DJC Green Building Blog

Transparency: the new mantra

Posted on December 24, 2013

The following post is by Kathleen O'Brien:

Ten years ago when Alistair Jackson (now principal of O'Brien & Company) and Michelle Long (now Executive Director of BALLE) created the Transparency Institute, they just couldn't gain traction they wanted and needed to make a go of it. "We were ten years ahead of our time," Jackson sighs.  Now, transparency is all the rage. In fact, at GreenBuild recently, I couldn't walk five feet without some reference to the concept.  Most references were focused on product transparency, but not all.  At the International Living Future Institute's GreenBuild Booth, the nonprofit was touting its new "JUST" Label, which applies to organizations transparency.  Organizations of all types and sizes can earn the JUST label when they are willing to report on 22 social and equity indicators related to six categories: diversity, equity, safety, worker benefit, local benefit and stewardship. The JUST Label joins the organization's DECLARE, a "nutrition" label of sorts for building products.

JUST is a voluntary disclosure program where organizations can report on their workplace equity policies and practices.

DECLARE is one of the latest efforts over the past decade to make it easier for building project teams to "do the right thing" when selecting products and technologies. Product certifications, such as those offered by the Carpet & Rug Industry Institute (focused on VOC emissions) and Forest Stewardship Council SC (focused on sustainably harvested wood products) have been one way to achieve this goal; but even there, industry members have been demanding more transparency, wanting to know what's behind the "green" label.  DECLARE requires that manufacturers complete a Health Product Declaration (HPD) that is then publicly available.  The hope is that this label will make it easier for project teams to use the Living Building Challenge, which "red lists" materials and chemicals the ILFI deems hazardous.

Eden Brukman, Technical Director for the non-profit HPD Collaborative was staffing its booth at GreenBuild, where business was non-stop.  Brukman noted a "remarkable uptick in interest in (HPD's) work."  The Transparency Movement (as some like to call it) is definitely experiencing an upswing, and HPD is clearly a key player in this progression.  In addition to offering manufacturers an open standard format for reporting product content and associated health information for building products and materials,  the service is free for all to use, which is certainly one factor in its gaining popularity.

The HPD Collaborative partners with several product databases.  Green Spec was one of the first independent efforts to vet and list products meeting specific requirements.  The Pharos Building Library provides access to HPDs (as do most of the other collaborative members)  as well as a full assessment of health hazards associated with the product and its manufacture, VOC certifications, renewable material content, and renewable energy usage. SpecSimple is more recent, and unlike Green Spec or Pharos, includes advertising.  Another commercial database partnering with HPD includes Green Wizard, which integrates its product library with a proprietary software aligned with LEED credits (WORKflow Pro). I understand from one user that the software program is "pricey" but a good value. GPD's THESource (which also offers advertising) aligns product transparency efforts with BIM and Revit; I attended a GreenBuild presentation introducing  GPDTools (Alpha), a free downloadable add-in specifically designed for the Autodesk Revit users to search, select and annotate building product data (including HPDs) directly.

Transparency has become a byword in the green building industry, where members are demanding to know more about the contents of the building products they use.

Nearly 30 manufacturers at GreenBuild were exhibiting products that are Cradle to Cradle Certified.  Up to recently a proprietary system closely held by its founders William McDonough and Michael Braungart, the Certification has gone public with the founding of the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute.  Lots of other product certifications were on display as well -- sometimes several for the same product. One GreenBuild attendee complained that the multiple certifications on many product booths were confusing, but my guess is that as the drive for transparency takes hold, two things will  happen, the value of a given certification will be understood more clearly, resulting in a more nuanced weighting of that certification in the prospective purchaser's mind.  Another consideration is the audience for the certification(s): a skilled professional whose license depends on being informed, and the less informed consumer of the skilled professional's services.  My observation, at least at events like GreenBuild, is that professionals are seeking more information, not less. But they want to know the information they are getting is good quality -- and transparency can help them know that.

Transparency is not intended, however, to sort out the certification puzzle. The commonly held view is that manufacturers won't want to reveal damaging information, such as the fact that a given product includes harmful ingredients or was created using harmful processes.  Forward-thinking companies with solid product portfolios (or willing to create them) have done the calculus. This is good for business. Laggards will innovate or lose in the race for transparency.

Kathleen O'Brien is a long time advocate for green building and sustainable development and most well known for founding O'Brien & Company, the oldest green building consultancy in the Seattle area.  She lives in a green home, and drives a hybrid when she drives at all. After 30 years of working in the field, she is now focused on providing leadership training and mentoring through her legacy project: The Emerge Leadership Project, a 501c3 non-profit with a mission to "accelerate life-sustaining solutions in the built environment through emergent leadership principles."

 

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Cascadia launches Groundswell to amplify its regional collective impact

Posted on December 2, 2013

The following post is by Kathleen O'Brien:

You could say it's just a party, a fundraiser, or an awards ceremony. You could say that, but you'd be wrong. According to Mona Lemoine, VP and Executive Director of the Cascadia Green Building Council, "Groundswell"  is all that, but more.  According to the dictionary, "groundswell" means a sudden gathering of force.  Lemoine stresses that the December 12th event in downtown Seattle is designed to showcase a "call to action that intentionally energizes the region's grassroots and takes the green building movement to the next level."  The council plans to repeat the event on an annual basis, offering new challenges each time to galvanize and amplify regional collective impact.

In an interview with Lemoine at Greenbuild in November, Lemoine was quick to say "there has and continues to be lots of green building activity in the Cascadia Region. We could be satisfied with that. But the Council can play a special role stimulating and supporting new grass roots initiatives."

Of all the US Green Building Council Chapters, Cascadia has tended to be the first out of the block with new ideas and action to suit.  (Unlike most other chapters, Cascadia was founded based on bioregional boundaries, not geopolitical ones.) In fact, it's safe to say we have a bit of a "renegade" reputation within the larger organization.  So it's no surprise that the Council has invited "innovators, rulebreakers, and changemakers" to this part celebration, and part instigation event.

Michelle Long

This year the call to action will be framed by keynote Michelle Long, Executive Director of BALLE, which uses collaboration to identify and promote "the most innovative business models for creating healthier, sustainable, and prosperous communities."  Cascadia members will be asked to enlarge their thinking (and scope) beyond (green) bricks and mortar to include sustainable business development with the goal of "transform(ing) the communities where we work and live."  BALLE, which stands for Business Alliance for Local Economies envisions "a global system of human-scale, interconnected local economies that function in harmony with local eco-systems to meet the basic needs of all people, support just an democratic societies, and foster joyful community life."  By inviting Council members to consider this vision, Cascadia's leadership is seeking to expand on the collective impact that members have already had on the built environment.

David Barmon, a permaculture designer based in Portland, and Naomi Wachira, a local folk singer with African roots will round out the program.  And yes, there will be awards. All with a mind on acknowledging, but also inspiring, grassroots action. For the first time, Cascadia will be presenting Emerging Professional, Branch Collaborative, and Public Sector Leadership Awards.  Cascadia Fellows will be recognized at Groundswell as well. Fellows are local leaders recognized for catalyzing transformative advancements in green building at the local and national level. And yes, Groundswell is a fundraiser: $50 of every ticket is a tax-deductible donation to support the mission of the Cascadia Green Building Council. And, yes, it will be a party. According to the website, dress if "formal." Hmm..dress jeans?

Registration closes December 9, 2013. Click here for more information on the event and award nominees.

Kathleen O'Brien is a long time advocate for and prolific writer about green building and sustainable development since before it was "cool." She lives in a green home, and drives a hybrid when she drives at all. Recently retired from O'Brien & Company, the green consulting firm she founded over 22 years ago,  she is now the Executive Director of The EMERGE Leadership Project, a 501c3 nonprofit whose mission is to accelerate life-sustaining solutions in the built environment through emergent leadership training.

 

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Greenbuild recap: Seattle represented!

Posted on November 22, 2010

GreenBuild is done for another year. Looking back, I can definitely say the Pacific Northwest - and Seattle in particular - represented.

From speakers (there were at least 35 from the Pacific Northwest) to people in the crowd (I must have seen at least 50 people from the area) to a reference in Rick Fedrizzi's opening speech to the Living Building Challenge to expo hall presenters, there was a giant contingent representing what

The expo hall at GreenBuild, by Katie Zemtseff
some *ahem* consider to be the greenest region of the country.

Overall, I noticed a change in GreenBuild presenters. It seemed (to me) that there was a little less architectural focus and more focus on the financial aspect of green building from the real estate side. Speakers came from Kennedy Associates, Wright Runstad & Co., Hines, PNC Real Estate, Lease Crutcher Lewis, Vulcan, Jones Lang LaSalle etc. To me, this reinforced the idea that "green" is becoming more and more mainstream. While the design aspect is important, the financial metrics really sell it -- just look at LEED volume. I also noticed a focus on the sustainability of the site, versus just the sustainability of the building.

I enjoyed the focus of the expo floor to reduce waste. Instead of a flood of literature that stays on my desk for months, presenters were encouraged to limit waste and only give away business cards. It was impressive.

I also enjoyed some of the wild outfits that turned up. Especially colorful cowboy hats, a full fake animal print suit in different colors and the myriad of cowboy boots worn on people's feet. A friend of mine said there seemed to be a lot more suits at GreenBuild this year - which she said is a good thing "cuz we need 'em!"

As for dislikes, I heard a lot of complaints about the lack of vegetarian food (this is GreenBuild afterall!) I also heard a lot of people complaining about two elements of Colin Powell's speech: his discussion of the state of terrorism in the U.S. and abroad and his statement that coal, nuclear and oil need to be just as much a part of our energy portfolio as solar and wind energy.

What did you think of GreenBuild? Comment below and tell me what your favorite - or least favorite part was. Would love to hear your reaction!

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GreenBuild Day 2: bifacial solar panels and natural swimming pools that use plants, not chlorine!

Posted on November 18, 2010

I've been through about an eighth of the GreenBuild Exhibition floor so far and wanted to share two of the things I've seen with you.

These are the Sanyo bifacial panels that will be on the Bullitt Foundation's Living Building on Capitol Hill. The collect energy from both sides while letting some light in at the same time. Bullitt was attracted by the transparency of the panel.

Sanyo panel, photo by Katie Zemtseff

And this is the BioNova Natural Swimming Pool. The swimming pools use natural systems (meaning plants in gravel) instead of chlorine and other chemicals to treat water. That means the water color is darker, looking more like a lake than a traditional pool. It also means that people that use them need to get used to the idea of sharing their pool occasionally with frogs or other critters. James Robyn, CEO of the company, said the pools aren't for everybody. "Whoever doesn't like that sort of thing shouldn't do this."

bionova

Robyn said the pool technology came from Europe, where it has been used for 20 years. He said it has a low carbon footprint, is all natural and is "perfectly healthy." Robyn, who is based in New Jersey, said he's being asked about the pool system all across the country. In fact, he was in Seattle giving a lecture last month though he said there are not yet any of his pools in process in the Seattle area.

There are basically five ways to build the pools but each involves about 1 square foot of treatment space for 1 square foot of pool. That means if you want an 850-square-foot-pool, you need 850 square feet of treatment space. It's more expensive but it certainly looks cool!

For more on BioNova, check out its Web site.

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GreenBuild Day 2: There’s something about GreenBuild

Posted on November 18, 2010

I'm mid-way through my second of three days at GreenBuild and something is different this year.

For the most part this conference just seems.... on. First, let me tell you that this is my third GreenBuild I went to GreenBuild 07 in Chicago, GreenBuild 08 in Boston and had guest posts on the blog at GreenBuild Phoenix last year. To read posts from each experience, click the 'greenbuild' tag below.

Personally, of the three, I think this is the best year yet. All the problems I had with my first Chicago GreenBuild experience:  insanely long lines for the keynote speaker, no clear way to compost food or recycle name tags, a tiny nonfunctional press room, teaching sessions focused on the lowest common denominator, almost rampant waste with giant programs and a general disorganization - are gone.

In its place three years later is a well organized, smoothly run conference. Sessions are easy to get into and focused on pertinent topics. People I've spoken with so far agree that this year, everyone seems to have a deeper level of green building knowledge. The press room is large with easily accessible outlets. Compost and recycling is clearly marked and encouraged. There's also signs all around this exhibit hall stating that the carpet is going to be recycled or that giving out fliers is strictly prohibited without USGBC permission.  The USGBC also worked with food suppliers at the conference to make sure everything was organic.

There are also many more of my favorite kind of session: off site visits that demonstrate the unique aspects of the city you're in.

There's been changes in the exhibit hall. Rather than the standard conference practice of having every exhibitor give out literature that is often thrown directly in the garbage, the USGBC has instituted a program to curb that waste. More about this later.

That's not to say that everything is perfect. But overall, I'm pretty impressed and looking forward to the rest of today and tomorrow.

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GreenBuild Day 1: Colin Powell says he knows more about green building than you think

Posted on November 17, 2010

This morning, former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell gave the keynote speech at the USGBC's GreenBuild Conference in Chicago. He said he knows more about green building than you think.

Powell's green building credibility, at least during his talk, came from three things: a $1 billion annual budget for building embassies during his time as a politician, his work with Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers that is funding

Colin Powell
Bloom Energy, and his association with a LEED platinum affordable housing building in the Bronx bearing his name.

However, his talk didn't really focus on green building. Instead, it focused on the state of the country, motivating Americans and creating true leadership to support our economy and continue improving America. A big part of this effort, he said, is energy efficiency.

Powell said those in the green building sector need to look at what they're doing and see the broader purpose:

"Your purpose is to help the world use less energy, to help the world promote its environment and above all to help the world grow economically so that more people can come up out of poverty and despair... you have got a purpose for your future.

"What you’re doing is building green buildings and that's wonderful but what you’re really doing is helping the world deal with its energy needs and helping the world create growth for those in need."

Powell said this effort is playing a major role in the U.S.'s national security policy because it is reducing energy needs. However, he also said the U.S. can never be totally energy independent and that we need all sorts of energy: wind, solar, nuclear and coal. I'm guessing a number of you would take issue with that.

Overall, the talk careened from America's place in the global economy to our country's future to terrorism to leadership. Powell spoke personally about having a 2.0 GPA in college, being a son of immigrants and being a new soldier soon after the army was desegragated. None of these things matter, he said.

"It doesn't matter where you start in life, it's where you end up but more importantly, what did you do along the way?”

He spoke about aging in a world of new media "I'm analog trying to become digital" and about the emptiness he felt immediately after leaving his post as secretary of state (to deal with it, he needed to find other intellectually challenging opportunities, such as his work with Kleiner and with his effort to promote education nationally).

As a speaker, Powell was engaging and funny, repeatedly making the audience (and me) laugh. It's nice during these talks when you can lose yourself to some degree in what the speaker is saying and allow yourself to be transported, rather than always remaining detached from the subject matter. If you have a chance to hear him speak, I would highly recommend it.

Are you here? What did you think of the talk? Were you impressed with the overall inspiration or upset that it didn't focus more on green building? Would love to hear your thoughts!

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Going to GreenBuild!

Posted on November 15, 2010

Hello lovely readers! I will be at the USGBC's GreenBuild Conference in Chicago this week and will be right back here throughout, updating you on all the sustainable  happenings of the event!

However, one can only blog so much. If you want more news and timeline tidbits, follow me on Twitter. My handle is @KatieZemtseff.

I'm looking forward to learning a lot. Hope you are too. Starting Wednesday, check back often!

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Greenbuild 2009: new tool makes it easier to navigate LEED

Posted on November 13, 2009

The numbers are down this year but spirits are high. USGBC president Rick Fedrizzi claims there are 25,000 here in Arizona but it doesn't feel that busy.

Al Gore delivered a decent keynote last night with some witty humor and a fresh trim look. The message was nothing new but reinforced the Inconvenient truths and Our Choice to make a difference.

The exhibitor booths were in big numbers. Like previous years it was most of the large companies pitching their not so green products, although there were a few exceptions.

My personal favorite was LEEDuser.com a really cool, inexpensive tool designed to help de-mystify the myths about how to document all of the LEED V3 credits. In other words, a user guide with online experts and advice on how to fill in all the blanks that remain in the not-so-wonderful new LEED reference guide. It was developed and promoted by Environmental Building News the authors of Building Green and has some serious substance behind it. YRG consultants helped develop LEEDuser.com even though it's ultimately aimed at taking the need for consultants away from the project (assuming project team members know the basics). The concept is brilliant, go sign up for a membership.

Trying to figure out all the ever changing details of the LEED AP continuing education program seemed to be the hottest topic. There was no shortage of confusion and frustration but GBCI had a booth of people that did a nice job helping people out. If you have questions of your own I would recommend asking to speak with Arnold or Margaret.

For those of you who couldn't make it this year let us know why? And for those that did please share your highlights.

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Urban agriculture added to the Living Building Challenge and more

Posted on November 13, 2009

Yesterday I heard Eden Brukman present briefly on the updates to the Living Building Challenge - v2.0 - and was excited about the inclusion of Urban Agriculture, among other new features.

The Challenge now also includes 'car free living', 'biophilia', 'human scale and humane places', 'democracy and social justice' and 'rights to nature' - a few of these under the new 'Petal of Equity.'

Not sure what a Petal is?

Urban agriculture, now a part of the Living Building Challenge
Petals are the category areas such as Site, Water, Energy, Health, Materials, Equity and Beauty. Petals are subdivided into a total of twenty Imperatives, each of which are required to achieve Living Building Status. Imperatives are renamed (formerly Prerequisites), and rightly so!

Within one performance based rating system, the Challenge covers small and large scopes of buildings and communities.  Good going guys.

From partial building renos to entire new construction projects, individual landscape to infrastructure projects and whole communities, 'scale jumping' within the system is permitted.  It's the bookshelf concept that USGBC is only beginning fully realize.

The performance requirement of one year of continuous operation remains the same.

Go straight to the source here, and download the new rating system today!

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What others are saying about Greenbuild

Posted on November 12, 2009

If you want to follow Greenbuild from a couple of other perspectives, check out John Jennings posts on the Betterbricks site:

http://blog.betterbricks.com/design/

Penny Bonda's perspective is always fresh and engaging:

http://www.interiordesign.net/blog/1860000586.html#940050494

And if you want the party line, visit:

http://www.greenbuildexpo.org/News/blog.aspx

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