Archive for ‘Green Building’

January 24, 2014

Carbon Neutral

by Scott Lewis, Brightworks Sustainability founder and CEO
Those of us who spends our days (and nights and weekends…) advising others on how to improve their ecological imprint and the associated social and economic imprints that go along with it, have a mandate to walk our talk.  Our credibility and our ability to understand our clients’ perspective depend on it.

So, we here at Brightworks made a commitment to operate as a Climate Neutral business – to offset the CO2 emissions associated with our commuting, office energy use, workday travel (to and from meetings, etc.) and procurement, to the best of our ability.  We do this by (1) trying to track and measure our CO2 impacts, and (2) buying 2x offsets for that CO2 impact.

Why 2x?  Two reasons.  First, we have to assume that the offset system probably isn’t perfect, and second, we assume our tracking and measuring system for our carbon impact is probably imperfect as well, so we err on the side of conservative, and buy 2x.

So, how does this work?

First, we track our Air Travel, Commute to and from work, Work Car Travel, Office Energy Use and Procurement.  We convert all those numbers to CO2 using industry references.  Then we buy (2x) offsets from the most credible offset source we can find, the Bonneville Environmental Foundation.

Below is the summary of our carbon footprint. If you are curious about the underlying data that supports this analysis, it is all here.

Brightworks’ Carbon Footprint-2013
Source Metric Tons
Commuting 6.39
Air Travel 128.39
Work Car Travel 5.33
Office Energy Use 77.64
Procurement 6.99
Total Metric Tons 217.75
March 6, 2012

On Maintaining Professional Credentials and LEED Accreditation

Nate Young, Education Coordinator, BrightworksBy Nate Young, Education Coordinator

Much has been made of the mismatch between the available jobs in the current market and the lack of training among many job seekers (including on this blog). Companies seek and value employees that come trained in very specific ways, and are unwilling to invest in bringing unqualified prospects up to speed. Among the best ways to prove your worth to employers is to gain and maintain pertinent credentials and certifications while honing the skills those credentials require.

In the building professions, LEED accreditation has fast become one of the core qualifications employers seek.

Brightworks’ built environment staff and clients are just now experiencing the first wave of renewals within the credentialing maintenance system the USGBC rolled out in June 2009. Included in the revamped system is a Credential Maintenance Program (CMP), now run by partner organization GBCI. This program requires all LEED Accredited Professionals (APs) to complete continuing education to maintain their credentials on a two-year schedule.

Numerous Brightworks employees took the earliest exams under the new system and have now completed the first round of credential renewal. Our staff has been fielding calls from many clients and partners seeking help with the new system, so I wanted to share some tips and pointers to ease what can be a challenging process.

Don’t procrastinate

Take Notes!

Record keeping like this will get you in trouble.

For starters, depending on how prepared you are, expect to spend several hours completing the process of renewing your credential. Let me stress again – the renewal process is long and involved. It’s likely to last weeks, depending on the types of credits you are submitting for your credential. As an architect recently told me, “This is much more rigorous and confusing than maintaining my architect’s license with the state.” Please don’t wait until the week your credential lapses to begin!

Like cooking dinner or painting a room, things move much more quickly when you are thoroughly prepared. GBCI requires online reporting that asks for many details you probably haven’t been recording, and tracking them down will take time. I have created this tool (click to download) that can help to organize your CE information in the exact format you’ll need to complete “My Credentials” on GBCI’s website.

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March 5, 2012

“I want to build sustainably, but I’m not sure where to start.”

Dennis Lynch, VP Sustainable Buildings Group, BrightworksBy Dennis Lynch, VP, Sustainable Buildings Group

The other day an architect started a conversation with Brightworks about green building by saying he was not in favor of LEED and didn’t see the value in it for his firms’ clients. As our conversation continued, he related a few instances where he was able to interest his clients in at least considering some sustainable features for their building design. By the end, he confessed he did want to build more sustainably more often. His question to us was: “How do I get started?”

After reflecting on this question for some time, I realized you can begin building green in several ways. You can start with something easy, something strategic or something meaningful that makes the changes most valuable to you. Each entry point opens the door to more action, and each will suit a different type of business.

Start

Start! Image via The Lost Jacket

Start with Easy and Inexpensive

My very first thought in response to his question was: Why not try greener alternatives that will have little or no cost? Recycled carpet to reduce waste and low-VOC paints and adhesives to keep toxic chemicals out of the building are easy substitutions. You’re already specifying carpet and paint, so just specify something greener. There are probably a dozen items like these you can easily incorporate into your design and construction.

Start with Strategy

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January 10, 2012

“It’s More Difficult to Change a Building Than to Change a Person.”

By Brandon G. Sprague, Brightworks Communications Team

Eric Corey Freed, organicARCHITECTPart One of our interview with architect, innovator, and thought leader Eric Corey Freed of organicARCHITECT explored his thoughts on the green building innovations and critical issues we’ll see in 2012. Here in Part Two, he shares practical steps building owners can take right now at no cost, and where he finds hope and the greatest potential for change.

 

Brandon G. Sprague: Many readers of this blog are members of the real estate community. When you travel around the country speaking and teaching, you often state, “My vision of why I’m doing this is the basic idea that everything that exists in this world should exist because it makes the world a better place.” In what ways is the design and building community making the world a better place with its current practices? In what ways is it not?

Eric Corey Freed: On a very high level, you can argue that the built environment – any built environment – improves the world by providing human beings with shelter, habitat, places to work, places to live…

But at the same time, practically all of the buildings that exist in the industrialized world – all but a very small percentage – ignore how they use energy, water, and resources. In creating such a built environment over the last 150 to 200 years, we have created a system that that is too expensive for us to maintain, a system that is actually threatening our existence. When we planned and designed this system, energy was cheap and abundant. But in the last 50 years, we’ve realized that energy is neither cheap nor abundant. And we’ve realized that our consumption of energy is actually threatening, if not killing, our way of life.

Now that cheap energy no longer exists and our consumption patterns are forcing us to change our way of life, what do we do? This is where the opportunity comes in for the design and construction industry to transform buildings and thereby transform civilization. We have the technology to do it, we have the ability to do it, we just need the will to do it. In doing so, we will have to look for innovative ways to work in, live in, and operate our buildings.

This Could Be Your Shopping Center

This could be your shopping center. Image via organicARCHITECT

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December 14, 2011

Eric Corey Freed on “Innovations That Would Freak People Out”

By Brandon G. Sprague, Brightworks Communications Team

Eric Corey Freed, organicARCHITECT

Eric Corey Freed

We at Brightworks are frequently in conversation with clients, partners and the media about what’s new and what’s next in sustainability. Heading into 2012, we sat down with architect, innovator and thought leader Eric Corey Freed of organicARCHITECT to get his perspective on the future of green building. A frequent speaker and author of four books on sustainable design, Eric shared his views on the limits of “sustainable design”, the three most critical issues for the building industry in 2012, and the next waves of innovation.

Brandon G. Sprague: Organic Architecture is an approach to the design of buildings that has guided your career. How do you describe Organic Architecture?

Eric Corey Freed: For decades now, we’ve had this thing called “green building” or “sustainable design” which dictates that the designers, builders, owners, and operators of buildings orient them in certain ways and take responsibility for the energy, water, and materials used in them. Defined this way, sustainable buildings are pretty straightforward. Make “better” siting and material and building system choices and you make a “better” building by focusing on the nuts and bolts of the building’s assembly. Organic Architecture – which is the term Frank Lloyd Wright used for designing the way nature designs – looks beyond that, into how the form and structure is shaped by these natural principles.

10 Principles of Organic Architecture

Photo via organicARCHITECT

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August 22, 2011

Smart Schools are Engaging Students With Sustainability

Rita Habermanby Rita Haberman

Brightworks Sustainability Advisor

Summer days are getting shorter and that “back to school” feeling is in the air. That feeling might be disappointment or dread for some students, but there are innovative environmental programs creating a wave of excitement this fall too. The new Zilowatt program is bringing creative energy-related lessons and classroom signage to San Francisco Bay area schools. After our collaboration with the Hillsboro School District helped Jackson Elementary become the nation’s first Gold certified school under LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance, the Jackson students wrapped up their spring by celebrating with an enthusiasm we hope carries into this next academic year.

Why is integrating sustainability into school curricula so exciting to students, teachers, school administrators and parents? Sustainability can make what students learn in school more relevant. Students are more interested when they can work on “real-world” problems that affect them, and come up with solutions using the skills they learn in class.

A shining example of this is the impressive turnaround of Al Kennedy Alternative High School in Cottage Grove, Oregon after its principal Tom Horn and staff very deliberately made Education for Sustainability the foundation of their curriculum. When students engaged in hands-on activities using sustainability concepts and practices to successfully design and build affordable homes, keep bees, plant trees and reduce their school’s operational costs through easy, no-cost behavioral changes, they wanted to do more. Students gained an unforgettable experience in eco-literacy.

An eco-literate citizenry is essential. Without it, the prospects are slim for solving our planet’s complex and interrelated ecological, economic and social challenges. Inspiring examples of schools embracing sustainability abound, but they are still the exception – not the norm. It’s time to engage our students in integrated sustainability education, so they can become the essential players—and leaders—of the sustainability movement.

March 16, 2011

CALGreen: Triumphs and Challenges

Marian Thomas

By Marian Thomas

Brightworks Sustainability Advisor

On January 1, 2011, CALGreen, California’s new statewide green building code went into effect – soon followed by widespread confusion, panic (and quite possibly tears) among those responsible for securing building permits on new projects. While the actual code requirements are quite reasonable, the implementation of CALGreen appears to be another matter entirely – for building departments and project applicants alike.

Codification of green building: much ado about nothing

Many of us in the green building industry have anticipated the day when green building best management practices became codified. Green building can be interpreted in myriad ways and often suffers from misconceptions around cost and feasibility. Like other building practices, it benefits from translation into concrete, regulated codes. Building codes can demystify green strategies or practice, making them as common place as other building requirements, such as structural or plumbing codes. This eases confusion and drives down costs.

As an example, in the early 1900s engineers initially began advocating seismic design requirements or “earthquake engineering” in buildings. The first generation of researchers could barely secure funding to complete their studies — even after the devastating San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Many in the building industry believed “such discussion will advertise the state as an earthquake region, and so hurt business.” Others critics considered the early seismic engineering to be both costly and unattractive. By the 1930s, seismic engineering requirements were signed into law. Today they’re as ordinary as any other building practice in California. This legislation neither hurt nor stalled the boom in real estate and business in the state.

San Francico Earthquake of 1906

Another good reason for building code updates

CALGreen, in taking this initial first step towards integrating green building practices into code, has also encountered its share of dissension that in some ways parallels the adoption of seismic engineering requirements. Like the critics of Assembly Bill 32, opponents of state-mandated green building or energy reduction requirements that claim such legislation will harm development and discourage business from locating in the state are both near-sighted and sensationalist.

The CALGreen authors intended to create a baseline of green building across the state. This now means even smaller jurisdictions without established green building ordinances are required to, at a minimum, reduce water consumption by 20 percent, recycle construction and demolition waste, install low-emitting materials and commission buildings over 10,000 sf. CALGreen’s mandatory requirements are neither overly stringent nor onerous, particularly given the state’s existing energy code. These requirements are a solid first step toward formally establishing green building in California and potentially across the rest of the country.

Implementation: much ado about something

That’s the good news. Unfortunately, it’s not the complete picture. The multitude of ways cities are choosing to implement CALGreen is not doing green building legislation in the state any favors. Since January 1, any city can amend CALGreen as it sees fit. Beyond the mandatory requirements mentioned above, CALGreen also includes a selection of voluntary measures and “tiers” (similar to LEED and GreenPoint Rated credits) that cities are encouraged to adopt as mandatory in their own adaptations of CALGreen. These can include enhanced requirements for energy efficiency, carpool/LEV parking, water use reduction, C&D waste diversion, etc. There are countless combinations of additional requirements and amendments possible under CALGreen.

At the same time, municipalities such as San Francisco and Oakland have also retained certain elements of their previous existing green building ordinances, such as requiring LEED or GreenPoint Rated certifications for certain building occupancies. For project applicants in these jurisdictions, it’s like juggling three separate green building systems. Tracking and managing all these nuances can be both time-consuming and costly.

Many have assumed documentation for all CALGreen measures, mandatory and voluntary, would be included in the construction drawings or specifications submitted to and reviewed by the building department as part of plan check. However, what we are seeing now is that each building department can mandate its own documentation and compliance review process as well – from requiring third-party reviews, to bringing on a licensed “Green Building Compliance Professional of Record” or “Green Building Certifier” (at the owner’s expense) to sign off on the green measures in the project.

While it is valuable to allow cities the ability to set higher standards and require measures that may reflect regional priorities, the inconsistency in compliance and documentation requirements may be doing more harm than good to green building in California. This variation in the municipal implementation of CALGreen is creating confusion and a bit of pandemonium among those trying to navigate these new green building requirements. As a result, many will continue to see green building as a hurdle to overcome, rather than an accepted standard of practice.

CALGreen, the “Third Wheel”

Perhaps having a separate “green building code” makes it appear, once again, that building sustainably is an add-on – as other third-party certification programs are often interpreted. Perhaps it would have been less distressing to the building design and construction industry to instead integrate many of these “green measures” more subtly into the existing building code divisions. For instance, water use reduction targets could have easily been added to the plumbing code, and enhanced indoor ventilation requirements could have been added to the energy and mechanical code sections.

In fact, many CALGreen measures are simply repeats of existing code requirements anyway. While it doesn’t carry the same mystique or catchiness as “CALGreen,” the more subtle approach may have avoided the confusion now plaguing the building design and construction industry under the new CALGreen mandates.

Bottom line: the primary challenge posed by CALGreen will not be meeting its requirements, especially for teams accustomed to meeting LEED or GreenPoint Rated systems. The real challenge will be ensuring documentation and compliance is adhered to properly for every city, county and jurisdiction in the state.

March 15, 2011

Client Corner: Cate Millar of the Leftbank Annex

Josh Hatch, Climate Services Group Director, Brightworks

by Josh Hatch

Climate Services Group Director

How green do you want your business to be, and how do you know if you measure up to your own standards? The Leftbank Annex, a flexible event space in Portland, Oregon, requested an independent, third party sustainability audit to answer those questions for their business. We analyzed their operational practices and the preferred vendor list that they suggest to all of their clients to give them an accurate picture of their sustainability successes and opportunities for improvement. I sat down with Leftbank Managing Director Cate Millar to talk about what prompted the project for them, and how they’re planning on using the findings as they move their business forward.

Oregon Environmental Council 2011 Annual Event at the Leftbank Annex

Oregon Environmental Council 2011 Annual Event at the Leftbank Annex

Josh: You’ve said you want to be the most sustainable event space you can be. Where did that goal come from?

Cate: Our goal came from within – from our ownership really believing this is the right thing to do. Sustainability is the primary concern of very few of our clients. It’s somewhere on the list of concerns for many, but it’s not on the radar at all for the majority. It’s a pressure that’s just nascent in this market. But we know that if you look at the trends nationally, things are going that way. It’s there, it’s just not “the thing.”

Part of it for us is a role model mindset. If we can do it, anyone can do it. And we want to attract businesses and clients that want to put on green events, but we also want the events of people who don’t care to be as green as possible.

Josh: The “We’ve done our research so you don’t have to” model.

Cate: Right. It’s a nice exclamation point at the end of a tour with a prospective client. “By the way, this is how our space works. It’s green.” We’re giving them everything they want, and then some. This audit process provides independent corroboration that we’re doing what we set out to do. When I spoke with your CEO, he put it this way: “We walk the walk, so you can talk the talk.” We want to be sure we have the walk before we talk. There’s the issue of greenwashing, and we’re hypersensitive to it.

Josh: When you renovated the building, you installed high efficiency water fixtures, but also added plumbing for a future rainwater capture system. The high efficiency fixtures make a big dent in your water usage, but something the report turned up is that one of the biggest changes you can realistically make to be more resource efficient is capturing rainwater to flush toilets. You’ve actually already plumbed for it, but it’s still an investment – it’s a tank, and a system…

Cate: But that’s good to know, and we’ll use that information to help prioritize future capital decisions. And the vendor reviews you put together are something we can use right away. The great thing about this project is that you’ve confirmed what we believed – that we created the space we intended – and given us the tools to make incremental and major improvements that will keep us on track. In fact, having you do an annual review, or asking for your advice before making a major investment, would probably be a very smart thing to do. Every decision we make needs to build off this foundation.

The Leftbank Annex
The Leftbank Annex event space, photo from Benefit Auctions 360

Josh: Food is a really tough nut to crack when you’re talking about sustainability, and we know that. But your exclusive vendor is in the pack of leaders.

Cate: Our goal is to be the greenest possible event space we can be. After how we manage our facility, the caterer has the biggest impact on operations. We were very cognizant of that when we selected Bon Appetit. Sustainability is at the heart of their corporate DNA and we knew they would carry that part of the business.

Josh: Your vendors were very open about their sustainability challenges.

Cate: We wanted to offer our customers a list of “preferred vendors” that share our business and sustainability goals. We went through a rigorous process to vet our selections and are confident recommending any of our partners. When you speak to someone about sustainability, you can tell if they’re really committed or just talking the talk. When you ask someone what they do to be green you hope for a more thoughtful answer than “Well, I drive a Prius.” Our vendors had real answers; they gang deliveries to reduce travel, use local and organic food, natural cleansers and seasonal flowers. They compost and use recycled water to clean rentals. You know they’ve really thought about it.

Josh: You have to ask about specifics. If I ask a caterer where they get their tomatoes in winter, I know they’ve been deliberate when they have an answer like “This is something we struggled with for a long time, but eventually we found a vendor who does thus and so, and here’s why we think that’s best.” When they have a static policy like, “We only buy organic tomatoes,” it almost seems too cut and dry.

Cate: If we’re committing to continual improvement , our vendors have to be too. If you’re at the head of the pack and do nothing, everyone else passes you by after a few years. This assessment is only a beginning. That’s what’s exciting to me. It’s never done.

January 1, 1900

Brightworks Carbon Data 2013

Carbon, Commute

Carbon, Air Travel

 

 

 

Carbon, Car Travel

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Carbon, Office Energy Use

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Carbon, Procurement