Going Green: A Fad to Some, a Life Style to Others
Albert Unrath is a professor for Millersville University and Lancaster’s Campus of Harrisburg Area Community College. He teaches Instructional Design and Development and has been developing learning technology tools for higher education for the last 10 years.
Another interesting fact about Albert: he has been an environmentalist for most of his life.
Most people assume that those who work in Information Technology (IT) are not environmentally conscious. But the opposite is true. Those in IT are actually very involved in the green movement.
Albert has been engaged in the green movement most of his life, with the help from Mother Earth News, the longest running sustainable lifestyle magazine that started in the 1970’s about living green. The magazine is where he can get tips on how to slash his heating bills, grow fresh, natural produce, fight rising energy costs, protect the environment, etc. He has altered his everyday life to fit the going green concept from his choice of transportation to the house he lives in. It took a lot of research and planning for Albert to live the way he does, but since he is so conscious about the carbon footprint he leaves behind, it’s worth the effort to him and, of course, the environment.
Electric Hybrid Folding Bike
One of Albert’s modes of transportation includes an eco-friendly electric hybrid folding bike, a portable electric bike that can easily fold for storage or transport. The electric bike is compact and portable, and is powered by a hub motor, which gets its power from a removable battery back (IZIP, 2009). Apart from the obvious accessories that set this bike apart from the rest, it basically looks like your standard, every day bike: handle bars, two wheels, pedals, the works. But it functions much differently than your average bike with the aid of an attached rechargeable battery-powered motor that can reach speeds of 15-20 miles per hour without pedaling (Gardner, 2001).
Additional attachments include a hub motor, battery pack and electric gears. Similar to an electric scooter, the bike is powered by a regenerative battery, allowing it to ride on its own, sans pedaling. The electric folding bike is more practical than an electric scooter, as you can continue putting power into the battery without hooking it back up to a charger. The battery can be charged overnight or have power put into it by coasting the bike or hitting the breaks. However much you peddle, an equal amount of power is put back into the battery. Fully charged, the electric hybrid folding bike has up to a 25 mile range running on just the battery, and can reach speeds up to 18 mph, although the continued high speeds cause the mileage to go down.
Electric bikes are a promising addition to sustainable transport, because they make cycling more viable for workers who face long communities, hilly terrain, or even hot weather. And as electric bikes are substituted for motorbikes or cars, they have the potential to make cities cleaner and quieter. (Gardner, 2001) "Light electric vehicles can save energy, cut congestion and spare the air, and have gained attention in the last decade for their positive environmental potential. (Alvord, 2004).”
Being that it is a folding bike, the compact and portable convenience of the bike is also appreciated by Albert, who, whenever possible, takes the train. It is easy to disassemble and reassemble, which was one of many things Albert took into consideration when shopping for this particular bike, among other things.
Albert and his electric hybrid folding bike.
Albert researched different bike companies for years before choosing this bike, which was manufactured from a company called Green Gear Cycling, Inc. Bike Friday is the name of the bicycle product line. The company’s motive is to help people get away from the stresses of modern society and to fill their lungs with clean, fresh air, and to keep a small footprint in the environment. Green Gear Cycling, Inc. is also trying to be a solution to waste and pollution instead of a problem through its choices of being green and sustainable (Bike Friday, 2009).
Albert has had this bike for a year and rides it as much as he possibly can. He is very satisfied with Green Gear Cycling, Inc. and their guiding principles. He wanted to make sure that the manufacturer’s ideas of going green matched his own.
Albert’s car of choice is a Jetta, a car that has clean diesel capabilities. “Its estimated highway fuel economy of 41 mpg greatly reduces greenhouse gas emissions, a rarified fuel economy number typically achieved by only the most efficient gasoline-electric hybrids.” Looking at it from an environmental perspective, he chose this car because diesel contains lower levels of petroleum, a non-renewable resource, and is characterized by the following:
- Low sulfur and aromatic content
- Good ignition quality
- The right cold weather properties
- Low content of pollutants
- The right density, viscosity and boiling point.
Diesel emissions also contain low concentrations of carbon monoxide and HC.
The Jetta contains a duel tank system, which also has the capability to “run on alternative, renewable fuels known as ‘bio diesel,’ which is made from renewable vegetable oils, recycled cooking greases, or animal fats. Vegetable oil is one of the renewable fuels, a potentially inexhaustible source of energy with an energetic content close to diesel fuel.” The vegetable oils can be used as alternative fuels for diesel engines, and include:
- Palm oil
- Soybean oil
- Sunflower oil
- Peanut oil
- Olive oil
- Rapeseed oil
The properties of bio diesel are close to diesel fuels, and is efficient, clean and a 100% natural energy alternative to petroleum fuels. The advantages of bio diesel fuel include:
- It can be used safely in all conventional diesel engines
- It offers the same performance and engine durability as petroleum diesel fuel
- It is non-flammable and non-toxic
- It reduces tailpipe emissions
- It produces no visible smoke or noxious fumes and odors.
Bio diesel is better than diesel fuel in terms of sulfur content, flash point, aromatic content, and biodegradability.”
When released back into the environment, bio diesel burns into a vegetable product, making it an environmentally friendly fuel. However, once it gets colder, the oil gets thicker and more difficult to run on vegetable oil, which is when Albert switches to diesel fuel. But on average, he can get 500 miles on a tank of bio diesel (vegetable oils). Albert has a supplier who provides him with the oil (otherwise the supplier would just be throwing it out), and is also working out the process of growing and generating his own oil for fuel.
Alberts fuel of choice for his Jetta, however, is a vegetable fuel system. Unlike bio diesel, the vegetable fuel system is not a chemically engineered fuel. Most of these fuel systems use filtered frying oil that is collected from local restaurants. Most restaurants are happy to give their oil away as the generally have to pay disposal fees.
According to the Greasecar fuel system on greasecar.com, the vehicles existing diesel tank and filter will supply diesel fuel to the engine at start up and shut down. After start up radiator fluid will transfer heat from the engine to the heat exchangers in the Greasecar fuel system. These heat exchangers will heat the vegetable oil in the fuel filter, lines and fuel tank. The heat will reduce the viscosity of vegetable oil so that it is similar to diesel and can be injected into the engine properly. When the vehicle is being shut down for a period long enough for the fuel to cool the vegetable oil must be purged from the fuel system and replaced with diesel for the next start up. Apart from being cost-effective in it's upkeep, there is no difference in fuel economy between diesel and vegetable oil. You will receive the high efficiency of a diesel engine on either fuel (diesel engines are generally 40% more efficient than their gasoline counter parts). Also, any type of vegetable oil can be used, including hydrogenated oils (as long as the oil is filtered and free from water).
1926 Model-T Ford
Albert also owns a 1926 Model-T Ford, which has a higher performance rate and primarily ran on alcohol fuels. Although Albert does not drive the Model-T very often, it still fits in with his environmentally friendly lifestyle. When the car was built, it was designed to run on gasoline. Because there weren’t as many gas stations during those times, people went to farms (often called “distillers”) to purchase Ethanol, which is a corn-based alcohol.
“Ethanol is a clear, colorless liquid with a characteristic, agreeable odor. Currently, ethanol is produced from sugar beets and molasses. Production of ethanol from biomass is one way to reduce both the consumption of crude oil and environmental pollution. Domestic production and use of ethanol for fuel can
- Decrease dependence on foreign oil
- Reduce trade deficits
- Reduce air pollution
- Reduce global climate change and carbon dioxide buildup”
Note: Regular alcohol would not work in fueling the Model-T Ford. The proofing and makeup for ethanol is much different than regularly distilled alcohol.
Green House Designer
Albert doesn’t just choose to live green; he also chooses to live in green. Years ago, he built a house for his parents that he refers to as a “recycled home.” He took an old bungalow home, which is described as a compact and economical house, and rebuilt it. Instead of using all materials, he simply built onto it and reused old materials therefore reducing what went into the waste stream.
Creating new a new home out of an old or abandoned home they way Albert and his parents did is considered to be one of the most sustainable ways of making habitation. It is the ultimate form of recycling, where most of the basic components of a house are utilized intact instead of being tossed into a landfill or burned. There is a tremendous savings in the embodied energy of the house (in both materials and labor), so that all that needs to be done is to repair and polish the original home to create a whole new life for it.
“Green homes link sustainable materials and practices with better human and environmental health. First, energy efficiency has to be above minimal code requirements for your climate. The second component has to do with improved water and resource efficiency, and the third concerns indoor air quality.”
The house bares a standing seam metal roof, which lasts 50-100 years, and can also be seen on old farms and barns. Instead of shingles, the roof is made of steel. This type of roof is known to be a water barrier, durable, and sloped for ice and water to drain easily. Most importantly, it is energy efficient due to its insulation. Albert’s long-term goal is to add solar and wind-powered panels.
The walls of the house contain 7-9 inches of blue jean insulation, which is recycled denim as well as a cotton product. Compared to regular insulation, cotton denim has the following qualities:
• It does not contain fiberglass
• It is not harmful in any way
• It is a renewable source
• It is fire resistant
• It is energy efficient
By optimizing insulation, this green design saves on oil and gas bills. Blue jean insulation is efficient in reducing energy needs, as it keeps the house well insulated with heating and cooling. The house also includes triple pane glass windows. The extra window pane increases the insulation factor for the window, which in turn helps improve the heating and cooling efficiency of the home. Combined, blue jean insulation and triple pane glass windows work together well in reducing energy needs, and further branding the house as eco-friendly.
Albert also reclaims all rainwater that collects on the roof to use for irrigation and other non drinking uses. All of the water goes down into a tank to be reused, where he is able to use the reclaimed water to water his plants, flush his toilets, and wash his clothes (2009). This conservation of water only fits more into Albert’s environmentalist lifestyle.
Among his green initiatives, Albert also has a garden where he grows his own vegetables through hydroponics. Hydroponics is a system where plants are grown without soil, but instead with water that has been enriched with mineral elements (Hydroponics, 2009). So instead of the plant searching for nutrients like it does in soil, the nutrients are all provided for the plant.
Hydroponically grown plants are no different than those grown in soil. The plants still need everything that a plant grown in soil needs (except soil). During the process, the plant roots are moistened with the nutrient solution containing the elements they need. Ultimately, this means that there are more nutrients available faster (Hydroponics, 2009). This process is highly productive, conservative of water and land, and protective of the environment, and requires only basic agriculture skills.
Albert is also experimenting with aquaponics. Unlike hydroponics, aquaponics does not need added enriched elements. The process is a natural cycle of raising fish (also called "aqua culture") with the plants. Fish waste contains nitrogen, which is what helps the plants to grow successfully. The cycle works as such: Worms are placed in the soil, the fish eat the worms, the worms produce waste, and the waste produces nitrogen for the plants, which in turn help the worms to live and grow, continuing the cycle. It is a very cost-effective, natural system which produces vegetables and protein. The idea of this process is to build and maintain a system that is microcosm of what occurs in nature.
Albert tries to grow as much of his own food as he can. He does so to cut down on driving to and from the grocery store. When he does need to purchase his food, he buys fresh food locally. It's all a matter of how much he can grow on his own, which motivates him to do as much as he can on his own to help contribute to the environment. He also changed a large portion of his lawn into flower beds to save him from using his lawn mower. As a matter of fact, he is in the process of building an electric lawnmower that would be battery-powered instead of gasoline-powered, all in the name of minimizing his carbon footprint.
Instructor and Naturalist
Albert gives back to the community by contributing his time as an instructor for the high and low ropes at the Lancaster County Parks, and supports their mission of “improving the well being of County residents by providing facilities and programs that encourage participation in outdoor activities and foster personal action for the conservation of natural resources.” The Ropes climb program can help address the following characteristics in groups that participate:
Team building skills
Albert is also considered a naturalist because of his wide range of knowledge about nature. Naturalists have backgrounds in biology, ecology, education, and geology. They are experienced educators who excel at introducing children and adults to the natural world. They also offer programs year round on a variety of topics, including:
- Outdoor Survival
• Albert’s ultimate goal is to reduce his carbon footprint in the environment. So far he is succeeding by living a green lifestyle through his vehicles, home and even agriculture. A carbon footprint is the sum of all emissions of CO2 (carbon dioxide), which were induced by individual activities in a given time frame. In other words: Driving a car burns fuel with creates a certain amount of CO2 depending on the type of fuel and distance. Heating a house with oil, gas or coal also generates CO2. Even a house heated with electricity generates a certain amount of CO2. The production of food and goods also emits some quantities of CO2.
A few other initiatives that Albert is involved in to reduce his carbon footprint include:
• Keeping his temperature set at 55 degrees and using an extra blanket during the night
• Making a meal once on that stove that can continued to be used as a cold meal the rest of the week (i.e. cooking noodles and later using the cold noodles in a salad)
• Reusing the water after washing dishes to water his plants
• Using environmentally friendly cleaning products
• Turning off every light that he is not using
• Hooking his electrical appliances up to a switch that he can power down when he leaves the room or house
• Preventing heat and electricity from running into rooms that he does not use often
With all of this in mind, Albert is doing everything he can do minimize his individual emission of CO2. He has made going green a lifestyle, and also helps others to understand this concept through his position as a naturalist, as well. In his opinion, going green is a series of conscious decisions in living. He is not changing who he is by choosing to live green, he is merely being conscious of doing his part in minimizing waste materials by altering simple, everyday activities. But it doesn’t stop there: Albert has many future plans that will aid him in his endeavor to reduce his carbon footprint. He is not only living green for the present, but living green for the future.