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!

This Month in STEM: September 2014

September is wrapping up, and we’ve got your monthly STEM news! Here are some of our favorite stories.

The Animal Kingdom IconAnimal Kingdom

Researchers have discovered a brand new species of poison dart frog in Donoso, Panama. At 12.7 millimeters in length, the freshly dubbed Andinobates geminisae is tiny enough to fit on a fingernail and is distinguishable by its unique call and smooth, bright orange-colored skin. Scientists believe that habitat loss is a significant issue of concern for these newly found frogs, as it appears to only be found in scarce regions of the Panama rain forest. To guarantee the survival of their species, the creation of special conservation plans have been recommended. Read more here.

Under the Sea IconUnder the Sea

Several groups of fish in Antarctica have developed the ability to manufacture their own “antifreeze” proteins in their blood that help them survive in the icy Southern Ocean. Unfortunately, it appears that this evolutionary survival tactic has created some undesirable consequences. Researchers have discovered that the same temperature regulation proteins are helping internal ice crystals that accumulate inside the fish resist melting, even when the temperatures warm. Read more here.

Extreme Weather IconExtreme Weather

At least 36 people have been killed following the unanticipated eruption of Mount Ontake, Japan’s second largest active volcano. The eruption is believed to have stemmed from a kind of steam-driven explosion that scientists say are especially difficult to predict. Ontake had a minor eruption in 2007, but it’s first major recorded eruption was in 1979. Japan is considered by seismologists to be a hotbed of seismic activity. Read more here.

Medical Innovations IconMedical Innovations

Each year, over 2.5 million children die worldwide because they do not receive life-saving vaccinations. To combat this global issue, researchers at Michigan State University are currently developing a fingerprint-based recognition system that has the potential to save babies’ lives through vaccination tracking. Vaccinations are normally tracked by paper documentation. However, keeping track of babies’ vaccinations on paper is highly ineffective in developing countries because they are easily lost or destroyed. Researchers are hoping that, over time, the new electronic registry systems will fix the issues of lacking and lost patient information in third world countries. Read more here.

Robotics IconSpace

Water is crucial for sustaining biological life. Consequently, scientists believe that finding the original source of Earth’s water is crucial for understanding how life-fostering environments are created, as well as estimating the likelihood of finding other environments that have the potential to hold life. Scientists at the Carnegie Institution now believe that the water found on Earth is older than the Sun, and originated in interstellar space. Read more here.

Video Games IconTechnology

Harry Potter fans likely dream of owning an Invisibility Cloak. They may be excited to learn, then, that researchers at the University of Rochester, in New York, have discovered innovative new ways to use complex lenses to hide objects from view, in a process called cloaking. The so-called “Rochester Cloak” is realistically not cloak-like at all. Nonetheless, the cloaking device has been able to successfully make a hand, face, and a ruler disappear from view. Earlier versions of cloaking devices have been complicated and financially unfeasible. This new device breaks the mold, costing researchers little more than $1,000 in materials. The implications for these types of devices are broad, and researchers believe that they can be applied everywhere, from health care to the military. Read more here.

Okay STEM lovers, what stories did you enjoy? What stories did we miss this month? We want to hear your thoughts!

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.




Save the World, Study STEM: Air, Water, and Food

On the most basic level, there are a few things that we humans require on a daily basis to survive: air, water, and food. Yet the changing conditions of our planet have placed intense strain on these fundamental requirements of human life. Thanks to researchers from the STEM community, people are finding new and inventive ways to meet these needs. Read on to find out how scientists are providing creative access to air, water, and food.


17r3x3lzcjd2vjpgBreathing is so passé. Scientists at Boston Children’s Hospital have recently discovered a way that can oxygenate a person’s blood should he or she stop breathing. Through the use of microparticles comprised of oxygen and lipids, medical professionals can keep people alive for 15-30 minutes after failing to breathe. Since every second can be crucial in a number of life-threatening situations, this new technology will have a major impact on the medical community. Read article.


warka_water.jpg__800x600_q85_cropMany people in industrialized societies take access to clean water for granted. Yet the fact remains that a large percentage of people have minimal access to drinking water, making life in many parts of the world a daily struggle. Yet a new project called Warka Water may hold the key to providing gallons of fresh water to remote areas by…drumroll… pulling it out of thin air. No, seriously. Check it out!


By 2050, Earth will likely be home to more than nine billion people. That’s a lot of mouths to feed. In a special eight-month series, “The Future of Food,” National Geographic investigates how to meet our growing need for nourishment without harming the planet that sustains us. Check out this amazing project.

So what do you think… inspired yet?