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

King County develops new, green ‘EcoCribz’ video series

Posted on October 21, 2010

Yesterday, King County launched a video series called 'EcoCribz.' The series follows one family as they green-remodel their house and aims to teach viewers - you and I - valuable lessons while aiming us towards other green remodeling resources.

The first video, available here, profiles the Bangs family and their Issaquah home. It's a fun tour that

Image courtesy King County
documents the family's goal to create a more energy efficient home with better air quality.

Patti Southard, project manager for King County's GreenTools Program and host of the series, said King County wanted to show people that green home remodeling creates healthy, comfortable spaces that can save money, increase home value and help protect the environment. The county also created helpful remodel tips for renters who are looking at paint and interior options like area rugs and eco-friendly bedding.

The series also illustrates how homeowners can use the county's Eco-Cool Remodel Tool, another useful resource. Basically, it's trying to get you to think about your choices before you remodel or build to create a greener space.

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Water infrastructure: the problem no one wants to (openly) talk about

Posted on June 9, 2010

This week, the DJC published my story on the Bullitt Foundation's desire to go off the water grid and the underlying politics of the decision. I've written about this topic before in this March 17 post "Bullitt wants to go off the water grid: realistically will it be able to?" Basically, the problem centers around the idea that Bullitt wants to capture and treat all its own water. That means it wants to do the impossible: drink the water that falls on its site and treat the toilet waste the occupants produce. I say impossible because the barriers seem endless. (Clarification: I do not actually think it is impossible. As a journalist I don't take sides and have no opinion on the topic. But if you were to look at the issue before Bullitt started talking with agencies, it was an impossibility. That's the point of the Living Building Challenge... to break down barriers).

The barrier I discussed in the story is King County's capacity fee. According to an internal county

Here is a current rendering of Bullitt's project
document, a different project (part of Amazon's new headquarters in South Lake Union) wanted to go partially off the water grid and requested a waiver of the capacity fee. The waiver would have resulted in a loss of over $700,000 for the county in 2008, the document says. Because the building would still be hooking into King County's water system for some services, the county declined the waiver. Even though a building may be water independent, it still needs to be connected to the county system in case of emergency. This means it needs to be able to function at any given moment.

Developers and green enthusiasts say the fee should be waived because it encourages innovation, and developers won't pursue these projects otherwise. The county says it's a social equity issue: by waiving the fee, other less fortunate individuals will end up paying for infrastructure and the county has already counted on new development to support that work. Specifically, the county is in the middle of building the $1.8 billion Brightwater Treatment Plant.

I'm really interested in this dilemma, especially the validity of the social justice claim. I had a brief conversation via Twitter this week with @bruteforceblog (whose very interesting blog is here: Bruteforce said if this were a rural site he'd be all for cutting the capacity fee but in a city, the less affluent will be burdened by the cost. He suggested priority permitting as an incentive. However the city already provides priority permitting for super green projects and in this economy, the quickened pace doesn't equal the amount of savings it once did. I asked him what other ideas he might suggest. Bruteforce said perhaps a FAR or height incentive could be the answer, adding that no matter the incentive, developers will always argue it isn't enough. However, a commenter on our DJC story, Kent Andersson had another opinion: "It's not about punishing the poor. It's about everyone paying the true costs of the services they use. We should allow the exemption to spur the future, however if they need to discharge, then they should pay a higher rate."

Regarding the capacity fee, the county is currently considering three pretty black and white options, again, according to the internal county documents: waive the fee for projects that go off the water grid, partially waive it or do nothing and keep the structure as it is.

But there's another option. Why not let innovative projects go off the grid and then charge them crazy insane fees if and when they do use the system? Just a thought.

Where do you stand on this issue? Do you think the county is right on with its social justice reasoning or is that an excuse? What incentives do you think should be offered to developers, if any should be offered at all to get them moving in this direction? Or maybe we all should pay the "true costs" of water and agree to much higher water rates? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Don't feel like commenting? Answer our new poll at right!

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Next week is going to be crazy with loads of green events!

Posted on April 30, 2010

Next week, there is an insane amount of green building events. Having so much in one week makes it really tough to decide what to attend. I have an idea of where I'll be, what about you?

Here are the green events I know about. I'm sure there are a number of others that are just not on my radar. If

You\'ll be running from event to event next week!
you know of any others in the Seattle area, feel free to post them in the comments below.

  • Cascadia's Living Future Unconference will run from May 5 to 7 at The Westin Seattle. This is the fourth Living Future and the first time it will have made its circular round back to the same city (it began in Seattle in 2007, then was in Vancouver, B.C. in 2008, then was in Portland in 2009. I've been to each conference and would highly recommend it). The conference costs $695 for Cascadia members and $760 for general registration. Speakers include James Howard Kunstler, Jason McLennan, Pliny Fisk, John Francis and Bill Reed.
  • AIA Seattle's What Makes It Green? Judging will be held next week, in conjunction with Living Future. The event costs $5 for members of AIA and other organizations and $20 for non-members. Judges include Bob Berkebile of BNIM, Donald Horn of the General Service Administration's Office of Federal High Performance Green Buildings, Claire Johnson of Atelier Ten and Alex Steffen of Worldchanging. The talk will be moderated by Nadav Malin of BuildingGreen. The event runs from 1 to 4 p.m. at Seattle City Hall on Wednesday.
  • Also connected with Living Future is King County's GreeenTools Government Confluence. This conference focuses on sustainability at the government level but has a stellar line up  of speakers. Speakers include Bill Reed of the Integrative Design Collaborative, Lucia Athens of CollinsWoerman and Dr. Dickson Despommier of Columbia University. There are a number of registration opportunities and fees that vary, based on whether you are a King County employee or not and whether you are attending Living Future. Click on the link above for more info
  • On May 5, the Washington Foundation for the Environment is holding a talk on the region's environmental protections. The talk beings at 7 p.m. and will be at the K&L Gates Offices at 925 Fourth Avenue on the 29th floor. Speakers include Washington State Department of Ecology director Ted Sturdevant and Environmental Protection Agency Region X director Dennis McLerran. The two will discuss their plans to protect the region's waters, air and land. The event is free but RSVPS are required. RSVP to
  • Next week is also Seattle Sweden Week. There is a conference called Business Focus-Edays, which focuses on clean technology, sustainable development and global health. There are a number of interesting sessions. For more on the conference, go here.  As part of Seattle Sweden Week, there will also be a talk at the University of Washington on May 5 from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. in Parrington Hall. The talk is called Narratives on Sustainability: Gustav Froding, Thomas Transtromer and others. More info on that here.
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Did we learn anything from ‘snowpocalypse?’

Posted on December 29, 2008

Now that the very last remnants of 'snowpocalypse' are gone, I thought it would be a good time for the DJC Green Building Blog to ask "just what did we learn?"

(For those of you not in the Seattle area, a thick blanket of snow carpeted the Pacific Northwest for most of the past week and a half. In Seattle, this amounts to a once-every-15-years-event).

As a city there weren't many surprises: we learned Seattle doesn't really know how to deal with snow and local drivers understand how it works even less.

But as individuals did we connect to our immediate environments a little bit more? I did. I live in a very walkable neighborhood with a market, restaurants and a coffee shop all across the street. A little further away there's a retail district and a movie theatre. I walk to these places constantly and use them frequently.

But here's the thing: beind snowed in forced me to think about my local amenities differently. No longer did I have the choice to drive to the movie theatre. If I wanted to go, I had to walk. And if I wanted other entertainment not across the street, well I had to reconsider just how much I wanted that too. Was I willing to walk for it?

Cutting out the choices shifted my perspective. If city planners ever hope to make the car a defunct item, that's the kind of space they're going to need to create.

Apparently I wasn't the only one who was thinking differently: all of my local restaurants were packed whenever I passed by them (even sushi.) People I know who never take the bus were doing it. Or walking to places they had never considered walking to.

The Seattle Times  reported on local retailers seeing big foot trafffic. Looking back on the week and a half, it was annoying, yes. But having Mother Nature limit my choices for me was also kind of nice.

Green building is about creating a structure that gives back to its community a little bit more than the standard product. But a green building in the middle of nowhere only does so much good. Sustainable living, on the other hand, is about creating a community that doesn't just take but gives back. In a way, the snow made me give back more to my community because it forced me to interract even more with it.

There's a kind of momentum there, if a city could only capture it. But how is it possible to capture a forced locality, if you will, and turn it into better urban planning? It seems like there's a great opportunity there, if only someone would step up and find a way to take it.

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Is green building an urban thing?

Posted on October 16, 2008

This week, I wrote an article in the DJC that looked at green building programs outside of Seattle.

The story quoted King County GreenTools, a program that supports green building in the county, as saying every suburban city is interested in green building but to

Built Green project in the Issaquah Highlands
different levels. So far, it said there are only two suburban jurisdictions, Kirkland and Redmond, which have started green building programs. (I have since learned via a representative of the city of Issaquah that that city also has an official green building program. Issaquah has supported green building practices for over eight years.)

Even in the DJC offices, the story struck home on two very different levels. One of my colleagues, let's call them Randall Potersdam, was surprised that Redmond's green building program had been around less than a year. Having spent a lot of time on the Eastside, this person thought there would have been a green building program in Redmond ages ago.

Another colleague, let's call them Tallulah Jillian, was surprised by the extent of cities that were interested and actually working on aspects of green building. When you think of green building, Tallulah said, you usually think of it as an urban thing... but if 39 cities in King County are interested in it, it might not be such an urban thing after all.

How about it, is green building an urban thing?

Duo, a Built Green project in Kirkland

If so, there are a lot of reasons why it could be more prevalent in big cities. Big cities have more money and more staff members through which to spread the work of developing green building programs and policy. They also tend to own utilities, which can be a source of funding or product or project investigation.

But smaller cities, that have buy in from residents, can make things happen without the bureaucracy of large city government. For example, Kirkland, Issaquah and Redmond have no problem calling expedited permitting "expedited". Seattle calls a similar, newly launched program "facilitated" because it doesn't want to guarantee the project's permitting will actually take less time.

So what do you think? Is green building an urban thing or not? Do you think building green is easier or more difficult in urban or suburban cities?

Tune in for my next post for a breakdown of where LEED buildings actually are spread across the state. You might be surprised.

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Do you consider social equity in project decisions?

Posted on September 18, 2008

I've spent the last two days at two very different but very intersting conferences. The first, King County's Green in Place: From Policy to Practice conference, featured Gary Lawrence as the keynote speaker and during his talk (discussed at length in an article in the Sept. 19 DJC.. read it if you're at all intersted in ths subject) he said something a little out of the typical routine:

 “If you’re involved in sustainable design and (not) addressing issues of equity and justice, you’re not involved in sustainability.”

Arup's Treasure Island project in San Francisco

He defined social equity or social justice as considering the impact your building and designing choices have on other humans. So instead of putting on that green roof, you consider how the extra steel needed to reinforce the roof will affect the lives of the people who will mine the steel. Basically you look at your choices from an all inclusive roundabout way.

It takes a lot of thinking. And for those people just entering into green building or sustainable design, it might be too much work to add on (at the beginning stage of the game).

But intrinsically, is Lawrence right? Can you, Mr. Architect or Ms. City Planner really call your work sustainable if you don't consider all the different people your choice will affect both in the past and in the future? Or is it just too much to handle?

The question in itself is fascinating, and one that I, by my lonesome, cannot answer. What do you think?

P.S. (Lawrence's resume could make most people's eyes widen. He has been a former DPD planning director, UW professor, adivsor to the Clinton Administration's Council on Sustainable Development, the United Nation's Habitat II, the Brazilian President's Office, the British Prime Minister's Office, not to mention currently running Arup's sustainable urban development globally.)

For more information, it turns out King County Executive Ron Sims has already tapped this topic in a keynote talk of his own. Read the press release. I don't know much about the Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction, but it has some interesting definitions here.

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Marni Kahn leaving Cascadia, WA director position open

Posted on July 9, 2008

Hold the presses Seattle sustainability people! Marni Kahn is taking an extended kahn_marni.jpgsabbatical from the Cascadia Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council and has resigned her position as Washington State director!

This, my friends, is a big deal.

For those of you that don't know, Cascadia is pretty much the main face of green in this region. It hosts conferences, trainings, brings speakers to town and is the official information source for LEED and Living Building information. In Washington, the go-to girl for the last two years has been Marni Kahn.

Marni specializes in providing sustainable design and construction educational training curriculum to... well just about everybody. She is a "firm believer," according to her profile on Cascadia, that people, not technology make great places.

She also smiles through everything, whether it's hosting world famous speakers or managing gigantic conferences. Seriously.  Good luck Marni in your next step, whatever it may be!

Yes, this does mean there will be an open position for the Washington director, and it's a choice position. Stay tuned and I'll tell you all about it once the information is public.

The move is just the most recent in a series of job changes for longterm Seattle green people (witness both Lynne Barker and Lucia Athens of Seattle's Green Building Team). Has any other mover and shaker moved on to a new position? Is this a trend or just general business?

Let me know what you think below, or wish Marni good luck!  For more on Marni's history, visit the bio page of Building Seattle Green here.

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Jobs, jobs and more jobs a-waiting for you

Posted on July 7, 2008

Here at the DJC, I write up announcements when companies promote or make new hires and let me tell you, summer is usually slow. Not this one.

In Seattle right now, there are a number of jobs available for green building or smallsnoopy.jpgenvironmentally-minded individuals. So if you're looking to come to the sunny (err) Northwest or might be looking to move, peruse the below possibilities at your leisure. Here are some of the jobs I know about:

((As far as architecture goes, there's a whole load of jobs listed at AIA's job board here.))

I've also heard whisperings that Zimmer Gunsul Frasca will be hiring a sustainability guru, and the city of Seattle will be hiring someone to replace Lucia Athens. But those are rumors. Take them for what they're worth.

And that's all I've got folks! Happy job hunting....

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Study says green = a better value, quicker sale. Do you agree?

Posted on July 2, 2008

Yesterday I wrote a story about how GreenWorks Realty  of Seattle crunched some numbers, did a little addition... and discovered that even in the not the best (to say the least) housing market over the last year, green homes in King County have sold quicker and for a higher value than their non-green counterparts.

GreenWorks looked at homes sold on the Northwest Multiple Listing Service small-gb.jpgbetween September 2007 and May 2008 that were "environmentally certified" - here that means LEED homes, Energy Star, or the Master Builders of King and Snohomish Counties' Built Green Program.

On average, single family homes sold for four percent more, 18 percent quicker, and were 37 percent more valuable per square foot.

To see more or learn how condos measured up, visit GreenWorks to look at the numbers yourself here. (By the way, this is some of the first analysis of its kind).

Now, recently a pretty high level developer in the Seattle area told me there was no point in developing office space that wasn't LEED certified anymore, because it is going to lose its value quicker.

Combine that with this research saying green homes sell quicker and for more, and logically, building green seems to make sense.

But there are a lot of challenges to building green, not to mention building green well. I could go off about the issues forever: some green systems are so new they are untested or people don't know how to install them, it's difficult to know if something is really green, green is "more expensive...." But I would rather hear from you.

If you can take a moment out of your holiday weekend, answer me this: What stops you from building green? If you work on residential projects, could these numbers convince you to try something new? Do these numbers matter at all and why? Do they matter in your neck of the woods, or is the information too Seattle-area specific?

And is it better for someone to do bad green design or do nothing green at all?

Or heck, you can just answer the poll at right!

I'm all ears. To read the story, press here.

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Could your project be denied because of its greenhouse gas emissions? The idea is spreading like wildfire here

Posted on May 5, 2008

It sure is amazing how one government decision can issue a string of changes (even if they are in Washington and take forever to come to fruition). Such is the decision of King County Executive Ron Sims last June to consider climate change under SEPA.

SEPA is Washington's State Environmental Policy Act. The decision means that any project that fills out SEPA paperwork in unincorporated King County, or where King County is the lead, has to measure its greenhouse gas emissions on a spreadsheet and hand them in to the country as part of its SEPA paperwork. Doesn't sound like much, but if it leads to mitigation (which is the direction King County is heading here) it could mean time, money, and a lot more than just a piece of paperwork.

Already, King County is creating an ordinance that would let it deny or change projects that have too high of a greenhouse gas emission impact (deadline for commenting on that is May 19).

Read the timeline below to see how it's spreading like wildfire in this state (and California). If you work on projects in Washington, you'll probably have to consider this in the near future. If you're not in Washington.... well, you might still have to consider this in time.

So how does it make you feel? Is this an unfair use of government power or is a realistic way to deal with project emissions? Let me know!

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