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.

Insuring Security

***this blog entry was brought to you by your friends at Aptus Insurance***

Planning for the future is essential more than ever in today's ever changing economy.

When making plans one must consider Insurance beyond Medical needs that can be a form of financial planning in addition to retirement and savings.

Aptus Insurance is dedicated to providing you with a life insurance quotes online that fits your needs at an affordable rate.

Understanding what type of Insurance meets your needs and even the types of insurance plans is something Aptus specializes in.

Learning the difference between Term, Whole or Universal Life Insurance Policy and what their long term goals and objectives can be confusing. Aptus can clear up that confusion by offering multiple options and packages for individuals and families

Affordability, types of coverage and purpose are all essential qualities one seeks in Insurance but more importantly they seek clear comprehensive and honest assessment of what one needs given one's financial security.

Aptus is a member of the Insurance Information Institute demonstrating their commitment to providing quality insurance quotes and information to all their clients.

Insurance is just another form of financial security and should be part of any families financial planning

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Next Green

As we move along the color palette to find the deepest green certification program a new one has entered the list. The Net Zero Energy Building Certification or the NZE (no build green program can survive without a fitting acronym).

So now to add to the ever growing list from LEED, Built Green, Energy Star, Earthcraft, Passivhaus, or a Health House label for which home owners and builders to certify their new home. Now one more is added to the list.

Home grown and local green from Seattle - the non-profit organization - formerly known as the Living Building Institute (until April of this year) - now ILFI - which manages the Living Building Challenge program; the Cascadia Green Building Council, a green building advocacy group for builders in the Northwest, British Columbia, and Alaska.

In addition they also manage the Natural Step Network USA, which advises businesses on environmentally sustainable practices; and Ecotone Publishing, which produces books about green architecture and design.

This is the group most famous of their upcoming Living Building Challenge project - The Bullit Foundation Building (which I recently blogged about).

Despite all the ways available to find construction strategies and renewable-energy systems to design and build buildings that can operate at net zero energy, the International Living Future Institute decided it is time to introduce a certification system for projects aiming for NZE performance vs modeling (the results vs the actual goal). And unlike other certification programs this one has a global reach.

NZE projects anywhere in the world can apply for consideration, although candidate buildings must be operational for at least 12 months before they’re evaluated.

A variety of renewable-energy systems can be used, including passive solar, photovoltaics, wind turbines, solar thermal, direct geothermal, water-powered microturbines, and fuel cells powered by hydrogen generated from renewable powered electrolysis.

While many projects are frequently marketed as net-zero-energy performers, those that qualify for the NZE Building Certification will have to meet the following Living Building Challenge requirements:

The NZE building’s construction and renewable-energy system curb the project’s contribution to the effects of sprawled development.
The building operates at net zero energy.
The project is built in a way that does not preclude another building from achieving net zero energy operation as a result of excessive shading.
Renewable-energy systems must be incorporated into the building in ways that are “attractive and inspiring.

Will this one get lost in all the varying ways, means and programs in the current drive to certify buildings or will it bring a new method to make our buildings fully sustainable? It is early days yet but once again what I find troubling is that all of these certifying agencies or organizations are non-profit businesses seemingly making immense profits from adding more bells and whistles to an already overloaded palette.

While we are always looking for the most effective way of improving building the real winners here seem to be the non profits making significant profits during the worst downtime in building.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Occupy Wall Street

I spent the last 4 days in NYC. I had already planned the trip in conjunction with Open House NYC - a time when many residential, commercial, public and private spaces are open for tours, lectures and other information regarding green building and other sustainable challenges in one of America's most challenging cities.

Well all of that seemed suddenly indulgent when one month ago yesterday (the 17th) marked the anniversary of the rag tag group called "Occupy Wall Street." Well I do write quite a bit about what defines "sustainability" and that includes income inequality, the drive for profits over purpose and long term goals including the immense problems in this country for many to find work that provides a living wage, benefits and security.

I think of late the most read of my posts about the subject was Shadow People my thoughts and name for the group of boomers too young for being put out to pasture to old to be employable. A group that is the largest of the boomers left and the target for ire by both our Government and those behind us as we are viewed as the one's who 'take' everything and feel "entitled" to such programs as Social Security and Medicare. The things which well we are entitled as we paid into them as investment security for our old age.

The kids took over Wall Street in an effort as they say not to protest but to point out that most of our current woes can be tied to this location; Zuccotti Park is in the shadow of Wall Street and one block from the former site of the World Trade Center. A location that cannot be overlooked for its symbolism on all counts.

My four days there I met many people who were diverse in interests and place of origin, mostly young who for all intensive purposes had nowhere to go. They were already marginalized by society - income inequality does that to families. We aren't number one in the world with child abuse for nothing. And it leads many to struggle on how to get ahead in world so clearly divided by the have and the have nots.. and the haves being only 1% of the population. So hence they are called the 99% ers.

Of course I have seen this before in the 60s and the same silly arguments, labels and anger are on display again. Nothing changes and everything old is new again. But there was a clear message - Get us out. Out of Vietnam out of war. This message is not so singular and not one that fits into the paradigm of a what defines conventional movements - civil rights, women's right, gay rights. Financial Services rights? Capitalism Sucks Rights? As you can see this is a complicated issue and not one easily placed upon a billboard or sign. As the time evolves the messaging will. But to ask what are the demands is to also ask from whom are we making them? The Government? The Corporations? the Wall Street Banks?

It is difficult to negotiate with anyone when they are all seemingly interconnected the level of money and business involved in the business of Government has made lobbying a lucrative business for business but who lobbies on behalf of the American people? This occupation is not a hostage crisis but a reflection of the crisis that has evolved over decades of income disparity. You cannot make demands when you don't even know where to begin and from whom to make them.

I went because I have railed on this subject for quite sometime and with no avail. I already knew the facts but I wanted to know if the occupiers knew them. Well many of the kids have never voted. Many have no interest in politics but they know the system is broken and they just want someone to give a shit. That was a consistent if not repetitive message.. we want someone to listen. It hearkened back to my favorite play Death of Salesman and the line "attention must be paid." And yes attention has been paid. The world has responded and now across the country and world occupation is the demand. But for now the movement is still leaderless, faceless and largely nameless. Ironic as that seems to be the point when you are of the 99%.

I urge those curious to understand more. To try to have patience while they to sort it out. But as all things are local and no more so than politics perhaps it might be time to occupy yourself in finding out what matters to you and work on doing something to make that different, to improve it, to let it be known you are not in the shadows any longer.

Occupy Wall Street, Main Street, Any Street on which you live. These problems are not just confined to the park in Manhattan.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Economics of Scale

I started this blog just prior to the Economy's "official" downturn. It was intended originally to promote my new venture into Green Remodeling and my then partner and I business, Vida Verde.

Since then the economy has tanked, I have a lost a partner and changed my business model and strategy on more than one occasion.

The reality is that just a few years ago Green was a LIFESTYLE. From blogs, to magazines to television shows, even a channel was devoted to what it means to be green. Ah how times have changed for us all.

I have always been leery of the idea that being green of all things meant you had to buy more things in order to be green. The idea I advocated as many others in this field did - sustainability meant examining your approach to consumerism. It was more of an "investment" approach where you look at the long range goals and aspirations and took on only what you need and what would have the least environmental impact for the future.

Today that approach is more so but so is the reality. What I had been preaching all along - sensibility, budget, affordability is now the fact. Those greenies who still write adoringly about the latest green gadget or building product are fewer but no less still passionate but the honest truth is that most Americans except for a select few are truly driving the consumer train.

Today in the Home section of the New York Times an article about the truth of going green even for diehards has come home to roost with their organic chickens nesting in their certified coop.

The simple DEMAND for products green is lessening. Be it cleaning products to more high end ones such as cars and homes has been affected by the recession. To pretend otherwise seems absurd at best crazy at worst.

There are some green products that are negligible in costs and others while more simply have a better payback. A CFL that costs more also simply lasts longer. It does take some energy to realize the overall life vs cost approach and well most people don't want to expend energy to save energy.

I reprint the article below which I think provides outstanding life lessons on what it means to find "your right shade of green"

Eco Meets the Economy

Published: October 12, 2011

In August, Lloyd Alter came up against the limits of his environmental convictions when he had to replace the leaky roof on his house in Toronto. He wanted to put a metal roof on his house to reduce energy costs, but “when push came to shove, I bought asphalt,” which is cheaper.

“For years, I said I would install a reflective metal roof,” because it helps to reduce heat and lower energy costs during the summer, said Mr. Alter, 58, an architect who writes about design for Treehugger, the sustainability-focused Web site. But “when push came to shove,” he said, “I bought asphalt.”

The asphalt shingles aren’t as good at reflecting the sun’s rays, and worse still, they’re made from a petroleum-based material. But they were a lot cheaper: the total cost of the new roof, including installation, was about $12,000, Mr. Alter noted, while “the metallic roof probably would have cost double.”

It is the kind of reality check that many eco-conscious consumers face these days. And like Mr. Alter, most have resorted to cutting their spending on a variety of items, particularly green products, which typically cost more than their non-green counterparts and can be difficult to justify, or even afford, when budgets are tight.

In a bad economy, what used to seem essential can quickly become optional.

At the same time, what was once merely fashionable can become a matter of necessity. Activities like growing and canning food, raising chickens and making your own clothes and other household goods — which in recent years have been exalted for their artisanal qualities — are now seen by many as a way to economize while staying true to green values.

David Quilty, a blogger in Santa Fe, N.M., has stopped buying organic cotton T-shirts and shopping for produce at Whole Foods. And after years of buying packaged cleaners and soaps from eco-friendly companies like Method and Seventh Generation, he can no longer afford them, he said, so he has started cleaning his home with a solution he whips up himself.

Not coincidentally, his widely read environmental blog, The Good Human, recently ran an article entitled “23 Ways to Use Vinegar for Nontoxic Cleaning.” One of a number of similar features that have appeared on the site in the last year, it is a sign of the blog’s shift toward a do-it-yourself mentality.

“I have to prioritize my spending, as many people do right now,” said Mr. Quilty, 39, who makes a living running the blog and has seen ad revenue fall by a third in the last six months. “I just don’t have the financial ability.”

The same shift in focus is evident on other environmental blogs. Mr. Alter said he sees it playing out daily on Treehugger. “Had you come on the site four years ago, before the recession, you would have seen a post every day for a new bamboo shirt or bamboo sandals,” he said. “We do almost none of that stuff anymore, because people don’t have the money to buy it.”

Gone, too, is the avid coverage of $1,000 laptops with cases made of recycled plastic, the furniture built out of sustainably harvested wood and the solar-panel hats. Instead, Mr. Alter said, “We’re writing a lot more about cooking, politics, riding bikes.”

Jill Fehrenbacher, 34, the founder and editor in chief of Inhabitat, a popular green design blog, said she has cut back on product articles as well, a shift her readers all but demanded. “In the last few years,” she said, “we’ve seen a real anti-consumer pushback.”

Not surprisingly, the green products industry is feeling the pinch. Laura Batcha, executive vice president of the Organic Trade Association, said that while the organic-goods sector has boomed in the last eight years, going up to $29 billion from $9 billion in sales, the industry’s yearly growth rates dropped to less than 6 percent in 2010, from between 15 and 20 percent previously.

And some brands have felt the pain more than others. According to SymphonyIRI Group, a market research firm that tracks mass-market stores (excluding Wal-Mart), sales of Clorox Green Works tub cleaner and dish detergent each dropped by more than 30 percent in the 12-month period ending in early September. And Seventh Generation, a popular green brand, has seen a drop in sales of items like paper towels, which are down by more than 15 percent during the same period (though sales of some of the company’s other items, like dish detergent, are up by a nearly equal percentage). Meanwhile, pricier items like hybrid cars have seen sales decline by more than 20 percent in the last year, according to Baum & Associates, another market-research firm.

Despite all that, Ms. Batcha insists that the green industry is continuing its “uphill climb” (the industry’s growth rates are back in the low double-digits this year, she said, although she was unable to provide specific numbers), and most people aren’t making a choice between green and cheap. At the moment, however, many eco-minded consumers seem to be wary of both.

Not long ago, Mr. Alter found himself in a grocery store, trying to decide between $10-a-pound organic bacon and a nonorganic brand that cost $5. In the end, he didn’t buy either one. “More and more people are doing that,” he said. “It’s like ‘Buy Nothing Day’ all year.”

FOR Erin Peters, a stay-at-home mother of three who began using green products four years ago, the D.I.Y. approach was a response to what she thought was a temporary financial hardship. When her husband’s company transferred him from Washington, D.C., to Raleigh, N.C., in 2008, just as the real estate market collapsed, they were saddled with a mortgage on one home and rent on another, until they finally sold the house a year later.

During that time, her shopping trips took on the aspect of a liberal morality play. “I couldn’t get us into more debt,” said Ms. Peters, 32. “But I felt guilty if I didn’t buy the green products we’d been using.”

Recently, they had another setback: their health insurance premiums went up, which meant “we lost a few hundred dollars from the monthly budget,” Ms. Peters said, and had to make more spending cuts.

For now, at least, that means no organic produce. They are also renting a smaller house within walking distance of her husband’s office and the children’s school. By driving less, they save money and reduce their carbon footprint.

Ms. Peters has also begun gardening and canning vegetables, and although she once thought of thrift stores as selling clothing that was “rotten or falling apart,” and would never have dreamed of shopping there, that’s now where she buys clothes.

But despite forgoing things like green cleaning products and organic food, Ms. Peters said, she thinks she is living in a more sustainable way than she did before. “I think the economy has forced people to be greener,” she said. “Even if they didn’t intend to.”

OTHERS have found they can make do just by being more selective. Megan Yarnall, 23, a recent graduate of Dickinson College, has been on a strict budget since she moved out of her parents’ house a year and a half ago and into an apartment in Yardley, Pa. She still buys organic produce, but not as indiscriminately as she did in college.

“For me, it’s a matter of choosing what should be bought organic,” she said, “and what isn’t as crucial.”

From a co-worker at TerraCycle, the recycling-design firm in New Jersey where she works, Ms. Yarnall learned about the so-called “Dirty Dozen,” a list of the 12 fruits and vegetables most susceptible to absorbing pesticides, based on data from the United States Department of Agriculture. Ms. Yarnall now saves money by buying organically grown produce only if it’s on that list. That means splurging on things like strawberries, apples and lettuce, but not on thick-skinned fruit like bananas.

Mr. Quilty has come up with his own accommodation: to afford grass-fed meat, he buys fruit and vegetables at a farmers’ market, which “is much cheaper than Whole Foods,” he said.

And if the produce isn’t organic, at least it’s local. “It is a tradeoff, but it’s worth it to me to eat the healthiest meat I can get.”

Some worry that all this frugality may result in what Gita Nandan calls “short-sighted knee-jerk reactions,” namely, passing up green products with high upfront costs, despite the long-term savings and reduced environmental impact.

“People say, ‘I only have $3 in my pocket, I should buy the incandescent bulb because it’s cheap,’ ” said Ms. Nandan, 40, a partner in Thread Collective, a Brooklyn design firm specializing in sustainable architecture. But “in the end, the math doesn’t work out,” she continued, because using more energy means your monthly bills will be higher.

Ms. Nandan said that she suggests clients skimp in certain areas (“let’s not spend a lot of money on paint or the $12,000 bathtub”) and put the savings toward costlier green materials that will pay off in the long run.

Lately, she has been advocating a product made by EnergyHub, a device that allows homeowners to monitor and control their electricity use. “Are my clients going to pay the extra $300?” she said. “I don’t know, but it’s worth having the conversation.”

Investing in an eco-friendly energy monitor might not require much thought in a robust economy. But like many of the things environmentally conscious consumers talked about doing a few years ago — installing solar-panels, buying hybrid cars, building LEED-certified houses — it may be a dream that has to be deferred.

Earlier this year, Ms. Peters and her husband test-drove a Leaf, the all-electric car from Nissan. Buying it would be an energy-efficient upgrade from the couple’s 2004 Honda Odyssey, and it’s something Ms. Peters said they might have done not long ago.

“Like most Americans,” she said, “I had the mind-set that if I wanted something new, I could run out and get it.”

Instead, she and her husband have entered a contest to win the car and have put off buying anything. When the economy recovers, she said, they hope to be driving a new fuel-efficient vehicle, but “it’s out of reach right now.”

David Quilty’s Homemade All-Purpose Cleaner

Fill a spray bottle two-thirds full of water and one-third full of white distilled vinegar. To cut the vinegar smell, add a few drops of an essential oil like lemon grass, sage or grapefruit. (The smell of vinegar dissipates soon after using the cleaner, so you can skip the essential oils if you are sensitive to the oils’ fragrance.)

Mr. Quilty estimates that he uses about one cup of vinegar per spray bottle and pays around $4 for a gallon. That works out to about 25 cents for a bottle of cleaner, which is “way, way less” than a typical $3 to $5 packaged cleaner at the store, he said. “I use that everywhere around the house as an all-purpose cleaner.”

Dedicated Follower of Fashion

A Tyvek Rain Coat.

I have be musing of late to start a Tumblr blog about my other passions - food and fashion and art. But I thought today I would indulge and include some posts about fashion design using materials most often found in build design

When they merge with building materials there is a perfect organic symmetry that cannot be committed to a blog about sustainability and green build - or can they?

I found today a clothing line dedicated to materials and design most often found in Architecture and Building. Airi Isoda earned a an architecture degree and has worked for a number of prominent firms in Los Angeles. Her inspirations are art, the built environment and other modern influences. At her site she says she strives to find the connection between architecture and fashion, reflecting on the urban landscapes where the two meet

As you peruse the site you see a unique and modern collection of very wearable clothes incorporating concrete, wood, metal latex paint and my favorite, Tvyek (house wrap).

Note the beautiful necklace made of concrete forms. Seemingly light but also substantial.

Or this silk charmuese blouse finished with latex paint and a delicate wood veneer collar.

wk-shp goes beyond just using building materials to make clothing they make clothing as a art form. The magnificent forms and use of very non-traditional materials might seem to some a challenge found on Project Runway but from such challenge comes great inspiration. As a long time follower of the show I may find many things head scratching but then again if you ever watch a Paris couture show you have seen amazing clothing made from garbage bags to brown paper ones. Design is inspirational and its not proprietary to one medium.

DRIFT Eyewear has also come up with a line of eyeglasses made of wood and other sustainable materials and a strong corporate philosophy that advocates strong craftsmanship and design. DRIFT is a company founded on a desire to push the eyewear industry to a new level through technological innovation and ecological consciousness.

Design is about just that design be it in buildings or fashion or in art. It is about thinking outside the box and pushing boundries while establishing new frontiers in eco friendly sustainable concepts. Its not all hemp wear.

A Case of the Shingles

I just received word that D.R. Horton, one the largest home builders in America, are rolling out a test program than includes a new variety of solar shingles as roofing materials.

The new technology in partnership with Dow Chemical, is done to meet the obvious growing interest in energy self sufficiency while blending it with a desire to meet the aesthetic needs of home owners who do not wish to have a solar panel on top of the roof.

They have no pricing nor actual kWh measures available but when one of the largest builders are starting to go green in alternative energy the rest will follow - simply due to demand and competitiveness; as Zillow reports today, home building will see a decrease in both home size and an increase in what defines energy efficiency - smaller spaces to heat and cool and using less windows, ceiling fans and design strategies in which to accomplish said goals. This new concept of solar panels will also undoubtedly factor in future home building and in turn the long range costs and payback period currently associated with solar installation will undoubtedly also decline. A good thing from this case of the shingles.

As for home ownership on the other hand don't expect this to change anytime soon. On the heels of this recession, the foreclosures may be staving off but the decline in those buying homes, particularly the young (overall decline in their population numbers which also contribute) finding rates of ownership for 25-34 year olds and 35-44 year olds have declined by 9.6 and 9 percentage points, respectively. It shows that those who are not embracing home ownership as a part of the great "American Dream" there will need to be a distinct marketing and manufacturing shift in making homes distinctly more affordable - not to mention more energy efficient to make that dream a reality.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Oh Solo Mio

Reading the article below from this mornings New York Times I was reminded of the drawbacks (but also the immense perks) out of working from your home. As a "Solopreneur" I have in the last decade worked exclusively out of my homes, starting out rehabbing my own homes and working and living right on site - literally selling out from under myself.

That to many people sounds horrendous, especially anyone undergoing a remodel, but my ability to quickly and elegantly rehab and style a property for resell with my own crew gave me immense skills and abilities that lent well to working independently.

And this current economy is going to see a major incline in home based businesses and as a result a difficult way of learning to balance what is home/work life. They become one when you are home 24/7 and while that allows for greater opportunities to be flexible and adjust schedules accordingly you realize that many of those with whom "you work" are not on the same schedule.

In the last year the calls started to decline from a trickle to non-existent which meant I either had to market more, network more or simply fold up shop. I turned to blogging in earnest as a way of keeping my work alive. And I also went back to school to keep my skills fresh. Many Community Colleges are recognizing this and have tons of programs for those seeking Entrepreneur guidance. They are often a few days to one or two workshops that are designed to get you up and running on everything from writing a business plan to how to work with accounting and spreadsheet software. And the secondary bonus is you meet others like you and in turn valuable contacts you might need in the future.

Its very important that you "network" if that means forming a group of like minded professionals via LinkedIn, Facebook, or any other means that allows you to communicate and share ideas both online and more importantly OFFLINE.

The last two years since I changed from a Partnership to a single practitioner I found that I missed the bouncing ideas of another person. So instead I found through my local coffee shops tons of real estate agents, contractors, and other trade professionals that would meet for breakfast or coffee and we would share war stories or try to keep each other propped up when worrying about the next gig. Sadly or gladly most of them are gone and only one or two of them I see monthly or so but we are still here alive and kicking. Some went on to find jobs in their field, others moved, others found new prospects and well the last to remain are making it work with part time work and odd jobs. But that is still a valuable resource when one needs simple support.

I cannot stress enough it is not easy when you have a family or have distractions. This year I made a concentrated effort to actually turn my office into a working lab actually trying out different, paints, flooring, lighting etc as a way of making the environment a working one and also a place that makes me less likely to flee at the end of the day. And that included making serious changes to the outdoor space adjoining my office, adding a charming vintage French sign to my office door saying Ouvrez or Fermé when I went "upstairs" for the night

Last summer I tried a pop up office and space dedicated to showcasing green products with the hope to permanently move there but the economy has been slowly eroding and the design center here in such decline I decided to forsake that idea. Frankly I enjoyed having somewhere to go every day and I could still bring my dog and go for a walk. But you can transform spaces in your home to give you that illusion and this recent upgrade for me found ways to do just that.

I still use my laptop upstairs for work as I frequently watch TV for design ideas and use my cell phone to make calls; however I do have a land line which via my cable company allows me to screen calls when upstairs and still be part of work when I need to. We have to face the fact that working at home really at some point requires a 24/7 commitment. And that is the hardest part.

I had to quit having meetings in my home, frankly the space isn't large enough, and storing samples is equally challenging as they were taking up my garage. Keeping them in a nearby storage unit helps and as it requires me to go there frequently to make updates to my inventory/library. You really need to make sure you are getting out if not to clear your head but to meet others. And in turn you will find that many shared spaces exist in which to meet - including library meeting rooms and other spaces in restaurants, coffee shop and newly shared spaces set up for just that purpose.

Since blogging now has become my major "occupation" it becomes easy to spend hours at the computer but frankly the greenest things are around me in my community and I need to be a part of them to see theory into practice.

For me in the "Green" field there are some groups dedicated to that and I still go to the monthly Greendrinks and Sustainable events (sadly EcoTuesday's have died here but they still exist in other areas) but there are a wealth of conventional organizations - for me that is MBA or even some ones that you may not think of such as the GSBA- there to help you truly meet others in your community. Having that is the best way of coping in finding how to make working at home work for you.

How to Make Working at Home Work for You

Published: October 7, 2011
I WAS conducting an interview from my office, which doubles as my home, and was frustrated because the loud leaf blower outside was drowning out my words and thoughts. I walked from one room to another to find some quiet, stumbling at one point over a laundry basket. All the while, I was hoping I sounded professional.

Coincidentally, I was doing an interview on the pitfalls and pleasures of working from home. While the concept is nothing new, working from home has become increasingly easier and more necessary. Easier, with computers and smartphones, more necessary for those who want to, or have to, start their own businesses.

But the transition from a traditional office to one at home can be difficult. The most common danger is unproductively whiling away the hours without anything to show for it. Will you just hang out on Facebook or watch endless “Law and Order” reruns?

The truth is most people find a way to structure their workdays so they are as productive — or more so — than they were in a traditional office. But there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

“Each of us is different, and the way we work is different,” said Peter Bregman, a consultant and author of “18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction and Get the Right Things Done” (Business Plus, 2011). “The important thing is to understand who you are and embrace that.”

I happen to find it useful to step away from my computer and do some housework or laundry, but I always return to the task at hand after a short while.

Others use cleaning as a way to procrastinate endlessly. A friend of mine writing her doctoral thesis once told me it was amazing how many filters she could find to change in her house while avoiding her thesis. So for people like my doctoral candidate friend, taking a cleaning hiatus is a bad idea.

Mr. Bregman suggests focusing on what will make it more likely that you will do the jobs you need to do, rather than simply telling yourself you should have more discipline.

Figure out what works for you and what doesn’t, he said. For example, do you find yourself distracted by constant e-mails? Then reserve certain times of the day — and only those times — to check your e-mail. Or turn off your Wi-Fi if you don’t have the discipline to stop yourself.

Years ago, Roz Chast, a cartoonist, came up with an ingenious way to trick her young son so he wouldn’t know she was working at home. She would say goodbye and walk out the door, and her husband would take her son to the back of the apartment. She would then sneak back in and up to her studio.

Another classic work-at-home question: pajamas versus work clothes.

My friend Lois, who recently left an office job and is doing public relations work at home, told me: “Even though my last workplace was casual, I liked getting dressed in clothes ‘nicer’ than I would wear around the house. I thought I would still dress nicely, but soon thought ‘why?’ So I am experimenting with clothes that are casual and comfortable and definitely steps up from my one rule — no sweatpants or my husband’s old college T-shirt.”

Besides looking professional, there is the problem of sounding professional — which can be hard when the noises we associate with home, like barking dogs, lawnmowers and the occasional child’s outburst, crop up during an important call.

“The most awkward moments in the early days of working out of the office in my barn was being in the midst of phone call with a client from, say New York, when one of our roosters decided to let go with a mighty crow,” Cliff Stepp, founder of Stepp Up Consulting, said in an e-mail. “The client stops and asks incredulously, ‘Did I just hear a rooster?’ ”

And, of course, there are children. Even if you try to get all your work done while they’re out of the house, that’s not always possible. Mr. Bregman said he came up with two solutions. One was a rule that his children must knock on his door if it is closed and wait for him to tell them to enter.

And second, a lock on his door.

“You need to make rules, and you can’t break your own rules,” he said.

A good way to quiet external noise is to install an air-conditioner, which can also act as white noise, and to invest in a good set of headphones.

Then, there’s dealing with others’ assumption that working at home doesn’t really mean working.

“First, it should be called something else. When you say you “work from home,” all people (family, friends) hear is the word ‘home,’ ” Lois said. “Better to say ‘working remotely’ or ‘working off-site.’ My husband will now say, ‘You’re working from home today, right? Can you be sure to get my shirts from the cleaners and why don’t you research that trip to Italy?’ He would not ask me that when I worked in an office.”

Of course, one of the pluses of working, ahem, remotely, is the ability to do personal business during the working day (at least without having to hide from the boss). But you also need to make it clear to family, and even friends and neighbors, that you are working just as seriously as if you commuted to a corporate office every day, said Lisa Kanarek, a consultant on home offices and author of “Organize Your Home Office for Success” (Blakeley Press, 1993, updated 2011).

“You have to say that during the day is work time,” she said.

The opposite problem is loneliness. Workplaces offer a camaraderie that’s hard to give up — chatting about sports, complaining about spouses and bosses, going out for a colleague’s birthday lunch.

“I used to be so excited just to see the U.P.S. guy because he was someone to talk to,” Ms. Kanarek said.

If your friends are around, make some breakfast or lunch dates. If that’s not possible, then use Skype and plug into webinars so you’re around people, even if it’s virtual.

Attending conferences is a way to get out and mingle and meet people, and Ms. Kanarek suggested going to local business events. You can then become acquainted with people you can later meet for lunch or coffee.

Mr. Bregman suggested arranging to eat lunch at the same time as your husband, wife or partner, assuming he or she works elsewhere. Then shut your office doors and talk on the phone for 30 minutes.

“It’s an awesome way to have an affair with your own spouse,” he said.

Finding a place to have a business meeting can be tough if you don’t have a separate home office. Some choose Starbucks or a local restaurant, but others find that too casual. Increasingly, people are renting or co-renting office space.

“I have partnered with other small businesses who have conference rooms that are infrequently used,” said Denise Altman, president of Altman Initiative Group. “I pay a small fee per hour as needed for my meetings. It helps me look more professional.”

I will leave you with a few final thoughts that seem minor but can make the difference between enjoying and hating working at home. Invest in a good chair and a computer solely for business, Ms. Kanarek said. You don’t want a virus attached to your son’s computer game to crash your client’s project.

And make sure you have a mute button on the phone. That will come in handy more times than you can imagine.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Living Building Challenges

I drive by this project daily and I have yet to think about the significance of the project in terms of either building or community.

Perhaps it is my slow burn with LEED or simply I am well exhausted living here where I can't sustain myself economically and see more and more vanity and income inequity on display to the point of where I no longer care. Whatever it is I am simply going to say that this project ultimately will be defined by its costs and its overall long range goals.

As I have commented on the Gates Foundation and their project and the Amazon campus transformation of South Lake Union comes this the Bullitt Center deemed the Greenest Commercial Building in the world seems to be another project about its investors and less about the purpose and serving the community which surrounds it.

I hope this succeeds and that is where I will leave it. (Now if I could leave Seattle to places less green I might actually find work!)

The Self-Sufficient Office Building

Published: October 4, 2011

SEATTLE — One of the most highly anticipated development projects in the Pacific Northwest is still little more than a grid of concrete and rebar at the edge of the Capitol Hill neighborhood here. When completed near the end of next year, though, the six-story office building may be the greenest commercial structure in the world.

The building, the $30 million Bullitt Center at 1501 East Madison Street, is expected to set a new precedent for environmentally friendly design and construction and in doing so would reinforce Seattle’s reputation as a global leader in sustainable development.

As the future home of the environmentally focused Bullitt Foundation and other like-minded tenants, the Bullitt Center is designed to produce as much electricity as it uses, making it both energy- and carbon-neutral. The building will supply and treat all of its own water, capturing rainwater in a 50,000-gallon underground cistern. And its construction will exclude items on a “red list” of hazardous materials like lead and cadmium, a stipulation that has required developers to compile a spreadsheet of 362 prohibited building components.

If the Bullitt Center passes the self-sufficiency test after its first full year of occupancy, it will be certified as a “living building” by the International Living Future Institute, a group based in Seattle that has established a green building standard, called the Living Building Challenge, widely viewed as the world’s toughest.

“The story is that this building is pushing the boundaries of performance in all categories, not just in one or two,” said Jason McLennan, the chief executive of both the certifying institute and the Cascadia Green Building Council, a chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council that administers the better-known LEED rating system. “For this building type and this scale, it’s the first in the world to go this far.”

So far, only three modestly sized buildings have been fully certified as “living buildings,” a phrase Mr. McLennan coined in the ‘90s for structures that could operate “as elegantly and efficiently as flowers.” Joining the exclusive group means meeting expectations in seven areas, or “petals,” including water, energy, health, materials, site, equity and beauty; projects also may attain certification in individual petals.

Although the concept has not yet attained the popularity of movements like the primarily European Passivhaus, about 100 other “living building” projects are in development.

Denis Hayes, the president and chief executive of the Bullitt Foundation and a national coordinator of the first Earth Day in 1970, said his foundation’s future home had benefited from an integrated design process involving architects, engineers, developers and contractors.

Rising above an adjacent pocket park lined with gnarled sycamores, the building will be capped by a rooftop “sombrero” of photovoltaic panels expected to produce enough energy in the summer to overcome wintertime deficits and break even over an entire year.

The idea that solar energy alone could meet the needs of a multistory office building in overcast Seattle might strike some as wishful thinking.

But that will be accomplished through a combination of increased panel efficiency and a decrease in energy demands. The Bullitt Center is expected to use less than one-fourth the energy of a typical building its size; conventional usage would have dictated a 64,000-square-foot solar panel canopy that would have shrouded the block.

Even so, the solar panel array will extend out like a brim over the sidewalk, requiring a special permit from the city. Minimizing the building’s energy footprint has also required higher ceilings and windows to let in as much natural daylight as possible, tacking an additional nine feet to the building’s overall height and prompting an ultimately unsuccessful zoning challenge from a neighboring apartment building.

Meeting strict water usage rules could prove more onerous. As planned, the Bullitt Center will collect and treat rainwater for its showers, sinks and drinking fountains, then filter the used “gray water” through a lower-level green roof and a strip of landscaping. The building’s raw sewage will be composted and decontaminated before being shipped offsite to be converted into fertilizer.

The Washington State Department of Public Health requires urban public-use buildings that obtain their potable water from anything other than a municipal supply to chlorinate it. But chlorine would run afoul of the Living Building Challenge’s prohibitions on toxins, and the Bullitt Center’s backers are pushing instead for ozone purification, a less toxic method used elsewhere around the world.

Chris Rogers, of the building’s developer, Point32, said the project’s team was negotiating with state authorities over how to have the Bullitt Center’s water independently tested to prove that it would meet quality standards. Even if it does, the Bullitt Center will remain connected to the city’s water supply as a backup.

The project ran into another snag over financing. The Bullitt Foundation challenged a design firm, the Miller Hull Partnership, and their collaborators to develop a core of steel, concrete and timbers with a life expectancy of 250 years, a nearly unheard-of number in an industry that typically uses 40-year life spans in appraising the value of commercial buildings. With no comparable structures to point to, banks were at a loss for how to value many of the building’s central features, including its expected longevity and its energy and water self-sufficiency. Most balked at lending. Meanwhile, the upfront costs have run about one-third higher than for commercial structures of comparable size.

”Candidly, we had to put more equity into this building than we expected,” Mr. Hayes said. “We found only a very, very, very limited number of banks that would even consider making a loan, and the most generous of them gave us a construction permit for about 50 percent of the cost of constructing the building.”

Mr. McLennan said the difficulties in financing the project, however, could ease the strain on future efforts by providing a template for the added value of a living building. “How do you find comparables for a building that’s never been built like this before?” he asked. “You can’t.”

The project has won some important victories. Earlier in its development, it was a catalyst for the passage of a 2009 Seattle ordinance that set up a pilot program offering new flexibility in the city’s land use code for up to 12 potential “living buildings.”

After the developers selected highly energy-efficient windows from Schüco International, a German company, it agreed to set up its first American assembly plant, in the Puget Sound region. And Point32’s team persuaded Building Envelope Innovations, of Clackamas, Ore., to reformulate its Wet-Flash sealant, a liquid spray that creates watertight and airtight barriers, to exclude phthalates, compounds that mimic some human hormones and have been linked to disruptions in the endocrine system.

The Bullitt Center has early lease commitments for four of its six floors. The building’s general contractor, the Schuchart Corporation, will be a principal tenant, joining Mr. McLennan’s Cascadia Green Building Council in staking their reputations on the structure’s success. The foundation says rents will be comparable to those for other newly constructed, LEED-certified buildings in the area, and it eventually expects a positive return on investment.

Mr. Hayes said the project team was talking with behavioral economists on incentives to encourage tenants to practice environmentally responsible habits. Immediate feedback on energy use may be one. Competition among floors may be another, as well as making each tenant’s consumption public.

Designers also are not beyond a little bribery. At the site’s high point along East Madison Street, a glass-enclosed stairwell will connect the upper four floors. Those who choose to walk rather than take the elevator will be rewarded with spectacular views of the Space Needle and downtown skyline.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

VA Home Loans

Are you a Veteran seeking financing? There is a Military VA Loan program available for those both active duty and prior service veterans who already have an existing VA loan on their current residence.

VA loans are standard second mortgages often called Home Equity Loans made by private lenders (including banks, credit unions, or mortgage brokers)and are secured under the current VA benefit packages available to Veterans.

To see if this is a program you may be interested take a look to see if you qualify; Applicants may be required to provide a credit history, income documentation, job verification as well as appraisals (all standard requirements) but with rates low and, additional tax credits available to make your home energy efficient, the time may be right.

If you are looking for tips for efficiency and how you can find ways to make improve your home then check out how you might qualify for a VA Home Loan Refinance package.

Our service personnel are our greatest asset and your home is in turn your greatest asset. Maintaining its value, improving its energy use will in turn reduce your long term operating costs while increasing the home's overall value in the future.

Check out Military VA Loans for more information on this program and if you qualify.

Nature Trust

As we look to public and private partnerships in creating green building spaces we must also look to what they are doing with regards to our environment.

On that note today I received word of this collaboration to fill in the gaps that local Governments are hard pressed to do, such as cleaning up our water and land.

David Evans and Associates has partnered up with the Nature Conservancy to restore the natural historical washes in the watershed that had been altered for agricultural use along the San Pedro River in the Mexican state of Sonora up to the Gila River in Arizona. It is one of only two major rivers that flow north out of Mexico into the United States and is one of the last large undammed rivers in the Southwest.

David Evans and Associates is a national leader in sustainable design and management solutions, and has consistently provided its clients with award-winning approaches to transportation, energy, water resources, and land development design, planning, and management. As a result, the company has consistently ranked among Engineering News Record's Top 100 Pure Design firms in the U.S. and among the leaders in many of its local markets.

Engineers from David Evans and Associates are working with the Nature Conservancy and Mexican partners to decommission a berm and ditch system, allowing the hydrologic system to return to its natural pattern. The plan is to create a state of equilibrium for the river system, which will help minimize erosion in the area. According to The Nature Conservancy, the watershed provides refuge to federally endangered plant and animal species as well more than 100 species of breeding birds, and, seasonally, more than 250 species of migratory birds.

Gold Standard

Seattle is now considering requiring any building for public purposes or using public financing to seek LEED Gold status as a minimum. Already requiring buildings here to attain LEED silver most buildings seeking LEED credentials usually as a matter of course pursue higher levels as a way of assuring a certification. So in the case of this it would mean a building would have to actually work towards Platinum level to make the Gold standard requirement.

As I have said before and will continue to do so the excessive fees and "requirements" to make a building LEED qualified are often not necessary, expensive and have no real values other than those of a marketing standpoint.

And in a time of very tight budget constraints paying a third party for a credential for a PUBLIC building (meaning its not exactly marketed or managed as a private building is) to me is the most egregious demand on a strapped tax base.

The USGBC is a non profit institute yet it earned last year $60 Million dollars from the fees associated with the LEED program. That seems small in comparison to the $60 Billion dollar green building industry but USGBC is also a very large and influential lobbyist in both Federal and Local Governments to the point of creating a monopoly in the Certification options in Green Build.

I think that has now demonstrated that they are no longer a non profit when generating significant influence in both the public and private sector.

This was the basis of Henry Gifford's since dismissed lawsuit against LEED asserting they were in violation of antitrust and racketeering laws. Since that time he now advocates that USGBC and their LEED program participate in "deceptive trade practices"

Hard words but in a recent article in Mother Jones, Gifford is quoted as saying: There are no objective empirical support for the claim that LEED buildings consume less energy and that the USGBC's false advertisements mislead the consumer"

Gifford has long been a critic of the program and feels that many of the LEED showy details such as solar panels installed in shadowy locations, etc overlook the basics of solid build - insulation, thermostats and water temperature.

Gifford has made it his business to examine LEED reports and analysis to find its flaws in measurements and found the claims that LEED buildings use less energy to be disingenuous.

To verify the claims of Gifford, Mother Jones, sent the analysis to John Scoffield a physicist at Oberlin who concluded that LEED certified buildings were not sufficiently superior to their standard build counterpart with regards to energy use. He is quoted as saying "there appears to be no scientific basis for encouraging LEED certification." When asked by Mother Jones, Dr. Scoffield is quoted as saying "its like requiring people to wear copper bracelets for arthritis!"

The USGBC responds by commenting that building energy use is dependent on well "use" and the long term operation and maintenance of said building. In other words hey we gave you a good building what you do with after that is your problem.

What was interesting was a note that Gifford had been recently hired by a USGBC board member to improve her homes' heating system. Upon contact for the article he was summarily fired. Said Gifford "With LEED, image is more than measured results."

As I have said I cannot afford to provide third party verifications and mostly because of the onerous costs to me personally, my risks professionally and since I don't do LEED I also don't do any others to not reflect a bias or make a call that one is "better than another."

I advocate Build Smart. I keep current on all the certification programs out there (and more come daily) but without LEED I am at a severe disadvantage. So if that is not a monopoly what is it?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Get Energized

Currently there are many programs that are offering free to reduced loans for home weatherization programs thanks to a Government Grant focusing on improving home performance.

One company that can assist you with in finding out if your home is in need of home energy audit is the Home Energy Team. The do so through local home energy performance contractors in your own community.

Home Energy Team members possess certifications , the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET), and the Building Performance Institute (BPI). They’re expert home energy survey professionals, home energy raters, building envelope professionals, building analysts and EnergySmart Contractors.

Home Energy Team provides a whole house solution to help you discuss the kinds of options you may need from energy efficient windows to damp basement solutions.

It begins with an assessment that provides you with a detailed report with recommendations for improving your home’s energy efficiency. Within that it includes cost estimates, expected energy and dollar savings, and the estimated "simple payback time period" that these costs will then pay for themselves. Home Energy Team provides a list of recommended home insulation contractors and even home repair grants for which you might qualify.

And Contractors: Home Energy Team are seeking qualified contractors to perform audits and improvements. Take a look at their site to find out if you can join their referral network in your area.

Now is a great time to take advantage of the types of grants and loans available to get your home ready for winter and Contractors this is also a great time for you to get working.

***this blog entry was brought to you by Homer Energy Team***

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Living Green

To live green is well a challenge. That is the whole reason the Living Green Challenge came to be.. to make buildings a fully living organism that is independent of energy use from sources they cannot easily produce and utilize in house.

Easier said and yes yes easily done. The rise to that challenge has to begin with the integration of that public/private partnership I have been writing about of late. Canada is ahead of the curve as in this project. The Okanagan College Center of Excellence. The firm of CEI Architecture clearly collaborated with the University system to pursue both purpose and function yet permitting design and thoughtfulness often ignored in public buildings. Sustainable design should not sacrifice either regardless of use or budget.

Beyond Being a Living Classroom, the Okanagan College Centre of Excellence, One of the Greenest Buildings in the World: Sets its Sights on the Living Building Challenge

Imagine an educational facility that is as much a teacher as the instructors standing at the front of its classrooms; a building powered by the resources of its surrounding environment; a building as full of potential as the students learning inside. That building is Penticton’s Okanagan College Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Building Technologies and Renewable Energy Conservation, a world-class educational facility that will train British Columbia’s next generation of tradespeople in green construction.

Okanagan College’s Centre of Excellence, which will mark its grand opening this fall, is designed to the standards of the Living Building Challenge, the most rigorous sustainability program on the planet. The challenge requires projects to meet a stringent list of qualifications, including net-zero energy and water consumption, and address critical environmental, social and economic factors. Successful Living Building Challenge projects are only certified if they prove they meet program requirements after 12 months of continued operations and full occupancy. At 6,780 square metres, the Centre of Excellence is currently one of the largest buildings to pursue Living Building certification.

“From the educational community to the design team to the various government offices involved, we came together to set the sustainability bar for the Centre of Excellence extremely high,” says CEI Architecture’s Tim McLennan. “The entire team worked incredibly hard to bring the building to life and the final result is perhaps the most innovative sustainability effort ever realized in the region. Designing to the standards of Living Building Challenge demanded a truly integrated design process, and buy-in from everyone involved.”

Innovative sustainability components throughout the building add up to make the Centre of Excellence one of the greenest educational facilities in the world. These include net-zero energy and water consumption made possible through features such as an in-floor radiant heating and cooling system, using an on-site water source drawn from 61 metres below the building; the largest array of photovoltaic solar panels in Western Canada; and composite concrete/wood panels in the gymnasium that contain piping for heating and cooling and are the first of their kind in North America. Nearly 100 per cent of the wood in the building is B.C.-sourced, including local pine from beetle-infested forests in the Okanagan.

The Centre’s planned educational programming includes Sustainable Construction Management Technology, Carpentry, Applied Ecology and Conservation, and Green Building Design and Construction, as well as the research and development of alternative and renewable energy sources.

The Okanagan College Centre of Excellence is a building that will help teach and spread the latest ideas and innovations in the green building movement, and that is so powerful,” says Jason F. McLennan (unrelated to Tim McLennan), CEO of the International Living Future Institute, the organization that created and oversees the Living Building Challenge. “It’s an exciting project and it will be very interesting to see how it influences others in the region, and around the world.”

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Sign This!

I received an interesting notice about a signage company that is not only committed to Sustainability in both its internal business but in its external products as well.

Impact Signs are committed to ensuring all signage they design and produce are done with a focus on a green and sustainable future. Impact Signs are also members of the U.S. Green Building Council which ensures they are informed on all current green building issues and LEED qualifications.

A pioneer in using 3form architectural sign materials in addition to a myriad of other Eco friendly materials; such as glass and reclaimed hardwood panels.

All metals used on projects from creation to disposal including any bronze lettering jobs are recycled.

In addition all lit signs include LEDs and they lead the way in solar panel technology, powering exterior lighted signs with a zero-net-effect on use.

LEED point(s) can be earned if the signage is used to communicate the green efforts of the building.

So if you are looking to sign up check Impact Business Signs.