Ecoinnovation: Sustainability & Going Green

Where Creativity Can Save the Planet

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Compost! November 23, 2010

Filed under: Agriculture — bt25 @ 10:25 pm

After a little sabbatical to accommodate adjusting to a new job, I am re-animating my blog.  With the holiday’s right around the corner, I thought it would be good to shift the focus to food.  I always thought of composting as logical it significantly reduces the amount of waste that goes into the landfill.  One look at the waste bin at our house and it’s clear that a majority of our trash is organic and biodegradable (food).  One fact recently surprised me.  Even one hundred percent biodegradable materials, like food, cannot break down completely in a landfill[1].  One landfill study, “The Garbage Project,” conducted by the University of Arizona uncovered still-recognizable 25-year old hot dogs, corncobs and grapes in landfills.[2]  Backyard composting can solve some of these problems, but the economies of scale gained by commercial composting facilities are undeniable, especially considering the business and environmental benefits. 

 San Francisco is a great example of this kind landfill diversion.  More than 300 businesses and institutions participate in composting collection programs, and more than 37,400 tons of commercial organics were diverted in 1999 (33% of commercial sector organic waste).[3]  This number has continued to climb over the years.  Organic waste is diverted in a myriad of ways; edible food goes to food banks, and animal feed, while newly composted soil is sold to agricultural enterprises.  These create revenue streams for the city.  This news is not just good for the government and the environment, but it also helps save costs for business owners.  Many produce markets and restaurants have reduced their trash by 90 percent and are saving up to 50 percent on their trash bills.[4]  Industrial composting can also close the gap between the technological advances in the creation of biodegradable packaging, and those biodegradable products actually breaking down.   The infrastructure is in place, and people already separate their trash; policies that encourage commercial composting is now a matter of convincing policymakers to prioritize these programs for their communities.


Kitchen Gardening: A Healthy Alternative March 25, 2010

Filed under: Agriculture — bt25 @ 4:41 pm

Spring has definitely sprung in San Diego, and Spring break is finally giving me the opportunity to enjoy the sunny days and cool breezes.  The last posting described aquaponics as a local, organic food solution.  As I mentioned previously—I would love to have one of these systems, but it’s not really feasible for me now because I’m limited in both time and money.  So, I’ve thought up an alternative—a kitchen garden.

I spent the first five years of my life on a farm in rural Appalachia and some of my best memories were of running around barefoot and eating sun-warmed tomatoes fresh off the vine. Where I grew up, everyone had a little kitchen garden—even if only a couple of bean stalks, a tomato plant, and some herbs.

My kitchen garden is also starting small.  Because our apartment doesn’t have a yard, I used containers to plant my garden.  I chose tomatoes and lettuce, vegetables I am familiar with growing and that we commonly purchase. I also planted some mint and basil, two herbs I use a lot for cooking, but are expensive to buy at the store.  On average, a single tomato plant yields about 35 lbs, while the lettuce plants will yield about six pounds.  If all goes well, these veggies should certainly put a dent into our grocery bill.

Kitchen Garden
My Tiny Kitchen Container Garden

I’m wondering if kitchen gardens, like the victory gardens of WWII, are becoming more common as people grapple with the cost of feeding their families during the current economic downturn.  Aside from the obvious economic and health benefits, home gardening is great for the environment.  Kitchen gardens reduce the number of miles food travels and the number of trips to the grocery store.


Can “Being Green” Save On Groceries? March 17, 2010

Filed under: Agriculture — bt25 @ 3:16 am

I recently stumbled upon a sustainable way to produce food that has turned me into somewhat of an ‘eco-nerd’ this past week.  Pressed to find a paper topic on a “green tech” business, I was procrastinating by browsing the New York Times.  When I found an article describing the phenomenon of home Aquaponics systems.  These systems work by combining soil free plant production (hydroponics) with fish farming (aquaculture).  Basically, the fish waste acts as a natural fertilizer for the plants, and the plants filter the water for the fish.  It is a completely ‘closed-loop’ system that produces incredibly high yields–these systems can produce eighteen times more than field grown crops.  All of this, using less 50% of water used in traditional irrigation and no fertilizers or pesticides.

Home systems vary in size and yields–but I want one of these!  Fresh veggies and tasty fish, while reducing my impact on the environment.  What’s not to love?  After researching the industry, I would however, want to design my system utilizing gravity to maximize energy efficiency in pumping, and install solar panels to offset any further energy consumption.  With careful design, I think you could rig an Aquaponics system to be close to (if not completely ) carbon neutral.

Earth Solutions Aquaponics System, Small Home System

But how economically feasible are these systems?  Our household spends about $200/month on fresh produce and seafood.  The Nelson & Pade Demonstration system costs about $3600 to install.  A system like this one, would allow us to continue our normal consumption (2 lbs of fish and 19 lbs of produce a week). Given this cost structure, it would take this system about 18 months to pay for itself.  If this seems like a big investment; there are smaller systems for around $250.00, but these can’t sustain fish for consumption.  Or if you’re handy–there are countless handbooks instructing on how to build one in the backyard.

Aquaponics systems have interesting implications for commercial food production as well.  These systems can be set up in urban areas, which gives a whole new meaning to ‘local and organically grown.’  Not to mention reduced transport costs due to proximity to retailers.  Developing countries and arid areas with food security problems could also benefit from these systems as well.  Aquaponics is a great example of using biomimicry to re-vamp traditional, environmentally devastating commercial agricultural practices.


Red Wine, White Wine…Green Wine? March 14, 2010

Filed under: Agriculture — bt25 @ 1:25 am

For the inaugural posting on this blog; I would like to concentrate on a product I personally love–Wine!  As a graduate student, I get to do a lot of group projects.  The most recent one examined the operations of a winery located in Temecula, the wine growing region closest to San Diego.  We focused specifically on some of the creative, sustainable things the winery was already doing and made some suggestions for strategic improvements.  A good rule of thumb for anyone who is considering adopting a sustainable business practice, is that any investment should be central to that business’ core purpose.  In other words, we tried to look for eco-innovations that were not only sustainable, but also improved the wine-making process.  In background research, we found that most wineries have great sustainable processes in their viticulture (grape growing), but are deficient in their wine making.  The winery we looked at was no exception.

View From the Tasting Room

View From the Tasting Room, Photo Credit Zachary Wagner-Rubin

Current Eco-Innovations

  • Biodynamic Pest Control:  The winery took advantage of predator prey relationships to foster raptor habitats.  The raptors eat the pests and no pesticides are necessary.

    Raptor Nesting Pole, Photo Credit to Zachary Wagner-Rubin

  • Composting:  By-products of wine, stems, leaves, and seeds are all seperated from the juice and are used as a natural fertilizer for the vines.  Most winemakers believe that fertilizers and pesticides damage the flavor profile of wine.

    Stems, Leaves, and Seeds Conveyed For Composting

  • Drip Irrigation:  Drip irrigation is a highly efficient way to irrigate.  Water drips directly onto the root of the plant; so very little water is wasted through run-off or evaporation.  Drip irrigation also aids in bringing forward the fruit flavor of the grape.

Suggested Eco-Innovations

  • Improve Water Use:  Currently 70% of water used in wineries is used to clean barrels and vats.  We recommend using a water filtration and reuse system to reduce water use by 70% through water recycling.  A great one recently was piloted at Kendall-Jackson Wineries.
  • Sustainable Packaging:  Currently the winery uses natural corks.  However 2% of wine is wasted through moldy corks (amounts to $150,000 annual expense for this winery).  Screw on caps are more sustainable because of their recyclability and reduce product spoilage.
  • Sustainability Certifications:  The winery is currently employing sustainble viticulture practices; it would be low cost to achieve certification and would allow brand differentiation in the highly saturated Temecula region.