DJC Green Building Blog

What eco-issue should McGinn concentrate on in the new year?

Posted on December 22, 2009

Well, everyone, it's (almost) a new year. Looking back, 2009 has certainly been.... interesting.

Summing up: the U.S. got a new president, Seattle got a new mayor, energy efficiency got a lot more attention and the economy continued to move along on its (very) bumpy path.

Now, looking on to 2010, there are a number of things on the horizon. Both nationally and locally, it looks like existing buildings will be getting a lot more attention. It also seems like 2010 will be the year that Living Buildings really start to pop up, both in the Puget Sound and nationally.

And then, there's the wildcard that is Seattle's mayor-elect, Mike McGinn. What will he do? Where will he

Mayor-elect Mike McGinn
stand on environmental issues? What will be his pet issues (other than the viaduct)?

Before McGinn was mayor, I spent a lot of time listening to him introduce Great City events. Based on that, I suspect density, green buildings and transit will be seeing some interesting changes in the next few years, though only time will tell.

In the mean time, answer my poll at right and tell me what one thing you would have McGinn concentrate on in terms of the environment. In a perfect world, what should be the hot button issue? Living buildings? Density? Congestion pricing? Only you can tell me (and maybe McGinn if he stops by) what you're most interested in.

Other than that, happy holidays to one and all! Also, please feel free to share with me your reflections of the past year from an eco-standpoint, or to tell me what other eco-issues you want McGinn to focus on. Remember, you never know who could be reading.....!

....................happy holidays!

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National News: Copenhagen and the regulation of greenhouse gases

Posted on December 7, 2009

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:

Copenhagen. The New York Times has a team of reporters covering the two-week talks. The NYT staff will also be keeping the public up to date via very informative video posts here.

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).

On the EPA side, there's the NYT's Green Inc. blog with the story, the general AP story is here, and a (somewhat) local version of it is here at Natural Oregon.org.

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24,000 attendees, 1,800 booths: Critical Mass at Greenbuild?

Posted on November 12, 2009

Austin, Pittsburgh, Portland, Denver, Chicago, Boston...now Phoenix! Greenbuild has grown by leaps and bounds from the first year I was inspired by this movement, at my first Greenbuild in Pittsburgh. As I look around at all of the people, booths, products, educational sessions - a plethora and flurry of excitement washes over me.

Have we finally reached the critical mass to ‘main street green’ as USGBC suggests?

As usual, it’s great to touch in with practitioners from around the country who helped launch this movement over a decade ago, and to be reminded of just how much Pacific Northwest is infused in the spirit of this movement. The Lucia Athens, the Jim Goldman’s, the Lynne Barker’s and the Tom Paladino’s of the world are beaming in the glow of the energy of this place.

While we celebrate Turner’s 100th LEED building and a clinking of glasses, we recognize our job is far from done. This is just the beginning. Now is not the time to rest. Now is not the time to congratulate ourselves on a job well done.

We need to continuously pull the movement forward with hope and optimism and I’m proud to stand by the International Living Building Institute as Jason McLennan, Eden Brukman and others roll out the evolution in the way we redefine our buildings within the context of our current paradigm.

This morning I heard ‘Re-membering: the Patterns of Living Systems’ from Bill Reed, Penny Bonda, Jon Boecker, Dayna Baumeister and am reminded that again, the key to transformation is all about an evolutionary mindset. I recognize the complete mindset shift that needs to take place if we are going to save our planet from ourselves.

The messages are compelling, and I wonder, are the masses getting the right message? Let’s see what Rick Fedrizzi, Al Gore and Sheryl Crow (?!!??!) have to say tonight.  Stay tuned!

Marni Jade Evans, the Living Project

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True Green Home – a National Geograhic book

Posted on March 17, 2009

Recently, I received a book in the mail called, 'True Green Home - 100 inspirational ideas for creating a green environment at home.' The book, by Kim McKay and Jenny Bonnin, was released by National Geographic this month.

The book is a handy little thing that does exactly what its title says in outlining

This is the book
inspirational ideas than range from Number 1 - choose an eco-friendly location for your house - to number 100 - dry your clothes by sun.

Being an environmental reporter, most of the ideas in this book don't surprise me. I already knew building orientation mattered, as does placement and type of windows, building material and design. But I was surprised by a few things I didn't know. For example, Number 30 advises me to invest in a bag-less vacuum cleaner. Call me crazy, but I had no idea such a thing even existed! Number 76, regarding natural cleaning of kitchens and utensils, advises me to clean copper with equal parts ketchup and Worchestershire sauce. Really?! I almost want to go burnish my mom's copper pots and pans just to test it out.

Every idea comes with glossy, pretty pictures. Case studies from William McDonough + Partners, Whole Foods, the USGBC and others also punctuate the pages.

For those people who live, breathe and eat green, this book will be old news. But for those who are just looking to learn about green building or are considering a home remodel, this could be a helpful source of information.

The book is available online. For more information, visit National Geographic here.

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What gets ignored in green building?

Posted on January 6, 2009

This week, I wrote a story in the DJC about the Sustainable Sites Initiative. The initiative has been in the works since 2002 and is geared to be a comprehensive certification similar to LEED but focused on landscape, rather than efficiency.

I spoke to Deb Guenther of Mithun about the initiative, as she's been working on it

What do green certifications ignore?
since the beginning. When I asked her whether site treatment was just touched on or ignored in green building certifications, she said "a little bit of both."

The idea that green building certifications ignore critical development considerations is a constant complaint. Here are some of the most cited aspects of what people say green building ignores:

  • The historic value of a site or building
  • The value of keeping a building - and recognizing its embodied energy, rather than demolishing a structure to build a new one
  • Accurately measuring how well the building works
  • Indoor air quality
  • Beauty and aesthetic value

(For more information on what your colleagues think is most ignored, check out my poll at right.)

But a green building certification cannot be all things to all people. And LEED has a great track record of appealing to different projects in different regions, states, climates and cities. How then, should new certifications that deal with in depth, important topics only touched on by LEED - like the Sustainable Sites Initiative - be dealt with? The initiative, by the way, will be considered in future versions of LEED, though it is unclear how it will be incorporated.

Should this initiative - and future ones like it - become a part of LEED or be developed as separate certifications?

A single certificaiton might be easier, but would force those who don't care about things like sites or historic value to consider those aspects, and would also likely raise the certification's cost. 

But if new certification's aren't incorporated into LEED, they might never get off the ground or gain market value.  And would developers really want to go get multiple certifications for multiple things, just to prove they have a green project?

What do you think?

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Going to Greenbuild? Want to network?

Posted on November 4, 2008

Last year was my first Greenbuild in Chicago and man, was I overwhelmed! Heck, I know I wasn't the only one, based on the article here I wrote in the DJC. I tell you, me and 23,000 of my closest friends really got to know each other better.

The criticism of that Greenbuild, as quoted in the above article, is that the

This was Greenbuild 2007
This was Greenbuild 2007

conference was "best for beginners," "too touchy-feely" and too "focused on commercialism." It will be interesting to see how these issues play out at Greenbuild 2008.

This year in Boston, I'm betting the crowds will be just as big. And thankfully (to my amazing employer), I will be there to witness it yet again and share the experience with you. So if you're not going, keep your Internet tuned to the DJC Green Building Blog for daily updates on talks, sessions and whatever else comes my way.

If you are going however, and you want to have more than snowball's chance in a hot sauna of meeting other people from Seattle (last year I recognized a colleague out of the corner of my eye and went running after him, arms flailing so as not to lose sight of him amongst thousands of bodies)... I suggest you visit the Web site Konstructr and sign up for Greenbuild - The Konstructr Delegation. Billed as "the place for construction professionals to connect," the site is exactly that -- plus interesting commentary, events and news articles. If you're interested in green building at all, you might want to check this out as it seems a great resource.

As for the Greenbuild group, the invitation in my in box cordially invited me to join with this handy description by Vik Duggal:

Anyone who has attended Greenbuild in the past can identify with the
overwhelming number of programs available. And if you are like us, you
probably remember being energized and full of ideas, only to return to
your routine without further discussing or developing these ideas.  We are forming the Konstructr Delegation, which is an offline manifestation of the online community of design professionals we are building, to encourage more interaction during and after the conference.

Sound good? Join up. If you're going, I'll see you there (as long as you're part of this group, that is). And if you're not, tell me why. And what you'd like me to cover. I can't promise anything but you never know what you might get if you just ask.

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Is green building dangerous?

Posted on August 5, 2008

Green building is fairly new, so naturally there are a lot of questions about it. But somehow, amidst the excitement of pursuing new technologies and arguing about what works and what doesn't, it seems a smaller-frog.jpgfundamental question has been left in the dust.... is green building dangerous?

Like any good question, it can be answered with another question: dangerous to whom? Dangerous to the developer, the inhabitant, the team members, the insurer, or to the economy? That answer, dear reader, is a mixed bag.

Now, I've most likely caused a number of you to see red by even suggesting that green could be dangerous. But remember that other cultural innovations through history - the atomic bomb and nuclear energy to name a few - have been viewed at times with the frenzied level of expected salvation that green building and green products have recently encountered.

Obviously, green building isn't about to physically blow up and kill people, so it's not "dangerous" in that way. Theoretically at least, it might even be increasing people's life spans by taking harmful chemicals out of buildings like volatile organic compounds.

But remember, green building is just a kid. And kids grow up into amazing - or horrifying - adults. What happens when green building suddenly spawns a spate of lawsuits (which local LEED certified lawyers assure me will happen, the only question is when). What happens when someone discovers a green building sacred cow does more harm than good (biofuels anyone?) What happens when the greenest greenie we know inevitable turns out to be clear cutting Amazon forests in their backyard?

Will the increasing green momentum implode or is green building and the ideals behind it stronger than that? It probably depends who you're asking.

A while back I spoke with an indoor air quality expert who said he's been in green buildings - LEED, Built Green, etc - that had such bad indoor air quality the house was effectively poisoning the people that lived in it.  While it's (hopefully) an anomaly, what if it isn't?

If we look at the legal aspects of green alone, the trial has just begun. I wrote a story in February here about the legal issues facing green buildings. Just getting information for the one article was excruciating because there just isn't that much information, or people willing, to talk about the subject. In the past few months however, I've heard more and more people saying that green developers need to protect themselves in contracts against possible green building issues. Green building, they say, is a whole new ball game. And many clients aren't aware of what they could be doing for protection. For more on this issue, check out the excellent green liability subject on greenbuildings NYC, especially this post.

So is green building dangerous? You know as well as I there is no answer to that right now. But it's still a question that can be raised, and often isn't. If you've heard it raised before in any printed form, please comment below to tell me about it, or just tell me what you think.

 I suppose even if there were an answer, it could be answered by yet another: if green building is dangerous, does the good it does outweigh the danger?

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What’s it like to work in a green building, anyway?

Posted on May 22, 2008

Did you ever hear about an interesting project, wonder how it would  work and then forget about it?

weberthompson_chair_web_200x.jpgTo avoid that situation the Weber Thompson team at the Terry Avenue Office Building (at left) is blogging about what it's like to work in a LEED gold (for core and shell), naturally ventilated building. To check it out, go here. (For more on the building, my colleague Shawna Gamache wrote about it in her blog here).

The blog's most recent post talks about cooling the building on a hot day ... and opening all 248 of the building's windows. The post before that discusses how the building SOUNDS different.... and what it's like getting used to that.

What a novel idea. To share with the public the water cooler discussions of how people like their new surroundings. 

(Just for the record the building we work in here at the DJC also has no air conditioning. It gets warm a couple days in the summer but it's very doable). 

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LEED faces major changes…. But LEED, I thought I knew you!!!

Posted on May 21, 2008

Hold onto your hats folks, the LEED you know and love (or heck, hate) is growing up.finalleed1.jpg

If you've worked with LEED before (like the people that worked on the LEED gold Hearst Tower in Manhattan at right), you know what it looks like. You get equally weighed points for energy efficient design, renewable energy use, construction waste management and low emitting materials to name a few areas, though there are certain points you have to get. A project gets to be LEED platinum by getting between 52 and 69 points for new construction, and only 26 to 32 points for LEED certified.

Well, on Tuesday, the USGBC announced it opened its public comment period on LEED 2009, part of LEED 3.0.... and it basically looks nothing like what you know LEED to be.

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Do you take Seattle for granted? Grist looks at lesser known green cities

Posted on May 15, 2008

I'll admit it: I often take Seattle's environmentally friendliness for granted, even though I know it's a leader in many areas.

Renewable energy? City buys it. Green building? City does that too. Recycling? Um, duh.

small-seattle.jpgSometimes, it takes an ice cold swim in reality to remember these things we take for granted, aren't commonplace. Today that dose of reality came in the form of a quiz from Grist.org. To take it for yourself, click here.

I took the quiz and for most of the questions I couldn't for the life of me click the obviously negative answers (excepting, of course, the traffic categories). I found myself naively wondering... are there actually places in the U.S. where all of these negative answers are normal? Keep reading to learn about the quiz and what lesser known green cities are doing

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