Water efficiency is the next major issue impacting the built environment after energy efficiency. (Not that we’ve necessarily solved the issue of energy efficiency…) Despite the fact that our planet’s surface is 2/3 water, protecting this natural resource is of utmost importance to human survival.

The best way to reduce water usage is to reuse water through reclamation. One obstacle to further implementation (including mandatory requirements) of water reclamation systems is a lack of peer-reviewed research including life cycle assessments (LCAs) of such systems.

Until now, that is. Phys.org reports on a new study based on the decentralized water system implemented by Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens’ Center for Sustainable Landscapes:

“Evaluating the Life Cycle Environmental Benefits and Trade-Offs of Water Reuse Systems for Net-Zero Buildings,” published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology (DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.6b03879), is the first-of-its-kind research utilizing life-cycle assessment (LCA). Co-authored by Melissa M. Bilec, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Pitt and deputy director of the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation (MCSI), collaborators at Phipps included Richard Piacentini, executive director; and Jason Wirick, director of facilities and sustainability management. Pitt PhD graduate student, Vaclav Hasik, and Pitt undergraduate, Naomi Anderson, were first and second authors, respectively…

Dr. Bilec noted that while the research found that a decentralized water system operates well for a facility like the CSL, the environmental benefits or trade-offs for such systems are dependent upon their lifetime of use, and may not necessarily be practical or environmentally preferable. For example, a similar system might be more environmentally and economically efficient for a development of multiple homes or buildings, rather than one structure.

Conversely, the relative impact of a decentralized system built in a water-scarce region may be more beneficial than its environmental footprint. The decision of what water system to build and its scale, she says, should be evaluated within the context of the entire life of the structure or site it supports.

(Via Construction Dive)

Sanjoy Malik, writing for Green Biz, discusses an issue that is something most building owners, developers, operators and other stakeholders aren’t too familiar with. However, for those of us with experience in improving/optimizing existing buildings, the issue can be a real deal breaker.

What’s the problem? Since de-regulation of the energy utilities, the data produced by rate-payers is now proprietary. Without readily available access to both quantitative and qualitative data regarding the energy usage of existing buildings of certain sizes and use types, it is extremely difficult to develop new strategies for improving efficiency. (You can’t improve what you can’t measure…)

Malik proposes a new business model mirroring the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model that many technology providers have successfully exploited in the past decade or so:

The Energy-data-as-a-service (EDaaS) model holds great promise for the industry. There are various firms providing services within the energy industry that could benefit from a single source of energy data, including:

  • Accounting and finance. Many firms provide energy budgets, pay utility bills and forecast future costs and progress towards reduction goals. These activities require significant process-oriented operations and analysis capabilities. Adding the acquisition of energy data may be too much effort for these firms.
  • Energy optimization. Energy performance in many buildings can be improved using more detailed data, analyzing it and creating statistical models that include other variables such as weather and occupancy. Firms that provide such analytics products can scale their operations by using a standard energy data provider.
  • Energy procurement and supply. Energy purchasing decisions are complex and firms that provide these services typically invest in analysis of historic bills and bidding and negotiating capabilities to find and secure the best prices on energy. By using a third-party for the raw energy data, they can more quickly make decisions about the procurement strategy for their clients.
  • Sustainability and compliance. Many firms are investing in greater transparency around energy performance, using sustainability reports and other public information disclosures. Many large cities are starting to mandate that building owners get Energy Star scores to benchmark their properties. Both of these processes can be expedited by more quickly and systematically collecting energy data via a third party.

Without a doubt, the biggest rising trend in the architecture, engineering and construction industry is health and wellness. In the mid-80s, the World Health Organization released a report on the impact of indoor air quality on building occupants. Perhaps the most damning portion of the report was the finding that “energy-efficient but sick buildings often cost society far more than it gains by energy savings.”

(more…)

Masdar was supposed to be Utopia. Celebrated starchitect Norman Foster would preside over the design of the world’s first “Zero Carbon City” that would rise out of one of the most inhospitable environments in the world: the middle of the Arabian desert, near Abu Dhabi.

That project kicked off in 2006, and a decade later, things have taken a slightly more realistic approach in order to avoid become the world’s greenest ghost town. Foster + Partners is no longer at the helm, having been replaced by Boston-based CBT Architects. According to FastCo Design:

Although it is being billed as the “next step in the evolution of Masdar City,” phase two marks a decided shift away from Foster’s original plan, toward something more attainable. You may notice a subtle change in terminology: Once touted as the first city to zero out on carbon emissions, Masdar is now being described as “low-carbon.” When I speak with [CBT principal] Varanasi, he initially glosses over the change in plans, maintaining that the overall vision of building a sustainable city is still the same. But when asked outright, he admits that the zero-carbon goal has been scrapped. Instead, he says, the goal of CBT’s phase two master plan is to build on Foster’s plan to create a city that is “highly sustainable and commercially viable, providing a high-quality lifestyle” for resident. […]

One of the ways CBT’s plan most strikingly diverges from earlier master plans for Masdar is the way it breaks up property. Where the old plans called for very large plots to be developed by one single entity, the phase two master plan will see lots of private lots sold off to developers who will design and build their own buildings. This is how most city plans work, and the thinking from CBT was that it shouldn’t be different just because a city is meant to be sustainable. “There is still a regular day-to-day market economy aspect to phasing in sustainability,” says Varanasi. “There are 50 blocks in phase two and maybe 50 different developers and architects building it. It’s a real city.”

Patagonia is a company I first learned about through my high school government teacher, who happened to have been a longtime friend of the founder of the company. The two had shared many adventures backpacking and hiking in remote locations over the years, and as my teacher at the time shared, the company’s image as granola-munching and tree-hugging hippies was quite authentic indeed.

Balancing altruistic and humanistic ideals with the need for business profitability is a dance Patagonia has performed well for decades, as Fast Company recently chronicled:

Sustainable business practices, corporate transparency, authentic brand marketing, family-friendly and flexible employee policies—flip through the business pages of any paper or magazine, or conference panel discussions, and you’ll find these are all de rigueur right now among progressive brands and companies looking for ways to connect with and retain both consumers and employees. They’re also all things Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard wrote extensively about more than a decade ago in his 2006 business memoir, Let My People Go Surfing.

The small iron works and climbing equipment shop Chouinard founded in 1957 has since expanded into a global brand, reaching more than $750 million in sales, and since current CEO Rose Marcario’s arrival in 2008 as CFO, a compound annual growth rate of 14%, and profits have tripled. Perhaps confounding to some, the company has done this while maintaining a strict commitment to sustainablility in its products and supply chain—whether its using 100% organic cotton and creating neoprene-free surfing wetsuits, to a marketing campaign encouraging people to buy less of its products. Though the company’s core philosophies remain the same, Chouinard has published a 10th anniversary update of his book to “share what we have done in the last decade and what we plan to do in the decade ahead to achieve our goals.”

After my heart attack about two years ago, I have tried to limit my donut intake (instead of once a week, now it is more like once a month). Who would’ve ever thought that donuts could be so sustainable?

The corporate overlords at Dunkin’ Donuts have taken an interesting path to improving the sustainability of their facilities by developing their own internal green building certification program. The environmental division of Underwriters Laboratory has reviewed the Dunkin’ Donuts program and offered endorsement for the certification requirements. (more…)

My wife and I have been lucky to have three kids that (so far) haven’t ever played with fire, or knives, or consumed dangerous cleaning supplies, or anything like that. It didn’t take burning down the house, stitches, or stomach pumping to teach each of them the danger inherent with certain things—a quick touch to a hot oven provides instantaneous feedback.

This is the primary concept of the feedback loop, explained by Wired Magazine: (more…)

Bill Gates is obviously a really smart dude, and his personal wealth is well documented. But ever since he left active duty at Microsoft, shifting his focus to what I would call entrepreneurial philanthropy through the foundation he and his wife lead, Gates has become a real inspiration for me.

One of my favorite characteristics of the post-Microsoft Bill Gates is his book recommendations. At his blog, Gates recently published his Best Books of 2014 list. A book that I found personally relevant on that list is Making the Modern World: Materials and Dematerialization by Vaclav Smil. (more…)

Stuart Kaplow, of Green Building Law Update writes:

With nearly 128 million residential housing units existed in the U.S., if green building is going to mitigate the negative impacts that human activity has on the planet, green building must include houses.

While most professionals in the A/E/C industry have at least heard of LEED for Homes, widespread implementation of the third-party certification system has been underwhelming, particularly with the largest homebuilders. Little known fact: Habitat for Humanity has been in the top 10 list of home builders for years, and is currently the leading builder of Platinum-certified LEED for Homes projects.

For a variety of primarily political reasons, the other major homebuilders on the top 10 list of builders have decided to not pursue LEED certification on a large scale. Instead, through a partnership between the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and the International Code Council (ICC), an alternative rating system has been developed, known as ICC 700 – the National Green Building Standard.

Kaplow has more information:

The 2015 version of the ICC 700 National Green Building Standard will be the third iteration of this residential code. It was originally developed by a Consensus Committee and approved in January 2009. The ICC 700 was updated in 2012 and approved in January 2013.

Home Innovation Labs has issued a call for members of the Consensus Committee that will be charged with developing the update, which will ideally include government officials, advocacy groups, home builders, product manufacturers, and other affected industry stakeholders in residential construction. The committee members and other interested parties will be assigned to task groups, each specializing in a different area such as energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality, or lot and site development. Those who would like to apply to serve on the Consensus Committee or a Task Group must submit their applications online by March 16, 2014.

Home Innovation also announced a call for proposed changes to the 2012 edition of the ICC 700. Individuals and groups can submit their proposed changes to the NGBS online by March 24, 2014. Task groups will review the proposed changes and develop committee proposals in early 2014.

So if you want your voice to be heard, now’s the time.

Source: Green Building Law Update