” (At least architects acknowledge that this is the ultimate goal. Landscape designers haven’t even gotten to that point yet.) Ultimately, he concludes that it’s possible to get “damned close,” but even Yale will have to purchase offsets to mitigate the emissions they could not design out of the building.

Surprisingly, Coniff seems a bit miffed by the fact that the biggest carbon emission savings came not from “sexy new technologies” but rather from very traditional design strategies like orientation for passive solar heat gain, careful shading, and making the most of daylight. (Duh?) But he does a good job of pointing out how flaws in the U.S. Green Building Council’s current LEED system lead to “certified green” buildings that are anything but energy efficient (and therefore not even close to carbon neutral).

And he does a great job of exploding the myth that going green just doesn’t pay: “In practice, the green premium may add 2 to 10 percent to construction costs. But the green label added 10 percent to the sale price for Energy Star buildings and 31 percent for LEED certified buildings,” according to a recent University of Reading study.

Carbon Neutral Landscapes?

Saturday, March 21st, 2009

Listen to landscape architects and other members of the “green industry” these days and it’s apparent they think they’re addressing global climate change just by going to work in the morning. Gardeners think the same way. After all, growing plants is the essence of landscaping, and plants pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during photosynthesis. That makes gardening the ultimate green activity in an age of global warming fueled primarily by this greenhouse gas, right?

Um, wrong. From the choice of paving materials to the use of fertilizers and the amount of embodied energy involved in pumping and distributing water used for irrigation, gardens are part of the problem, not the solution to our climate woes. Is it possible to create landscapes that are carbon neutral or, even better, that function as “carbon sinks”? I explore this question here.

Beyond Recycled Paper

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

For years, buying paper with a high percentage of post-consumer recycled content has been the be all and end all for publishers and other intensive paper users looking to go green. But research done by U.S. News & World Report for its April issue, the “Energy and Environment Guide,”  points the way to a more effective standard. All of the issue’s body stock will be on carbon-neutral paper with fiber that has been certified as being sourced from sustainably managed forests, and U.S. News will pay a small premium to offset the relatively minor greenhouse gas emissions produced during manufacturing. You can find the details here.