Sustainable Landscaping: Improve Curb Appeal and Divert Usable Items from a Landfill

I love to work in the yard. From planting vegetables and ornamentals to trimming shrubs and removing invasives, I love it. At one point, I did the lawn mowing/weed eating as well; however, injuries and lack of time persuaded me to hire the best lawn care service in the world. Knowing that those guys will show up every two weeks during growing season to cut the grass, trim, blow/bag leaves, etc. allows me time to do the fun stuff. This year, the fun stuff has extended past mere vegetable and flower planting and into larger landscaping projects.

With a little help from my friends, I was able to create an attractive island in the front yard. I persuaded a co-worker – who also happens to be a landscape architect – to take a look at my yard and recommend projects to give it more curb appeal; he suggested constructing an island around an existing Japanese Maple tree (a “volunteer” that sprouted from a mature tree in my parents’ yard that my mother gave me). Mom is a gifted gardener who has given me almost every non-vegetable plant in my yard.

I had the plan and the location, but I needed supplies that were environmentally friendly and cheap/free. I’d been eyeing some gorgeous bags of pine straw on the curb across the street, but I needed help schlepping them up the driveway and into my yard. I put out a call on our neighborhood Facebook page asking for strong arms/healthy backs. My wonderful neighbors, Wil and Mark, volunteered. Roughly 22 bags of straw later, I had half of the required supplies and Wil and Mark had my gratitude and a quart jar of home-made kimchi.

I put out another Facebook request: this time, I asked for cardboard. Specifically, I requested large boxes that had housed appliances and televisions. I made the request around Thanksgiving, so I took advantage of holiday gift-giving season. My  neighbors did not disappoint me, and I soon had a Subaru full of broken down cardboard boxes. For good measure, I also tapped the resources of my favorite growler store, Beer Girl in Hapeville, GA. Not only does Beer Girl carry delicious beer (and wine and cider), but they also have lots of sturdy boxes. If you find yourself thirsty and near the Atlanta Airport, consider a visit to Beer Girl. You will love it!

With a huge pile of boxes and several bags of pine straw, I had everything I needed to complete the island. Because I’ve yacked long enough, I’ll let the following photos tell the rest of the story.

Before.

Before

Layering the cardboard.

Layering the cardboard.

Cardboard layer is complete.

Cardboard layer is complete.

Straw layer applied.

Straw layer applied.

After.

After.

I’m looking forward to spring when the Japanese Maple is in leaf and the other ornamentals bloom in the island closer to the street.

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HB 57 — Good News for Fans of Solar in Georgia

Many of you know that HB57 is working its way through the Georgia Legislature right now, and that there appears to be broad support from all sides of the aisle (including Georgia Power, the state’s largest electric utility).

HB57 would allow power-purchase agreements, an arrangement in which “a third-party developer owns, operates, and maintains the photovoltaic (PV) solar energy system, and a host customer agrees to site the system on its roof or elsewhere on its property and purchases the system’s electric output from the solar services provider for a predetermined period.”     (http://www.epa.gov/greenpower/buygp/solarpower.htm).

High up-front costs for purchasing solar equipment keeps many residential customers and small business owners out of the solar energy market. HB57 would provide a viable financing option by allowing parties to “lease” the solar equipment and pay back the provider by buying electricity generated via the solar panels on their own roofs.

HB57 would give people more choices, and who doesn’t like choices?

For more information, visit the following:

Bill Language

Bill Status

Georgia Solar Energy Association

40 Facts About Solar Energy (great blog!)

If you’d like to sound off about the future of solar energy in Georgia, contact your representatives here:

Find Your State Representatives

Composting is for Lovers…of Worms!

I’ve posted before about composting, and I have composted for many years (Thanks, Mom! You taught me well.). But recently I had the opportunity to branch out into worm composting.

Tom Mills, of www.greenshortz.com, led a worm composting workshop in my neighborhood (Jefferson Park in East Point, GA) last weekend, and several of us left with worm composting bins, bunches of Red Wigglers, and some excellent instruction in the art of worm composting.

worm bin

The finished composting bin. The holes in the top are screened to allow for ventilation while keeping pests out.

Red Wigglers are the composting worm of choice, but they won’t eat everything. They aren’t fond of citrus, for example, and they won’t eat dairy or meat products. They will eat most other fruits and vegetables, producing some nice compost (worm castings, AKA worm poop) and compost tea. The latter is the concentrated juice produced from worm compost. It may sound a little gross, but compost tea is fantastic fertilizer – so good a gardening friend refers to it as “crack for plants.”

 

A few things to remember about worm composting:

  • Worms like a moist environment. Not soaking wet, but moist.
  • Worms like darkness.
  • Shredded, moistened newspapers make excellent worm bedding.
  • Worms don’t love direct sunlight, extreme heat, or extreme cold.
  • Worm bins can be kept indoors or outdoors, so they are an option for both home- and apartment-dwellers.
  • Worm bins do not stink, and neither does their compost/compost tea.
  • When you compost organic waste, you free up shrinking landfill space for actual, non-recyclable trash.
wormbininside

A few hundred happy Red Wigglers are snuggled under the newspaper pieces, munching away at cabbage and sweet potato scraps.

Look for my next blog post on Black Soldier Fly (BSF) Composting. Thanks to Tom, I also have a BSF composting bin. It’s a giant science experiment at my house!

LEED Accreditation and Why I Pursued It

I took a few months off from blogging (and everything else besides work) to study for the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Associate accreditation.

LEED “is a green building certification program that recognizes best-in-class building strategies and practices. To receive LEED certification, building projects satisfy prerequisites and earn points to achieve different levels of certification.” (www.usgbc.org)

I decided to pursue LEED accreditation because I wanted to learn more about green building design and sustainability practices in general. After two months of serious study, I’m happy to say that I passed the exam with high marks (yes, I’m a bit of an over-achiever) and now have a much broader understanding of green building design and practices.

LEED breaks down green building design into subcategories:
• Sustainable Sites
• Energy and Atmosphere
• Water Efficiency
• Materials and Resources
• Indoor Environmental Quality
• Innovation & Design
• Regional Priorities

Unlike common building design/construction practices, LEED projects stress a tremendous amount of pre-design planning and continual (throughout the design and construction processes) coordination among team members rather than a linear approach. During the pre-design phase, all the stakeholders (owner, project manager, design team, construction team, facility manager, etc.) meet to discuss everything from the site plan to materials use/reuse/recycling to energy and water efficiencies to low-emitting paints to on-site and off-site green energy sources and more. The team determines which level of green building design (LEED has four: Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum) it wants to achieve, fills out a scorecard for attempted credits/points that must be pursued, and considers all options for meeting these goals.

Make that a Triple Bottom Line
LEED stresses the importance of both lifecycle costing (the economic costs related to a product/service/system over its lifetime) and lifecycle assessments (the overall environmental impact of the product/service from extraction/production to the product/service’s end of life on all constituents involved). This type of planning moves people beyond a simple “how much does it cost?” to “how much does it cost to install, use, maintain, and eventually dispose of/reuse the product/service?” Such an approach requires people to think long-term and to use a Triple Bottom Line (TBL) approach to planning, design, and construction that puts equal emphases on People, Planet, and Profit…rather than just considering profit, for example.

If you’d like to learn more about LEED, visit the U.S. Green Building Council’s website.

For more information about the Triple Bottom Line, try these sites:

The Economist

Triple Pundit

Here’s to a greener future!

Composting: So Many Options, So Few Rules

Composting is easy, produces concrete benefits (excellent compost and fresher smelling garbage cans), and helps protect your sewer/septic system. Apartment-dwellers and homeowners alike can compost.

There are just a few basic rules to follow when composting.

  • Compost vegetable scraps, egg shells (but not eggs), coffee grounds/used tea bags, and even newspaper (but shred it first)
  • DO NOT compost meat, bones, animal fats
  • Think 50/50: try to maintain roughly a 50 percent green to brown mix in your compost pile. Green = veggie scraps, etc.  Brown = leaves, straw, dirt. You need a good mix of both green and brown to make good compost.
  • Stir that pile every now and then. The more you stir it, the faster you will get compost.
  • Add a little water if the pile gets dry.
  • Give it time.

 

Low-tech compost pile: plastic garbage can with lid.

My low-tech compost pile: plastic garbage can with lid. 

Good compost isn’t created in a day, or even a week. It’s smart to have a couple of piles going at once, since you will want to “retire” one pile after a while and let everything in it age to compost-y perfection. Keep stirring the “retired” pile to help the contents biodegrade.

Composting Options:

  • Wood pallets. These designs can be complicated or not. I prefer not, so check out these instructions:

http://www.co.hanover.va.us/works/composting2.htm

  • Lots of composting options in one spot:

http://extension.missouri.edu/p/g6957

  • The Little House on the Prairie Version (if plastic had been invented then):

http://theartofsimple.net/how-to-make-a-compost-bin/

  • Buy a ready-made composter (tons of options):

http://www.seesimilar.com/search.php?query=Composting%20Bin&cid=4146&gclid=CM_8lqPcpr0CFbTm7AodM1wA

Interested in Worm Composting?

Here’s a great tutorial for getting started:

http://earth911.com/news/2009/11/02/i-got-worms-composting-and-you/#How%20can%20I%20get%20started

Whatever direction your composting efforts take you, be cautioned. Composting is a gateway drug for other “green” practices. Before you know it, you will be recycling like crazy, planting a home garden, and collecting rainwater.

Full compost bin, with lid in background. I will let it sit -- and stir occasionally -- for about six months.

Full compost bin, with lid in background. I will let it sit — and stir occasionally — for about six months.

 

 

Sustainability and the Triple Bottom Line

Recently, my dad asked me what sustainability meant. I said, “It means different things to different people, but to me it’s about energy and water efficiency, reuse/recycling, and generally leaving a small footprint on the earth.” That definition worked for my dad, but the more I thought about it, I realized my personal definition needed to be broader.

So I turned to the Triple Bottom Line definition: People, Planet, Profit, with each element carrying the same amount of weight. Profit doesn’t trump People, People don’t trump the Planet, and Profit is a valid concept. It’s about balance. Anybody who says economic development isn’t compatible with sustainability is making a false argument. He/she is embracing the Profit category while ignoring the other two. Likewise, when someone supports the good of the Planet while ignoring the need for employment opportunities that lift people out of poverty, he/she needs a reality check. If we willingly ignore the health of the natural world while chasing profits and fame, we are trashing our own proverbial living room.

Balance isn’t always easy to achieve, but it is vital. I’m involved in several sustainability efforts, both in my public and private life. I’m committed to sustainability, but I’m also committed to the big picture: what actions/initiatives/decisions move all of us closer to that People, Planet, and Profit balance that provides the best outcome?

Whether it’s the construction of a new stadium (http://saportareport.com/blog/2014/02/34184/), the establishment of permanent recycling centers for hazardous household waste (http://livethrive.org/charm), or river cleanups (http://www.chattahoochee.org/paddle-cleanups.php), our daily lives offer endless opportunities.

So, what are you doing to live a more sustainable life?

What would you like to do?

For more information about the Triple Bottom Line approach, check out these links:

http://www.ibrc.indiana.edu/ibr/2011/spring/article2.html

http://www.economist.com/node/14301663

http://www.triplepundit.com/topic/triple-bottom-line/

Let the Sun Shine In – Support HB874

You may know that the price of solar power is falling and that demand for solar – like demand for other clean, renewable energy sources – is growing (see my November 13 blog entry for details). Perhaps the biggest barrier to solar energy growth in Georgia is the dearth of flexible financing options to pay for solar installations. Upfront costs for solar arrays are hefty – so much so that it keeps many interested, middle-income folks from installing solar panels/shingles/etc.

Financing Options Crucial to Solar Adoption
Help may be on the way in the form of Georgia HB874: The Solar Power Free-Market Financing and Property Rights Act of 2014. This bill, which is currently in the Georgia House Energy Committee, would allow an array of creative financing options: options that make solar feasible for people who fall into the $40,000 – $70,000 per year income range. To quote the bill, “solar technology and its installation may be financed by the retail electric customer through a solar financing agent utilizing a loan, lease, power purchase agreement, or any other form of financing agreement.”

The bill further states “no electric utility shall prevent or otherwise interfere with the installation or financing of solar technology by a retail electric customer through a solar financing agent.” 

Other States Allow Solar Leases and ESCOs – Why Not Georgia?
Two words: Georgia Power. I don’t hate Georgia Power, but as a consumer and a homeowner, I want the choice to explore financing options that would allow me to install solar panels on my roof – financing options that are working quite well in several other states.

I support clean energy, and I support personal choice. If you feel similarly, I hope you will contact your state representatives and urge them to support HB874.

Read HB874 for yourself at:

http://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/en-US/Display/20132014/HB/874

It’s a short read. I promise.

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