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As of last week, all the windows in the Empire State Building have been replaced…using the existing glass…repurposed right on site. Please excuse the ellipses, but this is really exciting.
As Kevin Surace of Serious Materials tells it — Tony Malkin, owner of the New York City landmark, wanted to save money on his energy bills, but didn’t want to waste his existing glass and Kevin said, “I can do that.”
So there, in a temporary shop on the fifth floor, Kevin’s crew remade each of the building’s 6,500 windows, crafting them into a new product which is 400% more efficient than what was there before.
The windows are part of an energy-efficiency retrofit that will achieve the astounding feat of making the Empire State greener than 90% of other office buildings. Tony expects it will save him $4.4 million a year.
Kevin Surace is a game-changer. He’s one of those rare individuals who give humans a good name because they’re so darn smart – not just in book learning (his degree is in Electrical Engineering Technology), but about how to influence other people to do what’s best for humanity at large.
As Inc. Magazine’s Entrepreneur of the Year, he was featured speaker at the 2010 Rochester Institute of Technology Entrepreneurs Conference, giving a rapt crowd his ten secrets for building a great company:
1. Identify a problem. Buildings and making the the stuff they’re built from generate 52% of the world output of carbon dioxide.
2. Provide great solutions. Since dual-pane glass is basically ineffective at reducing heat and cold transfer, Kevin’s company has come up with something better.
3. Recognition by peers is important. Kevin showed two videos of President Obama extolling the fact that Serious re-opened a shuttered factory and put hundreds of people back to work making energy efficient products.
4. Hire the right people for the job. Most of his come from Silicon Valley not from the building industry.
5. Have a vision for the next 5 to 10 years (at least) into the future.
6. Amazing client references help a lot. 3.5 million people visit the Empire State Building every year. My guess is Kevin will find some way to tell them about the windows.
7. Disruptive innovation. Stand up and knock over the table of existing practice. Kevin believes nothing happens if no one takes risks.
8. Disruptive marketing. Be there the moment the customer needs you. Monthly newsletters don’t cut it any more. Own the online conversation about your product category.
9. People notice when you’re nice. Smiling faces of people you put back to work: Priceless.
10. Don’t be afraid to change everything we know.
Building Industry Business Advice economy Empire State Building Energy Efficiency Entrepreneurship environment finance Glass local economics New York City personal sustainability Rochester Institute of Technology Serious Materails sustainability technology Windows: environment technology
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I was walking with my friend when she told me her dog, Rita, was having a terrible time with allergies. Nothing—from pricey prescription dog food to medicated soap—made any difference. As she was talking, I thought of a Green Living Meetup I had just attended, the topic: “Ways of Reducing Chemicals in Your Home”. Something I learned there just might help.
I had never been to a Meetup before. When I arrived a little early on that rainy Saturday afternoon, the room in the public library was already half full of a diverse assortment of adults, plus a few babies. Our smiling hosts, Sara and Todd, sat on a table up front next to an array of boxes, bottles and bags.
Sara spoke first, explaining how the human body fights off infection and rids itself of harmful chemicals. Toxins are carried off in secretions such as sweat and mucus, or filtered by the kidneys, liver and other organs. Allergies and chemical sensitivity happen, she claimed, when those mechanisms are overwhelmed. The wafts from a fresh coat of paint or new printer could be the last straw to break the back of the body’s natural defenses.
Promising he’d have good news later, Todd launched into a litany of scary environmental data. A long-range study by the EPA detected 900 chemicals in the air of the average government office building. Indoor air can be ten times more polluted than the air outdoors. Houses, especially new ones, can harbor a host of noxious compounds. Throat-cancer-causing formaldehyde, for instance, may hide in your shampoo, your tissues, your carpet, and the no-iron clothes you wear.
Todd and Sara wanted to help us ratchet back our overall exposure. The pair, who looked to be in their early 30s, had a sweet way about them. They used simple terms and answered questions respectfully. But, of course, they were preaching to a self-selected choir. As a science journalist, I was probably the most skeptical person there.
Peppering their talk with personal anecdotes, our hosts said their “journey” began when they noticed their health took a nosedive when they were at home. Todd, for instance, has bipolar disorder. Every time they had their house cleaned, Todd’s symptoms got worse.
What helped turn things around? Todd and Sara credit NASA and the good, old-fashioned houseplant. Back in the ‘70s, the crew of Skylab was getting sick. When the vessel’s inside environment was simulated back on earth, the air swirled with toxics. Scientists popped in some plants and–voila!–the toxics level plunged.
Todd held up two innocuous leafy specimens. “Every plant has its own unique biosphere,” he said. “Each one is a filter which removes specific chemicals from the air.” The lesson here: use plants to clean the household air, but don’t buy just one type. You need a variety. Sara and Todd have 18 different kinds in their bedroom. And, no—they told a questioner—the plants don’t use up all the oxygen during the night.
We turned our attention to the bottles and boxes. Some were decidedly unsexy, which Todd happens to like the best. He uses the big bag of baking soda for laundry and dishwasher detergent and also as toothpaste. The white vinegar disinfects and cleans countertops. Borax is a natural laundry booster and stain remover. A variety of fancier “green” commercial products also made the cut.
The websites of nine low-toxic cleaning services were listed on a handout, as well as book titles and online references for almost every fact and study Todd and Sara cited.
I wondered about these well-meaning strangers. Neither is a scientist nor what society deems an “expert”. But they clearly researched the subject and had a wealth of personal experience. I thought of Wikipedia which has no paid staff, but has grown into one of the world’s largest fonts of information. Its facts and references are also merged by unpaid knowledgeable individuals. A study in the journal Nature says Wikipedia is nearly as factually-accurate as Encyclopedia Britannica.
When we consult any information purveyor, including Wikipedia and Meetup, it’s up to us to use our judgment to sift through what we see and hear. When we have access to the original sources, we can check the facts for ourselves. Knowing Todd and Sara had given me the tools to do that, my cynical self relaxed.
Which brings us back to what’s wrong with Rita. I am neither a vet nor an EPA official, but I have an idea. Her symptoms have gotten worse since they moved into their just-built home. “But everything’s new!” my pal exclaimed. Yep—right down to the emanating paint, carpet and synthetic wood floor. She sneezes even more after the cleaning service comes. Could Rita’s home be her Skylab?
“How ‘bout you wipe everything down with water and white vinegar?” I suggested. “And put different types of plants around the house. Then we’ll see how she does. I’ll give you a copy of what I got at the Meetup.”
The simple act of taking the bus can make a big difference. Last year, because Americans took 10.7 million trips on public transit, 4 billion gallons of gasoline were not used. Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas pollution in this country – and cars are the biggest contributor. But somehow, as much as we hate traffic, we tend to forget the mighty job a bus can do to get cars off the road. We also overlook that, to a kid, a bus can be a ticket to personal freedom. Knowing how to take transit teaches children to be durable humans.
For Blog Action Day, 2009, I offer the story of how my fifteen year old son and his friend learned the transit lesson. I won’t reprint the whole story which appears in the Washington Post, but suffice it to say the kids and their moms got an education—thanks to technology—on how to research and ride the bus. The families saved both time and money. But for the kids, there was more. As I wrote, “For one thing, they got exercise. Walking that mile to and from the bus happens to be the daily dose of activity recommended for teens by the American Heart Association. Plus, getting outside in the fresh air is an antidote for what author Richard Louv terms “nature deficit disorder.” Louv, in his book “Last Child in the Woods”, also argues that the leash we have on our kids is way too tight. When we allow them to be more self-reliant and self-propelled, they gain pride and satisfaction.”
I am proud there are two more people on the planet who know a viable way to get around without a car.
So, next time you don’t think you can stand another minute behind the wheel, think about whether you—or someone you have to drive—could possibly take the bus.
We might wonder how one of the world’s leading biologists, E. O. Wilson, could say that video games are the future of education. But that he did, today on NPR’s Morning Edition. His blunt prediction: “We’re going through a rapid transition now. We’re about to leave print and textbooks behind.”
It was an extraordinary segment. Renowned electronic game designer, Will Wright, was the guest interviewer. He chose to talk to Wilson, whom Wright says has been a major influence on his career as designer of such blockbusters as Sim City and the evolution-depicting Spore. Wilson believes that video games can actually recreate teaching methods that adults used on kids at the dawn of humankind. ”They went with adults and they learned everything they needed to learn by participating in the process,” Wilson said. Virtual reality games, Wilson says, can do the same thing. In Wilson’s vision, if a teacher wants to visit a tundra, the class can go to a tundra. A rainforest can be explored, canopy to floor, without one bug bite.
The whole conversation was ironic: that technology would end up teaching kids about nature, and that harkening back to prehistoric times could happen best online.
Just last week, WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi show featured Eric Garfinkle, developer of the kids video game “Wonder Rotunda”. In the game, kids visit a World’s Fair where they can enter pavilions housing fantastic activities such as visiting the Great Barrier Reef, or taking inside tours of the White House. All of it, of course, is virtual reality. Garfinkle says a big advantage of his game is that parents can go along on the visit, just as if they were actually at the fair.
Every time I find a reason to think we should put the brakes on kids and technology, I find a reason how technology, used with care, can help.
Ambling through cyberspace, you have stumbled upon this blog. It is designed to showcase ideas to help you adapt to an increasingly technological world, yet foster and uphold your unique strengths as a human being. Every post is infused by at least a touch of unplugged wisdom from the Last Generation, BC - the brave souls who managed to grow up Before Cellphones.
Nothing metaphysical here, just good common sense that shouldn’t be lost in the Web 2.0 shuffle.