Smart Grid Condos
The most ambitious project of the Green Age is Aldeia's 15-condo "microgrid" development, Independence Station, in Independence, Oregon. When completed, the 57,000-square-foot community should rely primarily on a 120-kilowatt installation of photovoltaic panels backed by "biofuel cogeneration"-- a pretty term for energy created by scraps from your garbage disposal. It should also earn the highest LEED score ever. More impressive is that Aldeia plans to publish occupants' energy consumption figures publicly so we can all watch, audit, and be inspired by the grand experiment.

[Image and Via: Independence Station]
Living Streetlights
MagCap Engineering recently applied for a patent to tap into Mother Nature's other all-natural electrical system. The concept: Trees emit a faint electrical current. Hook enough of them into a circuit and you can recharge hybrid batteries or power LEDs. Result: Roads without energy-intensive conventional streetlights. Trees can doubly offset carbon by emitting both oxygen and electricity as they grow.

[Via: Treehugger]
Donation Search Engine
Don't have enough money or time to save the rainforest all by yourself? You can still contribute--for free!--simply by changing one small part of your Internet-surfing habits. That is the premise behind Ecosia, a Web filter that pledges to donate 80% of income from sponsored links to World Wildlife Federation projects in the Amazon. The company estimates that the average cubicle drone's random clicks can set aside about 6,000-square-feet of safe zone per year. So you aren't really wasting time; you are protecting endangered species!

[Via BusinessGreen]
Staycation Eco-Resort
This 29-acre spa resort has all the buzz wordy tech: solar panels, wind turbines, geothermal heat pumps, photovoltaic hot water systems, irrigation form gray water systems... blah, blah, blah. What sets it apart from other mega developments is two things: First, it was built on 29 acres formerly decimated by a sand mine, so will actually help restore and protect the native flora and fauna of a butchered landscape. Second, those 29 acres are near Monterey Bay, California. As in, it is actually in the United States, a nice alternative for jet setters troubled by the carbon footprint of their annual pilgrimages to the British Virgin Islands.

[Via Inhabitat]
White House Sustainable Garden
Michelle Obama didn't just plug the concept of sustainable-living gardening, she made it hip. Rather than go with the tired tomato-and-bean survival staples, which cropped up in the last White House garden during World War II, First Lady Obama went bold: a 1,100-square-foot plot with 55 different varietals ranging from exotic--cilantro, tomatillos, hot peppers--to gourmet--red romaine, green oak leaf, butterhead, red leaf and galactic lettuces. Total cost: $200 for enough food to supplement the executive kitchen. That it was modeled after and planted by kids from a nearby elementary school? A subtle message that we are all behind the curve.

[Via The New York Times]
The Kindle 2
An E-book reader that is good for the environment? Well, sort of. Digital downloads mean not only fewer felled trees for paperbacks, but a cut in the transport cuts to ship those heavy, cumbersome items. Plus, the screen uses a low-power visual program that refreshes less often with a different color scheme to use less energy for display icons than the traditional laptop. If anything, digital texts will cut down on clutter. As one reviewer put it: Read everything you can on the Kindle first, then figure out which few books to buy as art pieces.

[Via Obsessable]
Sustainable Church Chapel
When a reverend in Boedigheim, Germany needed a chapel but couldn't pay for it he simply outsourced--for everything. The result was the sustainably designed Field Chapel by Frank Flury, a professor of architecture at Illinois Institute of Technology. Flury and his students worked pro bono to create digital renderings of prayer house's nuts and bolts, then exported them to be cut at CNC mills closer to the worksite. Meanwhile, all of the materials were donated from less than 25 miles away. The moral? If your blueprints have a larger meaning, even the smallest projects are more likely to help.
Lika Volkova's DIY Clothing
As Cliff Kuang pointed out earlier this year, there is no such thing as green clothing. The concept itself ignores the fact that even low-eco-impact fibers like hemp are still run through highly industrial assembly plants and then shipped in bulk to storefronts across the globe. Fashion designer Lika Volka's solution? Create templates that allow others to manufacture the goods themselves on a hyper local, individual level. She offers her own patterns for DIY coats and dresses, all simple enough that pretty much anyone with a needle, thread, and shears can make them. Her payout: a small kickback off each template, minus the nightmares about disgruntled sweat shop workers.
IKEA's Green Home Decor
If you haven't figured it out by now, shipping things is bad for the environment because it requires lots of carbon-emitting fuel for transport. And the heavier and bulkier an item is, the less efficiently it can be shipped. IKEA can't cut out shipping products altogether, so the company made an interesting design decree this year: Everything must be even more lightweight and small-box compressible than usual. Enter the tripod table with three flat legs that are stackable like plywood, the hollow wooden bench seat that resembles a much heavier piece of lumber, and the dresser with drawers that can purposely fit inside each other like a Russian Doll for Fed Ex-ing.
Bronx Water Treatment Plant and Driving Range
Rather than replace a driving range to build a water treatment plant, Grimshaw Architects has combined them. A nine-acre $95 million range will be built atop a green roof over the new filtration facility, giving both areas a great handicap. The reservoir will help water the course while the course's marshes will help collect rainwater. The fact that the whole place will be open to the public helps promote the interdependency aspect for future projects.

The Brightest Green Projects of 2009

With almost every new gadget, building, or business strategy purporting to be somehow good for the environment these days, it's tough to separate truly great projects from silly spin moves. The biggest factor separating green gold from green washing is still the same: innovation. Whether in toys or architecture, the best green projects of the year sought to subtly tweak the ways we think, act, or interact with the environment--even if they were lofty or far-fetched ideas. Here, now, the best to make it off the drawing board.

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