Experts point out importance of a green workplace at engineering conference

Businesses that are going green may find that filling their office with environmentally friendly products does a lot more than help the ecosystem, it can improve employee morale and consequently, productivity.

"Green building is good business. Green building certifications attract tenants, employees, even students … People want to work in green buildings, and comfortable, happy workers are more productive workers," Rick Fedrizzi, president, CEO and founding chairman of the U.S. Green Building Council, said in a statement.

Fedrizzi has been working hard to promote green building, as demonstrated by his keynote address entitled "People, Planet and Performance" at the Carrier Global Engineering Conference in Las Vegas. He explained that eco-friendly buildings can generate life-cycle savings of 20 percent of the construction costs, according to a press release from Carrier, a heating and cooling solutions firm.

The other speakers at the event agreed that the level of productivity in the workplace is concurrent with how satisfied employees are with the environment they work in. One of those presenters was Robert Fox, Jr., who has been an advisor to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability.

In Fox's presentation, "Biophilia: The Instinctive Bond between Humans and Nature," he said that when workers have plenty of light and their surroundings are flush with materials like wood, stone and leather, they may be more productive, according to the source.

Biophilia is more than just the name to a Bjork album, it's the affinity that humans have with environmental and natural surroundings.

Another keynote speaker, Bill Browning from Terrapin Bright Green, said that the body can recognize differences between natural goods and artificially manufactured products, according to Carrier. When it's surrounded by green, authentic materials, the body is at ease.

Cities across America going green by improving waste management services

Cities generate unfathomably large amounts of trash that can clog up landfills. Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently called for help processing the tons of trash that come out of New York City everyday, while other major metropolitan areas across the country have looked for other routes to reduce waste.

Thanks to a plan that integrates the services of private trash collectors and city waste services, Mayor Rahm Emanuel hopes that the entire city of Chicago will have curbside recycling collection by 2013, according to the Huffington Post.

He called for private contractors to bid for the opportunity to be a part of the initiative, and because of that, he explained to the website that he was able to save taxpayer money and give the Windy City a greener future.

Seattle officially banned the use of foam take-out containers and plastic bags, according to The Associated Press. Additionally, residents will now be able to opt out of receiving phone books, and the city may look into moving away from weekly trash collection, a move that Portland, Oregon, made last fall.

"Some people aren't exactly doing cartwheels on every-other-week service, but we're seeing many, many people adapt, and the program appears to be working very well," Bruce Walker, Portland's solid waste and recycling program manager, told the news source. "It was a big change, but people are clearly adapting. We've seen a big drop-off in garbage, as well as an increase in yard and compost."

He added that the amount of garbage that was picked up during the initial trial of the project was about 30 percent less than before.

Boston Red Sox truly becoming a “green” monster

The 2012 Major League Baseball (MLB) season is finally underway, and when the Boston Red Sox take the field at Fenway Park for the first time next week, the stadium will be even greener than it looks.

In 2008, the Red Sox partnered with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to help make Fenway Park more environmentally friendly. The two organizations put a five-year plan in place that will be officially completed this season as the team celebrates the 100th anniversary of the park's opening.

"As stewards of such a storied venue, we recognize our unique position and ability to raise public consciousness about important issues. Our decision to enhance the ballpark's environmental attributes is one born out of a sense of personal responsibility and professional duty," Red Sox Chairman Tom Werner said in a statement. "For us, this announcement marks some of the first steps in an ongoing process to make America's most beloved and oldest ballpark also one of America's greenest."

The Red Sox made history quickly after partnering with NRDC and became the first MLB team to install solar thermal panels throughout its ballpark in 2008. The team's website states that the energy produced by the panels supplants 37 percent of the gas it previously needed to power the stadium. Additionally, it reduces the amount of carbon dioxide emissions Fenway Park releases by 18 tons annually.

Fenway's concessions provide fans with cups, napkins and containers that are made from recycled materials. There are more than 100 recycling bins throughout oldest ballpark in professional baseball, in addition to a number of Big Belly trash cans, which use solar-powered compactors to collect six times as much trash as regular bins. 

IKEA plants two million trees across America

It's always nice to see corporations making efforts to go green. While it certainly improves their public image, they are helping the environment and promoting green lifestyles to their customer base. IKEA , which is perhaps one of the most popular furniture franchises in the world, has committed to make a huge impact on the American ecosystem.

The company announced on Monday that it has planted two million trees across the country through the IKEA Plant A Tree program, which it has been engaged in since 1998, according to a press release. The initiative was part of a partnership with American Forests, and in the 14 years of the program, IKEA has raised $2 million to carry out its mission.

The goal was to revive American forests that were in desperate need of fresh vegetation. The release states that 74,000 trees were planted as a part of the McNally Fire Restoration in California, 15,000 trees were sown in Arizona for the Warm Fire Restoration project, and more than 100,000 were placed in the Lower Rio Grande in Texas.

"Forests are the most important land-based ecosystems on earth. IKEA's commitment to planting trees makes a real difference, both for the health of our planet and its inhabitants," Scott Steen, CEO of American Forests, said in a statement.

According to the source, two million trees provide enough oxygen for one million people annually, and consume the carbon dioxide emissions released during the lifespans of approximately 10,000 vehicles.

In April, all IKEA FAMILY "loyalty" card holders will be supporting the planting of more trees in the future with every purchase they make.

Young green minds show off their talents in Houston

There have been a lot of advances in green transportation in the past few years. The Mitsubishi i-MiEV, for example, gets a remarkable 112 combined miles per gallon equivalent, making it the most energy efficient car available in America. Currently, it's only available on the west coast, but will be hitting eastern markets later this year.

Some of the brightest engineering minds in the world came together last week in Houston, Texas, to test the efficiency of their vehicles that could someday rival the i-MiEV.

The Shell Eco-marathon Americas 2012 competition drew in entrants from 37 high schools and 44 colleges, a record number for the event, according to National Geographic. In sum, there were 124 teams from the United States, five from Brazil, five from Canada and two from Mexico.

Shell says on its website that the number of cars on the road is predicted to be triple what it is today by 2050. Because of that, the company began the Eco-marathon competition to spark interest about fuel efficient transportation in younger generations.

The competitors must complete a six-mile drive around downtown Houston with an average speed of 15 miles per hour, attempting to obtain the best fuel efficiency possible.

There were a lot of firsts in this year's competition, Dick Williams, president of Shell Windenergy, told National Geographic.

“This is the first time someone got their head shaved because their team had a good run," he said. "This is the first year we had a team mascot [a guy in a plush horse suit], and our first articulated car [a team from Grand Rapids High School in Minnesota used segmented hockey sticks as part of their chassis to facilitiate sharper turns]."

While of course the engineering advances are great, the enthusiasm shown by the participants is an even better sign for the future of green technology.

Children’s relationship with nature is waning

Children are oftentimes referred to as the leaders of tomorrow, so if society is looking to protect future generations by going green, shouldn't sparking youth interest in helping the environment be a priority?

Author and British television producer Stephen Moss has done years of research on the relationship children have with nature, and if his work is accurate, not only are young people not very engaged in outdoor activities, their interest is waning. Moss used his studies to produce the Natural Childhood report, in which he said there's a growing epidemic of "Nature Deficit Disorder" among youths, according to a press release.

"We all know the benefits being outdoors can bring, and as parents we want our children to spend more time outdoors than they do," Moss said in a statement. "But despite this overwhelming evidence and the different initiatives and schemes run by organisations across the U.K., our kids are spending less and less time in the outdoors."

The report showed that while 50 percent of children in the last generation (30 years ago) played in the wild, fewer than 10 percent do so today. Additionally, the roaming radius for children is down 90 percent from what it was for the last generation.

Moss explained that it's important to address this problem immediately while there are still two generations that spent most of their time outside.

For the next two months, the U.K.'s National Trust will work with experts and consider public input about ways to encourage children to get outside.

Fiona Reynolds, director-general of the National Trust, said that there are huge benefits when kids are engaged in outdoor activities, and huge costs when they don't.

Unplugged: How one band is sharing its music through Sustainable Sound

When Boston-based band Melodeego takes the stage, its concerts are literally powered by the crowd. The innovative technology, called Sustainable Sound, almost entirely eliminates the band's environmental impact with a fan-powered contraption that produces energy that is used an energy source for the lighting and sound of the show.

The contraption is a wooden bench with three bicycle pedals attached to it. The pedals are attached to a generator that harnesses the power generated from the pedalling. The generator is where the back wheels would be under the bench. Sean Stevens, inventor of the device, told WBUR, Boston's National Public Radio affiliate, that the rig was primarily a do-it-yourself project comprised of parts from Home Depot, Radio Shack and the internet.

He added that a single person can generate 100 watts of energy without much using too much energy of their own, and five people can produce enough energy for a band to put on a small concert.

Melodeego's bassist Greg Reinauer explained to the news source that the band is trying to completely avoid using fossil fuels. The band has performed at venues like universities and the State House with the Sustainable Sound system.

The initiative is gaining popularity, WBUR reports, as Melodeego has raised over $14,000 which has allowed them to invest in a 10-bike system.

"Cause there's a lot of people who believe or want to have you believe that clean energy is too hard or impractical or impossible, but you can't look at all the lights flashing, you can't hear Melodeego's music blasting out of the speakers and be dancing or singing along and say that this isn't possible, so that's what we're trying to do," Reinauer explained to the radio station.

Some venues have been hesitant to book the band because of their unique energy system, but once they hear it for themselves, they've become less reluctant.

Seattle Mariners push to be the greenest team in baseball

With tens of thousands of fans to accommodate for 82 games each season, Major League Baseball stadiums use a lot of energy. Following the lead of many other professional sports teams, the Seattle Mariners have announced that they've made extraordinary efforts to go green.

The M's have partnered with Panasonic Enterprise Solutions Company to add 168 Panasonic HIT Double solar panels on the roof of their stadium, Safeco Field, by the first home game of the season on April 13. HIT is short for Heterojunction with Intrinsic Thin-layer, a type of solar cell that can produce higher panel efficiency than traditional cells, according to a press release.

The HIT Double panels are particularly effective because they can absorb light and generate power from both the top and the bottom of the panels, which will produce an estimated 40,000-kilowatt hours of power each year to the arena. The team said that there will be monitors throughout the park that show fans exactly how much energy is being generated by the panels at any given time.

"The installation of Panasonic's bifacial panels at Safeco Field sounds like a home run to me," environmentalist and actor Ed Begley, Jr. said in a statement.

"Safeco Field will reap many benefits with this unique solar panel system where electricity is generated from both sides. For Safeco and the Mariners, it makes economic sense to use the power of the sun to help reduce their energy costs," he added. "In addition, it puts them in the environmental forefront with their Corporate Social Responsibility program."

The panels are just one of the Mariners' environmentally friendly initiatives. Additionally, the team plans to install electric vehicle charging stations and energy efficient lighting solutions.