Being Green – ‘Biophilic Design’

Hi Folks:

Friday once again, and time for this week’s ‘Being Green‘ post.  The title for this week’s post came from a webinar I watched this week called, “What is Biophilia, and What Does It Have To Do with Sustainability and Illusions of Nature in Architecture?”  It was the title of that webinar that attracted me to it, because ‘biophilia’ translates as ‘love of life’.  It’s a term first coined by biologist E. O. Wilson and described in his book of the same name.  Basically, biophilia means that we have an innate and unbreakable connection to this little blue marble we call earth.  Nalini Nadkarni’s TED talk “Life science in prison” speaks well to this. Continue Reading →

Being Green – Pursuing Perfection?

Hi Folks:

Friday once again, and time for this week’s ‘Being Green‘ post.   I wasn’t going to write about this, but the biggest ‘green’ news of late seems to be the class action suit filed in the US against the USGBC and their LEED certification; after reading the articles and comments surrounding both sides of the issue, I must admit I don’t understand the suitability of this case.  The basis of the suit, as I understand it, is that the plaintiff feels that the USGBC is overselling their LEED standard and not paying enough attention to other ‘green’ standards.  That may not be entirely accurate, but I believe it’s close enough.  Is it ‘true’?  Truth is a complicated word, often dependent on perspective; as the saying goes, history books are written by the winners.  Are LEED-certified buildings more efficient than buildings constructed to other standards or to no standards at all?   That question I can’t answer and is one that could probably only be answered on an individual basis. My post last Friday focused on the world’s first certified ‘living buildings’. So far as I know, the Living Building Challenge offers the most stringent building certification strategy currently in existence. At the same time, it’s not for everyone, and I’ve never been an advocate of any one or any system that seeks to build itself up by putting others down.

However, those aren’t the fundamental questions to me.  Is the LEED system flawed?  That’s possibly a better question, and if LEED is flawed, how can it be improved?  Does LEED measure energy efficiency, and if so, does it do it well?  What other factors are involved in achieving LEED standards, aside from energy efficiency?  If the lower levels of certification, say LEED and LEED Silver aren’t stringent enough, should they be dropped in favour of more stringent qualifications?  Given the costs involved in achieving a certfication for a building, at what point do the achieved improvements fail to account for the costs involved?  Again, that can probably only be answered on an individual basis.

Perhaps the best question is, will the LEED standard be improved by spending hours and possibly years of time in various courtrooms and by spending (?) millions of dollars in fees and other costs that won’t be used in improving LEED (or anything else)?  As I said at the beginning of this post, while I think I have some understanding of the basis for this suit, I fail to see the suitability of seeking such answers in court.  In the end, perhaps it comes down to the motivation behind it.  Some would label it as political, others as frustration, some as a simple ‘money grab’, some may call it a plea to be heard.  William McDonough asks, “How do we love all the children of all species for all time?” To me, if the desired result is to continue to move ourselves and our planet toward celebrating this way of being, personally I don’t see this suit as achieving that aim.  Others are certainly welcome to disagree.  As I said to a friend recently, can you imagine a world where the worst we can do is agree to disagree, while still respecting each other and ourselves?

Okay, the links for this week include:

Okay, that’s it for now.  Have a great week!
Mike.

P.S. Looking for some happier news? Try Happy News!

Being Green – Living Buildings

Hi Folks:

Friday once again, so T.G.I.F. to all of you!  Actually, Marcia and I believe it’s important to give thanks every day, but that’s another topic entirely.

So, the big news this week is…

The International Living Building Institute celebrates the world’s first Living Buildings.
(cue applause)

If you’ve read my ‘Being Green‘ posts before you’ll know that I’ve sometimes lamented the (overly?) many, complicated and often divergent standards and certifications that exist for everything from floor tiles to lighting, and from green landscapes to green travel to entire green neighbourhoods.  For the most part I don’t doubt the integrity of the various organizations involved in creating and maintaining these standards and certifications, it’s just that as someone with more than a basic knowledge of this field I often find them bewildering and conflicting.  However, of all of the standards in existence, there has been one for the last few years that has stood out in my mind as being the most advanced and most comprehensive green building standards of all, and that is the Living Building Challenge.  While many systems work on a series of ‘points’ to achieve different levels of certification, the  Living Building Challenge is different.  Organized into seven ‘petals’ or performance areas (Site, Water, Energy, Health, Materials, Equity and Beauty), each Petal is subdivided into as many as 20 imperatives and each imperative in each petal is mandatory to achieve certification.  Also, the Living Building Challenge certification is withheld until after the building has been completed and operational for a minimum of 12 months before testing to determine whether or not the building’s actual performance conforms to expectations.  An overview of the Living Building Challenge 2.0 requirements may be found here (.pdf).

Is the Living Building Challenge something you and/or your company should consider?  There’s no right or wrong answer for that question.  From what I can see, constructing to the Living Building Challenge standard requires an extremely high level of dedication and commitment from everyone involved in the building project, and a considerable investment of both time and money.  There are a number of other worthwhile building certifications in existence, such as LEED, BuiltGreen, Passivhaus and others, but I don’t believe any of them can meet the overall results achieved by the Living Building Challenge.

Seth Godin posted an interesting blog post today on ‘Heroes and Mentors‘.  Even if this standard remains one of your ‘heroes’, it still provides something to which we can all aspire.

Have a great week!

Mike.

P.S.  If you’ve read these posts before you’ll know that every week I provide a long list of links to other articles of interest I’ve come across this past week.  Well, I invested about three hours in doing so today, but when I switched from HTML to the Visual Editor, WordPress decided to simply delete them all.  I guess I should have listened to that little voice that told me to hit the ‘Save Draft’ button…  And I know better!  Oh, well.

Instead, how about the following talk from Ze Frank on connecting with others through the web (TED video).

Being Green – Car Alarms…

Hi Folks:

Friday has wound its way around once again, so it must be time for this week’s ‘Being Green‘ post.  Now, if you’ve been around for more than the past few decades you probably remember a time before car alarms were invented.  While these alarms have gotten a lot more sophisticated since they were first invented, what most people associate with them is the screeching siren that accompanies them.  When these alarms first came out people were generally appreciative of them, but that transitioned to annoyance, and now, for the most part, people ignore them.  One poll in England found that car alarms are the ‘most irritating piece of technology ever invented‘.  When a car alarm goes off today, most passersby won’t even bother to lift their gaze from their smart phones. Continue Reading →

Being Green – Modeling and Monitoring

Hi Folks:

Friday once again, and time for this week’s ‘Being Green‘ post.  Before I get started, last week’s post included a shout out for Steve Satow and a group of dedicated people in the Victoria area who are working to develop the Alternate Solutions Resource Initiative.  They’re still looking for support from interested parties.  On a more personal note, Steve is currently in the process of building his own home using ‘rammed earth’.  If you’d like to keep up to date with his progress, you can find out more at: the Natural Building project: a model for sustainability.

Now then: since one of the attributes of many if not all green building certification systems is the integration of a building’s different systems (heating/cooling, energy and water use, etc.), it’s very helpful to be able to model a building’s performance as part of the design plan.  Anyone who has done energy modeling (and I haven’t) will tell you that getting this exactly right is impossible.  Too much depends on the number of occupants of a building at any given time, their activity and resulting energy use, local weather conditions…  Still, an approximation can be made.

Once a building is completed and in operation, it’s also very important to determine whether or not the building is performing to specification, and if it isn’t, to be aware of it, determine the source of the problem and rectify it. Continue Reading →

Being Green – Cost/Benefit Analysis

Hi Folks:

Friday once again…  Before I get started on today’s ‘Being Green‘ post I thought I’d take a second for a little shameless self-promotion.  Marcia and I write on a variety of topics, as you can see from the columns on the left side of the page.  In addition to Friday’s  post, on Mondays Marcia does a ‘Marcia’s Meanderings‘ segment, on Wednesdays she writes her ‘Poetry Corner‘, and on Sundays we both write on a shared topic in our ‘He Says, She Says…‘ posts.  There are also sections on food, photography, random items, spirituality, and at the top of the page you’ll find links to some of our short stories and other creative writings.  Okay, that’s all the ‘advertising’ you’re going to get here, so on with the show!

Okay, the title for this week’s post is ‘Cost/Benefit Analysis’, and it has several sources for its inspiration.  In some Native societies there’s an idea of the ‘seventh generation’ – that we must plan our actions now for how they will affect the earth seven generations from now.  In a world run by politicians we tend to think in four-year terms instead, knowing that a new candidate or a new government can overturn much of what’s previously been done .  If the world were run by accountants, everything would have a margin of profit or loss and everything would be measured in terms of whether or not a specific product or activity made a profit.  We tend to apply such thinking to most if not all of what we do as a society. Continue Reading →

Being Green – ‘Pulchraphilia’

Hi Folks:

Friday once again!  The topic for this week’s ‘Being Green‘ post is ‘pulchraphilia’.  If you’ve never heard the word ‘pulchraphilia’ before, don’t be surprised.  I’d not heard of it myself until recently.  In truth it’s a made-up word.  Then again, all words have to begin somewhere…  I have no claim to it; the word was invented (as best I can tell) by Jason F. McLennan, CEO of the Cascadia Region Green Building Council, and the creator of the ‘Living Building Challenge’.  The word has two Latin words as its base: ‘pulchra’, meaning ‘beauty’, and ‘philia’, meaning ‘love of’.  Roughly translated then, pulchraphilia would be a love of beauty, just as biophilia is a love of life.  It comes from an article in the Spring 2010 issue of Trim Tab, the e-zine put out by Cascadia. Continue Reading →

Being Green – Certifications

Hi Folks:

Friday once again. Having for the last two weeks lamented the swift passage of time, I’m loathe to do so again! In a previous blog post I wrote about the many differing and sometimes conflicting standards and certifications there are out there when it comes to green building – LEED, BuiltGreen, Green-E, FSC, Cerflor, SCS, BREEAM, Energy Star, BOMA BESt, Cradle to Cradle, Living Building Challenge, GreenGuard, IICRC, Environments for Living, Green Seal, EOCP (BC), NARI CGP, NAHB CGP, GreenPlumbers, ASHRAE, Cal IAQ – and that’s far from a complete list. Some are national, some are by province or state or other jurisdiction. Some relate to entire buildings, some to components, materials or systems. I must admit I find it baffling, and I doubt anyone can accurately say they understand them all. I haven’t included certification for green real estate agents, certifications for green lodging and travel companies, organic certifications, etc. They do all have one thing in common, which is that they all seek to make our stay on this planet a little better. Their various merits, strengths and weaknesses I leave to others to debate, although one article I came across today is, “Need for re-look at Green Building Rating Systems“.

The reason I mention this here is largely because of an article I read this week on Cradle to Cradle (CtoC) certification. I don’t mean to isolate them, but I, like possibly many others, was curious when it was announced that Dow had achieved CtoC certification for five of their insulation products, two at the Silver level and the other three at the Basic level. I was under the (mistaken) impression that CtoC was only bestowed on those products that contained no hazardous or toxic materials. That’s not the case. As outlined in the article “Fixing the Perception Problem with Cradle to Cradle Certification“, the CtoC Basic and Silver certifications do not mean that the product is free of toxic materials. They do require and provide an avenue for the company involved to work with MBDC and related groups to find new, more sustainable solutions, and are an expression of commitment toward this goal. Therein lies the perception problem. From the article:

“Here’s the problem: for designers—even those at the leading edge of green building—any level of Cradle to Cradle Certification creates a perception that the certified product is green. We call on MBDC to fix this problem, and we offer the following suggestion for doing so: at the Gold and Platinum levels, continue to refer to Cradle to Cradle Certification as a product certification. At these levels, a product must pass muster with a robust set of filters ensuring that it is safe for humans and imparts minimal damage to the environment; designers can be fairly confident that such products are indeed green…”

Of course, such problems occur on other levels as well. In a two-part series by James D. Qualk, LEED AP in Environmental Design + Construction magazine, he asked the question, “Does LEED Have a Problem?” The articles may be read here: Part I, Part II. The articles focus on two main areas. One is a perception that buildings certified by programs such as LEED are performing no better than their non-certified counterparts.  An article by James Qualk is: “Buildings Shall Be Capable Of…“, which suggests that a part of the problem with LEED-certified building performance is making the building’s occupants aware of best practices.  There’s no point in building a super-efficient building if one leaves the door open.

The other issue is that there have been a few cases where such failures have lead to lawsuits. One article, also on ED+C magazine’s site, written by Kamy Molavi is “Avoiding Potential Green Building Liability”.  Another article by Barbara Quinn is “Green Connections: Keeping Green Claims Accurate“.  On the mlive.com site there’s an article entitled, “Lawyers anticipate LEED-liability suits“.  On Green Building Law Update there’s an article titled “GSA’s Green Building Role in the Federal Government“.  Finally, on the Build2Sustain.com podcast site there’s an interview on on “Managing Client Expectations and the Green Lease“. Not specifically related but also on the Build2Sustain.com podcast site is another interview on “LEED, the Living Building Challenge and the Future of Green Building“.

You’d think a species as intelligent as us would be capable of achieving a simpler way of reaching the same goal. Just saying, is all.

Okay, the links for this week include:

That’s it for this week.  See you next Friday, and if you have anything to add, please leave us a comment!

Mike.

P.S.  The 2010 Geneva Auto Show is currently under way, and there have been a number of new ‘green’ introductions, including some completely electric vehicles.  Hyundai has announced a diesel-electric hybrid sports car, the i-Flow, and even Ferrari announced a new hybrid vehicle.  The car that I find most intriguing is the new Porsche 218 Spyder plug-in hybrid.  It’s a prototype, but Porsche suggest a fuel consumption of 3 litres/ 100 km, which works out (assuming I can still do math), to nearly 94 miles/(Imperial) gallon, and lower CO2 emissions than a Toyota Prius.  There’s an interesting article here on hybrid cars as well.

And finally, speaking of motors, the Sturman Industries site is worth checking out.  There’s also an interesting .pdf available, called “An Alternative to Alternative Cars“.

Being Green – Up On the Roof

Hi Folks:

Well, The Drifters did it first…

So, I wanted to talk about roofs today, but before I get into that I wanted to start with something that at first blush doesn’t seem to have anything to do with building at all.  I think it does… Continue Reading →