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NRES 439 Environment and Sustainable Development

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  • How Systems Thinking Is helping Us Create a More Sustainable World

    I chose this article because it stood out to me when discussing systems thinking. It starts by just explaining what systems thinking is and how it works in terms of sustainability and the environment. It then goes into more detail of what it really means and gives examples on what it means to practice systems thinking in sustainability. One example was how to implement these ideas in your local community. I think it gives some really good ways the average person can have some systems thinking in their life. By helping your community understand the economics involved in environmental systems thinking will get them more open to new environmental initiatives. I think this topic relates to class because we had a whole lesson on what systems thinking is and this article helped bring it all around to the real world for me. 

  • Largest Recycling Program at California

    Good news for all sustainability lovers! California will mandate the most extensive recycling program to prevent food from landfills to reduce the state's methane emissions.

    When food scraps such as banana peels and leftover veggies and other organic materials break down, they emit methane, a greenhouse gas more potent and damaging in the short term than carbon emissions from fossil fuels. Organic material such as food and yard waste makes up a fifth of the state's methane emissions and half of everything in California landfills.

    Green bins will be provided to the residents who will allow them to put all the extra wet food waste, and the municipalities will convert them into compost, which can also be used to create biogas. This will help keep the air and the environment clean and will help us to tackle climate change; this also shows that 40% of food is wasted by Americans in the USA, according to the USDA. 

    Few countries like France and states have passed a law to donate excess food and not toss it in the trash. From January 2022, California is also trying to implement a similar program to install grocery stores that can store all the excess food to give to the needy can also be donated to food banks or charities. 

    Residents are also welcome to make their own compost in their backyard; this way, money is saved from going to the municipality and then converting it to compost. Cities that refuse to follow the law will be fined up to $10,000/day.

  • Bevier Café Going Green Times Three

    I chose this article because it shows good examples of how the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is pursuing circularity. The article discusses what Bevier Cafe is doing to be more sustainable. One of the concepts they have implemented is their aquaponics system. This system works  by having the fish excrete waste into the water and then that water is pumped into the growing beds which helps keep the plant roots wet. Then the roots clean the water to go back to the fish. This is a great example of a circular system. That is not the only thing they have implemented, they have also started a program that prevents throwing away to-go boxes. Now people purchase a reusable container that they clean and take care of,  all you have to do is bring it to the cafe. This is a great way to cut down on waste. I think this concept relates to class because it is sustainable development on our very own campus!

  • Lake Restorations

    I would like to share an example of lake restoration, which happened in one of the biggest cities in India, Bengaluru, which is also known to be the Silicon Valley of India. We do not require heavy investments or fancy engineering methods to restore the water bodies; it gives a sigh of relief to know if we all put an effort together, whatever we have in our capabilities, we could achieve wonders. Local communities in and around the lakes at Bengaluru deal with lake pollution, de-silting, encroachment.

    Teachers and students of KK School in Bengaluru’s Varthur, for example, took it upon themselves to preserve a dying lake in the vicinity of the school. “The lake started deteriorating in 1981. The work to preserve it from further falling prey to urbanization started around 1985, and since then, the efforts are on,” said MA Khan, headmaster of the school. the fish in the lake started dying due to the sewage waste. “Students often asked about the foul smell emanating from the lake. So they started community engagement tried to alert the government and local bodies to be aware of the situation, so the water was tested. It was found out with the presence of heavy metals contamination the bore well and affecting the food chain.

    Initially, they reduced the incoming of sewage with the help of local communities. First, all solid material and chemicals were removed. Second, the sewage treatment plant (STP) removed nutrients and ions from entering the water body. Third, natural algae ponds or ecosystems were created for the lake to undergo a biophysical and chemical process.

    Native plants in and around the lake were protected, the groundwater levels were recharged, there was no water scarcity faced by the local communities dependent on the lake water. Migratory birds got a safe space too.


  • McDonalds Greenwashing

    My friend came to me with a project she did about McDonalds and their sustainability initiatives. I was curious to see what they were really doing, and if these practices were substantive to the sustainable development goals. I found this article from the guardian that strongly criticizes McDonalds for not making a change in one area- beef consumption. The article states that there are estimated 53m metric tons of greenhouse gasses produced from McDonalds in 2020, and that number alone exceeds the emissions numbers of certain entire European nations. McDonalds recent sustainability initiative aimed to cut their emissions by 36% by 2030. However, the article also goes on to say that after their plan was analyzed by climate scientists, the math appears to be questionable. The plan is very vague, and has a confusing timeline. The bottom line, is that the area in which they could cut back their emissions in the largest way is not even in discussion. I think this brings into question the role of big industry in decision making for the McDonalds brand. They are also one of the only fast food brands of their kind to not introduce a plant base burger option. The article clearly states that they believe for major greenwashing to be occurring in their advertisements of sustainability. It is also discussed about the complexity of this issue, being beyond one brands problem. They discuss that there must be systematic change in the food industry in order to make real change. This article made me realize that we cannot accept brands claims for sustainability, and it is important to question the information that comes our way. 

  • Short of sand, beaches might get crushed glass

    With Florida's beaches and associated businesses generating more than a billion dollars every year, their preservation is prioritized but becoming more and more difficult as the sand on these beachfronts face erosion from contact with the water. This creates gaps in sand quantity, and so in order to fill these gaps, glass might prove to be a useful alternative. Processes utilizing machinery can revert glass back into fine particles, basically mimicking the texture and appearance of sand. These fine particles can then be used to replace the eroded sand in beaches in order to maintain the part of South Florida's economy that relies on beach-related revenue. 

    Simultaneously, employing glass waste as a means for creating sand imitating materials will also reduce the amount of waste that would otherwise end up in landfills without any further use. Initially, to replace the sand in eroded beaches, sand from ocean floors would be excavated and transported to the shore, a process referred to as dredging. This project would fulfill the need material replenishment while also limiting the need of taking resources from other places, which undoubtedly serve a great use for aquatic systems. 

    The only limits of such a project would be how little sand it produces in proportion to the demand of replacement sand, which in 2006, 2.6 million tonnes were dredged from ocean floors, costing 45 millions dollars. However, the project of turning glass into sand would only produce 15,600 tonnes every year, a small fraction of what would be needed. There's still potential, of course, and can see many other uses in other areas as well, such as being used in materials related to construction. If it sees further development for expanded use, it'll alleviate stressors placed on aquatic systems from resource monopilization by humans, land fill conflicts, and so forth. 


  • Phytoremediation of fungicides by aquatic macrophytes: Toxicity and removal rate

    Fungicides often see prevalent usage in agriculture for crops that are at risk of developing fungal related diseases that need treatment in order to mitigate crop death and thus maximize crop yield in farms. One example is soybean rust, which refers to two different fungi, affecting soybeans eventually leading to its death after some time. As a staple of commercial crops around the world, finding a way to manage these fungis were imperative, and so fungicides were made as a preventative and a treatment for the fungus. Crop yeild losses could reach up to 80% due to soybean rust, bearing huge economic damages for the farms using soybean crops.

    The usage of these fungicides, however, saw some drawbacks for the environment around the farms, such as the soil, ground water, or other aquatic systems were found to have varying levels of fungicides existing in them, and ecological consequences rose in wildlife and these natural systems in general through several disturbances. This included higher wildlife mortality, plant degradation, less productivity in aquatic systems, and more.

    While the risks of using these fungicides were clear, it was hard for these farms to just stop using them as they relied on them to preserve their crops. This is where the topic of the linked article can help. It goes over phytoremediation, which is where plant species can be employed to clear up some toxic compounds, this including fungicides. Clearing water of toxic and harmful waste can be both expensive and time consuming, but the phytoremediation technique offers a cheaper, sustainable alternative for clearing toxic compounds. The research article itself shows the effectiveness of five plant species in removing two fungicides from water in a labratory test. The results showed varied conclusions, but did prove that some plant species, such as duckweeds, proved useful in phytoremediation. 

    With fungicides seeing wide usage for agriculture, it is necessary to find a way to at least elimiate some risk from these toxic chemicals posing a danger to the surroundign environment, and using plants to clean up water toxicity can definitely prove to be useful, although a lot more research is needed for efficacy and creating other strategies.

  • How Scientists Are Working to Reduce Methane Emissions Among Livestock

    As we've discussed in class, methane emissions are largely from livestock. I found this article really helful to grasp just how much methane is emitted, and the environmental factos that contribute to the emissions. I'm also really impressed with a new technology that is aimed at reducing methane from cow's burps. The new technology is called "Mootral"; "Mootral" is a product that is aimed at reducing the amount of wasted energy that cows release in the form of methane. They discovered that the micorbial effects of garlic, from the allicin in garlic, was able to interact with the enzyme in the cow's stomach that creates methane.

    Although this is a great discovery, scientists have had a difficult time emitting the correct amount of allicin. They have found that too much allicin can have negative effects on the cattle, but too little has almost no impact on methane levels. This technology is so new that farmers are recording an abundance of scientific discoveries. Some dairy farmers have even reported an increase in milk production; they suspect that this is due to the cows having more energy to spend on milk production from saving it on methane emission. 

    I thought this article was a great example of how scientists are working towards climate change, specifically to reduce emissions in agriculture. As a class that has showed a large interest in learning about sustainable agriculture, I thought this article deserved some attention!

  • Mask Recycling at Turner Hall

    learn more about mask recycling at UIUC!

  • No Melting Glaciers but Climate Change is at the Door

    Chennai is a city in India where I spent 14 years of my life has been receiving rainfall continuously for the past 1 month, and every year the amount of rainfall received is increasing. The article says in detail that if rains are persistent, it will affect the migration of birds, and eventually, so many things will be affected because of it, like a chain reaction. Rains affect the breeding timetable of the birds, which might crash their population level. There are no glaciers in and around Chennai to melt or even witness such dramatic conditions, but rainfall has been affecting birds from migration; because of the deluge, their nesting gets involved, and eventually, the chain of reactions gets affected. Some examples are fruits developing early, and insects are left with no food or find it difficult to feed all their young ones.

    There are avian studies from the west suggesting that some bird species are developing longer wingspans but shrinking in their overall size in response to a rise in temperature and the necessity of flying further for food. Birds require lighting and hormones for migration, and because of the continuous rainfall in Chennai, many birds are stuck here. 

    These may not look like serious issues that the world will catch up on or even consider serious problems, but these issues affect everything all together. This reminds me of planetary boundaries and how human activities affect the environment. Climate change is one of the planetary boundaries which has to be addressed. 

    The framework does describe that transgressing one or more planetary boundaries may be deleterious or even catastrophic due to the risk of crossing thresholds that will trigger non-linear, abrupt environmental change within continental-scale to planetary-scale systems. I feel that essential measures are taken as immediately as possible to limit the more minor issues and sort them out so that we do not face situations that we may not be able to deal with.

  • Leather Alternatives in a Circular Economy

    Agricultural waste products can be implemented as a novel leather alternative. 

  • Moving Towards a Circular Fashion Economy

    This article discusses how wasteful Americans are with their clothing. It then goes into how bad fast fashion really is, and how we need to have a more circular clothing industry. this relates to class because we discussed how impactful a circular economy is, so in turn, a circular fashion industry would be helpful as well!

  • Lomi

    Lomi, the Kitchen Composter

    Made by Pela, the Lomi home kitchen composter presents a unique angle on waste reduction and circularity.

  • Artist's rendering of extinct Brontotheres

    The Sixth Mass Extinction

    The earth is in its sixth mass extinction. The last one took out the dinosaurs. 

  • Sustainable Packaging Research

    I came across the company MetGen when researching developments in sustainable packaging. Packaging is something that has always bothered me, whether it be amazon boxes or plastic bags, I have always thought packaging was an area with huge growth potential sustainability-wise. MetGen is a biotechnology company based in Southern Finland. They have been studying a mix of enzymes from wood and bark in hopes to replace oil-based materials in packaging. A dependence on oil is devastating to our environment and economy. In addition to moving away from dependence on oil for packaging, the wood and bark enzymes make the packaging biodegradable, recyclable, and compostable. This could mean major progress in eliminating waste from landfills. MetGen won the “Innovation Radar Prize” in 2021, and received a European Commission funding grant of 13 million euros. The prize is awarded to the most innovative companies within the EU, and are based on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. With much recognition and continued funding, MetGen is sure to be a company to watch in making advancements to benefit the environment and have positive implications far beyond our waste footprint. The company is currently operating in  Europe, but has listed on their website that they have plans in place to expand to North America, and South America + Asia to soon follow. 

  • 1979 Lincoln Continental Mark V

    Vehicle Regulations in China Briefly Explained

    Vehicle Regulations in China Briefly Explained

  • United Airlines operates 100% sustainable fuel commercial flight for the first time in history.

    When it comes to transportation in the United States, few cities are of greater importance than Chicago. The city is a hub for rail transit, water transit through the Great Lakes, and for air travel at its O’Hare and Midway airports. As it currently stands, air travel is a favorite for many Americans due to its speed and price when compared to driving or taking a train, such as Amtrak. It should be no surprise that commercial aviation is incredibly harsh on the environment, from the enormous quantities of materials needed for construction to the associated emissions with the production and consumption of jet fuel. There seem to be two apparent routes for the future in order to make commercial aviation more sustainable: electric airplanes, or sustainable biofuels. This past Wednesday, 1 December 2021, Chicago-based United Airlines made history in the field of renewable aviation, operating the first commercial flight with 100% sustainable fuel. The flight operated from Chicago’s O’Hare airport and Washington D.C.’s Ronald Reagan airport carrying 100 passengers including the CEO of United Airlines. United Airlines has been a frontrunner in the push for sustainable aviation fuels (SAF’s) for some time now, and has regularly been mixing sustainable fuels into their conventional fuels since 2016. I think this action by United Airlines is admirable for the attempts they’re making at changing the current regulations regarding SAF’s. Currently, up to 50% of an aircraft’s fuel can be derived from SAF’s, but United hopes to challenge this notion by demonstrating no operational difference between conventional and sustainable fuels. 

    These actions by United Airlines help to demonstrate their commitment to circular principles and incorporate them into their business in several ways. First, the opportunity provides the opportunity for American investors to enter the business industry as sustainable fuels will continue to grow in demand. Using plant-derived sustainable fuels also allows for United Airlines to recycle and add potential waste back into the manufacturing process, helping to lessen the massive carbon footprint of this essential industry.

  • Lithium Extraction: A Potential Powerhouse Industry for the United States

    Electrical vehicles seem to be all the rage these days, with more car companies committing to their development and charging stations popping up all over the country. Much of the conversation around electric vehicles revolves around one key component: the battery. This is not for nothing, as the battery is the sole component that will determine the viability of electric vehicles on such a large scale. The future of batteries for electric vehicles is currently reliant on a stable supply of lithium, which is the most popular choice due to its remarkable properties. Lithium is an incredibly lightweight metal, but also has a very high electrochemical potential, meaning it is an excellent material for the use in anodes or cathodes in batteries (in this case, anodes). Currently, the vast majority of lithium in the United States is imported from other countries and is not very recyclable. President Biden, however, has looked to make the United States a world leader in the production and recycling of lithium. The President and his administration are currently looking at the recycling of lithium from California’s geothermal power plants, including a $30 million investment into the development of the technology.. Simply put, geothermal power is derived from the steam generated from boiling water using the heat of the earth’s core. The wastewater from this process, however, presents a unique opportunity for recycling that could produce as much as 600,000 tons of lithium annually for the state. The brine-like wastewater contains various metals and compounds, including lithium, that could be extracted from the water and recycled for battery production. The 600,000 tons produced would not only bring $7 billion to the State of California annually, but the annual production would exceed current annual consumption, allowing for the surplus to be exported and generate additional revenue for the state. 

    This particular article touches upon many of the concepts we learned in class, but I thought this article highlighted the principles of the circular economy rather well. Minimizing waste and promoting recycling are core principles of the circular economy, and this initiative aims to incorporate those ideals into a blossoming industry that the United States could pioneer. Domestically sourced lithium could also offset significant emissions that would otherwise be emitted using conventional production methods. Not only this, but the initiative provides an excellent opportunity for capital growth in the state. Not only in the extraction of the lithium, but the refining of the lithium as well as the development and construction of batteries provide the opportunity for investors and capital to flow into new technologies. 

    With electric vehicles only increasing in popularity, the need for sustainably sourced electric vehicles will only continue to grow as well. The United States was blessed with a vast array of resources at our disposal, and I think it would be a poor decision not to capitalize on them, lithium included.

  • Sustainable Development in the Beverages Industry

    It is easy to see that public pressure on industries to commit to sustainable future development has steadily grown, and some industries seem to be greater recipients of this pressure than others. Industries like oil and gas, agriculture, and car manufacturing seem to be some of the greatest recipients of this pressure, but not many people think of the luxuries industry. High-end alcohol brand Moet-Hennessy, part of the luxuries conglomerate LVMH, however, has committed to securing environmental certifications for all of its suppliers by the year 2025, as well as regenerative agriculture certifications by 2030. Moet-Hennessy is one of the largest alcoholic beverage producers in the world, with brands like Belvedere, Dom Perignon, and Moet & Chandon in their portfolio, presenting a tremendous opportunity for a large corporation to make huge changes in regard to their sustainability. The company owns several high-end Champagne brands as well, which is regarded for its intense effects on the environment. Since Champagne can only be produced in that region, it is of special importance to the company that their production be sustainable. The company has already banned the use of pesticides in its vineyards, and is currently exploring further options to increase their sustainability. Mentioned in the article are rows of trees to serve as “ecological corridors” through their vineyards as well as working with glass producers to develop more sustainable glass production methods. Not only this, but Moet-Hennesy has also established a research institute in the Champagne region to develop more sustainable winemaking practices. While sustainable development goals need to be adopted by more corporations, it is refreshing to see a less common industry willingly commit themselves to sustainable goals that are in line with the United Nations’ goals. Moet-Hennesy also adopted the same 1.5℃ goal put forward by the 2015 Paris Agreement.

  • Continued - The Grid Capacity Challege

    The Orkney Islands case now with a video explaining how too much renewable energy is causing problems. How the US is experiencing the same issues and what we should expect the future of renewable energy to be.

  • Picture of hands holding the Earth

    LA Grand Challenge: Making a sustainable megacity

    University of California, Los Angeles, is working on making the city of LA sustainable. They are doing this by, "developing the technologies, policies, and strategies to transition L.A. County to 100% renewable energy, 100% local water, and enhanced ecosystem health by 2050." Studies showed that the communities whom were most effected by climate change, were low income. The Grand Challenge aims to make LA sustainable so it is safe for all people to live there, not just the wealthy. 

  • A vintage LEGO set of a Shell gas station

    The Links Between Toys and Unsustainable Norms

    Authors Nils Stockmann and Antonia Graf studied the connections between the subject matter of LEGO sets and the normative ideas they convey with regard to transportation. Their findings show that this creates early familiarity amongst children with unsustainable forms of transportation, namely automobiles. These connections, taken more broadly, could suggest that the toys we provide for children could have big impacts on the world for generations to come.

  • Is Plastic Recycling Based on a Scam?

    Rollie Williams / Climate Town dissects the history, perceptions and realities of plastic recycling in a video titled "Plastic Recycling is an Actual Scam". What do these problems mean for global plastic pollution, and is there anything that can be done about it?

  • The Global Goals

    As I was researching the Sustainable Development Goals that we have discussed in class, I came across a great interactive website about each of the goals, the current campaigns, daily news about the goals, and extra resources for additional information. The website is very easy to read and navigate; once you click on a goal, you can find the specific targets for the goal and "the goal in action." The website even has free resources for teachers who are interested in educating their students on the SDGs, which I think could be really beneficial for anyone interested in an education career/profession.

  • Three Horizons Framework by Bill Sharpe

    Three Horizons Framework

    Three Horizons Framework as introduced by Bill Sharpe in "Three Horizons, the Patterning of Hope" in 2013. Presented by Kate Raworth of Doughnut Eonomics Action Lab. A helpful framework in discussing what is, what can be, and how to get there.

  • Peter Rockstrom at COP26

    Peter Rockstrom and others discuss our current predicament regarding several of the planetary boundaries discussed in his framework set forth in ( ARTICLE) Followed by several TED Talk presentations on related topics.

  • A look back and advice for the next generation

    On October 19, 2021, the Environmental Law Institute gave Carol Browner the 2021 Environmental Achievement Award. Browner served as EPA Administrator (1993-2001) and director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy (2009-2011). The ceremony included an 18-minute conversation between Jordan Diamond, the incoming president of the Environmental Law Institute, and Browner that looks back about the challenges and accomplishments in U.S. environmental policy during Browner's tenure and ends with advice for the next generation. The video is at The coversation occurs from 1:19:30 to 1:37:30. If you want to hear the tributes to Carol Browner, you will find those between 57:30 and 1:17:20.

  • Website about Sustainability in Aviation Industry

    As I was performing research for my second essay of the semester about sustainability issues in Aviation, I came across a super interesting website/database about environmental issues in Aviation! The website is really interactive and easy to read. I found key information about some of the main sustainability issues that I discussed in my essay. The website has goals, progress reports, and news all about environmental issues in sustainability. I highly recommend checking out the website if you're interested in aviation at all!

  • Cryptocurrency, Electricity, and Sustainability

    Cryptocurrencies are still living on their hype while some countries try to ban them. Ethereum? More like ethereal. They should not be a part of a sustainable society.

  • Systems Thinking

    A video and writing discussing systems thinking as it relates to continual improvement processes and their ultimate goal.

  • Plastics Today Article

    Bioplastics: Are They Actually Ecologically Sound?

    After receiving a message on LinkedIn from a coffee company requesting me to write an article clearing up some consumer confusion regarding “sustainable” coffee pod alternatives, I began to delve into research on bioplastics and barriers preventing them from being a successful alternative to traditional plastics. Through the process of conducting this research on potential pitfalls for bioplastics, I was reminded of several NRES 439 class concepts, including the idea of “wicked problems” and “stakeholder engagement.”

  • Reverse Auctions: An Unusual Way to Provide Habitat

    "Saving Birds with Economics" is a podcast episode of The Indicator from Planet Money ( posted July 22, 2021. Darian Woods and Stacey Vanek Smith interview Eric Hallstein, an economist with The Nature Conservancy, about a way to provide wetland habitat for bird habitat during migration without purchasing land.