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Monday, September 1, 2014

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The Virtual Water Dilemma: Act 2 – Energy


water droplet falling

When we flip on the TV and hear about water scarcity, the suggested ways to conserve are usually to water our yard less and use less water in our home.  It might interest you to know that even turning on that TV is using water in the form of virtual water. Virtual water is all the water that goes into the production of a product; and it often goes unnoticed by consumers.

Like food, energy consumption is another area where we are guilty of using virtual water. Because the production of both electricity and fuel use large amounts of water when consumed, we increase our virtual water footprint on an ongoing basis. As already discussed in Act One, more than 50 percent goes into our food production. But water is also used up in the production of the energy that we rely on to support our everyday lives. On average, an American relies on about 670 gallons of water a day just in energy consumption.

oil refinery

You might find yourself wondering how water consumption is related to gas consumption. But the fact of the matter is that most of our industrial processes, including gas production, use extensive amounts of water. Water is intimately related to the production of fuel and in the case of oil water is used in the following ways:

  • Injection: During injection water is injected into the reservoir to compensate for the drop in reservoir pressure after production is started. It’s also used to displace and aid with oil extraction.
  • Refining: During refining water is used in the boiler to generate superheated steam, to power the equipment through heat transfer. Water is also used to dilute the salt content of crude oil before the distilling process. And lastly, water is used in cooling.

The sources of water that are used in these processes include: seawater, rivers, estuaries, aquifers and waste water in certain cases. But all the water is treated depending on what it is going to be used for. Ultimately, it takes about 13 gallons of water to make one gallon of gasoline. Estimates also indicate that the US uses 1 to 2 billion gallons of water to refine 800 million gallons of petroleum products every day.

nuclear power plant

But petroleum products are not the only energy products that we use every day. Most of the electricity in the US is generated by thermoelectric power plants. These power plants use water to make the steam that turns turbines and generates electricity. Some 49 percent of water withdrawals in the US are for thermoelectric power plants.

So what can consumers do to reduce water consumption? Trying to carpool, driving a fuel efficient car or driving less will help cut down on our virtual water waste that goes into transportation. To cut back on energy related virtual water waste make sure your home has energy efficient light fixtures, don’t leave the lights on and turn off your electronics when not in use. Not only will it save on your electricity bill but it will also help to reduce your virtual water impact. Knowing the impact of our daily activities is key to helping us make the right kind of changes. We can all help to save virtual water.

related: alternative energy

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Friday, August 29, 2014

eco fashion friday finds – end of summer sales


recycled poly blazer

Hard to believe Labor Day’s this weekend. Time to cash in on some good ol’ savings. Nau’s current sale includes some great outdoorsy stuff and transitional pieces like this Carry-On Blazer designed for the all-weather commuter. This figure flattering blazer is made from densely woven recycled poly – the soft shell is designed to cut through the wind and rain to create the quintessential tailored travel piece. The pared-down, durable construction makes the Carry-On as light as possible for storing in your travel bag. Marked down from $225 to $158 @ nau.com

renne denim dress

One our NYC favorites, Kaight Shop, is having their annual summer sale. You can save 50% or more on designer fashions – many of which are ethically made with organic and eco-friendly fabrics. The Rikya Renne double denim shift dress (pictured above) is cute and ethically made. $75 @ kaightshop.com

raw diamond and recycled gold ring

For me, the perfect time to buy jewelry is when it’s on sale. This ring (above) features a raw diamond embedded in a recycled 14k solid rose gold nugget. The nugget has been hand-formed into an organically-shaped heart into which the diamond has been hand set. A fun and adorable everyday ring. Click on the Summer Sale tab. sale price – $236.25 @ Louisa Gallery

yoga tank

Gaiam always features some great sale items for those looking for yoga, casual and eco-friendly clothing options. This Everyday Swing Tank (above) is marked down from $52 to a delicious $14.99 @ gaiam.com

related: more eco fashion finds from The Alternative Consumer

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

12 story Delta passive house by studio505


Delta passive house highrise

Innovative Australian architectural and design firm, studio505, is the creative force behind an exciting new project being developed for their client, Grocon LTD. Plans have begun for a 10-to 12-story “Passive House” apartment building currently called Delta. The green building is designed to be carbon neutral and built entirely from engineered timber on the former site of the Carlton Brewery in Melbourne.

Delta passive building overheadThe triangular residential tower will eventually rise 10-12 stories above downtown Melbourne and will stand atop a 6-story podium building designed by studio505 to house an ultra-modern flexible commercial and cultural space.

passive geothermal design

Among the project’s green attributes

  • the building will have a geothermal feed and a heating and cooling ventilation system that includes a heat pump.
  • The tower will also feature triple glazed glass, a windproof, airtight outer seal and state-of-the-art insulation and passive ventilation systems.

Delta’s design will be based on the well known “Passive House” standard. The building’s airtight construction, efficient ventilation and air exchange enable heating and cooling by passive geothermal and solar sources, rather than energy hogging active mechanized systems. The goal of a Passive House is to reach a zero energy profile. Delta would be the first Passive House structure of this size and scope to be constructed in Australia.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Virtual Water Dilemma: Act One – Food


fresh water with bubbles

What is virtual water?
In times of drought people try their best to not let the faucet run, take a shorter shower and water the gardens less. But these are all activities during which we can see how much water we are wasting, making saving it simpler; we just don’t use as much. But what most people don’t think about is virtual water. Virtual water is a term for all the water that goes into making an end product.

Perhaps the most common source of virtual water in our daily lives is the food we choose to eat. In fact more than 50 percent of our water footprint is derived by the food we consume. From growing, to transport, to processing and distributing all the food we eat comes to us at some virtual water cost. Even a simple task like deciding whether or not we want cheese on our hamburger can have an impact. After all it takes 700 gallons to make one pound of cheese.

cows look into camera

The cheeseburger 
Let’s break down that cheeseburger. For the bun – top and bottom – we’re looking at 22 gallons of water. Our meat patty is 616 gallons and if we want cheese on it we need to tack on an extra 56. If we’re feeling healthy and we want the veggies, lettuce costs 1.5 and tomato costs 3. But what is any burger without some fries, so that will be another 6. In the end the entire combo takes about 700 gallons to make. But why is it so water costly to make one cheeseburger? Because of all the other things that require water to put that burger on your tray. Plants and animals don’t just grow up overnight and from nothing. Plants have to be watered from seed to harvest. And animals need to be fed food that is first grown and then the animal itself consumes H2O. Keep in mind that the gallons needed may vary based on region, processing and treatment of the livestock.

water in fruit_1

The switch up
Knowing about the virtual water that goes into a product is the first step to making water-wise choices. There is no way to eliminate virtual water consumption all together but we can make eating choices that help lessen the blow.

  • Instead of beef have chicken – beef can require a staggering 2,500 to 5,000 gallons to produce – chicken, a more modest 815 gallons.
  • 8oz of coffee will cost 29 gallons so switch it to a tea which only uses 7.
  • For a sweet treat – 1 pound of chocolate costs a 2,847 gallons vs. a mango that requires 190.
  • Cut back on the butter. Butter which comes in at 2,044 gallons is something most of us can do with much less of.

No one is saying give up eating animal products altogether but because animal products are more costly, cutting back there will have the greatest impact. Also keep in mind that not all produce is created equal – some cost more than others but as producers they may still have the lowest impact.

Fresh water with bubbles photo via shutterstock.com

related: more food articles from The Alternative Consumer

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

American Performance Technologies: The SmartCarb


Small engine fuel delivery systems have experienced a constant evolution since the introduction of the internal combustion engine towards the end of the 19th century, with innovations such as the carburetor and the electronic fuel injection (EFI) system appearing to feed larger and more powerful engines. It’s now become common knowledge that the newest EFI systems provide the optimal blend of engine power, fuel efficiency and emissions reductions, but one good ol’ American company is working to change that.

The SmartCarb® from American Performance Technologies, based in Kansas City, Missouri, is poised to revolutionize the small engine fuel delivery system industries by turning back the clock on what is “best” for the consumer. The SmartCarb® is the culmination of 45 years of development on the classic, flat slide carburetor, featuring automatic altitude compensation, increased horsepower and significantly better fuel economy than other carburetors on the market. This device can potentially be installed on motorcycles, all terrain vehicles, portable generators and small aircraft, or perhaps conventional full-size vehicles in the future!

The most notable improvement in the APT SmartCarb® is it’s revolutionary high atomization rate of fuel (in other words, the “stream” of fuel is converted into a “mist”) which allows for a significantly higher amount of fuel to be burned in the combustion process. (more…)

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