clear the air

Library of Green Building Products

For architects and industrial designers, finding sustainable materials to use in building projects has long been a challenge, with providers and information scattered all across the web. Ecolect, which just launched last fall, aims to provide a single, central library of sustainable materials that makes it easier for designers to be “green.”

Rhode Island-based Ecolect, which was founded by two Rhode Island School of Design graduates, hopes to save designers time and money by answering three important questions: where to find sustainable materials, what makes them sustainable, and who else is using them and how. Toward that end, the site features materials with sustainable attributes—eco paints and bamboo flooring, for example—complemented by content that stimulates discussion about sustainability. Case studies illustrate the successful use of sustainable design, and users can contribute reviews and images of materials in use. The site’s blog, meanwhile, discusses how ecology affects the world. Ad-supported Ecolect is free for users.

“We saw a unique and unmet need in the marketplace,” explains Matt Grigsby, one of the site’s cofounders. “From there, we set out to not only create the world’s first free and accessible sustainable materials library, but also build a tight-knit global community, where individuals from around the world can go to learn and connect around the issue of sustainable design.”

Grigsby won last year’s Rhode Island Innovation Awards Rising Star Innovator title for his role in developing Ecolect, and the company itself has been named a finalist in the 2008 SXSW Web Awards, the winner of which will be named next month. The trend toward sustainability isn’t going away anytime soon, so the opportunities are many in supporting and informing those who make it happen. Since the distribution of building materials varies widely by country/region, this is definitely one to set up in your own neck of the woods. Or how about applying the concept to other industries?


Eco Mums

Numbering more than 82 million in the United States alone, there’s no denying that mothers are a significant force to be reckoned with, both economically and otherwise. The EcoMom Alliance aims to tap the power of that demographic for no lesser a goal than to help fight global warming.

Launched online a few weeks ago, the California-based EcoMom Alliance hopes to inspire mothers around the globe to make lifestyle changes that will reduce their carbon footprints. Through the EcoMom Challenge, it asks mothers to take its “10 First Steps for a Sustainable Future,” including swapping traditional light bulbs for energy-efficient compact fluorescent ones, driving less, and buying local, fair trade and organic products. Picking up on the Australian Conservation Foundation’s “Cool the Globe” initiative, the group’s One Night Off campaign encourages mothers to choose one night a week to turn off all lights, TVs, washers, dryers and other appliances. Also part of the group’s agenda are EcoMom Parties—a post-Inconvenient Truth version of the old Tupperware Parties through which members can connect, find support and share ideas. Other “edutainment” offerings from the group include blogs, podcasts and “Sustain Yourself” events for maxed-out EcoMoms.

The EcoMom Alliance is a nonprofit, 501 (c)(3) organization with about 9,000 members around the globe, including not just the United States but also Australia, Hungary, England, France and Brazil. It is reportedly in the process of training women to lead EcoMom events worldwide, as well as readying an official EcoMom seal of approval for commercial products.

US mothers alone control 85 percent of household spending, according to the Marketing to Moms Coalition, amounting to about USD 2.1 trillion annually. It’s hard to imagine a much better place to start enabling real change. (Related: Web community for greener living.)


Simon Turner

Water, Not Down The Drain

Water: Not Down the Drain

A guide to using rainwater and greywater at home
by Stuart McQuire

It’s time to think of other ways to secure water for the home. This book shows you how.

Water Not Down the Drain is a comprehensive guide to sustainable water use around the home. With Australia experiencing one of its driest phases in history, everyone has to think about how they use the water available to them and find ways to reduce their day to day water use. The good news is that with rainwater and greywater, people have more water available to them than they think.

Topics include:

  • Making the most of the water you have
  • Saving water, including tips on how to use less water
  • Top water greenhouse savers
  • Calculating how much water is available including rainwater, greywater and stormwater
  • Where can you use rainwater, greywater and stormwater
  • Rainwater tanks and where to place them
  • Tank types including under floor tanks
  • Regulations
  • Rebates
  • Selecting a greywater system
  • Greywater health and safety
  • Watering systems for greywater
  • Composting toilets and complete treatment systems such as worm farms
  • Wise watering in the garden
  • How to use stormwater at home

Water Not Down the Drain includes case studies from author Stuart McQuire’s house, including examples of how he uses rainwater, greywater and stormwater. Useful tips and advice appear throughout the book to help you make changes at home.

About the author
Stuart McQuire’s household used to be above average suburban water users. Since then they have reduced their mains water use by 96 per cent. In fact, they use just two and a half buckets of mains water per day, but still have a thriving garden full of fresh produce. All other water comes from the site either as rainwater or recycled water. Stuart began using rainwater and greywater in the early nineties to save water, and his home has gained a national and international profile for its role in pioneering environmental technologies and sustainable living.

Stuart McQuire is an environmental scientist and past president of the Alternative Technology Association. This is his second book about water. In this book, he shares his journey to sustainable water use and shows readers what he’s done at home. Stuart’s house is surrounded by a permaculture garden with 20 fruit and nut trees, and features grid-connected solar electricity, solar hot water, rainwater tanks, water recycling, composting and chooks. The book includes photos of Stuart’s water smart house and garden.

Retail price only: $29.95

Click here to order your copy.

Now Available in Borders – check both the magazine and book section of the store to locate a copy.

The book is published by the Alternative Technology Association and supported by the Smart Water Fund.

Starbucks Giving Grounds For Your Garden

Coffee drinkers around the world are expected to consume almost 7 million tonnes of the stuff each year by 2010, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, and that means a heck of a lot of spent grounds to dispose of. Rather than throw the nitrogen-rich material into landfills, Marquette Turner has learnt that global chain Starbucks has found a greener solution by giving it away to consumers with gardens.

Eco approaches may be all the rage today, but Starbucks’s Grounds for Your Garden program actually began as a grassroots initiative back in 1995. After growing steadily for almost a decade, it was officially launched in 2003, offering up free spent coffee grounds to North American customers year-round on a first come, first serve basis. Grounds are packaged in reused coffee bags and sealed with simple directions for using them in the garden or compost pile, where they can help improve soil quality.

“Coffee grounds are a valuable source of nutrition for the garden,” explains Ben Packard, director of environmental affairs for Starbucks. “Reusing coffee grounds in the garden is a great alternative to disposing this rich resource from our stores. It’s a win for gardeners and a win for Starbucks.”

Indeed, now that the spotlight is shining full-force on companies’ environmental practices, this kind of approach really is a win-win for everyone. It’s relatively low-cost and easy to implement, but it means less waste in the landfills, a benefit for consumers and their gardens, and a warm and fuzzy green image for Starbucks—definitely worth emulating!


Simon Turner