DJC Green Building Blog

Living Future Unconference: the future is a strange mix of doom and hope (so far)

Posted on May 6, 2010

This is my fourth Living Future Unconference. With the expection of last year's talk by Janine Benyus, each keynote talk has been somewhat doom-filled. Well, last night's talk by James Howard Kunstler was the most frightening and depressing of all.

HOWEVER, that's not to say it was a bad talk. It was a great talk. Just sweeping, opinionated and scary.

Kunstler basically said that our entire future is going to change and quick. In the next five years, he said air

Is this what we want our cities of the future to look like?
traffic and flying will be a thing of the past. It will become so expensive that it will become an elite sport: the rich will do it and the rest of us won't. Another thing we won't be doing is driving everywhere. Here are other things that will be totally different: suburbs, skyscrapers, green building, schools, food production and daily life.

Education he said, will be done mostly via homeschooling and groups of homeschooled kids. This will give children an 8th grade education level, he said, which is better than current college students are receiving.

Green skyscrapers he said don't exist. It's greenwashing. Skyscrapers will become abandoned and unused.

Suburbs, he said, will just plain die. They have four futures: 1. Being retrofitted, 2. becoming salvage yards, 3. Becoming slums and 4. becoming ruins. A very small amount of suburbs, he said, will be retrofitted. Those that will be will be located strategically near waterways or other useful things for human civilazation.

As a society, he said we better start changing things and getting used to this different future RIGHT NOW.

I just finished an educational session with Bill Reed. He mentioned "wanting to slit your throat" after listening to Kunstler and other similar speakers.

On the other hand, this morning's keynote by Jason McLennan, CEO of the Cascadia Green Building Council totally counteracted the idea that our world is doomed. We have a choice, he said. To move forward and create a brilliant future or to not. The future, he said, is not set in stone. We have every possibility in the world to make it ours. (Bill Reed echoed this theme, saying the future doesn't have to be as negative as some people believe).

McLennan said we need to recognize human failure and feel that pain. Then we must "make a difference in the time that we have."

It's been an interesting dichotomoy of ideas so far that leads to internal pondering of philosphy. Living Future, as always, does just that: it makes you think. Now onto the rest of the day....

If you're interested in up to the minute updates on the conference, follow me on Twitter @KatieZemtseff.

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Next week is going to be crazy with loads of green events!

Posted on April 30, 2010

Next week, there is an insane amount of green building events. Having so much in one week makes it really tough to decide what to attend. I have an idea of where I'll be, what about you?

Here are the green events I know about. I'm sure there are a number of others that are just not on my radar. If

You\'ll be running from event to event next week!
you know of any others in the Seattle area, feel free to post them in the comments below.

  • Cascadia's Living Future Unconference will run from May 5 to 7 at The Westin Seattle. This is the fourth Living Future and the first time it will have made its circular round back to the same city (it began in Seattle in 2007, then was in Vancouver, B.C. in 2008, then was in Portland in 2009. I've been to each conference and would highly recommend it). The conference costs $695 for Cascadia members and $760 for general registration. Speakers include James Howard Kunstler, Jason McLennan, Pliny Fisk, John Francis and Bill Reed.
  • AIA Seattle's What Makes It Green? Judging will be held next week, in conjunction with Living Future. The event costs $5 for members of AIA and other organizations and $20 for non-members. Judges include Bob Berkebile of BNIM, Donald Horn of the General Service Administration's Office of Federal High Performance Green Buildings, Claire Johnson of Atelier Ten and Alex Steffen of Worldchanging. The talk will be moderated by Nadav Malin of BuildingGreen. The event runs from 1 to 4 p.m. at Seattle City Hall on Wednesday.
  • Also connected with Living Future is King County's GreeenTools Government Confluence. This conference focuses on sustainability at the government level but has a stellar line up  of speakers. Speakers include Bill Reed of the Integrative Design Collaborative, Lucia Athens of CollinsWoerman and Dr. Dickson Despommier of Columbia University. There are a number of registration opportunities and fees that vary, based on whether you are a King County employee or not and whether you are attending Living Future. Click on the link above for more info
  • On May 5, the Washington Foundation for the Environment is holding a talk on the region's environmental protections. The talk beings at 7 p.m. and will be at the K&L Gates Offices at 925 Fourth Avenue on the 29th floor. Speakers include Washington State Department of Ecology director Ted Sturdevant and Environmental Protection Agency Region X director Dennis McLerran. The two will discuss their plans to protect the region's waters, air and land. The event is free but RSVPS are required. RSVP to info@wffe.org.
  • Next week is also Seattle Sweden Week. There is a conference called Business Focus-Edays, which focuses on clean technology, sustainable development and global health. There are a number of interesting sessions. For more on the conference, go here.  As part of Seattle Sweden Week, there will also be a talk at the University of Washington on May 5 from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. in Parrington Hall. The talk is called Narratives on Sustainability: Gustav Froding, Thomas Transtromer and others. More info on that here.
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What role do cities play in sustainability? Seattle and Vancouver at the Globe 2010 Conference

Posted on March 24, 2010

I'm at the Globe 2010 Conference in Vancouver, B.C. where I just attended the keynote session. For those of you that don't know this conference, it is focused on the business of sustainability, and the idea that environmental problems provide an opportunity to create business and economic solutions.

Speakers during the keynote included Gregor Roertson, mayor of Vancouver; Frank Wouters, chief executive of Masdar Power, Abu Dhabi, UAE; and James Suciu, president of global sales and marketing for GE Energy in Atlanta, Ga.

The speakers discussed a number of things: Robertson talked about how the successful 2010 Olympics has

Vancouver, B.C.
put Vancouver on the global map, Wouters spoke about the potential for collecting energy and the creation of his company's green city in the desert; and Suciu spoke about GE's commitment to the future green economy.

But all of them focused on cities in some way, and the power cities have to effect change. Robertson discussed how Vancouver, B.C. aims to be the greenest city in the world by 2020 and how it is moving towards that goal. But Vancouver is just one of many cities moving in this direction. He said it is the city's job to push policy and business forward, as national governments have become "frustratingly stagnant."

"The cities are destined to be the major partners with green business in creating the change and prosperity that we need."

He said cities that aggressively target this sweet spot between supporting business and driving public policy will lead the future, while pulling more business to them, causing economic success.

I'm wondering where this balance exists. How much of the responsibility rests with cities, and how much rests with federal governments? Anyone have an answer?

Vancouver is doing this in a number of ways. The city council recently voted to have all new buildings going through the rezoning process in the city shoot for LEED gold as of July of this year, he said. It also has the highest number of entrepreurs in North America and a number of federal and municipal incentives, such as paying half the salary of R+D workers.

"A generation ago, our goals would have been seen as an obstacle to business but in 2010, they are a huge opportunity."

Of course, when I hear about Vancouver and all the great goals they are targeting and achieving, I inevitably compare it to Seattle. It is striking to me that in Vancouver, all buildings going through the rezoning process (representing most buildings built in Vancouver) will have to be LEED gold while in Seattle, you can still get away with building a project in the city that doesn't have to achieve any green certification at all. Seattle's green building team is currently working on an update of its green code and is looking at enhancing it... but on these sweeping issues it seems like Vancouver is always one step ahead of us.

(Is Vancouver greener than Seattle overall? Answer our new poll at right!)

In this post, Brent Todarian, director of planning for the city of Vancouver, says the LEED gold move wasn't made without difficulty, but still, it happened. Here's how he described it:  "Although Council conveyed sympathy and understanding for the industry's challenges, and sought to provide flexibility and further consultation and partnership on the details, they ultimately chose to take another key step toward our greenest city goal."

What would happen if Seattle took that lead, especially in this down market? Would we be able to achieve a similar goal and would we even want to? In this down market, is it the time to be making these type of changes or should we leave it for another day? Thoughts to chew on.

Anyway, I'll be here until Friday and will post more updates as the conference goes on. I have a feeling cities and their power to create change is going to be a big theme....

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Bullitt wants to go off the water grid: realistically, will it be able to?

Posted on March 17, 2010

I have a story in today's paper on The Bullitt Foundation's proposed living building on Capitol Hill. The project is fascinating: it aims to create all its own energy, produce and treat all its own water and re-energize the neighboring park among other points.

The project has a lot of interesting aspects. However the one I'm most interested in is the water angle. The building hopes to break the mold by capturing all its rainwater off the roof, which will be held in an underground cistern, according to Colleen Mitchell, project manager with 2020 Engineering. Then, some of the water will be treated by UV filters, pumped to faucets throughout the building and used as potable (or drinking) water. Some of the water will be sent to toilets, which will use one pint per flush. All waste from the toilets will be sent to a composting container in the basement, where it will slowly compost and be used for the building's greenhouse. The greenhouse will run up the south side of the building with plants on each level. Urine from the toilets will go to four tanks in the basement where it will stabilize and be sterilized over a three-month time period. After three months, one part urine will be mixed with eight parts greywater (or the water that goes down faucets). That mix will be sent to the greenhouse where it will be evapotranspired by plants with nutrients from urine being used for fertilization.

I've got a rendering of what the system will look like here:

This is what the water system will look like. Click on image to enlarge.

Image courtesy 2020 Engineering

The system is incredibly cutting edge and will set an amazing precedent if permitted. And the 'if,' dear readers, is a big 'if.'

Unfortunately, the precedent is one of the things that probably has permitting agencies worried. Last June, I attended a forum on water attended by a number of speakers. One of them was Steve Deem of the state health department. Going off the water grid is great in theory, he said, but architects, developers and engineers don't generally understand that if a project provides water, it is responsible for the building's water forever. That raises a lot of health and safety issues.

Secondly, there's the issue of charges and rates. King County is in the process of building Brightwater, its massive, multi-million-dollar water treatment plant outside Woodinville. Brightwater gets paid for in part by capacity charges, fees and rates from users. From what I've heard from multiple sources, projects are welcome to go off the water grid, as long as they pay those hook up fees and charges. For most developers, this is a turnoff because they are paying twice - once for the water system and once for the hook up. Bullitt has yet to finalize these details with the county. Chris Rogers of development partner Point32 said, "There will be conversations with the county and other players to understand what sort of levies there will be for something that we don't use."

At that same June meeting, Christie True, director of the King County Wastewater Treatment Division, said it's a social justice issue. If developers don't pay for wastewater infrastructure, people with fewer resources will end up paying more.

Last April, Ray Hoffman, acting director of Seattle Public Utilities, said on-site water treatment is not moving forward in the Puget Sound area because of bureaucracy. "There are institutional barriers on both the public and private side that prevent things that are readily available from getting off the shelf and into the ground."

These are some of the issues Bullitt faces in trying to go off the water grid. I don't envy them the process but it will be an amazing achievement if they succeed.

When I asked him about the difficult code issues he was about to face, Denis Hayes of Bullitt said all agencies are on the same page in wanting to see innovative projects happen. "We’ll take that robust optimism until somebody in authority says we shouldn't have it."

What do you think, readers? Just how important is this project and what kind of a precedent will it set? Will it succeed in getting off the water grid and are the health and social justice issues valid concerns? I'd love to hear from you on this topic.

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What Makes it Green judges announced

Posted on March 11, 2010

Yesterday, AIA Seattle announced the judges of its What Makes it Green competition, described two posts down. They are:

Bob Berkebile, founding principal of BNIM Architects

Donald Horn, assistant director of General Service Administration's Office of Federal High Performance Green Buildings

Claire Johnson, head of the San Francisco office of environmental design and consulting firm Atelier Ten

Alex Steffen, executive editor of Worldchanging

and the moderator will be Nadav Malin, president of BuildingGreen LLC

These is a pretty impressive list of judges and their conversation on which projects should win promises to be equally interesting. If you want to attend the jurying session, it will be May 5 from 1 to 4 p.m. at Seattle City Hall as part of the Living Future 2010 Conference.

For further bios on the judges, visit AIA here.

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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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Al Gore and Sheryl Crow start Greenbuild off right

Posted on November 12, 2009

Amidst the energy, networking and commotion of Greenbuild, last night's keynote by Al Gore set the stage for the attendees ramping up their time here in Phoenix.  Gore was met with laughter as he told the same old

Sheryl Crow sang at Greenbuild this year
jokes and then launched into his insightful 'rise up and speak out' message of finding courage in challenging times.  Whether in politics, or in the realm of development, Gore's message was age old - find your own voice, activate it, and reach out and activate others - as we currently have the technologies and tools at hand to solve our vast global crisis.

Rick Fedrizzi's opening message lacked the inspiration and insight of past years. The power of the founderand CEO's opening plenary came from the mass of voices from an international stage: leaders of the Green Building Councils of countries including Canada, New Zealand, India, South Africa, Germany, Italy and others. These international voices magnified the incredible work of the USGBC to forge hope and alliances around the world.

Sheryl Crow topped off the night, bridging industries with her incredible celebrity, musical talent and lust for life to the stage.  At least I heard Sheryl 'rocked,' as I grabbed the opportunity to network outside the venue. The truth is, as Sheryl sings, 'All I Want to Do Is Have Some Fun...'

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24,000 attendees, 1,800 booths: Critical Mass at Greenbuild?

Posted on November 12, 2009

Austin, Pittsburgh, Portland, Denver, Chicago, Boston...now Phoenix! Greenbuild has grown by leaps and bounds from the first year I was inspired by this movement, at my first Greenbuild in Pittsburgh. As I look around at all of the people, booths, products, educational sessions - a plethora and flurry of excitement washes over me.

Have we finally reached the critical mass to ‘main street green’ as USGBC suggests?

As usual, it’s great to touch in with practitioners from around the country who helped launch this movement over a decade ago, and to be reminded of just how much Pacific Northwest is infused in the spirit of this movement. The Lucia Athens, the Jim Goldman’s, the Lynne Barker’s and the Tom Paladino’s of the world are beaming in the glow of the energy of this place.

While we celebrate Turner’s 100th LEED building and a clinking of glasses, we recognize our job is far from done. This is just the beginning. Now is not the time to rest. Now is not the time to congratulate ourselves on a job well done.

We need to continuously pull the movement forward with hope and optimism and I’m proud to stand by the International Living Building Institute as Jason McLennan, Eden Brukman and others roll out the evolution in the way we redefine our buildings within the context of our current paradigm.

This morning I heard ‘Re-membering: the Patterns of Living Systems’ from Bill Reed, Penny Bonda, Jon Boecker, Dayna Baumeister and am reminded that again, the key to transformation is all about an evolutionary mindset. I recognize the complete mindset shift that needs to take place if we are going to save our planet from ourselves.

The messages are compelling, and I wonder, are the masses getting the right message? Let’s see what Rick Fedrizzi, Al Gore and Sheryl Crow (?!!??!) have to say tonight.  Stay tuned!

Marni Jade Evans, the Living Project

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Svend Auken has died – local event will celebrate his life

Posted on October 27, 2009

Patricia Chase of International Sustainable Solutions sent out an e-mail recently regarding the death of Svend

Svend Auken
Svend Auken

Auken, the Danish gentleman who helped turn Denmark into the energy efficient country it is today. He passed away in August. When Auken was last in town in June of 2008, I had the honor of personally interviewing him after his talk at city hall. My story, available here,  focuses on how Auken said green was a very tangible and possible thing as long as government set rules and got involved. He suggested rules regulating energy use per square foot of a building. I also blogged about our discussion here.

An event will celebrate his life Nov. 6 at 5:30 p.m. It will be held at the Nordic Heritage Museum, 3014 N.W. 67th St., Seattle.

Here's what Chase wrote in the e-mail:

"I was sadly aware the last time I had the pleasure of enjoying Svend Auken's company, that it might be the last. In spite of weekly blood transfusions, radiation, slurred speech (terrible for someone who loved to talk as much as he did), Svend insisted I come over to sit on his veranda with him, drink his favorite Barolo, and talk about everything from how grateful he was to have reconnected with the Pacific Northwest to the perilous situation with Israel and Gaza. Fully aware that all treatments had failed to halt his prostate cancer, Svend was still as optimistic and full of life as ever. He was excited about his recent speech to Congress about Denmark's energy independence, and believed that his party, the Social Democrats, were poised to regain government. In spite of his condition, he was actively campaigning for people in his party, and was looking forward to upcoming travels. Svend was grateful that he had been able to reconnect with the Pacific Northwest in the past few years. As a student for one year at WSU, in the heady era of the Kennedy administration, Svend took his first steps in his political career as a campus organizer for civil rights in America. The people of the Pacific Northwest were very important to him, and every time he visited, he gave us 250%."

I'll leave you with what he said the last time he was here in Seattle: “If we want to change, we can change. We have the instruments and if we can't do it, who can do it."

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What’s greener: high-rises or LEED buildings?

Posted on October 13, 2009

Last week, I attended a Town Hall lecture by David Owen, a columnist at the New Yorker and author of the book 'Green Metropolis.'

Owen spoke about his own experience of living in both Manhattan and in the countryside, and about which is greener (cities because people have everything they need at their fingertips).

But he also said something striking: that big, tall buildings in cities are actually the greenest projects we

Inherently green?
have, not projects that are LEED certified. High-rises get lots of people working in one space. That gets lots of people living nearby and walking between the two. The effects of this and the concentration of people, he said, is far, far greener than a LEED certified project in the middle of nowhere (though he didn't mention if it were greener than a LEED certified high-rise in the city). The premise touches on one of the main problems of LEED: that it only looks at pieces instead of the whole.

For example, Owen discussed Sprint's (now Sprint Nextel) headquarters outside of Kansas City, Mo. The corporate campus, he said, consists of 15,000 employees spread among a 50 building low-rise campus. The space also has 15 parking lots and an underground parking garage, providing one parking space per worker because everyone has to drive to the headquarters in the middle of nowhere. Though the campus was planned before LEED came out, one of the buildings at the site ended up receiving LEED certification. The space also preserves 200 acres of property as open space.  How is this a greener situation, he asked, then simply letting the farmland be that had previously existed?

He argued that setting up a business in a location that requires car travel is not green, even if the buildings are certified as such.

Should buildings in the middle of nowhere receive LEED certification? And should organizations that are about sustainability - like the Rocky Mountain Institute and its headquarters in Snowmass, Colo. - be held to a higher level of accountability and locate in a dense area? Or is there value to having great environmentally friendly buildings in the wilderness?

I suppose it comes down to what you prioritize and what you think the future of cities and urban planning is.

In this economy as well, it's worth noting that cities across the nation have vacant high-rise buildings that currently are not at capacity, and are likely wasting large amounts of energy.

What do you think? Is Owen right on or way off base? If Owen is right - and the greenest project is in a city be it LEED certified or not is a high-rise - than should LEED reflect this in its rating system and how so?

Incidentally, his book also argues that New York City is the greenest city in the world. That seemed to touch an interesting nerve at Portland's The Environmental Blog here.

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