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GreenWizard speeds green building product research

Published May 22, 2014
GreenWizard speeds green building product research

Figuring out which building products and materials comply with certain environmental certifications and health declarations is a notoriously tedious task. GreenWizard hopes its software will make this research significantly less time consuming.

Over the past five years, the developer methodically has compiled a massive directory that covers 145,000 green building products from about 1,300 manufacturers.

The tool enables architects, engineers and contractors to seek products that fit certain criteria, such as whether they carry Green Seal, Forest Stewardship Council, Cradle to Cradle or other eco-credentials. The software also tracks how these materials might affect a specific green building project's LEED construction status.

GreenWizard's approach apparently is catching on: The company works with seven of the top 15 U.S. design firms and four of the top 10 commercial contractors. So far, the platform has been used to source and evaluate materials for projects valued at more than $23.8 billion.

"GreenWizard acts as the collective wisdom of the green buildings industry, where we are free for manufacturers to load complete product listings, and any user can also search for free," said Adam Bernholz, CEO of the Charleston, S.C.-based company.

There's a subscription, however, for the tools that help manage this information, a process traditionally handled with spreadsheets. Pricing generally ranges from $5,000 to $10,000 for an average firm or about $1,000 for a single seat, he said. Each seat can be used for dozens of projects.

GreenWizard's clients include the likes of Perkins+Wills, Skanska, Turner and ZGF Architects.

"It really allows our folks to become more literate with the idea of materials transparency," said Ed Clark, an associate with ZGF in Seattle. "All this information was squirreled away with individuals before, and now we have a centralized data set."

ZGF's team consults the GreenWizard software on an almost daily basis to help weigh the advantages and cost implications of using one product versus another, maximize water conservation design features or improve the level of daylight spectrum experience by occupants in its buildings. It even uses the information to understand more about design elements or materials for which there are no good "green surrogates," Clark said. "Collectively, as people research aspects, the tool becomes more personalized toward our values."

Previously, the research was undertaken by young professionals in ZGF's five offices. GreenWizard now helps raise the collective awareness of green building progress, Clark said.

Competitors to GreenWizard include EcoScoreCard, which covers about 30,000 products; SWEETS, which covers 20,000; and Autodesk Seek, which includes 65,000 building information management objects.

Building image by ixpert via Shutterstock.

Singapore takes the lead on green building in Asia

Published January 23, 2014
Singapore takes the lead on green building in Asia

This article originally appeared at Yale e360.

At street level, 313@somerset looks like any other glittering mall in downtown Singapore. But on closer inspection the eight-story building has skylights, solar panels, energy-saving elevators and escalators, highly efficient air-conditioning units and software that monitors the building’s carbon dioxide emissions.

Across town, a new hotel, Parkroyal on Pickering (pictured left and below), displays its green credentials in the form of an artfully tiered façade dotted with tropical ferns and creeping vines. Along with an efficient cooling system, its green perks include rainwater harvesting, lighting sensors and high-performance window glass and hot water pumps. Entering the wood-paneled lobby, which has a wall of tropical mosses, a visitor is reminded of a rainforest — no matter that the building lies in the heart of the banking capital of Southeast Asia.

These structures underscore Singapore’s commitment to greening its built environment through generous incentive schemes and a building rating tool that encourages such improvements as sun-shading exteriors, water-efficient fittings, computer modeling of energy flows and carbon emissions, and highly efficient air conditioning and ventilation systems. Since the rating tool launched in 2005, Singapore’s Building and Construction Authority (BCA) has certified 1,534 new buildings and 215 pre-existing ones. Together they account for more than a fifth of gross floor area in this island city-state, which has a population of 5 million and is roughly half the size of New York City.

"As we become more and more urbanized, we want to make sure our built environment is sustainable," says John Keung, the BCA’s chief executive.

Development specialists agree that promoting green building in Asia has the potential to produce large energy savings and make polluted cities more habitable while partially mitigating the impacts of global warming. The United Nations reports that 40 percent of people in the Asia-Pacific region already live in cities, and by 2050 the figure could reach two-thirds. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted that in the coming decades, Asian countries will lead increases across the developing world in building-sector emissions from energy use. In China alone, according to the global consultancy McKinsey and Company, the urban population may expand from 572 million in 2005 to 926 million by 2025, requiring the construction of 4 million to 5 million new buildings.

Against this backdrop, Singapore has emerged as a model of green building for planners and developers across much of the Asia-Pacific region, where poor design reigns and developers historically have seen little incentive to invest in sustainability, according to Asia-based architects and sustainability experts. Singapore’s BCA is now marketing its rating tool, Green Mark, as a brand in Southeast Asia, China and parts of tropical Africa — even in countries, such as neighboring Malaysia, where local rating tools offer competing certification systems. Some consultants say the rise of Green Mark is a direct challenge to LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, the rating tool of the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED also is expanding in Asia.

In the fight to reduce carbon emissions, the economic boom in Asia underscores the importance — and the limits — of reducing energy use in commercial and residential buildings. Even with Singapore’s aggressive push in the green building sector, non-industrial electricity consumption in Singapore increased by roughly 23 percent from 2005 to 2011. That growth was due largely to robust economic expansion, with Singapore’s GDP doubling during that time. The government aims to achieve a 35 percent reduction [PDF] in the energy intensity of its economy by 2030, which — depending on the rate of economic growth — does not necessarily mean the city-state will be using less electricity overall by that date.

The phrase "green building" suggests basic universal characteristics, such as an attention to energy use and attempts to bring a building in tune with its environment. However, it is also a somewhat fluid concept, and certifiers define green buildings differently in Singapore from the United States or Europe. Notably, Green Mark places a comparatively larger emphasis on installation of technologically intensive cooling units, arguing that reducing energy consumption is essential in a tropical city where air-conditioning represents a large part of electricity demand.

But some experts wonder if Singapore’s approach eventually will encourage an unsustainable dependence on air conditioning as an essential design component. Country-specific rating tools under development in Malaysia, Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries, they say, may be more effective at promoting vernacular designs that emphasize passive technologies — such as optimization of shading and ventilation — and a sensitivity to a building's carbon life cycle.

"Ultimately, the goal in these tools is to reduce the (environmental) footprint," says Deo Prasad, a professor of architecture at the University of New South Wales in Australia who has studied sustainable building policies across the Asia-Pacific region. As Green Mark matures, he adds, an open question for Singapore is: "Are you getting hooked into the energy consumption being absolutely necessary for comfort?"

Singapore, which gained independence from Malaysia in 1965, long has styled itself as a "garden city." The city-state was built on swampland that has few energy resources, and its founding prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, made a point of prioritizing environmental conservation. In 2005, the government extended its hands-on urban development policies to its building sector. The centerpiece of that policy shift was Green Mark, a rating tool modeled partly on LEED guidelines. But unlike LEED, which emerged in the private sector and is based on a flexible set of sustainable design principles, Green Mark was launched by a government agency and designed largely to reduce energy and water consumption.

The BCA markets Green Mark as a win-win for businesses and the environment. A recent study by the government and researchers at the National University of Singapore found that a sample of office buildings designed to meet Green Mark standards shaved about 11.6 percent off total operating expenses on average while boosting a building's capital value by 2.3 percent. The BCA also reports that while new Green Mark buildings typically cost up to 5 percent more, most developers recoup their initial investment within seven years through energy savings. It helps that in 2009 the agency pledged 100 million Singapore dollars, or about $80 million, to landlords over five years to pay for efficiency audits and install energy-efficient cooling units, motion sensors and shading devices.

Singapore-based CapitaLand, Southeast Asia's largest developer, says investments in green building technologies have played a central role in reductions since 2008 of 11.7 percent and 16.1 percent, respectively, in the company’s energy and water consumption, and a 16 percent reduction in its carbon emissions — all for a savings of about $28 million. "Our sustainability objectives are guided by the belief that lowering the environmental footprint of our developments through innovation creates value for our stakeholders," says Tan Seng Chai, CapitaLand's group chief corporate officer.

The BCA says it plans to certify 80 percent of the city’s buildings by 2030, and several consultants say the goal is realistic. However, the BCA has struggled to incentivize efficiency upgrades in existing buildings, and Green Mark's success may slow when its five-year incentive scheme for those buildings ends next year, according to Ng Eng Kiong, president of the Singapore Green Building Council, a consortium of 450 building professionals and suppliers of green products and services.

"In Singapore, everything is driven by the economy," Ng says, and a future economic downturn as serious as the 2008 financial crisis potentially could reverse some of Singapore’s green building gains. The BCA reports that some of the city-state’s older buildings have a lifespan of just 10 to 15 years — a fact that further could deter long-term investments in sustainability.

Energy consultants say Singapore, which sits on the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, lately has emerged as a testing ground for ventilation and air-conditioning technologies that Western and Asian manufacturers plan to sell in China and the rest of Asia. Green Mark's success, the consultants add, is also a boon for some local businesses and an encouraging example for neighboring countries, such as Thailand and Vietnam, that are just beginning to green their building sectors. More than 400 Green Mark-certified buildings exist in Asia and Africa, according to the BCA's John Keung. Officers at four green building associations across Southeast Asia say Green Mark's success partially has influenced how they developed their local rating tools.

However, Green Mark is a system designed exclusively for a prosperous urban metropolis, and it may not be directly applicable in countries with different political systems, environmental conditions and standards of living, say green building experts.

"So if you have a house made out of bamboo, it may be the greenest house ever, but using that particular rating tool, you can't get certified," explains Ar Sarly Adre Sarkum, vice president of the Malaysia Green Building Confederation. With this in mind, a few rating tools have emerged in recent years that attempt to capture country-specific nuances. For example, a new tool in Indonesia pays more attention to a developer's choice of building materials, many of which are typically sourced from within the country.

Sustainability experts say that for the moment it is too early to tell how these local tools will fare, and their success will depend partly on the degree to which local governments offer related incentives to developers. Muiz Murad, CEO of Green Earth Design Solution, an environmental consultancy in Kuala Lumpur, says that in all likelihood there will be a healthy coexistence, with a few developers choosing to certify through both a local and an outside rating system. Green Mark is currently very popular in Brunei, he adds, but in the rest of the Asia-Pacific region, the international rating tool of choice is LEED. That, he says, is largely because multinational corporations have internal policies that require them to choose LEED.

Hotel facade image courtesy of Parkroyal on Pickering.

Why GE led a $22M investment round for a smart-building startup

Published October 16, 2012
Why GE led a $22M investment round for a smart-building startup

Editor's Note: To learn more about energy-efficient buildings, be sure to check out VERGE@Greenbuild November 12-13.

Ann Hand, the CEO of smart-building startup Project Frog did not begin her career in a green job. As an executive in training with Mobil, she ran gas stations in inner city Philadelphia. “I can tell you about the adjacencies of Kool Menthol and Orange Crush,” she says. She went on to spend about 19 years in the oil industry with ExxonMobil, Amoco and BP, where she lead global marketing around “Beyond Petroleum.”

Now Ann is in charge of Project Frog, a green-business startup which, despite the cutesy name, is serious about shaking up the construction industry. Project Frog aims not only to create better buildings -- buildings that are attractive, energy-efficient and pleasant places to work -- but also to change the way buildings are made. Its structures are “component buildings,” put together from pre-fab kits of parts, shipped by truck and assembled onsite. It’s as if you could buy a building from IKEA.

We’re trying to change the game,” Ann says. “We give people a better-looking building in half the time at the same cost or less.” Better, faster, greener and cheaper is how the company puts it. Which is a whole lot better than just greener.

I met recently with Ann Hand at a clean-tech event in Washington. Project Frog would like to position itself as a technology company, and not as a construction company or an architecture and design firm, although it employs designers, architects and experts in construction. Based in San Francisco, Project Frog has about 35 employees and it has built about 25 buildings, mostly schools, health-care facilities and government buildings.

The company was founded in 2006, and Ann, who is 44, joined as CEO at the end of 2009. Interesting aside: She got the job after meeting Chuck McDermott, a venture capitalist at Rockport Capital Partners, which has invested in Project Frog, at the FORTUNE Brainstorm Green conference.

While Project Frog is small, it has some impressive backers. There’s Rockport, a leading clean tech venture firm based in Boston. And, a year ago, General Electric led a $22 million investment round in the company and bought one of Project Frog’s buildings for its Crotonville learning center.

Photo of Green City. Urban Background. Environment. provided by vectorgirl via Shutterstock

Next page: Cutting costs, boosting quality

Also in The Gunther Report Blog:

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Hearst Tower in NYC, Perkins+Will in Atlanta earn top LEED ratings

Published March 07, 2012
Hearst Tower in NYC, Perkins+Will in Atlanta earn top LEED ratings

The Hearst Corporation's striking addition to the New York skyline and Perkins+Will's office on Atlanta's historic main street have earned LEED-Platinum certification, the high level of recognition awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Executives for the companies announced their green building achievements this week. For the Hearst Corporation, news of LEED-Platinum certification comes as the company marks its 125th year in business.

For design firm Perkins+Will, whose building also houses the Museum of Design of Atlanta and a branch of the public library, the certification recognizes not only the firm's green building efforts but also its work to promote community and sustainability in Atlanta for a third of a century.

Hearst Tower

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and Hearst Tower was certified at the LEED-Gold level (the second highest of four designations) as a newly constructed building soon after its completion in 2006. Its new certification, based on LEED standards for the maintenance and operation of existing buildings, is an indication of how well the building is performing and whether it is meeting its design expectations.

Here some stats that support the platinum rating:

  • Energy efficiency measures built into the structure, plus regular monitoring of those systems have reduced energy consumption by 40 percent. In turn, that places the property among the top 10 percent of commercial office buildings that are working to rein in energy use.
  • The building uses 30 percent less water a year compared to comparable structures. That's the result of low-flow fixtures, water conservation and a rainwater harvesting system that uses non-potable water to clean sidewalks and other outdoor "hardscapes."
  • The building and its occupants divert 82 percent of the material that would otherwise go to landfill through aggressive recycling and waste management programs. It's the first office building in New York City to set up a program to channel 100 percent of wetfood waste to composting.

More information on Hearst Tower is available here

The Perkins+Will Building in Atlanta

Earning its certification with a score of 95 of a possible 100 baseline points, the Perkins+Will office in Atlanta now claims bragging rights as the top-scoring new construction LEED project in the Northern Hemisphere.

The firm, which has had an office on Atlanta's main thoroughfare for more than 33 years, bought the 1985 building at 1315 Peachtree Street in 2009 and renovated it so extensively that qualified for LEED consideration as new construction.

There's a picture of the building, above, and another, below, of a conference room.

USGBC President, CEO and Founding Chair Rick Fedrizzi  lauded the retrofitting and repurposing of the building so it accommodates the design firm and two organizations that serve the public. "Perkins+Will has designed a showpiece building," Fedrizzi said in a statement. "1315 Peachtree Street exemplifies the kind of environmentally sustainable measures that can be taken during a building retrofit."

Design elements and efficiencies built into the property cut energy consumption by 58 percent and slash use of municipally supplied potable water by 78 percent. The building features:

  • A rooftop trigeneration system that includes microturbines and an adsorption chiller. Designers estimate that the building's carbon footprint is reduced by 68 percent by producing electricity with natural gas.
  • Daylight harvesting, exterior sun shading, lighting controls, efficient fixtures and operations systems that reduce energy use for cooling and illumination.
  • A 10,000-gallon cistern to capture rainwater. The water is used to irrigate landscape iand in low-flow urinals and toilets after first being filtered and treated.
  • Work and meeting areas that promote collaboration and efficient use of space.
  • More pictures of Perkins+Will's Atlanta office are available here

Next Page: Office Depot's latest green building project.

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DC Heads USGBC Top 10 List of States with LEED-Rated Buildings

By Leslie Guevarra
Published January 20, 2012
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Tags: Building Design, Buildings, More... Building Design, Buildings, Retrofits, Standards & Certification
DC Heads USGBC Top 10 List of States with LEED-Rated Buildings

The District of Columbia again leads the U.S. Green Building Council's list of states with the highest concentration of LEED-rated buildings per capita based on certifications earned during the past year.

In Washington, D.C., 18,954,022 square feet of commercial and institutional space earned green building certification under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standard in 2011.

That comes to 31.5 square feet per capita, far and away the highest ratio found in the USGBC's tally. Colorado comes in at a distant second with 2.74 square feet of LEED-certified space per capita. Illinois is third on the list with 2.69 square feet of LEED-certified space per capita.

Here is the full list:

The roster was conceived as a list of the Top 10 states for per capita LEED square footage. However, the leader of the pack is not a state, resulting in a list of 11 contenders. Among the states listed, California, Texas and New York had the most square footage certified during 2011.

Washington, D.C., also led the USGBC's first Top 10 List, which was issued last year. The District of Columbia logged 25.15 square feet of certified space per capita in 2010. Coming in next were Nevada with 10.92 square feet per capita and New Mexico with 6.35 square feet per capita.

Although Washington's per capita ratio grew significantly during 2011, a reflection of the government's efforts to green its facilities, the ratios of the states fell, a sign of persisting hard times.

As green building expert and "LEED founding father" Rob Watson noted in his most recent Green Building Market and Impact Report for GreenBiz, sustainable design and retrofits are nevertheless the bright spots for the building industry overall. LEED's reach grew in 2011, albeit more slowly than in previous years. In all, more than 1.7 billion square feet of commercial space has been certified to date.

The chart below from the USGBC shows recent progress.

Photo of Washington, D.C., skyline and Pennsylvania Avenue via Charts courtesy of the USGBC.


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How Companies Can Make Buildings Greener and Better

By Melissa O'Mara and Cam Williams
Published January 20, 2012
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Tags: Buildings, Energy Efficiency, More... Buildings, Energy Efficiency, Environmental Management Systems (EMS), Smarter Buildings, Standards & Certification, VERGE
How Companies Can Make Buildings Greener and Better

The need for global efficiency within buildings – one of the largest generators of greenhouse gases in the world – has been recognized for quite some time.

Over the last several years, our industry has been actively greening both commercial and residential buildings, in order to mitigate the environmental impact of building and managing these structures.

These actions include a wide variety of voluntary programs and evolution of building codes and standards, enabled by technology and interoperability standards and protocols.  In addition to programs aimed at improving building design and construction, there is also a proliferation of building metrics, building labeling, and benchmarking programs, aimed at validating the actual performance of “better buildings.”

All of these combined actions are synergistic, with new ideas, standards and programs emerging every year, as our industry uncovers new strategies and overcomes complex obstacles to whole building performance and lifecycle optimization. 

Though there have been multiple approaches to helping buildings implement practical and measurable solutions, one of the most effective and widely sought-after approaches has been gaining certification through industry standards for energy efficient buildings.

It is essential for companies to be proactive in shaping and implementing voluntary initiatives, code development and standard evolution in order to accelerate the pace and pave the path for high performance green buildings of tomorrow. This is both a business decision and a principled one, but only by practicing what we preach are we able to gain valuable insight into our overall energy management, which when added up, makes a difference in how the whole system works.

Today’s Standards

Perhaps one of the best known green building initiatives is a voluntary certification program developed by the U.S. Green Building Council known as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification program. This voluntary program started in 1998 and today consists of nine rating systems in design and construction, development of new buildings, and retrofit and operations of existing buildings. It is a dominant catalyst in both in the U.S. and worldwide with more than 35,000 projects currently participating in the LEED system in 91 countries.

This year, two additional global building initiatives were introduced to the market: the ZigBee Building Automation Standard and the ISO 50001 certification program. These most recent initiatives demonstrate the dynamic nature of the market and the continued need for development of program standards of many different types that help builders and owners translate high performance and sustainable buildings goals into practical and actionable measures on the ground. All three programs meet different needs in the market, but they all have the same goal –helping owners and builders develop energy-efficient buildings.

The ZigBee Building Automation standard, announced just a few months ago, addresses a specific challenge for high performance buildings: how to ensure interoperable, secure, and reliable monitoring and control of building systems. It is the only BACnet-compatible wireless mesh network standard for commercial buildings, is vendor-neutral, and can ultimately be used to help organizations contribute toward LEED credits. BACnet is an ASHRAE, ANSI and ISO standard protocol that enables communication between building automation and control devices independent of service. BACnet’s open and nonproprietary protocol enables easy expansion and integration, and because it began development in 1987, is a widely-deployed system. ZigBee enables new green buildings or retrofit of existing buildings to green buildings by providing pervasive sensing and control in places costly to wire, such as the living space.

Next Page: What companies can do.



JLL's Staff of Certified Sustainability Pros Grows to Nearly 1,100

By Leslie Guevarra
Published January 05, 2012
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Tags: Buildings, Employees, More... Buildings, Employees, Energy Efficiency, Standards & Certification
JLL's Staff of Certified Sustainability Pros Grows to Nearly 1,100

Jones Lang LaSalle started the new year with 1,075 credentialed energy and sustainability professionals on its staff, the most of any commercial real estate services firm.

In doing so, the company beat its goal of having 1,000 members of its workforce attain green accreditation by the end of 2012.

As the field of sustainability grows, greater numbers of professionals are striving to differentiate themselves by earning credentials from internationally recognized organizations such as the U.S. Green Building Council with its program for LEED Accredited Professionals and BREEAM, based in the United Kingdom.

At the same time, standards organizations have raised the bar for credentials, and companies have come to view employee accreditation not only as an avenue for professional development, but also as a market advantage.

For example, Turner Construction Company, a green building leader, has emphasized its commitment to fostering certification of employees as LEED Accredited Professionals for the past eight years. Turner's population of LEED APs grew from 42 in 2004 to more than 1,000 in 2009. With some 1,200 LEED APs on staff last year, Turner had the most of any company.

Jones Lang LaSalle, which now has a robust sustainability practice, had fewer than 200 employees certified as professionals in the discipline in April 2008, when it set its first target for accreditation among staff members.

"Sustainability is now important to every service we provide," Dan Probst, JLL chairman of energy and sustainability services, said in a statement provided to GreenBiz. "Sustainability accreditation verifies that we understand the strategies for managing energy, water and other aspects of sustainable development and operations."

The firm's tally of certified sustainability professionals rose to 650 in May 2011, and company leaders set a new internal target, called "Accredit 1K." At the time, there was some doubt that the population of credentialed staff could climb by 350 before New Year's Day 2012. So JLL decided to set the close of 2012 as the horizon for its stretch goal, but soon realized it had triggered a surge in the demand for credential-related training among staff.

"The response from our business leaders and on-site professionals around the world, based on rising client demand, was so strong, we had to move quickly," said Lauralee Martin, JLL's chief operating and financial officer, in a statement. The firm stepped up the course offerings in its in-house Sustainability University, and employees hit the books.

JLL's 1,075 accredited staff members, who represent 2.5 percent of the company's 42,000 employees, span 29 countries. The majority of the credentials were earned through the USGBC's LEED AP and LEED Green Associate programs. Other sustainability credentials attained by JLL employees include BREEAM accreditation; membership as an Associate of the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment; certification as a Building Commissioning Professional (CBCP), an Energy Manager (CEM), or a Data Center Energy Practitioner (DCEP); and accreditation through programs operated by Green Globes - Go Green Plus, Green Mark and the National Australian Built Environment Rating System.

The company credits its professionals for enabling 200 buildings and commercial interiors to achieve green building certification, and for installing or serving as advisors on 1,400 MW of wind and biomass energy projects. JLL says its sustainability pros also helped clients save $128 million in energy costs and avoid 563,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions in 2010, according to the firm's most recent annual global figures on its work with customers.

JLL Vice President Craig Bloomfield said many other employees will be taking credentialing exams during the first quarter of 2012, "so I'm sure we will top 1,100 pretty soon."

Photo of green team cutouts via



How Green Building Can Bring New Orleans Back

By Leanne Tobias
Published December 30, 2011
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Tags: Building Design, Energy Efficiency, More... Building Design, Energy Efficiency, Resource Efficiency, Sustainable Sites
How Green Building Can Bring New Orleans Back

I recently visited New Orleans for the first time, with the question no doubt asked by most of the Crescent City's visitors: More than six years post-Katrina, is New Orleans back?

The answer is complex, and the story is one of resilience, devastation, rebuilding and sustainability.

The French Quarter is booming, and Bourbon Street is a 24-7 party. Jazz flows on Frenchmen Street in the Faubourg Marigny district. Tourists pack Jackson Square and restaurants and attractions are crowded. In the districts that cater to visitors, you'll likely be told -- as I was -- that New Orleans is "85 to 90 percent back." I predict that you'll have ample reason to agree if you visit New Orleans' most storied spots. (And you should visit, as I'll explain below.)

Enter the east side of town, though, and large swaths of post-Katrina residential and commercial abandonment remain apparent, with blighted areas easily visible from Interstate 10. Eastern New Orleans is estimated at up to 40 percent vacant, and unused properties include not only housing, but diverse commercial sites, including the former Methodist Hospital and Lakeland Medical Center complexes, and the former Six Flags amusement park.

Some good news came on December 21, when Walmart announced its purchase of the Lakeland Medical Center site for a 180,000-square-foot supercenter. The new Walmart will add much-needed retail space to this portion of New Orleans. The city government purchased Methodist Hospital in 2010, and a re-opening is planned for 2013. The redevelopment of the Six Flags site remains uncertain -- two proposals that survived a recent municipal RFP process are an outlet mall and a theme park. But even with these signs of progress, the destruction wreaked by Katrina remains all too evident.

The Lower Ninth Ward is of course the epicenter of Katrina's devastation, inundated in 2005 by stormwaters from the Industrial Canal. The Greater New Orleans Community Development Center, in an analysis of 2000-2010 census data, estimates that the district -- rendered uninhabitable in Katrina's wake -- has recovered only 22 percent of its population (PDF).

Visit the Lower Ninth Ward today, and the effects of Katrina's ravages remain. Most structures remain vacant or boarded up, and some retain the markings left by emergency responders in the first post-hurricane searches for the injured and the dead.

Yet, the Lower Ninth Ward is a hopeful place in that it is the epicenter of advanced sustainable rebuilding efforts. The Make It Right Foundation, founded by actor Brad Pitt, is halfway through the process of constructing 150 LEED Platinum, affordable homes.

Make It Right homes are raised at least two feet above the base flood elevation level (an exception is the Morphosis FLOAT House, which rises on guideposts to float the structure as water levels rise). Structures are designed to be storm resistant and reduce energy and water use as a result of several factors. They include use of closed cell spray foam insulation; daylighting; efficient lighting, plumbing fixtures and appliances; solar panels and tankless water heaters. Homes also incorporate low-VOC and recycled materials as well as sustainable landscaping designed to reduce flooding.

Equally impressive is that Make It Right achieves sustainability on a budget. The average cost of a Make It Right home is approximately $150,000, and costs have been reduced to about $130 per square foot through rigorous value engineering and the careful training of contractors.

Can you help bring New Orleans back faster? Assuredly yes. First, you can support Make It Right's green rebuilding efforts or another Katrina relief activity of your choice.

Second, you can visit this remarkable and resilient city. Tourism is New Orleans' largest industry, accounting for 40 percent of local tax revenues and nearly 70,000 jobs. New Orleans' culture, history, music and cuisine are unique, and your visit will help to ensure a vibrant and expanding economic base. These are great reasons to indulge yourself and, as they say in NOLA: Laissez les bons temps rouler (let the good times roll).

Need more reasons to visit? Eco-tourism venues will be the subject of my next blog.

Photos of French Quarter façade CC licensed by Flickr user Steve Snodgrass. Photos of New Orleans' Ninth Ward, a house tagged by a search team and flooding (shown in index) via


Philly, Oakland Among Cities Winning Advice on Green Development

By Leslie Guevarra
Published December 29, 2011
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More Stories On: Building Design, Buildings, More... Building Design, Buildings, Retrofits, Sustainable Sites
Philly, Oakland Among Cities Winning Advice on Green Development

Philadelphia, Oakland and six other U.S. cities will get free help this coming year from sustainable building and development experts who'll take a fresh look at the towns through a green lens.

The aim of the free consultations is to accelerate green neighborhood development by helping cities understand how to transform urban communities into places that offer a balanced mix of residential, commercial and recreational areas, which are easily accessible on foot, bikes and public transportation. Ideally, the communities would embody the triple bottom line by being good for the well-being of people, prosperous and kinder to the planet than the existing built environment.

The consultations are being provided by the sustainability-focused nonprofit Global Green USA through funding from the U.S Environmental Protection Agency's Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities Program.

Global Green USA, an arm of Green Cross International, contends cities are responsible for as much as 70 percent of global warming pollution and is working to counter climate change.

Cities vied for inclusion in the organization's consultation program, and the winners were selected based on factors that included the strength of sustainability projects they have planned, the level of community engagement, urgency and need for help.

Philadelphia and Oakland, Calif., both of which have detailed climate action plans, are the two largest cities selected for the Global Green USA program. The others are Dearborn, Mich.; Eden Prairie, Minn.; Greensboro, N.C.; Lafayette, Ind.; Lakewood, Colo.; and Louisville, Ky.

The consultation team begins its work in February and over the next six months will spend three days in each city and then make recommendations on infrastructure and policy changes that are intended to further development of sustainable communities.

The team will be basing its assessments on the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standard for Neighborhood Development. The standard known as LEED-NC formally launched in 2010 after three years of pilot testing.

The standard was established as a national benchmark for sustainable community design, but even in the testing phase it drew international interest. Two-hundred-thirty-nine projects in six countries were registered under LEED-NC during the pilot.

Image CC licensed by Flickr user michaelwm25.

US Treasury Building's Green Investment Pays Off in LEED-Gold Rating

By Leslie Guevarra
Published December 27, 2011
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US Treasury Building's Green Investment Pays Off in LEED-Gold Rating

Work to make the U.S Treasury Building more resource efficient has earned the third-oldest federal building in Washington, D.C., gold-level LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Stretching for more than two city blocks, the Treasury Building was under construction for 33 years from 1836 to 1869. (Only the White House and the U.S. Capitol are older.)

The most recent changes in operations and the latest facility improvements include:

• Increasing daylighting
• Putting in place an advanced control and management system for HVAC
• Auditing the waste stream to identify further opportunities for recycling and reducing waste
• Creating a green procurement program
• Enhanced metering for utilities
• Better use of space

The efforts have resulted in:

• A 7-percent drop in electricity consumption
• A 43-percent decrease in use of potable water
• A 53-percent reduction in the use of steam
• Adding 164 workstations

"We're proud of the improvements we've made around the Treasury Building -- both big and small - to help reduce our environmental footprint and save taxpayer dollars," Assistant Secretary for Management Dan Tangherlini said in a blog post. "They're part of a broader Administration-wide effort, which includes President Obama's recent $2 billion commitment to energy upgrades of federal buildings using long term energy savings to pay for up-front costs, at no cost to taxpayers."

In the first year of his administration, Obama issued an executive order that calls on federal agencies to set a national example for greening their operations and facilities. GSA Administrator Martha Johnson detailed the government's aim and her goal of bring her agency's environmental footprint to zero at the GreenBiz Group's State of Green Business Forum 2011 in Washington, D.C.

Photo of U.S. Treasury Building by Carolyn M Carpenter /

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