Everyday Sustainability (Infographic)

Saving the earth may seem like an uphill battle at times, but little changes in your lifestyle can have a huge impact in terms of keeping Mother Earth healthy and happy.

If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, here’s a helpful little infographic to get you started. We want to hear your input, STEM lovers. What are you doing to go green?

Sustainability Highlight: Portland, OR

From conserving our planet’s resources to improving energy efficiency, there are many ways to live a greener lifestyle, and no city does this better than Portland, OR. This week, one of our staff members, Justina, took a trip to beautiful Portland to look into how ol’ Stumptown does sustainability with such ease. She took a closer look at the different types of initiatives that the city has taken to secure their spot on numerous top sustainable cities lists over the years.

Betting on Biking

How does biking help the environment?

Those who choose to bike are preventing the release of unnecessary carbon monoxide car emissions into the air. In addition to helping prevent air pollution, which can impact the respiratory health of the general population, biking has the added benefit of not being a contributing factor to global warming.

With 319 miles of bike ways currently on the ground, and another 50 miles slotted for installment within the next few years, the Rose City proves their dedication to sustainable living by providing easy, safe conditions for bicyclists to ride. Those bike paths certainly aren’t going to waste either. 6% of commuters in Portland choose to ride a bike instead of driving, which approximates to over 17,000 people who choose to bike to work. This percentage is significantly higher than anywhere else in the country. In fact, the national average for those who choose to ride to work is a mere 0.5%. Portland is so bike friendly that it was, in fact, named a “platinum” bike friendly community by the League of American Bicyclists and Bicycling magazine ranked it the #1 bike friendly city.

Traveling with TriMet

How does public transportation help the environment?

Besides alleviating traffic congestion that is often rampant in large cities, public transportation also takes the pressure off from air pollution and green house gas emissions.

TriMet, the public transportation system that includes the light rail system, as well as buses and streetcars, plays a major role in Portland’s green reputation. The extensive light rail systems were built using many recycled materials, and the TriMet places a huge emphasis on conserving fuel and reducing daily emissions. Naturescaping principles were also used in the landscaping in order to select plants that would thrive in an urban environment, and simultaneously use less water, pesticides and fertilizer.

Big Impact with Compact Trash

Solar Trash Compactor

How do trash compactors help the environment?

Solar trash compactors, like the ones found scattered throughout Portland, are completely self-powered, and by using an alternative energy source like the sun, energy efficiency improves drastically. In large cities where trash accumulates at a rapid pace, the compactors help compress the volume of trash to save on costs for garbage collection. Compacting the trash allows for fewer necessary garbage collection trips, which equates to less time that large garbage trucks are on the road, spewing out those green house gases.

Earth-Friendly Electric

How do electric vehicles (EV) help the environment?

From saving money on gas and reducing independence on imported oil, to preventing volatile compounds (VOCs) from being emitted into the atmosphere, we can all agree that EV take advantage of an amazing alternative car fuel source.

For those who choose to opt out of bicycling or public transportation in order to get around town, the Rose City has created incentives to sway people to buy and drive electric cars by providing free access to EV charging stations throughout the city.

If owning an EV isn’t your style, don’t fret! You can still be earth conscious by opting to participate in the various car share programs that are available and popular in Portland, like ZipCar or Car2Go, which ultimately relieves traffic congestion by taking more cars off the road.

Fresh & Local

How does buying local help the environment?

Portland has fantastic food, so it’s no surprise that it’s been lovingly nicknamed “foodie heaven”. Perhaps their restaurants’ impressive overall quality of food has something to do with the fact that a large number of Portland restaurants opt to use local ingredients. Portland is also known for it’s plethora of talented artisans who make and sell their own homemade or handmade products.

Besides supporting the local economy, choosing to buy local products lightens the load on air pollution caused by shipping and transporting products across the country or globe. The U.S. transports and ships $2.2 trillion worth of international goods every year, or the equivalent of 11 billion gallons of fuel and 1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide. Thus, industrial pollution makes up almost 50% of all pollution in the United States. By picking local products, you’re helping cut down on processing, packaging and transportation waste.

Okay STEM lovers, what did we miss? Any STEM Works fans in Portland? Leave your comment below!

World Water Week Awareness

This week is World Water Week. Let’s take this opportunity to inspire change and bring awareness to the world’s water problems!

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge + Water Challenge

As the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge took the Internet by storm over the summer, water has certainly had its fair share of time in the spotlight. The stunt has already raised over $100.6 million for ALS research, so it’s a fair assumption that A LOT of water was used to pull these challenges off! In fact, it’s been estimated that over 6 million gallons of fresh water have been used to pull these ice bucket challenges off.

The Ice Bucket Challenge has brought some much needed attention to Lou Gehrig’s Disease and research, but it’s also a great segue to bring awareness to the fact that over 780 million people in the world have no access to clean water. If you enjoy the Ice Bucket Challenge, take a look at the Water Challenge, which helps fund water projects at schools and community centers in Africa. It’s a simple concept of “drink water to give water”!

Study STEM: Water Innovation

Scientists around the world are looking to bring clean water to those in need by coming up with innovative ways to purify water, like a direct-contact membrane distillation (DCMD) system, which removes the salt out of otherwise undrinkable ocean water; or a Midomo machine, which holds and filters water while the machine is rolled. The machine’s innovation is based on the fact that the daily average distance a person in Africa travels for water is 3.7 miles.

Working on the Water Crisis in America

The lack of available water impacts millions around the world, but we don’t have to look far to see the effects of the water crisis in America. California is currently in a declared state of emergency as it faces its third consecutive year in one of its worst dry spells in the past century. California is no stranger to wildfires, but the current conditions have resulted in about 1,000 wildfires more than usual in the past year alone. Experts estimate that California’s agricultural industry will face over $2.2 billion in losses as a result of the drought. Although California lawmakers have already established fines for wasting water, there is a critical need for us to be proactive about water conservation. Luckily, small adjustments in daily water use patterns can make a huge difference. Inspirations for over 100 different ways to conserve H2O are available here.

Alright fellow STEM lovers, what are you doing to save water? Do you have any additional tips? Comment below.




STEM Industries: Bionic Technology

Technology is an integral part of STEM, with far-reaching applications that includes playing a vital part in modern medicine. From limbs to organs, innovation in the field of bionic technology bodes well for the future of healthcare, particularly for people who are forced to live with deformities or debilitating disease. Human prosthetics have been in play for hundreds of years, with evidence of usage that dates back all the way to 1500 B.C. Luckily, the days of peg legs and hand hooks are long gone. The sophistication and function of bionic technology has now developed into a multi-billion dollar industry, and there is plenty of room to grow as new discoveries are made.

Limbs of Life

Source: Shariff Che'Lah | Dollar Photo Club

Source: Shariff Che’Lah | Dollar Photo Club

Prosthetic limbs are a godsend for those who live with physical birth deformities, or those who have been forced to undergo amputation as a result of tumors, infections or accidents. New bionic technology allows amputees to regain mobility while promoting self-esteem and independence at the same time. A new FDA approved bionic arm nicknamed “Luke”, after the Star Wars character, now has the capacity to perform multiple, simultaneous movements by detecting electrical signals from the contraction of muscles that are close to the attachment site of the prosthesis. Amputees who need prosthetic legs are also benefiting from innovation. Before, prosthetic arms were the only type of limb that was capable of being controlled via neurosignals. Those whose legs were amputated were limited to either mechanical or motor powered prosthetics. However, a new bionic leg now has the ability to be controlled via the user’s thoughts through electrodes that pick up electrical signals in the upper leg muscles when they contract. Affordability of these prosthetics is currently the most prominent issue, with prices ranging from tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars per limb. With continued advancement and engineering, developers are confident that these computerized limbs will gradually become more accessible to the public.

Organs Opening Doors

Source: Olexandr | Dollar Photo Club

Source: Olexandr | Dollar Photo Club

Transplants have helped millions of people, but that still doesn’t wipe away the risks and complications of receiving an organ. Finding organ donors are a battle in itself, with an average of 18 people dying per day while waiting for an organ to become available. Innovation in bionic technology may assist in situations where waiting for an organ is not a viable option. The cornea is the most commonly transplanted organ, but when corneal transplants aren’t the solution to the vision problem, a bionic eye might help with patients who need to regain vision from degenerative eye disease. A great deal of bionics is still experimental, such as a newly developed bionic pancreas that measures the glucose level of diabetic patients and then supplies either insulin or glucagon to stabilize blood sugar levels. For those who suffer from Type 1 diabetes, this technology advances from the current standard of insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors. Researchers are also experimenting with a new bionic heart that is entirely self-contained. For the thousands of patients waiting for life-saving heart transplants, this technology is quite literally a matter of life or death. An internal battery powers the mechanical heart, which can be recharged from an external pack through the patient’s skin. Although it might take time to implement the technology on a widespread scale, the creation of such devices gives hope for the revolution of healthcare in the near future.

Organs from 3D Printers

Source: hopsalka | Dollar Photo Club

Source: hopsalka | Dollar Photo Club

3D printing is finally having its well-deserved time in the spotlight and is a true testament to the spectacular range of modern technological innovation. At the moment, medical applications for 3D printers are concentrated in the dental industry, with crowns, caps and fillings. However, scientists are hoping that 3D printers will one day be able to create living organs, which could eventually help reduce organ shortages. There is already a project in the works to sell strips of liver tissue created from 3D printers to drugmakers. The liver strips would be used to test the toxicity of certain treatments. Currently, the biggest issue with printing organs would be finding an adequate blood supply to keep the organ healthy and alive. With continued experimentation and research, Organ printing is still at least 10 years away from fruition, but with continued experimentation and research, science is closer than ever to radical change in medicine.

Greener Future with Alternative Car Fuels

By Justina Tran

There’s no doubt that inflated gas prices have had a noticeable impact on our wallets, but the cost of refining and burning fossil fuels goes much further than our pocketbooks. Excess carbon emissions are a major detriment to our environment. Our indulgent fossil fuel usage has caused a buildup of greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide and methane, in the atmosphere, which has resulted in the disruption of ecosystems and the endangerment of innumerable forms of life. At the rate of our current fossil fuel consumption, future generations are at risk of living in a world plagued by severe, unpredictable weather patterns and the continued destruction of habitats.

So what kind of alternatives do we have to fuel our vehicles, without creating additional problems for our environment? Cars are seemingly our first pick for transportation, but gasoline is no longer the only source of available power. Innovations within the past decade have proven that there are now a number of options for those of us who don’t want to get from point A to point B at Mother Earth’s expense.

Shocking Savings with Electric Fuel

charging battery of an electric carDid you know that the total cost to fully charge an electric car is a mere $2 to $4? The average cost of one gallon of gas in America is currently $3.56, and it continues to rise! One single charge from conventional family-sized cars can last approximately 100 miles, although actual mileage per charge may vary depending on the size of the battery. For most drivers, 100 miles is more than enough to last a day. The length of time it takes to complete a charge, from 30 minutes to 14 hours, also differs according to the size of the battery. Average electric vehicle prices range from $20,000-35,000, with makes and models for every budget.

Gasoline’s Friendlier Cousin

Photo source: gigaom

Photo source: gigaom

We use natural gas in our daily lives to heat our stoves and warm our houses, but natural gas is also a clean alternative for fueling natural gas vehicles, or NGVs. Besides helping America free itself from dependence on foreign oil, natural gas is safer and cheaper than liquid gas. In a car accident, natural gas dissipates into the air. On the other hand, gasoline’s flammability makes it relatively less safe. Natural gas also has the benefit of being significantly easier on the wallet; fueling up with natural gas saves $1.50 to $2 less per gasoline gallon equivalent.

Leave No Footprints with Hydrogen

Hydrogen car conceptThe biggest issue with fossil fuels is the monstrous carbon trail that’s left behind after it’s burned. But what if dangerous car emissions became a thing of the past? With the introduction of hydrogen-powered vehicles onto the roads, what was once an ambitious concept is now a reality. Automakers like Hyundai, Honda, and Toyota have all made announcements to introduce hydrogen-powered cars to the U.S. by 2015, or earlier. In California, hydrogen-powered cars hit the market in June, in response to California legislators who are pushing car companies to produce cars with a smaller impact on the environment. With water vapor as the only chemical byproduct, the recent push for cleaner sources of car fuel may make hydrogen-powered cars the biggest threat to fossil fuel companies, and our safest bet for a greener Earth.

Now that you’ve read about some alternatives, how do you think you can modify your transportation habits?

4 Reasons to Celebrate World Oceans Day

World Oceans Day is June 8th. While roughly 40% of Americans live directly on our country’s shorelines, the rest of us are also dependent on the health of the world’s oceans. The oceans provide billions of people with sources of protein-rich and nutrient-rich foods, drive our climate and weather patterns, and contribute trillions of dollars to economies worldwide. Because the oceans play such a major role in the lives of, well, all walks of life on earth, World Oceans Day provides us an opportunity to express our appreciation for the seas.

But, just in case there are some of you out there that still need convincing that our oceans are important, here are some major ways that the oceans could change our lives as we know them:

Sea level rise contributes to climate change

Beach_erosion_(8427148836)The rise in sea levels, even by a seemingly small amount, has been linked to a number of catastrophic climate events. Beach erosion, flooding, habitat loss, later winters, and earlier springs can all be linked to a rise in sea level. It has been documented time and again that the burning of fossil fuels and an increase in carbon emissions contributes to sea-level rise.

How you can help

Reduce your carbon footprint by swapping one carbon emitting activity each week with a non-carbon emitting activity. Can you walk or ride your bike to a friend’s house instead of driving? Can you use public transportation for a trip to the bank or the store? Swapping just one trip per week will dramatically reduce the amount of carbon making its way into the atmosphere, not to mention it will cut down on the amount of air pollutants we breathe.

Overfishing could leave over a billion people searching for protein

Workers in the fisheriesOver a billion people worldwide are dependent on fish as their principal source of protein. Fish are considered the last wild food available to humans, and this resource was once considered infinite. However, today “the world’s fisheries seem to have reached their maximum potential, and given that three-quarters of all fish populations are fully exploited or overexploited, there will probably be no significant increases in total catches in the future.” If fish populations are no longer available for widespread consumption, many people around the world will see a dramatic decrease in their protein intake, causing a wide variety of health concerns.

How you can help

Make informed decisions when you purchase fish and seafood. Swap out one meal per month with a non-oceanic protein source, purchase your fish responsibly by finding a certified fishery or using the Seafood Watch pocket guide, and eat fish that are lower on the food chain.

Coral reefs are being bleached, and that’s bad

Bleaching coralWhen you think of coral reefs, we bet that vivid images of bright colors and thriving ecosystems probably come to mind. However, hot summers can contribute to what is called coral bleaching—literally, the bright colored coral turns to a washed out white. Since coral get their bright colors from algae living within their tissue, and since those algae can only withstand certain temperatures, the sun’s heat can cause a dire circumstance for coral and render them dead. Coral play a vital role in the health of our oceans—they play home to a wide variety of marine life, they bolster the economies of tourist-reliant areas, and they protect shorelines all across the globe. (P.S. This information from this article, and it’s a worthwhile read if you want to read the whole thing.)

How you can help

Much of the world’s coral bleaching is also linked to an increase in carbon emissions, so repeat the steps listed to help reduce sea level rise.

The Pacific Ocean plays home to a new island… of garbage

Image source: natgeoeducationblog

Image source: natgeoeducationblog

Literally. A giant collection of garbage deemed the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, has taken up residence in the Pacific Ocean. However, “the idea of a ‘garbage patch’ conjures up images of an island of trash floating on the ocean. In reality, these patches are usually made up of tiny bits of plastic, called microplastics.” Now, this is bad for a number of reasons. In addition to being super ugly, this debris in our oceans kill many animals who eat the garbage, block sunlight from reaching plankton, and disrupt entire food webs.

How you can help

Reduce the amount of trash you produce, particularly trash coming from plastic items. Keep a refillable stainless steel water bottle that you can use instead of purchasing plastic water bottles. Bring your reusable bags to the grocery store instead of taking your items home in plastic bags. There are a number of ways to reduce your consumption of products, thereby reducing the amount of waste you contribute to our world’s oceans.

While some of these issues can seem terrifying and insurmountable, rest assured that there are a number of organizations seeking to make a positive impact on our seas. Groups like Oceana, the Marine Stewardship Council, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Ocean Conservancy, and of course World Oceans Day are making tremendous contributions to our seas and the lives of those reliant on them. Celebrate this year’s World Oceans Day by making a small change to your behavior, educating yourself about the oceans, or supporting an organization you admire. And rather than allowing World Oceans Day to come and go, carry its legacy with you throughout the year to make a lasting impact on the future of our oceans.