NOMAD PAD – a sustainable travel park

Hi Everyone, I just completed my design concept for Introduction to Sustainable Design, MCAD. This was a great practice exercise in working through the Living Building Challenge criteria and it gave me some important insight as I head into my thesis work. It will be very interesting to watch how the eco-tourism industry develops here in the U.S. With recent developments in the area of distributed energy resources, Toyota’s plug-in hybrid Prius, and Tesla’s Powerwall, I believe that plug-in hybrid RVs are right around the corner. If that’s the case then this travel park concept, though various details may change, is pretty realistic.

You can see my SlideShare presentation here:

Or you can read the more in-depth report here:


My Green City?


This report will focus on “America’s Hometown”, Hannibal, Missouri, located in the northeast part of the state, approximately 90 minutes north of St. Louis. A very small city of 18-20,000, it is located along the Mississippi and the “Avenue of the Saints” I-64/40 that runs from St. Louis to St. Paul. Mark Twain is Hannibal’s claim to fame – the city is his boyhood home. As far as any real sustainable initiatives, Hannibal lags far behind.


Local Food

A like-minded peer and friend, after a stint in grad school in Berlin, recently returned to the area and started a community garden project that she named Common Grounds. Hannibal Parks and Recreation designated one of its flood buy-out zones to the community to be used for the project. Ironically, the Common Grounds received charitable donations from BASF, one of the largest regional manufacturers of agricultural herbicides and pesticides. The outcome of the garden project is still very uncertain as participation is low. Community participation is still comparatively low. Until recently maintenance has often fallen on the administrator. However, she has the superintendent of Hannibal Public Schools on her side. Mrs. Johnson is working with Jessie to introduce an educational program combined with several small-scale intensive gardens at each of the elementary schools. Jessie is also working hard to revamp the local farmers market to make it more appealing and attractive to younger participants.


Local Economy

Hannibal’s local economy is fairly stagnant. The population remains the same – just as many people come in as die or leave. Hannibal has a few large manufacturing, food, and chemical plants that support many Hannibal residents: General Mills, BASF, Watlow, and Buckhorn and a few others. Business start-ups come and go in the historical downtown area. The majority fair well during the summer tourist season but very few survive the first two years as there is not a large enough customer base to support them throughout the remainder of the year. Hannibal also has the lowest cost of housing in the United States. Hannibal is highly dependent on government and local welfare programs like NECAC, United Way, American Red Cross, and Douglas Community Center.

On a brighter note, Mississippi Dry Goods and Ayers Pottery are two local shops on Main Street in the historical downtown area of Hannibal that work hard to promote and sell local goods. Ayers Pottery produces local pottery that is renowned in this region. Java Jive, a local coffee shop, and Fresh Ayers, both owned and operated by the Ayers’ daughter, sell works of art by local artists. Mississippi Dry Goods offers specialty sauces, jellies, jams and produce from local growers and makers.


Local waste management

Hannibal offers a very modest recycling program. The Sheltered Workshop employs people with special needs to accept and sort cardboard, paper, and plastic. Merkel Metal Recycling Division is the leading scrap metal recycling center in Northeast Missouri. They are a full service center that provides purchasing, sorting, processing, marketing, and trucking or scrap metal for industrial, commercial, and residential customers.


Advanced building codes

As far as I could find, of the three local architect and engineering firms, none were equipped to handle LEED certified projects. The nearest LEED certified firm is in Columbia, Missouri, the central part of the state.


Education, advocacy and networking efforts

The superintendent of Hannibal public schools appears to be a progressive thinker and is trying to bring in educational programs centered on renewable energy and community gardening.


Alternative transportation

The only public transportation that Hannibal offers is Older Adult Transportation System (OATS), which operates a fleet of busses and drives people around for a very low fee. The Parks and Rec department has put in a few bike lanes and one short bike trail along Bear Creek. There is a growing community of cyclists, including myself, (one group of doctors has biked every weekend for years) persists in spite of Hannibal’s unfriendly non-accommodation of cyclists.


Grassroots organizations

The Hannibal Arts community, the Community Garden, and those belonging to Hannibal Historic Preservation Society may be the only grassroots organizations I know of. They promote local arts, crafts and food.



It is quite apparent that Hannibal has lots of room for improvement in the area of sustainability. Through the years I have thought about trying to lend a hand by trying to join the city council or something. I have supported the local Hannibal Arts Council and tried to lend a hand designing a children’s museum. However, I end up concluding that my time could be spent more productively elsewhere.

Social Inspiration

Our latest assignment in Intro to Sustainable Design class was to write about a company or organization that uses design to catalyze social change. A few years ago, while setting up a trade show booth at the Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City, I met some people from the company Miir who was setting up right behind us. I had a great chat with founder Bryan Pape and after learning about the company I’ve been a fan ever since. I still hope to collaborate with them in the near future. Here’s and honest look at Miir.

Introduction to the enterprise… how did it start? Who’s behind it?

Miir is a philanthropic company that practices social entrepreneurship. Somewhat like Toms shoes, the company combines sales with charity. Similar to a buy-one-give-one model, this is a buy-one-help-fund model. Their slogan sums them up well:

“We are united by our passion to inspire and empower through amazing design and transparent giving.”

Founded by Bryan Pape, it all began with a stainless water bottle. Bryan wanted to create a business model that would offer a superior water bottle and also fund clean water projects in Africa. He worked with an industrial designer friend who redesigned a water bottle and cap into something simple, elegant, and more user-friendly. Through the expansion of their business, Miir has built wells, and started a bicycle line providing transportation locally and globally. Recently they added a bag line empowering education.

Miir is also passionate about transparency, believing that how a product is made is just as important as why it is made. They have asked third party organizations ot examine and verify their sustainable practices including sourcing of material, production, giving and distribution channels. It is a certified B corporation. They invite customers to “track their impact” with every purchase.

Who is Miir’s audience/market?

I met Miir at the Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City back in January, 2013. I believe it’s safe to say that Miir’s audience includes outdoor enthusiasts, minimalists, travelers, and sustainability-minded, discriminating consumers who have a high regard for humanitarian projects and classic products with high aesthetic quality and thoughtful functionality.


Discuss its social attributes… how does it makes the world a better place?

Miir has three basic product lines: water bottles, bikes and now packs. Purchases of these products help fund Miir’s partners (roughly 14 non-profit organizations to date), and enable them to implement sustainable water and bicycle projects in underserved communities around the world. Miir puts a high priority on transparency. Each Miir product has a unique code so that customers can track their impact by registering the code online. Miir sends the customer (partner) GPS coordinates and photos of the project that her product helped fund.

As incredible as this model is, I wonder if it couldn’t still be improved. One of the criticisms of Toms shoes is that the one-for-one model does not support the local economy in the villages and communities where the shoes are given. Why can’t local shoemakers, crafts and trades people be partnered with in order to sell their products directly to people in the community at a fair price? This is working toward true sustainability. The danger in the existing model is this – if the buy-one-give-one model should ever stop the communities on the receiving end have nothing in place to provide for themselves. One-way giving has the potential of making matters worse. Poor communities need to be able to sustain themselves long term.

I can’t tell how Miir handles that issue. I would like to see their partner non-profits work closely with local craftsmen and small businesses to make sure that their products and services are being supported. I’d like to see Miir’s partners possible add no-interest micro loans to the mix to help individuals start businesses that would strengthen community resilience.

Lessons learned… how can its influence be spread?

Through Miir’s collaboration program, companies can choose from a host of Miir’s stainless steel liquid containers: “Growlers”, “Howlers”, tumblers, standard bottles, pints, and tall boys. Participants choose a product, slap on their own brand stamp and then sell them or give them away. The proceeds go to Miir’s not-for-profit partners to fund clean water projects. Companies like Kind, Patagonia, and REI now carry Miir’s products within their own brand merchandise. Finally Miir products can be used for fundraising campaigns, given as “sustainable” swag for exhibitions, door prizes, or awards for recognition.


Miir offers quality products executed with thoughtful design and solid craftsmanship. On top of that, it’s not only their products that attract, but also their cause. Bryan Pape’s vision is infectious. Now, through their B Corps certification and backing by long-standing brand giants like Patagonia, Miir has firmly cemented its credibility as a sustainable brand. In fact, Miir recently opened their first flagship coffee shop / tap room / retail store in Seattle. Undoubtedly Miir’s influence is on the rise.

Rethinking Leadership

I was asked recently, “What are the most valuable and effective characteristics leadership must have to take on our pressing 21st century challenges?” I think humility would be at the top of the list. Leadership in this day and age requires a simple, gut-level and honest recognition that the leader just doesn’t have all the answers. The solution that follows, then, is that a leader must surround herself with individuals who can fill in the gaps. Leadership requires honesty – someone to just step up and admit when they’ve screwed up or got it wrong.

What’s more, I think effective leadership values collaboration from the team – above all else. It can’t be just an appreciation for the team. No. It has to be a desperation. A leader has to be quick to say, “Look if we don’t all put our heads together, we’re not going to figure this out.” And the team has to be involved at the creative level, not just the production level. It can’t be one figurehead (tyrant) dolling out commands so that an army of little minions can go get it done. Leadership is the team, maybe not an individual at all, and those teams have to include broad diversified groups of people, not just elite management and politicians.

Leadership also requires bravery. There may be times when none of the “solutions” look all that great, but “plan A” might at least be better than the rest and something has to be done. Finally, effective leadership requires rallying educated action, moving forward with the best plan possible, in the face of the fear of failure.

I was privileged to work with a team that had no “boss” or “manager”. Each of us had our own areas of specialized functions. But surrounding it all there was a real sense of comradery and cooperation. When facing big decisions there were many times when we would meet and just look at each other and then start tossing out ideas. There were some older and more seasoned people in the group. There were also visibly talented and gifted people in the group. But no one was in charge. No one dominated. There was a group flow. It was the only time I’ve ever experienced true collaboration and it was a beautiful thing. I’d like to think that I learned something from that experience. I think I’ve adopted an attitude of healthy interdependence with others. Yes, I believe I have something of value to offer here and there. But I also believe that I cannot figure out the right thing to do without the interaction and exchange of ideas with others. I think one of my skills might be the ability to work with a team, perhaps as a facilitator, to bring out the quiet personalities, and to probe for ideas that come collectively.

I think a “community council” might be what I’d call a group like this. It’s almost like the mix of people that might be thrown together for a jury. But what would come out of that council would be more realistic to the context of the community. It sounds like the Congressional Branch of our government, but it’s not because homeless people and single minority mothers and other marginalized people don’t become senators or representatives. Community councils would be effective because they would be grassroots in nature. They would be made up of stakeholders (not even citizens necessarily), ordinary people and not so ordinary people, who could brainstorm together for solutions that fit the context a whole lot better than top-down, one-size-fits-all policies.

My Learning Journey – Part 1

Thought I would include you on an interview with myself – my first blog post for Introduction to Sustainable Design class.

What issues consistently get your attention?
The plight of the poor in developing nations. The risk of being overly dependent on centralized infrastructure whether it’s water, food, or power; and the value of household and community resilience. The incredible restorative effect of sustainable tourism in restoring culture, peace, and surrounding eco-systems that have been damaged by war or industrialization.

Which ones make you angry?
I despise exploitation in any form, but especially exploitation of children and the poor. I get worked up about the entire commercialized, industrial food production system. In my opinion it needs to be completely dismantled and redesigned. The same goes for reckless destruction of the environment by powerful corporations. I get angry about plastic water bottles and plastic bags and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. I get angry about McMansions and endless suburban sprawl. And I get angry about consumerism and the hectic pace of life in the West. It’s all so upside down.

There is another thing that bothers me although I might be painting a target on my chest for saying it. I get angry about the radical, fear-mongering propaganda often associated with the issue of global warming and the reverse view where opponents attempt to debunk the topic altogether and act like it’s no big deal. Both sides of the issue are infused with political agendas and I don’t like it. What I want is unemotional objectivity. Of course global warming and climate change are real. That’s not the argument I’m trying to make. My issue is that there is still much data needed to properly substantiate some claims. What’s more, there are plenty of other critical reasons to pursue sustainable practices without making global warming or climate change the “tip of the spear” motivation for embracing sustainable practices.

Which ones inspire and motivate you?
I get inspired seeing design firms like Project H Design and Catapult Design who are working like many other groups to build resilient communities and develop solid social entrepreneurship and micro-enterprise models. I love to see “little people” among the poorest of the poor who are making a living in successful micro-enterprises. It inspires me to see sustainable development actually working among various people groups around the world where the work is not stuck in the mire of perpetual dependency or paternalism.

How do you see yourself contributing to the the sustainable design space?               I see my role as a designer of life-essential systems, and of places and experiences in nature, and of appropriate stuff that might be necessary to enable life-essential systems or the experience of nature.

How can this course and program be of service to you?                                                  I have 15 years of experience as a brand environment and trade show exhibit designer. I’d like to not waste that experience though I don’t want to stay in that line of work. Honestly, I just don’t know how to make use of it. I do know that I want to make the world a better place and I want to help restore what is broken. I’m hoping this course and this program will point me in the right direction.

Shipping-container-inspired mobile housing

I use the term “shipping-container-inspired” because, though the idea of modular, packable, and movable housing is great… shipping containers are an odd fit at best. The craze for using shipping containers as houses has been around for over a decade now. There are a number of reasons for why it’s an appealing idea. First, shipping containers are popular for housing because the containers are being “up-cycled” from their original use and there are thousands of them sitting on empty lots.


Second, though the traditional mobile and modular home have really never been well-received, still the idea of modularity in housing continues to rise in popularity. They can be stacked, configured, and added to like LEGO bricks. Third, because the container was designed for the shipping industry, it conforms to every shipping method imaginable (with the entire house packed inside – like this example from G-pod –


But there are some unfortunate down sides to shipping containers. The dimensions of the shipping container were designed for the shipping industry and not for people. Not only do they make for cramped space but they’re dark as well. Humans need light. But in order to open the container to light, holes have to be created or sometimes the top and sides must be removed which compromises the structural integrity of the container. Not only are containers cramped and dark, and structural only if left intact, but they are also not insulated well (if at all). So you can see that lots of extra measures have to be considered and taken in order to make the containers comfortable for human housing. Without major modifications, they just aren’t a natural fit for us.

Which begs the question, if you have to go cutting on them, and joining them to other spaces in order to create the openness needed for real life, and then add insulation to them (for extreme climates especially), then why start with a shipping container at all? Why not just build something new from scratch that truly fits? It’s a great question that calls for more than just a superficial response.


As for the G-pod mentioned earlier, it’s a great idea. I support the general concept. However, there are practical issues that the G-pod does not address sufficiently.

1. How does the G-pod, or any mobile container housing, work for any kind of family unit?

How does a couple with three kids fit into a housing arrangement like that? The obvious answer would be: well, add other units and join them together in a cluster arrangement. That may be the appropriate solution.


2. How does the G-pod work in a region where bugs are a real problem during the warmer months of the year? 

In typical modernist fashion, a wall of glass folds away opening up the dwelling to the outside. But that’s not realistic. It won’t work in every region. Screened partitions must be considered and incorporated into the design.


3. Why can’t the G-pod incorporate natural or other recycled materials?

Creators of the G-pod praise it’s “green” design aspects: raised beds on the roof, rainwater harvesting, solar panels for generating power, etc. But why isn’t it designed in a way that the frame or structure can accommodate natural materials like bamboo, adobe or clay slip/straw? Or so it could be partially sheltered in the ground? I believe that another item from the shipping industry might play well with shipping containers – the humble wooden shipping pallet. Here’s an example of an experimental dwelling made from discarded shipping pallets.


Believe me, I understand the disdain for the excessive size of most suburban houses and the almost irresistible appeal of a lifestyle of minimalist simplicity. But I also sympathize with those who change slowly and need some compromise along the way. So, I say let’s continue to explore the use of shipping containers for housing as we can without forcing them into an application it was never meant for. I’ll close with one last photo of a container house that was designed and built in Colorado. I think it’s a great example of the kind of compromise I’m talking about. Now the question is, can it still be designed to collapse and ship somewhere else?


Changing Careers Can Feel Like Being Late to a Party

People got word that I was pursuing a new business. Friends, family, and plenty of acquaintances. They heard terms like organic gardening, permaculture, natural building, renewable energy, etc. Whatever term they heard, (and as soon as they understood a little about what I was talking about), invariably their response was, “Hey, yeah, you should talk to so-and-so, he’s in that business. He might be able to help you.” Or, “My cousin, she does that.” Everybody kept pointing out veterans and “experts”. I think they were trying to be encouraging. But to me it just seemed patronizing. It was like I had no authority or validity on my own. Or like I had arrived at a party that had already started and I was the last one there. I felt that way a lot during my teen years because I went to several different schools. It was the same deal every time. (Hold back your tears. I know. It was awful.) I arrived at the new school to find circles of friends, cliques, and boundaries already firmly established. I was the new kid and I had to find my place; make my place.


I was the new kid and I had to find my place; make my place.


Maybe you’ve had an interest in some particular field but you’ve just kept it simmering on the back burner for years. And then recently you decided, “Hey I’m gonna get serious about this thing and do it.” Maybe it was writing a novel. Maybe it was becoming a chef. Or a sculptor. Maybe it was breeding dogs. Or ostriches. Who knows. Whatever it was, as soon as you started to pursue it earnestly, I bet some of you felt that same feeling I just described – that showing-up-late-on-the-scene feeling. The party has already started, and you arrived late and alone, feeling out of place and very, very awkward.

I think that’s probably the way it is regardless what area you might be pursuing. Doubtless, there will always be someone (or hundreds of others) ahead of you. Let’s pick three of my interests – kettle bells, writing, and adventure racing. I arrive and guess what? The experts are already there in the room with their recognition and experience. But me, I’m still in the learning curve. I’m still standing there in the entrance of the room so-to-speak at the proverbial party, looking around, seeing who’s there, trying to figure out where I belong. Do I want to hit the dance floor or would I rather just have a seat in a quiet booth over here to the side til I figure out what the heck is going on?

 “There’s already so much competition out there, so many people out there (the veterans, the experts) already doing this stuff, why would anybody buy what I am offering?”

It’s easy to feel intimidated or discouraged because it feels like you’re way behind. And if you’re trying to make money doing this beloved thing that you’re doing, it makes matters worse. It can effect your confidence deeply because you’re tempted to think, “There’s already so much competition, so many people out there already doing this stuff, why would anybody buy what I’m offering?”

But this defeatist talk won’t get us anywhere. My brother reminds me often that it’s just not true. The world population is at around 7+ billion people. The UN predicts that we’ll hit 8 billion at around 2025.


That’s a lot of people. So, he says, that means there are very few, if any, original ideas out there. Also for that familiar dose of reality, it’s difficult to get noticed in the crowd. However, there is a positive – there are a lot of people out there! And many of them want or need what you’re serving. There’s room for one more person like you and me offering what we’re offering. If the pool (or population) were much smaller, well, then, that would be a problem. Too much supply and not enough demand, right? Now not everything works that way. You might be pursuing a field that involves a very narrow interest group. For example, I saw online the other day an artist who builds steampunk clocks out of wood using a Shopbot, which is basically a computer-controlled CNC router. Now, granted, the clocks are awesome and really well-crafted. But his market is pretty narrow. I’m not sure if the population glut is going to help him. But in hundreds of other fields more people really does mean more opportunity – especially fields like energy, health care, and food.

So back to my high school days. I had an epiphany the other day. It was about longevity. I’ve been out of high school for 25 years now (I know, that’s a very long time for some of you!). Last week I hooked up with a couple of my buddies from high school to do a mud race together. Then we all went to the gym three times that week while one of our group was visiting home.

2014-09-06 11.47.05

Do you know what I realized? The older we get, the more the playing field becomes level. When I was in high school I was the new kid, right? I showed up and there was so much rivalry and competition, so much jockeying for position. But now, especially when it comes to fitness, the ones who have been disciplined (even semi-disciplined like me) and stayed at it over the years are now established. The tough guys who seemed like such stiff competition years ago are almost laughable now! But, longevity relates to other things to, doesn’t it?. Not just fitness. As we age, we gain pounds but lose hair, maybe gain wealth but lose spouses, maybe lose jobs but gain wisdom. Life happens to everyone. My point is that this rivalry largely disappears the longer we’re around.


If you stay the course, barring some unpredictable terrible turn of events, you will be established in whatever you’re pursuing.


So my epiphany was that if I just remain steady and faithful in the fields in which I’m so passionate, before long there will be a certain equilibrium. There will come a point soon when I have lots of knowledge, lots of experience, lots of relationships and lots of loyalty, maybe more than the other guy next to me who’s pursuing and offering the same thing. It comes down to mileage and time. If you stay the course, barring some unpredictable terrible turn of events, you will be established in whatever you’re pursuing. That awkward feeling will fade with time. I remind myself (and you too) that I eventually found my place in school. Last week, 25 years later, I spent some great time with two genuine friends that I made in high school. Grounding just takes time. I won’t always be the new guy in this business. And neither will you in yours.

Design for Water Managment

This map shows my design for water management on our 6.5 acres of land.  Originally, my dad and I looked into drilling a well but we found out it would cost nearly $6,000 and there was no guarantee we would find reliable water.  So I had to consider other possibilities.  I had two ponds – smaller one located further uphill and a larger one located down the slope from the smaller one.  And I had a solar pump that we brought back from Zambia.  So I started devising a plan to take advantage of that powerful pump.

Water system design

Goal #1 – Maximize Available Water

I wanted to try to collect water from as many sources as possible; namely from the rain.  Then I wanted to use the same water as many times as I could.

Goal #2 – Maximize Solar-powered pump

Originally, the primary function of the pump was to irrigate the elderberry orchard.  But then I realized that it only takes one hour to irrigate.  That meant I had at least three more hours a day of max sunshine to use the pump for other tasks.  That’s what lead me to create four different functions for the pump to perform each day.

A stitched panoramic of the larger pond.
A stitched panoramic of the larger pond.

Let me take just a minute to mention the importance of redundant systems and sources.  By that I mean creating backups in case your first system or resource fails.  As far as the pump goes, right now I only have one way of pumping water up the hill and that’s by using the solar array.  Eventually I’d like to add a wind generator.  As for water, I plan to go ahead and connect to county water, but will still have the ability to use purified pond / rain water just in case we lose public utilities for any length of time.  That’s what led me to the idea of building a 3,500 gallon cistern at the top of the hill.  I can take advantage of gravity to produce water pressure for sinks, showers, etc.  I’ve always wanted to build with ferro-cement because it’s so prevalent in developing countries around the world.  So I intend to build the cistern in the shape of a decorative urn (which also happens to be an extremely strong shape).

Urn-shaped 3,500 gallon cistern

Small Natural Swimming Hole

The water line that runs downhill to the “weekend cabin” will also continue to the small pond.  I’ve already had the pond excavated so that it’s much deeper than it was before.  I hope to line the pond with an EPDM liner and create a living pond out of it – which means I will use water plants and aeration to filter the water (no chemicals) so that it will stay algae free and nice for swimming on a hot July day.  I’ll write more on this topic another time.  I also installed an overflow drain pipe from the small pond to the big pond below so that no water is wasted.

Natural swimming pool / pond
Natural swimming pool / pond

The solar pump is in the big pond will perform multiple functions. First, it can pump water back into the big pond by way of a fountain that will put oxygen back into the water in the pond which will cut down on algae growth.  Second, it can pump water to the drip lines that irrigate the elderberry orchard.  Third, it can push water all the way over to two acres on my dad’s place in order to irrigate a future elderberry orchard over there.   Finally, it can push water all the way up to the top of our hill (a 95 ft. elevation gain) to the 3,500 gallon cistern.

Solar workhorse - eight 65-watt Kyocera panels
Solar workhorse – eight 65-watt Kyocera panels
Lorentz submersible pump with buoys for floatation
Lorentz submersible pump with buoys for floatation





So that’s the master plan.  It looks a bit daunting at times, but I’m sure gonna try.  If nothing else this shows my thought process in designing a solution for a more comprehensive Mud Hut Lab project.  Hope you found it interesting.  I’m excited to do this for my clients and as word gets around and I gain more experience I’m sure I will be able to do more.  I’d love to hear your feedback.  Have you thought about ‘water management’ at your home?  It doesn’t matter how big or how small.  In many climates and locations here in the US and abroad, water is scarce and I think you would agree, it must be used responsibly.  So what are you working on?  I’d love to hear about it.

A Boil Order is Just Life (In Some Countries)

It’s amazing how many people really don’t know what to do during a boil order.  It’s really not that big a deal.  Here are some quick facts and tips that might help you.

Water really only requires pasteurization to  be safe to drink.

Organizations like Solar Cookers International and UNICEF have been working for decades in much of the world to encourage households to use a simple solar oven to pasteurize their water before drinking.  Worms, microbes, etc (like Giardia) die at 131 degrees F.  Bacteria (like E Coli) dies at 140 degrees. And viruses (like Hep A) die at 149 degrees.  The time it takes to pasteurize is also only 15 seconds.

If you paid attention in science class (unlike me) then you would know that water boils at 212 degrees.  So you can see that during the time it takes for your water to reach 212 degrees and then cool back down again, it’s been way past 15 seconds. (the actual time it takes to reach boiling will vary depending on different conditions from fuel to elevation to ambient air temperature).  That’s why according to the Wilderness Medicine Institute, you only have to see the water come to a rolling boil.  At that point you can turn it off immediately.  You DO NOT have to leave it boiling for ten minutes. That’s just silly.

I'm grateful to WMI for their first class training!
I’m grateful to WMI for their first class training!

So you can use your stove to boil water. What else can you use to purify water? 

Water purifiers are handy gadgets.  My two choices are Katadyn and Berkey.  The Big Berkey is my product of choice.  Its 2.25 gallon stainless steel tank keeps algae from growing inside and it sits on your counter for easy access.  We used a large counter top Katadyn purifier in Zambia but it was made of translucent plastic which allowed sunlight in.  Because of that, algae built up in the tank and we had to clean it quite frequently.


But what if you didn’t have access to replacement ceramic filters for your purifier?  What if you didn’t have any propane or electricity for your stove? 

Well, you could still do what many people do all over the world.  Like I mentioned earlier, you could set up a small solar oven and pasteurize your water.  Heck, you could get a solar shower from the camping section at Walmart (did I just encourage people to go to Walmart?) and hang it out in the sun and your water would be pasteurized in no time.

If you really want to go low-tech you might consider a wonderful invention called a Biosand filter. 

Did I mention this was one of the cheapest options?  This is what I would choose for the long haul.  Build one and keep it near the kitchen (next to your bamboo garden!)  The ones made with concrete really can look quite elegant (see below).  The technology was developed in Canada.  We learned about it through Seeds of Hope who taught us how to build one and donated a bunch of containers and a mold for us to take to Zambia.  The Biosand filter makes use of about 26″ of sand inside a container and a “bio layer” in the top inch or so of water.  Basically, the bio layer and the sand work together to kill and filter out 99.9% of all pathogens.  They’re easy but time-intensive to build.



Last but not least, don’t forget these two common mistakes that people made when they came to see us in Zambia:

1. Use purified water to brush your teeth.  You can rinse it with tap water if you set it out in the sun to dry (still maybe a bit risky – although I did it).

2. Remember to keep your mouth shut in the shower!

Hope that encourages you to not only think about the next 48 hours but maybe for a more permanent, sustainable setup.  It really stinks being at the mercy of public utilities, doesn’t it?  Infrastructure is nice.  Make use of it wisely.  And then get beyond it if you can.  Would any of you like to add to the list here?  There were several other methods of purifying water that I didn’t mention for one reason or another.  Maybe you want to build a case for another method?

Bamboo – The Wonder Plant

In the minds of many people I know, bamboo rates pretty low on the list of barely-tolerated-ornamental-landscaping-plants.  Some even rate bamboo on the same level as noxious, pesky weeds.  “It’ll take over everything!” is their usual cry of disdain.  This is a sad, sad thing.  I don’t think bamboo has been given the proper respect it deserves as one of the premiere ‘wonder plants’ of the world.  Bamboo is beautiful.  It’s peaceful.  It inspires the best Kung Fu.



Bamboo is a perennial evergreen member of the grass family.  That means it comes back every year.  You can cut it down and it grows back – the number one reason why bamboo is such a great sustainable resource.  It makes for excellent fodder for feeding livestock.  And properly prepared bamboo shoots make great food for humans too.  This super food is low in calories, high in fiber, an excellent source of potassium and a good source of phytochemicals.  Bamboo is useful for making biofuel, particularly methane gas within a bio-digester (a fancy term for a container that holds rotting green waste and captures methane gas).  As a typical fuel or heat source, bamboo charcoal will maintain a constant heat longer than hardwood charcoal.  Lastly, bamboo is a great building material, not only for fences, irrigation and scaffolding, but in many more building and design applications.  I want to show you  one individual and a couple of companies who are pioneering the use of bamboo in high-tech applications.

Before we go on, let me just reiterate two of the most important qualities about bamboo as an alternative building material. First, its strength.  And second, its sustainability.  In South America bamboo is referred to as ‘vegetable steel.’  The tensile strength of plated bamboo cables is as strong as or stronger than a steel cable of the same size. (Midatlantic Bamboo).  According to Colombian architect, Simon Velez, bamboo is lighter and stronger than steel and five times lighter than concrete.  And as I mentioned before, because it’s a grass, it can be harvested and it just keeps growing.  In fact, it’s the fastest growing plant in the world.  How fast you ask?  Some species in ideal conditions can grow up to one meter per day.  According to the American Bamboo Society… “In the less than perfect conditions in my garden, I’ve seen new shoots of Phyllostachys nigra ‘Henon’ grow about a foot a day. What’s most remarkable is that at an eight-inch diameter, 60 to 80 foot tall bamboos have reached that height in one growing season, which might have been as short as two months.”

Here’s the man who has caused all the fuss about bamboo over the last decade.  These aren’t quaint little garden fences that you might see on Pinterest or little temporary shacks like the Zambian police build when they set up their speed traps on the side of the tar road.  Columbian architect, Simon Velez, constructed a Guadua pavilion of nearly 22,000 sq ft for the ZERI Foundation at the Expo Hanover of 2000 (note the little guy in the foreground of the photo below).  For the first time in history a bamboo structure received a building permit in Germany, and so began the fascination for Guadua (a particular type of bamboo) among western engineers, builders and architects. (



Simon Velez engineered a special saddle connection so that bamboo poles could be fitted together with precision to create immense structures that weren’t possible before.



Here are two of my favorite companies who are working with Velez and other architects to engineer high-tech connections for architectural applications:

1. Guadua Bamboo

2. Be Bamboo

Here are some examples of their outstanding work with Guadua Bamboo:


Be Bamboo has helped pioneer the application of bamboo to geodesic domes using steel connections and modular component system:



Zambikes is using bamboo in yet another application – bike frames. 

Zambikes is by far one of favorite companies, not just because their home base is in Zambia but because of their social entrepreneurial model and their dedication to sustainable transportation.  Here is their website if you’d like to check them out – And here are some pics of their work:

zambikes-5zambikes-4zuri action shooting, Downtown, Fixie, Urban

Garda Bike Festival, zuri Actionzambikes-6zambikes-8

So hopefully by now you can see why I’m such a huge fan of bamboo.  Maybe you learned something about bamboo that you never knew before.  And I just can’t say enough about these companies.  They’re doing remarkable things with grass!  Bamboo is a true gift to be maximized with wisdom and ingenuity and I, for one, want to do all that I can to promote these kind of sustainable materials and their appropriate applications.  Have any of you seen cool stuff being done with bamboo?  Tell us about it!

#bamboo #sustainablebuilding #appropriatetechnology #socialentrepreneurship