DJC Green Building Blog

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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Seattle’s getting more BigBellys!

Posted on July 31, 2009

BigBelly trash compactors that is. What's that you say? You don't know what a BigBelly is, other than the thing that seems to sit on your father in law's middle? Well friends, a BigBelly is a trash compactor that holds five times the trash of a normal can. And Seattle - which had three in March of 2008 - is about to be getting 20 more.

First, some history. I wrote about the BigBelly in March of 2008 here in the DJC after meeting

James Poss at the Globe 2008 conference, photo by Katie Zemtseff
its inventor, James Poss, at the Globe Conference in Vancouver, B.C. The BigBelly uses a solar panel to create energy, which it then uses to compact the trash inside it. This means waste haulers have to pick them up less often, which means the people paying haulers save money.

In 2008, Poss said the cans cost between $3,000 and $4,000 but pay for themselves quickly. Poss also said Seattle is a great climate for these things, because they work on ambient light, which exists when it is cloudy or rainy.

In Seattle, the 20 BigBellys will be placed along Third Avenue between Stewart and University streets by the Metropolitan Improvement District and Seattle Public Utilities. There will supposedly be a celebration at the first installation tomorrow (Saturday) from 10:30 to 11 a.m. at the west side of Third Avenue near the Stewart Street intersection.

Now, 20 BigBellys (which at $3,000 a pop totals $60,000) may seem like a big deal. But it's not. Not when you compare it to Philadelphia, that is, which has replaced 700 downtown garbage cans with 500 BigBellys, according to the AP story which ran in the DJC last week. The story says the cans cost between $3,195 and $3,995 each (do the math, even at the lower end, it cost Philly about $1.6 million) but should save $875,000 per year, basically paying for itself in two years and then continuing to save money after. A press release for the MID says Philly plans to save $13 million over the next 10 years from the compactors

The BigBelly in action
and recycling containers that will go next to them.

The story says the cans in Philly will be emptied five times a week as opposed to 19 times for a regular trash can. The cans also have a wireless monitoring system to tell the city when they are full.

But here's the interesting part: how many cans has Seattle been testing for over a year now? Three. How many cans did Philly test for a year before ordering 700? Three. I'm sure part of that difference has to do with the fact that Philly got some sort of a grant (the story doesn't say what) for installations. But I think it still underscores how cautious Seattle is about making big decisions. Is Seattle too cautious here or is it smart not to jump into something like this too quick? (If you want to read the negative perspective of BigBelly, check out EcoMetro here.)

The AP story says Philly's not the only one with BigBelly fever. Boston has 160, says they aren't concentrated enough and wants more. Entities in New York are using 100. Chicago has 60, and they are being used in parts of Australia, Israel and France.

Seems like somebody at least thinks they're a good concept.

And even if if weren't a good concept, the BigBelly sure inspires some great quotes. When I spoke with Poss for the 2008 article, he described BigBelly as "carpooling for trash."

And the AP story says Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter inititially asked, "What? Who's got a big belly?" when he was introduced to the devices.

What do you think? Is there enough of a payoff for Seattle to invest in more of these or is our system just fine the way it is?

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Out of work? The building deconstruction industry is hiring!

Posted on February 3, 2009

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

Image courtesy Dave Bennink
600,000 people in it and now it only has about 290,000?  First the jobs left and then the people followed.  This has left Buffalo wondering what to do with tens of thousands of abandoned homes. 

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

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How does CBRE get to carbon neutral?

Posted on November 20, 2008

How does one of the biggest companies in the U.S. measure and decrease its carbon footprint? Theoretically, it should be a simple process, but when you've got 1.7 billion square feet of real estate space worldwide, that's quite a lofty goal. The difficulty is made even more challenging when you also set a goal of being carbon neutral by 2010. But that's what CB Richard Ellis did in May of 2007.

I'm here at GreenBuild in Boston, listening to CBRE speakers discuss the topic. Just to get a basic understanding of it takes an hour and a half!

It all began, said speaker Matthew Arnold of Sustainable Finance, when CBRE, a real estate services company, acquired Trammell Crow in 2006, making it a juggernaut of a real estate player. That deal, he said, suddenly brought a host of new questions like what is the diversity makeup of your workforce and what is your company's sustainability plan? Arnold was hired to help answer those questions and make CBRE an environmental leader. 

In the end, the firm decided to focus on diversifying the workforce and on lowering its carbon footprint. CBRE formed a task force, which came up with a company policy in three months. Arnold said that is incredibly quick, as banks, in comparison, take about a year to do the same work.

In May of 2007, CBRE committed to being carbon neutral as a company by 2010. The commitment refers to the company's own operation meaning activities directly owned or controlled by CBRE, electricity or heat consumed by CBRE and activities controlled by third parties that are directly linked to CBRE, though it is urging clients to do so as well. Arnold said, "For CBRE, one of the greatest benefits of all this is being able to bring it to its clients."

Just measuring the company's current footprint has been a huge challenge, speakers said. It is concentrating on building operations and on employee travel. In January, the company will launch an internal program to measure company travel as no such metrics had previously existed. It is using 2007 as a baseline for building operations.

At 62 percent of CBRE's market, the U.S. is the biggest fish to catch. In the U.S., CBRE has 2.4 million square feet of space in 162 locations with 18,000 employees, according to Sherada Sullivan of CBRE's Chicago office.

The company is working on getting more renewable energy and getting more submetering information from building owners. It will occupy only LEED certified buildings when possible in the future.

Sullivan said the company has issued a number of mandates for 2009 including requiring double-sided printers, switching marketing materials from paper to digital and banning water bottles. It is tracking the green office supplies it buys and is trying to raise that number. Sullivan said the Human Resources Department is also looking at options like telecommuting, flexible work weeks and public transit opportunities. 

But none of those actions will get a company the size of CBRE all the way to carbon neutral. Obviously, the final plan in 2010 will require a lot of offsets. Arnold said the firm is working to ensure it gets the most reputable and honest offsets it can.

For more information, visit CBRE's sustainabilty site here.

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Al Gore was in Seattle Friday. Said economic meltdown is huge business opportunity.

Posted on October 24, 2008

Al Gore, Nobel Peace Prize winner, Academy Award winner, author and oh yeah, former vice president of the U.S.A.... was in town on Friday at a fundraiser for Gov. Chris Gregoire. I was lucky enough to see him speak, along with a room full of Gregoire donors who paid at least $150 for their tickets.

Al Gore spoke in Seattle on Friday

Gore said the U.S. needs to get off foreign oil and onto renewable resources. He said Washington leads the nation and the world in this endeavor. He said we need to re-elect Gregoire. Nothing particularly earth shattering, except for the fact that he was saying it.

Then again, he did describe oil as another sub-prime asset, and said while the current economic conditions are dangerous, there is also opportunity. "It's the biggest business and jobs opportunity in the history of the world economically."

And where should those jobs and opportunities be concentrated? WASHINGTON my friends. Gore said he points to Washington as a leader in his lectures, both nationally and globally.

But the oil and coal age won't end when we run out of oil, Gore said. Instead, it will end when "we come to our senses" and develop energy infrastructure based on solar and wind sources.

It also turns out he has a long relationship with this state and greatly admires it - heck, he's climbed Mt. Rainier, Christmas shopped here, fished here and is oldskool buddies with Rep. Norm Dicks. In fact, none of this state's flatterers mean it as much as he does, according to Gore. 

As a speaker, Gore was sporadically funny, connecting with the audience and drawing huge rounds of applause that drowned out his microphoned voice. Then again, the audience wasn't exactly impartial. It's also obvious that Gore speaks pretty frequently and he is so comfortable in the post he doesn't really need to write a speech anymore, he can just talk.

Unfortunately for me, Gore never mentioned green buildings. He mentioned solar and wind energy, but that's the closest it came to making my heart go pitter-patter. For substantive green building discussions, I guess I'll have to stick with our local lectures. At least there's lot's to choose from!

If you want more information on what he spoke about, the Northwest Progressive Institute Blog has a nice rundown. Xconomy Seattle also has a nice post about what else Gore was doing in our great city here.

Do you think the current economic crisis will affect green buildings? Answer my poll at right, if you haven't already.

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More images of ‘net zero’ townhouses underway in Issaquah

Posted on September 30, 2008

After a tumultuous year, the zHome project has started off on a new foot with its Monday groundbreaking. The project is a 10-unit townhome development in the Issaquah Highlands that uses smart design and technology to create all the energy it consumes. It plans have net zero carbon emissions and cut water use by 60 percent.

I first wrote about the project last December here when Noland Homes was the

Courtesy of David Vandervort Architects
builder on the project and planned to develop it at its own cost. A lot has changed since then: namely Noland dropped out and Howland Homes came on (and will develop it at its own cost). But the project has finally broken ground and, as Brad Liljequist, zHome project manager for the city of Issaquah, says in the project's inaugual blog post (yes it has a blog here) it "takes my breath away a little bit" to be at this stage in the project's life.

zHome has a nifty Web site that can answer all and any of your questions from what materials are being used to how they're doing it to how to buy into it. For more information, visit it here.

Courtesy of David Vandervort Architects
This solar panel from the groundbreaking comes wrapped in a bow!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The latest rendering

 

 

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AEC jobs are changing because of green, growth group is launched, more!

Posted on September 24, 2008

Readers, I'm sorry I haven't posted in a couple days here, but like I mentioned in an earlier post, September is CRAZY. Tuesday, that craziness was exemplified by my calendar, which had me rushing from the Urban Land Institute's launch of the Quality

Busy, busy times!
Growth Alliance in downtown Seattle, to a panel discussion (that I moderated) in Bellevue, and back to our offices in Pioneer Square to write up the story. Whew.

In case you missed both those events (and the recommendations put out by the Western Climate Initiative to boot) here is a rundown for your viewing pleasure:

The Quality Growth Alliance. Anyone remember Reality Check in April? The huge event that got 250 big-wigs playing with Legos? At that event (DJC story on it here), I spoke with Jim Potter of Kauri Investments who told me it was a great planning exercise as long as the results didn't fade away into the sunset. Well the alliance is the attempt of prominent groups - from the UW's College of Architecture and Urban Planning to NAIOP - to make sure the results stick around and influence future planning policy. More info in my story in today's DJC or at their Web site.

The Panel Discussion. In case you missed this one, it was a lot of fun. Hosted by SMPS, panelists represented various fields of the AEC community (architecture, engineering, construction) and were Eric Anderson of MulvannyG2, Jeffrey Cox of Triad Associates, Rae Anne Rushing of Rushing and Yancy Wright of Sellen Construction Co. Among some of the interesting tidbits:

  • Collectively, panelists said sustainable or green design is changing so quickly, that as soon as you read about it, it's old. If you want to know what's going on you need to work to educate yourself. This is true for everyone, and especially for marketers.
  • Marketing and public relations professionals, they said, need to be really careful about sounding really stupid. Oftentimes they (and I incidentally) get press releases that virtually make no sense. If you're going to write about green systems or projects, understand it, otherwise you run the risk of major embarrassments (I can't tell you how often I get press releases that tell me a product will get me 10 "Leeds" points).
  • Green building doesn't have to be more expensive if you start from the beginning and have the right leaders on board. If you start thinking about integrative design and green systems midway through a project, there's a good chance it's going to be more expensive.
  • Everyone needs to be on board with green building, even those who have been in the industry for many years and are hesitant to change the way they work. Panelists said they need all disciplines at an eco-charette and that bringing and open mind really, really helps.
  • Definitions aren't clear and because everyone has different definitions.... it's hard to understand what a word, be it 'eco-charette,' 'sustainability' or 'integrative design,' means to a specific person. Define those definitions for your project, or your company.

Western Climate Initiative. And don't forget yesterday's announced recomendations by the Western Climate Initiative for a regional cap and trade system. If you want to learn more about this one, read the Seattle Times or the PI.

Also, if you're looking for an interesting way to fill your Thursday evening, Patrick Bellew of Atelier Ten will speak at the downtown Seattle Library at 5:30.

That's all for today folks. If I don't thank you enough, thanks for reading!

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Green event produces 44 tons of trash. Is it still green?

Posted on July 14, 2008

How much trash does a "green" event produce? Evidently, a lot if you're the U.S. Green Building Council's GreenBuild 2007. The annual conference, held in Chicago last year, created 44 tons of waste.

small-waste.jpgGranted, 91 percent of it - or 40 tons -  did not end up in the landfill, according to Dan Bulley, chair of the Volunteer Committee for Greenbuild in 2007. Instead 300 college students sorted through the waste.

Of the 40 tons of waste diverted, Bulley said seven tons were food scrap, and six tons were wood from expo displays in the exhibit hall.

What's 40 tons of waste? For people around Seattle, it's all the dog droppings left in Snohomish County over two days. For out of towners, it's 260,000 items that washed up on New Jersey's beaches over a year. For the U.S., it's on the low end of the total waste a person produces in a year.

When you rationalize the numbers out, the mass waste makes some sense.... it was a week long conference and expo with an exhibit hall and 25,000 participants, so Bulley says it works out to about 3.5 pounds of waste per person (nevermind most people only stayed three days but we'll go with it....).

But does mass waste ever make sense? The diversion fact is commendable. And the image of college students rifling through my waste (yes, I was at GreenBuild) is something to ponder. But did that 44 tons of waste need to be created in the first place?

Think about it... thousands of people gathering together to figure out how to save the environment and how to build green. And yet they still can't not use things. 44 tons of things. Thrown away. Isn't green building all about the idea that the little things - like 44 tons of waste - matter?

No wonder right wing talk show hosts call greenies hypocrites.

Remembering back, the hefty 187-page program could have been .... digital! Or it could have been easier to compost food scraps, or recycle nametags.  Those participating in the expos could have used less literature or cards that pointed attendees to a Web site.

Or, as a green building consultant said to me the other day, the entire conference could have been virtual. If 44 tons of trash sounds like a lot, imagine the carbon emissions from the millions of miles of air travel. (I for one met people from the U.K, Japan, Canada....)

This is by no means an isolated event, just a high profile one. But it seems to me an example of the kinks, shall we say, in the green building movement. Do I have something here or is it too much to think that people promoting green ... could change the way they do things? It's like not seeing the forest for the trees (that were at least, diverted).

For more, Building Design + C0ntruction runs the full press release here. FrontBurner asks if green trash is still green here. Or in another scenario from Wired Magazine here, Brandon Keim explores a Japanese city that just stopped waste collection. Now there's an idea. 

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Paper or plastic will cost you next year! And say goodbye to Styrofoam

Posted on April 2, 2008

If Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and City Council President Richard Conlin get their way, you will be charged a 20-cent "green fee" on all disposable shopping bags from Seattle grocery, drug and convenience stores, starting Jan. 1, 2009.

According to SPU, about 360 million disposable bags are used in Seattle every year, most plastic. That translates to 600 bags for each Seattle resident.

And those handy white foam containers that hold your pho soup or Mexican takeout, pictured at left? Under the proposal, you'll also stop seeing those. Instead, businesses would have to replace everything from foam plates, cups and egg cartons with a different product by Jan. 1, 2009. Then, they would have to switch to using compostable or locally recyclable packaging by July 1, 2010.

The changes were announced in a proposal today supported by Nickels and Conlin. The legislation isn't ready yet, but Conlin said it should be finalized, and considered by council, in June.

Nickels said Seattle is the first city in the country (that he knows of) to create a program like this, though cities across the world are adopting similar policies. At least 20 U.S. cities have banned polystyrene food packaging including Portland and San Francisco.                                                                             

Other options include packaging made of corn starch and sugar cane. A spokesperson for local restaurant group Tutta Bella, pictured at right, said at a press conference today that due to the restaurant's recycling and composting of everything from expired pizza dough to food containers, the waste from all three restaurant locations combined fills only one garbage can per day.

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As of today, Seattle projects must calculate greenhouse gas emissions in SEPA (is mitigation next?)

Posted on March 31, 2008

As of today, any project in Seattle that trips a SEPA review will need to calculate its greenhouse gas emissions.

What do you think? Is this a good move or is it impinging on your rights? Should the city, county and state move in this direction, and if not, what would you tell them to do?

I've written about this subject pretty extensively since King County kicked off the crusade last June. Back then, King County Executive Ron Sims declared his intentions to connect developments to greenhouse gasses in an executive order. To read that story, click here

As the deadline for action neared, I spoke with representatives of local business groups NAIOP, AGC and the Master Builders Association. They told me what their concerns were about the process. To read that story, click here.

Then Seattle began considering the changes, read about it here, and Washington State Department of Ecology Director Jay Manning advised anybody seeking a permit to start considering the same questions, read that one here.

Now, Seattle's day has finally come. Seattle is using the same checklist that King County has had in place, though there may be some tweaks to it. To see a draft of the checklist, go here. DPD has also devoted a whole Web site to today's changes. To see that site, visit here.

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