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Sustainable Practices and Ways to Make a Difference

climbing plant

There are three pillars of sustainability - environment, society, and economy. The goal is to achieve a healthy balance for better living. How do we do this?

According to the EPA or United States Environmental Protection Agency, we impose the following: green infrastructure, greenen gineering, and green chemicals.

We will look at these factors and how air conditioning fits in, and what can be done to make changes in a meaningful way.

Green Infrastructure

Vegetation in urban environments provide a habitat forbirds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and insects. Even a small patch like "green roofs" can provide habitation for a variety of birds and insects.

A "green roof" refers to vegetation that grows on buildings and is usually a plant that grows naturally on rocks and limestone. Examples of this kind of vegetation are: roses, clematis, grapes, wisteria, climbing hydrangea, honeysuckle, jasmine, passion flower, Virginia creeper, fig, and ivy.

water hole

Society is constantly replacing natural land with things like pavement, buildings, and other surfaces that absorb and retain heat.

A green infrastructure provides shade and natural cooling by averting rays from the sun and releasing moisture into the atmosphere. Shading can lessen cooling and heating demands, too, thus reducing the need for energy and decreasing emissions.

Moreover, it improves health and overall air quality. It reduces levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Creating a recreational space with natural vegetation like trees and grass allows people to enjoy their urban community. It helps create jobs, as this type of vegetation requires maintenance, and it helps increase local property values.

Vegetation also captures storm water run off, which can then be recycled and used. Waste water can be used to water parks, golf courses, and crops. In Orange County, California, advanced resources purify waste water so it can be used by fire fighters. In some areas like California, it is far cheaper to recycle waste water than to transport it. It is a better alternative to the cost of importing water, especially to the driest parts of the US.        

Green Engineering

drilling for oil

Constant drilling for oil and gas is resulting in mass pollution. Oil spills are having a devastating effect on animal habitats. Even remote drilling is proving deadly to many endangered wildlife and harming natural habitats that need protection. Many of the planets most diverse and ecologically important areas like the Arctic and the Congo basin are at risk.

Today, oil and gas exploration is probing the Earth's most remote areas. Utilizing new and often unproven technologies to extract hydrocarbons from deep with in the earth is leading to mass destruction.

Oil spills occur from blowouts, pipeline leaks or failures, or shipping accidents. These spills pose a serious threat to our ecosystems. A perfect example of this kind of damage is the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, also known as the BP oil spill in the Gulf off the coast of Louisiana in 2010, one of the worst offshore oil spills in US history.

Studies show that instead of developing "green technology" we are continuing to drill. According to Dot Earth, a subsidiary of the New York Times, in an attempt to protect places like Alaska and the Arctic, the NRDR or Natural Resources Defense Council is arguing that companies like Shell Oil cannot safely drill offshore in areas where endangered species can be harmed or destroyed by accidental spills.

polar bear

The NRDF is insisting that the threat of a future spill is too high, cleanup is impossible, and that the arctic is the biological heart of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Furthermore, Shell's offshore oil and gas activities threaten vulnerable wildlife, hurts an area that is already compromised by climate change, and creates more greenhouse gases when we should be reducing them.

So what do we do? According to the EPA, clean automotive technology should be a priority. Instead of looking for new places to drill for oil, essentially taking part in the "oil conquers all" contest, we can do as the EPA suggests, "research, evaluate, and develop vehicle engine and drive traintechnologies that help increase fuel efficiency, reduce regulated criteria emissions such as nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, and cut greenhouse gas emissions."

The EPA evaluates the feasibility of running vehicles on non-petroleum fuels such as alcohol fuels. This lowers the US dependence on oil.The EPA is researching alternative transportation fuels like ethanol and methanol, and exploring their potential for use as cost-effective, sustainable fuels that achieve both low emissions and high fuel economy.

Green Chemicals

window ac apt

Sustainable chemistry is the practice of designing new chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use or development of hazardous substances.

Green chemistry helps reduce waste, initiate safer products, and reduce the use of energy and resources. This includes regulating substitutes for ozone depleting chemicals that are being phased out under the Clean Air Act.

We know all about air conditioning and how air conditioners typically use a refrigerant to cool and dehumidify a substance, space, refrigerator, room, office building, warehouse, motor vehicle, or restaurant. HCFC-22 or hydrochlorofluorocarbons has been the refrigerant of choice for residential heat pump and cooling systems for more than forty years.

Unfortunately, these units release R-22, which in turn depletes the ozone layer. It has been proven that R-22 is a greenhouse gas and the manufacturing of it results in the byproduct HFC-23 that contributes to global warming.

In 1987, an international agreement was made to phase out ozone depleting CFC or chlorofluorocarbons. In 1992, the agreement was amended to phase out HCFCs as well. The agreement, called the Montreal Protocol, required the US to reduce its consumption of HCFCs by 35% in 2004, 75% by 2010, 90% by2015, and 99.5% by 2020.

energy star

What does this mean for consumers? According to the CleanAir Act, any R-22 refrigerant cannot be vented into the atmosphere during installation, service, or retirement of equipment. It must be covered and recycled. As of 2010, no company can import AC equipment with R-22 refrigerant in it.

If you own a R-22 refrigerant cooling or heating system it can continue to be serviced for the next 10 years; however, given the transition schedule and what the cooling or heating system is doing to the environment, it's probably best to swap it for a more environmentally friendly choice.

The EPA lists alternatives to R-22 refrigerant cooling. One great substitute is the R-410A, which is a blend of HFCs or hydrofluorocarbons that do not contribute the depletion of the ozone layer.

This type of refrigerant is sold under many trade names including: GENETRON AZ-20,SUVA 410A, FORANE 410A, and PURON. An additional refrigerant that is acceptable is R-407C. Air conditioners and heat pumps using R-407C are not available in the US yet; however, they are quite common in Europe.

If you need to service your R-22 system, it is recommended you employ a service technician that is EPA certified to handle refrigerants. This is often referred to as a Section 608 certification. If you are considering replacing your unit, it is recommended you choose one with an Energy Star rating with a good SEER or seasonal energy efficiency ratio. The higher the SEER specification, the more efficient the unit. Doing this can save you 10-40% on heating and cooling bills each year.

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