Category Archives: Sustainability

Trails Are Driving Community Interest

IMG_2783“As with Transit-Oriented Development (TOD), where demand to live in and around TOD projects has increased, studies are showing a similar trend for Trail-Oriented Development, where there is a rising demand for bike-friendly and walkable places close to trails.Trails, according to a National Association of Homebuilders study, are the number one amenity potential homeowners cite when they are looking at moving into a new community. Trails provide communities with a valuable amenity that translates into increased housing values, a positive impact on property values and enhanced tax revenue for municipalities.”

Source: Transit-Oriented Development to Trail-Oriented Development 

The Value of Backyard Chickens

As recent Winter Park residents, we’ve noticed leaders are embracing change. In June, the city kicked off Vision Winter Park,  a project aimed at bringing citizens closer to planning and development efforts.  A big element to all that planning is sustainability.

Communities across the United States are embracing sustainability to create healthier and smarter communities. Neighborhoods that improve walk-ability, reduce waste, and promote healthier lifestyles are the ones that will remain competitive and attractive on a global stage.

With that as a backdrop, we were surprised when we contacted the sustainability office and found out backyard chickens were illegal in Winter Park. The city says it’s been monitoring the ordinance and reports have mentioned the city of Orlando’s backyard pilot was also being watched by council members. With Orlando’s pilot almost three years old, it’s curious what might be holding up the decision.

I wanted to share a few of our experiences as the debate continues.

Hands-On Sustainability

It wasn’t one thing that drove us to own chickens. Sure, it helped that we had kids. To them, furry fowl were just pets, and a lot of times that’s enough to push parents to the feed store. We focused on the bigger picture. We wanted our kids to understand there’s value in knowing where your food comes from, and being a part of the process. It was also a great way to teach responsibility and educate ourselves on a lot of things that underscore sustainable living. If Mother Nature’s backyard habitat was well tended, it provided a bounty for our family. Experiencing this daily cycle helped us understand how the littlest things are interwoven.

Feathered Ambassadors and Community-Builders

ella_chickenOne of the more entertaining aspects of homestead chickens was how they sparked serendipitous conversations and interactions within our community. While I would never advocate letting hens run unbridled through the streets, it was interesting to see how many neighbors provided friendly nudges when they would jump the fence.  A few times, we had folks pick them up and bring them to the front door! In  a short time, our corner lot became a conversation post for young families, distant neighbors, and curious people who wanted to know more about chickens and other sustainable practices.

Waste Reduction 

Waste reduction was probably the biggest positive for our family. It quickly became habitual to  take everything out to the yard. Small watermelon rinds, apple cores, cabbage bottoms, and just about any other food scrap you could think of were all spared from the landfill. Minimizing our impact on the municipal waste stream was gratifying, but seeing kitchen scraps turn into nitrogen-rich fertilizer that was ready to be composted with yard waste was beyond utilitarian.

And here’s a fun statistic from a popular book by Patricia Foreman: a single chicken can bio recycle about seven pounds of food residuals in a month. That means if two-thousand homes raised three hens, more than two hundred and fifty tons of waste could be diverted annually.

Natural Born Bug Killers

Chickens will eat just about anything that moves that can’t eat them first. That means exterminators are something you can cross off the budget. You have an organic cleanup crew always ready to rid your garden areas  of pests, ticks, and other undesirables.

Soil Savers

Healthy food is closely tied to the health of our soil. Right before getting chickens, one of our close friends told us about the soil and yard impact of chickens. She said don’t get attached to any of the plants or flowers in your yard because they’d be tilled or eaten away. That sounded a little tenuous to us too. But a year or so after leaving Austin, (and our chickens taken to a farm) our yard was incredibly lush. We had buffalo grass my wife had seeded blooming in every remote patch of the backyard. (See picture below)

buffalo_grass_arpdaleWhen chickens scratch and dig, your garden beds are one of the biggest beneficiaries. They’re experts at mixing manure with various types of mulch to create raised beds. That allows you to grow more produce in smaller spaces with less water, something urban gardeners can appreciate. And don’t forget about another intrinsic benefit: they’re a heck of a lot quieter than humans with noisy and smoky tillers. Just make sure you don’t bring home a rooster or you could challenge those machines.

Now it’s up to you. Get your neighbors talking about backyard chickens. Create a proposal and pitch it to local planners and officials. Make them give you reasons why they’re not walking the walk when it comes to sustainability. It’s such an easy step that pays us back in so may ways.

Wall Street Warns About Cost Of Doing Nothing On Climate Change

From The Water Is Too Cheap Files

“The regulations, carrying fines up to $500, add to restrictions put in place last year that rein in outdoor water use — for example, barring people from hosing down driveways. The new terms tread deeper into homes, businesses and the lives of most Californians, and are indicative of the state’s worsening water woes.”

via California drought: State OKs sweeping restrictions on water use – SFGate.

Water Is Thirsty For Innovation. How Are We Meeting The Challenge?

lightbulb_waterAs the planet’s population reaches more than 7 billion, the availability of clean water has become a major concern. The United Nations says more than a billion people live in areas of physical water scarcity, and 500 million more are nearing the same situation.

But as bleak as that sounds, water has also emerged as a hot spot for investment and innovation to save lives and protect future generations.

How Innovation Is Helping

Ingenuity and creative solutions are coming from every corner of the globe.

In Ghana, Scandinavia’s largest research firm, SINTEF, is helping villagers convert rooftop rainwater into drinking water because groundwater is often too salty.

“What we have put together is a water collection system made from simple but functional technologies that collect, store and purify rainwater from the rooftops,” SINTEF’s Sigrid Damman told Science Daily.

The system’s core technologies can also be upgraded as more water collection is diverted away from traditional sources — such as groundwater — during the heavy flooding season. SINTEF’s advanced systems provide an integrated UV disinfection system and a filter, which enables users to drink water straight from the tap. And when electricity is unreliable, solar power can be used for UV purification.

Waterless Toilets and Sanitation

The nexus of water and sanitation has also spurred interest from large donors such as the Gates Foundation. Usually, the toilets, sewers and wastewater treatment systems used worldwide require huge amounts of land, energy and water — and are expensive to maintain and operate. So RTI International, a U.S.-based research firm, received a grant from the Gates Foundation to develop a self-contained toilet system that disinfects liquid waste and turns solid waste into fuel or electricity with a biomass energy conversion unit. That zero-waste strategy could help the system meet its target cost of five cents per person per day.

A Redesigned Washing Machine

There are also plenty of opportunities for change in U.S. water use. Maintaining lawns, installing low-flow showerheads and ditching bottled water are simple starting points for residents.

One British company, Xeros, hopes to add how clothes are washed to that list. The company has developed a washing machine that uses 70 percent less water, up to 50 percent less energy and nearly 50 percent less detergent compared to traditional soap-and-water methods.

Xeros uses beads that, combined with detergent, lift dirt from clothes. The same beads can be used in hundreds of wash cycles — pumped in continuously from below the drum — before being recycled. These new washing machines operate at lower-than-traditional temperatures, which also saves energy, according to Xeros.

Shipping Tankers That Deliver Water

Other ideas seem almost too obvious. Bruarfoss, an Icelandic company, says it can deliver glacial spring water from Iceland in huge tankers that can carry up to 180,000 tons at a time. Not all ports have the infrastructure to receive such large shipments of water, but Bruarfoss says it can support the Western hemisphere, the Middle East and most other locations via commercial shipping hubs such as Rotterdam. Even at full capacity, less than 1 percent of Iceland’s total water supply would be tapped, according to the company.

With so much of the world’s attention and GDP focus on energy exports, why not water?

Markets and Pricing Also Play A Role

As important as innovative technologies are to delivering clean drinking water across the globe, the challenge also requires efficient pricing and markets.

David G. Victor of the University of California, San Diego, tells the New York Times that “most water problems are readily addressed with innovation.” That’s encouraging, but the other part of his comment is also essential: “Getting the water price right to signal scarcity is crucially important.”

Environmental scholars such as Barton H. Thompson at Stanford Law School agree. “Markets are essential to ensuring that water, when it’s scarce, can go to the most valuable uses,” he told The New York Times. Without markets and pricing, “the allocation of water is certainly arbitrary,” he added.

If there’s any resource the world should avoid allocating arbitrarily, it’s water.