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How Large-Scale Sustainability Is Becoming a Reality

Humans have, for quite some time now, enjoyed a cozy spot on top of the food chain. Cockroaches may love the human monarchy, but whitetail deer, longleaf pines, Pacific salmon and other exploited species have suffered greatly as a result of it. Thankfully, humanity has started to take its stewardship of the earth more seriously. The following are some of the ways people around the world are taking steps to make large-scale sustainability a reality.

BMW i3 Carbon Fiber Manufacturing

Ten times as strong as mild steel and half as heavy, carbon fiber was once a super-material reserved for NASA and oil sheiks. BMW intends to change that. The $42,000 BMW i3 has 45 pieces of carbon fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP) components, pieces produced in America and molded in Germany. The i3 is the first mass-produced car to extensively use carbon fiber. The goal? BMW hopes to reduce the lifetime carbon footprint of the i3 by one-third.

Mirai Indoor Urban Farm

In an abandoned Sony factory in Miyagi Prefecture, Japan, thousands of LED lights cultivate 25,000 square feet of indoor gardens. The Mirai farm produces 10,000 heads of lettuce daily, all the while boasting 90 percent less waste than a traditional outdoor farm. All water used is collected, filtered, and reused. A specialist from Terminal City Iron Works Ltd., a member of the American Water Works Association, says this could greatly reduce agriculture wastewater in the future. Mirai has plans to expand into Hong Kong and Russia as long as local electrical grids can deliver reliable power.

New York City Cool Roof Program

On a sunny July afternoon, an asphalt or modified bitumen roof can sizzle at 150-175 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat leaches into the building, demanding energy for air conditioning and creating urban "heat islands." Air pollution and insect populations skyrocket. So in 2010, New York City launched a cool roof program, where hundreds of roofs were slathered with white, reflective coatings. The city movement soon spread to Pittsburgh, Sacramento and other cities nationwide.

Zohar Land-Based Fishery

Dr. Yonathan Zohar, a scientist at the University of Maryland’s Department of Marine Biotechnology, broke new ground (or water) with his warehouse fishery. He designed a land-based aquaculture system where fish predictably reproduce, inspired by controlled environmental cues like varying salinity, lighting and temperature. The fish breed free from pathogens and invasive species. Animal waste is filtered through microbial communities generating only methane, a potential biofuel. "I'm a strong believer that in 20 years from now, most seafood will be grown on land," Zohar says. "It can go to the Midwest; it can go into the inner city; it can go wherever."

Large-scale sustainable invention is everywhere: the garden rooftops of Chicago, the city-wide composting programs of New York City, the mass transit systems of Houston. Where can you find it?

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