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

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:

Part 2:

Part 3:


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Measuring building energy use: is information the answer?

Posted on December 14, 2009

Energy efficiency has been a big topic this week. On the left coast, the city of Seattle moved closer to requiring that many buildings measure and publicly disclose energy use while on the right coast, New York City passed a package requiring energy audits and tune-ups every 10 years, among other actions.

These steps make sense. But they also seem to bypass a really big

Where should technology take us?
elephant in the room: our own, personal energy use at work.

Think about it. When you are at work, you aren't paying for energy so it doesn't seem to be that big of a deal if you leave the computer running all weekend or maybe run a space heater in the dead of winter. You likely work in an efficient building or you work in an energy hog. But either way, it's the building's energy use that gets measured when (or if) it applies for Energy Star status. There is no accountability between that number and your use of energy while at work.

Even energy software programs like this one, look at a building as a whole (though its "eggs" can be located on floors).

But a building as a whole is only part of the solution to improving energy efficiency. The other part, which is consistently ignored, is the users.

See, you never really know how a user will treat a building. Even that brilliant LEED platinum project can turn into an energy hog if everyone in it is plugging in multiple devices or using extra electronic equipment. Architects can guess at how a building will be used but that's all it is: a smart, qualified guess.

To really get efficient buildings, there needs to be a connection between the building itself and the user. How do you make that connection? How do you get people to care about resources they are using when they aren't paying for it?

One idea: instead of just measuring the entire building's performance (which, I know is a feat in and of itself), why not also find a way to measure separate sections of a building and give that information to tenants? That way, users can at least begin to make a connection between the very nebulous idea of "building energy use," and well.... us. The workers. The people using energy. That way, we no longer have the excuse of thinking "this is a LEED certified building, it will be efficient enough for me." Or "this is an energy hog anyway, it doesn't matter what I do."

Heck, if I had a pop-up system on my computer that was half as annoying as my virus detector that told me when I'm using more than my fair share of energy and when I'm being efficient or even gave me that information on a floor by floor basis, I could understand how much I'm using. Maybe it would get people to turn off their computer during the weekend. Or maybe it would remind me to turn off my task light when the sun comes out (because hey, sometimes, I forget).

So, um.... how do we do that?

Locally, Washington Real Estate Holding's LEED Platinum (for existing buildings) Park Place is at least starting down this very interesting road. I wrote about the building, constructed in 1971, in the DJC here. In the story, I said Park Place has a new online system that lets tenants, staff and eventually the public

Image courtesy Chris J. Roberts Photography
Park Place in Seattle

Image courtesy Chris J. Roberts Photography

see its operation in real-time, including water capture, reuse, lighting and HVAC loads. The system measures water on a building level but also measures utility use on a floor by floor basis!

Floor by floor measurement still might not seem like it goes far enough, but it sure is a great start to at least seeing how much you - or you and your counterparts - use compared to the rest of a building. Park Place has 10 floors that are occupied by the EPA. Don't you think actual energy use will affect the actions of people working on those floors?

What do you think about all of this? Are the politicians on the right track by starting with building energy use? Should that information be made public or is it proprietary? Do I have the right idea? Should we - as tenants of a building - see how much energy we are using or is our energy use not worthwhile when compared with building operation as a whole?

Heck, is there a building out there that already sub-meters individual spaces for tenants to this level?

I'd love to hear from you on this topic!

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Penguin gets knighted, Gerding Edlen moves closer to San Diego center and other news

Posted on August 15, 2008

There's a lot of news out there people. But possibly the most entertaining thing in my in-box doesn't have to do with green materials or green buildings.... it revolves around a penguin.

penguin.jpgThe Environmental News Network reports that Norway has knighted a king penguin named Niles Olav. Sir Niles Olav is the third penguin to serve as the mascot of the King's Guard. The first mascot penguin was chosen in 1972, and named after then-King Olav V. Sir Niles Olav (the penguin) lives in the Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland and was promoted from regimental sergeant major to honorary colonel-in-chief in 2005. Just think, I never knew a penguin could be a knight! For more on this, click here.

In other (green building) news, Portland Architecture reports that Houston developer Hines has withdrawn from the competition for the San Diego city hall project, leaving the door wide open for Gerding Edlen and ZGF, though it doesn't guarantee them the job. For more on the project, click tag 'Gerding Edlen' below or click here.

tinyhouse1.jpgJetson Green reports on a Yale grad school student who built her own tiny house that is off the grid. The home will cost about $11,000, is 8' x 18', and has a sleeping loft, storage loft, study nook, kitchen area, living area and bathroom.  For more, click here.

And Landscape + Urbanism has some awesome photos of green rooftops in NYC. For more, click here.

Happy news hunting! (penguin photo courtesy of ENN. Tiny house courtesy of Stephen Dunn, via Jetson Green). 

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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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Getting lost in “green” messages

Posted on June 12, 2008

subway-small.jpgI've spent the last week in Boston and New York, riding subways that people in the Pacific Northwest can only dream about.

But while riding those subways (which are largely, at least in NYC, responsible for why the average person's carbon footprint is so low) it struck me that green is becoming mainstream so quickly, it's becoming many things to many different people. And often, because the message isn't defined, it gets lost.

It happens in the definition of a "green building:" really, does LEED make a building green? What about a regular building that uses Energy Star appliances and PVC-free paint.... that's in the middle of nowhere?

It happens in materials: FSC wood... is it really green to use South American or European wood, ship it to Asia to be milled and ship it back to use in your Seattle home?

And in happens in advertisements. Take the subway in NYC for example. On one train, overhead signs urged riders to recycle newspapers in recycling bins. On another, overhead signs begged newspaper readers to just throw their papers away to keep the subway clean. If you're going to advocate one message, which is more important? Recycling or cleanliness?

That example represents the entire green movement. There are so many different messages out there, it's easy to get lost. Especially if you're a new "convert," it's really easy to be misled. Sometimes it's intentional "greenwashing," sometimes it's just plain confusing.

For Earth Day this year, I got a press release from Horizon Air about how flying between Portland and Seattle was more eco-friendly than driving. I got another from Fairmont Hotels and Resorts and Lexus Hybrid Living on eco-friendly luxury suites in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., that are "the ultimate cosmopolitan experience for environmentally aware travelers." Guests get organic towels, robes and free use of the Lexus LS 600h hybrid.

Is that really green? Who's to say. The truth is it's such a new field and word that just about anything can be spun the right way. And often, what really is "green" just gets lost in the spinning.

To learn more about greenwashing, click the tab below. To see what consumers think about "green" products or share your reviews, check out this site.

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How can Seattle stay ahead of the sustainable curve?

Posted on May 29, 2008

Last week I came up with my own "brilliant" idea: create an online forum where people that work in green buildings would record their experiences to create a better understanding of how green buildings really feel.

That post was in response to Weber Thompson's blog that is doing exactly that. If you missed it, that blog also answered my question on how the team is measuring their building's performance (see tag below for Weber Thompson).

Now I'm asking you what your brilliant ideas are?

It's no secret that Seattle (and Chicago, and Portland and New York etc....) are racing to be the greenest city in the country. So if Seattle wants to hold onto that goal, what should it do? Should density be the focus or should it be regulations through things like stricter energy codes?

On a broader scale, is urban planning the answer or is it more incentives?   

For a British perspective on what cities should do, see a BBC story here. For a video on the nature of sustainability and its future from the perspective of Sir Norman Foster, click here. Or you could check out Sustainable Ballard's Web site here to see what one Seattle neighborhood thinks, or Sustainable Capitol Hill's site here.

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Do you take Seattle for granted? Grist looks at lesser known green cities

Posted on May 15, 2008

I'll admit it: I often take Seattle's environmentally friendliness for granted, even though I know it's a leader in many areas.

Renewable energy? City buys it. Green building? City does that too. Recycling? Um, duh.

small-seattle.jpgSometimes, it takes an ice cold swim in reality to remember these things we take for granted, aren't commonplace. Today that dose of reality came in the form of a quiz from To take it for yourself, click here.

I took the quiz and for most of the questions I couldn't for the life of me click the obviously negative answers (excepting, of course, the traffic categories). I found myself naively wondering... are there actually places in the U.S. where all of these negative answers are normal? Keep reading to learn about the quiz and what lesser known green cities are doing

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Is green building mainstream yet? Ask Vanity Fair

Posted on April 15, 2008

Being a reporter, I'm always struck by how magazines or newspapers choose to put words like "green" in quotations. The designation implies a term is not yet known to the general public and says a lot about a publication's readership.

Here at the DJC we put quotations around phrases like "netzero" (a goal of producing all the energy a building uses) or "regeneration" (making a site better than what was originally there), but not LEED or green. Then again, we have a focused readership.

So, while reading Vanity Fair's third annual green issue last weekend, I was struck by the magazine's presentation of green buildings, and by its use of quotations around words like LEED "gold," "living roof," and "cradle to cradle."

The coverage raised a question in my mind: when one of the foremost investigative magazines in the country covers green buildings but still assumes its readership doesn't know much about them,  just how mainstream can green building be?

What do you think, is green building mainstream? 

Three pieces between the magazine's covers, all written by VF Special Correspondent Matt Tyrnauer, take on the subject. To read an interview with Tyrnauer about the projects, click here. 

The first is a photo and long caption of New York-based Neil M. Denari Architects' Manhattan condo project called HL23, pictured above left. Denari is designing a 14-floor cantilevered building on a 40-foot-wide lot that gets wider as it gets taller. Vanity Fair uses quotation marks to say it is reaching LEED "gold."

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