January 23, 2014

California's Water Crisis

California and much of the Western United States is in a serious drought. Your skin is dry and the hills that are typically green this time of year are the same brown the we normally only see in summer. The best weapon to combat this drought is to increase awareness about the severity of what our historically bountiful state is facing.

 According to the California Department of Water Resources, “2013 closed as the driest year in recorded history for many areas of California, and current conditions suggest that there is no change in sight for 2014.”  Recent studies show the snowpack statewide is at 7% of the average April 1 measurement, when the snowpack is usually at its peak before melting into streams and reservoirs. California needs to get 93% more snowpack by April to meet the average amount of snowpack. We know we will not meet the average snowpack measurement, so we have to find creative ways to reduce our water consumption. 

Currently, the majority of California’s precipitation is 25-70% of its average precipitation. Photo from: http://www.water.ca.gov/waterconditions/

Before we talk about how we can adapt to the drought, we have to remember that we are facing a problem that has been building for decades: California’s water management system. About 75% of California’s water supply comes from Northern California while 80% of the water demand is in Southern California. Some of California’s water issues are the environmental degradation in the California Bay-Delta, aging levees, and draining aquifers. This drought will not only test how we adjust to the decrease of the water supply, this drought will test every aspect of California’s water management system.

As a result of the drought here in California, the governor urged residents to cut their water usage by 20 percent. An average person uses about 100 gallons of water daily, which means we need to cut 20 gallons from our daily use. To understand how easily 20 gallons can be saved, we calculated how changing one fixture can make a big difference.

A normal shower head uses up to 5 gallons of water per minute. An average shower is 7 minutes long, which equals 35 gallons of water per shower. A low flow shower head uses about 2 gallons of water per minute, which will use 14 gallons of water in an average shower. By switching from a normal shower head to a low flow shower head, we can already cut 20 gallons of water from our daily use. By combining water efficient solutions while practicing conservation, we can greatly reduce our personal water use. 

This drought is a crisis that can only be alleviated by us being proactive about our own water consumption. There are a lot of ways to save water and they all need to be implemented now, it’s hard to break old habits, but this drought is real and we need to make serious changes to our daily routine. Some simple but very important steps we can incorporate in our lives is to take showers instead of baths, run full loads of laundry, and use the dishwasher to wash dishes instead of hand washing dishes. Ditch the thirsty plants and lawn for succulents and an indigenous garden that requires a very little amount of water. If you keep the thirsty garden instal an intelligent watering system that only goes on at night when there is a minimal amount of water lost to heat. Wash your car less and use waterless washing techniques when you do wash your car. Pavement and brick do not need water to be cleaned, pick up a broom and rake. Steps like these helps to reduce water consumption. We made a color coded chart to show how much water we can save by breaking our habits. We want you to be more aware of how much water you consume to inspire you to change your habits.

During droughts we have to change our habits for more water efficient habits, but to effectively manage our water, we have to plan for droughts and other natural disasters. Bullitt Center in Seattle pushes for a net zero water system by flawlessly combining innovative water technologies. As seen below, their integrated design uses rainwater as their only source of water, including drinking, which will then be recycled and reused. In droughts, rainwater harvesting is not a practical solution. Bullitt Center’s integrated design thinking can help us have a reliable water supply before droughts occur so when we are in a drought, it won’t be a crisis. We need to come to terms with the drought and embrace new habits.

Photo from: http://www.2020engineering.com/LID.LEED.LivingBuildings/2-LivingBuildingChallenge/2-LBC%202020ProjectExamples/1-Bullitt.pdf

December 12, 2013

Designs for a Cause: Little Sun

Within the first hour that I wake up, I am constantly using light. Even though I wake up after sunrise, I depend on the light on my phone to wake me up. Then I turn on the lights in the bathroom, bedroom, and the kitchen because the natural light is not enough.

Sometimes we need to be reminded of how much we rely on electric lights on a daily basis, because even in 2013, 1.6 billion people do not have access to the power grid. In areas where a power grid is not available, a common solution is kerosene lamps. Kerosene is not a safe alternative for our environment or people. It is dangerous, unhealthy to breathe and contributing to global warming. When burned, kerosene releases high amounts of black carbon. According to a study, one kilogram of black carbon is causes as much global warming as 700 kilograms of carbon dioxide. Breathing in black carbon also causes health effects, like asthma and cancer.  Using kerosene is also a huge fire risk. In Kenya, kerosene fires cause between 6,000 and 12,000 deaths per year. It is also very expensive and can cost nearly a quarter of a family’s income.

Little Sun is a German company that is revolutionizing the way impoverished off the grid communities are illuminating their homes; while also reducing these communities dependency on kerosene. Little Sun makes a high-quality, solar powered LED light, designed specifically for off grid areas. Unlike kerosene, solar energy is a renewable resource and does not emit carbon dioxide. Little Sun’s dynamic light functions as a handheld light, table lamp, sconce, and a pendant. 

Photo from:

Little Sun’s founders set-out to create a product that would add beauty to the users life and enable activities that we often take for granted, like reading a book after sunset. Little Sun’s story and product is inspiring and now they hope to inspire others by providing a safe light to read by, cook under and illuminate other important activities around the home. They want users to be inspired because they now have access to this powerful tool. This product is an amazing example of balancing form and function, it is a dynamic light that is playful and crafted with integrity.
Photo from:
The makers behind Little Sun thought through every step of the process, cradle to end user, which is why part of Little Sun’s mission is to strengthen off-grid communities from the inside out. To keep prices of Little Sun low for the off grid users, they sell at higher prices to on grid users. Little Sun’s efforts do not end there, their philanthropic projects include educating, training, and funding local communities and addressing the need for sustainable lighting solutions all over the world.

At Cerno, we believe that sharing the stories of innovative philanthropic minded people and companies can help inspire more people to follow suit and we hope it does.

November 19, 2013

Designs for a Cause: Catapult Design

In the U.S. and in other countries with robust infrastructures people often take for granted our seemingly unlimited supply of clean drinking water. The average U.S. household consumes 400 gallons of water a day. That is a lot of water! Imagine going from 400 gallons to a 3 hour a week allowance for your entire household. In Delhi, India, 3 hours a week of water is what they have to work with, and it is difficult. Before we transport ourselves to Delhi, it’s important to remember that water is scarce, even right here in California. Next time you are brushing your teeth, taking a shower, washing your car or watering the plants, remember that our water supply is a luxury and that is is not infinite. Imagine living in a family of 4 and even with rationing and reusing water, it is not enough for your family. A government water tanker should arrive today in a nearby neighborhood, so you decide to chase it down. Once you arrive at the water tanker, you realize there are about 500 people in line. After waiting in the line for a few hours, you finally are able to get water and you begin to walk back home. You find it difficult to keep the water balanced on top of your head because of the tough terrain. Once you get home, you have to figure out how to prevent the water from getting contaminated while storing it. This is the reality that the people of Dehli face everyday. Catapult Design is a non-profit design firm designing products to alleviate some common struggles that permeate developing countries. Catapult Design starts by understanding a community's needs, and then works with a community to develop resolutions for their needs. After Catapult interviewed the community and came up with numerous designs, they designed the WaterWheel, a product to collect, store, and consume water.

Image Source: http://wellowater.org/the-waterwheel

Let’s pretend that you are still in Delhi and you try the new WaterWheel. At first look, you are able to understand what the WaterWheel does because its intuitive design. Now, you can collect 3-5 times more water than before. With the WaterWheel’s durability you can travel back home in the roughest terrain without problems. The cap-in-cap design lets you use water freely without fearing contamination.

The WaterWheel has been a revolutionary and transformational technology for these people.  The inhabitants of Dehli can now collect water safely and efficiently. What made the design so successful was that Catapult Design went to Delhi to pinpoint the struggles that the people of Delhi were encountering. Catapult’s approach, which was to acquire and in-depth understanding of these people’s struggles is what allowed them to create such an innovative solution. Catapult understands the importance of empathy and user experience, all designers can benefit by approaching their next design challenge by doing their due diligence upfront.     

Although California won’t be using the WaterWheel to relieve our water problems, exploring how innovative philanthropists are making an impact around the world can show us aspects of design we may overlook. If you think of philanthropists we should explore next, let us know!

October 31, 2013

Sustainability of Pumpkins

It is Halloween and a lot of you have already picked the perfect pumpkin and creatively carved it up. Our goal is not to spoil a fun tradition, but rather make you stop and think about the sustainability of pumpkin farming. Before we highlight all of the negatives of this wasteful consumption, its important to point out that there are ways to make your pumpkin consuming more responsible. If you are going to buy a pumpkin, make sure to buy local and organic, bake it into recipes and compost it when you are done. These practices will definitely reduce your pumpkin's footprint.  Similar to our last post, we want to question the processes a pumpkin goes through, so we can have a better idea of how sustainable a pumpkin is.

Growing Pumpkins
To make a product, resources like water and energy is used. One thing to consider about growing a pumpkin, is that its needs pesticides. Pesticides pollute the water and have negative effects on the wildlife, plants, and people.

Transporting Pumpkins
According to The Pocket Idiot’s Guide to Your Carbon Footprint, a pumpkin from a farmer's market travels a shorter distance, but they have smaller shipments. A pumpkin from a U-pick pumpkin won’t travel any distance, but you have to travel to it to pick the pumpkin. None of the options use packaging, but a pumpkin from a grocery store uses some packaging, like wooden pallets.

Using Pumpkins
Pumpkins can be used in recipes and/or can be carved into jack-o'-lanterns

Throwing Pumpkins Out
Pumpkins can only be discarded or composted.

We understand that it is difficult to understand the full environmental impact of a product. Choosing the more sustainable option isn't easy, but by exploring the processes a product goes through, we can start to pinpoint specific ways of how we can make better choices when consuming.

September 17, 2013

Looking Beyond the Label

Our nomination in the Martha Stewart's American Made Contest made us want to read beyond the label and learn more about products that claim to be made in America. At Cerno, we think it’s important to consume responsibly. Consuming responsibly often means reading in between the lines and really understanding not only where the product you consume is made, but how it is made.

The first step to learning how to consume responsibly is to understand the life cycle of the product. The life cycle of a product includes its raw materials, manufacturing process, distribution, user experience, and the disposal of the product. The graphic below, by MCAD Sustainable Design shows what the stages one messenger bag goes through in its life cycle. Usually, we only think about the user experience and sometimes the disposal of the product, and that is not the whole story. Products made in America does not tell the whole story because it only directly affects the distribution process.

The next step is to understand the three pillars of sustainability, which are environmental, social, and economic. Is there an environmental impact? Is there any social injustice? Where do all of the profits go? These questions can be difficult to answer, since many factors aren’t easy to measure. The goal of this exercise is to understand the possible trade-offs that can occur since American made labels often do not explain the whole story.

Similar to how this contest inspired us, we hope to inspire you to further explore how and where your products are made. We also hope that through this exploration, you acquire a better understanding of the impact these products, may or may not have, on the environment and people that create them.