Posts filed under ‘Green living technologies’

Taking green to extremes

Courtesy Yahoo UK

Courtesy Yahoo UK

The other night I watched a segment on Discovery’s Daily Planet showing off a race car made with a lot of recycled or renewable materials. The seat of the WorldFirst Formula 3 car is made with soy foam, the body is made with recycled carbon fibre, the steering wheel is made from carrot compounds, and it can run on many flavours of biodiesel. The car’s builders want to push the green envelope, so to speak, to try to match the speeds achievable in a regular Formula 1 car in a more sustainable car.

What do you think, is there a hope that one-off examples can bring change to an industry? Is this akin to NASA developing futuristic technology (the computer mouse, cochlear implants, Tang) that we adopt for life on earth?

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September 30, 2009 at 11:35 AM 2 comments

LED street lights. What a great idea!

Listening to CBC Radio’s The Current this morning, I heard about CRS Electronics, a company in Welland, Ont., that’s making LED lighting for streetlights. Since LEDs are many times more efficient than fluorescent lighting, that’s a whole lot of money cities could save by having their repair crews install LEDs lights as conventional bulbs burn out. In the town of Welland, they replaced 65,000 street lights with LED lights.

The best way to compare efficiency of a bulb is to look at how much light you get out of it for the energy it uses. Incandescent bulbs give you about 15 lumens (a measure of light output) per watt. Halogen bulbs give you 24 lumens per watt. Fluorescent bulbs give you 50 to 100 lumens per watt. And LEDs give you 150 lumens per watt (and last for about 50,00 hours).

In my home, we have a mix of incandescent, fluorescent and LED bulbs. I’m finding that LED bulbs are becoming available in brighter and brighter styles, so they are not just for accent lighting anymore. I’ve noticed major lightbulb manufacturers, such as Philips, making LED bulbs for household lighting.

Have you tried making your home lighting more efficient? What do you think of the results?

September 23, 2009 at 10:04 AM Leave a comment

Renewable energy: considerate energy?

We call solar and wind energy renewable energy, and sometimes clean energy. I’ve been out sailing for the past week, and it’s become clear to me that clean energy is a good name for it, and I’d go for considerate energy too.

While out moored in the beautiful Thousand Islands, I noted that boats of a size meant for sleeping in are equipped in one of two ways. They either have a mix of solar panels, high-efficiency solar lights, small wind generators and coolers with ice and dinghies with oars OR they have dinghies with outboard motors and they charge their batteries that power the lights, the fridge (and sometimes the stereo system) by running the boat’s engine. Some even have an extra generator on board for even more power. A few people have a mix of these accoutrements, but most seem to be of one school of thought or another.

Let me tell you, nothing shatters the peace of early morning in a beautifully natural island bay like someone’s outboard-powered dingy trip so rover can do his business on the island. Followed closely by the guttural sounds of a diesel engine kicking in, ready to power the coffee maker.       

I just hope that the next generation of boats are made with considerate power in mind. After all, hulls with built–in solar arrays would look neat, LED lighting is plenty bright for the cabin, and then there’s the freedom from the gas dock. For now, we outfit our boats ourselves. My partner has a relatively small but well-made solar panel that provides enough energy to power our phones and recharge our solar light. (We love the Sunnan lamp from IKEA – you take out the solar panel and leave it outdoors. At night its flexible arm provided all the light we needed inside the boat.) At night, conventional solar lights meant for the yard serve as mooring lights, emitting a soft glow from mid-mast and at the stern to ensure we’re visible – without blotting out the stars.

Have you seen clean energy replace an old way of powering things?

August 24, 2009 at 11:59 AM Leave a comment

Help in the search for green cleaners

I’ve been trying out a lot of “green” and “natural” products for Homemakers magazine lately. I’m enjoying researching and writing about products – from all-purpose green cleaners to lip balms to dishwasher tabs – that are better for the environment. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the number effective products out there that really do seem like better choices.

The problem is there are a lot of products with toxic ingredients on the market, and it’s next to impossible to know what’s safe and what could be harmful because, for now at least, labels don’t have to disclose ingredients. The federal government’s Canadian Toxic Substances Labeling Act is in its first reading. If passed, the bill requires manufacturers of consumer products to add a label their goods noting any hazardous ingredients.

Not long ago, Seventh Generation, maker of EcoLogo-certified cleaning products, got in touch to let me know about a website and iPhone app they’ve created, called the Label Reading Guide, to help Canadians make sense of household product labels. I gave the app a try, and it is quite helpful in figuring out what product ingredients really are, what they’re supposed to do, whether they’re harmful and what health effects they may have. It’s a great idea to be able to use this tool on the go.

“When they have the information they need to make a healthy buying decision, Canadians are savvy consumers,” says Jeffrey Hollender, President and CEO of Seventh Generation. “But all too often the facts are hard to find. Our new Label Reading Guide™ application puts them in the palm of your hand right there in the store aisle. Much more needs to be done to empower consumers to make wise product choices, but this is a great first step, and one that we hope starts a serious conversation about what‘s really inside household products and how dangerous those ingredients can be.”

Don’t have an iPhone? Use the application right on the Seventh Generation website, linked here.

How do you choose cleaners and other household products? What do you look for when seeking out safe, yet effective, options?

June 2, 2009 at 11:00 AM 2 comments

Putting it all on the line. The clothesline that is!

ClotheslineI’m trying to imagine how clotheslines became so unsavory that, decades ago, municipal counsellors in many Canadian cities and towns decided to ban them. It seems odd that garments so acceptable when worn could be called an eyesore when hung outdoors. Perhaps it was glimpses of sexy lingerie that proved too hot for some to handle.

Last April, the Province of Ontario vetoed bans on clotheslines. Finally, some sanity! And although some subdivision developers complained for a day or two, likely dissidents figured it’s pretty hard to argue against something that saves a lot of energy (apparently five to six percent of domestic energy is consumed by dryers), thereby saving us a lot of greenhouse gas emissions and a good chunk of change to boot. And clotheslines work very well in getting clothes not only dry, but, if hung when they’re still fully damp, fairly wrinkle-free. The bonus: the sun’s UV light will destroy any micro-organisms in the fabric (particularly helpful with tea towels and cloth diapers).

For some, perhaps a clothesline sounds too simple. After all, we have high-tech machinery for this job. My dad calls his clothesline a “solar-powered clothes dryer.” Sound high-tech enough?

When I bought my first home last fall, one of my first home purchases was clothes pins, even though I didn’t intend to put clothes on the line in December. I was just excited to have a clothesline. I have a very efficient laundry machine (a washer-dryer in one) that spins most of the water right out of the clothes, so they dry very quickly. I often hang damp clothes around the house to dry, but I’ve enjoyed hanging some laundry on the line on warm, sunny days.

If you don’t want the classic reels and plastic-coated wire running across your yard, there are options. For the outdoors, there are extendable clotheslines you can mount on a fence or wall. Concerned about hanging your “unmentionables” within neighbours’ view? Consider a drying rack you can mount inside, like those from Laundry Lift.

Do you hang your clothes on the line? Is there anything you still like to put in your dryer?

May 6, 2009 at 12:12 PM 3 comments

Earth Day Becomes Earth Week

It seems like Earth Day will stretch through the weekend: The Green Living Show is on here in Toronto from Thursday to Sunday, down at Exhibition Place. I enjoyed every square metre of the show in its first and second years, so I can’t wait for Year Three to start. The show has a huge range of green-living ideas for transportation, home energy, sustainable agriculture, backyard habitats, land conservation, renovations, green cleaning, beauty and fashion, and all kinds of other things.

My first stop will be to the on-site electronics recycling centre. I don’t have a lot of stuff to get rid of, but apparently Samsung is running an recycling centre at the entrance to the show on on April 24th from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and April 25th from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. If you bring something to recycle, Samsung will give you a $2 rebate on your show ticket.

I’d really like to catch Stephen Lewis on the main stage on Saturday, speaking on The Health Impact of Global Climate Change. The show has an impressive roster of speakers over the four days, and I bet Lewis will be a highlight. I’d also love to see Homemakers contributor Alanna Mitchell, author of the new bestseller Sea Sick: Global Oceans in Crisis.

After I’ve had a look at most of the Green Living Show, particularly at some of the home renovation ideas, I plan to go to the Grapes and Hops Tasting Pavilion. I don’t recall this feature in former years, but what’s not to like about a chance to sip local wine and organic beer?

If I sound like a kid in a candy store, it’s just that I’m excited at the chance to be among a crowd focusing on solutions, on pushing ahead with tomorrow’s technology today. Can’t make it? If there’s anything you would like me to scout for on your behalf, just post a comment to let me know! And don’t worry, I’ll tell you about all the neat stuff I find.

April 21, 2009 at 10:12 AM Leave a comment

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