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act April 23, 2008

Posted by KG in design, econ, environment, food, health, news, science, tech.
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“act” – from the nytimes magazine green issue:

WALK THE WALK: In many parts of the country, walking has become as quaint a pastime as spinning yarn or playing the bagpipes. Between 1977 and 1995, the number of daily walking trips taken by adults declined by 40 percent — while more than a quarter of all car trips are now shorter than a mile. Those under-a-mile journeys fall into the zone that new urbanists call “walkshed”: the area a person can reasonably cover on foot. People whose walksheds teem with shops and restaurants have more reason to walk than those whose don’t, so it was only a matter of time before someone tried to quantify a neighborhood’s pedestrian-friendliness. Last summer, a trio of Seattle software developers started walkscore.com, which calculates the number of potential destinations within walking distance of any given address and then produces a rating. If your neighborhood scores 90 or above, you can easily live there without a car; if it scores under 25, you’ll be driving to the backyard. More than a million addresses were searched in the site’s first month. Matt Lerner, one of the site’s developers, knew the concept had arrived when a condo in Seattle hung out a gigantic banner that said “Walk Score 100.” “People react really negatively to phrases like ‘density,’ ” he says, “but they react really positively to phrases like ‘walkability.’ ”Walk Score’s popularity may be a sign that walking is making a comeback, fueled by both rising gas prices and widening waistlines.

BEYOND WASTE: Zero waste, a state of eco-utopia far beyond ordinary sustainability, raises the notion of planetary stewardship to a sweeping level: instead of using, we should reuse; instead of dumping, we should compost. A number of municipalities, including Seattle and Boulder, Colo., have made zero waste a guiding ambition. The daunting challenge is that so many consumer products are neither recyclable nor compostable. Worse, they’re made with highly toxic chemicals. Reducing the impact of these products may depend less on finding better ways to dispose of them and more on discovering how to remake them — or on no longer making them at all. A number of green certifications exist for “healthier” consumer products, but for the past three years, a small firm in Virginia known as MBDC has been awarding a “Cradle to Cradle” certification, or “C2C,” to certain items that satisfy a rigorous philosophy espoused by its founders, the green architect William McDonough and the environmental chemist Michael Braungart. The duo have long held that, as McDonough recently put it, “waste is basically stupid.” Theirs is a business-friendly credo. Corporate growth isn’t in itself problematic; nor should sustainability mean getting by with less. Rather, the firm endorses rethinking the way products are designed and manufactured. To get a C2C seal of approval, a product needs to be made from components that are either “technical nutrients” (which can be recycled or repurposed) or biological nutrients (which can degrade naturally, like compost). “Instead of saying zero waste, we say let’s just eliminate the concept of waste,” says Jay Bolus, an environmental engineer who is in charge of the MBDC certification process. C2C has mainly been a business-to-business endeavor, and only a few of the 100 products that have won MBDC certification — Herman Miller chairs, United States Postal Service envelopes — are familiar to consumers. But C2C is expanding, and next year, according to Bolus, there should be 400 or 500 products with the logo. To McDonough, his certification is a point of entry into the world that he’s imagining. “It honors intention,” he says. “And I think that’s really important, given that we have to redesign nearly everything.”