The Bucket

A low-cost, powerful tool for environmental monitoring by communities poisoned by industrial facilities built near their homes.

About the Bucket:

“The EPA-approved ‘bucket’ is a simple, community friendly tool that fenceline neighbors use to take air samples. Taking air samples is a powerful experience for community members who are used to being ignored, overlooked, and disrespected by corporations and government. Dorothy Jenkins, President of Concerned Citizens of New Sarpy, used to call the refinery to complain about the odors. A low ranking operator would tell her not to worry, that the black plume of smoke that billowed for hours near her home was not harmful. Now Mrs. Jenkins has a bucket. When refinery managers and government regulators tell her that there is nothing to worry about, she answers, ‘Why, then, was there a benzene reading of 14 in my air sample, a reading that violates the state standards?’ The bucket gives community members power to hold institutions accountable to provide a safe and healthy environment.”

The Bucket

From the History of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade:

“The bucket brigades were started in 1995 by attorney Edward Masry (of Erin Brockovich fame) when both were made ill by fumes from a petroleum refinery he was suing on behalf of citizens of Contra Costa County, California. When he called the local, state and federal environmental authorities, they told him that their monitors detected no problem. This so angered Masry, whose clients were being exposed to these toxic releases daily, that he hired an environmental engineer to design a low cost device, the ‘bucket’, which the community could use to monitor their exposure for themselves. This set in motion a movement which would give communities living near refineries, chemical plants or other toxic air emitting sources, a chance to take on indifferent regulators and corporations who were telling them that there is no problem with the air they are breathing while they are choking and dying.

The ‘bucket’ is a low cost $75 version of the $2000 Suma canister used by government and industry and is simple to use. Suspect air is drawn into a Tedlar bag inside the bucket. The bag is then sealed and sent to a laboratory for analysis. The lab analysis is the most expensive part of the operation. For about $500 per sample, the contents of the bag are run through a GCMS (Gas Chromatograph Mass Spectrometer), which compares the ‘fingerprints’ of the sample with the fingerprints of about 100 toxic gases in the computer library. The bag is non-reusable and cost about $15. In practice, much of this cost has been borne by charitable and government grants.

Working closely with Masry, Denny Larson proceeded to promote the use of these buckets in other communities exposed to refinery and other toxic air emissions. Larson hired a student intern to re-engineer the buckets in order to produce a community manual to educate fenceline neighbors that they could build and operate their own air monitoring systems. When completed, the manual helped spread the buckets throughout the refinery belt of Contra Costa County to 7 communities.

The biggest hurdle was getting the authorities, who belittled the idea of citizen bucket brigades, to accept the results. Larson met with EPA Region 9 officials, including the administrator, Felicia Marcus, in 1996 and asked the agency to approve and fund bucket air sampling. To its credit, EPA Region 9 invested in a quality assurance evaluation of the bucket results and ended up accepting them. With the EPA acceptance, Denny was able to work with grass roots groups around the country to launch local bucket brigades.”

Update: Read more about the bucket in this Christian Science Monitor article from April 1, 2004.

>  27 March 2004 | LINK | Filed in ,

Popular Delusions and The Madness of Cows

Since we know exactly how mad cow disease is spread, it should be pretty easy to identify which meat to buy just by finding out how the cows are raised. Free range? Grass fed? Organic? It’s all labeled there on the package, right?

You might be surprised to find out just what falls into the gap between “Grass Fed” and “100% Grass Fed.”

USDA Organic LabelIn steps the Consumers Union to provide the story behind the cypher:

“Consumers Union (CU), the independent nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, is providing consumers with important information about which meat labels can and cannot help consumers wanting to reduce their the risk from mad cow disease.

Mad cow disease is known to pass from one animal to another through the use of animal by-products in animal feed. Certain labels indicate that animal by-products are not used in the feed that produced the meat. Therefore, meat carrying these labels is very low risk in terms of mad cow disease.

The information is posted at which lists the the most helpful labels (“Organic” and “Biodynamic”) somewhat helpful labels (like “100% Grass Fed”), and labels that should not be relied upon to reduce the risk of exposure to mad cow disease (like “Free Range”).

In addition to meat labes, the site lists terms and labels from other food, household, and personal care products, and clearly states which terms do or do not have official definitions and organizations who verify compliance.


“CU launched in the spring of 2001 to help educate consumers about these labels. Consumers Union believes that the best eco-labels are seals or logos indicating that an independent organization has verified that a product meets a set of meaningful and consistent standards for environmental protection and/or social justice....

The purpose of this site is to provide information to consumers regarding eco-labels, products that carry eco-labels, the organizations that produce eco-labels, and government and private standards for ‘green’ products. Our goal is to help consumers make more informed choices in the marketplace, and participate more effectively as citizens in important decisions that affect the environment.”

>  1 February 2004 | LINK | Filed in , , , ,

Ill Communication

In the same sitting, I stumbled into two articles on the use of cellphones to coordinate street protest in real time. One in La Paz, the other in London, the former well organized, the latter ad-hoc. One from the country, the other from the city.

From Anarchogeek:

“The use of cell phones is interesting in how it relates to transforming the rural/urban power divide within the developing world. This isn’t something entirely new, rural community radio stations have played very large roll in communication and social transformation. In Bolivia, the revolution of 1952 lead by the miners unions, was coordinated by a network of rural community radio stations. With high illiteracy, little infrastructure, very poor communities these communities have relied on radio as the primary form of mass media.

In the last decade there has been an upsurge in the political power of indigenous movements in the Andes who have their power base in rural mostly disconnected communities. A lot of that upsurge is due to the many years of organizing by indigenous leaders, social movements, and NGO’s. That said, cell phones have acted as a major amplifier of their work. Increasing the ability for people to coordinate their actions and build robust social networks.

Unfortunately, I’ve not seen much written about the use of cell phones and other communications technology in the general strike and ‘Gas War’ in Bolivia last month. From my working with the rather small group of indymedia people in Bolivia I’ve heard some of how cell phones transformed the conflict. It helped people lay a more than week-long siege to La Paz. It also helped coordinate the marches of people from other parts of the country to the capital. When women went on hunger strike in churches the communications network made it a coordinated act, not simply the act of a few brave women in one location.

I think what happened in Bolivia is quite different than the much talked about ‘smart mobs’ as there were relatively few people will cell phones. The groups were not flexible, but rather quite well organized with cell phones used to coordinate between the leadership of existing organizations and networks. The use of cell phones facilitated the biggest indigenous siege of La Paz in almost 300 years.

Other important factors was Pios Doce and other community radio stations which played a vital mass media roll during the crisis. The Pios Doce transmitter in Oruro was bombed, by people who clearly didn’t expect the police to investigate anything. What the government didn’t figure out how to do was shut off the cell phones of known organizers, or towers which serve indigenous communities. My guess is the reason they didn’t shut them down was in part because cell phones were a vital communications tool for the police and army. Even the US Army in Iraq makes extensive use of consumer walkie talkies and unencrypted Instant Messenger. In India texting has been shut off at critical points to stem the spread of rumors and coordinated race riots during communalist uprisings in the last year. I expect as social movements turn to using cell phones and related technology as a tactical tool during protests and uprisings the governments will eventually learn how to turn off the ability to communicate at will.”

This last point is also noted in the BBC article about protestors chasing Bush in London:

“Some newspapers and websites were reporting mobile phone signals could be blocked for fear they could remote-control a bomb. But Scotland Yard has denied reports that police were considering shutting mobile phone masts during protests.”

In contrast to the Bolivia protest which shut down the capitol, the UK protests are intended to be a media hack and an adjunct to the big, organized, legally-sanctioned anti-war march on Thursday.

Chasing Bush“The Chasing Bush campaign is asking people to ‘disrupt the PR’ of the visit by spoiling stage-managed photos.

They are being encouraged to send location reports and images by mobile to be posted on the Chasing Bush site....

Technologies like text messaging and weblogs have been successfully used in the past to co-ordinate routes and meet-up points for mass protests.

But the gadgets are now being used more proactively to make protests more visible and disrupt any potential stage-managing of the President’s visit.

‘We are trying to spoil the PR, so we are not doing anything directly, but encouraging people to protest by turning their backs in press photos so they can’t be used.’

The campaign organisers have also asked people to go into protest ‘exclusion zones’ to send SMS updates and on-location reports about his appearances, and events at protests.”

See this previous post for more notes on electornic advocacy.

>  19 November 2003 | LINK | Filed in , , , , ,

Cooking with Meme

Women in Eritrea are spreading a more efficient stove design across the country. The new design requires less fuel, retains more heat, and produces less smoke — dramatically reducing respiratory and eye diseases, conserving the forest, and requiring less time for gathering fuel and for cooking.

From IRIN:

“An innovative scheme to convert 500,000 traditional injera stoves across Eritrea will cut thousands of tons of carbon emissions each year and help to conserve the country’s precious supply of firewood.

For centuries, injera — a pancake-like food widely eaten in Eritrea — has been cooked on simple clay stoves, built over an open fire. However, the stoves are smoky, dangerous and require a substantial amount of firewood to burn effectively.

But scientists at the ministry of energy believe they have found a solution. By making a few simple design changes they have increased the efficiency and safety of the stoves — known as mogoggos — by over 100 percent.

The new stove‘We have added a chimney, so that smoke no longer fills the kitchen, and an insulated firebox to conserve heat,’ Afeworki Tesfazion, the ministry’s research director, told IRIN. ‘We have also improved ventilation, to allow the fire to burn better, so that it uses 50 percent less fuel.’ He said the new stove also burns a wider range of fuels, such as animal dung, twigs and leaves.

The ministry estimates that each new stove reduces carbon emissions by 0.6 of a ton annually and saves 366 kg of firewood per household each year. The government hopes that every one of the 500,000 households currently thought to own a stove in Eritrea will convert to the new style. If this happens the environmental savings would be enormous.

The health benefits are also significant. Without the thick smoke pouring into their kitchens, women and children are less likely to suffer from the respiratory diseases and eye problems that affected many who used the old stoves.

The new mogoggo is already proving popular. In a scheme run by the government and backed by small grants... dozens are being built in villages around the country every week. More than 5,000 households have already converted.

Under the scheme, village women are taught how to build the stoves themselves. They then teach other women, who teach others and so on. With free labour and free materials — the stoves are made of clay and rocks, which are easily available everywhere — the only cost is the accessories. Metal chimney caps, valves and doors, as well as clay fire grates and cement chimneys, are mostly made locally.

One village taking part is Mehiyaw, in Debub region, close to Eritrea’s southern border. Nearly half of the 160 households in Mehiyaw have already installed new mogoggos. Others in the village hope to do so soon.

Standing in her small, neat kitchen, Miriam Amman, proudly shows off her work. Miriam, a mother of six children, built the stove with help from women from another village one week ago. ‘I love it because there is no smoke in here anymore,’ she says. ‘My clothes are clean and the children can play in here while I cook. Before now nobody would come into the kitchen while the stove was lit. Also we use less wood, so I spend less time gathering it.’

The biggest challenge faced by the government now is to let people know about the new stoves — and persuade them to convert as soon as possible....

The government is setting up a credit plan, to enable families to borrow money to build the stoves now — about US $8 each — and repay the loan when they can afford it. It estimates that the next stage of the project, including training the women and the credit scheme, will cost a further $500,000.

But so far, customers appear satisfied. In Mehiyaw, a group of Miriam Amma’s neighbours and friends crowd into her kitchen to admire her stove . It is larger and more elevated than the old fireplace, which required women — who do all the cooking in traditional Eritrean households — to bend low while preparing food.

In the small outdoor kitchen the stove is alight, but the air is clear. One woman points out the smoke-blackened corrugated tin roof, a reminder of Miriam’s old stove.

‘At first nobody wanted these new mogoggos,’ said Miriam. ‘But now they have seen how well they work, everybody wants one.’”

via the Ashden Awards

>  14 September 2003 | LINK | Filed in , , , ,

Explicit Consensus

Rabble reports from the World Trade Organization meeting in Cancun:

“...More amazing is what the WTO is doing to prevent speech which is specifically aimed at making the WTO uphold it’s own democratic processes between countries. Some NGO’s have created special badge holders which say ‘Explicit Consensus’ in a number of different languages. The argument is that the WTO can not get an agreement or declaration just because countries aren’t about to voice opposition at exactly the right time, but they must rather explicitly express consent for any declarations. They say this because often the text is changed in back room deals and many of the poorer countries don’t have the people to have at every meeting. The last time i passed in to the Convention Center, the Security people told me that i could not wear the badge holder and that if i wanted to keep it i must put in in my backpack. It was banned ‘propaganda’.

If the WTO can’t even take such a mild act of criticism along the lines of quietly asking them to make sure every participating country is informed about the decisions they are consenting to, then how can we let the WTO make decisions which govern 97% of the world’s population?”

>  13 September 2003 | LINK | Filed in

What is Universal Design?

I was working on an item on Universal Design and realized that I hadn’t actually defined what I was talking about. So from the man who coined the phrase:

“Universal design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.”
— Ron Mace, founder and program director of The Center for Universal Design

Universal design has its roots in demographic, legislative, economic, and social changes among older adults and people with disabilities after World War II.

Here are some general principles for the evaluation of universal design from the Center for Universal Design. These were drafted in 1997 and refer to design in the physical world, though could be applied broadly to electronic interface design.

  1. Equitable Use
    The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.
    1. Provide the same means of use for all users: identical whenever possible; equivalent when not.
    2. Avoid segregating or stigmatizing any users.
    3. Provisions for privacy, security, and safety should be equally available to all users.
    4. Make the design appealing to all users.

  2. Flexibility in Use
    The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
    1. Provide choice in methods of use.
    2. Accommodate right- or left-handed access and use.
    3. Facilitate the user’s accuracy and precision.
    4. Provide adaptability to the user’s pace.

  3. Simple and Intuitive Use
    Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.
    1. Eliminate unnecessary complexity.
    2. Be consistent with user expectations and intuition.
    3. Accommodate a wide range of literacy and language skills.
    4. Arrange information consistent with its importance.
    5. Provide effective prompting and feedback during and after task completion.

  4. Perceptible Information
    The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.
    1. Use different modes (pictorial, verbal, tactile) for redundant presentation of essential information.
    2. Provide adequate contrast between essential information and its surroundings.
    3. Maximize “legibility” of essential information.
    4. Differentiate elements in ways that can be described (i.e., make it easy to give instructions or directions).
    5. Provide compatibility with a variety of techniques or devices used by people with sensory limitations.

  5. Tolerance for Error
    The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.
    1. Arrange elements to minimize hazards and errors: most used elements, most accessible; hazardous elements eliminated, isolated, or shielded.
    2. Provide warnings of hazards and errors.
    3. Provide fail safe features.
    4. Discourage unconscious action in tasks that require vigilance.

  6. Low Physical Effort
    The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.
    1. Allow user to maintain a neutral body position.
    2. Use reasonable operating forces.
    3. Minimize repetitive actions.
    4. Minimize sustained physical effort.

  7. Size and Space for Approach and Use
    Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of user’s body size, posture, or mobility.
    1. Provide a clear line of sight to important elements for any seated or standing user.
    2. Make reach to all components comfortable for any seated or standing user.
    3. Accommodate variations in hand and grip size.
    4. Provide adequate space for the use of assistive devices or personal assistance.

“Please note that the Principles of Universal Design address only universally usable design, while the practice of design involves more than consideration for usability. Designers must also incorporate other considerations such as economic, engineering, cultural, gender, and environmental concerns in their design processes. These Principles offer designers guidance to better integrate features that meet the needs of as many users as possible.”

In 1998, Ron Mace delivered his final public speech at the first international conference on universal design. He discussed the differences between assistive technology, barrier-free and universal design:

Barrier-free design is what we used to call the issue of access. It is predominantly a disability-focused movement. Removing architectural barriers through the building codes and regulations is barrier-free design. The [Americans with Disabilities Act] Standards are barrier-free design because they focus on disability and accommodating people with disabilities in the environment. In fact, the ADA is the now the issue of access in this country.

So, what is the difference between barrier-free and universal? ADA is the law, but the accessibility part, the barrier-free design part, is only a portion of that law. This part, however, is the most significant one for design because it mandates what we can do and facilitates the promotion of universal design. But, it is important to realize and remember that ADA is not universal design. I hear people mixing it up, referring to ADA and universal design as one in the same. This is not true.

Universal design broadly defines the user. It’s a consumer market driven issue. Its focus is not specifically on people with disabilities, but all people. It actually assumes the idea, that everybody has a disability and I feel strongly that that’s the case. We all become disabled as we age and lose ability, whether we want to admit it or not. It is negative in our society to say “I am disabled” or “I am old.” We tend to discount people who are less than what we popularly consider to be “normal.” To be “normal” is to be perfect, capable, competent, and independent. Unfortunately, designers in our society also mistakenly assume that everyone fits this definition of “normal.” This just is not the case.

Assistive technology to me is really personal use devices—those things focused on the individual—things that compensate or help one function with a disability. Many of you wear eyeglasses because you have limited sight. The assistive technology is your eyeglasses. We could legitimately say that everybody who wears eyeglasses has a disability.”

This is a good starting point, but I read in these principles a disconnect between designer and user. The user is not a part of the design process except as an object of measurement — a consumer rather than a participant. If universal design is intended to be usable by all people without the need for adaptation or specialized design, a more participatory and inclusive design process seems to be one useful way of achieving this. I’ve not yet found a handy list of such principles for the development of universal design.

Also as noted in the conclusion to the principles, these focus on physical interaction and do not address the physical life span of the design or its existence in the broader cultural world. Usability through degradation and reuse fall partially under “sustainable design.” The cultural context, though, surely shapes legibility, user assumptions, and what is considered normative just as much as the physical context.

As Mark Robbins, former NEA Design Director, said on the promotion of universal design principles:

“Central to universal design is a developing awareness of difference that questions normative standards. The sense of what is the norm needs to change.”

Simply put, underlying the principles of interaction listed above is another basic principle. From Leslie Weisman:

“Architects and planners have traditionally defined the ‘user,’ or the ‘public’ in the case of urban planning, in very narrow terms. Rather than recognizing the vast array of ages, cultures, and lifestyles that use buildings and public spaces and that actually exist in communities, architecture and planning theory has been based on a conception of the ‘user/citizen’ that is inherently masculine, and a ‘public’ that tends to be made up of middle-class white people living in nuclear families. So when architects and planners attend to the provision of housing, transportation, and community services, they have tended to design and plan for only a small segment of the population, thereby creating many problems for the ever-increasing numbers of people who do not fit into this assumed definition and life pattern.”

Universal design is vehicle for promoting social equality and justice, environmental sustainability, and human health and well-being. This is as not just design for equal use, but for unemcumberbed participation in everyday life, and in public life. This is design for democrcacy.

>  19 August 2003 | LINK | Filed in , , , ,

Pocket Full of Sunshine

Just after sunset, the lights come back on to applause in the street. Email checked, I should probably write something about design and the last 24 hours in New York City. Something about flashlights, candles, and radios; bridges and tunnels, skyscrapers, and long walks home; acoustic guitars, drums, and old clarinets; block parties and bon fires; cellular, cordless, analog and pay phones, and just plain hollerin from the street; public parks in times of crisis, generators and hot dogs, gas-burning pizza ovens, second-hand books, cool breezes, and a long nap on an August afternoon; energy efficiency and sustainable design; infrastructure, ideology, and public policy; and the stars returning briefly to the night sky over Manhattan.

Instead, I’m going out to find something to eat.

I leave you with this:

Violetta Solargear Solar Battery Charger

Studio del Sole’s Violetta Solargear is a pocket-sized solar power charger for AA and AAA Ni-MH batteries. They also sell a USB extension and a DC adapter to power your mobile phone, PDA, music player, or Game Boy. A personal solar panel for your personal electronic device. It’s just so elegant.

>  15 August 2003 | LINK | Filed in , , ,



In 1965 Paulo Lugari was flying over the impoverished Llanos Orientales, the “eastern plains” that border Venezuela. The soil of the Llanos is tough and acidic, some of the worst in Colombia. Lugari mused that if people could live here they could live anywhere.

The following year Lugari and a group of scientists, artists, agronomists and engineers took the 15-hour journey along a tortuous route from Bogota to the Llanos Orientales to settle. The local population, including the indigenous Guahibo people, familiar with the political terror and violence of the ‘white man,’ were naturally suspicious.

Nearly 40 years later, while war rages across Colombia with the help of U.S. funds, equipment, and training, the 200 residents of Gaviotas, including farmers, scientists, artists, and former street kids, have created a thriving village and environmental research center in Vichada in Los Llanos.

“Gaviotas is named after a bird that enlivens the rivers at dusk.” [source]

“They have planted millions of trees, thus regenerating an indigenous rainforest. They farm organically and use wind and solar power. Every family enjoys free housing, community meals, and schooling. There are no weapons, no police, no jail. There is no mayor.” [source]

“Gaviotas provided a chance to plan a tropical civilization from the ground up, instead of depending on technologies developed for northern climates. ‘When we import solutions from the US or Europe,’ said Lugari, founder of Gaviotas, ‘we also import their problems.’

Over the years Gaviotas technicians have installed thousands of the windmills across Colombia - in some places gaviotas is the local word for windmill.”

Around 58 types of windmill were tried and tested before the pioneers came up with determined that the distinctive ‘sunflower’ design functioned best in the plains.

Gaviotas“Since Gaviotas refuses to patent inventions, preferring to share them freely, the design has been copied from Central America to Chile.

Electricity comes from a low-head turbine powered by a stream, except in the short dry season, when it is backed up by a diesel generator. ‘In 24 years we’ve learned to cover 70 percent of our food and energy needs,’ says Gonalo Bernal, administrator of Gaviotas. ‘The trees we plant more than compensate for any greenhouse gases we emit. Imagine if the rest of the world lived like us.’

Gaviotas began as a collection of researchers, students, and laborers sharing vehicles, bedding, dishes, clothes - and decisions. In time several of their families joined them and a permanent colony with individual houses emerged. Government was by consensus and unwritten rules. To limit public disorder, alcohol is confined to homes. To preserve wildlife, dogs and guns are banished. A need for police, jail, or door locks has never arisen. Anyone who violates protocol, like a storekeeper who recently admitted to overcharging, is ostracized by the community until his debt is paid. Loafers aren’t tolerated, but with wages above the Colombian minimum wage, plus free meals, medical care, schools, and housing, loafing isn’t a problem.

A techno-tour of the llanos shows how Gaviotas has revolutionized life here. The most significant invention is a simple hand pump capable of tapping aquifers six times deeper than conventional models, but requiring so little effort that children can operate it. In normal pumps a heavy piston must be raised and lowered inside a pipe. Gaviotas engineers realized they could do the reverse; leave the piston stationary and lift an outer sleeve of lightweight, inexpensive PVC tubing instead.”

See-saw pump“In the open-air Gaviotas preschool, the children’s see-saw is actually a pump in disguise. As they rise and descend, water gushes from a vertical pipe into an open cement tank. Over the years Gaviotas technicians have installed these in thousands of school yards, using kid power to provide villages with clean water. This simple, inexpensive pump has revolutionised rural life across Colombia for people who used to haul their water in buckets from muddy tropical rivers.” [source]

“At a windmill-fed cattle trough, surrounded by a sloping cement floor, cowboys have just brought several thirsty calves. As they drink, their dung slides down the slope into a gutter, which sluices it to an enclosed anaerobic fermentation tank, where the cow-pie slurry turns into compost and methane.

The methane flows through pipes to the 16-bed Gaviotas hospital, which a Japanese architectural journal has named one of the 40 most important buildings in the world. It is at once both futuristic and ancient, a maze of angles formed by white walls, glass awnings, skylights, brushed steel columns, and exposed supports trimmed in blue and yellow enamel. The interior is cooled with underground ducts whose hillside intakes face the prevailing breeze. Opposing layers of corrugated roofing create a series of air channels that further bleed away the heat. The combined effect is cost-free, maintenance-free air conditioning. Solar collectors on the roof alternately heat, boil, and distill water. Electricity is from solar photovoltaic cells.

The only hospital within a 12-hour radius, it serves all comers, including both guerrilla and army forces battling in the area. ‘The rule here is never to ask,’ says Bernal. ‘Like the Red Cross, everybody respects us.’

A short, vine-covered walkway connects the Gaviotas hospital to the maloks, a separate wing built by the local Guahivo Indians. Instead of beds, patients and their families lie in hammocks hung from wooden beams under a great thatch roof. Relatives of the sick tend crops of tomatoes, lettuce, and onions in an adjacent hydroponic greenhouse.

If the National University’s pharmacology department and the Guahivo shamans have their way, this greenhouse will one day become the finest medical plant laboratory in the tropics. But money is a critical factor, and Colombia’s expanding, government-owned oil and gas industry has dampened Gaviotas’ solar collector sales by blocking tax benefits for investing in alternative energy. At Gaviotas windmillthe same time revenue from windmills and pumps dropped as Colombian agriculture was battered by an unexpected onslaught of cheap imported foods, the fallout of new free trade policies.

So Gaviotas has decided to scale down its manufacturing. But no one is getting laid off. ‘Gaviotas isn’t a company,’ Lugari says, ‘we’re a community. In fact the solution means that both employment and Gaviotas will grow.’

The solution is the nearly 20,000 forested acres. In the past 12 years, Gaviotas has planted 1.6 million Caribbean pines (after finding that no indigenous tree would grow on the prairie). To the surprise of foresters, Gaviotans chose not to cut their standing timber. Instead they are converting their windmill factory to process pine resin. Colombia spends $4 million annually to import such resins for the manufacture of paint, turpentine, and paper. Armed with that fact, Lugari persuaded the Japanese government to provide the seed money, via a grant through the Interamerican Development Bank, to begin tapping and processing resin for the domestic market.” [source]

Since the above was written in 1995, the community no longer purhcases diesel fuel and is now totally energy independent. They generate power with turbine engines fueled by the resin of the Carribean pine trees in their forest. These pines are being slowly crowded out by the regeneration of indigenous rainforest. [source]

Other inventions include:

  • a high pressure solar cooker
  • methane burners
  • hot-water solar panels
  • parabolic solar grain driers
  • self-cooling rooftops
  • cooling wind corridors
  • corkscrewing manual well digger
  • variety of highly efficient and durable windmills
  • specialized bicycle for the Llanos
  • pedal powered cassava grinder (10 hours work done in 1 hour)
  • rotating drum peanut sheller
  • ox-drawn land graders
  • one-handed sugarcane press

Gaviotas engineers also designed a solar kettle for the hospital. According to engineer Jaime Dávila, “the principle begins with an old country custom: boil water one day to drink the next, after it cools.” Dávila’s goal was an inexpensive solar-operated system that would give unlimited boiled drinking water, already cooled to room temperature, straight from a tap any time of day, and would work under cloudy skies. The kettle took six years to perfect. It combines solar panels, storage tanks, an efficient heat exchanger, a bit of distillation and a spigot — which you turn to draw off potable water.[source]

See some renderings of their solar collectors, solar oven, and wind-powered musical organ.

>  9 August 2003 | LINK | Filed in , , , , , , , ,

ISO 14001 Reconsidered

Reader Desmond B. writes:

“Browsing through your site, I was interested by your relatively neutral presentation of the ISO programme. You presented some interesting aspects of the bureaucratic inanities, as well as some of the difficulties of applying euro-centric standards (the symbology not being applicable worldwide) on a global scale. It seems as though there are many positive aspects to the ISO programme (your mention of Toyota’s practices), it appears that there is relatively little citizen/democratic control or oversight of this organisation. It’s one thing to standardise container sizes, but environmental management procedures should perhaps be a more public affair. Curious to see some critical comment from you regarding this, especially considering the frequent mentions of ISO on your site.”

True enough. In my two posts that mention the ISO I was fairly neutral. I was less concerned about democratic accountability of the ISO because the standard setting process is fairly open and decentralized, and standards compliance is entirely voluntary. It is up to governments, not the ISO, to legislate, regulate, or enforce implementation of the standards.

ISO LogoStandards are developed by consensus of broad-based technical committees and working groups. According to the ISO site:

“In these committees, qualified representatives of industry, research institutes, government authorities, consumer bodies, and international organizations from all over the world come together as equal partners in the resolution of global standardization problems.”

Though the views of these interests are taken into account in the standard development process, only ISO “member bodies” can actually participate in the final vote. A member body of ISO is the national body ‘most representative of standardization in its country’. Only one such body is accepted from each country.

That said, the ISO’s consensus process is becoming less open:

“As part of the streamlining of existing procedures, ISO committees will in future, subject to certain conditions, have the option of dispensing with the committee stage — the part of the ISO process during which national positions are debated in order to reach consensus within an ISO committee — and with the final approval stage, during which the texts of final standards are submitted for formal approval by the full ISO membership.” [source]

The ISO’s patent policy highlights the need for more public participation, accountability, and oversight.

The ISO requires individual or corporation’s holding patent rights on any part of an ISO standard to grant usage rights freely or under “reasonable and non-discriminatory terms and conditions” that apply throughout the world. While this may seem fair, the working committee of the relevant standard determines what is “reasonable and non-discriminatory.” This policy has kept some technical standards out of the public domain and from being implemented in some Free Software projects. For instance, it is impossible to write Free Software which can encode or decode MPEG-2 video or encode or decode MPEG-1 Layer 3 audio in the United States. When the organzation that sets standards for the Internet, the W3C, floated its own draft policy considering “reasonable and non-discriminatory” licensing fees, it was widely condemned in public comment and eventually dropped in favor of a draft with royalty-free licenses.

As Desmond notes, though, environmental management procedures are a different matter from, say, standard paper sizes.

The major requirements of an Environmental Management System (EMS) under ISO 14001 include:

  • Issuing a policy statement which includes commitments to prevention of pollution, continual improvement of the EMS leading to improvements in overall environmental performance, and compliance with all applicable statutory and regulatory requirements.
  • Identification of all aspects of the community organization’s activities, products, and services that could have a significant impact on the environment, including those that are not regulated
  • Setting performance objectives and targets for the management system which link back to the three commitments established in the community or organization’s policy (i.e. prevention of pollution, continual improvement, and compliance)
  • Implementing the EMS to meet these objectives. This includes activities like training of employees, establishing work instructions and practices, and establishing the actual metrics by which the objectives and targets will be measured.
  • Establishing a program to periodically audit the operation of the EMS
  • Checking and taking corrective and preventive actions when deviations from the EMS occur, including periodically evaluating the organization’s compliance with applicable regulatory requirements.
  • Undertaking periodic reviews of the EMS by top management to ensure its continuing performance and making adjustments to it, as necessary. [source]
The ISO 14001 is a process for environmental management that may be applied to just about anything. It is not an environmental performance certification. The ISO itself notes:

“ISO 14001 does not establish performance requirements or specific criteria and indicators for defining sustainable forestry. Among the misleading practices that ISO wants to put an end to [is]... giving the false impression that... ISO 14000 is a label signifying a ‘green’ or ‘environmentally friendly’ product. This is not so. They are not product standards.” [source]

Nor does the auditing process include public oversight.

“Companies write their own public environmental policies — compliance with these policies, or even compliance with the law, is not a condition of certification. ISO 14001 certifications neither audit nor verify on-the-ground environmental performance. Public consultation is not a requirement of the certification process, nor are public summaries of certification audits required. Because ISO 14001 has no forestry performance standards, any forestry company — from the most environmentally destructive to the most well-managed — can be certified. Contrary to claims by the Canadian Pulp and Paper Association, third party audits to the ISO 14001 standard do not ‘ensure sustainable forestry’.” [source]

Indeed, Greenpeace criticizes the ISO 14001 standard and its use by the Vancouver-based company International Forest Products (Interfor) to “greenwash” its logging operations in old growth rainforests along the coast of British Columbia.

“Weaknesses of the ISO 14001 standard include:

  • Compliance with the environmental policy, or even compliance with the law, is not a requirement of certification — the company sets the environmental policy
  • ISO 14001 neither sets nor endorses any environmental performance standards, in forestry or in any other industrial sector
  • ISO 14001 certifications neither audit nor verify on-the-ground environmental performance
  • Public consultation is not a requirement of the certification process, nor are public summaries of certification audits required
  • ISO 14001 is not an environmental labeling system
  • ISO has no effective controls to prevent misleading marketing claims related to ISO 14001 certifications.

Environmental management system (EMS) certification schemes are completely different from environmental labeling schemes. As the ISO points out, “Two organizations carrying out similar activities but having different environmental performance may both comply with its [EMS] requirements.”

Environmental labeling, on the other hand, requires performance above a threshold. The environmental label is only awarded if a product or service has reached this level. The distinction between ISO 14001 and environmental labeling is essential. Because ISO 14001 has no forestry performance standards, any forestry company — from the most environmentally destructive to the most sustainable — can be certified. An ISO 14001 certification tells the consumer nothing about the relative environmental performance of any company’s, including Interfor’s, forestry operations.[source] (Emphasis added.)

>  5 August 2003 | LINK | Filed in , , , , , ,

Eradicating Guinea Worm Disease

In 1986, Guinea Worm Disease infected an estimated 3.5 million people living in rural agricultural communities in 16 African countries, parts of India, Pakistan, and Yemen. The disease is extremely painful and debilitating, contracted by drinking water containing larvae of the parasite Dracunculus medinensis. The disease has plagued humanity for thousands of years. Today, after a decade’s campaign of education and the design and distribution of a special fabric, the disease has been virtually eliminated.

CaudecousDracunculus medinensis has been traced to calcified worms in the stomachs of Egyptian mummies during the first millenium. Records of infection and treatment have been found dating back to 1530 BC. The Guinea worm is believed to be the ‘fiery serpent’ mentioned in the Bible, that infected the Hebrews during their exodus from Egypt. The medical symbol ‘Caduceus’ is believed to represent two coiled Guinea worms.” [source]

A Sanskrit poem from the 14th century B.C. includes the plea, “Let not the sinuous worm strike me nor wound my foot.” [source]

“Victims must endure the worm’s painful emergence for as long as three months, and are usually incapacitated not only by the pain but by fever, fatigue, and nausea as well. To speed things along, people carefully wind the worm around a stick as it emerges [as depcted in the ‘Caduceus’], being careful not to pull too hard. If the worm breaks, it will retract into the body, causing severe inflammation. Over half of all worm-emergence sites become infected, and the worst cases can result in permanent crippling or even death from tetanus.” [source]

There is no preventive or curative drug. However, the disease is relatively easy to prevent — drinking contaminated water is the only way to acquire the disease.

“Measures to prevent [Guinea Worm Disease] are community-based and inexpensive. Control methods include health education, providing safe drinking water, using filters to remove infected copepods from drinking water, boiling water or treating it with small doses of temephos, a colorless, odorless chemical that, kills copepods but is harmless to people.” [source]

EMT Logo“The cycle of transmission can easily be broken by filtering drinking water and preventing infected people from entering drinking water sources. [The worm] has no reservoir other than humans. When the worm’s one-year life cycle is broken for two years, the disease is permanently eliminated from the area. This is the only disease that can be eradicated by providing clean drinking water....

Water contaminated with guinea worm is safe for drinking (as far as this disease is concerned) if the water is filtered through a tightly woven cloth.

Inexpensive, effective cloth is available in most local African markets, and 1 million square meters of special synthetic fabric, for more rapid water filtration, has been donated by DuPont, with additional synthetic cloth donated by the Danish government and others.

Agricultural and school projects, along with company advertising, can teach people about guinea worm and how to protect themselves. Farmers who drink from ponds during the day should have a filter with them.” [source]

The filter must always be used with the same side up, usually marked with a printed symbol or instructions.

Since 1986, local, national, and international campaigns have had dramatic success. The disease has been virtually eliminated.

“The Carter Center joined the fight against Guinea worm in 1986, when it helped Ghana and Pakistan launch their eradication programs. Since then, it has spearheaded the World Health Organization’s global eradication effort, aimed at making Guinea worm only the second disease, after smallpox, to be wiped out completely. Under the leadership of the Carters and Dr. Donald Hopkins, the Carter Center has raised money, provided technical expertise, forged partnerships, and mustered the political will necessary to achieve this ambitious goal. They have distributed portable filters and initiated education programs to help break the cycle of the worm.

Transmission has been stopped in seven countries, and Asia is now free of the disease. In 2001, fewer than 65,000 cases remained in thirteen African countries, a 98 percent reduction since the beginning of the effort. Experts are confident that total eradication is just around the corner.

In 2001, it was estimated that 80 percent of the remaining cases were in the Sudan, where civil war has prevented a major eradication effort. That same year, courageous Carter Center volunteers distributed 8.5 million pipe filters, enough for every man, woman and child in the endemic areas of the Sudan. These hard plastic straws with nylon filters at one end can be carried around the neck and allow nomadic peoples to strain their water before drinking.” [source]

At the request of President Carter in 1990, DuPont developed a nylon monofilament filtration fabric to filter water infested with the Guinea worm parasite. The fabric is manufactured by Precision Fabrics:

“This fabric was unique. It had never been produced in this country. It is woven using a very fine monofilament nylon yarn. The fabric is washed, stabilized and finished to control the pore size of the fabric. It is precision slit into 12-inch wide rolls for export to the countries plagued by the disease. The fabric is then used in villages to filter water sources.”

DuPont and Precision Fabrics donated millions of square yards of the fabric from 1990 to 1997. Other countries have also produced similar fabric filters.


The Guinea Worm Filter is my suggestion to “100 ‘Cubes of Good Ideas’”, an exhibition of “objects that change people’s lives.” Design for the World is organizing the exhibition, which takes place during the Universal Forum of Cultures in Barcelona in the summer of 2004.

>  27 July 2003 | LINK | Filed in ,

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