Sunday, April 11, 2010

The 2010 Chicago Auto Show Revs Up the Green

by Eli Chen

To some, cars all about the speed, the style, the roar of the engines, and the way one feels cruising inside of their dream vehicle—to us environmentalists, it’s about the mileage, the carbon emissions, and the alternative fuels. The 2010 Annual Chicago Auto Show lit up McCormick Place with the latest masterpieces of the worldwide auto industry. As the transportation sector becomes more notorious for being a top contributor of greenhouse gas pollution, car companies are flaunting their green, from Audi’s clean diesel vehicles to Hyundai’s electric Blue Will. Toyota’s massive art panels involved wind turbines, and their improvement on the Prius, the FT-CH concept car, was placed on a revolving platform. Honda also went all out with their eco-friendly cars by not only displaying sporty hybrid cars like the CR-Z, but also the hydrogen fuel cell-powered FCX Clarity. Lexus also presents us with the HS which demonstrates the fuel efficiency of 34 mpg and has a bioplastic interior. But the Asian companies aren’t the only ones reveling in their eco-tech glory: the Best Green Car of the show turned out to be the electric Chevrolet Volt. Chevrolet, most noticeably among the American makes, displayed a varied effort to promote fuel-efficiency, through making electric cars like the Volt and “FlexFuel,” or ethanol 85-compatible, vehicles like the Silverado. Though not every car make had the environment on its agenda—for instance, the flashy Viper’s and Ferrari’s—the push for alternative fuels is hard to ignore with this year’s show. The clear initiative for greener ways to drive shows a lot of promise down the road.

Photos from the Chicago Auto Show

Sunday, February 14, 2010

JOIN US FEBRUARY 26th at the Canopy Club


Consider using the zip car service on campus!

Zipcar was founded in 1999 and is now the world's largest membership-based car sharing company. There are over 325,000 members and a presence across more than 13 big cities and 140 universities.

The car sharing takes place on a pay-per-use system, which has the effect of significantly altering driving behavior. Evidence suggests that sharers drive from a quarter to half as much as owners. Not only do they drive less frequently, but they also drive differently by "chaining" trips, making multiple stops along the shortest route in order to ensure efficiency.

Each Zipcar is estimated to remove 15-20 cars off the road. We estimate that our cars have replaced 100,000 others resulting in savings of more than 16 million gallons of gasoline and 150 million pounds of CO2 annually.

Another very important statistic is that members of Zipcar and car sharing programs report a 47% increase in public transit trips, a 10% increase in bicycling trips and a 26% increase in walking trips.
What this company is trying to do has effects beyond just sharing cars, it's a real effort to change the way we think and function.

Currently for UIUC students, the fee for a Zipcar membership is $35 annually. With this comes an instant $35 in driving credits, making the membership essentially free. If you have seen the website, you may have noted how simple it is to reserve a car and see what is available to you here on campus. The reservations costs $8 an hour on weekdays and $9 on the weekend but are capped at $66 for weekdays and $72 on weekends (meaning you'll never pay more than that for a day). You may travel up to 180 miles per 24 hours of your reservation and the best part is that gas and insurance are included!

For more information, please visit the their website:

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Climate Conference: Copenhagen, 2009

by Kimberly Leifker

As Americans, we have been taught to look for temporary solutions to long-term goals. In light of the Global Climate Change Conference happening in Copenhagen, I must point to this simple fact immediately. We are skeptical of the term gas emission, fuel sources, sustainability, and going green. These have all become a trend, as though the latest canvas bag is just another fashion statement. I think we fail to recognize the underlining issues of this new trend. And I do not believe that we have looked ahead. Just because the effects created by our carbon emissions, our heaping wastelands of un-recycled goods, and careless use of food, water, and electricity are not immediately visible in our daily lives this does not mean that it is not there. And just because we do not experience the effects firsthand as of yet, or because we are skeptical of this immediate and grave danger, this does not mean that we should leave this planet knowing that we did not even attempt to. Our acknowledgment and attendance to environmental issues is imperative right NOW. The money we will be spending and the efforts we will be making will cost less money now to take care of, then later when the significant damage has already been done.

The conference in Copenhagen is significant for many reasons. Not only are we attempting to make progress in reducing carbon emissions, but we are recognizing the immediacy of the environmental situation we have on our hands. The conference in Copenhagen has the potential to change history. In 2005, many countries joined an international treaty pledging to reduce global warming. Recently, a several nations approved an addition to the Kyoto Protocol which is more legally binding ( As we know, the Bush administration failed to sign the Kyoto Protocol in 2005. President Obama speaks openly about the U.S.'s commitment to reduce emissions and to act quickly and seriously in regards to the climate crisis. Congress has been working to shell out legislation regarding climate change and the control of emissions. Industrialized countries need to recognize the significance of reaching an agreement. They must recognize their impact on the environmental and the impact that it will have on island nations when the sea levels begin to rise. Substantial numbers of people will be displaced. More time, energy, and money will have to be spent on picking up the pieces and we will have only ourselves to blame.

While we cannot erase the damage that has already been done due to the massive amounts of emissions we have put forth to the atmosphere already, this conference has the ability to reduce the amount in the future. These laws and agreements must be enacted immediately so that the damage will not be worse. The transformations that will take place will be unbelievable and we are not prepared for their effects. Our trend in going green cannot be just a fashion statement or a fad. It must be permanent and it must not be limited to canvas bags in a grocery store. Our individual actions have real consequences on the environment. If we do not recognize these consequences immediately and begin to advocate for change in areas of waste, emissions, and fuel usage we will be in grave danger. And no short term plan and solution will ever be able to save us.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Environmental Benefits of Veganism

By Kimberly Leifker

Veganism is the refusal to consume, use, or wear animal meat and products. This assortment includes eggs, cheese, butter, and honey. The lifestyle offers a variety of benefits to health. It is often adopted by for ethical or moral reasons. The vegan lifestyle offers many health benefits like decrease in cholesterol and heart disease, as well as weight loss. Not only is veganism healthy for your body, however, it is also particularly beneficial to the environment.

The vegan diet contains a revised food pyramid that includes four specific groupings. The largest group consists of whole grains: whole grain bread, cereal, pasta and rice. The next groups are fruit and vegetables. These groups are meant to be eaten generously and are most beneficial in receiving important vitamins and minerals like calcium and vitamin C. Legumes, nuts and seeds, and meat alternatives (like tofu) should be eaten moderately along with soy milk and yogurt or fake cheese. Lastly, fats, salt, and oils are meant to be used sparingly. The vegan diet is not actually lacking in necessary vitamins and minerals. Many dark vegetables like broccoli contain more calcium than would an item such as milk.

According to, the average American consumes nearly twice their weight in meat each year. In addition, eating vegan greatly reduces the wastes, pollution, and deforestation caused by the mass raising of animals. The amount of resources, water, and energy needed to raise and maintain the livestock used for our food supply is great. Veganism reduces the amount of resources needed for food consumption because crops used to feed cows could be used to feed ourselves. In other words, we cut out the middle man. Cows need water, crops, and land--water and crops that could be used to feed people instead. Thinkquest states that, “in simplified terms, the beef in a hamburger represents enough wheat to produce five loaves of bread.” The amount of grain needed to feed the cow could produce five loaves of bread for a human to consume. Another environmental concern with a non-vegan lifestyle includes amount of CO2 released when transporting livestock. A study done by the University of Chicago Geophysics Department found that a vegan diet reduces CO2 emissions by 1,485 kg per a year (Eshel, G., and P.A. Martin, 2006).

So, perhaps eating vegan is just not viable for some people. After all, it does take careful planning to ensure that all vitamins and nutrients are consumed. However, if each American reduced their consumption of meat by just about one less dish of meat per week, enough grain would be saved to feed 225 million people--the amount that is estimated to go hungry in the United States each day (think Choosing to eat vegan, vegetarian, or simply reducing meat intake are all options that prove beneficial for the environment. Veganism and vegetarianism reduce the amount of CO2 emissions, the amount of land, water, and resources available fo

r human benefit, and reduces pollution and waste.

Some vegan recipes:

Black Bean Burgers

1 (16 ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed

½ onion, diced

3 cloves garlic (or simply use garlic powder)

2 slices of whole wheat bread

¼ t. salt

7-9 saltine crackers

Rinse and drain can of black beans. Heat them until soft. Mash them together. Crumble bread and stir into the beans. Add ½ onion, cloves of garlic (chopped), and ¼ t. of salt. Form patties out of the mashed beans. Roll them in the crushed saltine crackers to form a sort of crust. Grill or pan fry the burgers and serve as you would a regular hamburger.

Vegan pizza


1 pkg of yeast

1 ¼ c. water

2 t. sugar

3 c. flour

1 ½ t. salt (to taste)

1 T. olive oil

Mix ingredients. Let sit for 30-45 minutes. Bake for 10-15 minutes at 375F.


1 lb. fresh mushroom (or) 2 cans

3-4 cloves of garlic

1 can olives

1 yellow pepper

½ can of spaghetti or pizza sauce

When crust has cooked for 10-15 minutes remove from oven. Spread half the jar of spaghetti or pizza sauce over the top. Chop mushrooms, garlic, olives, and pepper. Sprinkle evenly over the surface of the pizza. Place in the oven for about 15-20 minutes at 375F. Other variations of vegetables can be used as well. Some delicious toppings include: artichoke hearts, red, yellow or green peppers, and pineapple. Also, switch up the sauce by using BBQ sauce instead of pizza sauce. Pizza is a great way to get creative on a vegetarian or vegan diet!

Look for more recipes in our next issue! And in the meantime, if you are interested in more vegan recipes visit this food blog.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Hemp Hemp Hooray

Darlene Naolhu

It’s interesting to say that one of the most controversial plants in society can help play a massive role in the agricultural and industrial world and possibly assist in preventing ecocide as we know it. Cannabis sativa L also known as hemp, is a world-wide common herb known for its array of varietal uses and its potential role in the ‘Green Future’. However, because of its ties to the abused illicit psychoactive drug and counterpart, marijuana, the United States government has made it almost impossible to obtain a license to grow hemp for industrial use.

For the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, student organization, Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), is continuing its fight for awareness and change of the current federal laws placed on the notorious plant. As an organization that publicizes the war on drugs and general issues concerning incarceration and higher education of drugs, members of SSDP also find that informing the public of industrial hemp legalization is essential for the future.

“We have discussed and informed the advantages of legalizing hemp to our members and believe that Cannabis, both hemp and marijuana, are important for a more sustainable country,” said Ashley Barys, a former president of SSDP at Illinois State University and a present member at U of I.

SSDP is hoping to spread awareness by participating in this year’s 2009 Global Marijuana March in May to support Cannabis legalization and help inform the public of the benefits of industrial hemp and medical marijuana. As of now, many of the world’s natural resources are in decline as a result of human activities. Many fear that the world may face ecocide without intervention.

According to Barys, industrial hemp can be used to make a variety of different products such as paper, fiber, oil, and fuel and take the place of many natural resources that are rapidly being degraded.

“It’s would play a key role in saving our environment, but it can also save our economy and educational institutions. Legalizing hemp can allow new research, generate new revenues and create more jobs for agriculture majors. At the same time, we get the benefits of saving the ecosystem,” said Christopher Meyer, a member of SSDP and a huge supporter of industrial hemp legalization.

Because the United States is the only industrialized country that does not cultivate hemp, it has to rely on importing hemp products into the country while spending more money than necessary.

“It’s a shame that a plant that has been grown for hundreds of years and can effectively help our country’s resources, has been banned because the government and public are poorly informed,” said Barys. Both Meyers and Barys believe that informing the public about the advantages of Cannabis can help undo the misinterpretations that have been previously made.

Current laws in the U.S. only allow eight states –Kentucky, Maine, Hawaii, Maryland, Vermont, North Dakota, West Virginia, and Montana to grow hemp for industrial purposes and research. Obtaining a permit to be able to grow hemp is extremely hard and Federal Government control is strict. The controversy lies in allowing American farmers the freedom to grow hemp freely without particular government restrictions.

On April 2nd, Congressmen Ron Paul of Texas and Barney Frank of Massachusetts introduced the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2009 bill also known as H.R. 1866 to the U.S. House in hopes of finding a way to reduce reliance on natural resources and push forward to pursuing a more sustainable country.

“We’re really hoping that this time it goes through. It would be one step closer to our goals and working towards a self-sustainable country,” said Barys.

For the Love of Environmentally Friendly Products

Kimberly Leifker

Consumers looking for environmentally friendly products are beginning to have an easier go at finding them these days. New products that are better for the environment and easy on the wallet are not far and few between any longer. Companies like ThinkGeek and EcoGeekLiving are marketing sun jars which have been referred to as the evironmentally friendly night light. The concept of sun jars is ultimately as follows: a solar powered garden light usually resides on the inside (the light source), the jar is frosted and the light sits on the inside. The solar panel charges the battery during the day and then during the night is uses that charged energy into light. Instead of using a night light, this jar could be used a soft-light alternative. Several reviewers were unhappy with the amount of time the jar would stay lit during the night. This could be a potential problem, but they are handy for at least a few hours of light during the evening. In addition, they would be great for mood lights or enhancers, especially if therer were more than one used to light up a room.

While this little jars of light are quite the innovation, they can be quite costly. The jars range anywhere from $25.00 to $45.00. In order to bypass the cost, there are numerous websites that offer helpful tips and step-by-step product assembly so you do not have to break your wallet to contribute a healthy environement. Do-It-Yourself activities have become a fun and creative activity, as well as a method for saving money. Websites like and offer step by step instruction for creating your own little ray of sunshine.

Another product that has hit the market full force are reusable cloth sandwich bags. Websites like and offer a wide variety of colors and patterns. This product is available in do-it-yourself forums as well. However, if one were to calculate the amount of money spent on plastic sandwich bags in a given year, the cost of a set of 3 sandwich bags is quite reasonable.

Picture one:

Picture two: with sandwich

Picture three: sun jars night/day
Picture four: sun jar plain

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Algae Biofuels

Kimberly Hawthorne

In his lab, Lance Schideman holds a small vial upside-down over a dish, waiting for the thick black substance to creep out. As soon as it does, the area immediately smells of crude oil. It’s hard to believe that this oil has not been drilled from the earth, but was actually produced from algae.

Algae biofuels not only provide a source of alternative fuel, but can also alleviate other environmental problems. Schideman, assistant professor of agricultural and biological engineering at the University of Illinois, is currently involved in several research projects that incorporate algae biofuels with environmental issues.

“We are really trying to marry up environmental benefits with energy production,” Schideman said. “For too long these two things have competed.”

In one research project, Schideman and a team that includes engineering students are planning to use emissions from Abbott Power Plant, located on First Street in Champaign, to grow algae. “The idea is to show that we can sequester carbon dioxide into algae and subsequently convert algae into biofuels,” he said.

The project received funding in January from the Campus Sustainability Committee. Algae cultures are currently being grown in dozens of flasks in Schideman’s lab. In the next few weeks, reactors will be installed at the power plant and algae growth can begin.

Because it is a demonstration project, an “insignificant quantity” of carbon dioxide will be diverted from the power plant’s system to grow algae, Schideman said. After the project proves its viability, a larger scale project is possible, but would require a massive land area to consume all of the carbon dioxide emissions, he added.

While it is not the first of its kind, the algae sequestration project at Abbott Power Plant is unique in that the algae will be nourished by wastewater. According to Manfredo Seufferheld, assistant professor in the department of natural resources and environmental sciences at the University, the necessary nutrients for algae growth are usually provided through fertilizers, which can add a significant cost to the process.

Seufferheld’s research focuses on growing algae under stress, which causes the cells to produce more oil but also stunts their growth. Despite a decreased growth rate, algae can grow in areas where other organisms cannot, such as salty groundwater and wastewater, he said.

Since last August, Schideman has been researching methods to grow algae on animal wastewaters. The project, funded by the Dudley Smith Initiative, treats wastewater by allowing algae to grow on it and remove its nutrients. The resulting algal biomass is then converted into fuel.

“We have an environmental benefit in that we eat up the nutrients from the animal waste and don’t discharge them into the environment and, at the same time, we have a fuel benefit,” Schideman said.

According to Seufferheld, untreated wastewaters are problematic when dumped into rivers and lakes, creating algae breeding grounds. Too much algae can degrade an ecosystem by disrupting its oxygen cycle, he said.

This is occurring in the Gulf of Mexico, where it is believed that algae are nourished by agricultural fertilizer run-off in the Mississippi River. When the algae blooms die, bacteria consume them and the ecosystem’s oxygen, Schideman said.

In another project funded by the Office of Research in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, Schideman is investigating ways to harvest the Gulf’s algae for biofuel production. Harvesting it would cause more immediate effects on the aquatic ecosystem than other solutions to the fertilizer problem, which include wetland construction along the Mississippi River and a reduction in fertilizer use.

Algae’s ability to flourish in marginal environments presents a major advantage to its use as a biofuel source. According to Seufferheld, growing algae in otherwise useless areas rather than on farmland may relieve some of the controversies in the food versus fuel debate, which is a major concern with crop biofuels.

Compared with using crops for fuel, algae is much more efficient. “Algae will fall in the range of 1,000 to 10,000 gallons per acre, depending on which strain you use and how much you’re willing to project lab conditions into full-scale field conditions,” Schideman said. “Full-scale field trials right now are operating in the range of 2,000 to 2,500 gallons per acre.” Corn only produces 300 to 500 gallons of ethanol per acre, he added.

The idea of algal biofuels may seem outrageous, but is actually gaining popularity: according to both Seufferheld and Schideman, commercial airline jets have successfully been flown using algae biofuels. They are also compatible with today’s cars.

“It’s a promising area that we can use to solve this problem of marginal lands,” Seufferheld said, adding that although algae biofuels are not the “magic cure” to our petroleum issue, they may become a very important source of alternative fuel. However, they are still expensive to produce due to costs associated with harvesting and oil extraction, he said.

Schideman hopes to see cost-efficient technologies for algae biofuels in ten years, but predicts that it will take 30 to 50 years for infrastructure and regulations to catch up with science. In the meantime, he plans to offer tours of the sequestration project at Abbott Power Plant during the fall semester.

Here's an op-ed on Energy Billing from the YMCA's own Suhail Barot

Over the course of its existence, the University has planned, designed, built and operated its facilities with one very large assumption - that energy is free. In other words in the past there has been no incentive to control consumption. This, fortunately is quickly changing. As we approach the end of another academic year, the university is preparing to implement a program of individual billing for energy consumption at the college level. The change is scheduled to begin on 1st July. This has far reaching implications for our campus, from services, administration, and operations to residential and academic programs.

Historically, the University has paid the freight on our energy bills at the campus level from one administrative account. This has meant that no single entity had any incentive to conserve or even think about its energy consumption, excepting highly motivated individuals who acted out of the goodness of their hearts. But a dependency on altruism is precarious – i.e. it doesn’t work. From 2003 to 2008, our campus energy bills increased nearly 270%. This dramatic increase in our energy costs has burdened our campus with about $90 million dollars in debt. Because of recent concurrent increases in per unit energy costs it is somewhat problematic to pin the jump only on a lack of effort in conservation, but the facts remains – we have had no conservation program and per unit cost increases are modest compared to the 270% growth rate. Comparatively, our use of energy is third highest amongst all Big 10 campuses. Last year, we spent $70 million dollars on energy, releasing over half a million tons of CO2.

The current plan for encouraging conservation includes metering usage and ceding control of energy budgets to colleges (and eventually departments). Some may argue that colleges should not be in the business of managing their facilities, that their expertise lies elsewhere – i.e. educating the next crop of world leaders. In our opinion, we must get a handle on energy consumption by any means possible, and this is a step in the right direction. It distributes critical information on how and what is being used back to the users and if processed correctly, can create incentive for conservation by allowing the colleges to keep any monetary savings generated. But clearly, the success of such a program depends entirely on the incentive structure.

For example, during his visit last week Amory Lovins, Director of the Rocky Mountain Institute and a critical thinker on energy issues described a school district in New Orleans, where such a program was initiated. Within a year of starting the program, they had generated $50,000 in savings for one of their schools. A new superintendent however, questioned an incentive structure of that paid students for ‘something they should be doing anyways‘ and canceled the program. With the incentive removed the savings soon disappeared.

One excellent result of the billing program discussion has been that many campus units have been seeking out alternative ways to raise capital for energy conserving projects. This has lead to a discussion on the efficacy of utilizing student sustainability and energy fees to reduce energy consumption and costs through the establishment of a revolving loan program where student monies would fund projects but be ‘paid back’ with the energy savings the projects produce. The idea is modeled after Harvard’s Green Campus Loan Fund that has loaned out around $11.5 Million and generated over $4 Million in energy cost savings to date. The student Sustainability Committee – the organization that oversees the distribution of student energy and sustainability fees, is in the process of developing a pilot program involving three potential sites: Campus Rec, the College of LAS and the Department of Animal Sciences. Each project would receive an energy loan form the students with the promise to return the investment over time as savings in energy accrue. After the initial capital is returned the entity keeps all future savings. With many energy projects currently able to pay back in less than 2 years, this idea has generated much interest. In our opinion, the campus should consider a similar model using the energy component of the Deferred Maintenance funding pool, much of which is derived from the student paid AFMFA fee.

The campus, instead of building on student innovation and expanding such a much needed program, has repeatedly attempted to thwart it. From using artificially low utility rates (the campus uses 0.075 per kwh, while the cost of commercial power is closer to 0.100 per kwh) to increase payback times, to engaging proposals for the campus to keep ½ of any savings generated (thereby reducing probable activity by at least ½), to openly opposing student involvement, the campus seems bent on placing barriers to success.

These barriers reduce the incentive to act. It is well known that one of the only ways to get people to pay attention to energy conservation is to increase its costs. If for example, half the savings that units achieve is held back, it changes a three year payback project that’s a no-brainer into a 6 year payback project that is much more difficult to finance. Similarly when utilities rates are low, pay backs increase. In fact, the most effective way to obtain additional revenue would be to impose a surcharge on the utility rates, or charge units at market rates further increasing the motivation to reduce energy use.

As we noted, its all about incentives. We know that many budget priorities exist. But energy conservation represents one of the best investments available. Returns can exceed 25% on simple energy conservation investments (we challenge the UI Foundation to match its potential!). The campus needs money to pay down the utilities deficit. But this should not come at the expense of reducing conservation projects. The colleges and departments weren’t responsible for the current energy budget deficit and our collective message should be, “Hands off our Savings!.”

In the spirit of Earth Week, we ask all students and faculty to contact our college deans and Provost Katehi ( to implore them to guard our ability to act on these issues, by building on student programs, and retaining incentives to act on energy issues and to make sure that energy costs and savings are fairly distributed and returned.