April 22, 2014

Earth Day: The Switch to Renewable Energy



At Cerno we understand the importance of building products with integrity and building products to last. We understand that every stage of a product affects the environment, from the raw materials to the disposability of the product. After products leave Cerno, it is up to customers to make choices that will reduce their personal environmental impact. Although LED light fixtures are very energy efficient, they still consume energy. The energy being consumed is generated from many energy sources. In the United States and in most areas of the world, fossil fuels generate most of the of the electricity that is used. Fossil fuels have a huge impact on the environment. In 2011, electricity generated from fossil fuels made up 38% of United States’ total carbon emissions. To maximize the reduction on carbon dioxide emissions, we must explore alternative and more environmentally responsible ways to generate power.

A main source of electricity currently being explored is renewable energy such as solar, wind, and hydroelectric. In 2013, the United States produced 13% of our energy from renewable sources. The United Nations climate change assessment panel says that is not enough to reduce global warming. They are giving us a huge warning saying that if we want to see a moderate amount of global warming, globally we must produce at least 80% of our electricity using renewable energy sources by 2050. We do not have time to waste and we should not rely on one solution to solve this complex global conundrum. One solution that is being explored is large scale renewable energy projects, like Ivanpah.

http://www.brightsourceenergy.com/ivanpah-update

Ivanpah, the largest solar thermal power project in the world plans to power 140,000 homes. Ivanpah’s innovative technology uses about 350,000 mirrors that concentrate the sunlight into three towers to heat water to turn it into electricity. It’s environmental achievements includes requiring less land, water, and impact to the land. The project went farther than that to ensure the local economy benefited by having local suppliers and workers. Ivanpah is a great example of a progressive project, that is appearing to yield great results.

Even with many great accomplishments, this project has environmentalists concerned. Located in the California Mojave Desert, it is home to many threatened, endangered, and protected species. Prior to the start of the project, studies found 17 tortoises on the site. However, during construction, about 170 tortoises were found. Although they will be relocated, the disruption of a threatened species can cause a chain reaction in the food chain. The reflective mirrors increase the temperatures of the area, which is raising concerns about bird and insect mortality. One other concern is the brightness of the tower may be a hazard for pilots flying over the area. Although many studies were done prior to developing Ivanpah, it is important to remember that there will often be unforeseen negative impacts to the natural environment by projects of this scale.

Ivanpah sets the bar on how we can reduce our carbon emissions in a truly sustainable manner. There needs to be many innovative solutions to solve this complex global conundrum. Massive projects like Ivanpah and Three Gorges Dam will be guiding us towards the future, but we do not need to wait for companies to invest in renewable energy, we can invest in renewable energy in our homes and in our businesses. There are many programs that offer financial incentives when you switch to solar energy or other clean energy technologies and practices. For those of you who live in California, The California Center for Sustainable Energy is a great resource to find programs that are helping Californians switch to clean energy.

One easy solution we all can do is to constantly evaluate how we can reduce our environmental footprint. Although it may seem like changes to our routines won’t make a difference, if we all make changes to our routines, we can make a difference. We do not have time to let renewable projects be the only solution in reducing carbon dioxide emissions, we can be part of the solution if we choose to be.

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:
http://blog.littlesun.com/post/67749734937/little-sun-lamps-in-abay-mado-ethiopia

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:
http://littlesun.com/index.php?sec=lamp
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.