Category Archives: Problems

What’s missing in green buildings? Training

The following post is from Washington State University:

More than one-third of new commercial building space includes energy-saving features, but without training or an operator’s manual many occupants are in the dark about how to use them.

Julia Day recently published a paper in Building and Environment that for the first time shows that occupants who had effective training in using the features of their high-performance buildings were more satisfied with their work environments. Day did the work as a doctoral student at Washington State University; she is now an assistant professor at Kansas State University.

Julia Day

She was a WSU graduate student in interior design when she walked into an office supposedly designed for energy efficiency and noticed that the blinds were all closed and numerous lights were turned on. The building had been designed to use daylighting strategies to save energy from electric lighting.

After inquiring, Day learned that cabinetry and systems furniture throughout the building blocked nearly half of the occupants from access to the blind controls. Only a few determined folks would climb on or under their desks to operate the blinds.

“People couldn’t turn off their lights, and that was the whole point of implementing daylighting in the first place,” she said. “The whole experience started me on my path.”

Working with David Gunderson, professor in the WSU School of Design and Construction, Day looked at more than 50 high-performance buildings across the U.S. She gathered data, including their architectural and engineering plans, and did interviews and surveys of building occupants.

She examined how people were being trained in the buildings and whether their training was effective. Sometimes, she learned, the features were simply mentioned in a meeting or a quick email was sent to everyone, and people did not truly understand how their actions could affect the building’s overall energy use.

Green-building occupants aren't always taught how to use the building's energy-saving features.

One LEED gold building had lights throughout to indicate the best times of day to open and close windows to take advantage of natural ventilation. A green light indicated it was time to open windows.

“I asked 15 people if they knew what the light meant, and they all thought it was part of the fire alarm system,” she said. “There’s a gap, and people do not really understand these buildings.”

According to CBRE Research, the amount of commercial space that is certified as high-performance in energy efficiency through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star or U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED has grown from 5.6 percent of commercial space in 2005 to 39.3 percent at the end of 2013.

Yet in many cases, the corporate culture of energy use in buildings hasn’t caught up. While at home our mothers nagged us to turn off the lights when we left a room or to shut the door because “you don’t live in a barn,” office culture has often ignored and even discouraged common-sense energy saving.

Day found that making the best use of a highly efficient building means carefully creating a culture focused on conservation. In buildings with an energy-focused culture, workers were engaged, participated and were satisfied with their building environment.

“If they received good training, they were more satisfied and happier with their work environment,” she said.

She is working to develop an energy lab and would like to develop occupant training programs to take advantage of high-performance buildings.

“With stricter energy codes, the expectations are that buildings will be more energy efficient and sustainable,” she said. “But we have to get out of the mindset where we are not actively engaged in our environments. That shift takes a lot of education, and there is a huge gap right now.”

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When it comes to certified wood, GSA is right to question LEED

The following post is by William Street:

Contrary to what Meghan Douris wrote in these pages in your Building Green issue (“Is LEED’s Future with Federal Projects Under Threat?” 2/28), the Government Services Administration is correct to seek opinion regarding LEED’s acceptability for public procurement projects, given the cost involved with LEED certification and LEED’s unfortunate discrimination against two respected and widely used certification standards, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and the American Tree Farm System (ATFS).

Photo by Luciano Burtini/

There's more than one forest certification system.

The fact that GSA is seeking input on their use of green building rating systems is a positive development. This will hopefully shed light on the problem with GSA’s use of the US Green Building Council’s LEED rating system. USGBC, unlike Green Building Councils in Italy, Germany or Australia — all of which recognize the importance of all forest certification systems — has been victimized by narrow interest groups seeking to push their own political agenda at the expense of actual science-based energy efficiency, local jobs, competitiveness and inclusivity. USGBC has never publicly explained why they only reward wood certified to the Forest Stewardship Council standard.

PEFC, the world’s largest and only purely non-profit forest certification system — which includes SFI and ATFS,  both of which are independent, non-profit, charitable organizations — has proven on every continent and in all governmental procurement and independent and neutral evaluations that it is a superior system to FSC. PEFC affiliates are recognized by Green Building Councils in many other countries, but not by the USGBC. Thus, wood products from SFI and ATFS are placed at a market disadvantage while forest products from FSC (many of which are sourced outside of the U.S.) are accepted, even though FSC‘s for-profit structure is not recognized by, and fails to comply with, the International Accreditation Forum (IAF) and ISO guidelines.

In the U.S., SFI and ATFS are the only forest certification systems to require and enforce compliance with the International Labor Organization’s core labor standards for forest workers.  Strong labor standards mean safer work, better wages, sustainable jobs and viable rural communities that depend on them.

Rather than attempt to create a monopoly for FSC, USGBC should do what practically every other national and third-party system has done: recognize and reward wood from all sustainably managed forests. To do otherwise is to promote deforestation in the tropics and the conversion of sustainably managed forests here into resorts, golf courses and second homes.

It’s well past time to stop fighting over the well-managed forests of North America and start speaking with a single voice to send a unified message to the rest of the world: that green buildings benefit from using wood from all sustainably managed forests. By speaking with a single voice, Americans can truly be a force against deforestation and the conversion of forests to other land uses.

William Street is director of the Woodworkers Department of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

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Bill Gates says technology holds the key to energy, climate. What do you think?

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

Image courtesy The Seattle Times
multiple other articles and accounts on the web. Gates basically said what he’s said before: we need major technological breakthroughs to solve climate and energy problems. To do this, he said the government needs to spend more than double the amount it currently does on research and development, and the private markets will follow. By breakthroughs, he means far-out technologies that will create a zero or very low carbon energy source. More money should be spent on renewable energy, carbon sequestration and nuclear energy, he said.

“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.”

Image courtesy Climate Solutions
Allen has a guest post on the Climate Solutions Blog here, if you’re further interested in his ideas. To watch Gates’ TED talk on a similar topic, 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?

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Majora Carter asks us to celebrate little achievements

Last night’s keynote presentation was a world away from last year’s. As depressing as James Kunstler’s talk was at Living Future 2010, Majora Carter’s was uplifting and inspiring. I figure that is the point.

In a very casual manner, Carter explained her history with the South Bronx and how she came

to be active in its revitalization. Really, it all came down to a dog. Carter was walking her dog Xena through her neighborhood when the dog led her past a pile of waste and crack viles to the Bronx River, which Carter didn’t really know existed. Seeing the river’s natural beauty so close to her home started Carter on a journey to develop green space along the river, and towards an effort of empowering people at the local level to care about their environment.

One big problem, she said, is that most people, especially those of color, view environmentalism as an upper middle class white movement that has “absolutely nothing” to do with them. Carter said part of her mission is to teach that “the environment” is really something everyone interacts with on a daily basis and that green elements can put money back in your pocket. In her talk, Carter championed green infrastructure such as green roof, and urban agriculture efforts.

Like the tea party, Carter said she believes in a smaller government. However, she believes this can be achieved by creating jobs for society’s most expensive citizens. The generationally impoverished, she said, or people who are in and out of jail or people coming back from war, use the most social services dollars. If these people had something to look forward to and some way to start paying the bills, less would return to jail or to patterns that use social service dollars. Carter works on such programs in her community, and supports others across the country.

For example, she referenced a program in Chicago called Sweet Beginnings led by Brenda Palms-Barber that teaches ex-offenders to harvest honey from beehives, turn it into skin products and market it. A year in jail costs $60,000. The national recidivism rate is 65 percent Carter said, and this program’s recidivism rate is 4.5 percent. The program saves society money while creating empowered workers, and keeping dollars from product sales in the local economy.

“Really all any of us want is something to look forward to,” she said. ” There’s Bronxe’s all over the place.”

Carter said everyone can further this type of goal by asking how your work, products or even material choice can create social well being. Carter said things like making sure  you have local hire provisions can have a big impact.

She also said it’s important to celebrate the small things. Because it’s the small things that really count.

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$100 million class action lawsuit filed against LEED, USGBC

According to Environmental Building News, Henry Gifford, owner of Gifford Fuel Saving, has filed a class action lawsuit in federal court against the U.S. Green Building Council and its founders.

“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.

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