Saturday, August 30, 2008

Washington, DC Greens it Up

DC's been making great strides to become one of the greenest cities - both within the local DC government and the federal government. Most recently, Green Builders Council of D.C. and the National Center for Construction Education and Research have launched a "green collar" training program.

This program, developed by Virginia Tech (as a Cavalier, I have to say I am a little bummed it wasn't a UVA program), is intended to train students and construction workers on the USGBC's LEED program, as well as green practices.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Hot Chicks and Bus Rapid Transit?

I read an interesting article the other suggested that the breaking point for bus rapid transit (BRT) was whether or not it would attract AYF (attractive young females). The guy might have a point....he suggests that if you are reaching AYFs, who look to be in safe situations that take them to the places they want to go, you are probably reaching a large audience. Interesting theory.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Beauty of Transit

I ran across a cool article in the New York Times, "The Curious World of the Last Stop." While not exactly tied to sustainability in the workplace, it's a very interesting look at the world of public transportation. This article documents the NYT's survey of the end of each subway line (24 stops in total). The article is complete with descriptions, photographs, and interesting vignettes describing the experience at end of the line.

Image from New York Times.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

12.5 Square Miles of Solar

Very cool: OptiSolar and SunPower Corporation each have a new large-scale solar power plant on the books in California. Together, these plants are expected to generate approximately 800 MW on a sunny day (equivalent to a large coal-plant).

Image of Serpa solar power plant, from

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Land in America

I was doing some research the other day on land use. Interesting stuff.

Here is the breakdown of land use in the U.S. (not including Alaska and Hawaii). Of this, roughly 61% is used for agriculture either for crops or grazing. Of that, roughly 2/3 of agricultural land, or 40% of all land is used for grazing animals to feed.
Also, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, farming and ranching are responsible for 69% of all species endangerment in the United States.
If I'm reading this right, we're killing endangered animals in order to grow cows, pigs and chickens. Doesn't that seem a little crazy? Makes you want to be a vegetarian.

1. Major Uses of Land in the United States, 1997. By Marlow Vesterby and Kenneth S. Krupa. Resource Economics Division, Economic Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Statistical Bulletin No. 973.
2. The Truth About Land Use in the United States, by George Wuerthner, Watersheds Messenger, 2000

Friday, August 15, 2008

Greenwashing by Vendors

First, let me apologize to Greenette - this post is officially a "vent."

You know you're in for a long presentation and the vendor asks how many of the attendees are "LEED Certified." (For those of you not in the know, BUILDINGS are certified, PEOPLE are accredited.). The other one I really like is when vendors talk about the LEEDS system.

As a major A/E firm, we regularly have vendors come in to present their latest products to us. Presentations range from half hour wine & cheese events with product displays to two-hour long learning sessions. Products range from windows to concrete to wall coverings and furnitures. And the knowledge of the vendors ranges dramatically as well.

Many of our vendors are quite knowledgeable about sustainable design, the USGBC, and the LEED system(s). Unfortunately, many are not. The ones that really irritate me are those that pretend to be knowledgeable. It's one thing to fess up to ignorance, another thing to say your company is really "into green" and then tell us that your product will get us six LEED points.

It's not completely wrong...sure, the product could be made of recycled content, locally manufactured, etc, etc... It might contribute to credit achievement, but that product in and of itself is going to rack your project up a whopping ZERO credits.

I know every time I hear these sorts of claims I make note not to spec materials from that vendor. But, for the greater good and for those customers who don't know better, vendors should be monitored for greenwashing their sales pitches...and punished for misleading clients!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Taking the Time to Reuse

I’m working on revisions to a document today and have been marking the pages I need to go back to with the little Post-It tape flags. I love these things...but what I really love about them is that they are completely reusable. Just take them off when you’re done, stack them back up and you’re ready to go.

This got me thinking about all the things that regularly get pitched in the office, but really could be reused. Last time we had an office clean-up day, here are some of the other reusable items that got tossed:

  • Binder clips
  • 3-ring binders
  • GBC binding combs
  • Dividers
  • Paper clips
  • Rubber bands
  • File folders
The question is not how can we reuse these items, but how can we encourage people to take a few extra minutes to sort everything into piles of waste, recycling, and reuse/restock. Is it by rewarding those who do (prizes? warm fuzzies?)? By punishing those who do not? What has your experience been?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

New York Goes Car Free

Taking a page from Portland's playbook, New York City is going car free. The plan is to close seven miles of streets on three consecutive Saturdays this August. The streets will be closed from 7 am to 1 pm on August 9, 16, and 23rd.

In addition to opening the streets for pedestrian/bicycle activity, there are a number of programmed activities, including:
  • Dance classes, adult & children
  • Exercise class
  • Bicycle races
  • Games
  • Tours
Check out StreetsBlog's take on the event: Will Car-Free Summer Streets Work?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Green Restaurants

So... you've got to take those important clients out for dinner and you need a place to take them? Here are some things to look for:

1. The Green Restaurant Association has a growing list of restaurants to choose from. The list was short, but I was glad to seen my new favorite salad place, Sweet Green, listed. The salads are really fresh with lots of great fresh organic choices. Their website is really more for the restaurant owner, with suggestions for products to buy and ideas for greening restaurant facilities and operations.

2. Growing Greener - helpful guide for Chicago restaurant owners and goers.

3. Organics to Go has corporate catering in Seatte, Orange County, LA, San Diego and now in Washington, DC.

4. Treehugger's pics are a nice selection of cheap and pricey eats.

5. Ecorazzi's green celebrity restaurant choices are a good choice if you need to name drop.

Please share your favorite and let's give these guys some business. Hey, it's on your expense account and you look really, really smart at the same time. What have you got to lose?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Transit for Misanthropes

Many of you have probably heard of personal rapid transit (PRT) also known as personal automated transport (PAT)- essentially, it is mass transit for those of us who hate to be crammed into mass transit vehicles with people who sneeze in our faces (I know, I know, I am a big snob for not liking people sneezing in my face, stepping on my feet, elbowing me in the back, etc.).

Treehugger had a great post (Avoid Interaction With Other Humans in New Train Design) about a new PRT proposal. Check out the post for some videos on the system.

BREEAM - the UK equivalent to LEED - toughens up

A bit of news for you all: A tougher version of BREEAM (BRE Environmental Assessment Method), the UK's most popular method of measuring a building's green credentials, was released last week. A summary of the changes made are:

  • The weightings given to each area of credit were changed to give more emphasis on energy efficiency
  • Mandatory credits were introduced (the equivalent of LEED prerequisites)

  • A second stage was brought into the certification process, so that certification occurs post construction as well in addition to design stage review.

  • Introduction of shell only assessments

  • A BREEAM Outstanding rating has been introduced (above Excellent rating)

The change making most waves in the UK press is the introduction of more credits relating to energy efficiency. Previously projects could have been awarded BREEAM excellent but still been energy inefficient buildings. The new credits include benchmarks for CO2 emissions, which will align with the the new Environmental Performance Certificates (previously written about on this blog here) introduced in the UK.

I have carried out a quick analysis of how the new credit weightings of BREEAM compare to LEED. See charts below:

Previously Energy was lumped in with Transport in BREEAM (which was 25% of total credits), now Energy stands alone at 19% of available credits it will make it fundamental for buildings to be energy efficient in order to attain a high BREEAM rating. For a breakdown of BREEAM credits go to the BRE website.

It will be interesting to see whether the changes to LEED next year mirror any of the changes made to BREEAM, or in fact go further. As always, I'd welcome your views from across the Atlantic!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Progressive San Fran

San Francisco continues to stay ahead of the sustainable curve: Newsom signs strict green building codes into law. New codes are to be phased in, with full implementation in 2012. They focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing use of alternative power sources.

Check out other articles on the new laws:

Friday, August 8, 2008

Going Off the Grid

With gas prices high this summer and a big election coming up in the fall (as well as all the global warming talk!), energy efficiency is a huge topic. We hear a lot about what can’t be done, but one town is doing it!

The town of Rock Port, MO (northwest Missouri) has done something many thought impossible – gone off the grid. In the article Missouri Town is Running on Vapor – And Thriving, we learn about how this small town has used four turbines to bring power to its 1300 citizens.

Yes, it’s a small step, but it’s a great example of what can be done.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Credit crunch causing a green-slip in the sustainability agenda?

Over here in the UK there has been increasing evidence that the credit crunch is causing green issues to slip down both the political agenda and personal values. Luckily, it is still up there on the corporate social responsibility front, as sustainability has become a key factor in recruitment.

I’m really interested to understand whether you are feeling the same impacts in the US? I have summarised the UK evidence here:

  • According to MORI, 15 per cent of those polled last year put the environment in their top three concerns. That figure has dropped by a third to 10 per cent this month. Now people they put crime, the economy and rising prices at the top of their list.
  • According to research company Populus: “There is a direct correlation between how people perceive the economy and the importance they place on the environment. When times are tough people resent paying more to salve their conscience.”
  • This means that fewer people are now buying organic food from the supermarkets and more are buying cheap non-ethically produced clothing. For instance, according to the consultancy Organic Monitor, demand for organic food grew by 70 per cent from 2002 to 2007; now it has stalled.
  • Green policies coming out of the government have now taken a back-seat to make room for discuss of tax-relief for those buying homes and a one-off tax levy on energy companies.

However, there is a counter argument to this:

  • Energy prices in the UK are rising massively. It was reported last month, that due to the rise in oil price, UK consumers may face a fuel price increase of up to 40 per cent in 2008.
    Leading market analysts have suggested that, in order to maintain profitability, energy companies may create a series of price hikes. This would result in an increase in the UK's average energy bills from £1,048 to £1,467 within seven months.
  • The rise in energy prices is leading making people focus on cut costs, which has the incidental effect of being better for the environment. By taking energy-saving measures in the home, such as investing in better insulation, being more economical with the use heating and air con and being more aware of the use and efficiency of electrical and gas appliances.
  • Fewer people are moving home in the current economic climate, and my therefore be more inclined to invest in their existing properties. Home improvements and extensions are becoming very popular in the UK, which may again incorporate energy-efficiency measures.
  • Also, as fewer people move house fewer new white-goods, such as fridges and washing machines are being bought.
  • With the rising cost of petrol and diesel more people are investing in hybrid or electric vehicles.
  • The trend for people growing their own has risen sharply, in London the waiting list for allotments is three times longer than the actual number of allotments there are!

As The Times commented today, it is ironic that “it's the downturn that has made greenery look unappetising - but it may yet prove to do more than anything to save the planet.”

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Accenture Green Technology Suite

Just a bit of news I thought would be of interest to you all...

In July Accenture introduced the Accenture Green Technology Suite. This is a set of tools designed to help an organization assess their environmental standing and recommendation courses of action to reduce their carbon footprint through improved management of IT. The tools within the Suite also help calculate the impact of the specific initiatives in terms of workplace environmental efficiency and data center energy savings.

There are three main areas to the suite:

  1. The Green Maturity Model – assesses the environmental efficiency of IT, suggesting actions to improve the organization’s overall environmental standing.
  2. The Data Center Estimator – provides an assessment of the environmental and financial impact of data centers. The Estimator suggests energy reduction strategies based on information gathered from the facility, such as air conditioning, power distribution, and server, storage, and networking components, among others.
  3. The Workplace Estimator – helps an organization adopt a greener technology culture by developing recycling and energy saving policies for personal computers and procuring new equipment with energy efficiency in mind.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Broken Nails: Dressing for Success and the Environment

I play a lot of soccer, and as anyone who does a lot of running knows, this can be rough on the toenails. The other day, I ripped a toenail almost in half. It wasn't quite off, but it was certainly just about ready to come off. And it's summer (open toed shoe weather), so I knew I needed to take measures. The solution: a visit to the friendly neighborhood nail salon for a single acrylic nail.

As I was sitting in the salon having my feet pampered and toenail repaired, I was thinking a bit about the environmental impact of the acrylic nail (and the rest of the pedicure too), and why I was having the nail fixed instead of removed.

We've blogged quite a bit about the requirements to meet a certain standard of dress/grooming in the office, and recent research by Career Builder indicates that it's more important than ever to look professional in the office. For women, this means not only clothing, but also personal grooming like hair and nail care.

Think about a typical pedicure:
  • Major chemical use - nail polish remover (frequently acetone), undercoat, nail polish, top coat, aerosol finishing spray. None of this stuff smells too good and usually isn't too good for the environment either. And let's not forget all the lotions and scrubs you can add on.
  • Major water use - lots of soaking in the foot tubs, then rinsing of the tubs. And, given the opportunities for fungus, etc - let's hope it's all fresh clean water.
  • Major electrical use - those massaging chairs probably take more energy than your typical armchair.
  • Animal rights - have you ever heard of the fish pedicure?!

The good news is that there ARE more environmentally-friendly options. Acetone-free removers do exist. Ventilation in salons is getting better. And eco-friendly nail salons do exist. Pretty cool for a culture that has fairly stringent expectations for personal grooming. (Of course, the most environmentally friendly option is to go au naturale)

Relevant previous posts from

Friday, August 1, 2008

Just 1%

As some of you may have noticed, gasoline is now over $4.00 per gallon in the United States, and if that hasn't motivated you to drive less, maybe this will. Your car is only 1% efficient.

That's right, out of the $4 it now costs for a gallon of gasoline (if you can still find it for $4), only 4 cents is actually being put to use getting you around. The other $3.96 is being lost to thermal efficiency and moving a 3000+ pound vehicle.

Let that sink in for a moment. As politicians debate an 18.4 cent gas holiday, off-shore drilling, and a 35mpg CAFE standard that won't take effect until 2020, we're ignoring a much bigger problem. That the automobile is possibly the LEAST efficient way to move a single person around.

Getting to 1%

If we say a gallon of gasoline has 100 units of energy (and ignoring the embodied energy required to produce and deliver it to the pumps), burning it in an internal combustion engine converts only 20% into rotational energy (for diesel engines it's roughly 30%). So from the original 100 units, we are already down to 20. Of those 20, another 15-20% is lost to drivetrain friction. That leaves 17 units actually being put to use driving the car. With most vehicles now over 3000 pounds, the individual inside is only about 6% of the total load, and therefore only using 1% of the energy.

That's 1% of the energy delivered at the pump. If you start calculating the energy that goes into producing the car, the gallon of gas, shipping it to market, the roads, parking spaces, garages, etc. you're talking about very small fractions of a percent.

If we are serious about fuel conservation we have to be serious about driving less, in addition to improving fuel efficiency, and converting to alternative energy. The more we continue to encourage driving, the more we are forced to drive. More cars require more roads, more parking, and longer distances to be driven, meaning more cars more parking, and less effective mass transit and other alternatives. Most of our planning policies are based on a cheap oil era, with a near total reliance on automobiles to get us between buildings sited in single use zones. Our planning policies generally discourage mixed use, walkable, or transit oriented developments, except in rare cases, and need to brought into line with the current and future economic realities of energy.

Top 10 reasons why not take the LEED exam!

For those of you on the fence about whether you should take the Leadership in Energy and Evironmental Design (LEED) test... this is a sure fire way to help you make up your mind.

1. I’m waiting for the challenge of taking next year’s “updated” exam so I can feel smarter than all those early-adopters.

2. I thought it was the “L.E.D.” exam…and wasted a ton of time studying low voltage illumination techniques.

3. I’m are afraid I’d look like a hypocrite after commuting 60 miles to work in my Hummer.

4. I read on that the USGBC is a hoax.

5. After wallpapering Dilbert comics all over my cubicle walls, I have no space left for a LEED AP certificate.

6. "Because that bastard tree killed my mom."

7. Ever since you were a kid and your mom made you eat things like broccoli, spinach and brussel sprouts you have had a fear and loathing for all things green.

8. You prefer FEED - “Following in Environmental Energy and Design.”

9. You like it when your clients know more than you do about green buildings.

10. I might actually have to act green if I know more about it - ignorance is much more fun!

More reasons? Let us know!

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