Halcyon Environmental | Living Green

Consider Sustainability. The People, the planet, the profit. A blog about environment and sustainability in our world based out of Austin, TX

Monday, June 30, 2008

Planet Green: A New Kind of T.V.

There was a time, not so long ago (oh, the 90’s), when to the majority of Americans “going green” meant chanting the mantra “Reduce Reuse Recycle,” buying an Earth Day t-shirt and, lets be honest, actually knowing on what day to wear said Earth Day t-shirt. Today, we live in a very different world. No longer is conservation and environmental awareness a left-field cry or Dick Cheney’s “personal virtue,” being environmentally intelligent has become a sound way to save money, and as such is an important way of life for many Americans. Environmentalism is now very much part of the mainstream, it is hip, modern, and marketable. The automotive, food, and building industries have all “gone green,” and now so has your television.

Enter the Discovery Channel spin-off Planet Green, an entire network based on environmentally savvy living that was launched on June 4th. The purpose of the channel is to notify consumers of green issues as well as educate them with things they can do to help the planet in their day to day experience. In this way, Planet Green challenges and redefines the role of the television network in our lives. It is a network not content in a passive relationship with its viewers, with vegetative programming solely aimed at soullessly entertaining the masses. Planet Green is different in that it stands for something and actively seeks to change the viewer’s life through education, inspiration, and practicality. The message of the network is apparent in all its programming…“It’s not as hard as you think!” “Sustainable life is not only the future, it is also the present!” “We can do this!”

Luckily, Planet Green also succeeds in making green issues entertaining and fun (rather than preachy and pandering) not as a “novelty network,” but a serious cable player. Planet Green was ambitiously launched with a line-up of 14 brand new shows in a number of genres, from do-it-yourself shows designed to decrease the ecological footprint of the average home (‘Greenovate,’ ‘Renovation Nation’) to green cooking shows (‘Emeril Green’) to sitcom (‘Living with Ed’… think ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ with Ed Begley, Jr.). The most powerful show (and the cornerstone of the network) is the Leonardo DiCaprio produced “Greensburg,” which chronicles the decision to rebuild the city of Greensburg, Kansas (95% of which was destroyed by a tornado in 2007) into the world’s first town designed with a comprehensive plan of sustainability and green innovation. Planet Green succeeds in representing a broad range of ideas and perspectives as well as issues and challenges regarding “going green,” and as such is taking an active role in generating conversation and motivating individuals to take action when it comes to improving the environmental status of our planet.

Planet Green continues to redefine the role of television networks with its robust online presence and community; if the network is the horn, the website is its rallying banner. PlanetGreen.com is filled with solution-oriented tips and information that help make your life a little (or a lot) greener. The website provides information and support for every aspect of life, with pages titled “Fashion & Beauty,” “Tech & Transport” and “Food & Health” (to name just a few) all designed to aid viewers in the process of adopting a responsible lifestyle. You are able to connect with like-minded individuals in a community that is ready and willing to accept the change that Planet Green represents.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

UT SolarD Bloomhouse

UT Solar Decathlon Bloomhouse Unveiling: September 17, 2007

As the sun set off in the distance of the flat field that was once the old airport, a new building reflected and shone in the sunlight. It was the UT SolarD Bloomhouse, a solar-powered house designed and built by a team of students from UT. September 17 held the official unveiling and ribbon cutting for the house before the team transports it by an 18 wheeler to the national competition in Washington D.C. this past October.

Attendees heard Councilman Brewster McCracken welcome everyone and declare 9/17 as SolarD Day, by proclamation of the mayor. McCracken works on the council to promote new technologies for clean energy, film, and digital media and works on land-use zoning in Austin. He also announced plans for the development of the surrounding area, the old airport, as done by the Lady Bird Wildflower Center in the upcoming years.


The main attraction was touring the 800 sq. ft. house that included an outdoor hot tub on a porch, living room, “Texas-sized” kitchen, toilet and shower, and one bedroom. It was quite cozy inside, with 30 other people in there with you, but the design elements allowed light to be filtered in, and the high ceilings kept it from feeling cramped.

The exterior featured large shingles of Polygal, or industrial strength plastic, that not only added a breezy dynamic to the exterior, but also provided another cushion of air insulation for the building. Other exterior features included a painted design with green, white, and gray fractals and starbursts.

Solar Power and Energy

All of the SolarD designers, constructors, and team members were there to answer questions, and they said that the house actually runs on half the energy compared to a house the same size, meaning they incorporated efficient systems during construction. The home was topped with 6 solar panels, elevated at an angle above the flat roofline to capture the sunlight. The heat from the sun goes to heat the water and the hot tub. There is also a photovoltaic (PV) array that converts solar rays into electricity and powers all the appliances, lighting, and electrical systems in the house. After talking with an energy technician, I learned that the PV is smart in that it collects and pools unused energy during the daytime into a battery. The battery is then used to run electricity at night. The six panels collect enough convertible energy to power the house and its components and an electric car.

At the national competition, 20 solar-powered houses from different universities in the country compete against each other based on the areas of architecture, engineering, market viability, communications, comfort zone, appliances, hot water, lighting, energy balance, and getting around. Considering that these are the guidelines for grading the up and coming housing plans, these must be what should be considered when developing a sustainable building anywhere.


University of Texas at Austin Solar Decathlon. 19 Sept. 2007. http://soa.utexas.edu/solard/node/11

City of Austin City Council Member Brewster McCracken. Austin City Connection. 19 Sept. 2007.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Recycling in Austin

If you are an Austin resident, make sure that you know the particulars about where and what you can recycle.

I live in a house: What can I put in my curbside blue bin?

•Glass bottles and jars
•#1 and #2 plastic bottles (with a mouth or neck)
•Aluminum cans
•Tin cans
•All types of paper (should be put in a separate bag or another blue bin, separate from the glass and metal)
•Corrugated cardboard (flattened and tied together)

Where do I take my recycling when my apartment doesn't recycle?

Ecology Action at 9th and I-35 accepts all of the following:

•Glass bottles and jars
•#1 through #7 plastics
•Aluminum cans, foil, and pie plates
•Tin cans and all scrap metal
•Corrugated cardboard
•Hard and Soft cover books, Telephone books
•Newspaper and white office paper (ask staff about white paper)
•Ink jet cartridges, toner cartridges and cell phones that include the battery (during open hours)

What about plastic bags?

•Take them to HEB or The Austin Resource Center for the Homeless at 7th and Neches.

I just got a new computer and a new printer: what do I do with my old one?

•Here's a link of places around Austin that recycle computers: http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/sws/computer.htm

What about batteries, hazardous materials, or anything else?

•Check out how to dispose of anything else you might have at Austin 's "How do I Dispose of... Directory": http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/sws/disposal_a.htm

•Ecology Action also has a Disposal Directory at http://www.ecology-action.org/node/11.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Habitat Suites Tour

Last Thursday, the Austin Permaculture Group hosted a tour at one of the greenest hotels in Austin, Habitat Suites. Habitat Suites, located near Highland Mall, was named one of the Top 10 Green Hotels in America in 2007 by Forbes Traveler. The hotel features many habitat-friendly and sustainable design elements. Their philosophy of sustainability is reflected throughout their business, including their solid and friendly employee base and returning customers. The whole atmosphere at the hotel was extremely laid-back, relaxing, and inviting.

First and foremost, for this hotel to be considered green, the buildings must reflect sustainability and energy efficiency. Their photovoltaic system, installed in January 2005, features 108 solar panels with a capacity of almost 18 KW. You can see their recent solar outputs updated every three days at their website here: http://www.habitatsuites.com/solarpower.htm. The building utilizes reclaimed metal doors, magnesium oxide floors, and has set up connections with the Lowes nearby to reclaim and recycle any outdated fixtures or appliances. VendingMisers on the vending machines turn off the compressors and lights when no one is present and turn on the machine when someone approaches. $100 per year per machine is saved in energy dollars. Motion sensors in the guest laundry and lobby restrooms turn off lights when the rooms are not in use. Compact fluorescents save an estimated 32,120 KW per year. Outdoor lights are specifically placed to reduce light waste outside, reducing the amount of fixtures needed. The hotel recycles paper, newspaper, cardboard, aluminum, metal, glass, and plastics, recycling 2.5 times the volume of trash put into the dumpster. All of these elements assist the hotel in meeting reduced energy standards.

Habitat Suites’ sustainable design also supports people’s health and well-being. Keeping their inputs and outputs from a local base, they are providing you as a guest with the best locally-supplied amenities. You will be treated to 100% natural veggie-based personal care products, a relaxing atmosphere that includes live plants in every room, and rooms that include windows for natural ventilation. Don’t worry about that Texas heat, though…high-efficiency HVAC systems provide central air conditioning. Their cleaning products are all nontoxic and phosphate-free, and are supplied by local Austin business, EcoWise. The chlorine-free outdoor pool and heated whirlpool spa are surrounded by lush local vegetation that acts as a habitat in the surrounding urban landscape. Native vegetation reduces the amount of necessary water, and trees provide shade from the summer sun, lowering air conditioning costs. The landscaping includes fruits, berries, herbs, and medicinal plants that provide a habitat for insects and animals and culinary additions to the kitchen. Keeping into consideration the surrounding environment and habitat is essential when designing a building that will not only act on the landscape but with the landscape.

They recognize that being green is an ongoing process as new technology continues to provide outlets for new design. Habitat Suites continues to work to improve their footprint. Plans for a pond that would capture air conditioning condensate that now flows into the parking lot are underway.

If you aren’t planning to stay at the Suites sometime soon, here’s a little bit of Habitat Suites that you can take home with you...When you need to clean your house without compensating your health or air quality, consider these solutions. You can clean mirrors and glass with a simple solution of vinegar and water. Baking soda works to clean out your refrigerator, and polish your furniture with 1 part linseed oil to 3 parts lemon oil with a damp cloth.

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