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Archive for the ‘Green Buildings’ Category

passive

Darmstadt – Kranichstein Passive House, Germany / International Passivehaustagung

At a conference organized by the National Council on Science and the Environment (NCSE) in Washington, D.C., Diana Ürge-Vorsatz, director of the Center for Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Policy at Central European University, said “spreading today’s best building practices could hold energy costs steady,” but the big question is “how to get the public and private sectors to work together to make transformational change.” That was one of the key takeaways in a session moderated by The New York TimesAndrew Revkin.

Here are some more problems limiting action on climate change, and the transformational solutions needed to solve them:

The problems

David Hales, president of Second Nature, thought “higher education should be leveraged to promote the transition to a sustainable society.” However, “all educational institutions think they are eternal and plan to be around forever.” Hales noted that “we’re not prepared to deal with the gap between aspiring for eternal existence and living in our future climate.” Plus, most university endowments don’t take materials’ effect on the environment into consideration. About “seven percent of endowments are invested in fossil fuels.”

Robert Dixon, vice president at Siemens Infrastructure and Cities, worried that “our decision-making methodology is broken.” Thinking about the life of a building tends to be short term rather than long-term, considering the building’s entire life cycle.

Jennifer Jurado, director of the Natural Resources Planning and Management Division, Broward County, Florida, noted that in southeast Florida, “water is recognized as a vulnerability, impacting now just coastal communities but inward ones as well.” Measures are not in place within the water system to deal with the massive flooding associated with storm events.

Also, boosting renewable energy is challenging, with “very few incentives for anyone to do anything.” She said “our energy prices are already very low.” Accordingly, the risk in renewable energy is transferred to the individual.

According to Ürge-Vorsatz, “there is a way to get more energy wisdom.” She provided a European perspective, with “systemic approaches to energy waste.” A “transformational change in the building sector gives us tremendous opportunities. It’s good for everyone.” She noted that “we know how to build and retrofit buildings that use one tenth of energy, get rid of allergens, and are more comfortable, but a lot of people don’t believe this.” Incremental change, for instance replacing a roof or light bulbs, is “doing more harm than good,” given “systemic deep retrofits are more cost effective.”

Anthony Michaels, co-founder and managing director of Proteus Environmental Technologies and chief scientist at Pegasus Capital Advisors, said “you can make money reducing emissions. Why aren’t companies doing this?” He asked us to think about material waste. We “haul oil out of the ground, pour our ingenuity to turn it into products that end up in the dump and don’t commingle.”

Some solutions

Is the academic side too slow? “Yes and no,” said Hales. “What colleges and universities have done well is to grab the low-hanging fruit, but they haven’t looked systemically at how to produce change.” He urged “starting with research and refocusing the mission of higher education on this critical issue of the twenty-first century.”

Dixon called for a push to build awareness of the environmental return on investment. “Building owners have a choice, and there’s no imperative to do anything.” The “real challenge is economics—a new roof will take 50 years to pay back.”

“Europe has a very different approach to regulations,” said Ürge-Vorsatz, who cited their quite strong legislation and strict building performance standards. “I do see tremendous behavioral changes in Europe”—for instance, “one third of people commute by bicycle”—but “there is still a tremendous educational need.” She saw a need to be “more innovative with business models,” really educating business leaders to use economic models that capture long-term interest.

Finally, Jurado saw “the consequences of elected officials always dealing with post-event effects rather than the long term.” She observed that “local communities have a greater understanding of sea level rise, but this conversation isn’t happening at the state level.” She described a 2009 partnership between several counties in southeast Florida, including Broward, that resulted in “uniform planning tools and sea level planning projections being formally integrated” into local government.

This guest post is by Karen Grajales, ASLA Public Relations Manager.

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Botanist and garden designer Patrick Blanc, who usually stays just a few stories off the ground with his densely-planted vertical gardens, is now moving higher and higher. Working with starchitect Jean Nouvel, Blanc has been sheathing two 380-feet-tall buildings in green. What once looked like a fanciful graduate school student’s thesis has now become reality: vertical gardens are now climbing up skyscrapers, too.

One Central Park, a residential tower in Sydney expected to open this winter, has plants and vines climbing up its glass facade. Blanc told Dezeen: “The building, together with my vertical garden, will be an architectural work floating in the air, with plants growing on the walls – it will create a very special result that will be very new to Sydney.”

The greenery is meant to extend the nearby park onto the buildings, creating a verdant district. According to The Architect’s Newspaper, “the lush green tapestry of the structure’s facade will be entwined with the foliage of the adjacent park in order to replicate the natural cliffs of the Blue Mountains, which are located in the Western part of Sydney.”

Some 190 native Australian species and 160 non-natives will cover more than 1,200 square feet from the 2nd to 33rd floors, or some 50 percent of the building’s exterior. The Architect’s Newspaper said this is possible because Blanc has perfected the use of “synthetic moss instead of soil for the growing medium.”

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Dezeen
tells us that the building is specially designed to redirect light to parts of the vertical gardens. “The tallest tower features a large cantilever. On the underneath, there is a heliostat of motorised mirrors that direct sunlight down onto the surrounding gardens. After nightfall, the cantilever is used as a canvas for a LED light installation by artist Yann Kersalé.”

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Those lucky enough to snag one of 624 apartments will be able to descend to the ground levels, where there are stores, restaurants, and some office space.

By using plants and natural sunlight throughout, the building cuts energy use and therefore greenhouse gas emissions.

Nouvel and Blanc are also now teaming up on another green skyscraper in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which appears to be even taller and more ambitious.

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Fast forward sometime in the near future: Hopefully, this model has spread fast — not just for wealthy renters and owners, but for all urban tower dwellers.

Image credits: Atelier Jean Nouvel

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“LEED is moving in the right direction, but there are not enough green buildings. We’ve brought the building market out of the 1970s, but need to move to the next level,” said Scott Horst, U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), at The Atlantic‘s Energy + Infrastructure forum in Washington, D.C. To move to that next level, which would involve dramatically increasing the global share of green buildings, LEED and the USGBC will have to fend off new threats, including the competing Green Globes green building rating system.

Horst said Green Globes, which was recently adopted by Oregon, sprung out of “LEED interest groups, the materials industry, which didn’t want to deal with the latest version of LEED, with its new, more stringent materials credits.” Horst said, “the chemical companies created this system.” USGBC, in a recent shift with version 4 of its rating system, wants building material manufacturers to declare all the chemical ingredients in their building products. Horst said “you should be able to look at the ingredients in a material and then chose which to use in your building, just like you can chose what food to put in your body.” Right now, “people can’t chose.”

The chemical companies, Horst contends, have financed a major campaign against LEED in the U.S. government, advocating against the rating system on Capitol Hill and in state legislatures. Horst said “chemical companies are putting huge amounts of lobbying dollars into fighting our system. They want to see it get beaten down.” Georgia, Mississippi, and other states have actually initiated efforts to ban LEED buildings.

Despite the controversy, Horst believes many government agencies and developers are sticking with LEED. Indeed, LEED just certified its 20,000th project, with another 60,000 in the pipeline. LEED continues to grow because it has the most “name recognition.” Horst said “tenants are demanding green buildings and they want to see a certification people recognize.”

On the technical side, Horst believes the global green building movement must further collaborate and create inter-changeable green building standards. While there’s definitely room for more than one system, there should be common standards so material manufacturers can more easily create parts that fit into different buildings around the world. “The more we aggregate, the easier it will be to create mix and match technologies.”

LEED, he said, also needs to better take into account Energy Star and other rating systems, allowing for “different scores for different areas.”

Increasingly, LEED is focused on long-term building performance. Amazingly, the energy that goes into the materials that make up a building equal about 100 years of that buildings’ energy use. Still, long-term energy use can be cut by focusing on continually rating a building while it’s actually operating, not just when it’s built. “We want to get to dynamic living green buildings.”

All of this will be needed if USGBC is to get any closer to its bold long-term vision: to create green buildings that function like trees, living systems responsive to their environments.

Image credit: ASLA 2013 Professional General Design Honor Award. Brooklyn Botanic Garden Visitors Center. HMWhite / Aaron Bocher

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Entering the arena at Liacouras Center in Philadelphia, home to the Temple University Owls, 2013 Greenbuild attendees could see that this wasn’t going to be just a normal keynote. As U.S. Green Building Council President Rick Fedrizzi jogged onto the stage, stage lighting scanned the crowd and loud music filled the dome. Perhaps it was just the culmination of a long day of empowering sessions, or maybe the packed, 10,000-person arena, but the air was charged with anticipation. This night, said Fedrizzi, “Greenbuild had not just one, but two rock stars on display.”

The first rock star was, of course, Jon Bon Jovi, but the other was the Greenbuild 2013 keynote speaker, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Clinton, decked out all in green for the occasion, spoke of her longstanding relationship with Greenbuild and congratulated USGBC on their 20th anniversary. She praised USGBC and all attendees for their ability to start a movement that is changing the world. Clinton explained how it started with a simple idea: promote sustainability—do well and do good. “It was an idea that was so profoundly true, that I and others when we first heard about it, said ‘of course, that is exactly what we need to be doing.’”

“This is a great conference,” she continued, “because it brings together those of you who are in the cutting-edge from across industries, the country, and even the world.”

Within minutes, she delved into serious issues, such as energy security and economic growth. She explained how hard construction was hit during the recession. Government budget cuts have been holding back the growth from which the country could benefit. “Public investment in infrastructure has fallen to the lowest levels since World War II . . . so fewer schools are being built and renovated.”

Green construction and retrofitting, according to Clinton, provide answers to these problems. It will continue to create millions of jobs as well as spur growth and innovation, all as we lower our domestic energy consumption.

Retrofitting buildings is a key part of the Clinton Climate Initiative. According to Clinton, “[the foundation] works with the private and public sector in partnership to reduce carbon emissions, improve energy efficiency and spur more investments in green construction including some innovative financing tools.”

Her favorite example of this is the retrofit of the Empire State Building. “Think about that iconic building,” she prompts, with “2.8-million square feet of office space.”

It was an extensive task, Clinton explained, “improving windows, insulating radiators, updating lighting and temperature control systems.” As many as 275 jobs were created in those two years, and in the end, the building received LEED Gold Certification. “The retrofit reduced its annual energy consumption by 38 percent, worth roughly $4.4-million a year.”

Inevitably, the rumors of Clinton’s run for presidency in 2016 came up after someone in the crowd shouted “Hillary 2016!” The crowd seemed receptive to the idea—not surprising, as she had spent the last hour praising green building. “There are some hecklers, I would never,” Clinton paused to smirk, “say anything bad about.”

She spoke of politics briefly, but only about the need for unity on green building and climate change. She called for compromise:

“Everybody is concerned. It seems as though our partisan debates have been taken over by a small minority that doesn’t believe in compromise. We could never have formed our nation if every time there was a disagreement at Constitution Hall, people said ‘Well we’re leaving.’”

As Clinton, Fedrizzi and Michael Nutter, Mayor of Philadelphia, re-enforced in their speeches, America needs to take the lessons forged in Philadelphia so many years ago to further promote green building.

“What a democracy does is bring people together with very different experiences—and lots of times values and philosophies—but with the common understanding that no one has the truth. We are not a theocracy. We are not a dictatorship . . . we bring people together and we debate it out. We have to get back to doing that.”

Watch the full keynote.

This guest post is by Phil Stamper, ASLA PR and Communications Coordinator.

Image credit: Hillary Clinton / USGBC Vimeo

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Heralded as one of the Earth’s greenest buildings, the Center for Sustainable Landscapes (CSL) is the latest addition to the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Housed in a Victorian-era glasshouse presented to the city by industrialist Henry Phipps in 1893, the gardens have always strived to lead the country in “green gardening.” Since transforming into a non-profit, Phipps has also been dedicated to building sustainable facilities, including the first LEED-certified visitor center in a public garden; a new tropical forest conservatory, which is the most energy efficient in the world; and the first production greenhouses to be LEED certified, achieving the highest rating of Platinum. Richard V. Piacentini, the Executive Director of Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, recently visited New York City to discuss the garden’s role in the future of sustainable architecture and living.

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The primary drive behind the Center for Sustainable Landscapes, as Piacentini puts it, is to function “as elegantly and efficiently as a flower.” While the merits of this approach can be questioned, the pure essentials of this poetic gesture are there. The building serves to use every drop of water that lands on its surface and is technically constructed to physically react to various elements of nature. Phipps decided to pursue all three of the highest green architecture and landscape standards: the Living Building Challenge, LEED Platinum, and Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) 4-star certification. Meeting these standards is “extremely intense,” as Piacentini put it, but is part of the “Phipps philosophy” that he feels is necessary to retain Phipps’ reputation as stewards of the earth.

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The Living Building Challenge is a philosophy, advocacy tool, and certification program that addresses development at all scales. The seven performance areas are comprised Site, Water, Energy, Health, Materials, Equity and Beauty. These goals, as well as those laid out by SITES and LEED were mainly met in conjunction with one another. The CSL is designed to interact with its surroundings as a vital part of its daily operation. As one of the original 150 pilot projects of SITES, it features a “restorative landscape, highlighting native plants and a permaculture demonstration rooftop garden.” Other site features include a stormwater lagoon, a solar powered water distillation system, five rain gardens, porous paving and constructed wetlands that use plants and natural processes to clean wastewater.

Some 14 geothermal wells, earth tubes, locally sourced material and solar orientation are just a handful of the features that make this construction so well executed. However, in obtaining points for LEED certification, Piacentini was not satisfied with simply scoring. After having discussed the virtues of the CSL, Piacentini nearly forgot to add one of his most proud achievements of the project. In line with the idea of locally sourced materials, Phipps decided that all of the labor, design, and execution would come from locally sourced talent. Phipps looked within Pennsylvania to select the lead design team. The architect, the Design Alliance, is from Pittsburgh and the landscape architect, Andropogon Associates, hails from Philadelphia.

After the selection of local horticulturists, permaculturists, engineers, contractors and architects, a number of design charettes ensued with representatives of the Phipps organization. The idea of the charettes was to produce a dialogue among the talented pool of professionals selected to work on the project. The result: today, the CSL offers demonstration gardens, environmental education, interpretive signage, interactive kiosks, a green gallery, classrooms, and various outdoor environs for visitors and staff to enjoy. These ideas were products of the early discussions between the designers and, according to Piacentini, are at the “core of [the Phipps] philosophy.”

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“A facilitated, integrative design approach” is how Phipps approaches the challenges of building in today’s environment. “The CSL is the ultimate expression of our systems-based way of thinking and acting, to blur the lines between the built and natural environments.”

This guest post is by Tyler Silvestro, a master’s of landscape architecture candidate at the City College of New York (CUNY) and writer for
The Architect’s Newspaper.

Image credits: Phipps Center for Sustainable Landscapes / Alexander Denmarsh Photography

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At the Innovative Metropolis conference organized by the Brookings Institution and Washington University in St. Louis, cutting-edge designers and policymakers explained how some cities can use a systems-based approach to become more sustainable. Gordon Gill, principal, Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture; Johanna Kirkinen, SITRA – Finnish Innovation Fund; Fabio Mariz Gonclaves, Professor of Landscape and Urban Design, University of Sao Paulo; and Erik Olssen, Transsolar, covered how this can work in Chicago, USA; Helsinki, Finland; Sao Paulo, Brazil; and Masdar, United Arab Emirates.

Gordon Gill, an architect, is pretty famous now in urban design circles for his ambitious decarbonization plan for Chicago. The plan was inspired by Ed Mazria’s Architecture 2030 effort, which calls for buildings to be carbon neutral by that date. But it turns out the bold plan, which covers the entire Chicago loop, also had small beginnings. He and his firm were working on making a building in the loop more energy efficient. They discovered that a redesign could yield some 60 MW of energy savings per year. But the question became, “What is that saving worth?” How could the benefits be tapped? Gill found that scaling up savings into an entire “ecosystem,” so that buildings could leverage each other’s savings, was the way to go.

He assembled a group of 25 designers who surveyed the energy use and performance of all the 450 big buildings in the loop. Buildings went through thermal energy readings. “We looked at all the details.” A 280-page document was created with the Chicago city government (for which Gill also won an ASLA Professional Analysis and Planning Design Award) that found that “there are no linear patterns for a building’s energy behavior. The interconnectedness of the buildings were more critical than the age or height or other characteristic of a building.” Transit, building use, walkability — the broader human systems running through the buildings — had much more impact. For example, “if we increase density by 50 percent, we could reduce energy use by 20 percent.”

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Gill added that it’s not just about engineering solutions, it’s also about improving the quality of life for the people living and working in these buildings. “We could just build a wind farm and take the loop off the grid, but that doesn’t deal with the design challenges.”

Surprisingly, Helsinki doesn’t sound like it’s way far ahead of some of the most forward-thinking U.S. cities. Kirkinen said Finlanders have about the same carbon footprint as Americans given they drive a lot and use a lot of energy to heat buildings in winter. Her group, an independent sustainability research and innovation fund set up by the government (why doesn’t the U.S. have one of those?), is interested in pushing Finland beyond “energy efficiency to resource efficiency.” Sustainable well-being is defined as meeting “social, economic, and ecological” needs. Finland is taking a “systems-approach” to group energy efficient buildings into communities.

Her group is financing new approaches to “sustainable master planning that create sustainable lifestyles.” These communities would use 1/3 less energy. An international competition yielded some new ideas for these places that would capitalize on the country’s untapped wood resources. The result: new energy efficient buildings will now be made of local wood in a few pilot districts, with 7,000 wood apartments coming online. “We of course had to change the fire codes,” noted Kirkinen.

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These communities of apartments will also incorporate solar power and community activities like urban farming and flea markets. Kirkinen said, “we have to take a comprehensive approach and deal with food, community, energy, and health together.”

Unlike Chicago or Helsinki, Sao Paulo has the hard problems facing many large developing world cities. “We have troubles with ecology, biodiversity, in an era of untrammeled growth,” said Gonclaves, a landscape architect and educator. He’s focused on what public universities can do to address these challenges — creating a human system or network to find new ways to do more environmentally-sensitive growth. Sao Paulo, as was discussed in a previous session, is sprawling out, with new rich gated communities or poor favelas or slums taking over parks and building right up to the edge of its water reservoirs. Incredible traffic is one result. So is incredible inequality.

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Gonclaves said there are hundreds of universities offering architecture degrees in Brazil, but just one — the University of Sao Paulo — offering landscape architecture and urban design degrees. As a result, “Brazilians can’t talk deeply about ecology and landscape.” To remedy this, Gonclaves said his university has formed a network of landscape and urban design professionals across Sao Paulo and other cities in Brazil. He says his university is the only one doing this.

Sao Paulo is the currently the 4th greatest recipient of investment worldwide. “So many people are putting money in the city.” On top of all this investment, there are tons of new cars, which means more roads are being built. The result is a complete degradation of the stormwater management infrastructure. Remaining parks now close often because of flooding.

On top of this, many landscape architects working in Brazil are focusing on “closed, gated communities,” where there’s design work. “Design magazines all highlight the landscapes and buildings of gated communities.”

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Gonclaves has set up 30 workshops, with the goal of creating “local solutions” in Sao Paulo and other cities. This is because “cities have very different issues.” He’s involving both private and public universities in the mix. To date, “private universities have been focused on selling diplomas and no research.” In contrast, “public universities are doing research but don’t want to deal with real estate.” He said “both approaches are wrong. We have to reconcile and produce good professionals who address public policy issues.”

While the designers mentioned above seek to overlay more environmentally sustainable systems on existing cities, there’s one that was designed from scratch using a systems-based approach: Sir Norman Foster’s Masdar in United Arab Emirates. The city, said Olssen, is designed to be a “carbon neutral, livable community out in the desert.” Interestingly, Olssen added that Masdar uses ancient Arabic city-making techniques but just updates them with modern technologies.

To create a livable environment, streets were purposefully kept narrow to keep sunlight off streets, like an old bazaar. Because the wind tops 100 degrees in the shade, wind was also designed to be kept out during the day, but maximized at night, when it’s cooler.

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Masdar, interestingly, has a “reverse urban heat island effect”; it’s actually cooler in the city than the desert outside of it. The entire city will use 80 percent less energy than a comparable community in Abu Dhabi. Solar systems are embedded into all the buildings, while external shading systems are built into the external walls.

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This is “district energy at all scales plus photovaltaic,” said Olssen. Now, the goal is to “apply the lessons of Masdar to other cities.” Already, Oman, Boston, Toronto, Dallas, are looking at how to use Transsolar’s systems in a “whole block or community.” Systems are configured based on “access to wind, solar, daylight, and the unique urban form.”

Image credits: (1-2) Chicago Decarbonization Plan / Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, (3) Pilot wooden buildings / SITRA, (3) Housing in a ravine. Sao Paulo / Urban Omnibus, (4) Reserva Granja Julieta gated community, Sao Paulo / Tishman Speyer, (5) Masdar / Copyright Foster + Partners, (6) Masdar building screens / Footprint blog.

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At the Old Capitol Pump House, a restored building along the Anacostia River, Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray announced the launch of the long-awaited Sustainable D.C. plan. The result of an amazing public outreach process that involved over 400 local green experts, more than 180 public meetings in front of 5,000 people, and 15 D.C. government departments and agencies, the plan is an attempt to make “D.C. the greenest, healthiest, and most livable city in the U.S.” by 2032.

Gray said D.C. is already a model for other cities. “We are what many cities hope to become.” For example, the district apparently already leads the nation in the number of green, healthy buildings, or LEED buildings, per capita. New schools must now reach the LEED Gold standard. But even more green buildings now seems to be the goal: the district has signed on to the National Better Buildings challenge, aiming for 20 percent energy efficiency improvements across all buildings by 2020. And they may be moving faster, getting 20 million square feet greener in 20 months. With the Sustainable DC Act of 2012 now signed into law, a new Property Assessment Clean Energy (PACE) program is underway, aimed at improving financing opportunities for greening commercial and multi-family housing.

The district wants to be greener looking, too (literally). There’s an accelerated tree planting campaign, with 6,400 slated to be planted this season alone. The goal is a 40 percent tree canopy, which would put D.C. in the top tier of major cities worldwide. Beyond trees, the city is implementing “high standard stormwater infrastructure investments.” For example, “we are now building more green roofs than anyone,” with 1.5 million square feet now in place. Green streets, like the first green alley built in Ward 7, are also being rolled out, with more potentially coming soon in Chinatown. Green infrastructure technologies may get a local boost, too, with the $4.5 million that has been dedicated to “innovative pilot projects.”

The district already has the biggest bike share network in the U.S., but “this may not be the case for long, as other cities are catching up.” The D.C. government now purchases 100 percent renewable energy. We have become a “number-one U.S. E.P.A. green power community.” All of this action has led to a 12 percent reduction in green house gas emissions over the past year.

Gray seemed to stress, however, that going green can’t just be the agenda of educated, liberal, white environmentalists. The diverse, multi-ethnic crowd seemed to underpin this point. “We need to focus on jobs, health, equity and diversity, and the climate.” So part of making D.C. more sustainable will involve “expanding access to affordable housing and economic development opportunities” for all, so that “we have one city.” Gray said: “We can’t push people out.”

The actual plan offers some 32 goals, 31 targets, and more than 140 proposed actions. Some goals are quite bold, like “a fishable, swimmable Anacostia River in a generation.” The Anacostia is currently one of the filthiest rivers in the U.S. Other goals: implement a zero-waste plan, with a 80 percent landfill diversion rate. Expand urban agriculture, with 20 more acres of land growing food, so that 75 percent of residents are within 1/4 mile of healthy, local produce. The city wants 1,000 new local renewable energy projects, with a dedicated wind farm for D.C. government operations.

Gray said “this is about nothing short than winning the future.” For a mayor still under federal investigation, Sustainable DC offers a positive way forward and certainly paints the city in a progressive light. As the mayor said, “who would have thought 10 years ago that we would have the biggest bike share network, 100 percent renewable energy for the district government, and 400 local people involved in crafting a new vision.”

But, as they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Pointed questions from the media at the launch event asked whether the mayor and city council will actually put the funds and government personnel behind this bold plan to “change our society.” In a telling comment, Gray said the District will need to wait to hear the results of the debate in Congress on “sequestration,” which could potentially result in billions being cut from the federal budget. Much of the district economy depends on federal government spending, which is why the mayor said the city must “diversify” into new sectors in his recent state of the district speech. In fact, much of the resurgence of the district in the past few years can be attributed to the new federal money pumped into the district (see a great New York Times article on this).

Perhaps Gray’s broader case is that Sustainable DC will help the district’s economy and people become more resilient to economic, environmental, and social shocks, and diversify into greener industries. This seems like smart local leadership that goes beyond the vagaries of federal spending. Grey also made a point of saying regardless of who is mayor in the future, the plan “reflects the interests of our community.” The plan goes beyond the mayor.

Still, it will be up to the D.C. government, private sector, and non-profit organizations to implement the plan at a very high standard. The race is on, considering many other top-tier cities have similar goals.

Read the Sustainable DC plan and also check out Becoming Greenest: Recommendations for a Sustainable D.C., ASLA’s 30-page report produced last year, which seems to have at least inspired a few of the District’s targets and actions.

Image credit: Diamond Teague Park, Washington D.C. Landscape Architecture Bureau /Allen Russ

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Lakiya Culley, an administrative assistant at the U.S. State Department and mother of three, just moved into one of the most innovative, energy-efficient houses in the U.S. In Deanwood, a working class, primarily African-American neighborhood of Washington, D.C. that has recently struggled with foreclosures, Culley is now the proud owner of Empowerhouse, a home designed using “passive house” technologies by students at the New School and Stevens Institute of Technology. The home wasn’t just built from scratch though: it came out of the Solar Decathlon design competition, which was held on the National Mall in 2011. Developed in partnership with Habitat for Humanity and the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development, the house marks “the first time in the Solar Decathlon’s history” that a team partnered with civic and government organizations to make a house a reality in the District.

After some criticism that Solar Decathlon homes were getting out-of-control-pricey to build and therefore weren’t realistic real-world models, the organizers added a “affordability” category in which teams could earn points. Empowerhouse scored really high in that category in comparison with a home from Germany, which cost upwards of $2 million. In fact, according to a spokesperson at New School, each unit of the actual Empowerhouse in Deanwood (there are two apartments in the mini-complex) cost just $250,000, making it affordable in that neighborhood. The model has been such a hit that six more are being planned for Ivy City, another inner-city neighborhood in the District.

This “net-zero” home itself is a marvel. The home produces all its own energy needs and consumes 90 percent less energy for heating and cooling than the conventional home. The bright, bold exterior lights up the whole block.

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But the fine exterior and healthy, light-filled interior built out of sustainable, recycled materials shouldn’t distract from the great landscape architecture components, which were integrated into the project from the beginning, said Professor Laura Briggs, faculty lead of the project, at the New School. As Briggs explained, the home is designed to capture all rainwater that hits it and surrounding homes.

Each unit has terraces with green roofs and small plots for urban agriculture that are designed to capture some water.

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In the rear of the building is a rain garden that captures any rainwater that escapes from the roof gardens. On top of that, each unit has its own underground cistern, where rainwater is collected and then used to water the property.

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The integrated system also synchs up with the front and sides of the home. There’s the District’s first residential green street, a deep trough filled with dirt and plants designed to soak up street runoff and deal with the oily pollutants that the runoff collects on streets.

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At the sides of the house, the parking space is actually made up permeable pavers that allow stormwater to sink into the underlying soils.

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In terms of social sustainability, the piece so often left out of the puzzle, both the homes and landscape were co-designed with the community. Students met with community members, local organizations, and Culley, the owner, in a series of design charrettes. The result of all that outreach and collaboration will be more projects in the neighborhood, including a new community “learning garden.”

The project then is not only a powerful model for how to bring sustainable, affordable, community-based housing to the District, but also how to create real stormwater management solutions that address the truly local environmental problems: the heavy runoff that impacts the already polluted rivers.

Another benefit of the project worth noting: Habitat for Humanity now knows how to build out these passive house homes in a low-cost way.

While the house was built by volunteers from Habitat for Humanity, all of the landscape work was done with a few amazing local organizations: Groundwork Anacostia and D.C. Greenworks.

Image credits:(1) Lakiya Cullen and sons / Martin Seck, (2) Empowerhouse / Martin Seck, (3) Roof terrace / Sarah Garrity, (4) Rain Garden / Ashley Hartzell, (5) Green Street / Ashley Hartzell, (6) Permeable Pavers / Ashley Hartzell

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Washington, D.C.’s Navy Yard has undergone an unbelievable transformation in the past few years. What was once an isolated naval base and seedy area made up of industrial buildings and strip clubs has become home to a real neighborhood — a mixed-use mecca composed of a new headquarters for the U.S. Department of Transportation and a residential and commercial complex, which is also a LEED-Neighborhood Development (ND) Gold project. The new complex, which is called the Yards, features a great new riverfront park by M. Paul Friedberg and innovative green streets by AECOM. These amenities are near a super-sustainable boat pier by local D.C. landscape architecture firm Landscape Architecture Bureau (LAB). Now, the neighborhood, which has seen an influx of upwardly-mobile urbanites, has the new “Canal Park,” a model neighborhood park by landscape architecture firm OLIN and architecture firm STUDIOS that has transformed a three-block brownfield into a simple yet enchanting space.

In recent years, the space was a drain on the neighborhood, a parking lot for buses. But way back when — before it was paved over in the 1870s — the place was part of the historic Washington City Canal, which connected the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers. According to OLIN, the new $20 million park is meant to evoke that historic waterway, with a “linear rain garden reminiscent of the canal, and three pavilions, which recall floating barges that were once common.”

Achieving the clear simplicity of the park clearly took a lot of effort. Lining the long, narrow park are lots of space for lounging on nice lawns, metal kinetic-feeling sculptures by David Hess, curved benches, and, in winter, an ice-skating rink.

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The rink area is flanked by a cafe covered in publicly accessible green roof. The green roof features what must be a first: signs letting people know to curb their dogs around the sedum.

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Underlying the space are some complex green infrastructure systems that help this place give back to the neighborhood on the environmental front. “Contaminated soils were replaced with a healthy growing medium and the native plant habitat was re-introduced.” A linear rain garden, which runs the length of the park, has signs saying “Water is reclaimed and recycled,” helping to explain its role to the visiting public. The rain gardens work together with deep tree pits and underground cisterns to collect, manage, and treat “almost all stormwater runoff on site” and from the neighboring blocks, some 1.5 million gallons of water each year. Treated, recycled water collected in the park is used to “satisfy up to 95 percent of the park’s water needs for fountains, irrigation, toilets and the ice skating path.”

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Also, this truly-green park has 28 geothermal wells underground to provide a “highly-efficient energy supply for park utilities,” reducing park energy use by 37 percent. And the park is there to provide sustainable transport solutions for the broader neighborhood, too: it features the first electric vehicle charging stations this blogger has ever seen in person. Two stations with spaces for four cars (we think) can be accessed with a swipe of a credit card.

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The wood structures in the park, which were designed by STUDIOS, feature “reclaimed and sustainably harvested wood from black locust trees.” Black Locust is a great alternative to unsustainable rainforest hardwoods like Ipe. The use of this wood in these pavilions is an excellent development really worth applauding.

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Additional clear-plastic pavilions scattered at the edges of the park are opaque and both there and not there. They are apparently interactive “light cubes” that can display art and photography.

OLIN says programming will be ramped up to really maximize use of the new park. “The Canal Park Development Association, in partnership with the Capital Riverfront Business Improvement District, will host numerous events throughout the year, such as movies and concerts, holiday and seasonal festivals, farmers markets, art expositions, educational and environmental programming, storytelling events, and more.” The neighborhood clearly benefits.

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Image credits: (1-3) OLIN, (4-5) Phil Stamper / ASLA, (6-7) OLIN

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California Governor Jerry Brown, aka Governor “Moonbeam,” took on his many critics at the 2012 Greenbuild in San Francisco, saying the people who originally called him that are “no longer around, while I still am.” To huge laughs, he said “apparently, moonbeams have more durability than other beings.” In a rousing speech designed to rally the green building community, Brown walked the crowd through his profound “eco” philosophy, while also laying out a path for attacking climate change in California and across the U.S.

In ancient Greek, Brown said “eco” means house. As an example, “economy” means “rules of the house.”  “Logos” means “lord, god, or the deep principles or patterns of nature.” So ecologos or “ecology is the bigger house we all live in – the environment. It’s more fundamental than economics. Economics sits within ecology. Not the other way around. This means through our economy, we can’t repeal the laws of nature.” Furthermore, humanity “can’t mock the laws of nature or thumb our noses at the climatic system. We have to learn to work with nature.”

Unfortunately, the reality is that climate change is the “least important item on the agenda.” Climate change gets some lip service from politicians, but is still seen as a “little too out there” so politicians focus on the day-to-day issues of “crime, taxes, jobs, roads.”

The only positive trend may be that “we know far more than we did 50 years ago about the climate.” With Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, which launched the modern environmental movement, and the Earth Summit, the 1992 UN conference in Rio, which effectively launched the sustainability movement, “there has been progress.” Today, scientific academies all around the world have independently expressed themselves on the climate, saying that “long-term, there are irreversible consequences.” The Union of Concerned Scientists even recently wrote a letter, a “warning to humanity,” saying that “people are on a collision course with nature.”

In California, Brown has pursued an ambitious agenda, which builds on a legacy of environmental action. Under Brown’s first term as governor, California was the first state to create fuel efficiency standards for appliances, leading the charge across the U.S. Now, the state has the only functioning cap and trade system for reducing carbon emissions in the union. As part of this effort, California is now quantifying greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) and moving down the emissions quotas each year. “Year after year, this has required a collaboration among powerful forces.”

Today, California also has the most number of green buildings in the U.S., two times more than Texas, its nearest competitor. The state is also putting “more investment into renewable energy than anyone else. We are not waiting.” Still, Brown wants to go further: “We we need to get to zero-net energy buildings across the state. We need to get to a surplus of energy.” The state is now aiming for all residential buildings to be zero-net by 2020, and all commercial buildings to reach that goal by 2050. In addition to achieving net-zero buildings, Brown wants all of these buildings to be healthy. “People want healthy buildings — they want indoor spaces to be as healthy as outdoors.”

To move forward the effort to make indoor spaces healthier, Scott Horst, senior vice president at the U.S. Green Building Council and the man in charge of LEED, said the upcoming LEED version 4 will be moving forward with a controversial effort to provide credits for those buildings that “disclose chemicals in materials.” The effort, apparently, created “blow back” by groups aligned with some chemical and building product manufacturers. The result was an onslaught of letters from Senators and Congressional representatives “threatening that the federal government and state governments would stop using LEED as a rating system and benchmark.” Comparing USGBC’s efforts to Rachel Carson’s efforts to end the use of DDT, the chemicals in sprayed agricultural fertilizers, Horst said the backlash reflected “old patterns of industry versus the environmental movement.” Horst said “we can’t have an us versus them approach. We have to have business at the table.”

As William McDonough, one of the world’s leading thinkers on materials and ecology, showed, at least some businesses have gotten the message and are joining commercial and environmental goals. Announcing the official launch of his Cradle to Cradle (C2C) rating system, which “assesses a product’s safety to humans and the environment and design for future life cycles,” McDonough brought out a number of leading building product manufacturers to talk about how they use C2C, a “fulcrum for change,” to do business differently now, more in tune with the environment. The overall goals: to treat “materials as nutrients” and use these materials to achieve targets related to “revitalization, renewable energy, water stewardship and breaking social barriers.”

McDonough said his C2C approach is critical because “there are now 2,500 chemicals in mothers’ milk.” He asked, “is this our intention, to poison each other? How about the intention to improve our shared health and well-being?” The movement for healthier materials is “fundamentally a question of social justice. Do we want to tyrannize the next generation?”

Image credit:  Governor Jerry Brown / Wikipedia

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