With only a handful of hours left in good old 2007, I'm in a reflective mood. I learned a lot this year and hope I was able to share some good tidbits with you about greening your life and, if you're anything like me, the large portion of your life occupied by listening to and enjoying music.
I sometimes wonder which parts of my life my future carbon-taxed children will challenge. I can almost hear them say, "You actually had to make your own coffee?" or “You washed your gasoline powered car with water?" or "The coach section of an airplane wasn't just standing room?" or "What are liner notes?" (that one will break my heart).
Historians say that we are on the verge of a new era. Up until the year 470, our civilization was in the Classical Age. Then the Roman Empire collapsed and we moved into the Middle Ages and people focused on building communities through shared religious beliefs.
In 1455, the printing press started up and information became transportable, accessible, and cheap. Literacy surged. Scientific theories grew because mass printings allowed those theories to be disseminated to other scientists working in different locations, bringing forth better idea piggy-backing that built bigger and better theories with greater speed. This explosion built the foundation of the Modern Age that focused less on community and more on the individual. We've been hanging out there for a while now…..until recently?
Experts believe we're at the verge of a new era. I think they're right. Look around, you can find almost any product of service you desire through the internet (or even just eBay). Information is not only cheap, it’s practically free. The old pyramid model of government, business, and society is being eroded by the success of decentralized organizations like peer-to-peer file sharing, work from home programs, and open source technologies. We consume, and consume, and consume—and sometimes we consume products that just don’t make sense, and I’m left to wonder how much more humans in the Western world can really absorb.
This brings me to the images of the bathtub you see to the left. More than just being a beautiful design, it symbolizes what I think the next era will be about: cutting out the unnecessary in everyday life through great design. This bathtub is not only beautiful, environmentally sound, and innovative: it saves the water that would normally be used to fill space under your knees (i.e. space adult bathers don't really use)--without sacrificing the soul-saving experience of a good bath after a long day in a weary world. Sustainability shouldn't be painful--it should be joyful and thought-provoking.
In art and design, the space not occupied by the subject in a portrait or still life is called “negative space”. The space occupied by the subject is in turn called “positive space”. Maybe the next era will focus on getting rid of the unnecessary negative space that wastes resources and maximizing the positive space to make things a little more, er, well, positive! As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Compostmodern is pretty much one of my favorite conferences. To my knowledge, it was the first conference of its kind (started in 2006) to really craft an agenda that discussed the intersection of design and sustainability in an inspiring and engaging way that was relevant to people working in sustainable industries AND designers looking for sustainable solutions. I remember leaving the last one practically bounding down the steps of the Morgan Auditorium and resisting the urge to throw my hat in the air like Mary Tyler Moore with a completely expanded view of what was possible--a perfect way to start a new year (2006 ruled!).
As you formulate your New Year's resolutions, I hope ridding yourself of plastic bags--or really, plastic OR paper bags will make your short list. If you need any more convincing, read this article. To entice you to consider this very important resolution, feast your eyes on the Baggu! I joyfully received three of these lovlies from my boyfriend's parents, and I am in love.
These little darlings will give you absolutely no excuse to answer the question, "Paper or plastic?" in 2008. As you can see, they fold up neatly into small pouches that fit in your purse, back pocket, or glove box with ease. They fold out to provide you a generous shopping bag that's machine washable (in cold water, of course), hip, and durable. They are also nylon so you can silkscreen on them--making the Baggu a great option for merch. Start 2008 off right here. This could be you:
When I spend Christmas with my parents in Pennsylvania, we usually spend Christmas Eve looking for the best, over-the-top-lights-will-give-you-radiation-burns home lighting display in my parents' neighborhood. We fondly refer to it as our "merriment tour". I'm spending the holidays in San Francisco this year, and conducted a world-wide merriment hunt via YouTube. This display claims to have a low carbon footprint because the lights blink only in sections at preset times. Frankly, I don't see how on Earth this display could possibly have a low carbon footprint, but I suppose I'm glad they tried to consider it when creating this masterpiece. Be prepared, this will blow your mind.
As a lowly renter, I've long advocated for not letting home ownership stop people from purchasing renewable energy. Many renters go the route of Green-e certified renewable energy certificates. I purchase them for my apartment, JamBase purchases them for their office space--they are a cost effective way to minimize your impact on the environment. However, while I get a very sexy decal to stick on my window to smugly point to when company comes over, gesturing to a beautiful array of solar panels on my roof might bring more "oohs" and "aahs" from dinner guests.
While, to my knowledge, a full array of renter-grade solar panels does not exist yet, Collin Dunn of Treehugger.com posted an interesting story today about a new table that's hit the market. It is similar to the overhead projector your professor used to use in class with the electrical strip embedded in the side. The difference is that the table doesn't plug into a wall socket, it generates power from the solar paneled top. While the sticker price is a little high--$3600 smackers, I have a hunch that in a few years a similar product will hit a Target near you.
While this item does not carry the same environmental benefit as offsetting your full electricity load, it definitely has sex appeal. Also, this would be a great item to bring on the road, instead of idling your tour bus to check your email, just set this baby up next to the bus and send some solar powered emails.
Enter Sun Table, a project of Brooklyn-based Sudia Design Labs, as the happy medium. The outdoor table is small enough to take home with you, but attracts enough rays to power your laptop and various other home office peripherals, and even a television and DVD player.
Like many of the other solar gadgets designed for home use, the solar panels charge a nickel metal hydride battery, which, in turn, power your gadgets. The battery's max storage is 13 amp hours at 12 volts (that's 156 watt hours), with a max output of 150 watts; the system charges in 3 hours in full sunlight. Depending on the exact specs of your gadgets, those numbers translate to about three hours of laptop use, and a couple hours of television (if watching TV outside is your thing...) thanks to the included inverter that provides 120V AC (that's what everything in your house plugs in to, in case anyone was wondering).
A handy LED display (pictured below) tracks the battery's charge level for you, and the inverter beeps at you if you load it up with more than 150 watts, making it easy to both track your battery's performance and keep it from getting overloaded. The table itself is mostly aluminum (for easy recycling at the end of its life) and comes flat-packed in recycled materials, making it easier and more compact to ship and store.
About the table, designer Devang A. Shah (who created the table along with Michael Low) says they wanted to create '"A product that pushes people to spend more time outdoors will be beneficial for humanity. Let's get rooted in nature again, even if it's in a 21st century kind of way." We think it's a great example of combining technology and design to create a forward-looking product; lots of tech ideas (like solar) that are difficult to integrate into our daily lives, and it can be very helpful and meaningful to be shown that it actually works.
In this case, the table brings context and a personal connection to solar power, bringing it down from the heavens to your backyard, with the potential to change the way your life works every day. Imagine shifting your home office to the sunny patio for a few hours every afternoon, or having to apply sunblock and wear sunglasses while sending emails (and reading TreeHugger). In the midst of the cold, dark winter, that sounds pretty great to us.
Such fun and convenience won't come cheaply. The table, available for pre-order now (it'll ship in March 2008), will cost $3600. But can you really put a price on something that allows you to get a tan at your desk job?
Sting! Coldplay! Arctic Monkeys! Oh my! APE, a UK based non-profit helps build awareness of environmental problems and solutions through building relationships with artists who will spread the word through music and film. APE announced today that Sting will debut a new version of his tune Fragile at the UN Conference in Bali.
I searched and searched, dear readers, but alas, the greenhouse gas emissions associated with my trip to Bali to bootleg the video for you were just too great to warrant the trip. If you're a die hard Sting fan, you can check here to see the video once it's posted.
In the meantime, here is another of Artists Project Earth that features a collaboration between Coldplay and Rhythms Del Mondo---I kinda like this version better. Enjoy!
With every minor-chord followed by some rammy happy chords, this jam makes me feel like a teenager again, instantly transporting me back to my Pennsylvanian high school days of rushing to see the next Supergrass feature in the NME , my asymmetrical haircut flapping in the breeze ala Rachael from Slowdive. So transported in my reverie was I, that I did a little research on these dudes and found that, lo and behold, they offset the emissions associated with producing their last album! RAD! As you know, I love it when my worlds collide.
NewConsumer.com reported on the story back in August and included this quote about their eco-intentions from Morgan Tatchell-Evans, who fronts Buen Chico:
"Basically, global warming is a theme present in quite a few of our songs, so we want to put our money where our mouth is. Obviously virtually anything you do as a band or with any project will have a potential carbon footprint, but there are things you can do to minimise the effect. Hopefully as we go on we'll be able to tighten up on emissions related to other things we do as well. I think it's important for any artist to speak up about what is one of the most critical issues affecting the world at the moment. We just have to try and sweeten the deal with some hummable tunes!"
Hummable, indeed! And applaudable, too! This rounds out the roster of indie-darlings who not only have downright lovely records, they care enough for their fans and the environmental impact of their music. Andrew Bird, anyone?! Kelley Stoltz, anyone?! Guster, anyone?! Take that, Pitchfork!
Come on! Give me more ammo! What other indie artists are out there making great music while being environmentally-conscious?
Awhile back I was playing a game of "which one of these things is not like the other" when Nike decided to green their operations. It looks like I'll play another round this morning upon reading a post by the lovely Bonnie Alter. U2- real estate developer---wha???
Yes, the building boasts many cutting Edge (sorry, couldn't help myself with that pun) green building features, but there's a lot of controversy surrounding the planning and zoning aspects of the development. Here's the story, reposted from Treehugger, what do you think?
You can't always get what you want....ooops, wrong group. U2 is having big problems with the 32-storey skyscraper that it wants to build, which will be the tallest building in Dublin and all of Ireland. Plans include a recording studio that will hang below vertical wind turbines, a huge solar panel, luxury flats, 34 social-housing flats and a five-star luxury eco-hotel. But there is opposition by all kinds of groups (not just those who can't stand Bono or his music).
Ireland's National Trust is against the so-called "U2 Towers" because of its impact on the surroundings. It will be located in a low-rise, traditional historic sector of Dublin and could be an "incongruous blot on the skyline". Since it is located in a regeneration area, no planning permission was needed. The Trust said "We have raised concerns about the overall lack of a strategy in Dublin to deal with global warming on developments in the docklands area (due to rising sea levels). We want to see it subject to proper public consultation. There is a sense of it being done in a far too behind-the-scenes manner." U2 also want to demolish an historic building and replace it with a super-luxury sustainable hotel for all the new Celtic tiger millionaires.
Others were scathing about the band's decision to move part of their music operations out of Ireland to the Netherlands in order to pay lower taxes on royalties. "The common good is not served by allowing the richest people in Ireland to build with the benefit of tax incentives". Rockers U2 have hit back--insisting the massive building will boost the city's economy.
Every year I look forward to the New York Times Magazine's Annual Year In Ideas issue. I've been reading the results since its inception, and have gleefully watched green innovations creep onto the list. As you can imagine, this year there were quite a few great green ideas.
Here are some of my favorites (with some musical accompaniment thrown in by yours truly):
On December 20, I'll be interviewing Kelly Viau from Jamcruise and John Long from Zero Hero Events about the greening of Jamcruise and Langerado. If you've got a burning question you want answered, let me know by posting it in the comments.
Last week, I had the pleasure of spending more than an hour on the phone with Shanda Sansing, the person in charge of patron services and event greening for C3 Presents. You might not have heard of C3 Presents, but you definitely know their products. C3 is the production company behind Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits (ACL), the Big State country music festival, and one-half of the newly announced Vineland festival to be held in NJ next August.
Shanda is the driving force behind the greening of C3's events, but she's got the support of company management and Lollapalooza founder Perry Ferrell. This support has shown up in the recent greening initiatives at Lollapalooza, ACL, and to some extent at Big State. The company is actively looking to make 2008's events even greener. In our wide-ranging discussion, we talked about everything from the difficulties of using biodiesel to getting the audience to wash other people's dishes and how to best serve a plate of hot barbecue to a judge.
Perhaps the most exciting news on the greening front will come out of Vineland. Live Nation and C3 are teaming up with Festival Republic, the production company behind the UK's Glastonbury festival, perhaps the most successful festival in the world, to put on this event. Glastonbury has a long history of working towards a more just and sustainable world and has taken many steps to green its festivals over the years. Hopefully when we put the two together, we'll see something that will rival Peats Ridge in Australia in terms of its green credentials and positive social impact.
One thing that really jumped out at me from this interview was just how much work goes into greening these events. It is still far easier for someone putting on a festival do go about doing things business as usual. Greening a festival that's attended by 225,000 people is a huge task, one that requires not just money but a tremendous amount of time and energy. If you're a festival goer, make sure you take the time to thank the organizers and the volunteers who help make these shows happen as sustainably as possible.
Jason Turgeon: How did you end up involved in the greening efforts at C3?
Shanda Sansing: I manage the volunteer program and access program for people with disabilities. Part of volunteer program has always been recycling, so it was an extension of that work. It also happens that I'm very interested in greening, so this was a natural fit.
JT: You got a lot of good press for your greening campaign at Lollapalooza this year. Did you do the same thing for ACL? What are your plans for Vineland?
SS: We did the same sort of things for ACL as for Lollapalooza, there just wasn't as much of a media focus. It's too soon to know what we'll do with Vineland, but I assume that we'll have the same focus. Really and truly, the stuff we did was a matter of stepping back and taking a look at how we could better produce our events. Anybody could take these actions.
JT: What are some of the challenges you've had trying to green the festivals?
SS: One of the hardest things has been dealing with waste. You have to have control over everything that comes on to the site to ensure that you can dispose of it properly.
JT: Speaking of waste, did you use compostable cups at these events?
SS: We would really have liked to use compostable cups, even though they would cost us about four cents a cup, but a beer sponsor will normally give us non-recyclable #6 cups for free. But we heard from New Belgium beer that some of the compostable cups they were using were melting in the heat. All of our events our held in the hottest part of the summer, so we couldn't take that chance. There are also disposal issues. Even with a good staff of volunteers at all the waste stations directing people how to dispose of things properly, it can get very confusing.
But Blackstone Winery used compostable cups for their wine and had no problems. We've heard that some people store the cups with the beer kegs in refrigerated storage, although that can create a logistical issue when we have many beer stations. So we're going to take another look at these cups in the future.
Instead of using compostable cups, we had recycling incentives at Lollapalooza and ACL. We served beer out of 2 kinds of cups, #1 and #5. Number 1 is the less expensive disposable cup you're used to, and #5 is the kind of white souvenir cup that you see at football stadiums. We got people to collect stacks of cups and bring them to us for t-shirts and other prizes. The #5 cups got sleeved in a plastic sheath that had printed directions which asked people to take the cups home and wash them and reuse them. We were handing people stacks of dirty cups and we couldn't keep them in stock. People loved them. It was fun. Until it happened, I didn't know whether it would work or not.
JT: Wow, you actually got festival-goers to do someone else's dirty dishes. Aside from the cups, did you have a composting program at any of this year's events?
SS: We opted not to compost at Lollapalooza because the closest facility that could take food waste was in Wisconsin and it couldn't be integrated into regular waste management system. We have been working with a Chicago-based composting entity to build more capacity. We will be looking at that in the future. There are other issues with composting. It must be staffed, and you can't have any meat, or grease, or cheese mixed in. At the very least, we might be able to do it backstage. It is easier to do with caterers. Then we could have as few as 3 stations.
JT:There is a growing movement to get people away from bottled water and into reusable bottles like Nalgenes. Are you looking at doing anything like that?
SS: The problem with the hard plastic water bottles is that they can be used as a weapon, so there is a security concern. It was a big struggle even to get people to be allowed to bring in their own Nalgenes. So for now, we don't have a good solution to that problem.
JT: Did you use biodiesel at your festivals this summer?
SS: We use Blue Sun biofuels. We started this process a couple of years ago. There was a big learning curve. Many of the vendors' generators would have had their warranties negated by biofuels, but recent industry changes have permitted B20 mix, so we now use B20. We also use as much shore power as possible.
JT: How about solar-powered stages? I know that Sustainable Waves is also located in Austin.
SS: We have not done anything with solar stages, but we have talked to Sustainable Waves. Their stages are not large enough for even the smallest stage we use--not even the kids area at ACL or Lollapalooza. The biggest stage is 16 x 24. But hopefully someday we'll get to a point where we can use a solar stage.
JT: What about your water and wastewater use and treatment at the festivals? Do you reuse any of the greywater or do anything else special?
SS: I have a strong interest in these issues because when I was a peace corps volunteer I built rainwater catchment systems in the Dominican Republic. The village I was working in had a irrigation canal, but we had to hike a mile to get clean drinking water. We do as much as we can at the festivals. The ACL production area is hooked into city water. Austin does not allow graywater reuse, because there are worries about contaminating the groundwater table. We are obligated to collect gray and black water from our vendors, as well as grease. Grease is collected by outside vendors for reuse. We still use regular portolets. We're open to anything that can help us manage our water and wastewater use.
JT: This year you held Big State, your first camping festival and your first strictly country music festival. Did you put the same amount of work into greening this festival?
SS: We did a lot of stuff behind the scenes. It was a great festival. It was in the middle of an oval race track, and we had a car race each day. We also had things like a barbecue competition. People loved it and we had a great time, but with things like a barbecue competition and car races, it was difficult to really make any big claims about being green.
One of the hardest things was the barbecue. People come to compete and they spend hundreds of dollars to be there. The way these things work is that at the last minute, everyone puts their food on styrofoam and they rush it up to the judges because they want the food to be as hot as possible. We tried as hard as we could, but we could not find a good alternative to styrofoam that would keep the judges and contestants happy, so we had to go with styrofoam plates for the competition.
There were some other things that we wanted to do but we couldn't because the festival was in Bryan College Station, a small town about 2 hours outside of Houston. There were no facilities that could offer us composting or biodiesel, for instance. But we did as much as we could. We had basic recycling. All of the beer was served in cans, which made it easier to recycle. We did carbon offsets and had a display area with greening info for the patrons.
JT: Do you talk to other production companies about what they do to green their events?
SS: Sure, we're generally on pretty good terms. It's like the corner with four car dealerships. They're competing, but they also help each other out by being there and drawing more people to the area. We've talked a little bit with the folks who run South by Southwest, but with 150 venues, it's very hard for them to manage this kind of thing. We've talked to the folks at Bonnaroo. They helped us out with the biodiesel, told us about their experiences with some of the generators shutting down at first because the biodiesel is so much cleaner it was cleaning the deposits in the engines and clogging the filters. So now we have lots of extra filters on hand.
JT: What are some other things you do to green your events?
SS: We try to integrate it into everything we do. For instance, all of our volunteer shirts were organic cotton. We wanted to support these industries, the organic cotton, the bamboo shirts. And we have things like Green Street at Lollapalooza. Green Mountain Energy handles all of our offsets for us. We offset everything we do, including the office and all of our travel.
Well it looks like the Carnabetian army marches to a new green tune. The street in London prowled by many swinging sixties stars started a new Christmas tradition this year that employs some pretty cool energy efficiency measures. Treehugger broke the news today:
It's a tradition, of sorts: every year in mid-November, C-list celebrities, always women, are enlisted to turn on the Christmas lights festooning major streets. Very tacky, and environmentally wasteful. So hurray for Carnaby Street, that funny little left-over from London's Swinging Sixties. This season they have covered the walking streets with festive paper chains in bright, irridescent colours.
It's an inventive alternative to energy consuming lights, and they didn't even have a super-model to "turn them on". The paper chain design will make use of the store lights in the shops at night and will interact with the holographic finish of the Christmas decorations, therefore using no extra electricity for the display. By using a highly reflective material and extremely bright colours, the oversized ‘paper chains’ will react to sunlight too, so that removes the use of electricity during daylight hours altogether. A great-looking idea on all counts. ::
Once again, Friends of the Urban Forest have teamed up with the Department of the Environment to offer San Francisco residents a chance to host a living tree during the holidays through the Green Christmas Tree Project. Host families can choose from a variety of trees, including olive, magnolia and strawberry, located at the organization’s tree yard in the Presidio. The trees come in five-gallon pots and range from 6 to 10 feet tall. In January, Friends of the Urban Forest will offer pick-up services and plant the trees throughout the city.
This is old news by now, but New York's Rockefeller Center, home of Radio City Music Hall (where moe. will be playing new year's eve, unfortunately without me in the audience), has gone all green for Christmas, according to just about everybody, including the ever-reliable Daily News.
So what does it mean for Rock Center to "go green?"
Well, efficient LED lights on the tree, for one thing. And NYC's largest solar private solar installation on the roof, which is good. And a thermal storage system that will make ice during off-peak nighttime hours, then use that ice to reduce the load on the building's air conditioners during the peak daytime hours. All good things, to be sure. But I have to ask...is cutting down a tree with a handsaw really that much greener than cutting down a tree with a chainsaw?
Basically, it works just like a solar-powered garden light, but sits inside on your windowsill. Perfect for cold winter nights and a great substitute for those plug-in electric candles people put in their windows this time of year.
Earlier this week, The New York Times covered a new fad taking root in Richmond Hill, Queens. Teenagers are modifying bikes to rival cars with booming sound systems. Young men of Guyanese and Trinidadian decent are building these contraptions to look similar to what they've seen in their home countries. They say they are better than cars because, "you don't have to roll down the window." They have an even smaller environmental footprint than a Prius, and a WAY better sound system.
Unfortunately, the sound system doesn't run on pedal-power, it runs on car batteries. Maybe that will make the next round of designs.
I've been quoted saying that I believe the greening of the music industry will have reached critical mass heights when I see a wide-spread greening of the hip hop movement (a movement characterized by luxury and excessive levels of consumption). Less Escalades and more Teslas, less bling and more understanding of the human rights issues surrounding diamond excavation.... In the meantime, maybe these bikes are a good first step?