Tuesday, January 27, 2009

An Economy not in the Green but Red

I spend a great deal of time and energy reading and trying to understand the collapse of this economy and its relation in history. I am not an economist nor a politician but this shedding of jobs, the collapse of banks due to bad debt and the subsequent admissions by business of practices that were or close to illegal oddly did not seem surprising to me.

As a woman who for the past few years made a living remodeling and reselling homes I saw the frenzy first hand, experienced disingenuous real estate agents, inflated offers, a push to pay inflated prices for homes, paying inflated prices, litigation and subsequent closure of my construction business and eventual restructuring as I try to figure out how to make a living while encouraging others to yes spend money on homes that may or may not be worth what they once were.

What is the truth? What are the answers? I certainly have none. But I was raised to believe to only buy what you can afford. There is no such thing as a free lunch and only extend credit or have credit with the idea that you can pay it off in full when asked. I tried very hard to work within reason when purchasing a property, I was excessive with budgets but I felt that I would recoup my costs and still make a reasonable profit without gouging anyone. I took out no ARM mortgages or unique financing arrangements and in the process I paid all my debts and kept people working.

The hardest thing is now I wonder about only myself and my obligations. My debts to others are slowly being paid off but I cannot help those who once relied upon my business to keep them working. And to the customers I cannot find or to the contractors who are not working I wonder how we are all tied together without knowing how we can all work together to perhaps make things better. It has been such an I ME MINE culture I struggle with trying to explain to people that collaboration and cooperation is essential if were are to come out of this.

I think there is also a strange narcissism that has to be shaken as well. I see it in the endless invites I get to join Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter, et all. Frankly I don't see how my "profile" or my daily diary entries are somehow going to generate business to my business. Just keeping this blog is a challenge. And I don't "maximize" its potential as any number of Biznik articles will remind me.

Yes I must be a troglodyte as I still believe in old fashioned networking. Making contacts, advertising, grassroots marketing and word of mouth. And sadly the modern medium fails me on that count. I work in a bricks and mortar profession and anyone who knows Contractors and those in the Trades, Internet marketing and its ilk is not exactly a match made in heaven. We work in tangibles and the Internet seems to be the antithesis of this. Technology much like Financial Services seems to focus on the "prospect" of the future and not that the immediate. I have yet to find a client from this type of networking and until I can actually see real dollars to it I will sit on the sidelines and find my business in a more traditional way.

If anything came from this collapse a revaluing of who we are and how we do business may be a good thing.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Green Inroads

Despite the flagging economy or at least in response to it a giant is looking to Green Business as good business.

I have personally avoided Wal-Mart as its business practices were one's I did not agree with. Much like Ikea I saw an Emperor in New Clothes. A giant that professes to bring value but in doing so brings nothing but junk, cheap goods and poor wages into desperate neighborhoods.

But Wal-Mart is responding. I reprint this article from the NY Times discussing Wal-Mart's move into sustainability. I applaud this as I believe that going green for many businesses will be pushed out the door, along with R&D and employees as the easiest way to make the red lines black.

And it addresses what I have been saying for quite some time...that green is associated with "luxury" and "high end" and out of reach for most consumers. Until this notion is dispelled we will continue to find ourselves dependent on fossil fuels, overfilled landfills and energy insufficiency.

It also mentions the ideas that working with others,including their critics and hiring consultants, it shows that it takes a team to bring ideas and options that even for a company like Wal-Mart found invaluable. And while it grows and changes I hope further issues are addressed an also improved upon. But this is a start.

With this in mind I can only hope that many others follow the ideas that Wal-Mart is embracing, from environmental options to seeking the counsel of others as ways to move into a new Greener nation.

Green-Light Specials, Now at Wal-Mart


IT was billed the Choice Meeting: a secret two-day conference in Arkansas in 2005 pairing Wal-Mart Stores, a symbol of scorched-earth global capitalism, with some of the nation’s most influential environmentalists. And it began with a zinger.

“It wasn’t a matter of telling our story better,” said H. Lee Scott Jr., the chief of Wal-Mart. “We had to create a better story.”

“Tell me why I should care about an endangered mouse in Arizona?” asked H. Lee Scott Jr., the retail giant’s chief executive, only partly in jest.

At the time, Wal-Mart was the target of a well-orchestrated assault focusing on its labor practices and environmental record. It was also straining to keep its legendary growth on track. Mr. Scott, hungry for ways to protect and transform his company, began to see environmental sustainability as a way to achieve two goals: improve Wal-Mart’s bottom line and its reputation.

So he presented his colleagues with a radical option — the “choice” that gave the meeting its name — encouraging them to adopt a sustainability program to remake the entire company, from the materials used to build stores to the light bulbs stocked on its shelves. Although participants were conflicted, a vote on the initiative was unanimous: Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer and biggest buyer of manufactured goods, would go green.

By virtue of its herculean size, Wal-Mart eventually dragged much of corporate America along with it, leading mighty suppliers like General Electric and Procter & Gamble to transform their own business practices.

Under Mr. Scott, who is retiring this month at the age of 59, the company that democratized consumption in the United States — enabling working-class families to buy former luxuries like inexpensive flat-screen televisions, down comforters and porterhouse steaks — has begun to democratize environmental sustainability.

For decades, many consumers felt that going green was a luxury, too, reserved primarily for those with enough money — and time on their hands — to buy groceries at natural food stores and organic clothing from specialty retailers.

Today, the roughly 200 million customers who pass through Wal-Mart’s doors each year buy fluorescent light bulbs that use up to 75 percent less electricity than incandescent bulbs, concentrated laundry detergent that uses 50 percent less water and prescription drugs that contain 50 percent less packaging.

“If all this sustainability stuff is just for the well-to-do, it’s not going to make a difference,” said Jib Ellison, the founder of Blu Skye, a sustainability consultant who has worked with Wal-Mart.

As the saying goes, Wal-Mart has also done well by doing good. Along with the McDonald’s Corporation, it was one of only two companies in the Dow Jones industrial average whose share price rose last year.

When Wal-Mart first embraced green initiatives, its fortunes were sagging. After blanketing the country with its giant, all-in-one stores, it began cannibalizing its own sales. Older stores looked tattered and tired, and Wal-Mart’s flirtation with higher-end merchandise, like skinny jeans with fur trim, alienated low-income shoppers who preferred unadorned basics.

By renovating thousands of its stores, ratcheting down the pace of its breakneck expansion and all but abandoning its upscale ambitions, it turned around its lagging sales. But its deft financial rejiggering still didn’t burnish its reputation, which had become a business problem, too.

A confidential 2004 report, prepared by McKinsey & Company for Wal-Mart, found that 2 percent to 8 percent of Wal-Mart consumers surveyed had ceased shopping at the chain because of “negative press they have heard.” Wal-Mart executives and Wall Street analysts began referring to the problem as “headline risk.”

So the company, known for bitterly rebutting critics or simply ignoring them, began working closely with activists to improve its labor, health care and environmental records.

It is hard to measure the financial return of a good image. But no one at Wal-Mart talks about headline risk anymore because the headlines have become largely positive.

Profits climbed to $12.7 billion in the 2008 fiscal year, from $11.2 billion in the 2006 fiscal year, while sales jumped to $375 billion, from $312.4 billion, during the same period. The percentage of employees on Wal-Mart’s health insurance plan rose to 50.2 percent, from 44 percent.

And since the Choice Meeting, sustainability efforts have saved Wal-Mart hundreds of millions of dollars, according to people familiar with the company’s environmental initiatives. Wal-Mart declined to provide exact figures about its savings.

“It wasn’t a matter of telling our story better,” said Mr. Scott said in recent interview. “We had to create a better story.”

WAL-MART, of course, didn’t change overnight. It was pushed — or, more accurately, shoved — into wrenching reforms.

When Mr. Scott became chief executive in 2000, the company was a Wall Street darling. With nearly 4,000 stores and more than a million employees, it had edged out Goliaths like Sears and Kmart. But its size and success invited scrutiny. In 2005, two union-backed groups, Wal-Mart Watch and Wake Up Wal-Mart, set up shop in Washington and started a public relations assault against the company.

At one point, Wal-Mart Watch set up an automated phone system to recruit whistle-blowers to share secrets about the retailer.

In 2005, Wal-Mart Watch obtained an internal memorandum showing that 46 percent of Wal-Mart workers’ children were uninsured or on Medicaid. The memo proposed further ways to cut employees’ health and retiree benefits — at a time when the company was ringing up annual earnings of more than $11 billion.

Meanwhile, environmental groups accused Wal-Mart of being a polluter. Mr. Scott and his team hunkered down, hurling back a litany of statistics and facts in Wal-Mart’s defense.

As the company’s reputation unwound, so did its business. Its stock price fell roughly 20 percent between 2000 and 2005, a drop that executives and analysts attributed, in part, to investors’ anxieties about Wal-Mart’s image. Sales growth lagged behind that of its chief rival, Target, and Wal-Mart faced growing resistance to its expansion.

Inside Wal-Mart headquarters, in Bentonville, Ark., rumors swirled about Mr. Scott’s future, and board members became restless. In the end, directors stood by Mr. Scott, but told him he had to overhaul Wal-Mart’s image.

“What I would tell Lee is that there was a great deal of misunderstanding about the company and that we had to address it head on,” said Jose H. Villarreal, a director from 1998 to 2006 and a partner in the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.

MR. SCOTT — the son of a gas-station owner — joined Wal-Mart’s trucking department in 1979 and rose to the C.E.O. post in 2000. He acknowledged in an interview that while he was running Wal-Mart, his board “sensitized” him to critics.

He began meeting with minority groups, politicians and environmentalists. Some meetings were awkward; others were punctuated by tirades. But as it turned out, most critics did not want Wal-Mart to disappear. They wanted it to be better.

Mr. Scott used some of his opponents’ ideas to make that happen, believing that sustainability could become an advantage — saving the company money, reinvigorating its culture, allowing it to sell better merchandise and attracting and retaining talent.

Engaging outside consultants and critics to help with that transformation was a huge change for the retailer, which prized its independence. To outsiders, it was a sign that Wal-Mart was adopting a new attitude.

“There was a time where people in business believed all they had to do was run their business,” said David D. Glass, Mr. Scott’s predecessor as C.E.O. “But it doesn’t work that way anymore. There is an accountability that goes way beyond that.”

After the Choice Meeting, Mr. Scott went through a kind of Outward Bound phase, known within Wal-Mart as “Eat What You Cook” — a mantra that encourages executives to experience firsthand the impact of their decisions.

For Mr. Scott, that meant driving to a New Hampshire mountaintop to discuss climate change with scientists. He slept on a bunk bed in submarine-size quarters with visitors including Steven Hamburg, then an environmental studies professor at Brown University and author of a 1994 report criticizing Wal-Mart’s environmental efforts.

Mr. Hamburg, now chief scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund, told Mr. Scott that Wal-Mart’s earlier green initiatives were just window dressing. “So he challenged me back and said, ‘Well, we’ve taken another run at this and we’d love to have your input,’ ” Mr. Hamburg recalls.

Shortly after that conversation, Mr. Scott told the world that Wal-Mart was embracing sustainability. He laid out ambitious, possibly unattainable, long-term goals for the company: running its operations solely on renewable energy, creating zero waste and selling products that sustain the earth’s resources and environment.

Wal-Mart’s suppliers had little choice but to follow its lead.

In came the fluorescent bulbs. In 2007 alone, Wal-Mart sold more than 100 million of them. For a manufacturer, selling a bulb that lasts longer means fewer sold. But it would hurt to lose Wal-Mart as a customer. So G.E. and others ramped up production of fluorescent bulbs.

By selling only concentrated liquid laundry detergent, an effort it began last year, Wal-Mart says, its customers will save more than 400 million gallons of water, 95 million pounds of plastic resin, 125 million pounds of cardboard and 520,000 gallons of diesel fuel over three years.

“Lee pushed me,” said A. G. Lafley, chief executive of Procter & Gamble, and “we totally, totally changed the way we manufacture liquid laundry detergents in the U.S. and, now, around the world.”

Wal-Mart says it now saves itself $3.5 million a year just by recycling loose plastic and selling it to processors. After changing the design of its trucks and how efficiently it loads them, its fleet had a 25 percent improvement in fuel efficiency. Amory B. Lovins, a MacArthur fellow and chairman and chief scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute, a nonprofit research organization, said Wal-Mart would save nearly $500 million a year in fuel costs by 2020.

While environmentalists give Wal-Mart kudos for the changes it has made, they say that much of what it has achieved so far amounts to collecting low-hanging fruit. The company sells tens of thousands of products, and has demanded the overhaul of only a handful, they say. “The jury’s out in the long term,” Mr. Hamburg says.

Wal-Mart has revised health care plans and labor practices in recent years, also important facets of its makeover.

In the last few years, it has helped its employees get access to lower-cost prescription drugs and taken steps to prevent labor abuses. For years, some store managers forced employees to work without pay, after clocking out, according to scores of lawsuits. To prevent this, Wal-Mart has programmed cash registers to shut down after an employee has exceeded a certain number of hours. It has also told managers to make sure that employees take lunch and rest breaks.

Last month, Wal-Mart settled dozens of lawsuits contending that it forced employees to work off the clock. The settlement will cost Wal-Mart at least $352 million, possibly far more, according to the company.

Still, many activists, especially in the labor world, remain deeply dissatisfied.

A major class-action sexual discrimination lawsuit is pending against the company. And labor leaders argue that Wal-Mart has simply found new ways to fatten its profits without tangibly improving the lives of its employees. It pays its workers, on average, less than $20,000 a year, and many of them pay thousands of dollars a year in medical bills.

“He had the chance to be the Henry Ford of his generation, especially in the last few years, as the stock price soared,” said Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, of Mr. Scott. “He could have found a way to share the wealth. Instead, he became the epitome of the greed that has brought our economy to where it is today.”

Mr. Scott declined to comment. But Wal-Mart says that its average wage, $10.83 an hour for full-time workers, are competitive in the retailing industry, and that its health plans are accessible to a wider range of workers than those of some of its rivals.

Wal-Mart will need to keep building on its recent successes. While most retail chains have had double-digit declines during the current economic turndown, Wal-Mart had a 1.7 percent sales increase in December at stores open at least a year.

Yet that number was lower than analysts’ expectations, leading some to predict more trouble ahead for Wal-Mart and the rest of the retail industry.

Come February, it will be the job of Michael T. Duke, 58, who has led Wal-Mart’s international operations since 2005, to steer the company through the downturn.

As for Mr. Scott, he will serve as chairman of the executive committee of Wal-Mart’s board until 2011. And he intends to increase the retailer’s lobbying muscle in Washington, especially regarding health care, energy and sustainability.

“As businesses, we have a responsibility to society,” he said this month, speaking to members of the National Retail Federation in his last public speech as Wal-Mart chief. “Let me be clear about this point. There is no conflict between delivering value to shareholders, and helping solve bigger societal problems.”

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Its in the Planning

I cannot reiterate enough that in Residential Construction and Remodeling the need for Integrative or Collaborative Design Process is essential to ensure effective construction practices that will ensure affordability and efficiency when it comes to making a fully "green home." The idea that one individual knows EVERYTHING about Green Build and the right way to do a project without hearing diverse opinions and ideas seems outdated and places way too much liability and pressure on the General Contractor. Team Building is the way to do Green Building.

I reprint this article from the NAHB Newsletter which emphasizes some of the most fundamental elements in making a successful Green Home.


Design the Crucial Factor in Effective Green Building

Instead of worrying about offbeat construction materials and techniques, home builders interested in pursuing green home building opportunities should start by considering basic designs — many of which have been around for ages — that will promote the peak performance of the house, Peter Pfeiffer, of Barley & Pfeiffer Architects in Austin, Texas, told the NAHB National Green Building Conference in St. Louis last month.

“This is not about bamboo floors and geothermal heat pumps,” Pfeiffer said, “but the first decisions we make even before we begin building. Let’s make some smart design decisions first….Green building is less about finding materials and more about the appropriateness of the design.”

The first principle of green building, he said, is making sure that the building relates well to its site. “Orienting the house correctly can save more than a photovoltaic system on the roof,” he said.

From the outset, green builders should also be working with their clients to educate and manage their expectations. For instance, ask a middle-aged client who wants the master bedroom downstairs to avoid a flight of stairs if they really expect to be living in the house when they are 75. Because if they don’t, it makes more sense to locate all of the bedrooms upstairs so that the first floor doesn’t need to be air conditioned at night, cutting energy bills in half.

Persuade your client that they want to avoid an air conditioning system that has the capacity to cool the house down to 72 degrees on the relatively few occasions when they have 25 people over because overcapacity can cause mold to grow within the ducts and elsewhere in the home, leading to poor indoor air quality and possible health problems.

Explain that excessively large homes may not be as comfortable to live in or that a 12-foot ceiling will use one-third more energy to heat and cool. And try to get away from the traditional way of looking at the value of a home on a cost-per-square-foot basis. “The industry has started judging homes on price per square foot to the point of absurdity,” Pfeiffer said. “When you look at the cost of a sport coat, do you consider how much it costs per square inch?”

“In today’s market,” he added, “people are looking for something that’s better thought-out and better performing.”

In thinking through a project before it gets going, builders should look for energy conservation first before they pursue energy production. “Energy conservation provides the most bang for the buck,” he said, “and it is a lot less expensive than solar collectors.”

Orientation of the home is extremely important and often overlooked. Streets should travel east and west as much as possible so that the majority of the building lots can have either a north — or south — facing front and rear.

Where air conditioning is used extensively throughout the year, the home should be oriented to avoid exposure to the afternoon sun, and windows facing west should be minimized. Dark roofs are also undesirable because they absorb the heat of the sun.

Pfeiffer presented a long list of basic recommendations for improving indoor energy efficiency and comfort. Among them:

* “The placement of air conditioning and heating equipment shouldn’t be an afterthought.” Locating it next to the master bath and kitchen can reduce duct runs. With proper windows and shading, most houses should require no more than one ton of cooling capacity for every 650 square feet of living area; “850 square feet/ton is now very attainable and should be the goal of a well-designed and built residence.”

* Use overhangs to shade windows on the east, south and especially the west from the sun. Double-pane “low-E” windows are not a substitute for proper shading and solar control. Available through Ball State University’s Center for Energy Research, Education and Service, the Sun Angle Calculator enables builders to determine what size overhang they need. Overhangs help keep the sun off of paint jobs, and keep windows cleaner because they don’t get wet during rain storms. “Houses with small overhangs don’t last,” he said. Doors and windows will last four times longer when water is kept off of them.

* A radiant barrier on the underside of the roof, such as LP’s “Tech Shield,” will substantially reduce heat gain through the roof — reducing air conditioning bills, enhancing occupant comfort and extending the weeks in a year a home doesn’t need air conditioning. Contrary to myth, radiant barriers do not lead to the deterioration of roof shingles. “Radiant barriers do need to be installed in conjunction with an air space and will not provide benefit where in direct contact with another building material.” Sealed attics and radiant barriers also make it less of a problem to run air conditioning ducts in the attic. “However, it is always best to run ducts in a conditioned or semi-conditioned space, such as ceiling furr downs or in an unvented attic.”

* “Ventilating an attic can cause moisture and humidity problems in areas of high humidity — and lead to higher energy bills. Sealing the attic and ventilating a continuous air space immediately below the roof decking, not the attic, is better.”

* To keep humidity from infiltrating the wall cavity, install a moisture and vapor retarder on the warm, or more humid, side of the wall. “In the North, this is the inside surface (unless you are in an area where air conditioning is used a lot of the year); in the southern United States this is the outside surface of exterior walls….” Typically, when you are air conditioning a house, walls dry ‘out’ to the interior because the a/c system draws moisture out of the air. Spray foam insulation is particularly good in areas where significant air conditioning and heating loads exist because it is a safe vapor retarder that works appropriately in the summer and the winter.”

* Look for siding that sheds water to minimize the water the cladding absorbs. Masonry and stucco absorb water; and the sun heating up a wet wall will drive moisture right into the house.

* 30# ASTM building felt in conjunction with a commercial-grade building wrap that is well taped makes for a good weather barrier system. “Remember, you want to create a raincoat underneath the wall cladding because houses aren’t perfect and cracks will occur that let things in that you still want to keep out of the house.”

* Do not use vapor barriers on the inside surface of walls — including vinyl wall coverings, in buildings where air conditioning is used for a significant part of the year. “Improperly placed vapor barriers can trap moisture in walls — leading to serious mold problems.”

* “Go easy on the amount of recessed cans (even the so-called ‘air-tight’ ones) that puncture the thermal envelope of the building. They are counterproductive to reducing infiltration of outside air. Try to restrict unnecessary light switches and electric boxes on exterior walls — they, too, puncture the thermal envelope.”

* A vented crawl space can create more moisture and humidity problems than it solves. “We don’t recommend venting them unless there is a known source of ground water under the building that cannot be controlled otherwise.”

* “You have to build an air-tight house.”

* To improve indoor air quality, “don’t pollute the home in the first place rather than diluting the pollution.” Use low-VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) latex paints on the interior. “Avoid high-sheen or glossy wall paint on the interior surface or exterior walls, where it could create a vapor barrier on the wrong side of the wall.” Air out carpeting for a day or two before installation. Detach or separate the garage from the house; in addition to the car, fertilizer, insecticides and other chemicals stored there can create fumes. “Sheetrock is not a vapor barrier. At least use foam insulation.”

* Avoid chemical treatments for termites and other insects. “They don’t last, lead to occupant health problems and pollute the underlying ground water. Consider sand barriers or stainless steel screen barriers such as TermiMesh in and around the foundation for termite control.” Also, the frame of the structure can be sprayed with Timbor, a natural brine solution that makes the entire frame insect-resistant.

* “Install outside venting exhaust fans in all bathrooms, kitchens and other rooms where there may be a lot of internal moisture generation. BUT be careful not to draw so much air out that you create a negative pressure in the home or building because that will exacerbate the infiltration of unwanted air.”

* “Keeping humidity levels low is an important part of controlling indoor air quality. Front-loading clothes washers impart less humidity into a home because they are sealed during operation. Indoor air humidity should be kept at 40% to 50%."

* “Leaky ducts rob energy efficiency and are a bigger problem than low-efficiency air conditioners. They can cause depressurization of a home, inviting outside air and humidity into the home from unknown and unwanted sources, leading to serious indoor air quality problems and possibly mold.”

* Fluorescent lamps — especially the thin T2, T5 and T8 types and the new compact fluorescents — provide superior light quality and provide a wide range of color correctness without the heat of incandescent and halogen lamps. They also last longer.

* “Proper day lighting, especially indirect daylight from high windows, can make for substantial energy savings and an enhanced indoor environment. (Clerestory windows do this well; and if operable, can be used to naturally siphon heat out of the space below in the spring and fall.)

* “Avoid oversized (75-gallon and larger) water heaters. They generally don’t produce heat as efficiently as smaller ones because they are exempt from the federal energy conservation guidelines. A good high output 50-gallon gas unit will produce the same amount of hot water, enough for most large homes with oversized master bath tubs, more efficiently. A simple backflow prevention valve on the water line feeding the water heater can save significant energy, and keep the cold tap water from becoming undesirably warm.”

Pfeiffer advised his audience that he is more used to working in the South and that other strategies, materials and methods may be more appropriate for other localities.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Green Jobs

With the Green Job conference coming up next month I thought I would reprint this article from Time Magazine explaining what a "green job" is.

As I have written in the past I think all jobs should go green and all companies go green by seeing employees as essential resources that need special treatment and less disposal. Being sustainable is being solvent and operating a business that is competitive without being destructive to either the environment and those within it.


What Is a Green-Collar Job, Exactly?
By Bryan Walsh Monday, May. 26, 2008 TIME

What do presidential candidates John McCain, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have in common — aside from the obvious? They all love green-collar jobs. Obama promises to spend $150 billion over 10 years to create 5 million new green-collar jobs. Clinton references the term repeatedly on the trail, and says her energy plan will create millions of new green-collar jobs as well. McCain is less willing to cite numbers, but he too assures campaign audiences that action to decarbonize America's economy will produce "thousands, millions of new jobs in America."

All of which sounds great — we clean up the environment, control global warming and create an entirely new sector of employment while we're at it. Academics have released lots of studies trumpeting the potential for green jobs — one report by the RAND Corporation and University of Tennessee found that if 25% of all American energy were produced from renewable sources by 2025, we would generate at least 5 million new green jobs. But there are just a few questions: what is green-collar? What makes it different from blue- or white-collar? And where will those jobs come from?

Phil Angelides has the answers — or at least one of them. A venture capitalist and the 2006 Democratic candidate for governor of California (he lost to the political world's best-known Austrian-American), Angelides is the chair of the Apollo Alliance, a coalition of business, labor and environmental groups championing green employment. Here's how he defines a green job: "It has to pay decent wages and benefits that can support a family. It has to be part of a real career path, with upward mobility. And it needs to reduce waste and pollution and benefit the environment." (Hear Angelides discuss the green-collar revolution on this week's Greencast.)

Sounds simple enough. And there are some jobs that fall obviously into the green-collar category, like the hundreds of employees who now work for the Spanish wind company Gamesa at its new plant in Fairless Hills, Pa. — a plant built on the site of an old U.S. Steel manufacturing facility. If you make wind turbines or solar panels, your job is reliably green. But Angelides and his allies want to cast a wider net. To them, a green-collar job can be anything that helps put America on the path to a cleaner, more energy efficient future. That means jobs in the public transit sector, jobs in green building, jobs in energy efficiency — even traditional, blue-collar manufacturing jobs, provided what you're making is more or less green. (Building an SUV? Blue-collar. Building a hybrid? Green-collar.) The category can get a little messy. "You don't want to greenwash," says Angelides. "You don't want to call something a green-collar job that doesn't have the wages or background to support it."

But there can be a strong temptation towards what might be called green-collar inflation, because the idea that environmentalism can actually add jobs is key to the new arguments for global warming action. On the surface, cap and trade and other anti–climate change policies look like short-term economic losers that will raise the cost of energy and lead to job loss. Certainly that's the argument of many conservatives — a study by the National Association of Manufacturers estimated that one of the main carbon cap-and-trade proposals before Congress would cost the U.S. economy up to 4 million jobs by 2030.

But environmental groups like the Apollo Alliance flip that criticism around, arguing that the hard work of decarbonizing the American economy will actually create millions of new jobs. Someone, after all, will need to produce alternative power, increase energy efficiency and overhaul wasteful buildings. Angelides notes that between now and 2030, 75% of the buildings in the U.S. will either be new or substantially rehabilitated. Our inefficient, dangerously unstable electrical grid will need to be overhauled. The jobs that will go into that kind of work can be green-collar — provided that the government adopts the kind of policies that incentivize environmentally friendly choices. "Green jobs won't be sprouting up only in new technology fields" like solar energy, says Angelides, whose group is calling for a $300 billion investment in green jobs over the next 10 years. "We'll be creating jobs in the industrial sector."

In other words, blue-collar can become green. It's no surprise that one of the biggest supporters of the Apollo Alliance is the United Steelworkers Alliance — labor leaders see green jobs as a way to fight outsourcing and keep manufacturing alive in America. And there is a strong political component to green-collar jobs, which is why presidential candidates love talking about them so much. Environmentalism has usually been the reserve of the elite — but we'll never have the power to tackle global warming unless we create a coalition that extends well beyond traditional white-collar greens. Touting green-collar jobs can convince skeptical, blue-collar Americans that they have an economic stake in curbing climate change. It's far from certain that green-collar jobs will ever reach the critical mass that supporters like Angelides hope, but any idea that can bring Obama, McCain and Clinton together can't be all bad — and it may help bring the rest of us together too.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Let Business Embrace U and R Values

I think that we can apply green building practices to economic and business practices by looking at U values to windows or R Factors to insulation's as modes to copy. The greater the R factor the higher the insulation level, the lower the U value the better the solar factor for heat reduction.

And with that idea in mind businesses should lessen their "U" values and let light in and up their "R" factor by ensuring that their business is well established, profitable and their people are compensated at levels that are equal and fair. So salaries should be determined by market rate, the companies overall profit and projected profit as well as considering operating costs and growth measured honestly and consistently over time. So when you are working in the black you are doing so with the goal of keeping the company profitable for the long haul and keeping employees working for the long haul. We have made people the easiest and most disposable product to keep us in the black but in building black is synonymous with mold so maybe we need to know what it means to be in the black and maybe think green instead.

Free Market is not working and the ability to "negotiate" may have some factor but in reality shouldn't we simply pay what is in line with our business operations and the individual has to accept that they make their worth via their contribution - a contribution that is made over time. So when you begin at a company your salary may not be the same as someone who has worked there for a long period but it should not be less than your worth and in relation to the rest of the staff. And someone should not be paid more simply because they are good at negotiating. While that skill is good unless it helps the company succeed I am not sure that is the reason to reward them with a higher salary.

And while I also feel that education is key to success, I am less impressed with the credential of where that is from vs the individual who shows me their worth via work. The paper in and of itself is worth something to its holder but is not the sole value of one's worth. Having "connections" or doing better on testing does not guarantee a great employee. And even a degree may not be necessary. Intelligence can be reflected by other measures, some very intelligent and successful individuals have not finished colleges nor attended highly acclaimed ones. Looking at our current state of affairs it seems that many of the individuals behind this crisis were Ivy League educated.

I try to measure someones value by the kind of work they have done or I believe they can do by how they PRESENT themselves in the moment. Talking to people and really listening can often be the best way to assess worth. But interviews today seem more about the Interviewer and less about the Interviewee. That is also something that needs changing. We use such extrinsic measures to value people and make decisions on hiring - testing, where they went to college, their associations but I am not sure that is as telling as actually speaking to someone and listening to them speak about work. The "art" of the interview and assessment and more importantly instinct seems lost these days. Passionate and interesting people testing does not measure. And paying people fairly and determining salary should also be equitable and not based on extrinsic factors such as gender, age, the college they went to and their "negotiation" skills.

As for the issue of privacy well that is not the same as confidentiality. Giving people information on salaries levels the playing field. Its been done in Federal and Municipal employment for years. Many companies do it and its common at the Executive level of larger corporation. But knowing what everyone makes in relation to the company, understanding how salaries are determined should be essential if we really are reforming ourselves in this new age of transparency and equity.

So on that note I wanted to reprint this article from the NY Times. I think it supports the idea that we are moving towards a better way of working and employment. It may actually contribute towards sustainability on a whole new level


HIGH on the list of my least favorite tasks are buying a car and negotiating a salary. Both leave me wondering if I’ve been had.

Of the two, car haggling used to be worse. “If they are willing to sell it to you,” my father always said, “you’ve paid too much.” But in recent years, with Edmunds.com and Consumer Reports to tell you what the dealer is paying, and companies like Saturn, where the no-haggle rule means the price is the price, some of the migraine-making elements of the process are gone.

More recently, there are signs that salary negotiation is inching toward greater transparency, too.

“I believe the momentum behind salary transparency is really beginning to build,” said Traci Fenton, the chief executive of WorldBlu in Austin, Tex., which coaches companies on the creation of more “democratic workplaces,” and which practices what it preaches. The 11 employees at WorldBlu, most of whom work on contract, all know what one another are paid.

Openness about company ledgers “will become the norm,” Ms. Fenton predicts, “even if people come to it reluctantly. If people are paid what they are worth, there is no reason for people to feel uncomfortable about sharing salary information.”

The openness looks a little different at Motek, a company in Beverly Hills, Calif., that develops software for warehouses. Employees at the same level receive identical salaries, and raises are negotiated for the entire team. “Every one of my employees knows every other employee’s salary, from the receptionist right up to the software engineers,” said Ann Price, the chief executive. “There’s no comparing or jealousy or backstabbing.”

Some salaries have long been public knowledge. Government employees know what colleagues take home, and that information is available to outsiders, too. Nonprofits must list salaries when applying for a grant. Hourly workers, particularly at entry level, frequently know what colleagues make. Pay for those at the top of organizations, particularly publicly traded ones, is also often no secret.

For everyone else, however, paycheck specifics are shrouded.

“It’s a very American, very middle-class phenomenon,” said Ed Lawler, the director of the Center for Effective Organizations at the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California, who has studied salary transparency since 1962. “The way we were raised is that it was bad taste to talk about how much you make.”

Our pay “tells people what others perceive to be our value,” he added, “and we worry that we will fall short.”

Professor Lawler has found that most people carry a mental image of where they stand in relation to their fellow workers. Significantly, he said, that image is likely to be wrong. We underestimate what those in positions above us make and overestimate what those in positions comparable to ours make — a surefire recipe for feeling underpaid.

So is the answer for every workplace to tell all? Penelope Trunk thinks so.

Last month, she started a flurry of debate on her blog, The Brazen Careerist (penelopetrunk.com) with a post advocating salary transparency (and in which she conceded that she hadn’t yet laid the groundwork for such a policy at her company).

Her logic was that secrecy about salaries masks inequity. What you are paid should reflect your worth to your employer. Companies should have a range of pay for any given job, and if a worker is at the low end of that range there should be a reason.

Instead, Ms. Trunk wrote, what you are paid more often reflects what your employer can get you for. Skilled negotiators earn more. Employees who are more personable or favored for intangible reasons earn more. So do those who were hired when the manager was either desperate or flush. That results in a salary scale that makes no sense, and leaves many feeling cheated.

Take the employee response at two companies where salary information accidentally became public.

A few years ago, Laura Harris, whose insurance business in Corpus Christi, Tex., has six employees, was taken by surprise when the company that does her payroll faxed a list of salaries to her office without a heads-up. An employee found it and showed it to her colleagues.

Ms. Harris had concrete reasons for everyone’s pay. “Those that make the most money for the company are given the salary increases,” she said. “Longevity doesn’t pay my bills, nor earn raises. I have had people with seven years with my firm that made more than someone with nine years.”

Some employees were “none too happy,” about the revelations, Ms. Harris said, but not a single person complained.

Things did not go so smoothly three months ago at the Golden Lasso, a marketing agency in Seattle with 15 employees. That’s when someone took a stack of payroll slips off the printer, then shared what she had learned at a get-together away from the office. Philip Swanstrom Shaw, the agency’s creative director, was soon facing an agitated employee. She wanted to know, he said, why she wasn’t making as much as someone else.

“I had to tell her that her job description was different, and we were still grooming her and developing her potential,” he said.

While trying to diffuse her anger, Mr. Shaw realized how much his agency’s salary structure was based on intangibles. “We don’t pay as much as others in the area,” he said, “but we emphasize quality of life and not working every weekend like some of our competitors, and keeping jobs safe even in a downturn. That was hard to quantify.”

He understood as he spoke, he said, that some of his explanations sounded hollow. The employee who revealed the salaries has since left. The employee who complained has been given a raise, and the whole incident “was poison and we are still dealing with it,” Mr. Shaw said.

Secrecy favors an employer in hiring. It can be difficult for potential employees to know if an offer is fair if they are blindfolded. In the absence of widespread transparency by companies, Web sites are filling the gap.

“Information is good and more information is better,” said Robert Hohman, a founder of Glassdoor.com, which started in June. Glassdoor allows people to anonymously post salary information, making it one of a growing number of Web sites that list salaries by specific company rather than by general job description.

Mr. Hohman compares his venture to Expedia, the travel Web site. Before the Internet, he said, only insiders had access to the entire range of prices and schedules of airlines and hotels. “Now everyone can have it.”

Eventually, he hopes, an employee will be able to go online, click on the name of his or her company and see the range of salaries for his or her type of work.

Because salary information on such sites is posted anonymously, he warns, they can not single-handedly change the culture that makes that anonymity necessary in the first place. Telling others what you earn will probably always be tricky, he said.

But some people are already defying the taboo. Ms. Price, for one, was happy to tell me that her salary is $300,000. Her project managers earn $80,000.

But when I asked Mr. Hohman, he stammered, then answered: “$200,000.” Later, he sent an e-mail message to say he had done something he had been procrastinating about: post his salary on his own Web site.

And Professor Lawler? I asked him, too, but, fully aware of the irony, he said he couldn’t tell me. “I could lose my job for that,” he said. “U.S.C. policy is that we can’t reveal our salaries.”

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Green can be Transparent

I read this blurb in Sustainable Media today and I think that this should pertain to more than supply chain economics it should be in all aspects of business. From salaries to costs and markups to operational data on how a business generates a profit and where its losses go.

Now the response to that is "you would lose your competitive edge" Well I understand that and certainly it would not be for public consumption but for the board members, the staff and the executives as it would allow for full disclosure, better communication, equality and parity. In the age of the excessive bonuses, salaries, golden parachutes, etc for those at the top tier and wage stagflation for those at the bottom we can no longer idly wonder what people are getting paid, are they getting paid what they are worth and are they paid competitively, equally and fairly for the work they are doing. We can no longer rely on benefits and 401K's to balance out the paycheck. Instead we must look to find ways to simply pay them a decent livable wage and provide them with the tools and information needed to have sufficient pension/retirement plans that they manage with companies giving them all they need to do that independently. We can no longer rely on Corporations to handle our needs for the future it is something we must do ourselves in the now. That to me is the ultimate in Sustainable Business Practices.

And on that note, all costs of doing business should be open. What you are doing with regards to each client's projects. The direct and indirect costs involved and while you don't need to provide someone a full accounting, your client needs to see a detailed cost analysis of the work involved. I have seen many "bids" done on cocktail napkins and I cannot think that can be quite as comprehensive or accurate regardless of the writer's experience. And in this age of information there is no real confidentiality or way to supress the true costs of doing business. What there has been is an unwillingness to ask it.

So in the case of Construction the concept of "bidding" needs to end. It has been a perilous and conflicted process where it provides no true cost measure or benefit to the project. I don't think its the bid that will lose the work its the work. You can be the cheapest dude and the best dude but that combination is rare but being the most expensive doesn't guarantee quality either. However, by full cost analysis, offering great work, meeting deadlines, schedules and follow through that is how you should "win" work. Reputation and consistency not connections and double book accounting.

Greater Transparency

Demand for openness about where products come from and what's in everything is still growing. No recession will put the genie back in that (BPA- and phthalate-leaching) bottle. Companies are releasing more CSR reports than ever and industry organizations, such as the Consumer Electronics Association, are sharing their own data. HP put a list of all its suppliers on the web and then announced the total carbon footprint for the supply chain. How long will it be before companies share data on every company's specific climate contribution in the value chain? Patagonia launched a website just to tell the story of some of its key products and their travels around the world. And Wal-Mart is now selling a jewelry line called "Love, Earth" with an accompanying website that lets customers see which mine the gold came from.

Transparency will become a lever to improve operations (what gets measured gets managed) and a source of competitive advantage over time. As business customers and consumers want to know more, they will trust those with data. In 2009, collect information, build systems, and get ready to be open.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Let the Greenlash begin

I am reprinting an article here from buildingscience.com. And while it pertains to commercial building I think the points are universal.

And while there is a great deal of technical material I think between it the points are clear. Green building is still a process of experimentation and without it there is no growth. But it is not perfect and there is no one prototype or guideline that can meet the needs of what makes the "perfect" green building. And frankly perfect is overrated. Let's just look at waste, performance and more importantly practicality and we can then say we are doing better all the time and that is better than doing nothing at all.


Prioritizing Green—It's The Energy Stupid

An edited version of this Insight first appeared in the ASHRAE Journal. Many “green” buildings don’t save energy. Why? They have too much glass, they are over-ventilated, they are leaky to air, they are fraught with thermal bridges and they rely on gimmicks and fads rather than physics.

* Credit to architect Edward Mazria: I think he said this first, if he didn't say it first he sure says it well.

Many “green” buildings don’t save energy (see “MIS-LEED-ING” sidebar). Why? They have too much glass, they are over-ventilated, they are leaky to air, they are fraught with thermal bridges and they rely on gimmicks and fads rather than physics.

Basically, the current green and sustainability craze can be summed up as architects and engineers behaving badly. The good news is that most of this nonsense can be easily remedied when adults finally get involved. The bad news is that the failures are beginning to bubble to the surface and we are in danger of ruining the “green brand.”1

Before you can have a “green” building you need a building first. Presumably this building needs to be able to stand up, not be blown away in a hurricane, not fall down in an earthquake, not burn, not leak rainwater, not be moldy, not rot, not corrode and otherwise be able to meet applicable building codes such as having a basic provision for ventilation like that specified by Standard 62.1.

So what’s with all these “green” programs providing “points” for “durability” and “indoor air quality”? I mean it’s pretty pathetic if we have to reward architects and engineers when they provide details and specifications that should be basic to fundamental practice. If you design and install a controlled ventilation system that meets Standard 62 you get points. You get more points if you keep the rain out and design the building to dry if it gets wet. And you get still more points if the occupants are actually comfortable. Aren’t these code requirements? Shouldn’t these be “the standard of care”?

Have we architects and engineers sunk so low that we now get points if we meet basic building requirements that all buildings should meet in order to be called buildings?

Green programs waste a lot of time and money on stuff that is obvious and more time and money on stuff that is irrelevant or unimportant.

How about focusing on stuff that is important? It’s become “all about the points” and the important stuff gets ignored. Chasing “green points” doesn’t get you good buildings that are truly green. You can get a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating and not save any energy compared to traditional buildings. How can that possibly be green?

How To Be Green So, lets start with a basic requirement that we need a building that meets code and the standard of care. That would be a building that is structurally sound, is fire-safe, has a controlled ventilation system, does not leak rainwater and is comfortable. No points for this. This is what the minimum requirement for a building should be.

Now what’s next? That’s pretty easy. It’s energy. What are the two greatest challenges facing the Republic since the pesky British at Bunker Hill and Robert E. Lee leading the Confederate Army? Global warming and energy security. The key to both Global Warming and Energy Security is energy conservation. Architect Edward Mazria likes to say “architects control the global thermostat.” I think he is right.

Show me a building that meets code and the standard of care and saves energy and I will show you a green building. A “real” green building, not a social statement that saps money, time and resources from the real problems facing the planet.

You want to save serious energy and serious money? Easy, use less glass. Windows and curtain walls are the most expensive component in a building and provide the worst energy performance. The more you use the more energy and money you burn. Limit the glazing area to approximately 30 percent—and use really good glass and frames (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Enclosure R-value versus Glazing Ratio

Bottom line is use less glass and use good glass and frames. Chart is courtesy of John Straube (6). Bad glass ruins good walls. Rock beats scissors, paper beats rock…

The impact of thermal bridging through commercial wall assemblies, and heat flow through window systems can be calculated with relatively good accuracy by calculating an area-weighted average of the R-values of the windows and opaque wall sections. The equation takes the form:

Uoverall = (WWR *Uwindow + (1-WWR) * Uwall), where U = 1/R.

The results of a number of scenarios are plotted in the chart below.

Typical curtainwall systems have an R-value of only 2 or 3, with "high performance" systems (not shown) using highly insulated spandrel panels and best-in-class double glazing may achieve R-4. Only a few systems, such as the Kawneer 7550 series, can achieve R-values of 6 or more.


Curve 1 above is for standard U=0.50 thermally-broken aluminum punched windows with air-filled double-glazed insulated glazing units in a R-12 batt-filled steel-stud brick veneer wall system (R-6). The overall effective R-value of this wall is around 3-to-4 over the normal range of window-to-wall (WWR) ratios of 25 to 50%.

Curve 2 shows that Increasing the R-value of the wall to R-11 by adding an inch of foam on the exterior, results in an increase of only R-0.5 to R-1.5 for the overall R-value for the same range of WWR.

Curve 3 shows how significant an impact window performance can make if a good wall is provided. An externally insulated R-16 wall, when mated with poor windows produces a vertical enclosure with an R-value of only R-3 to R-6 for the normal range of window area.

Curve 4 assumes a good quality window frame with top quality glazing (low-e, argon-filled): the result for the overall vertical enclosure is still only R-4 to R-7.

These first four curves cover the performance of a wide range of commercial enclosures with a wide range of cladding types. The conclusion is that modern commercial vertical enclosures actually have an R-value that is rarely over 7, and more likely in the range of 3-to-5!

Curves 5 and 6 provide an idea of the significant improvements that are possible. Using best-in-class thermally broken aluminum frames and high-performance glazing (U=0.30), Curve 5 shows that even with an R-40 wall, the overall R-value will be in the 7-to-12 range for WWR of less than 40% (the highest ratio recommended for high-performance buildings). Even though this is a low-level, it is still about significantly more than the alternative. The grey curve below Curve 5 shows the slight benefit gained by increasing wall R-value from 20-to-40, particularly at high glazing ratios.

Curve 6 employs low-e, argon-filled triple-glazed units in an insulated fiberglass frame, to deliver a U-value of only 0.14. Even with a wall insulated to "just" R-20, such a combination can deliver an overall R-value of 12-14, two to three times more than typical commercial vertical enclosures.

In all cases, it can be seen that high glazing ratios generate enclosure walls that are expensive to purchase with very high heat loss and heat gain. This high ratio should be avoided in both individual spaces, such as meeting rooms, as for the whole building on average.

Then don’t over-ventilate. This idea of getting green points by increasing the rates above those specified by ASHRAE Standard 62 is just madness. Whatever happened to source control? If you don’t build stupid materials into the building, don’t do stupid things in the building and don’t connect the interior to exterior via the parking garage, 62 works very well.

Next, build an enclosure without big holes. Build tight, ventilate right. Tight is 2.0 l/s/m2@75Pa (1). Right is ASHRAE Standard 62. How complicated can that be? Except we don’t do it.

Moving on, don’t insulate steel stud cavities; insulate them on the outside. Most of the time all that you will need is R-10 of continuous exterior insulation (that’s between 1.5 and 2 inches of rigid insulation).

And don’t use supply or return plenums—use something called “ducts” to avoid air quality problems and to ensure air goes where you want it.

How Not To Be Green Once we get an enclosure, we can then condition it. Note to architects: before you can control air you must first enclose air. The enclosure comes first and is more important than all the systems within it. Mechanical engineers—all call themselves green—all claim to do green design but when push comes to shove few of them want to do the additional work necessary to design a mechanical system matched to a high performance enclosure—they want their money for nothing and their chicks for free. Of course not too many clients actually want to pay the engineer for the design—and if the money is spent it is often wasted because the enclosure is bad. You can’t make a building green by having the mechanical engineer try to compensate for stupid building enclosure design.

What’s “green” about under floor supply plenums? How do they save any energy? They sure as heck don’t contribute to indoor air quality – they make it worse. Do you want the breath air delivered in a ductless void under the floor than cannot be cleaned? You ever been in one? They are under everything— duh—so stuff collects in them. They have to be cleaned, but you can’t clean them because you can’t easily get at them and you can’t easily clean them even if you get at them because they are filled with services and so they are filthy. And they are expensive. The building has to be taller. That burns up resources and money. But it’s green. Says who? More money, more energy, more resources and more problems. What’s green about that?

You want to have some fun? Go ask the folks at the General Services Administration (GSA) about how they feel about under floor supply plenums. While you’re at it also ask them about computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and passive ventilation and San Francisco’s Federal Building. They won’t be able to say much because the ongoing employee litigation has them under a gag order. Go to Google and the Internet and enjoy. Or how about Seattle's new LEED city hall, which turned out to be a dog? Then we have Sir Norman Foster's London City Hall—supposed to be the greatest greenie public building ever. It just got rated an "E" on the efficiency on a scale that runs from A to F based on just released utility consumption. Apparently the lunacy is not limited to this side of the Atlantic.

Double façades? Green? What’s with that? I thought we killed that dumb idea after all the nonsense associated with “double envelope” houses in the 1970’s.2 It seems that really dumb ideas keep coming back every other generation—typically after the generation of adults that dealt with the dumb idea the first time around retires (Photograph 1 and Photograph 2).


Photograph 1: Hooker Chemical Company—The folks that brought us the Love Canal also brought us the first double façade building in the United States in the 1970’s.


Photograph 2: Mind the Gap—More Hooker Chemical Company building double façade. Not a heck of lot more needs to be said here. The population of a small village could live in this space.

Here is the general premise behind the double façade. The outer façade creates a buffer space between it and the inner façade tempering the environment the inner façade sees. So we have to build two walls—not one—an outer wall and an inner wall with a bunch of space in between. Seems to me that if you built the inner wall correctly you don’t need the outer wall—and vice versa. We call that a “duh” where I’m from. And then you get to use the space between them because there is no space between them—it is all inside—we call that rentable floor area where I’m from. Double façades are a low energy way to provide an all glass enclosure, but they always use more energy than a decent façade with less than 100 percent glass. Why ever go there?

Oh, I forgot about all the passive ventilation “magic” that happens between the two facades and the operable windows you can have between the inner façade and the “magic” space. All brought to you with the precision and predictability of computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and the stack effect. Emswiler (2) and Hutcheon (3) are rolling over in their graves and Shaw and Tamura (4) are none too pleased. I call on the ghosts of building science past to rise up and put a pox on all your houses.

I have got news for all you façadists—you can have operable windows in a single façade and you can get a lot more control and predictability with things called fans, ductwork and controls. Oh, by the way, you can get it at a lot less cost, using a lot less materials (i.e. “resource efficiency”) and using a lot less energy. But, but, fans use energy—it’s not natural to use fans. The other way, the “magic” way uses “natural” forces that are good because nature is good and man is inherently evil. Didn’t we have this argument over two hundred plus years ago with a dead French guy called Rousseau? If we taught architects more physics and less philosophy they wouldn’t fall for this garbage —and while I’m at it shame on you engineers for using bad physics to deceive gullible architects.

Green roofs? Grass and dirt are not energy efficient. Work with me here. Which saves more energy—2 inches of dirt or 2 inches of insulation? Which saves more energy—grass or a white colored membrane? Which is more expensive and does not save energy— grass and dirt or insulation and a white colored membrane? Which needs to be watered to keep the grass from dying and blowing away? But they are beautiful and look cool. And that apparently is more important than cost and energy savings. Okay, I can live with the beautiful and looking cool argument if that is in fact the argument—but don’t clutter it with half-truths such as heat island effects and water run-off. There are other ways to deal with each.

I know I will not win the argument on green roofs, so my advice is to at least build the green roofs correctly. In the “green world” folks sometimes get so pre-occupied with “green materials” that they forget that at the end of the day the assembly still has to work (Figure 2 and Figure 3).


Figure 2: Bad Green Roof—The insulation is under the membrane. This is bad. The insulation can collapse and loose support for the membrane. The membrane can tear and leak. The reason for this bad design choice is often a preoccupation with the "greenness" of the blowing agent of the rigid insulation. Successful green roofs have historically used extruded polystyrene (XPS). XPS can get wet and still perform. The blowing agent of XPS is arguably not the "greenest of the green." Uproven "green" blowing agents used with polyisocyanurate insulation seem attractive at first blush, but insulation assemblies need to be protected from water and hence the location under the membrane and the structural loading of the overbuild assembly needs to be taken into account.


Figure 3: Good Green Roof—The insulation is over the top of the membrane. This is good. This configuration has a multi-decade track record.

And enough with the awards before a building is built and the performance is verified.3 Award plaques should come with removable screws.4 Show me the utility bills. Compare the building to a building of similar size and similar occupancy in a similar climate. And if you don’t show any savings—shut up. You can’t be “green” if you don’t save any energy. Don’t talk to me about biological diversity, recycled materials, and natural ventilation until after you have saved the energy. Spare me the social engineering and the smaller is better and how we all have to share the planet and how we are all equal until you have saved the energy. Don’t talk to me about carbon off-sets until you have saved the energy. You need some carbon savings before you can trade any (the Kyoto protocol requires that the carbon credits be verified, i.e. a piece of paper saying we intended for there to be carbon reductions doesn’t do it). Save one and you can trade one. Don’t build an award winning energy pig and say you are green because you planted some trees in Zaire and brought clean water to a village. Those are all good things but they mean nothing to me because you still have a poor building.

Royal Building Scientist: Charles questions 'green' buildings

Oct 12, 2008

Source: Copyright 2008, Press Association

Quoted from: hhttp://www.climateark.org/shared/reader/welcome.aspx?linkid

The Prince of Wales has criticised the "green building industry" for relying on eco-gadgets like wind turbines and solar panels to justify inefficient buildings.

The Prince called on developers to use traditional methods and materials alongside the best in "eco-technology" to solve the problem of creating environmentally friendly properties instead of opting for "slick, highly marketed techno-fixes".

His comments received a mixed welcome from Paul King, chief executive of the UK Green Building Council, who said they would provoke a healthy debate but risked undermining the efforts of the UK's emerging green building industry.

In the foreword to a green supplement in the magazine House & Garden, the Prince wrote: "Why, I must ask, does being 'green' mean building with glass and steel and concrete and then adding wind turbines, solar panels, water heaters, sedum roofs, glass atria - all the paraphernalia of a new 'green building industry' - to offset buildings that are inefficient in the first place?

"That many of these add-ons are mere gestures, at best, is now clear, as their impacts on home energy consumption can now be measured and usually offer scant justification for the radical nature of the design."

Experts believe small-scale energy generation can help in the push for more renewable energy with businesses, communities, schools and homes playing their part by installing items like solar panels for heating, biomass boilers and combined heat and power supplies.

In December last year, the Government outlined a multi-million pound Government scheme to fund schools to install renewable energy sources such as wood-burning boilers, wind turbines and solar panels to cut carbon emissions.

Charles added: "We must act now, by using traditional methods and materials to work with nature rather than against her, while incorporating the best of contemporary eco-technology in an integrated and sympathetic manner."

Speaking about the Prince's comments, Mr King said: "In a way he is right - there are examples of high-profile buildings being passed off as 'green', when the most important thing is to reduce environmental impacts through good design in the first place.

"However, he risks undermining the efforts of UK's emerging 'green building industry', the vast majority of whom are designing an increasingly large number of fantastic buildings - not just environmentally sound, but excellent architecture in their own right."

Typical Reaction from the Architects

Attack the messenger rather than fix the problem. Criticism of any kind is bad because "green" is good; don't criticize green because that would prevent people from adoption green. The interesting thing is that Prince Charles actually "gets it" but his rather astute observations are downplayed! —JWL

Monday, January 5, 2009

Follow the Yellow or in this case the Green brick road

Adventures in the world of Remodeling and Construction often lead one to varying fairs, shows and events promoting the business.

In a city that professes a tremendous love of all things Green, in fact we are the Emerald City, you would think everyone has found their way to the land of Green Oz with relative ease. That apparently is a road less traveled.

To ease on down the road to looking at sustainable, eco friendly products, design and practices you would think here of all places it would be a matter of course and necessity. In a city banning plastic bags, takeout containers and requiring composting then finding businesses that embrace green build a cakewalk.

I took a tour of the Remodeling Trade Fair today and was surprised at how little there was in the way of touting "green". Sure there were a few Solar businesses, some window and doors promoting energy efficiency but this year only Habitat for Humanity was there touting the tax credits and benefits of recycling building products and the EPA had a small booth tucked away with all the up to date information on demolishing and air quality and safety.

Booth after booth had cabinet refacing, roofing and other materials but little was done to promote the long term benefits, the practices and products that are part of the sustainable building movement. When asked there was "we don't know what that is" or "no, I don't know of any such products" Of course cost was always a reason for the neglience but again it seems a lack of time and wilingness to commit and involve oneself in at least familiarizing themselves with some concepts and ideas. These are the very same businesses who will struggle at this time if they are not willing to go beyond the comfort range and learn to grow. I am always surprised when I contact varying contractors/trades people and they seem on the surface interested but the idea of even simply spending a couple of hours reviewing materials/information is money best unspent.

Well from the feedback of people touring their is no shortage of people wanting to improve their homes but they also want something more than a tool belt, they want information and more imporantly options in finding ways to make their homes, lives and ultimately our world a better place.

I have said many times that it is too difficult to be a jack of all trades, knowing all and every kind of green build product/technique/etc is impossible. So opening up the process and making design/construction collaborative and integrated is the best way to take advantage of a collective source of knowledge with the idea that many minds will give many ideas and save many dollars in the long run.

Its time to start to head down that yellow brick road with Emerald slippers over Ruby ones if businesses are to sustain themselves in the future.