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How Idaho is Embracing Sustainability



Robert Conrad, from Idaho, US, explores how his home city is turning to sustainability initiatives as a growing population is leading to environmental challenges.

As an Idaho native, I have watched my state explode with growth in recent years.  Areas that were once pastures are now filling up with homes to accommodate the large influx of new residents.  With a 14.3% growth since 2000, Boise, Idaho has become the new hotspot for people to move to, with its abundance of trees and rich Basque history.

However, there have been some environmental concerns that have arisen due to this astronomic growth.  Inherently, the Treasure Valley (where Boise is located) is prone to inversions, which traps vehicle emissions close to the valley floor, thus degrading air quality over time.  Other concerns include groundwater contamination and an increasing need for wastewater plants.

In response to this need, some businesses in the local area have taken the initiative in reducing their carbon footprint through various means. For example, Boise Cascade made some excellent changes to its wood-drying process, dropping its emissions output by 81% since 2000.  Boise Cascade has even partnered with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in its Climate Leaders initiative to help reduce its greenhouse emissions, which have dropped 5% since 2000.  By voluntarily joining with the EPA’s initiative, Boise Cascade is leading a newfound local interest in long-term sustainability practices.

Another company that has been doing excellent work in the realm of sustainability would be Boise Centre.  The Boise Centre has turned much of its focus on energy efficiency, water conservation and waste reduction.  The methods employed by the Centre include a more efficient lighting system, the use of water stations as opposed to individual pitchers, and partnering with various local companies in their recycling efforts.  Boise Centre still continues to reduce its environmental impact and partner with local companies into 2015, and serves as a great example for other local businesses through their efforts.

Other initiatives that the City of Boise has taken include hosting a ‘Green Workshop’ in 2013.  The workshop covered topics such as development practices, water efficiency, and resource conservation.  The workshop featured speakers from the EPA and ICF International, and was funded by a grant from the city.  Its message expanded beyond business owners, as the event was available to the public.

In its own efforts, the EPA has voiced their interest in sustainable practices and has provided a resource page for interested parties.   Accepted practices endorsed by the EPA include sustainable communities & transportation, as well as green technology and chemicals.  These programs provide information on clean automotive technology, as well as green infrastructure, engineering and chemical research.  The practices of green engineering and infrastructure were the main focus of the Green Workshop hosted in Boise in 2013.

In truth, sustainability is not a new topic of concern.  The roots of sustainability can be traced back to the English Industrial Revolution, where philosophers Adam Smith, David Hume and John Stuart Mill began speaking out against environmental damage.  Since that time, legislation has taken proactive steps to reduce the environmental impact, such as the Clean Air Act of 1970, followed by the Clean Water Act shortly after in 1972.  There have even been private and public organisations that have taken great strides in protecting the environment through cleanup and recycling initiatives.

In whole, the city of Boise is continuing these initiatives through their own programs.  These include climate protection, erosion & sediment control and stormwater programs.  The City of Boise also recognises businesses that employ sustainability practices through their Building Excellence and EnviroGuard Sustainability Awards programs.  These awards are handed out on an annual basis, and honor managers and owners whose upgrades and renovations reduce their environmental impact.

Going forward, Boise’s growth continues at an astronomical rate with no signs of slowing down soon.  As a result, businesses and residents should do what they can to reduce their environmental impact.  Air quality and groundwater preservation are top priorities in the Treasure Valley, and everyone should do their part as a resident to continue the meet, or even exceed, the bar set by Boise Centre and Boise Cascade.

Robert Conrad is an Idaho native and former Business student.  He has lived in Idaho his whole life, and watched it transform from a quiet state to the current hotspot to live.  When he’s not earning a paycheck, he enjoys road trips, random excursions, and playing video games.  Connect with Robert on Twitter or Facebook.

Further reading:

‘Global efforts’ needed to make cities sustainable

Urban sustainable tourism: being responsible in the city

Thriving, livable and green, Melbourne walks the talk as a sustainable city

Urban integration: key issues in building sustainable cities

Sustainable cities go beyond green to blue


Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?



self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Zapp2Photo |

Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?

But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?

The Big Picture

The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.

That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.

Driver Reduction?

One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.

There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.

As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.


Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.

Make and Model of Car

Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.

On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.

The Bottom Line

Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?

Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.

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Road Trip! How to Choose the Greenest Vehicle for Your Growing Family



Greenest Vehicle
Licensed Image by Shutterstock - By Mascha Tace --

When you have a growing family, it often feels like you’re in this weird bubble that exists outside of mainstream society. Whereas everyone else seemingly has stability, your family dynamic is continuously in flux. Having said that, is it even possible to buy an eco-friendly vehicle that’s also practical?

What to Look for in a Green, Family-Friendly Vehicle?

As a single person or young couple without kids, it’s pretty easy to buy a green vehicle. Almost every leading car brand has eco-friendly options these days and you can pick from any number of options. The only problem is that most of these models don’t work if you have kids.

Whether it’s a Prius or Smart car, most green vehicles are impractical for large families. You need to look for options that are spacious, reliable, and comfortable – both for passengers and the driver.

5 Good Options

As you do your research and look for different opportunities, it’s good to have an open mind. Here are some of the greenest options for growing families:

1. 2014 Chrysler Town and Country

Vans are not only popular for the room and comfort they offer growing families, but they’re also becoming known for their fuel efficiency. For example, the 2014 Chrysler Town and Country – which was one of CarMax’s most popular minivans of 2017 – has Flex Fuel compatibility and front wheel drive. With standard features like these, you can’t do much better at this price point.

2. 2017 Chrysler Pacifica

If you’re looking for a newer van and are willing to spend a bit more, you can go with Chrysler’s other model, the Pacifica. One of the coolest features of the 2017 model is the hybrid drivetrain. It allows you to go up to 30 miles on electric, before the vehicle automatically switches over to the V6 gasoline engine. For short trips and errands, there’s nothing more eco-friendly in the minivan category.

3. 2018 Volkswagen Atlas

Who says you have to buy a minivan when you have a family? Sure, the sliding doors are nice, but there are plenty of other options that are both green and spacious. The new Volkswagen Atlas is a great choice. It’s one of the most fuel-efficient third-row vehicles on the market. The four-cylinder model gets an estimated 26 mpg highway.

4. 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

While a minivan or SUV is ideal – and necessary if you have more than two kids – you can get away with a roomy sedan when you still have a small family. And while there are plenty of eco-friendly options in this category, the 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is arguably the biggest bang for your buck. It gets 38 mpg on the highway and is incredibly affordable.

5. 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel

If money isn’t an object and you’re able to spend any amount to get a good vehicle that’s both comfortable and eco-friendly, the 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel is your car. Not only does it get 28 mpg highway, but it can also be equipped with a third row of seats and a diesel engine. And did we mention that this car looks sleek?

Putting it All Together

You have a variety of options. Whether you want something new or used, would prefer an SUV or minivan, or want something cheap or luxurious, there are plenty of choices on the market. The key is to do your research, remain patient, and take your time. Don’t get too married to a particular transaction, or you’ll lose your leverage.

You’ll know when the right deal comes along, and you can make a smart choice that’s functional, cost-effective, and eco-friendly.

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