Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Who has the Best Commute?

Image of Hong Kong from Destination 360

First, let me apologize for my recent obsession with transportation!

Think your commute is terrible? If so, consider moving to one of the ten best cities for commuting (as ranked by Forbes). The cities listed below have inexpensive, efficient, and reliable transit. Rankings were developed using the following criteria: the cost to the consumer and the government, overall investment in improvements, and the speed and safety with which workers are delivered to offices.

And here are the winners:
  1. Hong Kong, China
  2. Tokyo, Japan
  3. Chennai, India
  4. Dakar, Senegal
  5. Osaka, Japan
  6. London, England (good choice, Green London!)
  7. Beijing, China
  8. Mumbai, India
  9. Krakow, Poland
  10. Berlin, Germany
Read the article: The world’s 10 best commutes, which includes my new favorite traffic quote:
It's like being in love. If you think you are love, you are in love.
If you think you are in traffic, you are in traffic.
-Nathan Rees, premier of New South Wales, Australia

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Commuting by Autocarrier

So I'm a little behind in my reading, but as I was perusing the December 2008 Planning magazine I ran across a cool idea that helps reduce single occupant vehicle trips, but allows people the freedom of having their own cars.

The article, Travel Smart A Proposal: Commute by Freeway and Save Energy (second item) suggests a system in which small cars are loaded onto an auto carrier (like the ones that haul new cars to the dealership) in the suburbs and hauled down the freeway to the central business area.
This would help reduce the number of cars on the road and the need for large commuter parking lots in the suburbs (thereby reducing runoff and urban heat island effect issues).
Of course, there are some flaws: the concept would work best for small cars, people would need to have the cars turned off during transport to achieve maximum environmental benefit, there would still be need for urban parking, etc, etc. Regardless, it's an interesting concept.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Trikes for Grownups

With the Christmas holiday just past, many families may have found tricycles under their trees (thanks Santa!), but probably not too many cargo trikes. I ran across an article about the resurgence of tricycles as a means of transporting materials in The Christian Science Monitor.

Essentially, MetroPed (previously New Amsterdam Project) in Cambridge, MA (Boston-area) is taking the bicycle messenger method of delivery a step further. The company's goal is to provide a healthier, cheaper method of delivering materials. Pretty cool!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Cuba: Not Just Cigars

Urban agriculture has long been a key component of the "eat local" movement, but did you know that one of the countries with the most thorough urban agriculture system is our neighbor to the south, Cuba?

Taking up about 35,000 hectares (86,000 acres) of land, the urban agriculture movement began as a military concept, allowing Cuba to be self-sufficient in times of war. The collapse of the USSR and resultant food shortages increased the concept's popularity. Throw in a very active hurricane season that devastated traditional farms, and the urban agriculture movement is a vital part of Cuba's food supply.

Check out the article: In "eat local" movement, Cuba is years ahead

Image source: City Farmer

Monday, December 22, 2008

Recycling Sucks!

This is so cool - a system that essentially sucks your trash and recycling down under the streets and off to a central collection point. No more smelly trash rooms, noisy garbage trucks, or waiting for neighbors to pick up their bins for days and days!

Developed by Envac, the stationary system essentially connects a bunch of input bins which are interconnected by underground pipes to a central collection point. Waste is stored at the point of collection until a regularly scheduled emptying time. At this point, vacuums and fans are turned on and the waste is sucked on to the collection point.

The mobile system works similarly, however, instead of waste going to a central collection point, it is sucked into a truck at a nearby loading area.

I first learned about the system from an article that describes the system's use in a mixed-use development: Quintain starts recycling revolution at Wembley City.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Is Your Car Making You Fat?

Researchers at the University of Tennessee and Rutgers University recently found a strong link between "active transportation" and obesity rates, meaning that in countries where more people opt for walking, bicycling, and taking mass transit have lower rates of obesity. Essentially, this means that by avoiding cars, people can burn more calories (pretty straightforward).

Some stats:
  • Europeans walk an average of 237 miles each year and bike another 116, while Americans walk 87 miles and bike 24.
  • The Swiss take an average of 9,700 steps each day, compared to 7,200 for the Japanese and 5,900 for Americans.
  • 12 percent of Americans use active transportation: 9 percent walk, 1 percent ride a bike and 2 percent take a bus or train; over 25% of Americans are obese.
With all the goodies around the office these days, I know I'm a bit concerned about putting on some extra holiday weight. I think I'm going to make an effort to engage in active transit more frequently...especially on nice days when the 40 minutes of walking to & from the Metro will be pleasant!

Visit the original study.
Article from AP
Article from Wired

Image source: Car Whisperer

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Hoteling is Hard

I've blogged before about how my group has moved to a desk-sharing situation: there are six of us and we have only five desks. In theory, it's excellent. We save money by paying less rent (our rent is fully loaded, so there is no direct utility cost), we save the environment by not commuting to work every day, and we improve our own work/life balance by working from home (or elsewhere).

The reality of the situation: it's hard! Not the "working from home" part, but the desk sharing part. We have not been able to truly give up our seats (the newest teammate pretty much sits where someone else is not sitting and the rest of us sit at our normal desks). Not everyone is working from home on a regular basis, meaning there are more than a few times that there are six people at the office, but only five desks available - not so much fun.

We're still working on it. . . perhaps one could call our New Year's resolution a new committment to alternative work. But it's not as easy to transition as we thought it might be....good old human resistance to change is alive and well, even for those of us who "drank the Kool Aid"!

U.S. Drivers Are Getting Off the Road... (and hopefully out of their Hummers?)

People in the United States drove 3.5% fewer miles in October 2008 than they did in October 2007, making October the twelfth consecutive month of year-to-year declines in U.S. vehicle miles traveled, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). From November 2007 to October 2008, U.S. residents drove 100 billion fewer miles than the year before, marking the largest ever continuous decline in U.S. driving. October alone saw a year-to-year drop of 8.9 billion vehicle miles, which is the largest October decline since 1971. And while the DOT report doesn't try to explain the drop in driving, an October report from HNTB Companies says the decrease is partly due to a shift toward public transportation.

A nationwide poll showed that more than 24 million U.S. residents—11% of the adult population—are using public transportation more than they did last year, and 16% say they expect to increase their ridership in the coming year. Although many were motivated by high gasoline prices, they also discovered the convenience, traffic avoidance, and environmental benefits of public transit. Heck, even Obama plans to use transit to get to his own inauguration!

Maybe we'll see a better funding mechanism from the Federal government that doesn't support highways as much as 80-90% while expecting public transportation programs to be self sufficient economically. Public transportation projects are often entirely locally funded or receive in the neighborhood of 10% Federal funding. A huge dichotomy. I've said it before and I will say it again: public dollars should go to public transportation. Highways are enormously subsidized by our tax dollars and yet don't benefit the public in a very even way. Only people who can afford cars benefit from highways while anyone should be able to get on a safe and reliable transit system ('should' being the operable word here).

Economics of Recycling

The economy isn't just affecting your businesses and retail operations: it's also impacting recycling. The market for recycled materials has dried up, meaning that recycled items are piling up in warehouses across the country. A great time for us to think about REDUCING in addition to recycling!

Image Source:

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Environmentalists vs. Preservationists

As I told you before, I've been doing a lot of "green reading" - here's another interesting find: A Cautionary Tale - Amid our green-building boom, why neglecting the old in favor of the new just might cost us dearly.

In this article, the author discusses the popularity of "green" building and the influence of the USGBC in the design of new buildings. He is concerned that the "green wave" is beginning to put preservationists and environmentalists at odds: preservationists want to retain existing building stock, and environmentalists wanting to build new.

The author argues that older buildings are not necessarily as inefficient as once thought, particularly those built in the 1920s and earlier. Many of these buildings were inherently "green." The embodied energy of these buildings makes them vaulable in their current form.

He also introduces the term "stealth green" to denote buildings (and practices) that are green without being overt or flashy.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The World is One Big Field

Fallowing is the farming practice of allowing fields to regenerate after a period of production - not planting particular fields for a season.

I recently ran across an interesting article that suggests we need to allow the world to fallow: Fear of fallowing: The specter of a no-growth world.

This article uses the example of Newfoundland fisheries to demonstrate the concept of fallowing: Newfoundland's fish catch is now restricted by what the fish population can support, rather than the tools of the fishermen: it has reached stasis.

The author believes that fallowing/allowing stasis should be done with all natural resources. This theory is economically unpopular, as fallowing reduces growth as it has been historically known. The author argues that we should "view progress as the creation of efficiency rather than wealth."

Interesting concepts. What do you think?

Image source: ESRI

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Green Word of the Day: Backcasting

Whereas forecasting is the process of predicting the future based on current trend analysis, backcasting approaches the challenge of discussing the future from the opposite direction.

Backcasting then is a method in which the future desired conditions are envisioned and steps are then defined to attain those conditions, rather than taking steps that are merely a continuation of present methods extrapolated into the future.

This kind of thinking is particularly important for meeting environmental targets, because making incremental improvements in the way we live and work today will not enough to make the difference needed to sustain life on earth in the long term. Some examples of backcasting are:

· The Architecture 2030 Challenge, a global initiative stating that all new buildings and major renovations reduce their fossil-fuel GHG-emitting consumption by 50% by 2010, incrementally increasing the reduction for new buildings to carbon neutral by 2030.
· The Kyoto Protocol requires industrialized nations to reduce their greenhouse gases by 5.2 percent compared to 1990.
· Sony, Nike, Nokia and nine other multinational companies have signed a declaration in support of a 50% reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, echoing similar calls being made by UN scientists and EU leaders during international climate negotiations.

So what backcasting targets can you set for your office? And then, more importantly, what do you need to change in the way you work to meet them?
Image from Epson

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I <3 Google Docs

Looking for a green way to collaborate besides webconferencing?
Recently my team has found that google docs works extremely well for sharing documents across offices and even across companies. I've used Google docs personally for a while - primarily for storing documents online so that I myself could access them at any time and from any computer.

With google docs, you can create (or upload) text documents (like Word); spreadsheets (like Excel); presentations (like PowerPoint); or, forms (which I've never tried).

One of the coolest things about google docs is that multiple contributors can each work in the document at the same time. At my job, we find this very useful for our weekly operations call, during which about 10 people are simultaneously modifying our labor forecast. It's much better than taking turns waiting for someone to close out of the document on our server!

We're also trying it out on a project in which we are collaborating with the University of Maryland. Rather than storing documents on an FTP site or emailing files back and forth, we all access the google doc. So far, so good!

Oh, and there's a mobile version of google docs that allows you to access your documents from your mobile device. Pretty cool!

Image Source: Robin Good

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Green Nuns

Image source:

The Guardian last week reported that a group of nuns from the rural English county of Worcestershire are on the move. They are moving from the Victorian Stanbrook Abbey to an environmentally sensitive monastery being built in the North York Moors national park.

In a brief to the architects (2008 Stirling prizewinners Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios), the nuns stated their vision for their new premises. In addition to being sensitive to environmental concerns, a monastery for women should "contain some natural curved surfaces and shapes".

The new building will allow them to live simply. There will be broadband-ready bedrooms for up to 30 nuns, a church, library and ancillary buildings. It also incorporates a retreat for up to 15 guests as hospitality is common to Benedictine traditions. The nuns will be in harmony with the heritage of their surroundings, studded with the ruins of Whitby, Rievaulx and Byland abbeys and Mount Grace Priory. "We are supposed to love creation and respect the environment. We're living in and taking care of it," said Dame Andrea Savage, the abbess at Stanbrook.

Next year the nuns will bid farewell to the Victorian splendour of Stanbrook Abbey in rural Worcestershire to live in a monastery with rainwater harvesting, reedbed sewage systems, sedum roofs, recycled material, a woodchip boiler and responsibly-sourced timber.

Click here for the full article.

Click here for photos - including illustrations of the new monastery.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Verde Office Parties

The Holidays may well be a few weeks off yet, but the party season is already upon us with offices up and down the country putting the finishing touches to their annual festive knees up. But just because everyone is poised to lose their inhibitions there is no reason for companies to lose track of their environmental policies. In fact, there are more reasons than ever to make sure your office party adheres to your green office principles. Here are a few helpful tips..hope you enjoy!!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Recession-Proof Industry

With all the news about the recession/tanking economy/need for government bailouts, there's not a lot to look forward to in the news; however, I must say I'm liking what I'm hearing about the green building industry:

Image Source: Weburbanist

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Toronto Gets Ahead

Our neighbors to the north have recently taken a big step towards reducing their environmental footprint. The City of Toronto has voted (30:13) to ban sales and distribution of disposable plastic water bottles at city-owned facilities, and has approved a 5 cent fee on disposable plastic bags.

Read some articles:

Friday, December 5, 2008

The future looks bright - Renewable Energy Under the New Administration

Okay, I will really geek out on you right about now. I have always been fascinated by renewable energy and the opportunties to integrate power generation with building architecture. Ergo, I am also really fascinated by energy policy and how renewable energy will be advanced in the marketplace. So yesterday I went to the ACORE conference on the Hill, in the Canon building caucus room, where members of the House often meet (it is a gorgeous room). The conference theme was Renewable Energy under the New Administration. If you’re insanely jealous that you weren’t there you can download the speakers slides and watch the whole thing at your leisure. Yup, they webcast it. I heart technology. Tom Friedman of Hot, Flat and Crowded fame (and The World is Flat, if you’re behind on your reading) was the keynote. You can watch him too. It was an AMAZING day.

The thing that impressed me the most, besides the dazling array of really amazing and SMART speakers, was a) the overwhelming sense of optimism and b) that the presenters had not coordinated beforehand but all had very similar things to say about where we are going and how we are going to get to a transformed future. The best story was probably told by Dan Arvizu who recounted a story where he was contacted by the Make A WIsh Foundation on behalf of an 11 year old boy with Leukemia. The boy’s wish? Not to visit Disneyland, but to visit NREL. The future looks bright.

The key issues were divided up into transportation, electric power and finance. My take:

Transportation: we need every car make and model to be BOTH a flex fuel vehicle AND a plug-in hybrid electric. Everyone should be able to choose from anything and everything that is available.

Electric Power: we need better infrastructure, i.e. an improved grid - a smart grid - and STORAGE for intermittant power supplies from wind and solar. We also need a NATIONAL renewable energy portfolio standard (only about 30 states have one right now).

inance: we love the (expansion of) Production and Investment Tax Credits but they aren’t very useful if no one is making money and therefore not paying taxes. Ergo PTCs and ITCs need to be REFUNDABLE tax credits.

The future is a CHOICE, not FATE. To despair is to sin. We have EXACTLY ENOUGH TIME… STARTING RIGHT NOW.


There were some really AMAZING speakers that were both funny and serious, inspiring and sobering, extremely knowledgeable on a technical level, visionary and insightful. Some of my favorite thoughts and paraphrased quotes follow brief speaker bios:

· Dan Arvizu, former Chief Technology Officer of CH2M Hill Companies Ltd., current Director National Renewable Energy Labs (NREL) (also on Obama transition team) – the new Administration loves green technology and though it won’t be easy or quick, does envision significant sustainable transformation of the nation happening within 4 years. The next generation is ahead of us, they see what’s coming and they are smarter than we are.

· John Cavalier, former Vice Chairman of Credit Suisse’s Investment Banking Div., current Managing Partner of Hudson Capital – the key drivers of renewable energy are 1) demand: per capita energy use if up in developing countries, 2) the environment: see climate change, 3) security: we need to source our energy locally. The U.S. borrows $700 billion a year to bring oil to the U.S., 4) cost: the cost of renewables has been dropping rapidly. We are now at grid parity. 40% of electric generation capacity additions to the U.S grid in 2007 were from WIND. What the new Administration needs to do: 1) eliminate the legislative expiry if renewable energy tax credits, 2) make renewable energy tax credits refundable, 3) extend the Production tax Credit (PTC) carryback period to 10 years, 4) allow PTCs to apply to lease financing, and 5) provide incentives for domestic manufacture of renewable energy equipment.

· Aimee Christensen, former World bank (Legal Dept.) and Department of Energy (Latin American Energy Policy, current Founder and CEO Christensen Global Strategies (Clean Tech for Obama, Clinton Global Initiative, Global Green, Swiss Re, United Nations) – How do we value nature’s services beyond carbon? how do we include nature’s services in our GDP? Studies show that weatherization and retrofits to existing buildings can save 30% of utility bills – NO cap and trade program we’re discussing will cost anything near 30% of our utility bills

· Governor Chet Culver of Iowa , former high school teacher and coach, former Iowa Secretary of State – we need five things: 1) a better grid and better transmission capacity, 2) a five year extension on wind production tax credits, 3) a NATIONAL Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS), 4) we need to work with automakers to make flex fuel AND hybrid electric vehicles – combine technologies, and 5) a NATIONAL plan for energy independence that starts with R&D.

· Senator Tom Daschle – if we managed our land like the Europeans we could double our production of fuel from biomass while beautifying the landscape; we need plug-in flex fuel hybrids; we need to focus on crops that provide all of these things at once: FOOD, FEED, FUEL, and FIBER.

· Thomas Friedman, NY Times Columnist and author of The World Is Flat and Hot, Flat and Crowded – It isn’t a revolution until someone gets hurt – people don’t have to die, but businesses may have to fundamentally change the way they do business. We’re not having a green revolution right now, we’re having a green party. We’ll know the Green Revolution has been successful when we don’t call it that anymore, when there ceases to be ‘green buildings’ or ‘green energy’ and high performance and sustainability are built into our normal business as usual; I don’t want to charge my lifestyle on my daughters’ Visa card. We don’t need or want a ‘bailout’, but a build up to the next generation. America needs to get its groove back. We need an ET revolution the way we had an IT revolution (ET = Energy Technology). We say ‘no taxation without representation’. In other countries making a lot of money off of oil sales, they don’t need to tax. And without taxation, you don’t have to have representation. No representation without taxation. Welcome to Petro-Dictatorships. The world will never be flat until it’s GREEN. We’re entering a new age of Noah, where we’re trying to save the last two of every species. We can’t regulate our way out of our problems, we need to INNOVATE. The government needs to send a PRICE SIGNAL to accelerate the green revolution at the speed, scale and scope that we need. Young people who want to make a difference need to LEARN THE RULES and then rewrite them – but if it isn’t boring, it probably isn’t green. Everyone would like to be an ECOSTAR but you can’t. Get off of Facebook and into somebody’s face. Go where the rules are written and write them your own way – if it doesn’t happen you have only yourselves to blame. When it comes to the big three of Detroit, we should be talking about BAIL not a BAILOUT.

· Brad Gammons, former Captain in the U.S Air Force, current Vice President of IBM Global Energy and Utilities Industry – We need a SMART GRID that can address re-urbanization and modernization of the U.S. – a smart grid can monitor/manage not just electricity but water, waste, gas, communication, etc. We will then have a smarter planet.

· Andrew Lunquist, former Director of the National Energy Policy Group (Bush), current President of Blue Water Strategies – As Sherlock Holmes said, we need to eliminate the impossible and what remains must be the solution.

· Kevin Walsh, Managing Director of Renewable Energy at GE Financial Services – tax credits won’t help if people pay no taxes (because they aren’t making any money in this economy). Tax credits must be refundable, we need to broaden the investment pool and increase our investment in transmission.

· Michael Ware, Managing Director of Good Energies – we need both short and long term action. Short term: We need to unlock credit markets, accelerate DOE loans. Long term: 1) prepare the U.S. for a RE economy, 2) renew the EMPHASIS ON ENERGY EFFICIENCY, 3) policies should be designed to level the playing field (between RE and fossil fuels), 4) leverage public private partnerships so that the U.S. can regain LEADERSHIP position. Utilities can offer incentives for energy efficiency at the end user (i.e. reductions in demand).

· Tom Werner, CEO of SunPower Corporation – We will reduce the cost of solar generation installed by 50% between 2006 and 2012. Tax credits must be fungible; refundable. Distributed technology, i.e. rooftop generation, should be included in Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards. Renewable (including distributed/rooftop) generation should garner carbon credits that will have value in a carbon cap and trade system.

· Tracy Wolstencroft, current Managing Director of Goldman Sachs – A healthy environment is the foundation for sustainability in economic growth. We need a national renewable energy portfolio standard. The aging infrastructure is an opportunity to upgrade to a smarter grid.

· Pat Wood, former Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, current Principal of Wood3 Resources LLC – the problem is not with physics or the engineers, not with money – the problem (roadblock) is regulatory because there is no organized national grid. Renewable Energy needs to be planned and operated on a regional level to be effective. We will have to use Imminent Domain, which no one loves, but the state and federal regulators can handle it. STORAGE is critical. We may need to take a stick-painted-orange approach (as opposed to the carrot and the stick).We have to make the tax credit expansion work – even in this market.

· Jim Woolsey, former Director of Central Intelligence, current Venture Partner of Vantage Point Ventures – the Clean Air Act waivers that oil companies get serve as a $250 billion subsidy for oil. We need to balance that with subsidies for clean sources of energy. The government’s job is not to pick winners, but to break the oil monopoly and level the playing field. We need to destroy the strategic significance of fossil fuels the way we did so with SALT. Up until the last century or so, wars were still being fought over it. With the advent of coal, natural gas and oil and therefore refrigeration, we no longer need salt. We should be moving fossil fuels in this direction by focusing on resources that we already have in abundance and employing them in a way that does not exhaust them.

Forty Shades of Green

Have you ever heard that in any view of Ireland you see 40 shades of green? After spending some time in Southern Ireland this past summer, I started thinking about what global warming is doing to the wonderful Irish landscape, we all know and love. I have compiled below a few high-level facts that I have came across.

"All is changed, changed utterly." In a time of relative peace in Ireland, a new foe has arisen that threatens to change the face of Ireland." William Butler Yates

Scientists predict that by 2050 winter rainfall will increase by 12 percent and summer rainfall will decline by the same. Thus turning the lush green landscapes into patchy brown and green fields.

  • The sea is swallowing up on average about 750 acres of Ireland’s land each year. Its the changing global temperatures that are slowly altering the landscape, flora and fauna. (red indicates land mass flooded by increase in sea-level)

  • The current primary crop in Ireland (the potato) is already showing evidence of decline, because of it's dependency on an adequate water source. Climate change could yield too much water in some places at some times and too little of it in other places at the same time, therefor hindering an adequate water supply.

  • Due to expansive economic growth in the last 20 years, Ireland's demand for energy has grown by more than 70 percent in the last 15 years, thus resulting in an increase for fossil fuels and petroleum based products.

  • The landscape will have a visual change to vegetation and land use, due to greater weather extremes. Lands in certain regions of the country will continue to grow fields of wheat, barley and corn as the climate changes, but with warmer and dryer summers, brown fields will be much more common. Thus reducing tourism (one of Ireland's top resources).

  • The change in rainfall will put one of the Irish landscapes unique features, peat bogs, at risk of more frequent “bog bursts “when masses of peat loosen from their bedrock and slide down slopes. (comparable to a mudslide)

The Incredible, Edible... Fork?

I ran across this great new product that is still in prototype, but brilliant. It's an edible fork / spoon utensil designed by Italian student Davide Tarantino. It's made of dough that can be flavored and is industrially produced, poured into a mold and cooked.

What I love most about it (besides the fact that it's the ultimate example of cradle to cradle or zero waste thinking) is that is probably would really enhance a meal. It might be flavored sweet or savory, depending on what you are cooking. Or perhaps you might add daily vitamins - why not?

It's shape is unique, which is sure to be a conversation starter. Plus, anything that mixes design and food has to be good.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Green Word of the Day: LOHAS

Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability (LOHAS) describes a marketplace for goods and services focused on health, the environment, social justice, personal development and sustainable living.
Worldwatch Institute reported that the LOHAS market segment in year 2006 was estimated at $300 billion, approximately 30% of the USA consumer market, and a study by the Natural Marketing Institute showed that in 2007, 40 million Americans were included within the LOHAS demographic.

To find LOHAS businesses near you, try:

B for Authenticity

If you’re still having difficulty sifting through all the GreenWash, there’s finally a business here to help - B Corporations makes it easier for users to sort through the current flood of green marketing. Their site is pretty cool – it's a certification process that "uses the power of business to create public benefit.”

Any corporation can complete the online survey to prove that they meet specific, comprehensive and transparent social and environmental performance standards. Those that achieve the minimum score obtain their B corp status at no cost. This benchmark makes it much easier for me to identify the authentic from the greenwashers.

Humor and Green Gifts

A lot of green talk is very serious in nature...which is great! But, sometimes we need a bit of lighthearted fun. This week's Time Magazine has an outstanding article about microloans (a great green gift, for those of you shopping): Cupcake Kings Go Global, With a Little Help From Joel.
You may remember from previous posts, that I am a big Joel Stein fan. Enjoy the article...and don't get too hungry looking at the cupcake picture!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Less Driving = Cheap Gas

As I made the 100 mile trek north last weekend to visit family for the Thanksgiving holiday, I couldn't help but notice how inexpensive gas has become. Checking back in my gas log, the last time I bought gas for under $2 a gallon was in 2002!

While I was happy to pay less, I was hoping that people wouldn't get gas-happy again. Then I ran across an article in the Wall Street Journal that confirmed my suspicions: Americans Drive Less, Creating a Problem.

The author explains that thanks in part to high gas prices (exceeding $4 a gallon at times), the number of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by Americans dropped for 11 straight months! People were not only driving fewer miles, but also driving them in more fuel-efficient automobiles.

The combination of reduced demand and a lovely little recession have brought gas prices back down. And gas tax income has come down too. The author suggests raising the gas tax to keep prices high, demand low, and income high. Not a bad idea, but probably not too popular.

It will be interesting to see where the next few months and years take us. As the author says, "A lot depends on whether Americans keep doing what they're doing, regardless of what the numbers are on the gas station signs."

Image source: Christianity and the Confusion

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

America's Greenest Hotel

While traveling on business in North Carolina prior to the Thanksgiving holiday, a friend recommended that I check out Greensboro's newest attraction: the Proximity Hotel and Print Works Bistro. The hotel and it's restaurant earned LEED Platinum status in October, making it the first LEED Platinum hotel in the U.S. and one of the nation's greenest buildings in general.

Greensboro, a mid-sized town of less than 300,000 in the middle of North Carolina, off of I-40, is unassuming as home to a hotel with such distinction (for instance, I found an article on the hotel in the travel section of the LA Times, alongside a significant list of accolades from other sources). When this friend recommended trying the Print Works Bistro for dinner, as it was a "fun, new, green restaurant", I thought that perhaps it was a restaurant that simply served free-range chicken on its menu. I in no way consider myself a "foodie," but I do enjoy good food. Would this be up to par, or on the bland end?

I grossly underestimated.

What I discovered was an open restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows that overlooked a surprisingly gracious scene including a restored stream and large patio (it was 25 degrees outside, so we stayed inside in the bright and warm atmosphere of the restaurant). The old world charm and openness mixed with a cozy and fresh atmosphere won me over as a new favorite in North Carolina (I am from North Carolina originally and so feel as though I can have favorites). The food was spectacular, fresh, and did not compromise on presentation or taste in any way.

We then went to take a look at the hotel and walk through. I was stunned at what I saw. Fortune Magazine had something right when they pronouned the Proximity as one of its top 50 new business hotels. With locally designed and built furniture, all original artwork produced in a temporary studio nearby (to reduce transportation), massive windows providing plenty of natural light, and very refined design, you really would never know from walking in that it's the greenest hotel in America.

What makes this destination so green? A sampling includes:
  • 41% less energy consumed than a conventional hotel.
  • 100 solar panels on the roof that heats water for the hotel.
  • Highly efficient plumbing fixtures that reduce water consumption.
  • Green roof on top of the Print Works Bistro.
  • Low-emitting VOC paints, carpeting, and other building materials.Building materials with recycled content, refurbished wood, and other restored materials.
  • Elevators that, when operating, send energy back into the building's grid.

The next time you are traveling in, through, or around North Carolina, check out the Proximity Hotel and Print Works Bistro. Not only is the Proximity helping to set the standard across North America for hotels and restaurants that are a destination in and of themselves, but it also is a showcase of luxury accomodations and eateries that use the newest technologies and best green practices without losing any of the luxury. The Proximity certainly has a handle on its own triple bottom line.

Images courtesy of The Proximity Hotel and Print Works Bistro.

Future of Green Design

I was surfing through some listserv recommendations and ran across a cool website that showcases some slightly unconventional, but very intriguing green designs. Check it out!

A Disposable Wedding Gown

I realize this is a site devoted to the workplace, but I couldn't resist sharing this new find - a disposable wedding gown. It totally makes sense - I spent a fortune on mine (even though I swore I wouldn't) and it's just sitting in my basement. What a waste!

The paper wedding gown is designed to be used only once by the bride. The paper gown is zipped on with a sticker. Now that designer Tuija Asta Järvenpää has shown her talent - perhaps she can start on fashionable hospital gowns next?

Monday, December 1, 2008

For those of you that celebrate Christmas, particularly American-style Christmas, today is Cyber Monday....the online shopping equivalent of Black Friday. All this consumerism got me thinking about what things we can do to green our gift giving, both in the office and at home. Here are some ideas:

  • Alternative gifts such as donations to charity or plans to do something together, like visit a museum (also check out last year's post)
  • Alternative wrapping such as decorative kitchen towels. I personally am a huge fan of the gift bag - so pretty, easy, and reusable!
  • "Shopping" at home such as trading books and games, or giving away heirlooms such as china, silver, or jewelry
  • Consumable gifts such as a bottle of wine or fruit of the month club
  • Gift cards rather than trinkets
And for those of you into singing, a lovely new "carol" sung to the tune of "Deck the Halls" - courtesy of the Fostering Sustainable Behavior listserv.

Deck the Walls with stuff from China
Fa-La-La-La-La, La-La La-La
Cough up dough and cut the whinin'
Fa-La-La-La-La, La-La La-La
Don we now name-brand apparel
Fa-La-La, La-La-La, La La La
What to buy for old Aunt Carol?
Fa-La-La-La-La, La-La La-La

See the blazing mall before us
Fa-La-La-La-La, La-La La-La
Stand in line and join the chorus
Fa-La-La-La-La, La-La La-La
Fight the traffic and the weather
Fa-La-La, La-La-La, La La La
Maxing cards out altogether
Fa-La-La-La-La, La-La La-La

Fast away the paycheck passes
Fa-La-La-La-La, La-La La-La
iPods for the lads and lasses
Fa-La-La-La-La, La-La La-La
All stressed out for Christmas season
Fa-La-La, La-La-La, La La La
Can't remember quite the reason
Fa-La-La-La-La, La-La La-La.

Image source: blucat

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Best Cities for Cycling

The news is out....Bicycling Magazine has released its list of the best cities for bicycling. Is yours on the list?

Image Source: DCist

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Green Word of the Day: Ecological Economics

If I didn't work for an architectural firm, I would be 1) working for a think tank or 2) an etymologist. In case you are wondering, etymology is the study of the history of words — when they entered a language, from what source, and how their form and meaning have changed over time. Words are an extremely powerful way of expressing culture and context. I think I truly appreciated the power of words when I lived in London for a year. The people around me were speaking English, but there were so many sayings and phrases I didn't know ... I regularly needed a translator for the first three months I was there.

Fast forward six years. I had a great conversation yesterday with Valerie Casey from Ideo and the Designers Accord (brilliant woman who is transforming the design industry). We started talking about the new lexicon of the current green movement. Words like green washing, offsets, slow food, zero waste, Cradle to Cradle, etc. There has been an explosion of terms like this that define a new way of perceiving the world we live in. I think it's worth a little research to understand these words and how they are influencing our thinking. So I'll be posting some of these from time to time.

The green word of the day: Ecological Economics

This word is particularly relevant for me now because several of us blogging for The Green Workplace are working on a paper for the General Services Administration on this very topic. From Wikipedia (sorry academics out there, but I love this source):

Ecological economics is a transdisciplinary field of academic research that aims to address the interdependence between human economies and natural ecosystems. It is distinguished from environmental economics by its connection to outside disciplines within the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities and its focus on the "scale" conundrum, or how to operate an economywithin the ecological constraints of earth's natural resources. According to ecological economist Malte Faber, ecological economics is defined by its focus on nature, justice, and time.

Issues of inter-generational equity, irreversibility of environmental change, uncertainty of long-term outcomes, and sustainable development guide ecological economic analysis and valuation. The identity of ecological economics as a field has been described as fragile, with no generally accepted theoretical framework and a knowledge structure which is not clearly defined.

Ecological economists have questioned fundamental mainstream economic approaches such as cost-benefit analysis, and the separability of economic values from scientific research, contending that economics is unavoidably normative rather than positive (empirical). Positional analysis, which attempts to incorporate time and justice issues, is proposed as an alternative.

Ecological economics includes the study of the metabolism of society, that is, the study of the flows of energy and materials that enter and exit the economic system. This subfield is also called biophysical economics, sometimes referred to also as bioeconomics. It is based on a conceptual model of the economy connected to, and sustained by, a flow of energy, materials, and ecosystem services. Analysts from a variety of disciplines have conducted research on the economy-environment relationship, with concern for energy and material flows and sustainability, environmental quality, and economic development.

To simplify (a lot), our current economic tools typically evaluate everything based on monetary value. If the marketplace hasn't yet put a pricetag on something, it doesn't typically figure into our decision making. And when you have an economy that evaluates everything based on monetary value, you run into problems putting a pricetag on things like "access to clean air or water." Ecological economics proposes a new set of environmentally-based measurements (along with economic ones) and a new way of changing market behavior. It's still up for debate how to model this new way of thinking, but there are a number of really smart people focused on it today.

Stay tuned for many more words in posts to come.

The Case for Daytime Cleaning

I have heard a buzz for a couple of years about switching housekeeping services - typically a nocturnal activity - to the daylight hours. If your company/building owner uses green housekeeping materials and equipment, this eliminates health hazards to employees (low-emitting materials and green chemical alternatives), and also may eliminate or mitigate any noise issues through use of silent sweepers, for example, instead of vacuum cleaners.

The California EPA building switched to daytime cleaning for a variety of reasons, but discovered the energy savings were enormous: about $100,000 per year. All janitorial, landscape and maintenance services use non-toxic, odorless and biodegradable products. In addition, complaints about custodial practices have dropped more than 70 percent “now that the employees see...custodial staff working” and custodial staff turnover has been significantly reduced.

A recent article in Sustainable Facility, The Case for Daytime Cleaning, describes the Denver EPA daytime cleaning program with even more dramatic energy savings: $250,000/year, or $0.80/sf/year.

If you have questions about green cleaning for commercial properties, there are resources for you. One good place to go: The Green Cleaning Network.

Pricing for Popularity

Real estate has always been priced according to how desirable the location is. Parking garage spaces are similar (think of $18 per day in Georgetown, WDC versus $4 per day at the hospital in Arlington, VA). Now cities such as San Francisco are starting to price street parking spaces by popularity.

Municipal Transportation Agency is going to test the concept this spring: 6,000 parking spaces throughout 6 neighborhoods will be priced on a sliding scale, ranging from $0.25 to $18.00 per hour. The system will integrate technology that monitors the spaces for occupancy, thereby allowing officials to change pricing based on popularity.

Image source: MyE28

Monday, November 24, 2008

Greening your christmas decorations

I've just shared some tips on green christmas decorations on my company's blog Here's the link to take a look.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The History of Green

I'm working on a project that requires me to do a lot of reading on sustainability, particularly ecological economics. Take note: It's highly likely that I'll have other posts based on my reading!

One of the first documents I read was a timeline of sustainable measures (and setbacks):
An Environment and Sustainability Chronology.

I thought it was really interesting - I certainly had some "AHA" moments, particularly in the discussions related to the 80s and 90s.


Friday, November 21, 2008

Green Blogs and the Built Environment

If you didn’t get a chance to go to Greenbuild in Boston this year, plan to go next year. It was an event full of energy and passion as well as brilliant people, all with a laser-like focus on saving the planet. Really, not a bad way to spend a few days.

I had the great pleasure of moderating a panel there called "Green Blogs and the Built Environment" with four green bloggers, all who spend their days writing about the latest trends in architecture, product design, technology, urban planning and all things green. The panelists, Preston Kroner from Jetson Green, Lloyd Alter from Treehugger, Stephen Del Percio from Green Buildings NYC and Willem Mass from Green Home Guide (recently purchased by the USGBC) were great. One of the most fun panels I’ve been a part of in a while.

We covered everything from how to make money blogging to the hottest topics on the web to the influence of blogging on the environmental movement.

One of the more spicy topics covered was the “death of blogging.” Most blog research sites indicate a flattening (or only slight increase) of blog activity over the last year or so. One of our panelists was a proponent of Twitter and other microblogs, stating that the future of blogs may in fact be creating shorter commentary that can be written anywhere as opposed to blogging, which requires you to be at your desk. Another panelist suggested that blogs may go in one of two directions – they will be bought up by large companies (like Treehugger) or they will become more boutique, specialized smaller blogs. Most agreed that blogs will not be going away anytime soon, they just may be read less due to the hoard of other media options.

Another interesting topic was this issue of readership and content. Most panelists agree that their traffic is largely generated by Google searches or applications like Digg rather than direct links to their site. Digg, in case you don’t use it already, is a great tool that will sort all blogs and websites for topics you choose and then provide those articles to you daily. This is a nice tool for sorting through lots of new info quickly, but often you see the same article or topic brought up over and over again (because everyone is using Digg). Often, much of the content has only been repeated and it’s not original material. This is cause for concern, because clearly fact checking is not occurring. Some panelist are going to more remote places to dig up stories rather than depend on Digg functions.

The takeaways for new bloggers?

  1. Everyone who is anyone will have a blog at some point very soon. Even if Twitter and Facebook get hotter, blogging will continue to be an important way to express your ideas and brand. So just get started already!
  2. Have an opinion and check multiple sources before you post an entry. You are a reporter now and you have a reputation to protect.
  3. Be committed and prepared to research and write several hours a week. For that reason, blog about something you are passionate enough to write often and longer than a few months.
  4. Reach out to other bloggers for tips and ideas. You may make a few friends along the way.

Fight the Forgetfulness!

So you have your reusable bags (probably many of them)...but do you actually remember to take it with you? If you're anything like me, you have the best intentions of using them, but frequently forget to take them with you. Here are a couple of tips to help you remember, whether you're running errands on your lunch break or doing your weekly grocery shopping:

  • Store them where you'll be likely to see them (in the driver's seat pocket of your car, under your desk, in your briefcase or handbag, hanging on the doorknob)
  • Put something you need in them (coupons, shopping list, keys)
  • Attach a small compactable bag to your keychain
  • Attach your saver or club cards to the bag
  • Add a note on your shopping/"to do" list
  • Ask someone (kids, spouse, friend, coworker) to remind you

Don't forget to use your bags at all stores, not just the grocery store. They may look at you a little oddly in the mall, but it's worth it!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Tax-Free Transit!

Companies providing transit incentives is nothing new (well, in concept, anyway)...what is new is that more and more are able to provide pre-tax transit spending accounts (kind of like your health care or dependent care spending account).

San Francisco now requires all businesses with more than 20 people to provide transit benefit programs. Employees are permitted to put aside up to $115 per month ($1380 per year) in a tax-free transit benefit account. Individuals can save between $300 and $500 annually (dependent upon tax bracket); companies can save over $100 per employee per year in payroll taxes by directly contributing to the account.

Check out the article: Compute the commute to save

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Getting the Grid up to Speed

Here at The Green Workplace, we're all for alternative energy sources like wind and solar (ok, honestly, who's not?!)....but, I read an article the other day that scared me a bit about the existing grid's capability to handle alternative energy:
As if we didn't already know: it's time to get cracking on updating that grid!!

Image Source: Ottowa Citizen

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Mini Nuclear Reactors

Homer Simpson, beware! Hyperion Power Generation has announced that small-scale nuclear reactors will be on sale within five years. A far cry from the giant parabolic cooling towers that dot the landscape of the Simpson's Springfield, USA, these reactors are the size of a small garden shed and will have the ability to power 20,000 homes each.

Definitely an exciting step forward in clean(er) power generation....

Read the article: Mini nuclear plants to power 20,000 homes

Monday, November 17, 2008

Farm Fresh Eggs!

When most people think of farm fresh eggs, the country farm stand comes to mind...or for me, gathering eggs at my grandmother's hen house (note: I did not enjoy this task as the hens were usually quite persnickety about exactly who was digging around under them).

No longer is the country farm the only place you can get fresh eggs: well-to-d0 green urbanites are starting to raise their own chickens, bringing the local food movement even closer to home. The only problem: many cities have zoning regulations that restrict livestock (including chickens). While special use permits are available in some municipalities, many places are still hesitant to allow chickens in such close quarters.
Before your office cafeteria starts an egg-laying operation or you adopt a chicken or two, be sure to check your local code!
Image Source: FreeFoto

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Metropolitan Elect Obama

Congratulations to President Elect Barack Obama, our first metropolitan President since the 1920's, and it's about time. I was reminded of this fact as I read an article the Washington Post ran during the election. As we recognize the importance of cities in our national environmental and planning policies, it is promising that we elected a candidate with proud and strong ties to urban living (another significant change in this election). Obama has spent much of his adult life in cities like Los Angeles, New York, and Boston while attending school, in addition to his community organizing on the South Side of Chicago, and has resided on the North Side for the last 20 years (when he's not legislating in Springfield, IL or Washington, DC).

Additionally, while they didn't make it a significant platform during the campaign, I was very pleased to find this paragraph as the closing to their energy policy

Build More Livable and Sustainable Communities. Over the long term, we know that the amount of fuel we will use is directly related to our land use decisions and development patterns. For the last 100 years, our communities have been organized around the principle of cheap gasoline. Barack Obama and Joe Biden believe that we must devote significantly more attention to investments that will make it easier for us to walk, bicycle and access other transportation alternatives. They are committed to reforming the federal transportation funding and leveling employer incentives for driving and public transit.

I couldn't agree more.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Utilities <3 Geothermal

Just ran across an interesting article about how utilities are beginning to invest big in geothermal power: nearly $3 billion last year. Granted it costs more than that to build a new oil refinery, but still $3B is not exactly 'chump change.' Especially when it is coming from sources like Warren Buffett and Google!

The U.S. is the leader in geothermal energy, with approximately 3,000 MW of electricity coming from geothermal sources (mostly in California). For comparison, the average coal plant generates about 667 MW of electricity per year.

With additional investment, some great R&D, and government incentives, the geothermal industry is bound to see significant expansion in the near-term.

Read the article: Utilities putting new energy into geothermal sources

Image source: Department of Energy

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Green Doesn't Stop at the Door

Many businesses and individuals are very concerned about energy efficiency and greening the inside...but did you know that we're not so good about our outdoor practices. Just because the grass is green doesn't mean our practices for landscaping and care of our outdoor environment are.

According to a study conducted by the American Society of Landscape Architects, found that while most Americans have adopted sustainable or energy efficiency measures indoors, it is much less common to use energy or water saving practices outdoors.
Some of the simple techniques you can use to green your landscape include:
  • Planting trees and shrubs to provide shade and help lower energy costs
  • Plant native or adaptive species that require less (or no) water
  • Use friendly fertilizers (like Greenette's worm poop)
  • Use maintenance methods that reduce carbon emissions (i.e. rake versus leafblower)
  • Use drip irrigation instead of spray
  • Use timed or sensor-driven irrigation systems
  • Use harvested rainwater

Oh, and not only is it good for the environment: the study indicates that green landscapes can be good for your wallet too!

Image source: Raise the Hammer

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Which Came First?

The other night a friend told a terrible "which came first, the chicken or the egg?" joke (in this case the answer was 'the chicken')...and it got me thinking about an article I just read about bicycling: Commuter Cycling Is Soaring, City Says.

In this article, I learned that commuting by bicycle in NYC has increased 35% between 2007 and 2008. The question is why the increase (and is the data accurate)? The article suggests that the increase in amount of bicycle lanes and other investments geared toward making the streets safer for bicycling may have had a large impact on the number of people cycling.

Maybe the bike lane did come first. Or maybe it was high gas prices, increased parking costs (or lack of parking) greater commitment to the environment by individuals, greater commitment to personal health, or something else? Who knows...but regardless of the cause, it's a great statistic. Definitely making me want to go get a tune up on my old "wheels!"

Image Source: Nicomachus

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Breathing Earth

Green A turned me on to this cool website - Breathing Earth. It's an awesome time-suck, but an educational one. Enjoy!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Functional Public Art

Gone is the day of the simple, yet functional bicycle rack. More and more, cities and developers are looking for bicycle storage that is not simply functional, but also beautiful. This ranges from mass-produced manufactured forms in more creative shapes (such as the bicycle shape shown below), to much more creative, unique works of art.

Cities have jumped on the green/biking bandwagon and are truly integrating green design into the urban fabric.
And, read the article that inspired my research: Cities rack up public artwork with bike racks. Or check out a recent post on TreeHugger: Turning Bike Racks into Works of Art.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The ABA-EPA Law Office Climate Challenge and a Green Guide for Lawyers

The American Bar Association has recently partnered with the EPA to provide guidance to law firms on simple, practical steps to become better environmental and energy stewards.

In addition, a best practices handbook from the Meritas Leadership Institute was created to serve as a roadmap to help attorneys become more environmentally conscious. The guide is divided into three tiers of initiatives: Sustainability Advocate, Partner and Leader. Each tier contains initiatives that fall into the Triple Bottom Line categories of people, profit and planet.

A good friend recently told me that these resources have empowered her to approach her firm's management committee to discus how her firm might green its practice to better reflect the values of their corporate and real estate clients.

Any other lawyers out there? Your industry is gearing up!

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