Third graders in Newark are learning how to enjoy salsa. They aren’t just dipping their chips in it, but are finding out how to grow all of the ingredients in a recipe that takes months to prepare, but minutes to enjoy. Over the course of a school year each student plays an active role in managing a rooftop garden where their salsa is grown. They learn about the science of plants, some of the history of salsa and other ethnic foods and the nutritional aspects of their recipe. These third graders also learn about their place in the world, where their food really comes from and how they have some personal responsibility for it. The sweat equity each child puts into the preparation of the soil and caring for the seed pays off in a sweet meal grown and prepared by their own hands in the heart of the brick city.

St. Philip’s Academy in Newark New Jersey is an example of sustainable school where the term transcends the building design and has infiltrated the curriculum and culture of this institution. It is a rare example of a place that has embraced green practices and allowed them to transform this already high performing elementary school. While the results here are exciting wonderful lessons for educators everywhere the key lesson is to examine the process that brought them success in designing a sustainable building and curriculum that compliment and support each other.

Around  the country educators are looking for new creative ways to engage students in the issues of global warming, climate change, pollution, and renewable energy while continuing to teach basic requirements. They are challenged with creating lessons and opportunities to draw correlations between a student’s individual experience and their influence on the world around them. Simultaneously there is a movement afoot to build sustainably. The design and construction community has stepped forward to create new standards, update codes and develop an ever increasing set of expectations for the real impact buildings have on the environment. School design has become a crossroads for architects, designers, engineers and educators to come together explore new possibilities in sustainable design and its potential as a tool for education.

Currently sustainable, or ‘Green’ schools are projects that meet or exceed a criteria established by the local school district or municipality. Typically projects use the USGBC’s LEED for Schools guidelines or the California High Performance Schools (CHPS) guidelines. These resources set baseline criteria for site design, water use, energy use, materials resources, and air quality. They allow opportunities for innovation in building design. The goals of these criteria are to get design and construction teams to build more sustainably, but they are limited to creation of a building and its operation. Most green criteria do not change what is taught nor how it is taught within the walls of a green school.   

In many Green Schools the building design elements are efficient and create great places for learning, but do not create real opportunities for educators to teach and explore sustainability in new ways. Often the most impactful design changes are not seen or understood by the building occupants.

While school buildings should not necessarily be the central teaching tool for every lesson the learning environment has critical impact on the effectiveness of teaching. Sustainable building criteria has helped to draw attention to the needs of occupants, in this case learners, for places to have appropriate light, acoustics and fresh air. Investing resources in building schools which take advantage of natural light, improve indoor air quality and appropriately insulate noise makes classrooms and other learning spaces more pleasant and allows learners to focus more effectively. Building sustainably also often has a marked impact on long term costs for school operations. Projects that have used renewable energy strategies, incorporated efficient HVAC systems or high performance building skins typically have reduced utility costs which can provide long term savings.

These are all important steps in building effective sustainable schools, but they are far from enough. This country’s educational institutions are the prime resource for impacting future generations. Our schools are places where students spend hundreds of days a year learning the lessons that will shape their adult life. If we expect to turn the corner on how our species impact on the earth we must teach our children how to live and work more in harmony with the environment. School buildings are a tool that must be leveraged to reinforce those lessons.

St. Philip’s Academy is a place where this is happening. They have taken full advantage of a sustainable design process and set clear goals for how they are using the building and teaching students about their impact on the earth. This all began in the earliest stages of design when the educators, architects and designers came together to set clear goals for the project.

On many school projects, sustainable or otherwise the design team and educational leadership have limited exposure to each other. Often this results in buildings which are not responsive to the specific curriculum or pedagogy goals of the users. More successful projects usually result from a mutual understanding of these goals.

At St. Philips the team set a series of specific goals. The leadership wanted students to:

Take personal responsibility

Understand their place in the world

Improve overall nutrition

Have a connection to Newark

While none of these goals specifically required a green building they opened up an opportunity for the design team to showcase how sustainable design could support these goals.

This started with the selection of a site where an old factory building sat dormant in the heart of Newark. Instead of tearing down the building and starting with a new structure the team chose to convert and reuse the factory as the school. This initial move grounded the project in local history and reinvested the school in the neighborhood of their choosing. It also demonstrated a commitment to reusing available building stock and recycling aged materials. The building design embraced an existing heavy timber structure and brick exterior while adding new interior partitions, ceilings and finishes. The reconfiguration juxtaposes old and new and creates opportunities to discuss history and materials.

The design also developed around creating a closed loop food cycle on site. The goal was to demonstrate to students where their food comes from and have them invest in the process of planting, growing, harvesting, preparing, cooking and composting all on site. This was a particular challenge as the building site had limited area and there were also requirements for a new gymnasium. The design team presented an option of a rooftop garden / outdoor environmental center. The school embraced this option as it opened new possibilities to them for curriculum and future growth. The design also includes a cafeteria with an open kitchen where students can see how their food is prepared and engage with the people preparing it.

Once the educators moved into the facility and started using the spaces they adjusted their curriculum to align more effectively with the building. The school developed the EcoSpaces program that focuses on the lessons taught in the science lab, cafeteria, rooftop garden and new teaching kitchen. The science calendar was changed to align with planting and harvesting seasons. The food service program began to use more local resources and lessons were developed around the daily lunch.  The school community as a whole has seen an impact not just with their students but with families as well. This project was particularly successful because there was a long overlap between key members of the design team and the educators. 

By bringing together the educational and design leadership early in the building design process St. Philip’s Academy was able to set themselves on the right foot to develop new curriculum. This is just one example of how this project transcends a sustainable building design into a truly sustainable school.

Author’s Note: Ralph Walker was the Project Architect on St. Philip’s Academy while working at Gensler. He is also a Trustee with the school. This article first appeared on Green Building Pro.

So Sun Chips has come out with a new Compostable bag! Exciting! This is a new thing in the snacking industry, packaging that goes away rather than becoming litter. As with many companies this step is a laudable opportunity to create a cleaner environment and promote their product.

If you check out there site you will find great information about the differences between some of the various types of packaging on the market that are touted as ‘green’ or sustainable. They have done a good job of putting out straight forward honest information about composting and how their package breaks down. Overall Bravo.

http://www.sunchips.com/

Now here are the challenges.

1. Most people don’t compost. It is a practice that is not widely accepted either individually or by municipalities. The vast majority of places do not have a separated bin for compostable materials and so the majority of these bags will probably wind up in a trash dump. They will still break down, but when they are mixed with other trash the potential compost is useless. 

2. Sun Chips is Frito Lay company. Why not just convert all of Frito Lay’s packaging to compostable material? In my opinion this step is to place Sun Chips squarely in the public’s eye as the ‘environmental alternative’ for potato chips. It is a play to increase market share based on how green they can be. I am sure the advertising campaign and sales are being closely tracked to see how effective the marketing really is and if the public steps up to ask for compostable packaging Frito Lay will eventually convert all of the products. 

3. There is a statement that this is the World’s First 100% Compostable Chip Package! That is a bold statement if I ever heard one. What I don’t understand is how you compare sealed bags with the brown paper bags of yesteryear? What about simple wax paper? Wax paper if it is truly just a wax-coated paper (most aren’t anymore) is both compostable and biodegradable. Why not just simplify the package to a printed wax paper? 

Overall I think Sun Chips is trying to do something right, but this isn’t about being sustainable it is about commanding market share and making money. I hate to be the skeptic, but I think they would be better off to change over to a simple paper bag to make a real difference.

Critque: Bottle King

April 28, 2010

Critique: Bottle King

I recently saw a link about a new building in Taiwan built primarily out of recycled plastic bottles. It has gotten wide press coverage and deserves more examination.

The project is a wonderful demonstration in the reuse and innovation of materials. Creating buildings out of recycled consumer goods is not new, but this project certainly takes best advantage of the positive attributes of its main material PET bottles. The design maximizes natural light giving and makes good use of the bottle form in creating a smart structure. The spaces created appear to be creative and open allowing for varied activities or display. The exterior is interesting with the bottles giving a pixellated façade and a delicate curvature. Overall the building is pleasing to the eye. Based on the media attention the project appears to be a great success.

Now here is where I have issue. What I don’t understand is the building used for? It was designed and built as a pavilion, so it appears to be purely for demonstration purposes, but the demonstration of what? In the news piece there is mention of its use as a gallery or trade show space, but is that really the highest and best use for this structure? If it really is intended to showcase recycling plastic bottles, why not build a recycling plant, or alternately create a school of environmental studies housed in a recycled building? A pavilion seems self-serving.

The project was a fantastically expensive experiment both in time and money. I question the investment of resources, time and talent into a folly. The project really appears to be an ode to the plastic bottle, not a commercial on why recycling is important.

To be clear, I haven’t been to the building (nor Taiwan at all for that matter) and I certainly hope that the project is a raving success. My concern is that while the press touts the green aspects of the project I cannot grasp how a building of this type is useful or for that matter replicable in our larger society. If it fails to be occupied for anything more but a few days a year I believe it is a waste. It is a beautiful sculptural form that deserves attention and study, but in the history of architecture or green design I expect it will be little more than a footnote.

It is certainly green, but is it Igloo?

This is the big difference between green design and igloo design. Building a green building that is not useful means that it is also not sustainable. If this project fails to be effective the work and energy required to take the building apart and reuse or recycle the land and materials is just as great as it was before. Igloo projects must be useful and when they are no longer useful they must be reinvented or ultimately melt away.

Letters: Keurig

April 27, 2010

The following is a letter I wrote to a senior vice president at Keurig. Keurig is the maker of a single use coffee maker which I have at home, and really love. As I was doing my research for the 3 Cups series I saw a lot of issues, both with the machine and more specifically with the K-Cups. Rather than just ranting about it here, I decided to write a letter. Enjoy:

Keurig At Home Retail Division
John Whoriskey
Vice President & General Manager,
Keurig At Home Division

April 2, 2010
Dear Mr. Whoriskey
Let me start by saying I am a huge fan of the Keurig Coffee Brewing system and the K-Cups! For years I have looked for a reasonably priced, quick single cup machine that I can use at home and the Keurig has delivered! It is a great system, efficient and makes great coffee. I am also really pleased with the range of products that you have available in the K-Cup format. My wife and I enjoy mixing and matching new flavors in with our normal orders and really like the mail order set up.
I am writing because while I am a fan of the system and quality of the product I am really disappointed with your packaging and the potential environmental impacts. I am not writing to complain or tell you a sob story about how your products are killing the earth. Instead I would like to offer some comments and criticisms on the design and see if I might be able to help in redefining your packaging.
As a point of background, I am an architect and have spent the last decade working on making my own designs more sustainable while trying to maintain quality, keep costs down and deliver on time. I understand the real challenges and I think you will find my suggestions to be helpful.
Let’s start with the basic K-Cup. It is a great little device; package and filter all in one. If I have read your literature properly you include a foil top with a polyethylene layer, a paper filter (not sure of any additives) and a plastic container. The entire system is heat sealed with the coffee inside. Why not create an all paper K-cup; top, filter and container. Then package them in a 10-20 cup reusable sleeve. The sleeve could provide the light and air seal needed to maintain quality, but should be made primarily of a single recyclable material, perhaps HDPE (although I think there may be more sustainable alternatives) and an outer labeling system.  The K-Cup could then be a biodegradable product similar to a tea bag, but maintain the ease of use for the customer.
If the sleeve is designed appropriately it could also act as your outer packaging for small order delivery and retail sales. Once a customer is done with the sleeve they could just add a mail label and send it back to the company creating a nice closed loop, reducing inventory requirements and improving your bottom line. The best part about the sleeve is that it would quickly offer feedback to your company about how specific brands are selling and being consumed. If for instance the sleeves from one brew are coming back at a higher rate even though sales are steady with other products you will know that they are being consumed quicker and perhaps you should increase production. Similarly if a high selling brand’s sleeve is being returned slowly you may want to cut back on production. It is an interesting feedback loop to ponder.
In the short-term I would also suggest exploring a cardboard sleeve package system for the current K-Cup design. The boxes while stackable are inefficient and use more cardboard, paper and ink than necessary. You could overcome the stacking issue by using a hexagonal cardboard sleeve that would use approximately 2/3 of the material used in the typical box for 18 K-Cups. In addition when you send out large outer boxes for home delivery the box within a box doubles the amount of waste produced unnecessarily. I think that the packaging as a whole is excessive.
I realize that you have probably explored these possibilities previously and that your company like most are working on thin margins so making a dramatic changes would be difficult. I offer this as a spark that might encourage new conversation about how to continue to improve your product line while continuing to reduce your footprint on the earth. It is a tough challenge, but we all need to take steps to do the right thing.
In my own experience it is critical to find the balance between cost, quality, time and sustainability for every design. I have spent years working with organizations and individuals trying to help them create beautiful meaningful designs that provide everyday value without harm. It is not an easy task.
I hope you will share these thoughts with your R&D and Production teams. I would be happy to meet and talk with you or your staff further if you find this idea promising. Feel free to contact me via this email address or by mail.
 
Sincerely,
Ralph Walker

Note: Personal addresses, email addresses and phone numbers have been deleted from this letter for privacy. Otherwise it is as sent to Keurig. If I get a response I will certainly share it here. To date I haven’t seen a response.

Here is the inital response I have recieved from Keurig.

Dear Ralph,
 Thank you for your email. We do appreciate your interest in our products and your feedback regarding our company’s “greenness”.
We will certainly pass along this information to the appropriate department and we thank you again for your recommendations.
Thank you.
Sincerely,
Briana Keene
Keurig Customer Service
At Home Division
(866) 901-BREW (2739)
csrah@keurig.com

3 Cups: Addiction

April 26, 2010

3 Cups is a seven part series. This is part 1

I am addicted.

I have been for years. First thing in the morning before I really do anything else I need to get my first hit. By the time I am to work each day I have already done two and most days I wind up getting my fix five or six times. I’m not messing around with drugs like cocaine or heroin. I am totally addicted to caffeine and my delivery system of choice is coffee.

For those of you who don’t know caffeine is a gateway drug. It is highly addictive, but easily managed without legal or significant personal consequences (although if you have seen me without coffee you might not agree). The real problem with caffeine, coffee in particular is that it leads to a heavy addiction to petroleum.

Petroleum? Oil? I am sure you are asking “how are coffee and oil connected?’.

Our global coffee addiction reinforces and supports our global addiction to petroleum. Coffee is one of the largest commodity crops in the world. It is distributed globally and the process from harvest to cup is energy intensive requiring significant transportation, processing (roasting and grinding) packaging, and waste. The volumes of coffee beans, cups, machines and water used are immense and each one requires some amount of petroleum to be successful in today’s market.

Since I know I am addicted, and I am not about to go cold turkey off caffeine I figured I should take the next step. Instead of giving up coffee all together I am going to evaluate the ways I drink coffee to figure out if one way is more sustainable than another and what makes it more sustainable.

Typically I have coffee three ways; at home, on my way to work and driving. At home I use a Keurig machine to make perfect single cups, which I drink out of a ceramic mug. On my way to work I stop, usually at Starbucks after I get off the subway for a tall cup of drip or a latte in a Starbucks paper cup. If I am driving I use my trusty travel mug and stop at Quick Check for a fresh cup of joe. 

Looking at the three ways I typically have coffee you may have already made some assumptions about what is most sustainable, but instead of assuming let’s evaluate. Over the next 6 weeks I will pick apart each of the steps in getting my cup of coffee examining the bean, the water, the cup and the machine in order to understand how much water is used, miles are traveled and ultimately how much oil is in my cup of coffee.   

I hope you’ll come back on Mondays to see my latest update on my 3 cups of coffee.

3 Cups is a seven part series. This is part 1

Are you in the nature replacement business?

In some ways I am. I design buildings for a living, and a big part of my work is in selecting and specifying the materials that are used to put these structures together. In that role I am at the dead center of the nature replacement business. Much of what I try to do is thwart gravity, protect from rain, snow, sleet and sunlight, predict and prepare for fire, flood, earthquake, tornado and whatever else mother nature might throw at us. The materials that I select day in and day out are often synthetic replacements for natural solutions. Sometimes I pick them because they are the ‘industry standard’, sometimes because they are alternatives that have proved to be cheaper and perhaps more effective. 

It seems like all to often we are tasked with trying to find solutions in industry to things that have already been solved by nature. There are amazing habitats large and small around the world and instead of trying to reinvent their solutions perhaps we should just copy them. The basics of nests, hives, reefs and lairs all offer key lessons on the organization of materials, modern construction techniques, design and methods of finding harmony with the surrounding environment.

Even in the work of designing everyday products we have much to learn from nature. From simple containers to complex tools there are basic lessons available on ways to create effective beautiful products that leave a smaller footprint. The solution may not always be in modern engineering or chemistry, it may be right under our noses. The problem is we simply are not asking the right questions.

Instead of asking how can we invent something new to do X, we should be asking how did nature solve this problem already and how can we adopt those strategies?

One of my favorite examples of a simple product that was derived from finally asking the right question. It came from a company that has started on a journey to drastically reduce their natural impact (although they have a very long way to go). The company is Interface, a carpet company and the product is Tac-Tile. They make a number of outstanding products that are used in buildings around the world, but their basic material source is petroleum. They like many other textile companies are reliant on an available source of crude oil. In more recent years after their founder Ray Anderson had an epiphany (most of his employees thought he went off the deep end) they have started to investigate how they can become more sustainable. One area where they examined alternatives was the glue that is used to secure carpet to the substrate below. Interface put together some of their smartest chemists, scientists and engineers to figure out ‘how does nature do glue?’.  They did exhaustive research on various animals and plants that have ‘sticky’ qualities and continued to have trouble finding the right solution. After many months of exploring the problem one of the individuals involved in the project was challenged by her boss as to why they hadn’t found a solution yet.  In a bit of frustration she responded simply ‘Nature doesn’t do glue, nature does gravity’. It was a moment which changed the whole conversation and set Interface on a path to create Tac-Tile, a simple smart product that eliminates the glue required to secure floor tiles together to the concrete.  

Now I honestly believe that companies like Interface can continue to do better at moving towards reducing their impact. Similarly I know I have to be more careful about asking some of the less obvious questions in my own work about how I can create in a way that is more symbiotic with nature as opposed to trying to replace or thwart nature.

Maybe you to should ask yourself the question ‘am I in the nature replacement business?’.

If like me, you are in that business, maybe this is an opportunity to change the conversation.

We have all seen the signs ‘This mile of highway adopted by Joe Mechanic’ or ‘This park maintained by the Knights of the Round Table’. The signs often make me laugh, especially when I see companies that have terrible stewardship programs adopting highway miles or parks. I am sure that Exxon Mobile must have adopted an extra hundred miles after the Valdez incident to improve their status with the general public.

The part I really hate is when you travel that mile of road, or use that park and it is a mess. So many times I have looked at the side of the road or the median and see trash. Highways are often designed more as Parkways in the traditions of Olmstead, bordered by wide swaths of landscape, lined with trees and kept as natural as possible for the pleasure of the driver and the separation from the adjacent homes and businesses. When these areas become infested with litter they seem to be nothing more than big trash bins.  

The parks are often worse. All to often I take my son to the park and the swing-sets are littered with cigarette butts or empty water bottles. On nice afternoons I see hundreds of families come and go with their children to enjoy their time outdoors  together. When the parks are full of litter it is both gross and in some ways dangerous as little hands find bits of glass, or cigarette butts. The park litter requires parents to be more diligent at what should be a playful safe time.

Besides being messy, these places are not just conveniences to all of us, but are also habitats for animals and insects. In some parts of the world medians and parkways are critical acreage for certain species of animals. If we choose to wall them in with busy highways we should also make the effort to maintain their homes.

So that leads me back to my initial point, what ever happens to the folks who adopt a highway but never do anything with it? Is there a phone number I can call or an email address I can write to tell Joe the Mechanic that his mile of route 78 has been trashed and he should get out here to clean it up? Where is the ‘How are we doing’ box at my local park to tell the ‘Knights of the Round Table’ that they need to get a clean up crew to the park on Friday afternoons or Saturday mornings in preparation for the weekend crush of toddlers and strollers? What responsibility do these surrogate caretakers have for the places they adopt?

As I did a little more research I found out that there is at least one place to reach out. In a number of states the actual care for the highway miles are done by a corporation that sends out crews to maintain the roads. It seems like quite a tidy business, but clearly they aren’t keeping up with crap we keep throwing out our windows. Adopt A Highway works in 15 states to maintain miles for busy corporate sponsors.

http://www.adoptahighway.com/home.html

They are only one company that does this dirty work. In some states the work is done by volunteer groups, state workers or prisoners. Either way it takes many hands to keep our medians and parks clean.

Here is what you can do to help. First, don’t litter. That is the obvious one. Second keep a trash bag in the trunk of your car or your stroller. If you are out and about and see a bunch of litter in a place that you use, take 10 minutes and clean it up. Your action will both help to clean up the outdoors and will set an example for the next person. Lastly tell people about it. Write a letter to the company or municipality that is supposed to maintain that area and remind them of their responsibilities.  Tell them how you helped out on a given day and make suggestions about when and how they should clean the place up.

Maybe we should change all of those signs to read ‘This mile of highway LAST maintained by Jimmy’s Mom and Sammy’s Dad’. Each time one of us takes out the trash at a park we can put our name on the sign with a date to remind people it takes a little effort by all of us to keep these places clean.

Igloos in the desert is a blog about trying to figure out how to live a more sustainable life in our flat, corporate, consumer world. It is about asking hard questions and stumbling along to find better answers. I am one voice, one person, sharing my ideas, issues, triumphs and mistakes on my journey. I am not an expert or an intellect, just an individual who is passionate and invested in making things a little better for all of us. I think sustainability is one of the keys to a better life for our whole species. Am I an idealist, maybe, but I am also honest and struggling to get to the truth about things.

By profession I am an architect and the name came to me from a debate I once had with some colleagues. We were talking about ‘green’ buildings. We were debating about which of a number of recent buildings was the most sustainable. One person talked about a project that had geothermal wells and a super insulated skin, another talked about an old factory that had a new roof garden on top and a third brought up a house that was build completely out of materials from another structure that had been torn down.

As I listened to my friends and colleagues debate the finer points of renewable energy, recycled materials and minimal impact structures I realized that we were probably talking about the wrong things. I asked the question ‘what is more sustainable than an igloo?’. An igloo that simple dome-shaped ice structure created by the Inuit. No built structure is more sustainable in my mind. The material is simply frozen water. The structure is a simple dome with an entrance. It is built for a singular purpose, to provide temporary shelter in extreme conditions. It requires no special tools beyond a saw and a shovel. Best of all, once built it lasts only as long as it is truly required. Once the winter breaks and it is warm the igloo simply melts becoming water yet again. I challenged them all, and I challenge you, to find a more sustainable structure.

My colleagues all looked at me in a bit of disbelief, that as an architect why would I consider an igloo in a debate about important structures. They scoffed and considered my comments foolish. One friend asked me point-blank ‘how do you build an Igloo in the Desert?’

I guess we’ll have to find out.

Launch

April 22, 2010

Launch

April 22, 2010

Earth Day’s 40th Anniversary.

Today is the day I chose as the ‘official’  launch date ‘igloos in the desert’ and share it with all of you. You have probably started to see some early posts in the last few days as a part of my ‘soft opening’. As I am sure you can all tell, this blog is a passionate plea for us all to live our lives a little more sustainably. It is one point of view, one voice, but I hope that my words make you laugh, make you think, inspire you, infuriate you or maybe move you a quarter of an inch. Maybe.

Come on in. Take a look around.

Mahatma Gandhi said ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’. Perhaps my words can help fuel the change and you will be your own change. Today, this day, my step forward towards change is to share the wisdom I have found, the mistakes I have made and the lessons I hope to repeat with you. What will your step towards change be?

In celebration of Earth Day’s 40th Anniversary here are 40 great tips on how to live and work a little more sustainably each day. Try them out this week and see if you can make a few of them work all year.

Tips 31 – 40

31. Throw a sweater in your drawer at work. Try to regulate your own temperature without having to mess with the thermostat in your office or house. By keeping the building a little cooler in the winter and warmer in the summer we can make substantial reductions to our energy usage.

32. Find out more about your electricity. Does it come from coal, nuclear, gas or renewable resources? What is your utility company doing to use more renewables? Are they building wind turbines, solar panels or exploring other sustainable approaches? Contact them and let them know what you think about their efforts. Push the utilities to do more to provide clean energy quickly, and ask what you can do as a consumer of that energy. Need some help in how to reach out, check out some of the Letters on this blog for more ideas.

33. Tell your children. Explain to your kids, or your friend’s kids, why Earth day is so important. Tell them that we all have to do our part to take care of our natural resources, and show them one way that they can help. Need some ideas on activities to do with your kids. Check out the rest of this list and some of my other posts.

34. Visit a park. Cities, States and the federal government all manage parks for our shared use and enjoyment. Take some time outside and check out one of the local parks in your area. Say hello to the rangers or parks operators and ask how things are going. There are often opportunities for volunteers to come and help out. If you enjoyed yourself at the park, see if you can give an hour or two to help them out and pay it forward.

35. Insulate. Make a commitment to check and add some insulation to your home and office. Adding insulation is like putting on a coat in the cold. It keeps us all a little warmer by keeping the warm in and the cold out.  It also works in the reverse by keeping the cold air in during the hot seasons. It may be spring now, but this is a perfect time to do upgrades to your home and make things a little more comfortable for the extreme seasons.

36. Reduce the amount of plastic you purchase. Buying kids toys, how about wood blocks instead of Legos. Looking for a new DVD, get the one with the paper box instead of the jewel case. Just bought a pair of shoes, take the box but tell the clerk to keep the plastic bag. Almost every purchase we make has some bit of plastic in it. Most plastics are made from petroleum, i.e. oil. See how much you can cut out of your shopping list. 

37. Host a swap. Do you have old clothes that don’t fit anymore? What about appliances or dishes that you don’t use? Any old tools that you just don’t have any use for? Why not call up a few friends and host a swap? Have everyone bring a few things that they just don’ t need, but thing you might. Instead of trying to sell stuff on Ebay or having a garage sale it is a fun way to see friends and recycle things we would probably all throw away.

38. Save your rainwater. Next time it rains, put a bucket outside. When it is sunny use the water you collected to water your plants or wash your car. If you want to really get good at this add rain barrels to your building’s storm gutters. At most single family homes you can collect 10-30 gallons of water with only a 1/2″ of rain providing lots of water to keep those daffodils blooming in sun.

39. Tell your story. Share the ways you are making your home, your office and your life more sustainable. Post a message here and share your ideas with the world. If we all do a little something, we will have made a huge change together. 

40. Earth day is every day. Start by celebrating all week and see if you can keep up these tips all year!