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EcoChi For Interior Design

May 23, 2011 | Posted in Green Building, Work Green | By

Every space has a life of its own, and impacts us as we go about our lives. Our actions, energy and thoughts, as well as our physical well-being, are all profoundly influenced by our surroundings. The design, color scheme, textures, light, furnishings, accessories and placement of each item in our indoor environments impact our senses from moment to moment and shape how we feel about ourselves and others.

I created the EcoChi system which meticulously blends the powerful ancient and modern lessons of classical feng shui, green and sustainable living and environmental psychology to revolutionize how people feel when they are indoors. We spend about 99% of our time inside so it is easy to forget our connection to the outdoor world. Still, some of the happiest moments of our lives are spent outdoors. With EcoChi I bring nature’s elements into indoor spaces. The effects on the inhabitants are transformative and the added bonus is that it is also great for the planet.

 East Meets West

Eastern philosophies are based on awareness of nature as an endless cycle of transformations, rather than as a succession of unrelated phenomena. In Western culture, we name and categorize things and put them into boxes. Animals are in one box, the ocean in another, seasons in another, and human beings in yet another. This compartmentalization distances us from the reality that we are part of something much larger and grander than our daily lives.

Look at the bigger picture. See the stars, the galaxies and observe how small our Earth is—a mere speck of dust in the vast horizon of space. When we accept our small part in the order of the universe, we are truly free to celebrate our place in the natural world. By shifting our perspective this way, we are able to see our planet for what it truly is, a spiritual place, our mother, our temple and our ultimate home. I believe that this is where the solution to the environmental crisis lives. When we love something this deeply we act responsibly to keep it safe—forever.


The Eco-Chi Circle

As an interwoven system, all three of the disciplines described earlier and briefly summarized below have been integrated into the EcoChi System. The purpose of this new design for living is to help you establish and materialize your goals, nurture your health, and bring you greater harmony and prosperity.

  • Classical Feng Shui is an ancient art form and system of purposefully arranging an environment so that it has a positive effect on the people who live or work there.
  • Green and Sustainable Living protects the environment and sustains its natural resources for today and for future generations by choosing environmentally friendly lifestyles and practices.
  • Environmental Psychology is an interdisciplinary science focused on the interplay between humans and their surrounding environments.
  • Healthy Choices is a bonus category that I added to this list, because optimal health is one of the core objectives of EcoChi.
  • Far eastern cultures believe that our minds, bodies and souls are intricately connected. The components of EcoChi are linked together in the same holistic manner.

Begin looking at this diagram at any point in the circle and you will see that the result is always the same—each sphere overlaps and influences the other. Each is strong enough to stand on its own, but together the whole creates an undeniable force, one that has the power to revolutionize the way we live.

by Debra Duneier

For more information about EcoChi and Feng Shui visit www.LivingHomeByDebra.com

Follow Debra on Twitter @EcoChiTips

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Hydro Fracking Opponents Speak Up

April 21, 2011 | Posted in Green Building, Work Green | By

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is a method in which high-pressure chemicals are injected into underground rock formations to fracture surrounding shale and release trapped natural gas. The problem is that the wastes of Hydraulic Fracturing pose great risks for public health and the environment. The water used in the process contains radioactive and toxic substances that could pollute local drinking water.  Natural gas extraction has been exempted from the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Superfund Law and Clean Water Act and is being widely used across the United States.  The fracking process produces millions of gallons of toxic, radioactive waste water every day and there is no way to treat it.   After exploiting natural environments across the southwestern and southeastern US, the natural gas industry has now set their sites on Pennsylvania and New York.

On Monday April 11, environmentalist and anti-fracking activists rallied at the state capital for lawmakers to safeguard against the environmental damage in upstate NY as well as to safeguard New York City’s drinking water.  Many in the gas industry have already purchased drilling rights in the Marcellus Shale region, hoping to capitalize on what’s considered the world’s second largest gas field –which spans the southern half of New York, parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.  The oil & gas industry says fracking is safe and well-regulated but many opponents say no fracking way!

The Frack Action

 Activists rallied against the proposed lifting this summer, of a three-year moratorium on drilling in the southwest portion of New York.  Since the gas companies are exempt from disclosing the chemicals they use to perform the process, (under the Bush administration’s 2005 Energy Policy Act), the possibility of a catastrophic situation would soon affect over 15 million people lives.

While some legislatures are attempting to block the practice, pending further examination, the Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York is appealing for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to allow permitting for gas exploration, assuring that the success of the industry supported more than 2.8 million jobs in 2008 and will continue to create more jobs for the economy.

New York State residents refuse to stay quite while the money loaded industry thinks they can disregard the environment and peoples’ health.

Communities of people rose up in numbers to send a message to state legislators: don’t put short-term profits ahead of the long-term health and safety of our water and families. Groups including Food & Water Watch, United for Action, Riverkeeper, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Catskill Mountainkeeper among others are attemnpting to mobilize students, workers, health practitioners, farmers, and other New York State residents to call attention to the dangers of hydraulic fracturing and bring this practice to a halt.

If you missed the bus for Albany, you can still get in on the action. Contact your elected representatives and show them that NY State does not want Fracking – we have to speak loudly, in numbers and frequently. 

Learn more about Hydraulic Fracturing and share your concerns with friends, neighbors and state leaders.

Send a letter to President Obama

Send a letter to Governor Cuomo or send email to the Governor here

Call Governor Cuomo at (518) 474-8390

Find your Senator here

Find your Assembyperson here


For more Information:

EPA Hydraulic Fracturing Study Plan

Hydraulic fracturing myths and facts

Studies Say Natural Gas Has its Own Problems

The Natural Resource Defense Council

United for Action

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Spotlight On: Henry Gifford

February 20, 2011 | Posted in Green Building, Work Green | By

In this series of articles, GCC interviews leading pioneers of the green community.  New Yorker Henry Gifford is an engineer and building science authority.   Over the last few years, Gifford discovered information that led him to file a lawsuit against the USGBC and LEED In October 2010. The lawsuit has caused controversy within the green building community.  

Henry Gifford is quick to notice energy waste, pointing out lights left on during the day, patches of melted snow on rooftops where heat is escaping, AC units, things many of us take for granted, if we notice them at all. Preventing energy waste has been Gifford’s job for more than two decades and his efforts have brought him up against one of the most well-known names in the green movement: LEED.

Henry Gifford has over 25 years of experience in designing and building energy efficient systems.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is an organization that rates buildings depending on how environmentally friendly they are. LEED takes a myriad of factors into account such as construction site, building materials, waste and water treatment, and energy use. The certification process is a checklist where buildings earn points based on which environmental standards they meet. More and more people are relying on LEED to set building standards and on LEED certification to earn respect and publicity for their buildings. As far as energy use goes, buildings can earn points by predicting how their energy use will be lower than a “baseline building”. The more you reduce your energy use, the more points you get.

However, according to Gifford, the rating system is based solely on projections and computer models. The “baseline building” energy use is predicted by a computer model of a normal building of the type that is being built (i.e. office building, school etc) Then, the LEED expert programs the proposed energy saving modifications into the model. If the model shows reduced energy use, the building earns points.

So what is the problem? Two things, says Gifford. First, too many factors (open windows, turning up the heat etc) can affect a building’s energy use, making it impossible to accurately predict. Second, the system is based entirely on these incomplete predictions, not the actual energy use once the building is built. According to Gifford, the actual energy use is not even measured in most buildings.

A while ago, LEED did do a study comparing their buildings’ energy use to non-LEED buildings. The numbers speak for themselves, and using LEED’s own data, Gifford found that LEED buildings use an average of 29% more energy than non-LEED buildings.

Gifford’s boiler is one third the size of standard boilers and provides reliable space and water heating. This building use 85% less energy than an average NYC apartment building.


How does this happen? The problem, says Gifford, is a combination of factors. First, developers focus on big, flashy systems that prove to be ineffective. Things like solar panels installed on the wrong sides of buildings, and things like the HVAC heating/cooling system, which Gifford claims to be unnecessarily complicated and inefficient. Everyone is focused on bigger equipment, when really, says Gifford, they should be focusing on using smaller, more efficient mechanical systems. Less machinery means less energy which means less waste.

Second, the buildings are not actually held accountable to their energy use. There is no limit to the energy a building can use, nor do they have to undergo continual evaluation to make sure they are meeting LEED standards. Gifford describes LEED as a large sports stadium, crowded with fans expecting great plays, but there is no one on the field, and no scoreboard. LEED is more concerned with the appearance of being green, than actually reducing energy consumption.

Last year Gifford filed a lawsuit against the USGBC (US Green Building Council), the organization behind LEED, for fraud. Besides trying to get LEED to change its practices, Gifford wants people to realize it is alright to speak up when something is not right. We do not have to accept suboptimal methods because that is the best we have, and we do not have to nor should we accept inefficient green technology simply because it is labelled as “green”.

It is all too easy to be “green-washed” with the promise of the next sustainable product. However, we cannot let appearances get in the way of us finding out the facts, and using our knowledge to make informed choices for positive change.

By: Bekah Holloway

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Types of Fuel Oil in NYC

February 2, 2011 | Posted in Green Building, Work Green | By

There are three grades of fuel oil being used in NYC.  No. 6 and No. 4 are the cheapest and dirtiest type of oil being used.  No. 2 fuel oil burns much cleaner than the other two and natural gas is the cleanest of all the fossil fuels.

Last year, a New York State law required a 99% reduction in the sulfur content of No 2 fuel oil.  Sulphur is the greatest contributor to smog, greenhouse gasses, and on a human health level aggravates asthma and emphysema and increases the risk of heart attack.  Lawmakers felt they could have the biggest impact by regulating No 2 fuel oil as it is the most common type of home heating oil throughout the state.  

New York City’s biggest problem however is the extensive use of No 4 and No 6.   The city is currently trying to phase out No. 6 fuel oil completely, but they have a long way to go before property owners will jump at the chance to retrofit or replace their boilers, which is what would be required to accept No.2 fuel oil or natural gas.  And in fact they have been given a long time to do so – like the year 2030!

There are around 10,000 buildings in New York that are still using numbers 6 and 4 oil for their heat and hot water.  Those buildings are responsible for more than 85% of the soot pollution in our air and emit up to 15 times more soot than regular No. 2 heating oil or natural gas. 

Con Ed is promoting natural gas as the answer to our air quality problems.  Although NG burns cleaner than oil, the greater environmental impact is greater than most people realize.

What kind of fuel oil does your building burn?

The Environmental Defense Fund, a national environmental group has published a map of all the buildings in New York City that are burning No. 4 and No. 6 fuel oil.  Look on the map to see if your building is on there.  If it is, what can you do?  First, realize that your management company is not necessarily an evil land baron who only cares about the bottom line.  They may not realize the true impact they are having on the environment.  It may be too expensive, or it may not make sense to convert an otherwise perfectly good boiler.  Talk to your super or try your management company. 

There are organizations helping to facilitate the change to a cleaner city.  The Association for Energy Affordability (AEA) is working with Con Edison on an exciting new program which provides substantial incentives for replacing or upgrading boilers and improving buildings’ energy efficiency. 

Biodiesel is another great solution.  It is made from waste oil produced at local restaurants and reduces  CO2 emissions by 80% compared to petroleum diesel.   

Here is something that is easy to do.  Mayor Michael Bloomberg created NYC Rules to invite members of the public to comment on proposed rules online before they become law.  You can offer your opinion on NYC fuel oil simply by clicking HERE!

Written comments on the proposed regulations can be submitted through Feb. 28, 2011.  So hurry up!

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NYC sustainability in a time of climate change, fuel depletion and financial disruption

January 13, 2011 | Posted in Green Building, Work Green | By

After the midterm election, selling climate change got even tougher than it was before. Immensely wealthy business interests and their allies have skillfully muddied the waters and blocked action. The NYC sustainability discussion, mainly framed as climate change response, should be reframed to include the more marketable concepts of increasing resilience, and preparing for higher and more volatile energy prices.  Here’s how we can build public support for all of them at the same time.

Let’s weave into our narratives our dependence on oil, our vulnerability to upcoming increases in oil prices, and thus, the value of lowering energy costs, creating green jobs, and restoring energy security.  Even the International Energy Agency has quietly admitted that world conventional oil production peaked in 2006, and a growing consensus of expert observers and business leaders expect it to go into permanent decline by 2015.  Oil prices will become increasingly volatile, with a strong likelihood of oil price shocks or supply crunches. Remember how upset New Yorkers were at slow snow removal?  Unlike the effects of climate change, often seen coming far in the future, higher fuel prices will have local and immediately evident impacts. It will cost more to heat buildings and homes. Higher transportation costs will affect commuting, the trucking of goods, and the operation of police, fire, school and garbage vehicles.

So far, direct efforts to get busy NYC officials to address fuel depletion hasn’t worked.  Most government officials aren’t aware either of the problem, or that tackling it openly will provide opportunities.  New Yorkers will be more motivated to buffer increases in transportation and winter heating costs than to lower their carbon emissions. Initiatives that lower energy use and costs will align with top public concerns. Expanding less expensive public transit options, reducing reliance on more expensive private transportation and cutting energy use in buildings are responses to fuel price volatility as well as to climate change. Especially in times of tighter budgets, why not use the more persuasive arguments of costs to encourage the better choices? Policy choices that will buffer impacts of higher fuel prices will make the City more resilient, while creating green jobs that can’t be outsourced.

Two parallel indirect strategies may expand the sustainability discussion in helpful ways. First, highly targeted outreach to networks of thought leaders, on how their fields will benefit from initiatives that conserve energy, lower costs and build local resiliency.  Second, outreach to NYC civic networks on behalf of appealing sustainability projects that offer something to all participants.

To carry out these approaches, Beyond Oil NYC is organizing spring presentations by public health expert Dan Bednarz, PhD to audiences of health system administrators.  Last year, a consortium of volunteer groups partnered with NYC Department of Buildings in its effort to paint building roofs white, lowering summer energy use and costs. We’re developing marketing materials to set up more such projects in 2011.  For more about these approaches, and to get involved, visit www.beyondoilnyc.org.

by Dan Miner, Beyond Oil NYC

For a full version of this article, go to http://beyondoilnyc.blogspot.com/2010/11/nyc-sustainability-in-time-of-climate.html.

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