Taxonomy Term en 9138 Do adobe homes really work in all climates? – Book review

The weather is turning cold here in southern Vermont. A friend just got chased off the Long Trail (which she was hiking from the Massachusetts to the Canadian borders) by 18 inches of snow on Killington. While the leaves are still turning here in the Connecticut River valley, it's time to start huddling up by the fire and thinking cozy thoughts.

It was with this frame of mind that I excitedly cracked open Adobe Homes for All Climates Simple, Affordable, and Earthquake-Resistant Natural Building Techniques by Lisa Schroder and Vince Ogletree. It's another well-produced addition to the library of natural building tomes offered by Chelsea Green Publishing.

Adobe Homes is filled with practical tips, gorgeous pictures, useful construction drawings, and step-by-step help for anyone looking to build adobe, whether a professional or a homeowner. There are tips on earthquake resistance for locations with seismic concerns. There is extensive guidance on the often-overlooked issue of setting up your site to mix, mold, dry, store, and build with adobe bricks. The book gets into finishes, integrating windows and doors, and a lot more.

Unfortunately for me, I wasn't looking at the book with this lens. Before I could really contemplate setting up a site for adobe production, I had to be sold on adobe for this climate. I was looking for ideas on cozy earth building in a climate with 7,500 heating degree days (many of them cloudy, for days at a time), 500 cooling degree days, and a distribution of those heating degree days throughout 12 months. And an adobe structure in this climate will be an energy hog, because, as the authors note, adobe has a very low R-value.

In short, the "for all climates" tagline, which drew me in, is a stretch. Yes, there is a suggestion to add a layer of insulation in colder climates (mentioned in the inspiring foreword by Bruce King, and in a subsequent paragraph in the book). Yes, there are nice pictures of snow-covered Rocky Mountain adobe (which may be cold--at times--but gets a lot more sun, making adobe a better choice). But building an adobe wall and adding insulation to it for this climate requires at least a whole chapter (more than the paragraph currently devoted to it), and perhaps a whole book. Here are some questions that this "missing" chapter might help answer:

  • What kind of insulation works well with an adobe structure?
  • How much is needed?  
  • Should the insulation be interior of the adobe, exterior of it, or both?
  • What are the benefits of building adobe and also a secondary insulation system? Why is it worth doing versus just using another construction system?
  • What construction and moisture details are necessary for adobe to be durable through a cold, wet, winter?
  • How does the addition of insulation affect the vapor profile of the adobe wall? Any issues to watch out for

I hope these will be considered in future editions or articles by the author. In the meantime, this looks like a great resource for natural builders in climates where adobe makes more sense--most classically, the Southwest U.S.

Correction: I realized after posting this article that Vince Ogletree passed away in 2005, well before this book was published. From the bio in the book, it sounds like he was a dedicated and generous natural builder. I had called for the "authors" to return to the points I outlined, but I feel that was insensitive to Vince's memory; I have changed this to the "author."

2010-10-26 n/a 11898 Mechanical and Electrical Equipment for Buildings - MEEB Like This
2009-11-16 n/a 11862 Making Lime Mortars DVD Over at The Last Straw blog, Jeff Ruppert has posted a review of Making Lime Mortars, the first of a four-disc tutorial offered by St. Astier Natural Limes. Perhaps the thing I like best about the review is that it doesn't get into the whole "Why use lime" conversation... it respectfully assumes that you already know. But in case you don't know, here's most of the product description for St. Astier's natural hydraulic lime from GreenSpec:
St. Astier Natural Hydraulic Lime, or NHL, is a 100% natural product that has been in production since 1851. St. Astier NHL Mortar is widely used in the restoration of old buildings. This natural hydraulic lime mortar imported from France allows stone to "breathe" naturally. Used in construction as plaster, stucco, mortar, and paint, its high level of vapor exchange and mineral composition can help reduce the risk of mold development and dry rot. NHL products are highly permeable, elastic, low shrinking, zero VOC, self-healing, and recyclable.
2009-09-23 n/a 11863 Stimulus-Funded Green Jobs = Left-Wing Conspiracy Over at GreenBuildingAdvisor, veteran journalist Richard Defendorf combined his abiding interests in green building and politics by taking a look at a Fox News Forum opinion piece from the policy director the conservative advocacy group (natch) Americans for Prosperity. It contained gems like this one:
"Most green jobs consist of hiring low-wage workers with caulking guns to weatherize buildings. We are trading away high-wage, high-value manufacturing jobs for these green caulking jobs. Any time you spend billions of dollars you will create some jobs, but the key question is, what the cost is when you divert resources from higher-value activities?"
Defendorf had the audacity to respond with thoughtfulness and logic. Take a couple minutes to read it: Stick 'Em Up, I've Got a Caulk Gun!
2009-09-23 n/a 11873 More Toilet Flushing Fun Regular readers might remember the toilet-flushing video from March that showed ridiculous quantities of carrots, chess pieces, Gummi bears, hot dogs, plastic letters and numbers, grapes, golf balls, and dog food getting flushed. Fun, but it didn't qualify for GreenSpec because it only met the federal minimum standard for water use. Well, here's one that does. The H2Option Dual-Flush from American Standard offers an industry-first siphonic flush of either 1.6 or 1.0 gallons. And it's fun, too. Be sure to show this to the kids (because they don't already have enough ideas).
  • 20 golf balls (full flush)
  • 1 lb orange peels (full flush)
  • 11 water wigglers (full flush)
  • 56 chicken nuggets (full flush)
  • 2 lbs flushable cat litter (full flush)
  • 5 large hot dogs (full flush)
  • 5 large hot dogs (half flush)

Wieners aside, it would have been nice to see how all of these went down — or not — on half-flush.
2009-09-01 n/a 11851 Factory Building Rolls Over. Upside-Down. In the wake of the pictures of that 13-story apartment building that fell over, here's video of a multistory factory building rolling over and coming to rest upside-down, largely intact.
Success and failure are often matters of perspective.
2009-08-13 n/a 11829 B'eau-Pal Bottled Water - Dichlormethane, Carbon Tetrachloride, Chloroform...
The label says:
Bottled at Source — Hand Pump #1, Atal Ayub Nagar, Bhopal, Madya Pradesh, India.
And in tiny print:
Not suitable for human consumption.

The nutrition label says:
Total Fat 0g
Cholesterol 0g
Sodium 22mg
Carbon Tetrachloride

The website says:
The unique qualities of our water come from 25 years of slow-leaching toxins at the site of the world's largest industrial accident.

The Yes Men's website says:
Twenty Bhopal activists, including Sathyu Sarangi of the Sambhavna Clinic in Bhopal, showed up at Dow headquarters near London to find that the entire building had been vacated.

The 25th anniversary of the Union Carbide pesticide factory leak in Bhopal is coming up in December. The death toll from that event, according to Union Carbide, was 3,800. Local municipal workers who collected the bodies by hand estimated it was at least 15,000. The official death toll to date, compiled by local government, is 20,000. Survivors of the leak have been burdened with cancers and other medical conditions, and their children suffer debilitating illnesses, retardation, birth defects, and reproductive disorders. In 1999 it was found that the soil and water in and around the plant had organochlorine and heavy metal contamination. A 2002 study found mercury, lead, and organochlorines in the breast milk of women living near the plant. More from the Yes Men:
Though Dow has consistently refused to clean up the mess in Bhopal, they have taken numerous steps to clean up their image. In a recent press release, for example, Andrew Liveris, Dow's Chairman and CEO, noted that "lack of clean water is the single largest cause of disease in the world and more than 4,500 children die each day because of it." He went on to assert that "Dow is committed to creating safer, more sustainable water supplies for communities around the world."
Some links from
'That Night'
Bhopal's secret disaster
Health Issues
People's stories
Poisoned Water
International Campaign for Justice
2009-07-14 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 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 11839 Rebuilding Green After Catastrophe BuildingGreen's Michael Wentz has been coordinating for some time with DOE on case studies of the green rebuilding of Greensburg, Kansas, which had 90% of its buildings destroyed by a tornado in 2007. He described the work in a blog post here last year. Then, in a congressional address last February, President Obama cited Greensburg as "a global example of how clean energy can power an entire community," to which Michael added, "they are also a leader in green building including initiatives to work green building strategies into their building codes." A compelling hour-long documentary about what happened in Greensburg and the community's subsequent decision-making process in the wake of the two-mile-wide, F5 tornado is available to watch over the web. Previous coverage in Environmental Building News:
Kansas Town Rebuilding as the Greenest in America
First U.S. City Resolves to Build LEED Platinum
2009-07-03 n/a 11803 Residential Green Building Opportunities within the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act offers up another free webcast on June 29 at 4 p.m. Eastern. Rob Moody, consultant at Organic Think, LEED Faculty member, and partner in the National Center for Sustainability will be talking about current and future funding opportunities for green building projects courtesy the economic stimulus package. Rise above the recession! Register here. Find out about more webcasts from GreenBuildingAdvisor (like Trade Contractor Management for High Performance Homes, and Smart Strategies to Market Your High Performance Homes, and Inspiring Sustainable Residential Interiors...) 2009-06-26 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 11790 LEED for Homes: Tips for Successful Projects Who could be more qualified than one of the principal authors of LEED for Homes to provide insight on the best ways to make the program work?
LEED for Homes, like other rating systems, is an assessment tool. This means that while it provides some "how-to" information (at the level of individual strategies or "credits"), it doesn't offer any guidance for how to approach the design and construction of a high-performing home differently than a conventional project. Ann Edminster will offer some of that missing guidance in this webinar.
It gets better. Not only do you not have to jet off to some city to sit in some auditorium during some high-priced conference to take this in... it's free. Just sign up and it's yours for the taking on June 2, at 2:00 pm Eastern (1:00 pm Central, noon Mountain, 11:00 am Pacific), right on your computer. A gift from The presenter, Ann Edminster, is a longtime green building mover and shaker. In addition to being one of the main people who developed LEED for Homes (she was its co-chair through most of its making), she's also a past member of the LEED Steering Committee, and a member and past co-chair of the USGBC's Materials and Resources Technical Advisory Group. She co-authored Efficient Wood Use In Residential Construction: A Practical Guide to Saving Wood, Money, and Forests, has written bunches of technical papers and articles, and has been an invited speaker at dozens of regional, national, and international green building conferences over the past 15 years. She's the founding principal of the environmental design consulting firm Design AVEnues.
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 11766 Food, Inc. The Obamas put in the first food garden (organic, natch) on the White House grounds since Eleanor Roosevelt's victory garden during World War II. We dig that. Skeptics may scoff that's it just symbolic, but I don't think so. According the The New York Times, the garden will have "55 varieties of vegetables, from a wish list of the kitchen staff. Cristeta Comerford, the White House's executive chef, said she was eager to plan menus around the garden, and Bill Yosses, the pastry chef, said he was looking forward to berry season." And 1100 square feet can produce a lot of produce — the Old Farmer's Almanac says that "A good-sized beginner vegetable garden is 10 x 16 feet [160 square feet]. A plot this size can feed a family of four for one summer, with a little extra." It's not likely, however, that the first family or their handlers are going to (publicly, anyway) spice up the reasons behind this good move with the hard arguments of filmmaker Robert Kenner in his high-impact new movie, Food, Inc.:

2009-04-29 n/a 11770 Free Webinars from On Wednesday, April 29, Alex Wilson presents The Future of Housing — "leading-edge strategies for achieving net-zero-energy homes, transportation energy use associated with where we live, the looming challenge of water, passive survivability as a residential design criterion, and thoughts on incorporating food production into the built environment. Today's economic crisis makes this discussion all the more important and points to the need to focus on our existing housing stock, which will also be discussed." Then on Monday, May 11, Alex is back with What's New in Green Products, in which he will "discuss how BuildingGreen assesses products for its GreenSpec directory of green building products and review some of the more exciting new products that have come across his desk recently. Though he has been reviewing and reporting on green building products for more than 20 years, Alex is still excited when he comes across innovative new products. This is a chance to share in that excitement." Tuesday, June 2, a great treat: Ann Edminster — nationally recognized expert on green home design and construction; a principal author of the LEED for Homes Rating System; consultant to builders, owners, developers, supply chain clients, design firms, investors, and public agencies — addresses LEED for Homes: Tips for Successful Projects. "LEED for Homes, like other rating systems, is an assessment tool. This means that while it provides some 'how-to' information (at the level of individual strategies or 'credits'), it doesn't offer any guidance for how to approach the design and construction of a high-performing home differently than a conventional project. Ann Edminster will offer some of that missing guidance in this webinar, highlighting the role of energy modeling, the value of teamwork both among design professionals and across the traditional design-construction divide, and some useful tools for streamlining the certification process." Also coming on Thursday, June 18: Navigating ANSI 700 with Michael Chandler, president of Chandler Design-Build of North Carolina and a certified Green Professional '08, NAHB University of Housing. 2009-04-18 n/a 11771 Free Weeklong Online Green Conference Begins April 20 All this week, webcasting service BrightTALK is honoring Earth Day by providing five days of free green building presentations. Many of the presenters are world-class. If you can't fit it into your schedule, the recorded sessions will be available on-demand later. Monday addresses Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability — the highlight is likely to be the Executive Director at the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business Center for Responsible Business, Jo Mackness, speaking on Corporate Social Responsibility and the Next Generation of Business Leaders. Tuesday is Water Management day, and there a couple programs that are particularly intriguing. Jonathan C. Kaledin of The Nature Conservancy introduces the Alliance for Water Stewardship, which is building an international certification organization akin to the Forest Stewardshp Council (FSC); and Linda Hwang, Manager of Environmental Research & Innovation at BSR (Business for Social Responsibility), will speak on Global Water Trends and the Corporate Response. Wednesday's topic is Green Building. There are ten presentations that day and half of them look like real winners — check them out — but if you only do one, don't miss BuildingGreen's own Residential Program Manager, Peter Yost, with a session titled Sustainability Requires Durability. Thursday is geek hat day: Green IT. This isn't just bowing to the week's corporate sponsor, Intel. (Well, maybe it is, but it's an extremely germane topic anyway.) Ravi Angadi, Senior Director of Enterprise Product Management at Verdiem, will talk about Reducing ICT Energy Consumption — this is more important and engaging than the title might make it seem. Related, the Head of Sustainable Energy at The Hannover Consultancy, Toby Abbot, goes real-world to discuss The Carbon Intent Project - Using ICT to reduce CO2. And though I've been limiting myself to pointing out only one or two per day, here's a third that should give a thorough overview: Green IT Assessment: Manage what you Measure, given by Mark Rumsby, Government Consulting at EDS (Electronic Data Systems Corporation). Friday — Green Marketing. For marketers, a heyday. But there's good stuff for us normal people as well, including The Ten Signs of Greenwash (and how to avoid them) and Save the Buyosphere! Selling Green in the Age of More, More, MORE 2009-04-18 n/a 11775 Experts Say a New Ice Age is Imminent
(For those who might feel that the Climate Denial Crock of the Week post needs some balance.)
2009-04-11 n/a 11776 Climate Denial Crock of the Week Peter Sinclair is a graphic artist, illustrator, animator, and environmental awareness advocate. He's been posting a series of "Climate Denial Crock of the Week" videos on the internet.
The Great Petition Fraud. "We've all heard about the 'Petitions' of 'Scientists' who disagree with Climate Science. This sordid little episode in the history of Climate Denial points up once again the fundamental dishonesty of the climate denial industry."

The Urban Heat Island Crock. "Could the scientists at NASA, the National Academy of Science, the American Meteorological Society, and every professional scientific organization on the planet really have been so silly as to miss something this obvious?"

That 1500 Year Thing. "Climate Deniers S. Fred Singer and Dennis Avery make their living by confusing and obfuscating the science of climate change. Their latest book, 'Unstoppable Global Warming every 1500 Years' is a compendium of vintage as well as cutting edge climate crocks. Let's find out who they are and how they are bamboozling their audience."
I Love the '70s!! "Everyone has a favorite decade, and for Climate Deniers, that decade has got to be the '70s. Yes, the decade of disco, kung fu, and watergate. Because in the '70s, Deniers will tell you, all climate scientists believed an ice age was coming. Those crazy climate scientists! Why can't they make up their minds? But is that really true? Maybe a little historical perspective is in order."

Mars Attacks!! "It seems to be agreed among Deniers that there is a warming happening on other planets in the solar system. And not just one or two planets. It is considered Climate Denier gospel that all the other planets are warming, and that this is proof that some kind of solar activity is warming the whole system. Let's look at the evidence."

It's cold. So there's no Climate Change. "'I looked outside, and it was snowing, therefore, there is no climate change.' If that's what passes for rational thought in your social group, you owe it to yourself to watch this edition of Climate Denial Crock of the Week."

See more videos from the series.
2009-04-11 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 11752 The Ruins of Detroit On the heels of 100 Abandoned Houses, more like it... but bigger. The website of Yves Marchand & Romain Meffre Photography presents a gallery titled The ruins of Detroit:
At the beginning of the 20th Century, the city of Detroit developed rapidly thanks to the automobile industry and until the 50's, its population rose to almost 2 million people. At this time, it was the 4th most important city in the United States. During the 60's, deindustrialization and violent riots caused a large migration of the middle-class people outside the metropolis area. Then until the end of the 90's, "Motor City" lost more than half of its population. Today, despite a beginning of revitalization, a lot of the luxuous hotels, theaters, apartments, stores and office buildings built in the prosperous era remain vacant.

See them all.
2009-03-18 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 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.

Become a Charter Member today and save $50 on your annual subscription. (This is a limited-time offer.)

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 11722 "Clean Coal harnesses the awesome power of the word 'clean'!"

2009-02-26 n/a 11725 Building Science for Strawbale Buildings Over at, the online home of Building Science Corporation (where you can benefit from the big-brained research and synthesis of Joe Lstiburek, John Straube, and others), there are tons of great articles like Can Highly Glazed Building Façades Be Green?, Capillarity — Small Sacrifices, and Ground Source Heat Pumps ("Geothermal") for Residential Heating and Cooling: Carbon Emissions and Efficiency. A new article went up there in the last few days titled Building Science for Strawbale Buildings. Like we said in the May 2005 feature in EBN, The Natural Building Movement, people are getting smarter about these materials and methods. The Building Science website says:
This digest will begin with a brief description of the system and materials, review moisture problems in buildings, and summarize how moisture control should be dealt with in strawbale buildings.
Headings and subheads include:
  • The System
  • The Materials
    • Properties of Stucco
    • Properties of Strawbales
  • Durability and Performance: Moisture
    • The Moisture Balance
  • Wetting
  • Drying
  • Storage [of moisture]
  • Rain Penetration Control for Strawbale Buildings
  • Air Leakage Condensation Control for Strawbale Buildings
  • Summary
  • Reference
It might be noted that John Straube was a contributor to the book Design of Straw Bale Buildings: The State of the Art — this one should be in your library. Also check into Alternative Construction: Contemporary Natural Building Methods.
2009-02-26 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 11692 Coal in Your Stocking Happy holidays! 2008-12-23 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 11699 Exploding Low-Flow Toilets
In 1997, humorist Dave Barry wrote a newspaper piece titled "The Toilet Police," about those newly mandated 1.6-gallon low-flow toilets that honestly and truly deserved to be dumped on. The column is still floating around the internet, and clearly people are still moved by it. But, y'know, that was over a decade ago. There are still crappy toilets to be had, just like there are lousy products of all sorts readily available, but smart toilet makers have strained to get the kinks out to the point that a one-gallon flush can outperform some of those old three-and-a-half-gallon water-hogs. It looks like Dave is still making a stink with that old log, judging from his website. But an exploding toilet under almost any circumstance is entertaining. A number of the most efficient commercial and residential toilets available are listed in GreenSpec; the state-of-the-industry and the standards considered by its research team are described as follows:
Since 1992, federal law has mandated that nearly all new toilets use no more than 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf) — the exception being commercial blow-out toilets, which are still allowed to use 3.5 gallons in some states. As toilet flushing is the largest single use of water in most residential and commercial buildings (accounting for up to 40% of residential use), water savings from toilet replacement is very significant.
In addition to improvements to the traditional gravity system, pressure- and vacuum-assisted flushing systems have been developed that offer superior performance, albeit with the addition of some noise. Dual-flush toilets have been available for years overseas and are now making inroads in the U.S. These save additional water by making two flushes available: one for solid wastes and a lower-volume flush for liquids and paper. Products listed here must meet the minimum standards of the Uniform North American Requirements (UNAR) for toilets, which includes elements of the Maximum Performance (MaP) flush-quality testing protocol and Los Angeles Supplementary Purchase Specification (SPS), which discourages the use of toilets that might be adjusted to use significantly more water. Products listed here use at least 20% less than the federal minimum of 1.6 gallons (6 liters) per flush — that is, 1.28 gallons (4.8 liters) or less. The toilet must also evacuate at least 350 grams of solid waste per flush, as tested under the Maximum Performance (MaP) protocol. Toilets that are included without MaP testing are extremely low-water use or have other unique green features. For dual-flush toilets, we factor water savings by averaging the high and low volume flush levels. Two reduced flushes and one full flush cannot average more than 1.28 gallons per flush. Other factors considered in GreenSpec evaluations include bowl washing effectiveness and water surface area.
Want more? Of course you do. See "All About Toilets," an archived feature story from Environmental Building News.
2008-12-05 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 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 11680 Transportation Energy: Consumers vs. The Consumed A current article from Reason magazine (their tag line — "Free Minds and Free Markets" — might reveal a hint of a bias), "The Food Miles Mistake: Saving the planet by eating New Zealand apples" questions one of the main ecological premises of the localvore movement, saying:
...a comprehensive study done by the United Kingdom's Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)... reported that 82 percent of food miles were generated within the U.K. — consumer shopping trips accounted for 48 percent and trucking for 31 percent of British food miles. In the United States, a 2007 analysis found that transporting food from producers to retailers accounted for only 4 percent of greenhouse emissions related to food. According to a 2000 study, agriculture was responsible for 7.7 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. In that study, food transport accounted for 14 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with agriculture...
It's a bit reminiscent of the Environmental Building News feature, "Driving to Green Buildings: The Transportation Energy Intensity of Buildings," which said,
With average new code-compliant office buildings "using" twice as much energy getting occupants to and from the buildings as the buildings themselves use for heating, cooling, lighting, and other energy needs, the green building community needs to focus greater attention on the transportation dependency of our buildings.
These transportation energy questions — whether it's about food, building products, or getting back and forth from work, are worth thinking about. The EBN feature "On Using Local Materials," said:
...short hauls generally represent a disproportionately large share of total transportation impacts... short hauls are almost always done in trucks, as opposed to rail or ship. Second, because the trucks used for short hauls are smaller than those used for long hauls, proportionately more of the energy is used for moving the truck itself. And third, because short hauls are typically over secondary roads with a lot of stopping and starting, efficiency is reduced. Given all these factors, the total environmental impact of hauling materials 1,000 miles by train to a supply yard may be less than the impact of hauling materials 100 miles by truck to a job site.
Depending on things like geography and transportation methods, Chinese bamboo flooring or a bottle of French wine could have a good bit less transportation energy to the same point of delivery than solid wood flooring from Oregon or a bottle of domestic wine from California.
2008-11-12 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 11686 Guerilla gardeners caught on tape Should we prosecute this type of illegal public improvement? Or participate in it? (The correct answer is the latter.) In this clip, ringleader Richard Reynolds incites rogue acts of civic delight: Previously on these pages: Guerrilla Gardening.

2008-11-05 n/a 11641 U.S. Wind Power Increases by 81.6 Percent Since Last Year Sort of. The executive summary of the September 2008 Electric Power Monthly, released a few days ago by the Energy Information Administration — a statistical agency of the U.S. Department of Energy — states that "Wind-powered generation [in June 2008] was 81.6 percent higher than it was in June 2007." Holy cow! However, it goes on, "Even with this significant increase, the contribution of wind-powered generation to the national total was only 1.2 percent in June 2008." Does it constitute a baby step in the right direction nonetheless? Maybe. The statistics are a snapshot of two chunks of time: the months of June in 2007 and 2008. Increasing the aperture gives a more complete picture. In the first six months of 2008, national power generation (which was up a point over 2007) sources break down like this:
  • coal-fired plants increased by 0.8 percent — contributing 48.9 percent of total U.S. electric power
  • nuclear was down 0.5 percent — comprising 19.5 percent of America's electricity
  • generation from petroleum liquids and coke, down 42.9 percent (no surprise there) — making up just 1.1 percent of the total power picture in the states
  • natural gas-fired generation was up 4.4 percent (a bit unexpected) — 19.8 percent of the national generation
  • conventional hydroelectric, up 3.3 percent — a 7.3 percent contribution
  • wind generation, year-to-date, rose 47.8 percent (windmills in Texas and Colorado generated 57.5 percent of that increase) — this and other renewables including biomass, geothermal, solar, and other miscellaneous energy sources comprised the remaining 7.3 percent
2008-10-11 n/a 11642 Elevated Freeways: The Low Road? The Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) promotes neighborhood-based development as an alternative to sprawl. As part of their Highways to Boulevards initiative they recently listed ten Freeways Without Futures — elevated urban freeways that they say wreak all manner of economic and social havoc on cities and are ripe for being torn down. The highway-building boom that started revving up in the late '50s to support our exploding car culture undeniably destroyed many urban neighborhoods, particularly ones where the less-wealthy lived. It "solved" two "problems" with a single solution. (And, frankly, it's a lot easier to push the poor folks around than the rich ones.) In addition to leveling great swaths of housing, it created noisy, air-polluting divisions between what was left. Elevated highways are, in theory, an answer to part of those problems. The noise and air pollution is lifted up above ground level, and the real estate is less interrupted. But clearly success is mixed at best — the areas abutting this kind of infrastructure are generally depressed and inhospitable. The CNU list (the result of an open nomination process and weighted by several factors including age, redevelopment potential, potential cost savings, and local support) suggests the best opportunities to "stimulate valuable revitalization by replacing aging urban highways with boulevards and other cost-saving urban alternatives... saving billions of dollars on transportation infrastructure and revitalizing adjacent land with walkable, compact development." The looming maintenance expense these aging structures are facing is, all by itself, a serious driver. But I'm not so sure about all the social benefits being claimed. Certainly a boulevard — with a lower speed limit, plantings, connected to the street grid — is going to have far superior commercial potential than a freeway. Usability goes up, along with real estate values, tax revenues (and rents, once again driving out the low-income population). However, I either don't have enough imagination to visualize or information to understand how routing freeway-volume traffic through a boulevard won't greatly elevate local pollution and congestion, creating a nightmare for commuters and pedestrians alike. Feel free to spell out the missing details in the comments. Related in BuildingGreen Suite:
· Americans Favor Short Commutes
· Reclaiming Our Cities & Towns: Better Living with Less Traffic
· Transportation Planning: It's Time for Green Design to Hit the Road
· Asphalt Nation: How the Automobile Took Over America and How We Can Take it Back
· Elevated Childhood Asthma Risk Near Freeways
2008-10-09 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 11644 Outlawing Toilet Seats The current issue of The New Yorker has a sprawling piece about the illegal logging market, titled "The Stolen Forests", which cuts a global swath and at times reads like a spy novel. They've also posted a couple related treats on their website: an audio interview with the article's author and a nice little movie showing poached Russian timber winding up as a toilet seat at Wal-Mart. Which, in addition to being a Russian crime, is about to become an American crime. Finally. As noted in the article "Illegal Timber Trade Targeted by New Law" in the current issue of Environmental Building News, congress amended the Lacey Act in June to prevent sales in the U.S. of all timber and other plant materials illegally harvested elsewhere. Also see The U.S. Lacey Act: Frequently Asked Questions About the World's First Ban on Trade in Illegal Wood from the non-profit Environmental Investigation Agency. 2008-10-08 n/a 11626 I want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Plastics — chemical compounds which are compressed under heat into desired shapes, and thereafter are not subject to corrosion — are increasingly in use. Some are made of coal-tar products, some of milk; and one... utilizes the Chinese soy bean. This useful plant, is, next to rice, the staff of life in the Celestial republic; like beans, peas, and other "legume" plants, it contains the proteins, or nitrogen compounds, for which we eat meat. The mechanical uses of the soy bean (which does not resemble American beans) are of more recent discovery. It furnishes a fibrous flour, which gives body to a phenol (carbolic acid) compound. Under heat and pressure, this changes into a hard, strong, glossy substance, suitable for buttons, knobs, handles, mouldings, etc.
Excerpted from "Auto Made from Beans," Everyday Science And Mechanics, April 1936. (Tip of the hat to the Modern Mechanix blog.) Fast-forward to the Environmental Building News feature from July, 2001, "Plastics in Construction: Performance and Affordability at What Cost?"
In 1967, when [the film] The Graduate appeared, U.S. plastic production totaled 15 billion pounds (6.8 million tonnes). By 1999, according to the American Plastics Council, the annual total had increased to just under 85 billion pounds (38.5 million tonnes), with more than 60,000 different compounds in production. Plastics are used in virtually every industry, and their use is continuing to grow — at a compounded annual growth rate of 6.4% for the period 1995 to 1999. Nowhere are the presence and growth of plastics more apparent than the construction industry. North American sales for building and construction represent more than 22% of all plastic resin sales, second only to the packaging industry. It's hard to imagine a building today without plastics. Along with the obvious uses (siding, flooring, piping, wiring, appliances, and foam insulation), plastics are used in everything from concrete to paint. But at what cost to our environment?
2008-09-09 n/a 11631 Hurricane Disney: Stormstruck in Orlando I was down in Orlando last week — land of asphalt, ChemLawns, and Mickey Mouse. As is typical in that part of the world, it was too hot outside and too cold inside. In one of the mammoth Disney hotels, I was participating for two days in the Tenth Anniversary Annual Meeting of an organization called FLASH. FLASH is the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes — it used to be the Florida Alliance for Safe Homes, which explains the "L." FLASH is all about disaster resistance, so the sessions were about communicating fire-resistant construction practices, hurricane codes, 2x4 projectile penetration of wall systems, safe rooms in houses — cool stuff like that. In one session, two different speakers addressed pandemic flu — not because that's in the purview of FLASH, but because the challenges of educating the general public to those concerns are very similar to the challenges FLASH faces in communicating disaster resistance. Organizations involved with FLASH include insurance companies, manufacturers of building products that relate to disaster resistance (Simpson Strong-Tie, G-P Dens-Shield, etc.), product retailers like Home Depot, state agencies, the National Weather Service, FEMA, a few builders of disaster-resistant homes, such as Mercedes Homes, and the Salvation Army. As the conference progressed, participants at the conference were keeping a wary eye on Hurricane Gustav, which was heading for the Gulf Coast, and a few had to leave early. I was there to talk about how to get green building priorities more in line with disaster-resistance priorities. I did this by talking about passive survivability — the idea that we should be designing and building houses that will maintain livable conditions in the event of extended power outages, loss or heating fuel, or shortages of water. That presentation was really well received — something new to worry about for a group that lives and breathes disasters and emergencies. But what I wanted to tell you about isn't passive survivability or even the FLASH conference per se — but rather, an evening event we attended at Disney's Epcot Center. Conference attendees were invited to a special evening reception at Epcot's new exhibit: Stormstruck: A Tale of Two Houses, which is sponsored by FLASH and a number of its commercial partners. As someone who rebels against everything Disney, I gotta say: Stormstruck is awesome! Visitors are issued 3-D glasses and ushered into a room that holds maybe 20 people. It was set up as the inside of a house, looking out through picture windows at the yard, street, garage, house across the street, etc. The tour guide issued a storm warning and told us to be sure our safety glasses were on. You can probably guess what's next. Disney's best 3-D visualization modelers have created a remarkably photo-realistic simulation of a Category 4 or 5 storm. You watch, mesmerized, as winds pick up, deck chairs and barbecue grills blow away, tree limbs come down, shingles are ripped from the garage, and part of the house across the street blows apart. As the winds pick up, an occasional 2x4 or limb crashes through the window in front of you, accompanied by a gust of wind, a spray of mist, and the vibrations of a robust surround-sound speaker system. All this is 3-D remember, so the tree branch seems to end up just inches in front of you. But it's not just a show; it's a lesson in storm-resistant construction practices. After the storm, each participant takes part in figuring out how to rebuild. The tour guide — a real person in front of the room — asks a series of questions and, based on the group score, the house and garage are rebuilt accordingly. We were asked to choose between features like a gable roof or a hip roof, metal strapping vs. nails alone for framing, inward-opening or outward-opening entry doors, clay-tile vs. storm-rated asphalt shingles, replanting of magnolia vs. a native sea pine in the yard, and whether or not windows should be opened during a storm to equalize pressure inside and outside. Each of us keyed our responses by pushing either the "A" or "B" button in front of us. Then, based on the group-averaged answers to these questions, we experienced another storm — exciting, like the first one, but hopefully with some of the storm-resistant features in place that we had collectively chosen. More crashing storm debris, more howling wind, and projectiles crashing through the windows in front of us. More gusts of wind and light mists of spray to add a semblance of realism. The show was good enough that I went through twice — the second time later in the evening, after our group had been able to enjoy more time at the bar. Guys being guys (yes, the FLASH group is mostly men) and lubricated by alcohol, our group decided to intentionally answer all the questions wrong. A knowledgeable group (some of whom were probably consultants to Disney on the exhibit), we succeeded in scoring a near-zero, and the ensuing destruction the more exciting. There are some other nice displays in the Stormstruck pavilion, but the show is definitely the lead attraction — and educational to boot! Anyway, if you have the misfortune of being dragged down to Orlando and Disney World, by all means check out Stormstruck: a Tale of Two Houses.

2008-09-02 n/a 11600 Wind energy in the Times A wind turbine ad on the New York Times homepage! Sure, Web ads are relatively cheap, but it still looks like a sign that alternative energy is hitting the big time. And the day after this ad ran, the Times ran a page 1 story (in print as well as on the Web) about wind power, exploring concerns that while some say wind could provide as much as 20% of the U.S. electricity supply, the existing grid isn't up to the task of transmitting power from the often remote places that have the best wind resources to the populous regions that need it. How to retool for a more sustainable energy future is a discussion that eventually has to shift from the specialized realm of energy experts and environmentalists into more popular venues. Here's an indication that that's happening. 2008-08-27 n/a 11606 Planet Earth goes online This press release just came through; sounds like it will be a pretty great resource. It's not up yet though — check it out in a few days.
The Natural Environment Research Council — the UK's leading organisation that funds research into the environmental sciences — is launching an online version of its award-winning magazine, Planet Earth, on 29 September 2008. The website will be updated daily and feature news, features, blogs, opinion, podcasts and video from the environmental science community on climate change, biodiversity loss, volcanoes, earthquakes, the rainforests, oceans and poles. The content will appeal to a wide, non-specialist audience.
Editor Owen Gaffney said: "Environmental issues are at the top of the political and news agendas. We need to make independent, impartial environmental research news available to a wider audience. Planet Earth online will do just that. "We have unique access to a massive range of science. Our scientists travel to some of the most hostile and remote places on the planet to do their research, such as the Arctic, Antarctica, the Serengeti and the Amazon rainforests. We will run news, blogs and video from all of these places. "Our research is tackling the biggest environmental challenge facing this planet ­ sustaining its life support system. There couldn't be a more important time to communicate this research." A key difference between Planet Earth online and other science websites is the access it will have to a wealth of cutting-edge research. Many of the features will be written by researchers and then edited by experienced editors. "We want the website to be a key resource for the general public, students, teachers, journalists, researchers as well as policy-makers and MPs," said Owen. The content of the website in the first weeks will include:
  • SPECIAL REPORT: Global water resources
  • SPECIAL REPORT: Ocean acidification
  • SPECIAL REPORT: Poverty alleviation in China, India and Sub-Saharan Africa
  • FEATURE: The Amazon's carbon budget laid bare
  • FEATURE: Beyond the abyss — life in Earth's deepest trenches
  • FEATURE: Africa Gomez's extreme survivors
  • FEATURE: When scum ruled the Earth
  • BLOG: The cruellest place on Earth —working in the Afar depression
  • BLOG: Cape Farewell — scientists, writers and artists in the Arctic
  • PODCAST: Honey trap — robot spiders catch surprised bees
Research funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and its partners — such as the Met Office, Defra, the Environment Agency, NASA, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the European Space Agency and other research councils — is widely regarded as the best in the world. Planet Earth online will report from all parts of the research community supported by NERC, as well as related work from its national and international partners.
(I'm resisting the urge to make snarky comments about scum ruling the earth.)
2008-08-21 n/a 11585 The Gospel of Consumption America's buildings are no small contributor to our environmental difficulties and energy use... but they're far from the biggest part of the problem. The enemy is us — the choices we make individually and as a society. America's building envelopes are getting better and tighter, our heating and cooling systems are getting more efficient, but every year we keep using more energy. And our carbon emissions keep going up, not down. Part of the equation, certainly, is that the U.S. builds more buildings and is home to more people all the time. But per-person energy use and emissions aren't just staying the same, they're increasing. The LIVE post Plug Loads and Small Electronics addresses just one small piece of the puzzle, but the example is cross-applicable. An article in the current Orion Magazine, The Gospel of Consumption, takes a look at salient lifestyle trends over the last 80 years or so, with a dual emphasis on workplace issues and consumerism. (Excerpts below.) Yes, life is different than it was 80 years ago. It's different than it was ten years ago, or even five. We have more options now, greater convenience, better health care... we've made great advances. And there's no reason to turn our backs on the good things we enjoy today, and to continue to have even more. But have we abandoned some things that contribute to a greater happiness index and quality of life? From The Gospel of Consumption, an article in Orion Magazine:
By 1991 the amount of goods and services produced for each hour of labor was double what it had been in 1948. By 2006 that figure had risen another 30 percent. In other words, if as a society we made a collective decision to get by on the amount we produced and consumed seventeen years ago, we could cut back from the standard forty-hour week to 5.3 hours per day — or 2.7 hours if we were willing to return to the 1948 level. In 2004, one of the leading legal theorists in the United States, federal judge Richard Posner, declared that "representative democracy... involves a division between rulers and ruled," with the former being "a governing class," and the rest of us exercising a form of "consumer sovereignty" in the political sphere with "the power not to buy a particular product, a power to choose though not to create."
Now there's a harsh reality. I don't agree with it, though. The power to choose is a power to create... but what's created isn't something that can be bought or sold. The reader comments on the Orion site following the article are worth a look, too.
2008-07-22 n/a 11590 The Not-So-Green Grass of Home: "Nature purged of sex and death" Oh, we've written about lawns over the years. And so have other people. The current New Yorker has a great article about lawns — looking backward, forward, and around. A couple juicy excerpts:
The greener, purer lawns that the chemical treatments made possible were, as monocultures, more vulnerable to pests, and when grubs attacked the resulting brown spot showed up like lipstick on a collar. The answer to this chemically induced problem was to apply more chemicals. As Paul Robbins reports in "Lawn People" (2007), the first pesticide popularly spread on lawns was lead arsenate, which tended to leave behind both lead and arsenic contamination. Next in line were DDT and chlordane. Once they were shown to be toxic, pesticides like diazinon and chlorpyrifos — both of which affect the nervous system — took their place. Diazinon and chlorpyrifos, too, were eventually revealed to be hazardous. (Diazinon came under scrutiny after birds started dropping dead around a recently sprayed golf course.) The insecticide carbaryl, which is marketed under the trade name Sevin, is still broadly applied to lawns. A likely human carcinogen, it has been shown to cause developmental damage in lab animals, and is toxic to — among many other organisms — tadpoles, salamanders, and honeybees. In "American Green" (2006), Ted Steinberg, a professor of history at Case Western Reserve University, compares the lawn to "a nationwide chemical experiment with homeowners as the guinea pigs." Mowing turfgrass quite literally cuts off the option of sexual reproduction. From the gardener's perspective, the result is a denser, thicker mat of green. From the grasses' point of view, the result is a perpetual state of vegetable adolescence. With every successive trim, the plants are forcibly rejuvenated. In his anti-lawn essay "Why Mow?," Michael Pollan puts it this way: "Lawns are nature purged of sex and death. No wonder Americans like them so much."
"Turf War: Americans can't live without their lawns — but how long can they live with them?" by Elizabeth Kolbert; The New Yorker; July 21, 2008
2008-07-17 n/a 11597 Fuel-Cost Calculator Excerpts from a BuildingGreen press release that's being distributed today:
Some heating fuels that used to be quite affordable, such as heating oil, have risen in price dramatically, making competing energy sources such as electricity relatively less expensive. In parts of the Northeast and Upper Midwest, even the most expensive form of electric heat — electric-resistance baseboard heat — is now less expensive than fuel oil. The challenge in comparing fuel costs is the fact that most fuels are purchased by volume or weight, rather than energy content. It's hard to compare gallons of fuel oil with hundreds of cubic-feet (ccf) of natural gas and kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity. Adding to the complexity, there are big differences in how efficiently energy sources are converted into heat and how efficiently that heat is distributed throughout a building.
To accurately compare the costs of different energy sources, we need to look at the price per delivered unit of heat. If we compare fuel costs on the basis of dollars per million British thermal units (Btus) of delivered heat, we are comparing apples to apples. BuildingGreen's online fuel-cost calculator considers the heat content of each fuel, the efficiency of combustion by the heating equipment, and the efficiency of distribution. With furnaces and forced-air distribution, there are often very significant distribution losses that raise the cost per million Btus of delivered heat. The BuildingGreen calculator provides default (average) efficiencies but allows users to enter different values if they are known. Because the prices of most fossil fuels are rising faster than the price of electricity, which is regulated, some homeowners and businesses are likely to switch from oil, natural gas, or propane to electricity. "There has been very little attention paid to this issue by utility companies and public utility commissions," according to Alex Wilson, president of BuildingGreen, "but the likelihood of fuel switching to electricity may have very significant implications on electricity demand and safety — especially if homeowners begin using portable electric heaters more widely." In an editorial called "Get Ready for Fuel Switching" in the July 2008 issue of Environmental Building News, Wilson cautions that fuel switching could cause capacity shortages this coming winter, potentially leading to brownouts and blackouts. In addition, the use of portable electric heaters in homes with outdated wiring may cause a rash of house fires.
Also see the current issue's BackPage Primer, "Comparing Fuel Costs."
2008-07-01 n/a 11570 The Carbon Calculator Morass In the process of looking into carbon calculators for buildings as a behind-the-scenes assistant for the EBN feature article "Counting Carbon: Understanding Carbon Footprints of Buildings," I took a short detour into the wider carbon calculator world. While construction calculators may still be rare, the Web offers a multitude of general carbon calculators for businesses and households and also specialized calculators for everything from wineries to land remediation activities. It seems everyone is getting into the act — utilities, environmental groups, oil companies, government agencies, and offset providers (especially offset providers) are all offering up their own calculators. These vary widely in their approach, scope, level of complication, rigor, transparency, visual appeal, and results — including what aspect of household or business operations is the greatest contributor to total emissions. The primary value of these simple calculators is getting people thinking about the issue and providing some motivation for change, but the system should at least be accurate enough to help users develop a reasonable sense of priorities for action. The ideal calculator would provide default values using average data while allowing users to improve the results by providing their own actual data on utility bills (including gallons, therms, kWh, not just dollars), vehicle fuel efficiency, miles driven, flights taken, and other behavioral characteristics. The ideal calculator would also provide tips for next steps, and allow users to track efforts over time, as well as test the likely impact of different strategies. Even better would be if you could dig behind the displayed answers and see what all the assumptions were underlying them — a major bonus for geeks like me. EBN did not attempt a comprehensive review of lifestyle calculators, or comparison of results (especially once we realized what a rabbit hole we'd be entering). A little browsing on the web shows how many others have tried variations on that theme — and how hard it can be. Also, new calculators pop up daily. The calculators below are just a few that we thought rose to the top while wandering through the morass of options. For a more in depth review (though still by no means comprehensive) try Consumer Reports' review of travel results, the Home Energy Saver table outlining the scope covered by a range of calculators, or check out the Earth Charter Initiative's list of calculators available by country. We'd love to hear of any truly thorough reviews you know of, or what calculators you think are best. A few notable calculators in the mix are the following:
  • Low Impact Living's Environmental Impact Calculator, which provides a comparative assessment of a range of impacts, not just carbon emissions; suggests actions; and lets users save and update their profiles. (In contrast, the Ecological Footprint Calculator has an animated custom avatar, but I'm not convinced it provides much life-changing value.)
  • The CoolClimate Carbon Footprint Calculator, which considers a wider range of activities at a detailed level. Inputs include what users eat and purchase as well as the more typical questions about the user's house, based on expenditures, and comparison with national and "similar household" averages. The calculator was developed by the Berkeley Institute of the Environment (BIE), at the University of California, Berkeley).
  • Safe Climate Calculator, by World Resources Institute, which is short and asks only the hard numbers: therms, kWh, fuel economy and miles traveled, and rewards you at the end with a little animated guy who becomes a devil or angel depending on your emissions.
  • TerraPass, like most if not all carbon offset providers, has a suite of calculators, including personal and business calculators as well as specific calculators for driving, flying, etc. Also typical, the only option to "take action" is to buy carbon offsets or other "green products. " None of these are designed to encourage behavioral change. Still, I liked that it allows users to input specific flights taken, rather than number of "short" or "long" flights, or total miles or hours traveled. This doesn't mean TerraPass's calculator is more accurate, while that is possible — all I know is it shows the lowest emissions on the Consumer Reports review, and I'd lean towards using one in the middle of the range in the absence of better info on accuracy.
  • EPA provides a whole suite of calculators themselves (including ones for waste, recycled content and durable goods), and links to other's calculators — but what is especially useful for folks trying to get the word out is their GHG Equivalencies Calculator — which lets you input a consumption unit and get out how that number compares to barrels of oil consumed, tree seedlings grown, passenger vehicles, etc, etc. With this you can put emissions into terms anyone can understand.
What's next? Well, it looks like we'll be getting calculators like the "Carbon Hero" that calculates a user's carbon footprint from transportation as you move around, carrying the tiny data-collector with you. While I'm not sure whether this is really any better a calculator, I'm pretty sure it'll appeal to the gadget-geeks (but, we also need a hand-held one that calculates the embodied and operational carbon of each gadget they purchase). Unfortunately, the most noticeable thing about carbon calculators is still the plethora of options and the lack of consistency amongst them and we will applaud all efforts to clarify the field. In the mean time we still think trying out some of these calculators is a worthwhile effort to get people thinking, but we suggest taking the results and recommendations with more than a grain of salt.
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 11525 Walking the Talk: A Realtor's LEED for Homes Platinum Gut Rehab in Washington, DC.

Amy Levin and friends
photo: Heidi Glenn, NPR
I was a pretty lucky guy this past week. Firstly, I got to be in Washington, DC near the peak of their spring blossom season on a picture perfect day. Secondly, I was there to talk with National Public Radio's Robert Siegel and realtor Amy Levin about her LEED for Homes Platinum (pending) gut rehab of a townhome in Mt. Pleasant, the first such project in Washington, DC and one of just a small handful in the nation. The best way to learn more overall about this amazing project is to hear the story that recently aired on NPR's All Things Considered. But BuildingGreen LIVE decided to talk a bit more with Amy Levin to learn just how and why a realtor took such a deep plunge into the world of green building. Coming from a family of realtors, Amy has been involved in housing, property improvement, and property investment most of her life. But about two years ago, she became convinced that building green presented a real opportunity — that building green can pay builders back, even though there may be some additional up-front cost, because the public is willing to pay for the small premium. She set off looking for an existing property to prove it. "When 1834 Ingleside Terrace was listed, my offer was the first of many great ones," says Amy. "But it was the fact that I wanted to do a green renovation that convinced the owner to accept mine." A pretty good start to her sense of what green building can mean in the marketplace.

photos: Amy Levin
Amy then turned her attention to just how she was going to green the gut rehab. "I wanted a program that provided project oversight, one that would deliver results I could market," Amy recalls. She had heard quite a bit about USGBC's LEED programs for commercial buildings, and that led her to the LEED for Homes program, the Southface Institute (the LEED for Homes provider for the DC area), and Asa Foss, a LEED for Homes rater. Asa turned out to be just the right combination of expertise and encouragement that Amy needed to tackle LEED for Homes at its highest level, Platinum. "I found the right program and the right people," says Amy. "You can't make a LEED for Homes Platinum gut rehab easy, but Southface and Asa provided the direction and depth of understanding that made the process manageable." So, what did Amy discover at 1834 Ingleside Terrace about green building and if it pays:
  • She found an appraiser who valued her townhome at about 10% higher than comparable properties, one who listened to Amy's explanation of the green benefits of her approach and said, "Oh, it's like prepaying for efficiency."
  • She found interested buyers making offers that would more than cover the additional investments in green she had made in the property, even though the property is not even listed.
  • She found prospective renters more than willing to pay a clear premium for the health, energy benefits, and what Amy calls the "cool factor" of her green home.
  • She found about a dozen wonderful paintings in the basement that one E. J. Martin used to pay part of his rent, salvaged art that now graces many of the walls of her LEED Platinum home.
I have met a lot of realtors in my 20+ years in the homebuilding industry. Amy is the first I have met with a deep and broad understanding of both the technical and business advantages of true green building. But something tells me that Amy is going to have quite a bit of company, and I use that term intentionally for its potential double meaning.

More at the project's website. (As noted in the comments below, this link seems to be experiencing sporadic difficulties. If it doesn't work when you try it, give it another shot later. The site contains quite a bit of good info.)

2008-04-25 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 11511 RoofBloom "Instead of waiting for green roofs to come to the Twin Cities [St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota] as a product for mass consumption, RoofBloom was created to empower individuals with the knowledge and materials needed to install green roofs themselves. A collaboration between the Minnesota Green Roof Council and the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District, RoofBloom is taking action at a grass roots level, while focusing on improving the sustainability and effectiveness of green roof construction." — RoofBloom builds a green roof in 7 minutes
At their website, RoofBloom offers a downloadable 19-page booklet introducing their concept, Green Your Garage: Volume One. Excerpted:
Why small green roofs? Garages and other small outbuildings may not seem like the place to start promoting green roof technologies. These are the smallest roofs in the watershed, and make up only a small fraction of total rooftop area. Garages are generally not heated or air conditioned, and cannot take advantage of the reduced energy demands that are provided by green roofs. But garages are a great place to start:
  • Even though green roofs have a proven record spanning several decades in other countries, they're still an unfamiliar idea to most Americans. Few people risk using unfamiliar technology on their homes; more homeowners are willing to experiment with green roofs on their garages.
  • Garages and other outbuildings do represent a significant land use in urban areas. As an example, fifty thousand two-car garages, each with a 480-square foot roof, represent 24 million square feet of impermeable surface. That's 550 acres of green space.
  • Garages in Minnesota generally have roofs sloped between 20 and 30%. This is shallow enough to support many different green roof systems. Many single family homes in our region feature roofs sloped at 50% or more, which is too steep for most green roof systems. Also, garage roofs are usually simpler and easier to roof, with fewer complicated valleys and penetrations.
  • Garage roofs are visible. People will be able to see a green roof on a garage. This is in contrast to many commercial green roofs, which are often inaccessible and invisible to the public on top of a building. A garage with a green roof sends a clear message that green roof technology can be used economically on a wide range of building types.
  • Once green roofs are established as a viable means of reducing roofing costs and energy use, all while protecting our watersheds, homeowners will find ways to use green roofs on their homes. For now, though, garages and other small outbuildings present an ideal place to demonstrate the possibilities of green roofs.
2008-03-27 n/a 11513 Regreen Residential Remodeling Guidelines from ASID and USGBC After months of hard work and collaboration, they're ready: the Regreen Residential Remodeling Guidelines, produced under a partnership of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) Foundation and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). The guidelines were developed by a technical committee of diverse industry experts, and refined by public comment, to synthesize product selection, systems integration, and proven technologies. Organized according to the ten most common types of remodeling projects, the guidelines address scope, integrated pre-design issues, and environmental considerations, and provide a topical library of strategies as well as case studies of successful renovations. Download it now if you haven't already. A hearty handshake to the following people from BuildingGreen for the tremendous effort they gave to this project: Peter Yost, Amie Walter, Rachel Navaro, Julia Jandrisits, Alex Wilson, and Jennifer Atlee. Phil Scheffer isn't acknowledged in the document, but he did the tedious and valuable job of adding all the clickable links. These folks did a vast amount of work. (And I watched them do it. I did take the photos on pages 31 and 43, though, and they're clearly the most important pictures in the guide. Yep. I ain't proud.)
The "Gut Rehab" shot was taken during our office expansion in the old Estey Organ Factory buildings in Brattleboro, VT.
Environmental Building News first reported on the Regreen project in December '07: Guidelines in Development for Residential Remodeling.
2008-03-25 n/a 11496 YES! Jerelyn Wilson — who has the inadequate title of "Outreach Director" for BuildingGreen — came down the hall and into my office a few minutes ago, bright-eyed and holding the current issue of YES! magazine in front of her, folded open. "Have you seen this?!" she asked, holding it out for me:
Powerful image — even more powerful in the magazine, where it's bigger and crisper. If you haven't read YES! before, please pick one up at a newsstand... or request a free trial issue. About that photo:
"Tsewang Norbu lives in the village of Digger across the 4,500 meters high Khardungla pass in the Leh District. He is twenty-eight years old, has five children and keeps goats. He was selected by his community to be trained in the installation, repair and maintenance of solar photovoltaic units. All the solar units he installed were brought to the village by Yak and on the backs of people from the village. He was trained on the job: he installed fifty-nine units himself, taking three months to complete the work. The units were installed in 1992. They are still working." Photo by Barefoot Photographers of Tilonia
Copyright 2008 Barefoot College, Tilonia, India
(More pictures and words.)

Being around and working with people to whom not just an enthusiastic and positive world future, but an enthusiastic and positive here and now, matters, is inspiring and humbling. People who celebrate goodness, and strive for it.
2008-02-22 n/a 11498 Guerrilla Gardening It's not a new idea, but this book is less than a year old. From the blurb for Guerrilla Gardening: A Manualfesto, by David Tracey:
"In the case of guerrilla gardening, the soldiers are planters, the weapons are shovels, and the mission is to transform an abandoned lot into a thing of beauty. Once an environmentalist's nonviolent direct action for inner-city renewal, this approach to urban beautification is spreading to all types of people in cities around the world. These modern-day Johnny Appleseeds perform random acts of gardening, often without the property owner's prior knowledge or permission. Typical targets are vacant lots, railway land, underused public squares, and back alleys. The concept is simple, whimsical and has the cheeky appeal of being a not-quite-legal call to action."
Just sowing some seeds. Spring is right around the corner.
2008-02-19 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 11486 Green Building Products radio interview I'll be interviewed about GreenSpec and Green Building Products this evening on Santa Fe Public Radio, KSFR, at 7:10 p.m. (Eastern time), for 15 or 20 minutes. Tune in if you'd like — 101.1 FM if you're in New Mexico (pretty much anywhere between Taos and Albuquerque)... or streaming on the web (looks like you'll need Windows Media Player, which is free, and available for Macs). The show is The Journey Home, hosted by Diego Mulligan. It's not a call-in show, sorry.

2008-01-08 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 11471 The Story of Stuff From
"From its extraction through sale, use and disposal, all the stuff in our lives affects communities at home and abroad, yet most of this is hidden from view. The Story of Stuff is a 20-minute, fast-paced, fact-filled look at the underside of our production and consumption patterns. The Story of Stuff exposes the connections between a huge number of environmental and social issues, and calls us together to create a more sustainable and just world. It'll teach you something, it'll make you laugh, and it just may change the way you look at all the stuff in your life forever."
Watch the whole thing for free at their website. Download it to your computer.
2007-12-05 n/a 11473 Brains and Buildings The latest offering from Wiley's series of books on sustainable design just arrived on my desk: Sustainable Healthcare Architecture by Robin Guenther and Gail Vittori. The book is wide-ranging, with plenty of case studies and essays from green building luminaries. Flipping through its pages, I came across an essay by Bob Berkebile, in which he mentions the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture. Apparently they've discovered a part of the brain that's devoted solely to processing the environment around us: "Recent research has identified a cortical region containing voxels, described by John Eberhard, former director of research for AIA, as collections of neurons that have the function of recognizing buildings. This part of the brain doesn't appear to exist for any other reason: researchers never find it active unless the body is reacting to its environment." (page 18) This might explain why we have such strong reactions to built spaces, which can create feelings of safety or danger, awe or disappointment, well-being or illness. Yet another reminder that green building is about more than just saving energy, water, and material resources. (The image above is of Patrick H. Dollard Health Center, part of our High Performance Buildings Database.) 2007-12-04 n/a 11418 On the Editorial Radar I'd like to call your attention to the "Editorial Radar" box on the right-hand navigation column—that brown stripe next to these posts. You may have to scroll down (or up) a little. The editors of Environmental Building News use social bookmarking to share links to interesting articles and other information on the internet with each other. Sometimes it's research for stories in the works, sometimes it's just about keeping up with emerging trends. Now you can follow along. Some of the interesting links lately: 2007-11-30 n/a 11423 Google Earth features new High Performance Buildings layer

Update: it has come to our attention that the U.S. Department of Energy is no longer supporting this Google Earth layer. We've created a Google Documents link where you can download the KMZ file for use in Google Earth.

I want to show off something that we have been working on that I'm really excited about. Working with the Department of Energy and Google, we created a High Performance Buildings layer in Google Earth. The layer gives you an interactive map with markers for the buildings in DOE's High Performance Buildings Database, with links to full case studies. Even cooler, you can download and view 3D models of the buildings (that were created in SketchUp). If you have Google Earth, you can download the layer here: Great Green Buildings Google Earth Layer If you don't have Google Earth, you can download it here. You can find the 3D models in the Department of Energy collection of Google's 3D Warehouse. This layer is only the first step of our Google Earth/ SketchUp project. There will be more coming, so let us know if you have any suggestions.
2007-11-19 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 11450 Friends of Bill Bill Clinton's keynote is this morning, and it's likely to be a madhouse. There are 13,000 pre-registrants for Greenbuild this year. In past years, up to 40% of attendees registered on-site. Yesterday morning at Member Day, USGBC honcho Rick Fedrizzi said that he expects 25,000 people. "My staff cringes every time I say that number," he joked, going on after the briefest pause to explain that "there isn't enough yogurt." I'm not sure that's the reason his staff is cringing; 25,000 is optimistic by any standard. He's a shoot-for-the-moon kinda guy, though—and he just might end up being right. He's had outlandish predictions come true before. Chances are good that I'm not going to be in the auditorium for Clinton's speech—I'm registered for Greenbuild as Press, and there are some rules and limitations to that... including Only One Press Person Per Organization Can Attend The Clinton Keynote. Of the dozen of us BuildingGreen folks here this year, I'm one of three with a press pass. That said, I may find my way in anyway. I do that sort of thing sometimes. If I get caught, I'll watch it from the Press Room, or maybe from jail, on closed-circuit. And you can do pretty much the same: hop over to GreenBuild(365) and watch it live! Though there's nothing there yet that I can find, there will at some point also be stories from Greenbuild on the gb.07 journal: "Two USGBC staffers are on your source for what's happening on the ground. They'll be sharing what they find, and a few things they didn't expect. Lauren Kuritz will be taking the unstructured route of a first-timer and attending as many different types of sessions as she can. Doug Smeath will remain focused on his role as writer for, and will concentrate his journal entries on sessions concerning green homes. Check back often for updates on the excitement in Chicago." 2007-11-07 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 11414 The Abersush Home for Old Men Because it made me laugh when I read it during lunch today, a passage by the inimitable Ambrose Bierce from his short story, The Applicant:
"It is a somewhat dull-looking edifice, of the Early Comatose order, and appears to have been designed by an architect who shrank from publicity, and although unable to conceal his work—even compelled, in this instance, to set it on an eminence in the sight of men—did what he honestly could to insure it against a second look."
Not that there's anything wrong with that.
2007-10-30 n/a