Being Green – Greenbuild 2010

Hi Folks:

A short ‘Being Green‘ post this week, and a day late it is, too.  T’is now November 20, and that means the Greenbuild International Expo is winding down for this year; people are taking down their booths and taking in their final tours of the ‘Windy City’.  I wasn’t present for this conference, but I’ve been following what’s been happening through the web and through Twitter, and there have been some great presentations.  A number of videos from the conference are available through the Greenbuild Speakers page; more archived sessions will be added shortly.  In addition, the people at ED+C magazine have a blog site dedicated to Greenbuild, available here.

I don’t know if Greenbuild is the largest conference of its kind this year.  It certainly isn’t the only one, and more and conferences, sessions, workshops, etc. have been coming into being around the world every year.  I find it fascinating to see because when I wrote my first letter about Canada’s environmental issues to a federal politician some 37 years ago, I couldn’t imagine the tour de force that the ‘green’ movement has become today.  Entire new industries have been created, new products invented, new policies and regulations brought into being, and thousands or more likely millions of people now work in a field that in one way or another helps the planet and its inhabitants.

When I used to write those first letters all those years ago, I had one subscript that I added to all of them:  This earth may be some 25,000 miles in diameter, but she’s a tiny blue marble in the vastness of space.  If we screw this up, we have nowhere else to go.  So, to everyone who works in an environmental or ‘green’ field, to everyone who helps to educate upcoming generations to understand their amazing legacy, and to everyone who, in his or her own way, tries to walk a little more lightly on the earth, my thanks.

Hugs,
Mike.

P.S.  A part of the Greenbuild conference has been a number of walking tours of the host city, Chicago.  Seeing ‘green’ skyscrapers is probably the better option, but I have to admit that the ‘Chocolate Tasting‘ tour would get my vote… assuming it’s organic, fair trade chocolate, of course.

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 – 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 – Update

Hi Folks:

Friday once again!  It’s also the end of the month, and that means our “Eating Our Way Through Victoria” post and my “Photo of the Month” post as well as our usual Sunday “He Says, She Says…” and Monday’s “Marcia’s Meanderings” posts are coming due as well!  Going to have to limber up those typing fingers.

I was going to write a post this week about “Intentional Communities“, but I’m going to postpone that for a week.  Please bear with me.  In exchange, I’ll offer a couple of reminders of upcoming events this weekend.  If you live in the US or know someone who does, the premiere of Jamie Oliver’s program “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” begins this evening on ABC.  If you’re asking yourself, “What’s green about that?” consider the enormous amounts of water and energy that go into not only the production of ‘fast food’ and prepackaged foods, but also the environmental costs of the packaging, transport, etc.  There’s a link on ‘hidden water use’ in the list below.  Also in the news this week are plans to ‘downsize’ parts of Detroit. Suggestions include the creation of a series of ‘urban farms’, more parks, and interconnected ‘villages’.  Not a simple idea by any means, but it’s an idea Jame will agree with, I’m sure. Greensburg, KS might serve as a role model of sorts, since almost the entire town was wiped out by a tornado a few short years ago and rebuilt as a model green town. Continue Reading →

Being Green – Social Networking

Greetings!  Friday once again… where did the week go?  Ah well, as the saying goes, there are 168 hours in a week; what you do with them is up to you.  I was sitting at my computer, staring at a blank screen (that adamantly refused to write anything on itself), when my wife (who sits at the computer beside me) suggested I ‘follow’ on Twitter someone from England who blogs about rooftop gardens, green roofs, etc. (@gardenbeet on Twitter).  That got me thinking about an article I had read earlier today entitled, “Why you have to engage in social media, even if you don’t want to“.

While it’s true that twenty years ago few people had ever heard of a ‘web site’, the simple truth is that websites now get lost in their sheer numbers and social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, and more are sweeping the world and very directly changing the way we do business.  Marcia and I wrote a post last month about our own foray into Social Networking, and we now have a Twitter landing page on this site, where we provide links and information related to social networking information (updated as we can).  Social networking affects every group or business, in every field.   During the recent 2010 TED Conference in California, there were over 40,000 ‘tweets’ (short posts) about the conference.   Chris Anderson of TED can be found at @TEDChris. More and more businesses are allowing/encouraging their employees to post about their experiences with and within the company, and while there have been a couple of instances of people being dismissed as a result of their posts, these events were anything but private and reflect back to the company as well.  ‘CoTweet‘ for example is a resource that allows the employees of a company to share one Twitter account, engaging with their clients online.

Curious, I went to the US Green Building Council home page, and they have a Twitter account (@usgbc).  Being Canadian, I also went to the Canada Green Building Council home page, and they’re not (yet?) hooked up to Twitter.  I’ve sent them an e-mail letting them know that when they do, I’ll be happy to update this post!  Some of the groups, organizations and companies I ‘follow’ on Twitter in relation to sustainability and green building, in addition to those mentioned above, are:

I’m sure you’ll develop your own lists.  Oh, BTW, if you’re like me and tend to be a bit loquacious, I highly recommend Twitlonger.

Articles, sites and news I found this week include the following.  Before I get to that, a reminder that there’s a webinar on ‘Understanding Green Schools‘ on March 17, 2:00 p.m. EDT.  Click on the link to register.

In no particular order:

Have a great week!

Mike.

P.S.

If you’re in the Portland, OR area on March 20–21 and are looking for a way to release some of the stress in your life, drop by the Ohara Ikebana Exhibition at the Portland Japanese Garden.

Being Green – Good News?!?!?!

Hi Folks:  Well, Friday has come around once again and that means it’s ‘green day’ here for us.  Without question the biggest news in the world this week is the aftermath following the earthquake in Haiti.  If you’re interested you can find links to disaster relief sites here.  It’s events like this that bring the words ‘climate change’ into real focus.  It’s wonderful that so many millions of dollars and thousands of hours of effort have been offered in assisting the people of Haiti deal with what’s happened on their island; as Marcia said to me though, where were the funds to help them upgrade their infrastructure BEFORE this happened?

Ah well.  The title of this blog post is ‘Good News’ and all evidence to the contrary, there is good news to be found.  Last week’s post focused on what I see as the somewhat bewildering plethora of green building standards and certifications, but even that is good news in a way.  It wasn’t that many years ago that none of this existed.  One article I came across this week is titled ‘A Very Brief History of Sustainability‘.  These ideas continue to spread beyond building construction as well.  On the Sustainable Sites Initiative website you can find information on “The Sustainable Sites Initiative: Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks 2009” (.pdf), which includes “all stages of the site development process from site selection to landscape maintenance”.  There’s also a companion guide called “The Case for Sustainable Landscapes” (.pdf)  It brings a different slant to the idea of being ‘green’.  Another site I came across talks about greening up building operations and maintenance.  In the US these guidelines fall under the USGBC LEED for Existing Buildings – Operations and Maintenance Guide.  The article I read is titled, “LEED Cleaning – Why Not?”  Consider for a moment the wide range of chemicals used in traditional cleaning products and their effects on both the people using them and everyone else occupying the building after their use.  I certainly applaud less toxic alternatives!  Continue Reading →