DJC Green Building Blog

Crunch the numbers and preservation wins

Posted on November 16, 2012

The following post is by Kathleen O'Brien:

New is not always better.

I have to confess that I've been a little put off by local historic preservationists self-righteously declaring that "preservation" equals sustainability and leaving it at that. Yes, yes, I understand that recycling buildings intuitively makes sense, but since sustainability sometimes asks us to think counter-intuitively, I needed more. At a recent Sustainable Cities Roundtable conducted by King County's Green Tools Program, I got what I needed.

Photo courtesy of McKinstry

The previous owner used stacks of wooden pallets to keep the ceiling from falling in on this 104-year-old railroad building in Spokane, but McKinstry bought it and spent $20 million to create high-tech office space for its 150 Inland Northwest employees.

Robert Young, PE, LEED AP, is professor of architecture and director of the Historic Preservation Program at the University of Utah, and author of the new Island Press release, "Stewardship of the Built Environment." He was guest speaker at the Roundtable. Young provided some very satisfying arguments for promoting preservation and building reuse as a sustainability strategy. In making his arguments, he gives equal weight to what he terms SEE (or what some of us have called the "three E's"): social, economic, and environmental factors, and defines stewardship of the built environment as "balancing the needs of contemporary society and its impact on the built environment with the ultimate effects on the natural environment."

The Historic Preservationists have been at their best when justifying conservation due to social factors, and Young does speak to this. What I appreciated is that he also addresses environmental and economic factors in an analytical but highly accessible manner. One of the areas he touched on in his talk was the idea of calculating energy recovery as part of understanding the energy performance of preservation vs. new construction. As Young notes in his book, "the argument for measuring embodied energy to justify the retention of a building is (still) met with skepticism." He claims this is largely because embodied energy is considered a "sunk cost" and therefore not part of decisions about future expenses. I think he would also say it's because of our societal preference for the glitter of "new" vs. the practicality of "existing," which may not be part of the accounting equation, but certainly humming in the background.

In his talk, Young used his own home to compare the energy recovery periods required to simply perform an energy upgrade to his home, to abandon the home and build a new one in the suburbs, or to demolish and rebuild in place. When he accounted for the embodied energy in the new buildings (whether in place or in the suburbs), the energy to demolish the existing building, and operating energy required for the remodeled or new building, it became clear that the remodel was the best choice when considering true energy performance. In scenarios provided in his book, energy recovery calculations result in recovery periods that exceed "the expected useful lives of many buildings being constructed today." And this is without calculating in the transportation energy expenses that are likely to accrue when the new building is built in a greenfield out in the suburbs.

In the economic realm, Young compared the job creation resulting from highway, new, and rehab construction. In jobs per million dollars spent, rehab wins again. Although a small part of the construction activity (Young estimated 5%), rehab creates roughly 5 more jobs per million dollars spent than highway construction, and 2 more jobs per million dollars spent on new construction. If I am interpreting Young's figures correctly, just by turning our economic recovery lens on rehab and away from highways and new construction we could potentially create between 6-12% more jobs per million dollars spent on construction. (And we might actually reduce the environmental, social, and economic negative impacts of sprawl -- even if it's "green")!

Young's talk introduced some great food for thought, but I'm so glad to be reading his book. In his concluding chapter, "Putting it All Together," he provides a list of "challenges" for stewards of the built environment, ranging from advocating outcome-based codes (since prescriptive codes are based primarily on new construction practices) to presenting project lessons learned (both positive and negative) to "decision makers and policy shapers who mediate building preservation and reuse policies." Lots to work on.

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 legacy project: The Emerge Leadership Project.

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Seattle hiring manager for energy work – apply quick!

Posted on June 24, 2010

The city of Seattle's Office of Sustainability & Environment is hiring a sector manager for its retrofit ramp-up non-residential program. But hurry! The closing date to apply for this job is June 25- tomorrow.

Seattle received money through the federal Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant, as part of the federal stimulus. This position will manage retrofit delivery for the non-residential sectors of the grant, in partnership with the grant team, staff from other city departments and the project steering committee. The person chosen will also be responsible for developing a sustainability plan to ensure the programs created through the grant continue after the three-year grant period.

The job is funded for three years. The salary will be between $32 and $48 per hour. Applications are due to Jeanie Boawn, executive assistant in the Office of Sustainability and Environment by 4 p.m. tomorrow. Her email is jeanie.boawn@seattle.gov.

Here's the full job description. Good luck!

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Lucia Athens moving to Austin, Texas to be city’s chief sustainability officer

Posted on June 21, 2010

Green readers! Today I got a shock in my inbox: Lucia Athens, a constant presence in Seattle's green building scene, is moving to Austin, Texas to become chief sustainability officer for the city.

For those of you that don't know Athens, she is presently the senior sustainable futures strategist with 

Lucia Athens
CollinsWoerman (a title she made up - pretty nifty, eh?) She previously spent 10 years with the city of Seattle, leading its green building program. Athens wrote "Building an Emerald City: A Guide to Creating Green Building Policies and Programs," about her experience with the city. She also has served in sustainability leadership positions with the board of directors for the U.S. Green Building Council and the International Green Building Certification Institute.

Lucia is a fountain of knowledge, an engaging speaker and someone whose skills are sure to be missed in this emerald city. The Austin Chronicle has an article on the move here. In an e-mail, Athens said she loves Seattle but already has connections to Austin as she grew up in San Antonio and has family there.

The DJC has carried a number of articles involving Athens over the years. In February, she wrote the article "7 trends that will shape the future of green building." In 2008, we wrote about a BetterBricks award she won for being a green building advocate. In 2002, she wrote this article about how Seattle was leading the way for the nation in green building. In 1999, she was on a panel discussing the evolving standard for green buildings.

This was a pretty sought-after job so it will be interesting to see how it all unfolds. I, for one, will be keeping my eye on Austin. Good luck, Lucia!

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Electricians: the next hot profession

Posted on February 10, 2010

Are electricians the next hot profession?

Houston Neal just published an interesting post on the topic at The Software Advice Construction Blog.

Electricians
Neal says "electrical contractors" will transition to "energy contractors" to support the green construction market, and that the profession will grow tremendously.  Neal cites a study by the American Solar Energy Society of Boulder, Colo. that says renewable energy jobs for electricians will grow about 900 percent by 2030, just in Colorado.

Neal calls this "a coming renaissance in electrical contracting." However to really benefit, he says electricians need to focus on changing now by gaining the right skills, promoting green credentials, and updating their bidding process to win green electrical jobs.

It's a pretty extensive and interesting post. But it makes me wonder, what other professions this applies to? If there is a coming renaissance for electricians, what other trades or jobs could see huge growth or significant change? What do you think?

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Seattle’s Office of Sustainability will be making a new hire soon

Posted on September 28, 2009

Today, I was listening to the Seattle City Council pass legislation that accepts over $6 million in stimulus funds from the U.S. Department of Energy for a multitude of energy upgrades. Among the many things it funds is a new position in Seattle's Office of Sustainability and the Environment. It will be a "strategic advisor I" post and the person will be hired to handle reporting and requirements of the stimulus grant. The position is funded for two years. The job will likely be posted on the city's job page here. Other than that, I don't know any more about the position.

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AIA Seattle seeks writers on “design for healthy living”

Posted on August 6, 2009

The AIA Seattle's Forum magazine is seeking submission proposals for an upcoming issue on design for healthy living. Proposals for features run up to 2,500 words and columns run between 600 and 700 words. Proposals must address some aspect of design for healthy living in the Seattle metro area, Puget Sound or Washington state.

For more info on Forum or the submission process, visit http://www.aiaseattle.org/forum . Proposals are due by August 21.

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Cascadia searching for new COO

Posted on June 12, 2009

Want a job? How about becoming chief operating officer for the largest regional green building nonprofit? Well, then this is your lucky month because the Cascadia Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council is hiring.

Cascadia is waiting for you! (image courtesy of Cascadia).

That's right. They're looking for a new COO as current COO Brandon Smith is moving to the position of vice president of business development.

The new COO will be based in either Portland or Seattle and will be in the post by August 1st. The deadline to apply for the job is June 30.

Cascadia is also searching for a new administrative assistant. This is a part time position of 20 hours per week. It will remain open until filled with a tentative start date of July 20.

For more information or to apply, visit Cascadia here.

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Are you a low impact development professional? The UW wants you!

Posted on April 16, 2009

The University of Washington has developed a new certification centered on low impact

Do you know what this is? Ever worked one? Maybe you should become a teacher!
development. There's only one problem: it doesn't have teachers yet.

The program, which will begin this fall, will consist of three 30-hour courses. Students will take 'Foundations of Low Impact Development' in the fall, 'Practical Applications of LID,' in the winter of 2010 and 'Implementing LID projects,' in the spring.

The UW is seeking applications from professionals in the LID field to teach these courses. It wants instructors who have been working in the field for over five years. Is this you? Apply to mamrhein@extn.washington.edu by April 24. If you're looking for more information, click here.

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Details on McKinstry’s expansion and Gov. Gregoire’s jobs and climate package

Posted on January 30, 2009

McKinstry is expanding. It is developing a new 120,000-square-foot building next to its manufacturing space. In addition to the 500 jobs it will be creating within the next couple years, Dean Allen, McKinstry CEO, said he hopes to create thousands of jobs across both in Seattle and across the country. For more on this story, read my DJC article here.

Gov. Gregoire's climate and job package runs the gamut. It includes proposed investments totaling $455 million in the next biennium for energy-reducing transportation projects, energy efficiency projects, green buildings and clean-energy technology. Her press release says the investments would support about 2,900 jobs in 2010 and 2011.

It also includes legislation to provide a state tax exemption for plug-in electric vehicles, and Legislation to support the Western Climate Initiative cap and trade system. For more information on this legislation, go here. To see the one-stop green jobs and climate action Web page, go here. To view the full package, go here.

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McKinstry to expand, Gregoire to announce green jobs

Posted on January 28, 2009

Like I've said before, everything green happens at the exact same time. Let's take tomorrow, for example:

At 10 a.m. Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels is rolling out the red carpet for McKinstry as he presents an approved development permit to expand its current headquarters site in Georgetown. McKinstry says it expects to create more than 500 jobs.

(In case you missed it, McKinstry recently received a 10-year contract from the U.S. Department of Energy worth up to $5 billion for energy efficient projects in federal buildings. President Barack Obama is also a fan of the company.)

At the same time, Gov. Chris Gregoire will announce her 2009 green jobs and climate action legislation, and present results of the Employment Security Department's "Washington State Green Economy Jobs Survey." The announcement will be made at South Puget Sound Community College's new LEED-certified Natural Sciences Building.

What's a girl to cover?

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