Officials hope to prevent the closure of 70 Calif. state parks with bill

State parks are great for people of all ages to get outside and experience nature as it's supposed to be. Unfortunately, these beautiful locations don't bring much revenue into a state's economy and cost a significant amount of money to maintain.

When California Governor Jerry Brown issued the Fiscal Year 2012-2013 State Budget on January 5, he decided to cut funding to the state's park system. Assuming those cuts are carried out, that would mean a total of $22 million has been cut from the Golden State's Department of Parks and Recreation over the past two years, according to SaveStateParks.org. As a result, as many as 70 California state parks would need to close their gates.

The parks would be shut down in the near future if the cuts are executed, so in a last-resort effort to prevent them from taking place, two senators have proposed a bill that would redirect money from other sectors of the state's budget, use vehicle registration fees and make entrance into the parks slightly more expensive, The Huffington Post reports.

"The notion of closing 70 state parks is fundamentally ill-conceived – it is penny-wise and pound-foolish – and it does not make sense to take what essentially would be irreversible actions if we go down this path," California state Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), a co-author of the bill, said in conference call earlier this week. "Ultimately we stepped back and said, 'There's got to be a better way.'"

The bill offers a number of innovative, cost-saving ideas such as employing regular civilians to work at the parks in capacities that highly paid park rangers would have previously held.

Empire State Building reaching innovative, eco-friendly heights

When organizations see that industry leaders have implemented big changes that have generated a large number of benefits, they are likely to follow in the footsteps of these forward-thinking companies. That's how universal upheavals begin, like the Industrial Revolution. Right now, the globe is amid a massive reform to initiate eco-friendly transformations that not only save money on energy and usage costs, they ultimately improve the environment we live in.

If more businesses and communities are going to take on green initiatives, they need to see that it works for other bodies that they look up to. According to recent news out of New York City, they can quite literally look up at one entity that's setting an example for other skyscrapers across the world.

CNNMoney reports that the Empire State Building, which is among the ranks of the tallest buildings in the world, has been able to reduce its energy consumption by 20 percent thanks to some innovative changes, and they aren't done yet.

So far, the only adjustments to the building have been to its exterior. The article states that once the alterations are completed on the inside of the Empire State Building, it is expected to be almost 40 percent more energy efficient.

There are many changes being made to the iconic skyscraper: its cooling system will be updated, new automatic light technology that turns off in unoccupied areas will be installed, windows will be filled with a special energy saving gas and supported by plastic panes and tenants will be able to see exactly how much energy they are using.

All of the retrofits will cost a total of $20 million, but the media outlet said they will reduce the building owners' energy bills by $4.4 million every year afterwards.

Green homes finding a more prominent place in the construction market

The popularity of leading green lifestyles is unquestionably growing. While that's pretty easy to see with the naked eye, there's plenty of data that supports the trend.

Earlier this month, McGraw-Hill Construction released its SmartMarket Report, "New and Remodeled Green Homes: Transforming the Residential Market," at the National Association of Home Builders’ (NAHB) National Green Building Conference and Expo.

According to the NAHB, the company estimated that as much as 17 percent of the construction market was made up of green homes. If that figure is accurate, that would mean the green home building industry is worth roughly $17 billion.

The study showed that home shoppers are increasingly opting for green houses because they are not only of higher quality, they also offer the prospect of saving money. In fact, the study revealed that roughly two-thirds of respondent builders said clients have asked for green houses so that they can lower energy consumption or save on electricity bills.

"These findings confirm the shift we've seen in the market," Jim Halter, vice president of construction solutions for Waste Management, explained to the media in a recent statement. "Builders and remodelers are placing more emphasis on energy efficiency, increases in sustainability focused waste management practices and more products made from post-consumer materials. These important factors are pushing our industry forward."

Energy efficiency has been the main method with which home builders are going green, as more than 80 percent of respondents indicated that homes are more eco-friendly today than two years ago because of this.

The report added that the share of green homes in the construction market could grow to 29 percent to 38 percent by 2016, which would make it worth $87 billion to $144 billion.

The importance of trees is no tall tale

A recent study showed that trees actually have a hierarchy of importance to the planet, based on how high they've grown and how wide they are.

While they provide shelter to a variety of vegetation and wildlife, trees also store an enormous amount of carbon, according to The New York Times. The bigger and older the tree is, the more valuable it is to the local ecosystem. That's what James Lutz, a research scientist from the University of Washington, wrote in his study that was published in the peer-reviewed journal PLos ONE, which is circulated by the Public Library of Science (PLoS).

"If a large tree dies, it can have an immediate effect, and takes a long time to replace," Lutz told the Times. "We should pay more attention to what's happening to them. Their fate is a harbinger of what's to come, perhaps."

Lutz and his team went to Yosemite National Park to measure the diameter of almost 34,500 trees, but found that only 1 percent – 489 trees – were more than a meter wide. For those wondering, the largest one they measured was a 7-foot-wide, 220-foot-tall sugar pine tree that Lutz estimated was roughly 350 years old.

Yosemite was chosen to be the study site because the researchers considered it to have an average-sized forest comparable to others across the country, according to the media outlet.

Because of that, they deducted that the number of these monster trees are in much smaller quantities than would be ideal thanks to 200 years of logging, ecosystem analysis professor from the College of Forest Resources at the University of Washington, Jerry Franklin, explained to the news source.

Needless to say, more needs to be done to protect forests and important trees to keep Earth's ecosystem healthy.

Dutch company releases entirely electric vending van

While playing golf, an ideal drive will land softly on the green in close proximity to the hole. An ideal vehicle will drive using green technology so that it wastes minimal fuel and energy consumption. Thanks to a new innovation in food cart technology, both the game of golf and green vehicles have found a common ground.

Late last month, Dutch manufacturer Tuk Tuk Factory released its new one-of-a-kind vehicle, the e-Tuk Vendo, according to a press release. The small vehicle is actually a vending van that is operated and designed similarly to a golf cart. The most distinguishing factor about the e-Tuk Vendo is that it runs on 100 percent electric energy.

The vehicle uses a very large battery that can not only power the motor, it can also keep items in the attached refrigerator cold while driving. It can run for 70 kilometers on a single charge, and was built with a compact design that maximizes its capabilities to store food, drinks and necessary appliances.

"We can see a substantial market emerging in the area of distribution and sales of biologic and sustainable foods," Roland Vos, director Tuk Tuk Factory, said in a statement. "The go-local trend drives and accelerates this emerging market need. These initiatives find it important that their distribution and sales van is clean and green, it's often a side condition in their marketing concept."

He added that the initial incentive the company had to go forward with the manufacturing of these vehicles was sparked by a number of clients requesting vending carts that had a "fun factor," according to the release. Now golfers can not only have fun playing, they can also get food from a green, fun cart.

U.S. government survey shows uncertainty about America’s sustainability efforts

President Barack Obama has made improving the United States' energy efficiency and decreasing its dependence on outside suppliers a priority to his cabinet. Obviously, that's a tough task to address considering how heavy America's reliance on foreign oil is. To get an inside look at this progress the Government Business Council (GBC), with support from Siemens Government Technologies, Inc., conducted a survey of 172 randomly selected federal managers, according to a press release.

Of those respondents, just 40 percent said that the government is currently "leading by example" in energy efficiency compared to other nations. The others indicated that they didn't believe this was the case or were simply unsure. The study also revealed that almost 50 percent of federal agencies don't have enough financial support to take on sustainability initiatives.

"This report highlights the critical linkage between energy efficiency and mission effectiveness. Federal agencies are in a unique position to spearhead energy efficiency efforts and lead by example, not only in reducing energy waste and consumption, but also in reaping significant cost savings for taxpayers," Barbara Humpton, senior vice president of business development at Siemens, said in a statement. "At Siemens, we're committed to helping the federal government achieve unprecedented levels of energy effectiveness, security and independence."

Erin Dumbacher, director of research at the GBC, said that the report also brings attention to the "battle" for notoriety and necessary resources needed in agencies to carry out the president's ideal sustainability standards. There has been progress, however, but she added that with this report, the government can have a good look at the work it has ahead of itself if it wants to "lead by example" in sustainability.

Eco-friendly designers making going green look good

The number of environmentally friendly products on the market is increasing everyday. Additionally, there always seems to be new ways in which these items are not only appropriate for leading a green lifestyle, but are also functional and affordable.

One way that companies are going green with their products is by using natural supplies to manufacture them. Take, for example, contemporary furniture designer TurriniBY's bamboo loungers, which are made with – as you would imagine – natural bamboo, as well as rattan fibers. Earth911, a resource that is geared to promote consumer recycling practices, topped its recent list of functional decor made from natural fibers created by eco-friendly designers Antoine Fritsch and Vivien Durisotti with the bamboo loungers, which were a part of TurriniBY's BEE collection.

"[The BEE collection] comes with an inventive and rigorous technicality, inspired from the constructive principle of an airplane wing, that allows minimum use of raw material and reduces the consumption of energy during transport," Fritsch and Durisotti, the products' designers, told the source.

Earth911 added that green consumers should also keep their eyes open for the company's minimalist end table, which is also from the BEE collection. The table was designed with slim layered wood that gives it sturdiness and durability.

The two designers don't limit their work to the home though. One of their proudest innovations is their B2O Bike, which is made almost entirely of bamboo fiber. Because of that, it's very durable and modern looking.

Their most interesting design is the Chrysalide Eco-habitat that is constructed of 100 percent wood and holds up to their minimalist ideology. The home is powered by photovoltaic sensors with a vertical axis windmill, according to Earth911. The home is designed so that it collects rainwater, which is filtered and heated for use in the house.