The following post is by Kathleen O'Brien:
There's some discussion among professionals and sustainable building advocates about market "fatigue" as regards green building. Given the tendency of many in the industry to value and use green building techniques for their marketing benefits above all else, this is no surprise.
In his recent book, The Shape of Green, Lance Hosey notes that "associating sustainability with its trappings rather than its principles risks looking passé." When sustainability is treated as a "style," says Hosey, "it can go out of style." He describes the unfortunate and conspicuous use of green technologies such as solar panels or a green roof on buildings that are pronounced sustainable, but have little to say for themselves other than the "green bling" they are sporting.
But Hosey does far more than bemoan this circumstance, and he doesn't suggest tossing out the concept of sustainability because some marketers are onto the next new thing, or some architects continue to view (wrongly) that sustainability is inelegant and antithetical to high design. In my view, Hosey returns sustainability to its rightful place when he reminds us that sustainability is a set of "principles and mechanics for making design more responsive and responsible, environmentally, socially, and economically." Designers need "an aesthetics of ecology" that can "guide designers to make things more environmentally intelligent, humane, and elegant all at once."
Hosey is asking us to shift our perspective from technological design to ecological design, and offers three principles that together result in sustainable solutions: conservation, attraction, and connection. Well worth the read.
Kathleen O'Brien is a long time advocate for and prolific writer about 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. Recently retired from O'Brien & Company, the green consulting firm she founded over 22 years ago, she is now the Executive Director of The EMERGE Leadership Project, a 501c3 nonprofit whose mission is to accelerate life-sustaining solutions in the built environment through emergent leadership training.
The following post is by Kathleen O'Brien:
Seattle. May 15-17. Living Future 2013 marks the 7th annual deep dive into the Living Building Challenge and high performance building.
With more Living Buildings coming on line (such as the recently LBC-certified Bertschi Science Wing and the Bullitt Foundation headquarters here in Seattle), the vision of a Living Future becomes more and more possible. It's not just a pipe-dream! In remarks keynoter Paul Hawken e-mailed to me this morning, he comments:
"We are in an intense period of cultural and structural change, the depth of which is obscured by our tendency to cling to the past. Fundamental to cultural change is a complete transformation of the built environment, as different today from buildings of the past as a smartphone is from a rotary dial landline.
"In a world of increasing resource constraints, buildings are changing from structures that sit upon and harm the land to systems that interact with and support the biosphere. This is what the Living Building movement represents. Today, buildings are sinkholes for energy, water, and toxic materials. From what has been learned and implemented in the past ten years, we know conclusively that buildings can be the source of energy, water, and purification of in- and outdoor air."
Hawken is one of three celebrated keynoters for the conference (David Suzuki and Jason McClellan being the other two), which has as its theme "Resilience and Regeneration." In his e-mailed remarks to me, Hawken argues that it's not just possible, but absolutely critical to restore the qualities of resilience and regeneration to our built environment:
"These qualities are inherent in all living systems, organisms, and the planet as whole. Without them, life could not have evolved to what we see today. What we have witnessed and participated in during the past 200 years is a thermo-industrial system that ate its host—cultures, land, riparian corridors, topsoil, watersheds, coral reefs, and more. In the process, innate attributes of life were eroded and stripped away. Given the disruptions that we can now easily foresee with respect to climate disruption and its myriad impacts on food, water, cities, and people, it is imperative that we reach deep into the playbook of nature and reinvent what it means to be a human being living on the only earth we will ever have."
Over 1,000 green building professionals and thought leaders will be at the conference hoping to learn and share cutting edge knowledge. Although most attendees will be from the Northwest, if last year is any indication, the gathering will include delegates from all over the world.
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. She'll be conducting an introduction to the EMERGE Leadership Model at Living Future this year.
The following post is by Kathleen O'Brien:
New is not always better.
I have to confess that I've been a little put off by local historic preservationists self-righteously declaring that "preservation" equals sustainability and leaving it at that. Yes, yes, I understand that recycling buildings intuitively makes sense, but since sustainability sometimes asks us to think counter-intuitively, I needed more. At a recent Sustainable Cities Roundtable conducted by King County's Green Tools Program, I got what I needed.
Robert Young, PE, LEED AP, is professor of architecture and director of the Historic Preservation Program at the University of Utah, and author of the new Island Press release, "Stewardship of the Built Environment." He was guest speaker at the Roundtable. Young provided some very satisfying arguments for promoting preservation and building reuse as a sustainability strategy. In making his arguments, he gives equal weight to what he terms SEE (or what some of us have called the "three E's"): social, economic, and environmental factors, and defines stewardship of the built environment as "balancing the needs of contemporary society and its impact on the built environment with the ultimate effects on the natural environment."
The Historic Preservationists have been at their best when justifying conservation due to social factors, and Young does speak to this. What I appreciated is that he also addresses environmental and economic factors in an analytical but highly accessible manner. One of the areas he touched on in his talk was the idea of calculating energy recovery as part of understanding the energy performance of preservation vs. new construction. As Young notes in his book, "the argument for measuring embodied energy to justify the retention of a building is (still) met with skepticism." He claims this is largely because embodied energy is considered a "sunk cost" and therefore not part of decisions about future expenses. I think he would also say it's because of our societal preference for the glitter of "new" vs. the practicality of "existing," which may not be part of the accounting equation, but certainly humming in the background.
In his talk, Young used his own home to compare the energy recovery periods required to simply perform an energy upgrade to his home, to abandon the home and build a new one in the suburbs, or to demolish and rebuild in place. When he accounted for the embodied energy in the new buildings (whether in place or in the suburbs), the energy to demolish the existing building, and operating energy required for the remodeled or new building, it became clear that the remodel was the best choice when considering true energy performance. In scenarios provided in his book, energy recovery calculations result in recovery periods that exceed "the expected useful lives of many buildings being constructed today." And this is without calculating in the transportation energy expenses that are likely to accrue when the new building is built in a greenfield out in the suburbs.
In the economic realm, Young compared the job creation resulting from highway, new, and rehab construction. In jobs per million dollars spent, rehab wins again. Although a small part of the construction activity (Young estimated 5%), rehab creates roughly 5 more jobs per million dollars spent than highway construction, and 2 more jobs per million dollars spent on new construction. If I am interpreting Young's figures correctly, just by turning our economic recovery lens on rehab and away from highways and new construction we could potentially create between 6-12% more jobs per million dollars spent on construction. (And we might actually reduce the environmental, social, and economic negative impacts of sprawl -- even if it's "green")!
Young's talk introduced some great food for thought, but I'm so glad to be reading his book. In his concluding chapter, "Putting it All Together," he provides a list of "challenges" for stewards of the built environment, ranging from advocating outcome-based codes (since prescriptive codes are based primarily on new construction practices) to presenting project lessons learned (both positive and negative) to "decision makers and policy shapers who mediate building preservation and reuse policies." Lots to work on.
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 & Co., the firm she founded over 20 years ago, and provides leadership training and mentoring through her legacy project: The Emerge Leadership Project.
Sara Strouse, an architecture grad student in the WSU School of Design and Construction, has organized a design competition — there’s no contract at the end but the winner gets a $3,000 prize — to find creative ways to reuse waste material when the old SR 520 floating bridge comes down in 2014.
A press release from WSU about the competition said replacing the bridge is expected to create enough waste material to fill 67 Boeing 747s.
Strouse said as her final design project for school she wants to see if having a competition will get more people thinking about adaptive reuse — and get a little more attention for her thesis. She hopes to get between 50 and 100 ideas from design teams and individuals.
Submissions are due Aug. 15.
Strouse said she initially thought she would come up with ideas for reusing the bridge materials but she wanted to reach a broader audience and get an up-close look at how design competitions work so she decided to launch the contest. It has been a struggle to get sponsors and design the website herself, but it is giving her an opportunity to network with people and companies in the Seattle design community, where she eventually hopes to land a job. She graduates in December.
Her father is a local architect, William Strouse of KSI Architecture and Planning.
The contest sponsors are NBBJ, KSI Architecture and Planning, WSU School of Design and Construction, and Kiewit/General/Manson, which is the bridge project contractor.
The new bridge is scheduled to open in 2014. After that, the old bridge will be removed.
Paul Hirzel of the School of Design and Construction said, “Infrastructure is of big interest in the U.S. right now, and encouraging the reuse of an existing structure versus demolition contributes to sustainability measures that are becoming more and more critical.”
The jury includes WSU graduate and architect Robert Hull.
For more information on the competition, see www.rethinkreuse.org. Winners will be announced by Peter Steinbrueck at the Seattle Design Festival Sept. 21. Winning entries will be displayed at the AIA Seattle Gallery from Sept. 18 through Oct. 26.
When we're talking about solving big problems there is a division between those who believe new technology will hold the key and those who believe things need to change now, even if we don't have the perfect tools. That division was highlighted at yesterday's talk on energy and climate by Bill Gates.
Bill Gates, former Microsoft CEO and co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, spoke at Climate Solutions' annual breakfast May 10. Our story on his talk is here and there are
“The thing I think is the most under-invested in is basic R&D,” he said. “That's something only the government will do. Over the next couple of decades, we have to invent and pilot, and in the decades after that we have to deploy in an unbelievably fast way, these sources.”
But even during the breakfast, this division between work in the future and work now was felt. Dean Allen, CEO of McKinstry, spoke before Gates did. He said technological silver bullets are great but "it's often not best to wait for superman. It's sometimes better to figure out how to take practical and profitable real time solutions where we live.", go here.
Later, in a briefing with journalists, KC Golden, Climate Solutions' policy director, said he doesn't think all our problems will be solved by public funding. Public money isn’t a panacea, he said, but it is a critical piece of the solution for the energy sector “because the way the regulated economy works starves the energy sector of R&D money and innovation.”
If we are going to solve the energy and climate problems, what do you think we should be concentrating on - innovation or current work? Of course, the true solution would and most likely will (if we find it) include both. But which area do you think deserves more attention?
It's (one of) my favorite times of year here at the DJC Green Building Blog: time to head to the Cascadia Green Building Council's Living Future Conference! Starting tomorrow and lasting until Friday, I'll update you on the happenings of my favorite annual conference. If you've never heard of@KatieZemtseff for a more thorough and concise take on sessions and speeches.
This is my fifth Living Future event (which means I've been to all of them). The conference alternates each year between Seattle, Vancouver and Portland. In past years, I've heard and documented talks in this blog from Janine Benyus, Paul Hawken and James Howard Kunstler among others. This year, I'm looking forward to hearing what Majora Carter has to say. I'm also really excited to tour the University of British Columbia's Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability.
Living Future, here I come!