Taxonomy Term en 10683 Living Future 2012 Was a Riot

Now in its seventh year, the annual gathering of Living Building Challenge project teams and their kin—known as Living Future—has really hit its stride.

Reinventing the materials supply chain is not for the faint-of-heart!
Photo Credit: Eden Brukman, ILFI

The annual Living Future event rotates between Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland, the three hubs of Cascadia Green Building Council, which is a chapter of both the U.S. and Canada Green Building Councils and a program within the relatively new International Living Future Institute (ILFI). (Jason McLennan, CEO of the Cascadia GBC and ILFI, is not one to follow the rules, and his organizations routinely flout the policies of their parent organizations.)

The “un-conference”

In line with that anarchistic theme, Living Future is not a “conference,”—it’s an “un-conference,” which is both a narcissistic gesture (we’re too cool to like conferences) and a welcome invitation to explore alternative formats for sessions, meals, and parties. In food-truck-happy Portland, for example, instead of serving us lunch in the hotel, Living Future gave everyone coupons for lunch at one of the dozens of nearby food carts.

They even took advantage of Portland’s innovative GoBox service to eliminate disposable containers. The inconvenience of having to go out and get lunch was offset by the treat of getting outside and engaging with the local (off-beat) culture.

The theme this year was “Women Changing the World,” and the conference did a nice job of exploring feminist perspectives without making (most of) the men feel threatened. Opening Keynote speaker Dr. Vandana Shiva set the stage well, challenging the global institutional view that subsistence agriculture doesn’t count as productive economic activity. Kira Gould posted a great summary of her talk.

The year’s main event for some firms

The sell-out crowd of 1,000 “delegates” (I find that label unfortunately political) included many green building luminaries and entire contingents from several firms that are engaged with Living Building Challenge projects and have chosen to convene their sustainable design teams during this event. Perkins + Will, for example, brought 40 people, and Turner Construction brought 20.

SmithGroupJJR is now designing a Living Building for Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a dozen years after the firm created a pioneering LEED building for that organization. In support of that project, SmithGroupJJR showed up with their client and ten staff members. An enthusiastic architect from another large firm, attending Living Future for the first time, said that she planned on telling her colleagues that this should be their go-to event as well.

Reinventing the materials supply chain

Following up on a session we did last year on toxicity in building materials, I participated with many of the same people this year to convene a conversation about how to reinvent the materials supply chain. We didn’t entirely solve that design problem, but some great insights emerged; stay tuned for a follow-up post after the intrepid ILFI VP Eden Brukman gets a break from her travels and shares the notes she collected.

Talkin’ ‘bout regeneration

Regenerative design in its various guises was featured as well. At last year’s Living Future, that topic seemed at times to be competing with the Living Building framework championed by ILFI. The organizers addressed that tension this year by expanding the tent and inviting consultant and author Carol Sanford as a keynote speaker. Sanford is a mentor, through the Regenesis Group, to consultant Bill Reed and has informed his “starting from the whole” approach to regenerative design.

Noting that ILFI is launching a Living Future Accreditation program for professionals, she issued a strong challenge to ILFI and, in fact, to the entire green building community about the damage caused by structured frameworks and external reward systems. You’d have to read her latest book to get the full picture, but the main point seems to be that holistic solutions can only come from striving to help a person or organization achieve its highest potential, a pursuit that requires radical openness, not simple-minded pursuit of preset goals.

This challenge notwithstanding, Jason McLennan announced the theme of Resilience and Regeneration for next year’s Living Future in Seattle. The conference will be strictly limited to 1,000, he says, so register soon or risk being left out!

2012-05-10 n/a 11930 Is Worker Safety a Missing Piece of the Green Puzzle? If the jobsite for a green building isn't any safer than the jobsite for a conventional building, is something missing from our definition of "green"? That is the question raised by a new study, "Impact of Green Building Design and Construction on Worker Safety and Health," published in October in the Journal of Construction Engineering and Management. The authors--two university professors and a safety supervisor with the Hoffman Construction Company in Portland, Oregon, went hunting for any statistical difference in Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recordable and lost time injury and illness data for green and nongreen projects. The number of projects surveyed, 86 (38 green and 48 nongreen) is modest but impressive, considering the difficulty in extracting data from firms. Nine of 15 firms surveyed supplied data. For statistics geeks, the study reveals some suggestive tidbits, but bottom line? "There appears to be little or no difference between green and nongreen projects in terms of construction worker safety and health." Greener projects, as measured by LEED credits achieved (see graph) did not see a statistically significant reduction in safety incidents. The authors conclude:
Because no difference in safety performance is experienced, LEED projects are perhaps sustainable environmentally but not sustainable in terms of worker safety and health. The writers believe that, similar to end-user safety and health, construction workers safety and health must be considered if a project is to be labeled as sustainable.
Should LEED and other green building efforts pay more attention to worker safety? Some argue that social justice as a wider cause is under-represented in our definitions of green building, as explored in this provocative Environmental Building News feature article (requires membership). What do you think? Please leave your comments below. Thanks to a note on the Society of Building Science Educators listserv for mentioning this study.
2010-01-07 n/a 11920 AIA Responding to Green Building Concerns In this month's feature article, I talk about the risks of green building. I note that one of the problems with model contracts, such as those from AIA, is that they don't adequately address issues of green building technology, performance, or certification. Of course, a few days after that article goes live, AIA releases a model scope of services defining an architect's role in LEED certification. That document is available (for $6) here. 2009-12-04 n/a 11887 Is LEED on Track to Save the World? Rob Watson recently published "Green Building Market & Impact Report," his second annual report on the impact LEED is having in addressing environmental problems. The report highlights the continuing remarkable expansion of LEED: 2009 registrations for new design and construction projects in the U.S. may actually exceed total new construction starts! (This is possible because projects don't typically register when they start construction, and a flurry of projects were registered just before the requirement to use LEED 2009 kicked in, to keep their options open.) Watson takes note of the shift from whole building construction to Commercial Interior tenant fit-outs (CI) and Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance (EBOM) registration and certification. And he compares 2009 certifications to registration numbers from 2006 and 2007 to see what fraction of projects are making it through the system. (In this analysis he assumes a three-year registration-to-certification timeframe for all except LEED-CI projects, for which he assumes two years. I would have given EBOM projects a shorter turn-around as well — in our market analysis for LEEDuser we assumed 18 months.) Analyzing certification and registration trends is not Watson's main point, however. His focus is on the environmental benefits that follow. And that focus is what really caught my attention. I'm thankful he's taken that on, because it's so easy to forget what LEED was created for in the first place. So, how is LEED doing at achieving its original goal? Watson explores this question category by category, looking at numbers of projects in each of the various rating systems that have achieved certain credits. Through 2009, for example, he credits LEED projects with 780 million avoided vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and 15 billion gallons of water saved. He finds that operating energy use in 2009 led to CO2 emissions reductions of 2.9 million tons. He then extends these estimates to 2020 and 2030, with magnified results. Watson's overall conclusion — at least in terms of carbon emission reductions — is that LEED is effective but is not going far enough to help head off a climate crisis. In reaching this assessment Watson does take time to address accusations that LEED buildings may not be saving any energy at all — that debate was covered in detail in a previous post. His arguments are unlikely to win over the skeptics — but that's a tough thing to do. In producing this report he has had to radically oversimplify the analyses, any one of which could easily become fodder for more than one doctoral thesis. And it's worth noting that, as the "father of LEED," he's hardly the most unbiased of analysts one could pick to take this on. But he cares enough to do it and is willing to put out numbers for others to react to, both of which are worth a lot. Looking at the specific analyses, I think he has managed to radically overstate the impact of LEED and radically understate it. Yes, both. At the same time. Whether or not the two cancel each other out to make his estimates valid — well, we'll have to wait for those doctoral candidates to sort that out. The Overstatement The report overstates the impact of LEED because it attributes to LEED the environmental benefit of a project having achieved a certain point, without exploring the question of whether or not LEED actually contributed to that decision, choice, or action. For example, lots of LEED buildings are in urban centers, where they get points for being located near public transit and basic services. Watson associates those points with reduced vehicle miles traveled, which is the intent of those credits. But wouldn't most of those projects have been in those locations regardless of whether or not they pursued LEED? The only way I can think of to correct for this assumption would be to interview a representative sampling of LEED project teams about their decision-making process for each credit, and find out which points were actually affected by their decision to go for LEED certification. To some extent this is a matter of semantics. In talking about reduced VMT and water use, Watson refers to the "savings from LEED," but in discussing operation energy savings he refers to the benefits "from LEED buildings." The latter is less presumptive, because it doesn't imply that LEED itself is responsible for all those benefits. The Understatement Watson describes a few assumptions he's made to keep his projections on the conservative side. But there are some others that he doesn't mention, such as the number of buildings that are built to LEED standards that never sign up with GBCI. The report does include a factor for "built-to-LEED" projects, but Watson only includes in this category buildings that are registered but don't reach certification — about 30% of the total. (My guess is that many of those registered-but-not-certified projects never get built at all.) There is a much larger group of projects that use LEED as a design and construction guide, either at the request of the owner or to meet government regulations. How well these projects actually follow LEED and ultimately perform is anyone's guess, but there are a lot of them and they must have some benefits. Even more significant, but harder to quantify, is LEED's market transformation impact. LEED is not affecting just individual buildings. It is educating and inspiring project teams, leading to more aggressive energy and environmental codes, and generally having an impact on the way all buildings are built (at least in some locales). Watson's report doesn't try to factor in these secondary benefits of LEED. I don't know how one might do that, but I suspect that they're huge. In Conclusion There are many places where a more nuanced analysis would be helpful. For example, Watson describes the growing evidence that workers in green buildings are more comfortable, and conservatively assumes a 1%–2% productivity gain. But other studies have indicated that these benefits are most strongly correlated with daylighting and increased ventilation, which are not achieved as often in EBOM projects as in the others — so assuming those benefits in the rapidly increasing EBOM-certified space is something that needs a closer look. Ultimately, even though the report quantifies a range of benefits, I don't think it intends for those numbers to be taken too literally. The report represents the results of a thought exercise about how LEED is doing at accomplishing what it set out to do. And that's a great thing, because it gets us all thinking about the things that LEED was created to address in the first place. 2009-11-30 n/a 11888 Green Economies of Scale (post-Greenbuild ruminations) By the end of Greenbuild, I was exhausted/troubled/elated with all sorts of conundrums swirling around in my head — not to mention a few partly written blogs, abandoned in favor of the next conversation... ... I had wanted to write about the 'executive roundtable' that happened that Wednesday — and responses to the twitter-submitted question "what single thing would have to change to make buildings actually regenerative?" (as in, way past 'less damaging' — past neutrality, even). I was encouraged to hear the execs express what I see as core issues (summarized and/or quoted below — no, I didn't record who said what):
  • Waste and consumption is ridiculously cheap. If energy costs go up to the tune of $150/barrel for oil (or on-site renewables became radically cheaper), and/or if a cost is attached to emissions (not just air — also sewer and solid waste), we could get there.
  • Our financial accounting systematically discounts the future. "We're trapped in a paradigm of net present value (NPV) — one of the worst tools known to man.... We need a new tool — 'Net Future Value'... and to start to reconceptualize buildings to see them as multigenerational assets."
  • Corporations have to focus on shareholder's financial return above all else. Yes, the technology is there to do zero energy buildings but "for a profit making business with shareholders expecting a return they cannot generally be duplicated over and over."
On the last point, the phrasing I found interesting — because later they were asked how to tell green from greenwash — and one of them said "you'll know a business has credibility when they stop talking about one-off projects and demonstrate [that performance] across the board." I put these two quotes together, out of context, because what I think it points to is that if we're really going to take green to the scale that is needed, we can't kid ourselves that we can do it all within the current economic rules-of-the-game that stack the deck against stewardship and the future. (Don't get me wrong, the Green Building movement is doing an incredible job within this context, but that doesn't mean the system works — rather, it's a testament to the smarts, creativity, passion, and perseverance of folks making change despite an imperfect market designed to thwart their best efforts). At another session, the speaker reminded us that our economic system is a social construct — it's a story we've created, and we can revise that story. Let's not forget that, because ultimately if we don't find a way to align individual and corporate financial success with the wellbeing of future generations and the environment, we'll find ourselves without either.
2009-11-30 n/a 11894 A Wider View of Social Justice In October, we published an article on social justice and green building. We've gotten several responses, including a letter from Raphael Sperry of Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility (below). Sperry makes several good points, and is right that a proper discussion of social justice and the built environment includes much larger inequities than any single building can fix. But designers have an opportunity to make a difference with every project they touch--not just the buildings for socially conscious clients--and most need practical guidance on where to start. Our goal with the article was not to end a discussion, but to start one that we hope will continue for some time to come. This blog post and its comments section are the first step in that conversation. Stay tuned for more! Your October feature on "Integrating Social Justice into Green Design" contains some good first steps for designers who may be unfamiliar with the issue, but leaves the most important topics in this area undiscussed. Providing healthy interior spaces and shared community amenities are a good start, but "social justice" generally refers to redressing the major inequities in society today, especially socio-economic disparity and discrimination against minority groups. For example, the amply-documented abominable treatment of construction workers in the Persian Gulf states on projects striving to be "green" raises serious questions about the ethical place of green building. Back at home, the ongoing failure of our country to provide dignified housing, school facilities, and other basics of community life to all its residents is a major social justice issue with clear implications for the planners of physical facilities. These disparities have increased in recent years as our country, including much of our green building movement, has built more and more for the haves and less and less for the have-nots. The injustices exposed around hurricane Katrina and the foreclosure crisis gripping the country are only two recent manifestations of the major failures in social justice we continue to experience.

To leave readers with the impression that social justice can be approached on the basis of design details without looking at the hard facts of inequality in our society does not give a realistic understanding of the issue. For example, USGBC's Social Equity Task Force recently noted the need for USGBC as an organization to consult with disadvantaged communities and reach across social and racial lines. At the deeper level, as green building evolves to address social justice, more of our practitioners and more of our projects will have to address the un-sustainability of having our built environment and its planned development owned and controlled by a small, wealthy elite whose interests do not overlap with that of society as a whole.

Fortunately, architects and planners have experience working to further social justice through (among other things) building affordable housing, practicing community design, and advocating for greater economic equality and civil rights. That the article failed to mention the efforts of groups such as the Association for Community Design (or any of the 100+ community design centers that are its members), Design Corps, Public Architecture, Architects / Designers / Planners for Social Responsibility (where I am a national board member), or other like-minded groups does a real disservice to your readership. Members of these organizations constitute the largest base of expertise within the profession in dealing with social justice issues. I urge EBN to continue to learn about, and educate readers about, the larger questions of social justice as they are part of green building, and of making the world a better place in general. I hope future efforts will include more voices, including those who have taken the issue to heart for the longest time.

Raphael Sperry, AIA
National Board Member
Architects / Designers / Planners for Social Responsibility
2009-11-18 n/a 11895 Alex Wilson and Peter Yost Interviews These shorts were filmed at West Coast Green; for more like them, see

2009-11-18 n/a 11861 Buildings For the People Social justice--it's a topic of conversation throughout the green building industry, but what does it mean, exactly? And how does it relate to buildings? I worked with the following definition while writing this month's feature article: Social justice ensures that all people have the ability to fulfill their basic needs and pursue social, economic, and personal fulfillment and success. It's a working definition, and is open to change and interpretation, but I had to start somewhere. So what does this mean for buildings? Well, it means that architects have the opportunity to foster social justice with every building they design, through location, transportation access, public spaces, materials, indoor amenities, and construction labor practices. As I researched this article, I began to see that social justice and environmental performance often go hand in hand. Putting an office building in the middle of nowhere means that everyone has to commute to it, raising their carbon footprint. This commute is hardest for those who have the least money and those who rely on public transit--often effectively disqualifying them from jobs at that building. Put the same building in an urban infill location, and suddenly you have access to transit and jobs closer to where many people live. Maybe you put retail on the ground floor, creating more jobs and adding to the amenities of the neighborhood. Location is a big change, and often determined well before the design team comes to the project. But small changes can make a big difference to social justice. Keep the janitorial offices out of the basement and provide them with windows, and you have spatial equity within the building. Make the lobby a place for monthly public art openings, and you've got a cultural attraction. Allow for a public courtyard with benches and tables, and you mitigate the urban heat island effect and make the building more welcoming. It's easy to think of social justice as applicable only in those projects designed for underserved communities: affordable housing, nonprofit organizations, and homeless shelters, for example. But every design decision in every building has an impact on the social fabric of a community--making that impact conscious and positive is what social justice is all about. (Image: Institute for the Built Environment at Colorado State University) 2009-09-25 n/a 11868 Living With Climate Change: How to Design Buildings and Communities for Adaptation
The living space in this new home built by Global Green in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans is elevated four feet (1.2 m) to keep it above expected flood level. Numerous other "passive survivability" features are included.
A lot of people have been working for a long time to try to head off global warming — and some progress is being made. Buildings are becoming more energy-efficient, fuel economy standards for vehicles are finally rising again, and use of renewable energy is burgeoning. We need to continue these efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and sequester carbon dioxide, but the reality is that it's too little, too late to prevent climate change. Even if the CO2 spigot were turned off tomorrow, the earth would still see significant warming and the other predicted impacts of climate change: more intense storms, flooding, drought, wildfire, and power interruptions. It's time to design our buildings and the built environment to adapt to the very different climate that scientists say is going to be with us. That's the subject of the feature article in our September 2009 issue of Environmental Building News: "Design for Adaptation: Living in a Climate-Changing World" (requires log-in) (no login required — see Alex Wilson's note in the comments, below). Andrea Ward and I interviewed some of the nation's top climate scientists, including Stephen Schneider, Ph.D., of Stanford, and Jonathan Overpeck, Ph.D., of the University of Arizona, to establish context for the article — making the case that not only is climate change happening, but it's happening more rapidly than the best climate models predicted just two years ago. We address the question of mitigation vs. adaptation — whether we should put effort into preventing climate change or adapting to it — and argue that we must do both simultaneously. "The bottom line is that you've got to adapt to what won't get mitigated," says Schneider in the article. Moving on, we focus on measures for adapting to climate change. We describe 36 strategies, organized into five categories, providing context for each of the categories and succinct explanation for each strategy. These strategies are listed briefly here (details appear in the full article): Warmer temperatures
  • Design cooling-load avoidance measures into buildings
  • Design natural ventilation into buildings
  • Limit internal gains by specifying high-efficiency lighting and equipment
  • Model energy performance with higher cooling design temperatures
  • Provide landscaping to minimize cooling requirements
  • Address urban heat islands in building design and landscaping
  • Plan for termite ranges extending north
Drought and water shortages
  • Avoid new development in the driest regions
  • Specify water-efficient fixtures and appliances
  • Plumb buildings with water-conserving fixtures in mind
  • Plumb buildings for graywater separation
  • Harvest rainwater
  • Plant native, climatically appropriate trees and other vegetation
More intense storms, flooding, and rising sea levels
  • Avoid building in (expanding) flood zones
  • Expand stormwater management capacity and rely on natural systems
  • Design buildings to survive extreme winds
  • Raise buildings off the ground
  • Specify materials that can survive flooding
  • Install specialized components to protect buildings from flooding or allow flooding with minimal damage
  • Elevate mechanical and electrical equipment
  • Install check valves in sewer lines
  • Begin planning for rising sea levels in coastal areas
  • Specify Class A roofing
  • Eliminate gutters or design and maintain them to minimize fire risk
  • Avoid vented roofs or protect vents from ember entry
  • Install high-performance, tempered windows
  • Choose deck materials carefully
  • Install noncombustible siding
  • Manage vegetation around homes
Power interruptions
  • Design buildings to maintain passive survivability
  • Provide dual-mode operability with high-rise buildings
  • Design mechanical systems to operate on DC power
  • Provide site-generated electricity from renewable energy
  • Provide solar hot water
  • In urban and suburban areas, maintain access to the sun
  • Plan and zone communities to maintain functionality without power
The article also describes the work Global Green is doing in New Orleans to create homes that are better adapted to climate change, and we take a brief look at the idea of "engineering" our way out of the climate crisis (intentionally modifying the climate to offset or balance the warming that's occurring). If there is good news in all this, it is that most of the measures that help us adapt to climate change have other benefits, such as reducing operating costs, improving building durability, and reducing environmental degradation. The challenges are huge, but green building practices are at the leading edge of both mitigation and adaptation to climate change. You can follow my musings about this and more on Twitter.

2009-09-09 n/a 11819 McKinsey Report: Energy Efficiency is a Big Deal The U.S. Green Building Council just sent out information from a report written by McKinsey and Company about energy efficiency and its role in U.S. mitigation of climate change. Here's what they found:
  • Energy-efficiency of buildings (along with other non-transportation efforts) could reduce U.S. energy consumption by 23% by 2020.
  • Such efforts would save $1.2 trillion and reduce emissions by 1.1 gigatons annually.
  • Getting to this point would require an annual investment of $50 billion for ten years.
In other words, the report puts numbers on what many of us knew intuitively: buildings are a really big piece of the climate puzzle. The report (in PDF download) is available here.
2009-07-29 n/a 11827 TURI Loses Funding... maybe. We recently learned that the Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) is losing its Massachusetts state funding. This strikes particularly close to home for me as I worked briefly with TURI after grad school and was quite impressed with the caliber of their work (and yes, full disclosure, I still have friends there). TURI is one of a select few organizations nationally that successfully champions the needs of both industry and the environment — for 20 years now they've been finding that practical common ground where we can really move forward in widespread adoption of safer alternatives. With our GreenSpec directory, editors at BuildingGreen constantly struggle to assess the use of a plethora of toxics in building products and manufacturing processes to determine what constitutes safe and healthy products and still gets the practical job done of building quality green buildings today. This requires the kind of pragmatic alternatives assessment that TURI excels at. The lessons I learned at TURI and their current research are a great help in my work here and it would be a huge loss to see their services cut. This isn't a done deal. There is an effort afoot this week to get a supplemental budget appropriation that would allocate $1.2 million of the business fees collected from TURA filers to support the continued operation of TURI — back to the original financing model that pays for itself with the companies using toxics paying for the reduction program. People living in Massachusetts can support the effort this week by contacting their representatives and asking them to sign onto the letter to Massachusetts House and Senate leadership requesting the appropriation. I did just that and was pleasantly surprised at the quick and positive response from my reps. Anyone from anywhere can comment on online articles about TURI and make it clear this self-funding program is too good to lose. This kind of thing goes beyond Massachusetts and TURI. The battle to retain the high-quality, high-impact green jobs we already have, as well as remake our struggling economy into a thriving green one, is going on across the nation through skirmishes like this one — and it is in these local and state level debates where a few voices can sometimes make a surprising difference. More information in BuildingGreen Suite: Funding Cut for Toxics Reduction. 2009-07-16 n/a 11830 Smart Strategies to Market Your High Performance Homes Another in an ongoing series of webinars offered for free from our sister site,, is coming up on Tuesday, July 14, at 4 p.m. Eastern. The market for green building keeps growing as more and more people recognize that it just makes sense on so many levels. But it's not always as simple as "if you build it, they will come." Smart Strategies to Market Your High Performance Homes will offer effective and inexpensive ways to market green homes, giving you some of the best strategies in this challenging economy. Presenter Dina Lima is a business owner, author, speaker, educator, and the founder and CEO of Living Green Institute. Register for Smart Strategies to Market Your High Performance Homes. Other upcoming webinars from You can also view archived webinars. 2009-07-10 n/a 11832 Ceiling Fans Not Made in the U.S.? A New Website Helps One of the biggest hurtles in designing to Living Building Challenge standards is finding local materials, as we discuss here. The folks at Cascadia Green Building Council have found a website that may help: It's not perfect, but it's a start. Now, if only we could figure out how to incorporate manufacturing locating information into product listings in all of the various databases out there. 2009-07-09 n/a 11836 13-Story Apartment Building Tips Over. Sideways.
"Apparently an error in construction," the story says. Indeed.
Improper construction methods are believed to be the reason [for the] building collapse in Shanghai, according to a report from the investigation team. The investigation team's report said that workers dug an underground garage on one side of the building while on the other side earth was heaped up to 10 meters high, which was apparently an error in construction, according to a report on, Shanghai's official news website. "Any construction company with common sense would not make such a mistake," said an expert from the investigation team.

Here's a terrific photo series with additional details. Seriously, hit that link and take a look.
This building actively failed what may be the primary passive survivability test — staying upright.

2009-07-05 n/a 11837 Trade Contractor Management for High Performance Homes Here's a free webinar (this Wednesday, July 8, at 4 p.m. ET) for you green contractor types about getting the subs on board — or at least in line with the goals of green. Chances are good that there will be things worth knowing for non-professionals, too.
Most contractors use trade contractors for the majority of the work on their projects. Effectively managed trade contractors assure higher performance, minimize rework and reduce warranty and callbacks. Carl will address how to create performance-based management systems focusing on the major components of green building. Attendees will see examples of management systems along with guidelines for creating them for their own businesses.
The presenter, Carl Seville of Seville Consulting, is a 30-year veteran of home renovation and construction... a green builder, educator, and residential sustainability consultant. He's also a regular contributor at Register for the free webinar. More webinars coming up.
2009-07-05 n/a 11804 New to Green Building? Try GBA.

Recently, I broke one of my long-standing rules and blogged about something BuildingGreen-related at my own blog. My Costanzian fears were indeed warranted, and I've been egged on to cross-post it to the Live blog. Here she is, warts and all: my unvarnished opinion on the very best parts of the BuildingGreen product

I don't often blog about worky stuff here, but decided this week that my "Worlds Will Collide!" fears are probably completely unwarranted. Besides, I'm working on some cool stuff these days. And finally, when my wife asks me, "What have you been doing?," when I come to bed at an obscene hour, I have an acceptable answer: "Changing the world, baby. Changing the world."

BuildingGreen launched a new property several months ago, (GBA). Now, this was in process as I came into the company in September 2008 and involved a whole lot of organization and reorganization to get the team in place for even content production, but I can't get into much of that here. What I *CAN* get into are what I think are the absolute coolest content areas on this Drupal-based site.

Green Basics

It's really important to come at a new field with a common vocabulary. Think of this as a vocab-building primer of terms and concepts bandied about in Green but seldom explained or contextualized. Click anywhere on that page and you get access to detail diagrams and explanations of key concepts and terms. I subscribe to a couple of building magazines and use their sites a lot. NOTHING is as good as this, period.

Green Homes

Now, case studies are not something new for BuildingGreen given the popularity of the High Performance Buildings Database, but there's one aspect in the corresponding Green Homes feature area that stands out: these pictures are gorgeous and inspiring. Sure, I can look up a product if I hear about and learn enough to put it in myself... but watching it get installed? Or seeing it in a context that gives me another product idea?? Reading about the compromises that lead to selection of that product in tandem with another? That's pretty awesome.

Product Guide

The Product Guide is some content syndication from GreenSpec, another key BuildingGreen property that provides a ready-to-use index of green products, manufacturers, and product categories. They sum it up on the GBA page with this: "Product manufacturers can not buy their way on to this list." These are a true best-of and where I first turned for ideas when we did our kitchen remodel this year.


Now, I know I've probably alienated some portion of the site that's behind the payed membership wall (oh yeah, some of this content is part of a paid GBA Pro membership that gets you even more like CAD Details & whatnot), but these are the stand-outs from my perspective and key to what makes this site a truly amazing asset. At the time of this writing, you can get a 10-day trial to the premium GBA Pro content - the energy savings I've realized alone have outvalued the cost of this annual or monthly membership - or be a lurker for a while before you take the plunge. Personally, I'm probably not renewing some of those magazines whose sites I use in favor of this totally righteous tool.

2009-06-22 n/a 11783 "You are brilliant, and the Earth is hiring" Paul Hawken gave the commencement address for the University of Portland earlier this month, and it's making the rounds. Deservedly. Its message is as good for the building industry — for anybody living, for that matter — as it was for those graduating seniors. Here it is. Please read it.
When I was invited to give this speech, I was asked if I could give a simple short talk that was "direct, naked, taut, honest, passionate, lean, shivering, startling, and graceful." No pressure there. Let's begin with the startling part. Class of 2009: you are going to have to figure out what it means to be a human being on earth at a time when every living system is declining, and the rate of decline is accelerating. Kind of a mind-boggling situation... but not one peer-reviewed paper published in the last thirty years can refute that statement. Basically, civilization needs a new operating system, you are the programmers, and we need it within a few decades. This planet came with a set of instructions, but we seem to have misplaced them. Important rules like don't poison the water, soil, or air, don't let the earth get overcrowded, and don't touch the thermostat have been broken. Buckminster Fuller said that spaceship earth was so ingeniously designed that no one has a clue that we are on one, flying through the universe at a million miles per hour, with no need for seatbelts, lots of room in coach, and really good food — but all that is changing. There is invisible writing on the back of the diploma you will receive, and in case you didn't bring lemon juice to decode it, I can tell you what it says: You are Brilliant, and the Earth is Hiring. The earth couldn't afford to send recruiters or limos to your school. It sent you rain, sunsets, ripe cherries, night blooming jasmine, and that unbelievably cute person you are dating. Take the hint. And here's the deal: Forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time required. Don't be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done.
When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren't pessimistic, you don't understand the data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren't optimistic, you haven't got a pulse. What I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world. The poet Adrienne Rich wrote, "So much has been destroyed I have cast my lot with those who, age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world." There could be no better description. Humanity is coalescing. It is reconstituting the world, and the action is taking place in schoolrooms, farms, jungles, villages, campuses, companies, refugee camps, deserts, fisheries, and slums. You join a multitude of caring people. No one knows how many groups and organizations are working on the most salient issues of our day: climate change, poverty, deforestation, peace, water, hunger, conservation, human rights, and more. This is the largest movement the world has ever seen. Rather than control, it seeks connection. Rather than dominance, it strives to disperse concentrations of power. Like Mercy Corps, it works behind the scenes and gets the job done. Large as it is, no one knows the true size of this movement. It provides hope, support, and meaning to billions of people in the world. Its clout resides in idea, not in force. It is made up of teachers, children, peasants, businesspeople, rappers, organic farmers, nuns, artists, government workers, fisherfolk, engineers, students, incorrigible writers, weeping Muslims, concerned mothers, poets, doctors without borders, grieving Christians, street musicians, the President of the United States of America, and as the writer David James Duncan would say, the Creator, the One who loves us all in such a huge way. There is a rabbinical teaching that says if the world is ending and the Messiah arrives, first plant a tree, and then see if the story is true. Inspiration is not garnered from the litanies of what may befall us; it resides in humanity's willingness to restore, redress, reform, rebuild, recover, reimagine, and reconsider. "One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began, though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice," is Mary Oliver's description of moving away from the profane toward a deep sense of connectedness to the living world. Millions of people are working on behalf of strangers, even if the evening news is usually about the death of strangers. This kindness of strangers has religious, even mythic origins, and very specific eighteenth-century roots. Abolitionists were the first people to create a national and global movement to defend the rights of those they did not know. Until that time, no group had filed a grievance except on behalf of itself. The founders of this movement were largely unknown — Granville Clark, Thomas Clarkson, Josiah Wedgwood — and their goal was ridiculous on the face of it: at that time three out of four people in the world were enslaved. Enslaving each other was what human beings had done for ages. And the abolitionist movement was greeted with incredulity. Conservative spokesmen ridiculed the abolitionists as liberals, progressives, do-gooders, meddlers, and activists. They were told they would ruin the economy and drive England into poverty. But for the first time in history a group of people organized themselves to help people they would never know, from whom they would never receive direct or indirect benefit. And today tens of millions of people do this every day. It is called the world of non-profits, civil society, schools, social entrepreneurship, non-governmental organizations, and companies who place social and environmental justice at the top of their strategic goals. The scope and scale of this effort is unparalleled in history. The living world is not "out there" somewhere, but in your heart. What do we know about life? In the words of biologist Janine Benyus, life creates the conditions that are conducive to life. I can think of no better motto for a future economy. We have tens of thousands of abandoned homes without people and tens of thousands of abandoned people without homes. We have failed bankers advising failed regulators on how to save failed assets. We are the only species on the planet without full employment. Brilliant. We have an economy that tells us that it is cheaper to destroy earth in real time rather than renew, restore, and sustain it. You can print money to bail out a bank but you can't print life to bail out a planet. At present we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it gross domestic product. We can just as easily have an economy that is based on healing the future instead of stealing it. We can either create assets for the future or take the assets of the future. One is called restoration and the other exploitation. And whenever we exploit the earth we exploit people and cause untold suffering. Working for the earth is not a way to get rich, it is a way to be rich. The first living cell came into being nearly 40 million centuries ago, and its direct descendants are in all of our bloodstreams. Literally you are breathing molecules this very second that were inhaled by Moses, Mother Teresa, and Bono. We are vastly interconnected. Our fates are inseparable. We are here because the dream of every cell is to become two cells. And dreams come true. In each of you are one quadrillion cells, 90 percent of which are not human cells. Your body is a community, and without those other microorganisms you would perish in hours. Each human cell has 400 billion molecules conducting millions of processes between trillions of atoms. The total cellular activity in one human body is staggering: one septillion actions at any one moment, a one with twenty-four zeros after it. In a millisecond, our body has undergone ten times more processes than there are stars in the universe, which is exactly what Charles Darwin foretold when he said science would discover that each living creature was a "little universe, formed of a host of self-propagating organisms, inconceivably minute and as numerous as the stars of heaven." So I have two questions for you all: First, can you feel your body? Stop for a moment. Feel your body. One septillion activities going on simultaneously, and your body does this so well you are free to ignore it, and wonder instead when this speech will end. You can feel it. It is called life. This is who you are. Second question: who is in charge of your body? Who is managing those molecules? Hopefully not a political party. Life is creating the conditions that are conducive to life inside you, just as in all of nature. Our innate nature is to create the conditions that are conducive to life. What I want you to imagine is that collectively humanity is evincing a deep innate wisdom in coming together to heal the wounds and insults of the past. Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course. The world would create new religions overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead, the stars come out every night and we watch television. This extraordinary time when we are globally aware of each other and the multiple dangers that threaten civilization has never happened, not in a thousand years, not in ten thousand years. Each of us is as complex and beautiful as all the stars in the universe. We have done great things and we have gone way off course in terms of honoring creation. You are graduating to the most amazing, stupefying challenge ever bequested to any generation. The generations before you failed. They didn't stay up all night. They got distracted and lost sight of the fact that life is a miracle every moment of your existence. Nature beckons you to be on her side. You couldn't ask for a better boss. The most unrealistic person in the world is the cynic, not the dreamer. Hope only makes sense when it doesn't make sense to be hopeful. This is your century. Take it and run as if your life depends on it.
Paul Hawken was presented with an honorary doctorate of humane letters by University president Father Bill Beauchamp when he delivered this address.
2009-05-24 n/a 11785 In Response: "4 Years + 15 Million Dollars = Old News, No Actual Solutions" Christian Kornevall, the director of the Energy Efficiency in Buildings project of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), sent the following in response to my May 9th post titled "4 Years + 15 Million Dollars = Old News, No Actual Solutions." It thoughtfully addresses my comments — some of which were critical. It also provides clarity about the spirit of their intent and steps going forward. Steps we all need to take together.
The WBCSD and EEB project team members are very interested in receiving constructive feedback on their work, so we appreciate individuals such as Mr. Piepkorn taking a close look at the results, analysis, and recommendations we presented in our recent report, Energy Efficiency in Buildings: Transforming the Market. Fundamentally, Mr. Piepkorn is looking for more specifics on how the tools and approaches outlined in our recommendations can be applied to achieve large-scale change in the building sector. Undoubtedly, many others in the green building field share this desire for some well-defined answers. Unfortunately, finding a true mechanism to foster the necessary market response remains elusive. Our report talks in considerable detail about the barriers to energy efficiency in buildings and what should be done to remove them. Ultimately, however, there is a complex process that needs to be exercised to assemble the political and financial will behind the market forces to drive change. The EEB project, in a credible way and backed by an organization of 200 major international corporations, makes a powerful point that without increased attention to this process to drive change, the "interesting models" to scale the market response Mr. Piepkorn implicitly seeks will not come to fruition. Education is, indeed, the first step. Since we launched this report on April 27, more than 140 separate stories communicating this important point have appeared in newspapers, on websites and blogs such as this, in trade journals, and on TV and radio broadcasts. We estimate that our message has been seen by hundreds of millions of people in more than 20 countries. Although raising awareness is important, as Mr Piepkorn rightly acknowledges, we will continue to do everything we can to get past this stage quickly so we can move on to the real objective: action.
The world needs genuine action coordinated among the building sector stakeholders, stimulated around the six principal recommendations we've outlined. We have our own plans in this respect. Under the EEB project manifesto that will be issued later this year, WBCSD member companies will commit themselves to making significant energy efficiency improvements in their respective building stocks, which will show a degree of leadership on a scale not seen before. We expect this will spur other businesses to take similar action. With regard to the to the contention that "not one of the points raised is a new idea," we had no need to reinvent the wheel when plenty of promising ideas have been proposed or are starting to be implemented on building energy efficiency. Our approach, however, is unique and powerful in several respects: (1) it quantified impacts of applying multiple policies across entire building submarkets (some of which may react differently than others to the same policies), providing new insight into the potential for reducing energy consumption on a large scale; (2) we built a solid foundation of detailed building stock data, making the investment in pulling together data from numerous sources, which can now be used for additional studies; (3) we took into account whole building performance and the interactions between different building subsystems, which many analyses have ignored; and (4) perhaps most important is that we factored in the decision-making behavior of building owners, rigorously treating the financial criteria that are typically applied in the real world to generate a truer interpretation of future outcomes under different policies, including the cost, energy, and carbon impacts. Our exploration of this significant topic will not end with this report; we will continue to probe in search of more effective packages of policies and innovative approaches, now that we've built the capability to perform the kind of comprehensive analysis that's needed to do so. There are plenty of existing ideas out there, but precious few ways of actually testing them. Now we have a new tool with which to move forward. It deserves mentioning that while the project used substantial resources, these supported not only the publication of the recent report and all of the data collection and analysis that went into it, but were also used to create another major body of work, summarized in Facts and Trends, Energy Efficiency in Buildings: Business realities and opportunities, published by the WBCSD in 2007. A project such as this one, with its international scope, involved a large degree of outreach to stakeholders, which will continue in 2009. Effectively communicating our results is a cornerstone of the project, requiring a large cast of staff, public relations specialists, event organizers, and the like. We believe this money is well spent because the message is so important, and based on the response received so far, it appears the message is being widely received and getting serious attention from governments and building sector participants across the world. Finally, we should also correct the writer's point that "free-market business" is the EEB project's primary audience. While this group is very important, it is just one of several key audiences who need to hear and act on our project's recommendations. As we state in the report and on every occasion we speak in public, market forces alone won't drive the change we need to be able to live and work in energy efficient buildings.
The WBCSD has its own blog that's worth lingering on. Check out posts like The Mc Kinsey Curve - False Good News? and LEEDing thoughts from the USA...
2009-05-19 n/a 11789 The Lifecycle Building Challenge A design competition for professionals and students, the Lifecycle Building Challenge is sponsored by the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, the American Institute of Architects, and West Coast Green. The competition is focused on design for adaptability, material reuse, and minimizing lifecycle impacts from products. Registration and participation is free. Submission deadline is August 30 2009. From the website:
Lifecycle building is designing buildings to facilitate disassembly and material reuse to minimize waste, energy consumption, and associated greenhouse gas emissions. Also known as design for disassembly and design for deconstruction, lifecycle building describes the idea of creating high-performance buildings today that are stocks of resources for the future.
  • Create designs that facilitate local building materials reuse
  • Consider the full lifecycle of buildings and materials — from resource extraction through occupancy and, finally, deconstruction and reuse
  • Focus on quality and creativity of designs and concepts
  • Develop strategies that maximize materials recovery
  • Reduce the overall embodied energy and greenhouse gas emissions of building materials through reuse
  • Decrease environmental and economic costs
  • Address real world issues
Enter the third year of the Lifecycle Building Challenge competition, to shape the future of green building and facilitate local building materials reuse. Submit your innovative project, design, or idea for reducing to conserve construction and demolition materials and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by designing buildings for adaptability and disassembly.
Categories: Building — a whole building designed for disassembly and material reuse
In addition, building entries can highlight any of the following focus areas:
· existing buildings
· local material sourcing Product — a building product that facilitates design for disassembly and material reuse
In addition, product entries can highlight any of the following focus areas:
· Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy
· Carbon Management
· Water Efficiency & Quality
· Material Optimization
· Public and Ecosystem Health Protection Professionals may submit both built and design work. Students may submit only design work. In addition, entrants may also register for Outstanding Achievement Awards:
· Best Greenhouse Gas Reduction
· Best Green Job Creation
· Best School Design
See the website for more. (In the interest of full disclosure: I'm on the volunteer judicial panel this year.)
2009-05-16 n/a 11792 4 Years + 15 Million Dollars = Old News, No Actual Solutions The World Business Council for Sustainable Development website says that its new study, Energy Efficiency in Buildings: Transforming the Market, is "the most rigorous study ever conducted on the subject."
New modeling by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) shows how energy use in buildings can be cut by 60 percent by 2050 — essential to meeting global climate change targets — but this will require immediate action to transform the building sector. This is the central message of the report from the WBCSD's four-year, $15 million Efficiency in Buildings (EEB) research project, the most rigorous study ever conducted on the subject.
It ain't exactly the 2030 Challenge, but the words "shows how" popped off the screen. Finally, a clear path forward. I dove in. Deeper. Deeper. And then I climbed out. There's a lot of good information defining the energy problems of building construction and operation, and those problems are well expressed. If you need to put together a presentation about why change is needed, this study is a great starting point for facts and figures. But the solutions — the "shows how" — not so much.
Transformation will require integrated actions from across the building industry, from developers and building owners to governments and policy-makers. This set of recommendations outlines the necessary steps to substantially reduce energy consumption and resulting carbon emissions.
  • Strengthen codes and labeling for increased transparency
  • Incentivize energy-efficient investments
  • Encourage integrated design approaches and innovations
  • Develop and use advanced technology to enable energy-saving behaviors
  • Develop workforce capacity for energy saving
  • Mobilize for an energy aware culture
These are all well and good, but it's not really the how-to I thought I'd be getting. It's more of a what-to-do. (Download their "Roadmap" for a distillation / refresher.) Substeps for these vague recommendations are described in the study, and they do provide some substance. Not one of the points raised is a new idea, however, and most already have some steam behind them — many of those efforts already begun before this study was initiated four years ago. The paper does pull together ideas that are often disparate, and there's value in that... but the 15 million dollars spent doing it could have gone a long, long way in furthering those almost universally underfunded efforts. It's likely that the majority who look at this study won't know these things, however. People are all over the map in terms of awareness. I know that education is the first step, and that we still need a whole lot of it, and fast. I do hope this study finds a wide readership, and that its primary audience — the free-market business end — pays close attention. (The World Business Council for Sustainable Development, which sponsored the study, is "a CEO-led, global association of some 200 companies dealing exclusively with business and sustainable development.") But I'm really, really ready for some big solutions — actual working models — to hit the ground running and cut a wide transformational swath. I'll keep looking.
2009-05-09 n/a 11794 The Carbon Neutral Design Project From the website of The Carbon Neutral Curriculum Materials Project:
The Carbon Neutral Curriculum Materials Project is a joint research effort between members of the Society of Building Science Educators, the American Institute of Architects, and a private donor, the purpose of which is to provide practitioners, faculty and students with the means to meet the 2030 Challenge — that is, to be able to design and construct buildings to a state of carbon neutrality by the year 2030. The work included in this web resource is the result of a committed effort from educators and practitioners and is an attempt to begin to define a working methodology for Carbon Neutral Design that will be of general benefit to the profession. IT IS A WORK IN PROGRESS, A BEGINNING. There are pieces of the site that are incomplete at present. These will be filled in over the next few months. The Carbon Neutral Design Metrics are evolving. A CND Spreadsheet Tool is forthcoming. Please check back periodically for more content. THIS SITE IS A WORK IN PROGRESS — COMPLETION SCHEDULED FOR SUMMER 2009
What is Carbon Neutral Design?
Carbon Neutral Design Process
Carbon Neutral Design Strategies
Carbon Calculation Protocols
Carbon Calculation Tools
Carbon Neutral Case Studies
Carbon Neutral Teaching
2009-05-06 n/a 11796 BSR/ASHRAE/USGBC/IESNA green building draft standard open for public review The long-time-coming "BSR/ASHRAE/USGBC/IESNA Standard 189.1P, Standard for the Design of High-Performance Green Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings" is open for public review until June 15, 2009. From the forward:
"Standard 189.1 addresses site sustainability, water use efficiency, energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality (IEQ), and the building's impact on the atmosphere, materials and resources. This is a standard for high-performance green buildings. It is not a rating system, though it could be incorporated as the baseline in a green building rating system. It is not a design guide."
From EBN, March 2006:
"The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers, Inc. (ASHRAE), U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), and Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA) announced in February 2006 that they will cosponsor the development of ASHRAE/USGBC/IESNA Standard 189P: Standard for the Design of High-Performance Green Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings."
From EBN, December 2006:
"Work continues on ASHRAE Standard 189P, a joint project between USGBC, ASHRAE, and the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA)... the standard is intended as a way of putting minimum LEED performance into the form of a building code. Its place would likely be as an addendum to official building codes for municipalities that choose to require a basic green building standard for all new construction."
From EBN, October 2008:
"What was supposed to be a new minimum, code-enforceable standard for green buildings now faces an uncertain future. In a move that came as a surprise to its partners, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) has disbanded the committee..."
From EBN, March 2009:
"ASHRAE has now reconstituted the committee with 34 voting members, including 16 from the previous group. New members include individuals representing timber, steel, utility, and commercial real estate. ASHRAE's move appears intended to insulate Standard 189 against procedural appeals from those industries, but it remains to be seen whether the larger committee with its broader array of interests can complete the development of an effective standard."
2009-05-03 n/a 11778 The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 EBN reported last October on a California law requiring annual energy-use reporting for all nonresidential buildings. (Commercial owners will have to disclose energy use starting in 2010.) How far behind is a national law? Last week, a 648-page draft was released of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES) bill by House Representatives Henry A. Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Edward J. Markey (D-MA) chairman of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee. It's got a broad scope — promoting renewable energy, carbon capture and sequestration, low-carbon fuels, electric vehicles, and smart grids; increasing energy efficiency in buildings, appliances, transportation, and industry; decreasing emissions of heat-trapping pollutants; and protecting consumers and industry during the transitions. The building industry will be most interested in Subtitle A, Building Energy Efficiency Programs, under Title II, Energy Efficiency:
    Subtitle A - Building Energy Efficiency Programs
    • Sec. 201. Greater energy efficiency in building codes.
      • an excerpt: The applicable target for overall nationwide energy savings, compared to the 2006 IECC for residential buildings and ASHRAE Standard 90.1-2004 for commercial buildings, for the national model building energy codes and standards shall be 30 percent in editions of each model code or standard released after the date of enactment of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009; 50 percent in editions of each model code or standard released after January 1, 2016. Any target set by the Secretary... shall be set at the maximum level of energy efficiency that is technologically feasible and life-cycle cost effective, and on a path to achieving net-zero-energy buildings. (There's a lot more language than this, and I'll be honest — I don't know what it means. If anybody wants to give it a read and report back in the comments, that would be great. As far as I can decipher, new buildings will be required to have 30% energy use reduction by 2010, and 50% in 2016, with new targets set every three years afterward.)
    • Sec. 202. Building retrofit program.
      • an excerpt: The Administrator shall develop and implement, in consultation with the Secretary of Energy, standards for a national energy and environmental building retrofit policy for single-family and multi-family residences. The Secretary of Energy shall develop and implement, in consultation with the Administrator, standards for a national energy and environmental building retrofit policy for commercial buildings. The programs to implement the residential and commercial policies based on the standards developed under this section shall together be known as the Retrofit for Energy and Environmental Performance (REEP) program. The purpose of the REEP program is to facilitate the retrofitting of existing buildings across the United States to achieve maximum cost-effective energy efficiency improvements and significant improvements in water use and other environmental attributes. The REEP program shall utilize Federal personnel and resources as needed for development, design, program materials, administration, seed capital, and other activities and support. (Does this sound like the Environmental Service Corps?)
    • Sec. 203. Energy efficient manufactured homes.
      • This is about mobile home upgrade replacement rebates.
    • Sec. 204. Building energy performance labeling program.
      • an excerpt: The Administrator shall establish a building energy performance labeling program with broad applicability to the residential and commercial markets to enable and encourage knowledge about building energy performance by owners and occupants and to inform efforts to reduce energy consumption nationwide. The Administrator shall publish a final rule containing a measurement protocol and the corresponding requirements for applying that protocol. Such a rule shall define the minimum period for measurement of energy use by buildings of that type and other details for determining achieved performance... shall identify necessary data collection and record retention requirements...
2009-04-06 n/a 11748 Reductio ad absurdum I recently went through the scoring tool on the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) green building website The tool lets you get a good idea how your project would rate according to the National Green Building Standard (EBN, March 2009), and to plan adjustments in the design and construction process to do better. Using information about my own house was a way to simultaneously get acquainted with the standard and satisfy my taste for self-administered tests. (What's your IQ? What type of personality do you have? If you were a quattrocento fresco painter, which one would you be? Facebook users will know just what I'm talking about.) Responding to each point in a rough-and-ready way, the process took me perhaps an hour. I made a few guesses about things I wasn't sure of, but since I was pretty involved in the design and building of the house, most of the information was easy for me to come up with. Of course I wanted to score well. To meet the most basic ("bronze") level, I needed 222 points overall. I easily hit that target, with 339 points, but was well short of the 406 points needed for the next level ("silver"). And, despite the point total, my house didn't qualify for bronze, because there are point requirements in each of the tool's six areas--site development, water conservation, energy conservation, resource conservation, indoor air quality, and homeowner education--and I didn't get enough points in homeowner training or water conservation. I feel comfortable ignoring the recommended homeowner training, which could have been provided to me if I had felt I needed it. It doesn't strike me as a problem that my builder didn't tell me about termites, safeguarding the frost-protected shallow foundation, maintaining the gutters, public transportation, or local recycling programs, because termites and public transportation are rare in my town, the house doesn't have gutters or a frost-protected shallow foundation, and, having lived in the same town for a decade before the house was built, I was familiar with the recycling program. I'm sure that in many situations, however, a new homeowner would benefit from being informed about these matters. When I was designing the house, saving water was not high on my list of priorities. Maybe it should have been. It wouldn't be hard to get the additional eight points to meet the section's requirements--putting in a 1.6 gpm showerhead, a low-flow bathroom faucet, and a 1.28-gallon-per-flush toilet would do it. Too simple? Well, I could install two more Energy Star dishwashers (we've got one already), a garbage disposal, and a spray-head irrigation system with zones for turf and bedding. We missed a big opportunity by building on a rather flat site, which makes us eligible for just four points for avoiding steep slopes. If we had made the driveway a few hundred feet longer and cut down a patch of woods, we could have taken advantage of the points available for those who build on hillsides: five points for doing a hydrological/soil stability study of the hillside; five more for aligning that long driveway with the topography; and another six for using terracing or retaining walls to stabilize the slope. Energy efficiency was a major concern of mine in building this house, and it did well in the energy section of the tool, with 117 points. (Thirty are required at the bronze level.) More points there wouldn't have helped me earn bronze certification, but if I just wanted to rack up points for fun, I could put in some ducts and get rid of the wood stove. Our main heating system (aside from passive solar) is a radiant hydronic slab. Heating without ducts got us a substantial 15 points, I suppose because ducts can be a source of trouble. But if we had ducted heat, and it was really well set up, we could get up to a whopping 48 points, plus four more for an air handler. I think it's a good idea to have the woodstove, since we can use fuel we gather nearby, and the stove works even when the power is out, which is nice. But we could reap seven points for giving it up. Some other points we passed up: 10 points for carpeting; four points for an integrated pest management landscape plan (we plan to accept pests, for the most part, and the vegetable garden is organic); four points for underground parking that uses the natural slope for entrances (which would also save us having to scrape ice off our windshields); and five points for a central vacuum system. If we went all out with the irrigation system we don't now have, we could earn as many as 19 points. Okay, I'm making fun. No system is perfect, especially a new one. Still, I'd say this system has some kinks that need working out. It seems to reward tackling problematic situations with expensive solutions more than avoiding them altogether, and it promotes complexity and a superabundance of plumbing. While the National Green Building Standard is certainly no hindrance to building in a truly green manner, given that any such system gives rise to point hunting, it could result in some foolishness. I'd be interested in hearing from people who are using this standard for real. 2009-03-23 n/a 11750 Scenes From the Recession's regular feature, The Big Picture, presents "news stories in photographs." The March 18th edition is prefaced:
The state of our global economy: foreclosures, evictions, bankruptcies, layoffs, abandoned projects, and the people and industries caught in the middle. It can be difficult to capture financial pressures in photographs, but here a few recent glimpses into some of the places and lives affected by what some are calling the "Great Recession".
Here are some highlights particularly appropriate for green builders...
#12. As new home sales and housing starts hit record lows, empty lots, partially constructed homes and abandoned ones are seen in a subdivision on January 30, 2009 near Homestead, Florida. Prices in November of 2008 declined 8.7 percent from a year earlier, the biggest drop in records going back to 1991, the Federal Housing Finance Agency reported. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

#17. Dodge SUVs sit parked in the Atlantic Marine Terminal at the port of Baltimore February 18, 2009 in Baltimore, Maryland. As the worldwide economic downturn persists and automobile sales continue to slow, more than 57,000 new automobiles sit idle in the port of Maryland. The state of Maryland recently paid $5.26 million for almost 15 acres of additional car storage space near the port, freeing space for more cargo. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

#25. Weeds have taken over a row of vacant, unfinished new homes Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2009 in Gilbert, Arizona. (AP Photo/Matt York)

#27. A home construction site stands idle where construction has been halted, on February 24, 2009 near Riverside, California. U.S. single family homes prices continued to plummet for the second year, falling 8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008 compared to the year before. It was the biggest decline in the 21-year history of the Standard & Poors/Case-Shiller US national home price index. (David McNew/Getty Images)

#32. A homeless resident of a tent city in Sacramento, California wears an American flag jacket on March 10, 2009. This tent city of the homeless is seeing an increase in population as the economy worsens, as more people join the ranks of the unemployed and as homes slip into foreclosure. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

See them all, much bigger. Some recent EBN features come to mind: And watch for the April issue in just a couple weeks with its feature story, "Cost-Effective Green Retrofits: Opportunities for Savings in Existing Buildings."
2009-03-20 n/a 11755 Interview with a Green Building Movement Pioneer Sea Change Radio recently had a great discussion with Alex Wilson. From their website:
Alex Wilson founded BuildingGreen in 1985, when the green building movement was in its infancy. As executive editor of Environmental Building News, the bible of green building, Wilson has provided the information that has formed the building blocks of the movement. In November 2008, Wilson received the Leadership Award for Education from the US Green Building Council, whose board he served on from 2000 until 2005, the crucial period when the organization created the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. Wilson launches the conversation with a primer on green building and its history, starting with an explanation of LEED. He then compares indigenous structural design, such as the Anasazi, who oriented their dwellings toward the sun to capture solar energy, compared to design that developed in the age of cheap fossil fuel, which abandoned age-old principles of efficiency. Wilson points out, however, that the Anasazi civilization collapsed due to reliance on unsustainable water use — a fate our current culture may share with them. Wilson highlights solutions, such as green roofs and urban agriculture which integrates into the built environment, citing the example of City Farm in Chicago. He then proposes the idea of passive survivability, the notion of designing our buildings to survive the kinds of challenges that will become more prevalent as the climate changes, such as power outages and water shortages. The beauty of this idea is that it's exactly the kind of design we need to achieve sustainability.
Download the interview, or stream it at the Sea Change Radio website. Alex starts about 5 minutes in.
2009-03-16 n/a 11756 Greg Franta's Body Found They found Greg, and his car, yesterday — a month after he mysteriously disappeared. According to the Denver Post, he had slipped off the road and rolled into a ravine. Daily Camera has a more detailed article. I was hoping that when we found out what happened to Greg, even if the news was bad, there would be relief in the closure. There is some of that relief, but it's overwhelmed by the suddenly concrete sense of loss. And of my own vulnerability. It's funny how my response to someone else's huge misfortune becomes about me and my fears, but that's how it's playing out right now. Greg exuded vitality and energy. He embraced and energized those around him, literally all over the world. If someone with that strong a presence in the world can die so unexpectedly, what does that mean for me? A reminder that we're all here on borrowed time — at least in our current form. An invitation to use this time well. For his family and friends, for everyone who is committed to green buildings and making a better world, Greg's sudden departure is a huge loss. There is some consolation, however, in recognizing how much great work he left behind, in his designs, his ideas, and the thousands of people he taught and inspired. Look to the great folks at the Rocky Mountain Institute to help channel grief into yet more positive action. — Nadav Malin 2009-03-11 n/a 11758 100 Abandoned Houses From photographer Kevin Bauman's website. See them all. 2009-03-09 n/a 11721 Residential Green Building Resource
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Look through our Green Building Encyclopedia to learn about every aspect of the building process. If you're just beginning or want to share green building principles with someone who is starting out with green building, our Primer is the place to start. If you know what you want to do and are just looking for help learning how to do it, jump right into our library of over 1,000 construction details OR look into our Q&A Forum to hear the insight you need from experienced practitioners.

We offer a lot of information for free so that you can become familiar with the concepts and practice of green building. I know you'll find a lot to dig into. If you want to dive deeper, gain the insight of our experts, and have access to our design tools, you'll want to take advantage of our free trial as a GBAPro member. Most of the resources on are available for paid GBAPro members only. As a GBAPro member, you'll gain access to more insight from our editors and advisors, a library of construction details to show your colleagues and download directly into your CAD drawings, a strategy generator to guide you through the process from start to finish, and more advanced features in MyGBA like the ability to share your project-specific information with your project team and clients.

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Another great feature of is access to a group of expert advisors and others just like you. There are discussions throughout the site on topics ranging from energy efficiency to the business of building green. A great place to start is our Q&A Forum. If you have a question, look to see if others are seeking the same answer, or post one yourself. It's easy.

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2009-02-27 n/a 11724 The Aftermath: Congressional Briefing about Strawbale Construction This is the second post about strawbale building today. The other is Building Science for Strawbale Buildings. Regular readers may recall that post back in June about the straw-bale construction briefing organized by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) that was held in the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington DC. The presenters included Laura Bartels (president of GreenWeaver Inc. and member of the Builders Without Borders Building Team), Sandy Wiggins (former chairman of the board of the USGBC), Bob Gough (secretary of the Intertribal Council On Utility Policy), and David Eisenberg (director of the Development Center for Appropriate Technology and chair of the USGBC's Codes Committee). Since then, the information from that briefing has become EESI's most-visited archive. In passing along this news, Laura Bartels noted, "If you look at the breadth of topics they cover, the amount of briefings and the kinds of speakers they host, it makes this really astounding." She went on:
The influence that the briefing has had has reached to federal agencies, national organizations and non-profits, and many individuals. One immediate impact was that the Department of Interior subsequently funded a Straw Bale Housing Symposium in South Dakota along with the Intertribal Council on Utility Policy. There is now interest from USDA to repeat the symposium for a wider audience in the same region. That is just one example, and there are more brewing and in process. Beyond working with codes which is such a necessary effort, this experience opened my eyes to the need to work on awareness and support at the policy level and continue to encourage federal support for research and housing programs.
From the EESI website:
* Laura Bartels — President of GreenWeaver Inc., Builders Without Borders Building Team, is a builder and educator who consults on residential, commercial, industrial and institutional straw bale structures. Presentation (pdf) * Bob Gough — Secretary of Intertribal Council On Utility Policy, is seeking affordable and healthy housing solutions and the creation of new jobs for reservations through the use of indigenous building materials. Presentation (pdf) * Sandy Wiggins, LEED AP — Principal, Consilience LLC and Immediate Past Chair, U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), is a "green" architect and developer. Presentation (pdf) * David Eisenberg — Director, Development Center for Appropriate Technology, is chair of the U.S. Green Building Council's Codes Committee and has authored numerous articles about straw-bale building issues. Presentation (pdf) Audio Recording of the Briefing and Q&A (mp3) Straw-Bale Construction Frequently Asked Questions (pdf)
2009-02-26 n/a 11732 What makes it green?
What color is green?
The fundamental, unanswered — perhaps unanswerable — question. And it's not just people new to the concept of "green" who are asking it as technology, information, and philosophy continue to evolve. "Green" seekers are all spread out on an incredibly wide path, and all are at different points along the way. At least most of them seem to be heading in more or less the same direction. One of the things we do as a public service at BuildingGreen is facilitate a couple email lists — greenbuilding (begun in 1996, it's hosted by REPP and we provide day-to-day management)... and focusing on large-scale projects, Big Green (begun in 1999, which we host and manage). Recently there was a thread on the greenbuilding list hashing over the basest definition of "green building." You can read it in the archives if you'd like. I posted the following, which appears to have been a thread-killer. But it feels like it's lacking something fundamental; what did I miss?
Here's what I've learned as an associate editor for BuildingGreen (publisher of Environmental Building News, which is now in its 17th year, predating the USGBC and LEED and even "green building" as a recognized movement); as co-editor of the GreenSpec database (online and in print); as co-editor of the book Green Building Products (now in its third edition); as products editor for GreenSource (the member publication of the USGBC, published by McGraw-Hill); as blah blah blah —
It comes down to this: What makes anything green is having any person (as often as not somebody in marketing) point at any given item or assembly of items and invoke the following incantation: "This is green." There are labeling programs, there are design guides, there are books, and there are endless opinions, but there's no universal law about what "green" is. Nor does any individual hold a universal definition of it. Is energy use reduction the most important aspect of green building? It's been argued on this list recently that to say so reveals a limited focus, that it's a distortion of the reality that green building is more than just energy efficiency... that a residence needs to also have low emissions and be happy-making and the like in order to be green. Well, sure. But there's a counterpoint: It can easily (and successfully) be argued that restricting the green baseline to what an individual residence has to be in order to be green is actually the far more egregious limited-focus distortion — one that fails to consider the global perspective. In the larger view — the other, possibly truer, more holistic view that sees the world at large rather than the world as a single-family dwelling (even though that's a really great analogy) — energy use reduction is the most imperative green thing to do. Yes, it's the first thing on the list. Other things are also important... but no amount of zero-VOC materials or design-for-spiritual-well-being is going to compensate for the effects that unchecked energy use has on the health and happy-making of our Earth.
2009-02-23 n/a 11733 Were We Too Critical of EnergySmart Hospitals? In an online article on the U.S. Department of Energy's EnergySmart Hospitals, we compared that program to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star for Healthcare program. Having looked at both programs, we suggested that, without benchmarking and reporting requirements, the EnergySmart Hospitals program was the less rigorous of the two. In addition, several sources we spoke with suggested that the program would do little to support energy efficiency that the Energy Star program was not already doing. Walt Vernon, an engineer involved in both programs, takes issue with our conclusions--his letter is pasted below. We'd love to hear from others with experience or knowledge of these programs--what do you think? On January 22, 2009, BuildingGreen published the article Energy Department's Hospitals Program Lacking in Rigor. I am an engineer deeply involved with the design and construction of healthcare facilities around the country. In addition, I am also involved in many codes, standards, and green healthcare initiatives. I am fortunate to be able to work closely with both the EPA's ENERGY STAR for Healthcare Program, and the DOE's EnergySmart Hospitals Program. I am very familiar with the workings of the two programs, and I can say, without hesitation, there is no truth to the title in your article, nor in the sentiments expressed in it. The EnergySmart Hospitals program, while newer than the EPA program, was designed to complement EPA's program, and is providing value to the hospital sector. In my opinion, and I work with a lot of hospitals, both programs offer unique, and valuable services to the healthcare community – reducing energy use and costs and promoting a more sustainable energy future. Frankly, the tone of your article pitting one program against the other does a disservice to both programs and diverts attention away from the urgent needs facing our nation's hospitals. As cited in the article, hospitals are highly regulated, complex, and energy intensive buildings. The DOE created EnergySmart Hospitals to use its national research labs and other technical resources to develop and disseminate the strategies, technologies and best practices that allow hospitals to improve upon their benchmarks. DOE encourages hospitals to use the ENERGY STAR benchmarking protocol, and then to use whatever technical resources it finds most useful to improve its performance. One of the tools the DOE is supporting (and which I am helping to develop) is the Advanced Energy Design Guide for Small Hospitals and Healthcare Facilities. Created in partnership with the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers, the U.S. Green Building Council, the Illuminating Engineering Society, and the American Institute of Architects, the guide will document technologies and practices for achieving 30 percent savings versus code in new hospital facilities. The guide, using national laboratory expertise for calculating the best packages to ensure ease of dissemination, targets facilities of fewer than 90,000 square feet and is slated for release in fall 2009, while a version for larger facilities is planned for 2010. Another resource under development is a suite of training packages. The curricula will emphasize energy management in existing facilities as well as integrated building design strategies for new construction. The centerpiece of the EnergySmart Hospitals initiative is their Hospital Energy Alliance (HEA). Thanks to decades of R&D in both the public and private sectors, our nation has a wealth of promising energy efficiency and renewable energy options. The HEA is part of intensive DOE efforts to accelerate the movement of these technologies into the marketplace, and will ensure that solutions developed jointly by government and industry fit the unique needs and drivers of the hospital sector. The HEA brings together leading hospitals and national associations in a partnership designed to promote evidence-based information on energy efficiency strategies and to serve as a strong voice on the collective demand for highly efficient products and services. Successful collaboration between industry, ENERGY STAR for Healthcare and EnergySmart Hospitals will help increase the market penetration of energy efficient technologies. It also allows hospitals to take an environmental leadership role in their communities through reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Let us stand on each other's shoulders to deal with the real challenges ahead of us and not waste time finding fault in each other. There is no time left for finding fault. As Benjamin Franklin said of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, "We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately." Let us follow his example. Respectfully submitted, Walt Vernon, President, M+NLB Consultants & Engineers Co-Coordinator, Green Guide for Healthcare 2009-02-20 n/a 11734 Stupid Green Buildings We've all had this conversation: is a huge single family green home really green? A new building in the desert? A man-made island in Dubai? The blog Green Building Elements has collected the 10 Dumbest Green Buildings on Earth, including a BP gas station, a golf lodge, a single-family skyscraper, and a car dealership. A green building is better than a non-green building, in just about any situation. But many of these buildings raise the question: is greener always better? Or even green? 2009-02-18 n/a 11739 Remembering Gail Lindsey

At the 2008 "Summer Camp" in the Adirondacks.
Photo: Mike Cox
The green building industry lost one of its pillars this week. Less than two years after being diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2007, Gail Lindsey, FAIA, of Wake Forest, North Carolina, passed away on February 2nd. She had been recovering from a third round of chemotherapy when a sudden recurrence of liver cancer was discovered late last week. Gail has been a key part of the green building movement since its earliest formative days. She was one of EBN's most enthusiastic supporters since joining our advisory board at the beginning of 1994, and was always willing to share wisdom and encouragement whenever asked. For architects, Gail was perhaps best known as chair of the National AIA Committee on the Environment (COTE) during a particularly formative period when the annual Top-10 awards were launched. For thousands of architects, builders, developers, and facilities managers, Gail is remembered as an enthusiastic and inspirational teacher. She led more than 200 workshops and charrettes on green building, and never failed to brighten and inspire those participants. I remember sitting in one of those charrettes — I can't remember where or when. After each of the 30 or 40 of us sitting in a circle introduced ourselves, I was astounded to hear Gail repeat each of our names. It was one of Gail's many gifts, and it helped each of those participants feel listened to and important. It was all about them, the students, not about her, the instructor. Among the many charrettes Gail was involved with were the Greening of the White House, the Greening of the Pentagon, the Sustainable Design Initiatives for the National Park Service, and the Sustainable Design Training Program for the Department of Defense. I remember her describing the bizarre ending of a charrette at a military base on September 11, 2001. President Bush was diverted to this base on his return from Florida to Washington after the terrorist attacks. The military personnel didn't know what to do with these civilian instructors in their midst so, in the panic, locked them up in a room.
Photo: Mike Cox, December 2008
Gail was involved in creating the LEED Rating System, the Army's SPiRiT rating system, the North Carolina Triangle J High Performance Guidelines, and the International Green Building Challenge Assessment Tool. She was one of the first twelve LEED trainers for the U.S. Green Building Council, and she co-chaired the U.S. Team for the International Green Building Challenge starting with its inception in 1996. We worked very closely with Gail in creating the Green Building Advisor — not our new online tool, but the CD-ROM-based brainstorming tool of the same name that BuildingGreen produced ten years ago in partnership with Gail's company, Design Harmony, and the Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology (CREST). The early meetings about this tool at our home in Dummerston, Vermont are fond memories; Gail connected with my two daughters and always asked about them in the years since. In recent years, Gail was focused on the evolution of green building beyond energy and water and materials — the holistic aspects of this field. In 2005, Nadav worked closely with her, Bill Reed, Joel Todd, and others on the Expanding Our Approach workshop supported by the General Services Administration. A year later, I was fortunate enough to join Gail and thirty other visionaries in a symposium on biophilia. Last summer Jim Newman, on our staff, participated in a five-day "Summer Camp" in the Adirondacks organized by Gail and a few others pursuing deeper connections, personal growth, and fun (a pursuit that Gail thought didn't get enough attention in our meetings and conferences). When Gail was recognized in 2007 with a Leadership Award from the USGBC, Nadav noted, "Gail's influence on BuildingGreen, and on me in particular, has been nothing short of profound." Gail will be sorely missed by all of us at BuildingGreen and by thousands of others in the green building field whose lives she deeply touched. We offer our deepest sympathies to her beloved husband Mike, who has cared so ably for Gail these past two years, and to her wide circle of supportive friends. During her illness, Gail gave as much support to this circle of friends as we were able to give to her. Gail's endearing smile will live on for all of us. — Alex Wilson
2009-02-04 n/a 11708 Building materials industry lobbying in 2008 Isn't lobbying in Washington something that less-reputable industries do -- tobacco, casinos, and other "heavy hitters"? Doing some research on, I was interested to learn the extent to which the building materials and equipment industry engaged in lobbying in 2008. The industry paid lobbyists a total of $11,676,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Here's the breakdown, by company. A figure of $0, by the way, actually means "less than $5,000." Client



Advanced Diamond Technologies


Advanced Drainage Systems


American Cast Iron Pipe


American Concrete Pipe Assn


American Concrete Pumping Assn


American Lumber Standard Committee


American Sand Assn


American Supply Assn


American Traffic Safety Services Assn


Armstrong World Industries


Asphalt Institute


Asphalt Systems


Assn of Equipment Manufacturers


Associated Equipment Distributors


Blue Lake Crane


Brutz Group


Capital Sand


Carmeuse NA


Carmeuse SA


Caterpillar Inc


Cemex SA




Cemex USA




Certainteed Corp


Committee on Pipe & Tube Imports


Crane Group


Ductile Iron Pipe Research Assn


EverSealed Windows Inc


Geosynthetic Materials Assn


Holcim Ltd


Holcim Ltd


Hood Canal Sand & Gravel


Hunter Fan Co


Hycrete Inc


Idleaire Technologies


James Hardie Building Products


JC Bamford


JLG Industries


Johns Manville Corp


Joy Global


LaFarge North America


Lehigh Portland Cement


LiveWire Test Labs

2009-01-23 n/a 11714 Launches As promised, here it is. is dedicated to providing the most useful, accurate, and complete information about designing, building, and remodeling energy-efficient, sustainable, and healthy homes. A product of BuildingGreen, LLC, a provider of information on sustainable building for more than 23 years, also draws on the resources and expertise of partner Taunton Press, the publisher of Fine Homebuilding. Most of us who bring you (Our Team) are former builders, remodelers, and architects. Because of that we know the need for a single resource where design and construction professionals and knowledgeable homeowners can get the full complement of the information — and insight — they need to design, build, and remodel green. That's why we've brought proven construction details, in-depth how-to advice, a green-products database, green business strategies, design tools, and alternate paths to code compliance together in one place.
Who is it for? I've been scoping it out over the last couple days, and it's already so much deeper than I'd imagined it might be. Here's some quick links to some of my favorite content so far to get you going: Free membership allows commenting throughout the site and the ability to post questions in the Community area; a free e-newsletter is also available. A GBA Pro account unlocks a much deeper reservoir of access, including advice and videos from the advisory team, a growing volume of annotated CAD details (there's already over 500), and many more goodies... and one of the most useful for professional users will probably be the MyGBA project management space that allows you to bookmark articles, photos, drawings, and videos, and share information and instruction with clients, subcontractors, and colleagues. 2009-01-20 n/a 11697 Touring the Greenbuild Expo with CNN I'm not usually all that comfortable in front of a camera, but I had fun walking the Greenbuild 2008 Expo floor with a video crew from and Fortune magazine. We focused on four or five technologies in our tour, only two of which made it into the final two minute video (after a nice lead-in by Scot Horst of 7group). The CNN crew were looking for photogenic presentations, while I was looking for products I believe in to talk about. I'm pleased with how it came out in the end — though it would have been nice to cover a lot more stuff!
2008-12-07 n/a 11651 Being 22.1% (give or take) of the Top Ten Feels Darned Good! Preston Koerner, over at Jetson Green, posted his "Top 10 Tidbits from Greenbuild 2008." Check out numbers 2, 4, 6, and 7:
2. The LEED AP Program undergoes major overhaul and the GBCI talks about LEED Green Associates, Legacy LEED APs, LEED AP Fellows, and the other family of LEED APs (ID+C, BD+C, Homes, O+M, and ND).
This item links to a post our own Tristan Korthals Altes wrote here on's blog.

4. BuildingGreen soft launches a new online information resource on residential green building and remodeling called
That's us.

6. The USGBC gives 2008 Leadership Awards to Alexander Karsner, Alex Wilson, Scot Horst, Ted Strickland, CB Richard Ellis, San Diego Gas & Electric Sustainable Communities Program, and the founding members of AIA COTE.
Alex Wilson! BuildingGreen's founder.

7. BuildingGreen announces their seventh annual list of green building products with the 2008 Top-10 Green Building Products
That's us, too.

Seriously, it's great to be a contributing cog in an organization that was a major player in defining the green building movement at its inception and is still at the forefront after all this time. Here's to the next 23 years.
2008-11-22 n/a 11653 New Residential Green Building Website Posted live from Greenbuild. Press release:
BuildingGreen, LLC, announces a new online information resource on residential green building and remodeling., which will be officially launched at the International Builders Show in Las Vegas January 20, 2009, is an online suite of expert advice, proven construction details, and real-world tools for residential architects, builders, remodelers, and highly engaged homeowners. "GBA builds on the decades of experience and depth of the two partner companies that came together to create this resource: BuildingGreen, publisher of Environmental Building News and The Taunton Press, publisher of Fine Homebuilding," says BuildingGreen director of residential services Peter Yost. "In the works since the two companies joined forces in early 2008, will be the most comprehensive, useful, and easy-to-use online resource serving the residential green building community," noted Yost., which was previewed at the Greenbuild Conference in Boston, will include seven primary components:
Green building encyclopedia. is an encyclopedic resource on green building and remodeling, providing a wealth of information. For recent entrants into the green building field, introductory information makes it easy to get up to speed quickly. Green product guide. BuildingGreen has produced the leading national directory of green building products, GreenSpec, since 1997. GreenSpec products relevant to residential construction are all available through, along with links to other articles and discussions. Construction details. The site includes more than 1,000 highly sophisticated yet clear and thoroughly vetted green building construction details. Illustrations build on the well-known visual presentation and technical detail of Fine Homebuilding magazine, and are supported by the know-how of top building science experts. Users can paste the more technical CAD drawings directly into architectural drawings or print them out for subcontractors. Green building strategy generator. Users can enter information about a building project and will generate tailored green strategies. In-depth advice. is a forum for the exchange of information through blogs, forums, and Q&A­, drawing heavily from the 15 experts serving as Green Building Advisors. The website also links to detailed background information from Fine Homebuilding and Environmental Building News. Code issues. serves as a clearinghouse for information and advice on building codes as they relate to green building — providing clear, concise advice on streamlining the approval process. Real-world examples. provides a place to see how green building practices are being successfully used in hundreds of homes nationwide­including both new construction and remodeling. is a fee-based information service. Members will pay an annual or monthly fee for access, with annual access priced at $149.99. "Our primary goal is to serve the people who need and will use this information — builders, remodelers, architects, and designers," said vice president and publisher Bill Tine. "By offering subscriptions we ensure that our information is objective. BuildingGreen has proven this model for years as a way to provide high-value information that will help the industry advance." In addition to fee-based information, includes extensive free content, including the product listings, case studies, news, blogs, a community forum, and more. At the heart of this new resource are the "Green Building Advisors" — 15 of the nation's leading experts on green building, green remodeling, energy efficiency, and building science. This team includes builder John Abrams of South Mountain Company on Martha's Vineyard; mechanical engineer Joe Lstiburek, P.E., of Building Science Corp. of Westford, MA; remodeling contractor Eric Doub of Boulder, CO, who specializes in carbon-neutral houses and renewable energy; architect and green building materials expert Ann Edminster of Pacifica, CA; architect and used building materials expert Jennifer Corson of Halifax, Nova Scotia; green remodeling consultant Carl Seville of Decatur, GA; building inspector Lynn Underwood of Norfolk, VA; developer Vernon McKown of Ideal Homes in Norman, OK; and natural building expert and structural engineer Bruce King, P.E., of San Rafael, CA. The full list of Advisors can be found at once the site is launched January 20th. In addition to online delivery, a monthly print newsletter will be provided to members. "We will fully utilize online delivery of our content,"says managing editor Dan Morrison (until recently an editor at Fine Homebuilding), "but a lot of people still like to hold something in their hands and read it." Members will be able to receive the print newsletter in the mail or download and print it themselves. Also on the editorial team for are Martin Holladay, until recently the editor of Energy Design Update, and Rob Wotzak, a former remodeler specializing in historic preservation. Alex Wilson, the founder and president of BuildingGreen, is enthusiastic about this new online information source. "Since we launched Environmental Building News nearly 18 years ago, we have covered both residential and commercial green building," he said. "As the green building industry has matured, it became clear that we needed to target readers more precisely; with we are doing that," he said. " will be the most useful resource available on residential green building and remodeling." BuildingGreen, LLC, has been providing the building industry with quality information on sustainable design and construction since its founding in 1985. BuildingGreen's publications include Environmental Building News, the GreenSpec Directory of green building products; and the BuildingGreen Suite of online resources. In early 2008, BuildingGreen entered into a partnership with The Taunton Press.
2008-11-21 n/a 11654 A "Year of Greenwash" Update Posted live from Greenbuild. I ran into Michelle Moore, senior vp of policy & public affairs for the USGBC, yesterday. I asked her if she had any new thoughts on the "year of greenwash" prediction that she made during her visit to our offices last May — if the market and movement will survive the growing onslaught of confusion, misinformation, and misdirection. She was characteristically optimistic, expressing her opinion that the waters will be choppy for a while, but that the state of the world is well enough understood by enough people that truth and goodness will prevail. Yay for voices of hope. 2008-11-21 n/a 11661 Failure and Success - Which Do We Learn More From? Posted live from Greenbuild.
This morning we had our annual breakfast at Greenbuild with invited participants from the top green firms in the industry — taking their pulse, getting their take. Architects were in force, but engineers and builders were also represented. Much of the discussion revolved around the 2030 Challenge — who has signed up and who hasn't (the room was split roughly equally); why and why not; what the vague Challenge actually means (does it include occupant transportation, etc.?) and how to specifically measure it (Btu/sf? Energy use? Carbon?). Meanwhile, the first threshold, 2010, is looming. The state of the economy and the uncertain future didn't seem to shake the confidence of the room much... project type and focus tends to shift in downturns, but things go on. One participant said, "We're going to have to admit that we can't ignore existing buildings. This is a sea change. We have to think like Europe and parts and Asia." On the other hand, in a recent Turner survey of all building industry markets, 3/4 of respondents said that an economic downturn wouldn't affect the decision to build green. Education, as always, was a big topic. Institutions are churning out unprepared, undereducated students. The public doesn't really get the concept of energy conservation — they just want to save money. So do building owners. But, it was pointed out, "the right kind of knowledge can change behavior" (and also, cheekily, "the right person can defeat any system we design in"). The notion that we'll see some good changes when people learn how to compete against each other to save energy was floated, and it was good. For the industry at large, dispassionate, deep data is needed — data that's normalized and consistent. And anonymous if necessary. There needs to be more POE, more measurement and analysis. There needs to be a wealth of numbers and details available, a track record. I'm going to make an abrupt turn here and go gooey... A participant stated that we need to learn from what doesn't work — and this is a thing I've always agreed with strongly. I always want to know about the failures. But another perspective was given in response: If we focus on successes, won't we not only learn just as much, but also be contributing to a movement that's more inviting? (— except it was better-worded, to the point where it somehow put a chink in my cynicism. I wish I'd been recording...). Afterward, walking back to Greenbuild from the hotel where we had the breakfast meeting, Nadav Malin and I fell in together. Waiting at an intersection, we saw a suit-and-tie security guy from the convention center out in the street thanking the traffic cops for their help, offering to get them hot chocolate (it's in the high 20s — F). While this was going on, one of them was holding up traffic against a red light to let pedestrians cross, and a car honked. "Who the **** honked!?" the cop muttered. Nadav said, "Isn't that a great Boston scene? Thanking the traffic cops and offering to get them hot chocolate?" I replied with snark, continuing his sentence for him, "... while one of the cops yells 'Who the *** honked?!" I know this isn't what this post started out being about, but this is where it led me. Nadav was focusing on the positive, while I was focusing on the negative. Even though I didn't mean it that way, that's how it immediately felt. If there had been a third person with us, what would they have learned? Which comment would they have preferred to carry with them? Back again to the topic of which we learn more and better from — success or failure. I'd have to agree with Forrest Gump. I think maybe it's both. UPDATE — Jane Kolleeny's post "Optimism marks the first day of Greenbuild" over at GreenSource is a good adjunct to this...
2008-11-20 n/a 11669 Affordable Housing Summit at Greenbuild - Report By Peter Yost and Allyson Wendt, posted live from Greenbuild. It's common knowledge that green building is anything but affordable. Or is it? You would have had a pretty hard time convincing the 100 or so folks at the USGBC's Affordable Housing Summit. They are convinced that green is actually affordable, both in terms of investment and operations budgets. Heather Clark — from one of the largest property owners of housing in the U.S., Winn Development — stated that water efficiency improvements alone in 76 of their properties cost only $376,000 and saved them over $1.2 M in the first year! In this case, they were paying the water bills, but even if the retrofits had benefited the tenants directly, saving money is still saving money. And saving water is saving water. I (Peter) have to confess that if I hear the term net present value one more time in the context of green building, I may pass out. Net present value is based on an assumed discount rate. And just what discount rate should we use for the next 5 years, much less 10, 20, 30, or 40 years? We have to stop supporting the myth that we can evaluate the "worth" of really long term investments in high performance building enclosures (energy-efficient and durable) by "predicting" just what the price will be 25 years from now for materials much less energy. We continue to do this when, in less than one business quarter, oil went from nearly $150 a barrel to nearly $50. Lenders, investors, insurers, appraisers — they all need to stop this Ouija board nonsense. Our hyperfocus on payback periods simply does not work for conventional buildings, much less green affordable ones. Another myth that got some busting at the Affordable Housing Summit was single-minded green building. We could call this "green damage." It happens when we focus on just energy efficiency and ignore moisture. It happens when we reduce green building to the right product selections rather than the right construction processes that go with those materials. Considerable time was spent discussing ways to document and value comprehensive building performance, rather than just one or two aspects of it. While Peter was learning about net present value and green damage, I (Allyson) was learning about the struggles of building green when you can't pass the incremental costs onto your clients, homeowners below the median income. Payback figures don't mean much to the developers in these cases, since the savings are realized by the homeowner, who hasn't paid for the up-front costs. As we enter a recession, finding funding for all projects is getting more difficult, and "extras" like solar hot water or super insulation are almost out of the question. And certification? Unless you're lucky enough to get a grant, forget it! The summit attendees spent the afternoon in ten groups: charrettes for a wide range of real housing projects, ranging from hundred-plus unit partial rehabs to one single family detached Habitat for Humanity (HFH) home on Nantucket. It felt to me (Peter, in the HFH Nantucket group) that we did a lot of green wondering and wandering. But interestingly, our group and the others felt that they had learned a ton — from what in the world is a vapor profile to how USGBC and The Home Depot Foundation financially support LEED certification for affordable housing projects. In my (Allyson's) group, we were looking at a retrofit of an old mill building in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Un-insulated brick walls, solid wood floors, older double-pane windows — and restrictions because of historic building tax credits. The group discussed options for insulating the walls and insulating the units acoustically from each other. The design was already pretty far along, so we probably didn't affect the architect's choices much, but it was helpful to think through the issues as a group. I think we all learned quite a bit. The long and short of it is this: of all those who need durable, low maintenance, energy and water efficient homes, it is the folks dedicating the most of their income to those same costs that need green building. We can't afford for green building NOT to be affordable! For more information from the Affordable Housing Summit, go to the LEED for Homes website next week. 2008-11-19 n/a 11676 USGBC, 15 Years Old, Looks Back In honor of itself (hmm... was really the best way for me to kick off this post?), the USGBC has done a kind of a cool thing. A letter released to its membership says,
... when we reflected on how best we could mark our anniversary as a community of leaders called the U.S. Green Building Council, we decided that the story was best told in your words.
They've produced eight short documentaries (most of them clocking in at about 3 to 3-1/2 minutes) that feature 15 "pivotal leaders and unsung heroes" talking about the early days of green building and looking to what's ahead. The second one features Alex Wilson, fearless cofounder of BuildingGreen. (They got his name right, but screwed up his association — he's the executive editor of Environmental Building News, not Healthy Building Network — which is a very good organization, but something else entirely.) People are encouraged to post video responses on YouTube, which is a great idea. What's sometimes forgotten is that green building isn't supposed to be about points and products — it's supposed to be about us. I've embedded all eight of the shorts, in order, below.
Do We Have the Will? (3:06)

Seeds of a Green Revolution (3:21)

Daniel Wallach, Greensburg Green Town, Mainstreet Heroes (3:22)
(Also see the post about the Greensburg case studies here)

Building Momentum (3:08)

Martha Jane Murray, New Orleans, Leave No One Behind (2:40)

The Urgency of Change: How Far, How Fast? (4:24)

Linda Cato, Imago Dei Middle School, The Green Schoolhouse (3:30)

Sustainability Within a Generation? (3:33)

2008-11-17 n/a 11682 Getting ready for Greenbuild Here comes Greenbuild again. It keeps getting bigger. For instance, last year there were 480 exhibitors in the expo hall... this year, over 800. I've got the expo hall on the brain. Like last year, I've been mapping which of the exhibitors do and don't have products listed in GreenSpec. There's about 300 — something over a third of the hall. Frankly, I feel really good that there's about 500 exhibitors at this year's Greenbuild that don't meet the high GreenSpec standards. A couple days ago I wrote here that "GreenSpec is a 'best of the best' directory reserved for the top 10% or so of the most environmentally preferable products available... intended to be a reference to the best stuff we know about, and a launching pad for additional research," and that "Attempting to create and maintain a fully comprehensive compendium of everything that's even slightly green would not only be practically undoable, it would actually be much less useful in defining high benchmarks." Sure, there's undoubtedly a quite a good few new products that we'll learn about there, and some of them will end up added to the directory. Most of them won't. Here's a graphic of the expo floor; booths highlighted in green represent manufacturers with one or more products in GreenSpec. The variety of booth sizes is another encouraging sign to me — big fish or small fry, it doesn't matter.

(Stay alert! Here it Comes: The Year of Greenwash)

2008-11-10 n/a 11684 Foot Spa: Rhymes with "Chutzpah" The editors and researchers for GreenSpec get more submissions from manufacturers wanting to get their products listed than we can keep up with. As GreenSpec is a "best of the best" directory reserved for the top 10% or so of the most environmentally preferable products available to contribute to a sane built environment, we end up rejecting most of them for not meeting our high standards. Sometimes we get pitches for fine products, but they just don't represent the top of the heap. (GreenSpec is intended to be a reference to the best stuff we know about, and a launching pad for additional research. Attempting to create and maintain a fully comprehensive compendium of everything that's even slightly green would not only be practically undoable, it would actually be much less useful in defining high benchmarks.) Often, we get pitched products that are just plain outside of the scope — GreenSpec doesn't include things that aren't directly about the action of creating (and to a small degree, maintaining) the built environment. And, just as surely as it crosses your desks, ever-increasingly brazen greenwashing is crossing ours. Sometimes — rarely — we'll get a submission that comes in at such an unexpected curve that we just have to step back and admire the spin. I'm not talking about evil marketing cabals — I think that most people do honestly believe the things they tell us (and themselves) — nor am I talking about the delusional and/or the apparently clueless. It's our job to sort all of that out. I'm talking about unexpected, funny, and earnest, but utterly futile and inappropriate gestures from so far out in left field that we never would have guessed anything like it was coming. Introducing the Footopia Patio Foot Spa, from Ashiyu. It's a 40-gallon, double-walled resin, bowl-shaped Jacuzzi for your feet, lined with river rock and serviced by a 1.5 kW heater and a 1.5 hp pump — with several available options, including multicolored lights. In the submission form presented to us, the environmental attributes were described by comparing its energy, water, and chemical use to that of a four-person hot tub. Which is sort of like comparing a little tangerine to a big grapefruit, but the intent and merit of the argument was noted. There aren't any third-party efficiency standards in place for these kinds of devices, so that's what tends to happen. This product is appropriate for the glossy pages of lifestyle magazines, but it ain't our thing. Nor did we consider it all that green. What rocked our world (in a really fun way) was a couple sentences near the end of their submission:
"Also, our product is cool, smart and sexy. From experience we can say no one will fault your eco-impiety for listing our spas among less fun products like pavers or siding."
Outstanding! We laughed and laughed.

2008-11-08 n/a 11685 We are living in exponential times No wonder you're having trouble keeping up. From the video Shift Happens:
"It is estimated that a week's worth of the New York Times contains more information than a person was likely to come across in a lifetime in the 18th century." "The amount of technical information is doubling every two years. By 2010, it's predicted to double every 72 hours." "We are currently preparing students for jobs that don't yet exist... using technologies that haven't been invented... in order to solve problems we don't even know are problems yet."
2008-11-08 n/a 11637 Green building code standard committee disbanded A story's been posted on that ASHRAE has unexpectedly pulled the plug on the Standard 189 development committee. This standard is supposed to be "a new minimum, code-enforceable standard for green buildings." The USGBC and IES have been working with ASHRAE on the project since 2006, and were apparently ambushed by ASHRAE's decision to shake up the process. From the article: "Speaking off the record, multiple sources reported signs that ASHRAE had been influenced by various trade associations, which were either unsupportive of ASHRAE's involvement in a green building standard as an engineering association, or had objections to basic premises of the standard, such as its approach to various building materials." Read the story "Uncertain Future for ASHRAE Standard 189." - - - - - Before I could get this online, one of the authors of the story, Tristan Korthals Altes, posted this in the comments area (where subscribers can add their thoughts to any content page of the website) following the piece: "Since this article went online, we spoke with Jeff Littleton, the executive v.p. for ASHRAE. He emphasized ASHRAE's intention to reconstitute the committee, potentially with many of the same members and possibly a few additional ones, and to proceed with work on the standard. This process is likely to take 30-45 days, he says. Whether or not the standard continues on its current — and fairly stringent — course will be up to the committee." Good news, but I'm still concerned about some of the issues raised about how and why this all transpired. 2008-10-17 n/a 11638 On the Path to Passive Survivability
Creating a superinsulated building envelope is one of the key requirements with passive survivability. I saw this superinsulated home feature when I was in Sweden last year.
Photo: Alex Wilson. Click for bigger.
(More below.)
Those who have kept an eye on the suggestions we've made over the past few years regarding passive survivability might be interested in some recent developments. By way of background for those who haven't tracked this issue, here's the thumbnail sketch: In an age with more intense storms, terrorist actions against our energy infrastructure, potential petroleum shortages, and drought, we should be designing homes, apartment buildings, schools, and certain other public-use buildings so that they maintain livable conditions in the event of extended power outages or interruptions in heating fuel or water. I had initially been proposing passive survivability as a smart design criterion. More recently I've been advocating that we mandate passive survivability through building codes. There are a number of developments along these lines:
Creating a superinsulated building envelope is one of the key requirements with passive survivability. I saw these superinsulated home features when I was in Sweden last year.
Photos: Alex Wilson.
Click for bigger.
First, an article I wrote making this case is coming out shortly in Building Safety Journal, the magazine of the International Code Council. I have no idea what the response to this article might be among code officials, but I'll be watching carefully. Second, I'm participating in a committee that's providing input to the upcoming revision of New York City's building codes. We're trying to figure out what it will take to make the city's buildings and infrastructure more adaptable to climate change. I'm not sure where this will end up, but one of the ideas we're pursuing is to require dual-mode buildings. Dual-mode buildings would operate with conventional HVAC systems in normal conditions, but could be switched over to a passive operation mode during a power outage. Third, I was recently in California speaking at a couple conferences — including on passive survivability at San Diego Green. Following the San Diego conference, I led a brainstorming meeting to address passive survivability. The group of a dozen or so individuals, including Bob Berkebile, Chuck Angyal, and Drew George, focused on three questions: 1. What constitutes "livable conditions"? We pondered whether a house would need to maintain 50°F in the winter to keep people safe (wearing coats), or if a house would need to be 55°F. How hot could a house get in the summer and not put its occupants at undue risk? We concluded that there's a significant body of knowledge out there to tap into on these questions — such as emergency management databases and ASHRAE technical committees on comfort. 2. How easy is it to model the "drift conditions" of buildings? I was surprised here to learn that our more sophisticated energy modeling software tools can do this without any modification — one only needs to vary the inputs. That's good news indeed. 3. Do we need "performance standards" for passive survivability or could "prescriptive standards" suffice? This is a tougher question. It's hard to deal with passive solar heating, daylighting, or cooling load avoidance on a strictly prescriptive basis, but we felt that having both a prescriptive path and a performance path would be ideal. We have a lot of work to do in answering this question and moving ahead with those prescriptive standards. One of the new ideas that came out of the San Diego meeting was to come up with labeling of houses to indicate how they stack up relative to passive survivability — perhaps an A through F scale — and get insurance companies to buy in to preferential rates for the higher-ranked buildings. I continue to believe that the insurance industry could be a big driver of passive survivability.
Lake Mead, which supplies 90% of Las Vegas's water, is less than half full today. Maybe it's time we begin designing buildings to get by if water shortages or water rationing become a reality — not all that unlikely, especially with Scripps Institute scientists telling us there's a 50% chance that Lake Mead will be functionally empty by 2021.
Photo: Ken Dewey. Click for bigger.
Finally, having just returned from Las Vegas, where I was attending the WaterSmart Innovations conference (about water efficiency and water conservation), I'm inspired to push harder to address water to a greater extent in defining passive survivability. In most cases, the idea with passive survivability probably won't be to create homes and other buildings that can be totally self-sufficient with water. Rather, we will push for buildings that can get by all right if water were to be rationed or only available intermittently for periods of time in the future. If anyone wants to be part of this ongoing discussion about passive survivability, reply to this posting or e-mail me directly:
2008-10-14 n/a 11643 Living Future 08 'Unconference' Proceedings Online Back on May 6, Jennifer Atlee posted here on this blog:
"If I could adopt a conference, it would be the USGBC Cascadia chapter's Living Future 'Unconference'. As someone who generally prefers to stay behind the scenes talking shop, it was a delight to find myself surrounded primarily by the obsessed of the green building world..."
She went on to briefly describe some highlights of the event, and even provided her notes from the presentation she gave, "Be a Product Detective: Sleuthing the Truth About Building Materials". Now here's some great news for those of us who weren't there: The Living Future 08 conference is now online. Follow these links to audio tracks, powerpoint files, program descriptions, and presenter bios: · Living Building: Energy and Carbon Neutrality
· Wholistic Engineering: Applied to a Living Building Water System
· Be a Product Detective: Sleuthing the Truth About Building Materials
· The Birds, the Bees, the Flowers and the Trees: Biodiversity in the Urban Environment
· Living Buildings and the Precautionary Principle
· Green Land Development of the Year, LEED-H Platinum. . .Now What?
· BIM and Sustainable Design: Current Abilities and Future Possibilities
· Design for Deconstruction and Zero Waste
· Big Barriers — Financing and Codes
· Sustainable Design: Ecology, Architecture and Planning
· 15 Minutes of Brilliance: Transformative Solutions for the Next Generation
· New Tools to Assess and Alter the Carbon Impact of Development
· Carbon Markets: How Communities and Buildings are Supplying and Buying into Tradable Offsets
· Green Building Materials Through the Pharos Lens
· Successfully Sourcing Local FSC Products
· Crafting a One Planet Community: What Does Zero Waste and Zero Carbon Really Look Like?
· Charting a Course Towards Water Independence: Achieving Net-Zero Water in Living Buildings
· Residential Remodeling - Model Remodel: Renovating for Massive Change
· Scaling it Up: Beyond Buildings to Low Carbon Communities
· Living Cities — Remaking Our Cities One Neighborhood at a Time
· Alternative Ownership Models and Housing for the Homeless
2008-10-09 n/a 11617 Rosie the Riveter Does Prefab
I spent a few days last week at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst, attending the 2008 Wood Structures Symposium. Like many smaller conferences, it was pretty invigorating, with conversations from sessions spilling into the hallway coffee breaks. The theme this year was prefabricated architecture, a particular interest of mine, and there were lots of new ideas floating around. One of the overriding ideas of the symposium was the notion of mass customization. Instead of seeing each building as a unique entity, we could start seeing buildings as collections of standard parts put together in different ways. The standard parts--panels, structural systems, heating systems, and so on--could be assembled in factories and sent to the site. Building assemblies with integrated electrical wiring and plumbing could save time on site. In this way, the construction industry could come to look more like the car or airplane industry. Streamlining the industry in this way would have several benefits. First, it would provide safer working conditions for employees. In a factory setting, roofers work six feet above the ground, siding is put on at ground level, and panels can be oriented to provide comfortable working conditions for plumbers and electricians. Done properly, this sort of construction could also be more efficient and use less transportation-related fuel to erect a building on-site. Working with a kit of parts, rather than fully-designed models, architects and builders could customize a building to work with a site and a certain aesthetic ideal. Moving towards this model could put a lot of builders out of work, since constructing a building in a factory requires fewer workers than stick-building on site. Some of these workers would still be needed for renovation work, and others could be trained in renewable energy design, installation, and maintenance. Imagining this type of industry in a variety of situations, however, I think it holds a lot of promise. Think of an industry similar to the car or airplane industry mobilized in the wake of a natural disaster: housing units, rather than travel trailers, could be in place in weeks and months, not years. (Think of the retooling of the car industry to provide planes and weapons during World War II.) Onsite construction on urban lots could take a few weeks, keeping traffic and parking disruption to a minimum. Impact on undeveloped lots could be kept to a minimum as well, keeping more trees and groundcover intact. Workers could be guaranteed a certain number of hours each week as well as health insurance and better working conditions. Done right, the construction-industry-as-factory could benefit almost every segment of the industry as well as the environment. (Image: The Loblolly House, KieranTimberlake Associates. The Loblolly house is a prototype of what could happen with a streamlined construction industry.)
2008-09-29 n/a 11623 Can Prefab be Green and Affordable? Does prefabrication make green houses more affordable? I asked this question almost a year ago when I was working on a feature article on the topic. Back then the answer was "not quite yet." A year later, the answer still seems to be "not quite yet," at least according to Chad Ludeman, developer of the 100K house in Phildelphia, in an article on Jetson Green. Actually, Ludeman puts it more strongly: "I just don't believe it is the best way of delivering modern design to the average new home buyer," he writes. Ludeman is talking about a particular segment of prefabricated housing: the sleek modernist green homes by the likes of Michelle Kaufmann and LivingHomes. He looks at the issue from the four claims most often made in favor of prefabrication.
  • Prefab is more affordable
  • Prefab produces less waste
  • Prefab takes less time
  • Prefab is more "Green"
He argues that most of the modernist houses could be stick-built for less money, that over-engineering in the prefab industry makes the less waste argument specious, that long waiting lists for prefab homes make time savings irrelevant, and the green aspects of prefab are dependent on the less waste argument. Ludeman's arguments are good ones, especially as the industry stands right now. Until green features--superinsulation, benign materials and finishes, and energy- and water-efficient appliances and fixtures--become standard, prefabrication isn't going to offer many benefits over stick-built homes in terms of cost. Environmentally, the jury is still out, but the potential benefits go far beyond the waste reductions (worker transportation, site impacts, etc.). Prefabrication depends on volume to realize the benefits mentioned above. Companies producing modernist, green, or modernist-green prefabs are still small and don't have the volume to bring down material and labor per house costs. For larger companies, green features mean modifications to their stock plans, which means extra expense. Ludeman suggests a semi-custom approach with prefabricated components, an approach many production builders already use for large developments. Adjusting this approach for infill development would be a great idea. There are several companies out there that mix and match prefabricated components in custom and semi-custom structures. Unlike Ludeman, I'm not ready to give up on prefabrication just yet. I still think there's promise in the idea of prefabricated green, especially in the mainstream and affordable housing markets. As for green modernist housing, the benefits of prefabrication may never come through for such a relatively small market. Image: A rendering of the 100K house.
2008-09-17 n/a 11628 Zero Energy Buildings Database

Today the Department of Energy's Building Technologies Program launched the Zero Energy Buildings Database with an offering of three Zero Energy Buildings (ZEBs) and one near-ZEB. A lot of work has been put into defining ZEBs and you can learn about the different types at the Net ZEB page. Also make sure to look at the overview page for each building to learn the associated types of ZEB. The Zero Energy Buildings Database is part of the High Performance Buildings Database and is hosted and maintained by BuildingGreen in conjunction with the Department of Energy.

2008-09-08 n/a 11598 Green Plumbers
"Water shortages are expected to become more and more common in the coming decades. A 2003 report by the U.S. General Accounting Office reported that 36 states are likely to experience water shortages by 2013."
"Water use in and around buildings, from both public water supplies and well water, accounts for about 47 billion gallons (180 billion l) per day, or 12% of U.S. water use... Residential indoor water use is dominated by toilets, clothes washers, showers, faucets, and (significantly) leaks, according to a 1999 report from the American Water Works Association Research Foundation."
"There are strong indications that water will become a more limited resource over the coming decades, and it is important for building professionals to pay close attention to these trends and build up the expertise needed to reduce water consumption in and around buildings should supply become further constrained."
Water: Doing More With Less
Environmental Building News, February 2008)

The Master Plumbers' and Mechanical Services Association of Australia (MPMSAA) created a training and accreditation program called "GreenPlumbers" in 2001, and has since accredited over 5,000 plumbers in that country — where water consumption is down by nearly half from 1990 levels. Now the educational and environmental training program has been introduced in the U.S. as GreenPlumbers USA by the non-profit California PHCC (Plumbing, Heating, Cooling Contractors) Education Foundation through an agreement with MPMSAA. The program is available — for free — to journey-level plumbers; registration fees are subsidized through government, agency, utility, and manufacturer partnerships. The training workshops are arranged with local and state jurisdictions, utilities, and water agencies. The training is a five-part, 32-hour accreditation including: Climate Care (8 hours)
  • Emissions in Home and Business
  • Hot Water Heating
  • Energy Consumption
  • Heating Appliances
  • Cooling Appliances
Caring For Our Water (8 hrs)
  • The Water Cycle
  • Water Efficient Products
  • New Technology
  • Reducing Household Water Consumption
  • Storm Water Runoff Pollution and Prevention
  • Introduction to Household Water Audits
Solar Hot Water (4 hrs)
  • Solar Hot Water Technology
  • Rebate Information
  • Retrofit Sizing and Installation
  • New Technology
Water Efficient Technology (8 hrs)
  • Recycled Water
  • Rain Water
  • Graywater
  • Septic Tanks/Wastewater Treatment Systems
  • Environmental/Public Health/Safety Regulations
Inspection Report Service (4 hrs)
  • Commercial / Industrial and Residential Buildings
  • Water and Energy Audits
  • Inspections and Reporting
  • Assessment and Strategies
  • Creating a Master Plan for Future Improvements
Courses are currently scheduled in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and Washington. There is a form on the website to request workshops for your area. Online training is expected to be available this Fall.
2008-08-28 n/a 11599 Carbon Emissions are Now Legal Liabilities c02 molecules Greg Kats of the venture capital firm Good Energies has argued for a while now that a company's carbon emissions can have a material impact on its financial performance, and by failing to disclose that risk the company may be liable to shareholder action. That argument was used to explain part of the appeal to corporations of green (low-carbon-emitting) real estate in our article on valuing green buildings. Now, according to a report in today's New York Times, New York attorney general Andrew Cuomo has taken that argument a step further. Cuomo reached an agreement with Xcel Energy of Minneapolis that requires Xcel to disclose a detailed assessment of the long-term financial risks from its ongoing investment in coal-burning power plants. He got that agreement using a legal mechanism that could have led to criminal as well as civil charges if they failed to disclose those risks, and he's still pressuring four other companies to go along. How can a NY AG control a Minnesota company? Because they issue securities on New-York-based stock exchanges. The Times suggests that the other companies may not be as cooperative, because Xcel is already quite proactive in its reporting. I have anecdotal evidence corroborating that — after a little prodding, an Xcel engineer gave me an estimate of the carbon emissions behind the high-pressure steam they distribute in downtown Denver. (I needed that figure for a case study of EPA's Region 8 headquarters.) It's 185 pounds of CO2 per thousand pounds of steam. 2008-08-28 n/a 11605 Teardowns and McMansions
Across the nation a teardown epidemic is wiping out historic neighborhoods one house at a time. As older homes are demolished and replaced with dramatically larger, out-of-scale new structures, the historic character of the existing neighborhood is changed forever. Neighborhood livability is diminished as trees are removed, backyards are eliminated, and sunlight is blocked by towering new structures built up to the property lines. Community economic and social diversity is reduced as new mansions replace affordable homes. House by house, neighborhoods are losing a part of their historic fabric and much of their character.
Kim Del Rance of Gould Evans wrote in a post to the COTE forum today:
Having restored a "tear down" that I could only get a land mortgage on — the house had zero value — to what is now a contributing structure in a neighborhood nominated to the National Register, I know firsthand there are very few houses that cannot be repaired. Those that are called "money pits" are often still cheaper to repair than to build a house of the same quality on the same land.

Reusing land that has already been built on is better than taking over greenspace, but tearing down a house that is in fine condition is a waste of resources and embodied energy as well as removing character from historic neighborhoods... I see this as a green/sustainable issue as well as historic — I want our history and culture to be sustained as well as our air and water.
Find tools, resources, and information in the Teardowns and McMansions section of the National Trust for Historic Preservation website.
2008-08-21 n/a 11587 The High Cost of Green Building
  • "In spite of persistent claims to the contrary from green advocates, 86% of respondents believe that it costs more to build a green building — and not just by a little." High Perceived Cost of Green Persists, Says Survey (January 1, 2008)
  • "The report, the most exhaustive cost-benefit analysis of green building ever undertaken, found that green buildings have an average 0 to 2% increase in first cost over their conventional counterparts, but that they will recoup 20% of construction costs over 20 years — ­more than ten times the original investment in green features." Building Green Pays (November 1, 2003)
  • "Program administrators were surprised to discover that their stringent criteria are being met using only conventional technologies, with little or no increase in building costs." Canadian Program Discovers that Design Process is Key (January 1, 1996)
  • "Even the highest-cost scenarios fall within GSA's typical 10% design contingency at conceptual design phase." GSA LEED Cost Study (December 1, 2004)
  • "With good integration of all the disciplines on a design team, it is possible to incorporate, within budget, many strategies that taken alone would increase costs." Building Green on a Budget (May 1, 1999)
  • "The building was completed for $19.3 million, well under the $20.5 million budget." High-Performance Building Skin Pays Off (July 1, 1997)
  • "We learned that it does not necessarily cost more to be environmentally sensitive; our project came in under budget." Felician Sisters Convent and School (Case Study)
  • "The school was completed on time and under budget." Fossil Ridge High School (Case Study)
  • "Focusing on libraries, academic classrooms, and laboratories, they compare the cost per square foot of 45 LEED-seeking projects with 93 that are not pursuing LEED certification. They found 'no statistically significant difference between the LEED population and the non-LEED population.' This finding held up within each building type as well as across the whole range of projects." New Data on the Cost of Building Green (August 1, 2004)
  • "It is not possible to detect any statistically significant difference between the cost of green and non-green buildings." Report Says Green Still Doesn't Drive Building Cost (August 1, 2007)
2008-07-19 n/a 11568 World Cement Production A graphic from The Oil Drum — Gigatons per Year of Cement Produced:
Quoting from the website:
Remember, in China, oil isn't used in cement production. In the "clinker" stage, it's all coal. In the blending stage it's electricity (which is generated 80% from coal in China). And cement production in China is inefficient. There are hundreds of small plants, both wet and dry processes, and the local environmental impact is severe.
There is some interesting discussion about the chart in that site's comments. For more about cement production and its environmental impacts, see the Environmental Building News feature, "Cement and Concrete: Environmental Considerations." Much more information about the cement industry is in BuildingGreen Suite as well.
2008-06-18 n/a 11577 About half of the homes, office buildings, stores and factories needed by 2030 don't exist today. So says the Urban Land Institute. The following grabs are from a couple slides in A Plan for Tomorrow: Creating Stronger and Healthier Communities Today and the nearly identical A Plan for Tomorrow: Creating Stronger and Healthier Cities Today, companion PowerPoint presentations to Higher Density Development: Myth and Fact.

"About half of the homes, office buildings, stores and factories needed by 2030 don't exist today." That's only 28 years from now. The importance of the 2030 Challenge can't be emphasized enough.
"Greenhouse gas emissions are increasing, and the U.S. carbon footprint is expanding. Since 1980, carbon emissions in the United States have increased by almost 1 percent each year. Emissions from the residential, commercial, and transportation sectors each increased by more than 25 percent during the past 25 years. Industrial emissions have declined during this same period as the country has moved away from energy-intensive manufacturing and toward a service and knowledge economy. Much of what Americans once manufactured is now being imported from China, India, and other countries, thereby lessening U.S. greenhouse gas accounts. "As a result, consumers are increasingly the driving force of domestic energy consumption and carbon emissions. Residential and commercial buildings and road transportation are expected to dominate energy demand and carbon growth in the future. Total U.S. carbon emissions are projected to grow by 16 percent between 2006 and 2030..."
From Shrinking the Carbon Footprint of Metropolitan America, a report from the Brookings Institution.
2008-06-03 n/a 11541 AIA: Part of the Problem, or Part of the Solution? In some of the posts I wrote during the recent AIA convention, I was coming down pretty hard on "credit-chasers" in the ranks. (AIA members are required to earn 18 "learning unit" hours annually, with at least eight about health, safety, and/or welfare.) The conferences I typically attend are smaller and more focused than the AIA behemoth, and the people who come to them are eager to wring out every bit of information from the sessions that they can. At AIA, on the other hand, people began streaming out of most of the sessions I attended as soon as it was clear that the presentation was nearly over. Not done, but getting there. There were a couple exceptions, and others from BuildingGreen attended sessions where most of the room stayed put through the duration. On the way back to Vermont, after the conference, I had a conversation with Nadav about it. He was much more understanding — and/or more forgiving — than me. Architects are busy people, as a commenter also pointed out. But I'm still not sure I entirely buy that they're too busy to stick out the final five or ten minutes of a session, if not the Q&A... when some of the most useful and enlightening information is turned up as a result of other professionals — in this case, other architects — getting important clarifications and asking questions based in on-the-ground situations. But anything negative I had to say falls far short of the thoughts architect Peter Gluck shared in a September 2007 article in Metropolis. "I don't belong to the AIA," he said. "I think they're the problem, not the solution. It's a group of people who get together to promote themselves; they're not interested in really looking at the profession and trying to see where its problems are." Me, I'm not dissing the AIA; there are parts of its ethical and practice rules and guidelines that impress me. I do think that at least some part of the organization's efforts are solution-oriented (often for problems caused by architects in the first place, however). I know there are caring individual members. I'm a giant fan of COTE. Take a read of the article about Gluck. It's interesting. And contrary. And problematic. There's something in it for just about anyone to take great exception to... and I'm no exception. 2008-05-28 n/a 11544 Here it Comes: The Year of Greenwash Michelle Moore, a senior vice president of the USGBC, recently spent a day in our offices. Speculating on the shapes of things to come both near and far, she said something that stuck with me: "We're entering the year of greenwash." As if it wasn't already bad enough. The reduction of social and environmental movements to merchandising means that a cause has hit the big time... but the increased breadth tends to come with a commensurate loss of depth. If you're old enough to remember the solar-design movement of the '70s, you probably also remember when bell-bottoms became available in the Sears catalog. A report titled Trends in Trademarks by Glenn Gunderson, chair of the Trademark Group of the international law firm Dechert LLP, notes that 2007 was the busiest year ever for the Trademark Office, with over 300,000 new applications — the previous high was during the internet boom of 2000 — and that green branding was the big trend, "with multiple companies filing for almost-identical marks at nearly the same time." Applications using the word 'green' more than doubled — "it was the third year in a row when GREEN branding far outpaced the overall increase in applications, following a 37% increase in 2006 and a 23% gain in 2005." The prefix 'eco' also more than doubled in new applications, in conjunction with products ranging from building materials to cosmetics. 'Enviro' was also popular. 'Earth' increased by 60%, 'planet' by 50%, and 'energy' by 25% (though about a third of those were for things like energy drinks and supplements). People need to get it: Green products do not a green building make. 2008-05-23 n/a 11545 "More Big Changes Ahead Predicted for Green Building" Peter Yost gave a presentation at the NAHB National Green Building Conference in New Orleans last week. Nation's Building News ("The Official Online Weekly Newspaper of NAHB") has a nice piece on it. Excerpted:
In 1999, people didn't talk about carbon-neutral or zero-energy homes, and the American public was largely unconcerned about global warming. There were only 7,000 Energy Star-certified homes. Now, Yost said, there are more than 800,000. As green building moves into the mainstream, Yost forecasted even bigger changes ahead:
Read the article.
2008-05-22 n/a 11552 Preparing for the 2030 Challenge (AIA'08)
"Using case studies of recent high performance architecture, this session will identify key strategies required to increase sustainable methods to achieve zero carbon goals by the year 2030. The case studies examine design strategies and processes for the next generation of sustainable architecture, going beyond current best practices through synergistic approaches to bioclimatic site design, envelope, energy optimization, daylighting, passive and active systems, and materials." Presented by Terri Meyer Boake and Mary Guzowski; provided by the Society of Building Science Educators.
So... much... important... stuff... So... much... common sense... There were entirely too many open seats — but nearly the entire audience was paying rapt attention. It felt like a real victory. Just eighteen credit-chasers left during the summary slide. I counted. True to form, during Q&A, the room cleared — but the exodus started comparatively late. Listen. There's no way I can do this presentation justice, so I'm not going to try. Forgive me. Download the slide presentation. Look at the information from COTE at the AIA website; scroll down, follow the links. It's better for you this way.
2008-05-16 n/a 11553 Product Certifications, and Social Justice (AIA'08) Nadav Malin and Scot Horst offered up a great, head-twisting presentation about product certifications called "It's Certified Green But What Does That Mean?" to about 500 people. It covered all the territory in the EBN feature "Behind the Logos: Understanding Green Product Certifications" and more. There may have been some misunderstanding on the part of some attendees who only read the title, however, and not the program description: It sounded like it might have been about LEED certification rather than product certification. And the amount of information to process, even though they presented it in an engaging, conversational style, was voluminous — especially for the abject novice — bringing to light individual certification program histories, inconsistencies, and limitations in what was probably about the simplest way to do it, which was nonetheless hard to digest. Additionally, the sound in the conference center rooms is pingy, with a pronounced slapback echo. I say these things mostly to give the benefit of the doubt where it might be deserved. I outlined my theory about a largely disinterested AIA membership merely pursuing the required continuing education credits in the last two paragraphs of the "Legally Green" post. The same thing happened at this session: four-fifths fled when Q&A started. It's that remaining one-fifth that are the leaders of the (near) future.
^ shortly after the session began
^ immediately after Q&A began
But what gives me the right to gripe about the choices other people make? I left a session earlier in the day myself, about three-quarters of the way through. (I'm not an AIA member, though.) Called "Architecture and Human Rights: Shelter, Justice, and Ethics," it was a fine presentation to the half-full room — just not what I expected. The program description said, "The AIA Code of Ethics states, 'Architects should uphold human rights in all their professional endeavors.' But have we, or our projects, ever crossed the line? What needs to be done to fully deliver on the promise of universal human rights in the built environment? Can a building itself violate human rights? Speakers from architecture and legal organizations will consider the intersection of architecture practice and international norms of justice in today's increasingly complex world." Sounded great. And it did turn out to be just as described, but not quite the slant I thought was coming. The first speaker of three, Kathryn Tyler Prigmore, after a detailing what ethics are and where they come from, spoke to AIA's general ethical basis and member requirements, noting that the AIA Code of Ethics is about more than personal practice — it includes aesthetics, heritage, human rights, and civic responsibility. I was reminded of David Eisenberg's call for a Hippocratic corollary in architecture: that buildings should first do no harm. The guy in front of me, I noticed, was doing Sudoku. Second up was Chester Hartman, an urban planner. Not an architect, he pointed out. In what seemed to be a completely extemporaneous and slightly disjointed presentation, he gave an oral history of his deeds and studies. I had a hard time focusing — not understanding the points he was making, and not sure he was actually making any. He wrote something, he co-edited something, he studied something; he said that we've got to do something about housing stability, but didn't say what. He made a last point for a few minutes, then made another last point for a few minutes. Then he made a last point. When he finished, people applauded with some enthusiasm. I feel dopey, like I'd missed something. Chances are that I did. Shayana Kadidal, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, was a fast-talking, witty, and clearly brilliant guy involved in prisons — "mass incarceration facilities" — with an apparent specialty in isolation. He spoke to some history of prisonry (and the unexpected connection of isolation facilities to Quakers). He's involved in one of the Guantanamo lawsuits, and I slipped out when he started discussing that set of facilities. It's not that it wasn't interesting; it simply wasn't what I was after. And that probably should have been the best reason for me to stay.
2008-05-15 n/a 11555 AIA'08: The Exhibition Hall Now, having made that snarky comment about white guys in a previous post (for the record, I'm a white guy), I should say that the conference itself has a very nicely diverse attendance. Walking the trade show floor, you're surrounded by a range of ages, what seems like an almost even mix of sexes, and a good variety of ancestries. And not everybody is dressed in fashionable black with high-tone glasses. I was talking with Jim Newman about it, and he said that most conference attendees are actually from small firms, which have a greater diversity. (So, in the monstrous exhibition hall, it seems we have mostly big manufacturers and suppliers trying to sell mostly high-end wares to mostly small architectural concerns.) I haven't made it through much of the hall yet. I just attended a session — more on that later — and am about to head to another, co-presented by Nadav Malin. Here's the BuildingGreen booth in action:

2008-05-15 n/a 11556 Legally Green — Legal and Practice Issues of LEED (AIA'08) This morning began (for me) with a 7:00 (early!) session called "Legally Green: Legal and Practice Issues of LEED," presented by Betsy del Monte and William Quatman. The room had a capacity approaching 400, and got close to filling up. Betsy's presentation was, for the most part, understandably basic. The big majority of the audience, by show of hands, had not worked on a LEED certified project, or a LEED certifiable project, and were not LEED APs. They were there for continuing education. More on that shortly. Betsy's take on legislation and owner requirements for buildings to be LEED certifiable, but not certified, falls just a bit short. She noted that the cost difference between a certifiable project and a certified one is marginal at best... and that when somebody says that they saved hundreds of thousands of dollars by not pursuing actual certification, it means that they almost certainly did not build a certifiable building. According to Betsy, USGBC fees are the smallest amount of the increased costs of a certifiable building. Bill's part of the presentation addressed the potential legal concerns facing architects that are working in the greenstream. There was quite a bit made of the fact that the AIA's policies, contracts, and code of ethics all demand — not just support — sustainability and environmental proactivity by its members. (He admitted that the bar is sometimes pretty low, however.) He presented research showing that 83% of designers feel that they have a responsibility to present green options to their clients — but that only 17% actually do it. Does this constitute negligence? — "conduct below the professional standard of care"? If green is a requirement of practice, and you don't do it, are you negligent? He asked if having LEED APs on staff raises the bar. Does it represent expertise? Does citing performance standards and LEED AP credentials in your marketing imply a warranty that can create potential liability? With green building increasingly being required by legislation, new liabilities arise. "Strict Liability" means that if legislated requirements aren't met, a jury isn't needed to convict you (as opposed to "Negligence Per Se.") If a statute requiring LEED certifiability isn't achieved, you're guilty. No trial needed. He noted that a CD can be requested from the AIA Trust that contains all the information he covered. Now, about the continuing education thing: It's a requisite part of AIA membership, and AIA members get continuing education credits for attending these sessions. It's a good thing when a professional organization demands that its members stay abreast of their field. But I was disappointed to see all but about 40 people stampede for the door when Q&A started. It begged the unasked question: Were they only here for the continuing ed credits? To put in their minimum requirement? The people who stayed were deeply engaged — leaning forward in their seats, taking notes, participating. They are the future, and they give me hope. 2008-05-15 n/a 11557 AIA Convention 2008: Boston I came to Boston yesterday, giving myself plenty of time to check in at the sprawling Boston Convention and Exhibition Center (BCEC) for this year's AIA National Convention before heading out — pretty much cluelessly — to get a closer look at this historic city. I'd been tipped off that the Freedom Trail, a walking tour following a thin red line that ties together many historic sites in town, was a good thing to do. The convention center is just several blocks from downtown, so I figured if I walked toward the big buildings I'd find the trail eventually. And eventually, I found myself at Boston Common and picked it up. The city's buildings are an interesting mix of old and new. There were a lot of white guys hurrying past all the history, jockeying for position to photograph seemingly any building with a glass facade. They all looked pretty much alike to me — the photographers and the photographed. I know not all architects are about the modern, but there is a deserved reputation. And there were lots of kids on disorganized school outings, laughing and pushing, all taking pictures of the same things their friends were, from the same spots, one after the other. I followed the Freedom Trail line — gawking at fabulous old buildings, statues, streets, gravestones, to the sound of urban traffic and squealing girls. Misplacing the trail as I wandered, I ended up in one of those big "B" bookstores — Barnes and Noble, B Dalton, Borders — again, they all look pretty much alike, but this one was in one of the old buildings. Great on the outside, so-so on the inside. I struck up a conversation with one of the clerks, who enthusiastically started listing nearby buildings on the periphery of salvation... not historic enough to be obviously worth preservation, and facing demolition. This guy, I liked. I got to sleep later than I'd hoped — I'm on quadruple-duty: sessions for Environmental Building News, the trade show for GreenSpec, all the bits for LIVE, and it turns out that the products section of the next issue of GreenSource (I'm the products editor) needs last-minute attention. How will it all end? (And when?) 2008-05-15 n/a 11560 The Unconference If I could adopt a conference, it would be the USGBC Cascadia chapter's Living Future 'Unconference'. As someone who generally prefers to stay behind the scenes talking shop, it was a delight to find myself surrounded primarily by the obsessed of the green building world. Even better, as presenters we were encouraged to bring our own big challenges to the table and get attendees to help us address them — which is exactly what we and many other presenters did. (More about that later, I hope.) First, this is the only conference I've been to where I left with less stuff than I started with! Yes, you could buy a conference T-shirt (lovely, organic, low-impact dyes, made in the USA), and I did get some green building playing cards, but there was no bag full of conference papers and booth swag. Instead, at registration we were each given a paper nametag and a single tri-fold with the conference schedule. For details, you had to wrest control of one of two computers hooked up to a screen set to scroll through sessions. I, of course, lost my tri-fold, and there didn't appear to be any spares. Paul Hawken's keynote speech set the tone for the conference with kudos, encouragement, and warning for the audience; kudos for the work going on to transform the world for the better, encouragement that we are not alone (visually demonstrated with an endless scrolling list of nonprofits that can, by the way, all be found on WiserEarth) and a warning of radical changes to come that'll put green practitioners on the front-lines. "I just want to caution you. I think your star may rise faster than you'd want it to... I'm not saying this to flatter you. I'm saying this to warn you." Jason McLennan's talk after breakfast on Day One got down and dirty with a no-holds-barred discussion on shit. Really. This wasn't the euphemistically delicate "waste-equals-food" conversation, but a tell-it-like-it-is that we need to better handle our own wastes, followed by an equally blunt rallying cry to those of us in the industry to get out our ideas out there "three-quarters baked" because we don't have time to make things perfect. This conference was not for the faint of heart. The hour set aside for "15 minutes of brilliance" was a delightful twist. With echoes of TED, this was a platform for "innovative ideas both big, and small with big consequences." I was pleased to see district energy covered, and delighted by a tiny comic called LUZ about a little girl awakening to peak oil. Another great one: David Eisenberg's idea of getting insurance agents to include a building's contribution to climate change in pricing premiums. If implemented in concert this could change the game fast. (OK, so that wasn't one of the presentations... but in the session on Big Barriers: Financing and Codes, Eisenberg mentioned that he wished he'd submitted the idea — and in deference to a great idea from a long time master change agent, I had to put it up here.) Major themes: the interconnectedness of issues, the need to really scale up fast, and as noted in the DJC's much longer real-time blog on Living Future: "It seems everybody, in sessions or personal encounters, is repeating the main message: things are changing quick, we need to help facilitate that and we need to be prepared for a new world."
UPDATE, 5/21/08: Notes from the Living Future session "Be a Product Detective: Sleuthing the Truth About Building Materials"

What do experienced practitioners want to know about green products? What questions aren't being answered? Where do you actually get green products? What would the ultimate evaluation tool look like? What product improvements would make the biggest change overall? What is key for real market transformation? Each of these questions formed the core of a lively small-group discussion that took about half of the two hour session. The first part of the session was a rapid-fire overview of issues relating to assessing products — targeted for an advanced audience, which was what we had. Presenters: Tom Lent, HBN; Eden Brukman, CascadiaGBC; and me. We had a delightfully engaged group but now it seems so long ago that it is a little hard to get back into, even though the issues discussed are still the basis of much of my work. The report-back flip-charts don't do justice to the conversations, but they're here for the record — and because I promised to get them on LIVE (finally):

What's my Question/Issue? (these questions were asked in a brainstorm in the beginning of the session)
  • Cabinet materials: what is in these products — how do I trust manufacturer info?
  • Assessing competing claims
  • Shipping impacts? How to evaluate learning about toxics beyond the common culprits and what new hazards are in replacements?
  • Whether LBC red list is comprehensive?
  • What is the govt. role via regulation?
  • Rating system for products?
  • Finding alternatives — for example PVC: how to find them?
  • ACTUAL alternatives not hypothetical ones
  • Weighing performance with other green attributes
  • Social implications of products (e.g. Chinese granite) and other elements not transparent?
What is not being answered?
  • EOL
  • Do you really need it?
  • Cradle to Gate understanding
What product improvements would make the biggest change?
  • Fundamental building blocks: concrete, steel, fenestration/windows
  • Bioproducts; wood, ag-fiber etc.
  • PV, Clean Energy! — thin films, etc.
Sourcing — how do you find stuff?
  • What IS the stuff?
  • BuildingGreen, HBN,...
  • Contractors: It's their job to find the stuff, help them (and spec it)
  • Colleagues, coworkers...
Keys to Market Transformation
  • Big organizations with clout and buying power can TASK manufacturers with creating new products according to green specs!
  • Create a forum inviting manufacturers and others to discuss how to provide what we're looking for — to set up the competition
  • Spread the word! The ripple effect works; talk to customers, educate!
Addressing Durability
  • What's the objective?? Replacability? Durability? (It may be that low-impact replacability is what we're really after)
  • Performance, more than durability, is the issue
  • Change the paradigm — not just quick obsolescence
What is the ideal product?
  • Using nature in lodging...(biomimicry)
  • Highest and best use for each situation (not generic)
  • How can you make a decision without consumption?
  • Redefine goals to avoid consumption
What is the ultimate evaluation tool?
  • Transparency
  • Documentation > show your work!
  • Should the tool give info — or a value judgement?
  • Comprehensive
  • Visual! (pharos, ingredient label)
  • Q: 3rd party vs. public verification?
2008-05-06 n/a 11524 Green Buildings and Infrastructure Are Half the Solution "Green buildings have captured the imagination of many in the mainstream, but for green professionals the time has come to stop designing for mere energy efficiency and start designing to regenerate and restore. And that means taking responsibility for what people do in buildings and communities after they are built." — Also from the website:
  1. Communities are people, not buildings.
  2. Communities will change when the people living in them change.
  3. At least half of human impact on the planet comes from our lifestyles — the choices we make every day. Where, and how, we travel. What we eat. What we wear. The stuff we buy, and how we get rid of that stuff when we're done with it.
  4. These lifestyle choices are not made in a vacuum. They are made in communities, and are indelibly influenced by community design and buildings.
  5. The way we've designed our cities and buildings in the past has created a template for living that most people follow without much thought, and that template makes it very inconvenient to live sustainably.
  6. Those of us who create and run the places we live in have tremendous influence to change this template, and and to make it easier for people to change their lifestyles.
  7. Some of us have been pre-occupied with making buildings, streets, and infrastructure that use building materials, water, and energy in smarter ways. We call ourselves "green professionals." We call our movement the "green building movement." But we now recognize that the biggest problems are fundamentally social ones.
  8. Since buildings and technology represent only half of the problem and half of the solution, clearly the present green building movement doesn't go far enough.
  9. All across our cities, entrepreneurs and environmental groups are emerging with solutions to specific challenges of our unsustainable lifestyles — car-sharing companies, local food advocates, re-use innovators. But most of these green lifestyle initiatives are not joined up with the green building movement, or each other.
  10. We urgently need an umbrella movement that will bring us all together to design, build, and operate truly sustainable communities with intent. The time has come to apply the vast ingenuity of the green building movement to making green lifestyles just as convenient as "grey lifestyles." The time has come to broaden our design teams, to bring green lifestyle experts to the table.
  11. We cannot wait for someone else to bring us all together. We are the ones we have been waiting for.
Read more. Take the pledge. Participate.

2008-04-30 n/a 11535 NYT asks, ''How 'Green' Can a Huge House Be?''
"Can a four-level house with a three-car garage and a kitchen full of energy-hungry Sub-Zero and Wolf appliances truly qualify as a model of environmental responsibility?
Photo by Douglas Healey
for The New York Times
NRDC is trying to prove that it can, by applying for LEED certification."
NRDC?! The Natural Resources Defense Council?! Say it ain't so! It ain't so. This NRDC is NRDC Residential — a division of the National Realty and Development Corporation. Read the article in the New York Times.
2008-04-06 n/a 11510 Seeking the City: Visionaries on the Margins The 96th annual meeting of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) starts today in Houston, TX, and continues for the next three days. Chances are good that you're not there. Neither am I. However, the conference proceedings — a tome titled Seeking the City: Visionaries on the Margins — is available. Now. To anybody. All 976 pages. Free. There's a lot here to be interested in... from "Traveling Professions: How Local Contingencies Complicate Globalizing Tendencies in the Standardization of Architectural Practice" (which not a few of us probably think is a good thing), to "Freeze / Thaw: A Menacing Line and Humble Resistance," by way of "Architecture and the Cinematic Window: Hitchcock's Rear Window and the Fantasy Frame." I haven't read it all. I think I can safely say that I'm not going to. But I've been happily picking and choosing my way through this big collection of unexpectedly diverse five- to ten-page papers, and it seems like there's going to be something rewarding, or at least sort of interesting, for just about everyone. 2008-03-27 n/a 11521 Photovoltaics more expensive lately... but still green The current issue of Environmental Building News reports that PV prices have been going up, reversing the declining cost trend of previous years. Seems to be due to a combination of demand exceeding supply coupled with polysilicon shortages. But PV is still part of the good answer. A few days ago, a report titled Emissions from Photovoltaic Life Cycles was released, authored by representatives from the PV Environmental Research Center of Brookhaven National Laboratory (New York), the Center for Life Cycle Analysis of Columbia University (New York), and the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development of Utrecht University (The Netherlands). From the abstract:
"Based on PV production data of 2004–2006, this study presents the life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions, criteria pollutant emissions, and heavy metal emissions from four types of major commercial PV systems... Overall, all PV technologies generate far less life-cycle air emissions per GWh than conventional fossil-fuel-based electricity generation technologies."
For more, see Low Emissions, Quick Energy Payback for Thin-Film PV.
2008-03-10 n/a 11522 Home Green Home There are a growing number of green-product retailers, both online and in storefronts. We list some of those with a specialty focus in GreenSpec, but there are so many more popping up all the time. I visited one last weekend that's quite something — Home Green Home, in Ithaca, NY. While most green retailers are either boutique shops with small, unique items, or building supply outlets offering wall finishes, insulation, and sustainable-construction hard goods, Home Green Home has taken a more encompassing approach. "We try to cover every room in the house, including the garage and the patio," founder Joe Nolan said. The range of merchandise displayed in the large, spotless retail space extends from natural paints to locally-made quality furniture to nontoxic cleaning products to organic mattresses. Deliberate care is taken to offer the most deeply green options.
The seed for Home Green Home took root after Joe and Michelle Nolan built their beautiful, code-approved, timber-framed, straw-bale-insulated house a few years ago using local, salvaged, and earth-friendly materials and finishes. People were interested... came in droves to check it out... and were inspired and motivated by the possibilities they saw. A vision formed to provide the benefit of the all the research the Nolans poured into their own choices and actions, making it easier for others to implement the same sorts of green changes in their lives now.
The retail space itself is a showcase for the products and techniques available, from the RetroPlate-rehabbed structure-as-finish existing concrete floor, to the clay paints on the walls and ceiling (Green Planet clay paints have been approved for GreenSpec, but the listing hasn't been drafted yet); from the displays and fixtures created by local craftspeople out of reclaimed wood (including shutters and doors), to the weathered steel roofing repurposed as a decorative finish element.
They will ship goods if people don't have a more local source available, but they've so far chosen to not implement ecommerce, Joe said. "People can call us up and we'll put a human interface on it — talk to them about what their needs are and the best way to meet them."
2008-03-06 n/a 11475 USGBC co-sponsors Face It webcast Press release:
U.S. Green Building Council to Co-Sponsor Nationwide Carbon Webcast Focusing on Global Climate Change Face It Webcast to be Broadcast Live at 9:00 AM on January 30, 2008 Washington, DC (January 28, 2008) — The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) will co-sponsor a nationwide webcast on climate change, called Face It, hosted by Architecture 2030, a research organization that focuses on the role of buildings in global climate change. The educational webcast will cover Architecture 2030's approach to halt global warming and will unveil two new student competitions worth a total of $20,000 in prize money. "Buildings account for 39% of all CO2 emissions in the U.S., and building green is an immediate and measurable solution to mitigating climate change," said Michelle Moore, Senior Vice President of Policy & Public Affairs, USGBC. "Educating the construction leaders of tomorrow is a core part of USGBC's mission, and our support of Architecture 2030 in this essential webcast is a critical part of that." The Face It webcast will be broadcast live at at 9:00 AM EST on January 30, 2008, with video available later for download on the site. This webcast kicks off the Focus the Nation simultaneous educational symposia to be held across the country on January 31, 2008. Focus the Nation is a national effort to engage students, faculty, administrators, citizens and government officials in discussions to address global warming.
In addition to sponsoring the Face It webcast, USGBC is hosting a series of online Carbon Reduction educational seminars aimed at assisting building industry professionals and business and organizational leaders who want to reduce the carbon footprint of their building projects or organizations. USGBC is partnering with climate change experts including the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, World Resources Institute, and CTG Energetics, Inc., and media partner Stamats Commercial Buildings Group to bring the series to computers across the world. To register for a Webinar, visit The online Carbon Reduction educational seminars are part of USGBC's eight-step agenda on climate change that was announced in late 2006:
  • The 50% CO2 reduction goal — All new commercial LEED projects are required to reduce CO2 emissions by 50% when compared with current emission levels.
  • Increased energy reduction prerequisites in LEED — All LEED projects must achieve at least two energy and optimization credits.
  • Implementation of a carbon dioxide offset program — This program is currently under third-party review with the anticipated launch of a pilot program in spring 2008.
  • Continuous process improvement incentives — All LEED for New Construction and LEED for Core and Shell buildings that reach certification are automatically (at no cost) registered for LEED for Existing Buildings.
  • Pushing the envelope on performance — Certification fees are now rebated for LEED-Platinum buildings.
  • A carbon-neutral USGBC, which was achieved at year-end 2007.
  • Portfolio Performance Program — The long-term goal of this program is to recognize companies for high environmental performance across their portfolios.
### About USGBC The U.S. Green Building Council is a nonprofit membership organization whose vision is a sustainable built environment within a generation. Its membership includes corporations, builders, universities, government agencies, and other nonprofit organizations. Since UGSBC's founding in 1993, the Council has grown to more than 13,000 member companies and organizations, a comprehensive family of LEED green building rating systems, an expansive educational offering, the industry's popular Greenbuild International Conference and Expo (, and a network of 72 local chapters, affiliates, and organizing groups. For more information, visit
2008-01-28 n/a 11482 Hot Topics for Green Gurus Notes from BuildingGreen's breakfast gathering at Greenbuild for partners and Sustainable Design Directors from forward-thinking firms around the U.S.
    Overarching Issues
    Several topics seemed to permeate the conversations among all of the breakfast attendees.
    • Expanding the Reach of Green Design: Many attendees discussed how to get green design skills into the hands of more people in their firm, or how to bring these ideas to their interior designers, or even how to how to make relevant green product information available to their Asian-based design teams.
    • Understanding Building Performance: This topic came up in several forms throughout breakfast. The contexts ranged from defining what metrics to track to how to share project performance information within each firm and among firms. Everyone was interested in learning how to tell when they'd gotten it right.
    • Meeting the Architecture 2030 Challenge: This was the topic that we at BuildingGreen had brought to the breakfast, following pre-breakfast conversations with Charles Brown of sfL+a Architects and Kathy Wardle of Perkins + Will. The topic seemed to resonate on many levels with all of the breakfast attendees.
2008-01-15 n/a 11484 Green Building Certification Institute Back on November 5, Nadav Malin posted here about "the imminent creation of the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI)." The USGBC is now distributing the following press release:
LEED AP Credential Now Administered Through Over the last seven years, the LEED Professional Accreditation program has verified that more than 43,000 building professionals have an understanding of green building techniques, the LEED® Green Building Rating System? and the certification process. Now, with USGBC's enthusiastic backing, the LEED AP credential will be administered by a separately incorporated organization, the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI). The formation of GBCI creates administrative independence between the LEED Rating Systems and the LEED AP credential — an important requirement in seeking accreditation for professional credentialing programs by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). USGBC will continue to handle development of the LEED Rating Systems and offer LEED-based education programs. GBCI will manage all aspects of the LEED Professional Accreditation program including exam development, registration and delivery. Nothing will change for LEED Accredited Professionals except that the LEED AP Directory listing can now be updated at the GBCI Web site, is also the place to learn about LEED Professional Accreditation, register for the LEED AP Exam, find LEED Accredited Professionals in your area, and access your LEED AP exam records. Visit GBCI today!
2008-01-14 n/a 11488 Fail early, fail often, and other riffs from Bruce Sterling "There's one thing worse than being young and full of stormy tantrums, and that's being old and backward-looking and crotchety." So said Bruce Sterling (author, thinker, critic, doer) in this year's annual rollicking and roving discussion of the state of the world at The Well — the still-kicking "Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link" founded by Stewart Brand and Larry Brilliant in 1985 (more than 20 years ago!) for the writers and readers of the seminal, sadly defunct Whole Earth Review. Among much else, Bruce is the instigator of the Viridian design movement, described as a confluence of "environmental design, techno-progressivism, and global citizenship," from which grew the popular Worldchanging website, and more recently, book of the same name. The turn-of-the-year conversation is still unfolding. A freewheeling email discussion presented chronologically, it can be slightly trying to follow — but the thoughtful, informed, witty participants make it so worth the effort. After the jump, I've excised some quotes from Bruce Sterling that range from insightful to wry to what some might find abrasive, depressing, and contrary. It was not only difficult to choose which to include here, but also took strength limiting myself to just the "headliner." There's a lot of thought-provoking material throughout from others. Thanks to the lovely and brainy-hilarious Jeanine Sih Christensen of for reminding me of this once-a-year treat. The following quotes are from Bruce Sterling from the 2008 State of the World exchange on The Well. I've added referential links for your convenience.
There's stuff going on that's "moving forward," like, say, LEED ratings and legislative requirements for green energy, and then there's stuff that claims itself to be "progressive," but is basically Lysenkoist, since it doesn't want to submit itself to any standard of objective proof. Well, I say that hairshirt-green stuff fails to innovate. I say that it's corny and it's retrograde, and it's inherently corny and retrograde because its approach to society and technology is mistaken, wrong-headed, dogmatic and poorly thought-through. I say that its smallness is too small. Its appropriateness is inappropriate. It has failed like the Arts and Crafts Movement failed. No, it failed worse than Arts and Crafts; it failed like the communal movement and the Human Potential Movement and the League of Spiritual Discovery failed. As a design critic, I can't claim anything else with honesty. Thirty-eight years after Earth Day, the facts on the ground speak for themselves. I'd never claim that Hairshirt Green was as violently pernicious as the Great Leap Forward or Muslim fundamentalism, but there's just not a lot of there there. It doesn't work.
Quoting Kim Stanley Robinson:
Well, at the end of the 1960s and through the 70s, what we thought — and this is particularly true in architecture and design terms — was: OK, given these new possibilities for new and different ways of being, how do we design it? What happens in architecture? What happens in urban design? As a result of these questions there came into being a big body of utopian design literature that's now mostly obsolete and out of print, which had no notion that the Reagan-Thatcher counter-revolution was going to hit. Books like Progress As If Survival Mattered, Small Is Beautiful, Muddling Toward Frugality, The Integral Urban House, Design for the Real World, A Pattern Language, and so on. I had a whole shelf of those books. Their tech is now mostly obsolete, superceded by more sophisticated tech, but the ideas behind them, and the idea of appropriate technology and alternative design: that needs to come back big time.
I had all those books on my shelf, too. And yeah, their tech is obsolete. And that's not a bug, that's a feature. It's a feature of hairshirt-green thinking. It's not that Thatcher and Reagan killed green technology; Reagan and Thatcher scarcely had an idea in their heads. It's that this kind of design was bad design. If you focus "progress" squarely on "survival," it's like rising from bed thinking, "Boy, I better make sure I somehow manage to get to the end of this day." It immediately bleaches all the whimsy and serendipity out of industrial development. It's stupefying to be always conscientious. That is not how alternative technologies and new ways of life are successfully generated. It's certainly not how good design happens. Mindful design bears the relationship to actual design that a socialist allocation depot bears to a laboratory. If you're serious about design, you can't quote Ruskin and try to build Gothic cathedrals in your tiny arts and crafts atelier. You've gotta prototype stuff, fail early, fail often, and build scalability into it so that, if you have a hit, you can actually have a big hit. A success as large as the problem. If your point is to live in an ashram because you oppose materialism, that's your prerogative, but that is not industrialism, that is spirituality. You could do that tomorrow. Go ahead. You won't be the first to try it and you won't be the first to quit, either. If you think it's great to totter around breathing shallowly and accomplishing as little as possible, you ought to go befriend somebody who's ninety. Eventually, that's what you will get. You will have a very strictly delimited life where taking a hot bath is a major enterprise. And shortly after that you'll be dead, and there is nobody so "green" as the dead. Practically every moral virtue delineated in those books was better accomplished by a dead person than a live person. So it was no way to live. And nobody lived that way.
I love the fringes of society, but, as great designer Henry Dreyfuss used to say, the best way to get three good ideas is to brainstorm a hundred weird ideas and kill off 97 of them. And we need to get used to that process, and not, say, shut down Silicon Valley because there are too many start-ups there wasting Microsoft's valuable resources. We really do need to learn to generate lots of prototypes, throw 'em at the wall, search them, sort them, rank them, critique them, and blow the best ones into global-scale proportions at high speed. That's what our contemporary civilization is really good at, and it is simply beyond the imagination of the 1960s. If there's hope, it's in the facts. It's not in faith.
To me, "sustainability" means a situation in which your descendants are able to confront their own problems, rather than the ones you exported to them. If people a hundred years from now are soberly engaged with phenomena we have no nouns and verbs for, I think that's a victory condition. On the other hand, if they're thumbing through 1960s Small World paperbacks and saying "thank goodness we've finally managed to pare our lives back exclusively to soybeans and bamboo," well, that's not the end of the world, but it's about as appealing as a future global takeover by the Amish. Give me the computronium problems; at least I can get out of bed and not have to mimic every move my grandpa made.
I sincerely don't think the American population is as mentally frail as everybody in the American population seems to think the American population is... I never heard any American sincerely say that their life would end if they lacked an SUV and a McMansion. Those are fashionable possessions in some circles, but they're not entirely necessary to American self-esteem. Big junkola cars and tract homes are actually something of a hayseed lower-middle-class possession. Genuinely rich Americans are vastly more interested in immaterial stuff like stock options and boardroom positions than they are in big burly vehicles. The SUV-critique thing is more like bohemians dismissing the straight-life than it is a principle of consumer behavior. If you go to the Davos Forum you don't meet a traffic jam of SUVs. You do see a traffic jam of sunglassed bodyguards and elegant, multi-lingual mistresses clad in Gucci, but not a lot of, you know, big Winnebagos. If civilization cracks, it's gonna be because something really cracks it, not because it's really scary to talk about terror and loss.
Serious-minded people everywhere do know they have to deal with the resource crisis and the climate crisis. Because the world-machine's backfiring and puffing smoke. Joe and Jane Sixpack are looking at four-dollar milk and five-dollar gas. It's hurting and it's scary and there's no way out of it but through it. Everybody's reluctant to budge because they sense, probably correctly, that they have to wade through a torrent of mud, blood, sweat, and tears. Maybe, then, they emerge into the relatively sunlit uplands of something closer to sustainability. So: I don't expect too much to happen in 2008: except for that intensified smell of burning as people's feet are held to the fire.

2008-01-07 n/a 11489 Face It: the 2030 Challenge moving forward I mentioned this in passing the other day, but it deserves to be given more attention. Following up on its February 2007 webcast, "The 2010 Imperative Global Emergency Teach-in" that reached an audience of a quarter-million to illuminate the role of building design education in global warming, Architecture 2030 — the non-profit research organization founded by Ed Mazria — will host a free 30-minute webcast at 9 am (EST) on January 30 to present the next steps forward. Called "Face It," the presentation — the first of several events planned for 2008 — will address not just energy demand, but also energy supply, as "the heart of global warming," and what to do about it. Additionally, two student graphic design and video competitions offering $20,000 in prize money will be announced. The 2030 Challenge issued by Architecture 2030 is to reduce the fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions of all new and renovated buildings by half by 2010 — and that all new buildings should be carbon neutral by 2030. The Challenge has been adopted and supported by the US Conference of Mayors, AIA, National Association of Counties, USGBC, California Public Utilities Commission, California Energy Commission, EPA's Target Finder, many individual cities, counties, and states, as well as architectural firms and other professional entities. Notably, the federal government will require these energy reduction targets for all new and renovated federal buildings beginning in 2008. 2008-01-04 n/a 11490 Beyond LEED An interesting conversation about what lies beyond LEED has been happening over the last few days on the Big Green email list. Some excerpts of the exchange follow. (I've done some editing, and added links. Check the December '07 and January '08 Big Green archives for the complete, unedited exchange.)
  • We have a project where the client is asking us to measure the sustainable aspects of their project beyond the LEED rating system. I'm very familiar with the Living Building Challenge but unfortunately they don't meet the Limits to Growth pre-requisite. I'm interested in hearing other people's experiences and recommendations of using other rating systems — international or domestic.
       —Gail Borthwick, AIA, LEED AP; Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture; Chicago
  • While the Living Building Challenge is a tool with no credits and 16 prerequisites, it can still be used as a benchmark. Consider the benchmarking process as acquiring as many of the petals (page 5 of version 1.2) as possible.
       —Peter Dobrovolny, Commercial Expert, Green Building Program, Seattle Dept. of Planning and Development; LEED A.P., AIA, APA
  • You can always use LEED as the benchmark and go beyond it. You can add the Living Building Challenge to it and strive to meet whatever parts of it you can. To go along with their Living Building Challenge the Cascadia Chapter of the USGBC has also developed a green communities challenge. Meeting LEED plus as many of the prerequisites of the Living Building Challenge is a great next step. The next step in going beyond restorative and living buildings is to design regenerative buildings. As of yet I have not seen a codified system (like LEED is) that benchmarks a regenerative building.
       —Ralph Bicknese, AIA, LEED AP; Principal, Hellmuth + Bicknese Architects; St. Louis, MO
  • I found that NYC has guidelines that go beyond LEED with their "High Performance Building Guidelines" document. Otherwise I have not come across a system that is truly integrative/regenerative of the myriad environmental issues affecting building/site design and construction. This link has a few more useful NYC Documents.
       —Jonathan M. Miller, architect; FCSI, CCS, CCCA, SCIP, AIA, NCARB; Specification Consultant
  • Also well beyond LEED, in NYC see 'Green Schools Guide', required by Local Law 86 for green construction and linked to the NYC schools $13.2 billion five-year capital plan. Also see NY-CHPS.
       —Claire Barnett
  • How about keeping the building sustainable after it's built? This is where the Building Intelligence Quotient rating system developed for the Continental Automated Buildings Association compliments LEED, Green Globes, and Energy Star ratings.
       —David Katz; Sustainable Resources Management Inc., Sustainable Environmental Solutions Inc.; Toronto Ontario
  • In Australia, the Green Building Council has an Office Existing Building tool in PILOT phase that measures an existing building's overall environmental performance. Another well known tool in Australia is NABERS, for commercial and residential. Finally, just looking at energy usage in existing buildings, ABGR (Australian Building Greenhouse Rating) rates buildings on the emissions they produce as a product of the amount of energy they consume.
       —Joe Karten, LEED AP, Green Star AP;
Google the phrase "beyond LEED" for more thought-provoking reading (and a few duds)...
2008-01-04 n/a 11492 Product Certifications and Ratings Systems... it's all so gooey The GreenSpec team is regularly contacted by manufacturers and their marketers asking how to get products "certified as green." The question itself reveals one of two things: that they either haven't done any work yet to understand what it is they're actually asking... or that they have. In the first case, good on 'em for looking into it. (Although getting the question as often as we do can be frustrating, it's a big compliment to be recognized as the go-to people.) In the second case, the overall state of certifications and ratings systems is revealed as a commingled muck that's as confusing to manufacturers as it is to everyone else. Environmental Building News to the rescue. The current feature, "Behind the Logos: Understanding Green Product Certifications," identifies over two dozen of the most active of these programs and provides brief synopses — a great general reference, and a launching pad for additional research. Then it goes further, taking a look at where these programs are going... or should be going. BuildingGreen's brilliant researcher director, Jennifer Atlee, along with EBN managing editor Tristan Korthals Altes, pulled this must-read piece together. If nothing else, at least look at the sidebar "How to Use Green Product Certifications." Further:
Related articles from
Building Materials: What Makes a Product Green?
How do products get listed in GreenSpec?
2008-01-02 n/a 11464 100 percent energy use reduction for federal government buildings — which will be hosting a 2010 Imperative webcast at the end of January — was righteously stoked when the "Energy Independence and Security Act" was signed into law the other day. From their email bulletin:
The President signs Energy Bill containing The 2030 Challenge targets After being passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives, the Energy Independence and Security Act became law yesterday with the President's signature. Section 433 of this bill requires that all federal buildings meet the energy performance standards of The 2030 Challenge. The key passage in this section states that:
buildings shall be designed so that the fossil fuel-generated energy consumption of the buildings is reduced, as compared with such energy consumption by a similar building in fiscal year 2003 (as measured by Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey or Residential Energy Consumption Survey data from the Energy Information Agency), by the percentage specified in the following table:
  Fiscal Year    Percentage Reduction  
To view Section 433 of the bill, click here and search for "Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007".
The News Page is worth bookmarking. You can also subscribe to their free email news distribution.
2007-12-21 n/a 11467 Notes from Sweden #3: The Scandinavian Green Roof Institute in Malmo

[Clicking an image in this post will load a larger version of the image. A slideshow of the images in this post, and more, is also available. Previous posts in the "Notes from Sweden" series include #1: How They Get Around, and #2: Western Harbor in Malmo.]On a wide-ranging tour of interesting projects, programs, and companies in the Skåne region of Sweden this past Monday, we visited the Scandinavian Green Roof Institute in Malmo. It's a fascinating project in an equally fascinating neighborhood in this very green city.

At Augustenborg's Botanical Roof Garden, there are wonderful displays of different roof planting options

A small vertical panel showing a variety of sedums

The institute is a centerpoint of the Augustenborg neighborhood. This neighborhood of affordable housing was created in the late 1940s in a depressed part of Malmo with an unemployment rate of about 65%. The multifamily housing units were quite modern in their day, but deteriorated over the years. Efforts to retrofit them for energy conservation in the 1970s and '80s caused moisture damage, and flooding has been a frequent problem in the low-lying area. In the 1990s, two local political and business leaders in Malmo began an effort to rejuvenate the neighborhood, and they centered the effort around the emerging concept of green (vegetated) roofs. Augustenborg's Botanical Roof Garden project was launched in 1998, and the roof garden construction began in May, 1999. This is the world's first demonstration roof garden, according to superintendent Louise Lundberg, whom we met with.

Louise Lundberg shows off the mat of an extensive green roof; in the background is a decorative green roof pattern

The sprawling green roofs cover about 9,000 square meters (nearly 100,000 square feet) of roof on industrial buildings and maintenance garages owned by the City of Malmo. Here, they are demonstrating green roof construction systems, stormwater management practices, living roof horticultural practices, and wildlife habitat types. The facility — and the Scandinavian Green Roof Institute that manages it — promote such benefits as stormwater runoff reduction, traffic noise reduction, energy savings, human health and productivity improvements, extended life of roof membranes, and bringing greater biodiversity into cities. (For background on green roofs, see EBN Vol. 10, No. 11.)

A portion of the Botanical Roof Garden is an "intensive roof," which has significantly deeper planting media than an "extensive roof"

The recycling Center in Augustenborg (foreground) also has a green roof - in this case on a pitched roof

Along one section of building supporting the demo green roof, PV panels are used as shades above windows - the PV panels are partially translucent, transmitting about 10% of the sunlight; note the solar-thermal panels on the garage building in the background

Even this birdhouse has a green roof!

During our visit, we bought some honey that is produced from beehives situated on a portion of the green roof. They also grow herbs and some vegetables, though most of the roof areas are planted to sedums. For more on the Augustenborg Botanical Roof Garden and the Scandinavian Green Roof Association, visit their website. — Alex Wilson, Malmo, Sweden, 12 December 2007

2007-12-12 n/a 11468 Notes from Sweden #2: Western Harbor in Malmo

[Clicking an image in this post will load a larger version of the image. A slideshow of the images in this post, and more, is also available. Previous posts in the "Notes from Sweden" series include #1: How They Get Around.] It's enough to make architects go weak at the knees. I'm not an architect, but wandering around Malmo's Western Harbor (Vaestra Hamnen), I can imagine my architect friends going bananas about these buildings — many of which were designed and built through an architectural competition that attracted many top architects. Overlooking the area is the remarkable 190-meter (630-foot) Turning Torso building designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. I'm usually not so taken by architectural statement buildings, but one could literally spend hours gazing up at this twisting spire with its exposed exoskeleton on one side. Its appearance changes dramatically as one wanders around the building and views it from different angles.

Santiago Calatrava's 190-meter Turning Torso building in Malmo, Sweden

Turning Torso building — looking up

The Turning Torso seen behind some modern homes in the Western Harbor area

Another view of the Turning Torso

But even more exciting to me is the sustainability overlay for the entire Western Harbor region. My daughter Lillian and I were brought down here on a windy, drizzly Sunday afternoon by my host, Stellan. He's a lawyer in Lund, the brother-in-law of a good friend in Brattleboro. He showed us around not because of the green characteristics of Western Harbor, but because of the vibrancy of the area. It just exudes diversity, innovation, and high design — and has become a real draw for people from throughout southern Sweden. Then yesterday — Monday — Lillian and I returned with an associate of my Brattleboro friend, who had arranged several visits during a day-long sustainability tour of the region. This time, we were met by Trevor Graham, the project manager of the Western Harbor development with the City of Malmo — and we were able to see it from a whole new light. The Western Harbor site is a former shipyard that was closed down in the 1980s. A Saab factory came in the 1990s, lured by heavy government subsidies to provide jobs for displaced shipyard workers — but it left after a few years. (Gaming the system by big companies apparently happens in Sweden too!) Following the closing of the Saab factory, the city of Malmo embarked on a bold vision for a city of the future on the harbor-front site. The first phase of redevelopment coincided with the 2001 European Housing Expo Bo01 — and the 25-hectare (62-acre) site for this portion of the overall project carries the Bo01 name.

Taller buildings at the outer edge of the Western Harbor development shelter interior buildings from the strong winds

Housing in the Western Harbor area; extensive use of bright colors

To date, Bo01 has over 1,000 housing units, along with restaurants, student housing, and a senior housing project. The first buildings were completed in 2001, and construction continues at a rapid pace. According to Graham, developers are now almost tripping over themselves to better the energy and environmental performance of earlier projects. Several new multifamily buildings are under construction that are designed to achieve the European PassivHaus standards.

A row of houses in the Western Harbor; the one at the end (on the left) was designed and built by a Norwegian team

Interesting architecture in a row of houses designed by different international teams; note the solar collectors on the roof

Heavy use of cast-in-place concrete in these housing units

Use of autoclaved aerated concrete (I believe) in a multifamily house in Malmo's Western Harbor area

One house we walked past was a modular house that won the low-energy award for the first phase of housing development — with annual energy consumption of just 87 kWh per square meter. Some of the PassivHaus buildings now under construction will have even lower energy consumption.

This modular home uses just 87 kWh per square meter annually for heating and hot water

Another shot of the low-energy modular home; to the left is Trevor Graham, the Western Harbor Project Manager for the City of Malmo and in the center Karl-Erik Grevendahl

A few other features of the Western Harbor region: The area is (or will be) served by 100% renewable energy. Eight-five percent of the heat is derived from heat pumps that draw energy from an aquifer 90 meters (300 feet) underground. The electricity to power the heat pumps is derived from large windmills located offshore in the harbor between Sweden and Denmark. The other 15% of the heat for the area is being supplied by solar-thermal energy collected on ten of the larger apartment buildings — see photos with the large arrays of evacuated-tube solar collectors. There are also some sizeable photovoltaic arrays, but Graham admitted that these are mostly for show, providing only token power for the project.

A photovoltaic array on the roof of a multifamily building in the Western Harbor; the array slides out to provide seasonal shading

A building with rooftop evacuated-tube solar collectors

Two buildings with the south-wall and rooftop solar collectors

An organic restaurant in the lower floor of this building, Salt & Brygga, where we ate, uses almost exclusively locally produced produce and meats

Like many areas in Sweden, the Western Harbor area is entirely served by a district energy system (buried, insulated pipes that carry hot water for heating and water heating). Unlike most district energy systems, this is a low-temperature system — there is only one other like it in Sweden. Instead of the water being distributed at just over 100°C (standard practice for distributed heat), the water in this system is distributed at about 65°C. This allows solar-thermal energy to be used more effectively. Car dependence is minimized. Walkability and public transit keeps the need for vehicles very low. In fact, parking space provided in the Bo01 area is just 0.7 cars per apartment — well below the typical 1.1 figure for Malmo (which is far below parking allocations in the U.S.). Most of the parking here is underground. The geometry of the area is designed to have taller buildings on the outside (toward the windy harbor) to shelter the housing on the interior. While the development is dense, there is a point-based "green space factor" that mandates biodiversity features. Such features can include green roofs, trees, nesting boxes for birds and bats, adequate soil depth for vegetables and wildflowers. There are extensive provisions for recycling of most waste materials, including the collection of organic waste for a municipal biogas plant. These organic wastes are collected through an advanced central vacuum system.

These disposal chutes are used to transfer organic waste to a central location where it is collected to feed a municipal biogas plant

I don't understand how these chutes work either, but they apparently rely on a vacuum

Biogas is mixed with the natural gas used in Malmo's busses and many cars. Currently, biogas provides 25% of municipal fleet energy use, with an increase to 50% in 2-3 years (once a new biogas plant currently under construction goes online) and eventually 100%. There are many innovative stormwater solutions seen here, including green roofs, rooftop rainwater catchment, and surface water features throughout the development. Expertise for the green roofs comes from the Green Roof Institute in Malmo, founded in 1998. (I'll make a separate post about that here on LIVE.) If I have one complaint about the Western Harbor project it is the lack of commercial space. Except for a few restaurants, the buildings are almost entirely residential. This place would be even better if there were mixed uses. For more on the project, see the following websites (in English!) Västra Hamnen — The Western Harbour Bo01 - An Ecological City of Tomorrow in the Western Harbour, Malmö Case Study: 100% locally renewable energy in the Western harbour of Malmö in Sweden, Sweden — Alex Wilson, Malmo, Sweden, 10 December 2007

2007-12-11 n/a 11469 Who's Gonna Change the World? The answer to this question is... MIT might, but only if it wants to. I went to a "lecture" at MIT a few days ago — part of the "Critical Issues" series put on by, of all groups, the MIT Women's League. (Kira Gould, author of Women In Green would have a field day with this!) The idea for the evening was to present ways in which MIT might think about greening the campus, in the context of making a much wider impact on the world. Lofty goals indeed. The interesting points from the afternoon were that first, a little elementary school in the woods of New Jersey has had a disproportionate impact on its community by following its regenerative design ideals; and second, that MIT could easily perform a similar duty in a much larger community and have pretty far-reaching effect. The folks presenting ideas were:
  • Rebecca Henderson, the George Eastman Kodak Professor of Management at MIT's Sloan School of Management. (I'm sure we could toss a few more words in there... but why?) Rebecca is the classic big thinking, big consulting client strategy professor at MIT who is scared to death about climate change and other environmental issues.
  • Mark Beidron, co-founder of the Willow School, a kindergarten through 8th grade private school in New Jersey focused on environmental literacy for its students. An interesting choice for a conversation about MIT... but hang with me here.
  • Bill Reed, one of the leading voices in green design issues. But that just scratches the surface of Bill's vision of regenerative design and community building. Bill is exactly the right person for this discussion.
  • Steven Lanou, the Deputy Director for the Environmental programs Office at MIT. Steve's job is to manage the Energy Initiative at MIT and help green the campus.
Professor Henderson did a great job of channeling Ed Mazria in presenting the need to radically reduce energy consumption. The question that Ms. Henderson left the audience with was this: Why bother with greening MIT? it's just a tiny part of the problem. Why not reach outward? This is where Mark Beidron teed up the answer that Bill Reed knocked out of the park (to mix my sports metaphors). Mr. Beldron described his small private school in Gladstone, New Jersey as a resource for the whole county around how to use built environments to restore damaged landscapes. Of course, they also do a nice job with bringing kids into this process, thereby spreading the ideas into the future. Mr. Reed took the opportunity to get the small crowd excited with his description of regenerative design, forcefully making the point that the seemingly small but focused actions of a single campus in a larger community can amplify the results of those actions. One of Bill's examples of such effect was a local town's opportunity to change how it deals with stormwater and how that would affect the whole watershed, as well as a host of activities in the town itself, costing the town about half of what it was expecting to spend for a more technological solution. Mr. Reed's point was simple: change the game, even on a small scale, and other will start to play by your new rules. Turn MIT into an oasis of regenerative thinking and action, and you have changed the game for the whole city. Unfortunately, Steve Lanou was somewhat mired in his current vision of how MIT works to jump into a new mindset. He did present some interesting information about the energy demands of MIT into the future, showing a 5% to 10% increase in demand for energy onward into the foreseeable future. Steve's question was about how MIT can meet this demand with renewable energy. Steve was not really ready to jump into the idea of transforming that energy demand. Steve mentioned a 2004 study of MIT employee commuting habits that indicate that an effort by MIT to reduce driving by employees has been pretty successful, cutting the transportation energy intensity (see the EBN feature, Driving to Green Buildings) of the campus. It looks to me that the MIT campus could use a similar effort to change the overall approach to energy and water use and conservation. Hopefully, this symposium continues the push.
2007-12-11 n/a 11471 The Story of Stuff From
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Watch the whole thing for free at their website. Download it to your computer.
2007-12-05 n/a 11420 Schools: The Next Green Thing As the editor who collects all of the press releases, rumors, news tidbits, and blog posts for the editorial team to consider for the EBN news section, I tend to have a broad picture of what's going on in the green building world. In the last several months, green schools have been everywhere. I'm not entirely sure why schools are the latest building type to push for green, but I think it has something to do with the fact that we care an awful lot about our children, and want what's best for them. Some of the most progressive legislation, like a phthalate ban related to children's toys in California, has come out of concern for children's safety. Children are among the more vulnerable segments of the population—low body weights, brain and body development, and the fact that toddlers are the most likely to put things in their mouths all lead to increased exposure risks. A brief roundup of recent news:
  • USGBC has launched a new website for green schools:
  • The Clinton Climate Initiative announced that it will partner with the American College and Universities Presidents Climate Commitment to help campuses retrofit their existing buildings to achieve greater energy efficiency.
  • The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education has announced the creation of STARS, a new rating system for social and environmental sustainability on college campuses (more on this in the forthcoming EBN).
  • Dozens of schools have been certified under LEED for Schools.
  • A Green Schools Caucus has been founded on Capitol Hill by Representatives Darlene Hooley (D-Oregon), Michael McCaul (R-Texas), and Jim Matheson (D-Utah).
The image, by the way, is of Fossil Ridge High School, in Fort Collins, Colorado. We will soon have a case study of this project available online—keep your eyes open!
2007-11-21 n/a 11422 IPCC to Building Industry: Tag, You're It So, this is it. The shoe has dropped. The Fourth (and final) Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is out, and people seem to be paying attention. It got prominant coverage in The New York Times, the Washington Post, and a zillion other places—would have had even more impact if it were not on a Saturday, but what can you do? Apparently emboldened by their shared Nobel Prize, the scientists on the Panel reportedly stood their ground against attacks from the big polluters (that's us, and China) and from Saudi Arabia. They released a final Synthesis Report and a Summary for Policy Makers that doesn't mince words in laying out the likely consequences of various levels of warming. It's scary stuff. The warming has already started. Some more is inevitable. How much is hard to say. At low levels the impacts are severe, especially on those populations (both human and other) who can least afford to adapt. At higher levels predictions get fuzzy, because unforeseen secondary and tertiary effects of the phenomena that can be predicted could prove overwhelming. If the ice shelves in Greenland and Western Antarctica melt, all bets are off—the Panel won't even hazard a guess as to how much sea levels might rise. Hopefully that part got the politicians' attention. They meet in Bali next month to figure out what act follows the bag of hot air that was the Kyoto accords. More hot air is not what we need. But thanks to a press release that came today from the energy modeling tools company IES, I was drawn to another part of the report. Working group III, on mitigation strategies, has gone through and explored the options throughout the global economy, sector by sector. Guess which one counts the most: That's right, buildings (see chart, stolen from page 11 of Working Group III Report's Summary for Policymakers). Buildings account for the largest share of CO2 emissions. The good news is that in buildings resides the biggest opportunity for cost-effective carbon reductions. Much of those reductions can be achieved with a net gain in economic value. Amory Lovins has been telling us that for years. It's nice that the Panel of scientists noticed. So, the future is in our hands. Sitting on our hands is not an option—if we in the buildings industry don't do our part, the rest won't be enough to make a difference. Of course, the other sectors still have to do their parts (and, as we've seen in Alex's work on the transportation intensity of buildings, the sectors are not really all that isolated). But in buildings, we still have a chance to reduce carbon emissions and save money in the process. Money that can be spent on better things than importing more oil or digging more coal. 2007-11-20 n/a 11427 Who's Driving? I had an interesting conversation while waiting for Robert Murray's presentation on the construction outlook. A senior associate from one of the leading architectural firms pointed out that the concept of integrating sustainable design into a plan has, until now, been initiated largely by the designer/architect. One client of theirs, a box store, required a payback of three years or less, and that's what's held them back. Tough, I would imagine. But he sees the trend quickly changing to demand-driven. In other words, retailers and property owners of commercial properties are seeing the advantages to sustainable design. I'm interested in what others have to say... 2007-11-13 n/a 11428 Robert Murray at Build Boston A very interesting lunchtime presentation at Build Boston by Robert Murray, Vice President, Economic Affairs at McGraw-Hill. Some notes of interest related to the sustainable building, green building, and building trends/predictions in general:
  • Green building as a part of construction trends is starting to effect the macroeconomic picture. This earned a few slides in the Powerpoint. Great to hear!
  • He noted that the Energy Policy Act of 2005 has had an effect on conservation efforts. It also has spurred a boom in ethanol plant construction (we'll let you decide if that's good or bad, particularly if it's corn-based as opposed to cellulose ethanol).
  • Downtown redevelopment projects are helping the macroeconomic picture—due to continued emphasis on restoring existing structures, brownfields, etc.
  • "Green News," as he put it, includes a federal executive order (January '07) setting environmental goals for federal agencies: 30% reduction in energy use by 2015... 3% per year.
  • Big-ticket items on college campuses will continue into 2008; predicting 232 msf (+4% increase) in educational buildings. Not to sound negative, but detention facilities were up 15% in 2006. Hope they're green as well.
  • Renovation of existing housing stock will be a growing trend. (Will this include sustainable design? College projects I've seen have, but the renovation market is not something I've checked. Anyone know?)
Someone in the audience asked why "the numbers presented today focus on construction 'starts'?" The answer: "'Starts' are looked at to predict demand for building materials," among other things. It's interesting that he mentioned this first. Prices for construction materials were up just 2%, with gypsum falling 17%, copper and copper alloy down 2% between December 2006 and September 2007, wood and lumber pretty much level. Cement, iron and steel were all up 4-5%. No reason given.
2007-11-13 n/a 11430 Maybe not so great after all: AIA Guide to Integrated Project Delivery I'm still clinging to the notion that the Integrated Project Delivery paper from the AIA is worth a look-see. (You may also see desperate beads of sweat on my forehead if you look closely.) I always believe everything Nadav says (almost), but having additionally spoken with a couple handfuls of other exceptionally well-informed smarties about it during Greenbuild—including COTE people—chances are good that he was really, really right. There appears to be no small number of those who think that I might have been too generous in my initial assessment. Judge for yourself, and feel free to let me know how far off-base I was. It will be a service for those to come. 2007-11-12 n/a 11431 Running with the Big Dogs — at Greenbuild and Beyond In a brilliantly cruel stroke of scheduling irony, the morning after our party with the GreenSource folks at the Funky Buddha, we held a breakfast for our BuildingGreen Suite firm-wide subscribers: organizations that have an account for every person in their operation. It was some heady company to be in, with movers and shakers from the likes of Gensler, HOK, Perkins + Will, William McDonough + Partners, Sasaki, Rocky Mountain Institute, Mithun, and SmithGroup, among several others.

We don't buy these folks breakfast once a year at Greenbuild just to honor them. These are the best and brightest: Knowing what's on their minds, and what their professional information needs are, helps us help them. Plus, it's so much fun to talk with people who are at the top of their game. For more information about firm-wide subscriptions, email our Network Accounts Manager, .

Oh—did I mention the view?

2007-11-12 n/a 11435 Not Grumbling About Life-Cycle Assessment Based on some of the audience Q&A I think that much of the audience left grumbling after Thursday's session, "Demystifying Sustainability: A Life-Cycle Perspective," convened by the energetic Meredith Elbaum of Sasaki, with Stanley Rhodes of Scientific Certification Systems speaking along with Nancy Harrod of Sasaki and Melissa Vernon of InterfaceFlor. I put Stanley's name first because I think he was the source of the grumbling. At a conference where "Was the session inspiring?" is one of the questions asked by the educational session evaluation form, Stanley made pointed criticisms of LEED and registered alarm about consequences of carbon emissions, like oceanic acidification (he polled the audience on its awareness of this issue—which was lacking, so here's a great LA Times article on the issue). But I found Stanley's presentation exciting. He recommended the use of Environmental Performance Declarations, which have been compared to a "nutrition facts" label for building materials, buildings, electricity, or any other product with an environmental impact. Just as the nutrition facts label analyzes the nutrition of a food item, so could similar labels list impacts in numerous categories in a product's life cycle, such as greenhouse gas emissions, human health impacts, cost, durability, disposal issues, etc. Here's an example of an actual carpet sample. Stanley argued that life-cycle assessment is the best way to comprehensively understand a product's environmental performance. (For more on this topic check out the EBN feature Life-Cycle Assessment for Buildings: Seeking the Holy Grail.) I've been skeptical of this approach because it takes considerable time and expertise to understand the results of such an analysis. But Stanley introduced a variation on the nutrition facts label that shows at a glance, with a color coded bar chart, how a product stacks up against others in the same category. In this way the comparison to the nutrition label is not a good one, because that label does not offer an instant comparison (and the nutritional data isn't suited to it). Life-cycle assessment can reveal bad news (leaving people grumbling) but we need to know the true impacts of products in order to reduce them. Look for more on understanding green product certifications and the role of life-cycle assessment in the next EBN. 2007-11-09 n/a 11445 Green building: quite some fad you've got there Nadav, along with John Boeker of 7Group and Victor Canseco of Sandpebble Builders, is a panelist for a session at Greenbuild '07 convened by Larry Strain of Siegel & Strain Architects that's going on right now—"Green Guideline Specifications: Taking it Public, Making it Real." Here's how it looks.

In the next room, the fabulous Ann Edminster of Design AVEnues is convening a panel with Steve Glenn of Livinghomes, Richard MacMath of the Austin Energy Green Building Program, and Scott Kelly of Re:Vision Architecture—"Achieving Green Goals in Homes." Here's how that one looks.

They're spilling out the doors. What does this teach us?
2007-11-07 n/a 11449 Greenbuild booth swag, part 2 This may not count as booth swag either; it's just a paper handout from the EcoLogo people called The Six Sins of Greenwashing. I can't find it online (not this version, anyway), so I'm going to type it in arduously by hand... I think it's worth the effort.
Sin of the Hidden Trade-Off
Focusing consumer attention on a single environmental attribute such as recycled content while ignoring additional important environmental issues such as toxics content or the impacts of the manufacturing process. Example: Paper products focusing only on recycled content and ignoring the significant impacts of the paper bleaching and manufacturing process. Sin of No Proof
Being unable or unwilling to provide proof of an environmental claim. Example: Manufacturers being unable or unwilling to provide proof of post-consumer recycled content or claims that their products do not contain any hazardous materials. Sin of Vagueness
Making broad, poorly defined environmental claims that are essentially meaningless. Example: Products claiming to be "chemical free" but even water is a chemical. Or products claiming to be 100% natural when lots of naturally occurring substances are hazardous (e.g., arsenic, formaldehyde, and hemlock). Sin of Irrelevance
Making an accurate statement that is unimportant and unhelpful for consumers seeking more environmentally responsible products. Example: Products claiming to be CFC-free even though CFCs were banned 20 years ago, or biodegradable garbage bags even though it would take thousands or years for them to degrade in a modern landfill. Sin of Fibbing
Making a blatantly false or misleading claim. Example: Products falsely claiming to be EcoLogo certified or to meet the Energy Star standard. Sin of Lesser of Two Evils
Claiming environmental benefits for products that are actually harmful or that pose significant environmental challenges. Example: Organic cigarettes.
The list appears to be based on this more thorough one—but that's OK: the author, Scot Case, works for the organization that manages the EcoLogo program.
2007-11-07 n/a 11453 LEED for Everything 1.0 Big news from Member Day at Greenbuild '07—the LEED ratings programs are... going away. I'll be updating this post in the next hour or so after listening to the session again, but it boils down to this: there will be a "bookshelf" of credits, and when a project application is made, a custom rating system will be generated. There's a lot more development, public comment periods, and hair-pulling to come, but they hope to roll this out in less than two years. Check back here in about an hour for more details.
This is my early understanding, which may be flawed. In the wake of significant outreach both within and without the USGBC community to identify the shortcomings and opportunities for improvement in the growing numbers of LEED rating systems, the decision has been made to stop the development of those systems in favor of a simpler, more elegant-yet-thorough process. All of the credits in the existing systems will be extracted and combined into "library" of points and ideas from which to draw to create an appropriate program for each project addressing lifecycle, carbon, and regionalism. A fourth important aspect is how these areas are weighted. For example, a project in the desert southwest will have greater weighting on water conservation than one in the Pacific Northwest. I'm going to abandon listening to this recording for the time being; there's a lot of noise down the hall, making it difficult to hear. I'm going to check it out. Still more on this later—maybe today.
2007-11-06 n/a 11454 New AIA Guide: Integrated Project Delivery Because not everybody gets the idea of integrated design and delivery yet, I'm glad AIA National and the AIA California Council collaborated on Integrated Project Delivery: A Guide... and even more glad that they're making it available as a free-to-download pdf. The 57-page document provides plenty of context and content, though the tightly coiled architect-speak might make a good chunk of the people who most need to be exposed to this information clench their jaws. It's worth spending some time with the document, even if you're already familiar with the concepts it covers. [Update, Nov 12 '07: see Maybe not so great after all: AIA Guide to Integrated Project Delivery] From the introduction:
Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) is a project delivery approach that integrates people, systems, business structures and practices into a process that collaboratively harnesses the talents and insights of all participants to optimize project results, increase value to the owner, reduce waste, and maximize efficiency through all phases of design, fabrication, and construction.
Further reading in BuildingGreen Suite:
2007-11-06 n/a 11456 Council's LEED Accreditation Spin-off As a LEED Faculty member, I've been hearing for a while about the conflict-of-interest concerns with USGBC's LEED-Accredited Professional program. USGBC has been putting a lot of effort into improving and standardizing the exams, in an effort to get the accreditation program accredited (geez—how many layers of accreditation can you have?). But to have a truly legitimate program, USGBC as the creator of the standard that is being taught (LEED) and as the provider of trainings, has to be at arm's length from the organization that manages the accreditations. Knowing all that, I probably should have realized that something substantial was in the works, but I wasn't expecting USGBC CEO Rick Fedrizzi's letter to LEED-APs on November 2 announcing the imminent creation of the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI). According to Fedrizzi, "GBCI is a newly incorporated entity established to administer credentialing programs related to green building practice and standards, including the LEED Professional Accreditation program." USGBC claims that it will shift the credentials of all LEED-APs to the new organization in an entirely seamless way. Wake up one morning in January and you'll be accredited through the GBCI instead of through USGBC. We've heard such promises before—if it really is that seamless I'll be amazed. But once the transition is complete and the dust settles, this should be a good thing for LEED and for all of us APs, because it's puts our accreditation on more solid footing. Next, watch out for continuing education requirements to keep that AP status! 2007-11-05 n/a 11460 239 strawbale buildings in France A post came through one of the too-many email lists I monitor: the nonprofit Empreinte ("print"—as in "footprint"), in conjunction with the French straw building network, Les Compaillons, started an online database of French strawbale buildings, and have so far registered 239 of them. France is smaller than Texas by about the size of Illinois, and is one of the places where strawbale building wasn't unheard of prior to the current growing worldwide popularity: a 1921 timber framed house with baled straw infill stands occupied today in reportedly excellent condition. If that floored you, here's another tidbit: China has over 600 strawbale homes, schools, and medical clinics, thanks in large measure to the educational and field work of architect Kelly Lerner (we're proud that she's an Environmental Building News aficionado) in conjunction with the Adventist Development and Relief Agency. The International Strawbale Building Registry (hosted by the pioneering folks who brought the Sustainable Building Sourcebook of the Austin Green Building Program online in 1994 and have been maintaining and expanding it ever since), though far from being a complete record, is interesting and enlightening to buzz around in. It's easy for many people to dismiss straw bales as a building element for their vulnerability to moisture. Fair enough. But, same as anything, design and execution needs to be appropriate for the materials and climate. Most straw is pretty much identical to most wood under the microscope: they're both ligno-cellulosic materials that biodegrade under the same confluence of moisture, temperature, and air. But that's about where the similarities between a straw bale and a piece of dimension lumber end. Done right, done well, strawbale works—done wrong, done sloppy, problems ensue. (Generally speaking. There are places in the world where you can just about build with crackers and frosting and get a few good years out of it... as well as places where strawbale would be a sketchy idea at best.) And, particularly if the goal is to emulate the contemporary suburban tract house, building with bales isn't as simple and cheap as sometimes claimed. Having a background in conventional construction doesn't guarantee an understanding that these degradable bundles of cereal stem are a radically different animal than stuff from the builder's supply yard. Some of the most poorly conceived and poorly built strawbale houses have been the product of reputable, knowledgeable, experienced conventional builders. But so, too, are some of the best ones. Same can be said for the "uneducated and undisciplined" self-build crowd: some results are world-class, while others are just scary. There are analogies to be drawn here from the early solar design movement. Education is the thing. No building material or method cares all that much who you are or what you've done before. Strawbale building is still in its infancy, but startling inroads have been made in understanding what does and doesn't work, both in the field and in the lab, despite not having any deep-pocketed industries supporting it. Adding to the research legacy begun (and still continued) by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (search the word "straw" from their home page), some of the most excellent research of the material in North America over the last few years has had the California-based Ecological Building Network at its hub. Check out the 11-minute video of two strawbale wall variants going through ASTM E119-05a—passing the fire and hose stream tests, one achieved a one-hour rating, and the other a two-hour firewall rating. A fascinating roundup of international testing can be found at the open-source Straw Bale Construction Wiki; and The Last Straw also tracks Codes, Testing, and Research and other resources.

Selections from the BuildingGreen Suite, in chronological order: In the photo: mobile French strawbale educators and builders, Botmobil.
2007-11-01 n/a