It's the Environment, Stupid.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Food Security Must Read

If you don't know who Michael Pollan is google him. Then read his books, specifically his most recent, An Omnivores Dilemma and In Defense of Food.

If you're not a book reader, you should be. But if you want the abbreviated version of these books as well as Pollan's well thought out proposals to remediate the current food crisis we're in (yes there is a food crisis) read his contribution in this Sunday's New York Times Magazine.

It is a letter addressed to the president elect, warning the lucky winner that food will be forefront on the agenda, even though it hasn't once been mentioned during the campaign trail. Pollan's propsed strategies of a revised food policy make sense. They are smart, logical, are in all probability sustainable, and they fly in the face of everything that's been in place for the past 50 years.

Pollan points out that business as usual in our current model of cheap fossil fueled, monocultured agriculture can not continue. Hopefully someone out there in governmental bodies and administrations will listen to reason more so than to lobbyists, as our food security may depend on it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

LEED vs. Green Globes

I had known OF Green Globes, but didn't really know anything ABOUT it. So I decided to look into it and find out how it compared to LEED (which I am very familiar with - I looked at comparing the existing building versions as that's what I work with).

Here's what I found out:
Green Globes is a software based, online tool for green building certification. In the United States it is run by Green Building Initiative (GBI), a non-profit organization. The relationship here is similar to LEED (the green building certification tool) being developed and managed by USGBC.

The origin of Green Globes stems from the Building Research Establishment's Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) in 1996, which was developed for use in the UK and Canada. In 2000, the system went online and is now known as GEM (Global Environmental Method) in the UK and is sponsored by the RICS Foundation there. In Canada, it is run by BOMA Canada and is known as ‘Go Green Plus’. In the US is it Green Globes, run by GBI.

Recently, Jones Lang LaSalle acquired ECD Energy and Environment Canada, the software developer of the online tool, Green Globes. It is likely that JLL will pursue Green Globes certification for buildings they own and operate. (GBI and BOMA Canada retain licensing rights to develop and distribute their respective versions, within their respective countries.)

It costs $1000 to register one (1) building under Green Globes Continual Improvement for Existing Buildings. At the end of the evaluation process it costs $4000-6000 for an independent, third party assessment.

The process:
Using a free 30-day trial access I was able to access the online Environmental Assessment for Existing Commercial Buildings. It is a essentially a 22 page questionnaire/survey covering energy, transportation, water, waste reduction and recycling, site management, air and water emissions, indoor air quality (IAQ), purchasing and communication. It is completed online only and is very user friendly.

Each question is weighted with points (in all totaling up to 1000). The overall rating is tracked as questions are answered. The overall rating however is based on a percentage, not on total points. This way there are no penalties for questions that are not applicable (ie. Answering ‘no’ on water efficient Irrigation questions will not be counted against you if you do not have any landscaping). I have attached the survey (the downloadable version does not include points.)

The Green Globes System automatically generates a report based on your answers. The report lists where the building stands in each major category and lists suggestions for improvement in order to gain a better score. There are four rating levels that buildings can achieve – 35-54%, 55-69%, 70-84%, 85-100%.

Compared to LEED:
The categories and areas addressed within each standard for building operations and maintenance are similar. However, the LEED process is far more stringent than Green Globes in a few areas, whereas Green Globes is a lot more user friendly than LEED and easier overall.
  • LEED has minimum standards that must be met in order to begin the certification process, and requires detailed documentation for every point pursued. Green Globes does not require any ongoing documentation, but it may be required as proof of compliance during the third party assessment.
  • Each standard utilizes the Energy Star Portfolio Manager application. LEED asks that you generate your own number (and requires a minimum number); Green Globes incorporates it as part of the survey.
  • Green Globes is not necessarily easier to achieve than LEED, but the certification process is simpler and it has a greater range for all types of buildings, even those that may not be ‘high-performance’ buildings.
  • Green Globes has a greater allowance for different locations and different building types, in that your project is not penalized for non-applicable points.
  • Each managing organization (GBI, USGBC) continually assesses and upgrades their green building certification tools based on user feedback and expert input.
  • While neither requires professional certification or accreditation, LEED has an exam for accredited professionals for each version (ie, NC, EB). Green Globes only requires their third party assessors to have specialized training.
  • The total cost for Green Globes, not including facility improvements, is around $5,000-$7,000 (registering the building, and third party assessor verification) for any sized space; LEED costs $12,950 for the process (registration, plus $12,500 for certification for members) for more than 500,000 square feet.
Is one better than the other? Depends on who you are and why you want to go for it. Both are reputable green building standards. Right now, LEED is getting all the press and is being written into legislation. LEED isn't perfect (I don't think anyone at USGBC proposes otherwise), and neither is Green Globes. Neither should be treated as a green building bible, but should be treated as guidelines to help in the process to green your building.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Eco-terror hits the wrong target

I'm not a fan of eco-terror. In fact, I think it is a very ineffective form of protest and gives environmentalists a bad name.

For example, take the latest from radical enviro group, Earth Liberation Front, or ELF. ELF took credit for torching a couple of multi-million dollar homes in Woodinville, WA. Their spray painted message was, "Built Green? Nope black!" The destruction was reportedly intended to dispute the green claims of the expensive houses.

The houses, I'm guessing, were specifically targeted because they're part of "Street of Dreams" - an annual event where high end show-homes are built, furnished, toured by the public, then sold to rich people. (No one was living in these houses at the time because they were still on display.)

Now, I'll be the first to slam McMansions, irresponsible development and sprawl (as I have before in this blog). But I completely disagree with the ELF strategy in destroying this development because it isn't green enough or because the houses were encroaching on wetlands. If anything the developer should be praised for using and featuring green building techniques such as pervious sidewalk materials and supplies made with recycled content. Houses are constructed every day with zero regard to green building (I have no doubt there are many going up just down the street.) But these Street of Dream homes actually had green elements.

I grew up not far from Woodinville. Back in the day it was a few modest neighborhoods, a couple of restaurants and a big ol' nursery called Molbaks situated among a whole bunch of trees and empty acreage. Now there are big box stores, a multi-plex movie theater, many more neighborhoods, and a whole bunch of Starbucks (and Tully's.) Molbaks is still there, but the trees are long gone.

The Street of Dreams mansions are really just a byproduct - and now casualty - of this larger development. The ELF doesn't seem to care about the severe expansion of the Microsoft compound in nearby Redmond (which incidentally is a major contributing factor of the influx of new money in the area.) And they don't seem to care about the mini-McMansions and cookie cutter developments on the other side of Redmond, in Issaquah - a much grander slaughter of the tree-scape, with more roads built, more stores and parking lots built, and more sub-developments built than in Woodinville. (That's just my observational opinion, you'd have to check with the King County planning department for real numbers there.)

Unfortunately most of America is made up of car friendly, development hungry, individuals who all want their own piece of the pie. The public process seldom rules in favor of small growth or even smart growth. Battling this system isn't easy, but it surely won't be won by torching big houses. It is going to be won through educating developers and planners and those making the decisions about building better, building smarter and building greener.

(The photo above is from the AP article.)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Crate&Barrel introduces Eco-line

Well hot damn! Crate&Barrel has introduced an eco-friendly line of sofas and chairs.

Now, I'm not a big Crate&Barrel shopper myself. I'm on the e-mail list because I bought a wedding present for a friend who registered there. But I thought I'd click through the e-mail ad and have a look-see.

The Ross Sofa says:
  • Certified sustainable, kiln-dried hardwood frame
  • Seat cushions are filled with soy-based polyfoam, wrapped in a blend of goose down, feathers and corn-based fibers, and encased in downproof ticking
  • Back cushions are a blend of goose down, feathers and corn-based fibers encased in downproof ticking
That all sounds like a bunch of eco-fluff with zero backbone, so I clicked on their main enviro page to see if there was any further explanation. That's where I found it - FSC certified. Good. That means something. Stopping the use of petroleum based foam for corn and soy based alternatives. Also good (debatable in some circles, but good.)

Even cooler is the packaging. That white bleached board used in C&B signature boxes is going to be phased out, and all those shopping bags are going to be made with "30% post-consumer material." The tissue used to wrap the breakable stuff is "100% recyclable" made with "70% post-consumer waste."

While their eco-verbiage leaves a little to be desired it is definitely a step in the right direction for the retailer. I probably won't start shopping there because of it, but the folks that LOVE their Crate&Barrel now have some eco-options at no extra charge.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Masses clueing in - green isn't all that easy

It looks like the days of shiny happy greenness are waning.

A couple of recent NY Times articles (yes, my media publication of choice lately) feature the problems with going green.

"Don't Let the Green Grass Fool You" takes of look of some of the contradictions in suburban living. And then there's "In Many Communities, It's Not Easy Going Green." Among other frustrations, one would-be-green do-gooder refuses to buy CFLs because she heard her neighbor spent $600 on the things.

Another NY Times article on CFLs "Making Small Sacrifices for What they Believe is Right" totally slams the CFL and features families that have grudgingly and unhappily made the switch.

Okay, yes, the grander media hype pushing the green phenomena has made it seem that going green can be easy. Unfortunately these same stories gloss over the practical realities behind all green actions. What they don't say is, "this is better, but frankly, there's still going to be drawbacks. There are compromises you'll have to make and you may have to do a little research as to what green alternative works best for you."

No one is saying (except the New York Times article) that you have to replace all your kitchen appliances right now. Yeah, if you do that it's going to be a chunk of change, and chances are it's not going to pay back any time soon. But, if your fridge kicks out or you're going to upgrade your AC unit anyway, well, yes, you should buy the most energy efficient brand out there.

Unfortunately these non-inspiring articles may have a counter-effect and could sway people against going green. Media outlets should educate the public in the realities of going green, but should also say WHY there are problems. By turning people off and discouraging small steps, we're only going to go backwards. Doing nothing, will result in nothing. However, small steps are good and will create the demand for new technologies and improvements that really will make it cheaper and easier to go green.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Why aren't candidates talking about climate change?

A commenter asked me (in a may-be-a-spam-comment kind of way), "Why aren't candidates talking about climate change?"

Well, alex9852 (or whoever it is trying to get me to go check out an Earthlab poll mentioned on, here's what I think.

I think candidates aren't mentioning climate change, frankly, because the press hasn't asked them to.

When/if they are asked - for the republicans, it's a moot point. They have been instructed by their campaign managers to either push the energy angle (ie. nuclear, clean coal and hydrogen) or stay skeptical (climate change does not exist).

The democrats are too worried about the effects of Obama's 'multicultural persona' (a term the NY Times used for him in a recent article about the youth vote) or how Hillary's shedding a tear will impact voters. With all that who has time to worry about the (media picked) issues, much less the issue of climate change?

Whatever color state they're trying to appeal to, candidates on both sides have their stance on climate change at the ready just in case global warming makes it back to a top issue (the media thinks) Americans care about. In most cases, these stances will include a general, vague, and all encompassing 'call to action' without anything concrete behind it.

The good news? Whoever makes it to the oval office in the end will have no choice but to deal with it.

More good news? As has been shown over the past 7+ years, federal support isn't necessary to make a difference in the 'fight against climate change' (although a little national policy help would be nice.)

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Tornadoes not linked to climate change

I was reading about the devastating tornados that tore through several southern states earlier this week in the NY Times, and they reported that climate change has nothing to do with the monster storm:
Tornado experts said there was no evidence that the deadly storms were related to global warming or anything other than the clash of contrasting cold and warm air masses that usually precedes such events.
And these tornado experts should know a thing or two about climate science and associated scenarios. Maybe they agree with the governor of Tennessee, who was quoted in the Times article as saying, “The wrath of God is the only way I can describe it.”

Whatever the cause, many people and communities are going to have to rebuild their lives. Perhaps they can follow the lead of folks in Greenburg, Kansas. After being hit by a tornado last May, this rural town has united around the decision to rebuild green.