Tag Archives: green construction

How to make green steel

CultureLab: How to make steel go green – with songs!.

Michael Marshall, environment reporter


This is something you don’t see every day: a substantial, carefully-researched book on how to reform our manufacturing industries, paired with an album of songs on the same theme.

Let’s start with the book. Sustainable Materials: With Both Eyes Open tackles a particularly thorny question: how can we cut our greenhouse gas emissions to a safe level, without shutting down essential industries? It focuses on steel and aluminium, which between them account for 28 per cent of all industrial emissions, although later chapters briefly consider cement, paper and plastics as well.

This is a follow-up book to David MacKay’s much-vaunted Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air. Both feature academics from the University of Cambridge carefully working out how we can transform an emissions-heavy sector of the economy.

The eight authors, led by Julian Allwood and Jonathan Cullen, first take a close look at how steel and aluminium are produced from their respective ores, asking “how much can the metals industry do to clean up its act?” The answer they come up with: “plenty, but nowhere near enough”.

So they take a second approach, asking whether we can redesign the things we make to use less metal, use them for longer, and recycle their components when they wear out. This also offer plenty of options. Reassuringly, when the two approaches are combined the total emissions cuts are substantial.


Some of the ideas they come up with are so simple, I wondered why no one thought of them before. For instance, the average fridge lasts about 10 years, and gets thrown out when the compressor fails. This is a small part, but it takes a lot of work to replace so it’s cheaper to buy a new fridge. If fridges were redesigned so that the compressor was easy to replace, they would last far longer. “You shouldn’t have to buy two fridges in your lifetime,” they say.

Of course, this is another example of a solution for climate change that involves huge numbers of people taking concerted action. The problem is people’s disinclination to get off their backsides.

It’s quite a technical book, so it may not have much popular appeal, despite its nicely chatty style. But for policy-makers trying to cut emissions, and anyone in manufacturing, it should be required reading.

And so to the album, a collaboration between Allwood and soprano Adey Grummet, which is much better than it has any right to be. Worthy music on eco-conscious themes can sound like Spinal Tap’s Listen to the Flower People, but With Both Eyes Open actually contains a couple of good tunes.

The strongest songs get away from the details of materials science and become universal. The opening track, You Gotta Start, is an up-tempo number extolling the virtues of having a go, even when you don’t know exactly what you need to do. It’s not just about sustainability.

Similarly, the title track is a passionate call to arms, urging people to move away from blind consumerism. The closing line – “the stuff of life is life and not just stuff” – is better and more relevant than anything Coldplay will write next year.

Given how specialist the subject matter is, I’m not sure how many people the album will really appeal to. Of the 12 songs, I only expect to keep the two I’ve highlighted on my MP3 player. Unfortunately, the rest just restate ideas from the book in a slightly less clear way.

I worry that the album will give people, particularly policy-makers, the impression that the book is somehow flaky and not worth paying attention to. That would be a crying shame, because the book’s lessons are clear, well-supported, and vital.

Book information
Sustainable Materials: With Both Eyes Open
by Julian Allwood and Jonathan Cullen
UIT Cambridge
Free online or £31.82

2% of GDP Would Create a Green Economy

Report Says Just 2% of GDP Would Create a Green Economy & Stop Poverty | Inhabitat – Green Design Will Save the World.

In a report released Monday, the United Nations Environment Programme outlined a sustainable public policy and investment plan that said just two-percent of the global domestic product could move the world from fossil fuel dependency to a low carbon economy. Currently, two-percent of the GDP is being spent on unsustainable practices like fossil fuel use, pesticide subsidies, and fisheries. By shifting focus, it is believed that the divergent approach in investment would kick-start a green economy and alleviate global poverty.

The two percent at hand amounts to approximately $1.3 trillion annually. According to the report, there are ten areas that need immediate green investment: small-scale agriculture, energy efficient buildings, eco-friendly fisheries, forestry, green industry, green transportation, improved waste management and recycling, low carbon energy, and sustainable water practices.

“With 2.5 billion people living on less than $2 a day and with more than two billion people being added to the global population by 2050, it is clear that we must continue to develop and grow our economies,” said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner in a press release. “But this development cannot come at the expense of the very life support systems on land, in the oceans or in our atmosphere that sustain our economies, and thus, the lives of each and everyone of us.”

If the two percent were put towards green investments, the report says the economy would grow at the same rate, if not faster, than it would under the current conditions — except the growth would be without the risks, shocks, and scarcities increasingly seen in the existing “brown” economy. The report indicates that the initial transition would cause a loss of jobs in some sectors, but it would eventually produce more than enough jobs to make up for any losses. The transition would also be a catalyst for growth in developing countries, where up to 90 percent of the GDP of the poor is linked to the environment or nature capital, like forests and freshwater.

The key to change lies in our governments. The report says that our political leaders need to create public policies that would generate and support a green economy by directing private investments toward green industry. Without the support of the government, any transition to a healthier, greener economy is unlikely.

The full report is available for download here.


The UNEP report reveals how little it would take for us to do the right thing and set us on a green track permanently. By shifting the focus of just two percent of the GDP, we would cut our collective carbon footprint in half, put fossil fuels behind us, and alleviate global poverty. In other words, we’d save the planet.

Via Treehugger

Top 10 Alternative Housing Ideas

HowStuffWorks “Top 10 Alternative Housing Ideas”.

As housing prices rise and people become more concerned about their environmental footprints, green construction has been gaining popularity. Green construction can include mainstream features, like a green roof, or more unique material, such as wood pallets. In general, though, what makes a building eco-friendly are the materials that go into the structure and the attention paid to energy usage in its design.

Green builders use recycled or low-impact components to create energy-efficient homes, and you can construct green homes in any number of ways, using materials like reclaimed shipping containers or even clay and straw. In this article, we’ll look at some unique, eco-friendly alternative housing ideas.

Home Design Image Gallery 

Straw-bale house
Photo courtesy of StrawBale.com
Looking for a unique method of construction for your home? A straw-bale house is an eco-friendly option. See more home design pictures.

10: Cob House

Nope, these aren’t corn cobs. In green construction, cob refers to a mixture of earth and straw similar to the adobe homes you might see in the American southwest. Cob is an inexpensive, versatile material that allows builders to shape walls any way they want. While adobe is usually formed into bricks or blocks, cob is unique in that it’s applied in large handfuls to form the structure.

Typical cob homes have unique, rounded features and almost look like they’re made out of clay — that’s probably because they basically are! And cob is sturdier than you might think: Some cob homes built in England in the 19th century are still around today.

9: Straw-bale Construction


Straw-bale walls in home
Photo courtesy of StrawBale.com
Steel rods or bamboo reinforcements help strengthen straw-bale houses.

Bales of straw are also natural and inexpensive, and they provide excellent insulation. This makes straw-bale construction an economical green-building method. Since straw is a byproduct of grain farming, it often goes to waste, so using it in construction is a great way to reuse it.

Straw-bale construction is versatile, too. Since you’re using the straw bales either to construct the frame or as insulation in conjunction with a wooden frame, the house itself can look however you want. And no big bad wolf is going to blow down this house of straw — in most straw-bale construction, recycled steel beams or bamboo rods support the bales.

8: Shipping-crate Home

Shipping-container homes are gaining popularity. They can be cheaper to build than conventional homes and use fewer raw materials, and the finished structure has a modern, industrial look. Green builders can use one shipping crate to build a relatively small, single-family dwelling or combine crates for a larger house or even bigger structures, such as apartment buildings and schools. For example, Container City in London, built in 2001, turned 20 shipping containers into 15 eco-friendly live-and-work spaces [source: Trinity Buoy Wharf].

Their efficient size makes these mini-homes inherently green, and some enthusiasts even make them even more eco-friendly with green insulation, radiant heating, solar panels and rainwater-harvesting systems.

7: Wood-pallet House


Wood-pallet home construction
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Volunteers work on the kitchen of a wood-pallet home in a Miami, Fla., shanty town.

Architectural firm I-Beam Design came up with the idea of creating homes out of wood pallets as an affordable and eco-friendly solution for disaster relief housing. They first designed the pallet homes as an entry in a contest to solve housing problems for refugees in post-war Kosovo, but you can also use pallet wood to create something more permanent.

Used wood pallets are readily available and cheap. A small 10-by-20-foot (3-by-6-meter) shelter would cost around $500 and require about 80 pallets [source: Embrey]. It’s easy to imagine combining several of these small shelters and reconfiguring them to form a unique, energy-efficient home. And if you do decide to remove the building at any time, the materials are easy to recycle.

6: Green Roof

A green roof is more than a cool architectural feature. It can help manage storm water runoff by providing a permeable surface, and it can help offset the urban heat-island effect. Rather than absorbing and storing heat like a regular roof, a green roof reflects heat and can help lower a building’s cooling costs. They are also great insulators and can reduce both air and noise pollution.

On a home, the most practical type of green roof is an extensive roof, which can support a variety of small plants. Because these roofs are designed to support only a few inches of soil, they don’t require much maintenance, and you’ll have a new kind of eco-friendly garden to enjoy.

5: Green Wall


Plant wall at fair in France
Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images
This eco-friendly green wall was on display at the Sustainable Luxury Fair in Paris in 2010.

Living walls are as beautiful as they are functional. These vertical gardens are able to support a range of plants from succulents and mosses to edibles. On top of turning otherwise wasted space into green space, a green wall on the south side of your building helps reduce cooling costs in the summer.

Most green walls are constructed using a modular design, which not only makes them easier to build, but also allows you to create interesting patterns and designs by mixing and matching different plants. Imagine growing fruits and vegetables right on your own home — it doesn’t get much greener than that!

4: Earthship

While an Earthship may sound like some kind of local UFO, it’s actually an eco-friendly form of housing becoming more popular around the world.

Michael Reynolds, who designed the first the Earthship back in the ’70s, envisioned a home that reduced waste and energy consumption. Typically, an Earthship’s frame is constructed from reclaimed tires and an eye toward maximum energy efficiency. Reynolds’ ultimate vision was to create off-grid communities of Earthships, so these homes generally rely on renewable energy rather than conventional electricity from the power grid.

These homes’ construction also tends to include old bottles and tin cans that would otherwise end up in landfills. And many Earthship owners go even greener by creating indoor gardens for growing their own food. Today, in addition to single-family Earthships, there are also Earthship neighborhoods and even condo complexes.

3: Beer Bottles


Wall of beer bottles
Put all those empty beer and soda bottles to good use — recycle them into the walls of a new home!

Want an eco-friendly way to get rid of those empties after a party? Tito Ingenieri built his Quilmes, Argentina, home out of 6 million empty glass bottles. He sets the bottles in concrete to create a light, airy space that’s a testament to the amount of empty bottles that go to waste. Friends and neighbors have saved their bottles for Ingenieri over a period of more than 19 years, and he says that his home “doesn’t belong to me, but to many people in this town. They say this is an ecological house, as it is made of bottles from the street, and now the streets are clean” [source: Alvarado].

While you may not want to spend years gathering (or drinking from) enough bottles to build a home, you can start smaller with a bottle shed or garden wall.

2: Hemp Concrete

Traditional concrete is very energy intensive to create, so one Asheville, NC, company is looking to change that. Hemp Technologies developed an alternative concrete, called Hemcrete, out of hemp, water and lime that’s more durable than regular concrete. Because it’s currently illegal to grow hemp in the U.S., Hemcrete costs more than regular concrete, but since the material insulates better than concrete, you make that up that cost over time in energy savings.

Walls constructed with this material are also resistant to fire, mold and insects, and some researchers think that it may even last as long as 700 to 800 years [source: Lawrence].


1: Modular Homes


Plans and model house
If you like puzzles and construction, you may enjoy building a modular home from a kit.

Modular homes have come a long way from the types of prefab houses that you’re probably familiar with. Many modular home companies are creating kit houses with a modern look and an environmental twist. Some buy the smaller kits to build guest houses or outdoor offices, but for minimalists and do-it-yourselfers, modular homes make perfect primary residences.

Eco-friendly modular homes are often smaller than traditional homes, so they use less energy to heat and cool. Also, since the pieces are all manufactured to fit together perfectly, prefab homes minimize the waste that goes along with a typical construction project.

To learn more about green construction and eco-housing options, check out the links on the next page.

Related Articles


  • Alvarado, Paula. “Guy Builds Massive House with Recycled Glass Bottles, Teaches you How to Do It.” Treehugger. March 3, 2010. (Jan. 26, 2011)
  • Buczynski, Beth. “3 Surprising Ways To Build An Efficient Green House.” Crisp Green. Jan. 17, 2011. (Jan. 25, 2011)
  • Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage. “Straw Bale House Construction.” (Jan. 26, 2011)
  • Edmonds, Molly. “How Straw Bale Houses Work.” HowStuffWorks.com. March 12, 2008. (Jan. 26, 2011)
  • Embrey, Matt. “Recycled Pallet House – Disaster Relief Housing.” July 7, 2008. (Jan. 25, 2011)
  • Green Building Elements. “Low Impact Living: Green Walls – Don’t Stop Greening On The Roof!” Sept. 18, 2008. (Jan. 26, 2011)
  • GreenHomeBuilding.com. “Cob.” (Jan. 26, 2011)
  • Lawrence, Robyn Griggs. “Hemp Concrete: Promising New Green Building Material.” Mother Earth News. Jan. 11, 2010. (Jan. 26, 2011)
  • Meyers, Glenn. “Modular Homes Gain in Popularity.” Green Building Elements. Jan. 3, 2011. (Jan. 25, 2011)
  • Tanasijevic, Jovan. “Paving, Paving Everywhere. Not a Drop Will Sink.” Architecture Boston. Aug. 5, 2010. (Jan. 26, 2011)
  • Trinity Buoy Wharf. “Container City.” (Feb. 4, 2011)
  • Welch, Bryan. “The Earthship.” Mother Earth News. Nov. 2, 2009. (Jan. 26, 2011)

Just another Global Dialog Project Sites site