The following post is by Kathleen O'Brien:
After participating recently in the King County Sustainable Cities Roundtable to discuss “Beyond Net Zero: Resilience, Regeneration, and Social Justice" Ron Sims agreed to an interview for the Daily Journal of Commerce's Green Building Blog.
Q. As the King County Executive, you worked to promote sustainable development through policies, such as the green building and low impact development demonstration ordinances. And, as the Deputy Secretary of HUD, you got to see first-hand how communities across the country are addressing the issue of sustainability. From these vantage points, where do you think we should be focusing our energies?
A. The neighborhood. A well designed neighborhood correlates directly to a good quality of life. And that means things like community gathering places and safety, such as from crime, pollution; access to nature, such as street trees; and more transit options, such as walkability, and bike lending stations. It's easier to create new neighborhoods with these features than it is to redevelop existing neighborhoods, but we have to incentivize reinvestment that incorporates these design features for truly sustainable communities.
Q. How would you propose going about doing this?
A. I've never seen a developer turn down density bonuses in return for more bus stops, low-income housing, etc. We need to get creative and open the door to more thoughtful mixed development, including residential options. We can tie some of this to demolition in an area. But we need to plan further out. We need to ask the question: "What should this neighborhood look like in twenty years?"
Q. Sustainability advocates hold that sustainable development incorporates not simply environmental health, but economic vitality, and social equity, as well. Sometimes this gets lost in the development timetable. How can we do a better job of maintaining the prominence of all three legs of the stool as we try to practice what we preach in the field?
A. I repeat: We need to begin planning long term to take advantage of opportunities as they come up, and to have a roadmap in place. It's by redesigning existing neighborhoods to be healthier, safer, greener that we'll be addressing social equity, and the health of our economy. Right now, energy efficiency is "hot." But new technologies and new neighborhoods are still the domain of the well-to-do. It hasn't gone viral. If we really worked on existing neighborhoods, we'd be addressing issues faced by the poor and culturally diverse. You know, you can predict health and longevity rates by zip code. Neighborhoods should and will still have their personalities, their "feel," but every neighborhood should have the basic green features I mentioned earlier.
Q. Is there a leverage point that sustainable advocates can focus on to bring about better neighborhoods and a better quality of life for all?
A. There's actually two. Most people are unaware, but at HUD we learned that the most significant cause of mortgage defaults in this past recession was the cost of transportation -- it amounted to 42% of income. This was often in excess of the 34-36% of income of the average mortgage. If someone lost a job that required them to have a car, they were still left with a car payment. So better transportation planning (including infrastructure improvements) would help. Energy costs was another big chunk of the reason for defaults -- 28-30%, so the emphasis on energy efficiency is good.
Q. With the specter of climate change-related disasters becoming more real, there has been a greater focus among sustainability advocates on "resilience" in the face of catastrophes. Disasters seem to bring out both the best and worst of us. How do we prepare and use the opportunity to course correct for the greater good?
A. I'm repeating myself, but it's to plan, plan, and plan again. We learned a lot from the Nisqually Earthquake; we were able to apply what we learned when 9/11 happened. After the earthquake we decided we needed to build a structurally and technologically sound center that could function independently. We learned to plan for the "worst" case -- and not the best "reasonable" case. We had to plan, memorialize in writing, and train. Going forward, we need to take climate change and related disasters into consideration when we are re-designing our neighborhoods -- particularly the infrastructure side of things.
Q. Last question: What advice would you give young green building professionals and public sector advocates who are looking to be leaders in the kind of sustainable transformation you are talking about?
A. People think change is easy. I like to say, we are running a marathon, but because we've run out of a lot of chances, we need to do it at a sprinter's pace. Will this be rewarding every day? No it won't be. Will it be a long path? Yes it will be. If you believe that what you are doing serves the greater good, some day (not now) you will be able to take a deep breath, reflect on what you've been able to accomplish, and say WOW.
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. She continues to provide consulting on special projects for O'Brien & Company, the firm she founded over 20 years ago, and provides leadership training and mentoring through her legacy project: The Emerge Leadership Project.
A big theme of this conference so far, has been changing your thinking. More than anything, it seems like speakers keep saying over and over that change can happen -- but you must believe it can and start making personal changes. However, speakers have also been quite vague about how exactly that change will come about. There's been great ideas, quotes and anecdotes, but no real concrete steps.
At last night's Big Bang Dinner as a 15 Minutes of Brilliance presentation, a student group from Jasper High School in Alberta did a cover of Arcade Fire's Sprawl II song, during which students with glowing lights danced throughout the audience. It got the crowd excited for the next part of the presentation, the really incredible part. During this, students alternated speaking while a creative and hilarious video of animation illustrated their ideas. Overall, students said the way education works today is meant to turn out the same type of student. But students don't learn the same way. Education encourages learning in a way that doesn't encourage creativity or thinking outside the box. Youth want to learn, they said, and are a huge resource but education stifles that desire to learn. The educational system needs to change to encourage creativity, rather than regurgitation.Margaret Wheatley spoke about the way change is created throughout the world. As a society, she said we expect change to happen vertically through an organziation. But that's not how it works in reality. Really, she said, change happens when a small group of people identify similar ideas, gather with friends and inspire change. Change happens horizontally. And it's hard. But perseverance can create incredible results. Personally, she said, think about what's stifling you. Then imagine it changing. Even that action, she said, can have a profound effect.
To create change, Wheatley said other people including those we love will continue to dissuade us. We must stick to our convention anyway, she said, find our "tribe" of like-minded individuals (i.e. everyone else at this Living Future Conference) and concentrate on making change. As a connected network full of meaningful relationships, people can "grow the new."
Wheatley had an inspirational, spiritual presentation that included personal steps to identify and support change. But it was short on concrete steps. Over on Twitter, Jon Hiskes at Sustainable Industries tweeted that he's really glad another conference session "is laying off the vaguely inspiring aphorisms. I can't take it any more." I don't think he's the only one who feels that way.
Last night's keynote presentation was a world away from last year's. As depressing as James Kunstler's talk was at Living Future 2010, Majora Carter's was uplifting and inspiring. I figure that is the point.
In a very casual manner, Carter explained her history with the South Bronx and how she cameher dog Xena through her neighborhood when the dog led her past a pile of waste and crack viles to the Bronx River, which Carter didn't really know existed. Seeing the river's natural beauty so close to her home started Carter on a journey to develop green space along the river, and towards an effort of empowering people at the local level to care about their environment.
One big problem, she said, is that most people, especially those of color, view environmentalism as an upper middle class white movement that has "absolutely nothing" to do with them. Carter said part of her mission is to teach that "the environment" is really something everyone interacts with on a daily basis and that green elements can put money back in your pocket. In her talk, Carter championed green infrastructure such as green roof, and urban agriculture efforts.
Like the tea party, Carter said she believes in a smaller government. However, she believes this can be achieved by creating jobs for society's most expensive citizens. The generationally impoverished, she said, or people who are in and out of jail or people coming back from war, use the most social services dollars. If these people had something to look forward to and some way to start paying the bills, less would return to jail or to patterns that use social service dollars. Carter works on such programs in her community, and supports others across the country.
For example, she referenced a program in Chicago called Sweet Beginnings led by Brenda Palms-Barber that teaches ex-offenders to harvest honey from beehives, turn it into skin products and market it. A year in jail costs $60,000. The national recidivism rate is 65 percent Carter said, and this program's recidivism rate is 4.5 percent. The program saves society money while creating empowered workers, and keeping dollars from product sales in the local economy.
"Really all any of us want is something to look forward to," she said. " There’s Bronxe’s all over the place."
Carter said everyone can further this type of goal by asking how your work, products or even material choice can create social well being. Carter said things like making sure you have local hire provisions can have a big impact.
She also said it's important to celebrate the small things. Because it's the small things that really count.
Living Future 2011 in Vancouver, B.C . could have begun better. My first event was a tour of the new Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability space at University of British Columbia. To get there, all 30 of us had to wait 20 minutes, get on a 40 minute bus ride and then trudge through 15 minutes of pouring, pouring rain. Needless to say, I should have remembered my umbrella. A kind soul on the tour (not from the Northwest, obviously, who
Thankfully, the tour was totally worth it. The CIRS Center is poised to be an incredible project, once complete. The four-story, 60,000-square-foot dry-lab research building has targeted both the Living Building Challenge and LEED platinum. Its goal is to be the most innovative building in North America. The building should be ready for occupancy by the end of May. It was designed by Busby Perkins + Will.
When designing and building it, the team concentrated on equally balancing the need to be net positive, or to give back more energy and environmental benefit than the building took from the grid; to be humane, or being constructed and thought of with the best impacts on humans possible; and being smart, or cost effective and adaptive.
It will capture all rainwater, treat it and use it as potable water for those in the building to drink (this is what the Bullitt Foundation's Cascadia Center targeting living building status in Seattle wants to do, though code rules are making it tough). It will also treat all wastewater generated in the building and use it to flush toilets, urinals and for drip irrigation. This was a difficult thing to permit, said Alberto Cayuelo, associate director of the UBC Sustainability Initiative. All water will be treated, drank, reused, treated, reused and treated again. This is the first building in Vancouver, the team said, to do this. Water that hits the building's hardscapes will be redirected into the aquifer.
The building's price is $37 million Canadian, with a $22 million construction budget. Cayuela said the project will cost between 20 and 30 percent more than a LEED gold building.
“I’d be lying through my teeth if I said this building came in at no premium,” he said. “(But) on a total cost of ownership basis, we can recoup that investment in a few years.”
The project should save money through energy and water initiaves.
There’s a lot more that I can and will say about this project. But I’ m about to hear Majora Carter speak, so more info will have to wait for another story!
This week, the DJC published my story on the Bullitt Foundation's desire to go off the water grid and the underlying politics of the decision. I've written about this topic before in this March 17 post "Bullitt wants to go off the water grid: realistically will it be able to?" Basically, the problem centers around the idea that Bullitt wants to capture and treat all its own water. That means it wants to do the impossible: drink the water that falls on its site and treat the toilet waste the occupants produce. I say impossible because the barriers seem endless. (Clarification: I do not actually think it is impossible. As a journalist I don't take sides and have no opinion on the topic. But if you were to look at the issue before Bullitt started talking with agencies, it was an impossibility. That's the point of the Living Building Challenge... to break down barriers).
The barrier I discussed in the story is King County's capacity fee. According to an internal county
Developers and green enthusiasts say the fee should be waived because it encourages innovation, and developers won't pursue these projects otherwise. The county says it's a social equity issue: by waiving the fee, other less fortunate individuals will end up paying for infrastructure and the county has already counted on new development to support that work. Specifically, the county is in the middle of building the $1.8 billion Brightwater Treatment Plant.
I'm really interested in this dilemma, especially the validity of the social justice claim. I had a brief conversation via Twitter this week with @bruteforceblog (whose very interesting blog is here: http://bruteforcecollaborative.wordpress.com/). Bruteforce said if this were a rural site he'd be all for cutting the capacity fee but in a city, the less affluent will be burdened by the cost. He suggested priority permitting as an incentive. However the city already provides priority permitting for super green projects and in this economy, the quickened pace doesn't equal the amount of savings it once did. I asked him what other ideas he might suggest. Bruteforce said perhaps a FAR or height incentive could be the answer, adding that no matter the incentive, developers will always argue it isn't enough. However, a commenter on our DJC story, Kent Andersson had another opinion: "It's not about punishing the poor. It's about everyone paying the true costs of the services they use. We should allow the exemption to spur the future, however if they need to discharge, then they should pay a higher rate."
Regarding the capacity fee, the county is currently considering three pretty black and white options, again, according to the internal county documents: waive the fee for projects that go off the water grid, partially waive it or do nothing and keep the structure as it is.
But there's another option. Why not let innovative projects go off the grid and then charge them crazy insane fees if and when they do use the system? Just a thought.
Where do you stand on this issue? Do you think the county is right on with its social justice reasoning or is that an excuse? What incentives do you think should be offered to developers, if any should be offered at all to get them moving in this direction? Or maybe we all should pay the "true costs" of water and agree to much higher water rates? I'd love to hear your thoughts!
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I have a story in today's paper on The Bullitt Foundation's proposed living building on Capitol Hill. The project is fascinating: it aims to create all its own energy, produce and treat all its own water and re-energize the neighboring park among other points.
The project has a lot of interesting aspects. However the one I'm most interested in is the water angle. The building hopes to break the mold by capturing all its rainwater off the roof, which will be held in an underground cistern, according to Colleen Mitchell, project manager with 2020 Engineering. Then, some of the water will be treated by UV filters, pumped to faucets throughout the building and used as potable (or drinking) water. Some of the water will be sent to toilets, which will use one pint per flush. All waste from the toilets will be sent to a composting container in the basement, where it will slowly compost and be used for the building's greenhouse. The greenhouse will run up the south side of the building with plants on each level. Urine from the toilets will go to four tanks in the basement where it will stabilize and be sterilized over a three-month time period. After three months, one part urine will be mixed with eight parts greywater (or the water that goes down faucets). That mix will be sent to the greenhouse where it will be evapotranspired by plants with nutrients from urine being used for fertilization.
I've got a rendering of what the system will look like here:
The system is incredibly cutting edge and will set an amazing precedent if permitted. And the 'if,' dear readers, is a big 'if.'
Unfortunately, the precedent is one of the things that probably has permitting agencies worried. Last June, I attended a forum on water attended by a number of speakers. One of them was Steve Deem of the state health department. Going off the water grid is great in theory, he said, but architects, developers and engineers don't generally understand that if a project provides water, it is responsible for the building's water forever. That raises a lot of health and safety issues.
Secondly, there's the issue of charges and rates. King County is in the process of building Brightwater, its massive, multi-million-dollar water treatment plant outside Woodinville. Brightwater gets paid for in part by capacity charges, fees and rates from users. From what I've heard from multiple sources, projects are welcome to go off the water grid, as long as they pay those hook up fees and charges. For most developers, this is a turnoff because they are paying twice - once for the water system and once for the hook up. Bullitt has yet to finalize these details with the county. Chris Rogers of development partner Point32 said, "There will be conversations with the county and other players to understand what sort of levies there will be for something that we don't use."
At that same June meeting, Christie True, director of the King County Wastewater Treatment Division, said it's a social justice issue. If developers don't pay for wastewater infrastructure, people with fewer resources will end up paying more.
Last April, Ray Hoffman, acting director of Seattle Public Utilities, said on-site water treatment is not moving forward in the Puget Sound area because of bureaucracy. "There are institutional barriers on both the public and private side that prevent things that are readily available from getting off the shelf and into the ground."
These are some of the issues Bullitt faces in trying to go off the water grid. I don't envy them the process but it will be an amazing achievement if they succeed.
When I asked him about the difficult code issues he was about to face, Denis Hayes of Bullitt said all agencies are on the same page in wanting to see innovative projects happen. "We’ll take that robust optimism until somebody in authority says we shouldn't have it."
What do you think, readers? Just how important is this project and what kind of a precedent will it set? Will it succeed in getting off the water grid and are the health and social justice issues valid concerns? I'd love to hear from you on this topic.
This is a guest post by Dave Bennink, owner of Re-Use Consulting.
This last week has been full of bad news relating to major corporations cutting jobs. These job cuts are nothing compared to the amount of jobs that have been shipped overseas in the past decades. Did you know that the City of Buffalo used to have
So where are we heading? Jobs disappearing, economic slowdowns and global warming are just the start of our problems. Fortunately, there is some good news to share: The building deconstruction industry is creating thousands of green collar jobs, and these jobs cannot be shipped overseas!
For years, building deconstruction has been much slower and more expensive than demolition. Building deconstruction is the systematic disassembly of a structure to maximize reuse and recycling. In recent years, hybrid deconstruction has allowed deconstruction and adaptive reuse companies to take down buildings faster and cheaper, completing 2,000-square-foot homes in 3 to 4 days as one example. Even with these improvements, building deconstruction still creates 10 to 20 times more jobs than demolition while hoping to achieve an on-site landfill diversion rate of 70 percent or more (before comingled recycling options).
These are all local jobs that cannot be shipped overseas and we are working to make them living wage jobs requiring different levels of experience and potentially launching workers into other related careers.
One thing that is clear to me is that building owners don't want their structures demolished, they just want them removed. Almost everyone I have talked to would rather see the their building moved intact, deconstructed, or at least salvaged or even preserved in place through adaptive reuse as long as it doesn't take much more time and it doesn't cost more money. That helps the building deconstruction contractors by basing their efforts on a solid foundation.
People realize that deconstruction creates more jobs, helps the environment, preserves local architectural elements, and assists lower-income home owners to maintain their homes. It is also a sustainable effort, unlike some green solutions that just slow down the problems. Deconstruction is not just saving energy and resources compared to producing all of those materials new again, but reversing problems like global warming and natural resource depletion.
In Buffalo, we have begun to think of the streets full of abandoned homes as an asset to the community instead of a liability. If it is decided that they must be taken down, then by deconstructing them, some of the value they hold is returned to the community, and I can tell you after 16 years in this field, it's a great feeling knowing that you are making a difference.
I am excited about efforts by the city of Seattle and King County, among others, to promote building deconstruction.
The Building Materials Reuse Association is leading the way, holding a conference on the subject in Chicago in April 2009 (www.bmra.org). Cities and groups across the Country are starting job training programs by forming deconstruction crews. Demolition contractors are converting to deconstruction companies by performing deconstruction when their clients ask for it or it makes economic sense. General contractors hoping to keep their crews from quiting in slow times, are beginning to offer deconstruction to their clients, knowing that they may be able to provide work to their laid-off crews. Some schools are considering classes on deconstruction and some businesses are forming around the sales of the salvaged materials or the manufacturing of products (like tables, chairs, etc.) made from reclaimed materials.
So if you are tired of this economic slow down and want to make a difference, join us by considering building deconstruction and considering buying reclaimed materials. It's 'buying local' and 'employing local' all at the same time while heading toward our goal of zero waste.
- Dave Bennink, RE-USE Consulting
A LEED platinum project is still a pretty rare thing to see. But as of today, Seattle gets to add another LEED platinum project to the grand tally sheet.
The project is called Kenyon House and is a supportive community with 18 studio apartments for people with HIV/AIDS. It is certified under LEED for Homes and the organization says it is the first of its kind (affordable multifamily) to receive the platinum certification in the state. It was done by Building Changes and HousingResources Group.
The first thing to understand is that LEED for homes is different than just plain ole' LEED. The other LEED ratings (new construction, commercial interiors) are all lumped together on the USGBC's registry. According to that registry, there are three LEED platinum projects in Washington: WPUDA headquarters, the Shoreline Recycling and Transfer Station and the Perkins + Will Seattle office's interior.
But LEED for homes, what Kenyon is certified under, is a whole other (some might say easier) ballgame. That's listed in a separate document here. According to that document, in Washington there are six LEED platinum homes. They are all in Seattle and turns out, I've written about all of them. For more on the other LEED platinum homes, click here for Ashworth Cottages, here for the Alley House and here for Michael K. Mastro's home. Or read past blog entries here and here for Alley House.
The second thing to understand is that the other LEED platinum homes are are single family market rate projects. This is the first LEED platinum home in Washington (again according to the USGBC document) that is affordable. It's a pretty important milestone.
"Green theory" (if you will) or the large ideas behind living in an eco-conscious way says people in affordable housing complexes are often the ones who most need the benefits of green design but also are the least likely to get them. Green buildings and affordable housing, they say, need to be linked together otherwise green is just providing a better quality of living for those who can afford to pay for it.
But green buildings are also seen as being tremendously more expensive than the cost of typical affordable housing. The fact that this group has done platinum, for $5 million, is quite something.
The team used efficient gas-fired boilers which provide baseboard hydronic heat in all units, high insulation, high efficiency windows, 100 percent fluorescent lighting. It focused on air quality due to the health of the residents and had a pre-occupancy flush of the project. There is water-resistant flooring in potential wet areas to reduce the chance of mold or rot.
For more info on the project, read the DJC's entry on it here.
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