Taxonomy Term en 8994 Occupy Green Building: The Economy As a Design Problem

What do over a thousand protests around the world last weekend in support of Occupy Wall Street have to do with Green Building?

When NYC Mayor Bloomberg was speaking via video-link at Greenbuild, and while the Toronto Airport security strike delayed green building practitioners from returning home, a growing group of "occupiers" continued a now one month old occupation of Zuccotti Park in New York City. There are many attempts to explain what's going on there, but the best I've seen comes in the words of those on the ground–-this is no simple single-issue movement to be cordoned off as a faction. Nor is it a "left" or "right" movement; the call has appeal to original tea party members, greens, labor, and so many others who count themselves among "the 99%."

I won't attempt to create my own container to box-in what's happening there. I was there Sunday, and it's very clear to me that attempting to do so would do a disservice to the passion, creativity, community, diversity, and collective seeking found in Zuccotti Park. But I came away mulling over the links to what the green building community is trying to accomplish.

At Greenbuild I thoroughly enjoyed a session called Beyond LEED, which had Jason Mclennon from ILBI and Brendan Owens from USGBC exploring the interconnection of LEED and Living Building Challenge, and others also tackling the broader question with gusto. Where I go beyond LEED is beyond buildings, even living buildings, to resilient and generative communities and economies in a rapidly changing world. I also go to the question of what would material management look like in a sustainable society?

So what's the connection here?

Ultimately a smattering of living buildings in a dying economy won't take us much further than a smattering of "green" products in an economy where it's still cheaper to ignore ecological and social consequences of manufacturing and its supply chain. A smattering of companies taking "triple bottom line" and "corporate social responsibility" to heart is equally limited when publicly traded companies can get sued if they let anything get in the way of maximizing financial shareholder value, and where discounting the future is basic unquestioned business practice.

What I get out of this upswelling of activism is that many in this country and the world are ready for a new economic story. It's not just about jobs, although that's a big part of it. People are connecting the dots between things that don't work in our food system, our education system, our building industry, our government, and so much more–-and why the fixes we attempt seem to get stymied by the incentives and assumptions embedded in our current economic system. More and more people are actively looking for alternatives.

What's fantastic is just how many creative alternatives are out there–-just like the green building movement, there's a whole world of people and organizations testing new ideas and designing a new economy. There are new corporate structures that let publicly traded companies concern themselves with more than profits; proposals for a financial transactions tax and to replace labor taxes with resource taxes; new ways to get dollars circulating in local communities; even alternate frameworks and entirely new models for the economic system as a whole.

I'd like to see the building design and construction community approach the economic system as a design problem to be solved rather than a design constraint to operate within.

Don't get me wrong; I'm astounded by all the creativity and progress that's been made in "tunneling through the cost barrier", showing how green design is cost effective today–-but imagine if building green products, buildings, and communities was the no-brainer default option because the economy gave us the right signals. Just think what would be possible!

2011-10-17 n/a 11947 FourYears.Go If you thought making substantive change by 2030 was a challenge, how about by 2014? A new initiative launched last week and getting spread around the Internet today, 'fouryears.go' says "There is still time to act, but no time to waste." Started by Pachamama Alliance and Wieden+Kennedy--the ad agency behind Nike's 'just do it' (they're donating their services to do a major communications campaign for this)--it's about waking people up to urgency we face in these times and helping each member group meet its most ambitious goals toward a just, thriving, and sustainable world. The video asks--"could we spend the next four years growing our cities?" and shows green roofs on everything; it asks, "in four years, could Manhattan look like this?" and shows the street filled with bikes. It's nice to set aside the usual reality concerns and just watch the video and dream. Given how many solutions we really do already have at our fingertips, and how much substantive change really does depend on mustering collective will from a wider spectrum of society, maybe a kick in the pants from left field along with a major ad campaign can help. C'mon, stop and dream for a minute. Pass it on. Ok, coffee break is over. Time to get back to hammering out the hard, pragmatic details of greening our buildings and neighborhoods step by messy step. 2010-03-23 n/a 11939 From Grease Traps to Green Kitchens: Reflections of a Recovering Food Service Professional Over the years I've held a lot of job titles and have done most kitchen jobs, from cleaning a large supperclub's grease traps in mid-July after the obligatory upper-Midwestern Friday fish fry (I don't recommend that as a career path) to picking herbs and edible flowers from the garden that I'd use in lobster salads at a Relais & Châteaux restaurant (that was a pretty good job). So when I started writing the article Commercial Kitchens: Cooking up Green Opportunities for Environmental Building News I knew there wasn't enough space to adequately cover all the stories, equipment, and processes encompassing sustainable commercial kitchens. Kitchen size and demands vary enormously; each piece of equipment is worthy of a feature article; and don't get me started on menu choices and sustainable agriculture. Yet I hoped to give at least a cross section of the some of the more important issues. The most intriguing stories I heard while researching this article were from those pushing the envelope. From Don Fisher's tireless efforts at the Food Service Technology Center to David Yudkin MacGuyvering a heat exchanger onto a convection oven (pictured here), there are exceptional people out there doing creative things to make kitchens more energy and water efficient. But, industry wide, it is an uphill battle with entrenched ideas and priorities. I know a chef who controlled food costs down to the penny in order to save a few hundred dollars a year, while the display kitchen's ventilation hood ran full blast for twelve hours a day pulling conditioned air from the restaurant, wasting thousands of dollars in energy, heating, and cooling. The owner gave the chef a bonus for controlling food costs; the profits went up the ventilation stack. Maybe the feature will open a few eyes to the enormous energy and water waste in commercial kitchens, and the potential for savings (and increased profits). I welcome your tales of problems, creative solutions, anecdotes, or follow-up article suggestions. And would love to hear your kitchen-confidential-esque horror stories from the trenches. I kind of miss those days, minus the grease traps, of course. 2010-02-10 n/a 11916 Urban Planning, 1948 Interesting how it's at once forward-looking and backward.

2009-12-17 n/a 11919 The Climate Scoreboard Here's a tool that tries to connect the best available science directly to the international climate change negotiations and commitments, and the politicians are using it! Perhaps that, in itself, is progress. "How Does It Work? In the run-up to COP-15, we are scanning UNFCCC submissions and news sources from around the world to collect a list of what we call 'current proposals' — possible scenarios for greenhouse gas emissions by UNFCCC parties. We share our compilation and use the C-ROADS-CP climate simulation to calculate the expected long-term impacts (in terms of GHG concentration, temperature increase, and sea level rise) if those proposals were to be fully implemented." For more info, see the Climate Interactive website. 2009-12-07 n/a 11898 Mechanical and Electrical Equipment for Buildings - MEEB Like This
2009-11-16 n/a 11845 Mud and Straw in the Shadow of the U.S. Capitol

In 2008, the USBG (that's the US Botanic Garden — not the USGBC) organized "One Planet — Ours!" to showcase sustainable techniques and technologies including things like edible school yards, urban orchards, a solar greenhouse, photovoltaic panels, residential wind turbines, green roofs, and rainwater harvesting. Part of the exhibition was a gorgeous little strawbale demonstration building (video link). One of the results of that exhibition — besides the huge public exposure — was a Congressional briefing about straw bales as a building material. Last winter (after the inauguration), the demonstration building was lifted in one 8-ton piece by crane and trucked to a new location where it now lives on as a studio. And there's video of that, too. Even though you've missed the little strawbale house, there's more natural building on the next block. Always Becoming is an art installation on the grounds of the National Museum of the American Indian. "The five sculptures range in height from seven and a half to sixteen feet tall, and are made entirely of natural materials: dirt, sand, straw, clay stone, black locust wood, bamboo, grass, and yam vines." Here's some pictures I took while it was going up in 2007.

2009-08-21 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 11824 A bottled water ban

Link to video

(No relation to the post B'eau-Pal Bottled Water - Dichlormethane, Carbon Tetrachloride, Chloroform... and kudos to our prescient commenter Matthew, who last September predicted the 2020 headline, "Bottled Water Outlawed Worldwide.")
2009-07-19 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 11779 82 Tons of Earthquake: Straw House Gets The Shakes

On March 27, a shake-table simulation of twice the ground acceleration of the '94 Northridge CA earthquake was run in the Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation's Large Structures Laboratory at the University of Nevada on a full-scale model of a strawbale housing unit developed in the wake of the devastating 2005 Kashmir 7.6 magnitude quake that killed nearly 100,000 people and left over three million homeless in Pakistan. Although the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI)-sponsored test was intended to be to failure, in the end the robust little straw house was still standing and structurally sound — check out the video footage below. The quake-resistant buildings designed by PAKSBAB (Pakistan Straw Bale and Appropriate Building) are intended to be affordable, energy efficient, and locally built with readily available materials. Bamboo rods and nylon fishing net act as the reinforcement and tie-down system; the netting is wrapped under a soil-cement-encased gravel-bag foundation (made with old vegetable sacks), up both sides of the load-bearing baled-straw wall, and attached to the wooden top plates. The wall-tall bamboo, which also engages both the foundation and the top plate, is attached upright in opposing pairs on either side of the wall at frequent spacings and 'sewn' together through the bales, providing flexible resistance to out-of-plane forces. The whole assembly is covered with earthen plaster. The roofing is light corrugated steel. The hand-made structural straw bales — there are no posts or other bearing members — are smaller than those produced by automatic balers, which are rare in developing countries. The plaster, as expected, experienced buckling and delamination, but there was no evidence of failure of the nylon net or bamboo. There are some similarities between this system and the one devised by the Getty Seismic Adobe Project. If you're into earthquake design (or just interested in watching buildings shake), check out the video there.
2009-04-06 n/a 11756 Greg Franta's Body Found They found Greg, and his car, yesterday — a month after he mysteriously disappeared. According to the Denver Post, he had slipped off the road and rolled into a ravine. Daily Camera has a more detailed article. I was hoping that when we found out what happened to Greg, even if the news was bad, there would be relief in the closure. There is some of that relief, but it's overwhelmed by the suddenly concrete sense of loss. And of my own vulnerability. It's funny how my response to someone else's huge misfortune becomes about me and my fears, but that's how it's playing out right now. Greg exuded vitality and energy. He embraced and energized those around him, literally all over the world. If someone with that strong a presence in the world can die so unexpectedly, what does that mean for me? A reminder that we're all here on borrowed time — at least in our current form. An invitation to use this time well. For his family and friends, for everyone who is committed to green buildings and making a better world, Greg's sudden departure is a huge loss. There is some consolation, however, in recognizing how much great work he left behind, in his designs, his ideas, and the thousands of people he taught and inspired. Look to the great folks at the Rocky Mountain Institute to help channel grief into yet more positive action. — Nadav Malin 2009-03-11 n/a 11758 100 Abandoned Houses From photographer Kevin Bauman's website. See them all. 2009-03-09 n/a 11724 The Aftermath: Congressional Briefing about Strawbale Construction This is the second post about strawbale building today. The other is Building Science for Strawbale Buildings. Regular readers may recall that post back in June about the straw-bale construction briefing organized by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) that was held in the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington DC. The presenters included Laura Bartels (president of GreenWeaver Inc. and member of the Builders Without Borders Building Team), Sandy Wiggins (former chairman of the board of the USGBC), Bob Gough (secretary of the Intertribal Council On Utility Policy), and David Eisenberg (director of the Development Center for Appropriate Technology and chair of the USGBC's Codes Committee). Since then, the information from that briefing has become EESI's most-visited archive. In passing along this news, Laura Bartels noted, "If you look at the breadth of topics they cover, the amount of briefings and the kinds of speakers they host, it makes this really astounding." She went on:
The influence that the briefing has had has reached to federal agencies, national organizations and non-profits, and many individuals. One immediate impact was that the Department of Interior subsequently funded a Straw Bale Housing Symposium in South Dakota along with the Intertribal Council on Utility Policy. There is now interest from USDA to repeat the symposium for a wider audience in the same region. That is just one example, and there are more brewing and in process. Beyond working with codes which is such a necessary effort, this experience opened my eyes to the need to work on awareness and support at the policy level and continue to encourage federal support for research and housing programs.
From the EESI website:
* Laura Bartels — President of GreenWeaver Inc., Builders Without Borders Building Team, is a builder and educator who consults on residential, commercial, industrial and institutional straw bale structures. Presentation (pdf) * Bob Gough — Secretary of Intertribal Council On Utility Policy, is seeking affordable and healthy housing solutions and the creation of new jobs for reservations through the use of indigenous building materials. Presentation (pdf) * Sandy Wiggins, LEED AP — Principal, Consilience LLC and Immediate Past Chair, U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), is a "green" architect and developer. Presentation (pdf) * David Eisenberg — Director, Development Center for Appropriate Technology, is chair of the U.S. Green Building Council's Codes Committee and has authored numerous articles about straw-bale building issues. Presentation (pdf) Audio Recording of the Briefing and Q&A (mp3) Straw-Bale Construction Frequently Asked Questions (pdf)
2009-02-26 n/a 11735 Venting about Sustainable Commercial Kitchens Despite the economic downturn and the trend toward smaller crowds at building trade shows, Efficiency Vermont's 2009 Better Buildings by Design Conference was a great success and actually increased attendance this year. The enthusiastic response is a tribute to the sustainable building community at large and to Efficiency Vermont, which put on a conference that was well organized, informative, and pragmatically optimistic. The quality of the presenters and workshops was impressive. William Miller from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Steve Selkowitz from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Kevin Dowling from Philips Solid State Lighting Solutions, John Straube from Building Science Corporation, and others, spanned topics ranging from high-performance roofs to the latest in LED technology. I attended a commercial kitchen ventilation (CKV) workshop featuring Don Fisher, co-founder of Fisher-Nickel and the Food Service Technology Center (FSTC). Administered by Pacific Gas and Electric, FSTC is a pioneer in the testing of water- and energy-efficient commercial kitchen appliances. (Anyone interested in commercial kitchens has to visit Fisher's presentation was geared toward experienced kitchen and/or HVAC professionals and discussed his company's work improving the efficiency of existing ventilation systems. For background information, commercial kitchens require massive CKV systems to remove heat and fumes generated by gas ranges, broilers, fryers, and — the biggest emitter — the grill (think of a large, white-hot barbecue burning indoors for 12-18 hours a day). Most CKV systems contain rooftop-mounted fans and controls, ductwork, dampeners to control fire risk, stainless-steel hoods, and grease removal "filters," and may also include automatic controls such as Melink's Intelli-Hood system to monitor and vary the fan speed, or additional grease removal in the form of UV or water spray systems. CKV systems run as much as 18 hours a day exhausting air from commercial kitchens at rates up to 12,000 cubic feet per minute (institutional kitchens can be as much as 30,000 cfm), which has to be replaced by make-up air that often comes from the conditioned building space, i.e., the restaurant. About 30% of a restaurant's total energy and 75% of its HVAC load are consumed by kitchen ventilation, and it typically does a lousy job of capturing grease, which is deposited on duct walls or condenses on the building's roof, creating a serious fire hazard. Fisher suggests improving CKV performance through better make-up air diffusion and by adding stainless-steel sides and back walls to the hoods to focus the ventilation and limit cross breezes, but even at their best, these units are energy hogs. Fisher discussed improving CKV, but how does a restaurant owner reduce the ventilation needed in a kitchen in the first place? What if we minimize, or even eliminate, the use of these energy-consuming, high-emitting appliances? Are there alternatives? Perhaps we need to start by rethinking our choice of food and how it's prepared. Raising cattle, for instance, requires more resources and creates more greenhouse gases than most other proteins and should be consumed sparingly. But even if chefs use beef (and they will), eliminating the grill could, potentially, be healthier for the diner and environment, without compromising taste. As we know, grilling food creates carcinogens, which is — obviously — not a good thing, especially when there are alternatives. The main benefit to using a grill is that grilling meat is fairly simple and the surface is large, so a lot of food can be prepared at once by cooks with limited skills, providing an easy way for a chef to manage the staff and menu at a busy restaurant. But with careful menu planning, other cooking methods can be equally easy and effective. For instance, pan-searing proteins leaves residues in the pan that are typically used as the base flavor for sauces, and poaching can infuse food with flavors without introducing a lot of fat. And there is an alternative to poaching or sautéing on ranges that generate heat and combustion gases; Cooktek will be offering a six-burner commercial induction range in the upcoming months — the first available commercial-quality induction range in the U.S. Induction cooktops use electromagnetic fields to heat iron-based cooking pots (aluminum, copper, and most stainless steel pots will not work) at efficiencies of up to 84% compared with <40% for gas. The flat surface of the cooktop stays cool to the touch and only the pan gets hot. There is no flame or combustion gases to exhaust. Though restaurant-grade single "burner" induction cooktops have been around for years, due to novelty and cost, their rollout in the U.S. has been limited. But a durable, six-burner induction range that can stand up to a commercial kitchen's abuse is an exciting development. Using these units could result in faster cooking times; cooler, safer, more comfortable employees; fewer emissions and improved indoor air quality; faster cleanup with fewer chemical cleaners; and, most importantly, significant energy savings upfront and via a reduced need for restaurant ventilation, heating, and cooling. While expensive, an induction range could pay for itself fairly quickly through these reduced HVAC demands. Completely eliminating external ventilation from a commercial kitchen may be unrealistic, but decreasing the size of an HVAC system offers benefits that go beyond energy consumption. Fewer HVAC intrusions mean designers would have more options with the interior space. And on the facilities side, with no grill or gas range, less money would be needed at start-up for installing gas lines; interior surface, duct, and hood cleaning costs would be reduced; and the roof would be saved from grease damage, creating a cleaner, safer, better looking restaurant inside and out. And, as we all know, in the restaurant business, presentation is everything. 2009-02-18 n/a 11705 2,000 Bikes at the Inauguration

The Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA), a Washington D.C. bicycle advocacy organization, along with America Bikes, the D.C. District Department of Transportation, and Dero Racks (they're listed in GreenSpec), provided free valet parking — for bicycles — at the presidential inauguration last week.

Cyclists were already in line before the 7 a.m. opening. All told, about 2,000 bikes were parked at two locations on either side of the secure area around the White House. By the middle of the day, one of the lots ran out of room and another enclosure needed to be improvised from security barricades to accommodate the volume.

2009-01-27 n/a 11717 UFO suspected in mystery wind turbine mangling whir... whir... whir.. whir... CLUNK! It finally worked... after decades of catching nothing but birds and bats, while making a small amount of electricity as a byproduct, the international effort to catch a UFO netted its first victim. A wind turbine in England lost one of its rotors last week in a nighttime incident with no clear cause, on the same night that locals observed unusual lights. Too bad we misunderestimated the aliens... there is no sign of a downed spacecraft, and they apparently made off with the broken rotor, which can't be found. Meanwhile, George W. Bush was forced to return to the White House and take his chances on a rendezvous with Tony Blair and an escape from planet Earth following the inauguration. For more excellent wind turbine disasters, check out this post and this thriller by my colleague Mark Piepkorn. 2009-01-13 n/a 11698 Meters Spinning Backwards! You find the darndest things on YouTube sometimes. Southwest Windpower, the maker of the Skystream 3.7 small-scale wind turbine, brought this video (and others like it) to my attention.

2008-12-05 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 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 11621 The Miniature Earth
Better version:
2008-09-21 n/a 11622 Around the World in an Electric Car
Louis Palmer and the Solartaxi

Since leaving Switzerland in the beginning of July in 2007, Louis Palmer has driven his solar-powered, three-wheeled, two-seater car around the world. Yesterday morning — a few days after giving a lift to the UN Secretary General in New York City (who afterward said "I hope I can enjoy another ride") — the Solartaxi came through our little town of Brattleboro, Vermont... the long road through Europe, the Middle East, India, China, Asia, New Zealand, Australia, and the United States nearly at its end. The tour will be over in December at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Poland.

Some photos followed by some links:
Solartaxi website
Solartaxi photos (Google)
Solartaxi search (Google)

2008-09-18 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 11603 Learning From Ancient Fertilizer Factories Talk about appropriate technology. They cooperate with nature on all levels — the design, the materials, the function... and gorgeous to look at besides. How would we build something like this today? This is very sexy stuff, even if it's all about pigeon poop. Click the image for a high-res narrated slideshow (or here for low-res.) From Jadid Online:
The pigeon towers of Isfahan are a perfect example of man working with nature in common alliance. Before the use of chemical fertilisers alternative means had to be found for generating large quantities of fertiliser. Using their knowledge of the natural environment the architects of Isfahan created pigeon towers. By attracting wild pigeons with seed and a safe place to roost the towers acted as a natural collection point for waste which could then be used as fertiliser. The Iranian filmmaker, Mohammad Saeed Mohasesi who has studied the pigeon towers of Isfahan explains the background to these ancient buildings.
2008-08-25 n/a 11611 Heating with magazines BuildingGreen recently cleared out about 75 shelf-feet of periodicals -- Architecture and PanelWorld and Ecological Restoration and Mold and Moisture Management and lots more. The recycling area outside the office was getting overcrowded with them and we still had more to remove. Then I remembered that our neighbor, Steve Benson, at J.S Benson Woodworking & Design, had told me he could use paper in his briquetter. I gave Steve a call, and he happily accepted our old magazines. The next day he brought over a brown, nice-smelling cylinder about two-inches long and an inch across, made partly out of our magazines. He also sent the photos above, showing magazines in his heavy-duty shredder, then all chewed up along with wood scraps in the hopper of his briquet-maker, then the finished briquets. Steve has an old building that has been costing a lot to heat, and he has a lot of wood scraps as a by-product of making gorgeous windows and doors. He realized he could be heating with those scraps, and got hold of the equipment to do it -- the shredder, the briquetter, and a massive, clean-burning wood furnace. He got some good advice, but he figured out a lot of it on his own. This is great, but it doesn't end there. He's planning to use a wood gasifier hooked up to a diesel flatbed truck as his company's delivery vehicle, and to set up a series of mid-sized generators, also powered with wood gas, to power his shop and to sell to the grid. A blacksmith, another neighbor of ours, is interested in using the charcoal that will result from the gasification process to heat his forge. And the filters that will capture crud that would otherwise be airborne can be fed into the briquetter and burned up in the furnace. Steve is going for LEED EB Silver certification, although his old mill building is far from the typical LEED candidate, and his on-site power and innovative systems will help him get there. He says he'd rather spend some money and effort on LEED certification than buy $20,000 worth of ads in glossy architectural magazines. He expects to get a lot of positive attention, and he's having a blast figuring out all this stuff. It's great to be able to feed our neighbor's furnace with our unwanted magazines, but I wouldn't even have known about the goings on over there if one of Steve's employees hadn't mentioned some of it to me. It makes me wonder what else is happening, under the radar, as people put their ingenuity to work solving energy problems and making their buildings work better. Do you know of anything cool? Write a comment and let everybody know about it. 2008-08-12 n/a 11588 Search Plugin I have a little treat for Firefox and Internet Explorer 7 users: the Search Plugin. With the plugin installed, you can search directly from the search bar in the top right corner of your browser. In the course of a day, I often have to reference a few case studies. The search plugin allows me to get to the case study I need almost immediately. Same goes for an article, green topic, product, etc. I don't have to click my bookmark to our homepage or find the BuildingGreen tab I already have open, I just click in the search box. I know it's a small thing, but I couldn't live without it. 2008-07-18 n/a 11589 Prius and Prejudice: A Case against the Electric Car Sunil Somalwar, a physics professor at Rutgers University, presents the following argument at the Better World Club site:
Let us conservatively say that a Prius goes 40 miles on a gallon of gasoline. After taking into account the 20 lbs CO2 released by burning a gallon of gasoline, 40mpg amounts to two miles per pound of CO2 emission. On the other hand, a plug-in electric car may not emit any CO2 from the tailpipe, but when I draw a kilowatt-hour from the electric grid here in New Jersey to charge the car batteries, a coal plant in some other state belches out 2.5 lbs of CO2. According to Toyota, the plug-in version of the Prius will run about 2.5 miles on that kilowatt-hour of electricity, which means that I get only one mile per pound of CO2 emission. When I plug it in, my 40-50 mpg Prius becomes half as efficient and turns into a 20 mpg SUV. (The story with GM's upcoming Volt plug-in car is no different.)
Here's the rest of the story (it's pretty short). Has the good professor overlooked anything?
2008-07-18 n/a 11568 World Cement Production A graphic from The Oil Drum — Gigatons per Year of Cement Produced:
Quoting from the website:
Remember, in China, oil isn't used in cement production. In the "clinker" stage, it's all coal. In the blending stage it's electricity (which is generated 80% from coal in China). And cement production in China is inefficient. There are hundreds of small plants, both wet and dry processes, and the local environmental impact is severe.
There is some interesting discussion about the chart in that site's comments. For more about cement production and its environmental impacts, see the Environmental Building News feature, "Cement and Concrete: Environmental Considerations." Much more information about the cement industry is in BuildingGreen Suite as well.
2008-06-18 n/a 11574 Climbing against climate change French climber Alain Robert, who has taken to climbing skyscrapers instead of cliffs -- so far he has made more than 70 urban ascents -- scaled the New York Times building June 5. Before being arrested, Robert unfurled a banner reading, "Global warming kills more people than 9/11 each week." Robert targeted the Times building as the perch from which to make his point because of its green qualities. Although the New York Times Company and its architect, Renzo Piano, did not seek LEED certification, the utilizes efficient HVAC systems, daylighting, and other green features. Technically, climbing the building isn't much harder than climbing a ladder, due to the ceramic rods that cover much of the exterior. While meant mainly to limit the sunlight entering the building, the rods also greatly reduce the likelihood of birds crashing into the windows, a problem particularly with large expanses of uninterrupted glass. (For more on that, read this EBN article. Some have criticized the building, however, for its lack of bicycle parking -- it lacks outdoor racks or an indoor bike storage room, although space for a handful of bicycles has been make in an ad hoc fashion. Piano put perforated steel members on the facade at street level, which are excellent for locking bicycles to, but the building's management will not allow that, and threatens to cut any locks that are secured to them. As is usual in reportage of direct-action attempts to get across a political point, press reports concerned themselves mostly with Robert's antics rather than his message. Robert's mention of September 11 on his banner must be disquieting to many, and his use of the Times building as a symbolic site weirdly echoes the 9/11 terrorists' use of the Twin Towers. It also resembles many Greenpeace actions, except that rather than hanging a banner at a site being protested, Robert hung his on a site he wished to laud. But most striking is the quixotic claim that global warming is killing more than 3,000 people each week. How does it do that? How can one know? Does it matter how climate change compares to 9/11, or would it be sufficient to draw attention to the seriousness of the problem? It seems all too likely that linking global warming concerns to a half-baked claim and an arguably loony risk of life does Roberts' cause more harm than good. 2008-06-06 n/a 11538 Earthen Architecture in Earthquakes Down To Earth Building Bee (Vancouver, BC, Canada) had a shake test on a half-scale model of a cob structure done at the UBC Earthquake Engineering Research Facility. It happened a while ago, but they just posted video:
The model was of a circular structure with a shed roof, described as "about 6 ft diameter and 5 ft high"... not representative of houses in the developed world, but a start for more research. There was a small window on the rear, which is easy to miss in the video. (Fenestrations normally weaken a structure, so they're important to include.) There also doesn't appear to be a stemwall — highly recommended for cob buildings, and another likely point of seismic catastrophe. A larger or other-shaped structure would have performed differently — which is not to say that cob wouldn't outperform many other building methods. But a person needs to know how the same structure, built from other materials, performs before any comparisons can be made. In the video, Carlos Ventura, director of the research facility, said that the impacts generated in the first part of the test "usually will destroy a structure that's not properly done." Which means that a structure — of any sort, presumably — that is "properly done" would also have survived. He goes on to describe it as a "satisfactory performance." None of which is meant to denigrate the research and findings. Just showing (beyond anecdote) that cob can perform at least as well as proven materials and methods under seismic conditions is an excellent victory. When we in the developed world hear about loss of life in earthquakes due to collapsing houses in places where earth building is common, we tend to think that earth building plus earthquakes automatically equals death. But there's more than one way to build with earth, just like there's more than one way to build with anything else. This excerpt from the proceedings of The 1855 Wairarapa Earthquake Symposium in New Zealand isn't surprising:
Within the highest intensity areas, many brick, cob, and stone buildings were seriously damaged, some collapsing during the earthquake and many requiring demolition after. However, there were a few brick buildings that suffered little damage. Some wooden structures were also seriously damaged and several collapsed. Most wooden buildings, however, seemed to have remained standing although many were damaged by falling chimneys.
In the Vancouver test, the first point of failure appeared to be typical: diagonal cracks radiating from the corners of the door. I suspect the window at the rear of the structure had similar behavior. At the end of the final test (culminating in a massive 9.0 Richter), the building was breaking apart into large pieces, mostly diagonally — as would be expected under these forces on this kind of shape. But there was also horizontal failure between lifts, suggesting that cob building may not always be quite as monolithic as generally suggested — though clearly far more so than typical unreinforced, unstabilized adobe:

Compare the preceding to this reinforced adobe shake test:

Also see this video from the Getty Seismic Adobe Project:
and the article When the Earth Moves: The Getty Seismic Adobe Project.

Another video, from GVTV, in addition to offering a couple technical misstatements for the sharp-eared, shows some of the Vancouver testing. A couple interesting further reads are the articles Making the Building Code Work for Cob by architect John Fordice, and Some Thoughts on "Adobe Codes" by seismic engineer Fred Webster.
I'd be very interested to see strawbale get the shakes. There have been a few crunch tests done, but nothing like this yet, to my knowledge.
2008-04-01 n/a 11509 Wal-Mart

The spread of Wal-Mart stores across the United States, from 1962 to 2007
Wal-Mart in BuildingGreen Suite:
2008-03-27 n/a 11517 BYOBlue for Earth Day 2008 The following is from the good folks at Architecture 2030. Yes, it's simple. Even simplistic. But the point, I think, is just to start. If you're sympatico, just put on some blue for Earth Day. Easy. And then, as long as you're started, make that phone call.
BYOBlue / Earth Day 2008, April 19-22
Want to stop global warming? Wear BLUE for Earth Day 2008! Join millions of people around the world who will be wearing BLUE to signify their vote for NO COAL.
Earth Day 2008 is going to be historic! Architecture 2030, along with numerous other groups around the nation, is calling on everyone to wear BLUE during Earth Day 2008 to signify their vote for No Coal. Events will be happening around the world from April 19th through April 22nd, so...
If you're attending the Earth Day event on the National Mall in Washington, DC on April 20th, wear BLUE.
If you're attending another Earth Day event, wear BLUE.
No matter what you're doing for Earth Day 2008, wear BLUE.
A BLUE shirt, top, sweater or jacket...whatever. Just wear BLUE.
Then, on April 22, as a culminating action, pick up the phone, call Congress at 202-224-3121 and ask for an immediate 'Moratorium on Coal' — a halt to the construction of any new coal-fired power plants. Through this Call for Climate event, Earth Day hopes to generate over a million phone calls to Congress. Visit Earth Day's website to learn more about this critical event.
Your BLUE vote will count. Fifty-nine coal plants were canceled in 2007. That's over a third of the 151 planned. That happened before millions of people joined together to say No Coal.
BYOBlue for Earth Day 2008. Be the vote that tips the balance.
Architecture 2030
Earth Day events 2008
2008-03-15 n/a 11522 Home Green Home There are a growing number of green-product retailers, both online and in storefronts. We list some of those with a specialty focus in GreenSpec, but there are so many more popping up all the time. I visited one last weekend that's quite something — Home Green Home, in Ithaca, NY. While most green retailers are either boutique shops with small, unique items, or building supply outlets offering wall finishes, insulation, and sustainable-construction hard goods, Home Green Home has taken a more encompassing approach. "We try to cover every room in the house, including the garage and the patio," founder Joe Nolan said. The range of merchandise displayed in the large, spotless retail space extends from natural paints to locally-made quality furniture to nontoxic cleaning products to organic mattresses. Deliberate care is taken to offer the most deeply green options.
The seed for Home Green Home took root after Joe and Michelle Nolan built their beautiful, code-approved, timber-framed, straw-bale-insulated house a few years ago using local, salvaged, and earth-friendly materials and finishes. People were interested... came in droves to check it out... and were inspired and motivated by the possibilities they saw. A vision formed to provide the benefit of the all the research the Nolans poured into their own choices and actions, making it easier for others to implement the same sorts of green changes in their lives now.
The retail space itself is a showcase for the products and techniques available, from the RetroPlate-rehabbed structure-as-finish existing concrete floor, to the clay paints on the walls and ceiling (Green Planet clay paints have been approved for GreenSpec, but the listing hasn't been drafted yet); from the displays and fixtures created by local craftspeople out of reclaimed wood (including shutters and doors), to the weathered steel roofing repurposed as a decorative finish element.
They will ship goods if people don't have a more local source available, but they've so far chosen to not implement ecommerce, Joe said. "People can call us up and we'll put a human interface on it — talk to them about what their needs are and the best way to meet them."
2008-03-06 n/a 11495 Video: violent wind turbine collapse The braking mechanism on a large wind turbine failed in high winds (the second such occurrence in Denmark last week), leading to the spectacular failure in this video clip. There has been a rash of reported breakdowns in the last two months of turbines manufactured by Vestas, which has a 28% market share and 33,500 units deployed worldwide, according to its website. In a story in The Copenhagen Post, the manufacturer of the 10-year-old windmill cites poor maintenance, but vows to investigate all problems.

2008-02-26 n/a 11477 Plug Loads and Small Electronics There are a couple big-picture links I want to put right out front. You can come back to them later, but I want you to be aware of them in case they're not already on your radar. OK. The Energy Star people have been putting out occasional interview-style podcasts on topics like the energy use of computers (including servers and data centers) and imaging equipment. But the first three, in late 2006, were about consumer electronics — and those are the ones that have really stuck with me. Though rooted in the residential sector, the takeaway is broad. The following long bullets are taken from those podcasts, which are also available transcribed.
  • "Consumer electronics is probably the fastest growing category of electricity growth in the home. And in a home that has a lot of the latest devices, it could easily represent 15 to 20 percent of a home's electricity use."
  • "If you go back about 25 years, about 5 percent of the energy used by your home was consumer electronics. And that has almost tripled to current rates of about 13, 14 percent. We're estimating right now we'd probably be somewhere closer to 20 percent of the home energy bill in 2015 being related to consumer electronics devices."
  • "The typical American owns 25 consumer electronics products and spends more than $1,200 a year buying them, according to the Consumer Electronics Association."
  • "In the U.S., TVs consume around 46 billion kilowatt hours per year, or about 4 percent of residential electricity use. This is roughly equal to the annual electricity use of all households in the state of New York."
  • "If you go to someone's home who just bought a new big-screen TV, that new TV might use two to three times more power than the one they're replacing, and they have no idea. They could be adding the equivalent of two new refrigerators into their home."
  • "Those little black boxes, the external power supplies... we have five or ten in our home typically. If all external power supplies met the standards set in California and met the Energy Star spec, we could cut the world's electricity bill by more than a billion dollars a year — that's "B" as in boy — and eliminate the need for six large power plants."
  • "When a consumer goes into a retail setting and looks at televisions, for example, they tend to be displayed in a manner where the picture is the brightest, most vivid, to catch their eye. And there is very little focus, if any, on the energy consumption."
  • "I went to the Consumer Electronics Show to all the different booths of every manufacturer and said, could you tell me how much energy your TV uses? And they couldn't answer me. Then I finally got one company, and they said, oh, you want to talk about power? Hold on. And they got the engineer, who said, oh, this is very powerful."
  • "We've spent the last decade or so trying to make our refrigerators and air conditioners more efficient. It would be a shame to throw away all those savings as we introduce all these new, full-featured consumer electronic products in the home."
  • "We've taken some aggressive steps to try to come up with specifications to recognize the more efficient power supplies and battery chargers. But in the end, consumers are going to have to demand that. It doesn't have to be all consumers, it just has to be enough of them to make a difference in the eyes of manufacturers."
  • "One thing that many consumers do not know is that the average home pollutes twice as much as the average car. All those devices churning away in your home, they get their energy from a power plant. And those power plants are very polluting, or can be. People need to know that what goes on inside the house is as significant as what they're doing on the road."
Bonus links:
2008-01-22 n/a 11480 Small Car, Big Ripples Some smart people on the greenbuilding email list (along with just about everyone else on the internet) have been discussing the Nano — at $2,500, the world's cheapest car — which is being introduced by Tata Motors in India, which apparently has visions of marketing it internationally. You can read the whole thread in the archives. Here are some excerpts, omitting bunches of good stuff solely for the sake of brevity, and in a couple cases taken slightly out of context. The writer's name links to the original post.
"Here is a $2500, 50MPG car that seats five (presumably five people who haven't been binging on twinkies). Environmentalists are howling, yet we are also lauding the Prius, which gets the same mileage and costs ten times as much." — Lawrence Lile "Now everyone in India can afford a car. Don't get me wrong, the line between cultural imperialism and environmental conscientiousness can be close sometimes. But it's like [if] you took a big country with lots of cars, and then subsidized oil — it would drive up emissions vastly. Oh that's right, that's the US." — Keith Winston "You have nailed the environmental argument against these cars on the head. This article seems to indicate that the Tata will be cleaner than the average Indian car, but still won't meet US standards, which says a lot about the average Indian car." — Lawrence Lile "Until we in the US demonstrate a low carbon lifestyle we have no moral standing to criticize others for emulating our long-standing material and energy profligacy." — Reuben Deumling
"I think the main point, and why eco freaks like me have our knickers in a twist over this car, has little to do with whether it is more or less efficient than a Prius. The thing that frightens me is that if even a fraction of Indians and Chinese can afford this car, even if it is micro emissions, we are in deep (methane producing) poop. A recent survey of Chinese youth found that they were very interested in living a green lifestyle, but 84% wanted to get a car first." — Kirsten A Flynn "And a 50mpg Tata in Bombay traffic isn't going to happen either. Years ago I saw an estimate for total time spent related to automotive travel (driving, in traffic jams, working to pay for the car, etc) vs. miles traveled. It turned out we're traveling at just about walking speeds... But we're spending much more time 'walking' than we used to (and getting a lot less exercise)!" — Keith Winston "I can already imagine the resentment we'll be feeling once the developing world really begins to realize that global oil production has peaked and we've consumed the lions share." — Curt Sommer "There aren't many of us who, if we can afford it, don't get what we want. If you live in a village in the middle of nowhere and have to get somewhere, you're going to be mighty happy if you can go by car. Most of us on this forum have a real choice; we should therefore not poo-poo those who don't. This includes the little kids who work 12 hours a day in factories. Their standards are quite different from ours." — Sacie Lambertson "1/3 of greenhouses gases come from vehicle emissions. We are losing habitat, and therefore species, at an unprecedented rate due to road building. Bicycles are un-happpening in certain developing societies as people who used to walk, bike and use public transit close themselves off in cars. Rainforests are being clearcut at the rate of 150 acres per minute. This is not even yet touching on the human health and safety issues: 400,000 deaths per year from autos. Incidence of respiratory, circulatory disease from pollution, etc. Hey guys, the sooner we get out of our own cars here, the more credibility we'll have in telling others what's good and not good to have." — Lois Arkin "At the risk of beating an off-topic dead horse, I thought some of you might find this article from Worldwatch interesting, considering the conversation this week on the Tata Nano. 'One car gets 46 miles per gallon, features fancy accessories, and sports two engines with a combined 145 horsepower. The other car reportedly gets 54 miles per gallon, runs on a diminutive 30-horsepower engine, and is positively spartan in its interior trimmings. The first is the Toyota Prius, a darling of the environmentally conscious. The latter is the Tata Nano, reviled as a climate wrecker. Is there a double standard?'" — Leslie Moyer "One is replacing a 20 MPG SUV, and one is replacing a bicycle." — Corwyn "Bingo. I think the Tata will do one thing extremely well. It will draw us elitists out of the woodwork and will force a wider discussion of our role in damaging the planet." — Steve T
2008-01-18 n/a 11465 Happy Holidays from BuildingGreen! We wish all of you a happy, life-changing year ahead, and thank you for all the good, important work you do and choices you make. We had our annual holiday party for staff and their guests on Wednesday evening; it's something we look forward to every year. If there was enough room, we'd have you all over. That's part of the reason we've developed this LIVE section of our website — so we can catch up with each other, have lively discussions, and bask in such good company. Here are some photos from our party. (Click the pictures for a larger version.)

In the hallway — good people, good food, twinkly lights.

Each of us on staff brings in a dish or two: hearty foods and delectable desserts.

Lots of talk and laughter.

In our new conference room, a slideshow of Alex's recent photos from Sweden running in the background was the source of much interest and discussion.

It's a kid-friendly party, too, with an activity room that generally winds up spilling over into the whole place. This high-stakes poker game happened in a corner of the library.

2007-12-20 n/a 11468 Notes from Sweden #2: Western Harbor in Malmo

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

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

Turning Torso building — looking up

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

Another view of the Turning Torso

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A building with rooftop evacuated-tube solar collectors

Two buildings with the south-wall and rooftop solar collectors

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

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

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

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

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

2007-12-11 n/a 11470 Notes from Sweden #1: How They Get Around

[Clicking an image in this post will load a larger version of the image. A slideshow of the images in this post is also available.]Despite the light drizzle and the fading light of Sweden's mid-afternoon dusk when I arrived in Lund, it was immediately clear that the prevalent form of transportation here is bicycling. Bicycles are everywhere. Hundreds are parked at the train station, where I arrived from Copenhagen. For every person I saw in a private automobile, there were probably 20 on bicycles.

It's such a pleasant contrast to the U.S. and our car-dependent cities and towns. Of course, I suppose it helps that this part of southern Sweden is quite flat. The region has some of the best farmland in the country.

Many of the cobblestone-paved streets have designated bicycle lanes and sidewalks, demarked by different paving patterns. There are also separate bicycle/walking pathways, usually with marked bike lanes for travel in both directions, with walkways on one side — or both. These pathways, at least in the Lund University campus, have their own roadway underpasses, signage, intersections, and even traffic lights in some places. One can bike all the way to Malmo, maybe 25 kilometers away, on paved bicycle pathways — and I get the sense that there are good pathways connecting most towns and cities here. The city is the most pedestrian-friendly I've ever experienced. Traffic-calming features are everywhere: all manner of speed bumps, including raised platforms, and pedestrian bump-outs (allowing easy crossing for pedestrians while slowing traffic with the narrowed feel of the street). At these bump-outs, provision is made for bicyclists to pass through, rather than being squeezed into the vehicle lane.

And then the public transit! Most of the vehicles in Lund are low-entry, green Mercedes buses, inviting with large windows and easy access — no flight of steps like most of our buses in the U.S. I haven't had need to ride a bus, since we're almost exclusively on foot, but it looks like a breeze.

And the train from Copenhagen to Malmo and Lund is wonderful: quiet, comfortable, efficient, easy. One catches the train right at the Copenhagen airport, and it crosses the sound between Denmark and Sweden on the second-longest rail-vehicle bridge in the world. It was overcast and raining when I came in, so we couldn't see the large offshore wind farm just to the south and (often — apparently) visible from the train. The evening I arrived, we went back into Malmo to rendezvous with a friend from DOE, who happened to be in the city for an International Energy Agency meeting; again, the train trip was a breeze.

Somewhat surprisingly, the private cars I do see here are larger than I had expected. When I visited France a few years ago, the cars were mostly tiny: smaller than the littlest cars one sees in the U.S. and unlikely to even be legal in the U.S. I saw the same in Brazil several years ago. This being Sweden, quite a few of the cars here are Volvos and Saabs — and many are the same models (fairly large and not that efficient) that we have in the States. I don't see many of the small European and Japanese diesels that were so common in France. But I also don't see any cars larger than a mid-size Volvo.

Today, my host toured my daughter and me around — driving south through Malmo. The highways seem highly organized, efficient, and not too crowded (though it is a Sunday). Roundabouts are far more common than traffic lights, so one can drive through without having to come to a stop — a significant energy-saving feature. Where there are traffic lights, I was interested to see that before a red light turns green, the yellow comes on as well for a second or two — so that someone driving toward the intersection can see that the light is about to change and avoid having to slow down (and wasting energy when re-accelerating).

All in all, the Swedes are so far ahead of the U.S. when it comes to transportation infrastructure and planning that it isn't even funny. It's a pleasure to avoid cars here!

A wood-chip boiler facility; stay tuned...

— Alex Wilson, Lund Sweden, 9 December 2007

2007-12-09 n/a 11437 The shoes of Greenbuild To follow up on another reader comment, apparent fetishist Matthew suggested that "a fun report might be documenting the types of shoes people are wearing"—so I spent a little time shoe-gazing last night at the Leadership Awards celebration in the Merchandise Mart. Shiny black shoes were The Thing for both sexes. Some of the women had pointy-toed affairs, a couple of them almost elfin in structure; mostly spike heels, not wide heels or flats. For guys, mostly tapered with a flattened nose; laced, not loafers. Leather, pleather, vinyl, imported, domestic... what do I know about shoes? I figured I'd come off as more than a little creepy if I started asking, and since I do have some measure of decorum (believe it or not), I didn't. I hope this has helped somehow. It actually was kind of fun. I'm open to additional suggestions. 2007-11-09 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