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 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."
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 www.emergeleadership.net
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.
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 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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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?
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.
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.
To read the study, click here.
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
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.
Earlier today, NAIOP national released a report that looks at the levels of energy efficiency a standard office building can achieve while remaining economically feasible.
The study looked at whether commercial development could achieve reduction
targets of between 30 and 50 percent above ASHRAE 90.1-2004. It compared results on a four-story, 95,000-square-foot, Class A office building in climate zones represented in Chicago, Baltimore and Newport Beach, Calif.
"Findings show that although significant energy efficiencies can be achieved (varying by climate zone), reaching a 30 percent reduction above the ASHRAE standard is not feasible using common design approaches and would exceed a 10-year payback. The study concluded that achieving a 50 percent reduction above the standard is not currently reachable."
Here is the breakdown:
Chicago had a 23 percent increase in energy savings at a $188,523 cost increase at an 8.8 year payback.
Baltimore had a 21.5 percent increase in energy efficiency at a $165,148 cost increase at an 11 year payback.
Newport Beach had a 15.8 percent increase in energy savings at a $169,898 additional cost at a 12.2 year payback.
Ouch. Those are long paybacks for most developers. But then again, developers ARE targeting these goals and reaching them. Heck, there are net-zero buildings under development! NAIOP's goal in developing this study was to prove that a one-size fits all approach does not work in green buildings, but that almost seems to holds true in countering the study, too. Though most of the developers who really push the green envelope, both in design and energy efficiency, are long-term holders of buildings.
Is that what it all comes down to? What a developer's business model is?
The study also said elements of a holistic, integrated design approach that could create higher energy efficiencies were impractical in the study's building prototype. The example the study gives is that a geothermal system requires an additional two acres of space, at least in the Newport Beach model.
To read the entire press release, go here.
Yesterday, the New York Times published an opinion piece by David Brooks called "I Dream of Denver." The piece, based on the late January news on what cities Americans want to live in, calls into question what Americans want from their cities, from density and from their lifestyle.
Reading the piece, I kept thinking about how the descriptions of how people want to
live are quintessentially Seattle culture. One thing Americans want, the article says, is a stuffed garage "filled with skis, kayaks, soccer equipment, hiking boots and boating equipment. These are places you can imagine yourself leading an active outdoor life." If that's not Seattle, I don't know what is. Then again, Seattle was named third on the list of cities Americans would most want to live in.
This sentiment, of people from other cities knowing Seattle and identifying with it, never struck me harder than at the U.S. Green Building Council's 2008 Greenbuild conference in Boston when faced with a trio of reporters from the Eastern half of North America. When I said I was from Seattle, all three of them (two from New York City and one from Toronto, I believe) all sighed and said, "I want to live in Seattle!"
One of the New Yorkers went so far as to say, "Everyone wants to live in Seattle." Which stuck me as funny because from my experience, everyone wants to live in New York. And when going to college in Boston, nobody I spoke with had really ever heard of Seattle.
The reporter went on to say that once people realize they can have an urban lifestyle ... and not live in an apartment, they fall in love.
(Not sure if they also fell in love with this city's must-have-a-car mentality or the lack of a subway but that's a different story.)
The mix of home-life and city-life has always been my favorite thing about Seattle. But the NYT opinion piece points out that urban-living is still an ideal of the young, and I am in that demographic. Even here in Seattle, there seems to be a large amount of baby boomer residents who just want more space, whether it be in another state, on one of the islands or in a more spacious city neighborhood. My mother, for example, recalls the excitement of living in urban Chicago in her youth but now wants nothing more than a remote log cabin in Montana.
Is the desire to live in an urban environment a sentiment of youth? Will we, like our parents prefer to retire in a more remote space? ... or is it generational? Will today's younger generations (meaning Xers, Yers....etc.) still idealize open space and isolation or will we choose density?
What do you think? Comment below or answer my poll at right.
P.S. If you read the NYT article, also check out the comments. They're pretty interesting.