Green Living

Consider this: only 1% of the world’s water is clean enough to drink. Add the fact that 2.1 billion people around the world don’t have reliable access to water, and it’s clear that too many people struggle to find water for drinking, bathing, and cooking.

And according to UNICEF and the World Health Organization, that task falls on the shoulders of millions of women. Literally.

In their new joint report, UNICEF and WHO looked at the different types of water sources globally. They found that a staggering 263 million people have access to a sufficiently clean water source, but they have to either walk or wait in line for about 30 minutes every day to fill their buckets and bowls. On the other hand, 159 million people are forced to drink water from unsafe sources, and the water from these polluted lakes, rivers, and ponds take even longer than a half an hour to access, Quartz reports.

The study took a closer look into Africa and found the amount of time spent collecting water there was incomparable to anywhere else in the world. The study looked at 25 Sub-Saharan countries and found that in total, women spend 16 million hours collecting water every single year. In Kenya specifically, each woman spends about 4.5 hours fetching water every week. And when they are spending this time away from their families, 77% worry about their personal safety when fetching water while 24% are unable to watch after their children properly.

For hygienic purposes, the WHO recommends that each person needs 20-50 liters of water, or five to 13 gallons, every day for cooking, washing, and drinking. This translates to women having to haul anywhere from 44 to 110 pounds of water every single day, per household member.

Carrying these loads has caused numerous health problems for women all over the world, from strained backs and shoulders to premature labor and miscarriage. There is also a risk of violence at some water collection points, including both physical and sexual assault.

What’s more, global demand for water is increasing. According to the UNICEF and WHO report, the world’s demand for water will grow a whopping 40% by 2030. That’s just 13 years away.

With their report, UNICEF and the WHO are pushing for women’s equality worldwide, so they can literally take the heavy burdens off their shoulders. They believe that the only way the world will change is to start empowering women in these developing countries, which former United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-Moon calls a “global imperative.”

Until then, it is safe to say we will be a little more thankful every time we get a glass of water from the tap.

When Boylan Slat was 16, a diving expedition in Greece changed his life. He recalls seeing more plastic bags than fish, and seven years later, he has raised more than $30 million to help rid the ocean of plastic. Once a small project, Slat now has the means to launch what he calls “the largest cleanup in history” as early as next year.

But the scientific community doesn’t necessarily agree with his methods.

Slat’s company, The Ocean Cleanup, wants to clear the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — an area between Hawaii and California where ocean garbage has been accumulating — with giant trash collectors. These floating collection devices, funded largely by Silicon Valley moguls, were designed to clear up to 50% of the infamous garbage patch within five years.

Slat believes companies like Apple and Microsoft will eventually sponsor these machines and fund his cleanup efforts. Considering Microsoft and Facebook recently joined forces to lay a 6,600km Transatlantic cable from Virginia Beach to Bilbao, Spain, tech companies already have interests under the sea.

Unlike glass, which can be battered by ocean waves for 50 years and come out as a small treasure, plastic has no such beautiful fate. And scientists aren’t convinced that Slat’s plan is the answer to that issue.

“Cleaning up in the middle of the Pacific Ocean is, in my view, not a very clever way to address this problem,” marine biologist Jan van Franeker of Wageningen Marine Research in the Netherlands told The Verge. “It’s such a waste of energy.”

Marcus Eriksen, the co-founder and research director at the nonprofit The 5 Gyres Institute, is of the same mind.

“By focusing on the middle of the ocean, you’re missing the boat,” he said.

According to a Science paper published in 2015, almost 8 million metric tons of plastic entered the ocean from land. The issue? Only 3% of that plastic is accounted for at the surface. The rest is theorized to be at the bottom of the ocean, suspended in the water column, or washed up on shore. As of 2010, over 123 million people lived on coastal property and likely had to suffer the consequences of that ocean garbage.

But researchers are working to fix what oceanographer Dr Erik van Sebille from Utrecht University calls “a massive knowledge gap.” Thanks to Captain Charles Moore, who was part of the team that discovered the first garbage patch in 1997, we may be able to learn more about ocean plastic.

As the founder of Algalita Marine Research, a non-profit organization combating the “plastic plague” of garbage floating in the world’s oceans, Moore has ushered scientists to and from garbage patches for 30 years now. He explained that plastic may never be abandoned by humanity, but that combating its presence in the ocean is an issue that requires “international collaboration.”

With so much research still to be done, Slat’s slef-proclaimed “exciting adventure” may meet with more opposition before it becomes a reality.

“If you think about it as an overflowing sink, the first thing you’re gonna do before cleaning up the water is to turn the faucet off,” said an ocean expert when speaking of Slat’s project.

Even so, Slat is doing more than virtually anyone to clean up a major environmental disaster.

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Did you know that the average family spends approximately one-third of its annual heating and cooling budget on air that leaks out of the house? Talk about a lack of energy efficiency.

Keeping cool with air conditioning is so common it’s become something many home buyers expect to come with their purchase. But with the demand for these systems at an all-time high, it’s safe to say we’re not doing the environment — or our wallets — any favors. Aside from costing you money, your air conditioner contributes to a larger carbon footprint and a suffering environment as a result.

“If we can reduce carbon emissions from homes just 5%, it’s like taking three-quarters of the cars off the road,” Trey Muffett, building science director for Sustainable Spaces, told WebMD.

Fortunately, keeping cool and helping the environment don’t have to be mutually exclusive things. In fact, there are simple steps you can take right now to both keep cool and pave the way for a cleaner, greener lifestyle.

  • Invest in Programmable Thermostats
    If you can find custom car carpet for models dating back to the 1940s, you can find a programmable thermostat for your home. This allows you to control just how much hot or cool air is put into your home and takes some of the strain off of your AC.
  • Insulate Everything
    Insulation isn’t just for keeping the cold out during the winter. It’s for keeping the cold in during the summer too. Insulation around your doors and windows is especially helpful, as a lot of air can escape through small cracks. In addition, taking the time to seal cracks and crevices can help keep out unwanted pests like mice, birds, and bugs.
  • Rearrange the Furniture
    If you can’t see your air vents underneath your sofa, it’s time to rearrange your living room. Sometimes large pieces of furniture or even potted plants can block the flow of air, which means your AC has to work harder than it should.
  • Stay Hydrated
    Above all else, you and your family should stay hydrated. Your body needs water to function and survive! Sweating during the summer takes that water away, which means it’s doubly important to replace what you’ve lost.
  • Dress for the Weather
    If it’s hot outside, dress like you’re going outside. Being in a nice, cool home is great, but if you’re dressing for arctic weather in your own bedroom, you might have an energy use problem. Dressing for the weather means you’ll put less stress on your AC.

Whether you have a window AC unit or Central Air, it’s essential to reduce stress on your AC if you want to reduce stress on the environment. Staying cool and staying green both start with taking these easy steps this summer.

No matter your opinion on the millennials or their stereotypes, one this is for certain: they are here to stay.

Millennials, like every generation before them, have grown up and have now integrated into the U.S.’s culture, economy, and industry.

Perhaps the most polarizing market that millennials are impacting is real estate. With 74 million baby boomers buying property and 75.1 million millennials doing the same, there is bound to be some drastic differences in the way properties are being prepared, marketed, and sold.

According to The Dallas Morning News, real estate builders, salespeople, and developers are struggling to keep both their younger and older customers happy.

“We are at a demographic inflection point,” said Scott Moldavian, member of the Counselors of Real Estate. “We have people who are living and working together — old fold and young folds. Generations are getting in each other’s way a little bit.”

In order to pass the “millennial test“, real estate agents and home sellers alike are making sure their properties reflect the values (to the best of their abilities) of the average millennial homebuyer. These values include a strong appreciation for the environment, minimalist style, smart appliances, and enough space for custom remodeling projects.

According to the National Association of Home Builders, bathroom remodeling projects are the number one most requested job in the U.S., accounting for 78% of all renovations; 69% of all requested jobs represented kitchen remolding, making it the second most popular request.

Since millennials care very strongly for the environment and how their actions directly impact the future of the planet, this is a major selling point for any young homebuyer. Luckily, the average American home consumers roughly 40% less natural gas than it did only 40 years ago.

“The generations are crossing paths everywhere: in the workplace, in housing and at the local bar and grill, intersecting and sharing spaces despite their often disparate priorities when it comes to the built environment,” the Counselors of Real Estate report read. “One size will not fit all and supply will need to match rapidly changing demand.”

The modern metal roof has over 100 color options, including premium, standard, and customizable colors. But in Lincoln, Nebraska, the modern roof of the State University’s East Campus Recreation Center is taking on an entirely different color: green.

“Green roofs are green spaces,” said Kylie Tucker, the student leader of the project, to 1011 News. “And studies have shown that they help with mental well-being.”

Green roofs, or living roofs, have become more popular in recent years. Partially covering the roof of a building in vegetation, a green roof not only reduces carbon dioxide emissions and blocks ultraviolet rays but also serves as an additional drainage system by retaining storm water.

According to 1011 News, by absorbing rain into the soil, green roofs prevent 50% to 90% of runoff pollution; “They also reduce extreme temperatures by evaporating water from the soil into the atmosphere. These elevated gardens can also absorb loud noises.”

These roofs are also gaining momentum in South Carolina. Michael Whitfield, CEO of Green Roof Outfitters, has begun five green roof project in the past six months, including the Rooftop Terrace of SkyGarden Apartments, the green roof of The Refinery, and a green wall within the Half Mile North development.

“The structures provide habitat for pollinators and birds and make space more suitable for humans,” reports Proud Green Building. This bodes particularly well for the bee population, which has been showing a significant decline in recent years.

However, while the green roof does provide multiple functional and aesthetic benefits both to the environment as well as the building on which it sits, there is a potential drawback.

“Here, plants that perform well further north might not fare as well in our heat and humidity,” said Darla Moore, the financier of Moore Farm Botanical Garden, to Proud Green Building. “We aspire not only to increase the palette, but also to increase creativity in design aesthetics — we feel the best roofs are varied in texture and contrast, with natives and exotics colliding in explosive displays.”

Native plants fare the best on green roofs as proven by the increase in native plant gardening in the United States during recent years. Built for the area’s weather and climate, green roofs with native plants are easier to maintain and support local environments.

As the American population moves in a greener direction, the green roof may take off as a sustainable and aesthetically creative project.

When we talk about healthy habits, there’s a lot of emphasis placed on embracing them from an early age. To that end, both the federal government and national corporations are trying to encourage spending time outdoors and healthy eating in young children with some sizable grant assistance.

On June 1, the USDA granted $988,645 to a project conducted by North Carolina State University. “Childcare Outdoors as Active Food System: Effectiveness of POD [Preventing Obesity by Design] Gardening Component” will ideally operate at 15 different childcare centers throughout the state, teaching children the value of growing — and eating — their own food.

In the U.S. nearly 75% of young children participate in preschool programs. Through this project, approximately 300 four- and five-year-olds will learn how to garden and will experience gardening-related activities in the classroom, both of which, researchers assert, will promote healthy eating habits from a young age.

Outlined in the grant proposal, children will examine seeds and watch them sprout, prepare the beds and plant seeds, water and weed, observe growth and insect activity, and harvest, prepare, and eat the literal fruits of their labor. The hope is that this hands-on fruit and vegetable gardening will increase consumption of fresh produce and increase overall knowledge, interest, and health in the preschoolers who participate. They also are optimistic that the concept could become an integrated part of these programs for the long haul.

But the USDA isn’t the only organization granting money to promote gardening in young kids. A Home Depot store in Shrewsbury, MA recently approved a $30,000 grant to construct gardens at every public school in the town. For those few schools that have existing gardens, these areas will be expanded.

The goal here, too, is to work these gardens into the curriculum while addressing the issues of healthy eating and growing food for themselves. Bryan Moss, the founder of Sustainable Shrewsbury and father of Shrewsbury school students told Community Advocate:

“A Farm to School Program is important because it empowers a new generation of children to make healthy eating choices, learn to grow food, and connect at local farms by using an approach which integrates the classroom, cafeteria and the community. School gardens provide the real-life context for learning across all disciplines — math, science, art, language arts, foreign languages and more. By engaging students in hands-on opportunities that establish meaningful connections to the curriculum, the gardens will help children connect the dots by showing them where their food comes from and how their food choices impact their bodies, the environment and their communities at large.”

Some schools have already been responsible for maintaining their own gardens, but this grant takes their involvement to a whole new level. Students and teachers are working together to create garden maps, choose their crops, research ecosystems, and explore sustainable features. Shrewsbury schools will serve the produce grown in their cafeterias, too.

By taking the traditional seed sprout experiments conducted in classrooms (usually with wet paper towels and plastic bags) outside in the open air, these students may gain a much deeper appreciation for farming and for healthy eating.

Heatwaves may be annoying, but if you’re not careful they can march right into dangerous territory! In fact, according to 2015 data from the National Weather Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the most dangerous place to be during a heatwave is in a permanent residence with little or no air conditioning. A total of 15 heat-related deaths were recorded in just such settings during 2015.

And if you live with infants or aging loved ones, these heatwaves are especially risky.

High temperatures are hard on growing children, who may spend a lot of time outdoors during the summer months. Heat-related illnesses, skin conditions, and other issues can easily affect them if the proper precautions aren’t taken.

At the same time, it’s important to find sustainable solutions to the issue of heat. While running your AC unit all day might seem like the best option, it’s not always the smartest one. If you’re looking for effective, sustainable ways for you and your family to beat the heat without running your AC into the ground, here are a few great green cooling ideas you can try this summer.

  • Plant Trees
    Approximately 64% of homeowners are already upgrading their backyards, and if you’re one of them you should consider planting a tree or two. When properly placed, trees can provide much-needed shade and actually keep your home cooler and out of the direct sun.
  • Close the Blinds
    Did you know that when completely closed, highly reflective blinds can reduce heat gain by an estimated 45% in your home? That’s right! A simple task can help you use less energy and keep your home a bit cooler.
  • Schedule AC Maintenance
    The most efficient AC units are inspected at least twice annually. If you are relying on your home air conditioning, it’s important that you take preventative maintenance steps to keep it running smoothly. If your HVAC appliances are more than 15 years old, they were designed before energy efficient appliances become standard.
  • Hydrate
    According to pediatric sports medicine expert Dr. Troy Smurawa, pre-hydrating and frequent hydration are key to summer safety. “When [kids] exercise outside, one of the key things that we recognize is to make sure that they are taking frequent water breaks. We usually recommend every 15 to 20 minutes.”
  • Avoid Mid-Day Outdoor Activities
    If you’re looking at extreme temperatures for summer, it’s important that you get outside early in the morning or later in the evening. Health care professionals typically recommend avoiding time outside between 10 AM and 3 PM, as it’s when temperatures tend to rise into dangerous territory.

But above all else, it’s important to know the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke when you see them. Here are some important signs of each medical condition:
Heat Stroke

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Loss of Consciousness

Heat Exhaustion

  • Heavy sweating
  • Cold or clammy skin
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Exhaustion or muscle weakness

If you notice any of these symptoms, whether in yourself or someone else, you should contact emergency services and take immediate action to remove the victim from any extreme heat.

It may not seem like sustainability and safety have anything in common, but the truth is that taking these preventative measures in your home and in your daily life during the summer months can make for a safer and more sustainable season. So before you burn out your AC while trying to cool your home, consider these green cooling alternatives!

Couple Sleeping In Bed Together

Study after study shows that Americans are a chronically exhausted lot, and it turns out that lack of sleep may not be the only thing to blame.

Even though about 60 million Americans suffer from either sleep disorders or sleep deprivation, one study has found that air pollution may also be a factor into why our nation isn’t as well rested as it once was.

A new study by the University of Washington has found that there may be a link between air pollution and sleep quality. The study was presented at the American Thoracic Society’s annual international conference earlier this month, where researchers discussed how air pollution can negatively affect sleep efficiency for all Americans, despite their sex, income, and location.

In short: even if you get the recommended amount of lightly sleep, polluted air could still leave you feeling groggy come morning.

Researchers utilized data collected from six cities nationwide and analyzed the sleep patterns of 1,863 participants from the last five years. The study spanned over seven days, and the researchers found that those breathing in high levels of nitrogen dioxide typically had a lower sleep quality than those surrounded by clean air.

The study was relatively simple — the sleepers had to wear a special sleep device on their wrist every night when they went to bed. The watch-like accessory monitored their sleeping habits, how many hours they spent awake and asleep, and tracked each participant’s movements while sleeping. When all the data was compiled, the researchers found that the top tier of sleepers had 93% sleep efficiency, and the bottom tier had 88%.

With these two numbers in mind, the researchers filtered the participants into four groups based on their exposure to air pollution. After they filtered out factors such as age, smoking habits, and if the participant suffered from obstructive sleep apnea, they found that those living in areas of high pollution were most likely to fall into the lowest sleep efficiency tier.

In addition, the researchers found that the exposure to high levels of nitrogen dioxide increased each participant’s chances of having a lower sleep quality by a staggering 60%.

Dr. Martha Billings, the study’s lead author, explains in a statement to Newsweek how exactly the body is affected by being exposed to air pollution over time. She says:

“Prior studies have shown that air pollution impacts heart health and affects breathing and lung function, but less is known about whether air pollution affects sleep. We thought an effect was likely given that air pollution causes upper airway irritation, swelling and congestion, and may also affect the central nervous system and brain areas that control breathing patterns and sleep.”

For the next step in their research, scientists are going to continue to look at the connection between additional air pollutants and sleep quality, as they believe data from only a week of sleep may not be an accurate representation of a person’s overall sleep pattern.