Updated Tree Carbon Calculator

18 01 2010

I know as landscape architects it seems like we are always talking about trees, but there are just too many good reasons not to, especially in urban scenarios. On our Deaderick “green street” project we made the focus of one of our environmental education signs on the importance of urban trees. The Center for Urban Forest Research, run by the US Forest Service provided a wealth of facts and resources for us to include on the Deaderick Street sign.

One of the Signs from Deaderick Street

Recently, the Forest Service has updated their Tree Carbon Calculator so that it works nationally instead of just for California. You can find the updated version in their Climate Change Resource Center. The calculator runs off an excel platform and allows you to input data for a single tree. Based on your region, tree species, distance for the building, and a number of other factors it will give a basic idea of how much annual energy, emissions and stored carbon you can expect. I used it to see the effects for a couple of trees I have outside my house. Even a small 6” tree has the potential to sequester over 65lbs of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere per year and that big 30” oak tree in my back yard, over 1000lbs per year, not to mention all the energy reductions too.

This is another useful tool to help prove the value trees. It is projected that over the next 50 years climate change will actually cause the southeast region to become warmer and drier, which would reduce the amount of forest growth. While the best option for managing this in the future is to keep forest as forest (per a publication from the US Forest Service titled ‘Forest and Carbon Storage‘), it can’t hurt by incorporating as much urban tree growth into new developments as possible, every little bit makes a difference.

-Sara Putney





Invasive Species in the News

15 01 2010

When we plan and design for projects, within our trade, we try to use native species whenever possible. This is especially important when designing green infrastructure projects that tie so closely to our natural resources, in particular our waterways. Oftentimes people wonder why this is so important and how can it really affect them anyway? Whether it’s plant materials or animals, all invasive species are eventually extremely damaging to our native ecosystems. And also extremely costly; “The UN Convention on Biological Diversity says the spread of invasives costs 1.4 trillion dollars a year globally in damages and control measures. The U.S. alone loses 138 billion dollars a year in the fight.”

Image from ‘The Dirt’ website.

In ASLA’s blog ‘The Dirt’, a recent posts highlights the efforts for the State of Michigan to protect Lake Michigan and the entire Great Lakes Region from the Asian Carp. Like all invasive species these fish take over an ecosystem by consuming resources that would otherwise be used by the native species. Michigan is suing the State of Illinois in order that they shut down the waterways leading into Lake Michigan. According to the New York Times article Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Indiana are all in support. This came to light due to recent evidence of the carp within 6 miles of Lake Michigan in the Chicago area waterway system that links the Mississippi River to the Great Lakes. And while the City of Chicago realizes that the carp overtaking Lake Michigan would be devastating they are wrestling with their own economic concerns over what closing the waterways would really mean. There is more detailed information in ‘The Dirt’ post and the New York Times Article.

Another item in the light recently is the efforts of the Chicago Botanic Garden and the Morton Arboretum to gather native seeds from around the Midwest. “Scientists from the botanic garden are sending teams out across the Midwest and West to the Rocky Mountains and Great Basin to collect seeds from different populations of 1,500 prairie species by 2010, and from 3,000 species by 2020. The goal is to preserve the species and, depending on changes in climate, perhaps even help species that generally grow near one another to migrate to a new range.” The idea is to catalogue, store and preserve native plants in the event that climate change or invasive species may require the migration of native plant materials to other areas. There is still much debate about the project and more detailed information can be found in the New York Times article.

These are just two examples in a long list of invasive species problems that continue to threaten the ecosystems of the US. Not only do invasives disrupt plants, animals and other natural resources, but as noted above they also can have huge negative economic impacts. This coming on the tails of National Invasive Species Awareness Week, (January 10-14th), to learn more visit the National Invasive Species Information Center’s website.

– Sara Putney





How much water can you harvest from fog?

21 12 2009

Photo Credit: istockphoto.com/JeanUrsula

How much water can you harvest from fog? I hadn’t really thought about it until, I recently came across the work of FogQuest. FogQuest is a small Canadian all-volunteer organization founded in 2000 that constructs fog collection systems in areas where conventional sources such as wells, rivers and pipelines are not available.

While not as applicable in most of the United States as a primary source of water harvesting (where we use approximately 100gals of water per person per day), the technology is still fascinating and has been effective in developing countries. The system is comprised of a series of screens made of polyethylene or polypropylene erected on poles in areas that frequently experience fog events. According to FogQuest’s website, a 40m2 system can on average collect approximately 200L per day (53 gallons). Like rain harvesting, there are days where no water is harvested, but on some days the system has been reported to collect up to 1000L (264 gallons). FogQuest estimates that a 40m2 system cost between $1,000-$1,500. They have a number of videos on their site that describe the system in more detail (Link to Videos). Andrew R. Parker, a zoologist at the University of Oxford, and Chris R. Lawrence, an investigator at QinetiQ, have developed another fog collection technology based on the Namib Desert Beetle’s wings. They have been able to mimic the beetle’s process for collecting water. It is an interesting application of biomimicry. As the name suggest, the Namib Desert Beetle (see photo) lives in the Namib Desert where only a half-inch of rain falls annually. In response, the beetle has developed a unique survival mechanism. It is able to use its wings to collect water from fog that forms in the early morning and blows across the desert. The researchers discovered that this is accomplished through a series of small bumps on the surface of the beetle’s wings. When the beetle positions its body at 45 degrees the fog collects on its back and runs down the wings to its mouth. Here is a link to a website with more information about the process (link).

Namib Desert Beetle
Photo Credit: asknature.org

In places with high winds, it is thought that this new fog collecting material may be more efficient than the open polyethylene mesh used by FogQuest because the water cannot be blown through it. Other applications being considered for the material include using it to reclaim water vapor from cooling towers to developing tents that would capture fog for drinking water. This material has even been envisioned to reduce or eliminate fog that can disrupt transportation systems (i.e. airports, roads).





A NEW MEANING TO THE COLLEGE “GREEN”

18 12 2009

Green Roof Dashboard
from Davis Center at University of Vermont

With a son who is a sophomore in college and a daughter as a high school senior, I have managed to spend a lot of time visiting college campuses over the past few years. One of the things that I have paid particular attention to (and seen an huge increase in during the past two years) is the focus on sustainability. My strong hunch is that schools are incorporating sustainable technologies because this generation of smart, college age youth demand it.

Many college campuses now sport LEED certification on at least one building – my son’s dorm at the University of Richmond (Lakeview Hall) is LEED registered and undergoing certification. It is one of nine buildings at the University which is either certified, or in process of being certified as LEED with the USGBC. Locally, Vanderbilt University completed the LEED certified The Commons at Vanderbilt residential housing complex in 2008. As I have traversed the country and seen what must be dozens of (mostly) smaller liberal arts colleges, I have seen organic gardens and solar panels at Whitman College, windmills and biomass generators at Middlebury, local and organic foods at Skidmore, a unique “homestead” intentional environmental community at Denison, beautiful rain gardens at Emory and the list goes on.

I also found a interesting resource online called the College Sustainability Report Card for 2010 (www.greenreportcard.org), This report card basically looks at environmental sustainability at over 325 colleges and universities in the United States and Canada based on 48 indicators used to evaluate performance within four categories.

One of those categories is “green building”. It was heartening to see that 44% of the schools have had at least one LEED-certified green building or are in process of constructing one and a whopping three-quarters of all of the schools have adopted green building policies that specify minimum performance levels such as LEED certification for new construction.

I was particularly interested in taking a closer look at some of the successes that I have witnessed at several of the schools that I have visited especially as they relate to green infrastructure. I found some additional information on Emory, Allegheny, Middlebury, University of Vermont and Macalester.

WATER CONSERVATION

As a part of Emory University in Atlanta’s overall commitment to sustainability (with over 1 million square feet in LEED certified buildings), Emory has incorporated many innovative water-conservation technologies.. Particularly impressive to me was their implementation of rainwater harvesting and condensate recovery, especially in light of the fact that Atlanta suffered an historic drought event in the summer of 2007. On Emory’s whole campus they have to date included 6 cisterns with a collective size of over 350,000 gallons for both toilet flushing and for irrigation as well as a condensate recovery technology for over 4 million gallons of water per year.

In their new freshman residence complex including Ignatius Few Hall and Lettie Pate Whitehead Evans Hall, rainwater and condensate collection is diverted to an 89,000 gallon reservoir underground which can provide adequate volume to provide 2170 gallons per day needed to flush all toilets int eh buildings. The rainwater is collected form the roof, then filtered and slowed through a bioswale system outsde of the building and then into the below grade cistern. The condensate harvest provides a reliable source of water to supplement rainfall during those months from May through September. It is estimated that the condensate harvests is adding 300,000 gallons per year to the system.

At the nearby Whitehead Biomedical Research Facility Building, completed in 2001, the engineers devised a system of piping condensate back into nearby cooling towers to use as make-up water. This system conserves water AND diverts 2.5 million (that’s 2,500,000) gallons a year from the sanitary sewer system.

Video About Emory University’s Sustainability Efforts

GREEN ROOFS

It seems to me that many, many schools are incorporating green roofs as that technology provides one of the most visible elements to show-off sustainable design. In every school we visited, if there WAS a green roof, it was highlighted on the student led campus tours. The green roof were touted for their well-documented benefits such as longer roof life, reduced cost of heating and cooling, stormwater runoff reduction and habitat.

Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania impressed me with the well designed green roof on the Vukovich Center for Communication Arts. It is located within the topography of the campus site allowing for a fully accessible roof (entering the building at the green roof on the high side and entering on a lower level to the main campus commons or quad –type area. The roof includes extensive and semi-intensive depths and features lawn space as well as sedums and native grasses with an interesting incorporation of stones and cedar decking through the rooftop.

University of Vermont, just on the edge of downtown Burlington, Vermont, recently completed the 186,000 s.f. Dudley H. Davis Center. The Center features a 19,000 s.f. green roof.

Middlebury College, also in Vermont, provided a sloped green roof above the Atwater Dining Hall. I was interested in seeing their notation that in addition to the traditional green roof benefits that I have seen listed in may locations, Middlebury includes improved acoustical insulation, noting that green roof systems can reduce airborne sound levels by 40 to 50 decibels.

Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota impressed me, not in size but in determination. The two green roofs on campus were the result of student designs and even some student labor! The first green roof at Macalester was a 300 s.f. tray system installed above a walkway between tow residence halls and the newer 1350 s.f. green roof on Kagin Commons. I happened to be on campus the day the Kagin Commons green roof was unveiled.

I believe the influence of these campuses and so many others will influence the bright minds of our next generation of decision makers and leaders.





Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act of 2009

16 12 2009

Photo Credit: istockphoto/ericfoltz

On December 4th, Representatives Donna F. Edwards (D-MD), Russ Carnahan (D-MO), and Steve Driehaus (D-OH) introduced the Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act of 2009 to Congress. The legislation is expected to be referred to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Water Resources & Environment Subcommittee, as well as the House Science and Technology Committee on which Edwards and Carnahan serve. The bill seeks to establish five research centers across the country. One of the centers will be designated as the national electronic clearinghouse that would develop, operate, and maintain an on-line resource for green infrastructure information. Each of center would be required to do the following (excerpt from bill):

(A) conduct research on green infrastructure that is relevant to the geographic region in which the center is located, including stormwater and sewer overflow reduction, other approaches to water resource enhancement, and other environmental, economic, and social benefits;

(B) develop manuals and set industry standards on best management practices relating to State, local, and commercial green infrastructure for use by State and local governments and the private sector;

(C) provide information about research conducted under subparagraph (A) and manuals produced under subparagraph (B) to the national electronic clearinghouse center for publication on the Web site created pursuant to subsection (C) to inform the Federal Government and State and local governments and the private sector about green infrastructure;

(D) provide technical assistance to State and local governments to assist with green infrastructure projects;

(E) collaborate with institutions of higher education and private and public organizations in the geographic region in which the center is located on green infrastructure research and technical assistance projects;

(F) assist institutions of higher education, secondary schools, and vocational schools to develop green infrastructure curricula;

(G) provide training about green infrastructure to institutions of higher education and professional schools;

(H) evaluate regulatory and policy issues about green infrastructure; and

(I) coordinate with the other centers to avoid duplication of efforts.

In addition, the bill would create a $300 million grant program that could be used for planning, development, and implementation. As much as $100 million could be given to selected planning and development initiatives and a total of $200 million would be designated for implementation projects. The cap for individual projects would be $200,000 for planning and development projects and $3 million for implementation.

As this bill progresses, we will keep you up-to-date.

-Brian Phelps





Sustainability Resource Guides from ASLA

14 12 2009

The website for ASLA (American Society of Landscape Architects) has a fairly new section devoted to resources for sustainable design and planning. If you haven’t wandered across it already you should take a minute to see what it has to offer. It is aimed at national and local policymakers, government agencies, design professionals, planners and students. Resources include hundreds of project case studies, research papers, organizations and other government resources on sustainable design.

The following description of the five resource categories is taken from an announcement by ASLA, they include:

  • Green Infrastructure (www.asla.org/greeninfrastructure) covers park systems, wildlife habitat and corridors, urban forestry and green roofs.
  • Sustainable Transportation (www.asla.org/sustainabletransport) covers sustainable transportation planning, siting sustainable transportation infrastructure, designing safe and visually appealing transportation infrastructure, green streets and reducing the urban heat island effect.
  • Sustainable Urban Development (www.asla.org/sustainableurban) covers fighting sprawl, sustainable zoning, reusing brownfields, investing in downtowns, open spaces and sustainable urban design.
  • Livable Communities (www.asla.org/livable) covers sustainable land use, place making, green schools, sustainable housing, sustainable employment growth and health, safety and security.
  • Combating Climate Change with Landscape Architecture (www.asla.org/climatechange) covers site planning, open spaces, plant selection, stormwater management and other areas.

While the site is a little hard to navigate, (if you like what you see, I suggest you bookmark the above links to be able to find them again) this is a good resource that pulls a lot of varied information together into one area. It has potential to be not only helpful for designers, planners and people who speak the sustainability language, but also to be useful to vastly wider audience. I understand they are also always looking for new projects, research, case studies, etc. to highlight, if you want to contribute you can contact ASLA @ info@alsa.org

-Sara Putney





Tennessee Ranks in the bottom ten…again

2 12 2009

In the list of healthiest and least healthiest states releases from Forbes this month the southern region of the country is once again lagging behind. All in all eight of the bottom 10 were states from the south, including Tennessee which ranked number 44 overall and number 49 in obesity.

Why does this relate to green infrastructure you might ask? There are in fact many ways to relate green infrastructure to our health. (Check out the numbers from the earlier post ‘Triple Bottom Line of Green Infrastructure) Some are the obvious reasons such as cleaner streams and rivers, cleaner air, etc, that often create a more desirable environment to become engaged in and interact both physically and socially. But take a step back and consider green infrastructure planning; in brief planning amongst, preserving and restoring our natural infrastructure systems, such as river corridors, woodland networks and open spaces. This type of planning allows us to integrate greenway trails, bikeways and neighborhood trails into our built environment in a responsible way. The more access communities have to resources such as these allows them more opportunities to get the recommended 30 minutes of physical activity per day, increasing the overall heath of the community. There is a strong link between lack of physical activity and chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.

Other more indirect regional health benefits stem from increasing the amount of land for natural storm water retention which in turns allows communities to become more resistant to natural disasters. Green infrastructure also can reduce the erosion of precious top soil, which aids local farms. The entire region benefits when a collection of local farms can provide healthy food. Working farms—and forests—also have a significant impact on local economies by providing jobs, aiding tourism and supporting local manufacturing.

So in the end, green infrastructure benefits extend beyond immediate storm water benefits and reducing our carbon footprint. By integrating the green infrastructure planning principles we can also provide opportunities to make our communities healthier, reduce overall healthcare costs and hopefully move Tennessee up in the ranks of healthiest states.

-Sara Putney

Shelby Bottoms Greenway in the Cumberland River Corridor