Tag: resource use

Sustainable development of the manufacturing industry: casting and forging

This is a guest blog post from Minglei Guan, one of my students in the “Sustainability Science, Policy and Assessment” course this spring:

Sustainability is an important development goal for humanity in modern society. Manufacturing is a central feature of many economic development pathways, and in this sense casting and forging are therefore a necessary focus for sustainable development strategies. Casting (pouring hot metal into a mold) and forging (pressing metal into a certain shape) are two ways that all metal tools and products are made.

The economic issues for the casting and forging manufacturing industry can be summarized as low profit margins with high cost of capital, and market volatility. Low profit margins are common for small manufacturers when they lack an ability to improve their production processes, training and equipment. This issue can result in bankruptcy for small manufacturers, which then negatively impacts society through the loss of jobs. Economic support from government and industrial organizations can help alleviate this issue. For the second issue, the high cost of capital, is mainly driven by the cost of raw materials, labor, and energy. For the casting and forging manufacturing industry, the cost of materials is the most important. Efforts such as waste reduction and improved production methods are good ways to solve the issue, using approaches such as production life cycle improvement and TNS zero waste strategy.  Finally, the market volatility needs to be dependent upon local market requirements.

The casing and forging industries also have a large impact on the environmental dimension of sustainable development. High energy usage, materials resources waste and environmental damage are common to the casting and forging manufacturing industry.  High energy usage and materials resources waste are both resource issues; production life cycle improvement and TNS zero waste approaches can also be used to solve them. Emissions are also a serious problem for the industry. New technologies such as the “CRIMSON” model can be used to reduce emissions from the sand casting process. However, typically either new laws or environmental decrees are needed to limit greenhouse gas and smoke emissions or to filter them before they are released.

Finally, from social dimension, the industry has significant social impacts such as those related to labor costs and environmental damage as it impacts human health. To solve social, environmental and economic issues for the casting and forging manufacturing industry, one needs to considered relationships among these three views. Balanced development for society, the environment and the economy can push the manufacturing industry towards sustainability.


Chicago’s new Urban Farmer program

Grist.org published a segment last week on Chicago’s new urban farmer program, aiming to train up to 100 farmers each year on how to establish an urban neighborhood farm, both from the agricultural as well as the business side.

Many contracting or otherwise struggling urban cities in the US are looking to agriculture as a solution for vacant lots and unhealthy diets, from Pittsburgh to Detroit to Los Angeles. (You know it’s a trend when the New York Times has an entire online section dedicated to it.) Farming (or even gardening) on a vacant lot can be challenging, from polluted soil to poor drainage to pest infestations, not to mention ordinance violations. But as experience with these transformations grow, lessons learned from converting many thousands of acres of brownfields into greenfields could help localize our food system and provide much needed urban employment. It’s also a great way to immerse children in the food system, allowing easier access to gardens (to participate in growing their own food) and a natural way to get to know others in their community.

Personally, I’m glad to see the change of heart in my native city; let’s see if the suburbs follow suit and relax their landscaping ordinances that prohibit gardens in front yards.


Cozy living

First, apologies for the long hiatus…. the last month or so of the semester is always crazy.

I was going to write a reflective post on all of the sustainability-related events in 2012…. most notably, the lack of any sort of societal collapse as predicted by the Mayans and others (although as Jon Stewart remarked, perhaps the Mayans were not the best ones to be predicting collapses). However, as I sit here in my drafty post-mining poorly-insulated Yooper home, trying to warm my toes in front of a space heater, the only thing I can think about is how much nicer a tiny cottage with a pot-bellied wood stove might feel just about now.

Coincidentally, as I looked through my inbox, the latest edition of Grist has an entire article devoted to Living Large in Small Houses. While the thought of no mortgage and a forced reduction in junk (timely after the post-Christmas gift binge) does sound nice, what I found really engaging was the farm cottage in Vermont that stayed cozy all winter using less than a cord of wood.

I used to rent a log cabin even smaller than that when I was a grad student in Knoxville TN. It had a tiny kitchen, tiny bathroom, one small family room (where the wood stove was) and one other room that I used as a bedroom/den. Off the back was a giant porch with a view of the forested “holler” below, full of huge magnolia trees and tulip poplars hiding a Civil War-era fort within it. Due to the complete lack of insulation in the walls, I typically went through a cord of wood each winter, which wasn’t a big problem due to a microburst storm my first summer there that brought down 5 or 6 massive trees in my backyard. It look less than five minutes to find a forestry student with a chainsaw, and then I had years of wood to split and use. I look back on those years very fondly…. the house was small, easy to keep clean, and the heating system was very effective and simple to operate (open door, put wood in, throw in lit match, close door).

Maybe someday I’ll get back to that sort of living….. with the emergence of a huge diversity of tiny house blueprints, perhaps I’ll build it myself.

Happy New Year!


Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without

This old quote (linked to both the Great Depression in the United States, and the Shakers) can be difficult to abide by in our high tech world. However, I think these iFixit folks are really on to something here….. free online manuals for repairing anything from smart phones to  automobiles to toasters. Check the site out first before you haul that appliance to the curb…..


FOLK on campus for Global City

Tonight (Tuesday 25 September) at 6pm….. sponsored by the Global City student organization:

Global Citizens! Join us for the first Global City presentation of the 2012-2013 school year!

Tomorrow night, Tuesday, September 25, 6:00-7:00 pm in Fisher 138.

Linda Rulison and Catherine Paavola, members of the grassroots organization FOLK (Friends of the Land of Keweenaw), will discuss the local environmental issues which led to FOLK’s creation over 20 years ago. Their current initiatives and foci not only concern the environment but also involve human rights and social issues, topics which are concerns of people worldwide.

For more information, see the abstract below. Pizza and sodas will be provided! If possible, try and bring your own cups so we can cut down on waste.
FOLK is an active all-volunteer organization dedicated to maintaining a healthy Lake Superior bioregion. Our goals are to educate the public and support activities which recognize the inherent worth of our forest, our land and our watersheds. Please contact FOLK for information on how to join.

Jutting 80 miles into Lake Superior’s cold deep waters, the Keweenaw Peninsula is the jewel of the Great Lakes. A land of small farms and historic towns, clean air and tall pines, clear water and rugged shoreline, the Keweenaw is an area of unparalleled natural beauty. However, it’s beauty and tranquility has been threatened; this is the story of a group of citizens that have united to meet that threat and to always protect the quality of the Keweenaw.

In 1989, the James River Corporation proposed the construction of a 1.2 billion dollar bleach kraft pulp/paper mill near Keweenaw Bay in Michigan’s Western Upper Peninsula. If allowed to be built the mill would consume the equivalent of 80 clear cut acres of forest and discharge 41 million gallons of dioxin-laced waste effluent into Lake Superior each day. This threat to the Lake Superior watershed jolted local residents into action and gave birth to Friends of the Land of Keweenaw or FOLK. In less than a year, the tireless efforts of many caring citizens prevailed, culminating in the withdrawal of the mill proposal. These efforts included, Investing in the Keweenaw’s Future – Moving Towards Sustainable Development, a progressive report which introduced the concepts of sustainability that are now widely accepted.

Today, FOLK continues to be a diligent force working together with other state and national organizations to protect and preserve the ecological integrity of the Lake Superior Watershed. FOLK has spent considerable effort dealing with local land issues.

To read more about FOLK, visit their website: http://www.folkup.org/index.php


Klyftig!

Usually when I read stories about the international waste trade, often it is of the variety of rich countries shipping their electronic and hazardous waste to poorer countries, where the waste is not properly handled and wreaks havoc with human health and the environment.

But Sweden is now importing waste from Norway (and Sweden is paid to take it). It is too expensive to incinerate the waste in Norway and meet Norwegian environmental standards, and the Swedes are so efficient at waste recycling that they don’t have enough waste to burn. Sweden incinerates the waste to produce electricity, and then ships the dioxin-laden ash back to Norway where it is landfilled. Both countries have roughly equal GDP, so I suppose there is no waste trade scandal here, other than to wonder whether the Norwegians really achieve any financial or environmental gains through this exchange.


All of this has happened before

Although summers are quite busy, usually I try to find the time to read several books that have been occupying the corner of my desk during the academic year. I have finally read a book on my “meaning to get to” list for years: “Prehistoric Native Americans and Ecological Change,” (Cambridge University Press), by the professors who taught me landscape ecology, Paul and Hazel Delcourt.

Originally published in 2004, the book combines archaeology and paleoecology to describe how landscapes in North America were changed by human societies long before Europeans arrived. Ecologists especially have always believed that pre-European societies had little lasting impact on ecosystems in North America. This belief underpins many conservation biology targets for habitat and species restoration. However, the Delcourts describe thriving human societies in Ontario, southern Illinois and Eastern Tennessee that used fire and forest harvesting to support their agriculture-based societies, dramatically increasing nut-bearing trees and pioneer species (such as ragweed) at the expense of species adapted to mature forests. These changes, made at increasingly large scales, may have also increased herbivore species such as white-tailed deer that thrive in early-successional and edge woodland habitats.

The book is framed by Panarchy theory, and explains how these changes, when they reached a critical proportion of the surrounding landscape, created greater disturbances (such as floods) that likely led to the area being abandoned by these societies, long before Europeans arrived on the scene. These events are a reminder that humans, like all species, alter their environments. Sometimes these alterations are beneficial in the short term, but often they are detrimental in the long term. Even with small-scale disturbances (such as slash-and-burn agriculture), if the period allowed for ecosystem regeneration is too short, soil fertility can decline and ultimately the practice becomes unsustainable.

Of course, the lessons we gain from the distant past (14,000 to 500 years before present) are limited in their applicability. North America is now home to over 400 million people, almost two orders of magnitude larger than it has ever supported before. It may be that the agricultural and settlement practices of even the most sustainable of these early societies would be completely unsustainable today. But what we can learn is that our impacts will certainly be available for study for a long, long time.


Ostrom (1933-2012): Beyond the Commons

Indiana University announced today that Prof. Elinor Ostrom, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2009, died today of pancreatic cancer.

Ostrom was a textbook example of why diversity in perspectives and ideas always benefits any profession. At a time when Garrett Hardin’s “Tragedy of the Commons” (when commonly owned resources are unsustainably exploited) was the ruling paradigm of resource management, Ostrom’s studies of resources managed sustainably by local communities pointed out the limitations of the Tragedy paradigm. As stated by the Royal Swedish Academy’s announcement at the time of her award:

“Elinor Ostrom has challenged the conventional wisdom that common property is poorly managed and should be either regulated by central authorities or privatized. Based on numerous studies of user-managed fish stocks, pastures, woods, lakes, and groundwater basins, Ostrom concludes that the outcomes are, more often than not, better than predicted by standard theories. She observes that resource users frequently develop sophisticated mechanisms for decision-making and rule enforcement to handle conflicts of interest, and she characterizes the rules that promote successful outcomes.”

I have been reading the “Northwoods Reader” series by Cully Gage (a.k.a. Charles Van Riper), describing life in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan at the turn of the last century. At that time, land and waterways in the UP were a patchwork of large land holdings by industry and government (federal, state, and local), and small holdings by private individuals and families. However, no individuals would have been able to survive the long UP winters without subsistence hunting and fishing, which often took place locally on lands other than those owned by the individual. There was a well-developed system of socially acceptable behaviors related to hunting and fishing, regarding the time of year, sex, size, and number of individuals harvested. The irrelevance of land ownership with respect to subsistence-level resource use seemed similar to Finland and Sweden’s “Everyman’s Rights”, where the concept of “trespassing” is not directly translatable. (No surprise that this system migrated with the many Finns who settled in the UP). I often can’t help but reflect upon Ostrom’s work when I read passages about the local hunting and fishing practices that the “Lansing bureaucrats” called poaching, a concept derided as naïve at best by the locals.


The value of money

I found a small bit of time over the weekend to read Mark Boyle’s recent book, “The Moneyless Man: A year of freeconomic living” (2010, One World Publications). He succeeded to live for a year without spending or exchanging money; all of his needs were met through bartering, growing or building things himself, riding his bike (or occasionally hitchhiking), or using the cast-offs of others. Although he acknowledged the role that money plays in a market system (regardless of whether it is capitalist, socialist, communist, or other), he felt that money has become disassociated with this central role: to help make the trade of goods and services more efficient. Instead, money has become a end goal to itself; to accumulate as much as possible.

The book is an interesting read, and has a good deal to contribute to communities that are interested in supplying more goods and services locally, and for those looking to simplify their lives. Unfortunately some of his methods are illegal in some (or all!) parts of the US (e.g., dumpster diving, collecting wild edible plants and mushrooms on private property), but the illegality of these methods does give the reader an opportunity to wonder why these laws are necessary.

The book brought to mind the documentary “Once upon a time in Knoxville“, about a sort-of planned community within spitting distance of my old haunts in southern Knoxville during my grad school days. There, one enterprising man has built an entire neighborhood of houses out of discarded materials, and rents the houses out. Sadly, the house I rented (presumably not made from recycled things) was quite a bit worse than the houses he had put together! But perhaps I couldn’t have expected much for $200/month…..

If nothing else, Mr. Boyle provides the reader encouragement to take some time off from “the rat race” (if even for a long weekend) and contemplate what exactly is needed versus what is a want masquerading as a need. That is certainly something most people in developed countries could do on a regular basis!


Save some for the birds

In last week’s Science, a group of researchers pooled data on marine ecosystems around the world to measure the impact of fisheries on marine birds. They found that once fish and krill populations dipped below 30% of their maximum, bird populations began to suffer. Said a different way: if we want penguins, puffins, terns and kittiwakes, we’re going to have to leave them something to eat.

The study reminds me of Peter Vitousek’s famous piece (BioScience 36:368) on “Human Appropriated Net Primary Productivity” in 1986. He estimated that humans use about 40% of all of the biomass produced by plants in a given year; this claim has been supported and refuted about a dozen times since then. Postel et al. have looked at  our appropriation of water as well (estimating that we use over half of the available runoff globally). Since everything needs to eat and drink, it then becomes less surprising that we are witness to such startling losses of biodiversity (well…. perhaps we are more than just “witnessing” it!).

The difference between the “one third for the birds” study and these predecessors is policy relevance: it is probably better to know how much we can take before we do irreparable damage, than to simply know how much we are taking. Let’s see if others can follow suit with biomass, water, and land area.

Happy New Year!