Category Archives: Research

Getting ready for new stormwater rules

Herrera is testing to see whether new soil mixes can remove
more heavy metals and other pollutants from stormwater.

Herrera is conducting groundbreaking research to assess and optimize the performance of LID systems.

Herrera is conducting groundbreaking research to assess and optimize the performance of LID systems.

With all the cranes towering overhead in downtown Seattle, it’s easy to forget the important work going on below to manage and protect our water as the region grows.

To keep pace with this growth, Washington State is pioneering the use of new and innovative approaches for stormwater management.  As of next year all development projects must use low impact development (LID) techniques or green stormwater infrastructure where feasible.  Rain gardens, bioswales, green roofs, and permeable pavement will become the norm rather than the exception.

As the region makes this new investment to protect our water, everyone – regulators, project owners, designers, and the general public included – will want to be confident these technologies are providing the intended benefit.

Herrera Environmental Consultants, Inc. is conducting groundbreaking research to assess and optimize the performance of these systems.

For example, with grant funding from the Washington State Department of Ecology, Herrera is currently implementing two research projects to develop a more effective soil media for use in bioretention systems.

In partnership with Kitsap County, one of these projects has involved numerous pilot scale tests of soil media components and blends to optimize their removal of heavy metals and other harmful pollutants from stormwater.

Herrera has also partnered with the City of Redmond to construct a state-of-the-art research facility for evaluating pollutant removal and plant growth in bioretention systems at full-scale.

Herrera Environmental Consultants, Inc. is an employee-owned engineering and scientific firm focused on restoration, water, and sustainable development.  Herrera is committed to working with our clients to develop innovative and sustainable solutions for infrastructure, natural resources, and stormwater projects.  Herrera was recently featured as “favorite green collar company” by the Seattle Times.

For more information:
Melissa Buttin, Senior Marketing,  206.787.8248

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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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Study makes a case for developing more living buildings

The following post is by Kathleen O’Brien:

In early May, I traveled to Portland to the Cascadia Green Building Council’s annual Living Future Conference. I enjoyed the conference a lot, and especially the very practical financial focus in several of the sessions.


Moving the needle on real estate investment was the topic of a Living Future panel including Jason Twill (Vulcan), David Baker (Earth Economics), Theddi Wright Chappell (Cushman & Wakefield), Stuart Cowan (Autopoiesis). They noted that investment in sustainable real estate seems to be “topping out” in the market at this time — at LEED Platinum. Their hope is to help the market cross that barrier into higher realms of sustainable achievement, such as the Living Building Challenge.
Jason, David, Stuart, and Theddi are coauthors of “Economics of Change: Catalyzing the Investment Shift Towards a Restorative Built Environment.” The research study was funded by Bullitt Foundation, a long time supporter of environmental protection in the Northwest. The point of the study was to “provide evidence of monetized environmental and social benefits…currently not considered in conventional real estate model(s).” The authors hope to provide a defensible rationale for including these public and private benefits into investment models, appraiser methodologies, and supporting policies. This is especially important for U.S. real estate investments where ROI and IRR are the ultimate drivers of most transactions.
The report lays out the ABC’s, if you will, of Ecosystem Goods and Services, the potential Ecosystem Services that Living Buildings might provide, and finally the opportunity to measure, monetize, and value those ecosystem services. The study takes a scholarly approach, a step up from the early days when we in the green building field had to rely more on reason and intuition, since we had little real data to base our assumptions on. (Not that reason and intuition is bad…it’s what got us here, yes?).

"The Economics of Change"

The report also introduces the concept of integrated real estate investment modeling. From this layperson’s view, it seems to build on the conventional model, rather than replace it — an approach that makes a good deal of sense. The methodology they propose will allow many environmental and social benefits currently valued at zero to be seen as economically valuable, and therefore marketable. In the next phase of their work, they plan to produce detailed calculations and case studies of the environmental and social benefits of Living Buildings, test the impact of these values of valuation models or appraisals, and create an open source prototype of the integrated real estate investment marketing tool to “demonstrate how environmental and social benefits can be embedded within a pro forma in an new building development context.”
In addition to taking this tool out to the real estate development communities (appraisers and valuation specialists), they hope to provide a basis for changes in local, state, and federal policy that will acknowledge public benefits of Living Building development and incentivize it.
As Theddi noted, “right now investors are going for the low hanging fruit — energy efficiency — for example. We need to provide sufficient rationale if we want them to go beyond that.”

Hear, hear.

Kathleen O’Brien is a long time advocate for 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. Having recently sold her firm, O’Brien & Company, she is now focused on leadership work with those “still in the trenches.”  For more info see

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Read the DJC’s free Building Green Special Section

If you don’t have a subscription to the DJC or don’t click on our articles as they are locked, you might not know about our free special sections.

Special sections, written by people in a targeted industry for people in the industry, are free to read, meaning even you non-subscribers can access valuable information. Special sections come out about once a month and each section focuses on a different topic. This month’s excellent topic is Building Green and I am thoroughly impressed with the breadth of this year’s coverage.

The free special section is here.

In it, you’ll find this excellent article by Michelle Rosenberger and Nancy Henderson of ArchEcology called “Watch out for ‘greenwashing’ by service providers.” Among its interesting points, the article examines whether consultants can truly bring a LEED approach to a project without rigorous third party LEED certification.  Interesting item to bring up.

There’s this article by Constance Wilde of CB Richard Ellis reflecting on her personal experience of  becoming a Certified Green Broker, and its values and benefits.

There’s this great article by Joel Sisolak of the Cascadia Green Building Council called “Two Seattle projects set ‘net-zero’ water goals,” which looks at the region’s water infrastructure and two living buildings (The Bertschi School’s Science Wing and the Cascadia Center for Sustainable Design and Construction, both covered previously in this blog)  that plan to go off the water grid and their challenges in doing so.

Then there’s this article by Elizabeth Powers at O’Brien & Co. on whether green parking lots can be (gasp!) green. I’ll let you read the article to learn more.

The section also has articles from representatives of Skanska USA Building, Mithun, MulvannyG2, GGLO, Scott Surdyke, Sandra Mallory of the city of Seattle and CollinsWoerman on topics ranging from the city’s role in evolving practices to big box stores, student housing and public housing.

So go ahead, check it out and enjoy!

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King County develops new, green ‘EcoCribz’ video series

Yesterday, King County launched a video series called ‘EcoCribz.’ The series follows one family as they green-remodel their house and aims to teach viewers – you and I – valuable lessons while aiming us towards other green remodeling resources.

The first video, available here, profiles the Bangs family and their Issaquah home. It’s a fun tour that

Image courtesy King County
documents the family’s goal to create a more energy efficient home with better air quality.

Patti Southard, project manager for King County’s GreenTools Program and host of the series, said King County wanted to show people that green home remodeling creates healthy, comfortable spaces that can save money, increase home value and help protect the environment. The county also created helpful remodel tips for renters who are looking at paint and interior options like area rugs and eco-friendly bedding.

The series also illustrates how homeowners can use the county’s Eco-Cool Remodel Tool, another useful resource. Basically, it’s trying to get you to think about your choices before you remodel or build to create a greener space.

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Silver lining of the recession: better homes?

There’s a story from yesterday’s Associated Press which is absolutely fascinating, not just for what it says in print but for what it says between the lines.

The story, called ‘Homebuilders Sticking with Less-Is-More Approach,” talks about housing trends at the International Builders’ Show in Las Vegas.

An efficient townhouse project in Discovery Park that targeted LEED platinum certification
The Salveo. An efficient townhouse project in Discovery Park that targeted LEED platinum certification

There’s a few things in the story that caught my eye:

  • According to a survey from the National Association of Home Builders, the average size of an American house shrank about 100 square feet last year to about 2,400 square feet while the percentage of homes with three or more bathrooms fell for the first time since 1992.
  • Builders said they’re less likely to build homes this year with outdoor kitchens, media rooms and sunrooms. The next generation of homes is more likely to have a walk-in closet in the master bedroom, a laundry room, energy-saving windows, energy efficient lighting and appliances and an insulated front door.
  • Up to a quarter of all new homes built last year received an Energy Star rating. That’s up from 11 percent in 2007.
  • Solar energy continues to be a big draw.
  • And pricey green products won’t be driving the recovery. Many homebuyers are eschewing energy-saving features and recycled products that don’t offer enough quick savings.
These points send a pretty clear message to me: less waste.  Less waste of space, less waste of energy and less waste of money. Do we really need outdoor kitchens and sunrooms? Energy saving appliances and an insulated front door seem much more practical to me. And in today’s economy, practicality is key.
The last three points taken together are really interesting: there are more Energy Star certified homes, solar energy is a big draw, and people are eschewing pricey green products. While pricey green options can help you get higher on the Energy Star scale, you don’t need them to be green. The perception that you need expensive items to save energy is really just wrong.
In reality, a lot of the best measures you can take aren’t very expensive at all…  but rather require sealing of cracks, caulking of holes and consideration of how you use energy in relation to a house as a whole. So the fact that buyers aren’t willing to pay more for these pricey measures makes a lot of sense to me. Why should you pay more for those features… when you can make small changes at home first that have a larger impact?
In October, I attended a CityClub lecture on what it would take to turn all our old buildings green. At that talk, Todd Starnes of Puget Sound Energy said windows, which are expensive and often the first thing homeowners consider when looking at energy upgrades, are not the most cost effective measure in energy efficiency. The most beneficial and cheapest thing, he said, is insulation, followed by sealing a home’s cracks. Then he suggested sealing ducts before making a big purchase like furnaces or windows.
Maybe the fact that home buyers aren’t buying pricey green products means they’re getting smarter about what is worthwhile, what is best for the environment and what can save them energy at the same time.
Smaller houses are also an interesting topic, especially considering how sizing relates to green homes. This week, the DJC published a story I wrote on a recent survey by Seattle-based GreenWorks Realty that looked at new homes sold in the Puget Sound area between 2007 and the end of 2009. Ben Kaufman, author of the study and owner of GreenWorks, said people buying green homes in King County are buying smaller and better designed homes. On average, the green King County home was 600 square feet smaller than non-certified green homes.
Personally, I’m a fan of small, compact, well designed space. Of course, I’m also a product of my generation (Gen Y). From what I’ve read, my generation is much more likely to give up space in exchange for being in the thick of things. In September, Deanna Sihon of New Home Trends said that soon, my generation will be driving the housing market so companies need to understand what we want to remain relevant to our buying interests. She said Generation Y wants smaller, higher quality housing that is well designed.
Are these points hopeful? To me, they show nationally, we might be moving towards more sustainable housing. Maybe, just maybe, one silver lining to the recession will be a trend towards more efficient and thoughtful homes. What do you think?  What are other silver linings?
(P.S. My blog formating software is acting wacky so I’m bolding the beginnings of paragraphs to give you an idea of where paragraphs should begin….)
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Washington Policy Center: green buildings get mixed results

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

You should know better!
pages long, seems shaky to me in that references cited include articles that are not cited, single emails, and only a small handful of case studies that really don’t provide the reader with much information with which to make an informed decision. It also is very narrow in scope and only looks at a few types of projects.

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?

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To support green buildings should codes stay the same, be reworked or be reinvented?

On Thursday, the DJC published an article I wrote on a new report that says codes are getting in the way of cutting edge green buildings. This, in itself, is really nothing new.  Last August, I wrote this article about the city’s Priority Green program. In it, DPD’s Peter Dobrovolny (whose last name is almost as difficult as mine!) said many projects consider innovative ideas but drop them when they realize how much extra time it will take under city code. However, having the problems and possible solutions written down in an actual report – well that is new.

However, the report. Is. Huge. If you dare to read it, click here . It manages to be very

The Rubik's Cube of codes
comprehensive and vague at the same time. It is comprehensive in that it studies code barriers across the country, identifies problems and makes recommendations. But because it is dealing with national issues, some of the solutions are vague in their range. For example, one solution is to “identify and address regulatory impediments to green building and development” while another is to “create incentives matched with desired goals.”

I spoke with one of the study’s primary authors, David Eisenberg of the Development Center for Appropriate Technology, this week. Essentially, he said codes are built incorrectly in that they are hundreds of ad hoc responses to problems. Codes, he said, should instead be built comprehensively to support a specific kind of development or project. Basically, he said the entire system needs to be rebuilt.


In Seattle, it can take months or years for changes (especially large ones) to occurr. Can you imagine what it would take to wipe out all the city departments responsible for allowing development to get built… and then to rework the system from scratch? 

Eisenberg said he realizes that what he’s asking might be impossible. But even if it is impossible, by voicing the idea, he hopes to get people talking about it. Everyone – he said – whether it’s greenies or permitting people or anyone really – wants healthy buildings. And our current code system does not encourage healthy buildings because it pawns risks relating to climate change and environmental degradation off on future generations.

What do you think about all of this, dear readers? Is there any possibility that our overall codes could be reworked and if so, what would you want them to encourage? Here in Seattle (where we are pretty progressive in environmental issues, at least compared with some parts of the country) do we even need to be considering reworking the system or do we need to tweak it? If you could totally rework one code or issue, what would it be?

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Is it better to take a jet to work than a train?

When reporting on environmental topics, I do my best to avoid thinking I know the solutions to any eco problem. Here’s why: environmental topics are tricky. Just when you think you know something is bad for you, it turns out to be good. Just when you think you’ve found the solution to a problem, it turns out your solution has a whole host of other problems.

Here again, is another example of that trickiness: a study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, did a full life-cycle analysis of emissions generated by different modes of transportation. And guess what? The study found that in some cases, riding the train could be just as bad or worse for the climate than riding a plane.

Could this really be more efficient than a train?
Now even though I avoid thinking I know the answer, my internal monologue immediately did a double-take. Or, more clearly, said, “NO WAY!”

This article, from NewScientist via the Environmental News Network, does a nice job of summarizing the information.

The researchers looked at 11 different modes of transportation – like the car, train, bus or plane – and then looked at emissions considering aspects like building and maintaining the vehicles and infrastructure, in measuring their effects on the climate.

According to the actual study, “Most current decision-making relies on analysis at the tailpipe, ignoring vehicle production, infrastructure, provision and fuel production required for support… We find that total life-cycle energy inputs and greenhouse gas emissions contribute an additional 64 percent for on road, 155 percent for rail and 31 percent for air systems over vehicle tailpipe operation.”


NewScientist explains the train vs. plane item: passengers on the Boston light rail, an electric commuter train, were found to emit as much or marginally more than those on a mid-size and large aircraft. This is partially because 82 perent of electricity in Massachusetts is generated by burning fossil fuels.

Occupancy also turned out to be a deciding factor. The researchers found that traveling 1 kilometer on a nearly empty bus during off-peak hours emits eight times more per month than taking the same bus at rush hour. Busses with only five passengers were less efficient than cars, including SUV’s and pick-up trucks.

Interesting, huh?

To read the study, click  here.

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Greed or good natured? Making money off of eco-friendly stuff

Being a reporter, I get hundreds of e-mails a week. A good chunk of them are about eco-friendly products that are new, nifty and will “save the worrrllllldddd!” A couple of them are kind of nifty. But the majority of them aren’t… and are obviously motivated by business interests and the desire to make more green.

So when I received an e-mail this week about two entrepreneurs who founded an

Is greed good?
educational campaign promoting tap water, and then just happened to sell over 400,000 BPA-free, reusable water bottles from their Web site, it piqued my interest, precisely because it was addressing the money issue.

These two people – Eric Yaverbaum and Mark DiMassimo – are asking the public in a poll whether they are “greedy entrepreneurs,” “selfless environmentalists,” or both.

Now, both of these guys work in advertising or marketing, so this survey could very well be – and likely is – a marketing ploy. But even so, it’s interesting because it touches on the nebulous and often contentious connection between money and the environment.

The environmental movement isn’t completely comfortable with the notion that people make money off of things that are eco-friendly, especially because not everything that says it’s green really is (this is called “greenwashing”). But really, the only way to get practices accepted on a large scale will be if someone, somewhere turns a profit in some way.

These two guys are making money but in the process they’re also getting their message – that buying bottled water is bad – out there to a broader audience. So is greed ok if it has a point?

What do you think – are they greedy or selfless? To answer the poll or to see results, click here.

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