I spent my Friday morning at the 2010 Built Green Conference in Bellevue. Unfortunately, I had to skip out early. I did spend enough time at the conference to do some valuable things: I heard keynote speaker David Orr of Oberlin College & Conservatory, attended one session on water, caught up with some great people I haven't seen in a while and got to quickly run through the expo floor.
This is the third Built Green Conference I've attended. I went to sessions at last year's event in Seattle and
Orr's talk was an interesting one. One of the things I found most perceptive, was his impression of the future. As climate change advances and we begin to see the effects, he said "the biggest issue we face is going to be despair." To counter that despair, we are going to need hope, he said - not optimism. Today, we are all optimistic, he said, though we don't realize it. "The sweet spot is hope but hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up," he said. "Despair you don't have to do anything. Just sit and marinate."
One of the things Orr spoke about that can lead to hope, at least in his community of Oberlin, Ohio is something called 'The Oberlin Project.' The project, one of 18 projects worldwide in the Clinton Climate Initiative, aims to show new ways that cities can grow in climate positive ways. The project is a revitalization of a 13-area block near the city center that will include the development or renovation of a dozen building in the next five to seven years, according to a press release from Oberlin College.
Orr said we need to move towards this type of community-wide development for green buildings. We're doing great on green structures and are improving on green neighborhoods. Now, we need to make the next step to looking at the green community, he said.
If you attended, what did you think of Orr's speak? What struck you most?
Recently, I received a book in the mail called, 'True Green Home - 100 inspirational ideas for creating a green environment at home.' The book, by Kim McKay and Jenny Bonnin, was released by National Geographic this month.
The book is a handy little thing that does exactly what its title says in outlining
Being an environmental reporter, most of the ideas in this book don't surprise me. I already knew building orientation mattered, as does placement and type of windows, building material and design. But I was surprised by a few things I didn't know. For example, Number 30 advises me to invest in a bag-less vacuum cleaner. Call me crazy, but I had no idea such a thing even existed! Number 76, regarding natural cleaning of kitchens and utensils, advises me to clean copper with equal parts ketchup and Worchestershire sauce. Really?! I almost want to go burnish my mom's copper pots and pans just to test it out.
Every idea comes with glossy, pretty pictures. Case studies from William McDonough + Partners, Whole Foods, the USGBC and others also punctuate the pages.
For those people who live, breathe and eat green, this book will be old news. But for those who are just looking to learn about green building or are considering a home remodel, this could be a helpful source of information.
The book is available online. For more information, visit National Geographic here.
Honestly, he spoke about so many different things I don't really know what to tell you, dear reader. So I'll start with energy.
Kennedy spoke a lot about the energy grid. The largest technical problem in weaning ourselves off oil, he said, is that we don't have a grid that can handle new sources of energy like wind or solar. Developing a system that would reach every American home would cost $1 million per mile, he said, or $150 billion. It's a one-time expenditure, he said, and would benefit national security. He said we've done it before with computers and the Internet; all we have to do is make the commitment.
He also said we need to change the way the energy business works. Utilities today, he said, benefit by creating and selling more energy. We need to redevelop it to focus on conservation. "We have to change that incentivized system," he said, "So that they can make the same money by getting people to conserve, not consume."
He also spoke a lot about a business he is a part of called Better Place. Better Place is a venture-backed company that seeks to build an electric car network based on today's technology. Kennedy said the company is beginning with Israel, where it hopes to transform the market over the next three years. The company will give electric cars away for free - made by Renault and Nissan - to anyone who signs a contract with the company. Under the contract, the person owns the car while Better Place owns the car battery (which costs $20,000). The company pays itself back by charging a premium on the power the car needs to run, outlined in the contract. He said the company has similar contracts with Denmark, Australia, Hawaii and north California, and would love for all of North America to follow suit.
"The electric car is the way this country is going to go," he said.
Kennedy also took a hit at the mainstream media, calling it "negligent" in reporting important stories over the past decade. Instead, he said the media has become entertainment rather than information, which appeals to the prurient interests in the reptilian parts of our brains. Ouch.
Were you there? If so, what did you think was the most interesting thing he said and how would you rate his speech?
P.S. The information Kennedy shared about his personal levels of mercury (if he were a woman, he said a doctor told him his children would have cognitive impairment) was pretty frightening. If you want to test your mercury levels, visit the Waterkeeper Alliance, another organization Kennedy is affiliated with, here.
This is a guest posts by Dave Bennink, owner of Re-Use Consulting.
When I started deconstructing buildings in 1993, we certainly made efforts to recycle metals we found at our jobsites (as well as other recyclable materials). The money we made was used for important purposes like company gumball machines or a used jobsite radio to replace the one that was driven over by the forklift (with my Abba cassette tape in it).
Frankly, the $123.45 we collected didn't compare to the $1,234.56 we received from flooring sales but we did it anyway.
Then China started buying up recycling commodities and the price went through the roof. All of the sudden everyone was recycling. They recycled their cans and pie tins, their flashing and pipe, and unfortunately their neighborhood street signs and electrical substation equipment. We had never had so much interest in our jobsites (I mean after we had left for the day). We were even getting ripped off by grannies in electric wheelchairs towing 3 cubic yard metal recycling bins.
When demand increased the scrap prices, supplies steadily rose with it. Local recycling companies bought up scrap and laid out thousands to do so. When the demand for steel suddenly fell so did the price paid, and that amount actually dropped from $300/ton to $20/ton. Our local recyclers were stuck with metal that they couldn't sell for as much as they bought it for and the lack of demand meant some had months worth of stock on hand. This series of events led to some metal recyclers cutting back and others closing up shop altogether.
I had a chat with Dave Whitley of Nuprecon and found out that this has also affected contractors. He said that they were giving building owners a break by lowering their bid price after factoring in the value of the metals found within the building. When prices suddenly dropped, demolition companies were left ‘out in the cold’. Whitley also informed me that other markets including even cardboard had experienced similar drops and that it was all caused by our current complex financial problems and demand issues overseas.
What can we do to help? In many ways the Northwest is a national leader in green building and materials recycling. When prices were high, we were all benefiting. So when prices dropped, we shouldn’t allow anyone to be left out in the cold. They say that for one of us to prosper, we all must prosper. The recycled commodities market is beginning to recover, and I suggest we look to groups like the Northwest Chapter of the Construction Materials Recycling Association to tell us how we can help and how to avoid problems in the future.
We have worked hard to make recycling a common practice here in the Northwest, and we can’t allow temporary drops in the price to change that. So support your local reuse and recycling companies. They are working everyday to create jobs, preserve natural resources, and save precious energy and they are counting on you to help.
Dave Bennink, Reuse Consulting
Steve Nicholas, one of the most constant faces in Seattle sustainability politics, has left the Mayor's Office of Sustainability and Environment. In fact, he's even leaving the state!
That's right. Nicholas, who has been the director of OSE for eight years (longer than the mayor has been mayor), will begin a new job in Montpelier, Vt. in October as director of climate programs at the Institute for Sustainable Communities.
His spot will be filled, as in interim position, by Michael Mann, the deputy director of the Office of Policy and Management. Mann recently led the department’s Transportation and Infrastructure Team.
Back then, the article reads:
"If, on the other hand, his office becomes a "repository for all things sustainable. That's an abject failure," he says."
A lot of things have changed since that article. But some things haven't changed. The office is still around. The city is still looking at a streamlined permitting process for green buildings. We're still wrestling with the word 'sustainability.'
Readers, it hasn't been 10 years yet --- only eight. But what do you think the office has accomplished in that time? Has Seattle done everything it could to encourage sustainable development, living, business etc., in eight years or not? And is the mayor's office a repository for all things sustainable or slowly being worked out of existence? What do you think are the biggest green development changes in that time?
Oh, and if anyone has Steve's e-mail, tell him I'm lookin' for him!
For more DJC articles on Steve Nicholas, see this article he wrote for us in 2004, this one he wrote in 2005, this one he wrote in 2002, this one about the mayor's crusade for trees, and this one about smart growth.
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 New 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.