Category Archives: Tools

Here’s a tool to help green roofs grow

The following post is by Oregon BEST:

A unique modeling tool developed at Portland State University with support from Oregon BEST is helping local green roof manufacturer Columbia Green Technologies speed adoption of green roofs to meet legislation aimed at reducing combined sewer overflows during heavy rains and thereby grow the Portland based start-up’s national market share.

The new tool is the result of a research project funded by Oregon BEST and led by Graig Spolek, a PSU professor and director of the Green Roof Design and Test Lab. Columbia Green uses the tool when working with civil engineers and architects who need accurate, quantitative data about how much stormwater a green roof in a specific geographical location will both retain and detain.

A green roof sits atop the new Apple store in downtown Portland.

“This new tool has been very helpful; it’s helped us open doors to some of the best engineering and architecture firms in the country,” said Elaine Kearney, Technical Director at Columbia Green. “Being able to generate this kind of data bolsters our reputation as being innovative and technologically very forward looking.”

Eric Zickler, an associate principal at Aecom, one of largest engineering firms in the world, said his firm uses many different tools to measure performance of their stormwater management infrastructure designs, but the Columbia Green tool stands out.

“Generally the calculators and modeling modules are generic and do not provide a high level of confidence in predicted performance,” Zickler said. “The green roof stormwater management tool developed by Columbia Green is specific to green roofs and developed using both theory and empirical data for multiple geographies across varying storm intensities, making it a valuable resource in building our confidence in the stormwater management benefits of green roofs.”

The new tool, which can generate data specific to geographic areas and weather patterns, gives Columbia Green a competitive advantage when the company interacts with potential clients.

“The ability to quantify our performance with this degree of accuracy is unique, so it’s a significant advantage for us,” said Robin Schneider, marketing director at Columbia Green.

This strategic funding exemplifies how Oregon BEST, a state-funded organization that fosters technology-based economic development, helps clean-technology companies collaborate with universities to advance and commercialize products to grow Oregon’s green economy.

“It’s been very rewarding to see Columbia Green leverage our investment in research and transform that into expanded distribution and sales opportunities,” said David Kenney, president and executive director of Oregon BEST.

Green roofs and other green infrastructure approaches are gaining visibility at all levels of government, both in the United States and abroad, as officials try to implement policies to address aging public infrastructure.

Two years ago, Vanessa Keitges, CEO of Columbia Green, was selected to sit on the President’s Export Council at the White House.

“We greatly appreciate the Oregon BEST support that allowed us to take advantage of the PSU rain lab and develop a tool that’s helping us succeed,” Keitges said. “Local cooperation between industries and academia is recognized as a model for innovation to solve global problems.”

Oregon BEST is a state agency that nurtures clean technology innovation by transforming new ideas, research, and products into green-collar jobs, greater sustainability, and economic prosperity for Oregon.


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Frank Ching illustrates new green building guide

Architect Francis D.K. “Frank” Ching, a professor emeritus at the University of Washington, is co-author of Green Building Illustrated, a newly published guide to green building design and construction.

Ian Shapiro, co-owner of Taitem Engineering in Ithaca, N.Y., wrote the text, and Ching was the illustrator.

The book, written for architects, engineers and builders, offers a variety of in-depth approaches to green building design, including a visual presentation of the theory, practices and complexities of sustainable design.

Shapiro emailed the DJC this description from Wiley, the publisher:

From the outside to the inside of a building, (the authors) cover all aspects of sustainability, providing a framework and detailed strategies to design buildings that are substantively green. The book begins with an explanation of why we need to build green, the theories behind it and current rating systems before moving on to a comprehensive discussion of vital topics. These topics include site selection, passive design using building shape, water conservation, ventilation and air quality, heating and cooling, minimum-impact materials, and much more.

Ching recently retired after more than 35 years of teaching. He is the bestselling author of Building Construction Illustrated, among other books on architecture and design, all published by Wiley. His works have been translated into more than 16 languages and are regarded as classics for their renowned graphic presentations.

Shapiro has been a visiting lecturer at Cornell University, Tompkins-Cortland Community College and Syracuse University. He has worked on several LEED building design projects, has led a variety of energy conservation research projects, and is a frequent contributor to ASHRAE Journal and Home Energy magazine.

The guide is available at local bookstores, including Ada’s, Elliott Bay and the University Book Store.


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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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Ellensburg’s energy strategy shows one size does not fit all

The following post is by Kathleen O’Brien:

I had the pleasure this past month of presenting the final product of a two-year process with the City of Ellensburg and its residents for approval. The Energy Efficiency & Conservation Strategy (EE&CS) is one of dozens across the country that were funded through DOE Energy Block Grants. In this case, the grant was administered by the State’s Department of Commerce and locally by the city’s Planning Department.


There are basic elements that are required for every EE&CS, such as developing a vision statement and goals through a public process, and reviewing existing conditions to measure progress. But in looking at the various EE&CS produced around the U.S., it’s clear that each community leaves its very own stamp on the process.
Anyone who’s traveled to Ellensburg for its annual rodeo knows the city has an independent streak, so it is no surprise its EE&CS should be a “little different.” The EE&CS draws on the fact that Ellensburg is one of the few cities of its size that has its own electric utility, and was the first city to create a community-funded renewable energy park, so there was a lot already happening.
In addition, the EE&CS was aligned with a concurrent update of the Land Development Code to make hay of opportunities to use the code to encourage energy efficiency in development and transportation.

Ellensburg Rodeo


Another defining aspect is that the city clearly wanted a planning tool, not a plan. So although there are guidelines and templates for developing plans that address the strategy’s focus areas, and background information from which to draw on, the action plans themselves are left for the city and community to complete over the next planning cycle(s).
Case studies in the EE&CS document are meant to inspire local action, not be imported. The upside of this approach is flexibility, something the city really wanted. The downside (and frankly this is always the danger) is that the EE&CS could end up sitting on a shelf.
When asked by a Council member what would make the difference between successfully implementing the EE&CS tool and its being shelved, I responded: “The difference is you — your leadership will make the difference.”
After a brief pause, the council member said gamely: “I think you’re right!” and his fellow members of the council grinned. The EE&CS was unanimously adopted.
Let’s see what happens next!

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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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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