Welcome to the blog of the Broad Curriculum course Living Sustainably: A complete guide to surviving a changing planet. This course is run by Professor Nick Gray of the Centre for the Environment at Trinity College Dublin.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Eco Gyms - Generating Your Own Electricity?



A photo of The Green Microgym in Portland, Oregon.
(image from: http://www.thegreenmicrogym.com)

The other day I was working out at my gym and I looked around at the rows of people moving along to the rhythms of their various ellipticals, treadmills, cycles, and stair masters, their store-purchased water bottles perched atop the blinking electronic dashes of their machines; I took note of the row of large televisions that constantly blare at the front of the room; I thought about the lights turned up bright, despite the sunlight flooding in through the wall of windows; and I thought: “This seems wrong!” I was surrounded by consumption and wasted energy. All of the cardio machines, TV sets, fans, stereos and lights in this gym are plugged in and running all day long from open till close. Fitness centers, particularly in the United States (my home country) use an extraordinary amount of energy and water. Treadmills alone require about 1500 watts of energy to power and most machines and equipment in gyms are left on all day long (1).Stationary bikes lose about 90% of the energy they use in heat while only 10% is used to actually power the machine (2).  The gym would appear to be the ultimate antithesis of an environmentally friendly institution. It seems silly to be on machines that are reproducing motions that our bodies should be able to do on their own. Our lifestyles should, in theory, be supporting our health, right? We should be out in nature, running and walking and cycling and lifting every day items and we should all be in perfect shape. Gyms, in a perfect world, should be entirely unnecessary. But that is not how it works. We are endlessly confronted with the paradox of the developed world’s endless struggle with fitness. None of us are strangers to the epidemic of obesity that struck America and moved its way over to Ireland (and in a big way, might I add!)

Our world cannot become sustainable if the health our population is slowly deteriorating into a big lump of overweight consumers. Many gym enthusiasts will never give up their memberships in exchange for a jog outside, and many unfit or unhealthy individuals may have to rely on a gym as a way to find support and assistance in their efforts to become healthier.

So, are gyms just a necessary evil that will go on producing emissions at remarkably rapid rates, and we should just turn our heads the other way? It doesn’t seem so entirely hopeless! I started doing some research into the topic of sustainability in gyms and quickly found that I am not the only person who is troubled by the vast amount of water and energy wasted by gyms, particularly in the US. There is a wealth of information about the inefficiency of gyms and health centers, but there is also an incredibly interesting new trend of what are called eco gyms. Eco gyms operate on the idea that they can capture the energy that is expended while working out and use it to power their facilities, in theory rendering the building self-sustaining. Like gerbils spinning around a wheel, humans in a gym are in essence doing little else beyond producing energy in the form of burning calories. One of the many gyms that I read about was from Portland, Oregon (my hometown!) and uses incredibly low levels of energy by using specially designed machines that are and hooked up to DC generators that produce energy to power the facility (3). The gym also uses refurbished and sustainably manufactured equipment (even mountain bikes made of bamboo!) and the bathrooms use special water heaters and eco-friendly cleaning products. Eco gyms are becoming increasingly popular around the globe (4). They also include lower levels of lighting, relying more on natural light, more eco-friendly water usage, and sustainable cafes in their lobbies. There are, of course many problems, such as the high costs of “greening” an already existing facility, and the fact that many gyms are too small to actually produce enough energy to run their own machines, but these ideas seem incredibly helpful in moving the fitness industry in the right direction (5).  Of course, the only real way to eliminate emissions issues with gym facilities would be to move everyone’s workouts outside, but it would be great to see more facilities at least attempting to institute some of these practices or even for cities to start adding incentives for companies to do so so that our health and environment can become more sustainable. Some of these products, such as cardio equipment that captures and stores usable energy could even be useful in the home, producing power to fuel your ipods and cell phone chargers. You could offset your own footprint to some extent with your own human watts! I love the gym, but I am going to be more conscientious and start taking my workouts outside whenever the weather permits.

Katie Gourley

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Plastic Litter

Ailbhe Reilly’s post My Day Without Plastic has shown us that it is absolutely vital to reduce our use of plastic as well as ensure that litter is not left on the ground to find its way into streams and rivers to make its way eventually into the sea.  Unless it is picked up then the vast majority of litter ends up polluting our major oceans.  Sir David Attenborough explains in a short Planet Oceans video (http://www.plasticoceans.net) that the individual can make a difference to this major environmental problem that Ailbhe raised yesterday.



Nick Gray

Friday, February 22, 2013

My Day Without Plastic

We all want to tread a little lighter on this earth. The younger generation have embraced green ideals, been convinced of the evils of landfill, that the threat of green house gases is real, and that protecting the Earth for future generations is an urgent task.
Yet I’m writing, and you are reading this blog on a laptop or PC largely composed of plastics  -  the petroleum based, light weight and infinitely versatile material that has transformed modern life but poses complex environmental questions.
Consider these facts:
·         More than a million seabirds are killed every year, either by ingestion or entanglement in plastic debris floating in our oceans and rivers.
·         The Great Pacific Garbage Patch comprises some 3.5 million tonnes of floating ocean rubbish the size of Texas and extending 20 feet into the water column. Experts say will double in size within five years. Link
·         Here in Ireland 99.7% of our plastic waste goes directly to landfill. Only 0.3% in recycled.
·         Crucially, three times more plastic waste comes from our homes than industry.
That last fact got me thinking.  We can no longer blame big business for the millions of tonnes of plastic waste now being dumped in landfill which will be there long after we are gone. Business and industry, strong-armed into compliance by legislation and the threat of heavy fines, as well as the high cost of waste disposal, have embraced recycling more than ordinary households.


New plastic Garbbage Patch discovered in Indian Ocean
Copyright Coastal Care
Link to Coastal Care 
So I decided to try and spend a day without plastic. It was more difficult than I thought. Even before I left home in the morning I was confronted with a dilemma. I was faced with the grim choice of going to college looking like a Z-list soap star after two weeks in the “I’m A Celebrity- Get Me Out Of Here!” jungle or abandon my plan before it had even begun. Plastic toothbrush, hairbrush, bottles of shampoo, conditioner and makeup; even the toothpaste was in a plastic tube. For the first time I could see where all of this household plastic in the landfill was coming from- my bathroom! Even morning coffee on the way to the train station posed problems, a plastic stirrer, a plastic lid and those ridiculous containers of foil-topped milk. I’d already created a sea of plastic.
My college messenger bag is plastic, and so are my pens, so lecture notes were taken with a stubby pencil. And don’t even mention the IPod and earphones that pass the time as I walk around campus. All in all, a plastic free day was becoming a bigger challenge than I ever thought. There were some bright spots at lunch though. Loose fruit in the Hamilton Shop, with a sandwich in a brown paper bag and soup in a cardboard cup from The Science Gallery (ordered without the spoon or the plastic lid of course). Water throughout the day was provided by the many fountains dotted around the Hamilton Building. There is a knack to drinking out of those, by the way. I have not yet mastered it. That’s why I was seen around college like a dribbling fool with massive water stains down my top.
The journey home was uneventful but did give me time to consider that a life without plastic was very difficult, but achievable.  Arrival home though, brought a sharp dose of reality, not least the prospect of no reruns of Friends on my plastic TV, no YouTube videos on my plastic laptop, and no CDs or DVDs to fill my pathetically empty social life.
So, life without plastic is nigh on impossible, but there is something we can do. We can reuse, recycle, and take a far more uncompromising view of how we use and abuse plastics.
Plastics, for all their faults, especially their indestructibility, are infinitely recyclable.  Car tyres can be made into all-weather football pitches, plastic stirrers can become the dashboard of a new BMW, and as we all now know in this country, one plastic bag can carry home a year’s worth of shopping, not just one day. Small changes in terms of how we recycle can make a big difference to the environment and leave the Earth fit for future generations.
Ailbhe Reilly

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Personal Definition of Sustainability - Alice Kennedy

Sustainability is living within our means, sharing our resources equally among all such that it does not harm our environment, our diversity nor affect the success of future generations. It means living selflessly and being fair to each other, the planet and future societies.

Alice Kennedy – Functional Biology

Monday, February 18, 2013

Personal Definition of Sustainability - Darren Morrell

Sustainability is living within the confines of the planet to a degree that does not critically diminish essential resources or the living standards of future generations. Fundamental to this is the preservation of an ecological dynamic equilibrium of which we are a stakeholder, not the stakeholder.

Darren Morrell – Geography

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Personal Definition of Sustainability - Stephen Lehane

Sustainability is society living within our means, in regards the natural resources available to us. Attempting to maintain, to the greatest possible degree, the standard of the environment in which we live.

Stephen Lehane - Deaf Studies

Friday, February 15, 2013

Personal Definition of Sustainability - Keith O’Neill

Sustainability: The process of protecting and maintaining the planet and its resources, which should be enjoyed by all living organisms regardless of size or dominance. As a highly cognitive species, humans have the absolute responsibility to ensure that this protection and maintenance is guaranteed for current and future populations.

 Keith O’Neill  -  Sociology / French

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Personal Definition of Sustainability - Ivana Yeow

Sustainability, to me, means maintaining the planet at its optimum state and conserving the planet’s resources for future generations. We must not destroy the planet, nor overexploit its resources. We must allow the planet to revive itself and we should aid in its recovery.

 Ivana Yeow - Molecular medicine

Monday, February 11, 2013

Personal Definition of Sustainability - Kevin Daly

Sustainability is the state in which economic growth does not irreparably damage the environment or global social conditions in the present or future.
 Kevin Daly – Genetics

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Personal Definition of Sustainably - Ailis O'Carroll

Sustainability is the ability and duty we humans, one species of 10 million global species, have to balance a decent lifestyle with the maintenance of our planet’s finite resources, realising that when these resources are gone so too will the 10 million species.

Ailis O'Carroll – Immunology

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Personal definition of sustainability - Anne O'Donovan

Sustainability is an ideal which consists of the sum of each generation’s altruism for the next. The altruistic favour in this case would be the lifestyle change necessary to live within a means which would allow the next generation to survive at the same standard of living.

Anne O'Donovan - Microbiology

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Personal definition of sustainability - Joy Kennedy

Sustainability is the human obligation to accept, respect and take responsibility for our planet’s needs and the future generation’s wellbeing by taking action to improve and then maintain the way in which we use our natural resources.

Joy Kennedy – Physiology