Eco-Currents: Reading the Bones

Gluing frogs onto storm drains and other civic duties

The local solar scene suffered a setback this week with news that Yingli Green Energy Americas Inc. won't be locating a solar-panel manufacturing plant here – or anywhere stateside – any time soon. Both the city and the state had been wooing the Chinese manufacturer with incentive deals as the company considered whether to locate its proposed U.S. plant (set to employ around 300 people) in Austin or in Phoenix. Now both cities will have to wait as economic uncertainty overseas casts its long shadow. Yingli representatives haven't given up on the plant, they say – but for now it's definitely on hold.

The Sustainable Sites Initiative, a project currently testing a rating system for green landscape design, construction, and maintenance, has announced that the Rutherford Lane Campus – a 33-acre property officing various city of Austin departments – will be one of 150 participating pilot projects. As a partnership of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, the American Society of Landscape Architects, and the United States Botanic Garden, the initiative (known as SITES) has Austin roots and includes three other local projects: Wal-Mart Four Points, National Instruments Corporate Headquarters, and the Children's Garden at the Wildflower Center. But the initiative encompasses projects all around the country (including New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward and the Smithsonian Institu­tion's African American History & Culture museum in Washington, D.C.), as well as in Canada, Iceland, and Spain. Ultimately, the U.S. Green Building Council anticipates incorporating findings from the two-year initiative into its LEED Green Building Rating System. Until then, the Rutherford Lane Campus will reap the more immediate rewards: If successful, the project will limit pollution and restore wildlife habitat on the Northeast Austin site. See more at

The Sierra Club is fighting a proposed pipeline intended to carry oil from tar sands in Canada all the way to the Texas coast. According to the Department of State's draft Environ­mental Impact Statement, the Keystone XL pipeline will cross environmentally sensitive waterways – including the Ogallala Aquifer – along the way. Ultimately, the synthetic oil produced from the Canadian crude would emit 20% more greenhouse gases than conventional petroleum. Want to help stop the pipe? Take part in the State Department's public comment period by visiting or join the Sierra Club's efforts at

The city has launched a new volunteer program to protect Austin's creeks from all the nonsense that gets tossed down storm drains. To participate, all you have to do is adhere the city's handy metal markers to the drains around your neighborhood. The city hopes the small signs will remind people that whatever goes down the drain – be it motor oil, fertilizers, or even seemingly harmless yard waste – ends up mucking up the environment for at least one really cute frog (like this one, above) and all his wildlife buddies. The city will provide volunteers with instructions, maps, door hangers, and other useful equipment, including safety vests – because if you get run over, who'll protect the creeks? See for details.

Austin's footloose, carless, and fancy-free folks now have two choices when it comes to local car-sharing programs. Homegrown nonprofit Austin CarShare – the first car-share program in the state – has been joined by newcomer Car2Go, which was available only to city employees and other small groups of participants until its public launch last week. Right on the heels of that event came the presentation of a Clean Air Excellence Award from the Environmental Protection Agency to both Car2Go and the city of Austin.

If you've been thinking about replacing any of your old appliances, this weekend is the time to do it. The annual Memorial Day tax holiday is back with savings on qualifying Energy Star-approved products – not just refrigerators and dishwashers, but compact fluorescent light bulbs, ceiling fans, programmable thermostats, and all kinds of other stuff to help make your home more energy-efficient and your energy more cost-efficient. See details at; the event runs Saturday-Monday, May 29-31.

The Austin Green Art Warehouse plays host Thursday evening, June 3, to a garage sale and potluck for Women.Design.Build, a program for aspiring handywomen interested in learning more about green design, home improvement, woodworking, and other construction-oriented projects. For inspiration, AGA will be selling some of its bric-a-brac (animal vertebrae and antique machinery have been mentioned), but the evening's main purpose will be exploratory: What kinds of workshops and activities do DIY-leaning ladies hope to see in Women.Design.Build's future? Answers to such a question are best shared while ruminating over ancient animal bones. See for details.

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Yingli Green Energy Americas Inc., Sustainable Sites Initiative, Keystone XL pipeline, Car2Go, Austin CarShare, Energy Star, Women.Design.Build

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