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
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.
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 www.emergeleadership.net.
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.
It's called the Quick Guide to Green Tenant Improvement series, and is a guide that shows users how to do sustainable commercial improvements in a variety of ten topics. The guides are a product of Seattle's Department of Planning and Development's City Green Building team.
The guides are available online here, though I haven't had time to study them yet. They are
If you want a hard copy of the series, contact Rebecca Baker at (206) 615-1171.
According to the press release, the guides come in the following fun flavors:
01 Green Lease — A green lease can enhance recruitment, lower healthcare expenses, yield productivity gains and lower operating costs.
02 Connecting with Nature — Interiors with natural elements foster positive connections between people and enhance physical and mental well being.
03 Adaptable Design — “Future-proof” office space by providing for the integration and adaptability of various building systems.
04 Office Equipment — Using energy efficient office equipment reduces energy costs, ambient noise, air-conditioning loads, electromagnetic fields and greenhouse gas emissions while extending equipment life.
05 HVAC: Heating, Ventilation & Air Conditioning — Energy efficient HVAC equipment can reduce energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and utility costs while increasing thermal comfort and improving indoor air quality.
06 Lighting — Energy efficient lighting systems can reduce a significant amount of electrical energy costs while enhancing aesthetic design inside and out.
07 Employee Well-Being — The quality of the indoor environment directly affects employee well-being and performance.
08 Healthy Building Materials — A healthy workplace is built, furnished and operated to minimize exposure to sub-stances harmful to human health.
09 Regional Resources — Purchasing locally supports our local economy and reduces transportation costs and emissions.
10 Construction Waste Management — Many construction, demolition and land-clearing waste materials have high value for salvage and reuse.
If you haven't guessed by now, I really have fun with calculators. Yes, I know they aren't always accurate. Yes, I know they often are designed to inflict guilt (and are
So today, my calculator of choice measures a "water footprint". The calculator, presented by a New York-based project called H2O Conserve, asks you a number of questions. You answer and BAM! Your water use gets compared to that of the typical American, all accompanied by handy and sometimes cute graphics. My favorite is the one that accompanies the 'I don't brush my teeth' answer. (Which I do, by the way. I just wanted to see the graphic....)
I am below the national average, but just barely at an individual water use of 1,072.20 gallons per day. Written out, that seems staggering.
The calculator also offers handy suggestions of how to decrease my water use, but some of them are just plain against my cultural habits. For example, it says I can save 10 or more gallons of water a day by not flushing the toilet and "letting it melow" instead. Somehow I don't think that would fly with my colleagues at work.
But some of the tips are also interesting. For example, the calculator says I can save water by getting an efficient dishwasher, rather than washing dishes by hand.
If you want to see how much water you use, click here. And if you missed it, click the tag 'calculator' below to find out what an ecological footprint is... and how you measure up!
Sometimes, I get really cool things in my in-box. The Earth Day Network Ecological Footprint Calculator is one of those things.
The calculator, created by the Global Footprint Network and launched today, measures how many planets it would take to sustain your lifestyle. Like most calculators, you go through a series of questions, pick the answers that fit your lifestyle and watch the results come in. But there are two things that set this calculator apart from the pack: the interactivity and the measurement of an ecological footprint.
First the interactivity. Maybe it's because I grew up in a world of video games but if a tool like this is fun as opposed to bland, I'm a lot more likely to pay attention. And this tool is fun. First, you get to design an avatar (mine had blue spiky hair), and then you get to watch the avatar's world change as you enter choices that correspond to your life. Fun, no?
Second, and more importantly, the ecological footprint. Most calculators out there measure a person's carbon footprint. But how much carbon you generate is only part of your impact as a human being. A carbon measurement doesn't count more esoteric things like how much meat you eat, where you get it and how that affects your impact on the world.
The ecological footprint, on the other hand, creates a full picture and represents the overall human demand on nature; it compares human consumption with what it takes to regenerate natural resources.
Using this idea, the calculator measures how many planets it would take if the rest of the world lived like you. It's a really visual way of seeing how much you impact the world... versus seeing a large number that you don't really understand. For example, even though I recycle everything, almost always carpool, live in an urban environment etc. etc., if all the world lived like me it would apparently take 3.8 planets. And the majority of that (46 percent) is in services. That surprised me.
The idea of measuring your impact by planets, then decreasing it, is the push behind One Planet Communities and BioRegional, the groups that brought the world BedZed (at left), one of England's poster children for sustainable living. I wrote about BedZed and One Planet Living in December here in the DJC. According to their numbers, it would take 5.3 planets if the rest of the world lived like the United States does.
There are plans in the works to create One Planet Communities across the world, for more visit www.bioregional.com.
The calculator also offers suggestions after you're done on what you can do to decrease your result, and lets you change your choices so you can see what exactly affected the final total.
Though it's fun, I don't know how they calculate their numbers and can't comment on whether the amounts are accurate or not. If you have a favorite calculator that you like better than this one, or can comment on the accuracy of the numbers used, please share your information below. New resources are always appreciated.
More info on the calculator at Plime here.