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Science Wednesday: Nice Dear, But What’s Sustainability?

2009 April 15

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

About the author: Cynthia Nolt-Helms is the Manager of EPA’s P3 – People, Prosperity and the Planet – Program

image of authorOn vacation last week visiting my husband’s family in Florida, I had to answer a flood of work-related emails and phone calls. By the second day, everyone around me was puzzled and a bit annoyed about what was so important that I couldn’t take even a few days break from my job.

“I’m planning the National Sustainable Design Expo which is part of EPA’s P3 Award Competition,” I told them all proudly.

“That’s nice dear, but what’s that and why don’t they leave you alone,” my mother-in-law asked politely.

I explained to her that the Expo is the culmination of a year’s hard work. The program I manage, EPA’s People, Prosperity and the Planet Program (“P3” for short) gives me the opportunity to meet and interact with some of the movers and shakers of the next generation. EPA awards grants of $10,000 in the fall to universities for teams of students to design and research ideas for ways to live more sustainably on the planet.

The teams work on their projects and then come to Washington, DC in the spring to the National Sustainable Design Expo to exhibit and compete for an EPA P3 Award and additional funds. The students are bright and passionate about the environment, and their projects demonstrate great creativity and ingenuity. As a long-time federal employee who has worked most of her career for EPA in Washington, DC, I am exhilarated every year by the students’ optimism and idealism. They give me hope for the future.

At this year’s Expo — running this coming Saturday through Monday — we expect to see some amazing ideas: a solar powered water heater, wetlands for cleaning up dairy wastewater, solar panels to remove salt from water, even a method for using the sun to disinfect water.

Hmmm, now that I think about it, we need to plan for sunny weather!

But these are just a few of the 48 team projects and 35 exhibitors from nonprofit and government organizations that will be under the Expo tent on the National Mall between 3rd and 4th Streets, NW in DC. If you live in the area, or are visiting DC this coming weekend, I hope you can join us on the Mall to “See the future today!” I know you will be glad you did.

The 2009 National Sustainable Design Expo featuring EPA’s P3 Award is cosponsored by EPA and Beyond Benign, a nonprofit focused on sustainability and green chemistry.

Expo Hours: Saturday, April 18th – Noon – 5:00 pm; Sunday, April 19th – 9:00 am to 5:00 pm; Monday, April 20 – 9:00 am – 3:00 pm

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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9 Responses leave one →
  1. Ann Davison permalink
    April 15, 2009

    Hilarious – my mom asks the same question every time I visit home. I used to work for EPA as well and once had to pull off Skyline Drive and conduct an interview with a reporter on food safety from a phone booth while she sat in the car! She was totally perplexed by it all. P.S. Kudos for the cool program you run!

  2. Karen Thomas permalink
    April 15, 2009

    Sustainability is key and reusing – and reinventing – is a great way to protect our resources. No matter the structure or product, there are so many ways to revive something that we may otherwise discarded. I’m talking cars, cell phones, furniture. I have no doubts this design expo will produce a number of innovative, effective, and immediately applicable ideas that will become mainstream (hopefullly sooner rather than later.) There’s a great Earth Day promotion going on at were environmentally inspired ideas can garner prize money (to help fund it.) Whether you design, educate, inspire – the important thing is to act.

  3. Janet permalink
    April 15, 2009

    First of all you you should be offering monies to the public who are unemployed for the ideas we blog to you. You don’t actually need to form a team. You just have to start listening to the people.
    First of all some of are problems are very simple to solve. Number 1 has to do with automobiles on the roads….Isn’t this one of the biggest polluters???? I think EPA has know this since the early 60’s

    Just face the facts and stop dragging your feet, the problem hasn’t gone away, it’s only gotten worse. The evil dollar will do it all the time.

    How to we decrease the amount of cars on the road. Yes this is a simple question. Years ago we had more busing for our children. What did we do. Instead of improving the system and teaching our children about conservation, busing, we eliminated a big portion of it.
    How many cars x’s kids, x’s schools, in all the towns, x’s twice a day at least x’s 5 days a week do we pollute when there are easy solutions…… Hybrid, electric buses like at “Disney World” Come on…the answers to most of our problems are obvious…they are right in front of our faces…. Make a project out of something so certain few get big paychecks????

    The saved health costs alone would more than be able to fund the transportation costs incurred by the states and just think we would be doing the right thing. All the time and money spent by individuals could be put to better use. Kids would learn from an early age about public transportation and managing their time and taking responsibilty for our environment.

    Shuttle buses could also be run in towns for the general public at a low cost which would then allow many people to not have to spend so much of their income on cars, insurance and pollution making them sick. You have to look at the whole picture and the bottom line in dollars, cents, and health and environment

  4. melissaEPA permalink
    April 16, 2009

    The Expo is such a fun and educational event – to see the creativity these young women and men apply to create a viable solution to environmental challenges is wonderful. Wishing you good weather and lots of curious visitors who will leave the Expo impressed, with ideas that perhaps they could implement in their own community, and hopeful for a greener planet.

  5. Dr. RealScience permalink
    April 16, 2009

    Dear G. and Ms. Nolt-Helms: Acknowledging that your Sustainable Design heart is in the right place, I must take offense, starting with the above blog-logo. CFLs are the WORST of the available choices with respect to carbon footprint and damage to human and planetary health. A slight dip in power expense while on, is more than overridden by the damage of using fluorescent lighting.

    Use common sense first. Start with the fact that they are bigger, have more “stuff”, much more than an incandescent or LED bulb. Follow the carbon footprint and energy use through their life-cycle from there. -More materials, exotic and toxic substances, shipping weight, and packaging. When used as recommended (turning them off when leaving the room) they do not last longer. They cannot be recycled in some states so they must be shipped (again) to a place to be demanufactured (more carbon). How much more of a carbon footprint of your own is related to making the money for the giant difference in price? Health costs from the CFL flicker industrial noise is related to depression, dyslexia, and antisocial behaviors. If you break one, it is dangerous toxic waste. (See EPA recommendations, there.)
    The EPA should be in the forefront of DISCOURAGING the use of fluorescent lighting for work or home. They are NOT GREEN, only marketing hype.

  6. Linda permalink
    April 17, 2009

    RecentlyHome Depot announced that all of their stores throughout the US will accept complact fluorescent lamps for recycling.

  7. Jonathan permalink
    January 4, 2010

    I built my first straw bale home and not only found it conserved energy but also turned out aesthetically very pleasing. I think anybody would love the results after building one of these homes. Below are some reasons for building using straw bales.

    Reason #1
    A straw bale home can save you up to 75% on heating and cooling costs. In fact, in most climates, we do not even install air conditioning units into our homes as the natural cooling cycles of the planet are enough to keep the house
    cool all summer long.

    Reason #2 Sound Proofing.

    Straw bale walls provide excellent sound insulation and are superior wall systems for home owners looking to block out the sounds of traffic or airplanes in urban environments.

    Reason # 3 Fire resistance.
    Straw bale homes have roughly three times the fire resistance of conventional homes. Dense bales mean limited oxygen which in turn means no flames.

    Reason # 4 Environmental responsibility.
    Building with straw helps the planet in many ways. For example, straw is a waste product that is either burned or composted in standing water. By using the straw instead of eliminating it, we reduce either air pollution or water consumption, both of which impact the environment in general.

    Reason #5 Natural Materials
    The use of straw as insulation means that the standard insulation materials are removed from the home. Standard fiberglass insulation has formaldehyde in it, a known carcinogen. Bale walls also eliminate the use of plywood in the walls. Plywood contains unhealthy glues that can off-gas into the house over time.

    Reason #6 Aesthetics
    There is nothing as calming and beautiful as a straw bale wall in a home. Time and time again I walk people through homes and they are immediately struck by the beauty and the “feeling” of the walls. I really can’t explain this one, you’ll just have to walk through your own to see what I mean.

    Reason #7 Minimize wood consumption.
    If built as a load bearing assembly, the wood in the walls can be completely eliminated, except for around the windows. The harvesting of forests is a global concern and any reduction in the use of wood material is a good thing for the long term health of the planet.

  8. Dan Kelley permalink
    September 18, 2010

    I concur, LED bulbs are more energy efficient, and leave a much smaller footprint. The prices may seem quite high in comparison to other bulb types, but they are rapidly coming down.
    I just finished building a website for a company that is specializing in LED light bulbs and I was amazed at how inexpensive LEDs are becoming.
    They use a LOT less power than CFLs also…. the medical implications you mentioned above are astounding. I think I will contact the site owner and recommend he put information on his LED website regarding the lack of “green” CFLs are. It should only help him sell more LEDs! :)

  9. Ira Abeleda permalink
    March 20, 2011

    I purchased pressurized manhattan walls as room dividers in my apartment here in new york ny. They’re practical to use and are very helpful for maximizing the small space I have.

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