Taxonomy Term en 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 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 11875 The Great Passivhaus Face-off
The low energy use of the first Passivhaus in Bremen, Germany, is surprising, especially since the house has neither solar collectors, nor a PV array, nor a boiler.
I've been a big fan of building scientist John Straube for a long time. And equally as big of a fan, for just as long, of deep-energy engineer Marc Rosenbaum. To see the two of them face off over the ultra-low energy use Passivhaus concept is a green-building wonk's dream. Our always enlightening (and often entertaining) sister site,, has a pro/con pair of articles under the banner "Does Passivhaus Make Sense Over Here?" Gold. Start with John Straube's "con" article first: "Comparing Passivhaus Standard Homes to Other Low-Energy Homes." It handily describes the Passivhaus standard as it goes along, in case you're not familiar with it. Then read the "pro" rebut, "In Defense of the Passive House Standard," by Marc Rosenbaum and David White (who I don't know, but am going to keep my eyes open for). Passivhaus or not? Yes and no.
2009-10-21 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 11864 "The drama of a 2x4 shot from an air cannon at glass windows" Architectural testing concern HTL will be at GlassBuild America shooting missiles at windows again. The demonstration/demolition follows the Miami-Dade large missile protocol by shooting 2x4s at impact-resistant and non-impact-resistant windows. A press release from HTL quotes NGA Industry Events Director Susan Jacob: "There is nothing quite like the drama of a 2x4 missile shot from an air cannon at glass windows." Wish I was going! I checked HTL's website for some footage, but was left wanting. There's a link for client videos (and there's some top name clients in there), but they all seem to be password-protected. So it was off to YouTube to find this:
Another interesting short video — less than two minutes — was shot at last year's Glassbuild conference; a reporter from e-Glass Weekly played word-association with a few exhibitors. If this small sampling is any indication, the fenestration industry does not like the NFRC at all; was optimistic (as of last year) about commercial construction; and thinks green building and LEED are the future.
2009-09-23 n/a 11827 TURI Loses Funding... maybe. We recently learned that the Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) is losing its Massachusetts state funding. This strikes particularly close to home for me as I worked briefly with TURI after grad school and was quite impressed with the caliber of their work (and yes, full disclosure, I still have friends there). TURI is one of a select few organizations nationally that successfully champions the needs of both industry and the environment — for 20 years now they've been finding that practical common ground where we can really move forward in widespread adoption of safer alternatives. With our GreenSpec directory, editors at BuildingGreen constantly struggle to assess the use of a plethora of toxics in building products and manufacturing processes to determine what constitutes safe and healthy products and still gets the practical job done of building quality green buildings today. This requires the kind of pragmatic alternatives assessment that TURI excels at. The lessons I learned at TURI and their current research are a great help in my work here and it would be a huge loss to see their services cut. This isn't a done deal. There is an effort afoot this week to get a supplemental budget appropriation that would allocate $1.2 million of the business fees collected from TURA filers to support the continued operation of TURI — back to the original financing model that pays for itself with the companies using toxics paying for the reduction program. People living in Massachusetts can support the effort this week by contacting their representatives and asking them to sign onto the letter to Massachusetts House and Senate leadership requesting the appropriation. I did just that and was pleasantly surprised at the quick and positive response from my reps. Anyone from anywhere can comment on online articles about TURI and make it clear this self-funding program is too good to lose. This kind of thing goes beyond Massachusetts and TURI. The battle to retain the high-quality, high-impact green jobs we already have, as well as remake our struggling economy into a thriving green one, is going on across the nation through skirmishes like this one — and it is in these local and state level debates where a few voices can sometimes make a surprising difference. More information in BuildingGreen Suite: Funding Cut for Toxics Reduction. 2009-07-16 n/a 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 11808 Repower America: 100% clean electricity within 10 years Its website says:
Repower America is the bold clean energy plan to "repower" our country with 100% clean electricity within 10 years. By making buildings and homes more efficient, ramping up renewable energy generation, constructing a unified national smart grid, and transitioning to clean and affordable plug-in cars, we can address our country's economic and national security challenges — all while making huge strides to solve the climate crisis.
Is it possible? Yes, it is. Will we actually do it? I'm less certain about that. John F. Kennedy famously said in 1962, "We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade." And in seven years, we did. We implemented new technologies and knowledge at a tremendous pace to support a vision, and we pulled it off. What motivated us? What was at the root of that amazing achievement? We were afraid of the Soviet Union conquering space, and then using space to conquer us. In the same speech, Kennedy said, "Only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war." Repower America uses this line of reasoning in their pitch, citing "our country's economic and national security challenges" as primary motivators, and noting that it can help solve "the climate crisis" to boot. Should nationalism be a motivator for renewable energy? We don't collectively seem to be afraid of the hellish potential of climate change (yet) to take unified, swift, and sweeping action... and it's not as if they're promoting jingoism, right? And it is unavoidably political after all, isn't it? The Apollo program — not including Mercury, Gemini, and other preceding programs — cost us 25 billion. Adjusted for inflation, that's about 145 billion. The Iraq war has so far cost us 680 billion. The war in Afghanistan, over 190 billion. What's the long-term return-on-investment to America of those expenditures? And what would it be for ending our reliance on non-renewable energy?

2009-06-16 n/a 11818 Wanted by Chemical Industry: Young, Pregnant Spokesperson for Bisphenol-A On Friday, May 19, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal published a damning story based on the leaked minutes of a private strategy meeting of food-packaging executives and chemical industry lobbyists that took place in Washington DC the previous day. The story's authors spoke with the chairman of the North American Metal Packaging Alliance (NAMPA), John Rost, who verified the talking points, but indicated that the summary wasn't complete. "'It was a five-hour meeting,' he said." On Saturday, NAMPA responded by distributing a press release claiming that the leaked minutes were "blatantly inaccurate and fabricated." On Sunday, the Washington Post released its own story on the leaked minutes. They spoke with Kathleen M. Roberts, a lobbyist for NAMPA with Bergeson and Campbell. She happens to have been the meeting's organizer, and she also verified that the information in the summary was accurate. This looks pretty bad for NAMPA. So here's what happened. Last Friday, representatives of companies including Coca-Cola, Alcoa, Crown Holdings, NAMPA, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Del Monte, and the American Chemistry Council (a lobbying organization for chemical manufacturers) met to forge a strategy to combat the growing fear of bisphenol-A (BPA) in the public and the increasing legislative efforts to ban the substance. BPA, mostly used for polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins, is everywhere — from polymer tooth fillings to electronics to Nalgene-type drink bottles, even toilet paper... and, according to the CDC, in detectable amounts in the blood of 90% of the population. It's perhaps most ubiquitously and immediately present in the interior epoxy lining of food and beverage cans. The Washington Post story sums up the concern:
Over the past decade, a growing body of scientific studies has linked the chemical to breast cancer, testicular cancer, diabetes, hyperactivity, obesity, low sperm count, miscarriage and other reproductive problems in laboratory animals. More recent studies using human data have linked BPA to heart disease and diabetes. And it has been found to interfere with the effects of chemotherapy in breast cancer patients. Researchers have found that BPA leaches from containers into food and beverages, even at cold temperatures. A study by the Harvard School of Public Health published earlier this month found that subjects who drank liquids from plastic bottles containing BPA had a 69 percent increase in the BPA in their urine. Despite more than 100 published studies by government scientists and university laboratories that have raised health concerns about the chemical, the Food and Drug Administration has deemed it safe largely because of two studies, both funded by a chemical industry trade group.
It's evidently this sort of reporting that frustrates the embattled pro-BPA faction so much that one suggested response during the meeting was to find a "'holy grail' spokesperson" — a "pregnant young mother who would be willing to speak around the country about the benefits of BPA." The minutes go on to state that "the committee doubts obtaining a scientific spokesperson is attainable." ScienceBlogs has posted what is apparently the full text of the leaked minutes. For the pro-BPA industry's take, see, presented by the American Chemistry Council (which "represents the companies that make the products that make modern life possible"), PlasticsEurope ("an association of plastics manufacturers that deals with complex legislative processes"), and the Japan Chemical Industry Association ("promoting the stable development of the chemical industry").
2009-06-01 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 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 11778 The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 EBN reported last October on a California law requiring annual energy-use reporting for all nonresidential buildings. (Commercial owners will have to disclose energy use starting in 2010.) How far behind is a national law? Last week, a 648-page draft was released of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES) bill by House Representatives Henry A. Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Edward J. Markey (D-MA) chairman of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee. It's got a broad scope — promoting renewable energy, carbon capture and sequestration, low-carbon fuels, electric vehicles, and smart grids; increasing energy efficiency in buildings, appliances, transportation, and industry; decreasing emissions of heat-trapping pollutants; and protecting consumers and industry during the transitions. The building industry will be most interested in Subtitle A, Building Energy Efficiency Programs, under Title II, Energy Efficiency:
    Subtitle A - Building Energy Efficiency Programs
    • Sec. 201. Greater energy efficiency in building codes.
      • an excerpt: The applicable target for overall nationwide energy savings, compared to the 2006 IECC for residential buildings and ASHRAE Standard 90.1-2004 for commercial buildings, for the national model building energy codes and standards shall be 30 percent in editions of each model code or standard released after the date of enactment of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009; 50 percent in editions of each model code or standard released after January 1, 2016. Any target set by the Secretary... shall be set at the maximum level of energy efficiency that is technologically feasible and life-cycle cost effective, and on a path to achieving net-zero-energy buildings. (There's a lot more language than this, and I'll be honest — I don't know what it means. If anybody wants to give it a read and report back in the comments, that would be great. As far as I can decipher, new buildings will be required to have 30% energy use reduction by 2010, and 50% in 2016, with new targets set every three years afterward.)
    • Sec. 202. Building retrofit program.
      • an excerpt: The Administrator shall develop and implement, in consultation with the Secretary of Energy, standards for a national energy and environmental building retrofit policy for single-family and multi-family residences. The Secretary of Energy shall develop and implement, in consultation with the Administrator, standards for a national energy and environmental building retrofit policy for commercial buildings. The programs to implement the residential and commercial policies based on the standards developed under this section shall together be known as the Retrofit for Energy and Environmental Performance (REEP) program. The purpose of the REEP program is to facilitate the retrofitting of existing buildings across the United States to achieve maximum cost-effective energy efficiency improvements and significant improvements in water use and other environmental attributes. The REEP program shall utilize Federal personnel and resources as needed for development, design, program materials, administration, seed capital, and other activities and support. (Does this sound like the Environmental Service Corps?)
    • Sec. 203. Energy efficient manufactured homes.
      • This is about mobile home upgrade replacement rebates.
    • Sec. 204. Building energy performance labeling program.
      • an excerpt: The Administrator shall establish a building energy performance labeling program with broad applicability to the residential and commercial markets to enable and encourage knowledge about building energy performance by owners and occupants and to inform efforts to reduce energy consumption nationwide. The Administrator shall publish a final rule containing a measurement protocol and the corresponding requirements for applying that protocol. Such a rule shall define the minimum period for measurement of energy use by buildings of that type and other details for determining achieved performance... shall identify necessary data collection and record retention requirements...
2009-04-06 n/a 11722 "Clean Coal harnesses the awesome power of the word 'clean'!"

2009-02-26 n/a 11726 Obama: Greensburg KS a Green Energy Leader Last night in President Obama's address to congress he mentioned Greensburg, Kansas as an example of leadership in green energy:
I think about Greensburg, Kansas, a town that was completely destroyed by a tornado, but is being rebuilt by its residents as a global example of how clean energy can power an entire community - how it can bring jobs and businesses to a place where piles of bricks and rubble once lay. "The tragedy was terrible," said one of the men who helped them rebuild. "But the folks here know that it also provided an incredible opportunity."
Turns out the quote came from Daniel Wallach of Greensburg GreenTown. We have been working with Daniel and his team in Greensburg, as well as a team from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, for the better part of the last year to create case studies of Greensburg's green projects. Greensburg is not only a leader in green energy, they are also a leader in green building including initiatives to work green building strategies into their building codes. There's a wealth of information about these initiatives on their website. Image: White House photo 2/24/09 by Pete Souza
2009-02-25 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 11669 Affordable Housing Summit at Greenbuild - Report By Peter Yost and Allyson Wendt, posted live from Greenbuild. It's common knowledge that green building is anything but affordable. Or is it? You would have had a pretty hard time convincing the 100 or so folks at the USGBC's Affordable Housing Summit. They are convinced that green is actually affordable, both in terms of investment and operations budgets. Heather Clark — from one of the largest property owners of housing in the U.S., Winn Development — stated that water efficiency improvements alone in 76 of their properties cost only $376,000 and saved them over $1.2 M in the first year! In this case, they were paying the water bills, but even if the retrofits had benefited the tenants directly, saving money is still saving money. And saving water is saving water. I (Peter) have to confess that if I hear the term net present value one more time in the context of green building, I may pass out. Net present value is based on an assumed discount rate. And just what discount rate should we use for the next 5 years, much less 10, 20, 30, or 40 years? We have to stop supporting the myth that we can evaluate the "worth" of really long term investments in high performance building enclosures (energy-efficient and durable) by "predicting" just what the price will be 25 years from now for materials much less energy. We continue to do this when, in less than one business quarter, oil went from nearly $150 a barrel to nearly $50. Lenders, investors, insurers, appraisers — they all need to stop this Ouija board nonsense. Our hyperfocus on payback periods simply does not work for conventional buildings, much less green affordable ones. Another myth that got some busting at the Affordable Housing Summit was single-minded green building. We could call this "green damage." It happens when we focus on just energy efficiency and ignore moisture. It happens when we reduce green building to the right product selections rather than the right construction processes that go with those materials. Considerable time was spent discussing ways to document and value comprehensive building performance, rather than just one or two aspects of it. While Peter was learning about net present value and green damage, I (Allyson) was learning about the struggles of building green when you can't pass the incremental costs onto your clients, homeowners below the median income. Payback figures don't mean much to the developers in these cases, since the savings are realized by the homeowner, who hasn't paid for the up-front costs. As we enter a recession, finding funding for all projects is getting more difficult, and "extras" like solar hot water or super insulation are almost out of the question. And certification? Unless you're lucky enough to get a grant, forget it! The summit attendees spent the afternoon in ten groups: charrettes for a wide range of real housing projects, ranging from hundred-plus unit partial rehabs to one single family detached Habitat for Humanity (HFH) home on Nantucket. It felt to me (Peter, in the HFH Nantucket group) that we did a lot of green wondering and wandering. But interestingly, our group and the others felt that they had learned a ton — from what in the world is a vapor profile to how USGBC and The Home Depot Foundation financially support LEED certification for affordable housing projects. In my (Allyson's) group, we were looking at a retrofit of an old mill building in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Un-insulated brick walls, solid wood floors, older double-pane windows — and restrictions because of historic building tax credits. The group discussed options for insulating the walls and insulating the units acoustically from each other. The design was already pretty far along, so we probably didn't affect the architect's choices much, but it was helpful to think through the issues as a group. I think we all learned quite a bit. The long and short of it is this: of all those who need durable, low maintenance, energy and water efficient homes, it is the folks dedicating the most of their income to those same costs that need green building. We can't afford for green building NOT to be affordable! For more information from the Affordable Housing Summit, go to the LEED for Homes website next week. 2008-11-19 n/a 11637 Green building code standard committee disbanded A story's been posted on that ASHRAE has unexpectedly pulled the plug on the Standard 189 development committee. This standard is supposed to be "a new minimum, code-enforceable standard for green buildings." The USGBC and IES have been working with ASHRAE on the project since 2006, and were apparently ambushed by ASHRAE's decision to shake up the process. From the article: "Speaking off the record, multiple sources reported signs that ASHRAE had been influenced by various trade associations, which were either unsupportive of ASHRAE's involvement in a green building standard as an engineering association, or had objections to basic premises of the standard, such as its approach to various building materials." Read the story "Uncertain Future for ASHRAE Standard 189." - - - - - Before I could get this online, one of the authors of the story, Tristan Korthals Altes, posted this in the comments area (where subscribers can add their thoughts to any content page of the website) following the piece: "Since this article went online, we spoke with Jeff Littleton, the executive v.p. for ASHRAE. He emphasized ASHRAE's intention to reconstitute the committee, potentially with many of the same members and possibly a few additional ones, and to proceed with work on the standard. This process is likely to take 30-45 days, he says. Whether or not the standard continues on its current — and fairly stringent — course will be up to the committee." Good news, but I'm still concerned about some of the issues raised about how and why this all transpired. 2008-10-17 n/a 11638 On the Path to Passive Survivability
Creating a superinsulated building envelope is one of the key requirements with passive survivability. I saw this superinsulated home feature when I was in Sweden last year.
Photo: Alex Wilson. Click for bigger.
(More below.)
Those who have kept an eye on the suggestions we've made over the past few years regarding passive survivability might be interested in some recent developments. By way of background for those who haven't tracked this issue, here's the thumbnail sketch: In an age with more intense storms, terrorist actions against our energy infrastructure, potential petroleum shortages, and drought, we should be designing homes, apartment buildings, schools, and certain other public-use buildings so that they maintain livable conditions in the event of extended power outages or interruptions in heating fuel or water. I had initially been proposing passive survivability as a smart design criterion. More recently I've been advocating that we mandate passive survivability through building codes. There are a number of developments along these lines:
Creating a superinsulated building envelope is one of the key requirements with passive survivability. I saw these superinsulated home features when I was in Sweden last year.
Photos: Alex Wilson.
Click for bigger.
First, an article I wrote making this case is coming out shortly in Building Safety Journal, the magazine of the International Code Council. I have no idea what the response to this article might be among code officials, but I'll be watching carefully. Second, I'm participating in a committee that's providing input to the upcoming revision of New York City's building codes. We're trying to figure out what it will take to make the city's buildings and infrastructure more adaptable to climate change. I'm not sure where this will end up, but one of the ideas we're pursuing is to require dual-mode buildings. Dual-mode buildings would operate with conventional HVAC systems in normal conditions, but could be switched over to a passive operation mode during a power outage. Third, I was recently in California speaking at a couple conferences — including on passive survivability at San Diego Green. Following the San Diego conference, I led a brainstorming meeting to address passive survivability. The group of a dozen or so individuals, including Bob Berkebile, Chuck Angyal, and Drew George, focused on three questions: 1. What constitutes "livable conditions"? We pondered whether a house would need to maintain 50°F in the winter to keep people safe (wearing coats), or if a house would need to be 55°F. How hot could a house get in the summer and not put its occupants at undue risk? We concluded that there's a significant body of knowledge out there to tap into on these questions — such as emergency management databases and ASHRAE technical committees on comfort. 2. How easy is it to model the "drift conditions" of buildings? I was surprised here to learn that our more sophisticated energy modeling software tools can do this without any modification — one only needs to vary the inputs. That's good news indeed. 3. Do we need "performance standards" for passive survivability or could "prescriptive standards" suffice? This is a tougher question. It's hard to deal with passive solar heating, daylighting, or cooling load avoidance on a strictly prescriptive basis, but we felt that having both a prescriptive path and a performance path would be ideal. We have a lot of work to do in answering this question and moving ahead with those prescriptive standards. One of the new ideas that came out of the San Diego meeting was to come up with labeling of houses to indicate how they stack up relative to passive survivability — perhaps an A through F scale — and get insurance companies to buy in to preferential rates for the higher-ranked buildings. I continue to believe that the insurance industry could be a big driver of passive survivability.
Lake Mead, which supplies 90% of Las Vegas's water, is less than half full today. Maybe it's time we begin designing buildings to get by if water shortages or water rationing become a reality — not all that unlikely, especially with Scripps Institute scientists telling us there's a 50% chance that Lake Mead will be functionally empty by 2021.
Photo: Ken Dewey. Click for bigger.
Finally, having just returned from Las Vegas, where I was attending the WaterSmart Innovations conference (about water efficiency and water conservation), I'm inspired to push harder to address water to a greater extent in defining passive survivability. In most cases, the idea with passive survivability probably won't be to create homes and other buildings that can be totally self-sufficient with water. Rather, we will push for buildings that can get by all right if water were to be rationed or only available intermittently for periods of time in the future. If anyone wants to be part of this ongoing discussion about passive survivability, reply to this posting or e-mail me directly:
2008-10-14 n/a 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 11621 The Miniature Earth
Better version:
2008-09-21 n/a 11599 Carbon Emissions are Now Legal Liabilities c02 molecules Greg Kats of the venture capital firm Good Energies has argued for a while now that a company's carbon emissions can have a material impact on its financial performance, and by failing to disclose that risk the company may be liable to shareholder action. That argument was used to explain part of the appeal to corporations of green (low-carbon-emitting) real estate in our article on valuing green buildings. Now, according to a report in today's New York Times, New York attorney general Andrew Cuomo has taken that argument a step further. Cuomo reached an agreement with Xcel Energy of Minneapolis that requires Xcel to disclose a detailed assessment of the long-term financial risks from its ongoing investment in coal-burning power plants. He got that agreement using a legal mechanism that could have led to criminal as well as civil charges if they failed to disclose those risks, and he's still pressuring four other companies to go along. How can a NY AG control a Minnesota company? Because they issue securities on New-York-based stock exchanges. The Times suggests that the other companies may not be as cooperative, because Xcel is already quite proactive in its reporting. I have anecdotal evidence corroborating that — after a little prodding, an Xcel engineer gave me an estimate of the carbon emissions behind the high-pressure steam they distribute in downtown Denver. (I needed that figure for a case study of EPA's Region 8 headquarters.) It's 185 pounds of CO2 per thousand pounds of steam. 2008-08-28 n/a 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 11565 Congressional Briefing on Straw-Bale Construction On June 20, a briefing about straw-bale construction organized by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) was held in the Russell Senate Office Building. Laura Bartels (President of GreenWeaver Inc. and member of the Builders Without Borders Building Team), Sandy Wiggins (immediate past 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) spoke. 2008-06-29 n/a 11567 "The Anti-American Non-Energy Bill"
Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, swings and swings and swings and misses the point entirely. As do most of the comments — over 2,200 of them so far. So much darkness.
2008-06-19 n/a 11553 Product Certifications, and Social Justice (AIA'08) Nadav Malin and Scot Horst offered up a great, head-twisting presentation about product certifications called "It's Certified Green But What Does That Mean?" to about 500 people. It covered all the territory in the EBN feature "Behind the Logos: Understanding Green Product Certifications" and more. There may have been some misunderstanding on the part of some attendees who only read the title, however, and not the program description: It sounded like it might have been about LEED certification rather than product certification. And the amount of information to process, even though they presented it in an engaging, conversational style, was voluminous — especially for the abject novice — bringing to light individual certification program histories, inconsistencies, and limitations in what was probably about the simplest way to do it, which was nonetheless hard to digest. Additionally, the sound in the conference center rooms is pingy, with a pronounced slapback echo. I say these things mostly to give the benefit of the doubt where it might be deserved. I outlined my theory about a largely disinterested AIA membership merely pursuing the required continuing education credits in the last two paragraphs of the "Legally Green" post. The same thing happened at this session: four-fifths fled when Q&A started. It's that remaining one-fifth that are the leaders of the (near) future.
^ shortly after the session began
^ immediately after Q&A began
But what gives me the right to gripe about the choices other people make? I left a session earlier in the day myself, about three-quarters of the way through. (I'm not an AIA member, though.) Called "Architecture and Human Rights: Shelter, Justice, and Ethics," it was a fine presentation to the half-full room — just not what I expected. The program description said, "The AIA Code of Ethics states, 'Architects should uphold human rights in all their professional endeavors.' But have we, or our projects, ever crossed the line? What needs to be done to fully deliver on the promise of universal human rights in the built environment? Can a building itself violate human rights? Speakers from architecture and legal organizations will consider the intersection of architecture practice and international norms of justice in today's increasingly complex world." Sounded great. And it did turn out to be just as described, but not quite the slant I thought was coming. The first speaker of three, Kathryn Tyler Prigmore, after a detailing what ethics are and where they come from, spoke to AIA's general ethical basis and member requirements, noting that the AIA Code of Ethics is about more than personal practice — it includes aesthetics, heritage, human rights, and civic responsibility. I was reminded of David Eisenberg's call for a Hippocratic corollary in architecture: that buildings should first do no harm. The guy in front of me, I noticed, was doing Sudoku. Second up was Chester Hartman, an urban planner. Not an architect, he pointed out. In what seemed to be a completely extemporaneous and slightly disjointed presentation, he gave an oral history of his deeds and studies. I had a hard time focusing — not understanding the points he was making, and not sure he was actually making any. He wrote something, he co-edited something, he studied something; he said that we've got to do something about housing stability, but didn't say what. He made a last point for a few minutes, then made another last point for a few minutes. Then he made a last point. When he finished, people applauded with some enthusiasm. I feel dopey, like I'd missed something. Chances are that I did. Shayana Kadidal, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, was a fast-talking, witty, and clearly brilliant guy involved in prisons — "mass incarceration facilities" — with an apparent specialty in isolation. He spoke to some history of prisonry (and the unexpected connection of isolation facilities to Quakers). He's involved in one of the Guantanamo lawsuits, and I slipped out when he started discussing that set of facilities. It's not that it wasn't interesting; it simply wasn't what I was after. And that probably should have been the best reason for me to stay.
2008-05-15 n/a 11535 NYT asks, ''How 'Green' Can a Huge House Be?''
"Can a four-level house with a three-car garage and a kitchen full of energy-hungry Sub-Zero and Wolf appliances truly qualify as a model of environmental responsibility?
Photo by Douglas Healey
for The New York Times
NRDC is trying to prove that it can, by applying for LEED certification."
NRDC?! The Natural Resources Defense Council?! Say it ain't so! It ain't so. This NRDC is NRDC Residential — a division of the National Realty and Development Corporation. Read the article in the New York Times.
2008-04-06 n/a 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 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 11476 The sun shall be neither mine nor yours - divide it! The amount of energy the sun gives to the Earth on a constant basis is about 1.4 kilowatts per square meter at the Earth's outer atmosphere. Insolation is the amount of solar radiation that actually reaches a given spot on the Earth. On a sunny day, that insolation can be about 12 kilowatt hours per square meter. That's the same amount of energy contained in about 40 cubic feet of natural gas. Various sources have said that the amount of solar energy that reaches the Earth's surface in one year is 10,000 times greater than all the energy, of all kinds, that humanity uses in one year. That should be plenty to go around, right? We're usually more concerned about taking proper advantage of this free resource than divvying it up. But take the modern carbon economy, the growing legal infrastructure supporting it, and a good old-fashioned neighborly dispute, and you've got Sunnyvale, California environmentalists pitted against each other, fighting over the sunlight. The San Jose Mercury News reported recently that a Santa Clara County couple may be the first homeowners to be prosecuted under the Solar Shade Control Act, signed by Governor Jerry Brown in 1978 during the previous American solar renaissance. "We are the first citizens in the state of California to be convicted of a crime for growing redwood trees," one of them complains. The problem is that the couple's redwoods, planted for privacy and now 20 to 40 feet tall, are shading their neighbor's rooftop solar photovoltaic panels. The law prohibits trees or shrubs planted after 1979 from shading more than 10% of a neighbor's solar panels between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. -- peak power-generating time. The image shown here, from Google maps, shows the home with the rooftop PV panels. This image appears to be taken in early afternoon, with shade from the trees (circled in white), owned by the homeowners to the southwest, having already crept onto the southernmost PV panels. Worried about setting a precedent for other tree lovers, the couple is fighting the law, which could result in fines of $1,000 per day and require them to remove their trees. The deputy district attorney in charge of the case simply says he's following the instructions of California's lawmakers. The case may become interesting for a lot more California homeowners, with aggressive new regulations and incentives likely leading to growing numbers of rooftop solar arrays. How would the case fare if we had some kind of impartial environmental court weighing true life-cycle costs of various choices? In today's carbon-hyped culture where emissions reductions are increasingly valued, the trees may have to come down. A local solar photovoltaic salesman and Sierra Club member puts it this way: "I'm a big tree fan. They increase property values and provide shade and cooling. But it's actually better for the environment to put solar on your roof than to plant a tree. On average a tree only sequesters 14 pounds of carbon dioxide a year and a solar electric system offsets that every two or three days." Carbon accounting depends on a lot of assumptions, and so the reality is a lot more complicated. For now, a Superior Court judge tried to split the difference, waiving any fines and ruling that only two of the eight trees need come down. The couple is appealing. 2008-01-25 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 11464 100 percent energy use reduction for federal government buildings — which will be hosting a 2010 Imperative webcast at the end of January — was righteously stoked when the "Energy Independence and Security Act" was signed into law the other day. From their email bulletin:
The President signs Energy Bill containing The 2030 Challenge targets After being passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives, the Energy Independence and Security Act became law yesterday with the President's signature. Section 433 of this bill requires that all federal buildings meet the energy performance standards of The 2030 Challenge. The key passage in this section states that:
buildings shall be designed so that the fossil fuel-generated energy consumption of the buildings is reduced, as compared with such energy consumption by a similar building in fiscal year 2003 (as measured by Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey or Residential Energy Consumption Survey data from the Energy Information Agency), by the percentage specified in the following table:
  Fiscal Year    Percentage Reduction  
To view Section 433 of the bill, click here and search for "Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007".
The News Page is worth bookmarking. You can also subscribe to their free email news distribution.
2007-12-21 n/a