Sustainability Doesn’t Just Happen. You Gotta’ Have a Plan

Snowpocalypse. Clusterflake. Snowjam. Gridlockalypse. Whatever you want to call it, last week’s weather woes in Atlanta, GA were an exercise in what not to do in a crisis. I won’t rehash the entire scenario, but I will say this: there really did not appear to be a well-conceived, practiced disaster management plan in place. In fact, it seemed like the folks in charge were making it up as they went along.

When people discuss sustainability, the talk generally revolves around recycling, conservation, renewable energy, transportation, and the like. I would argue that a given population’s ability to get from home to work and back again safely and in a reasonable amount of time should be central to any sustainability plan.

A few years ago, I helped revise a municipal disaster preparedness plan. Included in the plan were categories for sharing resources region-wide, updated contact information for first responders, and lists of protocols for various emergency situations.

First responders — such as firefighters, EMTs, police officers, public works employees — receive regular emergency response training. As a result, they know what to do in various emergency situations. However, even the best staff can’t perform well without competent management and a clear plan.

A good disaster-preparedness plan implemented well would not have stopped the snow from falling last week, but it would have greatly lessened the severity of the traffic that resulted from so many miscues and sloppy decisions. A friend who was caught in the mess says she doesn’t blame anybody except the weather gods. I’m not that generous. I think there is plenty of blame to go around, but I lay the bulk of it at the feet of our elected officials. I sincerely hope they have learned a few lessons from last week’s experience. Apologies are good, but changed behavior is better.

And I will also echo what several people have expressed: Metro Atlanta needs a regional transportation plan that INCLUDES mass transit. We’ve seen again and again how quickly a multi-lane Interstate system becomes non-navigable in emergencies. For those who say light- and heavy-rail systems are prohibitively expensive I have one question. How much did last week’s Snowpocalypse cost Georgia in terms of overtime pay, lost wages, insurance increases, etc.?

Metro Atlanta is a region, and we need to start acting like one.

For more information about existing regional plans, go to:

http://www.atlantaregional.com

http://beltline.org

 

 

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Water Conservation: Because You’re Using More Water Than You Think

Water exists in a cyclical state (Remember the natural water cycle from elementary school? If not, click on this site for a quick refresher:  http://ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/watercycle.html). Although it’s true that the Earth has plenty of water, it is also true that the vast majority – about 97 percent – is saltwater. An additional 2 percent or so is bound in ice, which leaves about 1 percent of the Earth’s water available for use by humans and most animals.

There’s also this: http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2013/12/16/study-climate-change-could-put-millions-more-at-risk-of-water-scarcity. Some think the trusty water cycle is being affected by Global Warming (I’m one of them), and that we are likely to see increasing water scarcity in some parts of the world in the near future.

How to be Water Efficient

Using water efficiently means using the right amount of water for the task. Why would you choose a 1970’s toilet that uses 5.5 gallons per flush when you could install a high efficiency toilet (HET) that does the same job while only using 1.28 gpf (or even less)? While you’re at it, why not install a low-flow showerhead that uses the right amount of water (1.5 gallons per minute) rather than 2.5 – 4 gallons per minute if the first option gets you just as clean? Replacing water-wasting fixtures with efficient, low-flow devices can save you gallons of water each day – gallons of water you won’t miss.

To make sure you’ve chosen the right toilet, showerhead and faucet aerators (which go on the end of your bathroom and kitchen faucets to control the amount of water used), look for the WaterSense label:

watersense-logo

WaterSense is an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) program to help consumers choose water-efficient fixtures. To earn the WaterSense label, fixtures are independently tested and must prove they use 20 percent less water than similar fixtures well providing good quality service. In other words, WaterSense HET’s have to flush well without clogging. And they do. If you want further documentation re: various brands of toilets and their ability to flush serious “load” click on http://www.map-testing.com/. This site is a toilet nerd’s dream.

To learn more about WaterSense, click on http://www.epa.gov/watersense/.

Don’t Waste Potable Water on Your Lawn

I really don’t understand why people use treated, potable water on grass. Actually, I don’t understand why people water grass at all. If you really must water your lawn, try this:

  • Reduce the amount of turf in your overall yard. You’ll have a small spot you can enjoy, but you won’t need lots of water for it.
  • Plant turfgrass that requires little water and is well-suited for your climate…in a small spot you can enjoy.
  • Install rain barrels (or even a larger cistern) and use rainwater for outdoor watering.
  • Install a water-efficient irrigation system and monitor it for leaks and malfunctioning parts.

Follow a Three-Pronged Approach to Conserve Water:

  • If it’s leaking, fix it.
  • If it’s wasting water, replace it.
  • If you waste water, stop it.

Fixing leaks and installing water-efficient fixtures are important, but individual behavior towards water is often the missing piece of the water-saving pie. A low-flow showerhead releases 1.5 gallons per minute, so a five-minute shower uses 7.5 gallons of water. A 20-minute shower with the same showerhead uses 30 gallons of water. Replacing the fixture without changing behavior can only conserve so much water.

Try These Conservation Behaviors:

  • Take shorter showers
  • Shave at the sink, not in the shower
  • Turn the water off while you are brushing your teeth or shaving
  • Wash only full loads of laundry or dishes
  • Take your car to a commercial carwash that recycles water rather than washing your car at home (where the soapy run-off can also lead to stormwater issues…but that’s fodder for another blog post)

I’m sure you can think of a few more. I’d love to hear them, btw.

Conserving water and proud of it,

Jennifer

 

 

Stormwater and the new Braves Stadium

If you’re a baseball fan or just happen to own a television, you probably know about the Atlanta Braves’ decision to leave Downtown for a new stadium in suburban Cobb County to the north of the city.

turnerfield

I’m not a sports fan, and I really don’t have anything invested in where the stadium is located. So my concerns related to the new stadium revolve around stormwater management.

Stormwater is rainfall (or snowmelt) that hits the ground but doesn’t soak in. Instead, it travels across impervious surfaces such as parking lots (new stadium, I’m looking at you), driveways, paved roads, etc., picking up whatever trash, animal wastes, chemicals or oils might be present and transporting them elsewhere. When these pollutants end up in rivers and streams, as they often do, they are classified as non-point-source pollution, the number one source of water pollution in the U.S.

The Braves’ current home, Fulton County Stadium, is surrounded by parking lots great and small. Baseball fans may have thought they were spending a small fortune to park in some of them, but residents of Peoplestown, Mechanicsville, and Summerhill have paid a far higher price in terms of flooded yards and basements and sewer back-ups related to stormwater run-off from so many paved surfaces. The City of Atlanta has initiated both grey (sewer separation projects via the City’s Consent Decrees and installment of a 5MG vault) and green infrastructure initiatives to mitigate flooding and related issues in the so-called Stadium neighborhoods.

Now, with the Braves’ farewell tour almost a done deal, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed says the City will demolish Turner Field in 2017 and redevelop the area – likely as some sort of mixed-use development. Whatever the City builds on the site will have to meet the requirements of Atlanta’s recently revised Post-Development Stormwater Management Ordinance (www.atlantawatershed.org/greeninfrastructure), which requires both commercial and residential developments to capture and manage the first one-inch of stormwater on-site via green infrastructure best management practices (BMPs) such as rain gardens, vegetated swales, dry wells, cisterns, and pervious pavement. Although the current Fulton County Stadium contains a lot of non-pervious pavement (i.e. asphalt parking lots), the redevelopment plans must include green infrastructure that “holds” rainwater on site, allowing it to infiltrate slowly into the ground. These measures will be a welcome relief to nearby residents.

(BTW, in case you were wondering, the new Atlanta Falcons Stadium will have to meet the requirements of this Ordinance, as well.)

Which brings me back to my original concern re: the new stadium in Cobb County. What stormwater management practices will be required when the Braves’ organization breaks ground? The planned location is a 60-acre wooded site. How much of that will be devoted to parking lots, and will those parking lots contain pervious or impervious pavement? What of the water bodies nearby? What about sewer and/or storm sewer capacity in the area? The Sierra Club, which has teamed with the Tea Party to question the efficacy of the Braves’ move to Cobb, has already listed pollution and runoff as major concerns.

Sierra Club response to proposed Braves Stadium in Cobb:

“Open space and active recreation facilities are severely lacking in the Cumberland area. The proposed stadium site, which is currently a 60-acre wooded parcel, would be an ideal location for a new park with playing fields. Clear cutting most of the existing forested 60-acre parcel and replacing it with buildings will negatively affect the watershed with more pollution and runoff. Rottenwood Creek is especially important to our Centennial Group, who have been testing water quality just south of the proposed stadium site as part of the Adopt-a-Stream program for over a decade.” (http://www.ajc.com/weblogs/political-insider/2013/nov/25/final-arguments-braves-cobb-debate/)

I also wonder if the new stadium will be water and energy efficient. A LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) building would be both a wise use of resources and would promise lower electricity and water/sewer bills over the course of its use – which should be less than 20 years if Turner Field and the Georgia Dome are indicative of local stadium lifespans. I really hope the Cobb County Commission is considering how this huge development will affect nearby streams, air quality, neighborhoods, and residents.

America Recycles Day was last Friday…but you can recycle every day!

I recently participated in America Recycles Day (November 15) by donating four pairs of not-gently-used shoes to the handy recycling bin located outside Atlanta’s City Hall. I was pleased to learn that the recycling partner the City chose – American Textile Recycling Service (ATRS) – is committed to the reuse and recycling of textiles. ATRS provides some interesting recycling/reuse information on its website:

http://atrscorp.com/textile-recycling-new-life-for-old-clothes/

I’ve been recycling (and composting) since I was a child, thanks to my mother, whose Depression-era childhood taught her the value of using resources wisely. I have fond memories of going with my mom to a local recycling drop-off spot and loading it with months’ worth of old newspapers. But I hadn’t given a lot of thought to the recycling of clothing, shoes, stuffed animals. In all honesty, I’d never thought about recycling stuffed animals.

And for those who think their stuff is too trashed (think old running shoes) for reuse or recycling, think again. The midsole portion of running shoes can be recycled and use to build running tracks and even tennis courts (http://www.practicallygreen.com/actions/recycle-old-running-shoes-and-sneakers).  How cool is that?

I give big props to organizations, cities, and individuals who make recycling easier and readily available. And I’m grateful to all the people who take the time to recycle plastic, paper, aluminum, glass, cardboard, stuffed animals, running shoes, motor oil, etc. Every little bit matters.

 

What’s Up With Solar?

Georgia enjoys lots of sunshine. We all know that. Thankfully, Georgia’s leaders have finally stopped making the erroneous argument that Georgia doesn’t receive enough direct sunlight to make solar power feasible. The growth in solar power in far less sun-blessed countries such as Germany and states (New Jersey) debunks that argument.

What has held solar back in terms of growth amounts to three things:

  • Cost
  • Public policy
  • Successful lobbying from competing industries

Direct costs for producing solar panels have fallen drastically over the past 35 years. (http://io9.com/solar-powers-epic-price-drop-visualized-510448484) In states where electricity is expensive (such as California) and Federal and state subsidies are generous, the cost of solar is virtually on par with other sources of electricity. All of this is very good news for solar supporters.

In Georgia, we are beginning to see some policy shifts. The Public Service Commission (PSC) recently voted to compel Georgia Power to “increase its solar power capacity by 525 megawatts by the end of 2016. Of that amount, 425 megawatts would come from large ‘utility-scale’ solar projects and 100 would come from projects small enough to be installed by individual residential or commercial property owners.” (http://www.bizjournals.com/atlanta/news/2013/07/11/georgia-psc-orders-more-solar-power.html?page=all)

This shift came about, in part, due to coordination between long-term environmentalists and a branch of the Tea Party. These disparate groups found common ground with solar: the environmentalists like the clean energy angle, while the Tea Party folks like the idea of offering competition to Georgia Power via more electric power options. This Green Tea Party is making some inroads, and it will be interesting to see what – if any – future success they have.

For example, they could turn their attention to the Georgia Territorial Electric Service Act of 1973. This act, which effectively divided the state into districts and determined which utilities would provide electric service to these districts, has been used by Georgia Power to quash attempts to increase the growth of solar power. Specifically, this law has been used to ensure that third-party entities cannot lease space on someone’s roof, install solar panels, then sell the power generated to the homeowner and back to the grid, as available. Solar City, http://www.solarcity.com/residential/solar-ppa.aspx, offers these services in several states. They make the switch to solar affordable for homeowners and small businesses. Although the cost of solar panels has decreased significantly, the cost of installing solar systems is still quite expensive. If the Green Tea coalition could manage to repeal or significantly revise this law, great strides could be made to bring solar to more people, more quickly.

But the electric utilities are pulling out all the stops to keep their monopoly in place. Georgia Power is seeking permission from the PSC to increase fixed fees for customers using solar panels, ostensibly to “protect and maintain the grid.” And Georgia isn’t the only state requesting significant increases in fixed “user” fees for solar customers: Arizona has petitioned its regulators to allow it to charge from $50 to $100 per customer for fixed fees. If the PSC allows Georgia Power to tack on such high fees now, it may well hamstring solar growth before it gets a toe-hold. The average estimated cost to solar users would be $22.00 per month on top of other fees (http://onlineathens.com/local-news/2013-10-18/psc-staff-recommends-against-georgia-power-solar-fee). Although the PSC staff has recommended against the increase, the PSC hasn’t yet voted on it; that vote is expected in December.

Hoping for serious solar gain,

Jennifer C.

How I Learned to Conserve Water in Las Vegas

Kudos to the Southern Nevada Water Authority for hosting the 6th Annual WaterSmart Innovations Conference (WSI) Oct. 1-4, 2013. For the past 6 years, the hardest working folks in water conservation have brought the latest in technology, software, best management practices, and conservation education to the rest of us, and I want to thank them. WSI is easily the most useful and best managed conference I attend.

WSI is about water conservation, but there are always some workshops that deal with recycling, green infrastructure, even energy efficiency. I attended four workshops that really resonated with me this year.

  • Building the Teams that Build Green Infrastructure
  • Rethinking the Impossible: Net Zero Water Footprinting Strategies
  • Conservation Efforts to Sustain a Desert River
  • Commodes into Roads: Closing the Recycling Loop in Porcelain Replacement

There were other presentations I missed but will get to at least check out the PowerPoint versions via the WaterSmart Innovations web site, www.watersmartinnovations.com If you are interested in learning more about any of the above, I encourage you to visit the web site and pull up the presentations. You will find the presentations I mentioned, as well as all the others, on this site (as PDFs). So if you have any interest in greywater systems, high-efficiency toilets, WaterSense fixtures, rainwater harvesting (shameless self-promotion: I presented on this topic; see “From Rain to Resource: Rainwater Harvesting for Drought Planning and Stormwater Management”), check out the site.

I can’t say enough good things about this conference. If you care at all about using water efficiently and protecting our water resources for future generations, you will want to know more about WSI. Maybe I will see you in 2014 in Las Vegas (Oh, yeah. The conference is in Sin City, ya’ll.) for the 7th Annual WSI.

Taking shorter showers, but still getting just as clean,

 

Jennifer Carlile

What does sustainability mean?

What does it mean to be sustainable? It’s a ubiquitous word these days, but I’m not sure it has been adequately defined. To sustain is to continue, to maintain. While maintenance has its charms, I don’t believe the status quo is adequate when one is dealing with the environment. The triple bottom line asks us to consider how our actions affect the planet, its people, and what we are producing. Merely sustaining in any of these three categories will not move us forward; in fact, in the face of global warming, sustaining may effectively push us back.

I’ve heard some pundits offer the word resilience as a substitute. Resilience is vital, yes. Darwin’s point – often misquoted – was that the organisms that were most adaptable (not necessarily the strongest or the most “fit”) were the ones that prospered and won the right to pass their genes on to the following generations.

Chatcistern

So should we aim for resilience rather than sustainability in our systems, products, programs, and lifestyles? Is resilience the next logical step in the evolution of sustainability? I’ll be pondering this in my heart – and mind – as I blog. And I’d really like to hear from you on the subject. What do you think? Is sustainability a good working term to describe the elements of a green lifestyle? Is it a term that applies equally to personal lives filled with composting, recycling, adoption of green energy, and conservation as well as the corporate/larger existence? What does it mean to live sustainably? To aim for sustainability at work and in our communities?

I look forward to hearing your ideas on the subject. I like to think that my views are adaptable, and I truly believe this conversation should include lots of voices and viewpoints. In the interim, I will be posting about the various topics that I think fall under the umbrella of sustainability/better term we have yet to define. Some of these include smart water and energy use, green infrastructure, the ever-evolving solar energy oeuvre, green building practices, climate change, carbon off-sets, recycling/upcycling, rainwater and greywater systems, smart city planning, and composting to list a few. I’m sure other shiny topics will catch my attention along the way, and I will explore them as well.

Until then, I’ll be composting and tending my fall garden.

Please let me know your thoughts on the sustainability definition conundrum.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Carlile

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