Blots, or Blotting

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(Image credit: StructureHub)

I started hearing about blots and blotting late last year, first via a couple posts I found on Shrinking Cities (here and here) and then most recently via a story on NPR. Both sources feature stories about the de-densifying city of Detroit. Interboro claims credit for coining the term “blotting” about eight years ago.

According to Shrinking Cities, “the use of ‘blots’, or ‘side lot expansions’, is a technique that gives homeowners with vacant land adjacent to their home the opportunity to purchase that property as an expansion to their own for a nominal cost.”

The NPR story cites a startling statistic – in Detroit, it’s estimated that up to 40 square miles of land sits vacant.To give a sense of scale,the entire city of San Francisco is about 47 square miles. So both formally and informally, Detroit is encouraging its residents to buy or just sort of annex adjacent properties in order to take care of the properties and stabilize neighborhoods.

Part of our series making sense of eco-lingo and technical terms.
For more, check out our Jargon page.

The GBA Glossary

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Usually, we post a definition of a term that we have heard a lot recently, or that is being used in several ways. Today, I am posting a resource for looking up terms related to green building, the Green Building Advisor Glossary.

The glossary is a simple list of terms and acronyms, organized alphabetically. So if you’ve been wondering about LSL, bake-outs, or PEX, among many other terms, it’s worth a little exploration.

THIS POST IS PART OF OUR DEFINITIONS SERIES ON “ECO-LINGO” AND TECHNICAL TERMS.

FTC To Issue Revised Guidelines for “Green” Product Claims

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image: Wikimedia Commons

Many products these days make claims on their labels that place them somewhere on the nebulous spectrum of “green”. These endorsements range from “all natural”, to  “environmentally friendly”, “biodegradable”, or “eco”  just to name a few.

But what do these labels really mean? “Environmentally friendly” compared to what? “Biodegradable” how, and under what conditions?

The fact is, many manufacturers in recent years have taken note of strong consumer appetite for safer products and have responded– but not always with meaningful changes. Products and services that gratuitously toss around vague environmental claims have come to be known as “greenwashing“.

For example, many product labels feature environmental seals – little pictoral “stamps” with a tagline; while there are some legitimate third party verification seals that attest to a products’ safety, environmental performance and/or the manufacturing process, some may be nothing more than ornament. Other examples of deceptive advertising practices may include misleading claims, or overstatement of environmental benefits of a product during its manufacture, use or disposal.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) first  adopted its “Green Guide” in 1998 to help provide a baseline of clarity for both consumers and the manufacturers making environmental claims about their products; the revisions that are in the works now will be the first since 1998.

The new revisions will be based on research done by the FTC to gauge consumer understanding of various “green” labeling terms and practices. However, the FTC stops short of providing legal definitions to terms and the guidelines will still be voluntary and self-implemented by manufacturers.

Listen to the KQED Forum “An End to Greenwashing” that provides a discussion of the new FTC guidelines, here

Visit the Good Guide, a group that helps you find “healthy, green, ethical products according to scientific ratings”

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Putrescible Waste

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This post is part of our definitions series on “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

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(Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Putrescible waste is “solid waste that contains organic matter capable of being decomposed by microorganisms and of such a character and proportion as to cause obnoxious odors and to be capable of attracting or providing food for birds or animals (definition from the Argonne National Laboratory).

Basically, putrescibles are the bits of garbage that decompose and get stinky. This can include food waste, used diapers, and pet waste.

If the putrescible waste is removed from the standard waste stream, the remaining household solid waste (packaging, plastic films) and recycling (cardboard, glass, metals, plastics, and paper) is quite clean. As local government recycling programs face budget cuts, there is potential to use this separation of putrescible waste to creatively adjust waste and recycling programs.

If the putrescible waste is picked up pretty frequently (such as weekly), and possibly separated into compostable foodscraps and non-compostable waste (diapers and animal products), the remaining “clean” garbage and recycling could be picked up less frequently. There is potential to increase participation in food waste composting, since folks will want the stinky stuff out of their houses as fast as possible. Since a lot of the cost of recycling programs is the labor cost of pick-ups and sorting, there is also potential to reduce overall costs of program with careful planning of routes and pick-up schedule frequency.

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What exactly does “sustainability” mean? How about “green”, “eco” or “environmentally friendly”? The truth is that these terms are just vague enough to mean many different things to many different people. With the staggering array of “green” products, ‘lifestyles’ and concepts being promoted by marketers and environmentalists alike (as well as the necessary coining of new terms to match new ideas) our definition series aims to make sense of the rising tide of “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

Pay-As-You-Throw

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This post is part of our definitions series on “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

“Pay-as-you-throw” is a variable rate pricing  tool used by communities to increase participation in recycling programs. Under a “pay-as-you-throw” structure, residents are charged for undifferentiated waste that must go to a landfill or incinerator and charged nothing for disposing of separated recyclables. This provides an obvious economic incentive for opting-in to recycling for the consumer and has been used throughout California to great success and  high diversion rates. The question, though, is whether we have finally outgrown “pay-as-you-go” policies.

With the state struggling with crippling budget deficits on every level of government, and with high participation rates in recycling (including newer higher-cost offerings, such as organic waste collection), the value captured from recycled products is not keeping pace with the cost of collections, routing, and processing.  In essence, while “pay-as-you-go” pricing structures may have had a vital role to play at a vital time, we can almost assuredly expect to see new pricing structures in the coming years.

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What exactly does “sustainability” mean? How about “green”, “eco” or “environmentally friendly”? The truth is that these terms are just vague enough to mean many different things to many different people. With the staggering array of “green” products, ‘lifestyles’ and concepts being promoted by marketers and environmentalists alike (as well as the necessary coining of new terms to match new ideas) our definition series aims to make sense of the rising tide of “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

MRF (Rhymes With Smurf)

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This post is part of our definitions series on “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

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(Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

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A MRF is a Materials Recovery Facility, a Materials Recycling Facility, or a Materials Reclamation Facility. These facilities receive household and business waste, construction waste, recyclables, and other discarded materials and separate them.

A “dirty” MRF receives mixed solid waste (everything all jumbled together), or in lingo “a mixed solid waste stream” and separates out the recyclables and other desirable materials.

A “clean” MRF receives just mixed recyclables and separates them.

And I have just learned about “wet” MRFs, which use water to separate items in a dirty MRF by density, cleans them, then dissolves organic material for anaerobic digestion.

The sorting in a MRF is accomplished with some automated processes and also manual sorting of materials into bins.

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What exactly does “sustainability” mean? How about “green”, “eco” or “environmentally friendly”? The truth is that these terms are just vague enough to mean many different things to many different people. With the staggering array of “green” products, ‘lifestyles’ and concepts being promoted by marketers and environmentalists alike (as well as the necessary coining of new terms to match new ideas) our definition series aims to make sense of the rising tide of “eco-lingo” and technical terms.


Blue Roofs

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This post is part of our definitions series on “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

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Image: U.S. EPA

“Green roofs”, or roofs that use vegetation to retain stormwater and reduce the ‘heat island effect’ of miles of sun-absorbing rooftops, are more well-known than a related roof-type, the “blue roof”.

Blue roofs use stormwater capture devices rather than vegetation to reduce runoff levels from rooftops. Blue roofs can contribute to sustainable building design and retro-fits in a number of ways. Some blue roofs are designed to temporarily harvest and house stormwater others may divert and infiltrate  or slow-release stormwater. Since areas with large amounts of impervious paved surfaces may be subject to flooding, blue roofs can reduce the risk and associated damage and expense of localized flooding.

Blue roofs can also be employed strategically to avoid over-burdening combined sewage systems that are in danger of overflow and discharge into water bodies during storms.

New York City unveiled a new Green Infrastructure Plan in September that will employ blue roofs among its strategies to reduce sewage overage a target 40% by the year 2030.

Read an article on NYC blue roofs, here. A further definition of blue roofs can be found, here.

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What exactly does “sustainability” mean? How about “green”, “eco” or “environmentally friendly”? The truth is that these terms are just vague enough to mean many different things to many different people. With the staggering array of “green” products, ‘lifestyles’ and concepts being promoted by marketers and environmentalists alike (as well as the necessary coining of new terms to match new ideas) our definition series aims to make sense of the rising tide of “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

Plug Load

This post is part of our definitions series on “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

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A plug load is basically any piece of equipment or electronics that plugs into an outlet in a building, including televisions, cell phone chargers, laptops, entertainment equipment, and blenders. Larger appliances are often considered to be a separate category, but are sometimes also categorized as plug loads.

When designing a building to meet code, or to estimate energy use, designers generally take major building systems, such as lighting and HVAC, and major appliances, such as refrigeration and wet cleaning equipment, into account. But it is much harder to estimate all the plug loads that buildings occupants will bring with them. And plug loads have been increasing over time as people accumulate gadgets and equipment. As the other loads in a building are driven down through increased equipment efficiency, optimized controls, and behavioral changes, plug loads are a sizeable percentage of the remaining load.

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There have been a number of efforts to regulate the efficiency of certain plug loads – California approved television efficiency standards in 2009.

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Martin Holladay, at GreenBuildingAdvisor.com, describes the importance of taking plug loads into account when calculating building energy use in a post here.

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A California Plug-Load Energy Efficiency Center is being planned and will be hosted by the University of California, Irvine. My understanding is that it will be modeled after the California Lighting Technology Center and the Western Cooling Efficiency Center, both located at UC Davis.

A pdf of the PowerPoint slides from the planning workshop can be read here.

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What exactly does “sustainability” mean? How about “green”, “eco” or “environmentally friendly”? The truth is that these terms are just vague enough to mean many different things to many different people. With the staggering array of “green” products, ‘lifestyles’ and concepts being promoted by marketers and environmentalists alike (as well as the necessary coining of new terms to match new ideas) our definition series aims to make sense of the rising tide of “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

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Cap and Trade

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This post is part of our definitions series on “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

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photo credit: David Iliff, Wikimedia Commons

Cap and Trade (C&T) is also known as “pollution credits” or “emissions trading”. The basic premise of C&T is to provide a means for reaching mandatory pollution reduction targets in an incremental (and thus cost-saving) fashion. In a cap and trade system model, a regulatory entity (typically a governmental body) will assign a limit to the amount of pollution that certain high-impact industries can emit. High polluters can then essentially raise the ceiling on their allowable limits by engaging in a specialized market activity, i.e., buying shares or credits from those others who operate below their allowable limits. The regulatory limits are the “cap” and the market activity is the “trade”.

C&T activity is thus designed to reward those industries and companies that are aggressively exceeding their environmental performance goals, while charging a premium to those who do not stay within their assignations (because they have to purchase credits to make up for their overage). The idea is that purchasing pollution credits will literally buy time for polluters to clean up their act, and indeed a C&T program may include “caps” that step down over time to meet tighter standards.

While C&T is not limited to “greenhouse gas emissions” or carbon dioxide, the specialized trading done around these types of pollutants is one common example, and is referred to as a carbon market. Global carbon markets have taken off hugely among European and other nations that have signed the Kyoto Protocol (adopted in 1997, in force as of 2005) pledging targeted reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

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What exactly does “sustainability” mean? How about “green”, “eco” or “environmentally friendly”? The truth is that these terms are just vague enough to mean many different things to many different people. With the staggering array of “green” products, ‘lifestyles’ and concepts being promoted by marketers and environmentalists alike (as well as the necessary coining of new terms to match new ideas) our definition series aims to make sense of the rising tide of “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

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End Use

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This post is part of our definitions series on “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

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Studies frequently segment energy or water use by “end use”,  or the reason the energy was consumed, in order to better understand how the resource is used. For both energy and water, consumption is often first broken down by sector (commercial, residential, industrial) and then by end use (lighting, heating, etc.)

The first graph below is of California electricity use by sector. The second graph below is of California electricity use by sector AND by end use.

The end use categorizations in the graphs above are still pretty broad categories – some analyses break them down even further. The original data in the graphs comes from a CEC staff report. I used the same aggregate categories as Flex Your Power:

  • The Commercial Misc. category includes refrigeration, hot water, cooking, and office equipment.
  • The Residential Other category includes water heating, cooking, pool/spa, clothes washers, dishwashers, and freezers.
  • Industrial Process includes process fans, heating, pumping, and refrigeration.
  • Industrial Other includes material handling and processing.
  • The “Other” category includes street lighting and other government end uses.

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What exactly does “sustainability” mean? How about “green”, “eco” or “environmentally friendly”? The truth is that these terms are just vague enough to mean many different things to many different people. With the staggering array of “green” products, ‘lifestyles’ and concepts being promoted by marketers and environmentalists alike (as well as the necessary coining of new terms to match new ideas) our definition series aims to make sense of the rising tide of “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

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