Sunday, December 30, 2007

Form and Function Meet Again

In case you need one more reason to switch from the old, clunky cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors to a sleek thin-film transistor (TFT) monitor ……


Scientists at the Cologne Institute for Economic Research have determined that when it comes to energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions a TFT monitor (or Flat Panel Display) that is either turned off or left in standby mode results in a 1W difference.

Hendrick Biebler and his fellow researchers at the Institute say that concentrating on standby mode is diverting attention from the real objective of improving overall efficiency of electronic devices. They argue that a EU directive aimed at outlawing standby mode is wrong headed and could stop manufacturers from improving the energy efficiency of products. Recently the European Union has adopted a framework directive on requirements of the ecodesign of Energy-using Products (EuP). An implementing measure on standby energy consumption based on this directive is expected in 2008.

Prof Biebler and his team say the important issue is to phase out old, energy-intensive components, pointing out that an old CRT computer monitor uses 75W, compared with 25W for a modern TFT screen. Attempting to regulate the off mode is the most expensive option that saves the least amount of energy when it comes to producing more environmentally friendly electrical devices.

Source: Financial Times, 5 October 2007, Alan Cane

Friday, December 28, 2007

Green Elephant Gift Exchange

The following video shows the HOK office "green elephant gift exchange." As you may remember from a previous post, the rules were that the gifts had to be either a regift or other found object, and that the wrapping had to be some sort of reused material.

Prizes were given for most sustainable gift (winner: manual paper shredder) and most sustainable wrapping (inside out UPS bag tied with rubber bands from vegetables).

Runners up in the gift category included a semi-functional solar cell phone charger and a tomato. Wrapping materials ranged from reused gift bags and wrapping paper to cookie tins, cracker boxes, and leftover fabric samples.

Watch the video to see the shiny, happy people of HOK givin' it away:

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Google Earth and Building Green


I saw Google give a demo of this new feature on Google Earth at EcoBuild in Washington, D.C. Click here to check it out (download Google Earth first):

Great Green Buildings Google Earth Layer

Google has partnered with BuildingGreen.com and the Department of Energy to allow you to view full SketchUp models on Google Earth of the 96 projects in Building Green's High Performance Buildings Database. Here's an example I pulled from the D.C. area - the Nature Conservancy Headquarters by HOK.

It's not quite as smooth as I would like, and from what I can tell you only view the exterior of these buildings (frustrating given many of the interior spaces must be nice), but the link from Google Earth to content on the BuildingGreen website is intriguing. For example, it makes me wonder about the next version of this... could Google Earth and Building Information Modeling (BIM) be combined? Or maybe BIM and Google Earth share the development of certain "layers"? The ability to point and click to various aspects of a building / site and learn about green features is compelling. It leads to a number of questions about merging applications and/or data such as:
  • Will SketchUp 6.0 become the new Computer Aided Design (CAD) for developers, designers and builders?
  • Is there a benefit to starting design directly on a (virtual) site? I mean, will architects, builders and clients have a better understanding of environmental context given tools like these?
  • Can we employ more complex modeling techniques (wind, solar, energy, water, etc.) given the resources and reach of our friends at Google?
  • Will doing "all of the above" create better buildings for people, profit and the planet?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Deep Lake Water Cooling

For those of you who haven't seen this yet, Enwave Energy Corporation, through partial financial backing from the City of Toronto, developed the deep lake water cooling system that uses the cool energy in cold water to air-condition high-rise buildings in downtown Toronto. It currently cools 47 buildings, with the potential to cool many more. The system benefits the City by:

  • reducing energy consumption by up to 90% (compared to conventional chillers)
  • reducing carbon dioxide emissions
  • improving the water supply by using new intake pipes that are deeper
  • investing in a corporation in which the City is a shareholder
How does this work exactly? Enwave's three intake pipes draw water (4 degrees Celsius) from 5 kilometers off the shore of Lake Ontario at a depth of 83 meters below the surface. Naturally cold water makes its way to the City's John Street Pumping Station. There, heat exchangers facilitate the energy transfer between the icy cold lake water and the Enwave closed chilled water supply loop.

The water drawn from the lake continues on its regular route through the John Street Pumping Station for normal distribution into the City water supply. Enwave uses only the coldness from the lake water, not the actual water, to provide the alternative to conventional air-conditioning.

When I first heard about this initiative in Toronto, I was shocked. Shocked as in ... why are we not doing this everywhere?!! Seems like a logical move for all cities next to large bodies of water, say Cleveland, Chicago, etc. How can we get organizations, energy companies, city government officials, etc. to take a harder look at our cities and start investing in "Energy Independence?" Yes, there is a major initial investment involved, but it seems like such a win-win scenario in the long term. Let's start a letter writing campaign and make this happen!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Growth without Growth

Companies everywhere are asking how they can grow their organization (add people) without increasing their space. Sometimes the reason is minimizing carbon footprint. More often, it's about saving money and mitigating risk. But what does this entail exactly?

  1. Doing more with less. That means less space per person. It means making sacrifies and prioritizing what's really important. First to go are things like file or conference rooms, then comes the common strategy of packing people in like sardines aka "dense pack." Finally, the alternative work options are investigated. Can we get away with accommodating only 60% of our staff at any one time? What about telework or work at home policies?
  2. Looking at how we really work. In all of the workplace surveys I've done, 100% of the time, people assume they are in the office significantly more than they acutally are. Where are they? They're working alright, but on the move! They're checking email at home, blackberrying while walking the dog, making calls on the road, you name it. Our offices have lovely pictures of our children, but they are vacant a good portion of the time, which is why companies are frustrated with building and managing empty buildings.
  3. Trying new things. So you're trying to save space, but this means giving up your office and a permanent address!! Not an easy change - after all, we're creatures of habit and work is our home away from home. But perhaps it's time to think about "the office" as just another place to work. Some companies are designing their offices as large scale living rooms - you plop at a desk or comfy chair - whatever makes you and your team more productive.
  4. Managing to different goals. One of my first bosses out of graduate school had a mantra he still professes today... "must be present to win." He believes very strongly that he must see all of his employees to know they are working, and showing up everyday ensures advancement in his organization. But companies that think differently about what they are managing (not bodies, but products or projects) are able to make the leap to alternative work, and to better utilized workplaces that focus on what is needed to get the job done. Of course training and mentorship comes in to play, but is it needed in the same place and every day?
  5. Embracing green thinking. What's great about all of this recent investment in alternative work is that it goes hand in hand with green thinking. Often companies that build space for less people (adopting alternative work) are also considering the green benefits of less travel to the office (reduced carbon emissions) and the need to have productive space while you're there (natural light access, good air quality).

Friday, December 21, 2007

Is Less More?

I just ran across an article that very nicely puts historic architectural context to the concept that when building sustainable buildings, less is sometimes more. As a facility programmer, this is a battle that I fight with clients regularly: do you really need XXX? Could XXX space serve two (or more) purposes? What if you changed the way you work and the new policies resulted in the requirement for less space?

This article explores a couple of past “starchitects”: Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier. Wright believed that a beautiful and functional home could be 1,000 SF or less, and could use outdoor space as part of the home’s living area. Corbu ‘s theory was merely to eliminate wasted space.

Surely these are theories that could easily be translated into office design. For the full article, visit Green Building Insider

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

University of Washington Selects Shared Electric Bicycle System from Intrago

Okay, I am on an electric vehicle kick, I'll admit it, but there are so many cool new things out there. This seems like it could be a great fit for large corporate campuses or even workplaces with long interior treks (like airports!). I have even seen mall security using the Segways - so how great if they could be stored in an integrated systems with traditional and electric bicycles too? -Green A

BOULDER, Colorado, November 16, 2007 –

The Intrago (pronounced Intra-Go) Corporation, together with the University of Washington and other partners, has been awarded funding for a shared electric vehicle system at the University’s Seattle campus. This system was funded by the Washington State Department of Transportation through a program that fosters innovation to help reduce automobile trips into congested areas such as urban university campuses. The campus network of self-rental electric bicycles aims to reduce the number of automobile commute trips in the region.

Intrago is addressing the unmet need for on-demand personal mobility that is clean, right-sized, and enjoyable to use for short-distance trips around university and corporate campuses as well as high-density urban and public transit locations. Users may select any vehicle at a station and then return it to the same or a different location.

Dan Sturges, President and Founder, Intrago Corporation, remarked, “Intrago is the only system available that offers small-sized, electric powered vehicles as well as traditional bicycles. We fully expect to see these easy to use vehicles help our commuters get to campus and get around once they reach campus, including travel to our car-share vehicles for their longer-distance trip needs.” http://www.intragomobility.com/

GREEN GIFT GUIDE: Gifts That Give Back

by Jill and Emily

It’s easy to get “wrapped up” in the holiday gift giving (and receiving) spirit. The holidays are about giving to those you love, so why not extend that tradition with one of these gifts that give back, which will benefit not just your loved ones but millions of others around the world. Here are some great choices, from trees to magazines to solar-powered flashlights - even jewelry - all of which give back to global citizens in need.

BOGO SOLAR FLASHLIGHT (Buy One Give One)Give the gift of light this year with the BOGO light - a fabulous solar-powered flashlight that costs just $25 - AND with your purchase of the flashlight, one is donated to someone who needs it in a developing country. We’ve written about it before because we love the product and the idea. Give the gift of light! $25 from Bogolight
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ADOPT AN ANIMAL FROM WWF AND GET A CUTE PLUSH TOYAdopt an animal from the World Wildlife Fund, and you will get a cute plush toy version of your animal. Every donation you make to WWF helps save some of the world’s most endangered animals from extinction and supports WWF’s conservation efforts. We think this is a fabulous way to encourage conservation efforts, by encouraging a love of animals in children! And if you can’t think of a good benefactor for your stuffed owl, wolf, chimpanzee or polar bear, you can donate your stuffed toy to a needy child, with WWF’s toys for tots program.$50 from World Wildlife Fund

$22 from Uncommon Goods.ONE LAPTOP PER CHILD XO COMPUTERHere’s a gift that truly gives back. The beautifully designed One Laptop Per Child computer is the greenest computer around - combing education and social development with ingenious energy efficient product design. Best part? When you buy one of these beautifully designed uber-green computers for a needy child in a developing country, you get one for a little one in your life as well. Donate-One-Get-One offer lasts through Dec 31st.

AID TO ARTISANS TOTE BAGAid to Artisans is an amazing organization that supports craft production and local economies worldwide. This tote bag supports their Friends of India Handcrafts project, which helps women’s craft cooperatives in rural Tamil Nadu in southern India. These craft cooperatives provide employment for widows, abandoned mothers, and unmarried women. The bags are crocheted with nylon wire by hand, and contribute to the livelihood of more than 250 families. $19 from Aid to Artisans
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DESIGN 21 ALLUMONDE RINGSupport Design 21, which promotes design for the greater good, with this gorgeous ring designed by Richard Hutten. The sleek design comes in stainless steel, gold, silver, and a few other stunning materials to suit any budget, and proceeds go to Design 21, UNESCO, and a nonprofit of your choice.
$25-$2,500 depending on material from Design 21
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DESIGN LIKE YOU GIVE A DAMN BOOK This groundbreaking book on humanitarian design from around the world is a must for ALL designers. Inspire the designer in your life and feel good about donating to a worthwhile cause while you are at it. All proceeds from the book go to funding Architecture For Humanity’s important work providing shelter in impoverished and disaster-relief areas. $35 from Architecture For Humanity.

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL APPAREL Support the international aid organization with great t-shirts for you and your little ones. We love the “I’ve Got Rights” onesie and Instant Karma t-shirts, which feature John Lennon’s face (there’s a great CD as well). All apparel is sweatshop-free and sales help support Amnesty International’s life-saving human rights work.
$14 and up from Amnesty International.

ARCHITECTURE FOR HUMANITY - OWN THE DAY SPONSORSHIPDonate one day’s salary and sponsor a day’s worth of humanitarian design. You can dedicate a day to a loved one, and pick any day on the calendar - all the money goes to support Architecture for Humanity’s great projects around the world, and your recipient gets their name proudly displayed on AFH’s website all day on the day they own. $100 or more from Architecture for Humanity

ADOPT AN ACRE AND GET A NATURE CONSERVANCY CALENDARMake a donation in someone’s name your to adopt two acres of rainforest land from the Nature Conservancy, and your gift recipient will receive a 2008 Nature Conservancy calendar featuring stunning nature images. Here’s a great example of a gift that feels good to give and receive. $100 from Adopt an Acre
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PLANTABLE ECO CALENDARGive the gift of time AND flora with this plantable calendar, which will please your planning and planting friends alike. Each month is its own page, so after the month is over, plant your page and watch it grow into blossoming blooms!
$19.95 from Botanical Paperworks.

GOOD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTIONGOOD just announced their new nonprofit partners, which include everyone from Teach For America to Room To Read, Kiva (see below), and the Acumen Fund. A year’s subscription (six issues) is just $20 and ALL subscription costs go directly to the charity of your choice. What better gift could you give than the gift of GOOD and $20 to a great cause? $20 from Good Magazine .

TREES FOR THE FUTUREFor a mere $45, have 450 trees planted in your friend or co-worker’s name. Trees For The Future, a non-profit dedicated to planting trees to help the environment and rural communities, has restored sustainably productive life to over 56,000 acres of land in Asia, Africa, and Central America. Your gift includes a Treeplanting Certificate and bumpersticker, plus the warm and fuzzy feeling of knowing you’ve done something good for the planet. $45 from Trees For The Future.

KIVA MICROLOAN GIFT CERTIFICATESFund a self-starting citizen in a developing nation - and get your money back! Kiva’s microloan model allows individuals to fund other individuals a world away to start their business, open a store, expand their farm, etc. Give the gift of a Kiva Gift Certificate for your loved one to invest. $25-$5,000 from KIVA .

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FOR MORE OF INHABITAT’S GREEN GIFT GUIDE, CLICK HERE >
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Should I Buy a Fake Fir?

Should I Buy a Fake Fir?Or is it better for the environment to cut down a real Christmas tree?By Brendan I. KoernerPosted Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2007, at 7:34 AM ET

Please help settle an argument that's threatening to tear my family apart this holiday season: What's worse for the environment, a real Christmas tree that lasts just a few weeks, or an artificial one that we can haul out every December for the next 15 years?

Crunching the numbers on this quandary is tough, if only because so much of the public information is skewed in favor of natural trees. America's Christmas tree growers have a fearsome lobby, one that's spent the past few years demonizing the artificial competition; check out this hilariously alarmist FAQ by the National Christmas Tree Association, which lambastes fake firs and pines as beetle-infested fire hazards descended from toilet brushes. (According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the NCTA started going on the attack in 2004 in response to declining sales.)

Despite its hyperbolic rhetoric, the real-trees industry makes at least one excellent point when denigrating the fakes: The needles on artificial trees are usually made from polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, which is anathema to Greenpeacers and their ilk. As the Lantern discussed two weeks back, PVC is widely reviled as a major source of dioxins. To make matters worse, cheap PVC is sometimes stabilized with lead, which can break free as harmful dust as a fake tree ages.
Growing concern over PVC has led fake-tree manufacturers to develop polyethylene needles; according to one prominent treemaker, 20 percent of artificial Christmas trees are now PE rather than PVC. But watch out for sleight of hand when it comes to "eco-friendly" fake trees; most of those 20 percent still contain PVC interior needles in order to create a fuller look.
As you note, the chief environmental selling point with fake trees is the fact they can be reused, which means that energy doesn't have to be expended year after year getting the product to market. But how much transportation fuel does an artificial tree really save? Let's make an estimate based on shipping each type of tree to a decidedly average American burg: Lebanon, Kan., claimant to the title of Geographic Center of the Lower 48.

The vast majority—at least 85 percent—of fake trees come from Asia, so we'll base our estimate on a Shanghai-to-Long-Beach, Calif., voyage aboard a container ship. A large ship capable of holding 2,125 40-foot containers will consume about 1,000 metric tons of fuel during its two-week journey across the Pacific Ocean. Let's say that there's only one container of fake trees on that ship, which means the trees' share of that fuel is roughly 1,037 pounds. On the last stretch of the journey, from Long Beach to Lebanon, the Yuletide cargo travels on a truck that gets six miles per gallon. On that 1,160-mile road trip, the truck will consume about 193 gallons of gas, which weighs around 1,158 pounds. Total for the trip from Shanghai to north-central Kansas: 2,195 pounds of fuel.

Now let's compare that fuel usage to 15 years' worth of real trees. (The Lantern is actually skeptical that most artificial trees last that long—especially the cheapest ones—but let's go with it.) In order to consume 2,195 pounds of fuel, your real trees would have to average a farm-to-retailer journey of 146.3 miles, assuming they are transported on the same six-mpg trucks mentioned above.* And even though the NCTA likes to point out that tree farms operate in all 50 states—yes, even in Florida—odds are the trees at your local lot traveled farther than that.
Yet the Lantern is still going to cast his vote for real trees: PVCs are just too worrisome, and so is the disposal issue. It's easy to track down a local program that will turn your real tree into mulch, but even the hardiest plastic tree is doomed to wind up in a landfill, where it will remain intact for ages. As for the fakes' advantage in terms of transportation energy, you can minimize this by being an informed consumer and trying to buy as locally as possible. (Also, don't worry about deforestation—98 percent of American trees are farm-raised, and they are usually replaced on a 3-to-1 basis after each harvest.)

The Lantern realizes, though, that raising Christmas trees may not be the most efficient use of land, and that pesticides are an integral part of the farming process. You may also blanch at the idea of killing a living thing solely so you and yours can enjoy a few weeks of pine-scented joy. In that case, lessen your guilt by buying a tree that you plan on planting after the holidays, complete with roots; just make sure you don't keep it indoors for more than a week, or it might become so acclimated to your living room that it won't survive outdoors.

There are also a few cities, like San Francisco, that offer rent-a-tree programs; they'll bring you a potted tree, then take it back after the holidays and plant it somewhere that needs a dash of green. A smart idea, but traditionalists beware: The trees on offer don't look like the ones you grew up with, but are rather very young Southern magnolias and small-leaf tristanias. They certainly don't appear capable of supporting that massive Three Wise Men ornament you inherited from Grandma.

Is there an environmental quandary that's been keeping you up at night? Send it to ask.the.lantern@gmail.com, and check this space every Tuesday.

Correction, Dec. 18, 2007: This piece originally stated that real trees would have to average a farm-to retailer journey of 4.1 miles in order to consume 2,195 pounds of fuel. That distance is actually 146.3 miles. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

Brendan I. Koerner is a contributing editor at Wired and a columnist for Gizmodo. His first book, Now the Hell Will Start, will be published by Penguin Press in May 2008.

Article URL: http://www.slate.com/id/2180086/

Monday, December 17, 2007

E-cards: Love ‘em or Hate ‘em


One thing I’ve noticed this holiday season is the flood of e-cards in my work email inbox. I LOVE IT! While it does make it a little more difficult to display my popularity to the world, it saves lots of time, effort, money, and resources!
I remember at my first job laying out hundreds of cards, labeling, stamping, and signing. It took DAYS! And then extra time to go back and forge my boss’s name because he didn’t have time to do it himself. And let’s not forget that I was not the only one working on this task. Sure, my billing rate was lower those days, but it certainly wasn’t cheap.
In addition to the cost of the cards and the labor cost of signing and mailing them, there is a huge environmental cost: the resources that go into making the paper and ink AND the carbon output of the mail delivery service process.
And the cards will simply be thrown in the trash (or potentially recycled).
My company this year sent out an e-card to all of our contacts…on “99.999% recycled electrons.” Labor costs were much lower as the only task was updating our electronic contact list (something we would have done for paper cards anyway). And, there’s no trash!
Of course, I am a huge hypocrite and still sent real cards as part of my personal holiday celebration (note: I bought them at the end of the season last year)…but, maybe next year I’ll be part of the digital revolution.
How do you feel about e-cards?

Green Workplaces Increase Productivity

If any of you are wondering... has it ever been really proven that a green workplace is a productive one? The answer is YES! There have been studies galore, from places like Carnegie Mellon, UC Berkeley and University of Michigan just to name a few.

For those of us in the design world, the idea that green workplaces are productive seems pretty intuitive, but we're finally at the point where we can point to quantitative research. So what are the findings specifically? A productive workplace includes the following:

1. Views to nature and gardens. It's one of those physiological things, but the ability for humans to view plants and trees (either indoors or outside) effectively relaxes the mind. The ability to quickly look away from your computer screen (even for a few seconds) and glance at a plant or landscape provides the right mental "break" to keeps you productive throughout the day.

2. Daylight and sunlight. Germany and other countries are way ahead of the U.S. on this one. They've written access to daylight into their building codes (no person can be so many feet away from the window). In the U.S., LEED gives credit to spaces that provide windows 15' or less from where people are sitting. What is important about this access to natural light is the change in lighting levels during the day. Noticing that "it's light vs. dark outside" plus visual access to the weather provide stimulation and awareness of nature.

3. Sensory change and variability. Miles and miles of vanilla-colored workstations that are all the same height and appearance, as a rule, does not support productivity - particularly for an organization that requires creativity as part of its value proposition. A lack of visual stimulation during the day dulls the senses and affects our ability to stay alert. Changes in color, lighting, texture, spatial volume, etc. are important to keep the brain stimulated.

4. Personal control. How many space heaters and fans are hiding under desks in your office? I can't tell you how many buildings I've been through where the facility staff keeps the VAV boxes on the wall, but then "turn them off" because of the large number of hot/cold complaints they get every day. This solution keeps their phone from ringing, but leads to frustration that makes everybody miserable! Turns out, everyone has a slightly different idea of what is comfortable, and to keep us all at our productive best, individual control of the environment is critical. And it's not just temperature and air flow; individuals need control over noise, lighting, desk height, monitor color, keyboard button location, chair adjustability, etc.

5. Regular exercise. Most of us "knowledge workers" spend a lot of time staring at a computer and not a lot of our day moving around. But guess what? All those annoying fitness instructors are right. Exercise makes us more productive and keeps our minds active. Buildings can help with well designed stairs and access to showers, bike racks, jogging trails, weight rooms, etc.

Is that it? No... this is only the tip of the iceberg! There are several other key factors to consider including indoor air quality, low toxicity in building materials, artificial lighting that reduces glare, etc. Here are some great resources to learn more:

Green Buildings, Organizational Success, and Occupant Productivity by Judith H. Heerwagen, Ph.D.

Elements of Biophilic Design: The Theory, Science, and Practice of Bringing Buildings to Life by Stephen R. Kellert, Judith Heerwagen, Martin Mador

Designing the Office of the Future: The Japanese Approach to Tomorrow's WorkPlace by Volker Hartkopf, Vivian Loftness, Pleasantine Drake, Fred Dubin, Peter Mill

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sustainable Office Furniture


Too often the words "office furniture" conjure up images of beige cubicles and faux leather chairs. Fortunately for us, the sustainable movement has emphasized intelligent design and thoughtful furniture. The October issue of Metropolis had a great feature on vendors like Haworth, Herman Miller, and Steelcase who have significantly increased the amount of recyclable materials in their chairs. Not only are these really sexy chairs, but indispensable furniture that is eco-friendly. While the most "green chairs" are re-used chairs, the ones featured are a great alternative when refurbished chairs aren't practical.

These chairs are free of much of the carcinogenic chemicals that escape landfills and pollute our soil. All three chairs are gold certified by the McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry Cradle to Cradle system which ensures environmentally friendly composition.
While the chemical make-up of each chair is an important element, they are also designed for easy disassembly. The ability to simply assemble/disassemble chairs allows for easier, more efficient shipping.....which in turn minimizes the carbon footprint of the chair. All 3 manufacturers in the article use blankets instead of cardboard for packaging on large domestic deliveries.

An unquantifiable quality the article didn't touch on was the user interaction benefit. Typically, in a LEED Certified Building, the users don't have an opportunity to interact with the building. Using chairs made with the environment in mind, that are comfortable and aesthetically pleasing is a great way for employees to see and feel green.
While the chairs will have many, many years of use, the manufacturer's provide information for customers looking to off-load their old furniture, either to third-party used-office furniture re-furbishers or for scrap. Remember, if your office decides to trade in your old chairs for some sexy new models there is probably a great home for them.
Peter Hall who penned the article for Metropolis wrote, "Ultimately, it is encouraging that while other industries rail against standards set by the EPA, office-furniture manufacturers have set themselves goals that are far higher than any federal standards."

From top to bottom:
The Mirra (Herman Miller) is 96% recyclable.
The Think (by Steelcase) is 99% recyclable.
The Zody (by Haworth) is 98% recyclable.

www.metropolismag.com

Friday, December 14, 2007

Is America Ready to be Green?

Al Gore made several strong statements at the Bali Climate Talks yesterday:

After declaring the United States "principally responsible for obstructing progress" in Bali, he urged delegates to agree to an open-ended deal that could be enhanced after the Bush administration left office.

"Over the next two years the United States is going to be somewhere it is not now," Mr. Gore said to loud applause. "You must anticipate that."


But I'm not so sure... George Bush can be blamed for a lot, but is he really any different than most of America? I do think times are changing, but we're still very new at the green thing. I'm not sure we really understand the kinds of changes we need to make. We love our stuff - our cars, our hairdryers, our computers, our furniture, our big houses. Our trash doesn't cost anything to put out and our water is reasonably clean.

SO WHY SHOULD WE CHANGE?

Barbara Flanagan wrote a great article in International Design magazine that tells it all. We're just not ready to embrace a sustainable lifestyle in the U.S.

That said, I do think this ship is turning around and we are getting more aware and more conscious of our impact. It's through talking, blogging and designing that we are starting to take those first baby steps away from the consumer mindset and toward a new kind of commerce. Seems to me that blaming politicians is not going to get us there. Focusing on ourselves and the people we know and influence is much more positive and impactful.

I'm not saying Al Gore should lay off - he's obviously got the ear of some powerful people. I'm just saying I can't point a finger at anyone but myself.

Greening the Office Resources

One of the listservs I subscribe to had a discussion about green office– many subscribers threw in ideas of where to look for resources. While there were tons of suggestions from several different people, I’ve compiled some of the ones that I found most relevant/widely applicable:

  • Green Practices Guide - List of facts, practices you can do, and links to resources for each of the following categories: transportation; waste; coffee breaks and lunches; cleaners; water consumption; energy; and responsible shopping
  • Green Office Checklist – List of general practices for employees and overall office operations
  • The Twin Cities Green Guide: Green Office Ideas for reducing waste, better office design, resource ideas
  • Green Office Guide – Click on the “green office – see how” for a fun clickable diagram
  • Green Office Guide – list of opportunities including lighting; office equipment; paper products; heating and cooling; water; cars and parking; and “other”
  • Green at Work” Guide - Document sharing ideas of simple changes regarding facilities, office supplies, recycling, equipment use, meetings, and other day-to-day workplace activities
  • Greening Your Office and Saving Money – ideas on waste reduction recycling
  • Guidelines for Greening Offices – Includes suggested goals for greening the office along with other info on environmental pollution.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Water Conservation and LEED

....Again, I love LEED and the USGBC because without them we would not be writing about a lot of the 'stuff' we are talking about here. That being said I have recently had a frustrating experience in calculating our water usage on a project.

Very early in the project the engineers suggested designing a cistern to collect rain water from the roof, condensate from the air handlers and environmental rooms, and the backwash of specialty equipment. Since this water should be relatively clean they wanted to use is as make-up water for the cooling tower, as opposed to irrigation. [A few weeks ago I wrote a note about how much water electrical plants use, so hold on to your hat.] For our ~280,000sf lab project we are estimating that the cooling towers will require 8.5MILLION gallons of water per year. [Don't think your 500,000sf office building is any better by the way.] The cistern collecting water from the three sources listed above should collect ~2million gallons per year. Even though this is a 24% reduction in our cooling tower usage, it does not count towards our water efficiency credits under the LEED 2.2 rating system. Fear not, we are going to get at least a 40% reduction by using low flow fixtures and the like, but this seems a bit odd to me.

All of this being said I am going to try and explain some of the stuff in the previous paragraph. [Disclaimer, I am a designer not an engineer so please correct me on my technical errors.]

A cooling tower is essentially a big radiator on top of a building. It's sole purpose is to reject heat from the building to facilitate the refrigerant cycle enabling the 68 degree, low humidity environment we have become addicted to.

Roof run off is pretty easy to understand. Rain falls, it hits the roof, goes into a roof drain, and normally goes to a storm sewer in the street. There is growing concern over this because in large urban areas this leads to two major problems. First the water table never gets replenished. All of the water goes into the sewer instead of percolating back into the ground. This was a huge problem a few years ago in places like New Jersey where there was a drought. Everybody kept watering their fields and lawns and such. All of a sudden the water wells for the public water supply were dry and there was no water to drink let alone take a bath. Second the water is diverted into major waterways such as streams and rivers. This water is warmer and flows more quickly than normal, so it destroys sensitive habitats and accelerates erosion downstream.

Condensate water is water that condenses on the cold mechanical equipment in the building. Most large buildings have air handling units [AHU] to push the air around to all of the space in a building. These AHUs have coils in them that are either hot or cold depending on the weather outside. In most office building and such, you are cooling almost year round due to the heat gain from the people, equipment, lighting, and other heat sources from within the building. [By the way this is a pretty energy efficient way to do it. Many of the buildings you see every day have DX units for heating and cooling which are much less energy efficient.]

Certain equipment, especially in lab buildings, are backwashed to clean the filters. Think of a Britta filter on your kitchen sink, but instead of wanting a glass of water you need tens of gallons per minute. Obviously that little filter would need to be replaced very frequently. So in lab buildings instead of replacing those filters they backwash them to clean the filters out. That 'reject water' is usually put into the sanitary sewer, refer to the roof run off paragraph above to see why this is an issue.

Tossing millions of gallons of water into the air is not great, but that is where we are today. Even if we are not going to get a coveted LEED point for cisterns we should still try to conserve water. Oh, by the way there are cooling towers available that reclaim the evaporated water and recycle most of the water. But like most cool, pun intended, building technologies they are only widely available in Europe, right now.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Incentivizing Recycling in the Workplace


I just ran across an interesting article on the development of a “recycling bank” as a way to incentivize residents of a township to recycle. The program is called Recycle Bank (http://www.recyclebank.com/) and it basically weighs the amount of recycling each household puts out and rewards with Recycle Bank dollars that can be redeemed for coupons to dozens of retailers. I know “dozens” does not sound like a lot, but when I checked out the list, I found a number of retailers that are available throughout the US, as well as some popular online retailers: Jockey, Sharper Image, Discovery Channel Store, ProFlowers, Staples, PetCo, Bed Bath & Beyond, IKEA, ING Direct, and many more.
Maybe offices can use this concept for encouraging employee recycling. I’m not quite sure how implementation would go…and of course, the idea is that we want to reduce waste, so rewarding for pounds of recycling misses the people that aren’t generating as much waste.
Here’s an idea: maybe offices could periodically spot check employee trash cans and give rewards for those that contain no recyclable materials. A $5 Starbucks gift card could go a long way to improving employee morale and encouraging environmentally-friendly behavior.
What are some of your ideas for recycling-related change management?
To view the whole article, visit this link: http://www.enn.com/top_stories/article/26368

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Refueling Station that makes me want an Electric Car

A colleague recently asked me where to find an electric car refueling station to meet the LEED requirements for a project. My first response was, why not use the preferred or reduced-price parking for alternative-fuel and fuel-efficient vehicles like everyone else? The he explained the project was in Saudi Arabia and the client was really interested in electric cars. So I did a little hunting around online and found this gorgeous refueling station called Elektrobay, made in the UK. I spoke with a representative who explained that when purchased in volume, you could expect greater discounts but starting at one unit these run about $6,000 US dollars (in part due to the exchange rate). Not actually all that bad, considering. This made me think of corporate campuses and government property where fleet vehicles are used on site or to get around locally. This could be much less expensive than conventional fuels, and have I mentioned that I think these are gorgeous little refueling stations? Defintely go to the web site and read more - you'll want an electric car too!
Excerpted from a GreenFleet Article:

Elektromotive Ltd, the Brighton based company specialising in the research, design and manufacture of electric vehicle recharging stations continues with its rapid growth. The company’s “Elektrobay” recharging post has become a market leader with its technically advanced leading edge operating system and clean, ergonomic design. The Elektrobay has an integrated GSM module enabling users to pay for the electricity they use by mobile phone text or to be directly billed to them. This may well, in the future, be part of their domestic electricity bill.

Managing director, Calvey Taylor-Haw says: "When the Elektrobay is powered by renewable energy the electric vehicle it charges will be totally free of C02 emissions. Even when an EV is powered by a mix of renewable and conventionally generated electricity, it will be around 50 per cent greener than an equivalent sized petrol or diesel fuelled vehicle, and this takes into consideration the green house gasses produced during the car’s manufacture. Whilst on the subject of C02 emissions, the Elektrobay is 95 per cent recyclable, being mainly made of high grade aluminum.

For more informationwww.elektromotive.com
info@elektromotive.com
Tel: +44 (0) 1273 704775

Sunday, December 9, 2007

CO2 and the lawn ornament, or Santa Sequestration

‘Tis the season – the time of year when suburban lawns start sprouting inflatable lawn decorations, Santas, Snow Globes, Snowpeople, Grinches, and other jolly seasonal symbols. Being a person who spends his life quantifying things, I found myself wondering how many of these ornaments it would take to hold my annual CO2 emissions. I always find I do better when I can actually visualize my sins – after all, how many of us can visualize a ton of a colorless, odorless gas.

First of all, a ton of CO2. The actual volume of a ton varies depending on temperature and pressure, but using a balmy California winter day of around 65 degrees (sorry to all of you who live in chillier climes), and an atmospheric pressure around sea level, a ton of CO2 occupies roughly 540 cubic meters. http://www.icbe.com/carbondatabase/CO2volumecalculation.asp. (adjusted for temperature). At freezing it drops to about 500 cubic meters, but at an altitude of Denver, at 32 degrees, it grows to some 570 cubic meters. So far so good, but 500 cubic meters is still hard to visualize, so to put that in context it roughly equal to the volume of a 2,000 SF home (including attic), or three 1,000 SF apartments. Now lawn ornaments come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but using a 7’ Santa as a model, I would estimate that each one holds somewhere in the range of one third to one half of a cubic meter, which puts each ton at around 1,000 to 1,500 Santas.

According the carbon calculator at climatecrisis.net, http://www.climatecrisis.net/takeaction/carboncalculator/, the average is 7.5 tons per person per year, or 7,000 to 10,000 Santas, roughly 140 per week, or 20 per day. Now even if you happen to be someone who loves lawn ornaments, I suspect that inflating 20 per day would get a bit wearing after a while, and pretty soon most of us would run out of lawn space.

Burning one gallon of gasoline generates enough CO2 to fill ten to fifteen such ornaments, a cross country flight would fill about a thousand (per passenger, each way). The total US production of CO2 would be enough to cover about third of the total land area of the United States, with Santas, shoulder to shoulder.

Simple tons of CO2 are not visible enough for me to change my ways, but perhaps the thought of filling the nation coast to coast with Santas in three years will help me. Perhaps visualizing my morning commute dropping half a dozen ornaments on the freeway, will inspire me to cut my gasoline consumption. Twelve Boeing 737 full of inflatable Santas for each of my cross country trips might make me think twice about hopping a plane to the east coast. Perhaps Santa can help change the world.

LEED and Solar Energy

In the LEED rating system, the on-site renewable energy credits are hard to get, especially on urban sites. Essentially you need to generate 2.5-7% of the buildings electricity from wind, water, or solar energy. In a city environment the first two usually go out the window due to site constraints, so you get focused on solar energy.

From an economic point of view, the payback for PVs can be very long, sometimes you hear numbers like twenty years. This takes into account the monetary cost to manufacture the units, get them to your building, plug them in, and produce enough power to pay for themselves. This is obviously a dated way to look at our energy production.

If you use carbon as your benchmark the return on investment can go down to 1-5 years http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photovoltaics#Energy_returned_on_energy_invested. This takes into account how PVs are manufactured and how much carbon is produced in that process. Then how much carbon is produced to make energy..it's zero by the way. Not to mention that there is exceptionally low cost to maintain the system once it is operational.

On a lab project that I am currently working on, we have chosen to install a 40kW system that will take up a huge amount of roof space. We are hoping to finance the installation in large part through incentives and rebates but some of the money is still going to come out of the bottom line. It is not going to give us the illusive 2.5% of our buildings energy, but how could we not do it?

There is a reason why countries like Germany are investing so heavily in PVs. They are cheep and clean sources of energy. The LEED rating system is helping to get Americans focused on this infinite energy source.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Energy Bill - Stalled in the U.S. Senate!

For those of you who haven't been following this story, the House passed an ambitious energy bill Thursday of this week. The Senate is now considering a new scaled-back version of the bill that would take out a requirement for electric ulitilites to use renewable energy for 15 percent of their power generation. If any of you read our earlier post, Good CARMA, about power generation from these companies - this is an important step.

Go to the Washington Post today for more info.

Want to take action to get these Senators to hear your view? Go here to the Sierra Club's website to tell them what you think now. It's quick and easy - they show you exactly who to call. I live inside the beltway, and my policy-wonk friends tell me a call has a more powerful effect on making a difference than emails.

Another alternative? Write to energy companies that are opposing the bill, like the Southern Company, that serves Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. Want to find out the company that provides your energy? Go to carma.org and enter your zip code (right margin).

Friday, December 7, 2007

Green Elephant Gifts

I realize that I posted an entry about sustainable gift-giving a couple of weeks ago, but my coworkers and I had a brilliant idea.

Our group has decided to do a "white elephant" exchange (where everyone puts a gift into the pile and then take turns either selecting a wrapped gift or stealing a gift that has already been opened) - with a sustainable twist.
We're calling it the "green elephant exchange." The rules are that you have to give a gift that is not purchased (either something from your home, a found object, or a regift) and that it must be wrapped in a sustainable manner (reused gift bag, fabric bag, reused newspaper/gift wrap, etc.). I can't wait to see what the gifts are!
In a related exercise, at an old job, my coworkers and I used to regularly have "swaps" where everyone brought in nice things that they no longer wanted and traded for new things. Some of the items exchanged included candles, notepads, holiday decorations, etc. Anything that wasn't taken by the end of the day was donated to charity.
Please suggest other good ways to reuse/regift great items!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Virtual Interview

CNN found a story I wrote on GreenPrint last week and decided to interview me, as a user of this product, for a green story they were putting together. For those of you who get interviewed by news organizations every day, you might not be as impressed as I was... this is one highly-functional virtual organization!

Here's how it worked. I got a call from a producer in Atlanta putting the story together. She then sent a local camera crew and reporter from their DC bureau to my office where they asked some of her questions, and a few of their own. The camera crew probably had instructions from the producer as well, but I noticed they captured several impromptu shots. It took one hour exactly.

I'm not sure how they interviewed the head of GreenPrint, but I wouldn't be surprised if a local crew in Portland did this.

Six days later (yesterday) the story aired. Miles O'Brien did the voice over for the story (by the way I never met him, which is a bummer because I really wanted to ask him what it's like to be a space correspondent!)

So how many people worked on this story? I'm guessing with the producer, camera staff, reporters, editors and the like, maybe 8 to 12 total. Very few of these people saw each other (I'm sure some of them have never met) and they pulled together this story without a hitch. If a high-pressure, high-stakes organization like CNN can pull off a project like this virtually in six days, we can certainly learn something from them about remote work.

There was a purpose, a deadline, clear lines of accountability, a deliverable and NO TRAVEL! Now that's a good green story.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The (Really) Mobile Office

The Office of Mobile Design (OMD) has come up with a facinating take on the mobile office called the I-mobile. It looks to be an RV with hinged walls that turn into the ultimate flexible office. The perfect vehicle for the "mobile entrepreneur."


I'm assuming this RV runs on biofuels or maybe those those "wings" are solar panels ;). In any case, it does test the idea of what our office is supposed to look like and how cities might be formed if not tied to a traditional infrastruture. What if every structure was "untethered" or off the grid? We could adjust our location instantly and react to market forces in a totally different way. Not enough business in San Diego? No problem...we're off to San Jose! Or how about Iowa where biofuel costs are low? Or New Mexico where solar energy is easiest to capture? Glaciers are melting and New Orleans is under water again? Try the Midwest.
Huh. I wonder.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Our Contributions to Earth's 8th Continent

I just read an incredibly disturbing article...Earth's Eighth Continent (http://thetyee.ca/News/2007/11/21/PacificGarbagePatch/). This describes a giant patch of trash out in the Pacific Ocean that is twice the size of Texas! Unbelievable.


This made me think about MY contributions to the giant floating trash heap: I do recycle and I do not litter, but sometimes despite my/our best efforts, items don't always end up in the right place.

Some important things we can do in both the workplace and at home (please add your ideas, too):
  • Properly sort recyclables so that they don't end up at the dump
  • Ensure our service providers (both office cleaning folks and the waste companies) dispose of our waste in the appropriate ways
  • Pick up all remnants from trash day
  • Secure trash and recyclables in bags or bins so wind doesn't send it into the storm drains or nearby streams
  • Pick up trash out on the street/in our backyards/wherever
  • Purchase items in bulk or items with no/minimal packaging
  • Reduce consumption...which means less trash!

A few simple steps will at least help slow the growth of the Pacific trash heap.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Bob's On The Job Too


I have a three year old daughter. She doesn’t watch much TV, but there are a few PBS shows that are allowed. [Besides this is not a parenting blog.] Among them is Bob the Builder. The other day while I was trying hard to not poke my eyes, we were able to find a new episode. I was a shocked and delighted to find Bob is going sustainable too.

In some of the new[er] episodes, Bob enters a design competition to design a new community in Sunflower Valley. His competitor wanted to build a “noisy city with buildings everywhere”, but Bob wanted to “make a plan for a town that would fit into the environment.” His entry proposes building small scale buildings that fit into the landscape and environment, wind turbines, recycling centers. There is even a straw bale house, a yurt, and a geodesic house that even Bucky would be proud of. In a subsequent episode Bob and his friends salvage a fallen willow and make ladders, furniture, brooms, and a fence from the tree.

I think the key to the green movement is education. I am not suggesting that this is the best method, but if we can get the message to our children we will insure that the next generation will be focused on the possibilities as well. It’s goofy, but remember the shows motto, “Can we fix it?....”
To learn more about Bob’s efforts, here is a link to the Bob’s Big Plan Website, http://www.bobthebuilder.com/usa/read_with_bob_the_builder_as_he_builds_sunflower_valley.htm

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