May 11, 2004

Bringing green ideas home to NW

  • A Seattle couple is trying to show Northwest architects, engineers, developers and government officials how Scandinavia has gone green.
    Journal Staff Reporter

    Patricia Chase and family
    Photo courtesy International Sustainable Solutions
    Patricia Chase, her husband, Jayson Antonoff, and their son, Alexander, are living in Denmark. Seeing how sustainable practices are applied on a regional scale in Denmark often leads them to wonder, "Why can't we have this in Seattle?"

    Seeing wind turbines on nearly every block and elderly folks riding bikes through the streets of Aalborg, Denmark, got Patricia Chase and her husband, Jayson Antonoff, so excited they wanted to tell people back home in Seattle.

    As they hopped on super efficient trains and buses, and rode their bikes around the city, Chase said, "We continually said to each other, 'Why can't we have this in Seattle?'"

    So the couple started International Sustainable Solutions and organized a tour in March to bring 19 Northwest architects, engineers and developers to see how sustainable transportation, energy and buildings work in Scandinavia.

    "We had actually thought of this before we left Seattle, but once we were here, we knew we had to do it," she said.

    The tour group came back ready to make something happen in Seattle, she said, and have been meeting regularly ever since. "They have just charged ahead. This group is on fire."

    Mark Huppert of Catapult Community Development said projects he saw in Denmark and Sweden were successful because of interagency collaboration. He said he hopes local governments, the University of Washington and others will adopt that model as they work on the Sustainable Development Center for Puget Sound. The center is designed to be a clearing house for sustainable development ideas and a place where government, academics, private companies and building industry professionals can work together on regional plans.

    Huppert said the tour generated a lot of enthusiasm and excitement because the movement towards sustainable building presents an opportunity for leaders to emerge who are willing to take risks.

    What's next?
    International Sustainable Solutions is organizing a talk here by Louise Lundberg from the International Green Roofs Institute in Malmö, Sweden. Lundberg will speak on "Green Roofs for a Healthy Seattle" on May 26 from 2 to 4 p.m. at Graham Visitors Center, Washington Park Arboretum, Seattle. Cost is $45 and registration is required.

    Another tour of Denmark and Sweden's urban sustainability is scheduled for September. It will feature sustainable design as applied to construction, energy, transportation, urban redevelopment, waste and water projects.

    For more information about International Sustainable Solutions, contact Patricia Chase at or visit

    International Sustainable Solutions is writing a weekly series for the DJC.

    Seattle developer Greg Smith said he will be looking for opportunities to build green roofs and to provide larger lobbies in his buildings to accommodate cyclists. He is also looking at "double-skin" thermal-pane windows to help conserve heat, and filters that bring natural light deeper into a building.

    Smith said it was inspiring for him to be a part of a group of people with passion for the same issues. He said it's important to create a place like the Sustainable Development Center where developers and other building industry people can get the resources they need.

    Chase is from California and Antonoff grew up in Texas. They ran the information technology company Chase Bobko with another partner for 14 years, but when the company grew from 15 to 70 people, Chase said she realized she preferred working on small teams with like-minded people.

    "Competency is not enough," she said. "A competent manager who doesn't share your values will drive you crazy."

    Antonoff trained in electrical engineering, and after working on information technology for more than a decade, he shifted his focus to renewable energy.

    When they sold the company in 2001, the couple took their son, Alexander, 11, on a boat adventure to Asia, South America and parts of Africa.

    "It was an interesting time to be traveling the world, since 9/11 happened one week after we left Seattle," Chase said. "We realized how much people look up to the United States to do the right thing, and how disappointed people were that we were not using our exalted position wisely."

    After the trip they settled in Denmark, where Antonoff could research wind energy at Aalborg University.

    He found Denmark's wind turbine technology is no different from what we have in the U.S. The difference is how government efforts have made turbines commonplace, he said. Aalborg has somewhere between 50 and 100 wind turbines, the result of organized, cooperative planning.

    "Denmark back in the 1970s got whammed by (oil prices)," Antonoff said. "As much as 98 percent of energy was imported oil." Price hikes got the government to make a move, setting prices artificially high while coming up with a plan to use energy more efficiently.

    Denmark continues to plan. Bjarne Lundager Jensen, managing director of the Danish Wind Industry Association, said politicians see the wind industry as important because it employs more than 20,000 Danes and is worth billions of euros. Wind power now provides 20 percent of the country's power and an effort to increase that to 25 percent is being discussed.

    "As a society, we have to be willing to look at best practices wherever they are," said Chase. Europeans are willing to consider more than just short-term economics. "A lot here in Denmark is done for the common good, and it shows up in everyday life."

    Chase is planning to return to the U.S. this summer and Antonoff may stay in Denmark to do more research. They will offer another tour in September and are trying to arrange for a Danish government official who was involved in the initial planning to come to the U.S. to speak. Chase said he was a real inspiration to those who went on the tour and she hopes more people in Seattle can hear him.

    Their goal is to try to bring the Scandinavian sustainability model to the Seattle region by showing people in the building industry and government how integrated approaches to long term planning can work.

    As people begin to learn from real-life examples of projects and systems that work, a vision for what Seattle can be is starting to take shape, said developer Greg Smith. People with ideas of what and how to change are beginning to talk.

    Smith said we won't see big changes overnight, but he hopes generations to follow will appreciate the shift in thinking that is beginning now.