When we're talking about solving big problems there is a division between those who believe new technology will hold the key and those who believe things need to change now, even if we don't have the perfect tools. That division was highlighted at yesterday's talk on energy and climate by Bill Gates.
Bill Gates, former Microsoft CEO and co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, spoke at Climate Solutions' annual breakfast May 10. Our story on his talk is here and there are
“The thing I think is the most under-invested in is basic R&D,” he said. “That's something only the government will do. Over the next couple of decades, we have to invent and pilot, and in the decades after that we have to deploy in an unbelievably fast way, these sources.”
But even during the breakfast, this division between work in the future and work now was felt. Dean Allen, CEO of McKinstry, spoke before Gates did. He said technological silver bullets are great but "it's often not best to wait for superman. It's sometimes better to figure out how to take practical and profitable real time solutions where we live.", go here.
Later, in a briefing with journalists, KC Golden, Climate Solutions' policy director, said he doesn't think all our problems will be solved by public funding. Public money isn’t a panacea, he said, but it is a critical piece of the solution for the energy sector “because the way the regulated economy works starves the energy sector of R&D money and innovation.”
If we are going to solve the energy and climate problems, what do you think we should be concentrating on - innovation or current work? Of course, the true solution would and most likely will (if we find it) include both. But which area do you think deserves more attention?
"The suit argues the USGBC is fraudulently misleading consumers and fraudulently misrepresenting energy performance of buildings certified under its LEED rating systems, and that LEED is harming hte environment by leading consumers away from using proven energy-saving strategies," the article says.
The lawsuit looks like it is based at least in part on research by Washington's very own New Buildings Institute.
I don't know the details so I will refer you to those that do: first, read the excellent Environmental Building News Article. For a more opinionated article, check out this Treehugger piece. For a lawyer's take, go to Green Building Law here. If you read the articles, don't forget the comments. There's some pretty interesting opinions.
This blog has covered green building problems before. For our related archives, click the tag 'problems' below.
According to the audit, the "partnership circumvented state contracting laws, exceeded its purchasing authority and made unallowable purchases with public funds."
I just spoke with Frank Mendizabal, spokesperson for the partnership, who said the agency has made a number of changes already in response to the audit but will continue "tweaking" its operations in the future.
For more information, check out the KUOW story here.
If I were to take a poll, I bet that nine out of 10 people have seen at least one episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (commonly called ABC’s Extreme Home Makeover). I have now worked on two episodes and the most recent one was the first time ever in seven seasons that they have allowed a group to completely disassemble a home to the ground. I was asked to fly out and help deconstruct a 2,700-square-foot, two-story home in 15 hours, and that is exactly what we did.They immediately found ways to incorporate the materials in their plans and much of the lumber will never be more than a block away from the property. It is true that the show has its critics. Many of them complain to me that it glorifies demolition. If I had a TV, I would watch the show on a regular basis, but the few episodes I have seen do make demolition look ‘fun’.
Hopefully, we have opened the door for them on alternatives to demolition. Each show I watch seems to have a growing focus on green building and this might be the next step for them. Given the tight timeframe allowed for demolition and site work until now, they really haven’t had a choice. Our industry offered them no solutions given their extreme situation. For me, this is all part of the path toward making green building a mainstream choice, systematically pursuing projects that we couldn’t touch years ago, until we become an option for anyone interested. Over the last 16+ years working in the green building field, I have realized that my work consists of one part natural resource conservation, one part reduced energy demand and two parts basically helping people. This is the path of Extreme Home Makeover, so keep watching and encouraging them to raise the bar higher, because that is exactly, what I plan to do.
The Washington Policy Center, a conservative think-tank whose mission is to "improve lives through market solutions," has issued a report on green buildings in the state that has less than stellar results.
However, the center is not totally a nonpartial organization. And the study, which is not even a full four
Nevertheless, the points brought up in the study are of interest. The gist is that performance-based contracting in Washington State and schools that use the Washington State High Performance Schools Protocol have mixed results. Some save energy, some don't and many have long pay back times. Additionally, the study says there is often not enough information available to track how much energy is actually being saved.
These are important issues that need to be studied on the local level. But I'd like to see them investigated in a more thorough and scientific manner.
The study also proposes three solutions to the problem: rigorous audits of green projects, local control and flexibility as state mandated "cookie-cutter" approaches don't always work, and accountability in holding agencies and contractors responsible for project results. The study says "if there are no costs for the agency or contractor for failing to achieve energy savings targets, there is unlikely to be strict enforcement or effective auditing. Without those elements, savings are not likely to materialize."
In general, these suggestions do make sense. Green projects should be audited and if something is wrong with the design, that information needs to circulate back to the architect so they can learn from their mistakes. Flexibility often has beneficial results (though I don't know I'd go so far as to change state policy on that front). And there should be some level of accountability for projects or team members that don't meet their goals.
Now, how do you think we should do this? I've heard that rough times (ie the past year, anyone?) are the best times to make sweeping changes to the way we work. But I find it hard to imagine legislators moving on requiring audits or some level of accountability in green building at any point in the near future.
Ignoring the study's flakiness, is the Washington Policy Center right with their three suggestions? In a perfect world, what would you want to see? What is the best way to ensure that green buildings are living up to their planned predictions?
In case you missed it, I wrote a story in yesterday's DJC about how Intracorp Marketing & Sales had been hired by Bank of America to finish and sell the remaining 17 properties at Ashworth Cottages. Ashworth Cottages, Seattle's first LEED platinum housing project, went into foreclosure in August.
Last May, I wrote a post about what went wrong at Ashworth here and it has been one of my most popular
When the homes came on the market, they were priced between $739,000 and $950,000. Today, they are priced between $399,000 and $649,000. Of the original 20 homes, 17 went into foreclosure. Since those 17 homes went on the market in a soft opening last week, eight of them have received purchase and sale agreements as of Wednesday, according to Jeff Smallwood of Intracorp.
In the article, I reference a few of your comments that said the price point was too high, even if they were LEED platinum. I wish I could have referenced more comments; they were so varied and insightful.
Today, Smallwood said the homes are probably selling at a little below market value and that the LEED features are mentioned by every buyer so far. But what does this say about green, expensive projects? While Ashworth is the prime example because it has had such a public story told, it's not the only one. A number of super green expensive projects - haven't sold. Or are being used for different purposes by the developer.
In my original Ashworth post, Anne Whitacre had a great comment that developers may expect green buyers to pay more because their utility bills will be lower over the life of a building. But if people don't expect to stay in a building for years, then they can't really take that value into account. This is why institutions, schools and nonprofits are often more likely than private developers to jump on the green bandwagon.
A few other commenters said they had been excited and interested in Ashworth but the price tag was just too much. How much of a premium would you pay for a super green house? Five percent? Ten percent? Nothing?
Similarly, if my price range is $950,000 I have a lot of options. I could buy a great, old house with a lot of character for $650,000 (especially in today's market) and then spend $300,000 rehabbing it with super green features. For that much money, I could make a lot of green improvements that were functional and tailored to what I wanted AND I would be saving and improving an old structure, rather than sending whatever originally existed to the dump. Even if you recycle the majority of your construction waste, some of it still ends up being tossed.
A number of green builders believe that the market is ready to pay more for green projects and a number of studies support this to different variations. (There's this study on local green certified homes, this study on national commercial buildings and this one on four local examples).
But in today's economy, where is the line drawn? How much more are people willing to pay if they're willing to pay more at all? And would this be a different situation in a better economy?
I'd love to hear your thoughts, your response to Ashworth's situation and anything you know about other high priced green projects that haven't sold or have been in a similar situation.
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
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.