Natural Cycles – Water

Shrinking Ice Caps

With the changing of the season so obvious where I live – especially the beauty of the leaves on trees turning yellow, orange, red and brown amongst the greens, the cycles of nature are front and center in my mind. Also, water has been on my mind. There is the melting of polar and glacial ice, the appearance that storms are increasing in their intensity, drought in some areas leading to large and intense wildfires and just having enough clean and safe drinking water for the burden of humanity.

For too long, humankind has treated the Earth as though it was a supermarket of resources to be tapped, extracted and exploited for profitable gain and usage. When I was growing up in the El Paso TX desert area, the Rio Grande always had water flowing. One year not too long ago, there was only dry river bed. Because Nature is not static, water levels are always changing. The amount of snow in the Colorado Mountains in winter or the release of excess water by the Mexican government preparing for “flood season” can greatly change the flow of the Rio Grande from one year to the next or from one week to the next. In my early adulthood, I once saw a girl drown in that unpredictable river.

On our own farm, the farm pond and beaver ponds can be full and overflowing in Springtime and dry and minimal this time of year. These are all reflections of the natural cycles of nature and water and we would do well to learn to understand them and cooperate with them, rather than fighting against nature or polluting the little fresh water the planet actually has available. We are a “water” planet which is crucial to all of life.

Water makes up about 71% of the Earth’s surface, while the other 29% consists of continents and islands. However, 96.5% of all the Earth’s water is contained within the oceans as salt water, while the remaining 3.5% is freshwater lakes and frozen water locked up in glaciers and the polar ice caps. Of that fresh water, almost all of it takes the form of ice: 69% of it, to be exact. If you could melt all that ice, and the Earth’s surface was perfectly smooth, the sea levels would rise to an altitude of 2.7 km. For those like me who don’t do metric easily that is a rise of almost 9,000 feet or over 1-1/2 miles. Wow !!

The amount of water that exists as groundwater, rivers, lakes, and streams is only a little over 0.7% of the planet’s total water resources. It is a much rarer and more precious commodity than most people are aware it is as they flush their toilet, water their yards and fill up their drinking container.

The Water Cycle

Water has many forms which most of us are intimately familiar with — rain, hail, snow, ice, steam, fog and dew. Even though the minerals in salt water are harmful to most land plants and animals, it is from these vast salty reservoirs (the seas and oceans) that most of our precipitation (rain, snow, etc) rises up to form clouds and comes down upon the land and flows back into the ocean again. The water, or hydrologic, cycle never ends. That is a good thing.

Each person needs about a gallon a day for drinking, cooking, and washing. The average water usage in medieval times was no more than 3 to 5 gallons a day per person. Presently in the United States, people are using about 1,500 gallons a day for their needs and comforts which does include recreation, cooling, food production, and industrial use related to their existence. Another Wow !!

I have been aware for a long time that there are concerns about enough fresh water for the planet’s growing and evolving population. Long ago, Leonardo da Vinci acknowledged that water is the driving force of all nature. In many places on this planet reservoirs and aquifers are drying up. Currently, one in seven people on the planet lacks access to safe drinking water. In some places in the Middle East water has become more important than oil and governments invest in desalination plants. Up to 75% of the farmers in the hot dry plains of northern India, eastern Pakistan and Bangladesh intensely irrigate their crops with pumped groundwater and their use of that water is intensifying.

The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change predictss that the fraction of global population experiencing water scarcity is destined to increase throughout the 21st century. More and more, people and nations will have to compete for those water resources. Jean Chrétien, former Canadian prime minister and co-chair of the InterAction Council, admits that “Using water the way we have in the past simply will not sustain humanity in future.”

So what can be done ? As far back as 2010, 1200 leading international experts from 80 different countries came together and created a list of 19 partial solutions to the Freshwater challenges facing humanity. Of course raising consumer awareness and teaching how to make better use of limited water resources tops the list and is why I am writing a blog about this today. I always seek to be part of “the solution” to whatever concerns me rather than part of the “problem” which only leaves one mired in disfunction.

Wastewater treatment is an obvious place to conserve and revitalize the water that exists. Advanced technologies for cleansing wastewater continue to progress and develop refinements. Clearly agricultural and irrigation practices need rethinking. 70 percent of the world’s freshwater is currently used for agriculture. Water needs to be revalued at higher prices which would reduce waste and pollution. One way to conserve fresh water is to improve the catchment of water running off paved surfaces in urban areas.

Good water management takes into consideration the whole ecosystem – sewage treatment plants could be operated in partnership with clean energy producers who use the wastewater to fertilize algae and other biofuel crops. Those crops, in turn, have an ability not only to soak up nutrients but purify the wastewater which can reduce pumping and treatment costs.

Yemm & Hart’s Origins Material uses recycling water that is heated and sent through piping to melt the recycled post-consumer plastic flakes and pellets loaded into the trays of our press. Then, recycling cool water is sent through pipes to set the material into the patterns that make Origins unique. It is the melting flow of plastic which then is “frozen” into place that gives us a random and natural patterning effect.

What’s new with the most “ECO” of all materials ? (Yeah, I’m talking WATER) I believe that what’s new is a developing but radical change in humanity understanding not only the precious nature of this natural resource but regarding each person’s role in conserving and protecting it’s life sustaining qualities.

Think about it the next time you take a thirst-quenching drink of pure, clean water.

Clean Water

~ Information Resources

Conservation and the Water Cycle posted at NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service, a branch of the USDA – United States Dept of Agriculture) –

As Rio Grande water levels rise, Border Patrol warns of dangers by Analise Ortiz posted May 26, 2015 at –

What Percent of Earth is Water? by Matt Williams posted Dec 1, 2014 at Universe Today –

Length Units Converter from The Engineering ToolBox –

Why fresh water shortages will cause the next great global crisis by Robin McKie posted March 7, 2015 in The Guardian –

Experts Name the Top 19 Solutions to the Global Freshwater Crisis posted May 24, 2010 at Circle of Blue –

Yemm & Hart Origins –

Origins 514 Aquamarine

Origins 514 Aquamarine


Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer


Facing Up to Climate Change

Bear Glacier Alaska

It is unfortunate that the first alarms about changes in the planetary climate were labeled Global Warming because it gave too much to climate change deniers to loudly proclaim the science faulty. However, climate change affects us all and we might as well face up to what it will mean to who, how and where. I’m not Catholic but I really like the current Pope Francis. He is a gutsy guy and humble too. I believe he truly is living his life in service to the common man and that is rare in anyone with power in our world today.

In December 2015, Paris will host the United Nations Climate Change Conference. According to the organizing committee, the objective of the 2015 conference is to achieve, for the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, a binding and universal agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world. (I won’t hold my breath on that achievement but it is a worthy goal.)

Pope Francis  ~ photo by Franco Origlia for Getty Images

Pope Francis
~ photo by Franco Origlia for Getty Images

In advance of that conference, Pope Francis has issued an official encyclical titled “On Care for Our Common Home” which makes explicit the connection between climate change and the oppression of the poorest and most vulnerable in our human family. describes it as “… well-argued, clear, at times quite moving…and 42,000 words long”. I am indebted to their science writers for highlighting the “good stuff”. I have long argued that “the Earth” doesn’t need saving but that humankind does. That is really the issue here.

I agree that too many modern people have totally lost any connection with the natural world. I have to remind myself at times that the majority of urban dwellers do not experience the wildness of nature on a daily basis as I and my husband and children are fortunate enough to have right outside the door of our home. That loss of connection deceives people into thinking of their lives as something separate from and superior to the natural world and from that point onward, arrogance begins to inform choices that actually matter.

Blog author, Deborah Yemm, with sons Simeon and Treston out in the wild

Blog author, Deborah Yemm, with sons Simeon and Treston out in the wild

My husband and I recently watched a documentary about The Corporation. I am well aware that these large organizations also employ a lot of people at a time when employment is an issue due to advances in technology that have made obsolete many of the ways that people have previously provided for their families. I commend enlightened leaders of such corporations, like Ray Anderson the CEO of Interface a flooring manufacturer who came to realize the way that companies such as his have been “exploiters”. Awareness is an important first step towards making meaningful changes.

So it is that Pope Francis has recognized that without awe and wonder for nature and the environment human beings become voracious consumers and ruthless exploiters who are unable to delay the gratification of their every desire or even set any kind of limits on their immediate needs in awareness of the limits that exist regarding natural resources. It is not possible to draw boundaries on the global environment – the air and water circulate freely among all people and cannot be truly “owned” (though some have tried to do this) by any individual, country or organization.

Scientists were not entirely wrong that there has been some global warming. One need only compare old photographs of glaciers with the same geographical regions to see the truth. The melting of ice on our planet is causing the sea level to rise. This is simply the natural behavior of water anywhere as it changes state. It is clear that water is going to be a huge issue for humanity going forward. The Pope declares in his memo that “access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights”.

Every person on this planet is affected by climate change in one way or another. The biggest problem for humanity will be the intensity of events whether they are droughts or floods. And adding to the realities of climate change are the burdens of increasing population so that intensive agriculture in places like California and other dry or desert type environments in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas are depleting aquifers at an unsustainable rate for there is no “recharge” to keep them filled. One cannot simply use resources in an unsustainable manner and not eventually hit the brick wall where it all stops.

California Drought

My family enjoys eating many of the foods that California provides to the world. The farmers in California use 80% of the state’s water resources. Almonds which my family enjoys raw or as Almond Butter because the nut is one of the more nutritious choices we can make have received a lot of attention for how much water growing them consumes but that is not all that California produces. Believe in eating your vegetables especially in healthy salads ? It is quite likely that your lettuce, carrots, and celery came from California. Lately my family has been enjoying seasonal fruits like peaches and plums. Yes, California grows those too. Do you enjoy the occasional artichoke or regularly eat asparagus and broccoli ? The drought in California has direct impacts on people’s efforts to be healthy.

The Pope rightly sees “science and technology are wonderful products of God-given human creativity”. Human beings ARE part of nature too. What humans beings do cannot be separated from the Earth and that is the point really. The Pope also sees a need for “a sound ethics, a culture and spirituality genuinely capable of setting limits and teaching clear-minded self-restraint”. I certainly don’t disagree.

In’s summary of the Pope’s Memo they note – “When nature is viewed solely as a source of profit and gain, this has serious consequences for society. This vision of ‘might is right’ has engendered immense inequality, injustice and acts of violence against the majority of humanity, since resources end up in the hands of the first comer or the most powerful: the winner takes all.”

“The natural environment is a collective good, the patrimony of all humanity and the responsibility of everyone. If we make something our own, it is only to administer it for the good of all. If we do not, we burden our consciences with the weight of having denied the existence of others.”

~ Information Resources

2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference –

The Pope’s Memo on Climate Change Is a Mind-Blower –

California’s Drought Could Upend America’s Entire Food System by Natasha Geiling posted on May 5, 2015 –

Interface is a worldwide leader in design, production and sales of environmentally-responsible modular carpet for the commercial, institutional, and residential markets –

The Corporation, a documentary –


Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer


Vitally Precious

Drinking Water

Water !! There is nothing more precious to life on Earth. Almost as precious however are the youth who will inherit the Earth when their elders are no longer the driving force of progress and evolution.

I stumbled upon the story of one such young man, Steven McDowell, with a vision for helping to alleviate the drought conditions that have become frequent news items in the southwest over to the west coast. California is currently in one of it’s worst drought cycles ever. Steven realizes that – “With climate change affecting our rain patterns we must now plan for the possibility of living with far less annual rainfall, so saving every drop could be essential.”

As this 14 year old began doing research for his science fair project, using California’s drought as his subject and how to help solve it with a focus on how each person could do their share by preserving and storing as much water as possible, he was not able to find suitable storage options already existing that would fulfill his personal goals.

So, he started thinking outside of the box to come up with a completely different solution. He took a walk around his neighborhood. What did every house have in common ? In a moment of inspiration, the answer to that question became the seed for his new idea. Every house had a fence around their yard and “for the most part they all were made of the same thing…wood”. Steven goes on to say – “I had an idea; what if the fence around my yard could be used to collect runoff rainwater!”

So he did an internet search for an existing fence product that could accomplish that goal but he found nothing like it at all. He started doing his theoretical calculations using his own yard’s fence which was 80 feet by 70 feet by 80 feet. At six feet high by seven feet long and making his “idea” fence slightly wider than his actual, 12 inches, he determined that each fence section could hold approximately 320 gallons.

Next Steven calculated how much rainwater run-off he could capture from a 2,000 sq ft roof surface area using a rainfall total of 1 inch times his conversion factor. He determined the rainwater run-off would equal around 1,200 gallons of water. The fence would capture and evenly spread that run-off water to each storage unit whenever it rained. Thus he realized that he could theoretically hold almost 13 thousand gallons of fresh pure rain water in such a fence structure.

Steven McDowell with his science project

Steven McDowell
with his science project

It is not surprising to learn that Steven won 1st Prize at his science fair with the mock-up of his working Water Fence idea. Steven explains how he realized that he was onto a truly important product idea – “My engineering teacher stated it was the best original idea he had seen in 14 years of science fairs and my science professor told me to patent the idea right away, which I did. Three of the judges approached me as well and asked me to install it in their homes immediately.”

Steven McDowell has gone on to win many other prizes with his Water Fence idea as well including the U.S Stockholm Junior Water Prize Regional Award and the American Meteorological Society’s “Certificate of Outstanding Achievement”. Even as he is very excited that his incredible Water Fence system made of HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene) which is 100% recyclable (yes, Steven is saving trees that would have been wooden fences as well as conserving fresh water !!) will soon be available for purchase, he also encourages others to create sustainable options for water conservation. The importance of water can not be over-stated.

2006 Water Scarcity by Country Both Physical & Economic

2006 Water Scarcity by Country
Both Physical & Economic

Scientist’s predict that by 2050 half of the world’s population will be impacted by a scarcity of fresh water. Environmental refugees will be forced to migrate away from areas without the necessary resource of water. The current mismanagement and misuse of increasingly scarce water resources threatens to plunge most of the global population into extreme water poverty according to the world’s leading water scientists.

The draining of rivers and underground aquifers as well as pollution and erosion along with climate change pose a long-term threat to human welfare. The increasing use globally of water combined with the permanent degradation of quality in existing water supplies is on an “unsustainable trajectory” according to scientists who feel it is fast approaching a global tipping point.

Our world needs more kids like Steven McDowell and I believe they are out there dreaming up solutions to the challenges that face mankind as we move into a future we can only theorize about now. I remain optimistic that the vitally precious resource of imaginative kids will not only find solutions to a potential scarcity of fresh water but the other pressing issues to affect everyone’s quality of life.

~ Information Resources

Steven McDowell/Water Fence –

“Lack of fresh water could hit half the world’s population by 2050” posted by Steve Connor on May 24, 2013 at The Independent –


Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer


Is Winter Fading From The Olympics ?

Sochi 2014 Olympics

Like many people, I am aware of the Winter Olympics taking place in Sochi Russia at the present time. I am not watching them. Not because I do not love the winter events; but because we have chosen NOT to have any commercial television in our home. There is some good content on commercial TV and we lose out on being able to watch that. In the past, I would have loved watching the figure skating events; and now, I would enjoy the snowboarding as well, as my sons mild interest in skateboards has made me more aware of that modern culture.

The Nagano Japan post-game IOC report in 1998 contained the first mention of climate change in the context of the Olympics. The authors of the report said, “The depletion of the ozone layer and global warming are two examples of issues affecting our natural ecosystem on a worldwide scale. Therefore, striving to host the Olympic Winter Games in harmony with nature is especially important, and we ask the IOC and future Olympic Winter Games host cities to pay close attention to the environment.” The pool of locations capable of hosting the games will shrink as the climate warms — and the colder mountain cities that may be the best fit may not have the infrastructure to handle a massive influx of athletes, spectators and organizers. That will force some difficult decisions, making it an interesting dilemma the International Olympic Committee will be caught in.

By 1980, when Lake Placid hosted the Winter Olympics again, organizers were tinkering with making snow on the alpine ski courses. The practice became commonplace after the 1998 Games in Calgary, and this year Sochi is boasting an armada of over 500 snowmaking guns, one of the largest in Europe. Snow making requires the use of vast amounts of electricity, and the utility bill has now become one of the largest costs for resorts. The act of making snow where coal is used to generate the energy to make the snow is only exacerbating the situation. The good news is that, many ski resorts are increasing the wind, solar and other types of renewable, clean-burning fuel they use for power generation. Plus, snowmaking equipment is increasingly energy efficient. It takes about 150,000 gallons of water to make enough snow to cover an acre of ski trail one foot deep.

Glacier before and after

We need to be more concerned about climate change, whether we can reverse or slow it down, or whether we must adapt and cope with the changes that it will bring into every life on this planet. It does no good to pretend there are no impacts. I remember being shocked at the retreat of glaciers. One can’t help but be seriously impressed that a change is happening in our climate. Already, signs of an unwelcome thaw have appeared at even the highest elevations. This season, the Verbier 4 Vallées resort in Switzerland eliminated two chair lifts after the lower edge of Tortin Glacier, at 2,800 metres elevation, receded by 40 metres in just 15 years.

In the Northern Hemisphere, the snow season has shrunk by about three weeks since the early 1970s and snow cover is projected to decline substantially by the end of the century, according to a report released in September by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Being a casual student of Earth science, I know that the climate has never been a stagnant or stable force in planetary existence. And so, today, I consider that the “winter” environments so celebrated by the Winter Olympics, may become a 100% artificial creation in the future – indeed has already become such, to a great extent. In the states of Connecticut and Massachusetts, here in the USA, there is a combined total of 17 skiing areas. A recent study suggests that by 2039, none will sustain a viable skiing season — defined by industry as 100 days or more — even with artificial snow-making.

Typical Snow Cannon in Russia

Typical Snow Cannon in Russia

Skiing is a winter sport that prides itself on being harmoniously in step with the rhythms of nature. But sometimes, it turns out, nature falls out of step, failing to drop enough snow to meet the early demand for skiers. So technology steps in. And what about artificial snow making ? What are the environmental impacts of depending on such methods to create artificial winter sports environments ? A warmer, moister atmosphere will produce heavier, wetter snow, not the dry, fluffy ‘champagne powder’ prized by many recreational skiers. Artificial snow created with snow-making cannons is often icy, perfect for laying the base of lightning-fast competition runs but less favorable for the average skier. And temperatures that skirt the freezing mark increase the risk that precipitation will fall as rain, not snow, and will raise the density of the snowpack.

The fluffy blankets on the trails at the Loveland Colorado resort are largely produced by snow guns using water pumped from nearby streams. Environmentalists have been raising concerns for years, that the ski industry is becoming so reliant on water diverted for artificial snow that fish in rivers and streams might be endangered. “For most skiers, who tend to be environmentalists themselves, this hits a little close to home,” said Lewis Milford, a lawyer with the Conservation Law Foundation in Montpelier, Vt., a private environmental group. “When it comes to environmental damage, we tend to think of the traditional bad guys — mining, logging, ranching. But snow making takes a lot of water out of rivers and streams, in some cases depleting them to dangerously low levels. And this is something we’ve got to face up to.”

The Russians have spent the last year stockpiling snow for the Olympic venues. I can relate to the temperature shock that skiers, snowboarders and other athletes got when they arrived in Sochi, Russia, for the 22nd Olympic Winter Games. When we traveled from Missouri to Hawaii in Nov 2010, we experienced a similar effect. So, the athletes as they traveled into town from the airport, passed rows of palm trees, which thrive in the breezes blowing off the Black Sea. Only 40 km away, on the ski slopes of Rosa Khutor, the Sochi Olympic organizers have spent a year, manufacturing and stockpiling snow as a hedge, against the region’s mild climate.

A group of environmentalists filed suit in the Colorado Supreme Court in an effort to block a planned snow-making expansion by the Aspen Skiing Company at Snowmass. And ski operators in New England have also faced resistance from environmental groups. The growth in artificial snow has been fueled by fierce competition among resorts to provide the deep blankets demanded by customers and to stretch the ski season. The Loveland and Keystone ski areas in Colorado open now nearly two weeks before Halloween. A generation ago, ski resorts typically did not open until after Thanksgiving, often not until after Christmas, unless the mountains were hit with an early storm. Ski resorts in Colorado are now diverting three or four times the volume of water for snow making that they used a decade ago, said Hal Simpson, the director of the Division of Water Resources in Colorado. Even so, the volume of water used for making snow is tiny compared to the amount used for agriculture.

Brown Trout  in a Colorado stream

Brown Trout
in a Colorado stream

“There is an emerging and growing list of compounds [about which] we don’t know the affects”, according to Taylor McKinnon, public lands director for the Center for Biological Diversity. He says, “… we know that endocrine disruptors [in wastewater] will change fish sex ratios. This points to the need for additional research and more advanced water treatment.” Brown trout incubate in the gravel of stream beds and hatch in the spring. The danger of low water flows is that streams could freeze and then rip the fish eggs from the water bed. “It could lower the flow so much that the trout wouldn’t survive,” said Mr. Simpson, “especially since they make snow in the late fall, just when the streams are at the lowest.” But he said he did not believe that snow making had yet caused serious ecological damage.

The Arizona Snowbowl resort in the San Francisco Peaks north of Flagstaff AZ would be the first resort in the U.S. to use 100 percent treated wastewater to make snow, it’s a common practice in Europe and in parts of Australia. Experts believe that it does not make people sick nor does it result in contaminates reaching flora or fauna. There are concerns that the water may contain chemical inputs from pharmaceuticals and other potentially hazardous hard-to-trace sources. To avoid the battle over diverting water from streams and rivers, some ski resorts have turned to retention ponds, an alternative that has been praised by environmentalists. The Okemo Mountain Resort in Ludlow VT built a huge pond for snow making, a pool that covers eight acres and is up to 50 feet deep.

We don’t make snow (we make materials with recycled content – but we do care about climate change. The last time we skied was at Yellowstone National Park in Jan 2013; and they did not need to make snow. Our family enjoyed cross-country skiing there. Visitors to the park, at that time of year, are brought in groups of 10-12 people, in specialized equipment called Snowcoaches. Snowmobiles have limited access. Founded in 1872, the park takes care of the environment they are entrusted with protecting. For that concern, and the opportunity to ski on natural snow, we are exceedingly grateful.

Yellowstone Snowcoach

Yellowstone Snowcoach

~ Information Resources

“Winter Olympics: Downhill forecast” by Lauren Morello posted at on Feb 4, 2014 –

“The Battle Over Artificial Snow” by Dirk Johnson posted in The NY Times online on Nov 14, 1994 –

“Winter Olympics Inadvertently Adapting to Climate Change” by Brian Kahn posted at on Feb 7, 2014 –

“The Nasty Environmental Impact of Making Snow” posted at Outside online on Oct 11, 2012 –


Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer


The Greenest New Year Yet

2013 passing to 2014
It is that time of year, when once again we review the past year and consider what good was accomplished, and if anything was not to our liking and whether or not there is any way we can address that. At the same time, we turn our attention to the new year entering in and wonder what challenges and opportunities it will bring our way.

What are some of the eco-friendly material considerations that make sense today and looking forward ?

Recycled Steel is an excellent choice that saves trees and is more durable in the presence of high winds or earthquakes for building frames. Did you realize that a 2,000 sq ft house uses up to 50 trees in the framing ? The same building framed in recycled steel will use up the remains of approx 6 scrapped cars. In 2011, 2.2 million tons of scrap steel from cans were recycled. In construction and transportation products, there is a high recycling rate – 95% in regards to automobiles, for example. Over the past 50 years, more than 50% of the “new” steel produced has ultimately been recycled. In 2012, the overall steel “recycled” rate was 71%, compared to only 15% recycled back in 1988. Recycled steel requires 75% LESS energy in its manufacture than “virgin” or “new” steel would require, while reducing the solid, enduring load on landfills.

Bales of sorted, recycled metal

Bales of sorted, recycled metal

Another concept that is actually “growing old” (60 yrs) now is the idea of cast-in-place concrete walls that are sandwiched between two layers of insulation material. We have considered that for our own building plans regarding a subterranean shelter and feel that insulating the exterior of a concrete mass does indeed make energy efficient sense but are concerned that using the foam insulation on the interior side wastes the mass that could hold heat and cool over longer periods of time; and therefore, require less energy to bring up to a comfortable temperature.

To my thinking the whole consideration of concrete and insulation is an example of the kind of complex consideration that I really like to bring awareness to in this blog. Construction work with foam blocks filled with concrete is quick and easy in one sense but more time consuming in another. The work can only be accomplished in small bits, that must be allowed to cure, before another bit can be added in. Cold joints between these sections might prove an issue of concern over time.

In traditional concrete forming, it is true that plywood is utilized for forms but those forms are given the longest useful life that can be squeezed out of them. Meaning they are re-used over and over again. Personally, I have some concerns about embedding such inorganic materials as polystyrene into the environment, though that is not a total stopper for me. As to the insulation on the interior, it does complicate good, strong attachments for such additions as weight-bearing shelving. A plus for concrete is that is it is both re-usable and recyclable. There is no easy answer to whether the pluses or the minuses of concrete filled insulating materials determine a decision that remains both personal and still somewhat theoretical.

An exciting development is the plant-based (bamboo, hemp and kelp) polyurethane rigid foam developed by Malama Composites. This “new” material is finding its way into insulation, wind turbine blades, furniture and surfboards. This particular composition of foam has a high moisture and heat resistance, excellent acoustics and protects against mold and pests. It also has a higher R-value than fiberglass or polystyrene.

Fraunhofer Center, Boston

Fraunhofer Center, Boston

A living laboratory for R&D on advanced sustainable energy technologies is the Building Technology Showcase of the Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems headquarters in Boston’s fast-growing Innovation District. This was a deep energy retrofit of a 100-yr old bulding completed in 2013 combining cutting-edge design concepts and historic architecture.

Cathedral of the Holy Family Solar Stained Glass Panels

Cathedral of the Holy Family
Solar Stained Glass Panels

Solar energy remains an important development in green building decisions. My favorite is the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Saskatoon, Canada (the city has an average of 2381 hours of sunshine annually) who had 1,013 silver solar cells hand soldered into their stained glass windows – how’s that for marrying the new to the old ?

Like the sun, the wind is an ever present, non-depletable and sustainable resource for energy. Wind turbines are an increasingly common feature in our planet’s landscape. Another method of utilizing wind is to provide nature ventilations to buildings to increase breathability, an increasing concern with today’s modern, “tight” buildings. One of the most innovative is China’s Pearl River Tower that pushes air through wind turbines to power the building and reduce the natural wind impacts against its 71 stories.

Diagram of Wind Flow at Pearl River Tower

Diagram of Wind Flow
at Pearl River Tower

It is said that fresh, drinkable Water will become our planet’s most scarce resource in the coming years, so the recycling of water becomes ever more important. One way is to collect and recycle precipitation. One such application of rooftop tanks on the Bank of America Tower in New York captures up to 70,000 gallons of rain and filters that for use in cooling the building and flushing it’s toilets.

A lack of connection to Nature can have damaging effects on the human psyche, so more architects and designers build “green spaces” into their projects. These may take the form of living walls, or rooftop vegetation.

Green New 2014 Year

Wishing you the greenest new year yet . . . .

Information Sources –

Fraunhofer Bulding Technology Showcase –

Steel Recycling Institute –

EPA Resource Conservation – Steel category –

Cathedral of the Holy Family – Solar Stained Glass –

Huffington Post – “5 Secrets of Eco-Friendly Buildings” –

“How Stuff Works – 10 Cutting-edge, Energy-efficient Building Materials –


Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer