In an effort to increase awareness of healthy and sustainable eating choices, First Lady Michelle Obama has decided to start an organic vegetable and fruit garden on the East Lawn of the White House (next to the Obama girlsâ€™ new swing set). This garden will provide locally grown, organic produce to the White House kitchens, but it will also be a learning opportunity for local students and families. According to an article by The New York Times, â€œTwenty-three fifth graders from Bancroft Elementary School in Washington will help her dig up the soil for the 1,100-square-foot plot in a spot visible to passers-by on E Streetâ€¦. Students from the school, which has had a garden since 2001, will also help plant, harvest and cook the vegetables, berries and herbs.â€ The garden, according to Mrs. Obama, is a step towards encouraging healthier eating practices in homes across America that include eating more home-cooked meals containing local produce. â€œMy hope is that through children, they will begin to educate their families and that will, in turn, begin to educate our communities.â€ Continue reading
What does this even mean? Good question. Princeton freshman dropout Tom Szaky (CEO Terracycle) makes amazing all-natural fertilizer from worm poop, and packages it in unprocessed used bottles. In addition, the stuff is made in a run-down warehouse using old horse feed-troughs collected from farms. A really cool business model: he doesn’t simply reconceptualize his product, but also every step of production, by using trash as much as possible. This way, he can dramatically cut costs and save valuable material resources. His company also makesÂ reusableÂ grocery and school bags from upcycled plastic grocery bags, other school supplies, eco-friendly cleaners, animal feed, fire starters (eh…) and more.
Video: Forecast Earth: Terracycle (The Weather Channel’s Forcast Earth)
Here is a really cool and simple technology. The Watercone is a solar still that can desalinate sea water or brackish water. The evaporated water condenses on the cone surface and then drips down into a small trough that also enables the cone to float on top of the dirty water surface that it is desalinating. The Watercone is the ultimate in decentralized small is beautiful/profitable technology. It can work because populations are spread out which means that the surface area required to harvest sunlight is not an issue, as it would be if you tried to make one centralized solar powered desalination facility. The device can create 1.0-1.7 liters of desalinated water a day. The base has a 60-80 cm diameter while the cone is 30-50 cm high.
Tendril is a smart metering company. They have smart meters that can be installed in homes and deliver near real time electricity pricing information. They use distributed software and algorithms to calculate and predict your energy costs during the day with a night time true up of prices using utility data. A next step for this technology would be to deliver near real time energy-service pricing. Delivering energy-service pricing in real time could help people understand how much their cold beers and hot showers are costing them.
Once you start delivering energy services pricing information you open up a world of energy service provision. No longer would people worry about how much their kWh cost, instead they would see that they were paying more than their neighbor for refrigeration services, and they would want to buy the new product that delivers the better lower cost service.
Customers wouldn’t be happy if they had just spent hundreds of dollars on a suboptimal refrigerator. Also, if there is a better refrigerator that provides lower cost refrigeration services in two years, customers are going to want it. Therefore, monetizing energy services would empower customers and drive cradle-to-cradle design of products since companies and customers wouldn’t want to get stuck with underperforming service providing capital goods.
Some steps of exploration within the context of the Green Dorm: Someone could easily monetize the energy services provided to a dorm that is already equipped to monitor its own energy use. If the kWhs are already monetized, then this process would be much simpler.
This picture comes from asknature.org, a website that provides inspiration for biomimetic design in an easy to search database. The interesting thing about this animal, the Thorny Devil from Australia, is that it uses capillary action on its skin surface to collect dew and condensation during the night and work the water to its mouth.
A couple of ideas spring from this. First, a research project could look at how much water could be captured on a bit of designed surface area during a dry season at Stanford. The results could be used to figure out how much water all of Stanford’s buildings’ surface area could capture during the dry season.
For the green dorm, we could decrease the size of a rain water cistern and supplement water demand with dew collected on the surface of the building and passively transported to usage sites.
Another idea that might be more workable sooner and in a climate that is hot and humid is an air conditioning system that collects moisture out of the air and stores it for use in a water-efficient building.
Moral of the Story: We can collect water out of thin air, potentially without using much or any energy.