Monday, December 19, 2011

No You Didn't!

I read a lot of Architecture Blogs, Magazines and articles by Architects. I appreciate good design and more importantly the shared collegial exchange by Architects who are excited by building science as a part of their work.

I appreciate anyone in any field who is passionate about their work, open to collaboration, learning and advancing the field for positive change - whatever field that is.

I follow the boys at because in addition to Architecture they are passionate about travel and design and frequently share those passions to their readers. But every now and then I get a blog that is an eye-roller and reminds me why I frequently call Architects the Divas of the building trades. And this recent entry on "What Not to Say to an Architect" was one such entry.

Frankly it comes across as whiny, arrogant, narcissistic and silly. I don't think anyone in any field from Medicine to Building can avoid any of the scenarios of encountering others who in an attempt to connect or to gauge a conversation with someone who inadvertently says something that skirts on silly to outright seeking free advice.

If the idea was to mock the "Architects" that are thinking those responses or the "silly" comments others say - it fails. What it does is insult people be it laypeople or their colleagues and potential clients. Isn't everyone a potential client or colleague at some point? Any opportunity to engage and educate should be viewed as that - an opportunity to learn and to teach.

When I read a blog telling me "silly things" I should not say to anyone in a trade is the ultimate in hubris (and ironic that its also their Christmas blog). Perhaps that blog should be called "things that you shouldn't blog about". It reminds me of the recent open letter to Obama by a wealthy 1%, Leon Cooperman, who is upset with the rhetoric directed to his and his kind. It came across equally vacuous, arrogant and judgmental.

When your blog is your professional voice it is a challenge to write solely on on topic and to stay safely neutral and apolitical. And as I have transitioned my blog to reflect some of the larger issues that interest me, I know that I have strong opinions and political beliefs that often put me at odds with my prospective clients/colleagues. But, why we may disagree on those issues, I would never denigrate or demean anyone whose thoughts on any subject are different than mine. Often out of disagreement comes enlightenment and I am always open to be enlightened.

Boys of Build, your blog was a miss this time. No confusion on what I am thinking, the amounts of comments to your blog showed that to many "didn't get it" and those who expressed as such were rudely and summarily dismissed in the same "snark" that some think pass for both wit and intelligence (neither IMO) and that may be the point.

When your blog is your public face some things for your private one are better left off the mark or off the blog.

Sustainable Holidays

This Christmas I am advocating the "Buy Nothing" this season. In a time of such economic upheaval it seems that while we want to do more to build the economy we are also doing more to simply support an economic platform that is not sustainable.

From the trade in balance with China to high levels of personal debt its a good idea to ask yourself what you really want, really need and can really do without.

With 1 out of 2 Americans at risk of being pushed into poverty and surveys saying 5 out of 6 Americans think they are "doing well" the math simply doesn't add up or the fact that "doing well" is a relative term with little substantive meaning.

Much like the poverty standard in this country set across the board and across the country at $22K for a family of four, a family of four living in Iowa vs California would find themselves quickly homeless on such a low standard of living.

Much like housing we have different needs for different "climates" be they weather or economic.

So what about "buy nothing" does it mean? Well if you want to buy something think about where it was made, the cost, the value, its long term payback period. Apply the same standards for investments in one's home as you would in determining gifts.

Recycle, Upcycle and yes Re-Gift. I am having a Eco gift exchange with an emphasis on household items. Everyone must bring things from their home for the home that they no longer need, use or want. They must be clean, functioning and useful. I need a new mixing bowl and I have a fondue set I no longer use or want. Sounds reasonable? There have been many such clothing exchanges in the past but many of us have more than what we need in our home - from bread makers to dinnerware there are many redundant, duplicate and ignored items filling our pantries and homes. Anything left from the party that goes unclaimed is to be donated to charity. Its a win-win.

If you buy electronics include rechargeable batteries to make less waste. And more importantly buy recycled electronics. They are as good if not better than new. Check out your local 3R Technology firm or similar in your area for great deals.

Use a living tree. Plant a tree in a Terra cotta pot and bring that indoors and later you can always donate it to the local parks or to groups looking to build parks and gardens.
Wrap in what you have. Use newspapers or brown paper sacks you can decorate and design yourself.

Spend time not money. That is the most valuable useful sustainable gift you can give to others.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Upcycle This!

Upcycling is taking something that exists and turning into something else entirely.

We all have done some upcycling in our lives.. from the coffee mug pencil holder to the arts and crafts projects in school turning objects into art or vice versa. The most ambitious and familiar of upcycling is quilting. Taking extra fabric and creating an expression of individuality and practicality and usefulness. The ultimate in sustainability.

Certainly we have seen the log stools or the newspaper stools or pillows (I have one) but here is one I was greatly impressed with was the egg carton stools.

Below is an article from the New York Times Home section documenting one individuals project that became something both useful, practical and yes visually stimulating.

What You Make of It
Turning Egg Cartons Into Stools

Published: December 14, 2011

MY history of trash collecting goes way back. Long before I was the director of Krrb (a kinder, friendlier, hyper-local version of Craigslist) or the editor of ReadyMade (the magazine, now defunct, that billed itself as the bible of reuse for Generations X, Y and Z), I was a skateboarding teenager in California trolling the Central Valley suburbs for building materials for ramps. Even now, living in Manhattan, I keep my eyes open for anything tossed to the curb that might be turned into something beautiful or useful.

Not long ago, I was making my way home from work in Chinatown when I saw something that made me stop short: 100 egg cartons (or egg trays, I later learned) stacked neatly on the curb outside a Chinese restaurant, in preparation for recycling.

The industrial-size cardboard trays had been used to transport 36 eggs apiece from the farm, but lying there nested together, bound with a red plastic bow, they suddenly took on the appearance of an interesting-looking bar or dining stool. Or the makings of one, anyway.

My first prototype was simple: I applied white spray paint to the trays, cutting four small squares (spray-painted black) and affixing them to the bottom as legs, and securing the stack with colorful old luggage straps to add aesthetic interest and structural integrity.

The result wasn’t bad: the cardboard had a nice amount of give when I sat on it, and the nesting trays provided plenty of support. I began to envision a set of six.

But first I needed more trays — at least 500 more. A few weeks of haunting the curbs outside Chinese restaurants, however, yielded only five. Approaching the owners of restaurants and asking them to hold their empty egg trays for me produced only 10 more. I began to wonder if I had just been lucky the first time around. Did it take months for restaurants to use that many eggs? Was another urban scavenger getting there first?

I decided to try one more time, in a more targeted way: specifically, on a Friday night — because that’s paper-recycling time in Lower Manhattan — and on East Broadway between Bowery and Houston, the center of the city’s Chinese bakeries. In less than an hour, my wife, Heather, and I collected nearly 400. The following week yielded at least 100 more, enough to begin my project.

To turn 600 egg trays into great-looking dining stools, I enlisted the help of Jen Turner, an architect and designer in Manhattan who worked with the architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien for years, and knows how to turn raw material into something stunning. We decided to make three sets of two, to demonstrate various possibilities.

For our first set, we went with a colorful, loud 1980s style, christening the stools Madonna and Michael (although I argued for Cyndi and George). This was the simplest set. To make them dining height (17 to 19 inches), rather than bar stool height, we stacked 60 trays for each stool. Then we spray-painted them light green and pink, and wrapped them in Day-Glo pink-and-green rubber tubing we had picked up at Canal Rubber.

For the next set, we wanted a nautical-outdoorsy vibe. Before they were even finished, we decided to call them Scout and Skipper. The construction, again, was simple: 60 trays each, spray-painted army green and various shades of blue, and held together with burlap strips and sisal rope. The most trying part was attaching the natty snaps to Scout’s burlap straps and tying the sailing-inspired square-reef knots on Skipper.

We took a more refined approach with the final set, using felt cord from McMaster-Carr ( for the straps and leaving the trays unpainted. These two we called Marcel and Eileen, after Marcel Breuer and Eileen Gray.

As projects go, this one took a certain amount of thought and experimentation — far more than my first prototype. But it was an adventure all the way around, from collecting the material to designing and building the stools. And it was reassuring to know that if we didn’t like the final product, we could neatly stack the trays, wrap a red ribbon around them and set them out for recycling. After all, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Passive No More

Ijust found this article in EcoHome about Passive House's new alliance with RESNET which should resolve some of the more challenging aspects to the program - primarily the variations in climate within in the United States that requires some variations in what seems to very strident (and often arbitrary) metrics.

This is also I think more in line with NetZero Design which focuses on performance vs extrisincs that have little to do with actual function and purpose - energy savings.

New Certification Will Help Bring Passive House to the Mainstream
Passive House Institute teams with RESNET to offer energy-based rating.
By: Jennifer Goodman

A new certification focused on the energy usage of U.S. Passive House projects will also help raise public awareness of the benefits of the stringent building system.

The new PHIUS+ certification system combines elements of the Passive House standard and the HERS index energy-efficiency rating. The Illinois-based Passive House Institute U.S. (PHIUS) recently partnered with RESNET to offer the enhanced certification.

By translating Passive House efficiencies into existing U.S. metrics such as the HERS rating, the organization hopes to make the European building system more accessible and understandable to mainstream consumers, says Mike Knezovich, PHIUS communications director.

The industry-recognized HERS rating can help projects qualify for financial incentives more than a Passive House certification alone can, he says. For example, utility companies and local and federal government agencies offer incentives, rebates, and grants for energy-efficient construction that are often tied to a home’s HERS rating. Buildings that meet the Passive House standard can have HERS ratings in the single digits, Knezovich says.

The enhanced certification also is expected to help Passive House buyers more easily qualify for higher appraisals and energy-efficient mortgage loans. “It’s making Passive Houses more marketable and more sellable,” Knezovich says. The new standard also will help to make Passive House buildings more compatible with other green building programs that use the HERS index.

“By harmonizing our standards with RESNET—one of the most respected standards organizations in the country—we expect Passive House to vault into the mainstream, where it belongs,” says Katrin Klingenberg, PHIUS executive director.

The announcement of the new certification follows a recent rift between the Germany-based Passive House Institute and PHIUS, which ended their relationship in August. Knezovich says part of the fallout was because the European group took issue with the idea of partnering with RESNET and other U.S. building industry organizations. Some hard-core Passive House enthusiasts voiced concern that pushing the movement to the mainstream might take away its cachet.

“This was a thing they were completely against, but we saw it as a necessary step in this market and this culture,” he says. “We are going from appealing only to early adopters to bringing this to the mass market, and a whole lot of people want that to happen.”

In addition to holding multiple sessions to train RESNET raters in its new certification, the U.S. organization is also working on initiatives with other groups, including the USGBC and the Earth Advantage Institute, Knezovich says.

“The bottom line on all this is to get Passive House away from a cult-like thing that cannot be touched,” he says. “Let’s really show how it’s something people can do right now to save energy.” for Guests does perfection but this is one project that may make your Guests never leave..

Another project complete, another success story to tell..

In the beautiful location of Oxford, one of our clients required a garden room with a fitted kitchen and bathroom; accompanied with a large decking area. This particular garden studio is perfect for two main purposes:

• All year round Guest House
• A relaxing space during the summer; perfect for hosting barbeques and a spot of ‘Al Fresco Dining’

Tailor made to the clients individual needs, the team worked on the architectural and joinery aspects of the build, completing the project with both the clients requirements coupled with our unique design and expertise.

An important aspect for this build was to ensure the garden room blended effortlessly with its environment and context. The undulating levels of the garden presented a design challenge which was overcome through the implementation of landscaped features to break the hard lines between the studio and garden. With the picturesque garden overlooking the Thames River, it was important for the studio to be placed strategically to make the most of the scenic views it was surrounded by. Both the joinery and architectural team worked hand in hand, ensuring the design and layout would be of a high standard matching its beautiful surroundings.

With plenty of natural light entering through the studio via glazed bi-folding doors, the wood finish on the interior and exterior and a living sedum roof are all touches that provide an environmental building. With additional features such as external spot lighting underneath the canopy, help to create a perfect mellow ambience during the night time; giving the guest house a warm and relaxing sensation. All our garden rooms are fitted with a white glass panel heater and retaining with thick insulated walls, ensuring the outdoor building is nice and toasty during those cold winter months and enabling it to be used all year round.

This particular studio has been designed with multiple functions in mind; as previously outlined it is perfect for hosting dinner parties for family and friends, or as a private retreat to enjoy a nice glass of wine whilst watching the sun set.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Little Green Schoolhouse

I want to introduce a new blog to the roll The Green Schoolhouse Series.

I have recently written for them as many others are in the Sustainable community. Their focus:

The Green Schoolhouse Series is a unique collaboration bringing together corporations, foundations, school districts, communities, media outlets, and volunteers to build high-performance, environmentally-sustainable, LEED-Platinum designed Green Schoolhouses at Title I, low-income, public schools

And as many may or may not know I am currently working a Substitute Teacher in the Public Schools myself. I had left teaching years ago but due to the economy I have come back working as a Substitute and am a great supporter in keeping Education Sustainable by keeping it a PUBLIC enterprise. Education doesn't need "reform" it needs support. Something only needs reforming if its broken. Education isn't broken its been neglected. A very different principle must be applied. Banks need reform, Schools don't.

Feel free to peruse their site or read my post on Green Envy.

The Cost of Living

A recent study came out from the Urban Institute showing the most expensive cities in which to live with the minimum income needed to live there.. and no shock its the same as it has been for decades - Wash DC, San Francisco, New York. To rent a safe, clean, two bedroom home the income to debt ratio shows that the average income must be $60K or greater in most of those cities - an income most associated with technology professionals solely thereby leaving out many in well not so well paid careers.

The long term affects of this is not only are people having to live further away from work, share housing, and live in less secure areas all things that do little to build diverse and financially viable cities.

I am seeing that Seattle which has the double privilege of not only being a tech city pushing housing prices higher it is also a major University city which also contributes to increasing the costs of living.

You would think having a higher income city with expensive housing would be a benefit but in fact its a detriment. Another study by two Brown University Economists found that without diversity of all kinds cities actually decline economically.

The report from the Atlantic.wire is below...

"Cultural Diversity, Geographical Isolation and the Origin of the Wealth of Nations," recently released as a working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research, charts the role of geographic isolation, proximity and cultural diversity on economic development from pre-industrial times to the modern era.

It finds that "the interplay between cultural assimilation and cultural diffusion have played a significant role in giving rise to differential patterns of economic development across the globe." To put it in plain English: diversity spurs economic development and homogeneity slows it down.

Ashraf and Galor examine the "Great Divergence" in economic development. During the Industrial Revolution, Europe and the New World developed a rate of economic development that far outpaced the rest of the world. "The gap in per capita GDP between the richest regions of the world and the poorest increased from a modest 3 to 1 ratio in 1820," they note, "to an astounding 18 to 1 ratio in 2000."

Many of the most important economists, sociologists, geographers and other social scientists have grappled with the factors that shaped this great leap in economic development. Max Weber famously attributed this divergence to the "Protestant ethic," which emphasized thrift and hard work, propelling entrepreneurship and productivity improvements. Other classic studies attributed the West’s rise to distinctive cultural norms and values which favor individual effort, freedom and the spirit of enterprise.

Still others suggest that its institutions hold the key. In their classic The Rise of the Western World, Douglas North and Robert Thomas argued that the institutions that arose under the aegis of democratic capitalism, turning as they did on respect for individual property rights, enhanced the rate of technological innovation and economic development. Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel put geography front and center, attributing the West’s economic vibrancy to the serendipitous advantages of easy access to raw materials, abundant rainfall, temperate climate and lower disease burden.

Ashraf and Galor acknowledge these factors but argue that what really propelled Europe and the New World's economic ascendance was their relative openness to other cultures, which they measure in terms of greater or lesser geographical isolation. To get at this they develop a "Geographical Isolation Index," based on the travel time to 139 Old World capital cities. They use this measure to gauge two things. The first is the effect of geographic isolation on cultural diversity. The second looks at the effects of geographic isolation on the level of economic development from the 19th century until 1960.

Their findings overwhelmingly suggest that cultural diversity and geographic openness matter significantly to economic development across the board. They draw three major conclusions:

First, geographic isolation served a positive role in pre-industrial times (aka the agricultural stage of development). But it turns substantially negative as industrialization kicks in. "Societies that were geographically less vulnerable to cultural diffusion benefited from enhanced assimilation, lower cultural diversity, and more intense accumulation of society-specific human capital, which permitted them to flourish in the technological paradigm that characterized the agricultural stage of development," they write. "However, the lack of cultural diffusion and its manifestation in cultural homogeneity and rigidity diminished the ability of these societies to adapt to a new technological paradigm, thereby delaying the onset of their industrialization and, thus, their take-off to a state of sustained economic growth."

Second, societies that were geographically isolated all the way back in pre-industrial times continue to be less culturally diverse today.
Third and most significantly, they found that cultural diversity has a positive impact on economic development in the process of industrialization, from its inception through modern times.

All of this is in line with what has been deemed "class warfare" or what the Occupy Wall Street protesters illustrate with their cry for the 99%.

Its not homogeneity that makes a city succeed just like one that is for the 1%, that bubble like existence will its bane of existence. And just like the rural towns of yesteryear and the decline of the major industrial cities, America's major urban cities will suffer the same fate - dissolution and disruption.

"If your housing costs are too high, see how much you could save with a streamline refinance."

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Affordable Meds

***this blog is brought to you by your friends and Canada Drug Center**

The cost of pharmaceutical drugs are rising at the same time record numbers of uninsured is also rising.

Ways to circumvent the costs is by looking how you fulfill your prescription requirements. One way is though using Canadian pharmacies online.

Canada Drug Center is one such source the offer you the highest quality brand name and generic medications at the most affordable prices. All medications are shipped to you in its original manufacturer packaging and meet all applicable regulatory requirements.

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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tips to Save Energy

With a larger portion of renters now there is always a concern on how to save/reduce energy costs - affordably and easily.

In many cases asking the landlord is the best advice but often I find in these cases its best to ask forgiveness than permission. Doing it yourself and paying for it yourself is much easier than waiting for a landlord to do it and ultimately raise rents for "improvements". As I pay all utilities anything I do to save money is something I have a vested interest in and would rather pay for directly. In the long run all receipts and expenses should be maintained for warranty purposes and later upon leaving to document improvements made that lend to the overall value of the property - especially when seeking a damage deposit return.

Again, this is in the cases where major structural issues are not being done but simple caulking, repairs and changes to the overall energy performance of a home.

If you are looking for ways to DIY most energy improvements check for excellent tips and ideas.

And to further winterize homes, especially ones with low performance windows, is to build your own storm windows.

Making a storm window

Use standard 1×2-inch lumber to make the rectangular framing for the storm windows. Any type of wood will work fine. Redwood or cedar is rot-resistant and can be stained for a very attractive appearance, but at a higher cost. Pressure-treated lumber holds up well in wet areas, but it does not accept paint well.

Use a miter block to make 45-degree angles. This makes a more professional-looking frame corner joint than just a butt joint. Size the frame slightly smaller than the outdoor window opening to allow room for foam weatherstripping. The compression of the foam will hold the storm window in place.

Use clear acrylic plastic (Plexiglas) for the glazing. Any thickness you find at your home center will work. The efficiency comes from the dead air space, not the plastic or glass itself. If you want something tougher for first-floor windows, use more expensive polycarbonate (bulletproof glass).

If you have a router, make a slot along the inner edge of the frame sides to hold the acrylic sheet. The acrylic sheet will have to be cut slightly larger than the inside of the frame. If you do not have a router, nail some narrow wood stops on each side of the edge to form a slot.

A still easier method is to use a bead of clear silicone caulk to hold the acrylic pane in the frame. In this case, the frame is assembled and painted first. Use a staple gun to staple the frame corners together. Also use a strong glue, such as Gorilla Glue, in all the frame corner joints.

Place the storm window in the opening and note the clearance around it. Buy adhesive-backed foam weatherstripping that is thicker than the gap. Peel off the backing and stick it to the frame. Force the frame into the window opening

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Blackdog Deals

We are delighted to announce Black Dog’s 40% CHRISTMAS OFFER on a selection of our bestselling Gardening & Environmental books!

The books featured this year include the best-selling Kids in the Wild Garden and Kids in the Garden; accessible gardening guides for children packed with fun, quirky projects and vibrant illustrations, and the hugely popular Recycle: The Essential Guide, a basic introduction to the how’s, what’s, when’s and where’s of recycling. Perfect gift ideas for friends and family, there is something for everyone!

To take advantage of the 40% discount, simply email with the book(s) of interest and your delivery address and she will place the order for you.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Who Are the 1% and Who are the 99%

I have been very concerned of the rising tide of two kinds of unemployment: The college kids and the middle aged boomer. Two groups seemingly book ended on a dead end for financial security.

While one group is starting out with immense debts already acquired, the other is trying to maintain a lifestyle no longer affordable or attainable. Each see each others as enemies and rivals for the few jobs and wages available.

I have written about the group I call the Shadow People - those too young for Social Security/Medicare but too old to be desirable in the marketplace. This is due to a series of reasons I call "the over/under" phenomena - "over" experienced and too old to be "under" paid - people who still have "overwhelming" and immense skills, talents, and resources but cannot afford to work for subsistence "under" wages. In a country where most of the wealthiest are all over 50 its ironic to think that over 45 you somehow you become stagnant and useless, well unless you are wealthy then be 80 and people call you an "oracle".

I was listening to a interesting Australian Economist, Steve Keen, discuss the problems in our current economy on BBC America and he has some interesting real truths about our current global realities regarding this collapse. And one is simply we are heading to a long term decade or longer Depression if we don't start reducing debt - both on a micro and macro level. And we hear a lot "of eat our "peas" and "tighten belt" talks but in reality comparing the two types of economies is always challenging. But how Mr. Keen proposes this debt reduction is by a simple "write off" of debt on a massive level; this move would require the banks to take the loss. And across the board you can see in the US and Europe that has been the last tool in the equation. Everyone must suffer for the banks fraud, duplicity in greed, so much for "everyone"

We are facing massive crisis in hope, future of the economy globally and yet the arguments still seem about "austerity" but the only one's feeling that are the 99%.

Simple facts about wage inequality are this.. (as taken from Paul Krugman's column in the NY Times)

According to that report, between 1979 and 2005 the inflation-adjusted, after-tax income of Americans in the middle of the income distribution rose 21 percent. The equivalent number for the richest 0.1 percent rose 400 percent.

For the most part, these huge gains reflected a dramatic rise in the super-elite’s share of pretax income. But there were also large tax cuts favoring the wealthy. In particular, taxes on capital gains are much lower than they were in 1979 — and the richest one-thousandth of Americans account for half of all income from capital gains. (not from inventing or creating jobs or "working harder" all myths perpetuated to build a class warfare that is INTRA not INTER - more confusions such as comparing micro to macro economics)

For who are the 0.1 percent? Very few of them are Steve Jobs-type innovators; most of them are corporate bigwigs and financial wheeler-dealers. One recent analysis found that 43 percent of the super-elite are executives at nonfinancial companies, 18 percent are in finance and another 12 percent are lawyers or in real estate. And these are not, to put it mildly, professions in which there is a clear relationship between someone’s income and his economic contribution.

Executive pay, which has skyrocketed over the past generation, is famously set by boards of directors appointed by the very people whose pay they determine; poorly performing C.E.O.’s still get lavish paychecks, and even failed and fired executives often receive millions as they go out the door.

The reality is that this current model of economics is not sustainable. While Capitalism is certainly demonstrated success its not working any longer and its time for a change. Perhaps we are leaving the Guilded Age to the Age of Equity.

To understand the long term affects and results another editorial in the NY Times clarifies what long term unemployment and income inequity results.

The Age of the Superfluous Worker
Published: November 24, 2011

AMERICA, like other modern countries, has always had some surplus workers — people ready to work but jobless for extended periods because the “job creators,” private and public, have been unable or unwilling to create sufficient jobs. When the number of surplus workers rose sharply, the country also had ways of reducing it.

However, the current jobless recovery, and the concurrent failure to create enough new jobs, is breeding a new and growing surplus pool. And some in this pool are in danger of becoming superfluous, likely never to work again.

The currently jobless and the so-called discouraged workers, who have given up looking for work, total about 15 percent of the work force, not including the invisible discouraged workers the government cannot even find to count.

In the old days — before Social Security, welfare and Medicaid — poverty-caused illnesses killed off or incapacitated some of the people who could not find jobs. Even earlier, some nations sold their surplus workers as slaves, while the European countries could send them to the colonies.

In addition, wars were once labor-intensive enterprises that absorbed the surplus temporarily, and sufficient numbers of those serving in the infantry and on warships were killed or seriously enough injured so that they could not add to the peacetime labor surplus.

The old ways of reducing surplus labor are, however, disappearing. Decades of medical and public health advances, as well as Medicare and Medicaid, have reduced the number of poverty-related deaths. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars have left many more service members injured than killed.

Over the past quarter-century, one very costly way of decreasing the surplus has been the imprisonment of people, mostly dark-skinned men, for actual and invented offenses. Felons are not often hired when they leave prison. Many, at least those who do not become recidivists, become surplus and then superfluous labor. As incarceration becomes less affordable for financially strapped states, inmates will reach surplus or superfluous status at a younger age.

Meanwhile, new ways of increasing surplus labor have appeared. One is the continued outsourcing of jobs to low-wage countries; the other is the continuing computerization and mechanization of manufacturing and of services not requiring hands-on human contact. Continuing increases in worker productivity add yet more to the surplus. So does the unwillingness of employers to even consider hiring people who have been unemployed for a long time.

When the jobless recovery ends and the economy is restored to good health, today’s surplus will be reduced. New technology and the products and services that accompany it will create new jobs. But unless the economy itself changes, eventually many of these innovations may be turned over to machines or the jobs may be sent to lower-wage economies.

In fact, if modern capitalism continues to eliminate as many jobs as it creates — or more jobs than it creates — future recoveries will not only add to the amount of surplus labor but will turn a growing proportion of workers into superfluous ones.

What could be done to prevent such a future? America will have to finally get serious about preserving and creating jobs — and on a larger, and more lasting, scale than Roosevelt’s New Deal. Private enterprise and government will have to think in terms of industrial policy, and one that emphasizes labor-intensive economic growth and innovation. Reducing class sizes in all public schools to 15 or fewer would require a great many new teachers even as it would raise the quality of education.

In the long run, reducing working time — perhaps to as low as 30 hours a week, with the lost income made up by unemployment compensation — would lead to a modest increase in jobs, through work sharing. New taxes on income and wealth are unavoidable, as are special taxes on the capital-intensive part of the economy. Policies that are now seemingly utopian will have to be tried as well, and today’s polarized and increasingly corporate-run democracy will have to be turned into a truly representative one.

Whatever the costs, they would be a small price to preserve America as a healthy society. A society that has permanently expelled a significant proportion of its members from the work force would soon deteriorate into an unbelievably angry country, with intense and continuing conflict between the have-jobs and have-nones. America could become a very sick society, just when it needed to be stronger than ever to flourish in the global economy.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Pool Time

Well its the end of summer and its a great time to switch from the outdoor pool to the indoor one.

If you are looking for family fun that is affordable then try home games that can build skill while having fun doing so. Is your game of choice Bumper Pool, Air Hockey, Foosball or Shuffleboard Table Game?

I find the holidays are a best time to purchase a larger table game as they make great features in those remodeled basement family rooms. If you are thinking about your office or community center and want to find a way to build a team there is no better way than over a game of Air Hockey or Shuffleboard.

Table games are great for larger more diverse groups who would like to play sports together in a way that is both fun and easy for all ages and genders.

The way to build relationships and team skills can result from participating in something as easy as a challenging Foosball game. As I frequently say that community is essential in building sustainability.

So when thinking of what to get the family for Christmas think about a Game Table for your family room.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Have a little Eco Chi

No its not the latest drink offering from Starbucks its a new way of examining the well established principles of Feng Shui with Sustainability in design.

I cannot think of a better merger of ideas as the concepts of Feng Shui and Green Design as they are so mutually inclusive its a wonder it took so long for someone to do as such.

Well better late than never; Debra Denelier has devised the principles of what she calls, "Eco Chi", in her new book - Eco Chi - Designing for the Human Experience. Using the principles of Feng Shui and sustainable living practices that encourage healthy living and positive environmental psychology, Debra has devised a simple integrated approach to changing the way you live in relation to your space.

Feng Shui had been a popular concept in the late 1990s and I too was very encouraged to remodel a property incorporating some of its most easiest attainable options. Many of those ideas today - from plants, to water to light are certainly ones you see in relation to current green build designs. Incorporating these principles in her book, Debra has devised a simple strategy on you and your home can find Yin and Yang and in turn find yourself feeling healthier, happier and more in tune with your surroundings.

Debra has done an excellent job in this simple guide on how you can find Eco Chi in your life. Using personal experiences and success stories you can see how many of her suggestions are ones very similar to the Green Build/Design movement and her approaches are both affordable and easily approachable for any layman interested in a crash course of the ancient art of Feng Shui.

Eco Chi is available at ....

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Let the Blogger Beware

I have been reading of late of numerous threats or litigation towards bloggers or trades people who on their websites or blogs mention problems with certain products or even use photos with logos or trademarks.

As a blogger who frequently touts issues relating to the good, the bad, the ugly and the great with regards to Sustainability - predominately build related - I tread a fine line to recommend one product or concept vs another. Which on most cases centers on the absurd "verifications" of all kinds and types of buildings.

My issue is that one is NOT better, superior or worse than the other - it is the simple fact that they are mutually inclusive not exclusive when it comes down to the basic of building science and frankly charging people money to put stars or what have you on them doesn't fundamentally change the fact: If a building is built smart well designed with ultimate energy conservation and consumption in mind adding more bells and whistles doesn't make it greener it just makes it with more stuff. Fundamentally a green building is one that uses less resources and is made with less resources with a long lifespan of performance and function. The End.

Having bamboo floors, high end quartz counter tops and the like are all lipstick, frosting or superfluous extrinsic factors that lend to a building's overall shade of green but it ultimately does not make it "greener." That comes fundamentally from its design and construction.

So when I read about two lawsuits regarding one site that mentioned a specific company/brand by name saying its a poor performer and another where the discussion was about performance overall over materials - not by name but by concept - however it used a photo with a brand clearly illustrated, you wonder what the purpose of the suit was?

Well we are all entitled to an opinion. And the fact is the web allows for a myriad of such often without substantive documentation or even identification. There are so many ways now to manage and of course subvert messages. You can use this power for good to inform and advise and in some cases to destroy and malign professional reputations and businesses with no more agenda than a personal one.

I try to stay away from the product recommendations overall although frankly its also how I support myself but I disclose those as sponsored posts. I do recommend on time to time my own personal likes and dislikes but I steer clear of trashing one product over another. I can only say that this was my experience overall and as anyone knows when it comes to products we find results that work for us.

I share this link with this article I found on GBA today (I normally do not link to them as they are very proprietary to their material but I am hoping they respect that this is to aid people from similar situations) and another on Builders Counsel Blogdiscussing two very different cases regarding the same issues however.

Blogger beware. The photos used, such as the ones I often use, can also be a problem Many of them are trademarked or copyrighted and must be used with permission. While I find no problems with many of the news articles I cite and I try to find generic Google photos from free sites its a difficult line to know until well that letter arrives from an Attorney demanding a removal. As I said I try to reprint all articles I cite as sources from magazines, papers and journals that I PAY AND SUBSCRIBE to; I don't reprint from those I do not. And I link back to the source. All of these things are done with acknowledgement that the web has made "borrowing" material considerably easier. As I certainly can attest the Huffington Post certainly has done that better than most. With 90% of its content often taken from other major magazines and newspapers without remission - so if they can do it - why can't anyone else?

Free speech, the right to access information, the right to reprint it if you have subsequently paid for it are all significant issues. And the blog-o-sphere struggles with it like any other industry.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Green Comes at a Cost

When I started the remodeling company the biggest focus was on "affordability" of going green.

As I evolved the business to educate and consult with others I have never lost that message that green is affordable and approachable for those with any budget and a project of any size. The idea being that green is easier the smaller the budget and scope vs the larger ones. There is just an antithesis in the notion that you must "build it green."

At first I was very keen to believe that endorsing, certifying and registering a project was essential to legitimizing the project's intent. I respectively took every course, class and quiz that gave me Energy Star, LEED, NAHB, Green Advantage and my local Built Green verifier's qualifications. Then I began to realize the costs. For my liability insurance, my level of risk and the absolute lack of financial incentives by any of the organizations providing certifications that would enable me to value one over the other.

And of course they simply can't. They all have the same fundamental principals involved, the same goals, perscriptives and ideas each with their own unique approaches that allow a building to be certified green.

In turn I would also have to raise my fees, get undoubtedly more equipment and the time involved for me alone to do most of them would require a herculean effort on my part thereby negating the whole "affordability" concept.

So I discontinued maintain the verifier requirement by all of them (more time away working on studying to test one program over another) and spending more time simply studying building science, issues on sustainability and keeping my fees and costs down.

I find that yes even the 99% are looking for ways to go green. In Seattle its a mantra and I find myself edged out of a marketplace saturated with green at all levels. So where does one go to find green?

Today this article in the NY Times discusses that for cities who have the mandate they also don't have the budget. And of course the 99% go without the basic necessities that make communities green - public transport, clean air and water and affordable housing.

When one looks at a plan for LEED for Communities these are all over the "certifications" but how to pay for them in communities torn by the mortgage meltdown and subsequent economic crisis are not not mentioned. Just as the fact that we will have an excessive housing surplus in the years ahead with the slow down of immigration, births and families co-habituating (or living in parks occupying if you will). I brought this up at the Department of Energy conference in Denver and I have yet to hear back from the presenter with those statistics. I don't expect to either.

A couple of years ago at a Building Science workshop, John Staube thought we would need a million or so homes year to meet demand. I demurred, but its hard to debate someone so knowledgeable about building, but about census and migration patterns I wondered. He is also Canadian, lives there, and how much did he or even I know at the time where we were heading regarding this matter?

Its clear my deepest doubts and fears are reality. We have a decimated industry and homes literally rotting empty or un-maintained due to owner neglect thanks to underwater mortgages and financial constraints.

The article below is about the cost and dark side of going green in one of America's most underwater (irony perhaps) cities - Phoenix, Arizona.

To go green costs money. We get that and the payback can be time consuming. Yet even today we are finding that Solar is starting to get cheaper (thanks again to the Chinese - a trade off that cost Solyndra however) and in turn the need is never greater.

The wealthiest people in this Country - the 1% - most are from the Energy fields. All of them carefully against "climate change" and the idea of a green economy. Not unlike their brothers in the Automotive trade who resisted the notion of sustainable vehicles, these dinosaurs are waiting to either let fossil fuels die first or they themselves to die before moving into a sustainable course. This is one course doomed for failure and at what costs?

The challenge Phoenix faces is no different than what Detroit, Cleveland or any other major city in financial free fall faces. But there is one hope the potential for those "green jobs" everyone was talking about.

The Dark Side of the ‘Green’ City
Published: November 6, 2011

The struggle to slow global warming will be won or lost in cities, which emit 80 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases. So “greening” the city is all the rage now. But if policy makers end up focusing only on those who can afford the low-carbon technologies associated with the new environmental conscientiousness, the movement for sustainability may end up exacerbating climate change rather than ameliorating it.

While cities like Portland, Seattle and San Francisco are lauded for sustainability, the challenges faced by Phoenix, a poster child of Sunbelt sprawl, are more typical and more revealing. In 2009, Mayor Phil Gordon announced plans to make Phoenix the “greenest city” in the United States. Eyebrows were raised, and rightly so. According to the state’s leading climatologist, central Arizona is in the “bull’s eye” of climate change, warming up and drying out faster than any other region in the Northern Hemisphere. The Southwest has been on a drought watch 12 years and counting, despite outsized runoff last winter to the upper Colorado River, a major water supply for the subdivisions of the Valley of the Sun.

Across that valley lies 1,000 square miles of low-density tract housing, where few signs of greening are evident. That’s no surprise, given the economic free fall of a region that had been wholly dependent on the homebuilding industry. Property values in parts of metro Phoenix have dropped by 80 percent, and some neighborhoods are close to being declared “beyond recovery.”

In the Arizona Legislature, talk of global warming is verboten and Republican lawmakers can be heard arguing for the positive qualities of greenhouse gases. Most politicians are still praying for another housing boom on the urban fringe; they have no Plan B, least of all a low-carbon one. Mr. Gordon, a Democrat who took office in 2004, has risen to the challenge. But the vast inequalities of the metro area could blunt the impact of his sustainability plans.

Those looking for ecotopia can find pockets of it in the prosperous upland enclaves of Scottsdale, Paradise Valley and North Phoenix. Hybrid vehicles, LEED-certified custom homes with solar roofs and xeriscaped yards, which do not require irrigation, are popular here, and voter support for the preservation of open space runs high. By contrast, South Phoenix is home to 40 percent of the city’s hazardous industrial emissions and America’s dirtiest ZIP code, while the inner-ring Phoenix suburbs, as a legacy of cold-war era industries, suffer from some of the worst groundwater contamination in the nation.

Whereas uptown populations are increasingly sequestered in green showpiece zones, residents in low-lying areas who cannot afford the low-carbon lifestyle are struggling to breathe fresh air or are even trapped in cancer clusters. You can find this pattern in many American cities. The problem is that the carbon savings to be gotten out of this upscale demographic — which represents one in five American adults and is known as Lohas, an acronym for “lifestyles of health and sustainability” — can’t outweigh the commercial neglect of the other 80 percent. If we are to moderate climate change, the green wave has to lift all vessels.

Solar chargers and energy-efficient appliances are fine, but unless technological fixes take into account the needs of low-income residents, they will end up as lifestyle add-ons for the affluent. Phoenix’s fledgling light-rail system should be expanded to serve more diverse neighborhoods, and green jobs should be created in the central city, not the sprawling suburbs. Arizona has some of the best solar exposure in the world, but it allows monopolistic utilities to impose a regressive surcharge on all customers to subsidize roof-panel installation by the well-heeled ones. Instead of green modifications to master-planned communities at the urban fringe, there should be concerted “infill” investment in central city areas now dotted with vacant lots.

In a desert metropolis, the choice between hoarding and sharing has consequences for all residents. Their predecessors — the Hohokam people, irrigation farmers who subsisted for over a thousand years around a vast canal network in the Phoenix Basin — faced a similar test, and ultimately failed. The remnants of Hohokam canals and pit houses are a potent reminder of ecological collapse; no other American city sits atop such an eloquent allegory.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Disaster Avoided

No one appreciates the DIY or HGTV channel more than I. I find it a tremendous resource. That said it often avoids details such as costs. Why? Because regionally costs, fees and requirements vary. And thanks to the miracle of editing the time frame permitted for projects are often unstated.

Ultimately theese are projects often for television and many magic elves often assist to complete the project. (I should know I had a project filmed for the DIY channel once and it was a nightmare behind the scenes, but a dream on camera)!

So as a result even them most jaded and experienced person might think that project is not as difficult as it appears. So what you see is definitely not what you get.

What are the most common errors that many homeowners make when it comes to remodeling projects? Here are the top 5:

Cost based Assumption:

Assume you know what your project will cost without doing the research first.
An example is a homeowner who thinks that a kitchen remodel with all new appliances, custom cabinets and granite counter tops will only cost $20,000. What they find is that a $20,000 kitchen most likely includes a basic appliance package, laminate counter tops and stock cabinets from a home improvement store. In fact, the average kitchen remodel is closer to $50,000, with many approaching $80,000.

Knowing that the actual costs versus what you think they cost and determining your budget based on that "knowing" can affect your options and financing as well. Developing a real project cost goes hand in hand with selecting your materials before starting any work. Appliances and materials will make the biggest difference in what your remodel costs end up.

Example: Apppliances. The dishwasher for $300 will definitely not perform at the same level one for $500 does. So what is most important to you and tailor your project around that. Manufacturers, Energy Star ratings aside - finding value in an appliance requires research.

Because cabinets are usually a big ticket item, Understanding the costs and materials involved in cabinetry is the largest variance vs the labor (altought with Ikea there are added costs as they take more time to install). Cabinets themselves can vary from $100 per lineal foot for already made stock cabinets bought at Home Depot to over $500 per lineal foot for custom made or specialty cabinets.

And don’t forget to account for every little thing, lazy Susan's, sliding shelves even drawer pulls and door knobs can start to add up. It may seem unnecessary to develop a budget that detailed, but you’ll be much better prepared if you do.

A great idea is to work with a contractor AS PART of setting the budget. You can get a lot of good advice during the pre construction process, and learn whether or not you can work with that contractor as a result. And this is why I recommend hiring a Contractor initially to work with you on the plans and budgets and pay him accordingly for his/her time. Even if you end up not working together on the final project there are no hard feelings and you have gotten good working advice if you decide to move forward on the project or not.

Include all non-construction costs such as permits, and design costs. And don’t forget to add tax. In Washington State it is 9.5 percent, so a $300,000 construction quote from a contractor actually will come in at $330,000.

Start without a design or a plan.

Many homeowners don’t know how to come up with a plan or design, and don’t understand the importance of how design will affect the final outcome. Design is not decoration. It is the practical application of where permanent items will be installed in your home, how they will function, and what they look like.

One easy example of poor design is a bathroom where the door can’t be opened without hitting the toilet.

Don’t start without design, and make sure you take the time to understand it. If you don’t allow enough time to understand it, you’ll be surprised in the end, which is always bad.”

Visualize the design and do a final check when the construction is in the rough in phase. Check the height, distance and spacing for counter tops, electrical switches, shower heads, and faucets. Otherwise, fixing mistakes later is quite expensive.

Time Management.

It’s all too common for home improvement projects to take longer than you think they will, even after you’ve doubled or tripled the estimate in your head. Whether you are doing the work yourself, or working with a professional, things don’t always go as planned. The unexpected can and will happen.

And for large projects find out from the professionals but more importantly their past clients how long it took from start to finish. You may be surprised. Allocate time for drawings, design, building permit, to interview contractors, get quotes, to buy the materials, move out, and schedule the workers. And, there are many more tasks than just those.

Many Designers, Architechts and Contractors recommend at least 2-4 hours a week.
and sometimes more when selecting materials. Allow time each week for meetings, walk throughs, decisions, and progress reports.

And, remember if you are working with professionals that you’ll have to take time off from work during the day to meet with them. Contractors, architects and designers have families at home, too!

Changing Midstream.

Ask yourself why you want to do this project? Is it for resale, to make your home more functional while you live there, or just improve its cosmetics? Each of those answers should help in your selection of materials, colors, and maintenance.

Once you have those selections made avoid second guessing oneself, and don't change your mind about design or materials choices mid-stream. This will almost always cost more, and take more time. But it’s wise to allow 10% of your budget for surprises or to adopt new ideas.

Select professionals based on price alone.

Of course, we’ve all heard horror stories about contractors gone bad, but reputable designers, contractors and subs want you to be happy with their work and will stand by it with written guarantees.

Don’t cut corners by going with a cheap installer for an expensive product. If you are using a general contractor, get a warranty for work done – get it in writing, and get it for more than 1 year. A reputable firm will stand behind their work. In Washington state law requires a 2 year warranty. So know what your current law or code says and confirm it on the contract.

If you are handling really high end or specialized materials, you may need a higher level of expertise for installation than normal.

Trust and communication are the number one and two qualities you should look for in a professional who will be coming into your home.

Looking at the minimum to get the maximum is not the best way to approach a home remodel. Build strong communication with all professionals on your team early on, even if you are letting others Project Manage don't be an absentee homeowner.

Remember, pricing and service go hand in hand. When you focus on price alone, you may save hard dollar costs, but the end result may not be what you wanted.

The Wo-Man Cession

Yesterday I read a Pew Study on the long term affects of being unemployed and they found that unilaterally the time one was unemployed only slightly varied between those with upper degrees, high school and no degree. Showing that now for what is qualified as the "long term" unemployed there was little difference in percentage points when it came right down to it. Because be it Manufacturing, Finance, Building or Education - all industries have taken massive hits when it comes to employment. (So you will see an Architect just as unemployed as a Carpenter)

That length of time out of the market is perceived by many in "job creation" as a loss of skills and they become less desire able to rehire when seeking applicants. Of course experience doesn't deteriorate as well really what in many fields are advancing at high rates during an economic downturn? You would need productivity and dedication to innovation and advancement and given that the predominant resources in many companies are to the Executive Compensation area its a claim I find hard to believe.

And we have the man-cession, the man-gap and the overwhelming fact that women are outpacing men with regards to Education and opportunity but the wage gap has remained. Wages are declining across the board and for women that really isn't' that far to go.

I found this article in American Prospect bemoaning the fact that women regardless of industry are still finding themselves shut out when it comes to professional compensation and growth. We are not coming or going a long way baby. Coupled with the increasing hostile political climate toward women and their reproductive rights, the demands on child care due to Education cuts only points to the situation getting worse.

Add to this that for white women particularly (again according to Pew) this group, along with Black Males falls out of the Middle Class faster as a result. Clearly we are doing something wrong here in determining that gender and income inequity are linked and this is also contributing to many other problems that affect overall society's growth and potential.

As a woman who finds herself at largely male dominated events I find myself often isolated from the men and yet also from the women who have no skills in mentoring and see many women as threats (which is not surprising given the enviornment who wouldn't be?) I find myself wondering if this experience and isolation is a result of the field or is just a larger scale problem.

I also find myself frequently asking "where are the faces of color" as a I look around and again wonder if this is a regional issue or professional one? Whatever the question the answer is simple - the issues manifested from income inequality are doing damage financially, emotionally and professionally overall.

HomeE.J. Graff How Far We Haven't Come, Episode #1707
E.J. Graff
November 4, 2011

Remember "The End of Men," the concept that the future belongs to women, because women are more prepared for today's economy? Well, it hasn't hit us yet. Even when women are better educated, men earn more, at least in most parts of the workforce. As Motoko Rich reports at the New York Times,

Even with the same college and professional degrees, men earn more than women. And among so-called creative class workers like architects, teachers, artists, engineers, bankers and journalists, men earn much more than women, even though more women hold such jobs.

It’s similar at the bottom end of the scale. According to a report issued Thursday by the United States Government Accountability Office, a higher proportion of women finish high school than men, a milestone that is a minimum requirement for any job mobility. Women — especially younger women — are also completing bachelor’s degrees at higher rates than men. Yet they represent a higher proportion of low-wage workers, defined in the report as those who earn hourly wage rates that put them in the bottom 20 percent of the work force.

Think that wage gap might have anything to do with sex discrimination, including that portion of sex discrimination called "sexual harassment"—by which a woman loses months or a year to facing a personally hostile workplace? Or with the fact that, in a society with so few social supports, women end up with more of the unpaid "care" work for children and relatives? Or with ... oh, you've heard me on this before

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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Vehicular Movement

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Car Transport works with professional auto movers who are licensed, insured and bonded in the field of auto transport. Through their contacts they will find you the most affordable option that can provide you with service.

Let them do the leg work and find the right car transport company. As one who has moved across country and shipped a vehicle before this is not an easy task. Many of the staff at Car Transport are former agents and transporters themselves so they understand the specifics and requirements needed for such a task.

If you have questions, concerns or just want to understand the process or auto shipping rates, Car Transport has an outstanding service record with a commitment to returning all messages within 5 minutes of receiving them.

If you are planning a large move and need your vehicle moved rely on professionals who know how its done and rely on

Monday, October 31, 2011

The New Sustainabilty Plan

Obama Administration Releases Federal Agency Sustainability Performance Plans
Second annual plans focus on implementation of programs that cut waste, pollution, and costs

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Continuing its commitment to lead by example and cut waste, pollution and costs in Federal operations, the Obama Administration today released Federal agencies’ 2012 Strategic Sustainability Performance Plans. Agencies develop and submit Sustainability Plans annually under President Obama’s Executive Order 13514 on Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance, signed October 5, 2009. This year’s Plans highlight agency milestones, new strategies for improving performance, and specific examples of projects that are saving taxpayer dollars, creating clean energy jobs, reducing pollution, cutting waste, and saving energy.

The Sustainability Plans build on two years of progress under the Executive Order, including: completing the first comprehensive greenhouse gas pollution inventory of Federal agency operations; doubling the Federal hybrid vehicle fleet and integrating electric vehicles into the Federal fleet to reduce gasoline consumption; and tracking agency performance through Energy and Sustainability Scorecards prepared by the Office of Management and Budget.

“The Federal government is seeing the same kinds of positive results that leading American companies have seen from their own sustainability efforts,” said Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. “Making buildings more efficient, conserving vital resources, and reducing waste all improve the Federal Government’s energy and environmental performance and save taxpayer dollars.”

The 2012 Sustainability Plans were announced on the opening day of the 2011 GreenGov Symposium in Washington, D.C., a three-day forum bringing together leaders from government, the private sector, non-profits and academia to identify opportunities to create jobs, grow clean energy industries, and curb pollution by greening the Federal Government.

Executive Order 13514 requires Federal agencies to submit their plans to the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review and approval. Agencies annually update Sustainability Plans, prioritizing activities that help to meet energy, water, and waste reduction goals based on a positive return on investment for the American taxpayer..

Clean and Clear as Glass

I am sharing with you a guest post written by Laura Briggs on the issue of transparency as it relates to current building materials used in green building.

And while this is specific to that issue those in the Sustainable movement are strong advocates of transparency and endorse the concept as we believe it inherently allows for better quality and affordability not to mention longevity.

Please read Laura's article below and comments or thoughts are always welcome.

EPDs clearing the way for environmental transparency

By Laura Briggs

A sustainability movement established largely on assumed environmental benefit has exposed a need for transparency to minimize confusion and remove doubts about unfettered claims made by materials manufacturers.

Evaluation of environmental costs of building materials must be based on universal and transparent criteria that compare actual performance. Determining the true cost of materials requires evaluating overall product lifecycle costs.

Architects and designers specify hundreds of thousands of materials in the projects they design, considering numerous claims of environmental performance as part of the process. Very few of those assertions are backed by independent verification, and even if they are, the lack of standardization of methodology makes a true comparison difficult.

Rigorous, scientific analysis of carbon footprints introduces credibility and gives architects a meaningful way to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Full environmental disclosure becomes the basis by which architects evaluate manufacturer claims during the materials selection process, understand the likely environmental performance of a building, and promote low-carbon building materials for projects.

Environmental transparency dominated the conversation at Greenbuild, an annual industry gathering dedicated to green building. The discussion focused on the need to move beyond the “greenwashing” stage of the sustainability movement and how to do it most effectively.

Several timely drivers are influencing the need for comprehensive and comparable disclosure. The U.S. Green Building Council’s pilot credit program provides a transparency incentive for materials use and represents another step in encouraging a formalized process. The U.S. Forest Service recently advocated for green building codes and standards that include adequate provisions to recognize the benefits of life cycle environmental analysis to guide building materials selection.

Many European nations are already closing in on requiring Environmental Product Declarations (EPD), a universal system based on third-party comparison of data across pre-established categories. Such a requirement would have a dramatic impact that could extend globally through materials suppliers in other countries that sell products in those nations.

In the U.S., emerging code requirements will force specifiers to use materials that have undergone third-party environmental scrutiny. Those requirements once limited to a few progressive cities are extending rapidly to markets around the country.

A small handful of North American materials manufacturers have emerged as early environmental transparency leaders, producing peer-reviewed EPDs. The Western Red Cedar Lumber Association, which has completed peer-reviewed EPDs for decking and siding, is one example. The association holds the only known wood products EPDs in North American and two of a small handful overall.

EPDs are based on a holistic approach that considers life cycle analysis and product category rules that establish criteria for evaluation. Essentially, they provide a standardized, cradle-to-grave evaluation of environmental performance that becomes a reliable resource for both manufacturers and purchasers.

Evaluating the overall costs of a product lifecycle is the only way to determine the true environmental costs of materials. The comprehensiveness of the EPD establishes a universal basis for independent comparison of environmental product attributes, minimizes confusion about technical data, and removes doubt about product sustainability.

Laura Briggs is a Chair of Sustainable Architecture Research at Parsons the New School for Design where she teaches courses on ecological design within the School of Constructed Environments at Parsons, the only integrated school of architecture, interior design, lighting design and product design in the nation.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Occupy Wall Street: Redux

I found this on YouTube and I thought it expressively demonstrates my first thought and my ultimate view on what I found when I went to Liberty (Zuccotti) Park myself.

A new movement has growing pains but there is no question that the message is loud and clear. The current model of Capitalism is not sustainable and our current method of Governing is failing the 99%.

What more can be said... nothing. But what more can be done? Plenty.

All politics are local. You don't have to occupy a park or a street you can however occupy a school board meeting, a town hall, a city or county council meeting. You can occupy a voting booth but you cannot do that from your armchair.

Wall Street Protesters Hit the Bull’s-Eye
Published: October 29, 2011

Occupiers of Zuccotti Park and other sites around the country have been criticized for the fuzziness of their goals. Their complaint that the privileged few in the top 1 percent are getting a disproportionate share of the nation’s prosperity, however, is spot on. And Wall Streeters are taking a bigger and bigger chunk of that income.

Who exactly are the people at the top? They are 1.4 million families that made on average $1 million in 2009, the latest data available. They took a hit from the 2008 financial crisis, but no doubt are regaining lost ground. The rich always do: a report published last week by the Congressional Budget Office shows that the share of national income going to the top percentage of households skyrocketed over the last three decades, even as it fell for the vast majority of American families.

The top 1 percent’s share of the nation’s total adjusted gross income was 17 percent in 2009, down from 23 percent two years before. But those people are still earning more than the entire bottom half of the population.

The first chart shows the share of national income that goes to families at different points of the income distribution. Since the mid-1980s the top 10 percent of Americans have increased their share at the expense of everybody else. But the lion’s share of these gains accrued to the richest 1 percent; and half of those gains went to the top 0.1 percent.

Wall Street financiers were always well paid. In the last three decades their representation at the very top of the income pyramid has grown by leaps and bounds. A recent study by two academic economists and a Treasury Department analyst found that financiers — bankers, fund managers and the like — account for about 14 percent of the taxpayers in the top percentile of income distribution. There are more non-financial business executives than bankers in this wealthiest slice of income. But their share of this slice fell over the past quarter century, while the financiers’ share grew substantially. Today financiers account for 16 percent of the income of the top percentile, up from 9 percent in 1979. Their share is now almost as big as that of lawyers and doctors combined.

It’s hard to believe today, but from the 1960s to about 1980 workers in finance made little more than those in the rest of the private sector, on average. Then, things changed: from the ’80s on, administrations from both parties embraced deregulation, undoing many of the rules put in place in the wake of the Great Depression to limit banks’ riskiest, and most lucrative, investments. Gone were the limits on interstate banking, down came the wall separating commercial and investment banks.

From 1979 to 2006, the financial industry’s share in the nation’s corporate profits grew from a fifth to almost a third. By 2006, bankers and insurers were making 70 percent more, on average, than workers in the rest of the private sector. Then they set off one of the worst financial crises in living memory, and taxpayers bailed them out.

The protesters’ grievances may be aimed at Wall Street as a metaphor for broader economic forces. But there is nothing metaphorical about who is taking home the wealth. The protesters might even aim a bit higher: the real income growth is happening in the top 0.1 percent. There are lots of bankers there, too.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The High Line

In my tour of New York Open Houses and in between Occupying Wall Street, I toured the High Line Park.

As I have been writing about the concept of public/private spaces and how those can have great affect on a community both good and bad; I was very anxious to tour perhaps one of the most recent successful if not lauded public/private partnerships - The High Line.

I had blogged earlier about a modern development adjacent overlooking the High Line and I finally got to see it. Devoid of occupants as many of the buildings are in already expensive Manhattan (rents now average over 3K a month) the once gritty Meatpacking area is alive with trendy Hotels, Restaurants and shops. The new Tribeca.

But the High Line is not as exclusive. Teeming with people on the most windy of Saturday afternoons it is a glorious tribute of salvaging an industrial space and make it literally a green space.

The New York Times today had an article discussing the most recent generous donation to the park's fundraising efforts to finish what is perhaps an elegant statement about the challenges and successes of public and private partnerships when done right.

Record $20 Million Gift to Help Finish the High Line Park

Published: October 26, 2011

Many visitors to the High Line, the popular park that wends above street level on the West Side of Manhattan, stop at its northern terminus and peer wistfully through a chain-link fence at the as-yet unreclaimed half-mile segment to the north. Until this week, the nonprofit conservancy that operates the High Line still needed to raise $85 million to finish the park and maintain it.

On Wednesday night, the conservancy took a major step toward that goal when Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced a $20 million gift to the High Line from the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation.

The gift, which will help build up the park’s endowment and pay for the design of the last section, is the single largest donation ever made to a New York City park, according to city officials.

It follows two previous donations totaling $15 million to the High Line from Barry Diller, chairman of IAC and Expedia, and his wife, the designer Diane von Furstenberg.

“It’s not surprising that Barry and Diane — visionaries that they are — got in early on the High Line project,” Mr. Bloomberg said in a statement. “But even better, they are seeing it through. Their generosity is leading the way for the High Line to become a New York icon that will be enjoyed for generations to come.”

The High Line is an unusual public-private partnership. The city paid most of the construction costs of the first two sections (the second opened earlier this year), which together run from Gansevoort to 30th Streets.

But Friends of the High Line, the conservancy that rallied to save the railway from demolition and raised money for its transformation into a park, assumed full responsibility for the cost of the operations from the start.

With three million annual visitors, 10 times what the founders of the conservancy initially envisioned, wear and tear, as well as educational programming, is a constant challenge for the 60-member staff. Annual operating costs for the park come to $3 million.

“If you ask Josh or me what keeps us up at night, it’s not next year or whether we complete it — we know it will get done,” said Robert Hammond, co-founder of Friends of the High Line along with Joshua David. “It’s the maintenance, and this gives us security. Having an endowment gives us another revenue stream to fall back on in hard times.”

But perhaps just as important is the gift’s ability to propel Friends of the High Line toward the finish line: the railway’s endpoint at 34th Street. Now the curvaceous teak benches and ornamental grasses that make up the park’s northern landscaping stop abruptly at that chain-link fence.

On the other side is a jumble of weeds, rocks and old ladders. The future section, which hugs the West Side Railyards, runs west to 12th Avenue and then continues north to 34th Street.

That segment is owned by CSX Transportation, which is now in negotiations with city officials, as well as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and other interested parties, on an agreement that would allow for public access. In 2005, CSX donated the portion of the High Line south of 30th Street to the city.

Adrian Benepe, commissioner of the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation, said the talks dealt with a “very complicated site.” But he added that “everyone wants for the city to eventually” obtain the site for the High Line park.

Mr. David and Mr. Hammond estimate that the final half-mile stretch will cost up to $75 million to build, about the same as each of the first two half-mile sections. Given the constraints on the city’s budget, private sources will have to cover the initial capital expense, they said. Before the new gift, Friends of the High Line had raised about $65 million toward its $150 million fund-raising goal.

In a statement, Mr. Diller took the long view. “In a hundred years, people will be amazed that this park was ever built, and during all that time it will have given pleasure to such great numbers of people,” he said. “I’m glad that our family is able to pay a small role in making the High Line a reality.”

In a city of deep-pocketed philanthropists, the donation from Mr. Diller and Ms. von Furstenberg turned heads, not least because it went to a park rather than a cultural or educational institution. Previously, the largest private gift to a park was $17 million from the philanthropist Richard Gilder in 1993 to Central Park.

Friends of the High Line hopes that the $20 million donation will inspire additional giving.

That happened once before. After the Museum of Modern Art mounted a small exhibition of designs for the park in 2005, the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation made its first gift of $5 million, generating interest in the project. Then came a gift of $10 million from the foundation in 2009. Earlier this year, Tiffany and Company Foundation gave a $5 million challenge grant.

The return on those investments has been substantial; the first two sections of the High Line have generated more than $2 billion in planned or new development, city officials said. The park has also become a major tourist attraction, drawing a quarter of its visitors from outside the United States.

Gazing at the unfinished segment, Martin Oeggerli, 37, a photographer visiting from Switzerland, said he would like the park to keep going. “It would go straight to the Hudson and give you a great view,” he said.

Last week, when Mr. Diller told Friends of the High Line of the gift over the phone, the conference room erupted. “A large number of people on our staff burst into tears,” Mr. Hammond said.