Shea Gunther – Eco-Entrepreneur and Sustainable Developer

Here’s an interesting site — Shea Gunther’s personal site. He’s got some property and a long-term vision for a super-green development. The plans include a main house, the Gunther Green Home, an organic farm on the property and a series of super-green smaller homes.

He’s currently living on the property living in a set of tipis and for the Winter (in Maine!) and planning out the development. He’s got an architect and builder lined up and the project is moving. Pretty fascinating and definitely something to keep an eye on.

We’re Making a Difference!

You know, sometimes when you write a blog you wonder if you’re really making a difference. You come up with ideas, you do research, you write your posts — but you always wonder if any of it really has an impact.

And then something happens that convinces you that the writing is all worth it. And that happened for us last week.

We put a post together on The Freecycle Network last week laying out how to join and what freecycling is all about. And it had an impact.

The post was picked up on both Digg and Stumbleupon and ended up being read by almost 10,000 people. Better yet, over 1500 clicked through from the post to The Freecycle Network itself.

I don’t know what happened from there, but it’s likely that a few hundred people ended up signing up as members of The Freecycle Network directly as a result of that post. And those few hundred people might save hundreds or thousands of items from heading into landfills.

And that’s awesome!

But it’s not just because of us, it’s also because of our readers. The readers of this blog voted the post up on Digg and Stumbleupon which gave it more visibility. Our readers also share this blog on Facebook and with their friends and family, and helped spread the word. So I think this is something we all should celebrate!

Thanks again to everyone who’s helping us Make A Difference!

On Blog Action Day — Are You Here to Help?

I write about the environment a lot. Mostly, it’s because I have a lot to say about environmental issues.

Sometimes it’s because I’m scared. Not really scared like the apocalypse is coming, although I wonder about that sometimes. It’s more like we’re all about to graduate from high school and we’re faced with the decision of what to do with the rest of our lives.

Regardless of your stance on the issue of climate change, I think that it’s pretty apparent that we can’t go on living the way we are now. There’s not enough oil in the ground, or trees or water either.

It’s just like in high school when the final bell rang and the doors closed behind us for the last time. We always knew that there were real problems and responsibilities out there. It’s just that now we were out there with them.

Like any graduate, we’ve got some decisions to make about the rest of our lives. Of course, any time you throw “decision” in with “rest of our lives” it means you’re talking about something relatively serious. I’m pretty certain that the future of the human race qualifies. When we’re talking about “environmental issues” we’re talking about nothing less. And that’s enough to scare me.

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day

When I talk about taking responsibility for our future, there is an illustration that I like to use. I’ve stated this in several ways on my own blog and have even found a fantastic video on YouTube that goes over the concept quite well. It works like this. In the end, we have only four options:

  1. We become stewards of our environment only to find that everything would have worked out just fine regardless. We spend a lot of money needlessly, but no one is really hurt by it.
  2. We become stewards of our environment, spend a ton of money and make sweeping changes across nearly every industry, and find that we just barely miss the tipping point of environmental collapse.
  3. We keep doing what we’re doing and hope that nothing bad happens, and we get lucky because it doesn’t. We spend nothing, change nothing, and die leaving the mess for someone else to clean up.
  4. We spend nothing, do nothing, and watch our planetary ecosystem collapse, taking our economic, political, and eventually our social systems down with it. No food, no medicine, and no government to protect us.

I like this illustration because it shows so clearly that it doesn’t matter what we think of the whole global warming thing. Instead, what matters is that we take responsibility for the environment we live in and depend on. I’d rather take some responsibility and switch out a few light bulbs for CFL’s than deal with the whole apocalypse thing from option four. (I think I mentioned that the apocalypse scares me.)

When we begin to look at our responsibility to the environment, we realize that “environment” is just a code word. It means something broader than recycling your newspaper. Do somebody’s shopping. Or fix a child’s bicycle. No one says you have to be Super Biodegradable Boy or Mega Organic Girl to fend off the apocalypse. Making the world a better place is about doing what we can. What’s important is that we do it.

There’s a television show that I like called Ghost Hunters. It’s about a team of paranormal investigators. (Yes, I’m a geek.) One thing I’m always impressed with is how they introduce themselves. When they meet a client for the first time, as they shake hands, one investigator says, “Hi, we’re TAPS.” (TAPS is the name of their organization.) This is always followed by, “We’re here to help.” This is such a perfect example of the sort of responsibility we need to take for the world around us.

Our world won’t function like it has in the past for very much longer. We can’t afford the consequences of not acting. Perhaps it’s time we start prefacing the decisions we make with, “We’re here to help.”

On Blog Action Day, it’s time to ask yourself as well: “Am I here to help?”

Let’s hope we are.

Mathew Murphy brings us Tech Tuesday each week. Matt blogs on technology, the environment and tea on his website at http://mattscuppa.wordpress.com.

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Black is the New Green: 10 Energy Saving Search Sites

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Black is the New Green.

At least, that’s the message of a movement sometimes referred to as Black Google.

The idea first appeared in a January 20th blog post by Mark Ontkush, where he examines how much energy could potentially be saved if Google’s background was black instead of white.

His findings? If Google, and only Google, were to change their background color to black, the world could save somewhere around 3,000 Megawatt-hours per year!

The post eventually rose to the top of Digg, and was followed up with another, and more complete, article that explains the science and the numbers behind the
idea.

How Does It Work?

Basically, computer monitors, especially the big clunky CRT monitors that take up most of your desk, consume more energy when the screen is white than when the screen is black. This has been shown to be true of CRT’s, LCD’s, and plasma displays, although the different technologies vary in power consumption.

As Ontkush points out, the savings is “a goodly amount of energy and dollars for changing a few color codes.”

So Why Aren’t All Websites Black?

So why don’t web designers just do it and save us all that energy and money? It’s been shown that people will spend more time at a site done up in warm and welcoming colors than they will one that is primarily dark. What it comes down to is changing peoples’ expectations about how their screen should look.

Adjusting peoples’ expectations is always a difficult thing, but what if we began in the office instead of on he web? In the world of corporate and government organizations, where most of us sit at least 40 hours a week, we use the computer on ‘their’ terms. What would happen if these organizations simply started defaulting the screen to black instead of white?

What You Can Do NOW.

So what do we do while we’re waiting for the corporate IT guru’s to make our screens more environmentally friendly? We can begin changing our own expectations. As with anything habit forming, we’re best off starting small. Several alternative Google search pages use Google’s search technology on a dark screen. Personalized search site, Blacklys.com, even offers a Firefox search add-on.

Social Networking sites now offer the ability change your preferences; why not change your color scheme? Sites like Twitter and MySpace, and Facebook actually encourage customization.

These are little things when we compare our impact to that of Google, but little things add up. The only way to save the energy, the money, and the environmental impact, is if we each make the choice.

Alternative Google search sites:

[via ecoIron blog]

  1. Darkoogle, uses a black background with green text.
  2. Earthle
  3. GreenerGle
  4. Greygle, uses a grey background.
  5. Google Black, is a website hosted by the Google-owned blogspot, however the search results are not in black.
  6. Jabago, uses a black background and allows for searching in many languages.
  7. Ninja
  8. Power Google
  9. Searchincolor.com, an older site that supports Google colored searches since its onset. The default color is black.
  10. Trek Black

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This Green Old House: Introductions

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Introducing This Green Old House – An ongoing column by James Turner

Greetings, and welcome to This Green Old House!

My name is James Turner and over the next months (and maybe years), I hope to share with you some of the strategies and challenges that we’ve faced keeping our 200 year old Colonial farmhouse as green as we can.

Our house was built in 1796 in southern New Hampshire, USA and has been expanded and renovated many times since. The house is huge around 3200 square feet with an attached ‘L’ outbuilding and a 6 stall barn with hayloft. We also own 5 acres of land, about half light forest. We purchased the house and land in 1994. I live here with my wife Bonnie and son Daniel, as well as two cats (Esmerelda the Evil Kitty and Sally O’Malley) and a beagle-lab mix named Virginia.

By profession I am a software engineer, and have an active second career as a freelance writer and editor. You can find examples of my writing at http://www.blackbear.biz/writing.html, and my editing at www.onlamp.com, where I’m site editor. But really, there are days when I think that this house is a third profession, because there are times when it seems like I spend all of my time trying to keep it together and us from going broke.

What This Column Will Be About.

I’m going to spend the first few columns giving you the chronology of James and Bonnie’s battle to cut our fuel bill, which started pretty much the day we moved in. For those of you who don’t know, New Hampshire can get quite cold in the winter, -30F (also -30C) is not uncommon for days at a time. As we are at the top of a rise, we also get brisk winds on occasion (alas, not brisk enough to make a wind turbine feasible.)

Our First Challenge: Staying Warm!

Our house was originally heated by fireplaces, we still have 5 plus an empty spot in our basement when a main heating fireplace once lived. At some point, it was converted to a boiler with radiators, and later to a forced hot water system with baseboard. When we first moved in, it was the middle of January, and the first thing we noticed (other than that the house was freezing a lot of the time) was that we were getting snow INSIDE the windows. The windows were vintage 1930s single pane storm windows, and many of them were cracked.

As soon as the spring came, we started pricing out replacement windows. With 22 windows to replace, price was obviously an issue, and we almost fainted when we got the first quote of over $650 per window — which would have worked out to around $13K! Given we had only paid $85K for the house, it was hard to swallow ponying up a sixth of the purchase price just to fix the windows.

We got quotes from some local contractors, and found a huge variation in price. The contractor we ended up with got us “Low E” argon filled triple pane windows for about $250 installed. Still a good piece of change times 22 windows, but we could deal with $5,500 with a lot more grace than $13,000.

Will Efficient Windows Solve Your Energy Problems? No.

It’s worth talking about windows for a sec, because some salespeople will try to convince you that they are a magic bullet that will fix all your energy problems. There’s no question that getting good energy efficient windows will cut down your heat signature, but don’t expect (as we did) that it’s going to cut your fuel bill in half. We eventually did cut our bill in half, but it was years and several projects down the line.

So, we entered winter #2 with new windows, no snow inside the house, and visions of fuel bills dancing in our heads. Unfortunately, the magic K factor on our oil bills didn’t change appreciably. If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading a fuel oil bill, the K factor is derived by taking the degree days for a given period and dividing by the amount of fuel you used in the same period. It’s usually measure from delivery to delivery, and the higher the number is, the more efficiently you’re using your oil.

Personally, I think that whoever does the formulas for the fuel companies is smoking something, because when I’ve done the calculations it never comes out the same as their’s. This may explain why their “automatic delivery program” has left us out of oil in a cold house on many occasions.

In any event, I was a bit discouraged after the new windows didn’t take much of a bite out of our bill, and in the next column, we’ll continue the saga with the Quest for Insulation.

James Turner is site editor for O’Reilly’s ONLamp.com, a software engineer and the author of The Watering Hole comic strip. He has written for publications as diverse as the Christian Science Monitor, Processor, Linuxworld Magazine, Developer.com and WIRED Magazine.

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Is Organic Too Expensive? How Much is Organic worth?

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Let’s Face it. Organic is Expensive.

When I marketed Organic food to few consumers, they nodded in agreement about the goodness and health benefits. But the one question that I squirmed at was, “I heard its expensive, what’s the difference?”. At the end of the day it all boils down to the economics.

Before I entered the business, people said, that the difference would be 20%. Its only when I got about selling Organic produce that I understood the true value. It shot up to be 50% to almost 100% more expensive than the regular produce.

I could not sell. The mere thought of a consumer, “I get food for half the price in the super store with air conditioner and parking facility”, cannot compete with my humble room that held wooden shelves and bamboo baskets of organic produce. The inquisitive ones never returned and the regulars picked up a packet or two to satisfy their guilt. For weeks I went under loss and could not bear the sight of rotting vegetables and bug infested grains. I closed.

What is the benefit of making something that’s good but will not sell locally? Export is not an option I wish not to take to promote being local.

When I started to look for reasons for the exorbitant prices here are a few causes:

Organic Food is not subsidized food

After World War II countries who took to Green Revolution satisfied hunger and famine with chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Governmental policies till date stand in favour of them. So you might pay lesser for a regular veggie in the market but you still pay for the fertilizers through your taxes. There is no such subsidy for organic manure or bio-inputs.

It is labour intensive

Farmers do not use herbicides, so they control weeds by pulling them out. Many organic methods use lesser or no machinery and require great human care during seeding and plucking.

Low yields initially

Those who convert to Organic Farming lose 3 years as conversion period and yields reduce drastically. The soil is dead with chemicals that have killed essential micro-organisms. It takes that long to revive the earth and diminish the residual effect.

Misconception of niche audiences

A middle class man asked me to leave his grocery store and said “Take your organically grown rice and feed the elite, upper class who will agree with your ideologies”. People look at Organic Food as something that is delicate, precious and to be admired at a distance, but impractical for living.

Retailers are out to get your money – wrong!

Most retailers do not keep high margins on their products just because it is “Organic”. Infact those who sell Organic products know that they can never hope to make great profits and do it for the passion and dedication. When they buy it from the farmer, they procure it at the cost that you find on the store shelves of non-organic produce.

Hype on Organic

Right to the farmer level, the hype of Organic Food has also contributed to price increase, but these are proving to settled down with more competition and expansion of the market.

The need for change

Its easy to convert the soil to Organic but not the Human mind. We are conditioned to such sub-standards and mis-conceptions of science for years in the argument of feeding the masses. Organic Fields have proven this wrong with better yields. Governments are no longer dependable as they yield to the giants of agro-chemicals, bio-technology and eat up more cultivable lands for industries.

Consumerist behaviors have to change and its time we bow down to and support the producer who provides us good health.

I invite people to give suggestions to make this change happen.


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Introducing ‘Tech Tuesday’!

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(From Kevin — We are proud to launch a new feature today on 21st Century Citizen: Tech Tuesday! Please welcome Matt Murphy!)

About Me

I ‘discovered’ 21st Century Citizen via Twitter. That, perhaps, is a good indication of where my interests and background lay. My name is Matthew Murphy. I work as a business analyst, blogger, freelance writer, and web design consultant. In other words, I’m a geek. Besides the geek thing, I’m also passionate about environmental issues. I have been ever since I can remember.

I grew up with a strange dichotomy of technology and nature. My mother taught me all about lightning bugs and grasshoppers, and how the night crawlers come out after the rain. My father has always been a technologist. Back in the days when computers didn’t even have hard drives, he took computers to preschools and taught the kids to play educational games. Before most kids knew what a computer was, we had a dozen or so in our basement.

Attitudes & Goals

Many people seem to feel that technology is an enemy of the environment. In fact, I recently listened to a podcast in which a lawyer argued that the only way to save our planet was to devolve our technology. I don’t have the answer to the question of saving our planet. I don’t even think that there is just one answer. But I get angry when I hear things like this. You can’t blame what we’ve done or haven’t done on a thing or a tool. In fact, I’m quite certain that we need our technology if we really want to save the planet.

This column, Tech Tuesday, was really Kevin’s idea. I’m quite honored to be a part of 21st Century Citizen in this way. Kevin is giving me the opportunity to really dig in and focus on what is happening in the tech world that is important to the 21st Century Citizen community. Although my goals for this column will certainly evolve over time, there is one goal that will be in the forefront of my writing here. That is, to dissolve the ‘technology vs. the environment’ mentality.

Possibilities

Technology is a really broad topic. Where do you start? The hinge on your door is technology. Fire is technology. Technology impacts the environment in so many ways. We constantly hear stories of industrial waste being dumped or computers and electronics being shipped to countries like China instead of being recycled. While I worry about these things, I don’t know much more than you do about them. My background is in telecommunications and web applications, so the many of my articles talk about ways in which the internet influences how we approach the environment. I’m constantly amazed by the possibilities created by emerging web technologies. Educators are using Skype to reach far off students. The people in third world countries are using YouTube to show Westerners what life is really like for them. Even the candidates for the upcoming presidential election are leveraging the internet to extend their reach to a new class of voters. And did you know that the entire Live Earth concert was broadcast over the internet?

Once again, I’m honored to be able to reach out to the 21st Century Citizen community like this. I can’t wait to share my excitement with you. I hope that this column grows into a dialogue where we can trade ideas about how we can use technology to bring our world back in balance. I also invite you to visit my own blog, where I share my ideas on web technology, the environment, and, occasionally, my love of fine teas.

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Introducing “Organic Perspectives”

Today is a big day for us at 21st Century Citizen. We’re introducing a new feature and a new member of our soon to be growing family of contributing writers!

Poornima Ravi will begin today writing an ongoing feature we’re calling ‘Organic Perspectives’. I’m excited to welcome her to 21st Century Citizen!

Poornima lives in India where she is a seller of Organic Foods. Here’s a post from her personal blog describing some recent trips she’s taken in India to learn about organic produce and faming. She’s an intelligent, passionate person who’s on a personal journey to make a difference in our world, and we’re fortunate and excited to have her here!

Please welcome Poornima Ravi!

A simple step you can take: Love Each Other!

Love XOXO, originally uploaded by Pink Sherbet Photography.

A lot of the time blogging (and reading) about environmental issues and global climate change can be depressing. So let’s lighten up today and talk about love.

In the end, it’s love for each other — and those close to us — that will motivate us to make the changes we need to make. It’s love that helps us put the good of others before our own wants and desires. It’s love for future generations (our grandchildren included!) that drives us to leave the world in good shape for them.

So today, focus on love. Focus on being loving and remembering those who love you.

Because when you love other people, you don’t mind so much making changes in your own life to make their lives better.

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One of our stories is rising in on Digg

And we’ve never been on the front page of Digg.

It’s our story on How to Clean up a Broken Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) Bulb.