DJC Green Building Blog

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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Majora Carter asks us to celebrate little achievements

Posted on April 28, 2011

Last night's keynote presentation was a world away from last year's. As depressing as James Kunstler's talk was at Living Future 2010, Majora Carter's was uplifting and inspiring. I figure that is the point.

In a very casual manner, Carter explained her history with the South Bronx and how she came

majora
to be active in its revitalization. Really, it all came down to a dog. Carter was walking her dog Xena through her neighborhood when the dog led her past a pile of waste and crack viles to the Bronx River, which Carter didn't really know existed. Seeing the river's natural beauty so close to her home started Carter on a journey to develop green space along the river, and towards an effort of empowering people at the local level to care about their environment.

One big problem, she said, is that most people, especially those of color, view environmentalism as an upper middle class white movement that has "absolutely nothing" to do with them. Carter said part of her mission is to teach that "the environment" is really something everyone interacts with on a daily basis and that green elements can put money back in your pocket. In her talk, Carter championed green infrastructure such as green roof, and urban agriculture efforts.

Like the tea party, Carter said she believes in a smaller government. However, she believes this can be achieved by creating jobs for society's most expensive citizens. The generationally impoverished, she said, or people who are in and out of jail or people coming back from war, use the most social services dollars. If these people had something to look forward to and some way to start paying the bills, less would return to jail or to patterns that use social service dollars. Carter works on such programs in her community, and supports others across the country.

For example, she referenced a program in Chicago called Sweet Beginnings led by Brenda Palms-Barber that teaches ex-offenders to harvest honey from beehives, turn it into skin products and market it. A year in jail costs $60,000. The national recidivism rate is 65 percent Carter said, and this program's recidivism rate is 4.5 percent. The program saves society money while creating empowered workers, and keeping dollars from product sales in the local economy.

"Really all any of us want is something to look forward to," she said. " There’s Bronxe’s all over the place."

Carter said everyone can further this type of goal by asking how your work, products or even material choice can create social well being. Carter said things like making sure  you have local hire provisions can have a big impact.

She also said it's important to celebrate the small things. Because it's the small things that really count.

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Off to Living Future 2011!

Posted on April 26, 2011

Hello Readers.

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

Off to Vancouver!
Living Future and won't be heading up to Vancouver, B.C., either keep your eyes tuned here or check out the blog's archives on past events. You can also follow me on twitter @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!

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Tom Douglas’ 3 new restaurants in South Lake Union historic renovation

Posted on March 22, 2011

I attended a press event this morning for the completion of Amazon.com's fourth phase of headquarters work. Attendees were invited into the historic renovation of the Terry Avenue Building next door. Terry Avenue, located on Terry Avenue North between Thomas and Harrison streets,  is soon to be the home to three (!!!) new Tom Douglas restaurants. Terry was designated a historic landmark in 2008. It was built in 1915, and was a hardwood flooring and cabinetry warehouse until the 1950s.

Surprisingly, the press release doesn't say much about the building's sustainable elements (other than it has the first green roof on a historic building in the city). Terry was part of Amazon's phase four and the release does say phase four buildings targeted LEED gold certification. From a sustainable standpoint, the fact that it is a historic renovation automatically buys the building some credibility. I asked Douglas why he liked the space. He pointed to the 1908 wooden pillar I was leaning against and said projects don't get much better than that.

Douglas also said the building is the first place he'd head during an earthquake, due to the extensive seismic renovations that went into it.

The three restaurants will all be open by mid-April. Cuoco, on the ground floor, will serve fresh pastas made in an open kitchen and will seat 100. Ting MoMo, a Tibetan dumpling cafe led by longtime Douglas chef Deyki Thonden, is to the east of the second floor and will seat 40. The Brave Horse Tavern, to the west of the second floor, will seat 150 and serve Americana food. Cuouco should open the last day of March or first few days of April. The other two restaurants will open the following week.

At the event, Ada Healey, vice president of real estate at Vulcan, said a number of things still have to happen in the neighborhood, including an up-zone. I chatted with Seattle City Council President Richard Conlin briefly at the event and he said council is trying to balance the needs of a new urban neighborhood with the need to protect the area's heritage. It is an especially pertinent time to discuss this topic as The South Lake Union Height and Density Alternatives Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which addresses this issue, is accepting comments until April 11. What do you think? Should South Lake Union be allowed to go higher? Or are there heritage elements in the neighborhood still to protect? Would love to hear your thoughts.

In the mean time, here are pictures! To see more, check out my Facebook page here.

The Terry Building from the outside, amongst Amazon.com projects. Images courtesy Katie Zemtseff.

Inside of The Brave Horse Tavern. That's Tom Douglas, behind the horse.
Inside of TingMomo Cafe (Tibetan dumplings!)
A bull statue in Cuoco.
Shuffleboard at the Brave Horse Tavern.
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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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Giuliani says clean tech is America’s next big market

Posted on September 29, 2010

This week, I interviewed former Mayor of New York and Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani on clean tech. The story is in the DJC here and nicely sums up our conversation. But if you're interested in why

Rudy Giuliani. Photo By Katie Zemtseff
Giuliani is interested in clean tech or what he thinks the next big thing or heck, whether he likes Seattle or not, I suggest you view our discussion.

The discussion is split into three video interviews. Here they are:

Click here for part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qmR1WlDAJ4o

Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XTNYT65chrU

Part 3: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wwjH09FjsFU

Enjoy!

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Cameron Sinclair says culture needs to be a bigger part of sustainability

Posted on September 23, 2010

Cameron Sinclair spoke this morning at Sustainable Industries' Seattle Economic Forum. Sinclair is the co-founder of Architecture for Humanity and winner of the 2006 TED prize. Architecture for Humanity is also the creator of the Open Architecture Network, a fascinating open source community where professionals from around the world can share their designs dedicated to improving living conditions.

Sinclair, a visionary who wants to change the world through good design, spoke about Architecture for Humanity's work throughout the world.  About 30 percent of projects are on the West Coast of the U.S. while

Cameron Sinclair
the rest are international in counties from Brazil to Sri Lanka to Pakistan.

Sinclair said much of sustainability is centered on proving scientifically that it works through white papers and other research projects. But energy can just as easily be used to actually build a project and make a difference for people. Architecture for Humanity does this by building transformational projects and trying to find innovative solutions in materials and social cohesion. In places that need services, like Haiti or Pakistan after recent natural disasters, "it's not about airdropping professionals. It's about how can we empower local professionals with what they need to get stuff built." Culture, he said, is an element of sustainability and has to be part of the solution.

The organization began in 1999. It has built projects in 38 countries and 1.2 milion people are currently "living, healing or learning" in structures it has created, Sinclair said. Outside of the U.S., 110 are off the energy grid. Sinclair said its easier to build these type of projects outside the U.S. because people can easily see the value. Here, he said you must convince people that going off the grid doesn't mean "you're a crazy hippy that lives in Oregon, eats granola and smokes dope." It is currently building in 16 countries. In fact, he was jetting down to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil after his Seattle talk, to meet with team members there about a project.

Overall, Sinclair's message was centered on community cohesion through the design process. You can make a community better, he said, if you provide them with a needed structure that speaks to their cultural needs and involves them. Our western style of community engagement doesn't always work in other places, and doesn't always properly solicit the right ideas. His organization has drawn building plans on the ground for children to explore and used radio to get people in Brazil connected to a project's design.

Though much of what Sinclair was speaking about applies to his international projects, there are four over-arching points he mentioned that anyone can learn from:

* Integrate local culture into your process

* A strong society creates a strong economy

* Your client is your design expert

* We should be building community, not destinations.

For more information on Sinclair, check out his Web site, Twitter feed @CaSinclair or the most recent issue of Sustainable Industries.

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Missed Van Jones in Seattle? Watch a video of his talk here

Posted on May 28, 2010

Thursday morning, I attended Climate Solutions' morning breakfast and lecture with Van Jones. Jones spoke for 30 minutes about the Gulf oil disaster, where we can go next and how Seattle is leading the way. One of the things that stuck in my head is that he said the fact that the spill happened isn't a tragedy. The tragedy will happen if we don't learn from the disaster. He also said the oil situation is worse than Hurricane Katrina because it speaks to the endemic problem of oil use in our country.

Van Jones
If you missed it, you can watch a video of his whole talk here, courtesy of Climate Solutions. If you've never heard Jones speak before, you might want to set aside 30 minutes and give it a go. He is a funny, charismatic, impassioned speaker who was extremely gracious in his references towards the Obama administration. (However, after listening to him speak for 30 minutes, I couldn't help asking myself how much it cost to bring him out here). Watch the video here: http://vimeo.com/12117354 .

There's lots of commentary out on this in the Seattle media scene. Alex Steele, the eco-maven, wrote a great blog post here. The Seattle Times had a quick overview of a later talk at City Hall, while Joel Connely took his columnist stab at it here. There was also a lot of coverage via Twitter #VaninSeattle. Enjoy the holiday weekend!

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Living Future: speaker chose 17 years of voluntary silence in response to oil spill. What can we do now in response to BP?

Posted on May 7, 2010

I'm at the last keynote of Cascadia's Living Future Conference. John Francis of Planetwalk, an activist and author who stopped speaking for 17 years in response to a 1971 oil spill, is lecturing. He also stopped driving in cars or vehicles. This, my friends is a real storyteller.

Francis opened the discussion by slowly walking into the room playing a banjo. Now, he is telling the story

John Francis
of his life complete with movements, theatrical gestures and impressions. It's a pleasure to be in a room with someone that pulls you into their story, rather than keeping you separate from it.

So how does one stop driving in vehicles or speaking? It first began with an oil spill. After the oil spill. he decided to stop driving in cars. Then, in honor of his 27th birthday, he decided he wouldn't speak for a single day. Once he stopped speaking, he learned he hadn't been listening to people for a long time. He'd listen just enough until he thought he knew what someone would say but would then begin thinking of a retort. It wasn't communication at all. When he discovered this, Francis said it was both a happy and sad day. He started listening and began learning things. He said being silent also stopped him from lying, which he had previously done often. A week turned into a month. Which turned into 17 years. It took him seven years and 1 day to walk from one coast of the U.S. to the other.

He said he started speaking again on the 20th anniversary of Earth Day in order to communicate the following:

"If we are part of the environment as we profess then our first opportunity to treat the environment in a sustainable way or even to understand what sustainability is is in relationship with ourselves and each other."

After breaking his silence, he got a job rewriting oil pollution legislation with the U.S. Coast Guard.

In the end, his message is that we are the environment. How we treat each other will manifest itself phsycially. This is especially important in relation to the BP Gulf oil spill. When he was studying for his Ph.D., Francis said his worst case scenario wasn't nearly as bad as what has happened on the Gulf Coast. He asks us to ask ourselves what we have done that have perpetuated oil use, and what we can done to change that on a personal basis. This oil spill is going to hurt, he said, but something will happen because people will "make it happen."

"It's not so much the pollution... that's important but what's the most important is what's inside of us... and how we let it touch each other," he said. "(It's) love for all of us and redefining the environment to encompass that... and redefine ourselves as Americans to care for all Americans.... if we can make that paradigm shift on a personal basis that... we're really gonna change the world."

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Living Future Unconference: the future is a strange mix of doom and hope (so far)

Posted on May 6, 2010

This is my fourth Living Future Unconference. With the expection of last year's talk by Janine Benyus, each keynote talk has been somewhat doom-filled. Well, last night's talk by James Howard Kunstler was the most frightening and depressing of all.

HOWEVER, that's not to say it was a bad talk. It was a great talk. Just sweeping, opinionated and scary.

Kunstler basically said that our entire future is going to change and quick. In the next five years, he said air

Is this what we want our cities of the future to look like?
traffic and flying will be a thing of the past. It will become so expensive that it will become an elite sport: the rich will do it and the rest of us won't. Another thing we won't be doing is driving everywhere. Here are other things that will be totally different: suburbs, skyscrapers, green building, schools, food production and daily life.

Education he said, will be done mostly via homeschooling and groups of homeschooled kids. This will give children an 8th grade education level, he said, which is better than current college students are receiving.

Green skyscrapers he said don't exist. It's greenwashing. Skyscrapers will become abandoned and unused.

Suburbs, he said, will just plain die. They have four futures: 1. Being retrofitted, 2. becoming salvage yards, 3. Becoming slums and 4. becoming ruins. A very small amount of suburbs, he said, will be retrofitted. Those that will be will be located strategically near waterways or other useful things for human civilazation.

As a society, he said we better start changing things and getting used to this different future RIGHT NOW.

I just finished an educational session with Bill Reed. He mentioned "wanting to slit your throat" after listening to Kunstler and other similar speakers.

On the other hand, this morning's keynote by Jason McLennan, CEO of the Cascadia Green Building Council totally counteracted the idea that our world is doomed. We have a choice, he said. To move forward and create a brilliant future or to not. The future, he said, is not set in stone. We have every possibility in the world to make it ours. (Bill Reed echoed this theme, saying the future doesn't have to be as negative as some people believe).

McLennan said we need to recognize human failure and feel that pain. Then we must "make a difference in the time that we have."

It's been an interesting dichotomoy of ideas so far that leads to internal pondering of philosphy. Living Future, as always, does just that: it makes you think. Now onto the rest of the day....

If you're interested in up to the minute updates on the conference, follow me on Twitter @KatieZemtseff.

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