UMass Net Impact

Using business and our careers to tackle some of the world's toughest problems.

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A Day Without Cars

Cars back up in rush hour traffic as they approach the Place de la Concorde in Paris on April 19, 2007. REUTERS/CHARLES PLATIAU

Think of a big city like New York, Los Angeles, London, or Paris. What comes to mind? Cars? Traffic? Noise? Pollution?

Now try and imagine being in one of these cities without those things. It’s hard to even think of outside of The Walking Dead or another TV or Movie apocalypse.

On September 27, Paris will do just this. They will have “Une Journée Sans Voiture,” or a day without cars. This means that traffic will be closed to all of the major areas of the city including all of the popular tourist spots like the Eiffel Tower and even the busiest neighborhoods. These areas will be “fully dedicated to pedestrians, allowing them to discover a new Paris.”

The day is meant to be a part of a larger campaign by the city to fight pollution, which is the main health risk caused to the environment by the largest cities in the world, including Paris. It comes around the same time as Europe Mobility Week (September 16-22) and COP 21 (November) which is the annual United Nations climate conference. The French Senate released a report stating that air pollution costs Paris over €100 billion each year and this number will only grow if more and more cars continue to fill the streets.

This day is not just about pollution however. It is meant to be a showcase to people about what the city, and the world could be like if we could reduce traffic. Not only would we make a positive impact on the environment by reducing carbon emissions, but we’d all save money, time, and patience from not being stuck in traffic for hours each day. Moreover, we’d be less stressed without the noise and danger of cars filling the streets of every city. We could reduce our oil usage which we know we have to start doing. We could make the streets a safe place for tourists, our children, and cyclists.

I know that this is just one day and that one day without traffic is not going to have a direct impact on much. This is not the first time this has happened however. Montreal, Bogota, Mexico City, Ho Chi Minh City and Brussels have all implemented similar days along with many others. Jakarta, Indonesia has a car free day every Sunday! While I don’t think these car-free days will save our planet or make commuting to Boston in rush hour any less frustrating, I think it is an inspiring idea and the kind of idea that I think is worth spreading. Maybe one day we can enjoy a permanently car free New York, Los Angeles, London, or Paris and hopefully it’s not because an apocalypse.

Tom Sheridan


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Making a Change

When one looks at the global issue of climate change it is hard to think that you can make a difference. It is literally a worldwide issue. Whether you choose to bike to work or hang dry your clothes, cannot possibly make a difference in the temperature change of the globe. Mathematically, your choices do not matter.

But I’d argue that reversing climate change starts with the people.

Culture is what needs to change if climate change is to be stopped. Change needs to start with the people and from there, it can be echoed up the chain to local businesses to corporations to government.

A country that is a prime example of this process is Germany. It is the leading country in solar energy and the reason is clear when you look at the habits of the people. Whenever possible, the people hang their clothes to dry instead of using dryers and the majority of people separate their trash into three piles. Germans also have a tendency to use public transportation or bikes to get most places minimize their car usage and. They also have separate switches for their outlets, and decrease their water usage with two button toilets. Germans consider their impact on the environment every day.

This profound respect for the environment can be traced back many years. Due to the population and long civilization of Germany, the people have always valued the space that they have. Their awareness for the impact they can have on the environment was raised when the Chernobyl accident occurred along their border. This revealed to people the danger of pollution to their health. Since then, Germany has disavowed nuclear energy and moved towards solar and wind energy.

This concern traveled up the chain from the people to businesses to the government. The German government has placed incentives on clean energy and regulations on pollution. This helps to promote green technology. Businesses follow these green regulations and tries due to the green focus of the people, tries to be as green as possible. Even farmers practice green techniques with contour plowing, terracing and other techniques.

Germany is setting an example for the world. If such initiatives took place around the world, pollution would decrease around the globe. It starts with the people and then the whole infrastructure of a country may change. It starts with you.

By Mary Lagunowich

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A Hopeless Cause?

Think back to 30 years ago – to when the adults of today were in their teens. It was a different world back then. Talk of climate change and energy shortages was non-existent. Now we live in a different world. The youth of today knows and, to some extent, understands the crisis we live in. Most of us to our best to not be wasteful, try to stay up to date on what is happening, and keep an eye out for ways to help. I for one am hopeful that our government and our worldly citizens can make a change for the better. But are we fighting a losing battle? Despite the efforts put in by so many people, have we already lost the war?

This last year China invested over $54 million on clean energy. They were actually the biggest investors in the clean energy market worldwide. You may be thinking “Hey! This is great news! A change is being made.” And you’re right, to some extent. A change is being made, but it could be too little too late.

It is common knowledge that China boasts the largest population of any country. However, it takes a lot of energy to support a population that big. Energy that comes from coal. Coal causes so much pollution in Chinese cities that it makes it extremely difficult just to breathe. In fact, in China, coal usage has doubled over the past 10 years, despite increased awareness of its detrimental impact.

“But you just said they are the number one investors of clean energy!” True. Very true. Just, don’t get too excited. The environmental change can’t and won’t happen overnight. To support a population the size of China, coal is a necessary evil. It supplies 70% of Chinese power and cannot be replaced without causing cataclysmic problems. And their population is still growing, thus requiring more energy and power.

So, the issue becomes this: do we help our people by improving their standard of living with increased amounts of electricity or do we save our planet by cutting our coal usage and trying to replace it with as much renewable energy as we can? Either way there are going to be immediate consequences. If they help the people China is only going to become more polluted, but if they cut back on coal the standard of living will drop rapidly.

Has China waited too long to start their environmental change? Do they depend too greatly on coal to give it up? Has the battle already been lost?

By Jessica Auger

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How LED Lights Can Change the World

Its 2014 and 1.5 billion people around the world, including 2 thirds of people in sub-Saharan Africa, do not have access to electrical grids. Even those of us that do have access are using inefficient light bulbs resulting in wasted energy, money, and materials on top of releasing mercury into the environment. These result in billions of dollars in wasted energy plus the unnecessary power plants and the costs required to operate them.

But things are changing, thanks to LED lights. LED lights were first invented in the 1960’s, but were not commercially available until the 1990s. However the bulbs available then were only in the colors red and green. By in the mid 2000’s, blue LED lights became available thanks to the work of three scientists, Isamu Akasaki and Hiroshi Amano of Japan; and Shuji Nakamura of the United States. They were even awarded Nobel Prizes in physics for their discovery. But how does inventing blue lights change the world or win you a Nobel Prize?

When blended, the red, green, and blue lights create white light. This means that LED bulbs can be used for everyday lighting, and this is huge. LED lights last 100 times longer and are 18 times more efficient than regular incandescent light bulbs. They even last 10 times longer and are over 4 times more efficient than the compact florescent light bulbs that have become popular for their energy saving. Even more exciting, the US Department of Energy predicts that over the next 20 years, the adoption of LED lighting will prevent the construction of 40 new power plants, save $265 billion in energy, and reduce lighting electricity demand by 33 percent. This is even greater news for the third world. Unlike traditional light bulbs, LED’s require so low little energy that they can run on small scale solar energy (the only electricity available to the billion and a half people without access to an electrical grid.) LED will soon be the norm in these poor, rural areas and will increase the standard of living immensely by bringing light.

There are still obstacles to get over in the world of LED’s. Even though the cost over the life of LED’s is cheaper, the upfront cost of the bulbs is still very high in comparison to other lights. There is also the problem of replacing our current bulbs, which will certainly take time. But, the cost should come down in a few years, and these bulbs will be common place in a few more. With the challenge of lighting seemingly conquered, the scientists of tomorrow can go on to tackle the next problems of the world.

By Thomas Sheridan – Net Impact UMass Blog Coordinator

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Picking up Speed in the Wind Industry

        Similar to, perhaps, all renewables, economists have long worried about the feasibility of wind energy amidst a market saturated by coal, oil, and natural gas. For years, the wind industry has scrambled to claim the best properties across the United States, such as remote prairies and mountain ridges that would make significant wind speeds, 200 feet above ground, accessible. However, new developments in technology are allowing the wind industry to take enormous strides which may soon position them to compete with the market prices of conventional energy on the national scale. New innovations have enabled turbines to be built taller and with longer blades. Because of this, vast new opportunities in terms of locations for wind farms have opened up. Therefore, locations which were previously passed because wind speeds at 200 feet were not strong enough can now be reconsidered for turbines which achieve between 300 and 400 feet!

     For example, in 2008, the state of Michigan had no wind farms at all, but recent construction has now established enough machines to yield more than 1,000 megawatts and power hundreds of thousands of homes. In fact, in a few areas of the country, wind energy has already seized the competitive edge with prices falling as low as 4 cent per kilowatt-hour, dramatically cheaper than any conventional forms of energy. Still, prices for wind power remain relatively high throughout most of the country, and the best prices tend only to exist in regions where the prices of diesel and other options are very high, such as in Alaska

     Having recognized this, companies such as Altaeros Energies have chosen Alaska as the locale to pilot their new wind energy collection technologies. Altaeros will soon embark on the first commercial effort to launch a buoyant airborne turbine. This turbine will consist of a white helium-filled inner-tube-like-balloon which will surround a rotor and float at 1,000 feet in the air. Through cable transmission, hope are that the turbine will feed the electricity necessary to power more than a dozen homes. Although such a feat many not seem practical for national implementation yet, it is tremendously hopeful to witness so many new businesses jumping on the opportunity to provide an alternative that is both cheaper and greener.

By Erin Shaughnessey


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United States of ‘Merica

Picture a man riding his Rascal scooter along the side of a highway. This man is aggressively obese and heading in the direction of a combination KFC-Taco Bell. His total disregard for traffic laws and his own well being is displayed on his face as he stink eyes the passing motorists. Jammed into his tattered seat cushion is a faded American flag. The flag flaps proudly and majestically as if the scooter is a Colonial war-ship and the gentleman is the noble captain of the USS Rascal. Well, this imagery is exactly what I saw one Saturday afternoon. As I drove past this sight, one solitary word resonated in my mind: ‘Merica.

For those who are unfamiliar, ‘Merica is a word that can be defined as: any action, object, or moment that exemplifies the utterly unique American condition. The term is best understood when heard in the wild. For example, seeing someone eating a five pound hamburger and then washing it down with a liter of cola; that’s grounds for ‘Merica. Thinking about painting red-hot fire flames on your family’s ’04 Chrysler minivan? Go for it! Because that’s ‘Merica too. Upon first glance, these actions may seem socially unacceptable, excessive, or downright ludicrous; and that’s exactly right. Proclaiming ‘Merica in the presence of these actions signifies your non-judgmental acceptance of the predicament. Think of ‘Merica as the modern man’s Namaste. The absurdity in me sees the absurdity in you.

Later that Saturday afternoon, I began to ponder. I questioned: should this association with our nations colors be cause for concern? Has the American flag become nothing more than a joke? Has its usefulness been reduced to dorm-room décor and twitter page backgrounds? Why is it that I see the Stars and Stripes more on clothing than on flagpoles? Back when flags were reserved for the homes of hard-working families and small businesses, the flags stood for resilience, brotherhood, and the pursuit of happiness.

So when did the flag become viewed in such a casual way? According to a report by Brian Spyros of WBOC News, Sales of American flags skyrocketed post September 11th. It’s possible that this saturation of seeing the flag everywhere has desensitized us to its core values. This has opened the door to comedic interpretation and light-hearted Tomfoolery. An outsider may view these circumstances as insulting to their nation and its values. However, I feel ‘Merica should not be viewed as a derogatory term. In fact I feel it should be celebrated. The term shows the flag is not “too good” to be the butt of the joke, it’s not “above” the common people, in fact, it IS the common people. Furthermore, I would go as far to say that the values of ‘Merica coincide with the traditional American values. Is fighting through a platter of “Dragon Hot” chicken wings not resilient? Is the action of you and your roommate cutting the sleeves off ALL of your t-shirts not brotherhood? Is pursuing happiness in a Rascal scooter not still the pursuit? If you want the American flag to symbolize ridiculous excessive behavior, than by all means, go for it cowboy. Being American means that no one can tell you how to eat your slice of American pie. If you want your slice with all the “fixin’s” and wrapped in a bacon bowl; then I just have one word for you: ‘Merica.

by Dan Carroll

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North Dakota’s Oil Drilling Concerns

Next to the big state of Texas, North Dakota is the second largest producer of oil in the United States. Located within North Dakata, Bakken field was estimated to have produced over 10% of the US oil supply and averaged to produce over one million barrels of oil in a day. However, the reoccurring natural flare ups at the drilling areas have increased raising environmental concerns. The flare up’s are not only a waste of natural and valuable gas but a harmful additive to the environment. The concerns though have been appointed to the state regulators, the Industrial Commission and North Dakota is planning on to decrease the amount of gas being released into the air.

            The capturing of the natural gas is becoming very imperative because it is estimated that Bakken field will increase their production by 40% by the end of next year. The rapid growth calls for stricter natural gas capturing; this can be done increasing the assembly of the gas- gathering pipelines and processing plants. The funding of these future projects is stemming from production and property tax credits, low interest loans, and help from local business in exchange for tib bits of their gas production. North Dakota is taking the responsibility into their own hands in hopes of being able to produce more oil but at the same time create less waste for the environment.

By Elaina Falcone