NBC’s “Green Week” Kicks Off

It looks like the folks at NBC Universal (owners of eight television channels, Universal Pictures, and more) have gotten bitten by the green bug. This week is the beginning of NBC’s  “Green is Universal” campaign, with a seven days of green-themed programming “aimed at entertaining, informing and empowering Americans to lead greener lives.” All of the major NBC programs seem to be on-board; for example, the soap opera “Days of Our Lives” has a green wedding, and the characters on “The Office” (set in a paper company) weigh the benefits and costs of using recycled paper. Even local NBC news stations are getting in on the act.

Joel Makower, who writes the excellent “Two Steps Forward” blog on sustainability, has a thoughtful piece on NBC Universal’s week:

Green Week will no doubt rankle some critics as, variously, being too commercial, not green enough, not serious enough, not entertaining enough, or whatever. Says Lauren Zalanick [president of Bravo Media, who heads NBC Universal’s Green Council]: “We’re going to be under a microscope. We’re going to plead for a lot of attention, and we’re going to get it, and we’re really going to try to do everything right. What I hope is that the shoutdown of our perceived imperfections doesn’t scare anyone else from trying to do it.”

Viewed in its entirety, NBC Universal’s approach, imperfections and all, strikes me as a substantive — and welcome — contribution from the mainstream media: a synergy of internal programs to reduce the company’s footprint and engage its employees and talent, with an external focus on the company’s massive, hydraheaded audience reach. And to do so in a wide range of styles, voices, and depth. One internal document positions the approach as “hopeful, empowering, and pragmatic, not moralistic or preachy.” Sounds about right.

Joel’s full piece is worth the read. What do you think? Is this yet another attempt at “greenwashing” by a large corporation? Is it crass and shallow? Or is it on the right track?


Feeding China’s Growing Urban Population with “Agro-Housing”

From Dwell magazine’s recently relaunched blog, here’s an idea for urban farming. An Israeli company Knafo Klimor Architects has created a plan for “agro-housing,” placing large greenhouses inside high-rise buildings.

From the company’s website:

“Advantages of this innovative building typology:

  • Produces food for tenants and the surrounding community.
  • Produces organic and healthy food that is disease and fertilizer free
  • Creates an abundance of crops for self-consumption and sale for the neighbors.
  • Requires no special skill set for greenhouse operation
  • Allows for flexibility and independence for the greenhouse working hours.
  • Creates extra income and new jobs for the inhabitants in the building.
  • Creates a sense of community and softens the crisis of migration to cities.
  • Preserves rural traditions and social order.
  • Creates sustainable housing conditions and reduces air and soil pollution.
  • Improves the building’s microclimate and reduction of its energy usage (cooling and heating) 
  • Uses water from the existing high water table and recycles grey water for gardening.”

It looks like an interesting idea, but The Dirt wonders how such a building would actually fit into an urban setting. What happens to the crops and plants inside when a taller building is constructed next door? More images and a .pdf explaining the project can be found here.


The Green Sox? Sports Stadiums Try for Sustainability

Architectural Record has an interesting piece out this week, coinciding with Major League Baseball’s World Series. Famed Fenway Park in Boston, the oldest stadium in baseball, is getting a green upgrade in time for its centennial in 2012. From the article:

The Red Sox are planning to add photovoltaic panels and make additional green improvements with advice from the Natural Resources Defense Council. Although there is not yet a standardized way of greening a stadium, the Sox join a host of other ball clubs pursuing LEED-inspired, or LEED-aspiring projects including the Washington Nationals, Minnesota Twins, New York Yankees, and New York Mets. The NRDC is consulting with many of these teams, as well as Major League officials and NBA and NHL franchises.

“It’s enlightened self-interest (for sports teams),” says Mark Rosentraub, a sports economist and dean of the Cleveland State University School of Urban Affairs. “It’s a prudent response to the high cost of energy and there’s PR value, since everything they do is much more visible.”

The article goes on to say that the team has already upgraded their playing field with “a sand filtration layer that moderates runoff into the city storm drains, and the grounds crews using less-toxic chemicals to maintain the field.”

A Student Perspective on the 2007 Annual Meeting

This letter from ASLA National Student Representative Paul Fusco appears in the latest issue of
LAND Online. Please let your voice be heard by using the comment system below.

The 2007 Annual Meeting in San Francisco had a record-breaking attendance and an amazing selection of lectures, exhibitors, and tours. A full and eclectic weekend offered information beneficial for both professionals and students. From a student’s perspective, the “Inside the LA Studio” seminars were particularly advantageous, because they can help students gain a better understanding of the professional studio atmosphere and the excitement that employees enjoy in different office settings.

I know some of my fellow students and I share a goal of someday starting our own firms. With the help of these lectures and the “Small Firm” roundtable, we were given better insight into the entrepreneur route within this expansive industry. There were also numerous lectures on stormwater management, plants, soils, and much more. As a student, I was initially overwhelmed trying to process this information and its relativity to the working community. However, after attending these lectures I have been able to use the information as stepping-stones toward my professional future and presently connect them to my designs in school.

This year’s EXPO was extremely successful with more than 1,000 exhibitors, filled with wonderful new technology and products. There were numerous new construction materials, lights, water features, and site accessories, plus the added bonus of lots of free shirts, CDs, information, and other goodies—always a benefit for the student community. The Expo also showcased ASLA’s JobLink booth, which offered information and opportunities to talk to firms about jobs and internships.

Outside the convention center, San Francisco is a magnificent city. There were so many fabulous sites to see, such as Levi’s Plaza Park designed by ASLA Fellow Lawrence Halprin, Fisherman’s Wharf, Union Square, Lombard Street, and numerous parks and memorials. It is such a beautiful city that you never want to leave. After being at the conference and seeing it all, I must say that it was an amazing experience. There are so many people to meet and lectures to learn from. I recommend that students and professionals do whatever they can to make it to ASLA’s next conference in Philadelphia in 2008.


UW-Madison LA Students Help Make Green Affordable

News out of Madison today, where UW landscape architecture students have joined together to form a “green team” to make sustainability an affordable option for Wisconsin’s American Indian tribes. From the article:
With a three-year grant from the Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Foundation, UW’s “Green Team” has developed a program to train local builders from reservation communities in green-building techniques, and implement those techniques by collaborating on “demonstration” houses. The goal of the program is to become locally sustainable as the builders from the tribes pass on the new skills through building green houses in their communities.

This year, the Green Team’s idea began to take shape. In May, builders from several Ojibwe communities traveled to Santa Fe, N.M., for a week of green building training, and ground was broken this fall for the first demonstration house, which is being built near Hertel, Wis., on the St. Croix reservation in northwestern Wisconsin.

Click through to read the whole piece here.

Mia Lehrer, ASLA, On Orange County Great Park

Metropolis magazine online has just posted an interview with Mia Lehrer, ASLA, on her work on turning the abandoned El Toro Marine Corps Air Station in Irvine, California into the Orange County Great Park. Lehrer is working with Ken Smith, ASLA, on the very large project. Here Lehrer discusses the sustainable aspects of the park:

“And what about ecological sustainability?
There are several sustainable features—energy, water, people, soil, plants—a tremendous opportunity exists for restoration. We’re going to be way out in terms of our sustainability goals—everything from permeability to materials recycling, to wood trusses on a lot of the buildings being used to build bridges, the irrigation systems, the plant material that’s all friendly to Southern California. We’re going to be considering ways of harnessing solar power so that we can largely be independent, the buildings are embedded in landscape so they have huge planted roofs, and we lease 60 acres to a company that does composting. Clippings from park operations get used for mulch and the old concrete is crushed so that it can be used as road base.”

Check out the whole article, “Completely Grounded,” here.

Vice-President Al Gore, Honorary ASLA, Wins Nobel Peace Prize

News from Oslo this morning–Vice President Al Gore, Hon. ASLA, and the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have been awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for their work raising awareness about man-made global climate change. The group was selected by the Nobel Committee from a field of 181 candidates.

In a statement released this morning, VP Gore said he was honored to receive the Nobel Prize, adding “[The] award is even more meaningful because I have the honor of sharing it with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — the world’s pre-eminent scientific body devoted to improving our understanding of the climate crisis — a group whose members have worked tirelessly and selflessly for many years.”

The New York Times also reports that “[Gore] said he would donate his share of the $1.5 million that accompanies the prize to the Alliance for Climate Protection, a bipartisan non-profit organization devoted to conveying the urgency of solving the climate crisis.”

VP Gore, originally scheduled to be the closing session speaker at ASLA’s Annual Meeting, was unfortunately unable to attend the meeting due to a death in his family [third item]. However, he was able to deliver a special message via satellite from Tennessee following ASLA Fellow Lawrence Halprin’s speech.

AIA Releases Latest Economic Survey Results

Our friends at the American Institute of Architects (AIA) have just released their most recent component survey of business conditions for 2007. According to their survey, demand for architects remains fairly strong compared to 2006, though several of AIA’s regions are experiencing economic upheaval. Particularly hard-hit are Michigan and Florida/Caribbean. The demand for residential projects has weakened, though both commercial/industrial and institutional are maintaining earlier levels. Click through to read more; do you find the AIA’s numbers vibe with your landscape architecture experiences this year?

The 2007 Solar Decathalon Shines on the National Mall

In October, a section of the National Mall in Washington, DC, is converted into a mini city of the future. Small, sustainable houses covered in solar panels sit soaking up sunlight, while small electric cars zip up and down the temporary street. Crowds of tourists line up to take house tours and to learn about energy efficiency in new home construction. It’s Solar Decathlon time again.

The Solar Decathlon is a competition in which 20 teams of college and university students compete to design, build, and operate the most attractive, effective, and energy-efficient solar-powered house. The Solar Decathlon is also an event to which the public is invited to observe the powerful combination of solar energy, energy efficiency, and the best in home design. Its major sponsor is the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

The Kansas State University projectsolarhouse is one of the 20 competitors; Mark Ruzicka, Student ASLA, and Celine Andersen, Student ASLA, designed the project’s landscape and won the ASLA Student residential award of excellence for their efforts. The Dirt wishes all the competitors sunny skies and the best of luck.

The Sustainable Sites Initiative

At the ASLA Annual Meeting in San Francisco ASLA announced the Sustainable Sites Initiative, the development of a new rating system for sustainable landscape design. ASLA made this announcement along with the University of Texas at Austin’s Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, and the United States Botanic Garden.

Just as the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED rating system measures a building’s environmental impact, the Sites Initiative will measure the sustainability of designed landscapes of all types, including public, commercial, and residential projects. The U.S. Green Building Council is lending its support to this project and plans to adopt the Sustainable Sites metrics into its LEED system once they are finished.

“This will provide the missing link for green building standards,” said Nancy Somerville, Executive Vice President and CEO of ASLA. “Developers, designers, owners, and public officials will now have the tools at hand to significantly increase sustainability in the built environment, from interiors to landscapes.”

Additional partners in the Sites Initiative include the U.S. Green Building Council, the Environmental Protection Agency’s GreenScapes Program, the National Recreation and Parks Association, the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Environment and Water Resources Institute, the National Association of County and City Health Officials, the Nature Conservancy’s Global Invasive Species Initiative, and The Center for Sustainable Development at the University of Texas at Austin. For more information, visit www.sustainablesites.org.