Recycling Can’t Get Any Easier

Republic ServicesGrowing up, our family started recycling because my frugal father received a small pittance for our aluminum cans and newspapers, so we had special bins in the garage for each.  We’d crush the cans to optimize the space requirements, and haul them off to a specialized facility that would weigh them and pay us by the pound.  It might only be enough to go buy another six pack, but it was incentive enough to help rationalize recycling.

These days, rather than getting that small reward, we actually pay to recycle.  But that’s because recycling is easier than ever.  Most waste haulers offer single stream recycling to enable customers to put all recyclable items into a single container.  The waste hauler collects everything together, and hauls it to a central Material Recovery Facility where recyclables of all kinds are sorted, compressed and baled, then sold and shipped off to be reused.  Smaller MRFs use a lot of manual sorting, but these days there’s a lot of expensive equipment to expedite the sorting process.  After touring a $20 million facility operated by Republic Services, one of largest waste haulers in the country, I was amazed at the speed and immensity of their operation. Continue reading

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Team Microgrid Rides for MS

MS Jersey FrontAfter two wonderful years riding with Team Christner, we finally had enough critical mass to establish a company-sponsored team from Microgrid Solar.  In the last year, we’ve hired a number of new people who are avid cyclists, and ride to work on a regular basis.  Rick Hunter, our CEO and company owner, created a corporate culture that encourages this, allowing employees to wear shorts in the summer and change clothes as needed.  We installed a bike rack in our front stairwell, and offer subsidized transit for people to bike and ride.  As a result of this, Microgrid was awarded a Silver rating as a Bicycle Friendly Business by the League of American Bicyclists.  In addition, Citizens for Modern Transit honored us along with Washington University with an award for 2014 Best Workplaces for Commuters.  . It’s fitting that such a cycling-centered company would have its own team! Continue reading

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Sustainability: A National Strategic Narrative

A National Strategic NarrativeWe all have our “story” – that which defines us either individually or as a group.  As Americans, we have long held the belief in our democratic values.  And yet, as the world has progressed, we are coming to find that we must adjust our policies and goals to reflect new realities.  We need a new “story.”

After World War II, George Kennan published an article The Sources of Soviet Conduct, which established the framework for a new story – that the United States was “the leader of the free world against the communist world; that we would invest in containing the Soviet Union and limiting its expansion while building a dynamic economy and as just, and prosperous a society as possible.”  This led to a non-partisan effort to craft the National Security Act of 1947, which would be the basis for our national defense strategy for the next 50 years and beyond.  Unfortunately, we are finding that the challenges we are facing in the 21st century are far different, and require a much different approach. Continue reading

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Living the Better Life

Better LifeThey say having children will change your life – for the better, of course.  When my wife and I had our first child, we called it “redefining normal.”

When lifelong friends Tim Barklage and Kevin Tibbs began their families at roughly the same time, they watched as their toddlers crawled around the floor and put just about everything that would fit into their mouths, including the fingers that touched nearly every surface within reach.  While many parents angst over the countless germs that their children are exposed to, Tim and Kevin were more concerned about the hazardous residue from the variety of household cleaners that they used to clean their homes. Continue reading

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Living the Dream

DreamStreetTeamMartin Luther King Jr. had a dream that inspired millions, and contributed to an unprecedented era of social change.  His nonviolent stand against racial inequality moved people to take a stand for justice and truth.  He has been exalted and heralded as a martyr for his work.  In tribute to Dr. King, hundreds of cities across America renamed prominent streets after the man who gave his life to this cause.

Melvin White has a dream.  A middle-aged postal worker from St. Louis, he was disturbed by the increasing blight and decay of the street in St. Louis named after MLK.  When he noticed similar conditions in other cities with streets bearing King’s name, he felt compelled to do something to restore honor to the civil rights leader’s name. Continue reading

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Biophilia: Love of Life

Biophilic DesignThere is nothing like the natural beauty of nature.  Some of the most stunning photos or paintings are of natural objects; there is an instinctive bond between humans and nature.

Biophilia is the love of life.  In his 1984 book with that title, Edward O. Wilson originally defined biophilia as “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life.”  This was a pioneering concept that put forth the notion that contact with nature is a critical element to human health.

I recently had the privilege of attending a lecture by Stephen Kellert at the Missouri Botanical Garden on this subject.  A prolific author and researcher, Kellert wrote a book entitled Biophilic Design: The Architecture of Life.  He talked about challenge of incorporating nature back into our built environment. Continue reading

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Bringing Conservation Home

StL AudubonWe’ve lived in our home for over 20 years, and have a relatively mature landscape that we’ve cultivated over that time.  Our now 50+ year-old home is blessed with two handsome pin oaks and a number of other mature trees, including a pair of pink and white dogwoods that offer spectacular spring blossoms.  We inherited little else besides a few bushes and the sun-loving zoysia grass that requires little mowing during the summer.

We recently participated in the St. Louis Audubon Society’s Bring Conservation Home program.  For a small fee, we had an on-site evaluation of our property to identify ways to more fully embrace a native landscape.  Mitch Leachman, who coordinates the program for the Audubon Society, visited our home a week into spring, so only the bravest of plants had emerged from our harsh winter. Continue reading

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Getting the Green Light

Green LEDIf you love incandescent lights, you may feel the demise of Edison’s claim to fame is a shame.  The 100 watt bulb was the first to go in 2012, followed by the 75 watt bulb in 2013, and finally the most popular 40 and 60 watt bulbs are no longer being manufactured in 2014.

While many refer to this as a ban, it’s really a phase-out as a result of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. In anticipation of the change, many stores stocked up on this soon-to-be keepsake, perhaps coddling those who can’t live without their fire-in-glass lighting.  Staunch advocates include decorators, artists and others who insist that there is no match for a burning filament to produce natural light.  In fact, there are still a number of exceptions to allow these purists to continue using incandescents. Continue reading

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Early Sunset on Missouri Solar Utility Rebate

Sunset at CCLThe writing was on the wall; we knew it was coming.  In Missouri, the $2 per watt rebate being paid by investor-owned utilities (IOUs) was scheduled to be reduced to $1.50 per watt starting in 2014.  This reduction was designed to make the rebate last longer, since it represented as much as 2/3 of the cost of a commercial solar array.  Proposition C, which was passed by 66% of Missouri voters back in 2008, required the IOUs to pay the rebate as long as the costs did not increase rates by more than 1%.  Unfortunately the details of how to calculate that cost cap were not clearly spelled out, and the utilities and the state’s Public Service Commission have wrangled over exactly how to do that.

Kansas City Power & Light (KCP&L) filed a notice with the PSC in the summer of 2013 claiming that they’d hit their cap, based on the combined costs of rebates paid out and planned investments in wind farms later this decade.  After reviewing their numbers, the PSC reached a settlement with the utility to clearly define funding available for rebates.  Later in the year, after Ameren Missouri filed a similar notice, the PSC used the same methodology to calculate their cap, based on similar renewable energy projects planned for the future. Continue reading

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Film Review: Chasing Ice

The 22nd annual St. Louis International Film Festival, which ran from November 14-24, offered the typical variety of independent films.  I appreciated the chance to review a few of the movies featuring environmental issues.

Chasing IceChasing Ice was a riveting documentary about the melting glaciers in the great Arctic Circle.  James Balog, a photographer for National Geographic magazine, got his first opportunity to capture the beauty of light shining through the majestic glaciers of Greenland while doing a story called The Big Thaw.  During this project, he observed a glacier move 1,500 feet in an hour, and became intrigued if not obsessed with the implications.  A climate skeptic for 20 years, he decided to explore for himself how much truth there was to the “science.”

Certainly insurance statistics have made believers beyond those who’ve studied the science.  But Balog embarked on a most unusual undertaking – to place cameras in remote areas, and automatically photograph select glaciers on at least an hourly basis in Greenland, the Yukon, Alaska and Montana.  The challenge of developing this automation in what became the Extreme Ice Survey was nearly as difficult as installing the cameras in the harshest of environments.  Balog and his team experienced the frustration of many failures before perfecting a design that provided them with the evidence they were looking for. Continue reading

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