Taxonomy Term en 11888 Green Economies of Scale (post-Greenbuild ruminations) By the end of Greenbuild, I was exhausted/troubled/elated with all sorts of conundrums swirling around in my head — not to mention a few partly written blogs, abandoned in favor of the next conversation... ... I had wanted to write about the 'executive roundtable' that happened that Wednesday — and responses to the twitter-submitted question "what single thing would have to change to make buildings actually regenerative?" (as in, way past 'less damaging' — past neutrality, even). I was encouraged to hear the execs express what I see as core issues (summarized and/or quoted below — no, I didn't record who said what):
  • Waste and consumption is ridiculously cheap. If energy costs go up to the tune of $150/barrel for oil (or on-site renewables became radically cheaper), and/or if a cost is attached to emissions (not just air — also sewer and solid waste), we could get there.
  • Our financial accounting systematically discounts the future. "We're trapped in a paradigm of net present value (NPV) — one of the worst tools known to man.... We need a new tool — 'Net Future Value'... and to start to reconceptualize buildings to see them as multigenerational assets."
  • Corporations have to focus on shareholder's financial return above all else. Yes, the technology is there to do zero energy buildings but "for a profit making business with shareholders expecting a return they cannot generally be duplicated over and over."
On the last point, the phrasing I found interesting — because later they were asked how to tell green from greenwash — and one of them said "you'll know a business has credibility when they stop talking about one-off projects and demonstrate [that performance] across the board." I put these two quotes together, out of context, because what I think it points to is that if we're really going to take green to the scale that is needed, we can't kid ourselves that we can do it all within the current economic rules-of-the-game that stack the deck against stewardship and the future. (Don't get me wrong, the Green Building movement is doing an incredible job within this context, but that doesn't mean the system works — rather, it's a testament to the smarts, creativity, passion, and perseverance of folks making change despite an imperfect market designed to thwart their best efforts). At another session, the speaker reminded us that our economic system is a social construct — it's a story we've created, and we can revise that story. Let's not forget that, because ultimately if we don't find a way to align individual and corporate financial success with the wellbeing of future generations and the environment, we'll find ourselves without either.
2009-11-30 n/a 11893 Confronting Water Shortages — Post-Greenbuild Travels in Southern Arizona
(click photos for larger versions)
Greenbuild in Phoenix was the usual high-energy panoply of educational sessions, new product introductions in an ever-larger trade show, networking events, and — the reason our company sends so many of us — opportunities to promote our green building information resources. But this year, I was also looking forward to some vacation time following the conference. Jerelyn and I took five days' of vacation after Greenbuild to explore southern Arizona and celebrate our 25th anniversary. As day transitions to night on the flight back east, I reflect on that time. On Saturday morning, we traveled southeast from Phoenix, past Tucson, to the Hacienda Corona do Guevavi bed & breakfast in Nogales, Arizona, just a stone's throw from the Mexican border. The region is rich with wildlife and draws thousands of birders and others from throughout the world each year. Along with hundreds of bird species in the canyon oases sprinkled throughout Cochise Country (we saw about 60 species in our travels) are such exotic mammals as coati, ringtail, antelope jackrabbit, collared peccary (javalina), cougar (mountain lion), bobcat, and maybe (at least before the border fence) the rare cats ocelot and jaguar. Other than the antelope jackrabbit, we didn't see any others of those mammals, but it was great imagining them watching us from hidden spots rock ledges during our daily hikes. On all of these hikes, at least when I wasn't trying to identify another new bird species, I spent time thinking about — and discussing with Jerelyn — the water crisis facing this region.
Saguaro deeply ribbed and skinny; prickly pear wrinkled and thin; palo verdi leafless and brown; ocatillo appearing lifeless

Many formerly year-round creeks and rivers are dry or low; even huge waterside cottonwoods are stressed and sickly

Sabino Canyon
Nature adapts to water stress. The dramatic saguaro cactus, the signature species of the Sonoran Desert, shrinks in diameter during times of low water then swells when its wide skirt of shallow roots absorb water after rains, This year, the saguaro's circumference is deeply ribbed and skinny, putting this adaptation strategy to the test. Prickly pear cactus pads were wrinkled and thin. The thorny ocatillo wands looked lifeless as they await moisture (after a heavy rain they sprout leaves in a matter of days) — a wait that has lasted for months. And the palo verdi (Arizona's state tree with its distinctive green stems and trunks) were similarly bereft of leaves, leaving only the photosynthesizing stems and thorns to keep them going. Everything we saw was a study in adaptation to water stress. But the water table, upon which many of the species ultimately depend, has been falling with abandon in recent decades. Creeks and rivers that ran year-round a century ago are now dry beds, save for the occasional flash flood. Cottonwoods and sycamores along Sonoita Creek, where we spent a wonderful day exploring the Sonoita Creek State Natural Area in Patagonia, are stressed and sickly. What will become of these trees, some of which are hundreds of years old and towering — we measured the diameter of one massive cottonwood at 27 feet — should the water table keep falling in the region? In Tucson, where we spent our last two nights in the wonderful Desert Dove B&B (a short walk from an entrance to the eastern, Rincon Mountain district of Saguaro National Park), they had virtually no rain during their usual July-September rainy season and less than half of the usual annual 11-12 inches on rain has fallen in 2009. The city's water table has fallen as much as 150 feet just since the 1960s! Perhaps most remarkable to us is that hardly anyone seems to be paying attention. Other than officials whose job it is to deliver water, residents seem to be in denial. Predictions of climate change show that Arizona, like most of the western U.S., will become far dryer than it was during the 20th century, but even without climate change the region is in a water crisis. Perhaps there is such little focus on the water table in Arizona because Tucson now gets over half of its water from the ("renewable") Colorado River, and that fraction is projected to increase — so a falling water table isn't so important. Are they not aware of warnings from some researchers that the Colorado and its massive reservoirs could effectively run dry in the next few decades? Lake Mead, the nation's largest reservoir, is currently only half full — or is that half-empty? Where would a loss of the Colorado's water leave the parched cities of Tucson, Phoenix, and Las Vegas? The thought is almost too scary to talk about — let alone do something about. Draconian measures are needed to dramatically curtail water use. Development restrictions — as a start — are needed if Arizona is to come to grips with this crisis. In a state where residents can openly carry sidearms (as we saw displayed in a coffee shop in Patagonia by a swarthy chap among a group of rather rough-looking motorcyclists) and where John McCain's tenure as a senator is threatened by his "liberal" views, who is going to stand up and tell a property owner that he or she can't put in another subdivision? I wonder if, unconsciously, residents of Arizona — and Nevada and southern California and elsewhere in the Southwest — know that, ultimately, there are just too many people living there and drawing from its precious water supplies. How do you talk about a crisis that might necessitate people not only giving up their way of life — their swimming pools and 15-minute showers and irrigated lawns — but actually recognizing that the land and climate can't support the human population it contains and moving back to Michigan or Pennsylvania? No wonder the topic is taboo. Jerelyn and I talked about all this as we reveled in the arid beauty of the area. I can see why people like Arizona and want to retire there. Indeed, we very much look forward to coming back and seeing the Sonoran Desert at a different time of year (perhaps a "wet season" when desert vegetation comes to life in brilliant colors to compete for the scarce pollinators). But, as with our recent vacation, we would be temporal visitors to a region whose human carrying capacity is far lower than its current population. You can follow more of my musings on Twitter.
2009-11-20 n/a 11899 Overheard (live from Greenbuild) Two guys were walking down the hall. Professional-looking guys, architectorial. One of them said to the other, "It's called, um, energy... recovery ventilator." BAM! That's what it's about. Yeah, there's greenwash, there's cynicism, there's impatience. But there's also people finding their way forward. We're all spread out along the learning curve, and that's something I have a difficult time keeping in mind. It's easy to feel like everything's too-little-too-late, and hard for me to give credit for good intentions where it's due. And with that, I'm going to break with the blogging. I have an early flight, and am going to get ready for that. Perish the thought, I'm even going to skip our after-party. (Hey, it's my birthday — I'll do what I want.) I may follow up with more yet today, depending on how tired I am after I get packed up and ready to flee. But most likely, the deluge will abate... 2009-11-12 n/a 11900 Plyboo's New Soy Adhesive (live from Greenbuild)

Dan Smith of Plyboo bumped into me and we took a walk over to the Smith & Fong booth. They rolled out a new soy-based adhesive just today... and unlike some things that call themselves soy-based, I'm comfortable saying that about this adhesive. It's 60% soy. It was formulated specifically for bamboo, Smith told me, and they expect to have a complete conversion of their plywood and flooring by the first quarter of 2010 — no more MDI (their current zero-VOC offering — which is zero-VOC for the consumer, but not for the fabricating workers), and no more PF. Both of those adhesives will be discontinued in favor of the new SoyBond. It's a move up in pretty much every way, he said: Better for the makers, the users, and the environment. "At the end of the lifecycle, having an organic based adhesive that will break down better than other current alternatives is a step forward all by itself — but it also really responds to the challenge of working in China." (See Bamboo in Construction: Is the Grass Always Greener?) Their non-emitting MDI line carried a bit of a price premium over the low-emitting PF line; now, all product will be non-emitting. It seems that the price difference that existed between the two lines will about average out — it will all be the most righteous glued-bamboo stuff available, and will cost less than the previous most righteous glued-bamboo stuff available due to manufacturing economics. It's easier to make more of one line than less of two, even if there's no cost savings on the resin. Testing to verify compliance with California 1350 begins next week. As you'll recall, these are also the folks who offered the first FSC certified bamboo products.
2009-11-12 n/a 11901 Top-10 Green Building Products (live from Greenbuild) I normally post the Top-10 green building products list just as Alex is starting the presentation. And this year, I just totally spaced it out.
BuildingGreen Announces 2009 Top-10 Green Building Products Phoenix, AZ, November 12, 2009 — BuildingGreen, LLC, publisher of the GreenSpec Directory and Environmental Building News, today announced the 2009 Top-10 Green Building Products. This eighth annual award, announced at the U.S. Green Building Council's Greenbuild Conference, recognizes the most exciting products drawn from recent additions to the GreenSpec directory and coverage in Environmental Building News. "Our selections of the Top-10 Green Building Products represent a wide range of product types in many different application areas," noted BuildingGreen founder and executive editor Alex Wilson. This year's list is particularly diverse, ranging from a recycled-content concrete block, to a flywheel energy storage system for data centers, a mobile solar generator for job-site power, and an advanced modular classroom for schools. Energy-saving products among the Top-10 include a line of mineral wool insulation, an integrated rain-screen / insulation wall cladding for commercial buildings, a heat-pump water heater, and an energy control system for lighting in commercial buildings. A structural matrix system, Silva Cell, provides a support system for urban tree roots, helping trees survive in largely impervious environments and helping to manage stormwater runoff. One of the nation's most innovative furniture makers, Baltix, is being recognized for new products that incorporate a variety of biobased, FSC-certified, and recycled-content materials. "Many of the Top-10 products this year have multiple environmental attributes," said Wilson. BuildingGreen's Top-10 product selections, as in previous years, are drawn from new additions to the company's GreenSpec product directory. About 200 product listings have been added to the GreenSpec database during the past year. "New products are being introduced all the time, making it a challenge for our staff to keep up," said Wilson. [No kidding — Mark] "We also continue to come across products that have been on the market for years, but were under our radar screen." The GreenSpec database includes more than 2,100 product listings. A major driver of the development of green products continues to be the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED Rating System (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), which awards points for the use of certain product types, such as certified wood, or for the energy savings that green products can achieve. "Designers of LEED buildings are looking for green products, and manufacturers are responding," said Wilson. In the online version of GreenSpec, users can find products organized by LEED credits as well as by building category and the CSI MasterFormat structure. The 2009 Top-10 Green Building Products are listed below. Complete descriptions and contact information are provided on
  • Pozzotive Plus CMUs and Concrete Brick from Kingston Block
  • Thermafiber Mineral Wool Insulation Products
  • Invelope Integrated Wall Insulation and Rainscreen System
  • Baltix Recycled- and Biobased-Content Office Furniture
  • Project FROG Modular Green Classroom
  • Rheem HP-50 Heat-Pump Water Heater
  • Convia Energy-Management Infrastructure
  • Pentadyne GTX Flywheel Energy Storage
  • Silva Cell Subsurface Tree Protection and Stormwater System
  • Mobile Solar Power Generator
2009-11-12 n/a 11902 "The Perfect Conversation Piece" (live from Greenbuild)
You know my card went into that bowl. It's a Sloan Uppercut, and yes — the flush handle toggles the light. It would go great with my Christmas Story leg lamp.

2009-11-12 n/a 11903 LEEDuser Booth Talk/s (live from Greenbuild)

Despite my expo-only access, I haven't had a lot of time for product-crawling. Our booth is all about this year, fresh from its full launch. Throughout the Expo we've had guest experts from the LEEDuser team in to discuss specific LEED points. I've been tasked with videotaping those smart people talking about this fascinating stuff — fascinating for anybody who happens to be bent that way, not just LEEDies. The schedule has included:
  • Josh Radoff of YRG Sustainability on NC SSc8: Light Pollution Reduction

  • Penny Bonda on CI MRc3: Materials Reuse

  • Erik Dyrr of KEMA Services on CS EAc1: Optimize Energy Performance

  • Carli Bullock Jones on CI IEQc8.1: Daylight and Views — Daylight

  • Lauren Yarmuth of YRG Sustainability on NC WEc2: Innovative Wastewater Technologies

  • Chris Lander of Veridian on NC WEc2: Enhanced Commissioning

  • Jenny Carney of YRG Sustainability on EBOM WEp1: Minimum Indoor Plumbing Fixture and Fitting Efficiency

  • Nadav Malin of BuildingGreen – LEEDuser on NC MRc5: Regional Materials

  • Valerie Walsh of LEED Management Services on NC MRc2: Construction Waste Management
The idea is that parts or all of this footage will end up on LEEDuser. Even though I haven't been getting around the floor all that much this year, I suspect the post-show repercussions will be more intense than usual. Jane Kolleeny, the tireless Managing Editor of GreenSource, has been doing an amazing job of handing out my cards at booths with potential GreenSource products as she makes her rounds. Never has my contact information been distributed with such frequency and intensity. Go Jane go! Where does she get the energy? (Where will I?)
2009-11-12 n/a 11906 Eight Essentially Random Photos From Around Greenbuild (live from Greenbuild)
2009-11-11 n/a 11907 Better Living With Chemicals (live from Greenbuild) I seem to be on the chemical redlist circuit this month. Last night at GreenBuild I attended Perkins + Will's panel-and-schmooze event to discuss their brand new precautionary list of 25 chemicals that P+W wants to see out of building products. They've created a publicly available website with their avoid list and you can view the list by MasterFormat divisions, or by health effect, not just by chemical. So instead of glazing over while scanning a list of chemicals, a designer can quickly skip to say, Div 07 and find 14 chemicals to watch out for AND a list of alternative materials. P+W is already actively scrubbing the listed chemicals out of their material libraries and specs in favor of alternatives. Last week I spoke at the Toxics Use Reduction Institute's 20th anniversary conference. TURI and the TUR Act is a model for pragmatic work helping manufacturers in Massachusetts reduce toxics in their processes and products and adopt alternatives that make sense. I spoke about how GreenSpec deals with known and unknown chemical and other constituent hazards in evaluating products (more on that sometime post-Greenbuild) — and also heard some of the latest research on health impacts of nano materials... As the P+W panel was discussing, a lot comes down to how you deal with what we DON'T know. That's because there's a lot more unknown than known: Few of the some 80 thousand chemicals in use today have been thoroughly tested for environmental, health, and safety; many product constituents are considered trade secret or just too small in quantity to be on the MSDS; and we're discovering that certain classes of compounds (endocrine disrupters, nano materials) don't follow our general understanding of how harm occurs. Do we ignore what we don't know or do we actively acknowledge this uncertainty as part of making the best decisions we can? When a design firms steps in to lead — and share — in the way Perkins + Will is doing here, it raises the bar. Next up on the circuit is Pharos — I keep hearing rumors about their new online chemical database. Sometime in the Greenbuild whirlwind I'll make it to their booth for a tour. 2009-11-11 n/a 11908 Bonded Logic Factory Tour in Chandler, Arizona (live fom Greenbuild)

I've gotta say, I love visiting factories, especially those that make products I've been writing about for years. I just toured Bonded Logic's Chandler, Arizona plant, 20 minutes outside of Phoenix, where each month the company converts 300 tons of post-industrial recycled denim and other cotton fabric into the UltraTouch line of cotton insulation, sound-proofing materials, duct insulation, and related products. I never knew there was so much I didn't know about cotton insulation! Liz Obloy, the publisher of Sustainable Facility magazine, and I saw the manufacturing process first hand, from the bales of incoming raw materials to the packaging of finished product. This plant gets the cotton after it's already been fiberized — broken down into the constituent fibers. Bales of polyester and polyolefin "binder" fibers that give the material loft also come into the plant. The fiberized cotton is treated with a borate solution to make it resistant to fire, mold, mildew, and pests. All the fibers are then mixed in huge bins and a wide conveyor belt of these loose fibers then pass through gas-fired "bonding ovens" where the material is heated to about 350 degrees F. In the oven, the bonding fibers are activated in a way that holds the fibers together to produce batt insulation or higher-density sound-control panels.
From there, the batts and panels are cooled and cut on a conveyor belt, then packaged — all steps of which may sound rather mundane, but I found fascinating. Ever wonder how they squeeze insulation bats to fit into those plastic bags?; it's fun to watch! All of the waste at the plant is captured and returned to the process. Along with producing batt insulation, Bonded Logic makes a wide range of other products. I was surprised to see a production line devoted to producing fairly high-density sound-isolation panels for those really quiet Bosch dishwashers — like the one we have in our BuildingGreen office. Bonded Logic products are not cheap. Our tour guide Jerry Weston, Bonded Logic's sales and marketing manager, told us about one customer who had reluctantly dropped their purchases of Bonded Logic products because of the higher cost, compared with fiberglass. A couple months later, they came back. The company's employees had rebelled, complaining about headaches, respiratory ailments, and other problems since the switch, and the company decided to deal with the higher costs to keep their staff happy. Neat product. Cool factory! You can follow more of my musings on Twitter.
2009-11-11 n/a 11910 Timbersil Update (live from Greenbuild)
After in excess of two hours' heat source contact, Timbersil has suffered some charring. The control structure behind it has burned completely.
Ran into the good folks from Timbersil at their booth. (You may recall that we like Timbersil an awful lot.) Things seem to be going well for them, and it pleases me when an underdog with a breakthrough product emerges from established-industry opposition and hostility to brighter days. They were featured just today in a front-page article in the Santa Barbara Independent, which apparently caught the attention of the CBS evening news. They have 12 distributors providing national coverage these days, with high-profile projects on the ground that include the front walk of the place where they hold the Grammies, a harbor in New Jersey (with full immersion piers), the city of Chicago is using it... plus international projects in China, Japan, Australia, and Europe. It seems to be gaining a great foothold in California for its stunning fire resistance — Class A — and it turns out that accelerated weathering testing is showing that it actually gets more fireproof and stronger as it ages in the environment. (Kiln-dried wood is 40% stronger than treated wood; and Timbersil is 40% stronger than kiln-dried.) Check out the video of the fire test at the website of Timbersil's distributor in California.
2009-11-10 n/a 11911 Me and Greenbuild — is you is or is you ain't? Greenbuild starts today. The company's not sending me this year. That is, they weren't until a few days ago. I was in Almeria, Spain, at Cosentino's offices when I got the news. (I intend to post about that Spain jaunt after I get myself dug out; but right now, I'm sitting in BWI waiting on a connecting flight to Phoenix, and Greenbuild.) I'm not entirely sure that I'm looking forward to Greenbuild this year, to be honest. I'm on an exhibitor registration, rather than press, so anything beyond the trade show floors — there's two of those this year — is outside the scope of whatever color badge I'll have. No educational sessions, plenaries, master speakers for me... it's going to be products, products, products (plus whatever other stuff I can sneak into — and it does look at this point like I'll be able to get into the opening plenary). Don't misunderstand. There's definitely enough in the Expo to keep a person busy and interested throughout its limited run. As noted here previously, using all the available time that the Expo is open to visit each exhibitor gives only about one minute for each. Now, I don't think that anybody would want to visit each and every booth — at least, I certainly don't want to. I worked over the exhibitor pile last month to generate a list of GreenSpec-listed companies — and it seemed to me like there's going to be some pretty lousy stuff touted on that floor... and way more greenwash than any previous Greenbuild. I should probably admit that this is something I do: lead with skepticism. I bet I'll end up having a good time... I usually seem to. They're calling my flight. 2009-11-10 n/a 11841 Greenbuild 2009 Expo Hall: Some Math I tend to spend a lot of time in the Expo Hall at Greenbuild. On the Greenbuild 2009 website, the Greenbuild International Expo page says:
This year's expo hall in Phoenix boasts over 1,800 exhibit booths showcasing the latest in innovative products and services.
Were you there last year? That was 800 booths. Double that, and add some. At this writing, there are 1,057 exhibitors listed for this year; but let's assume that there will be at least the promised 1,800 by show time. Here's the expo hall schedule:
Tuesday5:30pm - 8:00pm
Wednesday9:00am - 5:30pm
Thursday9:00am - 5:30pm
The Expo is open a total of 19.5 hours — which is 1,170 minutes... or 70,200 seconds. Divide those seconds by 1,800 booths. You have 39 seconds to linger at each one. If you visit only half the booths, the time goes up to 1:18 each. Check out the video on the main Expo page, though — our own Nadav Malin in a Fortune Magazine video shot during last year's Greenbuild Expo (as previously noted here on our blog).
2009-08-31 n/a 11842 Al Gore, Sheryl Crow kick off Greenbuild 2009 If you haven't already heard, the opening keynote at Greenbuild 2009 will be former U.S. Vice President, environmental advocate, and Oscar-, Grammy-, and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Al Gore. Gore's address will take place at Chase Field stadium; afterward, a little music from nine-time Grammy winner Sheryl Crow. The annual Greenbuild International Conference & Expo will be held in Phoenix, Arizona, this year, November 11-13, at the Phoenix Convention Center, just a block or two from Chase Field. Previous Greenbuild keynote speakers include former President Bill Clinton and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Greenbuild 2009 is also slated to have more than 100 educational sessions and workshops, a two-day Residential Summit, the World Green Building Council International Congress, tours of area green building sites, and more than 1,700 exhibition booths showcasing technologies and products. In addition to inventing the internet, Al Gore is on the Board of Directors for Apple Computer, and a senior advisor to Google. (Two of those things are true.) 2009-08-31 n/a