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!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Ready to go to Kazakhstan?

While Dubai and the rest of the United Arab Emirates have been big in the architectural/green building news of late, did you know that Kazakhstan, a former republic of the USSR, is also making big waves in the development world?
Tucked neatly between Russia and China, Kazakhstan is taking advantage of its natural-resource-derived wealth to develop its capital city, Astana into a world-class city.
A few examples of major development on the horizon in Kazakhstan:

Check out Architectural Record's article: Architectural Emblems of Kazakhstan’s Energy Wealth. There are lots of great opportunities for beautiful, sustainable design and development. Very cool!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Tomorrow is Election Day - Know Your Candidate's Green Stance!

It's finally here! Tomorrow is election '08 - I for one am ready for campaigning to end (as a purple state resident, I've been receiving lots of autobot calls, mailings, and visitors to my doorstep)...and I'm ready to know who's going to take this country forward.

When you go to cast your vote tomorrow, first, remember to wear comfortable shoes as it's likely you'll be in line for a while. Second, don't forget to check out the candidate's opinions on issues related to the environment (in alphabetical order):

John McCain: Energy; Climate Change
Barack Obama: Energy & Environment

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Wasting a Crisis?

The argument is that each time we've run into a crunch in oil prices in the U.S., citizens have adopted more "green" ways of living, and have tried to reduce the amount of consumption. As gas prices are falling this winter, the author asks what can be/is being done to make sure that "green" doesn't fall by the wayside.
Some of his thoughts include:
  • Development of a comprehensive national policy. This is a "duh" solution, but also really tough to implement.
  • Investment in alternative energy. Investment and interest in solar, wind, and geothermal is creating green collar jobs and spurring economic growth.
  • Charging for Carbon. By assigning economic cost to carbon emissions, companies will be more interested in reducing theirs.
  • Get government backing. Policy and financial support from the feds will go a long way to helping keep "green" a national priority.
  • Sucumbing to international pressure. Other countries are farther ahead in the game...and starting to put more pressure on U.S. companies to comply.

Image source: Portovert

Saturday, November 1, 2008

WARM (cool new toy)

WAste Reduction Model (WARM) is a cool "new-to-me" toy available from the U.S. EPA. This is a calculator that allows users to model the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions created by disposing of waste. Not only does it look at landfilling, but it also considers alternative waste management measures such as recycling, composting, source reduction (!), and incineration.

It is a user-friendly spreadsheet that asks for the following information:

  • Baseline waste management (tons generated, recycled, landfilled, combusted, or composted) for about 30 material types
  • Alternative waste management scenario for the same as listed above, with the additioanl category of "source tons reduced"
  • Material source
  • Landfill gas recovery methods
  • Transportation of waste
It's also really interesting to look at the per ton estimates of GHG emissions by materials. For example, combusting aluminum cans results in 0.02 tons of GHG emissions per ton of aluminum; however, combusting steel cans results in savings of 0.42 tons of GHG emissions per ton of steel. Conversely, recycling aluminum cans results in savings of 3.73 tons of GHG emissions; while for steel cans the result is saving only 0.49 tons.

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