Global Briefs

Hot Stuff: New Technology Multiplies Solar Efficiency

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There is huge potential in solar power, but our current methods of capturing the sun’s energy are limited as widely used silicon solar cells approach their theoretical limit of 33.7 percent efficiency. Now a Princeton University research team has applied nanotechnology principles to incorporate a design that significantly increases their efficacy.
 
Led by Stephen Chou, the team has made two dramatic improvements: reducing reflectivity and more effectively capturing the light that isn’t reflected. The new solar cell is much thinner and less reflective, capturing many more light waves via a minute mesh, and bouncing off only about 4 percent of direct sunlight. The new design is capable of capturing a large amount of sunlight even when it’s cloudy, producing an 81 percent increase in efficiency even under indirect lighting conditions.
 
 

Cowabunga Dude: All-Natural Boards Bring Sustainability to Surfing

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Surfers count themselves among the most ardent environmentalists. Yet their sport is awash in petrochemicals and carcinogens, from neoprene wetsuits and urethane surfboard leashes to polyurethane boards and epoxy resins.
 
So surfboard shaper Danny Hess is adopting salvaged woods, natural finishes and organic resins to transform how they are made. His boards are built to last, an anomaly in a sport in which enthusiasts’ boards may break once or twice every season. He uses Super Sap, the first U.S. Department of Agriculture BioPreferred Certified liquid epoxy resin, and is experimenting with organic foam and salvaged redwood in seeking to build a truly green surfboard.

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Nearing Equality: Gender Pay Gap is Eroding

Recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that women now earn 82 percent as much as men, up from 64 percent in 1980. This latest figure represents median annual earnings for full-time, year-round workers, including self-employed, but not seasonal workers.
 
Progress has also been made in gender segregation within the labor market, with many previously male-dominated fields including law, banking, medicine and civil service jobs such as bus drivers and mail carriers opening up to women. In 2012, President Obama cited his signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act as a second-term issue for addressing gender discrimination.
 

Camp Revamped: Anti-Bullying Tenets Enhance Summer Fun

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Many summer camps have taken steps to prevent bullying, reflecting mainstream trends. Attendees at Camp Dark Waters, a Medford, New Jersey, residential camp for ages 7 through 16 founded on Quaker principles, are asked to abide by a list of Anti-Bullying Campers’ Rights:
 
I have the right to be happy and to be treated with kindness. No one will laugh at me, ignore me or hurt my feelings.
 
I have the right to be myself. No one will treat me unfairly because I am fat or thin, fast or slow, strong or weak, boy or girl. I am different because I am myself.
 
I have the right to be safe. No one will hit, kick, push or pinch me. I will be free from physical threats.
 
I have the right to hear and be heard. No one will yell, scream or shout and my opinions and desires will be considered in any plans we make.
 
I have the right to learn about myself. I will be free to express my feelings and opinions without being interrupted or punished.
 
Bullying campers are warned, and if they fail to honor these rights, they’ll be sent home.
 
 

Honoring Veterans: Helping Troops Return Home to Meaningful Work

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Colin and Karen Archipley, owners of Archi’s Acres, in Escondido, California, celebrate Memorial Day daily by helping combat vets return home to a fresh start doing meaningful work through their Veteran Sustainable Agriculture Training (VSAT) program. Established in 2007, they can now list 160 ongoing agribusinesses nationwide led by program graduates. “This instills confidence in the veterans as together, we tap into their abilities to adapt and overcome, to take on a challenge and to know themselves and seek improvement,” says Colin, who served with the Marine Corps.
 
This year, the couple is expanding the program by launching 10 one-acre certified-organic hydroponic greenhouses as incubators sparking future VSAT-graduate businesses.
 
For information, call 800-933-5234, email Karen@ArchisAcres.com or visit ArchisAcres.com.
 

Veggie Power: Food Revolution Day is May 17

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Food Revolution Day, a collaborative effort between the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation in the United States, the Better Food Foundation in the UK and The Good Foundation in Australia, aims to get people around the world talking about real food and food education. Last year, the global day of action encompassed more than 1,000 events and dinner parties among family and friends, school associates, work colleagues and community neighbors in 664 cities in 62 countries.
 
To get involved, visit FoodRevolutionDay.com.
 

Thrifty Threads: Levi’s Latest Sustainable Moves

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World record holder and Olympic champion sprinter Usain Bolt will soon model Puma boots that are “made for rotting,” and when the next Levi’s collection arrives, their new jingle will be, “These jeans are made of garbage.” Crushed brown and green half-liter plastic bottles will be on display at retail store displays, of which the equivalent of eight, or 20 percent, are blended into each pair of Waste<Less jeans.

Nike and Gap have their own sustainability programs, and Patagonia has long supported a small ecosystem of Earth-friendly suppliers. But as the biggest maker of jeans in the world, with sales of $4.8 billion in 2011, Levi Strauss’ efforts command the most attention

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School Safeguard: How to Build a Bike Train

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In 1969, according to the National Center for Safe Routes to School, 48 percent of kids ages 5 to 14 regularly walked or biked to school. In 2009, it was just 13 percent. One major reason for the change is that parents don’t feel safe letting kids bicycle around town on their own. Bike trains—in which an adult chaperone rides a predetermined route, adding children along the way—can make it easier and safer for kids to get to school.

 
To start a DIY bike train, find a group of interested parents through school and neighborhood message boards and newsletters; assess the area to create routes; distribute flyers and get feedback; determine bike train dates and times; host a community meeting and post selected routes online.
 
Source: Yes magazine
 

Windy Woes: Solving Wind Power’s Hidden Pollution Problem

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The U.S. Department of Energy reports that although wind power accounts for just over 4 percent of domestic electrical generation, it comprises a third of all new electric capacity. Even with the freedom from coal or oil that wind power creates, a major component of the generating devices, the turbine blades, has its own carbon footprint that needs examining.

Superior Soil: Organic Farming Sustains Earth’s Richness

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Famed as the happiest country on Earth, the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan is now aiming to become 100 percent organic, phasing out artificial chemicals in farming in the next 10 years. Agence France-Presse reports that Bhutan currently sends rare mushrooms to Japan, vegetables to up-market hotels in Thailand, its highly prized apples to India and red rice to the United States.

Jurmi Dorji, of southern Bhutan’s 103-member Daga Shingdrey Pshogpa farmers’ association, says their members are in favor of the policy. “More than a decade ago, people realized that the chemicals were not good for farming,” he says. “I cannot say everyone has stopped using chemicals, but almost 90 percent have.”