In the future, here's how it's going to work: Sidewalks will power streetlights, buildings will eat smog, nuclear plants will run on nuclear waste, and endangered animals will be socially networked. For our 2012 green issue, we've rounded up cutting-edge fixes for some of the world's trickiest environmental problems, and brought them to you.
(And did we mention the eco-friendly $345,000 lab-grown hamburger? Because that's in here too.)
THE PROBLEM: SPRAWL KILLS TREES.
THE SOLUTION: PLANT UPWARD.
In the center of Milan, construction is well under way on the $87.5 million Bosco Verticale, an ambitious two-building apartment complex that will double as the world’s first vertical forest. Every unit will have a concrete balcony planted with humidity-creating and CO2-filtering trees, shrubs and flowers that will get their nourishment from recycled gray water. The buildings themselves — the taller of which tops out at 27 stories — will rely on the sun for much of their power.
The best part? This burst of green on Milan’s skyline comes cheap. Project architect Stefano Boeri has said these forest features will increase the buildings’ construction costs by only 5 percent, making the whole thing not only energy-efficient, but cost-effective as well. This should have the complex’s future inhabitants breathing easier, but they probably won’t be the only ones: The city’s winged residents will surely know a good thing when they see it, too. — SAM POLCER
THE PROBLEM: AS CITIES GROW, THE SMOG THICKENS.
THE SOLUTION: MAKE BUILDINGS THAT CLEAN THE AIR.
Researchers have long known that one of the primary cleaners in the atmosphere is an ephemeral particle known as a hydroxyl radical. Until recently, waiting for this particle to slowly clear out smog and pollutants was one of the only ways to get clearer air. In the past few years, however, scientists have figured out how to make extra hydroxyl radicals by letting a common mineral known as titanium dioxide react with nothing more than moisture and sunlight. As a result, two eco-friendly companies have started including it in building materials: Aluminum producer Alcoa has coated its popular Reynobond With EcoClean panels with enough titanium dioxide so that just 10,000 square feet cleans as much air as 80 trees, while an LEED-certified company called Pureti has developed a liquid coating that can be used on everything from decking to public buses. Because these materials don’t reduce CO2, they’re not quite as effective at cleaning air as trees are, but they sure beat standing around waiting. — JACQUELINE DETWILER