Archive for May, 2010

May 19, 2010

The Coming Revolution – LEED-EB Comes to the Midwest

Laura Steinbrink, Cleveland, Ohio, Brightworks Sustainability Advisor, LEED Consultantby Laura Steinbrink
Brightworks Sustainability Advisor

On the eve of the Heartland Chapter’s Greening the Heartland USGBC Regional Conference, I wanted to take a look at how green building has taken root in the  Midwest.   We have pulled together some data provided by the USGBC to get a picture of the latest trends in the region.

Popularity of LEED for Existing Buildings, building efficiency, energy savings, green retrofits, Brightworks Sustainability Advisors

Green building continues to grow throughout the country, indicating that developers and owners recognize that there is a better, more sustainable and efficient way to build and operate their buildings.   The graph above shows the nationwide rise in adoption of LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance projects.   The chart below shows that the west coast as a region is leading the way in numbers for LEED-EB, with a 3:1 ratio of New Construction to Existing Building project registrations.  The midwest is beginning to take a serious look at the LEED-EB as well, and none to soon.

LEED-EB and LEED-NC Project Registration Comparison

LEED-EB certification provides a terrific way for property owners and managers to systematically improve their buildings’ energy and water efficiencies, track waste reduction and gain healthier living, learning and work spaces. What is striking in the data is that the percentage of EB certifications is dramatically lower than new construction certifications in the Midwest. More mature markets see one EB project registration for every 3 new construction registration.   In states such as Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana and Iowa the ratio is around 10:1, or less.  This means the majority of buildings – and their property owners and tenants – are leaving substantial energy savings on the table.  In fact, according to the EPA, the average building can save up to 30% in energy costs through energy efficiency retrofits.  How can they afford to do nothing?

Chances are, they can’t, but they simply have no idea how to achieve the savings.  In some cases, modest investments are required to achieve cost savings – but not always.  One of our clients saved $68,000 in energy costs from the installation of a $150 device that changes cycles on an exhaust fan.  The small steps are often obvious to the people who operate the systems, but less obvious to management.  That is why engaging people in the pursuit of savings is critical to success.

A good bargain is a good bargain – whether it’s shoes, purses or a gallon of milk. When presented with the opportunity to save 30%, what shopper doesn’t jump for joy? When considering the opportunity to save 30% in rising energy costs, I just scratch my head to understand why not everyone is running to act. Engaging people in achieving energy savings makes for a more profitable building, a more environmentally friendly facility and a stronger organization.

I’ll be at the Greening the Heartland along with a couple of other folks from Brightworks, and we’ll also be at 3 Monkeys Pub and Grub on Thursday evening. We’ll give a brief presentation entitled “Envisioning Fully Sustainable Buildings – Taking green building to the next level” and offering advice on all your questions about sustainability and LEED. It’s exciting to be on the verge of these changes in the heartland and I hope to see you there!

May 7, 2010

Biomimicry Blog: part 2

That's Erin!by Erin Leitch
Brightworks Sustainability Advisor

+ First generation Biomimicry Certificate candidate



In response to the What Would You Ask Nature? Fast Company/ Designers Accord Challenge, I submitted a design challenge currently being addressed by the Portland EcoDistricts Initiative. EcoDistricts attempt to synthesize broad sustainability issues, including air quality and carbon, energy, mobility, water, habitat/ecosystem function and vital communities through targeted funding resulting in the delineation of neighborhood scale boundaries. The challenge is that the sustainability issues that the districts address are systemic and exist beyond the funding boundaries.

So, the question became “How does nature deal with boundaries?”

borderless bogs - biomimicry drives sustainability in design

Leanyer Swamp, Northern Territory, Australia (cc) ozjimbob via Flickr

Taller de Operaciones Ambientales (TOA), a Mexico City based architectural firm that is well versed in the tenets of biomimicry, took on the challenge. I met with the team in Mexico City to discuss the concept and intention of eco‐districts as well as the function of the district boundaries. You can read all about their exciting process and impressive outcomes here. Video of the charrette process show the TOA team engaged in a very dynamic dialogue about borders in nature – most interesting to me is that edges in nature are often woven together resulting in environments that are more blended than abrupt and often the most bio-diverse and active.

When using biomimicry to emulate nature’s penchant for systems thinking, it seems to all come down to mycelium. Mycelium inspired much of TOA’s thinking around the interconnected sustainability systems that the eco‐districts plan embodies and how they could form more intimate symbiotic relationships. Among TOA’s inspiring conclusions was equating district funding to nutrient and energy flows found in natural systems. Nature does not assign equal funding to each square foot of an ecosystem – it optimizes the allocation of funding. To emulate this natural strategy, TOA proposes that 50% of the district funding should be allocated to the district borders. By focusing funding at the borders, the districts can negate some of the typical consequences of borders, specifically polarity and stifled cooperation.

This financial encouragement of activity at the edges would instigate a counterintuitive urban development pattern and all of a sudden the eco‐district is defined by the communities’ ability to successfully navigate through the energy and nutrient ‘membrane’, or district border, to achieve their local sustainability goals ‐ not by whether the community is inside or outside of the boundary. The Portland EcoDistricts Initiative is really a framework to encourage communities to self‐start local initiatives. As such, the framework should be designed to reward those communities that have the most initiative and ambition to act on the unique funding opportunity that the Eco‐Districts Initiative offers. The membrane‐type border would attract exactly those types of communities relieving pressure on P+OSI to further incentivize and relentlessly encourage a community that may not be as responsive.

Originally, I thought that the outcome of the process would be to find a way of getting rid of the borders, but actually TOA has demonstrated that it’s all about the borders – leverage the vibrancy only possible along the edges!

In response to the What Would You Ask Nature? Fast Company/ Designers Accord Challenge, I

submitted a design challenge currently being addressed by the Portland EcoDistricts Initiative.

EcoDistricts attempt to synthesize broad sustainability issues, including air quality and carbon, energy,

mobility, water, habitat/ecosystem function and vital communities through targeted funding resulting in

the delineation of neighborhood scale boundaries. The challenge is that the sustainability issues that

the districts address are systemic and exist beyond the funding boundaries.

So, the question became “How does nature deal with boundaries?”

Taller de Operaciones Ambientales (TOA), a Mexico City based architectural firm, took on the challenge.

I met with the team in Mexico City to discuss the concept and intention of eco‐districts as well as the

function of the district boundaries. You can read all about their exciting process and impressive

outcomes here. Video of the charrette process show the TOA team engaged in a very dynamic dialogue

about borders in nature – most interesting to me is that edges in nature are often woven together

resulting in environments that are more blended than abrupt and often the most bio-diverse and active.

When going to nature for systems thinking, it seems to all come down to mycelium. Mycelium inspired

much of TOA’s thinking around the interconnected sustainability systems that the eco‐districts plan

embodies and how they could form more intimate symbiotic relationships. Among TOA’s inspiring

conclusions was equating district funding to nutrient and energy flows found in natural systems. Nature

does not assign equal funding to each square foot of an ecosystem – it optimizes the allocation of

funding. To emulate this natural strategy, TOA proposes that 50% of the district funding should be

allocated to the district borders. By focusing funding at the borders, the districts can negate some of

the typical consequences of borders, specifically polarity and stifled cooperation.

This financial encouragement of activity at the edges would instigate a counterintuitive urban

development pattern and all of a sudden the eco‐district is defined by the communities’ ability to

successfully navigate through the energy and nutrient ‘membrane’, or district border, to achieve their

local sustainability goals ‐ not by whether the community is inside or outside of the boundary. The

Portland EcoDistricts Initiative is really a framework to encourage communities to self‐start local

initiatives. As such, the framework should be designed to reward those communities that have the most

initiative and ambition to act on the unique funding opportunity that the Eco‐Districts Initiative offers.

The membrane‐type border would attract exactly those types of communities relieving pressure on

P+OSI to further incentivize and relentlessly encourage a community that may not be as responsive.

Originally, I thought that the outcome of the process would be to find a way of getting rid of the

borders, but actually TOA has demonstrated that it’s all about the borders – leverage the vibrancy only

possible along the edges!

May 3, 2010

Eulogy for Fossil Fuels

That's Scottby Scott Lewis

Brightworks CEO

There are moments in history when harsh realities become so strikingly vivid they can no longer be concealed by deliberate obfuscation, widespread cultural denial, or blind ignorance. The unfortunate but stark juxtaposition of three recent events represents a landmark inflection point in our nation’s history, signaling the urgency of a rapid end to the fossil fuel moment. This is another opportunity to connect the dots.

Dot 1 – Deepwater Horizon

The Deepwater Horizon ablaze, 4.20.2010

The Deepwater Horizon ablaze, 4.20.2010

The Deepwater Horizon, a BP oil exploration rig approximately 50 miles southeast of the Mississippi Delta, explodes in approximately 5,000 deep water.  Eleven crew members are missing from the explosion.  Approximately 200,000 gallons per day of crude oil are pouring out from the well head.

As of this writing, all attempts to stop the spill have been unsuccessful.

As the oil on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico drifts towards shore, towns along the coast are preparing for what may become the worst oil spill in history – the Gulf Coast is home to thousands of square miles of marshland and fragile estuaries – much more difficult to clean up than the rocky shoreline decimated by the Exxon Valdez disaster.

Dot 2 – The Upper Big Branch Coal Mine

April 5, 2010 – the worst US mine disaster in four decades – twenty-nine miners die in the Massey Energy Upper Big Branch mine, which had been cited for 57 safety infractions[1] the month before.

Dot 3 -Cape Wind

April 29, 2010 – Cape Wind, the first offshore wind farm in the US, wins approval.  While I am sympathetic to those in New England who chafe at having their ocean views altered by the presence of windmills, the simple fact is that we have to make the transition to a renewable energy economy as fast as humanly possible.

As noted previously in this blog, viable, cost-effective paths exist to a renewable energy economy.  It is only a matter of political will.  It is only a matter of time.  Let’s hurry.

[Another great blog link on the same subject here.]

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