One of the hottest real estate stories of the week is the news that Skanska is bringing its commercial development division to Seattle, signifying it sees growth in the regional market.
My colleague at the DJC, Benjamin Minnick, reported the news here. In the story, he reports that
The move is especially notable because Skanska will self-finance all its projects and says it won't necessarily develop projects owners are currently doing, such as apartments in today's times. Instead, the story says Skanska will look at the long term and what is a good buy now.
That's interesting obviously, because of the freedom Skanska has to build what it wants. But it also speaks to the potential for sustainable buildings.
Most developer's green goals are constrained by the cost of super green technologies. I've been told that green projects up to around LEED gold can be done at cost if you begin early. But if you want to go for the super green stuff - net zero energy, Living Building certification, fancy new technologies - there's still a hefty premium, even if there's a huge benefit.
According to the story, Skanska has already said all its projects built locally will meet LEED gold or higher standards, and will be located in urban core areas with strong employment growth. To read the company's sustainability policy, click here (beware- it's pretty overwhelming).
By self-financing its own projects, Skanska, already a leading green general contractor, has the opportunity to do some really incredible things. Additionally, if they plan to hold onto projects for a long time, rather than flip them, they have more of an incentive to invest in green technologies that only pay off over the long term.
I'm curious to see what kind of projects they pursue, what kind of sustainable goals they target, and what kind of green technologies they might choose to pursue that others wouldn't be able to. Of course, they could simply go the LEED gold route. Or they could build something really innovative.
If projects were self-financed and held onto for a longer amount of time, do you think we'd end up with a larger quantity of super green buildings? Or do you think teams would stick to the status quo?
We've got some exciting green events this week.
The biggest, and most flamboyant by far, is a fundraiser for Great City called the "Fete du Flaneur." The fete is a fundraiser for the nonprofit, which advocates for urban livability and sustainability. The nonprofit has
also spawned a large portion of Seattle's current mayoral administration, many of which will be in attendance. Mayor Mike McGinn, Great City's founder, will be at the event, as will Deputy Mayor Darryl Smith and City Council Members Mike O'Brien and Tim Burgess.
The evening features never-ending drinks, munchies from local chefs (by Cafe Stellina and Sitka and Spruce), a silent auction, the crowing of the Great City-Cascade Land Conservancy Mustache Challenge and performance artists (a clown, an acrobat and Lily Verlaine burlesque).
Tickets are pretty well priced (compared to a general night on the town) at $45. So, if you're in the mood to shmooze and watch some fun performances Thursday, it's the place to be. For more information, go here. To buy tickets, go here. The event is at Melrose Market on Capitol Hill, a new space being developed by Liz Dunn and Scott Shapiro.
On a more somber but no less interesting note, Helle Soholt of Denmark's Gehl Architects will give a lecture on Tuesday on how Seattle can become the most walkable city in America. The lecture is at the Seattle Art Museum at 6 p.m.
It's a big day in the environment for the U.S.
First, the long-awaited climate talks have begun in Copenhagen. Second, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has formally determined that greenhouse gas pollution is dangerous, setting the stage for the U.S. to regulate emissions through the Clean Air Act.
Though I know about these issues, I'm not a national news reporter, so let me point you to some great resources regarding these two very important events:
If you're looking for a local perspective, nonprofit Climate Solutions' eco guru K.C. Golden is attending the talks. He'll be posting periodically on the CS Journal.
There's also this resource for journalists that I'm sharing with you (shhh, don't tell).
On a bit of a side note, there is an excellent look at how green Denmark really is, reported by Henry Chu of the Los Angeles Times and carried in today's Seattle Times. The article points out that Danes throw out more waste than Americans and eat more meat than we do (whodathunkit?) However, what struck me most was although Danish people throw out more waste than we do, only 5 percent of that waste ends up in a landfill, compared with 54 percent in the U.S. (Washington's recycling rate was 55 percent in 2008. Seattle recycles 50 percent of its waste).
Patricia Chase of International Sustainable Solutions sent out an e-mail recently regarding the death of Svend
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."
Remember that time, last July or August, when you caught a view of the Puget Sound out of the corner of your eye... maybe above Pike Place Market. Maybe crossing a ferry to Bainbridge. Maybe at Discovery Park. And you just thought to yourself 'Wow.'
Hold that memory in your head. Now imagine what this region would be without Puget Sound. If you voted for the Pike Place Market property tax levy because of the
market's intrinsic value to this community, then imagine how much more intrinsic is that body of water that is an environmental and economic driver of the Pacific Northwest.
Guess what, it's sick. It's really, really sick. So sick, the Puget Sound Partnership has spent the last 18 months figuring out what it would take to cure it with its draft action agenda. But hold your horses, the document is still only a draft and is ready to change based on your comments.
If you care about the sound... or would like to have future memories with the sound in it, I'd read my story in the DJC tomorrow, check the action agenda out here, and start investigating the issue and how you can make a difference. It's worth it.
For anyone who looks to Denmark as a beacon of shining light in green and efficient design, tomorrow is there an event for you!
The University of Washington is hosting a free talk on sustainable design in the Pacific Northwest and in Denmark. Speakers are Louise Grassov of Gehl Architects in Copenhagen, Jim Huffman of Busby Perkings + Will, and Roger Geller of the city of Portland's Office of Transportation. Peter Steinbrueck of Urban Strategies will moderate. The talk is called "Urban Design for Walkable, Bikable Cities."
This lecture series, called Global Green, is presented by the Green Futures Research and Design Lab. I've been to two of them so far and I highly recommend them. For more information, visit http://greenfutures.washington.edu/events.php.
This week, I (and a packed crowd at Seattle City Hall) heard Svend Auken, Denmark's former minister for energy and the environment, speak about everything from energy to economics to the U.S.'s responsibility in a climate-conscious world (sign a post Kyoto agreement, lead the way).
Then, I sat down with him in a one-on-one interview to focus his attention a little bit more on buildings. What should we do, I asked? How should the construction industry attack the problem of a changing world?
His answer? Government.
Government, he said, needs to make very, very strict rules and make it clear to people what they want out of a building. A good way to encourage that, he said, is by requiring an energy goal per square foot of a building rather than a whole-building goal. Once the goal is set, the industry will follow.
Of course government in Denmark is managed differently than government in Seattle and Washington. On multiple occasions, for example, Diane Sugimura, DPD's director, has expressed exasperation at creating a balance between energy codes and letting untested technologies be used. As a city government, she's said, you don't want to just start using something that might be more efficient but hasn't been adequately tested. In Denmark, you can be fairly creative as long as you achieve the end energy goal.
But Auken said government has to be very strong on this. Yes, people will moan for a while, he said, but in the end it will make them more creative and will be more profitable (especially in an age of rising oil costs where energy bills are sure to "skyrocket").
"Once you let architects think in terms of energy efficiency, they get more creative," he said. "Architects love to do low energy, it's so much more fun."
How about it architects? Are energy efficient buildings (like London's BedZED project above) more fun or a pain in the bum?
For more on Denmark, read my post from last week (click tag 'Scandinavia' below). For more on Auken's talk, what Denmark did and how we could do it, check out my story here.
Face it: everyone who's anyone in green design says the U.S. is way behind Europe. And one of the areas outpacing us further and further... is Scandinavia.
Scandinavia's sustainable strengths are no new feat in Seattle. Local group International Sustainable Solutions has been taking local building and city professionals there for years on a whirlwind eco-tourist trip. It is just about getting ready to kick of a Portland version of the trip, more here.
Scandinavian speakers have also graced the Seattle scene every couple of months to teach us what we don't know. One of them, Svend Auken, is going to be in Seattle again on Monday from noon to 1 p.m. He will be speaking at Seattle City Hall in the Bertha Landes room.
Scandinavia also reared its green head when I attended a forum at the UW a couple of weeks ago. At that forum, Jayson Antonoff of Seattle's green building team (formerly with ISUSTAIN) spoke about how Scandinavia has focused on energy efficiency by looking at different energy producers, varying it's idea of energy, and requiring buildings to meet an energy requirement per square foot.
For more on that story, and to learn what other sustainability leaders in the Pacific Northwest think about green solutions, check out the story in the DJC here.