As far back as my brain can remember, I patiently wait every four years for the magical, exhilarating and largest sporting event on the planet: THE WORLD CUP! I was raised in a football, ah well since this is the States I will say soccer, family. As a family we ate, breathed, and drank soccer. Myself,  siblings,  father, and mother all have played, refereed, and coached soccer through the years. I can remember where I watched every World Cup Final game for the last 22 years or so! Perhaps my favorite memory, is driving home from Oregon to California and stopping in a furniture store with my Dad to watch Brazil and France duke it out in 1998. Anyway, I am not alone in this sheer excitement and anticipation, as most of the world, sans the majority of the US, will be glued to any television available to catch all the matches in this year’s cup. That is right, 2010 is a World Cup Year and I am counting down the days( I have even downloaded the  World Cup Countdown App to be sure I keep on track)!

Ok so now you are probably wondering, why on Earth would Autonomie Project, a Fair Trade and Eco friendly Fashion company be discussing a sporting event? Well, not only am I a HUGE fan of the sport, but we recently were made aware of some interesting details. This year’s cup is hosted by South Africa and preparations for the tournament began long ago. Like many modern events, a focus on making the event carbon neutral was an early goal for South Africa. However, with a mass frenzy to build the infrastructure for the World Cup, there seems to be a bit of greenwashing going on.

It is true that South Africa has made serious efforts to keep the games Green, such as their carbon offset program, where they have planted over 800,000 trees in various cities. Many South African environmentalists aren’t quite buying it though. Bobby Peek of Friends of the Earth South Africa reiterated this point, “Once carbon is produced, claiming that offsetting is ‘neutralizing’ the carbon footprint is nothing more than ‘greenwash.'” We somewhat agree with this idea, however, planting trees is always a great improvement for a city. On top of carbon offsetting, South Africa has improved its public transportation for the event, making it easy and efficient to travel between stadiums.

When preparations first began, the country was toting itself as creating a Green World Cup. Environmentalists inside the country were frustrated when a new stadium was built, rather than using the old stadiums in Durban. Many were outraged that new construction materials were adding to the overall carbon footprint of the tournament. This definitely may be true, however construction on the new stadium is very eco-friendly. Not only did they re-use much of the concrete and o ther building materials from the demolished stadium, but the new stadium is also built with PTFE which provides natural light, has natural ventilation, energy efficient heat, and collects rainwater.  Even though we agree that keeping the old stadium would in large be more eco-friendly, at least the new stadium was built with some re-used materials and with green architecture in mind.

Beyond the country of South Africa, this year’s “World Cup 2010 Kits,” created by Nike, are claiming to be the most Environmentally friendly kits ever. The jerseys to be worn by the most famous players such as Ronaldo, and by the average soccer fans at home, are made from recycled plastic bottles. They say that they used enough plastic bottles to line the whole coast of South Africa into the uniforms. A Nike spokesperson told GreenMyStyle.com the kits are sustainable in other ways, “We use a variety of environmentally preferred materials such as PET, organic cotton, ‘green’ rubber, and many of our inputs into our shoes are recycled materials from factory production.” This sounds all well and good, however, GreenMyStyle and others are questioning Nike’s credentials, as they haven’t always been the most ethical company in the past and do not provide transparency into where the materials actually come from or provide certification. Also, recycling is great but probably not the most sustainable method of production, as the process itself emits pollution.  On another note, Nike has been the subject of labor rights issues, with sharp criticism from both the Fair Trade and Labor Rights movements.

Although, it seems serious steps are being made by the South African government and World Cup planners, as well as private industry to make the 2010 World Cup Green, there is still disappointment. It was reported that the 2010 World Cup has a carbon footprint 6 times larger than the 2006 World Cup, held in Germany. It should be noted the 2006 numbers did not include transportation and most qualifying teams are from Europe, cutting down the impact of distance traveling. It seems most environmentalists feel South Africa dropped the ball on making the event green and think bigger steps should have been made. However, there are a couple of great things that will come from this including more efficient public transportation, more green space, drawing attention to the environmental sector in the country, and encourage the next World Cup (held in Brazil) to go even more Green!

While knowing that the biggest way the World Cup could cut their carbon footprint is to lessen world travel, it sort of defeats the heart of the  cup. Much like the Olympics, the World Cup is seen as a time for harmony and for the world to come together. There may come a time when the matches may need to be played in a more central location and possibly only the finals in distant lands. Whatever the future holds the environmentalist in me is happy to see some changes and is hoping for more, but the soccer lover in me is anxiously awaiting June 11th. In fact, as we speak my  World Cup Countdown App says we have 7 days, 21 hours, 44 minutes, and 41, 40, 39, 38 seconds…

-Gina Williams

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Burgos 213 Photo By A. www.viajar24hHospitals are uninviting by nature, assaulting one’s senses almost immediately upon entry.  The inescapable odor of antiseptic wafting through the corridors,  the glaring fluorescent lights overhead that accentuate startlingly white walls, and the constant wailing beeps of machines that give the impression that someone is in mortal peril every 1.2 seconds tend to make even the healthiest of visitor feel as though their heart might explode.

Another Life Saved Photo By SarahMcD ॐA recent visit to the hospital saw my father rushed into a very serious emergency surgery. As I paced the floors of the Shapiro Cardiovascular Center, a facility that is part of the world-renowned Brigham and Women’s Hospital, I felt overcome with the extreme anxiety provoked by the fear of losing a loved one. At the time I was too preoccupied with hand-wrenching, constant clock checking, and nervous wood knocking to notice that this anxiety was in any way abnormal.  Worrying yourself sick is to be expected in these type of scenarios, what was notable, in retrospect, was that this anxiety was in no way punctuated by the normal agitating factors of a “normal” hospital environment. The air smelled fresh. The waiting room – even though located next to a busy street- was as quiet as a church on a Friday night. The walls were painted with a soft palate, the kind of hues that make you want to curl up with your favorite blanket and a good read. Not the typical institutional white that would ever leave someone remarking to their realtor, “Gosh Linda, it looks like a hospital in here!”, unless that sentence was followed up by, “And I love it! Let me go put on my jammies.”

BWH SHAPIRO PREP DAY4 from Brigham & Women's HospitalThankfully, my father pulled through his surgery. He spent his recovery in a room that if it were to be stripped of its adjustable bed and monitors would easily be mistaken for a high-end loft apartment. The spacious room had breathtaking views of the city, hard wood floors and stainless steel appliances.  The furthest thing from my mind at this time was this hospitals eco-friendliness, so grateful was I to see my father make it through a complicated surgery, I could have been told then that this magical place was run on the tear drops of children and been entirely fine with that knowledge. ( Hey- it was a rough time, in my defense,I would have sent these alleged children candy. Thanks imaginary crying children, you have made a huge difference. Now, remember, there is no Santa…try to cry towards the generators.)

As a couple of months passed and my rational,  less-selfish side was again accessed, I noticed an informative wall mural as I entered the Shapiro Center with my father for a follow-up visit. In a rush, due to a morning traffic jam, I only could read a few words of this educational section of wall…”Green…Hospital…Taco Friday”, as I made my way to the second floor.  Well I may be mistaken by some of what I gleaned, I made a mental note to look into this hospital’s green attributes when I returned home that evening. 

A week and half later I did a Google search. What I discovered made me love this hospital even more than I had before, a cherry on a sundae of awesome.  The Shapiro Cardiovascular Center is not only one of the most advanced cardiovascular care facilities in the world, but it is also the first Green Hospital building in all of New England.

Light09 Photo By Gong DiFrom its inception, the Shapiro Center kept  eco-friendly construction and practices in mind. The Center is not only LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified, but followed The Green Guide for Health Care meticulously in its construction.   Low emitting adhesives, carpets and paints were used. More than 90 percent of construction waste was recycled.  Over 75 percent of the interior is exposed to natural light, which, while helping cut down on energy costs, also promotes positive mental health for quicker recoveries. The roof is painted white to deflect heat.  Forgoing the use of the commonly used  and toxin-emitting vinyl, the floors of this building are constructed of rubber. Staff also, whenever possible, use the least harmful cleaners available. 

Aluminum Winged Caduceus (Silver Spring, MD) Photo By takomabibelotA little more Google style detective work and I discovered that The Shapiro Center is also a member of the non-profit organization, Healthcare Without  Harm, which focuses on implementing change in how the Health Care industry operates. Elaborating on the pledge physicians take to do no harm, Healthcare without Harm is attempting to amend this oath to apply to the environment as well as patients, encouraging its members to see the impact one has on the other. As their mission statement  surmises, “ Together with our partners around the world, Health Care Without Harm shares a vision of a health care sector that does no harm, and instead promotes the health of people and the environment.”  

 

Untitled Photo By SarahMcD ॐI for one can attest for the effectiveness of this movement.  While gorgeous views, plentiful sunlight and lack of irritants in the air can not take the place of knowledgeable surgeons and skillful nurses, it does play an important role in the recovery process.  Beyond the benefits of an environment that discourages depression and other mental issues that can slow or sometimes even halt recovery times, healthy air is an invaluable benefit for most patients. My father suffers from COPD, a chronic respiratory condition. It is a complication that factors into any and all health problems he has.  A hospital that provides nearly pollutant-free air for his battered lungs is priceless to his overall well-being and his success in the recovery process.

Green Hospitals are not yet the norm, but hopefully the benefit of such institutions will soon be seen.  A building that promotes the health of its employees, patients, and visitors while keeping an eye out for mother earth  is almost enough to make up for the fact they run this place on the tears of children….oh, right, it doesn’t.  

Sorry about the Santa Claus thing, kiddies.  He is totally real, the Easter Bunny too, they hang out on weekends and talk about what a good kid you are. Honest. (No children were harmed in the making of this blog.)

-Meghan Hurley

One of the United States’ most exciting alternative-energy events, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon, is about to kick off in Washington DC!  Starting October 9th (and ending the 18th), 20 teams of college and university students, hailing from such diverse corners as Kentucky and Germany, will be competing to design, build and operate their very own solar-powered houses.  The goal is to make them as energy-efficient as possible while still being aesthetically pleasing and practical to live in. In fact, one of our very own at Autonomie Project is down in DC competing himself. Kevin will be representing Boston Architectural College and Tufts University through designing and constructing the Curio House.

The Decathlon is split into three phases: first, the teams put their collective brains together to design their homes using high-tech solutions in unique ways, and then raise the funds and coordinate with contractors to build them.  Next, each team must disassemble their house, transport it to the national Mall in DC and reassemble it.  Finally, the competition begins as each team and home is evalutaed in ten different areas: architecture, market viability, engineering, lighting design, communications, comfort zone, hot water, appliances, home entertainment and net metering (reading how much energy the home consumes over the course of the competition). The juries assessing each area are compromised of scholars and working professionals at the head of their particular field.

This is the fourth Decathlon, the others having occurred previously at intervals of two years.  The contest is always growing, involving more students and universities, and the event brings more than 100,000 people out each time to walk among and interact with the teams and their homes. This is a very special chance to venture into a world that may very well reflect the needs and hopes of a future in crisis. If you have the chance, we highly recommend you take it and go get lost in the solar village!  All of the above information and much more can be found on the event website. We want to send our special thanks to the members of the Curio House and we wish Kevin and the rest the best of luck!

If you follow the story to the letter, it’s not such a great idea to build your house out of straw…especially if you’re afraid of the Big Bad Wolf. However, today’s straw homes are anything but simple huts and offer an environmentally friendly building solution.  In fact, there are two very distinct types of straw construction available: load bearing (straw-board) and in-fill (straw-bale).

Your next house in the making?

Your next house in the making?

But why would one even think of building with straw? Some reasons:

  • A renewable resource: straw is plentiful, easy to grow and easy to harvest. What’s more, it is easily biodegradable, so when it comes time for your house to ‘hit the hay’, the environment won’t be stuck with an inert plastic.
  • Insulation value: with the sufficient thickness, straw houses can rival some traditional insulation materials such as fiberglass and cellulose.
  • Flame retardant: you’re kidding, right? Nope, the high density of the bale actually limits the rate of fire spreading than typical wall construction.
  • Hand-by hand construction: easily formed bales can be created with minimal instruction and training, and can conform to a larger array of shapes and sizes than simple wood construction.

So, why would you NOT build a straw house? Some advocates would have you think it is the perfect solution.  However,  at  Autonomie, we always try to remain a healthy skepticism with any ‘green fad’ . While straw homes might seem like the perfect solution, there are some serious drawbacks to take into consideration:

  • Size: in order to get an adequate insulation value, you’re going to need thick walls…sometimes more than 18” depending on your climate. If you are choosing to live an urban lifestyle, which has its own inherently sustainable benefits, losing such precious square footage could be too much to handle.
  • Climate change priorities: While the straw is ultimately more biodegradable, most environmentally concerned scientists claim that climate change is by far our biggest concern, so much so that waste stream issues pale in comparison to the threat. In lieu of this, a more immediate solution may be to go with a less biodegradable product that will guarantee lower fossil fuel usage over the duration of your home’s life.
  • Extreme humidity: Improper wall construction and high humid climates can result in a serious mold and mildew condition. While simple in construction, straw bales homes should not be attempted by those with no experience.
straw bale exterior

straw bale exterior

Looking for more information? Here are some informational sites:

http://www.buildinggreen.com/auth/article.cfm?fileName=040301a.xml

http://www.toolbase.org/Home-Building-Topics/Green-Building/straw-bale-construction

http://www.toolbase.org/Home-Building-Topics/Green-Building/strawboard-panels

Know more about straw bale construction? We’re happy to hear your comments, especially if any of ours are mistaken. We always take pains to verify our information, but the construction industry changes rapidly and YOU might have the latest!  We look forward to hearing from you.

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