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

Greenbuild recap: Seattle represented!

Posted on November 22, 2010

GreenBuild is done for another year. Looking back, I can definitely say the Pacific Northwest - and Seattle in particular - represented.

From speakers (there were at least 35 from the Pacific Northwest) to people in the crowd (I must have seen at least 50 people from the area) to a reference in Rick Fedrizzi's opening speech to the Living Building Challenge to expo hall presenters, there was a giant contingent representing what

The expo hall at GreenBuild, by Katie Zemtseff
some *ahem* consider to be the greenest region of the country.

Overall, I noticed a change in GreenBuild presenters. It seemed (to me) that there was a little less architectural focus and more focus on the financial aspect of green building from the real estate side. Speakers came from Kennedy Associates, Wright Runstad & Co., Hines, PNC Real Estate, Lease Crutcher Lewis, Vulcan, Jones Lang LaSalle etc. To me, this reinforced the idea that "green" is becoming more and more mainstream. While the design aspect is important, the financial metrics really sell it -- just look at LEED volume. I also noticed a focus on the sustainability of the site, versus just the sustainability of the building.

I enjoyed the focus of the expo floor to reduce waste. Instead of a flood of literature that stays on my desk for months, presenters were encouraged to limit waste and only give away business cards. It was impressive.

I also enjoyed some of the wild outfits that turned up. Especially colorful cowboy hats, a full fake animal print suit in different colors and the myriad of cowboy boots worn on people's feet. A friend of mine said there seemed to be a lot more suits at GreenBuild this year - which she said is a good thing "cuz we need 'em!"

As for dislikes, I heard a lot of complaints about the lack of vegetarian food (this is GreenBuild afterall!) I also heard a lot of people complaining about two elements of Colin Powell's speech: his discussion of the state of terrorism in the U.S. and abroad and his statement that coal, nuclear and oil need to be just as much a part of our energy portfolio as solar and wind energy.

What did you think of GreenBuild? Comment below and tell me what your favorite - or least favorite part was. Would love to hear your reaction!

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GreenBuild Day 2: bifacial solar panels and natural swimming pools that use plants, not chlorine!

Posted on November 18, 2010

I've been through about an eighth of the GreenBuild Exhibition floor so far and wanted to share two of the things I've seen with you.

These are the Sanyo bifacial panels that will be on the Bullitt Foundation's Living Building on Capitol Hill. The collect energy from both sides while letting some light in at the same time. Bullitt was attracted by the transparency of the panel.

Sanyo panel, photo by Katie Zemtseff

And this is the BioNova Natural Swimming Pool. The swimming pools use natural systems (meaning plants in gravel) instead of chlorine and other chemicals to treat water. That means the water color is darker, looking more like a lake than a traditional pool. It also means that people that use them need to get used to the idea of sharing their pool occasionally with frogs or other critters. James Robyn, CEO of the company, said the pools aren't for everybody. "Whoever doesn't like that sort of thing shouldn't do this."


Robyn said the pool technology came from Europe, where it has been used for 20 years. He said it has a low carbon footprint, is all natural and is "perfectly healthy." Robyn, who is based in New Jersey, said he's being asked about the pool system all across the country. In fact, he was in Seattle giving a lecture last month though he said there are not yet any of his pools in process in the Seattle area.

There are basically five ways to build the pools but each involves about 1 square foot of treatment space for 1 square foot of pool. That means if you want an 850-square-foot-pool, you need 850 square feet of treatment space. It's more expensive but it certainly looks cool!

For more on BioNova, check out its Web site.

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GreenBuild Day 2: There’s something about GreenBuild

Posted on November 18, 2010

I'm mid-way through my second of three days at GreenBuild and something is different this year.

For the most part this conference just seems.... on. First, let me tell you that this is my third GreenBuild I went to GreenBuild 07 in Chicago, GreenBuild 08 in Boston and had guest posts on the blog at GreenBuild Phoenix last year. To read posts from each experience, click the 'greenbuild' tag below.

Personally, of the three, I think this is the best year yet. All the problems I had with my first Chicago GreenBuild experience:  insanely long lines for the keynote speaker, no clear way to compost food or recycle name tags, a tiny nonfunctional press room, teaching sessions focused on the lowest common denominator, almost rampant waste with giant programs and a general disorganization - are gone.

In its place three years later is a well organized, smoothly run conference. Sessions are easy to get into and focused on pertinent topics. People I've spoken with so far agree that this year, everyone seems to have a deeper level of green building knowledge. The press room is large with easily accessible outlets. Compost and recycling is clearly marked and encouraged. There's also signs all around this exhibit hall stating that the carpet is going to be recycled or that giving out fliers is strictly prohibited without USGBC permission.  The USGBC also worked with food suppliers at the conference to make sure everything was organic.

There are also many more of my favorite kind of session: off site visits that demonstrate the unique aspects of the city you're in.

There's been changes in the exhibit hall. Rather than the standard conference practice of having every exhibitor give out literature that is often thrown directly in the garbage, the USGBC has instituted a program to curb that waste. More about this later.

That's not to say that everything is perfect. But overall, I'm pretty impressed and looking forward to the rest of today and tomorrow.

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GreenBuild Day 1: Colin Powell says he knows more about green building than you think

Posted on November 17, 2010

This morning, former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell gave the keynote speech at the USGBC's GreenBuild Conference in Chicago. He said he knows more about green building than you think.

Powell's green building credibility, at least during his talk, came from three things: a $1 billion annual budget for building embassies during his time as a politician, his work with Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers that is funding

Colin Powell
Bloom Energy, and his association with a LEED platinum affordable housing building in the Bronx bearing his name.

However, his talk didn't really focus on green building. Instead, it focused on the state of the country, motivating Americans and creating true leadership to support our economy and continue improving America. A big part of this effort, he said, is energy efficiency.

Powell said those in the green building sector need to look at what they're doing and see the broader purpose:

"Your purpose is to help the world use less energy, to help the world promote its environment and above all to help the world grow economically so that more people can come up out of poverty and despair... you have got a purpose for your future.

"What you’re doing is building green buildings and that's wonderful but what you’re really doing is helping the world deal with its energy needs and helping the world create growth for those in need."

Powell said this effort is playing a major role in the U.S.'s national security policy because it is reducing energy needs. However, he also said the U.S. can never be totally energy independent and that we need all sorts of energy: wind, solar, nuclear and coal. I'm guessing a number of you would take issue with that.

Overall, the talk careened from America's place in the global economy to our country's future to terrorism to leadership. Powell spoke personally about having a 2.0 GPA in college, being a son of immigrants and being a new soldier soon after the army was desegragated. None of these things matter, he said.

"It doesn't matter where you start in life, it's where you end up but more importantly, what did you do along the way?”

He spoke about aging in a world of new media "I'm analog trying to become digital" and about the emptiness he felt immediately after leaving his post as secretary of state (to deal with it, he needed to find other intellectually challenging opportunities, such as his work with Kleiner and with his effort to promote education nationally).

As a speaker, Powell was engaging and funny, repeatedly making the audience (and me) laugh. It's nice during these talks when you can lose yourself to some degree in what the speaker is saying and allow yourself to be transported, rather than always remaining detached from the subject matter. If you have a chance to hear him speak, I would highly recommend it.

Are you here? What did you think of the talk? Were you impressed with the overall inspiration or upset that it didn't focus more on green building? Would love to hear your thoughts!

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Going to GreenBuild!

Posted on November 15, 2010

Hello lovely readers! I will be at the USGBC's GreenBuild Conference in Chicago this week and will be right back here throughout, updating you on all the sustainable  happenings of the event!

However, one can only blog so much. If you want more news and timeline tidbits, follow me on Twitter. My handle is @KatieZemtseff.

I'm looking forward to learning a lot. Hope you are too. Starting Wednesday, check back often!

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Chicago’s eco-guru becomes Vancouver, B.C.’s main man

Posted on October 2, 2009

I'm behind the news curve on this one as I was out of the office for much of September, but if you missed the headlines elsewhere, Sadhu Johnston, Chicago's point person for sustainability, has taken a job with Vancouver, B.C.

Beginning in November, he will become Vancouver's deputy city manager, according to the Seattle PI's Strange Bedfellows Blog. His goal? To make Vancouver the region's very greenest city, a goal that Mayor Greg

Sadhu Johnston
Nickels has constantly touted for Seattle and a title Portland hopes to claim as well.

Johnston was Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's chief environmental officer, a post Daley created for Johnston two years ago according to the Chicago Reader. More info on the switch here.

I heard Johnston speak at GreenBuild in Chicago two years ago. Not that it effects his ability to help lead a city but he seemed to be a pretty charismatic and interesting guy with  many, many ideas for how an urban area should work.

I'm interested to see what Johnston can do with Vancouver, and how he will work with Brent Toderian, the city's development manager. There's a great profile of Toderian and how the city's development attitude has changed in recent years here. It's fascinating to see how much power Toderian has in Vancouver, compared to how development is done here in good ole' Seattle.

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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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What would you do to increase efficiency in buildings?

Posted on July 30, 2008

Last week, I mentioned Seattle's new green building task force. Their job is to figure out how to make Seattle's buildings (both old and new) 20 percent more efficient by 2020. Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to tell me (and possibly them) what you want to see.

The team is discussed in an article today in the DJC. The story discusses multiple viewpoints: Ash Awad of McKinstry thinks Seattle is behind small-light.jpgNew York City and Chicago in some ways in energy efficient programs and incentives, and the task force can help shore up that deficiency. Douglas Howe of Touchstone is concerned about maintaining Seattle's commercial viability.

But there are 50 people on the task force. Doesn't that mean there are (honestly) going to be 50 different opinions? Especially when the force is looking at everything from density bonuses and expedited permits to green investment funds and "carbon feebates."

So how about you, 51st task force member? Does one of these ideas strike you as being better? What would it take to get you to update or upgrade a building or system, and would any of these ideas do it?

For those of who who have already taken the efficiency plunge, don't look so smug. Mark Frankel, technical director of the New Buildings Institute and task force member, said there isn't a building in Seattle that couldn't improve its energy efficiency, even by commisioning alone. Hemmmmm.

In other news, MarketWatch has a story on how the Electrical Contractor Magazine's 2008 Profile of the Electrical Contractor says almost half of electrical contractors used green or sustainable feature. For more go here.

The New York Time's Dot Earth covers what Google's energy czar thinks we should do about energy in America.

EcoMetro Seattle has a post on green fabrics appearing on Project Runway (for any fashion geeks out there).

JetsonGreen has two Puget Sound area stories, including an announcement of a green open house in Mt. Baker tomorrow.

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Walkable Seattle, a task force to make Seattle ‘green capital’ and Cameron Diaz

Posted on July 23, 2008

I've been on vacation the last week in Chicago/Michigan/Indiana so here's some news items you might have missed:

small-greenlake.jpgSeattle is a walkable city!  According to Walk Score's listing of the 138 most walkable neighborhoods in the country, Pioneer Square hits number 18, Downtown Seattle (wherever that is) is 33, First Hill is 46, Belltown is 61, Roosevelt is 64, the International District is 83, South Lake Union is 85, University District is 86, Lower Queen Anne is 97 and Wallingford is 133. And overall, Seattle is the 6th most walkable city, following San Francisco, New York, Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia. I don't know that I agree with the ranking, do you? For more opinion on whether Seattle reeeeallly outranks Portland, check out the Seattle Weekly here. For more on urban development visit Seattle MetBlogs here, and  Sightline's has more here with some pertinent reader comments!

The first meeting of the Green Building Task Force is tomorrow from  3:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the downtown library. The goal of the force over the next six months is to figure out how to actually make Seattle task-force.jpgthe "green building capital," and help achieve Nickel's February goal of improving energy efficiency in commercial and residential by at least 20 percent. I wrote about that in the DJC here. They'll be looking at policy options, financing programs, efficiency incentives and regulatory mandates.

There will be two teams: one will work on existing building stock, the other will work on new. That's an important point, as many energy efficiency programs or government mandates only look at new projects, and not existing, even though there is by far much more to fix in existing buildings.

I love sources that provide a virtual who's who of green people and this task force does just that. Members include reps from AIA, AGC, BOMA, Master Builders, Mithun, NBBJ, Touchstone, Seattle Steam... you get the idea. To see the actual list, go here.

diazsmall.jpgIn other news, I learned on my trip that US Weekly has a spread in its current edition about green celebrity tips. I'm not sure how I feel about this, but if you (or your kids) want to know what Cameron Diaz does to go green, check it out. I must admit the part comparing carbon emissions from celebrity perks (like personal jets and yachts) to everyday life (coach seating, a little sailboat) was a tad - shall I say - enlightening (or depressing, take your pick). Treehugger covers it here.

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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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