DJC Green Building Blog Covering green building issues in Seattle and around the Pacific Northwest

Got a green building start-up idea? Here’s help

Posted on January 15, 2013

The following post is by Kathleen O'Brien:

For innovative, entrepreneurial types, green building is a perfect field. It's not business as usual, and although some folks are claiming that green building is now mainstream because many new (and more and more existing buildings) have LEED plaques on them, sustainable building is not the norm. Not even close. Do you have a big idea you'd like to operationalize to help this movement along?

Michael "Luni" Libes

Being a smart innovator doesn't necessarily mean you don't need help mapping out a business to take your idea to market. I recently chatted with Michael "Luni" Libes, author of "The Next Step: Guiding You From Idea to Startup." Luni calls himself a "serial" entrepreneur with six start-ups himself, primarily focused on hyper-intelligent data gathering and mobility products and services — he founded GroundTruth, Inc., Medio Systems and 2WAY, for example.

After years of being asked how he "did" it, he decided to write a book about it. The book takes two "socially" responsible product ideas through their traces, from ideation to business launch and beyond: Bird Watch, a set of tiny radio tags to measure wildlife behavior, and Concrete Battery, an energy storage technology using low-tech flywheels. The book isn't philosophical, it assumes you have an idea that is socially conscious and you wish to bring it to market. As a social entrepreneur myself, it's a delight to see the process so clearly laid out.

The book was just the first step for Luni, as he is now an instructor in social entrepreneurship at the Bainbridge Graduate Institute, and the Entrepreneur in Residence Emeritus at UW's Center for Commercialization. His current "start-up" is aptly named Fledge, which he says is a "conscious company" incubator aimed at helping create companies "fill the unmet needs of conscious consumers." He also organizes social entrepreneurship weekends — he held two in 2012. These are fast-paced idea competition events. They are similar to the "slams" held at recent Living Future Conferences but longer and more intense and definitely more serious about testing ideas generated against the kind of real-world criteria that real-world start-ups have to face.

With the passage of state HB 2239 last year, it became legal to incorporate a for-profit that prioritizes its social or environmental mission over the conventional priority of shareholder profit. In a sense, it expanded the definition of "shareholders" to include all stakeholders (humans and otherwise), not just those who own a piece of the company. This legal basis, and the savvy to take a truly "good" idea to market provided by organizations like Fledge could make a difference for those of us in the green building field. We have long understood that green building can be good business, but some of us would appreciate help turning that philosophy into long term financial sustainability. (If I knew then, what I knew now...)

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 own conscious start-up: The Emerge Leadership Project.

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Bill Gates says technology holds the key to energy, climate. What do you think?

Posted on May 11, 2011

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

Image courtesy The Seattle Times
multiple other articles and accounts on the web. Gates basically said what he's said before: we need major technological breakthroughs to solve climate and energy problems. To do this, he said the government needs to spend more than double the amount it currently does on research and development, and the private markets will follow. By breakthroughs, he means far-out technologies that will create a zero or very low carbon energy source. More money should be spent on renewable energy, carbon sequestration and nuclear energy, he said.

“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."

Image courtesy Climate Solutions
Allen has a guest post on the Climate Solutions Blog here, if you're further interested in his ideas. To watch Gates' TED talk on a similar topic, 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?

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Read the DJC’s free Building Green Special Section

Posted on February 24, 2011

If you don't have a subscription to the DJC or don't click on our articles as they are locked, you might not know about our free special sections.

Special sections, written by people in a targeted industry for people in the industry, are free to read, meaning even you non-subscribers can access valuable information. Special sections come out about once a month and each section focuses on a different topic. This month's excellent topic is Building Green and I am thoroughly impressed with the breadth of this year's coverage.

The free special section is here.

In it, you'll find this excellent article by Michelle Rosenberger and Nancy Henderson of ArchEcology called "Watch out for 'greenwashing' by service providers." Among its interesting points, the article examines whether consultants can truly bring a LEED approach to a project without rigorous third party LEED certification.  Interesting item to bring up.

There's this article by Constance Wilde of CB Richard Ellis reflecting on her personal experience of  becoming a Certified Green Broker, and its values and benefits.

There's this great article by Joel Sisolak of the Cascadia Green Building Council called "Two Seattle projects set 'net-zero' water goals," which looks at the region's water infrastructure and two living buildings (The Bertschi School's Science Wing and the Cascadia Center for Sustainable Design and Construction, both covered previously in this blog)  that plan to go off the water grid and their challenges in doing so.

Then there's this article by Elizabeth Powers at O'Brien & Co. on whether green parking lots can be (gasp!) green. I'll let you read the article to learn more.

The section also has articles from representatives of Skanska USA Building, Mithun, MulvannyG2, GGLO, Scott Surdyke, Sandra Mallory of the city of Seattle and CollinsWoerman on topics ranging from the city's role in evolving practices to big box stores, student housing and public housing.

So go ahead, check it out and enjoy!

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Interested in backyard cottages? Event May 24 is for you!

Posted on May 14, 2010

On May 24, Method Homes and Infiniti RED are holding an event that will showcase the work of 35 local architects and designers related to backyard cottages. It should be an interesting time.

At the end of 2009, the city of Seattle legalized backyard cottages on Seattle lots over 4,000 square feet. This

Image courtesy Infiniti RED
event, launched in April, asked local architects and designers to come up with innovative backyard design to offer for Method Homes customers.

Those who attend the event will see all the design challenge entries, meet the designers, participate in the awards ceremony and enjoy food and drink. A jury including David Cutler of the Seattle City Planning Commission, Robert Humble of Hybrid Architecture and Colleen Groll of O'Brien & Co. will judge the entries. Andrea Petzel, Seattle City Planner, will act as advisor to the judges.

There will be five awards given out. Awards will be given for overall best design, honorable mention for best design, most innovative, most sustainable and most adoptable.

The free event will be at 7601 Greenwood Ave. N. and begins at 5:30 p.m. For more information, contact Brian Abramson at Method Homes at (206) 790.2852 or Infiniti RED at (206) 235.6925.

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Puget Sound Partnership gets in hot water with state audit

Posted on May 13, 2010
Puget Sound
This morning, KUOW 94.9 aired a pretty hard-hitting piece on the Puget Sound Partnership and a recent state audit of the agency. John Ryan (who worked here at the DJC years ago, if you didn't know), covered the story in a clear way that left me with one word on the tip of my tongue after he finished: "Wow."

According to the audit, the "partnership circumvented state contracting laws, exceeded its purchasing authority and made unallowable purchases with public funds."

I just spoke with Frank Mendizabal, spokesperson for the partnership, who said the agency has made a number of changes already in response to the audit but will continue "tweaking" its operations in the future.

For more information, check out the KUOW story here.

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2009 was green consultant’s “best year ever”

Posted on February 5, 2010

The other day, I was talking with Pam Worner, top dog at Green Dog Enterprises (yes, that's her official title) about a new green house project. When Pam just about shocked me out of my chair with the following sentence: "We had the best year ever last year but not without a lot of anxiety." That's right; 2009 was her company's best year ever.

First, some history. Green Dog Enterprises is a consulting firm that has been around for four years. It "promotes

Pam Worner
green construction practices and helps businesses succeed in the green building market." It has three employees, including Worner, the business' founder.

She has worked on a number of cool projects, many of which are listed here.

To survive this past year, Green Dog did a number of key things. First, it didn't turn down any job and expanded the kind of work it did. It did consulting, marketing, verification and worked in niches that weren't being filled. Second, it spread out geographically to areas that green building consultants don't always concentrate on. Areas like Pierce, Thurston, San Juan and Jefferson counties. Third, it cut overhead and moved into an office in Worner's house.

In other words, Green Dog worked with 50 different clients in 2009. That's up 50 percent from the year before, Worner said.

Worner said a lot of her growth came from areas outside of King County. In King County, she said, "you probably can't swing a cat without hitting some sort of green building expert." But those experts don't always go to neighboring areas where demand for green systems and projects are also growing exponentially.

Still, there was a lot of anxiety about surviving. But for every one thing that disappeared, another two things reappeared, Worner said.

Worner only works with green projects and attributes her success in the past year to that work. She said she knows of several builders who say that it is the green focus that has kept them competitive during the downturn.

Moving forward, Worner is confident she can continue her momentum. "This will be an even better year."

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The Stranger says Schuster Group makes layoffs, headquarters for sale

Posted on April 1, 2009

The Stranger reports that The Schuster Group is laying off staff and trying to sell its double-LEED-certified headquarters building in lower Queen Anne for $4 million.

An interior view of The Schuster Group\'s headquarters building
Dominic Holden's post quotes Scott Bevan, senior development manager of Schuster, saying, "The building is actually owned by one of our investment groups and part of our responsibility is to return money to our investors ... In order to return in that investment, we have got to sell the property."

In addition to Mosler Lofts, this building has been a very significant feather in the green developer's cap. It represented the company's commitment to green building, and was often cited as an example of what could be done in green development. 

Last June, I reported on the double LEED certification for existing buildings and interiors here. The building's improvements included daylighting 90 percent of the office space, installing daylight sensors control lighting, using rainwater barrels and a reflective roof.

In that story, Mark Schuster, founder and CEO of The Schuster Group, said, "We didn't just want to create an environmentally savvy building, we wanted to create an environmentally friendly atmosphere in which every tenant and employee has an active role in using green practices every day."

Schuster also spoke at a forum in February on how green development would be affected by the economy.  At that event, he said people in the green movement are going to have to be committed to jumpstarting green building once the economy comes back in a couple of years. To read the story, see the DJC here.

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Study measures energy efficiency against economic feasibility

Posted on February 24, 2009

Earlier today, NAIOP national released a report that looks at the levels of energy efficiency a standard office building can achieve while remaining economically feasible.

The study looked at whether commercial development could achieve reduction

The Casey in Portland is designed to use 52 percent less energy than a similar, conventional building
The Casey in Portland is designed to use 52 percent less energy than a similar, conventional building

targets of between 30 and 50 percent above ASHRAE 90.1-2004. It compared results on a four-story, 95,000-square-foot, Class A office building in climate zones represented in Chicago, Baltimore and Newport Beach, Calif.

The results?

"Findings show that although significant energy efficiencies can be achieved (varying by climate zone), reaching a 30 percent reduction above the ASHRAE standard is not feasible using common design approaches and would exceed a 10-year payback. The study concluded that achieving a 50 percent reduction above the standard is not currently reachable."

Here is the breakdown:

Chicago had a 23 percent increase in energy savings at a $188,523 cost increase at an 8.8 year payback.

Baltimore had a 21.5 percent increase in energy efficiency at a $165,148 cost increase at an 11 year payback.

Newport Beach had a 15.8 percent increase in energy savings at a $169,898 additional cost at a 12.2 year payback.

Ouch. Those are long paybacks for most developers. But then again, developers ARE targeting these goals and reaching them. Heck, there are net-zero buildings under development! NAIOP's goal in developing this study was to prove that a one-size fits all approach does not work in green buildings, but that almost seems to holds true in countering the study, too. Though most of the developers who really push the green envelope, both in design and energy efficiency, are long-term holders of buildings.

Is that what it all comes down to? What a developer's business model is?

The study also said elements of a holistic, integrated design approach that could create higher energy efficiencies were impractical in the study's building prototype. The example the study gives is that a geothermal system requires an additional two acres of space, at least in the Newport Beach model.

To read the entire press release, go here.

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The economy: will green building take a hit?

Posted on October 13, 2008

READERS, if you like this post, subscribe to a free reader to make sure you are alerted whenever there's a new post to the Green Building Blog. Just click on the 'Subscribe in a Reader' link at right!

Green building has many elephants in the room and thanks to the current state of the economy, this is a big one: will green building suffer because of the current state of the economy?

The problem with trying to answer this question is that it all comes down to

The road to market-wide green buildings?
definitions: what do you consider to be a green building? Does it need to be certified by a third party operation? Are you talking about all markets - commercial, homes, mixed use etc.?

Assuming you can answer the definition question, another one immediately presents itself: how do we measure how green buildings are doing? Is there any way to realistically measure the buildings that are putting off plans, and then how green building is a factor in that?

I cannot answer these questions without doing a lot of research with time I frankly don't have. But in the end, it seems like there are two groups out there:

1. The group that thinks yes, green buildings will take a hit because they're more expensive.


2. The group that thinks green buildings are actually more valuable because they cut down on energy use and electricity bills, and will hold their value better in future markets.

Which group do you belong to? Comment on my new poll at right, or tell me more below, to let me know!

P.S. For great coverage about how the market is affecting the Puget Sound region, check out the DJC. On Oct. 13, we ran a story from local contractor's perspectives. On Oct. 14, we run a story on local architecture and engineering firm's perspectives. Don't miss them!

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Could efficient homes save the U.S. housing market from an Asian takeover?

Posted on June 20, 2008

First off, let's be clear. I'm not fear mongering, my point isn't to scare people. But the doomsday scenario of China's taking over the U.S. housing industry the same way Asia took over the U.S. auto industry was a driving factor behind Parr Lumber's development of a building science-based efficient home product. 

takeover1.jpgIn case you missed it, I discussed the product (and Asian threat, real or not) in an article last Thursday here.

The product is called the Parr High Performance System. Parr takes an architect's plans, tweaks them, builds pieces of a house's frame at a climate controlled plant and assembles the building's envelope on site. It's quick, easy and they say more efficient.

Parr says it reduces energy bills, reduces job site lumber waste by 75 percent, shortens the construction schedule, and provides cleaner air and consistent room temperature.

Oh, by the way, Toyota Housing Services has already entered the housing market in San Antonio, Texas.

Apparently, Toyota has been in the housing business since the 1970s. For more information on what the Japanese modular homes look like, see below or click here.

toyota-home.jpgNate Bond, director of sales at Parr, says houses have been built the same way since the stud frame home was invented in the 1800s. He says something needs to change to keep American homes competitive and efficient. If Asia brings a great, cheap, modular house to the mass American market, he said, “They would take over the U.S. housing market without firing a shot.” What do you think? Is he right?

If he is right, could efficient easy homes be the answer?

For an overview of the housing market from a mortgage planning perspective, check out this post called Brian's Blog O-Parr-Tunity here.

For more on the Parr product, where the idea came from, how it works and building science, read my story in the DJC here.

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