Amazing things happen to a city once people are encouraged to switch to bike commuting: the air quality improves throughout the city, which benefits everyone, not just cyclists. Quieter roads are more pleasant roads to be around, and they’re less congested for those who still insist on driving. And of course riding a bike every day brings all kinds of health benefits to the cyclists themselves.A new study from researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health shows just how big those benefits can be. Per dollar spent, constructing bike lanes is a cheap way to improve public health. For instance back in 2005, New York City spent $10 million on curbing traffic as part of the federally-funded Safe Routes to School program. Sidewalks were widened, bike lanes constructed, and traffic lights re-phased to suit pedestrians. The “net societal benefit” of these changes? The study’s authors estimate it to be $230 million.
The Japanese toilet giant Lixil counts brands like Grohe and American Standard in its portfolio, and it’s known for fancy, automated johns that some compare to iPhones for engineering quality. But it’s the SaTo (“Safe Toilet”) division of the company that could have the widest impact in the world.SaTo is the name of a low-cost toilet first developed with American Standard, with financial support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Designed for parts of the world where there are no sewer systems, the SaTo has sold more than 1 million units so far, encouraging Lixil to think bigger. It’s now turning SaTo into its own division, with a mission to spread cheap-but-effective toilets to the 2.5 billion in the world who still lack them.
While Tesla’s solar roof / Powerwall event isn’t until tomorrow, the product that preceded both, its commercial… cousin, Powerpack, has been upgraded and is already shipping to companies. The company says Powerpack 2 has double the energy density than the original model, paired with a new inverter (made at its Gigafactory), that’s apparently the lowest-priced, highest efficiency utility-scale inverter available. Arguably just as important, the new inverter also simplifies the installation process, with several once-separate components now baked into it.Tesla’s blog calls the new system a “a cost-competitive alternative to other traditional utility infrastructure solutions”. It adds that nearly 300 MWh of Tesla batteries have been deployed so far –including complexes in California. Now, where’s the solar part?
Over the past few years, I have taken a somewhat winding journey through various facets of our food systems in order to understand what a sustainable and just food system might look like. In my mind, the term “sustainability” as it applies to food systems not only embraces the ecological concepts of the food systems (i.e. the system could continue in perpetuity without degradation), but it also examines the social elements of food and the linkages within a healthy and functional society. Asustainable food system means that we all have enough to eat and that what we’re eating is not killing us or our ecosystem.1. Food systems are inherently complex.The solution to a sustainable food system is not as simple as wishing it so, it requires new thinking about consumption, distribution, land use patterns, and economics. In other words, it’s not as simple making a few adjustments to how we grow food or switching to an all organic diet. We need input from a variety of disciplines and we truly need to approach the issue in a comprehensive manner. Even choices regarding whatfuel we put in our cars can have an impact on the food system. Sustainable food systems require that we think not only about the food, but also the user in order to ensure that food is serving its intended purpose (i.e. nurturing and fueling us).2. For every piece of information on sustainable food systems, there are an equal number of pieces of misinformation. I spend a lot of time looking at food systems and food sustainability, I’m just a nerd that way. The one thing that I have noted is that out of all of the information available, very little of it actually provides us with any real information. Wandering into the food sustainability discussion is like wandering into a 100-way argument where I’m not sure anyone knows what they are talking about. You have to cross-check every article to make sure you’re not reading some puff piece by Monsanto and you have to make sure that people are not playing their fears to your lack of knowledge. We need better information regarding food and we need the entire system to be depoliticized. We have become the victim of a very competitive market place and we show very little gain from it. To illustrate this point further, think about what you have been told about nutrition within your lifetime… we’re consistently bombarded with information that changes our understanding of food paradigms, but the information is hazy and unclear at best. Without clear and honest information, how can we be expected to make sustainable choices?3. Robust food systems require a network of top-down and bottom-up solutions, but our focus should be on orienting communities to their food sources.There have been numerous discussions regarding food policies and regional food policy councils that use a variety of top-down and bottom-up approaches to help work through the issues of food sustainability. These efforts are terrific and are helping to raise awareness across the board. Government and business leaders should not sit around waiting for citizens to come up with solutions nor should citizens expect solutions to arrive from on high. A sustainable food system should operate at a variety of levels rather than being dominated by any one approach. What we need to see most though, is a general awareness within communities regarding where food comes from and how to ensure that everyone is getting what they need. Food can be a binding and stabilizing force within communities and we must take advantage of that.4. Our current legal system is not prepared for sustainable food systems.Our legal system is oriented to protect the largest food companies from endless litigation while leaving small-scale producers confused as to what is required of them. Making food available to consumers is difficult for everyone except food giants that have enough momentum to navigate the red tape and weave through all the liability issues. As an example, look to farmers markets which must carry liability insurance and corporate status simply to allow others to sell food in a vacant parking lot. On top of that each vendor must be protected by similar protections. When viewed pragmatically, this represents relatively substantial financial outflows that have relatively little to do with the production of food. Aside from being difficult to comprehend, the legal and liability issues associated with food create levels of complexity (and cost) that are best navigated by economies of scale. Small-scale producers are key to sustainable food systems because they aid in cutting down on the petroleum inputs required for food and food transportation and ensure a diversified agricultural base that can better protect us from crop diseases and systemic production issues.