German designer unveils the future of mobile living

Known as the Colim (Colors of Life in Motion) Caravan, this vehicle is a hybrid between a microcar and a fully-equipped camper. It’s capable of housing four people and the detachable car seats two.

Most people tend to associate mobile homes with run-down trailer parks and their "white trash" denizens. However, this stereotype is about to change thanks to the work of German engineer Christian Susana, who has designed what could be the next step in moveable living spaces.

Known as the Colim (Colors of Life in Motion) Caravan, this vehicle is a hybrid between a microcar and a fully-equipped camper. It's capable of housing four people and the detachable car seats two.

Though still in the design phase – according to Susana, he is still seeking a manufacturer – the Colim Caravan will feature beds, kitchenette, bathroom and at least one couch. Its proposed aerodynamic body will cut down on wind resistance and increase fuel efficiency.

In a recent article, EarthTechling, a green industry news website, spotlit the new vehicle design and wrote that it, if fully realized, could accelerate to approximately 90 miles per hour, which would not only outclass most campers but also some hybrid and mini-sized cars.

The uses of this type of vehicle are numerous. For example, the Colim Caravan could be used by families that want to camp in rural areas but visit nearby attractions or drive into town for supplies. The proposed low-energy appliances would help those who are mindful of green living to cut down on expenses, which can accumulate rather quickly as those who have gone on a driving vacation know too well.

Will the Colim Caravan change the way people approach mobile sustainable living? Until it enters commercial-scale production, it's too early to say. However, its design signals a shift in the way engineers approach low-impact living.

Green roof projects could fundamentally alter Californian cities, experts say

For example, a layer of soil and drought-resistant flora planted on the roof can help absorb moisture while consuming carbon dioxide thrown off by cars.

Sustainable living, thought by some to be limited to communes and isolated areas, may be coming to a major metropolitan area near you, according to experts from the Natural Resource Defense Council and the Emmett Center on Climate Change and the Environment at UCLA School of Law.

In a report released last month, researchers, focusing on the Southern California region for their study, estimated that taking steps to introduce "green roof" technology and practices could save consumers hundreds of millions of dollars in utility bills while also helping to limit humanity's environmental impact.

The report, "Looking Up: How Green Roofs and Cool Roofs Can Reduce Energy Use, Address Climate Change and Protect Water Resources in Southern California," proposes that green roof technologies are the best path forward to making American cities more sustainable. For example, a layer of soil and drought-resistant flora planted on the roof can help absorb moisture while consuming carbon dioxide thrown off by cars. Sun-reflecting paint coatings can help reduce the heat absorbed into the building and lessen reliance on air conditioning units, while also working to lower the impact of heat islands, a phenomena that results in heightened temperatures in metropolitan areas.

"The scale of these benefits is truly impressive, and justifies a much more aggressive set of policies and incentives to help advance the adoption of green roofs and cool roofs in our region," Cara Horowitz, an executive director of the Emmett Center, said in a statement published by the environmental advocacy groups.

The authors of the study estimated that converting just 50 percent of the roofs in South California could lower stormwater runoff by over 35 billion gallons each year, a reduction that could help prevent local water supply pollution as well as weather erosion.

Recycling rates vary widely across country

Though it’s one of the easiest ways to help protect the environment, some cities are still struggling to get residents to recycle.

Long before global warming was a topic of national conversation, children across the country were being taught about the all important three R's – reduce, reuse, recycle.

However, the actual practice of recycling isn't as widespread as you may think. Though it's one of the easiest ways for people to help protect the environment, some of the most educated and affluent cities in the country are still struggling to get residents on board.

The Boston Globe reports that, despite a huge spike in recycling rates in the last few years, Boston's figures are still pretty dismal compared to other U.S. Cities. Currently, 19 percent of the city's household waste is recycled, or one out of every five pieces of trash.

Those numbers may seem promising on their own, but city officials were undoubtedly disappointed by their standing when Waste & Recycling News released a survey on the recycling habits of the thirty most populated cities in the country earlier this year.

The results showed that West Coast cities like Seattle, Washington, and San Jose, California, were recycling 60 percent of their household waste. A few southern states also made a strong showing in the study, with Austin, Texas, Memphis, Tennessee, and Jacksonville, Florida, all reporting 30 percent household waste recycling rates.

Boston's disappointing numbers are especially surprising since it was ranked as one of the top five in the U.S. and Canada Green City index, which was released by the Economist Intelligence Unit last year.

Jim Hunt, chief of the mayor’s office of energy and environment services, told the Globe that Boston still struggles with recycling and waste management, despite spending $5 million on recycling programs annually.

But, no matter how much cities invest in these programs, it comes down to individuals to actually take the time to sort through their waste products and make sure that everything that can be recycled actually is.

USGBC certifies 20,000 eco-friendly homes

More and more structures, including shopping malls, offices and private homes, are being built with eco-friendliness and sustainability in mind.

The benefits of green technology have become increasingly important for property developers in recent years. More and more structures, including shopping malls, offices and private homes, are being built with eco-friendliness and sustainability in mind. And as proof of that trend, earlier this week the U.S. Green Building Council (USBGC) announced that 20,000 homes have received their eco-friendly LEED certification.

The USBGC is a non-profit organization that promotes green living by building sustainable homes that use energy efficiently. The USBGC does this through Its prestigious LEED certification program, which helps business, federal agencies and private property owners take full advantage of green technology resources.

By advising organizations and communities on how to equip their schools, offices and other buildings with green energy sources and streamline their waste removal practices, the LEED program is meant to produce buildings that conserve energy and emit less greenhouse gases. The end goal of the certification process is to make these structures safer and healthier for inhabitants, while reducing energy costs and, in some cases, qualifying the organizations involved for tax rebates.

Launched in 2008, the LEED for Homes project focuses on making single and multi-family homes mores sustainable. To achieve certification, these homes had to follow strict standards regarding water-efficiency, energy consumption, waster production and general environmental quality indoors.

In a USGBC press release, Nate Kredich, vice president of residential market development, said that the 20,000 milestone boded well for the housing market and the environment, and that LEED certified homes were "moving the residential market … toward high-performing, healthy homes that save residents money." The source included the prediction that the number of green homes would continue to rise, and could take up between 29 and 38 percent of the housing market by 2016.

The success of the LEED program is a clear sign that sustainability is becoming a top priority for government agencies, corporations and private citizens alike.

“Smart Home” exhibit in Chicago reopens with even greener look

The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago features a special exhibit that displays green innovations in home construction.

The number of American home shoppers who are looking for eco-friendly houses has been going up significantly of late. More people are realizing that green homes are not only beneficial for the environment, they can also save money on utility costs over time. Earlier this month, McGraw-Hill Construction reported that green home development is expected to make up to as much as 38 percent of the construction market by 2016.

The innovations and advances in green home construction have been limited only by the imaginations of the world's most brilliant architects and engineers. To display some of these amazing ideas, the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago features its own "Smart Home."

The exhibit opened up in 2008, and since then, has been toured by more than 300,000 visitors, according to The Huffington Post. The museum just reopened the house after a number of green renovations were added with the help of tech experts from the blog Gizmodo and other bright minds.

The three-story home, which has its own 40-foot wind turbine, has a number of items that have been recovered or repurposed from other places, such as universities, other museums, steel plants and laboratories.

The home achieves a contemporary style with its reclaimed furniture and amenities, as well as with the way futuristic technology is integrated into everything from the front door to the bathroom's Cybertecture Mirrors that can log on to Facebook

The exhibit is called "Smart Home: Green + Wired," and will be open until January 6, 2013 and runs daily tours through 1:30 p.m. Tickets to go through the home, which also permit guests access to the museum, cost $23 for adults, $22 for seniors and $12 for children.

How one New York family produces less than one pound of trash every year

The Burgers have brought the same single brown paper bag to the landfill for last 20 years.

Many Americans have been trying to cut down on the amount of waste they generate every day by recycling and finding ways to reuse items because they know that their trash will simply pile up in landfills. As more and more people realize how much reducing waste actually helps the environment, the ways with which they do so become increasingly innovative. But, that's all old news for the Burger family, who told The Huffington Post that they produce no more than 12 ounces of trash every year.

The four Burgers, who hail from Whitney Point, New York, have brought the same single brown paper bag to the landfill for last 20 years, the source reported.

"If you take something into your life, you are responsible for it. If you don't want the responsibility, don't buy the item," Chris Burger said, explaining the philosophy that has made him and his family so waste-efficient. "And responsibility does not end when the trash is taken to the curb."

But how is it possible that the Burgers almost entirely avoid throwing anything out?

Chris told the media outlet that he is very careful when he shops, paying very close attention to the type of packaging products use and approaching shopping as though there is no way to throw out garbage. He also explained that if a community doesn't have a recycling program, residents should come together to advocate for one.

That's exactly what he and his wife Cindy did in the 70s when recycling programs were exceptionally few and far between. The two brought cans to scrap yards and jars to a glass factory, and eventually, they played a big role in establishing recycling collection in their county, according to the news source.

With some smart shopping, composting and resourcefulness, anyone can follow in the Burgers' footsteps.

Empire State Building reaching innovative, eco-friendly heights

The Empire State Building has been able to reduce its energy consumption by 20 percent thanks to some innovative changes.

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

As much as 17 percent of the construction market is made up of green homes.

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.

Carnegie Mellon researchers take a close look at the efficiency of AC vs. DC power

Traditionally, AC technology has been the main way to produce and utilize electric power, but research shows it may not be best.

When we talk about improving the efficiency of energy consumption, it's oftentimes in reference to a new alternative type of renewable energy source. What goes overlooked is the way we actually receive electricity.

Traditionally, alternating current (AC) technology has been the main way to produce and utilize electric power. While Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse's innovative technology has been useful for the past hundred years or so, recent research indicates that perhaps AC circuits may not be the more economically friendly means of generating electrical power.

In a press release, internationally recognized research institute Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) announced that recent studies have shown that Thomas Edison's direct current (DC) technology may be more financially efficient for powering lights in commercial buildings.

As part of the study, CMU researchers used many different lighting systems and scenarios in a nearly 50,000-square-foot-building. They tested the efficiency of both lights powered through AC and DC power supplies, according to the release.

Executive director of CMU's Climate and Energy-Decision Making Center, Ines Azevedo, said in a statement that buildings with fluorescent light powered through DC circuitry produced energy readings that would cost the same – as or more than – AC grids. 

Interestingly though, DC power supplies were much more cost-effective with one change. By swapping regular lighting sources with light emitting diodes (LEDs), the study's researchers discovered that using DC as opposed to AC could save as much as $24,000. In addition, if the building is using solar photovoltaics (PV), its energy costs could drop by an extra $5,000 with DC instead of AC.

Solar energy bill could help California’s most vulnerable communities

Not only could the bill open new job opportunities in struggling communities, it could also clean up neighborhoods that are suffering from pollution.

While green energy sources like solar panels can ultimately save money in the long run, they may require some hefty upfront costs that deter homeowners with low incomes from investing in the technology.

A new bill was introduced to California legislators this month that is geared to promote renewable energy sources in communities that may not be able to afford solar panels, yet suffer significantly from the negative effects of long-reliance on fossil fuels. 

Assemblyman Paul Fong, a democrat from Mountain View, authored the bill and explained to California Watch that not only would it open new job opportunities in struggling communities, it could also clean up neighborhoods that are suffering from pollution.

One of the more interesting aspects of the bill is called a "feed-in tariff," in which households that have installed solar panels can actually earn money by selling any excess energy they generate and don't use.

Attorney Michael Hindus explained to the source that he thinks that small solar projects will be easier to carry out with a feed-in tariff system. He added that while the tariff shouldn't be too difficult to employ, the difficulty of implementing environmental initiatives could outweigh the benefits.

"The uncertainty is how to meet the social justice and environmental justice criterion which are set forth in the bill," Hindus told the website. "As it goes through the legislative process, the ease of implementation will need to be balanced with the environmental justice goals."

Professors at University of California Berkeley, the University of Southern California and Occidental College put together an environmental justice screening system that looks at both social and environmental factors. With this information, they can narrow down which areas meet the bill's environmental justice criteria.