Category Archives: People

What’s missing in green buildings? Training

The following post is from Washington State University:

More than one-third of new commercial building space includes energy-saving features, but without training or an operator’s manual many occupants are in the dark about how to use them.

Julia Day recently published a paper in Building and Environment that for the first time shows that occupants who had effective training in using the features of their high-performance buildings were more satisfied with their work environments. Day did the work as a doctoral student at Washington State University; she is now an assistant professor at Kansas State University.

Julia Day

She was a WSU graduate student in interior design when she walked into an office supposedly designed for energy efficiency and noticed that the blinds were all closed and numerous lights were turned on. The building had been designed to use daylighting strategies to save energy from electric lighting.

After inquiring, Day learned that cabinetry and systems furniture throughout the building blocked nearly half of the occupants from access to the blind controls. Only a few determined folks would climb on or under their desks to operate the blinds.

“People couldn’t turn off their lights, and that was the whole point of implementing daylighting in the first place,” she said. “The whole experience started me on my path.”

Working with David Gunderson, professor in the WSU School of Design and Construction, Day looked at more than 50 high-performance buildings across the U.S. She gathered data, including their architectural and engineering plans, and did interviews and surveys of building occupants.

She examined how people were being trained in the buildings and whether their training was effective. Sometimes, she learned, the features were simply mentioned in a meeting or a quick email was sent to everyone, and people did not truly understand how their actions could affect the building’s overall energy use.

Green-building occupants aren't always taught how to use the building's energy-saving features.

One LEED gold building had lights throughout to indicate the best times of day to open and close windows to take advantage of natural ventilation. A green light indicated it was time to open windows.

“I asked 15 people if they knew what the light meant, and they all thought it was part of the fire alarm system,” she said. “There’s a gap, and people do not really understand these buildings.”

According to CBRE Research, the amount of commercial space that is certified as high-performance in energy efficiency through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star or U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED has grown from 5.6 percent of commercial space in 2005 to 39.3 percent at the end of 2013.

Yet in many cases, the corporate culture of energy use in buildings hasn’t caught up. While at home our mothers nagged us to turn off the lights when we left a room or to shut the door because “you don’t live in a barn,” office culture has often ignored and even discouraged common-sense energy saving.

Day found that making the best use of a highly efficient building means carefully creating a culture focused on conservation. In buildings with an energy-focused culture, workers were engaged, participated and were satisfied with their building environment.

“If they received good training, they were more satisfied and happier with their work environment,” she said.

She is working to develop an energy lab and would like to develop occupant training programs to take advantage of high-performance buildings.

“With stricter energy codes, the expectations are that buildings will be more energy efficient and sustainable,” she said. “But we have to get out of the mindset where we are not actively engaged in our environments. That shift takes a lot of education, and there is a huge gap right now.”

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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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Deconstructing sustainability

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.

Author Lance Hosey warns that if sustainability is treated as a style, then it can go out of style.

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.

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Living Future a Deep Dive into What’s Possible…and Necessary, says Noted Paul Hawken

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.

Paul Hawken

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.


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It’s time to redesign our neighborhoods

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?

Ron Sims

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.


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